Writer’s Wednesday: On opting out of NaNoWriMo

It’s time for the most sacred holiday among writers: National Novel Writing Month. Every year, the writing community comes together and pounds out millions (maybe billions) of words worldwide, all in service of finishing their novels. The idea behind NaNoWriMo is a simple: write 50,000 words (or the entire first draft of your novel, which ever comes first) in a month. The main goal behind NaNoWriMo is to discipline yourself to write everyday, no matter what distractions there are in life. Writing first! Writer’s write! Art harder!

We live in an age of constant gratification and distraction. I get it: lots of things threaten to take priority in life. Loved ones, waitressing shifts, going for a run, Steam sales, the new season of Korra…shhh, shhh I understand. I’m here for you. It’s not easy making time for creativity. Are there valid reasons to do NaNoWriMo? Yes, and here are a few:

  • Writing community. Twitter and the NaNo boards are going to be JUMPING with people frothing at the mouth to talk about their new novel this month. THEY WILL BE SO EXCITED to post word count (always word count!), discuss characters, dissect plot…all of the things we writers never have enough people on earth to talk about. (Hey, it’s why I started this blog!)
  • Discipline. Making time for writing is hard. Developing productive habits and getting in a rhythm is something you’ve got to learn, homefries, if you’re going to write things or just get things done in general. NaNoWriMo can and absolutely will teach you how long a scene should be, how many hours it takes before you want to bash your head into a wall, and most importantly, how to write consistently.
  • Getting shit done. This is a corollary to the point above, but if you’re stuck on an idea, NaNo it out. Don’t let your little brain nugget rot away. Get it out there, see what it is on paper, and move on.
  • Transitioning into a new genre. Want to experiment with writing erotica or Westerns? Never written a space opera? DO IT NOW. NaNo is the time for experimentation. Make it happen!

Still the best comic about NaNo

However, I will not be doing NaNoWriMo this year, and I’m here to talk to those of you writers who feel like you’re going to be sitting on the sidelines twiddling your metaphorical thumbs this year. I’ve done NaNo; I even ‘won’ NaNo. I’m not participating this year. Gasp! Writing Sacrilege! Wait, wait, before you click away, let me tell you my experience with NaNo, and then lay out some reasons why it’s perfectly okay to opt out of NaNoWriMo and be the black sheep of the writing community.

When I did NaNo, I had a project that was partially finished, but it needed to be rewritten from the beginning. The idea changed a lot when I started to write it (this is a common theme with my writing…), and it needed demolished completely for it to be a better story. This was several years ago, and I’d known friends who did NaNo the previous year. I checked out the website and thought, ‘Why not? Need to get this crap done someday. Why not today?’ I made my account, popped open a new Word document, and stared to pound it out. I’d written ~75k by the end of the month, and in December, I finished the new first draft. And I realized the story sucked. Hard. Even after editing, it was all over the place and just not the right story for me to tell. So I shelved it and started new projects, which never would’ve been possible until I faced the cold, hard truth about that particular story.

The 1st of November for many writers.

Am I staying away from NaNo because I wrote a bad novel using that method? Maybe, but it helped me discover things about my writing, and one of those things is that I’m just not a NaNo type person. I can pound out the words with the best of them. My PR (personal record) for words written in a single day is 15,000. My PR for fastest rough draft was 88,000 words in 10 days, with multiple days of sustained 10,000 words per day to make that happen. Getting the word count down was never the problem for me; if that’s an issue for you, NaNo will teach you how to Art Hard.

How many novels are conceived.

That said, there really is something to all the frilly talk about the ‘creative process.’ Sometimes, what that means, is not writing. Ideas are like good wine: they need time to ferment in your head. I have to tell myself the story I want to write about half a dozen different ways before I write it down. If you’ve got an idea, and you think its ripe, write it down. Do NaNo and finish; make the dream real. But here are some reasons to bench yourself during NaNoWriMo:

  • You’ve just finished a big project. I’m coming off a marathon of a writing streak from August, September, and October. Any writing I do during November is going to be more intermittent. Word count isn’t going to be a priority if I sit down and drabble out some stories.
  • You’re working on other art. Maybe it’s not conducive to the NaNo format.
  • Real life takes priority. November might be The Month From Hell for you to write your novel, even if it’s ready to meet the page. The good news is there’s a NaNo something just about every month now, so don’t feel pressured into November if it sucks for you. Hey, my birthday’s in November, and I still don’t know why my parents picked this month. (Hint: look at where Valentine’s Day is on the calender. Yes, this turned into a sex joke.)
  • You’ve got your own writing groove.
  • You don’t feel particularly inclined to participate in the NaNo specific writing community.

