Announcement // A New Site For Short Stories

Good evening, everyone! I just wanted to take a moment to put up a quick announcement for an exciting new venture I began earlier this evening.

For a long while now I’ve wanted to share some short stories with you. The last time I tried to write such things was two years ago and I never finished them.

One of my personal goals for 2020 is to practice bravery. I felt brave when I opened my first ever credit card, I felt brave when I had to “adult” and correspond with both AAA and PennDOT over issues with my car (and resolved them), and I felt brave when I posted made the very first post live for THE GILDED CONSPIRACY over on my brand new website, The Power of Histfic.

So I invite you to follow the adventures of Lady Irene Washburn in a Victorian web series over on thepowerofhistfic.com. I can only hope you enjoy the story!

I Created Pinterest Boards for my Characters.

They say many things are best left to the imagination. While that’s, for the most part, a true statement, sometimes creating visuals can help your writing process. That’s why so many writers create those grids and aesthetics that still pop up on Twitter from time to time. I’ve got about twenty on this Pinterest board if you’d like to check them out.

Call this a cheap, easy blog post if you like – because, well it is – but this is a crazy work week and I wanted to share these boards. Plus they’ll be brief introductions to some very important players in THE FIREDAMP CHRONICLES.

I won’t go into full detail, however. Only three characters are represented here. Who wants to give away the recipe before the cookie is eaten?

Okay, that’s totally not a saying, insofar as I know. But a certain J.Elle got me thinking about cookies with her last “Monday Mixer” on Twitter. I’m not one to start trends, but I sure do like experimenting with them. So here are Pinterest boards I’ve created for three of my characters. Which ones are main? Secondary? Tertiary? Who knows!

Bronagh Hayes

Bronagh’s not as spunky as a child her age should be – exploring life, learning, or working on a sampler. Life’s dealt her more pain than an eleven year old should bear. This board represents her hopes and dreams:

Simon Dunkle

Born to German immigrants, Simon’s dreams feel a bit more far-fetched and unrealistic by the time his story truly begins in THE FIREDAMP CHRONICLES. Here’s Simon’s board:

Alwine Dunkle

Alwine, Simon’s mother, is just as hardworking as those men in the mines and mills. Her recipes feed their families, employers and travelers who find themselves on the main street of Franklin. As such, her board is filled with all sorts of delectibles she wishes she had time to make.


Well, what do you guys think? I like how each board almost has its own color story. Did you find one or two potential Easter eggs in any of them? Leave your plot theories in the comment section below!

Are you stuck on a scene or character or plot point? Maybe creating a Pinterest board for it will do the trick.

Dueling Guides // A Comparative Review of CRAFT COMPLEX CHARACTERS for Golden May Editing

We don’t read action scenes for the action. We read to see how hard a character will fight for what they desire most.”

FOLLOW THE LINKS BELOW TO PAY THEM A VISIT

If you’ve never been to AnotherHartmanAuthor before, then hi! My name is Leigh Hartman. I’m in the fourth year of my writing journey with an intense interest in Pennsylvania history. I realize the title for this post reads as though I’m part of Golden May. I am not. But I am honored they trust me enough to review their workbook, CRAFT COMPLEX CHARACTERS.

Reviews. Whether they’re posted up on Amazon, Goodreads or here on my blog, a funny feeling washes over me each and every time. Did I say the right things? Who is this review really for – the writer? The reader? The publisher? In truth, reviews are for everyone. And that is a terrifying thought.

Why? Because reviews are incredibly public opinions concerning another’s work. Not only that, these days, opinions are picked apart and, if the individual on the receiving end doesn’t like what you have to say, the very real possibility of your review magically disappearing isn’t all that far fetched.

Why, then, am I reviewing CRAFT COMPLEX CHARACTERS for Golden May? The answer is simple: I love non-fiction. Okay, I love non-fiction and fiction. In my never-ending quest to find new resource materials, you better believe I jumped at the chance to review and see if another method of creating believable characters could work just as well, or better, than my current one.

In today’s blog post, I’m going to compare this guide with that of author KM Weiland’s character interviews to see which better matches my style. Because, in the end, you’ll never know what works best unless you try it out.

CRAFT COMPLEX CHARACTERS can be broken down into three key parts:

01


Advice

02


Activities

03


Completion

Plot twist!

When Emily Golden and I connected over this opportunity, I told her initially that I would be using this to work on my WIP’s antagonist. However, upon further reflection, I realized I didn’t want to give anything away anything for Project Firedamp, especially anything about my story’s baddie. I will touch upon all four of the above points as this post progresses, working with my newest character named Lady Irene. She will appear in a new web story series I’m writing for this very site.

PART 1. The Advice

“All stories make a point, beginning on page one. Which means that as a writer you need to know what that point is, long before you get to page one.”

-Lisa Cron, Story Genius via workbook pages

Have you ever read a self-help book and thought, “Okay, get to the point. This is too much information”? Another thing a reader needs to consider is how they’ll receive what’s presented. What I first appreciate about this guide is its straightforwardness. There’s no beating-around-the-bush or anecdotes. The second thing I like about CRAFT COMPLEX CHARACTERS is it was created by two editors with years of experience in the biz. Not only that, Emily confirmed the status of my grammar. I’ll gladly take that advice any day of the week!

