Freelance Publishing Services

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Bad Cat Ink

I’m back! 🙂 And I have added a new page to my blog. As part of my grass-roots publishing business, Bad Cat Ink, I am now offering a few simple freelance services by contract. Right now I’m offering copy typing, proofreading, beta reading, editing, content writing, and small illustration. I hope to expand my offerings as the business grows.

You can find the tab at the top of the site, or go here: https://badcatink.wordpress.com/services/ , for my contact information. Describe your project to me, and I’ll get back to you with a quote on the price; and we can work out the rest of the details from there.

Unless otherwise specified, my planner is now open for new clients.

And speaking of freelancing businesses …

I read this article today from Inc. by Melanie Curtin: “In an 8-Hour Day, the Average Worker Is Productive for This Many Hours”. Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait for you to come back. It has some good information on the history of the 8-hour work day.

No time to read? Summary: the average worker pulling an 8-hour work day is productive for only 3 hours. THREE! I remember reading once that the average student in school actually spends only 2 hours learning anything because the rest of the time is spent waiting in lines, transferring to different classrooms, shuffling papers, etc. Also, I am aware that some countries in Europe have cut their work days to 4 days a week, or cut their hours to 6. Or they now allow time for workers to take naps, or do other things between tasks … like hit the gym or meditate.

I think the reason for these new, relaxed shifts is the ever-increasing numbers of people suffering from depression and anxiety, from over-scheduling their own lives and the lives of their kids, and from not being able to carve out time to even take care of ourselves anymore with basic necessities like cooking healthy meals, finding time to exercise, or getting enough sleep. We are burning our candles at both ends trying to multi-task, yet studies tell us there is no such thing. The human brain can do only one task at a time, so when we try to do more, our chances of making mistakes increase, productivity slows down, or we drop the balls we’re trying to juggle. We set ourselves up for failure trying to do the impossible. And then we beat ourselves up for not being perfect enough to keep the pace going. So that makes us feel even more like failures.

What does this have to do with freelancing? During my time off, I felt guilty for not working, even though I have been working on other things in my life that needed attention. I still planned my days from 6 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. I still had to-do list items that did not get done. I was still very stressed trying to push things into motion that seemed to be going nowhere. And on top of that, I lost a pet and was grieving while trying to carry on.

But even before taking time off I felt guilty for working only 2-4 hours a day this summer (because I work at home and have seasonal chores I have to do during early morning hours, and I’m trying to force clearance in my days now to take care of my mental and physical health). I kept thinking, “What kind of loser am I, that I’m clocking only 2 productive hours a day?” But I wasn’t looking at all the other “tasking” I was doing around and that, which now includes taking care of my mind and body so that I can be less sleepy, more creative, and not have health issues influencing whether I can accomplish my tasks, or not.

I have pulled my share of 17-19 hour days … through weekends and holidays. They suck. I have worked through all three meals (which consisted mostly of bowls of cereal, instant noodles, and cookies), fighting sleep over my keyboard, to try to finish edits ASAP. I have worked on multiple big projects simultaneously, and it never fails that one-by-one they fall away, until I realize I have worked on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. But then I feel guilty that I’m not doing five projects at once, when the truth is there are not enough hours in the day to keep that pace going. The result is I get sick, I get stressed, I suffer burn-out and depression, and eventually it becomes a struggle to get out of bed. So, how is that in any way even remotely productive?

I would love to see 4-day work weeks and 4-6 hour work days become the norm. Freelancers around the world would probably feel less like anomalies compared to their commuting peers to realize the average worker is only good for 3 hours. But the main problem I see with putting this plan into action is that hours can’t be cut without also boosting pay. Living wages, especially for non-salaried or part-time workers, are hard enough to come by working the 17-hour shifts through weekends and holidays. So, unless we can simultaneously cut hours and boost basic income rates (which has been done before and has been successful when it was tried), I don’t see this “drive yourself into the ground until you are insane” pattern changing for modern society any time soon. Still, it’s nice to see some countries are aware of the problems and thinking outside the box to try to find solutions.

What do you think? How many hours a day do you believe you are actually productive at your job, compared to how many hours you are paid to work? Do you think we will ever see a more balanced labor plan for the labor force as a norm?

 

 

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Book Review: Of Snow and Whiskers

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Of Snow and Whiskers by Andrea Brokaw

Book: Of Snow and Whiskers
Series: Werestory, Book 2
Author: Andrea Brokaw
Genres: YA, supernatural, adventure, romance

 

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

“When the moon is full, Rina Andreyushkina is a snow leopard. In feline form, she is full of grace and power. But when the moon sets, things are harder. Now shy and awkward in her human skin, Rina faces a series of new challenges. Her best friend has been suspended for bullying, leaving Rina by herself for the first time in her life. She must learn who she is on her own and whether she likes this person. Complicating things further, the best friend’s would-be betrothed comes to Rina for help preparing to fight his way out of his arranged marriage. No stranger to being a political pawn, Rina agrees to train him even though it puts her most important relationship in serious jeopardy. And as though this were not stress enough, Rina befriends the notorious and widely disliked new boy, something the entire school notices.

With all this going on, when will Rina find time to watch her favorite anime?!”

Notes of Interest:

This is the second book in the Werestory series by Andrea Brokaw. The first is Of Fur and Ice, which I reviewed here: https://badcatink.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/book-review-of-fur-and-ice/.

