Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Writer Wednesday - Setting

This post was delayed by three weeks. Many apologizies.

For me, setting is a huge part of what brings wonder to a novel. Even a gritty novel could be tempered with a bit of wonder. Within the past year, the novel with the strongest sense of wonder for me was The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick. And that was mostly because of the setting on board a singular, mighty ship.

The first contemporary fantasy I ever read stuck with me through the years largely because of the wonderful setting of its very first scene. Imagine a tree as large as a redwood, with limbs that spread as broad as an oak. And then imagine, nestled in the arms of that tree, an inn:

It was getting harder to keep up the old inn. There was a lot of love rubbed into the warm finish of the wood, but even love and tallow couldn't hide the cracks and splits in the well-used tables or prevent a customer from sitting on an occasional splinter. The Inn of the Last Home was not fancy, not like some she'd heard about in Haven. It was comfortable. The living tree in which it was built wrapped its ancient arms around it lovingly, while the walls and fixtures were crafted around the boughs of the tree with such care as to make it impossible to tell where nature's work left off and man's work began. The bar seemed to ebb and flow like a polished wave around the living wood that supported it. The stained glass in the window panes cast welcoming flashes of vibrant color across the room.
From this,  the second paragraph of Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the first volume of the Dragonlance Chronicles, the authors established a sense of wonder in their setting. And they didn't let up throughout the entire trilogy.

Upon the next page comes the reason for the tree being built in the inn:
The Inn of the Last Home was built high in the branches of a mighty vallenwood tree, as was every other building in Solace, with the exception of the blacksmith shop. The townspeople had decided to take to the trees during the terror and chaos following the Cataclysm. And thus Solace became a tree town, one of the few truly beautiful wonders left on Krynn.

Which is a lie. From Prayer's Eye Peak to Godshome and the Dark Queen's temple in Naraka, it's hard to find a trilogy with so many imaginative settings. Lots of people like to deride the Dragonlance Chronicles. Say what you will, but the authors did at least two things very well: they created lovable characters, and they created wonderful settings.

Other memorable settings come from novels I keep mentioning again and again. The forest in The Once and Future King. The cave in Clan of the Cave Bear. New York City at the end of the nineteenth century in The Gaslight Mysteries. The Shire, Rivendell and Minas Tirith in Lord of the Rings. The Cliffs of Insanity in The Princess Bride.

One real-world sight that inspired me was the Luxor in Las Vegas. There is a light that shines from the top of the pyramid straight out into space. It's arrogant and it's so very American. The entire hotel inspired a setting in my epic fantasy, which I'll share in the comments.

Please share any settings that have inspired you and, if you wish, allow us to read some of the settings you have written. As ever, please place your comments and your excerpts in separate posts, and keep any excerpts to 300 words or fewer.

Monday, September 28, 2009


No, not the book. Are you kidding? Me, read a YA vampire novel? I haven't even watched the movie.

Twilight, as in the anesthesia. I'm still feeling the effects 10 hours later. Nothing serious, but the doc wanted to look inside my stomach. He saw some redness in there and took some biopsies. He wants me to take Zantac twice a day and come see him in two weeks, once the biopsy result are in.

To keep my daughter content during the afternoon while I recovered, I asked her, "Do you want to watch a Jane Austen movie?" She said, "Yes!" and immediately requested Northanger Abbey. I denied it because we just saw it two weeks ago, and because it is only two hours long. I needed more time than that. So she requested Emma, next.

The girl knows her Jane Austen. I'm raising her right.

However, say what you will of Emma, but it's kind of a snoozer for an eight year old girl. It wasn't keeping her attention so I said, "Let's watch Pride and Prejudice." She was agreeable. I held the two versions I have of the movie up (the BBC version and the Colin Firth version) and asked her which one she wanted to watch. She pointed to Colin.

So in it went. It kept her spellbound for four and a half hours. I snoozed during the early part of it, right up until she yelled something during Lizzy and Darcy's dance at Netherfield.  I tried going to bed, but it was no use. I was awake.

