Book Review – Bleakwood Lore, the Little Book That Happened

I happily wear the editor badge for the Billy Blacksmith series by Ben Ireland. Creatively, Billy is the most fun I’ve had on a project, and a lot of that fun factor has to do with it not being my idea. The idea of Billy and his lovingly called “Billyverse” is too much for my brain to process sometimes. In this dynamically designed story, each character wears their own suit of armor, each has their own piece to the over-arching puzzle. So, in the editing process, there were several times when Ben would add a detail to the story that didn’t make sense, and I would highlight it as a problem, but he would insist it being there, because it would become important – very important, like a locket no one can open hidden in plain sight. I trust his work and believe in the story, so I will move on like a good editor.

I asked Ben exactly how he came up with the idea of Billy. He said, “After writing Kingdom City: Revolt, I was in the mood for something a little lighter. A little more fun. But I had no idea what. Then one day I walked into my kitchen in Houston, and it’s like a voice just popped into my head: “My name is Billy Blacksmith.  I like cupcakes, videogames, and baseball, but not necessarily in that order.  My best friend is a demon. And for some reason, I’m supposed to save the world.”

A flood of creativity can happen with any overwhelming idea, and sometimes it takes over every logical thought. When I started forming my series, the ideas just came so fast, and before I knew it, I had drawn a map of the world, character bios, a list of Latin rooted words from which I began crafting the magic. I have a binder I dedicated to this creation process. I don’t know what his notes first looked like, but I get the image of a mad scientist scribbling equations and laughing with no one. I mean, the world is MASSIVE.

After Ironsoul, the emotionally driven third in the series had finished and was published, I needed a break and maybe some time to heal from the unexpected middle school scars it opened. I was so heavily invested in the story and the characters, that after I closed the book I had felt like I had trained for a marathon. But then again, I missed the hard work. I longed for more Billy stories, and I knew that the fourth book was not even close to finished.

…and then Bleakwood Lore came along…

During the last few years I devoted to these books, sometimes Ben would mention a side story here and there. I think a lot of us writers like to think of our characters doing other things than just appearing in their story. I usually call mine WRITING EXERCISES in order for me to get used to how the character thinks and acts. In Ben’s case, it helps thicken the depth of the world and the plot. These side stories are not writing exercises, but essential, in some part, to the developing story. Even IN the Blacksmith books you see a folklore chapter here and there, or an excerpt from the Space Vikings. These are all progressing in a direction of a plot with so many moving parts, my brain is blown.

Ben began writing and collecting these side stories, I think in part for his own personal amusement, but others because there is value in the information given to the Billy fan. It’s easy to get hooked on Billy. Demonslayer is the foundation book, Hellforged is a freaking adrenaline rush, and Ironsoul is a complex, psychological thriller. Each took crafting and long hours. And I won’t say that Bleakwood Lore didn’t take a while to craft, but the scope is completely different. And the book just happened. Four months after Ironsoul was released, all Ben did was ask me to beta read. And here were are with a brand-new release.

So, what is Bleakwood Lore?

Simply put Bleakwood Lore is a collection of eleven short stories set in the Blacksmith Universe, plus some bonus material in the back.

Complexly put, Bleakwood is the critical tethering of the current Act One (first three) in the Blacksmith Legacy to the up-and-coming Act Two. But better than that, it’s a chance to get to know the characters, deepen your knowledge of the threads that have already been woven into the tapestry, and just have a really great time reading.

Unlike the other books, there is no centralized plot or villain or problem that needs to be solved, and because of it, there is a lot of joy in this book. One of the key elements that makes this journey in reading so enjoyable is you can feel how much fun the writer had writing it. There are stories that are funny, tender, absolutely adorable, heart-wrenching at the expensive of my own tears, and completely adrenaline fueled. I truly adored this book, so let me get on with the review…

Review:

“Ben Ireland is an author who appreciates that people are complex and that every person (or demon) has a reason for the way they act and react. This book reminded me that people are very much affected by their life experiences, for good or ill.”

– Amazon Reviewer

I wanted to go over a bit of each story, WITHOUT SPOILERS, so everyone could get a flavor for the book.

