Book Reviews

2018 Books of Awesome, Part: Those Books that Are Out Already

It’s that time of year again! That glorious time when I get to exclaim loudly (and with a fair amount of cursing) about all of my favorite books I read this year. Which this year is again ALL OF THEM.

On the one hand, it has been tough to find the time to read with a Constant Toddler, writing, and a dayjob, and having once read one hundred books in one year, reading “only” twenty-six feels almost like failure. But! On the other hand, reading less means I simply don’t have the time to finish books I don’t enjoy, so whereas before I’d maybe only really end up enjoying about a third of that hundred, now I enjoy each and every book I’ve picked up.

Because who has the time to read books they don’t enjoy??

Last year I read 100% fantasy, 95% written by women. This year it was closer to 60% fantasy and 89% women(or nb)-written. This year I’ve read a lot more literary than usual, which has been a nice change of pace. I do truly read and enjoy all genres, but in trying to be as fluent and well-versed in my own genre as possible, I’ve unfortunately neglected reading others. Thanks to being a part of a 2019 Debut Authors group, though, that was thoroughly rectified this year.

…and it also means that nearly half the books I read this year aren’t out until next! Alas, I’m sorry, but also: boy is next year gonna be AMAZING.

So here is the first half of my Amazing 2018 Year in Books, Part One: Those Books that Are Out Already:

 

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty
This is an adventure and a half, complete with djinn and ifrit and ghouls and cursed artifacts and even more cursed lakes and a city and culture thousands of years old which actually has the weight of all that history. Nahri is the best, a thief turned possible royalty who doesn’t magically lose the thief side of her when she discovers her roots. And that ending – that ending. There are still two books to come and I have no idea how Chakraborty will top that ending but I have every confidence that she will.
Read if you like: epic second world fantasy that subverts YA romance tropes, actively interrogates morally gray questions, and is clearly written by someone well-versed in history.
The Fall of the House of Cabal by Jonathan L Howard
This is the sixth book in the series and if you’re interested in gentleman necromancers who handle family disputes, romance, and gibbering horrors with the same unwaveringly dry wit and cantankerousness, then I’d suggest starting at the very beginning. The Fall continues Cabal & co’s constantly humorous and increasingly corpse-filled story as his enemies multiple but so, too, his friends.
Read if you like: dry wit, rampant magic, the undead, the living, & increasingly bizarre situations.
Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber:
True crime podcasts are all the rage lately, but what about the real-life families of the victims? This story explores the implications of sudden fame (or infamy) on a family that had already found their peace. A quick read (or listen, because really you should probably listen to a book about a podcast) and unsurprisingly there’s already a live-action series in production by Apple.
Read if you like: family dramas, murder mysteries, thoughtful explorations of the far-reaching effects of our increasingly small world.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire:
Well, honestly at this point I will read anything by McGuire, and I have not been disappointed yet. This is the second in her Wayward Children series, which follows the lives of the children who went through portals to other worlds and what happens after. Although this one in particular is about what happened during, and it is full of contemplation about who you are vs who people want you to be and family and love and what you will do for both.
Read if you like: shorter fiction in a telling style; werewolves and vampires and monsters (oh my!); things that go bump in the night; gothic horror tropes; soft sads
Updraft by Fran Wilde:
Wow. This story takes you above the clouds into a city built upon spires of bone and then goes for broke. The worldbuilding is fantastic: Wilde creates a fantastical setting and then isn’t afraid to explore every corner of the resulting implications. I love all the rituals, the way history and law and warnings are passed down through song (because they don’t have paper [because how could they have trees??]), the way the flying felt real and the skymouths were scary af. I am itching to read the subsequent books in the series and find out more about how this city came to be.
Read if you like: thorough & fresh worldbuilding; feeling as if you are flying; songlore; bonelore; lore; deconstructing history; morally gray everything
Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente:
This is one of those books you read about and instantly wonder how it hasn’t been written before. If you didn’t know, space opera is a subgenre of sci-fi, and now it is also a book about Eurovision. In space. But where Eurovision is about uniting Europe through increasingly bombastic song & dance routines, Space Opera is about uniting the universe. And Earth has just been allowed to enter the competition for the first – and possibly last – time. All Earth has to do is not place last to avoid complete annihilation, but the odds are stacked higher than Olympus Mons.
Read if you like: fun space romps; fun space humor; absurd & yet still possible alien species; conversations about sentience
From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris:
Magic in an alternate ancient Rome? Yes please! From Unseen Fire includes all the fun politics of I, Claudius plus the elemental magic of Avatar: the Last Airbender. Add in a full cast of awesome ladies and an exceptionally original take of elemental-based magic and, well, I am hooked forever. It’s clear Morris did her research on this one because reading it feels like a walk through the streets of ancient Rome.
Read if you like: kickass magic systems; sprawling epic fantasy; feeling as if you’re walking through ancient Rome
TW: off-screen sexual assault
The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst:
When every living thing has a spirit – including the trees – and those spirits are more than a bit murderous toward humans, you have yourself a bit of a problem, one might say. Add in some intricate worldbuilding, some cities entirely in trees, and a completely reasonable antagonist and you have yourself a fun (well, in a murdery sort of way) & exciting book. It’s Friendship is Magic meets a proper horror story.
Read if you like: not-so-reluctant heroines; murder spirits; murder; questionable politics; brooding rangers; uplifting inter-women relationships
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik:

