Thursday, June 22, 2017

Author Appreciation: Rachel Alexander

Today's author spotlight shines on Rachel Alexander, author of Destroyer of Light, an incredible telling of the myth of Hades and Persephone.
A couple of years ago, I had the delight of reading Rachel Alexander's novel, Receiver of Many, the first part of a retelling of Hades and Persephone. I was blown away by the superb writing and thorough research, along with the creative takes she did on various myths.
She published the second part of her story, and I was no less disappointed in it. Destroyer of Light is just as rich and deep as the first, and it is for that reason I am happy to recommend not just Destroyer of Light, but its predecessor, Receiver of Many. If you love mythology, and Hades and Persephone in particular, give this author a try. You will not be disappointed.
See below for my review (contains mild spoilers)
The author can be found at

M.M. Kin's review for Destroyer of Light (from Goodreads

AMAZING.

Simply amazing. After I read the first book, I was eager for more, and boy howdy, I was not the least bit disappointed! The writing and use of research in the story is brilliant, and I love the creative twists that the author used for various myths she incorporated into this story, such as the gods of the Levant, or what happens to Sisyphus.

I was intrigued when Minthe was mentioned in the first book, and her story is revealed here in a brilliant twist of the original myth. I never liked that in the original myths, Hades cheated on Persephone with Leuke and Minthe, so the author changed that for a much more intriguing and believable story.

The erotic scenes, as one might expect after reading the first story, are absolutely delicious. I've read enough erotica with cheesy or ludicrous descriptions, and it's always a treat to read elegantly-written intimacy.

Overall a brilliant sequel to a wonderful book, and altogether an incredible series that shows the talents of creative and thoughtful author.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Meddler

If you’re a voracious reader (or movie-watcher, or both) you’re likely to have become familiar with various tropes and cliches. Some are more genre-specific, such as a ‘chosen one’ in the realm of fantasy and sometimes science fiction. Some cliches can be fun, if carefully worked with, but others just annoy the fuck out of me.

The particular topic I am going to discuss today is typically seen in a certain genre, though you can find this character in nearly any other genre in varying capabilities.

This character type is often seen in the romance genre and is usually a secondary character to the story. It can be a friend of the main characters, or a neighbor, or relative, or such. She – and I’m not trying to be sexist here, but it often IS a she – goes by various names and epithets; meddler, busybody, pushy, and so on. They also have the tendency to think themselves above the rules, whether actual rules, such as in a workplace, or the rules of polite society. Many authors often take this cliché too far, creating characters that do not endear themselves to the reader.

Two examples come to mind – Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich, and All At Once, by Nora Roberts. I was very disappointed in both books.

Big Girl Panties is a romance novel centered around a personal trainer and a widow who’d had a difficult childhood before watching her husband die from cancer. I liked this book at first because it seemed to be an unconventional romance with a believable storyline. However, we are then introduced to the character of Amanda Walker. She is the wife of Chase Walker, Logan (the male lead)’s best friend.

Amanda sees the potential for romance between Logan and his client and teases Logan about it. It is clear that Logan and Chase have long experience with her bossy personality, but they still let her walk over them, resigning themselves to the fact that she will find out about this or that sooner or later. She came across as a know-it-all, and even after Chase told her in no unclear terms to leave Logan and his client alone, she still finds ways to push everyone’s buttons. With a blatant disrespect for other’s personal lives and spaces, Amanda’s meddling comes across as someone bored with their own life and needing to prove themselves smarter than others by being like, 'ha! See, I was right!’. Ugh.

Normally, I enjoy Nora Roberts books. I’ve read about a dozen of them, but All At Once was terribly disappointing. It is a two-story collection, and my focus is on the first story. It centers around a woman and her longtime best friend founding a summer camp for tween girls that happens to border an apple orchard owned by a handsome and wealthy man. (You can see where this is going, right?)

