Category Archives: random musings

Help the Author – The Importance of Book Reviews.

book-review

I love reading books. I read a lot. In fact, I usually read one or two books a week. I’m also friends with a lot of avid book readers. But there is one thing that baffles me every time I hear it – it’s when those friends say something like this:

“I loved this book! It’s one of my favorite authors! But I don’t want to leave a review because I can’t formulate my thoughts well enough for it, or I’m afraid that I would make too many grammatical mistakes, or because it takes too much time.”

I’m sad when I hear that, because the BEST thing you can do for that author that you love so much (after buying their book legally of course) is to leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, and other book review sites for other readers to see.

You see, the publishing world is not what it was even 10 years ago. Putting a book for sale on Amazon is incredibly easy now – takes less than 5 minutes. So there is a literal sea of new content being put out there every day. And that book that you absolutely loved is just one tiny fish in that sea, easily overlooked by readers browsing for their next book.

So how can you help the author get more sales, which means she or he will get paid enough to write another book? By making their book more visible to potential buyers. And one easy and free way you can do that is by posting a review.

interior_view_of_stockholm_public_library

Reviews are important because, at least on Amazon, they increase the visibility of the book. The more reviews it has, the better are the chances that it will be included in the different lists or the “also viewed / bought” tab.

With so many books clamoring for my attention every time I go on Amazon or in a book store, I ALWAYS read a couple reviews before I decided if I will spend some of my hard earned money on a book or not. And I don’t only read 5 star reviews either. I usually pick up one 5 star, one 3 star and one 1 or 2 star review to make up my mind. Which should tell you the reason why all sorts of reviews matter.

That’s why authors are so desperate for reviews, and that’s why reviews are so hard to come by because most of the readers think exactly like the example above.

For some reason, a lot of people still think that only professional book bloggers / book magazines can write reviews for Amazon and other sites. This is so not true! Most of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have been posted by normal readers like you and I who loved a book (or hated it, or just thought it was so-so) and took the time to drop a  line or two and give it a few stars.

Yes, a book review doesn’t have to be a detailed analysis of the plot and characters that’s over 1k words long. It can be as short and or as long as you want. You liked something about this book, right? Or you didn’t like something, that’s okay as well. So write about that! ALL reviews are important and useful, as long as they’re honest.

Amazon Reviews

If you are still unsure of whether you should leave a review or how to approach it, here are a few tips:

  1. Write about the book, not the author. Never get personal in your praise or your critique. Never treat this more than a fictional story you read.
  1. Be honest. Write about what you liked or didn’t like about the book. Leaving a glowing 5 stars review on a sub-par book will actually do a disservice to the author in the long run. Others will read the book as well and might not be as forgiving, so your review will attract more negative attention then positive.
  1. Avoid spoilers. Maybe there is a plot twist you absolutely loved in the later part of the book, but don’t mention it in your review. You don’t want to spoil other readers, do you? You want them to reach that point and be as blown away as you are.
  1. Don’t worry if your review doesn’t look professional. So what if you didn’t structure you sentences properly or made some spelling and grammatical mistakes? You aren’t writing a dissertation or an article for New York Times. You are just sharing your opinion with fellow readers.

So now that you read all this, how about you go to Amazon and Goodreads, open the page of the last book you read, and leave a review? Share your love by helping the author get more visibility.

There is no such thing as too many books.
There is no such thing as too many books.

In Memoriam – Alan Rickman.

Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman would have turned 70 yesterday. Unfortunately, Fate decided differently, and he passed away on January 14, 2016, after loosing a battle against cancer.

But I couldn’t let this date pass without honoring one of my favorite actors at least in some way, so today I decided to talk about some of Alan Rickman roles that I loved the most. He has been in so many movies, theatrical plays, and radio shows, and even lent his beautiful voice to audio books, that it’s impossible for me to list them all. And I probably haven’t seen all of them either. So I will concentrate on those that I particularly loved.

  1. Hans Gruber in Die Hard.

I think this was one of the first Alan Rickman’s movies I’ve seen and I was 11 years old then. It just goes to show how impressed (and terrified) I was of Hans Gruber that I remember him even after all those years. Hans was magnificent in his ruthlessness and baddassery with a slight touch of crazy. One of the best villains ever.

Die Hard

2. The Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

It just goes to show how good Alan Rickman was at playing villains that he managed to transform this rather one dimensional character into somebody I in turn hated, despised, and pitied. He gave the Sheriff of Nottingham a touch of humanity and more than a few doses of insanity. Compared to how dull Robin Hood himself was in this movie, the Sheriff was a joy to watch.

Robn Hood prince of thieves

3. Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility.

As good as Alan Rickman was at playing a villain, he was absolutely swoon worthy as a romantic character. Colonel Brandon was a man of few words, but his eyes spoke volumes. He could melt your heart into a puddle with just one long soulful look. I kept yelling at Marianne to open her eyes and grab on to the treasure that this man was instead of chasing after Willoughby.

Sense and Sensibility

4. Metatron in Dogma

And if you thought he was excellent at playing villains or romantic heroes, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen him in Dogma. He was awesome as Archangel Metatron, The Voice of God. He was so full of sass and sarcasm and quick wit that I’m not gonna include a picture here, but a whole video clip instead. You’re welcome.

5. Professor Snape in Harry Potter.

This is probably the most iconic role Alan Rickman ever played. I’m safe to say that for my generation,  and for younger generations, the name of Professor Snape will always be associated with Alan Rickman. He embodied that character so perfectly, that I can’t imagine anyone else as Severus Snape.

Severus Snape

 

And there you have it, my five favorite roles Alan Rickman played. What are yours? He was a wonderful actor and human being who touch countless hearts. Our world grew a little duller now that he is gone.

Happy Birthday, Maestro! I miss you.

Getting back in the saddle.

Hibernating-BRB

I spent most of my month of December in a slump. Like I had said in my previous post, I might as well have hibernated during those 31 days because I couldn’t scrap up even an ounce of motivation to do anything. Needless to say that my writing suffered from that slump as well.

 

Oh, I still managed to put some words on the page every now and then, so I wouldn’t feel too awfully guilty. I could tell my conscience, See, there’s some new words, so hush now. Problem was that those were maybe 200-300 words a day. So I had written 50k words in the month of November and barely 15k in the whole of December. That’s a DRASTIC fall in productivity for me.

 

So on January 1st, I finally pulled out my Excel word count spreadsheet that I hadn’t touched since sometimes in the beginning of December and updated it with the pitiful word counts I’ve had. The results were rather depressing. If I kept going at this rate, I wouldn’t be done with the first draft of Shadow Hunters until end of March. And that provided that I manage to wrap it up in 100k words, which I never do on first drafts.

 

Now I don’t have a deadline or a publisher breathing down my neck. There is no editor waiting to tear into my draft. Technically,  I could take as much time as I want. I used to enjoy that freedom, but I think it’s done me a disservice in this instance – it made me too complacent.

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

Yes, I could putter around with the draft, adding 200-300 words here and there and finish the damn story just in time to start a new one for NaNoWriMo 2016. But I have other writing goals for 2016, like editing and rewriting other works, writing several short stories, and publishing at least one book. I can’t accomplish any of these if I drag my feet.

 

So I gave myself a mental kick in the butt and set myself a hard deadline. I need to finish Shadow Hunters by February 15th. This means I need to write at least 800 words per day every day until then, no matter what. No matter how I feel, no matter how (un)motivated I am, I will sit my butt in that chair and I won’t take my fingers off the keyboard until those 800 words are on the page. And I will make sure to update my spreadsheet everyday as well to keep track of my progress.

 

Setting up that deadline actually worked wonders for my motivation too. I had written more in the past 4 days than in the 10 last days of 2015. And I actually feel excited about my writing and my story again. It’s not just meh, need to kick that can down the road anymore. It’s wow, let’s see what shit I can land my poor characters in this time. Rubs her hands together with an evil grin at that thought

Accountability

And since I’m finally out of my slump, the motivation to write blog posts is also back! So expect regular updates on this site once again and the return of book reviews every Friday. I have at least good books screaming to be reviewed right now.

