So it’s been a while…

 

Hey everyone. First off, I just wanna thank ya’ll for sticking with me this year. I know I kinda fell off for a while, and by while I mean several months. Second, this isn’t going to be so much of a writing post as it’s more of an explanation and apology for my disappearance this year. I wish that I had good news to share, that my absence was related to some awesome thing, but in truth, my mental health just took a huge dump at the beginning of the year and it’s only been recently that I’ve been able to pick myself even slightly off the ground in order to “feel” like myself.

For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, you know I’ve struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms since my deployment to Iraq as a Public Affairs Specialist with the U.S. Army in 2011. The symptoms would come and go and shift and change, but for the most part, they were bearable.

Then 2016 happened and multiple things hit me in succession. My dog got poisoned by mothballs (she’s fine, no worries), a couple important relationships in my life rapidly and completely deteriorated, multiple PSTD triggers were hit, then I needed to find a new living situation (because of one of said relationship failings). So I moved back to Iowa at the end of January and attempted to pick up the pieces. Started weekly therapy sessions at the VA, started taking medication, and attempted to find a new job.

The longer trying to get a job took, the harder it was to sustain what little self-respect I had, which didn’t exactly help on the depression and anxiety end of things. Neither did the lack of compassion from certain people who just didn’t understand PTSD or didn’t want to understand it.

And of course, the worse my self-esteem became, the harder it was to face the things I loved or what I thought “defined” me. Writing was one of those things. Being a writer was everything I wanted since I was an itty-bit and because everything else that was important to me had failed, it seemed easier to put writing and everything attached to it inside a safe little lockbox in the back of my mind.

So I avoided it. All of it. The Manuscripts. Friends. Family. Twitter. The Blog. Critique Partners. TBR Books. Everything.

Next thing I knew, it was May and I didn’t recognize myself.

Now we’re at the tail end of August and I’ve lost most of 2016 to crappy mental health. Oy vey. The goals I’d set at the beginning of the year are near impossible to achieve. But I’m trying. It’s a daily struggle, but I finally have enough of a grasp on things that I can [somewhat] see a pale little light at the end of this very long, dark, narrow tunnel.

I’m happy to say that I am back to writing, more or less. Wrote a chapter last week that needs a crap ton of editing before it’s even remotely readable. But hey, one word at a time, right? And I’m reading again! Which is huge. Getting back to blogging three times a week is going to take some time, and I have no idea what these new posts are going to look like because I have a lot of catching up to do with the industry, not to mention my own work. But I have to [re]start somewhere, right?

Thanks again for sticking with me! It means more than I could even begin to say!

– Bree

BOOK REVIEW: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Holy Hera. Where has this book been all my life?!

A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book in a new fantasy series written by V.E. Schwab. It follows the misadventures of Kell, the last of a unique breed of magician that can travel between different dimensions. The London’s of each dimension differ based on their relationship with magic, and when magic from a darker realm hitches a ride to another, Kell’s life plummets into chaos.

But seriously, THIS BOOK! From cover to gorgeous cover, I enjoyed every word of it. The concept, the characters, THE WRITING. All of it was fantastic. And unique. And gorgeous. And brilliant. And ALL THE AWESOME ADJECTIVES!

Onto specifics though…

NON-SPOILERY REVIEW

Let’s start with the writing. The best way I can explain the “feel” of this book is to call it a classic fairytale with modern pacing. The elegant narrative is in a close third from multiple POV’s that gives you the most intimate view of both the plot and all the major players.

Schwab also doesn’t hold any punches. Once Kell makes that first misstep, he keeps on tripping, all the way to the end. Anything that can go wrong, does, and it keeps the plot brilliantly paced, always sprinting forward.

I have to confess that this is my first time reading Schwab, and a quarter of the way through ADSOM, I realized that I would follow this author anywhere, to whatever genre she chose to take on. The writing, the STORYTELLING, is THAT GOOD! So many things go into what makes a good book for me. Concept, Characters, Plot, World, and Writing are the main five. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen in love with books that hit three of the five. But this book had EVERYTHING. The multiple Londons, the way magic worked, the elegant prose, the fast-paced plotting, the complex set of characters, ADSOM was everything I could have ever wanted in a fantasy novel.

I feel like I should clarify here that I think most books are lovable, but writing is a subjective art. And when I judge a book based on the five criteria’s I mentioned above, it’s more on a dial and less of a straight yes or no. So when I say that I’ve loved books that hit 3/5, it’s more so it maxed out those criteria.

But anyhoo, back to the review. Stop here if you don’t want spoilers!

