Living the Fictional Dream

Erin M. Kinch’s musings upon the writing profession

This Puts It in Perspective…

I just read this post over at Jennifer Jackson’s agent blog.

The highlights: Out of over 6,000 queries last year, this literary agent requested a mere 26 partials and manuscripts, and out of that, she only took on TWO new clients.

Really gives a little context, huh? Even when I do get this novel of mine revised to perfection, it’s still a crap shoot. But, like I’ve always said, I would be writing anyway, so I might as well put it out there (when it’s ready of course). But, man…

I guess Han said it best: “Never tell me the odds.”

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Most Enjoyed Books of 2013

I saw a similar list on a book blog, and it inspired me to try to write my own. But, man… I read a lot of books in 2013. Where to start? I may have to lump books from the same series in together, but it’s my list, so I don’t think that’s cheating! So, here they are, in no particular order…

1. The Indigo Spell and The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead — books 3 and 4 in her Bloodlines series, which is a spin-off of her Vampire Academy series.

Let me say, I love, love, love this series. I love Bloodlines even more than I liked VA. I’m a big Richelle Mead fan, and I am totally obsessed with these books. I count down the days until the next one comes out, and I’m already pining for book 5, which won’t be out until July 2014. If you haven’t tried this series yet, start with book 1 (Bloodlines) and give it a go. If you like humor, vampires, sexual tension, snarky love interests, brainy heroines, and adventure, you can’t go wrong.

2. Date Me, Love Me, and Adore Me by Jillian Dodd — books 3, 4, and 4.5 in her Keatyn Chronicles series.

I’ll admit, I was wary of self-pub’d authors too, but I picked up That Boy by Jillian in 2012 for 99 cents and enjoyed it, so later on, I decided to give Stalk Me a try. If you like books set in the real world that are also escapist fantasy (because the main characters have too much money to ever have to worry about mundane real life stuff), then you’ll like this. There is teen romance and coming of age combined with a mystery that will span the whole 6.5-book series. It’s bit more graphic than some Y/A, so I don’t know that I’d let someone young read it, but as an adult, I found it fun, flirty, and a great escape from reality. Even though I think Jillian needs to edit a bit (her prose meanders into things that aren’t pertinent to the plot), I get sucked into the characters and the plot, and can’t wait for the next two installments in 2014. It’s a total guilty pleasure series.

3. The Elite by Kiera Cass — book 2 of the Selection series.

I completely fell in love with the world an characters of The Selection. The Elite wasn’t quite as good, but I still enjoyed it and am on tenterhooks waiting to find out what happens in The One in 2014. If you like dystopian Y/A fiction and reality shows like The Bachelor, this series is a good fit for you.

4. United We Spy by Ally Carter — the final book in the Gallagher Girls series.

I have enjoyed the GG series from the get go. The original idea, according to Ally, was what if the main character from Alias went to spy high school, and this series totally delivered that. However, like good series do, it went above and beyond the original concept. I found the final book a satisfying conclusion to the series, and a much more fun read than the penultimate book. If you like strong female characters, espionage, and humor, give this series a try!

5. The Bride Wore Size 12 by Meg Cabot — book 5 in the Heather Wells mystery series.

I love Meg Cabot. Her first person voice really feels natural, and her books are laugh-out-loud funny. Though I felt there was a bit of a disconnect between the first three HW books and books 4 and 5, they are all still well written and enjoyable. The issue, I think, is that there was such a gap between books 3 and 4 — Meg changed direction with where she was going in the series during that time when she was focusing on other books. However, Heather is great heroine, a savvy sleuth (despite her protestations), and I love her romance with Cooper. If you like mysteries, humor, and an engrossing first person POV, check out this series.

6. Sever by Lauren DeStefano — the conclusion of the Chemical Garden Trilogy

This trilogy took a dystopian Y/A concept and combined it with a sister wives mentality. It sounds weird, but the writing and the characters made it work. The series is definitely worth a read if you like dystopian. Book 2 wasn’t as good, but book 3 wound up the series is a satisfying way.

7. The Elemental series by Bridgid Kemerer — Elemental, Storm, Spark, Fearless, Breathless, Spirit

Four super hot brothers with supernatural powers meet the loves of their lives and try to keep a secret society from trying to kill them. What’s not to enjoy?

8. Celta series by Robin D. Owens — Heart Fortune was the new book released in 2013, but the whole series was worth a re-read.

