Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday Fiction Fix: "A Cast of Stones"

The Short:

A Cast of Stones
(The Staff and the Sword Book 1)

By: Patrick W. Carr

5/5 Stars (and possibly being added to the favorites list)

What: A village drunk finds out he’s a reader—someone with the ability to cast lots predicting the future.

Recommended to those who like: Loose Christian Message, Fantasy, Redemption stories, sword fights, good world building

The Long:

When I find a free book, I don’t always have the highest expectations. But even had I paid something for this one, I wouldn’t have been disappointed.

A Cast of Stones blew me away. It’s one of the best Christian fantasy books that I’ve read in a long time. The world building is original, the writing is fantastic, and the plot is gripping.

Throughout the story, we follow Errol, the village drunk who can’t seem to go one night without getting kicked out of a tavern. One day, a church messenger gives him a message to deliver to a priest in the wilderness. Though he has no love for the church, the money proffered will be enough to keep him in ale for a few weeks.

His journey eventually takes him across the kingdom and thrusts him deep into church politics. The old king is dying and the race is on to find a replacement since has no heir. But someone wants to keep Errol from ever being of use to the church, though he can’t see why he’s important.

Much of the story focuses on the concept of “readers”—people with the ability to carve and cast lots to determine where others are, who is responsible for assassination attempts, whether someone is alive or dead, what decisions people will make, etc. The concept is intriguing and well explained.

The fantasy/medieval elements are well woven together and the world building is convincing. There is a Christian message to the story, but it certainly doesn’t overwhelm the plot and it doesn’t come across as a sermon. Even Christians are portrayed as flawed, which was well done and refreshing .

Again, I can’t say enough about this book; I was truly impressed by it—even more so due to the fact that this was Mr. Carr’s first novel. I look forward to reading more of his writing, especially
the rest of  this series.

If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your thoughts below. Please remember to be respectful of Mr. Carr and his work, as well as other commentators. I also welcome comments on what you would like to see included in the reviews. I reserve the right to remove vulgar, hateful, or rude remarks from the comments. Thanks for sharing!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Writing a Novel, Part 4

This is the fourth and final installment in a series on writing in honor of Camp NaNoWriMo. In my previous articles, I covered brainstorming, writing a rough draft, and editing. These articles are based off of my own personal experience, as well as from advice from Go Teen Writers, a blog dedicated to providing help to writers both young and old. 

You're exhausted. You've brainstormed until you've just about electrocuted yourself with the mental lightning, typed until your fingers nearly fell off, and edited until your manuscript looked more like a homicide case than a novel because it was bleeding from your merciless red pen.

But your book still isn't a published book. Today I'll be briefly discussing a couple of approaches to publishing.

Traditional Publishing

This is how pretty much all publishing worked until a few years ago. With the advent of e-books, this is changing a bit, but I'll get to that later in this article. 

The first step in traditional publishing is finding an agent. To do this, you follow a process called "querying" where you email different agents and hope that they email you back. 

The job of an agent is to be an advocate for your book. Many major publishing houses will not accept books/ manuscripts unless the writer has an agent. The agent talks to publishing houses, works out deals, and, in return for this work, will eventually get some of the money you get from your book. 

A few publishing houses (especially smaller ones) will accept un-agented books, but this is relatively rare. Plus, if you can land a well-known agent, you can already have a little street-cred for your book. After all, the publishing house already knows that someone liked your book (your agent, that is). 

One of the exceptions to this is publishing houses that have book "interviews" at writers' conferences. This is one of the prime opportunities to pitch a book without an agent, as well as to find agents (not to mention a chance to improve your craft). 

The key to traditional publishing is to persevere in soliciting both agents and publishing houses. According to, A Wrinkle in Time (one of my all-time favorite novels) was rejected 26 times. So don't give up!

After a novel is accepted by a publishing company, the book will be given to an editor (just when you thought you were safe!) and you will be given suggestions and deadlines. You'll probably end up taking most of their suggestions, but don't feel obligated to follow them down to the letter. Just be sure to meet the deadlines!

That done, you'll send the manuscript back to the editor, when it'll be microedited (and you thought I was kidding when I said the editing never ended). You'll also get a cover, a marketing campaign strategy, and, at long last, a finished, published novel. And some cash. 

Of course, this all an extraordinarily oversimplified version of the process. For a more detailed overview, I would suggest this article.

