The Riddle Box: First Read Impressions

I like my book a lot. More than I did Spell/Sword the first time I read it.

Now, the caveats. I am obviously the least objective reader this novel will ever have. The very first draft of Spell/Sword was an unqualified mess. I had never writtenriddlecover1a book before, after all! I wrote it in sequential order from beginning to end, with only a very loose idea of where I was going and what I was doing.  I write in third person – limited omniscient — but my character POV/ focal point would wander like mad. I didn’t write in chapters, just one long narrative, with horizontal lines when I hit the end of a scene, or the location shifted. The jokes were terrible — or rather, it sounded like me telling the joke, instead of the characters. The plot stutters along in fits and starts, and only really gets cooking half-way through the book. [It’s when Jonas and Rime wake up in the caverns, if you’ve read it.] I had no idea what the Gray Witch was about, or the Brothers Jack, or my fixation with wyverns.

But I loved it of course.

And hated it, too. That’s how my brain works. My normal relationship with any art that I make is to despise it and beat it into shape via cruelty and malice. [Ask anyone who’s been in a play that I’ve directed.]

So, I edited. For months on end, and then I sent my darling into the caring hands of my Alpha and Beta Readers. They liked and hated it too. I learned more from their feedback, suggestions, and — let’s be honest — frank corrections than from any writing tutor or English Professor. Probably because many of my Alpha/Beta Readers are writing tutors and English Professors. I moved chapters and deleted chapters and chiseled and filed.

This is to indicate, that a lot of the reasons why I’m so happy with my second book is due to the lessons I learned the first go-around. I’m reacting primarily to the absence of the same stupid mistakes I made when writing Spell/Sword. For starters, The Riddle Box had a structure from the beginning. When writing a murder mystery, you kind of need to know whodunit from the outset.  Then you reverse-engineer the plot to reveal the suspects, clues, red herrings in a semi-logical fashion. I purposefully wrote in chapters. I had a very specific – GASP – theme that I was trying to get across. This is a very personal book, in a very strange way. [I’ll save that topic for further woolgathering at a later date.] The first draft of The Riddle Box is a book instead of just a pile of pages, I feel, and that makes me very proud.

Impressions

  • I was very worried that there wasn’t a big fight early in the book. I think Spell/Sword readers will expect a certain level of skulduggery and action from the sequel, but it just didn’t serve the narrative this time out. [*pushes up monocle*] There’s a murder right off the bat, of course, and plenty of Agatha Christie intrigue — but no standup fight until about 1/3 of the way through. After the first read, it didn’t feel like a long time before the first true fight, so that pleased me. And don’t worry, the last third of the book is non-stop He-Man Action Figure smashing time.
  • Also, no Random Encounters this book. I loved fighting the dinosaur and the frog-men, but all of the combat in this book is against named characters and directly serves the plot.  I know. I’m disappointed in myself too.
  • As opposed to the first book, which is a ‘road picture’. The Riddle Box is a closed-room murder mystery. The entire novel takes place in one location, over one night. I kept the location details fairly consistent throughout, but I marked tons of places to double check. For example, mid-way through the draft I started referring to the ‘black and white marble floor of the Lobby’, but I had been very clear at the beginning that it was all white.
  • Need to work on character voice. There’s a lot of characters in this one, and some of them I didn’t find their voice until near the end, I need to go back to their first appearances and keep that voice consistent. Also, character voice got very wonky during the MAD DASH, need to polish those sections as well, especially the big soap opera moments.
  • The Mad Dash: The draft is 160 pages long, I wrote the final 60 in a week. It was the most startling experience, and I loved it — but there are some dodgy, dodgy bits. Mainly some of the chapters are more than a little breathless as I tried to write and stay on top of the wave. Some sections it adds, but the climax and the denouement need some room to breathe.
  • Speaking of soap opera! I love the trappings of Victorian and Agatha Christie mysteries — and I also have started to embrace the need for some light romance in my genre fiction. CALM DOWN. Whatever you are thinking, I didn’t do that.  Jonas and Rime are never getting together. I introduced some potential crushes for our heroes and watched to see what happened. In brief, it was fun times. I need to work on the resolution of Jonas’ romance subplot though — it is super damn creaky. The intent is correct, but I was throwing bricks at the hoop for that section of dialogue.
  • Aufero World History: I’m mostly pleased with the world-building stuff I put in this book. Lots of stuff about the Precursors, the further history of Aufero, Wood Elves, Sea Elves, the Nameless God, Gilead, bards, and the Seafoam Trading Company. As with everything, there are some creaky bits, but I wanted to give plenty of nerd fodder for the readers who wanted more world information. It still is secondary to the plot, where it shall ever remain in Swordpunk.
  • Back Story: Huge reveals for Jonas’ dark past! I was surprised by what I wrote down, which is always a neat feeling. I knew the basic outlines of course, but a couple of salient details completely floored me. Oh, Subconscious — you are a tricksy devil.
  • Jonas’ Master – I love names. I love coming up with good names. I’m more than a little proud of the names I come up with. I AM HAVING A TERRIBLE TIME COMING UP WITH THIS VERY IMPORTANT CHARACTER’S NAME. I used a placeholder, Sir Bentwight, in the draft — but I am having a miserable time with this one.  To me, names are very intuitive. I think of the character, and make an empty place in my head – -and generally a name falls right in. But not this time, man. I can be a little metaphysical about my craft – so maybe it’s not time for me to know this character’s name? Maybe I’m forcing it?
  • I really like all of the new characters, even though I kill off a fair amount of them — even my favorite. 😦
  • It works. The theme works. The machinery of what I want to say is there. Just got to make it look prettier.
  • There is a character in this book that I am literally terrified of. I can’t say more until people have had a chance to read the book, as it is a major spoiler. Here’s how scared I am of this character: Soon I will be recording an audio track of the draft to help me with editing. I honestly don’t know if I can read this character’s lines.
  • I high-fived myself four times while reading.
  • Beta Readers better get ready — I am very, very eager for feedback and praise.  And critique! I will be lurking in your shrubbery watching you read.

