– Jeff Bowles in for Kaye Lynne Booth
There’s a lot of joy to be found in combining different genres and themes and creating something of a new entity. Zero: Earth by Clifford Barker is part galactic science fiction tale, part super-spy thriller, and there’s plenty of leftover ideas to add even more spice. The lore that backs up the story is deep, featuring extraterrestrials that both watch over and take an active hand in the advancement of mankind, choosing to seed technology slowly to a species they find endearing, if non-emotional super beings can find anyone endearing. A terrifying enemy is coming, and the ever-watchful Circle of Numbers have engineered a super-soldier and spy to protect Earth. Think Captain America blended with James Bond and you’ve got the basic idea of the character. Zero: Earth is an action-packed adventure that leaves no stone unturned. Dense and complex themes of history, resurrection, and the sins of the past merge to create a truly unique reading experience.
I give Zero:Earth four quills.
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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
So Who’s Skywalker, and Why Are They Rising?
by Jeff Bowles
If you’re a Star Wars fan, watching The Rise of Skywalker for the first time is a bit like having your cake and … throwing it against the wall. It provokes an almost drunken feeling, madly lilting from truly satisfying and charming to holy cow, why was that necessary? Unfortunately, director J.J. Abrams has assigned himself too big a task, choosing to tie up not just his trilogy, but also to revive one more time themes and characters that go all the way back to 1999’s The Phantom Menace (remember, kids, dyslexic Star Wars numbering applies: that’s four five six, one two three, seven eight nine).
Admittedly, it would seem, this is Abrams game to lose. He set a high bar for the franchise going forward with The Force Awakens, and Rian Johnson made something of a bold statement in The Last Jedi, which proved incredibly divisive for fans. The Rise of Skywalker will not settle the debate over whether these new Disney-era movies are more jaded cash grab than fitting continuation. You may love or not love this concluding chapter of The Skywalker Saga. Like me, you might do both at the same time.
It’s no big spoiler to say the plot revolves around the return of Emperor Palpatine. The film tells us what he’s up to right there in the classic opening crawl, and lo and behold, he appears within the first few minutes. Palpatine has plans to convert the somewhat nebulously conceived First Order into a super supreme new Empire. All the chess pieces are in play, and trust him, he’s been planning this one a long time.
The fun new cast we met in The Force Awakens return with typical enthusiasm and once again prove good actors and genuinely funny moments make these movies more enjoyable to watch than the prequels. Rey (Daisy Ridley) has continued to train as a Jedi, now under the tutelage of General Leia Organa. Carrie Fisher, of course, passed away shortly before the release of The Last Jedi, but the filmmakers have worked a minor computer-generated miracle and cut in a mix of outtakes and CG reconstructions to make it appear as if she finished the trilogy. The effect is never quite perfect, but her presence is nice, and the movie would suffer without her.
On the other hand, The Rise of Skywalker is chalk full of fan service moments that don’t work. Some aren’t sought for or needed, and others simply aren’t earned. Why, for instance, does Ray have to travel all the way back to Luke’s lost island just so he can pop up blue-ghost style? What, no frequent flyer miles, Master Skywalker? We can Force project ourselves clear across the galaxy, but it’s a no on the house calls? Oscar Issac’s Poe and John Boyega’s Finn get more to do in this movie, which is beneficial, but more than a few characters get much less screen time in leu of new personnel, most of whom are women, which is bound to piss off mega-macho male fans still irate Rian Johnson dared suggest women can be more heroic than Jedi dudes and scoundrel bros.
Also returning are legendary former cast members Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and the afore mentioned Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor. It’s nice to see Lando back in the fray, and even the Emperor is creepy enough to give his own past performances a run for their money. But really, I didn’t sign up for Palpatine still kicking around. That opening crawl is an odd one, because before the movie even gets rolling, you have to shift gears and tell yourself, Oh, I guess we’re doing that thing with the evil old Emperor again. Good to know.
The plot moves quickly, sometimes too quickly, proof positive the screenplay has opted to cover too much ground. There are plot twists aplenty, some of which, again, are not earned. Another annoying thing for fans—or should I say, fans of The Last Jedi—is the fact J.J. Abrams goes a long way to wipe out some of the more intelligent counter-programming of the previous film. Psst, remember how we found out Rey’s parents were nobodies? Well…
Check out my video review above, rebel scum!
