Book reviews: Aurora Darwin, Arrived, Haven – A stranger Magic, The Lethal Oath, Light Touch Paper Stand Clear

It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed any books here, so during my week off I picked up my kindle, determined to finish a book I’d started a while back and then take a crack at a few more I’ve downloaded over the last year.

Aurora: Darwin by Amanda Bridgeman

Amanda Bridgeman has been a guest blogger here on a couple of occasions, and her posts are worth looking up if you’ve got the time.

Aurora: Darwin is a slow burn despite a introductory teaser delivering expectations of a fast-paced action thriller.

The story follows the crew of the Aurora and their investigation of a problem on a research station. A good half of the book was devoted to setting up the characters, situation and story world.

I won’t go into details so as to avoid spoilers, but once the crew arrive at the station the squishy brown stuff hits the proverbial spinning air-circulation device and things start going very badly for the Aurora crew.

The character development was strong, the action and underlying politics believable for the most part, and the resolution was solid while leaving plenty more for the sequels.

Overall, three-and-a-half stars out of five.

Arrived by Keion Alexis

I’m not sure how I came across this – most likely a freebie advertised on social media. Written with a lot of enthusiasm but little skill. Rating: a generous one star.

Haven: A Stranger Magic (short story, novella) by D.C. Ackers

Another social media download freebie, Haven: A stranger Magic is a promotion for D.C. Ackers longer works in the same world.

As a story, it’s mostly just an introduction to the characters and world, with a mini-adventure thrown in without any real resolution. Still, it got me interested enough in the characters that if I stumbled across the next one as a freebie, I’d take a look. Rating: two and a half stars – it would have been three if it had been a complete story in itself.

The Lethal Oath (The Viking Series) by John Snow

This is a short story/novella with a lot of promise and fairly solid characters and conflicts, but the author’s style failed to draw me in. I struggled through about half of it, skipping ahead regularly even then, before giving up.

I think the author was more interested in the story world and events than the characters themselves, but there’s lots of potential there. Rating: two-and-a-half stars.

Light Touch Paper Stand Clear – short story anthology

I’ve only gotten through the first four stories so far, but here’s the round-up.

The Bone Chime Song by Joanne Anderton – pretty darn good. A very well written, solid story with strong characters and a gritty world I’d be happy to revisit. Four stars.

Five Ways to Start a War by Sue Bursztynski – kept me reading to the end, though I’d probably have appreciated it more if I’d been a fan of Homer and ancient Gods of Olympus. Not so much of a story in itself as the exploration of a concept. Three stars.

History: Theory and Practice by Dave Luckett – the manipulation of a developing civilization by an advanced society. Essentially a small event set against a bigger backdrop, it’s well-told and drew me in. Felt a little bit like I’d only gotten half the story though, and the rest was in the works. Three stars.

The D____d by Adam Browne – couldn’t get through this one. The concept was wonderfully visual – the exploration and colonisation of the Circles of Hell – but I kept waiting for the story to kick in and eventually gave up on it. Two stars.

That’s it for now. Overall, it was just nice to have the chance to read.

Time to do some writing of my own.

2014 Roundup

Drawing of trees in snow2014 has been an interesting year. I:

  • signed with an agent who’s now shopping my fiction around
  • wrote a couple of short stories (writing short stories is pretty rare for me)
  • critiqued a bunch of novels and had one of mine critiqued in return
  • gave a workshop on story structure at the local convention which was exceptionally well received (very happy about that!)
  • gave two presentations at a writers day: one on story structure, the other on blogging
  • grew the Fantasy Writers community on G+ to well over 8000 members
  • changed careers thanks to government cutbacks
  • edited half a novel
  • wrote the best part of a non-fiction book on story structure

So what does all that mean for me in 2015? It means:

  • I’ll be writing and editing a lot more in the evenings/at night
  • I’ll hopefully sell my first novel to a major publisher
  • I should have a non-fiction book ready-to-go in the next few months that will help a lot of writers with their stories
  • I still have three fiction novels that are written and need editing
  • I have far too many more books I want to write.

How’d you go this year, and what does that imply for your expectations in 2015?

So, you want to get your book noticed on social media, huh?

