The Deathsniffer’s Assistant: In Review

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The Deathsniffer’s Assistant

Kate McIntyre

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Should You Read It: Yes

3-LINE SUMMARY

Orphan Christopher Buckley, a well-mannered and mild young man, must take a job as an assistant to a private detective (called a Deathsniffer) in order to support and protect his magically-talented younger sister. The Deathsniffer is Olivia Faraday, an extremely odd persona in the vein of Sherlock Holmes. Together they must solve the murder of a prominent upper-class man in a world where elemental beings from another plane are used to power a Victorian city slowly turning to chaos.

PROS

  • Incredible Worldbuilding. Extremely dangerous “elementals” are used to power everything from toilets to lamps. The world is revealed naturally, and I want to see so much more, especially since this elementally-powered system is falling into decline (and it’s starting to get people killed). Also, all of this world’s people have some innate magical talent, which is categorized at age nineteen and used to place them in society.
  • Unique Genre. This book is what would happen if you took the multiple worlds depicted within the His Dark Materials trilogy (e.g. The Golden Compass) and made them into a single place, and then threw in Sherlock Holmes. Victorian England mysteries mix with superhuman abilities mix with magical beasts.
  • An Underlying Storyline. There is more going on underneath this world than the murder being solved, and I look forward to future books in the series. The Buckley’s personal tale is closely tied with several murders and a heightened political atmosphere.
  • Compelling Characters. All of the characters see development in this first book, and I enjoy their company despite a few cliché bits here and there.

CONS

  • Unnecessary Prologue. Starting a book off with up-in-the-air dialogue rather than solid images is ill-advised, and the scene itself adds nothing to the story. If you read samples before buying books, I would suggest starting with the first chapter to get an accurate idea of the book’s value.
  • Line Editing Needed. This book has so many errors, all ones that are easy to see and to fix. I am disappointed that McIntyre herself couldn’t find most of them. It stops being distracting, however, very early on (and trust me, I’m a stickler; so if I’m not distracted, you won’t be either).
  • Inept and Unexplained Detective Character. I get the feeling the author doesn’t really know how real investigations work. The assistant Christopher accidentally and conveniently supplies all of the leads while the Deathsniffer herself neglects to thoroughly question the people closest to the case until it is too late. Also, Olivia’s innate magic ability, called “truthsniffing,” is never explained; I can’t tell if she really has magic like most people do, or if she’s just a regular old-fashioned detective.

THE LAST WORD

If the author hired an editor which could help her cut the word count, typos, and detective plot-holes, this book would be an easy 5/5… but as it stands, my expectations for a boutique-press book were wildly exceeded, and despite my high standards, I could not put it down.

20 Random Writing Tips from CWC 2015 Presenters

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Author Highlight: Rachel DeWoskin, Karen Abbott, Rebecca Makkai

Attending CWC 2015 was possibly the best decision I’ve ever made in my life, and I thank you so much for reading my recaps! Below are 20 useful-but-random hints and tips I couldn’t fit into my previous posts. They come from all kinds of CWC presenters who work all kinds of genres—but they ring true across the board. Here’s to becoming a better writer!


DO’s of composing a good story:

  • DO Let Your Story Ring True. Don’t be afraid of things like sex, drugs, or murder, even in YA. The fact is that these things exist, and your story may feel false if you don’t include them. –YA Structure Presenters
  • DO Throw Rocks. Take your characters too far, and push them to the limit. Tough odds cause the story to move faster, the main character to change, and the reader to feel more endeared to the character. Just make sure their reactions make sense! –YA Structure Presenters
  • DO Treat Storylines Like Puzzles. Experiment with tying them together. –Karen Abbott

DON’Ts of a composing good story:

  • DON’T  Write to the Marketplace. The fact is, you don’t know what the market is going to love by the time your book is seeking an agent (much less published) . You will almost certainly miss whatever train you were trying to catch. –YA Structure Presenters
  • DON’T Write to an Audience. You can have a general idea of your readership, but if you let your perceived reader change the way your story is written, you might come off as pandering. Let’s be frank here: no human being knows what they themselves truly want, so it’s utterly impossible that you can successfully know – and express – what someone else wants in your writing. –YA Structure Presenters
  • DON’T Make Your Character You. Take care to create people that react differently to stimuli than you would. Otherwise, you run the risk of creating the same character over and over again, or of going too easy on them. –YA Structure Presenters

