Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Book Recommendations: Kindle Vella

 This month, I've been sampling books on kindle vella. Readers can read the first three chapters for free, so I've been sampling a wide variety to decide which ones I'll continue reading (authors get bonuses based on reader interactions, so this still benefits them, especially when I leave a 'thumbs up'). After the first three, chapters typically cost around 25 cents each. Here are my favorites so far (most are fantasy, clean romance, or a mix of the two, because that's what I enjoy).

Land of 10,000 Dates: Romantic comedy about a young woman who can't claim her 3 wishes from a genie until she makes time to date.

A Forest of Stolen Memories: Romantic fantasy about a young woman who loses her memories, right as she's about to marry an apparently perfect prince.

Hatched: A romantic fantasy about a dragon-raiser struggling to keep her family farm afloat, until an illegal egg hatches.

Provoking Fire: A fantasy about an orphan hidden away, who may be able to save the world. By and about a woman of color, so an excellent choice for the Own Voices movement.

The Legend of Black Jack: A fantasy about a young orphan who rises from modern poverty to fantasy legend. Very well written.

The Last Firn: This author writes some steamy content, but this story is a sweet fantasy romance about a young lady chosen to create an alliance with a neighboring kingdom.

Rise from Ashes: This urban fantasy has an X-men feel. People with abilities are locked away "to keep the public safe", until their prison is attacked.

Sculpting Fables: A romantic fantasy which places a Cinderella retelling in Ancient Egypt, complete with time travel. 

Kalevala's Song: A romantic fantasy about a young genie with an abusive father, and the young minstrel who falls in love with her.

And don't forget to check out mine, pretty please!
The Seventh Clan: a romantic fantasy which places Beauty and the Beast during a Revolutionary war.

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Spectra World origins and overlap

 In middle school, I decided to write a story about a group of six kids, one represented by each color. I was inspired partly by the energy cards in my Pokemon collection. The story began with the yellow/electric girl getting overcharged from swimming with her classmates (because electricity beats water in Pokemon), and the other five kids having to rush her into an empty classroom before she exploded lightning everywhere. 

That was the beginning of the Spectra magic system, which has the same colors and similar associated abilities (red for fire/heat, orange for ground/earth, yellow for electricity/innovation, green for grass/life, blue for water, purple for psychic/communication). I daydreamed about the system for several years before I finally started writing my first Spectra book in 2011.

The Spectra world is a lot of fun to write in because there is a lot of room for variation within those broad categories. I've also loved creating an alternate history for their continent, which is loosely based on the western United States. 

One advantage to staying in the same world for every book is that they can overlap a bit, and cameos from one book to another show up a lot. I'll share some examples from DreamRovers, since the series finale comes out on the thirtieth!

In my very first book, Keita's Wings 1, Keita mentions in passing a valley full of people who can travel through dreams (which expanded into the DreamRovers trilogy several years later). In Keita's Wings 3, she and another character mention legends about One-Shot Walker, a character in DreamRovers, which takes place about two centuries earlier. DreamRovers 3 will go into more about griffins, and even see a carving of the characters of Mira's Griffin. DreamRovers will be a major focus of the second Spectra Crowns book, and in my future book, The Captain's Dowry, the characters visit a city named after a DreamRover character.

DreamRovers alternate beginning

 When I first wrote DreamRovers, the opening scene was from the point of view of 5-year-old Tapio. The story then switched to the point of view characters who narrate the rest of the novel. Some of this opening scene was still used, from a different point of view, but I thought I'd share the original idea here.

DreamRovers Chapter 1:

While his mother slept, Tapio leapt across mountaintops. If the dream lady came again tonight, he had to prove he was a rover just like she was. He landed with catlike grace, then jumped again, soaring over valleys where animals lurkedmountain sheep, griffins, a herd of elk. He paused only long enough to see that the dream lady was not hiding among them before making the next jump. Again and again he leapt, until the mountains stopped and he could go no further.   

The world beyond the mountains was hidden in swirling mist. The dreamscape. That's what the dream lady called it. He could wake up right now—but she was out there somewhere, and wouldn't she be proud if he found her on his own? Images appeared in the mist, visible for a moment and disappearing again. He focused on a turreted castle and stepped forward. 

Indigo mist filled the world. He couldn’t feel anything, but he still saw the castle. Tapio clawed his way through. At last he drifted to the floor of a stone balcony. 

He wasn't alone. An old man sat on a cushioned throne, petting a bird—no, a griffin—beside him. His bushy eyebrows went up. “Smallest nit I've seen yet,” he said. 

Tapio came up to the man’s shoulder, but only because he was sitting down. He tried to imagine himself taller. It didn't work.  

The griffin jumped at him. Its pointed beak dug into his shoulder, and though he felt nothing he screamed at the fear of it. Wake up, he thought. Wake up now. But nothing happened. 

You're some hero, picking on a child. 

The dream lady!  

Tapio pushed the griffin aside and stood up. There she was, tall and strong, her hair and skirts flowing without wind. Her back was toward him, facing the strange man, protecting him. Tapio relaxed. He was safe now. 

Nits make lice. Easier to squash them when they're small, the man said. 

Your seat is made of honey. 

The man suddenly sank through his throne-like chair. He struggled to get up but the sticky substance clung to him, holding him down. Cursed dreamrover! he snarled. 

And your griffin likes honey. 

The beast raised its head. 

 He won't attack me. He's mine! 

Of course he won't. But I bet it's not too comfortable getting the honey nipped off you by that beak. 

The man gave a terrified yelp as the griffin bounded at him. The dream lady turned her back on him and looked at Tapio. Rule number one for influencing dreams: make it strange. Dreamers' minds can't resist playing with a strange new idea, even if it's unpleasant. Especially if it's unpleasant. 

Is this a dream? Tapio interrupted. 

The dream lady paused. “Ah, I was explaining too much for you. Yes, this is a dream. His dream.” She pointed at the man. 

Why can't I wake up? 

She smiled. “You can wake up from your own dreams, huh? That's pretty good for someone so young. You can't do that here because this isn't your own dream. You'll have to wait until your body wakes up on its own, or rove back into your own dream first.” 

I want to rove back. He looked out across the balcony but saw nothing but swirling mist. 

Have you ever roved through dreams before?” She didn't wait for an answer. “I guess you wouldn't know if you had, would you? All right, come on. She took his arm, and then stepped off of the balcony. They were falling, falling through the blue mist, and Tapio could see nothing, not the castle or the mountains he'd been jumping on, not the strange man or the dream lady either.  

Then his eyes popped open, and he could feel his thick woolen blanket, the hard floor under his body. He heard the bustle from the street outside his window and smelled the breakfast Mother was making. Somehow he'd woken up after all. He started to get up, then fell back.  

The dream lady was sitting cross-legged on his floor. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

In Defense of Plotters

I'm an avid plotter, which is obvious if you've follwed me for long. I feel like I'm often in the minority. The local writing group likes to share quotes that concentrate solely toward pantsing (writing "by the seat of your pants", with no outlining or serious preparations). For example:

"I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. ...[M]y basic belief about the making of stories is that they largely make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow." Steven King

“If you spend enough time with your characters, plot simply happens.” Chris Baty (NaNoWriMo founder):

"I don’t plan. I don’t outline. I have hated outlines since sixth grade geography and I can't do Roman numerals... [Premeditation] kills the suspense. I just like to see where the story goes.” J.A. Jance

 "Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” Ray Bradbury

Personally, I find that writing an outline helps me to be more focused. When I already have a rough idea of what I want to write, my creative mind is free to figure out how and why. With the major plot taken care of, my creativity can focus on character, theme, description, and other details. Using a story structure creates milestones that help with my pacing and my progression. 

Story structure and outlining don't need to happen on the first draft. Some people (mainly pantsers) have written so much that they have an instinctive feel for story structure even without an outline. Some go back and use story structure to edit a messy rough draft, whether or not they used an outline in the beginning. I did this with Mira's Griffin, which was a particularly unholy mess after I mostly pantsed it. Or you can outline in the beginning with story structure in mind, which I've done with the vast majority of my books (I suppose you could argue that most of those were based on daydreams, which are entirely pantsed, in which case I almost always fall into the middle category. The Spectra Crowns  are the exception).

"Pantsing" and "Plotting" are a spectrum, with writers falling everywhere in between. I don't embrace the term "plantser" (no offense if you do), because even a small outline is still plotting. If you find a detailed outline too restrictive, consider a vague one. Most of my books have an outline less than one page. Here's a comparison of three of my works in progress. I'll share the information in Act 1.A, the first clade (roughly three chapters).

Work 1: The Captain's Dowry has a detailed 5-page outline:

Show “Sal” acting as cabin boy, doing something dangerous in the sails. Then the ship comes to port, she talks to her father, changes her disguise, and heads off to her fancy finishing school. As she changes disguises, she thinks, just for a moment, about being “the person in the middle”.

Rick is unable to get any further in his career. He is shunned by the sailors for being gentry and the gentry for being a third son. He gets news of his father’s demise and hurries to his family, but his ship and his career leave without him.

Sal’s father has serious debts. Sal offers her small savings, but he confides that he will lose the ship. She tells him she’ll do anything she can.

Rick visits his brother and learns of the will: once Rick is married, he will get enough money to cover any debts. Rick is frustrated and believes he is being punished for frugality.

Work 2: The Dream Realm (The Spectra Crowns 2)

Lilac is trying to hide her dreamroving from her family. King Brian and the rovers have an uneasy truce that results in a lot of benefits for both. Lilac has a mentor in Indie and a friend in Vireo, who she knows only through dreams. Allee and her betrothed, Perrin, visit.

Work 3: The Cousin Pact (The Spectra Crowns 3)

Al sneaks into the castle, desperate to see Innis’s coronation. Politics of the event set up. Glimpses the Castalia cousins arriving. Meets Innis and falls into puppy love. Establish how oaths work. Introduce major players: Al, Innis, and Viola.

It's also important to allow space to tweak things if needed. In The Cousin Pact, Viola does not come up in this clade. These first three chapters include a failed job interview, protecting Princess Innis from a theif, and an argument with Al's family. None of that was in the outline.

Obviously, everyone is different, and so is every writing process. Differences are something to celebrate! If you're a panster, awesome! It's cool that your brain can do that.  

I did a twitter poll about this a few days ago. Out of 40 people, 55% were pantsers, which is a majority, but not as big as I expected. This seems to be the case in other polls I've seen: the pantsers have a small majority in numbers, but a huge majority in quotable quotes. So, we're out there, but quotes in our defense are relatively few.

Dancing, painting, singing, you name it—all art forms require structure. Writing is no different...Learning about [story structure] then allowed me to strengthen my raw instinct into purposeful knowledge. KM Weiland

So, for all of the plotters out there who don't seem to be as loud, let's tell people that our way is equally valid.

I see a void that must be filled. Ahem.

Plotting is awesome! It gives your writing direction, and hitting each milestone in your outline is a huge motivator. They can be as detailed or vague as you like. Plotting can give you a tighter throughline, a more sensible plot, perfect pacing, and a more resonant, thematic story. I recommend everyone try it out and see if it works for them. Christie Valentine Powell

Monday, November 1, 2021

Book Recommendations, November 2021

 Here's a few books that I've read, enjoyed, and reviewed during October:

My Fair Lacey & A Perfect Fit by Janette Rallison: I kept giggling while reading these stories. Rallison's characters and their voices are excellent as always, with adorable banter and a perfect feel-good ending. You can't go wrong spending time with her characters.

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielson: My family has been recommending this one for awhile, and I finally got around to it. The book was as excellent as they said, with a relatable (yet not reliable) narrator, a fascinating plot with real stakes, and great writing that kept me turning pages.

Shattered Snow by Rachel Huffmire: I love how the fairytale (Snow White) fit so perfectly into the time-travel world. The plot was clever, with the perfect ending, and every character felt real and interesting.

If you'd like my recommendations spread over the month, you can follow my reviews on twitter under the hastag #CVPReviews.

The Spectra World master maps!

  Summer is here! It's the perfect time to explore somewhere new! Sure, that might include a physical location, but I for one hope to ex...