ARENA by Holly Jennings

The lack of word count over the weekend is brought to you by Holly Jennings. Oh, and I went to a Ren Fair.

But Arena is great! It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and really enjoyed a book. I had several tasks to do like packing and cleaning the house that tried to keep me away from the story once I’d started, but I bought the audio book too so I could keep enjoying the story.

It’s a sci-fi book where virtual gamers are the sports stars of the world. Kali is the first female captain to take a team to the finals. Kali’s voice is refreshing and keeps the narration fast paced. I love that she’s strong, independent and knows how to get the job done. In fact she’s so strong I would’ve liked to see her struggle a little bit more. The “sponsors” loomed large as the evil entity, but despite Kali throwing wrenches into their system repeatedly, they never came after Kali directly. Perhaps in the sequel? It’s something I’d love to see. That and more face to face interaction between the teams. This book was all about getting Kali’s team to work together despite drug problems, game addiction and the sponsors, which was cool, but we needed more smack talk between the teams :)

Holly is the master of action scenes. Wow. I wish I could write like that. My absolutely favorite part was the final battle. But I’m not going to go into that because I want you to go out, buy Arena and enjoy the awesomeness for yourselves! You will be very happy you did.

IMG_3078That’s an updated picture of Holly’s book from when I went to Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago. I hope to see it on the Best Selling Science Fiction shelf next!

A good book like Arena is always inspiring. I’m home from the weekend getaway and ready to write tons of words this week. I’m going to try for 5000 a day. I doubt I will make it today, because I’m starting now at 10 pm. I will resist the coffee. I hope you join me as I post my progress this week.

Ready. Get set. Go!


Indie Highlight: Tales of a Dying Star Book 1: Siege of Praetar by David Kristoph


Seige of Praetar, available at Amazon, does a good job of drawing me in despite two out of the three sections being from a villain POV. I shouldn’t call the first POV a villain because really he’s just, a middle ranking military man who has totally bought into his corrupt government. He has two kids, he wants a third—he’s just doing his job. But I so wanted his shipmate to win the struggle in the first section. Kristoph skillfully made me see through the shipmate how out of control and evil the governing empire was.

The second section is my favorite though hardest to read emotionally. It’s from the POV of someone I really sympathized with: hard working woman, sick daughter, completely broke. To me the best part of the book is when her boss, a cog in the abusive government, helps her by giving her extra money for her sick daughter. Why does he do that? It’s never really answered, though we do find out a little bit more about him in the third section.

The third section is a great way to end the book because it ties the plot lines together while leaving so many unanswered questions. The POV here is definitely a villain. There is nothing to like about this man, and yet I kept reading because the story of the world was important to me. And I want to read the second book in the hopes that Kristoph will come back to a few things he left hanging.

I definitely recommend this story if you like science fiction evil empire stories and are looking for something short.

What indie books are you guys reading? Have any to recommend?

A Writer Reviews: Bellwether by Connie Willis

If you’re a writer, I would definitely read this for the structure. It’s really unlike any story I’ve ever read.

Plot Overview: Dr. Sandra Foster is a scientist studying fads and how they originate. She is stuck trying to figure out how the fad of the bob haircut for women originated. She’s also clueless about social situations, and the secondary plot is a sort of romance comedy. It’s very cute and sweet.

Structure: Every chapter is filled with facts about various fads, facts about scientific discoveries and snarky commentary about current fads. The plot appears in each chapter only after facts and commentary. It’s definitely not an action book, but the voice is genuine and almost mesmerizing. I listened to Connie Willis at a con and found her very enjoyable. This book is a lot like listening to her talk, and not so much like a story. There is a story, but most of the plot twists come at the end.

My husband listened to a snippet of it with me and I said, “See what I mean that it’s like Bill Bryson’s Short History of the Universe with a plot?”

And he said, “It’s more like someone’s mental commentary about their life throughout the day.” And he was exactly right.

I do recommend reading it, especially listening to the audio version by Kate Reading. Go into it expecting to be entertained. And though it’s shelved in the speculative fiction area, I found the speculative aspect to be almost non-existent. I think readers of straight fiction would enjoy it too.

