My Unconventionally Conventional Publishing Experience Part 1

Back in September 2017, I won the Summer Writing Project. The prize was publication.

Granted, my experience is not typical of most. I didn’t write query letter after query letter, and I didn’t get a full manuscript request. But before you write this off as irrelevant and click away, my acceptance may be more relevant than it first seems, and I learned things that can benefit every writer regardless of whether they are taking the traditional route or the self-publishing/indie route.

For one, the criteria for winning was that I had to have the most readers who read my story from start to finish. A query letter would, in essence, be trying to convince a publisher or agent your story is marketable and viable, but in this contest, I had to prove it with results – I had to show I could gain readers and keep them interested. This meant being savvy in promotion, marketing, and social media.

What many don’t realise is that even if you get accepted by one of the Big Five, unless you are one of their top grossing, big name authors like JK Rowling, or Stephen King, you’re not going to get much help in the way of marketing and promotion. You’ll get the bare minimum and probably more connections than most (depending on the publisher), but most of the work will be up to you until you prove you’re worth investing more in.

So while my experience may initially seem unconventional, irrelevant, and perhaps backwards at times, it does have relevance whether you’re going to take a more traditional route of sending out manuscripts and query letters, or if you’re thinking of self publishing.

This is the first in a series of posts I will be making about my experience. Over the summer I will be covering:

  • Working with the editor
  • Negotiating the cover
  • How to run a virtual launch party
  • Facebook ads
  • Marketing/publicity techniques I used

If there is another aspect anyone wants to know more about, or there is something specfic you want me to address in an upcoming post, leave me a comment.

All being well, I’ll be posting every other week. The first post will cover working with the publisher. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

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2018 Creative New Years Resolutions

Another year has been and gone. You know what that means. It’s time to review 2017’s resolutions and make new ones for 2018.

First, let’s begin by seeing how many resolutions I kept this year. Red are ones I didn’t keep, green are ones I did. Last year’s resolutions were:

Read 40 books

I read 35 books, so I was close. Even still, that is a phenomenal improvement on last year. I’ve been very busy with university work, so the time I usually take to read has been spent on essays or assigned reading. I haven’t counted academic texts for class unless I have read the whole thing, rather than a chapter or two. If I had, I would have read close to 50 books.

Enter at least 4 contests

I entered two this year. One being the Olga Sinclair (not even shortlisted :(). The second being the SWP (which I won). Still, I’ve been incredibly busy this year, so managing 2 contests is impressive.

Get the first draft of my latest WiP finished.

When I first pledged this, I hadn’t been able to talk about what it was as it was entered into a contest. But good news – it won. The project was ‘The Hex Files’ (a working title). I don’t even have a first draft, but I know where it’s going. One of the key reasons for this was the SWP. Once I won, I had to edit, then throw myself into marketing, plan the launch, and so on. I’m still marketing and will be for some time, but I have freed up the time to continue on with this project.

Keep working outside my writing comfort zone but work within it from time to time.

I did this, and it worked well. In fact, I sort of doubled up. I wrote a horror, which was out of my comfort zone as I had never written before, but I combined it with sci-fi, which I was fairly comfortable with following Lexus. The result was my novella Last One to the Bridge, which was published by 1888. I think this was one of the most important resolutions I made because it has helped me develop beyond where I thought possible.

Fix The Brotherhood

Sadly, I didn’t even look at this. One day I do intend to go back to this as I loved this project but I have so much more to learn before tackling it.

Set aside at least 1 day a week for solid writing.

This one I did. I now have what I call ‘Cafe Writing’. Every Sunday my husband watches our daughter, I take myself down to the city, go and sit in a Starbucks, take my laptop, and write. I’ve done it most Sundays and will continue to do so.

Be more consistent with the JPRP

This one started out well but ultimately didn’t happen. I was far too busy. I did start a Facebook group and opened it up to more than just Jukepop serials, but I don’t think this is going to be a reality it the moment.

Result: 2/7

While this is worse than last year, interestingly I have accomplished more than I did in said previous year. I’m published. I won two competitions. I had a fairly successful virtual book launch.

I’m getting closer to what resolutions are better for making genuine progress (which was the whole point of them). With this in mind, I have looked long and hard at what I achieved, what I didn’t, and why. I also considered which resolutions, whether failed or successful, I learned the most from as a writer.

2018 Creative Resolutions:

1. Write blog posts regularly.

Anyone following this blog knows I posts once in a blue moon, typically only when something big happens, which defeats the object of having one. I what little spare time I have focusing on my WiP. But blog writing is different to fiction writing, it requires a different skill set, one which I feel can only make me a better writer.

I also want to share my knowledge. I’m no expert, but what little I have discovered might be useful to somebody. I have plenty of topics I have been meaning to tackle, and I’d also like to try regular features such as story and game reviews. We’ll see.

2. Read 40 books.

Yup. This one again. I was so close this year. I’d like to gun for it again. I’ve read some engrossing stories and discovered new authors. Plus I have a ‘to-read’ list pushing 1000, my Kindle has 500+ e-books on it, most of which have not been read yet, and I have about 15 books sitting on my bookshelf that I haven’t read. I am not short of material. And reading makes me a better writer.

3. Get out of my comfort zone, but also work within it sometimes.

This one worked so well last year I’m going to try it again this year. Who knows, maybe I’ll have a second book published?

4. Write 3 more short stories.

I’m not going to focus on entering contests this year. I have a lot to do with Uni, and marketing LOttB, and my current WiP, so I don’t think setting a minimum number of contest entries is going to work. However, writing short stories has dramatically improved my writing, so I don’t want to give up on them completely. I figure if I have a large enough collection of them, if a contest crops up, I could always pop in something I’ve already written.

5. Complete a first draft of ‘Hex Files’.

This was a resolution last year, and I’m dissapointed that I didn’t make it. I really love this project. It ticks all the right boxes for me – it’s different (I’ve never written about a faerie PI before) yet it is grounded in one of my favourite subjects: myth and fable. I love every aspect of this story. I haven’t been this excited by a new project in a long while.

One of the big reasons I didn’t finish it was because the SWP ate up so much of my time. I don’t know if the SWP will run in 2017 given that Jukepop has shut down, but even if it is running elsewhere, I won’t be entering. Every year I have been up against some fantastic entries from some amazing authors who deserve their chance to win. So if the SWP is running, I’m going to be there to support them. That is the spirit of the SWP, after all.

6. Learn origami.

Every year I attempt to learn a new skill. The last few years it has been knitting and sewing. I learned a lot from it. Namely that I am really no good at either. This year I’m going to give origami a shot. It’s something I’ve always been fascinated with, but have never really attempted it aside from the paper fortune tellers that were all the rage when I was a kid. This year I’m finally going to give it a go.

I did have a longer list, including ideas like trying a new genre, but I’ve narrowed it because I feel any more would be too much. True, it would be good to get out of my comfort zone with a different genre but I want to sharpen my skills in the genres I already write in and apply all I learned from 2017.

Did anyone make any resolutions? If so what were they?

And we have a winner!

Important announcement, folks. I won the Summer Writing Project 2017! That means Last One to the Bridge is going to be published!

I could not believe it when I received the email letting me know I had won. I’ll be honest – I expected at any moment to get another saying they had made a mistake, or that they had changed their minds. How could I have possibly won? I had been up against some stiff competition and some outstanding stories.

And yet a contract was signed, and Last One to the Bridge is with my editor. I still can’t get over the fact that I have an editor!

I will keep you updated as thing progress. Hopefully I will be able to announce a release date soon.

I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who supported me. I would never have  made it as a finalist, let alone a winner without the help of those who read, voted and kept me focused, offering feedback and advice.

When I announced the results on Facebook within 10 minutes I had more than 20 people congratulate me and wish me well. I was moved to tears. So thank you. I appreciate it more than you will ever know.

I’d also like to thank my friends and family, in partcular my husband (who must be sick of me talking about LOttB by now), my parents, and my sister.

You guys are the best.

Three years later…

 

Three years ago I initiated what I dubbed my ‘creative summer’, and I entered as many writing contests as I could (including the SWP) and wrote as many short stories as I could (something I had never done before). I learned so much I decided this was not just a summer thing and pledged to treat writing as a career and to do all I could to grow as a writer.

It has been a rough road, but I have improved in leaps and bounds – recently I won the Colin Sutton Cup for Humour with a blurb and first hundred words from my latest WiP (working title Hex Files) about a faerie P.I. However, it was not enough. I knew I could do more. So I applied to the local university.

I honestly didn’t think I would be accepted. I never finished college and didn’t have much of a portfolio, but I was delighted to receive an unconditional offer of acceptance. The course I will be taking is English literature with a foundation year. As it has been more than a decade since I was in education, I felt I needed that foundation year to help me adjust. However, I am free after that foundation year to switch subjects or even try for a combined subject. I hope to get a portfolio of work together and apply to the English Literature and Creative Writing program. I have got a year to apply what I have learned and get my butt in gear. No pressure.

As you can see, a lot has happened in the last three years. Even still, I am still determined to improve further, starting with being more active on blog writing. Starting a brand new adventure as a mature student seems like the perfect opportunity. With this in mind, I intend to keep a regular blog detailing my experience as a mature student, offering the perspective not just of somebody older, but also what it is like to balance study needs, home needs, and the needs of a young child with autism. I also intend to get back into creating reviews for novels, novellas, serials… everything and anything.

More details will follow soon. Wish me luck!

My Experience of the SWP 2017

I’ve been entering the Summer Writing Program (SWP) for about three years now. I usually make several blog posts in the run up, but this year I didn’t get a chance until now.

This summer has been hectic (although that would be putting it mildly). It’s tough enough keeping a pre-school age child occupied for two months, it’s harder still when that child is autistic. So yeah… busy, busy.

So while I did somehow find the time to enter the competition this year, every spare second counted so I didn’t get a chance to make an announcement like I usually do before I enter or any posts during, so I’ve done one now on my experience.

My project this year was a sci-fi horror titled Last One to the Bridge.

How did I do?

LOttB actually did really well in the SWP. I was in first place right up until the last few days when I was finally overtaken. In fact I was overtaken literally overnight.

This was at 9:42PM on the 28th – just 3 days before the end of the contest.

JP1

This is 9:30am the next morning:

JP3

As you can see, it got CRAZY at the last second.

I woke up this morning to this:

JP9

In terms of raw votes, I came third place. That doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t win, nor does it mean those ahead of me will. In order to win the contest you need to have the most readers who follow your story from start to finish, so votes aren’t everything. For all we know, one of the authors behind us might be crowned. Results are announced on the 5th September, so we’ll have to see.

It is a little disappointing to slip so far in the last few seconds but I am amazed at how well LOttB did. Almost 800 votes is incredible, especially for a story with only 18 chapters. That works out to potentially 42 readers which in just two months is fantastic. It’s probably the best I have ever done in the SWP.

The SWP has been a big learning experience this year and I’ve definitely become a better writer for it.

More details about Last One to the Bridge

Cover 1.jpg

Blurb:

My name is Reva Mallick. I was in a pod. I just woke up. Something is on the ship – it killed the crew. I need help.

My only hope is Adam, a fellow survivor trapped on the bridge. With only his voice as my guide, I must travel through the ship to reach him. It won’t be easy. I don’t know anything about space travel – I’m a horticulturist, not an astronaut.  The thing that killed the crew is at my heels, hunting me down. I don’t know if I’ll survive, but I won’t go down without a fight.

The story is inspired in part by an old short story I found while digging through my old writing files. It was an unfinished story where I had only written an intro paragraph and the end. I jotted some notes down about it but didn’t do much with it after, unsure of where to go with it but knowing I’d like to give it a whirl at a later date.

A few weeks go by, my husband and I are chatting and he tells me he’s never seen Ridley Scott’s Alien. Crazy, right? So we pop it in the DVD player and watch it. As we’re munching on popcorn, watching Ripley creep around the Nostromo, desperately trying to outwit the deadly Xenomorph, an idea strikes me. What if Ripley hadn’t known how to work the escape pod? She was the warrant officer, not a pilot – what if her skills had been limited? I imagined her bumbling at the controls trying to figure out how to launch the damn thing while the self destruct sequence ticked down and the Xenomorph slowly uncurled from its hiding place…

Later that evening as I finished reading Andy Weir’s The Martian I wondered what would happen if Mark Watney hadn’t been a botanist? What if he’d been a geologist? Would either of them have survived? How different would the story have been? It was that moment that ‘Last One to the Bridge’ was officially born.

As you can probably gather from the blurb, the story follows Reva, a member of the terraforming crew. She has a variety of degrees including horticulture, botany and agononomy. As you can imagine, none of that helps much when you wake up on a ship in deep space. Reva doesn’t even know how to work the doors.

Ultimately LOttB is an exploration into human survival – how far can you get on the will to survive alone?

 

All-in-all I had a great time in the SWP. I feel like I’ve grown as a writer and learned to keep working towards a deadline even when life seems to conspire against you. I’m glad I was able to take part this year. Not only that but there have been some stunning stories on offer – my two favourites being Andre Clemons’ Enheduanna and Tonya Moore’s What the Bones Say.

So that was my experience this year. Did anyone else enter? What was you experience? What did you learn? Leave me a comment!

Creative Resolutions for 2017

Last year, I set myself some New Year resolutions that centered around my writing.

So how did I do?  I’ve colour coded the text – green text represents a resolution I kept, red represents one I didn’t.

1. Join a writing group.

Check.  I did this one.  I’m now vice-chair of the group as well.

2. Write at least one short story/flash fiction story a month.

I was off to a good start, but alas, I did not manage this one.  One short story a month seemed manageable when I put together my resolutions.  Unfortunately, having a toddler greatly limits your time – having a toddler with special needs limits it even more.  Don’t get me wrong – I tried.  I used fiction squares.  I pantsed.  I planned.  I just couldn’t get it together into a viable story. 

3.  Enter more contests. 

Linking in with the above resolution, it seemed that if I was writing more short stories I should do something with them, so I decided I would try and enter on average one contest a month – entering a total of 12 contests in the year.  This was a good idea at the time.  If you enter enough contests/magazines/journals, your chances of winning/getting published go up.  But because I was finding it hard to find the time to write the stories, I had nothing to submit to these contests and in the end, I only entered three: The SWP, The Olga Sinclair Open Short Story Competition and The Colin Sutton Cup for Humour.  I didn’t win the first two and I won’t find out if I won the third until February.

4. Publish Lexus

I barely looked at Lexus.  It requires a lot of work to get it to where I want it to be, especially now I’m free from the confines of the SWP.  Then it needs a professional copy edit and proofread, especially as it will be self-published.  So no, I didn’t even remotely get Lexus in a position to be published and it looks like it will be a back burner project once again.

5. Keep a writing journal.

This one I kept … sort of.  The original pledge was to write in a journal every day.  Once again, it just wasn’t practical.  Still, every time I did get a few minutes to write, particularly during my cafe Sundays, I wrote in the journal.  There were times I missed entire months – this was when I was working on a project and so was writing in the project notebooks, so I’m going to count this one as ‘passed’.

6. Read more.

Check.  In fact, super check.  I kept tabs on my reading by signing up to the Goodreads reading challenge.  I set myself a goal of 20 books for the year.  I decided on this number because I figured I could read at least one book a month and then rounded it up to 20 to make it challenging.  I read 30.  That’s ten more than I planned even after rounding it up.

7. Get out of my writing comfort zone.

Oh holy hell did I do this! Although I didn’t get round to writing the plethora of short stories/flash fiction I had hoped I would, I did work on a few new projects and boy did they get me out of my writing comfort zone!  First was ‘Karma’, my entry for the SWP 2016.  It was a contemporary supernatural ‘feel good’ story.  I’ve never written one of those.  Then came Finding Annabelle.  Not only was it first person (I haven’t written anything first-person in about 15 years) but it was also a genre I have never, ever written before – mystery.  It’s proving so hard that I am actually starting on a different project to get the hang of it (more on that at a later date).  I went from being drop-kicked out of my comfort zone to being jettisoned-out-of-the-atmosphere away from it.

The problem with resolutions of any kind is that it is all too easy to set goals that seem realistic but require more work than you realise.  You want to quit smoking?  Pick up a new skill?  Make more friends?  These goals and others like them are all common resolutions and are certainly all admirable, but let’s be honest – all the examples I gave are not something you can achieve in a year even if you pick just one of them.  It can take even the most determined person many years to kick an addiction.  Picking up a new skill can take an estimated 6-10 years to master.  New friendships (or certainly meaningful ones) take many years to cement.

Personal growth is usually gradual.  Those goals, both the examples and the ones I set myself at the beginning of 2016, are by no means unattainable but they need to be broken down into smaller steps.

I managed 4 out of my 7 resolutions.  Keeping just over 50% of my goals doesn’t seem good but I’m not worried.  Not by a longshot.  When I made those resolutions, I didn’t know what my limitations would be.  That’s not to say I don’t want to challenge myself, but it’s important to know your limits if you want to surpass them – more importantly, you need to know which limits you cannot do anything about.  In my case, there’s not much I can do to increase how much free time I have BUT I can make resolutions that help me use what time I have to the fullest.

So, in light of this, I have set some goals that I hope will be challenging but realistically achievable if I set my mind to it:

Read 40 books

Last year I set it to 20 and made it to 30.  I think if I push a little more, I can make it to 40.

Enter at least 4 contests

I managed to enter 3 this year.  Adding one more will present a little challenge.  That’s an average of one contest every three months.  Hopefully, given the time I have available, I’ll be able to manage 4.

Get the first draft of my latest WiP finished.

I can’t talk much about my new project as part of it was used in one of the contests I entered this year, but after the results are announced in February, I plan on releasing some details.

Keep working outside my writing comfort zone but work within it from time to time.

It’s important to push my limits, but only when I allow myself to occasionally indulge in writing what I am comfortable with will I see how much I’ve improved.  I am hoping to do this by working on The Gatekeeper and The Brotherhood.  Which brings me to my next resolution …

Fix The Brotherhood

Ah yes, my old friend.  Although it’s not been my primary focus for a while, I think it’s finally time to give this series a huge overhaul.  I was never hugely happy with it but I couldn’t put my finger on what wasn’t working.  With what I’ve learned and the feedback I got from friends and the folks on Jukepop, I think I’m ready to finally resolve the issues.

Set aside at least 1 day a week for solid writing.

This one is going to be tricky.  It’s fine term time when I have childcare 3 days a week.  The holidays are going to be tricky, but it’s important to keep writing.  I have lots of other responsibilities as well, and I’m going to have to learn to balance them.

Be more consistent with the JPRP

The JPRP is currently undergoing some changes.  In order to do this, I am going to create a Facebook group where in the last 7-10 days every month, members agree to dedicate some time to reading each other’s work.  It will also not just be for JP stories.  Instead, it will include work on any other medium such as Inkitt, a few chapters of a WiP, or a few short stories ready for a contest.  I plan on creating the group early in the new year.

Have you made any resolutions?  If so leave a comment and let me know what and why.  Similarly, if you’re not, leave me a comment with why.

Happy New year!

Karma

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Since the end of last years Summer Writing Project I have been thinking about what kind of story to enter this year.  I spent weeks, sometimes even months drafting up an idea only to drop it because it wasn’t quite right before finally settling on this one:

 Karma

Karma is a simple story about redemption.  It’s not a very original premise; it has been used in countless books, movies and plays.  There are many reasons I have chosen such an overused concept, but more on that later.  For now let us talk about the story itself.

It focuses primarily on two characters: Jack and Gwen.

Jack has spent his entire life looking out for number one (himself).  When he is killed in an accident, he finds himself in the afterlife, or more precisely, in limbo.  Unfortunately for him, if he wants to get into paradise, he must do a little ‘community service’ to make up for his heinous ways.  He is therefore assigned to help Gwen, a young woman who stands on the verge of a dark and difficult time in her life.

So, why did I choose this particular story?  Well, tales of redemption are so common because we can all relate to them.  We’ve all done things we wish we could undo.  That’s why Charles Dicken’s  A Christmas Carol has stayed relevant more than a century and a half after it was first published.  It has been retold and re-imagined countless times.

The theme of redemption is also a common core aspect in many tales too.  It spans all genres and has featured in pretty much every medium through which a story can be conveyed – you’ll find it in works ranging from The Bible right up to the video game God of War and beyond.

Don’t get the wrong idea, though.  While this story is far simpler than others I have written, it is by no means an easier road.  Such a powerful and universally felt subject matter will need to be done with finesse if I am to do it any justice.  It MUST be combined with characters who have real emotions and drives and dreams and fears and hopes.  A straight forward story like this has no room for error.  If something is even a little off, it has nothing to hide behind – no winding sub plots or expansive, epic worlds or even edgy/quirky concepts.  There is a reason why some tales of redemption echo through the ages while others are quickly forgotten; The simpler an idea, the more it tests a writers mettle.  That is the challenge I have set myself.

There’s not much more I can say except keep an eye out for further updates.  Oh – and good luck to all prospective entrants to this years contest.  We had some fantastic stories last year – those who won really deserved to do so.

