Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Review: Never Say You Can't Survive by Charlie Jane Anders

Have you ever felt a little insecure about your writing? Life beating you down a bit and it's impacting your writing life? Having trouble focusing on the story that you think you need to write?

Then this book is for you. Seriously. 

This next post was supposed be about my recent struggles with mental health and imposter syndrome, but when I finally got my copy of this book from the library, I knew that this would be a far better post than my own ramblings. 

I don't know about you, but when life is hard my writing tends to suffer. That was the reason this book got recommended to me in the first place. In fact, I am still struggling, but this post isn't about me. This is about Never Say You Can't Survive by Charlie Jane Anders and why I honestly think every writer who has ever struggled at any point should read or listen to this book. 

This book gave me the lift that I so seriously needed at this moment. Charlie Jane Anders interjects her own personal anecdotes and writing journey that really made me feel as though I am not alone in my journey or struggle. It's these anecdotes that really will draw you into this book in a way that many other writing advice books often lack. 

That are many incredible nuggets of extreme wisdom that any writer at any stage of their writing career can cling to before we even get to the nuts and bolts portion of this book.

So, about the nuts and bolts section? Well, the author has some wonderful insights on how to make things work and she gives new ways to look at things in the most common sense language. She gives wonderful and entertaining examples as well that work for both pantsers or plotters. (And if I am being honest, a lot of writing advice isn't always targeted for pantsers).

Her personal anecdotes continue along the way as well from throughout her life and experience. She's not only talking about how she did it in her books. Every story she tells really helps to give a lot of relatable content to lend context to the writing advice.

To be honest, I could go on about why this book is great, but mostly if you write—whether your goal is to publish or not—this is a book I think you need to read or listen to (bonus: audio is narrated by the author herself). This is a book where, no matter whatever you on your writing journey or where you want to go with it, you will find things here that help and resonate with you and make you feel a bit better about your writing journey.

As an addendum, this book is super 2SLGBTQIA positive. I would be remiss in my duties as a reviewer if I didn't mention this wonderful bonus and there is writing advice in relation to this topic as well as in regards to being a part of any marginalized community. Trust me when I said it made my little heart soar to have these things included.

Overall, when it comes to writing advice in these troubled times, I say this is the book to read.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Christmas Cancer Cut Fundraiser


 Guys, I am shaving my head for cancer.

That's the most important thing you need to know besides the link to donate. Which is right here: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/christmas-cancer-cut/

So, why am I shaving my head? Well, it takes a lot of hair and $2000 to make one wig for a child with cancer. I have a lot of hair, not enough to make a whole wig, but enough to make a good dent in the process. So, I am shaving it as a part of donating it to Angel Hair for Kids. An organization here in Canada that makes these wigs. 

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok, you'll get to see the before and after photos from all those luxurious locks in that image to shaved to bald. 

If you can donate for this cause, please do. If you can't, please share so that I can make or exceed my goal. 

Thank you.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Review: Lucid Book 1: REM World Trilogy by L.R. Evans

When I read the author's logline for this book on Twitter, 'An angsty gay funeral director must stop a bubbly male escort from joining an immortal tyrant', I expected something completely different than what I got. I am thoroughly NOT disappointed, and what I read matches well with the tagline on the cover of the book, 'Dreams are real and they can kill you'. With the logline, I had expected a more humorous tale than the story that delivered more in line with the tagline. I tried my best to not go into this book with too many expectations when the author approached me for a review. My only hesitation at the time is one that might cause hesitation for others: it's a big book.

And, of course, if you follow me on Twitter, you already know that I am a very busy person.

Lucid gives you an intriguing and often action-packed first half. It flows smoothly and strongly, slowly revealing the mysteries and intrigue of this new world we find ourselves in called REM World. It's a fascinating place and Evans does an incredible job of laying the groundwork of the world-building without overwhelming the reader with unnecessary details. It flows beautifully.

The character development is wonderful, bolstered by glimpses into our contemporary world which often adds to the intrigue of the story that is being delivered to us in REM World. It's a beautiful jigsaw puzzle that, in certain instances, gives us wonderful insight in retrospect.

One thing about this story that gave me a small issue is that about the midpoint of the story, I found myself expecting that we were wrapping up already for the next book. It felt like a setup for what should have been book two. However, what came in the second half of the book would have been lacking if separated from the first half. So, I understand why this was one larger book instead of two slightly smaller books. To be honest, I wouldn't have minded the chance to spend MORE time in this world. It really is a good story.
 
