Review: ‘The Cormorant’ by Chuck Wendig

The Cormorant

Miriam is on the road again, having transitioned from “thief” to “killer”.

Hired by a wealthy businessman, she heads down to Florida to practice the one thing she’s good at, but in her vision she sees him die by another’s hand and on the wall written in blood is a message just for Miriam.

She’s expected…

The Cormorant is the third book in the Miriam Black series, and if you’ve read the first two you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into. If you haven’t, and you like sweary, gory, action-driven urban fantasy, it’s worth going back and starting with Blackbirds, if only because it gives you some context for the events in this book. (For example, although Miriam thinks about Louis a lot in The Cormorant, he doesn’t actually make an appearance—at least, not directly.)

This series is unusual in so many ways. For a start, it’s written in the third person present tense. As a style, it really seems to work for action-based books like The Hunger Games. And this. But I did have to switch mental gears, at least at first, to get into it.

The storytelling is gory enough to make any splatter film director proud. At the start of the series Miriam is already violent—she’s homeless and cursed, so who wouldn’t be? By The Cormorant, as the blurb indicates, she’s turned into a sometime murderer as well. Miriam is not a nice girl. She drinks, chain-smokes and has some of the worst language I’ve ever seen in a work of fiction. (There’s also sex. But that bothers me less than people spitting bloody wads of spit at each other. Because ew!)

In Miriam’s defence, though, she’s been screwed by the nastiest urban fantasy superpower yet: if she touches someone, skin-to-skin, she knows when they’re going to die. We’re not just talking about a polite letter from Fate, either; Miriam sees their death in full surround sound HD, with in-built stink and pain. Miriam doesn’t see death. She experiences it. Over and over again.

I’d swear too. Like a sailor.

She definitely qualifies for a kickass leading lady, though. She knows how to fight, and she’s not afraid to fight back—like a feral cat with a pocket knife and, sometimes, a gun. Or her teeth, or forehead, or elbow. I think she’d fight with her pinkie given half the chance and presented with a deserving target.

Over the course of the series, Miriam learns how to mess with fate to save lives, and the plot of The Cormorant is, in a nutshell, Fate getting angry and hitting back. I won’t go into any more detail than that, because spoilers. However, writing a book that involves visions of the future, some of which are largely immutable, presents certain challenges for an author: challenges that Wendig handles with skill. It’s a joy to read.

Also, the end of the book provides an interesting ray of hope for Miriam. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Five stars

Five authors I’d love to invite to dinner

I’m big on making lists at the moment (I’m writing this straight after scheduling a Top Ten Tuesday post), and after reading Chuck Wendig’s excellent post in the wake of the Santa Barbara shooting, I got to thinking about how, as well as being an excellent writer he seems to be a stand up bloke, and how I’d like to buy him a beer or something.

I don’t drink beer, but I can buy it for others.

So, in that vein, here’s my list of the five authors I’d have for dinner. As in invite over to my house, not eat. Or — more likely — take out to dinner at a nice restaurant somewhere, because I can’t cook that well and I wouldn’t want to shame myself. Or poison anyone.

I’m restricting myself to authors I’m not friends with, because otherwise this would be a much longer list. But probably a much wilder party! (Stacey, Lauren, I’m looking at you! 😉 )

Chuck Wendig. For the above reasons, and also because he’s funny. I like a man that can make me laugh and impart excellent writing advice at the same time.

J. K. Rowling. Because the world of Harry Potter is so clever and complex, and I’d love to engage with someone who can achieve such an epic level of world-building. Also because she was a single mother when she wrote it, and we could bond over that. Right? Right?

Stephen King. I’d probably be too terrified to talk to him, because — whatever you think of genre fiction in general and horror specifically — this man is a writing genius. (For the record, I love it but am now scared of clowns. Seriously.) But maybe I could bask in his reflected glory. If I did speak, I’d have to be careful not to utter any adverbs.

Delilah S. Dawson. As well as writing kick-ass steampunk fantasy romance, Delilah is funny and a geek. She’s such a geek she writes geekrotica, WHICH IS TOTALLY HOT YES I MAY HAVE READ IT SHUT UP! (The safe word is “wookiee”.)

Anne McCaffrey. Anne is my first writing love. We could have bubbly pie for dessert. Unfortunately, unless I get a TARDIS to organise this shindig, Anne is no longer available. 😦

I’d also like to add Richard Castle, but apparently he’s not real. *huffs*

Who would you invite to your very own author dinner?

