Under an Evil Moon Periodic Update

Just a quick update in terms of what I’m working on. As noted in my post on April 9th I’m working on a novel, well a series really, under the working title of ‘Under an Evil Moon.’ I have a pretty solid outline for book one, and a rough plan of what happens in the following books, but there are areas that may still change. I’ve currently written a preface, a flashback that will likely end up in the series but I’m not sure where yet, and 5 full chapters. I have two more chapters that I’m working on currently and so far it stands at 26,834 words. I was surprised by how much I’ve written so far considering how early in the book I still am!

Even more surprising to me is that if I include all the background information that I’ve compiled the number comes up at 88,574. So I’ve already written enough words for a novel, now I just need to have the right words in the right places, oh and figure out how to have the whole thing make sense and be interesting! I spent the last week in Philly at a conference and that means I got nothing done, this week will be a busy one as well but I hope to finish the two chapters I’m working on and at least get a start on another one. Wish me luck.

Update on the wand I made for LDS General Conference

I decided to go with an ebony finish for the wand I carved whilst watching general conference. I expected it to be dark but this was actually darker than I had imagined it would be. Still, I like how it turned out so no complaints that way. My wife wants me to make one for her so we’ll see if I get around to finishing that one as well. I’ll post it if I do.

Happy Friday!

Two Sentence Horror April 12th

The shackles anchored his left foot securely to the floor as he floated in the deep pool that was slowly filling, the water already reaching nearly to his chin. Water cascaded from the cloud filled sky in heavy sheets, he had only moments before the water was deeper than the chain was long.

General Conference Project

I’m a self admitted Harry Potter nerd and I make no excuses for myself. During this years LDS General Conference, I decided to keep my hands busy and carved a wand for myself from a dowel using some wood carving tools my wife got me years ago. I carved a dragon on the handle and stylized flames moving upwards towards the top of the wand. I think the carving turned out alright and I’m currently waiting for the dark ebony stain to dry. I’ll post an update once it’s done.

Book Review - Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

I've been looking forward to Words of Radiance ever since I read The Way of Kings shortly after it's release in 2010.  It's been a long wait and I was super excited for this novel to come out.  I'll be discussing some of the plot lines for the book so if you haven't read it yet, you may want to stop now, spoilers are ahead.  You have been warned.  And now, without further ado, on to the critique.

The Critique

Words of Radiance is the second book in the Stormlight Archive.  I loved the magic system in the first book and that continued in this book as more of it was discussed.  The plot lines for each of the major characters progressed, culminating in the arrival of the first of the full Radiant Knights and an epic battle on the Shattered Plains that leads to a huge discovery and enormous revelations about the past and hints about the future.

What I liked

Kaliden is everything I want from a hero.  His character is both idealistic and jaded from terrible experiences.  His plot line  is the reason I keep reading the series.  I also enjoy the Adolin and Dalinar plot lines and find them both compelling.  I also liked how Sanderson weaved the plot lines into the story that would eventually lead to the next book in the series pretty early in this book, and did so in a more subtle way than some authors use.

What I didn't Like

I don't really care for the Shallan Davar plot line.  I understand that her character is important to the overall story so I read her chapters, but I don't really find them compelling.  I'm not really sure why I feel this way.  It could be the fact that she's an intellectual and I tend to be more interested in warrior types.  Her sections are the least action packed of the entire book.  Having said that however, I must admit that I liked her a lot more in this book than I did in The Way of Kings.

I also don't care for the interludes.  I find them harder to keep track of with so many new characters that are introduced, and then quickly run their course to later be forgotten about.  These characters kind of remind me of the Star Fleet officer who used to appear in Star Trek episodes only to be killed off five minutes into the episode.  They seem to me to be almost a prop more than a character in some respects.

Audio Critique

This is an audio book done right.  First of all, I prefer an audio book with few narrators.  I like one ideally but no more than two helps the work feel more unified.  In this case there were two and they are both very good.  What makes them so good is not just that they can affect several different characters convincingly, but also the timing and emphasis of the words they say make the story far more real and exciting.  This is particularly true of Michael Kramer.  I listen to tons of audio books, and in my estimation Michael Kramer is the best there is.

Overall

Although I think that I liked the first book in the series a bit more, I have to admit that I loved the book, it's as simple as that.  Some may disagree with me, but I'd give it five stars.

Two Sentence Horror - March 7th

Every blog needs regular content that readers can expect.  I've introduced book reviews and will continue doing as many as I can get through, but that's necessarily restricted by the amount of books that I can find time to read.  As a result, I'll be introducing a few different post types over the next few months with the intent of them being regular posts. Since I'm now reading Brandon Sanderson's one thousand plus page behemoth, Words of Radiance, it may be a while before I get around to another review.  So the timing is perfect to get started with some other content.  With that in mind, I'm introducing a new series, Two Sentence Horror.  The rules are as follows.  It must be horror related, and it must be no more and no less than two sentences.  Simple right?

I see this more of an exercise in brain storming, rather than writing per se.  However, I will make an effort to make the stories as engaging as possible.

I kicked off from the wall, driving my arms and legs in powerful strokes towards the dimming light at the far edge of the pool.  My lungs started to burn as a deep darkness fell with the soft thump of the pool cover sealing above my head. 

 

Book Review - Turned by Morgan Rice

I tend to get my books in many different ways. Sometimes I get them through my kindle, sometimes I buy a paperback at Barnes and Noble and sometimes I buy them through Amazon. In this case I saw the ebook advertised somewhere and I decided to give it a shot. It helped that the ebook was free, but I bought the audible version for cheap so that I could listen to it via Whyspersinc. By the way if you're not using Whyspersinc may I politely but forcefully recommend it? As a side note, I have decided to add an audio critique section to article that I listen to. Ok, on with the critique.

The Critique First off, Turned is a teen vampire book, which I must state at the beginning is not my typical fare and probably affects my opinion about the book so take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt. The book revolves around a girl named Caitlin Paine, a teenage girl who has just moved to New York from a town. That's all we know because the author always referred to the place from which the protagonist had moved as 'our last town.' This should have been a warning to me but I ignored it and blithely continued forward. Caitlin discovers at a certain point in the book that she is in fact a vampire, at which discovery she is 'shocked'. I use this word deliberately because it stuck in my craw after the author used it about ten times in a five page span.

What I liked Um, let's see. OOh, the cover! I really liked the image used for the cover. The typography was decent and it read as a vampire novel. It was really the thing that drew me to the book and reason I read it. Unfortunately there isn't much else to talk about here.

What I didn't like I found the book to be cliche, predictable, and trite. Full of teen vampire cliches and really lacked any kind of understandable romance. The main character falls in love with two different boys literally seconds after meeting them. Listen I'm all for fantasy but the romance portions should at least be believable. I found the writing weak and the character development non-existent. The main character's behavior is so inconsistent that I felt absolutely no connection to her at all. This book desperately needed a good editor, or at least a good writers group to go through and fix all the abundant plot inconsistencies and really add nuance to the story.

Audio Critique This may have been the worst part of the book. Having a good narrator is second only to having a good story when you consume books via someone else reading it to you. Listening to this narrator was like listening to a skit from the Kroll Show but without any humor. I just about lost it (not in a good way) when she pronounced condescension as "condensension," and cringed when she attempted to affect a mans voice.  Not a good performance.

Overall I understand that this was a self published book, and while I wholeheartedly support those brave and sometimes foolhearty souls who feel that they can go it alone, this book did not measure up to any kind of publishing standard at all. When I started the book, I really wanted to write a post about how an indie had done it right. I was practically itching to write that post, and based off of the cover I thought this might be my chance. My disappointment is practically palpable. Giving it more than one star is simply unthinkable.

