Negative space

In art, negative space is the space around the subject of the image. It is the shapes created by absence.

In Art class at high school I was rubbish at negative space. I was all about drawing what was there, not seeing what wasn’t there. In reading and writing I feel like my attitude is the exact opposite: I’m all about what’s missing; I don’t see what is there.

As a reader and fledgling reviewer of novels, I find that this focus on the negative space can often lead to negatively-skewed reviews, even for books I enjoy. In a novel, when something is done right it is transparent to the reader. The writing becomes a window straight through onto the story as it plays out in the reader’s imagination. Nobody notices the window. I don’t see the good stuff – I take it for granted. I do see the negative space around the good stuff. I see what’s missing, be it characterisation, clarity, plausibility, or that final proofread.

As a writer I have the same negative-space tendency. When I finished writing the first novel I’d considered fit for self-publishing it was only 39000 words. My goal had been over 50000. I gave my self fifty-thousand-times more kickings over the 11000 words I didn’t write than I gave myself kudos for the 39000 I did write. All this despite the fact I had told the tale I wanted to tell within that word count, the way I wanted to tell it. To get the 50000 words I would have had to write a novel that was 20% padding. This carries over into the process of writing too. If my goal for the day was three scenes and I write only two scenes, that one unwritten scene follows me around all evening and reproaches me.  It is a black hole sucking away my good opinion of myself. It is the negative space that I live in.

Thank <deity_of_choice> for chocolate.

52Under2: Week 3 Shortlist

Week 3 of my 52Under2 book reviews.

These are the Top 5 books that caught my eye on Smashwords this week and I’ll be reviewing one of them in depth later in the week.

Lots of Brits in the shortlist this week, by accident rather than design.

Tauran Warrior by Lucy Luton
Lucy Luton seems a multi-talented individual. Links to her various websites show her to be an artist and musician as well as an author. She wrote Tauran Warrior when she was 14, though it doesn’t show in the prose. The formatting in the excerpt I read leaves something to be desired, but the book gets straight into the action.

The Village: Warm Hearth, Warm Hearts by A M Hanley
The Village interested me because it is set partly in the UK and because it is set in a post-peak-oil, near future, which I always enjoy. I wasn’t particularly taken by the cover; the font is hard to read and the image is plain. From the excerpt I read, it felt like a slow starter and didn’t grab my interest.

Physics for Poets by Nick Darcy-Fox
Physics for Poets caught my interest because of the distinctness of its setting: South Africa in the 1980s. The excerpt is really quite good and the long description promises a deep and interesting backdrop to the main story.

Malevolence by Devyn Dawson
The cover of this book is absolutely gorgeous, one of the best I’ve seen. The description promises vampires and werewolves in abundance. The excerpt is pretty good, though there are a few spelling and grammar mistakes, and well-formatted. What was a little disconcerting is that the cover seems to promise something 19th century, whereas the content is modern.

Witchblood by Emma Mills
Another book with a good-looking cover. The excerpt starts with a prologue that puts us into the middle of the story and then backtracks to show us how we get there. From the description, this sounds like another vampire, love-triangle story – but maybe one with a subtle sense of humour, judging from the last line of the description: “why does she still crave a packet of crisps more than a tasty teenage boy’s blood?”

52Under2: The Between by L. J. Cohen

The book I am reviewing this week for 52Under2 is The Between by LJ Cohen. It is about 72300 words long it is available on Smashwords for $2.99.

Congratulations to LJ Cohen on the release of her novel.

The Between is a story of Lydia Hawthorne, a girl who discovers that she is a faerie. Lydia is sought as an asset by both sides in a stalemated war that only she can end.

I really enjoyed this one. It has a good story with many threads of plot woven together, though there were a couple I wasn’t sure how they tied off.

The ending felt to me like a bit of a downer. The good guys triumphed, but the cost of victory seemed so high.

One thing that I found slightly distracting throughout is that one of the characters is called Clive Barrow (and is often referred to by his full name). Every time I saw it I thought of Clyde Barrow, as in Bonnie and Clyde. A connection I’m not sure the author intended.

Overall this was the best self-published novel I’ve read so far, and better than some traditionally published novels. It was well written, well paced, and the characters, their decisions and motivations felt very believable.

52Under2: Week 2 Shortlist

Week 2 of my 52Under2 book reviews.

These are the Top 5 books that caught my eye on Smashwords this week and I’ll be reviewing one of them in depth later in the week.

