Book Review – Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik

I’ve made no secret of my family’s love for the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik and this book, while ending on a gut-wrenching note, did not disappoint. Because we all enjoy this series, we listened to it together in the car. Laurence continues to be a steadfast man of honor and I enjoy the way he negotiates through life as an aviator, dealing with prejudices and less-than-honorable politics.

Temeraire the dragon is a source of joy, and the interactions between dragon and Captain Laurence are always a delight.

I will note, however, that near the end of the book both my husband and I had to read ahead on our own because we needed to know what was going to happen. There is a distressing situation that crops up, and in fact my husband – traitor that he is – snagged the next book to read without me.

(Note: He did this without telling me, which is why he gets an extra special glare.)

As to the novel itself, I find Novik’s narrative fluid and comfortable, easy to both listen to and read. I enjoy the moral pickles she puts her characters into, and the heroic means in which they meet such challenges. This series continues to be a joy to read and the cats in our house have all been honored with dragon names because of them.

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Wherein I Forecast 2019 (Writing-wise, of course)

Last week I noted the things that I managed to complete in 2018 – which was a lot and I’m still patting myself on the back for a good year. I recognize that only die-hard fans really care about this stuff, and for those of you out there who count yourselves among this rare breed of reader, let it be known that I love you all and pray you never change.

For those who watch the blog for the writing class updates and other content, this might not be the post for you. And that’s OK!

If, for reasons neither of us can fully explain, the idea of peeking inside an author’s deadline calendar entices you, then I fully welcome you to read on. Otherwise, this is mostly to keep my head on straight through the year.

So, what do I want to accomplish in 2019?

  • A short story every month. These stories will vary in theme and substance and, hopefully, will find their way into the market. Others may find their way onto this site for FREE content.
  • 2nd and 3rd drafts of The Castle of Three Kings completed. And then, of course, start submitting this MG/YA story to places.
  • 2nd and 3rd drafts of The 13th Month completed. Also with the submission process in full swing.
  • Record Enemy Souls into audio to be released in segments for FREE. The hard copy will be available for sale if people don’t want to wait a week to find out what happens.
  • Release the Fact vs. Fiction edition of Tapped at the same time as Enemy Souls.
  • Inmate rough draft. (Camp Nano)
  • Warpath rough draft. (Nano)
  • City of Cemeteries rough draft.

I am sure I’ll get sidetracked by something and replace stuff and/or scrap a project, but for now I’m sticking with this list. I look forward to seeing how much of this I can get done and I hope everyone else has fun in the coming year.

2018 In Review

This year was crazy fun! Not only did I move across the country, but I got a ton of work done while I was at it.

IMG_2193What did I have projected for 2018? Well….

1) Complete Ashwood edits 1-3 and begin shopping it around.

Big check mark here! Not only did I begin shopping it around, but I got some great feedback. I don’t want to jinx anything, so I’ll just say that I’m hoping to throw some celebratory confetti soon.

2) Complete Enemy Souls and release it the Fall.

IMG_1699Mostly check mark… Because the book is done, but I have decided to do some crazy new things with this book in the coming months. I will be releasing it as a podiobook, chapter by chapter, for FREE. But if you can’t wait for the chapters to come out or the sound of my voice irritates you (hey, it’s possible) then it will also be out for sale in hard copy at the same time.

This is a marketing ploy. I know. And I do hate marketing, but at least this way I can have some fun with it. I’ll be stretching theater and public speaking muscles that haven’t been used in some time, so it should be a grand adventure…

As soon as I have a proper microphone and sound booth. (Christmas, fellas. That’s my eyelash-batting wish to Santa and he seems to like me enough to agree.)

2nd Edition of the original Tapped novel released sometime in the summer.

Newp. Didn’t do this one. I have the edits done and I know what I want to put in the Fact 1130181417cvs. Fiction section at the back, but I put it on hold because it made more sense to do the Tapped universe stuff all at the same time. So you can expect this to come out around the same time or slightly before Enemy Souls makes its audio debut.

3) First Draft – Song of Swans.

Sadly, this novel was scrapped. Or not so sadly, because it became Castle of Three Kings and the first draft of that novel is complete. SO! I give it a check mark as complete anyway.

4) First Draft – The 13th Month. 

