Thursday, September 22, 2016

Writing a Book Series: Q & A with Ian Quicksilver author Alyson Peterson

Last week, I reviewed The Cursed Dagger, book II in Alyson Peterson's YA series featuring geeky alien prince Ian Quicksilver.

This week, Alyson kindly agreed to an interview in which she discusses the special challenges of writing a book series.

Q. What things must a writer keep in mind when writing Book I of a series, as opposed to a stand-alone book?

A. It's good to remember that whatever you put into one book has the potential to spill over into other books. One thing I struggle with when starting a new series is planning out what is key to future books. Half the time I don't know where a certain element is going until I am nearly done writing. I keep careful notes on where I want my characters to go so I don't end up putting a scene or a character in that doesn't fit the series as a whole.

Q. What challenges must be addressed when writing additional books in a series?

. My biggest fear is that I will write a sequel that is boring. I'm always having to top the previous book, make it more exciting, more interesting etc. What I absolutely DON'T want to do is repeat the exact same story line over and over again. Keeping the story fresh while not sacrificing the personalities of my characters is my biggest hurdle.

Q. What are some tips for avoiding an info-dump in books that fall later in a series while bringing readers up to speed on what happened in earlier books?

I HATE info dump.  It makes stories sluggish. I read a lot of YA series. I take a highlighter pen to the books that don't info dump and study what the author did to keep the reader interested at the same time as they bring the reader up to speed. Bringing up past experiences in dialogue both internal and verbal help the reader know what's going on without a page an a half of super boring backstory.

Q. What advice do you have for keeping a character fresh and growing through a series of books?

Characters learn and grow much like their real life counterparts. I compile a list of characteristics and then order them by importance to the character. Minor characteristics can change, but the major ones can not. Ian's loyalty, snarkiness, bravery and deep sense of mercy is key to his story. Minor flaws can be altered, like Ian's awkwardness, immaturity and willingness to ignore difficult situations. 

Writing young adult characters are my favorite because their personalities are not fully developed at 14, 15, and 16 and giving them experience and growth keeps them fresh on the page.

Q. How can you know if that book you are writing has series potential?

My brain rarely works in stand alone novels. I wish it would, but once I get cranking on a book, plans for future books start sneaking in. I am defective that way. If writing a character keeps me up at night and all day I'm thinking about what I want to do in book two, three and four, I've got a solid series on my hands.

Q. What suggestions do you have for writers who are pitching what they hope is the first in a series?

Make sure book one grabs your reader's attention. Not just grabs, but holds and makes them beg for more. You've got to have a solid hook so that when you pitch book two, you generate more excitement.

It's hard to sell certain publishers and agents on series, but good pubs and agents know the value of a well written series and can sell it as such. Pitch to your friends, hash out story line with an experienced writer or someone who understands and loves a good storyline and bounce ideas off them. You can tell a lot about how well your story is developed by the level of excitement you receive from honest reviews.

Q. As you worked on Books II and III, did anything about your characters or your story surprise you?

Ari went through the biggest change with her personality. She was pretty quiet in book one, but the more I got to know her she really blossomed on the page. Marvin had a lot more to say in book two that I enjoyed writing. Corbin is still Corbin and he is a stick in the mud when it comes to his personality, but I also found in him a core of genuine loyalty that I was happy to see. The story exploded in my face as I was writing book three. I thought I had firm idea on who my warriors were going to be and the type of fighters they were, but I was so very wrong. As I wrote the story and re-read passages from books one and two, book three became harsher and more absolute. That was very unintentional.

The Cursed Dagger is newly released from Cedar Fort. Be sure to watch for Book III of the adventures of Ian Quicksilver in 2017!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Book Review: Eating Wildly by Ava Chin

"My grandfather, a former Toisanese village boy turned Chinese restaurant worker, taught me how to eat. Grandpa spoke an English so informed by the cadence of his dialect that he didn't talk so much as bark, so that he often sounded like he was yelling from across a muddy field rather than just across the kitchen table. He had learned to saute, braise, and sear from the cooks at the various Manhattan restaurants in which he worked. His palate was so diversified that he could make almost anything well. Sometimes it was a whole fish from head to tail -- first steamed, then drizzled with a piping-hot medley of ginger, scallions, garlic, and sesame oil. Soy sauce chicken wings dripping in a brown sugar glaze. American fried chicken dipped in a garlic-ginger batter that had my friends sighing with delight -- even the ones with hard-core Southern roots often asked from seconds."
 --Excerpted from Eating Wildly

Part memoir, part foraging guide, occasional cookbook, Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal is a delight. Eating Wildly received the 2015 MFK Fischer Book Award. Library Journal chose it as one of the Best Books of 2014. If you haven't yet read Ava Chin's delightful book - newly available in paperback -- you're in for a treat.

The book chronicles Chin's relationships with food and with her family. It follows her as she forages delicious edibles in the unlikeliest of places in New York City. I live in the middle of the rural Midwest, and I was pleasantly surprised to recognize the plants Chin mentioned; I realized that if I ended up in NYC, I might encounter a few familiar (green) friends.

I'm a sucker for non-cookbooks that include recipes. I like the idea that these are "tried and true" favorites that had to be included because the narrative insisted. Chin doesn't disappoint: Of the several recipes in Eating Wildly, the Blackberry-Buckwheat Pancakes and Wild Morel Linguini are especially worthy. Omnomnom...

One thing that could make the book even better would be photos or illustrations of the plants Chin finds. (I mean -- if you're going to pick and eat a novel sprig of something growing out of the ground, you want to be pretty darn sure you're noshing on the right thing.) To that end, Chin has posted a few of The Plants & Mushrooms of Eating Wildly on her blog. Though even more pictures would be welcome, Eating Wildly is more than a mere field guide.

Much of the book's charm is in its exploration of Chin's life. Her fractured relationship with her mother, her attempts to connect with her absentee father, her lessons in cuisine and culture from her grandparents, and her forays into the wilderness of adult relationships all add flavor to the book.

I found myself repeatedly rooting for Chin, whether she was hunting an elusive morsel or searching for her soulmate. When she throws a foraging Wild Foods Brunch, only to have someone question one of her ingredients, I'm pulling for her to be right -- and not just so her guests survive the event. When she tries again and again to forge a relationship with her flighty mother, I'm there, hoping that this time, she succeeds.

Full disclosure: I met Ava Chin when she came to a booksigning at the little independent bookstore here in Southwestern Michigan. She is friends with Kim Jorgensen Gane, who co-facilitates the #Write2TheEnd writer's workshops with me. Ava dubbed us "The Thelma and Louise of writing coaching." (I'm Louise. No doubt about it.) So -- yeah, I know her. And, yeah, I'd still recommend the book even if we'd never met. Check out the book for yourself. See if you agree with me...

YA Book Review: The Cursed Dagger (Book II of the Ian Quicksilver series)

It's official! The Cursed Dagger, the second book in Alyson Peterson's snarkily brilliant YA sci-fi / fantasy series, is now available. I can finally publicly tell people about it.

Peterson's Ian Quicksilver fans will be glad to know that The Cursed Dagger picks up right where The Warrior's Return left off: Geeky foster kid Ian, heir to the throne of Banhir, but exiled to live on Earth, has a quest. He must convince beautiful, popular, but slightly spacey Ari -- a Garfelian princess carrying a curse of her own -- to permanently join him in order to thwart the plans of evil magician Silivus and save the galaxy.

Ari wants to, but she has... issues. Many of which even she doesn't understand.

And time is running out.

Those who have not yet read The Warrior's Return get to know Ian and Ari in a hurry as The Cursed Dagger opens with an early morning swordfight, a sick princess, and an epically craptastic first date.

Then things really heat up. Silivus, the magician responsible for Ian's and Ari's woes -- not to mention the woes of both of their home planets -- arrives in all his oily smarm. He makes Ian an offer: trade the Quest for a Challenge. Winner take all. No holds barred.

Ian knows Silivus can't be trusted, so he initially refuses to rise to the bait. But as his chances of completing the Quest grow bleaker and bleaker, Silivus ups the ante and tragedy strikes. Against the advice of his friends and mentors, and against his own better judgment, Ian agrees to the Challenge.

... Enter the dragon. And the cursed dagger, which links the dragon's life and Ari's fate to Ian far more closely than any of them realizes.

My 13 year old, dragon-obsessed daughter, adored this book. She devoured it in a weekend. (For comp reference, her other favorite series include Wings of Fire, Redwall, The Unwanteds, Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, Erin Hunter's Warriors, and, of course, Harry Potter.)

While the first Ian Quicksilver book was all about the hero's discovery of who he is, in The Cursed Dagger, Ian must determine who he wants to be. What things are worth living -- and dying -- for?

A short excerpt from Chapter 2:

“I guess I’ll pick you up at six then?”
“At my house? With my parents?” She began panic breathing in short gasps. Her eyes were wide and miniature bolts of lightning shot between her fingers. Any second and she was going to pass out. I shielded the arcs of magic from the view of a group of girls down the hall staring at us.
“Breathe,” I coaxed, tapping her shoulder a few times to release the excess energy. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
“Right,” she panted. “Not at all.”
“I can totally handle introducing myself to your parents . . .” I should have stopped at telling her it wasn’t a big deal. Ari bent double and grabbed her knees.
She sucked in air in great wheezing gulps. Whenever she freaked out like this, my ego took a beating. Regardless, I patted her on the back. Every time my hand made contact, bolts of electricity shot up my arm and numbed my fingers.
Farther down the hall, I could hear Corbin grumble in irritation. I looked up, found him through the sea of heads in the hall and shrugged. How was I supposed to know that the mention of a date would throw her into cardiac arrest?
It took a while, but her panic attack eased. When she stood upright, she was almost back to normal. Only a few red blotches on her neck remained.
“Sorry,” she said. “That was totally unexpected. I don’t know what hit me.”
“I hear chest pain and shortness of breath are totally normal in dating situations.”
“I’m probably just nervous. I have a feeling it’s not going to go so great when you meet my parents. How am I supposed to introduce you? ‘Hey, mom and dad, this is Ian. He’s an alien from another planet.’”
“You could say that I am a warrior for the galaxy. It kind of has a cool ring to it.”
“Yeah, that’ll go over great.”
Equal parts action, adventure, fantasy, and sass, with enough sarcasm to power a small-town high school, The Cursed Dagger is a ton of fun. Read it, and let me know what you think of my recommendation in the comments below.

[Full disclosure: I was a beta reader for IQ books 1 & 2. While it's true that Alyson & I are friends, and that the Cursed Dagger includes this gem in its Acknowledgements ~blush~...'s also true that the book rocks. Intrigue! Magic! Icky evil Bad Guy! Awkward first dates! Sentient horses! Plus -- and this is key -- a dragon! I might be a little biased, but I won't steer ya wrong.]