The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I absolutely adored this book. The characters were well developed and utterly entertaining. I've never read a fantasy/paranormal historical romance before, but I've definitely been made a fan. I loved the mystery, the danger, the suspense, and the fun with magic. This was exciting and engaging. I didn't want it to end!
Luckily, there are two more books in the series, and I've bought both. I seriously can't wait to read them! Kudos to the author, K. J. Charles on a fantastic book!
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I've decided that I'm going to start doing very short, to-the-point tips on writing, that I hope will help authors out. I'm not going into deep detail (I actually advise that you look this up, as there are many great articles out there. Or, going to workshops is usually very worthwhile), so please keep in mind that I'm just sharing some of the little tricks/tips that I've learned in the hopes that you'll find it useful.
Tip #1: Show, Don't Tell.
You could be very prolific in your descriptions, by saying something like this:
The sun shone brightly, the wind blew and carried the scent of lilac. It was a lovely day, and all John wanted to do was walk through the tall grass, and perhaps take a snooze under a tree.
But while the day that John is having sounds nice, this is me telling you what the day is like, rather than the reader reading John experiencing it. My advice would be to try something like this, instead:
John tilted his face up to the bright sun, its heat comforting on his skin, and warming him through his clothes. With each of his steps, the soft ground gave, and the tall grass brushed against his jeans. He sighed, breathing deeply of the faint lilac scent that was carried on the wind. As though by magic, John felt the weight of his burdens lift from his shoulders, and he abruptly wished that he could remain thusly for the remainder of the day. But, alas, he had other business to attend to...
It's also important to keep in mind that you should avoid "she saw", "he felt", "they knew", rather than just saying what the person/people saw/felt/knew. Sometimes, these can be acceptable (yes, I know that I used one in the example above), but they're redundancies and your writing will be better for not having them.
My examples are by no means perfect (particularly as they haven't been edited), but my point here is just to give you an idea of how you can change your style of writing so that you show readers what your protagonist(s) are experiencing, rather than telling them.
**Edit/Afterthought: Try closing your eyes and thinking about what your protagonist is feeling in that moment. What are the smells, sounds, and feelings? Are they in a crowded market where people are calling out their wares? Think surroundings. Is it stuffy, humid, dry? Is the air sweet or spicy? Are there animals making noise nearby? Plant yourself firmly in your characters' story, and feel what they feel. You'll be guaranteed that your reader feels it, too.
I hope that this was helpful to you! Good luck and keep writing!
Welcome to the second edition of Cheri's 20 Questions! My interviewee is the hilarious and amazingly talented Matt Coleman. Welcome! Matt is a writer of crime novels and comedy. His debut mystery, Juggling Kittens, was named a Writer’s Bonebook to watch in January of 2017. Matt is a Crime Writers’ Association member, whose short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications, ranging from snooty literary journals like apt to much cooler websites like Shotgun Honey. Prior to the release of his first novel, Matt was a staff writer for The City Life Supplement comedy podcast from 2011 to 2014. His second novel, Graffiti Creek, comes out in 2018 from Pandamoon Publishing. Matt currently lives in Arkansas with his two daughters.
Tell us a little something about what you write: I write mysteries and comedies. Sometimes I mix the two together. Sometimes not. I am a product of the American South, and most of my writing ties back to it in some way. Although my latest novel is a straightforward crime novel and my first to NOT be set in Arkansas, it still stemmed from my roots in a weird sort of way. I use mysteries and humor to process things that have happened to me and to those around me. In this case, I was processing some empathy by way of a crime novel.
Cheri: What is the first book that made you cry?
Matt: Wow. First book that made me cry, huh? Going right for it, then, I see. I feel like I am supposed to say Where the Red Fern Grows, but I’m a tough one to make cry. I can’t remember if that one did it or not. The first one I KNOW made me cry was The End, by Charlie Higson. It is the final book in a series of YA zombie novels. They are all really good, but not sad at all. The book made me cry because it was the last book I read to my oldest daughter. I read to her every night for far too long (she was fourteen when we stopped). My younger daughter had already sort of tired of it, but the oldest was holding on. That was the book when she finally called it. And I cried like a baby.
