Saturday, March 17, 2018

Top 3 Characters in the Sentinel Trilogy (Laurie - Sage blog tour)

Today we're excited to be part of the blog tour celebrating Jamie Foley's latest release, Sage! Jamie has visited Lands Uncharted several times, sharing an author interview and her Top 3 Favorite Aether Gifts. See below for more information about the author, Sage, and the rest of the blog tour.

I knew this series conclusion would be epic based on the earlier books (remember when I included it in my Top 3 Series Conclusions Coming in 2018?) It did not disappoint! So much action, humor, amazing world-building, and romantic moments that made me grin :) But what has struck me the most throughout this series is the way the characters leap off the page. They all have quirks, flaws, growth, and distinctive personalities that make them feel like I could meet them in real life. So while it was hard to choose, in honor of the series conclusion I decided to share my Top 3 Characters in the Sentinel Trilogy!

3) Ellie

I just adore Ellie because she's so full of surprises! She begins as a grandmotherly figure - a wise leader with a calming presence not only because her aether gift allows her to influence others' emotions, but also due to her soothing personality. But as the series goes on, this amazing lady turns out to have some real spunk (she gave me at least one laugh-out-loud moment in Sage!) and an incredible amount of power. I love characters who have this kind of depth and move so far beyond first impressions.

2) Aleah

Aleah is definitely the character I related to most throughout this series. She's sweet, caring, and conflict-avoidant, but sneaks in a few wonderfully witty remarks, too :) It broke my heart when she was manipulated and led astray in Arbiter (Book 2), and the author did a beautiful job bringing her redemption and self-forgiveness in the series finale. I enjoyed seeing Aleah step up to take responsibility for her full power, and her relationship with a certain crush was just so cute!!

1) Jet

Ah, Jet. By the end of Sentinel (Book 1), he'd earned a place as one of my top character crushes, and the later books in the series have only solidified that position. Jet is cagey, tough, and often sarcastic, but his vulnerability shows through just often enough to illustrate his heart of gold. For all the barriers he puts up, he proves time and again that he cares deeply and will do anything to protect the people he loves. I must admit I was ready to throw something at Ms. Foley during a few scenes in Sage due to her treatment of my beloved Jet, but luckily I kept reading and had more than forgiven her by the end :)

Are you intrigued?? I hope so! Here's a little more about the book:

Ancient elementals awaken, fracturing a dying world to its core.

Teravyn Aetherswift returns to the land of the living, but everything seems unfamiliar… including her little brother. Zekk offers help, but can an alluring Lynx be trusted?

Sorvashti finally has everything she ever wanted, so the last thing she wants to do is run after traitors. But she won’t leave Jet’s side—unless the horrifying truth about his mother tears them apart.

Darien is sick of being used and lied to. But if he stands up for what’s right, he’ll pay the price with his life… or the lives of those he loves.

It's so good, you guys!! You can find Sage on Amazon, Jamie's website, and Goodreads. Here's a little bit about the amazing author:

Jamie Foley loves strategy games, home-grown berries, and Texas winters. She’s terrified of plot holes and red wasps.

Her husband is her manly cowboy astronaut muse. They live between Austin, TX and their family cattle ranch, where their hyperactive spawnling and wolfpack can run free.

You can connect with Jamie on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.

Jamie is having a giveaway as part of her blog tour! Enter here for a chance to win a digital $10 Amazon gift card (3 winners) by signing up for Jamie's newsletter. And stop here to see a full list of blog tour posts! Congratulations on your new release, Jamie!!

What makes a character stand out to you? Have you read this series yet, and if so, who are your favorite characters?

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Blackthorn Key (Julie)

Mysteries. Riddles. Murders. Homemade cannons. Kevin Sands's The Blackthorn Key will keep you guessing in this historical fiction aimed at young adults.

It's 1665 and orphan Christopher Rowe has been an apprentice to an apothecary for several years. Unlike most apprentices during this time, Christopher has a good life under a good master. For example, he didn't get beaten when he tested his homemade cannon and gunpowder inside their shop, even though the shot went wild. Life is good except for a growing threat to the apothecaries in town. Some have been gruesomely mutilated, and the culprits are still at large.

After returning from an errand, Chris finds his master dead, just like the other apothecaries. With his future hanging in the balance now he is without a home and master, Chris discovers puzzles that have been left for him, ones that once decoded, will hold the key to the mystery of the cult that is supposedly behind the attacks. The deeper he digs, the more danger he finds himself in as the murderers set their sights on him.

