Hello, hello! It’s that time again. Time for another book review! I got another Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from NetGalley, so I must thank them and St. Martin’sPress for allowing me access to the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. This month, I requested access to Shattered Mirror (An Eve Duncan novel) by Iris Johansen, which was released on the 24th (yesterday). It’s a thriller/mystery; genres I seem to be drawn to lately. What I didn’t realize when I requested the book was that it’s the 23rd in a series. That means I’m coming into a bunch of established characters and relationships that I know nothing about, which is always a little difficult no matter how well the author explains existing situations. With that in mind, I’ll get into the review now.
Shattered Mirror opens on a lake cottage where Eve Duncan (one of the top forensic sculptors in the world), her husband Joe Quinn (ex-SEAL, current cop, and who knows what else), and their six-year-old son Michael (basically a wise old man in a kid’s body with a touch of ESP or something) live. The scene is serene until a gold box containing a burnt skull and a two-sided mirror shows up in the passenger’s seat of their jeep. As Eve starts the reconstruction, she and her family are drawn into a psychopath’s trap. Throw in some family members that were sort of adopted along the way (Cara, an eighteen-year-old violin prodigy with a tragic past, and Jock, a retired assassin) and a Russian mafia leader (Cara’s grandfather, Kaskov), and things get volatile pretty quickly.
First, let’s talk about the plot. It’s a pretty standard revenge plot, and a portion of the story is from the psychopath’s (Norwalk’s) perspective, which I liked. The story actually starts in his POV, which threw me a bit because I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to know him from previous books or not. When I figured out what was going on, that it was going to be told from multiple points of view, I settled into the rhythm quite nicely. In the end, I would describe it as Criminal Minds and Bones meets *insert any ‘over-the-top action film with lots of explosions and a hero who fails to take the kill shot just to extend the action’ of your choice*. In other words, it’s fun as long as you don’t take it too seriously.
Then, there were the characters. I actually found myself focused on Cara and Jock more than on Eve and her immediate family. You have this young girl who was saved as a child by this super attractive ex-assassin with a Scottish accent and they’ve been best friends ever since. Well, now she’s older and totally in love with him. Except he’s kind of a manipulative dick. I mean, the guy ignored her for three months then showed up and expected her to drop everything and talk to him because he was ready to talk. And she did. The mysterious bad boy routine would probably have intrigued me when I was younger, but now I just keep hoping she runs away from that crap (spoiler: she doesn’t). And, if I’m being honest, all the men in this book were jerks to some extent. On the flip side, the women felt a little flat until the last third of the book when they seemed to finally come alive. Maybe if I had read the series from the beginning, I would feel different, but coming in at this point left a lot to be desired on the character front.
As far as the writing goes, I enjoyed it. Johansen introduces the characters and gives new readers all of the pertinent information without it feeling heavy handed or like an infodump. She’s wonderful at manipulating the pace through sentence structure (something I need to study and work on). I found myself reading this book like a writer and noticing useful techniques that I can try out later. I also really liked how she wove a supernatural thread through the story by giving Michael and Eve a kind of spiritual connection. It didn’t feel awkward or forced like those things sometimes do.
Ultimately, it’s not my favorite series and, since I didn’t connect to the characters, I don’t really have any desire to hunt down book one to start there. But it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.
Overall, I would give it three stars. It’s kind of corny and over-the-top, which was fun, but the characters just didn’t draw me in. If you like thrillers and mysteries, give it a shot. If not, you’re not missing anything spectacular.
Hello, hello! It finally happened. On Saturday, I wrote THE END on the shitty first draft of novel attempt number three! Yay!!! I celebrated by doing nothing productive whatsoever on Sunday. Monday, I slowly dipped my toe into the revision pool by revising a micro fiction piece before sending it and another piece out into slush land. Which brings us to today (because I’m writing this on Tuesday). Now, the real revision struggle begins. Sure, I have a short story that needs to be doubled in length and smoothed out. That’s my immediate focus. But then, I have to decide which novel attempt to revise, two or three. And that’s what I plan on rambling about today.