SPOILERY FANGIRLING

So I guess this isn’t really a spoiler as it’s the first thing you see of Kell, but THAT COAT! I love the coat. I want that coat. And the fact that Schwab opens the story on the coat immediately throws us into the deep end of her world.

“What? You didn’t know this was a fantasy? Well, now you do! Hope you can swim!”

Okay, it wasn’t THAT abrupt, but you get a quick sense of the world and Kell, all within the span of the first couple pages. BRILLIANT!

Side note: There are bound to be numerous Brilliant’s in this section. SORRY!

Moving on, I love how complex Kell is. Much like his coat, Kell has multiple sides. Prince. Ambassador. Antari. Smuggler. And Schwab captures each every one of them beautifully. She also illustrates how important subtle urges like “belonging” are. From Kell’s relationship to his brother, Prince Rhy, to his complex camaraderie with fellow Antari, Holland, and even his affinity for smuggling tokens across London lines, we understand quickly that Kell is searching for that thing/place/person that makes him feel “home.”

Then he meets Delilah Bard, who is one of the most clever characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading. She’s a thief, but she’s far from stereotypical. She has an aspiration to see the world, any world, and have an adventure. She doesn’t want charity and doesn’t really want to be a thief forever (though she does want to be a pirate). Thievery is a means to an end for her, a means to get out of the slums of Gray London. Then she picks Kell’s pocket and finds an adventure that she’s not 100% sure she’ll survive.

The dynamic between Kell and Lila is a brilliant one (told you). Lila gives Kell that sense of “belonging” that he’s been searching for, and Kell is a promise of adventure for Lila. But my favorite thing about their relationship: IT’S NOT ROMANTIC! Their mutual respect and camaraderie has NOTHING to do with sexual attraction or romance and IT IS MY FAVORITE!

Also, Lila outsmarts Kell at nearly every turn. She sees things so complexly, and we see how with the stone. Where Kell simply calls it “bad magic,” she recognizes it as “clever.” And I think this is an important distinction between the two characters, not only setting them up for future plotlines, but also to show how they balance each other. Kell is intelligent, yes. But Lila is cunning. And the two of them together is, yes I’m going to say it again, BRILLIANT.

Another side note: I can’t tell you how excited I am for A Gathering Of Shadows (ADSOM #2 coming in February 2016)! If only because I’m fairly certain Lila is also Antari. She’s missing an eye but doesn’t remember how. We know there’s magic in her, but the telltale sign of the Antari is the singular black eye… Miss Schwab, what do you have planned?

Moving along to antagonists, the Dane twins. I LOVE how Schwab sets these two up. Okay, I love how she sets up all her characters. She shows their motivations immediately upon meeting them, which allows the reader to spend the story guessing what that character will do or how far their power reaches. And I LOVE the fact that we see the undoing of Danes in their first scene as well. The fact that they lead by force, that little detail, is what costs them Holland and the black stone in the end.

GAAAAH!!! IT’S ALL JUST SO BRILLIANT (5)!!!

So there it is, my review for the INCREDIBLE A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab. If you haven’t picked up this book, DO IT! DO IT NOW! If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

 

Multiple Books at Once: I’ve gone off the deep end.

Before I jump into this post, I think I need to provide a little background information on the series I’m writing, specifically about the structure.

I am working on a 5-book YA Fantasy series that is structured similarly to the Avengers movie franchise. (Book 1 is Ironman, Book 2 is Captain America, 3 is Thor, ect.) Even though each book has its own separate MC and plot arc, they all converge into the main plot of the series. I made the crazy decision to write them all from First-Person Limited, but right now, they’re all yelling at me for attention. Screaming is a more appropriate term, but they’re at least supportive of one another, so yay.

Did I mention I’d gone off the deep end?

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Anyhoo, I’m in the process of polishing Book 1 for querying, beginning of next year, and just finished the rough draft of Book 3 for NaNoWriMo. BUT I’m also re-outlining Book 2 because that’s going to need a total rewrite. AND Book 4’s MC suddenly wants to talk to me and reveal all her secrets.

Basically, my head feels full. But I’m choosing to see this as a blessing because any time I get warn out from revisions, I crank “Frag Out” by DJ Assassin, and start working on the outline.

I have a SUPER eclectic taste in music and sometimes that includes electro dubstep. If you’re into that, I HIGHLY recommend listening to this track. It’s a little different, but super powerful (and a bit addicting). Here’s the link.

Of course, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t drawn to the fun awesomeness of brainstorming for the newer, shinier project, but a girl’s got to prioritize.