There are probably more reasons why you should or shouldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo, but I’m just listing some of them that have been prominent for me and those I know who’ve done NaNo. The idea of always writing, always being on point and ready to sell yourself, is so pervasive in creative culture today. Sometimes, you need to turn that off to reconnect with yourself and your stories. At least, this has been true for me. This isn’t a popular opinion, but when I turn that nebulous thing on to write, it’s like an atom bomb blowing up in my head. It’s powerful, but I can’t sustain that kind of energy indefinitely. The smart asses among you will say ‘build a nuclear plant, duh’, but that’s more like editing for me than rough draft writing. The power is there, but in a more controlled way. So write if you have to write, edit if you need to edit, and let your ideas get delicious in your head. Whatever it takes, and remember, if you’re doing NaNo or not: you’re not alone.

Book Review: Star Wars Tarkin

Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno

Discolsure: If you don’t like Star Wars and aren’t familiar with its basic timeline, this review won’t matter to you. This is a book that you’d only be picking up if you’re already a fan of the greater Star Wars EU.

This book takes place an undetermined time after Revenge of the Sith, but while there are still Separatist forces in great enough number to cause problems for the Emperor (he hasn’t dissolved the Senate yet). The focus of the book, as the name suggests, is Moff Wilhuff Tarkin (learning characters first names–a joy of Star Wars EU). For those of you going ‘who the eff is Tarkin…what did he do again?’ let me refresh your memory with a picture:

The emperor is looking for ‘a commander with the will to be as merciless as he [the Emperor] is’, and in Tarkin, he’s found his man. The book starts off with Tarkin designing his signature uniform when his secret weapons base (negative guesses as to what secret weapon he’s building) is attacked. The attack involves a fake HoloNet transmission, which reminds Tarkin of the time he dealt with Count Dooku and his hacking of the HoloNet feeds.

The real joy in this book is learning about Tarkin’s childhood on his home Outer Rim planet of Eriadu; the Tarkins were one of the first settling families of the hostile planet, but grew wealthy after Eriadu became a major exporter of lommite. Tarkin grows up in a wealthy, patrician branch of the family, but he’s not spoiled or treated softly by his parents. His parents tell him that someday, he’ll have to go out to the Carrion Spike, and young Tarkin doesn’t know what this means, but he builds himself a special vest in hopes it’ll help him survive. One day, his uncle Jova, a hunter and frontiers man, comes to take Tarkin to the Carrion, which is a massive mesa/savannah on the vast expanse of Tarkin land on Eriadu. Years later, the final test is for Tarkin to climb and spend a night on top of The Carrion Spike, and the experience is so pivotal to him that he names his ship The Carrion Spike in its memory.

The main plot involves said ship (The Carrion Spike) being stolen by a group of rebel shipjackers; this book is clearly designed to tie into the new Rebels series, and I’m wondering if we won’t see a particular character from the shipjacking crew pop up later. The shipjackers are a sympathetic band of characters, and I found myself genuinely curious to see if they could outwit Tarkin and for how long. Tarkin is a Magnificent Bastard, and the more the shipjackers push him, the more of his cleverness he has to use to subdue them. That means that the real winner in all of this is you, the reader, because the plot becomes seriously fun.

There’s also a large section where we’re treated to a Dark Side buddy cop drama between Vadar and Tarkin, and don’t tell me that doesn’t want to make you read this book because then you’d be a liar. The Emperor, as he does, manipulates the situation because he needs Vadar and Tarkin to work together to make his fledgling Empire powerful and terrifying. While the Emperor is plumbing the depths of Sith power in his newly excavated Sith shrine, Tarkin and Vadar are tasked with figuring out who attacked Tarkin’s weapons base; it becomes clear during this part that there’s a mole in the Imperial forces, but that plot is for the end of the book as this is also when the shipjackers take Tarkin’s ship.

