Nobody ever said death would be easy…
From the streets of Melbourne to the bowels of Westminster, the delicate balance between life and death that is so painstakingly maintained by the reapers of The Order of Dark and Light is being tested by the return of an ancient threat. Tensions are rising within the hidden world of The Shadowlands and if this threat is not contained war will be inevitable. And the destruction of the human world is bound to follow in its wake.
Amidst this tension, eighteen year-old Sachi Manning is struggling to cope with the grief and guilt that has plagued her ever since her best friend was murdered six months earlier—that is, until she spots him seemingly alive and well and being held at scythe point by a hooded figure who looks more like a GQ model than the Grim Reaper.
Sachi shouldn’t be able to see through the glamours that shield Shadowlanders from the human world, so the reaper in question wants some answers. And so begins the craziest couple of weeks of Sachi’s life as she is drawn into a world of mysteries, magic, monsters, and mayhem, encountering dragons, faeries, soul-sucking demons, not-so-grim reapers, and even the Horseman of Death.
With a mix of heart, humour and hair-raising action, Out of the Shadows is the adventure of an afterlifetime, perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare and Kresley Cole.
The first thing I should note is that I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review. Those who’ve read my review policy know that I don’t normally agree to such requests, so when Ashlee approached me I quietly snuck away and read the first couple of chapters of the book on Amazon before committing to anything. Just in case. 😉
I’m glad I took the chance, though, because I loved Out of the Shadows. Sashi’s world is amazingly complex, full of supernatural creatures, competing factions and a complicated process for managing what happens to souls when they die. It’s mostly set in Melbourne, and I loved the Aussie touch (although the reapers, the main supernatural faction to which we’re exposed, can teleport, so there are scenes in New York, London and elsewhere — it’s a bit like Paula Weston’s Rephaim series in that regard).
Sashi, the main character, is Australian-born but with Japanese ancestry. She is tiny and fiery and quick with a joke. Her voice was one of my favourite things about this story — she had me giggling more than once at one observation or another. For example, it’s a bit of an urban fantasy trope that supernatural leading men are all ripped hotties. At one point, Sashi actually calls some of the lads out on it, asking if there’s a pill or something, subtly undercutting the trope while leaving the eye candy safely intact for our reading pleasure.
My other favourite character is the reaper Moss, again just because he is hilarious. He and Sashi quite often have movie quote exchanges, and every T-shirt he owns has a funny line on the front. Given my own T-shirt collection, I approved. (Oh, and Beelzebub, Prince of Hell, is hysterical too, in a “I suspect he’s unstable and might start killing folks at any moment” kind of way.)
I know I’ve talked a lot about the humour, because it was one of my favourite things about the book, but I should also mention that Out of the Shadows has its darker moments. There’s a supernatural conspiracy going on, one with a body count and a reach that I can only guess at from the first book. There are plot twists I didn’t see coming, and one exceptionally sad and shocking moment that was a dagger to the old feels.
For those wondering about the quality of the writing itself (always a valid question for small press and self-published works), I can confirm that Ashlee writes beautifully. I did see a handful of places where I’d do something different with commas, but they are the sort of things that only a sharp copyeditor is likely to notice … and I’ve seen books published by traditional presses with similar mistakes.
The only reason this isn’t a five-star read for me is that occasionally I got a little overwhelmed by the number of different factions. I was able to track the characters fairly easily but, because I read this as an ebook, I couldn’t easily flick back to earlier to remind myself of the differences between all the different types of reaper, for example.
Still, the confusion was temporary and didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the story. I’m very keen to read the next instalment in the series.
Regular readers of my blog will know that my full-time job is as an editor. You’d think that I’d be fully across all the various, ugly, beautiful permutations of English and its stupid-arse spelling.
You’d be wrong.
What brought this to my attention most recently is that in my latest manuscript I spelled “lightning” wrong. Like, every single time. My finger itches to put an e in there, but noooooooo, that would be the verb meaning to make something lighter. As in, “The lightning is lightening the sky.”
