Writing for Money: Being Reliable

Neil Gaiman once said:

You get work however you get work, but people keep working in a freelance world… because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine.

If you’re getting into ghost writing or working on spec, I’d argue that you need all three out of three, especially to begin with. The world is full of freelancers, and from my own personal experience, I’m more expensive than many of the freelancers out there and thus I need to justify my expense. So today I’m expanding on these three points, and how they lead to reliable work as a freelancer – both in that you will be considered reliable, and that you will make reliable money.

Impressing the Boss

I write for a couple of freelance portals. Sometimes there are 50-70 other bids for a job I want. This means that if I want to grab that amazing job, I need to prove that I can give my client the kind of writing he wants.

Once you get to a certain point, it’s going to come down to the matter of individual taste. Make sure you keep that in the back of your mind, otherwise you spend too much time dwelling on how awful you are when you lose a contract. Pick yourself up, tell yourself that you’re awesome, and get ready for the next job. And of course, keep practicing. Good writing will get you a long way, especially if you’re a fairly untested freelancer.

Keeping it Friendly

I have been on the other side of the table every so often, working as a client rather than contractor. Mostly this is in regards to the magazine for which I am a second reader. So I’ll say flat out: I don’t like working with unpleasant people. I don’t like reading the work of unpleasant people. There are a lot of great writers out there, and there are a lot of publishable stories that we don’t take at my magazine because it comes down to one or the other, and we like the other just a little bit better. So if you give me a good reason to say no to you, I’ll take it. And the same is true on the freelancer side of things.

Freelance portals have review options, which means that your client can complain publicly about how rude you are. People might take a chance on someone with less experience but more politeness as well. Not to mention that working with someone repugnant drains your emotional energy and nobody needs that right now. The easier you are to work with, the more likely clients will come back. And that means that you’ll start to have constant income streams.

Delivering by Deadline

Authors are famous for not doing this. George R.R. Martin is a classic example at the moment. What is he, two years behind on Winds of Winter? Other Fantasy authors in particular have caught flak for falling behind on deadlines, and you might think that it’s just the way things go.

If you are a new freelancer, it had better not be the way things go for you.

Here’s the thing: a lot of deadlines are kind of tight. Especially if you’re doing work on spec through a portal. If you say you can complete a piece by a deadline, people expect you to deliver. And life happens, we all understand that. But you need to do what you can to make sure life doesn’t happen to you before you’ve built up a reputation. This isn’t a bad idea for publishing under your own name, either. People will give you a break if they can see your missed deadline is out of the ordinary.

So, how do you make sure you don’t miss your deadline? First of all, consider your expectations of the piece. How long will it take you to create a piece you’re happy sending out as a representation of your abilities? You won’t just be drafting, you’ll be revising, so keep that in mind. Build in some extra time in case an emergency disrupts your schedule. That way, you can keep on track without pulling an all-nighter or turning in work you’re not happy with. Also, if you don’t have an emergency, you can get the work done early and get a reputation for writing ahead of the deadline!

Being a freelancer is hard work, but super rewarding. Hopefully you can use these tips to build your reputation and get repeat customers.

Writing for Money – Landing Gigs

Writing for money is hard for two reasons. First, paying gigs are scarce. And second, you get paid for what you write after you write it. Sometimes years after you write it. So how can you make money reliably? This part of my blog series is about getting work. If you are interested in writing for money or editing for money, I think it can help you out.

You can find my other Writing for Money posts here.

Okay. Let’s make buckets of money. How do we do it?

First step: dust off and update your CV. If you want to catch some clients, you need a CV with relevant work – hopefully relevant work done recently. Make sure you’re not violating any agreements with what you put on your CV, such as a non-disclosure agreement, and make your CV detailed and varied. I have an entire CV devoted to my writing so that I can note every single thing I’ve done in the past few years.

Bah! CV’s are boring. What’s next?

