Storm Front

I just finished reading the first book in the Harry Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher and I really enjoyed it. It was a good mystery story, even if I more or less figured it out by about the middle of the book. But I almost always figure it out, so that doesn't necessarily mean that too much was revealed too soon. I can't write a mystery to save my life, but I can figure them out in a hurry.

But I digress. The book had an interesting twist with all the magic mixing with real life, and just the right amount of humour. There were a few lines that I would definitely label as brilliant smart-assery. Yes, I just made that word up.

I've had a few friends recommend the series to me, and one of them loaned me a copy of the first book, Storm Front. It was the first time in a long time--since before Christmas--that I sat down to read someone else's fiction outside of work. It was so refreshing to read something new and purely for the sake of reading. I plan on continuing the trend.

But it still felt a little bit like work, unfortunately, and I was tempted to get out a red pen and start marking up the book. I think the only thing that really stopped me was that it wasn't my copy to mangle. Also, that would have slowed down the reading, and I was hooked and needed to get through it as quickly as possible. It was a page-turner.

I enjoyed it, it was a page-turner, but it was a poorly edited page-turner. The substantive editing was excellent and I didn't notice anything out of place in that regard. The pacing was excellent for revealing clues, and there wasn't anything there that shouldn't have been there, nor was there anything missing. Everything came together nicely at the end.

The copy-editing, on the other hand, was less impressive. This doesn't necessarily mean that the copy editor didn't know what he or she was doing. I suspect it was more a case of a tight budget with little time to properly refine the text.

It wasn't outright terrible, but it was enough to be distracting and in one part it was even confusing. For the most part, there were just problems with the punctuation. A lot of problems. These problems were limited to commas that should have been full stops and full stops that should have been commas and some missing or extra quotation marks. Still, it was frequent enough to distract me.

The confusing part came around mid-book. Harry Dresden, the hero (and wizard), has until Monday to solve the gruesome murders or he will likely turn up dead as well. He talks about having roughly thirty hours left to sort it out, but then not long afterward the narrative describes it as being a Friday night. There are indicators other than the math that it is, indeed, Saturday night, but I am less than stellar at math. I ended up flipping back and forth through the pages to confirm that it was Saturday and that the mention of Friday was an error.

This is a seemingly small thing, but it's also a fairly big thing. Readers shouldn't have to pull themselves out of the world of the story to sort out what's going on. Once immersed in a tale, a reader should stay there until outside influences force them to put the book down.

The copy of the book that I have on loan appears to be an earlier print version, so I hope some of the errors are dealt with in later print runs. Errors aside, I'm certainly looking forward to reading the second book, and I expect to add a copy of this to my permanent collection.

If you like modern day wizards, a hero who is an occasional smart ass, and mystery novels, then I think you will enjoy Harry Dresden in Storm Front.


Self Editing

For the last few days, I've been spending most of my free time revising one of my more recent novels. The basic premise of it started circling my brain in the middle of high school and I had about two scenes written out, but had no real plot and no idea what to do with it for a long time.

When November 2009, and NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), drew near and I still didn't have a solid idea, I took a closer look at this novel, which I eventually titled The Dragon Whisperer. The details emerged rapidly and over the course of the month, the novel took shape.

Aside from those two brief scenes I'd written in high school, the rest came out in November during NaNoWriMo. It wasn't even 55,000 words long when I completed it, which isn't very long considering my other novels average around 120,000 words.

I've revised it a couple of times since, adding more plot points, fleshing out characters and enriching the view of the world in which the story takes place. I workshopped it with some local writers and fellow NaNoWriMo participants and came back with some great ideas for further improvement.

Now, with a little bit of spare time before yardwork season gets into full swing, I've been tackling it again. I haven't touched it at all in about a year, so my perspective on it is a little fresher, which often helps. I've also learned so much as an editor in that short span of time, but it's still difficult for me to edit my work. I now have the skills to fix the problems I can see, but I'm too close to my work and can't see all of them.

And then there's one major problem that I don't know how to fix. No one has commented on it, so it might not actually be a problem, but it still concerns me. All of the other problems have been concerned with character development, world building and the overall flow of the novel. I rearranged the chronology and added over 5,000 words of details about characters and the setting. This one problem is a little more difficult to solve though, because just over halfway through the novel, there's a shift.

Not to give too much away, but at that point, my main character goes missing and another character, her husband, has to step in to her role as protagonist. He has a prominent role through the first half of the novel and some of those scenes are written from his point of view, but I worry that the shift hurts the story. Fixing the shift would entail either shifting the first half so that the husband is the main character, which makes little sense, or an entirely new plot, and I rather like where this novel goes.

