Friday, August 1, 2014

First Impressions - Jaguar

Can someone tell me why Summer seems to fly by? I can't believe it's August 1st already. Anyway, you know what that means; it's time for First Impressions, whereby author Dianne Salerni and I critique your first page. Today we have the first page from Carl Hackman's YA Contemporary Fantasy, JAGUAR. This is Carl:

And this is the first page of JAGUAR:

Her eyes of fire burned through the darkness, fuelled (sp) by hatred so intense the very center of her soul was a furnace.
     Valaria’s amber coat rippled in the moonlight as she glared through the mesh of her enclosure. A low, threatening growl rose from deep inside her chest. She paced up and down the perimeter, the frustration of her bondage clearly visible to anyone who might be watching. (I actually remember seeing a cat like this once at a 'zoo.' I was horrified that anyone would keep a cat like that in those conditions.) Aurelius, her mate, lay at the back, near the entrance. His pain wracked form shuddered; each breath sending spasms through his body. No amount of licking could stem the flow of his life’s blood ebbing from the wound inflicted by his keeper earlier that day. (you are going to punish the keeper at some point, right? Please?)
     ‘Don’t let our cubs be born in captivity, Valaria,’ he whispered, consciousness slipping away from him. ‘My time is near but you need to escape to ensure our young are born free.’
     Valaria patrolled her prison, her gaze alternating between the only thing she loved and the vast expanse of freedom just outside her reach.
     Aurelius had told her to escape, but how?
     He had said he wanted the new life growing within her to be born free. She could see no way to make his wish come true. All she could see was a lifetime of captivity ahead, for both her and her unborn offspring.
     Her attention snapped back to Aurelius as her mate’s final, shuddering, breath left his body. Her roar of anguish echoed through the countryside, sending startled birds into flight and animals scurrying for cover.

***

My first thought is that this is an emotional and compelling opening. Valeria's mate his been killed by their keeper and Valeria needs to escape before her cubs are born so they can be free.How can she possibly achieve this? I assume they are in some sort of zoo and knowing that the cages are kept locked, I wonder how Valeria will accomplish this, too, and I would keep reading to find out. I am, however, curious about the YA contemp/fantasy label. If Valeria and her quest is the main story, I'm not sure how YA it will be, but that's just me and I'm just a reader. Maybe it doesn't have to be labeled as YA. There was a great book by Tad Williams called Tailchaser's Song which also featured cats (domestic/feral cats as opposed to big cats) and I think it was simply labeled fantasy. But I digress! Bottom line, I think this is a great first page and I hope Valeria eats the keeper on page two...

Readers, what do you think of this first page?





Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cars

I don't know why, but I've always loved cars. I'm not a fanatic; I don't know the make and model of every car I see, but I know what I like and I have my favorites. Like this:


or this:

Anyway. I was thinking the other day about how much cars have changed just since I've been driving. For example, this was my first car:


Of course, my car didn't quite look as nice as that one but I also got to drive this baby around:


This was my boyfriend's car and since he didn't have a license, guess who got to drive? His was a shade lighter than the blue curtains above and in mint condition - unlike my poor Impala. I've also driven some not so memorable cars like the Toyota Carina (which no one has ever heard of):


I learned to drive a standard on that car. And then there was the  Ford Escort Wagon:



OMG, can you say ugly? Add unreliable. I hated that car. But after that I got my one and only brand spanking new vehicle: an F-150.




That isn't my truck, but it looks exactly like it, right down to the color. Man, I loved that truck, washed it every weekend, inside and out...*sigh*

Anyway. One of my next cars was a 1984 Bonneville, which was a horrible gas guzzler to boot, but actually one of the best purchases I ever made. $1400 and I hardly put any money into it AND it never left me stranded.


The S-10 Blazer I had was another great car, and 4-wheel drive, which is a great thing to have here in Maine as you might imagine.



After that I had a horrible Dodge equivalent that spent more time in the shop than on the road after which I bought a more reliable vehicle, which I still drive today, my ever faithful Toyota Rav4:





Mine is a dark red and like my Bonneville, has never left me stranded. She is getting old, though...


But let's not dwell on sad things. Instead, we'll end on a happy note, with pictures of the two cars I'd like to have sitting in my driveway.


2010 F-150



1967 Shelby gt500

My heart is fluttering just thinking of it.



Do you like cars?



Monday, July 28, 2014

Interview with author M.J. Fifield

Today I am thrilled to have author M.J. Fifield here to answer a few questions about just released book Effigy and a few other things.


1. Where did the idea for Effigy come from?

Between my sophomore year of high school and my sophomore year of college, I wrote a series of eight fantasy novellas, and the story was most definitely finished by the end of the eighth. The problem was that I didn't want to leave the world nor the characters that I had created. Then the summer before my junior year of college, Effigy's main character, Haleine Coileáin popped into my head and wouldn't get out. Originally, Effigy was meant to be a prequel, but Haleine completely took over—as my characters tend to do—and changed absolutely everything. Effigy was no longer a prequel, but rather the first in a new series, and my eight novellas became history.

2. Ha! I can relate to characters taking over! What was the easiest part of writing this book?

Well, the page numbering went pretty smoothly after that little Microsoft paper clip guy (who quite possibly doesn't exist anymore and I've just severely dated myself) explained how it worked to me. But on a slightly more serious note, I'd say the dialogue was probably the easiest part. That has always been rather straightforward for me.

3. The hardest?

Naming characters generally gives me a hard time. Usually, my characters go through two or three names before I find the one I like. And occasionally, they end up with names like "Mercenary Guy" or "Insert Name Here" because I'm just that creative.

