The more independent authors I meet, the more I realize just how diverse yet wonderfully alike we all are. No matter what the genre, no matter what our involvement in social media, our politics, our personal lives ... we all have stories to tell which we are incredibly passionate about. When an author's passion combines with a long-simmering desire to share those stories, the results often touch the heart: and Timothy Savage's debut, Davey's Savior, is no exception.
The eponymous Davey is a four-year-old growing up in Avila Beach with his single father, Sketch: and from the first chapter, we know they have secrets they are keeping from the community. Sketch goes out of his way to keep a low profile: it becomes clear fast that no one in Avila actually knows his full name. Davey's curious and outgoing nature is a dangerous counterpoint to this secrecy, and secrets begin to come to light when a whale shark is found washed up on the beach.
The owner of the local coffee shop, Anthony, is convinced that a blemish on the carcass looks like the face of Christ, and manages to make a photo of it go viral, drawing more and more people to the town. Among the visitors are a trio of Mexican nuns on a pilgrimage and a marine biologist, each with their own problems and challenges to face. As Davey and Sketch's secrets come to light, every one of them comes together in a climax I did not expect.
The novel starts out at a slow burn: Savage makes it very plain that Sketch and Davey have things to hide... big, potentially dangerous things. Aside from the discovery of the whale shark, this is the major thrust of the first third of the book. I admit that at first, I was frustrated by how much The Secret was dangled in front of my face: how often Sketch would fret and worry and obscure, despite any further clues to what he was hiding. I was so preoccupied with this that I missed the artful, tiny clues peppered throughout the story which foretold the climactic moments of the book. In retrospect, then, my frustration was negated, and I feel like I owe Tim Savage an apology for judging him a little in "stringing me along". What he did with his story is masterful: not just in its obfuscation of the plot twist, but in completely leading this reader in one direction at first, and then turning my expectations upside down in terms of theme, as well.
There were a few rough patches: notably the text conversations of Kendra, the marine biologist, which were a little jarring next to the prose, and some of the build-up between the whale shark's arrival and the furthering of the plot. But for those willing to forgive the novel its flaws, it has a fine reward.
When Anthony first hatches his plan to draw in customers through the miracle of the whale shark, readers may assume - as I did - that the titular Savior was meant to be Jesus Christ, and that the novel was about to take a heavily religious turn. The trio of nuns reinforced this ... but each character's own personal challenges eventually make it clear that this is not a novel about the saving power of Christianity, but the role of any form of faith in life. By setting the reader up and then dropping his twists and turns, Tim Savage makes them think right along with the characters ... connecting them to the book even more deeply. The book I found so slow to start was impossible to put down by the time I reached its second half. Davey's Savior is the literary equivalent of a log flume ride: you drift along for most of it, but the climb and the plunge at the end are so satisfying that you'll end up wanting to go again.
You can get your own copy of Davey's Savior here on Amazon. Tim Savage can be found most often on Twitter, and occasionally at his blog, Extemporalia.
I hope you've enjoyed my two cents this week, and that you'll join me again next Wednesday for whatever the moment brings!
Until next time, I remain your hostess,
It's editing season for yours truly, and since I'm about to dust off The Proper Bearing after its hibernation for some fine-tuning, I thought it was a good time to talk editing. As I've said in previous posts, it is vital to edit before self-publishing, and not just with a peer. If your budget for editing is non-existent, you have to be even more critical of your writing ... but with time and practice, good self-editing can become second nature. Without further ado, here are some of the resources I've used in the past to build my own habits!
Starting with the basics, ReadWriteThink has a checklist that's meant for classroom use, but still has some great starting points. It's also printable for use in writers' groups, workshops, or NaNoWriMo Write-Ins!
Fiction University has two great pages: The Spit Shine, which is a great last run-through, and more importantly, Crossing Words Off Your List, which covers the author's most important self-editing tool. The "Bad Words" list, which goes by many names, always serves the same basic prinicple: to help remove words which are either unnecessary or overused. Every author has a handful which are unique to them, and sometimes they aren't even words. (Confession: In The Cards had a lot of unnecessary ellipses before the final edit.)
Though those words are a good first step, they aren't everything. Grammar Girl's Editing Checklist covers the bases on ... you guessed it, grammar! This one is laid out simply, and yet very comprehensive, which makes it a good one to print out and keep in your editing binder if you prefer to edit on paper (like yours truly).