The strength of this novel is that it weaves the plot with Tarkin’s past on Eriadu. What Tarkin did to survive with his uncle, Jova, on the plains shaped him into the ruthless man he later became. He tells Jova that he carries his time on the Carrion with him wherever he goes; he never really left the Savannah. Tarkin is a social Darwinist, and there’s literally a chapter labeled ‘Red, In Tooth and Claw’. Tarkin believes that those who aren’t the predators are the prey; there are the rulers and those who must be subjugated. It’s not a pretty philosophy, but it’s genuine and explains why someone who wasn’t a Sith would sincerely work for the Empire. Maybe it’s because I just watched Ken Burns’s Roosevelt documentary, but Tarkin reminds me a lot of Teddy Roosevelt and the type of opinions on imperialism held by him and many well-to-do and wealthy men of the late 19th and early 20th century. (The documentary also mentions the red-in-tooth-and-claw line, too, which is what made me make the connection.) It’s valuable to note that the ideas behind Social Darwinism are racist and were used to justify many terrible crimes, and despite how fascinated we might be with someone like Tarkin–with his successes and his cunning–we’re ultimately reminded that it’s this philosophy that imperialism is built upon. Tarkin is akin to a Dark Side Walter White in that way; he does everything for himself, for his beliefs, and he likes upholding what he believes is the ultimate order of the universe.

Random Thoughts:

  • There is clearly a character who is being introduced in this novel for the Rebels series. Being that I liked the character, that might not be a bad thing.
  • Lots of scenes between the Emperor, Vadar, and Tarkin. Get your fill, villain love-to-haters.
  • My mind glazed over at any technical terms, but there aren’t so many that they get in the way of the story.
  • The frontier aspect of the Carrion made me want to go back to the Badlands SO MUCH. I mean, between that the The Roosevelts, I seriously started to think how much time I would have to drive out there again this spring.
  • The parts about Tarkin living on the Carrion were my favorite in the novel, for sure. Those of you who like a more Western feel to your Space Operas should like these parts, too.

Read if: You like your Star Wars villains. The book does reference The Clone Wars a lot, but I’m fine with this because Clone Wars is my favorite piece of Star Wars media. It’s a smart move for this story to cling so closely to it and the characterizations developed there. Tarkin’s life philosophy is well-done, too, and the hunt for the shipjackers is exciting.

Beware if: You don’t like the EU, I guess. I mean, if you’re reading this review, I’m assuming you do like the EU; if you’re chill with cheering for the empire a bit, or even in understanding their psychology, just read this.

Rating: 5. This is all for you, Star Wars villain fans. It’s a good read that delves into the workings of the Empire and it’s most famous Moff.

The 10 Day Rough Draft

Ksenia Anske has a wonderful post up about how to write a rough draft in 20 days. I think 20 days is a very realistic goal for the average rough draft, honestly, and she makes great points about how she does this with every book. Her process in drafting that vital first run at a story is similar to the one I use for most of my stories. The post got me thinking about my PR for rough draft writing: I wrote the first draft of my 88k adult urban fantasy that got me picked as an alternate in Pitch Wars last year in 10 days.

This is how it felt to finish that story, too.

This is how it felt to finish that story, too.

Pick up your jaws, fellow writers. I wanted to share with you how I did this because, even for my fast fingers, it was an anomaly. I’ve been working on the sequels to that book, and they haven’t come as fast or furious to me. This hasn’t ultimately been a problem because 4000-6000 words a day gets the job done just fine. But let’s dive into my PR (personal record) for rough drafting, shall we?

  • It was first love. That’s ultimately how I ended up sustaining several days of writing 10,000+ words. I was more excited about writing than I had ever been since I was a wee little one churning out original fiction without a care in my parent’s basement on our old Dell PC circa 2000. I wrote and wrote and wrote without regard for who would see this work or how good even I ultimately thought it was. And I loved every minute of it. This was how this rough draft was for me. I told myself a story I needed to write, and I loved it.
  • I had an outline that I knew would work for me. I make these 8 point flow chart style outlines, and that took me through the entire story. I fleshed out the finer details for the chapters as I went along. I planned about a fourth of the book at a time, then wrote for 2-3 days, then at the end of that section, I planned the next fourth for the next 2-3 days…you get the idea. But that master outline? It kept me grounded.
  • My characters had a single phrase to sum up their life philosophy, and I expanded them from there. I’m not sure this was ultimately the best way to write these characters, but it helped me keep them consistent during the first draft.
  • Speaking of characters, the three main characters and the relationships and plot between them was something I conceived long ago. I scribbled the basic idea down in a notebook, and that was a life saver! Keep a writing notebook! DO IT. You want to keep a log of these story nuggets. I don’t have a full story for every single one of the things I’ve written in that book, and I probably never will, but there are several basic ideas in there I keep mulling over and coming back to. This story was one of those ideas, and keeping the names of the main characters and the title on hand was a life-saver when I did eventually sit down to write this behemoth.