Self Publishing

Self publishing, sometimes called vanity publishing, is a relatively recent invention and has been aided by e-books. Examples of this are Kindle Direct Publishing and Lulu. Essentially, an author skips all the agents, querying, waiting, etc. and just clicks the "publish" button and...voila! Instant book (publishing times range from about two days for e-books to several weeks for print-on-demand paper books). 

It sounds so much easier than traditional publishing, so why doesn't everyone do it?

Precisely because anyone can do it. As a self-published author, there's very little to separate you from the thousands of people who've written other stories. These stories range from ones that eventually hit it big, to moderate successes, to some that look like people published their NaNo book without looking at it a second time. 

You also have to do all of your own editing, cover design, and marketing--or pay money for these services from independent entities. 

For success, self published authors have to produce a high quality work in great volumes (I've heard people say as much as one novel every three to six months). They also need to possess excellent marketing skills to get their books out there. In short, it's a lot of work for not much money.

So why do people choose to self publish?

Some people think they're never going to have a chance at real publishing, whether because of their book genre or some other reason. Other people are happy to just get their books out there and don't really care about money or fame. Still others rush into self publishing without really knowing how much work it entails. 

Self publishing does have some perks as well, including keeping all the rights to your books, being able to work on your own schedule, and not being expected to write only in one genre. 

If you're debating the pros and cons of each method like I am, I would recommend this article.

Any questions about publishing? I'm not an expert, but I can answer a few questions here and there. I also welcome questions on my own writing, if you have any.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Fiction Fix: "Masters and Slayers"

The Short:

Masters and Slayers
(Tales of Starlight Book 1)

By: Bryan Davis

5/5 Stars

What: A fiery sword maiden and chivalrous young man set out to free humans on another world from their dragon captors.

Recommended to those who like: loosely-Christian, fantasy/sci-fi blend, sword fights, dragons, good world building.

Not recommended for those who dislike: More mature subject matter (nothing inappropriate, but definitely more suited to young adults and up)

The Long:

If you like dragon books, Mr. Davis is the author for you. Masters and Slayers is book 1 of the Tales of Starlight series for young adults. The series will be a companion to the Dragons of Starlight series, which is intended for more of a teen audience.
This is one of the first “adult” fantasy books I’ve seen come from a major Christian publishing house, and it’s well done. While the story is linked in to a previous series for a younger audience, it stands well on its own. If the series succeeds, I think we can look forward to more books that discuss serious subject matter in a Christian speculative fiction context.
Seeing as this is a book for mature audiences, it does discuss some more mature subject matter. It isn’t anything inappropriate, but this is a book more suited to older teens, young adults, and adults due to discussion of adult topics such as sexual sin. This, in my opinion, makes the book more believable and adds some new dynamics to the characters that give them depth and realism. Topics are handled from a Christian worldview.
The setting is interesting; while some technology is advanced (video tubes activated by genetic material), others lag behind (much of the fighting is done with swords).

Throughout the story, we follow Adrian Masters, a young peasant from the planet Major Four who seems stuck in the old ways of chivalry. His friend Marcelle is a fiery shield maiden who often lets her emotions get the better of her.
Together, the two of them secretly are part of a society that wants to travel to Dracon, a planet in their solar system that is supposedly inhabited by dragons. Though few believe the rumors anymore, the legends say that dragons there once took humans from Major Four captive as slaves. They seek to free these slaves and rescue Adrian’s older brother Frederick, who they believe is lost on the other planet.
While the story takes some time to build up in action, it becomes a fast read as you progress. You can also tell that the book is supposed to be linked to another book, as the occasional odd reference to minor characters is made. This doesn’t detract very much from the story. The tale has Christian principles and values and many of the characters speak of the “Creator” and the “Code”, but this certainly doesn’t overwhelm the plot.

If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your thoughts below. Please remember to be respectful of Mr. Davis and his work, as well as other commentators. I also welcome comments on what you would like to see included in the reviews. I reserve the right to remove vulgar, hateful, or rude remarks from the comments. Thanks for sharing!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Writing a Novel, Part 3

This is part three in a month-long series on writing in honor of Camp NaNoWriMo. In the previous two articles, I covered brainstorming and writing a rough draft. These articles are based off my own experience, as well as advice and stories from the "Go Teen Writers" blog.'ve brainstormed, (perhaps) plotted some (with sticky notes and colored pens and flowcharts if you're fancy; on the back of a napkin if you're not), and written out a perfect novel in about thirty days, right?

