Workshop Help: Information vs. Perspective

I recently realized I hadn’t updated my Volume 1 info page. Whoops. Fixed that.

As I mentioned before, I’ve been dragging my heels in my writing a bit because I signed up for some online writing workshops.

“Do those really help?”

Yes and no. There’s always the stuff you already know from experience, the stuff you’ve already researched, and the stuff you can’t figure out how to assimilate. The farther along you are in your writing, the more narrowed your focus. For instance, I now know that I am writing an antihero (as opposed to a Prince Charming or an epic hero), and my Fantasy story’s plot decided it wants to be a Romance. So every time I read advice about what a hero should and shouldn’t have, and what they should and shouldn’t do, I’m seeing it through a Romance/Antihero lens. I take some things, and I toss the rest. What to take vs. what to toss is the pivotal question. My male counterpart is an Antihero, he’s discreetly muscled and slimly built, and I loathe irrelevant book covers, so I automatically dismiss the idea of having a book cover image depicting a headless muscly chest, and I’m going to ignore any advice on how to make him extra-fluffy lovable. On the other hand, he’s damaged with a past, I want readers to be sympathetic, and I’ve got to get my heroine (and my readers) to fall for him. So I’m more than happy to take advice about how to write in his sexy quirks every couple lines, and build questions and intrigue through his actions and reactions.

Information is what is helpful in these workshops. It’s authors handing you tools. It’s social connections. And it’s awareness of your contemporaries and the current book market.

Perspective is a totally different issue. The best perspective help I’ve had volunteered actually comes from readers in the genre, down to the subgenre and the sub-subgenre. There’s no substitute for it. Readers intrinsically know what they’re looking for in a subgenre—or rather, they can tell whether what they’re looking for is or isn’t present. Some readers will just drift away if they feel your story is lacking. But other readers will leave a line or two—or even a few paragraphs—if they know you’re interested in what they have to say.

So I’d like to say “thank you” to those readers who reviewed my most recent chapter, and those who have reviewed my story in the past. Also, a special “thank you” to those readers who reviewed multiple versions of my story. It is your comments I keep in mind when I revise, and when I try to figure out where to write to next. It is your comments that I use to write myself out of corners. And your comments have helped make me a better writer. Don’t think that your one little nay-saying comment is not heard inside a bunch of yay’s, or vice versa. I know I have cut scenes some of you liked, but don’t think I’ve deleted them. They’re still here, waiting to be added back in.

That being said, I am slowly realizing that all of my focus on the “right” ways to do things in order to get published has both helped and stunted my writing. I’ve been outlining and re-outlining, trying to figure out where to go next. That’s necessary, at certain stages. But I’m looking at two more events before the end of the second book, and realizing my writing went so much faster when I just free-wrote. Sure, I wrote myself into a bunch of corners. Sure, I had a bunch of adverbs and repetitive sentence structures. But I also chalked scenes full of emotion and used them as catalysts for unexpected plot turns…and I did it without hardly thinking about it. I just followed my pen. The next revision I have in mind for my manuscript is actually way closer to my original plot ideas, because my story has taken on a life of its own and thus far I have opted to blindly follow it, into whatever unexpected turmoil my pen may lead. I’m not sure which is better to publish: the original plot, or the raw, character-charged emotional turns of events. But with the end of the second book finally taking shape, I think I might just throw myself into it. After all, that’s where all the limes are going to hit the fan.

The second event at the end of this book, I was actually considering moving to the end of the first book. But now I’m not so sure. I guess I’ll figure it out after it’s written. After all, no matter which order events fall in for these two books, events in the next portion of the story should progress the same.

I don’t know if I will go right into writing and posting the next book after I finish Book 2. I might, if I have momentum. But it seems like a great breaking point for revisions.

Anyway, I’m finishing up a Male P.O.V. workshop by Sascha Illyvich (previously entitled “Inside the Male Mind”). I’m starting in on a Romance Writers of America workshop called “Killer Openings” by Alexa Bourne, which should help with the revisions I’ve been toying with for the beginning of my series. I’m also attending a one-night class on publishing and a seminar about characters this month. After those, my two-month workshop madness will be complete. It’s quite the marathon, and it can be difficult to switch back and forth between question mode, social mode, revision mode, and writing mode. Who knew authors had to be such multi-taskers? But after that, it should slow down…and my writing should pick back up. Theoretically.

