What I’ve Read: Wings of Wrath

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Wings of Wrath by C.S. Friedman. Book two of the Magister Trilogy

Brief Summary:

Picking up directly after Feast of Souls, the world is aware now of the return of the Souleaters. These giant dragonfly like creatures come from the north behind the ancient barrier known as the Wrath. The king and prince are dead so the remaining son must come back to claim the throne, however, he became a devout priest/monk. The queen and her brother must fight the politics of the north to see if the Wrath is truly failing. And the magisters argue and plot still, with Kamala the first female magister only known to one of the brethren. But they all have to come together to stop the Souleaters.

The Good:

The pacing of the first books still is strong. And the characters are a bit more fleshed out in this book.

The Witch Queen is a fun character in this book. Her learning that she is finally dying and finding a way to avoid it is a good refreshing plot.

I also like the character of Rhys, the half-brother of the queen. His fierce fall from grace was awesome and wasn’t seen coming. I liked him and how he had to deal with the loss of his religion.

The Bad:

Unfortunately, I didn’t like this book too much overall. Kamala annoyed the crap out of me too many times to count. I liked her character in the first book, but as a protagonist, I lost interest in her story. Many times I skimmed her chapters. She didn’t bring anything to the story for me. Also, her sleeping with Rhys was too much for me. She was this somewhat damaged character in the first book and now she just flings her body around too easily here.

While the whole first book focused on the cost of using magic in this world, this book started to throw it away. The magisters can do anything they want and they no longer care about their consorts. I get it, immortal beings would stop caring after awhile, but I wish Ms. Friedman would have made Kamala struggle with it for much longer than she did. I didn’t like it.

Finally, the climax came about way too quick. There was very little build-up to what the actual plot was supposed to be and then it just kinda happened. I don’t like stories that don’t have a constant build toward the end. This isn’t Game of Thrones where the build-up is the political tension. This story was supposed to be about the Souleaters returning, but there was more about other plots and things that the end just came way to fast.

Rating:

2 out of 5

What I’ve Read: Feast of Souls

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Feast of Souls by C.S. Friedman is the first book of the Magister Trilogy. The thing about this series is showing how using magic costs something. In many fantasy worlds, there are limitations and rules for magic systems and this one is one of the most draining – literally. The magic system relies on the cost of life. To use magic is to drain life from the user, unless you are a magister that is. Magisters use the life of others for their magic.

Brief Summary:

Against the above backdrop of cost of life for magic the series starts out with a very interesting thought. However, these magisters are all male and long-lived, thus they quarrel and don’t trust each other. Witches, both male and female, will use their life to make their way in life, though they know they will die. The series starts with a young girl who goes with her mother to a witch and sees the witch spend the remaining life in her to save her brother. This girl grows up to want to become a magister. She trains, she learns and she becomes the first female magister. In the world of magisters, they use other people’s life for their magic, becoming a consort to the magister. Well we couldn’t just have a simple story, could we? No, the first consort of the female magister, Kamala, is none other than the favored son of a king. Andovan then goes to seek out the source of his mysterious illness. Behind all of this, there is a magister trying to discover things, a king corrupted by an ancient being of soul-suckers from the north, the queen who would fight it, and a witch queen.

The Good:

This story moves very fast and is easy to read. If given the proper time to sit down and read, one could finish this story in a few short days. The pace never stops and it is so well written in terms of word choices and grammar, that most can breeze through it.

The magic cost system starts out fantastic. Andovan’s illness is awesome and having him randomly fall victim to the wasting is great in moments of tense scenes, where his strength and certain victory is normally assured.

Kamala, the female magister is a great character. She is driven and seeks to become the first female magister. She just wants the power. She schemes and does things that a strong female character should do in this book. Just like what a man would do.

Coliver, the other main magister, is such a veiled character that it made me want more of his scenes. You never truly knew what he was up to and I loved that as a reader. Just enough glimpses to want more.

