telling tales of doing the impossible

Posts tagged ‘creating characters’

So, which child do you like best?

In my own experience, my favorite of my own books is always the one I’m writing now. Having read and enjoyed Olga Werby’s book Harvest (see my review) I was curious how she felt about it in comparison to her latest book Twin Time.  So, I asked her which of these two books of hers was more fun to write.

Yes, I know this is a little bit like asking someone which of their children they like best. “Both” is a good answer. But to author Werby’s credit, she had an interesting and well-thought-out response.

“Harvest” and “Twin Time” couldn’t be more different! One is a sci-fi thriller; the other is a fantastical, historical romance. I’ve spent years researching the science for “Harvest”—the scientific details in that story are all true. But the same is true for “Twin Time”. “Twin Time” is partly based on my grandmother’s childhood. She grew up in post-revolutionary Russia, in a rural village where the political change was slow to arrive. When it finally did, her family had to run in the middle of the night to stay alive. They lived through unspeakable horrors and didn’t survive unscathed. Most died. When and where we are born shapes our lives. When you read “Twin Time”, you will get to experience what it was like to live in another time and place with a different value system and different culture.

I came to America as a refugee; I grew up in Russia and those experiences shaped my life. To write about what it feels like to be there, even if at a different time and place than what I knew, was transformative. I loved doing the research, looking at illustrations and old photographs. It made me remember the fairytales of my youth.

Emotionally, “Twin Time” was more powerful for me, while “Harvest” was more intellectually stimulating. Writing these two books was a very different experience. But I wouldn’t swap my life for the life of my heroines in either of these novels—they had it rough. Spending a few years dreaming the lives of these women is very different from living those lives. I have to say, I’m a girl who likes first-class bathroom accommodations!

About Olga Werby:

Olga Werby, Ed.D., has a Doctorate from U.C. Berkeley with a focus on designing online learning experiences. She has a Master’s degree from U.C. Berkeley in Education of Math, Science, and Technology. She has been creating computer-based projects since 1981 with organizations such as NASA (where she worked on the Pioneer Venus project), Addison-Wesley, and the Princeton Review. Olga has a B.A. degree in Mathematics and Astrophysics from Columbia University. She became an accidental science fiction indie writer about a decade ago, with her first book, “Suddenly Paris,” which was based on then fairly novel idea of virtual universes. Her next story, “The FATOFF Conspiracy,” was a horror story about fat, government bureaucracy, and body image. She writes about characters that rarely get represented in science fiction stories — homeless kids, refugees, handicapped, autistic individuals — the social underdogs of our world.

Her stories are based in real science, which is admittedly stretched to the very limit of possible. She has published almost a dozen fiction books to date and has won many awards for her writings. Her short fiction has been featured in several issues of “Alien Dimensions Magazine,” “600 second saga,” “Graveyard Girls,” “Kyanite Press’ Fables and Fairy Tales,” “The Carmen Online Theater Group’s Chronicles of Terror,” with many more stories freely available on her blog, Interfaces.com.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Twin Time.

How Happy is Happy Enough?

So, I’m personally struggling with the question of how happy a happily-ever-after ending has to be to satisfy readers. I suppose my even asking the question makes it clear I think there is some wiggle room, or there ought to be.

I recently featured Doorway to Scorn, a fantasy novel by Dimitrius Jones, on one of my other blogs. I was delighted to get the chance to ask this author what he thought about the infamous HEA ending. I really liked his response.

As someone who’s read his fair share of romance novels, I get it. We love to ship people and see those ships weather a storyline’s challenges and persevere. We want to be rewarded for instilling hope into our favorite pairing with an ending that is adorably predictable.

We escape into these stories because we’re not sure if true love actually exists sometimes. It’s hard to reconcile a belief in soulmates when we can log onto social media and watch a divorce happen in real time at almost any moment. That’s why it’s so tantalizing to find a romance novel that will soothe our concerns with the promise of a happy ending for the featured couple, even if there’s much ground to cover beforehand.

I’m just not here for it, personally. I feel like it’s overdone.

I won’t go so far as to say I prefer depressing, tragic endings and think they should completely replace happy endings. However, I can appreciate a bittersweet ending where not every character gets the exact resolution we think they should. Real life doesn’t work either way. You don’t always get the ending to a relationship that you deserve, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a beautiful story out of it. It doesn’t mean there isn’t art to be found in a non-happy ending.

I think we could benefit from reading about relationship stories that we can better relate to versus stories where we idealize the couple. Some may say it’s boring, but I think it’s a challenge. As a writer, I’m always seeking new ways to express real life in a fictitious setting. What better way to expand my creative bandwidth than challenging myself to craft a great story without relying on tropes?

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any more happy endings. I just believe we shouldn’t fear realistic ones that don’t always make us feel fuzzy inside. It’s okay. There’s still a story there.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Doorway to Scorn.

Characters, Characters, Characters

Characters, Characters, Characters

In The Secret Spice Cafe Trilogy, Patricia Davis has woven a complex tale, spanning generations. I asked her what techniques she used to make sure her readers didn’t get lost in her large cast of characters. Here’s what she said.

To keep a reader turning pages in novels such as these, they have to be invested in the characters as much as they are in the story. With a large cast of characters, it’s always a challenge to make their voices distinguishable from one another.  In the case of Angela, Cynthia, Jane, Rohini, Sarita, and Cristiano, who are the main players in an even larger cast of characters, I had to consider the region of the world from which they each came, their ages, their sex, and even their life experiences.

How does that translate to the page? It’s simple enough to give a character description, a synopsis of all of the above for each. Simple, but boring.  I could have written, “Angela was a forty-five-year-old Italian-American from the east coast of the USA,” or I could show that by her actions, her thoughts and perceptions, her manner of speaking.  Each character was given “tells”—phrases they use routinely, motions they make, habits they have.

A reader could go through each novel with a highlighter if they wished, and find these things. Sharp eyes would notice that Rohini rarely, if ever, uses contractions when she speaks, for the reason that her English is careful and precise, as it’s her second language, and she learned how to speak it in her native India.  Cristiano, from Spain, will often sound more like he comes from Mexico. He explains that in the storyline. Sarita nibbles on her thumbnail when she gets nervous, Cynthia moves her hands way more than most, Jane sometimes uses expressions from her native northern England, such as “you lot” to mean, “you people,”  that a number of American readers unfamiliar with the lingo might think is a typo.

I got lucky—so lucky—on the audiobook narrator, Ann Marie Gideon. She loved the idea of all the accents, regions and ages so much, that she spent a lot of time with me, asking questions about each character. And she really nailed them. Her audiobook narration is the best I’ve heard.

Bottom line, writers worth their title research meticulously each character’s background, socio-economic level, life experiences, and take all of that into consideration when writing dialogue, and action.  I’m lucky to have met many people from many different parts of the world. That made it easier for me. I enjoyed writing them, as much as I enjoy hearing a reader say how ‘real’ the characters seemed to them.

They are real, as real as my imagination and pen could make them.

I thank Patricia Davis for such a well-thought-out and interesting response!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out The Secret Spice Cafe Trilogy.

A Hundred Lies

My Review

In A Hundred Lies, Jean M. Grant has created a likable hero in Rosalie, the fake fortune teller. She has placed her in a fascinating time and place, and done the research to make the setting come alive. Finally, she’s given her a thorny dilemma to vex her, and a threatening nemesis to chase her, so we all can hold our breath, hoping the best for her as we turn the pages. I enjoyed reading Rosalie’s adventures.

I wish I’d found the tortured nobleman who loves her to be as compelling, but I never quite did. He is an honorable man with a real talent for seeing the future, and I’m all for having feisty female leads attracted to someone interesting who isn’t a jerk. But he does spend a lot of time brooding about past mishaps and his relentless remorse gets a bit tiresome. Luckily, most of the rest of the cast, including his own mother and sister, and Rosalie’s aunt and uncle, keep things moving.

I appreciated the author’s ability to articulate this distant world, but she sometimes rambled through it a bit too slowly for my tastes. Some scenes cut in and out of past memories and included local facts in ways that reduced the punch of her narrative. That minor complaint aside, I enjoyed how well everything from knowledge of herbs to catty servant girls gave me the feel of being there.

I recommend this book to those who like their romance novels to have more to them than just a couple getting together, and I also recommend it to those who enjoy historical fantasy and wouldn’t mind a romance story as part of the package. Either way, I think readers will find a lot to like about this tale.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see A Hundred Lies.

False Light

Review: False Light

Cover_False LightFalse Light is a fun read, enhanced with a dose of real-life art history and made more interesting by the endearing romance of its two main characters.

The plot contains the requisite amount of clues, twists, and suspense, along with the genre-required action-filled climax, so I suspect most lovers of crime novels will enjoy it. However, I found its real charm to lie in three unexpected joys.

The first comes from Riess’s background. I have, at best, a passing acquaintance and mild interest in art, but I am captivated when an author brings expertise to a story like this. Claudia Riess helps her readers learn about masterpieces, forgeries, and auctions, without ever dumping information. (She got me looking into real-life art forger Eric Hebborn, and I’m always delighted to be introduced to a too-strange-to-be-fiction character.)

Another surprise is the relationship between the two lovers at the heart of this tale. They’ve gotten past the first hurdle of commitment (apparently in the previous novel) and now struggle to figure out how to live with their promises. I found their relationship compelling, and suspenseful in its own right. I appreciate an author who acknowledges falling in love is easy compared to making love work.

What didn’t I like? While the writing is generally okay, the pacing lags on occasion, particularly early on. Some parts required a little too much attention and rereading to follow multiple characters and complicated plot lines. Yet, none of this was enough of a problem to keep me from enjoying the story.

Years back, during a difficult time, I devoured J.D. Robb’s novels about a futuristic detective and her billionaire husband, and I realized there is this wonderful escapism involved in reading about the very wealthy solving crimes. (At least as long as they are nice people, which these characters are.) That brings me to the third pleasant surprise of this novel. Though Riess’s characters are unique to her story, their life of sumptuousness provided me with that same gentle nepenthe while their adventures held my interest.