Next, you need to be able to provide samples of your work. If you edit, you need to provide samples of your editing. If you write, you need to provide samples of whatever you’re trying to write for someone. Maybe your travel articles will land you a novel-writing gig, or vice-versa, I dunno. But the closer you can hit to a potential client’s mark, the more they can see you writing for them. If I’m applying to ghost write someone’s novel, I usually try to find an excerpt that matches their genre (as close as I can get to it), and a short story to show that I can write completed stories with a plot and character arc.

If you edit, or if you write stories for other people – get permission before distribution. Editors, don’t put someone else’s work out there without their knowledge or permission. That’s scummy. If you can’t provide samples, you can offer to do the first five pages on a trial basis, or you can get testimonials from previous clients. Or you can do free edits for your friends, in exchange for using samples in your applications. Writers, likewise – get permission before sharing samples of work that is not entirely your own. This is especially relevant because, if you’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement, you could get into legal trouble.

That’s all good, you super special unicorn you, but I haven’t written/edited anything recently/ever.

Okay, then we need to take a step back. People will hire you if they think you can get the job done – but how will they know you can get the job done if they can’t see anything you’ve worked on? If you’re rusty, out of practice, or inexperienced, then forget the business of writing for money. Write for the sake of writing first. Write to finish something. Write to explore your world. Write to learn how to write. And write to see if you enjoy it. Writing for money is a challenge, and like so many other jobs, you won’t be very successful if you don’t actually like doing the work.

Once you can write a story, a poem, an article, whatever it is you want to write for other people – then come back here, and get going with that CV and those samples!

Okay, okay. I’m ready. Show me the people with the money.

So, here’s where things start to work a little differently depending on what you want to do with yourself. If you’re looking to write articles, there are plenty of sites who will take your submissions – just beware of getting offered exposure instead of money (I mean, people literally die of exposure. A different kind, but still).

I’m not much of an expert on selling short stories or poems on short order, and while selling them to a magazine is extremely gratifying, it is NOT going to pay your household bills any time soon. If you want to translate, edit, write copy or articles, then you can check out freelance portal sites such as Upwork and Odesk. These sites link clients and freelancers, and provide you with some measure of safety net for your work – in exchange for a cut of your earnings, of course. Just be aware of the fee you’ll pay when you bid on projects.

Novelists have more options than ever. Plenty of people on freelance sites want you to write their bestseller for them, and recently I’ve noticed the rise of the literary book packager – companies that work with a writer to develop a concept and make it a novel. Some places, like Glasstown Entertainment, vary on whether they want a writer to use a special pen name, and writers get paid upon a publishing deal. Others, like Relay Publishing, pay by the word. (Quick note – I was unable to verify the legitimacy of Relay publishing, as their site is down, but a previous check revealed no shenanigans)

Ohmygod. About 3000 people want to work for the client I want. How do I make them pick me?

First, make sure they have your CV and samples of your work, and know where to find more – on your web site, or on your profile if you use a freelance portal. Second, write a killer cover letter:

Paragraph 1: I usually thank the client for posting the job, say I’m excited to apply and broadly state who I am and why I think I’m a good fit.

Paragraph 2: I get into the meat of my previous experience and interests. What I’ve published previously, how my writing experience interacts with the project in question, and so on. I often discuss how I think I can bring something particular to a project. Like writing a query, it’s great to be specific, but bad to be long-winded!

Paragraph 3: I discuss the samples of my work attached for perusal. ‘Discuss’ in this case, means, what I’m trying to showcase for the client, whether the pieces have been published, and where to find further samples of my work.

I’ve had above average success for the jobs I’ve applied for, using these tips. And the secret, of course, is to apply to a lot of jobs. When starting out it might be difficult to net the highest paying jobs, and you may need to do some work for less than you’re worth (or *gasp* for exposure). NEVER agree to work for a price you’ll later resent, but remember that no one’s going to treat you like Stephen King until you prove that you can write like him.

If you have any questions you can always use the contact form – or just comment on the blog! What are your dreams about writing for money?

Writing for Money: Getting Started

Every author and their dog has writing advice, whether we’re published, soon to be published, or just messing around. I’m not a big fan of giving theoretical advice or espousing the show-don’t-tell mantra (what does that even mean?). But there’s one thing I can talk about – getting writing gigs.

