Publishers, sheesh

Here’s a blog post by Alma Alexander at Book View Cafe: Closing the Circle

I’m going to pull out the part of the story that struck me the hardest:

I went to New Zealand, and I made the acquaintance of several editors there. … this guy said, we’ll publish this. But yikes, a quarter of  a million words! You’re a newbie! Split that puppy and we’ll do a duology! That is what happened, ladies and gentlemen, back in the days of the close of the old millennium and the dawn of the new one. The duology – now known as “Changer of Days” volume I and volume II. …

But the drawback was that the first half of this thing which was now book I ended on a wholly unintended cliffhanger from hell 

I moved to the States, and so did my work – and “Changer” got picked up and republished, still as a duology, by Harper Collins. …

At some point the publisher in their infinite wisdom decided to let book 2 … go out of print. Remember that cliffhanger? That was all that existed now. You could still buy book one but what you could NOT buy was a conclusion.

I mean, honest to God, this is the kind of thing that gives traditional publishing the worst of bad names. This. Not the gatekeeping function. That is fine. Not how hard it is to get traditionally published. That’s fine too. As many people defend both of those factors as hate them. But this? Letting the back of a duology go out of print while keeping the front half in print?


So, anyway, Alma has brought out Changer of Days, both halves, in one volume. That’s now available.

Took her seven years to get the rights back to the first book. I wonder how she did that. I’ll have to ask sometime. Regardless, I’m sure it’s a great relief to her to have the whole thing available again.

While I’m on this subject, for several years at least, the FIRST and THIRD Griffin Mage books have been available in audio format from Audible, but the SECOND book is not available.

Yes, I have mentioned this problem to Hatchette from time to time. Now that I’m thinking of it, I should do it again.

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Keraunani: finished, part 2

Okay, so, this weekend I had a satisfying time going through this whole manuscript with everyone’s comments and critiques in mind. I’m glad to say that the story has gotten a pretty enthusiastic thumbs up from everyone who’s read it so far. The three readers all commented on and emphasized different things, as is, of course, always the case.

Kim asked me to better clarify the different kinds of marriage recognized by the Lau. This was tricky. It’s all pretty well defined in my head, but it’s always difficult to have characters think explicitly about things everyone knows. I hope the story includes enough to satisfy readers who are curious about this. I don’t think there’s enough to bore readers who don’t care.

Kim also suggested a couple of REALLY OBVIOUS changes to where I’d made chapter breaks. Her suggestions were completely correct and work much better than where I’d put those breaks initially. Revising those breaks took longer than everything else put together, but the effort was very much worthwhile.

Mary Beth made me understand some things about the deeper narrative structure that I hadn’t clearly conceptualized, which was very helpful. Sometimes I’m amazed what I can miss while writing a novel.

Sharon Shinn told me she loved it, but hello, maybe I should add a kiss. So I did. I just sent her that scene to see what she thinks, but probably the finished version is going to include that kiss. I think (not completely sure) that this is the first on-camera kiss I’ve ever put in a book. It’s still barely there, but yeah, it’s there.

Anyway! I’m pretty sure this is the final version, or as nearly as makes no difference. It’s a bit longer now — 98,000 words or so, plus I’ve added the first fifteen pages or thereabouts from Tasmakat. That part may change before January, but I’m pretty happy with that scene as it stands.

The story is certainly going to remain fundamentally in the braided narrative format, with a backstory narrative alternating with the present-day narrative. Although Lalani plays a large role, her presence is reduced as the story continues and as we see what else about Esau’s backstory, what other relationships, have caused him to become the man he is and why he and Keraunani are right for each other. Although the romantic element is certainly present, I think those of you who like an adventurous story will be quite pleased with this book. I certainly am. Honestly, this was tremendous fun to write.

The chapters do strictly alternate, so that should be clear, but I’m aware that this kind of narrative structure can still be disorienting to the reader. I’ve changed the backstory narrative to a different font, which I hope will help orient readers as they turn pages. I think everyone will certainly turn pages, often in a hurry. I’m definitely chortling as I envision you all hitting some of the chapter breaks — I hope you find those breaks more fun than frustrating — anyway, you all know that this story is fun, not tragic, which ought to help when I occasionally break a scene in the middle of the action.

