Musings on writing, lessons learned by an aspiring professional, book reviews, movie reviews, an occasional t.v. show review, and unashamed opinion.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Know your audience

Who are you writing for when you start telling a tale?  This is something every author needs to consider before starting a new book.  "Myself," you might think, but if you're only writing for yourself you'll likely never publish professionally.  Another bit of advice I was reminded of while at Dave's workshop is audience analysis.

I've started more books than I care to admit.  It's a bit embarrassing to tell someone I've started X number of novels, but finished 0 of them.  (Clue to aspiring writers: finish your damn stories!)  Part of the problem I run into is missing my audience.  I got 15,000 words into a fantasy YA recently--was having a fun time creating it--when my writing group unequivocally told me it wasn't YA.  I was very upset with this.  I was doing everything right.  My protagonist was fifteen, all the adults around him were powerless while he was the one acting.  There was an explosion of action by the end of chapter one.  I had a (I felt) strong voice for my character.  The story was very much YA.  "No, no," they said.  "Your protagonist thinks like an adult.  No modern teenager will connect with this guy."  Blah, Blah, Blah.

I still feel their reaction was a little off, since none of them read the type of fantasy I read.  However, after fuming for two weeks I realized that a lot of what they said had merit.  I wouldn't change the story at all to fit their taste, being confidant in my own style and story creation, but this character and story probably aren't fitted well for YA.  I was writing for an older audience.

So make sure you know who you're writing for.  The big western fantasy I've been working on for a year and a half isn't going to appeal to most younger readers.  It's absolutely meant for adult fantasy readers.  This means I can include themes and content suitable for my audience.  It means I can tell the story I want to tell.  YA is still an area I'd like to write for, but I need to educate myself better on those types of books.

That's all!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Unfinished books

There have been several books I've been unable to finish in the past 6 to 12 months.  All are books that I was excited to read, but can't get through the darn things.  Here they are:

Blackdog, by K.V. Johansen.  I really, really wanted to like this book.  Lou Anders, editor at Pyr books, sold the hell out of it at Worldcon last year.  The problem is... it's so boring.  It's beyond boring.  I started skimming to just get through pages, and still put it down.  I like a few of the characters, but the problem is that the book doesn't stay focused on the ones I want to read about.  It jumps all over the place, to points of view I find uninteresting.  It makes me sad, but there it is.  Wish it had been better.

Goblin Corps, by Ari Marmell.  This one is quite hilarious.  It's about a squad of goblins, who do terrible things, for terrible reasons.  It's the bad guys being bad.  Problem is, beyond being funny, it's pointless.  I can't read a huge book only for laughs.  There has to be a story and characters to care about.  Good news is that Ari wrote one of my favorite books of the last year as well: Thief's Covenant.  You can read my review for it here.

Shadowmarch, by Tad Williams.  I didn't know a thing about Williams' books before starting Shadowmarch.  It started off well enough, feeling similar to several medieval fantasies out there.  Again, though, I got bored.  I didn't feel like there was enough interesting conflict to keep me listening.  Maybe I'll give it another try, but not for a while.

The Dervish House, by Ian McDonald.  Hmmm... third Pyr book on the list of unfinished.  Kind of weird, since Pyr has also published some of the best stuff I've read recently.  Anyway, this was was just too hard to follow.  The points of view and tense are extremely odd.  It turned me off to the story, despite sounding intriguing.

The Mote in God's Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.  Picked this one up on the advice of a military sic-fi panel at LTUE.  Holy crap, I don't know what those guys were smoking.  This is by far the most boring of unfinished books on the list.  I kind of think the narrator has something to do with it, but he isn't the only one to blame.  This book is just full of line after line of mind-numbing dialogue and description.  I usually avoid older sic-fi works because a lot of them tend to read like this.  Last time I listen to a bunch of nerds on a panel at a con.

The Black Prism, by Brent Weeks.  I was already iffy about this one, but it went on sale as an ebook, so I picked it up for cheap.  I don't know what to say other than the characters just didn't grab me.  I gave it a good try.  Sorry.

Wolfsangel, by M.D. Lachlan.  Haha.  Another Pyr book.  This one should have been one I loved.  I'm a huge fan of Bernard Cornwell's Saxon series, and so assumed I'd love Wolfsangel just as much.  The point of view was poorly done, and so kept me from getting lost in the story.  If you're going to go omniscient narrator, go ahead.  But don't do it half way, and then try for third-person limited the rest of the time.  It's got to be one or the other.

