Friday, October 26, 2012

(Indy Review) The Chosen by Denise Grover Swank

Chosen (The Chosen #1)
Denise Grover Swank

Overall **** Plot *** Interactions **** Characters **** World **** Originality *** Grammar **** Style ****

What is it with prophecies and fantasy? It seems to me they either be irrelevant or complete story killers. If they are true, they represent a complete lack of control on the part of the hero. Predestination wins over free choice. If they aren't then why do we care? I don't know, but when they're handled well, they really can add to the story. Case in point, Denise Swank uses the prophecy in her story to good effect.

(Mild spoiler alert)

“Chosen” is a contemporary fantasy with a prophecy about the rise to power of two individuals. One of whom will defeat the other—and go on to rule the world one would suppose. It's unusual to combine prophecies with contemporary settings and it put me off when I first learned about it. After all, it's set in this world and we are not currently awash in accurate, or at least understandable prophecies. But, I kept on and felt well rewarded that I did.

“Chosen” is a story which explores questions about loyalty and love in a world where the protagonists are stuck between groups of bad guys. It starts out with a woman, Emma, and her mystically gifted son on the run from unknown assailants whose motives are completely unknown, but whose methods are brutal. She meets a man, Will, who seemingly jumps into her life to save her.

Happily, she is no feinting, helpless princess and he is no Prince Charming. We soon find out that he is a ruthless, seemingly amoral, bounty hunter hired to find her and deliver her to a mysterious group of powerful and wealthy men. From then on the story is about what happens to them.

The reader doesn't find out about the prophecy until the second third of the story and it completely changed the tone from dangerous chase to full-blown contemporary fantasy. I think it would have been less jarring to know where it was going before I read it—which is why I put it here.

The characters are not complex, but they are passionate, feel real, and I found myself caring about them. The story is not complex, but it is entertaining and gripping in places. The writing is well done and for the most part transparent. It does not hinder the story or pull you out of it, which meets my idea of good writing. The story is the first in a series and comes to barely enough of a conclusion so I didn't feel cheated.

Of course, it's hard to feel cheated when I got the book for free, but for me, a free book that waists my time is an expensive book. This one was a bargain. It's a good solid four out of five stars overall.

Of course, now I'm going to buy the second one.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Indy Review: A Death Displaced by Andrew Butcher

A Death Displaced
Andrew Butcher

Overall ** Plot ** Interactions **1/2 Characters *** World **** Originality **** Grammar *** Style ****

Nick Crystan is a man without much of a purpose in life. He spends his time trying to find enlightenment in various ways and ekes by with part time work in a new-age shop on Lansin Island. “A Death Displaced” begins with Nick having a startling and realistic vision of a woman falling to her death. A few days later when Nick recognizes the early parts of his vision are actually occurring, he acts fast to save the life of the woman, Juliet.

Although Juliet doesn't stick around to thank Nick, this experience seems to indicate that maybe life has a purpose for Nick after all. He begins having prophetic visions that he struggles to understand.

Juliet finds her life changed as well. Since the accident, she feels oddly disconnected from the world and is told by a seer that she should have died that day and now her spirit resided in the spirit realm while her body is still alive. Because of this, she can now see the spirits of the departed. She has a visit from Nick's mother, who seemingly abandoned her family when Nick was young. Samantha Crystan asks Juliet to find her son Nick and tell him to go to Grendel Manor.

Juliet does as she is asked and she and Nick are thrown together to try and solve the mystery of Samantha Crystan's disappearance.

For the most part, despite several errors that should have been picked up in the proofreading, the prose in “A Death Displaced” is good and after the first few chapters the characters are engaging and three dimensional. The mystery surrounding Samantha's disappearance lead Juliet and Nick to discover some interesting history of the island and introduces some intriguing characters. Nick and Juliet have an instant attraction to each other that has a promise of romance and a nice hook to provide urgency to the plot.

“A Death Displaced” is Andrew Butcher's first novel and suffers from some structural issues that I am increasingly discovering are fairly typical of self-published books. As I mentioned above, the characters and story are engaging, but the pacing could use some tweaking and tightening.

In the first couple of chapters, Nick was such a wet rag of a person, that I wondered if I really cared what happened to him, but as the story unfolds, we discover more of his past and his general attitude towards life gets explained.

