Saturday, March 8, 2014

Our Favorite Reads Could Become Yours!

Thanks for joining me and my fellow writers for our First Friday Feature:

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ROBIN LYTHGOE
Author of As the Crow Flies and two short stories
Robin's Website

The collection of books I like is pretty large, but the Books I Love are actually few. I considered Lawhead’s Hood, but Kristie nabbed that right up. No surprise, there! (And with good reason, too.) I talk about Tad Williams’s series, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn rather a lot, so it’s clearly time for something else. If you haven’t read the Damiano Books (I’ve also seen them in a one-volume set called Trio for a Lute) you are missing a real treat.

Damiano is set against the backdrop of the Italian Renaissance where faith-based magic is real. A wizard’s son, an innocent, a musician, Damiano is befriended and instructed by the archangel Raphael. To save his city from war, he sets out on a quest to find a powerful sorceress. Along the way he is beset by betrayal, disillusionment, and death—and still he must confront the power and darkness within himself in order to protect those he loves. Damiano wants to use his powers for good, yet he’s certain that since he’s a witch he’s automatically damned.

MacAvoy’s prose is beautifully lyrical, and her settings come alive with allusions to historical events, people, and society. The characters are real, they’re believable, and they face truly difficult issues. She has a talent for revealing how lovely, wonderful and terrible the world can be, and how difficult the struggle to know what’s right and wrong.



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PATRICIA REDING
Author of Oathtaker
Patricia's Website

Recently I read a couple works I found worthy of including in my list of favorites: the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson and the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks. In the Sanderson stories, characters “spin” magic via their use of different metals. In the Weeks stories, colors fuel the magic. I found only one real fault with Mistborn. While Sanderson drew a believable young female protagonist, she was not “whole” for me, perhaps because I found the relationships somewhat lacking. Having said that, the magic system is highly creative and great fun. As to the Lightbringer series, I found the characters fun and believable and the personal relationships, which are central to the story, satisfying and genuine. As a bonus I laughed out loud—fairly frequently.

As I consider these tales, I see a common denominator: each delivers a “new” world and unique magic. For Sanderson, it is the characters’ use of metals to “read” others’ emotions, bring about certain events, travel and communicate. For Weeks, it was the magic of colors to create things and the way those who wield the magic of different colors are prone to certain personality characteristics. These authors delivered something outside the standard fantasy tale (complete with a wizard and a troll and a fairy and an elf … and so on and so on). Each delivered a new kind of magic and a new category of fantasy character. Best of all, each opened a new world to me—a world in which I lost myself—if only for a time …

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KRISTIE KIESSLING (Yours Truly)
Author of the short story, Sanguis Dei and a poetry collection, Light and Dark

When faced with the topic for this first Friday, Books We Love, I immediately considered the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but a commentary or review of any of those would take far more than my allotted space. Besides, by now, everyone knows the tale because of the movies.

Instead, let me share with you my love for author Stephen Lawhead and his revisionary telling of the story of Robin Hood in his King Raven Trilogy consisting of Hood, Tuck and Scarlet.

In Hood, we are introduced to a young man--heir to his father's lands--who takes only his own pleasure seriously. When Norman invaders arrive and wreck havoc, he tries to buy back the land, but finds himself pursued, his life in danger. He abandons his father's kingdom and people and runs to hide in the greenwood. There, Bran ap Brychan discovers the old growth forest in Wales is more than meets his wayward eye. He must come to grips with the mystery of this living, breathing entity. More than that, he must claim it in order to survive and become what he is truly meant to be: no common thief as the Nomans think, but a man with a mission ordained by forces far beyond his ken.


Lawhead writes with enviable knowledge. His research is deep and reveals fresh, relatable insights to times gone by. He draws the reader into the intricacies of politics, intrigue and life of ancient times that are not so very different from our own. His writing reflects in subtle and clever ways on our modern ideals and behaviors. I enjoy reading his books more than once--the mark of a great author. When I do, I am drawn again into a kinship with my own Welsh ancestors and Lawhead makes me yearn for that rich past.

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Join us next month for a new topic!

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Question of Honor

Welcome back to our First Friday Feature of our Fantasy writers group:

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This month, we are asking our main characters (yes, our fictional characters - what, you don't have imaginary people in YOUR head?) a two part question: Do you consider yourself honorable? Why or why not?

I think the answers took us to some interesting places! See for yourself ...

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ROBIN LYTHGOE
Author of As the Crow Flies and two short stories
Robin's Website

When I first thought about which character I would ask this question, I leaned strongly toward Sherakai dan Tameko, the protagonist of my current work-in-progress. And why not? He’s one of my favorite fictional people and often on my mind, particularly as I’m writing his story. But… there was Crow, leaning against the doorframe with his arms folded and that familiar cheeky gleam in his eyes.

Here is his answer, in his own words:

Honorable? I declare that I am, although my friend Tanris will gladly tell you that my perspective is completely off kilter when it comes to morality of any kind. He exaggerates. Let me ask you this: is it honorable to watch my friend's back? Yes, and I have watched Tanris’s on numerous occasions, and do not listen to him when he snidely asserts that it’s because I always let him go first into dangerous situations. Of course I do. He's the warrior, not I.

Is it honorable to teach young people a profession and to always be aware of their surroundings? Yes, and I am in the process of teaching our young ward everything I know. Well, most of what I know. We’ll see if some day she warrants such extensive knowledge. Tanris, of course, disapproves of my part of the curriculum. She should be taught honesty and hard work, integrity and other such lofty characteristics. I agree.

It's important to be able to tell if you’re being lied to.

It's important to recognize the hard work of others. Their education will net a better profit.

And integrity, my friend, is a two-edged sword. Even a non-warrior knows that. High moral principles can put a man in an uncomfortably tight spot. One needs a certain amount of flexibility in their integrity.

Is it honorable to ignore the gifts of the gods? They have bestowed upon me unequaled talents and skills. I turn a blind eye to them at my own peril.