Option 1: revise novel attempt two (LR from here on out). In my head, I know this would be the smart choice. For one thing, it would give me a break from the one I just finished, which is always encouraged so that when it comes time to trim the fat away, you won’t be blindly attached to it. I’ve had more than enough time away from LR to be able to make the hard cuts. I’m still super excited about LR, so that’s a plus. And I really do miss being around those characters.
The downside of revising LR first: while I love it, I’m not really sure it has much potential in the way of attracting agents. Are dragons even “in” anymore? Or are they passé? I know I shouldn’t worry about stuff like that, and I should work on whatever my heart tells me to, but it’s something I think about. I’ll have to do some research on the trends right now/where the trends seem to be headed. Plus, I’m concerned that if I get caught up in LR’s world, I’ll lose steam in the other one.
Option 2: revise novel attempt three (DS from here on out). Some of the advantages include that the plot is fresh in my mind and I still remember what all my little revision notes mean. From that perspective, it makes sense to dive right back into DS. It’s also a genre that’s always in high demand, but with a supernatural twist. So, I feel like it has a better chance of catching an agent’s eye. Plus, I’m completely in love with these characters and their stories.
The problem with starting with DS is that I wouldn’t have much time away from it, so I would probably still be super attached to all the fluff that needs to be chopped out. I have trouble decluttering my room because of sentimental values, decluttering a story isn’t any easier. It would also mean more time away from LR, which has been randomly popping into my head the last couple of months. Plus, I’m not entirely sure if the supernatural elements will be attractive in this particular genre or if it’ll be confusing and off-putting.
I guess I’ll read through both of them and see which one pulls me toward it more. Until then, I have a short story to focus on. What about you? How do you decide which projects to revise and when? What’s your method of making these kinds of choices? As always, please feel free to leave your comments or thoughts here or on my social media pages!
Howdy, howdy! How is everyone’s April going so far? Are you keeping up with all of your goals? I actually want to talk about how I’ve been doing with that whole “write every day” thing that I mentioned trying back in March. It’s been working! Every day in March (including Sundays and those days when I really didn’t want to), I wrote at least 50 words. Sometimes, I even made it up to 1,000 words. When April arrived, I upped it to at least 100 words a day. So far, I’ve kept at it! And I’ve learned some things from my experience thus far, which is what I’m going to ramble about right now.
Thing the first: Sunday will never be a good writing day for me. Right now, Sunday is set aside for things that take up most of the day, so I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep up with even 50 words. I did. Even 100 words has proven to be doable. But I don’t think I’ll ever do more than that on Sundays. It’s actually kind of annoying writing on those days. I miss my day off.
Thing the second: I still write better at night. I’ve tried for a long time to adjust to writing in the late afternoon/early evening with mixed results. Sometimes, words flow easily and I finish my 1,000 words before I even realize it. A lot of times, writing the words is like pulling teeth. But, I’ve found that when I open a story around 11ish at night to write my words on those days I’m too lazy to do it in the afternoon, the words always flow. Granted, I’m usually only aiming for 100-150 at that point, so it might just be that I’m not pressuring myself with a difficult goal. It’s just something I noticed. But I’ve always been a night owl, so this is no surprise.
Thing the last: writing every day is not a stress reliever for me. A lot of people I know say that they feel so much better after they write their words for the day. It’s like a catharsis for them to get words on the page (even if it’s just 50 words). I am not one of these people. I usually feel the same or worse after I write, unless I hit one of those rare days where the words tumble out onto the page almost by themselves. Most of the time, I’m just happy that I can play games or read or watch anime or whatever without feeling guilty. At least until I realize that it’s too late to do any of that stuff, then I’m just annoyed that I don’t have a day off to do any of it.
In other words, my experiment with writing every day is going well. I’m about halfway through the last chapter of my current novel attempt (hoping to finish by the end of the week). When I switch to revision mode, I’m not sure if I’ll keep up with writing every single day, but I’m glad I’ve done it. I admit that setting low goals for each day is a helpful way of getting back into the sway of writing. Do you have any experience with something like this? As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments here or on my social media pages!
