Writers tell stories for a multitude of reasons and people read stories for a multitude of reasons. I think what we get from the reading experience is very personal, and sometimes we simply want to use that story as a method of entertainment or escape. I don’t there’s anything wrong with that (actually, I think it’s awesome). But what about books that don’t bring entertainment or escape, but instead challenge us? I mean, books that are just plain hard to get through, both philosophically/thematically and narratively. How do we approach those? I’ve been thinking a lot about this very topic since I finished The Power by Naomi Alderman. It’s a book with a lot of strengths, but I also found it, to be frank, quite challenging on a number of levels. And yet, if someone were to ask me if I would recommend it, I would emphatically do so. To me, The Power fits into a larger canon of books that I think are necessary specifically because they are challenging to read. And I’d like to talk about why that is.
Have you ever finished a book, crying? Crying, but not crying for the reasons you thought you’d be when you started the book? Have you ever sat quietly reading and then shouted an expletive, causing the concern of your partner? Well, I have. Guys, I finished Spice Bringer. What an emotional roller-coaster of a book. And I thoroughly enjoyed it all and I think you might, too! So, if the you’re intrigued by a book featuring a super compelling female lead, snarky salamander (I KNOW!), and fascinating world building, read on for my review of Spice Bringer.
So, I’ve been posting a bit more regularly to my blog, and I realized it would probably be good to let you guys know what I’ve been up to. I mean, I’ve actually been up to stuff. Are you surprised? Wait, don’t answer that.
When I was 11, I read voraciously and had a number of favorite types of books. I loved historical fiction. I loved science fiction. I loved fantasy. And, no matter what the genre, if a book had a dragon in it, I was definitely down to read it. When I got an advanced reader copy of Kandi J. Wyatt’s An Unexpected Adventure and saw that the main plot centered around a dragon, I knew I was in for a good read and it did not disappoint!
Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own.
An Unexpected Adventure is a middle grade book about the adventures of 14-year old Harley and his friends Chace, Will, Cherise, and sister Karis and what happens when they find a dragon’s egg on the Oregon Coast. At first the story focuses on the practicalities of how a few middleschoolers can care for such a fantastical creature, but then things get complicated when the mysterious Professor Raleigh enters the scene with suspicious intentions toward finding the dragon. Harley and the others scramble to protect Steria (what a great name for a dragon!) from the professor. However, this becomes more and more difficult as Steria grows, learns to fly, and starts doing what dragons do, namely wreaking havoc.
There were a few things that I really enjoyed about this story. First, the kids all seemed to be really compassionate and empathetic, both in their interactions with the dragon and with each other. Steria was also a treat, with her evocative descriptions reminding me of a cross between a cat and a regal queen (I suppose cat owners may disagree that those two categories differ). I also really enjoyed the setting, Myrtle Beach in Oregon. I grew up in Oregon and spent more than a few summers hanging around the Oregon coast. It was fun to revel in the nostalgia of running around the lush forests, walking across the sandy beaches, and mingle with the locals.
To be sure, this is a middle grade book and it’s geared towards that age group’s reading level, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for adults (although I certainly had a lot fun reading it!). However, I think the themes, story, setting, and characters make this a great book for dragon-loving readers between the ages of 10 and 15.
So, big historic stuff happened recently in the science fiction literature world. If you haven’t heard (you probably did, because I was screaming quite loudly), author N.K. Jemisin made history not only by winning the Hugo award for best novel three consecutive years in a row, but also for having every book in a series (The Broken Earth Trilogy) win a Hugo. If you’re not familiar with the Hugo’s, it’s a pretty prestigious award that recognizes great authors in the science fiction genre, with winners like Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Neil Gaiman.
It’s a bit chilly for August, but that doesn’t stop me from dumping a few ice cubes into a glass. Add a quarter of lime, a lug of gin, and a generous pour of tonic, and it’s a drink. I mean, it’s liquid in a glass, so I suppose that’s not a high mark to reach.
It has been some time since I last updated this blog, and I feel I’m due for a new post. The last few months have been challenging on many levels, especially for writing and my dedication to this book. I’ll share some of those challenges and what I think the next few months will look like (hint: more editing!).
