Justice (Deck of Lies, #1)

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The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2)

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Death (Deck of Lies, #3)

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Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4)

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Hope's Rebellion

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Get Lost in the Deck of Lies

"It kept me in constant suspense throughout the story and once again it was virtually impossible to predict who did what."

"The unpredictability of the book is what makes it so great."

Sienna Logan, at Lost to Books, has followed up her review of Justice with new reviews for The Tower and Death, the second and third books in the Deck of Lies!

"This series is great and I would recommend it to everyone! The murder mystery keeps you in suspense and the love interests keeps you hooked."

Visit the site to read the full review of The Tower.

 "Jade Varden once again surprised me by turning the story on its head again and continuing it in a way I'm sure no one will predict."

See if you can predict where the story's going after you read the full review of Death.

Writing 101: Popular Books Aren't Necessarily Well-Written

Many authors like to read the work of other authors, and it's easy to get inspired by the greats. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so isn't it only natural that authors emulate the authors they like? Just know that, when you do, you should consider the source. Some of the most popular books aren't necessarily well-written, and you definitely don't want to take a page from them and re-produce the bad grammar.

Bad Grammar, Poor Punctuation

Some books explode into pop culture unexpectedly, becoming wildly popular and read by large audiences. But it cannot be taken for granted that such books are well-written, or shining examples of good grammar. In fact, sometimes the exact opposite is true. There are literally hundreds of books that sold well but still had horrible mistakes within the pages, but for the purposes of this post we're only going to talk about two mega bestsellers. One's a self-published book, and one is not.

  • The Hunger Games
That's right: I'm not afraid. Read The Hunger Games carefully enough, and you'll find excess commas, poor sentence structure and more grammar errors than you can shake a bow and arrow at. Arguably, author Suzanne Collins may have had a reason for making all these mistakes -- but we'll get to that in a minute.

First, I've got a prove my case for all the fans out there. Here are two examples of comma overload, where semicolons should have been added instead:

In some districts, in which winning the reaping is such a great honor, people are eager to risk their lives, the volunteering is complicated.

Obviously Haymitch isn’t much, but Effie trinket is right about one thing, once we’re in the arena he’s all we’ve got.

Bad grammar is evident in many sentences. They are simply poorly structured, with modifiers in the wrong place, and end up making very little sense: 

But I retrieved the small bow and arrows he’d made me from a hollow tree.

My bow is a rarity, crafted by my father along with a few others that I keep well hidden in the woods.

The first error suggests that the bow and arrows were made from a hollow tree; the author means to suggest that they are hidden in the tree. The second error suggests that the heroine keeps her father, along with some other people, hidden in the woods. That changes the story quite a bit. 

I couldn’t go home. Because at home was my mother with her dead eyes and my little sister, with her hollow cheeks and cracked lips.

This is just a silly pluralization error. Because "my mother" and "my little sister" are both "at home," the correct verb is the plural were, not was.

The Hunger Games is crazy popular, and well-loved enough to spark a full-length feature film. It's also not self-published. This fiction juggernaut has all the power of a team of copy editors and the clout of a major publishing company behind it. It's possible that Collins intended to write the book in the tone and style of her protagonist, as the book is told from the first-person perspective. It's possible that these errors are actually brilliant, cleverly implemented as part of a careful writing technique. But at the end of the book, it's still wrong. And wrong is wrong, no matter what justification you use.

But some very popular self-published books are no better, mind you. 

  • Fifty Shades of Grey
The self-published book that was read 'round the world, Fifty Shades of Grey, is also incredibly popular. It's also destined to become a movie, and plenty of article writers and book bloggers have already done the casting back to front. But you'd better not read it if you're looking for an example of great writing in the indie genre...because you won't find it. 

Notice how I used the ellipsis up there? I like using them; I've even blogged about it. But I definitely don't like them as much as E. L. James. 

I suck harder and harder … Hmm … My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.

He gently strokes my hair … Boy … I Survived. That wasn’t so bad. I’m more stoic than I thought. My inner goddess is prostrate … well, at least she’s quiet.
The word overkill fairly leaps to mind. Fifty Shades of Grey has also taken flak for being over-written; the term "purple prose" crops up a lot.

So...What's Wrong With Readers? 

So why is it that bad writing, poor grammar and weird punctuation are celebrated, rather than reviled? It's not that today's readers make poor choices, or that the nature of writing itself is changing. Many, many readers acknowledge that the books they love are riddled with mistakes, but they consciously overlook them because they love the plot and the characters of the book.

It seems to clearly point to the fact that readers care most about the content of the book itself: the story. But that's no reason to write just any old way, or ignore the basic rules of English. It's wonderful to write a popular book. It's even better to write a book that's popular and critically-acclaimed. You don't want your work to come with a disclaimer (sure, the punctuation is crap, but...) and you don't want your reputation to be that you're strong in plot but shite at the mechanics of writing. You can do both; it just takes a little extra time and care.

In the end, it's worth it.

Dressing the Deck of Lies

Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) is being featured next week, and you'll never guess where. The book is coming to Fashion Fantasy Game to give readers the chance to dress Rain, the main character in the Deck of Lies series.

I've blogged about Rain's style in the past, and Deck of Lies readers know that fashion plays a strong part in the series. If you keep reading the series, you'll find that Rain's fashion choices often reflect how she's feeling about herself and her life.

But maybe you can do a little better than me at dressing her up. Visit the Facebook page for Fashion Fantasy Game to find out when the competition begins. When it does, you'll have a chance to win my giveaway -- and to blow me away with your amazing fashion sense. Now, go have fun!

Writing 101: Not All Tips Are Good

When you're a writer, there's always room for learning. It's always good to expand your knowledge, and it's never a bad idea to look up information even on the basics of writing to brush up on your grammar, punctuation and wordcrafting skills. But there's something important you need to know if you go looking for ways to improve your fiction: not all tips are good. Sometimes, the writing advice you find isn't necessarily stuff you should always follow. 

Come Again?

It might sound strange coming from me, considering the nature of my blog, but it's true: not all writing tips you find should be taken to heart. In looking around the Internet, I've found more than a few that I just plain don't agree with. 

