Review: “Her Next Door” by T.R. Robinson

“Her Next Door” by T.R. Robinson is a short story that can be classified as both thriller and drama. Within these pages, Ms. Robinson creates an in-depth main character, Tara, with a backstory that makes the reader concerned for her well-being. Of course, in the scope of a short story, that is a rather difficult task, but Ms. Robinson pulls it off with great success.

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The quality of the writing is neat and clean. No glaring errors in punctuation, spelling, or gaping plot holes. Also, the copy editing was well done, with no repeated words, amateur body language, or dialog flubs.

The protagonist is affable. Despite her horrific backstory, Tara gives other people a clean slate, unless they do or say something to warrant an apprehension. Here’s where T.R. Robinson’s writing skills shine. At first, we’re not sure if Tara’s mental “red flags” are real or if she’s merely hyper-sensitive on account of her past. You’ll have to read it to find out.

The use of setting for thematic purposes is also well done. Tara’s new home serves as a metaphor for her life. The run-down condition of the house represents her former existence. As the story moves forward, now she’s forging ahead, reconstructing her surroundings as she also reconstructs her life. However, houses exist within a community of other dwellings, and those homes have people, too. Will “Her Next Door” neighbors live up to her suspicions? Or will she open and proceed through “Her Next Door” to a new and better life?

 

I highly recommend this little gem. “Her Next Door” is the first in T.R. Robinson’s series called “Bitches.” The series has progressed from an initial short story into a series of six. If this story is anything to go by, all of them should be great reads. You can readily find all of them on T.R. Robinson’s Amazon Author Page.

T.R. Robinson has a rather in-depth author blog among other social media locations.

Connect with T.R. Robinson on Twitter and FaceBook.

Swiggers by Joey Pinkney

In the brevity of a short story, Swiggers by Joey Pinkney manages to give us some great insight into a subtle aspect of the African-American community. Also, Joey’s Author Notes at the end give us more to ponder as he discusses the inspiration and life experiences that he called upon to create this little gem.

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Within these pages, we’re given a glimpse into the “theater of reality.” Except, within this particular theater, it is the Greek Chorus which serves as the main character. The theater is a shady park bench near a corner liquor store and the play is the daily habits of the townsfolk. A group of older men meet at the park bench, drink, tell stories, relate jokes, and offer commentary on the people who frequent the store.

Remember, in the play “As You Like It,” Shakespeare said “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances…” However, what can a humble Greek Chorus commenting on the theater of the real do when their little piece of the world stage begins to change? I don’t like to put spoilers in my reviews, so you’ll have to read it to find out.


The jokes are rather funny too. I think my favorite was the one about the Pussy Willow.


About the Writing

PinkneyI did not come across any oddly constructed sentences or glaring errors. With Swiggers, Joey Pinkney has produced a clean product. There are some word repetitions here and there, but not enough to destroy the reading experience. The dialog is quite natural and flows well despite that it is written with something of a U.S. Southern accent.

FaceBook Page  https://www.facebook.com/joeypinkney

Twitter @JoeyPinkney

Blog  https://joeyspen.com/

 

Overall, this was an enjoyable, easy-to-read little story that kept me engrossed all the way to the end.  Highly recommend!

 

 

A Personal Writing Process

I’ve been to many NaNoWriMo write-ins in my day. Naturally, I’ve conversed with many authors and have heard about personal writing habits that differ from others. I don’t mean planning versus pantsing. Sometimes it’s simple, like a naming convention for files, or a color code for highlighting certain passages for editing. Most authors write a 500-page draft and then whittle it down by one-third; I simply can’t operate in such a manner.

The manuscript for M&M: The Tales of Tyrennia Book II now stands at 235 pages. Sounds a bit short, doesn’t it? Well, in a word, No. The original first draft was only 112 pages. My creative writing classes were in screenwriting; therefore, I tend to write a first draft (which I playfully call Version 0.5) that is 90% dialog. It’s a nasty habit, which I do not recommend for any author. This method is a rather personal quirk or “comfort zone.” I prefer having my plot laid out, no holes or characters ignoring the path of least resistance. Also, it helps me to scrutinize my dialog. pencil

Version 0.5 of Book II moved like a rocket-powered roller coaster. Way too fast and somewhat overwhelming for a reader. Most authors love to write a “page-turner,” but there can be a point where a reader needs to come up for air. My current draft certainly leaves them underwater for way too long. But there were other problems.