Now, to be fair, since I don’t work for the BOM, I don’t read about lightning in my job very much — so it isn’t something I’ve had trained out of me. But still, I did want to pull my hair out a little bit.
Here are some other examples of the ways that English is trolling us:
Alter / altar. One is the verb meaning “to change”; the other is a sacred table or platform at which religious offerings are made.
Baited / bated. One is describing something with bait (such as worms) attached. The other means “restrained” (with relation to breathing) — so the phrase “with bated breath” means with held breath, not with a mouthful of raw prawns. On behalf of all those romance heroines out there, I think we can say that’s a relief.
Blonde / blond. I gather this one is the fault of French, which has gendered adjectives. There, blonde is feminine and blond is masculine. In English, that’s sorta kinda true, but the application varies; my former publishing house’s convention was that “blond” was the adjective that describes hair colour and “a blonde” is a woman with blond hair.
Compliment / complement. The first is a nice thing someone says about you; the second has a bunch of meanings but generally relates to something that completes a thing or makes it perfect.
Climatic / climactic. One relates to weather; the other is the, er, climax of something. I have seen the wrong one used. Who knew weather could be so exciting?
Discreet / discrete. The first is wise, prudent or judicious; the second is detached or distinct. (I still have to look this one up every time.)
Exercise / exorcise. The first is physical activity and the second is to drive out an evil spirit — possibly in response to having seen me exercise! (Scary stuff.)
Grizzly / grisly. The first is something grey or a type of bear (but not a type of bare!). The second is something gruesome.
A sanction can be both authoritative permission and a provision of a law that enacts a penalty for disobedience — so two things that are OPPOSITE to one another. And in my dictionary, at least, as a verb it always means to approve or ratify something — so sentences such as “the UN sanctioned X country for breaching Resolution 1234” are actually saying that the UN approved the country’s actions rather than punishing it. Oh, UN, you so crazy.
Storey / story. One is a floor of a building; the other is a tale we tell ourselves. (This one’s not for US readers, who I gather use “story” for both…?)
So, all of that being the case, how do you avoid your writing being full of hilariously climaxing environments and buildings where each floor is a tale (but not a tail) of wonder (but not wander)? The answer is at once deceptively simple and also a lifelong job:
- Read a lot
- Own (and use) a current-edition dictionary of the specific English variant you’re using
- Proofread your work (I noticed an incorrect “it’s” when I proofread this blog post — gah!)
- Proofread it again (I did)
- Have someone else proofread your work — copy editors are worth their weight (not wait) in gold
- Make a list of words you know you get confused, and then double-check their usage whenever you see (not sea) them
What’s your favourite pair of words that are usually mixed up? Are they about meeting the principled principal? Having dessert in the desert? Eliciting illicit activity? I need (not knead) to know now!
Today I’m over at Aussie Owned and Read, talking about writing prompts – two-to-three-sentence ideas to get your imagination firing and your fingers flying over the keyboard. (Or your pen waggling, if that’s more your thing.) Please drop by , say hi, and join in the conversation! 🙂
As I blogged about a couple of months ago, I’m a big Pinterest user. I have almost 2000 pins, and Pinterest has started suggesting pins I might like based on my boards. I think it might also be based on what I’ve pinned recently, which can end up in a spiral of me pinning what they suggest, so they suggest more of it … but since most of that is either Doctor Who or Firefly, I don’t mind too much. 😉
One of my boards is on writing. Originally it was just funny writing quotes, including motivational posters, but recently I’ve expanded the definition to include the occasional inspirational quote.
But most of what Pinterest suggests for this particular board are actually writing prompts, which got me to…
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This week I’ve been on a long-anticipated mini writing retreat. Only I didn’t stay in a house by the beach, or in a rainforest cabin, but in my own home. I took this week off work, which meant that because of the public holiday on Monday I had four days where my son was at school and I could write in peace and quiet.
