Tag Archives: reviews

Two Stops on the Blog Tour!

I’m pushing myself to take all sorts of creative chances, following bolder storylines and developing exotic characters. I’m writing leaner, sparser, the way I wish I’d written the old books. In short, I’m trying to make this next project something that the younger me would think was totally cool and the older me sees as an expression of all I’ve learned through my career about writing and storytelling.

Today I’m pleased to direct you to two stops on the 2016 Fall Blog Tour (formerly known as the 2016 Summer/Fall Blog Tour). First, Bea’s Book Nook has (very positive) reviews up of the Author’s Edits of Children of Amarid and The Outlanders, the first two books in my LonTobyn Chronicle. You’ll also find excerpts from both books. You can see the reviews and excerpts here.

I also have a post up at the Beauty in Ruins blog spot. The title of the post is “A Creative Dialog with Myself,” and it’s about the challenges and rewards of going back to edit the LonTobyn series, which was my first published work. Visiting this site also gives you the opportunity to enter a contest to win copies of the books. You can find this post here.

 

Breaking a “How-to-be-an-Author 101” Rule

One of the first rules of writing etiquette — I mean really “How-to-be-an-Author 101” type stuff — is never respond to reviews. We have our say with the books and stories we write. Our readers get to comment on them in reviews, blogs, etc. And at that point we’re really best off keeping our virtual mouths shut. In fact, most of the time we’re better off not even reading our reviews. I know this. I understand the reasoning. I get it.

I just came within a hair’s breadth of violating that “Don’t respond” rule. Why? Because there are now two reviews of SPELL BLIND on Amazon that accuse me of “blatantly ripping off” the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher. I have, I assure you, done no such thing.

First of all, Jim Butcher is a friend, and I wouldn’t do that to a friend.

Second, with apologies to Jim, I’ve only read the first two Dresden books, and that was back in 2004.

Third, from what I know of the Dresden books, I have to say that the Justis Fearsson books are not really all that similar. They’re darker, the weremyste element of my series is quite different from Harry’s magic, and the plot lines of all three books in my series (SPELL BLIND is out, HIS FATHER’S EYES will be released in August, and SHADOW’S BLADE is written and in the early stages of production) are, from my perspective, pretty original.

So what has these reviewers so outraged? Well, they don’t like that my character is also a male private detective with magic. I wonder, if I had made my protagonist female, if they would have accused me of ripping off Faith Hunter or Patricia Briggs or Kim Harrison or any number of other incredibly talented and successful female authors, or if they’re just protective of Jim and Harry. I wonder as well if I had left out the magic, whether they would even have picked up the book.

One of them complains that I use “internal monologue.” So does every book with a first or close-third person point of view. ‘Nuff said.

They also don’t like the fact that a higher up in the Phoenix police force (my books are set in Phoenix; Dresden lives in Chicago, I believe) has it in for my main character. That, of course, is a trope that goes back well before the first Dresden book. It is, in fact, something that you find in nearly all great private eye stories. That’s what makes it a trope. Same with the friend on the police force. I don’t apologize for either of those devices — tropes are tropes for a reason. We authors use them, we play with them, we make them our own.

While we’re talking about tropes — the spirit guide who helps the magic wielder with his spell-work is one readers will find in almost any urban fantasy. Yes, Namid’skemu in my books falls into the category. He is really nothing like the talking skull I remember from the Dresden books, but his mere presence seems to be enough to tick these guys off. Again, I refer them to other authors who write in the genre. We all use this. I’m allowed to as well.

Magical serial murders? Jim was not the first to do this, and I am certainly neither the second nor the last. Another trope.

One of the reviewers objects to the fact that my hero’s mother died a mysterious death and that this is similar to Harry Dresden’s personal history. To be perfectly honest, if I was in his position, I might object to this, too. It is a striking similarity, one of which I was not aware until I read his review. If this is mentioned in one of those first two Dresden novels, it had not registered with me in a meaningful way. I swear it was not something I “copied” from Jim’s work. It’s probably too specific to call it a trope, but I will say that in fantasy novels of all stripes, it’s not at all uncommon for the protagonists to lose one parent or the other under mysterious circumstances. It’s a useful plot seed for later volumes. And I think that Jay’s relationship with his father, which is one of the strongest themes of the Fearsson books, sets it apart from Butcher’s work and that of others in the genre.