 

I am so sorry to all my readers that I let the blog fall by the wayside in the past few months. I could give the excuse of work and NaNo and winter blues, but the reality is that there is no excuse. It was just plain laziness on my part. I will do better in 2016.

 

Pfew, that’s it for my 2016 resolutions. How about you, my loyal readers, what resolutions will you set up for this new year?

It’s the end of the year! Time to look back at 2015 and see what’s ahead in 2016.

latest-happy-new-year-2016-photos

I can’t believe it’s the end of 2015 already! It feels like this year has gone past me at the speed of light. Whoosh! Gone. So I think it’s a good time to look back and see what I managed to accomplish in the past 12 months, and what I had planned to accomplish but never got around to do. And of course, now is the perfect time to set up goals for 2016 as well! So without further ado, let’s start.

 

What have I managed to accomplish in 2015?

 

  1. Well, I finished The Choices we make, or at least the first draft. This is a personal accomplishment for me because Choices had started as a mess of a draft somewhere in 2012 then had been abandoned after I barely put in about 25k words. This is the first time I pick up a discarded story and run with it to the end. Of course, I threw all of those initial 25k words out of the window and did an actual outline this time, so that might have helped. And as a bonus, while I worked on it, I got the idea for a sequel. So that’s a project for 2016!
  2. I finally finished the chameleon of a story that are Mists of the Crossworlds. It went from a 4k short story to a 20k novella and then to a 50k novel. But at least now the whole story is there. I have nothing else to add to it. And it’s gone through at least 2 rounds of revisions and rewrites. Now I’m just waiting for the final remarks of my beta extraordinaire to put some finishing touches on the draft. After that, it will go to my favorite grammar Nazi ahem editor and will be ready to be put out into the world for everyone to see.
  3. I have outlined two more short stories in the Eye of the Norns cycle, but I never got around to write the drafts. Bad me. I need to do better in 2016.
  4. I have outlined and started writing the first draft of a new novel called Shadow Hunters. It’s over 60k now and I’m still working on it every day, though slooooowly creeping along to the finish line.
  5. I participated at NaNoWriMo again this year and I won, though I must admit that I had a harder time muster the excitement for it this year, maybe because November proved to be one of the busiest months at work as well.
  6. And finally, I got another novel-length idea that I would tentatively call Ghost and the Good Doctor for now. All I did is jot a few notes and character profiles down. I haven’t even started truly mining that world or story yet.

 

Well, now that I look at that list, it doesn’t seem all that shabby, does it? I guess it’s easy not to notice everything you’ve accomplished when you have your nose to the grindstone all the time, so stepping back and taking stock is a good thing.

 

I have also managed to keep my full-time job for another year, read some truly wonderful books (post about the best books I read in 2015 coming soon as well), watch some amazing TV shows and movies, and play a couple good games. So all in all, not such a crappy year after all.

champagne

Now it’s time to make plans for 2016!

 

  1. First of all, I want to finish the first draft of Shadow Hunters and I’m hoping to be done with them by end of January.
  2. Once that’s out of the way, I will put the final touches on Mists and self-publish them on Amazon. This will be my first self-publishing experience, so I foresee lots of research and panic attacks in my future. And blog posts about it of course.
  3. I would also like to sit down and write those three short stories I had outlined for the Eye of the Norns That would bring the story count on this to 5 and it could be published as a standalone volume.
  4. Then I want to start editing Choice. Not sure if I will be able to go through the whole draft next year because I edit at a snail’s pace, but I would like to at least get a head start.
  5. Brainstorm and maybe outline the sequel to Choices.
  6. Brainstorm, outline and start the first draft for Ghost and the Good Doctor.
  7. Make that my NaNoWriMo 2016 project.

 

Pfew, that’s a lot of plans for the next 12 months! Let’s see if I actually manage to get any of that done.

