Thanksgiving already?!

Happy Thanksgiving to all the American readers out there. I can hardly believe it’s that time…partly because I was convinced the holiday after Halloween was Christmas for a minute there.

It’s been a year. My thoughts will be with those of you who will be missing somebody, or just celebrating alone.

We’ll be having a quiet holiday, enjoying the dog show and trying to get our dog interested in the roast turkey squeaky toy we gave her last year. This is my second Thanksgiving with the delightful pupper, my first dog in almost 20 years! (Which, if you’re wondering, is waaaayyy too long!)

On to the news!

Comics – You’ll find a brand new edition of Social Isolation right here. I’d love to put more content out in this category, but with everybody home the family tablet is in VERY high demand!

Blog – For all my fellow writers out there, my 3-part series, Use Contrast to Create Depth in Your Story, concluded last week. I hope to have more posts like it soon, but right now I have a few reviews to catch up on!


What I’m reading – An advanced reader copy (in exchange for an honest review…you know the deal!) of Helena Rookwood’s fabulous The Thief and the Throne. A while back, I reviewed the first book in the Carnival of Fae series, The Prince and the Poisoner, and I fully expect I’ll have the same level of gushing admiration for this one. Loving it so far.

I’ve read so many books in this pandemic…way more than I ever thought I would. And that’s nearly all thanks to ebook loans from my county library. I made this little graphic to celebrate that and all the things that make such an odd and frequently awful time better. I find that on a sad day, a little WeRateDogs can still make me smile.

What I read last – Mexican Gothicby Silvia Moreno-Garcia. If you haven’t read this one yet, do NOT let anyone spoil the plot twist for you!

Till next time!


Contrast, Part III: Lessons from Bestselling Books

Welcome back to the last of this three-part blog series on how contrast makes for a great read. In this post, I’ll also touch on how classic techniques from another genre made a story more exciting.

Use Contrast Part III

III. The contrast of a known commodity and a total mystery

Want to keep the pages turning? Take a look at what Bethany C. Morrow did with her two teen narrators in A Song Below Water(You can also find my review here.)

Being a siren is dangerous—hated, too. Tavia is a black teenage girl dealing with how the world perceives and treats her. She’s also a closeted siren in fear of being ripped from the too-safe world her father created. To her father, the worst thing that could happen is if everyone found out who Tavia really is.

And then there is A Song Below Water‘s other narrator, Effie. Effie swims like a dolphin, suffers from itchy, dry skin that no lotion in the world can correct, and, for a few days every year, dons a mermaid tail. But that last part’s make-believe for a Renaissance fair. The rest of the year she’s (cheesy pun warning) a fish out of water.

Shy and in pain from the loss of her mother, Effie has never known her father. It’s clear that something is going on with her, but she has no idea what. The survivor of a frightening event, the strange and scary just keeps following her. Tavia knows exactly what can go wrong. Effie can’t even guess.

That undercurrent of fear and mystery helps keep A Song Below Water moving at a brisk pace. It borrows a few tricks from the mystery and horror genres to do so.

With Tavia, we immediately know she is under threat. Tav knows what could happen, and she has to stay one step ahead to stay safe. Will she ever stop running and confront what stalks her? With Effie, on the other hand, we see the wary detective on a case too close to home, full of the drive to know and the fear of what she’ll find. The few clues she has make no sense, and those who could help her aren’t talking.

Instant suspense. That tension is key to keeping the reader engaged.

The Lesson: The relationship between these two found-family sisters is beautiful. But the contrast between them—their opposing but equally anxious what-ifs as they question themselves and their world—keeps the reader moving in dogged pursuit of the outcome. A Song Below Water showed me a new rule for writing:

For every character certain of their abilities and who they are, there should be another who hasn’t got a clue.

That’s all! Thanks so much for joining me. I hope these posts will help you to take another look at your own favorite books. Write on!

Contrast, Part II: Lessons from Bestselling Books

Welcome to part 2 of 3 of this blog post series. Today I’m looking at the mind-bending, plot-twisting effect that differing beliefs about a beloved character can add to a story.

Use Contrast Part II

II. The contrast of how a character is perceived/how he perceives himself

This form of contrast can add depth to both plot and individual characters. The City of Brass is a masterclass in it.

Protagonist Ali is a morally upright (some would say uptight) djinn in S.A. Chakraborty‘s first-in-series novel. He’s wholesome and good amidst political schemers and tales of bloody sieges. He’s not without a temper and he can be subversive—if it’s for what’s right. But for a prince, he’s not great at politicking and pretenses. In fact, he’s easily fooled. Even Nahri, the story’s fellow narrator, can’t help but go against her streetwise, suspicious nature when she gets to know him.

Then there’s how others view Ali: he’s a zealot, a bigot, a person who’s unbending and who can be uncaring of those who don’t fit his world view (in this case, an entire tribe he’s supposed to protect). In the eyes of those in power, that makes Mr. Play-by-the-Rules as potentially dangerous as the rebels threatening Daevabad. (Reminder: he really is a protagonist. Right?!)

As contradictory as those views of Ali are, it’s all true. Ali gets to be the hero of his own story. He knows he has faults, but doesn’t see them all or understand they’re that big. Is he biased against the djinn? Sure, but to him they’re fire-worshippers; that goes against God’s law. In Ali’s mind, it’s all justified. He’s an upstanding citizen and a man of faith, a person trying to do what’s right. He certainly doesn’t realize other people’s view of him is so different from his own. Even when warned, he doesn’t get it.

At the same time, people close to Ali are swayed by their feelings and don’t perceive all of him. Which means everybody, including Ali, can’t possibly have all their expectations met—especially anyone who wants him to change. It’s realistic, and it’s a major plot point just waiting to happen.

Better still, he’s not the only central character who gets this treatment.

The Lesson: The City of Brass makes a theme of perception versus reality. This drives the plot effectively, and both the story and characters reach ever-greater depths because of it. The reader never quite knows what to think—and it makes The City of Brass so interesting, even after the last page is turned.

This technique is also perfect for a series. I still don’t know what to make of the characters in The City of Brass, and have been forced to reserve judgment until I read the other two books. Which means I feel that much more compelled to do so.

In short, if you want to add depth, interest and potential intrigue to your plot and characters, let one of your primary characters be the hero of his or her own story—and let the others disagree (or at least feel a lot less sure about whether that’s true).

This blog series concludes next week with Part III. See you then!

Contrast, Part I: Lessons from Bestselling Books

Over the next three weeks, I’ll be sharing some writing tips I picked up. Where did I find them? In some very famous books by skillful authors, books I couldn’t stop thinking about.

I wanted to know just what made these books so memorable, and what drove me to keep turning the pages. Some of it has to do with a generous helping of mystery, and some of it, like today’s tip, comes from a look into a character’s past. But after thinking about it, I noticed these books all have one thing in common: well-developed characters that leap off the page and plotlines that strike a chord. And to make that happen, the authors used contrast.

This is the first of three types of contrast that helped bestselling writers build deeper, more memorable stories and characters.

Use Contrast Part I

I. The contrast of innocence and (cruel) reality

In this lauded work of historical fiction, the contrast between the characters’ innocence and reality drives the main character’s choices and creates the book’s theme.

In The German Girl, by Armando Lucas Correa, heroine Hanna shares a free-roaming, adventurous childhood with Leo, who swears he will marry her as soon as they’re old enough. In the midst of being forced out of their homes by Nazis, their relationship is sweet and wholesome—with an almost inevitably tragic end. But it doesn’t truly end there.

Hannah carries Leo with her throughout the rest of her life. Through every atrocity she sees and no matter how she suppresses it, that bittersweet memory is there. Leo is a force long after he’s left the story, their innocent love representing everything that is simple and good.

This does three things: anchors the book in a relatable emotional core; portrays Hannah as more than just a victim (she gets a life of her own affected by but predating the forces of the story); and provides respite from (and therefore depth to) a tragedy.

That contrast is how the cruelty in The German Girl becomes more than just acts of outright evil: it’s also found in the indifference of the people around Hannah. If we never saw what no-strings-attached caring looked like in the story, that theme would be weaker and easily missed.

Here’s another example of it working, this time from the fantasy genre. In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, innocence versus cruelty is the reason the Hound’s attachment to Sansa lifts her storyline: it’s a break from the almost unending selfishness and cruelty in King’s Landing. If there is no touch of relatable innocence, all that backstabbing and abuse of power blurs together.

This contrast humanizes the Hound (there’s a heart in there somewhere) and gives supposed good guy/victim Sansa a critical flaw (she can’t see past how ugly and scary he is. Cersei ain’t the only selfish gal in King’s Landing).

See how innocence versus cruelty brings more to a story than just good versus evil?

The Lesson:  Innocence is something everyone relates to. It triggers the reader’s reflex to be protective, which makes the reader invest in the character’s fate. The Hound becomes unforgettable in an onslaught of characters and names. The German Girl leaves an indelible mark, but it’s pure-hearted Leo and his relationship with Hannah—the way these innocents only wanted to live a normal life together—that breaks readers’ hearts the most.


That’s all for now! See you next week for Part II.

An irregular July

Hey all!

Happy Independence Day to everyone who celebrated, and Happy Canada Day to everyone who celebrated that, too!

This is shaping up to be an irregular July, not just because of the pandemic. I’ll have to transfer to a new web hosting plan soon. Who knows what updating the site will be like then? Blah!

The important thing is, Princess Disasterface Episode 2.5 is here. It’s been a long time coming, and soon I hope to get into the backstories of the Duchess and the Queen…including why she’s so afraid of a certain important guest. If you noticed the lack of navigational buttons on the new episode, that was on purpose. I’m streamlining!

I’ve recently posted reviews of Alanna: the First Adventure, by the great Tamora Pierce, and Spindle, by wonderful indie author W.R. Gingell. You can find them by clicking the links.

I’m currently bouncing between rewrites and editing on an old and dearly loved project in the fantasy genre and the sequel to A Shadow in Sundown…and putting out the spiffed up second edition of book one. I’ll try to blog a sneak peak of the new cover soon. It plays up the world-hopping side of A Shadow in Sundown. I think it matches Kith’s adventures a lot better, too!

In reading news, I just got my copy of A Song Below Water, by Bethany C. Morrow, from the library, and I can’t wait to jump in! The sample I read hooked me and I’ve been on the wait list for a few weeks. Mermaids, people! I love a book with a twist on mythology (this one’s contemporary).

As for the book reviewing side of me, next up will be reviews of the delightfully creepy Daughter of Shades, by Sylvia Mercedes, and (to be written) Intisar Khanani’s re-release of Thorn

Stay safe and be well!


Self-publishing A Shadow in Sundown

My new novella is almost here!  In ebook form anyway.  A Shadow in Sundown (Book One of the Open World Quartet) will be released on Amazon first.

So what’s next?  Paperback, promotion stuff, adding the book to other retailers…it’s overwhelming at times but I’m looking forward to it, too.  I’ve been trying to get this together since the summer, was sure it would happen in November and…well, here we are.  Almost at the end of the year!

A Shadow in Sundown has an even longer history than that, though.  Looking back at old files, I think this story started 8 years ago.

What I remember is that I wrote it quickly, and that I had no idea to do with it next.  It wasn’t long enough to submit to a literary agent–not by a long shot.  I brainstormed ways to make it into a longer book, tried to expand on it, tried to add perspectives of new characters and continue the story.  Nothing quite worked.

Years later, I realized, Oh.  I write novellas.

After that, some of the writing problems I’d struggled with for ages started to make sense.  But there was one new problem: unknown authors rarely get novellas or short story collections published.  So when it was time to do something with this story that started so long ago, I had to learn how to become an indie author and self-publish.

I do wish novellas were more common today.  It’s true that some of my favorite books are uncommonly brief (like The Buddha in the Attic, or The Whale Rider), but in today’s market a standard word count range, for a first-time novelist, is generally very important.  (Journals are also an option.  You can read a little bit about literary journals in yesterday’s post, Goodbye to Glimmer Train.)  So for this, for me, self-publishing was king.

And here we are.  (And here we go!)

I’ll be sharing more about A Shadow in Sundown in the coming days.  I hope you’ll take a look.

Oh, and Princess Disasterface will be coming back soon, too!  I’d say in the next week or so.  As always, stay tuned, and thanks for reading.