Friday, June 27, 2014

An argument for honestly reviewing books - and why every reader should do it


I've blogged before about how diverse reader's tastes are noting that there are so many ways a book can be regarded depending on who reads it. So there must be a way to slog through all the books out there and narrow down which ones you personally will like. Which is why I argue that every reader has an obligation to honestly and objectively review every book they read.

I'm a huge reader. No secret there. What many don't think about is that the number of books you can read in your lifetime is finite. There are far more books out there than you can read in one lifetime. Yes, even yours. That finite number varies by person depending on how fast and how often you read. For example, I read three books a month on average. That's thirty six books a year - give or take. If I have twenty more reading years, I only have time for seven hundred and twenty more books. Ever. Which is why you really should choose wisely. For the same reason, I also think you shouldn't finish a book that doesn't hook you and keep you entertained either. Unless you're in a book club since arguably you have an obligation to read those selections regardless.

So how do you pick which books to read so you get the most out of your remaining, and technically very limited, reading time?

Personally, I use recommendations from friends and fellow readers. Another reason I love Goodreads so I can see what people say about books before I decide. (Especially helpful when you have friends who read and enjoy the same books you like so you can see what they enjoyed - or didn't.) I shy away from books that don't get at least an average three-star rating (out of a possible five). But here's a little secret... I usually only read the middle of the road reviews and I especially am interested in the "bad" reviews. Those are the reviews that - if written objectively - give me the best insight. If I see that someone didn't like a book because of something that I might actually like, I'm more likely to pick it up. If someone didn't like how dark a book was or how bloody the action was but I really like dark and bloody books, I would probably pick it up.


In the past few months I've heard arguments from many different people about not wanting to honestly review every book which all boil down to a couple of general ideas that I take exception with:
"I don't usually review if it is going to be less than 3 stars."
"I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings."

I think both of these arguments approach book reviews from the wrong side of the issue. I don't review books for the author's benefit, my reviews are designed for other readers like me so we can find books we like (and avoid those we won't). The hard truth that every author must grapple with accepting is that no matter how much effort and love went into writing a book, not everyone everywhere will love it. Reviews are designed to be the unbiased opinions of readers, and everyone everywhere is entitled to their own. Once a book is in the hands of readers, there's nothing that an author can change about it anyway.

What if every review was a glowing one and there were no differing opinions? Or what if no one reviewed books ever because they were worried about hurting either the author's feelings or the feelings of those who had a different opinion? Then every book would be as much of a gamble as randomly picking something off the shelf - without reading the jacket. By not giving an honest and truthful review, regardless of how you liked or didn't like a book, you're doing a disservice to every reader who comes after you looking for insights on whether they would like to read it. Of course I don't think you should completely trash a book (or the author) if you don't like it, but give me an objective and constructive reason why you didn't like it that can help me decide if I might also rather skip it. Then let me decide.

Because of this, I rate books in the following manner:
  • 5 stars = Loved it! I abandoned all aspects of my life in order to voraciously read this book
  • 4 stars = I really enjoyed it and I would highly recommend it to others - but I still slept at night, mostly.
  • 3 stars = I liked it but I didn't love it. I found nothing to complain about but it didn't rock my world either...
  • 2 stars = I didn't like it overall although I did finish it. (Incidentally, books with this rating have generally been ones I read for book club which illustrates the point that it takes all kinds of readers and not everyone likes the same things.)
  • 1 star = I either hated it or I didn't finish it
On top of a star rating, I always give the feel of the book and the impression it left me with overall. I don't bother with a synopsis of what the story was about from start to finish, you can get that elsewhere. What I really emphasize is what worked for me and what didn't, and why. Something that would help someone else objectively draw conclusion as to whether they would like it or not. I do this because those are the kinds of reviews I look for when deciding to give a book a spot on my finite list of things I've read between now and when I die.

You remember what they say about treating others the way you want to be treated, right? If you are a reader, won't you consider doing this as well? Future readers will thank you, myself included!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Eleanor, The Unseen


Time for another blog touring author to stop by for a visit. Today I have the privilege of hosting Johnny Worthen, author of Eleanor, The Unseen coming July 1 from Jolly Fish Press.

