5.18.2016

For Your Consideration: Traitor's Masque

Subject: Traitor's Masque, The Andari Chronicles Book 1
Author: Kenley Davidson
Website: http://kenleydavidson.com/

Some of this is in my review on Amazon, but I wanted to say more about it here.

Give Cinderella some spunk, a backbone, and a whole lot of wit, and you’ve got Trystan, the heroine Traitor's Masque, a new incarnation of the rags-to-riches fairy tale.

First, let’s be honest with ourselves, there have been enough retellings of the Cinderella fairy tale over the years, that it takes something special to shine. I’m happy to report that TM is something special. I have to admit, I was skeptical at first, but the story and the deftness at which it was executed won me over. Sure, we might all know how our fairy tales end, but the journey to reach that Happily Ever After is what’s important. And for this reader, that journey was a lot of fun.

The major delight for me was the dialogue between Trystan and the prince Ramsey. Witty back-and-forth conversation is an art form, and Ms. Davidson is quite skilled at it. This novel feels pretty comfortable on your bookshelf right next to Pride and Prejudice (with or without zombies).

Cinderella’s story is used as a jumping off point, but the divergences from that plot are many—enough that in the end your mind may even reject the comparison out of hand. TM is something classic, but also something new—like a horse-drawn carriage, only the horses are robotic and have rockets for hooves.

I'm hard-pressed to ultimately classify this as Young Adult (YA) fiction. If it is, then it skews toward the older side of young. Ms. Davidson writes for a mature audience and isn't dumbing anything down for her readers to shoehorn (OMG, now there's an outdated reference) her story into a YA mold. But hey, fairy tale aren't just for kids anyway.

Just for fun, and because I love statistical analysis of art, I ran the first page of TM through Microsoft Word's grammar checker, and it came back with a Flesch reading ease of 58.8 and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score of 10.4. So, the prose is basically readable by those of us who have finished high school. For comparison, What Happened On My Space Vacation rolls in at 79.9/4.8, which is described "fairly easy to read" according to Wikipedia.

As much enjoyment as I get out of reading level...content is far more important when deciding age-appropriateness. As long as your kid is watching PG movies, you're good here. The societal intrigue is complex, but competently explained. The romance is refreshingly pure and wholesome. Violence is minimal (possibly helped by the fact that there are exactly zero zombies in this book). The characters curse on occasion, probably because they're human like us.

The novel is engaging and well-written. So, if you like your classic fairy tales revved up, Traitor’s Masque has a shiny new engine lurking under its classic exterior. As it turns out, even after all these years, Cinderella’s story can still hold quite a few surprises.

Buy the novel here:Traitor's Masque, The Andari Chronicles Book 1. If it ends up being your thing, then the "Book 1" is a clue; there are currently two more books in this series. From the descriptions, characters from the first novel appear in those as well, so there's the promise of finding out more about some of the supporting characters.

5.03.2016

If she can, so can you.

If you think you can't write a novel, I know you're wrong, because my daughter did it when she was 9.

If she can, so can you.

National Novel Writing Month has a Young Writers Program. Instead of the 50,000 goal for the month of November, you set a daily goal. We determined that 500 was reasonable for her. She did it for the first time when she was 8 and learned a lot about what it takes to start and finish a story in a month. She met her goal, but the story wasn't really a unified, workable thing. In 2015, she had a much simpler story and a much better idea of how to execute it. 500 words a day isn't an easy thing for a kid that young with school and karate and all the other things that have to get done as part of normal kid life. Actually, I'm sure it's just as difficult for as 1,667 words is for us adults. (For me, it means staying up super late to write.)

I promised her if she finished her story, we'd have it printed up through Amazon's CreateSpace. She'd also be able to give it out in electronic format to friends and family for Christmas. She hit her 15,000 word goal. The story wasn't quite done so she wrote for a few more days in order to finish her story. After that she did a complete editing pass, and then her mother and I went through it as well to take a look at grammar, etc.