Ultimately, I appreciate this movie and the things it gets right. But I haven’t felt this cynical about Star Wars since Episode I. There will be many people who don’t see The Rise of Skywalker that way, but I think even they will have to admit it doesn’t live up to the hype and the massive task laid before it. This movie didn’t have to do anything more than tie up the threads of the previous two films. In no way, as far as I can see, did it need to attempt a summation of nine films separated by more than forty years. George Lucas, partially through insatiable revisionism, did a pretty effective job convincing us there would only ever be six Star Wars movies. As a lifelong fan, it pains me to admit these new flicks might not have been necessary. I know, more shocking words were never spoken.
For all its shortcomings, the film still proves enormously charming when it wants to be, and the action scenes are still top notch. Also a highlight, the relationship between Ben Solo and Rey. The penultimate chapter of their story really pulls out all the stops, and ends in a way that’s simultaneously poignant, powerful, and in a way, lovely. By no means do the concluding few moments feel more final than anything that’s come before, but hell, we don’t actually want Star Wars to end, do we? I mean, what would be the point of that? If you’re a fan, anyway.
That’s what it boils down to. Take someone who’s never seen a Star Wars movie to The Rise of Skywalker, and I doubt they’ll be impressed. But for folks who have stuck with the series their whole lives, gosh, there’s just enough to love to keep the film from being a wash. Now the real struggle begins, trying to find out what George Lucas intended for these films and then arguing on the internet over Disney’s opt-in to Force choke the life out of his original concept.
Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a seven out of ten. I would’ve given it a six, but you know, lightsabers and junk. Now man your ships, and may the Force be with you.
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In November we’ve been seeking out children’s and young adult fiction on Writing to be Read. There are a few differences in writing for our younger readers from writing for adults. As authors, we are in a position to shape young minds, and that’s a big responsibility.
Fiction for adults relies on our words to paint a visual image for the reader, but stories for beginning readers rely heavily on illustrations to enhance our words for youngsters. Authors who have the ability to illustrate their own books may be at an advantage, because illustrations can be a sizable expense for authors like myself, who do not possess such abilities. (Long time Writing to be Read followers may be aware that I once tried to have the first book in the My Backyard Friends series published, but a halt was put on the project after a five year publication process, when the arrangement for illustrations fell through. So, I speak of this added obstacle for children’s authors first hand.)
My interview with author and artist Judy Mastrangelo talks about her Portal to the Land of Fae series and her other works, and shares several of the author’s bright and colorful illustrations. I found her work to be delightful in both text and illustrations in my review of Flower Fairies, and I’ve no doubt that her stories are enjoyed by both young and old.
Young adult authors are faced with a different dilemma, because the audience they write for still have the curiosity of children, but they are beginning to deal with adult issues in their lives, although they are not yet adults either. Controversial topics must be handled with sensitivity and finesse, because the Y.A. critics can be relentless, as is illustrated in this NY Times article about Y.A. author Amélie Wen Zhao.
On Writing to be Read, we looked at how Y.A. fantasy and science fiction author Carol Riggs deals with issues that might be frightening for adolescents in her Junction 2020 series on “Chatting with the Pros“, and saw how Jordan Elizabeth handles a dark fantasy story which deals with the controversial and often taboo topics of teen suicide, cutting, and depression in my review of Tabitha’s Death. Jordan also talks about the inspiration behind her fantasy novel, The Goat Children, which deals with the issue of Alzhiemer’s disease, on “Writing for a Y.A. Audience“.
Also in November, Robbie Cheadle also looked at the pros and cons of classic vs. contemporary children’s fiction on “Growing Bookworms“, and Jeff Bowles took a look at Disney’s new video streaming service, Disney+, on “Jeff’s Movie Reviews“, where we can find all the great tales of the Disney classics. What a great way to introduce our children to them, (or just re-watch them ourselves to indulge our own inner children).
In addition, we said goodbye to a great author, who was known and loved in the online writing communities in my “Tribute to Tom Johnson“. Tom was originally a pulp and science fiction author, but in recent years, he’s been writing children’s stories for the Wire Dog story collections. He will be greatly missed.
November has been a great month and we’ve explored a lot of children’s and young adult fiction. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself as much as I have. There is no theme for December, as I’m taking this time to breathe before the next round. I’ll be updating you about the changes that will be coming for 2020 on Writing to be Read, reviewing a couple of books which didn’t fit under this year’s themes, and throwing in a few surprises. I do hope you’ll all drop by and check it out.
My “Chatting with the Pros” author guest today writes young adult fiction in the fantasy and science fiction genres. Her debut science fiction novel, The Body Institute, is currently being developed into a television series by NBC, which I think, is pretty cool. I met her when I reviewed Bottled three years ago. Since then, I’ve reviewed her science fiction novel, The Lying Planet, and she was a member of the author panel for the first round of the “Ask the Author” blog series in 2018, right here on Writing to be Read. Let’s find out what she has to share. Please help me welcome author Carol Riggs.