As of this moment I am 8 chapters shy of the finish line. If I keep my deadlines then the book will be more than done by the end of the year. So I’m going to give it a preemptive check mark.

5) First Draft – Inmate.

1130181417aI didn’t even start this one. Big old X and a blaring horn of shame.

BUT!

The things I did that weren’t on the agenda…

Several short stories, one of which I am going to give as a freebie for my New Years Celebratory post. I won Camp NanoWrimo AND I won November’s NaNowrimo.

Started plotting a completely different novel thanks to the Writing Excuses Master Class that I’ve been taking. 1130181417b

Began working on my twitter presence and all the marketing stuff that I super hate but is required for people to actually… you know… pick up my novels. It’s been grueling work there, but at the end of the day, I remind myself that it is more important to write good books than to try blasting people with my information.

Hence the Master Class. And the classes through Coursera I’m taking. And the fact that my butt hits the chair at 9AM sharp every day.

I have also had the pleasure of connecting with writers in this area. All have been lovely people and I am so pleased to call them quasi-neighbors now that I’m in New England.

I hope everyone else had a great 2018!

Holiday Snippet – December Round Robin

This month, the round robin participants are regaling everyone with snippets from their own work that highlight the spirit of the season. Some may even give a short story or flash fiction and I’m delighted to check out what they have in store.

For me, I’ve chosen an excerpt from my novel Persona, a novel about Megan Shepherd as she is thrust unwittingly into the middle of Nazi Germany. While the snippet is more somber than I’m sure many of the other works will prove today, I chose it because, at its heart, is a woman who misses home.

As a veteran, I deeply respect the sacrifice that takes family members away from home during whatever holidays they normally celebrate. If there’s an empty space at your table this year, I hope you find some comfort in those who are able to gather with you, and I hope your loved one comes home soon.

Happy Holidays.

Persona – Chapter Five

“You’re such a quiet little thing,” Schuler remarked.

He sat across from her in their little train car, his newspaper momentarily forgotten on his lap. Megan pulled her gaze from the window to look at him. He sat uncomfortably in the barely-padded seat, his lanky frame folded in awkward angles. Megan had dozed off and on since leaving Wilhelmshaven, but it was a light sleep that couldn’t satisfy her exhaustion. The train jostled along its tracks, rumbling through the seat so loudly that it never failed to wake her.

And, of course, her mind would not leave her alone to rest either. As grateful as she was to be leaving all signs of the Navy behind, it was increasingly evident that she was travelling deeper into Germany, deeper behind so-called enemy lines, and her tension was growing.

“At first I thought it was because you were sick,” Schuler said thoughtfully. “And then because you were worried about what sort of future Germany had in store for you. But now I think it’s just your nature. You’re quiet.”

Megan shifted in her seat, feeling stiff, angry muscles stretch with the sudden movement. She felt exhausted all around, like she could melt into a little pool of nothingness and still never recover from the past weeks. And yet she had to recover, and quickly because the curiosity on Schuler’s face was not going away. She gathered up the threads of her lie, reminding herself yet again that she was Klaudia Volk, orphaned and lost, relying on the kindnesses of men she’d just met.

Feeling terribly small and exposed, Megan smiled at him, knowing full well how strained it must look.

“I’m sorry, Doctor,” she said. “Did you want conversation?”

“Well, perhaps a little, Klaudia,” Schuler said with a smile that was far more gracious than her own.

It seemed safest to keep the conversation on him, so she searched for a neutral topic.

“Have you known Captain Von Buren very long?” She asked.

“I’ve known him for several years, yes,” he said. “He’s a very good man. The best I’ve ever known. Though I think he should have warned you about his house.”

“His house?”

“Yes,” Schuler said, folding his newspaper. “I wouldn’t describe it as a mere house, Klaudia. It’s very large. His property takes up several acres, though the … shall we say, manor house … sits near the center.”

The word “manor” made her stiffen in surprise, and then she chastised herself for the reaction. He was a Von. He had history and title to him. Of course he lived in that history.

“Most of the rooms are closed off, I’m sure,” Schuler went on, tapping the folded paper in his lap. “But I still can’t see you feeling comfortable there. That house is enough to swallow me whole and I’m used to a certain level of luxury.”

“Is it his family home?”

