Renegade Skyfarer

Book Summary

RenegadeSkyfarerThe airship crew saved Ben’s life from a dragon, of all things.

When Ben wakes up, he has no memory of his family, his home, or how he got to this strange world. All he knows is what his new crew members tell him: the magical Barrier that protects their land is weakening. Unless they find the artifact that can repair it, all of Terrene will be destroyed and enslaved by the enemies beyond.

airship-1140366_1280But when Ben suspects that danger may lurk closer than dragons or sky pirates, he has to decide: stay and fight with the airship crew, or focus on regaining his lost memory? If he leaves, he risks losing his newfound friends—but if he stays, he might never return home.

Welcome to Terrene—where dragons exist, the past haunts, and magic is no myth.

Welcome aboard the Sapphire.

Amazon — Barnes & Noble


Review & Writing Lessons

Story_StormingBookMB_Final

If the beautiful cover and intriguing summary aren’t enough, let me tell you… Renegade Skyfarer is so much more than an amnesiac on a blimp striving to salvage a ruptured barrier. Steampunk is, in itself, something of a flashy genre right now, but this novel exceeds and surpasses the Victorian airship backdrop. Safety lines, goggles, and hydropacks aside, Renegade Skyfarer boasts multiple layers of unique concepts piled one atop another to generate a truly novel experience.

Take the stones for example.

SOTClogo-1000px

In Terrene, different stones possess a variety of magical functions—from ship powering capabilities to anesthesia and even healing. In a way, though, all those little world-building details are just icing on the cake. In my opinion, what really powers this story (pun intended) is not the characters’ overall goal of keeping the barrier intact, but rather the trickling of backstory and well-timed reveals. In that respect, R.J. Metcalf is master of story questions.

steampunk-3006650_1280

Right from the start, several burning questions loom: Where did Ben come from? Why can’t he remember his former life? What past failure is the Sapphire’s Captain trying to correct? Oh yeah—and what’s the deal with Jade and Zak? As someone who’s spent a fair amount of time contemplating story structure and plot, I was amazed at how often the reveals alone kept me engaged.

In my opinion, it takes real skill to achieve that fine balance between too much information and too little…

Too much too soon weighs the story down and begets boredom. Too little breeds confusion or equates to improper setup for the big reveal. Readers need enough context in the moment to grasp what’s happening now, and they need a trail of hints that add up to the big payoff later—but without becoming predictable.

Sound like a tall order? Oh, boy, yeah.

city-563171_1280

In Renegade Skyfarer, while there were times I had a good guess what was coming, it was never well-in-advance of the reveal. Not to mention the story surprises that caught me completely off guard. Looking back, though, all the little hints added up to the shocking truth.

That will always be true of a good reveal.

In her book, Wired for Story, Lisa Cron has an entire chapter devoted to the subject. In it, she says, “One of our most hardwired expectations is that anything that reads like the beginning of a new pattern—that is, a setup—will, in fact, be a setup, with a corresponding payoff… We love [setups] because… they stimulate our imagination, triggering one of our favorite sensations: anticipation. They invite us to figure out what might happen next, which leads to an even better sensation: the adrenaline-fueled rush of insight that comes from making connections ourselves. When we identify a setup, guess what will happen, and end up being right, we feel smart. Setups seduce us with the granddaddy of all sensations: engagement.”

By introducing a clear element of mystery or problem to be solved, setups encourage reader participation.

Examples, please!

Now, just so you don’t think these reveals are all impersonal plot facts, let’s look at a few excerpts…

character

From the Prologue (Blade’s POV)

Master half-turned to regard Blade with a slanted eyebrow. Then Master pulled something small from his white coat pocket with a detached flourish and pivoted back to Lupin. A finely wrought silver bracelet of woven metals with an inlaid red gem rested in Master’s open palm. He held it out to Lupin. “It’ll give you the same type of control over Blade that I have, but my controller overrides yours. Don’t get any ideas.”