Umm...not quite perfect. Today we encounter editing. Depending on the author, this is where the magic happens or where the torture starts.

The Macroedit

This is where the majority of the work happens in the editing process and can include one or more rewrites (my current WIP has been overhauled about two and a half times). The macro edit is where you straighten out the overall plot and characters of the work. It generally includes things from the scene level on up. 
This is where the "plotters" make a little headway. If you already have (at a minimum) the major scenes of your work planned out, you have fewer ends to tie up.

If you're a pantster (this was the approach I used for my current WIP), this is where the major work begins. You know that big reveal you made in chapter twenty that you had no idea was coming? Well, you need to plant some hints for your readers. That character whose name changed five times? Make sure you get it straightened out. Did you ever figure out why your villain wants to do villainous things? Now might be a good time to figure out what separates him from the goody-two-shoes protagonist over there. 

After you've got the really big, earth shattering stuff pinned down, it's time to move on to more medium-sized stuff, such as the exact timing of events (Don't have your characters decide to go out to lunch "tomorrow" on Wednesday, then show them going out to lunch on Friday.) I recently employed the "sticky note timeline" for this method, which allowed me to move around scenes. I really liked it and plan on using it again. 

Each yellow note indicated a week in story time. Blue scenes were ones that had to be re-written or written for the first time. Green ones merely needed edited. Even after several years of working on this novel, you can see that  there was still a lot of re-writing to be done. 

Editing takes a lot of time and can be stressful. There are times when I certainly wanted to give up (and still do). After a few edits, it's time to send it off to a critique partner--someone who can tell you the plot holes that you've missed, what's good, what's slow, and what just doesn't make sense. I've had two serious critique partners and they've both helped me grow immensely in my craft. 

The Microedit

Also called line editing, this is where you read the novel for all those little grammar errors, clunky sentences, etc. It can only occur after you've already polished off your macroedit (or else you're just going to want to kick yourself repeatedly). 

I've been known to read my novel out loud or have my computer read to me to catch small errors. Run spell check multiple times. If it doesn't sound right, play around with the sentences. Go Teen Writers has some wonderful editing worksheets to get you started and they cover the process in far more detail than I have here (They're a serious writing blog; this is just meant to be a sneak peek into my own writing life). 

I'll have one more installment in this series covering the publishing process and some different approaches to it. I hope you're enjoying it so far--I always welcome feedback in the comments. Don't forget to stop back in on Friday!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Fiction Fix: "Hero, Second Class"

The Short:

Hero, Second Class
The Hero Complex, Book 1

By: Mitchell Bonds

4/5 Stars

What: In a fantasy world, Heroes take on Villains. The story is a witty tale of a young man apprenticed to a Hero. Meanwhile, an Arch-Villain tries to take over the world.

Recommended to those who like: Humor, puns, parody, fantasy

Not recommended for those who dislike: magic, or a love element.

The Long:

                Hero, Second Class had me laughing from page one. The tale is full of plays on words, puns, and overall literary humor. Mr. Bonds does a wonderful job poking fun at monologuing Villains, his own writing, and standard fantasy writing techniques.
                However, the overall plot is still good and characters still have their own quirks. Faith is discussed briefly, but is not a center point of the novel.
                Throughout the story we follow Cyrus, who is apprenticed to a Hero, the Crimson Slash. Along the way they encounter dragons and strange creatures while trying to thwart an Arch-Villain who was once defeated by the Crimson Slash. We’re also given humorous insight into the world of the Villains.
                A brief note to those who object to magic: this book does contain magic and the concept of spells. However, it does not go into detail or resemble anything in our present world. Rather, it is described as taking energy from specific points in the world and channeling it. The book also involves zombies and vampires, though these are not main points of the book.
                The book also contains a love story, but it is rather humorously done and does not overwhelm the action side of the plot.
                I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your thoughts below. Please remember to be respectful of Mr. Bonds and his work, as well as other commentators. I also welcome comments on what you would like to see included in the reviews. I reserve the right to remove vulgar, hateful, or rude remarks from the comments. Thanks for sharing!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Writing a Novel, Part 2

This is part two in a month-long series on writing in honor of Camp NaNoWriMo. Last week I covered the initial part of the process of writing a novel. This week, I will be talking about how one goes about writing a rough draft. All of these are based off of my own experience, as well as inspiration from "Go Teen Writers".