I won't lie, it floored me how well-written the book was.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that she had fewer mistakes than I've ever had in a manuscript that long. Also--and this is big--it was a complete story. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. That, my friends, is a huge accomplishment. I understand my bias here, but I've read published novels that weren't as coherent or as engaging.

So yeah, she was 9, and she wrote a novel. (Let's not get picky here about how many pages makes a "novel.")

If she can, so can you.

I didn't write a single word of it. I didn't help her with story. I didn't draw the cover. All I did was provide constructive criticism and publish it for her. If you know her and you read her story, you will understand that this story is TOTALLY her. Her love of all things cat-related, to the adventure, to the humor--it's all her.

She was involved from the beginning. She got the full experience that self-published authors get. She knows all the steps from start to finish. From outlining and planning to sitting in that accursed chair and banging out word after word, day after day for 30 days straight. Getting behind schedule and having to work extra on the weekend. She got frustrated when the words weren't flowing and the deep thrills when they were. The excitement of being done, of completing that first draft and then the dreaded slog of the second. The feeling of looking at the preview and finding mistakes, fixing them, uploading a new version, only to find more mistakes. She knows what it's like to hold that physical proof in your hands, to read through it and find yet more things that need fixed. What it's like to get that first batch of first edition printed novels, to read it to her friends...and still be finding typos.

She's still involved, talking about her novel to friends and family and--this is the big one--strangers. Telling them the story and how and why she wrote it. She selling it on her own. And she's not stopping. She's planning the sequel. She's inspiring other young kids to do the same. That's extraordinary.

She's 10 now. She sat her butt down in a chair and wrote a novel. Now she's an author.

You and I? We have no excuses left for not writing.

If she can, so can we.

The Journey is available at this link.

4.19.2016

First time in the author booth

Last Saturday (4.16.2016), Lily and I had a booth at the Longview Library's annual Chautauqua Festival 2016. This was something I'd been wanting to do for some time but hadn't quite known how to go about it. I applied last year to exhibit at the east Texas Book Fest 2015, but wasn't accepted. I did go as an attendee (mostly to see my favorite Texas-based author D. Marie Prokop. It was worth it as well, because I observed and learned a lot about booth setup and display.

After some minor fixes to the novels, we shot-in-the-dark ordered enough so we'd have 25 copies of each novel. This seemed like a reasonable, not-too-extreme investment. One of us came close to selling out. More about that shortly.

There's some initial investment involved in presenting. We wanted it to look attractive without requiring a huge investment from us. We'd like to do more of these events, but each one has its cost associated with it, and those can get out of control quickly.

How it went down

Even for a booth setup as basic as ours, the numbers add up quickly:

  • Booth fee: $20 (very reasonable)
  • Business cards: $21 (Qty. 200--didn't want to many the first time out)
  • 18x24 posters: $17 (Qty. 2)
  • 6' folding table: $40
  • Photo frames: $3 (Qty. 2)
  • Table cloth: $1
  • Easels: $21 (Qty 2)
  • Poster frame: $15
  • Sticky notes: $3
  • Square credit card reader: Free (yay!)
  • 9x9 Canopy: Free (borrowed...probably need one of our own eventually)

So, yeah $141 just to present that first time. Now most of that we don't have to buy again, but still, when you're not putting a heavy emphasis on running around to events, you have to decide how much you want to invest. if you can sell 100 books at an event that's one thing, but we're not quite there. Yet...

I had requested a space with electrical because I wanted to show our book trailers (WHOMSV, The Journey). We got there around 9:20am, and I picked a space on the north side of the plaza. Never underestimate the importance of location. (Keeping that in mind, I have some other ideas of where to get set up next year). We were prepared for sun and rain with the canopy, but the biggest challenge ended up being the wind. One of the more important things I did was bring tape. Various kinds since i didn't know what I might have to use it for. We ended up taking the table cloth down, taping the poster to their easels, and taping the easels to the canopy (which was held down with cinder blocks). Even with all that, the wind occasionally blew our books off their stands. So, if your event is outside, bring items that can be used to hold down your stuff, bring shelter, and bring tape! And, if you can, bring some for the booths around you so you can share some goodwill toward your neighbors.

