Book Review – I am Mercy by Mandi Lynn

I am MercyI am Mercy by Mandi Lynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am Mercy is Mandi Lynn’s second book and is tied to her first book, Essence. It’s centered around a similar concept as Essence – that some persons, by a mystical process become “essences,” who inhabit but are not really part of the physical world. They are eternal and trapped and must find their value in that state.

What I liked:
Mandi is excellent at painting a scene. The places all felt vivid and real – especially her description of France during the black plague. There was an early dream sequence that captured the feeling of the dream state that was probably my favorite part of the book.
I also liked the themes present in the first 1/4 of the book. I had never really felt the despair (and hope) of people living in during the black plague, but Mandi captures it extremely well. It was both disturbing and philosophically interesting. My favorite scene in this category involves a young boy, but I’ll say no more.

What missed the mark for me:
The book felt like it was confused as to its tone. This could have been on purpose as the book is divided into four “books,” so this criticism could be moot, except its related to the next point.
My largest frustration with I am Mercy was that the main character never seemed to have a overarching goal that spanned the four “books.” I wanted to see her be more proactive. Here are my recommendations
—–SPOILERS AHEAD——

Book 1: I wanted to see Aida try to find a way to prove to her family she was not a witch. This would have given her something to do.
Book 2: I would’ve liked to see Aida struggle to find a way to become human again. May seek out Mystral for help or revenge?
Book 3 and 4: I wasn’t sure why Aida didn’t try to find a way to get back to Garren. She resigned herself to the fact that she couldn’t, but I was unclear on why.

—–SPOILERS END——

If you are a fan of Mandi’s first book, I think you’ll enjoy this one even more. If you’re looking for a protagonist who drives the story, you may have to look elsewhere.

View all my reviews

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The Question I Hate the Most – “How Many Books Did You Sell?”

Last Year I published a book. I also wrote the draft of another, which will hit the shelves sometime before April 30.

The questions I get the most are, “how many books did you sell?” and for those with less tact, “how much money did you make?”

My skin tingles like a sunburn in a hot shower. I clench my fists and take a deep breath. I imagine I would not mind that kind of question if I got to answer it like this: “I’m basically in the same league as J. K. Rowling, and yes, thank you for noticing my brand new $1,000 jeans.”

The honest truth is, I haven’t sold almost anything, and that’s completely normal for someone just entering the arena. Sure, every now and again, there’s a person for whom the stars align and a blessed mixture of luck, skill, talent, and timing all come together, but the numbers are astronomically low for that happening.

So I usually answer these kinds of questions by saying, “I just need to sell one more to reach my goal,” and then I smirk at them, hoping they can understand my dry sense of humor…or buy the book. Either one is fine, really.

Okay, this is the plan that people outside of self-publishing don’t understand:

To sell books, you need to give books away. To sell books and give them away means you need more than one published book. I’m not there yet, so my main marketing strategy hasn’t even taken off yet, and I’m now 2 years into the writing game.

the future

So my plan this year is two write the drafts of 2 books in a new trilogy. Once those books are finalized I will finally have what I need to begin my marketing campaign in earnest. I’ll have 4 books, 2 of which will be free.

This is a horrible plan if you want to make money off your first book right now (or even your second), but writing isn’t my fulltime job, so I am in no rush.

I’m not out for instant glory, money, or fame.

I’m in it for the happiness it brings me, the opportunity to be creative, and I’m in it for the long term.

Writing 2015 – A Year in Review

The Writing Goal for 2015 was to finish the first draft of Upheaval. I finished the draft on Dec 23.

Time to break out the egg nog and have a good time.

Blurb
Potential “Back of the Book” Blurb

Actually it’s time to edit that book ASAP since I’ve already got a book signing engagement for April 30th. The good news for me is that it’s a short book. Middle Grade as the target audience allows for that. I’ve got the interior dimensions and font figured out. It’s really just a game of getting each chapter to start and end with a bang and tie up all the loose story threads. As well as typo-hunt until each last mistake is left dead in a pool of bloody grammar.

As great as it is meeting my writing goal for 2015, I feel like I really didn’t grow enough as a writer. I was proud that I was able to write the entire story from one character’s POV. I imagined that limited scope would be a real hindrance, but it honestly wasn’t as bad as I thought. On the negative side, many months went by with no output. But 2016 is on the horizon and I’ve got some new goals to set.

I’m upping the stakes a bit for myself and I hope I can manage.

  1. Write an 80,000-word supernatural/mystery thriller
  2. Write two 8,000-10,000-word short story companions for The Stitcher and Upheaval as free download giveaways

For a lot of writers, I know that this goal could be accomplished in a month. But here at Writing on Empty, I’ve got 2 small children, a career, a masters degree to finish, and just plain life to live.

Funnily enough, a lot of writers struggle with word count in the opposite direction as me. Many authors find it hard to cut their novels down in number to meet their audience/genre target. When it comes to my stories, I don’t chew the scenery and get too flowery with the language. In that sense, I’m the anti-Tolkien.

