February 11, 2019

On Soliciting Critique


I found this week particularly nerve-wracking. Since I already struggle with anxiety, I try not to pile needless stress on myself, but sometimes I don’t plan things out very well, and other times that’s just life.

I’ve been working hard on this puzzle book idea I had, and I finally reached a point where I wanted to get feedback before continuing on. No matter how many people get excited when I tell people I’m working on a puzzle book themed after escape rooms, I can’t judge whether this idea will work unless someone sees it in action. Furthermore, I won’t know how difficult the logic problems are until I give them to others to solve. And while I was at it, I put together a cover, keeping in mind that I want to make this idea into a series if the first book does well.

Not only did I submit a portion of the manuscript to my writing group for critique, but I also sent the cover to another critique group. And once everything was out of my hands, I started freaking out a little bit.

You’d think that having published several novels and really putting myself out there on social media would have given me a thick skin. For the most part, it has—I read the reviews people leave on my books and can accept the good and the bad, I’m comfortable telling everyone I meet that I’m an author and about my books, and I’ve solicited critiques several times in the past. In fact, the most valuable feedback I’ve gotten was someone telling me that the ending of my book sucked, and they hated my main character.

Even so, early feedback is rough. Up until a point, the only person who’s read my manuscript is me. The first time someone else looks at it, I have no idea how they’ll react to my characters and story. The unknown is scary. By the time each book is published, the entire thing has been scrutinized several times over by a number of people. But that first time, I’m never sure exactly how people are going to react.

Only days before my writing group would discuss my puzzle book, the cover went up for critique. I soon learned that every single aspect was all wrong—except for the fonts; those were okay. So instead of reworking a cover which I thought almost hit the mark, I had to scrap it and start over. When I’m already worried about basically everything, it’s hard to accept that a failed cover doesn’t make me a failure.

After scraping myself off the edge and rereading the feedback on the cover, I was able to keep a cool head as I put together something new. I still felt apprehensive going to my writing group, but I love my fellow writers and they’re great about pointing out the positives in a piece no matter how much work it needs. It was a huge relief to learn that not only did they like my escape room/book idea, but they also said the execution worked well. So now I’m able to move onto playtesting all the puzzles and editing the text.

What I really hope newer writers can learn from this is that it’s totally natural to be nervous about sharing your work, but in the end, incorporating quality feedback will only make your work better. So before parting, I want to share some tips on getting critique.

It's not personal


After putting your soul into a story, it's hard to separate negative feedback from a personal attack. Especially if you’re getting feedback from others who don’t know you well, all they have to go on is your story. You are so much more than the one story you shared. Even if readers don’t like the world you created, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you as a person.

You can't please everyone


Some people just won't like your book no matter how much you rewrite it. That's okay. Even bestselling books don't appeal to everyone.

Don’t explain


If someone found a part of your writing confusing, accept that they found it confusing and move on. Whatever explanation you want to give to on the confusing passage needs to be addressed in your text, not on the spot with that one person offering feedback.

Sit on it


Getting a bunch of feedback from a number of people all at once is overwhelming. Collect all the critiques you've gotten, read over them, then put them away for a bit. Give yourself some time to wrap your head around what people generally thought did and didn’t work in your piece before jumping into revisions. Wait until the excitement or upset from the critique dissipates so you can attack rewrites with a calm head.

Shut out the noise.


Not everyone is going to be great at constructive criticism. Ignore any feedback that isn’t specific. If only one person out of several identifies a certain aspect as a problem, it may not actually be a problem with the writing, but a personal preference. And if anyone is flat-out mean in their feedback, don’t let them critique your work in the future.

February 4, 2019

Book Review: Origin by Dan Brown



Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Origin is the fifth Robert Langdon novel, in which we follow the distinguished Harvard professor as he uses his extensive knowledge of art, literature, and symbology to solve the details surrounding a murder. In this novel, Edmund Kirsch has determined the origin of life and puts together a presentation which will reveal his discovery. But before his theory can be unveiled, an assassin kills him and the presentation is lost.

Robert pairs up with the beautiful Ambra Vidal, fiancee to the Spanish prince, and Edmund’s sophisticated AI, which goes by the name Winston, to uncover the password that will unlock Edmund’s presentation. And then they sit and watch the presentation.

I haven’t actually finished this novel yet—my Kindle says I’ve read 90% of it—but I’ve been slogging through it for so long, I figured it was finally time to call it. I read for entertainment, so I’m not even going to touch the theology in this one.

Usually, there’s a dead body pretty early in a Robert Langdon novel—if not in the first scene. But for Origin, there was tons of back story and build up before any sort of mystery even began. The action didn’t really start until 200 pages in, but even then, the pacing was slow. The first clue is laughably contrived. And then the final reveal takes up probably another third of the book as the characters literally sit down and watch the presentation. Seriously, this event that Edmund put together would have lasted at least four hours if it hadn’t gotten interrupted.

I hate giving bad reviews, but this book was painful to read. Perhaps die-hard Dan Brown fans will enjoy it, and those who haven’t read any of his novels may find the story-line less formulaic. I love the character Robert Langdon and sincerely hope he’ll have more exciting adventures in the future… but I’ll make sure to read plenty of reviews before diving in.

