Tuesday, March 26, 2013

For or Against Romance Genre

To better promote A Mage's Power, I went to the 'free review' section of Book Tweeting Service and looked for fantasy fans. While scrolling down the list I noticed a pattern: reviewers would either state that they only read/prefer to read romance novels or that would not read/prefer not to read romance novels. I paused my search to figure out why, of all genres, this one was singled out so much.

My first thought was current events: Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey are both smutty romance novels and both have sold extremely well. This means there are many fans who want to read more of the stuff and are willing to give free reviews in exchange for a free copy. They might be looking for the next big thing in romance. However, this didn't explain the people that explicitly stated they did not want to read romance, so I looked to my own experience.

The first book I reviewed as a blogger was a romance and it was awful. In a nutshell, a love triangle displaced a science-fiction/political intrigue and derailed characters.  On tvtropes we call this sort of thing a Romantic Plot Tumor. It's the only book I've ever given an F to. In the months to come I received more romance requests than fantasy, science fiction, or history and finally told Book Tweeting Service to exclude romance from my profile. Perhaps the other reviewers had a similar experience but still the answer eluded me; why romance? I didn't see such a divide in fantasy or thrillers or slice-of-life.

The answer is simpler than you might expect yet hit me like an artillery shell. TvTropes has a 'So You Want To' series for instruction in writing genres: war story, black comedy, romance novel, etc. The first paragraph of So You Want to Write A Love Story states "according to The Other Wiki, (A.K.A Wikipedia) romance novels account for more than 50% of all paperbacks sold." If this is correct then the second half is composed of every other genre combined and thus each one of them is a fraction of this total. The reason for the divide in romance on Book Tweeting Service is because there's so many more of them. If you don't want to read romance you need to make that clear or you'll get more of it then anything else. I still get romance requests occasionally and the author will say something along the lines of 'It's not romance, it's X with a romantic subplot" when the premise clearly states otherwise.

The next question, naturally, is 'why is romance so popular'? TvTropes has a pages long explanation but what do you think?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Answering Review Request: Flames of Ether

VL Parker asked me to read her book and one by her daughter, Sarah. The latter is the one I'm reviewing. It's called "Flames of Ether" and its about a disgraced mage dragging his cousin out of her cozy hometown to beat down evil demons that he accidentally released. Her amazon page says her books are "very riveting and action-packed" and one should always be wary of self-praise but this one is certainly not boring.

Bleak. The first thing you should know about this book is that it has a bleak atmosphere. The words and the prose and actions painted a drab picture in my mind. Th heroes like talking about their misfortunes how the present pales in comparison to the glorious past, and how awful the future will be if they don't stop the Cursed Ones. They're so gloomy I kept thinking the story took place in winter even though a plot point is reaching the Black Marsh before winter. There is no humor except for one time when Kara and Kali talk about comical memories.

The plot is a mixed bag. On one hand it has a clear goal, an unusual set up for Big Bad, dungeon diving and a satisfying conclusion. On the other hand, it has premise threatening fridge logic, few surprises, and a contrived coincidence matched with a boy whose Too Dumb Too Live.

The Good

1. The unusual Big Bad set up.

The main villain here, the evil sorceress that's the cause of the problems, is an ally of the heroes. That's because her curse is doing things she didn't want it to and she needs Kara's help to stop it. You don't see that often and it works alright here.

2. Dungeon Diving

On two occasions the heroes venture into territory belonging to the Darkened; a culture based on dark magic that has long since vanished. That magic makes their territory dangerous because they were protective of their treasures. These parts have a feeling of old school Dungeons and Dragons adventures. It's a pity that the characters spent less time in such places and more time talking about how bleak things are or will be.

3. Satisfying conclusion.

The conflict is resolved and there are dangling threats that can lead to a second book. I appreciate that sort of thing.


