Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Upstream Updates 2019: April Edition!

Okay, so maybe I'm doing these updates every couple months--I can handle this! Overall these last few months have been a whole lot of BUSY and not a lot of BOOKS, either reading or writing. I have had at least one long trip, right there at the end of March, so I got a lot of reading done, (hence the proliferation of Reader's Reviews) but I've also been pretty sick with the Mother Of All Colds the last couple weeks (hence the lack of pretty much anything else happening on this blog...) I hope you'll forgive me, and let me take this opportunity to let you all know exactly where I'm at with things!


The Last Inkweaver

Getting down to the last little bits, here! Creative flow kind of petered down to a standstill when I hit upon an idea that I felt a very strong sense of "THIS EXPLAINS EVERYTHING" but then again, when I ran it by friends who didn't really have much context--the concept kind of fell apart. Looks like I may be staring down the barrel of a THIRD full draft before this novel is ready to be unleashed--but at the same time, I know deep down that 100% I am still committed to telling this story, and that each time I take on a challenge to any of my ideas and figure out a way to make it all make sense to someone who doesn't think like me (which would basically be anyone who ever reads this book and is not me), the story is just going to be that much stronger for it.

Meanwhile, Callista is in the thick of "Moon Valley", which I've renamed "Alithea" and here's why: I was trying to come up with an origin for the Wordspinners' abilities, without attributing it to any actual magic, a way to justify why it's not just anybody who can Tell items, and how "Telling" actually works, beyond just taking raw materials and making things.
The concept that I came up with was Deep Truth: the idea that everything raw and natural, from materials and resources to animals and humans, has a Truth they carry deep inside them, that affects their interactions with the rest of the world, and also how they can be affected by external influences. A Wordspinner hears the Deep Truth of their particular material (Inkweavers hear the "deep truth" of threads and cloth; Earth-Tellers hear the "deep truth" in a rock or clay; Talesmiths hear the "deep truth" of metals and ores, and so on) and they have the ability to Tell a story that resonates with that "deep truth", which then brings out the beauty and the detail of the thing, while accentuating and amplifying the Tale it is meant to tell.
Now, there are only so many Deep Truths in the world, and very often, the Deep Truth of an object will resonate with the Deep Truth of a person, drawing the person to that object, whether they knew they needed to hear the Truth or not. This is why only certain people can hear the Tale of a given object. If they heed the Truth, it brings satisfaction, fulfillment, and purpose as their Deep Truth gets validated and supported in their lives. If they choose not to heed the Deep Truth they hear, they can steel themselves against that Deep Truth--but the object will quickly deteriorate and become useless if they do, as the Deep Truth meets resistance and not encouragement.
There is a second reason I felt the need to come up with a concept like this: while Moon Valley indeed just popped into my head as I needed it, and in the first draft, I created a scenario that Shereya/Callista had basically "Told" it into existence--but if that was so, why did it already exist, then? What was the point of this fabricated "refuge" in the mountains?
The Deep Truth concept provided some answers: it has existed for a long time, centered around those who acknowledge the Deep Truth, namely, the Wordspinners. Only the Wordspinners could basically reveal Alithea, and that would be only by telling a part of their own Deep Truth. Then it would make sense that Callista would reveal it, because right at that moment, she made the decision to tell Matthias the truth about why they had set out on this journey, to begin with. Telling this truth to Matthias reveals Alithea, Callista and the others enter, meet a few key characters who have new significance for why they are there (more than "just to be cryptic and give exposition before the very end of the story!" anyway) and it just fit!
BUT here's the problem: I'm about 90% of the way through the book, and I'm only just talking about this now--because it literally didn't exist until I came up with it recently. I've gotten away with it so far because none of the characters really would know about the Deep Truth yet, since the characters I've had so far knew precious little about Wordspinners anyway, and all information had been severely censored, so there wouldn't be anything about Deep Truth. So to start talking about it now runs the risk of either an info-dump, or a profound sense of deus ex machina, the worst kind of retro-continuity. What's a girl to do? When in doubt, rewrite, I suppose!
What do you all think of the Deep Truth concept? Does it make sense? Feel free to ask your questions, and I'll do my best to answer them--or they may be ideas that I hadn't yet considered, which might be worth thinking about! Ask away!