And it was basically the best week ever.
For a start, I got to drop the boy off for class every day. Usually he goes to before-school care because I work full time and, although he loves it, we’ve both really enjoyed me being able to walk him up to the playground where they do the morning “meet and greet”. We’ve gotten there early every day so I could get a carpark, and even though it’s been below freezing as often as not he’s enjoyed showing me around the place, playing games while I watch, and insisting I listen to the announcements every morning. (I think so I have to suffer as much as he does?)
Another awesome thing is that, the one time I was exhausted after a writing stint, I was able to have a nap before I picked him up. And I also got to read in peace and quiet.
But the best part was all the wording that happened. I wrote over 9000 words during the past four days (I’m hoping to sneak in another thousand on the weekend, because … round numbers.) Given I usually manage 2000 at best in a week, I’m over the moon about that. My current WIP has been in progress since October last year, so I’m mad keen to get it finished.
I’m not quite there. But I’m close. So close. I should be able to knock it off in the next few weeks.
And then there will be celebrating. Oh yes.
The only sad thing about all this, of course, is that I’m back at work next week, which means it’s back to my usual snail’s pace. So if someone could see their way clear to paying me to write full time, that’d be awesome! [INSERT PLEA FOR PEOPLE TO BUY AND/OR REVIEW MY BOOKS HERE KTHXBAI]
For those of you reading this who are writers, have you ever been on a writing retreat, genuine or otherwise? Was it as awesome as mine?
Before I finish, in case you missed it, last Tuesday I was at Aussie Owned and Read, talking about ellipses and semicolons. It was really interesting, I promise! Check it out.
Today’s guest post is by the fabulous Lauren K. McKellar, who is one of my favourite contemporary authors. If you think that’s a big call, go read one of her books and see for yourself! — Cass
Like many authors, I love books. I was that kid who’d read in the car on long holiday trips – hell, I’d read at the bus stop when I was two minutes early on the trip to school! For as long as I can remember I’ve loved to read, read, read!
The same could be said for writing. I wrote my first novel at age ten, and I filled up three 520-page exercise books with my hand-written story about a group of teenagers who were bullying my protagonist – and then she found out they were witches!
Since then, I’ve definitely progressed. Obviously I type primarily on a keyboard now, because who has time for handwriting and then transcribing? I stopped writing fiction for approximately ten years, and then returned to it about three years ago. I did NaNoWriMo, and boy, did I learn so much. I learnt how no first draft, second draft, third draft, hell, often no fourth draft is ever going to be good enough – you need to work to be good at this craft.
I learnt all about beta reading, and things such as good story and character arc, and the importance of growth. I drafted a few stories, and one was even picked up by a publisher, which was fabulous, but I think my big light-bulb moment came after reading a lot of NA books – think Tamara Webber, Colleen Hoover, Abbi Glines … it was like I suddenly found direction. I wanted to make people feel things when I put pen to paper. And that’s when I wrote The Problem With Crazy.
It has certainly gotten easier as time has gone on, although I’ll admit, writing a series was a little tricky for me and I found it to be somewhat difficult, especially since Eleven Weeks takes place at the same time as The Problem With Crazy. There was a lot of fact checking going on!
Now, I wouldn’t go back for anything! While I took some time off writing last year (to get married and change jobs) this year I am back in action, and have written two books in the last three months. Here’s hoping to many more over the course of the next eleven!
About the Crazy in Love series
The Crazy in Love series consists of three titles: The Problem With Crazy, Eleven Weeks and The Problem With Heartache.
The Problem With Crazy
Lauren K. McKellar is an author and editor. Her debut novel, Finding Home, was released through Escape Publishing on October 1, 2013, and her second release, NA Contemporary Romance The Problem With Crazy, is self-published, and is available now. She loves books that evoke emotion, and hope hers make you feel.
Lauren lives by the beach in Australia with her husband and their two dogs. Most of the time, all three of them are well behaved.