As this virus has wreaked havoc with life, I’ve found myself eating rum raisin ice cream. That sweet treat is getting me through a lot these days. Why do I mention it here? Because when I finished this book I thought I’m glad I read this. In a world filled with too much frozen broccoli and canned soup — this is a rum raisin ice cream kind of a book. I plan to check out the author’s other flavors.

About the Author

Claudia Riess, a Vassar graduate, has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt, Rinehart, and Winston and has edited several art history monographs.

 

 

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see False Light: An Art History Mystery

How much backstory should one provide?

Everyone loves a series, right? And … everyone wants to be able to read each book as if it were a stand-alone novel. True?

I struggled (a lot!) with this quandary in my 46. Ascending series, so when I got the chance to ask author R.W Buxton (who writes an urban fantasy/paranormal romance series) any question, I went right for his solution to this dilemma.

Here is his fascinating answer.

I read a lot of series. It seems that it’s the most popular format for authors to write these days. Honestly, when I started writing Capital Thirst, the first book, it wasn’t my intention of writing a series myself. But there was more story than I wanted to stuff into a single book so I did it, I started a series.

Backstory is always an issue, whether it’s the second or third book of a series or the first book. The trick is to get it in so the reader knows what’s going on, without boring them to death. I hope I could achieve that. I am reading the second book in a series by another author. I loved the first one, but in the second book the author will take paragraphs in the middle of action to cover the backstory from the first book. I tried not to do this. As a reader of the first book, I find I just skip this stuff and even if I hadn’t read the first book, I don’t need to know the details of what happened just that something did and it has an impact now.

When I wrote Beverly Hills Torture, I knew new readers wouldn’t know what happened in Capital Thirst but there are just key parts they needed to know. So if you read Beverly Hills Torture without reading Capital Thirst I tried to only include the key points that you need to know without retelling what happened in the first book.  This also means a lot of what was in Capital Thirst isn’t revealed. But I hope just enough for the reader to know why things are happening in Beverly Hills Torture.

Most of the backstory I tried to include in dialog or quick thoughts that Erin or Gerry have. There is a bit of explanation in the first chapter, but when you jump in right in the middle there has to be a brief explanation because the new reader knows nothing about the characters.

Writing a series is a progressive thing to undertake. In the first book, all you need to worry about is the backstory of the characters. In the second book, you have to worry about the character backstory and reintroducing it for new readers as well as including key elements of what happened in the first book. The third and fourth books are even more difficult to pick the details because there are a lot more of them and keeping them straight becomes more and more complicated. Not to mention deciding which ones are important and which aren’t.

It’s a balancing act, I hope I have enough, but if I erred, I would prefer to err on the side of not enough. If it’s not there, readers can make their own decisions or assumptions. If they’re curious, they can go back and read the first book. But I would rather do that than spend paragraphs writing about what happened that will bore readers that have read it and may or may not add something for the readers that have.

The facts about how Gerry became a “day walker,” and his relationship with Erin are all there. The rest, if I really felt it was important, is there.

I thank R.W Buxton for such a well-thought-out and interesting response!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Beverly Hills Torture.

 

 

 

Review: The Duplex

In The Duplex, Lucky Stevens has written a story that both packs a punch and needs to be told.

I liked so many things about this book, including the way Stevens captures the fifties along with all its many ingrained biases. I enjoyed watching the tale evolve through the eyes of four protagonists, often seeing the same incident through different points of view. I appreciated how Stevens demonstrated the way prejudices against any group seep into the beliefs and self-images of those most adversely affected until they begin to doubt themselves. Sometimes it was painful to read, but, as I said, it’s a story worth telling.

In fact, I liked almost everything about this compelling tale. It moved quickly, and the voices rang true. I suppose one could complain that certain aspects of the two gay men, and two lesbian women, were too stereotypical, and they would have a point. I suppose others might struggle with four alternating first-person points of view, although I liked it.

Some might prefer a neater, more happily-ever-after ending for all, but I thought the ending worked fine. Without giving anything away I’ll just say things get messy but happiness is found, much like in real life.

I recommend this book to anyone, but especially those who like historical novels, are fascinated by the 1950s, or are fans of reading about Los Angeles. The novel may appeal to those in the LGBTQ+ community, but I have a special recommendation and this one comes from the heart.

I HIGHLY (caps intended) recommend this novel to those with close friends or family members who are LGBTQ. It’s an eye-opening look at the world they could be living in. I know it made me aware of the need for us all to be vigilant about preserving the basic human rights this group has had to fight so hard for. This novel is important food for thought for a caring community.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see The Duplex.

Storytelling by blog

As I feature more books by other authors, I tend to pay less attention to each one. That’s a shame, because I sometimes miss an important detail.

It happened recently when a ran a feature on Diary of a Lost Witch as part of a blog tour for Goddess Fish.

I began my post as I always do, with:

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Reut Barak and her novel Diary of a Lost Witch.