The characters listed above were the main driving point of the story. Yes there were some missteps (see below), but these three were so enjoyable that it made the plodding plot and side-stories worthwhile.

The Bad:

Let’s just say this and keep it simple: The magic system is awesome, but then it peters out so quickly in terms of what could be. The price of life is built up so much early on, but once Kamala starts to grow, that cost looses its appeal. There is so much tension once Kamala and Andovan meet, but I think it was fumbled. This only gets worse in the next two books that it becomes disappointing.

As much as I loved Kamala as a character (again more of this in books 2 & 3), but her constant remembrance of her life as a child whore does not ring the right cord as it should. It is huge backstory, but I felt that there were multiple times that she used it for silly reasons. It didn’t hit the mark that I’m sure Ms. Friedman wanted…Also, Kamala, for all her tortured history of a child whore, she sure has no problem using her sex to get things. Seemed out of character to me.

This books was published in 2007 and I have no doubt that Ms. Friedman is a wonderful writer, she told a great story here. But that said, the use of adjectives for a person’s spoken dialogue is a huge error in my humble opinion. Gravely, quietly, slightly, coldly, curtly, inwardly appeared in so many conversations that I started to roll my eyes each time I saw them.

One other thing I didn’t like too much was the way some chapters are written. Like the flashback scenes (this happens throughout the trilogy) starts with “Character X remembers.” I don’t mind flashback scenes, but starting it that way confused me as a reader. I think there could have been other ways to introduce the flashbacks.

Rating:

2.5 out of 5

The writing process: Developmental Edits pt. 1

typewriter-1144164-639x426It has been awhile since I have blogged about my actual writing. It isn’t because I haven’t been writing (I have, back off!) but more so I was waiting until I was done with what I was working on to comment. The last month or so, I have been doing a developmental edit on my fantasy series, in particular the first book Longinus Unbound. I will divide up this whole process into parts because there was a lot done to cover in one post.

Now, this process has been an interesting one. The reason I started a developmental edit was that I actually paid a professional (a pro agent and editor) to go over my manuscript with a viscous and critical eye. I found this gentlemen via the Writer’s Digest bootcamp I did back in October. And let me just say up front, this was worth the money!

I’m sure all you fine writers out there understand what a developmental edit is, but for those who don’t, basically it boils down to having a person who understands your genre very well read the manuscript and give honest critical feedback. Some of the things they touch on are line edits, setting, pace, tension, flow and overall feelings.

For me, this was important. Writing in SFF, the genre is pretty open, but also constricting in terms of setting, plots and systems. I had my original manuscript edited by a dear friend, but she doesn’t read this genre, so it was more of a line edit and grammar check. While incredibly helpful, I needed someone from the source who could tell me how much my writing sucked (he said it didn’t, so for that I am grateful!).

However, he was able to pick out the flaws of my writing, specifically the areas in which the book falls flat. Before I go into what I changed and why, I will say that after listening to him and reading his notes, the areas he wanted to see me work on were definitely in need of some editing/re-writing. Most of it revolved around my main POVs, mostly because they were written years ago. This gentlemen enjoyed my side characters more because their stories were better written, and this is because I added them later/recently with more flair and better writing.

First, my main female character Brynn, my main male character Finn and my second main female character Hunter all needed some changing. Brynn and Finn were too stereotypical heroes. Yes, they had flaws, but I didn’t make their flaws stick too long, derail them too much. They didn’t fester too much to give a bigger sense of urgency, sense of tension. Main characters need this to have a successful story.

