Monday, August 31, 2009

Book Review: Wicked Lovely

Author: Melissa Marr
Publisher: Harper Collins (April 9, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061214671
ISBN-13: 978-0061214677
My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦


The clash of ancient rules and modern expectations swirl together in this cool, urban 21st century faery tale. Rule #3: Don't stare at invisible faeries. Aislinn has always seen faeries. Powerful and dangerous, they walk hidden in the mortal world, and would blind her if they knew of her Sight. Rule #2: Don't speak to invisible faeries. Now faeries are stalking her. One of them, Keenan, who is equal parts terrifying and alluring, is trying to talk to her, asking questions Aislinn is afraid to answer. Rule #1: Don't ever attract their attention. But it's too late. Keenan is the Summer King and has sought his queen for nine centuries. Without her, summer itself will perish. He is determined that Aislinn will become the Summer Queen at any cost! Suddenly none of the rules that have kept Aislinn safe are working any more, and everything is on the line: her freedom; her best friend, Seth; her life; everything.

High school senior Aislinn tries to go through life as normally as possible, but her life is anything but normal. She can see and hear the dreadful fey that live invisibly alongside oblivious mortals. Aislinn lives in constant fear of being exposed to the fey. Her sighted Gram has instilled rules to never stare at faeries or speak to them and avoid them at all costs because they’ve been known to blind mortals they learn are sighted. Aislinn knows them to be fierce and brutal, so she has no problem following these rules.

Encased in a city of steel she feels somewhat safe since faeries are allergic to hard metals, but something has changed. Various fey have been following her, loitering outside, whispering about her being “the one”. Two of the stalkers especially rattle her. They seem near-impervious to steel, which means they’re likely royalty. One looks like a golden god whose hair resembles strands of sharp copper, and the other, a near-frozen faerie looks so close to death, and is accompanied by a wolf.

Keenan, the Summer King, has spent centuries looking for his Summer Queen to release the bond his mother Beira, the Winter Queen, has placed on his powers. He has seduced mortal after mortal, some choosing to be his immortal Summer Girls, who gain their sustenance from him alone, and others choosing to risk it all for his love, to be declared the Summer Queen. If a girl fails Beira’s test, she becomes her chilled slave, with the sole aim to warn mortals of Keenan’s duplicity. And the frigid Winter Girl of the hour, Donia, still loves Keenan, in spite of the fact the he duped her.

Keenan believes Aislinn is his Summer Queen, that she will finally be the one to pass the test. He just has to convince her of that, but when he’s in his human glamour, she wants nothing to do with him. She loves this mortal, Seth, for one thing, and she won’t stop walking away from him. What will Aislinn choose once he’s able to woo her? He’s certain he can convince her to submit to the test, but the skittish girl he meets finds strength in herself and comes up with her own plan.

The lyrical style was overall nice and easy to read but the characters in Wicked Lovely could have been more fully developed. Aislinn needs more fullness aside from her sight, her relationship with Gram and her crush on Seth. Aislinn is not as flat as other reviewers on Amazon have pegged her. She transforms in the book, going from weak to strong, and that’s the best you can ask of a character.

I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the various types of fey, but the relationships all around only scratched the surface of real love. If this were a stand alone book, I’d feel robbed because the work falls somewhat short of its concept. I know there’s more to be discovered in the series, so I can cut Melissa Marr some slack. I’ve already read Ink Exchange, which I liked better. It delves into more of the faerie court stuff and very little in the real world.

It’s an interesting work anyway. Check it out.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Switching Up Style

I have five POVs in my sequel and I'm at the point where information is spilling out and the threads will begin to come together. Up until now, it has seemed like the stories were barely related, with the simple common thread that the characters were experiencing some kind of weirdness.

For the most part, I have been writing chronologically, except for a few straggling scenes I felt compelled to sketch out when a creative burst hit. Now, I think I'm going to write each POV several scenes ahead, so I can keep track of things better.

If you're working on a larger written work, do you ever switch your style as you're going along? I'm curious to know if and how people adapt their style and method to better flow with inspiration and productivity.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Super Sonic Blast

Almost every writer goes through dry spells where they just don't feel like writing, due to writer's block, disinterest, whatever. And on the flip side, there's also that burst of creativity that has millions of thoughts itching to get out all at once. I'm currently on the flip side.