This romance series takes place on a planet colonized by a group of Wiccans who left Earth, so everything is powered by Flair instead of electricity. In this society, instead of soul mates, people have heart mates — destined love on a whole new level. If you enjoy romance and sci-fi/fantasy, you’ll love this whole series.

9. Forever Princess by Meg Cabot — final book in the Princess Diaries series.

I had read the rest of the series years before but somehow missed the memo that there was a 10th book. This book gave a satisfying finale to Mia’s journey with Meg Cabot’s usual flare. Her Y/A is just as good as her adult fiction and shouldn’t be missed.

10. The Five Little Peppers series by Margaret Sidney — particularly The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, The Five Little Peppers Midway, The Five Little Peppers Grown Up, and The Five Little Peppers: Phronsie Pepper

I’ve read these books many times over the years–I was in elementary school when I read the first one for the first time–but I reread the highlights this year and still enjoyed it. There are some issues, like any book series written so long ago, but they are still good stories. I can’t wait until my kids are old enough for me to read them to.

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Appropriate Reading

First of all, if you haven’t read Brigid Kemmerer’s Elementals series, you’re missing out. Hot guys, supernatural powers, romance, adventure… What else do you need?

That said, I was cruising Brigid’s blog when I found this post on whether her books were appropriate for a 14-year-old to read. I’m not going to get into that specific aspect of it, but the really interesting part of the blog post was where Kemmerer talks about reading as a safe way to experience more adult things like sex, violence, date rape, and drug overdose. She says reading is better than a movie or TV show in this regard because the reader can skim what they don’t like/aren’t ready for. Also, the graphicness of a scene is limited by the imagination of the readers themselves, as opposed to in a movie where the blood, violence, etc. are laid out for you on the screen, complete with dramatic music and close-up camera angles.

I had never actually thought about this before, but I totally did this when I was a teenager. I remember reading adult books and being shocked by certain content but enjoying the other parts of the story. I would totally skim through those scenes until I got back to the portion of plot that I was interested in. Heck, I still do this today, on occasion — though, now probably more from boredom than not being “ready” for something.

Anyway, it is an interesting way of looking at the more edgy YA novels out there today and thinking of how they could affect your teens. However, I also whole-heartedly agree with the idea that if parents are concerned about whether or not something is appropriate, they should read/watch it either before or along with their kids so they are available for conversations when the kids have questions.

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Know When to Stop

There is so much helpful writing information available on the internet. You can find blogs and articles devoted to every aspect of the craft, from plotting and editing your novel, to writing the perfect query letter, to the things you’ll have to do as a published author (assuming you ever make it that far).

The problem is, sometimes all these helpful resources get overwhelming. You start to question every word you write or whether you even want to be in this business in the first place. That’s the point when it’s time to STOP reading. Go back to your story and focus on what’s really important. I writer writes… a writer doesn’t read about writing (or, at least not ALL the time).

When I was pregnant, I had to stop reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It was a good book. Very informative and detailed. However, it was almost too informative. Every twinge and I was suddenly experiencing deep vein thrombosis or whatever ailment was described in the last chapter. Ultimately, I set it aside as daily reading and, instead, used it as a resource when I needed to look something up. That was much better.

And the same solution will work for writing articles on the Internet. Read a little to see if it is your kind of thing. Bookmark it to come back to later. Go back when you have a specific writing question, such as, “how do I crisp up this dialog” or “why isn’t my novel ending enough.” Then look for the answer to your specific question.

Then you can focus the rest of your time on what’s important — the writing!

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Finished!

It achieved a pretty big milestone a few weeks ago. I finished my first real novel.

I specify “real,” because I have finished a few others, but with those I always cheaped out at the end. I got tired or didn’t have the complete vision or fell too hard on the “happy” side of happily ever after. I remember one NaNoWriMo novel that I struggled and struggled on, and on the last night just wrote a plot synopsis of the story arc.

This is the first time I finished a novel with a well-thought-out plot that reached all the way to the last scene. All my plot and character objectives were met. The appropriate threads are tied up, with a few left dangling for the sequel.

It’s a really good feeling. I feel like I really accomplished something. So… when are the millions of dollars and top spots on the best seller list going to start rolling in? LOL!

