I just read: Dawn of Wonder

As I am currently attempting to write a fantasy series, I’m want to read as many types of fantasy as I can. Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw was free through Amazon Prime Reading, so I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did!

As with any epic fantasy book, this one is going to draw comparisons to Song of Ice and Fire. It definitely has the same, ‘nooks and crannies,’ ‘no particular hurry’ feel to it that you find in George R.R. Martin’s books. And just like the Game of Thrones books, you might get hypnotized by a passage about arrow-fletching, snap to attention, and then suddenly realize that the entire status-quo of the story has changed, and you didn’t even notice. Dawn of Wonder goes through several ‘phases’ in the narrative, and that adds to the epic feel, and keeps the plot moving steadily downstream along, even if some passages diverge into the occasional tributary or lagoon.

Unlike ASOIAF, the 3rd-person narration follows one character through the book’s 800 pages. Aedan is an incredibly smart, brave boy. Poor but with a bright future. HIs one weakness is that he suffers from a severe case of PTSD, brought on my childhood abuse from his father. Can’t say that I’ve ever read a fantasy book that explores PTSD in a medieval setting, but it works pretty well here. And Renshaw does a great job of showing how his protagonist can be exceptionally brave while still suffering from a sudden PTSD-induced panic attack, if the situation hits him just right.

As I mentioned, the story travels through several ‘phases’ as we watch Aedan come of age. We see his pastoral childhood, which ends with a tragic loss. A fugitive period with his family. Then Aedan’s enrollment in a rigorous military academy. This to me was really where the book found its voice, its purpose and differentiated itself from other epic fantasies I have read. Renshaw obviously knows a lot about medieval techniques of warfare. At the same time, Aedan befriends a ragtag cast of recruits, and shows off some really cool out-of-the-box innovations, that add color to his training. This part of the book is sort of a medieval Ender’s Game.

Not only that, but Renshaw even inserts a depressingly realistic portrayal of middle-school romance. This is just another way that the book shows itself to be grounded in interesting ways.

So what is the Dawn of Wonders, you ask? Eventually, Aedan’s brilliance and his brash curiosity get him caught up in palace intrigue. (Yes, this is another phase of the book.) Aedan finds himself pulled into a mission to a mysterious castle—and, yes indeed, this is where the book goes supernatural. Aedan and his adult allies face a unique threat, but to me the fanatical conflict isn’t quite as interesting as Aedan’s drama back at school.

All the plot points and intrigues are not entirely wrapped up by the time Aedan’s mission ends. And the last fifty pages or so are dedicated to gearing up to the next mission that will consume Book 2 in the series. So if you hate cliffhangers, be warned. For me, I kind of like unresolved endings (after all, all of G.R.R. Martin’s book end that way), and I’ll be on the look out for when Renshaw’s sequel hits the electronic shelves!

Idyll Chatter: False Start

I posted a few weeks ago about how I had started to write Idyll Book 3 from the middle out. (I’m sure the boys at Pied Piper would be proud!) Well, that was a over a month ago, and since then I’ve returned to the proper beginning of the book, and I’ve been treading forward, building characterization and tension (I hope) that will lead to that midway climax that changes the rest of the book.

I knew what characters I needed to inject into the story, where I needed them to be at the midway point, and what new scenarios I had to set in place. So I diligently set to work. Perhaps that was partly where I ran into a problem. Or at least my focus prevented me from seeing the problem, at least for a while. Unfortunately, after writing those first five-or-six chapter, I realized that the process was feeling a little too much like ‘work.’

The first few chapters were coming out boring!

Too much sci-fi exposition. Too much dwelling in the past. Honestly, probably too much characterization—too much angst and hopefulness and mushiness and all that stuff. And no action. In fact, my first outline contained a few twists and interesting reveals in the beginning, but the first real action scene didn’t happen till maybe 15% in.

So I backtracked and started again. And I think EXILE is going to be much better because of it. I’ve moved up the first big action scene, so it starts to happen while we’re still coming to grips with our heroes’ new status quo. And a few dangling, sci-fi-ish threads are twined together and explained (hopefully smoothly, in a way that won’t make more action-oriented fans lose interest).  Also, a critical new character is introduced during the action.

And another character was excised from the plot altogether. Readers of the series hopefully recognize the name ‘Arbiter.’ I had this character arrive in our heroes’ new home and spend a few tense (but wordy) chapters with our heroes before any action begins. Now, the Arbiter will have a much more scaled-back role (but still essential), and a portion of that story will be told through Interludes.

So there you have it! Thank goodness so far I’ve been working in a gap-writing style, so I didn’t waste too much time on my false start. I believe I’m back on track with a story that will be much more enjoyable, middle, ending, and beginning. I’m hoping to have the first draft done my the end of October.

I just read: Sleeping Giants

sleepinggiantsThe description for Sleeping Giants reminded me of Stephen King’s Tommyknockers. To me, that’s a very good thing, because Tommyknockers starts with one of my favorite high-concept openers ever: Woman finds a strange piece of metal stuck in the ground, starts digging, and digging, and digging, and eventually realizes it’s the lip of a gigantic, buried flying saucer.

In Sleeping Giants, it’s a young girl who stumbles upon a huge piece of long-buried alien technology. In this case, she finds a hand. But where’s the rest of the metallic body? It’s up to a shadowy government conspiracy to find it. The girl grows up and joins the shadowy government conspiracy, and soon her and her team are on a globe-spanning quest to find the pieces of their Giant (not unlike G.I.Joe searching for fragments of the Weather Dominator).

Overall, this novel has a fun ‘popcorn’ type feel to it, so a comparison to an afternoon cartoon feels very apt. I was also reminded of the movie ‘Pacific Rim.’ A giant robot? Check! Alien threat? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find the answer to that. But mainly I was reminded of Pacific Rim in the way that the Sleeping Giant is designed to be driven.

The feature of this novel that really helps it stand apart is the way it’s constructed in a sort of ‘found footage’ way. Most of the story is told through transcripts of interviews or communiques, or through descriptions of satellite footage, etc. I suspect some readers will love this type of storytelling, and others will hate it. It does make you work harder to understand what’s going on, and to keep track of characters. In fact, reading ‘Sleeping Giants’ is a bit like putting together your own mysterious puzzle. But this also creates a distance between the reader and the characters. Sometimes the author cheats with this technique to give us more of a perspective into the heroes’ personal lives, and some of these attempts are a bit cringe-worthy. For instance, in at least two separate occasions, agents are being interviewed by their superior and they end up describing sexual encounters with their coworkers.

I never felt fully immersed in a scene, although I was fine with that because I enjoyed the ‘piecing together’ aspect of the reading experience. I’m sure I’ve read other books that are primarily told by letters or transcripts, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t include a huge, drivable robot in them!

The story also takes some very unexpected, whip-fast turns, which was cool. My main beef would be that the ending is a bit anticlimactic—and it’s obvious that the author is setting up a bigger conclusion in Book 2, ‘Waking Gods,’ which doesn’t come out till April 2017. Wakey, wakey! I’m ready to see how the story ends.

What’s your crutch?

shutterstock_229762090As I was reading through and editing my book this month, I was shocked at how many times I ran across the word ‘sloshing.’ I had written accounts of a nauseous character walking on sloshing floors, of a drunk character with a sloshing head, of water sloshing over feet, of the sound of crickets sloshing through the night air. That last one had me scratching my head. Sloshing, sloshing everywhere! I never realized I had such an affinity for that word.

My book also contained much ‘clenching of jaws.’ Anger, determination, fear, reserve—half-a-dozen varying emotions had my characters nearly cracking their molars.

Needless to say, I broke out the editing pen and there will be a lot less sloshing and clenching in my final draft. I don’t want my readers to see a phrase or a writing device used so often that it takes them out of the story.

I was less surprised to see a bunch hyphenated words in my story. For a good while, I’ve known about my love of the hyphen. I love to create new words using a hyphen (‘beetle-sized,’ ‘mustard-colored,’ ‘trash-strewn’). Or to throw it into existing one- or two-word phrases. I especially love when I throw a hyphen between two words and find out that it’s supposed to be there (‘month-long,’ ‘high-pitched’). Hyphens! I think they’re great, but I realize better writers than me would call them a sign of lazy writing, or at the very least, a crutch that I rely on far too much.

With that said, what are the things that you use again and again in your writing. Particular phrases, words, or punctuation? And do you try to pare them down once you get to the editing phase, or leave them in to help distinguish your voice?

The State of My Writing: Slowly, Slowly

In May I wrote my first ‘State of My Writing’ post, which is really a sort of check-in with myself on how I’m doing with my work-in-progress. Since then—by my rough count—I’ve banged out about 53,000 words in my newest WIP, which means I’ve fit one NaNaWriMo into five months.

In some ways, 50K words is awesome—no matter what. Writing a book is an incredible feat of discipline and determination for anyone who has a full-time job. If you’re a moonlighting novelist, give yourself a pat on the back. Really whack that shoulder blade…leave a mark! For the last few months, I’ve sacrificed whole chunks of my life to writing. I’ve fallen off the face of Facebook, and vanished from the Twitterverse. I’ve spent months’ worth of lunch hours typing with my laptop pressed awkwardly to my steering wheel. (I hate writing in a parked car. Not an environment that’s conducive to creativity.) My Netflix queue is overflowing. I’ve been playing Bioshock Infinite for five months. At this rate, Booker DeWitt is never getting his ass off that floating city!