Is it honorable to save the lives of countless countrymen? Yes, I say! And I humbly assert that I have done so—at much personal risk. Yes, yes, I will give credit where it is due: Without Tanris's strong arm, sharp blade, and peerless brawn my efforts might have gone unrewarded. As it is, the reward isn’t exactly tangible. Yet…



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PATRICIA REDING
Author of Oathtaker
Patricia's Website

The question posed to me, Mara Richmond, an Oathtaker bound by a life oath I willingly swore for the protection of my charge, is: am I honorable? I ask myself what it means to be honorable. I suppose it is to act in accordance with principles of fairness and integrity; to be worthy of high respect; to be creditable. Great Ehyeh, I know I seek to be honorable, but can I truly say that I am or, even if I am at this moment, that I will continue to be so?

When I swore a life oath to protect my charge, I put my own life on hold and received, in exchange, continued youth. For so long as my charge lives, I am bound by rules that forbid me from a life with another. I sought to become an Oathtaker, trained for years to do so because—well, because I was running from a family that used me and, truth to tell, from a promise I had made and—and had failed to keep. Now I find myself bound by an oath, the breaking of which could cost me my very life, and I wonder if I will have the strength to see this through to the end.

Who could have known, who could have guessed, that within just heartbeats of my taking my vow, I would meet Dixon? Who could have known, who could have guessed that in the same moments within which I spoke those fateful words Dixon would be released from a similar vow he had previously sworn? Now, I find myself searching for understanding. How could Ehyeh, the master and creator of all things, have allowed this to happen? Am I bound to spend the life of my charge with a heart I fear may simply stop beating? I never intended to love him. Having been betrayed in the past, I thought I was immune. . . .

When Dixon, who was freed from his oath upon Rowena’s passing, looks at another, my heart trips. But should he not seek happiness now? If I were truly honorable, would I not encourage him to find another? He has become my right hand, my confidant, my friend, my— No, not my lover. That would be a breach of my oath that would have me removed from my station. But it does not mean that I do not long to be. . . .

Then, there are the girls, my charge, Reigna and Eden, the first ever twins born of the Select, clearly foretold in prophecy, and the current ranking members of the first family. Even if I wanted to deny my vow and abandon them to be with Dixon, even if the cost of such treason would not ultimately be my own life, could I do so? They are but infants, yet I am all they have ever known; I was there from their beginning. Would anyone else know them as I do, love them as I do? Would anyone else be willing to sacrifice for them? What cost would come of my abandoning them? Besides, if not me, then who? To leave them would mean I would have no say in determining in whose care they would be kept. Moreover, suppose I did break my vow and abandon the girls, would Dixon not anticipate that one day I would break any vow I might have made to him? Would he not always doubt me, watch for my failure? I remind myself that I have failed before. Would Dixon’s inability to trust me be a price I would be willing to pay?

So, I return to the question at hand: am I honorable? I suppose time will tell. But for this Oathtaker, being a woman of honor means living in the state of pain that comes from loving someone while subject to my oath, someone I long for but cannot have. . . .


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KRISTIE KIESSLING (Yours Truly)
Author of the short story, Sanguis Dei and a poetry collection, Light and Dark

As I often do when issues arise, I sit in my office chair and look to the other seating in the office waiting for one of my characters to "have a seat" as it were. Mikkayl Arrayn, main character of my current work in progress, takes a seat. Mikkayl is a half-elf mage, cursed (as he sees it) with the ability to see visions of the future. He doesn't just sit down, mind you. He relaxes. He dusts back a raven curl from his temple and his bright blue eyes sparkle. He sprawls a bit in the chair, one leg over the cushioned arm, casually barefoot. He rests his hands comfortably on his muscled belly. He's wearing a burgundy shirt open at the neck where gold thread embroiders the mandarin style collar over cream colored knee pants. Mikkayl dresses impeccably in simple elegance. Opulence is not his way, but he would look so very good in opulence. 

So, there he sits and I pose the question at hand. Here is his answer—

Mikkayl Arrayn: Honor is judged on such a varying scale. "Do I consider myself honorable?" According to whom? According to the people I've helped, yes. According to the people I've hurt, no. Those I've hurt would call me - and have called me - scoundrel, demon, halfer - all manner of not-so-nice things. Even those I've helped would lift me above what I am to make something more out of me and I, scoundrel that I am, would like the praise. Is that honorable? I don't think so. So, no, I do not consider myself to be honorable. Why I don't is not the sort of thing one talks about in polite company.

Even so, you've asked me and I rather like you, so I will endeavor to explain.

I know what I've done. One does not forget the motion that takes a life or the feel of blood splattered across the skin of the hand that has shed it. The cloying smell of death clings to memory. I've made choices that hurt those who have done no wrong, for no greater reason than to save my own skin. There is no honor in that. I have defended the one I care for above all others, hurt others I care for to do so and not always because it was the right thing to do but because I could not live without him. And then, in an effort to save myself pain I did not think I could endure, I have hurt him; a thing unforgivable.

I am not honorable. I am loyal. I see the good I ought to do and endeavor to do it. I try to be fair-minded, but honorable? I have a very long way to go to be honorable by a standard that I respect, and I am in no hurry to get there. For instance, if I thought you would hurt my bond mate, I would skin you alive and feed you, living piece by living piece, to the dragon. I would savor every drop of your blood and every scream you uttered.

That is not honorable.


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Join us next month for a new topic!


Friday, December 20, 2013

To my Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Dear brothers and sisters,

Let me start with this:

Luke 2
Living Bible (TLB)

About this time Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the nation. (This census was taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)

Everyone was required to return to his ancestral home for this registration. And because Joseph was a member of the royal line, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, King David’s ancient home—journeying there from the Galilean village of Nazareth. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was obviously pregnant by this time.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born; and she gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn.

That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly an angel appeared among them, and the landscape shone bright with the glory of the Lord. They were badly frightened, but the angel reassured them.

