Apr 28, 2014

Dear Characters - Part 6 (NaNo '13)

Camp NaNo update: I'm *this close* to finishing the third arc of the story and moving on to the final part. Over the past few months I've been gathering tons of notes devoted to the last quarter of the novel, so I have plenty to work with! Assuming Drake doesn't change everything up. Again. He's predictably unpredictable.

Here's a relevant conversation with my husband this week that made me giggle.
Me: "How has it been another month and I'm still not done the story yet? I need to finish this dang arc!"
Husband: "That's what Noah said."
*cue studio laughter at his bad pun*


Anyway, since it's been almost two weeks since the last post, I'm going to ramble at my characters again.

Dear Adair (the Forcepainter/illustrator),
Whoops, after six months of writing you without a problem, I just tried to spell your name "Adare". 'Air' because your head is usually in the clouds. Got it. I love this about you, though. You'll just be ambling along and suddenly something arbitrary will catch your attention and you'll become fixated on that. You've known Etri for months and just now his tattoos distract you? What's next, the color of Grandeau's hat? A pretty shell on the beach? Those seemingly random bits of color that you're seeing out of the corner of your eye? (Hint: those flashes of color are important, Addy. Learn to focus on them.)

Dear Blythe (the Bladeshielder/blade-dancer),
You probably hate me for the fact that Grandeau lassoed you with an invisible rope, but he was justifiably frightened. It wasn't my fault you didn't tell him it was you before you opened the door. Besides, I found it hilarious. Also please get some sleep before you make any rash decisions. You usually make rash decisions, but in this case your brother either went over to the other side or got captured, which you wouldn't react well to even on a good day, and you can't possibly think straight after being awake for two days. (Yet you seem to think it's the boys who do stupid things. I'm tempted to make Grandeau's mime action to represent you be a facepalm or throwing his arms up in the air because those are your constant reactions to dealing with the rest of this bunch.)

Dear Etri (the Shadowwalker/fire-eater),
Oh, stop glaring at me for deciding that Sol calls you "Mouse". You know how your brother is with nicknames and it's the perfect one for you. If you don't like it, prove us wrong. Do something outgoing and social without needing Blythe's magic to cancel your fears and inhibitions. Show us that this mouse has teeth, claws, courage- and a voice. My notes have shown me what happens later, so I know you have it in you.

Dear Grandeau (the Shadowshaper/mime),
Congratulations, you're a Shadowwalker! Sort of. Eventually Etri will sort this out and start training you, but in the meantime DO NOT cross over to the shadow plane! That's a plot point for later in the series and I don't need you accidentally getting stuck way earlier than I'm intending. Go distract yourself with cartwheels and pretending you're in an invisible box or something.
PS: Sol's been on a nicknaming kick again, but I think you'll like being called "Motley". I mean, you are the jester kid. I am kind of worried about the confusion if everyone starts using it because it sounds nothing like your real name and readers might not be able to remember that you're dressed in patchwork colors. But I just love the potential for calling you "Mot"! It fits you so much better than the lofty name that you're not going to grow into for several years.

Dear Chantrell (the Songshifter/melodist),
See, I told you they'd get you out of there. It's funny how you put all the thanks on Adair when he really didn't do anything but tag along. You really do look up to him, don't you? I suppose there are worse role models. But then you turn around and start talking like all the older characters are idiots for missing the obvious. Yup, you're definitely twelve! I think it's neat that you've been giving me ideas for a future book, by the way. I guess you're determined to have me keep you in the series.

Dear Sol (the Lightbringer/fire-breather),
You're feeling torn, aren't you? Part of you is fearing he did turn and he did leave you. The other part is saying that there was a mistake, that something went wrong, but that part is being drowned out by your uncharacteristically vocal twin. Remember how you feel about shadow elementals, how they make you angry and more than a little skeeved out? That's the bias he has about Drake. Not that he's far wrong in that assessment, but in this case you're the one who is right. For once Etri's intelligence compass is pointing due wrong.

