Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Seeking Opinions: Cover Design for Mana Mutation Menace

I commissioned someone to create a cover for the third book in my Journey to Chaos series. It centers around a magical disease called "Mana Mutation", which turns people into monsters physically and/or mentally, and attempts by scientific mages to cure it. What do you think about this design?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Read for Fun: Laddertop

This is not a review request. I found Laddertop (Books 1 and 2 combo) at my local library and it sounded interesting. It's about these aliens called "The Givers" who gave Earth several space stations for collecting solar energy and mining the asteroid belt, but they can only be maintained by children.  Plot, character and polish.


There are two plots running concurrently and this means two protagonists. Robbi and Azure are best friends and contrasting in their personalities. Robbi is accepted for a position in Laddertop and also receives mysterious dreams about giants and insects. Azure is rejected by SCAN despite being otherwise qualified and is scouted for an organization that researches the Laddertop instead of maintaining it. These two plot threads work well together because they reinforce each other. It's not just a "this thing over here is also happening but unrelated" or an "it's thematic" thing but both of them push the plot forward.
The world building is interesting stuff. For instance, because working at Laddertop means becoming an astronaut, the kids go through zero-gravity training and have to pass high academic standards. It is thus very competitive. Also, the Laddertops have radically altered Earth's energy market with a commercial talking about lucrative and environmentally friendly these machines are.
It's all great stuff until the ending. It's a cliffhanger. Absolutely nothing is resolved. It was frustrating to see all this great build up and world creation but to see nothing come of it. Perhaps the experience is different when reading the two books separately but this just feels cheap to me.
Robbi is a thoughtful girl. While her co-students are whizzing about randomly in a zero gravity sphere, she is holding still and figuring out how to move in such an environment most effectively.
She takes to living in space with a bunch of other kids she doesn't know and the strange dreams with grace. When told that she has to have a chip implanted in her head in order to control a robot monkey as part of her job, her response is "when your brain is funky, add a monkey."
Azure is a genki girl. She goes full throttle on everything, be it sports or Laddertop training. She's also reckless, even in dangerous situations like living on the moon. Fortunately for her, her thoughts move as fast as her feet and she takes advantage of the situation or minimizes the damage.
Other characters I am not fond of. Nine, for instance, comes across as a conflict ball character. She's belligerent to everyone, makes a fuss about the computer chip, and is easily manipulated into spying for a villain.

The artwork looks good. It's not as beautiful as say, CLAMP, but it's still good.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Laddertop (Books 1 and 2)" a C+

Click here for the previous book review (and also the previous request): "When They Shine Brightest"

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Answering Review Request: "When They Shine Brightest"

Yordan Zhelyazkov asked me to read his novel "When they Shine Brightest". It is set in a stone age society that's vaguely Aztec in its culture and also has some minor fantasy elements. I will examine plot, character and polish and then assign a grade.


The prologue is the last moments of a battle. It has gone badly for our protagonist, Korsak, and now he's trying to escape with the corpse of his son. The bulk of the rest of the book is the aftermath of this battle. They are in two parts; the immediate aftermath to six months, and then a full year afterward. This is marked by a subtitle at the start of each chapter saying "X days since the fall of Seten"  
The focus of the story jumps back and forth between the two of them, with the former shedding light on the circumstances of the latter as both progress. This has the effect of creating a Foregone Conclusion because the existence of the later plotline precludes anything developing in the former plotline. It also drags them both out because they are interrupted. For these two reasons, and because the two are only tangentially related, then as a reader, I would have preferred seeing them as two separate stories. (I don't give opinions as a writer because that's not my place.)
Both plotlines read like a family drama. There is child raising trouble, martial affairs, strained relationships with adult children etc.
There is a another plot thread of a power struggle between the native religious leaders of Seten, the Mothers, and a foreign conqueror who also has a religious standing as "the vanguard". This causes trouble for Korsak and his family but its main function is to underscore and amplify the family drama. This only shifts for the climax.
The world building is nice. It is interesting. It is a mix of real life stuff and some home grown practices. Best of all, Mr. Zhelyazkov develops his world without using As You Know. Instead, he has his protagonist reflect and contemplate on this world and its culture, which serves the double purpose of developing him as well.

The climax is also great. It is a culmination of all the book's plot threads and has a number of nice twists. The ending is satisfying both in that it closes the book's conflict and opens future conflict; a sequel hook.


