REVIEW: Crown of Ice

Crown of Ice by Vicki L. Weavil

Thyra Winter is the Snow Queen, her powers gifted to her by Mael Voss. Her fate is bound to his task of assembling a magic mirror before she turns eighteen or else she’ll become one of the disembodied wraiths that haunt her frozen castle. Thyra suppresses her emotions to deal with the oppressive nature of living with Voss and with the seeming impossibility of her task. The premise is interesting, but the focus veers away from all of that and delves into Thyra immediately trying to recruit a local yet somehow brilliant boy, Kai, to help her construct the mirror. This is a problem because Thyra’s struggle with Voss and his old mentor, Sephia, could’ve made an interesting story if it would’ve been the focus.

Spoiler: it wasn’t. Instead of this more interesting book, we get Thyra chasing a boy, Kai, and adopting a puppy, Luki. I ended up enjoying Luki as an animal companion, but the fact that the dog is the most interesting character in the story says something for how shallow the remaining characters are. Thyra’s character veers into Frozen fanfic territory. No, really, it’s Frozen fanfic. She uses the phrase ‘Let it go’ too many times for this to be a coincidence. This served to limit Thyra as a character for me, and she doesn’t step beyond being a shadow of Elsa’s (more vibrant and fleshed out) personality.

We get a lot of Thyra chasing after Kai and not so much of Thyra trying to build the mirror puzzle early on. There’s a lot of talk about equations and math involved in sovling the mirror, but this is never fleshed out; it’s poor world building and lacks convincing details. There’s a bit of burying the conflict early in story, which could’ve been helped if the setting and world buliding aspects stepped up to fill them in, but they don’t. For example, a scene with Mael Voss transforming the reindeer would’ve done a lot to make him scarier. The earlier portion of this book, up until Sephia’s addition, probably shouldn’t have involved any of the weaker characters like Kai or Gretta at all. I would’ve been completely okay exploring Thyra and her limited world; it would’ve made her seem more lonely instead of fixated on some boy.

 

This story was boring. The writing isn’t bad, but I kept asking myself why I was so freaking bored reading this. A large part of it, I think, has to do with the setting. Thyra’s setting–the uniqueness of her world and situation–should’ve been explored in depth. Instead, there’s a fixation on Kai, who adds nothing to this story. Thyra and Kai had no chemistry, and the story hangs so much on that element. I found myself hoping that this wasn’t a romance because it lacked romantic tension or any type of special spark between the characters.

There are other characters, but there’s always something lacking in them. Everything feels one-dimensional, and this snowballs throughout the story. By the time Thyra hunts for the shard, I was bored for so long that even the mid-book climactic moments couldn’t save this book for me. This story has one note, and it’s not an exciting one. If you like the first two chapters and can tolerate Kai, this might work for you, but the fairy tale retelling aspect wasn’t enough to hook me.

 

Notes:

  • There’s nothing wrong with fanfiction or taking story ideas from it, but without the fleshed out world of the movie, the Elsa expy characterization falls flat here.
  • Bae the reindeer is great. I liked all the animals in the novel, which adds to the fairy tale feel, and I’m a sucker for animal companions. They were the best characters.
  • Was that the most boring ball in the history of paranormal fantasy? TVD wants a word with you.
  • Greda is supposed to love Kai. If I felt anything about these two other than cardboard cutouts, I might care.
  • Kai beats Bea. I have a feeling for him now: dislike.
  • Kai likes math, but all we get is ‘equations’. It’s hard to convey a love of math and make it part of the world when it’s so vague. This might be a sci-fi bias speaking, though.
  • The real relationship in this novel is the one between Thyra and Luki, the wolf pup. It might’ve been a better story with just the two of them.

Rating: 2 stars

There’s so much in this premise for a unique retelling, but very little of it delivers. Something in this story needed to be stronger (characters or setting) to elevate the basic plot into something special and exciting. Still: magic animals.

REVIEW: King’s Warrior

King’s Warrior (Book 1 of Minstrel’s Song) by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

Writing one star reviews is a drag, but this isn’t even ‘so bad it’s good.’ It’s just a slog of a story. Any elements that might have potentially been interesting are lost in the mess. This should’ve been about a third of the length with a narrower scope. There’s simply too much description, and if you’re going to pack your story with that many words, you’ve got to earn them. Spoiler: this story doesn’t.

Kamarie is a princess, but she can go off riding without guards or assistants because she’s a badass. We’re also going to discuss a prince. There’s a lot of characters discussing other characters, which is never a good sign. It usually means that none of the characters have a life of their own, so everyone has to talk about each other in place of actual interests and character development. Kamarie’s emotions on Prince Elroy are confusing, too. He’s at war with her people, and she’s still mad that he’s not courting her?

Unfortunately, Kamarie isn’t a strong character. She has all of the trappings of one, but her emotional state is all over the place when she’s not having tedious conversations with the squire that accompanies her. Seriously, this story feels like none of the characters know anything, and I know introducing readers to an epic fantasy world can be confusing, but this isn’t the way to do it. This story needed to pick a freaking character because the end result is a mess between Kamarie (weirdly inconsistent, which makes her annoying), Yole (boring), and Brant, which is probably who the main character should’ve been, even if he is the more predictable of the three.

Yole is a bore, and we spend so much time with him. I skimmed that part because I didn’t care for him, and the first time we meet him, I thought Brant’s family was his family—a vanilla group of people to begin with. Brant’s family dies, and it would’ve been moving if Brant was the main character. In reality, the family gets fridged. The one good thing is that, what plot there is, doesn’t drag out the characters meeting up.

Not only are the characters weird and flat, but there’s nothing there to save the story from their boringness. The world building isn’t original enough to do it, or the parts that are better are buried beneath the same over-wrought pacing that plagues the characters. It doesn’t matter what the plot is at this point because who cares?

Notes:

  • Kill me with info dumpy prologues. It didn’t help set the world. Prologues are difficult, and even when they’re done well, I often find them a grind. The ones that work the best involve the main character in some way, and that connection has to be clear to the reader. Are there authors that break this? Yes, but it’s difficult to do and still have the story make sense.
  • Sending the princess across the land on her own mission. Check. I can’t believe that she’s the only one that could be spared. There’s so much weirdness about who Kamarie is that this doesn’t matter, either.
  • This book has a bit of Attack of The Fantasy Names syndrome.
  • Bloody hell, don’t tell me something is a mystery. When you have to say “Gee, isn’t that mysterious?” that means it’s not interesting enough to allow me, the reader, to ask that question to myself.
  • Quit telling me about the characters and make them believable.
  • Personal rant (and what convinced me this story wasn’t going to have a late book comeback): If you don’t know about cross country travel and you want to write it into your epic fantasy, run your story by someone who knows how outdoor travel works. This section made me want to scream but not with joy. Everyone uses maps or a compass, so Kamarie’s magic ‘know these woods skills’ wouldn’t freaking work. You get lost SO EASILY in the woods. Then, there’s this gem: “How did you learn about firewood?” I could find effing firewood in elementary school, yet she can’t tell upstream from downstream? Has she seen water? She rides horses! She’s had to have seen a freaking stream at some point. This character makes zero sense, and it’s clear she’s vastly under qualified for this mission. Sorry, I’m not suspending my disbelief that much.
  • So. Much. Asking. About. Things.

Ratings: 1 star

I skimmed my way to the end after a while because there’s too much in this story. There’s a lot of things wrong with it. Technically, the writing is fine, but there are inconsistent (or boring) characters, and while there is a plot, there’s nothing to lift this story out of poorly done tropes.

Writer’s Wednesday: An inspired Setting

Setting is something I struggle to write. Not the nuts and bolts of description, but the actual setting of a story. There are so many little things in the real world that bring it to life, and it’s damnably hard to capture those in a novel. Some authors are excellent at it, and I’ve come to believe (more and more) that an inspired setting equals a better book.