  • The notebook was crucial in another way: I needed two more HUGE plot ideas for me to make this story happen, and those came almost two years after the initial idea I had about these three characters. But when they did? I knew exactly where they fit. The thought process was literally, ‘Well, this could be X character’s back story, and they could do Y job…and thing Z could be part of the world building…STORY TIME!’ Well, not quite. I told myself several versions of this story before I wrote it down, and I got so excited about the one version that I committed it to an outline and wrote the thing.
  • Notice how much writing I didn‘t do? This story lived a lot in my head before I made it real on paper. I needed to tell this story to myself in several different iterations before I found a version I loved (and I’m STILL working on that version). Could I have drafted an earlier version of this story? Sure. Would I have loved it the way I did when I finally wrote it? Nope. There’s a lot to be said about writing everyday, Art Harder, and grinding things out, but there’s also something to be said about creative fallow periods. Letting this idea develop while I worked on other stories (hey there, God’s Play!) was crucial for finding the version of this project I really loved. I didn’t force it, collecting the pieces as I figured them out. I’m still doing that, but if I hadn’t given myself time with the characters and the world-building initially, I’m 100% sure I would’ve written myself into a corner like I do when I jump into a project a bit too soon before I know it’s ready just to write something for the sake of getting the words down. It helps to get the words down, but having something half-baked does bother me, and it’s always a thrill to be able to tell the complete story to myself when I do write it.

  • I had tunnel vision. Someone could’ve snapped their fingers in front of my face–I wouldn’t have blinked while I was daydreaming up scenes and plots for this. I was obsessed and kept grinding out more plot because I couldn’t put my own story down; the words were flowing like booze at an open bar, and who doesn’t love one of those?
  • This story? Not perfect. The rewrite involved chancing the tense of the book from present to past, which was a HUGE pain, but necessary to make this story work. The third draft? It’s involving a bigger, more momentous chance than that! (This is because I’ve written the 2 sequels since then and realized there were things that needed to change in the first 1/3 of the book to make the entire series work.) But while writing the initial draft, I didn’t care if it was crap or not. I was on the roller coaster of insanity with my characters, and I was freaking exhausted and proud when I got off.

How I feel about my stories.

There’s not really a process here, but if you’re dreading the rough draft or ragging on yourself for not writing enough, I understand. But planning and patience can result in a killer story. This is ultimately what this book taught me: keep good records and give myself time to tell the story I want. Because that story? That’s the story I’ll love.

Let something like this sit. For months. You have to pull away from a story you love this much or else you won’t see it’s flaws. That part is hard for me, honestly, but after a month and a half, I made the changes I needed to make before submitting it to Pitch Wars. Now, I’m reworking it again, and I’m hoping you guys get to see it in 2015!

Writer’s Wednesday: Character Agency

I’m in the midst of finishing/starting a big project, and I realized what’s drawn me so deeply into this story (or set of stories) is my characters. That’s because it never feels like any character in the story is a prop piece; no one is hanging out in this story just to help or further another character’s arc. The plot requires all the characters, and none of them want to feel useless; they come and go when they have a part to play, which has made this story difficult at times, but also a thrill ride to write. All the characters have their own agendas, and whenever I’ve been stuck, focusing on what each character wants helps crack the story open again.

Think about your favorite stories (books, movies, TV, comics, wev). Each major character has their own reason(s) for being there, don’t they? Even the villain (and especially the villain) should have unique motives for being involved in the action. That’s because no one lives their lives, hoping to be the set piece in someone else’s life. Who wants to do that? We all want are own story; we think what happens is about us. Every side character and villain thinks it’s their story, not the heroes.

