Why I don’t use outlines

Last night I stayed up late writing even though I had finally gotten an ARe account and bought A Dangerous Invitation for a dollar. I already had 400 words or so that I’d written ages ago, but I’d given them a quick skim, edited a little to update it to my current style, and then added to the end because it was nagging at me.

The original idea that I had in mind was to take the train of exiles idea from Final Fantasy 13, solve the many, MANY logical fallacies with sense and do it for a reason rather than just to set up the government as the most generic bad guys ever. In fact, the government in this story is no more corrupt than any well-functioning one in a modern setting. I’ve been reading about Eleanor of Aquitaine, so I have this thing for actual thinking in politics.

The changes that I had in mind were to have the process have very clear reasons and be based on resignation, rather than a load of cryptic control and uninformed fear. The region is bordered by a vast wasteland, which is inhabited by monsters. Sometimes, monsters break in, at a frequency of once every few months, maybe a high of four or five a year. When this happens, there’s property damage, usually people get killed, and almost always, the monster spews spits on everybody and those people will draw other monsters.

Logical choice is to send these people out into the wastelands. Presumably, people do live there, it’s not impossible, and with four monsters a year, more will have to go. In the wastes, they can afford to be nomadic, and the spitty scent on them disperses better in the open country. The monsters act very differently in their own ecology than when they stumble into the city. Maybe they’re even just like old lions or starved wolves. The point is that the wastes are not certain death.

However, should people want to die rather than leave their homes behind for a hard, probably nomadic life that is nothing like what they know, the transport that takes the marked people into the wastes is outfitted with suicide pills. Life is all about choice.

People know about monsters, they know about exile, and the suicide pills might even be common knowledge. It’s just one of those things. Most people live their whole lives without having to worry about it. My main character figured she’d be one of them. And… she might be. I don’t know now.

While I was establishing her personality and profession (the oldest profession, heh), some things changed. I figured I’d just send her home to fight with her roommates, which would make her stand around in a part of the city she usually avoids, and then the monster would show up there. But then, while I was writing, events sort of got away from me, and she ended up fighting off a mad-eyed client and running naked down the fire escape.

Who knows what will happen now. I had some loose notes, like the stuff I wrote here, but now I’m kind of playing with what happens as it comes up. This is a girl who does things.

In Favour of Pseudonyms

Listening to: Hurricane – Panic at the Disco

 

In my long break ( /block) from writing, I’ve tried to keep up journalling and reading. I even started reviewing books, rather than just gushing or more often ranting about whatever I read at the time. I’ve been pretty open about my opinions. I’ve made mistakes, such as not realising that wordcount is a stat that is required to be mentioned for a book from submission all the way to marketplace. And I am either well-acquainted with the people who hear me (my husband and mother-in-law both subscribe to my blog) or comfortable within a void of other subscribers who almost never comment and a fair percentage are probably bots or people who subscribed me in the hopes that they’d get another number for their own website.

While we all of us want recognition, I realise that I live in a remarkably privileged place. I have free reign to say and do what I like. I can start and stop projects at my own will, without even fear of censure from followers. My reviews do not need to meet a consistent quality, length, or journalistic excellence. Not that anyone’s unpaid reviews have to do that, but I have again, zero fear that I will even be told that I wrote even mildly irritated someone.

No one has ever stalked me because I hated their book. No one ever comment-bombed me for making a mistake. No one has hit me with a DDoS attack. I think I’ve only “lost” followers because my blog was dead for a while, or people closed their own accounts. Nothing unreasonable.

Nothing scary has happened to me on the internet. Not really.

I’ve been using my name on Goodreads. Technically, since I haven’t changed my name after marriage and I go by my middle name, it’s not my “real” legal name. But it’s the name that I use in my very real life. After reading Kathleen Hale’s creepy, sinister article on the Guardian, I changed my name on Goodreads to my moniker here, cookiemonger. I intend to continue writing reviews, because so far, I still enjoy an amazing amount of anonymity and freedom on GR, and it’s the best way I’ve found to talk to myself about books when real life conversations tend to get weirdly cut off.

But sometimes when I plan a series or work on a book, a stray thought enters my head. I would like to send queries to Carina Press, or at least self-publish on KDP. If I use my name and Goodreads account as an author, do I have to stop writing reviews? Do I have to delete the ones I have written?

A lot of the books I read are under the radar, classic, or their moments have passed. If I were to read a huge hit like, say, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, I don’t think I’d read it until at least a year or two after publication. It’s just a weird thing that comes about. The last time I preordered a book, I didn’t read it until almost a year after I got it. I get Kindle First books and I still haven’t read any of them. I am that crazy person who reads their TBR list from the bottom or the middle, and so doing knocks the whole pile over to be reshuffled and some books may never get read.