Which brings me to the depressing part of all that toil: I’m not really that close to being done! My hope was that by December, I could have a rough draft of this Idyll sequel nailed down, an estimated total of 80K words. Then I’d dive back into my first Idyll book and edit it with some new insights into where the characters end up in book 2. I’d release Idyll and Turning (my other novel), and already be percolating on a second draft to my sequel.

I’m really excited at the idea of going from a unpublished nobody to a nobody with three novels on my Amazon Author Page. And I’m excited at the idea of releasing those books in fairly close succession, so that the excitement (hopefully) of one book can build off the excitement (fingers crossed!) of the others. Ah, the freedom of being a independent author, of choosing the shape of your own obscurity.

In addition to writing, I’ve been swamping my head with self-publishing advice. I read ‘Write, Publish, Repeat,’ which has some great advice in it, but is also a little insane (these guys write like a dozen books a year, and they recommend you try to match them). I’ve also been listening to the ‘Write, Publish, Repeat’ authors’ podcast, and the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast, which I’ve really enjoyed. I’m letting this swamp of advice soak in (see the way I brought back that earlier metaphor?), absorbing these insights like a sponge (OK, I’ll drop it now), and I think I’ll write another post on where I net out on all of it.

My biggest bit of wisdom, right now? As a fiction author, your primary marketing pieces are your book. Edit them, get a great cover, and make them available to readers as soon as possible. Because books are like a Twitter account or a blog site…it takes them a while to find an audience. And you can’t find an audience at all until you’ve put something out there.This is kind of a direct contradiction of my ‘hoard three books and release them in close succession’ strategy. But I think it makes sense. And I’ve heard the advice ‘publish your first book as soon as it’s ready’ from multiple sources. I shouldn’t expect an immediate splash of accolades and sales from my first launch as an author. Even if the launch involves two or three books. It’s not going to happen.

So does it make sense for me to stop writing on this sequel and focus on my other books that are closer to being ready? I’m not sure it’s ever a good idea to stop mid-stride on a book if you have momentum going. Hmmm, I’ll have to think on this…

I just read: Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice‘Quite a few’ is a weird term. I wonder why adding ‘quite’ to ‘a few’ changes its meaning to ‘a lot?’ Any-whoo, I’ve read quite a few space operas in the last year, and I’ve been struck by how many similar themes and ideas pop up in each of them. Some of these ideas get a fresh spin in Ancillary Justice.

Cloning will be a substitute for space travel.
Make copies of yourself, and you can be many places at once. This is especially helpful when these locations are light years apart. Now keep cloning yourself, and you can effectively live for thousands of years. This is the Ann Leckie’s premise behind the imperial villain in Ancillary Justice. This is also the premise behind Charles Stross’ villain in his novel Neptune’s Brood. The unique spin that Leckie puts on her multiplied monarch is that her motives are not entirely villainous. But she is utterly ruthless in the way she gets things done.

Spaceships will have personalities, and they’ll dress up in human bodies.
The heroine of Iain M. Banks’ novel Surface Detail has several encounters with humanoid avatars of huge, nearly omniscient battleships. In Ancillary Justice, the heroine is an avatar of a gigantic, super-intelligent battleship. Breq is one component (a copy) of an interstellar ship’s AI. She’s been…let’s say ‘separated’…from the rest of herself, and she’s on a mission to right the wrongs that have been done to herself and to the ones she cares for. Breq explains the rationale behind her hardwired emotions: “Without feelings insignificant decisions become excruciating attempts to compare endless arrays of inconsequential things. It’s easier to handle those with emotions.”

In the future, humans will redefine what it means to be human.
Many writers have speculated that life outside of a ‘gravity well’ will change human physiology, change the way humans communicate (both verbally and nonverbally), and create new tribal tensions between planets and planetoids. In 2312, many space-dwellers upgrade their brains and their…naughty bits. When the two main characters decide to hook up, the reader realizes that they are both hermaphrodites.

Ancillary Justice is set in a future that is mostly post-gender. X and Y chromosomes are still in effect (as are, I assume, wee-wees and hey-nanner-nanners), but everyone is called’ she.’ I was surprised at how troubled I was by this ambiguousness. Leckie seems nonchalant as she prunes her pronouns to one gender. As she should be. This is what her characters are used to; they don’t particularly care if their peers are males or females. And I can honestly say that the character’s genders do not affect the plot or even the character arcs in the book. But even now my primitive, binary-sexed brain can’t fully grasp the characters. Was Breq truly a female? No, she was basically a robot. And no, it shouldn’t matter. But why do I want to call her a ‘heroine’ when she could simply be called a ‘hero?’