Writing Thoughts: Doing What’s Best

Doing what’s best for the story is a refrain I had heard multiple times over the years, whether it was from Agents/Authors on conference panels, other blogs from Authors I follow, or from Twitter threads.

It seems like a simple thing, shouldn’t it?

But in reality, we, as authors, get stuck in our made-up reality that is our story.  And then we get blinded by our world, our characters, & our process, and we really have to step back from it. Examine it anew. Especially newer authors, or ones (like me) who have been working on a story/world for many years, it gets harder for us to look at the story with fresh eyes and see where we need to fix things.

Critique partners/beta readers are excellent sources for this to happen. With unbiased critique, they let us know what needs shoring up, and what can be ultimately cut.

And this is where we have to truly put on our author hats and take that broadsword and slash the ever-living shit out of our baby.

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Now, in my own journey, I had to make a decision that would alter the very fabric of the story I set out to tell. But after multiple years of failing to find that illusive unicorn that is known as a literary agent, I realized that I had to do what was best for the story…

Last time I spoke about the change in scenery to my series The Mistlands Tragedies. But prior to the final change, there was another major decision made and that was to focus my story on a different character than originally intended.

Let me get some back story out there. The original draft of my first book was strictly an Epic Fantasy with multiple points of view (POVs). I love ensemble casts and wanted to tell a story that had a big cast of characters. By the time I got the first book to a draft that was readable, I had 5 major POVs and 3 minor. I wrote the other two books of what was once a trilogy with this story. All said and done, I had 7 major and 10 minor character voices (Hells, over the course of these 3 books, I had 125+ named characters that had dialogue and parts to play in the narrative). But from the get of book one, my main character, Brynn, was the focused plot driver, and her story arc was the catalyst for nearly all the other characters. Meaning, almost every single character was introduced to expand her story. Except one.

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Well, that’s exactly the point, this industry is so subjective and there are “rules” that new authors need to follow to even get a sniff at getting traditionally published (which is the route I want to pursue). One of those unwritten rules is word count. My first draft of this book was 140k words, you know, 40k more than the unwritten rule for new authors…So whatever. If you’re GRRM or Sanderson, you get to write 500k and no one bats an eye. I hate this rule.

But honestly, even with 140k words, not every character was given enough room to grow and allow readers to get to know them. Minor characters it’s not as important, but the major POVs need to have a connection with the readers (good or bad depending on the character, aka my proper bastard villain that all my betas/CPs seem to love). Over the course of a series, you can have that growth, but in the first book of a series, it is difficult to have so many characters and give them the life they need.

And here is where that issue of doing what’s best comes into play. I needed to refocus this story if I want it to see the light of day on a book shelf. It was also a defining moment in my growth as a writer.

The character of Ashe did not directly affect Brynn’s story in the first book. Actually (and quite stupidly on my naive part) Ashe didn’t even interact with Brynn or the other POVs until midway through the second book. Her arc was completely separate from the rest of the story. While Brynn and the other main characters were all tied together on this quest story, Ashe was having her own plot. And it isn’t until book 2 that she meets the rest of the cast, but then even that was a small section because not long after, something happens to her and she goes off on her own, completely separated from the rest of the cast (I’m not counting other majors I introduced from other parts of the world because they haven’t met Brynn yet either).

On top of the Ashe conundrum, I faced the same exact problem most SFF writers face – world building. This damn series has such a complex world, religion, magic system. Everything is just dense. And trying to build a cohesive world in 140k words tends to have a ton of exposition within. Nobody wants that, let alone an agent/publisher. So that needed to also change.

Doing what’s best for the story (see recurring theme!!!), I made the difficult (and slightly frightening) decision to completely pull Ashe’s entire arc from Brynn’s story. I could have done the easy thing and just left it on the cutting room floor, but I loved this character as much as Brynn. I didn’t want this lowborn sasspot street thief with the power to summon the dead to go into the deep unforgotten realm of computer files. A decision had to be made.

Make Ashe her own story and write Brynn’s story as is!

Well, again, it’s not that simple. Ashe’s entire arc was built upon this world I had crafted. Creating a new world, while still fitting her in, was difficult (ask my CP Claire, she knows…). So I did the next best, and smartest, thing I could think of, Ashe became the first book in the now 5 book series.

As much as I love Brynn’s story, I had always struggled with creating that opening, that inciting incident that would draw readers in. Like how much to show, where to start, etc. Then throw the world building on top of that. It became a bogged down mess.