So this 80,000 word count goal is going to stretch me quite a bit.

But it’s all for the love of creation.

Do you have any writing goals for 2016?

Upheaval Progress Report

It’s been 6 months since I’ve discussed my second book, Upheaval.

timmy and clare

This year has been busy. I now have 2 children in diapers, more MA courses to work on, and a larger workload in my real career. I also volunteer at my Church and try to have some semblance of a healthy lifestyle involving semi-consistent exercise.

Bottom line – I haven’t been writing. Upheaval was simmering on a burner in the back.

But sometimes when a story simmers back there, truths about it are crystalize over time. Even though I wasn’t writing, the story was ever present in my daydreaming, during runs, and of course the best place to ponder – in the shower.

WritingMeeting_Batali

Two months ago, I joined a group of writers at my work for a get-together and was immediately energized to get back on track and finish the draft by my original deadline – Christmas. And with a small word-count, I wasn’t too worried.

Today the current word count is 32,469 of a projected 35,000. A very short book to be sure, but perfectly respectable for the Middle Grade audience for which it’s intended.

The finish line is in sight and I’m very pleased with the overall story. We’ll see how I feel about the details during the editing process.

How are your goals coming? Do you have tips that keep you from derailing?

 

When Evil Isn’t a Thing in a Book

I love stories. I love that we create stories. I love that people inspire others by their stories. I love it when hard work, brilliance, and timing all come together to make something special. I spent the day watching the original Star Wars Trilogy and enjoying the heck out of it.

star wars

But later this day, people starting killing other people in France. I know killings and evil happen every day, but I’m generally disconnected from “The News.” I don’t like to ingest a lot of the negativity of the world. But sometimes the news is so bad, it bursts forth everywhere.

Evil is not a “thing in a book.” It’s a thing in our hearts.

And it’s polar opposite about what I love about humanity. We create. Our creations then inspire other people to create. And all that creative sharing leads to a better understanding and a true love.

God creates

Creating things is what God does.

We get to share in his own prerogative. We get to create our own fictional stories as well as our own personal story. I can think of no greater privilege than that.

When we destroy and kill, though, we undo the best of what it means to be human.

It makes me hate humanity. It makes me to sympathize with the Devil’s claim that humanity is not worth saving.

I love evil in a book. It’s known to be evil and is conquerable. When Evil is not a thing in a book, it’s scary, and cries out to God for a response. God, however, has made us the stewards of each other, which makes me realize how bad a job we’ve been doing.

Once Upon a Time in Vegas: All the Pretty Girls – Book Review

Once Upon a Time in Vegas: All the Pretty GirlsOnce Upon a Time in Vegas: All the Pretty Girls by S. Thomas Murphy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All the Pretty Girls is a great book, if hard to classify.

The best part of the book is the witty voice. It’s funny, thoughtful, and sarcastic. Each character has a distinct voice that are sometimes funny, sometimes compelling, and in the case of Magic Eight Ball Bob, just plain clever.

I also loved the way the chapters are divided by month of the school year. It allows the unfolding story some tension as the deadline for the closing of school makes things more and more precarious.

It’s not a surprise what you’re in for with this book when you look at the cover. There’s a lot of descriptions of nude, or otherwise scantily-clad, strippers. What is a surprise is that the book is so much more. The weaving-in of the backstory slowly has you reading further to discover more and more. Great use of suspense!

Definitely recommended!

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A New Year, A New Project – Upheaval

Now that The Stitcher is finished and published, it’s time to get to work on the next book.

UPHEAVAL

What if there were a creature living in the earth? What if all life on earth was born from its dreaming, and all world-wide destructive events were triggered by its waking up?

Gage is a fourteen year-old “delver,” recruited by the government to unearth relics of a past age which enjoyed greater technological capabilities than his own. With the help of his friends he finds the secret behind the Upheavals the world is experiencing: The creature is waking up! And to make it worse, his own government is doing everything they can to stop Gage from saving the world.

This novel is designed as for middle-grade readers, and its size is estimated to be 35,000 – 45,000 words.

Current Progress: 8,000 words. Lots of work to do!

What do you think of the concept for the story?

Learn to Write by Watching YouTube – My Top 5 Virtual Writing Coaches

If there’s one thing the internet does right, it’s allow you to learn to do basically anything you want. “How To’s” are just as much a part of the internet as funny cat videos, and they’ll actually give you amazing value.

When I decided to complete my first novel, I wanted to get as much background as possible before making too many amateur mistakes.

Today I’m going to share what I consider the best of the best that youTube has to offer for amateur writers learning the craft.

1. Ellen Brock.

Her channel is infrequently updated, but the content she has posted is priceless. Her video on “filtering” saved my novel from one of the biggest issues that would divorce the reader from my character, and it was a problem I didn’t even know existed until I saw her video. She is clear, succinct and her blog fills in a lot of the gaps in her videos.

