art, Fantasy fiction, writing, Young Adult fiction

What Advice Should We Really Give Writers?

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Since the beginning of time — okay, within the last 75 years — we have been told that are ways “to write” and “not to write.” Lots of editors, publishers, and even some authors, are pushing the idea that there aren’t just guidelines, but actually very strict rules for how to create a novel that “the whole world” will be guaranteed to like.

Personally, I take major issue with this.

Number one — not everybody is going to like your book. Sorry, but it is just the truth. Maybe they won’t like it because you simply write outside of the genres they’re most interested in, or you happened to create a novel a bit too long/short for their taste, or maybe you wrote it in Elvish and they don’t speak the language. Anyway, it is quite important to remember this very wise saying: “You cannot please all of the people all the time.”

And there is no reason to consider yourself a “bad” writer if you don’t fit into the pigeon-holes of the current creative writing industry.

I’m a self-published author. One of the major reasons I chose to go this route is because I received positive feedback from my submissions to traditional publishers, but they weren’t going to pursue my work because it didn’t fit certain pigeon-hole criteria. So, I got fed up with waiting for somebody to break the mold and decide to accept work that was “outside of the box.”

Hence, I paid for my work to be printed. But I also retained the copyright, and complete control over editing, cover selection, marketing, distribution methods, and pricing.

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Is it worth it? I say yes, because now I’m making sales, my novel is being well-received (already with cries for the immediate sequel), and I firmly believe that this is only the beginning.

And I don’t have any issues with my agent/editor not seeing eye to eye with my vision, or feeling that I’m not getting enough money/appreciation/time to write how I want to.

Too many authors have complained that what they felt was their masterpiece was butchered by publishers who were more concerned with the almighty dollar than with the quality of their art. I refuse to be one of them.

So, what advice would I actually give to writers, hoping to get sales and loyal readers?

Here are some things I’ve learned so far on my journey:

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Don’t worry too much about making it perfect. There will always be a few things that may bug you about your finished product. But over-editing and constantly second-guessing yourself is not healthy.

Listen to your beta readers/early reviewers. This is especially important when attempting the final draft, or crafting a sequel (as I presently am). Now, you don’t have to take every piece of feedback into consideration. But do pay attention. If several people recommend something, seriously think about it. Maybe even write a draft of how a chapter would look with that change or direction.

Be true to the voice of your story above all else. Don’t listen to the “creative writing rules.” Some readers honestly like novels that are 400 pages long and heavy on exposition. If you truly feel parts of your story need to be told in song, or with flashbacks, or including illustrations, do it.

Remember what the point of your story is. I don’t mean in terms of themes or messages; I mean in staying true to what has to happen to/for the characters and with the plot. Everybody think of JK Rowling, how she apologized for killing off so many of people’s favorite characters, but how she also stands by those decisions, for the sake of what would happen to her protagonist and the conclusion of his tale.

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Since different people enjoy different sorts of writing styles, feel free to revel in yours. Again, your genre/style won’t be for everybody, and that truly is all right. Do I expect folks who normally gravitate towards historical fiction,biographies, murder mysteries to be interested in The Order of the Twelve Tribes? No. Do I hold it against them? No.

When your loyal reader base becomes established, thank them. Don’t forget that your Goodreads giveaway may be receiving so many entries because of that great review somebody put on their blog. Thank your fans (yes, fans!), not just with a note to that effect, but with occasional prize packages, or putting your work on sale, or promoting their blog/new video/Wattpadproject.

Be aware that if what you’re doing is working, there isn’t much reason to change it. Too many authors (I feel) get into the “must select the most dramatic/shocking/inappropriate ending for this series” syndrome, and it loses them a lot of readers. If you’ve built your fan base on having certain elements continue through your trilogy/quad/whatever it’s becoming, then leave that alone.

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And even though we’re seriously trying to make a living off our art, the fact that it is art should never be forgotten. We write because we want to write, we feel a calling to it, we know we can’t give up on it. Keeping our original intention and purpose in mind is essential.