But, in fact, Diary of a Lost Witch is not a novel, at least not in the strictest sense of the word. Reut Barak is in the process of doing something far more interesting, in my opinion.

She is telling a story via blog posts that pose as the real-time diary entries of a runaway young witch, and now that I’ve had a good look at it, it’s fascinating.

If you’re curious, check out the beginning at http://reutbarak.com/diary-of-a-lost-witch-april-10/ and if you’re having fun you can go on from there.

You can read my full post, and learn a lot more background, at Diary of a Lost Witch.

Introducing My New Historical Fantasy Series

I’m far enough into my latest project to be writing blurbs! What do you think?

It’s the 1200’s in Ilari, a small mythical realm somewhere between Europe and Asia. Peace and prosperity have reigned for generations. That doesn’t mean every citizen is happy, however.

In the outer nichna of Vinx lives a discontentedly intellectual farmer, his overly ambitious wife, and their seven troublesome daughters. Ilari has no idea how lucky it is to have this family of malcontents, for the Mongols are making their way further westward every winter and Ilari is a plum ripe for picking. These seven sisters are about to devise a unique way to save their realm.

And here us how the mythical realm of Ilari looks (so far).

The Difficulties of Writing About Time Travel

These is no tougher logical problem for a speculative fiction writer than to send characters forward, or backward through time.

I recently featured author Richard Hacker and his fantasy thriller Vengeance of Grimbald on one of my other blogs and I asked him to share his thoughts about the difficulties of writing about time travel. Here is his response:

VENGEANCE OF GRIMBALD, the second book in the Alchimeia series is a fantasy sci-fi novel with a unique take on time travel and alternate time continuums. Some writers have used the supernatural to transport characters through time, like Scrooge’s encounters with the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Another method allowing for time travel, especially in science fiction, involves space and time warps–usually a ship passing through a warp in the space time continuum or characters passing through portals from one time to the next. Stephen King employs the portal in 11.22.63. But the most common method to move characters through time requires a mechanism or machine. From H.G. Wells, THE TIME MACHINE to the much-loved DOCTOR WHO, these stories use some kind of machine to transport from one time to the next.

The Alchimeia series uses alchemy, a precursor to empirical chemistry, as the mechanism for movement through time. Combining an ink and an alloy in the nib, a fountain pen becomes the catalyst as inkers write themselves into past lives, leaving their bodies in the present. Unlike conventional time travel scenarios, the characters leave their bodies in the present—only their consciousness moves through time to inhabit a host. However, once an Inker is in a host’s body, time is not on their side. They are in danger of losing themselves to the mind of their host, becoming psychotic and then melding completely with the host, lost in time forever. In order to avoid such a fate, upon completion of the mission, they must die in order to break the link and return home.

Die Back allows me to blend genres of fantasy, science fiction, historical, and speculative fiction to tell a fast-paced, action filled story of characters struggling to save the time continuum and reality itself. As you might imagine, this mechanism for moving back through time also has its challenges. In a conventional time travel story, a character travels back in time. It’s fairly straight-forward keeping the character distinct from others in the scene. In the Alchimeia series, since the characters leave their bodies in the present and only their conscious minds go into the past, the most significant challenge is having a physical character, such as Franciso Pissaro but with the conscious mind of Addison Shaw. Rather than visiting the past as a foreign entity, the character becomes the past. You’ll notice the inking scenes shift to first person which I’ve done to make a distinction with the present and to create an immediacy. The reader experiences the inking scenes within the perspective of the inker.

I think technically one of the more difficult scenes involved a German soldier in a fox hole at the Battle of the Bulge. There were essentially two characters inside the mind of a third character. The German soldier, Grimbald, and Addision’s mother, Rebecca, who has been held captive by Grimbald. The dialogue needed to distinguish between the internal voices of Grimbald and Rebecca in the German soldiers head, as well as dialogue with the American soldier external to them. Here’s a little excerpt to give you a sense of what I’m talking about. We begin in Rebecca’s perspective.

I look to the boy soldier and our guard, but of course, they cannot hear our thoughts. “How could you force me to act against my son, Grimbald?” His real name is Cuthbert Grimbald, using the alias Kairos to keep him clear of League Inkers. “You promised if I helped you–”

I promised I wouldn’t take his consciousness. For all the good it did me.

“I could have killed him. My own son. Please, I’ll do anything you want, but please don’t ask me to hurt Addison.”

You sabotage me at every turn, Rebecca. If I didn’t need your knowledge of the League I would scatter your consciousness across time. By God, I’ll do it anyway!

“No! Please. I’m sorry. It’s just that when I saw him…it’s been so long. I–”

Think about it, Rebecca. Didn’t you see his eyes when he squeezed the trigger? The boy, knowing you were in Maya, blew out your brains! Trust me, you no longer hold a place in his heart.

“No! He still loves me, uh…. “

My mind…compresses…a fist closing around me to darkness.

“Please…stop.”

You continue to defy me?

“Please.”

I cannot breathe, I cannot think.

