Every writer should have someone to tell them their draft is c**p. (or not good enough)

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Seriously, this is a must in every writer’s bucket list, a brutally honest beta-reader who tells you that he/she didn’t care about your characters, your story had a long list of faults, you must show and not tell and whatever else they have found of extremely badly written in your manuscript draft, especially if you are now starting your writing career and therefore clueless of where you have to improve.

If your writing is a career for you, then you need to study to develop your weak spots, you need feedback and you need to hear your beta-readers, even if he/she was brutally honest and even if the way how he/she manifested his/her opinion made you cringe at the sight of that feedback for a whole month.

I remember when I received that brutally honest feedback. I had swapped beta-reading with another writer, but I couldn’t get her story for two reasons:

First, she didn’t tell me that one of her short stories was a spin-off of a novel from her that I haven’t read, so, not understanding at all where her short story had come from, I found it confusing and with an underdeveloped story world. She should have told me as a beta-reader that I would only understand the short story if I read the novel first.

And second, her protagonist failed to do anything out of her own insecurity and misplaced principles until the end of her story. So the protagonist was arrested, the horrible and well-depicted villain won and the third character, whose goals weren’t clear for me since the start, went on doing nothing apart from being the (impossible to understand) passive love interest of the protagonist. It was a weak story without a fully formed plot where nothing happened. It masqueraded as a tragedy, but at least for me, a tragedy without enough reasons for its sad and inconclusive end. I confess that I don’t like tragedies unless that really makes sense in the context of the character arc. Her story didn’t make sense to me at the time so I was sincere enough to tell her my opinion, taking care though to also point out what I had found of positive in her WIP, so it would be a balanced feedback.

As an answer, she sent me a really long email telling me all the things she had hated in my WIP in a really emotional way. To summarize it, her main points were that my backstory was stupid, my writing was beyond terrible and she didn’t care for the characters or the story at all. Her feedback was much more emotional and negative than what I usually received from other beta-readers, so I concluded that being upset about my previous, not completely positive feedback, had influenced the way how she expressed herself in her answer.

I thanked her for her quite thorough feedback and said nothing about the emotional way she had expressed it. I was astonished that my writing had called such a strong emotional reaction, even if a negative one. So, I decided to ignore the emotional coloring of her feedback and concentrated on the more precise advice buried under all that emotion.

And the advice was:

I had to find ways to bring the reader into my story so the reader would care.
I had to flesh out summarized narrative (Change tell into show) and make better description and settings.
I had to make my characters intriguing even if not likable through a clearer character arc.
I had to break the backstory into smaller bits, weaving it into the plot.
I had to show, not tell.

I accepted that brutally honest feedback regardless of how it was expressed and learned from it, instead of dismissing it completely or being hurt/discouraged by it. The harsh way how the critique was written convinced me to study and try to improve my writing in a way that milder feedback had not. So it was a hard experience, but one that was vital and important for my writing development.

Bucket list item accomplished. 🙂

Of course, there are always exceptions. Once I received feedback where it was clear that my beta-reader was disappointed that my story wasn’t a courageous group of marines shooting around to save the world. So I read his feedback taking that into account. 😉

And you? Have you already received brutally honest feedback?

My contradictory reader relationship with the YA genre.

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In my teens, the young adult genre wasn’t yet so clearly defined. I remember reading Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, books based on the Star Trek’s first generation universe, and Brave New World and thus discovering Science Fiction.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were starting points for Romance and Anne Rice books were my first Paranormal Fantasy. Then I had my favorite Gothic novel, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, although I must confess to reading Hugo’s discourse on books substituting architecture only once.

Later, as an adult, I heard of Harry Potter, more than a couple of years after its hype had started. I found the books interesting while at the same time thought that the characters acted way too mature even if they were children. YA was then leaving its Tolkien-like station and getting faster on its tracks, like the Hogwarts express.