The landscape around freelance writing has changed a lot since I started 7 years ago, which has significantly affected writers’ opportunities to make money. And that’s not entirely a bad thing!

So, let’s say you want to start getting paid for your writing. How do you do that? I have a few general tips.

Let’s tackle the big issue: writing your own stuff. By this I mean short stories and novels that you submit to magazines, agents and publishers. It’s so rewarding to see your name (or pen name) in print, to see yourself credited for a piece of work that not only you love, but that someone else loved and felt was valuable. There are many people who make a living just by writing their own stuff. If you’re starting out, though, that’s not going to be you. Not yet. If your goal is to make a living off of writing, make sure that you have the time you need to focus on your work, but ensure other income streams as well.

Writing for other people can pay, and it can pay well. Start with analyzing what you want to write. There are opportunities in fiction, nonfiction, articles and stories aimed at kids and at adults, web or magazine copy, and more. There are also editing opportunities. Examine what interests you and keep those interests as broad as possible – the more you can do, the more you’ll be hired to do.

Personal contacts are great to have, and if you can get a gig through a writing program, site or friend that’s great. If you don’t have the contacts you need, head to a freelance portal. Odesk, Upwork and other sites will connect you with clients and make it easy for you to get paid for your work. The downsides of these sites are that they take a cut of your earnings, and they’re often flooded by clients who want high quality work for low-quality pay. You may have to take a couple of low-paying gigs to start in order to establish yourself, but always make sure that you’re okay with the work and the price. There’s no shame in saying no, and resentment at the work versus the pay can make a difficult job even worse.

It’s best to have work you can showcase in a portfolio for prospective clients. Make sure that whoever has commissioned this work from you is okay with having it posted.

My best paying gigs have usually been ghostwriting. Ghostwriting has changed a lot since I first heard about it in high school – back then it was writing autobiographies for B-list celebrities and downwards. With the advent of self-publishing and the rise of small publishers, the Book Packager has begun popping up. Book packagers put together a concept and hire a writer to turn it into a novel. Some allow you to write under your own name, some require you to ghost write. Some work together with traditional publishers, granting the writer an advance and royalties, and some pay the writer up front. I ghost write fantasy and science fiction, and it has been one of my greatest writing experiences.

Writing is a build-up career, and it takes a lot of work up front for little or no pay. You probably won’t be able to jump headfirst into a freelance writing career. But with focus and persistence you can build a client list and reputation, see what jobs work for you, and get started on that elusive goal – getting paid just to write.

Good luck!

It’s not bad writing advice, just mediocre.

I love Nanowrimo. I used to participate every year and while I don’t feel like it’s a necessary part of my process anymore, I value what Nanowrimo has taught me. How far I’ve been able to come is, in part, because of this crazy yes-you-can program.

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The 2016 Nanowrimo icon

I also love Nanowrimo’s support group. We have Nanoedmo (National Novel Editing Month), and the Office of Letters and Light blog often features authors who have gone through the publishing process and have tips for those of us who may be mired in the “Now What?” months of post draft revisions.

However, the past couple of posts have made me gnash my teeth. Yes, a lot of writing advice is subjective (is show don’t tell the worst advice or a necessary part of developing style?) – but there is some practical matter, and it is that matter I take issue with here.

Yes, a lot of this is nitpicky. But yes, the little things can make a big difference.

Beth Revis wrote a great post on having goals in writing, and being able to fail in writing. I liked 99% of the post. But one thing about querying agents caught my eye:

I learned other things. Tricks of the trade that you pick up as you go: 

  1. Copy and paste the first five pages into the bottom of your query in order to give the agent a sample of your writing.

There are a couple of NOPES here. First of all, this isn’t something you should be picking up as you go. Read in advance and you will learn all about what agents want. In fact, research will reveal that a blanket copy-paste for every query is quite possibly a terrible idea. Why? Because agents have guidelines for submissions. Agencies have guidelines. And not all of them include the first five pages in the body of the email.