That is why having Ashe as a story on her own worked so well. I was able build the world slowly. I didn’t have to introduce all these complex concepts because not all of them pertained to Ashe’s arc. And Ashe’s arc from start to end works brilliantly as a standalone story. Yes, I had to craft other scenes to fill in sections. Yes, I did some major scenery changes. Yes, I made some changes to Ashe’s personality (next blog post!). Yes, I had to come up with a completely new climax. But that was not as difficult as starting from scratch if I had to plop Ashe into a new world.

The best part is that Ashe’s story has been read by my CPs and they all agreed it was the best decision for the series as a whole. She is a good lead in character to the concepts I want to invoke. And they love her quirky, fun attitude with that devilish badass just waiting to come out at a moment’s notice. And now I’m able to introduce Brynn properly in book 2 and give the readers the opposing characters/concepts without inundating them all at once. And then once I get to the later books and the ideas that I already have written, the emotional connection will already be there. (Oh, and I decided to cut down those 7 majors to only 3 and combine some characters together)

In the end, I did what was the best for my series. I think it’s something that I never would have dreamed about when I first set out with this story. It took years to realize this, but this time doing the queries/pitch sessions/pitch parties/what-have-yous, I feel insanely confident that my story is ready for that next step!

Writing Thoughts: A change of scenery

I want to start off by showing this really cool aesthetic one of my excellent critique partners created for me.

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She did a damn sight better job than I ever could have done. Granted, I’m not big on these types of things because I don’t need a visual to see my world, but the fact that she put this effort in, only goes to show that having a CP (having three excellent ones is even better!) is critical to success.

Now, you’re probably asking why I bring up critique partners when this post is about setting. It was strategic, I tell you! You see, when I first started writing this would be fantasy series, I started with a fairly vanilla traditional medieval fantasy world. In my head, the world was secondary to the story (at least in the first draft of the first book at the time). It was all about the characters and the plot for me. And I think that is the way it might normally go for many first-time writers. You need to focus on getting that story on paper, then you can go back and add more flavor to it. Spice it up.

Near twelve years on since that first draft started, I’ve made so many different changes to not only this story as a whole, but the world as well.

As I said, it was set in a world that the greater majority of worlds are based on. Very Western ideals of building shape, style, and architecture. That still works for some stories, and when I was writing the first draft of the series (trilogy at the time), it worked for the story I was trying to tell.

But the Gods’ honest truth, it was boring as Hell.

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There was nothing in that world that made it interesting. I tried my hand at the query trenches, digging away for a couple of years with no success. And then I did an online course with an agent/editor and he confirmed the exact same thing about my world. There was nothing about it that was cool or different from the thousands of fantasy books out there in the market. It was a cookie-cutter book.

It was around that time though that my interests in becoming a better writer grew, but also my taste of sub-genre grew as well. I started reading more grimdark, more steampunk, more New Weird fantasies and many of those stories have worlds that aren’t the standard run of the mill.

And that got me thinking on how to change my world up some.

At first, I decided I wanted my world to have steampunk elements. Completely altering the setting is a huge undertaking, it’s like bulldozing a skyscraper and building a brand new one with the same structure, just painting the metal/glass a different color. It is so time consuming to alter a setting from no/low tech, to one with much more technology. And I like to start each draft from scratch and only take phrases/sentences/paragraphs/ideas that I like from the previous draft and put them in the new one with all new writing.

More failed queries later (even though the writing became much neater and sleeker), I was still at a crossroads with this story. It still felt incomplete. It was missing something to give it that oomph.

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I used to be a gamer. I used to spend hours when I was in my 20s playing videogames (mainly PS) and the Final Fantasy series are some of my all time favorites. Final Fantasy IX of all 23432535 of them is my favorite. It has such a spot in my heart. But one really cool aspect of that game is the mist covering one of the continents. The mist powers their airships, their lights, what-have-you.

So I stole that idea. I added mist to my world instead of steam power. But that’s just lame to rip off something like that. Right? Right.

That meant I had to twist that concept somehow. I needed to tie the mist existence to the story. And that is where I came up with the idea to have the mist be a byproduct of a God’s failure. And the mist is also poisonous to all humans. Yet, it also has magical properties, so people can use the mist to make magic spells, weapon enhancements, physical enhancements.

Now that is a cool (at least in my mind, and a few agents I’ve pitched to) concept for a setting.

