Friday, August 26, 2022

Surprisingly Excellent Reads

Full disclosure: I almost canceled my blog post this week. I'm tired, I have novel writing to do, all the ideas I came up with were either dependent on my reading particular books this week (that I didn't read) or just weren't right for this particular moment in time, and did I mention that I'm really storming tired? (This is about 75% my own fault because I've been going to bed really late, but the reasons why are not fully under my control, so.) But! I didn't feel right canceling twice in a month, and so HERE WE ARE with a topic that I came up with at approximately 4:00 yesterday afternoon. That being: reads that have surprised me in a good way with how much I liked them. There don't tend to be many of these — which isn't a bad thing, because I don't tend to read books I don't think I'll enjoy, which means I'm more frequently disappointed than unexpectedly delighted. But! That is not always the case; sometimes I read things expecting them to be eh and instead discover that they're marvelous. These are those books.


Surprisingly Excellent Reads

  1. Lady of Dreams by W.R. Gingell. It is entirely possible that W.R. Gingell is some sort of magical being based solely on my feelings about this book. It should not be possible for a magical realism character drama that's more or less a blend of an Austen novel and a K-drama to entrance me this much. And yet. It is absolutely in my top five favorite Gingell novels, which means it's beating out the majority of City Between books. It's just so lovely. (I should reread it, honestly.)
  2. Stolen Mayfly Bride by Sarah K.L. Wilson. When I initially read through the list of books in this series, this was one of the ones I had the lowest expectations for. It just sounded weird, you know? But it was written by an author who had blown me away with another of her books (Heart of Shadow, if you want to know), so I gave it a try . . . and it's just lovely. Wilson knows how to write fae well, she knows how to write clever characters, and she knows how to craft a truly excellent arc.
  3. Night Watch by Terry Pratchett. I procrastinated on this book for multiple years before I read it. Not even kidding. The plot sounded just enough like a particular trope that I can't stand that it turned me off, even though there's usually not a lot that can put me off a Vimes story. But I had to read it in order to progress in the series . . . and, as it turns out, it's arguably one of the best of the Discworld series. It's not quite as fun as some of the others, but it's very good.
  4. Ten Blind Dates by Ashley Elston. I'm not one for contemporary or rom-com, but as y'all know, I've been trying to expand my horizons these last couple years, and a friend recommended this to me as a Christmas read. I expected it to be ok, but it turned out to be quite delightful — focused as much on family and friendship as it is on romance, surprisingly fun, and not horrendously angsty. I actually liked it enough that I said I was going to reread it in my review. I haven't gotten around to that yet . . . but maybe this winter? We'll see.
  5. Space Boy by Stephen McCranie. This is cheating a little because I read it as a webcomic, not a book, but it does have print edition, so . . . it counts? Right? Anyway. I actually gave up on the comic the first time I tried it; I didn't love the vertical format, and the story didn't catch me. I tried it again a couple years later . . . and proceeded to binge read all the episodes published up to that date in a matter of a few days. It's a lovely, hopeful story, part slice of life and part intrigue/mystery/action (more the latter at this point, but more the former for the first hundred episodes), and I'm glad I gave it a second chance.

What books have surprised you with how much you enjoyed them? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 19, 2022

On the Taleweaver's Desk Issue 5: August 2022

Hello, everyone! Technically, this post is a bit late — they're supposed to go up the second month of each season — but around July 20, I was at Realm Makers and not in any position to write blog posts. Plus, given what happened right after Realm Makers with regard to my writing, it was probably just as well that I waited. So, here we are, in August, with a broad-view update on my writing projects! As usual, if you want more information on any project in this post, you can feel free to ask me in comments or check my Works in Progress page.


On the Taleweaver's Desk Issue 5: August 2022

On the Desktop

These are the projects you might find open on my laptop or desk if you took a peek at it during a normal day. They're currently in progress and at the top of the priority chart.

Bastian Dennel, PI #4

What is it? Book 4 in my Bastian Dennel, PI series and my first murder mystery.

Status: Three chapters and a bit down . . . many more to go.

I've had this idea playing in my head for a while (ever since I read a particular writing prompt in a screenshotted Tumblr post), and I'm glad I finally get to write it. It's turning out a little differently than I expected, and it had a rocky start — nine chapters in, I realized I didn't have enough tension and had to go back and start all over. But the new outline seems promising, this draft is flowing better, and I have high hopes for how it'll turn out.

Through a Shattered Glass

What is it? A dark-ish portal fantasy remix of Lewis Carroll's Alice books combined with The Snow Queen.

Status: Drafted, edited one-and-a-half times, and ready for the rest of edits.

I got some excellent feedback from my alpha and beta readers on this book — a fair number of suggested changes, but also some excellent reactions and a very definite sense that the story is doing what I intend it to do. I need to start edits soon, but I'm waiting on feedback from one more person and trying to get to a good pause point in BDPI#4 before I do. On the upside, I also have a very shiny cover finished! Keep an eye out for the reveal of that and for information on preorder and release date in a couple weeks.

D&D Campaign: Defenders of Serys

What is it? Defenders of Serys is the homebrew D&D campaign that I run for my D&D group.

Status: Still slowly writing Season 4 Module 2.

Summer is not the best time to move quickly through a D&D campaign, haha. The party is still in Middle Earth, since we're only averaging about a session a month, maybe two if we're lucky, and I'm trying not to write too far ahead — since I know what's going to happen overall, I'm writing up to decision points and then pausing so I can figure out what to prep next (as opposed to my usual method, where I try to prep a full adventure including material for the most probable paths the party will take). Even so, I'm somewhat hoping the group will be done with the Middle Earth adventure and ready to head back to their own world for a while by the end of the year.

Stacked on the Side

These are the stories that I'm not actively working on (at least not officially), but I'm keeping close at hand because I plan to get back to them soon (or I just work on them sporadically as the urge takes me).

There are no significant changes to any of these projects since my last update, but I'll leave the list here for anyone who hasn't seen it before!

Blood in the Earth

What is it? Blood in the Earth is the sequel to Blood in the Snow and a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses crossed with the myth of Hades and Persephone.

Status: First draft finished; awaiting rewrites. Definitely won't happen this year unless there's a miracle . . . but I do keep getting more and more thoughts about character dynamics and how to improve how I write my main character.

Once Upon a Dream

What is it? A light steampunk (or gaslamp fantasy?) Sleeping Beauty retelling; the predecessor to The Midnight Show

Status: Edited several times over. Awaiting another round of rewrites/expansion/edits.

Shelved for Now

These are stories that are also on hold, but which I don't have specific plans to work on very soon. They're still within easy reach should I decide to return to them, but they aren't a top priority.

There are no significant changes to any of these projects since my last update, but I'll leave the list here for anyone who hasn't seen it before!

Dust of Silver

What is it? Classic-ish fantasy retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses crossed with Rapunzel, the first book in what has the potential to be a rather long series. Also, a rewrite of a book I wrote years ago that won't let go of me because CHARACTERS.

Status: Several chapters into the rewrite, though those several chapters haven't been touched in a few years. Every so often, particular songs pop up in my playlists and give me feels about characters in these books, and I want to work on them . . . but the relevant character bits are from sequels to this rather than this particular story.

Between Two Worlds

What is it? A portal fantasy adventure about what happens when you come home from the adventure, only to discover that the adventure isn't quite as done with you as you thought.

Status: Awaiting another round of edits/rewrites while I write other things and daydream about its sequels.

The Way of the Pen

What is it? Self-aware fantasy adventure about a girl and her author.

Status: The first draft is sitting on my shelf, patiently waiting for its turn back in the spotlight, as it has been for some time. I did have some new thoughts about character dynamics and what changes I want to make in the rewrite recently, though.

Berstru Tales series

What is it? A classic epic fantasy series and the longest-running series I've worked on (either in the number of books written or in how long I've worked on it.

Status: Needs to be rewritten from the ground up, but the bones are good. There's a particular character who's getting a whole new arc, and I'm really excited to write it . . . when I have time.

A Tower of Portals Campaign

What is it? A second D&D campaign inspired by one of my favorite video games.

Status: On hold; worked on as I come up with new ideas and have time.

Awaiting Delivery

These are the stories that are on their way, but haven't quite arrived yet to the point where I can write them: ideas I'm toying with but haven't even started to draft because they're still too nebulous.

Additional Bastian Dennel, PI novels

What is it? Exactly what the heading said.

Status: I have a pretty good idea what books 5 and 6 in BDPI are going to look like, assuming I have time to write them both and release them in a timely fashion. I also have ideas for several other books in the series, though the exact order is up in the air. If anyone is curious, possible stories I want to turn into cases for Bastian include The Little Mermaid, Jack and the Beanstalk, Pwyll and Rhiannon, The Nutcracker, The Goose Girl, and maybe The Princess and the Pea. I also have another fair-folk-heavy idea that I want to write involving a minor character from Gilded in Ice, but I haven't figured out a fairy tale to center it on yet.

Novellas from the world of Blood in the Snow

What are they? Currently, three ideas for spinoffs, most of which are also fairy tale retellings: one Puss in Boots (no, really), one Orpheus and Eurydice (probably crossed with a similar Japanese myth, Izanagi and Izanami), and one that's not currently a fairy tale retelling but would be about Gan and Azuma before they were animal-keepers at the emperor's palace (inspired the summer I spent watching a lot of Hogan's Heroes.

Status: Won't be written until after I edit Blood in the Earth.

Unnamed Fantasy Murder Mystery

What is it? Exactly what the headline says. A prominent noble is murdered; his adoptive daughter is poised to inherit his lands and position — but some are saying her hand was behind his death.

Status: Still just an idea. Still not going to be tackled until after Blood in the Earth.

Worldhoppers Inc./Mythology D&D Campaign

What is it? Yet another homebrew D&D campaign. Or two. Technically it's two possible themes for series of connected one-shots and short-term adventures, with a few adventure ideas for each theme and a chance that I'll just try to combine them.

Status: Probably not going to work on this until I have a lot of spare time, need a new campaign for my D&D group, or have reason to prioritize the Welsh myth adventure. I'm also moving some of what I had planned for it into Defenders of Serys, which is going to be great.

What have you been working on of late? Which potential Bastian Dennel, PI fairy tale mystery are you most curious about? Tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!


Friday, August 12, 2022

Thoughts from a Reluctant (Possible) Plotter

Hello, my name is Sarah, and I no longer know what I am . . . at least when it comes to the planning vs. pantsing debate. For those who haven't heard these terms before, they refer to how one approaches the process of writing a story. A planner is usually characterized as putting in a lot of time preparing before writing a word in the actual manuscript; they'll make outlines (sometimes extraordinarily detailed ones), fill out character profiles, do ALL the worldbuilding, and more. A pantser, or seat-of-the-pants writer, generally prefers some variation on winging it, or figuring it out as they go along. In between are the plantsers, those who do some combination of the two, which is the category I usually put myself. However, for some of my more recent novels, I've found myself doing more and more actual planning, specifically outlining, not necessarily because it's my natural inclination, but because it seems necessary for the stories I'm writing. So, because of that shift — and because I recently read a rather interesting planning vs. pantsing article from the lovely folks at Tor Publishing that got me thinking about the topic — I'm going to take today to share some thoughts on planning, pantsing, and the space in between.

Thoughts from a Reluctant (Possible) Plotter

(Because this is still a thing people talk about, right?)

  1. Even at my most pantser-ish, I don't write without some kind of plan. Not anymore, at least. I generally do want at least a rough idea of where I'm starting, where I'm going, and where I might pause along the way. I might not always write it down — for short stories, I rarely do any planning outside my head — but I can't sit down with a concept and a first chapter and go for it. Well, I could. But I probably wouldn't — if nothing else, because if all I have a concept and a starting point, I probably got the idea yesterday, and all the ideas I've been chewing on for months or years take precedence.
  2. More planning means less time stuck . . . sometimes. You would think that the more detailed the outline, the more you build your characters and the world, the more likely it is that the actual writing would go smoothly. But for myself, there tends to be a point at which "time spent planning" and "time spent stuck" cease to have any kind of correlation. I actually have an idea of why this is . . .
  3. It's easier to diagnose — and fix — story problems during writing than outlining. I've been dealing with this recently, and it's the reason why I just had to start BDPI#4 over from the outline. I had a solid outline with, for me, quite a bit of detail. I'd put a good bit of thought into the outline. But it wasn't until I actually started writing that I started to realize that my story in its current form had some problems. I think this is often why I like working with looser outlines; they give me more space to fix issues without throwing everything out of whack.
  4. The more detailed the outline, the more likely it is I'll have to redo the outline. Ok, I don't have a ton of data points for this, and I know that there are stories I've written with very loose outlines that I ended up having to rewrite the story itself from more or less the ground up. But I can say with reasonable confidence that I've only rewritten two outlines (Gilded in Ice and BDPI#4), and both were pretty detailed. I can also say with considerable confidence that the more detailed the original outline, the more annoyed I'll be about going back to the drawing board.
  5. My last point actually comes half from that Tor article I referenced earlier (which you should read, by the way): planning and pantsing really are just two different ways of doing the same thing (feeling out a story and a world), and which one is preferable may depend on story as much as author. The reason I'm planning more might be that I'm getting more comfortable with outlines and that I have to write my books faster . . . but it's also because I'm writing different types of stories. Between Two Worlds, which had a very loose outline, was a fantasy adventure that was primarily character-driven. It needed to be flexible enough to accommodate moments when the cast did something unexpected. My Bastian Dennel books, on the other hand, are very plot-centric. Characters need to be in the right places at the right times; they need to discover the right clues in the right order. That demands a more detailed outline, if only so you can make sure you know what they need to find and where they need to be before you point your characters in its direction. So, even if I'm currently writing a lot of detailed outlines, there's no guarantee that'll always be the case — it'll depend on what stories I'm telling.

What are your thoughts on plotting, planning, and plantsing? Do you notice a difference in what kind of outlines you make for different types of stories? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!