I have ideas for two more YA novels, which I've written the first chapters for, but I'm still trying to finish my sequel too. Yesterday, I wrote a chapter for Sapphire Reign, that I'm soooo excited about. It just clicked, had the right emotion and correct amount of suspense. I love the way it came out. Love. It.
I'm a just-wing-it kind of writer, not an outliner, not a note carder. And I love when my mind just clicks into super sonic mode. I wish I could be this way all the time and that I also had the ability to work on several books at once like some writers do, but I have a hard time functioning with a splintered focus. I'm not even sure if I'll go with these books, but characters and ideas pressed to be written, so I obeyed the call. I did have fun writing them in my creative burst, but geneally, I like to get one project finished before moving on to the next one. That's just me.
These are just first drafts, but if you want to check out the first chapters for my new ideas, click on my excerpt links and let me know what you think. I'm used to critique, so any feedback is welcome. Both are edgy YA~suspense.

Dropping Like Flies

A month shy of graduation, Kiralyn Jacobs should have the world at her feet, but when she’s chosen as the new keeper of The List and people around her start dropping like flies, she discovers the spinning orb on which we all tread is anything but a step stool. It’s more like a hell…from which there’s no escape…no escape but death. Others before her, much stronger, braver and smarter than she, gave in to self-destruction. As broken as she is, how does she stand a chance and how can she save the one guy she loves from reaching the top and being lost to her forever?

Chapter 1


In 2032, when Zinnia Sorren graduates from a prison-like reform school at the tender age of sixteen and is thrust back into a prickly techno world without a family, money or anything to her name, she offers up the one thing she knows will sell, especially in a society where joy and morality have decayed. In under two years, her dedication to excellence and imp-like beauty rocket her into the secret circles of the most prestigious men on the East side of the Americas and she becomes the most requested doll of delight. Determined to find out who and why someone elected to have her family rounded up and executed in a cleansing camp eight years ago, she hides behind the masks of false identities in order to thrive and uncover the truth. But when one of her clients is murdered in the middle of a trick, she learns her true identity is not as buried as she thought, and the only way to answers is to return to a torturous past she never wants to touch again and to fight against those who have marked her for death.

Chapter 1

What kind of mode are you in? And what do you do with either too much or too little writing energy?

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Why Is Bipolar Disorder So Popular?

Every writer wants to be fresh and different to stand out from the pack in this competitive industry, but using an unhinged narrator or waffling narrative style is NOT the way to go right out of the gate. You need to have a very good grasp of Narratives and adeptness in each before you can use First and Third in one work. With First Person, voice is the most important thing. It's not just transferring He and She to an I perspective; it's about delving in deep and exposing an engaging character, giving readers a more intimate look. To avoid having flat and lifeless drones, you must become a master of voice.

I've read some unpublished works that have a few chapters in First present, then chapters in Third past inserted wherever. Or 95% of the book is Limited and a few sneak peeks go all Omni. Wait. Settle that crazy pen down, Buckaroos. This is jarring to readers. Aim for seamless, easy, functional, entertaining, readable work. If your narration jumps all over the place, it won't be any of those things.

Everything you do as a writer needs to be deliberate and focused. Using fluctuating Narrators is not unheard of but you need to pull back the reigns a bit. Instead of looking unique, you are at risk for coming across as inept and scatterbrained, like you have no clue about perspective. That's not the impression you want to give.

This is an example of a focused, deliberate switch: using a Third Person Frame that connects First Person Vignettes. Say you're writing a book like The Green Mile and want to delve into the head of each character right before execution. With proper transitions, readers will know, okay, each time "Dead man walking!" is called, the story's going to shift into First. Or you could have characters around a campfire sharing freaky real-life stories or alcoholics at an AA meeting or a couple at counselling. The Third Person Narration keeps everything tied together. It works. But just having this chapter Third, the next two First, the next three Third, plus, tense changes is very confusing and jarring. Don't do this, please.

And then there's the head-hopping Narrator that breaks out of its Limited shell suddenly in chapter 5, sneaking in something that's outside the knowledge of the POV character. What? No. You can use a tightly reigned Omniscient Narrator that sticks with one character per scene and interjects commentary here and there that the focus character doesn't know, but this type of Narrator must make its presence known in the first sentence or paragraph of the work.

I just finished Needful Things. Stephen King used an Omniscient Narrator, made it known in chapter 1, but 95 % of the time kept the focus on one scene character. You can vary the degree of intensity into heads or the focus, staying more so with one character or roving constantly. As long as you provide clear transitions and separate new perspectives with new paragraphs, you can generally keep it from being jarring. But you'll need to go fleshy and get extremely deep and with character development so readers will care about the outcome and enage in the story.