WordStream's Self-Editing Checklist includes talking points on all of the above, with an extra dose of humor. I take their final point with a grain of salt, however: they stress paring down your sentences as much as possible. While I'm a fan of a tightly written sentence, I also believe that keeping some of the proverbial meat on the bone helps you define your writing voice. Your mileage may, as with most method advice, vary.
Finally, there is my own Rainbow Editing Method, which I use in conjunction with my personal Bad Words file. I developed it while I was working on From The Desk of Buster Heywood, and it's gone a long way toward helping me identify my own problem areas. You're welcome to use it, too! There's a wrap-up post with links to all the sections right here.
Now, I'm about to dive into my own manuscript, so I'll see you all next Wednesday! Should you be up to the same task, happy editing ... and I hope you all have a great week!
Frequent visitors to Between The Lines will remember that back in January, I interviewed Sara Secora about her debut novel. After that interview, she was kind enough to send me a review copy ... and I am ready to share my thoughts on it with you all!
Throne of Lies is the first in a fantasy trilogy, written for Young Adults. Its heroine, Amethysta, is a princess unhappy with her destiny: to ascend to the throne of her kingdom. She also posesses a strange ability which has come to light just prior to the beginning of the story, and must keep it a secret from the kingdom for fear of how they might react. The typical duties of a queen-in-training - studies, social niceties, betrothal - all stretch Amethysta to her breaking point, and she begins to rebel in what small ways she can. When too many things go wrong in too short a time, she begins to finally seek out answers about her mysterious abilities, and where they came from. Her questions and troubles all come to a head at the ball where she is meant to formally assume the role of the heir to the throne, and by the end of the night, the stage is well set for the second book in the series.
Sara Secora's greatest strength as an author is her honest, straightforward portrayal of Amethysta. As a teen, she is subject to mood swings, a rebellious streak, and the confusion of first love ... and Secora handles them all deftly. The novel is told from Amethysta's point of view (aside from an attention-grabbing prologue), and her voice is not only convincing, but real. Some of the other reviews I have read lambaste Amethysta for being "wishy-washy" ... I consider this a great strength which lends to fantastic character development over the course of the trilogy. We know quite quickly, as readers, that we will be watching her grow up, and I have little doubt that the end of the third book will show her to have grown into a strong, capable woman.
The only complaint I have about the novel is not even a complete problem: the plot contains several standard fantasy cliches. However, they are each given just enough of a twist or alteration so that they are still enjoyable, even though the reader can make a pretty fair guess as to what will happen. Reading Throne of Lies was like going on a drive through the town where you grew up: the roads are all still familiar, but so much has changed along the way that there are still plenty of pleasant surprises.
Also of note is the amount of detail and work put into creating Amethysta's world. Her history lessons with her professor, the somewhat suspicious and memorable Gethin, showcase details of a richly layered history which hints at possible directions for the current plot. Secora's prose is in turns both simple and elaborate, flowing like the best of the high fantasy novels I grew up with: Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's countless Dragonlance trilogies and the work of Brian Jacques especially come to mind. If you know a teen who loves fantasy, or is struggling with anxiety issues, this book would make a wonderful gift. You can find it here on Amazon. For more information about Sara Secora, please feel free to visit her website!
Thanks for joining me this week, and I'll see you all back here next Wednesday!
Until then, let your imagination lift you into the light,
Okay, everyone, this is my last post in this series, and boy, is it a big pet peeve of mine. While I agree that everyone is entitled to their opinion, there are some very, very angry people out there who don't believe self-published authors deserve to call themselves "real". Don't believe me? There are two extremely awful articles in particular by a blogger named Michael Kozlowski on Good e-Reader. You can read them here (one and two), but if you're an indie author, I'd really advise against it: especially if you have high blood pressure. (See "you'll never be an author if your head explodes", several blog posts ago.)
The truth of the matter is: writing is just like any other profession. We start out by deciding that is what we want to do, and we begin to practice. A widely quoted axiom states, "If you write, then you are an author". You put words on the paper, and voila! A writer!
The trouble is, it may take you a while to think you're a real writer. Or even an author. (And that's before we even start talking about how others see you!) So you keep working, and get second opinions, feedback from fellow writers... maybe make a friend or two of some already-published folks. The more work you do, the more you live your life wanting to be a writer, the closer you come to believing it is true. And isn't that exactly what happened to ol' Pinoke, here? He had to prove himself brave, truthful, and unselfish to become a real boy. As for authors, I believe we have three different criteria to fill.
