Archive for the ‘WritingExcuses’ Category

Comments on Mr Monster by Dan Wells

Posted by arnaud on August 15th, 2010

I just finished Mr Monster by Dan Wells. This post will show some thoughts about the book.

Since Dan retweeted the message I sent yesterday about how I liked the book, I feel like I have to be extra-careful in this review.

 

Foreword about the author

First, I’ll tell you about Dan. Since I didn’t post reviews at the time I read his first book “I’m not a serial killer”, I never got to talk about him.

I know Dan Wells because of Writing Excuses. I stumbled on this postcast one year ago, and you can thank these 3 guys for pushing me onto the writing path. At the time, I only knew about Brandon Sanderson because of wheel of time (I think I had started to read his “Mistborn” series at about that time), but I had never heard of the two other guys. In the podcast, you hear Brandon (often leading the cast), and Howard (with his humor). Dan is usually quieter than the two others, but from time to time, he gets out some witty phrase that always cracks me up. Over the episodes, I’ve grown to appreciate his viewpoint maybe because of the 3, he’s the one I’m most like (even if he’s somewhat more versed in poetry and stuff I don’t like that much).

Well, when Dan writes, it’s almost the same as when he does a podcast : you have quiet, yet gripping writing, and from time to time, some flash of humor will unhorse you. And there is the fact that he’s mostly a discovery writer like me, so I love to see his work (his latest blog entries relating his writing of a short story are a gold mine!).

 

Now, to the book

This is the second installment in a series that wasn’t supposed to be a series.

The character is John Cleaver, a teenager sociopath, whose entire life revolves about not succumbing to his dark side. In the last book, John had to fight a demon, and the book ended with the protagonist killing the monster. As we only knew of one monster, the story could have stopped here. But, as editors often do, they asked for more, and Dan had to go back to work and produce more “serial killer” books. At first, I thought that he would have trouble picking up a finished story and finding new things to interest us. Maybe Dan did have trouble, I don’t know, but he still managed to grab my interest and not to let it go.

So why did it work?

The character first : the teenager sociopath is really something. I feel like I really understand it – euh, him (scary thing to understand a sociopath – maybe I should have my head checked). In a sense, John Cleaver is very much like Bean (from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s game), but with more internal turmoil. We get to see inside a smart kid’s head, experience his emotions (or lack of) as a teenager (loved the “Dates” scenes), plus see him struggle with his internal demon. I loved the way we are given to understand which persona is in charge of John at a given time : that was neat.

Now, the plot : this is a short novel (well, short for someone who reads fantasy doorstops like me). We have quite some pages of setup before the plot really kicks in. I was a little led off by the fact that John assumed that the new killer was using the places of the last killer : when they went to the lake, how did the new killer know that there had been a killing there? Well, turns out I trusted John’s belief at that time, which turned out to be slightly wrong. This had me a little annoyed at the time to fall for the “unreliable narrator”-trick. For the rest of the plot, it goes on increasingly well until the climax. The first book had only horror components in the killing scenes, but in this one, you get your goose bumps at the end, in the killer’s house. These scenes were much more powerful (horror-wise) than those in the last book, so great job there, Dan!

What made this book even more satisfying was of course the ending – the 2 last pages. You have “surprising, yet inevitable” character-based components here. As much as I was pained by some of those events, I understood that they had been coming, so I was sad, yet satisfied. I think all the book leads to those last 2 pages : the gruesome events of the climax serve only here as background for what’s to come.

 

Recap

So, to recap it all, great job Dan. You managed to take a story where I didn’t see how you could produce a sequel, and not only gave me a brilliant sequel, but managed to make me want to read the third book right now.

Dan : wouldn’t you happen to have a very-very-advanced reader copy on hand?

 

I’m writing steampunk!

Posted by arnaud on April 23rd, 2010

I don’t know why I glossed over that : I listen to each WritingExcuses podcast, at least 3 times on the first day and as much in the following days. I guess, I did gloss over that, because it was said during the advertising phase; however, I did pick it up this morning as I was listening to this issue for like the tenth time. The guest was describing a book he had liked and just said it was steampunk.
I had like no idea what that meant, so I used my friend, Dr Wikipedia to know what that genre was. I expected this to be a SF genre – it sounded too much like cyberpunk to my ear, but I found out that it was often in a fantasy setting.

To describe it simply, this steampunk genre deals about settings in victorian-like times, where the source of power is based on steam.
Uh, my setting is definitely slightly post victorian; I had intended it to be like early twenties, but when alpha reader told me that it had a victorian feel, I knew that I had something there, even if it wasn’t exactly what I had thought it would be.
May-I also point out that the streetlamps in my novel are called ‘vapor-lights’, that they use ‘vapor-engines’ for transportation?

I could as well have used the word steam instead of vapor and no one would have seen the difference.