4. I'm picky about names, too. What did you learn from writing the book?

I learned that plotting out a story ahead of time isn't necessarily the worst thing in the world. I used to be a hard core pantser but through the course of putting this book out in the world, I have evolved into a soft core plotter. I'm sure hard core plotting is just around the corner. It's pretty addictive. If you're me, anyway.

5. What are you working on now?

I am working on Effigy's sequel, Second Nature, the second book in the Coileáin Chronicles.

6. Is there any other profession you might want other than 'writer'?

I've always wanted to be an international ass-kicking secret agent/super spy ( à la Emma Peel or Sydney Bristow). That, or a concert pianist. Or a Broadway actress.

7. I loved Emma Peel! Guilty Pleasure?

Pinterest. For some reason, I feel I must pin all the things. It's a huge time suck, and I always feel guilty after a massive pinning spree. Also, cake.

8. First car?

My first car was an 80's Pontiac Grand Am. It was brown, very ugly, and you didn't need a key to start it. It turns out that you didn't need a key to start it because it had been stolen (not by me) from some woman in Connecticut (sorry about that), and I had unknowingly purchased it from a used car dealer who went out of business shortly after this information came to light. Oops.

9. Last book read?

I just finished Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater. That woman's work rocks my world. Seriously, I would read her grocery lists. I bet they're awesome.

I love Maggie Stiefvater, too; she's amazing.

***



http://www.amazon.com/Effigy-Coile%C3%A1in-Chronicles-M-Fifield/dp/0996107401/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406206891&sr=1-2&keywords=effigy


The survival of a once-mighty kingdom rests in the hands of its young queen, Haleine Coileáin, as it slowly succumbs to an ancient evil fueled by her husband’s cruelty. 
A sadistic man with a talent for torture and a taste for murder, he is determined to burn the land and all souls within. Haleine is determined to save her kingdom and, after a chance encounter, joins forces with the leader of the people’s rebellion. She gives him her support, soon followed by her heart. 
Loving him is inadvertent but becomes as natural and necessary as breathing. She lies and steals on his behalf, doing anything she can to further their cause. She compromises beliefs held all her life, for what life will exist if evil prevails? 
Her journey leads to a deceiving world of magic, monsters, and gods she never believed existed outside of myth. The deeper she goes, the more her soul is stripped away, but she continues on, desperate to see her quest complete. If she can bring her husband to ruin and save her people, any sacrifice is worth the price—even if it means her life.


Want to know more about MJ? You can find her at My Pet Blog. Interested in her book? Click on the pic to buy :)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Scarlet


On the last Friday of the month The Cephalopod Coffee House hosts a book club  in which we talk about a book we've read. Today I'm going to talk about the book, Scarlet by Marissa Meyers.

I read the first book in The Lunar Chronicles, Cinder, a while back, and I really enjoyed the mix of fairy tales and androids and cyborgs so when I saw Scarlet at my local library I snatched it up and devoured in a matter of days. I loved Cinder in the first book and I quickly came to love Scarlet in the second. More secrets are revealed about the Lunar Queen and her awfulness and there were more discoveries about Cinder and how she became  who she is. I particularly loved Cinder's new partner in crime, Captain Thorn who totally reminded me of Han Solo with his quick quips and attitude. Forget Kai, I wanted to tell Cinder, go live happily ever with Thorne! But of course, there is no happily ever after for Cinder or Scarlet (who discover an interesting connection between them) at least not yet...

If you liked Cinder, you'll like Scarlet just as much and if you haven't started The Lunar Chronicles I highly recommend you do so. I can't wait to read book three...Cress.



Monday, July 21, 2014

An important public service announcement


My apologies for not offering much in the way of anything new, but I've been completely wrapped up in revisions. I do however have two fun posts planned: one being the latest installation of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse on July 25 in which we talk about a book we've read, and two being an interview with MJ Fifeld from My Pet Blog on July 28.

First Impressions will be back per usual at the beginning of August and Dianne and I have one opening left. If you want your first page critiqued by two published authors, check out the sidebar for the FAQs.

Meanwhile, I will continue to visit as best I can while I address the remaining issues in my latest endeavor* (I'm down from 57 to 7 fixes, woohoo!!!). Then I can get down to the nit-picky stuff like over-used words and passive sentences and missing/wrong punctuation. After that, it might just be ready for readers...

How are you doing? What are you working on?


* PEACE & FORGIVENESS




Friday, July 11, 2014

Once upon a time...


I imagine a lot of you are familiar with this show but I only have Netflix streaming which means I'm usually late to all the games. But really, it's just as well or else I'd never get any writing done. Anyway, I'm still on Season One but here's a few things I think the show does well. If you watch let me know if you agree but no spoilers please!

The Good:

1. It's a fairy tale! What could be better than that? Oh, right, a twisted fairy tale! Perfect.

2.Characters to love/hate. You gotta have them and this does, beginning with Henry (who almost makes me want more kids), Snow White (played flawlessly by Ginnifer Goodwyn and is she fucking cute as hell or what? And I mean that in a nice way, not nauseatingly cutesy cute, but cute like a kitten you must save), Prince Charming (played by Josh Dallas who is most definitely charming), and of course, the Evil Queen Regina, played silkily by Lana Parilla.

3. Lots of questions/mysteries/conflict. These, of course, keep the plot moving forward and I love how the writers twist the stories of well-known characters like Cindarella and Jiminy Cricket and then show their mirror images in the town of Storybrook (and man, I WISH there was a Storybrook, Maine because I would've sold my house and moved there years ago!).

