For Readers & Writers

from Susan Dennard

April 18, 2014
My BFF's book released this week! Erin Bowman's Frozen is now in stores!! You guys should reeeeaaad it! Or, you can enter in the giveaway for it on Pub(lishing) Crawl! (Plus, I wrote some alternate Disney lyrics with that giveaway of which I'm über proud. So check it out. ;))

 For the Misfits:
Music Inspiration for April
I did a fun interview over on E.M. Castellan's blog, and I talk about finishing the SS&D series as well as writing for passion (instead of writing trends). Check it out!

Moving on. :) Despite not that much time having passed since I last shared music, I already have quite a few more tracks to share. I'm ALWAYS looking for new tunes to write by, so I guess it should come as no surprise.

Right now, I'm obsessed with the After Earth soundtrack. James Newton Howard is always incredible, but I really love the tension in these pieces:
  • The Tail -- Ungh, just wait until you hit 0:38. Just...yeah. Epic. I imagine my characters on the bow of their ship ready to explore new lands
  • Baboons -- This really picks up at the 1:37 mark. I see dark alleys and slinking through the dead of night with some magical nasties on my characters' tails...
  • After Earth -- I'm OBSESSED with this particular piece. I listened to it on repeat while drafting a somewhat unexpected chase scene through my alternate Venice.
A recent surprise discovery was Acoustic Labs. I'm really loving his covers of well-known themes from movies/video games.
  • Promentory -- I know many of y'all love the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack, so perhaps you'll enjoy this cover as much as I do. It's on my "romance/mushy stuff" playlist.
  • Skyrim -- I love the theme to Skyrim, and I really like this acoustic interpretation. Kinda mellows it all out, but you still have that epic vibe. (Shoot ahead to 0:57 if you want the real epic.)
  • Game of Thrones -- who doesn't love the GoT theme? Again, I like how the finger-picking style mellows out the theme but still makes it feel sweeping and big. (Does that make ANY sense?)
Many of you know I'm a HUGE Zelda fan. Like, I met my husband dressed as Link at a costume party. Well, part of what I love about the Zelda games is the EPIC MUSIC. So imagine my INSANE HAPPINESS when I discovered Taylor Davis's Melodies of Hyrule. GUYS I HAVE CHILLS EVERY TIME I LISTEN. You don't even have to like Zelda to appreciate the true epic of this album.
  • Song of Time and Song of Storms -- Ocarina of Time remains the best game in the Zelda series, and its music is (hands-down) the best as well. So when I found this mashup of my fave Ocarina song, I actually started crying. 14-year-old me used to send Link into the windmill JUST so I could listen to the "Song of Storms" endlessly. (Also, does anyone else notice how much it sounds like the GoT theme??.)
  • Gerudo Valley -- In college, I bought the Hyrule Sumphony performance of Gerudo Valley, and I STILL listen to it on repeat when I write action scenes. Ms. Davis's version is somehow even better. (Also, can we discuss how AWESOME this girl is for performing the freaking game scene?!)
  • Just listen to samples of the whole album here. And then buy it like I did since it's INCREDIBLE.
Here are some other recents on my playlists. ;)
  • Dragon's Daughter by Melodysheep -- I've procrlaimed my love for Melodysheep (the Symphony of Science dude), but this...THIS is the best from him yet. Seriously: this song was one of the reasons I decided to completely gut Truthwitch for the third time. It reminded me how REAL GoT feels (both the books and show) as well as how much we care about the characters and what's at stake.
  • Hey Brother by Avicii -- Don't watch this video unless you want to sob hysterically like I did. Admittedly, I've been super emo about my brother and sister lately (I'm the oldest sibling and have a fierce, FIERCE need to protect them at all cost) because of the importance of family/friendships in Truthwitch. So maybe that's why I cry every time I listen to the lyrics...
  • Wake Me Up by Avicii -- Unghhh, love this song (dumb video though). It makes me want to dance and sing loud and run fast.
There you have it! That's what I've been jamming to/writing to during April! What about you all? Feel free to share in the forum, or if you have any questions about Something Strange and Deadly or Truthwitch, just head over to the forums to ask.