Brynn was a stock princess character, a badass with magic and one that had the fortitude to go on the journey the plot needed. However, even though I made her a lesbian character (mainly because I use religion and this comes to the fore in the second and third books, not because I wanted to spice it up like a fanboy), Brynn wasn’t all that special, merely a vessel for the plot to move forward. Speaking with the editor, he pointed out that the protagonist needs some reason to go on the journey, mentally and physically and that readers want people to relate to. I had thought Brynn was this way, but I realized she was only partly there, she needed some oomph (however it is spelled). Since my setting contains major steampunk vibes, I decided to alter her from a typical princess to more of an outcast in her family – she is a gearhead, swears a ton, loves to learn about everything, skeptical of the magic she can use, not a true believer in the Church, trusts easily at the beginning and once betrayed, becomes a hardened character. I also changed the gradual reveal of her preference for women to be at the beginning, not as I had it when she first met Hunter. All of these changes made Brynn a robust character, flawed and capable, hopeful and sorrowful. She is the hero of my trilogy and she needed to be the strongest character I write (which I can say from later books, she certainly became one due to my writing getting better).

One thing that I needed to change was less badass characters and more human characters. My main party was all badasses. Making Brynn less open to using her magic helped that, but changing Finn was the key to that success. I completely removed him as a POV character, giving his scenes to his sister Hunter and some to Brynn. This allowed me to make Finn complex. He had a rough backstory, but instead of having the reader be in his mind, I took that out of view. The readers now have to put the puzzle of Finn’s contradicting emotions together from the views of others. It made him easier to write this time around. Finn is a heroic character, but he was betrayed in the past, banished from his army life, and the chosen of the magical Longinus blade. While it was originally fun to write how the power of the blade takes over Finn, it was even more interesting to have other characters view his change, because it makes Finn more unstable, his actions less expected. Finn, the drawn character, the deep character, the open, yet closed off character, all comes out now because we aren’t in his mind.

Hunter wasn’t changed all that much, but one thing I did alter was making her be more secretive with her knowledge. A true believer in the Church, Hunter’s arc was always to follow the religious aspect, but being a lesbian contradicted her beliefs. I added Hunter to the story way after the original manuscript was written so I had more opportunity to create and develop Hunter as a complex person who was struggling with the choice of belief vs her heart’s desire (in this case Brynn). But by making her be a manipulator of others – especially Finn – puts Hunter into even further shades of grey characterwise. Hunter has clairvoyance, almost like Min from WoT, and I brought that to the fore in this new edit. She uses people to get what she wants, as opposed to just being able to see what others are thinking. And this manipulation has cost her, it makes other characters harsher on her, makes her more deplorable and less honorable than she previously was. This helps create not just tension among the main party, but also makes her difficult choice of religion vs love even that more difficult for her.

One of the biggest changes to the characters in this book was the combination of what was once book 1 and book 2 of a four part series. I melded those books together to create one book and now a trilogy. The new book is called The Fallen Unbound (a combination of the two titles). I will go into more detail on the combination, but for this part, I now have my Ashe character back in book 1.

Ashe, a teenage street urchin, is one of my favorite characters. In this book, she doesn’t interact with the other characters but very very briefly, but she plays an important role in the rest of the series. The reason I love Ashe so much is that she is a commoner, a person without skill (minus being a street rat, which come on, is a heroic thing in itself!), someone who doesn’t understand the greater world around her. She is a character that the readers can relate to easily enough. I enjoy Ashe, I love writing her and it made me happy to bring her back in the first book, instead of her being in the second book.

The editor thought my three side characters, Marcard, Evander and Darko, were all more interesting than my main party. These guys were different in many ways and had lived completely different lives, while also being entertaining. Marcard is a military man, straightforward and to the punch. He didn’t change all that much, but I highlighted his loyalty conundrum even more in these new edits, while also making him more gruff. Evander is a sick bastard with devious thoughts. He is really the villain of the whole series and I made him even more the bad guy. In what was book 2, he becomes quite powerful, but in the first book, he kinda disappeared after a while because he was in captivity. So in this new edit, he escapes and does what he did in that book 2. He becomes even more an asshole and darker as a character. Darko didn’t shift much, but I did make him a little bit more conflicted on his choices.

Overall, the characters were some of the biggest changes I had to make with this edit. They needed polishing, needed more complexity, needed more secrets, more distractions, more tension. And I think I accomplished that pretty well with this first round of new edits. I know there is more to be done with them, but that will come soon enough.