Here’s what’s working for me while I juggle these different projects. If it also works for you, awesome! If not, share what does in the comments below. I’d love to see how y’all handle this nonsense.

PRIORITY NO. 1: Polishing Book 1 (working title, Guarded)
No matter what else is going on, I make sure to polish at least two chapters a day. None of the other books will get published if this doesn’t, so this is my No. 1 until I begin the query process.

PRIORITY NO. 2: Outlining Book 2 (working title, Overwhelmed)
Because I already have a draft of this book, a lot of the messy work is done, so now it’s a matter of refining old ideas and weaving in newer, stronger ones. When I start querying Guarded, I’ll jump into revision on Overwhelmed, so it would be nice to have the outline finished before then.

PRIORITY NO. 3: Brainstorming Book 4
So here’s the dealio, I thought I knew what Book 4 was, then the Book 3 NaNo draft happened. One of the main characters switched camps on me, but I’m really excited about the change and all the plot/tension possibilities that come along with it.

The more time I spend with these characters and their stories, the more excited I am. Of course that translates to my creativity getting pulled EVERY WHICH WAY. But I’m okay with that as long as the world keeps growing the way it has. Hopefully, y’all will get to love with me one day! *fingers crossed*

What about y’all? Are you juggling multiple projects? How do you manage them?

Side note: Just realized I need to add synopsis to my To-Do list. One for each book… ::face:palm::

Happy writing, everyone!

 

 

November Wrap-up & Plans for December

 

Did anyone else’s November just pass by without so much as a “hello”?

… apart from Adele’s album release that is…

Mine sure has. Then again, I spent most of the month inside a fictional world where the characters were throwing all the things at me all the time.

So I guess that’s a good enough place to start as any with this wrap-up… THE MANUSCRIPT!

For NaNoWriMo this year, I decided to vomit out a draft of book 3 of the YA Fantasy series I’m working on. There are still scenes that need written and stuff that needs to be fleshed out, but I now have a skeleton draft of a story that has been clawing for my attention since the conceptualization of the series.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed writing this story. There were things that popped up that not only challenged the MC but also challenged me. The biggest hurdle I had to get over during this draft was allowing Meredith (the MC) to take each hit. She is not the warrior Kjersten of Book 1 is; she does not have the training nor the strength to defend herself physically. But dear lord can she take a hit.

Meredith managed to find herself in the most mentally and physically painful situations possible in this book and all I could do was sit there and watch it happen. BUT despite everything she goes through, everything she loses, she still fights to survive. She digs up whatever token of strength she can and holds onto it, determined to move forward. Always forward.

SIDE NOTE: After I wrote that last bit, I realized that it was my company’s motto during military training. SMH. Crazy what seeps into your subconscious.

This book also provided some of the world building answers I’d been looking for for a while. It just took seeing the alternate dimension through Mer’s eyes to find them. (She can manipulate time and space.)

GAH! I could gush about this story and the characters ALL DAY! The more time I spend working on this series, the more excited I am to [hopefully] share it with the world some day.

Looks dreamily off into the distance.

Anyhoo, that was pretty much the gist of my November. I did get to meet my long-time CP Lynanne for the first time, which was AWESOME! I took a weekend, drove up to see her, and spent the weekend writing, laughing, and procrastinating by way of THE MUMMY. But seeming as how Ardeth Bay is the inspiration for the father of one of my characters, I’m choosing to think of said procrastination as inspirational material. Totally legit. *cough cough*

Again, I apologize for my radio silence on the blog and on social media. I guess I can’t multitask when I’m in the rough-draft stage. SORRY!

Now onto plans for this month…

I should be back on my normal posting schedule (MWF). Might be discussing some writerly things like handling character deaths and other emotionally complex issues (I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit miffed by that PW article. I mean seriously?! YA isn’t emotionally complex. Here, let me throw a bookshelf at you.). If you have a writing topic you want to discuss, PLEASE leave it in the comments below!

But the big To-Do in December: Get Book 1’s MS ready for querying. I’m so close, SO CLOSE! And I’m so excited to see what it looks like in a couple drafts. Hopefully, it’ll look somewhat like a representable manuscript. *fingers crossed*

What about y’all? What did you do this past month? What are your plans going forward?

Happy Writing!

 

 

Timey-Whimey Snarkitude No. 2 – My 2015 NaNoWriMo Project

So I’ve been sucking up on the blogging front this month. SO SORRY! I swear the hiatus was in the name of good stuff. Good stuff meaning drafting a manuscript that has made me laugh, cry, flinch and rage.