Howdy, howdy! It’s (already) April once again. Can you believe it? A quarter of the year has passed us by. As many of you know, that means it’s National Poetry Month. I admit that I haven’t given poetry much of my time this past year, but I want to change that. At least for a month. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until my Facebook friends started posting daily poems. So, I thought I would devote this post to a few of the ways that I hope to celebrate this month.
1. Write a poem. I honestly can’t remember the last time I wrote one. But I recently had a nostalgia moment where I read through some of the ones I wrote as an undergrad, and that made me really miss the structure that poetry provides. I used to love writing villanelles and haikus and sestinas. Anything with strict constraints. I liked looser forms as well, but they weren’t as challenging. That little trip down memory lane even resulted in me submitting a poem to a contest. Send good vibes!
2. Read a book of poetry. Maybe I’ll read an anthology filled with different authors writing about the same subject. It’s always interesting to see how different people tackle the same basic topic. Then again, maybe I’ll read a collection by one author. I like to see how a collection connects from one poem to the next (or doesn’t connect at all). Hell, maybe I’ll read both kinds. It’s still early in the month after all.
3. Base a story off a poem. I’m almost done with my current novel attempt, so I’m hoping to work on more short stories and flash pieces, that way I have more things to submit. I know I use art a lot for inspiration, but I’ve also been known to use songs and poetry in the past as well. It might be an adaptation, or it could just be loosely connected, but hopefully it’ll be something good.
4. Take the time to listen to some poetry. I don’t know of any upcoming readings around here, but YouTube has plenty. And there are always podcasts. I’m sure if I asked my Facebook friends for recommendations, I’d come away with too many options to check out in a month. Feel free to shoot me some podcast or other ideas for places to listen to poetry here as well!
5. Look back at some of my old favorites. I used to have a few poems memorized, but I can’t get all the way through any of them anymore. From Ai to Donne to Poe, there are a lot of poems I should probably revisit.
That’s my plan for celebrating National Poetry Month. What about you? Are you going to read or reread some of your favorite poems? Maybe you’ll write some of your own poetry. What about my visual art friends? Have you thought about making your art based around a poem? Feel free to share your plans here or on my social media pages!
Howdy, howdy! Welcome to another last Wednesday of the month book review. This month, I decided to go with another quick and fun cozy mystery. It’s called Death by Dumpling, by Vivien Chien, and was released on March 27th. Yes, I got another Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from NetGalley, so I must thank them andSt. Martin’s Pressfor allowing me access to the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Speaking of, let’s get to it!
Death by Dumpling follows Lana Lee as she starts working at her parents’ noodle house, something she never wanted to do. She’s running away from a bad break up and the fact that she caused a scene while quitting her old job (this seems to be a common theme in many cozies). All the attention of the mall where their restaurant is located seems to be on her. At least until the property manager, Mr. Feng, winds up dead after eating shrimp dumplings from her parents’ restaurant. Throw in a couple of potential suitors, a bestie who will indulge Lana’s PI fantasies, and a lot of mystery, and this book is the perfect recipe for a cozy.
As usual, I went into this story not really knowing what to expect. And I was pleasantly surprised. The characters are relateable. Lana is sassy, outgoing, and definitely not the biggest snoop in this book. She didn’t find the body, which was a nice change of pace from other cozies I’ve read. She also had a decent reason to go snooping around. It wasn’t that she was nosy that made her try to figure things out, though she certainly is, she was trying to clear the name of the restaurant’s head chef/her friend. I found it to be a nice variation of the norm from other cozies I’m familiar with.
About the only complaint I had with this book was that I caught on to Mr. Feng’s big secret a little earlier than I think I was supposed to. It wouldn’t have bothered me, except when Lana finds concrete proof, she still tries to make stupid excuses for the people involved. I honestly think her mind would’ve gone exactly where it was supposed to go, instead of arguing with her bestie about it and trying to come up with an innocent excuse. I get that the woman involved is like an aunt to Lana, but all the signs were there. Why would she ignore them? That part dragged a little bit for me.