And what did she ask for after the second and final volume had finished? Volume three!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

On Murky Middles

 Middle volumes in a trilogy have got to be the most difficult volume to write. As an author, you have to keep upping the tension, while revealing secrets from the first book to satisfy your reader, while also establishing new secrets to keep your readers enthralled until the next book. All too often, the middle volumes fail to deliver and deserve the nickname, "Murky Middle".

When writing a middle volume, a debut author has a much more difficult job, in my opinion, than the established author. Once you've gotten through your first trilogy, we readers know you can deliver, so we're more likely to give you a break. Not so the first time. We've been burned before, you see. We are kind of expecting you to fail. Not that we want you to fail. But we're wondering if the first book was a fluke. So the first time you write a middle, you have a bigger job than once you are established. Consider it your Authorial Trial by Fire. And you thought getting published in the first place was your trial by fire. Hah!

When I consider reading a second volume, I first assess not only how much I liked the first volume, but also how much it stayed with me. Do I barely remember the plot after a year? If so, even if I liked the first volume, I probably won't move on to the second. Do I recall any points where the plot dragged, and where I struggled to get through it? If so, then I'm going to assume that these problems will be worse in the second volume. Am I still excited by the story? If so, I probably won't wait till the next novel comes out in paperback.

It's easy to get frustrated when reading a second volume. If I get the impression that as a reader, I'm just being strung along to fill the length of a book, I'm going to get frustrated. If the author keeps throwing complications in there, they had better make sense with the overarching plot, or I'm going to lose patience. A new character or two helps, because they add intrigue. However, too many new characters is overwhelming. I recently tried to read a middle where almost all the characters were new. I never finished the novel and probably won't ever finish the series.

I also get annoyed by series that goes on too long. I think three books is quite enough for one storyline, and four is pushing it. The only pentology (is that the right word?) I recall enjoying is Stephen Lawhead's Grail series. It worked because each book was about a different person in the Arthur cycle. However, even then, the final volume was difficult to get through. (Part of the problem was the subject matter. You know the Arthur cycle is not going to end well, so it's very difficult to paste a satisfying ending in there.)

What delights me about second volumes? I love it when the characters continue to grow. I love it when they meet new challenges, as long as I can see them fitting into the overall goal. I enjoys twists and turns in the plot, as long as it moves forward. I enjoy romantic complications. I enjoy it when the problem you thought you had in Book One becomes part of a much larger problem in Book Two.

And I kind of like cliffhangers. I know a lot of people hate them, but not me. Maybe I'm just into reader torture.

What are your thoughts on Murky Middles?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Debut Showcase: Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts (Amazon USA - UK)
by Daniel Horman (Blog - Composer Website)
Prime Books
Trade Paperback

One question remains: Did it begin or end in theft? His mother, taken before memory, his father, disappeared in the Manor where Asriael rules, home of the Great Game, where lives are antes and countries divided by mere hands, where the deed to the Slants was bet and lost so many years ago. The underground wizards of the Slants had trained Renue in the high arts, as an expert in disguise, a deadly fighter, a daring card player.

His mission was to infiltrate the Manor and win back the deed so that Asriael's dark magic could finally be unraveled and the people freed. But inside the Manor, Renue meets a mysterious young woman called the Queen of Hearts who seems to hold the secrets to his parents' fate. When Asriael is murdered and the mission betrayed, Renue and the Queen must flee the Manor, the Black Thing on their trail. As the other great lords vie for power, amid chaos and war, Renue must protect the Queen while they search for an ancient magic to end the nightmare of Asriael's black revenge.

The author is also a composer and has a website to showcase his music. He had an interesting path to publication; after selling a short story to Fantasy Magazine, the publisher--who is also the publisher for Prime Books--commissioned a novel. And this is it. I liked this blurb--which I found at Amazon--better than the blurb on his site. I was not able to find this novel at Prime Books' website, but it is available at Amazon. The UK Amazon link shows this novel as unavailable.

The cover image was strangely hard to find, which is why you don't see one here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Short Week

It will be a short week for me, both here and at work, for I am off to take a short vacation. It's a visiting-family type of vacation. I expect walks on the beach, swims in the pools, and strolls through the buggy Florida woods, well armed with DEET. I will bring along The Other Lands if I have not finished it by Wednesday, which is when we are leaving. We'll be back by the weekend--I'm just not sure exactly when on the weekend.

I hope to return refreshed. This was not a relaxing summer, but things have improved. My child is settled in a new school situation. I had my eye doctor re-make the lenses of my glasses. They appear to have been ever-so-slightly tilted, which meant that I was looking at the world through a blur. Normally, when you wear progressive bifocals, the blur is supposed to be outside your field of vision. I had a blur right where I was looking. I was amazed at the difference once I got my new glasses. Still not like having young eyes again, but the headaches are gone.

When I get back, I'll have an announcement. Nothing agent related--unless I'm totally surprised in the next week (and thank those of you who wished me well in that regard). It's something that I've been working on lately, robbing me of the time to work on this blog like I used to.

I updated my policies, and until I catch up on my current reading stack, I'm not taking any more review copies. Sometimes publishers send them to me unsolicited--and I can't help that--but the rate at which they come have slowed to a trickle, for which I am grateful. I really do owe it to the authors whose novels I've already taken to attempt to get caught up.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Other Lands - Opening Chapters

I've been enjoying the opening chapters of The Other Lands, and got a chance to read some more last night. In fact, I suppose you could say that I'm not even in the opening chapters anymore.

Without giving anything away (hopefully), here's what the main characters are up to.

Corinne is being naughty. Very naughty. Remember how Acacia really didn't seem like a fantasy until pretty far in the book? Well, The Other Lands has magic right from the start. The interesting thing about Corinne is she sees nothing but virtue in what she does. She shivers the spine.

Mena's story is still developing. But I'm in the middle of an interesting chapter that contains a creature which can only be the one mentioned in the blurb. So that makes it all the harder to put down. Mena is my favorite character, except when Dariel is.

Dariel. Aah, Dariel. The League gets their revenge upon him for his destruction of their League Platform in Acacia. And it plunges Dariel right in the middle of an adventure. Except I don't know what that adventure is yet, because the chapter ended right at a cliffhanger!

Other occasional points-of-view include Rialus, who seems to have grown a spine.

The mighty Numrek have betrayed an interesting vulnerability.

And an uprising is in the works. But you know, I think Corinne will be able to handle then. Easily. Ruthlessly. Brutally. Frighteningly.

And those are my impressions so far.

In other news, I am sitting on my already-written review of Servant of a Dark God, because the publication date was pushed back and it's now too early to be posting reviews. So I have been busy, even though it may not look like it.

Oh. And I didn't have the flu after all. Thanks for all the well-wishes!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Outta Time!

Sometimes I must put other things before this blog, so I was too busy to write my Writer Wednesday post last night. But I was busy in a good way! And then this morning, I didn't get up early enough to write it. I'm just glad I didn't have a guest! (Although if I had, I would have stayed up till midnight if necessary to get it posted.) I'm sneaking this post in at work, so I'd better go!
I really wish I could eek out an hour or two more a day, but I'd rather have my days too full than too empty--wouldn't you? ;)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Debut Showcase: The Choir Boats

The Choir Boats: Volume One of Longing for Yount
(Amazon USA - Canada)
by Daniel A. Rabuzzi
ChiZine Publications
Prologue and First Five Chapters
Interior Illustrations
Trade Paperback

London, 1812 | Yount, Year of the Owl

What would you give to make good on the sins of your past? For merchant Barnabas McDoon, the answer is: everything.

When emissaries from a world called Yount offer Barnabas a chance to redeem himself, he accepts their price—to voyage to Yount with the key that only he can use to unlock the door to their prison. But bleak forces seek to stop him: Yount's jailer, a once-human wizard who craves his own salvation, kidnaps Barnabas's nephew. A fallen angel—a monstrous owl with eyes of fire—will unleash Hell if Yount is freed. And, meanwhile, Barnabas's niece, Sally, and a mysterious pauper named Maggie seek with dream-songs to wake the sleeping goddess who may be the only hope for Yount and Earth alike.