That's all that I can think of.  There are probably a few others, but they're so forgetful I can't list them.  The only one I'm truly bummed about is Blackdog.  I tried so hard to love it, but it just wasn't meant to be.  The rest... meh.  Life is too short to waste on sleepers like these.

P.S. Lou, I'm sorry.  I still love you.  Seriously.  Want to buy my manuscript?  I'd really like to be a part of the Pyr family.  You're the man.  Thanks for giving us Abercrombie.      

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Shadows in Flight

I've lost confidence in Orson Scott Card over the years.  It pains me to say it, because I consider him one of my top three favorite authors, but his books haven't interested me as much for quite some time.  I avoided his latest, Shadows in Flight, so as not to be disappointed again.  Luckily, I have a dad who buys more audible credits than me, and gave SiF a listen after running out of new audiobooks for April.  Card, I can happily say, is back to his old form in this continuation of his Bean offshoot of Ender books.

SiF is a short story.  It's around 55,000 words, which is about half of Card's normal novel length.  This hurt the book in the end, since I absolutely wanted more, but the quality of story was up to par.  That sounds so asshole-ish to say.  Who am I to judge Orson Scott Card's quality?  I certainly couldn't do any better, nor could many professionals working today.  I only mean that I enjoyed SiF more than his recent novels, and felt it fit well into the Ender universe of tales.

The story is simple.  Bean is dying, his body growing ever onward to heart failure as his genetic alteration turns him into a giant.  He and his three children--all of which have his same genetic altering--are flying through space at a speed near to light.  Over four-hundred years have passed on Earth since they left, but because of the effects of relativistic travel, they've only seen five years inside their ship.  They find an old Formic ship orbiting a planet, and drop in to see why a supposedly extinct alien race seems about to form a new colony.  Mysteries are uncovered, creepy crab aliens are encountered and gunned down.  SiF was a fun listen.

The last chapter of the book was at the same time my favorite and least-favorite part.  Least-favorite because it ended after that.  I felt there should have been a few more chapters to finish the story.  Despite the sudden end, the last bit really hit me as a new parent, listening to Bean ponder the path his life had taken.  Bean sacrificed much of his own life for that of his three children on the space ship with him.  I think I liked SiF as much as I did because it got me thinking of my own daughter, and about the sacrifices I have made, and am willing to make for her.  I even started tearing up, thanks to Card.  He hasn't made me feel emotion from his books in a very long time.  And going along with my last post, this is a great example of a writer using resonance in his work.  Card gave Bean the perspective of a loving parent, which I have had a dose of since my girl was born.

Shadows in Flight is by no means Card's greatest, but besides Ender's Shadow, I thought it the best of the Ender offshoot series.  If you're a long-time fan of Ender and Bean, you'll enjoy the book.  If you've never read the two series, don't bother starting here.  You'll be lost.  But if you're one of the few, why in hell haven't you read Ender's Game?  It's one of the greatest tales of the last century!

Shadows gets 3 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Resonance in your writing

I attended a two day workshop with Dave Wolverton/Farland over the weekend, and was reminded of several tools I ought to be using in my writing.  He spoke at length about resonance, and how it's used in stories... how writers use what has come before--in their genres and beyond--in their crafting of a tale to emotionally connect with their audience.  There's a few ways to do this, which I thought worth mentioning.

First, a writer resonates with the real world in their fictional one.  For example, in Frank Herbert's Dune, Herbert spends a lot of time describing Arrakis when his characters first arrive on the planet.  Arrakis--a desert planet--resembles the Sahara Desert, which most readers are probably at least semi familiar with.  The Sahara is covered in sand dunes, so is Arrakis.  The air is dry, the winds are harsh, the sun is very hot.  You get the point.  Herbert grounds his fictional planet in familiarity.  This is resonance.  Then, after you can picture Arrakis in your mind, Herbert springs these giant, sand-dwelling worms on you, and you know you're in a fantastical place.

Second, writers resonate with previous stories.  The Lord of the Rings had to resonate with myths and legends.  (World War I as well, so it resonated on several levels.)  Modern fantasy novels (high fantasy, anyway) resonate with Lord of the Rings.  LotR had a rural protagonist, so the Wheel of Time starts with a rural protagonist.  LotR has a wizard guide, WoT has a wizard guide.  Books that I've read that resonate heavily with LotR, that I can list off the top of my head, are: The Wheel of Time, Mistborn, The Warded Man, Harry Potter, The Blade Itself, and so many more.  These books that have come after LotR not only resonate with it, but with each other.  The authors of these stories are obviously aware of the genre they write in.  