For those of you new to the blog, this is the 2nd post in the series link-up, Beautiful Books, created by Sky of Further Up, Further In and Cait of Paper Fury. For more information on the link-up, check out the original post, here. And for the first post regarding my 2015 NaNo Novel, you can go here.

But now onto the questions…

No. 1 – Is the book turning out how you thought it would be, or is it defying your expectations?

Yes and no. All the major plot points and twists are the same, but DEAR LORD, DID IT TURN PAINFUL FAST! Seriously! This manuscript will need to come with a list of trigger warnings. Between sexual assault, physical abuse and death, this story surprised me by how dark it got. Mind you, my stuff isn’t usually sunshine and rainbows anyway, but this was supposed to be the fun novel. And in a lot of ways it was. But I swear, the more mentally resilient my MC is, the more violent their story becomes. Like torture, literal effin torture.

PB torture

No. 2 – What’s your first sentence (or paragraph)?

My duffle bag strap dug into my shoulder as I lugged it up the stark concrete stairs to the third floor. You’d think the worn strap would have snapped by now after five years of use. I’ve had to stuff that blue bag over capacity every six months since I was twelve to make the trip to yet another boarding school.

No. 3 – Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you ever tried both methods and how did it turn out?

Last year, I was a methodical plotter. This year, I had an outline, but it was significantly looser than my one last year, which left the MS open to surprising me… often apparently.

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No. 4 – What do you reward yourself with after meeting a goal?

Umm. I’m going to be super duper lame and say that having the story finally out of my brain and on the page is reward enough.

I more so treated myself to brunch/nice-ish dinner/binge-watching Netflix or Hulu whenever I needed a break from the MS, which was quite often with this one. Seriously, when it came to killing off a character, I avoided it for a solid few days before I was ready to pull the trigger.

No. 5 – What do you look for in a name? Do you have themes and where do you find your names?

It depends on who the character is. One of my characters, Marcellus Herides, is a descendant of the Greek Goddess Hera. Marcellus is of Latin origin meaning “warrior.” His surname, Herides, was built from Hera and the Greek surname suffix “idis/ides” meaning “descendant of.”

No. 6 – What is your favourite to write: beginning, middle, or end — and why?

I’m realizing during this Q&A that I don’t have a whole lot of rhyme or reason to my process. Lol Everything is dependent on the MC and story. For this novel, my favorite part to write was the middle, but I HATED writing the midpoint.

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No. 7 – Who’s your current favourite character in your novel?

I have a lot of favorites in this book. From the humans, Lena and Chuck, to the elderly elven attendant Fran, I love them all. Meredith, the MC, is probably still my favorite. Not only is she snarky and smart, but she is incredibly resilient. She gets dragged through the mud and put through the ringer and [insert your favorite saying describing pain here]. But she still comes out the other side with her compassion and sense of self in tact. I am in awe of her mental and emotional strength.

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No. 8 – What kind of things have you researched for this project, and how do you go about researching? (What’s the weirdest thing you’ve researched?!)

The main things I researched during this project were the different styles of western architecture and clothing. Google and Pinterest were my two main sources of searches. I usually had multiple tabs open to crosscheck sources because I’m a nerd that way.

I’m pretty sure most of the things I research would be considered “weird” by normal standards. So I’m going to go with my most infuriating search: Nordic Goddess Frigg. SO MUCH CONFLICTING INFORMATION ON FRIGG. Seriously! My frustration even made it into the MS, because it worked in the context:

So many hours perusing so many sites, and for what? Contradicting reports on the roles of Frigg and Freya and how they were basically the same goddess. Screw you Wikipedia.

No. 9 – Do you write better alone or with others? Do you share your work or prefer to keep it to yourself?

Well I haven’t really built a writerly community down here in Florida yet, so this NaNoWriMo was significantly lonelier than last year in Maryland where I attended write-ins twice a week. My poor writing buddy, Lynanne, has gotten multiple Twitter DM’s involving sections of the MS. She’s a trooper for dealing my nonsense. THANKS, LADY!

No. 10 – What are your writing habits? Is there a specific snack you eat? Do you listen to music? What time of day do you write best? Feel free to show us a picture of your writing space!

I try to write everyday, word there being try. I’m usually at the local Starbucks drinking a hazelnut latte from 5:30pm until they kick me out. They’ve come to greet me as ‘Novelist Bree.’ I love them. If I do ever get published, they may get put in the acknowledgments simply for being a constant source of awesome in my life.

Hope you enjoyed this Q&A on my 2015 NaNoWriMo Novel. I can’t wait to hear how y’all’s November went. I feel like I’ve been so disconnected this month while in hyper-drafting mode.