4. The Unknown, ie, Rumplestiltskin. Mind you I'm still in Season One but I have no idea what he wants. I like unpredictable. It keeps me interested.

The Not so Good:

1. Rumplestiltskin. Although I find his character interesting and unpredictable, Robert Carlyle (or the writers) really needs to tone him down a bit - imo. And let me just state for the record I happen to like Robert Carlyle; he was awesome in Trainspotting and The Full Monty, but I think Rumple would be much more sinister if he wasn't so over the top in the fairy tale parts. He's much better as Mr. Gold in Storybook.

2. The Fairies. The scenes with the fairies are my least favorite because...well, they're just plain ridiculous, especially in the episode I recently watched where they were making like warriors and dropping fairy dust bombs. I'm sorry but, no warrior would ever wear the outfits these fairies wear and I suspect, no self-respecting fairy would either!

Do you watch Once Upon a Time? What do you think of the show?


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

First Impressions - Running Verse


My Photo
Our final First Impression for July comes from Manju Howard who blogs at Share Writing Ideas.  This is the first page of her MG novel, RUNNING VERSE, and do go see what Dianne Salerni thought of this page here.


Running Verse

            When the whistle blows, I dash to the girls’ locker room. I hate wearing the school approved white t-shirt and orange gym shorts. Changing back into my black clothes is a relief.
            Are they watching me? I glance over both shoulders. Five girls gab in the opposite corner.
            I dive into my book bag and pull out a canvas sack. Today’s loot includes a toothbrush, toothpaste and three-pounds of mixed nuts. I twitch like a nervous bunny. The sack slips out of my hand and thuds on the hard floor.
            “Are you okay?”
            I spin around to find the new girl. She hovers so close that I feel her exhale in my face. Taking a step back, the locker door slaps against my side. That hurt.
            “Yeah. Fine,” I reply. We stare at the sack lying between us.
            I yank it off the floor and my not-so-new toothbrush falls out. She looks down at the brush, which slid next to the heel of her shoe. For a second I think she’ll pick it up and hand it to me. But she inches away like the bristles might bite.
            I bend down and stretch out my arm to retrieve the thing that I will never stick in my mouth again. Turning toward the open locker, I toss my sack inside and fling the gross toothbrush on top. Then slam the metal door shut.
            The new girl gasps. She must think I’m crazy. “Sorry. Hi. How are you? Okay?”
            She raises her eyebrows. “I’m Brook – It’s really Brooklyn. But I figure new school, new name. Right? It’s like a do-over. I mean no one here knows me.”
            As I wiggle my socked feet into pre-tied sneakers, my head bobs in agreement.
            Brook continues chatting about her new bedroom, her new house and her dad’s new job.
            The locker room has cleared out. I check the time on my cell phone. I’m late.
             Brook unclips her hair and a zillion beaded braids bounce around her face. Her perfect complexion is a shade darker than my olive skin.
            Leaning toward me, Brook whispers, “What’s in the sack?”
            What should I tell her? Nothing. I’m not sharing my screwed up life with anyone. Okay, remain calm. She seems nice. “I’m Samantha. I’ll see you around.”
            “Sam, what are you hiding?”
            I choke on saliva that magically appears in my mouth.
***

My thoughts:
Are they watching me? Who are the 'they' referred to? The girls gabbing in the corner? Or someone else?
Today’s loot... I assume Sam stole this stuff, but from who? And why? I want to know more about this. It feels important and knowing a little more about it here might help me connect better with Sam.
"I'm Brook - It's really Brooklyn..." I wonder if Brook would actually give out the rest of the info (beyond her name) or just leave it at the name, assuming she really does want a do-over. If she does want a do-ver, then maybe she would offer the rest of the info later, after she and Sam are better friends. Or, maybe Brook is the sort of person who shares right away; maybe she's hoping to make a friend.
I’m not sharing my screwed up life... And just what kind of a screwed up life does Sam have? I definitely want to know more about that!
I choke on saliva that magically appears in my mouth. The word magically feels off here. Saliva doesn't magically appear; there's a reason for it, either nerves or a taste or something.

My first impression is that while there are some interesting questions raised on this first page, none of it draws me in quite enough. I think the loot is the most interesting of all because it tells us that Sam steals stuff, but not why. I'm not sure if the why should be revealed yet but I think elaborating a little more about the loot would go a long way toward helping the reader connect with Sam. Especially the three pounds of nuts. What's up with that?! My suggestion would be to give us a little more internal dialogue from Sam to show how she's feeling. Is she pleased with her loot? Did she intend to steal those particular items? And if so, what made her choose them? This could reveal a lot about Sam (without necessarily giving things away that need to be revealed a little later) and thus connect the reader to the main character.

Now, what do you guys think? Agree? Disagree? Have any suggestions/comments you care to share?

Monday, July 7, 2014

First Impressions - Ninja Squirrels of the One Hundred Acre Wood


Our second First Impression comes from Mike Hays.
You can find Mike here, and to see what author Dianne Salerni thought of this first page, head over to her place. Here is page one of Ninja Squirrels of the One Hundred Acre Wood, Book One, an MG fantasy.


