Monday, October 14, 2013

The Challenges of Writing a Series

About a year ago, my friend Paul Shortt released his first novel, Locked Within. I participated in his blog tour then, and this year I have the pleasure of doing the same for Locked Within's sequel, Silent Oath. Today I have Paul here to talk about his experience with writing a series.

The Challenges of Writing a Series

As I’ve said before on this tour, I’d much rather read a series than a standalone novel. There’s so much scope for varied storylines and character development, that I always find I connect more with characters once I know there’s more to read ahead.

Of course, writing a series presents its own challenges.

The obvious challenge is working out a story for your sequel. It’s got to be different from the first, but not so out of left field that it no longer feels like it belongs in the series. But in getting through this stage, you soon realise that figuring out a plot was the easiest part of the whole process.

You see, it’s not enough to just come up with a halfway decent plotline. You also want to work out how your characters grow and develop. How their world has changed due to their actions in the previous book. How the events of the new book will set up events for the next.

Unless you’re writing a series of standalone novels that just feature the same characters, like a mystery writer may do at times, you’re better off considering the series itself as a single story. That way, you can be sure that the series will retain a cohesive arc, and the characters can all grow together naturally.

Of course, sometimes you don’t expect to continue a story past one book. Or, like me, you end up re-writing the next book in such a way that you completely overhaul your previous ideas. In these instances, you need to go back to the previous book(s) and really look at the theme and tone, to see what can carry over most naturally. That’s the key, you see. Making sure each installment flows naturally from the last.

The Locked Within Trilogy started out life as a planned 6-book series. I’m not sure why I figured 6 books was the ideal length. I wanted a long series, but I was afraid of the books running on and losing steam. So I put an arbitrary cap on how long I would allow the series to become. In the end, however, I change it to a much more manageable trilogy.

Which brings me to the next problem often faced when writing a series. Exactly how much do you think you can say about these characters? If you commit to 5 books, but really you can only come up with 2 or 3 books’ worth of story and character development, you will damage your work by trying to stretch it further. Many authors would love to make it big writing the next super-popular series, releasing a dozen books and looking forward to offers of movie or tv series adaptations.

However in an awful lot of cases, we see readers become jaded as a series drags on, or get so emotionally invested that no ending the writer comes up with will satisfy them. The old saying still applies. Kill your darlings, even if that darling is an entire book. I did it, and I am so grateful to my publisher for it, because I know that this trilogy is far stronger than it would have been if I’d stuck to my 6-book plan.


Thanks, Paul! I know a lot of people (myself included) who are writing, or thinking of writing, a series. I'm sure we all appreciate the great comments!

If you would like to pick up Silent Oath for yourself, you can do so here.

About the book

Hope has returned to New York City. Nathan Shepherd leads a small band of dedicated fighters against the Council of Chains and the city's supernatural masters. But it's not enough. Because from the shadows of Nathan's former lives comes an old enemy, one who knows terrible secrets that Nathan has not yet remembered, secrets that could undo everything he has fought for.

Nathan's only chance to uncover the memories of his previous existence, and to conquer these new forces of evil, lies in Elena DeSantis. A woman he has fought beside in past lifetimes. A woman he has loved.

Together, Nathan and Elena are the only future the city has.

About Paul

A child at heart who turned to writing and roleplaying games when there simply weren't enough action figures to play out the stories he wanted, Paul Anthony Shortt has been writing all his life. Growing up surrounded by music, film and theatre gave him a deep love of all forms of storytelling, each teaching him something new he could use. When not playing with the people in his head, he enjoys cooking and regular meet-ups with his gaming group.

Paul lives in Ireland with his wife Jen and their dogs, Pepper and Jasper. Their first child, Conor William Henry Shortt, was born on July 11th, 2011. He passed away three days later, but brought love and joy into their lives and those of their friends. The following year, Jen gave birth to twins, Amy and Erica, and is now expecting their fourth child.

Paul's first novel, Locked Within, was released on November 6th, 2012, by WiDo Publishing. Silent Oath is the second book in this urban fantasy trilogy.