So, let’s move on to what I’ve been up to the past few months. For starters, I’ve done another draft of my book. It has some substantial changes, but I also kept a number of scenes and elements from the old version. I finished this draft May 3rd and sent it off to its next beta reader. I’m hoping to get their comments back at the end of this month. Getting to this point was not easy, though. There were some very busy weeks at work, meaning I had to work late and write less. I also went through a difficult time with my mental health in February/March, and only started to feel normal once mid-April rolled around. But I have a lot of optimism for the coming months. The sun is shining, my brain is perky, and I have a path forward.
First on that path is reading, specifically about writing and how to create a novel. I know, I know. I can hear you now: “Hannah, wouldn’t it have made sense to read those books BEFORE you started writing?” Well, ideally yes. However, I’m learning as I go. And these books really would only have been helpful to me once I gained a closer understanding of my characters, which is difficult to do without writing those characters a bit. Anyway, I’m going to go back to the fundamentals and learn about character arcs, plot structure, and building themes. I know that a lot of these crucial story elements have a presence in my book, but they are muddled and get lost. So the trick will be making them stand out.
After I finish a few of those books (one down already), I’ll re-do my story’s outline and re-apply it. At this point I should have my recent beta reader’s comments, and I’ll use those to help revise. I’m hoping to keep this round of revisions fairly concentrated. There will be a lot of work to do, but I don’t want to spend all summer doing it. I am considering taking a few days off in June to help facilitate this goal. We’ll see how that goes.
The next step after revising will be sending the manuscript to one last round (hopefully) of beta readers. I know I need to find someone of African-American origin to review at this point. If you’re curious why, I will note that both my characters are black and I am not. So, it is important to make sure I don’t include potentially harmful tropes or anything like that. For more info on this subject, I highly recommend stopping by Writing with Color on Tumblr. I think I will also want a beta reader to review the magic system I’ve created and see if they spot any issues or logic holes. I
So, after this round of beta readers, I’ll do more revisions as needed (hopefully they will be pretty focused) and then I’ll start querying. The goal is for the novel to be its best possible form at this point, and I will definitely do a final copy-edit and proofread before sending it to any agents. But really, once I start querying I will likely step away from actively working on the project and will try to start something else while the rejection letters role in. This novel has been my main writing project for 5 years, and I think my skill as a writer will improve if I start working on something different. Also, working on something else might keep me from burning out, which may have been a contributor to my need to take breaks in the past.
So, that’s where things are at. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little update. My plan is to do these more often. I think this is slightly more likely than not because I’m back into a steady writing habit.
Hello, everyone. It’s been…. quite awhile. One year, four months, and nine days to be precise. Yikes.
What have I been doing over the past year? Not a lot, honestly. OK, that’s not true at all. I’ve been busy, I just haven’t been writing. That kind of sucks, but it’s also been good in some ways, I think. I’ve taken some time to re-invest in my physical, mental, and emotional health through travel and running; worked really hard and grown a lot at my job; and done some definite values reassessing. But let’s get to some specifics, yeah? And then I can share some exciting news with you all! Continue reading
When writing fantasy, the key to any good magic system lies in consistency. This is a lesson I’m learning now. It’s easy for me to get caught up in developing innovative forms of craft (incantations, wands, etc.) or cultural heritage. However, without consistency as a back bone, there’s really nothing to make a magic system believable, and even in fantasy, believability is very important. So, here are a few key areas of enforcing consistency within a magic system.
One hang-up my beta readers are catching in my current work in progress is cultural consistency: magic systems’ should be reflected in the cultures they inhabit. My husband gave me an example of this just yesterday. In The Kingkiller Chronicles, the main character encounters an inn that uses magical bells that are connected such that when one rings, the other rings as well, allowing bell hops in the hotel to provide quick service. The main character sees this as an extremely frivolous use of complex magic, but the point of the little episode is that magic interacts with the world outside the narrative. This helps enforce consistency with how magic connects to the story and invokes believability. Put it this way: If Harry Potter went to Hogwarts, but we never learned anything about the wizarding world outside the school, or the treatment of people without magic, would that fictional world and it’s magic have held such potency? Probably not.