Then, during my thirties, I had a bit of a reading slump. I had discovered computer games, life was bumpy, and I didn’t have Goodreads to hold me accountable on reading more books. Those crazy times. 😉 Even though, I still had my  favorite books and series.

And now that I’m slowly reading a higher number of books per year, I’m reading also more YA. Some books in the genre didn’t impress me much, but some were quite entertaining. I could also make a list of the YA books I didn’t like, but I won’t because it could happen easily that the same books would entertain other readers. Especially when it comes to books, one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure.

My favorites YA book list isn’t yet as extensive as the ones from the happy booktubers out there. Still, see the books in it as entertaining enough for someone who doesn’t list YA as one of her favorite genres. Fantasy and Science Fiction still occupy the first and second place as my favorite genres, even if I must confess to lately reading more fantasy than sci-fi. I don’t like the dark cloud of dystopia that has taken over the sci-fi sky, even if the present reality events calls for concern and make everybody read 1984 from George Orwell. These worrisome times emphasize the need for reflection. But this is a topic for another blog post.

So, here are the YA books whose series I’ve read entirely and liked. I didn’t include the Harry Potter series here because everybody puts it on the top of their list, so it’s an assumed point that it should be read. The books here had all a really interesting story world, great characters, fast paced action and an interesting premise and plot, even if I didn’t always rate them five stars. I also posted the first books in every series in the order I read them since I’m still waiting for the final books in the last two series. (Watch this post for new additions in the not so distant future.)

YA Favorites:

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials #1) by Philip Pullman.

The Magicians’ Guild (The Black Magician Trilogy #1) by Trudi Canavan

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #1) by Laini Taylor

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas

Red Queen (Red Queen #1) by Victoria Aveyard

And you, what is your favorite YA book/series?

My favorite books in 2016

Most books I read this year were worth at least three stars. One or two were too slow paced, were made for another audience or took a wrong turn at some point, but most were quite entertaining. So I decided to list here only the ones I found surprising, funny and incredibly smart, because when you have read your share of books you’ll find this important, that special zing. So here they are:

Historical Fiction:

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

I usually don’t read historical fiction, but this book is worth reading even if you aren’t a fan of this genre. Lovely, awesome book, with an amazing story. If you liked Downtown Abbey you are in for a delightful treat.

Paranormal Fantasy:

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1) by Patricia Briggs

The start of an awesome series, which I was quite happy to read until book eight quite fast. Fun, page-turning, with very interesting characters and world.

Books on writing craft:

5 Secrets of Story Structure by K.M. Weiland (Goodreads Author)

I found this book quite helpful, it’s about story structure in a summarized and easy to understand way. Great if you want an overview of Story Structure before you go into too many details. For me, this was helpful because I usually want to have a look at the whole subject before I look at each element in detail. So, if you are having difficulties to understand story structure read this short and concise book, you’ll get it in no time.

 

Fantasy with Science-fiction elements and LGBT Characters:

Mating Flight: A Non-Romance of Dragons(Mating Flight #1)
by Bard Bloom (Author), Tod Wills (Illustrator)

This book is very entertaining and it’s page-turner reading. I read this book in three days because I didn’t manage to put it down. I liked the main character, a fiery-tempered dragoness and all the witty dialogues and funny situations with the other dragons. I’ll be reading the next book in the Duology to see how this adventure ends.

And if you want to check out which books I read this year, here’s my Goodreads link:

https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2016/31638675

My Book Reading Challenge 2016

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This year I was catching up with my favorite series in Paranormal Fantasy, Kate Daniels by Ilona Andrews. In this genre, I also discovered a really entertaining new series, Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs, which I was almost binge-reading until book eight. I was reading a surprising amount of Young Adult, from which my favorite was the Throne of Glass series, by Sarah J.Maas. My favorite Fantasy with Science-Fiction elements books was the Mating Flight Duology with dragons and LGBT characters by Bard Bloom. And my favorite book on writing was 5 Secrets of Story Structure by K.M. Weiland due to it giving me a good overview of story structure.

