Friday, April 11, 2014

Unrequested Critique: A Long Forgotten Song

It's time to kick the puppy belonging to C.J. Brightley, and her new book, Things Unseen: A Long Forgotten Song. Let's hear what she has to say for herself:
History student Aria Forsyth's studies lead her to dangerous questions about the Empire's origins. A mysterious man named Owen, impervious to the winter cold, further unravels the safety of the world she thought she knew. At first, Aria believes Owen is human. He says he's not. What if they're both wrong?  
A moment's compassion draws her into a conflict between human and inhuman, natural and supernatural, and she begins to discover the secrets of the Empire, the Fae, and what it means to be human.
That blurb confuses me. I get cognitive dissonance because the book cover is modern while the blurb reads like stock fantasy. Zowie. I can't stand in harsh judgement, though, as my own blurb sucketh pond scum. Writing a good blurb seems to be a mysterious skill that require admission into secret societies that like to wear fezzes and make up strange handshakes. Personally, I am convinced that there's only one good blurb writer in the world, and she writes everything from a beach in Sri Lanka while drinking mimosas.

The good news is that C.J. writes with her usual straightforward style. She maintains her clear writing through the entire work. You wont feel cheated for plopping down your money and you can count on a reasonable bucket of entertainment, and really, who needs much more excuse than that to read a book?

What's not apparent, and this is a small handkerchief sized FYI, is that this is a story with Christian elements and a Christian focus. I'm not knocking that. That's just a fact that you ought to know before plunking your money down. If that's your thing, then come on down.

As for critical advice, I would say that C.J. is pressing at the limits of her present skills. This is her fourth book and she's clearly comfortable with her craft, and that's where I have an issue. Comfortable is a very bad place for an author to be. True, she did break some boundaries by hopping genres with this book, but that's not the kind of comfortable that I'm talking about.

C.J. is bump up against that wall that separates good from excellent. A few select writers (and I have no idea who they are) just hop the wall and keep on going, while the rest of us (pretty much all living writers) have to work at climbing over that damned wall of excellence and find those things, those many little things, that let us inch our way over it. One part is identifying skills that we don't have or that are overly weak and developing them. However, some skills just aren't obvious needs until you've cranked out a few books. They're invisible until you go looking for them. The other necessary task is going back over the skills that you are sure about and pushing them even further.

One resource that I always love to point out are the Battlestar Galactica podcasts by Ron Moore. (I don't know if they are still available.) You get four season's worth of plot pacing analysis, story changes, and editing decisions as examples of how a professional works. All his examples translate well to writing. How do you achieve a cohesive story, tension, and emotion, and what compromises do you make to get your desired result? Pay for the boxed set if you need to as that podcasts makes up the commentary track. A class will easily cost more and provide less material.

So, from my high horse, I proclaim that C.J. needs to raise her own bar of excellence high enough that she doesn't know how to reach it. If she does, she will.

* Sorry that no puppies were kicked in this critique. I did make some ugly faces at them. I promise, next time I'll try harder.