You can connect with Paul on Facebook and Twitter: @PAShortt

Friday, September 27, 2013

Three ways a first novel is like a first baby

If there's anyone out there who still doesn't know, I had a baby a couple months ago. So far he's pretty all-consuming, and since I like to keep family life private I haven't had much to blog about. But I thought maybe it was time to venture back into the blog, so here's a baby/writing compromise...

Three ways a first novel is like a first baby:

1. You can't sleep.

This is probably about the biggest cliché is the world: newborn = no sleep. But it's so true. I heard a statistic the other day that in the first year after having a baby, the average woman loses 41 days of sleep. I can believe it.

Writing a first book isn't nearly comparable, but there is still some sleep loss. Whether from lying awake because you're too excited about the plot twist that just jumped into your head, or from telling yourself "just one more scene" late into the night, sleeplessness happens.

2. You have no idea what you're doing.

People say all the time that "babies don't come with an instruction manual." Well actually, I have several sitting on a shelf, all by different well-meaning authors. But they all say completely different things. I guess each parent has to muddle through somehow.

Writing fiction is much the same. Advice doesn't grow on trees, but it does grow at an astounding rate online. And again, the advice is often conflicting. Fortunately, with a little experience and a lot of help from critique partners, your writing can improve. Maybe not in time for the first book, but you can always write more.

3. Everything is a mess.

To preserve my dignity I won't tell any specific stories, but I'm sure your imaginations (or your own experiences) will supply the relevant details. With a newborn, nothing stays clean for longer than two seconds.

A first novel is bound to be the same. Either the pacing is off, or you use too many adjectives (or not enough description), or your dialog sounds forced. The whole thing is a big, beautiful mess. But you're having too much fun to care.

And I guess babies are like that too. They may be messy. They might be awake when all you want to do is sleep. And you probably have no clue what you're doing. But that baby is yours and you love him no matter what.

One way books and babies are very different? You can go back and edit the novel. With parenting you only get one draft.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Review: Ultraviolet Catastrophe

A while back I wrote a review for Jamie Gray's first published short story, Princess for Hire. Today I have the pleasure of doing a review for her first NOVEL. Ultraviolet Catastrophe comes out tomorrow! I'm so excited for Jamie, and I wish her and her book all the best.

Here is the review:


Lexie Kepler is smart... but not abnormally so. She's an average girl from an average divorced home who goes to an average public school. Even her ADHD is normal. She's nothing special.

Or that's what she thinks.

Turns out her ordinariness is completely contrived, all thanks to the drugs her parents have been pumping her with for years. The ADHD drugs? Not for ADHD. Instead they've been suppressing her intelligence. Without them, Lexie's IQ would be off the charts.

Dangerously so. Brains like hers make her a target for those who would use her for nefarious research purposes. And now all her parents' efforts to hide her are failing.

Lexie's only choice is to take refuge at Quantum High, a secret school for geniuses. Unfortunately for her, the lingering effects of the drugs make it hard to fit in. Add in a super hot crush, a new discovery that could either create a wormhole... or maybe cause an explosion worse than an atom bomb, and the death of a scientist under suspicious circumstances, and Lexie's ordinary life may not be quite so average ever again. Assuming she lives long enough to have any sort of life at all, that is.


"You know your life is never going to be the same when your mom pulls a gun at the shopping mall."

From the very first sentence, Ultraviolet Catastrophe by Jamie Grey is an action-rich adventure. It's a novel for geek girls everywhere, particularly those who like a little danger in their plots and a large dash of romance.

The charm of this book is in its unashamed affection for all things sci fi. Quantum High (along with the town it is set in) is an absolute delight. Ultraviolet Catastrophe is one of the few novels that makes me wish I could live in its setting, a place where robot librarians have a personality and hoverboards are an everyday affair. All the geeky details of Lexie's life made me smile, from the Albert Einstein action figure to the Dr. Who cookie jar to the nerdy t shirts worn by her crush, Asher Rosen.