“Please…no…”

My mind goes to some dark corner. A desolate loneliness enfolds me. All senses closed off, no space, no time, no sensation. Nothing. Nothing. Noth…

He releases me. The world expands from a small, black hole, back to the Ardenne Forest. The boy still sits beside me in an almost fetal position. The icy cold air smells of pine and death.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Vengeance of Grimbald.

Researching a Terrorist Plot

Books need bad people. Bad people do bad things. But if you’re an author, and your bad people are doing things you don’t know very much about, you have to do some research.

What poisons kill the quickest? How long does it take to die from a knife wound? How do you build a bomb?

I was researching the bomb thing for my book One of One, along with details about how well a commercial aircraft could withstand a blast, when I thought …. you know …. these internet searches could cause me some problems.

I recently featured author Bill Blodgett’s novel Love, Lies, and Bad Guys on one of my other blogs. His main characters are dealing with some serious terrorist threats to NYC and it got me curious. When he began writing his book, I suspected Mr. Blodgett didn’t know much more about how to blow up a subway system than I did about how to blow up a plane. How did he get his information?

Read on for his fascinating answer.

We’re you apprehensive when you did the research to write about terrorist threats?

At first I wasn’t. It seemed like researching any other book. I found out about the Native Americans, who were labeled Downwinders because they were exposed to nuclear fallout that was carried downwind after the tests of the atomic bombs in the 1940’s through the early 1960’s in Nevada. Many Downwinders developed various kinds of cancer due to the exposure. Then I contacted several leaders in the Native American community and asked for their input and they were very willing to share what information they had, especially after I told them my wife was part Native American. It was all very natural and a great learning experience.

Then I researched nuclear power plants near New York City, and it was again very natural. It’s then the research began to get serious. I researched the subway system of NYC looking for easy points of access. Then I looked into dirty bombs and what they were made from and how to make them. After that I researched how Homeland Security and other agencies monitored for possible terrorists. I had to create a world that would be believable to the reader, whether they were techno savvy or not. That led to the dark web and dark web browsers that would hide these would be terrorist’s identity and location. Then, of course, the research demanded that I look into Virtual Private Networks, VPN’s. VPN’s also hide your identity by masking where you are logged in from.

They say that curiosity killed the cat and I was beginning to be concerned that I was on that slippery slope, but I felt I needed to continue. I guessed the searches I was conduction on Google contained certain words that would be flagged by law enforcement and I was just waiting for Homeland Security to be at my doorstep any day! In a way it was kind of scary, even though I knew I wasn’t doing anything illegal, but I would have to explain and they’d probably seize my computer, freeze my bank accounts and put me on the “No Fly” list until the matter got settled in maybe five to ten years!!

I downloaded TOR, the most popular dark web browser, but didn’t bother to purchase a VPN from any of the popular venders that can be found online these days. The TOR browser is a dark web search engine much like Google, but it hides your identity and location by jumping for one “node” or location to another all around the world. This was all new to me. Interesting, but a little weird.

So after researching the use of TOR I went online and searched for random things and the lists of providers was immense and most were selling something illegal, from drugs to chat rooms about any subject you could ever dream of. At that point I figured that maybe I was in a gray area of legality and consorting with questionable characters from around the world. Yes, I was just lurking in those chatrooms, but I was still there! I knew I had enough knowledge about the Dark Web to write about it so I uninstalled TOR. Then I began to write Love, Lies, and Bad Guys!

For the full post about Love, Lies, and Bad Guys, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Love, Lies, and Bad Guys.

Review: Sleuth on Safari

My Review:

In Sleuth on Safari, A.R. Kennedy has written a fun and easy-to-read amateur sleuth novel that will have you turning the pages to cheer on its rookie crime solver, all while enjoying the excitement of a safari.

I’ve been lucky enough to go on a trip similar to the one in the book* (without the murder, of course) and I can assure you Kennedy does a fine job of capturing the wild beauty of nature in sub-Sahara Africa as well as some of the less story-book aspects of such a trip.

She does it while presenting a likable sleuth, an adequately complex cast of suspects, and a satisfying ending.

My most significant complaints all occurred early on, when the two sisters in questions seemed more like they were squabbling preteens, not young women in their twenties. As other characters were introduced they came across as stereotypes. However, Kennedy was just getting started. Most of the safari guests became more complex as the trip went on, and the protagonist Naomi and her sister began to act their age after the first few chapters.

One the things I enjoyed most was the ongoing humor regarding the lack of internet access. Her description of other little things like the ubiquitous safari-themed decor, lavish meals and five a.m. game rides were all right on the mark, too. And anyone who has ever spent a night alone in the wilderness (yes, I have) will love reading about Naomi’s night alone in the tree house.

I recommend this book to those who like cozy mysteries, and to all who enjoy travel, whether they’ve been to Africa or not. This novel is a fine way to take a memorable armchair trip.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see Sleuth on Safari.

Creating Likeable Deadly Female Protagonists

Author C.H. Lyn wrote the following as part of a blog tour for her latest book Lacey Goes to Tokyo. I enjoyed it enough to want to share it here with you.