I recommend that you read the first book in the series, as it gives some background for the second. However, the first book has a different set of protagonists than the second, so the second could possibly be read as a stand-alone. This second book takes a few of the supporting characters from the last book and puts them under the spotlight for a plot of their own. But you will see familiar faces from the first story, too.

What could have made it better for me:

There were a few technical errors that pulled me out of the story, but those were minor.

What I liked about it:

The story this time focuses on Rina, friend to Simone and Troy, two antagonistic characters from the previous book. I really like this choice of character because Rina was the silent, submissive BFF for the Queen Bee of the snow leopard clique in their high school, but over the course of this story, she develops courage and sort of comes into her own personality to make her own choices, regardless of peer pressure. When the words “toxic relationship” get thrown around, it usually has to do with girl/boy love interests. But this story highlights a case where it is a girl’s best friend that dominates and acts abusively toward her. Because my personal history involved a few toxic relationships, it was a really interesting, and sadly rather accurate, portrayal of how submissive behavior so often makes excuses for the domineering behavior of friends, partners, or family members in order to not cause trouble, or in order to not lose that relationship by raising a complaint. Because it’s hard to draw the line between actually loving someone so much that you would put up with bad treatment, and being dependent on someone so much that you would put up with bad treatment. This friend-to-friend angle for that kind of relationship isn’t normally something focused on in books. So, I found that to be rather unique.

This book explores diversity in that Rina is also bi-sexual. And as she reflects on her past and present interests in terms of love interests, her dual orientation has the brief potential to complicate matters with others who don’t have a full understanding. The fact that this is a main character attribute and conversation topic is a plus for the book, in my opinion.

Another thing I loved about this story was the unique spin it gave to Native American skin-walker legends and therianthropy (which is a shape-shifting identity, for those to whom the term is new). I can’t really say much more than that about these topics without spoiling the plot, but I want to raise the fact that it’s not something commonly found in supernatural books, even among books about the most common shape-shifters, like werewolves and such. Brokaw’s take on fairies is also different and refreshing. I always love to see new interpretations of old mythologies.

The story picks up soon after first one finishes, so most of the action takes place on the were-school campus, but the focus this time is on the snow leopard clowder, rather than the wolf pack. Seth has challenged his arranged engagement to Simone. Troy the all-were is still present. And kind-hearted Rina is attempting to find her place in the new order of the upheaval because she’s not the type to make enemies or hold grudges. She befriends Troy, and starts training Seth for the Challenge, but has to deal with a very unforgiving Simone. Clowder politics complicate matters further, and another all-were is discovered near campus grounds. The safety of the students in the school, the future of two snow leopard clans, and Rina’s circle of friendships are at risk.

The style of writing is a down-to-earth, first-person, present-tense narrative with lots of tactile “feels” to it. So, the reader progresses through the events with Rina in a way that I think most people could immerse in or relate to on some level.

Recommendation:

Fans of shape-shifting stories will probably find the snow leopard angle on this theme interesting and fun. This story would be entertaining for readers of all ages, in my opinion. 🙂

Author Inspirations: Anne Rice

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In browsing my archives for inspiration about what to write about this week, I noticed my “Authors” category only had one entry. And that entry wasn’t about any particular author, but about censorship — an article which referenced some favourite authors, but it wasn’t about them or their impact on my writing. Growing up, I fan-girled over two things: musicians and writers. So, for today’s blog, I’d like to throw out some thoughts and gratitudes for an author who was a very deep inspiration to me: Anne Rice.

I was late coming to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series. Though I have always been a fan of stories with vampires in them, and vampires in general, I was just more interested in other things at the time these books were on the rise. I remember when the movie Interview with the Vampire was at its height of popularity, and had seen the Queen of the Damned movie on TV more than once. The books were always on my TBR list … which is huge. I mean, half — no, most — of the books on that list never actually get read because I simply don’t have the time to devour books as an adult the way I used to in high school or college. So, it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I picked up my first Anne Rice book. And it so-happened to be The Vampire Lestat. :3

Like with so many other Rice fans, this book was instant love for me. The character, the history, the prose, the sheer depth of the philosophical pondering of the meaning of life, death, and the existence of God blew me away. This is the story that took my love of all things vampire from an interest to a passion. Since then, I have acquired every book in her Vampire Chronicles collection, and even bought a signed copy of Prince Lestat. This might not seem like a big deal to some people, but I have only three other author-autographed books in my entire library, so it’s not something I usually go out of my way to purchase.

Rice’s vampire books are so meaningful to me, partly because I can relate to her sentiments regarding questioning the whole existence of God, Heaven, Hell, angels, demons, etc. We both came from a very religious background, but then came to a point where we felt as if the politics and mythos of the church had taken a drastically different course from the teachings of Jesus. She has stated that Lestat’s quest for God was always about her own quest for God, particularly after the passing of her little daughter. She wrote the Vampire Chronicles while coping with that tragedy. Years after giving up her faith, she returned to it, saying she would never write another vampire book, and she focused on writing about the life of Jesus, instead. However, the church’s political stances on things like gay rights still bothered her, so she broke from the church again, saying that while she did believe in God, she could no longer call herself a Christian because she could not support the church’s teachings and politics on such matters. She has returned to writing vampire novels, along with other new supernatural material, and now even has a TV series based on the Vampire Chronicles in the works, which I am excited about.

So, her writing simultaneously does two things. On the one hand, her characters are deeply introspective, using their own trappings in life (and death) to try to figure out this thing we call life and call out the lies where they see them. On the other hand, the characters’ conclusions will challenge readers to examine their own beliefs and faith on such matters. Memnoch the Devil, for example, presents a view of Purgatory and Hell that is shockingly similar to my own exploratory thinking of what demons are and how the afterlife might be understood. Memnoch is probably her most controversial book in the series because of that exploration into the nature of demons and Hell.

This is all Rice’s personal, fictitious take on religious mythos, of course. While some classics like Dante’s Inferno and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress are fiction with didactic intent (the intent to teach … and in these cases the subject taught is religious morality) — no one should ever read fiction with religious themes mistaking them for theological study material. This should especially not be done to point out how “misguided” some celebrity authors are. To take a work of fiction literally misses the point of it being fiction! So, I’m sorry to have to add this cautionary note, but I know people who have gleefully used books from the Harry Potter series as examples of “real” witchcraft to condemn both the practice and the books. And you just can’t do that with fiction!

Religious morality or conviction or guilt is not the point of Rice’s books. Rice tells stories about fictitious characters in a fictitious universe where supernatural vampires are real, but their quests for truth represent Everyman’s quests for truth. Nothing more. Every person on this planet has at some point questioned what it is that he or she truly believes, or questioned why the universe is the way it is. Are we missing something important because it’s been buried under centuries of religious, political, and pop culture lies? This is an important question for the human psyche. And one of the reasons I admire Rice’s writing is that she’s not afraid to ask the difficult questions and explore the possibilities of some really tough answers.

I have corresponded with Rice briefly a few times on her Facebook page — which I must say she manages better than I imagine any author with such a diverse readership could. Every day she asks questions of or presents inquisitive articles to her fans — sometimes relative to her writing, sometimes relative to current events, sometimes philosophical. On one occasion, she asked the “People of the Page”: “Theological question: is there any theory of Christ’s Atonement, or of our living in “a fallen world” or living in “a broken world” that does not take the story of Adam and Eve and the talking serpent literally? In other words, are these most influential Christian ideas all based on a literal reading of Genesis? What are your thoughts?”

Some of her comments to other people in regards to their answers included: “I continue to maintain that the idea of a broken or fallen world, indeed an entire Christian worldview is based on a literal reading of Adam and Eve and the talking serpent. And this is not a good basis for an entire religion.” And … “… that is all very beautiful poetry, and it is typically Catholic. But it doesn’t answer my question and it does not satisfy. —– The difficulty remains: don’t all theories of bloody atonement depend on taking Genesis literally? If they do not, then what is the foundation on which they are based? Atonement for what? —– Reconciliation with what? Why? The Pope can write beautiful poetry forever and publish book after book of it. But if Christianity is based on a series of lies, that has to be dealt with. —– My question remains: what is atonement based on if not a literal reading of Adam and Eve? If not for their sin, then for what is Christ atoning? And why is atonement necessary?”

This is where I entered the conversation: “Anne, this may not be the time or place, but may I ask your opinion on a question? This is something I have never received a satisfactory answer on from any of the religious people I know. And this is what, to me, defines the core of the …Christian faith. If the blood of Jesus is the only thing that can wash away sin, and he died an innocent sacrifice (though sacrificing innocent people and animals is usually frowned upon as a sin), how can the death of an innocent (which is generally considered murder in a court of law) make sin go away? In other words, how does a wrong act cleanse a wrong? How does an innocent death make anything right? To go by that example, I would have to kill my innocent daughter in order to forgive the guilty one that broke the lamp. Why not just forgive? Why a blood sacrifice? Is it because the magic in the blood washes away the magic that is sin? Because clearly a belief in magic is involved, or this question wouldn’t even be up for debate. Maybe there is a link between these questions I seek, and your questions on taking Genesis literally.”

She responded: “…, I am not the one to answer your very challenging and interesting question: because i don’t believe in the theory of the atonement through innocent blood. I think it is something made up by theologians. But I think you are certainly right to ask and keep asking. The whole idea of bloody Atonement for me is outdated and unconvincing.”

This is a sample of the intellect, honesty, and courage that shapes her writing, and one reason why her fans love her so.

Besides her own writing, I also admire Rice for her advice on writing in general. She’s always been supportive and encouraging of indie authors and other authors who are doing their own thing. “There are no rules in this profession. Do what is good for you. Read books and watch films that stimulate your writing. In your writing, go where the pain is; go where the pleasure is; go where the excitement is. Believe in your own original approach, voice, characters, story. Ignore critics. HAVE NERVE. BE STUBBORN.” (Advice to new writers, 2009) She recognizes that not every book is for everyone, and supports the differences in genres and styles because of that. She has even taken on the bullies of the book review world — readers who give spiteful, unfair reviews of books they didn’t like, to the point of attempting to destroy the careers of their author victims. Her interest in negativity on the Internet via anonymous criticism has inspired my own interest in the matter, but if anything like that comes to her page, she shuts it down immediately. She wants respectful discussion of tough subjects, not hate-filled rants filled with contempt.

