Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Mini Highlights of Fellow Bloggers! and the YA Novel Discovery Contest

Blogging buddies!

I'm so far behind in comments! Thank you all for coming by and commenting on my last few posts. I'm going to try visiting many of you today and as I do, I thought I'd highlight a few here:

Zan Marie at In the Shade of the Cherry Tree features an interview with brilliant author Joanna Bourne today! I love what Jo says here: "I want happy endings. I want heroes and heroines. I want brave, clever, principled characters who behave well under difficult circumstances. So I write Romance."

Pam at A Novel Woman shares photos, hilarious stories, and makes Montreal look good!

Forgotten Bookmarks gives away a collection of vintage books every week.

Ayak is an English lady living in Turkey; she blogs about her experiences at Ayak's Turkish Life. She's also a rescuer and caretaker of abused street/stray dogs. Please donate if you feel inclined!

Then there's Trisha, who's rescuing cats!

Pop Sensation has a great time showcasing and gently poking fun at vintage paperbacks: 'Page 123 -- "Yes, but the thing is," the medical examiner said again, "where is the other body, and where is the other head?"
My favorite part of that quotation is "again."'

Here's a contest I entered a couple of years ago. I was one of the 20 finalists that year! Now they're in their fifth edition:

No query? No pitch? No problem!
Get in front of top YA editors and agents with only the first 250 words of your YA novel!
Have a young adult novel -- or a YA novel idea -- tucked away for a rainy day? Are you putting off pitching your idea simply because you’re not sure how to pitch an agent? No problem! All you have to do is submit the first 250 words of your novel and you can win both exposure to editors, and a reading of your manuscript from one of New York’s top literary agents, Regina Brooks.
Regina Brooks is the CEO of Serendipity Literary Agency and the author of the award winning book Writing Great Books for Young Adults, now available in a second edition.
The top 20 submissions will all be read by a panel of five judges comprised of top YA editors at Random House, HarperCollins, Harlequin, Sourcebooks and Penguin, Scholastic, Feiwel and Friends, Kensington, Candlewick, Bloomsbury, Simon and Schuster, and Penguin. The top 20 authors will receive a free copy of Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks. Of the 20, the judges will pick the top five submissions and provide each author with commentary. These five winners will also receive a free one-year subscription to The Writer magazine. One Grand Prize Winner will win a full manuscript reading and feedback from Regina Brooks.
Please submit all entries via the contest website at one entry per person; anyone age 13+ can apply. Open to the U.S. and Canada (void where prohibited). Entries for the YA Novel Discovery Contest will be accepted from 12:01am (ET) November 1 until 11:59pm (ET), November 30.

And my ROW80 update -- getting through NaNoWriMo by the skin of my teeth. I keep starting scenes, only to be stalled by my lack of research. Here's what I need to learn about:

Constantinople during WWI
Military ranks
Evacuation of Gallipoli (December 2015)

What research have you been doing lately?

Entered any interesting contests?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Mini Book Reviews!

Books galore!

I've been reading a lot in the last week or so. Here are a few of the books and stories:

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

I tweeted about this yesterday and today. I'm always impressed by writers who can take real life and distill it into a lesson, a moral, a story. I tend to find it hard to connect the dots of real life events. Amanda does it brilliantly.

Hansel and Gretel by Neil Gaiman

A brilliant retelling of the classic fairy tale. Isn't it sad that when, in the middle of the tale, he writes "Gretel and Hansel" it jumps out at you? Why does the boy's name tend to come first?

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Another retelling, of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty's stories. I love what he did with Snow White's character. I do wish dwarfs had been pluralised dwarves, but I guess they're not the same creatures as Tolkien's dwarves. Really intriguing spin on Sleeping Beauty's tale. And the illustrations are beautiful.

Married by Midnight by Talli Roland

I read this in one sitting! I was drawn into the world of the characters almost from the first sentence. And oh! it's full of Christmas spirit. I wish it was out in a slim, large size paperback or hardcover so I could give out lots of copies as gifts. Or am I the only one that still finds it hard to read on screen? This is only the third book I've done that with!

