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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J. Elizabeth Vincent

My own review from my very new (and very bare) author website.

A teaser…

I am a big fan of the original seven Harry Potter books, so I was eager to read this. As a member of my local community theater, I wasn’t put off by the fact that it was a script either. However…


Read the rest at Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J. Elizabeth Vincent

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Book Review: The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn

The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey
Joanna Penn
The Creative Penn, Ltd., 2016
Available in ebook, paperback, and audio formats

For Christmas, I received a nice little stack of books from family members. Among them was Joanna Penn’s The Successful Author Mindset, which my ten-year-old daughter had given me. My kids have seen me giving this whole career-author thing a go, with me getting up at 5 or 5:30 a.m. nearly every day for the last several months so that I can get my writing done and still have time for my day job and all the rest.

One of my inspirations on this journey has been Joanna Penn and her author–entrepreneur podcast, The Creative Penn. Penn used to work a corporate job. Years ago, she began writing both fiction (thrillers under the name J. F. Penn) and nonfiction (under Joanna Penn) while still doing her day job. While you might not put her on the same level with Dan Brown or Stephen King yet, she has built her author business up enough that both she and her husband have been able to quit their day jobs to continue to work and expand this business. You can tell from listening her talk about it on the podcast that it is a vocation that brings her joy.

In The Successful Author Mindset, Penn approaches one of the biggest obstacles we authors have on the journey to success: our own minds. Just how does the state of our mind affect our success as writers? In three sections, Penn discusses mindset aspects of creativity and writing, mindset aspects that become relevant after publishing, and tips for managing our long-term journey as authors. In bite-sized pieces, she approaches each problem, for example, imposter syndrome, that icky feeling you get that you’re really a fraud and that you couldn’t possibly know what you’re doing. Penn not only covers about each aspect and how it can affect us as writers but also provides antidotes: ways we can get around the self-doubt, the judgment of others, and our own creative dissatisfaction.

Penn’s style is casual and personal. She includes snippets of her own diary entries along the way, confirming in a book-wide theme that as much as writers often work the craft in isolation, we are not alone in our experiences.

All of us who are writing are bobbing around in this ocean of creativity, going through the same issues.”
—p. 1, The Successful Author Mindset

The Bottom Line

Other writers have gone through what you are going through, and the successful authors are the ones who have changed their mindset and kept writing anyway. Some of Penn’s advice strikes me as simple common sense, but still other bits really hit home on my own journey. I’ve dog-eared the section on fear of judgment to revisit when I find that I’m holding back, reluctant to “let my [genuine] author voice run free.” Reading this book has also reinforced my decision to remain in control of my own career as a writer. For me, that means self-publishing. For another, it might mean renegotiating her contract with her agent or publisher.

I recommend this book for writers at any stage of the journey and on any publishing (or nonpublishing) path. It will be especially helpful for those with long-term author career goals in mind.

Pick up this book, and you may find yourself using it practically or as a repeated source of affirmation as you work toward your writing dreams.

Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn
I heard this quote from Joanna Penn one day on her podcast, The Creative Penn. I typed it up and have had it on my office wall as inspiration ever since.
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Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children series)
Seanan McGuire
Tom Doherty Associates, LLC., 2016
176 pages. Available in hardcover, Kindle, and Audible audio formats.

Category: Fiction, Portal Fantasy, Urban Fantasy

I came across this book while checking to see whether my local library had the latest Toby Daye novel. Our small and famously underfunded system did not. However, they did have this single book by prolific writer and author of the Toby Daye series, Seanan McGuire. I was curious about the book and was met with several stellar reviews, so I decided to check it out.

The most important thing I will say about it is that this book defies traditional categorization. I am not saying that this is a bad thing, only that you should be warned.