The Jukepop Reading Party

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During the SWP2015 I decided I would bulk read as many of the entries as I could (I had previously been tied up with my own entry).  The idea caught on and thus the JPRP was born!  I decided it would be neat to carry it forward.  Like many of you, I have countless serials on my bookshelf that I keep meaning to get round to but for one reason or another I just haven’t gotten there yet. The JPRP is a great chance to become familiar with different authors work and get through some of the titles that have been gathering virtual dust on your virtual bookshelf or even just get through more of a serial you haven’t finished yet.

With that in mind, I want to spread the word and get as many people as possible involved with the JPRP!  To help that along I thought I would clarify exactly what the JPRP is and what you should do if you decide to join in.


 

Q. What is the JPRP?

A: Basically it is a mass global group reading session.  Participants take the time to read through as many Jukepop serial chapters as they possibly can.

Q. Are there any rules?

A: Nope.  Just read as much as you can and be sure to vote.  If you feel so inclined, feedback is always appreciated but it isn’t mandatory.

Q: Is there a minimum amount I should read?

A: Absolutely not.  Just read whatever you can, even if it’s only one chapter.

Q: Am I supposed to read specific serials or work by specific authors?

A: No.  Read whatever serial tickles your fancy.  I usually aim to get through a serial that has been on my bookshelf for a long time or one that I have fallen behind on, but you can choose whichever you like.  It’s up to you.

Q: When is the JPRP?

A: The JPRP takes place on the last full week of every month, running from Monday-Sunday.  There is no specific time to start.  Just read what you can when you can.

Q: Why then?

A: Quite simply it is because it ties in with the JP30.  The aim is to support authors on JP but also to give them a little boost.  One or two extra votes can often mean the difference between second place and first place.

Q: Is it only JP authors who can participate?  What if I don’t have a story published on JP?

A: No, you do not have to be an author to take part.  Although most JP members are authors with work published on Jukepop, there are some who are content to read the vast catalogue of serials rather than submit their own work.  All you need is to be registered on Jukepop and be willing to read.  That’s it.

Q: Are there any prizes or incentives?

A: Only the satisfaction that you have helped and supported another human being.  I am considering issuing an award for whoever reads the most chapters each month but it will not take effect until March’s JPRP.

Q: Is this an official Jukepop initiative?

A: This is something I am running to encourage support.  It is not affiliated with Jukepop.


 

I hope this clears things up.  If you have any further questions regarding the JPRP, please leave me a comment!

 

New Years Resolutions

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I don’t usually make New Years Resolutions.  Well, I do, but they’re usually jokey ones like ‘give up smoking’ (the joke being that I have never smoked and therefore will keep the resolution without even trying – you know like when people say ‘give up sky diving’ etc) .

Many of you may remember I made a difficult decision after suffering my first bout of writers block.  So this year I have set myself some goals.

In no particular order, here is what I have decided on:

Join a writing group

This one has been on my mind for a while.  I have been unable to attend a physical writing group for some time due to many factors such as money an familial responsibilities.  This year, I’m going to make an effort to attend one.

Write at least one short story/flash fiction a month:

This is a resolution carried over from my Creative Summer.  It was important because I had never written a short story before.  At the advice of an old friend, I wrote the kind of stuff I enjoyed reading – epic, sprawling stories with ever expanding worlds and a plethora of characters and winding sub plots.  Forcing myself out of my comfort zone and focusing on the basic elements of story telling really helped so I intend to carry this forward.

Enter more competitions:

When I was ten, the schools in my local area hosted a writing competition for students aged 10-18.  The prize was £50.  I entered and I won.  Prior to my Creative Summer I had not entered one since.  I’m not sure why.  I guess I have been so focused on my writing projects, fearing distraction, that I have shied from them.  Over the summer I entered three.  I didn’t win but I learned a lot, so I intend to keep this going throughout the year.  It will tie in nicely with my aim to produce one short story a month too!

 Publish Lexus:

I had already been working my way to self publishing Lexus (most likely on Amazon). In the months leading up to Christmas I had a good look at the story.  I had been limited by the novella word count limit of the SWP2016 and so there were scenes and characters that could have done with a little more pizazz. Now I have that chance to make Lexus something better.

Keep a writing journal

This one is a little odd for me because in a way I do keep a writing journal.  Every project I work on gets a notebook:

Notepads
These are the notepads for projects I’m currently working on.  I have 36 notepads in total.  I may have a problem …

When I need to figure things out, I sit and think and plot ideas as I think them.  However, this isn’t something I do every day.  To help with the creative flow I will aim to keep a writers journal to chart my creative journey.  Writing down insights that have nothing to do with projects I am working on could lead to new projects and it’s also a way for me to document my personal struggles so that I may draw on them for future or current projects.  My aim is write whatever comes into my head.  I even got given a gorgeous notebook to write  in for Christmas:

notebook
Ain’t she a beaut …?

I was itching to write in it the moment I unwrapped in it so this is a good start!

Read More:

A very obvious and common one I know but I have noticed that over the years I have really cut back on my reading.  The reason?  I’ve been trying to keep myself focused on writing.  This is a tremendous shame because reading is a great way to recharge my creativity and improve my writing skills, so on top of attending to the Jukepop reading party every month I have set myself the target of reading at least one book a month – starting with Neil Gaiman’s Stardust.  I have more or less all of his books on my reading list (which gets bigger and bigger each day – currently there are 300+ books of all genres (including graphic novels). Yeah that’s going to take some getting through.  I’m not sure I’ll manage it in a year but I’ll have a damn good stab at it.  My list includes titles from the likes of Terry Pratchett, Tom Holt, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Dean Kootz,  Bill Bryson, Stephen Baxter, and Ursula LeGuin.  I’m hoping to read work from lesser known authors too.  I’m even hoping to start reading some super hero comics.  As you can see my taste is somewhat broad and I intend to expand it further.

Get out of my writing comfort zone

When I started writing short stories during my Creative Summer I was not so much pushed out of my writing comfort zone as drop kicked out of it.  I had never written a short story before.  Was it possible to tell a story in 3000 words or less?  Or how about 1000?  Or 300?  Some of the word count limits in the competitions were really daunting.  Nonetheless I sat down and I worked on my idea.  The first short story I wrote was about 5000 words.  The competition it was intended for only allowed 3500.  So I looked at it, cut parts out, read some short stories to see how they managed to get vital details across and went at it again and again until finally I had shaved it down to 3150.  I felt such a sense of accomplishment.  Better still, I applied what I had learned to Lexus and experimented with exposition and wound up in the SWP2015 top ten!

With that in mind, I am determined to keep trying things that make me uncomfortable and unsure.  At the time of writing this, I reached another milestone.  I wrote my first 100 word flash fiction and I am working on a new project where I experiment with a different narrative style (more on that later).


 

So there you have it!  My New Years Resolutions!

Has anyone else made any resolutions?  Feel free to write a comment either on what you think of mine or what yours are.  Also can anyone recommend any good books or comics?

Review of Lyncia by J.A Waters (Part 1)

My initial plan last month was to read Lyncia by J.A Waters.  When I didn’t get through all of it I decided I would read the rest over the Christmas period (which coincided nicely with the December Jukepop Reading Party).  Then Christmas rolled up.  Having a two two year old is exhausting enough as it is, but Christmas is a particularly difficult and overwhelming time for young children.  I got so rushed off my feet that I lost track of time and I didn’t get to read any serials.  I missed the reading party.

I am determined to finish Lyncia, but for now, allow me to review the first fourteen chapters that I got through.

Serial Status: Finished.

Spelling/Grammar Rating: 1

Lyncia

Jukepop Synopsis:

A story on gods, death, pain, and adventure. Completed on 18 November, 2015.

Lyncia Eyresin is about to play host to a strange array of visitors, and some of them have frightening powers beyond her comprehension. Life is full of choices and chances, and Lyncia’s will lead to maddening oddities and a spiraling descent.

But on the world of Nalan, the fall may never end.

So Lyncia begins a struggle to understand the world as it truly is. Buried stories tell of concealed gods and sunken relics. Cracks in the known history reveal a shattered past. Somewhere in the truth, Lyncia will find power.

Find out more about Nalan here:
http://nalanwiki.watersartistry.com/

WARNING!  THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

What was done well:

Although I only got through what was essentially the start of our heroines journey, I found so much I liked.  The characterisation was fantastic – particularly the sublime balance J.A strikes with Lyncia, the titular protagonist.  She’s wilful but not to the point where she is spoilt.  She is strong, both physically and mentally but this has come from years of hard training.  Lyncia is also keen to take over ruling from her father so she can keep the times peaceful and do what is best for her subjects.  That said, I get the impression that she isn’t quite ready to rule just yet (more on that later!).

This brings me to the thing I liked to most.  The first few chapters gave me the impression that this was going to be the story of a princess fighting against a patriarchy not just for herself but for the greater good of her people, all the while learning various hard truths that would eventually mould her into a wise and powerful ruler.  Then we witness her shocking murder and suddenly all those expectations go out the window.  Lyncia is reborn as an unwilling prophet with a whole new set of problems: a frightening voice in her head that is actually a god that is forcing her to be a prophet and can control her actions, a new body and to top it all off she has to come to terms with the fact that her own father had her killed.  This kind of sudden misdirection is a difficult one to pull off but J.A does this masterfully.

The beauty of it all is that the plot hasn’t changed all that much from where it started.  The focus has altered but at its core, the story hasn’t.  You see, even if we had stayed along the lines of a strong and formidable princess fighting back against a patriarchy, Lyncia would still have her work cut out for her.  It’s clear that while she has a greater understanding of politics and leadership than most, she is missing vital bits of wisdom.  Look at how she reacts to her fathers decision to go to war.  She flat out refuses this is a solution.  Unfortunately, issues like these don’t have a clear cut answer.  I’m certainly not advocating war.  It’s never a good thing.  But sometimes, particularly in a world such as Lyncia’s, it is a lesser evil that can cut short years of extended suffering.  As a potential ruler Lyncia needs to understand that and be ready to make difficult and sometimes harsh decisions.  When she becomes a prophet, this core issue is still there.  In fact one thing I noticed is just how grossly Lyncia underestimates the influence of religion in the machinations of power.  As a prophet (even a reluctant one) she’ll be treated to some invaluable lessons that will help her on her journey.  More importantly she’s starting from the bottom.  As a princess she was in a privileged position where it was unlikely she knew the full extent of her people’s suffering.  Lyncia has the chance to really get to know her people and in turn her kingdom and hopefully she might even pick up some street smarts on the way.  And that is what will help her win the day … assuming she is willing to learn.  I guess I will have to wait and see.

What Could Have Been Better:

I’d like to place a mini disclaimer here and state that the following ‘criticism’ is the result of hours and hours of re-reading in order to find some kind of general weakness (well done J.A!).  After all, I believe that even the best piece of work has room to improve.  Similarly I believe that even a story I don’t get along with has something good in it.  This is why I always try to find at least one good thing and one bad thing.

So … what is this one thing?

Well, I noticed that it takes eight chapters to reach the event that kicks Lyncia into her ‘Heroes Journey’.  The story itself is only fifty chapters long, which means it takes almost a fifth of the book to get to where the plot begins rolling.  The eight chapters aren’t short either.

I’m not saying this is ‘wrong’.  After all, there are no set rules on the ratio of beginnings, middles and ends (that I’m aware of anyway).  It’s not even like what happens is irrelevant filler either.  There is no rambling on.  We need to see Lyncia in her lessons, we need to see her go to the temple and witness the miracle and we need to see her cause havoc at the meeting.  I just think that J.A might want to examine the story more closely to see if there is a way to bring the reader closer to this pivotal event.  My personal suggestion is using a small prologue where we begin with Lyncia dying.  We don’t necessarily have to know it’s her; there can be brief details that hint at who the dying character is that the reader can slowly put together as they read through the events that led to this calamity in the next eight chapters.

That’s it.

Overview:

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Lyncia and wish I’d had time to read more.  The characters are well thought out, the setting, plot and drama play out really nicely and there is a real balance of fantasy here.  It’s not overplayed but we can see we are in a fantasy realm.  Lyncia is certainly shaping up to have some interesting concepts and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys well crafted fantasy fiction.

Incidentally if anyone is interested, J.A Waters has a wiki where he provides some stunning illustrations and information about the world of Nalan.

He also has other serials on Jukepop that you should check out:

Learning to Breathe Again

Page 6

November’s Jukepop Reading Party is over.

As usual I prepared this month’s reading list with gusto.  My plan was to start on J.A Waters Lyncia.  Unfortunately, this month has been a little tumultuous so I only managed the first fifteen chapters.  I say ‘only’, the JRP isn’t about quantity – it’s about Jukepop authors coming together and reading what they can together in order to support other Jukepop authors in time for the JP30.  It doesn’t matter if you read one chapter or a hundred.  That said, there was a reason I read so little over the weekend.

Some of you may be aware that I have been wrestling with a difficult decision these past few months about whether to defer my home study course for a year to focus on my writing.  What prompted this …?

Well … let me start by saying that I have been a writer since before I can remember.  I’m sure it’s the same for most writers.  More often than not, it feels less like I’m an architect of imaginary worlds and characters and more like I’m the conduit for a thousand different voices, each with a tale to tell.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I will admit that I have never considered my ability to write as something ‘special’.  It was just something I did and always had.  Do you consider breathing ‘special’ …?  True, at its most fundamental level, breathing is important; without it you would die, but it is in no way special.  I have also never experienced writers block.  I’d heard authors and friends talk about the dreaded writers block and had always been somewhat confused.  How could one just not write?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not gloating nor am I saying I’m an unparalleled prodigy or anything.  There is no doubt in my mind that I have much to learn.  Quite simply, what I am saying is that for me, writing might as well be part of my DNA – like my eye colour.  It’s just one more building block that makes me ‘me’ and I have never given it a second thought.

Fast forward a little to the summer just gone.  I made the decision to give my writing an overhaul.  I dubbed it my ‘Creative Summer’.  I dedicated every spare moment I had to it.  I entered into three competitions – The SWP2015 being one of them.  I didn’t win but I learned so much and that, to me, was the best prize.  Ideas buzzed around my head and I had plans to write more – to self publish, to start a new serial on Jukepop and to continue writing at least one short story a month.  As the month of September rolled by though, there came a distant knell: my home study degree started early October.

Once I started the course, I began to push my writing away.  I had essays to write, chapters to read, tutorials to attend.  After completing the first essay, I sat down to give myself time to write and  … nothing.  I figured I was just tired and would try again the next day.  My husband took our daughter out for a few hours to give me some time and space to harness my craft.  Again nothing.  All of a sudden I was, figuratively speaking, suffocating.  There was no creative air in my lungs.

For the first time in my life I was suffering writers block.  There is no simile or adjective that could possibly begin to describe how unpleasant it felt.

Throughout my life I had always balanced my need to write with work and other responsibilities.  Even during the years when I earned minimum wage and had to work 70 hours a week to pay the bills or after my daughter was born and I was sleep deprived, hormonal and exhausted.  What went wrong …?

I realised then that perhaps I had prematurely pulled the plug on my creative development and I was paying the price.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m learning a lot on my course but it pales in comparison to the personal growth I had made during my Creative Summer.

This left me standing at a crossroad:

The left turn will keep me on my home study degree.  The course will take six years to complete part time.  Putting it off by a year will obviously add another year.  There is the possibility that once my daughter starts school in a few years I will be free to shift to full time and complete it quicker.  There is also the possibility that I can apply to the local university to undertake the course full time and complete it in three to four years but there is no guarantee I will be accepted.

The right turn will take me down a path where I defer my course for a year so I can go back to dedicating all my free time to writing.

Some of you may have seen me reach out on twitter for some advice (special thanks to M. Howalt and Allison Spector by the way!).

After weeks of wrestling and fretting and running countless plans and scenarios through my mind, I have decided that I will take the right turn and defer my course.

There are several reasons for this.  First, it will make me happy.  Second, if I want to be accepted into the Literature and Creative Writing course at the local university, I will stand a better chance if I actually have some work published and the best way to do that is to keep writing and submitting stories be they serials or short stories.  Finally, I feel that neglecting my craft would squander all the hard work I did over the summer.

It’s fair to say that I didn’t appreciate the gift of writing as much as I should have until now.  I suppose people don’t appreciate the air in their lungs until they find themselves unable to breathe.  That changes now.

Writing has opened so many doors in my life.  For example, my love of writing drives me to read which has in turn lead me to some fantastic adventures.  Most recently it has led me to Jukepop where I have read some amazing stories and met some wonderfully supportive authors (who have in turn given me fantastic advice!).  True, education is invaluable, but not all education takes place in the classroom.  After all, the few months I dedicated to writing saw me place in the top ten of the SWP2015 which in turn led to a podcast interview.  Imagine what might happen after a year?

I will, of course, still be taking part in the JRP every month.  J.A Water’s Lyncia will still get a review which I will post in time for Christmas.

I’d like to thank those who helped me overcome this personal hurdle – not only my fellow authors but my husband too (I don’t know how he put up with my mopiness!).

As always, stay tuned for further updates and of course the review of the fantastic Lyncia.

Critique of Neither Legal Nor Tender by T.P Keating

Neither Legal Nor Tender by T.P Keating is one of those stories that I kept meaning to get round to and never did.  I’m very glad I finally dived in!

Serial Status: Ongoing.  Have read up to Chapter 15.

Spelling/Grammar Rating: 2

NEITHER LEGAL NOR TENDERJukepop Synopsis:

That weekend, all Beth Hargreaves wanted was to paint her kitchen, but all she got was nearly killed, thanks to a home-made good luck charm with built-in bad juju to spare. It didn’t get much better the next weekend either…

WARNING!!! This critique may contain spoilers!!!

 

 

What Was Done Well:

I loved how easily the situation snow balls out of control.  The synopsis sums it up – all Beth wanted to do was paint her kitchen but instead she finds herself in a whole heap of trouble that only gets worse and worse.  It’s strangely hilarious, especially as Beth keeps coming back to wanting to paint her kitchen.  At one point she is captured by a peculiar cult who want to make her their leader and her first thought is ‘Well I could make them do my kitchen for me’.  It had me in stitches!

Another thing I want to touch on is the narrative.  Neither Legal Nor Tender is written in the first person, which has always been a hit or miss for me.  So often I read stories where the character’s narration takes over everything until it starts to feel very much like telling and not showing.  T.P achieves a very balanced result where Beth’s voice does not over power the scene.

Overall, Neither Legal Nor Tender has a Da Vinci Code vibe yet it is entirely different.  There’s an element of adventure; New and unusual revelations come to light and each one plummets Beth deeper and deeper down the proverbial rabbit hole.  What makes this story different is its quirky sense of humour.  It has its own voice and tone – where one paragraph will leave your heart pounding, wondering what will happen next and in the next it releases the tension with a well placed joke or hilarious insight.

What Could Have Been Better:

The first chapter was very much an information dump with details that could have been spread across the next few chapters.  I realise some of it is relevant – the parts where Beth used to be a cab driver and how she got Orlan’s Token in the first place is integral.  All the stuff about the sports Beth enjoyed in school and how she wanted to be a ballerina could be placed elsewhere.  Maybe as she is running in later chapters she could be glad she is quite athletic.  After all, we get the information about her taking up kick boxing in this way which works well.

Another thing I wanted to touch on was the scene in Chapter nine where Beth steps out of the shed and then in the next sentence she wakes up to find she has been captured.  There was no line that led me to believe she had been knocked out.  I think the effect is meant to be sudden – Beth wouldn’t necessarily know she’d been clonked on the head or drugged, but she would certainly be aware that she was lapsing into unconsciousness – especially if it was so sudden and unexpected.

Overview:

Neither Legal Nor Tender was a terrific read with some fantastic one liners. ‘Curiosity. It hadn’t killed me yet, but it sure knew where I lived.’ is my favourite one so far.  Beth has a quirky sense of humour that fits in well with the mood of the story.  This is definitely something I would recommend.  It’s a non stop roller coaster with a motivated and sassy protagonist we can all get on board with.

Critique of Underground by Ada Redmond

Underground by Ada Redmond has been on my Jukepop bookshelf for a long time.  Having read it, I don’t know why I waited so long.  It is EXACTLY my thing.

Serial Status: Ongoing.  I have read up to chapter 20.

Spelling/Grammar rating: 2

UndergroundJukepop Synopsis:

As any well weathered traveller will tell you, it’s usually best to abide by the rules of the places you find yourself in. But when the first rule is that no one still alive should be there, abandoning all hope may be the least of your concerns.

When eleven year old Millie finds herself stepping through the dark and onto a strange looking train, there’s not an awful lot she can do. Without her parents and the comfort of familiar surroundings, Millie is left to ask strangers for help. But the other passengers are silent and sorrowful, looking anywhere but at her – and they won’t tell her the name of the next stop…

WARNING!!! This critique may contain spoilers!!!

What was done well:

When I started reading, I was concerned that the main protagonist (whom the story centres on) was an eleven year old girl.  This is a prickly thing to do for a piece of work that isn’t aimed at children.  A young character must still behave like a child and not a miniature adult and yet you must somehow get your reader to feel a connection to them.  Do this wrong and the whole story falls flat.  Ada, however, subverted my concerns with ease.  Millie’s behaviour drifts between petulance and overwhelmed docility, and she often asks question after question as children her age are want to do.  I can’t help but feel a connection to the lost little girl just trying to make it home.  It affects me on two levels; first it makes me a remember a time when I got lost in a supermarket as a young child and how desolate and panicked I felt – how the few minutes felt like forever; It also strikes a chord with me as a mother and how I would feel if my little girl were lost.  Through believable behaviour and gentle character development, Ada gets the balance just right.

This isn’t the only balancing act Ada does well.  Let’s look at the descriptions.  These can be a nightmare for even the most skilled author.  You need to give enough information so the reader knows what characters and settings look like, but you don’t want pages and pages of information that dictate to the reader what they should imagine – there should always be room for them to envision it with their own personal flair.  Ada strikes the perfect balance, comparing things to something Millie has seen before or by using carefully constructed similes.

The other thing that is done quite well is the mystery.  Ada uses vague terms like ‘the ninth’ and what is going on is never fully explained.  Sure, we get hints here and there.  From what I gather, Millie has woken up and her parents have been murdered.  Somehow she has found herself in limbo/the afterlife/the underworld.  I’m not sure why, particularly since Aidan and Nathaniel make it very clear she is still alive.  It gives a sense of intrigue, pulling you further into the story to find out.

What Could’ve Been Better:

The only thing that could’ve been better is going to sound strange since it was listed above in what was done well.  However, it is featured here because towards the end it began to feel over done.  What I am referring to is the mystery and vagueness.  Initially the balance of this was perfect.  Once we meet Ava … things begin to go downhill.  It isn’t long before we are buried in countless shreds of information about a big war that happened, Aidan’s dark past, and it is hinted that Aidan, Nathaniel and Ava are angels (or some embodiment of this).  Before long, I became more confused than intrigued.  Don’t get me wrong – the mystery is still a great aspect of this story but there comes a time when you need to resolve some of the questions you raised earlier before you introduce more.

Overview:

Given that I only found one thing that could be better versus all the things that sparkled, you can see what an incredible story Underground is.  Overall it feels like a combination of The Divine Comedy and Spirited Away (my favourite book and movie respectively).  It puts an extraordinarily imaginative twist on the journey though the great beyond that I literally could not stop reading.  There were many parts that flowed like poetry, painting such monstrously fantastical settings by fusing archaic interpretations of the circles of hell with more creative, contemporary counterparts.

I highly recommend it!  If you haven’t managed to check out Underground by Ada Redmond yet – what are you waiting for?

Critique of Aconitum by M Howalt

I started reading Aconitum last year.  It was, in fact, one of the first stories I read on Jukepop.  Unfortunately I stalled at the last nine chapters because I have ‘issues’ with stories ending.  I’m glad that at long last, I finally finished reading it.

So without further ado, let’s talk about the magnificent Aconitum by M. Howalt.

Serial Status: Completed.

Grammar/Spelling Rating: 2

AconitumJukepop Synopsis:

As if being a certified werewolf hunter isn’t enough of a moral morass already, Hector Rothenberg hears rumours of a wolf who can change its shape at will, and he realises that he must investigate the truth.
But he needs to hurry up – especially if routine missions keep going almost fatally wrong.

Aconitum is the story of one man’s physical and mental journey. It is also the tale of a society which knows that werewolves are a real threat, of a doctor with a dark secret, a skilled lady in a lucrative business, a rich aunt, a grumpy, old mentor, a cheeky Frenchman, a village idiot, tragic death, romance gone wrong, and a young man who really wanted nothing to do with any of that.
A literary supernatural tale of werewolves, the ones who hunt them, and the people who are caught in the crossfire.

WARNING!!! This critique may contain spoilers!!!

What Was Done Well:

M. is known by many on Jukepop as ‘The Master of the Flashback’ and for good reason.  Aconitum utilises flash backs not necessarily to move the plot along (although sometimes it does) but instead to give depth to characters and aid in world building.  Although we learn about the protagonist, Hector bit by bit in the present, it is through flash backs that we really get to his core and see what motivates and shapes him.  M. also utilises flashbacks to teach you about the world of Aconitum and explore some of the moral dilemmas that stem from this sort of alternative universe.

Leading on from this, M. has clearly put a great deal of thought into the implications of an alternate reality where werewolves not only exist but everyone knows about them.  For instance, it’s not uncommon for somebody to cover up a murder by making it look like a werewolf attack.  Hunters are trained to tell the difference.  This is very realistic – I guarantee this would happen if werewolves were a ‘normal’ thing in our world.  There’s nothing I like more than an author who puts a lot of thought and careful research into their concept.

I could go on about all the things I love about this story (there’s enough to write a book!), but there is one aspect that is without a doubt a shining example of great writing.  First, let’s take a look at the story as it plays out.  It revolves around Hector journeying to find an unusual werewolf.  When he finds said werewolf, he is tasked with bringing him back to Frankfurt.  Throughout the whole ordeal there isn’t any kind of antagonist.  Nobody is plotting against Hector and Royer.  However, if you look closely, you will see there is an antagonist … just not in the traditional sense.  In this story, loss and the fear of loss is the ‘villain’.  It holds Hector back, throwing spanners in the works throughout his life much like a physical antagonist would.  The majority of flashbacks look at Hector establishing relationships with people only to lose them: Hector became a Hunter because he lost his family to a werewolf.  He had a girl he intended to marry but after witnessing a fellow Hunter lose somebody they loved, he decided he couldn’t put the two of them through that and he ends their relationship.  Eventually he loses his hunting partner and then his mentor.  He does not replace any of these relationships either.  He does not seek a new hunting partner or romantic partner nor does he intend to start a family of his own any time soon.  Instead, he deals with each loss by shunning intimate, meaningful relationships with anyone – not an uncommon coping method.  Each loss shapes him into the stoic, solitary man he is when we first meet him.  True he has Sera, but this is different – he has purposely chosen a relationship that he knows can go no further than a sort of ‘friends with benefits’ scenario.  It fulfils his physical needs and his need for human contact and that’s it.  When he meets Royer, he starts to lighten up a little.  Royer can literally get into his mind (in a good way) to understand how he is feeling.  Therefore, Royer is actually the hero of this story, while loss and the fear of loss is the antagonist Royer helps Hector battle and defeat.  I don’t know if this was done intentionally or not, but whatever the case, it was a magical touch that brings the story way ahead of any other.

What Could Have Been Better:

There was only one thing that didn’t gel as well as the rest of the story and that was the ‘finale’.  It is hinted that there is going to be a big uproar when Royer is brought to Frankfurt.  Hector was concerned about it several times in fact.  With that in mind, I expected a little more than a five minute show down with Andreas.  It felt anti-climactic.  Perhaps the scene could’ve been extended, given more tension and drama.  That said, I do understand that the beauty of this story lies in the power borne from its simplicity.  Perhaps the low key ending was intentional.  It’s hard to give a suitable suggestion as I realise Hector facing Andreas alone and hiding his wounds is the real final battle for him.  All the same I feel the scene should pack little more punch (pun not intended).

Overview:

These days, following the popularity of titles like ‘Twilight’, an abundance of ‘supernatural romance’ stories have popped up everywhere, saturating the ‘supernatural’ genre.  There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s starting to feel like once you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.  Aconitum, however, is a glorious breath of fresh air that utilises the supernatural as more than just a ‘forbidden romance’.

M. has a gift when it comes to deep and meaningful story telling.  The thing that stuck out for me, particularly towards the end, is that it almost reads like a pre-emptive prequel – how the dynamic hunting duo of Hector and Royer met.  It’s exciting because I’d love to hear more stories of Hector and Royer.  *hint, hint* :p

I’d recommend Aconitum to anyone, even if they’re not into werewolves or supernatural fiction.  It’s a compelling story, full of rich, well developed characters.

M. Howalt has a facebook page and a blog if anyone wants to check them out!  Also, if you haven’t already, check out M. Howalt’s other story on Jukepop: Conviction.

Critique of Far Flung by T.C.C Edwards

Far Flung by T.C.C Edwards has only got two chapters uploaded (at the time of writing this critique) so it is going to be a little tricky to review.  Two chapters is not much to go by as it may not reflect the overall story.  That said, it is the first few chapters that attract or repel a reader, so I thought this would be an interesting exercise.

Serial Status: Ongoing.  Have read the first two chapters.

Spelling/Grammar rating: 1

Far FlungJukepop Synopsis:

 

William Flynn was ready for his greatest career move ever – reporting from the first human colony outside the solar system. Instead, his ship is sent far across the universe, and its crew is forced to find a new home without hope of help from Earth.

WARNING! This critique may contain spoilers!

What Was Done Well:

The second chapter utilises a captain’s log format.  It was very clever to use reports from vital crew members to not only introduce vital characters but also to give a sense of their personality.  Each one certainly had their own style that conveyed interesting and personal details about the characters.  For example, we learned one character’s ex wife (who they were still close to) died in the collision.  This opens up the possibility that this character will be very emotional.  Most of us have experienced loss to some degree, which makes this character easy to relate to.

What I like most is the prospect of each chapter having a slightly different style and format.  It leaves plenty of room to really explore characters, scene and plot.  In fact, I might go as far as to say it’s literary equivalent of a ‘found footage’ film (only better because it doesn’t make me nauseated.)  It will be interesting to see what format T.C.C will use to convey certain scenes, moods or plot points.  Will we get letters/emails or diary entries?  Will the author throw in a few chapters told from different characters POV?  This sense of mystery is, in itself, enough to propel me from one chapter to another just to see what the next chapter looks like!

What Could Have Been Better:

This one is tough because there are only two chapters.  However, what I am about to mention is more of a personal preference than something that was ‘bad’.  While the mixed format is interesting, the screen play style of the opening chapter didn’t seem like a good choice.  It was hard for me to make an emotional connection to the characters because they were just printed names, dialogue and camera instructions.  I didn’t get to catch any subtle mannerisms or facial expressions.  For example, would a character frown, hesitate, smile or laugh as they spoke?  These might seem like small things but they have a huge impact on character building.  Screen plays/scripts are made in this ‘blank’ manner so the actor/actress can express their interpretation of the character – it is up to them to decide what mannerisms and ticks their character might have.  With that in mind, I don’t think this approach works in the first chapter of a piece like this.  A different format choice would make the opening chapter more accessible and allow your readers to make a better connection to the characters they will be following.  My suggestion is to start with a more traditional style – perhaps a third person narrative so we can look in on some of the characters before branching out into different styles and formats.

Overview:

This is a good and intriguing story even if I personally didn’t get along with the format of the first chapter.  It’s difficult to get an overall picture of a story based on just two chapters, but I would definitely recommend it – particularly if you’re looking for something a little different.

T.C.C Edwards also has a blog you can check out.

Preview: Prodigal Prince

As many of you know, I am currently churning through four critiques off the back of October’s Jukepop Reading Party.  I have been so incredibly busy I’ve had to delay posting them until this coming weekend.  In the meantime I wanted to post a quick ‘preview’ of something I’ve been working on.

You may or may not know that I have been working on a fantasy/high fantasy serial called ‘The Prodigal Prince’.  I had hoped to have it submitted to Jukepop by October but I’ve been so swamped lately and things didn’t quite pan out.

I do, however, have a prologue ready and would like to share it with you as a preview of the story which I hope to be able to put on Jukepop soon.

I don’t have a synopsis as yet, but I can give a general gist of the story:

It takes place in a fantasy world called ‘Iscellenie’.  The land has come under siege by a mysterious man with dark and dangerous powers called the ‘Ravengift’.   The only thing that can stop him is one who bears the same ability.  The trouble is, the only man with that skill is a banished Prince – exiled almost ten years ago because he was born with said power.  Empress Laina sends Kerchane and Muri (her trusted friends and loyal vassals) to find her brother before the mysterious stranger reaches the capital.  Thus begins the race against time as Kerchane and Muri travel the land in search of the Prodigal Prince.

The Prodigal Prince by Kathy Joy

Prologue

 

As something between fog and smoke, it coiled off the salted, frothy waves and towards the harbour.

From his perch on the Eastern Watchtower, Tanni stared wide-eyed as the seething mass clambered up the boardwalk and over the outer wall. The coastal city of Danza was heavily fortified and hadn’t been infiltrated in over five hundred years. Until now.

He hauled himself to his feet. He may have been a scrawny fourteen year old, but his people needed him to be strong and capable. His first watch had been two weeks ago, so he knew well enough what to do. Although fear tickled his insides, trying to shackle his arms and legs in its frigid grasp, he fought against it, bursting up the ladder towards the bell. He had to alert the city. Danza was the first line of defence against invaders to the continent. If he failed, it was not just the city at risk.

On legs as giddy as a newborn foal’s, he ascended the ladder until he made it to the top. The bell hammer sat atop a crate in the corner. Grasping it tightly, Tanni whirled, ready to strike the huge, cast iron bell only to freeze when he saw a tall, thin man in his way. His skin was tanned and weather worn, hair dishevelled and dark and his eyes glimmered like frosted chunks of obsidian. A long grey and brown cloak was slipped over his narrow shoulders, the hem billowing as though teased by the wind.

“You would be wise to stop.” The man’s voice, though quiet, carried powerfully to Tanni’s ears.

“Wh-who are you …?” Tanni forced himself to speak.

The man smiled dolefully. “Such information is useless to you. It will not make your passing any easier.”

Tanni didn’t respond. Instead his mind churned, trying to find some way to reach the bell.

The tower seemed to grow dark, the boards groaning as though strained by too much weight. Shadows grew from the gaps in the wood like weeds overtaking an old, crumbling building. Tanni found himself unable to breathe, as if all the air in the world had vanished; he couldn’t even gasp.

Slowly, the boy slumped to his knees. The bell hammer would soon glide from his limp fingers. So he did the only thing he could; He threw it.

Although the hammer hit the bottom of the bell, it made enough of a resounding clang to alert those in other towers. Soon a chorus of sharp peals sang through the streets, rousing the watchmen into action.

The stranger sighed, turning to the shadows pooling about him. “What a pity.” He paused, turning to glance out the window near him. “No matter. It’s more fun when they run.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

October’s Jukepop Reading Party Critiques.

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Before I begin, I wanted to advise people that I have decided to amend the structure of the reviews. They will still cover what worked best and what could’ve been better, but it has become clear that the way I lay them out needs to change.

First, since many of the serials I have read this month (and will continue to do so every month) may not always be complete, I will first state whether they are complete or ongoing.

Second, rather than spending a line or two talking about spelling and grammar, a serial will be rated as follows:

  • 1: No spelling/grammatical errors found at all.
  • 2: Minimal spelling/grammatical errors and what few I found were minor and appeared in only a few chapters.
  • 3: Spelling/Grammatical mistakes found in quite a few chapters, but still relatively mild as above.
  • 4:  Lots of spelling/grammatical mistakes found but only in a few chapters.
  • 5: Lots of errors found in many chapters, many being serious offenders, such as ‘their’ instead of ‘they’re’.

I decided to adopt this approach because Jukepop stories cannot be critiqued in quite the same way as a published book.  Why, I hear you ask?

Well, first Jukepop is a website designed to accommodate serialised fiction – many of its titles are still ongoing.

More importantly, I’ve always found that Jukepop doubles as an online writing group.  Many authors support other authors by offering constructive feedback on their work.  With this in mind, much of the work can be considered close to a final draft but not quite there yet.  Therefore I feel it pointless to dwell on things like spelling/grammar any more than necessary.  Remember that even work from famous, successful authors will have gone through the publishers editing department before being sold to the public.

So without further ado … here are the four critiques for this months Jukepop Reading Party:

October’s Jukepop Reading Party List

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As many of you know, I am involved in the Jukepop Reading Party, and I often plan the stories I aim to read.  My current list (in no particular order) for the Reading Party kicking off 24th – 25th October is:

Aconitum by M Howalt (I need to finish the last 9 chapters!)

Neither £egal nor Tender by TP Keating

The Chronicles of Tearha: The Number 139 by Aden Ng

Underground by Ada Redmond

Far Flung by T.C.C Edwards

The Writer by Step Hender

Flocked (Volume 2) by Ryan Watt

The Hand of the Morrigan by Kitty Loy

As before, in order to dedicate more time to reading the serials, I will only offer some brief feedback on the last chapter.  A few weeks later, I will submit a more extensive critique on this blog.

Before we touch on the impending reviews, I wanted to talk about something that really made me think when it came to my reviews.  Aden Ng wrote a blog post that touched on what a good, constructive critique should be and also how some authors seem unable to handle negative critiques, leading them to lash out at the reviewer.

I am going to be reading the work of JP authors that I am unfamiliar with – I have never read their work before.  They may indeed be unfamiliar with me.  With this in mind, I would like to stress to them that these ‘reviews’ should be taken as an opportunity to grow as an author.  They are not formal – more an extension of the comments function on Jukepop.  They will be honest but fair.  Authors will not be treated to an ego massage, nor a written ‘bashing’ of their work – neither of these things are useful.  Instead you will receive a balanced critique showcasing the strengths and weaknesses of your work.

In order to do this I will point out what I liked most and what could be better, rather than what was ‘good’ and what was ‘bad’.  The reason I take this approach is:

  • a) In my experience, stories are very rarely ‘bad’.  It might perhaps need a little work, but it is infinitesimally unlikely that it is beyond redemption.  I have yet to read something where I couldn’t find at least one thing I liked in it.
  • b) Work on Jukepop is generally unfinished/ongoing, so I can’t critique it the same way I might a book I bought from a shop.

To me, Jukepop is an online writing group – people offer up their work because they know that it needs a little TLC before taking it further.  Jukepop authors rely on feedback from unbiased third parties to point out things they have missed.  I know from experience that when you comb though the same chapter countless times, the innumerable drafts can merge together, meaning continuity issues and erroneous spelling and/or grammar can and do slip through the net.  Although I will point out spelling and grammar errors, it is important to note that it will merely be a passing comment in the review; I will state that you had some and move on.

My focus will be on what works really well and what could do with improving – whether this is plot, scene, setting, character, dialogue, pace or anything else that may stand out.  These (in my opinion) are by far the most valuable pieces of feedback an author can receive at this stage.  A writer needs to know what parts of their story could use work but it is equally important to see what really shines.

So essentially, you will not find any maliciousness in my reviews.  They will be honest, but they will be fair.  I have already posted two critiques if you want to see the sort of thing to expect:

I am really looking forward to this months Reading Party.  I have decided to focus on serials that have been sitting on my JP bookshelf for a while that I have really been meaning to get into, as well as stories that I’m close to finishing ( I have a problem with stories ending – I often put off reading the last few chapters because when a story ends, especially one I am really enjoying, I go through the five stages of grief!  It really feels like I’ve lost a dear friend).

I might not get through everything, but I know I will thoroughly enjoy trying!

I hope to see many other Jukepop authors/readers joining me in the Jukepop Reading Party.  You don’t need to set such an intimidatingly long reading list as I do and you certainly don’t need to write extensive reviews for each serial; This is something I choose to do in conjunction with the Reading Party.  You could simply aim to get through that one serial you’ve been meaning to finish for some time.  It’s up to you.  Jukepop is such a fantastic community – the Reading Party is just another extension of the support fellow authors show one another.

The Jukepop Reading Party kicks off this weekend!  Good reading to everyone who joins!

September Jukepop Reading Party Review: Keep Walking

I might not have gotten through as many serials as I hoped in this months reading party, but what I did manage was a real treat.

Keep_Walking_(SWP_Cover)_2c93731a_20150611091027AMOne of the serials I had the privilege to read was The Chronicles of TearHa: Keep Walking by Aden Ng.  So what is it about?  The official Jukepop blurb says:

Lucinda Baerrinska, Joashden Stalewaver, and Jacqueline Fertilans have a long road ahead of them. Their destination? The land of clear skies away from the Tainted black air of Katoki.

But to reach their goal, they have to traverse the war-torn landscape of the Walking Path and face the Leviathan’s Helm, a torrential river that no one in history has managed to cross.

Faced with towering Titans, roaming soldiers, and perilous terrain, can they make it to the fabled land in one piece? Can they rely on each other to survive?

Before we get started I need to issue a standard disclaimer:

WARNING: This review contains spoilers!

Moving forward …

What was done well:

First of all I really liked the interesting fantasy world woven here.  It’s part dystopian, part steam punk and part fantasy.  I suppose if I could describe it, I might say it’s Escaflowne meets Attack on Titan meets Gurren Lagann (I’m not sure why they’re all anime references but oh well).  It certainly wasn’t the kind of fantasy setting I was expecting but I quickly fell in love with it.  I like that there is magic, guns, gliders and ‘living’ machines.

Second I liked the opening.  We enter a seedy, smoke filled bar and we start to get a rough outline of the world.  Then we meet our first protagonist.  Enter our two leading ladies and we’re off on an adventure!  You couldn’t ask for a snappier opening sequence.

The thing that really works is the simplicity.  Essentially our three protagonists are making an important journey.  We’re not questing for treasure or important revelations or fulfilling prophecies.  We’re just making a simple, albeit dangerous journey.  Given that this story is only eleven chapters long, this was a smart move because when we do hit peril, it is all the more intense.  My heart pounded as they fought the Rankor and I cried when Jacques died (I actually did!).  I felt that I had gotten to know these characters personally and so I was moved by all that happened to them.

What could have been better:

There were grammatical errors – mostly tense related.  Sometimes this broke my reading pace and I had to collect my thoughts before stepping back in.  As I have mentioned in Ryan Watt’s review, I won’t fault a Jukepop author for this simply because using Jukepop is a sort of preliminary stage for stories – authors submit their work not only to share it but also to find a way to make it better.

The only other ‘flaw’ was the amount of exposition.  For such a short story, there was quite a lot to grasp.  We started talking about the Titan Wars, which sides had what, how the army was conscripting people and how the Titans were alive but not and I felt a little overwhelmed.  Its not like the information is irrelevant either – far from it.  After all, we are crossing a war zone and facing Titans.  Still, I think a work around is needed.  Perhaps adding a few extra scenes would spread it out and make it less overpowering.  My personal suggestion would be to use a flashback sequence.  That way we could spread out necessary exposition in a manageable, easy to digest way .  We already have that brief scene where Luce refuses to kill a Titan.  It would be relatively simple to extend that and incorporate it into the narrative.

Overview:

What we have here is a short but action packed story in a beautifully crafted fantasy world.  Although there are some grammatical errors, it is very close to a final draft.  Not only that, but it is obviously part of a much larger body of work which is super exciting! This is certainly a world I’d like to dive into again.

I’d recommend Chronicles of Tearha: Keep Walking to anyone looking to read a short story in a fantasy world with a unique twist!  Aden Ng also has a blog you can browse through too.

Also, if anyone is interested, October’s Jukepop Reading Party will be Saturday 24th – Sunday 25th.

September Jukepop Reading Party Review: Flocked

The Jukepop Reading Party started during the SWP2015.  I was behind in reading some of the brilliant serials in the competition and decided that in the final weekend I would binge read as many as possible.  Several other authors joined me in this endeavour.  We enjoyed it so much, some of us decided to keep it going every month and thus the Jukepop Reading Party was born!

Essentially the aim is to dedicate the last whole weekend of every month to reading as many serials as possible.  This month, I set up my reading list and did my best to get though it.  In order to ‘cover more ground’, I didn’t offer feedback on every chapter like I normally do, but I wanted to uphold the spirit of Jukepop and it’s authors and offer some feedback and support.  So I opted to do a mini review of all the stories I managed to get through.

One of the serials I had the pleasure of reading was Volume 1 of Ryan Watt’s Flocked.

Flocked_cover_2What is Flocked about?  Well in Ryan’s own words:

Once Upon A Time… kingdoms in trouble had to wait for a wandering hero to come along and save the day. But why wait? The Order of Champions now sanctions Guilds to answer the Call when a loved one is kidnapped, a beast attacks, or a curse is laid.

One such group is the Guild of the Feathers. Most of them are survivors of curses that turned into birds, so who better to help you than someone who has been there already and survived?

And now for the review of Flocked.  I’m sure it goes without saying, but …

WARNING: This review contains spoilers!

What was done well:

Before I begin, I should mention that I have a weakness for myths, lore and fables.  I don’t know why but I’ve always been fascinated by them.  Flocked stands out by delving into myths and fables from across the world.  Such a cacophony of different cultures would normally clash, however, Flocked binds them together seamlessly.  At no point does anything seem out of place.  The result is a rich world that feels like it has no limits.

Another thing I loved was the way curses were handled.  For starters, they have their own specific rules.  For example, one of my favourite aspects was that breaking a curse is not the same as resolving it.  No, in this world if you break the curse, you may be left with some lingering symptoms due to ‘curse fragments’.  Essentially you have literally shattered the curse and parts of it remain inside your body.  This means you are still influenced by the curse but not to the same degree as before.  The consequences of having these fragments can be relatively harmless or really serious and there is always the risk that the effect of the fragments will be worse than the initial curse.  The strength of this concept lies in its simplicity.  I love this idea that curses are quite formulaic and yet no two are quite the same.  They are as unique as their creators (usually powerful magic users such as witches and sorcerers).  A word of advice: in the world of Flocked, never get on the wrong side of somebody who knows magic. EVER.

Moving on, we get a rich array of characters.  My favourite is Torias.  I’m not sure why.  I think part of it is the implication that a person’s curse can start to affect their personality.  For Torias, his penchant for theft seems to stem from his raven curse.  Every so often he will pass something even in human form and have to catch himself because his bird part thinks ‘yeah I’d like that’.  I especially love him as The Blackwing – master thief.  I really enjoyed the chapters where Count Westerberg issues his challenge to the mysterious Blackwing.  This particular ‘mini arc’ was a no holds barred fantasy extravaganza!

What could have been better:

First I’d like to get the ‘worst’ off my chest.  The grammatical errors really let this serial down.  Some chapters were fine but then I suddenly found myself wading through mistake after mistake and it spoiled an otherwise delightful chapter.  For example, there was an instance where the word ‘vile’ was used when it should clearly have been ‘vial’.  These ones are tough because spell check doesn’t pick them up.

I will defend Ryan though.  I know from experience that when you are close to a piece of work, you often miss these little glitches and need a third party to point them out and this is exactly what Jukepop is for – authors supporting other authors to help get each other’s work to a better standard.  The clarity of where the story is going, the mechanics of the world and the clear drives and personalities of the characters show just how close Ryan is to this project.  This, unfortunately, can come with draw backs – one of which is grammatical errors get missed.

Moving on, there was something else I noticed.  It is hinted that princesses are only perceived as weak yet we don’t really come across any that kick some serious ass.  Our heroes don’t go to save a damsel only to find she has already helped herself and just needs a little extra assistance.  What I wanted to see was a ‘damsel’ and ‘hero’ being just as useful as each other; for there to be a situation where neither can get out of a jam without the other.  For example, perhaps a princess could use her wits and smarts to trick her captor into giving the hero the upper hand.  Although many princesses were resilient and independent, they lacked the spark I had been expecting from this story.

Finally, the protagonist Cyril didn’t have as strong a presence, character or voice as the other guild members.  I’d like to be constructive and offer a suggestion to improve this but I honestly can’t say why Cyril doesn’t work for me as well as the others.  His curse story was moving and clever and he seemed like a solid guy … I just didn’t connect with him as well as I did with Torias, Oleg, Taree and Satu.

Overview:

Flocked, as a whole, is a story that needs a hardcore edit but I can see a fantastic, intriguing story glimmering just below the surface. With the right TLC, this is the sort of series I’d be happy to buy from any book shop.

The mini story arc of each Call moves with fantastic pace, taking time to set scene, tone and introduce any new characters and concepts.  Best of all, it doesn’t feel rushed nor does it read like pointless filler.

The villain is also most certainly worthy of a fairytale world with all the trimmings: he is mysterious, nefarious and powerful with secret magical palaces, potent magic and of course a diabolical agenda.

It was refreshing to read a fantasy that isn’t all grit, gore and seriousness as seems to be the trend of late.  Instead it has some beautiful whimsy yet it retains a solid, cogent story line.  It reminds me in many ways of the first fantasy story I fell in love with: Simon R Green’s Blue Moon Rising.  It has been some time since I have tucked into a good and epic fantasy story.  I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys rich world building and deep, interesting characters.

Summer Writing Project 2015 Results!

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Alas I did not win the SWP2015.  However, I do not look upon it as a failure.  No, I choose to see it as an opportunity.

I am going to self publish Lexus on Amazon.  I had already decided that if I didn’t win the competition I was going to do this for two reasons.

First, in the contest I was limited to a 40k word count.  The limitations on length meant that there were certain aspects of Lexus that could have been better.  For example, there is a big rivalry between the titular character Lexus and another pirate called Vendetta but this doesn’t come across in the story.  Instead, she acts as a minor hindrance where before she had been a major obstacle.  Also, J.S.T (the protagonist’s sister) wasn’t as much use as she had been in the original text.  She’s just there, like a cardboard cut out, going through the motions. ‘Yeah I’m the protagonist’s sister, don’t mind me.’  The reason?  A 40k word count limit.  There were so many amazing scenes that got pushed aside for that very reason, leaving some characters severely under developed.  Having said that, I would still like to keep the story quite focused.  I will not be adding any additional characters.  Instead I will extend, add or lightly amend scenes.

The second reason is that I enjoyed writing it, and many people enjoyed reading it.  I really think I’ve found something with Lexus and with the right amount of work, who knows.  It could even become a best seller one day.  I even have some ideas for spin-offs, sequels and prequels.

So a little disappointed but not deflated!

Lexus will be on Jukepop until the end of October.  I know I have a couple of people still reading it, so I will let them finish.

Until then, stay tuned for further updates!

Lexus

space devil cover 2.0

When I started my ‘Creative Summer’ back in the middle of May, one of the tasks I set myself was to enter a novella onto Jukepop as part of the Summer Writing Project 2015.  I knew I wanted to do something different, so I looked through some old projects for inspiration.

That’s when I rediscovered Lexus.  I wrote it when I was 16, but it stayed unfinished because I didn’t know where it was going and I wasn’t really sure how to approach the titular character.  When I picked it back up, it was mostly incomplete with only a brief opening sequence, a few crucial and fragmented middle scenes and the finale written.  So, I thought, what a better way to challenge myself than by getting it together in a few months?

So, what is Lexus about?  Well the official blurb on Jukepop is:

‘Evrin is no stranger to perilous situations. Yet all his experience counts for nothing when he crosses paths with the notorious and deadly pirate Lexus. After a series of unfortunate events, he becomes her prisoner and is forced to fight alongside her just to stay alive. If he doesn’t find a way to escape soon, the only way he’ll make it home is in a body bag.’

Essentially it follows the protagonist Evrin, a retired intergalactic special forces operative, as he becomes tangled in the criminal world through the titular character Lexus – a dangerous, ruthless space pirate.  The central and most prominent themes of the story are corruption, law and order.

