Workout Wednesday – 1/13/16

Traveling is over, and so I go back to the gym!  The state of my health while traveling was pretty sad, and I’m about where I started in 2009, as far as being in shape goes.  That’s bad news for me.  Traveling is a lot of driving or flying, a lot of locations that aren’t work-out friendly, a lot of restaurants with a single meal that resembles an entire day’s calorie count (not to mention, sodium, fat, carbs, etc.).

Still, I’m trying to get into a workout schedule–seriously missing personal training, btw–and how better to keep track than by reinstating Workout Wednesday? I may do future posts about how traveling affects the body or about my super-fun experiences trying to buy new workout clothing at this size.  But for now, since I’m pushing into Thursday anyway, I’ll just give you my week in working out.

Thursday – Aqua fitness.  It was spinning, huzzah!  I determined that, despite a safety pin, my swimsuit was a little dangerous in the chest area

Friday – Weight machines: inner and outer thighs, triceps, abs, leg press, lat pulldown, and back.  I got higher weights for each circuit because I was learning where I needed to put them.

Saturday – Aqua fitness.  Some random workout I don’t have a  name for.  I was late because I was repinning the swimsuit, with better results

Sunday – A repeat of Friday’s workout, but starting with higher weights

Monday – Zumba!

Tuesday – Aqua fitness.  It was boxing, which is not one of my faves.  I also determined that I had to check the straps on my swimsuit every time I wear it, or my chest support fails again.  (See why I need a shopping-for-workout-clothing post?)

Wednesday – Zumba!  My first time in this class.  I swear I’ve had this instructor before, but I don’t know when.  I was extra uncoordinated for some reason.

I took off last Wednesday and plan to take off either Saturday or Sunday of this week.  I try to take one day off a week, regardless of how it looks on this list.

So there it is.  I’ll try to make WW more of a thing again.  And other parts of my blog too.

Lots of love,
Sage

Books I wanted to reread in 2015 but didn’t have time

Let this be a list of books to reread in 2016, since I didn’t manage them in 2015.

  • Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  • Fire and Thorns series by Rae Carson
  • A Need So Beautiful series by Suzanne Young
  • Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • Holes by Louis Sachar
  • Cress (so I could read Winter) by Marissa Meyer
  • Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
  • Vicious by V.E. Schwab
  • The Program by Suzanne Young
  • The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Standalone books that I read for the first time in 2015 that must be added to my reread list:

  • A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
  • Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
  • Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis

Of course there are plenty of series I’m in the middle of, that I will reread when the next book comes out.

Well, I better get started.

Lots of love,
Sage

Sequels Before Publication (or “Why Write a Trilogy, Sage?”)

Starting in November, I turned my unpublished standalone-with-series-potential superhero novel into a trilogy.  I did so knowing exactly the reasons why I shouldn’t and totally aware of the risks involved with moving ahead with the trilogy instead of letting it sit in my head indefinitely.  I’m going to detail the reasons why it’s not suggested that an author write sequels before book 1 is accepted for publication, and then I’ll tell you why I did it anyway.

I would also point out, right away, so there’s no confusion, that if you are planning to self-publish, you should just ignore the reasons not to write sequels because it’s actually better to have your series ready to go if you’re going that route.  I would prefer trade publishing, if at all possible, and most authors I know prefer it too, but there are plenty of authors who want to self-pub, and that’s just a totally different situation when it comes to sequels.

So reasons not to write those sequels before trade publishing book 1:

Book 1 may never go anywhere.  It’s sad, but most first books don’t get picked up, and most people who want to write sequels before selling are looking at their first books.  But even if this is your, say, 10th book, it still might not net you an agent and a publisher.  If trade publishing is your goal, and book 1 doesn’t get published, then you have spent time on more books that, more likely than not, also can’t get published.  You can’t query them, so now you have nothing new to query until you write your next book.

Book 1 may sell, but the publisher may not want sequels. It could be a numbers thing.  It may be that they only see this as being a one-book deal.  I’ve seen plenty of series that never got to the end because the publisher dropped them, or sequels that authors wanted to write after selling book 1, but the publisher said no.  This is petty much the same sitch as the first I mentioned, but now you have one book sold, so that’s cool.  Of course, now you have to figure out whether you can self-pub those sequels, and that’s all about the contract.