But back to the aesthetic at the top of this blog, even with this cool world and mist-tech, I was still lacking that extra sauce to push it over the edge.

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This world lacked a distinct difference from the traditional thought of steampunk = Victorian Goth. Don’t get me wrong, I love that aesthetic but I want to stand out. I want my world to have a different feeling, yet still evoke something we’ve seen and understand.

This (and not to prove my father wrong that my Classics & Anthropology degrees aren’t useless or anything…) is why I chose to have the setting be inspired by Roman Antiquity.

And Oh Gods, this made my story pop like I couldn’t even imagine!

A mash-up of Rome and steampunk (mistpunk) is so unlike anything I’ve read before. But it also really played into the story I wanted to tell (after some major story-shifting, of which, I’ll do another post about in the very near future) because the ancient mysteries/cults that actually existed in Roman times run directly into where I was heading with the mist. Cults of alchemy, Gods, and blood magic. Man, there is so much to toy with. It just made the right decision even easier.

Some of the things I added into this world are your basic columns, domes, aqueducts, you name it, but the biggest thing that helped shape this weird Roman mistpunk story is the addition of Latin terms, titles, and slang. I bet most people have no idea that Ancient Romans were dirty AF. They talked about sex constantly, and they had such a vernacular that would make censorship in this day and age pale in comparison.

By having these types of additions, the story no longer feels bland or meh, it feels like a world that is unique and different. I mean, it’s not everyday you picture centurion guards wielding gladius swords and firing wheellock pistols aboard airships (and if you have, tell me of this literature Valhalla).

But to sum it all up, why did this all come about? Because of working with that agent/editor and critique partners. They opened my eyes to a world that just existed and had no bearing on the story. It was just there. Now, after earthrending changes, the world is a character of it’s own! We get bogged down in our own stories that having other sets of eyes on it really enhances this odd journey of writing. Perspectives are the key to success, especially when they are different than your own. You grow, your story grows, and in the end, that is the basis of why we do this in the first place.

And it all starts with immersing yourself within a world that has a story that demands to be told.

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2018 Writers’ League of Texas Conference

Earlier this month was the annual Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference in Austin, TX. Below is a picture of my badge as well as a nice little ribbon (which I will get to in the meat of this blogging remembrance)

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A little backstory first: I moved to Texas a couple of years ago when my lovely wife got a job offer she couldn’t turn down in the great city of Austin (seriously, it is a sweet ass city with lots to do, but good gracious, it is hot as sin down here, and being from Chicago, I was not prepared for this temperature change…). Anyway, I had started writing what would become a series called The Mistlands Tragedies many years ago (of which if you follow this blog, you’ve seen the many changes it has undergone), but it wasn’t until we moved to Texas that I really found the push I needed.

You see, up until I moved to Texas, I was a man alone with this writing thing, no fellow writers, no critique partners, no one but my brain and my fingers to work with. And then I found the WLT. Now the WLT is simply amazing for bringing writers together and creating that community. I won’t bore you with all the rah-rah-rah stuff or the bloody tears of joy (wait, what? jk!) but the best thing is, each year, the WLT has a conference where honest-to-goodness professional book industry peeps show up and listen to us writers ramble about their stories!!!

I went last year and, as my first ever writers’ conference experience, I would say it was a smashing success. I gained experience and knowledge I never would have on my own. I met a great writing friend, Amanda, and just had a great time overall.

This year, while still great, was a different experience for me, and most of that comes down to where I am as a writer this year as opposed to last.

First, the ribbon at the bottom of my badge. So each year, the WLT has a manuscript contest. You submit the first ten pages of your MS and a synopsis. Then the WLT has panels of judges based on the category you submit to (mine was Science Fiction/Fantasy, obvi). Then these judges will read each submission and then come up with a list of finalists and a winner. Then we all get recognized at the conference for our awesome work!

So I’ll be frank: I wasn’t expecting anything from the contest. Last year I submitted and obviously didn’t get anything. This year, I was in the midst of drastic rewrites/editing of what is now the first book in the Tragedies. I was still working through things, but my overall plot was plotted, the characters characterized and vibe the vibing (I don’t think that’s how it is spelled, but I’m going with it). I submitted the first ten pages, which I had polished so many times it shone like newly shined black Sunday Church shoes, and the synopsis like a good little follower of rules. And then sent it off to the Gods. Little did I expect I would be named a finalist. I mean, as a writer who has been rejected (rightly so) by many agents in the query trenches, this was like the world had opened anew for me. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes into this Valhalla of bliss. I couldn’t have been more happy or motivated to keep on writing.