It was a gamble for Eleanor to rejoin humanity, but she was driven to it. She’d been too successful forgetting. The last vestiges of her family hung by a thread in her transformed brain and drove her to be reckless. Ten years later, Eleanor hides in plain sight. She is an average girl getting average grades in a small Wyoming town: poor but happy, lonely but loved. Her mother, Tabitha, is there for her and that’s all she’s ever needed. But now her mother is sick and David has returned. The only friend she’d ever had—the only other person who knows her secret—is back. And Eleanor again becomes reckless.

Eleanor is a modest girl, unremarkable but extraordinary, young but old, malleable but fixed. She is scared and confused. She is a liar and a thief. Eleanor is not what she appears to be.

Johnny is one of my fellow Utah Fantasy Authors and I twisted his arm to give me a copy of Eleanor before anyone else could read it because… hello, you all know I’m not a patient woman! This book grabbed me quick and fast; despite the fact it is touted as juvenile fiction, which I rarely read. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again for the record: Johnny Worthen writes books I like to read.

Eleanor is the story of a girl who is not what she appears. You think you know her story, or at least the biggest piece of it, from the opening scenes – scenes that are so well written they pulled me in and had me thinking about the hinted mystery immediately. But as it unfolds, you learn that what you think you know might only be the surface of what is really at the heart of Eleanor – a smart, feisty girl trying to hide in plain sight. She knows little about her true nature and what she does know she loathes. This book masterfully captures the feel of growing up in a small town where everyone knows everyone and they all think they know what the real stories are. It is also a great story of the bond between mother and daughter and between trusted friends. It is a unique paranormal coming of age story from the mind of a fantastic storyteller.

If you love a good mystery, are a sucker for the paranormal, like to ask yourself “what if” questions, and in general like reading well-written books, then this one is for you. It is an entertaining story for any age that doesn’t limit itself to adult readers. I would let my daughter read this one, and so should you.

I asked Johnny to visit with a guest post about how he creates such amazing and well-rounded characters since it is something he consistently does well in his work. Enjoy...


**********************
Each story begins with an idea of a theme I explore, a question or a specific conflict. To this I identify the forces I’ll need. These are the agent and the character. They are born out of function. This is the seed.

I nurture this seed and sink some roots. For the character to function as I would like, it is already in motion moving toward the goal I have in mind. I imagine what their past was that put them on this trajectory. This is their background and history and I usually outline it loosely allowing myself space to connect and rearrange but always having the framework to justify the rest.

If I haven’t already named the character by then I’ll name them at this point. I knew ELEANOR’s name before I knew her story. She introduced herself and we worked it out together. 

Naming is a huge issue for me. I’ll let you in on a secret. I often use puns to identify the character’s function and core. This is to remind me of what the character is about and also to leave a clue for the reader, something to write an essay about in English class. I often conceal this by translating it into another language.

Not all of my characters have this, but many of them do. My signature character is Tony Flaner, a slacker detective who you won’t meet until next year in THE FINGER TRAP. The pun there is from the French, “Flaneur” – wanderer.

In ELEANOR, THE UNSEEN, I’d direct you to David Venn. I speak Danish. I was an exchange student there. “Ven” in Danish means “friend.” It’s as simple as that. Similarly, Eleanor’s last name is Anders, a common enough Danish name. Think Anderson, but it’s also related to “├Žndring” which means “change.” These linguistic clues help me to conceive of the character’s core as they develop.

The next thing in character development is their voices. Even before I think I know what they look like, I need to know what they sound like, both inner and outer dialog. If I can’t hear them, if I can’t put them in a room with each other and have them carry on a conversation, they’re not ready yet. If this happens, I know I need to go back and fill in some more of their back-story, remember who they are and what they want. Flesh them out with the usual prompts; internal and external conflicts, habits and mannerisms, occupation, family, etc. I’ll assign them some details even at random just to get a handle on them.