Okay, enough for now. Back to editing!

 

The Riddle Box is complete!

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Well, the first draft anyway. I’m flabbergasted, exhausted, and other adjectives.  I’ve written 62 pages in the past 11 days, and I freely admit there are some dodgy, dodgy bits in that last sprint to the end — but it’s all there. It’s a complete narrative, it works how I wanted it to, ends how i wanted it to. On Spell/Sword it took me longer to edit than to write, so I take comfort that I can take as long as I need to fix all of the fiddly bits. I’m tremendously proud of this one, I have no problem saying [believing] that this book is better than the first. I’m going to put in a drawer for a couple of weeks and let it cool down and come back fresh — I’m sure then I’ll be singing a different tune, but for now LOVE AND PEACE.

Here’s some crunchy numbers:

Spell/Sword

In published form: 52,000 words

 

The Riddle Box

Rough Draft: 65,000 words [21% longer!]

Started Writing: 4/26/2013

Finished Rough Draft: 9/24/2013

 

YEAH! Excited and a little exhausted. I’m going to unplug my brain and put it in a nice cool cup of yogurt for a while.

Spell/Sword Kindle Edition – FREE

For a limited time, of course.

Spell/Sword

FREE KINDLE EBOOK ON AMAZON

8/30 — 9/3. 2013.

Labor Day Weekend and some change. It coincides neatly with my trip to Atlanta for Dragon*Con — I’ll be wearing my Self-

Kindle Version
Kindle Version

Promotion Helm of Shamelessness +3. I’ve printed up a ton of business cards to give to people letting them know about the deal.

The ebook has always been free to Amazon Prime members, and DRM free to boot — but now I’m doubling down. Anyone and everyone can own my book at no cost other than the time it takes to download it.  Even if you don’t own a Kindle, you’ll be able tor read it on your Mac, PC, iPad, smartphone, tablet, etc — via the free Kindle app.

Amazon  Reviews

Goodreads Reviews

I’ll be tooting my horn a good deal in leadup to the promotion — hopefully convincing you that my book is worth nothing.

More information about Spell/Sword : Buy the Book

When I’m Not Writing

Hey! Here’s that thing I’ve been working on that isn’t Riddle Box. My local and beloved community theater is putting on a production of Hamlet — a freaking rarity in those sort of circles. Here’s the super snazzy trailer video, if you’re in Georgia and want to come and watch . I’m playing Claudius and the Ghost, and I appear briefly in the trailer wearing a crown and an ill-fitting jerkin.

I Need Reviews!

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On Amazon, on Goodreads, on Facebook, scrawled on butcher paper and taped to the side of your car.

Those of you who have already finished reading — please take a second and post a review online. Even if you had problems, especially if you have legitimate criticism. I’m starting from zero promoting the book, and my best ally is word of mouth. This is the quickest and easiest way you can help me – especially with an Amazon or Goodreads review. It helps boost the visibility of the book, and helps new readers make an informed decision.

Negative reviews are no problem — what you hated about the book may be the thing that convinces a new reader to give me a shot.  The initial word of mouth from the book’s release has officially subsided, and now I need to dig in for the long haul. INCREMENTAL GROWTH, BABY. So, if you’ve read the book — please, please take a moment and click some stars and type a sentence or two online. You do that crap on the regular anyway, right?

And, now on to some more unprofessional behavior, tinged by desperation.

I have copies of Spell/Sword to mail out. I will send it to your house. TO YOUR HOUSE. [US only, please.] I can also hook you up with the Kindle version if that’s your preference. If you read this far and you want to give it a shot, just drop me a line in the comments and I’ll get one shipped out. Do I want a review in return? Absolutely — but you can make it as mean-spirited as you desire.

I know the hustle’s hard, but we gotta enterprise, the carnival

-Wyclef Jean