There are several basic ways to approach settings. To some extent, all fictional settings are fantastical extrapolation. Historical fiction tends to be less so, and sci-fi and epic fantasy can have entirely fabricated settings. It’s a spectrum of how much or little the author cares to extrapolate or invent or blend the real world into their setting. At some point, though, setting has to be based on something real, whether it be a scientific idea or historical facts.

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I’m currently working my way through the Long Earth series that’s authored jointly by Steven Baxter and Terry Pratchett (RIP). The premise is that humans learn how to ‘step’ between an infinite number of multiverses (Earths, in the first several novels), and the books deal with how this changes the various human societies. The first book is an adventure travelogue, which is a decent stand alone if you decide you don’t want to read the remainder of the series. Both Pratchett and Baxter have this knack of taking scientific and fantastical concepts and creating settings that drive the story forward. (Note: this series feels more in line with Baxter’s work than Pratchett’s, which is understandable.) In The Long Earth, the plot is the setting. The idea of an infinite number of worlds drives everything forward, and there could’ve been a different character per chapter, and it would’ve worked. The thing is, I didn’t necessarily care for the characters in The Long Earth. This is something a friend mentioned about the novel: they didn’t like the characters.

And yet, they finished the novel and loved it.

That seems to dash against the character-centered storytelling wisdom that gets passed around. That doesn’t mean that the characters in The Long Earth series are poorly written characters or that they don’t do the things characters are supposed to do in a novel. They have goals and passions; they’re well-rounded people, but they’re not the main draw of the novel. They don’t drive the plot. The setting does.

Yes, you can cheat and say that the setting is a character, but it’s not. (I loved Lost, but ‘the island is a character’ schlock that got thrown around there was equally idiotic.) There are fundamentally different ways a setting and a character are portrayed. A setting doesn’t have hobbies or interests or desires. A setting just is. Characters can’t reason with a setting (most of the time…), and that’s a source of conflict. Characters can reason with other characters (again, most of the time…), which is also conflict, but they’re different. A setting conflict is man verses nature, which makes the story different than man verses man. There are usually elements of both in a story, and that’s certainly true of The Long Earth, but a major focus of the novel is the man verses nature aspect, and the man verses man plots kind of dragged the story down for me.

I love backpacking. There’s something implacable about the natural world that humbles and challenges you. That’s different than how you deal with difficult people in your life. The setting matters. It’s not arbitrary, and if you’re writing fantasy, that’s doubly so. I’ll save my geography and fantasy map rants for another day, but you can have a very small geographic area as your setting and make it feel huge if you understand the realities of a complex setting.

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The picture above is my all time favorite hiking photo (my boyfriend took it because he has a better eye for composition than I’ll ever have). Every time I look at it, I feel what it was like to eat lunch in that meadow. I remember the glacial waterfall that’s out of scene. I know how close we were to crossing a mountain pass. The were realities of that moment–exhaustion, relaxation, and wonder–that compose the basis of why I love to go into the outdoors. That picture is like a good setting: it takes something real and turns it into something fantastical.

Ultimately, setting is mood. Adding a character can’t change the entire tone of a novel the way swapping the setting can. This is why things get set IN SPACE. The tone is changed, old is new, and a heightened level of conflict and interest is found.

REVIEW: The Blood Sigil

The Blood Sigil by Kevin Hoffman

I enjoyed the fantasy sci-fi magic blend that’s The Fifth Vertex. This is a sophomore slump in the series. The three main characters, Urus, Cailix, and Goodwyn are still as well fleshed-out as they were in the first book, but there are pacing problems that hampered my interests in this follow up book. The world building is still solid, but some of the new characters don’t work, which is a problem for the plot.

The story starts when Urus is going to a council meeting to determine if he lives or dies. He’s sentenced to death, but he’s saved by another sigilord, Lu (or Luse). Lu wasn’t as fleshed out as the main three cast members, and she had LOVE INTEREST plastered on her from page one. Her relationships with the characters, even Urus, never felt fleshed out enough. She’s a huge character early in the book, which is what I think drags it down.