What are you reading these days?

Jeeves and Wooster: Brilliant Language

For my birthday back in December, my family got me the DVDs for the Jeeves and Wooster Television series.

I had seen a few of them before and knew I had received a treat. The soundtrack is smooth and jazzy–a perfect compliment to the witty dialogue. Hugh Laurie also plays the piano on occassion, which I haven’t seen in the short stories, but its a great addition to the TV show.

Watching the shows, I became curious about the short stories and novels written by P.G. Wodehouse. I haven’t read the novels yet, but the TV show seems to be pulled directly from the short stories. I’ve read Extricating Young Gussie,
Leave it to Jeeves, Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest, Jeeves and the Hard-Boiled Egg, The Aunt and the Sluggard and Jeeves Takes Charge.

The linguistics, dialogue and word choices make the short stories a must read. The characters, Jeeves and Wooster never change. Jeeves is the butler and Wooster is a post WWI slacker. The stories always hinge around Wooster’s friends and how Jeeves’ plan gets the friends out of whatever trouble they are in. With today’s preference towards characters with life changing problems and high stakes, these stories are pretty fluffy by comparison. But I think they’re a great read.

If you’re looking for books with charming language and a glimpse into the aristocracy of England after WWI, these are definitely worth a read.



A Writer Reviews: The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great

A bit of business first: On Wednesday, May 21 A.G Carpenter will be guest blogging about her science fiction novella Brass Stars! Please stop by and ask her a question or two and be sure to read her book. It made it to number 69 in Amazon’s Science Fiction top sellers!

On with today’s blog:

Every time I think I need to review The Fire in Fiction by Donald Mass, I also think I’ve already done it. But no! searching through my posts I see that it’s somehow never made it to the blog.

The Fire in Fiction by Donald Mass definitely deserves a place on every writer’s shelf. He talks about how to keep the tension high on each page through dialogue, action and even the dreaded Exposition. There’s also a whole chapter dedicated to “voice”, which I think is hard for everyone, as well as chapters about characters, setting etc.

I think my favorite chapter is “Scenes that Can’t be Cut.” He gives a powerful example from a Nancy Pickard novel where a natural disaster effects the members of a community in many different ways. Although the event is the same, the reader wants to read it from each POV because the event had a different meaning to each character. After reading the chapter “Scenes that Can’t be Cut” it became very apparent to me what scenes I could cut, which were plentiful. As a beginning writer, I tended to allow my characters to talk on and on forever. Sometimes I thought they had really important things to say and other times I thought it was a conversation that needed to be there because it was so like real life. Obviously, these were scenes that needed to be cut. I shiver thinking about others reading them.

One of the best parts of The Fire in Fiction are the exercises at the end of each chapter. Of course, I wish Donald Maass was hanging around to mark my papers in red when I was done, but even without him looking over my shoulder, the exercises are helpful.

I see now that the book is five-years-old, and if you are a craft book junkie you might think his advise is stale. But it’s not. The techniques he talks about to keep the tension in your book high and readers reading are ageless. In fact, I think I’ll reread it this month.

A Writer Reviews: Dancing Gods: Indian Ceremonials of New Mexico and Arizona By Erna Fergusson and 50 Likes Giveaway!

I grew up going to the Erna Fergusson library in Albuquerque, knowing she was an important historical figure to New Mexico, but I thought her great work was her New Mexican food cook book. My dad used to cook her recipes and they are fabulous. However, I never realized she was a tour guide through the pueblos of New Mexico, and her even greater work is Dancing Gods: Indian Ceremonials of New Mexico and Arizona.

I used Dancing Gods extensively to create the ceremonies in A Sunset Finish.  Each tribe has different dances and different costumes, but there were also many similarities that I culled from for my story. Her writing style is poetic and made what could’ve been a very technical book an enjoyable read. Perhaps my favorite chapters were about the rain ceremonies. In one chapter, she talks about the rainbow and forming clouds before the dance. In another chapter, she talks to a man who’d been away to college and was back to participate in the rain ceremony. They had a very enlightening discussion about how he puts together his knowledge from school with the religion he believes in.

