Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Win a FREE novel!

From Friday, October 4, through Saturday, October 12, enter to win a FREE signed copy of Dragon's Rook, first half of The Lost Sword epic fantasy duology:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Dragon's Rook by Keanan Brand

Dragon's Rook

by Keanan Brand

Giveaway ends October 12, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The First Principle - a brief review

When I learned of this book, my immediate response was negative: “Noooo! Not another YA science fiction futuristic dystopian!”

For the sake of family and neighbors, the wailing was internalized.

However, I read a sample of the book and then the back cover copy, and decided to give this one a shot. And I’m glad I did. The First Principle by Marissa Shrock is a smooth, easy read, and could easily be finished in one day, although I read it over the course of several. The ill-tempered editor in the back of my brain did not stomp around and throw his arms in the air, which left me free to enjoy the novel.

Well, to be honest, there were times when he looked up from his desk, his eyes narrowed. Those occurred in the first portion of the book — in the first long dialogue between ex-boyfriend and baby-daddy Ben and protagonist Vivica — and at two or three other places later in the story, probably because teenage speech and behavior annoys him. (a wink and a smile)

Shrock gives us an intelligent lead character with skills as a computer hacker, and these come in handy as Vivica graduates from using her abilities to aid herself and her friends at school to employing them to escape those who want to abort her child.

The rebels she joins are not all secret agents. Many are everyday, likable, good people, much to her surprise, and they are endeavoring to be nonviolent toward other humans even as they refuse to bow to the tyranny of a totalitarian government. However, the media and the government leaders label them terrorists and assassins.

Hidden and aided by different rebels along the way — Ben included — Vivica uncovers a plot by government insiders to frame the rebels while staging a coup. But not only is the national leadership in turmoil — there’s a mole inside the Emancipation Warriors.

Is it Jared Canton, or is he, too, being framed?

And who keeps revealing Vivica’s information to the very people from whom she’s running?

The First Principle is recommended reading for teens to grownups, male or female.

[This post adapted from an original on the other Adventures in Fiction blog, and has two companion posts discussing the novel -- click here and here.]

