Excuse me while I gush about Vengeance Road, by Erin Bowman! I absolutely adored this book! Plus, that cover!?! Swoon! I want to get the cover designer for one of my next books!
When her father is murdered for a journal revealing the location of a hidden guild mine, eighteen-year-old Kate Thompson disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers–and justice. What she finds are untrustworthy strangers, endless dust and heat, and a surprising band of allies, among them a young Apache girl and a pair of stubborn brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, a startling truth becomes clear: some men will stop at nothing to get their hands on gold, and Kate’s quest for revenge may prove fatal.
Nothing in Vengeance Road is particularly novel or new. In fact, the book seems to run through several comfortable old tropes: girl disguises herself as boy (I did that one in my own book!), teen finds out there is something mysterious about her family after it’s too late, girl can’t stand cute boy until she realizes she can’t live without him, the Western trope of the search for gold and buried treasure. But, but, this is the perfect example of how old tropes can be phenomenal if they are executed well. And boy, are they executed well.
As a writer, you strive for an authentic voice for your character, which is often an ephemeral “you know it if you see it” (as in a failure of voice is only conspicuous in its absence). Not this book. The voice makes the book. The main character, Kate, sounds like she’s from the old west. The way she thinks, the way she talks, the euphemisms she uses. Here’s a quote:
“The bartender’s right ’bout one thing–the place is busy considering it’s the Lord’s day. What the stout fella don’t seem to realize is that a strong drink can numb the soul good as any prayer. Hell, I muttered ‘Oh, God’ ’bout a dozen times after I found Pa swinging, and it ain’t like it brought him back to life.”
The whole book is like that, It’s really fun to read.
Kate’s a great character, tough, determined, single-minded to a fault. She doesn’t want any help in her wild quest to avenge her Pa, knowing that it will probably spell her doom. When Jesse and Will refuse to let her travel alone, the friction between them is both comical and poignant. The romance that blooms between Kate and Jesse is sweet and believable, without being over the top. Waylan Rose and his Rose Riders make passable villains–tough, scary, cruel. We don’t actually see much of them, but they are bad-ass enough fill Kate’s journey with suspense and drama.
Bowman also does a great job of exploring the historical setting of this novel, in 19th century Arizona. The conflict and distrust between settlers and Native Americans plays an important role in the story and an interesting backdrop to the rest of the plot.
My main complaint, if I had one, would be that the plot is a bit predictable at times, especially the big revelation at the end, which I kinda saw coming. But, like I said, that’s not much of a complaint, because the prose and the characters were so enjoyable that I loved every minute of it!
I’ll be honest. One of my biggest challenges as an author is editing. First drafts are easy. It’s pure creativity, dumping words on the page like sand into a sandbox. When you start editing, you have to turn that sand into the complex and well-thought-out sandcastle that will become your novel.
So, I was surprised to find out that there aren’t a lot of books on editing. There are hundreds of books on how to write a great work of fiction, but in my opinion, the pickings on editing are comparatively slim. I tried a few, but none really gave me a method. They gave me plenty to worry and think about while editing: plot, story structure, characters, pacing, dialogue, tense, point of view…but in what order? How do you edit for the macro and the micro issues your novel might have? To actually conceptualize the cohesive whole of those 90,000 words as they currently are, let alone how they should be. None of those books told me how the heck to actually go about self-editing a novel.
When I wrote my first novel Moonburner, I kinda winged it, cobbling together a method from these various suggestions. But before I wrote Sunburner, I found The Story Grid. This book is a game changer! The Story Grid, written by editor Shawn Coyne, gives you a method for full-on nerd-level dissection of your story. While other editing books generally said: make sure the patient doesn’t have one of these ten diseases…this book shows you in detail how to diagnose, and treat, those illnesses, right down to where to put the scalpel. Warning: this book is a tome. It took me months to read it and digest all of the nuggets in here, and by the time I got to the end I felt like I should re-read it all again! There’s that much good stuff in there.
Though this is a huge oversimplification, my key takeaways from the book fall into four main categories.
