I have such mixed feelings about this book.
From the very beginning, that is, before even opening to read the jacket, this book drew me in. The cover design was absolutely phenomenal, which matters to me especially as an artist. The title was intriguing; it sounded like exactly my type of book. But what really did it for me was the tagline:
“In my land, we’re known as Paper Girls… easily torn, existing only for others to use and discard. But there’s something they’ve all forgotten about paper. It can light the world on fire… and make it burn.”
From this description, I was expecting much more of a dystopian story than a fantasy one, one with rich worldbuilding, a caste system, and a story focused on rebellion. And I was excited.
So with all of this, I was sold before even opening the cover. Which meant I hadn’t read the synopsis when I took the book home with me. Big mistake.
But even if I had read the synopsis before starting to read, I would have known nothing about the elaborate half animal-half human demons that make up half the cast. Needless to say, I was very surprised to open the book a few pages in and find a description of the distinctions in humanity between the different castes. This is definitely not what I had signed up for.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I read fantasy, too. I even write it. But it can be very off-putting when it comes as a surprise, especially when it’s taken to the extreme that it is here. This is entirely personal preference on my part, but I much prefer a human cast, and this book definitely pushed the definition of human beyond what I’m used to.
Now, if I had known that this is what the book would be about, I still might have picked it up, and probably enjoyed it more than I did. But the fact of the matter is, I had built such high expectations for this book in my head that I was disappointed with what I got, which sort of put a damper on things from the beginning.
Another issue I had was that the rebellion aspect of the plot took up very little space on the page. It didn’t pop up at all until about halfway through the story, and even when it did, the main character, Lei, didn’t have very much agency or control in the plot whatsoever. If not for an unexpected turn of events that almost qualifies as a deus ex machina, Lei would have had little to no role in the climax at all.
Instead, the major focus of the plot was forbidden romance, which was well-written, and a wonderful inclusion of LGBT representation, but it just wasn’t what I was craving when I picked up the book.
That being said, the love interest was very well-rounded, and I think her character was more developed than Lei’s was, if I’m being honest. But I definitely enjoyed watching the relationship unfold, as it didn’t feel rushed or forced in anyway as you so often get in novels like this. I also really appreciated the way that the main character came to terms with her orientation and the implications her relationship held in terms of the plot.
I also enjoyed the unfoldings of the plot in the first half of the book, though they weren’t what I was expecting. Watching the main character struggle with what is expected of her, what she needs in order to maintain her integrity, and the consequences she faces was very compelling from both a plot and character perspective.
Yet one part that I thought to be very under-explored was Lei’s search for her missing mother, who was stolen years ago. I feel like the mystery that seems to drive her in the beginning of the book is almost ignored, and it’s “resolved” when she simply accepts that her mother is probably dead, which I found incredibly underwhelming.
My final issue with this book was the actual writing itself. As I writer myself, that’s something I pay attention to more than the average reader, and I have never been so annoyed with the way a book was written in my life. The author struggles from a severe lack of commas throughout the entire novel, and it was extremely off-putting for me. I found myself reading over the same sentence three times, trying to figure out why it felt so wrong and correcting it in my head. Doing this what felt like hundreds of times throughout the novel became very distracting very fast.
Yet despite all my mixed feelings about this book, I never put it down. It was aggravating, but I also found myself attached to the plot, demanding answers about how things would end up. Honestly, I can’t even tell you if I enjoyed reading it or not. As of right now, the jury is still out.
Buy it on Bookshop
“This might be a good time to remember that writing a novel is hard.”
Overall, Story Genius was a wonderful read with a refreshing take on the writing process. If you open up this book with even a glimmer of an idea for a novel, if you follow along, you can close the back cover well into the first chunk of your first draft. But if you’re a little farther along in your writing process, the concrete method outlined in this book won’t necessarily work for you exactly, and some pieces may be redundant or irrelevant. Regardless, there are some incredible ideas in this book about the craft and philosophy of writing that everyone can learn from. I’ve outlined some of the major points below.
