Under My Skin by A.E. Dooland

When was the last time a book hooked you so deeply you actually worried about the characters when you weren’t reading?

“I’m writing because I wish these stories had been available for me to read when I was dealing with some tough identity issues, and I want them to be available to other people who are struggling.” — A.E. Dooland

 

 

I found Under My Skin sort of by accident.  I was looking for fiction that featured nonbinary/transgender characters and I was drawn in by the fun, playful cover.  I have a weakness for sweet LGBTQ romance stories and that is what I expected here. (I did notice that the book is much longer than most romance novels, and that gave me a moment of pause.) By the time I realized that Under My Skin was a lot more than that — not the breezy lighthearted romance I expected — I was too in love to quit.

Fair warning:  This book disrupted my sleep cycle for several nights running.  I simply could not stop reading.  And it does have its breezy, wonderful romantic moments — a lot of them.  But they’re set in a story about the price of hiding who you really are (from the world and yourself) and the cost of coming out (to the world and to yourself.)

Ming Lee is a Korean/Australian woman living in Sydney.  She has a great job in the marketing department of an international mining corporation, a boyfriend who is almost too perfect, and a comfortable home that she loves.

But underneath the surface, she is restless and unsatisfied. She has extreme body issues, almost no social life, and has been drinking too much.  When she paints a portrait of herself as a man, it sets off a series of events that will change everything in her life.

Part of the power of this novel is the main character.  I was in love with Ming from the start — not just sympathetic or interested — head over heels in love.  Then comes her best friend at work, Sarah, her incredibly perceptive (except where it really counts) boyfriend Henry, and Bree — a troubled schoolgirl force of nature who finds Ming’s paintings on Deviant Art and storms into her life like a hurricane. All these characters quickly became friends that I cared about and rooted for.

And there are a couple I could really hate.

As Ming’s life spirals more and more out of control, there were parts of this novel so intense I had to put the book (ok, the e-reader) down — and then I just continued to worry about the characters and be anxious about what would happen to them until I went back.  It’s kind of a cliché to say a story made you laugh and cry, but this one did — and hit just about every emotion in between.

So, even though this is a long book, I never once felt bored or thought that it went on too long.  I didn’t want it to end.

Which is good because there are two more books in this series.  Flesh and Blood, which is a sequel, continuing Ming’s story, and Solve for ί, which deals with some of the supporting characters from Under My Skin.

I totally intend to read them both.  But I need to catch my breath for a moment first.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Books that Helped Me on the Road to Publishing My First Novel

I recently published my first novel A Land of Iron and that accomplishment would not have been possible without A LOT of help from A LOT of people — some of whom I never actually met.  I’ve spent most of my life reading books about writing (I wore out at least two copies of John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction because for years it was my favorite bedtime read.)

So in no particular order, I would like to recognize a few of the books that were most useful to me over the last couple of years when I’ve really gotten serious about my writing.  Specifically, these are some of the books without which I don’t think A Land of Iron would exist.

I was resistant to the ideas in Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering at first — prepared to fight to the death against the assertion that there is one true, effective story structure that all successful fiction adheres to.  I’m still not sure I really believe that, but I came to realize it doesn’t matter.  My empirical side won out over my idealogue and I tested out Brooks’ ideas for myself.  What do you know, they worked.

It wasn’t really anything I hadn’t seen before.  His presentation of story structure is drawn heavily from screenwriting — although instead of the typical (and for me, not very useful) three-act structure many books promote, Brooks divides a story’s structure into four quartiles, each with its specific requirements and tent-posts, and characterized by the nature of the protagonist’s journey in that quarter of the story.  Despite his tendency to be long-winded and repeat things more often than is really necessary, Brooks managed to present this idea in a very practical, ready to apply manner that changed my writing process completely.  I went from being a pantser who scribbled notes to himself as he went along and frequently wrote himself into corners, to a devoted outliner who now finishes almost everything he starts.

In addition to story-structure, Brooks also does a very good job of explaining the difference between a simple idea and a premise that can support a novel (or screenplay).  And his take on “three-dimensional” characters and what that means is unique and very useful.

The follow-up book to Story Engineering is called Story Physics.  It is more scattershot than the first book, not nearly as focused or useful overall.  But I did get from that book a wonderful nine-sentence outline that I still use as the first stage in mapping a project.

 

Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker is a totally different kind of writing book.  Hawker is an indie writer, mostly of historical fiction, (see here) and Pants is  geared to that world.  This is a book for writers who need to learn how to write well and write fast — which is what the modern Indie publishing scene requires.  To write clean, structurally solid first drafts that minimize the time spent on later revisions requires planning and outlining.  Hawker’s model, combined with some ideas I got from Chris Fox (see his video series on outlining here) helped me learn to flesh out ideas quickly, making sure all the necessary elements were present.

 

 

Speaking of Chris Fox, he has a new book out called Plot Gardening, which I admit I haven’t read yet.  But all of his books on writing are valuable and well worth checking out.  Especially 5000 Words Per Hour and Write to Market.

 

 

 

Finally (for now) something totally different.  Guido Henkel’s Zen of eBook Formatting is unique.  Henkel’s blog on game design, layout, typography and related topics is always fascinating (find it here).  A few years ago he published a series of posts on formatting ebooks yourself, using HTML. It’s a more laborious and time-intensive process than exporting your manuscript in ebook format from Scrivener or Word — but it’s also precise, elegant and affords a level of control those other methods can’t touch.

Fair warning, it can be aggravating, frustrating and is likely to induce fits of despair (especially if your HTML/CSS skills are as rusty as mine were) — but if you’re a writer you’re already familiar with those parts of the creative cycle.  I used Henkel’s book as my guide and built the book version of Land of Iron from scratch, including visuals and chapter title designs.  I’m very proud of the finished product.

That’s only a small sample of the books and articles that have helped me get to where I am today — which is just beginning.  In future posts, I hope to share more.

 

Cover Reveal
and
Launch Day Announcement!

My new novel A Land of Iron is launching on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited on May 5th!

A Land of Iron

 

Rebecca Westbrooke has spent her life caring for the ranch her father built. Refusing to marry for security, she fights to hold on to the family legacy in the face of a falling market, sabotage, and pressure from those who would prefer to see her lands controlled by a man.

Lucas Westbrooke (born Lucy) walked away from the family, determined to earn respect with a quick draw and a deadly aim. Hiding a secret the outside world does not suspect, and the hometown will never forget.

But when a dime novelist starts asking questions about their father and the range war that forged his empire, the siblings are drawn back into the crimes of the past. And when those questions lead to murder, they must work together to unravel the truth about their father’s death — a truth someone is willing to kill to keep buried.

Available on Amazon