Bad Tips

In fact, there are an awful lot of bad tips out there. If you attempt to follow every single one of them, you might end up with a book that's so cautiously written it won't make you happy. Remember that you aren't writing to please writing bloggers who think they know better. You're writing for you, and with that in mind remember these writing tips that you can simply ignore: 
  • It was a dark and stormy night... 
Some writing experts suggest that writers never begin a book with the weather. It's classically considered to be one of the biggest writing mistakes -- and I disagree. You know which book begins with the weather? The Bell Jar, for one, and The Secret History, for another. I mention them because they were ranked as two of the "10 Best First Lines in Fiction" by The Guardian. Other books that open with the weather? Orwell's 1984 and George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones.
  • Tagging dialogue
I read a tip where one writer stated that no other verb than "said" should be added to dialogue tags. Meaning that, at the end of most of your sentences, you should have nothing more exciting than "he said," "she said," "Sheila said," and so forth to denote your speakers. Do you want to read that book? Of course not. Just throw this tip out the window right now.
  • Adverbs
Adverbs are really just adjectives, descriptive words, with -ly tacked on at the end. In one tip I discovered, the writer cautioned authors against using adverbs with dialogue tags (she said sadly; he whispered gently). So if you follow all these bad tips, not only will your book be stuffed with he said and she said, but you can't even pretty it up by adding angrily to the end if you like.
  • Exclamation point!
For some reason, some bloggers and writing critics seem to hate exclamation points. One tip I read said that writers should have no more than three per 100,000 words. They must be joking!
  • Regional speech
Ever tried o read Pygmalion or Gone With the Wind? If you do, you'll notice  that regional dialects are depicted (in the case of the former, London cockney, the American Deep South in the latter) and that makes them difficult to read, at times. An actual line from Pygmalion: "Wal, fewd dan y' de-ooty bawmz a mather should, eed now bettern to spawl a pore gel's flahrzn than ran awy atbaht pyin." It looks and reads like ancient Greek, but verbally the line reads a bit like this: Well, if you'd done your duty by him as a mother should, he'd know better than to spill a poor girl's flowers than run away without paying -- only pretend I'm saying it in very broad cockney. Clearly the way it's written is confusing, so there's something to the idea that writers ought to avoid it, but regional language is a big deal in some books. It's the entire premise of Pygmalion, in fact, and without it the story wouldn't make a lick of sense.

There are already lots of rules in writing, and you can't possibly follow them all. Some writers, in fact, are well-known for breaking them. Lewis Carroll simply made up words for his books, and we still use some of them today. Emily Dickinson peppered her poems with punctuation that editors hated, and her style is considered to be definitive and delightful by critics today. Some writing tips are good, and it's always worth it to expand your knowledge, but you should never attempt to follow them at the risk of cramping your own writing style. Each writer has a voice that's unique to them. Don't stifle it by playing it safe and trying to follow everyone else's advice...not even mine.

Finding the Time to Write, and Do Everything Else, Too

I blog a lot, and work on my books a lot, and a I tweet a lot. Sometimes people ask me, how do you manage to do so much? Well, I'm finally ready to shatter the illusion and give you some answers.

Read my guest post, How Do You Find the Time, to learn all my scheduling and time-saving secrets. It's not possible to do it all...but you can make it look like you are.

Books on Film: The Outsiders

The Outsiders was one of the very few books I was forced to read that I actually really loved (and actually read all the way through). At least, I thought I loved it...but then I saw the movie. Sure the story's great, but when you add the likes of Rob Lowe to it the whole thing gets turned up several notches. On film, The Outsiders is a parade of up-and-comers in sleeveless shirts, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The Book

 S. E. Hinton started writing The Outsiders at age 15, and Viking Press published it when she was only 18. That was way back in 1967, but it still sells half a million copies every year. Hinton wrote the book about the two rival gangs at her high school: the Greasers and the Socials (shorted to Socs and pronounced soshes).

The book became iconic and extremely popular right away, solidifying S. E. Hinton as a beloved YA author. The story of The Outsiders, a group of poor greasers who are endlessly pitted against the rich and privileged Socs, struck a chord with readers of all ages.

The novel begins with Ponyboy leaving a movie theater and getting jumped by a group of Socs. Lucky for Ponyboy, his two older brothers Darry and Sodapop happen by and break things up. Right away, the reader sees the conflict. We start to become a part of the Greasers' world the next night when Ponyboy and his best friend Johnny go to the movies with Dally. Of all the Greasers, Dally is the most wild. He immediately begins flirting with two pretty Soc girls, Cherry Valance and Marcia, at the drive-in. Ponyboy and Johnny walk the girls home, because that's what you do with pretty girls.

But they get seen by Bob Sheldon and Randy Adderson, two Soc boys. Greaser boys aren't supposed to hang around with Socy girls. Cherry and Marcia blow their Soc friends off and they get home safely. So does Ponyboy, but he's late. Darry, the oldest brother, is stressed out and shouldering respnsibility far beyond his years because their parents are dead. Worried about Ponyboy and frustrated, Darry hits him when he finally comes home. Upset and hurt, Ponyboy takes off again and meets up with Johnny, who has a truly terrible home life. They go to the park to blow off steam and maybe try to get some sleep.

They run into five Soc boys instead. The Socs are drunk and pissed, and they take their rage out on Ponyboy by nearly drowning him in the park fountain. Johnny, terrified, pulls out a knife and stabs Bob. He kills him accidentally in this altercation, so he and Ponyboy run off to find Dally -- the only one who can help them without judging them, or going to Ponyboy's two older brothers. Dally gives them cash, a gun, and a place to go and hide.

At the abandoned church, the boys wash their hair and Ponyboy dyes his to make himself harder to identify. He reads a poem by Robert Frost, "Nothing Gold Can Stay," which becomes a theme for the book. Because they've got so much time on their hands, Ponyboy starts reading my favorite book, Gone With the Wind, to keep himself and Johnny entertained.

Dally eventually arrives with news. The Greasers and the Socs are angrier than ever following Bob's death, and there's a rumble (a huge fight between the two groups) in the works. Johnny, feeling guilty, makes the decision to turn himself in. He certainly would have done so, but when the three Greasers return from getting some fast food they see the church on fire. To make matters worse, several kids are trapped inside the inferno. Johnny and Ponyboy run into the building to save the kids, and Johnny is severely hurt in the process. Both are taken to the hospital. Darry comes to see his baby brother and in a tearful scene between them, Ponyboy realizes how much Darry loves him.

Johnny and Ponyboy are heroes, but that doesn't change the fact that Johnny is a murderer...or that his back is broken. The rumble is also still on, a decisive battle that will end the turf dispute between the two groups. Darry allows Ponyboy to attend, and the Greasers manage to carry the day. Dally and Ponyboy go immediately to see Johnny in the hospital, who dies. Dally can't take it.

He leaves the hospital and immediately "knocks over" a store, which means he robbed it. Because he's making a huge show of himself about it, the police are on his tail pretty much immediately. Dally points an unloaded gun at one of the cops, and they shoot him dead in the street.

Ponyboy tries to go back to his life, but he can't. He struggles in school, and has just one shot at passing English: write a great theme. He ends up turning to Gone With the Wind again, and finds a note that Johnny wrote to him before he died. The note tells Ponyboy to "stay gold," and talks about how proud he is that he saved those kids. So Ponyboy sits down to the write. The first line of his theme is the first line of the book The Outsiders.

The Film

Sounds fantastic, right? A librarian at an elementary school in Fresno, California, certainly thought so. She encouraged students to write to one of the best filmmakers of the day, and of all time, because she thought it would make a great movie. Lucky for the rest of us, Francis Ford Coppola agreed with her.

As Fate would have it, Coppola loaded the cast with young actors and actresses who would go on to big fame and success. The Outsiders boats one of the finest ensemble casts ever assembled, though at the time the film's stars were just a bunch of kids most people didn't recognize. Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Diane Lane, Matt Dillion, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze and Rob Lowe are all in the film, and all deliver great performances.