One of the campers is a, if I remember the age correctly, twelve-year-old girl named Roberta Snow. She is a very intelligent but devious and manipulative character who acts under the guise of innocence. The female and male lead of this character meet by chance, when Roberta and a couple of her friends sneak over into the orchard – a blatant violation of the camp rules that Roberta is well aware of. When caught, she will act all sweet and apologize, and when your back is turned, she will be off breaking another rule. When she catches wind of the male lead’s interest in the lovely female lead who is also her counselor, Roberta gleefully gets herself into the role of matchmaker and manages to embarrass Eden more than once. Honestly, I didn’t blame Eden for wanting to strangle Roberta.

The story is brought to its denouement with Roberta breaking YET another rule (and in somewhat dangerous circumstances) and forcing a confrontation between the orchard owner and the camp counselor. The male lead was arrogant and kept disrespecting Eden’s boundaries but THAT is not the kind of character cliché that is being discussed in this essay!

In both of these books, these two unrepentant meddlers go on about their merry way after the book is ended, with no repercussions for their actions, the feelings they hurt, the toes they stepped on, and the embarrassment and anger they caused towards the people they were trying to “help”. The only time I am amused by this character cliché is if in the end, the meddling character gets his or her comeuppance in some way, because too many of these 'I don’t care if this annoys/angers/embarrasses you, I’m just trying to help and you will accept my help whether you like it or not!’ assholes really need an ass-whooping, or at least a bitch-slap.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Intelligent design, my ass.

You all know about basic human biology and how we grow, right? Typically, we hit puberty between ages 12 to 14, signifying that we are capable of reproduction (not that it's a good idea to reproduce at that age, haha!) and for many, brains do not finish developing fully till around age 25 (although I've seen some older people whose brains have never apparently fully matured, haha)

This makes absolutely no sense to me. We're ready to reproduce in half the time it takes for our brains to complete their development? There's no way this is intelligent design, folks. How many of us were ready to be parents as teenagers? Or even in our 20's or 30's? I knew that as a teenager, I was nowhere near ready to have a child (having several younger siblings helped, I am sure)

I see people with the self-control and intelligence of small children, spitting out babies without regards to the consequences. Their sense of responsibility is practically nil, and they leave their crotch droppings for others to take care of, which just leaves a mess all around.

The human race would be much, much better off if the stages of our development were reversed, and it was our brains that were mature at 13, and our bodies didn't become able to reproduce till 25. Dealing with all the raging hormones of being a teenager would be much easier if we had fully developed brains to deal with the stress of that, along with the other stuff we have to deal with in our teens and early 20's. THAT is how I would intelligently design the human body (along with taking out the wisdom teeth and appendix, or at the least, making sure these two body parts actually serve a real function instead of hurting our jaws and rupturing in our stomachs)

Monday, July 4, 2016

It’s a total dick move, fellas

Piracy, that is. I, and many other authors have to deal with assholes ripping our books for illegal downloads/torrents. I can’t tell you how many DMCA notices I’ve had to file since I published my first book.
 
People who want to whine and be all like ‘but I can’t afford a book/movie!’ STFU., The Internet costs money, and so do the devices that access the Internet. If you have a desktop, tablet, laptop, or mobile phone, then you certainly can afford the price of a book, or movie, or song, or whatever it is you’re looking to pirate. Said devices cost a hell of a lot more money than the few dollars it takes to purchase an e-book or movie download. So does that Internet/service/data plan.

I price my books with my readers in mind - my books are only 4.99 each for the Nook or Kindle, which is cheaper than most meals, and cheaper than nearly every form of entertainment out there, including, yes, your Internet and device!

Complaining about the price of a book/movie/music download and going to illegal sites to torrent it is no better than bitching about prices at a brick and mortar store, and helping yourself to a five-finger discount. Either way, it’s stealing, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. There really is no excuse for stealing, unless you have absolutely no money and your children are starving so you steal a loaf of bread and some milk so you can feed them.