What worked: When Chris discovers the real reason behind the deaths, I was surprised like him. I didn't see that coming, and it certainly provided an unexpected twist, which is always fun.
Chris is a pretty independent main character, but he is helped throughout the book by his best friend, Tom. I liked their friendship as the boys stood by each other despite the dangers.

What didn't work for me: I will admit it. I was totally grossed out by some of the fighting scenes, especially at the end. It wasn't especially graphic, but there was a lot of bodily injuries at one time. Just a little too much for me:(
One other thing that bothered me, and is a good reminder to me as a writer, was too much description. There were large chunks of description (and backstory) that I tended to either skim or skip entirely because it bogged down the story in places

Overall, I'd give it a 4 out of 5. It was an interesting read with likable characters.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Rewriting Your Manuscript (Lizzie)

Spring is known for cleaning sprees, so much so that we talk about "spring cleaning" as much as spring flowers and spring rains. It's also time to rework old manuscripts, judging by my current writing project and that of many writers I know. A friend recently asked advice of other writers on the subject, and since, like her, I'm doing major rewrites on an old story, I followed the advice with interest. It seems that rewrites run the gamut: comments ranged from "if it needs that much work, I'm tossing it" to a laborious "open the manuscript and a blank document and retype manuscript making changes as you go" approach to a highly organized outlining approach using Scrivener. This last approach is closest to what I'm doing.

Before I explain my method, though, I want to note that there are really three kinds of rewrites--ones that focus on story structure, ones that focus on character, and ones that focus on the writing itself. Most are a blend but focus on structure or structure and character. My rewrite is focused on structure with a secondary interest in character. I don't anticipate a need to "rewrite the writing" (I had to do that kind of major rewrite on another story to remove "overwriting," but that's a topic for another day). Thus, this is a structure-focused rewrite plan. And a warning to self-editors writers like edit--turn off the inner editor. Line editing and copy editing should be among the final worries. Getting the story content right must come first.

Lizzie's Approach to Rewriting a Manuscript

1. Break the task into chunk to keep from becoming overwhelmed

When you have a 130,000+ word fantasy novel that needs its plot restructured, its goals changed, its story world enriched, and its characters developed, the task can seem overwhelming. To keep me from sinking into despair and leaving the story in pieces for another five years, I am breaking up the work into small, short tasks. This gives me something I can do each day, even when I'm tired and don't have much time. My first task is to take stock of the story and make notes.

2. Reread the story and make notes

I have the novel in Scrivener, which is great for this stage. I re-read every scene and use the notecard feature to write a short summary of each one. Each scene also needs a one-sentence title for the Scrivener (or real-life) notecard; this can be used in an outline. This and the summary can be useful for the synopsis as well. I also mark each scene with "Keep," "Delete," "Keep with these changes...," "Keep and move to...."

As I go, I also write copious notes on suggested changes, background information, ideas on theme, nuances to add, historical details to research and include, new scenes, etc. Another good idea is to make a style sheet, if you haven't one already. Include proper spellings for places and characters, important dates, character details (eye color, etc.), and any other important details.

By the end of this stage, you should have a rough outline of the current manuscript, a mental image forming of where you want it to go, and plenty of notes. The next step is to organize.

3. Create a Master Rewriting Document by organizing all notes

I collected years of scribbled notes and typed notes and combined them into a single document and am in the process of organizing this document using the scheme below.

Master Rewriting Document

Story Structure
Goal/opposition for hero
Goal/opposition for heroine
Goal/opposition for antagonist

Story Richness
Details to incorporate (nuances, foreshadowing, loopholes to close, story world details, etc.)
Character/setting/fantasy element specific notes (character details, arcs, historical details, etc.)
List of subplots and threads to be sure to tie-up

Story Scene List
List of critical points (inciting incident, midpoint, climax, etc.)
Events in Order of Occurrence (with details for new scenes or notes on scenes to be rewritten)

The first section is to help me keep focused and make sure the story structure is solid. The second to enrich the story with consistent details, strong character arcs, and so on. It also serves as a filing place for my notes. If I know I made a note on a minor character, I simply search this section for that character's subheading. The third section is also story structure and an outline.