Cheri: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Matt: It exhausts me, to be honest. I feel emotionally drained after a day of writing. Now, to be clear, the ideas energize me. The feeling of completion energizes me. I think it was Dorothy Parker who said, “I don’t like writing. I like having written.” I can appreciate that statement. But I am most energized by the potential. The idea is everything to me. It drives me and becomes an obsession until I can get it down on paper.
Cheri: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Matt: Stop trying so hard. Don’t try to be different. Everyone’s already done that. Just allow yourself to lie back into what you love and do it. Write a book. Stop messing around with experimental forms and weird shit. Just write a damn book, for Christ’s sake. (I would yell at my younger writing self a lot.)
Cheri: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Matt: I think it made me more efficient. I understand the process a little better now. And the validation of publishing gave me the confidence to write what I want to write.
Cheri: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Matt: I’m going to say AutoCrit. It’s an online editing software, and I have sort of fallen in love with it. The monthly subscription is thirty bucks, I think. I sort of cheat and cancel anytime I don’t have anything written. But I have picked it back up each time I finish a first draft, and it is wonderful for self edits. It breaks down readability, word usage, active voice, and a ton of other wonderful shit. I have become a better writer because of the bad habits it has pointed out to me. I can’t say enough about it. Great, great product. (Hear that, AutoCrit? How about a free month, huh? Maybe two?)
Cheri: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Matt: I remember writing a song in the eleventh grade based on The Scarlet Letter. We had some sort of assignment, which I cannot remember, and, for some reason, I decided to complete it in song form. I got up and sang it to the class and everything. I’m sure it was idiotic, but everyone howled with laughter. The teacher actually had me come back to sing it to the class during my senior year. I think it changed the way she gave the assignment. Something about the experience showed me I could make an impact with my writing, even if it was nothing more than a folk song about Hester Prynne.
Cheri: What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?
Matt: The Festival of Earthly Delights, by Matt Dojny. I loved it, and I don’t feel like it ever got much attention at all. And I’ve talked with Matt online some. Couldn’t find a nicer guy. I really wish he got the attention he deserves.
Cheri: As a writer, what would you say is your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Matt: Paul Lynde.
Cheri: How many published, unpublished, and half-finished books do you have?
Matt: I have two published books (Juggling Kittens and Graffiti Creek). I have an unpublished book, which is the beginning of sort of a cozy mystery series starring a foul-mouthed, boozy, reluctant socialite with Sherlockian powers of observation and plans to turn her small town Junior League charity group into a drug ring. It’s a lot. But I sort of love writing it. I’m to the point where I don’t even care if it ever gets to print. I’m having a blast with it. My first book (unpublished, but first finished) was a young adult novel about a kid who tries to kill himself and fails, by falling into a bush … while dressed like a bush. In the process, he somehow manages to save a small child’s life and be seen by a group of towns members, including the press. So instead of dying, he becomes a local legend and a superhero. It was a little darkly comic for a young adult novel. You know. In hindsight.
Cheri: What does literary success look like to you?
Matt: Honestly, it looks like me being able to continue to publish books and have some people actually want to read them. I’m not big on awards or fortune and fame. I’m not saying I would turn any of it down, but it isn’t some sort of requirement for me to feel successful. I want to write. Period. As long as the business is giving me a venue to write, I’m happy. I hope to continue to work with my current publisher. I don’t mean this as a knock on self-published authors (I love self-published authors), but for me, I like being with a publisher.
Cheri: What do you feel is the best way to market your books?
