Wednesday, March 15, 2017

New Job

So, I haven't posted in awhile for two reasons: one, PAX was last weekend so I was out of town for three days.

Two, I have finally managed to secure a new job after two long years of unemployment.

And technically three, a blizzard smashed New England in the face yesterday. I still haven't completely dug out my porch.

Between these, yeah as you can imagine I've been pretty busy. On top of new full time hours I also have a new 30 mile commute one way, which means I'll be spending up to two hours on the road each day depending on traffic.

Work life balance? I'll get back to you on that.

This week is pretty much hell week for me, I'll be happy just to survive.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Trust, or Not Breaking Promises to Your Readers

Firebrand got me thinking about some reading related issues, so this is one of a few posts about that. This won't have any spoilers for Firebrand, but I am going to be talking extensively about problems with Mirror Sight, so be warned.

We writers talk about so many reader-related concepts: suspension of disbelief, spoon-feeding, infodumps, the endless debates on prologues and why readers skip them, etc. One topic I think gets overlooked somewhat is that there exists a certain level of trust between the author and their fans. If you establish a certain core idea in your work, you will be expected to follow through, and not doing so breaks the trust of your readers and results in a lot of disappointed and upset fans.

It's an easy thing to do; writing is one of the few truly isolated arts, and even in the age of social media it's not uncommon for an author to have little or no public presence. If anything, it makes it even more important that this bond of trust be carefully maintained.

And that is why I hated Mirror Sight.

For 4 books Rider Karigan and King Zachary have developed a mutual but unrequited love, a relationship that is tested constantly by their differences in station and duties that often require making hard decisions. Many of those decisions have immediate and lasting impacts on both characters, and often the kingdom itself. But for all of that, neither has ever wavered in their unspoken devotion to each other.

Then Mirror Sight comes along. Here is Karigan, alone in a time that is not her own, in a future where everything they've fought for has failed, and her beloved king is long dead. In the course of her desperate mission to find out what happened and how to prevent it, she comes in contact with Cade Harlowe, a man who dreams of being a Weapon. And Karigan, acting completely out of character, falls in love with him almost immediately.

That right there is how you break a reader's trust. For almost the entirety of the series, Karigan is driven not just by her sworn service to the king, but also by her attraction to and eventual love of him. To have her throw it all away for this random, relatively unremarkable man in the middle of the most dangerous, dire mission yet is a slap in the face. It goes against everything the series has been building up to in the worst possible way.

Don't make promises you aren't prepared to keep. Sometimes that means changing your vision of the story. Whether Britain intended for Karigan and Zachary to be a couple is irrelevant, because they have been in almost every way that counts since First Rider's Call; as readers we're not just following the epic adventure to take down the Second Empire and destroy Mornhaven the Black once and for all. We're invested in seeing how soulmates overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to find the happiness they deserve.

She came so very close to breaking my trust in her as the author of this series; with Firebrand I am willing to forgive. But I will not forget. There will always be that small amount of doubt in the back of my mind going into every new book. Please, for the love of the stories, don't ever threaten your readers like that. It will end poorly for everyone.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Firebrand by Kristen Britain: A (Mostly) Spoiler Free Review

Release Date: February 28, 2017

Note: Minor spoilers/references to Mirror Sight in this review.

Summary: Green Rider Karigan G'ladheon, not yet recovered in heart or mind from her unexpected trip through time, is assigned a new mission. She must seek out the legendary creatures called p'ehdrosian to renew an alliance of old in the face of dire threats from enemies who seek to destroy Sacoridia using dark magic.

Each step on her journey northward grows more perilous as she faces attacks from groundmites, encounters with ghosts, and, ultimately, the threat of the necromancer and leader of Second Empire, Grandmother, as they approach the enemy encampment in the Lone Forest.

Meanwhile, King Zachary of Sacoridia has been kidnapped by an ice elemental who is allied with Second Empire. Can Karigan free her king from captivity with just two allies by her side?

I've been a huge fan of the Green Rider series pretty much from the beginning. I would call it a guilty pleasure if I had any shame when it comes to reading, but I don't. For all the flaws of the books, I love the world, the characters and especially the relationship between the king and his Green Rider.

Like many others, Mirror Sight was a huge disappointment for me, so much so that I also reviewed that book. I felt it was a heavy handed attempt to force Karigan away from the relationship that is ultimately the heart of this series. I've been both excited and anxious about Firebrand; the outcome of this book absolutely determined if I continue reading the series or not.

I am pleased and very relieved to say, you can lay your doubts to rest. It feels like Britain has finally committed to the relationship we've all been wanting from the very first book. Cade's memory is still a massively unwelcome distraction to Karigan through the course of the book, but it seems that being in Zachary's presence in a way neither has been together before has allowed both to confront themselves...and each other. What will happen between them from here, well, that's for the next book to decide. Things are infinitely more complicated these days, but the fire is still there after all these years. The short time they have together is by far the highlight of the book.

As for the story itself, we pick up again with some older plot threads from the Second Empire, now that Karigan is back in Sacoridia proper and dealing with more immediate threats. Many familiar faces are back, and not all of them are welcome. It's a literal trip down memory lane as she once again pushes north, revisiting ghosts of the past on her journey to seek out mythical allies of old. However, the mission is quickly waylaid in the chaos of the Second Empire's latest attacks that leave the kingdom without its king in a critical time, and the desperate race to rescue him.