Creating Likeable Deadly Female Protagonists

by C.H. Lyn

The obvious answer for how to create a likeable deadly female protagonist, is to make sure a character is three-dimensional. Too often we are handed female characters who are clearly male characters with a “girl” name. Or, we are given people who are only focused on the mission, the revenge, or the murder. Lacey and Miss Belle have lives. They have friends, passions, and a family; that’s what drives their characters, sometimes to kill.

Creating these two women was incredibly entertaining for a couple reasons. They are such different women, it made writing back and forth between the two of them challenging, but it gave me the relief of never having a dull moment. It also made those pesky writers-block moments a little easier to handle. When one character stopped talking to me, I could often figure out a way to work on the other character’s scenes.

With Lacey we see right away that she is a calm sort of person. She’s the friend who listens when you vent about life, but never seems to have anything worth venting about to you. In fact, until we see her truly angry, it’s hard to imagine she could be anything but the polite young lady she pretends to be. I think this helps the reader relate to her, probably more than Miss Belle. She’s the girl next door, the friendly ear, the relaxing person we all enjoy spending time with. She’s also cunning, athletic, multi-lingual, and more than capable of handling herself in rough situations.

Miss Belle is another story. She curses, throws things, and from the start we know she is a killer. I think her likeability comes from her interactions with the other characters. As a stand-alone, she would be too similar to the plethora of standoffish, angry protagonists who take justice into their own hands. Instead, she tries to do the right thing and finds herself painted into a corner. Miss Belle is harsh throughout the story, and will continue to be harsh as the series progresses. She isn’t necessarily supposed to be liked by every reader, not entirely anyway. But if the reader can see how much she struggles with the deaths around her, namely the ones she is directly responsible for, they will be able to understand her choices, even if they don’t agree with them.

These women each have their own motives, their own histories, and their own voices. Their realness is what makes them likeable. They aren’t always cool under pressure, because no one is. They don’t always make the right decisions, because no one does. And they suffer the consequences of their decisions, because everyone does.

Want to know more about the novel Lacey Goes to Tokyo? Check out the original tour at Lacey Goes to Tokyo.

I Know When You’re Going To Die

My Review:

In the cleverly titled I know When You’re Going to Die, Michael J Bowler begins with a fascinating premise and delivers a taut and unpredictable tale. I raced through it.

What I liked best:

  1. The concept of needing to solve a murder before it happens is an interesting one. I’ve seen it elsewhere in science fiction, but the idea of having a “superpower” to know when others will die is unique, as far as I know, and the whole idea of solving a crime to prevent it is well executed here.
  2. The pacing is perfect. The suspense builds throughout the story and Bowler keeps the reader turning the pages without overloading or exhausting them.
  3. Leo, Bowler’s clinically shy good-guy protagonist, is a hero for all. Seriously, if you can’t cheer this guy on, consider seeking professional help.
  4. It’s a genre crime novel, so the reader knows the mystery will be solved just in time, but the ending is sufficiently convoluted and unexpected. It feels worth the wait.
  5. The underlying messages of friendship, tolerance and kindness are a refreshing bonus.

What I liked least:

I enjoyed this book a lot, and I think my minor issues with it stem from it being a young adult novel, one in which all of the protagonists are high school students. So, my recommendation comes with the caveat that the reader should not expect the story to go outside the scope of a young adult novel.

  1. I felt too many of the adult characters were not well-fleshed out. For example, the story included not one, but three moms who cared little about their teenage children. Hard for me to believe, but maybe not so hard for a teen-aged reader.
  2. The complicated relationship between close same-gender friends during the teen years and early sexual attraction and exploration is central to the story, and yet the author shies away from resolving issues. Again, I suspect the young age of the intended audience is the reason, so I gave him a pass on this one.
  3. The premise behind the plot brings up major philosophical questions about predetermination, death and even cause and effect. I’d have loved to see some of this stuff tackled … but again…..

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good crime story, or a good superhero story. You absolutely have to read it if you enjoy both.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see I Know When You’re Going To Die.

 

The Kronicles of Korthlundia

My Review:

In The Ghost in Exile, Jamie Marchant has written a book that is both character driven and action filled. It’s sure to delight fans of her The Kronicles of Korthlundia, and equally sure to please those who enjoy her genre.

This book is really two related stories told simultaneously. In one story, a kind and naive young man is taken advantage of and finally abused in so many ways that he is gradually lured into becoming one of the world’s great assassins.

In the second story, this same assassin is an older man who has said good-bye a daughter he only met recently. His heart is filled with sorrow, and he unexpectedly helps a foreign woman forced into prostitution. He decides to teach her to fight before he takes her back to her homeland.

What I liked best:

I much preferred the second story, although both are equally well told. In the second story, we meet Brigitta, the intelligent mother of two who is forced into prostitution and trained by the Ghost to fight. Yes, I have a great fondness for stories of women who rise far above the expectations of their society, and she joins the ranks of characters I truly enjoyed.