Cailix starts on an island with the shepherds. She’s bored and sneaking off to use blood magic. She develops a relationship with farm-boy Colin, and their relationship develops more naturally, and her coming to care about Colin worked well to grow her character. Cailix caring about her adopted family and being the most ruthless character is interesting. Anderis returns and gets stabbed with a pitchfork is excellent.

In general, this moves slower than the first book. Having all the characters split up so early on makes it feel fractured. Goodwyn is chasing hellhounds, but these scenes lack the interests of Urus and Cailix’s chapters. Goodwyn felt more relevant in The Fifth Vertex. His scenes feel so disconnected from the rest of the action, which is a shame, because I liked his character so well in the first book when he was more connected to the plot.

The story picks up momentum when Urus gets back to Kest. The first book relied on Kest, and the second book lacks that central thematic location and driving cultural force of the first story. As the characters come together and the plots connect, the story gets new life when Murin and Goodwyn are united. Autar is the best addition to the series, and his arrival automatically engaged me again, but it just takes too long to get there (about two-thirds of the way through).

Notes:

  • The blood magic is back, and it’s still the best. I don’t care for Anderis’s dues ex machina powers.
  • Cailix is the star character of this novel. She’s a well-rounded character this time around, and she has the greatest struggle with her blood magic and the corruption.
  • Lu is a bore. It’s unfortunate so much of the early story hangs on her character.
  • Like it when the space/fantasy elements show up again. Reminds me of Andre Norton a bit.

Rating: 3 stars

The series has some interesting world building elements in it, and those come into play towards the end of the book. However, the beginning of this book drug on and on for me, which hampered the solid characters in the series.

Book Review: How To Date Dead Guys

How to Date Dead Guys by Ann M. Noser

How to Date Dead Guys is about Emma, a nerdy college girl who has problems fitting in because she’s always had a connection to spirits. When her crush drowns, Emma is over come with guilt, and she’ll do anything to get him back, including summoning him from beyond the grave. However, it’s not Mike that comes back, but Sam, a boy who killed himself the semester before. The story gets more complex, yet remains fun, as more people come back from the dead. Emma has to find a way to put them to rest while overcoming her own guilt over Mike’s death.

The call kidnaps Emma and Chrissy gives her a makeover. If you like Ghost World (the movie), you’ll love the tone and feel of this book. Early on, we meet a pioneer spirit girl and a chem TA who dropped in the river by the local college. The river becomes a major set piece in the novel, and it works unusual elements of horror into the story.

Let’s talk about Emma. She’s a complicated person, and she can often come off as an ice queen. However, you understand the emotional turmoil she deals with in her life, which humanizes her. Also, Emma is a biology and math major, which is comp bio, and it’s a great major. I personally related to Emma’s realization that she didn’t want to be a doctor, too. There’s so much humanness to Emma, and it pulls you into the story. This is necessary because the story lacked a solid villain, but the emotional conflicts between characters drove the plot well.

There are plenty of fun scenes in this story, which adds to the complexity of the world. Emma has 100% less fun than I did at house parties in college, where she meets her crush, Mike. The early part of this novel focuses on Emma and her relationship to her roommate, Chrissy, and a pair of brothers, Mike and Kevin. Mike is the guy whom Emma likes, and she attends his 21st birthday party, where Mike gets predictably shit-faced, and he wants to go for a swim in the river.

The story takes a turn for the dark here. Mike drowns in the river, kicking off the main plot of the novel. Through coincidence, Emma finds a grimoire, and her guilt drives her to attempt to bring Mike back to life. Emma becomes a de facto villain during this part of the story, and that’s kind of amazing.

Things don’t go as Emma planned, and Sam, the chem TA comes back from the river instead. There’s a murder mystery plot that begins to exist here, and Emma learns that loads of other people have drowned in this river. The book continues to veer into dark plot themes, and we find that Sam killed himself. Emma now has to help Sam deal with the baggage of his previous life with getting into med school, leaving his mom, and getting rejected by the girl he was obsessed with. Sam is a quintessential NiceGuy in some ways, but my strong dislike for automatically slotting ‘popular, pretty’ characters in as default villains vexed me. The characters are still strong, and we get introduced to Abby, a young woman who’s pregnant. I expected Abby’s baby daddy plot to factor into the story, and boy, does it ever, but the twist in that plot line is natural.

Sam is taken back to the river, and we get introduced to Jake next. Emma becomes a necromancer version of Touched By an Angel, and she has to help Jake with his personal struggles, too. The section with Jake starts weak, but it became my favorite part of the book. Jake and Emma’s relationship became a major emotional set piece, and it pays off by climaxing in a mid-book Christmas arc. (“It’s Christmas” will always get you drunker than you’d think.)

Setting anything around Christmas automatically makes it a hundred percent sadder, and the story hammers an emotional moment per page during this section. Jake visits his family, and the tension between Emma and Jake reaches a breaking point. Then, the magic yanks Jake away, and Mike returns, but not alone. Two other spirits return with Mike, and the remainder of the novel follows the same format of Emma unraveling their own pains and secret pasts. The story resolves most of its plot lines, and even though it’s the first in the series, the plots resolve themselves.

Random Notes:

  • Every guy who plays Frisbee is named Mike.
  • Some of get As and have belly rings. Just saying.
  • When your bf, here Chrissy, tells your crush how rich your family is, you need to find a new best friend.
  • The novels don’t mention abortion as an option when it totally is. This is my only real complaint with Abby’s story line is that this option is completely ignored. Maybe the author didn’t want to go there, but when a young woman doesn’t have a baby and getting rid of the baby isn’t seriously discussed, it’s an irksome oversight in plot to me. In this story, where every character has emotionally driven motives, Abby never considering abortion or at least objecting to it for an emotional reason stands out as a strange oversight.
  • The dead men shed an ectoplasm skin, which is a great piece of horror.
  • Emma, the NiceGuy apologetic, rears her head several times.
  • There’s an 80s movie prank montage! I’m a bit picky about Nostalgia because it usually says more about the author than the characters, but it works here.

Rating: 4 stars

The story had light-hearted dialogue, but it veers into dark territory. There’s a lot of emotional angst here, but the characters stay grounded. This is a great start to a unique paranormal YA fantasy.

Book Review: A Stolen Kiss

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A Stolen Kiss by Kelsey Keating

A Stolen Kiss

Derric is a stable boy whose sister, Sarah, is the lady in waiting to Princess Maria. Maria is under a curse, which she thinks can be broken by Prince Humphrey. However, curses are like contracts, and true love gets in the way, so Derric has to have is step mother, the evil sorceress, but the curse on Maria. There are a lot of good plot elements that should be in this story, but the characters are one-dimensional and the writing lacks the humor needed to carry off the story’s more interesting ideas.

The book starts as info-dumpy with characters wondering about their lives. There’s not enough world building and the characters do a lot of talking about each other without becoming fleshed out as characters. There’s nothing more tedious than characters talking about themselves without doing anything that shows they’re well-rounded people. They problem could’ve been avoided because there’s some tension buried deep in the story.

Derric’s mom is an evil sorceress, Gilda Harver, who provides some twists towards the end of the story, but this should’ve come earlier in the book because I just didn’t care by the end. Gilda shows up almost at the end, and there’s no tension because of this. There’s a lot of ‘point A’ to ‘point B’ without any real movement in the narrative. There’s a lot of ‘cryptic’ messages, but this is the problem with having the main plot rely too much on hidden backstory. It saps the novel of any tension it might’ve had.

This brings me to the world building, which is thin and hinders the character growth. The characters only talk about the plot because there’s nothing else they like and no other context to their world. There’s not enough world building in this story to make it an interesting MG tale, and a bit more development in both characters and ANY of their surroundings would’ve helped. There just keeps being more and more random characters added, and none of them stick with you.

Random Notes:

  • Too many riddles, too thin on details.
  • I wanted to love this book, but these characters are so thin. Very little they did made me care about them. Maria’s curse and Derric’s mother were interesting, but it was too little too late.
  • This story wants to be funny, but it’s not. It wants to be cute, but it’s not.
  • There shouldn’t literally be a list of ‘why’ questions you want your readers to think about.

