The middle grade reading spree continues with a digital ARC of The Time Trap that I got from NetGalley.
The Time Trap did have a good message for kids whose parents are going through a divorce, but it all seemed very cliche. Telling kids that acting out won’t make their parents get back together, and telling them that they have to accept what happens and move on, is fine, is important, but it felt like the message was too loud. It took precedence over everything else. As a result, voice and character development suffered.
I almost stopped reading after the first chapter because of the lack of voice and personality. The sentences tended to be repetitive. However, I can very rarely bring myself to mark a book DNF.
Usually if I DNF, it’s because I am completely lost or because something bad happened to a dog. Neither happened with this book. I was just bored. A couple nights later, I picked it up again, hoping it got better. It didn’t, but it only took me an hour to finish it.
One thing I did like was the method the character used for time travel. That seemed a little original. But the rest was a little too cliche for me.
I know I’m not the target audience for this book, but I think as a kid, I would’ve had similar problems with it. I would’ve gotten bored. Back then, I didn’t care about finishing books unless I had to for school, so I would have stopped reading and I wouldn’t have known how to explain why I didn’t like it.
I can understand adults making things a little more obvious for kids, but this was too heavy handed. It’s a good example of what I want to avoid doing with my own middle grade novel. I think some telling is okay, but characters, their arc, and the actual story have to be more prominent that whatever message the author is trying to send.
Instead of smothering everything with the message, bring the story to life and pick a few relevant moments to have the character really stop and reflect on it.
I remember reading on websites, forums, and social media that once I started querying a manuscript, I should focus on writing a new one. The advice was that unless I was getting multiple rejections on fulls, or multiple rejections with similar feedback, I should just leave the manuscript alone.
The first three times I queried, I mostly disregarded this advice. I worked on something new for a little, but was constantly going back to the thing I was querying and editing and revising.
This got confusing very quickly.
Which version of the first chapter did I just get a request on? How many other agents did I send that one too?
There were a lot of times I thought things like, “if only I waited longer to query this or that agent!” or “Why didn’t I just keep the opening how it was?”
One of the few benefits was that sometimes, if agents who had already rejected my query requested a query because of a twitter pitch, they were willing to take another look once they realized I had revised. Unfortunately, all of these second chance queries ended in rejection. In the end, it wasn’t much of a benefit.
Not wanting to go through all that stress again, I took a different approach to querying my fourth manuscript. As soon as my first batch of queries was out, I decided to focus on other projects. I started writing a sequel for Power Surge, but I wasn’t ready yet. I wrote prequel novella, Life Minus Me, which will be published this winter. I worked on revising a space opera, but got bogged down in the revisions and put it aside. Then I went back to the sequel, finished it, and worked on short stories while I let it rest between drafts. I wrote the first draft of a middle grade novel and started revising.
I have to say, this was the least stressful bout of querying I’ve had so far. I did make some changes to my opening chapters after a slew of rejections, but I haven’t read through the entire manuscript since I sent out my first full.
I was more productive in the past year than I was in the year or two I queried my first three books, and spent a lot less time stressing and obsessing over my query.
If I look at this in terms of success? The answer isn’t as clear cut. I am still unagented.
Queries from both batches resulted in offers from small publishers.
Power Surge, the second novel I finished and the first I queried, ended up with two offers from small publishers, and ultimately, I signed with NineStar Press. It was published last year. The prequel novella and sequel are both under contract with NineStar and scheduled to be released Dec 2019 and Feb 2020.
Song of the Forest, the first book I finished and second I queried, did get an offer, which I turned down because the contract was bad. I did not get any other offers and shelved this book. Honestly? I’m glad it didn’t get published. It has some potentially problematic content that would need to be revised and then looked at by a sensitivity reader and revised again. However, back when I wrote it and started querying it, I hadn’t really looked far enough outside my white, privileged bubble to realize. I know better now. I hope.
I have open R & Rs on this from small publishers. One day I might try to fix the problematic content I think is there, and the world building issues mentioned in several rejections. But right now? It’s low on my priority list.
The third one I queried, Like Birds Under the City Sky, got no offers. It was a strange little book where I experimented with form, and ultimately, it just didn’t work. Its currently shelved.
Revising while querying versus leaving the manuscript alone didn’t have an impact on how successful the query was, but the level of stress and anxiety was much lower when I focused on writing new things.
The new projects not only distracted me from worrying about the querying, but they assured me that even if this round of querying failed, there would most definitely be a next time, another chance at getting an agent or a contract from a small publisher.
My recommendation is to be working on a new book while your querying.
