Book Review: The Stone Mage and the Sea

The Stone Mage and the Sea (Book of the Change)

The Stone Mage and the Sea by Sean Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Stone Mage and the Sea by Sean Williams has been sitting on my book shelf for a couple of years and I thought it was about time I read it. I’m glad I made that decision.

Sean Williams is an Australian writer and I was pleased to see the Australianisms come through in his writing. In fact, it made for a nice change. The setting is clear and feels so real that I would almost be willing to guarantee that the author did his research by sitting in the Australian desert.

What I especially liked about this book was the mixture of modern everyday items in what seemed like a futuristic world touched by magic. Yet, on the other hand, the people in the story seemed backwards in their technology too. I liked the balance. It made me wonder how far we can go, technology wise, before we do something wrong and end up worse off than when we started.

Anyway, the main character is a young boy and the story falls into the “coming of age” category. At a guess, I would say this is a young adult book yet any avid reader will enjoy the storyline. It’s fresh and clean, and in a lot of ways different to other fantasy stories. It’s the first is a trilogy and I felt it nicely setup the world, the characters and the conflicts for the two following books.

I can’t say it was fast paced, but I didn’t find it boring or slow either. However, as the book neared the end, the tension raised and I had no choice but to follow the characters into a climax filled with everything that makes a good book.

This book is highly recommended.

I am already well into the second book in the series – The Sky Warden and the Sun.

My Domain Name Expired!

Well, what do you know? I’m back! No, I didn’t close down the site or move. I didn’t do something stupid behind the scenes, which played havoc with the website. My domain name expired and I wasn’t give warning. I believe I was offline for two days before I realised and then my provider was having server problems so I wrongly thought I had been caught up in that…and then I discovered, way too late, about the expiry.

I was not happy!

I don’t have a credit card so had to send a personal cheque, which meant I was offline for another week!

No, I was not happy!

But, thinking enough was enough, I contacted my provider today asking about the delay and what do you know…the site is back up. However, I can see issues with the right hand sidebar which were not there beforehand, but I guess I should thank my lucky stars that the domain name wasn’t snapped up by a third party.

Normal posting will now resume.

Book Review: Rhett Butler’s People

Rhett Butler's People

Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig

My review
rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCraig is an authorised sequel to Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, which is a personal favourite, as is another authorised sequel by Alexandra Ripley called Scarlett. So when I saw Rhett Butler’s People I instantly knew that I had to buy and read it!

For three reasons I was a little disappointed. Although the title is not misleading, which is a credit to the author, Rhett Butler’s People isn’t really about Rhett and Scarlett. Whilst it touches on the main events of their (well known) story, I thought it would be a retelling of the original story, but from Rhett’s perspective. This book is mainly about Rhett’s childhood and then the people in his life as an adult. A large portion of the book is told from their point of view and is about their lives. I wasn’t expecting that, but I managed to get over it fast.

The second reason I was disappointed was because the story concentrates on the American Civil War far too much for my liking. I wasn’t interested in that side of the story at all and found it dragged the story down. (I’ve never enjoyed reading about battles or wars of any kind.)

Putting those two disappointments to one side, the book was good. Once I accepted that the book isn’t really about Rhett and Scarlett, I became riveted with some of the storylines, especially those which tugged at the heart strings. And it did expand on the original story to some degree.

I found the writing to be readable and in parts, absorbing. The characters were well written and had depth. The settings were realistic. Overall, a good read, but I would have liked the war to be in the background. It would have made a huge difference to my review, which as it stands is quite puny. There isn’t a lot more to say, because the book didn’t “speak” to me as the previous two did, which is a shame.

But what about the third reason for my disappointment? Donald McCraig chose to ignore the other sequel called Scarlett, therefore making up a different sequence of events after the “I don’t give a damn” moment. As his book is an authorised sequel, as was the book written by Alexandra Ripley, I felt he made a bad move when he made that decision. For me, it was tragic and a complete let down and I’m afraid to say that Rhett’s Butler’s People will not be given a place on my “favourites shelf” as a result.

Taking the Hard Road

Due to the hiccup I’ve experienced over the last few days where Mirror Image is concerned, I’ve decided to do myself a favour and pull back from that manuscript for a short time. I need to let the information I’ve received from the reader and helpful friends on the internet to sink in for a while, without formally doing anything with it. At least I haven’t let the “hiccup” stop me in my tracks. I’m still passionate about Mirror Image and August might see me return to this manuscript, September at the latest.

