What I’ve read: Six of Crows

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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is a Young Adult fantasy novel set in a world where magic is the crux of conflict and gangs run the streets.

Brief Summary:

The Grisha are magic users and while they have their own separate powers, a new drug makes them more powerful than ever. A country who hates Grisha imprisons the creator of this drug in an impenetrable fortress. A merchant seeks out the most accomplished thief in his city – Kaz Brekker – to pull off the job of getting him out. Kaz forms a team of rejects to complete this job: an acrobat turned thief, a sharpshooter wisecracker, an explosives guy, a Grisha and a former prisoner who knows the fortress intimately. Twists and double-crosses occur, because obviously, and the crew get into the fortress only to realize the creator was already dead, but his son lives and he can recreate the formula for the drug. And they get out, live happily ever after…not exactly, leaving with a cliffhanger for the next book.

What works:

The world of this story is awesome. From Ketterdam & the Barrel to Fjerda, the lands are excellently description and real. Ms. Bardugo goes to great lengths making these lands feel lived in and would sport these types of characters. Also the fact that Fjerda and the Grisha are bitter rivals is a great story in itself.

The one thing that sets this apart for me is the multiple view points. I am fairly new to the YA scene, but most of the YA I have read seems to only have one, maybe two, points of view. I love the sprawling epics with many POVs, so this book feels at home for me. There are five main POVs here out of the six crew members and I can say each is different from the next. Kaz is his own man, Inej has her own demons, Nina & Matthias complement/contradict each other perfectly and Jesper is a fun character in his own right.

On top of that, I love how using these characters make the pace of the book much smoother. In most adult fantasy with many POV, the plots of those characters are not always together, so we are going to many different locations when changing POV. Not with Six of Crows. There is only one single plot here and each character plays a part in the heist. I love it! You get to see things happen in almost real time, from each character. Reminds me of Ocean’s Eleven in a way.

While the heist is cool, (and a bit easy, but that is YA so it’s fine with me) the true perfection of this book is the characters of Nina and Matthias. The doomed tragic lovers scenario. (or are they?) I loved their backstory and I loved how they both hated/needed one another. But it was great tension because you never really knew if they would turn on each other or listen to their heart. I thought they were spectacularly written and developed.

A cool technique I liked here was that we got to see flashbacks of these characters in the course of the story, showing who they were and how they got there. But it wasn’t distracting at all. I thought Ms. Bardugo did an excellent job of making it fall within the confines of the plot without slowing down the pace.

What didn’t work:

In my opinion there aren’t any glaring issues. I really loved this book. However, and this is purely my own preferences here, but two things stuck out to me.

  1. Though I know this is YA, there were quite a few scenes of adult behavior, which I loved. That said, some things just felt off to me, especially when characters said they wanted waffles or an omelet. Or that they wanted to drink a cup of coffee. I wish Ms. Bardugo would have just stuck with a bit more adult here instead.
  2. ┬áKaz Brekker’s back story and subsequent love interest. I loved the other character’s backstories, but I felt it would have served the story better without showing Kaz’s. Kaz is defined by his history, but doesn’t show it to anyone in the Barrel, which is why he is such a badass. I wish I didn’t know why he became the Bastard of the Barrel. I would have liked the secrecy. Also, I know that YA stories tend to have love interests, and this story had Nina/Matthias, it didn’t need to add Kaz into the mix. While I get it, I didn’t need it.

Rating:

5 out of 5

This book was awesome. It read great, fast and always moving. There were no sections where it dragged on and there really wasn’t much filler. The world was well managed and the characters are great, each of them important players in the story, bringing depth.