The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny

It's always dangerous reading the first book in a series. This is the third and I've got nine books to go! If you've ever wanted to visit the Eastern Townships neighbourhood or anywhere in rural southern Quebec (south of Montreal, that is, and north of the US border), reading this series will transport you there instantly. And the mystery aspects of the books are intriguing too. This review from the Charlotte Observor, by Salem Macknee, says it all:
"If I thought for one minute this place really existed, I would be packing the car. As it was, on finishing "The Cruelest Month," I grabbed the first two books, "Still Life" and "A Fatal Grace," and spent a lovely weekend in the village. The mouthwatering food, the beautiful gardens, the quirky and literate villagers -- Three Pines is a charming oasis for the's more about the journey than the destination in these wonderful books full of poetry, and weather, and a brooding manor house, and people who read and think and laugh and eat a lot of really excellent food."

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil Revised and Expanded Edition by J.R.R. Tolkien

I've read these lovely poems before, but the commentary was new to me. The best part, of course, is the language; all those intriguing words, some invented, some ancient. And the delicious thrill of "The Mewlips".

And then there's NaNoWriMo!

I've been writing steadily (ROW80 check in!), which is the positive way to look at things. Some days I fall behind. What I need to do more of is think of the story during non-writing times, so that when I set paper to pen, there are definite scenes to be explored and some forward movement.

Plotters out there must be shaking their heads. But as a pantster, that's how I plot, by seeing my way forward a little at a time, towards the distant horizon I know is there. That is, the limited amount of plotting I do is to know what my characters want, and the end-point they're headed for. The path they'll take is uncertain until written.

How do you feel your way into a story?

What good books have you been reading lately?

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Writing Survival Tips for IWSG Day, NaNoWriMo, and ROW80

National Novel Writing Month is here!

It's also Insecure Writer's Support Group's Day, and so, inspired by Tina Hayes' NaNo Survival Kit and Lauralynn Elliott's post on Tools of the Trade, I'm sharing my own Writing Survival Kit:

1. My favourite pen and a brand new notebook. The notebook can't be too shiny and pretty though; the more attractive it is, the more I worry that my words won't be good enough for its pages. Many times I'll start writing from the back of the notebook and only return to the front pages once I'm in the swing of a story and more confident in its development. Hence:

1b. Do what works for you. There's lots of advice out there for writers, but none of it seems to come with the important caveat that a writer need not follow any of it. Use all the -ly words you wish, while typing your novel on the back of a truck in the wind (a la John Cleese in that Monty python sketch), just do what works. That said,

2. Get the words down. I'm always frustrated by people who bemoan their writing to the point where they're paralysed before even starting. It's true what they say, you can't edit a blank page. Every NaNo reminds me all over again how important it is to write every day. It's only by writing all the time that a writer can stay nimble. It takes me a few hundred words into each session to stop telling, stop using cliches, and really get into a scene and inside the characters' heads

3. The Compuserve Books and Writer's Community. This is one of those stories I never tire of repeating: if my friend hadn't lent me Outlander, if I had let it languish in my TBR pile, if I had not read the acknowledgements and decided to check out Compuserve, then I might not have found the spark that led me back to writing after a two-year drought and might not be writing today.

It doesn't have to be Compuserve, of course. Any group of writing friends or critique partners will do, for writing exercises, idea sharing, commiserations, celebrations, and understanding that you have voices in your head!

4. Accountability. Some writers are disciplined enough that they get their words down and their editing done within self-imposed timelines. I, on the other hand, need outside pressure. I've sweat with Sven, I've joined Ning groups and Facebook groups, but the best to date has been A Round of Words in Eighty Days:

"A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. We are all different and we all have different demands on our time. Why should we all have the same goal? The simple answer is that we shouldn't. If you want to be a writer, then you have to be able to roll with the punches and adapt to your changing circumstances. If that means changing your goals when your life blows up, so be it. ROW80 is the challenge that champions the marriage of writing and real life."