I started to notice this when I picked it the book from the library. I actually went to Amazon and to McGuire’s website because I thought surely such a small book was a children’s or maybe even YA book. I didn’t mind if it was. I just like to know what I’m getting into. Despite its size, it is categorized on the author’s page as portal/urban fantasy with no notes on it being intended for children of any sort. Used to Robert Jordan’s epic and sizable yarns, I was a little surprised to see Tor publishing anything that it categorized as fantasy that was so small that I could stick it in my purse and still have room to spare. I could go into a whole diatribe over how writers worry about making their books just the right length to fit certain genres and audiences, but I find myself glad when expectations are booted in favor of just allowing writers to tell a good story. So, onward we go!

The premise of the book is based on a home for “wayward” children led by another former wayward child herself, Eleanor “Ely” West. It opens with a young woman by the name of Nancy coming to the home for the first time. She is met by a sign:

ELEANOR WEST’S HOME FOR WAYWARD CHILDREN: No Solicitation, No Visitors, No Quests.”

The children (teens really) that occupy Ely West’s boarding school are of a special sort. Each has been through a magical door and back again at least once. When they return to their place of origin after adventures beyond the doorway—to worlds classified here with categories like high Logic and high Nonsense—they can no longer cope with this world because each saw the place that they had visited as Home. (There is a completely different school for children who were terrified by their adventures and are just trying to forget.) The parents of these homesick teens think they are lying or crazy and send them off to be cured, while the children themselves are just looking for a way back through their doors.

Nancy’s parents, tired of her drab clothing and her refusal to eat, send her to Ely with hope for a cure. Nancy, however, knows that she was sent back through her doorway “just to be sure” that her world, the Halls of the Dead, is where she really wants to be. She continues to behave in a manner appropriate to someone of that world with hopes that if she doesn’t get caught up in the harried pace of this world, she will be allowed to go back.

At the school, Nancy, still accustomed to the ways of the Underworld, finds a menagerie of teens who have been to a vast array of worlds, from her new roommate, the highly energetic Sumi, who has been to a world of cakes and candy floss, to Jack and Jill, a set of teen girls who have been to the Moors, where Jill served a Master Vampire and Jack was apprenticed to a man reminiscent of Doctor Frankenstein.

As a reader, at this point, I expected to follow along to find out whether Nancy finds her way back to her beloved Lord of the Dead or instead finds a way to cope with the frantic and overly colorful world into which she has been born. This is definitely an aim of the story, but it is quickly matched by another worry when students start being murdered violently. Thus, this portal fantasy is a bit of a murder mystery as well.

I will leave the rest of the plotline to avoid spoilers and get into the meat of things that I was pleased with and those I was not so pleased with (in reverse order).

As an editor and a perpetual student of story, one thing that bothered me about the book was the way point of view (POV) was handled. At first, the story seems to shift from one third-person limited POV to another, Nancy’s to Ely’s. This was easy enough to follow, and it kept me as a reader engaged with the stakes of each character. I admit, I was looking for a tether to hold onto to guide me along the events of the story, even if it was from an unreliable narrator. However, later, as tensions rise, McGuire dips in and out of the heads of different characters in a more omniscient fashion. This took me out of the story as I tried to find my anchor, my point of consistency. I wish I could have told her, as I’ve told many an author, that she had chosen a POV and stuck to it. An omniscient POV needs to be balanced throughout the book, while a third-person limited POV needs to shift characters only at designated scene or chapter breaks. Otherwise, the shifts and head hopping cause confusion and pull the reader out of the story. I started to wonder for a while whether there was a main character after all.

Not all readers might find my second note of criticism applicable, but I found myself sympathizing much more with one of the side characters than with I did with Nancy. I won’t tell you which one, since it is possible to do this with more than one of the secondary characters. The author might have intended this, to make the reader wonder who done it? Could it have been our narrator, Nancy? She is, after all, beholden to the Lord of the Dead, and she is the first suspect that many of the students look to. However, I felt distanced from Nancy and liked this secondary character enough that I began to wonder who the story was really about.

