Really Listening to Reviews

currently playing on my laptop: M62 Song by The Doves

In addition to working myself up over a game I never watch during this Super Bowl weekend, I perused several reader reviews on youtube. I focused on books that have the same genre, tone, and audience as my writing.

It was enlightening.

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So you have a sampling at your fingertips…

This is one from The Book Basement on The Winner’s Curse.  And here is one on An Ember in the Ashes from Whitty Novels. Here is another from The Book Basement on An Ember in the Ashes. 

Now it’s not like I haven’t read a billion book reviews. And I’ve talked books with everyone from the woman ringing me up at the grocery to the man standing beside me at the gas pump. But focusing on recent releases similar in flavor to my own stories, really amped the experience.

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Here is what I picked up.

  1. As always, EVERYTHING is so very, very, very, very, veryyyy subjective. One person loved the romance. The other thought it should’ve stayed a friendship. What one thought boring, the other relished. But there are still tidbits to glean from reviews.
  2. Readers are totally good with subtle. They don’t need us to spell everything out. It’s even viewed by some as insulting. Your readers are smarties. Don’t smack them over the head with how each person feels, hints to the mystery, and so on. They will see that one little movement, glance. They will hear the tone in that dialogue. People who buy your book dive in and they pay close attention to the story—oftentimes more so than—dare I say it?—your betas, agent, or your mom. (Not my agent though. She knows every last detail and God knows I love her for it.)
  3. They truly appreciate great writing. Yes, there are books with craptastic writing that do very well. BUT hard core readers that stick with you for your career want your best prose. Don’t think for a second that young readers will let less than stellar writing slide. The YA readers in the reviews I watched were right on target with knowing what was good and what was less than.
  4. Romance isn’t necessary to some people. I’m a huge romantic. Always have been. But there are many readers who are just fine with a sparkling, gut-tugging friendship. Let your characters tell you where to go on this. Let it be natural. Don’t force a romance just because Mr. Darcy is your favorite. (I’m talking to myself here.)
  5. If there is romance, it had better develop in a real-life manner. Friends do become lovers, but it is awkward at first, and scary. Strangers can fall in love, but they do it slowly, with some false starts. Make the romance grow at its own, organic pace.

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I encourage you to watch some reviews and report back to your fellow writers!

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Worldbuilding in a Postcard

currently playing on my laptop: Way Down We Go by Kaleo

My parents uncovered a postcard collection gathered from both sides of the family, with many pieces from the early 1900s. That’s a lot of years ago, people! The old pictures, illustrations, and captions inspired me to take another look at the worldbuilding in my current WIP. 

Stick with me.

This is one of my favorites.

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I’m not sure I totally get the joke here, but I know this old postcard is having a little fun. Humor tells us bunches about a culture. What they hold sacred and therefore like to poke at a bit. What is considered uncouth. The society’s rules and which ones are acceptable to break and who may break them and get a laugh. Consider the jokes and humorous sayings in your worldbuilding. What does it tell about the characters and their environment? If you don’t have humor, maybe you should. All cultures have it and it changes over time. 

These next two show spots that are now rather different. Look familiar?

Yep. That’s Westlake (MacArthur) Park in LA (check out this article on the cool history of the place) and a shot of Manhattan a very long time ago. Wow. How things have changed. But think of this as another world. What are the people doing for fun? What are they wearing? Read the captions (Is that what they’re called on a postcard? Feel free to correct me). Listen to the wording. What kind of activities do the people in your WIP do in their free time if they have any? Do they don hats as they scamper about? What about their structures? Are they made of brick? Are they painted or plain? Lavish or austere?

How about this one? This looks wild. The White House, circa 1906. 

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If we draw ourselves out of what we know and look objectively, we can think about what kind of nation has this as its leader’s home. It’s all tidy and stoic. It’s surrounded by greenery. Now think about what this picture would show today. A fence, for sure. What does that say about this nation we are trying to look at objectively?

I hope you enjoyed the postcards. If you want, share your fun ways to look at worldbuilding. I’m always searching for new inspiration!

 

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Great St. Bart’s: Monks, Movies, and Missing Shoes

currently playing on my laptop: Stonemilker by Bjork

In 2014, I visited Great St. Bart’s in Smithfield in London. I say this like I casually strolled in and calmly snapped a pic. No big.