  1. (1 and 11) If Bleakwood Lore had a central heart to its plot, it would be the first and last stories in the book. These chapters involve Chris Blacksmith, Billy’s older brother, who I have always wanted more story about. He and his Minor League team, the Sugar House Wasps, get into a bunch of trouble searching for the giant spiders trapped n the world when the Threshold was burned (from book 1). I enjoyed the fast action and the characters a lot. It reminded me of Scooby Doo and his gang searching out the creepy, abandoned warehouse.
  2. I think any story with Ash-Lea is golden and THE RHINOCEROS AND THE FOX is her spotlight. She has the personality I adore and is totally ready to kick ass all the time. In this one, Ash-Lea finds herself alone when a fight comes along. I really enjoyed the setting, the new characters, and the crafting of words and language used.
  3. In THE WALL BETWEEN we get a taste of Billy’s demonic demon squad in a different light. Lilly is always so put together and straight forward, but when a situation pushes her to drink (or not drink) she can become quite the character.
  4. FAILING PRINCESS is one of my favorites. This has Krios taking care of a sick Princess Patricia in the Human Realm, and it’s insanely visual and the interaction with the character Melissa, is a pure delight.
  5. A BIG HELP is the adorable one I mentioned, focused on our dragon friend Osamu trying to take care of those rambunctious demonhound puppies. My heart warmed so much reading about what these little guys were doing and the havoc they were creating. I laughed out loud. LOVED THIS ONE SO MUCH!
  6. SUPER SUCKY POWERS is the one that brought me to tears. In the books, you never like Billy’s foster parents. I was sure they would gang up on Billy the moment he left the house. But, here again, I was corrected by the tender storytelling of Billy’s foster parents back story. It also told me a lot more about Billy’s character and his compassion for others. (HEART)
  7. We’ve been following the Space Vikings, wondering when they will get their moment in Billy’s story. In THE SPACE VIKING’S PLIGHT, we get a chance to really see the real danger they are in traveling in the darkness of space. Queen Natalie shows why she’s in charge in this one and what makes her a true leader of her people.
  8. No Billy book could be complete without a slice of folklore. THE DEMON WHO SOUGHT LOVE is so deep, so beautiful, and so revealing to the plot IT’S INCREDIBLE, and I can’t say anything else, besides I LOVE THE FOLKLORE and IT ROCKS!
  9. THE SIDES WE CHOOSE goes into Belle’s back story. Belle appears in the first chapter of Book 1, Billy Blacksmith: The Demonslayer, but she also appears again in the third. (Remember when I said when editing I needed to leave some things alone? Yeah, Belle was one of those. I tried to cut her character. That would have been a big mistake. See? I trusted him.) She is a complex, layered character, that I didn’t think much of, but now a huge sub-plot of villainy is brewing, and Belle is finally the star player.
  10. OH MY FREAKING HECK! I think THE BALLAD OF GREYSON ASH is one of the most funny and delightfully awkward pieces of fiction I have ever read. Boys can be so stupid when it comes to impressing girls. This one is ALL THE THINGS! I happened to be there when my mother was reading it for the first time, and what a joy to hear her laugh out loud and then read us the parts that were so funny. To see the fiction played out like that is the best way to reflectively experience it.

See my shiny Billy Editor badge? I am proud of this one, as I am of all of them. But Bleakwood just happened. I hardly had to do anything. The writing is getting better, as is our working partnership. I can identify his writing like a fingerprint.

I didn’t pick up Billy because I really wanted to edit it. I’m a writer. Why become an editor? It was because the storytelling was too good to pass up, and BECAUSE I am a writer, I recognized an amazing opportunity to be a part of something great. I feel incredibly lucky. If you stick with Billy, I promise YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. It’s perfect for the teens, but is growing a strong adult audience as well, adults who get the adventure of it, get the humor, and need that missing connection to those books they missed as kids. Here it is.

I always suggest buying paper books, because it gives a textile memory when you read it, but the ebook versions are inexpensive if you want to give it a go first. BLEAKWOOD LORE has some extra material like art, notes, and puzzles, plus it’s only ten bucks right now. I highly recommend this read.

Find the Blacksmith Legacy here on Ben Ireland’s Amazon page and website: benirelandbooks.com

An Editor’s Note: My Thoughts on Ironsoul

Act I of the Blacksmith Legacy

Ironsoul IS coming! In fact, it’s almost here. Billy Blacksmith: The Ironsoul will be release Sept. 1st and I’m super excited. Pre-order here!

A few years ago, I had a gentle conversation with a fellow author about a boy with demonblood. This character’s name is Billy Blacksmith and his author is Ben Ireland. Many people know this. I have previously blogged about this incredible experience here. It’s a unique and creative story of an unlikely hero battling enormous, demonic spiders with a baseball bat, not to mention it is so fun to read, with Ben’s witty writing and intense action.

