Review: All That Is Necessary

ATIN quote

The first review of All That Is Necessary is live on Epinions, with a shorter version on Amazon. I pulled out my favorite quote from the review, but the whole thing’s worth reading. Of course, I’m biased. It’s a five-star review, which I wasn’t expecting. I got a four-star review from the same reviewer on Thrown Out. As Mark states, we’re friends, but he doesn’t let that influence his reviewing. (And I told him to be brutal on his review.)

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Book Review: Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass

Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling in Modern FictionWriting 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling in Modern Fiction by Donald Maass

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been waiting for this book to come out since I first heard about it earlier this year, and Maass didn’t disappoint. After devouring the book the day I got it, I rethought the entire second half of my next novel and rewrote big chunks of it — more than 13,000 words in two days with more to come. Maass knows his stuff and uses examples to drive home his points about what it takes to lift books from ordinary to extraordinary — what he calls high impact.

If you’re a fiction writer, you need to read this book. I’m already planning that once the current book is finished, I won’t start the next one until I work through the dozens of questions Maass poses each chapter to help readers define the best storytelling possibilities for their fiction.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Awake, an anthology to benefit The Trevor Project

I picked up Awake a while back while doing research for my next book, set when Dan is 13. The chance to read some short stories showcasing the point of view of LGBTQ teens seemed like a perfect opportunity. And I was intrigued by the idea of an anthology benefiting the Trevor Project.

The collection is well worth the price, even if the proceeds weren’t going to a nonprofit. The four authors each tackle a different aspect of the experiences LGBTQ teens face daily, bringing them to life in vivid detail. The goal of the book was to give LGBTQ teens stories that reflected their experiences, something they could relate to. Going into writing with the goal of making any point has its hazards. As writers, we run the risk of slipping from storytelling into preaching. These authors didn’t. The characters are realistic, their situations believable. Their roads have bumps; misunderstandings and hostility from friends and family alike. And yet they also show hope, a sense that one day it will get better.

Some of the stories have clear-cut endings, while others are a bit more ambiguous. I found the most powerful one to be Robin Reardon’s “A Line in the Sand,” but the stories are so distinct in style and topic that each reader will likely have a different favorite.

The collection is geared to teens, but anybody can enjoy these stories. For the people who can identify with one of the characters, this collection is a beacon, a reminder that they are not alone. For the rest of us, these stories give us a window into a different experience in life, as all good fiction does. And as we read, we start to find places of common experience with the characters, even though our situations might differ. The best fiction taps into a shared truth, reveals something about our world we might otherwise not see. Awake falls into this category, and is definitely worth reading.

Book Review: Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell is well-known among writers for his useful, practical wisdom on improving our writing and story structure. Conflict and Suspense is the fourth writing book of his I’ve purchased, the third one I’ve read, and like its predecessors, it’s going to be a mainstay in my writing library.

I have two bookshelves of writing books. One is the bulk of the collection, and is just high enough to make getting to them difficult. Conflict and Suspense — if it were a paperback — would go on the other shelf, Continue reading

Review: A Thirty-Something Girl by L.M. Stull

L.M. Stull’s debut novel A Thirty-Something Girl has a fascinating main character: Hope has been living a lie, covering up what she sees as her imperfections until they come crashing down around her on her birthday. Hope has hit rock-bottom, and we get to follow her on her way back up.

I had to read this book in two sittings for time reasons, and when I got to the first point where I had to  stop, I was seriously tempted to keep going and deal with the missing sleep the next day. Hope’s story sucked me in and I couldn’t wait to see what was next on her journey. I loved her first meeting with Sam and how things developed between them. She has a gift for creating characters to care about.

In a lot of ways, that was a bad thing, because Continue reading

Review: Shine by Lauren Myracle

Lauren Myracle’s Shine drew attention after the National Book Award fiasco back in the fall, and while the situation was unfortunate at best, it drew lots of attention to a well-deserving book. Shine is a gem of a young adult novel, compelling in its ability to wrestle with difficult issues while entertaining. Myracle’s rural Southern mountain village and its inhabitants are well-drawn, with plenty of dimension. She doles out backstory carefully, hinting and giving us just enough to entice without  annoying. When Cat’s secret is finally revealed, we have a good sense of what generally happened, and then the details start to make other elements of the story fit together.

Watching Cat learn how events, people and relationships she assumed she understood differ from reality sets the stage for the final revelation of the book, and Myracle’s storytelling skill gives us a cohesive, compelling tale filled with interesting characters. This book will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

Review: Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

Larry Brooks has created a must-read writing book in Story Engineering. His approach to storytelling uses six Core Competencies to build structurally sound, compelling narratives. Brooks lays out the plan well and makes it simple to understand, though there’s no guarantee it will be easy to execute.

While dozens of writing books exist, this is one of the most useful I’ve found in the overall story building category. Despite giving us a precise recipe, Brooks isn’t in any way setting out a formula. This approach can be used on any type of novel or screen play, regardless of genre.

Structure is my weak point as a writer, and that was the section I learned the most from. Some of the others, such as Character, Concept and Theme, did more to reinforce  my current WIP is on the right track in those areas, leaving me free to focus on fixing the structural issues. Other writers might find those sections more helpful. By segmenting the process in those six areas, Brooks makes it easy Continue reading