ChiZine is long known in Fantasy circles as a magazine, so it interested me to learn that they were now publishing books. The author had a nice book launch at WorldCon in Montreal, to which he was gracious enough to invite me, and which I would have been happy to accept had it been possible for me to go. This may appear to be another blend of Christian elements, but judging from the reviews I've read, probably not.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

This Week

I have an interview out, and I hope to post it sometime this week, plus a second interview I need to write in the next few days. I also have a review of Servant of a Dark God almost ready to go. I'll polish that up for tomorrow.

UPDATE! They pushed the release date of Servant of a Dark God back to October! Oh, well; I guess I'll be even more prepared by then.

This week, we'll do Writer Wednesday again. I don't have a Featured Writer, but I thought I'd do it on Setting, and use as an example an older series that I think many of you like, plus snippets from some other books. I do have another Featured Writer coming up, however--someone you've seen before. Plus, I really do think I ought to invite a male author to be a featured writer, sometime. Mustn't exclude the men.

Any suggestions?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reading Frenzy

I've been reading so much that I haven't had time to blog. Check out my Reading and Tweeting section on the left sidebar for my thoughts on Servant of a Dark God, which I just finished tonight. Review forthcoming, plus a Debut Showcase, which I have not done yet for that book.

I'm also jumping right back into The Other Lands because the opening chapters were really awesome.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


I probably won't do much except read and post about frivolous stuff this week. I'm in contact with another author about Writer Wednesday, but that probably won't happen this week.

I'm having trouble getting hold of authors to restart the Discovery Showcase. Two non-responses so far. I meant to contact the next author on the list last week, but I didn't get to it in time. I'll try again, but I'm wondering if some of these authors have given up on me.

I'm loving The Other Lands, but I'm also loving Servant of a Dark God by John Brown. Too many good novels! Oh, and did I mention that I'm sneaking in chapters of Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice in there as well? I'll be covering Hobb at Fantasy Literature, but the other two I'll review here. I'll link my FanLit review when it is up.

I'm reading and tweeting on the following:
Servant of a Dark God
The Other Lands

If I get really excited and just have to post something that exceeds 140 characters, I'll post here as well.

Friday, September 4, 2009

In Which Tia Loses All Decorum *

Today, I got two new things. One was a wide-screen monitor, which replaced the old-fashioned CRT monitor that died last night.

Ho hum.

The other was a package from Random House/Doubleday. Which I opened eagerly, to glimpse a book within. Which I eagerly ripped out of the package. Which, upon beholding the cover, I shrieked a most girlish, "Yay!" I do believe my feet even left the ground. Keep in mind that I am a matronly 43 years old.

My husband said something like, "Damn, you're more excited about that book than your new monitor." Well, of course. A monitor is useful, to be sure, but an anticipated novel is nothing but pure joy.

Which book could have caused such excitement?

Yes, it's The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham! Possibly the most eagerly awaited sequel for me since I started Fantasy Debut. Why am I so ridiculously excited about this novel? Well, for one, I had to wait for it for two years. Good things take time. And for another, in the past two years, it kind of grew on me in my memory. I liked it when I read it (link opens multiple posts), but as time went by, rather than forgetting it, I liked it even more. Plus, it's a major epic fantasy, the first one I covered at FD. I love epic fantasies, particularly when the author promises fewer than five novels in the series.

I also flatter myself into thinking that I helped discover the author as a fantasy novelist. A fantasy novelist, I might add, who went on to win the John W. Campbell Award this year.

Check out the shiny things that happen to the cover when you hold it just right to the light:

I'll be happily tweeting this novel as I read it using the hashtag #TheOtherLands. Since it comes out on the 15th, I should be able to have a review up on that day, barring life-changing emergencies.

