Review: Paradise by Jason K. Lewis

I found this story refreshingly well written. There is a compelling quality to John focusing on his family, while in the midst of “things are not as they seem”. It does read more like the first chapter in a novel, than a stand alone story. I would have an issue with this if the author had not stated up front that this story came out of a larger, related work in progress.

It is a stunning lead in. I will definitely be on the watch for Bird of Paradise to come out in 2015. Hopefully it will answer the tantalizing questions this story poses. I want to know what this paradise is and what happens to John’s family.

Check out Jason’s blog 

Stitching Up Your Story

To be more precise, stitching up my story. Well, I did know there were areas that needed expansion, a few scenes were missing, but now I think it more resembles a body with gaping, bleeding holes. Sigh.

This all started because I was looking for a more satisfactory resolution to the story’s conflict, a conflict that stretches back over a thousand years. My characters wanted to find a way to break the cycle and genocide isn’t in their vocabulary. Something else would be required, but what? Well, I came up with the what, now I just have to make it work. That’s where the gaping holes come into play. It isn’t necessary to go back and add elements in the previous books, for which I’m thankful. I do have to go back and fit the parts in what I’ve already written for the final book. A previously minor character will now be doing something that will (hopefully) change the course of the future.

To accomplish this believably, I have to lay a stronger foundation for the character early in the book. I have to get in his head and his POV so the reader can get to know him too. Rewriting those small scenes bigger and from his perspective will be challenging.

Especially when I’m well over half way finished.

It’s more that just adding or expanding scenes. It’s the dynamic of the story arc, a sort of synergy that major changes will sometimes make stronger and sometimes breakup like a tornado hitting a cliff. (Yeah, they do that,)

Like stitching a badly torn wound, you have to get the ragged pieces to fit together. Scenes will be taking place in parts of my universe I have never really explored and those scene shifts must fit precisely for the story to flow and the dynamic to build. I also need to do this without adding much in the way of additional named characters. I already have what feels like a cast of thousands.

This is going to affect everything from dialogue between other characters to chapter breaks.

I did even more rewriting on the first book, but had not anticipated blindsiding myself like this again. If I hadn’t already published the first two, I might think about throwing the whole thing in a closet somewhere for a while.

This is all to let you know that roadblocks and course changes happen to all of us. It’s usually for the better once you get over having to do it at all. We don’t give up. We will not throw the manuscript in a closet (this time). We are writers and we will overcome all manner of trials to finish our stories.

It helps if you keep reminding yourself of that.

Writing and Picking Blueberries

Writing can be like picking blueberries. I am not constitutionally wired for leaving any leaf unturned or ripe berry unpicked, no matter how much I must stretch and contort to reach it. This tends to drive my family nuts when they pick with me – I expect the same dedication (obsession?) from them. In writing, it means hunting for just the right words that are fully ‘ripe’ for the idea. As with the berries, I have sometimes left one that wasn’t quite right. That doesn’t mean the word or the idea was bad. Occasionally words or ideas need to ripen in the mind before they’re ready to pick.

I have also written a few truly beautiful scenes that had to be cut because the story simply didn’t need to go there. Rather like the huge, juicy berry that I couldn’t ever quite reach. No matter how I stretched and contorted the story, the scene simply wasn’t going to go into it. Leaving that tantalizing berry on the tree bothers me. I don’t like waste. I can taste the sweetness of it and find it hard to move to a more accessible spot. I find it distressing to leave out a scene that is juicy and ripe, full of humor, heart wrenching sorrow or riveting action just because the story doesn’t need to go in that direction.

At least with writing, those scenes may find a place, in one form or another, in a different story. I suppose I don’t really begrudge the birds their share either. Though I often wonder why the very best fruit seems to be where I can’t get it. :)

The Dynamic Of Events

There is a certain, somewhat predictable, dynamic to events, in stories and in life. Even if your story starts off in the middle of some action, that action is usually no more than a jumping off place for the story to start. Small or large, apparently unrelated events come together to create tension that builds as these elements draw inexorably closer to the climax and resolution.