More and more, I see reviewers get attacked by authors and their friends, both real and tin-pot army, but the absolute worst of the vitriol seems to be saved up for the reviewers who dare to think of writing their own book. It’s so bad that I wouldn’t be surprised to see a successfully self-published author sneer at them for self-publishing rather then submitting to Harper Collins. Hypocrisy, butt-hurt asshattery… You’d think they’d be too busy writing.

If this is the atmosphere I have to live in, then I think I’m definitely going with a pseudonym. Self pub or traditional.

 

Friday Book Review – The Scottish Witch

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The Scottish Witch
by Cathy Maxwell
(#2 of The Chattan Curse)

When I first reviewed this, I mentioned that Romance is the only genre in which I can start mid-series and not freak out. This is not always true, since I remember accidentally skipping over one of the Turner books and then I never read it because it wasn’t as good as Smite’s book. However, in this case, Overdrive said this was book 1, but it’s not, and that’s okay. In fact, after reading the other two, it turned out to be my favourite of the series, for objective reasons, not “Well book 2 already spoiled it so they just can’t be as good” reasons.

First there is a bit of prologue where we learn that Rose fell in love with a Chattan, and that she even carries his child, but he has abandoned her to marry an Englishwoman for money. She killed herself out of grief, and her mother, Fenella, built her a funeral pyre as per The Old Ways, as the newer Christian religion had excluding ideas about how to bury suicides. Also per The Old Ways, Fenella curses the entire Chattan line and leaps onto the funeral pyre with her daughter’s body.

The nature of the curse makes itself known when the perfectly healthy Lord Chattan suddenly dies. And what a tragedy too, since his wife is expecting a child, and he’s begun to feel that he truly loves her.

The Chattan curse is pretty efficient. Every Chattan man falls in love, fathers a son, and then kicks the bucket. Then one of them got a little ahead of the curve. He married someone he didn’t like much. He later succumbed to an affair, but his children, Neil, Harry, and Margaret, already has this amazing reason to think love is a really bad idea. Thanks to the events of the last book, Neil is soon to be the curse’s latest victim, so Harry is running around trying to find a witch who can put a stop to the whole business.

Portia Maclean and her family have retrenched all the way to Scotland, thanks to her philandering father dying and leaving them penniless. Her mother is a lazy, manipulative shrew, and her sister is sweet but thwarted in her hopes to marry a nice country doctor. (thwarted by their mother, of course) It’s down to Portia to take care of adult things like the rent. When she hears about Harry Chattan offering money to a witch, she decides to play the part. Despite not having a clue regarding why he wants to find a witch.

Part of the reason that she thinks she can play a witch is that she found a spellbook in the attic. It clearly belonged to Fenella and Rose, but there doesn’t seem to be anything to help with the curse in it. The nicest thing about this one is that sceptisim in the face of the curse is at an all-time low. Harry has no reason to disbelieve it, and Portia takes him seriously for the most part, and much earlier than any of the other characters in her similar position throughout the series.

She’s a dreamer, but in a nice way. She has a hard time seeing her family, her sister in particular, suffer. Her mother and everyone else have relegated her to spinsterhood just because she is plain.

There’s also a cat named Owl, and a host of other funny but not intrusive characters, like Crazy Lizzie and Mr Oliver Tolliver. What were his parents thinking? I love all the fantasy elements. They reminded me of that one weird soap opera. Had dwarves and a really crazysauce witch. I listened to the audiobook while reading the text in Scribd, and my husband remarked at least twice about how much I was loving this book.

The writing isn’t flawless, but it is good enough and bolstered by the story and characters that I don’t remember having any issues with the style or technical skill. The beta romance between Monty and Lady Maclean was cute. It might have been improved by something, but darned if I know what that is. It was Pair the Spares done right.

My one possible problem would be with the pacing. It seems to go a little too fast, but only sometimes. Like when they sort of almost literally tumble into intercourse (tumblecourse?). She’s a virgin, and it’s a little too…smooth. I’ve had a lot of discussions with Hubby about how sex is not something you can really do by accident, but if you could, it would probably look like this. I remember blinking and going back to reread it to be sure that that had really just happened.

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The ending is also kind of vvvvVVVOOOOOMmmmmm blink and you miss it. It’s a good ending. It just reminds me of when I used to try to finish writing a chapter before I had to leave for my shift. TYPE LIKE CRAZY HURRY UP OKAY NOW GET IN THE CAR! Kind of a thing. The way it sets up the next book is wonderful at any speed, though.