Look, I’ve been writing fantasy professionally, under two names, for nearly twenty years, publishing 16 novels — 18 by the end of this summer — earning a Crawford Award, excellent reviews, good enough sales to survive in a tough business, and the respect of my peers, which I value above all else. I would not rip off the work of a friend or a colleague. I don’t need to. I have  plenty of good ideas on my own, thanks very much. Are there superficial similarities between my urban fantasy and other urban fantasies out there, including the Dresden Files? Perhaps. But read the books. Really read them. Jay Fearsson is very much my own creation. So are the characters surrounding him.  So is my magic system.

If you don’t like the books, fine. I can live with that. If you like Jim’s more, also fine.

But don’t accuse me of plagiarism. Don’t impugn my professionalism and my integrity based upon your reading of one book. It’s not true and it’s not fair.

 

Don’t, Don’t, Don’t

I’ve debated back and forth about writing this post. Even now, as I type it out, I’m not sure I’ll ever actually put it up. Honesty wars with pride. Fear of revealing weakness and saying “the wrong thing” strives against the notion that reading this post might help others struggling with similar demons.

This has been another of those days — I seem to be having quite a few of them right now. By “those days,” I mean the ones that are filled with doubts and frustrations, stretches of idle time during which I do nothing but stare at a blank screen, getting nothing done and feeling like a lump.

But worse, I find myself falling into all sorts of old, bad habits, things that I have posted about, glibly telling aspiring writers “don’t do this and don’t do that.” And now here I sit, guilty of all the sins at which I’ve railed.

“Success,” I have said in recent posts, “must by self-defined. Don’t look to others for affirmation, find it within yourself.” But I feel myself surrounded my mirrors, as if I have stepped into an erroneously named funhouse. These mirrors are distorted, farcical. And yet I look at myself as I appear in them, and I wonder, “Is that really me?”

“Be ambitious! Ambition is good!” But my ambitions mock me, daring me to reach for them again, to risk falling short of them. Again.

“Don’t write to the market. The market is a moving target. Write what you love, the story that is burning inside of you.” But that story feels elusive right now, and I am constantly second-guessing myself, wondering if I am on the verge of writing the “wrong” story, the one that won’t take my career where I want it to go.

“Don’t read your own reviews.” “Don’t obsess over your numbers.” “Don’t lose sight of the fact that to succeed in this crazy business one must understand that its ultimate reward is love of the craft and passion for the act of creation.”

Don’t, don’t, don’t.

And yet, I do it all.

Because as much as I love this business, as fortunate as I am to be a professional writer, I’m always mindful of the precarious nature of success, however it is defined. I am flying without a net, unsure of what I am going to write next and where I might sell it when it’s ready to hit the market. And that uncertainty terrifies me. I have ideas, but they have yet to coalesce into a vision for a new project.

A voice in my head says, “But they will, they always do.”

To which another voice — a voice that has plagued me all my life, as such voices do all of us — answers, “You mean, they always have. Perhaps this time they won’t.”

I really hate that fucking voice.

There really is no answer to that voice of doubt, at least none that is solid in its certainty. The answer to doubt has to be faith, and faith can be a shaky foundation on which to build confidence. Do I think that I’ll find an answer, that I’ll emerge from this dark, unsettled place? Of course. But I don’t — can’t — know. Belief is all I’ve got, and while I can hope that eventually it will be enough, right now my confidence seems threadbare and worn.

I have no answers for you, no note of redemption on which to end this post. Hence my reluctance to start it in the first place. I’m struggling, as we all do from time to time. And all I can do is contend with my demons again tomorrow and hope that in the light of the morning they seem a bit less formidable.