"Corcoran’s fantasy debut is equal parts thrilling and ridiculous. [...] Readers will look forward to the sequel."

September 14, 2020

Rant Rave Review: The Invisible Man and Crimson Peak

It's like getting hit over the head with a shovel. *** Today I rant about Invisible Man (2020) and Crimson Peak. Featuring girl power, chef's kisses, Chekhov's stompy crushy machine, and a man who may or may not be Tom Hiddleston!

September 6, 2020

Thoughts on the Writing Process

Most people have been taught, usually in an English or creative writing class, that the writing process is roughly as follows:

1.    Brainstorm

2.    Outline

3.    Write your first draft

4.    Edit/Rewrite

5.    Write your second draft

6.    Lather/Rinse/Repeat

7.    Write your final draft

8.    Publish

 

In theory, yes, this is generally how one gets from idea to finished product. Generally. Unfortunately, newbie writers see this as law rather than guidelines. This leads to questions like, “Is it ok to edit before you finish your first draft?”, because, according to The Writing Process(TM), editing must follow drafting. On the flip side, there are those who reject parts of the processes entirely, not just for themselves, but for everyone, saying things like “Outlines kill creativity”, because, you can't revisit and tweak your outline, because outlines must precede all other parts of writing except brainstorming because that's how it is in The Writing Process.

 

Of course, if you’ve been writing long enough, particularly if you’ve written drastically different stories, you know why these ideas fall short. Simply put, there is no one writing process; there is only your writing process. And that process is whatever works for you.

 

I would even say that you can have different processes for different books. In Styx, I jumped from brainstorming to drafting with no outline. Once I had finished my WIP and started editing, I used very sketchy outlines of what I had already written and where I wanted things to go to aid in rewrites. I continued brainstorming, known in professional circles as “daydreaming”, until I finished the whole series. My writing process is not linear; most of the individual parts exist side-by-side as I go.

 

But the Alternate-History/Fantasy/Mystery WIP has a totally different genre, setting, tone, and target audience from Styx, so it makes sense that it’s not going to come together in the same way. Happily, it is coming together, though.

 

I've discussed my outlining phase before, so let's look at how I wrote my prologue and chapter one. My hope in sharing my method (and madness) with you is to dispel some “hard and fast” ideas—i.e. myths—about how one "should" begin a book.

 

To preface this examination, I must reiterate that I have begun three books, and a novella, and yet still find writing the first chapter to be an agonizing ordeal. It’s a whole new voice and set of characters, and it’s hard for me. But I did it. And if I can do, anyone can.

 

 

Myth one: You must “just sit down and write”.

 

I don’t think I need to explain how much I hate this “advice”, which is generally said in a holier-than-though tone, like “I, a hard worker, can just sit down and write; I needn’t wait for inspiration like you lazy plebeians.” Bully for you, mate, but the rest of us find staring at a screen a hopeless and depressing endeavor.

 

No, I did not “just sit down and write,” though I wanted to. I felt, around mid-July, that I probably knew enough about my story to start. “Any day now,” I thought. “Any day now…” And then, I was in the shower (one of the best places for brainstorming, as I’m sure you know), and it came to me: a prologue, fully-formed like some Greek god springing from the appendage of another Greek god. This was how I would begin my book. “It’s time,” I thought.

 

And it was.

 

 

Myth two: Don’t worry about editing the first chapter until the draft of the whole book is done.

 

After writing a pretty rad prologue, if I do say so myself (and I do), I began chapter one. And it dragged. I was putting way too much detail and backstory for so early in the book, introducing too many characters, and saying too much about the setting. It was heavy. It was monstrous. It had to change.

 

I see first chapters as the foundation that the rest of a story stands on, or the trunk of the tree from which the rest of a story grows. It needn’t be perfect, but it needs to also not fail hard out the gate.

 

So I brainstormed. How could I trim the fat, while still having my character flying into the city the book is set in (because the flying scene was key). Could I also be lazy, I wondered, and avoid researching the type of plane the military might use to transport this character from the battlefield to the city?

 

Laziness won out. I realized I could change the timing of the scene. The character had already returned from battle, sat at home for a couple weeks pre-story, and is now, in chapter one, on her way to the city on a comfy commercial airline (which also lets me add some details about the time period: did you know that everyone smoked like a chimney even on airplanes in the 60s? Cause they did!). Problem solved.

 

 

Myth three: Just throw writing out there; it doesn’t have to make sense

 

This is related to Myth 2, but I still need to address it, because my problems weren’t quite solved. Though the first chapter flowed much better now, it was flowing straight toward a Grand-Canyon-sized plot hole!

 

I knew two things:

1.    My two MCs, Constance and Cherry, must become roommates at least by the end of chapter 2 for the rest of the book, nay the series, to work

2.    There is a very good reason for Cherry, knowing what she knows about Constance’s situation, to not want her as a roommate.

 

Theoretically, and according to popular advice, I should just throw the writing out there or skip this part and worry about it later, but I couldn’t do that. First of all, Constance and Cherry’s growing friendship is a large part of the theme and plot, so it would be weird to not know how it started. I needed to see them decide to move in together. I wanted to know how it all began.

 

Second, and more importantly, this wouldn’t just be a plot hole, but the mother of all plot holes from which rifts in the story would be berthed! When I say Cherry has a “good reason” for not wanting a roommate in Constance’s situation, I mean a reason that relates to the plot of the entire series, the villain’s motivation, the setting, and, well, everything. If I didn’t fix this hole, the entire story could come crashing down at any point. Again, first chapters are a foundation, and mine was shaky.

 

What to do… Well, why not return to my outline? I had a rough sketch of how the first book in the series was going to go, the vaguest idea of the plot for the second one, and only the beginning and ending of the third. I had been wanting to outline the arcs of the main characters and villains in each book, and now seemed like a decent time to do this.

 

I outlined Constance’s arc, with a big, blank, circled area that said “Moves in with Cherry for some reason???”, and left it at that. I then outlined her coming to terms with her backstory, and learning secrets about Cherry, and conflict, and so on. So far, no ideas.

 

I started outlining Cherry, from her backstory, and what she’s investigating (she is a detective, by the by), and how this leads to an eventual conflict with Constance, which had always kind of bugged me… and then everything fell into place. This thing that she knew—that thing that would make it weird for her to invite Constance into her home?—turns out that there isn’t any reason for her to know it at the beginning of book one. Literally no reason.

 

So now, she can become roommates freely and easily, then learn this terrible thing by the end of the book, and her and Constance dealing with this fact is a major part of the second book. I even figured out something about the climax of book 1 because I would now have o explain Cherry’s learning of this terrible fact.

 

So, because I desperately needed things to make sense and did not just throw writing out there, I came up with a more organic conflict for my characters, a plot for Book 2, a key part of the Book1 climax, and fixed the initial plot hole. Not too shabby!

 

 

Conclusion

 

So that’s my process: a continual spiral of drafting and brainstorming and outlining and rewriting and drafting and so on. You probably have a different process, and that’s fine.

 

I know that this may not actually help anyone start their own books, because it’s not exactly advice, but that’s the point. There is no magic formula that can make you write a good book, or even a good first chapter. You just have to find what works for you, wether that’s daydreaming for three months and then punching out a novel in a few weeks, or forcing yourself to write every day, or writing when inspiration strikes.

 

Too often, I believe writers focus on the “how” of writing and forget the “why”. You’re not writing to produce a book the “correct” way, nor are you writing to get as many words down as possible. You are writing in order to tell your story. As long as your process lets you do that, then it is the only writing process you need.

September 1, 2020

Summer Reading Roundup

It's finally happened. I've have completed my evolution into a book blogger! This was triggered by seeing someone on Tumblr posting mini reviews of what the read in August and thinking, "Aw, I want to do that!". Then I thought, "Wait. Why not do that?"

 

These "Reading Roundups" will be different from my Rant Rave Reviews. The RRRs feature not only books, but movies and games too, and often go back years and decades into media that I consumed long ago but that made a lasting impression. Reading Roundups will feature what I read in the past month (or the past season, in this case).

 

To keep myself from rambling, as I am wont to do, I will stick to this template for each book: title & author, genre, why I read it, what I thought of it, would I recommend it.

 

Without further ado, here are all the books I read over summer (that I can remember!):


 

Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls

  • Genre: Fictionalized/novelized biography
  • Why I read it: Arizona book club pic
  • What I thought of it: I’m not a memoir or biography kind of person, so this was far from what I normally read. Even so, I think it was well-written book with a very likable "character" (the author's grandmother) as the female lead. Bonus points for non-offensive portrayals of Catholics (dare I say positive representation?), particularly nuns and Catholic school.
  • Would I recommend it: Yes, for fans of memoir and bios, women's fiction, and the West.

