Hello World!

Well hey guys! Did you miss me? (for my sake just pretend you did) I didn’t mean to have such a long break. But I went to the virtual Realm Makers, directed Vacation Bible School, and moved. I am still recovering.

But I have my own house! With a gorgeous view of the mountains that already has my imagination stirring. There is nothing like eating dinner with a view of a mountain range to get your story whirring.

Speaking of. I have a New Story Idea. It be amazing. And it has things that are near and dear to my heart. For now, I will be referring to it as COD. For reasons that make me laugh, and unknown to you. For now anyway.

So what is the point of this post? I dunno. To say hello to all my blogging buddies? To tell you all I moved and somehow figured out electric bills and setting up wifi all by myself?

Oh yeah. Realm Makers was amazing! Even though it was virtual, I still felt connected to all my writing friends. The classes were spot on, and the best part is, I get to listen to all of them!! I have the classes for an entire year, so instead of agonizing over which ones to go to and which ones to skip, and I can watch them all!!! Yay!

And because of all I have learned during Realm Makers, there may or may not be changes on the horizon here. Or at the very least a better blogging schedule. (shame on my procrastinating self)

Anyway. I will get out of your hair now.

Shaina Merrick

Pitching, the hardest thing you will ever do.

I am attending the Virtual Realm Makers conference this year. Cue the confetti!! It is really exciting and it will be so awesome to attend all those classes and one of my favorite authors is speaking and… Oh yeah, I signed up for a pitch. *internal scream*

So I have never done one before. Ever. I barely even knew what a pitch was before this. I mean, it is just talking about your book to someone else, right? Not!

Have you ever written a resume? The ones where you are trying to convince the hiring manager that you are the perfect one for the job. Well, a pitch is, in its basic form, the same thing. You are trying to convince the editor or agent that your book is worth publishing. And the pitch is only the beginning. To complete you pitch, it is also a good idea to come up with a one sheet, a synopsis, one, or two, author bio’s (depending on who you ask), and to top it all off, a book proposal. I hate book proposals.

This is not something that was taught, or even mentioned, when I was learning about writing. None of the classes I ever went to discussed the book proposal. That is either because I didn’t go to the right ones, or because no one taught how to write the most important piece of writing you will ever do after your manuscript.

So now to give you a leg up, we are talking about writing a book proposal.

Step One: Like your Book

Are you excited about your book? I hope so, because you are trying to impart that enthusiasm to someone else. A someone who has the power to get your book into the hands of readers. If you aren’t excited about your book, they won’t be either.

Step Two: What is the plot?

This is one of the more important bits of your book proposals, you need to tell that agent/editor the entire plot. The synopsis. Sometime they will ask you for the short synopsis, which is generally what your pitch will be, and for an entire synopsis covering everything from the inciting incident to the conclusion. This is NOT the time to be saying, “But wait, spoilers!” You are spoiling the entire book for them. On purpose. The editor needs to know if you can stick the landing. Can you write a good beginning, middle, and ending? That is what your synopsis will tell them. So make sure all the important plot points are in the synopsis. Give them all of the tid bits that make your story interesting and unique.

Step Three: The author bio

I really struggle with this one. I can talk about my book all day long, but myself? Not so much. In its condensed form it is what would be on the back of a book. A short introduction of you. This is not the time to be cute and funny. Author bio’s are serious matters. The first impression the editor will have of you is that bio. So make sure it shines!

The long form includes your writing experience, any awards you may have won, any previous publishing experience, and why you wrote the book. That latter one may be included in a different spot so check the guidelines for each editor or agent you pitch to.

That is why I struggle with it so much. I don’t have much in the way of experience, and no awards to speak of. But that doesn’t mean I skip it all together or make a joke about it. Like I said earlier, this bio is serious, and so I treat it like I would any other resume. I say the bit I can, mostly about my blog, and that is all. If you are in the same boat as me, I give you the same advice. Do what you can, but don’t make up stuff. Also, it looks a little tacky if you talk about a writing award you got as a ten year old if you are an adult, so keep your experience relevant and fairly recent.

Step Four: Log Line

A log line is the very, very condensed version of your synopsis. A sentence is all it is. Two sentences at the very most. Think of it as the marketing line of your book. The one that goes first in the blurb on the back. This is the phrase that tells people what your story is about, and at the same time makes them want to read more. Sounds hard? You bet! One site I visited recommended writing 15 to 20 of them right off before even deciding which one was the best. No, I didn’t write that many, but I wrote quite a few! After I finally decided which one I wanted, I then refined it to make it as perfect as possible. This one is important, so do the work to make it good!