I’m halfway through drafting a historical fantasy inspired by Ancient Greece. I’ve had this idea in my head for two years — since before I wrote either Lucid Dreaming or Melpomene’s Daughter — and I’d dedicated a lot of daydreaming hours to it. I mean a lot. So I knew the story pretty well.
Or at least, I thought I did until this week, when I had a bit of a crisis.
I’ve done all the setup. My plot notes got me to where I’m at, and they just sort of … stopped. It was basically:
- the characters do something cool
- there’s a big battle with the bad guy
- the end
IT WAS A PLOTTER’S NIGHTMARE.
I lamented this to a friend of mine. Peter is my alpha reader. He doesn’t provide advice on the “girly bits”. (I think they make him roll his eyes.) But what he does do is tell me when he thinks the villains aren’t being villainous enough, or when they don’t seem to have considered an obvious flaw in their bad guy plan.
When I was struggling with the length of Lucid Dreaming — it was on track to being around twenty thousand words too short — Peter was the one who said, “Well, if I were that bad guy in that situation, this is what I would do.” (So when that book comes out later this year, you know who to blame for one of the plot twists. Just btw.)
So if I’d have thought about it, I’d have realised what his answer would be to my whinge: take it back to the bad guy. What’s his story? What is he trying to do while the characters are trying to foil him? I hadn’t really considered it, because the bad guy in this story is a bound demon. He’s sort of … static. It’s not like he can wander around. But, even bound, he is driving some of the plot. I just had to figure out how. And what.
I sat down on Friday and wrote out the backstory from the demon’s point of view. I brainstormed what the implications were as a result of that, and then detailed what he wanted to happen next. Of course, I already knew a lot of this, but writing seven pages of notes really clarified things for me.
As a result of all this villainous brainstorming, I came up with a new and exciting plot twist, and figured out what the “something cool” is that the characters need to do. I’ve got a road map. Of course, I still have to write it out and, characters being characters, we’ll no doubt take some detours. But at least I know roughly what the journey will be.
There’s nothing more frustrating to me as a reader than a book where the main characters have no agency, where they spend all their time being reactive. Maybe as a result of that, I’d gone too far the other way with this story; I knew I wanted my characters to be driving the plot, but I’d forgotten about the inevitable pushback that should come from the bad guy driving his own plot in the other direction.
Because although my good guys might not agree, it’s no fun when the bad guys are a total pushover. Amirite?
I had a moment of personal clarity the other day.
I’ve often thought that I was pretty Zen about my position in the writing world. I don’t have an agent or a publishing contract with a big press, but I don’t lie awake at night comparing myself to others who do have those things. If I did, then I’d have to look no further for angst than Jay Kristoff, who I’ve known for more than a decade. He’s been very successful with his Lotus War trilogy, and was able to quit work to write fulltime (basically every writer’s dream ever) after he signed the contract for Illuminae. Another good friend of mine, Stacey Nash, has a three-book deal (yay!) with a Harper Collins digital imprint. (And one of her books came out a few days ago.)
The thing is, I’m genuinely happy for these people, both of whom are entirely deserving. I don’t even feel a twinge of jealousy — I actually find it inspirational. Back when I was at uni, I had a very dour lecturer who told all the wannabe writers in the room that, as Australians, we’d never ever be able to quit work to write fulltime (unless we wrote romance).
I’d like to be able to rub Jay’s success in her face. Maybe with a copy of Endsinger, which is 600 pages and rather heavy. 😉
But then I realised when I was chatting to someone a few days ago that there is one thing that I am really jealous about. If I dwell on it, it actually makes me a little depressed. It’s not the end result of the book deal and the agent that triggers this reaction me.
It’s the speed at which some people write.
