Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Writer's Wednesday: Is a blurb part of the story?

 In my review of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, I noted that I started listening without reading (or re-reading, given how long I'd had the book on hold at the library) the blurb. The way that affected my reading experience made me realize that our blurbs aren't just important for marketing--they are actually part of how most people read our books. That understanding has me working on a better sense of what and how to write the blurbs (book-jacket summary) to improve not just the likelihood that the person looking at it will buy the book, but also their experience of reading the book.

Of course, all the holiday stuff distracted me from this question, so it's taken me until now to write this post, and precious little thinking has taken place. But here are the things I think I get from reading a blurb:

  • The main character's name and something about him/her--life circumstances, if not personality.
  • Setting. I presumably know genre in the broadest sense, at least, but the blurb will tell me if the SF story takes place on a far-flung planet or a future earth, or the mystery is set in New York City or a small town in Maine.
  • The main conflict of the story.
  • Some sense of the goal.

Diving into a story without knowing any of that isn't a bad thing--but it made me feel like it took extra time to get my footing. On the other hand: maybe I was experiencing the unfolding of the story the way the author intended? 

Ultimately, though, I think that the blurb starts the reader off with a certain sense of being invested in the character(s) even before starting to read. And that has to be a good thing, from a writer's perspective, because it increases the odds that the reader will keep going.

 What do you think? Do you read the blurbs or back-cover copy before you start a book? How do you think that changes your reading experience--and what do you think is most important to find there? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Oh, and don't forget to check out my books at the Smashwords End of Year Sale! Rebecca's Smashwords Page.

Oops--looks like time to update the "all covers" image, too!

Monday, December 21, 2020

SF Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet



 Title: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1)

Author: Becky Chambers. Read by Rachel Dulude

Publication Info: Tantor Audio, 2016. 14 1/2 hours. Hardback by Hodder & Stoughton, 2015; 404 pages.

Source: Library digital services


Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

My Review: 

This was my second book by Becky Chambers; I picked up her novella, To Be Taught, If Fortunate on the recommendation of Jemima Pett and was so taken with the author's style that I put myself on the holds list for this one. I then waited so long I'd totally forgotten what the book was about before I got it, so I did something I seldom do: I read (listened to) the book without any preconceptions as to what the story would be. I'll be writing more about that in another post.

This is not my father's science fiction (I'll admit that most of the SF I read is from the 80s, at the latest). This was a book that delves deeply into personal relations (and inter-species relations), while at the same time being a pretty wild space-opera. It's an interesting combo, made the moreso by the position of humans in the galaxy--as a hint, we aren't the top folks, and no one makes a big deal of it. The creation of the different species of sapients (and the relations between them) is in-depth and convincing, and the whole thing a bit daunting to someone like me who likes to knock out a bit of allegedly SF flash-fiction from time to time. Ms. Chambers' world-building is seriously impressive.

 Ms. Dulude does a good job of reading, but I couldn't help noticing a couple of consistently mispronounced words, of the sort I would have expected to be caught and corrected. She does a great job creating the many voices and accents of multiple species, though, so I forgave her. 

 I liked this so much I immediately checked out and started listening to the second book in the Wafarers Trilogy, A Closed and Common Orbit, which was also excellent. It's worth knowing, though, that the three books are free-standing, though the second features some minor characters from the first (I haven't gotten to the third yet, but I will--and to anything else Chambers has written).

My Recommendation:

This is for pretty much any lover of science fiction, with its elements of space opera, "hard SF" (she's sound on the technical stuff), and those who consider that relationships between characters are an integral part of a good story. There are a couple of scenes I'd rate somewhere between PG-13 and R (PG-17?)--nothing to make you blush, but I seem to recall that some sex happens.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

All I want for Christmas...

As this very difficult holiday season moves into gear, I am moved to do as many do and write about the gifts we want. Not me as a writer, but me as a person who is struggling with a grief that is sometimes hard to bear, or to tell apart from depression (note: I understand there is a difference between grief and depression. But they can feel an awful lot alike). So here is...

What the Grieving Widow* Wants for Christmas

Okay, the answer to that is obvious. But even in my most irrational moments, some part of my brain knows I can't have what I really want (the science-fiction lover in me would vote for time travel so I can fix it myself). So what do I want that I *can* have?

1. The ability to remember that those horrible moments when the world is a sucking black hole won't last forever. I don't mean won't last as in I'll be less devastated in a year or two, but awareness that the black hole comes and goes on a pretty short cycle. If I can hold on for an hour or a day, I'll find that the world has some color again.

2. I'm certainly not alone in this one, but I would really like this stinking, rotten, lousy COVID to be gone, so I can go get all the hugs I need from all my friends. I don't know if I wanted to hold a funeral, but I am pretty mad at the virus for not even giving me that choice.

3. Notes and cards. All those people who sent stuff in the first weeks are vastly appreciated. I still need you.

4. Someone to share the little decisions. Okay, that's kind of wishing him back again. But seriously, I don't know how all you single parents and lone people out there do it. I managed somehow for a lot of years, but I'm used to being a pair now, and it's hard.

5. Okay, the writer wants something, too. Aside from sales (what we always want), I want people to let me know they are reading my books, and let me know when something I write gives them pleasure. A review won't hurt, but you don't have to do that. Just let me know I'm not writing into a void.

*I really hate that word "widow." But there it is. Also, I had to edit this and remove a lot of cuss words.

There it is, and thanks for letting me rant. I am very grateful for amazingly supportive family and friends who have held me together so far, and show no signs of letting go. I'm especially grateful to have some of them around me this Christmas, which we all know is going to kind of suck.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Friday Flash/WEP: Unmasked


The WEP team has worked incredibly hard all year, and this month we are all taking a break--Write...Edit...Publish... is purely voluntary, with no sign-ups and no one judging anything. I wasn't sure I'd participate, but seeing some others doing so inspired me. I don't think this is the best of my stories, and I haven't worked it over the way I'd like, but I wanted to share something kind of uplifting. 


Rosemarie fingered the black silk and feathers, imagining the effect it would have at the party.
The effect it would have had, if there had been a party.

It was meant as the finishing touch for the most amazing dress, something Marie Antionette might have worn, at least in Rosemarie’s imagination. Olive and Carlo’s annual New Year’s Eve bash was such a fixture in their set that she’d ordered the outfit right after last year’s party.

Before they had any idea that the social world would come to a grinding halt only a few weeks later. Now, of course, there would be no party.

No party, no chance to wear the dress, and the mask—she laughed a little, clinging to her sense of humor among all the feelings of loss—covered the wrong part of her face.

Slowly, she lifted the silk concoction and tied it over her eyes, watching herself in the mirror as the feathers—dyed a deep red—stood out around her face. The effect was exactly what she’d imagined. On impulse, she went to her closet and carefully removed the dress from the garment bag it had arrived in.

It wasn’t easy putting on the elaborate garment by herself. She usually got together with two or three of her friends, all dressing together and getting ready for the party in a buzz of excitement.

She hadn’t seen Meggie and Sarah for weeks, and for months, only from a safe distance to call their pointless updates at each other. There were no shared coffees, no hugs, and certainly no sitting shoulder to shoulder at the make-up mirror putting on the elaborate cosmetics that went with the masquerade dresses. Now both Meggie and Sarah had the disease, and couldn’t see anyone, even from a distance.

Look on the bright side, Rosemarie reminded herself. Her friends weren’t struggling for their lives. They were just getting well very, very slowly. Meggie was bored out of her mind. She lived alone, like Rosemarie, and hadn’t seen anyone since she got sick. The food-delivery people left the bags at her door and left before she opened up.

Sarah, on the other hand, was struggling to avoid being swarmed by her children. She was the only one of the trio who’d had children. Sarah had texted that she’d had to lock herself in the guest room and wear earplugs so she couldn’t hear the kids calling for her. At least she wasn’t alone.

More determined than ever, Rosemarie twisted and reached and managed to fasten the dress well enough.

Before she went out, Rosemarie fastened her best black mask over her mouth and nose, lining it up with the silk and feathers. A glance in the mirror told her she looked a bit frightening that way. She smiled under the mask. There were all sorts of ways to force people to maintain a safe distance, weren’t there?

Out the door, three blocks down to the left, and a quick right, and she was at Meggie’s apartment. Second floor, not too high to see her, but it was a chilly afternoon and the windows would be closed. No help for it. Rosemarie pulled out her phone and texted, Look out the window.

Then, to the horror of a couple of pedestrians who hastily crossed to the other side of the street, she pulled off her respiratory mask and, as Meggie pushed open the window, shouted, “Happy New Year!” She added a pirouette to show off the dress, then joined in her friend’s laughter.


“I wish you and Sarah could have helped me get into it, the way we always do! I nearly got stuck!”

They went on laughing and talking until Meggie started to cough. “Ugh! I’m getting better, but I haven’t spoken to anyone in ages, and it makes me wheeze. It feels good, though! I don’t know when I’ve laughed!”

“Nor I! I only wish I could go show Sarah, but…” Rosemarie didn’t finish the sentence. Sarah lived in the suburbs now, and Rosemarie didn’t have a car.

“Wait!” Meggie disappeared from the window for a minute. She came back holding something in a pair of tongs. Leaning way out the window, she let go.

Rosemarie caught the car key and looked up in amazement, though with both masks back in place on her face, it was hard to tell that.

“You want me to drive your car out there?”

Meggie never let anyone drive her precious sports car.

“I do! Just don’t scratch the paint.”

Rosemarie almost sang as she drove the car out of the garage and turned towards the edge of town. She hadn’t been farther than she could walk in ten months. Masks, corsets, all that dress a little too tight after too much pandemic eating—she still felt a free as she’d even been in her life.  Thinking of her friends, stuck in their rooms and terrified of infecting someone more vulnerable than themselves, she settled her mask more securely on her face.

Such a small price to pay for freedom.


And, just a reminder--check out my new collection of holiday-themed short fiction!

Over more than eight years of blogging, I have written and shared hundreds of short stories. Each year, some of that flash fiction has included Christmas stories and other midwinter tales. This collection brings together the best of those stories with the heartwarming, “Halitor at Midwinter,” for an hour or so of seasonal reading pleasure! Join Halitor, Xavier Xanthum, the Ninja Librarian, and Millicent, head of the Wizard’s Library, in celebrating the season!

Just 99 cents!



Wednesday, December 9, 2020