I’ve witnessed shoplifting several times (both as an employee at the stores i worked in, and as a customer at other stores) and it was NEVER for something that was actually important/lifesaving (except for condoms, but that’s another matter…)

Authors and artists work hard at their craft. Every dollar an indie author earns means a lot to them. Not that I encourage ripping big-name authors like Stephen King or whatever, he works hard at his books like I do, and even if he makes a lot more money than I do, I feel he is entitled to every bit of it. All the books I own have been either purchased properly, were hand me downs (from people who presumably paid for them) obtained from Little Free Libraries, or were given to me by other authors for reading and reviewing.

Illegally downloading books is a total dick move. It hurts authors, especially indie ones who have to scramble for each cent they earn, and if you really could not afford a few dollars for a book, you wouldn’t be able to afford your Internet subscription or electronic device, so you just look like a lazy, cheap dumbass when you pirate.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Required reading in schools

I do not doubt that many if not all of you, at least once in your life, was required to read a book for school. I'm not talking about college/university, but primary/secondary school. You had to read the book at a certain pace, and do various things related to it – writing assignments, tests, quizzes, book reports, even projects.
Doubtless most, if not all of you, didn't like the work associated with said books – even if you were an avid reader like I am. For me, these assignments and projects simply ruined a book for me. I just wanted to read the book, damnit. I didn't want to do some lame poster or diorama or essay on the book. I LOVED to read, and read a god amount of classic books that had never been required reading for me through my time in public school.

School curriculums were different, I've heard of a wide variety of books being required that were not part of my own curriculum, and vice versa. The books carried from city to state, and doubtless, from country to country, but I do not doubt that many non-American students have had a similar experience with reading a book for school.

In primary school, several books were required from fourth through sixth grade (appr. Ages 9-12 in the American school system) For me, this included, but was not limited to, The Wind in the Willows, A Wrinkle in Time, and the Hobbit. I should have enjoyed all of these. I didn't. All because the school bogged down the reading process with superfluous junk that just left me bored and frustrated. I remember for Wind in the Willows, there were ten words per chapter that were apparently supposed to be challenging for us. Apparently we were deemed too stupid to have known what these words meant, and so each chapter came with a list of ten words that each student had to write into a sentence to show that they knew the meaning of the word. And making sure that we knew the meaning of the word was supposed to ensure that we knew what the fuck the story was about and it was also supposed to expand our vocabulary and help us become more well-rounded. Or some bullshit like that. It was just basically busywork.

Being an avid reader, I knew what most of the words meant, and for the few that I didn't, I'd just look up in the dictionary (mainly British words that I was not familiar with at 9 years old) These stupid vocabulary lessons were a waste of time for me, and I would write the shortest sentences possible (two or three words, typically) The teacher was upset at this, even though technically I was following the rules. I freely admit I was the kind of kid who would brush off aside assignments and put in minimum effort in projects I felt was a waste of my time. I'd have been happy to read more instead of doing projects.

The next couple of years brought more books which I would have enjoyed on my own, without any prompting from teachers, but the assignments given us ruined the experience for me. Group projects were usually an ordeal for me as I never liked to talk, and would have remained silent during the whole meeting unless prodded.

Middle and high school brought about several more books. Fortunately, my 7th grade teacher was a decent fellow, and though we did have a few assignments/quizzes, it was much better than in elementary school. 8th grade English was focused on grammar, but we did have several short stories to read and analyze through the year. My teacher was… ugh. That's all I'll say about her. We had to write exhaustive essays on these stories, and despite my best efforts, it was difficult for me to get an A (the best grade) on these assignments even though I had no problem with actually reading said stories.

High school (grades 9-12, ages 14-18) was actually better. I had one great teacher in 10th grade that made his assignments more flexible so students were better able to use their natural talents. We did have a couple of assigned books, but he also gave us a couple of options. We could pick ANY book we wanted, and choose from one of several projects to do for our book. These options included an essay, making paper dolls, suggesting how you would make the book into a movie, and so on. All you had to do was demonstrate that you actually read the book and understood the story. 