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem! How will you recognize him? You will find a baby wrapped in a blanket, lying in a manger!”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God: “Glory to God in the highest heaven,” they sang, “and peace on earth for all those pleasing him.”

When this great army of angels had returned again to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Come on! Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They ran to the village and found their way to Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. The shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story expressed astonishment, but Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and often thought about them.

Then the shepherds went back again to their fields and flocks, praising God for the visit of the angels, and because they had seen the child, just as the angel had told them.

I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas last night.
I've read all about Phil Robertson this week and A&E's reaction.

Let me ask you: What is Christmas all about?

Is our faith a card? Is it a toy to be sold? Do we "Duck the halls"? Why should we even deck the halls at Christmas, buying light strand after strand, wreaths and trees and gifts? I submit we do these things for US, for our pleasure and Not in honor of an infant and a moment's fleeting peaceful expression on the face of a troubled teen mother who KNOWS her son is born to save the world. Though we like to pretend it's because of "Baby Jesus" or quiet snowfalls or Peace on Earth (I don't think I know what peace on earth looks like outside the sleeping face of an infant, honestly.) I suggest that if we celebrate it ought to be because of the whole package.

We have a problem, my beloved. Even we who claim the Name of Christ forget -oh, so often!- that we were born separated from the love of God by the sin of our parents and theirs all the way back to the first people who defied their Creator and named themselves Authority. Yet, unaccountably from our point of view, God loved what he had made. Us! He loved us. He saw all we did wrong. He saw all the ways in which we defied him every single damned day of our damned existences, but he made a promise that his love for us was stronger than our sin. That was always his promise; it was not a contingency plan. He knew when he made us that we were good, not perfect and that we were not going to survive on our own.

What was that word? Sin? What *is* sin, anyway? Someone famous recently defined sin by starting with something he considered to be sin: homosexuality. That's like defining a circle by saying it's circular. To be honest, I believe that we like to comfort ourselves by starting at such a point. We like to say, "Wow, yeah! Never been there! Whew, dodged that bullet! That sure is sin!" Now, I know that's not what he meant and anyone who really reads what he said will understand that he actually meant so much more than that. But for the rest of us, really? "Never been there"? When we do that, we fail to "get it" Big time.

To understand the sinking ship we're in, to understand "sin" we must begin by starting with perfection. We must look at the one who knew no sin and did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. I'm talking about Jesus, the Son of God. The one sent to redeem. Did you know that he, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his advantage? Instead, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-- even death on a cross! You can read that in the book of Philippians. Do you get what I'm saying here? He made himself nothing! He was born in that lowly stable with the smell of animal feces and dust and blood and water and all sorts of people coming and going to save US from the depths of our willful rejection of God's authority over us.

Oh, My Amazing God.

Sin, my beloved, is every lack of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God! Sin is not just murder or adultery or stealing or wanting what others have. It's not *only* sex outside of marriage. By the way, that's Biblically defined as EVERY kind of sex outside of marriage - get it? That thing you called a "fling" in college with the co-ed, BOOM! That's sin, brother, or -hey- sister. It wasn't "innocent exploration" it was against the law of God. You with me? We're ALL in the SAME boat. Remember, I'm talking to those who already claim the Name of Christ. Sin is our quiet "white lies" that we think "hurt no one". It is OUR laughter at the inappropriate joke that takes someone made in the image of God and makes fun of them. It is OUR love of money over God. It is OUR failure to love our children and our frequent, almost gleeful attitude of frustrating them to the point of anger. Sin is putting our wants, our desires before the soul penetrating worship of the One who made us. We need to repent, beloved.

Sin is debt. Sin is buying that "one last Christmas present" on credit when you KNOW you haven't got the money and shouldn't spend what you haven't got. But you do it anyway because, "Hey, it's Christmas!" Jesus didn't come to be born, to live a perfect life and to die so that you and I could get that Wii U for our kids when they're already treating their bodies less like the temple of God and more like the temple of Consumerism. Was he born in that stable so that we could buy stocking stuffer Duck Dynasty iced-tea cups and Si-gnomes or bobble heads for everyone on our foolish "lists"? No. By God, no.

Now, before you all decide to lynch me, understand that I love giving gifts. I think it is a fine thing to honor God in that way, but often it gets in the way of the truth we need to be telling one another. He was born, grew and in his thirties died a gut-wrenching, suffocating, horrifying death on a cross So that WE could do our jobs - and that job, my brothers and sisters is to go to others around us who are dead in those very same sins we so like to live in every day and show them the ONE who makes them alive. He lived again so we could be made alive! Do you remember that? He lives so that we could stop being conformed to this dying world and be transformed by the renewing of our minds! That renewal doesn't happen watching programs on A&E, either.

It doesn't help anyone to point to one sin and say, "start here and move outward." Every single day we still sin against God. In every thought that is not captive to the will of Christ. In every moment we conform to a world that values things above our fellow men and our fellow men above the Almighty who lives and reigns forever and alone deserves our utmost praise.

The good news is that when Jesus died, so violently and painfully on that monstrosity of a cross that we like to turn gold and wear around our necks and give as gifts (I know, I have several. I keep them, but I've stopped wearing them - I'm not saying you should, it was my personal conviction), he broke the power of sin. Sin was cancelled by his blood for everyone who believes. The ONLY reason we're not headed straight to Hell, where, by the by, we were headed on our own before he saved us (eternal separation from God IS the essence of Hell, my friends and it does not start when we die, it starts when we are born in rejection of God. Jesus plucks us from that road.) - the only reason is because God intervened and died for us to restore us. But sin - it is ALL the SAME. That lie you told to your boss about being sick last week when you really weren't? That's the SAME as having sex outside of God's perimeters for sex. That putting someone down because they wore socks with sandals, calling them names or thinking you're somehow better than them because they aren't ... well, *you*... is the SAME, in the eyes of God, worth the same death of his beloved Son, as murdering the unborn. There are no "worse" or "not as bad" sins, see. There are sins that have consequences greater than we can imagine because of the number of people they damage - but we damage ourselves with each sin committed. Nevertheless, these things can all be forgiven by the shed blood of Jesus, resurrected by the power of the Father.