So, Anne Rice inspires me not only to think deeply through my story content (being brave enough to speak Kethrei’s blunt challenges to the religious leaders of his time, pursuing a theme like the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries, or presenting political themes that are scarily familiar with what’s actually happening in current events in some ways), but also to think deeply about how I speak my mind as an author (How would I handle great disparity between readers if they argued? Would I be willing to lose readers for the sake of maintaining my integrity, since I can’t please everyone?), and to keep asking myself the difficult questions about “life the universe and everything” in my personal life, as well. I’m so grateful that I did finally get my hands on that first book and followed it to the rest of her creative works. I’m thankful to have those books in my personal library, and to have someone like her to look to as a mentor.

A Writer’s Staycation

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Last Friday, I turned in my manuscript to some beta readers. This week, I am trying to take a vacation from writing. Emphasis on trying. Turns out my attempt at a short vacation is only confirming what I’ve suspected all my life — that writing isn’t something I DO, it’s who I AM. My vacation at home is teaching me a few more things about the cliche phrase, “You know you’re a writer when …” So, here we go with some vacation-specific thoughts on how to recognize the writer as a species, compared to writing as a profession.

You Know You’re a Writer When …

1. Though on vacation, you don’t bother turning off your alarm, which is set for 6:00 A.M. on normal weekdays, because you know you will wake up with ideas that need to be quickly transferred into Scrivener notes before you forget them … which is usually right after rolling out of bed. (That and you realize it’s pointless to try to sleep in when you have a cat that sits on you at 5:50 A.M., staring at you like a vulture, waiting for you to wake and feed him.)

2. You go through your morning routine of planning your day, as if you weren’t on vacation, but end up blocking off 2 or more hours anyway for “looking over” your next writing project. That “looking over” turns into plotting the draft of your next book. Then every day thereafter is blocked for working on specific draft elements. And you’re excited about that because the ideas are flowing since you’re not under pressure to have to do it.

3. Your first vacation day is miserable because you planned chores you otherwise don’t normally have time to do … like that half-finished sweater you’ve been knitting since last September. But after you “look over” your spontaneous draft work in the morning, you lose track of time refining it, and by evening you’re scowling at your planner as you highlight things you didn’t accomplish because you spent your “free time” writing.

4. Your second day of vacation is better because you decide that if writing is what you enjoy, and you’re making progress, you should give yourself permission to write! But when you force yourself to shut down Scrivener, you kind of have to talk yourself into playing Witcher 3 to get your mind off of the morning’s plotting. You’re on vacation for Gods’ sakes! Spend half the day playing or something!

5. Your third day of vacation you realize you suck at vacationing. But you’re okay with that because the goal is have fun and relax to counter burnout. If the morning was spent having fun writing, and you can spend the afternoon relaxing with a game … reading a book outside … or daydreaming while napping in the sun and thinking about what you might tackle in tomorrow morning’s draft work. Because your come to realize your idea of vacation is not about taking a break from doing something you love. It’s about giving yourself permission to take a break from the things you don’t love … like mowing the lawn or doing the dishes.

6. Your fourth day of vacation you finally feel like you’re on vacation because you have figured out that more time doing what you love and less time doing what you don’t love results in happiness. And you’re kind of relieved you chose a “staycation” because travel would involve the hassles of arranging pet care, planning an itinerary, and wasting precious money. Imagination is free, and you can take your time enjoying it if you live like every day is a holiday or summer break.

7. You resent the fact that, before the weekend is up, you will probably have to interrupt your writing retreat to face the dandelions taking over the yard. You already resent having to load the dishwasher last night because no one has invented a dishwasher that does that part of the job, too. Oh, and things like laundry and the budget? Their constant presence is a reminder that they will be waiting for you with double the normal workload when your “vacation” ends.

8. You are spending one of your last days of vacation writing about your attempts to take a break from writing because you finished today’s draft work early and now have six plots almost completely mapped out and ready for transcribing onto note cards for the storyboard. But you’re not quite ready to take the afternoon off for Witcher 3 yet. … Perhaps some ice cream and a nap in the sun will help.

Dragonling Update: Time for Betas!

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Image Source: Clipart Kid.

This morning I finished my fourth revision of The Dragonling.

(Pardon me whilst I blow horns and throw confetti.) 🙂

It’s actually more like the fifth revision because I got about 80% through the fourth revision and realized I had a huge plot hole that needed mending. It was big. And it involved going back to the beginning and finding ALL of the places where I was working up to a particular event because I had to tweak them and change the order of a few things. If that doesn’t sour your day as a writer, nothing will. But I digress.

After two years in production, this book is now ready for beta readers. Took a whole year longer than my other books because I had to go back and re-read them and take notes on them to make sure I didn’t miss bringing any plot threads together for this one. In mentioning this to a few friends and family, I got the return question, “What’s a beta reader?” So, I’ll offer a brief answer here.

Just like it sounds, a beta reader is someone who reviews the script before it’s published. My experience with alpha readers is that they offer feedback on sections of the work before the entire script is finished. Thus, betas are usually the second set of people to see it and from beginning to end, rather than in pieces. The beta reader is not an editor or proof-reader, but they can call out mistakes and make suggestions like those professions all the same. Beta readers usually aren’t hired professionals, but they can be.

Basically a beta reader is someone who matches the type of audience you would be selling the book to, so they can give critical feedback from a reader perspective. Beta readers need to be able to express WHY they did or did not like something and note any confusion or major reactions to let the writer know the work’s strengths and weaknesses, rather than offering a generalized, “I loved it!” or “It sucked!” Anyone a writer would trust to give honest critical feedback can be a beta reader.