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children's fiction, Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

Top 10 Tuesday: Upcoming Summer Reads

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For me, this will be a different sort of list. Partly because I recently destroyed my TBR (yup, you read that right — more on that in a minute); also because I’m kind of cheating on how I’m counting this top 10. Confused yet? All right, I’ll get to the explanations…

First, I officially decided to demolish my TBR on Goodreads. Purely because it was stressing me out. The most complex TBR method I’ve ever had before joining Goodreads was to simply write down on a scrap piece of paper a title and author of a pending or recent release that sounded fun. Usually that ensured that I requested it from the library, read it, and it was mission accomplished. And then…I joined Goodreads. And it was almost becoming an obsession — searching for what my community was reading and reviewing, frantically clicking the “want to read” button (even if I wasn’t honestly interested in the particular work).

So, I took the radical route — I erased everything from my GR “to read” page, made a physical note of certain titles that I’m truly anticipating, and totally started over. So, here’s what I realistically plan to read before September.

1-5: Finish the Dawn of the Clans series

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White Fang owns all of these, so I no longer have the excuse of “But they don’t have the full set in the library yet” that I was using for a while. Ages ago (probably about 8 months), I read the first in this Warriors prequel, and got no further. At the time, there were too many other things clamoring for my attention. Now that’s less the case, so I’m going back to book 2, and taking it from there.

6: Chivalry’s Children

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Part of my resolution to read more indie authors (after all, this is my territory, so showing support for others in the same boat is important) includes awaiting the July release of Chivalry’s Children by Alexis P. Johnson.

7: The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart

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I haven’t come across such a fun-sounding MG fantasy read in a while. My library system has it, but I have to wait for it, and lately I am not being so patient with the waiting. Hopefully it will come in soon…

8: The Songweaver’s Vow

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Another self-published author, and this sounds like a very interesting twist on Norse mythology, of which I have not read very much.

9: Apprentice Cat

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White Fang owns this one as well, and when it first arrived in our home (Christmas), I intended to read it and never did. It’s about a cat studying to be the magical companion to a human wizard. How could I not want to read this?

10: A Dog’s Purpose

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This was a gift to White Fang (see, I am apparently ravaging his bookshelves), and usually I don’t read books told from the point of view of animals (Warriors being the exception), but lately I’m not finding a lot of books told from a human POV that are really doing it for me. Hence, I’ll give this one a go.

What are you looking forward to reading this summer? Do you have trouble keeping on top of your TBR, or are you attacking it with a purposeful vengence?

 

 

community, Encouragement, reading, writing

How to Name Your Characters

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This is definitely an issue for writers. When you create characters, you go through the same process that expecting parents do — you want to give your “child” a name that you like, but that also fits in with your family, society, culture and the time period you’re all alive in. And it’s important to get these details right, because it helps your reader relate to the characters — and we all want that to happen, right?

So, here are some tips on how to find great names for your fictional babies:

Consider the time period your character was born in. Not the year you’re setting your story in, but when the person was born — this is mega-essential because most people are given names that reflect what’s going on at the time of their birth, not when you’re actually describing the plot. For example, The Order of the Twelve Tribes (my series) is set in present day, but most of the characters are between 15 and 45 years old, and their names take that into account. A middle-aged man or woman in 2017 would have a name that was popular in the 1960s, and their adolescent children would (most likely) have names that were big on parents’ radar at the start of the 21st century.

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Be sure to decide on your character’s ethnic/cultural background, and remember that when naming. Maybe your story’s set in modern America, but if your people are immigrants or belong to certain religions, their families may have wanted to pay homage to that by selecting a name from “the old country” or a religious tradition.

Fantasy/sci-fi names don’t have to sound “fantastical” or “alien.” Lots of readers struggle with this, especially in sci-fi or high fantasy novels. It can really trip up the flow of reading if you have to stop and sound out a name every other paragraph. If you’re writing about an alien race, how about mixing similar words from foreign languages — example, French and Spanish, or Latin and Italian — but not including too many syllables, to come up with names that sound unique and part of that culture, but that your readers can also pronounce. (Marie Lu’s The Young Elites and Veronica Roth’s Carve the Mark are good examples of this technique.)