You and I, we need the Savior. If you think you know him and you find "little" lies okay, then you don't. If you think you know him and you mock or slander someone's sin as "worse" than yours, or someone who is "different" from you; if you think it's fine, as it seems a lot of folks who call themselves Christians do by making fun of those they call homosexuals rather than getting to know them and loving them as Jesus commanded, then you don't know him.

The shepherds told everyone about what the angels said - the Messiah is born! Salvation is at hand, people!

Christmas is not about taking up banners and shouting "Merry Christmas!" to drown out those saying "Happy Holidays" when they don't know what you celebrate. How sad that our love for Jesus isn't so obvious on our faces and in our treatment of others that they know we celebrate Christmas at a glance. Christmas is not about defending a wealthy brother who maybe should have been more circumspect in defining sin by the God we sin against rather than the sins we commit. I'm fairly certain he can defend himself - but I do stand by his right to speak his faith and, as with all who defend what they believe, to endure the results of proclaiming those beliefs. We should never doubt for a moment that the world will come after us for stating what we believe. There is no tolerance for faith in God among the living dead.

That's not the point of this article, however; or the point of Christmas.

My point, my hope for you this Christmas is that you get to know Jesus. Re-Learn what Christmas is ALL about: the Son of God who was born to exhausted parents in that stinky stable for the hope that his horrible death on that cross would bring because HE LIVES again for YOU and for ME and everyone, every single person that he has chosen to make his own.

That's the Good News and that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.


Hark, the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

-Charles Wesley


As an interesting aside, if you are curious about what the Robertson family has to say about Phil's interview and the subsequent uproar, read here: The Robertson Official Family Statement.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Double Delight: Traditional and Indie Books

Welcome back to our First Friday Feature of our Fantasy writers group:

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C.M.J. WALLACE
Author of The Rift Series (beginning with Sing the Midnight Stars)
C.M.J.'s Website



For this month’s topic, we decided to identify one traditionally published and one indie-published fantasy novel that we enjoyed and explain why. My fellow Quillers won’t know this until they receive my portion of our post, but I have a great deal of difficulty reading indie work because of the poor editorial quality and have finished only a few of the many I’ve tried. I’m not saying that traditionally published books are all well edited; far from it. But as a rule, they’re in much, much better shape than indie books. (By the way, we recused ourselves from reading one another’s books and I haven’t read any of their work; my comments don’t apply to their writing!) I edit for a living, which means I look for errors in grammar, structure, punctuation, continuity—the whole shebang. But I don’t actually look for them: They leap out at me, and that makes it impossible to ignore them as I read for pleasure. Therefore, I haven’t found an indie fantasy story I like.

My favorite traditionally published fantasy author is Stephen R. Donaldson. His Mordant’s Need series, which includes The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through, is one of the most satisfying fantasies I’ve ever read. (And yes, it’s well edited!) The language is beautiful and evocative, which is difficult to find these days. In fact, some of the most popular books of the past decade are devoid of rich prose and barely rise above the fourth-grade reading level typically used in newspapers. I truly don’t understand the attraction.

But I digress.

Donaldson’s tale rests on a solid foundation of back story that adds intricate layers of realism, which I believe is a must for any narrative that strives for depth. The heroine, Teresa, is wimpy and at times spineless—the Donaldson books I’ve read lack strong female characters in general—but I otherwise like the series so much that it doesn’t detract terribly. Although she is one of the main characters, she shares the stage with a man who does make a fulfilling hero despite his flaws and helps compensate for her shortcomings.

I prefer complicated plots, and the author delivers. The kingdom is at war, mysterious saboteurs are trying to bring it to its knees from within for reasons unknown, the protagonists and the mad king may be more than they seem, and the heroine has entered Mordant through a mirror in our world (very Lewis Carroll, and a device I’ve been in love with since I first read his books).

But the primary reason I love Mordant’s Need is that the series brings alive another world, as any good book should, taking me out of time and place and firing my imagination. And I can visit as often as I like.

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ROBIN LYTHGOE
Author of As the Crow Flies and two short stories
Robin's Website


Oh, decisions, decisions…! Choosing just two fantasy novels is nearly like asking me to pick my two favorite children. Still, there are a certain number that qualify. One would think that with all the thousands of books available, I might have a lot more favorites, but all too often I find myself throwing my hands up in disgust at issues that plague traditional and indie books alike: weak plots, poor editing, cardboard characters, and a lack of voice. In fact, the last hair-tearing book I read was traditionally published, and I kept wondering what the company did with their editors. On the indie front, I’m starting to see a noticeable division between those publishing because they can and those who are serious about this writing business. I will confess, if the cover is horrible, the chances of me reading it are extremely slim. The cover represents what’s inside. Yes, I must first be intrigued with pictures.

So you can imagine my squeak of delight when I saw the cover of Brood of Bones, by indie author A.E. Marling. The artworks is by Eva Soulu, and I’d like to have that print hanging in my house, it’s so lovely. The book didn’t disappoint, either. A magic-wielder afflicted with a sleeping disorder is caught up in a fantastic terrific whodunnit. The setting and the magic are skillfully portrayed; the characters are complex and not always predictable. The main character, Hiresha, struggles not only with her sleeping problem, but with the past that has formed her; her position is her armor and her purpose. Maid Janny is a gem of irreverence, while the Lord of the Feasts is both charming and terrible. The deposed arbiter of the city is exasperating at the same time she is delightful, and the two city leaders (a pair of priests representing different deities) are not what they might seem. The formatting and editing are first-rate—and I’m picky, so you can relax on that count.