1. Story and plot are not the same thing. One of the earliest and most important assertions that the author makes is this, and if you take away nothing else from her work, this should be the thing. Without a story behind it, a plot is nothing but a string of external events with no significance, and because of this, a plot on its own does not have the power to grasp readers. A story, on the other hand, is about a specific, difficult obstacle that a character faces and how that character is forced to change their worldview and deal with a specific internal conflict as a result of those events. This distinction is extremely important, and the reason goes back to the psychological reason why stories are so compelling to us as humans. A well written story leaves us so in-tune with the struggles and emotions of the protagonist that we are not merely sitting there watching as the events of the fictional world unfold, but we are living those events in full color through the character’s eyes, a phenomenon that occurs in no other medium of modern entertainment. And in striving to achieve that phenomenon, we must give our readers the juicy, emotional bits of internal conflict that allow us to experience a book as more than just a series of events playing across a scene.
2. A novel must be written in chronological order. One of the main traps that beginning writers fall into is the temptation to jump around when they’re writing from scene to scene, writing when the inspiration strikes and you get into the right mood. Now, it’s very likely that you’re thinking that this sounds ridiculous, pretentious, and arbitrary, and initially, you might be right. But upon closer inspection, this rule actually makes a lot of sense. Internal logic is essential to the success of a novel, and it must be based off of a coherent, concrete cause-and-effect trajectory. Simply put, each event (and each internal change that accompanies it) needs to have been cause by the event before it and needs to trigger the one after. Without this, your novel will be left feeling episodic, one event that happens after another, after another, but never escalating into one, distinct, climactic conflict. This interior logic will also allow your reader to try to guess what will happen next, and instead of making your book predictable, it will actually make your novel more fun to read. There is one exception too this rule, however, and it comes in the form of the ending scene. Over the course of writing your novel, it helps to have a clear destination in mind so you can make sure your plot doesn’t veer way off track.
3. Your protagonist must begin the story with a specific past. Think about it. We already know that it is essential for a successful story that your protagonist must undergo an internal change. And in order to change, you have to have a starting point that you can change from. It sounds glaringly obvious, so it’s surprising how many authors overlook this detail and fail to learn anything about their main character that happens before page one. It’s incredibly important to establish your character’s starting worldview because this internal set of beliefs will bleed their way onto the page by informing every decision that this character will make. But it’s not enough to decide on a general belief system. It’s important to delve into the specific events and circumstances that shaped your character’s worldview before the book even begins, as well as the specific ways the character reacted and was affected by them. You’d be surprised to find out how often fleshing out these early scenes early on will help when it comes time to writing your manuscript because its very likely that they’ll make it onto the page in some form, likely as flashbacks or backstory.
4. A finished novel is many layers deep, but it is important to remember that they don’t begin that way. Looking at the intricate weave of subplot upon subplot, dozens of secondary characters, exhilarating settings, internal struggle, and external hurtles, writing a novel can be extremely intimidating, and it can also lead to the misconception that novels are written this way, with all of these layers being seamlessly developed side by side, all at once. But that simply isn’t the case. A complex novel is formulated one layer at a time, so don’t let that initial fear convince you that it’s better to take the simple route and only write one layer at all, because subplots are what keep a novel interesting and distinguish it from others in its genre. Instead, as you trek along with your main story-line, notice the obvious subplots that start to evolve. As you learn more about your characters and your plot, you can start to write in the interesting details that make up a secondary story-line. The trick is, after you discover these lines, to double back to the early stages of your manuscript and make it look like you knew what you were doing all along.
So yes, writing a novel is hard. But with the wonderful insight and compelling tone that Lisa Cron provides in Story Genius, the process gets just a little bit easier.