The Bad

1. Frige Logic

The backbone of the book is the heroes traveling to the Black Marsh so they can kill the Cursed Ones before the world is destroyed by them. However, the Call to Adventure is Kali grabbing Kara and running before the Cursed Ones arrive to kill her. At several points along the journey they met the Cursed Ones and I always wondered 'why not kill them now? They have all they need to complete their missioin (i.e. Kara's power) so why go all the way to the Black Marsh?"

2. No Surprises

Despite the unusual Big Bad set up there are no further surprises. It wasn't hard to see what would happen next in any given section and the one thing that did catch me by surprise was because it was a deus ex machina.

3. Contrived Coincidence and Too Dumb To Live

There is a character that made a Deal With the Devil and fully expected the devil in question to keep their word. He was willing to doom the entire world for someone that would have died anyway because of what he did to save them. If he were a destable character, this would be alright but the author clearly wants the reader to sympathize with his likable personality and tragic plight.

Otherwise, the characters are decent. They are distinct and have backstories that could lead to that distinction. There's little development but that's because the timeline is short which brings me to one one thing that bugged me in that regard. The Reveal comes a few days after the story begins and Kara is already thinking 'I'm far different than I was before'. It sounded presumptuous to me that she would think this at the start instead of the ending.

The setting I like. It's a standard medieval fantasy thing with kings, a council of mages, and Fair Folk. When the story takes place there is a prejudice against magic because of a war the Big Bad took part in a long time ago. When 3/4 of your group are mages, this is a problem when you travel long distances. I wish I could have seen more of this and less of the 'Kill the Cursed Ones!' plot.

Prose is mediocre. I can only assume that Mis.Parker doesn't like periods or semi colons or the word 'and' because many of her sentences are run-ons. For instance, 'Bob did X, Ying the Z. Alice did A, Bing the C.' That same pattern over and over again. By the page 100 mark I winced at each each comma-splice and mentally edited it so I could continue. Beyond repetition it destroyed the power of the sentence. When words drag on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on you're skipping over this aren't you? Action scenes are usually spared the worst but there is still room for improvement.  Secondly, it has a mild purple tinge to it. There's nothing excessive but the narration overdoes the elegance and so comes across as pompous and long winded. This makes the first problem worse and more noticeable.

Overall, it's a decent read but I can't recommend it because of its price: $3.99 for an ebook. I wouldn't pay that much for this book. I'd pay $0.99 but I wouldn't pay $3.99.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Flames of Ether" a C-

Click here for the next review request: Exiled Autumn's Peril (Chronicles of Caleath)

Click here for the previous review request: Ballad of the Namelsss Traveler

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Contrast of Reviews

"What book were you reading?"

Raise your hand if you've thought that when reading a review that you disagreed with. That sense of confusion is the subject of this week's post. I've wondered how two people can read the same book and have opposite opinions of the same thing. Not subjective things like 'thrilling' or 'well written' but factual details as well. I have experience with this on both ends.
1. Reading
The first book I read as a book reviewer was called 'Talented'.  The author marketed it as a sci-fi thriller staring a teenage psychic that works for what is, more or less, the CIA. What I read was a teen romance drama with the above as a veneer. (You can read the rest of the review here). This was part of a Goodreads group so I expected the others to concur but they didn't. Most of them said they liked the action and conspiracy plot. If they mentioned the romance it was only in positive terms. This baffled me so much I wrote a second blog post which I will not link to because it is bitter and angry. (If you want to look for it, go ahead. Maybe you can confirm or deny my theories.)
Then there was one review where I agreed with everything the reviewer said but I didn't like the book as a whole.  They read my review and acknowledged that the romance bogged down the plot. It came down to 'agree to disagree'.
2. Writing
As of this writing A Mage's Power has 38 reviews ranging from one star to five star. The one thing they agree on is that it needs professional editing. (Which has been taken care of!) I will focus on two reviewers that took contrasting views on the protagonist's development.  One says it follows the cliche of 'instant hero' and another says did not follow the 'normal weakling to massive power within a few chapters' progession.  As the author I can safely say that Eric does not kill a monster on his own until chapter nine and his teammates kill the same breed of monster at the same time and also on their own.
I would like to discuss the first review with its writer but a blog post from Jean Gill advised me against interacting with readers who give negative reviews. (You can read it here.)  So I am left to ponder alone and in silence, unless you have any ideas.

Do you?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Answering Review Request: "Ballad of the Nameless Traveler"

I was asked by Tomeki Piorkowski to review his story "Ballad of the Nameless Traveler". It takes the form of an epic poem narrating the traveler's adventures across the Eurasian Continent. It's a nice set up but the execution was horrible because of the overpowered protagonist.

There are five individual story arcs in five different regions with an overall story arc connecting them. The first arc is awful because the Traveler does everything; the only characters other than minions are a Distressed Damsel and her incompetent brothers. The second story arc is better because all he does is wrestle a golem. The conflict is resolved by others. The third arc is also great because he does nothing more than keep the enemy mage busy while the locals deal with the villain. The fourth story arc is bad for other reasons including this one; a lot of fumbling and idiocy on all sides, hero and villain both.  The fifth story arc gets a paragraph to itself.

There are a number of things wrong. 1.) As usual only the Nameless Traveler gets to do anything important but this case is especially bad because he's supposed to need five companions. There's a prophecy and everything but all they can do is draw away mooks that he could easily beat on his own. In the end they are Team Cannon Fodder. 2.) The Nameless Traveler is suddenly weaker. In the previous story arcs he fought off armies single-handed and didn't need to rest for days while fighting armies single handed. Here he tires easily before the Drama Preserving Handicap, which, by the way, is the first time he has been injured. 3.) Tangents; each time one of the five has served their purpose the story goes on a long tangent that could be its own story arc but is compressed and squeezed in here. It throws off the pacing and the narrator apologizes for it. If he felt that way he shouldn't have digressed in the first place. I can only presume that he did this to provide closure for the characters without interrupting the hero's own ending, which brings me to my next point. 4.) An author can not use The Adventure Continues and The Hero Dies simultaneously. It doesn't work that way. It must be one,  the other, or involve Passing the Torch. 5.) Conclusions are about wrapping things up but this one only brings up more questions. In the first four, the Nameless Traveler was a mystery; a void; now he's some kind of holy warrior on a mission from God whose doesn't use his name because that somehow keeps his true power sealed and releasing it would kill him. It sounds Messianic Archtype-y which adds to the Marty Stuness.

I have never seen a more blatant one than the Nameless Traveler. Inexplicably this guy is a martial arts expert, a master mage, has an aura of charisma that makes everyone like him instantly (unless they're stupid or evil) and is so handsome that even heterosexual guys are attracted to him. The first major villain is defeated as easily as his minions. All the other villains fare just as well so the most interesting stories are the ones where the Traveler can't fix the problem by punching someone. All this is made worse by the narrator referring to him as 'wonderful hero' and other such terms. The only way he could be worse is if he rode a mythical creature like a unicorn or a dragon instead of a horse.

Speaking of the horse, she has more personality than he does. I picture the horse as a Type A tsundere; sweet to the Traveler but cold and haughty to everyone else. The Traveler himself has no personality. There is nothing more to him than bland heroism and there is no backstory to explain the source of this heroism; there are no quirks or traits that could distinguish him. He is nothing more than a moving ball of conflict resolving power. Secondly the horse is not as overpowered as him; she does nothing that a real war horse could not reasonably do. For this reason I like the (also nameless) horse much more than I like the nameless traveler.

The third major character is Dundee, a vampire that follows the Traveler for revenge and is far more interesting than the Traveler. For one he has a name. For two he is not showered with praise by the narrator. For three he has a personality and a dynamic one; on one hand he wants to kill a hero for killing his evil father but he himself is a hero. Indeed, he has his own subplots where he delays his vengeance in order to stop by a local village and save Innocent Bystanders. For four, he is not all powerful. Like traditional vampires he is vulnerable to sunlight and his enemies take advantage of this on three occasions. As a reader, I would have preferred The Traveler to be a Decoy Protagonist and have the story follow Dundee instead.

There are other characters and they are also more interesting. In fact, the Traveler is the least interesting character in this story. They all have backstories and personalities and, of course, names. However, only once are they allowed to resolve the conflict themselves. Every other time they are quickly reduced to either begging the Traveler to save them or could not do it without him. He has all the subtly of a Deus Ex Machina because his appearance is often preceded by an appeal to the gods. Not 'God' but 'gods'; plural.

My opinion of the poem's mechanics are more mixed. On one hand, the poem gives the feeling of listening to a minstrel at court or a storyteller at a campfire. An atmosphere like that is suitable for an epic poem. On the other hand, the author is slavishly devoted to the same meter (AA, BB,) and for this purpose mangles sentence structure and uses anarchic words. This led to groaning on my part because it was painfully obvious and ruins the tension. On a third hand, the dialogue is usually good; there are badass boasts and cunning quips, etc.  It is the narration that suffers.

Determining this book's rating was a unique challenge. It was a like a rollercoaster; first arc (F), second arc (A), third arc, (A), fourth arc (D), fifth arc (C). To create an overall review I had to average them all together. Between the good and the bad I was going to round up and give the author a C for having the guts to write in epic verse but then I read the final lines. I would have been fine with an Unreveal-nothing wrong with keeping the mystery-but this was the most corny and trite method possible to end the story; the wonderful, powerful, handsome, charismatic hero's name is the reader's name. It so disgusted me I thought "D!". If the Traveler had some catchphrase like 'you are the real hero' then it would have been okay but this comes out of nowhere and feels like a cop-out. I thought about it and wanted to give the book a straight up F. This author clearly knows how to write a conflict driven and engaging story without a single overpowered hero (the second and third arcs prove this) but for some reason chose not too. I wavered between F and D while writing this review and finally came to a decision.


Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Ballad of the Nameless Traveler" a D-

Click here for the next review request: Flames of Ether

Click here for the previous review request: Forever Gate part 1

Monday, March 4, 2013

Inspirational Monday: One Year of Experience

My first free promotion ended last weekend and I'm pleased with the results. Since it coincided with the first Monday of the new month I've decided to use this month's Inspirational Monday to look back on my experience since publishing A Mage's Power.

I'm no longer editorial arrogant. Last year I thought I could be my own editor. I was so sure I could find all the errors I made three passes through the manuscript after I thought it was clean. It still wasn't and in the end I hired an editor but that wasn't the arrogant crushing blow. No, that came when the editor I hired said my manuscript required more than a light proofing. I was making the same error over and over again which lead to thousands of errors. Most of my 1 star reviews and also some of the positive reviews remark that the editing (my editing) was horrible. My book's overall rating would be higher if I had swallowed my pride and hired an editor before hand. When I finish the sequel, Looming Shadow, I will order more than a light proofing and put aside a month (or +1 weeks for however long they think it will take, which ever's longer) for them to do their thing.

It's been about a year since I took social media seriously and I'm still learning how to take full advantage of it. Creating this blog was the best I've done in that regard. It gives me a center to showcase my work and from which I can expand outward. I use writing tips and book reviews to attract hits and relate the former to my books and their pages at the top of this one. This also allows me to connect with other authors, like Isaac Hooke. We have a symbiotic relationship going on with retweeting and review giving.

My most recent experience is the above mentioned free promotion. I decided to do it once I received the professional edits for A Mage's Power. The idea was to get it into as many hands as possible to wash away the preception that the book was full of errors. At midnight on Saturday KDP recorded 951 downloads; for comparison this is 3/4 of my 'paid' downloads for the entire month of February. This fulfilled my objective so I'm happy with it.

With all this experience the launch of Looming Shadow will more successful and have fewer setbacks. Most inspiring of all is how many readers have said they're waiting for it. To them I'm not an unknown author anymore.