In the case of The Dragonling, however, my choices are little more limited. The monkey wrench in finding beta readers for this book is that it’s the fifth in a series. It’s not a fifth volume in a collection, either. It’s a fifth book in an arc. That means the reader really needs to have read the first four books before attempting to tackle this one, or they’re going to miss a lot of references from them and possibly risk not understanding the main plot. Finding beta readers for stand-alone books is much easier.

The other problem with finding beta readers is that authors want to find someone they can depend on. If betas are too busy, don’t enjoy reading, or don’t enjoy your genre, you may never see feedback from them. And you will have wasted a month or more waiting for it. That’s a month or more that you could have been seeking another beta reader, or at least sent it off to the editor for the final edits. It’s not necessary to have beta readers, but most writers find their feedback helpful, if not invaluable.

So, if anyone ever asks you to do a beta reading, only take the job if you are genuinely interested in the author’s work, have the time to finish reading the script in a timely fashion, and can offer commentary along the way. If you offer to beta for a writer, but then something comes up and you can’t do it, let them know you need to cancel ASAP.

Wish me luck in finding any previous beta readers who would be willing to test drive this baby! And then I am ready for a hard-earned vacation while I await the returns! (Actually, knowing me … I will shorten vacation to focus on further developing book 6. I don’t know how to not write.)
-_-*

Character Interview: Trizryn, the Thief

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Image Source: My Skyrim game. 🙂 Trizryn and Zhenta are on their way to hunt down a missing person who stole from the Thief Guild. In my novel, Trizryn is a character with illusion magic, so he crafts his appearances according to his environment. He spent most of his life living as a light elf in the fae court, but then went underground into Nisala’s thief guild to intentionally undermine his step-father’s regime.

Last week I shared a character interview and demonstrated how to use such things to find the voice of a character. This week, I thought it might be fun to compare and contrast the voice aspect of character creation. (In other words, no, I have not finished my book of the month for a review, or finished my beta draft, so let me distract you with shop talk.) 🙂

Shei, the bard and best friend of one of my book’s protagonists did last week’s interview. He is a “foil” character. That means he was designed to be the opposite of the main character in order to highlight his personality. Don’t confuse foil characters with antagonists. Antagonists antagonize protagonists by going against them in some way. They don’t have to be bad guys, but they present a challenge the main character must overcome to complete the plot. Foil characters, however, are usually friends with the main character, and they are there for support. They’re just intentionally different because by contrasting the main character’s personality, they help the reader refine the main character’s voice … and their own. (Secondary characters should be treated as primary characters for the sake of character development if not for plot.) So, as an entertainer, Shei’s dialog and actions come with a bit of comic relief and charm. It’s not fake or manipulative, unless he makes it clear that is his intent, so his personality also has to come across as sincere and loyal. But more often than not, his mood is light because he is the kind of person who attempts to support others when they are down or stressed.

This week, I’m going to offer the same interview to Trizryn, one of two main protagonists. With four published books on these characters, I should feel comfortable discussing Trizryn’s nature in articles that mention him, but I guess I still feel protective of spoilers. I will try to find a balance here. Trizryn is enigmatic by design. His “truths” unfold little by little over the entire course of the series. He was designed to be dynamic, which means he starts off rather rough, but then changes as a result of what happens to him over the course of the plots. Trizryn is also an anti-hero with more burdens on his plate than his foil, Shei. He used to have a playful sense of humour, according to his sister, K’tía. But that was stripped away from him when he was reconditioned in the Derra Eirlyn dungeon. Over the course of the story, he “awakens” to reclaim his freedom, his ability to trust, his appreciation of life, and more. Shei is a very important person in his life because he is the one friend he could trust. They are brothers-in-arms and the butt of each others’ jokes. So these characters must have distinctly different voices, yet those voices must support each other in spite of contrast. So, here is Trizryn’s interview to compare to Shei’s. It’s all about finding the character’s voice. 🙂

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Freedom to be yourself. Friends who accept you. Spicy noodles.
2.What is your greatest fear?
Not knowing who to trust because everyone has an agenda. … Necromancers creep me out, too. Especially now that I’m dead.
3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Where to begin? I tend to make bad decisions. I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of. But I’m trying to put things right now where I can. … Let’s see, I’m dead. That tends to not go over well in conversations. And my current death was tainted by my previous death, which complicates things. Oh, and I’m not even real to begin with. At least not this time around. That’s even more fun to try to explain.
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Betrayal. You never really get over it, especially if it’s abusive in nature.
5. Which living person do you most admire?
Aija. She’s stuck in a world she knows nothing about, in dangerous situations that test her courage and strength like nothing else before, and she may have lost … everything … when I pulled her through that gate. But somehow she’s been able to forgive, accept what’s happened, and keep going without becoming tainted. She’s a quick learner, able to adapt. Once she sets her mind on something she’s tenacious about it. She has a strong sense of fairness. And some days her insight makes her seem more like an old soul than I am.