 

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

  • Genre: Nonfiction - travelogue
  • Why I read it: Book club pick
  • What I thought of it: Sorry to disappoint everyone and their uncle, but I didn't like it, nor did I find it funny after the first scene at the camping supply store. I was expecting a Patrick-McManus-esque story about meeting weird and charming characters along the Appalachian Trail. Instead, I got the author's self-righteous "humor" in the form of sneering at and belittling others (particularly rural southerners. How clever!).
  • Would I recommend it: No. Sorry, the few interesting facts about the AT don't justify the slog along the self-satisfied trail of Bryson's ego.

 

The Great Courses, including King Arthur: History and Legend; Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction; Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals; and Medical School for Everyone

  • Genre: Nonfiction - lecture series
  • Why I read it: Writing research
  • What I thought of it: These talks by experts in their filed are a great resource for anyone who wants to dip their toes into a subject. What I particularly like is that each "course" is broken into lectures on individual topics. For example, I skipped the parts of the Mystery and Suspense course that didn't have to do with cozies and classic detective fiction, and stopped the King Arthur course once the lecturer had gotten past medieval literature, because I was only interested in the actual legend of Arthur and not modern renditions of it.
  • Would I recommend it: 100%, particularly for writers needing to do research. Your local library likely has these on disk or online.

 

Sunk Without a Sound: The Tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde by Brad Dimock

  • Genre: Nonfiction - unsolved mystery
  • Why I read it: Arizona book club pic
  • What I thought of it: To be fair to the book, I ran out of time and just skimmed it, skipping over the parts about the author recreating the Hyde's Journey and other chapters that seemed unnecessary. Overall, I think the story is interesting, particularly the different theories about what may have happened to the Hydes other than drowning (or that they did drown and Kolb unwittingly destroyed the only evidence). That being said, I'm pretty sure the book could have been about 100 pages shorter and not suffered for it.
  • Would I recommend it: Maybe, if you're really into the Grand Canyon or unsolved mysteries. Otherwise, just read the Wikipedia article about it. 

 

Criminology for Dummies by Steven Briggs

  • Genre: Nonfiction - criminology
  • Why I read it: I'm a crime nerd, but also for writing research
  • What I thought of it: I liked that the author, a prosecutor, broke down each part of a police department, the arrest process, court proceedings, and so on. He also gave a balanced review of different theories behind what causes crime and how to deal with criminals, presenting the pros and cons of each.
  • Would I recommend it: Yes, particularly in today's climate. Most people don't know anything about policing and criminology, but they talk about it anyway. It drives me nuts!

 

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

  • Genre: Folklore
  • Why I read it: Book club pic
  • What I thought of it: It was great! I'm a giant folklore nerd anyway, but found Gaiman's style particularly cool. His turn of phrase and repetition captured the sense that these stories have been told time and time again.
  • Would I recommend it: Absolutely!!!

 

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

  • Genre: Horror
  • Why I read it: I was nostalgic for Bloodborne but don’t have a game system, so this was the next best thing.
  • What I thought of it: I liked most of it, though the very middle dragged. The beginning has spooky mystery, and the end has excitement, but Lovecraft feels the need to have the story come to a screeching halt right in the middle to inform us of the Old One's entire history. I'm a less-is-more type of person when it comes to horror.
  • Would I recommend it: Yes. Despite the middle, the rest was quite creepy and enjoyable.

 

The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft

  • Genre: Horror
  • Why I read it: I'm on an old-horror kick
  • What I thought of it: It was ok. I found it rather predictable, and not just because we all know Lovecraft's shtick by now. Like, if I read this by some random person on r/nosleep, I would still be able to tell exactly what was happening or about to happen at each point. That being said, the final sentence of the story rocked.
  • Would I recommend it: Maybe if you want to get into the Cthulhu Mythos? Like, I wouldn't not recommend it, but it was kind of "meh". 

August 15, 2020

Poem: "New Releases"

Tomorrow in my final Harry Potter Rant Rave Review, but in the meantime, please enjoy this salty poem about the current state of America as seen through the microcosm of the book industry:



New Releases

 

Depressed,

I open my computer

and go online seeking history and true crime

(two of my favorites) but instead find:

 

·      twenty books about Trump ruining America

·      seven books about how to be a witch

·      four self-help books with covers featuring light switches and smiles

·      six titles with profanity bleeped out with an asterisk

o   (Note: this is no longer original)

·      three books about how Trump will save America

·      forty self-help books about how to:

o   make money

o   beat anxiety

o   organize

o   compromise with your spouse

§  (And all of them in five easy steps!)

·      three titles saying “Girl, do this”, “Girl, do that”

·      ten diet books about how to burn fat (in just ten minutes a day!)