I’m definitely writing steampunk, then, so I can be happy, I have a subgenre now, I can submit to the right editors, agents, and whatnot.

I’ll just have to change the title, so that it has a more steampunky feel – I should have said vaporpunky here 🙂

On another note, that climax chapter doesn’t seem to want to stop : for three sessions straight (and productive ones at that), I wrote that chapter. I’m now more into what happens right after the climax, but I’m still not done here.
I wonder if I shouldn’t split that one in two distinct chapters : I had originally thought that the after part would be small and that I would deflate tension too much if I changed chapters here.
The thing is, right now, I feel like I’m writing something that should be there, but is way too big to just stay in one chapter, as if the writing called out to get out of that single chapter.

At least, the project is almost done, I’ve done my Shakespeare here (meaning, I’ve killed a number of characters), and all I need to do is show what events should occur now than the story is over.

About numbers, I’m currently at 125k, I still have a couple thousands to write in the current chapter, one regular chapter and the epilogue. That should bring me a little over 130k overall.
That gives me enough meat to significantly cut down on the cryptography stuff that someone I know hates that much!

Driving to the act’s end

Posted by arnaud on February 17th, 2010

It’s been some time since I’ve reported here what was going on with the novel.

For starters, after the big dinner scene, I wrote the big reveal scene. There, the reader should begin to get a clearer picture of Onmk’s agenda and nature.

We’re also starting the part of the book where magic will appear and take a bigger place in the story. Yes, right now the protagonist hasn’t really started to understand how to get it right, but she will, shortly.

Today, I started the next chapter where we see Listeria’s POV after the dinner and the starting of her evil plans for the next act. Right now, she’s all anger – fiery anger and that will drive her through the end of the book. I really like writing her POV.

After that, I’ll trigger the end of the act where the protagonist will be forced to flee and face the world again, but now with an added edge.

 

To close today’s coments : last monday’s writing excuses was a real treat to listen. First, it was one of the funniest so far (“keep it snappy!”) and I laugh out loud every time I listen to it. Then, it also was instructive – the reflexions on pacing should be useful. And it’s nice to hear from someone who outlines as little as I do!

Dual chapter

Posted by arnaud on February 1st, 2010

Maybe I should call this post “duel chapter” instead.

 

This is something I’ve not done before : usually once I’m done with a viewpoint character, I change the chapter number. I’ve done that 22 times – one chapter – one viewpoint character.

However here, I am stuck with a problem : I need to show Listeria’s viewpoint before Ciera. I need the reader to see all the planning she went through to indispose her sister (and that word is VERY mild for what she intends to do). I could have done an entire chapter in her viewpoint, however, I didn’t think I could produce enough material for an entire chapter there.

Second point : I need to move the action forward and the action is with the character that is in the most pain – Obviously, this is Ciera here. So, I need to dedicate a good part of this chapter with Ciera. I didn’t think I could depict how she felt seen through her sister’s eyes. This means I have to switch viewpoints halfway through the chapter.

I didn’t do that before, because I believe that it’s difficult for a reader to put himself into a new mindset once you change viewpoints. Jordan is a master of that and he can switch five times inside the same chapter and you won’t have trouble following him. Erikson does that too and sometimes, it feels like I have to read twice the first two sentences to determine which viewpoint I’m on. Suffice it to say I’m not Jordan (or Erikson either) and I decided early on I would stick with one viewpoint per chapter.

My plot has forced me to view that (I’ll try to use it to show everything that separates the two sisters). Of course, I could just accept to have a small chapter with one viewpoint before the next. Maybe it will be like that in the end, I don’t know.

Sanderson did a chapter with less than thirty words in Warbreaker – and it was an important chapter to boot. Maybe I shouldn’t be concerned with chapter sizes, but I’ve got the feeling here that the two viewpoints are two sides of the same coin.

 

It’s monday, so new podcast. This week was not as interesting as usual, because the topic “agents” is far from my mind now. I don’t know if I’ll finish that novel, I don’t know that I will send it to a publisher or not. Getting published is far, far away, so talking about negociating my contracts seem like science fiction to me.

Managing my influences

Posted by arnaud on January 30th, 2010

After this week’s Writing Excuses podcast, I have been wondering what are my influences, so that I understand better what I’m writing.

This will take on a list form – could become boring, so beware.

