Category Archives: blog

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

Odd Corners of the Multiverse 5/10/17

I often tell people that my roots as a storyteller are sunk deep in comic books and soap operas. Inside, I’m still the kid that compulsively collected every issue of comic book series I was interested in and scheduled my freshman college courses around General Hospital so I could keep up with Luke and Laura. I’ve always been a sucker for any kind of continuing storyline — so much so that I actually try to be careful what TV shows I start watching or what comic strips I start reading. There’s only so many hours in a day.

A case in point, I recently came across this

Picture Source: The CW

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12366721/1/Realizations

Like me, you probably didn’t know you needed a novel length Kara Danvers/Lena Luthor romance, complete with an engaging mystery plot. But here it is. I was absolutely hooked from the first installment.

And that’s the real joy and danger of the Internet/Netflix age for someone like me. Never before in history has there been such a flood of entertainment available. As a life-long television junkie, who remembers the day where there were only five channels on my television — one of which was PBS and another the local channel that showed only re-runs of old shows — I am constantly floored by the sheer volume of really good television available today. No matter what your genre is, there is literally so much good television out there that you cannot watch it all. It’s impossible. I’ve tried.

The same is true, now, in publishing. The advent of Amazon, ebooks, Kindle Unlimited, and other platforms means there is a glut of reading material available. The common wisdom is that most self-published fiction is badly written and poorly edited — and there’s enough truth in that to keep the attitude alive. Honestly, though, Theodore Sturgeon long ago observed that “90% of everything is crap”, and while I’ve always thought that estimate was a little too high, it applies here. Yes, there’s a lot of dreck out there — manuscripts that should never have been released to the public. But there’s a lot of incredible, quirky, original stuff out there too which is a joy to read and which would never have reached an audience in the old publishing paradigm.

Take this for instance.

Extra Credit Epidemic, by Nina Post. A young adult novel centering around an outbreak of food poisoning, featuring Taffy Snackerge, a teen obsessed with infectious diseases and picking up girls.  All she wants to do is track down the source of the outbreak, but her mentor, an eccentric teacher with issues of his own, forces her to work with two other misfit students, the neurotically neat President of the Young Attachés Club, and a boy who can’t go anywhere in public without wearing a Mexican wrestling mask.   Part mystery, part teen romance, part coming-of-age story, I guarantee you’ve never read anything like this before.  I absolutely loved it.   And it comes from Curiosity Quills Press — one of the quirkiest and most unique small presses around.

Or this:

Otters in Space: The Search for Cat Havana by Mary E. Lowd.  Imagine a world where humans have disappeared.  Dogs are mostly in charge, leaving Cats as second class citizens.  The Dogs even have a religion about the First Race, believing that humans will return to take them along to the stars.  Meanwhile, Otters have built their own space program.  They control the orbiting space station which is the gateway to the Solar System.    Kipper is a Cat who doesn’t like the way things are but doesn’t know how to change them.  When her sister, who is running for local office, disappears, Kipper takes off to find her.  Accompanied by the Dog thug hired to kill her, Kipper unravels a conspiracy that will lead her to the Otter space station — and maybe to a secret Cat utopia where they can live free of Dogs.  Otters in Space is endlessly creative in the way only the best science fiction is, filled with charming, unusual, fully realized characters that will tug at your heartstrings at every turn.  One of my favorite books of the last few years.

And while I’m on the subject of Mary E. Lowd, she has become one of my favorite authors, and one I don’t know how I ever would have found in the old days — before the internet, ebooks and the like.   I would encourage everyone to check out the Free Fiction page on her website.

And I couldn’t wind up my post without mentioning this:  My Best New Thing in the World for the past month.   The famous detective Dick Tracy attending a cosplay convention with his granddaughter Honeymoon, as she explains to him what furries are.

http://www.gocomics.com/dicktracy/2017/04/23?ct=v&cti=2134930

 

 

 

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So Not A Hero
by S.J. Delos


If you are a superhero fan, then I don’t really need to sell you on this book.  Just quit reading now and go get it.

If you’re not a superhero fan, then 1) what’s wrong with you? And 2) Do you like stories with funny, flawed heroines, a little bit of romance, work-place drama, family tensions, and the promise of redemption?  Well in that case, you can go pick up this book too.

S.J. Delos describes himself as a “typical geek” from Greensboro, NC, who has always loved comic books and enjoys making up his own stories.  Move the setting just over the state line into South Carolina and that could describe my own childhood.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I love this book so much.

Karen Hashimoto has just gotten out of super-max prison and is trying to put her life back together.  She must deal with a sleazy parole officer, paranoid landlords and a bunch of other people who don’t want to let her forget that she was once the super-villain Crushette — the right hand and love interest of the infamous Dr. Maniac.

But then she gets caught in the middle of a super-rumble between a gang of villains and Mr. Manpower — a member of the city’s premier superhero group, The Good Guys.  Karen helps round up the miscreants and before she knows it she’s been invited to audition for the team.

Her struggle to fit in with her new allies, to redeem her past mistakes, and to convince the world that she can be different is the heart of this fun, surprisingly moving novel.

Highly recommended.