No. Get ideas.

“Thank you, sir.” Lupin slipped the thin band over his wrist and inspected the gem with a critical eye. “And it will work? Even with you wearing yours?”

“Try it and find out.”

Lupin grinned and gestured at Blade with a lazy flick of his wrist. “Polish my boots with your shirt.”

Blade barely had time to relish the resentment that warmed his gut before a familiar haze rose from the edges of his mind and pushed his emotions aside. It moved him forward without conscious thought to kneel before Lupin. He shrugged off his jacket and his shirt, shivering when the icy air bit into his skin. He scrubbed his last clean shirt against Lupin’s mud-caked boots while his teeth chattered.

Lupin chuckled as he pushed his boot toward Blade’s face. “I could get used to this. How long do you expect your mission to take, sir?”

“A few months, at least.” The deck vibrated underfoot as Master paced. He pivoted, and his heel squeaked on the worn wood of the airship deck. “I need you to keep searching for that bloodstone—it’s the centerpiece of my plans for the barrier.”

Memories of blood, wavering curtains of light, and pain, so much pain, flashed through Blade’s mind at the mention of the bloodstone. He hunched over Lupin’s boots for a long heartbeat before the weight of the command bracelet faded the flashback…

“[Don’t] use Blade recklessly,” Master added in a firm tone.

Blade looked over his shoulder into Master’s dark eyes. It was like looking into the depths of the Aerugan Hollows—deep, dark, and deadly.

“He’s my masterpiece, and more important than you will ever know.”

My questions after reading this: Who is Blade? How did he wind up in this situation? How will he affect the events to come? (Story questions are like promises. Readers know the answers are coming… and so they read on.)

In this excerpt, “Master’s” ability to control a human with a magical stone intrigues (in a fictional sense)—a great example of an intellectual hook. But what really sets this scene apart is the emotional hook, which adds weight to the earlier story questions. What does that mean? I’ve only just met Blade, and yet I care about him. Why? The injustice against him—for me at least—engenders immediate sympathy. (More on universal emotions here.)

Now consider this:

“Jade held her breath as Zak’s face smoothed of all expression. She hated how good he’d become at hiding his feelings in the last six months. His gaze rested on her, and she forced herself to not react to the concern she could see in his dark eyes.”

beard boy close up eyes

And a little later:

“Others may have found the scenery soothing, but after parting ways with Zak, [Jade] couldn’t shake her disquiet. Whatever had climbed into his gearbox and died shouldn’t be her concern. But something had changed in their dynamic, and it rankled. After last summer, they’d grown closer… She could count on him to be there at any time, with an encouraging word, snarky quip, or just to lend an ear. He was her faithful shadow. She hadn’t even realized how close they’d become till he cut her off that one night. Stopped coming by the engine room, turned her away for his shift, barely talked to her. Yet he was still there—watching.”

Is anyone else dying to know what happened six months ago? If you’re like me, any hint of romance is a great hook. When authors tantalize readers with unresolved issues, the effect is visceral. We feel the tension and have little choice but to keep reading.

What do you think? Are you ready to join these characters on a high-flying adventure? Check out the giveaway below!


About the Author

During the day, Becky is a stay at home mom of two active little boys. When she has ‘free time’, she enjoys reading, writing, baking and sewing.

After many years of creative writing classes, writing fanfiction drabbles and daydreaming, it was high time to start writing her husband Mike’s story. She dove into the world of Terrene and hasn’t looked back—except for when she runs out of dark chocolate.

Any free time not spent in Terrene is typically expended on hosting dinner and game nights, running amok with the two little monkeys or watching nerdy movies with Mike.

Website— Facebook— Twitter— Instagram— Amazon Author Page

Giveaway Time!

Want to dive into a new world or in need of a good book? Enter to win a signed print copy of Renegade Skyfarer, a Stones of Terrene notepad and pen, Notebook of Writing, and bracelet! (US only.)

>>> Entry-Form<<<

 

Critiquing to Learn

book-2160539_1280-quote

Everyone says, “If you want to write, you need to read.” This is particularly true if you hope to commercialize your story via traditional publishing. However, even if you devour novels like a starved paper shredder on steroids, your writing success isn’t a given.

Why? Because getting caught up in a good story isn’t the same thing as understanding how it came to be written. When you open a brand new book from Amazon and swipe your eager eyes over those crisp white pages, you can’t see the horrid first draft, the scathing editorial comments, or the poor writer yanking out fistfuls of hair as he or she attempts to weave their tattered story into a beautiful yarn. Oftentimes, if a writer has done their job well, you don’t even see the purposeful arrangement of key story elements. Instead, you find yourself 100 pages in, clueless as to why the story works so well… because it sucked you right in. Forget about GMC and character arcs. All you know at this point is that you must read on to see what happens next.

narrative-794978_1280

Lisa Cron describes this phenomenon in her book Wired for Story. “The first job of any good story,” she says, “is to completely anesthetize the part of our brain that questions how it is creating such a compelling illusion of reality. After all, a good story doesn’t feel like an illusion. What it feels like is life.” And—I would add—when we force ourselves to stop and analyze a story, we risk ruining the escapist experience it was meant to inspire. How can we analyze a tale’s beauty if it disappears when we stop to look?

And how do we as writers circumvent “the Cron problem”? One option is to reread and study our favorite novels with the goal of learning from the masters. On second read, a novel’s anesthetic capabilities are lessened, though some of the original novelty and beauty is lessened as well. Another option is to spend regular time critiquing works-in-progress (WIPs) and learn from the learners. Each approach has strengths (+) and weaknesses (-) as you can see in the chart below, but only critiquing mandates a written analysis.

Critique-Novel-table-blk_chancery
Click here for an expanded view.

In either case, whether you’re critiquing a novel or a WIP, something magical happens when you force your thoughts into words. At first, you might not know what to say. Or what you say might sound obscure… “Good characters” or “This scene drags.” But as you start to amass words on the page, you can begin to add new thoughts and also critique your critique.

“Good characters?” Too vague! What makes them good?

“This scene drags?” But why? What might make it better?

You ask yourself questions. Then you put the answers into words and critique those too. Maybe you Google-search “characterization” or “how to bring a scene to life” to help flesh out your thoughts. Maybe you think back to that awesome novel you just read that kept you turning pages for hours on end. (What kept you reading? Would that fix this current scene?)

puzzle-1746552_640

In the process of formulating a critique, your brain starts making connections like, “Wait. This character has no goal. And didn’t I read something in that craft book about characters needing goals?” Through time, you learn to identify common problems—then turn them in on yourself: “Do I do that in my own writing, too? How can I fix that?”

Cultivating a taste for critique might not come naturally to all writers, but it’s still a way to reinforce what you’re learning. I would say, “Practice makes perfect,” but that’s only half the story. To really excel at critiquing (writing, too) you need to do more than just practice. You need to spend time learning about the craft of writing fiction and seek feedback on your own writing.

In my experience, learning to write is a back-and-forth process much like pumping on a swing or riding a see-saw. You write some. You read some. Novels, WIPs, How-tos. You learn about story theory and elements of style. Then you attempt to implement what you’ve learned. The learning process is, in short, a see-saw action between theory and practice, and critiquing is one tool that can help you learn to hone your own creative work.

learn-to-write-a-novel
“Learn to write a novel” mind map by Lara Storm Hitchcock via XMind

How about you? Do you find the act of critiquing to be a valuable learning tool? Are you a left-brainer like me who enjoys the challenge of diagnosing potential problems…or do you struggle with what to say? Leave a comment (and enter the giveaway HERE) for a chance to win a 2500-word critique or a copy of Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story. Paperback books are for U.S. residents only, e-copy / critique for all.

51tr2w2bvx2l

wired-for-story-toc-e1526131640677.png

Full Table of Contents here.