PART 2. The Activities

Call me stubborn if you’d like, but I sometimes have a difficult time accepting change. After working with the character interview pages for Project Firedamp for so long, it was hard to switch gears. But did I liked the idea of activities over a list. Let’s begin.

The First Activity

Draft your story point. Consider why you’re writing this story, and who you’re writing it for. […] You’re aiming for a one-line statement: the message you want to share about how the world works.

Lady Irene’s heart is in turmoil. Her life, turned upside down the previous year, still affects her daily life. Stuck in a rut, she believes she’ll never go back to normal. Okay. This isn’t a single statement. Let me give it a real whirl:

Hope always follows fear.

Hmm – I think that’s actually pretty good! It matches the story’s overall arc which will, hopefully, be pertinent to 2020’s conditions.

It’s also at this point I’ll begin world-building. The opening scenes will play a very important later on in the story.

The Second Activity

Let’s take a look at the seven (or five, whichever you prefer) stages of grief. They are:

Shock
Denial
Anger
Bargaining
Depression
Testing
Acceptance

Lady Irene, in deep grief, absolutely refuses to acknowledge she’s passed any of these stages. She’s alone in her journey – though perhaps not as alone as she thinks. Irene’s setting herself up for a spinster existence, one no one else wants her to experience. She believes she’ll never escape this, nor the expectations placed upon a Victorian woman in 1853.

What beliefs can you think of that are in direct contrast to your story point? List them out and consider which which one is the most succinct, holds the greatest emotional impact and stakes, and will provide your character with the most intriguing struggle.

The Third Activity

What internal and external goals can you give your character that are incompatible with their inner obstacle?

Internal Goal: Our lady wants to get out but hasn’t realized just how desperately she needs to figure herself out before it’s too late.

External Goal: She wants the strange happenings and her tears to end, and things back to what they were.

The Fourth Activity

Lady Irene feels her time slipping away. Everyone abandoned her… including her Julian.

If Lady Irene cannot solve the mystery behind things which never happened before in her home, she fears she’ll go insane before her twenty-fifth year. She must discover whatever the messages left behind for her mean, lest she remain in her grief stricken state forever.

Okay , this needs some work!

What dire thing does your character fear will happen (whether real or imagined) if they don’t achieve their internal and external goals? Are they serious stakes? […]

The Fifth Activity

Now this is where I’ll end things because
No writer wants to reveal too much!


PART 3. Completion

Within the last pages of the guide there are charts you can work from to build your own. It shows how each of the previous parts works together to clearly showcase your character’s main motives.

While I may have done these pages differently from the intended results, the guide did force me to look past the interview style of building up a character.

Now you’re probably asking yourself, “Where’s this duel? Where’s the comparison part she promised us?”

So how does CRAFT COMPLEX CHARACTERS
differ from KM Weiland’s character interviews?

Craft Complex Characters

1. Looks at motives from the smallest to overall
2. Focuses more on the protagonist’s obstacles
3. Guides the writer to zero in on why they’re writing the story

Character Interview Method

  1. Details character’s mannerisms, demographics, personality, etc
  2. Can be used for protagonists, antagonists and secondaries
  3. Easily modifiable to fit your characters’ needs

Do I think they’d make great companion resources for creating well-rounded characters?
Absolutely!

As it turns out, both guides were created with very separate goals, but still the same overall one in mind: to help you finish your story and finish it well.

With all that being said, keep your eyes peeled for a Victorian ghostly tale coming next month to this site –
THE GILDED CONSPIRACY, featuring our Lady Irene.

And don’t forget to check out CRAFT COMPLEX CHARACTERS by Golden May Editing, available for purchase this weekend. Be sure to vote in the poll below, and feel free to let us know in the comments below what tools you use to create your characters

18 Links: Revisited // The Ones I Actually Use

Two years have passed since I first put up a post titled 18 Links Any Writer Can Use. Since then, I’ve streamlined my writing process, the links I actually use on a daily or weekly basis, and decided it was time to update that old list. To quote the original post:

With so many voices giving advice (both good and bad),
how do you even begin to choose what’s right for you?

In this 2020 update I’ll share what thoughts I remember from 2018 and why I included it. Keep reading to find out which links withstood the test of time.

85 Hashtags Writers Need to Know | Amanda Patterson

2018: Then I had no idea what social media hashtags were popular in the #writingcommunity. This list looked to be the less intimidating of what I found to share. I didn’t need a 250 point list. Or a 120. Or, or or or or. Eighty-five seemed like a great, low number with just the right variety to get started.

2020: Now I use only a select few. The world of hashtags is its own beast and, unless you’re willing to read through all those threads, those hours online could be better used outlining or working on your manuscript. Find the two or three or four – ones that fit your genre, or ones that truly connect you to others in your field – and stick with them. You can, of course, switch it up.

Do I still use this link? No.

100 Best Websites for Writers in 2018

2018: Then: a confession. I used this link a LOT to compare my site to those most popular. I used to agonize over design, usefulness, the quality of their short stories, and the fact they had published books. It took a while to realize: that’s not what this list is supposed to be used for.

2020: Now, I look at these lists for inspiration and connection to authors and writers I otherwise may have never known. Instead of measuring up my own self worth against those who’ve worked diligently and far longer than I on their writing careers, it’s now a dream. Let’s face it – I’ve got a long way to go!

Do I still use this link? Yes.
But the 2020 version.

Allegheny County Library Association Card Catalog

2018: Then: I used this website a LOT throughout my early research stage. As I didn’t truly know where to begin, it was in 2018 I discovered the term “research rabbit hole,” and my local librarians were more than happy to oblige.

2020: Nowadays I utilize the Library of Congress’ “Ask A Librarian” link. This is mostly due to issues with my car (I don’t trust it to get me that far) and the fact that my library was closed for four months due to the pandemic. While Northland does have an entire row dedicated to Southwest Pennsylvanian history, the information I needed later on in my research journey became increasingly specific.

I’m not saying your local online card catalog isn’t worth it. If you dig deep enough, other equally fantastic resources are most certainly out there.

Do I still use this link? No.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Oliver Room

“Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh holds many rare and unique collections of historical importance, especially those that illuminate the rich cultural heritage of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. These historical collections are held at the Main Library in Oakland, as well as in neighborhood libraries throughout the City of Pittsburgh.”

Source – CLP website

2018: One of Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropic goals was to make resources available to the American public. As a result, Pittsburgh has its Oliver Room. I had every intention to make an appointment to visit this special place.

2020: However, as life would have it, I completely forgot about the Oliver Room. I still think it’s a fantastic thing to have resources such as this. It’s always worth it taking a look into your own town’s or city’s historical archives. Do I still hope to visit for a future project? You bet!

Do I still use this link? No.

The Editor’s Blog: How to Format Your Manuscript

2018: Then, when I shared this in 2018, it was already out of date as it was posted in 2011. This is still a useful guide, but if you’re in the submission phase to agents or publishers, keep in mind that each one may have their own requirements for manuscript formatting.

2020: Now, as I’m nowhere near that dreaded querying stage, I ignore everything but the basics for formatting.

Do I still use this link? No.
Instead, I use this link. I don’t know when it was put up,
but I have to believe it was within the last two years.

Grammar Girl

2018: Then, I thought I was going to use this site so, so much. As it turns out, I prefer physical books for my non-fiction over electronic resources. Ones I own. Ones I can highlight and put post it notes all over.

2020: Now, as I get easily overwhelmed when I read informational blogs, I don’t visit as much as I used to. Mignon Fogarty’s mind still fascinates me with how many useful podcasts and tweets she puts out. So go check her website out if you’ve got any grammar-related questions.

Do I still use this link? No.
I do still follow her Twitter account here.
And now I’m questioning the validity of my own grammar in this blog post….

Heinz History Center

“The Heinz History Center is more than just one building. Part of The Smithsonian network, its main focus is Southwestern Pennsylvania.”

2018: Then, all I had to say about this history center was what’s above. In actuality, I only included it because I hoped to utilize its resources. I never did.

2020: Now? I still haven’t used it. Including the link in the original post was part of a grand research project I wanted to do. That project no longer exists.

Do I still use this link? No.

Historic Pittsburgh

2018: Then, my exact words were “Tired of seeing Pittsburgh themed links? I promise, I’m nearly done highlighting my city! […] The fact that there’s so many organizations dedicated to preserving its history, with so many people interested in its history, should come of no surprise as to why my first novel series will include it.”

2020: Now, after many many many revisions, I don’t know how it would work. What I wrote following the aforementioned statement is still true: “Historic Pittsburgh is supported by The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Chatham University Archives and many others to pool resources for research and preservation. Everyone sees history through different eyes, so it’s a good thing that there’s more than one organization preserving our past. Check with your local city to see if they have sources you may not have thought of.”

Do I still use this link? No, but I wonder: would it be a great tool for my grandma’s ancestry research?

Janice Hardy | Fiction University | Critique Groups

2018: Then, my introverted self would never even have considered joining a critique group.

2020: My still introverted self has yet to join. I’m also still far from any sort of critique stage (and I shelved that 2018 novella), but I do peruse the articles from time to time. I also wonder if I’ll ever be brave enough to join up. Directly from Ms. Hardy herself,

“This is for writers who are looking for critique partners or critique groups for more than just “I need some eyes on this before I submit it to an agent” type critiques.”

Do I still use this link? Yes.

Library of Congress Ask A Librarian

2018: In 2018 I’d no idea how valuable a resource this would become…

2020: …and now? I send them questions and topics I need assistance with several times a month! Their staff is fantastically thorough and I cannot recommend them enough.

Also, as I was unable to visit my local library earlier this year, I was still able to send Ask A Librarian questions save for a short period when they were closed as well.

Do I still use this link? Absolutely! One caveat: if the government’s shut down, this resource will be unavailable for the duration of that shut down.

LitRejections

2018: Back then I’d no idea how publishing works. I only knew of this phrase, “my query received another rejection,” and didn’t even know what a query was.

