Book Review. A Touch of Darkness by Scarlett St. Clair. 3.5 Stars.

Warning: Some reviews contain minor spoilers, but I keep the best parts vague. Check out my Reading Ranting page for more reviews and thoughts on reading.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I love all things mythological, so this was a fun book to read. However, I found that for everything I liked in general, there was a huge exception that put me on the fence with this book. I would have given it 2.5 stars based on that, but it had a certain… “je ne sai quoi,” to it, so it got an extra star for that. 

What I liked…

  • I love how the mythological gods were brought to life in the modern world very much how the myths depicted. 
  • I liked how Scarlett played on Persephone’s sexual inexperience without making her sound naive or like she has no idea what to do. It was a great balance in that respect.
  • I like how Persephone was conflicted over Hades based on her mother’s warnings and the stories of impossible bargains. 
  • I like the god of the underworld trying to maintain his reputation as the bad guy until Persephone comes along and makes him want to look like the good guy. 

Image here… Hades-and-Persephone-by-Procastle

What I didn’t like… which were exceptions to what I did like…

  • The contract??? It was too unclear for my liking, and I couldn work out how a card game lead to Persephone being tied to a contract with Hades. I mean, they agreed to terms of the card game, but then suddenly, it becomes a whole contract. Maybe it was me.
  • Persephone felt too naive when it came to everyday things. I get why some things were confusing to her because she’d been kept away from people until a few years ago. But it’s been a few years. Sure she’s figured things out by this point.
  • Her surprise over the backlash of her article seemed unrealistic. She’s a journalist who’s probably seen it happen to other writers. Again, might just be me.
  • The prose was a little… ho hum for my liking. It felt like a newer writer’s prose rather than a bestselling author’s. 
  • The love scenes fell short for me. All the actions were there along with some thoughts, but they felt rushed and lacked the physical sensations to complete and well-rounded emotional moment.

Like I said, I generally liked a lot about this book, but some of the issues made it less enjoyable than it could have been. Still, I read it and have just finished book 2, so it was worth the read.

Writing Is a Business!

Writing is a business, especially if you plan to self-publish. You need to start thinking like a business owner as well as a writer. Make time for the various writing tasks the way you would at any other job.That’s if you want to make an income from it, otherwise, write however you want. Or write how you want anyway.

I want to publish my work, but I’m very realistic about how I can’t live on my writing. I love my teaching job and have time for writing, too. It’s like I have two jobs but only get paid for one. Most people who work at home or run a small business from home have the luxury of choosing their hours and managing their own time. But for some, managing their own time is a chore.

Here’s some helpful things to think about when structuring your own schedule to help make the most of your writing and grow it like a business.

  • Writing is your main task, so allow blocks of time to get as much done as possible.
  • Allow time for things like planning, researching, and finding inspiration.
  • Use a calendar to plan and remind yourself of tasks. I use different colours for different tasks.
  • If you use social media or blogs to self-promote, think of that as a presentations for potential clients.
  • Investing in things like writing books or courses or writing software is no different from investing in a startup company. There are things you need from day one, and things you can save up for as you make more progress. See my “Writing on a Budget” post for more on that.
  • Critiquing and sharing your work is like a meeting where you all discuss your current projects and help each other make the best of them.
  • Editing can be fun or boring as hell depending on how you approach it. I like to think of it as making sure everyone else is doing their job properly, and if not, you deal with it. I recommend outsourcing to a professional just as some businesses would with aspects out of their skill set.
  • You could think of querying agents as offering your fantastic services.
  • Then you sell your final product to shops for purchase while keeping up with marketing and designing your next products.

Running a small business can seem like a daunting idea until you realise that it’s just structuring what you enjoy into something you can make money from. Just don’t quit your day job.

Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay 

Book Review. The Kingdom of Flesh and Fire, and Crown of Guilded Bones by Jennifer L. Armentrout. 2 stars.

Warning: Some reviews contain minor spoilers, but I keep the best parts vague. Check out my Reading Ranting page for more reviews and thoughts on reading.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Disclosure: I didn’t finish book 3 because I just gave up. Also, this is a pretty negative review. I liked book 1 for the most part, but the series went downhill from there, and I’m truly sorry to Jennifer since I loved her Wicked and Titan series a lot. Also, I purposely put books 2 and 3 from the Blood and Ash series together because I had the same feeling during both books.