With Needful Things, which had dozens of POVs, I struggled to finish those 800 pages because the characters were cardboard and I didn't care. I wanted to see how it resolved, but I didn't care about any of the characters, I didn't care if the villain won in the end. So make the extra effort to make your characters pop off the page with engaging personalities and perspectives.

Random switches whenever you please is unfair. You make a contract with readers in chapter 1 that you're going to tell one kind of story, and any departures from that established mode breach it.

If you're going to do anything unusual, then you need to set patterns and keep a very rigid structure. Alternate every other chapter, for instance, or use First in chapter 1, the next two in Third. First in chapter 4, the next two in Third. Keep yourself locked in to a definite method to avoid confusing your readers. Use good transitions. Give cues that you're about to change gears. This will demonstrate that you know what you're doing and you're not just flying with the wind or riding on a pogo stick, doing whatever you please.

If you really want to be weird and original, then aim for a unique concept instead. Have quirky characters. Take your plot in unexpected directions. Build in some twists. This will get far more attention and recognition than skipping around with haphazard zest ever will. If you're all over the place, you won't look original, you won't look creative, you won't look fresh-faced...just crazy and stupid. And FYI crazy people get much smaller checks. Make sure your Narration is focused and that you're telling the story in the best way possible.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Unlocking the Block

Writing inspiration can come in waves. One day you’re trucking along great, knee-deep in your latest work, spinning out a definite bestseller, and then suddenly, everything hits the skids. Total log jam. Lots of things can cause this to occur. Lack of motivation, fear of writing a scene or that you’re moving in the wrong direction, boredom or a minor character has turned into an obtrusive annoyance and is hogging stage presence and you're exhausted from trying to contain him or her. Once that all-familiar blockage does occur, you can do something besides sit in front of your monitor with an unchurning mind. Here are some things I do to unlock the block.

READ: I find reading books on craft or an engrossing novel easily gets my juices flowing again. Usually, I only have to read a few pages of a novel and can’t continue reading because my writer brain gets the jolt it needed.

JUMP: Sometimes the next scene on our to-do list is the thing that’s causing a snag. I’m currently writing a novel, Sapphire Reign, and it’s so intricate, with multiple plotlines all woven together, so I find myself fighting to stay motivated. It’s a story I want to tell, but in needing to keep it somewhat harnessed so it doesn’t get out of control, I get tired and hit frequent dry spells. The next scene I need to write is something I’m just not feeling at the moment. I’ve been struggling all day to get back into my regimen, despite my sports ban. So, rather than letting it stall me, I’m jumping ahead to a scene I’m more in the mood to write. If you’re a gotta-stick-to-my-outline-or-kill-the-story type, jump to the end of your book, write scenes out of order. Don’t be scared. Mix things up. If you end up with junk, that’s okay, you can just go back to it and try again.

GET MESSY: You can power down and step away from the computer. That’s right. Get yourself a notepad, note cards or a binder and be willing to make a mess. I find when I spend too much time in front of the screen, my creativity can become hindered. So I like to use a manic pad for each long piece I’m working on, a utility drawer of sorts filled with ideas, scribbled notes, character sketches, bits of dialogue, brainstorming lists and scenes. I don’t let anyone touch my pad either. I’m very private about the contents. I don't even let my husband take a peek at my hair-brained ideas, hideous handwriting, misspelled words or story elements out of context. You’re a writer, so pick up a pen and let yourself get messy, yet organized at the same time. You can also take the pad with you when you go out, so when you find inspiration, you can jot down your ideas.

TAKE A BREAK: Usually if I set my work aside, write a poem, have sex, take the kids for ice cream, go for a hike or a run in the rain or whatever, I can come back to it with fresh thoughts. Break away from writing, do things you enjoy or take up new activities and then pick up writing again. Sometimes you just need fresh air or movement or your brain simply needed a rest.

GET IN THE ZONE: Whether you work better on the couch with the kids running all around or tucked away in your personal office, if your zone has lost its mojo, try working in a new space or prep your mind and body for writing in the same way you condition a child for bedtime. Get a routine, or mix yours up. Fix yourself a coffee, cocoa or whatever you like to drink, put on the comfy threads and turn on some music to inspire, even if you have to turn it off while you write. Having scheduled time to write can help. Give yourself some time to find and settle into your zone.

SWITCH IT UP: Write beyond your penchant. Work on short stories, essays, articles or poems and stretch yourself in new directions. You may be stuck in one area, and yet by moving to a new one, you can create a work that fills you with pride and a sense of accomplishment.