On that note, Merry Christmas to you all and a Happy New Year! Make your plans and don’t forget to dream big.

Can I just hibernate till spring?

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

You might have wondered where I had disappeared to lately since I haven’t been very active on my blog: a couple of measly posts here and there, no book reviews to speak off… I’m very sorry about that! It’s just that I found it very hard to scrap up any motivation to do pretty much anything lately.

Call it winter blues, call it post-NaNo burnout, or even blame it on an insanely busy work schedule, but either way all I want to do is go into hibernation and wake up when it’s spring and everything is flowering again. And the sun doesn’t set at 5pm right when I get off work, when it even deigns to grace us with its presence at all. It’s only mid-December, and I’m already tired of the gray and the early dark. I want my sunshine back!

I think I wouldn’t mind winter as much if nature made up its mind and it was, you know, actually winter. Give me the cold weather and the snow and all the other good wintery stuff. But even that’s not the case this year! It’s 35 degrees one day and 70 the next, then back into the 40s, then oh, never mind, it’s 75 again.

Winter is coming or not

My poor rose bushes have no idea what to do about this weather, and the azaleas are trying to flower. I mean it’s 75 degrees outside today… on December freaking 15th! We had a bona fide summer thunderstorm yesterday. No wonder half the people at work are sick.

So since the beginning of December, I had been pretty much coasting on autopilot. I have a first draft to finish. I have several other books to edit, one of which I want to publish in March. I have books to read and review. I have good TV shows to watch. I have cross stitching projects that have been neglected for too long… Yet all I do when I get off work is sit and watch the grass try to grow in the middle of December while I listen to K-pop, and wonder if I should break out the riding mower or let the (hopefully) coming frost kill it. And then go to bed early because even that is exhausting.

But hey, the situation isn’t as dire as I made it sound! I’m still working on the first draft of Shadow Hunters, even though I went from writing 2k words a day to about 400-600 words. But speed is not as important as consistency, right? And the will to stick with it to the bitter end. I’ll get it done, winter slump be damned.

I have read two very good books this month as well, but I can’t post my reviews yet because they won’t be officially released until February 2016. I was lucky enough to get the ARCs (advance reader copies) of them through NetGalley. So look forward to those reviews (and books) closer to February.

I have also watched some excellent TV series, though I tend to favor Asian dramas lately. One of them, called White Christmas, stood out so much that I even posted a review of it a while back. And I’m planning on doing a marathon rewatch of it for Christmas, which only shows how much I liked the show.

So to paraphrase Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s excellent Discworld series, “I aten’t dead.” Now can we just skip this whole winter deal and get on with spring?

i-atent-dead

All the World’s a Stage.

Picture taken from Wallbo.com
Picture taken from Wallbo.com

I have been thinking about this expression a lot lately.

Most of us writers are the ultimate introverts. I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually go out of my way to interact with other people.  I get all the human interaction I need at work, so by the end of the day all I want is to be left alone. When most normal people go out on Friday evening, I’m perfectly content to spend the evening with a good book or playing with my imaginary friends and writing my own stories.

If the house becomes too silent, I can always have a meaningful conversation with my cat. I swear, that little s&^t talks back to me too! More than my husband does, who has by now learn to leave me alone when I’m in “the zone.” 🙂

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that it’s easy to get too comfortable in our little world where we are the god and master of everything, and  the only human interaction we have is via Twitter with other fellow writers.

That’s why I think it’s important to remember that there is a vast and wonderful world  just waiting to be explored and experienced. All the world’s a stage, and it’s waiting for us just outside the doors of our tiny office.  I think that we need to venture out there from time to time, especially when our muse seems to lose steam or our creativity is low.

I know that it’s not easy to step out of our comfort zone, and sometimes we might even think that we don’t need to do it. After all, we have plenty of books, TV shows, movies and the whole vast Internet to draw our inspiration out of… But I would argue that the best ideas are not found on the Internet, but in the streets of your city or along a forest trail. You just have to be there to pick them up, because if not, somebody else might pass on that trail and get the idea for their new bestseller before you do.