“The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.”
-Japanese Proverb

I. The Wood, Bees, and a Bear
Chapter 1
     It was one of those beautiful days when all seems good in the world. The sun filtered through the trees and, in the open meadow, the rays danced along the waves of grass. Two black squirrels ran down a gravel bank toward a lazy creek, one chasing after the other. The leader's tail swished and bounced in the bright sunshine as it bounded to the edge of the creek and jumped to a gray stone several feet off the bank. The squirrel hopped from stone to stone over the water until it reached the other side.
The second squirrel followed across the smooth stones of the creek bed and onto the opposite shore, where both squirrels raced toward a thick wood. They spiraled up a tree trunk and jumped to a branch of the adjoining tree, racing in the branches across the canopy. The second squirrel matched each twist, turn, and leap with near perfect precision. From tree to tree, they moved with grace and ease until they reached the last tree at the edge of the wood.
The first squirrel dove down the trunk and bounded into an open field of tall grass. It stopped just past the edge of the tree's shadow line and hid in the thick, deep grass. As the bushy black tail disappeared into the grass, its black head popped up and scanned the open ground. The squirrel looked across the meadow at a grove of pine trees with a single oak tree in the middle. The second squirrel move alongside.
“By the way, I’m Konran, Kon to my friends,” the lead squirrel said, swinging its tail around and tapping the other squirrel on the shoulder.
The second squirrel repeated the tail tap. “I’m Kuji.”
Kon looked Kuji up and down. “Master Jonin says you’re the one,” he said with a wary look.
Kuji shrugged. “I don’t know nothing about any of that. This is where I was told to go at the Academy. ‘Meet a black squirrel at the creek crossing around midday’ was all they told me.” He looked toward the pine grove. "Is that it?" he asked.
Kon nodded his head. "Yep, that's it, headquarters. Kuji, welcome to the One Hundred Acre Wood."
"Whoa!"
"Better close that mouth of yours before a bug flies in there." Kon jumped into the grass and bounced in the direction of the pine trees. "Race you there!"
"Hey! Wait!" Kuji yelled, chasing across the deep grass. "I have no idea where I'm going." 

***

First impression: for an MG fantasy, it takes too long to get to the two squirrels talking - imo. There's also some awkward phrasing which confused me, some of it caused by the use of the pronoun it. If eventually the squirrels will be referred to as he/she, I might start now. Overall, I think if the first three paragraphs could be condensed so we get to the meeting sooner, that way we get to meet our main character sooner.

On the positive side, I LOVE the first line. I can feel what kind of day it is. I also love how the squirrels are described and any revising of the paragraphs must include all those great adjectives like swished, bounced, ran, raced, etc. I really got a sense of them acting exactly like squirrels - and I happen to like squirrels! Lastly, I would definitely read on because I want to see how the bees and bear come into this chapter! 

What do you guys think? I'd especially like to hear from those of you who read MG as I don't read enough to consider myself an expert by a long shot. Plus, you know we love comments and comments help authors get better!

See you Wednesday with our last First Impression for July :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

First Impressions - Coward and Capes


Wow. A month went by fast! I don't know about you but it's definitely summer here, with temps in the 80s and high humidity. But I'll take this over winter any day! 

Anyway. It's time for First Impressions, whereby author Dianne Salerni and I critique your first page. Today we have the first page from Garrett Vander Leun's YA novel, which "combines some of the superhero themes and real-world history of a book like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay with the wild, coming-of-age adventure found in the movie GOONIES."



COWARDS AND CAPES



CHAPTER ONE
1984

There are consequences for breaking a supervillain's window.
"Charlie!" Glenn yelled.
"What?" Charlie had already moved on.
"You just tossed a newspaper through the window of that house!"
"I what?" Charlie's big face recoiled into his neck meat. "No I didn't."
Once a liar, always a liar. On the day they'd first met, Glenn caught Charlie drawing a picture of Golem inside his math book. His black leather costume, the signature aleph engraved on the forehead of his cowl, and two middle fingers poking right through a set of algebra problems. It was crude, vulgar and completely illegal.
Glenn had tried reminding the brazen artist to maybe not draw a Cape in public. And Charlie, being Charlie, whipped around with a reply. I'll tell you what's illegal - me being best friends with Golem and him teaching me fifty-seven different ways to shut your fucking spaghetti hole for good.
Which was a pretty stupid reply considering the Capes had been dead for decades. Controlling the urge to tattle on the well-fed liar, Glenn whispered something back. Fine, he'd said, but I'm a Cape Chaser, too - and for your information, I hate spaghetti.
Glenn squinted at the house. "Just go deal with it, Charlie."
"Deal with what though? Seriously, nothing happened."
"I heard it break, or whatever." Glenn could hear a beetle break wind in the quiet of their morning paper route. Everyone said that if the Soviets were going to launch again - and they were definitely ready to do it again - then they'd do it in the dark. Everyone who was anyone stayed inside until the sun came up. 
"Look, I'm sure whoever lives there gets it. Accidents fucking happen."
Charlie's constant cursing made Glenn twitch with itches. Sure accidents frigging happened, but that was not an accident. "You did like, you..." He brought his hand back behind his head to show Charlie how hard he'd tossed the newspaper. "You chucked it - sure as '64!"
God, he sounded like one of his teachers. I told you kids we had a test today, sure as '64! It had almost become a joke, as throwaway as two digits in a phone number or a street address. 1964 was the joke with an endless punchline.
First the Soviets launched, then the Capes died stopped it and that caused a worldwide blackout. Almost two million people died and all kinds of industries along with it. Music was gone, the film industry expired and the general business of being happy was flat-out extinct.

***
 On the day they'd first met, Glenn caught Charlie drawing a picture of Golem inside his math book. This confused me. I'm not sure who Golem is so the significance - if any - is lost on me. On the other hand, the fact that the drawing is illegal is curious. Is drawing Golem illegal? Any drawing? Only drawings in school books? In my mind, this is a clue telling me that things are not the same in this 1984.