Step Five: Marketing

This is the part of the show where you tell the editors how you will help to market your book. The market is super saturated with books, if you couldn’t already tell, and the ‘build it and they will come’ mantra no longer works for books. Unfortunately. And while we may despise it, the hard truth is that the publishing companies will not do all the work to market our books. We have to take some of that into our own hands.

You will need to tell the editor what kind of platform you have, and how many followers you have. I did not say the exact number because 1) it is embarrassing and 2) it is changing all the time. So I just said it was small but growing.

It is also a really good idea to tell the editor what kind of contacts you have that you could exploit to get your book out there. (mwahaha…) I have lots of contacts inside the homeschool community, so I mentioned that. You can mention authors you know (as in know personally), business contacts you have, and things like that.

Do not. Do not! Give them your ideas on how to market your book. There are sites that recommend this, and I might be proven wrong, but other sites have said that that is what the marketing team is for. They probably have way better ideas than you have (unless you are amazing at marketing, and if you are, why are you trying to get published?). You are there to show them your platform. Not tell them how to do their job.

Step Six: Details

If your head isn’t already spinning, I commend you. Mine was when I researched all this! But I am not finished yet. Oh no. There is still more you must add in your book proposal!

These are all smaller details that you could have as one lines, or a small paragraph. Things like how many words and how many chapters are your book. Who you book is intended for. Is it middle grade, young adult, or adult? It is important to be specific, but not too small, because the editors are looking for how to market this book as they are reading it. If your intended audience is middle class extraterrestrial immigrants, it will be harder to market than a book for kids in elementary school.

You should also include other books that your book is similar too. Are you writing a book about talking animals? Consider citing Wind in the Willows as a similar book. However, avoid the urge to compare your book with classics, or best sellers. You don’t have the next Lord of the Rings. And when you say that it just sounds proud and pretentious.

When you are writing a book proposal, those are the main things you need to include in every single one. However, do your research. Different editors and agents want different things. One might want a full book proposal, another might want only a synopsis and a one sheet. A one sheet is a book proposal that has been cropped to one page. Don’t send editors pages and pages of things they don’t want! That is the fastest way to end up in the recycling bin.

Also, do not send your full manuscript. Send whatever chapters they want, and that is all. No one has time to sit and read a full manuscript they aren’t sure about. I’m sorry, I wish it wasn’t so, but it is.

As a quick reminder, a pitch is the quick synopsis of your book that is generally not beyond the first act. It is generally spoken directly to the agent or editor. It’s purpose is to pique interest and to promote excitement!

A synopsis is the full overview of a book. Try not to go over one page. It’s purpose is to prove that you can write an interesting plot from start to finish, and to help the editor understand your story.

A one sheet is a short book proposal. It’s purpose is to convince the editor to take your book.

A book proposal is to convince the editor or agent that you are serious about getting this book out there. It is a professional piece of writing that helps you to get your book signed by an agent or editor.

To all those who are jumping into the realm of pitching, good luck!

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: The View from Saturday

Finally, I have read something worth doing a book review, or read something that I was actually interested in doing a book review on. And it happens to be middle grade. Don’t bash those books for younger folks, there are some real gems among them.

Presenting ‘The View from Saturday’ by E. L. Konigsburg.

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How has Mrs. Olinski chosen her sixth-grade Academic Bowl team? She had a number of answers. But were any of them true? (yes) How had she really chosen Noah and Nadia and Ethan and Julian? And why did they make such a good team? It was a surprise to a lot of people when Mrs. Olinski’s team won the sixth-grade Academic Bowl contest at Epiphany Middle School. It was an even bigger surprise when they beat the seventh grade and the eighth grade, too. And when they went on to even greater victories, everyone began to ask: How did it happen? (yeah, not that many people do in the book)

It happened at least partly because Noah had been the best man (quite by accident) at the wedding of Ethan’s grandmother and Nadia’s grandfather. It happened because Nadia discovered that she could not let a lot of baby turtles die.
(well duh, what heartless maniac would let turtles die?) It happened when Ethan could not let Julian face disaster alone. (disaster? what disaster? Oh yeah, eh. It was of small size) And it happened because Julian valued something important in himself and saw in the other three something he also valued.

Mrs. Olinski, returning to teaching after having been injured in an automobile accident, found that her Academic Bowl team became her answer to finding confidence and success.
(piffle, she never thinks that) What she did not know, at least at first, was that her team knew more than she did the answer to why they had been chosen.