In my opinion, the mid-point lull in action which serves the purpose of building up to the second half of Lucid dragged on a bit too long. It was a necessary setup, but a part of me wishes it could have been a bit shorter. I also wonder if Evans had treated the book a bit like two books combined as I have sometimes seen. Lucid Part 1 and Lucid Part 2 (subtitles optional) to make the transition in the story easier for readers to adjust to. Other than one or two clich├ęd phrases, this is probably one of my two biggest critiques.

In the second half of Lucid, the mysteries have become less about the world and more focused on the relationships between the characters. While the first part of the book was significantly more plot-driven—this is what I mean about a shift between the first and second halves of the book. It provided plenty of tense moments and the revelations provided really gave a new perspective to the first half. In this second half of the book, we are also given the chance to see more of the contemporary—well historical to us—waking world of our main character.

This second part really dragged me into love the our MC, Julian. It was also so incredibly heartbreaking and hard. Evans didn't shy away from dealing with some major LGBTQ+ issues and, not to give anything away, also presents an honest trans and poly positive narrative in this second bit. It made my heart sing. There is nothing I love more than to see representation.

As the story culminates toward the final battle, we still have a few surprises left to discover. I won't spoil the ending for you. I hate spoilers in reviews. I try to never do them, however, the end of the book did leave me with a few mixed feelings. Do not get me wrong, I really liked Lucid and I am excited to find out what happens in the next book, but I am also a bit worried. How it ended left me wondering about a few major plot issues--including a certain critical plot point that isn't generally something that bothers me, but that one is too big of a plot point to even mention here.

As per usual, I read the back-cover blurb after the fact and I will say that Evans summed a huge part of the second half in one sentence "A harrowing journey of self-destruction, addiction, grief, trauma, and healing." This is what made it a hard, but worthy read because everything was handled so well.

If you love honest LGBTQ stories that give you a new way of looking at things and if you aren't tied rigidly to the expected story structures and genre conventions, you will like this story. You might even love it because there is so much to love. This was such a close call to being a five-star review for me and I really wish I could so with integrity, however, the two major issues I had did bring it down to a four-star which means this is still a good novel and worthy of your time and attention.

I cannot wait to see what Evans does in the next book.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Review: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody.


 Do you ever hear a book get recommended to people so often that you just had to pick it up? Save the Cat! Writes a Novel is that book. I've been hearing about for a long time and I finally got around to buying only to not have time to actually read it. Thank god for libraries loaning audiobooks because, although, I own a paperback copy of this book (which I recommend), I listened to the audiobook due to my time restraints.

The reason I recommend getting the paperback is not simply because of the worksheets, those are provided as a PDF with the audiobook (when purchased), but because this is something you will want to refer back to. There is a lot of information to unpack in these pages and one readthrough will not be enough for most of us to take it all in.

So, what makes this a five-star rating from me for a writing book?

Well, this book didn't just go into to detail about the structure ideas that they are setting before you, but gives you well broken-down and explained examples of what they are talking about. They are also upfront and clear about any book spoilers that are going to happen in every chapter. And, for the record, they give examples from a lot of books, some of which you may be familiar with and some you may not be. There was at least one book a chapter that I already knew the vague plot of and this was great for me to be able to understand even better what they were trying to teach me.

Another thing to hold up high is the very fact that they say these are not hard and fast rules. There is wiggle room. This, at the beginning of the book, when they were going over the 15 beats in a standard structure, made me happy because one thing I've learned well in my years as a writer and editor is that there is NO one true way. Nothing in this industry is a one-size-fits-all solution and that *is* acknowledged in this book.

Okay, getting down to the specifics: does the 15 beat structure and the 3 must-haves per (their) genre type make sense and are they usable for most writers?

I believe the answer to this question is, yes. I think there is enough inherent flexibility within this layout to make the suggestions and advice offered within this book useful for the vast majority of writers out there. Whether you plot in detail or make it up as you go (or somewhere in-between), there is a lot in here that will really help you structure your novel better. Even if you have been writing for a long time and don't really struggle with structure, you might find this book a bit eye-opening.

And as a bonus? It even helps with the difficult one-sentence pitch lines that so many still struggle with.

So who should read this book? Anyone with a vested interest in the writing industry and not just the writer themselves. I think editors and reviewers will also benefit from giving this book their time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Cover Wars and MORE


 So, for the first time ever I have entered one of my covers into cover wars. Falling Light. I know I might be biased, but I think it's the best of the choices available.Of course, we also know that most people vote for their friend's book which means it's not always a fair contest in that way. 

I would love it if you could vote in cover wars and, if you agree that mine is the best cover there, please vote for me. 

 Here is the link: https://authorshout.com/cover-wars/

Other than that, just a quick update. Summer has seen me stretching myself thin with social demands and the garden. I have a lot on my plate and a lot to do which is why I've been mostly silent in blog posts because that would be one more thing to have to do.

I've been loving working on my new press and have discovered a new love of formatting books. I think it's by far my favourite behind-the-scenes work when it comes to publishing. To the point that I am now offering freelance formatting for those who need it. Just drop me a line to get a quote.

Okay, back to the one million things I am working on, but one last reminder: I also now have a newsletter so if you are curious as to what I am up to, about my life, my garden and new things... then sign up by going to my website, crystallkirkham.com

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Writing Outside the Lines

 

When I first started writing, all I wrote was science fiction. Year after year, I wrote science fiction until I wrote my first mainstream novel and then found a groove in urban fantasy. Like most creative endeavours, writing is an art. One that takes practice to perfect. So how did a science fiction writer end up publishing various types of fantasy novels?

Simple.

I learned to write outside the lines of the type of writer I thought I wanted to be. I practiced writing in other genres and styles. I expanded my writerly horizons. I learned how to deepen the emotional impact of my scenes by practicing romance and erotica. Neither are genres that I want to spend a lot of time in, but they are different style of writing than what one typically sees in most speculative fiction genres.

The more I dive into the world of writing, the more I learn about what other genres can offer each other and every genre has something to offer to writers.

From contemporary fiction, I learned the impact of character driven stories, from fantasy and science fiction I’ve learned the importance of world building and overarching storylines. Mysteries, thrillers and suspense can teach you a lot about pacing and the importance of the little details.

There is so much to learn that sometimes I wonder why so many authors rigidly write and practice only a single genre. I do know that this can work well for some people and can make them an expert in their chosen genre, but I also believe that learning other genres—even without the intent to write and publish in that genre—can expand your abilities.

When I started on the journey of learning genres, mostly it was so I could better understand what makes a genre what it is. I didn’t go into it with the intention of actually writing these things. I simply wanted to a better understanding.

While I am still learning, I have had the good fortune to help guide other writers on their journey into learning new styles of writing, even as I learned from them about their genre. Even something as small as writing microfiction can teach you a lot about editing and conciseness. How to make an impact with few words.

Writing outside the lines you have drawn in the sand can you teach you a lot. I highly recommend giving it a try. You never know what you might learn.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Review: Sophie's Key by Jodi Jensen


Cover of Sophie's Key
This is a novel by Jodi Jensen and published by Champagne Books.

It's been a while since I've done a book review. For those of you in the know, this is because of a few factors that led to me being so busy I wasn't able to find the time to read anything other than the work I was editing. Unfortunately, Sophie's Key by Jodi Jensen was a book that arrived right before all this started so it has been sitting on my bedside table waiting for me to say hello to the story contained within.

I finally had a chance when I was stuck with a friend at the hospital while she had day surgery. It was a good book to have with me even though it is not the type of tale I would normally read. While I do write and read some romance, I am rather particular about it. I am not a fan of the insta-love trope. If you've ever read my work (any of it), you would know that I prefer stories with a dark edge to them.

This is not that kind of story.

Which also means that I am definitely not the target audience of this book, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't give it a fair review. A part of being a good reviewer is knowing that and still be able to review a book without the bias of that preference. So, let me tell you about this novel.

Sophie's Key is a brilliantly written time-travel romance. There is no denying the talent with which the author crafted the book and the scenes within. Every character you encounter is well-developed, intriguing, and delightfully written. I fell in love with a couple of the side characters that were so dynamic that they almost stole the scenes!

There is also ample evidence that Jodi did her research into the historical accuracy of the era in which our heroine, Sophie, finds herself. There is nothing that can ruin a time travel book quicker than a blatant inaccuracy. Or even a minor inaccuracy, if you're a history buff.

And of course, this is a true blue romance. That means there are several scenes that do get rather "spicy". Once again, the talent of the writing shines in that the author does a great job of balancing the sensual prose with the physical descriptions. These scenes were neither too technical nor too flowery.

Even though I was not the target audience, I can say that there are plenty of scenes in this story that made me laugh, wonder what was next, or simply kept me engaged. So there is no denying that this is a good book.

My biggest critique that I do have is that I wish I had a better feel for Sophie prior to her ending up in the past. I didn't really feel like I knew her before things got turned upside down, but the facts that are relevant later in the novel are established well enough that it doesn't affect the plot line at all. So my biggest critique is rather minor in the long run.

So, if I am not the ideal audience for this book, who is? Well, I would say this book is for readers who adore a more traditional style romance with only slight fantastical elements, or anyone who can't get enough of those good, old-fashioned, hunky cowboy heroes.
 

Find out more about this story and where to purchase it here: http://champagnebooks.com/store/blanc-de-blanc-paranormal/837-sophie-s-key-print-9781771553421.html