Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Final Empire First Impressions

Recently I've been dipping into the Brandon Sanderson book The Final Empire after having it recommended to me, and so far the first hundred pages have been perplexing. It's not a boring book. It's not dull or stupid or atrociously written (though characters do tend to roll their eyes and sigh and smile a little too frequently), but it gets a lot of things wrong.

By all accounts the story picks up as the book goes on, but I still have trouble understanding the success of this series after having read enough to get a good first impression. Granted, I'm not a big fantasy reader, but I'll happily read any genre if it's engaging and well written. On my shelf of favourite books I have everything from romance to horror to sci-fi to Oscar Wilde to Watership Down.

So what's the problem with this book? Well, so far there have been lengthy expository information dumps, one-dimensional characters, and extended action sequences devoid of any purpose or tension. Those aren't what broke it for me though — it was the point where our dashing hero turned into a psychopath.

Obviously this wasn't the intention of the author, and I'd expect plenty of readers were fine with overlooking this point as well, but to me this one early chapter completely removed any sympathy I had for the male lead, and any interest in where his story might go. To set the scene: Kelsier, the suave, intelligent, dashing master of magic from the criminal underworld of Luthadel, is breaking into a noble's mansion in order to get his hands on something he needs. He can control metal with his mind, a bit like a wizard-Magneto, soar silently through the air, manipulate the emotions of others, and presumably do a heck of a lot more things we haven't heard about yet. So how does he go about breaking into this mansion with his repertoire of talents? By brutally murdering the first guard he sees. Then he murders more. And he makes sure they scream so that more people can arrive for him to murder.

Wow. Okay. Already I was starting to question the moral integrity of our hero, but then he makes things even worse by acknowledging his cold-blooded detachment with the caveat: "They served the nobility, therefore they are bad."
Instantly all of my engagement with this story is gone. Either this world is so two-dimensional that anyone with money is unquestionably evil, or Kelsier is a sociopath who thinks he has the right to judge who lives and who dies based on his infinite knowledge of the world. He doesn't even feel bad about it afterwards.

Now you might be saying to me "but it's just a simple fantasy adventure, there's no need to get all serious about it". I'd be willing to give this book a little slack if it were a Young Adult title, but The Final Empire clearly brands itself as a serious fantasy novel. It even references slavery, rape (followed by murder), prostitution, and the physical abuse of a young girl all within the first two chapters! If you're going to start out your novel with hard-hitting themes like that, don't expect me to get on board with your hero when he starts murdering willy-nilly as though he's in a cheesy James Bond movie gunning down wave after wave of Blofeld's henchmen.

This chapter was a crippling blow to my engagement with the story once the action started. The sad part is, it could've easily been avoided if Kelsier was set up as a dark character from the start, or if the caveat for his murdering had been altered. Perhaps the doohickey he was after in the mansion was so important it was worth killing for? Maybe he grits his teeth and struggles through the unpleasant business, knowing (or even just hoping) that it's all for the greater good? Heck, at the very least put him in a situation where he's given no other choice. Kelsier quips at his attackers like an action hero, and actively seeks out more of them to kill after having infiltrated the mansion undetected. Most of his victims were probably just everyday blue-collar guys who couldn't believe their luck when they got the chance at a cushy job guarding some rich noble's mansion. Not everyone can afford to be a high-minded freedom fighter like you Kelsier, not when they have a family to feed. You jerk.

I don't know if I'll carry on reading The Final Empire. I suppose it could redeem itself if we find out Kelsier is indeed a highly damaged, mentally unstable individual whose past traumas have driven him over the edge, but judging by the simplicity of the characterisation so far I'm not holding my breath.

Maybe I'm being too hard on this book, but I feel tricked when the author feeds me conflicting information about the tone of their story and how I'm supposed to feel about the main characters.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Ready to Confess Published, and The Great Edit-a-Thon of 2013

Part seven of His Darkest Desire is finally out and available to purchase on Amazon and Smashwords! It's crunch time for Nina and Elliot, and things are about to get dramatic!

Losing hope of ever reuniting with Elliot again, Nina finds herself sinking deeper into the sordid world of BDSM. Unable to find fulfilment with her new Master, her desperation leads to yet another humiliating public display - and a turn of events that force her to confront what she is doing. Does she have the strength to make a stand, or is Nina destined to live a life of servitude?

In other publishing news, it's become clear to me that at some point I'm going to have to go back and re-edit... well, everything I've published. Given that I'm not in a position to afford professional editing yet, all of my stories have been self-edited so far. While I'm confident most of my work is at a decently readable standard, I know for a fact there are lots of awkward sentences lying around and inappropriate uses of commas that I should correct. I've already picked up a heck of a lot of tips to improve my prose over the past six months, and I'm certain it shows in the difference between my recent work and those earlier erotic shorts.

So there's a lot of editing to do over the course of the coming year. The other day I calculated that I've already published at least a novel's worth of smut spread out over my various shorts, so going back over all of it is a pretty daunting task. It's probably going to mean taking a couple of weeks off writing to get that much editing done (unless I spread it out, which I might do), and I want to get His Darkest Desire finished before I take any more significant breaks. My current estimate is that it'll be concluded in two more parts, which'll be coming out roughly once a fortnight. So maybe, just maybe, I might get to work on that editing around a month from now.