Dear Drake (the Spellbinder/fire-dancer),
I am really tempted to make Grandeau's miming action to represent you be pointing at his butt. Maybe if you weren't such a ... you know... the others would have looked harder for you when you didn't report back. You'll be stuck with the antagonists on your own for a while and there you're going to have to make a choice. Are you going to continue the path you've been on forever: lying, cheating, seducing, stealing, and mind-controlling your way through life, always careful to keep your own skin safe? Or are you going to take some risks and reach for humanity before it's too late? The clock's ticking, Drae. Even if you aren't sure what you are yet, those shadow elementals that attacked you most certainly knew. The only reason they didn't kill you is because you have a little time left...

~Meri, the writer who gets a kick out of the fact that humor is equally balanced with drama. You guys need to give my cast of "In the Cards" comedy lessons so I can get a desire to ever go back to writing my far less funny novel.

Apr 15, 2014

Dear Characters - Part 5 (NaNo '13)

Quick Camp NaNo update: I've spent a lot of this month jumping around and writing various different spots in the novel. I eventually realized that skipping around was probably a bad idea since it was was quickly burning me out, so I'm back where I was supposed to be, but that means I haven't advanced the story too far from that point yet. Working on world-building, character backstory notes, and outlines for this and the series probably didn't help, but hey, it did unlock me several more potential banning points as I went along. I'm at about 10k in actual story words for the month so far, which is close to my par.

Onwards to rambling at my characters...

Dear Adair (the Forcepainter/illustrator),
I think the correct answer to the question "Which of the other characters is the worst influence on you?" is "any and all of them". I don't know who's prouder of the fact that you stole something: me or Etri. You returned it when you were done and had a good reason, but the fact that you did it at all has marked the point of no return. So much for being the straight-laced voice of reason; you're one of those "amoral carnival people" now. Just try not to lose your honesty and sweetness as you learn that sometimes it's better to bend the rules than to follow them.

Dear Sol (the Lightbringer/fire-breather),
How I managed to misplace a talkative, enthusiastic fire-mage is anyone's guess. You're tailing Drake and the baddie, right? Talan's about to use your brother's stolen magic, but I have no idea if you're smart enough to recognize this. I'd be kind of surprised if you don't get distracted by something and wander off, for that matter.

Dear Etri (the Shadowwalker/fire-eater),
You're saying you have a bad feeling about sneaking around the enemy's home, but could you maybe possibly perhaps tell me what has your thief senses tingling? Does it have to do with Blythe getting zapped by the door? The fact that no one seems to be waking up? I'm loving your backstory about why you're a thief, by the way. For a weird socially phobic goth, you have this almost-Robin Hood thing going on. Then again, I'm getting the impression that you like breaking yourself out of jail and baffling the authorities. There's more to you than I'd thought!

Dear Blythe (the Bladeshielder/blade-dancer),
What exactly did that key do when it made your hand go all tingly? You probably shouldn't have been able to get through that door at all, but the only reason I can come up with is that it's because you're half Guardian/Soldier. Does this mean you can't be hurt by traps? Something's just not adding up.

Dear Chantrell (the Songshifter/melodist),
Are you even in the same place as the others or did Talan take you somewhere else? He would have wanted to keep you close at hand, so where are you? Please don't tell me that your brother has found his way back into the plot again. I was hoping we had gotten rid of him. Something tells me Drake has been hoping the same thing.

Dear Grandeau (the Shadowshaper/mime),
You're kind of out of the plot for a bit until the shadows stop trying to swarm to you. Of course, you are a young teenager. I'm fully expecting you to not have done what the others wanted. You haven't given me any backstory, but I'm almost wondering if Talan took one of your parents when he was snatching mages and that's why you're wandering alone. This isn't really required info yet, but please figure this out by the second draft.

Dear Drake (the Spellbinder/fire-dancer),
You never do anything remotely like what I'd planned for you and, as much as it pains me to say it, I absolutely love when you send the story off track. I had you all set up to use your long daggers to get out of a tight spot, either to work your mind-control or to just go stabbity, which should have been your automatic response. Instead you completely disregard the blades that have become almost an extension of your body and start reaching for extraplanar fire that you shouldn't have been able to touch until the end of the story. What I want to know is who is going to clean up all these charred bounty hunters, hmm? Certainly not you since you don't even remember what you did and you managed to drag the unconscious Sol away from the scene of the conflagration before you passed out. I'm fully expecting you to do something unplanned while you're off serving as Talan's distraction/bait, too. Because listening to the plan the others made would be far too easy.
PS. You deserved that kick to the ribs that Blythe gave you, just so you know. Quit scaring your sister. At this rate you're more likely to be smacked around by her than any antagonist.

~Meri, the author who is still trying to keep all these relationships straight. I'm going to have to draw a diagram of who's dating who, who's currently mad at who, who shares magic with who, and who's related to who. (Or should it be "whom"? Eh, that just sounds pretentious and I'll leave all my pretension to Drake.)

Apr 14, 2014

Book Review - Honor Among Orcs

This time I'm reviewing the book Honor Among Orcs by Amalia Dillin. This wasn't one I won from LibraryThing, although this is an early review of sorts. Like those LT books, I'm giving this an honest review in exchange for a free copy of the book. (This review had previously been posted here.)

Here's the description of this book from Amazon:
After nearly a decade as the king’s whipping-girl, Princess Arianna has no intention of going quietly into marriage to some treasonous noble, or serving obediently as the king’s spy until her death is more convenient. When she discovers a handsome orc, chained and trapped inside a magic mirror, Arianna cannot help but see a lasting freedom from her father's abuse.

Left to rot inside a mirror by the king, Bolthorn never imagined his prayers would be answered by a princess. Nor did he ever expect to meet so worthy a woman after knowing her father’s cruelty. He needs her help to escape the mirror before the king marches against the orcs, but all he can offer Arianna is ice and darkness in exchange for her aid. 

If Arianna can free the monster behind the glass, perhaps she might free herself, as well. But once they cross the mountain, there will be no return, and the deadly winter is the least of what threatens them on the other side.

Fans of Kristin Cashore's FIRE and Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS will appreciate the collision of romance, adventure, and epic fantasy -- all with a new adult edge -- in Honor Among Orcs.


When I saw the author post about this book online, I immediately wanted to get my hands on a copy. I love orcs in a way that everyone I know thinks is odd. Hey, some girls like werewolves, elves, or vampires. For me it's the green skin and tusks. A story where an orc is a main character and it's a romance? Yes, please!

I can happily say that I wasn't disappointed. The two main characters, Arianna and Bolthorn, have depth to them that makes them people rather than flat characters. For me what makes or breaks a book is characterization and the protagonists had plenty of that. I honestly wasn't sure if I would like Arianna, fearing that she'd be some sort of pathetic princess. (I know, I know, I shouldn't have, but with a romance, you never know.) I was pleasantly surprised that even in her times of weakness, which I certainly couldn't fault her for, she still had strength and determination. Bolthorn... well, let's just say that he's now another orc I have a massive crush on. I found him to be more interesting than Arianna; not that she was flat, he just had the more interesting backstory and personality, in my opinion. I really got into the orc culture and how they live and interact with each other and the world.

Speaking of that, the world-building had detail that I appreciated. The history of the elves and the orcs was particularly interesting, and I enjoyed reading about the orcs' culture, so I'm hoping we get more of that in later books. That's the other thing: when I got to the end of the book and realized that it was the first in a trilogy I think I gave a little squeal of delight. Needless to say I will be reading the next one!

This is another book where it's hard for me to put into words exactly what I liked about it because I want to say "everything". While that's accurate, it's also incredibly vague. Basically the characterization, the world-building, the star-crossed-type aspect of the romance, the main characters triumphing against odds... it's all there. The only shortcoming I can think of is that I thought it felt a little disjointed to start, but once the plot started rolling I had a hard time putting this book down.

I've been waffling on the stars to give this one. I have trouble giving books 5 stars out of 5 unless the book is something super awesome perfect and amazing, which never seems to quite be the case in most things I read, but I also don't want to give this 4 1/2 because I did really enjoy it. It wasn't quite at the level of blowing me away, but I think I enjoyed it way too much to give it only that half star. Since 4 3/4 probably isn't an option, I think I will give this 5. Keep in mind that this is a fantasy romance with a non-human character, so it might not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you're into fantasy and unusual love stories, then this might just be for you. (It does have sexual content in it, so keep that in mind, too. I didn't think it was particularly over the top, but it is there.)

Apr 1, 2014

Dear Characters - Part 4 (NaNo '13)

As I gear up for continuing "Unexpected Inspiration" and the world building of my series for April's Camp NaNoWriMo, it's time to do another "Dear Characters" post since my last was several chapters and months ago.

Dear Drake (the Spellbinder/fire-dancer),
I should have known you would turn me into a liar. I was so proud of myself for not having any nonhumans in this novel/series, and now I see you over there starting to piece something together. I don't know what's worse- that I have yet another facet of your personality to unravel or the fact that you won't discover what you are until the next book, so I can only drop hints here and there. I always knew you were a cross between a tease and my resident pain in the butt, but at least I can always count on you to spawn some plot. ...Except for now when I need it and you're flat out refusing to get yourself trapped, thus stalling the whole story. If you don't do it the way I've planned, the others will just tie you up and leave you on Talan's doorstep so they can move ahead. Either way you're going with the baddie. What's it going to be?

Dear Etri (the Shadowwalker/fire-eater),
You were finally starting to make some progress with your social phobia and now you've picked up that blasted fear of the dark. Sigh. Keep working with Blythe and maybe she can figure out how to cancel only one fear instead of all your fears and inhibitions. Seeing you talkative and flirty is weird for all of us (and possibly even weirder for you once you realize how you'd been acting), but it's better than you cowering when I need you to be the night prowler you usually are. Either I have to find a way to fix this or in the next draft you're getting a side effect besides nyctophobia. It seemed like a good idea at the time...

Dear Sol (the Lightbringer/fire-breather),
Sorry, dude. I know I'm putting you in an uncomfortable place between your brother and your boyfriend. I honestly had no idea that the antisocial and rather meek Etri could ever hate someone that much! (Oh! That's one of those hints I mentioned a second ago!) I'm really not sure how the next few scenes are going to play out, but if it turns out that Drake does or says something arsy to you, please try not to take it personally. It's probably just another of his misguided attempts to keep you safe- which I know you don't want to hear. Geez, between him and Etri both being obnoxiously protective it's a wonder you haven't snapped at either of them yet. You really are sunny, aren't you?

Dear Blythe (the Bladeshielder/blade-dancer),
I don't understand how I keep losing you in the pile of characters. You're the most outspoken and blunt of the bunch, you have the most interesting backstory, and you're the connecting point between most of the other characters, but somehow I never seem to know what to do with you. Maybe I should go back and write some of the scenes I skipped over from your POV so I can get inside your head. Goodness knows Drake has the story stalled where it currently is.

Dear Adair (the Forcepainter/illustrator),
I'm not sold on the way you're trying to get the group to work together as a team. You got them to listen this time mostly because they were still in shock at Etri's personality change, but your puppy eyes and "please?"'s aren't going to keep working. I know you've gotten this far in life by being amiable, soft-spoken, and mellow, but you're a leader now. The only way you're all going to get through this is if you put your foot down and make them listen. They won't hate you for it, I promise. And for pete's sake, please don't start asking them "Are you okay?" or "Is that all right?" afterward. They are and it is, even if they end up slightly peeved for a short time. Your decisions are sound. Stick by them.

Dear Chantrell (the Songshifter/melodist),
Okay, kiddo, you're going to be pulled away from the group for a bit. I have faith in you. You're young, but you're spunky. While you're there, see if you can learn anything to help them. Talan has a bad habit of underestimating you guys and he's certainly going to underestimate a twelve year old. Use that to your advantage. And see if you can get some dirt on him because my antagonists are giving me even more writer's block than Blythe.

Dear Grandeau (the Shadowshaper/mime),
Welcome aboard and umm... sorry I already got you beat up? Your first task is research duty. Your magic should be coming back soon and I'm still unsure what those shadows you summoned actually are or what to do about them, especially with Etri out of commission. And while you're giving me info, can you let me know what exactly your backstory is? You're fourteen and wandering around on your own without any hint of a family. Yet you know how to write and seem to be a gifted performer. Someone taught you these things. Who was it? I don't speak charades, but you have that slate to write on now. (Blythe will tie it to your wrist like a pair of mittens if you keep losing it. I don't think she's very good at charades, either.)

~Meri, your author who is wondering how to pawn some of you off because this huge cast of characters is getting ridiculous, particularly when you're all in one place. We'll be fine once some of you go off on other story arcs, so I'm about to take a cue from Drake and cause an unwelcome party split of my own.