Glenn had tried reminding the brazen artist to maybe not draw a Cape in public. This was another confusing spot. What is a Cape? A type of person? An organization? And why are they dead?

First the Soviets launched, then the Capes died stopped it and that caused a worldwide blackout. This sentence is missing something. Should it read: 'First the Soviets launched, then the Capes died stopping it and that caused a worldwide blackout.' ?

Lastly, I may be in the minority here but the last paragraph is the most interesting one to me. It immediately grounds me in the world. I wonder if there's a way to get to this quicker. I think the rest would be less confusing knowing these facts early. I'm also one of those readers who doesn't mind a little back story though I know others will disagree.

Overall impression: like I said, that last paragraph nailed it for me. There's room for improvement here but I definitely want to know what's going to happen next. 

Thank you, Garrett for submitting and readers, please do chime in with your comments! You can also find Garrett in MONSTER TOWN and don't forget to check out what Dianne Salerni thought of this first page.

We will have another First Impression for you on Monday -



Monday, June 30, 2014

The beaver dilemma

So. This is our little pond/swamp.* There's a culvert that runs under the road to a little stream that runs fast in the spring but dries up in the summer.



This spring a beaver moved in and decided our little swamp would make a great place for him to live. So he started blocking up the culvert to raise the water level. He gathered mud and branches and rocks and got the water level so high that if we had another good rain the road would probably have flooded...a little. Nothing anyone couldn't drive through, but still. Anyway, at some point the town got wind of it and sent someone down to unblock the culvert and thereby undo all of the beaver's hard work. I felt bad for him. Or her. But guess what? The next day that beaver had that culvert half blocked up again. Talk about busy. The town had to come again, and again. I was a little worried they might resort to more drastic measures like trying to get rid of the beaver altogether. So far that hasn't happened.

But the dilemma is this: What to do about the beaver? I mean, if he manages to keep the culverts blocked and raise the water level then he'll probably build a lodge. Or she'll build a lodge. Whatever. I don't know much about beavers. But the point is if the water level is high, there will probably be a lodge.Which would be pretty cool, no? But if it's too low, there probably won't be a lodge, or at least not one that's any good. On the other hand, if the water level does get too high and the road is consistently flooded, eventually it will wash out the road, and the town will have to pay to have it fixed. Not to mention the fact that by raising the water level the beaver has changed the swamp into a pond, thereby altering the habitat.

I'm torn. I like having a beaver in our swamp. But I do wonder if he disrupted anyone by his arrival. The water level is down now despite beaver's continued efforts but the damage may already be done. Maybe some eggs were lost. We have lots of birds. And of course there's the road although admittedly that's my last concern especially since I'm not affected - until my taxes go up.

What do you think? Is there any way for us all to live on this road together or does the beaver have to go?




* It's not really ours, though my land does border it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Book of the Month - The Cephalopod Coffe House


http://armchairsquid.blogspot.com/

It's the end of the month and that means it's time for the Cephalopod Coffeehouse in which we talk about a book we've read. This month I read The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins.


 The Moonstone was first published in 1868 and "is generally considered the first detective novel in the English language...Besides creating many of the ground rules of the detective novel, The Moonstone also reflected Collins' enlightened social attitudes in his treatment of the servants in the novel."

The plot is as follows: Rachel Verinder, a young English woman, inherits a large Indian diamond on her eighteenth birthday. It is a legacy from her uncle, a corrupt British army officer. The diamond is of great religious significance as well as being extremely valuable, and three Hindu priests have dedicated their lives to recovering it. Rachel's eighteenth birthday is celebrated with a large party, whose guests include her cousin Franklin Blake. She wears the Moonstone on her dress that evening for all to see, including some Indian jugglers who have called at the house. Later that night, the diamond is stolen from Rachel's bedroom, and a period of turmoil, unhappiness, misunderstandings and ill-luck ensues. Told by a series of narratives from some of the main characters, the complex plot traces the subsequent efforts to explain the theft, identify the thief, trace the stone and recover it.

My opinion: Although this book was written in a style that many people today would find tedious (it's very wordy), I still enjoyed it and found myself up late more than a few nights in the hopes of discovering who stole that pesky diamond and why was Rachel acting like a you know what. This is a perfect book for anyone who likes mysteries, and/or anyone who likes to read the genre. It also paints an interesting picture of the time for any history buffs :)

Have you read this book? Do you like mysteries? I don't read many but I always enjoy them when I do!







Monday, June 9, 2014

Agree or disagree?

"Don’t just finish writing a first draft and call it a day." 

Jim in a bag.

Having spoken of revisions before, you can all guess I agree with the above statement. And for that very reason I am taking another break in order to finish revising PEACE & FORGIVENESS. I will be back on June 27th for the Cephalopod Coffee House Book of the Month review and resume my (semi) normal blogging schedule. In the meantime Dianne and I are still looking for submissions for July's First Impressions (see sidebar for FAQs). I also have an availability in July for an author interview. I'll promote your book with pics, blurb, links, and an interview. If you're interested, click on contact me at the top; I'd love to promote someone and hey, why not you?


Friday, June 6, 2014

Champion in Flight


A year after she won the battle for Septily, Clara feels trapped in Skycliff by the Allied Council. As the last pieces of information about the Healing Caves fall into place, Clara is attacked by an assassin. Covert Drinaii mercenaries and the Council aren’t going to stop Clara from her quest to heal her broken blade. As Champion of Aramatir, she must act.
Meanwhile, in the joint kingdoms of Rrysorria and Wylandria, the youngest and still cursed swan prince despairs of ever being whole again. In a moment of anger and desperation, Liam discovers a blood link between him and a dark sorceress.