It's easy to confuse resonating with stealing.  When does a story idea become plagiarism?  This is the interesting thing about story telling.  In my opinion, Avatar is one of the worst offenders.  There isn't a single original idea in the film.  However, Avatar happens to be the highest-selling movie of all time.  Why is this?  Well... a healthy dose of advertising probably didn't hurt it.  More importantly, though, is the likelihood of it being the first version of tried-and-true tropes many viewers have seen.  I still think James Cameron was a bit heavy-handed with his "borrowing," and a lot of people are surprised when I tell them I hated the film, but he only did what every storyteller does while creating a widely-consumable piece of entertainment.  He resonated with what came before.

So I have been reminded that my stories need resonance.  How conscious should I be of this while writing?  Not so aware of it in my work that I make it as obvious as Avatar, but I can tell you that all the western movies I watch, and all the fantasy stories I've read, definitely influence Gunlord.  I'll just have to pretend I meant to do everything in it when it's published, when people tell me what stories it reminded them of.  Smile and nod, people.  Smile and nod.

An interesting tid-bit: David Farland thinks that George R.R. Martin is the best at resonance in the speculative field.  Food for thought.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Warded Man

Just finished Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man, and what a great book it turned out to be!  I wasn't sure at first... the first chapter is painfully slow.  And starting off, the plot seems to be very standard hero's journey blah blah blah.  Well, as so often happens in novels, chapter two followed chapter one, and BAM!  The story leaps forward at a break-neck pace, and leaves all of your boring fantasy tropes in the dust.

 Okay, I might be getting ahead of myself to say that TWM leaves all fantasy tropes behind.  It doesn't, but it twists them so well that it feels original.  That's exactly what I hope for in a good fantasy.  Give me the things I like about the genre--heroes, discovery of magic, cool fighting, cool world--and then take the story in a direction I don't see coming.  Brett does a superb job at delivering promises, fulfilling them, and surprising readers/listeners with plot twists.  I can't wait for my audible credits to renew next month so I can listen to the sequel.

Corelings stalk the night.  They are ancient, immortal demons, who rise from the ground each sunset to prey on anything that moves.  Like all good demons, they prefer mankind as their main entree--animals only being tasty appetizers, and destruction of buildings, farmland, and any other item useful to man just plain fun.  This creates such a cool dilemma for people to overcome.  Nobody (at least as far as we know at the books beginning) fights Corelings.  In fact, everyone cowers behind wards at night in stark fear.  Well, eleven-year-old Arlen thinks there is a better way to deal with the demons.  He thinks that men ought to fight, even if it means their own deaths.  He discovers just how much fighting back costs as he leaves his village behind for the wider, more dangerous world.

The limits placed on society in TWM are quite intriguing.  If demons stalk the night, and people can't defend themselves against the horde, what happens to commerce?  To nations, and knowledge?  Most people are trapped behind the wards of their own homes or cities, living life unaware of their own imprisonment.  Brett gets major props for the tension he's created in his world by cutting everyone off from everyone else.

I could tell you more about the characters, or about the magic and action scenes, but I don't want to spoil the fun.  If you haven't picked The Warded Man up, and if you're a fan of fantasy, you deserve to treat yourself to this excellent tale.  There is some sexual content, though none that became too descriptive.  Two things that bothered me: most of the men (aside from main characters) seem much too willing to rape any woman they come across, and most married women (aside from main characters) seem to want to commit adultery.  Again, nothing becomes too descriptive that I think it explicit, but the fact that the majority of people are scum bags kind of got under my skin.  I suppose this qualifies TWM as dark fantasy, which is what I typically prefer, so didn't get turned off by it.  I thought it worth a warning, though, for those of you who stay away from the dark side.  On the bright side, the language is practically as clean as a whistle.  I don't recall a single F word in the book.

The Warded Man gets 4 out of 5 stars.  Give this one your time!

-as an added note, the narrator, Pete Bradbury did a great job.  He read The Dragon's Path, which I reviewed a few months back.        

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


An author posted a challenge on her blog, and I decided it would be fun to do it myself.  I don't really consider it a challenge, however... but I won't get too picky here.  Anyway, it's called the 7-7-7 challenge exercise.  You take the 77th page of the current novel you're working on, go to the seventh line, and then post the following seven sentences.  Here goes:

“I’m afraid it’s too soon.”  The doctor had the grace to grimace.  “My apologies... tomorrow perhaps.”
     Chatte growled.  Perhaps I should try and silence him—shove my fist down his throat and rip it out.  Gisle emoted agreement.
     The doctor left the cot’s side and Chatte was forced to return to the company of his dead brother.   

That's it.  Tell me what you think.  Jo, Tony, Taryn: if you read this, I challenge you to do it too.     

Monday, April 16, 2012

I just don't get it

It's really strange how some books and movies get so popular.  Sure, I can understand when something is created with the greatest of quality, like the Harry Potter books, or Lord of the Rings, but there is so much garbage out there that succeeds.  Why is this?  Is it because modern America is full of idiots?  I'm not ruling it out, but it would be very rude of me to say yes, this is definitely why.  I'm baffled, though, by certain bits of entertainment.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  This is one I can't understand.  I tried listening to the book a few years back, when it was becoming such a hit.  I gave up after a very slow, uninteresting beginning.  A mystery book that starts out so blah shouldn't catch anyone's attention.  I watched the movie the other day, thinking they'd cut all the slow bits out.  Wrong!  It's a boring movie too.  And I knew who the bad guy was the first scene he appeared in.  What a pile of poop.

Oh yeah: it has an idiotic title as well.  I know they changed it from the Swedish version's The Man Who Hated Women, when it was translated into English.  What a crackpot decision.  Should have stuck with the original, since it actually gave a clue as to what the book is about.      

There's my rant for the day.  Don't waste your time on stupid films, or stupid books.  They're stupid.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Throne of the Crescent Moon

Throne of the Crescent Moon is Saladin Ahmed's debut novel, and as far as first novels go is a fun read/listen.  This little book seems to be getting a lot of attention right now, for some very good reasons, but I felt its light plot and setting (despite being different from medieval European) didn't quite live up to all the hype.  That isn't to say I didn't like it, however.  I enjoyed the story very much, and think it's worth any fantasy fan's time. 

I listened to the book as usual, and have to say that Phil Gigante's voices were perfect.  He really made the effort to give distinct voices to each of the characters, and my favorite was the demon's, whose name I have no clue how to spell.  I highly suggest listening to this one rather than reading if you have time for audiobooks.

Old and fat Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is a ghul hunter. He's tired of life, and would rather sit around and drink tea than risk his life again.  He makes a great protagonist.  Raseed bas Raseed is the doctor's young assistant, who happens to be a supernaturally-gifted holy warrior.  He is the perfect sidekick and character foil for Adoulla.  Zamia Badawi can shape-shift into a lioness.  She doesn't trust anyone, but is forced to work with the doctor and Raseed to claim vengeance for the murder of her band.  These are the three main heroes of TotCM.  Each is a fully-fleshed character, with weaknesses, goals, and magical power.  The characters in my opinion are what really shine in this novel.

TotCM is sword and sorcery as a single novel.  It feels, though, that it will lean towards epic as the series progresses.  I don't know how to feel about this, since the magic is most definitely low fantasy rather than high.  There is little explanation of the magics, and the costs aren't always apparent.  For me, the magic was the weakest part of the book, because it just seemed too easy to use.  

The plot structure is similar to Brandon Sanderson's The Alloy of Law, but felt even more simplistic.  Without giving anything away, the majority of the time is spent on trying to solve a mystery, with action scenes sprinkled throughout.  I felt the middle slowed down more than is should have, but the beginning and end were satisfying and exciting.  There are some characters and plot points that seem to be more for the series rather than just this book, but I felt that their introduction and inclusion flowed well with the story of the doctor and his young companions.  It will be interesting to see how the story continues with the doctor's arc after TotCM, because I thought it ended perfectly after this one book.  Hopefully Ahmed will have some surprises in store.  

The last parts I want to mention are the religion and setting.  A lot of TotCM's praise has been for its "exotic" setting.  I can't fault the praise--I enjoyed the Arabian-esque city most of the story is set in.  However, I think it's a bit silly for people to get so excited for it, like there has never been a fantasy with Arabian trappings.  George R.R. Martin's settings certainly get Middle-Easternish at times, as well as some of Robert Jordan's.  We have Aladdin, Arabian Nights, Prince of Persia, The Mummy, and several other fantasies that deal with a similar setting.  So this kind of fantasy has been done before.  Also, the religion in TotCM was too much like Islam.  I'm no expert on that religion--far from it--but on the outside they seemed  very alike.  It would have been nice to see more originality in setting and religion in this book.

