Musings

Weekly Musing: Useful Bloggery

Partially inspired by Writers’ Digest’s annual 101 Best Websites and to celebrate my blog’s 3rd anniversary, I thought I’d briefly talk about a few of the blogs I personally enjoy. When I first took writing seriously, I followed several blog in an attempt to absorb any and all information I could get my hands on. After a while my inbox became overrun with notifications of the latest blog postings and when I didn’t get to them right away, I got behind. Soon it became too overwhelming so I pared down what I subscribed to only those blogs I actually read. There truly can be too much of a good thing.

Below is a list I’ve narrowed down to my top three blogs I enjoy and find to be the most useful.

Anne R. Allen – I’ve probably been following this blog the longest having first heard about it via Writer’s Digest. This blog is almost always on that list and for good reason. With authors Anne R. Allen and Ruth Harris at the helm, this site posts once a week a topic relevant to the publishing industry. While they and their guest bloggers are all seasoned, professional writers, I find many of their posts offer great advice for of all levels. What I like best is they don’t offer the typical advice given to writers, but rather more realistic advice. Not only do they offer advice on the craft but also touch upon all areas of writing and publishing. They keep up with the fact that the industry as a whole is always changing so they strive not to offer advice which may have been valid years ago before the rise of digital books.

What I really respond to the most with this blog is not only the humorous and down-to-earth writing style, but also how honest they are. It’s a perfect balance between encouragement and realism. Often Anne R. Allen’s blog has inspired blog posts of my own because I find them that thought-provoking especially on topics I thought I was in the minority in believing.

Chuck Wendig – This one is a recent discovery as I stumbled upon via a friend sharing one of his posts on Facebook. I’m glad I found it as Wendig’s blog is funny (the humor being NSFW which admittedly is up my alley) and honest. In the short amount of time I’ve been following Wendig’s blog, I’ve learned quite a bit as he has spoken upon a variety of topics ranging from conventions to publishing to life in general. He even posts writing challenges each week by incorporating a love of photography using his own photos to help inspire a flash fiction story.

Usually posting 2 to 3 a week, he somehow manages to stay consistent with the humor. Hell, even his guest bloggers are pretty adept at matching the tone and style while still sounding like their own person. Like the other blogs I follow, he brings realism and honesty to what he talks about and is the first person to admit that what his experiences aren’t the only way to go about being successful in publishing. His, like others, are just one example of one path to success.

Jami Gold – Another recent discovery, I quickly became a fan of hers because not only is she down-to-earth, she readily admits she’s a perfectionist. Recently this became a major problem as she talked about writers must take care of themselves. From her own experiences she tells her audience that she was running herself so ragged some serious health issues arose. But she kept pushing those aside due to numerous deadlines and to keep up with the expectations modern writers are told they must do in order to be successful. Eventually this caught up with her as she could no longer put off seeing the doctor as her vision became impaired.

But beyond her tales of running her body on empty for too long, I like she admits she’s a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist is a really bad thing if you are a writer. Nothing you write will ever be good enough, no matter who tells you otherwise. It’s nice reading about a fellow perfectionist writer to see how she handles it. Also, while her recent health matters may seem extreme, it nevertheless serves as a cautionary tale about listening to every single piece of advice on how to become a “successful” writer.

 

In addition to the above mentioned blogs, I also enjoy Unusual Historicals (great for those who appreciate the underappreciated people and places of history), Writer Beware (which is more of a website, in my opinion, rather than a blog), Romance University (great advice for a writer of any genre), English Historical Fiction Authors (good source for inspiration), and Writers in the Storm (another great place for general advice).

With so much information out there it’s important to me to find those blogs which won’t waste my time. It’s also important to me to find the kind of information which will be helpful to me not only in this still early stage in my career, but as I continue to grow. And I hope that my little corner of the internet has mirrored my own growth as a writer over the past few years.

Book Reviews

Scribbling Scrivener Reads: Iron & Blood by Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin

Iron & Blood by Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin is the first book in a new series featuring Jake Desmet and Rick Brand as treasure hunters. A Steampunk novel with a paranormal twist, it’s set in Pittsburgh in 1898. Accompanying Jake and Rick on their adventures is Jake’s cousin Veronique LeClerque. Jake, Rick, and Veronique are on their way back to Pittsburgh when they receive word Jake’s father has been murdered. The kicker is an item they recently acquired for a client may be in part responsible for his death. Back in Pittsburgh, the three of them work together to determine who killed Jake’s father and why.

What makes Iron & Blood really neat is how seamlessly both authors weave in elements of the supernatural into the world. The sub-genre of Steampunk is hard enough to pull off without getting overwhelmed by gadgets and fantastical inventions. Adding in another fantastical element, such as the paranormal, makes the challenge greater. But they make it work and incorporate it into the plot of the story in a way that makes it feel natural and normal.

Another thing I liked about Iron & Blood is the setting. In fact, I think it might be one of my favorite parts of the book. As I mentioned above, the story takes place in Pittsburgh during the time period it really was The Steel City and the Martins use that to their advantage. Many of the Steampunk novels I’ve read all center around either New York City or London so it’s refreshing to see a novel set outside of those two well-trod areas. By using Pittsburgh as the background, the reader gets to see the Victorian world through the eyes of those running the steel industry and the unfortunate workers who truly made it what it was. A welcome change from oil and railroad tycoons. Combining it with the paranormal and Iron & Blood really comes to life.

If anything, the book is more paranormal/supernatural then Steampunk. The latter element being a relatively small portion of the world at the beginning and end. By and large, we are firmly entrenched on the gritty, grimy ground of Pittsburgh. This contrast makes the scenes when the reader enters the Steampunk world really stand out. I must admit I actually preferred to be on the ground in this story then up in the sky. Perhaps because it came across as more comfortably written then the airships and sky battles.

In addition to the setting, I enjoyed the plot as it often felt more like a mystery novel. It’s not just about who killed Jake’s father. More importantly it’s about why and the domino affect having him out of the picture causes and also what could happen if the murders are discovered. We, the reader, are let in that a much larger and dastardly plan is in place due to major supernatural forces are at work. Another mystery aspect is the death of workers at a mine, all of whom have been killed under mysterious circumstances. At first the detective assigned to investigating them doesn’t realize these workers deaths are connected to Jake’s father’s death.

While I enjoyed the setting and plot, one of my biggest letdowns were the characters. As I’ve noted many times on this blog, I am character-driven as both a reader and a writer. Give me an interesting character or group of characters in an interesting world and I will read it. It’s not that the characters in Iron & Blood aren’t interesting, many of the minor characters are, it’s the main characters that I feel quite didn’t do it for me. Jake and Rick feel very typical to me. Nice guys and all, which I greatly appreciate, but they lack a certain spark to make me truly interested and invested in. This is contrast with Veronique, who while she has spark, feels like she’s a cardboard cutout of the now typical plucky heroine.

 The characters who stood out to me were the detective who not only sees ghosts, but also can actually talk to them. He even lives with one who stays primarily in the room he rents and guides him along when he’s stuck. He was a fascinating character and I found myself often wishing he was the primary character. I also enjoyed Jake’s mother, probably because I like it when an older female character in Victorian times doesn’t act like the stereotype of stuffy, uptight, and ignorant of anything their husband was involved with. I even liked the villains because they felt more developed and the uneasy partnership between the two villains felt more natural.

Overall, I’d give Iron & Blood by Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin three pencils out of five. I enjoyed and am interested in the next book to see if the three main characters are given more dimensions to match the world they reside in.