Mr. Butcher make some odd choices in the plot. For me, the climax of the book arrived too soon and without sufficient tension to really be satisfying. After the climax, Juliet and Nick find themselves at odds and the story follows them as they try to figure out what happened and how to move on. Then, instead of coming to a more satisfying conclusion, the story line switches to a new character who, until now, has played a bit part in the story and has little reader sympathy.

In general, it left me wondering why I had read the last 20% of the book.

It's obvious that “A Death Displaced” was intended as an introduction to future books in the series and if you read it with that in mind, you might not find the structure as off putting as I did. As I stated earlier, the writing itself is strong, the setting is interesting and the premise is intriguing. It shows that Mr. Butcher has the potential to create some excellent works in the future. Having invested the time to read the first book, I will be likely to pick up the second if the reviews look good.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Quicky Reviews: 10 Indy books

Lately, I've discovered that I'm reading a lot more books than I am reviewing so I'm going to try and catch up. Since I've been immersed in the independent publishing world, I've been reading a lot of Indie books, so most of these are not mainstream. If someone out there wants a more in-depth review of a book, feel free to ask.

Historically, I've generally not been a critical reader or cognizant of grammatical errors, unless they are egregious, but the more I've been studying grammar as writer, the more aware of it I've become. I hope I don't get to be one of these grammar crazed readers, but I've already seen it happening. Sigh.

No Rating - Too many grammar errors for me to read.  Will try again if they get it edited.             
*          = terrible, avoid
***      = a decent read
*****  = amazingly amazing

No Rating Books
  • The Wisdom of Evil by Scarlet Black
    This book needs a serious edit before I can read it.
  • Shadow of Death by Karen Dales
    Same as above.
  • The Ghost Hunters Club by L.K. Jay
    This is a competently written book, but it reads like an English episode of Sex in the City. It's a nice peek into British life, but I was hoping for a bit more action. I think this is a case of the Not My Kind Of Book misunderstanding. As far as I got, it did not appear to be urban fantasy as I had assumed.

2 Star books.
  • Bite Me by Parker Blue
    Bite Me reads like someone made a checklist for what would make a good urban fantasy. Kick butt hero? Check. Crisis in hero's personal life?
    Check. Conflicted love interest? Check. Irreverent, snarky sidekick? Check. It only caught my interest near the end. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't read so many books like it.
  • A Lucky Break by Terry Callister
    A long, slow book about a man who discovers he can time travel. This is a simple wish fulfillment book and explores just how cool time travel would be. Not much drama.
3.5 Star books
  • Glamour by Penelope Fletcher
    I read Glamour last year and the details are fuzzy, but there are scenes from the book that
    have made enough impression on me to be lodged in my brain. I still remember clearly enjoying this interesting novel. Some new and old ideas mixed together in a pleasant way.
  • Lady of Devices by Shelly Adina
    A steampunk novel about a high born lady laid low, who lifts herself up with her steampunk engineering. I plan to read the sequel I just discovered. I suspect it will get even better.
4 star books.
  • Vampire Games by J.R. Rain
    I really like this entire series. Samantha Moon is a mother first, a vampire second, and a private investigator third. She is a refreshing change of pace in the Vampire genre's cast of characters. She's a mother who never asked to be a vampire and never wanted to be one. My only beef? These are more like novellas than full length novels.

  • The Dark Path by Luke Romyn
    The opening scenes of this book hit me as terribly gruesome, but the rest of the book didn't follow that path, which is a good thing for me. I enjoyed this story of a man beyond redemption who yet chooses to do the right thing.

  • Zero Sight by Justin Shier
    A fun, well written book. Well worth the read.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ryder On The Storm - Violet Paterson (paranormal romance)

Ryder On The Storm by Violet Paterson, Edited by Trace Broyles

Overall *** Plot *** Interactions *** Characters *** World **** Originality **** Grammar **** Style ****
Review Format
This review is based upon a review copy given to me by the author.

Storm Sullivan comes from a long line of Seers, but she doesn't care.  In fact, for most of her life, she hasn't cared about much of anything.  When she learns of her Aunt Trin's death, no tears come. Her two best friends Dan and Shane are gorgeous men who both love her, but she feels no attraction to them. In fact, she's never really felt any attraction for any man. Until she meets Ryder, an immortal who has been tasked to destroy the Sullivan seer's to avert the fulfillment of an old prophecy.

When Storm meets Ryder, the sheer intensity of the physical attraction between the two overwhelms them, leaving both of them shocked and confused.

