Category: writing

Voice Makes All the Difference

I just finished reading two very different books, back to back. The first one (which shall remain nameless), received multiple starred reviews and ended up on a number of “best books” for the year it was published. Middle grade/YA fantasy. The author has won multiple big name awards. The book has great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

I had to fight to get through it, honestly. In the end, I gave it a 3/10. It wasn’t the plot. I liked the plot and found it intriguing. I also liked the magic system and the characters just fine. Better than fine, in many cases. But I had to force myself to keep reading, and that’s never the recipe for success.

After I slogged through it, I wondered to myself what made the book such a chore for me to read. In the end, I decided it was the voice. I kept getting kicked out of the story because the voice was too stilted for me. The focus in many places was on style and word choice over actually telling a story.

That feels odd to write, coming from a person who’s studied literature and once wanted to be an English professor. But it’s true, and I realized it when I read the next book: The Lost Boys, by Orson Scott Card.

It’s the tale of a Latter-day Saint couple who are dealing with many very ordinary problems: difficulties at home, at work, in a new area, and with their family. It’s got fantastical elements, but they’re very much in the background. It takes place in the 80s, and much of what was written about Latter-day Saint culture in the book was disappointing to me, not because it was wrong, but because it was right. It was a very unflattering view of the religion, in the same way the mirror and the lighting in a Macy’s changing room doesn’t do much for my self esteem.

And yet I blazed through the book, even though I didn’t care for the characters all the time, and even though often the plot seemed far more focused on nosing around through the religion than into what was actually happening in the story. I gave it a 7/10. Not stunning, but a good, solid read. (And an interesting look into how some people approach my religion, both the good and the bad side of it. There were parts I wanted to applaud, and other times I wanted to cringe. And interestingly, they weren’t always caused the different people.)

In a vacuum, if you described both books to me, I would have guessed I’d like the MG fantasy much more. But the reality was much, much different, which led to this blog post.

For me, my ideal book is one where I forget I’m reading. Where the pages turn themselves and I’m lost in the middle of a story. Every time something bumps up to jostle me out of that zone, it’s a missed opportunity. This doesn’t mean that I’ll only read books that make me lose myself, but what I get back for that price had better be worth it.

This isn’t to say that books that focus more on language or the way things are said are bad, or that what I like is better than what other people like. But it doesn’t explain a fair bit why people can have such widely disparate opinions about books. We’re all looking for something different.

Scott Card’s voice is (for me) extremely readable. He could probably write about the dictionary and I’d still be turning the pages, just because I like the way he communicates that information into my brain. In the end, I think of it this way: which would I prefer? The world’s most boring man telling me the world’s most interesting story, or the world’s best storyteller telling me the world’s most boring story?

You’d think they’d amount to the same thing, but I think you’d be wrong . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

New Book Release!

Hello, lovely peoples. Some of you might recall a certain blog post I made almost four years ago, in which I wondered aloud what it would have been like if Latter-Day Saints had developed an attachment to Kung Fu instead of Boy Scouts. Still others of you will recall I came across a request for short stories centered around a “Mormon Steampunk” theme. And when I saw that, I immediately thought of that alternate history I’d mused about years ago.

Even though I don’t typically write short stories, I decided to give it a shot, and AN INCIDENT AT OAK CREEK was born. It’s technically a novelette, since it’s 11,000 words or so. (I told you I don’t write short stories . . .) It was accepted to the anthology, which turned into a 3 part series. The first book in the series came out a few months ago, and today the second book has been released: the one that includes INCIDENT.

So if you’re hankering for a big portion of Mormon steam punk action, and you’d like to read what I’m fairly confident is the only Mormon kung fu western action alternate history steampunk novelette in existence, you can now have that experience for the low low price of $2.99.

And if you buy it from this link, I get even better royalties. Just sayin’ . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

How Consistent Should Characters Be?

I finished the second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel last night, and I enjoyed it just as much as the first season, or perhaps a little more. It’s a very solid show with great characters, interesting plots, and wonderful writing. (But it also has some very bad language throughout the show, so be warned.) I gave the season a 9/10. It took less than a week to watch the whole thing, which is always a sign that I’m really liking a show.

But one of the things that has me thinking about the show still is the characterization. They’re all very distinct, and they do things you would expect them to do.

Until they don’t.

There are multiple times throughout the season where a character who’s been nothing but consistent to that point suddenly decides to do something that seems very out of character. (I won’t say what, because spoilers.) On the one hand, this is typically frustrating for me. I think most of the time it’s an indication of poor characterization: of the characters being slaves to the plot, rather than the reverse, where characters drive the plot.

And yet in Mrs. Maisel, I found myself questioning my read of the character in the first place. Was it really out of character for them to do that, or had I just thought they’d never do something that they actually would?

People change, after all. The things we do and see each day influence what we do the next day and the day after that. No one is consistent on a broad arc, and when you have big, life changing experiences happen to people, it’s to be expected that they will respond in unexpected ways. Since the show introduces some big, life changing experiences to these characters in season one, it makes sense not all the repercussions would be foreseeable.