What I liked…

I liked Poppy’s gradual transition from innocent, naive, and sheltered Maiden to someone who sees and accepts the realities of the conflicts around her. 

I also liked her realistic sense of inner conflict over everything she thought she knew compared to everything she’s learning. That’s not easy to flip beliefs like that, so her processing and continuous questioning of the truth felt pretty satisfying.

Poppy’s growth of magic. I had issues with explanations of this (see below for what I didn’t like) but I loved how her powers grew and evolved in stages.

What I didn’t like…

So many bad sex scenes. 

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. I love a good love scene, but i don’t like over descriptions or dragging scenes. Also, I thought this series was YA with the MC being 18. That doesn’t mean to say the book can’t have sex scenes. Teenagers have sex whether others approve or not. But the frequency and narration and over description of the sex scenes did not fit my idea of a YA love scene. And I’ve ead some really good sex scene from YA authors that are obvious as to what’s going on without going into detail on… plunging. Like… sounds painful.

The inappropriate timing of sex scenes was insane. Like in book 2, just after Poppy kills a significant character, she and Cas get hot and steamy in the carriage that brought said victim to their location. And in book 3, just before she meets with someone important for the first time in ages, the conversation during that love scene was seriously off base. Also, the scenes just dragged with long conversations before and after. Ugh, not sexy or romantic IMO.

Overdone character traits…

Poppy has questions… Obviously, because she’s been sheltered all her life and knows nothing about the big wide world and the people thought to be extinct.

Cas always accuses her of being violent after some very acceptable violence in very limited and warranted situations against people who genuinely hurt her in very deep ways. 

As for the big wide world… why are we just learning about everything that should have been hinted at sooner through Poppy’s curiosity or Casteels’ loooooong explantations about stuff. This is mainly a book 3 issue, but I feel so much was left out that it’s all just being dropped on the reader as it happens. This just feels more convenient for the author rather than building up to major things with mentions here and there that make sense when they need to.

Poppy’s powers… I know I said I liked them, and I did, but her sudden ability to control said powers was unrealistic. I can understand a one-off because of emotional desperation, but this seems to just happen without a struggle.

Willamina Collins’ diary. This is a saucy journal that Poppy found in book 1, but Cas (when he went by Hawke) discovered her stealing the book from the library and just won’t let it go even though he’s the one who brought it on the trip and keeps going on about it. It also seems to be a source of sex education via Cas, I mean, Poppy’s worked out a lot from the book, so why Cas needs to give more explanation is beyond me.

After everything Poppy’s done with Casteel, I find it ridiculous that she still gets squeamish over his mention of the book or anything sexual. I totally get some uncontrollable blushing because some people genuinely can’t help that, but the outright protesting and constant defensiveness was way overdone on multiple occasions when she’s actually up for it when the the moment happens. That needed levelling out a lot.

Overall, I was disappointed with both books, and don’t plan to finish book 3 any time soon or read book 4. Jennifer should stick to the more modern/urban fantasy like Wicked, which I finally read. I’ll definitely have a more positive review of this book along with the movie of book 1 on Passionflix.

Having an Online Presence Isn’t so Scary!

Treat for my writing buddy T-Rex who is always supporting me in my writing, so here’s some hopefully helpful thoughts on getting online.

Blogging and staying active on social media to promote your brand is time-consuming and overwhelming when you have a million and one other things to do, but if you want to make it in this world, you have to market yourself. I’m going to breakdown some tips for organising and connecting your apps to make things that bit easier. 

Let’s start with a blog and website. 

I strongly recommend a full-package hosting platform for your website. They make design and management so much more easy. Platforms like WordPress are designed for blogs as well as full websites, but there are others out there. 

I can’t rave enough about WordPress, so here are some of the many things I love about WordPress.

  • Easy and versatile editing for your posts and pages. You can choose preset layouts or add your own widgets like an image gallery, quotes, files… the list goes on. 
  • You can use your own images (copyright depending) or use the built-in Pexels.com search with automatic attribution. It’s important to attribute artists especially when they’re offering great images for free.
  • Connectivity to various apps. If you’re reading this post in its full form as opposed to WordPress Reader, you’ll see my Instagram and Goodreads to the right or below. Plus, you can automatically publish new posts to Twitter and Facebook (if you create a page). There’s also Mailchimp connection. You can even link to your Google photos for easy image upload. 
  • See your stats and traffic and where they’re coming from to help with marketing.
  • Lots of themes to choose from on the free version, and even more on the paid versions.
  • You can personalise your site address even with the free version if you don’t mind the wordpress.com at the end. Or you can upgrade and have your own domain. Plans start at around $50 per year, but I recommend Premium around $100 per year. 
  • Add hashtags and categories to help people find your latest posts and pages on WordPress and Facebook.
  • Built-in scheduling to time your posts just right for your readers.
  • Readers and bloggers can use the WordPress app for easy viewing and quick posting or editing on the go. 

Social Media

Whether you like social media or not, it’s essential to get your name out there in this busy modern age. I’m still very much growing a following, but the moment I became active on social media, my blog traffic tripled. Here are my favourite aspects of the platforms I use.

Intsagram

You can’t share links on Instagram, but you can use something like linktree which I’ll talk about in a moment.

  • The filters make basic quality photos from your mobile look more professional and creative. 
  • It’s quick and easy to scroll through and all about the images. Long text is generally not used, and if it is, it’s very hidden behind a “see more” option.
  • Most people I follow publish daily, but not more than two or three posts like many on Twitter.
  • I can follow people and hashtags and find new writers or bookworms to follow for a great community.
  • There’s also a group chat option. 
  • You can go live and get great conversations going.

Facebook

  • Unlike Instagram, you can post links (like from your blog) with an automatic snippet from the page.
  • Groups are more versatile than Instagram and work a bit like a private page for people to post to and respond to similar to a forum. 
  • It feels like it has more information, which I don’t always have the brain capacity for, but when I do, I find it entertaining to keep up with my favourite writers and musicians. 

Twitter

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Twitter. I tried but didn’t get on with it. But it’s good for quick posts and limited word count. Plus, you can share links on there.

Staying Organised

  • I recommend keeping multiple blog posts in the same document/s based on time spans or themes. I keep my writing ranting posts separate from my reading ranting posts. Each one has two months’ of posts.
  • Using Google Docs or OneNotes is great because you can work on your computer or your phone. Then you can copy into your desired app when it’s ready.
  • Scheduling posts is another great way to keep your social media more organised and balance your life and social media. Set aside time each week to write and prepare your posts, then sit back and watch the magical world of digital media do its thing. As I mentioned, WordPress has this option for blog posts. Facebook has a business management app for free with scheduling. Or, you can use Planoly to publish on Instagram. There’s a setting on Instagram to automatically post to Facebook so you don’t have to post twice.
  • Keep lists of hashtags in a handy document such as your blog document or a OneNotes page for quick copying to whatever your posting. 
  • Keep all your links in one place. I use Link Tree for a one-stop-shop for social media and any new links I want to share, which I can use on Instagram since they don’t allow links in the posts. Just add the link in your link tree and tell readers to go to your bio link. 

It all sounds like a lot, but once you get the hang of it, it’s actually much easier than you think. With blog posts sending to Facebook, and Planoly sending to both Instagram and Facebook, you really only need to focus on these for scheduled posting. 

I’m sure I’ve missed something, but that’s the gist of it all.

Image by Paul Stachowiak from Pixabay 

Harsh Critiques!

I’ve had mixed experiences with giving and receiving critiques. I try to be honest and encouraging and have many great writing buddies do the same for me. But one thing that bothers me is when people I don’t know critique my work with zero encouragement or when others talk about wanting “harsh” crits or “tear my chapter apart”.

Firstly, let’s look at the word “harsh”.

Cambridge Dictionary says… unpleasant, unkind, cruel, or more severe than is necessary:

Merriam Webster defines it as… unpleasant and difficult to accept or experience

Then there’s “tear it apart” or “rip it to shreds”. I mean, who asks for something like that? 