LSP gets it.

That’s why fridging a character is such a pernicious thing to do, too. It’s traditionally been done with women, but there might be examples of it being done with men, too. (A father or brother dying could qualify.) That character is essentially boiled down to a prop, a piece of set decoration for someone else’s pain and growth. If you’re going to off a character, sure, their death is going to impact the rest of the story (as it sometimes should), but maybe they’ve contributed their own little part to the story or went out fulfilling (or failing to fulfill) their own wants and needs. GRRM may have oodles of characters, but each character feels like they’ve come into the story for their own reasons. It’s a bit easier to show that each character is unique in multi-POV stories, me thinks, but it can definitely be done in single POV stories as well. Two of my favorite stories/series growing up were Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series and Harry Potter. One of the things that subconsciously drew me to these stories was that all the characters felt real to me. When I went back and read them as an adult, I was struck by how the supporting cast has so much of their own agenda; sure, the many story is about Harry or Sabriel, and other characters take that journey with them.

But the main point is that it’s a with not a because.

People aren’t prizes (hint: people owned by other people are slaves), and reducing characters to objects is the fastest way (for me personally) to lose interest in a story. It’s the princess in a castle syndrome; the hero needs to rescue the person in the highest tower or at the center of the maze, but it’s difficult to understand why or empathize with the hero’s quest because we don’t even know who this person is! They’re an abstraction to us, an ideal. Sure, me might care because we like the hero and want them to succeed, but if they’ve never met the person they’re trying to save, it’s hard to see why they’d want to. At least own up to the fact that you’re chasing an ideal, hero, and not a person. Jeez.

Of all the stories that got the ‘princess in a tower’ thing right, it was Shrek. Fiona starts out as an ideal, a princess to be won, but she’s not the end game of the story. When she’s saved, we find she has her own wants, her own desires and needs. It’s a twist, and a good one, in the traditional story of rescuing a damsel in distress. She wants to break her curse, and we’re rooting for her to do it (of course, not in the way she’d like it to be done, but that’s dramatic irony for you). This is because Fiona has agency: she’s in the story for her own reasons. Everything else about a character can change, but the act of checking to see if the character is joining the quest (or sabotaging the quest) for their own goals helps more than all the complex world-building or 3D chess level plot machinations ever will into making a story feel full and alive. Good story tellers do this because they’re in love with their characters (or love/hate with some of them), and they don’t want to leave any of them without a good reason to be participating in the plot. You, dear reader, are welcome to think the reasons given are stupid or contrived, but that’s another post for another day.

They came for second breakfast.

Book Review and Giveaway: The Younger Gods

The Younger Gods by Micheal R. Underwood

The Younger Gods - cover

Jacob had what could understatedly be called an unusual upbringing by an occultist family in North Dakota. But these aren’t just any crazies living off the grid–Jake is from the Greene family, a group of fanatics who believe they’re going to be the ones to bring about the Apocalypse by releasing the Younger Gods of the Deep into the human world and ushering in the last age of man. This–and a graphic incident where Jake’s only childhood friend is tricked into getting his heart cut out on prom night–causes Jake to flee from his family and move to New York City. Jake hopes to leave all of his occult baggage behind him, but when his sister, Esther, begins committing ritualistic sacrifices in Central Park, he knows he’s the only one who can stop her.

Jake enlists the help of his Nephilim roommate (Carter), the daughter of a voodoo high priestess (Antoinette), an ex-NYPD cop turned supernatural soldier (Dorthea), and a smorgasbord of other denizens of New York that are involved in the supernatural community. During the best moments, the complex supernatural network is reminiscent of what I loved about Neil Gaimen’s Neverwhere; we’re treated to what feels like the tip of the iceberg of a vast and complex world. The aspects of supernatural New York are deftly woven with the aspects of what makes real New York unique, and this story definitely feels like it couldn’t have taken place anywhere else but New York. That said, you’ll enjoy this story more if you like New York or buy into the mystique (and what I personally consider the myth) of what makes New York special. If you’re a bit ‘meh’ on New York in general, then the little details of this book might just make you role your eyes. The major plot of the book is Jake & Co. going around to each burrough to alert and then help protect the five hearts of New  York. If you just rolled your eyes at that line, you probably shouldn’t read this book because this plot consumes the majority of the story.