The snapshots into pueblos are from the middle of the twentieth century, and I wish she were alive to do another book now that looks at all the changes that have happened since then. She noted in her book that the Sandia Pueblo (the one closest to me) had been devastated and was just a tiny community. Now they own one of the most successful casinos in New Mexico.

On writing forums I see a few people writing novels with Native American folklore. If you’re writing one that takes place in the Southwest, you have to be sure to read Dancing Gods. The current edition has a forward by Tony Hillerman, who was a famous author from New Mexico.

And Now for the Over 50 Likes Giveaway!

Folklore has always been important to me from the time I was in elementary school. Please post below what culture’s folklore you are most interested in seeing in more fiction. The first five people who post will receive my e-book A Sunset Finish.

A Writer Reviews: On Writing and the Novel: Essays by Paul Scott

On Writing and the Novel: Essays by Paul Scott

Paul Scott is best known for his novel The Jewel in the Crown. He’s a twentieth century author from England, so you might think anything he has to say is going to be way outdated. He’s not going to tell you how to land an agent or publisher or get your book the number one rank on Amazon. He simply tells you about the process of writing.

When people talk about putting their characters on spread sheets and counting how many scenes they’re in and marking when the story arcs merge together and when they’re finished, my ass twitches. I’m sorry if you are one such writer and I’ve just offended you, but it’s just not something I imagine Jane Austen did. Paul Scott didn’t do this either. His is a much more understated process involving a great deal of thinking.

Writing and the Novel is a series of lectures he gave in his lifetime. Some of them are about his time in India, but most of them are germane to the pursuit of writing a book. The first lecture is “Imagination and the Novel.” He talks about taking a pure image in his mind and how he starts a story about it, gets to a dead end and returns to the original image but with new ideas about what various aspects mean and starts a new story.  Perhaps this lecture speaks to me because that’s how my current story started. I had a picture in my mind of a man approaching a woman in a grocery store who’s in a hopeless daze staring at the soda section. He sniffs her and says, “Don’t you smell of mystery and adventure.” Like Paul Scott, the meaning of everything in the image has changed several times until I have finally settled on the story those two characters have to tell.

In “Meet the Author: Manchester” he labels various types of writers: Tortured Genius, Bland Practitioner, Switched on Intellectual, Roaring Boy and Swinging Gal. He notes that he is none of those but instead a middle aged man with a family. He goes on to talk about why he writes and it turns out to be simply because he has a natural aptitude for it and the hard working attitude to see it through. I find the reason refreshing, which is ironic since the man has long ago passed away.

“Method: The Mystery and the Mechanics” gets into the nitty gritty. My favorite part is talking about how word choice is so important in getting what’s in your head onto paper. “Every word you write is potentially expendable, potentially a misfit. Be prepared to recognize it and accept it. Be prepared to discard words and find others…until something tells you that ‘Yes– This is what was in my mind.’”

Perhaps what truly endeared him to me is he talks to genre writers as if they are, gasp, writers. I have picked up how to write books by literary authors who are very snide about anyone writing genre. Paul Scott’s attitude is all writers are telling a story and the pursuit of writing it down is essentially the same.

I have only touched on a few of his essays, so find a copy and read it! If nothing else, he has a great attitude about life and writing that I think should appeal to anyone. I’ll close with another favorite quotation. “Writing is a discovery. It is a vitamin, not a drug.”

An Author Reviews: Beauty and the Beast

So I promised a Thursday review and didn’t deliver. My husband took me out of town for two days, and at the beginning of the week I thought I’d be able to get everything up and timed to appear on the right day. Ha! Obviously it didn’t work out :) I’m going to post the review a day late so I’m not too much of a slacker.

One of my projects is writing a new story for Beauty and the Beast. I realize it’s been retold a thousand times, but everyone always glosses over why a fairy enchanted the beast to begin with. What’s the fairy’s story? I did a bit of research into the fairy tale, which is actually not quite a fairy tale, and thought I’d share it for something different in my Writer Reviews post.

The predecessor of Beauty and the Beast is actually the story of Cupid and Psyche. Here’s a brief recap in case some of you don’t know it:

Psyche was the daughter of a King and Queen and had two older sisters.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau

The sisters were beautiful, but Psyche outshone them. People started to praise her above Venus, making the Roman goddess jealous. Like all good Roman gods, Venus didn’t really plan ahead, and set forth the demise of Venus in a thoughtless way by sending her son Cupid to bring misfortune to Psyche. Of course, he falls in love with Psyche. To appease his mother’s wishes and to assure Psyche remains single, he casts a spell that no one will propose marriage to Psyche.

Psyche knows nothing of the interference, but after her sisters are married off, she begins to wonder why she can’t get married and goes to an oracle. The oracle tells her she’s destined to be married to a horrendous beast on a mountaintop. Psyche then realizes this is because of Venus’s jealousy (I’m not sure how…the Oracle does not specify Venus) and she goes to the mountains and discovers a palace where everything she desires is given to her.

Benjamin West

She’s married, but she never sees her husband. When she asks, he says he does not want her to think he is an ugly beast or a beautiful god, he wants them to be equals. (Even during my very naïve age of 11 when I first read this story, I wondered how they could have sex without Psyche seeing her husband. Wouldn’t she at least feel his wings??)

Anyway, she begs him to let her sisters visit and they of course are jealous. They convince her to break her promise and look at her husband so that they might be next in line to marry him. She breaks her promise, sees that she married Cupid and is turned out of his palace. The sisters are also turned out and end up dying trying to get back to his palace to marry him.

Psyche is destitute and wandering in the wilds. She ventures into different temples for refuge and finds one where everything is disorganized. She reorganizes it and cleans it up. The goddess of the temple takes pity on her and decides to help her with the Venus problem. She tells Psyche to confront Venus herself. Psyche goes to Venus and Venus sets her about doing impossible tasks in order to win back Cupid. Other gods are now interested in this story and decide to help her complete these tasks. The last one is to get make-up from another goddess and bring it back to Venus. She’s told not to look at it. And so guess what? She looks at it and is put under a sleeping spell. Then her husband, Cupid, comes by and says, “Haven’t you learned your lesson yet? Don’t look when you’re told not to!” But he really loves her still so he helps her complete the task and then Venus relents and they get to live together again. Hooray!

Then enters the first written version of Beauty and the Beast several centuries later in 1740. It’s a novel by Madame Gabrielle de Villeneuve. She wrote at a time that was very interested in parentage, court intrigue and the plight of daughters and women as property to their fathers and husbands. Both the Beast and Beauty are royalty, but Beauty is living with a merchant as his unknown adopted daughter along with three brothers and two sisters. A fairy has enchanted the Prince to be a Beast due to court and family intrigue. He’s a Beast not only in body but in personalty. This version is about his change back into a compassionate human. He does not transform into a prince until after the wedding night. I haven’t read this version because it’s hard to find, so I’m only going off of internet interpretations. I see the fairy as the goddess Venus and of course Cupid and Psyche as the Beast and Beauty. She expanded Beauty’s family and it’s more about the Beast’s change instead of Beauty’s.

Sixteen years later, Madame Le Prince de Beaumont shortened the story and published it in a journal for young women. I guess there weren’t copyright laws back then! Her version is what is most familiar to us in retellings. She leaves out the court intrigues and the dream sequences in Villeneuve’s book and turns it into a story about a girl who needs to look beyond appearance and find the beauty that’s inside a person. From then on, the story has changed with the morals and themes of the times. It’s like fan fiction going crazy.

Many parts in Beauty and the Beast remain constant through the retellings. The merchant is always very rich at the beginning of the story and then disaster strikes, usually in the form of his ships sinking, leaving them very poor. One ship is always found, and when he goes to claim whatever fortune is left, he gets lost on the way home. A huge castle/mansion appears to him and invisible servants provide him with everything he needs. When he’s leaving in the morning, he spies a rose. His older daughters have always asked him to bring home rich presents, but Beauty has only asked for a rose. So when he sees the rose, he picks it for Beauty, and that’s always the Beast’s first appearance.