Kaye: Please begin by telling us briefly about your author’s journey?
Carol: I began writing in the 1990s, took a 10-year break, and started up again in 2009. I met my agent at an SCBWI retreat and signed with her in 2011 for my 2015 debut, THE BODY INSTITUTE. Since then, I’ve published 7 more books.
Kaye: Why do you choose to write for young adults? Why science fiction and fantasy?
Carol: I enjoy writing about teens as they experience the road to individual growth and becoming an adult—navigating independence, romance, tests of courage, etc. Sci-fi and fantasy appeal to me because I love making things up. Speculative genres give me the most room to be creative and use my imagination.
Kaye: What is your biggest challenge in writing for a young audience?
Carol: Keeping in touch with how a young person thinks and talks, sounding like a teen. My editor at Entangled Teen nails me on that, and makes me rewrite things that don’t sound authentic.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Carol: Nothing too unusual. I don’t listen to music or other distractions. I draft novels moderately quickly (3-5 months), and I write 1 or 2 books a year. I also keep my novels “clean,” with no profanity, gory violence, or sexual scenes. I prefer to make up my own slang and swear words, which don’t become outdated like modern teen lingo/slang/cussin’.
Kaye: NBC is developing your science fiction novel, The Body Institute, into a television series. That must be exciting. Tell us a little about the story.
Carol: THE BODY INSTITUTE is a dystopian sci-fi novel where the main character gets a job losing weight for other people—by having her mind downloaded into their bodies. It’s set in the near future where society is ultra health conscious. The TV series is using the book as a jump-off point rather than being a direct replica of the novel, which is okay with me. It’ll be fun to see where their creative minds take it.
Kaye: How much say do you have in the development process of the television series? Are you involved at all?
Carol: I don’t have any say at all, but that honestly doesn’t bother me. I’d rather spend my time developing new novels! Readers have the book if they want to explore what I’ve developed; the TV show will be a different experience entirely.
Kaye: Do you have a date yet for the series premier for The Body Institute to air?
Carol: As of yet, I don’t; the filming of the pilot show hasn’t begun yet. I’ll announce on my newsletter, Facebook, and Twitter (@CRiggsAuthor) as soon as I find out any developing news.
Kaye: Most of the books in your Junction 2020 series have scary sounding titles: The Portal, Nightmare Realization, Vanishing Fears, Silent Scream, and Future Terrors. Is this fantasy series scary?
Carol: Some people consider these books “horror,” but it sort of depends on your tolerances. If you can’t stand spiders, for instance, don’t read THE PORTAL. Nothing is hyper-bloody in the series, though…no slasher-type nightmares or anything overly gory. I chose each characters’ fears to manifest in a way that would lead them to personal growth, a challenge to overcome rather than sheer horrible nightmares.
Kaye: How do you approach scary subject matter when writing for young adults?
Carol: I try to keep it emotional but real to each character, and I don’t make things gory. Depending on the teen, that could be totally un-scary, or it could be very unsettling. I try to hit somewhere in the middle, for the average reader.
Kaye: Are there certain subject matters that you wouldn’t tackle for a young adult audience? Why?
Carol: I don’t write sex scenes, gory violence, or profanity. I think there’s plenty of that going around nowadays in society (books, movies, etc.), and not having those things in my novels jives with my personal morals and my feelings about what I would want to (or not) read in a novel. I wouldn’t write about demons or the occult, either—too creepy and real.
Kaye: My favorite book of yours is Bottled, which I reviewed a few years ago. It is a fun and entertaining fantasy story. What was your inspiration?
Carol: Long ago, I used to watch “I Dream of Jeannie.” While BOTTLED isn’t that similar in plot to the show, I was inspired by the fun, magical atmosphere of the TV series. It’s my tribute to the show.
Kaye: I also reviewed The Lying Planet. Tell us a little about this science fiction story.
Carol: I was lying in bed one night years ago, and heard a noise in the living room (it was probably the refrigerator). That became the germ seed for TLP, a teen boy on the planet Liberty who one night hears a noise in the living room and gets up to investigate…and then wishes he hadn’t. He uncovers an evil that rocks his world in the worst way possible. I’ve found that teen guys really seem to like this novel. It has lots of danger, adventure, and a degree of creepiness.
Kaye: The other thing I loved about Bottled was the fantastic cover. And the vibrant colors used for Lying Planet cover and those used in the covers your Junction 2020 series are eye catching, as well. The colors are wonderful and the designs fit what the stories are about. Do you design your own cover art or hire it out?
Carol: I’ve been incredibly lucky to get awesome covers for my traditionally published books. The JUNCTION 2020 series covers I developed myself in Photoshop, with the tips and suggestions of a writer friend who is also a graphic artist. I have a BA in Studio Arts, so I think that helps me have a bit of an eye for what looks good.
Kaye: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
Carol: Walking, reading, working jigsaw puzzles, watching sci-fi and fantasy movies, going to the beach, and listening to all kinds of music.
Kaye: Writing organizations can be of great value to writers of all genres. You’ve been a member of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for many years. Would you talk a little about the organization and how you have benefited through membership?
Carol: Back in the 1990s when I first joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), it was super helpful. Submissions were sent to editors at publishing houses by postal mail rather than email (talk about slow!). There wasn’t the wealth of information on the internet that there is now, so the SCBWI was invaluable for honing one’s work to make it ready for editor eyeballs. I learned a lot.
When I returned to writing in 2009, an agent was almost mandatory to submit your work, and the SCBWI retreat I went to offered manuscript critiques for a fee. I actually met my agent-to-be during one of those brief, one-on-one meetings. SCBWI conferences are also great places to network with other writers, learn about the craft of writing, meet industry professionals, and talk about books all day. Some regions offer scholarships to attend if finances are tight.
Kaye: What is your best piece of advice for aspiring authors of young adult fiction?
Carol: If you love it, never give up. THE BODY INSTITUTE was the 13th book I wrote, after 350+ rejections and 11 years of writing and trying to become published. Surround yourselves with supportive writer friends to share the ups and downs. Keep learning your craft, persevere, and enjoy the journey!
Kaye: What can your readers look forward to in the future? What’s next for Carol Riggs?
Carol: A deal has just been signed for THE BODY INSTITUTE for an audiobook version, which is cool. I’m also working on a sequel to the novel, called SPARES. Ideas are springing into my head for a fresh YA novel, and I’m excited to begin imagining a whole new world for readers to explore.
I want to thank Carol for sharing here and answering all of my many questions. And thanks to all of you readers for joining us. You can find out more about Carol Riggs and her young adult science fiction and fantasy books on her website, her Amazon Author page, or her Goodreads Author page.
Next month, there will not be a “Chatting with the Pros” segment. In December we’re wrapping up 2019 and giving you a rundown of what’s in store for 2020. I plan to run this blog series again next year, so check back after the New Year for the first 2020 segment in January. I hope to see you all then.
You can catch the monthly segment “Chatting with the Pros” on the third Monday of every month in 2020, or you can be sure not to any of the great content on Writing to be Read by signing up by email or following on WordPress. Please share content you find interesting or useful.
Romance is one of the most popular genres around, not because everyone is reading them, but because romance readers read a lot. Romance comes in a wide variety of sub-genres: contemporary romance, historical romance, paranormal romance, fantasy romance, western romance, Christian romance, adventure romance, dark romance, and of course, erotic romance, just to name a few. Each type of romance can be very different, because they are after all different types of stories, and there are romantic elements in many types of storiest a romantic subplot has strong emphasis, such as romantic thrillers, romantic mysteries, romantic fantasies, or romantic time travel novels.
So, why is romance so popular? I think it is due in part to the fact that romance is such a vital part of life. Most people have experienced romantic relationships, and if they haven’t, they are searching for such a relationship, because we all need to give love and feel loved. But, romance readers aren’t just love starved singles whose dreams lay just beyond their reach, they also include plenty of happily married people, (mostly women, both married or single), who just like to relive those positive feeling they get from a good love story. Romance is something we all can relate to in one way or another. Romance novels offer a way for us to satisfy our inner longings viscareally or relate and relive our own experiences.
Every romance story or subplot has three things in common: two flawed main characters and a happily ever after, or at least a happily for now. In between, the characters must overcome many obstacles and conflicts. Sometimes these are external, such as others trying to keep them apart, but often they are internal, trying to convince themselves that they should be together, because they won’t admit that this is what they want, even to themselves. In the past the two characters were a boy and a girl, or a man and a woman, but in these changing times it is acceptable, perhaps even desirable, to write or read LBGT romances, where the characters may be of the same sex, or even questionable gender. Today romances may also be rated by the how much and how graphic the sex scenes are, from sweet to steamy to downright hot, and everything in between.
Romance is the genre theme for April, with interviews with “Chatting with the Pros” guest author historical romance author, Maya Rodale, and paranormal romance author Chris Barili (A.K.A. B.T. Clearwater). This month also featured reviews of an historical erotic romance, Ripper, by Amy Cecil, and a science fiction time travel romance, The Christmas Cruise, by Tammy Tate. As a special bonus, Jordan Elizabeth talked about writing her paranormal western romance, Treasure Darkly on her segment of “Writing for a Y.A. Audience“. Two reviews is hardly enough to be examples of all of the wide variety of forms and sub-genres which romance takes, so below you will find links to other past reviews of the romance genre, both good and not so good, to allow you to explore a wider variety of romance. As you can see from the varied selection, even though each contains the basic romance elements, all romances are not alike.
For my reviews of an historical romance novel: Blind Fortune, by Joanna Waugh
For my reviews of a science fiction romance novel: Ethereal Lives, by Gem Stone
For my reviews of YA romances: Rotham Race, by Jordan Elizabeth (dystopian, apocalyptic); Runners & Riders, by Jordan Elizabeth (steampunk); Bottled, by Carol Riggs (romance fantasy); Treasure Darkly, by Jordan Elizabeth (dark western steampunk fantasy romance)
For my review of a science fantasy romance: Gyre, by Jessica Gunn
For my interview of a comedy crime romance: Bailin’, by Linton Robinson
For my review of a contemporary sports romance: A Slapshot Prequel Box Set (Slapshot Prequel Trilogy Book 4), by Heather C. Myers
For my review of a romantic thriller: Freedom’s Song, by A.K. Lawrence
I hope you enjoyed our exploration of romance this month, and I hope you will join me in May for a closer look at Westerns. My “Chatting with the Pros” guest will be western author Juliette Douglas, with a supporting interview with Patricia PacJac Carroll, who writes Christian western romances. My book reviews will be on Chance Damnation, by DeAnna Knippling and Not Just Any Man, by Loretta Miles Tollefson. I’m looking forward to it, and I hope you are, too.
In April, we also had a special Saturday bonus interview with Shiju Pallithazheth to celebrate the release of his new book of magical realism stories, Katashi Tales. We also talk about the work he is doing to aknowledge contributors to world literature. We need more stories which spread love and acceptance of one another. I hope you’ll drop by to catch that one, too.
Remember, tomorrow is the deadline for the WordCrafter paranormal story entries. So, submit your paranormal short now, before it’s too late. I’ve already received some good ones, but there’s room for more. Winner gets a spot in the WordCrafter paranormal anthology and a $25 Amazon gift card. Other qualifying entries may get invitations to the anthology, as well. It’s only $5 to enter, so you really can’t go wrong. Full submission details here.) Send me your story while there’s still time. Hurry!
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If you know me, or have been following me for a while, you might know that my Playground for the Gods series originated as my thesis project. When I presented my proposal, the feedback I got repeatedly was that I was trying to cram too much into the book and it wasn’t going to work. I had instructors tell me that what I proposed would be a tomb, if I ever finished it, which was doubtful, and my advisor said he there wasn’t even a genre for my tale, which combines the technology and space travel of science fiction with the mythology and folklore, and seemingly magical events therein. There were echos of my instructors’ doubts from the members of the cohort I found myself in that semester, some even saying there was no way I could pull it off.
In Playground for the Gods, the palnet of Atlan is destoyed and the Atlan people make pre-historic Earth their new home, posing as gods and goddesses, and using their advanced technology to perform miraculous feats that awe humans. In Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle, the Atlans fight amongst themselves in a struggle to prevent their new home from being destroyed as Atlan was. A strong female protagonist, Inanna, heads up the battle against serpents, dragons, and other forms of mythological creatures, mined from the annals of all parts of the globe, in an effort to save Earth. In this story, readers learn all the background information needed to build a basis for the subsequent texts, and there is enough of it to form a stand alone book. (Book 2: In the Begnning is outlined and partially drafted, and Book 3: Inanna’s Song is outlined and has portions already written, although not pieced together in any organized fashion yet.)
In one of the first classes, we had been cautioned to remember that any criticism of our work was not personal, it was about the work, not about me as a person, but when faced with so many telling me I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, what I believed I could do, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds, and I was hurt by their doubt. But, once I licked my wounds and dried my tears, and distanced myself from the work, I realized that much of what they had said was true. They were right, at least on some points and the story will be better for it.
My solution was to turn my thesis novel into a science fantasy series, and write the only the first book as my actual thesis project. The size of the first book, The Great Primordial Battle, let me know that this was a smart decision. (My professors and cohorts were correct in that trying to put it all into one book would have created a massive tomb.) The draft should be back from the beta reader today to begin the final revisions, and after hitting a snag that must be worked out before work can proceed on my memoir, I excited to get started in the final stretch with this one. Upon publication, this book will truly be the beginning of a science fantasy series that almost never existed.
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