Monday, March 9, 2015

I'm still trying to decide what to do with my writing.

I mentioned the other day how I might focus on my YA and MG projects for the time being. I've tried that, along with reading more in those genres, and I think I've learned something. I like reading YA and MG more than I like writing them. I have the one MG series I love (though I continually worry that it's too much like Harry Potter). But nearly every idea I come up with seems kind of flat.

My biggest issue is that I feel limited with these books. In MG and YA, you are restricted to the point of view of kids and teens. I enjoy writing younger characters, but I also enjoy giving older characters their time. Then, of course, there's the romance that seems so obligatory in YA, or some of the growing up stuff in MG. I don't mind these themes, especially in my reading, but it feels like I'm being constrained when I have to write with these audience expectations in mind.

I think I end up liking so many MG and YA stories not because they are MG and YA, but because they're fantasy or science fiction. So maybe I'm not a YA writer. The older I get, the less the YA themes of these books appeal to me. With a lot of my ideas, I have the feeling I would have loved them if I'd come up with them even a few years ago. Now, I'm not so sure.

Of course, this could all change. With the ups and downs of my moods, trying to find direction in life is a very difficult thing.

I still think I'd like to branch out from the epic fantasies I've been writing. I feel like there's a lot more out there. Thankfully, my current to-read pile has a wide variety of books in it. Maybe I'll get some ideas.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Considering another change in direction.

I've written on here before about my intent to write for middle grade, young adult, and adult age categories within fantasy and science fiction. Most of what I've written lately has been adult epic fantasy, but I'm not finding much luck with that. Don't get me wrong. I love these stories. I'm just not sure they're what I want to write at this point in my writing career.

Recently, I've resumed work on my middle grade fantasy series, and I've really been enjoying it. I also have more and more YA ideas bouncing around in my head. Now I feel I've read enough YA that I can do these ideas justice (don't be fooled by the relative lack of these titles in my reading list. I just haven't gotten around to reviewing them yet). For me, there's something about a great MG or YA book that still speaks to me in a way I don't often find in adult fantasy and science fiction.

In MG, I find the fun and adventure that made me fall in love with fantasy in the first place. In YA, some of this is still there, but there's frequently a darker mood, which I like as long as you don't overdo it. Not to mention, both MG and YA have a way of playing on emotions. In a way, I think they make for some of the easiest books and characters to relate to, and not just for kids and teens. After all, we've all been kids and teens. I'd like to think we remember what it was like.

When I was a kid first reading Harry Potter, I loved the idea of kids having adventures like that. As an adult, I can still appreciate these stories as the adventures I wish I'd had at that age. In a way, maybe I'm still a kid at heart.

Then there's the romance aspect of YA. Admittedly, I haven't had much romantic success in my life. I've always been off in my own world, coming up with my stories. So I think the romance of YA fantasy does appeal to me, perhaps more than it once did.

All this contemplation was brought on by finishing Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone. It was a great book that reminded me of how good YA fantasy can be. On the surface, it looks generic, but I felt a deep connection with the characters and even had teary eyes a few times. Maybe it's the fact that I know I couldn't have handled such situations at that age. That, I think, is what makes books for younger readers resonate so deeply with me.

So now I think I've had an idea on how to fix one of my epic fantasies. It might actually work better as a YA story. I'd have to cut one of the characters, but his plotline was the one giving me trouble anyways. The two teenage girls had stories that came to me much more easily.

Hmm. maybe I'll try balancing two projects at the same time again. Decisions, decisions...

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Evolution of Fantasy

Today, I've been thinking about some of my many ideas for additional fantasy stories, and one thing I've noticed is that a lot of them involve non-standard fantasy settings. Mainly, I like ideas that fuse fantasy and science fiction, or even fantasy worlds that have modern-day technology levels.

When I think about what I've read, though, I don't see very many stories like this. So much secondary-world fantasy has a somewhat medieval settings. Sure, there are some variations on this, but most fantasy still features a quasi-historical period more than five hundred years old. Why, when you have all of history to draw from, when you're writing a genre with limitless possibilities, do you see so many settings that are so similar?

