The Reader-Author Contract

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We don’t talk about this, not really, but there are expectations that a reader has of a writer, and a writer has of their readers, especially where the series is concerned. This post is inspired by the fact that I have been waiting nearly 6 years for book 6 in the Song of Fire and Ice series by George RR Martin.

For the purpose of this article we’ll be talking about two types of series. The first is the open ended series. Think Anita Blake by Laurel K Hamilton, Mercedes Thompson and Alpha & Omega by Patricia Briggs, or Janet Evonovich’s Stephanie Plum books. These are all series in which each book has one or two large plots which are wrapped in over the course of that single book as well as several smaller, more personal, character based plots that continue on through the series. Really, any book could be the last because the personal plot lines won’t ever really end. These series can last a few books or a few dozen books, as long as the author continues to come up with original plots for each book.

On the flip side you have what I call goal-oriented series. Think Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones by George RR Martin, or the Belgariad and Malloreon by David Eddings. There is a point to the series, something the characters are trying to achieve, (destroy the ring and defeat the evil, put someone on the throne and restore peace, get the heir on the throne and destroy the mad god, rescue a kidnapped child and save the universe) and the series ends when this has been completed.

So what is the contract? Well, it depends on which type of series you read/write. For an open ended series the writer is responsible for consistent and continuing character development and for coming up with unique situations to put the characters in for each book. If the reader likes book 1 and book 2 they will generally continue buying books in the series until the plots become boring and stagnate.

If you are writing this type of series pay attention to your readers. When the plots are starting to feel forced or your readers are losing interest maybe it’s time to retire these characters, wrap up any lose ends, and start something new. Or pass the torch if a character is aging.

For a goal oriented series the writer is responsible for setting up a clear goal, getting the characters to the climax scene, where the characters will succeed or fail, and then wrapping the story up. Whether it takes three books or five or ten or whatever, this is the pattern that readers expect. Part of this responsibility is not stretching the series on too long past the entertainment value of the “quest” or past the completion of the goal.

If you are writing this type of series, finish it. If I wrote a stand alone novel and it ended just as the hero was walking into the dragon’s cave no one would publish it. It’s not complete. Publishers take a chance on a series. They take the chance that readers will like the first books enough to buy the rest but they also take a chance on the author because they are essentially publishing an incomplete book a piece at a time.

Readers are also taking a chance on a series because there’s always the chance you’ll find someone like George RR Martin who decides not to finish a series that you, the reader, have come to enjoy.

Review: Portal Prophesies Book 1

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The Portal Prophesies Book 1 is called A Keeper’s Destiny and it is by C.A. King. This is a high fantasy epic novel.

The book starts with Willow, the orphaned teenage misfit who has a tattoo of two black cats that she doesn’t remember getting, it’s always been there. She also hears voices. Willow lives in a little village where she sells produce. The village is segregated by caste or class. The people of her village have hair that changes colour when they are young until it settles on a colour at sixteen cycles. Their hair reflects their mood until it stops changing, then it would announce the strength and type of her abilities. Which means this world also has in-born magics or abilities.

From here we move on to meet the people of her town and get a feel for the social structure. The history of the world, which involves Guardians and Keepers, who are bonded to each other, dividing up and protecting realms of fantastical races to keep them safe or keep them from causing harm, is gradually revealed, as is Willow’s role in all this.

The social turmoil within the village provides the opportunity for an attack that ends their peaceful existence and forces the survivors to use a Portal to one of these other realms. We get a few training sequences and some character growth, and then end with a major character in distress.

On the one hand this world is extremely unique with an interesting history and some potential for “that’s not what you told me” and a bad guy who believes he’s the good guy and the Guardians are evil tyrants. On the other hand, it’s prophesy based, and that runs the risk of being either cliched or forced or both. She can’t lose because she’s the chosen one, right? She’s just going to keep unlocking abilities until she’s big enough and strong enough to win no matter what. BUT I hold out hope for this series based on the wide cast of characters, the interesting set-up with potential for betrayals and side reversals, and the decent writing style.

This book is perfect for older middle years and high school students. It has that teen drama feel to it, with amazing powers and adventure and self-discovery.

Considering what this book is trying to be, and what it achieves, I give it a four out of five stars and I look forward to reviewing the second book later this summer.

Review: The Arena

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The Arena is a science fiction novel by Santana Young and the Prequel to the Chronicles of Everen.

I read a lot of books. A LOT OF BOOKS. So believe me when I say this book was refreshingly original. I was captivated with the settings, with the characters, and the whole tone of the book. The combination of antiquity and science-fiction tech was brilliantly disorienting. You’d honestly forget you weren’t in Rome for whole chapters and then BAM you were back in space-times. It was so much fun.

The book was dark at times, and brutally honest, but the friendships between the characters and the idle banter, along with Duncan’s strength of personality, kept the book from being depressing.

As a prequel it did its job beautifully. I’ve never read anything in this series and now I want to. If anyone had read this series first they’d find a rich and entertaining story waiting for them.