Otherwise, it was pretty easy to like this one. The writing was succinct, but still conveyed a lot of personality. Aside from dragging a little after I figured things out, the pacing swept me along. I’m a super slow reader, but it only took me a week to finish this one.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed Death by Dumpling. I’m definitely happy to see that book two, Dim Sum of All Fears, is due out in August. It’s going on my reading list!
Overall, I’d rate it 4 out of 5 stars. If you’re looking for something quick and fun and you enjoy a saucy feel good mystery, it’s worth a look.
Howdy, howdy! I want to take a second to say thank you to DerekHoffman one more time for his guestpost last week! I’m in the process of lining up more guests in the future, so if you’re interested in something like that, feel free to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or get in touch via my social media pages.
And now, on to this week. Happy spring! I had zero ideas what to blog about this week, so Dad suggested I do a post of random thoughts I’ve been having lately. Therefore, if you don’t like this post, blame him. Anyway, here are five things that have been on my mind recently.
1. I’ve been wondering why it always seems harder to write words the closer I get to the end of a story. I still haven’t finished the shitty first draft of my current novel attempt (I know, I know… judge me all you want), even though I’m only a few thousand words away from typing THE END. Revision ideas keep popping into my head, but I make a note and then ignore them, like a good little writer. It’s like my brain doesn’t want me to finish. But I will prevail! I’ll reach THE END, then I’ll get stuck in the editing process and complain about that for a while. Am I the only one with this problem?
2. Recently, I finished reading a book and told myself I wasn’t going to start another one until I finished the one I put down without finishing for various reasons (none of which have to do with the book itself). The next day, I wore my Howl’s Moving Castle t-shirt and realized I hadn’t read the book yet, so I started reading that instead. I feel like a very fickle reader. Shame on me.
3. Honestly, I’ve been thinking a lot about my Stonecoast friends. I was feeling really isolated, especially since it’s pretty much writing con season (ICFA, AWP, StokerCon, etc.). But then I realized my Stonecoast people are magical psychic unicorns, because within a few days of my thoughts, I received a Facebook message saying someone was thinking of me and a surprise package in the mail from someone else. Also, I know I’m not the best at keeping in touch with people, but I really do appreciate them.
4. I want to start drawing again. It’s something I’ve randomly thought about for a while now, but I’ve been too lazy to see if my tablet thingamajig even works any more. It’s super old. Maybe I’ll just buy a new one so I don’t have excuses. (P.S. This drawing desire will fade soon, so don’t expect anything new from it.)
5. Multiplication tables. When I have trouble getting to sleep, I’ve started doing multiplication in my head. I start at one and go up to thirteen, then two to thirteen, and so on until I reach thirteen times thirteen or until I fall asleep. It’s actually been pretty helpful with the sleep bit, but I’m still slow at math.
There you have it. Five bits of random thoughts. Feel free to share some of your own thoughts here or on my social media pages!
Hello, hello! Welcome to my first quarterly (March/June/September/December) guest post. For the inaugural edition, please welcome my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum, Derek Hoffman!
How Transmedia Storytelling Can Kickstart Your Stagnant Writing Project
By Derek B. Hoffman
You have a story. Yes, that one. It’s the one you know you’re supposed to write, but you can’t seem to crack it (or regain inspiration to continue) and you cringe each time a friend asks how it’s going.
Yet it still calls to you. Whatever else you try to fill your time with, creative or otherwise, it’s the thing that won’t let go and won’t move forward. So what do you do?
Think outside of the screen, the pen, the shuffled stack of drafts you’ve shoved in a half-crushed Amazon box. Think transmedia.
I know, what does that really mean? To put it simply, it is a way of telling a story across multiple media. But it’s more than that, it’s also using multiple types of media purposefully because “each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story” (from “Transmedia Storytelling 101” by Henry Jenkins). You can find the wiki here, a couple great resources here and here, and a slew of academic articles here and here. It’s a lot to take in, but what it boils down to is a call to think in 4D about the story you need to tell.