I have queried agents who don’t want pages. I’ve queried agents who want the first five, the first ten, the first chapter, even the first 20 pages. I’ve queried a (very) few agents who wanted pages attached, not pasted. Some want a synopsis, too. If you don’t follow the rules, the agents think that 1) you can’t read, 2) you can’t pay attention or 3) you think you know better than them. None of these scream BUSINESS PARTNER FOR LIFE. And a lot of agents auto-reject queries that don’t follow the guidelines.

Now, agents understand that it’s easy to get mixed up or make a mistake in the querying process. If you send out a query with the wrong guidelines, an agent might like your material anyway. They might see what you have to offer. In my experience, agents have been quite helpful towards authors who are starting to navigate the publishing world, a world that is far more complicated than we first imagined. But don’t give your dream agent, who has 25000 queries in her inbox and only 2 hours to answer them, an easy excuse to reject you.

Agent Acquired!

Hello everybody. Long time no see. I doubt anyone’s been languishing at my sorry lack of posts, considering the world bursting into flames and all, but I need to get away from Twitter-space and I’m still not done processing the whole procedure, so what the hell – I’ve got an agent! A real literary agent with an agency and a track record and great ideas for my book and stuff!

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I’ve blabbered a little bit about my novel before, so I thought I’d skip that blabber and go straight to the blabber about my querying experience. There were things I did that, in hindsight, were an excellent idea and I would recommend to queriers. And things I did that were definitely not so excellent.

I actually started my querying process by entering contests. The first five pages contest and the first line contest, held by Adventures in YA Publishing, helped me hone my work on a detailed basis and got me in the door with a couple of agents. PitchWars got me fantastic feedback from amazing people, and PitchSlam did the same – and put me into contact with the inestimable Kurestin Armada, who now represents me. Contests are ways to connect with other writers and get honest, helpful feedback about your work. Every contest I entered, I got some kind of feedback from at least one of the judges, even if I didn’t ‘win’ or ‘place’ or even make it past the first round. I would heartily recommend that  queriers start with contests to help make their submission material shine. Other authors have also found critique partners through contests – so you never know what you’ll get out of it!

After PitchSlam finished at the end of September, I started querying in earnest. I’m not sure why I thought this was a good idea, but I sent out a query a day. No, I don’t recommend this. It’s kind of a dumb idea. I never got a breather or the chance to analyse what worked or didn’t work about my submission materials. I researched all prospective agents in advance, and again before sending off their query, but it proved to be a big time sink and I was kind of burned out by December. I also made some dumb mistakes – I put in the wrong agent’s name at one point! – and that’s something to keep in mind, too. Maybe if I’d slowed down, I’d have caught the error. It’s important to send out queries on our schedules and not any one agent’s, but maybe not like this.

I never knew how I’d feel about an agent’s reply until I got it. Requests for more material always made me ecstatic, of course, and usually I could take rejections on requested material with optimism and a healthy dose of perspective. Form rejections sometimes stung me, especially when I queried agents who had a manuscript wish list that included my exact novel concept. Many agents say that a rejection has less to do with the author than the agent. Maybe they just don’t connect with the writing, or can’t bear to ask for more work when they’ve got a lot piling up already. That was what I tried to focus on as I prepared the next query, and the next, and the next.

Some people will say that the opposite of love is indifference; I think that’s why some form rejections (or no responses) hit writers so hard.

I thought the hard part of my journey would be over once I got an offer of representation. Other stories of querying and representation that I read made everything seem so simple, like I’d get some lightning bolt when the right agent called. That so not happened. I got multiple offers of representation, all from agents that I would have been ecstatic to say represented me.

To any agents that might read this, y’all are a classy bunch. I never had an unpleasant interaction with any agent at any point in the process, and trying to choose a first among equals left my head spinning more than once. But when I got a chance to settle down and think things through, point by point, Kurestin shared my vision for the book and suggested revisions that filled me with energy and enthusiasm. I’m stoked to have signed with her and I can’t wait to share the rest of the journey – just as soon as it happens!