Prove your writing to be richly detailed, full of believable characters, and free of grammatical nastiness, and someday, you will know you are a real author.
Once you know that, you are your own Blue Fairy. You give yourself that spark: and no one will ever be able to take it away from you. If you need another pep talk, I can do no better than this one by long-established indie author guru Kristen Lamb. Go forth, prove yourself to yourself. I'll be here to cheer you on.
Until next week,
As an independent author, I encounter the same stereotypes, repeatedly:
Ouch, right? So I’ve decided to do my part by creating my own little toolkit to help fellow indie authors ensure that their writing shatters those stereotypes into tiny little splinters. I know there are a million other blogs and e-books that hand out this advice, but everyone does things their own way … why not document mine? This week, I’m going to start with the most technical of the three: Your Writing Must Not Be Good Enough.
In order to debunk this, we indie authors must first define what constitutes “good writing”. For my own part, when I review a book, I look for the following benchmarks:
This can be subjective. There are some very famous authors (I am looking at you, James Patterson and Danielle Steel) who can use almost cookie-cutter elements like sex or action scenes to string together the weakest of plot points. They have found something that works for them. The trouble is, if you want to be truly noticed as an indie author, cookie-cutter is not going to, well, cut it. Your plot should have a good, sharp hook or a unique element to it. Take a look at your writing, and if you can compare its plot easily to that of a famous author, try to find what makes it uniquely yours. Are you telling people “it’s just like (insert best-seller here)”? If they want Best-Seller X, they can just go and read it again. Tell them why they want YOUR story.
Well-defined Characters We Can Care About
I’m not just talking about lengthy, detailed descriptions of their hair, eyes, body, and clothing. What makes them tick? What do they fear, love, or have inside jokes about? Give your readers a glimpse of this before you’ve ended Chapter One - even on page one, if you can manage it. Also, I cannot stress this enough: character is not plot. If your main character is in trouble because they have to evade fifteen unpaid parking tickets and the police in their dystopian future consider this punishable by death? That’s plot. If they didn’t pay their parking tickets because they lined their guinea pig’s cage with them as a form of protest, and/or donated the money to the homeless guy on the corner of their block instead? That’s character. They can run from the cops all they want, but unless I know about that guinea pig and/or homeless guy, I’m not gonna care, even if they are gorgeous.
No Typos, Excessive Verbosity, or Overused Words
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Unless you are Lemony Snicket, if you say “The bomb covered in multicolored wires of various lengths and thicknesses like a spaghetti casserole from hell was getting closer to detonation. Esteban opened the junk drawer of the oaken hutch that his Great-Aunt Hattie had left to him in her will before she died of dysentery and gave it a thump to keep it from sticking, before pulling out the neon orange tool set at the back right corner of the drawer and opening it. He popped the latches and pulled out the smallest pair of tweezers with their red rubberized handles and whirled back around to face the explosive device with fervent determination” … your readers are going to be praying for that bomb to go off.
Consider, instead: “Esteban pounded on the junk drawer, cursing. Behind him, the bomb ticked on. He wrestled out his toolkit, almost dropping it in his haste to pop the catches. The pair of tweezers shook in his hands as he turned back to his work.” Sentences of mixed length help the prose flow more naturally, but leaning on short phrases with sparse description help create the sense of urgency Esteban is probably feeling as he’s trying not to get his apartment blown up.
Few to No Cliches
Unfortunately, the genres I see most in self-publishing are those which fall prey to the most clichés: romance and fantasy. Yes, I know that clichés and tropes exist for a reason: we love them, they’re fun. But they’re also super-predictable. If your reader knows what’s coming, they’re not going to want to bother reading it… unless, as with your plot, you give it that little dash of spice that makes it uniquely yours. Exhibit A: The brooding love interest who has to do That One Big Epic Thing to redeem their reputation. Make them less than perfect in the looks department, or completely unable to resist a sing-along. Give them a life-long dream of raising hedgehogs. It all goes back to the first two points: plot and character. Make them as indisputably yours as possible, and you’ll be well on your way to shattering the first Indie Author stereotype.