Transmedia storytelling uses technology and media to broaden the story and engage a greater audience. In House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, the main book is a series of nested narratives that tell a story about a story, about an event. As a family unpacks in their new house, they discover it contains a mysteriously expanding labyrinth that holds more than a few secrets of its own. The narratives mimic the labyrinth, with text twisting and winding through the pages. Footnotes are peppered throughout, giving it a more academic and researched feel, though only 25% of the references are legitimate.
To give the story credibility, Danielewski published a website before the book release. The Internet was still capitalized back then, and the website played to the interests of an audience seeking hidden truths, long before the doubts of Fake News and strategic disinformation. There were also rumors Danielewski helped the manuscript go viral by dropping it at tattoo parlors and bars as a loose collection of papers tied with a string. The musician Poe (Danielewski’s sister) released an album of songs alongside the novel. Suddenly, readers could actually hear the echoes down the five and a half minute hallway.
More simply and more recently, transmedia storytelling can be seen in the 2017 show Thirteen Reasons Why, about a set of cassette tapes left by a girl who committed suicide. Jay Asher published the book in 2007 with hints to lead readers to, you guessed it, a set of audio tapes he had posted on a website.
So, how does this make your writing easier?
Well, maybe the reason your book isn’t writing itself is that it is more than just a book. Are there:
different entry points into your story?
multiple audiences you want to engage?
different perspectives, voices, or subplots that lend themselves to audio, video, blog, or website?
supplemental facts, graphics, maps, or historical details that could add dimension
Let go of the pencil and pick up the keyboard, microphone, brush, or camera to give your story new life.
Set yourself up for success
First, take a moment to set achievable goals. Unless you have an amazing amount of free time, and/or resources, be real with yourself and your story.
Spend a weekend breaking down your story to see what areas could benefit (or not) from a transmedia approach and our thinking sideways experiment.
Then think about your creative resources (e.g. your own talents, friends and family, and local schools and artists).
Take account of how much time and money you may be willing to put toward this endeavor (consider crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter as well).
Lastly, remember to think about any ethical impacts your project may have during execution. Don’t worry, I’ll talk more about this in a couple sections.
It’s time to break your story. What’s left inside when you peel back everything else? What is it that made you want to write it in the first place? A character’s tale that had to be told? An image that haunts you? An intimate, whispered conversation? A political or religious allegory? Or are you determined to buck every trope in a given genre? Whatever it is, find it (or remember it).
Anatomy of a breakdown
Since everyone’s results from this will vary, I’ll throw down first.
A girl stands in the shallows off the rocky coast of Maine. Her long nightgown is soaked up to the frilled collar. She walks forward into the ocean, grim and at peace.
Seventy years later, a reporter on hiatus because of a major screwup at her job visits her friend in Maine. Out of her morning newspaper drops a microfiche news story about the girl’s disappearance.
That’s all I had, but it bugged me for a year and a half while I attended my graduate program (in Maine). Every time I watched waves crash against the rocks under a foggy sky, I saw the girl. Six months left in my MFA. It was time to get this going. I thought about:
What was in the news story for the girl on the microfiche?
What did the reporter’s online newspaper look like? What stories had she written before?
Did the girl have a diary? What was her story? Why did she likely kill herself?
Maybe the girl had letters from a secret love???
Did the reporter have a personal blog?
Alright, that’s a good start for different ways to approach or enhance the story. What else? Since I was in this program with other creatives, could I directly engage them? During the winter, we stayed at a cool, old inn. A ghost story, perhaps?
Maybe “accidental” audio or video of the girl from the reporter’s cellphone/camera.
Find out the history of the inn. Would it fit with the girl’s story?
An evidence bag from the old missing person’s case left at the front desk or someone’s room?