This is a tale about a team, a class, a school, a series of contests and, set in the midst of this, four jewel-like short stories
(I wouldn’t call them short stories, they felt more like chapters to me)— one for each of the team members — that ask questions and demonstrate surprising answers.

I have seen this book on list after list of books that you-absolutely-must-read-before-you-die. I finally got around to it, I read it before I died. Yay me.

I don’t think I would have liked it in middle school. At that age I was more about fairies than a thoughtful book about relationships and people.

If you liked ‘Bridge to Terebithia’, you will like this book, and ‘The View From Saturday’ has the bonus of having a much happier ending.

While yes, the Academic Bowl was a big part of the book, it wasn’t about the Academic Bowl. There were no extended scenes of them practicing, nothing said about the nerves of the students before the contests.

Mostly, the book was about the four kids, Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian. Each of their stories was a journey, a deeply personal journey for each of them that intertwined with each others in sometimes unexpected ways.

I really enjoyed seeing each character from the other point of view, and how one character who might be annoying to some, is endearing to another. I also liked the chance to be inside each of the characters heads. It was an interesting study from a writers perspective in how the author made each point of view so distinct. You would never mess up whose point of view it was. They were each so unique.

My favorite character was Ethan. I loved his rich inner world, and the sometimes expected, sometimes unexpected places that his thoughts led him. But while he was quiet, he was not passive. He impacted the world around him whether he liked or not. They all did.

After you get a chapter with each of the kids, you settle into Mrs. Olinski’s point of view. Their teacher and coach in the Academic Bowl who is also on a journey of her own. A long one that started way before the book began. She is a very nostalgic sort of person, and the whole book feels that way. Like the whole story is being told by Mrs. Olinski after she has retired from teaching. She has a wistful smile and a faraway look as she tells you the story, and as she tells it you almost wish you could sit down for tea with the Souls. (Almost? Ha. Totally wish.)

And there were turtles. I love turtles, and therefore enjoyed the book.

Shaina Merrick

Obligatory Work In Progress Post

You know those blog posts were a funny blogger reveals that they are actually writing a story and they just have to tell you about their glorious brain child?

You guessed it, I am writing one of those.

Valai

Yes, that is its name. Yes, I plan on changing it. Someday. You know, whenever this rambling novel decides to finish itself and reveal what it wants to be called.

In a nutshell, the country of Valai has been overtaken by a tyrant and the only surviving member of the royal family has to get his country back.

Woooow. Real original there girl. Sounds just like every other plot out there. And look at that, you even have elves. And pegasi. No dragons though. Just have to stick one in there somewhere and you can join the ranks of wannabe Lord of the Rings and Narnia novels.

I even have a magic system. Yup. I sunk that far. Doesn’t matter that mind readers are called wizards and magic is basically forced hallucinations, it is still a magic system. Did I mention that I had the idea for this book more than five years ago? I know, it doesn’t. But I thought I’d try.

And to top it all off, there is a love story. Congratulations girl, just had to follow the trend there too.

Yes, I sank so low as to put in a love story. Do me a favor and do NOT ask me for the ship name. I am still in denial that my two characters are in love, and don’t even want to think about it. You see, I have never actually written a love story from start to finish before. It is a sloooow burn, and at the moment my characters haven’t admitted to themselves that they like each other. Well, he hasn’t, I haven’t checked in with her recently… Anyway, considering this is my first functional love story I would suggest steering clear of it.

Speaking of the characters, excuse me while I go bang my head against the wall.

Kerina and Terrence simply refuse to do as they are told. Refuse. They have decided to do whatever they want with my poor story. I have almost completely given up figuring out how to stuff my plot into their shenanigans, and am basically just following them around as they do stuff. Yup. Lack of a coherent plot and rebellious characters. Sounds like my life.

Have I ever read a book like that and enjoyed it? No. Is that what editing is for? Yes, but that is beside the point.

Terrence with his ‘I’m going to save the world all by myself’ mentality is going to drive me crazy. Though I do feel sorry for him because his family is kind of, well, dead. Yeah. I wrote an orphan. Two of them actually. How cliche. He thinks he has to live up to his father and his brothers legacy by the age of 21, as well as rescue his country from a tyrant. I keep trying to tell him that he can’t, but he isn’t listening. Maybe this is where I need to put a dragon in, or something.