I’ll focus more on this year favorite books on my next week’s post, but for now, let’s talk about this year’s challenge.

I managed to complete my reading challenge of 50 books!

And actually surpassed this number, reading 58 books this year (woo-hoo!)

I was also trying to follow the categories presented in the Reading Challenge of the Facebook group called “The Dragon Rocketship”, which is a group on Facebook about fantasy, science-fiction, (hence the dragon and the rocket ship) and writing. Since this group also has many writers, a couple of the categories included reading books from its members, something I was happy to do since I’ve been friends on Facebook with a lot of them for a couple of years already.

 

So here are the Challenge Categories I was fulfilling:

(though a lot of the books I read aren’t into any and vice-versa)

 

1. A book that was written by a member of The Dragon’s Rocketship:

Taming Shadows (Revelations #1) by Fiona Skye (Author)
This book is way better than more than a couple of traditionally published bestsellers I’ve read last years. I loved Jaguar, (the protagonist alter ego), the characters, the plot, the world, and the story inspired recipes at the end of the book.

2. A book at the bottom of your To Read pile:

Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle #1) by Diana Wynne Jones.
This was sent to the bottom of my TBR list due to its slow beginning. The characters in this book, especially Howl, are perhaps not always likable, but always intriguing. You’ll go on reading just to know how the story will develop and end.

3. The next book in a series you never finished:

Witch & Wizard (Witch & Wizard #1) by James Patterson (Goodreads Author), Gabrielle Charbonnet.
I’ll probably never finish this series since I feel it’s targeted at much younger readers. Still, it’s an entertaining book if you don’t expect too much depth from the characters.

4. A book you can read in one sitting:

Nail Your Novel Instant Fix: 100 tips for fascinating characters by Roz Morris (Author).
This short book is packed with interesting writing tips. I recommend it also for revision as a helpful character checklist.

5. A book with a dragon:

Mine by Bryan Fields (Author)
I liked the story concept and the Steampunk details very much. The end though was a bit rushed up, and I felt there were not enough pages to develop the characters and the interesting premise. Still, an entertaining short story.

6. A book with a rocketship:

Nine Tomorrows by Isaac Asimov
My opinion is that you can’t go wrong with science fiction from Asimov.

7. A book with an LGBT Character:

Mating Flight: A Non-Romance of Dragons(Mating Flight #1) by Bard Bloom (Author), Tod Wills (Illustrator)
This book is very entertaining and it’s a page turner reading. I read this book in three days because I didn’t manage to put it down. I liked the main character, a fiery-tempered dragoness and all the witty dialogues and funny situations with the other dragons. I’ll be reading the next book in the Duology to see how this adventure ends.

8. Book 1 of a trilogy:

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #1) by Laini Taylor (Author). This book has an interesting premise, setting and characters and I’ll go on reading the series. Still, three stars due to the excess of romance in detriment of the fantasy plot.

9. Book 2 of a trilogy:

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #2) by Laini Taylor (Author)
I liked this book much more than the first of the series because it had more story and turning points to it. I also like the underlying theme of the book: the peace and war duality. And I’m curious to see where the story is going.

10. Book 3 of a trilogy:

Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #3) by Laini Taylor (Author)
** spoiler alert ** I found the book quite good, and perhaps the best of the trilogy. But I must say that I found the end frustrating, with a huge hook. Is the series going on? And if not why to leave it like if the trilogy was the prequel to another book? If this is to finish here I think it would have been better to have finished with a proper ending and with the peace Akiva and Karou always looked for and deserved.

11. A book by an author you’ve never read that is a member of The Dragon’s Rocketship:

Salvage (The Land Taking Records Book 1) by M.J. Kobernus
The short-story pacing was too fast at its end, leaving some things lacking development, but the concept was quite interesting and I’ll probably take a look at its sequence to know how it goes on.