January 28, 2019

Announcing My Next Novel: In the Midst

Only a week after the launch of In the Lurch, I had people asking when my next novel was coming out. It’s so flattering that people want to read my work, but even more so when they can’t wait to keep reading! So today, I’m announcing my most anticipated novel so far, In the Midst, which will release on April 2, 2019.



YOU’VE BEEN HACKED.


Roemell and Leona thought they were finished with the woman who terrorized the West Coast… until all the video evidence against her gets corrupted. Unless they can come up with more evidence, the assassin who burned down Leona’s home and murdered her father will go free. Leona refuses to let that happen, so she and Roemell decide to travel to the capital and testify in order for justice to be served.

What was supposed to be a quick flight across the country becomes a perilous journey. After their robot gets hacked, an airplane crashes, and the pair are abducted, they suspect it’s something more than simple bad luck. There are larger forces at work trying to stop them at any cost.

Immediately following the events of In the Lurch, In the Midst is the second installment of this exciting cyberpunk series.



I started working on this book right after In the Lurch was finished. My writing group put together small groups for a “Novel in 6” program. The goal was to write a complete first draft of a novel in six months. Having participated in (and won!) NaNoWriMo, I knew finishing a draft in that time frame would be a breeze. It actually ended up taking most of those six months to complete, and I am so grateful to my novel group for helping me stay the course.

I’m trying something new for the launch of this book. Instead of only having the ebook available for pre-order, I’ll also be taking pre-orders for signed copies. Learn more here. Also, be sure to sign up for my newsletter to get a reminder on release day!

January 21, 2019

Weather in Fiction




There’s been a ton of snow in Maryland just this week, which has me thinking about the weather.

When writing fiction, the writer controls every aspect of the world they’re creating. We imagine characters, how they look and act, and what they wear. We create settings on present-day earth, future and past versions of our world, fantasy lands, storybook villages, spaceships, far-off galaxies, etc. We control nature, natural disasters, and the weather.

The weather can be a poignant layer of the setting and it really adds an extra dimension to a story. Unless it’s set in constantly sunny LA or forever-blizzard area like Antartica, the weather could take on a variety of iterations just in a single book. I’ve noticed authors use the elements to add to their stories, so I wanted to highlight ways weather can really enrich your writing.

Reflect a Character’s Mood


I see this type the most—a character's mood and feelings dictate the weather outside. When a character is sad it starts raining outside, and a beautiful sunny day reflects happy characters. Similarly, a peaceful, joyous moment of someone connecting with loved ones may be set amidst a gentle snowfall. A character’s emotions almost seem to influence nature. Although this is a great literary device, it can be overused. Too much weather/mood matching is not very believable, and it will make you lose credibility in the eyes of the reader.

Contrast with a Character’s Mood


This is one of my favorite uses of atmospheric conditions. Specifically, a happy or excited character must be incredibly enthusiastic if their mood persists despite a storm raging around them. Or when a character is really down or sad but the sunshine and clear skies remind them that life goes on regardless, making them feel even more isolated in their despair. Although the contrast of mood and weather is fairly common, it doesn’t feel as cliche as having the mood and weather always match.

Reinforce the Setting


Any outdoor setting is going to have a climate. Even mythical worlds should have weather conditions which reinforce the type of vegetation and impact the culture. It also adds verisimilitude to a setting pulled from the real world. A story set in Seattle should include lots of rain, while another tale set in the desert should not.

Symbolism/Foreshadowing


A brooding storm can act as foreshadowing of bad things to come, while rain can symbolize purification. When someone has been trapped and finally emerges outside for the first time, they’re always greeted with abundant sunlight—a symbol of their bright future and the beauty of nature. Literature uses weather as a symbol a whole lot, but it can be missed if you’re not looking for it.

Add Tension


There are entire stories which revolve around a particular meteorological event. A notably bad storm can be the climax of a story. Perhaps the characters know a downpour is coming, and they have to quickly pile sandbags up to prevent their town from flooding. Or, the unrelenting sun in a dry spell threatens to kill all the crops and leaves no water for people to drink. And, of course, there are the extreme examples of the elements driving the plot like Sharknado and 2012.



For the next fiction story you read, I challenge you to notice the weather and think about how it adds (or doesn’t) to the story.

And before I go to the store to stock up on milk and toilet paper, I thought I’d end this post with an excerpt from Quality DNA where the weather really adds to the scene.



Jamie walked around the gallery space, getting an idea of how many pieces she’d need for her upcoming show, and where she’d put them. The gallery was currently closed between showings. No one was booked for the next few weeks, and soon it would be her turn to show off her work.

There was a sharp knocking at the door. She turned to find the source of the sound and saw Aiden standing there.
“Hey there,” she said after unlocking the glass door and opening it to let him in. The sound of rain echoed through the empty space. He didn’t have an umbrella or hood covering his head, so water droplets fell straight onto his brown hair and dripped down his brow. “Oh my goodness, you’re soaked. Come in. Come in.”

“I don’t think I should,” he said.

She realized he didn’t have his normal genial smile on his face. Instead, he wore a serious expression. “Nonsense, I insist,” she said.

He didn’t budge. “I can’t do it.”

It was the worst possible thing he could say. “Come in out of the rain. We can talk about this inside.”

He finally stepped in, a puddle forming around him on the marble floor. He looked at her, his eyes pleading. “I can’t do it,” he reiterated.

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