EXERCISE: It’s important to exercise your writing chops from time to time, even if you're not experiencing writer's block. There are plenty of writing exercises you can do, to get your drive and fire back. Freewriting is basically brainstorming with a time limit. Get paper and a pen, set the timer to ten minutes and just jot down whatever ideas comes into your mind. Don’t even lift your pen off the paper until the time is up. You may not end up with anything, but this could spark some ideas. Use a writing prompt like: I cried. And just go with it. Find the hidden story in photos or randomly selected words from the dictionary. I wrote a story with random words that I’ll share tomorrow.

I hope some of those ideas help you unlock your block. Keep at it.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Going to the Dark Side

Before sitting down to write any novel, I draft up complete sketches of all my characters with their likes, dislikes, background info, quirks, temperaments, etc. By doing this, I can shift into writing the story and show more, tell less. My characters can jump on stage and be who they are and I don’t try to explain them. If you don’t have fleshed out characters, it doesn’t matter how cool your plot is, no one will care enough to read on and find out about your never-seen-before twists. I’m going to talk about creating great villains because they’re just so much fun to think up and read about.

Epics and character studies show character growth, some big change or a time period I'm supposed to care about, but for me, the most compelling stories have a driving force coming against the protagonist, whether it be some greedy corporation, a massive asteroid on a collision course with earth or a relentless person hell-bent on bringing destruction and chaos to the novel‘s hero. Entra…the antagonist. [Cue Darth Vader‘s theme, because it rocks and makes this particular character seem all the more villainesque.]

Villains can be hidden in the shadows, causing misery behind a mask of obscurity until the very last page or front and center with his or her own perspective, revealing justification at every plot turn. Pure sadism is difficult for readers to believe in because a landslide of evil schemes and desires without good reason backfires and turns your Prince of Darkness into a cartoon. Presenting utter malevolence without motivation means you were lazy and didn’t bother to flesh out your bad guy. Even Hitler, one of the worst monsters in history, had motivations. Societal cleansing. A desire for a stronger Germany. European domination. In his mind his actions were justified, which is how your villain needs to be.

Think of Darth Vader. [Yes, I’m a geek and you can cue the theme music.] Has there ever been a more interesting villain in film? Well, Hannibal Lecter is up there too, but still, Vader’s evil, yet pretty cool. We understand he used to be a good guy, a Jedi, who tried to balance the Force, but succumbed to the dark side. True, we may hold some sympathy for him, but conversely, we don‘t want him to win. George Lucas is often criticized for the newer films he made, but as an artist and writer I can completely understand his use of contrast. The overabundance of Jar Jar Binks aside, Lucas wanted to show the innocent, adventurous young Jedi-to-be, then a glimpse of the man he could've been because we know the outcome and it makes Anakin’s fall to the dark side all the more tragic.

Give your villain a past, interesting facets and ideals, friends, a job, a church home, quirks and reasons for evil doing. You need to find the balance and make your villains credible, logical, and believable, yet not likable. Don’t pull back on your writing or be afraid to get inside your character’s head. Characterization and motivation need to pop to show your antagonist is capable of winning the battle and that the final outcome is anyone‘s game. That kind of uncertainty heightens suspense and gives you the perfect opportunity to showcase your hero's strengths and weaknesses by contrast.

You can make your villain a twisted reflection of your hero, both owning the same core qualities but being bent in different ways. Take Hannibal Lecter and Clarice. They’re both analytical, methodical, brilliant, never impetuous--everything must be thought out before action is taken, yet they're polar opposite in proclivity.
When you’re writing stories with a mystery thread, the villain is often unknown. Then you can look for ways to hint at evil beneath the surface to throw any character into question. The guy who’s toooo nice. The obvious suspect you just can’t read, likable sometimes, deplorable the rest. The jilted old flame, the bizarre new worker in the office, the societal outcast, the nosy neighbor, the know-it-all postman. You can also use prejudice, a reader’s inclination to make assumptions about people, to your advantage. Secret villains need to be equally enthralling, maybe more so than exposed ones. And still, provide motivation in the end.

A great way to bring some facets to your villains is to look at evil itself. Evil can be subtle, beautiful, seductive, frightening, complex, suffocating, confusing, witty, cunning. Build and draw various shades of evil. The Phantom of the Opera. Scary, but sexy and alluring, intoxicating, nearly irresistible. Your villain will appear more intriguing if you show various sides of his or her particular brand of evil. Make it unique. The better the villain, the better the hero, the better the story. Keep at it...and use the Force.

~Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.