Still caring about those reviews

Hope 1y1 has been out for a while now, and it has several dozen reviews under its belt, here and there. None-the-less it makes my day when I find a new one, especially when the reader enjoyed the book. Let’s face it. I’ve poured my heart and soul into this story, and yes I do crave feedback. Sales only provide me with a cold, dry number.

A writer wants to know what total strangers, ones who like the kinds of books she writes, think about her book. So yes, reviews matter to a writer, whether they should or not.  I imagine they must mean as much to an actor, or a musician or anyone who puts themselves out there to entertain and amuse the world, and there is no way around that. Once a books has hundreds of reviews, I suppose that individual ones matter less. I hope some day to find out.

Imagine my joy the other day when I was doing a search for something else and found the wonderful blog The Printed Word which features reviews by Melissa. There it was, a review of y1 posted January 10,  2014. Her review begins with “I give this book a 5 out of 5. Once again, Sherrie Cronin shows off her amazing research skills! Like the first novel in the series, x0, she weaves real facts and controversial, sensitive topics in with the fictional Zeitman family. This time we follow Lola’s son, Zane, as he learns at a young age that he can adjust his appearance to better blend in, much like a chameleon.”

What a wonderful surprise. I’m going to kick up my heels and dance for joy.

(Thanks to Zen2Zany on Facebook for the image that appears above.)

It’s about you.

zen2zany 1Or her. Or him. But not me.

I’m about halfway through d4 now and finally starting to roll. Today I came up with the final tweak to the final scene in the book. Mind you, there is many a occurrence in-between that I haven’t figured out yet, but I know from experience that once I get the very end in my head, I will find a way to get there. d4 will happen.

And with that done, part of me moves on to the next book.

This time around, however, it is the last one in the collection, and that is scary for me. It helps that I know already that this last book is not about me, it is about you. Whether you are young or old, healthy or struggling, male, female, who ever you are, I am going to be writing about how you were born with something you need to say, a truth you hold deep within yourself, and how desperately you need to find a way to sing it, dance it, whisper it or shout it. Pretending otherwise will just frustrate you. Your truth needs to be told.

There. Doesn’t that sound like a fun story? I will do my best to make it so, I promise.

(Please drop by the Facebook page for Zen to Zany and drop off a “like” for the image above.)

Knowing where you are going

signWhen I start to write a book I have a general idea of how it is going to end, but the specifics have surprised me every time. I’ve recently finished the first draft of my fourth novel, c3, and I am still enjoying some of the  unexpected twists and turns. The good news is that I always know exactly where I am going once I have finally gotten there. 🙂

A few months ago I wrote a guest post answering the question of whether I used an outline or not. My answer was yes I did and yes I didn’t. That seems to have become more true with each story I’ve written, and I’d like to share the post with you.

catWe’ve gotten very into particle physics at my house lately, mostly because my husband is reading about entanglement.  We are household of geeks, and the three of us and my older daughter who is visiting are fascinated by Schrödinger’s cat, hidden in its box simultaneously both dead and alive. For until you open the box, every possibility exits. It’s not a case of an “or”, it is an “and”. Dead and alive, simultaneously, as impossible as that seems.

And so it goes with my writing. In my twenties I thought planning was evil and that true creativity would spring forth from my subconscious only if it was unfettered by something mundane as an outline.  I still have pages of long hand creative brilliance that go on and on in a fascinating if somewhat illegible fashion and then go nowhere in various interesting ways.

My thirties brought children and a real job and a need for order, and my attempts to write went with it. Carefully planned lists and plot outlines filled neat folders on my computer, and my first book was outlined so many times it got ridiculous.  I didn’t write, I just made outlines, but they were really spectacularly thorough ones.

Today I do both, or neither. My fourth book started just like my first, with a series of chapters each defined only by four to six bullet points that got me from where I wanted the story to start to where I wanted it to end and provided a sense of pace for getting from here to there in about twenty chapters. No details.  Each time I have written the first few chapters with no further constraints and watched to see what happened. Each time, there were surprises, mostly in the subplots and additional characters that emerged.

outlines 1

research and outline in progress

Then for each chapter after the first couple, before starting  that chapter I expand the bullet points out to maybe ten to twenty items for just that chapter, so that I can now make sure that all the growing complexity is getting moved along in a timely fashion.  Every few chapters from then on I stop and look ahead, adding a bullet point or two to my later chapters to make sure that all emerging subplots will get carried through to conclusion. But I never plan details, leaving room even in the current chapter for my characters to surprise me.  They do that a lot, and I think that is the most incredibly fun thing about writing fiction.