He looks pretty lickable real to me.

He looks pretty lickable real to me.

Top Ten Tuesday: Unique Books


Before I start, I just wanted to send a shout out to the lovely Amber A. Baradan, who tagged me for the writing process blog hop. Sadly, I already did it already, but you all should go visit her and shower her with love.

This week’s theme at The Broke and the Bookish is the ten most unique books I’ve read. This is hard, because there are so many books out there. Just because a book is unique to me, that doesn’t mean there aren’t dozens out there similar to it. I even considered skipping Top Ten Tuesday and posting something else. But I figured this is my blog and this is my list. These books are unique to me, and that will have to do. :p

Pivot PointPivot Point by Kasie West. This book’s main plot device is a girl whose talent is to see two alternate futures, based on a decision she is about to make. The ending took my breath away.

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff. I know I mentioned this book last week, but it’s Steampunk in feudal Japan, with fantasy creatures. It doesn’t get much more unique than that!

Dragoncharm by Graham Edwards. Set in a world with no humans, this book is the first in a trilogy where all the characters are dragons. I’m due to re-read it, now that I think about it!

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. Alternate Earth fantasy with a BDSM twist (a little bit of kink!) and politics that would do Machiavelli proud.

Darkly Dreaming DexterDarkly Dreaming Dexter  by Jeff Lindsay. This is the first book in the series on which the TV show Dexter is based. Although Hannibal Lecter was the first serial killer I read about, he wasn’t the protagonist. Dexter, on the other hand, I could cheer for.

Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh by Katie Hamstead. Intrigue and romance in Ancient Egypt. I’ve read Egypt-like fantasy before (such as Joust by Mercedes Lackey) but not historical fiction.

Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey. This is the first book in a trilogy about Vanyel, the first and only homosexual fantasy protagonist I’ve come across. I love him to pieces.

Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig. Miriam Black, the protagonist in this book, has a filthy mouth and robs the dead. But at least she doesn’t kill them first. This book’s not for the fainthearted.

The Memory GameHarry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling. I’m sure there are dozens — or hundreds — of immatators out there now, but Rowling’s rich world of magic and mystery in a wizard’s school is still the best.

The Memory Game by Sharon Sant. The protagonist in this book, David, dies just before the opening scene. The book deals with his experience as a ghost, haunting the weird girl from school. Heartbreaking stuff.

What would you say is the most unique book you’ve ever read?

My penmonkey evaluation

A couple of days ago on his blog, author and blogger extraordinaire Chuck Wendig posted what he called a penmonkey evaluation—a chance for writers to self-evaluate. I thought it was an interesting exercise so decided I’d do it here. If you decide to evaluate yourself too, please post your blog link in the comments. I’d love to see how others fare.

PenmonkeyWhat’s your greatest strength/skill in terms of writing/storytelling?

Definitely my editing skills. I still have the same problems with being able to impartially view my own work as everyone else, but I think I produce a fairly clean initial draft.

At least grammatically—I make no guarantees as to content!

What’s your greatest weakness in writing/storytelling? What gives you the most trouble?

Transition scenes can die in a fire. I try to avoid them if I can, because I struggle with them so much.

How many books or other projects have you actually finished? What did you do with them?


Isla’s Inheritance – scheduled for release with Turquoise Morning Press in around October 2014

Isla’s Oath – scheduled for release with Turquoise Morning Press in around January 2015

Lucid Dreaming – currently on the agent query world tour

Best writing advice you’ve ever been given? (i.e. really helped you)

After considering all the wonderful advice I’ve received (minimise adverb use, avoid dialogue tags, etc), I couldn’t come up with just one thing I’d rate about the others.

Then I realised it was this, which I got from Mister Wendig himself.

“Just write.”

Writing your first novel is daunting. It’s a bit like mountain climbing solo, or at least what I imagine mountain climbing solo might be like. You have all these tools, and maybe some people to yell at you or inspire you, but you have to do the hard yards yourself. Each step can be torturous. There’s a risk of avalanches, and of being eaten by wolves.

But the feeling when you get to the top is ah-MAY-zing, and the next mountain you climb is just that little bit easier.

Even if you only manage to write 200 words in a session and it’s like squeezing blood from granite, that’s still another step forward.

Worst writing advice you’ve ever been given? (i.e. didn’t help at all, may have hurt)

“The beginning is critical. If you don’t hook your reader, or that agent or editor, you’re screwed.”

