Book Review: Atonement in Bloom

I’ve been aboard Teagan’s tour bus for a few days and just hopped off for some biscuits and gravy in Atonement, Tennessee. While I’m at it, I’ll attempt a little magic for Teagan and share my review of Atonement in Bloom.

But, oh, not so fast. First I had to delve into Teagan’s amazing technicolor pantser brain and find out how she does it! Here is my question:

I know that you’re a pantser, Teagan, and I assure you that this is foreign territory for us dedicated outliners. Your stories are full of magic – people, objects, places, lore – and they all converge on the small town of Atonement in a zany adventure with eight plot threads whirling around at once. How do you keep this literary cyclone straight and make sure that it arrives at “the end” in one piece? I’d love to learn about the method to your madness. How you keep your stories straight?

Here’s her answer:

Teagan’s Tips for Pantsers

Diana, thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting me visit Myths of the Mirror. I love your blog name. I can’t help being reminded of the wickedly mischievous mirror in my Atonement stories.

Horsefeathers! Did I really have eight plot threads? I suppose that statement alone is a good way to illustrate the differences between pantsers and plotters. (A pantser is someone who “flies by the seat of their pants,” writing in a completely unplanned way.)

If I had my druthers, I would have a rather loose plan and a vague outline — I’d be a combination pantser and plotter. However, my job keeps me in a stress overload. When I’m stressed, I can’t cope with the planning of writing. The serials on my blog are full-on pantser, 100% spontaneous and unplanned.

atonement notebook

While Atonement, Tennessee actually was planned (those were better days!), the sequel, Atonement in Bloom… not so much. Plus, because of work, I had to start and stop repeatedly over several years. That would make it even harder for me to plan.

How to keep it straight? I create a character matrix before I start writing. Even though I’m not planning, the storytelling can’t start until I have a character. So I note some details about that character. Then as other characters, artifacts, and places come into the story, I add them to the matrix. Sometimes I give the reader a clue — yet I don’t know where it’s going. Things like that get a note in the matrix too.

I do have a couple of tricks

The matrix is in Excel. I have a lot of columns and I try to fill in the same details for every character – whether or not I actually use the detail in the story.

Electronic notes

MS Word – Styles. As I write the story, I make notes in the manuscript regarding where in the story certain things happen. I use the Styles feature in word combined with enabling the “navigation pane.” When I apply a heading style to the note, it lets me see it, at a glance, on the left side of the screen. So it’s very easy for me to keep track of where or when something happened.

Atonement 2 nav pane

Diana, I’m absolutely thrilled that you enjoyed Atonement in Bloom. Thank you again for letting me visit. Hugs!

Diana’s note here: As an outliner, I also keep a number of Excel grids, but I’ve never considered using Word’s Styles to make notes! Great tip for all writers. Thanks, Teagan!

And now my review:

Atonement in Bloom begins at the point where Atonement, Tennessee (book one) ended. Although the events that took place in book 1 were erased from the memories of most of Atonement’s citizens, Ralda and her Goth friend, Bethany, remember very clearly.

Not only has little returned to normal, but the presence of magic in the small town is much deeper and broader than first imagined. As it turns out, more people know about the local magic than just Ralda and Bethany, and magical characters are constantly popping in to sway events. There is a wide variety of objects with a range of supernatural powers, most which came from Sunhold, Ralda’s old house by the cemetery.

Geneviene is at it again with a whimsical, magic-filled story that is full of surprises. The gal pals take a back seat this time, except for Bethany, as the plot thickens and runs off the rails – in a good way! The action starts immediately, and the pace speeds along with multiple events and mysteries piling one atop another. One of my favorite scenes was when a love spell goes haywire and the characters are all attracted to the wrong people.

Besides the author’s wild imagination, I was once again enamored with a host of delightful characters including glowing pigs that talk, a woman who’s a living Meadow and leaves flowers growing in her wake, and a slithering dragon that is mistaken for a bear. Robin, the Shakespeare-quoting sheriff has a bigger role. And, of course, Ralda’s cat, Lilith, makes a reappearance as the only other POV character besides her owner.

In keeping with the tone of the first book, this is a light and fanciful read with plenty to keep a reader entertained. Appropriate for all ages and perfect for anyone who loves playful magic.