Matt: That’s the million dollar question, right? I think the best way to market is to make meaningful connections in the world, which sounds lame, but it’s true, I think. The best pushes I’ve gotten have come from people I can now consider friends. I have connected with them in some sort of non-selfish way (not selfless, necessarily … just not in an effort to sell books … I chatted with them or found common ground or interviewed them or something). The writer community is non-competitive and always willing to help fellow writers. I think the missing link for indie writers is making the one big connection with indie book sellers. I know the connection exists, but I think it could be much, much stronger. I was in two indie bookstores in Chicago last week and while one had shelves full of indie titles, the other had mostly big publisher titles. There’s a missed opportunity for both parties there. The indie bookstore customer is exactly the type to welcome unheralded books. Let’s be honest, if I want a major title, I can get it from anywhere. Walmart probably has it. But if I’m in an indie bookstore, I expect to find something new. Something I haven’t seen or heard about.
Cheri: What kind of research do you do, and how much time do you typically spend researching before beginning a new book?
Matt: I do it sporadically. It usually just pops up as I’m writing. And I am awful at going down rabbit holes. I will lose hours and full days researching something that started as simply trying to get a pop culture reference correct.
Cheri: How do you select the names for your characters?
Matt: I have started to have a lot more fun with this than I used to. Many of them connect to people in my life. My alter ego in Juggling Kittensis named Ellis Mazer. Ellis was my grandmother’s maiden name. And Mazer was the last name of my favorite professor from college. It’s a name that actually means a lot to me on both accounts. Here lately, I’ve been pulling from Southern influences. Southern names are fun to me. My favorites lately have been Waverly St. Laurent and Macon Georgia Lee Jefferson, the Fourth.
Cheri: Do you hide secrets (or Easter Eggs) in your books for people to find?
Matt: I am starting to. So far, all the Easter Eggs have been only for people who know me. There are characters or moments from my life they will recognize. And they have had a lot of fun finding them. But now I am actually starting to work in call backs to other works, which is a lot of fun.
Cheri: What was your hardest scene to write?
Matt: I just wrote a little about this in a blog post, actually. My Ellis Mazer novels are pretty autobiographical. The mystery part is fiction, but his personal life is mine. Back in 2015 and 2016, I went through a separation and divorce. And last summer my ex-wife committed suicide. So it was a pretty tough stretch of time, personally. And for Ellis, he is going from a happy marriage to a point when cracks are beginning to show. When I got to the first scene where those cracks appear in the second Ellis Mazer novel, I couldn’t write it. Just couldn’t do it. I am just now going back to it and working my way through it. But it’s tough. Cathartic. But tough.
Cheri: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Matt: Self doubt. When I finish a book, I move right on to the next idea. And my ideas are pretty different … gritty Southern hillbilly noir and then an urban action-chase-crime novel and then a cozy mystery. They are different enough to always make me feel like the one I am working on is wonderful and the one I just finished is hot garbage. It takes a while for me to work my way back around to loving what I wrote as much as what I’m writing.
Cheri: How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
Matt: Once I get focused, I can usually finish one in about four or five months. I do need mental breaks, though, between projects. So two a year is the most I can do.
Cheri: What is your favourite childhood book?
Matt: Where the Wild Things Arealways and forever.
Cheri: Where/when do you find yourself most inspired?
Matt: I catch the most feelings for an idea in the car. Music really gets me in the right headspace with an idea. Tonight, for example, I had been rolling an idea around for a while (months), but it wasn’t until “Guilty Party,” by The National came on in the car tonight when it all clicked. Something about the mood and feel of the song meshed with where I was trying to take an idea, and it all fell into place. I will probably start on it tomorrow.
Cheri: Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Matt: My favorite advice continues to be “write a story only you can tell.” I love that. And I don’t take it to mean we can’t place ourselves in other lives, other lands, other times. I think we simply need to make the story so much our own that no one else could ever tell it the way we can.
Cheri: Thank you so much for answering my questions, Matt; it's been a pleasure having you! Next month the wonderful Benny Sims will be joining us, so stay tuned!
Two weeks ago, I was re-reading my WIP (my Work In Progress), The Pirate Spy, in order to get caught up so that I could start writing again. It's a bit of a long story about my health and my sight that I won't bore you with now, but suffice it to say that I hadn't written anything for nearly two months.