The film is very, very faithful to the book, even copying some of the dialogue straight off the page. The events of the movie mirror those of the book almost exactly, but for purists there does exist a second version of the film that's even more faithful. Coppola re-released the flick in September 2005 that includes 22 minutes of additional footage that wasn't included in the theatrical release. He adds a beginning scene that shows Ponyboy's fight in front of the movies and scenes near the end. The score is also changed in this second version, featuring more music that was popular during the 1960s (when the story takes place).

What Got Adapted? 

There are, of course, some differences between the book and the film. No matter how faithful, no two-hour movie can successfully capture every detail revealed in a book -- even a relatively short YA novel. The film watcher doesn't ever know much about the history of the three boys (Ponyboy, Sodapop and Darry). The movie has also has taken some flak over the years for (of all things) casting. Dally is written as a blonde, which Matt Dillon clearly is not. Nor is Rob Lowe, though he plays Sodapop who is supposed o have lighter hair. Two-Bit, played by Estevez, is taller with sideburns, and some fans felt that Two-Bit's character wasn't jocular enough on film.

But in the main, The Outsiders is an amazingly accurate film reproduction of a book that's controversial and very evocative of a society where the rich and the poor are constantly at odds. Is there any question why that story still resonates so strongly today?

A Week of Lies...

Justice is being featured next week  on one of my favorite book blogs. Take a look at this introductory post to find out what sorts of fun things you can expect and to participate in a discussion about assigned school reading.

Writing 101: Staying Organized

Creativity is chaotic by nature. Inspiration may strike at any time, even when it's inconvenient, and you may think of the ending for a book long before you come up with a viable beginning. Sometimes, a setting might strike you first and you end up building a story around it. No matter what your process might be, staying organized is the only way you're going to write a book without making yourself completely crazy (or turning your book into a big mess). 

How to Do It

Ideas don't arrive in a neat, orderly fashion, and all the pieces of a book probably aren't going to come together in order. That means you have to make notes as they come to you, and figure out how all of them come to together while you're writing. If you're unorganized, you're going to lose your great ideas. You're going to have trouble finding all your notes and remembering all your information, and wind up wasting a bunch of time looking back through your book to figure it all out. The more time you spend looking for some bit of information or note, the less time you spend writing. Organize your book materials neatly, and you'll end up with a much more cohesive story.
  • People, places and things. Before you ever start writing, it's a good idea to create separate files for your outline and character sheet. I'm a firm believer in the pre-plotted outline, but lots of authors like to fly by the seat of their pants. Whichever way you want to do it, create an outline anyway. Once you're done with a chapter, start filling in the outline with the main events. Why do this? If you need to know what happens when, it's a lot quicker to look at the outline than to scroll through your manuscript in an attempt to find it. The character sheet will help you keep track of everyone's names, likenesses and pertinent information -- and it's invaluable.
  • Filing. Where on your hard drive are you storing your book files? If they're spread out across different directories, you're just making more work for yourself. Put all your files together, both text- and image-based, in a single folder. The folder's title? The name of the book! It sounds simple, but lots of people store their text and image files separately. When it comes to your book, just keep everything together and save yourself a lot of stress and clicking around. 
  • The manuscript. Don't store your manuscript in a bunch of different files. I used to open a new file for each and every chapter, and it was a horrifically bad idea. The first few books I wrote had titled chapters, so guess what I ended up with? That's right: a folder full of document files with delightfully random names. Searching for specific scenes was a nightmare. Use just one file for the whole manuscript; this will make ebook formatting and writing much, much easier.
  • Physical materials. Just in case you're not confined to your laptop like I am and you actually put together some physical items for your book, you're going to want to put your hands on them easily. You might have handwritten notes, printed images -- I don't know what you've got. But if it's attached to your book, you've got to keep it organized wisely where you can get to it. Where? In a folder, of course! They don't just exist electronically. Put all that stuff together in a folder or a binder, and keep it close to your writing space so you can access it any time. Don't keep anything else in the folder or binder but the stuff for your book. When you start a new book, get a new folder! Write the name of the book on the outside with marker (or use a label if you're fancy) and you're ready to write. 
  • Time to write. Staying organized means making time to actually write the book, too. Lots of indie authors have families, full-time jobs, responsibilities and social lives. Squeezing time in to write can be difficult (and I struggle with it all the time). Set aside a couple of hours every day, or a full day each week, that's just for writing time. Organize your schedule to make it work, and try to pay attention to when you're feeling most creative and when you get your best writing done. Make writing one of your scheduled responsibilities. 
  • Stay neat. Keep your writing area neat and organized overall, and make sure the files and folders on your computer are sensibly organized as well. Your space has to have order to it as well. A chaotic environment isn't the best space for being creative, because it's distracting. If you're going to write, you need to be able to access all your materials quickly and you can't do that in a messy space. I'm not telling you to dust and disinfect every day, but at least try to keep everything in manageable piles to maintain some semblance of order. It will be much easier to get work done, you'll see! 
Control the chaos, and it's much easier to create. Your mind and your ideas are probably going to be chaotic. When you stay organized about it, you're in a much better position to do something wonderful with them.

Another Reviewer Falls in Love with Justice

"I LOVED every minute of it!!"

"The plot itself was utterly gripping. There’s a lot of mystery at every turn."

Justice has just been reviewed at BookAThonFreak! Visit the blog to read the whole thing, and don't forget that the book is available free from Smashwords for just a few more days. If you haven't already got your copy, get it before the July release celebration for Death is over! 

Writing 101: That That

If you spend any significant amount of time writing, the question is going to come up: when is it okay to consecutively repeat words? Most often, this question will arise in sentences where the word that appears. It might sounds silly at first blush -- who would write a sentence with that that in it? -- but I've seen it...a lot. And under any and all circumstances, no matter which big-selling author does it in their bestselling book, it is wrong. At times it may feel unavoidable, but it never is.


I've blogged about over-use of the word that in the past, but it bears repeating. What doesn't need to be repeated is words. Always remember this: twice in a row is too many. 

Scoff if you will, but that that actually crops up more often than you might think. In fact, when I went looking for examples of the dreaded that that, I found too many: 

"I tell you, I gotta plead ignorance on this thing, because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing is frowned upon... you know, 'cause I've worked in a lot of offices, and I tell you, people do that all the time."
-George Costanza (played by Jason Alexander), Seinfeld

"If I said yes, that would then suggest that that might be the only place where it might be done which would not be accurate, necessarily accurate. It might also not be inaccurate, but I'm disinclined to mislead anyone."
-Donald Rumsfeld

"It is perfectly true that that government is best which governs least. It is equally true that that government is best which provides most."
-Walter Lippmann

The quotes above could easily give a reader pause; when you hear the words spoken in the cadence of dialogue, they do make perfect sense. But chances are pretty good that I'm not reading your book out loud -- and as an author, you've got to use a bit better grammar than this. So if a team of authors (or just one) cleaned up the quotes above to eliminate the dreaded that that, what might they look like? 