Oh wait, I'll have another essay to do then.
Maybe later.

Next up on the writing schedule: Part two of Wild Instincts!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Constructing a Series

First off, I've finished this month's essay and kicked my winter blues! Yay!
Sorry for the lack of updates (both to this blog and my erotica catalogue), but it's been a fortnight of distractions. The good news is the new title should be out by the weekend, and I'll be free for another few weeks of uninterrupted writing!
Coming down the pipeline will be more Wild Instincts, and the rapidly approaching conclusion to His Darkest Desire.

So, as I approach the home stretch of my first eRom series, I thought it'd be good to look back and reflect on how writing it has gone so far. While it's certainly no novel, His Darkest Desire is without a doubt the longest single story I've ever written, and it's been an interesting process. As with everything these past few months, I feel like I've learned a lot in a very short time.
First and foremost, I think the biggest weakness of this series was the way it started off. I'm often my own harshest critic, but, despite finding some modest success, I feel like Tempted to Submit wasn't an amazing way to begin the story. It wasn't an inspired idea. Being totally honest, what I did at first was to read through some successful eRoms in a similar niche (billionaire BDSM), and try to emulate them. I feel like the story has gone in it's own direction since then, but that first instalment honestly didn't have much of a creative spark behind it at all.
What I've learned from this is: Start strong! With the first chapter being a free hook to try and draw readers in, ideally it should be one of the most engaging parts of the series. Wild Instincts was an idea for a compelling story that sprang into my head overnight, and I think that series has started out way, way stronger than His Darkest Desire did. I'm actually pretty proud of my first foray into werewolf erotica, and I can't wait to continue with it.

Another big concern that's started to rear its head lately is the issue of keeping all the parts of a series consistent with one another. When you're publishing a serialised story, you can't go back and correct things or add in extra paragraphs here or there when an awesome new idea occurs to you months after publishing. Well, you *can*, but it's not going to retroactively apply to everyone that's already bought it. The other day when writing the upcoming chapter Ready to Confess I started to think to myself: Have I already talked about this before? Do the readers know this detail about X? Is this important moment cheapened because I already hinted at it three chapters ago?
Obviously I'm going to have to go back and check, but if a problem arises the only way to fix it will be to rewrite the unpublished part.

So how do you solve this? Well the obvious answer is to plan everything in advance, but that's not my style of writing. I'm not a pantser, but I like to leave the details and the specifics up in the air. I know that X will happen in chapter Y, and roughly what order the scenes will come in and what they'll entail, but even if I write up a rigorous plan there's no doubt I'll end up straying from it when I get to the actual writing.
The other solution is to write the entire series in advance before publishing, so you can go back and tweak without having to worry about confusing readers. I guess that'd require a lot of self-discipline though.

Maybe one day in the future I'll take a few months off to write an entire erotica serial and proof the heck out of it. Until then, however, fingers crossed I don't mess anything up!

I'm pretty sure I won't.
Nothing major.


Thursday, 17 January 2013

Winter is Dumb

Go away winter. I've had enough of you already.

So does anyone else get super-noticeable seasonally affective disorder once winter really starts to kick in? This past week the temperature's absolutely plummeted, it's gloomy and grey, and I find myself needing to wrap up in a bathrobe to get to sleep. It's a massive pain in the butt, because my body and brain start to completely shut down once things get this wintery. Getting up in the mornings is a massive chore, mustering the enthusiasm to get anything done takes twice as long as usual, and my productivity goes out the window. I feel like a bear that just wants to curl up and hibernate in a cave till the sun comes out again.

Baah, humbug. I can't even think of an interesting topic to blog about, so I've had to resort to complaining about not having an interesting topic to blog about. To make matters worse I not only want to stay on schedule with my weekly publishing, but I also have an essay due next Thursday as well. Everything about this weather brings to mind long gloomy walks to school on winter mornings, trudging through the cold and the damp to a classroom where you just knew you weren't going to be able to focus on anything for the rest of the day. It reminds me what a depressingly grey place England can be half the time.

I guess I shouldn't really be complaining though. I mean it's not like I have a job to get fired from because I'm taking time off to hibernate. And hey, there's always the thought that tomorrow'll be brighter, right? Right?

Brr, I'm going to go point a warm hairdryer at my face. More erotica by next week, hopefully!

Friday, 11 January 2013

Wild Instincts Published!

It seems like I've been writing nothing but eRom recently, so here's a series that's been cooking for a while! Wild Instincts is the beginning of a sexy paranormal romance all about werewolves, and I had an absolute blast writing it. The first part is available now on Amazon and Smashwords!

Every werewolf has an instinct. Lyssa's is to submit.
While the human part of Lyssa rebels against the iron fist of her domineering alpha, the wolf in her is unable to resist his every advance. Caught between the primal draw of her instincts and her desire for independence she finds comfort in the company of Hawthorne, another wolf living on the outskirts of the pack hierarchy. But as Lyssa's attraction to Hawthorne grows, she begins to realise that the male wolf's instinct may prove to be far more dangerous than her own.
The alpha is watching them, and Lyssa must learn to control her animal nature, or be consumed by it.