The final and ultimate test for me is always the conversation. When I’m stuck in a book, I often just put the right characters together and get them talking. It’s magickal, and I don’t use that word lightly. The characters will interact, push their agendas, move the story themselves, react, plot and plan. Maneuver and tell where the story needs to go. When this happens, I just have to take the dictation. I’m out of it. It’s alive. That’s when I know my characters work, when they can do that.
*************************** 

Thank you for that insight, Johnny! I loved getting a glimpse inside your mind. Thanks for stopping by on your blog tour. 

If you'd like a chance to win a copy of Eleanor (and you know you do!) enter the blog tour giveaway a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you'd rather have the instant gratification, instead of waiting to win, you can get your copy online:

AMAZON
BARNES & NOBLE 



JOHNNY WORTHEN graduated with a B.A. in English and Master’s in American Studies from the University of Utah. After a series of businesses and adventures, including running his own bakery, Worthen found himself drawn to the only thing he ever wanted to do—write. And write he does. When he’s not pounding on his keyboard or attending writers conferences, Worthen spends his time with his wife and two boys in Sandy, Utah.



You can find Johnny online at the following places:
FACEBOOK
TWITTER
WEBSITE
GOODREADS

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Inspiration from childhood terror

One of the biggest (and sometimes scariest) questions for writers is when people wonder "where do you get your ideas?" Usually I have no answer. Sometimes even I worry about where the next one will come from. It's like magic: a spark inspires something that sticks, characters come to life and stories pour out. Or so I thought that was the answer. This week I had an epiphany... childhood terror is where my current idea came from and I didn't even know it.

I had a sleep over once when I was an early 'tween. We were doing silly (and scary) things in the middle of the night involving mirrors. It freaked me out enough that I still won't speak the name of the game (which is an adjective and a woman's name in case you want to take a guess). You say these two words while standing in front of a mirror three times and then "she" appears. I can attest that something happened that night - something freaky enough that I needed the safety of my daddy and several friends wanted to go home instead of sleeping over. I hadn't thought of this incident in decades until a month ago when a friend and I were talking about scary movies - I love them and she doesn't - which then moved to ghost stories and true life events we've experienced. I shared this incident from my childhood as an example of real-life, unexplained events. We both shivered and moved on to other topics including comparing my favorite horror and scary movies with the ones her brothers love.

In seemingly unrelated events, I had just finished writing a short story...

Fast forward to yesterday when I was having lunch with the same friend. We were discussing my short story that she is going to be a beta reader for. As I gave her a synopsis, I had a flash of serendipity. The horrible thing that came out of the mirror that night from my childhood has returned from my subconscious in the form of a science fiction short story without me even realizing it.

Being a writer is hard work. But it is SO awesome!! Especially when cool and seemingly unexplained things happen. I'm so enjoying this journey...

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Art of Reading Multiple Books

It's no secret I love data. And I'm OCD. So I especially love data that I can track for historical trends. Which are just a couple of the reasons I love the site GoodReads. It lets me track what books I've read, what I thought about them, which ones I want to read, plus all that info about what my friends are reading, too. (If you are a reader and you aren't a member, you should be...) This week I noticed something that seems insane even for me: my "currently reading" list contains FIVE - yes, five - books. And yes, I'm actively reading all of them. Which certainly begs the question: How do you read five books at the same time?

I'm a gadget geek so I have an iPad, an iPad mini (that I grudgingly share with the family), and an iPhone. Well, two of them actually since I also have one for work... but I digress. And I've got books on all of them. (Don't judge, I know I'm addicted and that's the first step. Or so I hear!) Here's my secrets to reading multiple books at a time:

First, I'm always reading a book on my iPad via my Kindle app. I've got at least one of my iPads with me at all times and, if I've got a minute of downtime, I'm reading. Sitting in waiting rooms at doctors offices or my monthly lab visit, eating lunch at my desk, wherever I find myself sitting still for more than a minute, I'm reading. I also end my weeknights with a chapter (sometimes more) in bed right before I turn off the light to go to sleep. Plus my favorite; over morning coffee on the weekends.