Rating:

2 stars: This might work for MG readers, but if you’re a fantasy fan or fairy tale retelling junkie, skip this book.

Book Review: Counterpoint

Counterpoint (Song of the Fallen, 1) by Rachel Haimowitz

Humans and elves are at war and have a mutual species hatred for each other. The humans think the elves (there’s no confirmation, however, that the elves did this) released the ferals–roided up wild animals–onto human lands. The ferals have one purpose: to kill all humans (Bender would be proud). The story begins with Ayden, an elf ranger, cheering on the ferals from a distance while they harass some humans. However, Ayden’s sister, Ella, goes to see a human friend, Ayden follows, and they both get captured. Upon capture, they’re brought to the prince, Freyrik, and he takes more than a little bit of a liking to Ayden, who becomes his slave.

In many ways, this book is very simple: it’s a BDSM romance between a king and his reluctant slave. In other ways, I found myself surprised with how much care is taken to build that relationship into something that wasn’t creepy. There’s a lot of back and forth between Ayden, and the slowing down of the main plot (the imminent attack of the feral surge) gives Ayden and Freyriks’ relationship time to grow into something more mutual and less coercive. Yes, there is a lot of erotica here, maybe more than some readers want, but there’s enough other plot that the story shows as much restraint as Freyrik in focusing on the more sexual aspects of the relationship. (That said, it’s an M/M adult romance; expect dicks.)

Taking the time to build into the main relationship allowed both Ayden and Freyrik to develop characters of their own. While they mostly interacted with each other, the best parts of the book were when they came into conflict with other characters. Unusual for high fantasy, there weren’t that many characters of note in this book. The three that stuck out, besides Ayden and Freyrik, were Ella, Kona, and Lord Lini, who didn’t seem to have much of a personality anyway. The ferals were the main antagonistic force, but the story kind of suffered for that because the personal stakes for Ayden and Freyrik’s relationship center around Ayden’s acceptance in the human court, where he’s forced to sit in chains at Freyrik’s feet. Yes, it’s really that heavy on the BDSM elements.

Kona’s character provided a much needed human antagonist; she forces herself on Ayden and is the only person who seems capable of throwing Freyrik off his mental game. Ayden and Freyrik’s characters worked best for me when they had to interact and confront other people, not just deal with their own internal relationship problems. The ferals provided a solid action set piece, but there should’ve been more court intrigue in this story. I suspect that that’s being saved for the next installment, but that personal antagonist threat was really lacking outside of the middle part of the book where Ayden and Freyrik are both challenged by Kona’s appearance.

At times, I found the story slow. This ultimately works to build the relationship between Ayden and Freyrik, but I couldn’t help feeling that Haimowitz was holding something back for the next book. The plot just needed a little more in it. This could’ve been achieved by fleshing out or giving more book time to some of the side characters, but it didn’t feel that Ayden or Freyrik had many meaningful relationships beyond each other, save Ayden with Ella. That’s something that ultimately ended up confusing me because the two characters are so passionate with each other, and interacting with other characters should’ve deepened who they were for me.

Random Thoughts:

  • The cover is super ridiculous. Kind of pretty, but very smutty. You know what you’re getting.
  • This is definitely a BDSM adult romance.
  • I didn’t like Kona as a person, but the story desperately needed her.
  • The world building didn’t feel overwhelming, but then, it kind of felt non-existent. I ultimately preferred this to info dumping.

Read If: You want high fantasy with more erotica in it. It’s basically an elf/human version of Loris/Renly fanfic.

Beware If: You want your high fantasy with more court intrigue and less penis.

Rating: 3 stars.

Prioritization and DAMN IT, it’s hard!

My Decent into Madness after Domestic Violence and other stuff that non-functioning minds find cool

PRIORITIZATION.  It’s DAMN hard.  Seriously.

Work is easy.  I got emails that flood my inbox that drive my priorities for the day.  Then, I have the major projects I have dedicated myself too that fight for priority in my life.  I have coworkers that come to my cube insisting that they are the highest priority.  (Of course you are!).  But, what about my personal life?  Work always dominates because it pays the bills.  I HAVE to manage my job well else there will be dire consequences and Mommy could lose her house.