I’m a slow drafter, although I’m getting better. Isla’s Inheritance took over a year to draft; I was averaging maybe 2000 words a month and, because it was the first book I wrote, I was still feeling my way through the process. That means I wrote a couple of chapters that were ultimated scrapped (sob). With Isla’s Oath, I doubled my word goal, but it still took the better part of a year. With my most recent manuscripts, Melpomene’s Daughter and Lucid Dreaming, I set myself a goal of 2000 words a week and finished the first drafts in around seven months. These were also much cleaner drafts than my debut was, meaning there was less work to do in the editing stages.
Still, that’s just a first draft. Looking at all the reading and re-reading, and re-re-reading that happens during the editing process, it’s more like a year for me to produce something polished. And by comparison, Chuck Wendig – who is a fulltime writer – writes 2000 words a day.
When I see people who are releasing two or three books a year, the envy is strong in this one. I’ve got three books coming out in 2015, but that’s because Isla’s Inheritance and Isla’s Oath were done before I signed with TMP. I definitely won’t be maintaining the “several books a year” schedule after 2015.
It’s even more sobering when I see articles and posts by indie authors who talk about how you need to release at least two books a year to maintain momentum, keep your fans keen. I try to do the things “they” say, but this one’s beyond me. There’s not a lot I can do to write faster than I am now. I work thirty-five hours a week and I’m a single mother, which means the only times I get to write are after my son goes to bed, or occasionally on the weekend if I decide to let him have a “lazy day” in front of the TV or on the Wii. (I feel guilty when I do that, but a wise friend once told me that it’s important to let your kids see you pursue your goals.)
The other factor in my jealousy is that I have other book ideas I’d love to be working on. I went through my plot bunny notebook the other day, and there were ideas in there for four novels, two novellas (both for my Tammy Calder pen name) and a short story. One of the novel ideas is actually plotted out, down to character details; the rest are in the embryonic stage but could get there with a little bit of time and energy.
It should be said that I’m happy for others who are able to publish more than one book a year. Delighted. Being crazy jealous that they can do it doesn’t make me less pleased for them! And I know that the mere fact of having written a book — more than one — and then seeing it published it is a massive deal. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved to date and look forward to doing more of the same.
Thinking about it, I suppose jealousy can actually be a good thing. It’s a kick up the backside, a goad to action. And even though I’m not sure what else I can do to increase my productivity, it does at least keep me thinking about ideas to do so. It’s also an awesome spur to get my butt in the chair to write when I do have the opportunity.
So that’s my confession. I found my green-eyed monster: it was down the back of the couch this whole time!
Also, I realise this post is a bit of a ramble. It’s more me thinking aloud (well, on screen) than anything else. But I thought putting this out there might help other writers who feel the same way I do.
Some of you do feel this way, right?
Warning: this is a long post. I have my rantypants on.
So there was a(nother) scandal in the YA world this week. An author going by the pen name of Stacey Jay — I gather she writes romance too, under another name — set up a Kickstarter project to try and fund the second book in her YA series. She apparently published her first book traditionally, but the sales weren’t enough to make the publisher want to go ahead with the series. However, they were enough that she could make a viable go of the sequel if she self-published it.
So she set up a Kickstarter, attempting to raise enough money to cover the costs of a cover artist, editing, layout, etc. As part of that, she also included the cost of her time to write the book. She did this because writing is her sole source of income, and because if she was going to take time out from other paying projects to write the sequel, she’d need to be able to feed her kids. You can see the Kickstarter here.
This started a bit of a storm on Twitter. I didn’t see it myself at the time, but I’m told that there was some discussion about the struture of the Kickstarter rewards, some about the idea of wages vs advances vs preorders, some on whether Kickstarter is the program to use at all, and some about the ethics of asking for the cost of living as part of the price of writing a book.
Regardless of the intent behind some of the discussion (I spoke to one person who said it was mostly a discussion about the system), some of it was vitriolic (“who does she think she is?!”), and Stacey Jay took it as an attack. She cancelled the Kickstarter. Her blog post went viral, and a lot of big names latched onto that last point of discussion, about writers being fairly remunerated for their work. Chuck Wendig and Laura Lam blogged about it. Maggie Stiefvater retweeted the blog with a comment saying she agreed 100%.