So it is a little like Schrödinger’s cat.  It is both outlined and it is not. Only in the cat’s case, the probability function collapses when you open the box, and it becomes one thing or another, dead or alive.  My novel’s probability function collapses when the book is done, when it becomes both a story with form and structure and yet a tale full of events I could not have predicted when I started.

This appeared as a guest post at
Bunny’s Book Review
on June 8, 2013
Kindle Nook Books on June 13, 2013
The Book Connoisseur on July 28, 2013

Check these blogs out for a wealth of information on reading, writing and publishing as well as leads for many fine books you aren’t that likely to hear about elsewhere.

Fireworks a few days late

fireworksI suspect that I care more about accuracy in my books than I should. I write fantasy, for heaven’s sake, or at least a fantasy/science fiction hybrid, but I still like to get things right. So when my fire dancing  character from Kiribati went looking for music he liked that referred to fire, I was compelled to eliminate any song that had not come out before 2011, the year in which the story y1 takes place.

And that’s a shame because that took a few good songs out of the running. To celebrate July 4th 2013, I am letting myself revisit some of the songs I wanted to use but didn’t.

Katy Perry’s Firework had the lyrics that fit, but its late 2010 release was just a month after the scene in the book where it belonged. Sigh …. so close ……  Here’s the video with some great fireworks images to enjoy.

Firework

Katy Perry – Firework

Monarchy’s The Phoenix Alive had just the sound I was looking for, but it came out in April 2010. Enjoy the official video here.

Phoenix

Monarchy – The Phoenix Alive

For more on my adventures including music in novels, check out my xo blog here to read the rather comical saga of how and why I how I negotiated with Sony/ ATV. Check out my z2 blog here for a little fun with bubblegum music.

y1 makes it to the semi finals!

I’ve avoided entering any of my three books into contests so far, because the contests open to books not published in a traditional fashion have all struck me as mostly money makers for the contest organizers. I looked around a fair amount but entry fees were high and prizes slim. If I wanted to spend a couple of hundred dollars getting my book noticed, it made more sense to me to just advertise it.

I think the final straw came when I discovered that it costs only $50 to try for a Pulitzer Prize, and considerably more to enter most of these contests. (Unfortunately self-published works are not eligible for the Pulitzer Prize 🙂 and yes of course I checked.)

joyI was delighted to discover, however, that for a very reasonable $20 I could enter my novel y1 in the Kindle Book Review 2013 contest. I have used these folks in the past to advertise my free give-away days on Kindle and they do a nice job.

Today, they published their list of semi-finalists and I was delighted to see y1 RIGHT HERE in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category. (The list is alphabetical so of course y1 is last.) Do most entries make it to the semi-finals? I have no idea, but I’ve learned as in independent author to take my joys wherever I can find them.

Check here for news on z2 out in paperback and here for news on x0 making it onto 1670 people’s to-read shelf on Goodreads.

A political kindred spirit: A review of Scott Haworth’s novel Abraham Lincoln’s Lie

lincolnThere are two reasons why I want to speak highly of this book, and it’s fair to tell you of them. First, this book has a strong political slant, and it turns out that I largely share the author’s views. More-over, his sort of moderate-liberal-progressive outlook, in my opinion, shows up too infrequently in political fiction specifically written to make a point, and I admit up front to wishing to encourage him.
Second, this is the first review I have written for a self-published complete stranger since I myself became a self-published author reviewed by complete strangers. I recognize how important reviews are and what an accomplishment it is to produce a coherent novel, much less one with only two typos. I am inclined to be gentle. That being said …..

This is a novel that covers about a forty year span after the USA breaks in two to form a red nation and a blue nation. The author wisely glosses over details, but focuses instead on following a few key families in each of the new countries. It’s a good format and he develops some compelling characters and covers issues from foreign policy to gun control.

The biggest problem with the book is that it can’t quite decide if it wants to be realistic, or satire. The smaller satire parts work well, like the number of things in the red nation named after Ronald Reagan and the conservative states getting corporate sponsors for their aircraft carriers. Funny stuff, although I personally would appreciate the humor more if some of the satire went both ways. Let’s face it, there is plenty to laugh about throughout the political spectrum.

At the other extreme, the human drama that is not satire works well also, such as the story of the two gay men who find their home is in the red nation, and are forced to flee to the blue with their adopted daughter. To me this was the most emotionally compelling story line and these were the most fully drawn of all the characters.

It’s the stuff in between the satire and realism that gave me pause. The blue states gradually turn into utopia, while having no problems with debt or high taxes. They get along famously with other countries, and somehow encourage innovation among the citizenry in spite of more government controls. Lazy or greedy people do not play a role, a fact that I find very hard to believe. In fact, after forty years the place is so perfect that I briefly thought I might have fallen into conservation satire that had been waiting to reveal itself.