However, I understand that what works for me might not work for someone else, and in the end, it is important for writers to do what is best for themselves.
June 5 question: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?
Fantasy is and always has been my favorite genre to write in. I think this is simply because I like making things up and I don’t like being bound by rules about what is and isn’t possible.
Sure, fantasy worlds have their own sets of rules, but as the author, I get to make up what those rules are and how far they can bend before the break. I grew up playing games with my mom were arm chairs could time travel if they spun fast enough and people could turn into mannequins of they made eye contact with mannequins for too long.
Every time I watched TV show that had an ounce of magic in it, I’d make up my own stories about the the characters, continuing their story and adding myself to it. Back then, the word fanfiction wasn’t part of my vocabulary, but that is the best word to describe my early stories, even if I never wrote them down.
Fantasy was the genre that made me want to read. For many years, I thought I liked historic fiction, and I also thought I hated reading. However, when I read Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Star Wars Expanded Universe(technically science fantasy), and The Chronicles of the Deryni, and Wicked, that was when I started to love reading.
And was before I discovered urban fantasy novels like Tithe and The Dresden Files.
Whether I’m reading or writing, my mind just gravitates towards fantasy. I enjoy the occasional hard science fiction or contemporary novel, but often, a story needs to have some kind of magic to really win me over.
The same goes for writing. There is always something magical, something that doesn’t quite follow the laws of physics or at least the rules of what is possible.
I love infusing the real world with magic, and my best writing has been urban fantasy. Creating new worlds is fun, but it is more time consuming. Patiences hasn’t always been my biggest strength. Sometimes I try to write science fiction, but it mostly turns into science fantasy.
I could ramble on and on about why I like fantasy, but what it comes down to is freedom to let my mind run wild, and to just make stuff up.
Hi Everyone! Today on the blog we have Sara Codair. Sara is a fellow author from NineStar Press and I’m thrilled they came by to visit me here. I have so many questions. You will too after you see how Sara responded to the rapid-fire questions! So, without any further ado, everyone, please say hello!
Sara, this is everyone!
Sara Codair: **waves**
JP Jackson: “I’m just itching to do these Rapid Fire questions.”
Sara Codair: “Great!”
JP Jackson: “Eagerness! I love it. Okay, here we go: Fast or Slow?”
Sara Codair: “Fast.”
JP Jackson: “Oh, me too. You should see me on my rollerblades. My hubby regularly tells me to slow down. But then I drive like a little old lady, so there’s that.”
JP Jackson: “How about this, Romantic Comedy or Suspense Thriller?”
Sara Codair: “Wouldn’t matter. I like to read all kinds of…
What was an early experience where you learned that language has power?
The word “chemical” has a lot of power. As a kid, it was a word that induced fear or panic. Chemicals were bad smelling things used to clean or dangerous things used in science labs.
I believe I was in fifth grade when I had a science teacher who blew my mind by telling the class things like some of the juices and sodas we drank were technically chemicals. She said that even water was a chemical.
I remember a brief moment of fear, then realizing that the word “chemical” had a much broader meaning than I originally thought.
Today, I looked up definitions of chemicals, here are some of the results I got:
Basically, almost anything is a chemical. Some of the definitions mention artificially prepared substances or those used in a chemical process, but nowhere do they say it is exclusive to those things. However, these elements of the dictionary definitions do have a stronger connection to the perceived definition of the word than the more scientific definition on wiki. (I know isn’t always the most credible website, but I included it anyway because the definition there echoed what I’d hear before. Plus, sometimes I trust the internet hive mind more than random website put up by individuals).
The word chemical, at its core, really doesn’t tell you much about something. It’s as general a term as material or substance. However, if I went up to someone and asked if they wanted to drink a chemical, they’d probably look at me like I had twenty heads.
This always reminds me how a words literal meaning and the meaning it carries for individuals within a culture or society, can be different things and can affect the power and effects that the word has.
Last night, I was reminded how chemical’s connotation can spread fear and panic, even to people who are aware of the words denotative meaning.
The lake I live on was getting an being treated with alum, which will bind excess nutrients, specifically phosphorus, and reduce the amount of cyanobacteria blooms in the lake. The barge carrying the alum capsized.
The whole neighborhood was out watching the ensuing spectacle of trying to flip the barge back over and drag it to shore. The more people threw around the word “chemical” the more nervous people got. By the end of the night, there was a post on Facebook claiming “Time to take a stand merrimac this company the town hired just flipped the boat carrying 1500 gallons of environmental hazardous materials” The language in this post in powerful in a negative way. It uses words whose connotative meaning scares people with a call to action based on false information.