Keep House – Priority Number one.

So, how do I get my personal priorities arranged so they are not forgotten and buried under the impending doom of lack of source of income?

Sometimes, I believe that having kids makes it a little easier to NOT be a workaholic.  I guess I was a parentaholic.  Constantly researching better ways to…

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When Life Feels Like Getting Hit in the Face by a 2×4

Disclaimer: I have not been hit in the face by a 2×4. I did know someone who had one fall on their head and suffered a severe concussion. So there’s that.

I’ve been posting less because I’m in the weeds of doing some work that is taking a hell of a lot longer than I think it should. This is, maybe, because it’s difficult work to do and takes more energy than less emotionally taxing work does. It’s also something that speaks to the very real thing we all face: failure. It’s made me realize I’ve been on and off struggling with my career for at least the last five years. That’s not…a pretty thing to think about. When it was bad, it was bad.

There’s been a lot written about people being jealous of their friend’s lives via social media. Humblebrag is a real word used by real people in 2k14. (This guy whining/parody whining about his friend drives home the need to promote vs. being annoying.) There are people I know who are young and extremely successful. Like, they own their own companies, are meeting the president and freaking JK Rowling, and travel the world. Their lives look shiny, and it’s weird when people tell me my life looks that way, too. It sure doesn’t feel like it, and while things aren’t rock-bottom bad, they aren’t I-chilled-with-Bruce-Willis good, either. It’s a spectrum, and you never know when failure will start to give way to the good times or when those nice moments will break apart like the Titanic and suddenly you’re drowning in the North Atlantic.

Metaphors, man

On its surface, success looks the same for everyone, but it can be a wildly different journey for every person who ‘makes it’. The biggest disservice we do to ourselves is to say that there’s only one path to being successful. We’re human; patterns is what we do, but the world is weird. People that take risks sometimes fail and sometimes they strike it big. Quiet people, loud people, smiley people, the Grinch…they can all be successful. There’s no ‘personality type’ that guarantees success. Some people seem to do well without effort, but the truth might be that we just don’t see the work they do or understand their methodology. The 10,000 hour rule is thrown around a lot, but there’s an interesting variation to that rule that says that different people achieve that ‘plateau of mastery’ with less hours, and some people can never reach it or only after much more effort and putting in that time/energy effectively changes their outlook on life anyway.

The nuggety center hidden in the story of success, I think, is the role failure plays for each person. Those friends who are doing quiet well for themselves? I know some of them have pushed through some obstacles. There are other friends who are in the midst of their own struggles, but it doesn’t mean they won’t come out of them. Struggle teaches us patience and focus. When you’re pissed, what’s really important to you? When every other word coming out of your mouth is ‘fuck’, what do you do? Where do you turn? With writing, we talk about the rejection letters. An agent rejected you, a publisher rejected you, here’s the first 1 star review…maybe your great book falls under one of those categories that’s worn out right now. It really can feel like you’re looking down a tunnel where the light at the end is a big, old train ready to run you over.

Trying to convince people to take a chance on you

The only thing that has kept me going somedays is me and my mania. Healthy, I know. And there are totally days I don’t get going (my attitude is basically a cup of coffee and a giant middle finger. Pleasant, I know). There might be some of you reading this who’ve been homeless, who’ve been struggling with addiction, or have lived through natural disasters. The world is a horror, and everyone feels like a failure in a variety of big and small ways. But the world is also weird place, and while I don’t believe in fate, I do think the brain is a resilient organ; you can trick yourself into optimism or slide into envy. People notice which direction you choose, by the way, and sometimes that makes all the difference.

I used to think intelligence was the most important characteristic someone could have (arrogant, I know). Now, I think the #1 virtue award might go to patience. If you’re patient with most people, sometimes they’ll show you things you didn’t know they had in them; in turn, you might surprise yourself in return. Things can really hurt, and time can at least allow enough other things to come into your life to crowd out the misery. Daily struggles become routines; maybe taxing, but manageable.