Ready for a magical read?

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An unexpected beta-read result, and a review

Nick Rowe, aka Babbitman (a talented writer who lives in England), beta-read Catling’s Bane for me while it was in the works. It’s the first book in a fantasy/sci-fi series that takes place on another planet. One of my characters, Tiler, is a heart-of-gold bad guy who has a flair for creative swearing.  I made up “fictional” swear words not only as a way to define his character, but also to distinguish this fantasy planet from Earth.

Tiler’s made-up curse words were inspired by the Foul O’Matic. If you aren’t easily offended, give it a try. It’s a hoot.

Well, I thought I had created swear words and phrases that were on the mild side. Then Nick read the manuscript for me, and he nearly spat out his coffee/tea/pint (I forget which). Apparently, some of Tiler’s improvised curses were rather over-the-top in the UK. For a week or so, we emailed back and forth, discussing creative foul language and making up alternatives. He even made a chart! It was pretty hysterical and a totally unexpected result of a beta-read.

Nick was kind enough to read the whole Rose Shield Series and recently reviewed all 4 books on his site (see below). While over there, take a peek at his serial about a couple of shipwrecked sailors who accidentally dine on the Greek gods, starting with Zeus when he appears as a swan. It’s pretty funny. 🙂

Nick’s review of the Rose Shield Series: 

I’ve been meaning to write a comprehensive review of the Rose Shield tetralogy (one more than a trilogy, in case you were wondering) for ages but things kept getting in the way, not least the amount of time it took to read them in the first place; this is a substantial story (over 1200 pages in total) but I promise you that there’s no padding.

I was tempted to frame it in the context of one young girl’s rise from poverty and disfigurement to power and Influence, but it’s much more than that. It’s set in a world on a knife-edge that’s about to undergo a series of changes both internally and externally with questions of succession, invasion, occupation, injustice, and revolution. And it’s into this maelstrom of competing interests that Catling is thrown…

(Continue Reading: Book Review: The Rose Shield Series)

First Review: Soul Swallowers

I’m on the mend after sleeping off a four-day fever. I apologize for neglecting everyone’s blogs and will start catching up today. I think the old bod was telling me that I’d spent too many days happy-dancing the release of Soul Swallowers.

For me, the first review always feels monumental, and it’s a thrill and relief when it validates the months of hard work. I’m delighted to share Soul Swallower’s first review, written by talented fantasy author Cathleen Townsend. (And I promise that I’m limiting my happy-dancing to my imagination.)

Cathleen’s review:

Have you heard? D. Wallace Peach has released a new fantasy series, and news like that is worth our attention.

Soul Swallowers is D. Wallace Peach’s best book to date, and that’s saying something. From her prior books I’ve come to expect expert plotting, three-dimensional characters, and truly magnificent world building.

In this book, Ms. Peach has taken a single world-building premise—that people can swallow other people’s souls after they die—and worked it into a fantastic, detailed secondary world. Here, the powerful squabble for ever more influence while the wretches and unlucky are sold into slavery. The main character, Raze, has turned his back on a life of wealth and privilege, and joins another man in building up a small farm, a freehold, assisted by former slaves who soon become an extended family.

But the Byzantine politics of Raze’s former circle soon entangle him again, and he’s forced to re-enter his old world to try to save the members of his new family…

(To read the last bit of the review, visit Cathleen’s blog, and while you’re there, you might check out her latest novella: The Golden Key)

Happy Reading whatever book you happen to be holding!

Colleen’s 2018 #Book #Reviews – “Myths of the Mirror, Dragon Soul Book 1” by D. Wallace Peach

Colleen Chesebro (aka the Fairy Whisperer) has been making quick work of a few of my books and has penned some wonderfully heartfelt reviews. Myths of the Mirror was my first born, and I couldn’t be more delighted that she found my baby beautiful. Ha ha. Here’s her review. ❤

Colleen Chesebro ~ The Faery Whisperer

book reviewsTitle: Myths of the Mirror, Dragon Soul Quartet #1

Amazon Author Page: D. Wallace Peach

Publication Date: 2nd edition, August 19, 2016

Formats: Paperback & Kindle

Genres: Science Fiction & Fantasy, New Adult & College, Coming of Age, Fantasy

Goodreads

IN THE AUTHOR’S WORDS:

“In the distant mountains of the Mirror, exiled skyriders fly dragons in the old Way, merged in flesh, blood, and bone. Twenty years past, they fought for the freedom of the valley’s dragons … and lost.

