… a dynamic, fast-paced, racy tale that left me wondering where the vampires are really hanging out.
My Goodreads opinion featured in the sidebar menu mentions that I am late to the J. R. Ward party, and well, I’m really just late to the vampire party in general. Or perhaps I’m early, if you believe the elusive ones are on the upswing again as subject matter. Either way, I am a huge fan of the adult world of vampires— the more darkness, secrets, chiseled features, repressed emotions, and mind powers the better. That being said, for current fans of The Black Dagger Brotherhood series, The Savior is another installment in a well-loved series; for me it was an introduction to exactly where I want to be.
The first thing I noticed was Ms. Ward’s writing style—it’s in-your-face, direct, extremely realistic in dialogue, and sensual. After my inner voice adjusted to it (in the first three pages), I actually breathed a sigh of relief and said (out loud) “Holy shit! She writes like I think! I love this!” I flew through the first seventy-five pages and spent the rest of the book finding enough time to be able to read large portions. I couldn’t just do small bits, I needed to get into the New York winter the story was set in and stay for a while.
Even though it is the seventeenth in the series, The Savior was easily consumed as a standalone book. It was obvious many of the other Brothers have history I was unaware of, but it did not hinder my engagement with the Murhder and his tale, or detract from the story line for me. In fact, I like the idea that each Brother has his own book (so it seems), and that if I ever wish I can go back and read them. A perfect construction of a series to keep an author writing and employed once their audience is hooked.
The hierarchy and structure of the underground world the vampires move in was outlined and described more than adequately throughout the book without big informative paragraphs. I am always intrigued by plots that have their own languages, naming systems, pronunciations, and genealogies, and Ms. Ward has developed several of these threads throughout the series. For me, it just enhances the imaginative experience of “getting into the world” of the book, something that is at the very top of my list when it comes to entertaining my overactive brain. Reading is definitely how I lose myself and relax; my imagination craves room to roam and The Savior indulged it fully.
Murhder and the human Sarah’s paths cross at critical points in each of their lives. Both have experienced traumatic loss and need that last nudge to lift them out of the meager existences they have been trapped in. Well-crafted character arcs take them from their low points, back into feeling alive and fulfilled, and into the resolution of the plot. Suffused with undercurrents of political machination, dark vampiric activities, mind magic, huge male tempers and egos, hot, erotic sex, and current scientific topics, J. R. Ward spins a dynamic, fast-paced, racy tale that left me wondering where the vampires are really hanging out. ‘Cause if they are here, I wanna be one. Sign me up, I’m in!~
*Hardcover image source Amazon.com. Hardcover publisher Gallery Books, April 2019.
In the first part of this Human Writing Aides post, I talked about some of the definitions and nuances of these author/reader arrangements, and some ideas and considerations surrounding the topics. This second part will follow the current human writing aide role I am performing for an author and what I have learned along the way.
Back in the winter, I answered a query
in a Facebook group of a new author looking for someone willing to read the
first two chapters of his “dark fantasy” work in progress. I have been a
fantasy reader and lover since I was around 12, so the genre, and his added
footnote of including elves and magic, certainly piqued my interest. I also
have to admit that the idea of being one of the first to read something that
could be the next bestseller really intrigues me, and I had some free time, so
I replied “Sure. I’ll read it.” The reply along the lines of “Great, thank you
very much!” came, and after an exchange of email addresses, the document
appeared in my inbox.
I opened the file and began reading. The next day I sent an email back with my observations, questions, and suggestions. I fervently hoped I wasn’t being too critical, but I tempered that with the knowledge that I had approached the document with a few basic thoughts in mind:
If this were my work, what would I want to know?
How would I receive my comments (as pertains to the emotional aspect of the language used)?
This author and I know nothing about one another, so I may need to explain my thoughts sometimes to convey my meaning.
This is NOT proofreading! Stick to the larger concepts of story and characters.
The last one was, at times, the most difficult to adhere to, just having finished an online proofreader’s training course, but I quickly came to a comfortable compromise with myself on that topic. Nervously, I hit the SEND button and waited for the reply to come.
return email arrived and I waited until I had enough time to devote it
uninterrupted. Even if it was an angry retort, it was important to me that I
understand the position the author was coming from, and how perhaps I could
have made the exchange better, if necessary. To my great relief, however, his
response was upbeat and grateful. In fact, twenty-eight chapters and several
months later, our arrangement is still going strong.