I’d like to echo the words of Miss Dahlia: you’re not alone. From one random internet stranger to another, it’s not just you. Many of us have been down the rejection road, done the failure tango…you get the idea. It doesn’t mean you’ve got to stay there or cuss out the heavens, shaking your fist.

He’s kind of an idiot, but you’ve got to admire that attitude

Writer’s Wednesday: We all write differently

There’s some cliche about there being ‘no right way to skin a cat’ or something, but that’s just gross. The gist of the statement is that there’s no one way to do things. On r/YAwriters there was a discussion about bad writing advice. The original post tackles such tried and true ideas as ‘write what you know’, ‘show, don’t tell’, ‘raise the stakes’, and ‘kill your darlings’. Mary Robinette Kowal does a fantastic job at taking some of these things apart; especially dear to me is the ripping up of ‘kill your darlings’. For the love of God and/or Satan, don’t you dare rip up the good parts of your book just because you believe you have to be more critical of the things you love the most. Readers can feel that passion, so be critical, but no unnecessary book surgery.

The discussion on r/YAwriters delved deeper into other tried and true aspects of writing advice, which shows one thing: we all do this writing thing differently.

Write Everyday

There is no one right way to write a novel. You’ve got to write it one way or another, but trying to ape another author’s writing style might not work for you. I go days (months, sometimes) without writing fiction, but I’m a speed drafter. I can write 2000 words a day, sure whatever, but I personally feel writing more words per day helps me link up the emotions and pacing between scenes better. That said, I get very few days to sit down and write 6000+ words a day, so yeah, there are plenty of days I just won’t write. There are others who’d get twitchy if they had to write for more than an hour or two a day and can’t speed draft.

Harlequin Valentine summed up the issue with this piece of advice:

HarlequinValentine

It’s not quite the same as the ones here but one that gets me is “write every day” – I unfortunately took that to mean that if you don’t write every day then you’ve failed horribly and need to give up being a writer…

I’ve always thought that better advice (for people who take things too literally like my younger self) would be: “set yourself high but achievable writing goals and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t always make them”.

When I wrote about not doing NaNoWriMo, I didn’t include this reason, but my reaction against this piece of advice is probably another reason NaNo doesn’t work for me. It’s just not what I do. Writing everyday can make my story feel like suck. (I don’t want my story to feel like suck until I have to edit it…I’ll have plenty time to contemplate how bad it is then.)

Writer’s Write

Let me put this one to bed: writer’s do a lot of things. One of those things must, by it’s very definition, be writing. That said, writer’s also can edit, market, tweet, blog, book sign, book tour, read contracts, negotiate with agents/publishers, approve cover art, and a whole mess of other things I cannot think of. There’s way more to this gig (and being a successful author) than just writing. You’ve got to write, yes, but there are so many other parts of this career. One thing people often over look is hustling and branding. Whether they do it intentionally or not, a lot of successful creative people have branded themselves and are always on, always selling themselves and their work even if it’s subtle. Being an author is about more than just the work itself, and if you’re famous enough, there’s always ghost writers.

Write What You Want to Read

There is a niche for everything in the world. The larger that niche, though, the easier time your story might have finding readers. Writing an alternate history about were pigs struggling against monarchy in 17th century France might be great, but the number of people who want to read that story could be shockingly small. Or not! You don’t know. When I write, I do have a (vague) audience in mind–but it’s not always the same audience for every story. You might want to read some erotica, but those readers aren’t necessarily the same ones who might like your sweet-romance YA (even if you like both). Today, self-publishing can eliminate the need for pen names, but plenty of authors still use them to cross genres because what you want to read doesn’t necessarily line up with the groups of readers you’re trying to reach. This is more of a marketing thing, sure, and some authors do genre hop successfully (Delilah Dawson comes to mind). But the main point is this: what you want to read may limit your readership. Some of you (and sometimes me) don’t really care, but it’s worth pointing out the cynical, business aspect even if it is considered the Dark Side of being a writer.