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Book Review: Rock Your Revisions

Great resource

At the recommendation of an agent I grabbed a digital copy of Cathy Yardley’s “Rock Your Revisions.” Starting in on my sixth draft it seemed like a good idea to see what I could learn from an established author. I am undertaking a major revision this time, so any help would be appreciated.

It’s a short book with solid and easily digestible advice. After that I decided to jump right in to my latest revision starting with what is called a Scene Chart. I won’t go into exactly what that means as I’d rather not give away Cathy’s work for free. In simple terms its a method to dissect your novel on a scene level in order to find the big problems.

Well, within a few scenes I could already tell how powerful of a tool it was going to be. Using her method I could instantly tell why I scene wasn’t working. Not only that, I could see exactly what I would need to do to fix it. I’m working through my novel now, seeing what scenes are good structurally, which ones will need some major work, and most importantly which ones will need to go.

A major advantage to this method is that I now won’t be wasting my time noodling paragraphs, sentences, and conversations to the point of perfection only to end up tossing the entire scene. With a Scene Chart I’ll be able to double check my work to be certain its the tightest the plot can be; that no scene is out of place.

And at $2.99 you can’t really go wrong.

Next, I’ll talk about her book “Write Every Day” helped me get over my slump. Three words, face your fears.

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Book Review: Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN

There are classics that require reading. And I have gone too long without reading them. Recently Barnes & Noble have been putting out these great hard backed copies of a ton of classics for fairly cheap. So for the past birthdays and Christmases I’ve been getting them as presents. As it stands I now own the works of Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, The Grimm’s Fairytales, and finally Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

I had built up quite a backlog of books, but decided to jump into the classic Science Fiction Horror novel.

Man, I can see why this has stayed the test of time. Mary Shelley weaves a fantastic story where she explores the nature of man. In both Frankenstein and his creature, we both sympathize with their plight and shake our heads at their misfortune. Each man fights for what they believe to be true and just, only to find themselves at odds with one another. And you can understand both their points of view. If only the creature had not resorted to vengeance and murder, he would have had his ultimate desire of companionship. If only Frankenstein had stayed true to his word and given the creature a companion, then perhaps he would have lived a happy life.

As I read through her masterful prose, I couldn’t help but become incensed by how Hollywood has twisted her story. They miss the point entirely. Yes, there is a theme that man should not attempt to play god. But there is so much more to this story. Frankenstein’s monster is a vastly intelligent and eloquently spoken being. His tale of despair and longing haunt you. Shunned by the world, he fights to fit in, to find acceptance. but his ghastly appearance sends people fleeing in terror. Who of us has not felt out of place and judged before having the chance to show who we really are?

Please, please read this book if you haven’t. Don’t let the idea of when it was written distract you.

And if any screenwriter in Hollywood happens to read this, let’s get together and write a real script based on the novel. None of this Igor, Bride of Frankenstein, and “It’s alive!” nonsense. Let’s write a script based on real life horrors, of being cast aside by society with no companionship. Of losing your soul and everything you love in the pursuit of a dream, that haunts you for the rest of your days.

Book Review: “The Way of Shadows” by Brent Weeks.

At the recommendation of my agent Meredith Brown I picked up a copy of “The Way of Shadows” by Brent Weeks. Like most fantasy books these days it’s a fat book, pushing up to 600 pages. So I got cozy and settled into another realm, ready to see the world of assassin’s as envisioned by the author.

Book Cover

“What of Shadows”

The Good

The world Brent Weeks presented was a lot of fun to get to know. It was at once a familiar fantasy setting, but different enough that I didn’t dismiss it or grow bored. He drew me into the world of wetboys, the term for elite assassins. Wetboys are almost more than human as they blend their skills of stealth, traps, and magic to become feared killers in the dark. And it’s how Brent Weeks handles introducing us to this world that I really enjoyed. Azoth, an eleven year old orphan of the Warrens, sees that life as his only way out of the filth and grime of his life.

Cutting to the chase, Azoth apprentices with the best wetboy in the city — Durzo Blint. In my opinion, Durzo shines in this book. You can tell Brent Weeks had a grand time writing this character. There are times that Durzo drifts toward Mary Sue-dom, but Weeks does a masterful job of keeping this character on his toes and giving him a hard time. It’s a load of fun reading about a master assassin — excuse me, wetboy — who tests his young apprentice to the limits. I enjoyed how Brent Weeks used Durzo’s personality and training methods to show us Azoth’s growth as a character.