Red, The Wolf

It's been submitted, I know... at least, a decent-sized chunk of it. BUT surprise, surprise--the submission wasn't at all the complete story I wanted to tell. Oh no... just like with "The Dragon's Mark", the whole story would be waaaayyy over the prescribed word count... SO in light of this, and again, just like with "The Dragon's Mark", I'm going to post the WHOLE thing here on the blog! 
The anthology version is probably going to end up a little different, so you would probably enjoy them both in different ways, regardless. I would likely recommend that you purchase the anthology, when it comes out, anyway, because of all the other stories you won't want to miss, besides mine! Stay tuned; the beginning of the story still eludes me... I tried again the other day on what would be my fourth (or maybe fifth?) version of how to start this story, and I hit on an idea that might be a little better... but then again, maybe I should just post it and let you all decide. Would you want that? Or do you want me to hold off until I come up with something that works first, and then post it? Weigh in on the comments!

The Sheriff's Showdown
Haven't touched it in a while, truth be told. I really ought to get back to it, though--the series isn't going to write itself! I just thought I'd mention it briefly... maybe because when I made the graphic for this post, I might have thought I would actually get around to writing the next chapter before it came time to do this blog post... No such luck. Oh well!
I guess the reason I haven't really touched this one is because there were a few others that kind of took priority over this one. I still want to do it, though--and every so often (particularly when I'm hitting a difficulty in The Last Inkweaver) there is a small voice that reminds me that the A Writer's Tale series would be a LOT easier to write than trying to nail down a full-length novel... but then again, I have both "The Dragon's Quest" AND "The Commander's Courage" on Wattpad and they haven't gotten a whole lot of feedback, which leads me to wonder... Is it worth it to continue this? Maybe just to have it, eventually... like they say "It's easier to edit a finished draft than a blank page." But how do I know what it's missing if nobody will tell me?

Takeovers GALORE!!

So... I have found that the best and easiest way to keep getting the word out about my published works when my only social media is Facebook, is the "Author Takeover" events, where I am granted an hour during someone else's event (usually to celebrate and call attention to the release of a new book) to talk about my stuff.
Click Here To Find The Group For This Event!
I recently joined a group that does takeovers every month, with each week being a different theme. In March and April there was Dragon Week (when I talked about "Arthur and The Egg"), then Fairy week (when I talked about "Serenity's Light" and other fairy stories I'd written); a day for Short Stories, where I talked about all the anthology submissions I'd gotten published, and a "free-for-all" day when I actually got to talk about all the different mermaid stories I'd written, both those published (like Princess of Undersea and "Heartsong") and on Wattpad (like Amazon Triangle and The Water-Man) It was so much fun, and I'm looking forward to May--in particular, the third week of the month, when the theme is going to be "Fairy tales, legends, and myths". Guess who gets to talk about all her fairy tale twists over again? If you're interested in getting on board with this, stop by my Facebook Author Page and I'll point you in the right direction!

ALSO coming up this Saturday, the 27th, I'm hosting an hour during another author's release event--Click >HERE< to get to the event page and see if it's something you're interested in! (P.S., this is also what keeps me kind of busy so I'm not blogging... incidentally...)

ALSOAlso... Coming in MAY I will be participating in another "CyberCon" (which is to say, a mini kind of convention thingy that is only online) hosted by the group Our Write Side, so if you're interested in exploring new authors, finding books, or hobnobbing with other writers and book enthusiasts, feel free to mark your calendars and look for the event on Facebook when it pops up... Meanwhile, here's a graphic so you'll know the dates! (ProTip: If you join the group I linked above, all of us participants in the CyCon will also be taking over slots in that group during the weekend, so you'll see us then and there, too!)


So... I've been slowly working my way back into reading, finally! Over the course of a trip to Mexico and back, at the end of March, I managed to finish two ebooks: Red Hot Steele by Alex P. Berg (meh... it was okay... Could have been better, really...) and The Arena by Santana Young (SO GOOD!) Which means I am now onto Angel Tormented by C. L. Coffey (homigosh, I am so close to the finish of that series!) on the e-reader, and since I also managed to read Frost Bitten by C. A. King (oh man, the Portal Prophecies series just keeps delivering one wonderful installment after another!) from my "indie" bookshelf, that means I can finally read Book 5 of Kelly Blanchard's Chronicles of Lorrek, You Left Me No Choice! Just in time for the release of Book 6 of course... Oh boy, that reading slump really did me in!