The next post will bring up the other changes I made regarding setting, religion and magic.

2016 out, 2017 in

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Though I just launched this blog, I thought it would be pertinent to write a year-end review and what I am looking forward to for 2017. 2016 was a great year (all the celebrity deaths who inspired me was rough) in all.

Professionally, I still work for the same company (have been with for over 6 years now) but it is getting easier and better working from home than 2015 was. My office space is bigger and our apartment is also bigger so that definitely helps, plus I have a nice big window to gaze out of (though my wife says I have turned into the neighborhood police because I get angry when people don’t pick up their dog’s business, come on people how hard is it???).

As for my aspiring writing career (which is just starting to grow rapidly) 2016 was an amazing year. Though I am still working toward getting published, I can say, without a doubt, 2016 was the most active I have been while writing. I completed my fantasy series, The Dies Irae Cycle, this year. In total, it is a four book series and I wrote both the third and fourth book this year alone! I really shaped my writing ability this year so writing two full books wasn’t all that difficult or daunting as it once was. I know now what it takes to finish a book in a quick time as well as how to properly edit that first draft into something stronger. It took me awhile, but I think my writing has matured to the point where I know I have a decent gift of storytelling.

I also launched this blog and joined Twitter to help grow my author platform. Normally I wouldn’t have done either of these on my own, but it is awesome to see the community online with such great and inspiring people trying to do the same as me. I want to keep interacting with some cool people I have met and journey with them along the same path. It is going to be exciting!

For my writing goal in 2017, I obviously want to get my series published, or on the road to publication. It is going to be an arduous task, but one that I am going to go full-steam into.  It takes time in this industry and I will give it everything I have. Nothing is going to get me down and I will keep going until my series is out the for the masses to read. I am going to a few writing conferences this year as well as working with a developmental editor from a bootcamp I did with the Writers’ Digest. I also started a new fantasy book and so far I have five chapters done and I should be able to finish it by the summer at the very latest, probably mid-spring. I am completely entranced by this new story and I think I have a great book on my hands to get out there when it is done. It is going to be a busy year, but I am ready.

Obviously, I cannot forget to say that personally, 2016 was a good year. My wife and I moved to Austin, Texas. This place is amazing and there are so many interesting things to do down here, and also a great writing community to join. We also adopted a second dog (though this one is a bit harder to deal with than the first). And finally, my Chicago Cubs finally won a World Series for the first time in 108 years. It is hard to put into words what the feeling was when they finally did it, but I will always remember that 2016 was the year they won!

2016 was a good year for me and I look forward to the challenges, the pitfalls, the glories, the feelings that 2017 will bring. I hope you all had a wonderful year and many fortunes for the year to come!

The writing process: The Query(ing) game

typewriter-1144164-639x426The Query – the dreaded next step from actually writing the story, manuscript, novel to getting it to the masses for consumption. To be able to share your story with the world, you have to first get it into the hands of someone in the industry who could make it happen. It is a difficult step for an author, especially new authors.

Whether you want to have your finished work published via traditional markets, e-books, Print on Demand or in journals/magazines, you need to Query. Querying can come in the form of a letter to an agent or publisher, but it is basically a pitch of your story to someone who has no idea what you have written. As many authors soon come to find out, it is harder to do a proper query than it is to write the book or story. And the pitch is not a step-by-step covering of your plot, it is a hook to grab the reader’s attention so they become interested in your book. The hook is nearly similar to what you would commonly see on the book jacket – it is the few sentences that either interest you or make you put it down.

For myself, it was a long arduous learning curve that I am still trying to master. When I first wrote my original book, my Query was shock full of mistakes. And those mistakes still carried over to the contemporary thriller, but where my fantasy failed, my thriller succeeded and I chalk that up to the market and genre. The point is, what works for one, does not work for another – and that goes especially true for agents.

Agents are people and they have their own tastes and wants. As an author, I forget that from time to time when I get a rejection or don’t hear anything. Agents have to be interested in the story, otherwise they are just wasting their time, which is as important to them as it is to you.