Clara won the battle for Septily, but her battle isn’t over.

Champion in Flight is the second book in The Champion Trilogy. 



Amazon 
 
 
Congratulations Tyrean!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

First Impressions - Soulless


Our second First Impression of the month comes from Crystal Collier, author of Moonless, who blogs about her love of cheese and other interesting things here. This is the first page of SOULLESS, sequel to Moonless, a YA Paranormal/Historical.



1
Predators and Prey

Alexia’s eyes snapped open, heart thundering.
Well, she wasn’t dead. Yet.
Caught somewhere between annoyed and relieved, she settled on grateful—that she’d recovered enough to dream again, even if her nightmares always came true. She could still feel phantom fingers pressed at the back of her skull, crushing her face into the pillow until she ceased to breathe.
She shuddered.
Lace curtains scattered shadow creatures across the wood floor, twisting in a late summer breeze from the unlatched balcony door. Specters clawed at the pastel walls, up a bureau, and over a wardrobe of fashionable clothes for seventeen-seventy. Costumes. Façades. Pretensions.
She sat up in the bed she’d used all eighteen years of her life, the down mattress soft but no longer able to resurrect the comforts as it used to inspire. Like her nanny soothing away her fears. Or Father reading to her.
Father, who slumbered at the other end of the too-empty estate.
Father, whom she had never expected to see again.
Father who had begged her to abandon her true heritage.
In this very bed, she’d witnessed death after death through her night terrors. Alexia had hoped the dreams would cease for good now that she’d discovered the true extent of her gift, the ability to slow or freeze time. But wishing was futile. She’d nearly killed herself by overextending the night their enemies attacked, like using a muscle until it was destroyed, but she must be making progress in her recovery if the dreams had resumed.
And now she was going to die.
***

 My thoughts:
Grammar: Caught somewhere between annoyed and relieved, she settled on grateful—that she’d recovered enough to dream again, even if her nightmares always came true. Should be either this: Caught somewhere between annoyed and relieved - she settled on grateful - that she’d recovered enough to dream again, even if her nightmares always came true. Or this: Caught somewhere between annoyed and relieved (she settled on grateful) that she’d recovered enough to dream again, even if her nightmares always came true. I'd opt for the parentheses myself.
Lace curtains scattered shadow creatures across the wood floor, twisting in a late summer breeze...What is twisting in the late summer breeze, the shadow creatures, or the curtains?  
 ...a wardrobe of fashionable clothes for seventeen-seventy. Do we really need the date here? Since this is a sequel most readers will already be familiar with the time period the story takes place in plus I would assume the the cover makes reference to when this tale occurs. I think I noticed this because it seems unnecessary - imho.
Lastly, I wonder if the second to last paragraph might work better as a brief recap of the major events of the first book? This would serve two purposes. It would remind readers of the first book what happened, and it would offer any new readers a clue as to what has previously happened.

Otherwise, I liked this first page and I'm thinking I ought to snag book one before book two comes out! What do you think? Any thoughts on Crystal's first page? If you want to see what Dianne Salerni thought of this page, go here, and if you would like to offer up your first page for a free crit, we still have one slot left for Friday.

Monday, June 2, 2014

First Impressions - Butterflies


It's the beginning June, which means it's time for First Impressions, whereby author Dianne Salerni and I critique your first page. As of this writing we still have one slot left for the month which means you have the opportunity to have your first page critiqued by two authors. Interested? If so check out my sidebar for the FAQs. Meanwhile, today we have the first page of BUTTERFLIES, a YA scifi from Carey. My comments will be in purple and don't forget to head over to see what Dianne thought of this first page.


 
 BUTTERFLIES

The morning sun slants through a gap in my drapes and hits me smack in the eyes. So much for sleeping in. I wish the cat would learn how to close them after he looks out the sliders to the great outdoors. It's not often that I get to sleep in and lolling about sounds like the best way to spend my morning.
“Rise and Shin e, Starr.” Who says this?
Apparently Jazz thinks I've been lazy for long enough. I take a quick peek at my phone. No texts, no missed calls, no emails and it's later than I thought. And who is Jazz?
I roll out of bed and try to avoid looking in the mirror. Not a morning person doesn't even begin to describe me and seeing my messy hair and eyes with bags under them never starts me out on the right foot. I think you could get rid of this sentence but that's just me...
Field trip day equals wardrobe crisis. Wish I'd looked in the closet last night instead of waiting until the last minute. It's a five hour drive to Miami and we leave right after lunch. My outfit needs to be comfortable yet fashionable and preferably something that doesn't wrinkle easily. Then I'll need shorts or a cool skirt for tomorrow and another outfit for the drive back home. Ugh.
It takes a while, but I'm pretty sure I've put together the perfect outfits for all three days. Plus, of course, a spare shirt and skirt to use as backup. Maybe I should take one more outfit in case we go out to dinner tonight or tomorrow. We didn't the last three years, but you never know. I grab a few more pieces of clothing and toss them into my suitcase. I'm not sure we need to hear all about her wardrobe - unless it's important.
By the time I finish, there's a parental figure standing in my doorway looking deeply irritated. “You haven't even showered yet.”
Jazz isn't my birth mom, but we don't even think about that after so many years together even though I've always called her by her first name. She adopted me when I was seven, after all, and is the only parent I've ever known. I might insert this bit when Jazz first speaks - assuming that was her earlier.
“Just going to do that now so I can pack my toiletries. We've got loads of time left.”
She just sighs and walks away.
I hop in the shower and take care of business. Hair washed, legs shaved, and ready for anything. Whistling, I start to blow dry my hair. It's long and a light brown with way too much frizz. (instead of telling us her hair is light brown and too frizzy, show us; does she use product on her hair to help tone down the frizz?) A little bit of makeup, including eyeliner and mascara to make my hazel eyes stand out, and I feel ready for the day. This is good; it sounds like the narrators thoughts.
This is my fourth and final field trip to the Coral Castle in Miami, but it's my first with a boyfriend. (Is she looking forward to going WITH a boyfriend? If so, why?) Will there be a chance for some alone time or will the chaperones – Jazz among them – keep us segregated? We're both 18, after all. Legally adults.
Now that I'm dressed and groomed, I take a good look in the mirror. The trip itself isn't very interesting – it never is – but it feels almost like a mini vacation with Micah. And 600 of our fellow students.
 ***
My thoughts: The one thing missing from this is character. I'm a pretty patient reader in that I'm okay getting to know the characters and world slowly and I don't mind a bit of description either as long as it's well-written. But I have to have a hint of character, something to give me a reason to care about following Starr (again I'm assuming this is the first name of our narrator). What's she's going to wear doesn't interest me, but Coral Castle does, along with the boyfriend she has. Is he something new and shiny? Is she head over heals? Unsure? Does Jazz know?  I want to know!
That said, the rest read like a typical day in the life of a senior. The question is, is that the intention?


