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?

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.

Learning to Breathe Again

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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.

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!