As expect, Lily and her novel were a big hit. The novelty of having a book published by a 10-year-old is not to be underestimated. That is a huge accomplishment, and people were very interested to hear about her experience. It's pretty intimidating to talk to strangers like that, but Lily rose to the challenge. Both of us learned a lot in this area.

Lessons learned:

  • Business cards were a definite must. If you can't afford any other promotional stuff, you must have these.
  • The advertising posters were also extremely important. We placed them outside the booth so they were the first things people saw. People often passed by my poster, noting it, but then they'd stop dead in their tracks when they say Lily's. Then Lily would go out and talk to them or their kids. We intentionally did these posters up to be movie-style, and I'm very happy with their effect.
  • Selling kids books? Offer something free to the kids. We bought a small, multi-colored sticky notes and Lily would ask them if they wanted a custom cat drawing. They usually said "yes," then their parents would look at Lily's novel while she was drawing pictures. It's something small, didn't cost a lot of money, and it was personal. Lily would have them name their cat, and they she'd have the cat saying something. Even if they didn't buy a book, the kids were happy.

Challenges:

  • Eating! This is important because you absolutely must keep up your strength. We had a decently steady stream of traffic, and it's pretty much impossible to not look completely unprofessional if you have a hamburger in your hand while you're trying to talk to people about your novel.
  • Bathroom breaks. If you're not at your booth, you're not selling.
  • Being witty. Signing a novel is easy, but coming up with something witty to say on the spot...gotta work on that. Maybe have some good stuff already prepared.
I noticed some vendors packing up and leaving up to an hour before the event was over. I don't know if they had other things to do, or if they just weren't having success. As for us, were going to be there every second telling anybody who wanted to listen about our novels. We sold one in the very last minutes, so it was very much worth it to stay to the end (for us).

Final tally:

As expected, Lily outsold me 3-to-1. That's because she's awesome.
  • Lily: 21
  • Ethan: 7
While writing itself may be a solitary thing, we rarely do things like this alone. There's usually somebody else helping you. Don't forget to thank those that make it possible for you to go to your event. Without my wife's advice and support, this just wouldn't have worked out. It's really not difficult to see where Lily gets her beauty and her brains. Just saying.




12.09.2015

For Your Consideration: The Red Knot

Subject: The Red Knot, the final installment of the Days of the Guardian trilogy
Author: D. Marie Prokop
Website: https://daysoftheguardian.wordpress.com/

D. Marie Prokop has released the final book in her Days of the Guardian trilogy. I got to help her out with some beta reading/editing, so I'm certainly not an unbiased third party when it comes to recommending this novel. the novel is suitable for adults, both young and old.

This last book ups the ante and danger--and especially pain and suffering--for all the characters. I had to vent at her a couple of times over Facebook due some of the more traumatic events that occur as the story spirals towards its conclusion. If a story is able to get at me where I do that, then I know that there's something special in the narrative.

You wouldn't want to read Return of the King first, and it's the same here. This is the end of the story, so if the description below catches your interest, you do have a couple books of homework to do first. Still, it's always nice to know that an author followed through on their three book commitment they made to their readers (not all of them do).

I know how much work goes into a novel. And completing a trilogy is a whole other level of planning and pain. To successfully complete a story like this is a momentous accomplishment. So show your support for an indie author with some follow-through, and pick up these books. The description below is from Amazon, so skip that if you don't like even the hint of spoilers.


The Red Knot (Days of the Guardian Book 3)
“Don’t be afraid.”

In the final installment of the Days of the Guardian trilogy, The Red Knot, teenagers Li Griffin and Ainsling Reid must reconnect and come face-to-face with the Guardian. Only together can they conquer their foes, both inside and out. But connecting with the Guardian and each other will be more difficult than they ever imagined.