Book II’s disparate events in separate locations on a collision course created a dizzying story line. Not only was information zipping by too quickly, but such a plot demanded many shifts in point-of-view (POV).

To solve this problem, I wrote out a small synopsis of each chapter’s events and noted the POV shifts. Yes, way too many. But I also noted the need for characters to perform certain actions, and subsequently work on solving glitches in their plans of action.

So far, I’ve fleshed out the first four chapters and have written a new chapter 5. I saw the necessity of other new chapters as well. For instance, the original chapter 5 is now chapter 9. Because of the minimalist nature of my first draft and outline, the plot is still rock solid. *wipes brow*

Do you have any personal writing quirks in your process?

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Indie Review: “Shadows in the Stone” by Diane Lynn McGyver

In her book, “Shadows in the Stone,” Diane transports us into a fantasy world that she describes with enough expertise to fully immerse a reader. There are some overlaps into our own world, but they do not shake a reader out of the fantasy. Now, you may be thinking, “All fantasy does that.” Yes, you’re correct, in the sense that the moment an author mentions a sword, a shield, or a horse, they’re pointing to the real world. However, Diane brought in the concept of canned foods, and described a diligent accounting / government system within Aruam Castle, complete with pre-made forms, records, and bureaucratic filing. Yet she incorporated it so well into her world-building that any reader will seamlessly accept.

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Love is the fine lace woven through the main plot. We see familial love, the love of friendship, and romantic love all growing from the main story. It is the driving force behind the actions and determination of the characters.

Besides love, during our time within Diane’s world, there is murder, mayhem, magic, sword-play and a long, gritty pursuit. From these struggles and hardships, much is revealed about the characters’ pasts, loves, and fears. These aspects of the characters are revealed as a consequence of the main plot, rather than being conveniently parachuted in as filler material.

On Writing Quality: Diane Lynn McGyver stands head and shoulders above other indie authors. Her dialog flows well, as does her setting and internal descriptions. She knows how to show and not tell better than most. There is also a skillful knowledge of writing at work. Diane knows how not to overuse ‘to be’, adverbs, and a throng of other useless crutch or weasel words.

Word Creation: One item in the skill set of any fantasy / sci-fi author is creating new words and terms, either for things out of this world or renaming the mundane. I’ve seen other books where this practice is performed ad nauseam, to the point where a lengthy glossary is needed. But Diane managed it flawlessly. I especially liked her creations of sumortide, springan, yesternight, and Hauflin. These words helped me to immerse and stay there (very crafty, Diane). DLM


 F.Y.I  –  Diane maintains a spiffy blog as well


Characters:  “Shadows in the Stone” is a deep look into the heart and soul of the Dwarf Bronwyn Darrow. Now, I simply ask you to drop all of your Tolkien Dwarven standards. Diane has beautifully tweaked and redefined the notion of Dwarf, both in the physical and cultural sense.

Bronwyn Darrow stands as one of my favorite characters ever created within the sci-fi / fantasy genre. The other is Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Let that sink in about the company Bronwyn Darrow keeps.

Parting Thoughts: I enjoyed every page of “Shadows in the Stone” as you will too. This is the first in the Castle Keepers series, which is available on Amazon.

 

 

 

2020: Writing Goals for the New Year

For the New Year, I think it best to keep working on what I have already written, rather than start a new writing project. The first draft of M&M: The Tales of Tyrennia, Book II, is done and the first ten chapters are ready for beta reading. Therefore, a release of Book II looks rather promising.2020

My short story collection, that has been “on the back burner” for far too long, should be completed. I’ve decided to alternate between Book II and the collection. Edit a chapter, then edit a short story, then back to another chapter and so on. The shorts collection has seven titles, so it will be done relatively quickly and I can shift my undivided attention back to Book II.

I’m sure some minds are saying, “Shouldn’t this be titled ‘editing goals’ rather than ‘writing goals’”? Not in my case. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts long ago, I write bare-boned drafts (mostly dialog) and edit in an additive manner rather than a subtractive one. My first editing pass involves a lot of writing, like detailed descriptions, body language, ambiance, and the five senses.

On another note, I also plan on doing many more reviews this year. Of course I’m going to restrict them to books by Indie Authors.

Yes, I know these aspirations appear thin, but I believe in keeping things simple. I’ve found that when I set too large a goal and fail to reach it, I turn into my own worst critic.

What do you plan on writing about this year? Do you already have a work in progress? Are you already planning for NaNoWriMo 2020 in November or Camp NaNoWriMo in April?

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Editing Crutch Words

When we (the Queen and I) were on the cusp of completing the final draft of my fantasy novel, Storm of Divine Light, I came across an intriguing post by #WritingCommunity member, Indie Author and Editor Dan Alatorre. His blog post concentrated on the dreaded phenomenon known as “crutch words.” Just when we thought we were safe, it was back to the draft for another round of editing.

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What are crutch words?

They are words or expressions that an author’s brain defers to like a default setting (and therefore, they become over-used). These repeated words / phrases should not be obliterated from your writing, but rather, their frequency and usage needs to be reduced.

What do I mean by “usage”?

Word usage falls into two broad categories. First, there is description / exposition and second, there is dialog. I’ll use the word “look” as an example in exposition.

Janet flashed a stern look at him.

Occurrences like this are borderline “telling.”  You can allow about fifteen per novel; just make sure they are distant from each other.

John looked at Janet’s stern face.

Blatant “telling” and also “distancing.” Please edit (with extreme prejudice) such usage from your manuscript.

On the flip side, the word “look” seems quite natural in dialog:

John held up the old photograph. “Wow! Come over here and take a look at this.”

Proper, simple, and to the point. Good job!  Now here’s an example where I make a special effort to  avoid the word “look.”

“Hey, Janet! Amble over to my location and visually scan this old photograph and let’s see if it surprises you?”

An overzealous crusade to edit any and all occurrences of a crutch word in dialog may result in stilted, wooden, and unrealistic conversation.

In another example, you may have placed the word properly, but it appears too many times within a short space.

John held up the old photograph. “Wow! Come here and take a look at this.”

Bill glanced over his shoulder and said, “Now look, I can’t drop everything whenever you think you’ve found something important. Keep searching and we’ll look everything over later.” He huffed a breath and stared at John with a disdainful glare.

“Don’t look at me like that.” John flung the photo into a box.

Every single line of dialog is perfectly acceptable. However, “look” is used four times within five lines of text. Do not only refer to the sidebar within MS Word. When you do a search for any crutch word, scroll though and look for clusters.

Is it possible to use a crutch word to one’s advantage?

People, not just authors, have crutch words in their arsenal. Therefore, to make a character more realistic, give them a crutch word or phrase that is reflective of their personality. Remember to use it and don’t abuse it. If a particular character has a verbal crutch, don’t let another character say the same phrase or word as much.

In Storm of Divine Light, I used the word “quite” thirteen times in dialog. The main secondary character, Cyril, uses it seven times, Maynard four times, Dagorat once, and Liberon once. I gave the character Cyril the phrase “Quite right.” Maynard says the same with some frequency, but I also established that he and Cyril are peers in age, education, and social status.

How to find those crutch words

I searched on-line for crutch word lists. Although some results geared toward public speaking and therefore contained “Um,” “Ya know,” and “like.” I found enough sites to compile a general list, but then came the ultimate problem associated with crutch words in your manuscript:  finding the personal ones unique to your own brain.