Even the book everyone had to read was introduced to us in a manner that included some flexibility for us. 11th grade brought me to American Lit. The teacher was a decent fellow, and we read several American classics, two of which I had already read before on my own (The Scarlet Letter and To Kill a Mockingbird) There were no projects, but we did watch the Mockingbird movie, and had classroom discussions on the chapters as we went along, along with several tests and quizzes. Overall not a bad experience.

I understand that teaching a child to read is important, and the value of the appreciation of a book. However, not everyone is so inclined to bookish pursuits. There are all kinds of people in this world, and while literacy is important for everyone, not everyone is going to have literary interests. There's plenty of other issues with the public education system, but I'm focusing on this particular topic. Not everyone is going to like a book. I know I hate a few books that are considered classics, and fortunately I never had to read them for school.

I think the best way to foster an interest in books for children is to give them an option. Some kids like sci-fi, others prefer historical, and so on. My recommendation would be to have a list of books for children of primary school age. Perhaps 20 to 50 different books. And the same, for older children. The books could also be split into length, with an appropriate selection from each. Perhaps 100 short stories, 50 middle-length books (150-200 pages for primary school, 200-250 pages for higher grades) and 20 longer books, again age-appropriate as needed. Over one semester, a child can choose one from each category, to read at their own pace through the semester. The categories would be varied so students could pick a book that would interest them more. Extra credit could be gained by reading more than the required amount of stories. Titles would include many classics but also some contemporary novels, perhaps a small category of current popular books like Harry Potter, Divergent, or the Hunger Games.

Students could also choose their own books and propose it to the teacher, so as to not limit students to the pre-approved book list. This flexibility would help students read/discover niche authors and titles, and share them with the teacher and other students.

To prove they have read the books, they can either have an interview with a teacher who has read said story, take a test with a mixture of multiple choice/short essay questions, or write an essay on their thoughts on the book, with enough information to prove that they actually read the story. The student can choose which s/he is comfortable with and fulfill the requirements without any silly busywork. This would ensure that a child does a set amount of reading, and since they chose the book, they can enjoy reading more. This wouldn't make everyone avid readers, but it would give children a good start in literacy and the chance to read and learn from different voices and authors.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Self-supporting dystopias

Over the last decade, dystopian fics have been popular. There's the Hunger Games, Divergent, the Maze Runner, Unwound, When She Woke, and so on. The authors of these novels (and plenty more that I didn't mention) comee up with all sorts of unique worlds/scenarios, with some sort of plot device that caused the world to become dystopic (natural disasters, war, nuclear holocaust, religious takeovers, and so on) and thus the world, or at least a country, is created, or begun anew. Dystopic stories are one of my favorite sub-genres of fiction, but I am also a picky… er, discerning reader.
I will admit first off, that I am a plot Nazi. Ever heard of grammar Nazis? Sure you have. For me, I tend to focus on the plot and its background, and how well certain details or subplots of a story fit together, and if the framework/background is plausible. At the end of a book, if important questions are left unanswered (without a sequel forthcoming) my jimmies become rustled.
Among my writing goals is a science fiction universe (which will have at least one book in it) and as you guessed, it will be dystopic. I can't reveal details right now as I am still working out and mapping the aspects of this world. What I can say is that reading various dystopic novels, and being a plot Nazi, has helped me in my own world-mapping.
One major issue in some novels – not simply dystopic, but some sci fi works in general, or fantasy, is that when the author introduces us to his or her world, there are aspects of it that he/she neglects. Now, each story is different, so certain story or societal elements in each tale will receive more or less emphasis. Some tales may focus more on the difference between the rich and poor of that world. Others will focus on gender issues, or religious issues, relations with alien races, or so on and so forth.
An author needs to be careful to create a world that is sustainable and actually makes sense. They don't need to go into every minute aspect of this world they created, but they do need to do a lot of thinking and planning behind the scenes, to make this world be able to support itself.
One big example of an author doing it wrong is the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. I must warn you, there will be spoilers ahead for those of you who have not read the books.
In the Divergent world, which is set in our future, the United States as we know it is no more. There is this society which is ruled by five factions – Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. The members of these Factions have traits which qualify them for their Factions, and each Faction has a duty to the city (which come with priilege) and there are certain jobs which belong to each Faction.
Abnegation, which focuses on selflessness, is tasked with the leadership of the city, since selflessness is seen as the best quality a leader can have. Amity, which focuses on living peacefully, is in charge of food production, as they work and maintain the farms which feed the city. Candor, whose trait is honesty and an intolerance of lies, serves as the lawyers of the city. Dauntless, which values courage, serves as the soldiers of the city. And Erudite, which values intelligence, are the teachers and scientists.
When I first started reading Divergent, I enjoyed the book and being introduced to this world. However, I began to see issues that would cause this society to collapse within itself pretty quickly.
People who do not have a Faction are basically screwed. They are second – heck, third-class – citizens, treated shabbily. Most of them are homeless, without means to support themselves. There is no mention of them having jobs, and Abnrgation gives them charity – Tris' mother does knitting and bakes bread for Factionless.
Children who are born to people in Factions may choose to stay in this Faction when they become 16, or transfer to a different Faction where they must pass an initiation to prove that they have the trait that is valued by that Faction. If they fail the initiation, they become Factionless. Nothing is said of the children that are born to Factionless parents, it seems that they remain Factionless their whole lives, having no chance at all to have a decent life.
As I pointed out, each Faction has jobs that it has provenance over. However, there are plenty of jobs which apparently don't exist anymore, like construction (many things in the city are in decay, potholes in the roads, etc. However, some buildings – particularly the ones that the Factions use or reside in, are maintained) So officially, jobs in construction don't exist because the Factionless are given no means to support themselves, yet someone has to do the construction/repair. There are plenty of other jobs that don't fit in the Factions, either – such as blue collar jobs, i.e. textile/clothing production, food processing, production of various goods such as shoes, containers, books, electronics, and so on. Veronica Roth completely neglects this vital aspect of society, simply dividing the world of Divergent into the haves and have-nots. The world of Divergent would not last a year with this system, as things would go to hell pretty bloody fast. (This society, according to the Divergent series, has gone on for about eight generations, or about 200 years, if I recall correctly)
No society is perfect. Hence dystopia, instead of utopia. But when creating a society, however oppressive or cruel it is, one has to consider how such a society and regime would be able to sustain itself for a meaningful period of time. In the society of the Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins created the country of Panem, and even though in the end Pamen comes to an end, Pamen had a system which lasted for 75 years (not including the years before the first rebellion) which included keeping the majority of the population poor and oppressed, and using the Hunger Games to keep the districts pitted against one another instead of cooperating.
Even though the oppression and cruelty of the Capitol came back to bite it in the ass (with some help from Katniss Everdeen) the fact remains that the regime of the Capitol was effective enough to keep the masses oppressed for 75+ years, and may have gone on longer if not for Katniss.
Regardless of what kind of story/world you create, and whether or not you plan to have the rulers/society of this world eventually come to an end, you need to lay a good foundation for this world.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book recommendation: Receiver of Many

It's been a while since I did an Author's Spotlight, and it gives me no small amount of pleasure to introduce a talented fellow author, Rachel Alexander! Recently, she released the first book in a duology based off the myth of Hades and Persephone (gods, I do love that myth!)

Receiver of Many is rich in prose and image, and the story itself is written fantastically. I have written a more complete review of the book over at Amazon and Goodreads. I can say in all honesty that if you enjoy the myth of Hades and Persephone, this book should not disappoint you.

The second book in this duology, Destroyer of Light, comes out next year. It is one book that I am having a hard time waiting for, given how much I enjoyed Receiver of Many. She also has a third book to be released, 'Thrice Plowed Field' which ties in with her duology.

 
All links open in new windows for ease of navigation.
And mirrored over at Goodreads

Ms. Alexander has other websites you can also follow, including her own Goodreads.