Chapter 12 is underway; don’t think I’ve forgotten about it just ’cause I’m in a workshop frenzy. I’ve spent a lot of time mulling it over, attempting outlines, and brainstorming specific prospective scenes. I’m being careful, because recent discussions about bondage and alphas has helped me see how important it is that I handle the details of Lord Alonza’s party the right way. Rome may be dominant, but it is very important that you (my dear readers) see that his brand of dominance distinguishes itself that of the corrupt nobility—that they’re about a lot of things that he’s not. I believe the best way to do that is to stick Rome in a noble-dominant situation, and contrast his desires (and how he handles them) within the same situation.

I should warn you, though: Some bad crap is going to happen to Labriella. And, Sheryl, you’re right; Labriella has been growing more timid. But, if I play my cards right, the aftermath of said “bad crap” is going to change that. ;)

So stay tuned!

Frostbite: Graduating High School with a Frosty Touch

Frostbite (Touch of Frost, #1)Frostbite by Lynn Rush (Touch of Frost #1)
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My Summary:
Amanda’s mother had super-strength, and the ability to create and manipulate ice, snow, and sleet—abilities she passed on to her daughter, but not her son. The organization that experimented on Amanda’s mom, and eventually murdered her, is out to capture and study Amanda too…or possibly kill her if she won’t comply. Every time the scientists’ henchmen find Amanda and her brother Scott, the siblings flee and have to start over again in a new town. Except this time, Amanda has a best friend and a potential boyfriend, and her brother has a girlfriend, so neither one wants to leave. They resolve to stay as long as they can, and fight for their new small-town life. But some of the people around them aren’t who they pretend to be, and Amanda’s hard-to-control emotion-driven powers are escalating with her raging hormones and stress level. If Amanda and Scott choose to stay and fight for their newfound happiness, can they really win?

My Thoughts:
There is death-by-freezing in this novel, and Amanda’s parents did die a brutal death, but the teenage voice of the story keeps it from reading like angst or tragedy. However, that same teenage tone gave me the feeling of all relationships (other than sibling) being transitory—like they were important and desired, but were just as easily ditched as adopted. That annoyed me. But maybe that’s just a personality preference. Or maybe that’s what you’re supposed to feel, because that’s how Amanda’s would-be boyfriend feels.

The premise of this story sets up the reader to be suspicious of all characters, so I felt just as unsure who to root for as the characters are uncertain who to trust. I kept waiting for everyone to not be who they said they were. It’s beautifully written suspense, but it made it very difficult for me to buy into the sweetness of Amanda’s budding romance, and the “coincidence” of that romance beginning just as everything began to hit the fan.

The powers were very well orchestrated, with emphasis on the emotions that trigger the powers, and what the powers actually feel like. As the reader, you discover the extent of those powers along with the characters, and can almost imagine the ice growing along your own arm. Impressive.

A surprising theme in this story is love between siblings. Most of the book consists of siblings banding together and taking care of one another. It’s endearing, but it can get irritating when you keep waiting for the romance to go somewhere and you end up with “I can’t”s and sibling care instead.

I wasn’t really reading this story for the sci-fi part, but it does lend credibility to the existence of freezing powers, and adds a sense of urgency to all the happenings in the story. Information about the powers and the organization at large is gradually revealed throughout, but it’s not until the big blowout at the end that the sciencey stuff was presented in a way that really mattered to me. The rest of the time were just teases based on flashbacks and fear.

Consensus:
The story is an interesting read, and the powers are well-handled. It’s a nice, comfortable story with a fluffy romance. But if you’re looking for a high-speed sci-fi chase with a kickass boyfriend, this isn’t it.

I personally needed to feel more depth and permanency. And I needed reassurance that Zack wasn’t a plant, and Jasmine wasn’t a conniving bitch. But my tastes in reading are a bit darker, and I don’t really buy into WAFF that doesn’t have internal relational problems built in. More lighthearted readers will probably buy in, and love this story. To them, I say, “More power to ya!” ;)

View all my reviews

New Chapter: Training for Trouble!

I just typed up the 11th chapter of volume 2 today! That’s right folks: “Training for Trouble” is now posted on FictionPress!

Don’t be confused by which chapter is new; I changed the title of chapter 10 from “I See You” to “The Agony of Beds.” The former was always meant as a temporary title, until I thought of a better one. Chapter 11, “Training for Trouble,” is the new chapter.

Rome hands Labriella over to the tavern wench, to be trained how to survive Lord Alonza’s party. But Labriella soon learns that what the prostitute is really teaching her is how to seduce Rome. Can she really take instruction from the prostitute who has gotten too cozy with Rome? Or will her prejudice and jealousy get in the way?

Go read it to find out!

Story Progress: Mixed Basket

Woohoo! I just finished writing chapter 11! Alright, so it’s not completely typed up yet; that’s the next stage. But it’s written! Yay!