2020: Today I’m a bit more versed in *some* of publishing’s inner workings (the unagented, unpublished side of it), and learned it’s best to encourage other writers/authors than think of them as your competition. But that’s a blog post for another day.

“LitRejections was founded with the sole purpose of encouraging writers as they go through the rigorous process of becoming a published author. They offer several types of critiques, links to agencies in particular countries, interviews with folks deep within the writing industry and encouragement through their social media.”

Do I still use this link? No, but most definitely will when I hop into the dreaded “query trenches!”

The No. 1 Rule for Flashbacks in a Story Opening

2018: Back in 2018 I wrote: “Flashbacks. When done well they can provide important insight into a character’s motives or actions. They also run the risk of providing far more backstory than what the reader truly needs to know. It’s a tricky business, deciding to add a flashback, dream sequence or something equally vague at the beginning of a story. Contributor Peter Selgin takes us through several scenarios on what to include and what not to include. And when. A very useful post indeed.”

2020: Nowadays I barely write flashback scenes. It’s not that I find them completely unnecessary. It’s because flashback scenes scare me. What tense should they be written in? Should I introduce a new character within the flashback? Is the flashback actually necessary? Any time I find myself thinking about adding one, I revisit this link.

Do I still use this link? Yes, especially if I need a refresher.

Most Common Writing Mistakes: Characters Who Lack Solid Story Goals

2018: Back then Miss KM Weiland appeared a lot on this site. She was one of the first folks I connected with when I revamped my Twitter account.

2020: Now I don’t remember if I bought her books on writing first, or communicated through DMs first. However it happened, I’m glad to have found her site. Her posts, like the one above, are some of the best I’ve found. And it doesn’t matter if you’re brand new or if you’ve been “in the biz” for a long time. There’s certainly something there for everyone.

Do I still use this link? Yes.

The Past Tense in English

2018: It was in 2018 I realized I needed to go back to school. Back to my high school English classes and revisit my language’s confounding grammar rules. Here’s a cold hard truth: I’m not the only one who struggled with it. My troubles were quite evident to my beta readers who didn’t know what they were in for when they agreed to read early versions of FOR ONE NIGHT (my now-shelved novella).

2020: Two years later I’d like to think I’ve improved. No one’s seen my writing since then (save these blog posts). I guess I’ll find out when I begin a search for my next group of betas. Remember: It’s okay to not know everything about writing. It’s a whole beast on its own!

Do I still use this link? Yes.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Archives
Query Tracker
What Kind of Author Are You?
All three of these are no’s.


Whew! What a list! As with anything subject to the passage of time, I think it’s safe to say I’ve outgrown this list.

Perhaps a future post will contain new, more current resources? Tip: Find that perfect combination of resources which fit your needs and run with them.

What I’ve Been Reading || The Non-Fiction Edition

It’s often a good idea to, every once in a while, take a step back from the writing – be it blogging or working on your manuscript – and read. I could throw in a few of those overused, oh-so-cliche quotes about reading and how it affects one’s writing, but I shall refrain.

Last year I hit a reading rut. I just didn’t want to. Anytime someone mentioned books or curling up in a cozy chair with hot chocolate (or wine, whichever you prefer), I had this strange inner reaction. Throughout my life I’ve made it a point to go against the grain and not do what was deemed popular at the time.

Clothes one to two seasons out of style = check.
Star Trek and X-Files watcher instead of Dawson’s Creek or FRIENDS = check.
Got the NERDS Blizzard from Dairy Queen instead of Oreos or normal chocolate = check.

I didn’t come out of my “no reading” funk until I did an experiment earlier this year where I didn’t turn on my television for an entire month. As a direct result, my reading time skyrocketed. Surprised? No? I wasn’t either. According to my Kindle statistics, I’ve read for sixteen weeks in a row – from mid March to now. I’ve also smashed my original reading goal of twenty books (low goal, I know) and upped it to forty.

Those numbers don’t include the paper/hardback copies I’ve read. And those books have mostly been of the non-fiction variety. So here are four non-fiction books I’ve been reading (or have already read…or need to read) this year. Some are on this list, others are brand new and I’ve yet to update the page to include them. As I always say, I hope you enjoy this post and perhaps you’ll find something new to read!

1,000 CHARACTER REACTIONS FROM HEAD TO TOE by Valerie Howard

This book, the newest addition to my self-help collection, is part of a series designed to help spark creativity and get out of one’s rut of using the same words over and over again. One of this series’ other books, 1,000 STRONG VERBS, arrived on my doorstep earlier this week.

While it’s not a complete list of every reaction a character can have, Howard does include spaces after each specific section where you can put your own spin on what’s provided. In reality, it’s a two-in-one book and workbook.

What drew me to this book was her blurb: “As an author, are your characters always sighing and nodding? Did you just sigh and nod? If so, this handy little booklet is for you!” I can handle dialogue just fine, and I adore world building. Character interactions and movements are my biggest problems.

Not only that, when I now pick up a book to read for pleasure, these nuances are forever front and center because I’m paying attention to an author’s style. Flow and odd interactions never stood out to me as a teen. Now they can make or break a book.