Kerina isn’t much better. Half elf and half human means she doesn’t belong in either world, but instead of trying to make the best of it, she decides to hide that she is part elf. On top of that, she is immune to magic, the lifeblood of the entire country. Another thing she hides from the world. When you are so different, fitting in is a little hard. Am I right? I may have, uh, made her life a tad bit too hard. But hey, she gets to go on this fantastic adventure and paint the ocean. That makes up for it. Totally.

And then you add the rest of my odd ball characters. An elf with a chip on his shoulder that may or may not have to do with Kerina, his woodsman best friend with endless exuberance and unexpected wisdom, Kerina’s uncle who never gets lost until he starts raising a girl, the thoughtful wizard who regards the world as a puzzle waiting to be solved, and countless others. They are all cluttering up my pages and clamoring to be heard. Guys, speak one at a time. Please!

Blegh. Did you ever see such a crew of cliche characters? At least I avoided the all become one big happy family trope. So far anyway. Though I have seemed to bumble into every other trope that exists!

Unless you actually like reading cliche stories that meander around the main point, stay far away. Though really, the chances of this book ever getting published at all are really, really small.

Royalty that bonds to pegasi? Telepathic wizards? Nomadic elves? A character immune to magic? Pshaw, no one wants to read about that.

If some, um, odd person ever decides to publish it, I’ll let you know so you don’t pick it up by accident.

Shaina Merrick

Tales of Lunnoor: The Rescue

And we’re back in the dangerous world of Lunnoor. Where faeries aren’t the only thing to lurk in the dark woods…

Run, Lannie, run. Lannie forced her legs to keep pumping. Grass and dirt fell away under her feet as she raced towards the marching army. Her legs screamed at her as she jumped over a hollow log, ignoring the faerie that scowled up at her. She didn’t have time for faerie hunting today. This was more important. She had to get to the king in time. She had to.

Her lungs began to burn. She was accustomed to loping along mile after mile. Not this mad dash through the woods. But still she ran.

The gold and blue flag of the army appeared through the trees. Run, Lannie! One more burst of speed, and she was standing in front of a captain.

“Where’s the king?” she gasped out. He shrugged, and her heart sank. The ones she had left behind didn’t have time for her to go looking.

“What’s wrong?” The general walked up beside her. He would have to do instead.

“Attack on the forward guard, rebel ambush.” Her legs felt wobbly, but she made them be still.

The general’s face tightened. “Where?” he asked as he gestured for the drummer boy.

“Two miles from here, just outside our intended camp.” Finally at their destination, and now this.

The general barked a command to the boy, who began a staccato beat he had to shout to be heard over. “Can you lead the second phalanx to their position?” He gestured to the captain still awkwardly standing next to them. “The rest will join you as soon as we are able.”

Lannie’s breath still came in large gulps, but she nodded. Hurry. They didn’t have much time.

The captain of the second phalanx yelled at his men, then nodded at her. “Lead the way.”

 Lannie was grateful she was still in her messenger clothes. The soft fabric was perfect for running. And cooler than chain mail. The air was hot and close under the trees, or was that just her? Sweat threatened to run into her eyes. But if she blinked, she would lose her gaze on the ground in front of her.

Lannie willed her trembling limbs to keep moving. The advance guard couldn’t hold out for long. She had known that from the moment the rebels appeared from the trees. There were too many of them.

Had she run fast enough? It was hard to keep track of time when your feet thudded against the ground, and your lungs burned for lack of air.

She had to go faster. Dappled shadows hid lumps and hollows in the ground. She had to watch where she was going. Had to keep track of the men behind her. She could hear their clinking armor; were they keeping up? Lannie risked a glance back, her eyes found them even as her feet found a root. Pinwheeling her arms just kept her from eating the dirt. But her momentum was lost and felt impossible to gain again. Her jelly legs screamed at her. Lannie gritted her teeth and ran on, brushing off worried questions. They had men to save.

Jump over a stream, round a stump. The clangs and shouts of a sword fight reached her ears. They were still fighting, good. Run, Lannie. Do not be late!

Lannie reached the edge of the clearing, the edge of the battle, and stopped. The second phalanx streamed around her to aid their friends.

The brown and green rebels had surrounded the blue clad troops, more of which lay still on the ground than up and fighting. But now the rebels were surrounded.

Her body longed to rest, but her work was not done. There was little she could do in the battle in front of her. Small quarters were for men trained for war, not a messenger with small skill in daggers.

Lannie drew her daggers and faded back into the trees. If she could not fight, she would make sure there were no more surprises this day.

She skulked through the trees, keeping one eye on the battle and one on the forest. It was no coincidence the rebels chose the deepest part of the forest for their ambush. The question was whether they had chosen it for the darkness or for what lurked in the darkness.