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Trizryn is an expert swordsman who can see in the dark. And, if necessary, he can use his internal sorcery to conjure his own weapons. Because in truth, he is a dark elf. And he’s tired of pretending to be something he’s not just to appease everyone else. So, for Trizryn, the Elf Gate series is about rebellion and awakening to his true self. His voice, therefore, is often introspective. As a thief and agent, his main plot lines involve a lot of political intrigue, a lot of information bartering and some under-the-table type activities where he has to be able to act without a squeaky-clean conscience. His morality is gray, but he does lean toward good. In D&D terms he would be chaotic neutral or chaotic good.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?
I don’t think of myself as an extravagant person. I grew up with wealth; but it was empty, so I never attached to it the way some people do. Which is good because now I’m dirt poor.
7. What is your current state of mind?
Honestly? Nervous. Plans to get Aija home screwed up, as usual. But if this next attempt works, I might end up having to meet her parents.
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Justice. It too easily turns into revenge. When we’re eager to punish people for doing something wrong, that doesn’t usually solve the problem. It’s just an outlet to justify our anger. Justice and problem solving are two different things. I’ve had to learn that the hard way … and I still struggle with it. But in my opinion if you want revenge, just call it revenge. Don’t hide behind justice.
9. On what occasion do you lie?
When I have to protect secrets that could endanger myself or others, or make matters worse than they already are. Most of my life has been one lie after another, so I’m tired of illusions and lies now. Tired of secrets.
10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Well, the fact that I resemble a gargoyle more than an elf now has damaged the pride a bit. But as long as Aija doesn’t seem to mind, I’d rather be faded with fangs than dressed in illusions.

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Without illusions, Trizryn’s natural skin used to be raven-black. Now, afflicted with vampirism, it is charcoal gray. As a Gray One, he is even less welcome among surface fae because it is assumed he is diseased and feral. Trizryn, however, is a cursed original. And the deeper he goes down that path to find out why he is this way, the more complicated his story becomes. Much of his plot is heavy, but self-discovery is a theme most readers can relate to. His voice must reflect his frustration at each obstacle.

11. Which living person do you most despise?
In the past, I would have automatically said Erys, my step-father. He’s an abusive tyrant. But now it’s a toss-up between Erys and Ilisram. Because they’re both two-faced, cold-hearted sons-of-bitches that deserve to be tied to posts and flayed for the crows to feast on for everything they’ve done.
12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
Respectability. Or rather, recognizing that respect is earned by deeds, not titles or possessions. A man who wears a crown has a responsibility to be a good leader and look out for the people of his kingdom, or he does not deserve that crown. A tyrant deserves to have his crown taken from him, by force if necessary, in order to spare the people who would otherwise be mistreated by him.
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Nice legs and short skirts. (Punches Shei and pushes him away from the keyboard. The bard quips something about payback being a bitch. Glares at Shei and turns his back to guard the keyboard.) Trustworthiness.
14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
My sister used to complain I cursed too much. Aija agrees. Even my translator amulet has started boycotting me, so I guess they have valid arguments. But I’m trying to be less … colourful … these days.
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Aija. (smiles) Shei once said Aija and me could argue about the colour of an orange until pigs flew, but she’s my compass when I lose myself. She makes me want to be a better me … for my own sake, as well as hers. She’s my anchor … my hope.
16. When and where were you happiest?
Just being able to “be” with Aija … remembering what it was like to have fun with Shei and other friends … without someone trying to kill us, preferably.
17. Which talent would you most like to have?
I’m not a talent seeker. I did used to have free time for learning music, though. I’d like to have more of that.
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Not being dead or needing regular blood intake would be nice. But not if going through a third birth means giving up what I have now.
19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Getting Reznetha’ir’s refugees out of Serensa to Absin’navad before the Derra Eirlyn raided their camp. I just wish I had been there to evacuate them from Absin’navad, as well.
20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
You mean like — I don’t know — a vampire? (snort)

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I chose to make Trizryn a vampire because I have always been intrigued by vampiric characters. They are the eternal outsiders. They represent the struggle between impulse and impulse control. They represent the monsters we all have within ourselves. And they are rather godlike in the supernatural powers they are given, so exploring what makes them weak is a challenge.

21. Where would you most like to live?
Some place peaceful. Wherever I can be with Aija. Doesn’t matter where. No politics, no dragons, no more living on the run.
22. What is your most treasured possession?
Again, I’m not really one to attach to material things. They’re too much of a burden. Although, I do have a favourite sword that’s been enchanted with fortification spells. It can take off anything’s head in one swing … even for someone as lightweight as Aija.
23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
My time in the dungeon for reconditioning was a low point. I was isolated, tested, tortured. My body and my thoughts were invaded on a regular basis. They tried to recondition my behavior with mind control and pain. And even after I was free, they kept me under constant surveillance … until I became a drug addict just trying to put some space between me and my summoner. But then I found out she wasn’t who I thought she was, and that was almost as miserable as the dungeon. Being everyone else’s damned puppet is no different from being their slave.
24. What is your favorite occupation?
There’s occupations beyond the Derra Eirlyn? I never thought about it. I’d probably end up teaching martial arts or becoming a locksmith. I can always break the locks or break down the doors if I can’t pick them. … What? Oh, right. Shei says that might be overkill.
25. What is your most marked characteristic?
My appearance. People have always judged me based on how I look. And considering how I look, that’s probably never going to change.
26. What do you most value in your friends?
Having lived around the fae court and a den of thieves (which aren’t much different), most of the time I can tell when someone hangs around because they want something from me versus wanting to be with me. I prefer people who value relationships without asking what’s in it for them.
27. Who are your favorite writers?
Don’t really have any. I don’t have time for reading these days. Shei’s poetry is good for a laugh, though.
28. Who is your hero of fiction?
I don’t know about fiction, but Reznetha’ir is probably my real life hero. He’s always willing to help someone in need, without judgment. He’ll put his life on the line to stand by his word. He’s honest and a good problem solver. He’s made of good stuff. He’s the kind of person I sometimes wish I could be.
29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
This is a trick question right? Technically, I am a historical figure.
30. Who are your heroes in real life?
Already said Reznetha’ir. His mother, Knight Abehendal … I can admire her sacrifice for standing up for what she believed in. Róbynn because he was more of a mentor or father to me than Erys ever was. I guess I’d add Shei, too. He puts up with a lot from me, but has never let me down. … Well, maybe once. … Okay, twice. … Okay, he gets in trouble a lot, but so do I. Never mind. Let’s just say we’ve got each other’s backs when shit goes down.