A hearty five out of five stars.

Feel the Thunder

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We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for this word from our sponsors. Well, not really, but I would like to ask you all for a bit of help.

Schreyer Ink Publishing is running a Thunderclap campaign for Open Minds, an anthology that I have a story in. We have 9 days to get 48 more supporters and I know we can do it.

18053318_10158611225740613_2134971717_o Open Minds features 6 authors, including me. The theme for this anthology was tolerance and acceptance. The stories are amazing, all of them.

We need your help to spread the word about this book. I think you should support this book because we need stories like this. We need stories that shine a light on acceptance in terms of race, religion, and gender/sexuality. We need to give these stories a platform to share their message because it’s a message that’s crucial right now as fear and mistrust runs rampant in our world.

I’ve included a sneak peek at the story I have included in this anthology:mixed up teaser

There will be more sneak peeks at the book launch on June 1st. You can join the launch here.

In the mean time please head over here and add your support to our Thunderclap campaign. You can add your Twitter, Facebook, and/or Tumblr account. Reblog this post, share the campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Every person counts and we appreciate your support.

Book Review – Dragonfly

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Dragonfly is a young adult paranormal romance by Alyssa Thiessen. You can find it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Dragonfly-Alyssa-Thiessen/dp/0994021003/ (Please note this is not an affiliate link).

Dragonfly is a quick, easy read, but perfect for grades 8 and up. It’s clean, so no sex, no graphic violence, no major swearing. What really sets this book apart are the wings. No dragon, bat, or angel wings here. Not even hawks like the Maximum Overdrive stories by Patterson. No, this time we have dragonfly wings.

I read this book with my book club so the first week we read chapters 1-9. In our first discussion we were listing all the possibilities for how the main character, 18 year old Joshua Miller, had ended up with dragonfly wings. Born that way? Mutant? Science experiment? Alien? What? Halfway through the book and you still have no idea.

The plot of the book is people centered. It’s about Joshua, a boy who has always hidden from the world for as long as he can remember, a boy with no family, no friends, no connections. Until he meets Lexi. His connection with Lexi triggers a whole series of mishaps that lead him to the only piece of his past he remembers. And from there we find out everything that Joshua doesn’t know about himself.

The book follows that winning YA romance structure: bored rich girl, roguish bad boy, becoming friends when they shouldn’t. Lots of him holding back because he’s no good for her and her stubbornly holding on because she’s never met anyone like him. But it was still a fun book to read. Really, Joshua and Eric and Nik aren’t so bad, Lexi was my only complaint with the book.

I gave this book 4 stars and would recommend it to young readers and anyone who likes YA fiction. I’m looking forward to her second book, which is not tied in to Dragonfly in any way, titled Infusion.

Book Review: If We Had No Winter

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I had the chance to read an ARC copy of this amazing book which is being officially released today by D.L. Pitchford. You can download your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/Had-Winter-Billie-Dixon-Book-ebook/dp/B06XR4PZ81/

If We Had No Winter is a contemporary drama set in a small college city in the US. The main character, Wilhelmina, is a freshman living in the dorms, just down the hall from her childhood friend and next door neighbour, Jimmy. In a refreshing twist there is no romantic connection between Jimmy and Wilhelmina (who is called Billie by her friends and Mina by her father).

Billie’s family includes her mother and sister (Imogene or Mo) back home and her father, Dr. Elijah Dixon, who is the head of the Mathematics department at the same college Billie is attending. Billie has not seen her father in the three years since he and her mother divorced.

Jimmy’s parents, Charlie and Thea (which is my grandmother’s name!) also feature strongly in the background. Other characters include various professors, Jimmy’s roommate, Xander, Billie’s roommate, Val, a half dozen other freshmen living in the same hallway, and Zane, a senior whom Billie is tutoring in Calculus.

 

I guess this book is best described as a coming of age novel. Billie has a lot of hang-ups because of the divorce. She was always closer to her father than her mother and he left. She has trouble with trust, with letting people in. Her pain and the way it manifests in her life is honest and feels very real. I never felt that she was whiny or annoying, except that I completely understood her friends’ frustrations with her. Xander was a complete ass but at least he was an honest ass and I found myself liking him even though Billie, the first person narrator, found him aggravating.

Billie was sympathetic without coming across as pathetic. She struggled without her issues feeling fake or repetitive. She gained ground and lost ground. She was stubborn and sometimes that resulted in some poor choices. She was hurt and that led to other poor choices. But she was always able to make her own choices and she had to face honest and realistic consequences for them.

Also – Zane was a detailed, subtly written character whose presence grew on you in a certain way. The reaction I had was exactly right for who he turned out to be. You could see the hints of it. It was masterfully portrayed.

I loved how each of the little steps Billie took towards growing up snowballed forcing her to take each of the next steps. But at the same time she still had every opportunity to make bad choices, and regularly did. She just felt so real. I could believe the choices she made and her motivation for making them.

 

I give this book a hearty 5 stars and I look forward to reading more by D.L. Pitchford, especially Billie Dixon Book 2.

