Review on ARC of Julie Cross’ “Tempest”

I was recently lucky enough to get an advance release copy of my friend Julie Cross’ new YA/Scifi novel, “Tempest”. Below is my review.

When I first got my copy of Julie Cross’ Tempest, there were 3 reasons why I thought I would just muddle through it. First, I am a big multiple Point-of-View fan, and I find first person writing very confining. Second, I am a HUGE stickler for time travel stories (really? The Terminator couldn’t just sew a laser pistol inside a rump roast and bring it back with him?) And third, the fact that I’m a 37 year old bald man whose wife has been known to refer to him, on occasion, as a curmudgeon might lead you to believe that YA romance is not necessarily my genre.

But I was absolutely wrong, on each point. I loved Tempest!

Julie’s prose is fantastic. She writes naturally from her hero’s mind, in a stream of consciousness fashion that is very gripping. By the second chapter I was totally engrossed, and once I reached the halfway point of the novel I never set it down again. There is not one wasted word.

As to the time-travel: it is new, it is tight, and it allows for some awesome plot explorations. The simple question of whether a person could re-romance someone they already love in another time, at another age, fascinates me. That is a grand idea to explore in a time travel story. It is also very easy to follow and know where Jackson is at any time (literally).

The third of my points is probably the most important. This is no simple teenage romance. This thing is real. The characters grow; you see why they are in love. It is not just two people with the chemical hots for each other. These two people, through their struggles, learn the importance of having someone in your life you can trust more than you do yourself. Also, Jackson’s growth in his relationship with his father – can he trust him or not – draws you to both characters. Jackson’s development from an pseudo-spoiled rich kid to a committed, serious adult is clear and quite well played out.

Julie Cross is also able to drag the reader to both emotional heights and lows. Not to spoil, but Jackson’s letter to his sister is both poignant and funny – and something any good brother would feel.

I can give the one ultimate compliment to this story a writer can get – I cannot wait to read the sequel.

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A recipe from “A Balance Broken”.

If you are one of the lucky folks to have read the sample chapters of the first novel of The Dragonsoul Saga, you will remember the stew served within the Sleeping Gryphon. I thought I would give you the secret recipe.

Ingredients:

1 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 lb. beef sirloin, cut into bite size cubes
1 small can tomato paste
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 large carrots, diced
X medium red jalapenos (only as many as you might enjoy, start with 1, I use 3, 0 is OK)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 stalks of celery, diced
4 large parsnips, diced (potatoes will work too)
1 cup fresh cooked or frozen corn kernels
3 bay leaves, or chopped fresh herbs of your taste (oregano, thyme)
Salt and pepper to taste

In the bottom of a large pot (preferably an old cast iron kettle over a banked fire — you can use a saucepan and a stove), sear the beef in the olive oil over high heat, seasoning with salt and black pepper. When the beef reaches a golden brown, add the tomato paste, and stir to mix. Add the onion, carrot, peppers, and celery. Season and stir. Make an open hole in your vegetables to open up a space on the bottom of the pan. Toss the garlic directly onto the hot pan. Let it sit a few seconds then stir. Cook 2 minutes. Add the parsnips, corn and herbs. Stir.

Here you can season with any extras. Tallen often used a sauce very similar to Worcestershire, and his home-made spicy pepper sauce.

Cover with beef stock, chicken stock, good beer, or seasoned water (or any combination of those 4), and bring to a boil. Set heat to low, and cook 1 hour (or longer). Thicken with more tomato paste if necessary.

Serve with fresh bread and warmed butter, just like they do at the Sleeping Gryphon.

This will warm your stomach and your heart on a cool spring evening. And it will fortify your stomach for a long journey into adventure.

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Show vs. Tell

I thought for one of my posts, since I want to have a nice mix of writing and fantasy here, I would just begin to hint around the edges of what is means to “show a story” instead of “tell a story”.

Compare these two phrases.

He gathered his men around him.

and

The king lifted his sword on high. “Men! Gather around me!”

One tells you what happens, the other makes it something you can clearly see. Think of it this way: only write what you could see in a movie. Think — how does an actor show his emotions in a movie?

Try this example.

He was mad.

versus:

A shade of crimson grew on his cheeks, as his jaw worked in silence. John’s brows drew down in a furious scowl.

See. Obviously he is mad in the second one, but you see it, rather than the author just telling you so. Using the word “furious” at the end to describe the scowl may be a little cheating — but this is writing — no rule is unbendable. (See, unbendable is not a word!)

So this is just a basic primer. I love examples; I hope you find mine helpful.

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Treatise on Dragons and their anatomy

The dragon is one of the most ancient and cross-cultural icons of myth in human history. The Europeans, the Chinese, the Maya, as well as others, all have dragon-like creatures within their mythologies. I am of the opinion that his is due to dinosaur bones popping up out of the earth for the entirety of our time on this rock, but that is beside the point.

