Sunday, January 27, 2013

Answering Review Request: Song at Dawn by Jean Gill

A Trickster Eric Novels review

Jean Gill asked me to read 'Song at Dawn' a while ago. I would call it a 'historical intrigue romance' because that is the order of their importance in the story. When I read the description I was afraid the romance would outweigh the other two but this fear was groundless. There is more than enough history and intrigue to balance it out and a strong enough plot to keep it relevant and no more.

I am a history buff and I believe that is why Miss Gill asked me to review the book in the first place. "Song at Dawn" begins in the 12th century, shortly after the Second Crusade, and the bulk of the action is in and around the city of Narbonne, Southern France. I took a college class on the Crusades and read about Eleanor (Alienor) of Aquitaine and Bernard de Clairvaux and the disaster they called a crusade and it was fascinating to compare what I remember with what is in the book. Miss. Gill has done her homework in that regard. More interesting still, my class didn't have the time to address indirect results of the crusade, such as a disruption in trade for the French city because Moorish ports have taken a disliking to Christians. Also contemporary ideas of medicine such as 'red meat to restore colour and garlic to fight demons'. The later of course isn't true but for the time period it was believed to be. These touches add a context to the setting so that it is more than a exotic location for courting.

As for intrigue, the appeal for me is that it is 'day-to-day' intrigue instead of 'Count Evil wants to take over the kingdom' intrigue. It's the kind of spying and prying and positioning that nobles and bishops and businessmen etc have to do on a regular basis to stay informed and avoid being caught with their pants down. Estela learns to do this herself before the story's half way over; gossip with a gaggle of well-connected ladies and shift through the meaningless chitchat to find the gems.

Normally, I have no stomach for romance in literature because I am wary of the 'wild, teenager passion' that ruined the first book I reviewed. Instead this is Courtly Love which I find more palatable. Indeed the oaths of love mix with and contrast oaths of fealty in delightful ways between ladies and their knights. For those hoping for something more 'physically intimate' that's present to but in much smaller amounts.

The plot was terrific. It starts off with the protagonist laying in a ditch and cutting herself off from her past to the point of abandoning her birth name; a intriguing start. From there the central plot thread is built and more wrap around it to strength it instead of distract. There are plenty of twists. I won't say what, of course, but they are evenly spaced up to the end. Also humor; there is a lot of humor in between the I Did What I Had To Do moments. My personal favorite takes place during a singing competition early on.

I wish I had something constructive to say but I don't.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Song at Dawn" an A+

Click here for the next review request: Legacy of the Dragokin

Click here for the previous review request: Tainted Dawn

My reviews for the following books in this series, "Blade Song" and Plaint for Provence are now available.

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Social Media Reciprocity

We've all heard the phrase "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" and it holds true in book promotion. By supporting other authors you support yourself because they will support you. That way both of you are better off and will sell more books. I'll give examples in writing, blogosphere, and twitter.

First of all, writing. That's where it all starts and who better to be a beta reader than another author? I do not consider other fantasy writers to competition. I see them as potential allies; we understand each other's writing because we're in the same genre and so we are also each other's target audience.  You've seen that  'People who bought from this guy bought this from this other guy' on Amazon, right? That's what this is all about. For instance, I'm reading Dan Wright's "Legacy of the Dragokin" for a review (That review is here) and he's reading my "A Mage's Power" for a review too. We both read fantasy and we both get a new review. Where's the downside?

Second, that other form of writing, the blogosphere. Share each other's posts and each of you will each reach more people. Go on facebook and twitter and linkedin or whatever platform suits your fancy and talk up your fellow writers. Not only does this help the other guy (who is then inclined to share your stuff) but you have more stuff to share and thus more stuff to catch attention. Then there's blog tours and hops; they are powered by sharing. For instance, I joined a blog tour for Dan Wright's "Trapped on Draconica" novel and it remains one of my most popular posts. Certainly it was the one most shared on Google +.  It brought my blog greater exposure and so my own posts can reach more people.

Third is Twitter and this is where I have the most experience. I follow other authors and they follow back and so we both can reach more people by retweeting each other's stuff. It only takes five seconds to check their page for the latest tweets and only one second to click the 'retweet' button and send it to a plethora more people. When I joined Book Tweeting Service as a volunteer book reviewer I regularly tweeted about my thoughts on a book as a read it. My follower count skyrocketed. If you keep up with the followbacks (reciprocity!) then the list will continue to climb.

Did you notice the links to Dan Wright's amazon page and to Book Tweeting Serivce's  "like a free review' page? Reciprocity!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Review of Pengragon book 1 Merchant of Death

I had a long plane trip over Christmas vacation so I brought along a book: Pendragon Book One. I found it annoying initially but it got better as I went along until I truly liked it by the end.  There's some good and some bad and then I'll give my final opinion.