Li is sent to a secluded island to deliver a traitor and will finally meet the mysterious Guardian—the covert leader committed to rescuing the oppressed citizens of Sector One. But pain and disappointment fog Li’s vision.

Ainsling Reid embarks on her most important rescue mission yet—her mother. She returns to Sector One, where Noelle Reid is imprisoned, sentenced to death by the Economic Crisis Containment Office. Ainsling risks everything to save her mother and reunite her family.

Meanwhile, insidious forces attempt to tear apart the Guardian’s work. A crippled Dr. Griffin is contracted to create a new human weapon. A nefarious rebel faction is hunting down the Guardian. Doubt and fear invade the minds of the refugees aboard the Guardian’s ships.

Once, the power of joy redeemed Li and Ainsling. Now, the pain of tragedy threatens to unravel everything. What is left to hold on to?

10.31.2015

Short Story: All The Best Candy

Dear Halloween,


I love you lots. You have All The Best Candy. You really do.

Sincerely,
Ethan A. Cooper

PS: I wrote this for you.

3.29.2015

For Your Consideration: Days of the Guardian Trilogy

Subject: Days of the Guardian trilogy
Author: D. Marie Prokop
Website: https://daysoftheguardian.wordpress.com/

D. Marie Prokop was in the "Oh, I didn't know you wrote!" category that authors briefly fall into at the moment they reveal their proclivities to you--like it's a secret identity or something. We met her and her husband when we attended the same church group some years ago. As things go sometimes, they moved to a different city, and if it weren't for Nanowrimo and Facebook, that probably would have been the last we heard of each other. But those wonderful/terrible things do exist, and we reconnected. As it turns out, she was working on a trilogy of dystopian sci-fi novels: Days of the Guardian.

I seriously love reading stuff my friends have written, so when I discovered that she'd published a novel, I Amazoned (that can be a verb, right?) that thing. The Red String is the first book in the trilogy. Set in a future where economic "necessity" has allowed the shroud of dystopia to descend. The oppressive regime manifests in the form of the Economic Crisis Containment Office (ECCO)--one of those government agencies that never manages to give up its emergency powers when the crisis that birthed it is over.

The two teenage main characters, Ainsling and Li are shoved together early on, but it's clear that they're both deeply flawed (as are we all), and that their relationship isn't going to be all kisses, hugs, and rainbows. The path to happiness and healing isn't an easy one for them, but it is one worth reading about.

Without going into plot-spoiling details on the story itself, let me just say that there's a lot packed into The Red String. It does its share of world building (as required for the first book in a trilogy) while delving into some of my favorite topics: sacrifice, free will, and the cost of power. Easy to read, you can finish this one in just a few hours on your favorite beach this summer.

After burning through The Red String, I discovered she was still working on the next book (The Red Cloak). I seized my opportunity, and offered (demanded?) that I be allowed to help out in any way I could. She foolishlywisely agreed to let me give her some feedback before it was published. But seriously, since editing is like 90% of writing, I jump at every chance I can to edit other authors' work. Editing is almost always painful, yes, but it's 100% necessary, and I need to get better at it. So this, was good practice, being able to look at a novel as a whole, as well as its place within the middle of a trilogy. One of the biggest challenges for me while editing was to suppress my own style when offering suggestions. (No, Ethan, your way isn't always the best--some people use different words than you.)

She published The Red Cloak last year, and is working on the final book in the trilogy: The Red Knot.

The Days of the Guardian series is targeted at young adults, and feels right at home on the bookshelf next to other YA trilogies like The Hunger Games or the Divergent series.

So, with full disclosure that I know the author and helped out with the 2nd novel in the series, I present the Days of the Guardian books for your consideration. I think you will enjoy the story she's telling, and you'll be supporting an independent author! If you're like me, you'll be looking forward to her finishing up that third book! Descriptions are from Amazon. Skip them if you like to go into stories completely blind.


The Red String (Days of the Guardian Book 1)
It is the year 2053. Ainsling Reid is a spirited and happy 16-year-old. Though she suffers from debilitating seizures, she has hope in the one doctor who has promised to cure her.