Your thoughts?


Friday, May 30, 2014

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

This review is brought to your courtesy of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse ~


http://armchairsquid.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-cephalopod-coffeehouse-may-2014.html



At Christmas I got a gift certificate to the local bookstore and among the four books I ultimately bought (it was a tortuous decision, I can tell you) was The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black, who also wrote White Cat, which I loved.




It starts out with our main character Tana waking up after a vampire attack to find everyone at the party dead except for her ex-boyfriend and a vampire named Gavriel. What happens after is, of course, the story, which ends up in Coldtown, a place where "quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown's gates, you can never leave."

What I liked about this book was the slow way we get to know Tana and her life, the description of the vampires (really the descriptions of everything) Coldtown (a perfect mix of theatre and blood), and of course, Gavriel. He was divine. Instantly intriguing.

What I didn't like was Tana's ex. I thought she put up with way too much from him, especially after he betrayed her the first time. I also thought the ending was a little rushed due to the introduction of a 'new danger' which was resolved all too easily in my opinion.

Overall I'd give this book a solid B. It didn't quite meet my expectations but the writing is lovely, and out of the 15 odd books I've read this year, it's among my favorites.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Words to ponder...



The Adoration of the Magi
Da Vinci’s unfinished altarpiece

"Like great art, books aren’t ever finished—they’re abandoned."

 This little gem arrived via email from Writer's Digest, and it made me think about all the stories I've started and let go, or finished but never revised. On the one hand, it's all good because it was practice, right? And practice makes pretty good. On the other, I know there are some great stories sitting neglected either in my file cabinet or on my computer, some of which I have not necessarily given up on. But...I have abandoned them.

Do you have any abandoned stories you hope to one day resurrect?



Friday, May 23, 2014

Flicker

As some of you know, my son likes birds, which means I like birds. Here's a few pics he took of a Northern Flicker, a member of the Woodpecker family, who came to visit -


He's a handsome fellow, isn't he?

Meanwhile, I'm in the land of revisions which first involves me reading through the entire manuscript with minimal editing (that's the hard part) as I make notes on what needs fixing. The second pass will address all those issues. Currently I have 27 (!!!) items I need to check off before this manuscript is fit go anywhere.

So. What are you doing? Seen any pretty birds lately?

Oh! And the winner of The Eighth Day is Liz! Congrats :)

Monday, May 19, 2014

What I learned from Peace & Forgiveness

If you've been checking on my progress bar, you'll notice that in spite of A- Z, I managed to finish draft #1 of PEACE & FORGIVENESS. The bad news is that I didn't get around to visit as many people as I wanted to. The good news is I finished writing another book. I also learned a few things along way. 

#1 It's okay to take time off from blogging to write; everyone will still be there when you get back.

Back at the end of November, the idea for this book began to coalesce in my head and my muse was insisting I write, a lot. I took the month of December off to accommodate her and wrote at the furious pace of 5,000 words a week. I missed all my blogging friends and it did occur to me that no one would be there when I returned, but guess what? Everyone was still there and happy to see me when I got back. So if my muse comes knocking pounding at my door again, I won't hesitate to let her in and take another month off.


#2 Middles are hard.

Somewhere in the middle, my muse took a vacation and left me stranded with a story I wasn't sure I liked a whole lot. So here's what I did. I went back to the beginning, which I already knew I loved, and started reading/editing in the hopes of finding the magic again. It worked, and while the middle took me the longest, I finally got through it instead of abandoning the whole project.  


#3 I am not a total pantser.

I start off that way. I'll get an idea, let it rattle around in my head for a while until it becomes a premise I can't stop thinking about. Then I write, often furiously. But at some point I need to connect the beginning to the distant end and for me that means outlining the next few chapters. Not all of them, because that would spoil the fun, but at least the next few so I know what my characters need to do and accomplish BEFORE they get to the end. And yes, I do know what the end looks like when I start, but it isn't always entirely clear. Like everything else, it will need some fleshing out but as long as I have the main points down, I can cut a path through the dark middle to the last chapter.



#4 Sometimes characters will take things into their own hands. Let them.