I love the plot of the book as well. I was hooked by the idea of a wormhole machine that could, just maybe, be a weapon in disguise. Thrown in a murder mystery on the side, and this story is just the sort of fun adventure I'm looking for. The last few chapters are gripping, complete with suspenseful countdown.

And Jamie Grey does these things very well. Any time Lexie or someone she cares about is in danger, I'm riveted to the story. Not only that, but Jamie deftly escorts the reader through the tricky bits of physics without any bit of confusion. Anyone could tell just by reading the book how much she loves science, and her enthusiasm is catching.

The book does have a few flaws. For me Lexie's relationship with Asher was too much a focus of the book and detracted from the rest of the plot. Lexie spends most of the book distracted by Asher's good looks, but determined to avoid a relationship, which comes across as playing a long game of hard-to-get. This dynamic may be too familiar for some readers.

Likewise, Lexie's sullenness toward her parents and general flare for drama were a little too expected. She certainly had good reason to be angry, but at times her attitude felt overdone.

Nevertheless, the book is an engaging romp through the fields of quantum physics. I highly recommend it. It's a strong debut, and I look forward to many more novels to come from Jamie Grey.

Friday, May 31, 2013

All the News

Surprise! I have not actually disappeared from the face of the planet. And, having been gone so long, I do have rather a lot of news.

So sometimes really great and unexpected things happen. Sometimes, because you've been wanting them a while, finally getting them is a bit of a shock, and you're afraid that any mention of them happening might jinx them.

So you wait, and you see how things will go. Time passes. You reach the point where you should probably say something, but by then not saying anything is habit. But you don't want to post anything nonchalant, because inside all you can think is "Big news! Big news! Big news!" And then life gets really really crazy and all thought of blogging goes right out the window.

Well, here's me finally making my big announcement:

I'm pregnant!

Over seven months pregnant, in fact. I'm so very excited, and I've been meaning to share this news for a while now. But then I couldn't figure out quite how I wanted to say it, and by the time I decided I'd just say it, the other big thing was happening.

And so, for announcement number two:

My husband and I have moved into a lovely new house!

This was rather a necessary step in order to accommodate the impending child. It also meant a lot of work, first with packing, and then with moving, and then with unpacking and painting and getting new appliances and repairing the broken fridge, and now, most recently, taking care of a pest problem.

So, if you have happened to wonder where I've been the last several months, well, to recap:
  1. pregnant!
  1. new house!
It's a good life.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Redemption (and a Recommendation)

Do you believe that people can truly change for the better?

For many people the idea of redemption is integral to religion or personal philosophy. In the context of novels, however, I'm becoming convinced that a book's flavor depends a lot on whether the author has an underlying belief in redemption.

Based on their books I would guess that some authors don't subscribe to that philosophy. I would say they are probably more of the mind that people do change, frequently, but not necessarily for good or ill. They simply become a different version of themselves through age and circumstance. And I understand the thought behind that idea. All of us face choices every day; sometimes we make good decisions and sometimes not. Nobody is always good or always bad.

But other authors, whether they realize it or not, very clearly do believe in redemption. Any story about "the power of love" or about a hero whose internal convictions overcome negative circumstance is, in my view, a story of positive change. Obviously any tale of a villain seeing the error of his ways and making a change is a redemption story. (And now all I can think of is Despicable Me.)

Personally I'm a sucker for redemption stories. I love to watch someone who is flawed become less flawed through the conflicts that arise in a story. I love to see that internal struggle as an anti-hero recognizes his shortcomings and determines to change.

This is one of the reasons I'm loving the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor. It is, in essence, about two people who desperately seek redemption, but whose circumstances constantly make that goal harder and harder to reach. It's a long, painful road to redemption, and they don't always make the right choices. Their ultimate success is not guaranteed (and with the series still in progress, it's impossible to know for certain what will happen). And yet they are trying, and there is hope.

It's difficult to say what exactly the books are about without giving away too much of the story. I can say this much: they're about a blue-haired girl living in Prague who is an art student on the surface, but who has a secret life collecting teeth on the side for the monsters who raised her. Intrigued? Just wait. There's so much more to the story.