Traditional-wise, I think Michael Whelan became one of my favorite fantasy artists when I came across The Dragonbone Chair, first in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams. Three wonderfully thick books long (the paperback publication of the third was divided into two volumes), the series has yet to be knocked off its pedestal as my all-time favorite epic fantasy. The world Williams describes is intricate and deep, with a rich (but not overwhelming) history. The characters—well, it’s easy to forget they’re the product of someone’s imagination. There are complex cultures and races, folklore, humor, tragedy and growth all masterfully blended into the grand conflict of Good against Evil. The power struggle between the heirs to the throne and the presence of three magic swords might sound like standard fare, but it’s just so darned well done! Toss in alliances, betrayals, politics, epic military battles; then factor in world building and character development, pacing, and emotional impact, and by golly, if you haven’t read this, what are you waiting for??

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PATRICIA REDING
Author of Oathtaker
Patricia's Website

There is no shortage of traditional published fantasy works from which to choose a favorite. Even so, a single one comes to mind. It is a work I’ve read—I think five times now—and it is the one that encouraged me to write myself (not because I could hope to match it, but because it made me hungry to experience the process). That work is Terry Goodkind’s Sword of the Truth Series, which begins with Wizard’s First Rule.

I am fascinated with Goodkind’s ability to keep me on the edge of my seat, constantly turning pages, waiting with bated breath for the next thing to happen—because there is not a moment in which something is not happening. With heart hounds, dragons, wizards, sorceresses, the Seeker of Truth, the Mother Confessor, horrific villains, and so many more creatures and characters, some wholly new and unique, Goodkind’s story is utterly spellbinding. From this series (which I estimate runs 8 - 10,000 pages), I can readily name more than 50 “main characters.” These are characters central to some portion of the story, characters I got to know throughout the series, characters I may love or hate—but will never forget. Add to this Goodkind’s ability to weave elements of the story—sometimes beginning with a mere mention early on and then reintroducing that element volumes later when it becomes a key ingredient to the overall story—and you have a truly great series. For this reader, Goodkind is unmatched.

As to indie published fantasy works, I admit that I have not read all that many, but one I found particularly well done and entertaining was The God King (Heirs of the Fallen Book 1), by James A. West. Notwithstanding the fact that this work makes use of names with (what to me are dreaded) apostrophes (“Geh’shinnom’atar), and notwithstanding the fact that the work includes “dead people walking,” (two things I generally highly dislike reading or reading about), I found The God King quite enjoyable.

West’s voice is intriguing, his word pictures are carefully painted, and his word choices clever in that they help to create a unique alternate world. West’s characters were honorable at times, quirky at times, but always consistent and in the end, believable. Perhaps the highest praise I could offer in this regard is that West drew, in The God King, a genuinely legitimate lead woman character. She was firm in the face of danger, was committed to helping to overcome evil, and was a full member of the otherwise all-male “team.”
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I loved Mirror of Her Dreams! I haven't read that in ages. I think I donated my hard-cover copy to our local library. Now, I may have to go borrow it to read it again! 

As for my selections ...

When browsing through the "cheap seats" (read: FREE) of indie books, I came across the short A Circle of Iron by Greg Benage. Taught from childhood that "we don't judge books by their covers", I nevertheless found myself intrigued. I'll be honest, if the cover turns me off, I move on. Perhaps it was the simplicity, the colors, I can't really even say. Maybe it was the title that bears a striking similarity to a 1978 martial arts movie. But, it was free, (and still is) so I snatched it up. I expected poor writing, poor characters, poor ... well, everything. I wasn't disappointed. Let's face it; indie publishing is writers putting their work out there (often) without benefit of the many years of savvy that traditional publishing provides. We're doing this on our own, working our way through the ropes and hoping we find mentors along the way. It is a gritty, sometimes dark business. A Circle of Iron is gritty and dark with bounty hunters chasing down and slaughtering blood drinking wights. It is a fantasy full of violence set in the world of Eldernost.

Here's the weird thing: I liked the characters despite their too-convenient back stories. I liked the bad guys. Though they were predictable too, I thought they could be so much more. There were hints of much more, and the too short tale never delivered more than hints. The story had potential but it bogged down, despite being so short, when the author used unnecessary foul language. Worse, he used colloquialisms that drew me out of the nebulous-at-best setting and into the present day. I half expected someone to hand the hero a cola at some point. 

I do hope Mr. Benage keeps trying. I think he could actually write something exciting if he really put his mind to it. This felt a bit to me as though he had this tale and tidied it up and published it to get out there. I don't blame him for that, I just hoped against hope for more. If I'd been allowed to tell you about As the Crow Flies by Robin Lythgoe, I would have chosen that as my enjoyed indie read.

That story carries well what is the burden of indie works: to make them better than the world expects them to be because they are indie works.

My traditional selection of a story I enjoyed is Hood by Stephen R. Lawhead. Lawhead has long been one of my favorite authors and his novels lean toward the historical, but there is that element of magic that speaks to fantasy and I love that. Hood is the tale of Bran ap Brychan, heir to the throne of Elfael. Set in the primeval forest that borders Wales, it is a retelling of a familiar old legend full of Celtic mythology and political intrigue. At just shy of 500 pages it is an epic worthy of the name in all aspects. Hood swept me away into the greenwood and carried me along with Bran through battles, Normans, the Red King and the discovery of a destiny of which no runaway, reluctant hero could have dreamed.

I am excited by what independent publishing can offer the world and I believe that the future of indie is rich worlds and tales along the lines of As the Crow Flies rather than A Circle of Iron. As for Lawhead and Hood they have given me what traditional publishing has almost always delivered, that excitement of worlds unknown kindled in me when I was young and read Tarzan or The Hobbit.

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Join us next month for a new topic!

And now, in an unrelated, shameless advertisement for my writing partner's book, please enjoy this lovely opportunity to get As the Crow Flies on sale!

Get yours December 9!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Content Rating: What the Bleep?!

Welcome back to our First Friday Feature of our Fantasy writers group:

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Today, A Drift of Quills is focusing its attention on content ratings. Not on the ratings of our works by readers, but of our works for readers. These ratings, adopted from the motion picture industry, differ by country, but we’ll be referencing the current—as of 2113—U.S. system. 