Buy it on Bookshop
There’s nothing wrong with medieval Europe. In fact, I love it. I’ve studied it, re-enacted it, and fallen totally in love with the period. But there are other periods and cultures, and they deserve their share of the limelight when it comes to fantasy settings, though that isn’t to say I’m totally ready to kick Europe to the curb just yet.
So while I’m still a little emotionally attached to medieval Europe, I have striven to incorporate other cultures into my world in order to spice things up a little bit and give some cross-cultural representation.
1. Double-check that your cast isn’t all white. (You should really be doing this anyway, and if you aren’t, you need to re-examine your writing on a whole different level than this post can provide.) It sounds very obvious, but this is a basic measure that can pull your writing out of the stereotypical medieval European setting. And yes, it’s definitely true that there were many people of color living in pre-modern Europe, but it’s a sad fact that it is never portrayed this way. Adding color to your cast can brighten your setting and make it stand out from the traditional portrayal of medieval fantasy, not to mention that it gives valuable and greatly needed representation to the POC community. The greatest pitfall that writers fall into when doing this is throwing in token characters or adhering to stereotypes. For me, the easiest way to make sure I don’t fall into this trap is to subvert the assumption that white is the default. The right way to represent people of color could take up another entire post, so I won’t go into the details here, but the bottom line is to check yourself and check your prejudice, and if in doubt about whether something is offensive or not, check.
2. Mix up the nomenclature. Everything in your fantasy world probably has a name, from your cities and towns to your characters, and more often than not these names all have a very European feel to them. One of the best ways that I’ve found to avoid this is using inspiration from foreign languages. It’s so easy to plug a word into google translate and scroll through non-romance languages until you find a translation that resonates with you. You’ll probably have to modify it some, and arguably, you probably should, but just this simple step is an easy way to give your nomenclature roots in something outside of our traditional conception of Europe. Some of my favorite languages to use are Croatian, Latvian, Maltese, Malay, and Malagasy, but these have just proven to give the best results for the feel of my current WIP.
3. Explore different religions. Even if you don’t call it Christianity, your monotheistic religion with the same governing principles is screaming of traditional medieval Europe. Even if you don’t want to go to the trouble of inventing an entire pantheon of gods (though I recommend it; it’s a lot of fun), there’s a lot you can do to incorporate elements of other cultures into your world’s religion. Religion is at the core of a lot of life’s major ceremonies, and diverting those from the ones we experience in our own Judeo-Christian world can do a lot to change the perception of the setting. Arranged marriages, spells and curses of voodoo, mandated regular prayer, and so much more can be used to enhance the religion in your world, especially in the ways in which it permeates daily life.
4. Change the viewpoints and value systems. There are a very typical set of prejudices that go along with traditional European society, and along with them a very distinct set of values. I believe that it is in human nature to be cruel and prejudicial, but there is no reason that a fictional society’s prejudices have to be the same as our own society’s. Why should their hate be on the basis of race, sex, or sexuality? There is no reason. There are a thousand different ways that people can despise one another, and as long as you can come up with a logical progression of events that would have led to the beliefs, there is no reason why you as a writer cannot invent your own, and doing so will set your society in stark contrast to medieval Europe.
5. Do your research. There is such a rich wealth of cultures out there with incredibly diverse practices, beliefs, and traditions. Broaden your horizons and cast out a wider net and discover what non-European cultures have to offer your work. Just make sure to double check yourself and avoid using anything that could be considered stereotypical or offensive. But when done right, representation of other cultures is not only helpful to our society, but makes for a more interesting read.
For more information, visit these helpful links:
Yes, There Were People of Color in Pre-Modern Europe
Off the Beaten Path: Non-Traditional Fantasy Settings
Using Non-Western Influence in Fantasy
First, let me just say that I’m not a proponent of reading the classics just for the classics’ sake. Oliver Twist? The Old Man and The Sea? No, thank you. But I would strongly recommend reading The Crucible, as it has truly earned its place among the ranks of the great.