 

 

 

Review: Labyrinth Lost

When I decided I was only going to review books that I actually enjoyed reading, I didn’t really think about the reality of reading a book that was all right, but full of issues for me. Overall I give Labyrinth Lost a pass, but in the interest of honest reviewing there were aspects of the book that irritated me.

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Alejandra Mortiz is a powerful bruja hiding her magic from her family. Her whole family are brujas and brujos, but Alex is convinced that their magic has brought them nothing but sorrow. When she can’t hide her magic anymore, she devises a spell to get rid of it – but everything goes wrong and her entire family, past and present, are sucked into another dimension ruled by an evil being who wants to consume their souls and gain their power for herself. Alex teams up with her best friend and a brujo with a dark past to get them back, traveling through Los Lagos, a land with beings and rules unlike anything we have on Earth.

The concept of Labyrinth Lost is powerful, and the dimension of Los Lagos is incredibly devised, full of fascinating landscapes and surprises at every turn. The strong point of the book is definitely the way Zoraida Cordóva plays with conceptions of afterlife and alternate dimensions, and paints the world that Alex, Nova and Rishi journey through on their quest.

However, I had my share of problems with Labyrinth Lost as well. First off, it reminded me a lot of the Hunger Games, particularly the arena from Catching Fire. In terms of setting this probably has more to do with my mind than the book, but I couldn’t shake the association. It didn’t help that both Labyrinth Lost and the Hunger Games trilogy are written in first person, present tense. That only strengthened my connection between them, and I wonder if Labyrinth Lost would have been a stronger book in a different tense and point of view. As I said above, I felt that the strongest part of the book was the world, and I loved the descriptions that we got. However, first person isn’t the greatest point of view for descriptive prose, as most humans don’t go into long descriptive paragraphs. The book reflected this and had some weak sentences that felt more like a sketch of the scene than a finished painting. For example, when describing a tunnel, Cordóva writes, “It smells dank and is lit by torches.” Sorry, but, well…duh.

The present tense also irritated me. When writing in present it’s a little too easy to rely on the filler words, especially ‘is.’ And Cordóva does this a lot. This is the very essence of a little thing, but hey, I’m a writer. I obsess over the little things.

Some reviewers have commented on weakness of character, and I can see their points. I think Alex is fairly strong, and Cordóva does a good job of avoiding the ‘invisible girl’ style that would essentially turn Alex into a thin sheet onto which we could just project ourselves. (Side note: she does fulfill the ‘reluctant savior’ trope in a way, with all her moaning about how she has all this cool magic and how terrible is that? There’s an explanation for why she hates it so, but I never really bought it. Maybe because every living human on earth would think her powers are the COOLEST FRICKING THING to have.)Alex has definite flaws, and both she and Nova are strong characters. Rishi is a bit weaker, unfortunately. She rings some of the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ bells, and another reviewer pointed out (quite rightly, I think) that she didn’t bring a lot to Alex’s quest, except for some romantic tension as she and Nova compete for Alex’s affections. I won’t say more in the interest of spoilers, but I did appreciate how the love story turned out.

At the end of the day, I would say Labyrinth Lost is worth the read. Yeah, I grumbled as I read it, but it’s a refreshing portal fantasy and gave us a beautiful world to roam.

This book is for you if: you want a new setting, you like creepy imagery.
Maybe less so if: You sweat the little things, you’re sick of first person, present tense.

Why I’m not doing Nanowrimo

No, this is not a screed against Nanowrimo. It’s not about how literature is dying, or how Nanowrimo is the devil, or how agents hate us writers who dare to try writing 50,000 words in a month (pro tip: no they don’t).

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The Nanowrimo logo for 2016

I’ve been watching writers around me prepare for Nanowrimo this year, and I made the conscious decision not to participate fully. I’ll be doing write-ins with my husband (who’s participating in his own way) but I won’t be in it to reach 50k. Why?