It was fun to write but it presented many challenges.  For starters, the original text would easily have been 90k-100k words when completed.  I had to condense the story, concepts and characters into a much more focused story.  This meant singling out the essential parts and stripping away everything else.  I had to dissect the story to understand what made Lexus, well … ‘Lexus’.  The end result was an intense narrative which I think does the story better justice than its initial format which was at best a tangle of characters and sub plots that really didn’t add much.

So … what did I get out of it?  Would I call it a success?

Well, for starters, after the first month of the competition, Lexus was in the top 10, so I was obviously doing something right.  Because of this, I was invited by 1888’s The How The Why to do a podcast along with my fellow authors who were in the top 10 with me.  I’ve never been interviewed before for anything – let alone my own work.  It was nerve-wracking but it boosted my morale.  You can listen to it here.

In the final leg of the ‘race’, I finished in third place in terms of raw votes with just over 900.  I lost out to second place by about 9 votes.  Of course the criteria to win this competition is not just raw votes – after all the serial I came second to has more than twice the number of chapters as I do.  The same goes for many other entries.  What they are looking for is the highest number of unique readers and how many of them followed the story from beginning to end.  Unfortunately I can only determine how many unique readers and views I had – I don’t have access to the stats of other stories.

Winning the competition would be an obvious way to determine the success but the results will not be announced until the 1st of October (and even then they are about 8 hours behind me, so it is likely I will not find out until the morning of 2nd October).

So while raw, objective data would be preferable, I just don’t have it.  Instead, let’s look at the more subjective data of the  feedback for now.

Overall, it seems fairly positive.  Though there were some ‘negative’ ones, they were mostly on the sci-fi elements – such as one hilarious oversight on my part involving a ‘hovering wheelchair’ – the ‘wheel’ in wheelchair being superfluous if it was hovering.  Not bad considering this was my first sci-fi.  So I amended that.  Most readers expressed a connection to the characters, they enjoyed the content and the twists at the end, which I count as a major win.

Here are some examples of feedback towards the end (WARNING SOME OF THESE CONTAIN SPOILERS!):

From Ryan Watt

‘As I sat on the beach, finishing this story today I thought: This is such a wonderful summer beach read story, for the sci fi fan at least. You do amazing action sequences, you use female characters in great roles, you connect people in your world in ways I didn’t expect, and it is just a fun read! Thanks for putting it up here. I am really glad I finally had the chance to read it.’

From Cameron Floyd

‘This was a satisfying end it ties everything up but hints that things might not be over although this might just be my desire for a sequel talking! I have to say as the first thing I have read on this site, this is an excellent example of scifi done differently and well. I enjoyed every minute of it. My only disappointment was in how short this was and how some characters didn’t get as much development as I would have liked but this is still really good. You had some amazing characters, who were fun and interesting and I liked the subterfuge of expectation. I agree with other comments this would make an awesome summer read and that you do have fantastic, fully rounded and powerful female characters! I would be interested in any other projects you have in the works. I can see you have another story on here so I might even read that!’

From M. Howalt

‘This has been a fast-paced space adventure with lots of fun along the way. We’ve seen amazing technology, not-so-lost artifacts and cool weapons, but at the heart of the story are characters motivated by friendship, love, duty, loss, and personal gain, and they all have backstories and plotlines that converge in an organic, believable way. An enjoyable ride! Thank you for sharing it! :)’

From Andre Clemmons

’22 chapters of pure sci-fi awesomness!! It’s like a summer blockbuster of a serial you’ve created here, and it was an amazing experience to read!! Can’t wait to see what else you create here on Jukepop!! :)’

From Cherry Algrave:

‘Wow just wow I have no words for what just happened. I promised no spoilers though so I’ll try to review as best I can. not the way I though it would go but SERIOUSLY Lexus was right Syrus is an [*****]. A huge, gigantic [*****]!!!!! I know this probable makes me less of a person to say so but good on Lexus a little sad Evrin of Tokaiba didn’t really get to take him in. Hope this isn’t the last we see of Lexus! AWESOME FINALE I LOVE IT SO MUCH PLEASE WRITE MORE!!!!!!!!’

From Ellie Barstow:

‘When I heard you were adding the remaining chapters, I waited until they were up and waited to comment until the end. I must say this is not what I expected but this is a compliment! I went back and read this from beginning to end and the clues left are superb and subtle. The tension and action build chapter by chapter until before we realize it we are caught in this hurricane of happenings! I must also say that although not what I expected the ending was fantastic. I could see some comments pressuring a romantic relationship between Evrin and Lexus, but that to me did not seem viable. The thing that worked best was that abrupt killing of Syrus almost out of nowhere. It just worked it tied in with her personality, and everything had been working up to it. Their fight scene was short but strong. I had wondered what two powerhouses like that would do when near each other and it was handled phenomenally. I think you made excellent use of setting and the technology of the world. I also liked how nearer the end all the storylines converged and we saw how connected everyone was. Every character becomes useful – Tokaiba really comes into her own towards the end when her motivations are laid bare. You realize at the end that every flashback and bit of exposition served the end which is how a good story should be. I had been concerned about your use of flashbacks in the grand scheme of things but now I see I needn’t have been! What is most impressive is your integrity. I think Lexus behave consistently and remained an enigmatic, chaotic character up to the end, even when we found out her back story, she still stands as this not quite good but not wholly bad element which binds your whole story together. To say sci-fi is not usually my thing is an understatement but you may well have converted me. I am actually sad to see this story end, but I feel content, the ending tied enough up but left me wondering what would happen to these characters? My only criticism is that some characters were not as developed as other such as JST and Vendetta but given the length of this story that it not surprising. Thank you for a glorious journey! I hope you will submit something else on Jukepop soon!’

All in all, I’d call this a success.  I’ve learnt so much from the experience – the most useful being how to untangle ideas and be harsh about which ones are good for the story and which, though perhaps good, are unnecessary filler.  It was also a great exercise in telling a story in less words than I am used to.  Every scene, bit of dialogue and character had to work over time.  This is something I have always struggled with since I am a stickler for detail.  That being said, there is always room for improvement.

Going forward I plan to submit another project but that’s another subject for another blog post.  What is important now is that lots of people seemed to enjoy Lexus and I’ve improved vital aspects of my writing such as pace, world and character building and relevant exposition.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who read Lexus.  Your comments were really helpful and it meant so much that so many of your were willing to give the story a shot and read it to the end.  If you haven’t read it but are interested, you can check Lexus out here.  Additionally I have a facebook page dedicated to Lexus and any other work that takes place in that universe.

Write of Passage

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Earlier this year I found myself in a writing rut.  I was writing, of course and I had a project on the go, but somehow I couldn’t get it right and I didn’t know why.  I had been working on it for a few years and had 3 books already written, the first being close to a final draft, but something wasn’t right.  I had to do something and quick.

So, I submitted it to Jukepop, a website specialising in serialised stories.  The idea is to add a story a chapter at a time.  Authors and readers often offer feedback through the comments function.  There is also a tool called ‘analytics’ where you can see how many people have read your story, if they drop off after a certain chapter, what the average chapter reading time is and what gender and age they are and even where they’re from to give you an idea of the demographic your story is appealing to.  I had been hesitant to do this.  After all, The Brotherhood (my ongoing project) has taken years to develop.  I didn’t want to give it away for free or worse, risk it getting stolen.  However, this has turned out to be one of the single best decisions I have made in a while.  I received valuable feedback that offered a window into what wasn’t quite working.

This inspired me to try something to jump start my creativity.  I called it my ‘Creative Summer’.  From May to the end of September, I assigned myself certain tasks:

  • Write at least one short story a month and enter it into a competition.
  • Submit a new project to Jukepop to apply all I’d learned from The Brotherhood feedback.

Now while these seem like very simple, easily achievable targets, I would like to point out that I do not do short stories.  I have always worked on much larger pieces, usually a minimum of 90k words.  The Brotherhood project as a whole is likely to span 5 books, with between 100k – 150k words per book.  I do not read short stories either.  I tend to read work that is serialised – such as trilogies or book series (such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson or Lord of the Rings for example).  Getting a congruent story together complete with characters worth caring about and a cogent plot in no more than 2000-3000 words was a nightmare for me.

As for the Jukepop project, I challenged myself to start a new story that was a different genre to The Brotherhood, which is a YA urban fantasy featuring demons and a demon hunting organisation.  There are sci-fi elements as the setting is an alternate reality not all too dissimilar to ours BUT it takes place in the year 2150, so technology has come along a little bit.  My final decision was to go full sci-fi – enough to make it very different from The Brotherhood without being too jarring.

This also happened to coincide with Jukepop/1888/Black Hill Press’ Summer Writing Project 2015, which was perfect.  Essentially, the competition gave you between 1 June 2015 – 30th August 2015 to submit a novella (max 50k words) a chapter at a time.  Readers could vote per chapter, but essentially the 3 winners would be the ones with the most unique readers who followed the story from beginning to end.  So I entered my sci-fi project Lexus.  Not only was I creating something shorter than I was used to but I was also using a genre I have little experience writing in order to push me out of my comfort zone.

This blog will look at how much success I had with this venture as well as my plans for the future.

As a closing statement I would say that if anyone is looking for a writing community, Jukepop is the one for you.  Fellow authors are amazingly supportive, they offer invaluable feedback and there are some fantastic stories posted on there by some incredible authors.  Best of all, its free!

Although you have to sign up for an account, you don’t get spammed and you don’t have to give a million and one personal details.  The minimum you need to give is your email address.  That’s right, you can leave all other fields blank – you don’t even need to give your name.  Of course, the more information you give the better, because this helps other authors with the analytics I mentioned earlier.  For example, if you fill in your DOB, gender and what country you are from, an author gets an idea of who their story appeals to.  They won’t see these details of course; only that a certain number of people of a certain age bracket from a certain country voted and read their story.  Names will be left out of it.

Your profile will only show your name and where you are from (if you provided these details).  You have the option to give as much or as little of your address as you are comfortable with.  Most people merely put which country they are from while a few also put down what county/state.

The only emails you receive from Jukepop are notifications when serials on your bookshelf have a new chapter uploaded (think of the bookshelf like your list on Netflix – you can queue as many stories as you are interested in to read at your leisure) and when somebody has replied to a comment you have left or written on your wall.  Even then you can set these to daily, weekly or off altogether.  So no emails from third parties.  No Nigerian Princes.  No viagra or penis enlargements.  Just useful, relevant stuff which, as mentioned, you can turn off anyway.  Great, right?

So a free to join community that does not spam and is chock full of supportive members – what more could you ask for …?  A mobile/tablet app you say?  They have that too!

Honestly, I don’t think I would’ve come half as far as I have this past summer without Jukepop and its wonderful authors and readers!  So what are you waiting for?