I'm so glad you asked: 
  • I tell you, I gotta plead ignorance on this thing, because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that sort of thing is frowned upon... you know, 'cause I've worked in a lot of offices, and I tell you, people do that all the time.
Sometimes, you can simply eliminate one of the thats and find that the sentence still makes perfect sense. It's also cleaner and, most importantly, grammatically correct.

  • If I said yes, that would then suggest that it might be the only place where it might be done which would not be accurate, necessarily accurate. It might also not be inaccurate, but I'm disinclined to mislead anyone.
  • It is perfectly true that a government is best which governs least. It is equally true that a government is best which provides most.
In some cases, that simply needs to be replaced with another word; which, who and it are often your best options.

But it's not always so easy. When the repeated words end and start two separate sentences, or contractions get involved, the grammar rules start to get a bit blurred:

"I guess I still feel that I'm a comedian; if I had to pick one thing that I feel like I could do, it would be that. That doesn't mean that I like it, but I feel that's what I am."
-Larry David

"We can make sure that we resolve the issues. And I think that that's what the Tea Party was all about."
-Allen West

Iffy, right? When the same word ends one sentence and begins the very next sentence, you aren't technically breaking any grammar rules -- but you should see if you can tweak your sentences so the two don't end up running up against each other. And in the case of using that that's, usually the first that can be eliminated and you won't lose any of the sentence's meaning. When the writing gets tricky, read it several times and play with your words. See if you can make sensible substitutions and eliminations to clean it up; if you think it sounds better with repeated words, leave it in.

And the Exception...

Of course, there are exceptions to just about every rule of grammar, and that's that. In this case, literally. The phrase that's that is extremely common, and technically it doesn't break any rules. The contraction that's is really just a shorter way of writing that is, so when someone says that's that they're actually saying that is that -- so no words are being repeated.

Writing 101: Learn How to Summarize

It's important to write rich and descriptive text, a fact I've expounded upon more than once, but you also have to learn how to edit out all the uninteresting details, too. In any book, there are several plot points you need to hit to make your story work. All of those scenes should be vivid and embellished, so the readers can see all the events unfolding in their mind's eye. But there are always additional moments that happen in-between the action...and I really don't want to know a whole lot about them. If you're going to write books, you'd better learn how to summarize the boring moments and skip ahead in the narrative. 

Details, Details, Details

Lots of readers love long books, and I used to. Half of the enjoyment of the later Harry Potter books lies in the fact that they're massive. But no one wants to read a whole bunch of nothing. Some details aren't important. 

Your characters live a life on the page...but let's face it, every moment of that life can't possibly be interesting. Maybe your character spends a Sunday just hanging around the house in sweatpants eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. What I really don't need is a long, descriptive post about the making of the aforementioned sandwiches. I know what it's like to sit around and do nothing, and most people are sure to be fairly familiar with the mechanics of a good old PB and J. Every hour isn't enticing, and every day isn't exciting. So you're going to have to learn how to skip them -- and still let me know that they happened, because you don't want a bunch of lost time in your book. 

It's not easy to summarize non-events, to skip ahead in a character's life to get to the more interesting parts. But if you don't, and you end up writing hugely detailed passages in which almost nothing whatsoever happens, people are going to skip your books.

Summarizing the Gaps

You can't have a bunch of time gaps in your book (Tuesday we went to the mall and... The next Friday we were at the movies when...), but you also can't have a bunch of useless scenes of daily life where nothing much goes on. Every scene should be relevant to the plot of the story, or offer up some needed information. If it doesn't, it's useless. Sometimes, you've got to skip over the spaces in-between.

The secret to doing so lies in summarizing. It's easy to skip past a night of sleep. You put the character to bed, and the next scene begins with something like "When I woke up..." Skipping quickly through entire days, weeks or months when there's not a lot going on is a bit trickier -- but it can be done with a single sentence. I saw it done once with an entire year. To paraphrase, it went something like Another year passed, in the same manner as the first. This is always an option. Monday and Tuesday dragged by uneventfully. There are a million ways to write it.

But it's not always so easy. You might still need to provide the reader with some information. Something might happen that's not all that interesting, but you've still got to let people know about it. I saw Sheila again on Friday, but once again she walked past me without saying a word. By the time Monday came back around... Again, the secret is in the summary. 

Writers tend to be long-winded. That's because five minutes might take 10 pages to pass in a book. So for many, summarizing doesn't come easy. Here's how to make it happen: think about the main points you need to convey; think about how much time needs to pass; write just that information. These bridges between gaps don't have to be flowery, they just need to be simple and succinct. Every sentence doesn't need to be fancy, just like every detail doesn't need to be shared.

Writing 101: Review Tips You Need to Know

I've written posts about getting reviews, swapping reviews and writing reviews, but I'm still learning new things all the time. In my admittedly brief experience with reviewing other authors, I've figured out a few things the hard way. To help you avoid some of the mess I've struggled with, I'm offering up some tips that you need to know if you're going to open yourself up to doing reviews. 

Review Tips

At this point, you might be thinking but you don't do reviews. I know I give that illusion; I haven't posted a new review in over a month. This is quite deceptive, however. In spite of what it looks like, I've been working on reading a book I'm committed to review this entire time. And that brings us straight to what I now believe is the most important review tip: 
  • Check the length. Every new ebook is a mystery. Unless the author has also published a print version of their book, you probably won't find a helpful little page count on the book's official Amazon page. But no matter what, there are ways to check the length -- and you absolutely should (unless you want to spend over a month reading the same book and you're not even halfway through it yet). Even ebooks have a giveaway: file size. Usually, this is a 3-digit number followed by the letters KB. For example, my book Justice is 364 KB. But if you want to know what the heck that means, just ask the author for their estimated word count before you agree to a review. A 60,000 word book is nothing massive; Justice, which is right around this word length, is only 154 printed pages long. But find a way to check the length, because you don't want to agree to read a book and find out that it's colossal after the fact. 
  • Set a limit. You don't have to overwhelm yourself. Give yourself a firm cutoff so you don't wind up with a review list that's 10 pages long. Your cutoff might be 5 books or 50 books, but figure out this limit. Once you have reached that book limit, politely respond to new requests that you just can't accept any new books. It's hard to say no, and I personally struggle with it, but it's also hard to maintain your sanity when you have 20 ebooks chasing you through your nightmares. 
  • View samples. Always go and look at the sample of the book before you agree to review it. Read the first few lines and make sure it's something you a) understand and b) like. Why? Because what if you agree to review a book based on a great blurb, and then you discover it's an unreadable mess? Either you have to torture yourself through the next umpteen thousand words, or you've got to go back to the author and tell them you made an error. Any which way it goes, it's bad.
  • Schedule reading time. Some books compel us to read, calling out to us during all hours of the day. Other books...aren't so compelling. Define a scheduled reading time and decide on a reading quota to make sure you're getting it done and making progress on your review commitments. For instance, I read two chapters a day. It's not a lot, and that's what keeps it manageable and possible. Don't set a limit that's difficult to reach, because then you're just setting yourself up for failure. Give yourself a limit that's easy to meet; if you end up reading way beyond it, more's the better. 
Reviewing Fearlessly

Once you agree to review a book, you have a responsibility to complete. It's important to take all responsibilities seriously, and everyone knows that. If you agree to do something, you should do it. But at the same time, you don't have to punish yourself. If you agree to review a book that winds up being offensive or otherwise godawful, don't be afraid to go back to the author and tell them you just can't finish the thing. Be polite, be succinct and be honest: I can't review this book because I cannot finish it. I cannot finish it because _____. I am sorry I must dissolve our review agreement, and I wish you the best of luck in all your writing endeavors. Yours truly, Book Reviewer. I have not followed this advice in the past, I admit; I'm not always fearless about these sorts of things. Honesty is usually the best policy, but if all else fails just write a polite, breezy email explaining that you over-estimated the time you have available for reading and reviewing, at this time you're going to have to back out of your previous agreement (and you're sorry, saying you're sorry helps).

Don't be afraid to be very specific about your reviewing needs and what you want from the authors who solicit you for reviews. Don't be afraid to tell them no. And don't be afraid to let yourself off the hook if a book is unreadable or intolerable. Everyone's life is limited to a certain amount of reading time (excluding vampires and other immortal beings, of course), and you don't have to spend it trapped inside books you just plain don't like. Review fearlessly, and draw the line wherever you need to draw it. After all, it's your time and you get to spend it however you like.

From the Trenches: It's a Jungle Out There

"You just don't know how to use the English language." Many authors who receive a cruel rejection such as this one might throw away their dictionaries, burn their thesaurus and develop a deep hatred of the literary world. The author who received this letter ended up writing one of the world's most beloved books instead, a story so good that Disney couldn't wait to get their hands on it 75 years later. 

Rudyard Kipling received the quote above in a rejection letter from an editor at the San Francisco Examiner. To his credit, the editor prefaced the quote with "I'm sorry," though any author knows this small courtesy probably didn't do much to ease the sting.  

 Inner Strength

Kipling lived an interesting life. He was born in 1865 in Bombay and was immersed in the world of the arts early, spending time around painters and sculptors. He didn't find his love of words until he was a college student in north Devon 13 years later. He began working as a journalist and editor in 1882 after returning home to India, but didn't get anything of his own published until 1886. Kipling followed up on his poetry with a volume of short stories a year later, and began to publish prolifically over the next few years. By 1892, Kipling was a huge success.

But before he found success, he was getting rejection letters like the one quoted at the top of this post. Rudyard Kipling didn't have an easy childhood. He spent time in a foster home and later, had bad experiences in boarding school because he was bullied and teased mercilessly. Cruel rejection letters belittling his ability could have easily dampened his love of the written word and made him doubt his own talent. 

Luckily, it didn't. Rudyard Kipling was a prolific writer, and a resilient one, and he kept on scribbling away anyway. During his lifetime, Rudyard Kipling won the Nobel Prize for Literature and published more than 15 books that included poetry, short story collections and full-length novels. He is best known for The Jungle Book, published in 1894, a story that's still well-beloved today.

Rudyard Kipling wrote in the writing trenches in spite of rejection, even when he was told he had no idea what he was doing. He believed in himself, and in his work, and he went on to prove that silly editor wrong millions of bestselling copies over.

Writing 101: Skipping Around

Many stories are told in a linear fashion (first this happened, then this happened), but you don't have to write your books that way. Skipping around is a time-honored writing tradition that can help you get past tricky scenes, writer's block and plot problems. When your book just isn't behaving itself, try skipping to a different part of the story -- you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

 Skipping Around

I have to stay pretty organized when I write, because I get distracted easily by little details. If I don't have a path to follow, I'll end up wandering off into the weeds. So usually, I write my books from beginning to end and that's that. But sometimes, skipping around is the only possible solution to a tricky writing problem -- and I had to face it myself. I'm currently working on Judgment, the last book in the Deck of Lies series, and so far I've been all over the place story-wise. What I've learned is that sometimes, skipping around is necessary. 
  • Can't stop. I'm a big advocate of doing the proper research to make your book believable, but you can't always stop to look something up when you're in the fiction zone. If words are flowing freely and you're truly feeling inspired, you may not want to stop to check facts. Skip around the parts you need to research to keep the prose going, but make sure you write a note to yourself within the manuscript so you know what you skipped. I put my notes in different colors from the rest of the text, so they stand out. You can also use capital letters and symbols to distinguish notes that you need to see. 
  •  Stuck. Not all scenes are created equal. You might need to kill a character, write a love scene or create something extremely dramatic on the page -- and it's hard. If you're good and stuck on something specific, skip ahead to the next scene and see how it goes. Once your words are flowing again and you get yourself loosened up, re-visit that difficult scene and it might be easier to write.
  • Flashbacks and out-of-time moments. There are lots of reasons you might need to write scenes out of order. A character might experience an in-depth flashback or a long memory. You might write half a scene in an early chapter of your book, then conclude the scene in a later chapter. If it's easier for you to skip ahead and get these scenes written before you would naturally get to them when writing your book, do it! 
  • Plot. Writers don't always have all the answers, not even when it comes to their own books. I like to plot things out before I start writing, but some writers prefer to see where the story takes them. If you're having a plot problem that you just can't figure out, try skipping ahead to see what happens. The simple act of writing and getting back into the story may spark something and help you plug in that plot hole.
Skipping around and writing scenes out of order can help you get your book written if not more efficiently than at least more beautifully, but there's a danger there, too. Always read your book in a linear fashion, from beginning to end, the way readers will be enjoying it. Make sure the scenes you wrote out of order don't deviate from the flow of your book. They must make sense, fit in and read like every other part of the book. The danger of skipping around is writing jerky, disjointed scenes and pieces of prose that just don't seem to fit. Make sure this doesn't happen with solid re-reading, and edit as needed to keep your tone consistent throughout.

Writing 101: Cliffhangers

Cliffhangers are an effective writing trick, and fans of the Deck of Lies series know I love using them. But there's a dark side to using cliffhangers in fiction. Don't let it take you by surprise, or lull you into using cliffhangers indiscriminately.

What Goes Up...

At the end of a chapter, a cliffhanger leaves the reader hungry for more -- and it compels them to keep reading when they might decide to close the book otherwise. Readers want to be thrilled, they want to feel suspense, they want the tension and the drama. Cliffhangers are a very suitable way to give them all of that, but like all good things cliffhangers have to be used in moderation...and sometimes, they shouldn't be used at all. 

It's important to include some natural stopping points in any book, because no one can read all the time. Ideally, your readers will read your story all the way through without putting it down once...but that's not always possible. Natural pauses and stopping points aren't just convenient, they help to relieve the tension you've been creating. 

You've always got to relieve the tension, even if you wait until the sequel to do it. Every reader, every person, has a breaking point. If you keep them hanging out on a cliff and leave them with their tension for too long, they're going to snap. Usually, they'll just get frustrated and stop reading your book. But even if they do finish it, they aren't going to be satisfied with anything from that point on; that's what a breaking point is. Too much tension and too much waiting will force a snap, and it's in those moments that bad opinions are formed. You can't overcome that, even if the writing that follows is phenomenal. 

Cliffhanger Endings

Ending chapters on cliffhangers is common, and it's a good way to keep compelling your readers along through the book. Relieve the tension in the next chapter, either quickly or after you've drawn the suspense out a little, to keep the story moving and keep the reader happily engaged in the tale. 

Ending entire books with cliffhangers is a little bit trickier. 

The cliffhanger ending is immediately frustrating to any reader, because everyone wants a complete story when they sit down with a book. However, when it's done well the cliffhanger ending is also enticing and thrilling, rife with the promise that another book (and more of the story) is on the way.

So make sure you're ready to write the next book. You don't want to keep your readers on the hook for too long waiting for a cliffhanger to resolve. If the cliffhanger isn't resolved in the next book (if, for example, you're writing a multi-book series), you've got to make certain that some sort of progress is made. Readers want answers, so give them some even if you aren't giving them the main answer they want. Dragging a cliffhanger out too long can seriously dampen enjoyment of any story, and leaving too many unanswered questions is like shooting yourself in the foot. If you let it go on too long and drop too many hints, your readers are going to figure it out before you're ready and then there's no reason to keep reading.

Books on Film: The Shining

Some books on film become so monumental in the movie industry, it's easy to forget that once upon a time, the story existed only on a printed page. The Shining is so iconic that Jack Nicholson is still famous for it 30 years later, and it's still one of the most frightening films ever made. But as a novel, Stephen King's famous book tells a very different tale. 

The Book

The Shining is one of Stephen King's earliest novels, and one of his most beloved. The book was a turning point in his career, solidifying him as a top-notch horror author -- a reputation he still holds today. The famous film version of the book focuses on Jack Torrance, but the novel is more oriented on his young son, Danny, who has an unusual talent. 

Danny is the only child for either of his parents, who are trapped in a bad marriage. He's often haunted by the dark thoughts he senses swirling in his father's head, thoughts of suicide and divorce. Jack Torrance is an aspirin addict and a drinker with a bad temper. He broke Danny's arm in a drunken rage, an event that brought Jack back to sobriety -- though not soon enough to save his prestigious prep school job. Out of work and struggling to make good on his responsibilities, Jack accepts a job at a Colorado establishment named the Overlook Hotel working as a winter caretaker. 

The long winter will give him time to work on his play, his pet project, and spend more time with his wife and son. In the book, Danny is 5 years old and incredibly gifted, speaking and thinking like a boy much older and wiser. Danny meets the hotel chef Dick Hallorann soon after their arrival a the Overlook, and they engage in a secret mental conversation.

Soon, Danny becomes haunted by frightening images and ghosts inside the Overlook. The longer he spends in the hotel, the more dangerous it becomes; the building is feeding off of his abilities. It begins to use Jack to get to Danny, slowly driving him into madness. Jack finds the hotel bar miraculously stocked with liquor after a fight with his wife Wendy and falls off the wagon. The hotel begins to tell him to kill them both

Jack and Wendy have a vicious fight after she learns that he's disabled their transportation and communication. He beats her savagely with a mallet and she delivers a mortal stab to him with a butcher knife. She locks herself in a bathroom, and Jack tries to smash the door open with the mallet before he simply unlocks it. By this time, Dick Hallorann has heard Danny's mental call for help and makes his way back to the hotel. But Jack finds Dick first and brutally attacks him before he goes after Danny. 

Jack beats his own face in, so Danny won't recognize him, but the trick doesn't work because the kid can read minds. Danny convinces Jack to go look after the hotel's boiler system. Wendy and Danny find each other, then Dick, and leave the hotel together. Jack is left alone in the basement with the boiler, which explodes. The Overlook, and Jack, are both destroyed. Danny and Wendy end up in (where else?) Maine with Dick Hallorann.

The Film

The film version of The Shining was released only three years after the book hit the shelves. The players and the setting are all the same in the film: Jack, Wendy and Danny are still a family on the outs and still isolated at the eerie Overlook.

This time, the story is more focused on Jack and his descent into madness. Jack falls off the wagon, just like he does in the book, and begins to see the ghosts that populate the hotel. In the film, Hallorann begins to sense what's going on and starts to make his way to the hotel all on his own. Danny begins to freak out visibly, screaming out "redrum" and talking about himself as someone named "Tony."

Wendy discovers that the play Jack has been working on is little more than gibberish, something which does not happen in the book. In the book, Wendy reads Jack's play after he's already dead and it's not altogether bad. She ends up attacking Jack with a bat and locking him in a pantry, from which he is freed by the ghost of the hotel's former caretaker.

Jack goes after his family, breaking through the door with an axe in the movie's most famous scene -- a scene which happens rather differently in the book. In the film, Jack kills Hallorann when he arrives and begins chasing his wife and son around the hotel. Wendy and Danny escape on a snowmobile, leaving Jack to freeze to death in the hotel's hedge maze. The hotel is never destroyed, and its ghost-riddled presence remains intact...with Jack Torrance now happily among them.

What Got Adapted? 

There are so many little differences between the book and movie version of The Shining, I could drive myself crazy trying to list them all. Some big changes were made, some of which seem pretty inexplicable. In the movie, Tony is inside of Danny -- an extension of himself, perhaps. In the novel, Tony exists outside of Danny, and Danny can actually see him. 

It's Danny, not Wendy, who locks Jack up in the book. Danny's character is greatly changed in the film adaptation of the book. In the novel, he's a very precocious 5-year-old child with an extensive vocabulary. On film, he's 7 and fairly normal -- except for the psychic thing, of course. But in the film, his psychic abilities are toned down somewhat. Danny can actually read minds and can find out whatever his parents are thinking when he wants too.

The hedge maze is added for the movie. Instead, there's a topiary garden full of animals that end up coming alive and terrorizing Jack. By the way, Jack doesn't ever use an ax in the book.

The book reveals who Tony actually is. Tony is a very important character in the book, and he's changed thoroughly (and in my opinion, badly) for the film. The finger-talking nonsense is fabricated for film as well, and frankly makes light of Tony's true power and intentions. I've never been one to defend Stephen King (that's right, I'll say it: I'm not a fan), but I do think he deserved a bit better. However, at the end of the day, the film version of The Shining is iconic, and terrifying, and it gives us an incredibly fine performance from Jack Nicholson. Kubrick got a lot of stuff wrong, and many of the changes were just silly (not to mention, I actually root for Jack to kill Wendy in the movie because she's tortuously annoying), but tell me that The Shining is on cable and I'm going to flip to that channel anyway.

Second Time Aroud: The Odyssey

Some stories are so ancient and so popular, they don't just come back once. Some of them keep coming back through the years, sometimes in the same medium and sometimes in brand-new ones. Homer's The Odyssey is required reading for many, considered to be a can't-miss by some...and literally older than Christianity itself. 

The Original

Scholars believe The Odyssey was written by Homer, somewhere in the Greek coastal region of Anatolia, perhaps near the end of the 8th century BC. It's so old, it's hard to know exactly where or when it came from, but it seems to be a continuation of the story Homer began in The Iliad. It's an epic poem, a form of writing that used to be popular many years ago, and it's been read by a great many people who attended school...because they're made to do so.

The story revolves around Odysseus, who is trying to return to his home at the end of the Trojan War, which has lasted for 10 years. He has been fighting in the war for a decade, and his journey home has taken him 10 more years. In his absence, his wife Penelope believes him dead and is contending with several suitors who are vying for her hand.

The gods on Mount Olympus are interested in him, and attempt to help his family learn the truth that he is still alive and seeking them. Much happens here, but it's all quite convoluted and involves the journey of Odysseus's son.

Odysseus, meanwhile, has been trapped by the witch Calypso. She's in love with him, but he's not that into her. It's not until Hermes, messenger of the gods, arrives to persuade her that she releases him. Odysseus escapes in a raft, but the sea god Poseidon discovers his escape and wrecks the small craft. Odysseus swims alone, naked, to the island of Sherie. He finds help thanks to a girl named Nausicaa. During dinner, the famous tale of the Trojan Horse is told, and Odysseus admits his real identity and his leading part in this well-known ploy. 

A long telling of his various adventures follows, including the incident where the witch Circe turns most of his men into pigs. He avoided the deadly sirens by having his men lash him to the mast of his ship, so he could hear their song but would not drown himself in the sea in trying to reach them. His ship was wrecked when his men offend Zeus, and eventually he fell into Calypso's hands.

His tragic tale convinces his newfound friends to help him get home. They take him at night to a harbor on Ithaca, where he disguises himself as a beggar to spy upon his own household. His son arrives back home, but of course does not recognize his father (because he's only 20, and Odysseus has been gone 20 years). Odysseus is eventually found out by a maid who recognizes a scar upon his foot, but he swears her to secrecy so he can continue spying upon his wife, Penelope, and her many suitors.

At a competition among all the suitors the next day, Odysseus wins. He celebrates by killing all of the suitors, hanging 12 of his household maids and mutilating a man who once mocked him. The land at peace, the couple reunited, the story ends...but not for long.

Centuries later, other writers would take Homer's well-known story and re-write it in their own way.

The Remake

Famed Irish author James Joyce tackled the same subject matter in his famous work, Ulysses. First published in entirety in 1922, this book details the story of Leopold Bloom through the city of Dublin. Though it sounds far-removed from the shores of Ithaca, the story very closely parallels The Odyssey, something Joyce intended when he wrote it. His hope for the book was that it would become "immortal."

And it is. 

Told in 18 parts, or episodes, Ulysses is very humorous, stuffed with puns, parodies and unique writing techniques that make Joyce a hot subject of study even today. It's considered, to this day, to be one of the best English-language novels ever written. Each one of the episodes of the books corresponds to something from The Odyssey, but it takes place in what was then-modern Ireland and uses recognizable names, like Stephen and Haines. It's laid out precisely to follow Homer's epic poem, and each episode is given a title that corresponds to a character or event in the original. The hero Leopold does quite normal things, like go to the pub to have a sandwich and wine, and visits the museum to look at statues of Greek goddesses.

At the end of the story, Leopold (Odysseus) and Molly (Penelope) are together and she remembers the day he originally proposed to her.

The Third Time Around? 

The 1920s happened a long time ago, and the world has changed again and again. The Odyssey isn't a tale that can appear in just one century, or two. It's appeared in fiction books much more recently as Cold Mountain

The story itself takes place during the American Civil War, but it was written only 15 years ago. This time, the hero is Confederate deserter W.P. Inman, who is wounded and sick of war. He attempts for months to return to Ada Monroe, his lady love. The book tells both their stories through alternating chapters. Though the two hardly knew each other before the war, Ada is Inman's driving ambition as he struggles to get back home to Cold Mountain. Throughout the book, Homer-style, flashbacks of their past are shown to the reader.

Like Odysseus, Inman must face many perils. He overcomes terrible weather (which might have been sent by Poseidon), starvation, harassment and dangerous people who know no laws. Like Odysseus, he is helped at intervals by strangers and eventually does find his way back to Ada's side. The book was turned into a movie starring Jude Law, Renee Zellweger and Nicole Kidman. You can see another version of the The Odyssey on film thanks to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which is admittedly somewhat loosely based on the original epic poem.

New Review: The Addictive Power of Justice

"I was not able to stop myself reading on, I told myself one more chapter and ended up reading six instead."

"I would recommend this book to anyone and can't wait to read 'The Tower'"

Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) has been reviewed at Lost to Books! Read the entire review to find out why the reader never wanted to start the book in first place...and why she's glad she did. 

Writing 101: You Are Always an Author

I saw an author trying to creatively promote themselves on Goodreads the other day with an interesting, funny little forum post. Here's the rub: the post was riddled with grammatical errors. A thought popped into my head, unbidden: Sure I'll buy your book. Just as soon as you can string together two intelligent sentences

I immediately felt bad, of course. I don't want to have mean thoughts, or anything, and this guy's just trying to sell some books. But it did get me to thinking (not just mean things, either) about the image of an author. Whether you're an indie or someone with a famous name, you are always an author. 

And I'm always going to expect you to write like it.

An Author's Image

An author's image matters, and when you're presenting yourself on social media sites, your blog or anywhere else as your author persona, you've got to remember something very important: you are always an author. 

When you're presenting yourself as an author -- anywhere and everywhere -- you should always be writing like it. Your Tweets, your Facebook update, your every piece of writing should be punctuated well, grammatically correct and written like you have some idea of what you're doing. Why? 

Because you are always an author, that's why. Even if you can mix it up on Twitter with the best of them and you know what all the anagrams mean, I don't want you to use them. You can't expect people to take you seriously as an author unless you're presenting yourself in that way, and even one sloppy forum post is going to make some reader, somewhere, roll their eyes (considering my knee-jerk judgmental responses, it's probably going to be me). If you're an indie author, you can't afford to alienate even one potential fan. 

 Presenting Yourself

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. You want to present yourself as an author who knows how to write, but the world's an imperfect place. Don't be too rigid to fit into it, even if you're doing it in the name of good English. 
  • Quotes. If you're quoting one of your reviewers, you're not really allowed to clean up their quotes. There are tricks you can use to better them (such as adding an ellipsis and bracketed words), but you may run into bad grammar and poorly-written phrases that are still highly complimentary of your work. Don't misquote; just clean it up as best as you're allowed, grit your teeth and feel proud that you actually have some reviews. 
  • Space. There are times when you're going to be working against yourself. Space is limited on Twitter, which is a great platform for promotion. When space is limited, so are your words -- and that's torturous for any writer. Self-edit as best you can to keep your tweets reasonable, and when absolutely necessary resort to the most common shortening methods (abbreviations, swapping in numerals, etc.). Just don't create an entire tweet using nothing but abbreviations and acronyms, because you won't look at all like you understand words. 
  • Mistakes. You're only human, and you're bound to make some errors. You should always give your tweets, forum posts and other writings, no matter how glib or small, a good once-over before you hit that "submit" button. But if some mistakes do fall through the cracks, don't berate yourself. If you're being careful, you'll end up being perfect most of the time -- but no one can be perfect all of the time. 
Presenting yourself well as an author doesn't mean you have to be stiff and formal. There's a way to write casually and conversationally, and still write within the basic rules of grammar and correct punctuation. I know that's true because humor novels exist. But if writing correct prose all the time is too heavy, you can always get creative and throw in some poetry every now and again. Poetry knows very few rules, particularly if you're just writing free-form verse.

Deck of Lies Reviews, and a New Author Interview

"If you have an idea what this book is about you will be rushing to download a copy too...Every chapter bought fresh excitement, and even more questions to light, and I just had to keep reading."

-on Justice (Deck of Lies, #1)

"The question still remains though; who had the means and will to murder one of her classmates? And what were they trying to hide?...I really enjoyed this book. I picked this one up straight after finishing the first one, cause I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next!"

-on The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2)

The Deck of Lies has found a home on Sarah Elizabeth's bookshelf this week. She's kindly reviewed the entire first half of the series. Read both her reviews, and don't stop there! If you keep going, you'll find a new interview with me where I reveal what I think about the characters in the Deck of Lies and what you can expect to find in the fourth and final book of the series. Check out the giveaway at the bottom of the post to find out how you can add the Deck of Lies to your bookshelf!

Writing 101: Are Prologues Really the Root of All Fiction Evil?

I love a good prologue. My first favorite writer always included them, and even when they read more like a first chapter than a novel introduction, I was always down. It wasn't until I started reading writing forums and looking at writer blogs that I realized some people hate them -- passionately, vehemently, unendingly. And if you start looking for writing tips at will, you're going to find a lot of know-it-alls who will tell you, over and over again, that prologues are anathema in fiction. 

I don't agree...and I'm here to defend prologues. 

Prologues, a History

Prologues have a long history as an integral part of fiction. Shakespeare and other playwrights opened their stories with prologues, generally delivered in a monologue, in order to set the stage for the audience. The prologue from Romeo and Juliet is famous ("In fair Verona, where we lay our scene...").

Since those early days of fiction writing, novelists have adopted their own version of the prologue -- but they still serve the same purpose. Authors use prologues to introduce a story, certain characters and situations. Sometimes, they're used to tell an important piece of a character's history. Sometimes, they're used at the beginning of series books to catch readers up on all that happened in the story before. Sometimes, maybe they're used too much.

Prologues, and Why Readers Hate Them

Prologues are a point of contention among many readers and writers, and there are some who say they're a terrible literary decision in just about all cases. One writer called them "the blight upon all who read."

Yeah, that's kind of harsh. If a bad prologue is the worst thing you have to face in a book, count yourself lucky. I'm reading a book right now that has -- at last count -- 15 different scenes of a character fooling around on Facebook. I am not even 40% of the way through this book. What I wouldn't give for a prologue that condenses all 15 of those scenes into a few concise paragraphs, right? 

Emphasis on the concise part. The main reason that some seem to so passionately hate prologues is because they tend to feel extraneous. If you start reading a book, you expect to get right to the interesting parts -- right? A chapter-length prologue that goes into a long, detailed backstory is only going to delay the enjoyment of the action readers are trying to reach. Too many ingredients can spoil any story. Prologues should serve as a delightful little appetizer before the main course, which begins in chapter 1. 

The Prologue Argument

What I'm saying is this: readers hate prologues when they don't serve a purpose. If yours introduces something important and helps to set the scene that I, as a reader, need to understand, then isn't it necessary? Your prologue shouldn't quite read the same as the rest of the book; it shouldn't be comprised of paragraphs that just as easily could have been written into the first chapter. It should do exactly what prologues have always done: set the scene. If it does, write it and forget about all the prologue hate.

After all, weren't they good enough for Shakespeare?

Love for Justice

 "I fell in love with this book. It pulled me in very quickly, and I did not want to put it down."

"There are many great YA authors out there, but Varden's style stands out."

Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) has been reviewed by The Eager Reader, and I'm eager for you to read the whole thing!

Writing 101: Writing from All Five Senses

Are you writing from all five senses...or just one? It's standard to describe what your characters are seeing, but there's a lot more to living life than that. If you really want to immerse your readers in your world, you're going to have to let them know what it's like to be there. You're going to have to write from all five senses.

The Five Senses

Many book characters have all five senses, but how often do writers acknowledge that? To make your writing really descriptive, you've got to write from all five of those senses and really make every page come alive for your readers.
  • Sight
The easiest sense to capture in print is sight. It's standard to describe what your characters look like, where they are, everything they can see. It's so common to focus on the sense of sight, in fact, that you might end up neglecting the other senses -- which are just as important.
  • Sound
The sense of sound is often captured in books in dialogue. Everything the characters are saying is essential to any story, but the world is filled with other sounds as well. If you've got a character riding around in a hybrid car, for example, it's not going to have the deep, throaty roar of a '70s-era Chevy, is it? Your character might hear ringtones when their cell goes off, or special chimes when they get a text. Don't always tell me that someone is laughing -- tell me what their laugh sounds like. Is it low-pitched and soft or loud and grating? When that character talks, is their voice smooth and melodic or abrasive and whiny? Sound is an important sense, and it can lend a lot to any story.
  • Smell 
I always crave potatoes if I smell french fries, and I can always tell when someone is cutting the grass outside because I get the urge to go to the park. Smell is one of the most important senses and one of the most under-valued. Certain smells can trigger memory and emotion, and some scents may be indelibly linked to an individual that you know. Baby powder, for example, conjures up images of sweet-faced, clean toddlers. Don't neglect this sense in your book. Love interests might smell a little nicer than other people; villains might have bad breath; the house on the corner that always smells like bread might be a favorite place. Adding certain scents to your story will make it all the richer, and all the more real.
  • Touch
Ever shaken someone's hand and noticed they have very rough skin? How about someone with smooth skin? The sense of touch is extremely evocative, and it provokes a lot of feelings and sensations, thoughts and desires. If your characters don't have a sense of touch, they're not fully three-dimensional. Slipping into a silk robe, for example, might feel like Heaven -- or it might make your character feel sweaty and strange. Skin is the largest organ, and it's something everyone's got, so your characters should certainly have a sense of touch.
  • Taste
Have you ever eaten alligator? I don't know where you're from; maybe it's common where you're at. But I've never tasted it, so if I'm reading a book where someone's eating it I'm definitely going to wonder. Sense of taste is essential in books, though many authors forget that it even exists. Don't tell me what people are eating and drinking, because I might not even recognize what it is. Tell me about the texture, the flavors, and put it in a context that I can understand. If you don't happen to know what alligator tastes like but you want to write about it anyway, you're in luck -- you can simply research it, and find out from people who have eaten it firsthand.

The Sixth Sense

 It's not easy to write from all five senses, but it is easy to write from the sixth. Intuition and intangible feelings are described all the time in books -- maybe too much. Unless your characters are intentionally psychic, if they're "sensing" everything seemingly at random, this might be a sign that you're neglecting the five main senses. Why does your character feel frightened? Why doesn't your character like the dinner? Why is that outfit uncomfortable? If I'm asking questions like this when I'm reading your work, it's because you're neglecting your senses.