What these people should be saying is “Be honest. Feel free to nit pick. Point out any and every issue you find that leaves my manuscript lacking.” This is what a “real” critique is all about.

Critters can’t control if a writer is going to be sensitive to negative comments or not, but you don’t have to sugarcoat it either to be constructive. You don’t have to lie or give false praise in order to be encouraging. Honesty and a little tact on any issues go an incredibly long way. There’s also a sever lack of encouragement for new writers. We’re all learning and growing and want to be part of a community that inspires us to be better rather than discouraging us. There should be balance in a good critique.

Critiques should be helpful, productive and exciting to see the potential in your work even if you have a long way to go. For me, that’s part of the fun, taking a draft and polishing it into something I can be proud of and grateful for my writing buddies for getting me there.

However, I get to the point with my writing buddies where we can be blunt without offending one another. I’ve had a couple who apologise for bluntness if they picked on something a lot in a particular chapter, and I was fine with it. That’s a little different because I know them and trust that they’re not saying it to be harsh. They’re saying it because they’re familiar enough with my work to know what I’m capable of.

So stop asking for harsh critiques and start asking for honest ones.

Image by Steve Johnson from Pixabay 

Unravelling Writing Advice – When to Hire and Editor!

Another installment from Unravelling Writing Advice series.

I’ve never hired an editor, and there’s a reason for that. Let me explain…

When it comes to hiring editors, I’ve discovered there are three types of writer.

  1. The writer who gets an editor before they’ve finished their WIP or pays an editor even though they plan to traditionally publish their work.
  2. The writer who thinks critique partners and beta readers substitute a professional editor.
  3. The writer who does all they can through CPs and beta readers before hiring an editor or waits for an agent/publishing house to arrange that for them.

Let’s look at number one. Hiring an editor too soon is a waste of money, if you ask me. Sure, you might get frustrated with feedback from fellow writers and want a professional opinion on your WIP. But I’d do as much as you can with your CPs and beta readers before shelling precious money. 

If your heart is still set on getting professional input, a developmental editor would be your best bet. They’re there to help with plot holes, character arcs, common prose fails, and other big picture issues. Think about what this would do short term and long term. Do you think one editor can do a better job than multiple CPs on your WIP? I’m not saying don’t hire one if you’re struggling. I’m saying consider carefully if it’s worth the cost. Multiple CPs can pick out a lot of big-picture issues between them, and it’s free. 

On the other hand, I would never suggest anyone skip a professional editor in favour of using CPs as editors. Not all writers have great editing skills and vice versa. Editor is its own profession for a reason. Whether you self-publish or go via an agent or publisher, you should always have at least a copy editor go through your work for spelling and grammar mistakes before you finalise your printable book.

In my opinion, the best time to hire an editor is when you’ve done all you can based on your skills and feedback. Either hire an editor yourself if you self-publish or let your agent/publisher handle this for you. Ideally, editing is the absolute last stage as far as writing your manuscript before it gets made into a pretty little book or ebook. 

The reason why I haven’t hired an editor is because I had great CPs and beta readers to develop my story. I also hope to traditionally publish my book, so I’m not going to pay for something when a possible agent will organise it and foot the bill for me. If I get rejected, then I’ll pay an editor to do a final polish of my MS before it’s publishable.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, so don’t spend it until you actually need that professional editing service. But you WILL need it to give your book a more professional look.

Image by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pixabay

Unravelling Writing Advice – How Often To Write!

Introducing my new series Unravelling Writing Advice where I explain how the advice works and adapts for every writer.

Most of the advice I’ve seen talks about weekly goals and daily writing schedules. It helps keep you organised and motivated. Without regular goals, your writing time can get lost in the haze that is the rest if your life. Many writers do it as a second job or as a very serious pastime. Either way, writing is our passion, our drive, our outlet.

I’m lucky in that I don’t work particularly long hours, so I write most days around the same time. That’s because my creativity is at its best during my morning coffee or in the evening after dinner. I live alone, apart from my very adorable cats, and I have little else to do before and after my day job.

