Monthly Archives:: August 2016

Authors Answer 17: What authors, styles or intellectual movements have most influenced your writing?

August 19, 2016 AuthorsAnswer, Regency romances, Writing musings 0

For the fantasy, I can’t honestly say that anything has really influenced my writing. I haven’t read a vast amount in the genre, and what I have read is mostly of a type I wouldn’t wish to emulate. Game of Thrones is too dark and nihilistic. Robin Hobb is downright depressing — beautifully written work that I hated. The authors whose work I most admire — Mark Lawrence, Daniel Abraham, Glenda Larke, Guy Gavriel Kay — are so brilliant I feel embarrassed to call myself a writer. My own work is such a mishmash of genre tropes that if someone asks me: “What other books are like yours?” I genuinely can’t answer. This isn’t a boast, by the way — it’s a Very Bad Thing not to be able to place your own books in the pantheon of genres. It’s embarrassing, and the result of ignorance of the genres rather than the genius of my creative mind.

For the Regency romances, I can actually answer this question! Phew! Jane Austen is the ultimate and original Regency romance writer, and although I could never aspire to her glorious wit or brilliance with words, the general principle of the story being the courtship, peppered with obstacles and misunderstandings and a slow realisation of love, is the ideal I try to follow. The books end with the accepted proposal, the presumed happy married life is never seen, and that, too, is my policy, although I do allow my couple a passionate kiss or two, so that modern readers will understand how well-suited they are.

The other shining light of traditional Regency romances is Georgette Heyer, a twentieth-century author whose books are convincingly of the era, with plots which are light and frivolous. These are the original Regency romps, with beautifully witty dialogue peppered with slang. I have some issues with Heyer, finding the romances too minimal sometimes, and the plots too silly for words. She also allows her very deep research to overwhelm the story occasionally. But the fluffy style is very much one I try to emulate.

Modern Regency authors? Not so much. I find most of them impossible to read, with heroines who behave in most unladylike ways, a metric ton of sex, and a very liberal interpretation of historical accuracy. I’m not a stickler for historic detail, but five minutes on Wikipedia surely wouldn’t hurt, would it? Then there are all the big frocks on the cover, the random forms of address (Lady Penelope and Lady Smith are NOT interchangeable terms!) and an England seemingly populated entirely by Dukes (hint: there are and always were very, very few of them).

As for intellectual movements… ha ha ha! No. I can safely say that no aspect of my writing has been influenced by anything resembling an intellectual movement.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

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Authors Answer 16: What are your favorite online resources/websites for writers?

August 15, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 0

I haven’t done any of these for a while, so duck while I lob my backlog out there…

This is an interesting question, because the resources needed vary depending on where you are in your career path. The information you need when you first begin (what exactly makes a compelling protagonist?) is very different from what’s wanted after you publish (where can I advertise my books?). So here are some sites that have been useful to me as I developed my writing and publishing skills.

For writing: Mythic Scribes

When you’re in the early stages of writing – your first book, or perhaps still dabbling with world-building – what you really need is a community of like-minded people. Even when you’ve read all the craft books, it can still be tricky to apply the advice to your own work. Should I introduce my antagonist earlier? Is this a punchy opening paragraph? First person or third? To prologue or not? And fellow authors are the only people who can endlessly mull over those difficult questions of adverbs, passive voice, show-don’t-tell and so on without getting bored. And for fantasy writers in particular, there are not many places where you can ask how long it would take a person to die from a sword wound (although I imagine writers of murder mysteries and gun-based thrillers have pretty awkward research topics, too). Mythic Scribes is a forum for fantasy writers, and it was a huge help to me when I first started writing seriously.

For critique: Scribophile

There comes a point when you have something written that you’re quite pleased with. Finally, after all that struggle, something that might be publishable! But first, it’s vital to put it in front of other writers to see what they think of it. Can’t you do that with a writing forum like Mythic Scribes? Of course, but to my mind it’s better to show your work in a place that’s geared specifically for critique, full of objective strangers who won’t tone it down because they chat with you about Game of Thrones in another part of the forum. Scribophile is my favourite critique site. You earn points (’karma’) by critiquing the work of others, then you spend karma to have your work critiqued in turn. Not all critiques are useful, but collectively they are acutely rigorous and analytical. And there are forums and special interest groups as well.

For testing the waters: Wattpad

The disadvantage of critique groups is that, because it’s focused on single-chapter analysis, it’s hard to get a perspective on how a whole book looks to a reader. You can try to find beta readers for this, but one alternative is Wattpad. This is, strictly speaking, a social media site, which revolves around authors posting whole books one chapter or scene at a time. Readers follow the story as it unfolds and will comment on their reactions as they read each part. For author/reader interaction, it’s unparallelled, but the potential for objective critique is limited. It’s also possible, if authors write as they post, for readers to influence the route a story takes. I used Wattpad to post my first fantasy novel, The Plains of Kallanash, and it was a fun way to find out whether readers will follow the whole story or lose interest part way through, but it’s no substitute for detailed critique or beta readers.