This was a strong week for vampires and vampire series on Smashwords. The number of YA vampire books released this week is well into the double figures. While I’m a little vampired-out I thought that I should include at least one vampire book on the shortlist and that book is:

Vampire Kissed by Timothy Knox
The punchy first line of the description made me chuckle and did a good job of putting the book straight onto the shortlist. Bonus points for the use of the word ‘abounds’.
The excerpt I read was good and had quite a few original and interesting turns of phrase in it. The author has also taken quite a bit of time and effort to polish and proof and format his novel.

Revealed by Heather A. Hendrix
From vampires to fallen angels (though with some vampires in the mix). Revealed has my favourite cover of all the books in the shortlist. Simple and with an interesting font, the only drawback is how small the author name appears.
The extended description shows that there’s a lot going on in this novel: fallen angels, immortals, vampires, clandestine agencies.
There are a few grammatical mistakes in the excerpt and this dissuaded me from reading the whole novel.

Death’s Promise by Cheryl Twaddle
Death’s Promise promises a story centred around time travel – a category I’ve found to be under-represented in the YA fiction that I’ve been exposed to.
This book lost me at the excerpt, which just felt like a slow start with too much scene setting and protagonist description right up front.
However, this is another book where the author has taken time to make sure that the text is polished and professional before releasing it.

Dimensia by Steven Thornton
This one made the shortlist because it seemed just so different to a lot of the other books out this week.
The cover is bright and riotous. The description gave me very little idea of story and characters but got me interested enough to read an excerpt.
However, it was not to be. The part of the excerpt that I scanned through dripped with exclamation marks. Frankly, the idea of reading almost 100,000 words with that density of excitement exhausted me.
This author has a lot of ideas and the enthusiasm to explore them.

The Between by LJ Cohen
Faeries are my favourite subgenre of fantasy (after all, my own novel is a Faerie tale) and that is what drew me initially to this book.
The plot description reminded me a bit of Holly Black’s Tithe: a girl discovers she’s a faerie, there’s a struggle between light and dark courts.
The excerpt was good enough to keep me reading and gets straight into the plot. So this is the book that I’ll be reviewing later in the week.
The clinching factor: the author is a fan of Doctor Who.


52Under2: UnEnchanted by Chanda Hahn

The book I am reviewing this week for 52Under2 is UnEnchanted by Chanda Hahn. It is about 62000 words long and available on Smashwords for $0.99. (Correct at time of this review. The author’s blog indicates that the price might go up later.)

Congratulations to Ms Hahn on the release of her novel.

While there were stronger covers and better excerpts in my shortlist, I picked UnEnchanted to read this week mainly because of the premise: fairy tales coming to life and victimising the young descendent of the Brothers Grimm. I’m not deeply familiar with Grimm stories other than the main/popular ones, but I knew enough about them to know that there was a great deal of material for the author to mine, and I looked forward to seeing how she would do it.

Initially, I struggled with this book. There are quite a few distracting elements: POV switching on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis, tense switching, a character depiction that I found a little offensive, and a multitude of the kind of spelling and grammar mistakes that a spellcheck program won’t catch.
(I noticed my own favourite mistake among them – ending a verb in ‘es’ instead of ‘ed’ (e.g. ‘she raises’ instead of ‘she raised’. With the keys ‘S’ and ‘D’ right next to each other I do that all the time and spellcheck won’t spot it. I found so many of these when proofing my own novel that I lost count.)
All of these elements only really felt distracting to me in the first part of the book. The reason for this is that I found UnEnchanted quite slow-paced to begin with. While dramatic events do occur in the first half of the book, a lot of it is taken up with establishing the romantic relationship between Mina and her crush.

At about the 60% mark I realised that this was probably going to be a series of novels rather than a one off, at which point the slow pace made a little more sense. And as Mina is told there are almost 200 Grimm tales for her to survive, so this series has the potential to continue into many more novels.

Once I passed the 70% mark things began to heat up. Events started to come together more. A time and place for the final showdown emerged – a fairy tale ball, of course – and the tension mounts as Mina gets closer to this event. There’s even a teaser for love triangle potential in future books of the series.

Because of the spelling, punctuation and grammar problems in the book I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving it more than 2/5 stars. But the series has potential and, judging from the author’s Upcoming Projects page, if you like this book you shouldn’t have too long to wait for that sequel.

52Under2: Week 1 Shortlist

Week 1 of my 52Under2 book reviews.

These are the Top 5 books that caught my eye on Smashwords this week and I’ll be reviewing one of them in depth later in the week.

