“A great achievement” New book review and interview for A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM

Really, one of the best books I’ve read this year.

The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

Jane AustenAuthor and blogger Christoph Fischer has recently given a wonderful review for my new novel A Jane Austen Daydream.  Here is an excerpt:

An excellent concept and a great achievement, a must read for Austen fans open for a playful read and those who wish Austen had written more. This is like a little welcome encore for us fans.

I also agreed to be interviewed about the book and my writing. It was a very interesting interview with some fun and serious questions mixed in. This was my response to the question about how the idea of the book came to me:

It was in reading a biography on her that I realized how little her life actually mirrored her books. She did not have a Darcy waiting for her at home, and died far too young and only with her sister and mother for company. So at the…

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A Review of Thumbprint by Joe Hill

 

Has anyone else jumped on the Joe Hill bandwagon? Ever since I read Horns and NOS4A2, I have been hooked on his writing.

Just read my reviews on those two books. Joe Hill is one of the good ones.

Review of Horns

Review of NOS4A2

On the plane ride home I decided to give one of his short stories, Thumbprint, a try. It’s the story of a young woman who has returned from a tour in Iraq where she did things she regrets. Odd occurrences begin to happen to her. Someone is leaving envelopes with thumbprints in her mailbox, on her door, and someone, likely the same person, has been in her house.

Thumbprint is a well-crafted mystery with a horror twist. The writing is crystal. The tension builds from sentence to sentence like an ever-growing ripple.

But the end came down with a big thud and left me wondering what I missed. Joe Hill ended the story in abstract, which sometimes works, but for me, this time, I was left wanting.

For 99 cents it’s worth the read, but be warned. At the end you may be left with your mouth agape, wondering where the ending of the story has gone.

Editing Post II: Villains

How is your day going? What have you been up to?

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I’m coming to the end of the hiatus I took from my novel, The Tome of Worlds. I begin the editing process Sunday morning, 8/18.

In the interim I have written a short story on the death of Edgar Allan Poe called “Reynolds! Reynolds!”, a short story centered around a door to another time and place called “The Door Frame from Yesteryear”, and I have conceived of another story–short or novel I do not know yet–of the life a handicapped man as a freak in a 1930s Carnival.

The last story requires research because the extent of my knowledge of depression-era carnivals comes from the cancelled HBO television series Carnivale, so I will soon begin reading a novel called Nightmare Alley by William Gresham, the story of a man’s downward spiral to the level of a geek in a 1930s carnival, the lowest of the low in carnival life. Has anyone read Nightmare Alley?

nightmare alley

I don’t know where the story of the handicapped man will take me, but it’s a story I must tell.

But, on to editing. As with the last post, much of this advice comes from the editing novel The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass.

In my last post on editing I covered the following topics:

Summary for Editing Post I

  • Always, always, always write with passion.
  • Live through your characters. Feel what they feel. Use your own experiences to convey those emotions.
  • Show villainy, loathing, and greatness through impact on the world and characters

For this post I will talk about villains.

Villains

Who are the memorable villains?

  • For me Voldemort was not memorable as a villain. I sympathized with him, but he was not memorable in the same way as Harry, Ron and Hermione.
  • The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss has a villain, but the villain is not memorable; rather, the villain is fleeting and ambiguous. He lurks.
  • The White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia? Still, no. She lures in and tricks Edward, is evil to children, but she is pure, black and white evil.
  • O’Brien from 1984. Now there was a villain. He lured in the protagonist and betrayed him. O’Brien’s memorable quote was  “One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”
  • Mustapha Mond from Brave New World. He wasn’t a villain, but he believed that they had to sacrifice certain freedoms for the good of society. His arguments were compelling.
  • Moby Dick? A symbol of obsession? Or just a whale?
  • Sauron was straight evil. He was a villain, yes, but he had no depth. Personally I found Saruman to be a greater evil because he was once good.

Depth. Great villains require depth. They cannot be a cardboard Mr. Evil. I must understand their motivation, which is why most of these villains fail for me.

Voldemort was evil, but why did he want to convert the world into a magical version of 1984? Just because he thought wizards were better than muggles? I saw a mix of Hitler and 1984 in Voldemort, but there was very little depth to Voldemort, little justification for why he became who he became.

Out of the villains I list, O’Brien is my favorite. He lures Winston Smith into a trap posing as a member of The Brotherhood, an ambiguous revolutionary group Winston seeks to join. O’Brien appears, at first, to be friendly and sympathetic to Winston’s dislike of the party. He becomes Winston’s friend. In the end it is O’Brien who turns on Winston, tortures him, re-trains him.

O’Brien is evil. He believes he is right. Like Mustapha Mond he makes compelling arguments. During O’Brien’s initial interactions with Winston, O’Brien comes across as human.

Now, I have not read 1984 in twenty years, but I still remember O’Brien. When I set out to write this post I was not thinking about 1984, but when I had to think about villains, O’Brien came to mind instantly.

So what makes a great villain in your mind?

Donald Maass says that there is no villain as scary as one who is right. I believe that’s why I found O’Brien to be such a deep villain. I didn’t agree with O’Brien’s philosophy, but in the end Winston did.  If you, as a reader, believe in the protagonist, as I believed in Winston, as I came to be committed to Winston, then when the protagonist is swayed by the villain you are moved, too.

There are three villains in The Tome of Worlds:

  • Naestrum, the master of a realm called The Deadlands, a place people go when they become lost
  • The Seers, a group of creatures from another land who are believed to be all-knowing, all-seeing
  • Tartarus, the embodiment of Hell from Greek Mythology

When I re-visit my novel I intend to put more into these villains. Donald Maass suggests you do the following, and I agree:

  • Justify your villain’s actions
  • Make them right
  • Write a villain who could sway you
  • Reject the idea of evil. Make the villain good (from their point of view)
  • Don’t let the villain lurk, put them in your protagonist’s face

Once again I notice a theme in this advice. If you want the reader to believe in your villain, make your protagonist believe in him.

Editing Post III

For the next installment I will hit upon secondary characters and sidekicks, though the advice is similar to what I just presented for villains. The bulk of the post will focus on scene revision.

As always, if you have any editing advice please don’t hesitate to add your opinion. Thank you.

Editing my Novel, The Tome of Worlds

editing image

How many of you have edited a novel? What’s your process? Do you have any favorite books on the editing process?

I put the last word of my novel, The Tome of Worlds, to paper on July 10. Since then I have written and edited one short story on the end of Edgar Allan Poe and am at the end of another short story about an empty door frame standing in the middle of a corridor. That last short story has taken an odd turn and I want to see it to the end before I start editing my novel.

Since early July I have set aside reading fiction and have turned my eye to reading books about and taking notes on the editing process. I read The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass from cover to cover. I started to read Writing on Your Own Terms by Rebecca Dickinson, but put it aside after thirty pages because I felt that the book wasn’t going anywhere. Right now I am reading Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon.

Over the course of my next several posts I am going to discuss my editing process. The posts will serve several purposes. One, I hope to glean information from those of you who have edited novels. That editing advice can then be passed on to people who read this blog. Two, I can summarize my thoughts on the editing process. And three, I can hash out how I will edit my novel, because I am not quite ready to begin.

I have edited several short stories in my day, but this is the first time that I will edit a full length novel. I am looking forward to the challenge.

The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass

Donald Maass does not give you a method to edit your novel. Rather, he hits upon what you should look for in a strong novel. Both editors, Donald Maass and Elizabeth Lyon, talk of writing with passion and emotion. In the second draft of my Poe short story I applied this thought process to the short story. I got into the head of my protagonist, Mr. Snod, and made his character come to life more fully. My readers say that the story is much improved.

Currently that story, Reynolds! Reynolds!, is going through the Critters Workshop.

But back to Donald Maass. In this post I will focus on characters, but specifically the protagonist. Donald Maass asks the following questions:

  • How do you find the strong or human qualities in your protagonist?
  • What will be most effective to portray?

He contends that the answers, as always, lie with the author.

  • What is forgivably human to you?
  • What stirs your respect?

That is where to start, he says. He also says that readers want to be in the characters’ heads. Readers want that intimacy. What do you think? Do you, as a reader, like to know what the characters are thinking? Do you want that intimacy?

A theme throughout Donald Maass’s book is that characteristics such as greatness, villainy, and humor are not shown through narration, but rather they are measured through their impact on the world and on characters around them. To that end, if your character, or one of the supporting characters thinks that someone is a savior or ‘the one’, and you can convince your readers to believe that character, then your readers will believe.

Do you think about how your characters impact the world around them as you write? Do you think about how other characters view your protagonist?

Summary for Editing Post I

  • Always, always, always write with passion.
  • Live through your characters. Feel what they feel. Use your own experiences to convey those emotions.
  • Show villainy, loathing, and greatness through impact on the world and characters

Editing Post II

The second post will continue the discussion of characters. I’ll discuss why the protagonist must face tough challenges, why he or she needs secondary characters, and why a story needs a strong, empowered villain or antagonist.