It's actually a little jarring after the events of Blackveil and Mirror Sight, but the sluggish opening of the book is an unexpected benefit as we get reacquainted with old friends, some of whom haven't played major roles since Blackveil. Of particular interest to series fans, we get a rare extended view from King Zachary himself as he gets a taste of the trials he's unknowingly been sending his favorite Green Rider to face.

Once it gets moving, the action is as swift and chaotic as it's always been in the series, and never without sacrifice. It does feel a little anticlimactic, and certain loose ends are tied up just a little too neatly in the post-climax of the end. However, there is a very real sense of change coming, as Karigan and King Zachary prepare to deal with old threats, new challenges, and their own, ever-conflicted hearts.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Magpie of Ideas

"Du hast ein vogel."

You have a bird.

This is one way Germans tell someone they're crazy.

For writers, it may actually be sort of true!

I call it the Magpie of Ideas. When you're working on a story, it's that part of your brain that likes to come up with all these shiny new ideas. And then it whispers to you, saying "hey, look at this!" over and over again. It tries to draw you away, because it wants to chase that cool new thing. Just like a real magpie, it's fascinated by the shiny.

And if you listen to it, that's when it turns into a whole damn flock. Every new story generates a new idea, with another magpie. Before you know it you've got 20 first chapters and a hundred ideas squawking at you, vying for your very limited writer's attention span.

Don't listen to the Magpie of Ideas. Keep it locked in its cage and throw a mental blanket over it. You'll still hear its muffled cries for attention, but you have to ignore it.

Ideas are easy. Writing is hard. Don't feed the birds.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Ebook Pet Peeve: Samples

I read a lot of ebooks these days. I love being able to browse at my leisure, then buy and start reading without even getting off the couch. Not to mention how much space it saves in my apartment.

But I have one huge pet peeve I wish publishers would address.

Ebook samples.

Specifically, it drives me absolutely crazy when I finally find a book that sounds awesome, download the sample, load it up and...there's no book in it. Seriously? How do you expect to sell a book if readers can't even check out the first page. A dozen pages of praise for the author's other books and the table of contents isn't going to entice me to read this book.

I'm not going to name the book or author, because it's really not their fault. It's also not the first book I've had this particular problem with.

Now I'm so annoyed I don't even want to read anymore today. GG. Get your crap together, publishers. It shouldn't be that hard to check.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Author Motivation as Plot Device

As writers we're often told all about how our characters must be motivated. They must want something, and need a reason for being where and when they are in the story. It can be hard, especially in a short story where you simply don't have a lot of space to let things develop.

I'm in the middle of tearing apart and completely reworking Song of the Wolf from the ground up, and it got me to thinking. At first it was just meant to be a fun story about a cool character hunting down and killing an eldritch horror in a not-quite-sentient magic forest. With more backstage character development, it's a little more complicated than that. It led me to ask a question I hadn't really considered before.

I know why Alaire is in Grenfelde, but why do I want him there?

It's the type of story that doesn't necessarily call for a specific protagonist. The village had a problem before he showed up, and he didn't even land the killing blow himself. In fact, I could cut him out entirely and switch the POV to my Enigmatic Nonhuman, and lose nothing except my main character.

So I went deeper into my personal motivation as a writer for putting Alaire in this village.

Hint: it has nothing to do with an eldritch horror or a not-quite-sentient magic forest.

I want him there to meet the outcast "wild elf" known as The Wolf. That's it. That's the only reason he needs to be in Grenfelde.

I was trying to tell two different stories in the same space. No wonder why I've been having problems with it.

Sometimes the plot device isn't a character's motivation, it's yours. By figuring out my why, I was also able to make Alaire's why more personal in a way that overlaps with mine. Now I can split out the unnecessary elements and hopefully write a new, more cohesive story. Maybe even two.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On (Not) Daring to be Different

I'm sure most writers have that one story that's Different. It's told in an unusual style, or has unique quirks that set it apart from the rest. You show a few pages of it around, proud of yourself for bucking the trends and breaking the rules; they're more like guidelines, anyway.

Then you get the feedback.

And you tell yourself well, they just don't understand. It's a stylistic difference. They must not like slow openings. But they don't know why this is important, or that my character is acting that way on purpose. It's his voice.

Does any of this sound familiar?

I bet it does, because that's been my thoughts for the past 24 hours or so after sharing the first page of Song of the Wolf. Thank the gods I asked for no line-by-lines, knowing that it wasn't ready for that yet. What I didn't realize was just how many cracks are in the foundation of the story, and in the name of style I've just been slapping paint on it and hoping no one would notice.

Spoilers: they did.

At first I was disappointed. Then I started to get angry. I made a few overly snarky/whiny comments in reply, which I fortunately came to my senses about and edited before anyone saw them (I hope).

No two crits were the same, but they were all telling me the same things. The turning point was when someone asked me to justify (not to them necessarily) my reason for doing the unique thing that made my work Different. I already knew why and was happy to write it out...and then I realized how stupid it sounded. Dammit.

I'll tell you, that was one big piece of humble pie I had to eat. Because they were right. What I thought was bringing a new perspective to the table just ended up drawing attention to itself and away from the story.

Do you know what Rule #1 actually is?

Story trumps all.

Don't be like me, the idiot who now has to rewrite an entire 23-page short story so it's actually readable.

Don't reinvent the wheel, because people a lot more skilled than you already did and they all have that shit patented.

Lesson learned.