- Genre: Coyne has a complex view of genre that encompasses more than the categories we typically think of when we think of genre, e.g. mystery, western, sci-fi, etc. He looks at genre through a five-leaf clover of choices the author makes, from content (traditional view of genre) to structure, style, reality, and time. Each of these different elements come with different reader expectations, called “obligatory scenes.” You need to hit the right obligatory scenes, depending on what genre you are writing in, or your book won’t work. I have found these obligatory scenes to be a helpful road map for drafting and editing, to make sure you’re making your readers happy.
Told you! There’s a lot here!
- Internal versus external arc: Books are often described as “plot driven” or “character driven.” But in most well-written novels, you will have some aspect of both an external story arc (plot), and an internal story arc (character) (though the ratios between the two will look different between a James-bond type thriller versus a literary novel). Coyne talks about this in terms of “internal content genre” and “external content genre” and explains how you have to know both (1) your protagonist’s external story arc, and (2) the transformation they are undergoing on the inside. While this may be intuitive to many authors, I found it super helpful to name my internal (maturation plot) and external arcs (savior plot-action genre), so I could keep this front of mind during my editing process.
- Units of story structure: Coyne breaks down story structure into its component parts. The smallest unit of story structure is the beat: which involves five steps–inciting incident, progressive complications, crisis, climax, and resolution. This structure then repeats itself in larger story units: the scene, the sequence of scenes, the act, and the story as a whole. This is a good gut check when something doesn’t seem to be working–often you find that you are missing one of these key elements.
- The Story Grid: The Story Grid is the most exciting take-away from the book for me. The Story Grid is a method by which you set up an excel spreadsheet with each of your scenes, identifying numerous elements: such as character, point of view, value at stake, and change in the scene. You then turn this itemization into the story grid, where you can generate a visual representation of the changes in your story (see below). In my opinion, the key element of this method is identifying the value-shift, or turning point, in each of your scenes. According to Coyne, each scene needs to have some shift in value, to move the story in some direction, either good or bad, otherwise you should cut it. Example: your characters are chatting over coffee. Nothing new or exciting is revealed that effects the plot or their character arcs. No value shift. You need to rework that scene. Versus a scene where your characters are chatting over coffee and one reveals that they’re sleeping with the other’s boyfriend…now there has been a value shift. From trust to distrust and belief to disillusionment. That will be an exciting scene for your reader!
The Story Grid for the middle build of the Silence of the Lambs
I ran Sunburner through the Story Grid (a somewhat tedious process), but I learned that I had about six scenes that were effectively filler, with no real value shift. Often these were scenes where I was trying to reveal some tidbit or backstory about a character, but in the focus on character, the forward progress in my story totally stalled. The Story Grid told me I needed to re-work those scenes (see scenes below where I couldn’t come up with anything to put in the “value shift” column). Obviously, it’s ok to have moments where there isn’t traditional “action” happening in the story, but then revelations about your characters need to provide the value shift. If I include a tidbit about a character because I really like that tidbit but it doesn’t actually matter for the story…well, that’s the exact type of darling you should be killing in the editing stage.
There are a bunch of other story elements that the Story Grid will reveal to you, but identifying these turning points, or value shifts, was the most helpful aspect of the exercise for me.
The beginnings of my story grid analysis of Sunburner
If you’re a fiction writer who has struggled to find a tried and true method of self-editing, (especially large-scale, structural edits), I would highly recommend you check out The Story Grid! It will definitely play a big role in my editing process going forward.
Shawn also has a podcast called the Story Grid where he helps book marketing guru Tim Grahl try to write his first book, as well as a website and newsletter with great resources. Check out both at http://www.storygrid.com.
Yesterday was an exciting day for me! I finished the last substantive edit of Sunburner, the sequel to my debut novel Moonburner! Considering that I wrote Sunburner in October-December of 2015, it feels so satisfying to finally be done with editing! (PS writing books takes a long time, guys).