Li Griffin wishes his father would let him live his own life. He is angry and resentful that he has been forced to work at his Clinic. His feelings are harsher for the mother who abandoned him many years ago.

Despite their differences, these two teens form an unexpected bond when their lives cross paths.

In "The Red String," Ainsling and Li will find themselves in need of a rescue.

It's a good thing that's what the Guardian does best...


The Red Cloak (Days of the Guardian Book 2)
The voyage continues…

Led by the mysterious Guardian, Li Griffin and his girlfriend Ainsling Reid, along with the other passengers aboard The New Remnant, remain united in their efforts to rescue and rehabilitate the oppressed citizens of Sector One. The malevolent forces of the Economic Crisis Containment Office remain undeterred.

As Li struggles to cope with the shadow of his past and the weight of discovering the Guardian’s true identity, he must also work to uncover a new threat—one that lurks onboard The New Remnant itself.

Ainsling has her own demons to face. Stricken with epileptic seizures, she was implanted with a device that cured her…and granted her a unique power. But using her power to help others comes at a great personal cost. As Ainsling wrestles with finding her role on The New Remnant, can she find a way to fulfill the Guardian’s impossible mission without surrendering to rage, depression, and fear?

In The Red Cloak, the Guardian makes an unbelievable request. The red string of fate between Li and Ainsling is strong, but it twists and tangles as the pain of the past refuses to stay buried.

Just because you’ve been rescued…doesn’t mean you’re safe.

11.07.2014

BFFs 4EVR: Hubris and procrastination

After publishing What Happened On My Space Vacation in January, I got overconfident in my ability to crank out Angel Descending this year.

Hubris I tell you.

Well, hubris and procrastination.

Anyway, I severely underestimated the amount of rewriting I'd have to do in order to get the first DOWNfALL novel into publishable shape. My writing philosophy for the serial, online format was a quick and dirty, immature approach. More seat-of-your-pants, vomit-of-ideas writing than the measured, planned approach necessary for more professional (not to mention, edited) work.

All writers change over time. And editing something you wrote seventeen years ago reveals all of the weaknesses of your earlier work. I know I've grown as a writer. I've learned a lot about writing since DOWNfALL came into existence (I think it was over AIM chat with one of the other authors) those couple months after graduating from university. Really, I can't believe how pretentious some of my writing was. It's decently painful to look at it under a microscope, but as the Six Million Dollar Man tagline goes: "We can rebuild him...we have the technology."

So, the editing is underway. It's a lot like one of those montages in the Fast and Furious movies where they have to take an old clunker from barely working to shiny and pristine and capable of winning the race. The first pass is simply me tearing down every broken paragraph I've got and replacing it with a working one. I reread the whole thing before I started and realized that the serialized format it was written in meant that I didn't plan as far ahead as I could/should have. This resulted in the first book not having a clearly defined antagonist (Maybe that's okay? It doesn't feel right to me).

It has so many problems, I had to start a to-do list of repairs. Here's part of it:

  • Write character descriptions (you'd think this was already done...hah)
  • Give more details on what the wirewitches are wearing
  • More details on what Calamity looks like
  • Flesh out location descriptions (Aran's safehouse)
  • Language analysis (swearing, etc.)
  • Rewrite Blue Angel Darkening into actual prose instead of the uber-pretentious script format it's currently in. What was I thinking????
  • Write 6 additional chapters to deal with the Aran and Phoenix POV events in Obliteration.
So yeah, this rebuilding montage is eating up some serious screen time. 

But underestimating the work wasn't all. I procrastinated by letting myself play too many games, watch too much TV, do some editing work, as well as write other stories, and make Halloween costumes for the kids. All good things--no doubting that (and making the kids' costumes trumps all other creative endeavors anyway). Sill, there's that voice in my head, and it won't go away. It's my main character, (2)Syl, and she's never kept quiet about being creatively displaced for so long. She wants her story told. I need to finish what I started, for her, and for myself.

Right after this episode of The Walking Dead...