Tag Archives: Novel

Red Dirt: A Tennis Novel That’s Also About Sex, Drama, and the Human Mind

Red Dirt

I’m not a sports person, and I went into reading this novel knowing nothing about tennis beyond the basics: they hit the ball back and forth until someone misses and for some reason the score goes up by 15 at a time. For someone who knows more about tennis than me, there’s a lot of detailed descriptions of the various matches throughout the book, talking about backhands and deuces and sets and all the strategy and mind games that go into being a winner. I was a bit lost through those parts, but I really enjoyed the other parts of the book: the parts about this character’s life, his dreams, his psychology, and the friends and women he met along the way.

In between the tennis matches there’s sex, drama, battles with family, bruised egos, paparazzi scandals, and even a few life-or-death situations. The book follows Jaxie Skinner from age 3 to 38, through his early relationships and young tennis career, then into his comeback both as a returning tennis star and as a man who is finally figuring out what he really wants in life. He looks at people in a way that adds some new insight into their lives, and the analysis of people’s desires and motivations is what I found the most interesting. Even during the tennis matches, I was more interested in reading about how some players would get psyched out and succumb to anger, impatience, immaturity, or overconfidence. In most of the matches, I felt like these personality faults were what really led to someone’s defeat, more than anything about the actual hitting of the ball and whether you played close to the net or far back from it.

There were a few sections here and there that seemed underdeveloped and overdramatized, specifically when dealing with a couple of Jaxie’s relationships. On two separate occasions he gets involved with girls that are bad news, and he ends up getting in some serious trouble (once with a girl’s jealous ex, the other time with a woman’s husband when he discovered her affair with Jaxie). Since these relationships weren’t developed enough to really give me a strong investment in them, the resulting volatile endings seemed a bit over the top. By comparison, the two more well-developed relationships (one with a Russian tennis star, the other with a college girl when Jaxie is in his 30’s) were more integral and memorable. In the end, I felt like the book would have been stronger if it had only focused on the two more meaningful and important relationships, and if it had skipped over the two less important, glossed-over relationships. Four relationships (early teens, late teens, 20’s, and 30’s) is realistic enough when looking at this long of a stretch of someone’s life, but I think it was more than the narrative could support.

That said, the rest of the book was interesting and kept me involved right up until the end. The couple of slow spots didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment. And the fact that I don’t like tennis at all didn’t make me like the book any less. I read the book for the character development, not for the sports, and I enjoyed what I got out of it.


What I Learned From #NaNoWriMo

Winner-2014-Web-BannerAs I mentioned, I recently won #NaNoWriMo 2014. It was a long haul. I had quite a few nights where I was up until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. My back is killing me. I spent several days in a daze, barely able to focus on anything else.

The novel is complete. At 160,484 words, it’s both the biggest NaNoWriMo victory I’ve ever had and the longest novel I’ve written in the series. As you can see by the progress meters on the sidebar to the right, it’s 28,000 words more than the previous novel. This was more-or-less what I expected, and the reason why is the first “thing I learned” from NaNoWriMo:

I learned to better estimate word counts

When I first wrote Manifestation, I had no idea how long it would be. I also didn’t know how the story would shift away from any original plans I had. These shifts can lead to longer word counts on some drafts, since the story expands in places I didn’t expect, then shorter word counts in revisions, when I cut scenes that end up not fitting the new direction the story went in. One of the consequences of these unexpected turns is that the structure of the novel can change.

For example, when I first started the series, I already knew where the third volume, Collapse, would end. I had a scene in mind for the climax and what consequences it would bring. I started writing with that goal in mind from early on, always trying to move Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, the two main characters, in that direction. But at the time that I started writing, I thought that would be the end of volume two, not volume three.

I had originally planned Manifestation to stop in a place that is now somewhere around the middle of the second book, Contamination. I had a story arc planned out for Gabby that would take her through various family dramas, build on her romantic relationship with her main love interest, Callia Gainsborough, and help her grow from the introverted teenage girl we see at the beginning into, well, you’ll have to wait and see what she becomes. But when I was moving past the 100,000 word mark on Manifestation, I realized I needed a lot more time to get Gabby to the point I wanted to take her in. So I devised a new climax for Manifestation, finished the first book, and started the second one.

Then, when I was near the end of Contamination, the same thing happened again. I had a point where Gabby’s relationship with Callia was really just getting off the ground, where Gabby’s understanding of the supernatural changes to the world around her are finally coming together, and where Gabby’s growth as a character was reaching a major turning point. But a turning point isn’t a climax, and I realized I needed another 50,000 words or more to get Gabby the rest of the way down that path. Like with the first book, had I not come up with a different ending, the total length of the book would have been over 170,000 words. Instead, I started the third book, and about halfway through Gabby reached the point of character development I’d originally planned. It was mostly smooth sailing after that to finish the third book, reaching the climax that had originally been planned for book two.

This year, I went into my writing expecting and planning for a length of 150,000. I came up with this number by considering the various story arcs of the previous books, how many main characters had leading roles in each, and how much world building had to be done. When I crossed the 130,000 word mark, I reanalyzed based on the number of scenes left, and adjusted my word count estimate to 160,000. The final total word count was only a few hundred off of that second estimate.

I plan to consider these variables when working on future books as well, so that I’ll have a better idea of how much will “fit” in one book. That way I’ll be able to avoid major restructuring like I went through in the early books.

I learned the difference between a “romance” and a “love story”

As you may have seen by recent blog posts, I’ve been studying romance novels lately. I have a few serious problems with the common romance tropes I’ve seen. Examples include characters who seem to constantly profess their love in the narration without me seeing love in their actions, characters who are too perfect (perfect bodies, perfect hair, flawless morals, etc), characters who fall in love too quickly without enough development of their relationships, and the unrealistic nature of the “happily ever after” ending. I’ve been trying to avoid abusing these tropes in my own writing, by either breaking them entirely, or at least approaching them from different angles in order to avoid being cliche.

However, a new variable was recently brought to my attention. I recently wrote a post about exploring infidelity in romance stories, where I considered the possible roles cheating might play in the development of a story. In particular, I cited novels like The Notebook, where the female lead started off in a relationship then cheated on her fiance with the male lead, who she eventually ended up with. After writing this post, however, one of my romance writer friends directed me to the rules of the Romance Writers of America, and I learned there are some things you can’t do if you want the story to be considered an official “romance.”

According to the RWA, a story is only a “romance” if it has A Central Love Story and An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending. That is, the love story can’t be a subplot, and it can’t have an ending that isn’t in the “happily ever after” category.

A happy ending, according to my friend, means things like no cheating. You can’t do anything to betray the relationship or make the reader stop rooting for the characters to get together. If the reader reaches a point where they wish the characters would break up, it’s not a “romance.”

An interview with Nicholas Sparks has another quote that I found interesting in relation to this idea. He responds to the question:

Q: You once said the difference between a love story and a romance is that “love stories must use universal characters and settings.” What did you mean by that?

“Universal” means you feel as if they are real. You feel like you can know them. I don’t write stories about astronauts or CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or millionaires or movie stars. These are stories of everyday people put into extraordinary events that are also very real in ordinary people’s lives: accidents, a past you want to get away from, a husband that got violent.

Now, I don’t necessarily agree with his entire view here, but what he’s basically saying sounds like “romance novels have unrealistic characters but love stories have ordinary people.” I wouldn’t call this a 100% accurate statement, but it touches on what I mentioned above. Most romance novels I read have people who are too perfect. They’re rich, famous, gorgeous, and flawless. Now, I think you can have a traditional romance novel that has believable, down-to-earth characters (just many of the ones I’ve recently read don’t). But if you go by Sparks’s views, romances are fantasies, while love stories are more realistic.