The anatomy of these creatures is varied. The slinky, snake-like creature is common in Asia, while in Europe the winged, four clawed variety is the most common, usually with its accompanying fire breath.  The Aztecs had feathers on their dragonish gods. This becomes even more interesting in light of the fact that most modern scholars believe that birds are descendants of dinosaurs, and even T-Rex may have had feathers. But again, I digress.

The question that needs to be answered is:  which of these potential body types would be most likely to evolve in a “real” fantasy world?

The giant snake would be hard to imagine not crushing its ribs under its own weight as it slithered through the forest or mountains, and, precluding some special magic, they certainly would not fly. The feathers might be pretty, but that takes away some of the classic magic of “dragon scales” and almost makes them become too much like birds.

However, there is a problem with the classic European dragon, four walking limbs and a flimsy pair of leathery wings just pasted onto their spine.  This sort of creature would effectively be a six-limbed beast. How many six-limbed, land using vertebrates have evolved in nature? In a world entirely inhabited by four-limbed vertebrates (you know, horses, dogs, birds, bats, frogs, people), how did a six-limbed beast just pop up?

(I have the reverse problem with Avatar, where the Navi have 4 limbs while everything else has 6 — and yet they can all are close on the Pandoran evolutionary scale to share brain chemicals…through their hair? Don’t get me wrong — I liked the movie a lot. OK, digression over.)

That is why I posit that the most accurate form of the dragon is the one most famously used in the Rankin-Bass version of the Hobbit for Smaug or in the movie “Dragonslayer” — a four limbed creature with wings on its forearms. It is more used to the sky than the ground. The wings fold back along those arms, as extensions of the outer digit, allowing for some ability to crawl along the ground or hobble along with its front legs aiding its stubbier rear ones.

It would be more like a Pterodactyl with slightly more prehensile claws then a komodo dragon with an extra set of wings.

Now, the breathing fire — that’s a whole other story.

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Advice from a new writer to new writers.

Once I finally had the opportunity to sit down and write, I just went to it.  I wrote the novel that had been bouncing around in my head for years.  I had the characters, I had the world, I also had a great deal of the plot.  Lying in bed one night, unable to sleep, I even came up with the antagonists.

So I wrote.  I sat down, opened up a blank Word document and typed (center justified) the word “Prologue”.

I then followed it with another 175K. When I was done, I knew I had a great story.  I knew I had characters people would love and love to hate. I knew I had a world that could draw in even the casual fantasy fan. I even felt that I had said something important about humanity, about race, about the trials of life that EVERYONE faces.

But what I hadn’t done was learn to write. Learn what “Show v. Tell” was all about or how strict POV really needs to be — which adverbs to cut, and what a “strong verb” really is.

I kept submitting the manuscript, getting the rejection letters that everyone tells you to expect, no matter how good your writing is.  I had friends who were fans of the genre read — most telling me how they loved it without having the skills, or maybe the hard hearts, to tell me what was wrong.

I even had an agent pick it up — evidently just happy that I knew how to structure a paragraph in this genre.  After she got rejections everywhere, she dropped me — with little more advice than “Keep at it.”

Eventually, a publisher that had been perusing the manuscript for some time contacted me.  Their words, in effect were, “We love your characters. We love your world. We love much of the plot you have created here. We think there is a great novel here screaming to get out into the world. 100 pages are really great. 300 need to be thrown out. Now, here is how you write.”

And I finally “got” it with the help of a great teacher, Maxwell Alexander Drake.

Now it is almost finished (or ready for the editors, which is NOT finished), and it is SO much better.

I am lucky. It is tough to get any real feedback out there in the slaughterhouse of modern publishing, much less real help. So I suggest you help yourself first.

Take a creative writing course, especially if you’ve never written before.  Read some basic rules on the web. You can use that famous search engine. Never put down your thesaurus and always read the masters.  And read them with a critical eye. Don’t just let yourself get lost in the story, figure out WHY you are lost in the story.  Notice how they put their sentences together — how they put you inside the POV character.

It sounds simple, but I know it is tough, especially if you are a fan. Try to take something technical (or crafty vs. artistic) away from your reading.

Always remember though, that no matter how much of the craft you learn, there is still a spark of creativity and imagination that you have to bring to your writing. That is where you make it yours — that is where you make it your art.

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Hello world!

Well, thus begins my quest into blogdom.  Probably a little late, but I didn’t get a cell phone until texting was already popular, and I was still playing cassette tapes way after CD’s came around.

So I’ll begin with a few comments on what I hope to do as a writer.  Mostly, I hope to entertain. I want people to enjoy this magical, made-up world I have created.  I hope to give readers a fun ride through wizards and dragons and mountains and castles.

I also want to say something important with my writing, and I want to open, affect, and change people’s minds.

But mostly I just want to entertain!

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