For the Daydreamers:
Take Your Writing to the Next Level, Tip #1

As I mentioned last week, I am revising/rewriting Truthwitch for the umpteenth time because I really want to bring it to that "next" level. To do that, I've been pushing my limits and moving outside of my comfort zone as a writer. I've been expanding my toolbox and looking at everything as a learning opportunity (daily life, movies, TV, books, people).

It occurred to me a few days ago that this is something I've done ever since I first decided I wanted to be published: I'm ALWAYS pushing myself harder and looking for new ways to get better.

Okay, actually, that's not TOTALLY true. It's confession time. Last year, after I wrote Strange and Ever After and the first 150 pages of Truthwitch, I went into a deeeeeeep writing slump. A deep LIFE slump, really. I talk more about this in my FRAB series, but the reason I bring it up here is that during my slump, I STOPPED trying to be a better writer. I let my fear win, and I just sort of fell into the melancholia...

But for the past 5 months (ever since my FRABs and I have become buddies and I returned to the Old Productive Susan), I've been turning my fears into fuel--and that fuel has led me back outside of ye olde comfort zone.

There are actually a number of ways I push myself to improve, so I thought I'd share them in separate newsletters (in other words, I haven't yet teased out ALL the ways I hone my craft...but when I do, I'll share ;)). So this weeks technique is:

Read critically. Especially books by authors you love.

Yes, reading seems obvious, but I'm often surprised at how may wannabe writers DON'T read that often--or don't read critically at all.

Now, when I say "critically," I don't mean "bash the story and find everything wrong with it that you can." On the contrary, I mean "read very thoroughly and find all the things that you LOVE." Look at how your favorite author uses his/her words. Analyze how he/she filters in certain details or weaves together plots and subplots. Scrutinize how he/she develops characters or infuses tension onto the page.

Lately, I've been reading or rereading books from my favorite fantasy authors--authors like Sharon Shinn, Robin Hobb, or Sherwood Smith. As I go through their series book by book, page by page, I keep a sheet of paper handy. When there's a line or a verb or a description that really stands out to me, I jot it down. Not to copy, of course (that's called plagiarism and FYI, it's illegal), but to learn from! I want to see what tools the author used to paint a scene in my mind, and I want to be able use similar tools in my own work.

So for example: I noticed in Sharon Shinn's Archangel that she has her characters "cut a glare" or "bend a look". I'm sure I've seen that phrasing before, but I know I've never actually used it--and I want to! It's so easy to fall back on the default "gazes" and "stares" and "glances", so I'm always trying to widen my personal verb dictionary.

Here's another, larger scale example: one of Robin Hobb's series and one of Sherwood Smith's series take place at sea. Since much of Truthwitch happens at sea, I wanted to see how those authors showed setting without bogging down the story in technical, seafaring jargon. Turns out, I found Sherwood Smith's to be a bit more jargon than I wanted (that's personal preference!) and Robin Hobb's to be just right. So in my own story, I made sure NOT to do what Smith did in the Inda series (which, despite some confusing ship language, is a FABULOUS series!) but rather to drop in details like Hobb does in the Ship of Magic series (also AMAZING).

Remember: studying and applying what someone else does to YOUR work isn't "cheating" or "stealing." It's how you improve! It's like having example proofs in a geometry lesson or a sample AP exam in your chem class--you're learning so that when you do a proof or take the AP exam, you're better equipped! That's exactly what I'm doing when I read critically: I'm looking at the application of a certain tool so that I can better apply it to my own writing.

Now then, who's ready for some critical reading? ;) Seriously, though, if you have any questions about tip #1 or comments, feel free to ask/share in this forum! :)

Now, to wrap up the Daydreamer's section, here are the best writing-related articles I read this week: Okay, I'm off to finish Truthwitch (SO CLOSE TO THE END!!).

As always, thank you for signing up for the Misfits & Daydreamers. See you next week, dear friends!

photo by Emily Rae Photography

Copyright © 2014
Susan Dennard
All rights reserved.

110 West 40th St., Suite 410
New York, NY 10018

I'm a misfit, a daydreamer, an animal-lover, and a (now gluten-free) cookie-eater.