Imprisoned in the stone lair, the captive dragons beat their webbed wings and thrash serpentine tails. They tear their flesh and batter their bodies against the black bars of their cells, iron grating against iron. The once peaceful creatures howl, tormented by spine and spur, their fury matched only by their despair.

Treasa, the daughter of exiles, seeks the secrets of a hidden past and a father she never…

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Writing Teenage Boys: Guest Post with Teri Polen

I’m not much of a horror reader since Dean Koontz scared the bejeezus out of me as a teenager. I’m also not a huge fan of teenagers. The real ones are tolerable, but the ones in books sometimes drive me crazy. They’re angsty,  dramatic, and they make dumb decisions. They remind me of me at that age.

So… when I picked up Teri Polen’s YA horror novel, Sarah, I was worried.

Well, silly me for fretting. The book was awesome. I’ll give you my review below, but first, I had to quiz Teri. One of the best things about the book was the way she dove into the experience of Cain, a 17-yr-old teenage boy. It felt totally genuine to me, and I happen to know Teri isn’t a 17-yr-old teenage boy. How did she do that with such authenticity? How did she prepare? Here’s her answer:

***

You’re not the first person to ask how I channeled the voices of 17-year-old boys, Diana. A good friend is convinced I was a teenage boy in a previous life. I have two sons—I honestly don’t know what I would have done with girls—and we’ve always had a steady stream of their friends hanging out at our house.

I spent countless hours driving them to sports and band practices, sleepovers, movies, dances…you get the picture. They trash talked each other while playing video games, compared puzzling encounters with the female species, and debated superhero movies. I’ve witnessed their heartache after breakups, their bets on when a friend would get dumped by a new girlfriend—and if it would be by text or in person, and their vehement defense of each other when challenged.

All the while, I listened. And it’s mostly been quite entertaining and enlightening. When the characters in my head demanded their story be told, it was natural they’d be teenage boys, because that’s what I know.

Cain’s pigsty of a bedroom is a near perfect picture of my oldest son’s room—or as my younger son calls it, ‘The Black Hole’. Things have literally disappeared in there, and the smells emanating from that room have been horrific at times. If a zombie apocalypse happened today, we could live on the half-empty Gatorade and water bottles, snack bags, and protein bars for quite a while.

My sons and their friends probably never dreamed some of their comments would come back to ‘haunt’ them in a YA horror novel. You never know who’s listening.

***

My Review: 

Sarah is categorized as YA horror and the book fits the genre perfectly. Sarah is a teenage ghost seeking revenge for her murder. She returns to the scene of the crime, now the home of Cain Shannon, a 17-year-old horror fan. At first, she appears shy and vulnerable, and Cain agrees to help her, but she’s not as helpless as he believes. With each bloody act of revenge, she grows in power, and her tactics increase in brutality. Before long, Cain is in the battle of his life against a ghost intent on death.

This book has some really creepy, icky, suspenseful, and scary things going on, but the scare-factor and gore feel appropriate for YA readers (as well as adults). The story grabbed my attention from the first page, and the tension and suspense escalate at a steady pace without much of a break right up to the climatic end. Even the last few paragraphs of the epilog are worthy of a few terrifying chills.

Though the horror aspects of the book were engaging, what impressed me the most was Polen’s outstanding characters. All of them felt well-rounded to me with fully developed personalities, but I was totally taken with the main character Cain and his friend Finn. They felt authentic to me in their thoughts, emotions, dialog, banter, friendship, and relationships with others. I’m in awe of the author’s ability to capture the essence of teenage boys with such expertise. I found the pair of them refreshing and likable, and therefore enjoyed the non-horror moments of the book as much as the horror, if not more so.

Another thing that impressed me was the believability of the characters’ choices. I often find that characters in horror (movies) make stupid choices because the plot would keel over and die if they acted sensibly. Polen was meticulous in building a backstory that supported Cain’s decisions, particularly his choice not to involve his mother and to stay in the house despite the presence of a murderous ghost. This careful attention to character and plot kept me enmeshed in the story from chapter one right through to the end.