What are our positions, or what difficulties might we have writing things rated beyond a PG-13? Do we write such things? Why or why not?

C.M.J. WALLACE
Author of The Rift Series (beginning with Sing the Midnight Stars)
C.M.J.'s Website

Although I include sex in my books, it’s only implied unless it’s not consensual and that choice isn’t something I had to ponder: I’ve simply never considered writing any other way. However, when I do use the device I’m not shy about it. For example, I wrote a situation in which a husband and wife are raped in turn, and it’s brutal and graphic, yet I cringe at the thought of writing a steamy love scene. Strange but true. I think part of the difference is that, to me, something such as rape is not so much sexual as it is pure violence, and that’s easy for me to write (don’t make any horrible inferences here!).

I’m not a fan of the romance genre, which hinges on hanky-panky these days, it seems, so I’ve never found that explicit sex scenes are essential to any story I’ve read (and I’m not at all convinced that they’re essential even in romances). They tend to make me roll my eyes and skim until I hit the next nonlascivious part that’s actually related to the plot. And that’s another reason I don’t use that contrivance: what does sex in most books really have to do with the story line? In almost every instance I’ve seen, it’s gratuitous and detracts from the narrative. In fact, I recently stopped reading a book after being subjected to yet another of the author’s superfluous descriptions, and this one crossed the line into the profanely indecent.

Some may believe that graphic (or not-so-graphic) sex in their writing will help sell books, but one word refutes that opinion: Rowling. One could argue that it’s the lack of such content in the latter books of her Harry Potter series that helped it retain its enormous popularity.



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PATRICIA REDING
Author of Oathtaker
Patricia's Website

My work falls into the PG-13 category in part because I want to be able to promote it to the YA crowd. As a way of putting my thoughts into focus, I will set forth my position only on the following areas: sex, drugs, and violence.

I believe that some things are private and are meant to be so. This is not necessarily because they are bad things but, rather, because they are so personal that they are, dare I say, “sacred.” Sacred is defined as “regarded with reverence.” A synonym for the word is “inviolate,” defined as: free from violation, injury, undisturbed; not infringed.” For this writer, to open the door on things that take place in private would be a betrayal of my characters—a violation of them—an injury to them.

I respect my characters and so, allow them their privacy. I also respect my readers—and in particular YA readers. My youngest daughter brought a book to me one day (marketed as YA), outraged by the story line. It seems the protagonist was trying to determine how best—and quickest—to rid herself of her innocence. The work quickly made its way to the trash bin. I believe the author of that work held an enormous responsibility to her readers—and in my estimation, she failed in it. Whereas she could have helped to insure her readers’ physical and mental health for the long haul, she instead titillated her readers, encouraged them even, suggesting that there were no limitations and no consequences. So, while I fully defend one’s choice to write outside the PG-13 category, I do not do so because I believe such works should not be promoted to the highly impressionable YA crowd.

As to drugs/alcohol, my position is that a work designated as YA appropriate should never promote the use of drugs or the irresponsible use of alcohol nor should they include YA characters thoughtlessly imbibing. If for no other reason than to help to insure the safety of young women (in particular) who all too often are victimized—especially when their defenses are down as a result of the use of drugs/alcohol—such conduct should not be encouraged. Our readers are taking cues from us. . . .


The real world includes open violence and it often is violence that differentiates the good from the evil. Moreover, with evil, violence and sex may meet. My works do include references to such behavior; evil frequently manifests itself in this way. However, I have found that few details are necessary. I need not insult my reader by elaborating on the obvious. These things can be exceedingly offensive and painful. I find no entertainment value in them. Moreover, when one writes, a phenomenon occurs. In order to relate a tale to her readers, an author must look at the details. I have found that I reach a point where I must close my eyes, where I cannot allow myself to see or to hear more—even though I know it exists. Beyond that place, I will not go. Beyond that place I will allow my reader to use her own imagination—should she be so inclined.

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ROBIN LYTHGOE
Author of As the Crow Flies and two short stories
Robin's Website

I am going to say right out that I am not a fan of a rating beyond PG-13 in either books or movies. A great number of recent offerings are being touted as “gritty” and “dark,” when what they really seem to mean is “violent, vulgar, and explicit.” I firmly believe that stories can be gripping, thrilling, thoughtful, controversial, breathtaking or entertaining without resorting to extremes. It’s a shame, really. I understand the desire to write for a so-called “adult” audience, but why does an adult audience need lower standards than a less-adult one? (And are we talking age or maturity here?)

It is interesting—and somewhat telling—how the lower ratings are falling out of favor. There is an unvoiced opinion that somehow they mean the tales are for children. Material is often added in, appropriate or not, to give edgier ratings. As a society we are actively, purposefully working to desensitize ourselves.

“What? But I can’t accurately depict my characters if they don’t swear a blue streak, graphically hurt their enemies, or have detailed sexual relationships!”

Seriously? What that really means is that the author isn’t creative or resourceful enough to figure out an alternate way of delivering the scene. Yes, bad language, violence, drugs, and superficial whoopee happen every day in “real life,” and some of those situations are part of truly intense stories. But they do not have to be spelled out in gory detail and they do not have to be advocated. The lack of harsh characteristics does not equate poor reading material. We do our readers a grave injustice when we don’t trust that their imaginations will carry them through, that they will pick up on individually pertinent details and fill in the blanks to create a scenario that is meaningful to them.


Moreover, why would an author or producer want to deliberately limit her audience? I do not write specifically for the Young Adult market, but I am thrilled when someone from that audience not only can read my book, but enjoys it (and hello! BUYS it!). And is there an ample market for PG-13 and gentler books? Why, yes, there is. I am encouraged by the response to author Leeland Artra’s fledgling Facebook group, (https://www.facebook.com/FSFNet) Fantasy Sci-Fi Network News,” which is “a collection of authors, bloggers, and reviewers who are passionate about finding and creating quality fantasy/sci-fi books which are also teen safe (G, PG, or PG-13 rated). The FSF Network believes it is possible to create fantastic works of fantasy and science fiction without resorting to graphic violence, explicitly harsh language, or sex.” Two weeks, 200 followers. From my point of view, that’s a good sign.