Halfway around the clearing she found what she was looking for. Two naiads and a dryad giggling to each other as they crept towards the battle. Already men were pausing mid fight, looking around for the siren song of rest. Her men paused. The rebels did not. As Lannie watched one of the king’s men fell to the song and sword. 

Lannie froze behind a bush. The rebels knew, and she was willing to bet her sword there was cotton stuffed in their ears to keep out the song. The faeries came closer, close enough for her to hear their chittering language. Near enough she could see the bloodlust in their eyes. Lannie took a breath and threw her daggers.

One found its mark, the other was knocked off course by the naiad. The surviving naiad and dryad hissed, their dark eyes finding her hiding place faster than any man. Lannie drew her sword and leaped. No more surprises. 

Her leap fell short of the faeries. Her legs screamed at her as she hit the ground. She had done too much, but she still had to lift her sword. A cry wrenched from her lips as she attacked the naiad. Was it from the exertion or the claws gouging her arm? In her hurry she had forgotten how sharp a dryads claws were. She would not forget again. 

Now there was only the dryad left. Lannie gasped for breath as the faeries circled her. Let it think she was exhausted, and attack first. She was exhausted, but she would never, ever let a faerie win. The dryad jumped at her, but it’s attack ended on the tip of Lannie’s sword. 

The men shook off the faerie song and renewed their attack. In the time it took Lannie to retrieve her daggers, the battle was over. The rebels were defeated, either still on the ground or kneeling at sword point.

Lannie found the nearest boulder and sank down onto it with a grateful sigh. She was going to stay put until the rest of the army caught up. Nothing was going to move her until she was able to make a full report to the king. Even then, would he mind if she gave her report from the boulder? 

Lannie took a breath, then froze as a sharp command rang through the clearing. Every soldier who was still able turned to Lannie and saluted. What do I do, what do I do? It wasn’t like she had done anything. Except run. And kill three faeries. All in a day’s work, right? What did father do when this happened? Oh.

“At ease,” Lannie croaked, and breathed out as they relaxed. This was why she stuck to the forest. No one felt the need to thank her afterwards. And thankfulness was awkward. Anyway, she had just done her job. And she would continue to do so until the king was restored to his throne.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: I’m Taking a Break

No, I am not actually taking a break from blogging. Not a planned one anyway. You never know what could happen on Tuesdays…

If you are a writer, you know what Writers Block is. It is not an actual wooden block sitting on your fingers and cackling at your bleary eyes. This is much, much worse. A wall inside of your brain keeping you from the words. Or at least the good words. There are no ideas, nothing worth writing at all in your brain. Just a wall, taunting you with its despicable firmness.

And how do we get rid of Writers Block? “By writing of course!” Say the chirpy writers with a cute notebook in hand. “Just keep slogging away,” intone the serious writers dressed in black and a faraway look in their eyes.

I tried. The wall has been a constant companion in my journey as a writer, and I have chipped away at it, day after slogging day, hoping that someday I will reach the end.

Did I ever reach the end? Sometimes. I would also be five thousand words in to an unnecessary series of scenes that would need to be cut. The only reason they existed was to get me out of Writers Block. Cutting out all those words you just slaved over is depressing.

Or, if I was lucky enough to write words that kind of go with the story, they would have to be completely rewritten because they are, in all honesty, trash.

Yes I said trash, about my own writing. Don’t gasp so loud, I can hear you.

I don’t write well while I have Writers Block. Big surprise. The wall is just too intimidating, too big. And I got really sick of forcing the words to come. I know writing isn’t easy. But does it have to feel like torture?

So I stopped the torture. I stopped staring at the wall day after day and did something else entirely. I guess you could say I gave up. Which let me say right here and now was only possible because I don’t have a writing contract. No one is depending upon me to write thousands of words a week. Thank goodness!

I didn’t completely give up on my ridiculous novel, just took a really, really long break. I checked in on the wall every now and then, just to see if it was still there. Yep still big, yep still big, yep still… Hey, I’ve got an idea!

And just like that, the wall was gone. I was past Writers Block, and with a lot less headache than normal.

Sitting there and putting words on a page isn’t necessarily going to make Writers Block magically disappear. It isn’t The formula, just a formula. And I for one don’t find it useful.

Stories aren’t made up of formulas. They are made up of imagination, starry eyes, and something no one can put their finger on. Stuffing your story, and the creation of your story, into formulas will smother it.