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It’s more than okay to use names that aren’t exactly “in fashion” at the moment. When I was researching this subject for my own characters, I discovered that people really seem to like using popular names over and over.

And I’ve found there’s this trend in recent fiction recently, where it’s apparently mandatory to call every heroine a variation of Isabelle, or every hero a version of Alexander. Okay, not every single book/series, but is anybody else thinking this as they read? And quite frankly, it ticked me off, because I really like both of these names and was already planning to include them in my own work. Anyway, after having established several of my characters with classic/common names, I decided to try to “diversify” more with the rest.

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Visit websites and conduct up-to-date research. Nameberry (Google it) is extremely helpful, not just for name origins and meanings, but explaining the history of the name’s use, whether it’s so intensely popular that it could take a break from the cultural public eye, and even offers alternatives. And the site also has lists of popular baby names given in the UK, Ireland, France, etc.

And remember — don’t stress about it. If you feel like you’re about to have a nervous breakdown over getting your characters the “perfect” names, then you’re trying too hard. Trust me, it doesn’t have to be “perfect,” it just has to fit your story, the background, and your fictional friend’s “feel”.

And don’t forget, taste in names is like taste in salad dressing — it’s very subjective, and no matter how marvelous you think your narrator’s name is, there will always be somebody who goes, “Ehhh, I wish she was called Bernadette.”

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family, movies

My New Favorite Movies

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We watch a lot of movies in my house. Cable television isn’t a complete waste of money these days, but getting close, so we’re soon going to be cutting back on certain services, and we’re sick and tired of all the repeats and/or stuff we don’t watch anyway, er, anyway. Even the kids are getting bored of the “seen it…seen it…seen it” bit. So, we’ve been making the most of our Netflix account and the local library to watch things we haven’t seen a hundred times before. Therefore, I have developed some new favorites, and I am going to share them with you today, because my brain can apparently think of nothing else to post about  I am a generous soul who wants to broaden your horizons.

Doctor Strange

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For those of you who have already seen this masterpiece of fun and excitement and tributes to the art of M.C. Escher, this will come as no surprise. Over Christmas vacation, we were in the mall, and of course this title was everywhere, having recently been released on disc, and I was drooling rather badly. My husband actually said, “What’s that about, again?”, but I let it slide, because he tends to do that. Rather than letting the moment escape, I grabbed a copy off the rack and said, “We are getting this one.” It worked; we purchased it, and viewed it a few days later.

Kubo and the Two Strings

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White Fang and I watched this a couple weeks ago, and we were both moved by how complex and astounding the plot is. Just by watching a preview, you could tell the art was going to be the most MARVELOUS thing since never before; but having interesting characters and a lot of twists and heart really help make this film a true stand-out. If you haven’t seen it yet, do it, do it, do it!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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White Fang has decided he wants to become Newt and take care of all the beasts in the suitcase. I can’t say I blame him. Constructed against the backdrop of 1920s New York City, we get to see a glimpse into the workings of the American wizarding world, and Newt is the most precious Aspie wizard ever (come on, I know I’m not the only one who saw that).

Finding Dory

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This is my opinion of Finding Nemo — “blehhhh.” This is my feels on Finding Dory — “Oh my gosh, that’s so sweet, that’s so funny, oh my gosh, I am loving this!!!” Of course the animation — just being released on Blu-Ray this year — is top-notch and absolutely gorgeous. But again, if the plot and characters don’t contribute, the whole thing can fall flat. I love the premise of this film. The whole idea of using these fun marine animals to address various challenges is awesomely executed. The filmmakers explored things like injuries and impairments (memory loss, agoraphobia, and more) in a very realistic, sensitive, and overall beautiful way.

Happy viewing!

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British pop culture, Fantasy fiction, reading

Discworld Appreciation Day

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There are so, so many things I could say about my love for this series. Recently I’ve made a concerted effort to start collecting my favorites, because with the passing of the author, I’ve begun to feel the need to own as much as I can of the genius and beautiful words that came from his pen.