That's exactly what I did; when November came in I revised my goals. Though I still had a notebook and a half of Larksong left to type up, I've had to drop it. I feel badly, but it's also thrilling to be back on a drafter's high, writing every day and exploring the world of a brand new story.

I haven't found a title yet, though. For fun, I've been calling it The Ottoman Sultan's Captive, which makes it sound like a cliché '70s Harlequin!

And now, a break-up-the-text image!

Winter is coming (in the Northern Hemisphere); bundle up!

Are you doing NaNo or busy editing?
Please share your writing tips!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Bern, William Tell, and Preparing for NaNoWriMo

Photo day!

I've got a few snapshots of our weekend trip to Bern, Switzerland's capital.

The river Aare

One of the many bears of Bern, the symbol of the city

A lovely courtyard

The founder of Bern, across from the Theatre

A house Einstein lived in

Mountains rising above the mist on Lake Leman

View of the lake from the train, headed towards Lausanne

Bern Old Town, a UNESCO heritage site

The Zytglogge, a 12th century clock with moving parts, renovated in the 15th century

This week I also learned about William Tell. Everyone knows that image of the father shooting an apple of the son's head with an arrow, but I had no idea it was a legend about the founding of Switzerland, 700 years ago!
Here's the Wikipedia version: "The legend as told by Tschudi (ca. 1570) goes as follows: William Tell, who originally came from Bürglen, was known as a strong man, mountain climber, and an expert shot with the crossbow. In his time, the Habsburg emperors of Austria were seeking to dominate Uri. Albrecht (or Hermann) Gessler, the newly appointed Austrian Vogt of Altdorf, raised a pole in the village's central square, hung his hat on top of it, and demanded that all the townsfolk bow before the hat.[1] On 18 November 1307, Tell visited Altdorf with his young son and passed by the hat, publicly refusing to bow to it, and so was arrested. Gessler—intrigued by Tell's famed marksmanship, yet resentful of his defiance—devised a cruel punishment: Tell and his son would be executed, but he could redeem his life by shooting an apple off the head of his son, Walter, in a single attempt. Tell split the apple with a bolt from his crossbow.[1]
But Gessler noticed that Tell had removed two crossbow bolts from his quiver, not one. Before releasing Tell, he asked why. Tell replied that if he had killed his son, he would have used the second bolt on Gessler himself. Gessler was angered, and had Tell bound.
Tell was brought to Gessler's ship to be taken to his castle at Küssnacht to spend his newly won life in a dungeon. But, as a storm broke on Lake Lucerne, the soldiers were afraid that their boat would founder, and unbound Tell to steer with all his famed strength. Tell made use of the opportunity to escape, leaping from the boat at the rocky site now known as the Tellsplatte ("Tell's slab") and memorialized by the Tellskapelle. Tell ran cross-country to Küssnacht. As Gessler arrived, Tell assassinated him with the second crossbow bolt along a stretch of the road cut through the rock between Immensee and Küssnacht, now known as the Hohle Gasse.[2] Tell's blow for liberty sparked a rebellion, in which he played a leading part. That fed the impetus for the nascent Swiss Confederation.[3]"
What I'd like to know is, if he was tied up and taken to a ship and then escaped, where did he re-find his crossbow?

As for ROW80 goals... I did type another few thousand words of Larksong, but I've also started thinking of my NaNo story (which as a joke is currently called The Ottoman Sultan's Captive):
"A historical romance set in WWI. On the eve of his departure for the front, a newly-commissioned officer discovers that the girl he was meant to propose to that night has disappeared, leaving behind only a cryptic note stating that he must at all costs not search for her. He cannot promise such a thing, of course, and from the moment he arrives at his post in Greece -- having made as many enquiries as he could by telegram while on board ship -- he begins trying to track her in earnest. The horrors of war do not -- as yet -- trouble him as much as the fears in his heart. The barest of leads sends him to Constantinople on his first furlough, where he finally runs her to ground and discovers that she is a spy for England. Yet his dedication has served not only to endanger them both, but to jeopardise her mission, and they must now choose between passion and duty, unless they can find a way to honour both."
This is the first time in many years that the male protagonist has started speaking to me before the heroine. His name is Peter; I don't even know her first name yet! But I've begun cursory research on espionage during the war. Funny thing about history, the deeper you dig, the more you find that women were more involved than anyone gives them credit for.