Nanowrimo is a tool. I first discovered it in 2004, when I was just 17, and won that very first year. I haven’t won every year since, but winning and losing Nanowrimo has taught me a lot of things:

  1. It taught me that I can try for goals that I thought were impossible – and make them.
  2. It taught me that sometimes you just keep pushing, even if you hate your project
  3. It taught me that monthly goals are better for me than daily goals
  4. It taught me that writing is a community rather than solitary experience
  5. It taught me that completely pantsing it sucks*
*okay, okay, just for me. Sheesh.

I learned a lot about my strengths in terms of storytelling while trying Nanowrimo – largely due to getting stuck on my novel thanks to the aforementioned pantsing. I owe a lot of my writing journey to Nanowrimo. In fact, the thing I learned the most while doing Nanowrimo is what made me determine not to do Nanowrimo anymore.

Put your hand up if you’re sick of hearing ‘Don’t edit! Just write!’ Sorry, but I am.

I understand the philosophy behind it. If it works for you as a writer, then I love that it works for you. But it doesn’t work for me. Writing an entirely sucky first draft, that I know is sucky, makes the suck pile up until I can’t face it anymore. This is one thing I discovered in my Nanowrimo journey. The suck became so much that I couldn’t remember the good anymore, and I felt no desire to excavate my project once the month was over.

Conversely, once I started editing as I went, I found that even though it took longer to write my book, I felt more of an attachment to it once it was finished. I could face the suck because I also knew that some parts were less sucky, and some parts were actually all right, and some parts still made me cry.

Editing as you go is anathema to the Nanowrimo way. And, of course, some people get stuck editing the same scene so many times that they can’t move on to creating a new one. If that’s your problem, Nanowrimo is good for that. But if you have the opposite problem, you’re not alone. Nanowrimo’s not for me either.

I wish everyone who’s doing Nanowrimo this year a great month full of incredible ideas and an ever-increasing word count. I’ll be participating in word sprints and haunting the forums.

Just don’t get mad if I go back and rewrite those words right after.

Happy November!

Review: Wolf by Wolf

Trigger Warning: this contains some discussion of the holocaust and concentration camps.

Also, some mild spoilers, I guess?

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World War II is interesting from a storyteller’s perspective. It’s morbidly fascinating, full of stories that can be adapted and related over a wide number of genres. It’s good for action/adventure, a la Captain America, or can leave us with harrowing impressions of humanity and its debasement, as in Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose (one of my favorite novels as a younger person). Science fiction and fantasy have used it time and time again, and it makes a dramatic backdrop with high stakes for any romance novels. As someone who is querying a novel based off of some incredible WWII stories, I’ve sometimes been overwhelmed by the incredible truths that pop up in WWII fiction.

Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin, uses these incredible truths in the alternate history genre, mixing  in a little science fantasy to give us a different view on perspective, particularly where race and appearance are concerned.

Wolf by Wolf is set in a 1956 in which the Axis won World War II, spreading its influence through all of Europe and Asia, and down into Africa. Hitler is still alive and strong, with an iron grip over his part of the world that no one can seem to shake. But a resistance moves against him, and as part of that resistance concentration camp survivor Yael has vowed to do her part to free the world. Yael has a special ability – as a result of human experiments in the camp, she can change her appearance at will, and look like any girl in the world.

Yael’s opportunity to change the world comes in the form of a motorcycle race called the Axis Tour. All she has to do is shift into the form of Adele Wolfe, last year’s winner and the only girl to ever win the Axis Tour. If she wins the race again, she’ll get the chance to meet and kill Hitler. But the race is full of treachery, and not only does Yael have to overcome it – she has to navigate the complicated emotional waters surrounding two other contestants. Luka Lowe, a previous winner, has some kind of personal history with Adele, and Adele’s twin brother, Felix Wolfe, has entered the race to keep his sister safe.

Wolf by Wolf is an action/adventure book with light science fantasy elements concerning Yael’s skinshifting. However, it is not a light book. The action of the motorcycle race is interspersed with Yael’s history as a concentration camp inmate, escapee, and resistance fighter. For me, Graudin’s writing was highly emotional, and is one of the few books I’ve read that uses repetition to its full effectiveness. The tension wasn’t as high as I’d expected it to be for an action book, but the hook that pulls you on is Yael’s anger, her mission, her drive and subsequently her confusion as these perfect Aryan specimens, boys who grew fat off the destruction of her people, turn out to be more complicated than your average Nazi thug.

That was actually my favorite part about Wolf by Wolf. A lot of WWII based stories don’t do a lot of work with the Nazis – they’re presented as the element of pure evil. This makes it easy to cheer and feel satisfied when they get what’s coming to them. However, Graudin excellently portrays particularly Felix and Luka as products of their environment. They aren’t secretly part of the resistance (at least, not as far as we know!) and have no overt sympathies. But they are people, people who care, who try, who have lots of likable qualities. And they are Hitler Youth. I spent a large part of the book wondering what (particularly) Luka would think of Yael if he knew she was not Adele, but a Jew. I don’t know if the answer to this question is in the sequel, Blood for Blood, but I’ll bet his reaction wouldn’t be pretty.

It’s hard sometimes, to remember that while they degenerated to pure evil, your average Nazi wasn’t pure evil. We could argue the philosophies of the banality of evil all day, but I want to use just one story to illustrate my point.

I read an article some time ago, which I sadly can’t find now. It discussed the first allied excursions into concentration camps, in the days immediately following the war’s end. General Eisenhower took a tour of a camp, then sent one of his aides to the nearest town to fetch the mayor and his wife. Eisenhower had them taken on a tour as well, of the camp they’d sent prisoners to for years, a camp that had made them fat off the death of other people. The mayor and his wife took the tour in silence, went home, and killed themselves. When I read it, I began to see the disconnect – no doubt the mayor and his wife thought they were good people, good Germans, good National Socialists. Good. Perhaps to them, the people in the concentration camps weren’t people (that’s a common way to deny a person their human rights, to claim they aren’t human in the first place). But eventually, the mayor and his wife came face to face with what they’d done, what they’d been a  part of, and they couldn’t see both those truths anymore. It’s this disconnect that I read when I read Wolf by Wolf. I thought Graudin did an amazing job with it.

I also enjoyed the non-typical love triangle. I consider it a love triangle even though one side of it was fraternal love, rather than romantic love (thank God). I liked that Yael wasn’t being beset by all the boys ever, but had two boys fighting more over their perceptions of her, rather than over her. I found it to be a refreshing take.

You will like this book if: you like alternate history, action, motorcycles, or WWII.
You may not like this book if: you don’t like heavy topics such as genocide, or if you dislike a repetitive style.

Review: Crooked Kingdom

 

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This review was supposed to come out a few days ago. Sadly it got gummed up in the gears of personal problems and the sort of despair that keeps a writer staring at her blank screen, doing nothing more productive than thinking, I really ought to be productive.

Leigh Bardugo is one of those authors that throws me into a cycle of elation and despair. I love reading her work; I hate comparing my work to hers. She has the sort of style and intricate plot that I’d love to be able to come up with but know in my heart I never can (This isn’t what stuck me on the review. It’s just a general observation). The first time I came across her work was a library copy of Six of Crows. Kaz and his crew convinced me that Bardugo is my new favorite author, and while I prefer the duology to her Grisha trilogy, I still lapped up the epic of Alina Starkov.

Crooked Kingdom picks up where Six of Crows left off – Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off the most daring heist imaginable – and for their troubles they’re the most wanted crooks in Ketterdam, not to mention they’re missing a crew member. As the crew fights to stay one step ahead of their enemies, Kaz is busy working on the heist that could save them all.

I can’t go much more into detail than that, because it would spoil the book. Whereas the Grisha series had gaps between books, the Six of Crows duology fits seamlessly together. Crooked Kingdom has all the elements of a novel and can stand alone in its own right – emotional arcs, rising action, a classic plot. We go back into the heads of all our great friends and even get a shot at seeing the world from Wylan’s perspective.