On a positive note, McGuire deals with this small variety of teens and their differences with a deft hand. The story feels real and engaging. She doesn’t shy away from issues such as gender preference or even asexuality, a topic left out so often in literature that it may as well not exist for a vast majority of readers. Without making the whole story about these issues, she presents it in a genuine light, with some students accepting the differences without batting an eyelash and some using them as points of attack. She covers a lot in such a small book without overshadowing the story or being preachy.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read, a nice step out of my own little world of reading books about wizards, vampires, and fae changelings and into a world of teens struggling to find a place where they belong. Yes, there is a lot of metaphor here, but there is a good story as well.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. This means that I receive a small percentage of sales through these links but at no extra cost to you. My editing, design and consulting services are paid for by clients, but affiliate links help me to provide free blog content, videos, and writing and self-publishing resources for all of my readers.

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Book Review: Outlining Your Novel by K. M. Weiland

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success
K. M. Weiland
PenForASword Publishing, 2011
187 pages. Available in paperback, Kindle, and Audible formats.
Category: Nonfiction, Writing Reference

Over the last year or so, K. M. Weiland has become one of my favorite resources for writing advice and information, and it all started when I read her book, Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success.

When I decided to purchase this book, which promises that “the outline is one of the most powerful weapons in a writer’s arsenal,” I was trying to rejuvenate a story that I had started to write years ago. I thought that an outline would get me on track, like a carrot on a stick. If I had an outline, I would always know where to go next.

The problem was that the only thing that I knew about outlining was the old “I, II, II, A, B, C, i, ii, iii” method that I had learned in high school over two decades ago. I hadn’t found it useful then, and I still don’t. An Amazon search and hundreds of ratings with an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars convinced me to give this book a try.

Weiland’s goals in this book are stated clearly on the cover. Among other things, the book is designed to “help you choose the right type of outline for you,” “aid you in discovering your characters,” and “instruct you in how to use your outline.” Weiland promises to help authors prevent dead-end ideas and provide foreshadowing while dispelling common, crippling misconceptions of the outline in terms of fiction writing.

She delivers on her promises by attacking those misconceptions first thing, covering why outlines don’t require formal formatting (that old I, II, III) and how they can actually expand instead of limit your creativity. She goes on to provide the many benefits of outlining versus my old standby, “pantsing” (in writer speak, flying by the seat of your pants or winging it).

That is all well and good, but I wanted proof, and Weiland delivered. I could tell by Chapter Three that I was going to like this book. After covering the types of outlining and the possible tools that one can use for outlining (from a pen and a spiral notebook to yWriter software), Weiland offers step-by-step, practical tools for creating an outline that works. Some of her steps include:

1. Craft your premise (”But, Ma, what’s a premise?!” Don’t worry, she covers that, too.).
2. Use general sketches to summarize your scenes and explore motive, conflict, and theme.
3. …

While I won’t list everything in the table of contents here, you get my drift. Weiland introduces a concept, defines it, and then gives examples of how to apply it. Surprisingly, she shows the reader not only how to outline the plot and scene structure but also how to use the outline to manage backstory, develop characters with depth, and use the setting to bring “to life not just the scenery but also the characters themselves”—all in a manageable format and a length of only 187 pages.

As a bonus, between the chapters, Weiland includes interviews with different authors with descriptions of their own outlining processes, the benefits and pitfalls of outlining, the times when pantsing might be the best way to go after all, and the biggest contributing factors to successful outlining. The benefit of these sections is to show us as readers—and writers— how many different ways outlining can be used and how various authors have twisted the process to their own ends in so many flexible ways.

If you are anything like me, when you are finished reading this book, you will find a place for it close to your writing station with your other treasured reference tomes, subscribe to Weiland’s blog and maybe even her YouTube channel, and refer to this book over and over again as you develop your own stories.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. This means that I receive a small percentage of sales through these links but at no extra cost to you. My editing, design and consulting services are paid for by clients, but affiliate links help me to provide free blog content, videos, and writing and self-publishing resources for all of my readers.

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