It's a totally fascinating series, with a gripping plot and characters who feel very tangible. It's creative and stunning and beautiful. Best of all, it explores this in-depth struggle for redemption in ways which I've seen few other YA books do.

So what about you? Do you like redemption stories? What are your favorites?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

New Meme

Well, from all appearances it looks like these days all the blogging I'm doing is in response to memes I've been tagged in. Sorry about that! I have several book recommendations I'd like to write up, hopefully soon. In the meantime, here's the meme, thanks to Paul Shortt.

This particular meme is the Liebster Award, and it has its various rules and questions and... well, I'm not much good at following rules when it comes to memes, so I'll just make up my own.

The first rule was to share 11 facts about me. I think I'm just going to stick to one. I find that more interesting. And this is my one fact:

The thing that has surprised me most about writing is how much I enjoy doing the research. I never liked writing papers in school, and the research for them always annoyed me. I could see the point of doing it, but I could never apply the research to anything long term. When it comes to books, though, the research suddenly becomes fascinating. One of my most recent research subjects was British currency from the 1840s. I looked up what different coins were in circulation at that time (some of it was really quite confounding), and how much a typical family in London might spend on various necessities. I loved learning all the information. It truly fascinated me in ways that it never would have if I'd been doing the research for a term paper.

The next rule was to answer 11 questions from Paul. This I'm happy to do. My modification: I'd love to see Paul's answers to all of these.

  1. What movie do you secretly love? Oh dear, confession time, hm? There are a lot of movies I love, and few of them are secret. I'm a big action movie fan. But in general I don't like rewatching movies very much. There are very few I enjoy more than two or three times. But one of them—my shameful secret I suppose—is the movie Accepted. I really have no idea why, but it always amuses me.
  2. If you could travel to any place in the world, where would it be? You know how people say that if you throw a coin into Trevi Fountain in Rome you are destined to return there some day? Well I've been to Trevi Fountain, and while I loved it I don't feel a need to return. But there's another place that is my equivalent of Trevi. It's the beach of Rhyl in the north of Wales. I was there about 8 or 9 years ago, and I've always felt like I needed to go back. That and I want to continue on from there to Conwy Castle once again.
  3. When you were a child, what was your dream job? Astronomer. But then one day a real astronomer told me that in his career he didn't actually get to sit outside looking at the stars all night, and the dream pretty much died right there.
  4. What was your favourite childhood toy? I had lots of favorites over the years, but the one that comes to mind right now is this pair of tiny dolls. They had hard plastic heads and squishy bean bag bodies, and I liked to squeeze the bodies between my thumb and forefinger and make their heads nod back and forth.
  5. Do you have any hobbies that don't involve reading, writing, or that don't involve the internet? I crochet. My grandmother taught me how, but she's left-handed and I'm right-handed, so I'm half certain I'm doing most of the stitches a little incorrectly. I can never seem to follow a pattern printed on paper, though I can usually figure out how to make something if I see an example of it, and I love making up my own patterns.
  6. Do you have a lifelong dream? Time for another confession I suppose. I always wanted to have an idea that nobody ever had before. It's a very egotistical dream. But it's probably why I ended up writing.
  7. When did you come to realise it? Wow, really looking for all my embarrassing secrets, aren't you? I was in middle school, and I thought that I had come up with some brilliant new way of understanding dimensions past the 4th. I was lying on my bed imagining that I was on some talk show where they kept telling me how brilliant I was for coming up with this while only in middle school.
  8. What tv show could you watch over and over? As in rewatch or just keep watching if the series continued to air forever? Honestly I'm not sure I have an answer to either. As a kid I watched Lois and Clark and loved it so much. I watched the whole series again recently and still really enjoyed it, but I don't think I could just keep rewatching it. White Collar is one of my favorites now, but I don't know that it will always be. I'm getting more and more into Dr. Who, so maybe that. Hard to say though.
  9. What one part of modern living could you not live without? Plumbing and sanitation. I'm a germaphobe.
  10. What one part of modern living would you love to live without? Unhealthy food additives. There's so much in our food that we aren't even aware of. And I realize that going back to "pure" food would change our entire way of life, but if there was some way to have both...
  11. What book or movie are you most looking forward to in 2013? The books I was looking forward to are all out already! Days of Blood and Starlight, The Archived and Scarlet are all recent releases that I really looked forward to and thoroughly enjoyed. (I'm in the middle of Scarlet right now as it just came out yesterday.)
    As for movies, I'm very excited about the new Star Trek. Really really looking forward to that.