I still have a lot to do on my little novel that could — rewrites, revisions, a line-by-line edit — but I’m going to do it. I love this novel, and I feel like I finally have something to query with. It just needs a little more fine tuning. All in all, though, finishing is a really great feeling. And it was better than any NaNoWriMo I’ve ever done, because this time I feel like I have something strong and real saved on my laptop, not just a jumble of words strung together for quantity.

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Bulletproof Tropes

I recently read an entry on fantasy author Shanna Swendson’s blog about Bulletproof Tropes–basically, a trope you love so much that you’ll cut the show/movie/book/whatever a lot of extra slack because you enjoy that trope so much. It got me thinking, what are my bulletproof tropes? Unlike Shanna, who says she finds herself more critical of stories with those tropes because she loves them so much, I totally have them and know I have read/watched some not-great stuff because those tropes totally pull me in every time.

One of my biggest is probably the story where two people have to pretend to be in a relationship and then end up falling in love despite themselves. I saw Drive Me Crazy more times in the theater (!) than any person really should have because of my love of this trope. Now, I do actually think the acting in that one was quite good for your typical teen flick, but I really didn’t need to see it as many times as I did (does it help that my husband and I were in our seeing movies multiple times phase when it came out?). I have also read some low quality self-pub’d books all the way through because I like that trope enough that I had to find out how they finally got together for realz. And category romance novels–this trope is a big one in that segment.

Another one I’m an absolute sucker for is the “bad” guy who is really a good guy underneath and just has to realize that about himself (usually with the help of his true love). Typically, he made bad choices or had bad things happen to him that put him on the life track he’s currently on and just needs that one push to start on his road to redemption. If I have to choose between the stalwart and true hero and the jaded, snarky, rebel guy, I’ll pick the latter every time (Han instead of Luke, Damon instead of Stefan, Adrian instead of Dimitri, Dawson instead of Aiden, Logan instead of Duncan…). Heck, even the male lead in my novel-in-progress has shades of this type of character. The fact that I love this one makes me feel like a bit of a cliche myself, though. There is so much random crap out there with this trope, that I’m not even going to try to think of examples of crappy ones that I might have read/watched because there are probably a zillion.

Though, I will say that he can’t be a total bad guy. If he’s sociopathic or never going to turn to the side of good, then I’m not as hooked. No creepy stalker guys, please!

I am also a sucker for a good werewolf/other kind of animal shapeshifter story. Particularly one with pack hierarchy to navigate (e.g., Tammy Blackwell’s Timberwolves and Jennifer Lynne Barnes’s Raised by Wolves). Neither of those count as something crappy I stuck with because of the trope, though; both of these are really good examples. I did stick with that Wolves of Mercy Falls series because of it, and, for the most part, I was not a huge fan due to the strange pacing.

I’m a sucker for a story told out of time; like where the timeline is rearranged and you get little pieces of the whole throughout while watching what happened several times. That is one reason I love How I Met Your Mother so much. They do this all the time (and are an example of doing it right). This is actually a hard one to think of crappy examples of that I forced myself to finish because it’s such a complicated story-telling method that it doesn’t really succeed unless it’s done well.

Hmmm… it seems like there is another one that I’m forgetting, but it’s not coming to mind at the moment. I’m sure I’ll remember it later, LOL.

What about you guys out there? Do any of y’all have a bulletproof trope… one that you’ll admit to?

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The Timberwolves Series

I am back from an unintentional blog hiatus (darn you, real life!), and the first thing on my list of blog topics is a review of the Timberwolves Y/A series by Tammy Blackwell. As you may remember from my review of the first book, Destiny Binds, here, I am a big fan of this series and Miss Tammy’s writing. I’ve read a lot of self-published fiction in the past couple of years (who can resist the free or cheap prices?), but this series is the one that stands out to me as the best of the best.

Blackwell is such a good writer. When you pick up one of her books, you don’t have to worry about typos or gramatical errors. This means that she knows how to edit (or how to find good editors), and I think that her background as a Y/A librarian also probably factors in, since that means she does a LOT of reading (crucial to good writing skillz).

The other great thing about Blackwell’s writing is that she knows how to pace a book. So many self-pub’d novels, even when the authors can write well on the grammatical side, tend to wander about down bunny trails and switch gears midstream, but Blackwell knows how to get the action and the character development on the page without giving us too much or too little.

Oh, and I can’t forget to mention how much I love Blackwell’s use of pop culture references. They fit right in and are natural to the prose so that if you don’t recognize them, you can move right along with the story, but if you do recognize them, it adds a whole other layer to the text.

I won’t go into too much about Destiny Binds here, as I already did a whole review on that. I will say that, hands down, it was my favorite book of the whole series. I can’t help it — I’m totally an Alex fangirl! I will say, though, that one of my few complaints about DB when I wrote the original review was that the cover was much too bland. Now the whole Timberwolves series has gorgeous artwork on the covers, and even more new artwork coming out on the new omnibus edition. Much more eye-catching, so kudos to Blackwell for that change!

Next up is book 2, Time Mends. After the huge jolt from the status quo at the end of DB, TM was a rebuilding book and definitely a spring board for the rest of the series. Scout goes from having a toe dipped into the superantural world of Shifters and Seers, to plunging in head first. **spoiler** She even develops supernatural powers of her own.

And yet, through it all, she remains, at her essence, the Scout we grew to love in DB. She is fiesty, stubborn, sure she knows it all, and ready to take on the world in defense of those she loves. She’s also grieving hard core, which gives TM a more desperate tone than the first book.

Finally, the Timberwolves trilogy ends with Fate Succumbs. And this book ends the trillogy with a whallup, let me tell you! In book 1, the story was very focused on Scout and her family and friends. By book 3, things have gone global in the Shiftter world, and things, they are a-changin’. We’ve got evil and corrupt bad guys to fight, lives to change, destinies to reveal, and prophecies to thwart. I, honestly, had no idea this story would be so big at the beginning. I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you. You should go read this trilogy yourselves, and then we’ll tawk (as our Nana says).

If the base trilogy isn’t enough Shifters and Seers for you, there are also two more books in this universe. At First Sight is a companion to the trilogy. It gives us pivotal scenes from book 1 from an alternate character’s point of view combined with other scenes from the supporting cast that really help flesh out the first book. Blackwell originally published these shorts on her blog, but now they have been compiled into an e-book. I particularly enjoyed the Liam and Alex segments, but the others were great, too. One great thing about Blackwell’s writing is that all the supporting characters are just as real as Scout. That is one of the things that really makes a book for me. And this companion books fleshes that out even more by giving us some of their perspectives.

Finally, All We See & Seem is a novella that gives you the story of what Jase and Talley were up to while Scout was in hiding at the beginning of FS. I was really glad Blackwell released this novella because one of my few problems with FS was that Jase and Talley had undergone some really big changes since the last time Scout saw them, and since Scout hadn’t seen it, we didn’t get to see it either. Because the supporting characters have so much life of their own, it was a bit of a hole missing out on that part of Jase and Talley’s lives. However, AWS&S fixes that right up. And, it also introduces us to a new character who figures quite importantly into the climax of FS.

To get the maximum awesomeness out of the series, I reccommend reading it in this order: Destiny Binds first; At First Sight second; Time Mends third; All We See & Seem fourth, but stop before reading the last chapter–the only one that takes place after book 3; then read Fate Succumbs; and, once you’ve fully digested that final book, go back and read the last chapter of All We See & Seem last.

This alternative reading order is chronological, and it would also allieviate my only few quibbles with the series in general. You’d get the Jase/Talley/new character story before it becomes relevant to the plot in FS, and you’d get a little fleshing out of the supporting cast after DB, which would help foreshadow Liam’s true importance to the rest of the series. I was such an Alex fangirl that it was hard for me to accept Liam later on, but I think if I’d read the scene from his POV in AFS first, I would have had a little more inkling of what was coming.

All in all, though, this is a great series, no matter what order you read it in. I heartily recommend it, and I think you should all go pick up a copy right now! What are you waiting for?

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The Apprentice

Well… I am blushing right now. I had my short story, “The Apprentice,” accepted at Residential Aliens a few months ago, but, somehow, in all the holiday and vacation madness, I missed the publication date (12/2/12). But, despite that, the issue of RA that the story was published in is still on the website, so you should head on over there and check it out!

“The Apprentice” is a prequel to a story that RA published a couple of years ago called, “The Sorcerer’s Wife.” TSW a story about the end of Brand’s life, and TA is a story about the beginning. Viola, the antagonist in TSW was such a vibrant character that she inspired me to write another story, this time from her point of view.

If I ever thought of a concept big enough, this would be a fun world to revist for a novel. TA goes a little more in detail about the Game, but there is still more to learn.

Anyway, I don’t want to say too much else or I’ll give away the story, but head on over to RA today to read “The Apprentice,” and if you haven’t read “The Sorcerer’s Wife,” you should check that one out, as well (in fact, I’d recommend reading that one first.

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Celebrity Casting

Celebrity casting my novels-in-progress has become totally addicting. How do you find the face of that character you made up out of the ether? Unless a particular person/actor/what-have-you sprang immediately to mind, you comb through Google images based on some kind of search (dark haired dark eyed actors over 50; blonde blue eyed teenaged actress) until someone pops out at you with your character’s face.

However, is this a useless, time wasting exercise? Is it a time suck that you should eschew instead of actually writing? Or is it an exercise that can help you along the past to completing your work in progress?

The answer to all those questions is probably yes… and no.

Procrastination can take on many guises. Anything you devote all your time to that is not writing, is procrastination from the end game of a finished novel. However, finding the celebrity look-alone who embodies your character can also help with the writing process. It can help you with your descriptions. It can help you see the character better in your mind’s eye. It can help you take that character that might be a little vague or fuzzy in your mind and push them to the next level, and characters that live on the page are the ones that contribute to the vivid fictional dream that we all aspire to.

It’s hard, though. At least for me. A task that, while fun, does take time. Because I can’t settle for just anyone. Just because an actor has the right hair color and eye color, that doesn’t mean that actor can embody my character. I have to see something in a photo of that actor that feels like my character — a mischievous smile, the quirk of an eyebrow, the gleam of intelligence in his/her eyes. The wrong casting is worse than no casting at all, because then you’re struggling to make the misfit work with the character in your head.

But when I find one I like, I tend to have attachment issues. Even if someone more perfect comes along [or if my sister, a.k.a., my most opinionated (and best) editor doesn't like who I chose], I have a hard time switching to someone else once I’ve bonded with that character. But, I have that problem in other areas of writing, too. I hate putting in a placeholder name for a city or character, because it is super hard for me to switch later, even if what I’m switching to is so much better. My mind gets set on something, and that’s the way it wants things to be.

And now I’m celebrity casting in reverse, too. I figured out that my fantasy novel needs another character to flesh out the group. One who will most likely be an agent of the bad guy in the end. I was scrolling through pictures for some other character entirely, when I saw this one picture and realized that it was the face of my new character. The casting was perfect, and I don’t even have a good idea of that character in my head yet, but it just clicked. But now I have this face, and no name and only the barest of skeletons of character to go with it. So, it will be an adventure creating her opposite from how I normally go about these things.

Well, my laptop battery is winding down, so I guess I will sign off for now. Perhaps I can comb through a few more Google images before it powers down. I have a few more characters left without a face.

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Dystopian Fiction

I watched the first two episodes of the new TV series Revolution the other night. In a time close to now, something happens that makes everything that runs on electricity useless. The world goes dark. 15 years later, those who survived are living in a world with agrarian culture, city husks that house refugees, and republics ruled by deadly militia.

All in all, it was a pretty interesting show. I really liked Miles, as well as the two main supporting characters — a geeky guy who was a founding member of Google with 80 mil. in the bank before the darkness and the British doctor woman. The main girl, Charlie (early twenties) is not as instant of a hit. In the first episode, she vacillated between bratty and useless. In the second episode, she got some hunting and crossbow prowess, as well as some conviction, but they need to watch out as the conviction bordered on the edge of sanctimonious.

I’m also not sure about the subplot about getting the power back on. That one seems a bit of a far reach. The rest of the show would be intriguing without that. But, we’ll see how it develops.

The show made me think about dystopian fiction, though. It is really prevalent lately. Everything from The Hunger Games to the Chemical Garden trilogy take place in a society that has been rebuilt after at least the U.S. and maybe life everywhere as we know it has crumbled. I really enjoyed The Selection, but even though it wasn’t a story about surviving after the apocalypse, the world was built on a dystopian concept.

I wonder why dystopian fiction is so popular right now. Is it just the next new thing; the thing that hasn’t been written about ad nauseum (yet)? Or do we, as a culture, subconsciously think that we’ve hit the pinnacle and there’s nowhere else to go but down? That we’re much more likely to go the way of The Hunger Games or Razor Girl than Star Trek? If so, that makes me a little sad… but, it has lead to some really good reading.

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