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I'll wrap up this week with my thoughts. I am a firm believer in writing what I know. Sometimes, the things I know are not so nice. The world we live in is not always a nice place and that is why we, as adults, are the barriers between our children and the written word that may make too strong an impact at the wrong time. This is why I believe in parental interaction with teachers throughout the school years. I know my child best. Teachers and parents must partner in education. In this vein, When my children were in grade school, I read everything they were required to read so that I knew if it was appropriate for them. If I felt it was not, I would request another reading assignment. That is a parent's job.

As a writer, I don't write fiction for children or young adults. My stories are written for adults with adult consequences for adult actions. Even so, I consider the PG-13 guidelines (which you may read by clicking on the link at the end of my entry) to be a very good line in the sand. They are a point at which I pause and say to myself, "Do I need harsh language? Do I need this scene, this level of graphic depiction?" Usually, the answer is, "No." Inclusive of everyday life, I'd very much like it if, when in the public eye, people confined themselves to actions and speech we'd consider G. But the world isn't G rated or even PG. It is a scary place. For my writing to attract the audience I want, fiction I can share with everyone, fiction of which I can be proud, I recognize that there may be times when gentle words aren't enough.

There are times when even the guidelines for PG-13 go beyond what I would write and times, I confess, where they may not go far enough. In my writing, I lean toward strong violence: war, death, illness, occasional drug use. I probably skirt that line between PG-13 and R. I don't dive fully into the R rating. I don't need it. I also don't want to be told I can't write it if I think it will add to the tale I'm telling. At this time of my life, with adult children, I do ask myself, "Would I let my daughter read this? My pastor?" I'm happy to say that the answer is, "Yes." It's "yes" because I believe in the intelligence and understanding of my target audience. Would I want my grandchildren to read it, if I had any? No. Not because I am ashamed, but because it isn't written for them. Should I then not put my stories out there because of who might read them? Again, no. Every person must take responsibility for what they produce and must educate themselves about what they may face within the context of certain genres.

See more at Wiki’s Motion Picture Rating system http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_picture_rating_system and the Motion Picture Association of America (What Each Rating Means) http://www.mpaa.org/ratings/what-each-rating-means


Join us next month for a new topic!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Special Event! TOMORROW! October 14th!



This coming Monday, October 14th! One Day only! 
Mark your calendars--It's a Flash Sale! 
As the Crow Flies will be on sale for a mere 99¢
Get there and get yours! 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Peer Reviews: What's Up With That?

Welcome to a new First Friday Feature of our group of Fantasy writers called (drum roll please):

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My writing partner describes our group as "discussing the industry and our experiences, and we plan to throw in some fun things as well."

Our first topic is one much bandied about - The Peer Review. Let's get on with it, shall we? I'll begin. The peer review. Just the words are frightening. They should be. When it comes to writing scientific journals, the peer review can often determine whether or not a scientist's paper is published at all and if published, taken seriously. The concept of the peer review is honored by its roots in the dialogues of Plato. In the tradition of Socrates, peer reviews in science are all about questioning, challenging and turning suppositions and pre-suppositions, inside out. Follow the data! What is the truth? Thank goodness that peer reviews in the world of writing are not so consequential. Then again, aren't they?

It can be more than terrifying when an author hands over his or her baby to a group of peers for that precious document to be dissected and evaluated. Often, a writer will take the things said by such reviewers as gospel. Condemnation by one's peers that the work is awful can lead to the thought that one should never publish. The gold star review that says, "publish everything you write! You're amazing!  Do it now!" can be just as detrimental. However, when a writer's focus is on the words he or she has written, rather than what he or she thinks others think of him or her, a peer review can be an valuable tool toward improvement. Often, we focus on not being good enough when, delightfully, we can always learn, study and rewrite.

As authors of fiction—be it science, fantasy or historical—we go to our peers for their input because they are the fact-makers. They are the world-builders. Our fictional worlds need to make sense, even when they come completely out of our heads. (I've often been told I'm out of mine...) If one thing does not lead logically to another, even in the most fantastic world, we might be left with the question: "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" A question even Charles Lutwidge Dodgson never really answered to my satisfaction. Still, I thank God that no peer reviewer stopped him from creating such a Wonderland.

In the end, the peer review must be taken with quiet dignity and grace and a few grains of salt. The writer must keep on writing, humbled that others take an interest and encouraged that there is room in the world for all manner of works, no matter what anyone says.

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C.M.J. WALLACE
C.M.J.'s Website

I’m undecided about exchanging book reviews with authors. A sticky question of ethics rears its ugly head the instant the deal is made because each author writes the review with the understanding that it’s going to be quid pro quo, and however much we tell ourselves that we can be unbiased, it just ain’t so. We’re a morass of prejudices that include everything from food preferences to standards of beauty.

I’ve had two interesting (and enlightening) experiences with review trades. I didn’t know the author of the first one I did. He posted a Goodreads thread asking for review exchanges and we swapped books, I giving him a Smashwords coupon for a free download and he sending me a paperback. He finished mine first and gave it 5 stars on Goodreads without posting his review elsewhere. A week or so later, I finished his and gave it 4 stars. Shortly after that, he posted his review of my book on Smashwords and gave it 4 stars. The lesson? He’d expected me to give his book 5 stars because that’s what he gave mine. Truth be told, his didn’t deserve even 4 stars, but I allowed an element of guilt to influence my rating: He’d spent the time and money to send me a paperback. That’s one problem with review exchanges. What would he have done had I rated his book 3 stars or lower? Unfortunately, indie authors can’t afford to discount the possibility of retributive ratings. That’s another problem with trading reviews.

The second exchange was with a Goodreads friend, but we bought each other’s books through a program on Facebook. I finished hers first and gave it 4 stars because it really does merit that rating, but I pointed out in my review that it had editorial problems. Then she finished mine and gave it 5 stars, which pleasantly surprised me not (entirely) because of the rating but because—let’s face it—friend or not, I really don’t know her and expected strict quid pro quo at best. Did the fact that we’d paid for each other’s books free us from tit for tat? I don’t know. But I do know that I feel more comfortable reviewing books by authors with whom I’ll never have any interaction.

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PATRICIA REDING
Patricia's Website

A peer is a person who is “equal to another in abilities, qualifications, age, background and social status.” Thus, I begin by saying that I do not feel I’ve earned the right to call many other writers my “peers.” They have been at this much longer than I and have accomplished much more than I. They are not “equal” to me—they are superior to me. I acknowledge that fact and I honor them for it. Further, I cannot speak to how others might review my work, as I cannot know their intentions. So, I find I am limited to speaking to how I review the works of others. Whether fair or foul, I will leave to you to decide.

To be honest, I divide other writers into groups. First are those who are enjoying the fame of mass publication by traditional publishing companies or who have already made it big as indie authors. While I am in no way the “peer” of such authors, I find it easier to review and rate their works. Why? I suppose because I feel that my rating will make no difference to the success of these writers or to what others might think of their works. Thus, I am free to rate based on nothing more than how much I enjoyed the work.

Then, there are the indie-published authors. Their works are the most difficult for me to review because my reviews of these works might actually matter—to the authors themselves and to prospective future readers who may decide on the basis of my words of praise or criticism, whether to give a work a try. Even so, I still only give a four or five star rating when I find a work truly well written, with an engaging and novel story line, elements of surprise, musical prose and, perhaps, a bit of literary magic. To me, that is fair, both to the author and to prospective future readers.

On the other end of the spectrum are the one- and two-star works. In truth, I’ve only ever read one work that was a one-star work. It was, in short, the single worst thing I have ever read. Ever. Period. I did not post a review for the work. I wrote one (so that I could vent), but I posted nothing. So no harm, no foul. Or, was it? Should prospective readers be made aware of such works before they spend their hard earned money on them? Are other indie authors damaged when poor works are not called out? I will leave that for you to decide. Having said that, an indie work that I rate two stars is one I believe has promise. There are significant issues with the work, but they are not insurmountable. In short, there is something that makes the work worthy of more than a single star.

That leaves the three-star middle. For me, this rating means that the work may not have moved me—personally—in a deep and significant way, but others may very well enjoy the work. It matters not whether the work fits within one of my generally preferred genres or how I might have done something differently. These are simply works that are well enough done that others might truly enjoy them. As a three-star rating is not a poor one, I contend that such a review is a fair one.

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ROBIN LYTHGOE
Robin's Website

The question of whether or not it’s a bad idea for an author to give critical reviews of the work of other authors comes up frequently on boards and forums all across the internet, and I don’t think it’s one that will some day fade away. While “peer review” can be a delicate undertaking, it can also be a useful barometer. Who better to read and critique the work of authors than other authors (who, we fervently hope, are avid readers, too)? The key is to critique constructively, not to be critical. And you’ve stepped into marshy ground right out of the gates, because true objectivity is nearly impossible to achieve. We humans are subjective. It’s how we’re built.

We’re in an interesting place in the world of publishing. When the “Big Six” stopped being main gatekeepers, a veritable flood of books hit the market. I truly admire the sense of exuberance and determination that comes with the ability to self-publish. And yet… readers expect (and deserve) a certain level of professionalism that is often missing. We have become our own gatekeepers. How does that happen? Through reviews. Reviews are critical to boosting the visibility of any work. Some authors claim that the negative ones lend credibility; working, I assume, on the theory that you can’t please all the people all the time, and even well-known authors get bad reviews. While a single review won’t likely make or break a book, several reviews describing the same flaws can help the author identify weak places and help develop stronger skills. Reviews given in a positive and respectful manner help both the writer and the industry.

However, authors giving bad reviews to other authors opens an icky can of worms. (Are you keeping up here with how I’m mixing my metaphors?) For starters, that bad review is going to hurt more than a negative review from Joe Reader. Authors come with an implied sense of authority, whether it’s truly earned or not. Secondly, the author handing out bad reviews runs the risk of losing readers. Fans of the condemned books will likely decide they don’t agree with you about what makes a good story, and there goes your sale.

And another detail to trip up the unwary? The various places where you can post a rating DO NOT GIVE THE SAME VALUE to stars. Amazon’s 2-stars means “don't like it,” while Goodreads’ 2-stars means “it was okay.” A person can give a 4-star review on Amazon, and when they give a 3-star review with the very same verbiage on Goodreads, it means the same thing. “Liked it.”

So how about the notion of authors exchanging reviews? I did a couple of review exchanges shortly after the release of my book and… I don’t like it. I want the person reading my book to do an honest review, for better or worse, and I want to do the same with theirs. I can’t, in good conscience as one of the industry gatekeepers, give a good review for a terrible book. If I can barely choke out a 2-star review and they worship and adore me with a 5-star review, it seems unfair. Illogical, but unfair. Since those first experiences I’ve adopted the moderately satisfactory practice of not publicly posting reviews under three stars, and offering to pass that would-be review (generally more detailed than I would otherwise write) on to the author. If that helps them at all improve their work, I am pleased as punch. I want to help. I am delighted that people take the time out of their busy schedules to give their opinions of my work, either helping me grow or giving me the thrill of a job well done. Sometimes both!

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And there you have it, fans of all things writerly and readerly. What's YOUR take on peer reviews? I'd love to hear from you. Do you agree, disagree, think we're out of our minds or are you occupied with other things? I'd be thrilled to know. 

Join us next month for our insights on a new topic. Thanks for stopping by!