Shall I Read You or Shall I Not?

I have limited time. Between work and writing and school, my time to read books is not as extensive as when I could blissfully read every summer afternoon. (those were the days…) Since my reading time is so small, I don’t want to waste it reading books that I don’t like.

I DNF books all the time. (in case you don’t know, DNF stands for ‘did not finish’, I didn’t know that for the longest time and felt stupid for years. So there you go, you are allowed to feel smart again.) Well, not all the time. I do try and finish the books I pick up, especially if I bought them… However, I do not feel obligated to finish a book if I hate it.

I used to feel terrible if I didn’t finish a book. I kept a list of books I never finished in the vain hope that someday I would get back to them and actually finish them. It kinda worked, I finished a couple, but was often as unimpressed with the end as I was with the beginning.

In other words, it wasn’t worth it. So eventually I stopped worrying about it.

I still have a list of books I never finished, but that is because Goodreads doesn’t have a ‘read half of it’ button to push… Maybe someday I will get back to them, but I doubt it.

I often have a very good reason for stopping the book. If I am just bored by the book, or am in the middle of a part I don’t like, I make myself push through and finish. It might take me forever, but I finish it. I don’t want to give up on a book just because it isn’t fast paced or because a character gets in an embarrassing situation. (which, to be honest, is every character in almost every book.)

Usually I stop reading because the content is, well, shall we say R rated? I try to be very careful about what I put in my brain, so excessive language or steamy scenes turns me off of a book. Those words and scenes get stuck up in my mind, and I don’t like that. I can tolerate what would probably be about a PG-13 rating in a movie, past that I wrinkle my nose and cast the book aside.

There are plenty of amazing books out there to read without having to read that stuff. So I don’t.

At this point in my reading career I have read a loooot of books. And I have found out what I like to read about, and what I don’t really like to read about, but might if forced. I don’t like love triangles, and I am not a fan of star crossed romances. (I like happy endings okay?) I don’t like ‘the world against the characters’ trope where everyone hates the main character. So if those look very prominent in the novel, I just won’t pick it up.

Like I said, I am very picky. At this point it probably seems like I have a very narrow set of books I like to read, and will soon run out of those books. Not really. You would be amazed at how many books don’t have love triangles.

I read everything from the classics to middle grade adventures. My shelves boast of scifi, drama, and fantasy. I love high stakes adventure, but am happy to read a book set in one place the whole time. I read picture books if they look really cute.

I like books. I really really like books. Yet at this point, I agree with Hercule Poirot.

‘I am of an age where I know what I like and what I do not like. What I like, I enjoy enormously. What I dislike, I cannot abide.’

So there you go.

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: Nevermoor

No, I am not making a bad pun about Poe’s poem. Now that we have that out of the way, shall we get to the book review?

Morrigan Crow is cursed.(we think) Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks–and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. (tough luck kid)

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, (no kidding, they were super freaky) he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It’s then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. (waggles eyebrows) In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each with an extraordinary talent that sets them apart–an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests–(or just trust Jupiter knows what he is doing, that tends to be a good idea) or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.

This fast-paced plot (oh really?) and imaginative world (absolutely) has a fresh new take on magic that will appeal to a new generation of readers. (excuse me? I don’t look that young)

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor Series Book 1)

First, can we all take a minute and just enjoy the cover? With all the colorful umbrellas and the giant cat in the back ground. You know, the big cat looking out the window, just wanted to make sure you saw that.

I was introduced to ‘Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow’, by a good friend of mine. She basically told me I should read them and I, being good natured at the moment, said yes. I will never regret that decision.

One of the reasons I am drawn back to fantasy again and again as a reader and as a writer is the sheer amount of possibilities of it. Anything is possible in fantasy, from talking animals to fairies to castles in the sky. I know when I open a book that there is no such thing as giant cats that talk, but while I am within the pages, I believe there is. Even if it is only for those brief moments.

Nevermoor captures the possibilities and wonder of fantasy and brings them to your attention like a child capturing a firefly and showing it to you. In the city of Nevermoor, anything is possible. An alley could take you anywhere, a market could be selling vegetables along side fairy dust, a child can learn to trust again.