So Sunburner was with beta readers for November and December, and I got some wonderful feedback that I have spent the last six weeks incorporating. (Thanks beta readers!) I think Sunburner is stronger than ever and I’m very excited about the finished product! Now, I will do just one last read through for typos and such and it will be ready to go to the publisher!
The one thing I’m pondering currently is a change in title. I like the ease and symmetry in having the two books titled Moonburner and Sunburner…but the second book isn’t actually about the sunburners only, its really about both countries fighting together against a common enemy. So, Sunburner isn’t an accurate preview of the story. I will do some brainstorming to see if I can come up with something fantastic that fits with the story, and if I can’t, I’ll probably keep it the same. Stay tuned…
I wanted to bring you guys a little sneak preview of Sunburner! Here’s the prologue…
The days and nights blended together in this place of darkness. They slid food through the slot at the base of the door from time to time. The prisoner suspected, from the deep gnawing hunger in her belly, that it was not every day. Her body was wasting away, eating itself from the inside out.
At least they didn’t hurt her. She supposed she should be grateful for that. Overall, this captivity was far more pleasant than her last. This time, they seemed content to let her slowly waste away, forgotten and alone.
But she hadn’t resigned herself to death. And so yet again, she prepared to perform the ritual that should summon the goddess. She didn’t have light and she didn’t have a sacrifice. She only had the words, her will, and her own blood. She didn’t have a weapon; they wouldn’t have been foolish enough to leave her in here with a means to end her life. So she scratched ragged marks across her inner arm with her fingernail, bringing the warm blood welling to the surface. She couldn’t see in the darkness, but she could smell the metallic tang of the blood as it mingled with the smells of her filth, feel its slick wetness against her skin. She could feel the scabs up and down her arms, bearing witness to her previous failed attempts to summon the goddess.
This time, though, this time she had something different. She didn’t have a sacrifice, but she did have a bone, picked from the measly scrap of oily meat that had been her latest meal. Maybe the blood and the bone together would come close enough to the little creatures she used to sacrifice to summon her.
The prisoner dipped the bone in the blood coating her forearm, and chanted the words she had said so many times. Please. She willed it to work. Please.
For the first time in many weeks, something happened. A breeze tickled her skin, and energy crackled in the air, raising the hairs on the back of her neck.
The goddess appeared, radiant in gray light.
The prisoner closed her eyes and cowered from the being, the sudden brightness burning her retinas. As she cracked her eyes, letting them adjust to the light, the goddess’s figure became clear, her black gown billowing as if in a storm. She filled the space of the small filthy cell, towering over the cringing prisoner. “Why have you summoned me to this place?”
“I have been jailed,” the prisoner said. “They mean to let me die in this cell. Please free me, so I can continue your work.”
“Why should I?” the goddess asked sternly. “You failed. The moon and sunburners are at peace. The centuries of hatred and war that we have worked for threaten to be for nothing. Without the discord and death, we are wasting away.”
The irony of that statement was not lost on the prisoner, as she looked down at her own emaciated form for the first time in months, dimly lit by the goddess’s glow. She fought down the urge to laugh. It came out as a deranged hiccup.
“There must be some way I can be of use to you,” the prisoner pleaded, her mind racing. “The burners believe me a traitor. Think of what pain it will cause them if I escape and assist in their downfall. They will fight amongst themselves, blaming each other.”
The goddess seemed to consider her, though it was hard to tell though the blurry nothingness where her face should be. “Perhaps you may be of use to me yet.”
“How?” the woman said eagerly, latching on to the goddess’s statement like a lifeline. “Let me help you. I will do anything.”
“Anything?” the goddess asked. “You do not even know the task.”
The question was a test. She had no real choice here. She had made her choice two decades before, in the dark dank of another cell. “The task doesn’t matter. I will serve,” the prisoner said.
The goddess seemed satisfied. “The era of the burners is coming to an end. They have stood in our way long enough. We will destroy their power so they are left with nothing but the bitter memory of their former glory and remake this world so it serves us.”
