Book review: The Brothers’ Keepers

broskeepersI’m quite pleased that Melange Press recently published The Brothers’ Keepers, a thriller by my friend Matthew Peters. Matthew’s book is available from Amazon and other fine retailers in print and electronic formats. Look for the sequel to come out in September 2017.

Here’s my review:

From a shocking confessional booth murder in Washington, DC, to a life-or-death struggle in the mountains of Afghanistan, The Brothers’ Keepers by Matthew Peters is a contemporary thriller that grabs you from page 1 and won’t let go. When an old friend asks Nicholas Branson, a Jesuit scholar, for help with a devilish theological puzzle connected with a murder case, he knows he has to help. But as Branson gets closer to the answers he seeks, he finds that many want the truth — and will pay any price to get it. Branson must grapple with his past, solve ancient mysteries, elude assassins, and contend with his own conscience as he races to uncover a secret that could bring down the very foundations of Western civilization. Author Matthew Peters impresses with intelligent writing, meticulous research, and perfect pacing. If The Brothers’ Keepers is any indication, readers will be counting the days until Nick Branson’s next adventure.

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#PimpMyBio for Pitch Wars

PitchWars-Logo-300x179.jpgWhat is this?

I’m participating in a writing contest called Pitch Wars this year. Learn more about Pitch Wars. Or read another post. Or if this is all too traumatizing, watch a happy otter video. The idea of the #PimpMyBio blog hop is to give the Pitch Wars mentors a chance to learn more about the participants.

About the book

Cyrus lives in Sibyl Springs, Florida, where he’s home-schooled by his seance-obsessed sister, Jezanna. It’s bad enough not having parents without getting home-schooled by your big sister. But when Jezanna’s latest lesson is necromancy, Cyrus must find some way to stop her — and an ancient evil with plans of its own.

In ARCANUM, a young adult novel of supernatural horror, Cyrus must overcome his sister’s betrayal, fight off her psychic followers, and foil her plans to bring back the souls of the dead – by using the innocent living to pay the price.

About me

I am a recovering poet turned SCBWI member. After getting my MFA in poetry at Colorado State University (most important accomplishment: meeting spouse), I naturally started writing speculative fiction/SF/fantasy short stories. Several years, dozens of rejections, two dogs, and one baby later, I finally managed to finish my first novel, a YA fantasy. Now I’m revising my second, a YA urban fantasy/horror story, while I work in the word mines as a copy editor for a large software company. I live in Carrboro, North Carolina.

A few of my favorite things

  • Writers: Ray Bradbury, Jane Austen, J.K. Rowling, Mike Mignola.
  • Movies & TV: Star Wars, Hellboy, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Doctor Who.
  • Monsters: Godzilla, Cthulhu, Sasquatch, the Creature From the Black Lagoon.
  • Miscellany: dogs, small children who speak bluntly, chocolate chip cheesecake.

Thanks for visiting. Remember to check out the other great Pitch Wars writers in the #PimpMyBio blog hop!

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Action report: #PitMad

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Last week I participated in my first #PitMad. For the uninitiated, #PitMad (Pitch Madness) is a Twitter pitch party started by Brenda Drake in which writers of all genres pitch their finished manuscripts in 140 characters or less. The next one’s in September. If you’re interested in learning more, check out Brenda Drake’s website.

Anyhow, when I first found out about it, I thought why not? I’ve got a complete, (mostly) polished, unpublished manuscript. And at the very least, I thought it would be a good exercise in writing concise pitches. Using my YA novel Arcanum, I came up with the following three pitches:

  • So my sis wants to bring Mom back from the dead. To stop her, I have to fight hellhounds and a reference librarian. Apparently. #PitMad #YA
  • Living in the library basement isn’t so bad. At least until your sister hunts you down for a ritual sacrifice. #PitMad #YA
  • Tarot cards, Ouija boards, seances. It’s all fun and games until your sister brings Mom back from the dead. #PitMad #YA

I tweeted them a few hours apart over the course of the 12-hour #PitMad window, as per the rules. And I waited.

The idea is that if an agent or editor likes your pitch (or hearts, or loves, or whatever the Twitter thing is today), you can tag your query’s subject line accordingly, thus getting your manuscript to the top of the slush pile. And … I had a like!

Unfortunately, my like came from a random, well-meaning Twitter user who didn’t know the rules. So it was a short roller coaster ride. And I was bummed for a while. But you know what?

  • Someone liked my pitch! That’s awesome.
  • I picked up some new Twitter followers.
  • I had fun seeing the other pitches.
  • It forced me to concisely pitch my book.

This is all good. Plus there’s something even better coming up: Pitch Wars. I’ll keep you posted.

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My writing group died, and that’s OK

164647732_8c9b3183d7_zI used to have a link at the top of this page for my writing group — but now it’s gone. And so is my writing group. But I’m not in mourning anymore. In fact, I’m looking forward to not being in a writing group. But why?

My writing group had a lot of positives. We all genuinely liked each other and enjoyed reading each other’s work. And since everyone brought different expertise and backgrounds to the table, I learned a lot from everyone. I now understand important concepts about plotting, marketing, and character development solely because of my writing group experience.

So with all these wonderful attributes, why did my writing group fall apart? Various reasons — but here are the most important ones:

  • Too much critiquing, not enough support. More on this below.
  • Life got in the way. Full-time jobs, kids, ailing parents — nothing new, right? Just everyday stuff. But it happens.
  • Submission pressure. When you’re struggling to make time to write, sometimes a deadline can be helpful. But for some of us, it just made things worse.
  • First drafts in small chunks. Critiquing work in progress is always dicey because you don’t want to unduly influence the writer’s creative process. And even when a project is finished, assessing a novel over the course of months in 10,000 word pieces (or less!) makes it hard to address the big issues.
  • Needs change. One of us wanted to explore writing nonfiction (the group was focused on fiction).

So. Too much critiquing, not enough support. What’s that about? It’s not really about fear of constructive criticism, though sometimes that can be an issue. I believe that most writing groups put way too much emphasis on criticizing work and not enough on supporting fellow writers in what is a lonely and difficult task: writing a novel.

The other, related issue is that since many writing groups only comprise beginning writers, no one is really that qualified to advise anybody else. I was lucky in this regard; my group was long on writing experience. But by their very nature, many writing groups are formed by people just starting out. In her recent post on Jane Friedman’s blog, book coach Jennie Nash puts it this way: “Most writers are honing their story analysis and narrative design skills in terms of their own writing, not in terms of being able to articulate it to other writers.”

So if critiquing your work isn’t the reason for having a writing group, what is? I’ve come to believe — for me, anyway — that it’s about support. Trying to write (and sell!) a novel is hard enough without the added pressure of a traditional critique group. My ideal group would focus on sharing struggles, presenting helpful information, and providing simple writerly camaraderie. Nash suggests pooling your resources to bring in an outside expert to do critiques, if you want them. You could also do writing exercises, travel to conferences together, or read and discuss books about writing.

Another way to go is something more akin to Julia Cameron’s “creative cluster,” a group focused on creative recovery, inspired by 12-step programs. These groups focus on unblocking your creative energy, recovering from artistic shame, and building positive momentum.

And, of course, you could always get together to actually write, whether it’s prompts or exercises or your WIP.

This isn’t to say that there’s no place for critiques. I think they’re crucial. But I believe most beginning writers will get more out of a critique after the first draft is finished (perhaps even a revision), when a critique partner — or even better, a professional editor — can look at the big picture.

Having said all this, I still wouldn’t trade my writing group experience for anything. I still value the friendship and support of former members. But whether you’re in a group or just considering one, remember to put your own needs front and center.

Photo credit: labyrinth at lands end by Jack Dorsey under CC BY 2.0.
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Living in a state of dismay in NC

Rainbow_flag_breezeWhen the Supreme Court came down on the side of marriage equality last summer, I would never have predicted that in my own state of North Carolina, the legislature would call an emergency session to restrict LGBT rights. (For more info on HB2, see the FAQ from the NC Justice Center.)

What I would have predicted even less are the many writers who have decided to boycott the state, foremost among them Sherman Alexie. Many children’s book writers have signed their names to an open letter published in School Library Journal, essentially pledging support to schools and libraries while threatening to cancel other events (including, presumably, those at bookstores). Names on that list include folks like John Green, Veronica Roth, and Lauren Myracle.

The growing number of cancellations recently prompted Linda-Marie Barrett, general manager of Malaprop’s bookstore in Asheville, to post an open letter begging authors to reconsider. She makes some excellent points, but the most important one is that by boycotting independent bookstores, authors are hurting one of the most important advocates of LGBT rights in North Carolina. Indie bookstores — like Malaprop’s in Asheville, Flyleaf in Chapel Hill, and Quail Ridge in Raleigh — have long been safe spaces for speech, support, and organizing for the state’s LGBT community and its allies.

I was thrilled to hear that Felicia Day has decided to use her upcoming appearance in Carrboro to work with Equality NC to raise awareness about HB2. Cyndi Lauper will be taking similar action — on a much larger scale — at an upcoming concert in Raleigh. We need more of this kind of constructive engagement from our artists. Because what supporters for equal rights in North Carolina need the most right now is support, not a knee-jerk reaction that ends up hurting the good guys.

Image by Benson Kua [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
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