Several people have asked me whether I wrote this book from front to back. That’s a very reasonable question considering the format. The answer is No. I wrote chapter 1, chapter 2, then most of the backstory narrative, then stepped back and wrote most of the present-day narrative, then rearranged where chapter breaks took place and fiddled around with making the backstory more clearly support the present-day narrative. Then I wrote most of the last chapter, paused, and finally wrote that last scene. It was not exactly difficult, but it was intense in a different way than, say, the bandit scene.

Things that still need to happen:

1) I’m going to drop this into KDP, get a review copy, let my dad read it for fun, ask my mother to read it for typos, and fix whatever she finds.

2) Then I’m going to correct those typos, get another review copy, and go over it in paper myself with a fine-toothed comb.

3) After THAT, I will ask some of you to read through the manuscript for any remaining typos, which, see above, ought to be in short supply by that time.

4) If the cover artist can guarantee me a cover in January, I’ll see if I can put the book up for preorder with a blank or fake cover.

The animal on the cover is going to be a falcon, by the way. That will work. I mean, I deliberately tweaked the story to make sure it would work, and it will. It’ll be something like a prairie falcon — definitely not a falcon that is obviously male, such as a male kestrel.

Below, the first page or so of Keraunani.

Esau rode into Pitasosa alone, on a bay gelding, with a pretty black mare on a lead rein. He wore the uniform and the weapons and the attitude of a professional soldier, which he was; and the badge of a commander, which might overstate his rank by just a bit; and the colors of the new lord of Lorellan, to which he was not remotely entitled.

The new lord of the county, Barent Rava Picat, had been a provincial magistrate in some county way south, then later taken an appointment as a lord magistrate of the king’s court in Avaras. Picat wasn’t exactly nobly-born, but he shared about three drops of blood with the king, being some kind of distant cousin’s by-blow on the wrong side of the bed. One or another of his various qualifications had led Soretes Aman Shavet, Regat Sul, king of the summer country, to hand him the county of Lorellan when the king declared every member of the previous lord’s family attainted and vacated the title. Hard on the family, but a lot of ’em had wound up thoroughly enthralled, and the king, reasonably enough, didn’t trust any of them with the job of hammering the county back into good shape and good sense.

Esau had twice gotten a chance to look over the new lord, when Lord Gaur had met with him, sorting out one thing and another. Barent Rava Picat had impressed him as a hard-eyed, cold-mannered, sharp-witted man who wasn’t likely to miss much and was even less likely to put up with any kind of nonsense. Esau didn’t intend to encounter him on this visit. Definitely not while wearing his colors. That would be awkward.

No real chance of that, though. The new Lord Lorellan was not in Pitasosa. He was in Tarasan, the capital of the county, deeply engaged with sorting out ten thousand problems which the previous lord had left behind when he’d enthralled a few thousand people and made a bid for the crown. That kind of gods-hated mess would probably take forty years to put right. There was a job Esau was glad enough to leave to someone else.

His own job was simple: Get to Pitasosa, find a girl, get her out of this town and away from the disaster that was about to come down like a big, big hammer on way too many people here. Marry her real quick, nice and tight and legal, so there’d be no questions later about the babe she was carrying. Then he could just set her up someplace where she’d be safe and comfortable, and he’d be done.

It was a lot of trouble to go to for one girl and her brat, that was his personal opinion, but from time to time Esau had gone to considerably more trouble for a lot less reason. He figured the whole thing ought to take less than a month, counting travel time, and then he’d wind up with a solid tickmark on the good deed side of the ledger and a very nice bonus for the successful completion of an independent mission. He’d also wind up with a wife, sure, but as long as she had a thimbleful of common sense, there was no reason either of them should be any particular inconvenience for the other. …

As I’m sure you realize, Esau’s blasé attitude about this mission is rapidly shown to be deeply mistaken.

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I wish I could say I did all that on purpose

A post at Paradox World:

The first sentence of Rachel Neumeier’s novel, Tuyo, widens the view before narrowing it again: “Beside the coals of the dying fire, within the trampled borders of our abandoned camp, surrounded by the great forest of the winter country, I waited for a terrible death.” 