Siblings Change Everything

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I’m an oldest child. I have one younger sibling. If you ask us to recount various childhood memories we will remember them differently. The way we grew up, the way people treated us, the ways we interacted with each other, this has shaped our view of the past, and our personalities today.

Our cousin right between us in age and she was an only child for twelve or thirteen years. You can tell. We could tell. Weeks spent at the cabin were interesting. Her personality was different. Her needs and expectations were different.

I studied to be an Educational Assistant and we once took a look at birth order because it does have some effect on personality, in addition to other environmental influences.

Only children are a complex creature. An only child can be very independent, they may learn to entertain themselves, to be content alone for longer periods of time. Depending on other factors they can become independent quickly and benefit from more concentrated parental attention. Other factors can alter this: they may be needy, needing someone to entertain them all the time (I imagine an extroverted pre-school aged only child would be like this), instead of being independent they may be over dependent if the parents do everything for them. Only children have the reputation of being spoiled because they don’t have to share the Christmas budget with siblings.

First borns tend to mature faster, they are expected to help out around the house, to help their younger siblings. They can become resentful of it, or become protective and nurturing, depending on other environmental factors. First borns benefit from being alone with adults until their sibling comes along. They may develop verbal and motor skills earlier.

After that things get complicated depending on how many kids there are.

Younger siblings can struggle to find an identity. My other cousins, two boys, three years apart. The eldest was exceptionally intelligent, like reading Marx in junior high smart. He was serious, dedicated, fairly quiet, even tempered. His younger brother was louder, wilder, and less interested in books and puzzles. He was needy and pouty, at least until he discovered that he could play the piano, and well. Once he found what he was good at people stopped comparing him to his older brother. This one is book smart, that one is musically gifted. Apples and oranges. He had his own identity. This struggle is especially hard for middle children – those who are neither oldest or youngest, but can affect any younger sibling.

Last born, the the baby of the family. You’ll be the “baby” even as an adult. You will always be the last. The last first word, the last diaper change, the last school play. The baby often has a reputation as being spoiled but at the same time they tend to be partially raised by their siblings as well. Often the parents are not pushing the baby to exceed milestones, when they get there they get there. Keep them little and cute as long as possible, especially if it is a planned last.

Historically there were big implications to birth order.

The first born inherited the land and title of the father (if it is a noble or landed family). Freemen also had land to pass down though no titles. In lower class families the first born inherited the shop, the farm, or the trade of their father.

The second son was sent to learn another trade, usually one that complimented the first born’s. Got a family of fishermen? Apprentice out the second son to a fish monger. You breed horses? The second son gets to be a blacksmith. In wealthier families the second son could end up the steward to the first son, depending on just how wealthy the family was. There might also be multiple properties that could be split between them. Otherwise, it’s off to the army where the family’s wealth would buy them a high ranking position.

Third wealthy son? Military, with or without a bought rank.

Fourth wealthy son? Expect to be sent to a church school to serve the church as a priest, clerk, monk etc.

Fifth son and on? Soldier’s life, or trades for you!

In lower classes being battle fodder was always a choice, helping on the family farm or working as a labourer was common. With a little money for gear you could be a “sell sword” working for traders or merchants to protect them on the road. But generally as you went down the line there was less resources to help you get a start on life.

What got me thinking about all this was the huge difference between all this books about teens with no siblings. Or one sibling that’s hardly mentioned. Half the time they have no cousins, no grandparents – they’re either never mentioned or they’re dead or their parents are only children so there are no cousins. When you’re writing you want to keep your cast stream-lined so the reader doesn’t get confused. Why drop in a cousin for a single scene? On the other hand you have the sweeping cast of Game of Thrones. A dozen major and minor houses, each with 1-3 generations – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, in-laws, rivalries. As a fan of the books first and the TV series second I admit that the genealogies are part of the intrigue and appeal of the books.

Having siblings changes a person’s personality and skill set. Only children have less of a chance to learn peace-keeping and compromising skills at a young age (though daycare is changing that in our society). First borns are latch-key kids at 12, escorting younger siblings home from school.

Our characters come to us as teens or adults, but people don’t start out that way. People have a childhood that shapes them, and not just the traumatic backstory stuff, but the little things. At what age did they do their own laundry? Did they have to share a bedroom? That changes you.  Sure, in contemporary western society we’re more likely to have 1-3 children as opposed to the 5 Stark children or (heaven forbid) the 36 recorded Frey children! Even in historical fiction 5-10 children is more than enough!!

As writers large families are hard. Each must be memorable, physically and in personality, or they blur together. It’s tempting to leave off the siblings and cousins for simplicity’s sake. But if we had a world of only children we’d be forgoing the influence siblings have on our characters’ development. As well, siblings can add nice little subplots to fill out a novel, and they give your characters someone to talk to, care about, hate, compete with, or protect.

In the end the choice is the author’s, it always is. But I think that a literary world of only children is going to be bland. I think it’s already on its way there.

What do you think?

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