“Oh yes. The Von Buren’s have lived there for several generations. They trace their lineage back to kings and barons,” Schuler said. “Not that such a lineage says much these days. Still, I think there might be a guest house on the property. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you chose to reside there instead.”

Kings and barons, Megan thought. The image fit Von Buren very well. He had the air of aristocracy and the firm, unyielding command of a man bred to lead. And now that she thought about it, he had told Albrecht that his estate was large. This really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

“Where did you grow up, Klaudia?”

Megan looked to the window again and tried to mask her panic. It appeared she would not be able to keep the conversation from her person. She took a deep breath and stared at the blurred passage of shadowed trees and buildings outside.

Stick with the familiar, she thought.

“Neuss,” she said. “My father owned a barley farm.”

Her mother had come from Neuss, so she was confident any digging around Schuler might do would bring up the name Klaudia Volk. Of course, that name was tied to a ten year old girl just prior to her leaving Germany with her family but at least it was there. And she was fairly certain Uncle George had mentioned a barley farm, too.

But maybe it was wheat.

She prayed Schuler knew less than she did about agriculture.

“Ah,” Schuler said. “That explains the quiet nature, I think. No doubt you’ve had more excitement the last few years than you’re used to.”

“Yes,” she said, grateful to be telling the truth again.

“Well, I’m certain life will quiet down again for you in Ulm.”

She smiled at him, a genuine smile this time. “I certainly hope so.”

They lapsed into silence and Megan turned her attention back to the window. The landscape seemed to have flattened, giving her a clear view of open fields stretching far into the horizon. Here and there the rounded curve of a hill interrupted, its grassy face somehow dull in the winter light and the sky above looked pale gray bordering on blue, as if the elements themselves felt it necessary to display a dreary and foreboding day. Megan let the images blur, choosing to focus on the foggy windowpane instead.

She’d missed Christmas.

Or she was about to anyway.

Schultz had informed her they’d made harbor on the twenty-second of December, and it had been a day later before she’d met with Albrecht.

Christmas Eve, she thought, suddenly understanding why their train was so full. Soldiers and families were desperately trying to close the distance, to congregate in central locations for a celebration or two. Megan smiled, her mind drifting to home, to the sharp scent of pine and colorful packages ringing the tree.

Mother had always loved Christmas, both the traditions of her homeland and the ones her father had insisted upon. The month of December generally created joyous mayhem in the Shepherd home, starting with the Advent wreath and moving through Saint Nikolaus Day where their clean shoes would be left outside the door overnight so that Nikolaus could fill them with treats. But on Christmas itself the celebration came to a climax with big dinners and thoughtful presents and Megan couldn’t stop the sudden wash of homesickness as it rushed over her.

Heaven help her, she missed her mother so much.

Megan took a deep breath, banishing mother from her mind. She knew where those thoughts would lead, could sense the dark hospital room encroaching on her memory, and forced herself back into the present. Schuler had returned to his newspaper, his brow pinched in displeasure at whatever he was reading. A part of her wanted to draw him out again, to ask what had his attention and start another conversation, but he would inevitably ask more about her person and she wasn’t ready for that.

She had the ridiculous thought to write down her story as she’d told it to Schuler and Von Buren, just to keep it all straight. But she couldn’t risk someone else finding it, so of course that would not do. Frustrated, Megan turned to the window again and tried to get some sleep. It would be some hours before she reached Ulm and she imagined she would need all her wits about her when she got there.


Check out some other holiday inspired snippets and free content from my fellow authors here on the round robin…

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1qI
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

NaNoWriMo 2018 Results

Even with a holiday visiting my mother – on the other side of the nation, I might add –  I managed to make it passed the 50k mark and win NaNoWriMo. The rest of the year will be spent finishing this novel about ghouls and goblins and dragons. It has been great fun to write Pru’s story, though I did have to drift away from hand writing and start typing the thing.

Wrist cramps are a thing. And sometimes my fingers get sore when I’ve spent too much time writing by hand.

That being said, I am pleased with the results for this year. As soon as I have the entire book completed (which should happen on the 31st of December, if not before) then it will be tucked away until April.

Also this year I had my son participate. While his goal was not 50,000 words, he was assigned to write 200 words a day and for the first half of the month he did this beautifully. But then the laptop died and with it, his means of typing.

