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Friday, September 27, 2013

The Hero's Lot by Patrick Carr

Liking A Cast of Stones as much as I did, I bought A Hero's Lot (on sale for $6.99 at the time - woohoo) and jumped right in when I finished book one.

It has what I call "second book problems." Usually, an author's first book has the snot polished out of it for years and years before publication. Book two may be started but it's rarely finished until book one comes out and then it's rushed into the market to take advantage of the excitement book one caused. This means book two hasn't had the snot polished out of it and the rough edges show.

The author tried some new stuff and good on him for doing so. He split the storyline into two viewpoints and made it a zipper book (where they all start out together, split apart and then zip back together to conclude). He increased the number of companions around both and juggled giving everyone reasonable face time and depth. He raised the stakes on main protagonist and gave him a seemingly impossible task. All good. All perfectly acceptable things to do in a second book.

Then, I'm guessing with outline in hand and word count goal in front of him, he started writing, checked for spelling errors and handed in his manuscript.

OK, that's harsh, but this reads like a really good second draft to me. If he'd let it sit for six months, he would have opened it up and seen all the little issues that add up to big problems I saw when I read it, fixed those and had another four or possibly five star book on his hands. 

It all boiled down to uneven pacing. Things that needed more description didn't get it; things that didn't need it got it. The action dragged in the wrong places and skimmed in the wrong places. "The big reveal" was harped on for several chapters instead of planted throughout, which made it fall flat for me. Too many extremely unlikely coincidences cropped up, more than the ones the author noticed and tried to explain away to me the reader (big no-no, btw. I'm a smart girl. Don't tell me how to think). One example: the two swords of amazing craftsmanship and value just happen to end up in the arena for Errol "the slave" to use instead of being stashed in the prince's vault. Please. The climax was over almost before it started. I didn't cry once, which I should have, 'cause there were a couple of things that should have been touching but weren't.

Had the author let it sit for a while, I have no doubt he would fixed these issues mostly by sprinkling better plants (clues) into the manuscript instead of punching me in the face with them all at once. He did fine in A Cast of Stones.

I could be completely wrong. A Hero's Lot might have sat on a shelf for two years before he pulled it out to give to the publisher. In that case, I have no explanation for the pacing issues in this book other than some major life event distracting him.

Anyway, I give it 3 buttercups because I liked it, it's still a good book, and I will buy the last. Every new author has to find his stride between one book-two-books-multiple books written. He's published twice, hopefully learned both times and has the chance to apply that knowledge in book three.

Happy Friday, dear readers. I'm ready for the weekend.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Cast of Stones by Patrick Carr

It started as a friendly dare on Mike Duran's blog by Rebecca Luella Miller. It morphed into an itty bitty sensation as the chosen book turned out to be free on Kindle that week (I'm curious if there's been any impact on sales of book two, Hero's Lot).

I was reading Anna and the Dragon at the time, so I didn't start A Cast of Stones until two weeks ago. Here's the short version: I really liked it. Anymore, I like any book that holds my attention and makes me want to keep reading to find out what happens next.

I wasn't sure I would. I read Katherine Coble's review and she had a few issues with it - number one in my brain being lack of description. I hate that. However, I read on and by the time Errol is slipping and falling his hungover way through a series of waterfalls called The Cripples, I was hooked.

This story reminds me of Dragondrums by Anne McCaffrey crossed with Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. A coming of age survival story with plenty of action without a lot of romantic entanglements (not yet, anyway). I did not notice any particular lack of description, so I guess he instinctively told me what I wanted to know.

Mike Duran says A Cast of Stones doesn't come close to Name of the Wind, but that's like saying a painting hanging in an Italian gallery doesn't come close to a Rembrandt. Doesn't make them bad paintings. Just means they aren't Rembrandt. The writing style was clear, easy to read and well-paced. The story didn't leave me as emotionally exhausted as Name of the Wind, either, which I appreciated.

I loved that Errol's weapon of choice is the staff, and I love the description that surrounds his use of it. Don't see many staff-wielding main characters, but I want to see more of them now. Nicely done.

The lots are an interesting idea, especially how they're divorced from faith in God. The church uses (monopolizes?) them but the ability seems a generic talent some people have. It's a complex concept that seems consistent within the world view so far. Nicely done.

The folks in the story are different people, too. When the cast includes many supporting characters, it's important they all have something unique to add to the story. Nicely done.

In short, I found more than enough interest and action to pull me through the whole book without any "oh, come on!" moments and buy book two when I reached the end. The ending wasn't as cliff-hanger-y as some series I've read and had book two not been available, I would have been OK emotionally until it was.

I'd give it 4 buttercups because I really liked it, although not enough to buy the paper book. We'll see if how the series ends changes that decision. 

I finished book two, Hero's Lot, last night, so I'll probably talk about that tomorrow.

Happy Thursday, dear readers. Find a good book and take 'er out for a spin today.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Star of Justice Cover - An Explanation

I'm going to write about why Star of Justice has the cover it does, even though it's petty to do so. I've always said other people's opinions are none of my business, and I should stick with that. This could be categorized as a "whiny post," and may actually offend a few people who take the time to read it. That's your warning.

Here's a fact: the cover was my idea. Splashdown Books gives its authors a great deal of leeway in cover design and titles, way more than traditional publishers. Yes, Grace had final say and chose the font because I didn't care, and Iguana did the actual work of creating the idea I visualized, but it was my idea. Stop blaming the publisher if you don't like my cover. Blame me.

TT: I suspect Grace allows so much leeway because she has had her own issues with covers designed by marketers that have nothing to do with the book itself. We all have, right? We fiction writers want our covers to accurately reflect what's inside. Never mind that those marketers got your attention enough to buy the book and read it and realize the cover doesn't match and give you something to complain about. You're welcome.

My cover has been called "boring." Fine. Caissa is boring. She's a fairly boring person who happens to have a fairly exciting two weeks. This is why I didn't want an "action shot" on the cover. No flaming swords, no fire-breathing dragons, no druids in fight skin. All those things happen in the book, but I didn't want people to see the cover and think "Wow! Wall-to-wall action!"

And what exactly makes the Twilight cover so intriguing? A hand holding an apple gets a pass? Don't answer that. I don't care. 

Most of my beta readers don't read fantasy. They would never choose a book with a traditional fantasy cover yet loved my story, probably because it isn't quite traditional fantasy. I made the choice to provide a more generic fiction cover with symbols rather than illustrations to try to reach those kind of people through referrals. They shuldn't be turned off immediately by this cover like they would by a cover with people in medieval costume on horseback battling dragons.

TT: That is my preferred type of cover, btw. I loved Mercedes Lackey's covers far more than I loved her books. 

I've heard the cover has nothing to with the story. *blank stare* Caissa begins her quest in search of a book, continues her quest with the discovery of another book and ends the quest with understanding that book. How can a book, held by the protagonist herself as evidenced by the marks on her arms, not represent the story? I can understand the confusion if you haven't read SoJ, but I would hope that confusion goes away after you've read it.

The blood. Yes, there's an enormous blood stain on the cover. I admit it made me nervous, but I polled a bunch of people (state workers, some of them, who wouldn't know SpecFic if it bit them on the nose) and they had no problem with it. Grace also thought 1) it showed up better on thumbnail and 2) it was fair warning to the amount of violence contained within. I agreed with those reasons, and the stain stayed instead of the spatter I would have preferred. Frankly, I don't know that anyone has complained about the blood, but I just needed to say this.

That's all I can think of at the moment, and far more than I should address anyway. This frustration has been building for a year, so I hope I kept it somewhat civil.

Not everyone is going to like the cover. That's fine. Your opinions about my cover are none of my business. They likely won't change any decision I make about covers in the future. I just needed to get this off my shell because the weight is hurting my knees.

Happy Monday, dear readers. I'll end on a positive note. What's your favorite cover and why?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Colds, Mulch and Good Books

A cold seeks residence in my nose. The sneezing started yesterday, although I don't yet have that tickle in the throat that heralds the end of all resistance. I've just started rebuilding my sick leave so I'm a bit irritated that I may have to use it so soon. I'm drinking Airborne and taking cold meds in the hope of delaying illness until more winter-ly weather kicks in.

It could be the mulch I moved last night. Did you know if you have tree trimmers in your neighborhood, they may be willing to dump trimmings in your yard rather than hauling them to a local dump site and paying fees to get rid of them? For a recycler and composter like me, fresh tree chippings with all the green and brown crunched into shreds are a Woo-Hoo moment stretched into an hour of hard work in light rain. I used everything they left and wish I had two or three more loads, but I'm grateful for what I got. Come spring, it will all be melted into black gold.

I'm 40% through A Cast of Stones by Patrick Carr and enjoying it. Yes, there's been a few beating-a-dead-horse paragraphs and a couple of wrong-word-typos, but nothing I haven't seen worse in other places. The main character has just enough hardship to keep him interesting and not so much to exhaust me (Kvothe of The Name of the Wind reminded me of A Series of Unfortunate Events on more than one occasion).

If I want to lie down a bit before work, I'd best go.

Happy Tuesday, dear readers. Take those vitamins and wash your hands.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Committing to Forget

Becky Minor used this phrase in a recent post and voiced exactly what I've been trying to do with Dangling Justice.

I conceived Dangling Justice in college. I illustrated at least three scenes from what I imagined the plot would be. I'm talking multimedia pen and ink, colored pencil and marker illustrations. Those puppies took time and they solidified my imagination.

I keep bumping into those illustrations. Oh, no, I can't do that, because then they wouldn't end up here doing this thing I drew. Oh, no, she can't look like that because she looks like this. Oh, no, he does it this way in the picture.

None of these issues should stop me. None of these issues are actual issues. They were ideas I had way back when and I have different ideas now.

I've had the same trouble with Past Ties, so much trouble, in fact, I've almost decided that book will never be revised/updated/published. It was a campy first effort at writing a book, but I wrote it and it remains.

I must commit to forget what I planned twenty years ago. Had I written it then, it would be different, but I didn't and it isn't. The story must move forward, not stall out at now-useless images from my once-fertile imagination, no matter how beautifully proportioned.

Happy Monday, dear readers. If your past holds you back, first forgive, then commit to forget.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


If you're my FB Friend (and pay attention), you know I've updated my wardrobe (bought pants) and updated my coiffure (dyed my hair). So, why the sudden attention to the outward appearance?

First, the changes aren't that dramatic. About once a decade I notice my clothes are too small/ too ratty/ too hard to match, and I get new clothes. That happened last week when I spent a day squeezed into 15 year old pants with snags and a button coming loose even though I've sewn it on about four times. I'd had enough and that night I bought five pairs of pants. The miracle was they were all in colors I needed. That hasn't happened in about 15 years.

The hair isn't that dramatic, either. I cut off five inches, yes, but it's still below my shoulders and I will still put it in a bun clip most days because I hate hair touching my face. In fact, it went into a scrunchie right after I snapped this pic.

I dyed it because the leftover red from last November had turned orange and was driving me crazy. There's no way to get from orange to silver without shaving my head, so I dyed it the normal brown and the silver will come back on its own. It also cost me nothing because the house guest I've kept for the last few weeks paid for the whole thing. He's an odd looking dog, but flush.

It was weird to look in the mirror this morning. I haven't seen that kid in 20 years. I kinda wanted to slap her. 

Finally, after a What Not to Wear marathon a few months ago, I remembered that an adult should project a certain image in the workplace, and I was falling down on that job. Not saying I'm turning into a fashionista. Just saying I occasionally need to clear out the old to make way for the new.

Happy Tuesday, dear readers. What's in your closet?

Friday, September 6, 2013


Weird thing happened Wednesday night. I was exhausted and getting ready for bed, looked at the clock, thought "I have a little time," pulled out my laptop and WROTE SOMETHING ON MY WIP.

Yes, all you writers out there who do that every day - good for you. I've been stuck so long I've built a house in the rut. But that night, thanks to the outline, I knew where I was going and I knew I could make a little progress if I just turned on the computer. I did, too.

Tried it last night, but I really was too tired and the computer itself thwarted me by running all these diagnostics it's been wanting to run for a while. Plus, I'd handwritten bits of the next scene earlier in the day, so I'm counting that as working on it.

While pondering this scene and some ahead, the issue of "alignment" came up. I'd like to take a moment to thank Wizards of the Coast and D&D for including alignment in their gaming systems, because it's a useful concept.

Alignment comes in flavors, like ice cream: Good, Neutral and Evil. Add the adjectives Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic and you get the ice cream container: Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, Lawful Neutral, Neutral Neutral (I wouldn't even know how to play that but it exists), Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil and finally Chaotic Evil. Out of sheer perversity, I would finish the analogy by saying "Lawful" is a paper cup, "Neutral" is a thin waffle cone prone to drips and "Chaotic" is no container at all - just a handful of ice cream.

Why do you care? Because written characters have alignment, too. A Good character cannot do something Evil without consequences, and vice versa. A Lawful Evil character may resemble a Lawful Good character until the right circumstances reveal the evil (think Magneto's abandonment of Mystique in Xmen 3 because she's no longer "one of them").