The town did not hire the company when in reality, the lake association did the hiring, and the funding came from two towns, association fundraisers, and an EPA grant. The materials were going into the lake anyway, and at the time this was posted, the tanks had not been recovered, so no one actually knew how much of the alum, if any, had actually spilled. The hazard was that the alum and the chemical used to balance the ph might not have spilled in the same proportions they would be put into the lake in. Some of the older, weaker fish might die — the same fish that would probably die when the water temperature rose and the oxygen levels declined in the summer.
However, the person who posted this didn’t care about truth. The language in this is intended to scare and aggravate people. In Merrimac, residents are facing tax hikes because of a new school and a new police station. This person used language and misinformation to try and decrease people’s confidence in the town’s decision making abilities when it comes to spending money and hiring contractors, probably trying to get people to oppose the necessary but expensive new school.
When I log onto the town Facebook, I often find myself wondering how much thought people actually put into these posts. How much of it is careless and unfiltered, and how much is calculated lies and word choice people use to further their own, small-town political agenda?
I’ve also noticed that the tone these malcontents use in their town-related posts echoes that of some politically conservative relatives and twitter trolls. However, detailed analysis of the language used in social media forums is content for a completely different post.
What I hope readers take away from this post is that often, the connotation of a word lends it far for power than its denotative or literal meaning.
The difference between chemical’s connotative and denotative meaning surprised me when I was a child, but it was something I didn’t really think much about it until last night when the word “chemical” was spreading fear throughout my neighborhood.
Chemical may have been an accurate term for the contents of the tanks, but saying “substance” or “material” would have been accurate too, and they would not have conjured the same fear as chemical did. Even using the name of the chemical might have caused less fear.
The words and language we use are as important and influential in our interactions with our neighbors, friends, and family as they are within our writing.
Can you think of any words whose connotative meaning evokes fear?
If you could use a wish to help you write just ONE scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be? (examples: fight scene / first kiss scene / death scene / chase scene / first chapter / middle chapter / end chapter, etc.)
For me, this would be the first chapter. However, I wouldn’t use the wish to help write it. I’d use the wish to help revise it.
Writing a first draft of a first chapter is a blast.
It’s like standing at the base of trail I’ve never hiked. The sun is out but there is a cool breeze. I have a map. I have ample snacks and water for both me and my dog. It is going to be an awesome day even if I am going to be gaining about 1,000 vertical feet per mile.
The first chapter is just that first stretch of trail when I am full of energy, when I’m practically running, wondering just how long it will be before the trail gets steep and I hit a scramble.
The whole hike up is the first draft of the manuscript. It’s hard work, but it is the kind that gets the adrenaline going and results with a breathtaking view.
I can’t stay at the summit forever. Eventually, I have to come down.
Often, when hiking in New England, the steepest scrambles are close to the summit. They’re my favorite part to go up and my least favorite to go down.
I can just see myself on my way down Killington. I’m a little ways down from the summit, standing on a slab of granite, staring straight down a ravine thinking,
“Did we really go up that? Do I have to go back down that way?”
I’m exhausted. My spouse is exhausted. The dog is exhausted. The dog, who was like a brilliant mountain goat on the way up, needs assistance going down the steep sections.
For a minute, I just stand there wondering what the heck I was thinking. I curse myself for picking an out and back trail and for being so obsessed with scrambles in the first place. But then I think about how much fun I had, how worth it the view was, and of how many times I have done this before on other mountains.
Then, after I’ve planned a way down in my head, my spouse and I slowly work our way down, helping the dog when necessary.
It’s the most difficult and nerve-wracking part of the hike. It’s the one part I would skip if I could magically do so. It reminds me a lot of revising my opening chapters.
As fun as the first draft was, I never start the book in the right place, and fixing that is never as simple as just deleting a chapter or several chapters. It’s deleting a whole chapter and replacing it with something else and then rewriting it, deleting it, and replacing it. Once I find something that works as a concept, then I still have to fine tune it over and over.
For current WIP, I haven’t revised the opening chapter four times. I’ve written four completely different opening chapters, and that isn’t counting all the false starts I had while trying to get the first draft going.
So if I could use a wish to help me write a book? I would use that wish to revise my opening chapter.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a paranormal romance centered around vampires. However, I used to be a big fan of the Sookie Stackhouse books, before HBO ruined them with “True Blood,” so when I had a chance to get an ARC of Echoes from the author, I took it.
Echoes was one of those books where I sat down, the cat jumped on my lap, and then I read the whole book in one night.
I really liked that both of the love interests were 1,000 year-old vampires as opposed to the cliche young human paired with an old vampire.
They author did a great job distinguishing the voices of the two characters and crafting their personalities. They were different but compatible. They both had complex backstories which were expertly woven into the narrative with details being revealed at just the right time.
Still, I couldn’t help but feel the opening was a little contrived. However, I’m not sure there is a way it could feel less so. There was no deception or misdirection at least. You knew right away who was playing what role in the book.
I think there was something that was supposed to come across as a twist, but the way it was set up in the beginning made the big reveal no surprise. Thankfully, I don’t like surprises.
My only other issue was with the end. I like happy ever after and happy for now, but this one was a little too neat and tidy. I kept waiting for the “but” and it never came, not even in the epilogue, which seemed like it was there to make sure readers knew this was a 100% happy ending with no loose ends.
Overall, it was a great read. It was cute. It balanced plot tropes and original, complex characters. It was predictable in a good way. Even though I had a good idea of how it was going to end from early in the book, I still couldn’t put it down.
Some of the books that made me fall in love with the genre of urban fantasy were set in actual cities, or I guess, technically, they’re not really those cities but alternate magical versions of them. The Dresden Files was set in Chicago and Greywalker was set in Seattle, so I when set to write urban fantasy, I also choose to set my books in alternate magical versions of real places.
As a reader, I prefer urban fantasy settings grounded in the real world, but not fully limited by it. I want there to be some recognizable landmarks for the city the story takes place in, but I also don’t want the setting to adhere to strictly to reality because then it doesn’t feel enough like fiction.
I write the type of books that I want to read. So when I write urban fantasy, there are usually some landmarks with real life counter-parts that exist along side a plethora of completely made up ones.
In Power Surge, the school Erin and friends attended was completely fictional, but one of the battles happens at Portland Head Light. The characters go in made up shops and restaurants, but those are within the confines of Portland.
I don’t put actual business in the story, though generically named places often bear some resemblances to my favorite eateries even if that was never my intention.
Good food sticks in my unconscious, and writing first drafts is a lot like dreaming. The worlds of my urban fantasy novels wind up littered with almost-Doppelgängers of my favorite restaurants.
Legal and ethical issues aside, I don’t use exclusively real settings because I feel too limited if I can’t completely make up certain aspects of a place, like the staff, the decor, and the restrooms.
However, a recent afternoon spent in Portland reminded me this balance is a tricky one to maintain, and I didn’t do quite as a good a job with it in Power Surge as I thought I did.
I’d been to all places that inspired my setting many times before I wrote the scenes that happened there. Years ago, shortly before and while I was working on early drafts, I frequented downtown Portland as well as the beaches and light houses around it.
Unfortunately, there was a large gap between those visits and the final revisions and edits of the book.
Google maps, even on satellite view, is no substitute for actually going to a place, walking around, taking pictures, smelling it, hearing it, and taking it all in.
I’m certain that in the early drafts, my description of places with real life counterparts, the ones that ground the fantasy, were very accurate. I’m not so sure I’d say that about the final version. I’m not way off, but when I think about how I described Portland Head Light and Crescent Beach, I realize I made them to small. I didn’t take the parking lot gates into account when my characters visited at night.
How did this happen?
I revised my descriptions of the “real” settings the same way I revised descriptions of fictional ones, and wasn’t careful enough to make sure I was staying true to the place.
To readers who have never been to the places in the book, it won’t matter. However, if someone who frequented them picked up, I fear some inconsistencies with reality might yank them out of the narrative.
“That parking lot is way bigger than you described!”
“If it was ten at night, the gate would have been closed.”
This is the danger of mixing actual landmarks in fiction. You may start with a light house or beach readers could visit, but if you are not careful enough, you may edit that place away from it’s real life counterpart without even realizing it.
In some ways, that is for the better. I’m writing fiction, and no matter how much the Portland Head Light in my book may or may not look like the real thing, at most, it is a Doppelgänger. The setting of the book isn’t reality but an alternate version of it. Still, I don’t want to confuse or alienate local readers.
I’m not sure if I’ll change how I handle settings in urban fantasy, but I need to be more careful. I need to approach revision differently in those sections. I need to really be aware of how much time messes with my memory.
Have you ever used real cities or landmarks in your books? Why or why not?
Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?
My favorite characters to write are the ones who are both hero and villain.
Power Surge is a great example of this. The whole book is from Erin Evanstar’s point of view, and the conflict with the most tension is Erin versus Erin.
Technically speaking, there is mysterious demon stalking Erin who eventually plays the role of the villain Erin has to fight. But honestly? For most of the book, Erin is in more danger of hurting themself than they are of being seriously wounded or murdered by the demon. After all, the demon wants to capture Erin alive, and while it isn’t shown on the page, readers know that Erin has attempted suicide at least once in the past two years.
Danger factor aside, the demon villain isn’t on page as much as a villain should be and doesn’t take as much action as a true antagonist would. He’s not even the real big bag behind the apocalypse, but an agent of that big bad.
Erin is their own antagonist.
In the relationship subplot between Erin and José, Erin is the biggest obstacle Erin has to overcome. José isn’t perfect. He says and does some stupid things because he is a mess, but inside, he really is a sweet guy who selflessly loves Erin. As much as Erin loves him too, there are times where they treat him horribly. If the relationship is going to work, Erin needs to defeat Erin.They need kick their dark, selfish side’s ass.
I have written heroes who are actually decent human beings and have actuall villains to defeat, and I’ve enjoyed writing them, but not as much as I’ve enjoyed Erin and other characters like Erin. I love the necromancer, succubus, troll, and human-eating alien farmer that have doubled as antagonists and protagonists in my short stories.
I think I know why.
The stories and characters I become the most invested in are the ones inspired by my fears. There are plenty of things I’m afraid of. Serial killers, bad dog owners, parking garages at night, elevators, crowds, sexual predators, and the dark are just a few items on a long, long list.
But the darkness I fear most is the one that quietly lurks inside of me. What would happen if it got too loud? Who could I hurt? What lines would I cross? Would there be any chance of redemption?
I write this darkness into my characters. I make it worse. I give them less self control. I make their upbringing rough and filled with tragedy and a lack of good mentors, and with things I imagine would have pushed me over to the dark side.
Soon enough, the characters take on a life of their own. When I start to get that feeling that they are growing independently of me and making their own choices, it is time to get plotting.
I want to see how long they can hold their own darkness off for. I want to see what happens when they fail. What lines will they cross? Can they come back once they cross those lines?
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Because the topic was so meaningful, this review contains more reflection on my own experience and identity than I typically include in my reviews.
I often think I live in multiple words: Real life, the Twitterverse, and the fictional worlds of all the stories I write. In real life, very few people I know truly understand the concept nonbinary. In my bubble of the Twitterverse, I interact with all kinds of writers and artist who use gender neutral pronouns and identify as something other than man or woman. I love the LGBTQ+ community I’ve found online, but I have made little to no effort to seek similar people in real life because I question if I really belong there since I’ve never been in or tried to be in a same-sex relationship.
Non-Binary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity showed me that I am not the only Non-Binary person who has wondered what communities they really belong in. While there was no one memoir where I thought, “this person story is just like mine” many of the stories echoed and validated different aspects of my existence and opened my eyes to how varied the non-binary experience is.
And really, it probably would’ve bothered me if someone’s experience had been almost exactly like mine because part of my identity has always been that I am odd and unique.
Each essay was beautifully written, honest, and engaging. I don’t remember a single moment where I got bored. Even the introduction held my attention.
One of my favorite things about this book was that it included voices from all across the spectrum of nonbinary people.
In my internet bubble, the most visible nonbinary people are like me: white and were assigned female at birth (AFAB). Many, but not all, are middle class or close to it. Me and many of the authors in this book agreed that this is the most visible portion of the non-binary spectrum, but it only represents a small portion of nonbinary people
Non-Binary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity not only included people like, but it also boosted the voices of those who were assigned male at birth (AMAB). It included people of color– Black, Asian, and Latinx authors.
Some essays touched on sexuality, but others didn’t. While many of the authors in this book once identified as butch lesbians, I was happy to see some, who like me, never were attracted to CIS people who shared the same assigned gender. This is one of the things that always makes me question whether or not my identity is valid. However, reading the essays in Non-Binary: Memoirs of Gender and Identitythat echoed this experience reminded that my non-binary identity is still valid, and it is not at all related to my sexuality.
Because of the range of experiences encompassed in this book, I think most nonbinary people will be able to see echoes of themselves and their experiences show up in this book.
However, I think it is something I hope is widely read by CIS people, by people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Each narrative is crafted in a way that will show CIS readers what it means to be non-binary.
When I started reading Non-Binary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity, I was almost certain it would be something I could assign for my students to read. However, like most collections of essays, there is too much on the same topic to read in one semester. No matter how good the writing is, a whole book of essays on the same topic always seems to result in my students losing interest before we get to the end, and if I were to assign the book and only read a portion of the essays, they would complain about having spent money on a book we only used part of. The later might not be an issue if I could get them to see the value of the book, so using it isn’t fully out of the equation yet.