Here are two posts for those of you writing, even if you're not doing NaNo:

How to write tips from Nathan Bransford

Writers need cats by Beth Camp

Happy Hallowe'en and All Souls Day!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Medeia's Cover Reveal, a Snip, ROW80, and Wishing I Were at Surrey

Cover reveal! Very excited to be featuring Medeia Sharif today:

YA Contemporary, Prizm Books
Release Date December 10, 2014

Deidra Battle wants nothing more than to be invisible. After her mother, a public school teacher, engages in an embarrassing teacher-student affair at Lincoln High, they relocate to a different neighborhood and school. Being her mother’s briefcase, Deidra joins her mother at her new workplace, Hodge High.

Since her mother has reverted to her maiden name and changed her appearance, Deidra thinks no one will figure out they’re the Battles from recent news and that they’re safe. Neither of them is. Hodge brings a fresh set of bullies who discover details about the scandal that changed her life.

Feeling trapped at home with an emotionally abusive, pill-addicted mother and at school with hostile classmates who attempt to assault and blackmail her, Deidra yearns for freedom, even if she has to act out of character and hurt others in the process. Freedom comes at a price.

Find Medeia

I've also got the promised longer snip from my paranormal romance, Druid's Moon:

From the moment she'd been accepted to join Professor J. Ronald's team on his much-publicised dig near Afanc Cave in Cornwall, Lyne Vanlith had secretly hoped for an exciting, mysterious find that might earn her a co-writing credit on the Professor's paper. But the manuscript that turned up in the first week of excavations was not quite the type of puzzle she had allowed herself to daydream about.
"'The Curse of the Octopus,'" she read out loud, translating the Middle English script as she went. Octopus?
A sudden gust of wind shook the printout in her hand. She'd taken high-resolution images of the original vellum and put off her other assigned tasks that afternoon to linger in the cave entrance, where they'd set up their makeshift office and storeroom, and work on a translation of the text. She held the paper closer and reread the first line in the grey afternoon light filtering through from outside.
The Professor gave her one of his trademark try-harder-lowly-student looks from over the top of his glasses. She'd rather not consult the dictionary -- or ask his advice -- so soon, though, and moved on to the next two lines.
"Beast brought forth by man's blood / the mound-keeper repays the sacrifice, but shall sense the wind."
A thrill went through her at the words. There was violence inherent in their tone, even if she had no idea what the phrases could mean. Images came to her mind, of warriors raising a cairn, robed men circling a low mound, a gleam of yellow eyes in the dark under the ground. The breeze came again, fluttering the corners of the paper.
She'd been continuing her excavations near the well at the far end, closest to the wall dividing them from the Cockerell Manor gardens, when she'd uncovered the crumbling manuscript, suspiciously close to the surface. Both she and the Professor had been baffled by the lack of other objects, whether at a shallow level or even a few tiers down -- not even so much as a lead case that might have held the lone sheet of vellum.
Those are the first 25 lines, but the first five pages are up on the Forum right now for the third part of the October writers' exercise. Let's say that participation in the exercise counts as part of my ROW80 goals for this week because I've really procrastinated on typing up Larksong. I did go through my notes for the NaNo story -- "notes" refers to scribbled bits of dreams and ideas from the past couple of years -- and learned that the male protagonist's name is Peter. Now I need to find out what the female protagonist's name is...