For marketing and post-publication: Kboards Writers’ Cafe

Once you reach the point of publication, the focus changes. You’re no longer quite so worried about passive voice and overuse of gerunds, but about covers, ebook formatting, the vagaries of print on demand and how to get reviews. For self-publishers, there’s a wealth of information out there, but the best of it, and the most up-to-date, is at the Writers’ Cafe, a sub-forum of Kboards. This is populated by people who are, in the main, focused on self-publishing as a career, so the talk is more about writing to market and promotional campaigns than about writing as an art form. This is the place to meet other self-publishers, both those who are just starting out and those who have several years of experience under their belt, those who sell a book or two a month and those who earn six figures a year.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

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Mystery review: Awash by Dawn Lee McKenna

August 15, 2016 Review 0

Book 6 of the Forgotten Coast series already, and still more to come. Anyone who’s read this far will know what to expect — fascinating characters, lots of drama, plenty of humour and McKenna’s trademark brilliant dialogue, where the subtext beneath the words stretches halfway to the earth’s core. Never have characters said so much with so few words. I don’t always fully understand exactly what it is they’re saying (or not saying) but trying to work that out is part of the fun.

For anyone whose interest is in the crime-of-the-moment, with the personal lives of the characters a minor note, this isn’t the series for you. Here the characters are what it’s all about, and again in this book the crime to be solved is deeply connected to Maggie, the female cop who is the heart of the series. Maggie was raped as a teenager, and when she’s called to investigate a very similar case to her own, she becomes deeply involved.

While the case is absorbing and heart-rending, it’s the slow progression of Maggie’s own emotional life that’s the most riveting part of this series. As Maggie and Wyatt inch towards a proper relationship, and possibly marriage, her fascination with the local crime lord, Bennett Boudreaux, threatens to derail everything. I love both her two men. Boudreaux epitomises southern courtliness, even while he has a history of ruthlessly dispatching anyone who falls foul of him. And Wyatt is just beyond-words awesome, with his dry humour and not-totally-relaxed-about-it tolerance of Maggie’s relationship with Boudreaux. The oh-so-polite macho posturing between the two men at the oyster bar is just superb, capped only by Maggie’s meeting with Boudreaux at the end, with its multiple layers of meaning. Did I mention how much I love McKenna’s dialogue? Brilliant stuff.

Another cracking read in this series. Five stars.

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Fantasy review: Radiance by Grace Draven

August 15, 2016 Review 0

This is one of those curate’s eggs books, for me – good in parts. It was recommended in a discussion on the fantasy subreddit as a book that tackles the difficult question of romance in a fantasy setting well, and in particular a romance between two people of different races, and yes, that’s definitely one of the good parts. The fantasy part? Not quite so successful.

The romantic couple are the heart of the book. Brishen is a prince of Bast-Haradis, the no-longer-needed younger son, traded in marriage to secure an alliance with the neighbours. Ildiko is equally unwanted, the orphaned neice of the Gauri king. She is human, a red-haired child of sunlight. He is Kai, grey-skinned and nocturnal. Both are accounted good-looking to their own race, but are ugly to each other. The book opens with their arranged marriage, each of them dutifully fulfilling their role but nervous about the ‘otherness’ of their marriage partner.

They quickly find that beauty is more than skin deep, and a meeting of minds can be just as rewarding as physical attraction. If I have a quibble with the romantic elements, it’s that they get along with each other rather too quickly, and neither of them ever makes a mistake, says the wrong thing, offends the sensibilities of the other, even inadvertently. It was all a bit too perfect. I would have liked a little more conflict between the two of them before (surprise!) they each decide that the other is all right really, and (eventually) settle into wedded bliss. Be warned that the sex, when they do get round to it, is a long-drawn-out affair.

If the main characters are beautifully drawn, and their relationship totally believable, the others are less well realised. They fall into traditional good/evil roles and Brishen’s parents, in particular, are so ludicrously over-the-top cartoonishly evil that I just rolled my eyes. And the scenery is full of an array of enemies who leap out from behind rocks for a killing spree at every verse end. It got tedious, and I confess to skimming the last third of the book.

I’d have given the romance alone 4* and the fantasy 2*, so I’ve settled on a final score of 3*. If you’re more tolerant of the conventional good guys/bad guys dichotomy, and the cross-race romance intrigues you, I can recommend this. It’s very well-written and this is just the start of the series, so it may be that the fantasy side of things comes to the fore in the later books. And I guarantee that you’ll never look at a pie (or a potato!) in quite the same way again.

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Mystery review: ‘Deadly Web’ by Mike Omer

August 5, 2016 Review 0

“If there was one single reason to be a man, it was the ability to pee in a bottle.” With this opening line, you know at once that this isn’t just another police procedural mystery — this is a Mike Omer mystery, and that means large dollops of humour mixed in with the serial killers and blood. I’m not normally a fan of police procedurals (give me a cozy any day), but I’ll read anything this man puts out. I love his books.

I enjoyed the first in the Glenmore Park series, Spider’s Web, but this one is even better. The characters are becoming even more finely drawn than before, and this time the crimes to be solved seemed more realistic and the police handling a tad more sensible. I also liked that the two cases to be solved didn’t turn out to be somehow related at the end. Or perhaps I should more cautiously say, if there was a connection between them, it whizzed over my head (which is always possible).

The twist to both cases is that they revolve around the internet (a theme of the series – the web of the titles). One murder victim has a secret online identity harrassing women. The other has a secret online identity in a computer game. Trawling through the victims’ social media presence is a critical part of the police investigation, and I absolutely loved the time when the cops had to go into the game to interview a witness. A classic moment!

If you like police procedurals with compelling characters, intriguing mysteries and some laugh-out-loud moments, I highly recommend this series. Five stars.

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