Framing and Finishing: Of Housebuilding and Writing.

The first draft of a book is like a house under construction.

Saturday morning at a few minutes past midnight, I completed my work-in-progress, Empire’s Heir. Or at least, the first draft. The first draft of a book is like a house under construction: the foundation is poured, the framing’s done, the walls and windows and doors are in, and the roof. (And you hope it doesn’t leak.)

But inside, it’s a mess. The detritus left by the workers is scattered all over. The floors are plywood; the walls not yet wallboarded, the wiring and plumbing roughed in.  There is a lot of work left to do.

And so it is with a manuscript. It’s as messy and incomplete as the house. The garbage needs removing: the scenes that don’t add to the story, the plot line that complicates or goes nowhere, the characters who add nothing.

Walk through the house with a critical eye. Maybe a framed wall is in the wrong place; maybe you want a window where there isn’t one. Changes can still be made, although they’ll add time and take work. Better now than later, though. Later is much harder (ask anyone who’s renovated: a house or a book.)

Then it’s time to complete the plumbing and wiring, the connectors that link themes and plot and story together, often mostly unseen, and get the wallboard up.  Inspectors – or structural editors – are a good idea at this point. (Actually, the inspectors are almost certainly legally required, the structural editor isn’t – the analogy’s not perfect. But you get my drift.)

And then it’s time for the finishing. The painters and carpet layers, the cabinet makers, the tile installers, making sure the colours blend or contrast, the fine carpentry is precise, the transitions from room to room, carpet to hardwood to tile, are smooth. Another place a designer, or friends with good eyes and aesthetic sense, can help. Maybe your first choices are too trendy, too minimalist, too overblown. Is every space used well, not too crowded, not too empty? In the manuscript, I – or my beta readers, or my editor, or all of the above – are checking description, dialogue, and the cadence and flow of language, looking for monotony, purple prose, repetition, and a host of other things that affect the story.

Now the finishers are gone. Time for a thorough cleaning: they’ve been careful, but they can’t help leaving some mess. Sawdust in a corner; carpet threads; a dropped finishing nail or two. Time to sweep, to vacuum, to wash all the counters and floors. Time for the proof reading, and like sweeping and vacuuming and washing, use more than one technique: hire someone, listen to your book, change fonts. (There will still be one or two nails on the floor, or a drop of paint somewhere: it’s inevitable, just like the typos that slip through.)

And now the house – and the book – are done. While the finishing’s been happening, so has the exterior. You know your neighbourhood: what works?  Brick? Siding? Shingle? Stucco?  Same with the cover. Neighbourhoods and genres have their conventions, and you probably want to fit in without looking identical to every house on the street, or book on the bookstore shelf.

Right now, what I have is that mess: something that looks like a book, but inside is an unfinished jumble. There’s a lot of work to do before Empire’s Heir is a book someone will want to live inside. I’m letting it settle, and then I’ll start.

Legacy of the Brightwash, by Krystle Matar: A Release Day Review

Legacy of the Brightwash isn’t an easy book; it raises many questions that resonate in our current world.

The choices we make are complex, and our reasons for making them sometimes understood, sometimes not. We are influenced by our upbringing, our society and its place in it; by an immediate situation. Sometimes no choice is right, or safe, or even moral: like Odysseus, we are caught between Scylla and Charybdis, deciding which choice leads to the least grief.

Tashué Blackwood, the protagonist of Legacy of the Brightwash, is a man who has had to make such a choice. In a complex world of power and subservience, Tashué walks carefully, following the law and staying safe, even through the imprisonment of his son for refusing to give in to the laws of the Authority and register his Talent; even through seeing his son’s mother taken to a breeding program to give more children with Talent to the Authority.

But all men have a breaking point. For Tashué, it is the discovery of a mutilated child’s body on the banks of the Brightwash, a child with an unfamiliar tattoo on its neck. Torn by offered power and influence; by a woman whose love is forbidden to him; by his love for his son and by his own conscience, Tashué is a man fighting not only a corrupt society, but his own past.