Even if you disagree with how sparks describes this difference, I do think that the distinction is related to the “no cheating” rule I already mentioned. Characters who cheat on each other would spoil the perfect fantasy of the ideal relationship. But characters who have to struggle to heal and forgive after an affair might better represent the kinds of people we see in real life.

I’ll probably follow up with some more things I learned in a future post. It was definitely a long and educational experience.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

Fallen Son, Darkest Night

Today I’d like to introduce you to an author friend of mine who has a new story that’s just been released. The short story, “Fallen Son, Darkest Night,” serves as a prequel to Melissa A. Petreshock’s debut novel, Fire of Stars and Dragons.

FSDN Cover ArtFALLEN SON, DARKEST NIGHT by Melissa A. Petreshock

After four millennia of waiting for change, the Mother Goddess sees no other recourse but to summon Theo Pendragon to perform his sacred duty as one of the Dracopraesi, imprison her only son in the Underworld, and save her people.

​Given the​ vast destruction Dante has caused ​in the Earthen Realm, Theo is prepared to fulfill Dana’s request​ without hesitation​, but ​when confronted with ​unexpected events and a plea for mercy, will the dragon ​find him worth redemption, or is it too late for this dark soul to seek forgiveness?

FALLEN SON, DARKEST NIGHT is a ​short story companion to FIRE OF STARS AND DRAGONS (Stars and Souls Book 1). ​Three thousand years before Caitriona Hayden is even born, Dante’s actions and Theo’s decision impact the destiny that awaits them all.

Available October 21, 2014 on Wattpad.

About The Author

Melissa A. Petreshock_ smaller fileMelissa A. Petreshock is a full-time writer and member of the Romance Writers of America with past experience in the medical and educational fields, though she has primarily devoted her adult life to raising a family. Born and raised in Kentucky, Melissa spent a number of years in Massachusetts, living outside Boston and in Springfield before returning to her home state where she now resides on a small farm. She enjoys quiet married life and the silliness of her three children, indulging hobbies of music, Zumba, and a minor television addiction in what little free time she finds. Melissa’s interests include causes demanding social change such as mental health awareness and teen suicide prevention. FIRE OF STARS AND DRAGONS is her debut NA Fantasy Romance novel.

You can find Melissa on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

I’ll be sharing some more info about both “Fallen Son, Darkest Night” and Fire of Stars and Dragons in some upcoming posts and reviews, so stay tuned for more to come.

FSDN - Cannot escape promo teaser

Running Away

It’s my great honor to present to you the latest release by a good friend of mine and an author I seriously look up to, Julie Hutchings. Her latest novel, Running Away, released on September 26th:

Running Away Final Cover

Running Away is a vampire novel, but probably not one like you might expect. The rules for vampires in Julie’s world are quite unique, from absorbing memories to soul bonds to the threads of fate leading vampires to seek out victims that have been marked for death. And you can be assured that no one sparkles.

Running Away (The Shinigami series, #2) is a New Adult Paranormal Romance novel and the sequel to Julie’s first book, Running Home. You can find both books on Goodreads by following the links above, or read more here to find out what Running Away is all about:

Eliza Morgan is desperate to escape the horrors of her mortal life and understand why death follows her, leaving only one man, Nicholas French, in its wake. He’s the one she loves, the one she resents, and the one fated to make her legendary among the Shinigami– an ancient order of vampires with a “heroic” duty to kill. He’s also decaying before her eyes, and it’s her fault.

On the ghostlike mountaintop in Japan that the vampires consider home, Eliza will be guided by the all-powerful Master for her transition to Shinigami death god. When Eliza discovers that sacrificing her destiny will save Nicholas, she’s not afraid to defy fate and make it so—even when Nicholas’s salvation kills her slowly with torturous, puzzle-piece visions that beg her to solve them. Both Nicholas and his beloved Master fight her on veering from the path to immortality, but Eliza won’t be talked out of her plan, even if it drives the wedge between Nicholas and her deeper.