Next, I've always got a book I'm listening to on the Audible app on my iPhone. At minimum I listen when I'm commuting to and from work or any time I'm alone in the car. If it is one I am super involved in, I've got my headphones on listening while I'm doing mindless things like vacuuming, dishes or laundry. Sometimes I love the current Audible book so much that I get caught up on all my laundry and find myself wishing I bought clothes that required ironing so I'd have something else mindless I could be doing. I also listen to my audio book whenever I'm walking/running unless I'm with a friend.

I'm usually working on the monthly book club selection in conjunction with my own leisure reading. Which means that the week or two before book club I've either got two audibles or two ebooks I'm splitting my time between. 

Lastly, I've usually got at least one book I'm reading in print, lying somewhere in the vicinity of my desk at home, that I'm not reading as quickly. Currently, that book is a grammar book. Yes, I'm a geek who reads books on grammar. But, I'm a writer so it's okay. Don't judge. This is usually a book that I've either picked up in print because that's the most affordable way to acquire it or someone has lent it to me. Or, it's the book we are reading in my book club at work. We read a chapter or two at a time and discuss weekly. Because of this slower pace of discussion, it can also be a slower-paced read which works out well.

Typically, these four situations are the norm. My 'currently reading' list always fluctuates between three and four books. Guaranteed. Right now, my life is beyond the normal level of hectic since I'm working on a new certification at work. This means I'm also trying to read a textbook cover to cover in a matter of weeks in preparation for testing. Five is not a normal load of reading but that's how it is right now.

I look back a few years, when I was lamenting about how I could barely manage to read a book a month to keep up with my book club, and chuckle. In true overachiever fashion I figured out what ways I could multitask those things I have to do in life with the things that I want to do. Reading is essential to my happiness so I found the means. What things do you make time for regardless of how crazy your life gets?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Copper Descent

This is my first author interview as part of a cool thing called a blog tour. (Don't worry, I didn't know what they were either...) When an author has a new book coming out that they want to publicize, they set up a virtual book tour by visiting bloggers like me who will take the time to read an advanced copy and give an honest review. Since I'm not a patient woman and I love to read, I immediately jumped at the chance to get my hands on books before the general public.

Today I'm joined by the author of  Copper Descent, Angela Hartley, who is also one of my fellow Utah Fantasy Authors.


The tale of Sinauf was a secret nineteen-year-old Nina Douglas’ ancestors kept hidden for eighteen generations. But the truth has been brought into light.

The dark god of legend is real.

Caught in an ancient war still raging strong in the modern world, Nina is confronted with Sinauf—the embodiment of all she fears and desires. Like a moth drawn to a deadly flame, Nina must resist the seductive charm of a beautiful monster, or prepare to lose everything she holds dear. 
 

I read Copper Descent before it had a cover and without knowing anything except that Angela had asked if anyone was willing to read it and review it as part of her blog tour for the launch. I had no idea how it was being marketed but I would have described it as a young adult urban fantasy. (I later found out it is New Adult Horror. Same thing, right?) My favorite aspect was how real the characters are portrayed. The main character, Nina, starts out as a teen but for the majority of the story is a young woman. She kisses boys without commitments, she experiences the heat of passion when she is attracted to someone (more than once), runs away when things get tough, fights with her parents, and is selfish and self-centered at times. She was a realistic breath of fresh air. And then, to my surprise, the evil antagonist chasing after our heroin is actually the devil. As a very non-religious person, I expected to be annoyed with this turn of events but it was so well written I instead found myself sucked in and unable to put it down. I love the way Angela took age-old themes and gave them new life. She expertly weaves Native American legends with all the religions of the ages resulting in a character I both understood and empathized with – even as he plotted to destroy mankind. The book has many elements of fantasy since worlds beyond our own are brought to life. And even though one of the main characters is Lucifer himself, the themes are nothing like you would expect. I highly recommend it - although I must disclose it does have violence and some sexuality for those of you who might have sensitivities. I would give it a PG-13 equivalent rating. 

Initially, I only committed to reviewing the book in exchange for the early sneak peak. But then it was so entertaining and I had a million questions I wanted to ask about it so I sat down and picked Angela's brains for an interview instead.


Me:  Where did your idea for Copper Descent come from?
Angela:  When I first started writing, a dark figure showed up in all of my work. He became a calling card, really. I never knew when or how he would appear, but there was no doubt he would be there, lurking in the shadows and waiting for his opportunity to wreak havoc. Copper Descent started out as an exploration. I wanted to understand the monster. I also wanted to find a girl who was strong enough to take him on. The rest kind of took on a life of its own. No one was more surprised than me when I discovered he was Lucifer, but it also made perfect sense. So, I ran with it.

Me:  I recognized some universal themes of Christianity, but is there any truth to the Native American legends you reference?
Angela:  Having lived in Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah for the majority of my life, I’ve grown up hearing many stories about the Native American tribes in these areas. There are some pieces based on actual facts, like the Freemont Indians who disappeared from Nine Mile Canyon, and I incorporated parts of the Timpanogos legend, but I think all good lies are seeded with a bit of truth. And that’s really what a storyteller is—an excellent liar. Whatever accuracy is found in the pages were only a set-up to deliver the words in ways I found pleasing.

Me:  What is your secret to so accurately portraying the teenage experience without the angst one would expect?
Angela:  I’m actually raising teenagers right now, but I have unique circumstances. When my oldest daughter was eight-years-old, she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Just like Nina, she was forced to grow up way too early, and has had to face challenges way beyond what her peers experience. Because of her struggles, she’s learned not to sweat the small stuff, or play into the drama. She’s my hero, and inspiration.

Me:  Another example of taking everyday life and letting it fuel your writing. I love it. The ending of Copper Descent was satisfying in its finality and yet left things open for potentially more to come. Are there plans for a sequel?
Angela: Copper Descent is actually the first volume in a seven part series entitled The Sentient Chronicles. The first three plots are designed to stand by themselves, each following a different set of characters, but everything comes together in the fourth book. The entire series follows Lucifer through his fall, his rise, and ultimately his journey back to the angel city.

Me:  How long did it take you to write – start to finish?
Angela:  Writing the novel took less than a year. Now, finding a publisher was a whole different ballgame. I searched for six years before I found the right fit.

Me:  Wow, that makes my own journey so far seem like small potatoes. I'm glad you stuck with it. What is your writing process?
Angela:  I write an ending, and then figure out how it happened. Most of my work is exploratory. I try to outline, but never end up where I thought I would.

Me:  Another "pantser". I sometimes wish I could write that way but it doesn't work for me. So, what is your favorite part of being an author?
Angela:  When someone is inspired by my work to think in a way they may have never considered otherwise.

Me:  Least favorite?
Angela:  The rejection. You need to have a pretty thick skin to make it in this industry, and it’s tough putting your heart out there time and again only to have it trampled. I think all writers must be a little crazy or masochistic to allow ourselves the opportunity to be so vulnerable.

Me:  No comment on where I think I fit into those categories, thanks. What keeps you motivated to write?
Angela:  I don’t think I could stop, anymore than I could cease to breathe. For me, creation equates happiness, and I live best inside my head. It’s the real world that tends to trip me up.

Me:  Where and when do you write?
Angela:  I treat my writing like an actual job, and work in some aspect of the craft for at least four to five hours a day, generally when the kids are in school. I have a netbook, and I tend to rotate my scenery often so I don’t get bored with my surroundings.

Me:  What else have you written?
AngelaCopper Descent is my first published work. Eight years ago, my hard-drive burned up on my computer, destroying all of my documents. My back-up file wouldn’t load on my new system. At the time, I was devastated, but now I look at it as a gift. My early work is dead and buried. It will never come back to haunt me *smile*.

Me:  How did you go from aspiring writer to published author?
Angela:  My entire journey took ten years. In the back of my mind, I always thought I’d write someday, but it took losing my father for me to realize that sometimes there are no more tomorrows. I went back to school at thirty, drafted my novel at thirty-three and spent the next six years querying. I didn’t sit idle, but continued to revise and work on other projects as I waited for responses. Mostly, I built my social media platform. At this time, I took a job offer, not because I wanted a career in that field, but gave me an opportunity to be visible. In the public eye, several speaking prospects presented themselves. My novel started reading beautifully, my query was flawless, and I found myself writing a column in the local paper. Some would say the universe aligned, but the truth is I worked my butt off and allowed myself to be uncomfortable.

