Monday, October 2, 2023

RevisionLand; Or, Aliens/Robots/Dry-Towners/Mad-Scientists Ate My Brains

Gillray, "The Headache," 1819
One of the delights of living with a fellow writer occurs when I'm sitting at the dinner table, trying to wrap my mind around 200 or 500 pages of text. He raises an eyebrow, Spock-style. I say, "Revisions." And he gets it. I am not only not flying with the rest of the ducks at this moment, I'm nowhere near this planet. I'm in RevisionLand.

Some writers look at me as if Aliens/etc., really have eaten my brains when I say I love to revise. Everyone's different. I'm not a writer who uses detailed outlines. I know some who do, one or two 3 x 5 cards per scene. I work from an outline that tells me I need to get from here to there and this is the emotional tenor of this story hinge, and that is how I want to climax to come together. How I get from a blank screen to ### (the end, in writerese) is an adventure. The story doesn't happen for me in the first draft, but in the revisions.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Here I Fell Asleep: Books I Couldn't Finish

I have a bookmark, a little leather triangle that fits over the corner of a page, that says, "Here I Fell Asleep." It's from Florence (as in Firenze) and has pretty gold decorations stamped on the leather. There is something to be said about books that put me to sleep. I love reading at bedtime, for one thing. It works well for me as a transition from awake-time to dream-time. The sleep hygiene people say your bed should be used only for sleeping and sex, but I disagree. Bedtime reading is sacrosanct. But not reading Stephen King! Reading something interesting enough to be pleasurable and sedate enough to help me relax. Good bedtime books would make a nice blog topic, but that's for another time.

This is about books I didn't finish. Recently, I've been more diligent about posting review of books I liked and it just occurred to me that it's as important to look at books that didn't work for me...and why.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Author Interview: Samaire Wynne

I recently had a chance to chat with Samaire Wynne, the author of the "Meridian Pack" series, the first volume of which, Awakening Fae: Fated Mates, I reviewed here.


Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?  

Samaire Wynne: Well, I have loved books and reading since I was a very young child. Wanting to create stories and books came naturally from that.


DJR: What inspired your book?  

SW: I love urban fantasy and have read many wolf-shifter books, and I thought I’d try my hand at that genre. I thought I would be taking a break from writing about fae creatures, but they crept into my story anyway!


DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?  What about them do you find inspiring?   

SW: Madeleine L’Engle, Walter Farley, Susan Cooper, and Neil Gaiman have influenced me the most. They write about utterly fantastical places and characters, and I loved getting lost in their stories. They taught me how to write.


DJR: Why do you write what you do, and how does your work differ from others in your genre?  

SW:  I love writing fantasy: It’s my favorite genre. I write about characters that my readers end up caring deeply about, especially when the characters find a family of friends. “Found Family” is the theme running through every book I’ve written. As to how my work differs from others in the Urban Fantasy genre, I am not sure. There are some really fantastic writers and storytellers out there creating some amazing books. I hope I stand out to readers. I love world-building and character backstories, and I love creating stories. I don’t think I’ll ever stop.

DJR: How does your writing process work?  

SW: To begin a new book, I always write a detailed outline. A typical 100,000-word book will have an outline at least five to seven pages long detailing character quirks, motivations, and backgrounds, and outlining the entire story from start to finish. I write early in the morning. Most of the time, I use the Pomodoro Method and write in 25-minute sprints. I try to see how many words I can write during each session, and I usually get so involved with the story that I write well into the afternoon.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Book Review: A New Shapeshifter Novel from Samaire Wynne

 Awakening Fae: A Fated Mates ~ Wolf Shifter Magical Adventure (The Meridian Pack Book 1) by Samaire Wynne (Black Raven Books)

“It’s good to read outside one’s familiarity zone” is oft-quoted advice. Usually, it means to try something darker, grimmer, and grittier than usual. But when I’d had my fill of dark/grim/gritty/depressing tales about sociopaths I really didn’t care about, I happily agreed to take a look at Samaire Wynne’s new wolf shifter novel. I dove into it without preconceptions and soon found it to be not only romantic in the best sense but also delicately layered.

Cameron, a foster kid about to age out of the system, is thrown into the world beyond the mundane when a puppy falls from the sky. I know what I’d do—everything I could to save it! In Cameron’s case, although it takes her a while to realize how she’s done it, this involves reaching out with a magical talent she had no previous idea she possessed.

Despite being forced to grow up too quickly when faced with an uncertain future, Cameron is still half a child. She has some, but by no means all, of the skills she’ll need to survive in the outer world. She’s got the grades but not the money for college; her foster parents do their loving best but cannot afford to keep her once she passes the age cutoff. The author perfectly captured Cameron’s loneliness and insecurity about the future and transforms it into loving protectiveness. In bonding with the puppy, Cameron places the welfare of another before her own, an essential step in growing up.