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I prefer vampire characters who are more than their identities as vampires, and Trizryn has multiple identities. There is a person beneath those titles and roles. So, the challenge in writing for him is to consider how all of his experiences would affect one another … from dark elf prince to thief to vampire and beyond. But for this type of character, for all the fun I have unraveling him, there should always continue to be a little bit of mystery. 🙂

31. What are your favorite names?
I chose the name Trizryn for my minkuiliké because it’s a traditional name that comes from two archaic High Thályn words meaning tried trust or proven trust. I thought it would make me, as a dark elf, more acceptable at the light elf court, but who was I kidding. Now, it’s the identity that reminds I am not Kethrei.
32. What is it that you most dislike?
This is going to sound odd coming from someone like me, but I hate killing people. There’s far too much blood on my hands, and I’m not even an assassin. If I could retire my sword tomorrow, I would.
33. What is your greatest regret?
Leaving Absin’navad, K’tía, Róbynn, and everyone else in Ilisram’s hands without knowing what kind of monster he was. I should have seen through his lies sooner. My other big regret is Ilansa. I might not have been able to stop Ilisram, but I should have been able to stop myself.
34. How would you like to die?
In my sleep, but I doubt I’ll be so lucky. I’m more likely to die while staked or wrapped in bloodletting chains, followed by decapitation or fire, now that driving an ordinary blade through my heart isn’t enough to execute me. Then again … a blade with anti-magic runes could also make for an interesting end.
35. What is your motto?
No more secrets. No more hiding. I am what I am, and one way or another, I’m taking back my life.

Book Review: Waiting Game

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Book: Waiting Game
Series: Chronicles of Covent
Author: J.L. Ficks and J.E. Dugue
Genres: fantasy, action, adventure

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

“Doljinaar. Kingdom of might and stone. One name is whispered upon the lips of every man, woman or child old enough to know fear. An assassin lives among them. A foreigner born of a far off dark land and yet lies as close as their shadows. An assassin that goes by the name of Shade…

It has been many long years since Shade left the black forests of his people, the Dark Elves, where he was trained among the ranks of the Unseen. He has grown rich and powerful in the world of men, feeding off mankind’s compulsion for spilling its own blood. His name has become like a cold wind slipping in through the night, but even he tires of his own legend and yearns for a challenge…

And so when Shade was offered a job that could mean his own downfall, he did not hesitate to accept. He would strike at the crimelord of the Kurn underground. In one bold stroke he would make himself an enemy of his own dark underworld. Has he finally found a worthy enemy or will this contract be his last?”

Notes of Interest:

I bought this book because I was on a quest for books about dark elves and this popped up in my search. Dark elves originated in Norse mythology and traveled down into Germanic and English lore, but most people today are more familiar with their modern cousins from fantasy role-playing games and world-setting novels. Dungeons and Dragons, in particular, has inspired a large number of other dark elf fantasy races, cultures, settings, etc. As a fan of dark elves, they fall into a category of interest where I’m always curious to see how similar or how different writers and artists can design them.

What could have made it better for me:

This book needs better editing. Too many spelling and grammar issues distracted me from the story. That’s the easy part to critique. After that, I have to say this is one of those books where I had a hard time deciding whether it was poorly written or just not my cup of tea.

I’ve explained in previous blog reviews how I usually try to keep my own biases in mind when reviewing something, because poor editing, poor structure, poor characters, etc. qualifies as bad writing. But stories about cowboys, for example, usually don’t appeal to me because I’ve never been a fan of westerns. I believe readers need to be aware of their own biases when reviewing because there is nothing an author can do to fix bias. Likewise, just because I don’t like westerns doesn’t mean someone else can’t. What bores me might excite someone else. So, I usually “give back” a star rating if I didn’t enjoy something, but think it bias brought it down for whatever reason.

Having said that, there were times when environment details felt off-topic. I remember one scene where the main character is arriving in a city and walking through a crowd, but it felt like more attention was being paid to a particular conversation between passers-by than the assassin, so my attention drifted. I found myself forgetting about the main character and wondering where the conversation was leading. In the end I think it was just meant to demonstrate how people quake at the sight of a dark elf, but that is demonstrated frequently in this book, which brought up some realism issues for me.

Assassins don’t normally like to be visible or draw attention to themselves … for a number of reasons, if for nothing but their prey could run. Yet everywhere this assassin went, people knew his name or knew his reputation or knew enough to be very afraid of dark elves, even though he was far from his homeland. If he is that well-known and that terrifying, so as to stand out in a crowd everywhere he goes, how does he do his job? The hype surrounding this character made him less credible in my eyes. And the fact that he considered himself to be just as terrifying as everyone else perceives him made him feel one-dimensional. Shade is supposed to be a bad-ass assassin, but it seems that is all that he is. No other dimensions of personality are shown, except for one scene where he was afraid while trying to fight his way through some undead. His dialog was a bit over the top — the “I will be your worst nightmare” kind of protagonist. But this is where my personal bias might have influenced my assessment. I just don’t like characters like that. I don’t think readers have to like the characters they’re reading about; the story belongs to the character, regardless of whether readers like him or not. Stories should never be about making character likable. However, I tend to have a hard time relating to protagonists who truly believe they are invincible, especially when they are static. The villain and henchmen had even less attention to deeper development — a smarmy crime lord and his muscle-for-brains thugs.

Lastly, I felt the plot was rather one-dimensional, too. It has good structure in terms of sticking to an outline and going from point A to point B to accomplish the mission. But that’s all there is, except for a few flashbacks and world building explanations. So, this book is about the main character going from Place A, where he has a fight, to Place B, where he has a fight, to Place C, where he has a fight, and so on, until he reaches the big boss battle and they trade insults and then they have the final fight. But even then, the final battle is very underplayed after all that led up to it about the assassin wanting a challenge. His final strategy was skipped over and whipped out as a surprise, rather than followed, even though the reader follows him every step of the journey up to that point.

This fantasy novel felt more like an action movie with heavily choreographed fight scenes. Or I could see this story being done as a comic because of its straightforward objective and acrobatics. But I expect more depth from a novel. To be fair, this might be my love of complexity coming through. There’s nothing wrong with simple, straightforward stories and over-the-top martial arts, as long as they fit the overall theme of the story. But, personally, I have to have more than a novel about fights. Fights are exciting elements to include in adventure stories, but if that’s all the story is, to me, it reads more like a quest journal from a role-playing game. And for fight scenes in novels, the story-telling should match the pace of the battle — short, explosive, and to-the-point, like the action itself. If a fight takes an entire chapter to describe it loses my interest … and perhaps credibility.

What I liked about it:

I mentioned above that the plot was not flawed. It doesn’t have any gaping holes that didn’t make sense, or anything like that. Which means it was easy to follow and understand — a quick read.

My favourite part was probably the flashbacks because they went deeper than the main plot and had more “humanity” in them. Even in fantasy and sci-fi, it’s the “humanity” of the characters (even alien creatures) that readers latch on to in attempts to relate. In the flashbacks we see some of the training this assassin went through, and it’s a chance to see how that harshness contributed to his cold, hard personality. (And I realize assassins generally are stone-cold loners, but interesting characters are more than that, regardless of their professions … sometimes even because of their professions.) I also liked the flashbacks because I liked the glimpse into dark elf society. And I enjoyed the descriptions and world-building aspects regarding the dark forests where they originate. Since that is one of the interests that led me to the book in the first place. Those parts of the book held my interest more than others. The flashbacks also gave context for the main character more so than the rest of the story. This story doesn’t have any secondary characters as foils to the main character. His journey is mostly solitary from beginning to end. But in the flashbacks, you see his relations to his teacher, his fellow classmates, his traditions, etc. This is where there is more substance beyond a string of fights on the road to his goal.

The comedic inserts were sometimes funny, but sometimes over the top. The stupidity of the henchmen felt out of place if the king of thieves was to be taken seriously. I liked the faun, however. He felt more original and appropriate to the overall atmosphere than the two thugs that kept failing at their duties.

The book has nice illustrations. Most novels don’t offer such visuals, so that’s a bit of a treat.

Recommendation:

I recommend this book for a quick read if you really enjoy action. The setting makes it fantasy. The plot makes it adventure. But the bulk of the text is about action. How much of a novel should be devoted to action is perhaps a personal preference.

There were times when this novel read more like a comic or role-play game journal, so I had a hard time deciding whether I was supposed to take it seriously or not, off and on. I think my expectations were set on something more like a Forgotten Realms novel, and that is not what the authors were trying to accomplish here. The back matter of the novel explains the authors’ marketing strategy.

“Most authors tell their best stories first. Readers are left increasingly disappointed as prequels and spinoff tales never again reach that full epic scale and depth found in the original trilogy or saga.” So they designed this book as something small that leads up to something epic. They refer to The Hobbit laying the foundation for Lord of the Rings by example, asking readers to imagine a book for Gandalf, a book for Strider, and so on.

The problem with this kind of strategy is that the first book in a series always bears the burden of having to hook enough interest to carry the rest of the series. The Hobbit was an excellent novel with depth, well-defined characters, and a stand-alone plot. It didn’t need Lord of the Rings to be successful. Had The Hobbit been lower quality, people might never have been interested in reading what came after it. Even in modern “arc” series that do depend on the books that follow, the first book must be a “best” effort, or no one will be interested in what follows.

So I feel like the “save the best for last” marketing strategy worked against this book. If I had started with the “best” book in the series, I might have been interested enough to follow additional individual character stories on the side. That’s how fandoms work. As it is, there is not enough here to interest me in seeing more of this character in a bigger world or more complex plot.

I’m going to rate this one “not my cup of tea” with a note that it definitely needs better editing, but give back one star in case there are other readers out there who think they might enjoy it.