Basically, Portia and Harry get caught together because people thought she was missing. She’s ruined, but she’s kind of pragmatic about it since everyone always said she’d never marry anyway. Harry can never love her, nor anyone else. Because of the curse. She’s pretty sure she’s pregnant too. He insists on marrying her because of the whole Ruined thing, but she refuses, because Portia Does Not Settle, Thank You. Harry comes to has senses like a boss and asks her to marry him again the right way and for the right reasons, and then his sister is a bitch at the wedding because of the curse. Also, Margaret is just kind of a bitch, I’m sorry. She really isn’t any better in her own book.

The fantasy elements of a very real curse, the cat that only those affected by it can see, and the witches both faked and real, made this feel very like the historical romance equivalent of urban fantasy. It doesn’t share a lot of the same flaws, though, which is awesome. Personally, I would tell people to skip the first book and just start here. While the previous romance is relevant to what’s going on here, this romance is more interesting, the characters much more compelling, and everything you need to know from the first book is presented entirely without the PREVIOUSLY ON sort of exposition.

This is so not a book review

I wrote this yesterday, hours after I actually finished the book, and then I realised that it’s about as much like a book review as an aardvark is like the English Channel. Still, it’s my book noise, so I had to put it up here after I wrote a real review.

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan

There is a lot of wow in this book. I feel like it’s one of the little rewards I get for not reading reviews/spoilers even summaries. Because while it might seem obvious to some people that Violet, Countess of Cambury is the genius behind Sebastian Malheur’s brilliant scientific advances. It comes out on page two or three, and it was a wham moment for me. Maybe I’m just slow.

Or maybe it’s because all of the other characters in this series are a bunch of jerks. I say this with lasting affection for the books in the series and if Oliver and Robert were real, I would smack them upside the head. Part of the wham moment at the beginning was my saying aloud, “Wow Oliver is dumber than I thought!” Seriously, it gave so much delicious context to his derpy realisation of Violet’s notice of Sebastian in the last book that I found it more funny than anything.

And then he and Robert acted like the worst friends ever at Oliver’s bachelor party. Or whatever it was. Robert failed to ask Violet, and when Sebastian was angry that she had been even momentarily excluded, both Robert and Oliver failed worse by not seeing how serious Sebastian was, dismissing basically everything he said until he stormed out, and compounded the entire awkward situation by insisting repeatedly that Violet didn’t have to be there.

It amazes me how people behave outside the sphere of Main Character. I realise that each book is from the perspective of different people, and complex characters will not only be seen differently from person to person, but massively so when shown in their own perspective. HOWEVER. This series shows that variation more dramatically than most, possibly because most tend to put previous pairs on a bus. By the time we get to this book, the characterisation has gone a bit whack-a-doo.

So far, Sebastian has been consistently seen as charismatic with a wicked sense of humour, and very visibly off-kilter, possibly to the degree of mental illness. Mild mental illness, like he’s in a high school anime club and he’s probably faking it. In this book, he has secrets and serious thoughts, and the fact that his friends treat him like a pet duck trained to do tricks makes them look like assholes. Especially when he tries to tell them important things.

Outside of his own perspective, Robert loses a lot of competence somehow, and Oliver is just weird. From Robert’s POV, Oliver is this mysterious figure that just seems to be happy and wise, and a little bit like Gandalf. Oliver seems to see himself as bitter, full of anger, and much more clear on what he doesn’t want than what he does. From Sebastian’s perspective, Robert acts like a slow child, and Oliver is purposely dim.

….oh my goodness. Writing all that made me realise. This is not whack-a-doo. It’s exactly what it should be. It’s just JARRING. Because you guys, I am so much like Sebastian that I probably shouldn’t tell anyone. Sebastian is bright, in manner and in mental processing power. I’ve had friends whom I considered incredibly close and yet they were slower than me and frustrating. I loved making them happy, but they treated me a lot like that pet duck I mentioned. Oh, Sebastian, without Violet, your life kind of sucks.

Both Minnie and Jane make a good showing, although I was disturbed by Minnie’s comment about motherhood making her forgetful. Sure, I’ve basically forgotten half my life and most of what occurs in a day since my son was born, but I’m not a militant chess GENIUS. I don’t even remember the rules half the time. Still, her personality was intact and Jane got to flaunt her wonderfully awful taste.