Friday, September 11, 2015

Scathing: Receiving Criticism, Avoiding Labels, and Redacting a Review

Ever been labeled something that puzzled you?
Recently, a fellow writer wrote that I was unethical. At first, I thought she meant someone else, and thought, "What does she mean? That's not true of that person," but then realized she referenced a blog post I wrote last year regarding how pride can get in the way of receiving feedback or criticism. No names were mentioned. In fact, the only person readers knew was involved was me, and I admitted that even now, after decades as a writer, my pride is still sometimes stung by harsh criticism.
Hey, even the most thick-skinned of veteran writers still wants his work to be liked and read, no matter how many bestsellers he has behind him. (I'd like to have at least one bestseller, but that's a goal yet to be reached.)
Another label put on me in the past -- this time by a publisher -- is "the editor who makes authors cry". That is not an appellation of which to be proud. By no means. My goal has been and always will be to help authors produce their best work. Sometimes, they can be so in love with their creations that they cannot see flaws or weaknesses, missed storytelling opportunities, or clunky sentences. When an editor tells them what needs revising, they don't receive the news well.
There is an implied compliment in the fact that someone else is taking the time to not only read one's work, but to help one improve it. However, we writers often react with affront, with offended pride and scathing words toward the "clueless", "high-handed", "overbearing" editor. We don't see his/her true intent. All we know is that we didn't receive the praise and the rubber-stamped approval we desired.
Before we slap labels on folks and burn bridges we might need to rebuild, might I suggest a bit of reflection? Some distance? Perhaps a walk, a rant to a friend, a scribbled diatribe in a journal? A good night's sleep? Prayer? Something that allows us to grow calm, to be objective, and not to say or do something we'll regret. (Related reading: "What's Your Filter?")
We may find -- as I did while editing Dragon's Rook -- that snarky, scolding feedback that shoots wide of the mark can still contain something valuable. When I stepped back and looked at the advice with cold objectivity, I saw a couple pieces I could use. As a result, I tore apart one scene that had been troubling me. The reconstructed version is many times better than the original.
So, then, what should I do when I'm now the one giving the ugly, scathing criticism?
Write it all out, and then don't say most of it.
Recently, a PR firm requested I review a new novel by a young author. After reading the back cover blurb and the dark, well-written prologue, I had high expectations for the book. Below is the review. For the author's sake, it will not be posted elsewhere, and has been edited here to obscure the author's identity.
~~  *  ~~  *  ~~  *  ~~  *  ~~  *  ~~
Although marketed as contemporary literary fiction, this novel could also be described as speculative fiction, a mix of modern and futuristic, of post-apocalyptic dystopian and the quest for utopia-via-enlightenment, of a perverse coming-of-age/search-for-meaning story with a science fiction existentialist-absurdist tale.
Try saying that ten times, fast. ;)
[Story synopsis, character list, and website links have been omitted to preserve author anonymity. However, quotes from the novel text remain unaltered, but for the characters’ names.]
It is not often I write a review like this. I want to write only the positives, but the cons are weighty. To be blunt, this book needs an editor, for content as well as mechanics.
It runs the risk of being “a tale...full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5). The writing is often preening and pretentious, but that could be the result of a conscious stylistic choice on the part of the author, matching the attitudes and egos of the characters.
Yet it sometimes feels like the writer is trying to make use of every high-sounding turn of phrase he can conjure or every word he can find in the dictionary. One is left wondering if, by the sheer volume and length of words, the author believes he has communicated—but, perhaps, I am not the audience for this work. I can wax lyrical with the most poetic of the poets, but prefer straightforwardness to roundaboutation.
Macbeth^Orson Welles
Orson Welles as Macbeth
As Macbeth might say, “Thou comest to use thy tongue; thy story quickly,” (Act 5, Scene 5).
Despite proofing errors (the repeated use of “causal” in place of “casual”, for instance) and some awkwardly-constructed sentences or phrases (what are “cathartic muscles”?), there remain many quotable lines:
“I take it you’re the self-proclaimed chosen one?” (Leroy) asked. “Prophets are rarely successful. Even when they are, society kills them.”
(Walter’s) thick lips gave way to a line of crooked teeth. “Hence, it comes that all armed prophets have been victorious, and all unarmed prophets have been destroyed.” (p77)
Later in the same conversation:
“The day is not calm when you discover humanity to be ripe for the taking.” (p78)
And some lines read like refugees from a modern-day “Jabberwocky”—they have a sound and a rhythm, and therefore the reader might almost think he understands their meaning or the author’s intent. But repeated readings reveal, no, the words really do make no sense.
This paragraph on page 121 transforms from poetic imagery to lyrical nonsense:
The notes of a distant piano played a melodic Bach and a blue Chopin to the beat of Kerouac. The sounds were unremitting as they’d always been in her mind. Real, but at the same time not real. Resonating. Vibrating. For she was a lollipop made of cherry and petrol, more given to the depths of trench coats and dark alleys; lethal-red lipstick, rocking a tear that was not a tear, but moisture secreting the nostalgia of an instinct held away from mankind by the missing link. From the real show and state.
Thank you, Google Translate. Sense to make, you do not.
The novel’s subtitle—[redacted]—is a clue to how readers are expected to view this work. The publisher’s mission statement, as well as the author’s explanation for the story’s existence, seem overly earnest, betraying a certain immaturity and youthful desire to ‘make a difference’:
[mission statement redacted]
Below is a quote from the introduction:
In the novel you’re about to read, I do not seek to victimize technology, nor to condemn our evolution, but to instill the realization that we are the product of our own thoughts, our own ideas, our own dreamed of reveries. We are the discomfort and leisure of humanity, the bright flame and its grey ashes. By nature we are born free.
Can’t argue with that last line. No doubt the author and I would find agreement on several other points. But how does one “victimize technology”?
Confession: I skimmed the second half of the book. Perhaps the story improved as it progressed. However, despite seeing interesting passages, I was not compelled to continue. The green-visored, cigar-chomping curmudgeonly editor who lives in the back of my brain could tolerate no more, and he suspects that publisher, editor, author, and the originator of the "editorial review" on the back cover are one and the same.
Nonetheless, [name redacted] is talented and intelligent, and is definitely an author to look for in the future. Give him time.
And his website waaaaay outclasses mine.
 [This entry was also posted at Adventures In Fiction's WordPress site.]

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What's Your Filter?

Two or more people can look at the same object at the same time, and although they are seeing the same thing, they are not perceiving it the same way.

The filters of experience, prejudice, understanding, philosophy, religion, age, appreciation, comfort or discomfort, good day or bad -- all color the way we see the world.

Below are several versions of a photo of the statue of the grieving Christ outside the Oklahoma City National Memorial, commemorating the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building. Each image is affected by various filters imposed by photo editing software -- each filter is overlaid the others, until the image underneath is far different from the original.

Christ (c2015, KB)
Christ (c2015, KB)
Christ in black and white (c2015, KB)
Christ in black and white (c2015, KB)
Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone (c2015, KB)
Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone (c2015, KB)
Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, overlaid with a filter to make it appear as if taken circa 1960 (c2015, KB)
Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, overlaid with a filter to make it appear as if taken circa 1960 (c2015, KB)
Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, 1960s, and Cinemascope effects (c2015, KB)
Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, 1960s, and Cinemascope effects (c2015, KB)
See how unexpected interferences or cooperations change what the viewer perceives?

The order matters, as well. If trauma colors our world at a young age, we will view it through a different filter than we might if that same trouble arrived when we were older.

Below, black-and-white and Cinemascope effects were applied in different orders. When the movie effect was applied first, then the monochrome, the image looks crisp. However, when the order was reversed, the image takes on a sepia cast.