What I’ve Read: The Lies of Locke Lamora

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The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Book one of the Gentlemen Bastards

Brief Summary:

In a scummy world of thieves and gangs, Locke Lamora is the leader of the Gentlemen Bastards. The Gentlemen Bastards are thieves of the top order, truly only stealing a huge amount of money but not really spending it. They excel at disguises and deep plots, with Locke coming up with most of them. When the big bad gang leader of the gangs is threatened by an anonymous murderer, Locke’s latest scheme is put on hold. With dozens of double-crosses and deaths, Locke and his crew must fight for their lives without getting caught. People die, a cool magic system comes in, a very complex scheme is shown and potentially thwarted and eventually the Gentlemen Bastards are ousted as thieves. But not before the murderer is finally taken down.

What works:

The thing I can say I like most about this novel by debut author Scott Lynch is the characters themselves. Locke and his Gentlemen Bastards are great for different reasons. While Locke has the charm and gift of gab, he is more than that. Jean is the muscle, but his sincere friendship is a nice change of pace. The Sanza brothers are hilarious with their banter and Bug is a fun character as well. Then throw in the other side characters, this world is rich with different forms of people. Especially the Barangias sisters.

I also really like the structure of the novel. Each chapter is broken down into sub-chapters which is cool. There is an overarching theme for each chapter, but then there might be four, five, or six sub-chapters getting there. I liked that. The other fun part of this story is the Interludes. These interludes are still chapters but are flashback scenes of when the young Locke joins the Gentlemen Bastards and how the training went. It is a cool system to change up the story a bit.

At first I disliked it, but then after reading the whole story, I realized I liked the fact that Mr. Lynch killed off people he put so much information into building. Without spoiling it, Mr. Lynch goes into great detail about certain characters and then just brutally killed some of them, most off-screen with little fan-fare. When it first happened, I was surprised, but then after some thought, I loved it. This world is brutal and people wouldn’t live that long in it without the potential for getting offed.

Another thing I liked about this world was the context used to build it. When I say this, I mean the culture used. Most fantasy writers tend to use a simple medieval terminology to describe things, but Mr. Lynch decided to go with a more Spanish theme. For example, instead of baron or baroness, he used the terms Don and Dona. I thought that was awesome. Even the names were very Spanish or even Italian styled. It was a cool change of pace.

What doesn’t work:

While I really loved how much depth Mr. Lynch went into to show how awesome at fooling people the Gentlemen Bastards were, the first 200 pages were hard for me to get through without getting a bit bored. Yes the Interludes and the banter of the gang were great, but the actual plot of the whole book doesn’t really pick up until the murderer character is discussed around page 200ish. While important to have, I thought it could have been trimmed down a bit.

Even though I loved the Interludes, there were some that I felt weren’t necessary. They were mostly history lessons of the city itself and not about Locke and his gang. These were short, usually no more than a couple pages, but I skimmed most of them anyway. I also wish there was an Interlude of how the first leader of the gang died (I assume of old age since he was old at the start of the book, but it still would have been nice to see)

The climax was a bit of a let down. Sure what happened to Locke and Jean was awesome, especially how they got there, but the total climax felt too easy for such a complex plot to get to. I also didn’t like the addition of the Spider character coming in. Not a fan of that one.

Speaking of characters, the point of view in the chapters were sometimes confusing. I don’t like it when more than one character is given a point of view in the space of a paragraph. I prefer to have one set POV for the entire chapter or sub-chapter. Just a personal preference.

Rating:

4 out of 5

This book was really good. I truly enjoyed it, but it did start off slow for me. The Gentlemen Bastards were a great cast of characters to follow and I can see why everyone loves this book. Quite an enjoyable read.

Writing Thoughts: On Creator’s Block…

So, where do I stand with my writing? That is a tricky question to say the least. And I’m not sure where I want to start (literally and figuratively)

I say this because my head is being torn in three (maybe even four places).

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After I went to the writer’s conference a few weeks ago, I was deadset on changing my passion project trilogy to Young Adult. Young Adult is hot right now and my writing of my main character tended to fit that mold well. So, I jumped in and edited it to YA. It wasn’t all that difficult to do.