Blah, this book, this book! I loved it. I did. It just made me think and now I can’t stop. Violet is amazing and horribly tragic. I have a lot of things in common with her too, and it hurt. Except the Science. I don’t have that. But it was awesome!

I almost cried once or twice, and now I don’t know if I can read the next book. I have never liked Frederica and her kitschy nickname. Guys, this girl is named after her mother’s sister AND her nickname is FREE. I just… I don’t do kitsch. It makes me need flamethrowers.

Relocating

We’re officially… half-moved back in to my parents’ house. Hubby seems to have orchestrated the whole thing, so I feel rather like Alice and her rabbit hole. I helped, but mostly I’ve concerned myself with Owen. It’s not as quiet here as it was at the apartment. Sometimes I think that’s a good thing. Owen needs some noise. And I really, really missed this neighbourhood. I certainly didn’t grow up here, but I have spent a lot of time in this area. I may start making regular trips to the park again, with and without Owen.

The highchair has been off and on the perfect thing at the apartment, but here, he won’t eat if he’s not in it. He’s not old enough for the booster seat yet. Although poor Abbie found her car booster seat in the stuff we brought over, and she had a very hard time accepting that she can’t ride in that instead of her car seat. Another year, I think. She lost a lot of weight when she was sick.

We got Kindle Freetime Unlimited for the free month. It’s a little disappointing to realise that it’s not as smoothly functional as it could be, and it certainly lacks the independence for very young children that Reading Rainbow has. Pre-readers are stuck needing a grown-up to read to them, and parents in need of hands-free moments may feel guilty letting their kids watch movies and play games a little more than they would have if there were some interactive or audio books.

Abbie is so excited that I may never have a minute to myself again, haha. She’s got Owen’s toys which means “new” toys, and her cousin and tía around all the time. She might get tired of me later, but its’s still party time. Owen misses his dad, though.

I think I was able to finish reading a couple of books, and I had a look at something I’d like to revise and continue. But I haven’t had a chance to try another start (false or otherwise) of Iona Bell. It’s hard to imagine beyond right now. We haven’t quite settled in, and half of our stuff is still at the apartment. We need a storage unit.

Friday Book Review – Better Part of Darkness

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An unlikeable main character is the death of many a book, and it’s one of the biggest causes of death for this one. Charlie Iforgotherlastname is indecisive, recklessly and pointlessly violent, mean, and a horrible parent. She curses a lot, and it makes her sound like an idiot. There are people who curse a lot and still manage to sound like adults, and then there are losers like Charlie who just sound like a seven-year-old trying to sound “adult.” The emphasis is either lost or wearisome or both.She lets her child make life decisions for her and threatens, in graphic and hostile detail, to kill her partner for absolutely no reason at effing all.

She flails back and forth, backpedalling in ways that could have easily been edited out.  This book is so racked with indecision that it’s practically a theme. Charlie can’t even issue a declarative statement without clarifying it, generally with a contradicting statement. Here’s where she makes a nasty death threat without real provocation:

“She’s not dead.”
Immediately, I felt for her pulse. “I swear to God, Hank, I’ll put a bullet in your belly and send you back to Elysia if you’re messing with me.”
“Jeez, Charlie, give me some credit, will you? I wouldn’t kid you about this.”
Emma loved Amanda like any devoted little sister would. She also adored Hank. And I knew that if this affected her, then Hank wouldn’t mess with me on something so personal.

My brain whirs. Why did she blow up so violently when she had zero reason to think he was kidding? It’s like, “I WILL &#$@-ING KILL YOU IF YOU ARE KIDDING” / “That’s stupid, I wouldn’t do that, and you know it.” / “OH YEAH I HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN YOU WOULD NEVER DO THAT YOU ARE LIKE A BROTHER TO ME.”

It’s just an incredibly impassioned outburst for something she just let go without pause. Also, the grammar BURNS. I literally got a headache from reading this. The writing is so juvenile that it looks like a sixteen-year-old wrote it. Which, if it had been, would also explain the overwrought emotions and horniness overriding sense.

Speaking of the overwrought emotions… Charlie is exhaustingly DRAMATIC. About everything. She’s never mildly irritated, she is EXASPERATED, UGGGHHHH. Never sceptical, always arms-flailingly DISMISSIVE. And any time she can think of an excuse to be hostile (which is all the dang time), she will threaten to murder you and your entire family. This is not “kick-ass” it’s stupid.