But here is the thing, with growth as a writer, you tend to level up (I mean that is the nature of the world) and that also pertained to the WLT conference.

Last year, I learned a ton from the panels offered by the conference, this year, very little. I’m not here to say the panels this year were worthless, but more to say that I am past the 101 class level of the book industry, past the very basic overview of things, past the cursory ideas tossed out there. I’ve been querying for ages now. I know how to structure a query letter or synopsis (not saying I’m great at either, but I know what needs to go in them). I know the basics of what happens with an agent, with an editor, with a publisher. I’ve either been to those panels before, or have done extensive research on my own.

The panels this year were very similar (if not the exact same in some cases) to the ones last year. And for newbie writers, those things are great. But for me, I needed more detail, more in depth discussions on craft and business. I needed more knowledge from the agents/editors, and unfortunately, I didn’t get that very much this year. I’m at that point where I feel my story is so nearly polished (per my critique partners) that I’m nearing the point of no return with agents. If I do the query right, I should be getting some hits. So I need some 400 level courses and panels about the industry AFTER the query process. And the conference didn’t have those available (minus a good portion of the book contract panel, which was quite eye-opening).

One thing I also want to touch on is the agent pitch. I talked about the pitching in my post about the DFWCon I went to last month, and, at the WLT conference, I also had a pitch session. I had a glowing response to my pitches at DFWCon and the WLT was not as glowing to very nearly the same exact pitch. But here is the thing, all the agents said to query them (which is the great thing, better to get requests from a conference than to try the slushpile), but getting to that point of them telling me to submit was markedely different between them all. Now, that is no knock toward the agents from either conference, but I do think it adequately sums up the industry: THIS STUFF IS SUBJECTIVE AS HELL!!!! Not every agent (and more importantly, readers) will be interested in the same stuff, even in their preferred genre! And that is perfectly acceptable. Yes, it’s weird when it happens in person (in that microcosm of the 10 minute pitch session where you are trying to sell your story to a very important person), as opposed to anonymous email queries, but it is a great learning experience nonetheless.

Even if the panels were a bit lower level than I would have liked, and my pitch session was not as strong as I would have wanted it to be, the conference on the whole was still a good experience. I got to spend time with others like me, introverts working on stories that are near and dear to their hearts (although, I seriously got tired of hearing people say they are writing memoir – but that is just not my particular brand of whiskey). I got to spend the entire weekend talking/plotting/idea generating/shooting the shit with my good buddy (and critique partner) Dewey.

And I think that is the most important thing to take away from conferences: it is all about the writing journey, and take those with you that are also on the same quest!

2017 in Review

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With 2017 ready to bow out and 2018 coming to invade, I think I can honestly say that this past year was a good one.

Personally, and I’ll keep it short since this blog is mostly about my hobbies, was pretty good. The wife and I bought a big dumb house (hooray mortgage) that we pretty much redid (painting really blows). The big dog ended up having heartworms, so yeah, that was fun. While the little one had to get gnarly teeth pulled. Other than spending a metric shit ton of money this year, all in all, it went swimmingly. Oh, and I added to my anime-inspired tattoo sleeve – added Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke to my Cowboy Bebop. Next up: Neon Genesis Evangelion.

I’ll leave my writing for the last since that’ll be the longest. In terms of my other hobbies I tend to blog about – I’ve seen/read some badass things this year. From movies to TV shows to books, I can say with aplomb this year was excellent. Now I know that I should have done some more blogs this year about all of the things aforementioned, but sometimes I didn’t want to spoil things (aka The Last Jedi, Stranger Things 2). So I might do a post about them this coming year.

I have a new favorite show: The 100. I seriously don’t know how I missed it until this year, probably the whole YA/CW stigma. But damn, this show is amazing and gets better with each season. One of my other favorite shows, Halt and Catch Fire, ended this year and I am super sadface. I will say that this season was stunning and one character’s death was probably the most well done TV death I have ever seen. Just beautiful. Emotional.