Krystle Matar’s debut novel has both outstanding world-building and character development. There is nothing superficial or stereotypical about either her world or the people in it. While clear parallels can be drawn between Matar’s fictional world and our own, it stands as a unique creation. We are shown pieces of its structure, but like a partially completed jigsaw puzzle the outline is there, and some parts are more complete than others, but it’s not a finished picture – just like most of us don’t have a thorough picture of our own histories, either personal or of the world in which we live. Instead we have hints, echoes, memories, allowing the reader to slowly build a concept of what has shaped both the world and its inhabitants.

It’s an immersive world: Matar uses all our senses to evoke luxury, horror, pain, exhaustion, love. Characters’ thoughts are shown to us, their fears and obsessions, their momentary joys, their disgust and doubts. That Tashué is a tormented man is made abundantly clear. Matar is a skilled writer: words and sentences and paragraphs flow, show, sometimes overwhelm the reader with sensation and emotion.

The magic – Talent – is nearly irrelevant to the book, except as a metaphor for difference, for something that can be used to separate one group of people from another, to control and degrade – and sometimes because of that constant debasement, explode. The truth behind the mutilated child is both horrifying and a logical extension of the arrogance and privilege of the ruling class who see only themselves as truly human.

Legacy of the Brightwash isn’t an easy book; it raises many questions that resonate in our current world. Its ending raises more questions than it answers: mysteries have been solved, but Tashué is far from being free of conflict – nor is he likely to be. Truly a magnificent first novel. I look forward to its sequel.

Featured image: Image by Brigitte is always pleased to get a coffee from Pixabay 

The Archive, by Dan Fitzgerald: The Maer Cycle (#2)

Feathered dragons!

Published: December 4, 2020

Genre: Fantasy

Age Group: Adult

Pages: 306


In Hollow Road (book 1), three companions discovered the monsters of legend were all too real…

Rumors among the Maer tell of an underground library called the Archive, which houses a wealth of knowledge and terrible magics that could be used to start the biggest war seen since the Great Betrayal. A mixed group of humans and Maer set off on an historic quest to find the Archive and protect it from those who would use it to destroy everything they hold dear. As the cold of winter bears down upon them, they trek through forbidding mountains beset by dangers they could have never imagined. They follow a set of ancient clues deep into the Silver Hills, forging surprising alliances and making new enemies.

The humans and Maer are linked by more than their quest to find the Archive and stop an insidious war. A mystical surrogacy may bridge the gap between two peoples, and many hearts entwine as their adventure hurtles toward its bloody conclusion.


In The Archive, Dan Fitzgerald returns to some of the same themes as in Hollow Road, Book I of The Maer Cycle: the building of alliances through communication and a defense against a mutual enemy; the importance of shared language and history; the understanding that arises from seeing past external differences to find common humanity.

The human protagonists from Hollow Road: Sinnie, Finn, and Carl, along with Maer companions, including Finn’s lover Fabaris, are seeking The Archive, a legendary repository of the written history of the Maer. Believed to lie deep in the mountains, finding it entails more than one danger. Among those dangers are the Wild, or Free, Maer: clans who have remained living outside of the settled Maer community. Enemies of both the Maer and humans, they will need to be convinced – by diplomacy or a show of force – that these strangers are not there to destroy or assimilate them, but for a greater cause, one that is as important to the Free Maer, too.

The world Fitzgerald has created is expanded in The Archive; the reader learns more about its history, its geography, and its cultures, while still leaving us with tantalizingly unanswered questions to draw us into the next book. It, like its predecessor, is a quiet book, primarily character-driven. There is plenty of conflict, but not often the sort that needs weapons to solve, although battle will play an important role.

Relationships develop further in this book, both friendships and sexual relationships (of many kinds, all seamlessly fitting into the story and the world), and with those relationships characters too are deepened and developed, increasing the stakes and the emotional impact of events. One of my small niggles with the story came here: in furthering Finn and Carl’s relationships, Sinnie seemed to be neglected – or perhaps my sense of her as a little on the sidelines is purposeful.