Some of it likely comes from the popular beginnings of the fantasy genre. Just look at the biggest influences. The Lord of the Rings has a setting that appears largely medieval. No guns. No modern technology. The same could be said for writers like Robert E. Howard, whose Conan stories have had such a huge influence on the Sword and Sorcery sub-genre.

The authors who followed in these traditions largely stuck with familiar settings. Even to this day, there are few authors who make a major break from the pseudo-medieval fantasy world. I'm not saying they're all medieval fantasies, but that there are general technological and cultural conditions that seem to be most prevalent in fantasy.

Recently, though, I have encountered a few authors who are beginning to take fantasy in new direction. Brandon Sanderson's second set of Mistborn books is set in a world with a late 1800s level of technology. Brent Weeks, Brian McClellan, and Django Wexler have written gunpowder fantasies. For me, stories like these are a breath of fresh air. It's nice to see people doing something different with the genre. Not that I don't like standard fantasy settings. There's just more out there.

However, I still don't see people taking the kind of steps I'd be interested in seeing. Sanderson has said he has intentions of doing this with his Mistborn series. There should be another set with a somewhat modern level of technology, and then a futuristic setting, but these are a long time down the road, and they're different eras in an already established world.

This all leads me to think there's a major hole in the fantasy genre. Most of the "science fantasy" stuff tends to be a far future with fantasy elements. That's fine, but I'd also like to see completely secondary world settings that are more modern, or even futuristic.

If anyone knows of books along these lines, I'd love to find out about them.

Of course, this does give me an idea of what I might choose as my next writing focus. I have no idea if there's a market for these stories just yet, but it's something I want to see.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

MG Fantasy Book Review: Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

I know. There really isn't much left to say about these books, but I'm trying to include everything I've read on these lists. I'll get there (eventually).

The Harry Potter series is one of the stories that has defined me as a reader and writer. Before I read it (oddly enough, I started with Chamber of Secrets), I wasn't much of a reader. Most of the books people found for me were boring. When I read Harry Potter, though, I finally realized why I wasn't liking any books. It's because they weren't like this. They weren't fantasy or science fiction.

At the age of 10 or 11, when I first read these books, there was nothing cooler than a kid close to my age having magical adventures. It was even better that he managed to have them while going to school, a place that's normally so boring and mundane for most kids. When I first read the end of Chamber of Secrets, it was the greatest thing I'd ever read. I was sitting there thinking Harry was about to die from the basilisk venom, and it was the first time I'd ever read a kids book that put the character in so much danger. I was hooked. I loved every second of it.

I continued to grow up with Harry Potter. I always seemed to be about the right age for the books. For instance, I was 17 when Deathly Hallows came out. My love for the series still had not gone away. If anything, it was stronger than ever. Harry and his friends were like my friends. I'd watched them grow up, watched them struggle and persevere. It was nice to finally get a conclusion to this series.

Oh, and I cried my eyes out when Harry was walking to the forest toward the end of the seventh book. For those of you who haven't read it (if such people still exist), you'll know when you get there.

It's great that I loved the books when I was younger, but the big question is how they hold up now that I'm older and wiser and more versed in what makes good writing. Every year or two, I do a complete reread of the series. It's one of the few series that I actually do reread. On reread, it holds up very well. Sure, Rowling uses too many adverbs, especially in dialogue tags, but I don't really care about that. I'm there for the story, and she's one of the best storytellers I've ever encountered.

She makes you care about her young characters. She fills you with wonder about her magical world. She gives you a plot with twists and turns and lots of mystery (as well as kids just doing kid stuff every now and then). Her foreshadowing is brilliant. There's nothing more fun than realizing something from an earlier book was actually really important.

One of the other things I noticed in her writing was memorable descriptions. I always had a sense of what characters and places looked like. In most books, I just gloss over descriptions because they're not written with any life. They're just there because the author feels the need to write them.

I have this issue in my own writing. I have not yet managed to bring my descriptions to life the way Rowling did. In many ways, she is my first role model as a storyteller. If I can tell a story even half as good, I'll be happy.

Okay, the gushing is over.

Rating: 10/10

Fantasy Book Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Here's one that I read quite a while ago. In fact, it's been almost three years since I've read it, so this won't be too heavy on plot details. Besides, I don't like to spoil to many things anyways.