History shows us the truth of this as a benign rule gradually (or not so gradually) shifts to an oppressive one. Small incursions on the rule of Law increase in scope and frequency until either the people rebel or tyranny reigns. It is as true in any other endeavor, if more subtle. Change at first is gradual, otherwise the people would never accept it. As it reaches a certain point, it cannot but continue on its course. On an individual level, we do not change overnight except in extreme conditions and we would not accept abrupt change in someone else, or in outside events without some questions – or a fight.

The old story of how to cook a frog comes to mind. If you plop a live frog into boiling water, it will (quite sensibly) jump out. If you put the frog into tepid water it will swim around and enjoy the pool. Then you gradually increase the heat. By the time the frog realizes he’s in trouble, the heat has him too befuddled to act. Frog is cooked.

In developing a story arc, this dynamic is present, by accident or design, in everything from romances to thrillers. How often are our characters caught up in a sequence of events that narrow the choices they can make and build to an outcome that those characters may never have chosen otherwise? The heroine may not have anything but contempt for your hero in the beginning, then an escalating series of events turn that completely around to where they, not only must rely on each other, but learn to trust and respect each other. Change happens in increments, usually small ones to start, like baby steps that allow you to run later.

That gradual change is necessary. A reader will not accept a sudden shift in attitude without good reason, anymore than a population will. As events draw the elements together the shift may increase in pace along with those events. The story heats up as the pace quickens. Twists and turns in plot may obscure the end for a time, while building tension. We are using the same dynamic that exists in real events to create that tension.

Each event in a story will escalate the tension slightly. Alone, they may even be insignificant, but together, in proper sequence they cause surges, like waves as the tide comes in. Each one coming a little farther up the beach and closer together as the story approaches its climax. Significant events in life are like that, both on a personal level and a global one. Something to remember is that each event will alter the perspective of the characters and the reader. This is what makes the change believable.

Real life is the same way. Each experience we have causes a change in perspective and perception that can alter the way we see both past and future events. That experience can be things that affect populations or individuals. The rise and fall of the Roman Empire comes to mind, as well as the series of events that led me to start writing in the first place.

Shooting At Ducks That Aren’t On the Pond

Okay, maybe it’s just a little bit inflammatory, but I have to wonder, occasionally, what am I doing this for? I know all the marketing reasons. They have little to do with the real reason for this blog. My intent has always been to provide a little help and encouragement to other writers, with a little entertainment along the way.

If the feedback is any judge, ducks are scarce on this pond. Maybe I should just pack up my laptop and go hunt something else.

Then I recall one post that seemed to be exactly what at least one reader needed to find. If I helped that one reader perfect her craft, then it’s worth it.

In thinking about the apparent futility of blogging, I also discovered that I find new energy and encouragement myself in putting these ideas in writing. Going over some of my past offerings is helping me recapture my voice and affirm this vocation of writing. Perhaps I am just enamored of my own words, most writers are. Or, just maybe, I am writing as much for my benefit as for others. Everytime I have taught a class I have learned something, either from my students directly, or by discovery.

Maybe this modern extension of a writer’s world is yet another tool to help us grow in our craft even as we reach out to help others to join us.

So, maybe there aren’t very many ducks on this pond, but the pond is a pleasant interlude whether we find any new ducks or not.

Finding A Lost Voice

Yep, I seem to have lost my writing voice over the past few months. Life happens. After a year and a half of caring for my mom, we have moved her and I handed off those responsibilities, for which I am grateful. Now that I can write without serious distractions, I’ve discovered my writing voice is missing! Even though I know what I need to do next on my various projects, the voice sounds tinny and out of tune.