In the meantime, I will continue working on the plan for the trilogy. At this stage, I have loose concepts for all three books, a general idea of the two threads that will span the entire trilogy and a very firm history rolling around my mind. With this in mind, I have turned my attention to building book one from the ground up. The storyline and characters for book one are well known to me, so this will be relatively easy. My biggest decision will be what changes I want to make…especially to the characters. I was thinking about this on the train this morning and have decided that I will NOT use my previous notes/plan/profiles, I will literally start again. I know my decision will take me along the hard road because using what I already have would be the easy, logical option, but I believe taking the easy road has been my mistake in the past and now I’m willing to start again and do it better because I have evolved as a writer since I first planned and wrote this story.

I have devised my own system, which is a bit like the Snowflake Method in as much as I start with basic information and build from there in small steps. I might go into this in more detail at a later stage, when I know how well it works. I began the process, in earnest, this morning. When the process is finished for book one, I’ll do the same for books two and three.

Did That Character Swear?

I want to thank everyone for your replies to my post Find Strength & Stop Being Nice! You’ve really shown your support and I appreciate that.

Before I go any further I must mention that Mirror Image is fiction based on real life events.

Now that I’ve had a few days to think about it, I know that my reader is right in some regards and wrong in others. He’s not a writer, but he has a personal interest in the content (as do I) and he’s right when he says I am holding back and not letting my characters feel the emotions. I can only say that I am protecting myself. When I write the most powerful scenes in the manuscript the memory of the real thing still makes me sob openly. I also believe I’m protecting people that might think I’m writing about them, when I’m not. The story is fiction. The characters are fiction. I guess I’m scared that if the book was published, the people who were around when the true life event happened might see themselves in my writing. I have tried to make it obvious that this hasn’t happened, but this is making me hold back and that’s why he (my reader) said I have to forget other people and go for it 100%. He also said that maybe it would help if I wrote this manuscript under a different name. Maybe that would free me! Maybe he’s right, but it’s a bit hard when I have this blog and I’ve been mentioning the manuscript for the last two or so years.

He’s wrong because not everyone swears when placed in the situations I have in this manuscript. I never swore when it happened to me. Never, not even when I truly wanted to murder someone, anyone, and I came close to putting those thoughts into action (thankfully my will power and conscience made me walk away). But, having said that, not everyone is like me and I believe there is one character in my story who would swear. Not often. Not on every page. But when he’s pushed to the limit, he would swear and when it happens I hope the reader can recognise a person stretched to breaking point.

Then, on Friday afternoon on the train, I sat in a carriage with three young men–around 20 years of age–sitting behind me. They reminded me of the character I mentioned in the previous paragraph and I found myself listening to the way they interacted with each other…and making mental notes. I didn’t see them at any time, I just listened to them, but from what I heard (and it was over an hour of conversation) they seemed like decent boys, good kids just living life to the fullest. All of them were making the long trip home from university for the weekend. My character is exactly like them. And I realised that the character is lacking something…youth! He needs to be given stronger aspects of being a youth in this day and age (and not the aspects of being a youth in MY day) and I think that includes swearing. Listening to these young men helped me realise this and reconfirmed what action needs to be taken.

If anyone else has anything to add, please do so. I’m determined to do justice to this manuscript because not just anyone can tell this story. It’s a subject that you have to have lived to really know…and I’ve lived it.

Find Strength & Stop Being Nice!

Can a person be too nice? Obviously they can. Obviously people who read my stuff think I write “too nice” because I’ve been told that very fact a lot — so many times, in fact, that I can no longer ignore it. I’ve thought about this over the last few days and I have come up with two reasons:

1. I started writing because I was desperately unhappy, so I placed myself (in the form of the main female character) in nice surroundings with nice people, and I always aimed for “happily ever after” because that is what I wanted for myself.

2. In real life I’m a passive person. I’m quiet and shy. I avoid large gatherings (like parties), conflict, “in your face” situations, being the centre of attention and generally do NOT know how to let my hair down. I don’t swear, drink or smoke. I’ve never seen illegal drugs of any description. I’m the person on the outside of a group looking in…listening, but rarely contributing…because that’s where I feel comfortable as I’m a bit of a loner.