Logical Order of Operations
A magic system is far more believable if the audience can see or anticipate how the system actually works. Let’s return again to our two original examples: The Kingkiller Chronicles and Harry Potter. In The Kingkiller Chronicles, the author put a great deal of time in developing a detailed magic system: the laws of physics are kept in mind if not closely followed, and expert use of this magic is more about creatively using basic principles. By following fundamental laws, the magic system adheres to a logical order that the reader can understand and predict. The Harry Potter books lack a lot of this detail, but there is some logical consistency. A person must be magical (and not a muggle) to use magic. They also must have a channeling device (a wand or sometimes an umbrella) and they must know the right words and the correct movement of their wand. These are the “ingredients” of magic. In a good magic system, these elements don’t change, or, if they do, it’s explained in a way that makes sense.
Cost and Penalties
Even with cultural and logical consistency, a magic system is not complete without some sort of cost or penalty. If a magic system does not come with checks and balances, it loses its believability. In Harry Potter, wizards and witches have to learn and specialize in certain forms of magic, which takes years of training. In Kingkiller Chronicles, there are many magical students who go insane. The use of magic requires intense concentration and complex states of mind that, if done rashly, can cause serious mental damage. Without a believable deterrent, penalty, or obstacle for using magic, the system introduces logical inconsistencies: if everyone can do ANY kind of magic, why don’t they? If anyone can and does perform powerful magics, what is compelling about a character with talent and creativity?
It’s important to think about these things when planning a magic system. Do you guys have a favorite magic system, and if so, what book/tv show/movie is it from?
Most every writer has a few bad habits. I mean, when making a habit of writing, it’s fairly easy to add other habits into the mix of our process. Many bad habits are mostly harmless, like chewing pens or mumbling your characters’ lines out loud. However, sometimes our bad habits as writers can become downright destructive, and it’s a good idea to step back and take stock in them. I’ve seen a lot of benefit in my own writing practice from ending destructive habits. Here are a few I’ve battled with myself .
Only Writing When Inspired
I’ve written about this before: waiting for inspiration just leads to low productivity and self-deprecation. When we put off writing, our practice suffers. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat in front of my computer screen, only to get up two minutes later because I just wasn’t “feeling it”. The best solution is to find a schedule and stick to it. Right now, I’m only managing to find time to write in 15-minute increments. It’s not a lot, but I’m writing several times each week, and it’s keeping my practice going.
Eating Sweets While Writing
In high school, my favorite way to start a writing project was with a fat piece of chocolate, tea, and good music. The combination was very stimulating, and somehow got me thinking that I wrote better when I had a bit of sugar inside my tummy. Unfortunately, when I integrated a food item as a mainstay in my writing practice, I started gaining weight and suffering in other health-related areas. I don’t mean to say there’s anything wrong with a cookie when diving into a new chapter or a bag of peanut M&Ms to celebrate finishing your latest project. However, as when we add junk food to our writing habit, it hurts our bodies more than any stimulation me may possibly get from the jolt of sugar. To help me drop the habit of eating sweets while writing, I tried upping my tea intake to keep me less hungry. I also tried to write on a full stomach, choosing my times right after a meal or a healthy snack. In combination with a lot of willpower, I managed to kick the habit.
Drinking While Writing
There’s a myth that the best writers in history were heavy drinkers: Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Marguerite Duras. For me, I thought a drink while writing during my first NaNoWriMo would help me get words on paper. However, it was not long before I had a drinking habit that interfered with my writing production. To be clear, I’m not talking about a “drinking problem” in the addiction sense, and if you have a drinking issue, I HIGHLY recommend you seek professional help. This is not so much about physical dependence as about having a habit of consuming a product that left my wits dull and my body lethargic, when I really should have been at my best. To drop the habit, I stopped drinking at all during any writing projects. As with sweets, with a little willpower and the encouraging realization that my writing improved with the clarity of my mind, I managed to kick the habit. Now, I may have a small glass of something while writing for my blog, but I don’t feel I need it to get through a long writing process.
So, have you guys ever struggled with any bad writing habits? If so, do you still struggle, or have you found a solution to get over your habit?