This is a sentence almost like a camera trick. First, we have a narrow focus: “Beside the coals of a dying fire.” Then, we back out to a slightly wider view: “within the trampled borders of our abandoned camp.” A campfire is a small circle. The borders of a camp is a larger one. Next, we zoom to a very high altitude view: “surrounded by the great forest of the winter country.” We’d need to move to a mountain top or a bird’s eye to see an entire forest or an entire country. Suddenly, the focus is very tight again: “I” – one person, one face. And last, “waited for a terrible death,” prepares us for a final fade to black. Neumeier has written a truly cinematic sentence. 

In another way, the sentence is dramatic rather than subtle. There are six words in the lexical field of death and endings: coals, dying, trampled, abandoned, winter, and death. 

So there are!

This is a wonderful analysis of this sentence. I only wish I could claim to have done all this on purpose.

Or maybe I don’t wish that. I suspect it’s probably less stressful to do it by feel than with analysis and intention.

While poking around on this blog, I found a bunch of posts about first sentences, all of which are thoughtful and insightful.

Here’s another one I feel like pulling out. I suspect lots of us have read it.

A January gale was roaring up the Channel, blustering loudly, and bearing on its bosom rain squalls whose big drops rattled loudly on the tarpaulin clothing of those among the officers whose duties kept them on deck.

Who recognized that one?

It’s the first Hornblower book. The analysis of this sentence is well worth reading.

The story begins in 1796, and the first sentence has some flavor of that time. Forester paid attention to the sound of the words. Notice the sets of alliteration (words that start with the same consonants): “blustering loudly, and bearing on its bosom,” “duties kept them on deck.” He repeated the word “loudly.” In the second phrase that contains it, “big drops rattled loudly” the strong beats of the rhythm (´, ´, ´-, ´-) thump like the raindrops do. The sentence lends itself to reading aloud, with varying rhythms and repeating sounds. 

Reading it aloud also makes it easier to understand. With only two commas in thirty-nine words, the sentence could use the vocal expression of a good reader to help group the words into meaning. 

By all means click through and read the whole thing.

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Maybe it’s not your plot

From Jane Friedman’s blog: Maybe It’s Not Your Plot

Plot is the number one thing novelists and would-be novelists tend to struggle with, and it’s what people come to us for help with, day after day.

But eight times out of ten, as I see it, that’s not really the problem at all. The problem is that these writers don’t understand their protagonist’s character arc.

Because while a plot full of trouble, twists, suspense, and reveals will keep the reader turning the pages, in the end, it’s not the external events of the story that make a novel feel meaningful—it’s the internal journey that the protagonist has made along the way.

I see myself in this. Yes, I’m looking into a definite mirror there. It took me quite a long time to think about character arcs, and I too would have said the plot was the problem.

I still say plotting is hard — hey, plotting is genuinely hard — but now I think I’m a lot quicker to segue from there to thinking about character arcs in addition to plot. That’s something my agent taught me to do, I think, simply by talking about character arcs in her (extensive) editorial notes. Eventually I started to think about that myself.

I mean, not in great detail. This is similar to not sitting down and writing out the character’s backstory and history in excruciating detail, as I understand some writers do. I definitely don’t sit down and write out the character arc in explicit detail. But I do pause to consider the protagonist’s character arc in, I don’t know, three to five words or whatever, just as I have a basic idea of what the protagonist’s backstory feels like.

I remember, or I think I remember, a suggestion that Oressa might be too competent to begin with in The Mountain of Kept Memory, and therefore might have too little room to grow during the course of the story. I wasn’t going to make her less competent, but I believe that’s when I explicitly defined her character arc as hiding –> stepping into the open. Just a few words, but that’s what I meant her arc to be, and I think it worked quite well.

Every now and then, I take a stab at listing out my books in order of my personal preference. (Twice someone has asked me, so I’ve tried to do it.) The order changes continually, but Mountain is generally pretty near the top. Depending on the day you asked me, it might be my second-favorite after Tuyo/Tarashana.

Back to the actual topic:

[Character arc is] not as obvious as the events of the plot. If someone challenged you to sum up the character arc of a book you recently read and loved, you probably couldn’t do it. But long after you’ve forgotten the events of the plot, you’ll remember how that book made you feel—and whatever strong emotions that story evoked, I can virtually guarantee you, were an effect of its character arc.

That’s kind of an interesting challenge. I think I generally COULD sum up the character arc of the protagonist for many or all of the books I recently read and loved. I’m thinking of The Hands of the Emperor here. Goddard pretty much whaps the reader over the head with that character arc. Actually, Cliopher’s arc is similar to Oressa’s, now that I think of it, except more drawn out, more extensive — just a lot more overall — and playing out against a very different family dynamic. But I could also summarize the character arcs for, I don’t know, Sword Dance, which is the book I’m reading right now. I don’t have to actually finish the third book to lay out the basic character arcs for the two protagonists. Being confident I know where the third book is heading is what makes it comfortable and inviting for me to pick up when I’m not interested in high-tension books right now.

But also this:

Character arc is often the key to the other big thing writers tend to struggle with, which is motivation. Because when the internal journey your protagonist takes in the course of their story aligns clearly with some deep personal truth of your own, that’s where the lights really come on with a novel. Which is to say, that’s when writing it begins to feel urgent and meaningful. Because that’s when you go beyond simply telling a story to sharing real truths of your own life, the truths of your heart.

Character arc is the limiting factor—the one that will turn your maze, with all those possible dead ends, into a labyrinth, which only leads just one place: To the heart of the story.

I feel like that’s true. I also feel like I need to think about that for a bit.

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Weird experiences for a Writer

Okay, so, first: If you write, do you ever go back and re-read a book of your own that you wrote some time ago?

I sometimes see comments here and there about this, so I know that, like practically everything else, this varies widely, with some authors never re-reading their own books and others doing so rather routinely. I’m in the latter category. There are two reasons I re-read books of my own:

a) I’m writing a series novel and I need to re-read one or more earlier books or stories in order to remind myself what happened and also to recapture the appropriate voice(s). I tend to fall back into a specific character’s voice easily, but re-reading definitely helps.

b) I just feel like it.

Oh, one more reason, come to think of it, that is sort of a subset of those above but also kind of distinct:

c) Somebody wrote me a really nice letter about a book of mine and that made me want to open up that book and re-read at least parts of it, maybe with an eye to a possible sequel for the future and maybe just because.

That happened a few months ago when several people wrote me nice letters about The Sphere of the Winds in one week, thus prompting me to re-read The Floating Islands and The Sphere of the Winds almost straight through and then take extensive notes about a possible sequel. (Extensive for me; a three-page synopsis with a couple of “then stuff happens” fillers.)

However, for no reason in particular, I recently just felt like re-reading The White Road of the Moon. So I did. I started by opening it in the middle and reading a bit of one scene, but then I went back to the beginning and read the whole thing straight through.

The White Road of the Moon by [Rachel Neumeier]

What a strange experience! Turns out that I remember the original unpublishable trilogy — working title, the Ghost trilogy — quite a lot better than the final version of this book. Or you might say, I remember both versions, sort of superimposed on each other. I would hit scenes and wait for a character to appear even though I remember cutting that character! I would think doubtfully, “But doesn’t he get at least a couple of lines in here someplace?” Nope. Completely gone. Which I knew, but had a hard time believing.

Also, I really did not remember details of a lot of the scenes. There’d be all this stuff going on, and maybe some quite funny dialogue, and I’d be reading this in some surprise because I don’t remember writing that! I mean, I do remember the broad outline of the scene, plus the original scene it was based on, but not all the details and definitely not all the dialogue. I’m thinking of the prison escape scene in particular, which changed a lot between the original version and the final version. In this book, the first third is almost straight from the Ghost trilogy with only an ordinary amount of revision, then scenes change more and more, and almost nothing from the final third came out of the Ghost trilogy, and that has very perceptible to me as the story felt less and less familiar as I read through it from front to back.

White Road came out in 2017, which means, I guess, that I probably wrote it in 2016, maybe even earlier. So it’s been at least five years. I haven’t ever picked it up and read bits of it since then, so I guess it makes sense that I don’t remember it that well?

Still, that was very different from re-reading the Tenai book as I broke it up and revised it into the Death’s Lady trilogy. I think the difference was, I had the original Ghost trilogy AND the original Tenai story just about memorized, but the Ghost trilogy changed a lot as parts of it morphed into The White Road of the Moon, while the Tenai story, as much time as I put into revision — which was great heaping gobs of time, believe me — changed much less in terms of the broad story.

Another surprise: Wow, is The White Road of the Moon fast-paced. Re-reading it makes me sort of feel like setting that as a new challenge for myself: write something even more breakneck than this. Whoosh! Once the action starts, well, I think there’s one scene where the characters get a chance to catch their breath, maybe two, but overall, pretty darn nonstop.

I do see some things I would do differently, mostly small-scale things. I promise I am taking beta readers seriously when they say, “Is this sentence repetitive?” Probably, yeah. I’m doing the final revision of Keraunani now, and any time a bet a reader says “Repetitive?” I am just taking out that sentence without bothering to scan up and down and look for other places where I might have said whatever that was. I bet I could have trimmed fifty repetitive sentences out of White Road. When you’re revising, it’s actually pretty hard to see this. You forget you said something two pages ago because you’re going back and forth so much rather than straight ahead, or whatever. But this is something I think I’ll be more conscious of now.

Overall, I liked this book quite a bit. It does make me want to go re-read some scenes from the original ghost trilogy. Maybe even clip some of those scenes, drop them in new files, and put those files on the desktop, where I keep stuff I’m currently working on or want to work on in the fairly near future. (I’ve got a lot of stuff on the desktop right now, you bet.)

I will also just note in passing that The Year’s Midnight, which came out this year, has 46 reviews on Amazon, while The White Road, which came out five years ago, has just 16 reviews. This is largely because publishers are absolutely dismal when it comes to getting people to leave reviews. If you have read The White Road of the Moon and liked it, but haven’t left a review, how about clicking through now and writing a couple sentences?

Also, 50 is a nice round number that is widely suspected to be noticed by Amazon algorithms. It’d be nice if The Year’s Midnight collected another four reviews.

As always, if you have already left reviews for either or both books, thank you!

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Rewriting the beginning

Here’s a post at Women Writers, Women’s Books: Unstuck: Writing the Beginning Over and Over

There are as many ways to become stuck as there are plot twists in a great whodunit. Last month we explored being stuck as you try to find your way into your story. This month let’s examine another common trap:  

Stuck Writing the Beginning Over and Over

Sometimes we must scrap everything and start over. But way more often we only want to scrap everything and start over. 

Maybe we’ve gotten feedback that makes us re-consider our original story idea. Maybe we have a different idea of a character’s motivation. All of these thoughts and concerns are good! Keep a notebook and write them down. 

But it’s also important to keep moving forward.

I’m pretty sure this has never happened to me. Wait, you know what, I’ll just be definite: This has never happened to me.

I HATE scrapping ANYTHING until I have, oh, 80,000 words down and can see that I’m nowhere near finished. At that point I suddenly switch to wielding an enthusiastic ax. I may pause and cut stuff right then or I may just assure myself that I’ll be cutting later, so it’s fine. (Spoiler: it’s not always fine. This is when I start to wince as I see that a project is going to be a lot longer than I had expected / wanted / hoped.

Anyway, I always, or nearly always, really like my beginning scenes.

Still, this post is making some good points.

As writers, we’re learning useful things (details, character traits, overall themes) as we write our first chapters; for some of us, writing is the only way we can learn them. Others may have traits and themes, etc., plotted out beforehand, but the actual writing always brings some surprises. Characters come across differently on the page than they do in our heads.

This resonates a lot more. For me, I’m definitely learning about the characters and the world as I write those first chapters. It’s true I often revise to some degree, as I figure out more stuff about the characters and the world. Usually the very beginning doesn’t have to be revised all that much. For me, it’s the late beginning or the early middle. That’s the section that’s more likely to be scrapped entirely.

But look at this:

I think of scenes as chapters so when I’ve written the first scene —knowing it will be re-tooled in revision—I write the last two sentences of that scene then take the second one out and use it as the first sentence in the next scene. (I’m trying to fool myself into taking this sentence out so the next page must be turned.)

What a neat idea that is! I often struggle a bit with chapter breaks. This sounds like a sort of neat way to try out different breaks rapidly and decide which feels best.

It’s a pretty good post. By all means click through and read it if you’ve got a minute.

Hat tip: The Passive Voice.

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Wow, talk about a Revision from Hell

A post from Writer Unboxed: The Sweatbox: Losing the Magic of Writing

This post is not at all what I thought it would be! It’s not a bit about losing flow or losing focus or anything of the kind. It’s about revision. Specifically, the revision of the Disney movie “The Emperor’s New Groove” from start to finish.

I haven’t seen it. Nothing about the promos appealed to me. But wow, is this a story about revision!

Named after what the original Walt Disney crew called their screening room—at the time, a wooden shack with no air conditioning—this documentary depicted the wild ride that was the production of The Kingdom of the Sun, which would eventually turn into The Emperor’s New Groove. Why Disney apparently banned the documentary from further distribution, however, was less due to it being about an unfinished movie and more about the grueling process of writing itself–particularly, how often the final project becomes something nearly unrecognizable from its bright-eyed beginnings. The sweatbox, in so many words, is the unhappiest place on earth.

You would not BELIEVE the revision this movie went through.

The Prince and the Pauper plot, the blotting out the sun plot, both love interest plots, and the mystical origins plot were all cut. What remained was a simpler premise: A spoiled young man learns humility after being transformed into a llama.

Virtually all secondary characters were either combined or removed

Due to the immense changes in plot, Sting’s entire slew of eight (originally accepted) songs were scrapped. Previously thinking he had just a few days left on the project before the first sweatbox, he now had to start over. Due to his own time constraints, he could only produce two new songs.

But that’s not all!

In a surprising turn of events, the Disney heads approved of the film overall, but Sting did not. In an approach that seemed both passionate and uncharacteristically shy, Sting wrote a letter to the team, saying he was greatly disappointed in the ending and felt it negated the story’s core values and purpose. The team, including the Disney heads themselves, decided that Sting was right and called a meeting. With the clock ticking dangerously close to deadline, they changed the ending.

Not only did aspects of the movie’s tone still need to shift, but the entire instrumental score needed to be redone. The composer was ultimately (though respectfully) released, causing a scurry from the team to find a new composer to start from scratch before their deadline mere months away.

Wow. I mean, wow.

Take home message from the linked post: Everybody, even Disney has to do a lot of messy revision. It’s fine if you have to do this too.

Well, I don’t know. That sounds remarkably, extraordinarily messy to me. I say that as someone who’s done plenty of revision, twice. I mean, minor revision all the time, moderate revision some of the time, and a hell of a lot of revision twice. But the above sounds like it goes way out beyond revision to writing a different story entirely, even if the final product kept one item (young man gets turned into llama) from the original.

I don’t think everyone does THAT much revision all the time, or in fact very often at all.

Of course the most massive revision I’ve ever done was to turn the Unpublishable First Trilogy into (a) Winter of Ice and Iron, and (B) The White Road of the Moon. Wow, that was a ton of work.

But even there I didn’t throw away 90% of the plot and all the secondary characters! No way! I split the important characters between the two books, but I saved most of them. Only a handful got cut entirely. Mind you, they were very cool characters. Maybe someday I’ll write something where I can use those characters.

Then one book got the basic original plot and the other got a basically new plot.

But no matter how dramatic all this was, that’s still different from, what, keeping the element “girl can see ghosts” and scrapping literally everything else. THAT is the kind of thing that happened to that Disney movie!

Anyway, wow, I’m blown away that Disney actually persisted through all that and came out with a finished movie.

But I’m still not particularly inclined to rush out and watch it. Unless any of you give it an enthusiastic thumbs up. How about it? Have any of you watched this?

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Choose Your Own Adventure — In a Familiar Fantasy World

How very interesting this is!

Choose Your Own Adventure: Burn For Me

From Ilona Andrews’ blog:

Do you remember choose your own adventure books? Well, now they have been adapted into games you can play on your mobile devices. One of the companies offering these games is Crazy Maple Studios. One of the games they will be offering on October 30th is Burn For Me.

Full disclosure: this is an adaptation. We have no idea how close it is to the source material. Because they had to mess with the story line to make it interactive, there is no telling what kind of branching plot they ended up with. We had no input. We’re just sitting back and collecting a small percentage of the sales. I’m excited, because I suspect hilarity will occur. Hehe.

Burn for Me is the first enemies-to-lovers book I thought of when I did a recent post about that trope; Ilona Andrews is one of the few authors who pulled that off in a way I didn’t merely tolerate, but truly enjoyed. I didn’t really expect that, but yep. This series, at least the first trilogy of this series, is probably my favorite of Ilona Andrews’ books. Here’s the description from Amazon:

Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile situation. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire. Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run and wanting to surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

See, enemies-to-lovers. They’re married by the end of the first trilogy. Honestly, this does work very well.

Here’s the post that includes links to the game.

I am very tempted! Much more so than for adaptations such as, say, graphic novels. I sometimes love original graphic novels — such as Sandman, for example — but I haven’t been at all impressed by graphic novels based on familiar novels, such as Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. That’s what I thought of first. I tried that and didn’t like it. The graphic novel format removes nearly all the thoughts and, I don’t know, the depth, that is part of the novel. The artwork isn’t enough to make up for that loss.

But this choose-your-own-adventure version sounds like a lot more fun than a graphic novel.

All right, I’ve downloaded the app and loaded Burn for Me. We’ll see how it works! I hope it’s loaded in a way that will let me play it offline, because otherwise I won’t be able to play it at all when I’m at home. I’ll try it out later and see how it works.

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Fever dreams

Here’s an interesting, unusual topic for a list of books: FEVER DREAM NOVELS: 7 GREAT BOOKS THAT YOU’LL READ IN A MAD, DISORIENTING DASH

I’m not sure how often I’m interested in a novel that could be described that way, but I’m immediately intrigued by the idea, not repulsed. I thought at once of Piranasi, though I’m not sure that’s fair. The narrative there is not exactly disorienting. The setting is a bit like a fever dream, and we don’t know what’s going on for quite some time, but still, I don’t know I’d include this title on a list like this, even though it did leap to mind. I’m not sure what I would include on a list like this. This is from at Crime Reads, so I’m assuming we’ll be seeing mysteries or thrillers. Oh, considering thrillers makes me think of another candidate!

The Breach and other novels by Patrick Lee.

Ghost Country (Travis Chase Series Book 2)

There’s so much weirdness in these stories, starting with What’s going on? and then to Wait, is this really happening? Spoiler: sometimes it’s not really happening! There are a whole bunch of truly shocking plot twists in this series. It does take a certain degree of suspension of disbelief, but these are wonderful thrillers. Patrick Lee is a great writer at the sentence level as well as the plot-twist level.

Let me see what’s actually here on this Crime Reads post …

Nothing I’ve heard of; no real surprise as I don’t read all that many thrillers and tend to prefer historical mysteries to the sort that could be described as fever dreams. Let me just see, though … Hmm, of these seven books, this is the one that sounds most intriguing to me:

A little boy’s disappearance ripples through an entire community in this unconventional book with a heavy dose of folklore. It uses an experimental style and poetic language to weave a tale of small town gossip, blame, and grief, almost like a modern fairytale. This is a quick read that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

Hmm. Gossip, blame, and grief; that doesn’t sound great. Yet I still clicked through to take a closer look on Amazon. Here’s the top review there:

What an extraordinary book. Its delicate but perfect form leaves me with no real way to use my own ordinary language to describe it except to say that it’s extraordinary. Beautiful. Lanny and Pete and Jolie will linger in my mind and heart, and Dead Papa Toothwort was terrifying and so much more viscerally true than our benign ideas of Mother Nature, even though both are creative forces. … Part 2 was extraordinary, just the most perfect form for that part of the story, and especially coming on the heels of the ordinary narrative of Part 1. But Part 3 just kept me on the edge of my seat, reading as fast as I could but also being terrified of what I might read. 

You know what, I think I’ll pick up a sample. I don’t know that I want to read this right now, but I think I do want to try it eventually.

Meanwhile, I’ve thought of another more title that might belong on this sort of list:

Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls

Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls by [Matt Ruff]

Andy Gage was born in 1965 and murdered not long after by his stepfather. . . . It was no ordinary murder. Though the torture and abuse that killed him were real, Andy Gage’s death wasn’t. Only his soul actually died, and when it died, it broke in pieces. Then the pieces became souls in their own right, coinheritors of Andy Gage’s life. . . .

Andy’s new coworker, Penny Driver, is also a multiple personality, a fact that Penny is only partially aware of. When several of Penny’s other souls ask Andy for help, Andy reluctantly agrees, setting in motion a chain of events that threatens to destroy the stability of the house. Now Andy and Penny must work together to uncover a terrible secret that Andy has been keeping . . . from himself.

It’s been some years since I read this book. I liked it a lot. I don’t remember it that well, but I know the torture-and-abuse backstory isn’t too graphic in the novel and that the ending isn’t too grim, but it’s weird in the right way for this kind of list. I ought to re-read it. I see from glancing at Ruff’s other titles that he probably specializes in Wait, is this real? storytelling. I’m going to get a sample of Bad Monkeys while I’m at it.

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Would you turn the page

Another “Flogging the Pro” post at Writer Unboxed. I’ve found the past couple posts of this type so interesting, so I’m keeping a casual eye out for them now. Here’s the latest.

Remember, these posts are pulled from #1 NYT bestsellers.

This novel was number one on the New York Times paperback trade fiction bestseller list for October 24, 2021. How strong is the opening page—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

Here’s the opening of this novel:

As I sit here with one foot on either side of the ledge, looking down from twelve stories above the streets of Boston, I can’t help but think about suicide.

Not my own. I like my life enough to want to see it through.

I’m more focused on other people, and how they ultimately come to the decision to just end their own lives. Do they ever regret it? In the moment after letting go and the second before they make impact, there has to be a little bit of remorse in that brief free fall. Do they look at the ground as it rushes toward them and think, “Well, crap. This was a bad idea.”

Somehow, I think not.

I think about death a lot. Particularly today, considering I just— twelve hours earlier— gave one of the most epic eulogies the people of Plethora, Maine, have ever witnessed. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the most epic. It very well could be considered the most disastrous. I guess that would depend on whether you were asking my mother or me. My mother, who probably won’t speak to me for a solid year after today.

Okay, what do you think?

I don’t like the narrator. I think she — to me this sounds like a female voice — I think she sounds thoroughly pretentious. This is an affected, superior manner. Or that’s how she comes across to me in this opening. Not my OWN. I wouldn’t think about suicide, unlike OTHER people. She sounds self-satisfied. As I said, I don’t like her.

I don’t dislike the opening scene — someone sitting on a ledge way up in the air — but I’m not interested in the narrator or the eulogy she gave. I’m also flinching from what seems like possibly toxic family relationships.

Now, I do think that saying, “Does this opening work? You be the judge!” does put people — me for sure — in a super-judgy frame of mind that is not helpful to any first page.

On the other hand, when I click on samples of books I have just picked up for one reason or another and read the opening, often I like the opening a lot, so I’m not THAT unreasonably judgmental, I don’t think.

On the other other hand, when one of you recommends something to me, I’m possibly biased the other way, toward liking the book you pointed me toward. But then, you all do give me good recommendations that suit my personal taste, so it’s only sensible for me to expect to like the books you point out.

Either way, nope, I wouldn’t turn the page of the above bestseller. Okay, I just voted and clicked through and so I see that slightly over half the (numerous) votes are thumbs up rather than thumbs down. A little to my surprise, Ray Rhamey finds the voice of the narrator “very likeable.” That’s interesting! Maybe I was being unreasonably judgmental. I’m quite curious about what you all think.

Let me just compare the above to a random book that I’ve added to my Kindle in the past few weeks. Okay, here is the opening of The Unselected Journals of Emma M Lion by Beth Brower, which was recommended to me by a commenter here and which I therefore expect to like.

I’ve arrived in London without incident.

There are few triumphs in my recent life, but I count this as one. My existence of the last three years has been nothing but incident.

My train billowed its way into St. Pancras Station five minutes early. Auspicious, as I am fairly certain such a thing has never before happened in the history of the British railway system. A less than enthusiastic porter helped me with my two trunks, my case, and my hat box. He took note of the frayed edges on my morning coat, made a sound of disapproval, and began to silently convey his displeasure at helping me. I did give him a halfpenny. Rather generous, considering my financial state. Strangely, it was the hat box that caused the greatest sneer, despite it actually carrying a hat. For over a year, it carried something a modicum less pleasant: the monkey’s head Maxwell sent me.

I almost crossed that out, the bit about the monkey’s head.

This turns out to make a good comparison with the bestseller above. By pure chance, they’re both first person and they both open with someone musing.

Sure enough, I like this MUCH better. The narrator sounds like she’s poking fun at herself a bit, not at other people. Plus, whatever the narrator’s relationship may be with Maxwell, that relationship doesn’t sound like it’s toxic! I’m far more interested in why someone sent the narrator a monkey’s head than I was in the eulogy for whoever that was in the bestseller first page.

What do you all think? Thumbs up or thumbs down for these two novel openings? Do you or don’t you find immediately have a positive or negative impression about the narrator in each case?

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