Early influences :

  • Some Realists writers from the 19th century – Balzac and Stendhal (Not Zola, please!). Those guys are good, but writing has changed so much since that time that you certainly can’t do it like this anymore. I mean, I don’t know how readers of that time could follow a story starting with 50 pages of description of the same street. Remember that those novels were first published in newspapers. How could readers stand week after week of description without any meaty stuff in it?
  • Stevenson : Maybe the source of my fantasy reading taste. That guy knew how to write adventure stuff, that’s sure. Strangely, I never could read anything from Jules Vernes.
  • Conan Doyle : I read every Sherlock Holmes novel I could put my hands on. Equally strangely, I never really read anything else in the mystery genre. I love watching a good mystery but reading it? no thanks.
  • Zelazny : I’m coming to the fantasy stuff here. Yes, I read Amber as they were published (not the early ones, though). I agonized when I learned that fire had destroyed one of his manuscripts. Sadly, the last book’s ending was disappointing, to say the least. I also read his egyptian novel : great stuff too.
  • Tolkien : Of course I read it. My first book in english was Lord of The Rings (I had obtained the hobbit before, but couldn’t read it at the time). Let me tell you, starting to read in a foreign language THAT book is a challenge. The thing is, I was interested enough by the book to read them through the end, including appendices and notations. What’s interesting is that for a long time, I considered “The Silmarillon” the best of the books I ever read. This book really has shaped my understanding of fantasy.

What influence me right now:

  • Cornwell : I have to put him first. I started to read him with his warlord series (that’s his fantasy story). That series was fantastic and I started to read other work he had donne (the grail series). Cornwell has this unique ability to make you feel (and almost smell) how things are really going in a battlefield. After that, I was hooked (no pun about one of his characters intended here). I read through all the Sharpe series (some 20+ volumes) and the saxon one too. I picked up Stonehenge thinking “what possibly could interest me there?”. Well, he nailed it too. I picked up “The Gallows Thief” and was blown away. That book is probably my favorite one. There’s no battle here, only a mystery and Cornwell managed that as well as he describes a rifleman standing in a line. At this point, I believe I’ve read everything he has published under his own name. I love him and often go to his website. I’m amazed at the time he takes answering his fan’s questions. One great thing about him now that I’m writing : he’s a discovery writer too!
  • Jordan : Well, can’t get around that one either. I’m a big WOT fan. That guy was a master and I’ve followed his illness like a cliffhanger series, asking myself if he was going to get better or not. I was quite sad when he died, but I knew that he had told the whole story to his wife, so the story didn’t die with him. Now that Sanderson has taken over and that TGS is printed, I can see the mark of the master inside – love that last book. To the writer : Jordan is the master of viewpoint – you can get into anybody’s head with him.
  • Martin : Another big one. I love the song of Ice and Fire series and GRRM’s brutal rendition of life in Westeros. That guy is cruel to his readers, let me tell you. He writes so well his characters that you have no idea who the heroes are – until their heads unexpectedly get chopped off. I spend at least two books jumping from one character to the next wondering if those were going to die or not. He’s brilliant. I’ve recently taken to read some of his other work. The man has done everything : horror, fantasy, sf, screenwriting, comics. The only thing right now against him is that I haven’t the vaguest idea when the next book is going to get out – neither does he.
  • Erikson : Another genius. The Malazan book of the fallen is a great series, with hundreds of characters and an involved story line. He’s brutal too (man, how could he kill Anomander Rake in the previous book?) and I love the way he writes conversations between his malazan soldiers (Great adepts of absurd those). Now, his friend Esselmont is getting out more books in the same setting and I love those too : night of knives is really something – action packed on one night’s span.
  • Keyes : I’ve got mixed feelings about him – I started reading him at the start of Kingdom of thorn and bones and loved it. I then read some of his other work (Empire of unreason) and found him fascinating ( what would have happened if Newton had studied alchemy instead of physics?). Then kingdom of thorn and bones’ last book went out and that one kind of disapointed me. I guess that he promised me a heroin that was someone good and delivered someone who turned out not to be. Quite frustrating.
  • Bujold : I’ve never read her SF books, but her Chalion series were nothing short of genius. Too bad she didn’t write many of them – yet.

Non book inspirations:

  • Star Trek : Not a book here, sorry. I’ve been a fan since the first film (I’ve seen it quite some times when I was young). I’ve looked at everything trek, I speak trek. Like someone said “everything I’ve learned about command, I learned from Star Trek”. I may not agree with the last film (Come on!) and where the franchise is going, but Star Trek is still fueling most of my internal voices. My favorite hour of television ever : “In the pale moonlight”.
  • Frasier : This is all the humor I like. Witty, subtle, sometimes visual. I love Frasier. Those are the masters on non sequitur for me.
  • Battlestar Galactica : the new one, of course. I love their characters, especially Gaius Balthar. That’s a complex character if I ever saw one. I tend to agree with GRRM that the last episode is wrong. At the time, I didn’t react and even thought that GRRM was too severe, but the more I think on it, the more cheated I feel.
  • New things : heroes, fringe. Those are good series. I particularly like heroes rendering of the bad characters. Love Sylar!

That’s all for now. I’ll try to add some more later, but that’s the core of my influences.

Now, I have to blend it all in my own style. That’s a challenge!