Morrigan Crow has been an outcast her entire life, shunned from a society that is terrified of her. She lives a half life, spent writing apology notes for things she never did and waiting for her death to come. Something no child should be thinking about, yet she is faced with it day in and day out. Until Jupiter North, explorer extraordinaire and owner of the Hotel Deucalion whisks her away to the Free State and the city of Nevermoor.

It is hard to say which I liked more, the world of Nevermoor or the characters. Like I said earlier, the world of Nevermoor is a romp into the possibilities of the fantasy genre. Which isn’t to say it was chaotic. The author, Jessica Townsend, did not merely stuff everything possible into the story and say it was fine. There are rules to the world, but those rules are, well, much different from the ones that define ours. While umbrella rails may not make sense here on earth, they make perfect sense in Nevermoor.

Morrigan Crow is a likeable character from the very beginning. She struggles to do what is right even while she is trapped in her old world.Hoping to someday earn the love of a father who barely looks her way. She finds happiness where she can, but is never really happy, for good reason. Then she is taken to Nevermoor. There, in the city of talking animals and twisty streets she finds what she has been looking for her whole life.

I think for me, her happy acceptance of Nevermoor was a welcome change from all the angst of the young adult genre. She did not spend half the novel guilty because of one thing or another, nor did she keep unnecessary secrets from the people who were trying to help her. Sorry but I really can’t stand secrets. Maybe some of you like them, but personally I prefer to keep them at a minimum. In stories and in real life.

Morrigan grows from the little thing scared of anyone glancing at her, to a girl confident in who she is and what she wants out of life. And she gets there because of her friends. Not because she suddenly becomes amazing or talented or powerful. Honestly all that outward stuff does not change much in this book. She is still the same Morrigan, just a little more confident.

I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say that we all need someone who believes in us completely and without reservation. I need it, and Morrigan needed it. When the book begins Morrigan had no one who loved her or believed in her. They all thought she was a burden and a curse. And then along comes Jupiter North. He is the first adult in her life who has complete confidence in her even when, perhaps especially when, she does not have any in herself. He believes she is special, in fact believes it so strongly she begins to hope he is right.Through him she meets the staff at the Hotel, all of whom go out of there way to make her comfortable and happy. And through him she meets her very first and very best friend Hawthorne, a willing accomplice to all of her adventures and comic mishaps. These people stick with her through thick and thin, no matter how odd things get, no matter how bad it looks, they are at her side.

Morrigan’s confidence begins with those people. It will not end there, but it is a pretty good beginning.

Remember the cat from earlier? Well, if you aren’t going to remember anything else from this review, remember the talking giant cat Fenestra. You are missing out on an essential part of life if you have not read her sassy remarks. Somehow, a cat is a housekeeper, and manages to keep the rest of the hotel in line at the same time. If she hates you, you will have moths in your closet and hair balls under your pillow. If she likes you, you can expect to be insulted three times a day (at least).

If you need a laugh, a break from reality, or just like a good book, read Nevermoor. You won’t regret it.

Shaina Merrick

The Story I Want

Quick question, if you could read a book about anything, what would you read about? What is your perfect story? Okay I guess not such a quick question, because I am about to dedicate a whole blog post to it.

This year I decided to write the story I wanted to write. Not the one I felt obligated to write because of how long it had been in a notebook, or the one I thought would actually sell. I tried, and writing those stories felt like pulling strings right out of my heart. It was draining, to say the least. So after my last Nano, I took a break from writing, and used that break to decide what I wanted to work on next.

What did I like to write? What did I like to read?

Melancholy stories. Stories where the land itself seems to be a character. Fantastic worlds that may or may not make sense. Simple stories, where the fluff of the story has been peeled back to find, in all its beauty, a bare story underneath. Emotion, real emotion inside of real characters.

My style was and is slowly moving away from Tolkienesque (for which we can thank our lucky stars for, the world doesn’t need another Tolkien copy) to something I still can’t quite put my finger on, but I know I am on my way to finding it (I hope anyway). Stories that don’t have to do with entire worlds (or that have to have an agonizing amount of world building), or saving the universe, but with people. People caught up in events and then what they do about it. I love the ordinary characters who find themselves in the adventure much more than I like ‘Chosen Ones’. I like characters with flaws and who agonize over decisions, but who do the right thing anyway. I like the complicated characters.

Since I like to read stories with those characteristics, why not write those kind of stories? I can at least try, even though those authors are waaaay above my skill level.