As Cameron encounters the puppy’s wolf shifter pack and her first terrifying encounter with the Nightmare Fae that are now stalking her, she embarks upon a journey into a new world of reincarnating wolf shape-shifters and magic. Much of what she learns comes from the wolf shifter pack. She struggles to define and understand her place among them. Often, their unqualified acceptance of her is puzzling, as are the gaps in their explanations. Later, it’s revealed that the shifter pack recognizes Cameron as a rare, immensely powerful Moon Fae, which is why they treat her with reverence and take on the responsibility of her education. Like a reader faced with too much exposition, Cameron is handicapped in her ability to understand it all at once, but even more so to put together the new relationships with her changing abilities—and her rapidly evolving identity. Being a normal human teenager is difficult enough, not knowing who you’ll be or what you’ll feel from one day to the next (thank you, hormones!). Added to that, Cameron as a Moon Fae is changing—awakening, as the title indicates. As the story progresses, Cameron matures in her understanding of her new world and herself.

Underlying the supernatural elements and slow-burn romance is a beautifully rendered portrait of a family-of-the-heart, and I think this is what gives this story its emotional depth. As Cameron herself puts it:

Me, who had fleeting connections to a dozen foster parents; me, who had never had a real family; me, who had just two black trash bags to hold every last bit of my life and belongings when I moved from foster family to foster family. I had finally found a family that cared about me. And the monsters had risen up, camouflaged in the most devious, deceptive way, and had descended on us and ravaged them.

The world of the Meridian Pack is an interesting blend of wolf shifters, fae, reincarnation, fated mates, teenage sexuality, nightmare menaces, action, and rational discussion. The author draws a distinction between wolf shifters, shapeshifters who transform into the form of a large wolf, as opposed to werewolves (as in the Underworld movies) and which appear in Book 2 of The Meridian Pack series. One of the more fascinating aspects of wolf shifter lore is the rate of aging; handsome Asher appears to be in his 20s, a little older than Cameron, but is in fact only much younger, with predictable and sometimes humorous consequences.

Although there’s plenty of dramatic (and romantic) tension, Awakening Fae: A Fated Mates often has an almost cozy quality. There was plenty to keep me turning pages but not enough to compel me to stay up all night. As I was puzzling this over, I attended a webinar about what keeps readers engaged. One thing that stood out for me was the importance of how the author makes you feel. That is based in the consistency and reliability of the reading experience, conveyed through the implied contract between author and reader. The author says, in effect, “In exchange for your time (and your trust), I promise this kind of story.” Part of this offer is conveyed through authorial voice, but pacing, character development, and more subtle aspects of story-telling are just as important. In order to repay the reader’s trust, the author had better come through. Wynne’s strong, sure command of these elements means the reader can relax into the story journey, knowing that whatever the ups and downs of dramatic tension and plot twists, the reading experience will unfold as promised, consistent and true.

Fans of Wynne’s other urban fantasies will love this one. It’s also a great place to start, especially if wolf shifters, fae, and coming-of-age stories are your jam. It's available now here and on Kindle Unlimited.

Samaire Wynne is a Puerto Rican author of over 20 novels in various genres, including horror and urban fantasy. She is Editor in Chief of Black Raven Books. She has been writing professionally for over 11 years.

A longtime Californian, you can find her skulking about in southern Virginia. If you were to visit her at twilight, she might serve you flower tea or butter whiskey on her back deck. If she excused herself and strolled into the forest, you might be tempted to wander after her. Past a stream, you’d see a stone well at the edge of her property, and you might hear voices coming from deep inside.

If you were to trip and tumble down the embankment, you might be stolen away by faeries keen to offer you a cookie or a bit of mead in a flower cup.

And if you were to drink it, you’d awake to find that a hundred years had passed...

Next Monday, I'll be interviewing Samaire here on my blog. Don't miss it!


Friday, September 15, 2023

Short Book Reviews: The Haunted Forest Takes Revenge

 Small Angels, by Lauren Owen (Random House)

The charming English village on the edge of a forest, equally charmingly named Mockbeggar, looks peacefully bucolic on the surface. Even the ghost stories and legends seem quaint when told in the sunshine. And if some of the villagers take such tales seriously, that just adds to the allure. Or so Chloe thinks when she arrives at the place that Sam, her husband-to-be, grew up in, excited to plan her dream wedding in the tiny church called Small Angels. But for Kate, Sam’s sister, the church, Blanch Farm, and especially the woods hold the memories of darkness and terror. Chloe inadvertently awakens the terror that has lain quiet for most of a generation. The woods are no longer safe…and they never were. The Gonne family, who have pacified the phantoms of Mockbeggar, is dispersed and only Lucia—called “the bad child”—remains.

Through multiple narrators and time lines, the story moves forward to its increasingly dark climax while revealing the past events that created the looming disaster. At times, I didn’t like any of them, although I desperately wanted them to find a way through their living ghost story. Then end was both unexpected and deeply satisfying. I love stories where the conflict is resolved through compassion, understanding, and integrity. Small Angels delivered such an ending to perfection.