I suppose I should have expected it. You don’t go through a lengthy time that’s so completely disconnected with your usual life without getting out of sync. Writing is just one area that has suffered. I figured the best way to get back on track is to reread everything I’ve written to this point, particularly for Warrior Song, including the two books already published. It’s the best way I can find to realign myself with the characters and their story.

In picking up the threads of their lives, I’ll also pick up my own.

“Where do we go from here?” is the obvious question. At least I know the answer to that for my characters. But then, in fiction, the author is in control of outcomes :D

Happy Writing!

Spring Energy Surrounds Us!

Everywhere I look, Spring is awakening the land and all creatures great and small. Sap is rising in the trees, making them bloom and leaf again. Birds are busy choosing mates and building nests. Bees are out harvesting fresh nectar. Some farmers here have started plowing. Any street you go down, you will see signs of the season’s influence, an almost urgent need to get outdoors and Do Something! Painting, yard work, cleaning the garage, anything to get out in the fresh air after a long Winter.

I’m not immune to this Spring orgy of activity. I went so far as to help a friend with some yard work this week. Even the ache in winter soft muscles felt good. This week has been full of Spring cleaning, inside and out. My thoughts are turning to things like prepping my herb beds for the seeds I have started, the new plan for a vegetable garden and camping trips. Definitely camping trips.

The Winter is over and the warming sun is a siren song. Do you hear the call?

What Do Your Characters Complain About?

Maybe I’m stretching a bit today, but listening to my mother complaining yet again about the weather made me stop at think about the characters we write. Even the most positive of us does a bit of complaining now and then. We all know people who complain constantly, some about everything, some about one thing. Complaints range from light, joking comments to outright whining.

Employees complain about bosses, soldiers complain about officers (and the reverse), spouses complain about each other, the list goes on ad infinitum. So, just what does an alien non-human mercenary complain about? What would your cat complain about? Or your apple tree?

I think having that annoying, overly fussy, supporting character that whines constantly can actually help your story’s realism as long as you don’t overdo it. It doesn’t hurt anything to have someone the reader would like to stuff headfirst into a hole, particularly if that character does get stuffed headfirst in a hole before it’s over :D It affords the reader a chance to really connect and sympathize with a main character when they have to deal with a complainer. We feel a sense of satisfaction when we see the complainer either learn a better attitude – or get stuffed in a hole. I have seen it used so naturally, I identified with the situation without ever thinking it might be deliberate. God, that author was good!

That said, exactly what an alien character would complain about is something that will require some thought. It means getting deeper into the motivations of your characters and how they relate to the world you’ve built. The joking variety may be the most important in creating a natural, energetic bond between main characters. For me, it’s also the easiest to write.  I hadn’t thought about writing a whiny character before, but I will add that to my list of possibilities.

I can’t tell you how to decide what your characters complain about; that would be like trying to tell you how to think. Hopefully, this has stirred your mind and will possibly point you to a new direction to be explored.

Until next time, Happy Writing -one word at a time!

Revision Or Rewrite?

You have finished your novel. YAY! Celebrate! Then you take another look at it. Now, even though you’ve tried revising bits and pieces, reworking scenes and paragraphs, something just isn’t right. Perhaps you should consider a rewrite.

Some of the signs are awkward story flow where some characters are concerned. Or plot elements that don’t seem to fit together. Maybe something just bothers you about the story line and you can’t really pin it down. I struggled to make my first book work the way I had originally planned, but I was never satisfied until I was willing to let go of some really bad parts of the story line and do a major rewrite. Once I was willing to do that, it came together the way it was meant to be. Oddly enough, it still followed the original loose outline I had laid out, but this time it worked.

I was trying to take the story where the story wasn’t supposed to go. You know the old adage about fitting a square peg into a round hole? I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to fit my story into a frame it was not suited for. As a result, the characters lacked the crisp, distinctive personalities they deserved and the plot was impossibly convoluted to the point it really defied logic. Yes, I can see all that now, but back then? Are you kidding, I was sure there had to be some way to make it work as it was. I just needed to fix the dialogue, or maybe beef up the descriptions and it would all come together.