The Crucible is a play, and many would argue that it is best enjoyed in the form of a performance, whether that be on screen or on stage. Yet between watching the movie and reading the text, I much preferred taking it all in in the form of a book. Granted, I haven’t had the opportunity to see it live, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I would still prefer the book.
In case you didn’t know, The Crucible is a piece of historical fiction written during the Red Scare that centers on the Salem witch trials, and the main theme of the play is the drawing of comparisons between the two events. In doing this, we get to see the hysteria that develops around the accusations of witchcraft, and how the townspeople, and the court officials, use their religious beliefs to justify their persecution.
Now, Miller used this to draw comparisons to the arbitrary accusations that ruined careers during the Red Scare, but I prefer to think of the themes in a more modern context. There is no shortage of ways in which religion is used to rationalize oppression and mistreatment of peoples in contemporary society. There is an undeniable recurrence of events here, and Miller points out a troubling pattern of human behavior.
Personally, this is a theme that I am particularly drawn to, as it echoes those within my current writing. But if deep analysis of human nature isn’t quite your thing, there are still plenty of reasons to enjoy this book.
The dynamics between characters are extremely compelling and complex in this work, and there is so much more going on in addition to the main plotline. The play is exciting right from the beginning, starting out with questions just begging to be answered, and it grabbed my attention right away. Once I got going, I couldn’t put it down.
I’d highly recommend this book, but the one small drawback for me was the ending. I won’t spoil it, but it did feel like a bit of a let down after such a gripping, fast-paced story.
Buy it on Bookshop
It’s no secret in the writing world that one of the most important elements of achieving success is having an eye-catching, professional, and well-designed book cover, and if you’re smart, you’ve probably hired a graphic designer to do this. But did you know that a cover is far from the only way that you can use graphic design to help further your writing career?
One of the first ways you can incorporate graphic design into your branding is to design a personal logo. A logo will make you seem professional, and it can help tie all of your branding together. A well-made logo can appear on your website, business cards, letter heads, resumes, job listings, or anything else you might want to put together for yourself. But a poorly designed logo can be more detrimental to you than having no logo at all, so here are some things to consider.
1. First and foremost, know your level of artistic ability. If you are not an artist, do not try to design your logo yourself, at least without a good deal of practice and experimentation. This isn’t to say you can’t learn the skills needed to be a graphic designer or even teach yourself, but you need to approach this with a degree of professionalism. A logo is often the first thing a customer associates with a company, and it can define your brand. So if you don’t want to put in the time and effort to design your logo yourself, hire somebody!
2. Know your image and know what you want to say. A well-designed logo needs to convey the personality of you and your writing. My writing tends to have a dark side, so I used darker toned colors in order to convey that in my own logo. A romance writer might want to use pinks and scarlets while a writer of children’s lit would typically tend to a brighter, more diverse palette. Regardless of the genre, the colors you choose in your logo should say something about your work, and you need to choose your colors deliberately. Overall shape and style is another important factor to consider when choosing your design. The shapes that you use are read to have certain meanings that can subconsciously suggest a certain image to the viewer. In general, curved shapes tend to have emotional meanings, such as community, unity, friendship, and love, while more rigid shapes tend to represent professionalism, balance, practicality, and strength. You also must consider the style of the artwork that you will incorporate, if you incorporate any imagery at all. For instance, I chose very clean and simple images for my logo in order to seem professional and put together. The elements of your image are every bit as important as the quality of your design, and it is very important to put out an accurate representation of yourself.
3. Make sure you have a high-quality image file. A vector-based image file is preferred to a pixel-based image because no matter what size you want to display your image at, it will always maintain the same pristine quality. If you try to blow up pixel image past a certain point, you risk it becoming grainy and pixelated. A great program for vector-based graphics is Adobe Illustrator, but it can get expensive. That being said, if you do have to use a pixel-based image (such as a JPG or PNG), make sure it is the proper resolution. At least 300 DPI is necessary for printing purposes, but a most screens only portray 72 DPI, so that resolution is high enough for web use. However, it is very important that a JPG is not the only file type that you have your image in. JPG files will corrupt over time, as they compress each time they are opened, and this means that you will eventually lose your image completely. There is no point in having a logo that is too poor quality to use.