Screenshot: A mermaid holding jewellery while half out of the ocean
Screenshot from the Fantasy Writers Community on Google Plus

If you’ve been playing around on social media for a while and you tend to follow a lot of writers like I do, you’ll probably notice your feed filling up with book advertising.

Some of it will be blatant, some less so, but it’s still advertising, and few people want to see it.

So what’s the solution?

Consider this. My favourite social media playground is Google Plus where I run a community called Fantasy Writers. It has almost 8000 members, and it’s growing rapidly.

When I started Fantasy Writers I was trying to build a helpful and supportive community, not an advertising forum, so I banned self-promotion.

Unfortunately, the issue wasn’t so simple. People ignored the rule or found ways around it, and I spent far more time moderating the community than I wanted to.

In response I created a category and called it ‘Self-Promo Saturday’ for members to get their advertising out of their system, usable on Saturdays only.

It worked a charm. The list is clear of promotional stuff most days, while Saturdays see a deluge of it.

But guess what? The self-promotional stuff gets ignored anyway.

Why? Nobody wants to see advertising.

Even the people who advertise don’t bother to look at what everyone else is advertising and support each other.

And there’s the key.

Nobody cares about your book except you, but people do care about their friends, and friends help each other out.

So here’s the secret to promoting your book on social media:

  • comment on other people’s posts
  • interact with people on social media as you would your real life friends
  • share their stuff if you think it’s appropriate
  • crow about your book victories and achievements on occasion, but only if it’s newsworthy (like a new cover or contract).

With a little bit of luck people will care enough about you to promote your book when they see something newsworthy.

In short, show you care about others and they’ll respond in kind.

And like Forest Gump, ‘that’s all I’ve got to say about that’.

Now get on your butt and write something people will want to share because you’re so awesome!

Find out more about Fantasy Writers.

Good things come to those who persevere

Today I’ve got Justin Woolley here with some great advice on an essential skill every writer should develop. Justin puts much of his success in writing and finding a publisher for his debut novel down to that skill.

Over to you Justin…

Head and shoulders shot of Justin Woolley‘Good things come to those who wait’ might be the worst piece of advice I’ve ever heard.

But ok, while you’re waiting for good things to happen I’ll be over here mashing the keyboard like an infinite number of monkeys.

You see, there’s much advice out there on the craft of writing, some of it good, some of it not, but all of it designed to help you master the nuts and bolts of various aspects of process.

This might be novel structure or showing and not telling or developing characters or building rising conflict while cutting adverbs and killing darlings.

While all that is obviously important, I think the single most important skill a new writer can develop is not related to the craft of writing at all, at least not directly, and that skill is perseverance.

I say that because the craft of writing will come if you work at it.

Take the advice you think works for you. Chuck out what doesn’t.

You’ll hone your skills. You’ll find your voice.

But all that will only happen if you’ve got the drive to persevere.

Writing a novel is hard. Damn hard.

You’ve got to turn up, day after day, and you’ve got to get the words down.

Sometimes the cogs spin like a dream and just like all those infinite monkeys you write yourself some Hamlet.

Other days it’s like hitting your face up and down on the keyboard until your eyes are black and your nose is bloody.

That’s where perseverance comes in.

You need to persevere because you need to finish things.

So many people probably have three and a half chapters of a manuscript saved somewhere in the dingy back-waters of an old hard-drive living in a garbage can and barking indecipherable nonsense at passing files.

Unfortunately unfinished work can’t be edited (and writing is rewriting after all) and unfinished work can’t be published.

Finishing the first-draft of a novel is a significant achievement, it’s the first step toward a completed novel and ask anyone who’s done it, it took perseverance.

So, that’s all well and good you say, but how do I help myself persevere?

Well I’ve found one of the most beneficial things you can do is set yourself a daily word count goal.

Start with 500 or 1000 words, whatever you think you can accomplish in the time you have factoring in however much punishment your face can withstand.

Be realistic but don’t make it too easy either.

You want to ensure you can meet it every day but also setting a goal of six words is cheating.

Consider this little fact brought to you by the magic mathematics: if you write 500 words a day, in 180 days (six months) you will have written 90,000 words.You need to persevere because you need to finish things.