You probably don’t know what book 1 will look like in the end.  You’re almost certainly going to have to do some revisions on book 1 before it’s published.  Editors will make you revise.  Before the publisher makes you revise, the agent will probably make you revise.  And some of them will make you revise before you even have an offer of representation or a publishing contract in hand.  Now, these revisions might not be too devastating to those sequels, but they may be.  When I revised Taylor-Made last year for a publisher, I made gigantic changes that eliminated all plans I had for a sequel.  And that was in the happy first set of revisions that I enjoyed.  Now, that sequel was unwritten, so it wasn’t a big deal, but imagine investing yourself in one or more books that are now obsolete, sometimes just for the possibility of a contract.

Of course, you can always refuse to do edits.  If asked after getting an agent or a publishing contract, I would bring up the fact that I have a trilogy ready.  But before the offer, it seems presumptive to say, “But I don’t want to ruin book 2/the trilogy/the series” before you’ve sold book 1.  If you fight too hard on edits, you run the risk of looking difficult, so it’s a balance, and it’s a harder one to maintain for the sake of a sequel that the agent or editor isn’t even looking at.

The more you put into a series, the more heartbreaking it will be with each rejection.  No matter how cool you are about rejection, it’s just harder with so much invested.  If you’re absolutely in love with that third novel of your trilogy, but book 1 is still getting rejected and nobody can give you a reason that you can improve, it’s pretty sad for your beloved book 3.

So there are some good reasons not to move past book 1 until you have that contract in hand.  Yet, this did not stop me from writing books 2 and 3 of a trilogy in the past year.  So you might be asking yourself, if I know all of the above, why would I do so?

Let’s start with a little history, here.  When inspired, I write quickly, as you know.  NaNo is no problem for me, and I even wrote a book in 3 days once.  I have a lot of books under my belt at varying levels of quality, and I’ve had way too many close-but-no experiences in publishing (and, of course, there’s Love Sucks, but somehow I never count that as getting an agent or getting published, even though it did do both).

I wrote two decent books in 2012.  Usually I write one I want to pursue and one that’s not worth pursuing, but that year I had two that I wanted to pursue.  I edited Taylor-Made and started submitting it.  A Paranormal Bromance was my NaNo book, and I put it on the back burner for revisions while I focused on TM.  And then I put my house on the market over the objections of my co-owner and had to do everything towards selling it myself.  2013 was a non-writing year.  I did nothing except NaNo, which was a book I knew I didn’t want to pursue.  2014 was a year of revision.  I fixed some aPB problems and sent to betas, and then I received some major revisions for TM for a legitimate publisher who I would have loved to publish any of my books.  Unfortunately, after 2 rounds and months of revisions, I didn’t receive a contract.

After aPB, I hadn’t gotten a bit of inspiration that I could hold on to.  Some of that was obsessing over preparing a house or putting my creativity towards writing new scenes for old books at an editor’s request.  The exception to this was in sequels (and short stories, but that’s a whole different blog post, maybe). Sure, my TM revisions killed my plans for a sequel, but that led me to envision a sequel out of the new route being plotted for the book.  I could write stories and stories with my aPB boys, and I have a sequel envisioned, but won’t tackle it until I figure out how to get book 1 in a place that I can even query.  And then there was “Winner/Loser.”

My write-in group did a series of prompted short stories, and one was to write a story backwards.  Using Evie and Ace from Hero/Villain was so natural for this storytelling device (though a writer friend had to point that out to me), and so I wrote this 10K story with them that would have taken place during the sequel I had sort of envisioned back in 2010 when I wrote the H/V.  This story had me realize, not only new details about book 2, but where an overarching plot could go if I were to write a trilogy.

That’s what did it for me.  That one thing that wasn’t even in the story, but showed me what I had been missing behind the scenes in book 1, was the thing I couldn’t let go of, and I spent March of last year plotting the trilogy.  That is, until I received the R&Rs that halted my plan for months.  When November came around, and my R&Rs were over, I had resigned myself back to “You have to write something new because, otherwise, you have nothing to sell.” (Which is kinda ridiculous because look at all the books I’ve written).  I planned a magical realism book.  MR was all the rage in the slushpiles.  I had a little idea, but felt anchorless in it.  And I tried to plot as I drove around the country for work, but I kept coming back to book 2 of the Hero/Villain trilogy.  And by mid-October, I knew that that was what I was going to write.