Ah, the rough draft. Here is where we get to the bulk of the heavy lifting of noveling.

There are two main approaches to writing a rough draft: Plotting and “Pantsing”. There is a whole spectrum of writing methods in between, but these are the two general approaches. 


Plotting refers to the act of coming up with the main parts of the plot line before actually beginning writing. The amount of plotting varies from author to author and even from story to story.

Some authors like to come up with a list of main scenes before writing. Others like to come up with a list of every scene with detailed descriptions of what happens in each scene.

Yet other authors prefer to focus their energies on character development. Some methods of doing this include “Character interviews” where the author stages mock interviews with his or her characters, or even just a basic questionnaire that he or she fills out for each character.

One famous plotting method is called the “snowflake” method, which works your novel from one sentence to a full plot. This is a very regimented process that doesn’t necessarily work for all authors.


This method derives its name from the phrase “to fly by the seat of your pants”. Pantsing is free-flow writing and is at the opposite end of the spectrum from plotting. Many of these authors are strong proponents of the messy rough draft, where they do not worry about many of the finer points of writing, but just try to get the story out on paper (or on Word document, as the case may be).

Like Plotting, Pantsing comes in a whole range from having only a vague story concept to work with to having a handful of scenes worked out (for example, knowing the starting scene, the climax, and the ending scene).


So, how long does this process take? Many authors enjoy participating in the challenge of National Novel Writing Month, hosted every November. The goal is to write a rough draft of 50,000 words during the month (50,000 is considered the minimum number of words for a full-length novel). I’ve successfully completed the challenge one time and attempted two other times.

Other authors may take several months to complete their rough drafts.

You might be wondering why getting a novel published takes so long if you can theoretically write a rough draft in thirty days or fewer. Don't forget that we still have several steps left in the writing process—including one of the more lengthy ones: editing. I’ll be covering that next week.

In the meantime, feel free to leave your comments below and don’t forget to stop in on Friday for a book review!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday Fiction Fix: "Swipe"

The Short:


By: Evan Angler

5/5 Stars

What: At the age of 13, residents of the American Union are allowed to become citizens, if they pledge allegiance to the government by being Marked by a tattoo. 12 year old Logan Langly dreads the day of his pledge and suspects he’s being followed by a dangerous criminal.

Recommended to those who like: Quick reads, Dystopian, clean fiction

The Long:

Swipe is probably the best Christian dystopian book I’ve read. It’s believable, but not preachy (In fact, I only suspect it’s Christian due to the publisher and a few subtle hints throughout the book). While the characters are young, it doesn’t read like a chapter book or a low-level read.

Logan has long suspected that he’s being followed. Ever since his sister’s death at her pledging, he’s noticed strange things around his home in a suburb of New Chicago.

A few months before his scheduled Pledging ceremony, Erin arrives in town. A city girl trying to pull her fighting parents back together, she wants nothing more than her father to solve whatever government case that’s pulled him out to the middle of nowhere.

She and Logan soon find that their circumstances are intertwined and they work together to save Logan from the elusive group known as the Dust.

The main characters are believable as middle school students (which they are), or even high school students, making this accessible for most readers. It’s a quick read for an afternoon and the action picks up fairly early on. I would recommend it to anyone who likes a not-so-dark dystopian novel. The writing is good and Mr. Angler brings a nice voice to the story that gives it life.

If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your thoughts below. Please remember to be respectful of Mr. Angler and his work, as well as other commentators. I also welcome comments on what you would like to see included in the reviews. I reserve the right to remove vulgar, hateful, or rude remarks from the comments. Thanks for sharing!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Writing a Novel, Part 1

This is the first in a month-long series on writing in honor of Camp NaNoWriMo.

Before I started writing, I had this idea that authors just sat down at a computer, wrote for a few days or weeks, proofread their work for typos, and then sent it off to a publisher. It was then magically transformed into print after getting a cover and being proofread again. 

If only it could be that simple. 

The path of a story from an author's mind to into your hands is far more convoluted and lengthy. 