When Miryem’s family comes close to ruin because her father doesn’t have the heart to collect on all the debts owed him, Miryem steps up and soon realizes she’s got a knack for turning silver into gold – not literally, of course. Unfortunately, she makes the mistake of boosting about her skill and someone does take her literally. Someone who happens to be the king of a frozen, fae kingdom just beyond our world. What follows is a twisting path of a story through terrain that almost feels familiar – just enough to be unsettling.
Read if you like: fairy tale retellings; fairy tale retellings where you’re not really sure how many fairy tales are being retold; demons; long, cold nights; subverting genre expectations; horrible people getting exactly what they deserve

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson:
If you like your fantasy extra long and extra epic, you need to be reading Sanderson. This is the third book in his Stormlight Archives series, or more like the ninth, tenth, and eleventh when compared to normal books. Sanderson continues to impress and expand upon worlds and characters in ways that are always satisfying and always a surprise. He also continues to learn from his past mistakes and is doing a better & better job of reflecting the diversity of a real world.
Read if you like: spending weeks or months reading the same book and never regretting it; all the best characters; worlds connected to other worlds in other books; solid epic
Armistice by Lara Elena Donnelly:
This is a direct sequel to Amberlough, and you should probably read that first. And if you have, then I shouldn’t need to convince you to keep reading this spy thriller / cabaret adventure / anti-fascist gay romp. Well, okay, romp is probably not the right word. Armistice picks up sometime after Amberlough ends and answers nearly as many questions as it raises, while continuing to raise the stakes. Seriously I said anti-fascist gay romp, why are you still here?
Read if you like: second world fantasy with no magic; uncomfortably similar political situations; twisty & turny & thorny plots; sensuous writing where you can hear/smell/taste the world
City of Lies by Sam Hawke:
It’s a murder mystery set during a siege, what’s not to love? City of Lies is a fresh take on the epic genre, where the relationship between siblings being highlighted more than any of the romantic ones, where you’re never quite sure if the magic is real or not, and where the plot ratchets up and up and UP until you think it can’t possibly go any further, AND THEN IT DOES.
Read if you like: epic battles; awesome endings; stories about cities; contemplative narratives about the duty of a country to its people; quiet scenes juxtaposed with swordfights; MURDER MURDER
By Fire Above by Robyn Bennis:
This is the very direct sequel to The Guns Above, a flipping romp of a fun, exciting, explosions-filled story the likes of which I just haven’t read in ages. It’s just dark enough in places to make its lighter moments even better. It’s the kind of book you can read in a day and mull over for a month. But also laugh the entire time.
Read if you like: airpunk; understanding airship mechanics even if you never realized that was a thing you wanted before; fart jokes; camaraderie; really intense airship battles.
Vengeful by V.E. Schwab:
Another direct sequel, this time to Vicious, which asked the question: if given super powers, what would real people actually do? They wouldn’t save the world, that’s true. But some might still try, in all the wrong ways. Schwab has been improving by leaps and bounds with each book of hers and this one is no different.
Read if you like: morally gray characters doing murder; rooting for all the wrong (or right??) people; angry women getting vengeance; MURDER MURDER
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse:
Climate change has caused the oceans to swamp the Earth and usher in a wholescale apocalypse, but the Dinehtah people live on. After all, they’d already survived one apocalypse at the hands of the United States. They could survive another.
This is a dark but hopeful book, a story about the end of things, but also the beginning. There are gods, yes, and monsters, yes, but the line between them and humans is very thin, if nonexistent. It’s also action-packed and blood-soaked, and all I want is more fantasy like this.
Read if you like: post-climate change fiction; stories that don’t center white people; cinnamon roll side characters; gods being gods; urban fantasy with a fresh feel.
TW: child death

 

 

 

Image of books on a table from Unsplash.