Once or twice specific word choices jarred me out of the pre-industrial world Fitzgerald’s characters inhabit, but overall the writing is smooth and effective; the plot and action well-paced, and the characters compelling. Oh, and did I say there are dragons? Feathered dragons! Strongly recommended for readers who want more from a fantasy world than battles, blood and beer.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08M68H1HQ

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55780840-the-archive

Giveaway!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e832e98855/?

About the Author

Dan Fitzgerald is a fantasy writer living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When he is not writing, he might be gardening, doing yoga, cooking, or listening to French music. 

His debut fantasy novel Hollow Road, the first book in The Maer Cycle trilogy, was published in September by Shadow Spark Publishing. The Archive comes out on December 4, and the trilogy concludes with The Place Below in March 2021.

Books and merchandise are available at https://shadowsparkpub.com/dan-fitzgerald.

Find out more about Dan and his books at http://www.danfitzwrites.com, or find him on Twitter or Instagram, with the handle danfitzwrites in both places.  

Author Links

Website: http://www.danfitzwrites.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/danfitzwrites

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danfitzwrites

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/danfitzwrites

Hollow Road, by Dan Fitzgerald

As with all good speculative fiction, Fitzgerald has asked some hard questions about our society

I’m pleased to be participating in the Storytellers on Tour blog tour for Hollow Road, Book I of The Maer Cycle by Dan Fitzgerald.

Legends describe the Maer as savage man-beasts haunting the mountains, their bodies and faces covered with hair. Creatures of unimaginable strength, cunning, and cruelty. Bedtime stories to keep children indoors at night. Soldiers’ tales to frighten new recruits.

It is said the Maer once ruled the Silver Hills, but they have long since passed into oblivion.

This is the story of their return.

Carl, Sinnie and Finn, three companions since childhood, are tasked with bringing a friend’s body home for burial. Along the way, they find there is more to the stories than they ever imagined, and the mountains hold threats even darker than the Maer. What they discover on their journey will change the way they see the world forever.

Travel down Hollow Road to find out which legends are true, and which have been twisted.

Three friends on a journey together: what a classic start to a fantasy story! Two men: an apprentice mage and a soldier; one woman, a skilled archer. They’ve been hired (and well paid) to take the dead body of a friend back home for burial. Too well paid, in truth. Why?

Danger lies on the road home; danger that comes from legend and story: the Maer, a humanoid people reputed to be cruel, fierce fighters. But as Finn, Sinnie and Carl discover, the perceived danger from the Maer is mostly that: a perception, the result of fear and lack of communication. The Maer are as human as they are, although their appearance is different, and their culture perhaps more advanced than the three companions’ own.

Hollow Road is the first book of a trilogy. It serves as a wonderful introduction to Fitzgerald’s world, introducing the societies, the conflicts, and the main characters deftly. The three main characters are distinct personalities: conflicted Carl, who’d wanted to be a mage but had no skill; Sinnie, a woman who knows she can’t settle to the village life of her mother; Finn, the young adept who quickly will outstrip his mentors. Each has a role to play in the tentative alliance with the Maer, and each have things to learn from them.

The scale of Hollow Road appealed to me. The world is small (so far); the action takes place in a limited geography, devoid of huge armies, fortresses to storm, or vast distances to travel. Sufficient small details build the world without weighing down the story, building a believable iron-age society with some magic, but not so much that it dominates. Finn’s body magic assists the trio in their goals, but only in a way equivalent to Carl’s prowess with a sword and Sinnie’s skilled archery.

I had two small niggles with the story, neither major. One is the pacing of fighting scenes, where I felt tension could have been increased by a change in the rhythm of the narrative; the other is in some of the language in dialogue. Fitzgerald’s characters speak naturally, often using modern words in an iron-age setting, and while for the most part I didn’t find this jarring, one or two words did jump out at me as inappropriate.