Christ in color, as if filmed in Cinemascope (c2015, KB)
Christ in color, as if filmed in Cinemascope (c2015, KB)
Christ in Cinemascope with the color removed (c2015, KB)
Christ in Cinemascope with the color removed (c2015, KB)
Christ in black and white, then "Cinemascoped" (c2015, KB)
Christ in black and white, then "Cinemascoped" (c2015, KB)

Is there something in life you're not seeing clearly?

Are there colors you think you're perceiving, but your friends, colleagues, loved ones -- or perfect strangers on social media --  do not view?

Before we impugn one another's intelligence, reputations, abilities, etcetera, it might be wise to step back and consider the filters through which we -- and they -- view the world.

reposted from Adventures in Fiction, August 7, 2015

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Return

It's been two and a half years since I posted here last, and this remains true:
Adventures in Fiction has moved!
However, the epic fantasy trilogy has become a duology -- The Lost Sword, comprised of Dragon's Rook (2015) and Dragon's Bane (projected for 2016). Meantime, Thieves' Honor remains unfinished, but only until the duology is complete.

When I first started this blog, I was writing in my spare time while working at a non-profit organization for the youth of my community. I quit after fourteen years, and life has been quite different since. I've moved to two different states since 2011, worked for a publisher as an associate editor, and now am focused on writing full-time.

This would not be possible without the generosity of my brother, who allows me a very comfortable writer's garret over his garage. (Yay for brothers!)

I met many a fellow writer, reader, and editor by blogging here. Perhaps that's one reason I never closed the site. After allowing this page to languish, I may be cross-posting from the other Adventures in Fiction, and from Penworthy Press, a blog shared with other independent writers. Come visit us!

Until next time, here are other links of potential interest:
my website
my author page on Facebook
my Twitter page (though I am rarely there)
the cover designer's blog (she not only designed the cover, she drew the dragon's eye)
Gothic Tones (her jewelry & art store)
Gothic Tones on Facebook

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bones, Bones, Lovely Bones

I'm not a celebrator of Halloween, but have been known to read the odd dark fantasy, watch the occasional horror flick, and write a weird tale or two.

This being October, I thought I'd root around in the dank cellars of past writing and short pieces for the reading pleasure of those for whom All Hallow's Eve is a source of creativity.

my attempt at drawing bones
First is this quirky little poem composed on the fly in 2009 as the response to an editor's new system for judging stories in our slush pile: award them bones.
Bones, bones, tasty bones
Fresh bones, blood-sticky, flesh-spongy bones
Arm bones and thigh bones and tiny, skinny finger bones
Puzzle-cut spine bones and knobby-ended wrist bones
Not-so-round skull bones
Shovel-scooped collar bones, wing-like shoulder bones
Bones, bones, lovely bones
White-boiled angels floating in my stew
In keeping with the previous image, here's another sideways bit, this time a piece of flash fiction I composed for a contest Adam Callaway hosted over on his blog, also in 2009:
Dinner drips from my fingers, grease mingling with the blood on my boots, and I am weary from the hunt, but the cook has ruined his last meal; despite his weeping protestations, despite my wife's admonition not to bite the hands that feed us, I will have new meat for roasting.

Resigned, she sends one of the servants with a cauldron to capture the fat for rendering, and wonders aloud if the skewer will bend to breaking with such a load as it now bears.

"It's his own fault"—I kick aside his apron and bloody clothes—"for letting that annoying miniature Englishman up the beanstalk."
Y'know, I've always wondered about Jack. He invades someone's home, steals his stuff, and chops down the beanstalk, committing murder. Makes me think the giant was justified: "Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread."


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Excellence v. Mediocrity

Novelist Athol Dickson has posted an article on his site, discussing excellence v. mediocrity in writing.

It’s true many novels by Christians are poorly written. That’s also true of many other kinds of novels. In fact it’s true of most novels of every kind, but it’s not a particular indictment of mediocre writers or the readers who enable them. Most people don’t really care about excellence in architecture, sculpture, painting, or dance . . . or government, commerce, marriage, or anything else in life that ought to matter.
What interests me, is why. In our discussion about the “Worst Books” list, some of my author friends speculated that so many people dislike those novels because they were forced to read them in school and disliked them then. But these books truly are works of genius—most of them are, anyway—so why didn’t we love them in the first place?
It's a thought-provoking read, not only for writers who happen to be Christians, but for any writer who strives for excellence.

As an editor, I am constantly confronted by the "good enough" work of fellow writers who just want me to sign off on their manuscripts rather than helping them shape those manuscripts into polished books. The constant fight to challenge other writers toward excellence can be wearisome, but it's not a fight I can ignore.

Just this past week, I had an e-mail  conversation with a rookie novelist whose work is being published soon. He acknowledges that it needs more crafting, but it's been praised so highly by so many peopleI was his only negative reviewerthat he's going ahead with publication, because (as he put it himself) it's good enough. 

Not to sound overly pessimistic, but I've been feeling like the "lone voice crying in the wilderness"and then I read Mr. Dickson's eloquent, thought-provoking post. I'm dropping a copy into my archives so I can pull it out whenever I need encouragement. Or a kick in the pants.