“I don’t understand,” the prisoner admitted, afraid to voice the words, but more afraid to misunderstand her mission. “Burning needs the sun and the moon. How could you destroy that power?”
“That is not your concern,” the goddess said sternly. “Your only concern should be whether you will do your part to bring about the end of this world, and usher in a new one. A world of darkness.”
She already lived in a world of darkness. The darkness of her cell was only a shadow of the blackness that lived in her soul, what she had been twisted into. She had left the light a long time ago. “Tell me what to do.”
A Torch Against the Night is the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which was one of my favorite books of 2016. Read my review HERE. A Torch Against the Night picks up immediately where the first book leaves off, with Laia and Elias seeking to flee the Martial Empire, and more specifically, Elias’s cruel and ruthless mother, the Commandant. Laia has just rescued Elias from execution, the twisted Marcus is the new Emperor, and Helene, Elias’s former best friend, is now Marcus’s Blood Shrike. The story spans across the Empire as Elias and Laia journey to Koff prison to free Laia’s brother Darrin.
It’s rare that a sequel lives up to its predecessor, but this one did! The book had plenty of action, with Laia and Elias relentlessly dogged by Helene, who has been charged with finding Elias and bringing him in. The magic of the world deepens, as the inkling of Laia’s powers are revealed, we learn more about the dark power that controls the Commandant, and new magical creatures are introduced. I loved seeing more of the Empire, especially the culture of the tribesmen Elias grew up with. As with the first book, the triangle of narration between Elias, Laia, and Helene is superb, showing all different sides of a complicated story. It’s even more effective here, as Helene’s POV reveals what’s going on back in the empire, as well as her conflict about being tasked with capturing Elias, the man she loves. As with the first book, she’s my favorite character, though I was technically rooting against her.
There were a few things I didn’t love, in particular one big reveal about one of the characters who wasn’t who we thought he/she was (no spoilers!), which just seemed strange and out of place to me. The scenes in Koff with the Warden weren’t my favorite either; I didn’t buy how creepy and dangerous he was supposed to be. I also felt like the storyline about the Nightbringer and the fallen star were almost unnecessary, it took away from the more compelling storyline about the Empire and the interpersonal conflict. The human villains of the Commandant and Marcus were scarier and more evil than the supernatural villain. But I see that it’s a big part of the set up for book 3, so perhaps that will develop in more satisfying ways in the next book.
Tahir creates a captivating and deadly world populated with brave but flawed characters. I highly recommend this one! I listened to the audiobook version, and the three narrators who played Laia, Elias and Helene were fabulous as well!
I’m super excited to bring you something new for 2017:
TWELVE MONTHS OF GIVEAWAYS!
Each month of 2017, I am going to give away a copy of my MOST ANTICIPATED Young Adult book releasing that month! With one quick entry you’ll have a chance to win that month’s HOTTEST new release! (Bonus for me, I get to read these fabulous books and decide which ones live up to the hype!)
JANUARY 2017’S GIVEAWAY
CARAVAL, by STEPHANIE GARBER!
Blurb: Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .
Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.
Read my review of Caraval HERE.
Crooked Kingdom is the much anticipated sequel to Six of Crows. Six of Crows was one of my favorite books of 2016 (check out my review here) and so I was giddy with anticipation for the sequel! For the most part, I was not disappointed!
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are both heist novels, focused on the devious and dangerous Kaz Brekker and his crew. The story picks up right where Six of Crows leaves off, with the crew reeling from being double-crossed by Jan Van Eck, who has captured Inej. It is up to Kaz and the gang to rescue Inej, and double cross Van Eck right back to get the million he owes them. All without running afoul of the other gangs of Ketterdam, or the powerful nations who are descending on their city, in order to locate Kuwei, who is the only one who knows how to create jurda pardem, the dangerous new drug that dramatically heightens Grisha power.
As with Six of Crows, this is such a fun read. The plots upon plots keep coming fast and furious throughout the book. You think the crew is backed into a corner, only to find out it was all part of Katz’s plan after all. There are fights, break-ins, and double-crosses galore. But, there are some legitimate twists and turns that the crew have to navigate in order to get their money, defeat their foes, and come out alive. The characters deepen their relationships in this book, as you learn more about each of them, especially Jesper and Wylan. Despite each of their flaws, the crew is so tight-knit a family that you can’t help but want to hang out with them. The romantic relationships deepen as well, and Bardugo does an excellent job of showing Kaz struggle with his feelings for Inej, and try to overcome his aversion to closeness so he can be with her.
This was a fabulous book, but I didn’t like it as much as Six of Crows. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is a major event towards the end of the book that I think was unnecessary to the plot and really pissed me off as a reader. It seemed thrown in there and out of place for the rest of the book. I’ll leave you to judge for yourself. Even with that complaint, it was still fabulous, and I highly recommend this duology!
A lot has happened in 2016! I published Moonburner and Burning Fate, edited Sunburner, and finished the first draft of a new book, The Confectioner’s Guild! I completed NaNoWriMo for the first time, produced an audiobook, teamed up with some amazing YA authors to publish That Moment When Anthology of short stories, and brought you some great giveaways too. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about writing, editing, publishing, and marketing books.
Sometimes I get a little envious of authors who write for their day job, marveling at how many books they publish each year. But when I think of what I’ve managed to do while working as a lawyer, I feel pretty good about how far I’ve come (and realize why I was felt stressed for a lot of the year)!
I’m looking forward to 2017 being even better. Overall, I want to keep learning, keep enjoying the process of writing and editing, while connecting with more authors and fans, and selling more books. Oh is that all? It’s important for me to find balance–making forward progress while still not driving myself insane with ALL the things I could be doing, because there is basically an endless amount of work that could be done.
Some specific goals for next year (because if you write them down AND share them, they’ll be much harder to ignore!)
- Consistently get up early to do my author work before I head to work
- Finish revising Sunburner and publish it, with a goal of a June 2017 launch
- Start a street team to help with the Sunburner launch
- Finish editing The Confectioner’s Guild and submit to literary agents (and hopefully get an agent!)
- Write the first draft of the sequel to The Confectioner’s Guild in November and December
- Work on connecting with local schools and bookstores to do some in person events
- Connect with more writers and authors in person, though attending the PNWA Conference and PNWA and SCWBI events
- Grow my email list to 10,000, my Facebook following to 2,000 and my Twitter following to 5,000
- Lastly: keep learning & keep reading!
I think that will be plenty to keep me busy throughout next year.
Thanks for following and reading!
Whelp, The Confectioner’s Guild is done. It wasn’t pretty there towards the end. This book was definitely the equivalent of a marathon where I went out way too fast.
I raced right along to get my 50,000 words done for NaNoWriMo during November, and then…I just REALLY didn’t want to finish it. But, I eventually dragged myself back to the keyboard and finished! Remember, if you want to get a taste of The Confectioner’s Guild, you can read the first three chapters for free in the That Moment When Anthology!
Last year, when I wrote Sunburner in two months, I told myself I would never do that again. And I remember why I said that now! It’s really hard to put out 1600-2000 words a day consistently, especially when works get busy (which it did as soon as November hit, thanks Murphy’s Law)! But, the afterglow is so nice, because you just wrote a book in two months and can take your time editing and making it the most perfect it can be. So, perhaps it all evens out in the end.
Next for me is 10 days off for the holidays, and I will be starting my final edits of Sunburner first thing come January to incorporate feedback from my beta readers. That should be off to the publisher by January 31, if I stick to my schedule, and I will be able to begin my edits to The Confectioner’s Guild with a fresh set of eyes.
But now, a glass of bubbly to celebrate. Happy Holidays!
Check out my review on The YA Shelf, reprinted below!