4. Your first idea probably isn’t your best. Real designers go through pages and pages of iterations in the form of pencil sketches before they even start a finalized project. Sit down and make a list of your ideas. Draw some sketches if that works for you. Let your ideas flow and look at some inspiration images. Trust me, it helps, and you’ll be happier with your final result.
5. Go beyond a logo. Graphic design is limitless. I put together a poster that can be seen on the home page of my website, and it’s a great graphic for putting onto promotional items such as bookmarks and T-shirts. Shirt sales can be a great way to bring in additional revenue, but the design has to be something interesting, eye-catching, and appealing. The key to this step is creativity. Have some fun with it and experiment a little. A great way to do this is a company called Printful, which allows you to create printed products with your own images and runs as a print on demand service, which means there’s no risk to you. Play around with some designs. See what works!
A peek at my design process:
1. Inspiration images. Think of some themes or imagery that interest you. Google it. Google logos for your career. Try many different search terms until you find a pool of examples that you like. Then sit down and look at them and decide what elements you want to pull from. But that doesn’t mean that plagiarism is okay. You can use p to 10% of a design without crediting the artist. Above that, you need to rework things beyond being recognizable to the original piece. Here are some of the images that I pulled from:
2. Sketches. They don’t have to be good. They don’t have to be finalized. They don’t have to have details or order. All your really need to worry about is composition and getting your ideas out onto your paper. Here was my sketchbook page:
3. Start working in your final format. Typically, this will be a digital platform, such as Adobe Illustrator. Replicate your favorite sketch. Add color. Decide if you still like it. This was the first digital iteration of my logo (the grid was just the background on my Illustrator workspace):
4. Revamp. Edit. Make all the little changes you want, and feel free to experiment. One of the great things about digital art is that you can copy your design, paste it into a new area, and make all the changes you like. Don’t like it? Go back to the old version. Repeat until you don’t hate it anymore. And voila, you have a finished logo.
It has been a very long time since I've had the free time to sit down and actually read a book, a fact which I very much regret, but this novel was captivating, and I absolutely could not put it down. Not only was the plot extremely compelling, full of exciting twists and turns, but it was also incredibly well written. I highly recommend this book to all fans of young adult literature, especially low fantasy. The Savior's Champion combines the thrill of risk of life and death competition, intriguing and complicated romance, and themes of duty and commitment to both family and country. The style of writing was refreshingly human, if at times crude, but it only serves to enhance the humanity of the characters.
The characters in this novel are some of the most realistic, well-rounded, and well-written I have ever encountered. This novel perfectly captures the nature of young men, from the way they interact with one another, to their cruelty and their lust for women and for power. Each of these characters has a distinct personality, and every single one of them is compelling in their own way.
Not only were the characters and plot astounding, but this was one of the best examples I have seen of LGBTQ representation in literature, especially in the medieval fantasy genre. The representation was present in many ways, avoiding the one token character that we so often see. It was also seamlessly integrated into the text; it was never questioned and always accepted as something that was perfectly normal, a refreshing take on incorporating representation into writing.
Overall, The Savior's Champion was the best read of 2018, and I cannot wait for the sequel.
Buy it on Bookshop
Mastering the marketing element of social media can be one of the most difficult tasks for both new and aspiring writers. There are so many different platforms and so much out there, that it can be easy to get lost or overwhelmed, especially when social media is a form of communication and marketing that most of us are fairly new to. But we are in a digital age, and authors without a strong social media presence are practically committing marketing suicide.
So whether you have yet to set up any of your own accounts, consider yourself a social media guru, or are somewhere in between, here are some tips to make sure you don't get lost in the rabbit hole.