Into the Mist: Silver Hand by Steve Finegan
The  cover of this book looked good and, despite the slightly messy look achieved by having three different fonts, it got me interested enough to read the blurb. I found the idea of an epileptic hero, whose epilepsy gives him special abilities, quite tempting. Unfortunately when I went to read a sample the links on Smashwords were covered by an image and I couldn’t get  taster.
The author has also released this book as a podcast, which I might give a try at some point, as I’m always on the lookout for stuff to listen to while at the gym.

The Shadows in Between by Nicole T Smith
This book is tagged as a paranormal romance, but the cover is a bit different from what I’ve come to expect from a lot of books in this genre (a complete lack of black background for a start). It was this difference that made the book stand out enough for me read the blurb. Though I wasn’t clear immediately what flavour of paranormal was in this romance, I put it on my shortlist of books to read excerpts from.
The excerpt reveals some pretty good writing. The main reason I won’t be buying and reviewing this novel is that the paranormal flavour is ghosts and that’s just not my preference. But if ghosts are your bag, give it a try.

Children of the Gods – A Chosen Novel by Monica Millard
Another one where an attractive cover pulled me in. I liked the image, though I found the font a little bit difficult to read without zooming in. The cover got me to the blurb where I found another interesting/tempting story concept.
The only thing that turned me off the idea of reading this book was a spelling mistake in the Extended Description. (Shallow of me I know, but sometimes it’s all in the details.)
The author also offers a free short story eBook set in the same world as a prequel. Give it a try to get a taste of what the novel has to offer.

Monstrous by Ty Simmons
The cover of this novel reminded me of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments books, which I must admit is one of the reasons I added it to my shortlist. This book is well blurbed (is that a word?) The short description is succinct and gets you interested, then the long description fills in more detail and introduces more characters without giving too much away.
Reading the excerpt, you get straight into a suspenseful situation and it was compelling enough for me to keep reading for a while. This book is definitely going on my TBR pile, but it’s not the one I’ll be reading and reviewing this week.
And the reason for that is that I really wanted to read this next book instead.

UnEnchanted by Chanda Hahn
I love this story concept. A descendent of the Brothers Grimm being threatened by a story. Even though the writing in the excerpt wasn’t the best out of all of these, the concept was interesting enough to make me eager to read this book and see what the author does with it.
I’m off to download this book and I’ll post a review of it later in the week.


52 Under 2 Book Reviews

This is something in the nature of a New Year’s Resolution, but those are made to be broken so instead let’s call it a Manifesto – because that sounds cooler.

This year I will read and review 52 self-published eBook novels on this blog.

One a week = 52, so far so easy. The ‘under 2’ part comes from these restrictions:

  1. The book must cost under £2
    That’s about $3.12 at today’s exchange rate – I’ll call it $3 all year for the sake of making it easier on myself.
  2. The author must have under 2 books published on Smashwords.
    I know technically ‘under 2’ means 1 and I will be aiming for novels that are an author’s debut, but I will make an exception for authors who have self-published exactly 2 books if the book in question sounds tasty enough. Why? Because this is where I am as a writer, and I want to show some love to those who are in the same boat as I am, sailing towards the same dreams.
Other restrictions:
  1. I discover the book myself.
    Sorry, I don’t take review requests. Part of what makes this interesting to me is searching for a book or books to read and figuring out how the author managed to lure me in to reading. In this publishing climate that’s almost as important as what’s between the covers.
    There are plenty of book reviewers who will take review request and add a novel to their TBR pile. I’ve discovered that a lot of them are quite backed-up and might take a few months to get to a novel. Which leads me to…
  2. The book was published the preceding week.
    Yup – I only want it if it is hot off the metaphorical presses. Why?  Because you’ve written a book, you’re excited about it, you hit publish, and then…
    So some folks might get a thousand sales straight off the bat (and congratulations to you, you awesome-writing, super-marketing machines), but many will sit on tenterhooks watching for those early sales and feeling a stab of joy every time the counter goes up. I want to stab people… with joy, that is. Hmm, I’d better go back to the beginning of that metaphor and start again.
    I think it’s just nice to know, once you’ve put yourself out there, that someone is paying attention. And it might mean more early on, than when an author’s focus has moved to constructing the next story.

Discovery: I haven’t refined this yet, but I think my book discovery mechanism will be to search Smashwords for books in YA, SF, fantasy, or a combination of the above, that have been published in the preceding week and, based on the cover and the blurb, build a shortlist of 5 books that I might like to read. I can then use the sample/excerpt facility to pick from this 5 my book for the week.

I’ll post information about the other 4 books that I didn’t choose to review as well, in the hope that that might spur someone else to read and review them. Though just because I didn’t choose to review a book on a given week, doesn’t mean I won’t read it ever.

So that’s the plan; wish me luck.