Draft Zero, Life, Writing

On NaNoWriMo and Failure, Or: How I’m Learning to Embrace My New Writing Process

It is November 28th. There are three days remaining in November, which means three days remaining in National Novel Writing Month, that time of year when thousands – hundreds of thousands – of writers try to plunk down 50,000 words in the span of a single month.

In years past, I have diligently hit the daily goal of 1,667 words and reached 50,000 with little to no problem. Maybe I missed a day or two here and there, but I always made it up.

Those years, unfortunately, appear to be firmly in the past. In 2016, I wrote 22k for NaNoWriMo. In 2017 I was finishing edits on book 2, so I didn’t bother. And this year I’m on track to hit 20k on a new story. Not even half the official goal.

Perhaps those years will come around again. Perhaps in another time.

But that time is not now, and if there is one thing I’ve learned from this past year, I can mourn my past and What I Used to Be Able to Do and try and fail and try again to meet those old standards, but after all that effort I’ll still be no closer to my goal. All that does is leave me feeling defeated. Less than. Worthless.

My life has changed quite a bit since my first NaNoWriMo in 2001 and my writing has, too. Things changed most drastically in 2016, with the birth of our daughter, but the fallout from that has been gradual. I clung for a long time to the idea that Things Would Return to Normal and I just had to keep trying to reach the goals I’d had before, keep trying to do things as I always had. If I just kept doing the same exact thing, eventually it would succeed, yes?

…hmm, isn’t there some quippy adage about doing the same thing over & over again and expecting different results?

This period was prolonged by the fact that I was working in a world I’d already built, with (relatively) established characters, mythology, history, plot, etc etc et cetera. So it was easier to keep reaching, to de-prioritize my own health, to get up early and stay up late and have very little time to read or really do anything outside of housework – because at least I was still hitting my word count each day.

And I was! Until I wasn’t.

This summer was the first time I hadn’t met my own personal deadlines in a very long time. And I kept not meeting them. But I pushed on regardless.

I turned in Book 3 and then… well, I didn’t so much as crash as fall apart. At first it was a deliberate & planned falling. I read instead of writing and it was amazing, don’t get me wrong. But a consciously quiet month off turned into a not so consciously quiet two months off turned into three.

Not for want to trying. When November rolled around, I decided I’d participate in NaNoWriMo. That would be the kick in the butt to finally get back to writing like I used to. As I did over the summer, I set my daily writing goals and I tried to hit them. But when I didn’t, and I fell further and further behind, I just felt like a failure. I was plagued with doubt. What had happened? What had changed? Why did it feel like I had no time anymore?

As I cut another morning writing session short because my daughter had just woken up, crying, and needed me, I finally realized

My life had changed.

So shouldn’t how I write change as well?

I am not the person I was five, three, even two years ago. I am not in the same situation, I don’t have the same amount of time or energy or brainpower. The background processing I used to do throughout the day on my characters and plots is simply gone, taken over instead with the innate ability to know exactly where my daughter is and what she’s doing at any given second of the day. It has simply become impossible for me to write as quickly as I used to. All that processing has to happen in front of the laptop now, in the spare minutes I can find and gather in the morning.

And while I might mourn the last of that past self – so much time! how did I never realize how much time I had? – I wouldn’t trade where I am now for the world. But that means accepting I am the person I am now, and that no amount of wishing or planning or goal setting or staring covetously at other people’s free time will change that.

Perhaps it’s about time I meet myself where I am, now.

In 2016 I wrote 22k words for NaNoWriMo: a failure. I went on to write another 20k words in December and another 16k words in January and finished the first draft of a book that comes out in less than four months.

This year, I will probably hit 20,000 words. I can’t write 1,667 words a day anymore, but I can write 500. I can write 1000.

So I will keep writing, 500-1000 words a day, throughout December. And I will keep writing, 500-1000 words a day, throughout January. And I will finish a first draft. It won’t matter in a year that it took me three months instead of one month to write that draft. The time will pass. The only thing that will matter is that I wrote a book.

I wouldn’t call that failure.

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy

Where Do We Go From Here

Serious Author Being Attacked by Serious ToddlerI… I turned in book three. I still can’t quite believe it. A week or so has already passed and the implications are only just hitting me. I think I’ll need a bit more time to process the fact that I wrote a friggin’ trilogy. There’s a whole blog post in there somewhere, but for now…

For now I’m going to Take a Break. At least from writing. I have Pitch Wars submissions to read (and they’re all so good – you guys are making this hard), as well as the entirety of my towering TBR list to read, as well as this lovely autumnal weather to enjoy, as well as this rambunctious toddler to chase around, as well as a job to seek, as well as this coffee to drink –

So I might be a bit quiet in these parts for a bit. I’m actively not writing the Next Thing, but I am participating in the Debutante Ball, so you can still find my thoughts and ramblings over there.

Seriously – check it out. Five debut author ladies are gonna talk about the whole Book Thing for a full year and I’m one of them. You can even read my little intro here!

I followed them for a year plus before applying and, if last year is anything to go by, it’ll be a lot of fun and interesting posts to read.

So yeah. That’s it for me right now. Pitch Wars, Debutante Ball, Toddler, definitely not researching Ostrogoths or the impact of climate change on the range of tropical diseases like dengue nope definitely not.

…nooope.

pitch wars

Pitch Wars 2018: Kai’s Mentor Wishlist

Pitch Wars Adult Mentor BadgeHi, Pitch Warriors, I’m Kai! Now I know you’ve got a lot of mentors to sift through, so I’m gonna offer a little tl;dr up front, and then if you’re intrigued, you can keep reading.

[Aside: If you’re not here for Pitch Wars, feel free to skip this post. I promise things will return to cat photos and word count metrics shortly.]

 

TL;DR
I’m a debut fantasy author with an eye for structure, character arcs, and Cool Stuff. Looking for adult second world fantasy.

Bonus points for:

  • f/f,
  • grim without the dark,
  • honestly anything QUILTBAG,
  • hopepunk / grimhope
  • cool magic,
  • villains you’re uncomfortably rooting for

Candid Pic of the Author Having Her Face Smooshed by a Small HumanAbout Me
I’m thirteen squirrels shoved into a gator suit –

Wait. No. Let’s try again.

This is my first year mentoring and you’ve probably already read my official bio – transient author who’s a jack of all trades and master of none – so let’s skip that. I write fantasy, I read every genre, and my debut The Perfect Assassin – murder! historians! dangerously high heat index! – comes out from Tor in March, 2019.

As for me as a person… I’m a type A Virgo mom with high anxiety levels and a penchant for baking and running. One, unfortunately, does not entirely outdo the other. If I’m not freaking out about a deadline, I’m usually curled up on the couch with two cats and my wife, watching the Great British Bake Off and crying because Sue is so perfect. I also have a small human, who has most recently unlocked Serious Side Eye and “blueberries!”

I still secretly pretend that one day I’ll have time to game again. Although at this rate, that will coincide with Valve releasing Half-Life 3 (see: never).

Why Me
I know my genre like the back of my hand – that is, with relative confidence until someone actually asks me to pick my hand out of a line-up, and then I get all flustered and start to question myself. I did my time in the query trenches (three projects over four years) and also interned at a small agency and read their slushpile, so I’ve seen what agents get and can gently talk you down from the terror cliff that queries always somehow summon.

I’m very good at picking things apart and putting them back together again and making sense out of chaos. Also deadlines. I love deadlines. There’s beauty in having a ticking clock to guide you through uncertainty.

I’ve also, you know, written a few books under contract and deadline, and I’ve gotten my fair share – and given my fair share – of crit. I understand what’s useful and what’s not and I love talking through plot tangles.

What You Can Expect from Me
A thorough yet concise edit letter and lots of ridiculous comments in your manuscript. I won’t shy away from pointing out where the plot loses steam or doesn’t make sense, or where characterization goes off the rails. I’m not one for line-edits, but I will point out anything egregious/repetitive. I’ll also give you deadlines and work with you on a realistic schedule and offer generous heapings of encouragement along the way.

I am absolutely up for hashing out plot problems over chat/email. But fair warning: I can be pretty chatty.
 

Okay Cool, But What Am I Looking For
Adult, second world fantasy with rich, fully-realized worlds that are just as full of diversity and life and complex choices as our own, where just as much care is taken building the people as it is the magic system(s).

Think: Mistborn, Tiger’s Daughter, and the Traitor Baru Cormorant.

BUT ALSO worlds that are a closer mirror of ours, that are not our own, but could be with just one or two variables shifted.

Think: Amberlough or Vicious.

  • I want blurred lines between protagonists and antagonists, where one could easily be the other if you just switched POV.
  • I can’t do straight up grimdark anymore, but I still love some grim – murder and demons and blood magic are right up my ally.
  • I want hope. If you’ve got hopepunk, GIVE IT TO ME. If not, just enough hope sprinkled throughout or at the end will do. Is grimhope a thing because yes, please.
  • I want queer, preferably f/f, but honestly anything QUILTBAG (and yes, the ‘A’ stands for Ace, not Ally). Also, I want there to be more than just the single queer character/pair – after all, we travel in groups. Just one obvious queer isn’t a dealbreaker, but be aware I will ask for more in revisions.
  • I want magic. Even if it’s just on the margins, I like my fantasy full of the fantastical, thank you very much. If you’ve got a cool magic system like in the Rithmatist or Elantris, yes please. If you’ve got a world that is so real that it might as well be magic (see: Amberlough), I’ll be content.

So basically: magic and murder and mayhem!

 

What I’m Really Not Looking For:

  • Straight up heroes and villains.
  • Grimdark
  • Anything over 150k words (unless you’re willing to chop hard)
  • Rape
  • Violence toward children (see further clarification in comments)
  • Unquestioned/gratuitous violence
  • Urban fantasy
  • Science fiction
  • Medieval European-esque settings that don’t do something new/fresh/interrogative

I realize I’m being pretty open and vague here (except with the No’s, which are definitely hard no’s), so if you’re not sure, don’t self-reject. If you have any questions, feel free to find me on zee Twitterz (@KA_Doore) or comment below. I reserve the right to come back and update this with clarifications as need be.

Good luck, y’all!
Head on back to the main Pitch Wars Bloghop Master Post or select another mentor’s blog below!

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The Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

The Perfect Assassin Has a Cover

This is a cat meant to soothe you and think happy thoughts and not, in fact, the actual cover

First there were copyedits. Then there were page proofs. Then there was silence.

Now. Now, there is. A cover.

*pauses for the appropriate amount of anticipation*

*pause*

*paaaause*

*drumroll*

Ta daaa!

Thank you to the team at Tor for putting this together, especially my editor Diana Pho for helping find the perfect model, and Larry Rostant for its creation.

And now back to your regularly scheduled excitement. Those fingers! That leapage! The red!

Fun fact: I specifically requested red because of Plot Reasons (not blood, jeez guys) and I am very very pleased with how that turned out.

Also fun fact: One of my original ideas was to have the main character, Amastan, sitting with a bunch of scrolls, which somehow I thought would be very engaging. Ahah. Ahah. Ahaha.

And that, my friends, is why I’m not in Marketing.

What do you think? Eye-grabbing? Face-stabbing?

If you like murder! and sand in your teeth! and archival searches!, you can pre-order The Perfect Assassin – the story of a historian turned assassin turned detective who is really tired of this shit – over at the usual suspects. Some early readers have said it’s okay, they guess. And there will be a book two! And a book three! And book three has definitely made some people cry, so you know that means it’s great.

March 2019, guys! That’s like, eight months and change! Less than a pregnancy away!

Barnes & Noble AmazonIndiebound

Querying, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Writing

Hey What About Your Query, Kai?

A picture of a cat, not a query letter.

As some of you already know, I’ve joined this year’s Pitch Wars mentor crew. For those unfamiliar with Pitch Wars, this means that one (not-so-)lucky writer will get the chance to have their manuscript beaten (literally and figuratively) into shape by me. But to get to that point they – you, possibly – will have to first write a query.

If there’s one thing all authors/writers/agents/human beings can unilaterally agree on, it’s that queries were devised to torture storytellers. You spent what feels like a million words (by that 24th revision it’s probably been more) carefully building a story and now someone wants you to do it again in – *gasp* – 250-300 words. Mon dieu!