1. Don't spread yourself too thin. Instead of trying to maintain a presence on every platform you can get your hands on, focus your efforts on one or two sites. It's better to whole-ass one thing than to half-ass a lot of things.
2. Know your target audience, and pick your platforms accordingly. Every platform has a very different user base, and putting yourself on the wrong field is a waste of your time and efforts. Facebook has a much older user base than Instagram, and Twitter is a melting pot of all different kinds of people. As a YA writer, I don't have any kind of Facebook profile, and my main profile is on Instagram. My best advice is that before you get started, do your research!
3. Don't pick a platform that you don't like. There are thousands of options out there, and there is no hard and fast rule that you have to be on one of the big names. Effective use of social media requires a lot of time and active engagement, and you won't be able to dedicate the time you need to a platform you hate.
4. Be active. I think there is a common misconception out there that social media is something you can set and forget, like posting a more traditional type of advertisement, but that simply isn't the case. If you do not keep updating your feed with relevant content, your existing followers will get bored, and you will cease to acquire any new followers. There is no point in having a social media account if you aren't going to use it.
5. Be relevant. Keep your content relevant to the work you are trying to promote, your career as a writer, reading, and anything else that your target audience is interested in. That isn't to say that you can't post anything about your personal life; readers like to see their favorite writers as real people, but try to keep your writing profile distinct, consistent, and at least a little bit professional.
6. Be yourself. If you have something unique and genuine to bring to the world through your writing, then it's likely your personality will have some of those same qualities, too. Social media is an informal place where readers can really get to know the authors they follow, and this can be an amazing opportunity to attract readers to your style and flair. No one is interested in flat and fake personalities on social media . Don't be afraid to show the world a little bit of the real you. (Just stay away from hot-topic controversies in order to avoid alienating potential readers)
7. Remember that social media users are not here for constant ad-blasting and self promotion. Frankly, it's annoying. That doesn't mean you can never promote your work, but it shouldn't be all you post. In fact, it shouldn't even be the majority of what you post. The purpose of social media is to engage in the community and form meaningful relationships with potential readers and like-minded individuals, not just advertising. If you build those relationships right, you will have a loyal fan base eager and willing to read your work when the time comes.
Happy posting, writers! Visit these helpful links if you want to learn more.
The Ultimate Social Media Guide for Writers
Twitter Marketing 101: for Writers
Which Platforms You Need to be On, Based on What You Write
The Best Social Media Strategies for Creative Writers
7 Social media Tips for Writers Who Want to Get Noticed
How to Promote Your Book on Instagram, Without Spending a Lot of Money
Hey readers! First off, thank you all so much for your support, and thank you for tuning in! November was one of the busiest months of my life, and things are just now starting to settle down. So what better time to start a writer's blog?
On November 30th, I published my debut novella, New Hope, as an ebook on Amazon, and I had to work down to the wire in order to get it published on time. I chose to make my book available for pre-order on Amazon through KDP, but what I didn't know when I made that choice was that doing so moved up my deadline considerably. I had spent countless hours working on my book, stretched over a period of four years, and by the time I was finishing my final edit, I was absolutely sick of reading my work, But I hadn't left myself much of a choice. The deadline clock was counting down. I submitted the formatted work just fifteen minutes before it was due. But it was done, and I was finally published!
Since then, it has been a wild ride in the world of self-publishing. From starting an Instagram account devoted to promoting my work and building this website, to starting a presence on Goodreads and marketing my book in person to everyone I know, trying to get myself out there has been an incredibly difficult and draining process. I think I've always had the misconception that once I had finished perfecting my manuscript and getting it out there, that my job as a writer would be done. In fact, that couldn't be farther from the truth.
The stage I'm at now is, in my opinion, the most difficult part of the writing process: reaching readers! And that's where this blog comes in. So stay tuned for announcements, bonus content, and my assorted writing ramblings.