After Storm encounters Ryder, her life changes.  Suddenly she can feel again and just as suddenly, powers that she has never experienced before begin to manifest.  At the same time, ancient prophecies by her ancestor's come to the fore and she finds herself in the middle of a battleground between her kind and the immortals.

The writing in Ryder On The Storm is generally solid and clean. It is told from the points of view of the two main characters, Ryder and Storm (thus the title).  It fulfills its role as a paranormal romance and should satisfy lover's of that genre.

In Ryder, Violet Patterson has a deft hand at description, but some of her dialog seems a bit forced or out of place.  The book starts up and grabs the readers attention quickly, and I found myself enjoying the story. It carried my interested even though the characters felt a little two dimensional. It wasn't enough to seriously interfere with my enjoyment of the book or the characters, but with one exception, there  were few surprises lurking inside the characters.

The story-line is engaging and satisfying through the majority of the book. I found myself drawn into Storm and Ryder's world and found it easy to root for both protagonists and their budding romance.  Unfortunately for me, I found the ending a bit flat. The climax and conclusion of the story was a bit forced and held very little tension. When it was over I found myself wondering if the author had just gotten tired of the story.

Despite the uninspiring conclusion, overall, this is a fun quick read and not a bad start to a new series.  Typically, as a series continues, the author's skills improve markedly and I wouldn't be surprised to see that here.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Jack Kursed by Glen Bullion (Urban Fantasy)

Jack Kursed by Glen Bullion  

Enjoyment **** Plot *** Interactions *** Characters **** World ***** Originality **** Grammar **** Style ****
Review Format

I have no idea what the cover of this book has to do with the story, but it is a good story.

Jack Kursed started out life in the Eighteen hundreds as a poor farmer.  His life takes a turn for the different when out of kindness he invites a woman said to be a witch to stay with him for the night.  Turns out she is actually a witch and she feeds him a potion that renders him immortal and sleepless.

Advance the story two hundred years and the only thing Jack wants to do is die. He is a cold hearted, angry, bitter, pitiless, self-centered bastard, who has kept himself out of mainstream human life and views 'mortals' as little more than vermin.  If they die now or in fifty years, who cares, they are still dead. His one goal in life is to die.

Jack Kursed is an anti-hero whose only friend is a vampire twice his age.  Unlike him, she's enjoying life and is fully immersed in it. She drops in to visit him after a hundred years grudge on his part has kept her away.

The lion's share of the story takes place in the present day and follows Jack's completely unsubtle and un-empathic methods of dealing with problems.

Jack likes to live a simple, uncomplicated life and just be left alone, but of course, events conspire to pull him back into the world.

Watching Jack struggles is both appalling and appealing. He's a serious jerk, but by the end of the story you end up sort of liking and envying the guy his freedom to indulge in his particularly pragmatic and bloody style of judgement.

This book takes place in the same world as other's of Mr. Bullion's books which feature Kursed's beautiful vampire friend.  The history is laid out enough that you don't feel lost, but feels rich enough to make me want to investigate the other books, none of which I've read.

The pacing of the book is not frantic, but moves along nicely.

Strong character development, believable dialog, solid writing.  Lots of other books to read by Mr. Bullion.

Given the premise, there is not a lot of ways to take a story like this, so it is a little too predictable.


Solid 4 out of 5 stars for entertainment value.  It kept my interest and had a satisfying conclusion. All in all, I would recommend this book to enjoyer's of Urban Fantasy.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Once A Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Enjoyment *** Plot ** Interactions *** Characters **** World *** Originality *** Grammar **** Style ****

Review Format

Once a Witch is a young adult contemporary fantasy about a girl, Tamsin, who comes from a family of 'witches'. Every member of their family, except Tamsin, has a Ttalent' or a magic ability. At her birth, Tamsin is proclaimed to be very special, but by the time she is 8, by which time every other member of her family gets their talent, Tamsin still doesn't have one.

Tired of being pitied by her Talented family, Tamsin escapes to New York to attend school there and be around 'normal' people.

On one of her frequent trips home, Tamsin is working at the family store when a man comes in looking for someone who can find an old clock that was lost by his family many years before. Tamsin takes his job, even though she has no Talent and starts a terrible chain of events.

This is the start of a whirlwind adventure for Tamsin where she unexpectedly finds her 'Talent' and comes face to face with a man who would see her entire family destroyed.