Meanwhile, the red nation fares far worse. Citizens roam the countryside with legal automatic weapons. Criminals are tried and executed within days, with no appeals. Sex education has been abolished and science is barely taught. The nation is plagued with teen births, ignorant angry people and wars it cannot afford. Absolutely nothing works better here. As satire, one can do this of course. As a realistic novel, I’d have been more engaged if the red nation produced some sympathetic characters and occasional unique solutions of its own. In the real world, there are truly good people across the political spectrum. I know, I am related to many of them. Furthermore, real politics is a messy nuanced business and there are surprises.

Two things to this author’s defense. His main protagonist is the conservative politician who causes the split to begin with, and he does infuse this one character with warmth and humanity (and of course with mounds of regret for what he has done). Secondly, I skimmed through a little Ayn Rand before writing this review. I have not read her in decades and wondered in retrospect how balanced her world in Atlas Shrugged really was. Not very, so this author is at least in renowned company. Unfortunately, at this point his writing lacks the plot intricacy and the suspense that Ayn showed in her two most famous novels. We aren’t compelled to find out how this book is going to end, but rather have a pretty good idea much of the way through it.

click cover to purchase for kindle

click cover to purchase for kindle

His character’s motivations are sometimes unclear and their emotions sometimes range significantly from one sentence to the next. Author Scott Haworth also shows no skill at all in folding in either romance or sex, both of which do add to a book’s wider appeal. Lacking all this, his one-sidedness is more apparent than Ayn’s and will likely be more irritating to any reader that does not more or less agree with him already.

However, Ayn did write a first novel, called “Anthem”, and years ago I read it. I’m not going to bother to reread it now just for this review, but I remember it as a short, shrill and simplistic treatise in which she outlines ideas that she would later convey with far more power. I am a much more critical reader these days, and I feel certain that “Abraham Lincoln’s Lie” is a better first political book than “Anthem”.

I wavered between giving “Abraham Lincoln’s Lie” 3 stars or 4. I am rounding up in hopes that this is the first of several political novels we will see from Scott Haworth, and that one day soon his skills will grow enough to be able to powerfully convey the fictionally underrepresented ideal of a freedom-loving progressive nation. I am really looking forward to reading those future works.

From zero to three novels in under two years: was this a good idea?

y1 is no longer my latest book and I feel strangely sad about that.  Because of the way the three stories of x0, y1 and z2 overlap in time,  some of the writing was done in parallel  and I pushed myself hard to get the ideas for all three down on paper while it was all fresh in my head. So it has only been five short months since y1 was published and now a have a brand new little book called z2.

red shoesI felt that x0 was the book I wrote to prove to myself that I could write a book.  Indeed, I learned that writing a whole entire novel is a lot of hard work. It requires organizational skills and patience and other qualities I never envisioned great authors having. And given my penchant for research, and my insistence on adding links throughout the book,  I arguably made the process even more complicated than it had to be.  But I did it and in the end there was a real live book produced and  it is one that isn’t half bad. In the eyes of many it might benefit from my losing some of the facts and extraneous material that I personally love, but at least for folks who share my interests and style, it seems to work.

stock-photo-yemen-or-veiled-chameleon-sitting-on-a-cactus-leaf-42756706y1, however, was the book I wrote to prove that I could write a second book, and a novel that wasn’t in any way autobiographical. I had more fun with it.  The plot has more twists, the villains are more believable, and setting in the South Pacific is frankly more appealing to most than Nigeria. Is it a better book? It probably has more mainstream appeal. Its biggest issue so far seems to be that it is stuck in a collection of novels labeled science fiction, and yet y1 itself barely qualifies as such. Readers mostly like it, it’s just not what they were expecting.

So what do I think about z2? Honestly?

Warme SonnenstrahlenWell, its greatest strength and weakness are that it suffers from a bad case of “hell, I can really do this shit!” I had a lot of fun writing this book as well, but I let myself try new techniques and I admit up front that they may not work for everyone.  My style of jumping between interweaving story lines is more pronounced here, and I sometimes jump through time as well as space to make my point.  There is rhythm to it that becomes apparent pretty quickly, and I’ve been told that if a reader sticks with me through the first thirty or so pages my approach starts to seem normal and even becomes pleasant. I just have to hope my readers will give it that chance.

Each book, and the entire process of putting it together, has been a huge learning experience. Note some of the rejected cover ideas for each novel shown here. The character Jake in z2 is in some ways my alter-ego, expressing what I have concluded from this “going from one blank piece of paper to three complete novels in just under two years” experience. What does Jake discover? Oh please, please read z2 and find out.

(Check out my post on my blog for x0 here for the second half of my thoughts on this subject.)