Towards the end of my tale, my characters go to Hell, literally. At first I thought they'd be going alone. Then I thought someone else would be going with them. But finally Gerald (a minor character, no less) spoke up, and insisting on going along, offering a very logical reason for doing so: he could be helpful, could he not? After all, he knew his way around Hell. And while it was definitely awesome that this happened, it was even more awesome discovering what he wasn't telling me. I won't say any more, but suffice to say that Gerald helped prompt an entire premise for a sequel to PEACE & FORGIVENESS. Thank-you, Gerald!

#5 I love this story even more than when I started.

Why you may ask? Well, I thought it was pretty kick-ass to begin with, but then when I got to the end and found ways to deepen the story, not to mention the awesome idea for a sequel, I was pretty darn psyched because now I have a shiny new toy just waiting for me to play with it and I can't wait.

So, what's this awesome tale about? Well, here's a rough draft of the query I've got worked out so far:



Dear Agent Extraordinaire:

Once upon a time an angel and a demon conspired to save an innocent. Tried and convicted, they and their accomplices are sentenced to the worst of fates: to live as mortals, doomed to repeat the same lives over and over again throughout history.

Peace Murray doesn’t remember this yet, although she does have some pretty strange dreams sometimes, especially the one about the drowned girls. It doesn’t help having a father who wishes she didn’t exist and an ache in her heart for the twin and a mother she never knew. All she wants is a normal life like her best friend, but when she returns home from camp, everything changes after she receives a mysterious text from a camp mate: ‘Do you know what you are?’

Peace has no idea what her friend means at first but before long she discovers there’s a reason she doesn’t have a normal life. She’s a demon.

Mal doesn’t remember who he was either but he knows one thing, he’s sick to death of his father’s drunken ravings about some supposed war between Heaven and Hell and his cryptic clues about the past. It all comes to a head when his father conjures up something impossible and directs Mal to The Marble Cemetery where he finds a vault with his and his twin’s name on it.

Escaping to St. Auburn’s Academy can’t come soon enough, but no sooner does he arrive than he meets Peace, the daughter of the Reverend who rents out rooms to boarders in this small town. Peace makes no secret of her dislike for him and Mal’s happy to return the favor – until he discovers the grave she frequents which just happens to have her name on it with some eerily familiar dates.

But the worst discovery is yet to come: they are both fated to die on their seventeenth birthday and begin the cycle again. Now the only way to solve the mystery of their existence and avert their fate is to work together to remember what they’ve forgotten.



My inspiration was Paradise Lost by John Milton and this is one of my favorite passages -

 
Beëlzebub to Satan: ‘There is a place
(If ancient and prophetic fame in Heav’n
Err not) another world, the happy seat
Of some new race called Man, about this time
To be created like to us, though less
In power and excellence, but favoured more
Of him who rules above us; so was his will
Pronounced among the gods, and by an oath
That shook Heav’n’s whole circumference, confirmed.
Thither let us bend all our thoughts, to learn
What creatures there inhabit, of what mould,
Or substance, how endued, and what their power,
And where their weakness, how attempted best,
By force or subtlety: though Heav’n be shut,
And Heav’n’s high Arbitrator sits secure
In his own strength, this place may lie exposed
The utmost border of his kingdom, left
To their defence [sic] who hold it; here perhaps
Some advantageous act may be achieved
By sudden onset, either with Hell fire
To waste his whole Creation, or possess
All as our own, and drive as we were driven,
The puny inhabitants, or if not drive,
Seduce them to our party, that their God
May prove their foe, and with repenting hand
Abolish his own works…’

Paradise Lost Book II, lines 345 -370


 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins


This flash fiction is brought to you by Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds
who offered these three random sentences to choose from.
“The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins.”
“A poetic pattern retains inertia.”
“The criminal disappears after the inventor.”
***
The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins

That’s what the news said this morning.
It took long enough to gather all those violins. I’ll wager those crazies never imagined we’d be able to find one violin nevermind a hundred. But by God we did, and they sure did the trick. Sucked the air right out of the place and killed everything in there. Now all that’s left is to go in and clean up the mess.
That’s our job.
Well, mine and my crew. We go in and clean up after unfortunate events, make the place livable again for all the settlers. By the time they pay their 2K, there won’t be a hint left of what happened.
Of course, when we first get there, it’s a nightmare. Dead people everywhere, kids that will never grow up, blue babies in cradles, people clutching at each other…We don’t look hard. It’s better not to. We just put the bodies in the bags and load them onto the trucks for disposal.
Still. It’s hard not to notice how hard the crazies held on to life, right to the last. I see a couple clasping hands so hard we have to put them in a bag together and a boy –
They look so normal. Like us.
Don’t look.
Just load the bodies.
After that we clean the place out so that there's nothing left. Not a scrap of clothing, a dish, or a toy. By the time we’re done every house and business is empty and ready for new occupancy. Move in condition.
That’s what the settlers want.
After the job is done the haul is divided equally and that plus our hazard pay will hopefully see us all through 'til the next job, which could be next week or next year. It depends on how soon another borderland pops up, though these days it seems the crazies are everywhere.
It’s dark when we part ways behind the walls, safe in our little neighborhoods where the air smells like something other than death and chemicals. The light at the back door guides me and soon I’m inside and home.
I sneak into the room at the end of the hall where my boy lays sleeping, tucked in his bed with his thumb in his mouth. I pull his hand away and give it something else to hold onto: a small blue floppy rabbit with a music box inside.
Small hands pull the rabbit close and I smile, but only until I remember the other boy, the one that died before he could ever open the prettily wrapped box that had the rabbit.
Damn crazies. They should’ve known better.