Book Review -The Burning Sky


I was looking for a new book, and didn't have a lot of time when I saw the Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas.  I picked it up and started reading based on the name and cover image only, something that isn't my habit.  The story revolves around Iolanthe Seabourne, a 16 year old elemental mage who believes she can only control three elements, unlike the most powerful elemental mages that can control all four.  Focused on a party, Iolanthe uses her powers to create lightning, which sets in motion a chain of events which dramatically change her life.  Soon she finds herself allied to a prince, in hiding in an all boys school as a girl, and the unlikely opponent to the most powerful mage in the world, the Bane.
What I liked
The writing is interesting and the story well told.  I found the story compelling and was interested to see how it developed.
What I didn't like
The setting of the story, in England in a live in school where there are magicians felt very much like Harry Potter.  This was an all boys school and the magic system is different but it still felt very familiar, which was a big draw back for me.  I also found the characters motivations a bit shallow and under developed at times.  There were even moments when I thought to myself that they felt unauthentic.  I frankly couldn't connect with them at all and found them unmemorable.  The tense that the author used for the book also contributed to my lack of connection to the characters.
Overall
Overall I thought it was decent.  Like the characters, I found the book to be less than memorable, but not a bad read.  However despite the kind of shallow entertainment that it provided, I would be unlikely to recommend the book to a friend.  I'd give it three stars, knocking off two for the familiar feel similar to Harry Potter and for the overall lack of character development that I felt like existed.

Submitting your manuscript or query to an agent or publisher

My writing group has us all doing research for each other and then we present them to each other and talk about it.  My topic was submitting queries.  So here you go. Submitting your manuscript or query to an agent or publisher

You've done it! You've finally got your wonderful idea down on paper, or the digital equivalent, and now you're ready to submit your masterpiece to agents and publishers.   What do you do next?  Here are a couple general guidelines to help you get that submission past the acquisition editor's desk and into the hands of a decision maker who can offer you a contract.  Or at least to an agent who can help you get do the same.

Read the Directions!

Every publisher/agent wants something slightly different from the submissions they read.  Typically they address most of these things on their web page including; content to include, max word limits, and genres they are accepting just to name a few.  Acquisition editor's get really annoyed when it's obvious that you either didn't read, or didn't follow the directions readily available on their website.  Even if your writing is good, you may not make it past their desk because they'll stop reading long before they get to your story.

Make sure you know whether or not the publisher/agent is OK with simultaneous submissions before you do it.  Believe it or not editors talk to each other at conferences and other social gatherings and typically have friends at other agencies andr parts of the industry.  While they expect professional behavior from authors, they are not above passing on the particularly egregious offenses at conferences and other industry gatherings.  Especially after they've had a few drinks!  Don't give them a reason to gossip about you, it can ruin your chances not only at the publisher you submit to, but potentially at other  agencies to which the editor reading your submission has connections.

Introduce yourself and your book

When querying you should introduce yourself and talk about your accomplishments.  If you don't have anything impressive; (I'm looking at you honorable mention at the jr. high reflections contest) it's better to skip this than to try to make nothing sound like something.  In that case just briefly talk about yourself and your background and then move on post haste.

Talk briefly about your intended market

Who is your book written for?  What types of books is it similar to? What makes it unique? Do you have any ideas about how to market it?  How saturated is the market you are targeting, and why would they want to read your book over all the other offerings in the genre?  Avoid the temptation to state that the book is for 'everyone' or 'anyone interested in fantasy.'  This will tell your editor/agent that your book is of particular interest to no one and will doom your chances at a thorough read through.  Also include the length of the book by word count, no one wants to hear about how many pages a book is since this will fluctuate radically depending on font, kerning, spacing and much more.

Include a synopsis

MAKE SURE YOU OPEN THIS WITH A STRONG HOOK!!  Just like the first paragraph in your book, this is your opportunity to sell the editor/agent.  Make it concise, well written, and memorable.  Also be sure that you make it short.  Two or three paragraphs are usually sufficient.  The synopsis is probably one of the most important inclusions in your submission as it largely determines whether the editor/agent keeps reading the rest of your submission.  Focus on the main character and conflict of the story.  Avoid discussing side conflicts as they will take away from the hook and make the story sound convoluted.  If you are writing a query letter for an agent it should only really include the hook, short intro of your book, and an introduction of yourself.  Queries should not be more than about 1 page.  If they want more info they'll ask for it.

Be professional, don't be cute

Submitting a query is a lot like applying for a job.  Make sure you are professional and well put together when you submit your query.  Editors, like employers, are looking for something that stands out from the crowd in a positive way.  What you're trying to say may seem witty and hilarious to you, and if the editor knew you maybe they would agree, but since they don't, they are more likely to be annoyed by your attempts at humor.  Most editors consider this type of submission to be unprofessional at best, and off putting at worst.