I finished book 2 during NaNo (of course) and felt a little burned out, so I took a break, then wrote book 3 in March and April, a year after all that exciting plotting took place.  And book 3…book 3 is where my heart is.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Hero/Villain.  But book 3 practically wrote itself, and I mean that in a serendipitous way, not a “I was fooling around and it was easy because I wrote crap” way.  I knew almost nothing about book 3 going in, but every detour my characters took made the book better, and somehow it ended up as this intricately woven story that was near impossible to synopsize because every scene tied into everything else.  Of course, I’m just saying this with less reader feedback than I have on the other books so far (getting betas to book 3 is a challenge for obvious reasons), but those who have read it seem to agree with me.

Yes, I’m a little frustrated that I can’t do anything with books 2 and 3 until book 1 sells.  I worry about revisions to book 1 and whether they’ll destroy the beautiful trilogy.  I anticipate the heartbreak that will come when I start querying the new-and-improved H/V (updated because of the trilogy and because I’m a better writer than I was 5 years ago, plus with free freelance editor feedback, thanks to a contest) and get some rejections, as we all should expect from any amount querying.  Superhero novels seem to be a hard sell, so I’m anticipating quite a bit of rejection.  Book 1 is still absolutely standalone.  It reads differently from the POV of knowing how it all ends, but if you don’t know how it all ends, it still works.  After all, it stood alone for 4 years.  But that means that there’s every possibility that some publisher may only want one book, and I’ll have to let these 2 books I adore go.

So why do it, Sage?  Why put yourself through that potential heartbreak, the potential fight over revisions, and the possibility that all the work I’ve done in the past year will go nowhere.  And the reason is: for the past year, I’ve been working on new words that I love.  I hadn’t written anything I wanted to pursue for 2 years before I started writing book 2.  That’s a really long time for me.  And if I wasn’t going to be inspired to write something I could query anyway, I might as well write something I love.

I don’t discourage anyone from writing sequels if that’s where their heart is.  But I do think that if you’re going to do it–especially the newer you are to the writing world–you have to go in knowing the pitfalls of devoting yourself to books that you can’t query and that might never see the light of day even if you sell book 1.

Don’t worry, guys.  I will still query as “Standalone with series potential.”  Because, boy, isn’t that the truth.

Lots of love
Sage

The Writer’s Voice: Hero/Villain query + 250

Hey, I’m participating in a contest called THE WRITERS VOICE.  Here’s my blind audition, so the mentors can turn around and yell, “I wanna work with you!”  Or something like that.  Below is my query and first 250 words for Hero/Villain.

Query:

[spoilers]

250 Words:

Rule number eleven in the Superhero’s Handbook?  No long hair.  It’s really a rule about anything long, thin, and easily grabbed.  Hair and capes are the main offenders in the League’s book.  The only thing worse than getting a cape caught in some contraption that’ll kill you is getting pulled in by your hair.  But I think the rule’s dumb.  If some gadget grabs my hair, I’ll just change it.

Besides which, I look way better with long hair.

But perching here on this tree limb, overlooking the cemetery, which, by the way, is deader than dead, I figure out another reason to avoid long hair.  The wind blows my currently blond strands across my face, where they tickle my nose and threaten to make me sneeze, but worse, they block my vision.  I don’t have a free hand to push them from my mask because I need both to hold on to the tree.  Stupid hair.  And, sure, that sound I heard a minute ago was nothing more than a scrawny black cat, but I can’t risk being caught unaware.  The hair has to go.

It takes a second’s thought of shortening my hair to get it out of my face.  Almost instantly I have a cute pixie cut.  Perfect.

A new sound catches my attention.  A murmur on the same wind that was driving me nuts a second ago.  I crouch low on the branch, listening, but I can’t get a better grip on what’s making it.

Hope you enjoyed!

Lots of love,
Sage

I Want to Fall in Love

I’ve read a lot of books lately that have been disappointing.  Even ones that have 4 or 5 stars from me are just not making me love them to the extent that some books in the past have.  Where’s the passion?  Where’s the book I can’t put down?  Where’s the book that I want to read again as soon as I finish it (although I won’t unless it’s December 30, because book count)?  I want to feel that passion and not just be in love with the cover or the concept or the author.

I want to feel like I did after reading the Harry Potter books the first time, the Fire and Thorns series, The False Prince (but not necessarily it’s sequels).

What exactly I want is to feel the way after I finished reading The Selection, that book that I saw all the faults of, but couldn’t put it down.  I read the beginning and couldn’t wait to download it, then read it overnight, then sang its praises over the internet (even while mentioning its faults).

Why can’t I feel like that anymore?