Thanks for joining me Between The Lines! Please share your thoughts below, and I hope you’ll join me next week, when I’ll bust the stereotype of The Lazy Indie Author!
Before the interview, I need to fill you all in about the #GuessWrite game on Twitter! Every month, several authors who host hashtag games (such as yours truly's [#2bitTues) choose a commonality for their themes during a certain week. One example: the latest #GuessWrite theme was "Friday the 13th", and I chose "" for #2bitTues. Every author who participates offers up a prize to the person who can guess the common theme the quickest... and this week, Kelly won my interview! Her serial sci-fi, Thelios, has been running for half a year now ... so as a new friend, I have a lot of reading to catch up on. While I'm doing that ... enjoy the interview!
1. What was one of your most random, unexpected inspirations?
A Twitter prompt! #2nights1stLine encourages late-night writers to share their first line of writing with the words “A great first line is pivotal and there’s no telling where that leap of imagination will take you in the wee hours of the night!” It was late at night and I needed to write up a short piece to supplement my main story when I read that. I focused on writing one good line. I had no thoughts or plans beyond that. It turned into one of my favorite scenes and led to the development of one of the defining characteristics for a main character.
2. Which book made you realize that you wanted to be an author?
While I’ve always enjoyed reading, I hated writing when I was younger due to my dysgraphia. I discovered my passion for telling stories via gaming. I love playing online roleplaying games with others: creating new characters, going on adventures, discovering their personalities and backgrounds. I started writing short little things for my characters (they were horrible, really, but I loved it!) When I started creating bedtime stories for my kids, my husband encouraged me to channel my creativity into writing. He had far more faith in my ability than I did - it took him 6 years to convince me to go for it!
3. Is there a book that you absolutely love that's the exact opposite of your "usual fare"? (Example: I hoard high fantasy, but have read Augusten Burroughs' "Running With Scissors" three times.)
I’m a sci-fi and fantasy fanatic, but I completely, unabashedly adore Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables”. I love the entire series and can really identify with Anne’s life-long search for kindred spirits.
4. Do you ever craft playlists for your writing projects? (Please share some of the songs you've used, if you do!)
I’ve got a playlist called OtterGoddess that I play over and over when writing. Songs on it include X Ambassadors “Renegades”; Hozier’s “Work Song”; the theme from Pacific Rim; E.S. Posthumous' “Moonlight Sonata”; and “Here to Stay” by Korn.
5. Which authors do you read when you need to fine-tune your own writing voice?
I am thoroughly in awe of how Jim Butcher brings out the personalities of his characters. Reading his work, I feel like I could just sit and have a conversation with them. Be it a regular person, bigfoot, or a cat warrior, his characters feel real and alive to me. I aspire to develop that skill.
I’ve also been reading some indie authors online - styles that are different from my own. Reading Don Lorah, Christopher Slagle, and Neil Christiansen inspires me to stretch and refine my style beyond my current comfortable bounds.
6. What would your dream workspace look like?
A small octagonal cottage set off from my house. This would be my space that I don’t have to share with anyone else in the family. Large windows would let in plenty of natural light during the day. At night there would be soft lighting - not too harsh or bright. The cottage would have a desk I can use for writing as well as space for working on art. A small book shelf, but I expect it would hold more knickknacks than books (the books would be in the house for everyone to read). A chaise lounge for daydreaming/plotting, and a good sound system are vital components. I’d need a mini fridge and an electric kettle for heating water for drinks.
I have the plans for it drawn up for “someday” when we can build it.
7. Obligatory Writing Beverage of Choice Question! (Bonus points if it isn't actually stereotypically coffee!)
I bleed French Roast, so I suppose I fit the cliche of coffee-addicted writer. Usually, though, I have my coffee before I’m able to do any writing. While working I usually sip hot herbal tea or ice water with lemon and ginger.
8. CDs or MP3s (or, hey, vinyl or cassette)?
I was once quite proud of my 45 record collection! Nowadays it’s mostly MP3s. Once in a while, though, I grab a CD to play for my kids. After their initial reaction of “you used to listen to THAT?!” they grab it and keep if for their own players.
9. What's your favorite Disney movie? (The former aspiring animator in me NEEDS to know.)
I’m torn between Big Hero 6 and Tangled. I love the story of Big Hero 6, but Tangled has two songs on my OtterGoddess playlist.
