Book Review: Grave Beginnings by R.R. Virdi

4.5/5 stars

This indie book was a fantastic read.  It opens with a man trying to claw his way out of the shallow grave he’s been buried in – or the body he now inhabits was buried in – and trying to determine his identity.  I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t be able to keep reading?

Set in New York City, the story follows a soul who calls himself Vincent Graves.  Vincent is shuttled between bodies periodically, forced to determine the cause of their supernatural deaths and take care of the creature responsible.  Why?  Who knows.  Vincent can’t remember who he is or even what his real name is, but the powers that be promise the information when he’s earned it.  In the meantime, he solves paranormal mysteries under a time limit – for Grave Beginnings, he has thirteen hours to find out who and why and figure out a way to kill the creature responsible.

What I loved most about this book was the characters.  Vincent is a very real, very three-dimensional person who leaps off the page with his ego, his sharp wit, his determination, and his resolve to do what needs to be done.  The other characters, even those you only see for a page or two, are also very real and unique without resorting to being cliched or trope-y.  I feel like these are characters I can learn to obsessively love over the course of a series.

I also have to give props to Virdi for uniqueness.  For spoilers’ sake, I won’t say who/what Vincent has to kill, but it’s not a creature you see regularly in supernatural/paranormal novels.  I love dragons, werewolves, vampires, demons, and ghosts as much as the next person, but when those are the only monsters we ever get to read about, they can get old quick.  Virdi gets props for going with a lesser-known monster and also describing it with a lot of terrifyingly beautiful imagery.

So…why the half star taken off?

Grammar.  I feel like this could have gone through one last proofread/line edit before publication.  There were no grammar issues that impeded understanding, but they were noticeable.  Little things like commas where there should have been semicolons, redundant phrasing, etc.  Small, so only the half star taken off.

Overall, though, I really liked it.  I don’t feel like I wasted my money buying it and I’ve already added book #2, Grave Measures, to my Books-A-Million wishlist (my husband put me on a book-buying freeze until I finish the 6+ I have on my shelf waiting to be read 😦 ).  If you like monsters and sarcasm, you won’t be disappointed with Grave Beginnings.

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A Novel Idea: The Only iOS App A Writer Needs

So, I got super-lucky this year and scored an iPhone for Christmas. I’m pretty infatuated with it so far, and I’m proud to say that Goodreads gets a top spot in my app list alongside Angry Birds and Bejeweled.

There’s something like 1 million apps available for iPhone users, free and paid, for pretty much every purpose on the planet. By some strange fortune or by divine guidance, I managed to find a total gem among all the games, podcasts, and pizza delivery assistants. My friends, I introduce you to A Novel Idea.

No matter what platform or device you use, there’s no shortage of apps and software programs designed for the fiction writer out there. I’ve tried many of them and was never fully satisfied. A Novel Idea is the first such program that looks like it was actually designed for writers, by a writer, and by one who understands the need for a certain balance between structure and chaos and is realistic in his estimation of just how much time most writers actually spend writing on their phones/tablets.

Open up the free version of this app and you get all the basics — Novels, Characters, Scenes, Locations, Ideas. You can add and edit an unlimited number of entries to each section, then leave them floating free or attach them. I went in and made a page for each character in one of my novels, then linked each character to the Novel page. I added scenes and ideas and linked them to certain characters and novels, I could even link characters by their relationships — So and So is Such and Such’s daughter/mother/sister/wife/boss. And the best thing is that all of this linking and customization is completely optional, and there are no annoying reminders or notifications that pop up if you choose not to include them.

This is just one aspect of the beauty of A Novel Idea. For each novel, you can include a title, plot details, themes, premise, point of view, and more details. And even better, most of the sections are free-writes, so you can add as much or as little detail as you like. The same goes for Characters, where you can key in gender, age, physical attributes, roles, species, internal and external motivation, conflicts, skills & talents, education, and much more. When you’ve got all that information together, you can create custom groups to put your characters or your novels or whatever into. I grouped mine by genre — fantasy and contemporary fiction — and then by trilogy, since some characters belonged to multiple books, etc., etc.

It’s a lot of information. But the layout is so user-friendly that it’s as if some excellent friend went and organized all my notes and files in a way that’s actually organized but doesn’t feel awkward to me. (I had a friend like that once. In college. After graduation we moved to separate states. Sigh.)

I am, as you could probably tell, in total head-over-heels love with this app. My only complaint is that the Pro version — which allows you to sync between your devices, your computer, and Dropbox; export to iTunes, turn off the ads, and write scenes with word counts — is on the pricey side for an app at $2.99. But, the app is so great for note-taking and world-building on-the-go (or when I get an idea in bed and don’t want to dig out my notebooks or drag out my laptop) that I plan to most willingly pay the price next payday. Bottom line — if you are a fiction writer and you own any iOS device, you should be ashamed not to have A Novel Idea.

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Writing is Life — A Review of “Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons From a Writing Life” by Terry Brooks

So, on my hiatus from blogging (sorry!), I sat down and reread Terry Brooks’ Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons From a Writing Life.  This book is an awesome memoir/writing manual by a fantasy writing giant, the author of multiple bestsellers and the Shannara series.  It’s an excellent read that I recommend to any writer, whether you’re a fantasy lover or not.

What makes Sometimes the Magic Works such a great book is that Brooks is able to so wonderfully capture the writing life in all its complexity — the joy, the frustration, the back-breaking work, the odd moments, and the rewards of being a writer.  He sugar-coats nothing, but still manages to remind you how much the difficulties of being a writer, whether a hobbyist or a professional, are still worth it at the end of the day.

If you do not love what you do, if you are not appropriately grateful for the chance to create something magical each time you sit down at the computer or with pencil and paper in hand, somewhere along the way, your writing will betray you.

How true is that?  How much are we writers actually defined by what we do, shaped by a compulsion, as Brooks puts it, to put words together and create something meaningful?

Brooks doesn’t just wax poetic on the life of a writer, however.  He also includes a slew of practical information about publishing, as well as the craft of writing (he’s an outliner like myself!) and the necessity of staying in a state of child-like imagining no matter how old we get.

Probably best of all, Brooks has great wit and managed to make me laugh even when I didn’t expect to:

…My friends and family like me well enough, but they think I am weird.  Or at least peculiar.  I can’t blame them.  I should have grown up a long time ago, and yet here I am, writing about elves and magic…Readers used to ask me at autographing events if it wasn’t hard to making the transition from practicing law to writing fantasy.  I told them there was hardly any difference at all.

I am not a big fan of writing manuals — I personally despise most of the writing advice Stephen King has ever given (gasp, I know).   However, this “manual” is short, simple, and to the point, teaching me without having let me realize I was learning anything.

Go out and get a copy soon.  In the meantime, check out these other great resources:

The Wondrous Worlds of Terry Brooks

An Interview With Terry Brooks (B&N Studio)

Fantasy Writing @ Yahoo! Groups

Patricia C. Wrede’s Worldbuilder Questions (scroll down for index)