Review – The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

I recently popped my Steampunk cherry with Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke, my March selection for the 2011 Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge.

I had heard of steampunk before reading this book (who hasn’t?) but I didn’t really understand the appeal. That changed as I read The Iron Duke and got transported into a world where England has recently revolted against Horde control — nanotech “bugs” that augmented and controlled the English people for almost 200 years.

Our heroine Mina is a police inspector, and the product of a rutting frenzy triggered by the bugs between her English Lady mother and nameless Horde overlords. Because of her Horde features, Mina suffers everything from social slights to physical abuse as England struggles to pick up the pieces of their culture and move on from such a horrific time. When a dead body is dropped from an airship onto the estate of Rhys Trahaearn — pirate and war hero in England’s fight against the Horde — Mina’s investigation propels her into a conspiracy hoping to topple England once more. Add in zombies, privateers, and Horde-augmented giant squid, you are left with one rollicking, imaginative romance. Because yes, despite all the steampunk trappings, The Iron Duke is ultimately about the relationship between Mina and Rhys.

The book was named “Best Paranormal” in the 2011 All About Romance Reader’s Poll, which is where it first popped up on my radar. And I am so glad it did. This was the first book I’ve ever read by Brook, and I really enjoyed the deft writing, the characters, and the tremendous worldbuilding. Another book in the series will be released this fall, and I look forward to see how she takes the relationship between two minor characters from this book and weaves it into another story. I was impressed by the way she set up the second book in The Iron Duke, not to mention eager for more.

Be sure to check out the other March book reviews that are a part of the 2011 Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge.

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Snap Out of It

We all get into writing funks – those days where that pesky voice in your head starts saying things like “What do you think you’re doing?” or “You’re never going to make it” or “Why don’t you just give up now and save us all the hassle.”

Usually I just power through these moments by drafting a new story, reading a book, or working on some revisions I’ve been looking forward to tackling.

But sometimes that negative inner voice is bolstered by undisputed fact: the latest form rejection or, less frequently, the personalized but brief “thanks but no thanks.” That’s when the inner voices goes from being annoying to down right debilitating.

At that point, it’s way too easy to give into feelings of unworthiness, of self-loathing, of the unavoidable rejectionitus. If you are like me, you can’t bear the thought of working on your stories or even thinking about them – it’s too painful. But if you don’t write, you don’t get better. If you don’t get better, how can you expect to be published? It’s a downward spiral of negativity.

And I was dangerously close to falling into that cycle. Over the holidays, I finally heard back from Editor X about my historical romance novel. Instead of the glowing praise I dreamed about, I got a dead-on critique. I had another partial request from an agent, which netted me another personal rejection. I started to question whether I knew what I was doing, whether I was truly ready. Every section of my story I sent off to my critique partner resulted in more issues I needed to address. Soon enough I didn’t even want to look at my story anymore. I focused on all the negative feedback and became paralyzed by it.

But then I realized something. Sure, there were problems, but at least I now had a roadmap of what needed to be done to make my story shine. I had finally amassed enough feedback that I could see my way out of my funk.

The good:

  • I have a strong logline and query (hence the requests).
  • My story has an exciting beginning.
  • My story has a strong second half.
  • I have strong worldbuilding and interesting characters.

The bad:

  • I have a saggy middle.
  • Some characters behave inconsistently.
  • I still need to work on incorporating historical detail and backstory effectively.
  • My writing is not yet “there,” especially with regards to showing, not telling, and narrative distance.

I used to think because my story had an exciting beginning and ending, the middle didn’t matter so much. I used to think my writing was awesome, regardless of whether I had adverbs, saidisms, and lots of telling that suggested otherwise. I used to think my story was good enough. I used to think I was special, that I was the exception to the rule, that I didn’t have to put in my time.

That’s obviously not the case anymore. But instead of wallowing in the rejection blues, I’ve forced myself to analyze my feedback and plan out a way to make my story stronger.

It took effort to snap myself out of my funk and it will take even more effort to make the changes to my story that are needed, but it will be worth it.

How do you snap yourself out of writing funks? What keeps you motivated when the going gets tough?

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Best of the Best – Romance Writing Resources

P.S. This is my last post for the year. But I’ll be back the first Wednesday in January. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday with family and friends.

The Best of the Best series is back, this time focusing on resources for Romance writers. Previous installments looked at Agent Blogs and the Writing Blogosphere’s Major Players.

Writing Romance is harder than it looks. With the requirement of a happy ending, the real trick is how to make your story stand out from scores of others playing with the same boy meets girl tropes. I don’t have any answers for how to do this – asides from writing the best book you are capable of – but I can share with you the resources I’ve collected geared specifically toward Romance writing.

Romance Writers of America – The largest membership organization for published and unpublished authors, with a huge educational focus. Their website also includes scores of info from their annual conference, including valuable handouts and recordings.

eHarlequin – One of the biggest Romance publishers, Harlequin has a Learn to Write section on their webpage to help hopeful writers target specific Harlequin lines. But many resources are general enough to help writers of any genre.

Romance University – Dedicated to helping writers develop their career (Mondays), uncover the male mind (Wednesdays), and perfect their craft (Fridays). The site can be a bit cumbersome to navigate, but there is some good stuff here.

Romance Divas – A great meeting place for writers, including valuable articles on different aspects of the writing and publishing process and a forum – which is currently closed to new members, but should reopen in the New Year.

Romance Writer’s Revenge – A group blog capturing the trials and tribulations of romance writer’s life. The pirate talk can be a bit fatiguing at times, but the contributors pose thoughtful questions from the writing trenches.

Author Gabrielle Luthy – Provides a slew of writing resources on a variety of topics, including Agents & Editors, Plotting & Structure, and Revising Your Novel.

Author Jenny Crusie – Website includes a host of essays addressing pop culture, publishing, and romance writing in genre, with the same insightful wit she’s known for in her books.

Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me the Money! – Gives you an idea of the advance you can expect from a variety of Romance imprints. Remember, you shouldn’t be in this for the money. 

Babbles from Scott Egan – The blog provides a nice balance of content, including both industry insights and discussions of craft, from an agent who only reps romance and woman’s fiction.

The Passionate Pen’s Agent List – A great resource for when you are ready to query. The site also has a selection of other resources for writers as well.

All About Romance – Reviewing novels since 1996, AAR has a great search engine for finding titles that may be comparable to your WIP. The AAR blog also provides educational insights and commentary from women who are completely immersed in the genre.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – Another Romance reviewing site, SBTB provides brutally honest assessments of books and their covers. One of the founders recently started writing for the Kirkus Review. The site’s Help a Bitch Out (HaBO) series lets readers ask for help in finding titles they read once upon a time – it’s always fascinating to see what narrative aspects stick out in their minds.

You may find it odd that I didn’t talk about resources for writing historical romance, since that is the subgenre I write in. But believe me, that is a post for another day.

If you’ve come across other valuable resources for romance writing, please include them in the comments. Thanks!

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