EDITOR’S QUICK RECAP

In BILLY BLACKSMITH: THE DEMONSLAYER, the reader is introduced to Billy – this funny, overweight orphan, who finds he’s incredibly skilled at wielding a baseball bat, which comes in handy when gigantic demonic spiders want to drink his blood. As the editor, I struggled when to interfere, coming from an author background. This was my first novel as an editor. I had to let his voice become the star and I had to completely disappear.  It was a learning curve for both of us working together, and even then, sometimes I had to just trust Ben as the author, that things he hadn’t explained would resolve. Everything was leading to a much bigger story.

BILLY BLACKSMITH: THE HELLFORGED, the second in the series, was much more fun for me to edit. No more need for introduction, Ben speeds Billy on a quest to find a magical weapon. I liked the adventure of this one. I was used to Ben’s writing style and I completely trusted him, which made things easier for me. I could tell he enjoyed writing it, because of how joyful it read. And the reader gets a chance to see more of the Demonic Realm, including a Thunderdome-like fight scene, with giant, demonic pugs and hummers with machine guns attached to the top. How visually entertaining! Not to mention, the connections between his friends deepen – he’s forming a team! Pure adventure, and I just loved it.

Billy started out really fun, took me on a true adventure, I got to imagine giant pugs and demonhound puppies… The creativity of it was mind-blowing. I couldn’t guess or even imagine what Ben had in store next.

“As humans, we carry scars, everyone has them, everyone needs them.”

WHAT I HOPED FOR AND NEVER EXPECTED

I can’t believe this manuscript landed in my hands. It came to me on Christmas day, way after presents were opened. It was the winding down of the evening when I turned on my computer and saw the heading “The Ironsoul” blinking at me with a tag saying “Merry Christmas.” It was magical. I knew he was close to finishing, but I wasn’t expecting it. I read just a little bit, like when you skim the pages of new books, finding out that it was right after Christmas when this novel takes place. It was a winterscape, which I love, with Billy downtown seeing the lights of Salt Lake City, my city. It was lovely and I soaked it in.

QUICK “HOW-I-EDIT”

When I do a first pass, I read the manuscript like a reader would. However, I like to annotate. I annotate any book I really love, because there are details and feelings I want to remember and highlight. I really focus on what I like, what’s good, what works, and what I want to remember, my feeling at the time. If it’s something that needs work, I might make a quick note, but nothing serious. That’s not what I’m focusing on during this pass. Mostly, it’s likes.

Second pass is the nitty-gritty, where I really dig into “Does this make sense?” “Is this working?” “I think it needs more” etc… and the continuity of the story, now that I know it from start to finish. With Ben, because our writing is so different, I ask a lot of questions and stay out of his writing as much as possible. He was a very fun, unique style that’s as identifiable as a fingerprint, so commenting let’s me focus on what needs to be addressed without interfering and lets him fill in a lot of the details. It needs to be authentic. This is my cinematographer angle, with a slow pan through the scene to see the right way to tell it. Ben will tell you that I ask for more action A LOT. It’s not a bad thing, but he writes in conversations, so painting more of the picture through words is a great way to keep your audience involved.  I’ll say, he always surprises me with his originality, and honestly, that’s why I ask, because I know it gets him pushing himself to be creative. So many times it surprises me what he comes up with.

Third pass is smoothing, and third pass is loose in translation, since it could be multiple passes over sections. The grammar, the punctuation, and the fixes. Nothing too excited here. We are getting this manuscript “reader ready” and it’s not the fun part, polishing never is.

MY FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF IRONSOUL

So, Ironsoul immediately entertained me with charming dialogue and witty situations. Chapter 3 – the first chapter with Billy, kicks the novel into high gear with a pretty intense fight scene. And then Chapter 4 made me blush all sorts of colors. But by Chapter 5, the novel takes another turn, a big one. Chapter 6, I found myself engrossed in words and situations and feelings I hadn’t felt in a long time. Feelings?! Ugh! Where did those come from? Feelings of being young and awkward, not pretty, not popular, being picked on and teased, trying so hard to fit in, walking around in a skin that didn’t fit me right. Those feelings!