I’d have to say IT was probably the single best movie I saw all year. It (pun intended) was just perfect. It had everything – tension, drama, scares, humor, teenage angst. I just flat out loved it from start to finish. I’ll stand by it, but I loved The Last Jedi (come fight me bro). TLJ really flipped the Star Wars world on its collective head and I loved every minute of it. OK not every minute because that one scene with that one character (we all know what I’m talking about) was very cheesy. And I don’t care if people hate it, I loved it. It’s no Empire, but definitely up there with the best of them. Some of my other top films seen this year were VVitch, Thor: Ragnarok, and Blade Runner 2049.

This year, my goal was to read 30 books. While I didn’t reach that goal, I did finish with a respectable 27.5 (still reading that other half but won’t finish prior to year end). A few of those books were rereads (Elantris, Watership Down, Voyage of Jerle Shannara) but most were brand new. Majority of them were fantasy, but I did dip my toe into YA this year (more on that later). A couple of them are beta reads for critique partners, but I’m counting those because they are full manuscripts. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t been published because someone took the great effort to write them (both were excellent btw). I’d say Blood Song and Nevernight were the top two new books read this year. I will admit, I had to put down three others due to first person POV, I just have such a hard time with 1st person. So hard.

Now to the meat of this year end review – my own writing.

2017 was illuminating for a multitude of reasons. I know I don’t know shit, but I feel like this year really helped clean the muck off so to speak. At the tail end of 2016, I worked with an agent/editor on my passion project. After he lovingly tore it apart, I truly came to understand what the story needed to become – albeit to a point. I spent years writing this thing and in one fell swoop, I learned my story was trite and boring. Overdone. It was disheartening to hear it. But ever the optimist (hey I’m a Chicago Cubs fan so back off) I set my mind to fixing this story of Brynn and Hunter, vengeance v. duty of faith. Long story short, I thought I fixed this story. But I was wrong.

Something just didn’t feel right about it. I changed many things: the setting, the religion, the magic system, points of view. But it still didn’t feel complete. And then I went to my first writer’s conference. Though I grew up in the shadow of Chicago, there really wasn’t a huge writing fellowship, a group of fellow writers. Twitter has really helped grow my world in that manner, but the big thing was moving to Texas. The Writers League of Texas is amazing. I won’t stroke the ego anymore than this, but joining the WLT has been a boon. And their annual conference really helped a ton. I met some great writer friends and had some interesting ideas pop into my head.

You know how they always say you should listen to your wife, well in this case, I should have. Even though she hasn’t read much of my writing (waiting until I’m satisfied with the story) she has always said my style is very YA. So after hearing this and talking about my story at the conference, I came to the revelation it should be YA. I did the edits, toned things down, de-aged the characters, all the fun YA stuff. The story really did pop more. But, I still wasn’t comfortable with it.

I know YA is trending toward more adult themes like sex and violence, but even with toning the story down, it didn’t feel right. I have a creepy sick villain and he had to be taken out in the YA version. That didn’t sit well with me. My main character, Brynn, likes to swear (same with a sky pirate). I didn’t want to lose all of that. But I tried. So I ended up taking the darker parts/characters/plots out and went to put that into a separate book. Nearly finished with that book. But always in the back of my noggin was the original plan for my trilogy. I couldn’t shake it.

And then came the true enlightenment. And it came while playing Final Fantasy IX (of all things).

If you’ve never had the pleasure of playing that game, I highly suggest it. The reason that game inspired me was the whole package it contains – humor, tragedy, tension, rage, friendship, love, idea of self, fast pacing, darkness. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is my story contains all of that. Yes, I tend to write more YA, but the story has to have that darkness to it, that grimness. It has to be dense, fully fleshed out, the world-building has to be adult level. But that doesn’t mean my YA writing can’t fit into that mold. They can co-exist. And then I remembered something that agent/editor said to me – I can write different characters or scenes using different genres. For example, my main characters of Brynn and Hunter can stay more YA style. It fits them. It always has. Minus the swearing by Brynn. My soldier character is definitely grimdark. He sees so much violence, commits violence and has a bleak outlook on life, wavering confidence in his honor. My villain was written to be more like a horror character, especially because he deals with the supernatural. Top it off, I changed the setting again, took the premise of my magic system from a separate WIP, changed some POVs, took out a YA character and gave her a complete separate story. Now I think I’m finally satisfied on where the story sits.

To put all that into perspective, none of this would have come about if I didn’t open myself up to other writers. I have 4 excellent CPs. One (Amanda) I met at the conference, and the other 3 (Claire, Lana, Dewey) via Twitter. What has really helped me the most is by reading their stories. Amanda writes YA fantasy about mermaids and Atlantis. Lana about Slavic mythology and witches (in YA first person no less). Dewey writes Middle Grade adventure/fantasy. And Claire does YA fantasy/sci-fi. Out of all four of them, Claire’s stories are the ones I would veer toward normally. And that is the beauty of having CPs. I’m getting a chance to broaden my horizons, read different types of stories and viewing them in a different mindset than just plan ole reading them. Working with CPs gives the opportunity to read someone else’s story, but also provide constructive feedback, in addition to receiving it. Seeing these other genres/stories has opened my eyes to what my own story is missing. The ideas just won’t stop. I even bring a critical eye to published authors works, see what they did, how it works. It has been amazing to have this transformation and it has really set me up for success that I didn’t have in the past.

Also, even if they don’t read this, I really just wanted to give a massive shout-out to Amanda, Claire, Lana, and Dewey! Thank you all!

Even though my goal for 2017 was to get on the path to publication, I think I can say I achieved it. Sure I haven’t scored an agent, but damn, they would’ve had a shitty story. I know that what I learned this year has set me up for success this coming year. My goal for 2018 is to land that agent. Without all the growth this year, I know it never would have happened.

Bring on 2018!

What I’ve Read: Ilse Witch

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A re-read (maybe the fifth or sixth) of Ilse Witch, book one of the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara by Terry Brooks

Brief Summary:

As a Wing Rider is doing his daily flights over the Blue Divide, he spots a castaway. Turns out, the castaway was an Elf prince who set out 30 years prior to discover a forgotten magic across the ocean. Blind and mute, the castaway carries a map. When the Druid Walker deciphers the map, he brings together a ragtag team of warriors, magic-users and a young boy with a mysterious past. Using the brand new technology of airships, the group undertakes a long and arduous journey to this long forgotten land. During the journey, the young Bek learns the truth about his ancestry and his undiscovered magic. Chasing them the entire journey is the Ilse Witch, who also has a mysterious past and deep hatred for the Druid. Upon reaching the land that time forgot, the group is attacked by the sentient dweller in the ancient city and become separated.

What works:

Though my first foray into fantasy was Tolkien, Terry Brooks was really the one to fully grab me. I read the original trilogy and the Heritage series in the late 90s, so when this book came out in 2000, I was aching for this series. And it didn’t disappoint (and still doesn’t). The biggest thing about Mr. Brooks is his attention to detail in crafting a story. While I loved individual books in the aforementioned stories, I really didn’t get invested in every single character arc (though after re-reads, I understood them better) until this story. I love every single character POV and care so much about them. This book, this quest, these characters are the exact reason I started forming/writing my own fantasy stories. There is just something so graceful and encouraging in this book/trilogy that I couldn’t help myself for wanting to emulate Mr. Brooks.

The one thing that sets this series apart for me is the expansion of the world. In the original trilogy there is only the most basic of hints this world is the future of Earth. A bit more is expanded in the Heritage series (I’m thinking of you Eldwist!), but this series really hits home that this is our future. I love the journey to Castledown – which is obvious it takes place in Asia (hence the name Parkasia). It really adds a layer of setting and place.

Every time I re-read this series, I find a new character to fall in love with, and that is what makes Mr. Brooks fantastic as a writer in these early series. When I first read it as a teenager, obviously Bek and Quentin were my favorites because they were of a same age to me. Then it became Walker. Now it is Rue and Redden, the Rovers. I always loved Rue because she was an awesome character, but now, I can really see the progression of Mr. Brooks as a writer. In the early stories, only Brin and Wren were main female characters, but they were magic users, family members. They were the ones the story happened to. Not Rue. Rue is not the main character, but her story arc is amazing. She relies on her instincts, her abilities, her charm, her wit. She is a perfect character.

I also love the fact that one of the main characters – with that familial connection – is a villain. It is a true flip of the script. The Ilse Witch is great.

While I really like stories with major plots and scheme, my favorite fantasy trope is the quest. I just love having characters go to someplace unknown and just grow from that. The Druid of Shannara is pretty much one of my favorite fantasy books because of Walker’s journey to the Eldwist. And this trilogy adds another level to an awesome journey story. I absolutely love the journey itself, but also the stuff that happens on said journey – like the growth of Bek, the mystery of the Ilse Witch, who is the spy, what will happen to the group. It is just an overall amazing first book in this trilogy.

