Dana reviews Lord Mouse (Lords of Davenia Book 1) by Mason Thomas (Published by Dreamspinner Press, November 6, 2015, 256 pages. Released on audio March 10, 2017, 9 hrs 25 mins. Narrated by Joel Leslie.)
How I Got from There to Here
Recently, I did a bit of spring cleaning in my office. I was in mood to purge the past, and I had way too much crap clogging up the space. Quite by accident, I stumbled upon my very first manuscript: my sprawling epic high fantasy—abandoned and forgotten at bottom of an old box.
Of course, I sat on the floor and started to flip through it, cleaning time derailed. Here were my origins as a writer. My roots. My training ground. My first completed novel. And it was horribly, horribly bad. Laughably bad. Embarrassingly bad. Page after page of long sweeping paragraphs of trite clichés that made my eyeballs hurt.
And yet, thinking back, the aspiring writer that wrote that mess existed not so very long ago. Soon after that was abandoned, I started the project that would eventually put me across threshold into the realm of “published author” land. It made think—what had changed? How did I get from that to what I write today…which I hope is significantly better?
With two published titles, and a more on the way, I am still green in my career. Every day, I’m learning, and pushing myself to improve my craft, and tell new stories in new ways. By the time I’ve finished a draft of a project, I’ve already grown as writer. And without fail, I look back at what I’ve written, and cringe. UGH! Did I really think this was good once?
At this point in my career, I feel I am close enough to that earlier aspiring writer, the one who hoped one day to see his name on a book cover, to look back now and see the pathway that got me from there to here.
So, if you want to cross over and become a published author too, you can avoid all my own amateurish mistakes. The list below is what you need to start doing today.
- Write dammit. Every. Single. Day. Sit your ass down at that computer and pound out words. Write for the love of crafting a story and a world. And allow it all to be crap. Don’t think you’re going to spill out lush poetry that will make people’s toes curl on a first draft. Get your ideas out and keep going. Don’t stop to revise. Don’t write a chapter and swing back to give it an edit. NO! Keep going. Keep writing. And don’t stop until you reached the end.
- Stop trying to sound like a writer. People have this strange view of how writers are supposed to write. But the result ends up being a heavy-handed convoluted sludge that is impossible for any reader to wade though.Quit trying so hard and your writing will actually be better. Why? Because you disappear off the page. Once you clear away the mess, there is now room for the story. It’s not being squeezed out by hifalutin words and overly complicated passages. Your goal is clarity—not to impress.
- If you use a thesaurus at all, use it to help you find the right word, not a great word. Trying to insert a clever word will flag you as an amateur.
- Keep everything immediate. This is my own version of the classic “show, don’t tell” advice. Describe everything as if it’s happening at that moment through the eyes of your protagonist. Don’t put the “camera” above the scene. The camera is right behind the eye of the main character as he’s watching it all unfold. Don’t relay the details like you are describing the events to your friends the next day. You are a war correspondent, right there on the battlefield, calling out the action live as it happens.
- Don’t be afraid of the word “said.” People say things. They don’t always yell, shout, grunt, cry, exclaim, whimper, whisper, breath, and snarl. Readers will whiz right past the word “said.” Most of the time, they only need to know who spoke. Don’t try to dress it up.
- Trust your gut. If you think it might be heavy-handed, it is. If you think maybe it doesn’t sound quite right, it doesn’t. Don’t bother trying to tweak it a thousand times. Delete it. Start over.
- Know your characters. All of them—not just your protagonist. You need to know all the good, the bad and the ugly bits. Write out a detailed character background for anyone that has a speaking line, including their positive traits and their negative traits. Especially their negative traits. Every action and every line they speak in the story should reinforce those traits.
- Find yourself a critique partner that will kick your ass and tell you honestly what she thinks. Don’t look for compliments. Don’t expect a parade through town when she reads your latest. Look for a critique partner that is not afraid to tear you apart—kindly of course—then work and work and work until she can’t find anything wrong with it.
- Put tension on every page. Every damn one. Right up until the end. No breaks, no breathers. Do whatever it takes to make the reader squirm and have no choice other than to turn the page. Raise the stakes. Make everything worse. Make your characters suffer horribly. Even kill off one or two to let the reader know that no one is safe.
The proverbial tip of the iceberg, of course—but a good place to start. My list of “musts” and “must nots” grows longer after every project I complete. A writer never stops improving, never stops learning, and is never done. But, I’m going to sign off with one final tip. “It’s the artist’s job to be dissatisfied,” someone told me once. This means that every day you need to be Rembrandt. Don’t quit until it’s right. Better yet, don’t ever, ever quit. Like R. A. Salvatore once said, “An author is a writer that never gave up.”
Scoundrel by nature and master thief by trade, Mouse is the best there is. Sure, his methods may not make him many friends, but he works best alone anyway. And he has never failed a job.
But that could change.
When a stranger with a hefty bag of gold seduces him to take on a task, Mouse knows he’ll regret it. The job? Free Lord Garron, the son of a powerful duke arrested on trumped up charges in a rival duchy. Mouse doesn’t do rescue missions. He’s no altruistic hero, and something about the job reeks. But he cannot turn his back on that much coin – enough to buy a king’s pardon for the murder charge hanging over his head.
Getting Garron out of his tower prison is the easy part. Now, they must escape an army of guardsmen, a walled keep and a city on lockdown, and a ruthless mage using her power to track them. Making matters worse, Mouse is distracted by Garron’s charm and unyielding integrity. Falling for a client can lead to mistakes. Falling for a nobleman can lead to disaster. But Mouse is unprepared for the dangers behind the plot to make Lord Garron disappear.
The narration: Joel LesliIe is a master of accents. I say the same things every time I review a book narrated by him. I don’t want to be repetitive, but if you haven’t listened to a book that he gives voice to, you really ought to.
The story: Lord Mouse is an action/adventure story that takes place at a time that seems a long while ago, There are Lords and Dukes, and castles, and order guards. There are also mages who can spell people and track them if need be. In that way, it’s part paranormal/fantasy alongside the historical aspects. The world building in this story really is excellent. I could easily picture the Duke’s manor and the docks as Mouse and Garron attempt to make their mistake.
Mouse is a really interesting character. He’s small in stature, but he is crafty and wise. He is stealthy, quick, and strong enough to take care of himself; and to become the leader of the thieves guild in his village. He also is under someone’s thumb forced to make payments to avoid being charged with murder. The money to find Lord Garron and bring him home is too tempting to resist the very dangerous mission.
Lord Garron is noble and kind. He’s not weak, but he tempers Mouse’s eagerness to dispatch any obstacles the easiest way possible, i.e. killing. I like the two of them together and I definitely was cheering them on throughout the book. There is not much intimacy on page, and the romance is more of a back drop to a story of prison breaks, familial betrayal and attempted murder. The story is intriguing and very enjoyable.
I feel like there might be a wider story arc that might occur throughout the novels, though I’m not sure. I’m a little bit disappointed that the next story doesn’t feature Mouse, but I am very eager to see what will happen next in this series. If you like spy stories, and historical fantasy I think you will love this story. I highly recommend it.
9/10 Pots of Gold (90% Recommended) – Compares to 4.5/5 Stars
Mason Thomas began his writing journey at the age of thirteen when his personal hero, Isaac Asimov, took the time to respond to a letter he wrote him. He’s been writing stories ever since. Today he is ecstatic and grateful that there is a place at the speculative table for stories with strong gay protagonists.
Mason, by all accounts, is still a nerdy teenager, although his hairline and waistline indicate otherwise. When his fingers are not pounding furiously at a keyboard, they can usually be found holding a video-game controller, plucking away at an electric guitar, or shaking a twenty-sided die during a role-playing game. Mason will take any opportunity to play dress-up, whether through cosplay, Halloween, or a visit to a Renaissance Faire. He pays the bills by daring middle school students to actually like school and encouraging them to make a mess in his science classroom. He lives in Chicago with his endlessly patient husband, who has tolerated his geeky nonsense for nearly two decades, and two unruly cats who graciously allow Mason and his husband to share the same space with them.