Part of the good is Uncle Press. Bobby describes him as a 'cool uncle' and he certainly is. His demeanor is this 'nonchallant-yet serious' heroism that convinces me that he really could inspire the Milago to rebel against the oppresive Bedoowan. He's also more physically powerful than a typical Obi Wan, possessing skill with both guns and spears. He's so cool he leaves me wondering why he needs Bobby in the first place.

Part of the bad is Bobby. Yes it never bodes well when The Protagonist is part of the bad. For me it was his constant whining. For the bulk of the book most of his dialogue is 'I shouldn't be here, I wanna go home.' However, it's not as bad as it could have been because part of his argument is 'Uncle Press should be doing this; he's better at it'. As annoying as his whining is I can't argue with it. If Press wanted him to be a world saving hero he should have prepared him for it instead of dropping it on him all of a sudden. He's just as confused as to why Press dragged him on this adventure as the reader, which nets him sympathy points. The sequel will likely be better because Bobby will be over that stage of 'reluctant heroness'.

The split narrative (i.e. the journals) are both good and bad. On one hand I've never seen a first person journal interwoven with a third person narrative so it was a fun novelty. Also, it's a plot point and serves a number of purposes.  On the other hand, it kills suspense because the reader knows that Bobby has to live through whatever it is he's writing about in order to write about it. Also, it makes his Totally Radical lingo more apparent and more painful because it's in the narration in addition to his spoken words.

The foreshadowing is the only unambiguously good part about this book. There are a number of things set up in the beginning that become crucially important in the end. It's that wonderful light-bulb-above-the-head thing when I reached that point and the pieces came together. For me, the last few chapters make the entire book worth reading.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Pendragon Book 1: The Merchant of Death" a C+

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Inspirational (belated) Monday: Fantasy

The first Monday of every month is Inspirational Monday. Share something that inspires you.  This week I'll share my favorite genre: Fantasy

It was a fantasy quartet that inspired me to become a novelist myself: "Protector of the Small" by Tamora Pirece. It had mages and dragons and gods and monsters of her own design. After reading it and others I decided to start my own series.

I've tried writing other genres, including realistic fiction, but they always mutated into fantasy. For instance, A Mage's Power was originally supposed to be a stand-alone comedy and Tasio was to be the only fantasy element. When I wrote the first chapter that idea shriveled up and was replaced with a four book action-adventure series where Eric studied magic.

Reading or writing it's my favorite genre.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Repeating Leads to Less Revision

When I revised A Mage's Power I would find errors so obvious I couldn't believe they were there. At first I thought my familiarity with the material caused my blindness and to an extent this was true. However, there was another cause for the errors.

As I said on my "Useful Problems"  post, I like to look for ways to improve the story as I revise it. This is author multi-tasking because while looking for errors I can look for plot holes or a better turn of phrase. However, this means introducing brand new content into a sea of nth revision and can create new grammatical errors or itself be improved upon. Thus begins a vicious cycle of 'revise-rewrite-new-errors-revise-hair pull'. During the final revision I found a solution.

If I change any part of a sentence, I immediately reread that sentence. If I change part of a scene, I reread that scene from the top. I likened it to 'covering one's tracks' and sure enough I found the kinds of errors that frustrated me: tenses that didn't agree, missing words, something unnecessary like a hangnail. By repeating what I had just written I could immediately revise it, catch those simple-yet-embarrassing errors and break the cycle.

Warning! This was the ninth or tenth revision. I would recommend AGAINST doing this on a first draft. At that stage all you need to worry about is getting the words down. Indeed, using this method at the embryonic stage is counter-productive at best. I wouldn't use it during the second draft either because my preference is to take in the story as a whole and look for 'big picture' problems. The nuts and bolts of the issue can wait until the third draft.

For more editing tips see "Editing-Professional Help-or-Not",  ,"Inspirational Monday: Whedon Editing", and "Revise-Revise-Revise".

On an unrelated note, my New Year's Resolution is to run a tighter social media ship and part of that is regular posting. I plan to post a writing tip or book review every Tuesday and possibly something on the weekend.  This week, however, that extra post will be tomorrow because I forgot about Inspirational Monday.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Mage's Power is on Amazon!

I did it. I finally did it! After seven years my first novel is finally published!

After seeing so many other books in this screen it's overwhelming to see my own in the same!

To think I believed I was done after five or so revisions.....I lost count but I think the final count is around ten. Apart from that I had to tell everyone about it but to do that I had to build the infrastructure to reach them; this blog for instance. Then I had to track down someone to make that amazing cover page you see before you. (Thanks again, Mr.Pennington!)  I put out the word on Twitter and he followed me shortly afterward. In the time to come I'll commission him again to make the cover for the sequel, tentatively titled "Looming Shadow". The endless circle of writing continues!