As far as my personal goal of reading all the books from library book sales that I haven't read... I'm down to the last two!! The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was every bit as fascinating as I thought it would be... sort of a "deleted scenes" of Sherlock's adventures, since these were all written much later than the main bulk of the stories. For a Baldacci book, Last Man Standing packed a hefty punch... but somehow the "landing" didn't stick as well in the stand-alone novel as it did with the various series I've read. Oh well, it was pretty good, anyway! Kept me guessing, at least.
So now all that's left is The Book of Ti'ana and State of Fear--and then I can go back to the library! I also have a book gifted to me by one of the students I work with, since she already owned a copy of it--the book is The Skin I'm In by Sharon G. Flake. I've never read it, but the student had positive things to say about it, so I'm willing to give it a chance! Here's to plenty of good reading in the next two months... No doubt I'll have a few book hauls to share with you by the next update!

Feel free to let me know what you're up to these days, and as always....

Catch You Further Upstream!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Reader's Review: "The Arena" by Santana Young

Synopsis from Amazon:
Earth is gone...
The galaxy is at war...
But Duncan Alexander Greyson has more important things to worry about. 

After the death of his mother, Duncan’s dad sells him into slavery.

Now, he must fight for his life in a space-age coliseum, trained to kill by the worst humankind has to offer. He’s promised freedom but only if he can claw his way out from ever-mounting debt.

When a secret his mother took to her grave comes to light, Duncan becomes more determined than ever. He’s leaving Neo Roma. Even if it’s in a body bag.


My Review:

I dove headlong into this book because of its connection with another author I've read before and enjoyed--namely that they are family! The skill in storytelling and weaving a sympathetic character and a strong host of supporting characters is as matched as two apples from the same tree--Santana Young holds her candle high alongside E. A. Copen (*see below for books by this author!), in this wild ruckus that is at once a neo-historical dystopia and a sci-fi cyberpunk all rolled into one!
Duncan is quite young for the situations and trials life forces upon him--but at the same time, the circumstances of his heritage also uniquely equip him with unexpected fortitude to withstand such trials that would break an ordinary person of his age. Sold into an inter-planetary gladiator training school, he doesn't have much time to make the switch from fighting to understand how he got there and why things are the way they are, to fighting just as hard to survive and navigate the social intrigues and sheer peril of being a killer entertainer. (Pun intended)

My favorite part about the whole adventure would have to be the characters. Young populates her novel with exquisite and unique characters, from Pitbull, the man in charge, to various other gladiators and trainees who have managed to survive this long. Most intriguing of all, though, was the one known as "Mom." I feel like the story really took of and became irresistible when Mom joined the story! I loved Mom. Don't get me wrong, the other characters were enjoyable too, the way some of them went from "every man for himself" to working together to pull off the biggest upset in the history of Neo Roma! I loved the way Young gave them all their individual arcs, and involved them in their own unique ways. Well done!

The fight scenes played out exactly like something from a blockbuster film. I could see every twist, turn, and cut clearly playing out in my head as I read. I would grimace and turn the page really fast at the gruesome parts. Young doesn't shy away from killing a few darlings and dealing real peril to even her best characters, to say nothing of the hero, Duncan! It almost felt like "everything that the Hunger Games might have been, with just a little more planning and a little less tech-obsession"!

Bottom line, I am totally sold on the Everen Series--in fact, the whole concept of the Everen as a mysterious race was beyond cool to me! THE ARENA earns a full *****5 STAR***** rating, and it is with great pleasure that I include an Upstream Writer Certified Absolutely Recommended endorsement. If you love high action, distinct characters, and new twists on ancient cultures... if you don't mind intense violence/gore and the odd sexual reference (more along the lines of "it comes with the social territory" and not "it's the sole focus of the whole book"... Young is tactful about it, otherwise I couldn't recommend it!), then this is definitely a book worth reading and a series worth hyping!

Further Reading: (Neo-Historical/Intense Plots/Future-Past)

Stories of Togas, Daggers And Magic--Assaph Mehr
       -Murder in Absentia
The Cadeau Series--Connie Olvera
       -Who Can You Trust?
The Red Dog Conspiracy--Patricia Loofbourrow
       -The Alcatraz Coup 
       -Jacq of Spades 
       -Queen of Diamonds 
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey 
       -The Way 
       -The Truth 
       -The Lie
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways 
Judah Black Series--E. A. Copen
       -Guilty By Association

Monday, April 8, 2019

Reader's Review: "Red Hot Steele" by Alex P. Berg

Synopsis from Amazon:

Detective Jake Daggers likes his murder investigations the way he likes his women--straightforward, easy, and with a killer body.

So when his older-than-dust partner throws his back out on a goblin raid, his captain assigns him a new running mate--a sexy young half-elf by the name of Shay Steele.

It seems like a match made in Daggers' imagination, but Steele's no pushover. She's a powerful forensic psychic, and she's got sass oozing out of her boots.

In a debut case teeming with fire mages, foundries, and a dead guy who's crispier than bacon, it's pretty clear Daggers isn't the only one getting a heaping helping of RED HOT STEELE.


My Review:

This was a book that I picked up during an event--I figured "Gruff, noir detective meets urban fantasy? Sign me up!" I had already read so many wonderful contemporary urban fantasies along that vein: from the paranormal investigator whointeracts with Fae and other mythological cryptids living among us, to elves and shapeshifters living in a modern setting, to even a dark, gritty hitman treading the seedy underbelly of your average metropolis. All were excellent callbacks to the lore and traditions of the genre, and peppered throughout with likable, engaging characters.

I dove in eagerly, expecting to see a new side of what is fast becoming my favorite genre. The story began as a campy stream of stereotypes and generic fantasy isms--and stayed squarely in that vein clear to the end. Detective Daggers is grumpy, sarcastic, and subscribes to ALL the masculine tropes--low view of intelligence and competence in women, while continuously willing to objectify them and zone in on the exaggeratedly attractive features of their physical appearance; tacit acceptance of all the cliched personality traits of those around him (the fairy who works in the morgue, or the glasses-wearing, stuttering "nerd" who works in accounting, for example) and a willingness to exploit said personality traits to suit his purposes. Not even his treatment of Detective Steele--the foil to his "rock hard" exterior--could elicit sympathy for her, because her own personality checked all the cliche boxes: Girl With Something To Prove; Girl Who Insists Heeled Boots Are Comfortable; Girl Who Wears Tight Pants And Blouses Just So She Can Roll Her Eyes At The Males Who Ogle Her; New Girl Who Observes More Than Seasoned Officer; Girl Who Has To Fight For Compliments, Then Questions Them Immediately Afterward; Girl Who Finds Emotions In People That The Grumpy Partner Misses.... and so the list goes on.

Don't get me wrong. It's a "beach read" for sure--something light, quick, and just barely predictable. The mystery was built up plenty, with all the clues laid out in a strategic fashion--if a bit contrived in places. My only problem was the whole "Dauntless Damsel Versus Rakish Rogue" that kept getting in the way! The characters I did end up enjoying the most? The secondary ones--namely, Rodgers and Quinto, the two cops that Daggers most often foisted his work on, or bribed into doing a lot of the heavy lifting and the legwork. Their characters felt the most relatable and distinct, among the tropes and cliches. They weren't dependent on affirmation from anyone else, and they were definitely portrayed as far more competent at their jobs than Daggers. (hence the reason he relied on them so much!) Their good natures made them an invaluable addition to the investigation, and I would continue the series just to continue encountering them more along the way! And also because I have every belief that the two titular characters cannot possibly continue for an entire series without growing and expanding, themselves, as the author got to know them better!

When all is said and done, Red Hot Steele works well as a "first impressions" book. We are introduced to enough of the characters to know which ones we like, and which ones we aren't so much a fan of, in spite of what the narrative might lead us to believe. 
I give the book a decent ****4 STARS**** for the great world-building, the inventive mystery, and for the really interesting characters, who work together to make the annoying characters a little more palatable! If you're looking for a binge-able series to stave off boredom, and you'd like a little change of pace from the average "fluffy office romance", you don't mind a peppering of "casual" sexism, but you're not quite down for the real hardcore, twisted, diabolical stuff--Give Daggers and Steele a try!

Further Reading: (Paranormal Investigation/Urban Fantasy/Strong Characters/Thrilling)

The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Blood Ties 
       -Behind the Badge 
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
       -Leopard's Heart 
       -Wolf's Path 
       -Tiger's Shadow 
The Firebird Fairy Tales--Amy Kuivalainen
       -The Cry of the Firebird 
       -Ashes of the Firebird
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways 
The Runespells Series--Sarah Buhrman
       -Too Wyrd
The Grave Reports--R. R. Virdi
        -Grave Beginnings 
        -Grave Measures 
        -Grave Dealings 
Alexi Sokolsky: Hound of Eden--James Osiris Baldwin
        -Burn Artist 
        -Blood Hound 
The LouisiAngel Series--C. L. Coffey
        -Angel in Training 
        -Angel Eclipsed