Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Page 1 critique - "No title supplied" by Sara Alvarez

I'm critiquing some page 1s - read about it here.

First the disclaimers.

It's very hard to separate one's tastes from a technical critique. There are page 1s from popular books with which I would find multiple faults. I didn't, for example, like page 1 of Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule (I didn't pursue the rest of the book). But that book has 150,000+ ratings on Goodreads, a great average score of 4.12 and Goodkind is a #1 NYT bestseller. His first page clearly did a great job for many people.

I'm not always right *hushed gasp*. You will likely be able to find a successful and highly respected author who will tell you the opposite to practically every bit of advice I give. Possibly not the same author in each case though.

The art of receiving criticism is to take what's useful to you and discard the rest. You need sufficient confidence in your own vision/voice such that whilst criticism may cause you to adjust course you're not about to do a U-turn for anyone. If you act on every bit of advice you'll get crit-burn, your story will be pulled in different directions by different people. It will stop being yours and turn into some Frankenstein's monster that nobody will ever want to read.

Additionally - don't get hurt or look for revenge. The person critiquing you is almost always trying to help you (it's true in some groups there will be the occasional person who is jealous/mean/misguided but that's the exception, not the rule). That person has put in effort on your behalf. If they don't like your prose it's not personal - they didn't just slap your baby.


I've flicked through some of the pages looking for one where I have something to say - something that hopefully is useful to the author and to anyone else reading the post.


I've posted the unadulterated page first then again with comments inset and at the end.

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1- Waking up
Darkness. Darkness and pain. Those are the first things I felt. Or, rather, the first things I remember feeling. And then a sudden light and a loud horn that made me realise I was in the middle of the road, lying on the cold concrete.
I got up and looked down at myself. My clothes were torn and dirty. Splotches of blood everywhere. Was that my blood? I wasn't hurting, not really; which was odd considering my ankle seemed to be broken. Bent in a way the human body is not supposed to. I gingerly tried to take a step, only to land hard on my face. I couldn't remember my name, or how I got here, but I had enough common sense to know that the middle of the road at night is not the smartest place to be. I dragged myself to the nearest alley, where I sat on the floor, my back to the wall.
I was simply sitting there, contemplating my next move when I was surprised by a loud noise, followed by a scream. Some scuffling could be heard, more screams, and the sound of something being torn. I must've made some noise because whoever it was I was hearing started walking in my direction. I could feel the steps getting closer and closer, until a figure appeared at the end of the alley. He was, without discussion, the hottest guy I had ever seen. Also the scariest. Tall, dark, and handsome. Even from where I was I could see his hair was a beautiful black and his eyes...His eyes. His eyes were a mesmerazing silver.
Of course I didn't realise I was staring until the stunning man coughed pointedly and quirked a brow at me.
Now, I didn't know anything about myself, but the fact that I had no self-preservation instinct became apparent the moment I opened my mouth -"What? Do I have something on my face? Or is it that you'd never seen someone as handsome as me?"