That dear friends, is a book.

Don’t underestimate the small chunks of time you can find during the day to write either.

Maybe it’s on the train to work or waiting for an appointment.

Perhaps you can only squeeze out 100 words, maybe 50, maybe only 20, but the fact that you spent that time on your writing and not staring at your phone matching coloured pieces of candy is exactly the discipline needed to persevere.

The other key reason you’re going to need perseverance is that once you’ve got that book written (and then rewritten and probably rewritten again a few times) and you finally get it out into the world you’re going to get hit with the sledgehammer of rejection, probably numerous times.

This is where you get to flex those perseverance muscles you’ve built up.

When the rejection hammer smashes your teeth in for the tenth time you head back to the dentist, get patched up and put that book out there again.

This sucks. I get that. I’ve been there.

When you’re hunting for your big break, when you’re desperate to catch that first novel sale, when you’re thinking about giving up or just slapping that sucker up on Amazon yourself, you’ve got to dig deep, take feedback on board and maybe rewrite again.

Ultimately you need to know that persevering here makes you a better writer.

This writing game is a marathon not a sprint.

For some of you my harping on about perseverance may sound a bit preachy, or you be thinking it’s not really a skill, but let me just say this, I had to learn to persevere with writing.

I really do consider it a learned skill and sure, while I obviously developed my craft, I think perseverance is what finally got me my first novel sale.

Perseverance will make your writing output higher, it will make your writing better; it will make your chances of success greater.

At the end of the day perseverance is the trait that turns aspiring authors into published authors.

Justin Woolley has been writing stories since he could first scrawl with a crayon. When he was six years old he wrote his first book, a 300-word pirate epic in unreadable handwriting called ‘The Ghost Ship’. He promptly declared that he was now an author and didn’t need to go to school. Despite being informed that this was, in fact, not the case, he continued to make things up and write them down. 

A Town Called Dust: Justin’s debut novel will be published November 13th, 2014 by Momentum Books.

In his other life Justin has been an engineer, a teacher and at one stage even a magician. His handwriting has not improved. 

You can find Justin’s website at http://www.justinwoolley.net/ or on Twitter: @Woollz.

A Town Called Dust

A Town Called DustStranded in the desert, the last of mankind is kept safe by a large border fence… Until the fence falls.

Squid is a young orphan living under the oppressive rule of his uncle in the outskirts of the Territory. Lynn is a headstrong girl with an influential father who has spent her entire life within the walled city of Alice.

When the border fence is breached, the Territory is invaded by the largest horde of undead ghouls seen in two hundred years. Squid is soon conscripted into the Diggers – the armed forces of the Territory. And after Lynn finds herself at odds with the Territory’s powerful church, she too escapes to join the Diggers.

Together Squid and Lynn form an unlikely friendship as they march to battle against the ghouls. Their journey will take them further than they ever imagined, leading them closer to discovering secrets about themselves, their world, and a conspiracy that may spell the end of the Territory as they know it.

The Dreaded Show vs. Tell – Guest post by CJ Davis

Today I’ve got CJ Davis here to talk about his Show vs Tell learning curve. Although it’s a simple concept, it takes a long time to get your head around it.

CJ Davis profile shotOne of my favorite movies of all time is the Matrix.

With the perfect combination of sci-fi, originality and action, the movie stands head and shoulders above most.

Like Neo, the main character from the Matrix who discovers he’s plugged into a virtual reality simulator, I recently had a similar awakening.

No, this awakening was not nearly as dramatic as finding out your whole life is a lie, and you are in fact facing an almost certain death by an evil robot army.

My awakening was more of the subtle kind, but for those who have gone through a similar enlightenment can attest it’s no small matter.

My editor opened my eyes to the dreaded show vs. tell rule, and my reading and writing experience has not been the same since.

The year was 2013 and the excitement of turning in my first novel to my editor had me giddy.

In my naivety, I was certain she was only going to reply with a few grammatical fixes.

Unfortunately, the email I finally received from her was foretelling of all the hard work I had in front of me.

The main focus of her critique was around the show vs. tell rule.

What the heck is show vs. tell I remember thinking.

I looked it up online, and immediately realized I had an enormous amount of work to do.