The same goes for the Query letter itself. I have gone to workshops and done webinars and bootcamps and learned one thing – everyone’s idea of a good query letter is different. Some agents want and expect one style, while another says something different. It is a difficult path to travel for authors because we think it should be easy since we wrote a full story – but we are wrong more often than not. While many agents follow a similar pattern, it is really pertinent to tailor each Query to the specific agent or publisher (even though most publishers want agent submissions, not unsolicited). It is good to have a stock letter, but to alter it each time with different tweaks to meet the agent’s needs/wants. It is good to have a solid few points to touch on from the plot, but make it fluid enough to alter if needed.

For example, in my story, I have an LGBTQ main character while also discussing a different take on religion in the future. In my basic letter, I don’t mention either because I know what type of hot topics those can become. But as I research different agents, I will add those parts if they mention they are drawn to that particular thing or if they want to see different perspectives. It is all about playing to the wants of an agent, but also not lying about your storyline. Not all agents request a Synopsis (another difficult piece to do for authors – keeping it one page, come on, that is super hard for us wordsmiths!), but that doesn’t mean you should exclude those things in the Synopsis. The Query and the Synopsis are two different animals and though I might not mention sexuality or religion in every Query, they are both in my Synopsis because they are integral to the overall plot.

With all that said, I am still trying to find representation for my novels. I have four completed books that are ready for the next step and it is up to me to persevere to get them to see the light of day. The query process might eventually be longer than it took me to actually write the books, but that is where a writer becomes an author.

Rejection is part of the game and you have to not take it personal. At first, I took it personal whenever I received a rejection, but I was younger and new to the process. Now, I look at it as part of the overall process. Querying is like taking a piece of you and putting it out there, it can be shot down and it does hurt, but like all things, to succeed, you have to push through. I know that there is someone out there who will fall in love with what I have written and it is up to me to find that person. If it takes me 1000 rejections to find that one who will take me to the next step, I will continue on (hopefully it doesn’t take that long!) with gusto and determination. That is the great thing about writing, it allows you to pour your heart on the page and let others into your world. I wouldn’t want to waste all that time I spent on writing it to just let it sit there and not be seen because a few people didn’t connect with it.

Interestingly enough, the day before writing this post, I participated in a Twitter pitch for my series. At first I thought it was even more difficult to condense the query down to 140 characters, but after the first few, it seemed easier for some strange reason. Social Media has changed the game, even from 2007 when I started the process. It has opened up new avenues for writers, created a larger community for us to get out there. I love it and truly enjoy interacting with others like me, other dreamers.

Dream on my friends and don’t give up on those dreams. I know I won’t. One day, the Dies Irae will be available for Fantasy Readers.

Saying Goodbye – on finishing the series

farewell-1531953-639x488Just this past weekend, I put the final touches on the Phoenix Rebirth, the last book of the Dies Irae Cycle. Let me just say that when I wrote the epilogue chapter, it gave me all the feels. I had waited to write this chapter until I did many rounds of edits because I knew that it was going to hit me that it was done.

I first conceived the story for the first book in 2005 and started writing it while still being a college kid. I knew what I wanted this first book to be, but I didn’t have the greatest plan of how I wanted the entire series to go. It wasn’t until 2014 that I knew what direction the series would go and how I wanted it to end. It was around that time when I added Hunter as a character and her love story with Brynn. It was when I changed the overall story and the setting. I would call that my turning point – the burning grow within me to actually sit down and write.

It is nearly the end of 2016 and I can say that I am proud with, not only the story, but my enthusiasm for the project. I had to re-write the first book and I also had part of book two written before said turning point, but in the past two years, I have written nearly three full books (2 in this year alone!). And that is an amazing feat to accomplish. Writing isn’t easy, but because I had a great story to tell, it wasn’t all that hard. I would churn out a chapter of 3,000 words+ in a day when I was on my game. Overall, my four books are 481,000 words with 16 Points of View characters – 14 of which have at least five or more chapters in their arc.