This book is a good beginning to the Stormlight Archive, which looks like it will turn out to be Sanderson's magnum opus. It's a huge world with a huge story (more than 1000 pages of it, in fact). There's a lot of good about this book, but at the same time, it's setting up a much more massive story. Some of Sanderson's other stuff stands alone (Elantris, Warbreaker, the first Mistborn book). This does not.

It's also a major time investment and requires you to trust the author before you tackle it. I suggest reading some of his other works first. They're not as deep and complex as this, but they're also faster-paced and serve as better introductions to his work.

Now for the good:

This is a highly interesting and complex world. There's the threat of an apocalyptic war. There are fierce storms that shape geography and wildlife. There's conflict between and within nations. On top of all that, you have Sanderson's great magic, though you should be warned that the magic in these books is a bit more mysterious than you'll find in Mistborn. I'm sure there are rules for it, but it's been missing for a long time, and so when it does show up, the characters are still figuring it out.

That brings me to the characters. In this book, Sanderson has crafted some of his best characters. Kaladin makes an interesting and conflicted protagonist. Shallan is annoying at times, but she grows on you as you read (and especially in the second book).

I especially found myself absorbed in Kaladin's struggles. Some of the things he has to endure are truly horrific, and his character journey is a fascinating one to watch.

There's also a great deal of mystery in these books. Since it's the first of a ten-book series, you don't get as many answers as you normally get from Sanderson. I found this mystery added to the book and helped me get through some of the slower sections.

Don't worry. There is action. Great action. You just have to wait a while for it.

This book continues one of the things I love about Sanderson's work. He's not afraid to use common fantasy tropes. He just put his own spin on them. In doing that, he gives the reader something that's both familiar and different, and that's the right balance for me. If you're looking for something that completely avoids tropes, this isn't the right story for you.

For me, it's the kind of story that reminds me of why I fell in love with fantasy in the first place. Sanderson writes the modern update of classic fantasy that keeps most in touch with the roots of the genre.

In all, this was a very good book, but it did have its slow sections. For those who are interested, I thought Words of Radiance was truly excellent.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Science Fiction Book Review: Gridlinked by Neal Asher

This is another book I finished today. It was a good read. It was sort of space opera meets cyberpunk meets spy thriller. While it was a lot of fun, I didn't connect with the characters as much as I would have liked. Granted, some of that is due to the concept behind the book. Our main character, Agent Cormac, has been Gridlinked so long that he's out of touch with his humanity. In essence, he's spent all his time with a computer in his head (though it's a bit more complicated than that).

Now he's without that guidance and connection, and he has to tackle an action-packed plot (and reclaim his humanity in the process).

There was a lot of action in this book, and that's how I like it. I rarely felt that the pacing lagged. However, I did feel Asher spent too much time with the antagonists. I prefer to keep such sections short, but at times, we spent as much time with the antagonists as we did with our hero.

I also would have liked to get a better idea of the universe he created. I'm not really sure if this polity Agent Cormac lives in is a good system or a bad system. Basically, I identified with him in his support of the government because the separatists seemed like bad people.

In all, though, it was a good book, and I'll probably read more by Asher at some point.

Rating: 8/10

Fantasy Book Review: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Today, I finished The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. I've heard so many glowing reviews of the book, though I've also seen quite a few less-than-glowing reviews. I was curious to find out for myself. In general, I'd say both types of reviews are accurate. The Mirror Empire was equal parts fascinating and frustrating.

Hurley crafted a great world. There are multiple universes, sentient plants, reversed gender roles, gender identity issues, and more factions than you can remember. The last sentence there sums up my issue with this book. It is not an easy read. You are thrown into a very unfamiliar world. Hurley doesn't hold your hand and doesn't give you common archetypes to fall back on. Personally, I prefer a few more familiar elements in my fantasy, but I also appreciate what Hurley did. The experience was kind of like reading Steven Erikson's Malazan series. You have to figure things out as you go.

I found the first half of this book difficult to get through because I didn't connect with the characters. Once I got to the second half, though, things started clicking. I can't say I liked the character, but Hurley created such a fascinating world that I wanted to know what was going to happen.

In summary, this book has a lot of flaws, but I agree with others who say Hurley is bringing new life and direction to the epic fantasy genre. This is not standard medieval fantasy. This is a completely alien world, more like science fiction in many respects. I think the execution could have been better, but I won't fault Hurley for taking on such a difficult task.