During my writing break, my mind constantly went back to two stories in particular. They sat, like so many others, simmering away in my notebooks. There are literally about 20 stories ideas that could grab my attention in my notebooks, yet I only thought about two. In fact, one of the few bits of writing I did in those two months was to write a scene in one of those stories. Obviously, those had captured my attention.

Those stories were the ones I wanted to write.

Without giving too much away, I wanted to share a bit of the two stories I will be working on for the forseeable future. I am really loving the idea of the aesthetic of a novels, so let’s try that! Please forgive the titles, these stories are barely begun so I have no idea what to call them.

Story One: A Love Letter to My Hometown.

Dragons // Sunshine on my face // Fire // Traveler // Smoke and ashes // Burned trees // Wind whipping my hair into my eyes // Breathless // Gold // Desert soil // The veins in a leaf // Steampunk // Bravery // Wild // Strange world // Mountains // Sunrise

Story Two: Letters to a Sister

Duels // Knights // Old Libraries // Wrinkled Letters // Pressed Flowers // Herbs // Spilled Ink // Feather Pen // Monsters // A Sword on the Ground // Tears on a Pillow // Quiet Courage // Dusk // Steel // Gray // Hope // Palaces

Okay, now I really want to know, what would be your perfect book to read? What would it be about?

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

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Welcome to my latest review *cough* obsession *cough*. This is the next book I am going to buy if I ever have spare money. *Looks to the future*. That is going to be a while.

In the meantime, I will tell everyone and their cousin that this book is amazing and you should go read it.

‘Nuff said.

Okay okay. Here is the actual review of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

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Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? (Really? This is not the question you should be asking. The answer is given by chapter two, and hinted at right off) The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, (the creepiest thing in the entire book) armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

The classic dystopian novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity.
(Um yes. And I think a better prophecy than the other two. This is a future that is scarily possible)

Bradbury’s powerful and poetic prose
(drool) combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology (less the potential of tech and more the impact of media) to create a novel which, decades on from first publication, still has the power to dazzle and shock.

First, let’s talk about the fact that this book somehow managed to avoid being a love story. At all. A dystopian book that doesn’t have a love story! Do you realize how momentous this is?

Ray Bradbury crafted a tale of awakening and danger that doesn’t have any romantic love in it at all. *happy dance* Instead, you have father and daughter love, you have the love between two friends, and you have the aching memory of love in a marriage doomed to failure. So it is possible to write a compelling story without a romance side plot. Duly noted and filed away for later use.

The main theme of Fahrenheit 451 is the power of books. And what makes them so powerful. The answer may surprise you.

It begins with a fireman, Guy Montag (can we take a moment to appreciate the fact that his name is Guy?), who is lying to himself. He says that he is happy with his job, his wife, his house. Until he meets a random girl walking home in the dark. This girl, young enough to be his daughter, has interesting ideas about life, and is not afraid to share them. Honestly, she reminded me of a home-schooler, it was great.

She is the one who opens his eyes to what he really feels about life, and she is the one who gives him the courage to open the books he has stashed away in his house.

From there, it is a quick road to disaster. Guy loses everything, his house, his job, his wife, in his quest for knowledge. All he wants is to understand. Why is his job to start fires instead of stop them? Why are books banned? What is so important about these books? I won’t give the answers here, because you need to go read them for yourself. But suffice to say that the answers are not simple ones. They make you think more than the questions do.

I loved how Bradbury spoke/wrote about books. His love for the written word, and the ideas they contain, bled from his heart, onto the pages, and into my heart. This book, about burning books, made me love books even more. And yet, his definition of a book is also not the one you would expect. This is a hint to go read the book.

Guy Montag is the main character of the novel, and the entire thing is from his perspective. We are inside his head, seeing and feeling things as he sees and feels them. Other characters come in an out of the story, but none even come close to the time we have with him. By the end of the book, you know Guy as well as you know any friend, perhaps better.

I would not say that the book is a stream of consciousness, been there, read that, and I am glad Fahrenheit 451 is not one of those books. However, the book is very deep inside his head, and you might need a minute to adjust to normalcy when you come up for air while reading it.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the prose. The beautiful, lyrical prose that swells from one scene to the next. It is really hard to describe that kind of prose, because you can’t quantify it in grammatical rules. It was beautiful, and I would have read the most boring story ever if it was written in that prose.