Picture taken from Dreamstime.com
Picture taken from Dreamstime.com

That’s why it’s so important to step out of our comfort zone from time to time. To go sit in a café and just listen to the conversations around us. It’s amazing how many plot bunnies you can get within just 10 minutes of sipping your coffee in Starbucks!

On a bigger scale, we should never be afraid of new experiences. Go to the gun range and try as many different guns as you can. Rent a four wheeler and go ride in the woods. Go hunting, diving, paragliding. Take a pottery class or learn how to draw. Start learning a new language. Listen to a genre of music you never tried before. Instead of going to the same tried and familiar spot for your vacation, choose something new.

Don’t shy away from those new experiences. Embrace them instead. Accept them with open arms because everything you experience will be fuel for your creativity. It’s surprising what kind of ideas your brain can come up with after watching the total lunar eclipse for example. And yes, I wrote at least 3 new plot bunnies down while I sipped my wine and watched the mood disappear Sunday night 🙂

So how about we make a resolution this fall – Let’s go out and be adventurous at least once a week, shall we?

Rant – Why the phrase “I don’t read because I don’t want others to influence my voice” makes no sense to me.

So I had a conversation with an aspiring author on Twitter the other day, and something that she said just absolutely floored me.

 

She is writing fiction, and her latest project is a science fiction / space opera story. When I asked her what science fiction authors she likes and what books influenced her story, she said the following:

 

Oh, I don’t read fiction. I don’t want other authors to influence my voice.

 

I was shocked speechless at first and could only repeat after the 10th Doctor, “What? What!? What!?!”

What? What?! What!?!
What? What?! What!?!

Frankly, I never shared the fear of some writers that reading books in their genre would somehow “contaminate” or alter their writing voice, but I can understand where they come from.  It’s true that we tend to borrow something from every book we read, especially if we really like it. It can be a story idea, a plot twist or, yes, the writing style, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

 

I mean, how can you improve your voice and your writing skill if have nothing to compare them to? How can you ever mature as a writer, if you don’t read a wide variety of books?

 

It’s all good and well to say that you don’t want other authors to influence your own unique voice, but I believe that your voice will stay unique no matter what. Even if you try writing like Charles Dickens or Stephen King, you will still be you, and your personality will still shine between the lines. And by experimenting, you will understand what works for you and what doesn’t, thus improving your style.

 

On the other hand, how can you improve your voice and mature as a writer if you never read? There is no growth if you have nothing to compare yourself with. Sure, you can look back at your earlier works and strive to write better, but how do you know what that “better” is if you don’t read anything in your chosen genre?  How can you even write in a genre if you’ve never read any books in it? That just baffles me.

This would be my living room if we didn't have ebooks.
This would be my living room if we didn’t have ebooks.

I’m an avid reader. I read a lot of books in a wide variety of genres, both fiction and non-fiction. Heck, any time I need to do research for my own stories, I browse the Internet, then I hit the library for reference books. Right now, I’m reading a research paper on Shinto, the traditional Japanese religion, for my fantasy book Shadow Hunters. The spirits in my book are not exactly like the kami and yukai, but Shinto gave me many inspirations, and it’s just plain interesting to learn something new!

 

I am not afraid to “muddy” my voice by reading and being influenced by other writers, because I don’t think that it’s going to happen. I know that sometimes I would read a book and think, “I love how this author handles dialogue. It flows the seamlessly and feels natural.” So I would pay very close attention to how it’s done, then try to integrate that knowledge into my own writing. Does that alter my voice? Yes. Does it make it better? Absolutely!

 

So in my opinion, a good writer needs to be first and foremost an avid reader who is willing to learn from others. Everybody is influenced by everything going around them, be it a TV series they watch, a book they read or a video game they play. All of these influences will show up in our writing, whether we want it or not, but that’s a good thing. If we feed our brain with a steady diet of diverse and interesting entertainment, it will produce some wonderful plot bunnies for us to write about! So read on, get influenced by what others do, evolve! And have fun!

There is no such thing as too many books.
There is no such thing as too many books.