Tag Archives: novels

Books I’ve read this month Aug/Sept 17

Summer in BC is great for reading, especially those lazy days when you can’t go outside because of all the smoke from the rest of the country being on fire.

In the car I’ve been listening to John Scalzi’s “Agent to the Stars” . It’s light and fun, but has a good message tucked away inside. Like several of Scalzi’s audio books, it’s narrated by Wil Wheaton, and I think this is a good thing. The story is about a movie agent who is contacted by aliens. They’re the traditional green blobs who are worried that their appearance might prejudice the Earth against them, so they want an agent to work on their image problem.

Since it’s a fun book, I listened to it way too fast, and now I’m neck-deep in “Lords and Ladies” by Terry Pratchett. It’s the third in the “Witches” series from the Discworld, but it pulls in some familiar faces from Ankh Morpork in the shape of Archchancellor Ridcully, Ponder Stibbons, the Librarian and the Bursar. If you haven’t read the Witches series, start with “Wyrd Sisters”, and don’t forget to tell your friends about them.

Outside of the audio world, actual physical books have been read too. I started with “The Magpie Murders“, even though it was written by Anthony Horowitz. I have an unreasonable dislike for him, thanks to a radio interview I heard a long time ago. Maybe he’s changed since then, maybe not, but this book is very good. For one thing, it’s a book about a book, and you get to read the book that the book is about, which is great. Maybe I should explain.

The story is told by a literary agent or editor (I forget which). She’s taken delivery of the latest – and last – in a series about a Poirot-style detective, and she’s planning to read the whole thing through. but the last chapter is missing. While she hunts for the missing chapter, she discovers the author is dead – probably suicide, but maybe not. And there are disturbing parallels between his life and the fictional village he wrote of in his series. To find out the truth, she has to solve the murder in the book and in real life.

I’m glad I read this book – now, if I ever meet Mr Horowitz in person, I’ll have something nice to say to him.

Having enjoyed one mystery, I went straight on to another. This one was “The Zig Zag Girl” by Elly Griffiths. It’s based on the real-world idea of magicians being used in the Second World War to confuse the enemy using stage magic principles. Now, years after the war, it looks like someone is targeting the “Magic Men” and killing them off. Since one of them is a policeman, it’s his job to find the others and try and solve the murders before he falls victim too. This is the first of a series, and I’ll be tracking the others down soon.

My final offering for this month is a non-fiction piece. “Blood, Sweat and Pixels” is a recounting of the effort it takes to get video games from conception to completion. I like games, though I don’t get to play them frequently enough to recognise more than two or three of the ones mentioned in this book (and I’ve not actually played ANY of them) and worst of all, the book ends with the sad story of the now-legendary “1313”, the Star Wars game that never was. When you read the stories, you wonder why anyone even tries to make video games, let alone how they reach the markets. You also, if you’re me, wonder if there’s ever going to be a playable release of 1313.

Image result for 1313 screengrabs

 

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Spotlight on: Brooke Johnson, Author

TheBrassGiant

I’ve blogged before about Brooke Johnson and her books, but she’s recently reworked the book I reviewed for real-world publication as “The Brass Giant” and so I thought I’d ask her some impertinent questions.

1: When did you start writing? 

I started writing seriously (with the goal to be published) when I was about fourteen. I started a fantasy novel that was a horrible conglomeration of Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings, that thankfully died after its eighth or ninth iteration when I decided to write something else five years later.

2: What was your path to publication? 
In a word: weird.
When I sat down to write the book that would eventually become The Brass Giant, I made the decision to self-publish  because 1) I really didn’t want to go the query route and face the months of rejection on that path; 2) I felt that steampunk was “in” and I didn’t want to waste time with traditional publishing when it would be at least a couple of years before the book saw print; and 3) I just really felt like it was the right decision at the time. So that’s what I did.

A year later, Harper Voyager put out an open call for submissions. Figuring it wouldn’t hurt to enter, I submitted the book and promptly forgot about it. Fast-forward another year and a half, I got an email from a Harper Voyager editor saying they wanted to publish my book. After much flabbergasted squeeing, I decided that I’d done what I could with self-publishing and signed a contract with the publisher. In the months since, I have been prone to varying degrees of stress and madness, and will soon have a traditionally published book to show for it.

3: Who was your biggest influence when you were starting out?

It was always a mixture of things when I first started writing, elements from my favorite books, movies, and video games, all cobbled together into one story. Stylistically, probably J.K. Rowling. I still primarily write third-person point of view and I will always write dialogue tags with “said” before the name of the person speaking.

4: What is your favourite piece of writing advice? 