Thankfully that’s not really what a query’s meant to do. All it’s gotta do is entice. And to do that, you just gotta distill your plot down to a few lines, pick out some awesome details, snag the voice, do the Macarena, assemble the Avengers –

Wait. No.

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but I’m sure an example is worth just as many. So, here – have one successful query letter that just happens to be mine. It’s been a few years (*cough3cough*) and if I could I’d change a few things, but I’m going to resist and let you see the exact query that led to pages being requested that led to a full that led to a call that led to an offer and so on.

[Side note: This query was for The Impossible Contract, which is now Book Two (and if you want to know that story, go here). I don’t think there’re any spoilers for The Perfect Assassin (aka Book One) in here, but you have been warned if you care about those things.]

Dear Agent –

THE IMPOSSIBLE CONTRACT is a fast-paced adventure fantasy complete at 128,000 words. I’m sending this query to you in particular because I noticed you expressed an interest in LGBTQ stories in any genre and this novel includes a lesbian romance.

In the desert city of Ghadid, assassination is a family business. To learn the trade, Thana trained with her older cousins for years, but she’s still nervous when it’s her turn to take a contract. But it’s not just the responsibility: it turns out that her mark is the Empress’ own marabi, a highly skilled and powerful priest. Any qualms Thana might have had about killing a holy man, though, are soon put to rest when she learns the mark is involved in the blasphemous practice of binding souls.

The contract should have been straightforward: steal into the mark’s room, circumvent his magical protections, and slit his throat. Except that someone else wants the marabi dead. Before Thana can deliver the killing blow, a half dozen men break into the room and attack them both. Even outnumbered, the men should have been no match for fast and lethal Thana, but they have a key advantage against her knives and garrote: they’re already dead and someone – another blasphemer – has bound their souls. Thana barely escapes with her own life, let alone the mark’s.

The mark is determined to discover what these men are and who sent them. Thana is determined to follow the mark and finish her contract, even if that means leaving home to cross the desert. If she fails, not only will her family be shamed, but Thana’s life will be up for contract. But along her journey, Thana learns of the ancient evil behind the dead men and bound souls and realizes that the price of her success may be the destruction of all she holds dear.

Aside from writing, I also practice photography and weightlifting while living in the Sonoran Desert. I have the writer’s prerequisite small but significant cat collection and caffeine addiction, as well as a number of chickens, a degree in Classics, and way too many (never too many) knee socks.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Here’s a few things to note:

First off, you’ll notice I front-loaded the query with the title and wordcount and a little personalized intro for that specific agent. Typically, you’ll want to go straight into the query proper, but if you have a reason you’re sending this to a specific agent, it can help to put that up front.

In this case, my query doesn’t have room for the romance in it, but since I knew the agent was specifically looking for queer fic, I pointed that out as part of the personalization.

Second… this is a little long for a query. Related, that wordcount is about 30k too long. I got dinged a lot for that, by the way (multiple agents specifically cited the wordcount in their rejections), and part of signing with my agent meant cutting as much as I could – and then cutting more once I signed with Tor. So take it from me, you really want to stay within the acceptable word count ranges for your genre (this has a good rule of thumb btw).

On the positive side, it still worked. So.

Third, I know a lot of writers worry about not having any pub credits to their name to rattle off in the bio section. You’ll notice I, too, had no prior publications nor anything really of note, so instead I used that space to add a little more of my own personality.

But wait, there’s more! Don’t just take my word for it – you can read a breakdown by another agent over at the Weekly Workshop as to why, exactly, my query worked for her.

I’d also recommend taking a deep dive into the Query Shark archives as well as reading all the queries the other mentors have put up in the last few days.

So there you have it. Just be short and honest and bleed a little on your keyboard and you’ll do just fine.

Unnamed (Book 3), Writing Tips

Book 3: Beta Time!

Book three. Is. Done.

Well.

Let’s caveat that.

It’s done enough. Enough that I need to put it in someone else’s hands and step away and breathe and focus. Enough that at this point, I’d be going in and tweaking and finetuning and adding details and subtracting paragraphs and not wholesale stripping out and rewriting chapters – which is what I spent most of May and all of June doing.

There’s a plot and events proceed (mostly) logically and it all comes together and actually ends, instead of dropping unexpectedly off a cliff. It’s not perfect, not by any long shot or under any fancy filter, but that’s good. It shouldn’t be perfect. If my betas do their jobs well – and they will – then I might still have some structural work to do. And better to do that and clean it up before the finetuning.

It’s a bit like building a body from scratch. You’ve gotta build the skeleton first, bone by bone by bone, and that’s your rough draft. And then you shove in the guts and veins and layer that all with muscles. That’s your second draft, the one that actually looks alive and might even function – it just wouldn’t be pretty.

At that point, you could begin putting the skin on and adding hair and all those little details that will turn your attempt at playing God into something less unsightly (you don’t want your story oozing on the freshly scrubbed lab tiles, do you?), or you could have someone look at it and make sure all the organs are properly connected and the veins go where they should.

Sometimes you’re so up-to-your-elbows in guts and organs that you don’t realize you’ve attached this ligament to that joint when it should really be attached to this joint or maybe you mixed up your orders for organs again and you’ve got a sheep’s heart instead of a human’s. How much easier it’ll be to fix if you haven’t already put the skin on and ratcheted up the lightning rods!

…okay I admit this metaphor got a bit out of hand.

But putting this gooey, skinless experiment of a book into my betas’ hands is scary. It requires a lot of trust. Trust in myself, that I know my process and I know what I’m doing. Trust in my betas, that they can see past the gore to the underlying logic and story. That they are willing to dive deep with me, get a little messy, and laugh the entire time. That they won’t just hold their noses and go “ew.”

Because we’re still a long way from done done.

But this is as far as I can make it on my own.

Pre-pub

How to Care for Your Debut Author

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Congratulations on your new debut author! Given the proper care, these creatures will make a wonderful addition to your family. They are generally quiet, complacent, and 120 proof, but while they may appear hardy on the outside, with frequent gruff vocalizations such as “no really, I’m fine,” “these aren’t tears; I have allergies,” and “I just have to meet this deadline,” you must be vigilant that they aren’t hollowed out by constant anxiety.

But don’t worry! To preserve the wellbeing of your debut author so that they not only survive the transition into your home and their new life, but also flourish and thrive and become a name you can drop to get into fancy places, just follow these five easy steps.

Step One: Water Daily
Try leaving a bowl of water out for your author. If you notice that the water level remains unchanged, remind your author that dehydration can lead to headaches, dizziness, death, or worse – a missed deadline.

Step Two: Feed regularly.
Be sure to include lots of greens in your author’s daily meals. If your author is a millennial, you can count avocados as a green. In a pinch, many brands of mint chocolate chip ice cream are also green.

But be warned: do not mix the avocados with the ice cream.

Step Three: Encourage photosynthesis.
An author will naturally shy away from sunlight, but it is in their best interest – and health! – for them to go outside daily. Try taking them for a walk, but be sure to keep them on a leash lest they start daydreaming and wander into traffic.

Step Four: Give general encouragement.
Picture a pristine lake, bordered by dogwood on one side, a meadow on the other. The surface of the lake is as clear and still as glass. Beneath that surface is a fish, dreaming of another life: a bigger lake, with more room to swim and grow, more fish friends like itself, and a publishing deal.

Now picture that fish dropped into the ocean. Rest assured that this was a euryhaline fish and therefore will not perish from the sudden change in salinity. The fish has everything it dreamed for: a bigger lake, lots of room to swim and grow, and millions of fishy friends.

But it’s also, understandably, a tad bit overwhelmed. Out of its depths. Feeling a bit like a fish out of water. Except, well, in water. Because we’re talking about the ocean. Ahem.

The potential for growth is nigh limitless, the possibilities unbounded, but at the same time, the chance for extreme anxiety is astronomical. The learning curve to survive the ocean is quite steep and while the fish is yet floundering, Here There be Sharks.

A few kind words can mean a lot during this time.

Step Five: Be patient.
Becoming a debut author is tectonic: it’s a process of many infinitesimal, invisible changes that eventually converge to create a new continent. You may have known your debut author since Before, and they have been many things along the way, and they are still those many things. But to the outside, they are now – as suddenly and irrevocably as a volcano – an Author.

This clash of creeping vs abrupt change creates a dissonance (not-so-)fondly called Imposter Syndrome. The debut author still feels in their bones that they are the fish in the pond, and that they don’t deserve to be in the ocean, that at any moment, someone will swoop in with a net muttering about “mix-ups” and “the wrong forms” and deposit them back in the pond.

They’ll continue to act like they’re in a pond and it will take them some time to accept that the ocean is theirs to thrive in and explore. They may swim about, first one way, then the other, as they try to understand their new home. They will need to learn, understand, and process, before they can accept.

A part of them will always be in that pond.

So be patient. When they cry about seemingly inconsequential things, give them a tissue and an ear – preferably attached. Likewise, when they can’t stop talking about something exciting that happened months ago, take them for a walk.

Your debut author may do strange things, like pee on the carpet, cling to the walls, or email you fourteen cover comps at 3am demanding your detailed opinion ASAP. Breathe deep and remember that this, too, is part of the way they’re processing the change. And maybe ask them to help clean up the pee. I mean really.

Bonus: Take care of yourself.
Your debut author is surprisingly resilient; despite what they may claim and occasionally deeply feel, they will likely survive living in the ocean. And they will need you for the long run. So remember to take care of yourself as well.

Set boundaries as needed. Be clear about what you are willing or not willing to discuss with your author. Because if you’re not careful, they may chew up hours of your time discussing the emotional depth and cultural resonance of particular fonts.

You may find yourself affected in unexpected ways. Feel free to talk to your debut author – or don’t. Whatever your choice, remember that your feelings are just as real and just as valid, and you deserve to be heard.

If you follow these easy steps, you, too, can have a happy and healthy debut author in your home or life, which will bring you years of delight, entertainment, and – of course – books.

[Pre-ordering their book will also soothe your debut author’s soul.]

Chronicles of Ghadid Trilogy, Pre-pub, The Perfect Assassin (Book 1)

From the Debut Trenches: Galleys/ARCs

ARCs enjoying tea

Galleys/ARCs: WHAT THEY ARE

ARC stands for Advanced Reading Copy, and galleys are a variation on that theme. They’re an early print of the book with the post copy-edits but not-yet-finalized text and marketing verbiage all over because they’re, well, marketing tools. This is why sometimes they have a title and sometimes they don’t. Mine displays the tagline in lieu of the title, but the rest of the imagery is very much the cover.

ARCs go out to reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and anyone else in the publishing industry who might be interested to drum up buzz and pre-orders in the months before the One True Publication Date (TM). The author gets a few to do with as they wish – give to friends, drop off in the lobbies of prominent media establishments, scam into the hands of a beloved celebrity, build a (very) small fortress, bury in the backyard, etc.

Galleys originally weren’t due in for another two weeks, but my editor posted that they’d arrived on Tuesday and then next thing I knew, I had a tracking number for my share. I spent most of Friday on the porch, enjoying the randomly beautiful weather, and definitely not just waiting for the delivery truck.

Then the box did arrive and I promptly… sat five feet away from it, getting up the courage to open it. My wife had to talk me into opening it, using the very reasonable logic that the longer I let it sit, the more scary it would become. And that, reader, is one out of the many many reasons I married her.

So I opened them and kinda poked at them and then continued to sit at least five feet away, screwing up my courage. I’m not even entirely sure where the fear was coming from, except that this was a thing that I had created and now other people were reading it. And Amastan is on the cover and it’s a very strange feeling to see something plucked wholesale from your brain and just… out there. For other people to see. And I’ll always have a little guilt and shame tied up in this whole process, like there’s something innately wrong about wanting to share this thing I created and love with other people.

Then my wife brought out some wine and after a glass or two, I was able to pick one up. Thumb through. Read a bit.

And that’s when I finally realized: this is a book.

I’ve had inklings of that feeling ever since the copy edits stage, but seeing the words on the screen and seeing them in print, in a book, are entirely different things. The ARCs are still aways from the Final Form, but this is the first time I’ve looked at words I’ve read a hundred times, fretted over, smoothed over, deleted, and rewritten, and been able to turn off the editing part of my brain and accept them as Canon.

My characters are real and other people will read them and experience them in ways separate from me, ways I will have no control over and if that isn’t terrifying…

Well.

Now I have to send these babies out into the wider world and I have a few ideas for just how to do that, one of which involves screaming, and the other, more viable idea involves giveaways. So watch this space because that is gonna happen.