There’s a lot going on in this novel, and it’s never lacking in action. There were points where I almost felt that too much was happening too fast, but this is intentional because Jake & Co. are always one step (or in some cases, a hundred steps) behind Esther, who’s an incredibly powerful sorceress. The many action set pieces are inventive, so the story never drags, but it deprives the story of the space to do a bit more character building. There is so much in this novel–so many characters, so many set pieces–that I found myself wishing that the ‘less is more’ approach had been taken; Dorthea, Antoinette, and Carter are integral members of Jake’s team (and the only thing he has comparable to friends), but it takes nearly half the novel to get any sense of who they are and really begin to root for them. The relationship and understanding that develops between Jake and Carter is subtle and well-done, but it’s the only major character development that any of the side characters gets in the story.

The best two characters in the novel by far are Jake and Esther. Jake is an awkward home-schooled kind raised by what are essentially fundamentalist parents (just the Satanic and not the Christian variety), and that aspect of his character is played straight and for laughs. Jake misses the multitude of pop-cultural references the other characters sling around, but there’s a wounded aspect to his personality; this battle is personal to him. Esther is determined to fulfill her life’s purpose as the scion of the Greene family and bring about the birth of the Younger Gods. She’s incredibly powerful and a stone-cold psycho. The best moments in the story are between Esther and Jake; even when they’re just talking, it’s a battle. I wish we could’ve had more chapters from Esther’s perspective because she’s a zealot who’s committed to her cause, and when you get to see how cunning and single-minded she is in her pursuit, everything else Jake & Co. are doing starts to feel less like plot dressing and more like high stakes.

There’s a wonderful twist on the Apocalypse in this book, but even before that, there’s a lot going on under the surface of this action packed story. The diversity of New York is a major aspect of what makes this story work, and Dorthea explaining why she quit her job as a cop to become a supernatural protector of ‘the people who fall through the cracks’ helped focus the aspect of what this novel was really about. There’s no ‘special’ supernatural place for the homeless in New York to hide, though, so they really do need someone like Dorthea around to protect them from literal spirits of garbage and decay. This aspect of the city is deftly mixed with Jake coming to terms with his heritage as he begins to integrate into the NYC supernatural community, revealing that he, too, is a Greene. He questions whether his family really loved him or if people that twisted are even capable of love; he can’t tell the lies from the truth in his childhood.

Random Thoughts:

  • When the first line includes “drastically fewer blood sacrifices with dinner”, I knew this was my type of book.
  • There’s a nice parallel between what it means to work on a group project vs. what it means to really work as a group.
  • I’m really fine being a tourist in NYC. There were parts of this book where I was like ‘yeah, I’m living as close to that city as I ever want to live.’
  • I wanted to eat Indian food after this one scene. So…good…
  • I’ve never read a character who reminded me more of Castiel than Jake did. This is not a bad thing.

Read if: You’re a fan of New Weird. There’s no place more urban than New York, either, and there’s no place else I could’ve imagined this story happening because there are so many people in that city. There’s a lot of different ideas woven throughout this story, and it stands on it’s own while also being the gateway into a bigger series.

Beware if: Books with too much action make you feel like you’re having a seizure.

My rating: 4, and mostly because I kind of don’t get New York, and some of this kept me from connecting with the characters and larger, thematic elements of this story. That said, this book is a ride, and the conflict between Jake and Esther never bored me.

BONUS!

The first two people to reply in the comments get a free ebook of The Younger Gods, courtesy of Pocket Star. You must leave you internet nom de plume as well as a VALID, non-spam email address.

Book Review: Fall

Fall (The Ragnarok Prophesies #2) by A.K. Morgen

Fall picks up about a month after Fade ends, and Arionna is recovering in the hospital from Skröll and Hati’s attack. Arionna is now plagued by nightmares of Fenrir and the twin demon wolves; she’s also starting to understand the darker side of Dace’s nature. Dace is willing to sacrifice anything and everyone to keep her from being attacked again, and Arionna fears this is going to turn him into a literal monster, so she leaves Bebee to go in search of answers to stop the apocalypse.