An excellent book for both YA and adult readers of horror and suspense.

***

Eh, what’s one more book in your TBR pile? Here’s a link: Sarah

Connect with Teri on her book review blog: Books and Such

A Human Story: Guest Post with Andrea Flory

After reading Andrea Flory’s book Miira (Innerscape: book 1) , I asked her if she’d be interested in a guest post. I expected a cerebral exposition of the fascinating science of virtual reality. What I got was so much more, a sharing of the true beauty of her work, a human story. My review is below, but before heading there, here’s Andrea:

***

Andrea Flory

Some people know they want to write from a very young age. It’s all they dream about.

That was never me. I did spend a lot of my childhood daydreaming, but those were private adventures, and I never saw them as potential ‘books’. Books were magical portals created by geniuses with towering imaginations.

How could I ever aspire to write stories?

It was true that I liked words and was good with them, but I was too pragmatic, and much too logical to ever emulate gods like Dostoyevsky and Dumas, LeGuin and Herbert. No, daydreams were for that magical time between waking and sleeping. They were most definitely not suitable for the real world.

And besides, I was busy. I rode motorbikes and  went up in gliders, travelled overseas, learned more languages, taught high school French, fell in love with computers, got married, had a child. You know…life.

But neglected passions don’t always wither away, and one day while I was doing tech support, I realised that many of my clients were asking the exact same questions, over and over again.

Ah hah, thought I. I liked writing, and I’d been a teacher, why not combine the two and type up the tech support instead of re-inventing the wheel each time? And that was the start of my technical writing career, but it would still be another ten years before I was brave enough to give fiction a try.

I guess that lack of courage is something I share with Miira, the protagonist in my latest science fiction story. She’s not a coward, exactly, but she’s not brave either, and it’s not until she’s bed-ridden and almost completely helpless that she finally decides to take the plunge and enter the digital world of Innerscape.

At first, Miira only sees Innerscape as a pain free way to die. Once inside, however, she discovers that her healthy young body and the virtual world it inhabits really are indistinguishable from the real thing. But if she has been given this second chance at life, what on earth is she to do with it?

I think this is a question we all have to answer at some point in our lives. For me, the moment came after a brush with cancer some years ago. Until then, I’d felt no sense of urgency; I was learning to write the kind of fiction I loved to read. What was the rush? Besides, I still wasn’t sure my writing would ever be good enough…

After the cancer scare I realised that writing wasn’t a competition. I might never be as good as my heroes, but my best was good enough. For me. The only question that still remained was whether I had the courage to share my best with others.

In 2013 I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and jumped. Four years later, so did Miira Tahn.

My Review

What a beautifully written book. Innerscape is a science fiction story about a middle-aged woman Miira whose disease-ravaged body is dying. She decides to enter Innercape where her body will be pared down to her essential components and preserved while she lives out her life in a virtual world as a younger, healthy version of herself.

The first book in the series covers two aspects of her immersion in Innerscape – first, the preparation of her new body and the tests to prepare for her transition, and second, the transition into the VR world and her orientation. As a series, the story continues beyond the initial book, and Flory hooks the reader with the introduction of several challenging characters, corporate compromises, questionable ethics, and love.

The science is detailed and utterly entrancing, as well as completely understandable to the layperson. The premise and technology also seem entirely plausible, if not now, then in the not-so-distant future. Flory’s writing is meticulous and detailed, and the world she’s created held my fascination throughout.

And all that wasn’t even the best part! Set against the scientific backdrop, is an engrossing human story. Miira is reserved, sensitive, inquisitive, and vulnerable, a beautifully rendered human being undergoing a process that requires complete trust and a step into the unknown. The story is told primarily in her point of view and the immersion in her experience is complete. The Innerscape staff that supports her are multidimensional and believably flawed characters.

The pace is steady and yet I flew through the book because I could NOT put it down. Exquisite writing, gorgeous descriptions, high tech science, and human pathos that grab the reader. I’m a fan and gladly recommend this book to readers of science fiction and anyone who enjoys an unusual human story.

