Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review of "The Truth about Rebecca," a short story by E.M. Youman

She's a banshee screaming, sugar-starved monster, and her zookeeper has left you all alone with her.
That's what's running through twenty-nine-year-old Henry Dalton's mind, when his five-year-old stepdaughter, Rebecca, enters the room and utters these fatal words. "Where's Mommy?"

This is a touching story about two people in need of love and forming an unlikely family.  Henry Dalton, the protagonist, is your very typical bachelor that has absolutely no interest in having a family.  He's just "a guy" that wants to date Rebecca's mom.

The circumstances of Dalton taking on Rebecca as his charge border on unrealistic by how fast everything occurs.  I felt like more time could have been spent exploring Rebecca's mother.  It wouldn't necessarily change the result of the story but perhaps add more emotional depth to the events that follow.

Still, the story has a good pace to it.  I enjoyed seeing Dalton's progression as a character.  He really sees Rebecca for her all her faults and, initially, doesn't like her at all.  I thought this was a nice, very human touch.  It explores the idea that you don't always get to choose your family.

Definitely worth picking up a copy.

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Andrew Stanton: The clues to a great story

Filmmaker Andrew Stanton ("Toy Story," "WALL-E") shares what he knows about storytelling -- starting at the end and working back to the beginning. (Contains graphic language ...)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Common Writing Mistake: Directionless Plot

Plot, by definition, is the main events in a story or play.  A key thing to note here is that plot shapes the story like the framework for a house.  Details should be filled in but without logical framework the structure will collapse.

Something that I see during the beta reading process is the trap of directionless plot.  To continue the construction metaphor, the author gets so fixated on putting one piece of framing in a particular space that he fails to notice how it might affect the entire structure.

Every piece of plot should build off each other.  Do the characters really need to explore that mysterious tomb?  Or do you just want to have a scene where it might be cool to fight the living dead?  How does exploring that tomb add to the other plot points?

Now, this is not to say that there cannot be subplots that veer away from the main plot.  In longer stories, subplots and character development are what make a story memorable.  But the main framework should always be in focus.  A reader should not have to read 75% of a book in order to finally figure out what it is that the characters are trying to accomplish.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

6 Years Writing

.... and I forgot my own writing anniversary.

But that's ok.  I don't think that's a bad thing.  I've stopped thinking about writing milestones, to be honest.  Writing is now something that I do as part of my day, no questions asked.

This is interesting because it's the same for music, I've found.  When first learning a musical instrument we are very goal-oriented.  I'm on "the next" piece in a book.  But if you tough it out long enough you lose track of how many pieces you know and it just becomes a thing.

Over the past two writing years I've noticed that I've become less profit-driven with writing.  Getting more sales was highly motivating to me when I first started on this publishing journey.  But I noticed that my mindset has switched from needing to get sales to "Oh, look at that I got a sale.  How nice."

My mindset right now I think would have frustrated freshly-published me a few years ago.  But something I've realized from existing with my husband is that I put a lot of arbitrary pressure on myself.  I give all goal/deadlines equal priority in my brain whether it's an important project that needs doing or something as simple as a dinner reservation.  My husband is the opposite.  He has absolutely no sense of schedules or deadlines whatsoever.

But as we've learned to have middle ground with each other it has taught me to really think about which of my priorities actually need deadlines.  For me, writing needs deadlines or I would forget to do it.  So I do like that I put enough pressure on myself to doggedly continue writing every day.  But something that I have disliked about my publishing schedule is that it has made it difficult to keep up with other writing projects such as blogging.  And I enjoy blogging.

So, in a nutshell, I think the lesson I have learned as I wrap up year six is to write but write what I enjoy.  This means finding middle ground.  I keep to a writing schedule and I keep track of my royalties as a business should but, in the end, this is still a hobby for me.  So splitting my writing time between beta reading or blogging or fiction is not a failure.  It's what makes it fun.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Why I Write about Elves: Terry Brooks at TEDxRainier

Prolific bestselling author of epic fantasy literature, Terry Brooks shares what inspires him to write, discusses what writers and readers bring to written works, and explores how fantasy literature can be a domain for resolving challenging questions and issues.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Common Writing Mistake: World Building

World building is a tricky subject because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem.  Ask ten writers how they attempt to make their fantasy world rich and immersive and you will probably get ten different answers.  And this is not necessarily a bad thing!  World building is what gives a story its flavor.

When I work on beta reading projects I would say that world building issues usually falls under one of two categories:

1) The Information Dump


2) The Assumption

The information dump is exactly how it sounds.  Instead of creating a rich, sensory experience for the reader in gradual pieces, the author dumps everything the reader needs to know about a character/place into one huge blob of text.  Why is this a problem?  It's boring for one thing.  For another, a huge blob of text does not necessarily enhance the reading experience.  Just because the reader received the explanation once does not mean that he/she will retain all that information.

Readers need to be carefully and constantly reminded of details.  A character who constantly displays a certain mannerism is more memorable than one who had an epic backstory presented once.  With environments the impression the area gives is usually more important than knowing the exact layout.  Having a house feel creepy and abandoned vs. warm and inviting is more relatable information than knowing a house has three rooms, two of them upstairs.

The second category is a little trickier to fix.  "The assumption" is when the author forgets the reader is not in his head.  The result ends up reading something like this:

"Watch out for those zortong.  Everybody knows why we should avoid them."

So while the author gets points for trying to immerse the reader with new terms, the reader is still left confused because there's not enough contextual information to figure out what the heck a zortong is.  The author knows what a zortong is and assumed the reader knows as well.

The reader needs to be clued in to fix the assumption BUT the reader also doesn't need an information dump.  Both evils need to be avoided.  Often assumptions can be fixed with a few choice words.  For example:

"Watch out for those zortongs.  Those animals have a nasty temper.  There's a reason why everyone avoids them."

No information dump, no assuming.  The reader now knows the critical information in order to keep going with the plot without being bogged down by questions.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Review of "Never Chase Space Potatoes with Teenage Girls," a short story by Mack Moyer

Mike takes his dying mother to a desolate island resort, eagerly awaiting his inheritance once the old gal kicks the bucket, then finds himself in the company of a beautiful teenage girl. Naturally, Mike and his new friend are visited by what could only be described as the cutest space potato of all time.

Moyer's short could be summarized with one word: trippy.  Whether or not this works entirely boils down to taste.  A reader could find this story amusing just as easily as he could find it ridiculous.

I found myself favoring the amused side of the spectrum.  It was weird and random but I couldn't help but smile as I read about killer potatoes.  My only gripe was the the story felt just a tad too fluffy.  It would have been nice if it was a little bit more about a bitter son waiting for his mom to die and less about a drug trip.  I feel like it would have made the twist at the end more profound.

Regardless, it's a fun, fast read.

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon.