Werewolf + Waistcoat + Sandwich = Awesome…Review of Gail Carriger’s SOULLESS

20 Jan

Just finished and loved Gail Carriger’s SOULLESS. In general I’m not much of a historical reader, but Gail’s series was recommended to me and I was drawn in by the US cover copy.

SOULLESS: A novel of vampires, werewolves, and parasols.

Who doesn’t love a parasol? My love for the book was further confirmed on p16:

Professor Lyall, unobserved by the other two, was busy fishing about in his waistcoat for something. Eventually, he produced a mildly beaten-up ham and pickle sandwich wrapped in a bit of brown paper. He presented it to Miss Tarabotti, ever the gallant.

Under normal circumstances, Alexia would have been put off by the disreputable state of the sandwich, but it was meant so kindly and offered with such diffidence, she could do nothing but accept. It was actually rather tasty.

Reasons this passage is awesome:

1. Lyall is a werewolf in a waistcoat

2. There’s a sandwich in said werewolf’s waistcoat

3. It’s ham and pickle…and actually rather tasty!

The whole novel is an excellent lesson in voice for any beginning writer and does a phenomenal job melding history and the paranormal. The heroine, Alexia, is strong yet realistic and there’s plenty of sizzling romantic conflict between her and werewolf Lord Maccon.

A must read for lovers of urban fantasy, parasols, and sandwiches.

SOULLESS is the first of five books in the Parasol Protectorate Series: SOULLESS, BLAMELESS, CHANGELESS, HEARTLESS (July 2011), and TIMELESS (TBA)


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Why MFA?

11 Nov

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of a Master’s of Fine Arts in writing. Do you need one? No. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, no one needs their MFA to be a writer.

That being declared, two years in my MFA program have probably put my writing career 5-10 years ahead of where I’d be on my own. I have a semester left and have had nothing but good experiences at Seton Hill University’s MFA in popular fiction. I came in a raw (but determined) writer and am graduating with an agent and likely two polished novels—one of which will be shopped to editors soon.

My program is special. It focuses on genre fiction and in my YA reading classes, the book lists are comprised of novels I would’ve chosen on my own. Melissa Marr, Scott Westerfeld, and John Green are just a few of the authors I’ve read and discussed with my classmates and professors.

But reading is reading. If you go for your MFA, you’re paying for big improvements to your writing.

Seton Hill is a low residency MFA program, which means we’re together on campus two weeks a year—one week in January and one in June. For residencies, every student submits a ten page piece for critique. It can be a piece of the thesis project, a short story, a first chapter, or an attempt at an unfamiliar genre. Almost anything goes and a few weeks before residency, everyone receives packets of stories. This ranges from 3-4 stories per day with about three critiquing days per residency. It works out to 9-12 story critiques per person, which is a lot of work, but fantastic experience. I’ve critiqued horror, YA, fantasy, picture books, and romance novellas, and have picked up the conventions of many different genres.

The best part? Everyone receives 7-10 very detailed critiques of their piece. After a thorough (and constructive) workshop roundtable led by one of the published faculty, you walk away with pages of marginal and global comments. The feedback is phenomenal and I’ve learned as much from listening to others comment as I have from doing the critiques myself.

Throughout the term, we work with assigned (or chosen!) critique partners on a thesis project—a full length novel. Some people switch CPs from semester to semester, while others click with one or two people and stick together throughout their terms. We also work with published author mentors. I’ve worked with Nancy Holzner, Diane Turnshek and the fabulous Nicole Peeler and we have many accomplished authors that come back to mentor year after year.

The bottom line? There’s no way I could have gotten so much quality feedback on my work—or learned as much as I have—without the program. I would’ve had to pay for a professional editor to get the same level of close reading, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get critiqued by writers with so many different perspectives OR to critique so many different types of writing.

Conference workshops can be productive, too, but they don’t foster the same sense of community as a structured program. We get to learn about our classmates over two and half years and many people make close friends or helpful business contacts.

The downside is tuition. No Master’s program is cheap, but there are scholarships and grants available for the brave. I quit my job in publishing to take a position at the university in exchange for tuition. I was ready to take a big step and get serious about my writing. I knew that what I was putting out wasn’t publishable and I didn’t want to waste anymore time trying to crawl off that plateau. The MFA was the kick I needed.

The MFA isn’t for everyone and earning the degree hardly guarantees publication or a cushy teaching job. What it does do is give students an insider’s view of the publishing industry and offers opportunities to improve for those who are willing to listen. People who join the program thinking they know everything don’t get much return on their investment, but those who listen and make changes to their work can make great strides toward publication.

I’d recommend it for anyone looking to join a dedicated community of writers and jumpstart a writing career.


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Hello, WordPress!

28 Oct

Well hello there!

I have become a grown up and discovered wordpress. I have my own domain and everything.

When will the wonders cease??

Please excuse me as I attempt to understand the unholy workings of teh intraw3bs. I’m currently experimenting with plugins and trying not to look too amateurish. So far okay! There’s a lot to learn and play with and I’m sure I’ll tragically destroy some things along the way (prepare for fist-shaking). But no worries. Stick around and look forward to all of the great content that I’ll post once I have half an idea how to post content at all ; )

So far, I’ve updated my CAPTIVE MAGIC tab with a teaser summary and Violet’s random-tastic playlist. Mind you, she picked the songs, not me!

Enjoy, and thanks for stopping by : )


After the Honeymoon…the dreaded Agent Edit

28 Oct

So you sign with an agent. She has all kinds of fantastic suggestions for improvements to your novel.

Yay! Fanfare! Much cheering and embarrassing celebratory behavior!!

Next comes the hard work.

I’m just winding down my first round of agent edits on Captive Magic (with full knowledge that a second round of tweaks is to follow). It has been A LOT more work than I expected. All productive, necessary work, but no less brain melting for that.

Exhibit A: Mangled corpse of a plot outline:

Notice the red bits and track changes bubbles? The color-coding? That’s all stuff that has to change. And as much as I hate outlining, having the outline to shred made the revision process a whole lot easier on my sanity.

I still have some polishing to do before I’m ready to pass the shiny new MS along, but I’ve come to a conclusion about the benefit of having an agent on your side. Mine gave me the motivation I needed to make the hard changes that my story needed. You know the ones. All the little things you think you can get away with. Maybe your betas have hinted: “You could do this that way…but I really love it the way it is!!! Don’t change a thing!!!!!”

Sorry, kids. It’s not gonna fly.

My personal vice is trying to slip in too many characters. My agent made sure the axe came down. I was trying to ignore the problem because who in the right mind volunteers to cut a char? But axe, I did, and the rest of the cast has thanked me. Their voices get to shine through where scenes have shifted to fill the gaps.

Your agent won’t (or shouldn’t!) let you get away with being lazy. They’ll keep you honest. They’ll make you re-think the tiniest pieces of your story. And while they might pile a whole lot more work on your plate, your novel will be that much stronger after going through the wringer with an industry insider. Because really, don’t you want your agent to love the story that much more? They’re the one who has to sell the thing.

All you have to do is write the sequel…


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