The story starts out stronger than Fade does, and there’s an urgency to Arionna’s problems in this book that there wasn’t in the first one. Her relationship to Dace is sorely tested, too, and there are good moments where Dace gives off the vibe that he could potentially become abusive. Arionna is smart enough to realize that, if she doesn’t figure this thing out for herself, Dace’s need to protect her is going to lead him to further manipulate her, controlling every aspect of her life. This is a challenge most heroines with alpha male boyfriends face, and Arionna is wise enough to know what the starter kit for an abusive relationship looks like; in a nice twist, she leaves Dace instead of him fleeing to protect her from himself.

The other characters that benefit from spending more time with them in the sequel are Chelle, who I didn’t have much of a sense of as an individual before, and Ronan, who was the surprise not-an-actual-bad-guy in Fade. The story also nicely sidesteps conflicts with love triangles by having Arionna struggle with herself and Dace, which eliminates the need to use Ronan as a love interest. If you want relationship conflict, a brooding bad boy, but hate love triangles, this sequel is going to make you very happy. I found myself liking Ronan, but I’m a corvid/avian fan, so that’s not a hard sell. Not going to lie, I hope the sequel includes the potential of a new love interest for Ronan because I appreciate romances where the characters come into it with a lot of baggage and no illusions about True Love, only with the feeling that they need each other or are better together than apart. Ronan could benefit from this, but I’m not sure he’ll get it. Arionna and Dace’s relationship is more of the cosmic love variety, and the story does a good job at layering it with conflict despite this fact.

My big time beef with this book is, while I enjoyed the characters a lot more, the ending left the story feeling incomplete, but not in a good way. This book is trying to set up for the big conclusion, but ends up offering very few climactic moments or pay offs of its own, and I went into the ending prepared for a big twist and a surprise via the big mythology mysteries the story teases. There is plenty of new mythology layered into the story, and Fade used its mythology to create a surprising yet satisfying ending, but Fall, well, falls flat on that front. I expected either the visit to the professor or the interrogation of the flower shop lady (it makes sense in story) to result in a major twist or two, but they turned into more frustrating dead ends. The climactic ending happens off page, and it suffers from the fact that, because some of these characters are literal wolves, they don’t always have the same emotional impact as the human characters. There was a moment when I thought something happened to Chelle, and I thought that might be the real twist at the end, but it wasn’t. Instead, Mandy, a character who’s been mostly in the background, goes missing, but this fails to resonate. The big ending moment of the novel could’ve still happened (it’s teased throughout the story and isn’t terribly surprising), but there needed to be something more, action wise, to this ending. This ending is an example of how to write a strong story, deepen the mythology for the final sequel act, but then fail to actually build on anything at the end of this story itself; this wouldn’t be the first second act book to fall flat because it fails to grasp what the middle part of a story could and should do. When it came to Dace’s character and Arionna’s relationship with him, the stakes are raised for sure, but there needed to be more plot outside of this.

Random Thoughts:

  • Arionna cries a lot early on. Fair warning.
  • I can’t overstate how much I appreciated a character like Ronan in this story. It needed the levity of the Debbie Downer, and he delivered. Also, corvids are rad.
  • Like, seriously, guys, Ronan saves a bird, and it’s the sweetest scene in the book.
  • Did you ever want to read a story where flowers invoke horror? This is for you.
  • I personally support ketchup with scrambled eggs; if I lose all my followers/readers over this, then so be it.

Read if: You liked the first book and trust the author is going to deliver on all the delicious mythology she’s setting up. It kind of reminds me of Robin McKinley’s Pegasus in that way; you like the story, even if the ending of the book is anti-climactic and pissed you off.

Beware if: You want pay-off on the mystery front. This is not the book in this series that’s going to do that for you.

Rating: I can’t state enough how I wanted to like this book more, but the ending killed it for me. Something else needed to happen; it was too much set-up and too little pay off. This isn’t the first series I’ve read that’s done this, and it ticks me off every time. Sequels are hard, I know, but book two is where the ugly, miserable parts of your characters and weird, complex world-building can really shine. I am going to finish this series, but 3 stars for dropping the ball on the climax.

Writer’s Wednesdays: How to put a beat down on imposter syndrome

I feel like I’ve already talked God’s Play to death, even though it’s only in the middle of its blog tour! I’m very excited about it, but honestly, pre-publication, I had a lot of reservations if God’s Play deserved to be published (shhh…I know it’s called imposter’s syndrome). My day job, which I love, isn’t considered ‘creative’. What right did I have to write a publish a book? What kind of nonsense idea was this that I couldn’t give up?