10. If you had to model your entire wardrobe after any fictional character, who would it be?
Not sure about a specific character, but my wardrobe would likely be very steampunkesque or gothic due to the number of corsets it would include.
11. Is there a theme which persistently creeps into your work, whether you want it to or not? (Please tell me it's not just me.) If so: what is it? If not: tell me your favorite to read about!
Connecting music to magic. The musician in me would argue they are one and the same, but I don’t plan for it to be in all my stories! I didn’t intend to have this connection in my current project at all - so of course it’s become an important aspect of my world and plans are for it to be a major theme in a follow-up story.
You can find Kelly at her website, Thelios, or on Twitter as @OtterGoddessKel! Thank you for joining me Between The Lines, and I'll see you here next week!
You may recall that a few weeks ago, I mentioned a blog post written by fellow independent fantasy author Sara Secora. That post was the beginning of a dialogue between us, and it led to my being interviewed on her blog! You can find my interview with her here ... and today, I am returning her kind favor! Her debut novel, Throne of Lies, is the first in The Amethysta Trilogy. Have a look at her book trailer before we dive in....
What came first: your YouTube gaming channel, your voice over work, or your writing? And how do you balance all three without losing your sanity?
First there was writing, then YouTube, and finally, voice over. That was the order in which it started for me. Funny enough, I probably wouldn’t have ever pursued voice acting if it weren’t for YouTube. Years ago, I was doing "Let’s Play" videos for video games. People kept commenting that my novice attempt at reading the dialogue in the game was good enough for me to try voice over. That peaked my interest and so, that is exactly what I did! Fast forward to three years later, and voice over has become a staple in my life and the path I’ve taken. I’m thankful for the push my viewers gave me.
First of all, I would NOT recommend that another person take on all three of these ventures at once. It really does bring on a lot of stress, and it’s probably not healthy. A year ago, I asked myself where do I want to be in five years. I ended up not choosing YouTube. I really buckled down on my novel during that time and my voice over, which lead me to put YouTube on the back burner. The main reason for this is when I questioned what kind of future did I wanted, YouTube seemed the most uncertain to me. At any moment, that platform could vanish; I was at the mercy of a website’s success. That thought didn’t comfort me any, so I focused on things I felt I had more control over. I do miss YouTube and have just recently made the choice to reinvent my channel for a purpose that is better suited for who I am now. Finding a balance is very important, but so is accepting change.
Did you always know Throne of Lies would be the first in the trilogy? If so, do you have most of the plot lined up already, or are you letting Amethysta lead you?
Throne of Lies was the plan for a long time. While I did/do have other novel ideas that excite me, I always felt as though Amethysta’s story was the important one. I felt her story was the most thought out and impactful one – it really outshined the others. As for the plot question, I do have a lot written down in my notes that resemble that of a madman’s thoughts. The mess of notes are scattered, and so poorly written that only I can truly decode them. I do have an idea of the main scenarios that I want to play out in Book Two, but the details are still being fleshed out. I like having a good mix of set in stone ideas and letting my writing lead me. As for Book Three, it is almost a complete haze to me at the moment. So, I’m taking it a step at a time, or more accurately, a book at a time.
Which came first: your characters, or their world?
Without a doubt, the characters came first. Amethysta, of course, came before anyone else. Then was Soren, (who was originally named Sora) Arkarial, and Gehlin. The world came second, and admittedly probably a bit later than it should have. My first few drafts were heavily focused on building these characters’ personalities and plots. Then came the world and its backstory. Figuring out the world was harder for me as I was trying to make it feel alive and real – complete with history and landmarks. The struggle was also in trying to make my world unlike anything that had already been done.
What was your "gateway" fantasy novel? Was it the same as the one that made you want to write?
I would say there was a few and I’m going to list them in no particular order.
Alice in Wonderland: This was a magical tale that has resonated with me into my mid 20’s. In fact, it was so remarkable to me that I have half my arm tattooed with Alice’s imagery on it! I love it because of the whimsical nature of the story, the graceful writing, and the fact that there is nothing else quite like it.
The Hollow’s: This novel is the reason I chose to write Amethysta’s story in first-person. Even though I knew that the majority of readers preferred to read third-person and it was easier to writer in third, I still chose the former due to this particular novel and my experience reading it. First-person perspectives offer such a profoundly intimate reading experience that I felt it was most fitting for the Amethysta trilogy be told that way.
