Epic Fantasy ebook collection
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Fantasy eBook sale – 14 books for a buck

It’s the holidays, and that means publishers and authors (including me) are offering all kinds of crazy deals to get their books into brand new ereaders. Indie author Lindsay Buroker posted on her blog an epic fantasy ebook bundle sale that includes FOURTEEN fantasy novels. I just bought it myself, and it’s a great way to discover a number of new authors and new books in one shot for a great price. You can find the bundle at the above link, and get it for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Apple

book cover for Last Apprentice, A coven of witches
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Book Review: The Last Apprentice – A Coven of Witches

This is one of those instances where I jumped into a book without knowing much about its history. It turns out this is the 7th book in The Wardstone Chronicles series, which I didn’t know until after I finished it. But it wasn’t a problem because the book feels like it could be a first book of its own series, so I didn’t feel lost or like I was missing something.

The book has a simple structure: each section is told from the point-of-view of a different character, either a witch or a witch hunter. The stories are only loosely related to each other, so the stories don’t get stale and you’re always discovering some new aspect of the world that author Joseph Delaney created.

I liked this book for its interesting chapters told from the perspective of witches both young and old, alive and dead. The mythology here is rich and fitting for the time period, and each witch exposes the reader to a different part of what it means to be a witch. Sometimes you sympathize with them, sometimes you just want to throw that witch’s ass in a bonfire.

What I didn’t like so much was the chapters told from the perspective of the Spooks, the witch hunters. Compared to the witches, they’re a drab bunch who don’t add much to the book. I would’ve enjoyed this much more if the spooks had more depth of character.

Still, it’s a good read if you’re a fan of fantasy, witches, and modern retellings of old folklore. I’m not sure I would need to read the other books in the series though; I feel like I’ve already gotten enough of these tales, and too much of a good thing can indeed be a bad thing.

Sometimes you just have to write crap

I’m still working on finishing the first two books in my new science/magic series. Various life events have slowed down the progress, but I’m getting there. It’s happening. Light at the end of the tunnel, finish line ahead, *insert additional completion metaphor*

But some days, the words just don’t come out. One of my favorite writers (me) once said, “Some days the words flow like a mighty river. Some days they’re as slow as molasses.”

I used to struggle in times like that because 99% of the time I really tried to make whatever I wrote worthy of being published, even if it was just written during a draft. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with reaching my daily writing quota if I knew what I wrote was just going to get tossed the next day. I still feel that way most of the time, but I’ve also begun to embrace an idea that helps me get those days when the words just aren’t there…

Sometimes you have to write crap.

There’s one big benefit to writing crap: at least you know what doesn’t work. And another, smaller, benefit is that sometimes that pile of crap you just excreted out of your mind has some valuable seeds in it, and those seeds can grow into beautiful ideas worthy of putting in your finished work.

Clockworkers book cover
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Clockworkers 99 cent sale

I wrote a novel about elves living in modern day Detroit, and working in a luxury watch factory. Sound interesting? Well you can grab the book on Kindle for just under a dollar right now. Get Clockworkers from Amazon for 99 cents

The plot:

Samantha Chablon is a self-proclaimed “gadget girl”. She runs the family watch repair shop while her eccentric old father spends his days researching fantastical stories of elves. Sam loves her father, but his odd habits have always been a mystery and a burden on the family. But that all changes after her father dies, and she discovers what he left for her.

Sam has inherited a real elf.

Piv is his name, and he is far older than his boyish face and personality would imply. But he’s also wise, and as an elf he is gifted with a preternatural proclivity for making things. Sam’s father taught Piv everything he knows about making watches, and he works faster than human hands could ever move. Sam, being much more enterprising than her father, sees opportunity in Piv’s talents. Soon Piv is not the only elf working for Sam as she goes about building a luxury watch empire powered by secret elf labor.

But the elves have remained hidden from humans for good reason, and it’s not easy to keep a factory full of territorial elves secret in the middle of a metropolis. One night when someone attempts to break into the factory, the elves take matters into their own hands. The incident gives Sam a glimpse of a dark and twisted side of elves that no fairy tales ever mentioned. Samantha will soon discover that great ambition often comes with great risk, and although her elf partners have agreed to work without pay, there are other costly consequences involved in striking a deal with elves.

Book Update: Writing love that cannot be

Various life events have been slowing down my writing and social network posts, but I somehow found a moment to write this here blog post. So, to make the best of the time I have before my mind insists I attend to one of the dozen other pressing matters I have to attend to, I’m going tell you about a scene in the novel I’m currently writing.

I don’t often write love stories, but when I do, I make them complicated. Writers have to speak from their own perspectives, after all, and I’ve never felt that love was a simple thing. It’s a messy affair that isn’t at all like the Disney tales made it out to be. I find myself drawn to stories of love that allllmost worked out, but tragically failed for some reason.

I’m writing such a story now. Two characters are slowly discovering feelings for each other, but circumstances keep them from having a real relationship. They’re two lonely people with an inexplicable attraction for one another, but nothing can come of it. The only thing that eases the pain is the promise of a brighter future when their work is done, and they can finally have the time to be vulnerable. Because that’s what love is about at its core: vulnerability. Chuck Palahniuk wrote, “The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open”, and that’s the problem my characters face. They can’t risk that vulnerability. Not now. Not until they finish saving the world.

Then, maybe, they can find time to love.

Mark Twain and his cat
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Writers and cats

I’ve noticed something about writers. We tend to love cats.

That’s not to say there aren’t dog-loving scribes out there; surely there are. But there seems to be a disproportionate number of us who love cats.

Every now and then, Buzzfeed posts a vapid clickbait article about famous writers and their cats. And I admit that one of my guilty pleasures is reading such things. But even in my own network of writers I follow on Twitter, I’ve noticed a lot of cat love. Urban fantasy writer Seanan McGuire often posts tales and pics of her cats. Sci-fi scribe John Scalzi is also a cat lover. Neil Gaiman is also a big cat fan, frequently writing about cats in his novels with a certain level of admiration. One of his favorite quotes of mine:

“‘No,’ said the cat. ‘Now, you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.’”
—Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Is there something about this mysterious, aloof creatures that we writers have an affinity with? Do we look into those slitted eyes and see something that sparks creativity, or do we just enjoy having an animal around that doesn’t require much maintenance?

One of life’s great mysteries.

Reader on train - by Bonnie Natko
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Writers should ride public transit

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t drive. I’ve got nothing personal against cars. I just feel that driving isn’t for me. Although I do make use of Uber/Lyft services to get around Los Angeles in a pinch, most of the time I just ride a bus or a train. I’ve made this work for years with minimal hassle (contrary to popular belief, LA does have a wide range of public transit options if you know how to use them and aren’t in a hurry).

There are many reasons why I ride buses and trains. It’s more economical, better for the environment, and it contributes to my nearly stress-free life. But, as a writer, there are a couple of bigger reasons why I prefer to let someone else do the driving.

The first one is a big one: since I’m not driving I can spend the whole trip reading. This is a huge benefit for me since on any given day I have about a dozen different things to do and finding reading time can be tough. Good writers must be good readers and, although I prefer to get cozy with a book in the comfort of my home, if I’m looking for a new book to read I often read the sample chapters on the bus via my Kindle app. Bus rides can take a while (especially in LA traffic), so it’s an excellent and productive use of my time.

The second reason I think writers in particular should use public transit is this: people watching.

The public transit systems of America’s big cities are like a mish-mash of all sorts of people. Here in LA, I’ve ridden the bus through Beverly Hills with rich housewives carrying their newly purchased Prada bags, and on the very same bus there’s a guy who washes dishes at a local restaurant who just ended his shift. The bus patrons here come in all shapes, ages, races, orientations, and religions. As the bus rolls through each of LA’s many varied neighborhoods, the demographics of the riders shifts accordingly. From the shiny happy people riding to the sun and sand of Santa Monica, to the dirty and desperate dudes in downtown, you’ll see every kind of flavor that LA has to offer. And each person has their own little story. Sometimes I strike up a casual chat with folks, but most of the time I just listen and watch. For a writer, this environment is like a gold mine full of fat shiny nuggets you don’t even have to dig for.

Writing good stories requires an intimate understanding of people, and not just one type of person. A writer’s stories must be filled with rich characters with rich histories and personalities. The best research environment for this, in my opinion, is a city bus on an ordinary day. A bus ride brings the world to you, as you roll down city streets and people from all walks of life hop on, sit down, and become passive passengers on a metal behemoth barreling through the urban landscape.

Now, inevitably when I mention my bus-riding ways someone will bring up their distaste of potentially having to ride with one or more homeless people. I totally understand that. I’ve never had any serious issues with transients on transit, but there have been numerous instances where they created an inconvenience. It’s unpleasant, sure. But it’s life. It’s reality. And these people, living on the lowest rung of the social ladder, can give you a hard and honest view of the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. That is also an asset for us writers. We use lies to tell the truth, we use facts to enhance fiction, and we can’t do that completely unless we expose ourselves to the unpleasant parts of life, even if it’s just a little bit.

So if you’re a writer, or an aspiring writer, I think you should catch the bus sometime. One way or another, it’ll be an experience.