First, an author has to come up with a story worth writing. For me, this comes in one or more ways, depending on my brain that day (For fun, let's create a goofy little story). 
  • The "What if" scenario, such as: What if my marching band was placed in an alien battle of the bands on another planet? 
  • The character idea: There should totally be an ex-swimmer with 13 siblings who also has ninjas for parents For me, this is often quickly followed by a "what if" that involves the character.
  • The world idea: A planet completely covered by water that is inhabited by mermaids.
  • The plot idea: A quest for a missing jewel goes terribly wrong when the leader of the party gets kidnapped. This method is similar to the "what if", but tends to have more of a plot.
  • The scene strike: A flautist passes out trying to win a breath-holding competition. This method is shorter and more narrow than the plot idea or what if scenario, but begs questions.
You'll notice that none of these ideas constitutes a full novel. The marching band needs players, perhaps a quirky drummer. One scene doesn't constitute a whole novel.

So how do these crazy ideas get strung together? I like to call the next step...

Fermentation (Or Brainstorming)

Have you ever had a sourdough bread starter? It takes weeks to months to develop a mixture capable of making the wonderful, aromatic bread known as sourdough. It needs fed flour and water to allow the yeast (the microorganisms responsible for making bread rise) and bacteria (responsible for the sour flavor) to grow. It also needs kept at a certain temperature, stirred occasionally, and monitored for bad bacterial growth. This whole process can be considered a form of fermentation.

"Fermenting" a plot occurs in much the same way. You have to feed your idea with more ideas.

Let's string our story ideas from above together.

 The quest for a missing jewel occurs on the same world as the mermaids--maybe it's the mermaids' crown jewel. They narrow it to a person who lives on earth who's in a band and summon a bunch of high school students to their underwater planet for a band competition. Our ex-swimmer with 13 siblings and ninja parents just joined up and has become friends with the quirky drummer. On the way, he challenges a flautist to a breath holding contest. Being a swimmer, he wins and the flute-player passes out. Meanwhile, the mermaids' quest leader has just been kidnapped.

The story ideas might not have come complete, but following fermentation, we have something that's ready to move on to the next step in the writing process.

Fermentation varies greatly from story to story and author to author. I've come up with whole plots in a day, characters included. Have these been my best stories? No, and I tend to let them sit and develop for a while to iron out some kinks. Some stories have taken me months just to get a vague idea of what's actually going on. Other authors prefer to  use "random story generators" to flush out their stories, or even just give them starting points.

Next week I'm going to cover the process of writing a rough draft and some of the different approaches to doing so. Don't forget to tune back in on Friday for a book review! (I'm finally going to break the fantasy streak for a change of scenery). 

Please feel welcome to post your comments and questions about the post below. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday Fiction Fix: "Shadow Swarm"

The Short:

Shadow Swarm
(An Epic Fantasy Adventure Novel)

D. Robert Pease

4/5 Stars

What: A king, buried centuries earlier, wakes up to find his kingdom under attack.

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, time-traveling concepts, moderate love element, sword fights, Christian/clean, good world building

Not recommended to those who dislike: long character names

The Long:

Here’s another one I found lurking in the depths of the Amazon database. I was impressed by the originality of the story.

Aberthol awakes in a tomb, with no idea who, where, or what he is. He discovers that he was a king buried centuries before to travel back in time and discover how he might conquer the Shadow Swarm and its captain, the enemies of his kingdom. But something went wrong—he doesn’t remember anything he learned.

Now, with the Shadow Swarm on his very doorstep, he must escape, try to remember who he is, and bring peace to his kingdom once and for all using a power he doesn’t understand.

The story is a bit on the long side and many of the names are long and difficult to remember. I also found it a bit difficult to relate to Aberthol at times. It may just have been the ebook, but there were also some repeated typographical errors that occasionally interrupted the flow of reading .

However, the story did have a lot of good action and good world building. Mr. Pease’s “species”/races and locations were original, fresh, and vibrant. The action scenes were well done and didn’t drag on or seem to repeat themselves; each battle was unique.

The story does have a love element to it, but it does not overwhelm the book. There is a Christian “feel” to the book, but it certainly doesn’t take over the story and even calling it an allegory is a stretch.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and I would recommend it if you’re looking for something to read over a couple of days.

If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your thoughts below. Please remember to be respectful of Mr. Pease and his work, as well as other commentators. I also welcome comments on what you would like to see included in the reviews. I reserve the right to remove vulgar, hateful, or rude remarks from the comments. Thanks for sharing!

To those in the U.S., have a safe and blessed Independence Day weekend! See you next week!