This book had most of the right pieces in place to be very enjoyable for me. The prose was clear and the characters were sympathetic and enjoyable but ultimately, the plot disappointed me. There are lots of dark hints and secrets which Tamsin has to deal with as she tries to resolve her troubles, but in the end, when the secrets are revealed, I felt many were anticlimatic and not resolved in a clever way by the author or Tamsin.

It was fun to spend time with Tamsin, but nothing else made me jump for joy.

I probably will read another book in this series to see if it delivers a bit more on its promise.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Alliance of Independent Authors

New group for authors.  Check it out

Monday, June 18, 2012

Review of Distant Star - Joe Ducie

Distant Star
Joe Ducie

Enjoyment **** Plot *** Interactions *** Characters **** World ***** Originality **** Grammar **** Style ***

With Distant Star, Author Joe Ducie has produced a book that is a cross between Jasper Fford's Thursday Next series, Cornelia Funke's Inkheart and Roger Zalazny's Nine Princes In Amber series. That's a good pedigree.

Mr. Ducie has written an interesting and dense story that requires careful reading. It evokes Zalazny's style more than Fford's or Funke's.

In the opening scene, the reader is introduced to Declan Hale's life when the young bookstore owner is challenged to an old western style gunfight, but with books. Hale lives in True Earth and for those with Will stories and words have power and books written with Will can tap into the primal forces of the universe and create entire new worlds.

Most of the unfolding story revolves around the War of the Tomes which Declan single-handedly ended five years ago. Apparently no-one is happy with what he did to end it, especially not Declan. Now Declan has been banished to True Earth and spends his time drinking and writing an endless book. He is bitter, tired, and cynical and most of the action in the book consists of reactions by Declan to repercussions from that war.

As this fast paced story unfolds, Declan's history is told in bits and pieces. The history that is revealed is intricate and interesting with an epic feel and by the end, the reader can fully sympathize with Declan's dark side.

Upon reflection, the history was more interesting than the actual story which is perhaps why Mr. Ducie told it the way he did.

  • The author is too frugal with information. This makes the story hard to read and leaves a lot of questions about what exactly happened.
  • Some of the terminology felt misplaced and used more because it sounds cool than because it makes sense. The worlds created by the books is referred to as 'The Forgotten' which is anything but forgotten. He refers to the worlds created by Willful writers as the 'Infernal Worlds' and the powers used to create them 'Infernal'. That one still has me scratching my head. Even the title Distant Star which sounds cool would seem more at ease on a space opera than this multi-worlds urban fantasy.
  • Some of the interactions and dialog between characters seem designed to be evocative and fraught with innuendo and hidden meaning without ever revealing what the characters intended.
  • Using books as weapons to evoke gunslinger images was a stretch and felt more goofy than interesting. It felt like maybe that was the genesis of the book: 'Hey, wouldn't it be cool if these guys dueled with books?' But, when the story evolved beyond that goofy concept, the author couldn't bring himself to let it go.
  • Interesting story with good pacing.
  • Sympathetic characters
  • Strong engaging writing style.
  • Deep and complex world. There was a great feeling of depth to it.

If you were to just read the pros and cons you might think I didn't enjoy the book, but that is not the case. I enjoyed the story and have found myself reflecting on it a lot. In my book, that means it was worth reading.

After perusing some of the other reviews, the things which I felt were shortcomings obviously didn't have the impact on other reviewers that they did on me. If you enjoyed Zalazny's Nine Princes In Amber series, you will enjoy this. This is book is a fun read and Mr. Ducie is an author to watch.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Murder in the Bough - fun urban fantasy

Murder in the Bough 

by Jamie Sedgwick

Enjoyment *** Plot *** Interactions *** Characters ** World *** Originality ****Grammar **** Style ***

Murder in the Bough is an urban fantasy detective mystery. To most people who know him, Hank Mossberg is a San Francisco private investigator with a skin problem. To the rest, he is known as the Warden and his skin condition is quite normal for an ogre. In this case, 'the rest' is the magical population of San Francisco. This population is actually quite large and varied and is filled with Elves, Dwarfs, Pixies, Nymphs. Pick a fairy tale, they are probably lurking around somewhere.

As the Warden to the magical fae, Hank Mossberg is the law. Being an Ogre makes him uniquely qualified for the job. He is large, strong and immune to most magic. He gets a small stipend and a small apartment in the 'Mother tree'.  The Mother tree is a one hundred and fifty foot tall tree that the magical population has moved into a warehouse in San Francisco. It is the tree from which all other trees spring and it is home to hundreds of fae. Besides homes,  the Mother contains is a five star restaurant and Hank's jail.