However, that edit caused me grief. I had to cut points of view characters that I truly loved. The story was about one character with five other main POV in book one alone. I had to cut 3 of those POV and one of them hurt my soul. I have always loved dark, anti-heroes and this one character was a sick bastard that was fun to write, but he didn’t fit my new audience (he was super creepy and sick, so not so good for teenagers!)

But that also meant three other characters in later books that I loved, one of them being a totally not reliable sky pirate. This character was so ridiculous, vain and swear-happy that I was totally bummed to have to cut. Add in two others that were so different as well, and I had the makings of a separate work.

And throw in working with a critique partner on my just finished completely separate novel and the very early stages of plotting the next one.

And that is where I am in my scatterbrained world…

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I really don’t know which to focus on. Changing to YA isn’t going to take me that long, but it isn’t going to take all that much to tie together my cut characters into a new story, just a few changes and few chapters to tie it all up. But which to do first?

I have a couple of critique partners and one is super hyped about the sky pirate work, but she is also working on my YA story (while I work on hers) and I don’t want to overwhelm her.

I guess my problem is that I think both books would work well separately. The YA book is obviously toward YA audience and the sky pirate toward adult. But the YA is, like I said, my passion project for years. However, I think the sky pirate one will pick up easily enough since its arc is interesting and the main POV is so enjoyable. I also obviously want all my books to ultimately succeed, I just need to find a way to make them all soar.

Which is why my head is near exploding with how to organize it all, good thing I do project management professionally…

The Writing Process: Querying & Rejection

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Since this subject is of recent interest to me, I wanted to dive deeper into what I think is the most difficult part of the publishing industry – Querying.

So the manuscript is done – at least as far as you can take it – and you want to move onto the next step, which is finding an agent or publisher. The next step is to write a query. The dreaded query letter is something that I don’t enjoy, or enjoy doing.

But let me step back a for a few here. Using my own experiences (limited as they are) a writer who is ready to query is only ready when the story is done. But that isn’t always true. You see, when you finish the story, you probably have to go back and re-edit the crap out of it. Most completed stories are nothing but a first draft. It needs polish, it needs substance. So it is important to remember that the time for querying is when the story is as good as you can make it.

The story is done, what next? Well this is where the suck comes in, it is time to research for agents. This isn’t all that difficult if you follow websites such as Writer’s Digest or QueryTracker. These sites give all sorts of good advice for searching for agents. No that isn’t the fun part, the fun part is actually going to the agent sites and seeing what they are looking for. And this is tedious if you are writing in a specific genre. It takes a ton of time to find a list of agents.

Yet, that isn’t the true suck – which is the art of writing the query itself. A query is the one page pitch to an agent discussing your work. You are so suped up by your work you can’t wait to tell everyone in the world about it, but then you have to sit down and write it out into three or four paragraphs without spoiling everything. What in the name of everything good is that? It is so hard to boil down a story, especially when you have so much to share with it. The same goes with the damn synopsis page.

All that said, it does take time and it can suck to do. But when your are done, you feel great. You feel enthusiastic, you feel excited that you are finally going to get that agent. It is a strange catharsis you feel when you press that send button. All that hard work, all that effort.

It all hinges on that SEND button.

Then reality comes to bite you in the backside. This industry is so subjective that 99 out of 100 agents are going to reject your story. Hell, those numbers are probably too low as it is. You get that gut-punch email in your inbox saying the agent is not the right one for it. And you feel nothing but pain, anger and devastation. You start to hate your writing, you want to burn everything around you, feel so defeated that you want to give it up and stop writing. Become something else.

But then the emotions all fade and you realize what the Hell were you thinking. It will happen some day, just gotta keep up with the process and move on. This rejection is the form of feedback you need to make your story better. To strengthen those first pages, to fix the voice of the story, alter the audience group. Makes you realize you still have work to do.

In the end, you will have that better story, but you will have to query all over again…

This is why the hardest part of becoming a published author is the Query Letter. Everything balances atop it like a trapeze artist, danger on all sides, but if you make it to the end, the audience will applaud like mad. The key is to remember that not every person has the makeup to be a trapeze artist, or the wherewithal to write a completed book.

A Conference RE-cap

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This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending the 2017 Writer’s League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference held in Austin, TX. Let’s just say up front that my first writer’s conference was something – completely lacking a good set of words to describe it.

I went into the weekend not exactly knowing what to expect. And my expectations turned out to be true, both good and bad. Let me be frank, I didn’t think there wasn’t anything bad about the conference, but there were things that didn’t work for me.

The first day was all about focusing on our pitch. For those not in the writing world, a pitch is a way to describe our story to agents & editors. Humans do it everyday, we talk to friends about shows we watched, movies we saw, stories we read, food we ate. All of those are pitches. The basics are simple, or so we should think…

But pitching is not easy when you want someone to truly like your story enough to get it to a publisher. The first day was all about working on those pitches with members of the writing community and “experts.” I will say this, and this rings true about the industry as a whole, the advice given in these sessions are too broad and don’t work for everyone. For example, I chose to pitch my standalone story that I just finished as opposed to my trilogy. Why, I don’t really know, but it was the choice I made. And because I write in fantasy, these “experts” told us to build the setting into our pitches. Well that was counter to what I planned. So on day 2 when I had a one-on-one consultation with an agent, I took their advice. Well that backfired. The agent told me I should have led with the characters first. LIKE I ORIGINALLY PLANNED………

After being annoyed and let down that morning, the rest of the weekend went great. Saturday and Sunday were full of panels and short courses. Some of the panels had writers & agents discussing subjects. Personally, I felt these were not as strong as the short course classes. Those classes I actually learned something useful as opposed to how someone else got their dues.

Let me ask a question. How do you make hundreds of introverts even more uncomfortable? You have a mixer.

I jest with that, but it does have some truth to it. Most writers, I have found along my journey, tend to be a bit more introverted than extroverted. We live in our own worlds most of the time and aren’t always socially acceptable. So I thought it funny at this mixer because you can see all the wallflowers looking lost like the nerds at prom that don’t have dates.

I’d say the most important thing that happened this weekend was meeting a few fellow writers that I connected with. I even found a critique friend that is locale writing in the same genre as me. I think that makes the weekend a success overall.

Now that I have one of these in the bag, I have my work cut out for me if I want my stories to get published. This next coming year is going to be fun.

What I’ve Read: Legacy of Kings

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Legacy of Kings by C.S. Friedman. Book three of the Magister Trilogy.

Brief Summary:

The Souleaters have fully returned, though they can be stopped. All the heroes need to do is kill the two queens. The magisters finally come together to help each other. The Witch Queen becomes the villain and Kamala finally decides to show herself as a magister. The priestly king does his part to end the war and his mother becomes the great protector she was meant to become.

What works:

Unlike book 2, this one actually had a strong plot and build-up. The pace continued to be strong, but unlike the previous book with the meandering plot, this one was nearly straightforward.

Kamala stopped being annoying. Colivar revealed his history, which was awesome to see someone from the other side of the Wrath. The Witch Queen was fun. The protector queen was interesting too, wanting to become a warrior by allowing a magister to transform her body (happened in book 2, but trained with the changes in this book).

I thought the overall ending was satisfying as a whole. I think some was lacking in places, but overall I liked it.

What doesn’t work:

Kamala moving onto another man…

One complaint I had was that too many people were way too powerful. The Witch Queen, the magisters, just seemed like nothing had a cost anymore. They could do whatever they wanted.

Rating:

3 out of 5

Overall, this trilogy had a great premise and interesting magic system. However, it didn’t do it for me. I liked it enough to read them all and tell others to read them, but it didn’t wow me.

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.

What works:

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.

What doesn’t work:

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