* With apologizes to Colleen Lindsay of The Swivet, for my blatant theft of her signature verbiage.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Debut Showcase: Rosemary and Rue

Rosemary and Rue (Amazon USA - UK - Canada)
by Seanan McGuire
Mass Market Paperback

The world of Faerie never disappeared: it merely went into hiding, continuing to exist parallel to our own. Secrecy is the key to Faerie's survival—but no secret can be kept forever, and when the fae and mortal worlds collide, changelings are born. Half-human, half-fae, outsiders from birth, these second-class children of Faerie spend their lives fighting for the respect of their immortal relations. Or, in the case of October "Toby" Daye, rejecting it completely. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating into a "normal" life. Unfortunately for her, Faerie has other ideas.

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose, one of the secret regents of the San Francisco Bay Area, pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening's dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby is forced to resume her old position as knight errant to the Duke of Shadowed Hills and begin renewing old alliances that may prove her only hope of solving the mystery...before the curse catches up with her.

Dang. An urban fantasy that hits none of my many red flags. This one looks good. I might have to try it. The author also writes as Mira Grant, but it doesn't appear as if the books under that name have been released yet. She is also a singer and a songwriter.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Writer Wednesday - Your Favorite Characters

We've discussed bonding with your own characters, and that's all well and good. And it's easy, because they are after all, your own darlings, begotten in your own head. What's more difficult is to get others to love your characters. Which you have to do pretty dang early in the story, or why would the reader read any further?

Here are a few of my favorite characters in literature, and why:

Ayla from Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel. Ayla kept me reading the Earth's Children series four books in. After that, I lost interest mostly because everything that the author did right with Ayla, she did horribly wrong--at least for me--with Jondalar. But back to Ayla. Who could not feel sympathy for a five-year-old child that lost her entire family to a disaster, and then who was reluctantly adopted by a clan of neanderthals? And then right away, Ms. Auel set up this conflict between this young girl and a powerful young man (very young) of the tribe. It was a winning formula.

By contrast, Tom from Tom Sawyer is never a character you feel sorry for. Instead, you marvel at his audacity. He has chutzpah, he is never daunted, and he always has something handy in his pocket. He is the original MacGyver at twelve (or so) years of age. He doesn't hesitate to kiss the girl. He doesn't hesitate to throw a punch. He doesn't hesitate to take on his brutal schoolmaster. And that den of thieves? They never had a chance.

I could go on with a bunch of other favorites, but you get the idea. What are your favorite characters--from any genre--and more importantly, why?

Also, I'd like to do a post on building tension, but I think we should have an expert for that topic. What author can you recommend to me who is especially good at building tension?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Debut Showcase: Drawn Into Darkness

Drawn into Darkness (Amazon USA - UK - Canada)
by Annette McCleave
NAL/Signet Eclipse
Book Trailer
MM Paperback - $7.99

For centuries Lachlan MacGregor has battled demon thieves for the souls of the dead, carrying out his pledge to deliver them into Heaven or Hell. But his greatest challenge as a Soul Gatherer is now among the living.

Struggling to connect with her troubled teenage daughter Emily, artist Rachel Lewis turns to her enigmatic yet strangely compelling neighbor Lachlan for advice. As Lachlan soon discovers, the young girl has fallen victim to a seductive demon—a specter from the past using the unsuspecting women to fulfill an ancient prophesy and settle a hellish score with Lachlan himself.

In the race to save Emily and avert a disastrous power shift among the deities, Rachel and Lachlan forge an uncommon bond. But how can Lachlan tell the mortal woman he’s falling in love with that the next soul he’s been enlisted to gather—and deliver beyond—is her daughter’s?

I reviewed this novel a few weeks back and gave it an overall positive review, but it does tread a bit too close to Christian beliefs for comfort. Ms. McCleave won the 2008 Golden Heart for Best Paranormal Romance with this novel. The novel is a strange--and frankly, awkward--mixture of the sacred, profound and sexual. Nevertheless, I think the author could go far.