I refuse to stay in my rut, so I’ll be keeping these little booklets on my desk for future reference.

True Ladies and Proper Gentlemen
edited by Sarah A. Chrisman

Apparently I missed the memo when I began my writing journey that there’s an arsenal of books from the Victorian era that many historical fiction writers use. TRUE LADIES AND PROPER GENTLEMEN is one of those books.

I also didn’t know this book existed until a research stint a few weeks later when I stumbled upon this title and immediately drooled over the cover. Okay, I didn’t actually drool. I metaphorically drooled.

Modern nuances in historical novels has always annoyed me, and that applies to character mannerisms as well. Historical novelists are always faced with this conundrum: do we write a book filled with historical references but modernize its characters to fit the current state of things, or do we write according to the time period we choose and try to be as historically accurate as possible?

No matter what’s chosen, I’m afraid that choice is always met with criticism from readers who prefer the former or latter of the aforementioned situations. Then, do we explain and defend ourselves in a preface or epilogue note at the end of the story?

TRUE LADIES AND PROPER GENTLEMEN is a reference I’m glad still exists. It gives insight into the unique and complex social proprieties of the day. I’m still unsure if it was originally published in 2015 or if it’s an edited version from an earlier publication.

Whichever the case, more research and reading is most definitely required!

Images of America: Pittsburgh’s Bridges by Todd Wilson and Helen Wilson

Images of America, in case you’re unawares, is a vast collection of historical imagery archives compiled into books by subject. Of course, for me, the Pittsburgh series have become an invaluable resource and catalyst for furthering my interest in what “the ‘burgh” looked like before my parents were even born.

My last surviving grandmother is 84 years old (born in 1936), so some of these books have been like walking down memory lane for her. As such, she’s also conducting her own deep dive into Hartman history and connections within Southwestern Pennsylvania.

It’s because of my grandmother’s interest in my great great great grandfather’s bakery in Allegheny City that I picked this up.

I *may* have to interview her one of these days about him.

Hmm…

I digress, as usual!

PITTSBURGH’S BRIDGES proved itself to be an accurate resource, and let’s just say that one of my book’s pivotal scenes was inspired by a fact found within its pages.

Creating Character Arcs by KM Weiland

I know, I know. Not this book again. But I saved it for last because I didn’t want you guys to feel like I’m beating you over the head with this series.

However, Weiland’s books are just that good.

While I’ve read each one at least thrice over, I still refer to them (them being CREATING CHARACTER ARCS, OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL and STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL) time and again when I need a refresher.

I highly, highly doubt that any one person can know absolutely everything about writing. Sometimes I’ll freeze in the middle of a scene and will need a reminder right then and there.

Thank goodness my home is only 625 sq. ft., and my non-fiction bookshelf is but twenty paces from my writing desk. Correction: fifteen paces. I got up and checked.

Here’s my point. You don’t need a reference from me to find what resources work best for you and your stories. Let’s face it – I’m still a “noob” when it comes to this thing called writing. However, Ms. Weiland was one of the first authors I connected with when I first began looking for community online. She’s always been willing to answer small questions here and there, and her experience is both highly valuable and unproblematic. And that’s really refreshing.

Did you find anything worth diving into?

I love making these short book lists as they force me to go back to my stacks and rediscover old favorites or books I’d forgotten about. In all honesty, I’d completely forgotten about the Improve Your Writing book (my apologies to Ms. Hahn!)

What are some books you own but recently rediscovered? You’re in a judge-free zone, so don’t be shy and share those titles in the comments below! Let us all discover something new today. Happy reading and have a great writing week!

June Bookviews // Lost Letters, Story Structure and Magical Lands, Oh My!

Happy Friday my fellow book lovers! I have but one question for you. Did you click on this post thinking you’re going to get information about how to speed read? Don’t worry – you’re not alone! Apparently YouTube thought that’s what I wanted as well when looking up videos on speed reviews this weekend. Speed reading ≠ speed reviews.

This idea was actually inspired by one of my favorite YouTube channels. She does this style but with makeup (my weird YouTube viewing obsession – weird because I don’t wear makeup but I love her videos). Here’s a few examples by Jessica Braun:

It intrigued me that there are hardly any book reviews on YouTube which follow this style, considering it’s concept is such a big one in the beauty community. Have I stumbled upon something completely new here? You’ll never, ever, see my ugly mug in a YouTube video!

So here’s the format these sections will follow. I’ll pull six titles from this site’s On My Bookshelf page: three from What I’ve Read, two from Upcoming Reads, and one from that dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish) pile. From What I’ve Read, you can expect my final thoughts on plot, character development, and a star rating. From Upcoming Reads, my expectations or hopes for the book. And perhaps even a prediction or two. Finally, from the DNFs, what made me close the cover for good and if I’ll ever attempt to read it again.

The First Section: What I’ve Read

THE LOST LETTER
by Mimi Matthews

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I didn’t know this when I picked up THE LOST LETTER, but apparently Matthews is a crown jewel in the historical fiction world. This was one of those late night two o’clock in the morning finds and, you know what? I don’t regret at all.