I also liked the back and forth approach between two related tales. In both stories, Marchant keeps her plot moving, and she keeps the interesting characters coming. I also appreciated that the hero known as the Ghost is, in his heart, a genuinely good guy, in spite of spending his adult life as a killer.

What I liked less:

I chose to review The Ghost in Exile, thinking it would be better to review a stand alone story  than one volume of a three book series. It wasn’t a great choice on my part, because I think this book would be best appreciated by those already introduced to The Kronicles. It’s a complicated world, here, and juggling two stories with strange places and names was daunting.

The tale of a kind boy turned into a killer by dire misfortune is a well-established and much beloved troupe, but it isn’t one of my favorites, because if the protagonist is truly good, then the events forcing him to behave in such a way have to be truly bad. Marchant delivers. The things that happen to this young man are every bit as horrific as they need to be, and while others may have an easier time reading such atrocities, I found myself tiring of the awfulness.

Also, this book felt more like background to a larger story. It lacks a grand sense of purpose (an giant evil to be stopped, a vexing problem to be solved) and seems like more of a biography on one hand, and a tale of a journey on the other.

That being said, they are both well done tales.

I do recommend this book to all fans of The Kronicles of Korthlundia, and to those who would appreciate following the adventures of an ambiguous hero trying to survive in a horrible world.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see The Kronicles of Korthlundia.

Bulb

My Review:

In Bulb, Bradley Wind has created an unusual and thought-provoking look into the future. It poses plenty of relevant questions about today and about the choices we’re making.

What I liked best:

1. This is a genuine attempt to describe the future, not a story set in our own world with more rocket ships and robots in the background. The author makes the valid point that if you asked a human from ten thousand years ago to describe the year 2020 they wouldn’t have enough information to even imagine our society. Bradley Wind has tried to make this leap into an unimaginable future, and he has succeeded in creating a disturbing and unexpected world that seems normal and even inevitable to those living in it.

2. His writing packs a punch.

3. This could have been a one-good-idea book. The concept of the archives is so different, and so chilling, that it would carry a fine story. However, Wind is just getting started when he lays out the concept of everyone being able to view everything everyone else has ever done.

What I liked least:

1. The pacing is erratic. I do think the way the book is written has an overall artistic effect, but one has to get through it to appreciate the artistry, and this is not an easy book to finish.

2. Item three above is somewhat of a two-edged sword. This story throws so many radical ideas at the reader that overload is likely. Yes, you can have too much dessert, and too many things to think about in too short a time. I’d recommend reading this novel over a period of several days, if not more.

3. This last part is subjective and I always wonder whether personal preferences should be included. Yet, no matter how well done something is or isn’t, we all have own tastes and they effect our reading experience. So, I’ll be blunt. I didn’t enjoy reading this book.

I’m easily bothered by blood and gore, disturbing rape scenes, disgusting behavior, detailed descriptions of bodily functions, deformities, mutilations and you get the idea. I’m not a good date at a zombie movie and I don’t watch horror flicks. But … Bradley Wind can’t seem to stay off of these topics. His descriptions of the lives of two saints (people who voluntarily stay in a coma to keep the system running) were so over the top they nearly stopped me from finishing the story.

It’s important to note that I’ve read other novels I didn’t enjoy, and yet which I’m glad I read. (Did anyone actually enjoy reading 1984?) The truth is, we don’t only read for fun. We read to understand new points of view. We read to have our imaginations expanded and our empathy increased. We read to think more and to feel more and to grow.

So, I recommend this book to (1) people who enjoy dark and disturbing speculative fiction, and (2) to those willing to read such in order to be exposed to ideas they’re unlikely to encounter anywhere else. Trust me, this book is full of them.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see https://dtothepowerof4.org/2020/02/03…

You Kill Me

My Review:

In You Kill Me, Holly LeRoy has written an exciting thriller with a wonderful protagonist, unexpected characters, and a page turner of an ending. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

What I liked best:

1. The writing is quite good. The pacing is flawless. The plot is exciting. I know that should be three different things, but I don’t want this list to get too long.

2. In particular, LeRoy takes several characters out of Central Casting and uses them in ways I didn’t expect (and you probably won’t either.) The annoying boss. The sleazy ex-partner. His stripper girlfriend. And more. The whole story is a wonderful reminder of how surprising people can be.

3. I often struggle with stories that mix a first person tale with additional third-person POVs. LeRoy not only makes it work, he makes it seem natural. Part way into the story, I stopped noticing it.

4. Ditto for his descriptions of people and surroundings. Over and over he gives just enough details to put you in the scene and never so much that you start to skip over it. Well done.

What I liked least:

1. It’s obvious I liked a lot about this book. However, I prefer to read on my Kindle and when the author didn’t offer Kindle formatted copies for review, I bought the book and was surprised by the number and kind of typos in the copy for sale. Every book has a few, but this not only had more than its share, many of them were things any good proofreader (or even spell check program) would have caught. This book is too good for those kinds of mistakes.

2. I like my endings (that is, the part after everyone is finally safe) to be longer than a page or two. I’ve come to care about these people and I want to know more after many of them barely make it out alive. Perhaps there is more tying up of loose ends in the next novel?