 Hank has a few problems: he is an ogre - the last of his kind; a key piece of evidence his case against a drug running Elven mob family has disappeared from his impenetrable safe; the mob boss has been murdered and Hank's taking the blame; his latest PI case seems to be a dead end; and, last, but not least, his love life is on the rocks. Whenever he touches a magical fae woman, she passes out. It makes it hard to get a second date.

The story follows Hank as he attempts to solve his problems and not get dead while doing it.

Mr. Sedgwick is a little too spare with his descriptions.  For example, we find out that Hank has an apartment in the Mother tree, but we don't come away with any real sense of the place. I'd have liked to read more about the unique settings and more descriptions of the characters.  As it is, Mr. Sedgwick relies on stereotypes and fairytales to provide that detail for the reader.

This sparcity is also evident in the characters in the story.  They struck me as stereotypical without a lot of surprises.

Hank is a likeable protagonist in an interesting world.  He has a strong sense of justice with an unfortunate tendency to lose his temper and make rash decisions.  The storyline is straight forward and entertaining and the story is overall a fast, light and fun read.  Mr. Sedgwick has an interesting new take on the underground magical world that is the base of so much urban fantasy and his writing style is clean and transparent with some good humorous highlights.

Overall, it is a decent, fun read and I enjoyed my time in Hank's world. If this becomes a series, I will probably buy the second book.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Review of Firecracker by Charles R. Verhey

4345 3444

Plot ***
Originality ****
Style ****
Grammar ****
Characters ****
Interactions ****
World ***
Enjoyment ****

Firecracker is an urban fantasy which centers on the life of Aideen Cassidy. She is a “Zoë Blood”, a psychic born with special talents caused by the cure to the “88 Virus” plague that killed thousands of people around the world. That cure was the Zoë Vaccine. The vaccine has created a few thousand of these psychics.

Aideen has had a tough life. She is a thin, chain-smoking, vermillion eyed, red-headed young woman, and she is extremely volatile in all senses of the word. She is a pyrokinetic, a fire starter, so she can, and frequently does, start fires with her mind. She is ruled by her passions and can go from one emotional extreme to the other. Unfortunately for her, when she loses her temper, she creates fires and the object of her ire often doesn't survive. Her uncontrollable gift (or curse) has dominated her life and prevented her from staying in any one place for too long. After burning down every business she has worked for, she is now a pariah and no one will give her a job – even PsychTeam.

PsychTeam is a group of psychics who aid the police in solving crimes and they don't want her. Aideen, is broke and desperate and badgers PsychTeam until she gets an interview with the handsome and charming Agent Li Hung. He tells her bluntly that they don't want her or need her.

Fortunately for Aideen, Agent Le's decision is overridden by the head of PsychTeam, Miyuki. She is a frail little girl with enormous psychic powers whose failing health keeps her from living a normal life and whose psychic visions torment her constantly. Miyuki tells Agent Li that he must hire her and that they will need her for the battle with the shadows that is to come. Aideen's life turns around from there and becomes filled with excitement, romance and drama.

I don't want to go much further into the story line lest I reveal things best revealed by the author.


Firecracker is a well written book. Mr. Verhey's writing is strong and his characters are believable and likeable. Aideen is especially fun because of her volatile nature ( which earns her the title of Firecracker from Agent Li ) She is ruled by her emotions and can go from exuberant to depressed in a matter of seconds. I enjoyed following her along on her ride. She starts out with critically low self esteem but is strong willed and bull headed. It is this latter trait that gets her where she needs to know. As she starts to understand and find positive uses for her power, she becomes more confident and starts gaining a sense of self-worth.

The world that Mr. Verhey has created is interesting, self-consistent and complex. This book reveals some of that world, but hints that there is much more going on than the characters know, even the enigmatic Miyuki with her glimpses of the future.

The story is also well structured with tension gradually building towards a satisfying and dramatic climax.


For my tastes, Mr. Verhey is a bit too cagey with the information he reveals. Even most of the members of the PsychTeam don't know what is really going on. They are kept in the dark as to the nature of the coming threat. The reader is too. There is a lot of hinting and suggesting and shuddering which builds up readers expectations to the point that the actual reveal of the enemy is a bit of a let-down and the story arc is fairly predictable. That being said, there are other very interesting things you discover about the plague and the nature of the Zoë Blood which keeps your interest.