When obtaining constructive criticism, it will help if you:

  • Get Absentee Feedback. Find out how readers are experiencing your draft when you are not there to answer their questions. –YA Structure Presenters
  • Join a Writing Group with Variety. Various perspectives will help your writing thrive. –Karen Abbott
  • Abbreviate Your Criticizers. In your mind, think of your beta readers as an abbreviation of their criticisms in order to get the most from their feedback. For example, your fellow writing group member Stacey could be the Structural Stickler; look to her when you need structure help. –Rachel DeWoskin, Rebecca Makkai

When pitching a story, remember:

  • Always Compare Your Book to Other Titles. Your pitch or query should contain a comparative-title hook. Don’t leave this out no matter what! It shows your prospective agent how they will pitch your story to a publisher. –Grace Menary-Winefield
  • An Updated Blog is a Plus. Even if you aren’t getting much traffic, it doesn’t hurt to keep up a blog if you are seeking representation.  Also, reading other blogs helps you gain more traffic—and makes you a better author. –Grace Menary-Winefield
  • Highlight the Darkness of Your ADULT  Fantasy or Sci-Fi. If you are pitching these genres, many agents & publishers are looking for darker tones or elements than in their YA counterparts. If your adult book isn’t lighthearted or comedic, make sure its “dark side” shows in your query or pitch. –Grace Menary-Winefield

If you are having trouble writing every day:

  • Write In The Morning. Pick a time for yourself, and stick to it – but if you write for only 15 minutes every morning, you’ll feel less guilty later on if you don’t do more that day. -Karen Abbott, Writing Group presenters
  • Schedule Yourself. “There is no template for this… [people] cobble together beautifully complicated lives.” –Rachel DeWoskin
  • Consider Teaching. There’s a reason so many authors are also teachers—it keeps you in the writing loop. –Rachel DeWoskin, Rebecca Makkai
  • Artist Colonies are Awesome. At retreats or colonies, you work alone all day in your room, escaping from whatever busy life you left behind. Then, you mingle with like-minded people in the evening. This builds a network, but also inspires you to write another day. –Rachel DeWoskin, Rebecca Makkai

If you are writing realistic or historical work:

  • Ask Questions, Amass Material, and Scale Back. This is the writing process of Rachel DeWoskin, and I can say from personally reading her book that it works like a charm.
  • Order a Back Issue Sears Magazine. These are available for any recent historical year. You’ll learn all kinds of stuff when you see what was for sale back then! –Rachel DeWoskin, Rebecca Makkai
  • Research Is Ignition, Not Boredom. You’ll be amazed how fascinating history can be. Don’t fear research—it might be the most fun part of writing the book! –Rachel DeWoskin, Rebecca Makkai

And above all,

WRITE YOUR BEST BOOK.

Marketplace, genre, readership… blah. Just write the best damn book you can, and see where the chips fall when you’re done. Good writing can make up for any perceived deficiencies, so that should be your top priority.

YA Structure Presenters

On Writing Crossover Fiction: CWC Session VIII

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Author Highlight: Rebecca Johns

Readers are always looking for something with an edge—and crossover fiction could be the answer. If you are in the process of writing crossover, are interested in writing it, or have no idea what it is, then this post should be useful for you. Plus, there’s a list full of awesome crossover books to read!


“Crossover Fiction” can be any of the following:

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To write good crossover fiction, you need to:

  • Start with a great premise. You’ll build the crossover aspects of your work around this, so make sure it’s totally stellar.
  • Include high external stakes (though it does not have to be world-ending). The book itself is an experiment, and experiments, by definition, can fail. Impart this sense of worry into the text.
  • Have a main character with high internal conflict and strong desires. This mirrors the conflict of the two styles you are trying to bring together, and will strengthen the book’s overall feel as a crossover.
  • Impose a time limit on the character or story. This is good for any kind of fiction—but it turns out to be a strange commonality shared by good crossover.
  • Have a surprising ending. The story is already a surprise for its style-clashing. Don’t go out without a bang!

Some good examples of crossover fiction:

  • The Historian. A three-storyline supernatural, historical thriller concerning the modern-day existence of Vlad the Impaler.
  • The Night Circus. About a circus that magically appears overnight, and two people who become enmeshed in its intrigue.
  • Kindred. A time-traveling story about a modern black woman time-traveling to an era where she is a slave.

In my next post in this CWC Recap Series, I’ll go over Random Tips and Tricks From CWC 2015 Presenters (gained across all presentations), and after that, I’ll do a Final Thoughts & Conference Advice post – and then I can stop chugging out stuff about this conference and move on to some new projects!

Why Fantasy Writers Should Not Get Creative Writing Master’s Degrees

Since I went to college for English but not teaching, everyone assumed I was going in for a Master’s, since you can’t really get a decent-paying job – read: more than $25,000 a year – with an English degree out of the gate (unless you had the time and monetary backing to be involved in, like, everything).

Yet, as a fantasy writer, I decided against a creative writing Master’s. Here’s why:

  1. They don’t teach you to write novels. When I was working as an intern for Speilburg Literary, I remember one query letter in particular. It had been submitted by someone with a Master’s degree in creative writing, and the chapters were fewer than three paragraphs long. These itsy-bitsy chapters didn’t even end on cliffhangers – they ended like any old paragraph might. Even James Patterson can’t get away with that! The agent, Alice, told me this was common, because in Master’s programs they primarily teach the short story form, so that is how graduates primarily write.
  2. They don’t teach you to write fantasy. I find a great deal of literary fiction to be pretentious and dissatisfying, mostly because I prefer fantasy. However, in fiction Master’s programs, they teach realistic fiction almost exclusively. For me it was always like writing in a box with nothing but some air holes poked in the side. Yes, learning to write plain fiction can improve your ability to write fantasy fiction, but as with learning only the short story form, the improvement will not be as focused. For example, in my 400-level Advanced Fiction class at MSU, I learned absolutely nothing that helped me improve my fantasy writing – a genre my professor forbade, dismissing it out of hand. Wow.
  3. There’s nothing college can teach you about writing that you can’t learn for less. My time in the above-mentioned class could have been much better spent meeting with a writer’s group, taking online webinars, going to conferences, or writing. Most of these things are free, but even when they aren’t, they’re cheaper and less time-consuming than a $2,000 3-credit class.

With all of that said, going for a degree does give a person more drive. It’s a bit harder to find time to care about classes and groups when they aren’t moving you toward a tangible paper degree. All the same, I’ll only consider an MFA when they start taking genre seriously. Until then, I’m better served by editing my novels and paying off my loans – or by going in for a Master’s in mechanical engineering. God knows that would pay more.

An Irregular Arrangement of Bones: The Value of the Writing Prompt

Last Saturday I attended my very first writer’s conference at the Ann Arbor Book Festival in Michigan. For the first time in ages, I was exposed to writing prompts, which have always seemed silly to me, since most aren’t intended for fantasy. As a fantasy author, they therefore always seemed like a useless diversion that had no real potential to propel me.

But now I realize that a good prompt can make you think outside the box, force you into a new mindset, and rejuvenate your writerly faith in yourself.  If you have ten or so minutes to create something, so much the better. Give it your best, most free-flowing shot; and your creativity will come to a boil.

You want to succeed at the prompt, at the challenge, to prove that yes, you are a writer. You aren’t faking it – are you?

Take this prompt, for example:

A situation occurs between two people where both have just been denied something they dearly want, yet the two people are not in opposition to one another.

Well, that sounds hard, right? But dammit, you’re a writer, you can do this. Fifteen minutes, go!… and this is what I surprised myself – and the conference’s keynote speaker – with:

Martin looked at the ear again, the irregular arrangement of the bones, and all he could think about was the money.

The keynote speaker, Rachel DeWoskin, told me she was impressed by this line, and that it needed to become a published story. Besides that, I recognized for myself the value of finally, finally, having written a first line that worked… a battle I have been fighting and losing with my current book. This outside-my-purview prompt, however, made me believe again that I could do it – that I could draw upon my own personal spark of brilliance, and make my current book work. 

In addition, the story I worked up was pretty decent; it’s always a boost to know you can write convincingly about a contemporary doctor and patient, not just about fantasy beings you make up. I look forward to future prompts, and to the unique perspectives that each one can bring to my desk.