4. Write a new outline or synopsis

Using your scene notes in Scrivener and in your Master Rewriting Document, create a new outline or synopsis. This will be a tough step because I have so many scenes I love but which may not fit into the finished story. This will also be where the Critical Points list and Goals/Opposition list will help me decide on a solid story structure.

5. Make changes to the manuscript

Once I have decided on how the updated story will look, I can go back to my manuscript and start work. Here's my anticipated order of operation:

  1. Delete scenes marked "Delete"
  2. Move scenes marked "Move"
  3. Add blank pages for new scenes and fill out notecard with title and short summary
  4. Change scenes marked for change
  5. Write new scenes in the pages created for them (only scenes to be kept should now be present)
  6. Add nuances, foreshadowing, etc. as indicated in Master Rewriting Document
  7. Reread and smooth out the manuscript
  8. Let sit for a month
  9. Reread for structure
  10. Line edit and copyedit

Whew. Doing all this will remind me to be more careful plotting my next novel! But it's doable taken "bird by bird." What advice or concerns about rewriting manuscripts do you have?

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Top 3 Favorite Fantasy Tropes (Jill)

The word trope has a stigma attached to it. My good friend Merriam defines trope as "a:
word or expression used in a figurative sense : figure of speech or b: a common or overused theme or device: cliche'"
Cliche'? Oh boy. Nobody wants to be accused of using them, reading them, or liking them. But there are a few fantasy tropes out there I enjoy.
3. Elves, Dwarves,  and other fantasy creatures -- Some readers cry "foul" and claim these races to be unoriginal, a theft of Tolkien's writings. I've read a few authors that put a spin on them, so they read differently than Tolkien's version. Either way, I like these races in my reading material.

2. The Chosen One -- Harry Potter. Percy Jackson. Buffy. Eragon. They're all cut from the same Chosen One cloth. I enjoy reading that trope, and apparently, a lot of other readers do, too. My theory is most readers live normal lives. Who doesn't want to spend some time on an exciting adventure with someone who can save the world? Who wouldn't want to live in this special person's skin for an hour or two?
1. Kick-butt heroines -- I always enjoy a story with a strong heroine who has an opinion, uses her head, and saves herself. After a bit of research, I was surprised to find readers had tired of this trope. I wonder why. It's better than the alternative, heroine-as-doormat. 

What about your favorites? Share one of your favorite tropes in the comments below!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Book Spotlight: Minstrel's Call by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

Today, we're excited to be part of a blog tour celebrating Minstrel's Call, the latest release from Jenelle Leanne Schmidt! Before we spotlight her book, here's a little about the author:

Jenelle Schmidt grew up in the northern-Midwest. She now resides with her husband and their four adorable children in the wilds of Wisconsin. Jenelle fell in love with reading at a young age during family story-times when her father would read out loud to her and her siblings each night before bed. Her imagination was captured by authors such as Madeleine L’Engle, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander. It wasn’t long before she began making up her own stories and sharing them with her family. To this day she enjoys creating exciting adventure tales filled with poignant themes and compelling characters in the fantasy and sci-fi genres.

You can connect with Jenelle on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or Amazon author page.

And here's the back cover blurb for Minstrel's Call:

War threatens. The game board is set. But the Minstrel is missing...

Advancing his growing power, the Dread Prince breaks free of his prison and brings a faction of dragons under his control, stirring unrest and hatred in the newly united kingdoms of Tellurae Aquaous.

When the dragon wards of Kallayohm are targeted in a ruthless attack, the High King travels there to administer justice. But the trial results in a crippling blow that leaves him reeling.

On the heels of defeat, an unexpected message from the erstwhile Minstrel arrives, pleading with his friends for rescue. Together, the High King and his companions must follow the fragile trail, braving peril and darkness that will test the measure of them all...

Sounds awesome, right? Minstrel's Call is book 4 in the Minstrel's Song series. You can find Minstrel's Call on Amazon and Goodreads. As part of her blog tour, Jenelle Leanne Schmidt is doing a giveaway! Here's a note from the author about the prizes and giveaway terms:

I am giving away 1 Dragon Sword, 1 252-piece puzzle of the artwork for Minstrel’s Call, and 1 signed paperback copy of Minstrel’s Call. (Due to standard-postal shipping restrictions of blades outside the continental USA, and the lack of reliable dragons these days, I cannot offer the sword to winners outside the U.S. However, if someone outside the U.S. wins that particular item, I will send them a $35 Amazon Gift Card instead).