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1- Waking up
Darkness. Darkness and pain. Those are the first things I felt. (Or, rather, the first things I remember feeling.) 
To me the last line is waffle that serves no purpose other than to dilute the desirable immediacy of the first 4 words. 
And then a sudden light and a loud horn that made me realise I was in the middle of the road, lying on the cold concrete.
I got up and looked down at myself. My clothes were torn and dirty. Splotches of blood everywhere. Was that my blood? I wasn't hurting, not really; which was odd considering my ankle seemed to be broken.
This seems to be at odds with the fact that we open with just two things: darkness and pain. Now the pain doesn't really hurt?
Bent in a way the human body is not supposed to. I gingerly tried to take a step, only to land hard on my face.
This sounds good, but it's hard to picture. If you fall from standing to your ... face ... that face is broken. "I fell flat on my face." is more a stylised way of talking rather than an actual description.
 I couldn't remember my name, or how I got here, but I had enough common sense to know that the middle of the road at night is not the smartest place to be. I dragged myself to the nearest alley, where I sat on the floor, my back to the wall.
By this point I'm wanting to be more grounded in the setting. What happened to this ...car(?) ... that had the loud horn and was presumably(?) shining the light on him/her?
What kind of street is it? Are there streetlights? Is it cold, hot, dirty, loud? Are there houses, shops to either side? I don't want a detailed run-down, I want a scattered word here and there that lets me join the dots. 'Alley' is a good example. One word and you've established at least that there aren't fields or woods to either side.
I was simply sitting there, contemplating my next move when I was surprised by a loud noise, followed by a scream. Some scuffling could be heard, more screams, and the sound of something being torn. I must've made some noise because whoever it was I was hearing started walking in my direction.
This is rather distant. "I was" it puts everything very definitely in the past. And we still have no picture of where s/he is. There a road, a wall, and a vanished vehicle that had a horn...
Something like: I sat there contemplating my next move.
is more immediate. But really I want interaction with the setting to make it feel real. 
I also want something to make sense of why s/he hears but doesn't see the events. Does it happen around a corner? Is it in the main street? Further down the alley? Is this alley lit? Are there doors, windows, rubbish bins, mud, rats? What's it like?
I could feel the steps getting closer and closer, 
Feel them? Are we in Jurassic Park?
until a figure appeared at the end of the alley. He was, without discussion, the hottest guy I had ever seen. Also the scariest. Tall, dark, and handsome. Even from where I was I could see his hair was a beautiful black and his eyes...His eyes. His eyes were a mesmerazing mesmerizing silver.
This feels off to me. It doesn't match with pain, disorientation, confusion, a broken ankle ... the first reaction is 'ooo hot!' ?
And why is this person scary? And not just scary, the scariest person s/he's seen. Silver eyes are that scary?
Of course I didn't realise I was staring until the stunning man coughed pointedly and quirked a brow at me.
We've had 'hottest' 'tall dark and handsome' 'beautiful' 'his eyes ... his eyes' ... I think we get the point. We don't really need to be beaten over the head with 'stunning' here.
Now, I didn't know anything about myself, but the fact that I had no self-preservation instinct became apparent the moment I opened my mouth -"What? Do I have something on my face? Or is it that you'd never seen someone as handsome as me?"
You've given us no reason to think this man is dangerous. If we're supposed to think he's responsible for the screams and tearing and that this means he's dangerous ... then have our PoV speculate to that effect. It doesn't sound like this guy is blood spattered or holding a weapon etc. So why being slightly cheeky constitutes a lack of self-preservation instinct I'm not sure.
It feels as if you're thinking the reader knows more of the story in your head than what is on the page ... and we don't.
Given our man (as I assume from the word 'handsome') was blood spattered all over and then fell on his face from standing ... he probably does have something on his face, yes.

++++++++
So, all in all this felt rather disjointed, with no real sense of setting. Much of the reaction seemed out of keeping with what we'd been told. Our PoV seemed not to be scared, or in pain, or to be asking any of the questions that most of us would be asking. Instead he seemed more ... horny.
On the plus side, it certainly poses a lot of questions, albeit by using a not unfamiliar 'where am I? who am I?' gambit.
Also, the unexpected 'romantic' interest of our PoV at least constitutes a unique selling point and helps to establish a voice.



Saturday, 23 April 2016

On the fear of imagination.

I read a blog post recently by renowned author, Janny Wurts, that had a number of interesting points to make about imagination and the reaction of society in general to the creativity on display in fantasy writing and art.

One point that resonated with me is that the dismissal and distaste often evidenced when fantasy writing (or art, or pursuits like Dungeons & Dragons) are mentioned can often shade into suspicion and even naked aggression.



Fantasy has become more mainstream of late but it's been a long haul. My main thrust here however concerns the fear of imagination. There's something about descriptions like 'an abundance of imagination' or 'an over-active imagination', that moves often moves us into territory where the person being described is perceived as some sort of threat.

One reaction I've encountered is 'how do you think up things like that?' with a clear subtext that anyone who can do so should be viewed with a certain degree of suspicion. 'That' must clearly be on their mind a lot ... perhaps they want to do 'that' ... are they dangerous? Are they unstable?

Before we dismiss this in turn, consider that as a species we have an evolutionary fear and mistrust of sickness. It's a good survival policy to move away from it. We have an evolutionary fear of behaviour that falls outside the normal boundaries. It's not a good survival strategy to stand beside the unstable, psychotic, or deranged.