Me:  What advice do you have for other aspiring writers?
Angela:  Fall in love with the work, not the dream. If you’re writing because you want to be famous or make millions of dollars, this isn’t for you. It is a long, hard road full of disappointment, but if you love the work you can discover aspects of yourself and others that make the journey worth your time. My best advice? Quit. If however, you find that you can’t, you are not an aspiring writer, but in fact a true writer. We are all addicts here, hooked on words and ideas. The more you surrender to the impulse to create, you’ll find those imaginary worlds will become clearer and more concise. Which is why you either need to quit or indulge as often as you can.

Me:  You heard her folks, quit now or jump on the crazy train that is being a writer. *smile* What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned so far on your author journey?
Angela:  That there is no end. There are always new mountains on the horizon. But I’ve also discovered I can do hard things, and I actually look forward to the challenges ahead.

Me:  Are there more books we can look forward to, and if so, when?
Angela:  I’ve recently finished Iron Resolve, the second book in Sentient. No release date yet, but hopefully in early 2015. In this novel we follow Myke Preston—a man with a weak disposition. He walks away from his wife and child only to discover Brooklyn has crumbled quite literally underneath his feet. The only way back to his family is through a maze of doors leading through his hellish past. It is raw, powerful, and for anyone who has dealt with addiction, infidelity, or domestic violence, incredibly inspirational. Utah Fantasy Authors plan to release an anthology later this year, The Secret Door. I’m writing a dark wizard story for that. In my spare time, I’m also working on a stand-alone novel—a cautionary tale of hypnotherapy and mass murder called D-Brie. And yes, Sinclair has a cameo appearance in this novel.

Me:  I can't wait to read more. Where can readers find and connect with you? 
Angela:  

Thanks, Angela, for the instant gratification of an advanced read and for taking the time to talk with me and my fabulous readers who are now hopefully ready to rush out and get Copper Descent for their own libraries. Trust me, it was a great read and you will want to.


Copper Descent is available now HERE on Amazon and in print late June



Angela Hartley spent much of her childhood being shuffled from house to house with only a book for companionship. The magic she found in the written word saved her in many ways, transporting her into worlds far more enjoyable than the one she resided in. Literature became a passion and the idea of writing carried her through years of uncertainty.
 
After high school, she met and married her own Prince Charming. They rode off into the sunset in his blue Toyota and a whole new world full of hope and happiness opened up. He claimed they could move mountains together, and they did. While facing the painful realization that sometimes there are no tomorrows following her father’s tragic death in 2005, she decided it was time to follow her dreams. With the love and support of her family, she dove into another world, full of procreating angels and demon rock stars.

Her debut new adult horror novel, Copper Descent will be released on Amazon May 2014. Angela currently resides in Midway, Utah with her three children and husband. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Short stories and instant gratification

I came away from the LTUE writer's conference in February with one goal: write a short story and use the smaller scale project to figure out my process for revision. It was probably the best stroke of genius that ever hit me and I have to thank that author who volunteered his time to teach the class I attended when I had my epiphany, even though I only remember his first name... Thanks Brad!

I wrote a short story, got feedback from my writer's group, and successfully revised it to the point that I'm confident to submit it to an anthology. And the best part is it didn't take me years to do - which is how long I've been working on my novel-length projects. I wrote it in about a month, revisions took another. BAM! In the world of a writer, that is instant gratification. And we all know how much I like that since I have no patience...

With this little success under my belt, I'm excited to get back to work on my novel. My next deadline is to have my first round of revisions done and out to my writing group by the end of the summer. I feel like the years up to this point have been spent learning the craft of writing in the disguise of writing. Now I am getting down to the business of actually doing it. It's been fun the whole time, but now we are entering the realm of thrilling.