Over the course of that time, my reply format has changed, but my overall approach has remained consistent. As one of two initial sets of eyes on the author partner’s WIP, my main concern is that he getshis story out onto the page. I see the thoughts and scenes sort of like stick-figure people—once they are out of the author’s head onto paper they have a rudimentary existence. Subsequent revisions and edits will flesh them out into substantial beings, complex characters, and strong storylines.
I look for:
inconsistencies in character elements
random ideas that seem to just show up in the plot
things that trip me up when I’m reading, especially in setting descriptions and battle scenes
I set my proofreader’s eye aside largely, except where it may help other post-first-revision readers (i.e. possessives). I also suggest using strong verbs that enhance the context and sentences around them. Even at this early stage, it makes sense to me to encourage strong, straightforward writing before the work will be handed off to another reader.
All the while, though, I keep in mind that I am not re-writing, but merely suggesting what could be changed, enhanced, clarified,described, or omitted, as the case may be. Yes, my returned documents contain numerous colored additions of missing words and letters, apostrophes, noted verb tense shifts, perhaps a few commas when I was undoubtedly confused, and comment bubbles FULL of questions and observations. Many times I do stop and wonder if I am overwhelming my author partner. But then I think that if I’m noticing something now, then by pointing it out, I give him the opportunity to fill some of the holes and continue refining his style and voice in forthcoming chapters. My colored ink can always be rejected because after all, it is his work, not mine.
Another aspect that I was aware of in a global sense, but has become a fun part of this project for me, is working with an English writer originally from England, whereas I am from the American English camp. Our differences in phraseology, spellings, and even some word usage are interesting and always make me smile. A few times I have wanted to change some decidedly non-American terminology, but I patted my Yankee brain on the head and said, “Down girl, go relax.” Because this isn’t my story, and the world is largely non-American; it probably sounds perfectly correct to many who will read it. So I say… Let it be! (Lol)
So perhaps then, according to the definitions in Part 1, on this project I am:
part CP (reading from a writer’s perspective with attention to style, POV, and tense, the agreement of exchange)
part alpha reader (looking for plot holes, picking up inconsistencies and blind spots)
and even a little bit beta (reading from a reader’s POV as a fantasy lover, making small text edits)
What is most important, though, is that it is an agreed-upon and mutually beneficial exchange between the author and me. The emails with the next installments always make me happy, and he has told me many times he appreciates my suggestions and observations. I look forward the seeing this story as a finished manuscript, and then as a printed series of books, knowing how far it has come from those first emailed chapters. I’m along for the journey, and since I have just received the last two chapters for this book in the series, I’d say we will be doing some back-tracking and re-routing on the way to the end, but one thing is for certain—we will both be better writers and readers when the last page is turned.~
A hot topic in social media writers’ groups these days is critique partners/alpha readers/beta readers, and all aspects about them: what are they and the differences between them; where do you find them; what should you expect from them as an author; what the reader can expect from the authors; should they be paid, and so on. The answers seem to vary widely the more you read about the subject and depending on the source of the information. There is also a fair amount of emotion attached to the subject, and rightly so. Sending your hard-fought literary creation out for perusal by an unknown entity takes cajones, let’s face it, that struggle is very real. Everyone who puts pen to paper wants to be encouraged and viewed positively, but just as in life in general, it’s more often the not-so “Ra-ra! Yes, I love it!” comments that promote growth as a writer.
I read a couple of blog posts on iWriterly and Indies Unlimited recently that described these three human writing aides quite neatly. iWriterly’s Meg Latorre describes critique partners (CP) as:
“…writers who provide feedback on your work, usually by request (to exchange chapters).” Meg Latorre, iWriterly, (follow her on YouTube)
Such a person could easily be confused with Indies Unlimited’s definition of an alpha reader as someone who reads a work-in-progress in the early stages of compilation, and perhaps even again after a first edit, but before it is sent to a content editor. They go on to say that an alpha reader’s purpose
…is to see if the overall structure of your book works. Are there glaring issues or plot holes large enough to float an ocean liner through? The idea is to have a trusted reader who might spot issues you miss or have a blind spot about. … If you decide to, the sooner in the process the better. You want to limit wasted effort you’ll expend polishing sections that might get reworked or even tossed out based on feedback from the alpha reader.”
Both sites agreed that beta readers come later in the process, after at least a few self-edits. Betas tend to be other readers who have an interest in the genre and are also willing to offer feedback, both positive and negative. They may offer simple line edits in addition to larger concept suggestions, or not, it depends upon the person and what the author is looking for. Many times these details can be discussed and agreed upon before the document is even sent.
Typically, these three feedback sources have not been compensated, but that is changing some as I see freelancers listing them as part of their core services. I believe that there is certainly room for discussion in this realm, as it all boils down simply to someone spending their time for the benefit of another (and hopefully themselves as well). Everyone’s time has value and that should be taken into consideration. Perhaps there doesn’t have to be an actual transfer of funds, but certainly a signed, messaged copy of the work in its finished form is a well-deserved token.
If you don’t feel that compensation is necessary, that’s cool. I know many don’t.
Alternatively, a fun way to say thank you could be to gift your reader with a month or a few (depending on the scope of the work) of an appropriate subscription box. I have treated myself to the Scribbler subscription box during the dreary New England winter months, and I loved it. It’s full of writer-friendly stuff, tips, tools of the trade, and of course, a real BOOK, so it is supporting other authors as well. Finding the type-covered box in the mail always brought a smile to my face, and a few hours of Christmas-in-whenever. Subscription boxes are numerous now, there is one for most every kind of interest, finding one that you’d like to send (or receive, which is how I think about it) shouldn’t be difficult.
Here’s another, perhaps more practical idea for appreciation (if applicable): compensate the critiquer the amount it would be to upgrade one of their trade memberships a level. Freelancers and industry professionals alike have many organizations to choose to belong to, such as The Editorial Freelancers’ Association, Freelancers’ Union, The Society for Editing (ACES), The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (UK based), and several others, all of which have tiers of membership with associated fees. Levelling up many times allows for the purchase of a course or seminar at a reduced rate, or discounted entry fees to conferences and association gatherings. This way each party is continuing to hone their craft and improve their repertoire. That is truly a gift that keeps on giving!
In a similar vein, if your CP is on Patreon, it couldn’t get any easier! Helping our fellow creative souls toward their goals is a productive way to show support and appreciation. In fact, I’m investigating this platform myself…
Testimonials and/or endorsements of the CP/reader on their website should undoubtedly be part of the author’s response. Testimonials and reviews are extremely important to members of the freelance community, they help to support our business and bolster our confidence. And yes, even if it is a less positive sentiment, it may help other writers judge if the reader is offering the level of feedback they are looking for. We all gotta take the good and the not-so-good— if the CP/reader can dish it out, they better be able to take it in return.
One big difference that is noted in these three human aides is their approach of the manuscript- either from a writer’sperspective or a reader’s. Some authors choose to enlist the services of all three, while some only seek out one or two. I can see value in each one depending on the author’s writing style, time and/or deadlines, and the type of work it is. Some (VERY) basic line editing in the early stages can also reduce copy editing and proofreading costs in the later stages.
CP’s and alpha readers can often expect to be reading raw, unedited copy—literally right off the pen or keyboard. If you can’t stomach misspellings, a lack of punctuation and often formatting, and imprecise grammar, please, save everyone the frustration and opt for a beta or later stage read instead. You will be SOOOOO much more comfortable! Authors, on the other hand, can receive their feedback in many forms, from list-type replies to in-document notations. But be prepared for some criticism, it is what you should ASK for! This is all just a round-about way of saying that the most important part of the reader/author arrangement is communication about the extent of the feedback. When each side has expressed what they are looking for and knows their scope, the chances of a positive experience are much better. Which really is the end goal, right?
In the second part of this post, I will discuss the blend of CP and alpha reading (according to the above definitions) I am currently providing for an author halfway around the world from me, and what I have learned from the partnership. Until then, keep writing, reading, and playing with words however you can! ~
I ask myself this question a thousand times a day, it seems. I want to post. I even come up with ideas that I want to write about, but I haven’t been able to put them together. I sit down with pen and paper, and then proceed to talk myself out of it internally for days on end. Ugh. Why? Why do I do this? Then the guilt starts, and the feeling foolish, and well, just forget it, I’m done. But that’s not how I want to be, and not how I had planned for this blogging effort to go. Anyone else have this problem?
I am my own worst enemy, I know. Which makes taking corrective action all the more difficult. The last time I posted was back in April, before the lingering winter let go enough to let spring come out to play. I do fully admit, once the sun is out and it is warm enough to start reducing clothing in New England, it is TOUGH for me to be inside. That is my main distraction, my sun worship, and honestly it is killing me right now that I am not outside, cause the warm days are numbered as we approach September once again.
But that is a physical thing, meaning I can change my location and still be productive, in theory, so why doesn’t it happen? Do I not want it enough? I don’t believe that is true, I am very committed to my solo venture now. From my own self-evaluation, I find that the roots are embedded in the bedrock of self-doubt and insecurity, and a heavy amount of FEAR- that ever-present oxymoron of motivation and suppression. Which reminds me of a quotation from my favorite series of books, the All Souls trilogy:
“As far as I can tell, there are only two emotions that keep the world spinning, year after year.” He hesitated, then continued. “One is fear. The other is desire.”
Matthew de Clermont, from A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
So, if this is the truth I believe (and it is), then it is my fear that is driving the bus right now (and wow, is it ever a short bus…). My fear of sounding silly, of having a spelling or grammar error, of not being witty, of rambling, of not having anything to say worth reading, of not writing compelling book reviews, and so on. So many reasons why I shouldn’t say what is inside. However, if desire is leading the way, than the task isn’t monumental at all. It just flows, like now. Huh, imagine that…
I suppose I just answered my own question: No, it ISN’T this hard. I am allowing the wrong driver to take the wheel, and as soon as I fire them, then I can get back on the right road. Sounds like a plan, I think I’ll get off at this exit and do just that. Thank you for riding along with me, I hope you will return again soon. Excuse me, oh Fear, can I have a word, please?.. ~
Kataldi is the first book in a fantasy series which begins in the current day and travels to a land right out of the protagonist’s imagination. The story unfolds about Charlie and his brother Aaron as Creators, how the kingdoms have evolved on their own, and the trouble they are now in. This installment is told from Charlie’s point of view, so we get to know him pretty well. We understand his emotions and sense of urgency about his quest, and his nervousness at what has occurred while he was away. Kataldi the land is easy to get into, the authors bring it to life, though personally, I wanted to know more–hopefully in the next volume! Kataldi was an intriguing read that kept me turning pages to the end, the quest isn’t over and I am looking forward to the next installment. A solid offering from new authors who have more to come.
I have a piece of rustic wall art in my office that says “if you never try you’ll never know.” It is painted in disused cursive script on rough barn board, and not even punctuated correctly (shame on them!). I found it a year or so ago when I was remodeling my office to accommodate my new living room, and since it matched the decor, I added it to a wall I see many times a day. I wanted it to serve as a reminder to drop the fear and live life–to go ahead and try.
In essence, the last eight years have been a great sequence of “tries” for me. But at the time, I rarely realized that, because I was going to DO not just try. Consequently, when things got more complicated or involved than I wanted to handle, I saw it as a failure that I had to end it. The fact that I did try and learned from the experience never entered my mind–I was just a failure. It took a stern conversation, a recovery from surgery and a lot of digging inside to realize that trying is what makes life, well life. The other piece of this is that I am a knowledge-hound and the thought of not knowing tears me up mentally. I always want to know.
When I look at things today, I find that I am doing nothing but trying. I joined an adult soccer league after 24 years of not playing. I am breeding turkeys, which consequently, are a lot of fun (who knew?). We have decided to sell our property in Vermont because we tried, but it is truly more than we need. I am learning to code for website development and studying SEO as well. The novel inside my head is being put on paper because an old college friend urged me to “JUST WRITE IT!” I am starting not one blog, but two! Finally, I am putting aside my fear of failure and beginning my efforts to establish a new career in a new field. I’m all in for trying!
In the end, whenever that may be, I will have gained knowledge on this path of trying. And I hope some success as well after the inevitable price of failure, in some respect, is paid. When I chose that artwork for the wall I knew I liked it, and I hoped it would become the mantra for my future. Perhaps seeing it many times each day has drilled it into my thought pattern and made it somewhat easier to lose the fear of the unknown and to try. What is there to lose besides the opportunity to reap knowledge and experience? At this point, I’m not willing to let that go.
Thanks for joining me! This is my first post, and my first blog– yikes! I am embarking on the path of book reviews, both of established authors that I read and can’t get enough of, and of upcoming authors whose works I am reading. And hopefully someday in the nearer future, I can post my own tale for others to review. Right now, though, the sun is out in spring in New England, and I’m taking the book and the dog outside. Enjoy your day!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton