Post Valentine’s Day (+mini book reviews)

Love-free zone, guys. Except for love of books, but you don’t need Valentine’s Day to show off your love of books. Come to think of it, why isn’t there a holiday for books? Like Tolkien Day or something? If any writer earned the right to have a holiday, it’s him. But no, that’s not what this post is about.

How I know This is It

Perhaps one of the greatest struggles an author faces is answering the question “How do I know my novel is ready to be sent out into the world?” And it’s a difficult question to answer because “ready” is subjective enough when dealing with someone else’s novel — just think about all those books you’ve likely read over the course of your life *cough Twilight cough* that a lot of people loved but you found lacking in substance.

Now think about your proximity to your book, the endless doubt and uncertainty. How do you know if that’s just a writer’s fear or if it’s a legitimate, accurate consideration of what is wrong and right with your book? Because trust me, it’s not an easy distinction as all that.

It’s difficult for experienced authors to say yes, this is how you know because there are so many elements involved in a story, and it really does depend on the story you’re trying to write.

No matter what, you need to have developed plot and developed characters and developed setting. But I’d argue that how developed each aspect needs to be could very well change depending on if you’re writing an action novel, or a romance, or a fantasy, or whatever. Not to mention that by the time authors get to a point where they can claim experience, they’ve usually hit their “Ready to be Published” stage not alone, but with the help of a close relationship with an editor and/or agent and/or publishing house. For new authors who don’t have that (yet) we have to figure it out on our own.

I hesitate to make generalizations based on my singular experience, but I don’t hesitate to share the experiences anyway. Because if constant writer’s doubt is a thing you experience too, then I’ve a feeling my experiences will help shape yours. That’s the hope, anyway. Otherwise, you know, what’s the point of this thing?

I mentioned it a few posts ago, but quite recently my book and I were not on good terms. Perhaps we were on worse terms than ever we’d been before. I was ready to just give up, to throw several year’s hard work away without a second glance. The stress, my friends, was nearly tangible. I mean, that’s what happens when you take up the writing endeavor. It demands several restarts, the admittance that this book is not quite up to par yet. It’s bad for morale.

Passing that bump, doing your first revision, that’s step 1, friends. Having the humility to go back over your book and try again is important.

But by the time I hit Draft 5, as I wrote each chapter, each sentence, each word, it felt like I was pulling out teeth. With rusty pliers, I might add. Not fun. It makes a person desperate. Ready to either give up (not an option, because hello, years of hard work going bye-bye is not cool) or try something new. Step 2: Being brave (aka desperate) and experimenting with the plot. I can’t say this is a step one must take for their novel, because maybe your plot was already stable enough not to need some drastic changes. Apparently, that wasn’t the case with mine.

Step 3: A sort of reversion to pre-step 1, where you realize that hey, this story looks kinda like other books. Not in content, maybe (hopefully), but in its general structure. Beginning, middle, end. Characters. You sometimes catch yourself writing a line, then erasing it because it doesn’t sound like them. Bonus points if you can figure out which character is most likely the one who would have said such things. The world-building is subtle, but there. And look at those small handfuls of lines that you are just so proud of because dang that sounds good.

It’s still not going to be ready for the publishers, even then. I’d hesitate to show my current draft to my best friends because there are still plenty of flaws. But I know where the draft is going, enough so that I could hand it to an editor knowing it’s no longer a hot mess, and knowing that I could sift through their various commentary and figure out which tidbits could be useful in helping develop my story and which would only hurt what I’m trying to say. Is the process clear-cut? Nope. Do I love my story as it is? Kinda. But do I think it’s going someplace absolutely fantastic? Undoubtedly.

So don’t give up, fellow writers. Live by the cliches. It gets worse before it gets better.

Drama Reviews

The Pillowman

Author: Martin McDonagh

Rating: 5 stars

This is the first play in a while that I actually went out and saw, so this isn’t a play I read and am reviewing. But this play had me thinking for a while, long enough that I figured it earned a place in my review. There’s a lot of themes going on (also, fair warning, a lot of cursing, and a lot of dark stories), but perhaps the one that stuck out the most was about writing and the impacts of story-telling. It’s about a short story writer whose stories are enacted out, and the police are trying to figure out if he did it. There are a lot of thought-provoking short stories included, most notably the title story, “The Pillowman” but also “The Writer and the Writer’s Brother” and one about green little pigs. If you don’t mind the swearing, I’d read the play, though I was told that reading the play was nowhere near as interesting as seeing it.

Waiting for Godot

Author: Samuel Beckett

Rating: 3 stars

What is this play even? I read it as two character stuck in a loop, doing the same thing over and over while they waited for a character named Godot, who they’re told will arrive “tomorrow” but never does. It’s a weird play, and nothing really happens, but I think that’s kind of the point? So it’s worth a read because it’s a famous play and thus has some literary merit and because it’s got its own odd little message buried deep within. But just go in knowing that nothing really happens, and to focus on the what happens as nothing happens, and you should find it an interesting read as well.

Death and the King’s Horseman

Author: Wole Soyinka

Rating: 4 stars

This is more straight-forward than the other plays, and interesting because it’s set in a colonized island. The author’s note for the play says it’s not a cultural clash sort of play, but it’s difficult not to read it as such. The main characters have no respect for the native people, and laugh off their superstitions and beliefs, to damaging effects. I think the play doesn’t necessarily  connect perfectly with the present climate, but I think a lot could be said and learned by reading this play..

Othello

Author: William Shakespeare

Rating: 4 stars

I believe this is labeled as a tragicomedy, and for good reason. Iago, the villain, works Othello up so elegantly that you can kind of see why Othello would believe him. But it’s also a bit humorous because you’re reading it, and shouting at thin sheets of dead trees, “Come on, are you stupid?” It’s also worth mentioning that Othello, from what I understand, the only person of color in Shakespeare’s plays. And, yeah, the play’s a bit racist, but considering the times, I suppose it’s not actually as racist as one might expect. So it was a fun ride, perhaps a bit enlightening, if tragic at the end.

Book Review

Empire of Storms

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Author: Sarah J. Maas

Genre: Epic fantasy/ romance

Rating: 2 stars (but a friendly 2 stars)

How to explain this book? It was sort of a train… wreck. The kind where you get more joy out of laughing at it than you do actually reading it. It’s sad, because though I don’t really care for Maas’s style or content, I’ve kind of admired her for making such a relatively big name for herself. The plot for this series is not half-bad. Truly, there’s a lot of goodness to the plot. Problem (and the thing I perhaps groaned/laughed at most) is that everything that goes wrong can go wrong, but not in a good way. More like in a let’s-see-how-many-books-we-can-get-out-of-this way. This is book #5, and it’s not the last. And, guys, fair warning… there is a lot of sex. I get it, it’s the end of the world, people want to make the most of whatever time that they have, but there’s a limit. Especially for people like me, who don’t read fantasy books for the romance anyway.  And the focus on beauty. *shudders* Please, Maas, explain again just how beautiful these Fay males are. Come on. The first twenty times didn’t get through my thick skull. I reiterate: disappointing, but amusingly so.

Writing Prompt

“Write about a unique relationship between  an immortal and a time traveller.”

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