I give Throne of the Crescent Moon a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars.  It's a great debut, but when compared to other fantasy debuts of the past few years (The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Blade Itself, The Name of the Wind) it feels a bit over-hyped.  The characters were a lot of fun to follow, and I will absolutely listen to the next book when it is published.  I think that the world and story will only get better.  Check it out!


Friday, April 6, 2012


Every once in a while it's good to take a break from fantasy and science fiction.  These two genres are most definitely my favorite, but I also love historical fiction.  Usually, I avoid anything 20th century... simply because I'm less interested in recent history.  I'd rather learn about medieval France, or Napoleonic-era Britain.  Anyway, that's a lot of an intro to just tell you that I recently finished listening to a novel about the Vietnam War, called Matterhorn.  I have mixed feelings about it, but mainly because of the subject matter.  The writing and characters are superb.  It's reading about the horrors of an actual war that get my stomach in knots.

I've talked lots about how I appreciate the new gritty fantasy.  George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, and Scott Lynch are the kings of this type of story telling.  However, since listening to Matterhorn, I've got to say that those guys have nothing on Marlantes when it comes to depicting the gut-wrenching realities of war.  Of course, Marlantes, unlike Martin, Abercrombie, or Lynch, (Scott Lynch is a part-time firefighter, so he probably comes the closest to seeing real horrors) has actually seen combat--experienced it first-hand.  Marlantes's knowledge lends an authenticity to his fiction other authors can only grasp for.  I don't know if this is a positive or negative attribute for his book to have.  In some ways it's Matterhorn's greatest strength, but in others it's greatest weakness.

Matterhorn follows many Marines as they fight for a hill on which they've constructed a firebase.  The main character is a 2nd lieutenant fresh out of college, named Mellas.  Mellas attended an Ivy League school, and joins the Marines to further his political ambitions.  He goes about his duties as a Marine in a way that will be most likely to earn him medals, honors, and notice from his higher-ups.  I won't give away his character arc, but I think it's safe to say that Mellas discovers being a Marine officer encompasses a bit more than medal hunting.  I could tell more about the book, but I prefer to let readers find out more of the story themselves.  My reaction to Matterhorn was quite strong, however, so I can tell a little bit about that.

War is damn depressing.  It isn't hard to come to that conclusion.  I just reviewed Germline, which was about nothing other than how crappy war is.  There's lots of books out there that can let a reader know this.  I've read several.  Where as a lot of these war books can make you feel sad or sick about war, Matterhorn kicks you in the nuts repeatedly once it gets you down.  There was a point in the book (not far from the beginning) where I just had to put the book down.  I was very close to not finishing it.  After a two or more month break, I came back to it and decided to give it another go.  I'm glad that I did, but boy, it wasn't an easy ride.

I mentioned that Marlantes's experience is what lends authenticity to Matterhorn.  I can't imagine the hell Vietnam soldiers went through during this war.  Vietnam is one of those wars that feels so pointless in the end.  What did we really accomplish over there?  Marlantes doesn't pull any punches as he paints a very realistic depiction of a fictional battle.  Again, his experience is what give this book so much strength, but also, for this reader, it was too much for me to handle at times.

If you're interested or curious about the Vietnam War, give Matterhorn your time.  Just know what you're getting in to before you open its pages.  I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.  



Monday, April 2, 2012


Germline is the debut novel by T.C. McCarthy, about a near-future war between the U.S. and Russia, over raw minerals.  The war takes place in Kazakhstan, or Kaz, in massive underground tunnels.  There are genetically-enchanced super soldiers, lots of drugs, lots of self loathing, raw language, and uninteresting scene after scene.

I don't usually bother reviewing books I didn't like.  Germline, however, has been talked about by some as if it deserves the Hugo.  If the Hugo has sunk this low, I worry about the taste of modern sci-fi/fantasy readers.  I don't mean to be insulting about this book... it takes a hell of a lot to write one, after all, and there were some aspects of it that I did like. However, the meandering story, and the unsympathetic pov make for a distasteful read.  

The story that I wanted this book to be about ended after chapter two.  Maybe this is why I didn't like the rest of it.  I have been listening to a lot of long fantasy novels lately, and wanted something different to change up the pace.  I figured Germline would be an exciting, near-future thriller (how could I not think this after seeing the book cover?) but it definitely wasn't any of these things.  

Anyway, if you like your military sf to be disjointed, depressing, and bland, give Germline your time.  If you're like me, and want your military sf to be exciting, fast-paced, and fun to read, ignore this one.  And please, if it ends up on the Hugo ballet, don't vote for it.

Germline gets 2.5 out of 5 stars.