12. An anthology:

Small Magics (Kate Daniels 0.5, 5.3, 5.6 ) by Ilona Andrews (Author)
Short-stories from one of my favorite authors, in the same awesome world of a series I love. What’s not to like? 🙂

13. A book with magic:

Magic Study (The Chronicles of Ixia #2) by Maria V. Snyder (Author)
This is the second book of an interesting fantasy series. Still, it’s slower paced and more romantic than what I usually read.

14. A book that scares you:

Sins of the Future by Chasity Nicole (Author), Debbie Manber Kupfer (Author), Jackie Pitchford, Misha Burnett (Author), Matt Lovell, R.L. Andrew, Angela Garratt, Don Miskel (Author) , Boyd Miles, Jen Ponce (Author), Stephen Blake (Author), Kerry E.B. Black (Author), C. Lloyd Brill, Steven Soul, Leticia Toraci (Author), Cleve Sylcox (Illustrator).
I’m glad I was able to join this awesome anthology with scary future scenarios; which are bound to haunt the reader even after the book is finished.

15. A book that makes you laugh:

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi (Author)
Who read and liked “The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy #1-5)” will probably like this entertaining book as well. I must say that it’s not my favorite kind of science fiction since I prefer when science-fiction is the main theme. But, like the Hitchhiker’s guide, this is also a book which uses sci-fi to talk about humans themselves.

16. Read a book of a series with 5 or more books (1st):

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1) by Patricia Briggs
A fun page-turner, I couldn’t put it down.

17. Read a book of a series with 5 or more books (2nd):

Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson #2) by Patricia Briggs
I liked this book even more than the first one in the series. This one has vampires and they are dangerous and mostly evil (as they should be). It was a nice page-turning reading for my Halloween. 🙂

18. Read a book of a series with 5 or more books (3rd):

Iron Kissed (Mercy Thompson #3) by Patricia Briggs

19. Read a book of a series with 5 or more books (4th):

Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson #4) by Patricia Briggs

20. Read a book of a series with 5 or more books (5th):

Silver Borne (Mercy Thompson #5) by Patricia Briggs

21. A nerdy book:

Youth by Isaac Asimov
I don’t know if there is something that can be called nerdy about books since I consider them really cool (probably because I’m a nerd at heart), but if so I think you could call a short story by one of my favorite authors nerdy.

22. A non-fiction book:

5 Secrets of Story Structure: How to Write a Novel That Stands Out (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 6) by K.M. Weiland (Author)
I found this book quite helpful, it’s about story structure in a relatively summarized and easy to understand way. Great if you want an overview of Story Structure before you go into too many details. For me, this was helpful because I usually want to have a look at the whole subject before I look at each element in detail. So, if you are having difficulties to understand story structure read this short and concise book, you’ll get it in no time, it’s awesome!

23. A young adult book:

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare (Author)
This is an entertaining summer reading. It has a couple of plot devices that would fit in a soap opera, but there is nothing wrong with it if you are looking for a young adult reading just to relax.

24. A book you borrow from a friend:

Tales from P.A.W.S. by Debbie Manber Kupfer.

Three interesting background stories from the world of P.A.W.S. that made me quite curious about the book they are based on.

25. A book an older relative recommends:

I was reading Belgravia by Julian Fellowes recommended by my mother. Awesome book, with all the charm of Downtown Abbey and an even more interesting story. Loved it and can’t recommended it enough. It was one of my favorites this year.

 

So, I hope you liked my small challenge list and see you next week with a closer look at my 2016 favorite books!

 

 

If the Characters in my WIP had a Theme song.

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I won’t say much about each character due to the fact that my novel isn’t yet ready. But here are the theme songs I picked for them. The songs aren’t meant to disclose if they are good or bad in the story, they have more to do with their personality or a characteristic moment.  So here it goes:

Anita

Laura Branigan – Self Control

Jessica

Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)

Kenrick

Yes – Owner Of A Lonely Heart (this video has some strong images, don’t watch if you have fear heights)

Oliver

Milky Chance – Stolen Dance

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iX-QaNzd-0Y&index=42&list=PLNUJ5gKgghTXxQkzrKWLSr76Zdkj0mkaz

Christine

Lily Allen “The Fear”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST86JM1RPl0

Dan

Talking Heads – Once In A Lifetime

Richard

Sting – Englishman In New York

 

How will we be when we get old?