While I love a good mystery wrapped with history, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the addition of romance. It’s funny; I love it in fairy tale retellings (Melanie Dickerson‘s and Jody Hedlund‘s collective works come to mind). The question must be asked: how many genres, or elements of genres, are too many before they begin detracting

THE LOST LETTER still contains within it a great mix of characters. There was a bit too much time spent on Colonel Sebastian Conrad’s inner struggles, though I’m sure it’s there to show his character growth. Anger can be a great device but, when used too much, can make a character one dimensional (think Jafar from Disney’s latest live action remake of Aladdin).

If you’re looking for a romance based in the Victorian era with little tastes of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, then THE LOST LETTER may be your next read worth picking up.

Mimi’s Links

STORY STRUCTURE: THE KEY TO SUCCESSFUL FICTION
by William Bernhardt

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Did you, like myself, jump into writing your first novel forgetting the very basics of story structure? It’s always a good idea to have non-fiction books on improving your craft around, and Mr. Bernhardt’s book spells it all out in a no nonsense, common sensical (I made “sensical” up) way.

This book, one of ten in Bernhardt’s Red Sneaker series, is a very good starting point if you can only handle non-fiction in small doses. It expands upon several key points I’d completely forgotten from my time in English Lit class during high school.

That being said, I’m intrigued by the title of another book in this series: SIZZLING STYLE. I think Bernhardt had loads of fun writing these books. I’m sure it was as much a trip down memory lane as it was for me just reading STORY STRUCTURE.

If you’re looking for something more in depth, I suggest STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL by KM Weiland. But, if you’re just starting your writing journey, STORY STRUCTURE: THE KEY TO SUCCESSFUL FICTION just may be all you’ll need.

William’s Links

FOREST OF FIRELIGHT
by Shari L. Tapscott

Rating: 4 out of 5.

FOREWARNING: THIS SPEED REVIEW CONTAINS A SINGLE SPOILER ALERT, so skip on by if you don’t want to know what it is. (Don’t worry – it’s not a plot spoiler).

Someone once said to never judge a book by its cover, but this book’s cover is exactly what drew me to it. We readers are highly intuitive creatures who want to visualize everything, and covers help us do just that. I don’t know who originally coined the aforementioned term, but they must have had very little imagination.

Sorry not sorry.

This New Adult story follows two very different main characters from two very different countries – one fully affected by a terrible magic and one just beginning to feel the effects of the same magic. As much as I was unsure of one of the plot devices used to bring the characters together (I’ll let you read to judge for yourself), there are redeeming qualities in both Rhys and Amalia.

But I detect some betrayal coming in Book 2, SEA OF STARLIGHT.

Even with my uncertainty, I immediately pre-ordered SEA OF STARLIGHT.

Because I need to know what happens.

The resolution (hopefully) happens in Book 2, unless there are more stories planned. So SPOILER ALERT: this isn’t a standalone read.

If you’re looking for a standalone read, start with the first book in today’s speed reviews: THE LOST LETTER. This is the first book I’ve read of Shari’s, and I’m excited to explore more stories by her.

Shari’s Links

The Second Section: My Upcoming Reads

FINDING LADY ENDERLY
by Joanna Davidson Politano

I’ll not include any stars for these entries as I’ve yet to read them. Instead, I’ll include its brief synopsis, why I picked it up, and what I hope will come from the story.

Books and films set in in the Regency period usually follow one of these three genres: Romance, Mystery and Military. For such a short period in history, Regency authors also have several sub-genres to choose from. The most common of these, that I’ve seen, has been Regency Romance.

Naturally, when I stumbled across FINDING LADY ENDERLY one night (why does all my book-buying happen at night?), its synopsis intrigued me. I say “naturally” because this doesn’t feel like it adheres to any one genre but combines elements from all three of the aforementioned. I also feel that many authors, not just those within the Romance world, are writing stronger female characters. Ones who don’t always need rescuing. I’ll still never say no to heroism! And Politano’s Lady Enderly sounds strong indeed.

Have I set my hopes too high for this particular tale? Perhaps. But discovering what mystery lies within the pages of this particular book is what I’m looking forward to the most this coming Sunday afternoon.

I preemptively picked up A RUMORED FORTUNE and LADY JANE DISAPPEARS, both also by Miss Politano as well.

Joanna’s Links

BANQUET OF LIES
by Michelle Diener

I’ll not include any stars for these entries as I’ve yet to read them. Instead, I’ll include its brief synopsis, why I picked it up, and what I hope will come from the story.

I first fell in love with Michelle’s writing when I stumbled across her IN A TREACHEROUS COURT trilogy several years ago. It was so different from anything I’d previously read that I couldn’t put it down. So I credit both her and Melanie Dickerson both for introducing me to historical fiction.

The mystery and intrigue woven throughout this synopsis convinced me to pick up yet another Diener book.

Even though I couldn’t quite get into Diener’s previous novel in the same series, THE EMPEROR’S CONSPIRACY, I really do hope to fall in love with this.

In the streets where she once walked freely among polite society, she now hides in plain sight, learning the hard lessons of class distinction and negotiating the delicate balance between servant and master.