I’ve gotten a lot of bad writing advice over the years, and very little good advice, so this is a tough one… probably “Write the story you want to read.” It’s the one dictum I’ve actually been able to stick to throughout the years.

5: If you could send one Tweet back in time to your past self, what would it say? And would you listen? 

Oh gosh… Um… “Stop wasting time on the internet and get to work. You won’t have the luxury of spare time in a few years.” Would I listen? Probably not.

6: What’s the logline for your latest book? 

When Petra Wade meets Guild engineer Emmerich Goss, she finally has a chance to prove her worth as an engineer building a top-secret, Guild-sanctioned automaton, but as their project nears completion, Petra discovers a sinister conspiracy within the Guild … and their automaton is only the beginning.

7: Do you take part in a writing circle, either online or in real life?

I did when I was in college, but I never liked it–I’m not much of a group person. I also had a critique partner once, but it fizzled out when life happened. These days, I write all by myself and rarely read other writers’ work before publication, though I do often share scenes or snippets with a few close friends to get initial feedback.

8: Finally, what word do you always type incorrectly? 

Jeopardize. Receive. Mischievous. Judgement. Privilege.

So, what about the book?

The Brass Giant: A Chroniker City Story

Sometimes, even the most unlikely person can change the world

Seventeen-year-old Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, wants nothing more than to become a certified member of the Guild, an impossible dream for a lowly shop girl. Still, she refuses to give up, tinkering with any machine she can get her hands on, in between working and babysitting her foster siblings.

When Emmerich Goss—handsome, privileged, and newly recruited into the Guild—needs help designing a new clockwork system for a top-secret automaton, it seems Petra has finally found the opportunity she’s been waiting for. But if her involvement on the project is discovered, Emmerich will be marked for treason, and a far more dire fate would await Petra.

Working together in secret, they build the clockwork giant, but as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra discovers a sinister conspiracy from within the Guild council … and their automaton is just the beginning.

Releases May 5, 2015

Preorder now ($1.99)

Amazon US: http://amzn.com/B00M719Z06

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00M719Z06

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-brass-giant-brooke-johnson/1121123553?ean=9780062387165

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-brass-giant

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-brass-giant/id904017054?mt=11

HarperCollins: http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062387165/the-brass-giant

About Brooke:

Brooke Johnson is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving writer. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she journeys through life with her husband, daughter, and dog. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas but hopes to one day live somewhere more mountainous.

Website:

 http://brooke-johnson.com

 Social Media:

 Twitter: https://twitter.com/brookenomicon

Google+: https://plus.google.com/+BrookeJohnson

Tumblr: http://brookenomicon.tumblr.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brookejohnson.writer

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5320239.Brooke_Johnson

What type of self-publishing author are YOU?

(Clockwise from top left) The NYT bestseller, the slow-but-steady, the Hobbyist, the...other guy.

(Clockwise from top left)
The NYT bestseller, the Slow-but-steady, the…other guy, the Hobbyist

1: Do you have a completed manuscript?

a. Yes. Three published, two drafts and four notebooks of ideas and outlines.

b. One. Edited and professionally covered, uploaded and on sale.

c. Several. None are really as good as I hoped, and sales are miniscule, but I keep trying.

d. No. But I have a great idea for a book. How about I tell you what it is and YOU do the writing, then we can split the money fifty-fifty?

2: Have you paid anyone else to produce any aspect of your book?

a. Yes, I used a professional editor and cover artists for all of my books. I also have an SEO and marketing consultant to help me co-ordinate my sales plan.

b. Yes, editor and cover artist. I’m managing publicity and promotions myself, though, through my blog and other social media.

c. No. I got a friend to read through the draft and I did the cover myself. I think it’s pretty good.

d. I’ll just use some photos from the internet when I need a cover. I mean, once they’re online, they’re free to use, right?

3. Have you considered book signings and public readings to promote your work?

a. Of course. I’ve done many of each, and these days I get requests to do guest blog spots too.

b. I’ve done a couple of local readings, but no signings because my book is an e-book. I did do a blog tour though, and that really helped sales.

c. No. I don’t feel my books are good enough yet. Maybe for my next one I’ll talk to the local library about doing a reading. Perhaps.

d. Are you kidding? The press are going to come to ME. How are you getting on with the writing, by the way?  Because I could really use the money sometime soon…

4: Do you have a plan for your next publication and sales strategy?

a. Yes. I have plans in place for my next two publications, and one already has a chapter included at the end of my last published book to act as a trailer. The e-book versions all have hyperlinks to my Amazon author page, so readers can quickly find my full list of books and order without putting down their e-reader.

b. I’m still working on my second book, but I’ve been blogging about it and sharing the process with a number of friends and other blogs online. There’s already a lot of people asking about it, so I’m hoping that will result in good sales and reviews.

c. No. I keep meaning to work things out in advance, but then I get wrapped up in writing the book, and once it’s done I just rush to throw it out there. I don’t really have the time or patience for a big orchestrated “event”. That’s for real authors.

d. What? Oh, books. Man, I’m done with books, there’s too much, you know….words! I’m writing a screenplay now. Well, I say I’m writing it, I’ve emailed Joe Cornish because I saw one of his movies and thought it was rubbish, so I’ve sent him a great idea for a new one and told him he can send me the money… You don’t think he’ll steal my idea, do you?