Imagination in great excess is a form of sickness & instability. There are mental health issues that are essentially cases of run-away imagination. And so, like a rash or a temperature, an imagination that is particularly vivid or wide-ranging might be (mis?)perceived as a danger sign, something to be moved away from or discouraged.

Investigation (i.e Google) has led me to discover a classification known as Fantasy Prone Personality, sometimes characterized in part by a failure to distinguish the products of imagination from reality.

Clearly there can be times when someone unable to tell the difference between real and imagined could be hazardous!

Further digging (another 60 seconds on Google) revealed a questionnaire from a paper published in Elsvier's journal of Personality and Individual Differences, 2001.

The score is totaled from 25 yes/no questions and the questionnaire is designed to give a measure correlating to the degree of Fantasy Prone Personality the respondent has.

The average score is about 9, and 95% of respondents' scores lie between 1 and 17.

I got an 8, though this was on the basis of being generous towards 'yes' and saying yes to "I sometimes feel that" type questions when 'sometimes' was 'twice'.

Have a go and record your result on this poll. It would be interesting to see how fantasy readers' scores compare to the wider sample in the paper.

Here are the scores of 332 people tested by the researchers:


& our results after 157 answers, with some author scores marked on (click for detail)

The average in our data is 10.9. My back of the envelope calculation indicates this to be a statistically significant difference. Though the authors look to be clustered around the average. Perhaps a degree of control is require to come up with a consistent, well-paced story!

This article in the Huffington Post also has interesting things to say in this area.


[Obviously this exercise is for fun and not a submission for a journal paper, so if you're an earnest type clutching your newly minted Ph.D and a bucket of indignation ... tuck the former away somewhere appropriate and put your head in the bucket.]






Friday, 22 April 2016

I'm interviewed by a 7 year old writer.

One of my readers has a seven year old daughter, Chloe, whose chosen school project involved interviewing a writer.

Reproduced here with the permission of Chloe and her dad.



Obviously this is not an invitation to have dozens of children send me their homework!


Q1:    Do you like to write and draw?

I enjoy writing, yes. Enjoying writing is an important part of being a writer, and many people seem to forget it. Just wanting to be an author isn't enough.

Q2:    Do you have a favorite character in a book?

I have many. Choosing is hard. Tyrion Lannister from A Game of Thrones, Paddington Bear, Cugel the Clever from Jack Vance's Dying Earth series ... many more.

Q3:    Do you like being a writer?  What’s it like?  Is it hard and fun?

I do. I enjoy chasing stories across the page. I don't find it hard. It's a fairly lazy business. The only pressure is not knowing whether people will pay to read what I write. You don't find that out until much later.

Q4:    What kinds of things do you need to study to be a writer?

I don't think you need to study anything. You just need to write. The more you do it, the better you'll get. I studied science and mathematics.

Q5:    How long does it take to write a book?

That depends on many things. How long is the book? How fast is the writer. It takes George Martin over five years to write one of his fat books. It takes me about 9 months to write one of my slimmer ones.

Q6:    Can you write and type fast?

By hand I write very slowly. I can type fast though. I learned when I did a lot of computer programming in my science job.

Q7:    What’s your favorite type of book to read or to write?

Fantasy books! But I also like science fiction and literary fiction.

Q8:    Did you like to write when you were a kid?

I did, but only for English lessons in school. I never thought I would be a writer.

Q9:    Do you like cats?

I do. Especially big, fat, furry ones.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Story Bundle - the finalists from SPFBO 2015

Here I'm hosting a Blair MacGregor blog-post regarding a story bundle containing the SPFBO 2015 winners.