The Beast always demands the life of the merchant in exchange for his treasured rose. The merchant always explains it’s for his daughter, and so the Beast says his daughter can die in his place. What’s interesting to me is the daughter must always come of her own accord. To me that says the spell breaker must be beautiful in soul. There’s almost always a ring that Beauty uses to transfer herself back to the Beast’s castle and a mirror that she looks through to see her family, or alternatively the Beast dying when she’s with her family. But, even these two objects are changed about.

The sisters are also in every version to varying degrees of evil. The brothers are often dispensed with, leaving a much smaller family, and the mother is always already dead. Beauty is also the blood daughter of the merchant in every version I’ve read, so I guess the orphan bit in Villenueve’s book wasn’t liked. The father is never really vilified for trading his daughter for a rose, but it still makes me squeamish even in modern retellings that try to obscure it. Jane Yolen, a renowned fairy tale writer and expert has pointed out how fairy tale exchanges are often weighted heavily on one side, which I think is very true in this case.

In the end, when Beauty is released to visit her ailing father, she always breaks her promise to return to the Beast. Sometimes it’s because her sisters trick her into staying, sometimes it’s to stay with her father and sometimes she just forgets. She always saves the dying Beast with some form of water, usually tears, but some versions she uses fountain water. What strikes me as most interesting is, except for Villenueve’s version, the Beast is almost always completely innocent. To me, this is a parallel to Cupid whose only crime is loving a woman his mother doesn’t approve of.

My first exposure to Beauty and the Beast is a long playing record that I listened to over and over as a child. In that version, the theme seems to be more about a daughter’s unwillingness to grow up and leave her father behind than finding the true nature of the Beast. She even refuses marriage proposals from men because she is so loyal to her father and to a lesser degree her three brothers. Her sisters are not too mean and everyone ends up happy and rich when she finally sees it’s time to marry the Beast.

In my early adult life, I read Robin Mckinley’s story Rose Daughter which is her second retelling of the story Beauty and the Beast. It’s a gorgeous rendition full of magic and emotions. It turns the story around a bit by making the sisters good hearted and helpful when they leave their rich life at the beginning of the story. At the end, Beauty gets to choose whether she wants him to remain a beast or turn into a human. I won’t say what she chooses or why in case some of you want to read it :) Her first published novel is also a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but I haven’t read that one. Robin McKinley admits that she comes back to the theme in Sunshine. This is definitely not a direct retelling of the story, but there are many parallels with the Beast being a Vampire.

When I started my recent research, I checked out some illustrated versions to read. Beauty and the Beast by Max Eilenberg and Illustrated by Angela Barrett is a straight forward retelling of the story with the loveliest artwork. It has my favorite drawn version of the Beast, even though he is not dressed in human clothes as he is in all the other versions, and I would love to hang any of the pictures in my home.

Beauty and the Beast by Nancy Willard and Barry Moser also has lovely artwork, but it is a completely different style done with engravings. It’s set in America at the turn of the twentieth century and starts out with some really interesting tidbits. For example, Beauty’s mother was friends with a witch and they kept a cottage together until the mother mysteriously died. The family moves into the cottage when the father’s fortune fails and I thought we would hear more of the mother, but we never do. There are also interesting tidbits about the Beast’s past, but then at the end there’s absolutely no explanation for why he was turned into a Beast. This was a big let down to me, as I had really enjoyed the story up until then. Still, it’s worth checking out just to view the pictures.

Beauty and the Beast and other stories by Adele Geras and illustrated by Louise Brierley is a good retelling of the story but I admit to not liking the illustrations so much. They are very plain and to me, the whole story evokes lushness. I also read another collection of French Fairy Tales at my children’s elementary school but I forgot to write down the author. In that version, the sisters are so evil in their dealings with Beauty and Father, that they’re turned into fireplace grates when a good fairy appears to change the beast into a human. This is the only version I have read where the Beast’s mother appears with the fairy to give her approval of the marriage. It made it kind of a reverse of Sleeping Beauty at that point because it seemed everyone in the castle had been under the enchantment waiting for a princess to break the spell.