What is Show vs. Tell?

“Show, don’t tell is a technique often employed in various kinds of texts to enable the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author’s exposition, summarization, and description. The goal is not to drown the reader in heavy-handed adjectives, but rather to allow readers to interpret significant details in the text.” – Wikipedia

The show vs. tell rule is a very simple concept to understand, but difficult to do.

The most painful part of developing my craft as an author was learning how to write a scene as a “show.”

It took weeks of going back and forth with my editor on how to effectively do this.

At one point, in the early stages, she even suggested that perhaps I should get a ghost writer.

That was a low point for me.

What was very helpful for me on perfecting my show vs. tell writing abilities was working through exercises.

My editor would send me several “tell” phrases, and I would turn them into “shows”.

A couple examples of this include:

He was coming in, and she did not want him to know she’d been smoking.

She quickly grabbed the magazine, which ironically had a cigarette ad with a tough looking cowboy on the back cover, and desperately fanned the smoke out the window.

He didn’t like the coffee, but drank it to not hurt her feelings.

To avoid any ill will, he resisted the urge to make a bitter face after swallowing the mystery liquid she’d given him. It was supposed to be coffee, but he was sure the pool of water collecting on the street on the way in tasted more like coffee than what he just ingested.

After many hard months, and great coaching from my editor, the show vs. tells in my books had improved dramatically.

There is no question; the scenes are more compelling and engaging.  Here is an example from my novel, Blue Courage:

Before (Tell):

Continuing to dangle upside down from the Allosaurus’s clutching jaws; Rajiv didn’t give up. He continued to aggressively swing his blade trying to get the beast to drop him.  Every swing jostled his body and brought an almost unbearable pain to his ankle. The dinosaur appeared to be patiently waiting for his pesky prey to tire before he finished him off. Rajiv was running out of time, as he increasingly lost a lot of blood.

After (Show):

Rajiv grimaced as he felt the bones in his foot crack. Somewhere beyond the pain, he managed to pull his blade free of its sheath and tried to pierce the soft skin near the mouth of the beast. Blood poured from his wounds into his eyes. With a final shake from the beast, Rajiv’s sword flew from his hand and clattered to the ground.

Practice Makes Perfect

Much like Neo when he returns to the matrix, I see the world differently now.

When I’m reading, I see “tells” everywhere, and it always annoys me.

When I’m writing, I can spend twenty minutes on one paragraph, trying to create the perfect “show.”

Shows are inherently harder to pull off, but a necessary craft to master if you want to be a great writer.

Like almost everything in life, practice makes perfect.  Good luck.

CJ Davis is an American writer who lives in Atlanta, GA with his wife and two little girls. By day he is a marketing executive for a software company, and by night he writes novels. His artistic influences include: J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, George Romero, George Lucas, Billy Corgan, Max Brooks, and of course Tolkien, Koontz and King.

 

If you got something out of CJ’s advice on ‘Show vs. Tell’, please check out his book: Blue Courage.

Battle for the Afterlife book coverDeath is just the beginning for Navy SEAL Reese Hawthorne.

After an unlikely encounter with the girl of his dreams during a rescue mission in the drug cartel filled jungles of Mexico, Reese awakens in a futuristic city in the Afterlife.

A formidable, massive wall is the only thing protecting the city from countless ferocious prehistoric beasts, and hoards of ghoulish creatures, known as Lost Souls.

On the eve of a perilous cross-country race across the Afterlife realm between the forces of good and evil, war hangs in the balance on the heals of a loose treaty created hundreds of years ago.

Armed with deadly weapons and their enhanced physical abilities, like strength, vision and quickness–the most gifted warriors, are pitted against each other.

The first side to either destroy their opponents, or reach a distant ancient temple far outside the safety of the city walls, will win an unimaginable power, and change the outcome of humanity.

Reese must do everything he can to stop the forces of evil from winning the race and enslaving every free soul in the Universe.

You can see the trailer at CJ Davis’s Amazon Author Profile (bottom right).

If you like CJ’s advice on Show vs. Tell, you might like Amanda Bridgeman’s advice: How to write a thousand words (or maybe more). 

What’s your Show vs. Tell war story? Let us know in the comment.

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