Two years ago in March, when I found out Sir Terry Pratchett had been carried away by his depiction of Death, on the back of Binky (come on, let us have that image), I cried for three hours straight. And then I started re-reading everything of his I’d already read, and reading what I hadn’t before (which wasn’t much), and feeling this little ache inside.

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The literary world had lost something spectacular, something magneificent. And while we do have so many of his published treasures to continue to adore, the loss in my own life took a bit more getting used to. When I was a young writer, I felt lost, not sure where to go with my intentions for pursuing a career in authoring fantasy. There was so much that had already been done, and wasn’t inspiring to me anymore. Then I stumbled on a copy of a Discworld paperback that had been left in our rental house (of the time).

It was The Fifth Elephant, and while it meant that, being so deep into the series (canon-wise, it’s around book 20), I had a lot of catching up to do and there were things I didn’t yet understand (like character traits and Pratchett’s love of footnotes), there was no stopping me afterwards. It was just what I needed to pull me out of that slump, and for the last 15 years, I’ve been happily catching up.

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With each foray into the magical multi-verse of Discworld, my love for the characters and their stories have only deepened. Although I hardly read the series in order (gasp! I know, a cardinal sin of booklovers), rather in whichever order I could get my hands on them (due to what was available in the library that week), I was able to put together the bits and pieces of backstory and connections and things you could expect to see in almost every installment.

My favorite sub-series are the ones involving Death (aka the Grim Reaper of Discworld) and the Watch. Before starting to read Terry Pratchett, one of my main phobias was skeletons. (Having to take an anatomy class in college was *torture*.) A major thing about becoming attached to a character portrayed as a tall skeleton in a long black cloak meant that I no longer have that phobia. It’s a pretty cool development.

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And, yes, I have owned a cat named Binky (supposedly after Death’s horse — I’m always letting myself believe that). And really, how could I, the Cat Whisperer, *not* have a soft spot for a Grim Reaper that loves cats?

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At the moment, I’m finishing a re-read of The Fifth Elephant. Just this morning, I came across a part I’d forgotten, that contains a significance that had previously escaped me, and…well… Let’s just say my Vulcan side experienced an extremely illogical moment of emotion.

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Although I recently changed my TBR for the summer, it does have me wondering how quickly I can get my hands on more Discworld re-releases.

This series will never stop amazing me with the wit, the humor, the beauty and poignancy in its honesty. Basically, I will remain in awe of the craft Sir Terry so compassionately shared with us. If my characters ever feel half as real to my readers as Death, or Sam Vimes, as Susan Sto-Helit or the Archchancellor of Unseen University have felt to me, then I will consider it the highest honor.

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blogging, books, Fantasy fiction, reading, writing, Young Adult fiction

Featuring Indie Authors

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Yeah, I kind of have to mention myself, since I am a self-published author. But, while including myself in this list, I want to take today to focus on those of us who work really hard to produce good quality fiction for the public to consume, often while holding down a day job or going to school, raising a family, living a non-writing life at the same time. And most of us do our own editing and marketing as well, and trust me, this is no easy task, either. Anyway, my point today is — just because we don’t have a team of editors/designers/advertisers paid big bucks behind us doesn’t mean our work isn’t worth reading. And I’m going to spotlight some of the indie authors I’ve read that prove this.

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This author is American but currently resides in Spain, and he’s a teacher, and managed, on top of all this busy real-life stuff, to create a very well-thought-out and interesting world and premise. The editing is superb — in looks alone, this novel is professional in every way. The writing is thorough, the content is appropriate for teen readers as well as adults, and for fans of Narnia, Middle Earth, and Wonderland, Where the Woods Grow Wild feels like a fun romp across all of them. Nate Philbrick is now putting up a new novel on Wattpad.

You can visit him at: https://youwritefiction.wordpress.com/

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The Assassin’s Daughter is another prime example of an indie author taking great care and effort with her manuscript. The finished product is beautifully clean on the page, and the writing and character development shows the time and passion she poured into creating this fictional world and growing close to her narrators. The world in this novel feels familiar, yet has its own twists and is a unique, fitting setting to the story. Jameson C. Smith has plans for a sequel as well.