So don’t. Don’t buy into the idea that you have to/must sit down and conquer Writers Block. Do your brain a favor and step back. Let your creative juices steep and simmer. Maybe you have been staring at the same black and white words for too long. Tried to wring something interesting from the same old ideas one too many times.

Get into the sunshine and see some color. Ideas don’t just come from other stories. They also come from sunshine and people and real life experiences. Take a break. It can be as long or as short as you would like. However I would recommend you stay away until thinking of writing doesn’t make you cringe inside. When you have an idea, when you are ready to pick up your story again, that is the time to come back.

So get out there and do something that doesn’t smell like writing!

In other news, I reached 101 followers on this little blog! Thanks guys, I never thought I would get this far. Honest.

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: Midnight’s Curse

Sometimes, you get sick of the inch thick classics and non fiction and just have to read something lighter. Like a retelling of a fairy tale. Thus was the state I was in when I picked up ‘Midnight’s Curse’. I didn’t want to think too terribly much, and I liked the author’s other books, so why not?

I present ‘Midnight’s Curse’ by Tricia Mingnerink.

Midnight's Curse: A Cinderella Retelling (Beyond the Tales, #2)

The glass slippers might be her dreams come true…or her worst nightmare. (definitely nightmare)

High King Alexander rules the Seven Kingdoms of Tallahatchia—a divided nation on the brink of yet another war. When an invitation arrives from the king of Pohatomie, Alex knows it must be a trap, (I mean, duh) but could it also be his opportunity to unite the kingdoms?

Daemyn Rand has lived a hundred years, served an arrogant prince, fallen in love with a princess, and lost himself somewhere along the way. He has already died for his loyalty. (many, many, many times) Will standing at the high king’s side cost him his one chance to truly live? (probably not, his angst might though.)

Elara Ashen is a lowly, miserable servant. (that is what she thinks) All she wants is to spend even one night in a fancy dress dancing with the high king. When she is offered a pair of glass slippers, it seems that all her dreams have come true. (never trust a faerie who hides their face)

But dreams have a price, and gifts can be curses in disguise. What will it cost to stop this curse from tearing Tallahatchia apart yet again? (loooots more angst)

Fairy tales meet the Appalachian Mountains (best part) in this adventurous fantasy retelling of the classic Cinderella story.

Did the book live up to my expectations of being a quick and fun read? Yes, and no.

It was definitely quick. Which I liked, because I don’t have time to read tomes. And I don’t think I could have handled Elara’s POV for a page longer than I had to.

‘Midnight’s Curse’ builds upon the actions and growth of the last book, ‘Daggers Sleep’ and continues to tell the story of High King Alexander’s rise to the throne of Tallahatchia. So we get all the familiar characters that I at least fell in love with, and added in some new ones.

Quick tip to the writers out there, it isn’t fun being inside a jerks head. It really isn’t. I understand the occasional bad guy perspective, I mean, he is supposed to be a jerk. But when the main character is a jerk, or unbelievably selfish, I get tired of it reeaaal fast.

Elara is selfish. Very much so. At the beginning of the book all she could think about was herself and complain about her lot in life. Even though Mr. Perfect was standing right in front of her. Ahem. She had a redemptive arc, and learned her lesson, albeit the painful way. But for a large portion of the book I didn’t like her at all. She didn’t have any likeable characteristics. Which was one way the book felt a tad bit too short. It would have been nice to have at least one scene where she was nice to someone. Or have a character trait that wasn’t awful. But it wasn’t there, and I didn’t like her very much.

Now, I know the author can pull off the selfish POV really well, and still have you like the character. After all, that is what happened in the first book of this series. Alexander has had a major redemptive arc, and was a jerk in the beginning of the series. But even though he was a jerk, I liked him. Because he was trying. Trying to break his curse for the benefit of his country, trying to be a good king even though he was going about it all the wrong way. He was interesting, and he was likeable even though he could be a jerk.

What I did enjoy about the book was the continued unveiling of the world, and the faeries. The setting is really interesting, and I love how Tricia Mingnerink reveals the world. I also find the faeries super interesting, and I loved the more in depth view of what they do and why they do it. World building wise, this book (and series) takes the cake.

The plot was kind of predictable, being a Cinderella retelling and everything. However I did enjoy how she took the familiar elements of Cinderella and twisted them around a bit. So even though I knew what was coming, I didn’t always guess right.

However, sometimes I felt like the plot stopped. That everything stopped, just so a character could go through an angsty thought process, and there were many of those. While I am not against angsty thoughts, usually, I do get bored when I read an entire page of them, and nothing else is happening. Dude, stop thinking and do something already! Like, I dunno, reply to the person that is talking to you!