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My neighborhood is one with mostly old people. I’m not saying this to complain. In the end we, a family with two young children, are probably the outsiders who shouldn’t have rented a house here. Some neighbors look at us in an upset way, knowing we’ll probably won’t stay around for long because this area has almost no children. They are right too. It’s sad to live in a street without other children than your own, and sooner than later people move on, looking for a place they fit in better.

But I digress. Now and then I look around me and think about the people. I always said hello to the woman in her nineties who was almost always walking on the sidewalk of her house. She often complained of the cold weather, I never saw her using trousers, though. Once she invited me to visit her. I entered her white small house inside a quite big garden for this part of the city. She told me her husband had bought the house many decades ago. She failed to understand me sometimes, and I wondered if it was due to my weak German. She made me tea and we sat in a really nice winter garden. Her house smelled of mold, and I wondered if she had any help at all with the household. For around six months I would still meet her quickly walking around her house. But then she disappeared. A couple of months later I met her son and he told me he had sent her to a rest home because she was often leaving her house and being found in another part of the city without remembering how to come back. Now no one lives in her house.
I told this story because it represents to me how people from my grandmother generation are getting old. My now deceased grandmother also forgot almost everything in the end. She at least had always people around her, her mind long gone into the fog of her oldest memories, she who had once remembered the date of all her relatives birthdays, until her physical body failed too. My other grandmother had more luck and could remember everything almost until the end.
Some people shine brightly almost until the end, some fade quicker. So I wonder, how will we be? Will we have advancements in medicine who will help us to remember our lives? Some science fiction books talk about old people transferring their wise, experienced minds into clone bodies, or about rejuvenation procedures where your current body could be made young again. It’s all very far fetched anyway. And even if we would have such amazing technology would we really want to be transferred? Would we want to start anew in a young body, or would we be tired and only wishing to rest? What would have our grandmothers wished? How would it feel to have an old spirit in a young body?

I go to close the roller blinds of my upper floor window. My old neighbor sits and reads his newspaper with his back to the garden. He’s married to a younger looking woman who likes painting. In summer they sit all the time in the garden and in winter in the living room. The only time I saw them on the street was on an uneventful New Year’s Eve we went to the corner of our house to see the fireworks. They seem to be happy in a contemplative kind of way. Perhaps you can find peace by dividing your time between taking care of your garden, reading and painting. Perhaps they also spend time on the internet.

Will it all get old when you are ninety or can you still have the same joy with the things you did in the last nine decades? Will you still read new books or only want to reread the ones you read a long time ago? Will you still have friends and relatives who care about you or will you be lonely? Will you be bitter or happy for every day? I have many questions, but only the future will answer them.

If I live enough to be really old.

I have to find the mojo for my blogging potatoes

To blog or not to blog … That’s the writer’s question.

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I have, since May, posted on this blog twice per month and somehow found the time and ideas to do so. But lately, I’ve been quite busy with our dear RL (real life), busy enough I have had barely time to learn the craft, write or revise my drafts. And when time is somehow available I find myself lacking the energy to really apply myself as I should if I want to get anything ready for publishing this or next year. And I really want to have at least Book 1 of my series ready for editing until then.

To make things more complicated I’m in the crossroads on what I want this blog to accomplish. First I thought about making it a more visual blog until cautionary tales on the legal image using made me realize I would waste a long time putting together all the necessary images that could be used commercially. To say the truth I rather use my time working on my WIPs than putting all that together.

Until I have found the right directions for this blog I’ll do as some fellow wise writers do and post only when I have something to say. 🙂  Then I won’t be so dependent on great images to have a nice blog post.

I have to find the mojo for my blogging potatoes. Until then I’ll just relax and have them deliciously salty as they are served in Tenerife.