Well, whether there is or not, I’ll be seeking out more by Holly LeRoy, and wishing him and his detective Lt. Sharpe both long and healthy careers,

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story.

For the full blog post including more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see You Kill Me.

Gods of Merlin

My Review:

In Gods of Merlin, Priya Ardis has written an action-filled adventure likely to appeal to teenage fans of the fantasy genre.

What I liked best:

1. I’ve got a fond spot for females who get to be the chosen one (for once) and I found Eowlyn to be particularly likable. I rooted for her from the start.
2. I’m a life long fan of the many variations of the King Arthur tale and it was fun to see it given a new twist.

What I liked least:

1. I thought there were too many parallels to a certain famous story line with a likeable orphan who mysteriously ends up at a British school for magical kids where those with wizards’ blood look down on those who don’t have it.
2. I found some sections too grisly and others too confusing (particularly flashbacks of Eowlyn tangling with other main characters in other times.)

I would recommend this book to young people who enjoy fantasy and particularly to fans of Harry Potter or King Arthur who are looking for more of what they love.

For the full blog post including more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see Gods of Merlin

Murder: Double or Nothing

My Review:

In Murder: Double or Nothing, Lida Sideris has improved on what she does well, and softened some of the rougher edges in her second novel. She has once again written a clever and funny story to entertain fans of light-hearted mysteries.

What I liked best:

  1. Once again, this is a witty, fast-paced book with enough unexpected twists to keep the reader engaged. As an added plus, who doesn’t like to read about Hollywood?
  2. The protagonist, Corrie Locke, not only has a new law degree, but she seems to be a more capable crime solver than before, and a little less inclined to break laws without consideration of the consequences. I liked this more mature and capable character.
  3. I liked what has happened with the other characters, too. Love interest Michael is more lovable, high-fashion mom is more likeable, and Corrie’s sidekick Veeda has become more of her own person (and far less a clone of Stephanie Plum’s sidekick Lula.)
  4. The author continues to do a noteworthy job of ending chapters so that the reader just has to keep going.
  5. Plus … both Sideris and her creation Corrie really take their game up a notch in the suspense filled ending. Corrie shows her best yet as both a fighter and as a detective, and Sideris delivers a taut page-turner of a finale.

What I liked least:

  1. I still struggled with not feeling up to speed on Corrie and her fascination with a competing love interest, Michael’s best friend James. Clearly, there is history here and it matters. I wish I knew what it was.
  2. Witty and fast-paced can be overdone, and in my opinion Lida Sideris’ style at times would benefit from more transitions to add flow to the story. While her dialog and plot developments are never quite as jarring as in the previous novel, in its worst spots this book becomes a series of actions scenes and flippant one-liners in need of more connection and motivation behind them.

However … as with the previous book, the power of what I liked absolutely exceeded what I didn’t. In fact, I enjoyed this book more than its predecessor and I’d recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a fun mystery.

For the full blog post including my review of Lida Sideris’ second book Murder Gone Missing  as well as more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see Murder: Double or Nothing

Now for something different …

By the time I’d driven home, I knew what I had to do. You see, the only time I struggle with writers block is when I (okay, some part of me, let’s call her the adult manager in charge of my head) insists I write whatever Ms. Manager has decided I must.

No matter how hard Ms. Manager insists, it doesn’t happen.

The little kid in my head who makes up the stories simply stops making them up until she is once again allowed to tell her stories, in her way.

Read more about how I discovered my next novel while having a day at a spa.

How much changes in six years?

My book Layers of Light is not only about human trafficking and female heroes, it is a book about the obstacles faced by women everywhere. It was written before the Me Too movement, and before we had a major candidate for president who was a woman. It was written before “grab ’em by the pussy” and Stormy Daniels. In some ways, it feels to me as if it comes out of a more naive time. How much of the world of 2019 should go into a rewrite?

Read more at How much changes in six years?

Have Courage

I’m trying to show more courage in my own life, and for me right now that translates into being more honest about who I am. My deep dark secret? I write science fiction ….

Read more at Have Courage

Almost My New Cover Part 2

I’m going through much of the same process re-birthing my second novel as I went through with the first. The first draft of the new cover was good, but my shape shifting protagonist couldn’t have facial hair, and I wanted more of a feel of the tropics.

I loved the background of this second version, but didn’t like Zane’s new head. As someone else put it, he had too much of a “Jersey Shore” look to him.

Once again, the third time was a charm.

Read more about this process at Almost my new cover and at Fun With Covers. 

The newly named and highly edited new version will be out in mid-February. I can’t wait.

Not My New Cover, but Almost My New Cover

I had great fun working with a pro to design a new, genre appropriate cover for One of One. Here’s what the first draft looked like.

The second draft was much closer, and needed only a few more tweaks to get there.

This final version combines the best of both, I think. I’ll be proud to release it, along with the streamlined and updated story, on January 17.

Check out my original two posts about this process of making this cover at Not My New Cover and Almost My New Cover

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