State of the Pembroke

So….

Pilgrimage to Skara, my second completed novel (the first shall never see the light of day), continues to garner, uhm, “stellar” reviews.  See here, here, and here, for the latest reviewer feedback.

Muse:  You did earn all those reviews, you know.  It’s your own damn fault.

By the way, if you have morbid curiosity, you can check out Pilgrimage right here on Amazon for Kindle.

Anyway, nothing to do now but move forward.  Here’s kind of a list of ongoing projects:

I started a four-book series with a working title called Princess of the North.  Not sure if I am going to keep that title or not.  The series is told in alternating POVs between a woman and her granddaughter.  The draft of book one (tentatively titled Scion of Andoya) has been done for a few months and I have one more beta reader from which to collect feedback.   It will undergo some major changes.  I am about 3/4 of the way through the first draft of book two (Empress in Waiting).  When I finish that, heavy revision time on book one.  And I admit, I am going to try and agent/trad-pub this series.  Goal is to get it out by the end of June.

Muse:  When you submit to agents, are you going to mention Pilgrimage making it to the final round?  Given the feedback, you might be better off not.

Good question, and I have not decided.

On that point, I am going to do a few things to clean up Pilgrimage.  Going to get assistance with line edits, put a new cover on it, and make it available for print.  It won’t make it more palatable for those who don’t like it but at least it will be cleaner.

And on that note, does anyone have a cover artist they love that works with independent authors?  I’ve looked at a few but nothing has jumped out at me yet.

MuseThat’s–

Yes, that’s all shit I should have done in the first place.  Live and learn.  If I self-pub the Princess series, I will do it right.

I also finished a short story called Five Hours to Lake Champlain.  It takes place in a universe where demons, angels, vampires, imps, and other mythical creatures walk among us openly.  I have two stories set there and am thinking about intertwining a series of episodes around the same handful of people who experience it when all the visitors go nuts at once.

I also tore out a 12K word story in two days that could only be called erotica.

Muse:  You mean smut.

Yes, and it was awkward as hell to write at first.  It was something totally different for me and not sure yet how I feel about it.  At least I tried something new.

Lastly, I started outlining a series involving an epic war and conquest but told from a common footsoldier’s perspective.  Of course, he doesn’t stay common forever, but we’ll see how that goes.

Ambition and ideas.  I got that going for me.  Now if follow-through and execution would keep up, I would be in business.

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POW! Right in the Kisser.

So….

I posted almost three months ago on the great review I received at Booknest.eu for Pilgrimage to Skara.

Since then, things have been…different.  For the SPFBO contest, I’ve had six total ratings (with five reviews so far).  My composite rating so far is 4.1.

(Muse: Out of five stars?)

No, out of ten.

(Muse:  Dang, you suck.)

It’s by a long ways the lowest combined score of any of the finalists.  It is also the lowest score (if it holds) of any SPFBO finalist, of any year.

So, notoriety….I got that going for me.

I kicked this around in my head for a while to figure out why these reviews bothered me so much.  I wasn’t upset over low ratings or people not liking it, or even snarky commentary (of which there wasn’t much).

I love characters.  I think they are the hallmark of any spec-fiction book.  Plots and tropes are worn and reused.  Settings can be unique but often aren’t, and writing styles can be near-literary to colloquial without raising a book’s memorability.  But I think characters are what really makes a book both relatable and memorable.

And this is exactly what the bad reviews focused on:  my characters and why they were terrible.

That realization–that is, for someone who is so focused on characters and character development, I apparently failed to make my characters appealing to a wide swath of readers–is like a punch in the nose.

(Muse:  That sounds pretty dumb.  You would think you would be able to see that before you published it, you dim bulb!)

One might think that but sometimes, it is awful hard to step back and look from an unbiased perspective at you own work.  This is why good beta readers are so important–something not lost on me in working on Scion of Andoya, where beta-reader-input is is (in the current revision) leading to some major changes in the narrative.

Granted, the dislike of the characters hasn’t been universal but it has been a far more common issue among reviewers than, say, plot, setting, writing style, or dialogue.  Specific criticisms have been varied but I really can’t argue with most.  Even in places where I believe things were misunderstood or taken out of context, that’s still on me, for not communicating the intent more clearly.

I’m still disappointed in myself over this but nothing for it now but learn from mistakes and to move on.

Beta Readers…any interest?

The new year is upon us and that means a fresh start for the projects I’ve been idling on.

One thing that happened is that I finished the draft of the first novel of the Princess of the North quartet, Scion of Andoya.  So now, I am looking for beta readers.

If there is any interest, please let me know.  Anyone who enjoyed Pilgrimage to Skara might be interested in this one too.  The tone and pace are quite a bit different, but the prose is about the same.

Of course, if Pilgrimage made you want to vomit in your hat, this might not be for you either.  🙂

Anyone who interested please email me at jonathanspembroke@gmail.com and let me know.  Wide fantasy critiquing is a plus; if you have a blog or website, please link it, unless you know I already know about it (as in, I’ve been there and interacted with you).

Thanks!

 

Errata

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.  Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.  You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something. — Neil Gaiman

So…

Getting some feedback on Pilgrimage to Skara and its all good to hear.  One thing for sure that is coming out is….I really fucking did this wrong.

Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart.  There’s a lot of work involved that one might not consider.  I sure didn’t.  Getting started in this process, I felt a like a blind and deaf man in a spherical room covered in teflon and olive oil.

So it was kind of done on a wing and a prayer.  I did what I thought I could and hoped for the best.

After my fist review, I was contacted by a kind soul who offered some blunt, helpful advice on what I was doing wrong.

EditorNo, I did not use one.  Of all the mistakes I made, I should have seen this one coming, since I am a lousy, worthless copy editor.  Everyone who has read Pilgrimage has pointed out the numerous editing errors, even though I read through it…I don’t know eight or nine times.  Professional editing would have prevented this.

Cover.  I’m a victim of my own bias here.  I am not a cover guy when it comes to picking books but I’m getting the idea that many people are.  And my cover was not well-received.

Publicity.  I did bupkis.  It showed.

The good news is that I have a blueprint for going forward.  I know what I need to do and have an idea how to go about it.  If I end up self-publishing my Princess of the North series, I’ll be doing this different.

So, pace Gaiman’s quote above, I am learning from my mistakes.  I tried something new and I am learning from it.  Never entered the SPFBO, and I might never have figured this out, or at least not as fast.  I might still be blind and deaf but the traction on the floor is better now.

(Muse:  You probably could have figured this out beforehand and saved yourself the embarrassment.)

Maybe so but what’s done is done.    And if we’re going to consider mistakes as learning experiences, I have to go with this quote:

Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time. — George Bernard Shaw

Noted, George.  Noted.

What Goes Up….

So….

Based on my last post, one might think I was riding high in the saddle.  Not only did Pilgrimage get a stellar review but was also selected as Booknest‘s finalist in the 2017 SPFBO.  It’s quite an honor and I still keep waiting to wake up and realize it got thrown out and a more deserving book took its place.  No matter what else happens, I can savor the moment.

And then that happened.

(Muse:  Lemme guess:  someone peed in your pool?)

A little, yes.  Prompted by the good review I got in the contest, another reader picked it up and left a decently scorching review on Goodreads, pretty much finding fault with everything about the book.  I think theyu got bored and wrapped it up before saying my grandfather was a baboon, but it was a near-miss.

(Muse:  Hey.  Would you accept the argument that Stephen King is probably the most consistently-popular spec-fiction writer of the last forty years?)

Sure.

(Muse:  Based on Goodreads reviews, his best-rated book is The Stand.  It still has about 3% one and two star ratings.  The latest edition on Amazon has about 6% one and two star ratings.  No matter how good you are, bad reviews are gonna happen.)

I know.   Bad reviews happen.  It’s easy to know that intellectually.  It’s tougher on the heartstrings.  I didn’t curl into a fetal position or anything but the tone and content of that review was quite a contrast from the previous one, and did get a bit of a wince out of me.  If nothing else, it is a reminder that not every book is everything to all readers.

So….ego raised up, and then brought back down with a little reminder.

This book didn’t win over that reader.  Perhaps my next one will.  Only way to find out is to keep writing.

In the meantime, I again send heartfelt thanks to the folks who did enjoy it.

First Review for Pilgrimage to Skara

Greetings.  Yes, it has been a long time, and real-life, as it likes to do, has been kicking my ass in about five different ways.

No matter.  Good news brings me back.  Back in May, I entered author Mark Lawrence’s 2017 contest Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO).  Essentially, it’s three hundred books divided into ten thirty-book blocks, with one “best” book floating to the top of each block and the ten best going head-to-head.

Now, I didn’t (and still don’t) really expect to win this thing.  That’s a real challenge, to overcome 299 other entries and no matter how good you are, those are long odds.  I did hope to get a good review (thorough, not necessarily glowing) out of it and a little exposure.

I never expected the positive response I got.

Reviewing on behalf of Booknest.EU, Leona Henry (follow on twitter at @authorlrh) was very kind and indicated that she enjoyed Pilgrimage a great deal.  She did–rightly–point out that I am lousy at copy editing (she didn’t say me specifically, but it was me) and that a bunch of those errors are still in the book.  I agree and admit it’s a weakness.

Otherwise, she was quite complimentary and I am humbled.  Here is a link to the review.

So thank you to Ms. Henry, to Booknest, and to Mr. Lawrence for giving me this chance.

I look forward to where things go from here.  Regardless of whatever happens, this is a feather in the cap.

Cheers!

 

EDIT:  I originally put the 2016 SPFBO, not 2017.  I will chalk that up to my excitement.

The End

So….

If one were to listen to the news lately, one could be forgiven for thinking that the end is nigh.  Between political strife, natural disasters, the fact that a man with the name Carrot Top has his own Las Vegas show….  And that’s just what’s going on in my native country.  It’s repeated all over the world.  It is enough to think that we are facing the end.

Are we?  Probably.

Most religions and ancient mythologies have stories about the destruction of everything and everyone.  Often, there is a rebirth or ascension of those who are saved…but sometimes, we are just left with the cold sterile void.

I am not sure why humanity is so absorbed with “The End.”  I think it is simply in our blood.  One of the counters to the Fermi Paradox is that it is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself.  That idea manifests in literature and in our culture in general; it is pretty much the staple behind apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction.

I’ve talked about this before but it does make me stop and think–and recent events have me thinking about it more often.  Why do we do this to ourselves?  I guess some answers are not meant to be known.

In the meantime, it sometimes seems silly to deny myself that extra bite of ice cream or have more than a passing annoyance with the granddaughter’s non-stop mouth.  Life indeed is too short.  And probably shorter than we dared hope.

(Muse:  That is some serious dark matter today, man.)

Yeah, sue me.  I’ll have something more relevant and fun next time.