Another tip to writers, a large chunk of a character just thinking can pull the reader out of the book real fast.

To end this book review on a positive note, I though the side plot of Daemyn and Rosanna was great. And if fit in pretty well with the main plot (which is not always the case with romantic side plots).

I would recommend this series if you like unique worlds and magic systems. Probably don’t read this book without reading the first one, but if you like jumping in the middle of things, go for it. The first one is really good, and I am hoping the third one lives up to its predecessors.

The book is very clean, so I would have no qualms with giving it to any age.

So was this a book review, or a writing how to post? I guess we will never know…

Shaina Merrick

To Plan, or Not to Plan

I know, I know there is a blog post about plotting and pantsing somewhere on this blog (in fact you can find it here). But I am to the terrible middle of my novel, and I have to talk about this again!

Basically, I plotted the entiiiiiire story, in great detail. Down to who was falling in love with who at which time. Subplots, story beats, this beautiful outline had it all!

And then I forgot to look at the plot. And then my characters decided that their ideas were better than mine (glaring at you Terrence). So there I was, blithely writing along without looking at my plot. Just when I decided that I was at the midpoint I went and found my plotline and compared the two.

Cue me banging my head against my desk.

The story has meandered in and around the entire plot, sometimes missing plot points, sometimes finding them, and taking its sweet time to get to, in my plot, the second pinch point or a little bit before the midpoint.

Wut.

All that work, and I am not even at the middle yet?

Which got me thinking, is it even worth the trouble of plotting the entire story if I can’t follow it? Or won’t follow it. This plot has fallen to pieces as the story has meandered along.

There are things that I came across while I was writing that I think are better. Points that make more sense, scenes that I never would have thought up if I hadn’t written it. My story is stronger because I didn’t follow the plot. I hope so anyway.

So what the heck was the point of plotting it all out in the first place? Color coding did not guard against stray plot bunnies, bullet points did not fill in my glaring plot holes. There would be much more peace of mind, then and now, if I hadn’t created a plot that I now have to redo and wiggle around to fit where the story is going.

In this particular instance, I think it would have suited me much better if I had created a basic plot, with basic beats, that was easier to flex and wiggle when I went off the path. Now I wish I had a time machine to go back and tell myself not to bother with it.

All this to say, there is nothing like putting words on a page and figuring out what works with the characters and story the best. I didn’t know what worked for my story until I wrote it. Which I know is unthinkable to some of you. But there you go. I needed to write the story to find the plot for the story. Does it mean there will be lots (and lots and lots) of editing later? Yes, unfortunately. I will have to go track down all those plot bunnies and missing characters and put them back in place. But in the end, my story will be stronger for all that rambling and meandering.

Excessive planning did not work for this story. Perhaps it will for a different story. Maybe I will get better at following my own plot. But while I am dreaming, I would like calorie free chocolate.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: What’s in a Name?

I hate naming my characters. The whole process is a head achy bother. While some authors happily scour baby naming books for that perfect name, I flip through the pages with a scowl. And finding names that mean something in particular? That sounds like torture.

I didn’t used to be this way. A long time ago I slammed random letters together and made up all the names I pleased. In the ensuing years, I have either gotten wiser, or lazier. I haven’t totally decided which. But I never, even in those years, liked searching for a name.

Nowadays, if you listen to all the writers, names are one of the most important things about a character. For some authors, they don’t have the character until they have the name, and for others, it completes the character.

To all that I say phooey. Why name your characters? Ernest Hemingway didn’t in ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. His character had a name, that was used all of once. The rest of the time, he was known as the ‘old man’. And the other character was ‘the boy’. No names, but you knew who they were perfectly.

And have you ever had this conversation? “I really like this one character, he is so nice, and the one time he saved his best friends was epic. What was his name again?”

How many times have you forgotten a characters name, but you did like the character? Probably more times than you can count. What you remember is what he or she did and said.

In my own writing, I don’t name a character until it is absolutely necessary. When I have no other choice but to come up with a name. And then I might.

In all honesty, I wrote an entire novella without one single name. No one had a name, only descriptors. I don’t think any of my characters suffered from a lack of a name, they trotted along just as well without one.

So really, what is the importance of a name? It is not necessary for the character. They can develop just as well without one. And since I don’t really need one, I suppose I don’t need any of those special ones either. The ones that mean a billion things all at once that perfectly match my story. Ain’t happenin’ folks.