Nope, never happened.

Another thing I discovered in the rewrite/revise idea had to do with POV. If your book, or even a single scene, isn’t working the way you want it to try rewriting it from a different character’s POV. You may have to leave off parts of the scene the character didn’t see, but that’s often good. A scene can change dramatically by changing who’s eyes you are looking through. Sometimes even the lack of information through a different character can draw the reader in with thoughts of “oh, but they don’t know about…” and if you have engaged your reader to think such thoughts, you have succeeded. Occasionally, you may discover you need to shift to a new main character completely in order to tell the story the way it wants to be told.

To those writers out there just getting started (and a reminder to the old veterans), this is probably the most difficult thing you will ever do with your writing. Suck it up and be willing to see the flaws for what they are. Understand that just because a scene is powerfully and beautifully written, doesn’t mean it belongs in the story. If you can face your own work with a ruthless delete button and cut it to ribbons to remove the parts that don’t belong, you can then put it back together and polish it till it shines. When you are through, you will have something you are truly ready to send out into the world on it’s own.

Happy Writing – and keep the bandaids handy!

What Are Publishers Good For?

The market is inundated with poorly crafted books these days. I have posted several times about indie published books and how important editing/revision is, with passing reference to some equally poor books being published by the big publishing houses. I think it’s time to focus a little on those publishing houses. They are falling far short in doing their jobs. I fail to understand how they can let books, that in all honesty could have been really good, go to print without first being credibly edited and revised. They key word there is credibly.

My husband picked up a book at the library last week that was a fairly recent offering from Tor, a publisher I once trusted. I never made it through the third chapter. It’s fantasy, a genre I usually enjoy, but it didn’t develop anything resembling a coherent story until into the third chapter. Now, I am all for leaning out ones writing and avoiding details that bog the story down, but jumping years at a single bound, and switching characters besides, is nothing short of a mess. There are important scenes, introducing what appear to be main characters with absolutely nothing to tie them together and give them a place in the overall framework of the story. Those scenes are abruptly short.  Maybe they thought it would build suspense. They were wrong. All it builds is confusion about just who is doing what to whom and – why in the heck should we care?

In all fairness, I have come across an indie or two with the same problem, though they usually go in the opposite direction.

Getting signed by a major publisher used to be the mark of success, the prime goal of any writer, something that would give you the stamp of credibility in your craft and open doors. Now, I would not want to be signed by one of them at all. It surely would not be a stamp of credibility anymore. Though, I might accept an editorial position, since they obviously need some. That would be in the nature of a public service. :)

My biggest question is what the heck are the publishing houses there for anyway? They used to take the raw material of a writer and polish both the writing and the writer. What are they doing now? I have no idea, but they certainly aren’t applying any editing polish to the books they publish. Have they gotten so caught up in churning out volume after volume from successful writers to the point that the writing itself is now irrelevant? Are they just looking for books they can turn a fast profit on with a catchy title and fancy cover? The book that sparked this was a breakout novel, the first in a series, not an established author. Well, I can assure you (and them) that I will not even pick up any of this person’s work in the library, unless they go indie and learn their craft. I think I can say the same for Tor’s offerings in general from now on, unless I have a really good reason believe the author is worth my time. Now, don’t get the idea it’s just Tor that’s being negligent. I think most of the big publishers have fired their editorial staff – and hired fifth graders.

Maybe this is why the big publishing houses are in such trouble and indie/small pubs are booming. If the big publishers want to reestablish some credibility, they should first of all look for talent. It’s out there, find it. Then nurture it. Yes, nurture it. Help it mature and grow instead of tossing it in the book store to sink or swim as it walked through your door. What good are you to anyone if you do nothing other than get the submitted manuscript in a book store?

Guys, I hate to break it to you, but I can do that for myself.