This is not inherently bad advice. It’s actually very true. But where it tangled me up was when I was starting that mountain climb on my first book. I knew how critical the beginning was, and I felt from the start that mine had issues. I got so hung up on getting the beginning right that it took me a very long time—embarrassingly long—to move on with writing, you know, the rest of the book.

The reason this is bad advice is because I fixated on it at the wrong time: during drafting rather than editing. When you’re drafting, just draft.

One piece of advice you’d give other writers?

You can edit badly written words. You can’t edit a blank page.

Just write.

In other news, on Tuesday I was over at Marcy Peska’s blog, doing an interview about writing dialogue. Yes, I was talking about writing about talking.

On themes and dinosaur bones

I’ve written almost three novels now, but I’ve never consciously developed a story’s theme as I was writing it. I always felt a little guilty about that, because everyone tells me that theme is one of those things that binds a story together. Like grammar, or pacing, or dialogue tags.

My current work in progress is at 69k words (dude) and I’m at the start of the final confrontation scene. I’m having a moment of what I could call writer’s block, except I don’t feel blocked—I feel more like an archaeologist who’s revealed a small part of the skeleton and is dusting away at it with a little brush to reveal HOLY CRAP IT’S A FREAKING DINOSAUR!

The final scene of my book: an artist's impression (image from Wiki commons)

The final scene of my book: an artist’s impression (image from Wiki commons)

The reason I wouldn’t call it writer’s block has a couple of elements:

1. I know which characters are involved in the scene, and what the inter-personal dynamics are.

2. I know who is going to win and what the final outcome will be.

What I don’t have yet is the how. How are they going to win? I’ve been pondering this for a couple of days, and it dawned on me that the other thing I know about the scene is that I want them to win not by dint of awesome superpowers (I write urban fantasy, so there are a few of those kicking around) but by virtue of accessing the part of them that is human.

And then I realised tonight, HOLY CRAPBISCUITS! THAT’S MY BOOK’S THEME!

In fact, it’s been a theme of all three of my books—both of Isla’s stories and this latest one (which is about a different character).

My books are about people struggling with what it is to be human and other, and to become an adult, all at the same time. And that’s kind of cool.

Although maybe not for my characters.

As is often the case, Chuck Wendig says it best. (Check out point three: apparently I don’t have to feel bad about not writing it in consciously after all. Phew!)

Now excuse me—I have to go back to dusting these dinosaur bones.

Brake and accelerate: writing advice from Chuck Wendig

One of the things I struggle with as a writer is pacing. My first book needed major editorial surgery—after pointy-edged feedback from various folks, whom I owe for their insight and honesty—before I was able to get it right. It was less a problem of exposition in my case but of description. I was describing a lot of things, but many of them were the wrong things. What a room looked like, rather than what the character was feeling. Boring stuff, not the juicy stuff a reader really wants to know. Yawn.

So when Chuck Wendig posted his latest advice blog post, 50 Rantypants Snidbits Of Random Writing & Storytelling Advice, this one particularly struck me.

Know what speeds your story up and what slows it down. Dialogue is lubricant: frictionless. Description is grit: friction-filled. Action is a coked-up jackrabbit; exposition is a tired sloth. Short chapters are a bottle rocket; long chapters are a big boat. A story is the slowness of alcohol with the swiftness of meth; sometimes a story needs oxygen to breathe. Sometimes a story needs oxygen to light things on fire. Tension/recoil. Momentum/restriction. Green light. Red light.

Because I love writing dialogue, now I suspect I’ll need to guard against going too far the other way—too fast instead of too slow. (Of course, this is a problem to deal with when you’re editing, not drafting. When you draft, just get it down any way it falls out of your hands or mouth.)

Anyway, follow Chuck Wendig’s blog. Even if profanity offends you (and, believe me, he doles that out like Halloween sweets), follow his blog. He’s cussing you out for your own good. :p


A three-haiku story…

Chuck Wendig issued a flash fiction challenge today: use three simple haikus (the 5/7/5 structure we all did at school) to tell a single story. He’s giving away some writing e-books; if you want to enter, go here.

Here’s my dodgy little contribution, which is also posted on his page, but I thought I’d share it here. I wrote it about Canberra’s 2003 firestorm. That was a hell of a day…

Sirens wail alarms.
The firestorm approaches;
the sky turns to ash.

Trails of cars snake free
of flaming suburbia.
Will their homes survive?

Some lose everything.
Others are more fortunate.
The city rebuilds.