I would recommend this book without hesitation to anyone who enjoys the dystopian genre. Also if you like classics, if you like beautiful writing, and if you have a love affair with books. So basically, just about everyone.

Though I would hesitate to give it to anyone under fourteen, because of the content. There is absolutely nothing explicit, but the book does deal with things like murder and an overdose of sleeping pills.

If I could give this book ten out of five stars, I would. Five will have to do for now I suppose.

I hope you pick Fahrenheit 451 up and enjoy the read!

Shaina Merrick

Favorite Reads of 2019

Fine. Since everyone else is doing it, I will to.

I have been keeping track of what I read, and how much I liked it, since I was… In Middle School? And all of those lists are around here somewhere. Heh. Thankfully, the list for this year is not in the depths of some journal, and easy to get to and finally organized according to month and year. (don’t ask)

I read a bunch of good books this year, so this list is not going to be short. Sorry not sorry.

The Chestnut King by N. D. Wilson

The Chestnut King (100 Cupboards, #3)

The only reason the rest of the 100 cupboards series isn’t on here is because I didn’t read them in 2019, and I had to cut myself off somewhere. This was the finale to end all finales. The perfect wrap up to the series, and a scene at the end that left me crying happy tears. You must read this series. I don’t think I can put into words how much I love all of these characters and the relationships between them. Also, this series is the reason I now like baseball. Thanks Henry.

A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews

A Thousand Perfect Notes

This, this is the book that I will fangirl over with anyone, anywhere. I was not expecting this book to bowl me over, but it did. Every scene left an ache in my heart, every word made me fall in love with the main character even more. Beck was so, so wonderful, all I wanted to do was hug him and give him a cookie. Also, there was piano. My other great love in life. This book combined my two favorite things. The way the author explained playing piano was something I knew. This was an experience I could share with Beck because I have done that. Played the song, had the nerves, hoped the soul I was bleeding over the keys would be liked by others. So yeah. It was great.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater

The Scorpio Races

I will shove this book at almost everyone in existence. I will admit, I avoided it for years because it seemed to be a combination of things I didn’t like. Ha! I was wrong, and I have never been so happy about it in my life. Scorpio Races has the most beautiful prose, and her way of describing left me in awe. All I wanted was to learn how to write like that. Well, I also wanted to figure out what happened next. But ya know, priorities.

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Romanov

I know I have done a review on this book somewhere on this blog. But I am too lazy to look it up and link to it. Anyway. This is one of the few historical fiction I read this year, and it was also a fantasy. Two of my favorite genres! What I really loved about this book was the way she handled the Romanov family itself. I loved the relationships between them all, and how they were compassionate even in the midst of cruelty. The father showed forgiveness in the face of men who hated him, and even though in the terms of the world he ‘failed’. I think the story showed how such acts of compassion and forgiveness change people, and the world. Go read it! And bring a box of tissues with you.

Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

Fireborne (The Aurelian Cycle, #1)

Enter tears, chills of awe, and a stupid grin. I don’t think my heart will ever recover from the emotions of this book. Up and down, and down some more, and then back up we went as I followed the characters around. I literally stopped in the middle of an intense scene and started trying to figure out why I was feeling so much emotion. (yay logic) I might have figured it out. Sorta. I couldn’t believe all the things this book covered when I stepped back and looked at it. Love, friendship, politics, family, this book covers it all. Yet never feels overly full or preachy or that things are going at a breakneck pace. I adored it.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain, #4)

The best word I would give this book is melancholy. The whole book was melancholy. But I loved it. Every melancholic word of it. Somehow, Taran’s journey became a rippled reflection of mine this year. Trying different things and hoping that one of them will work out. Only to realize that the one skill I ache to have may not be within my grasp at all. Can we discuss the ending for a moment? Where everything is answered and yet nothing is at all? There is inward screaming right now. I wish more books could pull off that kind of ending.

The High King by Lloyd Alexander

The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain, #5)

Yes, I am allowed to have a two books by the same author, and both in the same series, in my list. It’s my blog. Anyway, what would a list of 2019 favorites be without the last/best book of the series that made me rethink everything I thought I knew about fantasy? It wouldn’t be a list, that’s what! This book perfectly wrapped up every loose end in the whole entire series, yet still reminding you that there are more adventures to come. Every question was answered, yet there were still questions. But good questions, the ones that make you think about the book long after it has finished. The characters all came to their poetic justice, though mercy was shown to those who didn’t deserve it, yet you were glad they got it anyway. I better stop while I am ahead.