Results

Mostly “A” : You’re an established author who’s likely to do reasonably well, treating writing as a business and keeping your eye on the future, not just the end of the sentence. Good job.

Mostly “B”: You’ve got a good grasp of the essentials, but it sounds like you lack confidence. Push yourself forward a bit, make some more noise about what you’ve done, and don’t get discouraged. Slow and steady may win the race in the fable, but you can do better than that if you look at the “A” authors and do what they’re doing.

Mostly “C”: Gee, I really hope this is just your hobby. Writing to please yourself is the best place to start, but if you’re planning to have writing as a career or a decent second income, you need to pay more attention to the business side of things. Your books may start out as your babies, but when you publish them, they’re your product, and how they look and sound is how other people see you. Be the best you can be.

Mostly “D”: I wish you the best with the next crackpot money-making scheme you latch on to. And the one after that, and the one after that. Because you’re not even reading this anymore, are you? You lost interest around question number 2….

75 or over: You are the Dowager Duchess of Downton Abbey! And you’ve been doing the wrong quiz!

It’s quiet because….

…For the first year ever, I’m actually DOING NaNoWriMo. It’s scary and busy and means I have to actually concentrate and commit and lots of other words that begin with “c”.

This won't be the cover  or the title, but I needed something to upload to the NaNo website so it looked better...

This won’t be the cover or the title, but I needed something to upload to the NaNo website so it looked better…

I’ve decided to write a sequel to “Eddie and the Kingdom” for several reasons.

1: Someone asked me. Just one person, but you know, there’s such a thing as customer service and responding to your readership.

2: I had a bit of an idea for the story.

3: The first book was only 50,000 words or so, which is the NaNo target.

4: “Eddie and the Kingdom” was the first novella I ever wrote, and I wanted to see if I could do it faster and maybe even better. Eddie took a year or more. This first draft should be done inside a month (currently at 20,000 words after six writing sessions).

5: Everyone else and his Mum has a series. This way, I get to write book three next year and call it an “Eddie novel” or “A novel of the Kingdom”. Or “Marvel: The Guardians of the Galaxy Strike Back!” if I want to get sued into penury.

So that’s why I’m taking the time to write this post and explain why I haven’t got time to write any posts.

How are YOU getting on with YOUR novel? Post an excerpt or link below!

There IS such a thing as a bad book.

If you’re a real fan of reading, you probably get really into your book. It’s not just a way to pass the time, you open the cover and dive in. If someone talks to you while you’re reading, there may be a moment or two of confusion as you emerge from the story-world and try to re-engage with reality.

r is for reading, Petra Hollander photography

r is for reading, Petra Hollander photography

Well, that’s the way it is with GOOD books. With a bad book it’s like trying to dive with a balloon tied to each wrist. Stupid phrasing, bad word choices or just irritating characters pitch you back out of the story again and again.

The last two books I’ve listened to (and I’m not going to name names) have been bad. The first had a protagonist who was weak and ineffective – this was a deliberate choice by the author, certainly – and time and again he was put into a position where he needed to show some backbone to gain ground. Each time he fails, wimping out, missing his chance, getting beaten. He mans up for the very final confrontation, of course, but by then it was way, way too late for me.

The second book read like a pale imitation of a series that’s become a guilty pleasure – the Stephanie Plum books of Janet Evanovich. This book had the same first-person style, the same age range, the hunky cop/almost boyfriend, the accidental involvement in a crime and then the luck to keep finding the clues. Oh, and the fact that the killer then targets our heroine, of course.

One for the Money – the first Stephanie Plum adventure. Emphatically NOT a bad book.

Where the series differs (aside from the one mighty Maguffin which I won’t mention because it’ll give the identity away) is that the book is dreadful. The main character tells us at length about a sad crime she sees on the news. We get the name of the victim, mentioned half a dozen times. Then she relates the same story to the almost boyfriend over dinner. Then, a little while later, he references the victim in a conversation. She can’t remember who it is. Not only that, but she monologues, internally for a couple of pages about how she can’t remember who it is. People passing me on the road must’ve wondered why I was pounding on the steering wheel and screaming “What ARE you? Some kind of stunned duckling? You were just talking about this person two minutes ago, you brainless sockpuppet!”