You can find her at: https://www.jamesoncsmith.com/

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The first in the Beaumont and Beasley series, The Beast of Talesend is a great amount of fun, with a really clever sense of humor and a twist on the idea of fairytales and magic being real or not. Kyle Shultz has plans for more books set in this world, and he’s currently working on an audio version of the first release.

You can visit him at: http://kylerobertshultz.com/

I’d also like to try releases by Ichabod Temperance (https://www.amazon.com/Ichabod-Temperance/e/B00J71862M/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1), Alexis P. Johnson (http://www.phoenicianrises.com/), and Nadine Brandes (http://nadinebrandes.com/). All of these authors maintain a social media presence, they’re very approachable and won’t bite, and their work sounds very interesting, refreshing, just fun, or all of the above.

And now, because, I’m sorry, but it is my blog, here’s a moment of shameless self-promotion:

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Not to toot my own horn too much, but Masters and Beginners, the first in my YA fantasy series The Order of the Twelve Tribes is receiving very good support/acclaim on Goodreads, and for this I am intensely grateful and humbled. If you’d like to purchase a copy, please contact me (details can be found under my header or in the sidebar). I have a paperback for sale, as well as a digital edition, and there are still the limited edition mini-subscription boxes available.

Okay, I won’t ramble on about myself too much. Do check out all these other authors, and support their art!

Fantasy fiction, history, reading, Science fiction

My Official Title is Book Dragon

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Once upon a time, people who liked to read a lot were called “book worms,” and the notion formed around this phrase that habitual readers were extremely shy and introverted, of course wore very thick glasses, never were seen anywhere without a book in hand, and were naturally clumsy and socially awkward and should be made fun of. The misconception that we aren’t too fond of the real world — or even worse, can’t deal with it — hence we hide in fictional tales, became rather popular.

It was a bare-faced insult to the readers of this Earth.

Sometime last year, I noticed a discussion going around the blogisphere, a sort of petition to re-name book “worms.” To something that suited our true selves much better. The possibility I subscribed to was “book dragon.”

This is really quite accurate. Dragons are fierce, not easily intimidated creatures who stand up for themselves. Certainly not the shrinking, bumbling worm of pop culture misnomers. And indeed, those of us who not only find solace in a good novel, but truly, see the way to the future in it, are fiery about our passion, and we shall defend our views with that fire.

Also, we like to hoard what we see as treasure (i.e. books, bookmarks, book-related merchandise), and often are somewhat solitary (so the introvert thing is slightly true — but it’s still not a bad thing).

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The other thing about dragons (along with the flying, which, unfortunately, some of us may not master) is that they’re very smart. They know a lot, they remember a lot, they observe and take in details. In many of the very old stories, dragons are considered wise. And often people feared them. But I have a feeling it was less because of the potential fire hazard, and more from the fact the dragon had all the knowledge.

The saying “knowledge is power” goes back a ways. Lots of people honestly believe in it.

So, shouldn’t those of us who read and learn new things on a regular basis be, well, feared?

Okay, I’ll settle for respected.

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But seriously, where did this idea come from that we’re tiny, literally spineless animals, unable to be bold and courageous? Why has it perpetuated throughout the modern age, to associate reading with something boring, a waste of time, only for chumps? When every important cultural movement has always been started by people reading something — the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, the theories of Dr. Maria Montessori, Green Eggs and Ham.

Look at all the fantastic and amazing technology that exists in today’s civilization because of people reading books by Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov. Consider how many TV shows and movies that you, average human, enjoy that may never have been made if the writers and directors weren’t inspired by reading, everything from the Grimm Brothers’ accounts of folklore to graphic novels based on ancient mythology.

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So, the next time you pass by a single figure sitting at a cafe table, armed only with their vanilla latte and the latest civil rights struggles memoir or astrophysics-for-dummies release, and carelessly toss out a, “What a nerd” remark — watch out.

Today’s nerds will be tomorrow’s teachers, inventors, architects, filmmakers, scientists, researchers, designers, neurodiversity advocates. We don’t read to escape the world we live in — we read to give us ideas on how to make it better.

So, watch out — we’re coming.

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