Stardust: I own the paperback, audiobook, and movie for this tale. It is by far my favorite piece of fantasy in the world. I cannot think of a story that has as much ground covered in it and is written as fantastically as this tale was. Romance, magic, struggle, and every piece of fantasy one could desire – Stardust has everything neatly wrapped in wonder!
That's one awesome book trailer you've made! (Is it you, narrating?) How long did it take you, and do you have any resources you'd recommend for authors looking to build their own book trailers?
Thank you! I was very hands on with every aspect of my book – even the trailer. While I designed the entire thing, I did not voice it. The woman, Holly Lindin, who voiced my audio book also voiced the trailer. That trailer was fairly quick to make, it took only a few weeks. Most of the holdup was my friend animating small portions of it, such as the magic bit. However, it was rather expensive to create. I probably spent around $500 buying the royalties of the clips via Video Block’s website. For those looking to create their own trailers, I’d recommend finding something within your budget! There’s a lot of options on the internet: from companies who can made movie like trailers for you to mid-range budget friendly options like I did to even a nearly free one of just using a template online without royalties involved.
What's your favorite way to connect with your readers?
I’m very involved with all things related to the internet. Mainly, I like to stay connected via social media! However, I am trying to find more ways to build up my network to stay in the know with them even better. That’s part where my new blog comes in – An Author’s Journey – I am building up a newsletter with those interested in following me and my journey!
And finally, what projects do you have simmering right now, in store for your fans?
Writing wise: My top priority is to continue writing Book Two of the Amethysta Trilogy. I’m also working on several other novel ideas on the side, exploring other genres and forms of writing.
Voice Over/Acting wise: I’m voicing tons of video games, animations and more. More surprising is that this year I’ve decided to take the plunge and attempt onscreen acting! So, you might see me in an indie film in 2017! *fingers crossed*
YouTube wise: I’ve been working on reinventing my channel so I can bring back some heart into my content again. I’d like to include my other ventures on this format and combine all my passions.
Thanks to Sara for joining me Between The Lines this week! Be sure to check out Throne of Lies: I've started my own copy and will be reviewing it here in time! I hope you all have a great week, and I'll see you all here next Wednesday. As always: until next time, I remain your hostess,
Today is officially Yule, the Winter Solstice, which marks when longer nights slowly begin to turn to longer days. It is the longest night of the year ... which makes it perfect for curling up with a cup of your favorite holiday beverage (cocoa for me!) and a good book!
I have received review copies of four indie books from four very talented women, and will be steadily devouring them over the weeks to come. A couple are not quite in the same vein as The Novels of Aviario, but I believe that independent authors should look out for each other, regardless of genre! So there'll be a little variety in the offerings. Here's a sneak peek at what I'll be reviewing soon:
Some Assistance Required by C.L. Ogilvie - Supernatural meets romantic comedy when a human in a world full of supernatural creatures takes a job as a personal assistant to a very unique attorney. This one's been described as "a supernatural version of Bridget Jones"... I think I'm in for a fun read!
Mothmen: Myths & Legends, Volume One by Kaelan Rhywiol (no purchase link available) - Another supernatural romance ... I was told by the author that this one is more explicit, so I will be writing my review for her to post on her website. (I try to keep the books I review here to an R rating.) Once it's finished, I'll post a link to the review for those who would care to read it.
The Order of Moonlight by Lexi Miles - Lexi's synopsis on Amazon makes this sound like a boiler-plate supernatural romance, but she assures me there's plenty of mystery and suspense, as well. She's a sweet, supportive friend, so I look forward to seeing what she's cooked up ... I have a feeling she may be selling herself short in her descriptions.
Stolen Ink by Holly Evans - Holly's a colleague of mine, and her writing is fabulous. This is the first in her new urban fantasy series, which blends magic with the art of tattooing. It's a really original concept, and I'm excited to see what she does with it!
Since I won't see you all here again until after the holidays, I hope you all have a wonderful week, no matter what you celebrate! I'll see you all next time for the last blog post of 2016!
This has to do with my writing. I promise.
I first heard of Amanda Palmer back in 2003, via word-of-mouth on DeviantArt, where I was posting some of my earliest Aviario portraits and some pretty ridiculous fanart (it's mostly just the portraits, now). One of the artists I followed was a fan, and would blog about her far-between experiences at the Dresden Dolls' live shows. I hadn't heard the music yet, but said artist was absolutely blown away by how personable the two folks in the band were, and I thought: "They actually got to hang with the band? They must've really been something." (As it turns out, the band hung with everyone, because they're just that connected to their fans. Which is amazing.)
Fast-forward to when a dear friend, Damien, gave me a mix CD for my birthday, because we are soul sisters when it comes to that sort of thing (she was also one of the inspirations behind Crowley, and if you're reading this, Damien, I love you dearly). On it was a song called "Half Jack" by - oh hey, those Dresden Dolls again. It started out quiet and sinister and sad and turned into this absolute cacophony of anger and pain and desperation, and I thought I'd never heard human emotion turned into song so well in my life. I had to find more. So I went to their website, and magically, they offered some of their stuff for free, because they believed in that sort of thing. I devoured it all, and fell in love with the lead singer, pianist, and lyricist, as much as you can fall in love in that idealistic sort of way. (Well, maybe not quite as much as I'd fallen in love with Danny Elfman, but she's a close second. If she ever reads this, I hope she knows that's pretty damn high praise in my book.)
Amanda's music is not for everyone. And she is one hundred percent okay with this. She creates what she wants to create, she is equally tender and vicious, and that really touches me: the thought that someone can both be empathetic and angry as hell, honest and raw and sweet. She makes music for people with artistic souls: she gets what it means to be creative, how it feels.
She also broke away from her major label after it treated her like crap, and is now supported almost entirely by her fans. When the story of this got out, she did a little thing called a TED Talk, and titled it "The Art of Asking". You can watch it here. I highly recommend that you do. It only takes twelve minutes out of your day, and it will change how you think about busking, art, artists, giving, and human connection. I'd already had some of the ideas she set forth in this talk, but hearing them validated by an artist I admired so much set off something inside me. It lit a candle. And now I feel like a lantern. I have light worth reading by.
The point is, long story short (too late?), that I know that my writing and my art have worth, far beyond the $16 or $3.99 per book. That worth is the look on people's faces when they say "You wrote a book? Wow!", the handwritten note from my neighbor which says "You are amazing Angela! Thanks for sharing", and most importantly, the young people who have approached me, online and at signings, to say that it is their absolute dream to write, and ask how to do what I have done. My writing has the greatest worth of all, because it is my calling. It is what I was meant to do: not sit in front of a desk quality-checking data and writing procedures.
I want to be able to spend my entire life doing this, as much as I can. I want to give you places to escape to, characters to befriend, stories that resonate. And I'm realizing that I cannot do that in a larger capacity without your help.
There is a site called Patreon, which mimics the old Renaissance concept of creators having patrons who help support them while they create. I have an account there, now: and if you become one of my patrons by pledging a monthly amount toward my work, you will receive lovely things - even if you can only spare a dollar a month. A dollar a month pays half of my domain fees. Five dollars a month buys three copies of my book to bring to signings. It adds up, far more than the $8 I receive for a paperback book... and by helping me create, you receive so much more. Less stress over money for me means better content for you, in addition to my undying gratitude.
The best thing about all of this? If you and I spread the word, and enough people are kind enough to help me, I won't have to sit in front of a desk, quality-checking data and writing procedures. Instead, I can sit in front of a desk writing beautiful, terrible, real-as-life things and sharing them with all of you. I can spend more time connecting with all of you, hearing what you love, what you want to see, telling you how much I appreciate you ... getting to know you.
Art has always had the deepest purpose of bringing people together, of telling them something about each other and about the world... of bringing solace and joy in times when it is needed. I think we're going to need an awful lot of that in the years to come, and I can think of no better thing to support than the nurturing of the human soul. I've pledged what I can to Amanda, and when a friend begins his own Patreon next year, I'll be pledging to him, too, and as many others as I can.
If you've been moved by what I've written, I ask you as humbly as I can: please come and be my patron and my friend. We can do great things together.
Until next time, I remain your hostess,
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Jette Harris since my early Twitter authoring days, and the good fortune to be one of her beta readers for her gut-wrenching thriller series “My Name Is Not Heather Stokes”. In between its first installment, Colossus, and the upcoming Two Guns, she began work on “Phoenix Rising”, a series of novellas which follows the sinister serial killer known as The Phoenix along the path which leads him to the man we see in Colossus. It begins in his youth, and is projected to follow him right up to the events of “My Name Is Not Heather Stokes”. Here is my unsolicited, unbiased, unvarnished review of the two existing novellas.