I just want to find the one. The book. It can’t be this hard to find love, can it?

Lots of love,
Sage

3-Star Reviews and Why They’re Not a Bad Thing

First, let’s get one thing straight:  A 3-star (or -heart) review isn’t a bad thing.  Amazon may call it the beginning of the “negative” reviews, but it’s really not.  A 3-star review is exactly whatever it says in the review.  For me, a 3-star review may mean many things.  It may mean that the book didn’t grab me, but I saw its merits; it may means that I saw too many minor faults and didn’t love it enough to overcome those faults; it may mean I was conflicted about the book (see Gone Girl); or it may mean it was just a “meh” book.  For me.  And when I review, rather than just rate, I explain why it didn’t work for me.  Of course, when I review 4- or 5-star books, I may go off on the things that didn’t work for me too, even though I overall enjoyed the book.  And in 2-star reviews (I rarely give 1 stars), I may explain a good thing or two (usually what got me to pick up the book in the first place).

Here’s my rating system, by the way (YMMV):

  • 5 stars: OMG, I love it!  I’ll probably read it again next year.  I may have some nitpicks.
  • 4 stars: I enjoyed this a lot, though I probably have some nitpicks. If the sequel’s out now, I’ll probably get it, but I might not be as enthusiastic about it in a year
  • 3 stars: It was okay.  I can see why others might love it.  I almost certainly have some thoughts about what does and doesn’t work for me
  • 2 stars: I had way too many problems to overcome with the few good things about the book.
  • 1 star: Wow, I really disliked this book.  How did I manage to finish it?  (It must have been short or a book I read for review)

I also use half stars in my review, and I’m inconsistent about whether the half will round up or down, but I have a feeling about “low” half stars and “high” half stars, and explain which in my reviews.  My average rating on Goodreads is 3.98, and I reread a lot of my 5-star books during the course of the year, and rarely get into books I would have rated 1 star enough to rate it.

Of course, every reviewer is different, and for some, 3 stars may be a negative review.  I think authors see 3 stars as negative all the time.  But it’s not.

3 stars is the middle.  It’s average.  Not everyone is going to love every book, so average is a pretty good expectation as an author, and we can celebrate anything above that and cry over anything lower than that.

And that’s why you, as an author, want 3-star reviews.  Readers expect to see some people rate a book average.  They may expect to see some people rate a book below average too.  If I go to Amazon and only see 5-star ratings on a book, I steer clear of that book because I assume that every review was written by the author’s friends (an exception is if there is a very small number of reviews, like 1 to 3, because the book just came out).  Worse still, if I see that all the 5-star ratings are “rated up,” and the 3-or-lower-star ratings are “rated down.”  At that point, I assume that the author or the author’s friends are having a hissy fit about “negative” reviews and making sure that they are buried below their 5-star reviews.

This is what I saw for a book I reviewed on Amazon recently.  (I’m not naming names, but I’ll admit right here that I wouldn’t be surprised if you could figure out which book.)

Call me neurotic, but I occasionally check in to books that I’ve had some critical thoughts about to see what other reviewers are saying.  It fascinates me, for example, that one book that I read and reviewed about a year ago with a detailed 2-star review continuously gets high ratings, but that many readers have voted my review as the most helpful by a wide margin even though it disagrees with the others.  So I checked in with this new book to see what the most recent reviewers said and was surprised to see that I had an unhelpful vote.  Okay, while I take “helpful” literally and would never rate a well-though-out review as “unhelpful” myself, to each his own.  Maybe the reader thought I had said something that was so wildly incorrect that my review would then be unhelpful.  I’m not going to complain about a deviation from my interpretation of what is “helpful.”

And then I looked at the other 3-star reviews.  Each of them had been voted unhelpful by at least one person (and eventually as helpful by me), and both were written intelligently.  There were 24 reviews, and three were 3-star, and nobody had rated it below 3.  But every 4- or 5-star review had at least one helpful vote, and all three 3-stars had at least one unhelpful vote.  This made me look further into those 5-star reviews (which I wouldn’t have done if not for the situation).  Big surprise, many of them had only reviewed this single book, which lends each of those reviews to suspicion.  And then I found that the author herself had given a 5-star review, speaking about herself in the third person with glowing language about her own writing.   Now that is an unhelpful review. (I reported it to Amazon, and it was since removed, but the identical review on Goodreads, under another name, still remains)