There you have it folks! A by no means complete list of my favorite reads of 2019! What did you read, and love, this year?

Shaina Merrick

Plotting V.S. Pantsing

You know how at the beginning of each how-to post the author tells you why you should listen to them? Why they are uniquely qualified to speak to you on this subject? Well. Here is a short version of that.

In the plotting and pantsing world I am not exactly in either camp. Nor am I one of those enlightened people who sit squarely in the middle of the line with their novels. I am a metronome. Sometimes I swing all the way to the pantsing side of writing, sometimes I swing the other way. It really depends on the day.

So do I know what I am talking about when I say plotting or pantsing? Yup. Been there done both. Whether that makes me qualified to write about this is another matter altogether. I will leave it for you to judge.

Lest you become confuzzled, let me define these terms. Ones that are bandied back and forth in the writing world all of the time. Sometimes sparking an interesting discussion, sometimes a heated debate.

In simple terms, plotters plan out their story before the first draft. Pantsers plot it out while they are writing the first draft. Plotters figure out their characters, plot, and setting waaay ahead of time. They are the ones with multiple notebooks dedicated to different elements of their story. Pantsers sit down with the germ of a story idea, a pen, and a piece of paper, and figure it out as they go along. Plot outlines? Character worksheets? What are those?!

The most heated debates come when writers begin to discuss which one is better. To plot first, or to plot later, that is the question. To which I say, depends on the day?

Pantsing Strengths

At this particular moment, the novel I am working on has been completely pantsed. When I began writing it I had a phrase, and half of a character. As I wrote I found more characters, and eventually figured out what on earth was going on with this story. That is the magic of pantsing. It is like a movie going on underneath your fingers. No one knows what is going to happen next. Least of all yourself. Everything is a surprise, and the magic that keeps us writing is everywhere. It is the first blush of that story, untainted by planning, that gets you through that first draft.

Also in pantsings favor is the fact that you can start right away. No waiting until every plot point is filled and every character question answered. You don’t even need to know the theme before you write those first words. I love that. I love that I can sit down and begin, and somehow that first bit of a story idea becomes a full story.

Plotting Strengths

Now while my current WIP is being pantsed, I have many many many plotted stories in progress. Ones that were plotted withing an inch of their life before I even started the first chapter.

As with pantsing, I start with the first blush of an idea. And then I figure out what on earth I am going to do with this idea. Which means all the worksheets, all the character questionnaires, and all the theme wonderings. What I love about this method is that I get to answer all of my questions before hand. There is something breathtaking about creating a character arc and watching it unfold before your eyes. I don’t have to wait for the end of the book to find out what is going to happen to all of my characters. I can figure it out right now! Then there is writing out each and every plot point and deciding what happens when. My organized self gets a thrill out of that part! When each character arc connects to the plot points, and it is all tied together by the theme, that there is pure magic.

I must say that the actual writing of the story goes much smoother when you have it all planned out before hand. There are less writing block moments and way fewer times that your characters have backed you into the corner with less than no ways out.

Pantsing Weaknesses

What, did you think I was going to let you leave without telling you the dangers of each method? Nope! Prepare to be overwhelmed.

If you absolutely hate writers block, if even the mention of it wants to make you hide under your bed with chocolate, then don’t pants. Trust me. When you barely an idea with where you are going to go with your story, writers block springs up often. Yelling ‘surprise!’ and then wondering why you are running away screaming.

It is easier to write yourself into a corner with pantsing. You eagerly follow each and every rabbit trail, and then wonder how on earth your characters ended up on the edge of a cliff with no ways of rescue. Hm, maybe I should write in a flock of eagles?

Also, you will have to edit many many times. There is no first then second then finished draft with pantsing. Unless you are a writing genius of course. You will have to do way more after the first draft to make sure that it all goes smoothly. And that includes refining character arcs, filling in plot holes, and foreshadowing. Things that you would have already done if you had plotted. So if you hate editing, try to have some of the planning and questioning done before hand.