Something about me that you might not know, is that I'm forgetful. I write lists for myself so that I remember what I need to do, or what I need to buy, otherwise I end up missing something. This happens a lot with texts and emails, and to my friends and family, I'm sorry. It's a bit troublesome to be forgetful, but it definitely has its advantages.
Most authors know every single syllable of their work inside-and-out. They know their plot, their characters, and everything in-between. And when someone asks these authors a question about their book(s), they don't have any trouble recalling that scene, conversation, sentence, etc., and coming up with the perfect answer.
I'm not like most authors. I have a vague, general overall plot idea of what my books are each about, and I know my characters' names and what they look like, and perhaps something about their personality, but I forget everything else. All the little scenes that make up the book, even sword fights and kidnappings are lost in the void of my brain.
This might seem bad, but again, it has its up side. My books are written several-in-advance before my editor has a look at them. For example, we're working on the editing for Book 1 in the Seductive Spies series, and I'm currently writing Book 5. This basically means that before I hand the next manuscript over to my publisher, I should probably give it a once-over to make sure that there aren't any mistakes or things that I'd like to change before they have a look at it. This is where my forgetfulness really comes in handy.
As has happened with each one of my books before I've given them to my editor, I get to enjoy them as though I'm reading them for the first time. And I get sucked right into them. The suspense, the adventure, the mystery, the sex...I'd forgotten all of it. I can't tell you how many times I've surprised myself with a plot twist, a sudden quarrel, or something totally ridiculous that made me laugh out loud. I get to fall in love with my characters all over again, I get to follow them through their stories, feel their pain, their joy. I often forget that it's something that I've written, and just enjoy the adventure.
Forgetfulness can certainly have its down side, but to me, it's a gift.
To Marry a Scottish Laird by Lynsay Sands
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I have no complaints about the author's voice or the characterization, but the plot was irksome, to say the least. The first 1/3 of the book was full of romance, anticipation, sex, and some heart-pounding, worrisome moments, but the last 2/3 of the book felt like a completely different story. The sex and romance disappeared and a new villain, new problems, and new motivations were introduced. It felt disjointed.
I feel like Cam found out that Joan was a woman far too early. There were so many missed opportunities for humour between the two of them. Also, Joan gave up her virginity *really* easily for someone that's petrified of becoming pregnant. I realize that they were in the moment, but as a healer who has seen all sorts of gruesome births, how could that not have popped into her mind?
The latter 2/3 of the novel was painfully predictable, and as soon as the ladies are poisoned by the cider, it's obvious who the culprit is. I don't get why it's a mystery, and I certainly don't get why these obtuse characters can't figure it out from the onset.
The epilogue is heartily disappointing. Why waste all this time on a new villain and new problems in the latter 2/3 of the book, when there was a perfectly good problem *right there*, plugged in from the beginning? Both had horrible fears of a pregnancy! Shortly after marrying, they could have found out that she was with child, and they could have spent time initially grieving, then deciding to go on mini adventures, or picnics (etc) on their "last days" together, realizing that all they wanted before she (potentially) died was to spend every moment together. It would have been heart-wrenching and beautiful, and it would have made the ending that much more impactful.
Don't get me wrong, I love a good adventure in my historical romance. I love nasty villains and devious plots, but this one was introduced so late that it felt like it was the beginning of a totally different story. If the author was so keen on having a villain appear in the latter 2/3 of the book, then my advice would have been to sneak a few peeks into the villain's head in the beginning 1/3. We needn't know their name, but just having a few thoughts, like "when is Cam going to be back? I've been waiting with these awful women for too long!", then at least a villain has been introduced, and the book flows from beginning to finish without feeling so disjointed.
This was my first Lynsay Sands book, and I'm very disappointed. I've heard good things about her other books, though, so I might give her work another shot. Fingers crossed that this one was just a fluke!
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Award winning historical romance author, Acquisitions Manager for Pandamoon Publishing, wife, and stay-at-home mom of four. Chocoholic, nerd, & bath bomb enthusiast.