“Freewill unchecked is chaos. Mr. Fingers will prove that to you before the week has ended.” Seth, Billy Blacksmith: The Ironsoul

 

Unlike the adventure of Hellforged, Ironsoul is a mystery. I kept trying to guess things. I’m not really a guesser, I don’t like spoilers, so my guesses were more hunches. The clever demon, Mr. Fingers, feeds on emotions and manipulates others to feel soul-collapsing depression and failure. All are susceptible, except those who possess an Ironsoul, or someone so strong in their convictions that they can’t be persuaded. When I got to the title chapter, which I think a lot of us look forward to, I was blown away, once again, by the depth the story was taking.

Actual Editor Annotations Throughout My First Pass:

“WHAT? What an incredible idea!”

“I like this. The whole thing. I think your concept of the Ironsoul is a beautiful aspiring trait that will be good for teens, or heck, anyone.”

“Why am I feeling this book so much?”

“AH! I love this. This is so relate-able. I mean, hasn’t everyone done this?”

“I love that you put this in. This elevates the bond for the reader. And it’s so tender. The book presses on the tender emotions we have. The crowd will really like this.”

I couldn’t believe I was handed this incredible book. Overall, I found the story inspiring, thought-provoking, and downright wonderful. It did not have the action-packed hummer-giant pug chase from Hellforged, or the creepifying gym full of spiders from Demonslayer, but instead of action, it is filled with suspense, curiosity, and a range of emotional checks and balances. Ben’s background in horror writing really shows up here, filling in the cracks with spookifying intensity. It was thrilling.

And every Billy book has folklore, and this doesn’t disappoint. The depth of the backstory, that basically frames the entire series, is magnifying and I gush every time I get to the folklore, because you are getting not only one story here, but THREE – all the folklore that’s laced in with Billy’s story, plus you get to see what the princess Patricia and the ex-General of the Spider Horde Krios are up to.

What I found most surprising is the nature of this novel, tackling very deep subjects, like bullying and depression. I’ve never read anything like it in a fantasy novel. I’m still dumbstruck. It’s so powerful.

MY FINAL IMPRESSIONS

Follow Ben on Amazon here

I’m more proud than I can say. This novel was not easy for Ben to write. As authors, sometimes dive deep within ourselves to capture emotion that is true and raw in order to tell the right story. I couldn’t say Ben did this personally, not knowing much of his backstory, but the overarching theme carries a heavy understanding to the reader, a personal touch that tells them, “I know what you’re feeling. I get it. And you’re gonna be okay.” As humans, we carry scars, everyone has them, everyone needs them.

This was a difficult edit, but worth all the sweat and tears. I paced myself differently, because there needed to be a nice balance of fun without losing the integral story. I’ve found that Ben is very good about balancing intensity with witty banter. His writing is fresh, clever, and cinematic.

“Ironsoul is more than an entertaining YA novel. It’s about bad influences and bullying, spite and retaliation, loneliness and isolation, unconditional loyalty and friendship, and most of all – choosing to do the right thing, even when you think it’s impossible!” Sue, Amazon Reviewer

 

Ironsoul falls third in line in the Blacksmith Legacy, and with being a continuous story, it may see hard times before it gets to the readers it was intended for. That breaks me up a little, since I love this book so much. I wish you could just dive into it, but there is so much story, one just can’t do that. However, it didn’t take me long to know Billy was something special and something I wanted to be a part of, and it won’t take readers long either. You get hooked on Billy and it’s WORTH it! Every word.

Here is a FREE sneak peek of Chapter 5: Clatterball (demon sports are very amusing) on Ben’s website: Benirelandbooks.com

Also, if you are an artist or love fan art, check out the FAN ART COMPETITION happening now of FANDOM’s Billy page here.

This series has been part of me for the last two years. I will miss editing, but I’m ready to get writing again. This is only Billy’s ACT I (first three) of his epic saga. There are so many stories to tell and I want to read them all. #teamgreyson

Click here to join the Billyverse newsletter crew!

Wandering Beautiful – Therapeutic Poetry

Me in Seville, Spain finding inspiration in my traveling journal. This photo sums up everything, pretty much.

 

I like poetry, I always have. Several of my favorite authors also wrote poetry: Milne, Carroll, Tolkien, Poe for starters. I found them first as authors and later recognized them as poets. Though, Shel Silverstein is STILL one of my all-time favorite poets. Poetry is reflective and tricky, and the best part… it’s short.

Poetry is something I’ve always done, but never realized I did, if that makes sense. It’s been a way to express my thoughts and feelings, as I know many of us do. I’ve journaled like this since I was a teen, and oh boy, those early poem??? I’m embarrassed by the drippy/sappy/teenage angst of those early, tender writing.

And I thought poems were supposed to rhyme. My English teacher Mrs. Sawaya was the one that taught me more about the feeling of poetry is more important than straining a rhyme and ruining it completely. She said the best poems don’t rhyme. I can’t exactly agree with her, some of the old limericks have amazing composition. But this lesson taught me that a poem is more than just silly rhyming fluff, but can be a heart-driven search for understand using words, flow, and purpose. Through poems, I really found my author voice. It’s taught me how to write and that I have a poetic voice to my writing.

In my writing exercises, I use poetry as a tool to stretch my use of language. I like poetic voicing. I like using fresh words and lyrical sentencing. I have tender years of doubt, depression, insecurities, and basic figuring out who I am and what, if anything, I have to say. Poetry was a tool (is a tool) that has helped me overcome several of those hurtles.

Writing has always been a joy, like the wonderful freedom you feel when writing in the sun on the beach listening to waves and birds and rhythmic chatter. But when I became published the joy changed and become more like writing in a small closet with a sketchy swinging light bulb. This may surprise people, though I’ve talked about it before. Being published is every aspiring writer’s dream (and please don’t lose that dream, aspiring writers), but with it came a different side of publishing that I didn’t understand and had to adjust to.

There is a lot of pressure in the authoring world, things that you don’t know until you are in it, and a lot of them aren’t writing related. It’s hard being a face for your books. I have to keep and maintain a respectable media presence, I am public and need to be found EVERYWHERE. I have to sell my own work and convince others that it’s good and they want to buy it, and it’s hard when they don’t, because you KNOW they will love it. You can’t just give away books, you have to sell them. I have to be likable and sought after for cons and panels. And I always need to have my foot forward to what’s next. This to me is not writing, it’s marketing – and I’m not so great at numbers. There is a cusp for readership that when your book reaches it, the perpetual reputation of the book steamrolls into a public consciousness, so an author no longer needs to worry so much about all the things I just mentioned. Just think of your favorite books that made it to you by word-of-mouth or recommended to you on Goodreads. I have yet to steamroll into anyone’s bookshelves, I’m still climbing the monstrous hill before me. It was hard enough sharing with the world writing that was once so private. To make me push it and promote it is like dying inside. Creating is joy, but with that coin flip comes misery.

How I combat this is through poetry…

and a good group of author friends that understand the ups and downs of publishing.

Over the years since I first published, I would write poetry to keep my authentic author voice, keep my creative juices flowing, and help me through the writer’s block and other rough patches. It helped keep my sanity. The various poems have been quietly resting in different notebooks for years. I would revisit it often when I needed it, like a letter from a dear friend. A year ago I shared some of my poems with my sister to help her on a day she was particularly down. She loved them and that was very encouraging. I then shared a poem with a writing group asking for critique. I called it Flash Fiction at the time, thinking it wasn’t poetry at all. They were astonished and clearly called it ‘Poetry’ and encouraged me to seek out my poetic voice. That was when I first started thinking very differently about what I was journaling and embrace that maybe I am a poet too.

Pre-order Wandering Beautiful on Kindle here

WANDERING BEAUTIFUL is a selection of my poems that have helped me during dark moments. Some are reflective, some are silly, but all of them were inspired by writing in one form or another. Poetry is a tangible horcrux, the slivers of soul lace each stanza. It’s not easy to share, and frankly, I’m still surprised I put this thing together.

My thoughts in sharing these poems were that it might help others gently wander the paths before them.

I don’t think there is one path, I think there are several. And I don’t think one is better than the other, I just think our paths are different. I’m a cautious, but curious person. I’m exploratory. I like the forgotten paths or more mysterious, and the ones that have stories to tell.

I feel the paths I have wandered down have not been easy, but keep leading me to new paths, ones that I didn’t know were there. I have opportunities that others don’t get, because I’ve wandered. That’s what I’d like to share. We have similar feelings and fears. Let me share with you mine, in hopes it will help you with yours.

This collection is deeply personal about my talent, self-worth, and frankly, my insecurities. I don’t specifically write romantic poetry, but there are a few that might flutter your heartstrings. Mostly though, it’s about the magic of words and the power we give them.

WANDERING BEAUTIFUL will be released September 6th at the FanX Comic Convention. If ebooks are your thing, pre-orders are now being taken here for a release September 30th. Click here