In all, it was not one of my favorites, but I'm glad I read it.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, January 9, 2015

MG Fantasy Book Review: Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull

Here's my first review for my YA and MG reading, so I decided I'd use it for one of my favorite MG fantasy series: the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull. The series started off a bit slow for me, feeling a bit too childish in the first couple of books. Around halfway through book two, though, it had me convinced, and I loved the last three books.

What does Mull do well? There's a lot of action, and there's variety to it. His magic works. It's not incredibly systematic or anything, but he doesn't pull solutions out of nowhere. The characters are also fun, especially some of the side characters. As far as the main characters go, Kendra can be a bit too perfect at times, and Seth can get annoying with his stupidity, but they are kids. I found they were the perfect characters for the story.

The basic premise is that their grandparents own a wildlife preserve for all the fantasy creatures in the world. The series is, at first, about their adventures on this preserve. Eventually, they end up visiting other preserves, and it turns into a "save the world" plot. Along the way, the characters grow up and develop as people, and there are quite a few interesting twists.

In all, it's one of my favorites, especially later on in the series.

Rating: 9.5/10

Fantasy Book Review: Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell

I just finished this book today, and I came away very impressed. It's one of those books that brings back the action I like to see in fantasy. There were action scenes galore, and the author still found the time to develop interesting characters. It's a fun book, but it can also be a bit dark at times. Contrary to so much that's out there, I found it had grittiness without overdoing it.

The big thing is that our heroes are actually heroic, especially the protagonist. That's not to say he doesn't have his flaws. He does. But they're not the kind of flaws that make him a terrible person. To be honest, I'm sick of seeing so much fantasy starring despicable protagonists. At times, it feels as if authors don't know how to make a well-rounded character who still falls on the hero side of the spectrum. I'm glad Sebastien de Castell didn't go that route, providing me with characters I liked going through an action-packed story.

If you're looking for an exciting story that finds a balance between today's Grimdark and the optimistic fantasy of old, this is a good book to take a chance on.

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Fantasy Book Review: The Grim Company by Luke Scull

It's been a while since I've done some book reviews, so I'm going to try to get back in the habit. Since I've expanded my categories now, each book review will contain the genre or age category.

One book I finished recently was The Grim Company by Luke Scull. I wasn't sure about it going in, mainly because of the title. As I've mentioned before, I'm not the biggest fan of the Grimdark movement in recent fantasy. I'm fine with worlds having some grit and realism, but I've found many stories take this to an extreme, filling their worlds with utterly despicable main characters.

To my surprise, Scull didn't do that. Yes, our main characters were still antiheroes, but they were antiheroes I connected with. This didn't happen for me with some of Joe Abercrombie's characters.

I've read many reviews comparing The Grim Company to Abercrombie's work. While there are undeniably some similarities, mainly in the type of main characters and in the tone, there are also quite a few differences. For one thing, Abercrombie writes more in the low-fantasy vein, where there's some magic, but not a whole lot. Scull's world is very much a high-fantasy world, with tons of magic, where Magelords rule the world's nations.

There's also some pretty cool backstory involving, with the Magelords conquering the gods and then introducing their iron-fisted regimes. Their troops, the Augmentors, are also pretty cool. In all, the world kind of seems like one you might see in a fantasy video game (and that's not a bad thing). I think Scull's biography states that he also works on games, so there probably is some influence there.

Overall, I enjoyed this story. It had its rough patches, but I'm intrigued enough to see where it's going.

Rating: 7.5/10

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I sent ouf five queries today.

I got back on the horse after a few rejections had me down for a while. Today, I sent out five queries for Sunweaver. I figure I might as well send it as many places as possible. Then I can make the decisions I alluded to in my last post. That is, should I consider self-publishing electronically. For now, that's not a major concern, but I'll keep it in the back of my mind.

You might also see that I've added more pages to the blog. They're not finished as of yet, but I added two new projects, as well as more reading lists. Now I'll try to get back to doing my reviews. I've added this stuff because I want the blog to reflect everything I do as a writer and reader.

Thanks for sticking with me despite the only occasional posting.