In other words, I began to think the characters were so well done, that they could even pull off surprise plot twists.

I’m still not completely sold on the idea, but as I think about the events of the season, I do think the writers put in enough groundwork to pull almost all of the zags instead of zigs off. It’s not like someone suddenly did something wildly out of character. Just enough out of character that you really didn’t expect it.

Anyway. Usually that’s a big turn off for me in a show, and I was surprised it wasn’t as big of a problem this time around, and I wondered why. Have any of you thought about this more, whether about this show or a different show or book? Can you think of times characters have behaved wildly out of character, and you were okay with it?

Do share.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Super Secret Surprise Book Going Out on Submission

I know I’ve been announcing regular updates on MURDER CASTLE for, like, forever. That’s typically how books work with me. I get an idea. I write multiple drafts. I refine it with help from my agents. It goes out on submission. It takes at the bare minimum a half year of effort (more likely a year or more to actually get a book out to editors.)

Which is why it will no doubt come as a big surprise to you to hear that we’re sending out a whole new book to editors this week.

To explain what’s happened, I need to give a bit of context.

First off, I’ve been writing a family newsletter for Christmas every year since . . . 2007, it turns out. When Denisa and I moved to Maine, we decided we’d do a newsletter as a Christmas gift for family members. Each year, it included a variety of funny fake news stories written by me, as well as any stories the family wanted to include. (That first year our family just consisted of me, Denisa, and Tomas!) To make it seem more like a gift, I also write a short story for each newsletter, all of them Christmas-themed.

It was a fun project at first, but as with many projects, it takes work to keep it going. Each year around Thanksgiving, I realize that I still haven’t come up with a short story idea for that year’s newsletter. That’s the hardest part. This year over dinner with my agents, I bemoaned the need to come up with an idea yet again. (This would be my 12th short story, after all.)

Which is why when one of my agents made a pithy Tweet about a Christmas mashup he’d like to see, I leapt on it as an idea for my story.

As I got into writing it, I discovered the story felt like it would work better as a picture book. And I made an offhand remark in an email to my agents that it was too bad I couldn’t make drawings that would fit. They noted you don’t need illustrations to sell a picture book, to which I asked if they actually would represent a picture book.

They said they’d want to see the book in question.

And would ya know it? After some tweaks, it’s going on submission.

I’m being a tad cagey about the topic, mainly because it took me less than ten hours total of work to finish this puppy off. If we sell it, then I’ll announce it of course, but until then, I’d like to have a head start on anyone who’s thinking about sniping the idea.

However, if you’re one of my Patreon supporters, I’ve decided to post the story there as a Christmas present to you all in the next week or two, so you have that to look forward to. (And you can always sign up now to see it then.)

Anyway. Will this tale have an even more exciting ending? Who knows. I think the story has a shot of actually being pretty commercial, but I’ve been wrong before. If it sells at all, it would probably end up being the best hourly rate I’ve ever earned in my life. (And likely ever will again.) I don’t think it’ll be a hard decision for an editor to make. The book pretty much does exactly what the one sentence description of it promises. So we just need to see if any editors out there agree with my “could be pretty commercial” assessment.

Wish me luck!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Chinese MEMORY THIEF is Here! Let’s Test It with Google Translate

You might have seen yesterday that my author copies of THE MEMORY THIEF in Chinese arrived in the mail. This is beyond exciting, especially since the books themselves look gorgeous. They have embossed covers with a beautiful illustration, and there’s a series of full color illustrations right at the beginning that match the cover’s style.

Many of you have asked to see more of the book, so I thought I’d post a video here of what it looks like in person. Better than just trying to slap a series of pictures up, right?

Forgive the soft audio. I was filming in my office, so I was using my library voice. 🙂

But here’s the thing. I have actually no idea what the book says. I mean, it could be a transcript of the entire Teletubbies series, and I wouldn’t have a way of knowing. Except Google has this handy dandy new feature on their smart phone app. You point your camera at text in the real world, and it translates it in real time. My brother in law was using it all the time in Europe.

How well does it work in Chinese?

Well, here’s the description from the back cover:

The 12-year-old boy had recently felt terrible. His parents often quarreled and turned a blind eye to him, and he even mentioned the word “divorce” in front of him! This sadness, he wants to turn back the time back to the moment when the family was happy and happy… By chance, this strangely old man from the town accidentally got the magical skills of stealing memories. With this skill, you only need to gaze at the eyes of others for a few seconds, you can enter the memory of the other person at any time, extract, transform, give and display the memory that he wants to modify, and get the secret of memory. I want to save myself. Broken home, but I don’t know the book of Cox’s book behind this adventure

And if that doesn’t make you want to run out and buy the book this second, I don’t know what will. Except, perhaps, this blurb by Dan Wells:

This is the best middle school reading I have ever read for all parents and children.

Thanks, Dan. 🙂

So clearly you might not want to read my entire book this way, but I’m guessing it works much better in its native language.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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