I’m also partway into my rewrite of chapter 2 in volume 1. I admit I’m still moving parts around on my rewrite of chapter 1; I can never seem to get the opening just right. But I think I’ve finally found my opening lines:

No ward shall leave the temple, unless expressly instructed by their superior.

Most wards probably thought this rule was meant to encourage new maidens to settle into their new home—to leave behind their noble families and embrace their new role.

They were wrong. This rule was made for people like me.

This way, I have a hook in my first line, and it’s the catalyst for everything that is to come. I cite the rule, and all that follows is what happened this one time when the rule was broken—or rather, when the stipulation at the end of the rule got in the way. This will keep the opening in Labriella’s perspective. After these lines, the question is how much to show of a normal day in the temple, or whether I should just start with the bullying and lead straight into Mistress Healer’s errand.

The other current question in my rewrite of chapter 2 is what to do after Rome saves Labriella from the men who try to rape her. Rome kills all the men, and disappears back into the forest. Labriella doesn’t know her savior is Rome; it’s too dark, and his appearance is altered. Should she run after him, like she did when she got lost in the forest all those years ago? If so, then should he scare her away, or turn her away? Allow her to hide out in the forest, or take her back to his house? Should he have been living in his house all this time, or does he only return to give her a safe place to stay?

Or should Labriella stumble away from the carnage, back to the village? There she can get taken in for the night by a common family, and then make her way to the inn in the morning—the condensed version of some things I already wrote.

I kind of like the idea of her running after Rome better. But if she follows him home, how does Rome’s noble heritage come into play?

If I dealt solely with the temple runaway issue and the lovebirds’ reunion in the first book, and left the noble heritage dealings until the second book…would the first book have a plot?

Uggh, so many questions. >_<

In the meantime, I’m attending an online workshop called “New Kid on the Block: A Guide to Writing New Adult,” put on through Maryland Romance Writers with Chanel Cleeton as the instructor. There are precious few of such New Adult (NA) resources available (at least that I have been able to find), so I jumped on this opportunity to receive feedback on whether or not my story is actually NA–even though it meant joining the group late.

I signed up for another online writing workshop this week, called “Inside the Male Mind.” It’s through Colorado Romance Writers, and it’s about writing from a male character’s perspective. I look forward to the insight on how to make Rome’s P.O.V.  more authentically masculine.

I also joined a Critique Connection group, organized by Janice Hardy over at Fiction University. But after joining the Fantasy Faction, I realized that although I would absolutely love to critique other fantasy writers’ works, my manuscript might not fall enough under the Fantasy umbrella for it to qualify. What I probably need is a Paranormal Romance group. It ruffles my feathers a little, because my story does not take place in the real world, as so many other paranormal romances do. But the reality is that my plot is strongly romance-based, and I feel a bit timid about asking fantasy writers to critique my romance. They’re awesome, but fantasy writing comes at plot orchestration from a different angle.

I feel like such a mixed basket right now.

Ah well. The good news that I hope you take out of all this is that I am actively taking steps to better my story (including all the endless hours of outlining attempts that I have not yet mentioned), and I should have my next chapter out in the next couple days if all goes well with typing.

Going Down in Flames: Harry Potter for Dragons

Going Down in FlamesGoing Down in Flames by Chris Cannon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Summary:
Just before her sixteenth birthday, Bryn finds out that she is a mixed breed dragon, and will be required to attend dragon school. It also turns out that the most powerful man in the Directorate (the dragon governing body) is the man Bryn’s mother ran away from to marry Bryn’s father. Against her will, Bryn goes away to dragon school, where she is thought to be a genetic impossibility at best, an abomination (to be destroyed) at worst. There she must learn the rules of dragon society, and who she can trust.

The dragons seem to exist alongside humans (though that’s not always their preference), but have a society all their own. The bulk of this story takes place in a setting reminiscent of Harry Potter, with a faraway school and a nearby small shopping town that is aware of the dragon community.

My Thoughts:
I really enjoyed the interactions between characters in this story, but to a large degree those interactions revolve around food, so prepare to be hungry! The main character eats a ridiculous amount, and though that is explained away as dragon metabolism (and possibly power and ability expenditure), she far out-eats every other dragon – so much so that eating becomes a part of her character. So you if you don’t like salivating over food, this might not be the story for you. But Bryn’s love of food does play into at least one major plot development, so it’s not without its reasons.

I was a little surprised that so much of this story revolved around everyday school life. It was handled well, even down to the subjects taught in class. But because of the school setting, there was almost no contact with the outside world; Bryn’s parents and friend Beth never showed up again after the beginning of the story. This is understandable, given the situation. However, I was waiting to see how Bryn would balance the tension between the outside world and the dragon world, and the idea of coexisting in between. I felt like this never happened.

