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

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mini Reviews #2

So I've listened to some more books. Time for a short review of each. Here we go...

1356 is Bernard Cornwell's return to the Hundred Years War. He has already written a trilogy set during this time period, following an archer named Thomas of Hookton. This book picks up Thomas's story several years later and tells of the English victory over the French at the Battle of Poitiers.

Bernard Cornwell is the master of historical adventure fiction. No one does it better. 1356, however, wasn't as good as his previous archer stories. I felt that the central conflict--the Battle of Poitiers--was just thrown in at the end for something for the characters to do. There was no sense of a building conflict that would lead to the fateful battle. I really felt Cornwell phoned this one in. That said, I still enjoyed returning to 14th century France, and archers just plain kick butt. They are way cooler than knights.

1356 gets 3 out of 5 stars. Don't start here if you're new to Cornwell. Try The Archer's Tale or Agincourt first.

It's finally here. A Memory of Light is the concluding volume to one of fantasy's most seminal epics. Twenty three years in the making, folks. Deep breath in... now let it out. Aaahhh... Okay. Now we can get on with it. So did it fulfill all of my hopes and dreams that have been building up since I picked up the first book back in 2002?


But that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. I did. However, I thought that there were some serious flaws with this book, and because of it the entire series. I won't discuss it here. I plan to do a post about the entire Wheel of Time series in the future. You'll get an ear full from me then. For now, know this: Brandon Sanderson did an excellent job. Nobody could have done better. But it was never Sanderson's book. Even though Robert Jordan passed away in 2007, he left detailed notes about how things should wrap up. All the flaws and shortcomings are his, not Sanderson's.

You have to read this book if you've been a long-time fan of the series as I have. You have to read it to finish the story. If you've never read the series before, though, I'd suggest stopping after book six. After that, the word count just isn't worth it. I give A Memory of Light 3 out of 5 stars.

Another historical to review. Ironfire, subtitled, A novel of the Knights of Malta and the Last Battle of the Crusades, is a monster soap opera. I didn't like it hardly at all. The only reason I stuck with it, other than the fact that I'd paid to listen to it, was because I was waiting for the siege of Malta to happen. It took way too damn long to get to the battle... which is so idiotic seeing as how the subtitle of the freaking book declares itself to be about the bloody siege! No joke--the final five hours out of thirty-one is all the time the last battle of the crusade got. I'm guessing the only reason this book has its subtitle is because no one would have bought the dumb thing if they knew what it was really about.

What is it about? It's about soap opera romances, modern medieval story cliches, and a bunch of crap completely unrelated to the siege of Malta. David Ball, if I'd wanted a medieval soap opera I would have listened to The Pillars of the Earth. At least that book doesn't use a subtitle to falsely lead readers. Oh, and you suck at info dumping. How boring is it to be taken away from the story to be force-fed historical facts for twenty minute chunks?

And that's all I have to say about that. :D  Ironfire isn't even worth a more detailed review. Don't waste your time on it. If you want a novel about the siege of Malta, read The Religion. It's a bit on the soap opera side, too, but at least the majority of the story focuses on the battle. Ironfire gets 2 out of 5 stars.

Wish there'd been some higher-rated ones to tell you about this time. And it seems there was a theme here: YOU HAVE TO BE ABLE TO STICK THE ENDING. Otherwise, it just hurts the rest of the book or series. Oh well. I've already got more good audiobooks waiting in the wings to tell you about in a few weeks. Until then, That's all!

P.S. I do have to add that all these books have excellent covers. Well done, marketing people!

Friday, January 18, 2013

What the crap is Sword and Sorcery?

It's time for another what the crap post! All right! This time I'll be telling you about the bastard brother of epic fantasy--sword and sorcery. It is a sub-genre that is on the rise, my friends, and so it is a good idea to know what it is, read examples of it, and see if it's the type of stuff you're interested in writing. So here we go.

There are a few things that separate sword and sorcery from epic fantasy. First, a lot of people refer to s&s and low fantasy, whereas epic is high fantasy. What does this mean? Well, high fantasy concerns itself with big issues, like the world is going to end, or the fight between ultimate good and evil, or the movement of kingdoms and great men. High fantasy is your Lord of the Rings, or The Wheel of Time. Big problems, big solutions, big characters, big. Any bets as to what low fantasy is, then? You got it. Low fantasy is about small issues, like a town in danger, a church infested with demons, a fight between kind of evil and kind of more evil. Low fantasy is where you can have gray characters--protagonists that aren't exactly walking the straight line along the moral high ground. Low fantasy is dirty, it deals with every day things (in a fantasy world, anyway). It is often times crass, blunt, and unafraid of rutting around in the mud. Low fantasy is, well... low.