But this post isn’t about an author behaving badly, and I have no intention of crucifying her (nor am I looking for people to rate her book poorly or up-vote my review; please don’t, unless the review is truly helpful to you or you truly believe the book, not the author, deserves it.).  This is about why those 3-star (or even 2- and 1-star) reviews are important to books without many reviews, particularly the ones that are either self-published or published by a small house.  The fact is that they lend legitimacy to your reviews.  If all you have are 5-star reviews, discerning readers are going to look deeper into those 5-star reviews with great suspicion.  It’s pretty easy to tell when all your reviews are by people you know.  Plenty of readers I know won’t even look at 5-star or 1-star reviews.  They want the 2-, 3-, and 4-star reviews because those will tell them what they really want to know, and are almost certainly a real opinion.

And seriously, folks, 3 stars is a decent rating.  Don’t get worked up over them.

Lots of love,
Sage

Review: CHASING RAVENS by Jessica E. Paige

I really wanted to call this Chasing Raisins, which almost makes as much sense as the actual title.  Anyway here’s another review, thanks to the good people at NetGalley who got me a copy of this book.  One day I will post other things, like my thoughts on Glee or the difference in watching the Hobbit 3 in 24 fps vs. 48 fps.  Nah, nobody wants me to write about those things.  Okay, fine, you can have a review instead.

CHASING RAVENS does not lack for imagination, but unfortunately it takes half the book before the story truly shows off that imagination. The first 40% or so is merely set-up leading to the curse that Anouk sets off to vanquish. The first two chapters could have easily been combined into one source of Anouk’s history. In fact, I have no idea why we spend so long with her uncle’s family at all, when the betrothal that causes her to run away could have easily come from her original village, thus letting us skip at least a fourth of that set-up. Sometimes a long set-up is necessary, but I didn’t feel it was here. In this case it was fairly repetitive. Here’s Anouk’s life in village 1 with her dad and grandma. Here’s Anouk’s life in village 2 with her uncle’s family. And here’s Anouk’s life in village 3, which she cares enough to fight about. It also could give us time to really feel for the main character or feel the deep sense of need behind her quest. And that’s what this should have been.

Unfortunately, I found Anouk too hard to connect to. Some of this was the writing. A lot of telling and filtering kept me from feeling what Anouk was feeling. It kept me from feeling like I was right there with Anouk, gathering herbs, riding her mare, making connections with people. When we are told that she has fallen in love, we accept it because the guy is logically the one she should fall for. The only other two potential candidates were 1) a guy the book abandoned about 20% in with no real connection between the two and 2) the guy who creates the need for the quest. In the latter’s case, any feelings Anouk has for him, again, are told to us rather than felt by us, and the scene where he attempts to kiss Anouk seems to be there simply to make the reader not trust him, since Anouk seems barely affected by it (even how it might affect her friendship with her best friend, the girl who he’s been courting). It is only in the last moments of being together and in the epilogue that Anouk seems to have anything resembling romantic feelings with the guy she has supposedly fallen in love with.

The disconnect with Anouk also makes it hard to care for much of the cast she comes into contact with in the last village. For example, Anouk mentions how much she likes a certain character and I realize that I have no idea who this character is beyond what she just said about him, nor whether we met him before. Being told about much of the village with only a few real interactions makes it hard to recall any of the names beyond those few. When someone from the village dies, I had no clue what his connection to Anouk actually was.

Once the action begins, about halfway in, the book is a lot more riveting. Anouk meets many fantastical beings and plants in the Dark Woods, and we ride along with her at a fairly quick pace. I did feel that she had a bit too much “help” once she got in. It wasn’t so much “Find the next plot coupon” as “Find the next character coupon.” But there were plenty of things she did herself, and that made the quest satisfying enough.

The title “Chasing Ravens,” is a little misleading, as the ravens, while a source of conflict, weren’t focused on as much as other things, and she wasn’t doing anything resembling chasing them.

I enjoyed the real-life environmental issues, like the problem of overhunting (What I really liked about that was that several times it was mentioned that more hunters should go out as a positive thing, before we were presented with the real-world concern of overhunting) and that the curse caused by the ravens was basically mold.

One final note, the distance created in the storytelling makes the story feel much younger than the main character’s age would suggest it is. By her age, this should be YA, but the storytelling is not YA at all.

Recommended for fans of: fantasy; Russian setting; distant storytelling; herb magic; archery; horses; slooooow beginnings; fantasy problems based in real science; mechanical romance; trolls; woodsmen

Lots of love,
Sage