What doesn’t work:

While I am a huuuuuuuuuge Terry Brooks fan (I will read the hell out of all his books!), this series starts the formula for all his other books that take place chronologically after this. What I mean is that the same types of characters start to reappear, especially the boy Ohmsford character and the Wishsong. Bek is amazing, but down the road, you see him over and over again, so it really isn’t a blight on this book, but it does set the stage.

The other thing I never noticed before I tried to become a writer myself was the repeating Mr. Brooks tends to do sometimes. For example, every time the characters meet to discuss their plans, every single character is named in that meeting. It happens a lot! And after a few times, it gets somewhat trite. This also happens with catching characters up to speed, many times the same history is repeated.

The biggest thing to me is probably the title. I enjoy how the script is flipped with the Ilse Witch, but really, in the scheme of the trilogy (spoiler), she really isn’t the major focus until book 2 and especially book 3. While book 2 is aptly named, I think book 3 should have been called Ilse Witch. The reason this bugs me is because the Ilse Witch isn’t a major POV character here, and most of the story revolves around the journey from Walker/Bek’s POV. I know it is silly, but I think the title doesn’t fit the story, but if you couldn’t tell, I really love this books so I am somewhat nit-picking here.

Rating:

5 our of 5

Terry Brooks will always be one of my favorite authors and I re-read them quite often to immerse myself in a wonderful story. It is hard for me to rate each book individually because this trilogy is so strong as a whole, there are no let-down books that tend to happen with series. I don’t know how anyone who enjoys fantasy could not love this book (trilogy).

What I’ve Read: Throne of Glass

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Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas is a Young Adult high fantasy

Brief Summary:

Celaena Sardothien is the world’s greatest assassin and while serving time within a salt mine, she is given the opportunity to fight in an upcoming competition to become the King’s Champion under the banner of Crown Prince Dorian. If she wins, she serves four years and gains her freedom. Accepting this, she goes to the capital and begins her training with the other 23 would-be Champions. They are given tests and then when four remain, they duel to discover the winner. But then the Champions begin to turn up murdered, and it is up to Celaena to discover what is going on before she becomes the next victim.

What Works:

Celaena really is an all-around fun protagonist. Not only is she this fearsome assassin, but she is also written as her age. She enjoys clothing, reading, fine dining, and she also is witty, funny, smart, vain, and loyal. It was really cool to see the different sides to this character, because most protagonists aren’t this layered. One minute she will be talking about missing a party, the next talking about snapping a guy’s neck. She even plays up her being this awesome assassin to other characters when they discover she is only a teenager. Really fun character.

One thing about Celaena I want to point out is that she wants to be the best and her frustration shows. I loved that because I think that is every teenager ever. She is told in the beginning to not stand out, not to cause the others to figure out who she is. But I loved that growing sense of aggravation from her. I loved knowing she hated every second of it. And then when she finally gave in, the shocking way in which she revealed herself was spot on.

I really liked how there were multiple threads/plots going on in this book. At first, I was just thinking it would be about the competition, but it was really good to have the other side plots as well. The story is fast-paced and goes from scene to scene really smoothly without missing any beats.

I know I have said this in my other reviews in the past, I typically enjoy multi-POVs. That said, even though this book has multiple POVs, it truly is Celaena’s story. I think by having the other POVs only have small paragraphs or just a few pages really worked for this story. It gave another visual of the scenes, but didn’t bog it down by having to go into too much of that character’s head.

What Doesn’t Work:

The ending with one of the sub-plots. I really liked the supernatural element to it all, and thought it was really fun and cool, but the way it ended didn’t hit for me. I didn’t understand how it came about and how it all worked out. It just fizzled without much bang.

The one POV of the King in the end. Without spoiling anything, I was let down, or maybe too obvious is a better choice of words. I wish that whole thing was saved for the second book.

The love triangle. I enjoy a good triangle, I mean that is what makes many a good story. But this one didn’t work for me, mainly because I don’t see a Crown Prince doing the things Dorian does. Also, I didn’t like that Celaena was so smitten by both so quickly. I get it, she is a teenager and all teenagers (male and female) go through pangs of lust (all that was handled really well, IMO), but I didn’t feel like that was in her character to go so swoony so quickly. I wish it was more a slow burn.

Rating:

4 out of 5

I really did like this book and Ms. Maas sure does spin a good tale. Celaena is one of the best all around protagonists I have read in a long time.

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…