I’ve been told numerous times that I’m trying to write in the wrong genre – romance is where I should be at (that’s what I’m told). But…romance can also be a problem with me, because I don’t feel comfortable writing erotic scenes, so any romance I write will be quite bland. With this in mind, I chose to write fantasy with a strong romance thread. Many of the books I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of fantasy, haven’t had one swear word or sex scene in them…and they lean towards “happily ever after” too.

That means part of the problem has been solved. I can write romantic fantasy, but that doesn’t solve the other part of the problem. My writing isn’t strong enough. Why is that? I believe it’s because of the person I am. In fact, I know that’s the reason. I try to write aggressive characters, but I’m not that type of person so how can I do the character justice? And how can I possibly know what an aggressive or a confident person would say in any given situation when I’ve never experienced it myself? In my opinion, it would be easier for an assertive person to write from a non-assertive view point than the other way around. So what can be done about it? If you’re waiting for me to answer that question, you will be disappointed, because I honestly don’t know. I need help with that one. How can I strengthen my writing?

Now, let’s turn what I’ve said in this post to one of my writing projects – Mirror Image, which is NOT romantic fantasy – far from it!

Mirror Image is a project I believe in…totally! I know, without doubt, that if I’m going to get published, this is the project that will do it for me. But…will my writing do it justice? Can I create the words necessary to make the manuscript as strong as the theme and storyline require?

The reader I’ve given the manuscript to has come back to me and said that Mirror Image is a powerful story that is let down by weak writing. The reader said that everything is there – punch after punch – except strength of words, and sometimes actions. He said that I can write, but I need to “let go” and give it everything I have and more. He said I’m too “nice” and the manuscript requires something much stronger than nice. He claims I am holding back and it shows. He practically slammed a fist on the table and said, “Stuff everyone involved, stop worrying about other people. Stop being so nice and let it all out. Swear, damn it! This isn’t some romance novel where everyone is nice and cosy, and everything is pretty. This is a novel that demands swearing and lots of it. This is a story that needs you, the writer, to let go and let the passion and emotion out. You have to let the reader into your shoes and stop holding everyone back like you do in real life. You can do this. I know you can.”

Talk about a show of passion and emotion! I wish I could bottle that for my own use. Anyway, my response was…to my alarm and shame, tears. Even now I feel those tears springing to my eyes. I know that this is just one person’s opinion, but in the depths of my heart I know he is right.

I felt mortified that a project I value so highly is suffering because of my writing…and because of my personality. I didn’t sleep well because of it. I can’t stop thinking about it. I want to let go, but I don’t know how to. Why can’t I? What am I going to do?

I need to strengthen my writing. How can I do that? Does anyone have any words of wisdom?

Edited on 5 July 2009:

Read the update here – Did That Character Swear?

Author Interview: Chris Howard

This month, I am proud to present an interview with Chris Howard, author of Seaborn.

It’s a pleasure to have this opportunity to interview you, Chris. Please tell us a bit about your writing background.

My mother was a writer and an artist, and growing up I had no concept of a “real job” versus an artistic pursuit–no pressure to take one over the other. (I ended up studying philosophy in school, and have spent the last twenty years developing software). I think, more than anything else, the idea of the arts as a valid career path opened up the world of writing and painting for me. My mother also made it pretty clear that if you don’t submit anything, you’re never going to get published. My first rejections were from F&SF and Dragon Magazine in the early ’80s, and my first publication was a short story, “Diminisher of Peace” in The Harrow in 2006. So, twenty-something years of writing on-and-off before an editor accepted something. I used to collect rejects, stick them in a folder, to go through every once in a while. I don’t bother anymore. I know I have well over a hundred and fifty.

That’s a lot of rejections, but you’ve already proven that a writer should never give up. Tell us about your latest publication?

Seaborn, which came out last July, is my latest novel. I’m also an illustrator with some pen and ink work in the last issue of Shimmer (came out a few months ago). Seaborn is actually the middle book in a series that begins with Saltwater Witch (young adult) and ends with Sea Throne. Both of these are complete, the first with a publisher. No idea when they’ll see the light of day, though. Sea Throne is presently a victim of the recent shifts in the publishing world, with Juno Books becoming an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books division, and with a tighter focus on the popular and key elements of urban fantasy–that’s werewolves and vampires, and with people from the sea–any way you define “urban fantasy”–being on the fringe. So, Sea Throne’s sort of in limbo at the moment. Time to work on the next series!