THE SELF-PUBLISHED FANTASY BLOG-OFF BUNDLE
Curated by Blair MacGregor
"Ten fine bloggers and blog-sites spent a year considering almost three hundred self-published fantasy books to bring you their ten favorites. It's hard to imagine you won't find some gems among them." — Mark Lawrence
This is a unique bundle, its books chosen not by me, but by reviewers who took part in the first Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off organized by Mark Lawrence. Each reviewer received over twenty-five books and a mission: Choose one. This bundle contains the books those reviewers put at the very top of their list.
The SPFBO Bundle includes some of the coolest indie fantasy around. Crista McHugh's A Soul for Troublegives you a witch named Trouble, possessed by the god of chaos. William Saraband's Shattered Sands follows a slave girl suddenly empowered by forces older than the desert itself. You'll delve into the more-than-murder mystery of Matthew Colville's Priest, and follow another priest trying to save the world after the gods disappear in Barbara Webb's City of Burning Shadows. And The Weight of A Crown from Tavish Kaeden serves up the deep epic of a recently-united realm on the verge of fracturing.
There is the sharp warrior who knows the value of leaving heroism behind in Under A Colder Sun by Greg James, and the ruined hero who chances into a way to surmount the past in David Benem's What Remains of Heroes. Plague Jack delves deep into a brutal world of conspiracies, consequences, and backlash against a conqueror in Sins of the Sovereignty. Ben Galley smacks a young man into a frontier Wyoming filled with blood magick and secrets in Blood Rush. And Michael McClung's The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble's Braids—the novel scoring highest in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off—races along with a sassy, smart thief who must find an artifact everyone thinks she already has before she's killed for it.
StoryBundle lets you choose your own price, so you decide how much you'd like to support the writers. For $5—or more, if you'd like—you'll receive the basic bundle of five novels in DRM-free ebook format. For the bonus price of at least $15, you'll receive all ten novels. If you choose, a portion of your payment will go toward supporting different charities such as Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now. Over the years, StoryBundle and its participating writers have donated thousands to support awesome charities doing great work.
The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off Bundle is available for only three weeks, so now is the time to pick up this unique collection of reviewer-beloved fantasy novels, and discover new independent writers who want to take you on thrilling adventures through worlds you've never seen with characters you want to know (even if a few of them are rather terrifying). – Blair MacGregor
For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you feel generous), you'll get the basic bundle of five books in any ebook format worldwide:
  • Shattered Sands by W. G. Saraband
  • The Weight of a Crown by Tavish Kaeden
  • Priest by Matthew Colville
  • What Remains of Heroes by David Benem
  • A Soul for Trouble by Crista McHugh
If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus five more:
  • Sins of a Sovereignty by Plague Jack
  • The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids by Michael McClung
  • Under a Colder Sun by Greg James
  • Bloodrush by Ben Galley
  • City of Burning Shadows by Barbara J. Webb
The bundle is available for a very limited time only, via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!
It's also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.
Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.
  • Get quality reads: We've chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
  • Pay what you want (minimum $5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth to you. If you can only spare a little, that's fine! You'll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.
  • Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there's nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to charity.
  • Receive extra books: If you beat the bonus price, you'll get the bonus books!
StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.
For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook.


Tuesday, 12 April 2016

A million.

As of December 31st 2015 more than 1 million of my books had been sold around the world!

Here's how they stack up:

Using the figures I have to hand (many of my foreign publishers have yet to send me any sales numbers) I can make the million with my two English language publishers (Ace and Voyager), and my three largest non-English markets, namely Brazil (Darkside), France (Bragelonne), and Germany (Heyne). I also had figures from Fumax in Hungary, a pleasing 11,000, and Papierowy Ksiezyc, a welcome 13,000.


My happy dance wasn't as cool as Calvin's.


I offer this up in the spirit of excitement and wanting to share my amazement. Only the fact that I swore not to use this very clich├ęd word in this context prevents me from using it here.

I guess that one reason for the reluctance of many authors to discuss such things may be fear of being seen to be chest-beating or failing.


But I've always taken the view that I'll share the highs and lows with any of my readers who bother to follow me online - so there it is.

It's also quite a pleasing way to celebrate the 1st anniversary of my being made redundant from my day job!









Saturday, 9 April 2016

Busy, busy!

Well, I don't feel I've been that busy, but squashed up like this it looks industrious.

(click for detail)


I've also recently passed my millionth word in print / contracted for print!

Friday, 8 April 2016

Two great nations divided by a common language.



As a dual national from birth and having been an American for longer than most Americans ... it's not so much that I want fewer UK sales as that I'd like more US ones :)

To be strictly accurate, these figures also include Canada under the US sales, and Australia and New Zealand under UK sales.