The French film version Beauty and the Beast by Jean Cocteau 1946 is definitely interesting, though the melodrama acting is a bit hard for me to watch. It was celebrated when it was released as a masterful work of art and even my husband was impressed with some of the camera work. The end was very different. The Beast has a Temple to the Goddess Diana which holds all of his treasure. Beauty’s brother and his friend who’s a suitor of Beauty decide to go and kill the beast and take all his treasure. When they break into the temple, the statue of Diana shoots the suitor of Beauty and he changes into the Beast and the Beast has the suitor’s face. I have to wonder if Disney was inspired for their version of the story by this movie. The suitor is a jerk throughout the movie, much like the villain Gaston in the Disney Version. I didn’t like the ending because it seemed to rob Beauty of her moment of discovery. It seemed more that Diana changed the Beast instead of Beauty.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast has gorgeous artwork and lots of magic and mystic that I like. However, I’ve never liked the addition of Gaston and the mob from town. I’m not sure why I’ve never liked it. Maybe it detracts too much from the struggle between the Beast and Beauty. Maybe it just adds a Disney predictability that I don’t care for. I do like the explanation for the Beast’s enchantment and the Rose, but I wish they would’ve left in Beauty breaking her promise so that she could have more growth of character. She’s at least stalwart and practical from the get go, unlike other Disney heroines.

When Villenueve wrote her novel about Beauty and the Beast, she designed a story rich with opportunity for people to reinterpret and redesign. Perhaps it’s our wish to always see the good in people, or maybe it’s the wish for everyone to see the good in us, but it seems the story strikes a chord that we always enjoy hearing.

Here are the sites that were a huge help in research:

A Writer Reviews: Borderland Bride by Samantha Holt

Before I get to my review, it’s time to announce the contest winner! This month was tough. Our runner up is Robin Wyatt Dunn with his political story “Monkey”. I hope it gets picked up somewhere else, and I hope he enters again. Our winner this month is Deb Kapke with her science fiction story The Grandmother Clause. Please check it out on the Photo Flare Page!

If you’re looking to indulge in a damsel in distress novella, read Borderland Bride by Samantha Holt. It’s been years since I’ve read a historical romance, but it has all the tropes I remember sweeping me away: strong heroine in a situation she needs help to overcome, brooding hero who helps the heroine and of course steamy sex scenes.

Borderland Bride begins with a gripping moment where the reader is immediately sympathetic to the hero. Holt follows it up with a point of view shift to the heroine where the reader is drawn into her mysterious and painful situation. Holt keeps the tension high throughout the story making it easy to loose track of time. In the middle, I had trouble with the hero being overly melodramatic. There was more than one occasion where I wanted the heroine to literally slap some sense into him. But that too, seems to be a trope of historical romances, so perhaps I’m in the minority of readers who get aggravated with morose heroes.

I enjoyed the book and read it in one sitting, which is what I love about novella’s: a well written one keeps you turning the page all the way to the end, and you don’t have to stop to catch some sleep :)

A Writer Reviews: Buzzy Mag

It seems impossible for me to read a book and write my own at the same time. But I thought I’d introduce everyone to a speculative fiction magazine they might not have heard of: Buzzy Mag. I enjoy it because it’s on the lighter side and most articles are brief for the short attention span people. I’m not sure why I never submitted stories there when I was doing my 100 submissions or bust regime. Perhaps I was intimidated: they are a pro publisher of lighter fiction and I like writing lighter fiction. Maybe I felt a rejection from them would be a whole lot worse. I’ll put them on my list now for the future when I’m done with all these longer stories.

This week, there’s a review of The Vampire Diaries, a review of a new novel, some writing advice, the definition of Pegasus and a fun story by Alex Shvartsman called “The Tinker Bell Effect”. It doesn’t take long to read, so you can take time out of your busy writing schedule without feeling guilty :)