Critique: Circle, and Other Sources

Writers need critique of their work, at least some of it from people unrelated to them. So I’ve started thinking about finding sources of critique.

One popular source is Critique Circle, to which I’ve just signed up. It seems active and well-organized. Submitting my first critique was very straightforward. I hope that my comments on the first chapter of a fantasy novel will prove useful, and that I’ll get useful critique when the time comes.

A future post will concern the search for critique partners for my own fantasy novel-in-progress. Any comments on the fiction critique process would be welcome!

First Draft of Novel

I followed Neil Gaiman’s advice. “Write down everything that happens in the story, and then in your second draft make it look like you knew what you were doing all along.”

I think I know what I need to do to make it look as though I know what I’m doing, including character development, subplots, physical description, more (though not too much) detail about magic system,…

Yes, it’s a fantasy novel. Or it will be, once I’ve add the above-described stuff to arrive at the second draft.

Then I’ll need beta readers. Any volunteers? I’m open to reciprocal beta arrangements.

DNF’d, Then Did Finish: Strange?

Strange the Dreamer caught my attention due to positive reviews and sounding like my kind of book. I enjoyed the early chapters, in which Lazlo Strange talks his way onto the Godslayer’s expedition to the lost city of Weep.

I found less interesting the chapters in which we meet the other main characters, the Godspawn. I DNF’d after about 200 pages (or what would be about 200 paper pages: I have the ebook).

The book takes off just after that point, in Chapter 26 (of 67). The main Godspawn character sees Lazlo, then meets him in a very interesting and superbly-written way. I found this out when I decided to give Strange the Dreamer another try.

I enjoyed most of the rest of the book. Looking back, this surprises me, since a rather hastily-developed romance dominates. The city of Weep is explosively changed during the climax.

Then, we have one of those endings that isn’t a resolution, but a lead-in to the sequel. I don’t think I’ll read the sequel.

I’m glad I went back to, and finished, Strange the Dreamer. I see what people like about it: the worldbuilding, the writing, the characters. But I can’t heartily recommend a book that takes so long to get going, and doesn’t really conclude.

Fastest DNF So Far

I just DNF’d (Did Not Finish, and will not finish) a well-regarded novel after five pages. The novel in question is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which currently has a rating of 4.32 on Goodreads.

I was suffering from adjective fatigue. For example, a character “gestures toward an orange chair on the opposite side of her lucite desk”.

Every other sentence seemed to start with “Suffice to say”, “But unfortunately”, or some such phrase. This, like the adjective load, may actually be good writing by the author, Taylor Jenkins Reid.

The writing may be giving us insights into the first-person narrator: Monique, a journalist. But the thought of spending another 300+ pages reading Monique’s prose made me shudder and put the book down.

I returned it to the library the next day. I think that there’s a wait list for it. I hope that the people after me on the list like it more than I did. I expect that they will, given the many glowing reviews.

What’s your fastest DNF?

Books: 2020 Wishlist

This post, like many of my favorite books, has a twist at the end. But let me say at the start: here, in no particular order, are the three books I most fervently wish for as we enter the year 2020.

The Thorn of Emberlain is the fourth book in the series that Scott Lynch started with The Lies of Locke Lamora. The friendship between Locke and Jean, the cons they pull, and the world in which they pull them are all excellently drawn. It’s been 14 years since The Lies, and 7 years since the third and most recent book, so I’m not holding my breath, but I am looking forward.

The Iron Season is the sequel to The Golem and the Jinni, in which Helene Wecker portrayed one of my favorite fictional relationships. Goodreads tells us to expect publication in 2021, and I’d be happy with that, given that The Iron Season has been on my to-read list since 2016.

The third and last book on my list is the fourth and last of The Books of Babel. I’ve posted before about this series by Josiah Bancroft. Since then Josiah has added a third excellent volume about Thomas Semlin and the Tower of Babel. He’s been working the the fourth, but recently posted that it won’t be published until next year.

Josiah’s post about the delay, although unwelcome, is excellent. He takes full responsibility, and understands that “a minority of readers are somewhat cynical about publication delays.”

You may by now have worked out the twist in the tail. None of the books I’m most looking forward to as 2020 starts will be published in 2020. That’s not important in the grand scheme of things, or even in my thoughts about the three wonderful authors.

I’d like to say to each of these authors: live the best life you can; write the best books you can; publish when you’re ready; thank you for your writing.

I’d like to say to you, dear reader: thank you for reading; which books that will actually be published in 2020 would you recommend to me?

Reacher of the End

I’ve just finished with Lee Child‘s Jack Reacher novels. By that, I don’t mean I’ve read all twenty-something of them. I mean that I’ve read the first four, and intend to stop there.

I enjoyed my Reacher reading, especially the first chapters of the first book, Killing Floor. It opens with the first-person narrator, new in Margrave, Georgia, minding his own business in a diner, enjoying his coffee and eggs.

Then the police arrive, armed with shotguns and revolvers. The narrator works out that they are there for him, although he doesn’t know why.

The guy with the revolver stayed at the door… The guy with the shotgun approached close… Textbook moves.