Free-to-read full copies of Seaborn can be found at http://www.saltwaterwitch.com/freeseaborn.php

seaborn

I wish you the best of luck with Sea Throne. What project are you working on at the moment?

I have a new fantasy series going. It’s quite a bit different than the Seaborn books. It’s in the future, so you have nanotech, self-cleaning clothes, and my main character’s a dryad–an SF background with magic and demons and forest deities. I like the mix. I think readers will too. Instead of a loose 3rd person POV I used in Seaborn and Sea Throne, the new series, starting with the book I just completed–Winterdim, is all in first person POV, with each book from a different character’s perspective. (For a peek at what the book’s about, I have one of my paintings up at http://www.Winterdim.com as well as a bunch of character studies on my blog, http://theophrast.us).

That does sound like an interesting mix. Do you know how the story will end when you first start writing it?

Depends how broadly you’re interpreting “how.” I certainly have a good idea of who’s going to come out the other end of the story alive, and whether they’re going to succeed or fail. I don’t have protags fail often–never completely. On the other hand, they never step out of the last chapter unchanged, undamaged, or not without a whole new set of problems.

As far as writing process goes, I typically begin writing the ending before I hit the middle of the story. This works to plant a stake in the ground and gives me a pretty clear direction to move the story. By the time I’m three-quarters done, I may have the ending complete–with minor tweaks when the rest of the writing catches up and then a few more after a post-complete edit pass.

I believe in having a concrete ending and often write the last scene at the beginning of the process. Do you work on more than one story at a time? If so, how do you manage it?

Usually. I may complete a short story or two in the time I write a novel, but I never get into another novel length work. That doesn’t mean I’m not thinking one or two books ahead, or even the next series. I’m always doing that. For me at least, it’s never the lack of ideas, it’s always about the lack of time to pursue them. I keep a journal–I use Moleskine notebooks, unlined so I can draw in them, too. I go through one of these a year, and by the time I’ve finished one book, I have enough notes, plot ideas, conclusions to get me started on another. I also draw and paint, and I’m usually way ahead of what I’m currently writing. As part of my writing process, I picture scenes from the next book or series and paint them.

I have always been interested in how other writers go about their business so thank you for sharing that part of your writing routine. Do you believe in writer’s block? Why?

I’m not sure I do. If we’re talking about writer’s block being the state writers run into when they don’t understand enough about a particular scene, plot direction, character motivation, and can’t continue without getting a better handle on these things, then I do believe. Everyone gets that, and the response is to sit back and think about those things that feel fuzzy, that don’t make sense, take time to put yourself into a character and play around, try to understand what they’re feeling, what they see when they step into that scene. Sometimes it works to try something unexpected. People aren’t robots–unless your character actually is a robot. They don’t always follow a script–they certainly don’t in real life. Why would readers expect a fictional character to behave that way?

I don’t think I’ve ever just sat in front of a blank sheet of paper, pen in hand, or in front of the screen, fingers hovering over the keyboard, waiting for the words to come. Maybe a long time ago, and the cure for that is to put the pen down and go read a book. Get some inspiration, look at some art, photographs, listen to some music. I’m still a newb at this writing thing. I’ve just completed my fifth novel (worth publishing–have a bunch that aren’t), and if I had to give some advice on this: A lot of the writing process relies on trusting yourself to tell the story–and not getting hung up on a particular scene. It could be that you’re just not ready to tell that part yet. Move on to the next. Pick a scene later in your story that you’ve been dying to write. Who says you have to have everything written prior to that scene? Skip ahead and start writing. You can always come back and fill in chapters, and when you do, you’ll have a better understanding of your story and characters.

What are your writing goals for the future?

Simple. Novel a year. That’s the plan. Do some painting and drawing during and in between–maybe sell a few. Near term I want to pursue this future fantasy thing to the limit. I’ve plotted three books, but I can take it to more. Beyond that? I have a hundred stories to tell, worlds to build, characters to create and their shoes to step into. I’ve written two YA novels, Nanowhere and Saltwater Witch. I may come back to writing more YA at some point, and when I do it’ll probably be historical fiction.

Thank you, Chris, for a very interesting interview. I’m sure visitors to this site will be as grateful as I am for the time you’ve given us today.

If you would like to know more about Chris and his writing (and even his artwork) be sure to visit his website – http://theophrast.us