Review of “Idyll” by James Derry

Thanks so much for the review from Sunshine Somerville, author of the ‘Kota’ Series!

Sunshine Somerville

27204858It’s rare that a book gives me chills.  This one did.

I can’t think of another story quite like this.  It is reflective of “The Road” with the main part of the story showing us a pained journey through a  dangerous landscape.  I didn’t get the “Firefly” comparison at all because this has quite a different tone (if you’re expecting fun characters, shootouts, and Whedon wit, this is not that).  But, there are definitely great Sci-Fi elements (a terraformed planet, native creatures, etc) while much of the story feels like a Western too.  It also feels post-apocalyptic as these few survivors struggle to cross the abandoned world that’s been overtaken by the natural landscape.  The author wrote in unique language and terms that make Idyll feel otherworldly but familiar too.  All this blends together for some really great world-building.

The four main characters are believable, and I liked the use of siblings.  Walt is…

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Idyll Chatter: Storyboarding

IMG_0345The light at the end of the tunnel! I’m approaching the last few rounds of editing on Book 2 of the Idyll Trilogy! One of my biggest challenges in writing THE WILDS is that its plot is split into two separate-but-parallel tracks for most of the novel. I have two sets of characters working toward their own independent goals, but with tangential plots and bits of mysteries threading in between them. My hope is that the reader will find out things in one plot-thread and realize it has big ramifications for characters in the second plot-thread, and vice-versa.

But intertwining those two stories (and flows of information) has become quite complicated. How to keep all of this straight? Storyboarding! If you look at the pictures in this post, each colored sticky note sums up a chapter in the WILDS. They’re color-coded to represent different P.OV.s. This book has three main narrators. To avoid spoilers, I won’t pass on any other details.

I started the storyboarding exercise as sort of a whim, but it’s proven to be pretty useful:

IMG_0350At least two times, I rearranged sticky notes because I realized the story beats had a bigger impact when they flowed in a different way. (For instance, while one set of characters is in dire trouble; the other set of characters are blissfully unaware and having a happy/relaxing day).

Also, storyboarding was a great way to visualize the novel’s timeline. THE WILDS takes place over a span of about three weeks, so it’s incredible useful to have a way to keep track of the characters’ days.

Another thing that I now see: I’m using LOTS of pages to describe plot points that can be broken down on a few dozen sticky notes. Looks like I need another round of trimming the fat!

So if you’re trying to manage multiple plot threads and points-of-view, maybe give storyboarding a try!

The Pulchritude Award: Alacrity

James Derry

The Pulchritude Award goes to words that don’t sound anything like what they mean. Today’s winner is ‘alacrity.’
Alas. Alack. Alacrity. It certainly doesn’t sound like a happy word. But that’s exactly what it is. Alacrity (n): brisk and cheerful readiness. It comes from the Latin root, ‘alacer,’ which is also the root for ‘allegro’ (which just sounds so much prettier). Anyway, if you ever feel tempted to use this word, I suggest you move with alacrity to a thesaurus and pick an alternative. How about ‘vim,’ ‘vigor,’ ‘zeal,’ ‘glee,’ ’enthusiasm?’

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A Writing Tip That Ruined Me: Prologues

James Derry

prologue_114378562What do agents and editors have against prologues? Several times, at conferences or online, I’ve heard publishing experts recommend against starting your novel with a prologue. Also here.And here.And here. The prevailing wisdom seems to be this: “If your prologue is important enough to be in the book, make it your first chapter. If not, then cut it.”

I guess if I were filtering through a slush pile of 100 submissions a day, and a mere 10% of them began with prologues, I’d get pretty sick of them too. But if I analyzed that irritability, I think I’d draw the conclusion that the slush-pile/submission process is stupid, not prologues.

I think I read a LOT of books, for the average person—which is to say maybe 30 books a year. In the last year, have I read a book that begins with a character waking up? Not that I can remember…

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Past Tension

James Derry

Past tenses seemed so much simpler in the past
I slapped ‘e-d’ on a verb, and did it fast

But then complications arised (or ‘AROSE’)
From certain verbs that I choosed (actually ‘CHOSE’)

Instead of meaned, I MEANT—instead of sleeped, I SLEPT,
Is it ‘PEEPED’ or ‘pept?’ It’s not ‘keeped’ but ‘KEPT.’

More inconsistencies CREPT in and made me shout
“All these inconsistencies have me feeling CREEPED out!”

The inconsistencies were inconsistent—or they weren’t
Some verbs go both ways, I LEARNED—and LEARNT

For these words, it’s all good–For me, not one bit

Driven insane by past tenses, I just LEAPED from a cliff
Wait, or have I LEAPT? Whatever, you get my drift…

past tension james derry

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Favorite funny shows of 2015

In the last five years or so, I’ve heard people bemoan the state of comedy series on television. The days of mega-comedies like Seinfeld and Friends are long gone. The Office, 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother are off the air. The Simpsons and South Park are both (debatably) past their prime. And no new comedy has established itself as being that widely popular show that you wouldn’t feel slightly embarrassed to admit you watch.

But to anyone who says that comedy is dead, I say, ‘Look harder!’ There’s some very funny stuff out there, based on premises or perspectives that never would have seen the light of day before TV’s age of segmentation. Here’s five of my favorites:

rickandmorty_crop Rick and Morty (on Adult Swim)
Imagine ‘Doctor Who’ cut down to a pithy 22 minutes—with higher production values, and a zanier feel to smooth over some of the implausibilities in the plot. How do you do all this? By turning it into a cartoon! In this case Rick Sanchez is the irrepressible, dimension-hopping genius—but tinted with streaks of nihilism, misanthropy, and alcohol abuse.

This show, co-produced by Community’s Dan Harmon, offers some sharp new angles on some classic sci-fi tropes: alternate timelines, mind control, false memories, and lots of other mind-benders that would make our favorite Time-Master (or the Twilight Zone) proud. Rick and Morty was the most fun show I watched all year, and more than one episode hit me with a thought-provoking jab that stuck with me for days afterward. Oh yeah, and I still have ‘Get Schwifty’ stuck in my head.

whas_crop2Silicon Valley (on HBO)
Mike Judge… is there anybody better at finding what’s funny and fascinating about the most mundane parts of life? Add to that a great, geekly joie de vivre, and also what feels like a very authentic look at a segment of our economy where bros working out of garages can fight toe-to-toe with mega-corporations for their own piece of the American Dream. How great is this show? It mixed a penis joke with programming jargon and compression algorithms—and it earned an Emmy nomination for it.


Nathan For You (on Comedy Central)
Now on it’s third season, I still don’t understand how this show isn’t more of a cultural phenomenon. Nathan Fielder (who graduated business school with ‘really good grades’) travels the country (well mostly southern California) ‘helping’ real business owners with his unique brand of ‘helpful’ ideas. Granted, this reality spoof/prank show isn’t quite as hilariously funny as it was in its first season (even Da Ali G Show only ran for 2 seasons), but it definitely serves up some moments that will have you cracking up—and cringing.

whas_cropWet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (on Netflix)
J.J. Abrams isn’t the only writer/director who resucitated a decade-old property with a golden balance of nostalgia and newness. Michael Showalter and David Wain revived their 2001 cult hit movie by giving us a 8-episode prequel that perfectly brought back the schlocky humor of the original while adding some new wrinkles (pun intended) to create a fresher, deeper storyline.

anotherperiod_cropAnother Period (on Comedy Central)
How did this show ever get green-lighted? I’m guessing the pitch mentioned two enigmatically successful pop-culture phenomenons: Downton Abbey and Keeping Up With the Kardashians. That’s basically what we’ve got here. A group of filthy-rich aristocrats in 1910s Rhode Island, behaving obnoxiously, interspersed with jokes about women’s suffrage, Spanish Flu, and the Lindberg baby (too soon?). How DID this show ever get green-lighted? I don’t know, but I’m glad it did.

Idyll Chatter: Draft King

Exciting news! Right after Thanksgiving, I finished my first, really-rough draft of Idyll Series: Book 2! And since Idyll Series: Book 2 is a really-rough working title, I’ll announce that the sequel to IDYLL will be called… drum roll… THE WILDS!

So my idea is that all three books in the trilogy will have a long ‘I’ and at least one ‘L’ in their name. See if you can guess the title of Book 3! (No the title is not TITLE, although that does fit the rules).

My hope is to have THE WILDS out by some time in April. Seems like a long time away, but there’s a lot of passages in the rough draft that need some heavy ‘fleshing out,’ before the manuscript can graduate to a true editing/proofing process.

I long time ago, I wrote this post about my rough-draft technique. At the time I called it gap writing—because I write it fast and leave a lot of gaps. Can’t think of the right word? Don’t bother with a thesaurus, leave a gap! Bored by trying to write a description? Leave a gap! Need to do some research? Ain’t nobody got time for that! Leave a gap!

A lot of writers espouse this philosophy of purposely writing a crappy first draft. The point is to get your thoughts down as quickly as possible, to keep your momentum going and to not let any one passage become too precious. Because when you get to the polishing and editing phase, some stuff is going to turn out to be highly expendable.

I spent a long, long time writing and rewriting Idyll, so this gap writing technique has been very useful for me this time around. And that’s for two big reasons:

1) Plotting: When I write as loosely and quickly as possible, then I’m quicker to scope out any plotting dead-ends. I’m a big believer in outlining my stories, but my outlines tend to be very squishy in the middle. And sometimes I don’t spot implausibilities or contradictions in the storyline until I’m in the dead middle of it. With gap writing, I stumble into those plot-holes sooner, and I can take solace that I’ve wasted slightly less time getting to that problem-area than I would have if I had been writing a fully fleshed-out manuscript.

2) Characters: I’m not one of those writers who might say, “My characters speak to me!” or “My characters surprise me!” If my characters come up with a funny line, or they have a eureka moment, then I (their unseen and all-powerful overlord!) will take every ounce of credit for it! With that being said, sometimes I won’t find my perfect voice for a character until I write them in some suddenly seminal scene. And sometimes that scene doesn’t come till the end of the book! With gap writing, I don’t have to kvetch about reworking every previous conversation to match the character’s new voice, because all those passages are fairly fluid anyway.

PS: I think gap writing is also pretty similar to writing in ‘story beats,’ which is a technique used by the Self-Publishing Podcast peeps. David Gaughran explains excellently in this post.