As with all good speculative fiction, Fitzgerald has asked some hard questions about our society; about how we judge and fear people by their outward appearance. His characters – and readers – see that once true dialogue begins, commonalities outweigh differences. But while individuals learn this, and accept the Maer as human, will the Realm, the larger government which is only hinted at in this first book? Hollow Road ends with questions that should make the reader impatient for the next book in the trilogy, The Archive, due out December 4th. It certainly made me frustrated that I couldn’t keep reading the story immediately!  Strongly recommended for readers who like character-based fantasy with a solid plot.

Win a signed paperback copy (US only) of Hollow Road!

September 13, 2020 at 12:00am EDT to September 20, 2020 at 11:59pm EDT

Hollow Road by Dan Fitzgerald. Adult Fantasy, 243 pages, published: September 17, 2020 by Shadow Spark Publishing.

Book Links

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54801285-hollow-road

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08FDPR332

Author Information

Dan Fitzgerald is a fantasy writer living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When he is not writing, he might be gardening, doing yoga, cooking, or listening to French music.

Find out more about Dan and his books at www.danfitzwrites.com, or find him on Twitter or Instagram, with the handle danfitzwrites in both places.

Author Links

Website: http://www.danfitzwrites.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanFitzWrites

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danfitzwrites/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/danfitzwrites

Empire’s Exile milestone 1

I’ve got the first draft of the first third of Empire’s Exile written.

Here’s one of those ‘milestones’ a writer reaches; I’ve got the first draft of the first third of Empire’s Exile written. That’s about 40,000 words. Writing this one is an interesting experience.

There are the logistics to consider: making sure I tie up all the loose ends and unanswered questions from Books 1 & 2.  There is making sure I stay true to the theme of exile:  in Book 1, Empire’s Daughter, Lena was barely adult, still a ‘dutiful daughter’ in many ways, just beginning over the course of the book to realize that truth comes in many forms.  In Empire’s Hostage, Book 2, Lena is a hostage both actually and figuratively, her fate in the hands of rules and traditions. In this third and last volume, I’m exploring the theme of exile, again both actual and figurative.  It doesn’t always make for easy writing.

Then there are my characters.  I thought I knew the basic story arc, but they had different ideas. Listening to what they told me (or what my subconscious told me, if you prefer), had led to Exile being a different story than what I thought it was going to be, introducing other forms of displacement into the narrative. It also left me with an enormous dilemma about the ending…which I have resolved in a way that is both true to the story and satisfying for me. (If you’re wondering why I’m talking about the ending when I’m only 1/3 into the book, it’s because I need to know what the ending is, so I can work towards it.)

So I’m going to take a breather for a few days, work on two unrelated editorial projects, get organized and packed for our escape from winter, and once we’re settled in there, start the middle third.  Quite a bit of research is associated with this third, and I need to plot out the major conflicts and crises, but I’m hoping to have this section done by March.  I’ll need to work flat out if I’m going to get this book out for the Christmas 2018 market…which is my current goal….but, just maybe, I will make it.

Updates, excerpts, backgrounders as I have time and they are appropriate!

Empire’s Legacy Book One is FREE

For a limited time (Sunday July 23rd to Thursday July 27th), the Kindle edition of Empire’s Daughter, Book I of the Empire’s Legacy series, is FREE on Amazon.

For a limited time (Sunday July 23rd to Thursday July 27th), the Kindle edition of Empire’s Daughter, Book I of the Empire’s Legacy series, is FREE on Amazon.

Empires_Daughter_Cover_for_Kindle

 

“… the world building is quite remarkable and the characters incredibly real. The reader is pulled in by the rich descriptions – the action scenes are brilliantly done, and the romance is unforced. This is a good one.” Rebecca Rafferty

 

 

 

While you’re there, you might want to check out Empire’s Legacy Book II, Empire’s Hostage. It’s not free, but it’s priced as low as Amazon will allow for the Kindle edition.cover ebook under 2MB smaller

Involving, evocative, intelligent—an outstanding historical fantasy.” – Maria Luisa Lang

For some of the background to the Empire’s Legacy series, take a look here.

Empire’s Hostage Now Available

“Involving, evocative, intelligent – an outstanding historical fantasy.” – Maria Luisa Lang

“Involving, evocative, intelligent – an outstanding historical fantasy.” 