The character conveniently fogets a number of important facts from time to time, then other characters explain them at length. Since I’m not either a stunned duckling or a brainless sockpuppet (despite what Mrs Dim might say on the subject) I did not appreciate these reminders. There was a also a truckload of bad writing. If a character mentions that they are “weary with exhaustion”, I would suggest it is time to gently lay down the book, soak it in petrol and burn it for the good of humanity. If your central character is the target of a crazed killer, known to be in the area, someone who has taken pictures of them as they go about their daily business, it seems a bizarre choice for them to go into their office just deal with one more client, someone they don’t know, that they’ve never met before. Oh, and if that central character is (secrecy be damned, this was just too annoying) SUPPOSED TO BE PSYCHIC then having them INVITE A PERSON WHO WANTS TO KILL THEM INTO THEIR OFFICE seems really, really unlikely.

I’m sure people could go through my e-books and find errors. In fact, I guarantee it. But you know who’s standing behind those books? Just me. I wrote ’em, I edited ’em, I proofread ’em and I published them. These other two books were from publishing houses and can be bought in regular bookstores. Just….don’t.

New Year, New Project

2013 was a quiet year for TLC Creative, though I kept myself busy by producing a couple of scripts and some e-books, as well as a record-breaking year for the Appraisal Service. This year TLC are back with a vengeance, planning to write TWO pantomimes and a bunch of other stuff.

I also have plans, and they begin with a project I mentioned last year. Fascinated by the volume of “Harlequin” romance novels that cross my desk at the library, I decided to investigate the appeal. On the 2nd I booked out 10 novels, chosen pretty much at random from the stacks, and am working my way through them, taking notes.

There’s a perception that these novels are written to a formula, that there’s nothing clever or noteworthy about them. The readers themselves will often be dismissive about them, calling them a “guilty pleasure”, like they were junk food.

I’ve only read four so far, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The stories hold up well, and the characters are more than just sketched in. The prose is a little flaky at times, but overall is better than some other professionally produced books I’ve endured.

And I haven’t found a “formula” yet. You’d think four books would be enough to spot a pattern, but there doesn’t seem to be one. The only constant is that in each book the lead male and lead female are introduced right at the beginning and there’s a mutual attraction. Sometimes that attraction is welcome on both sides, sometimes it isn’t. But it’s always there. Whether that feeling gets acted upon sooner or later, whether circumstances or personal duties get in the way, that’s the stuff that varies from book to book.

I imagined this would be a relatively easy challenge – read a bunch of books (something I’d be doing anyway) and throw down 35,000 words or so (something I’ve already done several times.) Yes, the deadline might make it harder, but simply because of the logistics of getting the words down. I didn’t think WRITING the story would be difficult.

But now I’ve read a few it’s clear the bar is higher than I thought. I’m still going ahead with it, still running some potential storylines through my head, but it’s going to be a tougher job than I expected.

The lesson I’m hoping to learn here is about determining what I write for myself. I’ve mentioned before my desire to be a Sci-Fi author, and how I feel it’s stymied by the stories that turn up in my head. If I can write a Harlequin Romance, then I can write ANYTHING. And I think I can. These stories are all about love, about two people feeling an attraction and working through whatever is preventing them being together. I can think of dozens of other stories where the same is true, but they’re spy stories, adventure stories, space stories…. Love is a constant theme in most tales, when you come down to it.

I mentioned this challenge on G+ and a friend came up with the suggestion that this might be a good challenge to formalise. Are there any authors out there who might be willing to take on a genre challenge in March? Spend February reading books from a genre you don’t normally tackle, then produce your own in March, with cover artists taking on the illustration during April? Let me know in the comments below.

Why writing is like Lego

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The basic components are the same for everyone, simple and easy to put together.

Some people set out create entire worlds,

WP_002734or cities or streets,

WP_002792other people just want reproduce a small slice of everyday.

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It’s fun, and anyone can do it, but some people treat it as a hobby and others get really intense about it.

Some people work from a detailed plan,

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while others make it up as they go along.

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Sometimes your project doesn’t come out right, but you find you can use big parts of it in a new project.
Some people will tell you there’s rules or the right way to do things, but there’s nothing to stop you doing it your own way if you want. Of course, your house may fall down, or the wheels might come off your car, or you might make something entirely new and wonderful.

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Most of these images come from the awesome builders at the Seattle Brick Con. I apologise to them for not including their details, but praising each one would imply the many, many others whose pictures did NOT get used were somehow inferior. I wish I wrote stories as intricate and detailed as the models produced by these dedicated artists.