Overall, I give Firecracker 3.5+ stars. The characters are likeable and complex and the story is engaging, even if some of the tension seems a little artificial. I would recommend it to anyone who likes urban fantasy. Its an enjoyable read and a good start to what seems to be a promising new series by a promising new author.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Technical Review Format

I'm trying a new format for my future book reviews. I will rate the novel on several different elements to try and present my opinions of the book in a clear and concise format. This selection of elements is likely to change, but I will keep this post up to date with what I mean by my ratings.  There is a table at the end of this post with some clues as to what I consider the various ratings to mean.  Since I almost exclusively read and review speculative fiction, the world building is of particular importance to me.

Let me know what you think or if you have suggestions for changes.


This is the overall story line. Is the story engaging? Does it have a good rhythm and keep my interest and does it make sense within the boundaries of the author's world. I strongly prefer stories where the good guys win and the bad guys lose. That doesn't mean that the protagonists can't be slapped around a lot.

The originality of the world, characters and plot. Is it original or is it more of a derivative work. In my opinion derivative works can be good reads, but I do prefer originality. Doing original work is increasingly difficult with the explosion of new books we are seeing.

Writing Style
How engaging is the writing? Does it flow? Does the style of the story get out of the way and let you enjoy the story? I prefer a clear and clean writing style with more attention to actions and words than to descriptions.

How well the story has been proofread. Number of grammatical, spelling or typing errors I notice. I tend to not notice grammar much, so if this is less than a four, you can be sure its pretty atrocious.

How well fleshed out are the characters? Are they believable, interesting, and consistent. Do they provoke sympathy and antipathy? Are their actions believable?
This covers interactions between characters and other characters or characters and the world. Strong dialog, realistic interactions, well thought out consequences to the characters actions are important.

This is a rating of the texture, feel, or character of the author's world. I give credit for originality and consistency. I dislike plots which set out the rules and then require the characters to break them to succeed.

This is a measure of how much fun I had reading this book. This is not necessarily tied to any of the other metrics and could possibly be affected by the phases of the moon or the general state of my life.

Here is what I am currently considering each score to mean. In general 1 and 5 are rare and 3 is acceptable.

1 star
2 stars
3 stars
4 stars
5 stars
Couldn't choke it down
Not great, forced, unbelievable, dull
Average reasonable plot
Engaging plot, solid pacing, effective climaxes
Couldn't put it down.
Fan Fic
Mix of new and old. Reasonable
Several original concepts. Refreshing
Truly original work.
Gets in the way of the story but still readable
Reasonably transparent, maybe with a few glitches
Transparent style, solid sentence structure and rhythm
Outstanding style which actively contributes to the enjoyment of the story
hinders story. needs editing
A few mistakes scattered though the book. Not enough to cry about
A couple of mistakes in the entire novel.
Dull, boring, 1 dimensional
Some redeeming value but not compelling. 2 dimensional
Average characters. Not the driving point of the story.
Some good to excellent characters with medium to high complexity
Complex, compelling characters.
Unbelievable, dull, or stilted dialog
Tired interactions, unimaginative dialog. motivations not clear, inconsistent consequences for events
Reasonable dialog reasonably consistent. Some stretching of credulity.
Good solid interactions between characters . believable dialog that is germane to the story.
Great, witty, appropriate reparte. Clever use of world rules by characters.
Inconsistent and arbitrary.
Unbelievable world which detracts from story
World is average. It isn't particularly compelling or bad and doesn't affect the story much.
Interesting world, reasonable rules, consistent interactions.
Fascinating, well developed, believable worlds.
Bleh. Where's the lighter?
I can wade through it if necessary, but rather watch TV
Engaging enough to be worth the read.
Good solid fun. Definitely worth the time
Tickled pink by it. Would actually read it again.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Your Baby Is Ugly

'Your Baby Is Ugly'... That is the hardest thing for any proud parent to hear.  Of course almost no one ever tells a proud parent, showing off their new chip that it should have been kept in the oven for another couple months in the hope that it's just not quite done.  What would be the point?  I suppose if you are mean and nasty and liked to make mothers cry and encourage fathers to punch you in the eye, it might be fun. But, that baby is not here for your benefit and enjoyment, it's here entirely for the parent.

Of course, there are other types of babies. Any time you engage in an act of creation, put your heart and soul into a project, that becomes your baby. When that creation is put out there for the entertainment and edification of the public, some people are going to tell you its ugly.  As a recent proud parent of a couple baby novels, I can tell you that it still hurts to hear.  Unfortunately, as a novelist, I need to hear these sorts of criticisms, examine them and look for the truth in the words.