Arboretum Press announces the publication of:

Empire’s Hostage

Book 2 of the Empire’s Legacy series.

“Marian delivered a fantastic sequel.”  Cover to Cover

Marian- book cover final

Paperback available from Arboretum Press:  arboretumpress@gmail.com

Canada/USA: $12.95 + $11.00 shipping/handling ($23.95); payment via Paypal or personal cheque

For international rates please contact arboretumpress@gmail.com

Payment via PayPal or personal cheque.

Kindle and paperback editions also available from Amazon.

 

Reaper: A Snowverse Novel, by L.C. Mawson: A Release-day Review

I found Reaper more satisfying than some of the longer books. It’s tighter, more focused on the immediate issues.

Reaper is the seventh book in the Snowverse series, continuing Freya’s adventuresReaper almost immediately after Enhanced.  With Alex, Freya is travelling in Europe, dealing with car-sickness and more: the diversity of supernatural genes she carries result in upheavals she cannot fully control, and her past experiences are adding to the volatility.

Freya’s difficulties in controlling her emerging powers, and in tapping into the ones she needs to access, reminded me (not in a plagaristic manner, but in a thematic way) of the “Threshold Sickness” of the psi-enhanced characters in Marion Zimmer Bradley ground-breaking Darkover series.  The disruption that uncontrolled psi powers can wreak, when an untrained individual accesses them, can have far-reaching and dramatic effects: a great subject matter for a book,  and I was pleased to see the issue addressed in Reaper. (By the way, if you’re a fan of the Snowverse, then I’m guessing you’re a fan of diversity in science fiction and fantasy – and if you haven’t read the Darkover series, give it a try. Yes, it was written in the 1960’s, but for early introduction and acceptance of LGBTQ characters, it was truly a ground-breaker.)

Lucy Mawson’s skills as a writer have blossomed over this series, and her depiction of Freya’s internal conflict about Alex, and her realization of how to access her Angel powers, are some of the author’s best writing. Freya is learning, too, to make the distinction between how her autism directly affects her relationships, separate from how her (unrecognized?) emotional reactions to past events affects both herself and how she relates to others.  I’m treading carefully here, because I’m allistic, or as my husband prefers, a neurotyp, but certainly Alex’s attempts to help Freya handle her reactions and understand them rang very true to me, after thirty-eight years of living with a man with ASD.

Reaper is short – 139 pages in my e-book edition – but it doesn’t suffer from that; in fact, I found it more satisfying than some of the longer books. It’s tighter, more focused on the immediate issues. Five stars.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What may still lie between the mountains and the sea….

Interested in reading? Send me a message.

 

“…will you face east with me, and bow to that memory, and to what may still lie between the mountains and the sea?” 

Those enigmatic words seal a truce called in the fifteen-month war between the Empire and Linrathe, the country north of the Wall, binding the Emperor Callan, the Teannasach Donnalch, and their people. But in additional surety of peace, the truce requires hostages, children of the leaders. 

Lena is a Guardswoman on the Wall when this peace is negotiated, one of many women who rode north to defend their land. When the General Casyn asks her to take the place of one of his daughters as a hostage, Lena agrees, to learn that she will be sent to a Ti’ach, a house of learning, for the duration of the truce. Here, perhaps, she can learn more about the east, and what its place is in the history of the Empire.

 But not every student welcomes her, and Lena soon learns that the history of both the countries beyond the Wall and her own Empire are more complex, and more intertwined, than she imagines.  When circumstances take her even farther north, into lands of a people unknown to the Empire, all her skills of leadership and self-defense are needed to avert danger to herself, the Empire, and its fragile allegiance with Linrathe…at an ultimate cost beyond her imagining.

Empire’s Hostage, book II in the Empire’s Legacy series, is fast approaching release. It follows Lena, the protagonist of Empire’s Daughterinto a larger world and into greater danger, testing her loyalties once again.

ARCs will be available soon in either e-pub or mobi format.  Interested in reading, rating, and/or reviewing?  Send me a message.