Chapter summaries

If your publisher/agent asks for a chapter summary they are trying to understand more deeply what the story is about and how you go about resolving the major conflicts.  They will only read this if there is a good hook, but include it in your original submission if they ask for it.  Write about a paragraph for each chapter describing what happens in the chapter and be sure that an outsider can understand it and that it sounds interesting.  A chapter summary that says 'Sally goes to the market and talks to Billy for a while,' or something of equally low value will just annoy the editor and they'll probably stop reading.

Don't rush your submission

Your submission is a lot like a combination of your business card and resume.  All the agent or publisher will know about you is what lands on their desk or in their email.  You want to present the most polished version of yourself that you possibly can.  A submission full of typos, grammatical errors, or showing amateurish behavior or inattention to detail will result in a hasty brush off.

Edit your work and submission materials before submitting

This should be pretty obvious, but you'd be surprised how often submissions look like they've they were typed by a chimpanzee in a hula shirt.  Edit it as best you can yourself and then get the feedback of someone you trust before sending it off into the world to seek its fortune.

Don't include a potential cover image 

Authors almost never have a significant say in what book covers looks like.  Sometimes the publisher will allow some input from the author, but the final decision is theirs and theirs alone.  Including a cover shows that you don't understand the publishing process and makes them wonder about how difficult you might be to work with

Don't put 'copyright' notices all over your submission

There tends to be a lot of confusion about copyright among authors.  Let's clear that up a little.  When we talk about 'having copyright' we are really talking about two different things.  The first is the actual copyright, the right to own, sell, distribute etc any work, and specifically in this case, a written manuscript of any length.  This belongs to the author at the moment that they put the writing down 'in a fixed form.'   For interpretation on what 'fixed form' is these days given digital creation and delivery, I'll refer you to a lawyer who practices copyright law.  The second item is copyright protection.  You have to file for this in the country in which you plan on first distributing the work.  Publishers typically does this in your name once the work has been edited and physical proofs obtained.

Despite what some people seem to believe, publishers are not in the business of stealing people's work and they understand that you as the creator of the work own the copyright of the given work.  Given this reality it's not only a waste of time to put a copyright notice on your work, it will immediately make your editor wonder if there is something abnormal going on with the copyright the work in question.  For example, maybe there is a dispute with you and some other party about who holds the copyright, and therefore you feel the need to express your ownership of said copyright.  They won't know and having something as big as a potential copyright conflict is enough to scare away most publishing companies.

Be sure to thank the editor/agent

When you want something from someone else, in this case a contract, is there ever a bad time to tell them thanks?  I don't think so.

Book Review - Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

After all my writing friends finally convinced me that I needed a blog I set about thinking of what I wanted to write about.  Instead of the seemingly obligitory hello world post, I decided that a better use of your time and mine would be a book review.  I chose Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.  

First let me say that I'm a big fan of Brandon's.  His characters are engaging, his magic systems are unique, and his settings have very dystopian overtones which I dig.  Steelheart is no different.   It's set in a future world where powerful super villans known as 'epics' have taken control of the former United States, dividing it into small monarchy's headed by whichever epic has the power to hold the area.  

The story takes place in Chicago, renamed Newcago, (not sure if this is how Brandon spells it since I listened to the audio book) and follows a young man named David who joins 'The Reckoners,' the last remaining  group of human freedom fighters.  The group decides to target Steelheart, the god-like emperor of Newcago.  

What I liked

The story was interesting, the dialogue snappy, and wryly humorous, and the characters were engaging.  As usual for Sanderson novels, the magic system was very cool and unique.  In this case the powers of the epics were more unique than the typical comic book style characters which was refreshing for an old comic geek like me.  

What I didn't like

For fans of Sanderson, of which I am one the story line felt familiar.  Almost too familiar.  If you've read the Mistborn series (one of my favorites of all time) you'll instantly draw parallels between the two stories.  God-like, seemingly invincible tyrant rules over dystopic kingdom. Small group of unlikely heros commit themselves to hopeless battle against said ruler with no clear way of defeating him.  Unlikely heros work at plan, execute, and manage to succeed at the impossible.  To me it felt pretty formulaic in this way.  

Overall

Overall it's a great read, with really funny moments and great action.  I would recommend it for fans of dystopian fiction as well as especially if you love dystopian or comic books.  I give it four stars, knocking one off due to the close familiarity between Steelheart and some of Sanderson's previous works.