Whoa. Hold on, now we are moving into ARG territory. ARG? Alternate Reality Gaming. It can totally be done. Check out some cool stuff from Lance Weiler here, but there are some major ethical considerations in going down this path:
What if someone believes your story is real? What kind of emotional/psychological impact could it have? Could they miss work or school? Could they report findings to the police? I know this sounds extreme, but you need to consider all of this.
Is there a way for people to opt-in/opt-out?
If you are performing research while executing your story (e.g. by using analytics on websites) are you obtaining permission? Is there a notice on the site that clearly states what is being collected?
Again, the above isn’t to scare you out of incorporating some really cool ARG into your transmedia project, but you need to be conscious of its potential effects and the rights of those involved behind and in front of the story.
Speaking of those behind the story…
Creative Role Call
Now you have an idea of what can be done. How do you do it? Well, there are several options depending on your social and financial resources.
You can form a creative collaboration with one or more trusted creative friends. These should be people whose work you know is solid, even if they aren’t professionals. You don’t want to have to manage people’s egos or confidence. Depending on what the work is, if it will be profitable, what kind of friendship you have, and more will determine how you might be able to compensate your team. Personally, even though I have some friends working with me on a transmedia project, and some have offered their services for free, or at a great discount, I want to pay them what their work deserves. It’s not that I have the financial resources, but I don’t want my creative friends to get burned or short-changed just because they are my friends. How will I pay them? We’ll get to that in a moment.
You can go it alone. If you have the skills to perform/create in multiple media, good for you! Make sure you have the time, and that it is worth the “life cost.” And whatever you plan for time, double it.
You can find creative resources online and locally. Do you need photos? Check Unsplash. It’s a great resource for free, hi-res photos that can be used however you like. They don’t even require attribution (though I highly recommend it). There is Fiverr for freelance design, translation, video, and more. Check out Artstation for inspiration and some freelance conceptual, environmental, and 3D artists. If you want to build a website for your project, check out Squarespace, Hugo, and WordPress/Themeforest. Also, contact your local community colleges and universities to see if they have a way for you to post what you’re looking for to students who might want some more real world project experience (and please pay them).
If there are self-publishing components to your project, check out Lulu and Blurb.
Now that you are finalizing your project plan and team, how are you going to pay for it all?
Show me the money
Short of your own financial resources, or those of a publishing/media company, you need to crowdfund. And for this type of project, the only option really suitable to the task is Kickstarter. If you have to go this route, you need to look at their tips for creating a successful campaign, and you need to do some math to make sure that your project funding goal includes fees for using Kickstarter, shipping, production, taxes, etc. It’s not just about paying your creatives. And whether you use a crowdfunding site or not, you need to prep your mind for selling your project. Whether it is to people who have cash they are looking to invest in a cool enough story, or people you want to pick up your book, think of how to pitch it, how to package it, and how to sell it. This is the story that won’t let go. Now’s the time to push it out there. You got this.
Which brings us to the why…
Maybe you’ve read though this anxiously waiting for the secret to reveal itself on how to move forward with your project. Maybe you found it, but more than likely you are half-pumped, half-scared, half-apathetic, but fully convinced I can’t do math. No, this is about thinking sideways to move forward. It doesn’t matter if you create the most amazing project plan and gather the most talented team of artists, if you can’t finish the story, you’ve got nothing.
You are a writer. Transmedia, whatever you may think of its use to you and your project, is just a tool. One you can put in your rusty, blue, metal box with the squeaky hinges. Put it beside the Passive Voice Detector and whichever Manual of Style you despise the least. But put it in there.
Transmedia can refine how you pitch and define your story by forcing you to communicate with a creative team, and the world at large. It is a storytelling tool as much as it is a marketing tool. And this alternative thinking allows you to more easily evolve your narrative regardless of whether you continue down the transmedia path or simply use bits and pieces of the methodology from your toolkit.
Now, get back to writing.
Derek B. Hoffman is a writer, designer, technologist, husband to a scientific wonder woman, and dad to two awesome boys. He can be found online at https://derekbhoffman.com and is happy to respond to your transmedia-project-induced cries for help at https://veracitybydesign.com.