You may find those elusive personal crutch words by searching for a different one. When I searched through my manuscript for “very,” MS Word also highlighted “every,” “everything,” “everyone” and “everywhere.” In this way, I discovered that “every” was one of my personal crutches. By the time I was done, I had an extensive list to scrub:

  • A bit
  • A few
  • Actually
  • Almost
  • Appear
  • As though
  • Basically
  • Beginning
  • Certainly
  • Could
  • Definitely
  • Each
  • Every/thing/one
  • Felt
  • Finally* (Obliterate this one)
  • Gaze
  • Glance
  • Heard/hear
  • Just
  • Look
  • Nearly
  • Nod
  • Only
  • Probably
  • Quite
  • Rather
  • Reach
  • Realize
  • Really
  • Saw
  • See
  • Seem/Seems/Seemed
  • Shrugged his/her/their shoulders
  • Simply
  • Slightly
  • Some / Somehow
  • Touch
  • Turn / return
  • Very
  • Virtually
  • Was
  • Watch
  • Wonder
  • Would

Remember to apply the principles of usage and frequency when hunting these buggers down.

I’m somewhat knocked out by the difference between a crutch word-cleaned draft and the preceding draft. My manuscript for Storm of Divine Light became tighter, and neater. Or shall I say more groomed?

Did you find this helpful? Did you find a personal crutch word not on my list?

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Balancing Your Chapter Titles

Back in 2016, while still writing and editing my first fantasy novel, I wrote a post concerning the pros/cons and naming conventions of chapter titles. Since then, I’ve learned more about the ins and outs of creating them. First, a chapter title must be true. An author should never title a chapter something like “A Stampede of Pink Elephants” when there is no stampede or even a mention of a pink elephant, real or imagined, within the chapter. This notion of truthfulness brings us to the next problem, and the reason that creating chapter titles requires writing and editing skills, too.

We may label this second can of worms “honesty to a fault.” Imagine a sub-plot dedicated to the romance between the main character, Mary, and the detective, Richard. Naturally, the pages spent building up the romance teases the reader and forces possibilities and questions to grow in his or her mind. Will one die? Will they break up? Will they get married? Perhaps the end of chapter ten is a cliff-hanging hook. Will Richard save Mary in time? Too bad you titled chapter sixteen, “Mary and Richard’s Wild Wedding.” The author created an honest title, but his/her table of contents is nothing more than an extended spoiler list of the novel.

Here are the chapter titles for Storm of Divine Light:

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Chap.  1 The Signs & Portents of Mage-Sense

Chap.  2 The Confessions of Brother Maynard

Chap.  3 Religious Relics Are People Too

Chap.  4 How to Roast a Goblin

Chap.  5 Secret Steps

Chap.  6 The Metamorphosis of Liberon

Chap.  7 Under the Stolen Kiss

Chap.  8 In Hot Pursuit of a Mouse

Chap.  9 Affection’s Afflictions

Chap. 10 The Last Wagon

Chap. 11 The Incredible Gnomish Vision Tube

Chap. 12 A Bloody Fragrance

Chap. 13 Soft Footsteps in the Dark

Chap. 14 Forks in the Road

Chap. 15 Suns, Moons, & Stars

Chap. 16 May the Light Shine upon Thee

Chap. 17 Something Stirs in the Wood

Chap. 18 Across the Queen’s River

Chap. 19 Ancient Rites Fulfilled

Chap. 20 Red Desert Rezzin

Chap. 21 Palatial Brevity

Chap. 22 The Price of Blood

Chap. 23 Golgent on the Horizon

Chap. 24 Weapons of Light

Chap. 25 Bulls, Ballistae, & Bandoras

Chap. 26 Guilder’s Gambit

Chap. 27 Stronghold of Shadow

Chap. 28 Full Circle

Chap. 29 Vows

I hope these chapter titles create an air of mystery and will entice the reader rather than reveal the whole plot of Storm of Divine Light. Of course, they are all truthful descriptions as well.

Do you use chapter titles when you write or prefer them in the books you read? Which chapter title of Storm of Divine Light intrigues you the most?

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Are You Cluttered?