I loved each of these characters more than the last. Bardugo creates compelling situations for our heroes to get caught in, and manages to weave political intrigue, action, violence, humor and romance into the novel. It’s hard to get people to care about all the points of view in a book like this, which I think is another testament to Bardugo’s ability. Her descriptions are also perfect – a blend of sensory description and triggered memories that give us a lot of information about the characters without making it all seem like an info dump.

I could probably go on about this book all day, but I won’t. I’ll go back to re-reading it instead. It’s that good.

You might like this book if you like: complicated plots, heists, high stakes, low fantasy.

You might not like this book if: Who wouldn’t like this book? Seriously? Okay, don’t read it without reading Six of Crows first.

Review: Shadowshaper

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So, I met Daniel José Older in a discussion about writing, and his style was so down to earth I knew I had to read some of his work. I nabbed this one as soon as I spotted the cover.

Shadowshaper is the story of Sierra Santiago, a high school student looking forward to a summer hanging out with friends and painting murals. As soon as the summer starts, she’s swept up in a battle that nearly tore her family apart years ago, a battle that’s been kept from her all her life. A magical battle involving her art and her heritage.

Three words I would use to describe this novel and its heroine: Strong. Proud. Real.

Strong

Sierra is strong and not afraid to show it, and that shines in the prose even though it’s written from a 3rd person perspective (that’s not a knock, by the way. I loved that. I miss 3rd person so much in YA).

The plot was also strong. Older knows how to keep his novels lean and each scene served multiple purposes to develop all aspects of his story. The only thing I wasn’t so sure about in this novel was Sierra’s emotional arc. I guess she went from being unsure of her powers to being an accomplished user of them, but to be honest she’s already a pretty great and well-balanced character at the start of the book.

Proud

Sierra is proud of herself, her talents and her heritage. Shadowshaper brings Caribbean legends to New York City and stands with them, giving movement to both art and the dead. I am by no means an expert in Caribbean legends, folklore or culture, so coming at it as an outsider I can say that I enjoyed not just the magic that Older put together, but the way he stood by it. It’s not a creepy horror show act, it’s not whitewashed voodoo, it’s fresh and it’s proud to be what it is.

Speaking of proud, a lot of people have called Shadowshaper a kind of message-fiction. I’m going to be honest, I don’t really see a lot of ‘message’ in here when I look at Sierra’s emotional arc, because the message definitely isn’t, ‘It’s okay to not be white.’ Shadowshaper goes waaaaaaay beyond that. Race politics definitely play a role in the novel, as Sierra has to deal with people who are suspicious just because she’s got dark skin and a fro, not to mention stand up to her racist aunt. But the book isn’t about Sierra learning that her body is okay. From the beginning she’s a fan of her fro: “She loved it the way it was, free and undaunted.” She’s got complaints about her  body, but I’d like to meet the teen that doesn’t. Shadowshaper proudly paints a corner of the world where nobody’s white and nobody needs to be told that that’s okay. And I love that.

Real

I’ve never been to New York. I’ve relied on my sister’s descriptions and the media to give me an impression of the city, and here’s what I’ve got:

-tall buildings
-Broadway shows
-Central Park
-homeless people
-black people in harlem, white people everywhere else.

Yeah, my sister really, really loves Broadway.

I’ve long known in theory that New York is an incredibly diverse place where people from every country in the world converge and bring pieces of their own culture with them. But that’s not the part of New York that we see in other urban fantasy or tv shows like How I Met Your Mother. Older brings us the part of New York that we know is there, but we tend to forget, just like he brings us the story of people we know are there, but tend to forget. We’re doing ourselves a disservice by not giving the places and people he describes more space in our public forums.

But back to technical developments. The writing feels real, the places feel real. The style Older uses is bare bones, which moves us from scene to scene with stark efficiency. I usually prefer a more lyrical style but Older definitely kept the pace up.

You will like this book if: you like urban fantasy, you like diverse casts, you like non-western magic systems, you like strong heroines.

You may not like this book if: you don’t like urban fantasy.