Keep in mind when you're writing or reading that a character's actions should reveal that character's alignment. In Pan's Labyrinth, my alignment warning went off when the Faun put an 8 year old girl into extremely dangerous (and beautiful) situations, even though he claimed to be helping her. At that moment, I moved his alignment from Good to Neutral Good a hair's breath away from Lawful Evil (the "healing" spell using mandrake and human blood didn't help his case, either). He might be a friend, but his version of friendship is rougher than I would like.

Alignment isn't an excuse to write two-dimensional characters, but it is a gut-check on what kinds of actions your characters will perform. A Good character who kills in cold blood or steals or lies may suffer an alignment shift and all the baggage that goes with it or may be trapped by conscience into making restitution that hinders his ultimate goal. An Evil character who shows mercy may suffer the same thing, or may be using all his evil wiles to lull the Good character into a trap.

Choosing an alignment is one more way to keep characters - and your story - on the right track.

Happy Friday, dear readers. Make it a Good one.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Zucchini Pie

Zucchini season may be over for me. The remaining four plants are looking sad indeed, but that doesn't mean I won't need this recipe later.

Zucchini Pie

1 1/2 C Cooked Zucchini (you can cube it and microwave for about 6 minutes)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3 T flour
1 C evaporated milk
1 t vanilla

Put all ingredients in blender.
Mix Well.
Pour in unbaked pie shell.
Bake a 425 degrees for 10 minutes then at 300 degrees until well set (about an hour)

This is an amazing pie. Looks like quiche, feels like pumpkin, tastes like custard. I don't even like pie, but I will be making this. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

It Starts...Again

Does anyone else hear Timon from The Lion King when you read "it starts?"

Last night I started Dangling Justice. Again. No, I didn't start over, although I did a quick read-through of the first 50 pages to correct a few issues I noticed the last time I read through the first 50 pages.

This story is potentially full of cheats. The current scene is one of them. If I pull it off, disbelief will remain suspended and my readers will remain happy. If I fail miserably, readers will delete the book and never talk to me again.

I can probably live with it either way. I might actually prefer the latter because it lessens the pressure.

When this story first fired in my imagination, the ending was absolutely deus ex machina. I mean, God got them into it; He would have to get them out of it, too. It worked for Lewis, right? The children can't possibly get out of Narnia on their own.

That ending no longer makes me happy. While outlining with the help of Structuring Your Novel, I brainstormed other possible solutions and found one slightly less divine. Not much less, mind you, but a little. We'll see.

The outline, rudimentary as it is, helps. I felt the difference in the new bits I added last night. Instead of dialogue and action meandering across the white space, character interaction aimed at something: the end. The end is currently out of sight over a mountain, but it's there, waiting to be found.

Every start must have an end, after all. That's the whole point.

Happy Wednesday, dear readers. May you start and end well today.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Fall in The Swamp

The days shorten. Although summer waited until the end of August to arrive, it can't escape the tilting of Earth. Last night I awoke because I was cold - a familiar and unwelcome sensation I've experienced far more often than I care to in the last twelve months. It will be cold for real too soon for this reptile.

One hour a day is making all the difference in The Swamp - for both of us. I need the exercise and it needs the taming. 

I tore out one zucchini plant yesterday. It didn't even protest. The baby blueberries underneath seem no worse for the shelter or the squash bugs. Perhaps I should plant something tall between them and the southern sun.

I've torn out barrels of bermuda and crab grass. I shouldn't put them in the compost pile, but I did. I need the green more than I care about the seeds. I'll turn it often this winter, especially if we have snow like we did last winter. I'll need to collect leaves, too. Can't have a good garden without good soil.

I pruned roses, and I have the scratches to prove it. All the ones I took from Grandma Turtle's house rebloom if I deadhead. They also take over the garden if I don't.

Discovered the plants I thought were wild rhubarb are actually enormous stickleburrs. Glad I've been as mean to them as I have been. Made it easier to remove the few that survived. They will not go into the compost pile this year. I'll wait until the seeds have soaked into mush.

About the time I'm at the end of the zucchini season, I discover zucchini pie. It looks like quiche and tastes like custard. Once I have the recipe, I'll share it, but only because there's enough zucchini to go around. Otherwise, no one would see it but me.

Overall, I'm pleased with The Swamp this year. It's not as tame as I could wish, but we're coming to an understanding.

Happy Tuesday, dear readers. Monday will find you today, so be ready.