I’m not referring to the boxes of useless stuff nestled in your garage or overburdening your precious closet space. Nor am I hinting to the shelves crammed with books, looking as if they are fighting each other for an inch of space. Clutter is simply professional ‘newspeak’. William Zinsser and George Carlin noticed the trend and commented upon this phenomenon. Chapter two of Zinsser’s wonderful book, “On Writing Well” is dedicated to word clutter.WWZ

Clutter serves as a sad commentary about the state of language in our modern world. If you want to hear some examples, look no further than any politician, corporation, magazines, or advertising ploy. Here’s a sample about cluttered Airline language from the late, great George Carlin.


“Clutter words create confusing sentences, which become unclear paragraphs, which then grow into puzzling pages, and in the end, complete a most baffling book.” –Ernesto San Giacomo


At this moment, At this point in time, At this very second, Now, you may be thinking, “I’m an author, not some hired mouthpiece.” True, but these subtle bastardizations of language permeate us. Our minds have been absorbing this material for years. As a consequence, clutter may seep into your writing. See what I’ve crossed out in favor of the word ‘now’?

Therefore, be wary of tall skyscrapers, large giants, small dwarves, and tiny ants. I found one such example last week. I saw a promo on Twitter for a new Sci-Fi novel. As usual, I clicked the link and checked out the book using the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ feature. Within the second sentence of the prologue, the author mentioned the “…ill-lit darkness…” Oh well. 😦

Make sure to be aware of clutter while you’re writing, or at least while you’re editing.

Here’s some common clutter examples.

Have you noticed such redundancy in your own writing or in the writings of others?

2019: Scribbling Forward

Editing and polishing, and then more editing, are the best words to describe my hopes for 2019. I have no goals for writing any new material this year. Stacks of short stories, multiple fantasy novel manuscripts, and blog posts, are screaming for my attention. Oh, the writing is done, but I’m left with the refining. Besides editing, there’s the search for beta readers, addressing any of their valid concerns, and then the slow process of reading out loud.

I’m toying with the idea of a new FaceBook page for finding betas and starting an online critique group. The live chat program known as Discord (popular with gaming guilds) seems to be the perfect venue for such a group. Imagine attending a critique group while nestled comfortably in your PJ’s (I’m sure some of you have a pair with attached fluffy bunny feet), cat on your lap, and a soothing hot beverage. What a perfect way to receive some feedback for your #NaNoWriMo writings from 2018.

Tell me about your work-in-progress. What’s on the back burner? Or a project that’s about to begin?

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Rid Your Writing of the Passive Voice

In the simplest definition: When a verb is in the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is the recipient of the verb’s action rather than being the ‘doer’ of the action. For example, in “The football was thrown by the quarterback,” the football (the subject) receives the action of the verb. A better and therefore active version of the example sentence would be: “The quarterback threw the football.” When the subject becomes obscured, it makes understanding difficult for the reader.

Editing from passive voice to active is a simple fix that will improve your writing.

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Sometimes Passive Voice Is Difficult To Spot

Here are a couple of small paragraphs for your consideration.

Jorguth fished the scroll from his sack and offered it to Maselle. She opened the rolled vellum and admired the exquisite and pain-staking beauty of the penmanship. The spell was written in elegant Elven calligraphy in black and red ink.

Dusk’s sunset burned red on the horizon. The vast open landscape was filled with magnificent looking trees, shrubs, and flowers. Jorguth smiled as his eyes soaked in the beauty of the view.

Did you spot the two passive sentences?

Is There a Correct Time or Place for Passive Voice?

The best way to use the passive voice is in dialog, specifically when a character is trying to shirk responsibility.

“Well, some mistakes were made. But I have faith a solution will be found.”

Did you notice that nobody receives credit for the mistakes? Later, if the problem is not resolved, it is the “solution’s” fault for remaining elusive. .” (Listen carefully to Politicians in the future.)

A Simple Solution

Use the “find” function on your word processor and search for forms of “to be” like was and were. Even if your sentences are not passive, you should filter those words out. I once blogged about removing forms of “to be” in order to speed up your writing. Too many instances of the offending verb can make your writing slow down to a crawl.

Did you find this strategy helpful?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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