Not everyone has this luxury. Whether it’s finding the time or the brain power, you should be realistic about your writing goals. Make them, by all means, but bear in mind that missing goals can feel discouraging. Ask yourself when is the best time to write and how often. There’s no point in planning daily writing sprints or X amount of words if you can’t reach them. 

It didn’t take much trial and error to find the best schedule for me. But there are those difficult times when life gets in the way and the writer’s block hits. It’s okay to pause the goals and let yourself deal with life so you can come back with a fresh mind. It’s also good to take regular breaks from daily writing.

Writing is my passion, one I spend just about every day on. That doesn’t mean I type away in my document for all that time. There are also various things that are part of writing without actually writing. Outlining, brainstorming, research, chatting with other writers. These all add to your writing experience as well as help build a great story.

Make a writing schedule that suits you, adapt when it doesn’t work, but don’t let lapsed goals get you down.

Image by Devanath from Pixabay 

Epilogues Are NOT the Same as a Final Chapter!

I recently did a post on prologues, and a writing friend (check her out here) asked about epilogues. So here are my thoughts…

Epilogues are no different than prologues, just at the end. They need to serve a purpose outside the main story otherwise they might as well be the final chapter. Like my prologues, I don’t write epilogues for the sake of it.

I recently read a super long epilogue that should have been the final chapter. It followed directly on from the previous scene with all the usual characters. So why did the author feel like it needed to be an epilogue? To be fair, there was something new for the MC, but it didn’t mean anything new for the story since the reader already knew of its general existence. 

One of the best reasons for an epilogue is when we see the MC months or years after the main story. They’re settled in a new life, good or bad, and maybe have some thoughts on how they feel about what happened to them. This works best with a few pages, a sneak peek rather than a lengthy chapter.

Flipping to a random POV is also a good one if it’s done well. It gives the reader a new perspective on the MC and what they’ve been through. They might even know a little secret to entertain readers, something the MC couldn’t figure out in the main story. 

I like teaser epilogues in sagas and series. Books in a series still need to be independent stories but leave enough open so the reader wants more. Whatever you tease the reader with, make sure you drop it into early chapters of the next book. 

If the final chapter ends abruptly but isn’t a cliffhanger (I hate cliffhangers), an epilogue might work to show the characters a few days later. This needs to be short and sweet so it doesn’t look more like a final chapter.

Your final chapter should tie up your story in a neat little bow. Your epilogue should either tie it tighter in a standalone or loosen it in a series. 

If you want to rant about writing with others, contact me about my writing group on Discord @LoveFantasy#0367.

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay 

Writing Outside your Wheelhouse!

Do it. Seriously, put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see how deeply you can dig. It doesn’t have to be a whole novel. It could be a short story or an occasional POV in a bigger story. 

This is NOT about sensitivity or political correctness. This is about tolerance and understanding beyond what we’ve experienced. One of my own CPs mentioned they were worried about how it would look writing a character of colour and dealing with racism in the book. I get it. It’s a sensitive issue. But it’s all a very real issue that needs representing in fiction just like LGBTQ+, mental illness, disabilities… the list goes on. 

Even in fantasy or sci-fi, there are aliens and magical beings that represent the diversity in life and the prejudices that go along with them. It’s probably easier with fantastical characters because the writer gets to create whatever prejudice they want against that character. But let’s face it, we all know it comes from very real issues.

As a once-aspiring actress, I had to put myself in many characters’ shoes. Their troubles and obstacles boiled down to one thing. How do I overcome them? Each character has their own answer, but if you look hard enough, there is some semblance of reliability.

I do NOT mean to say everyone can fully understand every hardship others go through for whatever reason. 

My point is… why should we be punished for trying? Why is it such a taboo to imagine our skin is another colour, or we have a disability, or our minds are more complex than most? Why are we not allowed to write from a perspective far beyond our own when we’re only trying to bridge the gap?

There is such a thing as a “sensitivity reader” who will offer deeper insight and their reliability to the POV character. These sensitivity readers are there to help writers get their story across while being authentic and mindful that it’s outside our experience.

Write what you know, right? But there’s nothing to say that someone can’t share what they know to help you write what you don’t know. And then you’ll know.  


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay