Finding the Heart of a Novel (Or Ripping it Out)

Finding the Heart of a Novel (Or Ripping it Out)

I hate that when I’m re-writing, I can’t find the heart of the story until a little more than halfway through, and then it just pops up and hits me like a freight train, and I’m left on the rails as a bloody flesh sack wondering why it took so long for the train to hit me. But this at least means that the most complicated part of a novel for me to write, the final few chapters, have been taken care of because they convey the heart of the story so well. Of course, this also means that when line edits come, I’m going to have to smash the heart of the novel into every line that I’ve already written–or at least see if the heart is there, a heart I couldn’t see until that ‘aha!’ moment.

I honestly wanted my second draft to be that draft where everything is all nice and smoothed out, but the truth is, that’s a difficult thing to do because even as I’m re-writing I’m coming up with better ways to tell the story, and finding more plot holes that I can’t smooth out until I do line edits. But what’s different this time around is that I hopefully won’t need whole re-writes with the third draft, that I can actually work on a few chapters a day and get line edits completed in about two weeks.

So what is this heart that I’m speaking of? Originally His Vanity was simply about a suicidal teen being taken on a journey to get better. Of course at the time I knew there was more to it, but you can’t really know the heart until you start writing. Even then it’s difficult to find the heart of anything in a rough draft. In reality, His Vanity is about a sick teen learning to cope with the pain already present. There’s some healing and what not along the way, but I am doing my best to present a realistic view of depression for those out there with treatment-resistant depression or those out there who can’t get treatment for depression. Treatment is not as easy as some media make it out to be. You go through meds, they fail, you try again. You find meds that do work, but you get crap side effects, so you have to drop those meds. For some people, it’s easy. One med and that’s it. But for others, it may take a year or more to find that stability, and so I want Gene to be the voice for those who struggle, really, really struggle because from what I’ve read in the sick lit genre of YA literature, there really isn’t that voice. They pop a pill, and suddenly they’re stable. Crap goes awry when they stop their meds. 

I desperately want this book to be more than just a fantasy novel. I want it to be in the vein of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. His Vanity is a book about mental illness that just happens to also be a fantasy book because the fantasy aspect is needed to show Gene there is an entire world out there that exists beyond his own. It also exists to help foster within Gene another perspective of life that he would not have gotten staying home–because his parents are very protective of him. Not only that, but the fantasy element also exists to show anyone who is afflicted with a mental illness that there is something special in them, even if it can only be a metaphor. There is truly something special. Pain demands to be felt, but it also has the ability to change us, and we can choose to let pain change us for the better. We can use that pain and make a difference (NAMI springs to mind).

It has not been an easy book to write because mental illness is not easy to write about.  It’s messy, it’s painful, it’s so, so, so, painful, but I’m doing my best to show that mental illness needs to be accepted as any other illness; I also have to accept that not everyone is going to get that. You don’t need to have a tragic story to be afflicted with a tragic illness. People simply  need to accept that if you’re sick, you’re sick, and that’s all that matters. The reasons are pointless.

So this is what I want His Vanity to accomplish:

  • You don’t need a tragic story to be sick
  • Getting treatment for mental illness is not as easy as mainstream culture leads us to believe
  • Mental illness is as serious as any other serious illness
  • People who are mentally ill are simply sick, and that is that
  • People who are mentally ill are not broken
  • People who are mentally ill are going to have to accept the pain that comes along with their illnesses
  • But people who are mentally ill have it in them, somewhere, to overcome their pain, even if they can’t completely erase it
A Review of Jake Bonsignore’s Empyreal Illusions

A Review of Jake Bonsignore’s Empyreal Illusions

91qubsF4pJL._SL1500_ I haven’t read fantasy in forever, and I can’t even tell you why. I’ve just been thirsting for a lot of YA contemporary lately, along with the occasional dystopian and paranormal YA novel. But I saw Jake Bonsignore’s book on Facebook in one of the Like events for Facebook Pages, and the cover immediately drew me to the book. I am not ashamed to admit I do judge a book by its cover. With so many books competing against one another for shelf space and online space, books nowadays have to have some reason to excite the reader, and his cover lured me in to read the blurb. Then the blurb itself excited me, and I bought the book, despite the protests my bank account made (we’re all good). In any case, let’s get on with the review.

Breena Taljain’s life nearly comes to an end when she comes across the Patriarch, a man so steeped in hatred he has all of Purgaire living in fear. His assault on her occurs because her mother’s addiction put them both in debt and left Breena a practical street rat having to work at a seedy bar just to pay for her own chance at existence.

Then you have Galbrecht Atalir, an alcoholic doctor dealing with the death of his entire family at the hands of the Patriarch. Breena and Galbrecht’s paths cross when he discovers Breena is his newest patient. In order to relieve her suffering, he gives her a drug that sends her to an entirely new world so far removed from Purgaire that Breena does not want to leave. However, when Breena’s health itself begins to decline, she finds she must journey to a harsh world in order to overcome the tribulations of her own mind.

I just want to say that what interests me most about this book is that Breena’s state in the hospital coincides with what’s happening with her in Araboth. At the beginning, when Galbrecht’s drug is working its magic, she is in the beautiful Araboth with achingly vivid, beautiful descriptions. But then Galbrecht realizes he can’t keep giving her more of the drug, so Breena is soon plunged into the hinterlands, a harsh, harsh wilderness filled with terrifying creatures that seem to represent the monsters of her own mind. It is such a psychological thriller that reminds me of Flavia Bujor’s Prophecy of the Stones, except it’s done one hundred times better, and Breena is a fully fleshed character struggling to stay alive against all odds. Her friends are there to compliment her and to help her remember that life is indeed precious, in spite of the appalling life she lived in Purgaire.

The pacing of this book is fast, super fast, so if you’re into psychological thrillers, especially of the fantasy variety, you’ll tear through this book. One moment Breena is living in Purgaire, scrounging any bit of money she can get from her perverted boss, and the next she is on the streets trying to outwit the the Patriarch, only to find herself nearly murdered at his hands. Then you go on to Galbrecht, then to Araboth, then Galbrecht again, and it’s a rollercoaster of intense emotions and varying points-of-view that are very colorful to read. This novel is a third person omniscient book, but Bonsignore does it so masterfully that you can’t wait to see what all the characters are thinking as they’re doing what they’re doing.

The Patriarch himself is so chilling to read about because he kills mercilessly and is responsible for a good majority of the addicted druggies in Purgaire–which is what makes Purgaire such a hostile environment. Since everyone is so contingent on the drug the Patriarch dishes out, people are heinous and have lost their humanity somewhere in the drug addictions, so people like Breena suffer in the process.

Breena is an incredibly strong heroine who, despite all the pain she has suffered, fights through and refuses to give up, especially knowing it is possible for her to have the life she deserves. As someone who has struggled with suicidal ideation, Breena herself is an inspiring character.

Galbrecht is also a very likable character too because of his unrelenting desire to help Breena, in spite of not knowing this girl. He refuses to lose his humanity in Purgaire.

Overall, this book deserves its full 5 stars. It is my type of book: both dark and fantastical. I can’t think of any YA fantasy books I can easily compare it to, but I very much look forward to his sequel, Awakening the Fire. 

Winner of Coraline by Neil Gaimain

Winner of Coraline by Neil Gaimain

200px-CoralineCongratulations to Kate Sparkes for winning Coraline by Neil Gaiman! I had a good amount of entrants for this book, and I was very pleased with the turnout. Because the turnout was so good, as you all should know by now, I’m going to do one book giveaway each week. You must be a follower of me to get considered, and there will be different stipulations with each book.

Tomorrow I will reveal what the next book will be, along with its stipulations.

Again, congrats to Kate Sparkes for winning! You can find her at disregard the prologue.

Weekly Book Giveaways

Weekly Book Giveaways

How does a weekly book giveaway sound to all of you? Good, right, because that’s exactly what I’m doing. Each week I will be giving away a young adult novel along the veins of When Stars Die and Stolentime. All of you might as well start following my blog now because that is going to be a consistent stipulation to get into these drawings. You might as well share this post too with others. Since I pick up about 10-13 followers per day, I figure it’s just best to do a weekly one where I draw every Sunday instead of waiting for me to hit a certain number of followers.

The books I’m giving away I’ve already read, so I’m not depriving myself of reading material. And my demo money (extra money I make at my job) will pretty much be going toward buying a book a week, so, no, this will not be squeezing me dry. I’m more than happy to do this especially because, hey, free book. Fun. Fun. Fun.

I will be drawing for Coraline this Sunday and will reveal the next book prize then.

Also, I really want to start doing more guest posts and would love for you guys to e-mail me any of your ideas at thedancingwriter@gmail.com. It can be about whatever you want, so long as it is helpful or relatable (I know these terms are vague, but use them to your discretion). If I have enough, I’d love to do a guest post a day, along with my regularly scheduled blog posts. You can also e-mail me if you want to collaborate on a book giveaway.

Enjoy!

How to be a Good Beta Reader

How to be a Good Beta Reader

I have not been lucky with beta readers. I have one good beta reader and that’s it. They have either been too time consuming for me or they have had to quit due to a busy life and haven’t been able to even start my book (critique on one chapter can still go a long way!). So I have compiled a list on how to be a good beta reader for those who want to return the favor.

1) If you know your life is about to get busy, don’t even bother trying to beta read because you will only disappoint the person you are beta reading for. Busy lives don’t come out of nowhere. We know our work loads, we know when school will start, we know how busy moving will be, ect. Please, please, please, if life is about to get busy, don’t even bother starting a project. There are beta readers who will read your book and not expect reciprocation; some of them haven’t even finished their own books but enjoy beta reading in general.

2) If you have time to write a book, you have time to read a book. Offer to reciprocate if you know you have the time. This is just good manners.

3) Be timely. Don’t let the book just sit there. Don’t take forever to do it. We all have dreams and goals and we’d rather they not get delayed because of a lazy reader.

4) When you read, don’t just point out what’s wrong and tell the writer to fix it. Think outside of the box. Actually offer suggestions over how the writer could fix it. If something is not working, think about why, explain it, and offer suggestions over how the author can fix it. This takes thinking, this may be more work than a beta reader should have to do, but you’ll be a stronger reader for it.

5) Listen to your gut as a beta reader. If what you’re reading leaves a bad taste in your mouth, it is up to you to figure out why, then let the author know why and what he/she can do to improve that. Perhaps this is asking a bit much from a beta reader, but we writers become so used to our work that sometimes we can’t think of ways to improve it.

6) Chapter ones are important. If the chapter one is merely compelling, think of how the writer can make it beyond compelling. Could the writer start the story earlier? Or does this chapter need to be written stronger?

7) Don’t. Be. Lazy. If you’re the kind afraid to hurt others’ feeling, don’t beta read. If you truly think the book is good, leave chapter-by-chapter feedback over why you found nothing wrong.

8) Be vigilant about plot holes. Plot holes will show up in a query letter or synopsis, so it’s best to shut them up in the book so the writer isn’t struggling with the query letter or synopsis and not understanding why.

9) If, for some reason, life does become busy out of nowhere–death in a family is a good reason–at least try to do one chapter. The critique of one chapter can go a long way for a writer if said writer knows how to utilize feedback to the fullest.

200th Follower Giveaway Fest

200th Follower Giveaway Fest

As promised in a previous post, I am going to start doing giveaways now! So here is the first giveaway prize that I will gift:

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I chose this book because the current novel I’m working on, Stolentime, has a similar eerie, quirky, bizarre atmosphere, and so I figured Coraline would make an excellent first book giveaway.

Here is the description from Amazon:

The day after they moved in, Coraline went exploring….

In Coraline’s family’s new flat are twenty-one windows and fourteen doors. Thirteen of the doors open and close.

The fourteenth is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall, until the day Coraline unlocks the door to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own.

Only it’s different.

At first, things seem marvelous in the other flat. The food is better. The toy box is filled with wind-up angels that flutter around the bedroom, books whose pictures writhe and crawl and shimmer, little dinosaur skulls that chatter their teeth. But there’s another mother, and another father, and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Other children are trapped there as well, lost souls behind the mirrors. Coraline is their only hope of rescue. She will have to fight with all her wits and all the tools she can find if she is to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.

Some of the stipulations are that you must be following me, you must comment below to get entered, and on the 230th follower, I will draw, so if you want this to go ASAP, start reblogging and sharing this post in whatever way you can. Also, you must own either a Kindle or some reading device that has a Kindle app. It is the quickest way for me to give the giveaway prize to you through e-mail that doesn’t involve mailing it. How this will work is that on the 230th follower, I will enter all your names in a raffle and choose one winner. All others not chosen will get put into the next book drawing.