After you have worked and sweated over every detail of your novel, that doesn't mean that it is as good as you can possibly make it. Things that you envision can be completely obvious to you and the words you chose can elegantly invoke the idea you want to convey - in you, without doing the same thing for someone who doesn't share your brain.  That is the reason we have editors.

One of the problems I have run into as a new author looking to self publish my books is that you have to actually PAY for those editorial instincts.  This can be a problem for a fledgling novelist like myself.  What I was hoping to find was an editor who would read my stories and go, "Wow!  If we were to just switch this around and move that over there and have the pencil shoved through his right ear, instead of his left eye, this would be a miracle of modern story telling!"

But, of course, what is much more common is more of along the lines, "Yeeeew. Why does your baby have a third eye?...Yes, I can see that your novel relies heavily on that third eye, but really no one wants to see that."  Even if you kind of realize that eye number three is a bit dodgy, it hurts to hear someone else confirm it.

So hear's a toast to ugly babies and very thick skin

Monday, April 2, 2012

Too Many Books?

So here it is,  at the end of the first quarter 2012.  I have finished 3 urban fantasy novels in the space of a year, I've paid to have them edited, and now I am trying to get people to read them and review them.  In short, I am trying to do what apparently thousands upon thousands of other self published authors are trying to do:  Get Noticed.

If you explore the book publishing web, you will find hundreds of websites and blogs devoted to book reviews, talking about books, selling books, marketing books, authoring books etc.  Each one of these sites has the same driving goal as self published authors:  Each is trying to get noticed.

The majority of  these sites is run by one or two people, and again like the authors, they face one major basic question:  Should I be writing or should I be marketing?  Both of these are more than full time jobs, so how can you do either of them well if you are stuck doing it all yourself?

The basic answer is, unless you are hyperactive and only sleep a few hours a day, you can't.

For example, I was looking for people to review my books.  I've made offers of free copies on goodreads and on smashwords in return for a review and I have checked a bunch of book reviewing bloggers. So far, I've had one person actually take me up on the deal. It was a good review and the guy liked The Dryad's Kiss, but that doesn't get me very far.

 Looking for more ways to get my name out there  I stopped by a site called  They will let you list yourself as an author there if you can get a good review from one of their list of vetted reviewers.  I looked at around ten of those blogs.  6 of them are overwhelmed and not accepting any new books to review.  The remaining 3 are overwhelmed, but game and try to get to the review in a few months.  One of them has already said the story wasn't  her cup of tea.  The final site was so overwhelmed that they have stopped doing reviews and have promised to erase their 1500 book backlog from their hard-drive.   Sheesh.

So, instead of writing proposals to agents, I am writing proposals to reviewers!  I'm getting the same sort of feedback as well (which is simply yes/no).  So, I've had to resort to getting paid reviews of my books.  Most of the sites out there offering paid reviews like Kirkus promise an honest review but not a good one.  Which, of course, is what you want.  I think, in order to handle the flood, everyone will need to start paying reviews.  I'll let you know how it goes.

This is all an indication that I was right in my earlier blogs.  There is a new flood of self-published writers out there and there is no way that they can be supported in a business as usual fashion.  It looks to me like the need for crowdsourced publishing is just getting more critical.  If reviewers, writers and editors can all partake in the creation of a  book and share in its profits, suddenly, for each author, you will have access to a proportional number of editors and reviewers.  If everyone who is part of the creation of a book is publicized then you can give people credit for the books they have worked on and that will help both them and any new books they collaborate on.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Crowdsourced Publishing Take II