2. K.M. Weiland

There are two things I understand about K.M. Weiland and one thing I don’t. First, she presents a constant steam of excellent writing advice on youTube, Twitter, and her blog, and second does so with amazing professionalism. The thing I don’t understand is why her youTube channel seems so undiscovered. The view counts are way too low for the level of content she provides! Plus, how the heck does she do all those videos with no jump-cuts? Damn!

3. Joanna Penn (They’re all going to be women aren’t they?)

When it comes to interviews on any writing topic under the sun, Joanna Penn is the gold standard. What makes her videos different from Ellen and K.M. Weiland is that Joanna’s tend to be closer to an hour than 3-5 min. I find that it makes her videos particularly good to watch while getting some cardio in on the stationary bike. She provides a wealth of free information and truly walks the walk of being an indie-author and professional creative.

4. Katytastic

Kat O’Keefe is a “BookTuber” who is also an aspiring author. She’s written and queried many manuscripts, but remains, as far as I know, unpublished. Which saddens me just a little, because her enthusiasm for the craft of writing is so inspirational. Honestly, I’m not a BookTuber watcher, but her nanowrimo video vlogs always get me in the writing spirits. Often when I just don’t feel like writing, I fire up one of her nanowrimo vlogs and after 8 minutes, I know what I have to do: Sit down and “get those words.” So grab a cup of coffee, a prepare for a little fun-crazy-time with Kat.

5. Mandi Lynn

Mandi Lynn is another BookTuber and author. She has a unique story in that she wrote her first novel at a very young age (13 y/o) and over the course of high school, had it professionally edited, re-wrote it some huge number of times, queried it, and decided to self-publish and video document the whole journey. It makes for a hugely interesting series with some great advice and recommendations along the way.

Tally them up…Yup, all of them are women. Does that say something about me, the internet, or writers? I don’t know, but surely I left someone off the list. Who am I missing? What great youTubers are there consistently churning out great writing advice/motivation?

Evil Spy School – Book Review 4/5 stars

Evil Spy SchoolEvil Spy School by Stuart Gibbs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will always buy the next installment of this series, and this is an excellent example of the reason why.

The reason? These books are just so much fun!

I mean who wouldn’t want to be a spy at the age of 14? Then to go undercover and work for the bad guys? Beat up bullies at middle school with martial arts training? So much wish-fulfilment, you can’t not have fun with it.

And that’s where this book does right where the last book misfired a little for me. This book is all about Ben Ripley. He’s the main character from start to finish, and he’s awesome. Spy Camp, in my opinion, placed him strangely as the first-person narrator of another person’s story (Erica Hale).

But this one is near perfect.

With a new location at “Evil Spy School” we get to meet some new characters. Ashley and Nefarious were great additions and I loved them both. They had good backstories, although one of them felt a little flat.

The book had great suspense, which was easy given that most of it is a giant undercover plot with the fear of always getting caught.

And that’s actually where things went a little south for me. This is the reason for 4 instead of 5 starts…

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

The part where Ben gets uncovered as a double-agent doesn’t feel right. There is no way he should have been able to escape that situation. If the bad guys rigged the elaborate trap just for him, you’d have expected they would’ve also rigged a more idiot-proof way of catching him. It took me out of the story a bit.

That nit-pic aside, I loved all the extras added to the end. It was a great way to round out the book.

I’m already eagerly awaiting the next in the series.

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What to do When you Want to Quit your Current Work-in-Progress for a New Idea

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Stephen King tells the story of throwing Carrie away, not thinking it had what it took to be a good story. His wife had dug it out of the trash, encouraged him to finish, and it ended up getting him a nice pay-day and a burgeoning writing career.

Hint: Don’t be too hasty to scrap your story in favor of the ever attractive “new idea.”

A year-and-a-half’s work has come to a close and my first novel, The Stitcher, is finished. But like Carrie, it almost ended up in the trash.

I’m a big believer that you should not get distracted by a new idea in the middle of writing a story, although I almost abandoned The Stitcher because the new idea fascinated me sooooo much.

So my questions is, has that ever happened to you?

If so, here’s how to deal with that problem.

Allow yourself to story plan for the new idea, but don’t let yourself start typing the book until your other one is done. Truthfully, I started writing the new book when I finished my first draft of The Stitcher.

And guess what?

The same thing is happening all over. The idea I wanted to quit The Stitcher for, I now want to quit to do a whole new idea. Guess what I’m gonna do? You got it! I’m gonna finish the new idea (more on that later) and go ahead and allow some story planning.

So go ahead and indulge a little. Don’t suffocate the new idea. Go buy a shiny new notebook, maybe cover it over with stickers and start story planning. THEN, sit down and write!

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Nanowrimo 2014? Yeah, that didn’t happen! But New Year’s Resolution 2015 will be good enough.