I must begin by saying that ALL of Harris’ novels contain unbridled scenes of abuse, both emotional and physical. If you cannot read such things, for any reason, I recommend that you steer clear. If you’re still with me, let’s begin.
Phoenix Rising, Book 1: Flint Ranch
We begin in rural Colorado, with young Thaddeus “Thatch” Adams. He and his mother live on Flint Ranch, a small horse farm, with his uncle, Jed. It is clear from page one that their surrogate home is anything but safe. Under Jed’s crooked, cruel rule of the household, nothing is allowed to remain innocent. Flint Ranch becomes a place where angels fear to tread, as the few allies Thatch and his mother have abandon them. When a pack of wolves menaces the farm, uncle and nephew are both pushed to their breaking point.
It is suggested that Jed’s business dealings are as crooked as his morals, and that backed himself into a corner with his dealings: one reason why he may be taking his anger out on his family. He is never fully fleshed out, which is for the best: it makes it easier for the reader to demonize him in the same way that Thatch does. The solace he finds in the horses is simply written, but poignant: they become his second family in scenes which are a perfect counterpoint to Jed’s abuse.
Thatch’s abuse is rough to watch, because Harris holds no punches. Her prose is raw and unapologetic, and there were times when I felt my throat and stomach tighten - particularly during one brutal scene in the barn. But Thatch’s first acts of rebellion are the seeds which will help him survive … and grow into the man who becomes Avery Rhodes.
The prose is quick, rough, and jerks from phrase to phrase, mimicking the anxiety and tension so perfectly that it’s hard not to empathize with Thatch, especially as he enters his teenage years and begins to fully comprehend what has been going on around him. Flint Ranch’s ending is abrupt, but it feels right: cut off with a final line as sharp as a gunshot. Even though the novella clocks in at under 100 pages, it carries an impact that lingers.
Phoenix Rising, Book 2: Salvage
Not long after the events of Flint Ranch, Thatch is sent to Colorado Springs. There, he enters the care of his father Wren Chares, a Greek mechanic. In the course of adjusting to his new home and school, Thatch begins to slowly recover from the abuse he suffered at Jed’s hands. But pieces of Wren’s history still haunt him, and they will come back to affect Thatch, too…
I was just as anxious as Thatch to meet Wren Chares. I, too, feared that he might be another abusive figure, but I was quickly proven wrong, and grew to love him as a character. His quiet demeanor and gentle insistence upon manners and sophistication, despite his lower-class stature, are a refreshing polar opposite to the horrors of Flint Ranch. Harris’ writing reflects this, losing a great deal of the brusque pacing and tension she strung through the previous novella.
Thatch’s post-traumatic state of mind is treated with a deft hand, showing us the lingering after-effects of abuse, both physical and emotional. One scene in particular, when Thatch is shown to his new room, is heart-breakingly beautiful, and his responses to what were considered “normal” locker room antics in the 1970s are revelatory.
Wren’s moonlighting job is handled with equal mastery, as Thatch begins to sort out his own opinions on the nature of the world, what he might want to do with the rest of his life, and his own attractions.
doctor as his father tells him stories of his own compassion and resilience, and learns first-hand by accompanying him on house calls to the brothel, where he begins to sort out his own attractions. I dare not give anything away, but the climactic scene of the novella is the birth of Thatch’s purpose, and brings joy mixed with tragedy. Where Flint Ranch was the record of Thatch’s pain, Salvage lays down the first, tentative steps toward his recovery… and ends on a note even more abrupt.
To wrap things up, I must stress that despite the graphic scenes which scar Thatch, there is far more to these novellas than shock value - if anything, it is not what happens to characters which is of note, but how they handle themselves in the aftermath. Thatch’s progression from victim to tentative survivor is what has me waiting on the edge of my comfy reading chair for the next novella.
You can find all of Jette's published works on her Amazon author page, here. Please also take a moment to follow her on Twitter and Facebook, and visit her Wordpress blog, where she frequently shares excerpts from her work in progress, and shorter pieces.
With that, I am going to tuck this blog in for a NaNoWriMo nap, and I will see you all in December! Thanks to all of you for your continued support - I wouldn’t be here without you!
Until next time,
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