And that's it! I don't think I'll tag anyone, but if you'd like to do the meme, please go ahead! Paul had some really great questions, so go ahead and use those.

All the best to you all.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Next Big Thing

So I know this meme has been circling for a while, so if you're sick of it already I won't blame you for skipping to the next thing. But I was tagged by the incomparable Jamie Grey, and the post was fun, so here are my answers!

What is the working title of your book?

The Never Silent

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The Main Character – From watching too many tv shows about con men.

The Setting – I wanted a large area on earth where a secret magical society could remain hidden. The ocean seemed like a pretty good solution.

The Time Period – It was the last reasonable era for a wind-powered ship instead of steam-powered.

The Plot – I have no idea. Some plot fairy must really like me.

What genre does your book fall under?

Young Adult Historical Fantasy

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

That's really tough (mostly because I'm horrible at remembering actors/actresses).

Henry Thorp: Colin Morgan or maybe Andrew Garfield

Lucy Clark: Dakota Fanning

Benjamin Temple: Tom Felton

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

17-year-old con artist Henry Thorp impersonates his best friend Thomas to take his place on board The Never Silent, a ship with a covert destination, in order to find Thomas's killer.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Hopefully agency-repped. Not there yet. I'm still revising.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A few months. The research took longer.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Well, the easiest comparison is Pirates of the Caribbean meets Harry Potter, but as one of those is a movie and the other is overly used, I'll compare it instead to Bloody Jack meets Obernewtyn. (And ok, I haven't actually read Bloody Jack yet, but I hear it's sort of similar and it is on my kindle to read.)

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

A hankering to go on an adventure?

Or most likely it was the sun and the wind and the smell of the sea.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It has magic Viking-descendants vs. magic pirates sea battles.

And here's the part where I tag someone else. If Steve or Ico or anyone else at The Story Center wants to join in the fun, go for it! But no pressure.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 YA Books I've Read

As I have the past two years, I kept track of all the YA books I read in 2012. The list seems a bit shorter than usual this year, and I'm not sure if that's because I've been reading less, or because I'm forgetful and didn't record them all, or because I've read more non-YA this year. Regardless, here are my top 3 followed by the whole list.

Top 3 Favorite Books:
1. The Near Witch (Victoria Schwab)
2. The Scorpio Races (Maggie Stiefvater)
3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Laini Taylor)

Full List:

Jay Asher
--Thirteen Reasons Why

Rae Carson
--The Girl of Fire and Thorns [rec]

Kristin Cashore

Cassandra Clare
--City of Fallen Angels
--Clockwork Prince

Paul Dowswell
--Powder Monkey

Sarah Fine

Alison Goodman
--Eon [rec]

Janice Hardy

Julie Kagawa
--The Iron Knight

Lauren Kate

Mike A. Lancaster

Tahereh Mafi
--Shatter Me [rec]

Nnedi Okorafor
--Akata Witch

Christopher Paolini

Ransom Riggs
--Miss Peregrin's Home for Peculiar Children

Veronica Roth

Patrice Sarath
--The Crow God's Girl [rec]

Victoria Schwab
--The Near Witch [rec]

Maggie Stiefvater
--The Scorpio Races [rec]

Francisco X. Stork
--Marcelo in the Real World [rec]

Rosemary Sutcliff
--The Eagle of the Ninth

Maria V. Snyder
--Fire Study

Laini Taylor
--Daughter of Smoke and Bone