I’M A GIANT LIAR.

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I was in full-on, complete, and utter freak out mode in this ancient place. Formerly an Augustine monk hangout, the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew (aka Great St. Bart’s) has hosted monks with a sense of humor, film crews galore, and a ghost missing a sandal.

One really ornate window boasts a crossbow bolt jammed though a barrel—a nod to Prior Bolton (bolt-tun, get it?) who installed the gorgeous set of glass panes. I love thinking about monks snort-laughing as their prior appeared in the window above his namesake décor.

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The movies filmed here blew my brains. I mean, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. AND THE SECOND ELIZABETH MOVIE. AND FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL.

AAAAAA!!!!

Okay. Breathing.

I MIGHT be a Cate Blanchett, Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Geoffrey Rush fan. A little. OKAY FINE A LOT.

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And of course the history!!!

One of Henry I’s favorites, Rahere—a herald/minstrel/monk/wowhedidalot—had a vision of Saint Bartholomew and decided it was his mission in life to open the priory and its hospital.

The place managed to stay alive past the great fire of London and is now a beautiful hodgepodge. The choir is Norman, some of the frontage is half-timbered Tudor, and parts of the old cloister house a café.

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Oh! Also, there is a ghost!

At some point in the history of this place, Rahere’s tomb was disturbed and someone took his foot. Yeah. No idea. Well, when people started reporting a cowled, shadow figure, they returned his sandal, but not his foot. So the ghost still shows up now and again. Maybe you can find him in my pictures???

Great St. Bart’s is a lovely place and I hope you get to visit someday too!

 

 

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SPQR and a Travelish, Bookish, Historyish Pin Haul

currently playing on my laptop: Black Soap by Ex Cops

I vlogged! Oh my I am so nervous to post this. I say UM and do this weird mouth noise thing about two hundred badrillion times. Pretty, pretty please be patient with me as I channel my brave (Courtney C. Stevens shout out!) and post this despite the above yucks and the too quiet/too loud/too grainy qualities.

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Brainstorming, Plotting, and the Structured Chaos That Is Writing

currently playing on my laptop: River by Leon Bridges

Helloooo people who might want to peek into another writer’s arsenal and new writers just boarding the rollercoaster that is publishing! How is that maddening December going? Not great? Well, that’s probably okay because everyone is busy doing all the holiday things anyway. So keep this lil post in your virtual pocket for January.

I’ll keep this simple and throw my favorite brainstorming, plotting, and story shaping tools  at you for your use.

Brainstorming:

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I still use Pinterest. If I have a location/historical period in mind for setting, Pinterest gives me so much to go on and it’s just so easy to pin and keep it in one place. I also like to type in the story’s possible theme or gut or a thing you often see in the story. For example, search Fear Art. Yeah, you see now?

Music also lends itself to brainstorming. If there is a song that cuts you at the knees, listen to it and sketch or free write. Backstory tends to sneak up on me through song. It’s a beautiful surprise.

Plotting:

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I love to start with John Truby’s ANATOMY OF A STORY. The wise Courtney C. Stevens (FAKING NORMAL, THE BLUE-HAIRED BOYTHE LIES ABOUT TRUTH) introduced me to this tome and I keep it at my bedside. Plot grows from character and even if you only wade into the first third of ANATOMY, you will find some serious seeds. *the 22 steps deal is the stuff too

Blake Snyder‘s Beat Sheets are fantabulous, especially if you have a spreadsheet version. It’s basically a list of whenwhatshouldhappens and it gives you the pacing by word count. Such a nice tool that you can push and pull as you wish.

Story Shaping:

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Okay, I cannot draw. Like AT ALL. But I do sketch as I write because I want each character fully formed in my head and I need to see the desert, tent, palace, forest, sea, island, tower.  

Also, I like to use highlighters and do the whole Margie Lawson thing. It helps with where backstory should sit and where I need to pluck and pick at dialogue and setting detail. 

Okay, hope that gives you something to look into! Now, go have a fun rest of the year and save the work for January, you little workaholic!