I think that's the longest blurb I've written to date. Anyway! The next couple of weeks will be essay-heavy, but that hasn't held up my publishing schedule too much in the past, and I'm going to try my best to stay on target! The next story I put out should be part seven of His Darkest Desire, which I'm hoping to wrap up within two or three more instalments. Wild Instincts will run for several chapters as well, although I expect it shouldn't take more than five. Then again, I thought my other eRom wouldn't last much longer than that, so who knows how it'll turn out!

Right now I'm not a hundred percent sure when I'm going to squeeze more one-off shorts into my writing schedule, but I think it's high time I started writing more stories with "daddy" in the title. Maybe in a few weeks time we'll get back to straight up smut, but for now it's erotic romance all the way!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Hunger Games Closure

So I just finished reading the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy, and I need closure. When you feel the need to write a blog post for something like that, it's safe to say the book could've done a better job at wrapping things up. Spoiler tags alert: if you haven't read Mockingjay this post might be a little revealing, but I'll focus on my issues with the direction of the writing rather than plot specifics.

Phew, so where to begin. Having taken a peek online to validate my misgivings, it seems like there's more than a little dissent over the ending of Suzanne Collins's bestselling trilogy. There seem to be two main sides to the argument: Firstly the negative one, which argues that the book was overly bleak and unsatisfying. Secondly the positive one, which maintains that the bleak and unsatisfying conclusion was the entire point of the novel.
Now, I kind of agree with both those arguments. Yes, the ending was unsatisfying. Yes, it did hammer home a message and make you understand how a survivor of horrible traumas might feel.

Here's my issue: You don't start a series as an action-adventure teen love triangle romp with a dark side, and then end it as a depressing statement on trauma and the human psyche. This strikes me as the idea of a Young Adult series "growing up with its readers" taken to the extreme. I went into Mockingjay expecting a continuation and conclusion to the wonderfully gripping series I'd gotten invested in over the first two books. What I got was a story that punched me in the face with its message.

This isn't to say that the message in Mockingjay isn't a stirring one. I actually think in terms of depressing realism it did a better job of reaching my feeling-places than most books I've read (despite being a little heavy on the melodrama), but it was very jarring and unwelcome for someone who expected more of what they'd read in the first two books.

It's a compounding issue on top of a lot of other flaws with this novel though. The winning Hunger Games formula is notably absent, and the attempts to rekindle it feel very contrived. I have no issue with re-using the same successful ideas in a story (Harry Potter and the previous Hunger Games books did it wonderfully), or alternately going in a completely different direction to try something new with the same characters and setting, but Mockingjay painfully half-and-halfs it. There's just enough of a difference to make it feel like a new kind of story, but there are enough throwbacks to keep you from entirely escaping the mindset of the previous two novels.

I could go on about lots of things - the complexity of the story interacting badly with the limited viewpoint of the protagonist, the strange and forced direction of the characterisation, the wonky pacing, the lack of focus... (dot dot dot)
I don't want to rant too much though, I just needed some closure. I feel like too many books have been doing this to me recently, where they drag me off to this jarring emotional place and then don't bother to set me down on my feet again at the end.
I don't mind dark and depressing books that are intended to make a point. I mind when fun, enjoyable stories decide to make a point at the expense of everything they used to hook you in in the first place.

Blargh, there we go. I've splurged a bunch of emotions all over my blog in the early hours of the morning. I'm going to go and watch mind-numbing youtube videos now to remind me that stories are still allowed to be fun sometimes.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Made to Suffer Published!

A bit late with this update, but part six of His Darkest Desire is published and available on Amazon and Smashwords! Things are getting grim for poor Nina this time as her adventures into BDSM and brooding millionaires continue.

Cracks are appearing in Nina's relationship with Elliot. With the trust between them compromised, how long can she hope to cling to the dominant millionaire when both of their desires now lie in question?
Longing to fill the void, Nina finds herself sinking into a dark and humiliating place, where her desire to be dominated leads her to the feet of new master.

Aside from that announcement, Tempted to Submit is still dancing around the top 100, it even managed to nab the #2 spot for a while with help from Summer Daniels and her fantastic What to read after Fifty Shades of Grey blog! Okay, I'll stop gushing about my free erotica rankings now. Probably. I mean, it's not as if I'm going to hit the #1 spot any time soon, is it?
Is it? O_O

Well, I think that's about all! I got around to seeing The Hobbit at last, and while it wasn't particularly erotic it was still very enjoyable. I feel like I got exactly what I wanted out of a Hobbit movie. 48 FPS isn't the future of cinema though. And 3D still hurts my eyes.

Oh! And at the risk of review begging, I got a rather unhelpful one-star on Forced to Obey the other day. It wasn't horrible and scathing, but I don't imagine a single one-star review on the first paid title of the series is exactly helping sales much. So if there's anyone out there who bought the title and feels like they enjoyed it enough to bump up the rating a little, it'd make me a very happy author. :)

More proper blog posts soon!