I know I am not done with the world of the Dies Irae because I am going full out in trying to find an agent or publisher (or self-publish if those don’t pan out) because I want to share my work with the world – whether it goes to small or large audiences. With that will come more edits, but for the time being, I know my story is done and that makes me somewhat sad. I spent many years with these characters and it is like my wife said, it is like saying goodbye to old friends.

So I saved that last chapter until I felt ready to say goodbye. Letting go of Brynn, Finn, Ashe and Hunter was an emotional moment. Those four characters were good friends, trusted allies and exceptional individuals. It saddens me to know that I am leaving them where they belong in their journeys, but I know they pushed me to tell their stories. That last chapter was tough to write, but I ended on a high note (while also setting up future stories with their descendants!) with them, especially Brynn and Hunter, whose love was not only amazing, but also tinged with tragedy.

With those final words between Brynn and Hunter now written, I can finally say goodbye to them and know that they are where they ought to be. As for me, I am meeting all new friends for the next journey in a new and different world.

Thoughts on writing: Juggling Multiple POVs

red-pencils-1-1420604-639x487Most books contain one to two main POVs (Points of View) characters. Whether told in first person or third person (very very rare is second person used – I have never read a second person novel), having a solid POV is imperative to the structure of the novel. Most contemporary stories tend to be very closed world, where the focus on these one to two individuals is tied closely to the journey these characters take.

But Science Fiction and Fantasy are different in most regards and multiple POVs is the rule, not the exception.

It is easy to deduce why this is, because these worlds are typically not our own and to have a truly engaging world, it needs to be seen through many character’s eyes. Let me be clear, I know that there are many novels in this genre that are written via first-person and those stories detail the world in amazing fashion using that POV style and keep with a single protagonist. Those stories are great in their own right and those authors deserve all the praise they get. For myself, I hate writing in first person because I enjoy being in multiple character’s heads, but from the distance that third person offers.

The most engaging stories I have ever read invoke this type of structure – even if the multiple POVs are only three or four. My three favorite series (The Sword of Truth, The Shannara books, and The Wheel of Time) all juggle multiple POVs throughout the arcs of the story. And in my opinion, this is how the authors build the worlds the characters live in. Each character has a different view on the world around them and this shows the world, rather than telling them. It breathes life into these worlds.

And this is what I wanted to do with my fantasy series, the world of the Dies Irae. Now, the world of the Dies Irae does take place in our world, but two thousand years in the future after a major cataclysmic event. So the world is different than the one we know. And this means that there is still a world to build within my story. And to truly show how this world is different than ours, I wanted to use multiple POVs.

In the first book, I have two main protagonists that their POVs take approx. 2/3 of the book, but I also have 6 other POVs that finish that last third of the book. These other six characters are in different parts of the world (and while many end up with the two heroes) and they show how the events the heroes are going through also affect the world.

Book 1 – Longinus Unbound – is more of a straightforward story where the two heroes join to seek out a magical item. So in that respect, the world is more narrow. But these other characters all have their parts to play in the story. But when we get to book 2 – The Fallen – the heroes and other POVs get separated for various plots. I also introduce other POVs, specifically a young female character that becomes the third hero toward the end of the series. All told after four books, I have 16 POVs.

The interesting and difficult part of juggling all these POVs is that when multiple characters are in a scene together, which POV would give the best insight for the reader. This is why I enjoy the multiple POV use. If I was limited to just my three heroes, I would be saying the same thing over and over, or using the same deduction methods these characters have. By using different POVs for a scene, it gives more insight into the world and how people inhabit it – especially how a male might see the scene differently from a female, or vice-versa. And it also breaks up the monotony of writing in the same character’s mind.

But it also makes remembering every little thing in a character’s arc all that more difficult. I seriously don’t know how the masterful Robert Jordan was able to remember everything about the dozens of POVs he used in The Wheel of Time!

That difficulty is what makes writing a series with multiple POVs so gratifying when everything all comes together at the end.