Plotting Weaknesses

Even with your mega plans and color coded plot your novel still might fall flat on its face. Or never get written in the first place.

The greatest weakness I have found in plotting is the fact that you are never done planning. There are always more questions to answer about your character, always more bits to find out about your world, and always more research to do. You may find yourself always plotting and planning and never getting to the first draft. And if you don’t get to the first draft, you don’t have a novel. Only a well planned project that you will get to, someday.

Also, if you have created a multi faceted plot that has planned for every eventuality and filled every plot hole and put every character in a firmly defined box, your characters will grab the reins and run away with the whole story. It seems to be the rule of all plots. The more you tack them down, the smallest thing will upset them. If I don’t make sense, I apologize.

You see, writing is a creative process. Which means you are using the creative side of your brain most of the time. You know, the side that wakes you up at 2:00 AM with a great idea. That side will refused to be tamped down, and when you least expect it will pop up with this great idea that will send your perfect plot careening off course.

Pantsing Ideas

I thought this post was long enough, but I didn’t want to leave you with all of this dismal news. My hope is that these how-to posts are useful, and so I want to give you a few ideas to make each side easier to write. To avoid each pitfall and tap into the strengths.

I have found that pantsing becomes more manageable when you take notes while you are writing. Whether those notes are in a different color within your draft, or in a different notebook, or even at the end of each chapter, write ’em. Notes will save you from wondering where your characters went, and keep you from hours of finding where you wrote down what color your MC’s eyes are.

If you are writing notes, you have a quick look at what you will have to edit later. Possibly saving you a draft, or at least a bunch of time.

This idea is to keep writers block in the corner. Keep the ending in mind. No, this isn’t me trying to finagle you into plotting. Know where you are going with your story, at the very least you will know when you need to end it. Chances are, you already have an idea of where your story is going, just fine tune it a bit. What is the goal of the characters? Are the characters going to get their goal? Or not? Figure that out, and your pantsed novel will end right on time.

Plotting Ideas

Don’t plan too much. That about sums up my advice for this side of the question. If you plan too much, your novel won’t be written. Which isn’t quite what you want, is it? We all want to finish our stories, so do yourself a favor and stop planning. Find a point that you can stop, and stop. Decide beforehand what that point will be. Are you going to plan until you have a basic idea? Until you have the whole plot finished? Answer that question, and when you have hit that point. Stop. Don’t let yourself plan any more.

Again, if you plan too much and too tightly, one small thing will make it all crash off course. Okay okay. I might be exaggerating. Your plot will probably not go crashing into a mountainside and shatter into smithereens.

However, when you are plotting, leave breathing room. Room for your characters to do unexpected things, and for unexpected people to show up. And if the unexpected happens, don’t sweat it, or try to erase it. It will be easier to put toothpaste back into a bottle than to stuff your idea back into your brain. Play with idea a bit, let it percolate. Maybe it will make your story better, even if it means that your plot will have to be adjusted a bit.

Phew. If you made it to the end of this ridiculously looong post. Congratulations! Take some chocolate strawberries. I hope it was helpful, at least a little. So go out, finish those stories! I will be over here trying to end my pantsed novel. I need to take my own advice and figure out what the ending is for this thing…

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

I just stayed up waaay too late finishing this book. Even though I was tired, even though I had work in the morning. I couldn’t put it down. I either found out what happened to Jo and her sisters, or I had a sleepless night wondering about it! Either way, I wasn’t going to sleep much, so I may as well satisfy my curiosity.

To satisfy your curiosity, here is the blurb!

Jo, the firstborn, “The General” to her eleven sisters, is the only thing the Hamilton girls have in place of a mother. She is the one who taught them how to dance, the one who gives the signal each night, as they slip out of the confines of their father’s townhouse to await the cabs that will take them to the speakeasy. (in case you don’t know what this is, in the 1920’s alcohol was illegal. The only way you could drink was to go to a night club, or speakeasy) Together they elude their distant and controlling father, until the day he decides to marry them all off.

The girls, meanwhile, continue to dance, from Salon Renaud (once) to the Swan (once) and, finally, the Kingfisher, the club they come to call home. They dance until one night when they are caught in a raid, separated, and Jo is thrust face-to-face with someone from her past: a bootlegger named Tom whom she hasn’t seen in almost ten years. (yeees, loved this part and the backstory that came with it!) Suddenly Jo must weigh in the balance not only the demands of her father and eleven sisters, but those she must make of herself. (yeah yeah, it wasn’t that hard of a decision to make, stop playing it up for tension)

With The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, award-winning writer Genevieve Valentine takes her superb storytelling gifts to new heights, joining the leagues of such Jazz Age depicters as Amor Towles and Paula McClain, and penning a dazzling tale about love, sisterhood, and freedom. (mostly sisterhood, slightly less freedom, and not really about love at all)

This book would not be every ones cup of tea. It moves slowly, even as it is building to the climax. There are a few bits of quick action, but they disappear as soon as they come. There is a lot of backstory, especially in the first half of the book.

I enjoyed it, I thought the backstory and flash backs were woven in well. It was a flow of thought that made sense. Rather than wondering how the character had gotten from point A to point B.

Most of the story is from Jo’s point of view. A great choice, because she is the one making the decisions and pushing the plot along. Yes, there are other people making decisions around her, and doing things that affect her, but she is the one that moves the plot.

Jo is the perfect illustration of an active protagonist. One who acts rather than reacts. When her father decides to attempt to marry them all off, she tries to get on top of the situation. She is trying to keep her sisters safe, and knows that to do that she will need to control as much of this as possible.

She is a strong character, without being able to beat up anyone who crosses her path. She doesn’t go against the ideas of the time, much anyway, she is strong enough without having to push against the grain. Which, honestly, is a relief. A breath of fresh air in a world full of heroines that can do everything. Save the guy, flirt with the guy, and get the guy. She has her points of weakness, and learns what they are.

A main theme of the book is that Jo can not do everything. Her sisters are their own people, who must make their own decisions. She learns, slowly, that the more she tries to control them, the easier it will be to lose them.

However, this book was not focused solely on Jo alone. There are twelve girls. Twelve characters each with their own motivations and dreams. Somehow, Genevieve Valentine made each one of the girls come alive. They all got a little snippet of the story that wove itself into the plot as a whole, she didn’t leave you wondering why the plot had stopped in order to characterize.

I loved the characters, Jo mostly, but like I said. The plot is slow. I enjoyed the slow pace that explored the ins and outs of Jo’s decisions. However, not that much happens in the first bit of the book. I never did feel like the plot was dragging though. It slowly picked up steam in a very satisfying way, ending in a BIG event that shakes everything up. Then is all calms back down again for a while.

I did feel like the end dragged a bit though. It was a good wrap up, but it took such a long time from what felt like the climax was to the end. It was a good end, an end that caused a sigh of happiness. But a long ending, so both good and bad I guess?

I would recommend this book to late teens and up. There are a couple of content issues, such as a romantic scene (mostly off screen, but it still happened), and a couple cuss words.

Over all, I would give this book 4 stars. * * * *

What have you guys been reading lately? Anything good? Anything gag worthy? I would love to make my tbr list bigger! 😉

Shaina Merrick

The Fantastic Realmies (and books)

Every year a bunch of crazy writers get together to celebrate their mutual craziness. We call it Realm Makers. At this conference they also learn how to be even crazier. Those particular people are called Realmies. The ones who are so crazy that there is no hope for them. If you like being crazy, it’s a fun time! If not, well, maybe you should stay far, far away…

I decided to go to this conference, and risk coming out crazier than before. Whether I escaped successfully or not is for you to judge.

So many things happened at Realm Makers. So. Many Things. My poor brain is so full, and it is worse because I haven’t journaled yet…

I attended classes that have taken me one more step in my writing journey. I learned about my craft, and what it takes to get published. I learned how to plot a short story in the same weekend that I learned to plot a series.

I was encouraged beyond belief by the keynote speaker. He reminded me how important this career can be. That our words can touch other people. I was reminded that this is something that God has called me to do, and that this calling is a grand and wondrous thing.

I came back home ready to write again. Ready to grab my time by the horns and force it to produce a novel.

Unfortunately, I also came back to a day job, which puts a damper on a few things. So it’s a good thing I took that class on balancing life and writing!

I bought lovely, gorgeous books. Which I can’t wait to read! I also can’t wait to figure out how I will fit them all onto my shelf…

Gorgeous covers! I almost don’t want to read them, just stare at them…
You can’t see it in the picture. But Kings Folly is actually humongous.
Even more lovely books! Where will I find the time to read them all?

Like I said, I did lots and lots of things. But the classes I went to, the books I bought, the things I did, all of those paled in comparison to who I met.

Courage is going up to an author, sticking out your hand, and saying, “Hi, I’m Shaina.” But if you drum up that courage, you find out that those authors you are star struck by are friendly people happy to talk with you

Wayne Thomas Batson. Teacher of my favorite class. 🙂
Jill Williamson. I was definitely star struck when I asked her to sign my book.

This last weekend I finally (finally!) got to meet my pen pal. We have been writing, and emailing, back and forth for years. And I met her for the first time a week ago. To say that it was great would be an understatement. It was awesome. I was able to put a person to the words I have read. A voice behind the emails. Unfortunately, we both forgot to get a selfie together. Whoops!

I also met the voices behind the articles and blogs that I have been reading for so long. People I never thought I would meet in a million years I was suddenly shaking hands with.

Gabrielle.
Rolena. One of the sweetest people ever!

I would have been content with just meeting those people. To hang out with them the whole weekend. But instead, I was blessed with a friend. We clicked, bonded over conversation and pizza (a perfect combination). Before I knew it, we were hanging out all the time, chatting about writing, school, jobs, and anything else we could thing of. She became my friend, one I hope to keep for a long time to come.

Cassie. My favorite person at the conference.

So there you go, a mini recap post of the fantastic, wonderful, crazy time that is Realm Makers. If you happen to make your way to it next year, I hope to see you there!

Shaina Merrick

Life is Short, Time is Valuable, and There are too Many Books!

No, I am not freaking out. Why do you ask? I am definitely not wondering how on earth I am ever going to read all the books I want to read. I wonder if I will ever get to the bottom of my tbr list?

Whoops, I wondered. Now I am freaking out.

Raise of hands, is anyone else ever overwhelmed with the sheer amount of books that are out there? Even if you somehow read all the ones in the bookstores, there are more being published every year. With self publishing so easy now, the number of books put out on the market year after year is astronomical. There is no hope of ever catching up.

And if you happen to have a life outside of reading books. You know, normal things like having friends, a job, a family…. Your case is even more hopeless. There is no way that you will ever be able to read all the books that look so vastly interesting.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to made you feel overwhelmed.

I am not here to give you hope that with the right attitude and schedule you will be able to read them all. Instead, I am here to tell you that you can’t. And contrary to popular belief, that’s just fine. In fact, it may be a good thing.

I think all bookworms can agree that for every good book on the bookstore shelf, there are ten bad ones. Books that just aren’t worth the time or money it takes to read them.

Since I grew up, I have had less and less free time to dedicate to just reading. I have to be pickier about my books, because I just can’t read all of them. Or even as many as I used to. So I read the blurb, the reviews, and the first page before I decide that it worth my time.

If something makes me say ‘I dunno about this’, I put it back on the shelf for someone else to find.

It may seem unnecessarily choosy to you, but for me, I have to. There have been times that I have picked up a book on a whim, or because I liked the cover. But it doesn’t happen very often.

I have learned that it is okay. It is acceptable to be picky about the books you fill your time with.

My life is short, and I want it to be filled with good things.

So go ahead, be picky! Read the reviews, the blurbs, the bit in the back about the author. Don’t be afraid to say no. If everyone else likes it, and it isn’t your style. Oh well. There are other books out there.

This is not to say that you should find a genre and never stir from it. Try new genres and new styles! Find new authors, go explore the ever growing indie market. You may find your next favorite book.

What I am saying is that I no longer want to feel like I wasted my afternoon on a book. So I will take my time finding a book. I am not going to pick up a book just because it is popular, or because the cover is pretty.

Instead, I ask myself, is this book worth my limited, precious time? I am a writer, so I will most likely read more books than average person. But even as a writer I have other things that fill my days. So is this book worth the bit of time that I have to dedicate to it? If I don’t think it is, it goes back on the library shelf.

Saying that I don’t want to read a book does not necessarily mean that the book isn’t worth any ones time. Someone else may click with it and love it. All it means is that I chose to fill my time with a different book. One that I love, one that inspires me.

To finish with one of my favorite quotes;

“Life is too short for reading inferior books.” -James Bryce

Shaina Merrick