Some other differences between sword and sorcery and epic are magic systems and uses. Epic fantasy usually relies a lot on the use of magic. In Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series the point-of-view characters are powerful magic users. They use magic in their every-day lives. In sword and sorcery magic can be (but doesn't have to be) less prevalent. Magic in these types of stories is usually mysterious and unknown to most people. Your protagonist will likely not be a magic user in s&s, but that isn't always the case. An example of modern sword and sorcery is Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes. In this book there is a tiny, tiny glimpse of magic. The rest of the story is about a battle between two nations--neither of which are particularly noble. It is bloody, it is filthy, and it is honest about the horrors of war.

So why do writers want to tell sword and sorcery stories? Aren't they a bit insignificant? This all depends on what you as a reader are looking for, of course, but I actually find sword and sorcery to be the style I lean toward in my own writing and reading tastes. I think it is because low fantasy feels more real to me. I can understand smaller issues--relate to them somewhat better. Also, I think characters are usually developed better in s&s... usually because the author has to make readers like their bastard characters, and it takes digging deeper into a character's head to do this.

The grandfather of sword and sorcery is considered to be Robert E. Howard. (J.R.R. Tolkien is considered the grandfather of epic fantasy.) If you're wondering who Howard is, ever heard of a barbarian named Conan? Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, and David Gemmell are some of the genre's best-known writers. Sword and sorcery was huge in the 80's, and it has been back in vogue these past five years or so.

Today fantasy seems to be blending high and low. Writers like George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, and Scott Lynch--to name a few--are doing it brilliantly. I suggest starting with them to get a taste of sword and sorcery, and then work you way backward through some of the greats.

That's all!

P.S. sword and sorcery is where we get chicks in chain mail bikinis. Gotta love it!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Make writing your only choice in the new year


Holy crap.

How did you sneak up on me so fast?

The years seem to be going by faster and faster, the days streaming past like blurred fence posts along a highway, and I'm left looking back on what I've accomplished. I hate looking back... because I haven't come anywhere near where I want to be as a writer. True, I became a parent for the first time this past year, and I'm scrambling to prepare for baby number two in a few months, (didn't plan the second one, let me tell you!) but these are only parts of life any aspiring professional has to deal with. Why have I been dragging my feet so much for so long? *crickets chirping*

I don't have an acceptable answer.

As I get older and my family grows, I'm left with some serious choices to make. Mainly, how I'm going to support us in the years to come. I have a job that pays the bills, but it isn't the job I want to spend the rest of my life doing. My time there is limited--I've always known this. Problem is I haven't put enough effort into writing or anything else that will get me better employment. 2013 is the year to change this. I've come up with some goals to help me accomplish this. First, though, I'd like to point out a few things I've learned from professional authors this year.

Make writing your only option. This is what Bestselling author Dave Wolverton/Farland advises. This advice has been on my mind quite a bit lately. I've been wondering if it's time to hang up the writing hat for a while and go back to school. I'll never give up on writing, but a 4 or 5 year break would be necessary if I finished a degree. I don't have time to work full time, go to school, and write. Honestly, though, this sounds like a very bad option for me. I'm sure most of you creative types can relate. It's practically impossible to give up thinking about writing, so to stop writing for so long would only be tortuous. Dave says that you shouldn't have any other plans besides writing. According to him I ought to focus %100 on improving my craft. Make writing my area of study. I like this advice very much.

I went to a week-long writing camp with Dave a couple years back. I had some one-on-one time with him during lunch one day, and I told him how I was struggling with finishing school or not. He then informed me that he had dropped out of college to pursue writing. It can happen, people. All that matters is how much time, sweat, tears, and sacrifice you put into becoming a published author.

Another bit of wisdom I've garnered in the past little while comes from Michael J Sullivan, author of the popular Riyria Chronicles. It took him twenty years to become published. Twenty freakin years! When I read that about him my eyes nearly popped out of my head. Think of the dedication and perseverance it would take to keep trying for so long. His experience is quite inspirational. It tells me that success is out there for those willing to grasp for it.

So this is my goal for this year: write three completed novels, the first due by March 31st. This is going to be a difficult goal for me, considering I've never completed a single novel before. I'm approaching things differently this time, though, and so feel like I can do this. I'm going to write YA fantasy for the time being. I've started a few in the past and they are the ones I feel I need to pursue right now. The word count in a YA novel is significantly less than adult ones... somewhere around 80,000 words. The adult fantasies I've been working on are all above 130,000. I've made it to 80,000 several times, so I know what writing that many words feels like. I just need to shorten my story arcs so that I have a complete story with the lower word count.

Anyway, that's about it. I'm going to try and write each book in 90 day chunks. I gave myself a 1200 word count goal for each day. That means 66.5 days within the 90 day goal that I need to write to reach 80,000 words. I already know I'm not an every day writer, so this gives me a little breathing room. I'll take a break after the first book is done by March 31st. My son is due April 12th, so I'm expecting at least 4 weeks of 0 productivity. After we recover from the birth I'll set another 90 goal for the second book of the year.

Here's hoping 2013 is a great year.