 

 

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Don’t Forget Your Local History!

currently playing on my laptop: The Silver Tent by Ramin Djawadi

As you are well aware, I’m a gigantic history nerd. I travel all over this planet gathering stories and eating amazing things and touching all the artifacts I shouldn’t be. But sometimes, I forget about all the history right under my nose.

I live in a little town south of Nashville and recently I took a tour of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. Now, he is a man that would totally fit into Game of Thrones. He’s as gray as any Tyrion. He did great things (the Battle of New Orleans!) and very terrible things (owned slaves and killed Native Americans). That shouldn’t stop us from learning about his life and the time period in which he lived. There are lessons there, my friends.

The Hermitage has an amazing museum. In addition to the period-accurate rooms and the haunting garden and cemetery, a large building holds an impressive collection of artifacts.

I’m into daily life items. When I get up close and personal with these little things, I can almost feel the people around me, the heat in the air, the conversations about long-ago problems that echo through our lives today.

So here are a few for your perusal. (Okay my Mac update obvs hates this site for some reason. So my pics are sideways. Screw it. I’m posting anyway. I have things to do!)

The first shows a set of marbles that enslaved adults and children used for games. These may have been a gift from the Jacksons.

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And here we have a carriage. It’s no Escalade, I’ll tell you that. The thing is tiny! White cloth flowers decorate the inside of the carriage and a cut glass lamp sits near the driver’s seat.

Here are some medicine bottles from the Hermitage. Creeps. During this period, many believed a medicine was only working if it had violent side effects like bleeding and vomiting and horrible pain. Yeah. Glad I can enjoy history from over here in 2015.

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These artifacts below are by far the most interesting to me. The pierced coins and metal hands are actually all types of hands. African-Americans used the term “hands” to mean any object that brought good luck or protected a person from evil spirits or disease. The objects would be worn around the neck or ankles usually. I have my own pierced coin that I wear on a chain. I found it in my mother’s things and have yet to ask her where it originated.

Don’t turn up your nose at your local history! Help your spot in the world hold on to the good parts and learn from the bad. 

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The Darkling, Gansey, Elias, and Kaz: What Makes Them Magnetic?

currently playing on my laptop: Til My Heart Stops by Too Far Moon

Fantasy novels take me down roads I’d never travel via contemporary tales. The otherworld aspect gives me distance to objectively examine sacrifice, abuse, desire, selfishness, addiction, lust, love, friendship, betrayal, submission, and drive. Through reading, I meet complicated people and learn about myself in a way that doesn’t involve gallivanting around dark alleys, running from psychotic professors and risking life and limb to dig up dead people, battling sadistic martial arts experts, or confronting less than honey-sweet world leaders.

But why do we even want to meet these wild folks? What draws us to Leigh Bardugo’s Darkling and her Kaz, Maggie Stiefvater’s Gansey, and Sabaa Tahir’s Elias?

Kaz and the Darkling would kill you if it served their goal.

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Gansey wouldn’t notice you unless you spoke Latin flawlessly or had a Welsh king in the family tree.

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Elias would really be better off without you so he can try to stay alive.

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Can all agree we don’t greedily gobble up these characters’ stories because we’d love to share a Kit Kat with them? (Okay, maybe Gansey.)

It’s the mystery of their passion. Each of these fellows are driven to accomplish something that means more to them than their own safety, the safety of their friends, or anything us normal people consider top tier in the list of Protect This or nothing matters.

And that is fascinating.

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Passion is magnetic. It heats a story until your fingers burn, flipping those pages to find out if the character will get what they want and at what cost.

Some may argue these gentlemen aren’t too hard on the eyes. That their looks and/or prowess is what makes us love them. But looks aren’t enough to heat a story.

It isn’t the Darkling’s eyes that get us. It’s the amalgam of danger and possibility woven into his unflinching desire to rule the world (so to speak) that makes us so very curious. Gansey is a golden boy—a Gatsby type—but it’s his beaten up journal and his shining leadership we seek out. Elias may have the build of a fighter, but our true fascination in him is his impossible situation and how he chooses the difficult path every time. We want to follow him around and ask why, why, why? Kaz might have the smooth moves, but we are drawn to the contrast between respect and ruthlessness in his behavior.

Hats (crowns, helmets, horns) off to the authors that understand this magnetism, this passion that makes stories endlessly enjoyable. We salute you!il_570xN.268078899

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