·      twenty books about Trump’s crimes against America

·      five books about how you are a bad person for having white skin

·      three books about the Spanish Influenza

o   (two years too late for the centennial, too late to do any good)

·      three books about America’s original sin (slavery)

·      ten books equating prison to plantations (abolish them?)

·      two books about defunding the police

·      no books about how to catch or where to put murderers or rapists (curious)

·      one book, only, about hashtag Me Too

·      eighteen books on “mindfulness”

·      five books about how to love yourself more

o   (unclear if this includes those with dirty white skin)

·      eight books about how to be anti-racist (but only if you follow these ten steps!)

 

Depressed

I close my computer

and reread books

about historical murder

to try and cheer myself up. 

August 8, 2020

Rant Rave Review: Harry Potter

To make up for not posting last week, here is a two part, extremely long Harry Potter Rant Rave Review (and  it doesn’t even include Deathly Hallows, which will get its own review next week).





July 29, 2020

A Mildly Gloomy Mid(ish)-Year Update

How has your year been going so far? Terrible? Well, at least we're all in the same boat.

 

I should count my blessings—I still have a job, and a house, and two new kittens—but that doesn't necessarily make things easier. Aspects of the first one actually make it harder. And then there is COVID, which is a non-stop, slow-burn agony of annoyance that isn't going away anytime soon. 

 

See, the town where I am currently living (let's call it TWIACL for short) does not require masks, despite the entire rest of the county doing so; we are a donut hole of nonsense in an otherwise rational world. Only about half of our library patrons wear them (did I mention we're open to the public? Yeah...), so I'm expecting to catch the 'rona any day now. Actually, I've already been tested, though it was thankfully just a cold. I did, however, have to stay in my house for 10 days. I ran out of butter, I ran out of protein, and then, as a last straw, I ran out of milk, which meant sub-par tea. Need I go on?

 

I've also been intensely, mind-bendingly homesick.

July 17, 2020

June 30, 2020

Villain Motivation and the Banality of Evil


Motivation in Fact and Fiction

As you know by now, I am a huge true crime fan. I've read books by FBI profilers and crime historians, am addicted to the Investigation Discovery channel, and have even attended a semester of my local police departments "citizens police academy". This is a professional as well as a personal interest, given that I am currently outlining a mystery WIP set in an alternate version of our world. Thus, I want to understand crime investigation, different types of evidence, and, of course, motive. It's this last one—the motivation behind a villain's acts—that many authors, not just those who write mystery—concern themselves with. And, after examining hundreds of real-life crimes, I'm here to tell you that it's not that important.

Ok, it's a little important, in that a villain needs a motive, but it's not important that it be extremely groundbreaking, or extremely relatable, or extremely anything. Motives tend to be common place, not extreme, no matter how shocking the other aspects of a crime.

June 13, 2020

Writing Inside the Lines

There is a certain type of poem called a sestina. I've written two of them, and let me tell you, they are tough. Rather than relying on rhyme and meter, they employ a pattern of six words that end each line in the first six stanzas, and then end or are contained in the final three lines. The six words also change which line they appear in in each stanza. If that sounds complicated, that's because it is. However, sestinas are a great form because they force you to write a good poem. You have to end the lines on those words, which means you must construct your sentences carefully. Also, if you don't want it to sound repetitive, you had better play with the meaning and connotation of those six words. You can't noodle around. You can't slack off. If you're going to write a sestina, you really have to care about it.

I think this idea of writing with certain rules can improve most stories. Especially in a world oversaturated with shock-value, twist endings, and an anyone-can-die mentality, writing inside the lines, so to speak, forces writers to be careful. When writers must practice restraint, their stories are prevented from going over the top, flying off the rails, and all that other awful stuff that our media is so glutted with recently. They have to care, and their stories will be better for it.

April 19, 2020

2019 Poetry



In honor of National Poetry Month, allow me to share with you a few of the poems I wrote last year. The shorter ones don’t have titles, so I’ve separated each poem by asterisks:

* * *


Look at me:
what you see
is a star
burning bright
and about to implode.


* * *


Lost my grip on Reality,
let go of its leash.
Now, I'm lost in the woods,
hounded by growling,
untamed Delusions
hot on my heels.


* * *

For the Record

Do you ever just feel like a broken record?
Do you ever just—
Do you ever just—
just—
just feel like a broken?
Spinnin’ around,
scratches on your heart,
on your vinyl,
on your—
Do you ever just feel like a broken record?
Skip—
Skipping ahead
or back
several tracks,
several rings,
spiraling
on your vinyl,
on your—
Do you ever just—
just—
just—
just—
...
pull the needle up and come to a stop?