For now, I'm going to leave that problem because there are plenty of other things left to fix. I have a dragon society to finish building, new scenes to write, characters and relationships to develop, and tension to add to the climax. Then one more pass to make sure the dialogue is doing what it should and that the changes I've made flow properly. Once I finish that second pass, I will be submitting this novel to publishers.


The Lost Art of Letters

In our hyper-connected society of texting and Twitter, we've never had easier access to each other, but our relationships have never before been more superficial and empty. All of this social media leaves us vulnerable to attack from people we think we can trust and people we really should be able to trust. Many people seem to lose all sense of tact and etiquette when they can hide behind a keyboard and soulless screen.

Even trusted friends and relatives can unknowingly turn into "trolls", which is really just another word for bullies, and can be far more hurtful than the attacks we expect from strangers.

When writing in a public sphere, even just leaving an innocent comment on someone's post opens us up to attack. No matter how carefully we choose our words and phrase our thoughts, someone can and will take offense. We can control who sees what we post on our own accounts, but have little to no control over who sees our comments on someone else's account. People in the cyber world seem unable to mind their own business and ignore things said in conversations that have little, if anything, to do with them.

Between these vulnerabilities and the over-extended feeling I get from trying to keep up with everyone, I have been less and less involved with online communication outside of emails and private messages. I have even taken a week-long social media vacation, in which, for an entire week, I had absolutely no involvement whatsoever with any social media sites. It was one of the most relaxed, peaceful and productive weeks I've had in a very long time.

Another benefit to reducing my time spent on social media websites is that I have increased the number of pen pals I have. I have always loved receiving personal mail. Ever since I had my first pen pal in the third grade, I have always had someone to correspond with.

Receiving letters in the mail is a simple joy, and the anticipation of waiting for something to arrive in the mailbox is akin to waiting for Christmas. I just participated in something of a letter-writing revival and have written letters to friends and colleagues almost every day for the last week.

One simple letter provides a much deeper connection than years of social media contact. Like in an email or private message, I can use my natural voice and not have to guard what I say. I can be relaxed and silly and worry only about the judgement of one person, which is infinitely easier than trying to please the universe.

Writing letters, or snail mail -- as the kids are calling it these days -- goes beyond the openness of a personal conversation and carries a certain amount of charm and nostalgia that I find refreshing. Combined with the anticipation of receiving the next letter, it's quickly becoming one of my preferred modes of communication.

Of course, letter writing today pales in comparison to the days when it was the primary mode of communication. I think of the letters I've read in school between some of the great minds of the last few centuries, the great debates held within, and I begin to feel a little embarrassed about my rambling scrawl full of doodles.

Still, I guess it's still above the vapid tweets of the cyberverse.


To Blog or Not to Blog...

I've toyed with the idea of blogging here for quite some time. I've been blogging in one form or another for about a decade now, but I've never had much to say. I've kept online journals as a means to keep up with friends and family, in the days before Twitter and Facebook, and now I use them in spite of social media.

But I doubt anyone visiting this site cares much about what my daughter is up to, the dogs' latest tricks, or what's going on in my garden.

Blogging seems to be the latest trend in the business of freelance editing and writing. So, yes. I will blog here. I will give it a try, anyway.

Part of the reason I didn't start blogging sooner was that I didn't know what to write about. I do a lot of writing and reading, either for fun or work, and I'm going to save this place for my thoughts on all things bookish. I'm always involved with books one way or another. I'm always reading or writing something.

Another reason I didn't blog here sooner was that blogging can take up a lot of time. In an industry where everything has to be highly polished and every word chosen carefully, even a simple blog becomes a lot of work. Despite being busy, I'm going to take up the blog challenge.

Lately, my reading material has reflected my time-crunch and I've primarily been reading magazines: SkyNews and National Geographic. My NatGeo subscription is new, though I've coveted it for quite some time. I'm beyond pleased and look forward to reading about the Titanic. I flipped through the photo section already and the photos are compelling, to say the least.

I've been subscribed to SkyNews since I was in high school (I've always been a bit of an astronomy junkie), and have started using it to plan vacations. For instance, we often take trips to Tobermory and the Bruce Peninsula because the entire region is a dark sky preserve and the stargazing is phenomenal. In August, one of our trips north will coincide with the peak of a meteor shower (the Perseids, if you're interested).

I often read fiction, particularly novels, but lately -- outside of work at least -- I've been reading short stories and magazine articles. They're shorter and easier to get through, and I've been busy and distracted since the winter holidays, so short genres provide the right kind of material.

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