Enter below! Congratulations on your new release, Jenelle!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want to check out the rest of the stops on the tour? Here's the full schedule:

MONDAY, February 26 = Welcome post from Jenelle
+ interview with Kyle Shultz
+ guest post for E.E Rawls

TUESDAY, February 27 = guest post for DJ Edwardson
+ book spot from Catherine Chant

WEDNESDAY, February 28 = book spot from CL Wells

THURSDAY, March 1 = book spot from Annie Douglas Lima
+ character interview with Kendra E. Ardnek

FRIDAY, March 2 = book spot from Bryn Shutt
+ newsletter release with Sarah Ashwood

MONDAY, March 5 = book spot from Dawn Roberto
+ guest post from Liv. K Fisher

TUESDAY, March 6 = ARC Review from Deborah O’Carroll

WEDNESDAY, March 7 = book spot from Nancy Moors
+ character interview with Kandi J Wyatt

THURSDAY, March 8 = author interview with Kendra E. Ardnek

FRIDAY, March 9 = book spot with Laurie Lucking
+ Tour End/giveaway winner post with Jenelle

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Your Turn: How Do You Like Your Endings?

Recently, I've come across several articles and discussions on story endings. Topics ranging from the most common ending (happily ever after) to the effect a particular type of ending has on the reading experience. After all, the ending is the last emotional memory we, as readers, have of a book. So even if the story is fantastic, if we don't like the ending it downgrades the entire book.

That puts a lot of weight on the last 5-10% of the story. Everybody seems to love happy endings, so why even consider another type of ending with so much at stake?

  • Reading experience.
  • Challenge the common perspective.
  • Reveal a deeper truth.

If all books had a happy ending, Romeo and Juliet, one of Shakespear's most famous tragedies, would be a romance story like any other and the powerful insight revealed at the end of The Fault in Our Stars would have been overshadowed by joy.

Of course, there are also stories like Poe's The Black Cat where a happy ending by definition would mean the main character achieved their goal and thus killed their cat.

The best ending truly depends upon the story itself. 

Which endings do you prefer? What reading experience do you look for in a book without a happily ever after?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Balancing Baskets (Laurie)

It may not be obvious from the title, but my post today was inspired by the idea to "not put all your eggs in one basket." A little over a year ago, I signed my first publishing contract. As I navigated the new waters of publication, I also made efforts to increase my social media presence as an author, plus I was busy working on what I planned to be book 2 in my Tales of the Mystics series. Soon I tacked on a short story, then another short story, then a novella. And more marketing.

For a while, it was great. I felt so productive, and I had clearly found my "thing." I was juggling being an author and a stay-at-home mom, so how could I possibly have time for anything else? But eventually that mentality started to have a negative effect. Every spare moment that wasn't devoted to my family needed to go to something writing-related. If it didn't, I was wasting precious time. I placed huge importance on every marketing effort, and I got frustrated that even with dedicating as much time as I could to authorly activities, many others seemed to be doing so much more.

Does this sound unhealthy to you? It took a while, but finally I noticed how unbalanced my life had become. Sure, I was getting a lot done, but I wasn't getting enough sleep, I was feeling stressed and anxious a lot of the time, and I was having trouble enjoying any time spent relaxing, even when I was with my husband and sons.

So at the craziest possible time, in the midst of gearing up for my debut novel to release, I took a step back. I convinced myself that trimming down to two weekly posts on my author Facebook page would be sufficient. I allowed myself to take a break from writing new material and participating in my critique group when I had a long list of tasks to accomplish related to my blog tour and other marketing efforts. I refrained from signing up for every guest blogging opportunity I saw. I even joined a choir at my church.

And I'm so much happier for it! Some people can live and breathe writing, or whatever their chosen occupation happens to be, and there's nothing wrong with that. But I can't, and I need to accept that about myself. I hope writing and related author activities will be an important part of my life for many, many years to come, but it's not MY LIFE. Finding a better balance has helped me separate myself from my work a bit, which has resulted in less stress, more quality time with my family, and less concern about things like social media reach and negative reviews. I still stay up way too late many nights, and I still worry sometimes that I'm not doing enough, either in my writing life or everything outside it, but it's progress :)

How about you? Have you struggled to find balance in some aspect of your life? Do you have any tips for those of us who want to "do it all!" without being stressed?

Thanks for reading!