Source – Amazon Synopsis

Oh yes – give me all the juxtaposition!

Michelle’s Links

The Third Section: What I Did Not Finish

TAPESTRY II and TAPESTRY III
by Cady Elizabeth Arnold

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Everyone has a few plot devices or tropes that, when they come across them in a book, makes it very hard to want to finish it. This was most certainly the case for me with the TAPESTRY series. Spoilers ahead.

I’m sure, with Ms. Arnold’s background in social work, this story’s reflects many truths from what she’s seen and possibly experienced. However, the age difference and potential romance between the two main characters gave me such pause that I couldn’t commit to finish it.

Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely loved the tale’s beginning and logical explanation for the young female lead’s muteness. I did have to wonder if Ms. Arnold was influenced by a certain plot line from the CW television show Reign, because I found several similarities in a particular arc.

Finally, call me petty all you like, but I also couldn’t get behind the series’ successive titling (I, II, III).

Overall, while very well written, I find first person narration and jumping POVs distracting. As such, these are all the reasons I couldn’t finish TAPESTRY II or TAPESTRY III.

It could, perhaps, be just the novel series you’ve been looking for. Don’t let my feelings for it deter you from giving TAPESTRY I a try.

Cady’s Links

Well? What do you guys think?

I’d like for these Speed Reviews to become a regular thing. However, since they’re a lot of work, I don’t know if I can do them every Friday. Bi-monthly? Once a month on the third Wednesday? Sundays at exactly 2:56 PM? Okay, now I’m just being ridiculous.

I hope you had fun reading through these titles and my thoughts on them.
Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Music That Drives My Writing | The Joe Hisaishi Edition

It’s no secret that music breathes life into my writing sessions. I am very much driven in my craft by a song’s flow. For those who know me, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, and this method has yet to steer me wrong. In today’s musically charged post, I’m sharing all my favorite Joe Hisaishi scores. I hope you’ll also check out other posts in the “Music That Drives My Writing” blog series:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3: the Kpop Edition, Part 4: The Film Score Edition, Part 5: The 1940s Edition, Part 6: The SyFy Edition, Part 7: The James Horner Edition, Part 8: The Hans Zimmer Edition, Part 9: The John Williams Edition, and Part 10: The Michael Giacchino Edition. This is Part 11: The Joe Hisaishi Edition. Perhaps you’ll find some new music to love!

Today I am cheating. Why? Because all my favorite songs are rolled into one giant concert. I don’t mind taking a short cut this week, because this is my absolute favorite video of all time. It’s the 25 year anniversary for Studio Ghibli, and Hisaishi wrote many scores for Miyazaki’s fabulous films. The scores I adore the most are from Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Spirited Away.

This video is nearly two hours long, and I’m jealous of absolutely everyone who got to be there!

This week’s Music That Drives My Writing post will be the last in this series. As much fun as it’s been to put all my favorite songs in one place, it’s time to move on to bigger and better things! Check out the announcement here for the next blog series.

Introducing: Bookviews

Happy Friday fellow book lovers! Fridays, once reserved for the Music That Drives My Writing posts, will now be all about books. Books, books, books! One of my favorite YouTube channels does this style but with makeup, so here’s Mrs Jessica Braun‘s link, as she’s the inspiration for this new series.

Here’s the format. I’ll pull six titles from this site’s On My Bookshelf page: three from What I’ve Read, two from Upcoming Reads, and one from that dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish) pile. From the What I’ve Read pile, you can expect my final thoughts on plot, character development, and a star rating. From Upcoming Reads, my expectations or hopes for the book. And perhaps even a prediction or two. Finally, from the DNF pile, what made me close the cover for good and if I’ll ever attempt to read it again.

This Friday the final Music That Drives My Writing post will go live. In the mean time, here’s a sneak preview of the books I’m covering on Friday, June 26th:

Music That Drives My Writing | The Michael Giacchino Edition

It’s no secret that music breathes life into my writing sessions. I am very much driven in my craft by a song’s flow. For those who know me, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, and this method has yet to steer me wrong. In today’s musically charged post, I’m sharing my favorite Michael Giacchino scores. I hope you’ll also check out other posts in the “Music That Drives My Writing” blog series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3: the Kpop Edition, Part 4: The Film Score Edition, Part 5: The 1940s Edition, Part 6: The SyFy Edition, Part 7: The James Horner Edition, Part 8: The Hans Zimmer Edition, and Part 9: The John Williams Edition.
This is Part 10: The Michael Giacchino Edition. Perhaps you’ll find some new music to love!

1. “Main Theme” from Star Trek: Into Darkness

This was the first score I ever heard – or the first one which caused me to look him up – of Giacchino’s. Love or hate this version of Star Trek, its score is certainly one of my favorites.

2. “Life & Death” from Lost

Lost is another one of those shows you either love to death or love to hate. I stopped watching it because college in 2005 > television. But I remember loving its score.

3. “Night on the Yorktown” from Star Trek: Beyond

Fight me if you will, but I firmly believe this to be one of the most gorgeous themes in all Star Trek.