***

If we’ve enticed you to enter the fascinating world of Innerscape and meet Miira, here’s the global link to her story: Miira, Innerscape: book 1

Writing from the Oral Tradition: Guest Post with Clayton Callahan

There’s something special about seeing another writer hit his stride with a really great book. A couple weeks ago I finished The Spirit of Cahir Mullach by Clayton Callahan.  I loved the “voice” of this book and though I rarely (never) read books aloud, I couldn’t resist the occasional urge to don my improbable Irish accent and enjoy the sound of this tale.

Why did I “hear” this tale in my head…?

Clayton is a natural storyteller from the oral tradition. I’ll let him tell you about the inspiration for his book:

I have always had a deep fascination with history, culture, and people in general. It was that interest that led me to join a peculiar organization called the Society for Creative Anachronism when I was but a lad of seventeen. While other high school guys were perfecting their mullet (it was the 80’s), I was finishing work on my leather and chainmail armor for the upcoming tournament.

The SCA was a medieval extravaganza, complete with dancing, sword fighting, food, brews, music, and storytelling. Truth be told…I wasn’t too good at the dancing or the sword fighting. However, at storytelling, I can boast some talent. I’d pour through the public library for folk tales, mythology, and legends suitable for a fireside performance and worked hard to bring them to life before an audience of inebriated Vikings/college students.

One of the marvelous tales I discovered was The Great Mr. Berry of Cahir Tyrone. The traditional folktale is much the same as the book. However, since it blatantly takes place after the Middle Ages ended, I never was able to use it in the SCA.

Fortunately, a good tale is never forgotten, and now twenty-odd years later, I’ve given it another crack.

The Story:

The story starts in the Irish town of Baile with a fireside recounting of the time Lord Oisin defended the village against Viking raiders who attempted to abscond with his cows. As the legend goes, Oisin’s spirit still dwells within the ruins of his great castle, Cahir Mullach.

It’s now the end of the Revolutionary War in America, and thousands of redcoats return to Ireland in defeat, Michael Snodgrass among them. He marches across Ireland, a trek that takes him through Baile, where Mr. Terry plans to sell his cows, evict his tenants, and raise sheep.

Mr. Terry’s also the billetmaster, and he sends poor Michael to be quartered in the ruins of Cahir Mullach. The king’s law is clear that any subject must make welcome a soldier who holds an official billet in hand… and that includes a subject now eight hundred years dead.

My Review:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for a whole bunch of reasons. Despite being a work of fiction, it’s well-researched and sprinkled with details that bring authenticity to both of the book’s settings – America at the end of the Revolutionary War and the rural Irish village of Baile.

The point of view is shared by a number of wonderfully rounded characters with distinct voices and personalities. Relationships feel genuine and are recognizable to anyone living in a small community where differences are dealt with peaceably and according to custom. The story has a load of warm humor amongst some darker moments. Beyond the tragedy of war, there’s minimal violence, just ordinary villagers going about their day and experiencing extraordinary events.

The main character Michael Snodgrass carries most of the story. It was interesting reading about the Revolutionary War from the point of view of an Irish redcoat who had no stake in the conflict other than to stay alive. Michael has a true heart and guileless nature that’s endearing.

What I loved best about the story, and where Callahan truly shines, is in the authentic voices of the narration and characters. I read many parts of this story aloud just to bask in the lilt of the language.

The souls of his shoes were so worn that every chunk of gravel in the road seemed to take time out of its busy day to introduce itself personally to the feet of one Corporal Snodgrass.

Granny Collins had been laying out gifts of buttered leeks, biscuits, and milk by a hole in the old castle wall for the “good folk” of the hill. And kind as the father was, she’d no intention of abusing his good graces with her less than Catholic ways. But Christian or no, it was always best to be on the good side of fairies, lest children start coming up missing in the town.

The first chapter of the book is a long one and recounts the tale of Cahir Mullach in a more stylized voice. After that, the book transitions to the “modern” 18th century and the pace picks up. The book suffered from poor editing, but that appears to have been corrected by the author.

A delightful read that I recommend to all ages, and particularly to those who love myths, legends, and tales full of personality.

***

A final note: Clayton has written across several genres. Though he writes primarily space opera, he also has a historical spy novel and non-fiction book: Armed Professions: A Writer’s Guide that I’ve referred to many times.