Allying with the fiery rebel, Kieran, who does what he wants and encourages her to do the same, and a mysterious deity that only she can see, Eliza must forge her own path through a maze of ancient traditions and rivalries, shameful secrets and dark betrayals to take back the choices denied her and the Shinigami who see her as their savior. To uncover the truth and save her loved ones, Eliza will stop at nothing, including war with fate itself.

You can find Running Away on Amazon Kindle.

About the Author Julie Hutchings:

Author Julie HutchingsJulie Hutchings is a pizza hoarding, coffee swilling, beer guzzling, karate loving book geek with a love of all things creepy and obscure. She lives in America’s Hometown of Plymouth, Massachusetts with her hilarious husband and two genius children.

Julie Hutchings is also an amazing person who will ENTHUSIASTICALLY ENCOURAGE YOU IN ALL THINGS IN ALL CAPS! You can find her on Twitter @HutchingsJulie, or find her on Goodreads. She also has a blog, Deadly Ever After, alongside @KristenStrassel, who ALSO writes awesome books.

Running HomeAnd I did mention that Running Away is a SEQUEL, right? That means you should probably go read Julie’s first book, Running Home, which you can find on Amazon in paperback and ebook.

And if you want to connect with Julie on Twitter, make sure you tell her, Jason sent you.

Understanding the “Urban” in “Urban Fantasy”

I’m a writer (obviously). My favorite genres are fantasy and sci fi. I’ve written in both, though nowadays I write in a genre that could be seen as blending the two together: Urban Fantasy. There’s tons of magic, monsters, and supernatural mysteries in my stories, but at the same time there’s scientific elements to the way magic works, there’s advanced (though not futuristic) technology, and there’s even times where the magic and the technology work together (that’s something commonly referred to as “magitech” or “magitek”).

But not everyone seems to “get” urban fantasy. Take my father (…please!). I was talking to him about my writing the other day, and I tried to explain to him that my new novel, Manifestation, is urban fantasy. He asked me what makes it “urban.”

“Does it take place in a city?” he asked.

“Some of it,” I explained. “Some is in the suburbs.”

“So why isn’t it ‘suburban fantasy’?”

I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question, especially when I mentioned that “urban fantasy” is mostly synonymous with “modern fantasy,” as opposed to traditional fantasy that typically takes place in a medieval world. Then he asked me about fantasy stories that take place in farmlands or other areas that don’t count as “urban.”

So what does make something “urban”?

For starters, dictionary.com defines “urban” as “of, pertaining to, or designating a city or town,” “living in a city,” or “characteristic of or accustomed to cities; citified.” So clearly, an urban fantasy story that takes place in any populated area big enough to be a “city or town” could count, though by this definition, a small rural town with a sparse population probably wouldn’t really count.

We might get a little more leeway if we search deeper into the etymology, which tells us “Urban” is also a male name, meaning, “refined, courteous.” But I have a hard time finding much of anything courteous about wizards and dragons rampaging through the streets of New York, so I think I’m going to have to reject this answer.

To make matters worse, Wikipedia defines urban fantasy by saying that “The prerequisite is that [the story] must be primarily set in a city.” So is my dad right? Does it not count as urban fantasy if it takes place on a farm, or in the suburbs? And with such a vague definition, does a medieval city meet the criteria? I certainly don’t think of urban fantasy as being medieval fantasy that is “set in a city.”

Fortunately, there’s a bastion of knowledge that can help us solve all of these problems by offering undisputed wisdom about the nature of fiction: TV Tropes.

The TV Tropes page for urban fantasy offers a definition that I think is pretty accurate (and which contains a footnote that discusses the very problem we’re trying to define here):

Urban Fantasy, also sometimes called “Modern Fantasy”, is a genre that combines common fantasy conventions with a modern setting (Note: That is to say, a setting which is significantly more advanced than the Medieval European Fantasy popularized by Tolkien. Around the Enlightenment or Industrial Revolution is sometimes considered the absolute earliest an Urban Fantasy could take place, though it may depend on portrayal). The name “Urban Fantasy” is sometimes taken to imply that all works in the genre must take place in a large city, but this is not the case. Rather, the name implies throwing fantasy elements into our urban society. Still, it’s very common for Urban Fantasy stories to take place in a large, well-known city, all the easier for their fantasy elements to hide themselves in.

I think the key phrase in that definition is “our urban society.”

The idea of an urban society is a fairly new one, historically speaking. There was a time, not so long ago, where most people lived in rural areas and worked farms for a living. Sure, there were plenty of city-dwellers, and have been for thousands of years. But it’s only in fairly modern times that we have metropolises filled with millions of people, and we see many farms being operated as corporate plantations instead of family-owned fields of crops. There are still, and always will be, plenty of farmers in the world. But a huge portion of the population (at least in my country) get their food at the grocery store, their milk at a convenience store on the corner, or their meat at a deli.

Another way of saying it is that an urban fantasy story takes place, not necessarily in a city, but instead, in a world where most people are city-dwellers.

Though I doubt my dad will actually accept that answer. But since he doesn’t read my blog, we’ll just keep this one between you and me.

And of course, I can’t discuss urban fantasy without talking a bit about my own urban fantasy novel, Manifestation, which most definitely takes place in a world where most people are city-dwellers. For now. If I keep throwing catastrophe after disaster after cataclysm at them, I might need to redefine “urban” all over again. But the two main characters, Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, do live in a modern-day city and its suburbs. As for the kind of trouble they get into in the streets of San Lorien, well, you’ll have to read the book to find out. But I can tell you that there’s danger, excitement, kissing, and a whole lot of magic.

They also explore questions that is another big part of the nature of urban fantasy: Where did the magic come from? How does someone manifest an ability? What causes it to spread from one person to another?

And for Gabby, the most important question of all: How do I survive when I’m surrounded by the arcane and supernatural, by things I can’t understand or control?

How would YOU survive?

mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

“Contamination” Draft 1– Complete! (Technically)

Yes, that’s right. “Contamination,” Book Two of the Arcana Revived series is complete.


What does “technically” mean? Well, first let’s go over the basic situation. The manuscript (backed up in three separate locations) stands at 117,747 words. Not far off from my 120,000 estimate. Of those words, 79152 were written during #NaNoWriMo.

I wrote the last line just a few minutes ago, and I think it’s a pretty damn good one if I do say so myself (no, I won’t tell you what it is). I’m fairly giddy, and feel like dancing or something.

But first I need to explain the “technically” part.

There are more words to write, which are still considered part of Draft One. But those words are to fill in some earlier gaps. There are a couple of scenes that, when I was deep into the story, I realized were incomplete. One needs substantial expansion. A couple of others need some minor (but plot-critical) details added. And there are a few small scenes I had planned to write but didn’t, because I was so focused on wrapping up the main plot that I didn’t finish off a couple of sub-plots. Of course, I have extensive notes about all of the scenes that need to be added, and that’s what I’ll be working on next. However, not one single word will be added on to the end of the story; most of what I’m going back to add will be back in the first 75% of the manuscript.

Then, of course, there will be revisions at some point. But the scenes I just mentioned will make Draft One be “officially” complete.

I expect those scenes to take, at most, a few days and a few thousand more words.

What will happen after that? I’m glad you asked. See, “Contamination” is part two in a series that will be a minimum of three, if not four or more books. The ending of this story completes the current tale and wraps things up very nicely, but also leaves me a good launching-point for the next book, “Collapse.” I MIGHT (depending on how things go) get started on “Collapse” during the remainder of #NaNoWriMo. We’re only at the halfway point of NaNo, and in theory, I could churn out the first 80,000 words of “Collapse” by November 30th.

Or I could, y’know, get some sleep and catch up on homework at Rowan. We’ll see.