You know what else is not kick-ass? Being unable to make a decision on your freaking own. Charlie doesn’t even make bad decisions. The one time she made a decision, she let her daughter talk her out of it… and it wasn’t even a real discussion. It basically went like this:

Charlie: Do you think I should transfer to a desk job?
Emma: Le gasp! If you did that, you wouldn’t be the mother I know and love! And also no one else is capable of protecting the city except you! Besides, you promised to solve my friend’s case that showed up on like page two.
Charlie: Oh yeah. Maybe I’ll transfer after the case is solved.
Emma: LOL ur so funny as if I would even let you.

Bullied out of her decision by an eleven-year-old for whom she is responsible. And of course, this is right after she allowed herself to be roped into a passionate snog with her ex who was RESPONSIBLE FOR HER DEATH. I’m not particularly bad-ass in my own opinion, but if my husband had practised black magic, cheated on me with a sorceress, and then that sorceress tried to wipe out her competition by murdering me, AND I was lucky enough to be returned to life and divorce him? I would get a restraining order that kept him two STATES away from my child and me, and if he ever showed up in my house I’d shoot his ass in self defence.

What does Charlie do? She lets him have completely unsupervised visits with their daughter. I think the guy has partial custody. She comes home to find this man STANDING IN HER KITCHEN. And her reaction is to let him talk about how they should totes get back together, baby, and then makes out with him almost to the degree of sex.

If I had had a physical copy of this book, I think I would have thrown it in a toilet.

To wind down a little… The exposition is terrible. The author just vomits out world-building and character backstory whenever she feels like it without a decent foundation for either the details or when they are exposited. It didn’t help that the world was fairly generic urban fantasy, After the Masquerade Has Been Unmasqued style.

Also, re: HER DEATH. Pro tip: Start the story at the most interesting part of the character’s life. I would have so much rather read the book that led up to her death than to start with the recovery of a woman who can’t even make bad decisions and yet gleefully insults therapy. There isn’t even the excuse that the story begins in medias res, since it starts with a cop and her partner coming to check out a body. That is where the mystery tends to start, if they don’t cover the victim’s story a little more in depth first. This is about as in medias res as “Il était une fois…”

Okay, I’m starting to quote French fairy tale tradition. This book. ARGH. I just can’t. I have lost the will to can.

another false start

I kind of like false starts. They make it easier to see what it is I want to do, even if I didn’t manage it on the first go. In this case, I need a better handle on the character, and quicker establishment. She comes off as whiny because she doesn’t take action right away.

There was nothing quite like a rejuvenating cruise. On the flip side, there was nothing less like it than returning from said cruise to find that one’s apartment building had been paved over.

Iona stumbled back a step. Luckily, she had closed the cab door. Otherwise, she might have fallen right back into the backseat. Her bag thumped against the window.

It had been old and crumbling, like moldy cake. Her apartment had been on the third of five stories. Now all she saw was a flat lot of concrete, and an alien vista that redefined the horizon so that she didn’t recognised the neighborhood for a full ten seconds.

“Are you sure this is the right address, lady?”

The driver’s voice was not without sympathy. But she noticed that the meter was still running. With something like the reverse of a shudder, she regained her composure. “Of course it is,” she said. “I’m meeting someone here.”

She reached into her bag and took out a wad of cash. She’d planned on handing over a nice tip if the driver had offered to help with her suitcase. She’d also planned on a bubble bath and a long nap, but without a tub, bed, or the rooms she had once retained to keep them in, those weren’t going to happen either.

As soon as the cab had disappeared from sight at reckless speed, Iona sat down hard on her suitcase. It wobbled.

“I was only gone for two weeks,” she said aloud. She stomped both feet on the ground, nearly sending herself toppling off the suitcase. “Where’s my stuff?!”

There was no one about to hear her. That had been one of the place’s charms. No one lived in this ramshackle part of town. She looked around at the other, still standing buildings. They were all abandoned or housing offices. Warehouses. No one lived here. Not even her.

She ran both hands through her hair, framing her face in her freckled arms. That rat, the landlord. He’d been trying to buy people out of the place for a year. And then she had been stupid enough to go on vacation.

“Ooh, I’ll kill him…!”

She plucked a single blonde hair and twirled it in between her fingers. It curled and twisted, slowly beginning to singe. Smoke rose and gathered, rising from the strand of hair and collecting far beyond what such small amount of material should have produced.

The smoke formed a circle and spread out in front of her. Iona dropped her hand to her knee and drummed her fingers there.

At last, most of the smoke cleared, leaving only a thin, ringed border. A round, pretty face appeared in it, flushed with recent activity. “Geez, Iona, what do you want?”

Even this truncated sight of her sister set Iona’s lip trembling. “My apartment is gone!”