How I feel whenever I present my work to anyone

How I feel whenever I present my work to anyone

That’s the key: I couldn’t give it up.

Obsession has a way of pulling you back in; there were times I thought this story was crap–that’s a ringing endorsement to buy the book, I’m sure. But the struggle was real. I rewrote scenes, only seeing the problems and feeling none of the love I initially had for the work. There’s a lot of evil in editing, and it’s a slog. But any good project is a struggle. It wouldn’t be a project worth doing if it were easy. That’s what I tell myself anyway, and it often feels like bullshit.

But back to God’s Play. The day I held the contract in my hands (or on my computer screen, as it were), I immediately leaped into the annals of the internet, searching for all the warning signs that I was signing a bad deal. Hahaha, yeah…don’t. This was A Mistake, maybe The Mistake. I’d written the book and sold it, and yet, I felt that I’d done some nebulous wrong thing. Did I screw up my career by going small press? There are people who would most certainly say ‘yes’ to this. But I knew I hadn’t sold the book to a vanity press but a legitimate small press. It didn’t help that I undertook my little research project around the time of the infamous Hydra scandal with SFWA.

Basically how I felt doing research on publishing

After sitting with the contract for weeks and combing over it, I realized the problem: I’d gone down the rabbit hole. I was in too far and too deep. So I approached it like data analysis. Objectively, there was nothing flag worthy about this contract. It’s a pretty standard small press contract, honestly, which ticked off all the boxes (especially concerning rights reversions). Business isn’t my strong suite, so I sent it to a lawyer friend and asked if they’d sign this. They recommended a couple changes in wording, but in general, the answer was ‘yes’.

And yet, I was still unsettled. I’d signed the contract, but I still didn’t feel like a writer. Hell, I felt more writerly when I was an unpublished n00b happily spewing out rough drafts that’ll never see the light of day. I had a professional team behind me! A cover artist! Even a marketer who actually responded to my emails! Why wasn’t I doing cart wheels? (Hint: some of this is because I was editing, which is a whole new can of worms for another week.)

Let’s circle back around to imposter syndrome. It’s pernicious, and being the stone-cold decision maker and high-achiever I am, I never thought I’d suffered from it. But life is sneaky like that. It wasn’t until a good friend told me that they thought I had a bad case of it did I stop and think, ‘Crap. They’re right. I’m in absolute denial about my young professional life.’ (I seriously can’t even type ‘young professional’ without smirking. That might be the stupidest noun cluster in modern English.)

-Lucille Bluth

So I dealt with imposter’s syndrome the same way I’d been living with it: I pretended it didn’t exist. (If believing in yourself fails, denial is a solid plan B.) If it’s not real, if it doesn’t effect me, then it can’t hurt me. Right? Sigh. I was still miserable, but I kept working and pretending that this thing would work itself out and that I hadn’t made some colossal mistake trying to be a real author.

Maybe this is where the story of Pinocchio comes from; he wants to be a real boy and misses the life lesson that he’s already real and loved. This was never a favorite story of mine growing up, and that’s probably why the lesson didn’t stick. There’s part of me that just wanted to say, ‘Get over yourself! You’re alive, right? And it’s rad to be not made of flesh because then you can’t fall and bleed everywhere!’ Yes, this is another example of colossally missing the point, and yes, I’m allergic to learning moral lessons.

Since God’s Play came out, I’ve been getting more comfortable with feeling that it’s a thing that exists in the world now. I’ve been excited to talk about it, but it took some warming up before I told most of my friends and family about it. There’s still an edge of doubt in the back of my mind.

Did I really do everything right? What did I miss?

Paranoia can go on forever and ever if I let it; this is why I get a lot of writing done at night, too, because paranoia is BFFs with insomnia, and if I’m going to stare at the ceiling anyway, I might as well be writing. This might be the most depressing pep talk on the internet, but for everyone out there who’s inundated with self-doubt, don’t give up. You can beat it down or at least trick yourself into ignoring it. Remember to laugh because that’s the best line of defense against paranoia and fear, too.

I’ll let Chvrches play you out.