4. “If You Don’t Make It, It’s Your Own Damn Fault” from Land of the Lost

This film came out in 2009, but this score gives me early 1990s vibes.

5. “Commitment” from Jupiter Ascending

If you want to indulge in a really weird, confusing film with bad sound editing, watch Jupiter Ascending. The budget was all in the film score and CGI. Certainly not writing a coherent script… But I like the music, so it has that going for it, I suppose.

6. “As the Jurassic World Turns” from Jurassic World

How can you not love this epic piece of art?

7. “Peter’s Lament” from The Book of Henry

I’ve never seen this film, but the beginning of this lament sounds similar to Night on the Yorktown and I love it.

8. “Declaration of Indo-Pendence” from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Looking for something to write a great action sequence to? Look no further than the scores for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom!

I’ve Ended the 2020 Interview Series Early. Here’s Why.

This post contains within it a two-fold purpose.

First, I have decided to end 2020’s Five Question Interview series early. As successful, fun and engaging as it’s been to continue on from last year, I didn’t feel right moving forward as though everything’s normal. As such, I’ve contacted the remaining interviewees to inform them of this decision. I hope you understand, and I’m grateful to all of you who’ve read or participate this year.

The second purpose of this post, and the main reason for the series’ cancellation is encapsulated in the following:

I’ve put off making known my opinions, thoughts and feelings on COVID19 and the Black Lives Matter movement for one very simple reason: I needed to, first, take the time think things through.

When all this (lock down for COVID), and the events leading up to the tragedy that is Mr. Floyd’s death, I hated reading phrases on Twitter from folks saying, “Your white is showing,” or “You idiots, all lives matter.”

Immediately I was thrown back several years to when the movement first took mainstream media by storm. The protests were more peaceful then – no major rioting, theft, flames, and the level of brutality on both sides we’re seeing today – but absolutely everyone I encountered had an opinion. The worst was going through the McDonald’s drive through and one of the window workers unabashedly proclaimed “ALL LIVES MATTER” to every customer he waited on. I didn’t go back to that location for months after because of his arrogance. Nobody needs that when they’re just trying to get in and get out of the line.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 2:1-3, NIV – source

While I agree with him to an extent – I’ve always tried keeping an open mind and treating everyone how I’d like to be treated. The complete opposite has occurred in my country. More and more I hear “What can the government do for me and mine?” instead of “What can I do for my neighbor?”

It’s not the government’s responsibility to take care of us as though we’re infants. Our forefathers saw America’s need for a government that manages matters of state, foreign affairs and freedom from America’s involvement with England’s rule. In many, many ways, America still needs to grow up. To paraphrase a line from an old film, D2: The Mighty Ducks, “America’s still young. Still a teenager. Awkward at times, but always on the verge of greatness.”

The world is watching us, my fellow Americans. They’re watching how we treat one another, love one another, and love to hate one another. The world is watching how our media spins the narrative, how neighbors goes after neighbors with zero remorse, and how dying people were just trying to do the right thing.

America has regressed and is now facing a time of great economic and mental health depression. Since Martin Luther King Jr. we’ve only “patched” the problems rather than change or fix them. While I recognize my white privilege. My family unit’s complete. A local non-profit I volunteer with helps people find jobs and holds food drives. And I am (for the first time in my own life, mind you) financially stable and able to pay my rent.

I am a Christian. Loving others, aforementioned in the passage from Philippians, should come easily, right? Wrong. America’s “Me First” and “Us vs Them (whomever them may be)” cultures have divided our nation. My whole life I’ve tried seeing everyone as equal, as its our differences and experiences that make us uniquely human rather than “just another mammal.”

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked of them, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31, NIV – source

Love your neighbors better than yourself.

I’ll not deny there’s a LOT of good still in the world. For some reason a lot of it isn’t highlighted. Or, when it is, people think those involved are doing so just for clout. This narrative’s leaked into our hearts, our souls, our minds. We’re kidding ourselves if we believe America’s the most perfect and strongest country in the world. We are not. And I recognize my privileges.

Not making statements on social media is a personal choice, as I’ve always felt it’s not my place. I also haven’t because I didn’t want to say something out of anger or disappointment and later regret it. And I didn’t want to post something without using my own words, thinking it through, and “just because everyone else is.”

If you don’t see family members, friends, coworkers, constantly sharing news articles, changing their profile pics to black, or sharing all those links, that doesn’t mean they aren’t taking the time they need to check their hearts and their own actions. It also doesn’t automatically mean they’re part of the problem.

Social media now seems to be the place to express pent up anger and perpetuate “cancel culture” on each other. History isn’t repeating itself. It’s barreling forward at the speed of light towards something none of us want.

Love your neighbor. Listen to your heart. Check your facts. Know that everyone matters. Believe change can happen for the better. See and try to understand the perspectives of others. At the end of the day, we’re all struggling to understand the finely woven lines between what’s actually racism and what’s perceived as racism.

Because of my faith, and how I was raised, I will love you, help you, pray with you and for you. Act with you? I don’t see myself in the middle of some protest or “newsworthy” rioting, or donating funds to a charity I’ve never heard of. But I will do my best to keep the hatred from invading my own heart to love yours.