Then Chuck Wendig tweeted something I’d seen others tweet, although not in the same words:
He was accused of sarcastically subtweeting a group of women, and of being sexist.
This left me scratching my head, because I hadn’t been aware that the bulk of the discussion about the Kickstarter had been by women. I suppose if I’d considered it, I would have realised, because most YA authors are women. But until then, it didn’t seem to have been a factor.
Still, the subject of authors being paid (in money, not “exposure”) isn’t exactly a women’s issue, so the gender makeup of the two sides of the debate shouldn’t be a barrier to others taking part in a discussion arising from it. The fact that the bulk of the discussion was on one issue, rather than the full spectrum of the original discussion … well, that’s just how conversations work. They don’t always go the way we want them to, especially online.
Sidenote: The claim that Chuck Wendig has a big megaphone to broadcast with because he is a man is undermined by the fact that Maggie Stiefvater — who has almost twice as many Twitter followers — said the same thing. I’m not saying that his white male status hasn’t helped him along the way in his career, because there’s no doubt that privilege shortens your odds in the “luck” part of the success equation, but I’d suggest hard work, clever marketing and talent play big role in his success too. And Chuck is the first person to admit he has received “hetronormative white dude” advantages. His self-awareness earns him mad props in my eyes.
Anyway, yesterday, Stacey Jay tweeted the following.
She’s been doxxed.
(If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s when someone hacks or does intensive research on a target and then publishes their personal details online. Wiki has a page defining it.)
I saw her tweets this morning, my time, and wanted to Hulksmash something. I feel sick. Really ill, and so bad for Stacey Jay that it hurts. Because this isn’t about the pros and cons of asking for money to cover your bills anymore, or whether Patreon is better than Kickstarter, or whether a $20 reward including promo material was poor form. This is about someone’s privacy being violated.
Regardless of what you think of authors using Kickstarter to fund writing a book, we can all agree that doxxing someone is a dick move, yes?
To be clear, I don’t think for a second that the person behind the doxxing was one of those involved in the original discussion. No doubt some “hacktivist” shit-stirrer saw the scandal and decided to make a name for themselves in the cyber community by targeting Stacey Jay.
And this is where I think sexism has played a part, moreso than in the original tall poppy syndrome or the commentary around it. Because doxxing someone contains an implicit threat. I know where you live. It’s been used a lot by the less savoury side of the GamerGate scandal, to try and shut up those on the opposite side. Usually, it must be said, it’s used to target women.
I hope Stacey Jay reports the doxxing to the police and they are able to find the perpetrator — although I’m not optimistic about that. I hope she can find some peace after all this. I even hope that she reactivates the Kickstarter to take advantage of the publicity all this has caused, although given the doxxing I doubt she will. If I were her, I wouldn’t.
And the truth is that I’m scared to post this, because I’m a female on social media, and I’m afraid of drawing the wrong sort of attention. Of having people leave vindictive negative reviews on my book, or of being doxxed myself. Because it has happened to others.
But seeing others doxxed and being cowed by that makes you collateral damage from the original attack. It’s completely messed up. This is what #YesAllWomen is about.
And that is my rant.
This is a great analogy for a writing career. I’ve never really been someone that expected to win the lottery in any case!
Publishing books is like investing, NOT like winning the lottery.
Of course, we all wish it was. It would be nice to write your debut novel, see it published, and suddenly it becomes an overnight success, but chances are that’s not going to happen.
Hopefully, what really happens is that you write a book, gain some fans, make some sales, and write another book.
Each book you write is an investment in your future, and your career. When you save for retirement, do you put $100 on a stock and hope it grows to a million? Noooo. You save over time, build on what you have, and diversify your portfolio.
Publishing books is very similar. You have to keep writing books, keeping depositing into your writing portfolio, and keep growing your audience.
I realized this when I released the first two novellas in my Highborn Chroniclesa few months ago…
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