This book whisks you on a magical adventure full of deliciousness for all of your senses. Caraval is about two sisters, Scarlett and Donatella (Tella for short), who live under the iron thumb of their cruel father. Scarlett, the practical older sister, has agreed to marry a stranger to try to ensure a better life for her and her sister. Her only flight of fancy is the letters she has written since she was a child to Legend, the mysterious proprietor of the famous Caraval, an exclusive yearly exploit that is part game, part performance. When Legend sends them three tickets to Caraval, Tella, the flighty younger sister, heads to the game with the help of a dashing young sailor, Julian, and Scarlett is forced to follow. Before long, they find themselves swept up in the madness of the game.
Scarlett is thrown headfirst into the mystery of Caraval as Tella is kidnapped, and she must compete with hundreds of other players to rescue Tella before it’s too late. The game winds Scarlett and Julian, who grow closer as the game progresses, through an enchanting island full of strange locales and even stranger people. As Scarlett and Julian struggle to determine what’s real and what’s part of the game, the reader starts to wonder as well!
The good: Garber’s writing is so delicious you want to eat it up. The imagery is rich and colorful, and you are quickly pulled into the gorgeous tapestry of Caravel. The characters and players have a Wonderland-esque quality about them, and you never get bored. Scarlett is a likeable protagonist, smart but innocent enough to be overwhelmed by the madness of it all. Her romance with Julian is sweet but sultry, and definitely pulls you in! The plot lines are interesting and myriad, the clues and riddles intriguing to try to unravel. This is definitely a book that takes you for a beautiful ride.
The not-my-favorite: Tella is a fairly annoying character. Luckily, she’s only in a few scenes, but every scene shes in she manages to screw things up. The sisterly bond between Scarlett and Tella doesn’t come through very strong (perhaps because they’re not together for much of the book), so I find myself wondering why Scarlett is so protective of Tella when Tella is so obviously self-destructive. The lack of rules in the world of Caravel felt a little too convenient for the author, as well, and there were several events that were not explained well within the framework of the world. It’s a pet peeve of mine when magic conveniently solves something (especially if it’s not being used consistently within the rules of the world) and this book was definitely guilty of that. But, for those who aren’t as particular about their magic systems, this might not be an issue!
This book launches January 31, 2017, and I received an ARC from Flatiron books. This is definitely one you don’t want to miss!
A few months ago I submitted the first 5,000 words of my new book, The Confectioner’s Guild, to an anthology put together by the Alliance of Young Adult Authors. My story was selected to be one of 40 featured in the anthology! The anthology launched last week, and is available on Amazon for free!
Download it HERE to check out my story and stories by some other amazing YA authors! You might just find your new favorite author…(besides yours truly)!
That Moment When is an anthology of young adult writing featuring some of today’s hottest new talent in young adult fiction. Find your next favorite author as you read through 40 thrilling short stories.
Get it on Kindle / Get it on iBooks / Get it on Kobo
We’ve gathered a handful of thrilling stories from all of your favorite genres and put them together into an epic anthology of young adult fiction. Some of them are just the beginning of a unique adventure, while others are complete stories that will spark your imagination.
With over 200,000 words (about three full-length novels) That Moment When will provide weeks of reading pleasure.
Have you ever reached a moment in your life when everything changed? A crossroads of sorts–a point of no return. An event or realization so enormous you knew it would impact you forever in ways you couldnít begin to understand? Discoveries so momentous they changed everything you thought you knew about the world, and yourself?
That Moment When is filled with exactly these kinds of moments.
If you read the stories in this anthology, I guarantee you’ll find at least a few that thrill and excite you. Make sure to follow the authors if you want to read more – most of us have at least one free book on our sites.
All your favorite YA genres!
PARANORMAL & URBAN FANTASY
DYSTOPIAN & POST-APOCALYPTIC
THRILLER & HORROR
AND MORE (UNIQUELY SPECULATIVE FICTION)
Get it on Kindle / Get it on iBooks / Get it on Kobo
The Alliance of YA Authors is a community of over 1000 young adult writers. Many of us are award-winning, bestselling authors; others are brilliant debut authors just starting out. We team up to make it easier for you to find your new favorite reads, with book giveaways, contests and joint book promotions.