Though I suppose they can be helpful for the reader to keep track of who is who. But isn’t that what a descriptor is for?

Okay okay, in all seriousness, we probably shouldn’t drop names altogether. As much as I would like to. I think all our readers would revolt. My current novel would be a wash of pronouns and confusion.

I just wonder if they are truly the big deal some writers make them. They are not strictly necessary to the character or the novel.

Now if finding the perfect name for a character gives you a thrill, then don’t let me stop you! However, if you are anything like me, and naming people and things are a chore, let this blog post be your excuse not to. Or at least, to procrastinate it longer than you already have.

You’re welcome.

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: The Song of the Lark

So, I had an unforeseen problem in taking a month off of blogging. I can’t remember what the heck I am supposed to be writing about today. *goes to scour notebooks* Aaaah. Got it. Well, before we get to our regularly scheduled book review, I have a couple announcements. (only two, don’t roll your eyes)

I have Instagram!! Why am I acting so excited about it?! Basically, a bit ago I was decided with a loud sigh that I should be more active on social media, and ya know, create an author platform. Woohoo. So now you can find me and either block or follow me with the handle @shainamerrickwriter. I have loooots of book pictures and quotes because, that is what I like! So go, laugh at my picture taking skills! (I will eventually figure out how to put the insta button on my blog side bar, eventually…)

Also, I hate quarantine. Not being able to shop for clothes or hang out with my friends sucks. On the other hand, I have more time to read, and to bang my head on my keyboard while I am pretending to write.

On to a book review!

The Song of the Lark (Great Plains Trilogy, #2)

Perhaps Willa Cather’s most autobiographical work, (isn’t ‘perhaps’ a lovely word?) The Song of the Lark charts the story of a young woman’s awakening as an artist against the backdrop of the western landscape. Thea Kronborg, an aspiring singer, struggles to escape from the confines her small Colorado (finally, a book set in Colorado and it isn’t Denver!) town to the world of possibility in the Metropolitan Opera House. In classic Cather style, The Song of the Lark is the beautiful, unforgettable story of American determination and its inextricable connection to the land. (Uuuh, I don’t know about her connection to the land, she cuts her ties pretty well!)

As much as I love all of Willa Cather’s books, this one imprinted itself on my mind and heart much more than all of the other ones.

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather is the story of an artist. One who struggles to find herself, and where she fits in the grand scheme of things, throughout her entire life.

The book starts when Thea Kronburg is, like, six, and ends when she is thirty something. Yes, it is a very fat book. And yes, it did take me a while to read.

I thought the beginning was slow. Mostly because it seemed to be more about her life, and her family’s life, than it was about who she was as an artist. Though it does lay the important groundwork about her lifelong friends, and how she develops as a musician at first.

Then we hit the middle of the book, and things pick up a bit! Which seems to be the opposite of how most book are written (hello mid book slump).

Some of my favorite characters are in the middle of the book. Including Thea’s piano teacher in Chicago who realizes that her true gift is singing, and her friend turned love interest who introduces her to the finer things in life.

What I found most interesting about the book is her transition from piano to singing. Thea has been trained for most of her childhood to be a pianist. She had the best piano teacher in her little Colorado town, and she gets the bets piano teacher in Chicago, all to help her become a concert pianist. And she is good. Good enough to teach others, good enough that her piano teacher knows that she could have a future in piano.

But she hates it. The farther she gets, the more she dislikes playing. But even so, she forces herself to practice for hours every day. To conquer every challenge thrown at her, to make perfect every song. And she is miserable for every minute of it.

And singing, well, singing is something she has always done, and while she know she is good at it, piano is what she is better at, right?

Wrong.

The first time her piano teacher hears her sing, he knows better. Her true gift, her soul, is in her voice. Piano is something she could be good at, but singing is something she could be great at.

From that moment, off she tumbles into a world of voice. The work is still hard, but it is a different kind of hard. Singing is so much a part of her that the work has become an extension of who she is, and who she wants to become.

How often do we spend hours upon hours chasing a dream, only to realize that we are better at something else? Or how much money do we spend hoping that we will become someone, only to find out that we would rather be someone else?

I would say that the second half of the book reveals how far Thea is willing to go in pursuit of become a great artist. She is willing to give up just about everything, home, family, health, in order to pursue her dream.

She decides that she will become great, or she will be nothing.

Obsessive? Well, some may say so. One may also say determined. She is determined to get what she wants, no matter what gets in her way. Be that happiness or despair.

And does she get what she wants? Well, I can’t give everything away, can I?

Shaina Merrick