In the first two-thirds of the book we get these great characters and personal struggles. And then, the rest of the book happens.

The Bad

Once Brent Weeks kicks into gear with the political intrigue of the book, everything goes off the rails. It’s a twisting mess of gotchas and — gasp! — big reveals that feel shallow. Many chapters toward the end I found myself skimming through the battles to just find out who lived and who died as I’d lost interest. As I read through the final 100 pages I saw the influence of George R. R. Martin in the gutters. It’s whole-sale slaughter chapter after chapter. Unlike Martin, however, I didn’t care. Most of the character deaths were of people that had barely a scene or two. Characters, I came to realize, that Brent Weeks considered major, despite having little impact or presence in the book.

After finishing the book I read the little questionnaire in the back. Sure enough Brent Weeks mentioned Martin as an influence, stating that he learned from Martin that if you maim or kill a major character then any character is up for grabs. Unfortunately I feel Brent Weeks missed  a crucial element to make it work. You have to make the reader care about the characters first. What Martin did over three books, Weeks crammed into 200 pages.

[SPOILER] I believe I was supposed to feel dismayed at the slaughter of Lord Regnus Gyre and the Queen. But when Regnus only has three to four small scenes with little character development and the Queen having been introduced in the last several hundred pages with — at most — a few paragraphs, I found it hard to care. [/SPOILER]

For me, the strength of the story was more about the relationship between Durzo and Azoth, master and apprentice, killer and savior. What should have been a climactic final conflict between the two, was mired in a twisting, bloated siege of a city.

But, in the end, the series is a New York Times best seller and you can’t argue with that. So I tip my hat to you Brent Weeks. May I have half as much success as you.

Book Review: A Glimpse of Her Soul by Stuart Jaffe

I had the pleasure of meeting author Stuart Jaffe at LibertyCon 2013 this year. Some of you may have read my postmortem on that trip where I talked about some friends and myself hanging out with him into the small hours of the night. Many of us picked up his books and me in particular, I snatched up “A Glimpse of Her Soul.” This particular book is his foray into the YA scene in what he calls a Dark Fantasy novel.

A blurb of the book taken from his Amazon page:

Gillian is an ordinary teenager trying to navigate high school. But when a horrific, supernatural creature murders a student, Gillian learns she stands next on the list.

Now she must unravel the arcane mystery while surviving attacks from bizarre monstrosities. Her struggle leads her into a world hiding just beneath the curtain of our own – an underworld of vicious creatures and dark magic. A world in which her own family is not what they appear. One where her only savior may be her deadliest enemy.

She better come up with answers soon because more than one life hangs in jeopardy.

Filled with action and excitement, intrigue and mystery, A Glimpse of Her Soul is a pulse-pounding ride that will stay with you long after you’ve read the final chapter.

The reason I chose this book is because of the work I’m doing for my own YA novel. It’s always fun to see what other authors are doing in your genre.

Stuart Jaffe’s “A Glimpse of Her Soul” doesn’t wait for you to catch up. It kicks off with the paranormal and keeps on rolling until the very end. He builds off a solid trope and creates a really unique experience in the monsters he’s named Callers. Creatures from the realm of Spirit that take on twisted forms of earthly things. Here he let his imagination run wild and it really pays. They range from a sadistic Bamboo Samurai to a living feather boa. Allowing himself to go to the absurd really payed off.

I believe young readers will enjoy the fast pace of the novel. For my tastes, however, I would have preferred he slowed it down a bit. There were some relationships that I would have liked to see explored more in depth. The denouement felt especially rushed compared to the other parts of the book. Just as the climax has finished we’re reading the last few pages. I was left with wanting to see more of the aftermath of such a physically and mentally destructive experience. It felt like a marathon workout without a cool down.

Stuart Jaffe has set himself up for a decent trilogy. The main character Gillian Boone didn’t have much time to flex her powers in this book, but I can see her becoming a force of her own in future novels. And she’s a great character for tween to teenage girls to latch onto. He does a great job of nabbing that age range. She’s moody, easily distracted, and takes out her frustration on those around her. Which really sounds like teens in general.

If you’re looking for a fast read with some unique monsters, then this is the book for you.

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