A few weeks back I put out my idea of Crowdsourced Publishing out for public examination.  The blog got picked up by  Jane Friedman and sparked some interesting conversation but didn't start a fire.  The comments were mixed but are pretty typical of the responses I have gotten.
It seems that the benefits of crowdsourced publishing are pretty self evident to me, but not so much with most people who encounter the idea for the first time.
The most interesting thing to come out of this for me was finding out about a website going by the name of Libboo.  These guys had already put together a site that was amazingly similar to what I had described. Even though the site lacks some of the tools I believe are needed for it to be truly useful, it was very cool. I immediately got on and tried to make some friends, but I got almost no responses on the people I pinged. Either people weren't interested or they had given up on the site. That started me thinking about why this would be.
Here is what I think stands in the way of this idea:
  1. Public awareness is the big one.  You need a large number of people to make this work well.
  2. In general I'm finding a lot of authors seem to be loners by nature and are not interested in collaboration. 
  3. The authors that are interested in collaboration have a tough time finding people who are compatible with their ideas of how a book should read.
  4. The authors who cannot even find an agent who will give them feedback jump directly to self publishing.  Why not?  When your book only costs a dollar, you can get five star reviews on Amazon, regardless of the quality of your editing.  After all, what do you expect for a buck?
  5. Serious editors already make a solid living charging one to four pennies per word to edit peoples books. That ends up being somewhere between $1000 and $5000 to get a professional editor. per book up front.  They believe that editing on spec is equivalent to working for free - which it is likely true if you rely on traditional publishing.  They don't need a solution to the problem of writers getting published because they have a word for the hundreds of thousands of wannabe authors out there:  Customers.
  6. In general, any currently published authors are not going to want to rock the boat. After all, their genius was already recognized.  Successful agents fall into this same bucket.
  7. People with existing websites have put a lot of time and effort into them so they are not inclined to change them.
Do I think this means that crowdsourced publishing is never going to fly?  Absolutely not.  It provides solutions to so many problems with the current system that someone will eventually pull it off.  It will just take a lot of serious work, luck and eyeballs.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Why Urban Fantasy

Recently, I have been reading (and writing) works of urban fantasy (UF) in preference to all others.From time to time, I still read my first love, science fiction, and will also stray into other fantastical realms, but I find myself looking for UF first.  When I say urban fantasy, I mean books that put the magical into our mundane world or books that have an alternate earth that is recognizably ours, where magic, werewolves, fey, and vampires frolic with us mundanes and promises are binding.  There are a lot of them about these days.

There are lots of great examples of UF that most people have at least heard of: Anne Rice's vampire books made a huge splash and flung vampires into the public eye. Laurel Hamilton's Anita Blake series is the definitive work of Dangerous/magical Chick Plays with Vampires and Werewolves ( until it turns to porn). The Southern Vampire series, by Charlaine Harris,  is a great read which is also of that sub-genre.  My favorite, Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, continues to be a delight as it riffs off of (and IMHO exceeds) venerable Micky Spillane type detective-noir.

Before I had read these works, among many others, I turned my nose up at books which mixed fantasy with reality.   I preferred science fiction to fantasy because GOOD science fiction describes a world which COULD happen. It was based upon reality, science, human nature and speculation.and had the added bonus of access to our current life - our traditions, our beliefs, our in-jokes, our problems. One of the cool things about science fiction is that it frequently explored some niche of life that I knew nothing about.  I learned something.  I also liked pure fantasy, but, unless it was part of a series, each fantasy novel has to spend a lot of time building up the world which holds the story.

I couldn't really give you a good reason why I didn't like mixing worlds, but it was pretty ingrained, until I watched, an HBO movie called To Cast A Deadly Spell. It was an eye opener to me. It was the intellectual godfather of The Dresden Files (whether or not Jim Butcher knows it :) ):  Hard-bitten detective gets in over his head with the elder gods.  I would recommend the film with a caveat:  I haven't seen it for 20 years or so, so I couldn't say I would still like it.  Anyway, years after that I read Anita Blake and then The Dresden Files and I saw the true potential of the genre.

One of the thing that recommends this genre to me is that it is more closely related to scifi than I would ever have thought and it shares a lot of scifi's strengths. Reading an UF is inherently less work for the reader than high fantasy.  To understand the settings, the only thing you have to understand is the story world's differences from our reality. This lets me get into the story quicker and be far more comfortable with the world.  It also lets the author play with all the events, culture and history of our world. The story can take any one of those aspects of our world and twist them to make them more interesting and more mysterious. I also find it easier to relate to the characters since they tend to be people I run into every day.

When I undertook writing The Chronicles of Mighty Finn - my UF series, I also had this idea that UF would be easier to write as well since you already had the world defined.  Turns out - not so much.  You may not have to spend as much time developing your world and history, but, for the most interesting UF stories, you have to spend way more time researching THIS world and its history.  On top of that, people are always eager to help you out - after your book is written - by telling you what you got WRONG.  That is a bit intimidating.

So, these days I am reading a lot of UF and I am always looking for more good series.  I'd like to hear what series floats other peoples boats and what you like, or dislike about UF.  Leave me a comment.

Later I'll be discussing other aspects of UF.