Arty is one of two main characters and she is my favorite character. She's cute. She's brave. She's resourceful. At once she is both child-like and wiser than one would expect a pre-teen to be. I don't mean this in the sense that she is stoic but that she is plucky. She gets scared and she cries at sad times but she keeps moving. She also becomes a Fluffy Tamer, which is cool.

Korsak is the second of two main characters and he is a conflicted and broken man. The Fall of Seten, and the results of its immediate aftermath have turned him into a mild death seeker. When the story begins he beseeches the gods to "reincarnate me already" because he's given up on himself and his world and his society.  Watching his internal struggle between religious devotee and despairing/angry apostate is quite interesting, as well as the choices he makes to preserve at least one part of his family.

It's interesting, on reflection, that there is no Big Bad in this story. It's not easy to create a true case of Grey and Grey morality that causes antagonists to look good from their own angles.

 Krul is the warlord who conquered Seten and now seeks to bend the Mothers to his will to increase his spiritual/political standing but he is without malice in the story. Indeed, he keeps saying about how much he wants to save everyone in Seten from something in the north east and is generally polite (if smug).  

The Mothers abuse Korsak as a scapegoat for the Fall of Seten, and allegedly caused the trouble with Krul. This makes them much less sympathetic but Krul is trying to obtain a dangerous item from them and has been conquering tribes for a long while. It's understandable that they would resist him.


There were one or two grammar problems but considering this story was translated from Bulgarian into English I'd say it looks fantastic. I wouldn't have suspected if I wasn't told.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "When They Shine Brightest" a B

Click here to read the next review (which is not a request): Laddertop books 1-2 combo

Click here to read the previous review request: Burd the Abduction

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Leave it to the Professionals

Mana Mutation Menace has been sent off to be prepared for publishing so I decided now was a good time to talk about all the work that goes into this preparation. Specifically, why this sort of thing should be left to professionals. Consider this post the answer to my earlier post "Editing, Professional Help or Not" and an extension of "The Importance of an Editor"
This is the third time I've worked with BZ Hercules Editing and Consulting. They're a cover-to-cover place that has some competitive prices. For the package I've selected, there's editing, proofreading, formatting, cover design, and then the social media launch.

Editing is the first thing that's needed. This is not just fixing spelling and grammar; that comes later. This is about consistency of nouns (people, places, things), flow of the story, major problems with spelling and grammar, paragraph intents and chapter settings. There could be more things that I don't know about or appreciate. Mana Mutation Menace needs this to tighten up. Although I am an author, my knowledge and application of the rules of written language is not perfect. That's why I need a professional to cover my oversights. There were literally "thousands" of errors in A Mage's Power because I made the same mistake on every page. Hopefully I have learned from my previous two experiences and created less trouble for her.

Proofreading is next. This should come after editing as a second check. No one can get all the errors in one pass (the author certainly can't). This is for checking all the stuff that was missed the first time and making sure the editing didn't introduce more problems. To save money, I tried to do just this on A Mage's Power for the second edition. It didn't work because there were more than just proofread level problems. For Looming Shadow, I hired a professional and I did not receive the same sort of "hire an editor!" feedback from both fans and critics. Thus, I made sure to order both editing and proofreading for the entire manuscript of Mana Mutation Menace to make it as clean as possible. It's not cheap by any means because the story is long (1.75 for proofreading and editing combo over 300 double spaced pages means paying for 600) but it's worth it to create a polished product.
Formatting is also involved. I don't understand this part at all. It has something to do with aligning stuff in the manuscript, maybe something HTML or other code thing. What I'm most concerned with is the Table of Contents. Creating that thing and linking each chapter title to the chapter it refers to would difficult I imagine. It's one more thing I leave to the professionals.
Cover Design is completely outside my craft but still necessary. I took an art class in college, and I took it pass/fail because otherwise it would have harmed my GPA. Yes, my technique was bad but my creative vision was good enough. Laura from IIPX photography created both of the covers for my first two books (Travis Pennington from Pro Book Covers did the first originally, and it looks amazing too). I'm looking forward to the third one.

The first edition of A Mage's Power is what my work would look like without a professional. You can see for yourself what readers thought about that: A Mage's Power. Incidentally, would you mind checking it out further? BZ Hercules made the current edition look better than its first.