Bryn immediately takes a moral stance against arranged marriages and the affairs they produce in dragon society. On the other hand, she is easily swayed by her crush’s assurance that he will find a way to break off his unwanted engagement. And Bryn has no problem accepting gifts from the would-be benefactor she turned down. That shakes a bit of my faith in Bryn as a reasonable character. But maybe this is just her optimism showing through?

Overall, the book was very well written, with a nice twist toward the end. I felt like the loose ends were neatly wrapped up in the ending, while still leaving room for the story to continue into another book. The characters are likable, and the bullies are enough to make the reader nervous. The ideas of benefactors, mistresses, and mates after graduation definitely appeal to an older teen audience (or people in their twenties), and did not make me feel like I was reading a Teen book. But those things are only explored as ideas, and no romance in the book is beyond a couple brief kisses. And those hints at more adult concepts are strongly offset by the strict high school setting.

I do wish there were a few more “curve balls” thrown at me. I love unforeseen twists and turns, and I felt like I mostly got that at the beginning and the end of the story. I could have used a few more loops or corkscrews in the middle.

Consensus:
I would definitely recommend this book as a refreshing new approach to dragons and a brilliant blending of fantasy with real-world problems. But do not be surprised if there are more school scenes with spark-snorting tempers, than actual dragon scenes. And have a snack on-hand.

Joined an Online Writing Workshop!

I know I’ve been a bit MIA lately. There are a couple things going on:

  1. I’m searching for a new job. I would REALLY like to do something different.
  2. I just joined an online writing workshop put on by romance author Jeffe Kennedy, through Outreach International Romance Writers—my first-ever writing workshop! The subject is “Sex as a Tool for Character Transformation,” which sounds very unique as a focus (as compared to the books that I’ve flipped through about writing romance). I’m already getting a lot of my questions answered that don’t have to do with sex, so I’m looking forward to learning so much more once we get into the thick of this topic.

But don’t worry! I’m still doing some actual fiction writing. In fact, I just wrote 10 new pages of my story today.

Wondering what’s happening in chapter 11 so far?

Rome takes Labriella to the tavern wench, who in turn takes her “home” to train her. Labriella is no prodigy, and she has plenty of reservations and self-confidence issues standing in the way of her learning how to “walk the walk” and “talk the talk” needed to survive the next noble event—not to mention she seems to lack the natural grace she is encouraged to emulate. But if she is going to be convincing to the other nobles, she has to first convince Rome. And before she convinces Rome, she must first believe herself that she is attractive, that she can outsmart the nobles, and that she can seduce Rome.

Looking Back on My Work

facepalm_polarbearAuuugh, the agony.

Okay, I’m being melodramatic. But do you ever feel accomplished at how far you’ve come, and then look back on your work at the beginning…and groan? Because you’re proud of where you are, but you won’t ever be done when you feel like you’re done, because of that THING in the beginning! It blazes forth like a red flag—like an atrocity. Because now, this far down the line, you can see what’s wrong with it. And once you see it for its true shape, you can’t unsee the flaws.

Originally when I started writing my Beauty and the Beast story, I was experimenting with first person, and with a more abrupt style of writing designed to pack a punch with every line. As a detailed person who always narrated in third person omniscient, what I was attempting was quite the challenge.

When I revised the story, I had just taken two British Literature college courses, and the style that flowed out beneath my pen strongly reflected my recent flowery, contemplative reading material.

Now I’m doing the face-palm again, because after reading so many articles about writing, and after rereading some descriptive adult fiction books that are on my forever-favorites list, I finally see what all those bloggers and instructional authors meant about “overdoing it.” “Purple prose, they called it. Whatever; the name sounds stupid to me, and like most stupid-sounding things, I dismissed it at the time. But now I can see it, and it makes me want to rend my garments in angst.

Right. Melodrama. Ahem.

I’ve got to say, in light of this revelation, I am rather humbled that so many of you—my readers—have stuck with me for so long. My revisions may have made my story better, but I still have a long way to go. I’m much closer now to the writing style I want to present to the world as my own, but I wouldn’t be surprised if an agent or publisher turned my manuscript away based solely on the beginning.

But I really like this story—and I think a lot of you do too, which is why you have stuck with the story even through my long update delays and my sweeping-scale revisions. So I’m gonna roll up my sleeves, and dive back into the muddy mess that I’ve made…and try to pull out that true story that you’re all sticking around for.

If I were going to make a New Year resolution, I suppose that would be it. But as a child I developed this horrible habit of never following through on my New Year resolutions. So I’m not going to jinx it. ;)