So right away Child presents us with some interesting questions. Who is this person? (Yes, it does turn out to be Reacher.) What’s he doing in Margrave? Why are the police after him? Why do they regard him as dangerous? (It turns out that they are correct in this.) Most intriguing of all, how does he know the “textbook” for an arrest involving shotguns?

Killing Floor is marred by some ludicrous plotting and resolutions (which I can’t describe without spoilers). But, largely on the strength of the opening, I was excited to have “discovered” Child and Reacher.

So on to the second Reacher novel, Die Trying. This time the opening is rather silly: Reacher just happens to be around when an FBI agent is leaving the dry cleaner’s, she is kidnapped at that moment, the kidnappers also take Reacher and handcuff the two of them together.

My favorite aspect of Die Trying is the way that each of the kidnapped pair is concerned to protect the other. Child makes this touching and funny. It’s probably time to mention that Reacher is a huge man, capable of extreme and effective violence.

On, then, to the third novel, Tripwire. I think that this is my favorite of the four Reachers I read. We learn a lot about Reacher’s past. Tripwire ends with some questions about his future.

Those questions are resolved in the fourth novel, Running Blind. I enjoyed that book, but not enough to make me want to read more Reacher.

As a character, Reacher reminds me of Robert Parker’s Spenser. Each is driven to solve mysteries and is guided by a chivalrous code. However, they are very different. Reacher drifts across the USA, and hence so do the novels about him. Spenser is firmly based in Boston, as are most of Parker’s novels.

I prefer Parker and Spenser. That’s no disgrace to Child and Reacher. Starting with the second novel (God Save the Child–don’t bother with the first, it’s very different, and not in a good way, from the “real” Spenser books), Parker wrote a stretch of novels impressive in writing and plotting.

I am glad to have accompanied Reacher on his first four adventures. I think this is where I finish. But if you have a particular recommendation for one or more of the other novels, or any other comments on Reacher, please leave a comment.

Accents: North and South of England

I’m fascinated by accents, by the differences between them, and by means of detecting the differences. Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived in different parts of England (having been born in Scotland), now live in New England, and still have an English accent?

But which English accent? Some Americans think I sound like Michael Caine, who has a very strong London (hence southern) accent, while I think have a more northern English accent.

Erik Singer. a dialect coach and one of my favorite Youtubers, gives an account of differences between northern and southern accents. He first discusses differences between Australian and New Zealand accents, which I sometimes find difficult to detect.

I was surprised by a few things about Erik’s take on English accents. First, his north/south line on a map goes through, not only England, but also Wales: a different place with very different accents. Second, he considers Birmingham to be in the south of England. Perhaps it is according to the accent test he uses, but for many Brits, it’s very much in the “midlands”.

Third, I’d have used a different test. If I wanted to see if someone had a northern or southern English accents, I’d ask them to say the word “grass”. I regard a long “a” as northern, and a short “a” as southern.

Any thoughts? Feel free to leave them in the comments, in whatever accent you prefer.

Music 2018

Sorry, but I have to start with the death of Scott Hutchison, even though I posted about it at the time. There was no 2018 album that hit me like Midnight Organ Fight, the masterpiece from Scott’s band Frightened Rabbit.

Among the albums I enjoyed were Lucy Dacus’ debut Historian and Mitski’s Be the Cowboy. Here’s a sample from each: Night Shift and Nobody respectively (links to YouTube).

But my two heartiest recommendations are videos of old guys. My favorite musician Richard Thompson was on tour with his electric trio (which at times had three members, but often had more).

I love this video of the set at Shrewsbury–particularly the song selection, with material from the new album, from Fairport Convention 50 years ago, and many points on the timeline in between. The performance is great, as is the sound quality.

The other video is Tower of Power’s Tiny Desk show. ToP started 50 years ago, but are currently fronted by a powerful young singer. Everyone in the band can really play, and play together.

The reasons to be happy about music in 2018 are many and diverse. It’s a long way from Lucy Dacus to Tower of Power, and a very good journey indeed.

Rails to Trails, Coffee at Station

We are now even closer to the East Bay Bike Path, having recently moved. That wasn’t the main reason for the move, but being closer to the path, and to Providence, is an excellent and intended consequence.

We’re also closer to Borealis Coffee, one of the many refreshment stops along the way. I love their coffee and their cafe.

Borealis Coffee is located in the old Riverside train station. As you can see, they have a cool building, with seating outside as well as inside.

I love repurposed buildings. I just checked to see that one of my favorite such buildings is still going. Yes, the Bookmill is still a bookstore in a gristmill, selling “books you don’t need in a place you can’t find”: said place is near Amherst, Massachusetts, where I went to graduate school.

Back to Rhode Island: I’m glad that the route is now a bike path rather than a disused railway line. (I haven’t researched the rail line or its closing, so I’m not sure how good or bad a the closing was.) I’m glad that the old station is now a coffee company rather than a tanning salon with a Coke machine outside it. Here’s a link to a photo of the building in 2013, and to a historical note.

Any favorite repurposed buildings, trails, or similar you’d like to share?