It was a joy to watch him work. Around the third or fourth day that he came to me, wide-eyed, and said; “I get why you like writing now. Anything can happen!”

My heart swelled with so much pride in that moment, I feared it would burst. I look forward to including him in future National Novel Writing projects when I’ve secured a personal laptop for him.

To those of you who participated and made your goals, I applaud you. Imaginary confetti is dusting your shoulders as you read this.

To those of you who participated but missed the mark, I still applaud you. Writing is a frightfully dangerous endeavor. As my son says; “Anything can happen!” The fact that you braved the blank page and started to fill it tells me you’re the courageous sort and I truly believe you’ll finish that story no matter what.

Costs and Rewards – November Round Robin

After that fateful assignment in the sixth grade that spurred me into the writing life, I confess the road has not been easy. Two years later I started writing a fantasy novel based off Dungeons and Dragons characters. My cousins were involved, as well as my brother, and I allowed my mother to read a bit of my work.

I remember the piece because I was particularly proud of how I’d delved into the mindset of a traumatized woman. My life to that point had not been terribly traumatic so it was a stretch of the imagination to get there.

My mother’s response was that if I wrote things like that, people would think I’d experienced something like it.

I didn’t believe her until a year later. Bored with a spelling assignment, I decided to stretch those imaginative muscles again. The assignment was to use specific words in a sentence and I wove a short narrative to entertain myself. This was of a darker nature, which I blame on my reading pile at the time, and resulted in the teacher sitting down with me and the counselor.

I had to explain that I was just playing with the assignment and hadn’t experienced anything of the sort – I think I had the narrator watch someone fall off a cliff, but can’t quite remember – and that all was well. The teacher and counselor both seemed uneasy but satisfied by my answers, and it was then that I realized how different I was.

Sadly, I was not self-aware at the time, but I have come to understand that the main difference between myself and the majority of the world, is that I don’t just see people for who they are. I see them for their potential, both good and bad. And while that serves me well as a writer, it has often brought about complications in my personal life.

Because while I see the potential for bad, I strive to help them reach the good, often at great cost to myself.

Not so in my writing. There I explore how bad things can get, and willfully cross the threshold with my characters until there is no turning back .

The rewards of writing far outweigh the cost for me. They are much the same as the rewards from reading in that I am able to visit new worlds and cultures, experience jobs I would otherwise never encounter, and touch on that deep vein of humanity that courses through us all. The difference being that as a writer, I am submerged within the storytelling, privy to all the character backstories and world building that is only shallowly represented in the completed work.

This is my happy place, where I exist in tandem with the stories I tell. And if I’m a bit daydreamy to friends and family, I am comforted that they love me in spite of it. Or, in the case of my husband, they love me because of it. In this I count myself the luckiest woman in the world.

See the costs and rewards for my fellow authors in this month’s Round Robin discussion.

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1qD
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

WE Master Class – What’s the Point of This Anyway?

For those just joining me, I started going through the Writing Excuses Master Class several weeks ago. I haven’t posted every entry of homework and the like, so this week’s post jumps forward into story structure. I’ve done this because, well, who wants to see every bit of someone else’s homework? And because I would rather point emphatically to the Writing Excuses Podcast and encourage authors to go try this for themselves.

That being said, let’s jump in.

The first episode regarding story structure is a bit of a mesh between what I want to call theme and fuel. Theme defined as the overall purpose of the novel, and fuel being defined as the way in which you encourage readers to keep reading the book.

I say this because much of the conversation questions what the book is about and what the author is aiming for, which would be the theme. Now, having done this writing thing for a while, I can admit that when I deliberately hunt for a theme at the beginning of the writing process, I constantly fall short. Maybe it’s the discovery writer in me, but I have to get the rough draft down first and then I can spot the major themes of the novel.

Something that I took away from the class, and that I will be using in my current editing project, is asking what answers the reader will be looking for in the next chapter. Doing this deliberately, chapter by chapter, is sure to have an effect on the novel as a whole and I am excited to put it into action.

The assignment from this particular episode is rather involved and required that I go out and choose a favored book/movie/show and reverse engineer the plot structure, paying close attention to questions asked and answered and any subplots that ran throughout. I did do this, but I am not going to share it here because… Yeah. Who wants to read my homework?