I wanted to say thank you all over again to everyone who came by during the Blog Blitz! Still slowly working my way through blog visits. And have you visited Dan Koboldt lately? He's the winner of this year's WRiTE Club. I had a great time volunteering as one of the preliminary judges this year - I'll bet next year's event will be even bigger!

And now, please join me in a toast...raise a glass or a bar of chocolate or a wedge of all of those at Surrey and to all of us who wish we were there but are participating in spirit.

Many other authors are presenting, too, of course. Have you ever had a one-on-one with an author or agent? I've always wanted to try one of those "blue pencil" sessions where they go through a part of your manuscript.

My other wish for this week is a very happy birthday to Lenny!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Book Reviews: Novak, Bourne, and Piersall; and ROW80 Goals

Books galore!

I've got three reviews today, starting with Brenda Novak's A Matter of Grave Concern (isn't that a great title? Read the blurb and you'll see why!)

"When Maximillian Wilder hides his noble identity and joins the notorious body snatchers known as the London Supply Company, the last thing on his mind is love. He's worried about Madeline, his vanished half sister, who was last seen in the company of Jack Hurtsill, the gang's conscienceless leader. Raiding graveyards, stealing corpses, and selling them to medical colleges as dissection material is dirty work, but Max knows he must gain Jack's trust. He's determined to find out what happened to Madeline -- and to bring Jack to justice if she was murdered for the coin her body could earn.

Beautiful, spirited Abigail Hale, daughter of the surgeon at Aldersgate School of Medicine, detests the challenging, hard-bargaining Max almost as much as Jack. But she must procure the necessary specimens if she is to save the college and her father's career. She believes she is going to be successful-until Jack double-crosses her. Then she's swept into a plot of danger and intrigue, one where Max must intervene to protect her, no matter the risk to his plan... or his heart."

I always enjoy diving into a Brenda Novak story -- the characters pull you in right away. Their predicaments are of the how-will-they-get-out-of-this variety and I love seeing the intriguing solutions they carry out. Abby and Max/Lucien are both very independent, and it's exciting watching them come to trust one another as they are forced to work together. Their dialogue feels very natural (despite a few anachronisms); I only wished the story slowed down a little in the bedroom, and at the end, during Max's later activities, so that I could be even more in their point-of-view, and experiencing everything over their shoulders.

Spoiler: Despite historical accuracy, I wish Abby could have had her wish of studying to become a surgeon!

Next up is Joanna Bourne's Rogue Spy.

"For years he'd lived a lie.
It was time to tell the truth...
even if it cost him the woman he loved.

Ten years ago, he was a boy, given the name 'Thomas Paxton' and sent by Revolutionary France to infiltrate the British Intelligence Service. Now his sense of honor brings him back to London, alone and unarmed, to confess. But instead of facing the gallows, he's given one last impossible assignment to prove his loyalty.

Lovely, lying, former French spy Camille Leyland is dragged from her safe rural obscurity by threats and blackmail. Dusting off her spy skills, she sets out to track down a ruthless French fanatic and rescue the innocent victim he's holding—only to find an old colleague already on the case. Pax.

Old friendship turns to new love and Pax and Camille's dark secrets loom up from the past. Pax is left with the choice — go rogue from the Service or lose Camille forever."

I could never write book reviews professionally because I'm always at a loss as to what to say about a story I've really enjoyed. How do you begin to dissect a novel whose characters are so true to life that you think you might just meet them if you happened to be on the right street at the right time? Although there are different types of such characters, I suppose. Anne Shirley or Jo March, you'd like to be friends with, for instance. But Pax and Cami, well, I almost feel I'd have to have something special to impress them with...

I always enjoy reading about the deft, the mysterious, the adept. Honourable spies make for some of the most fascinating characters because their motives are high, despite some of the stickier situations they land in, and it's thrilling to read about their skillful handling of exactly those types of situations.

But that's all general talk; Pax and Cami in particular are enthralling because they know each other so well, having shared the same hardships in childhood, but now find themselves at odds, unsure whether they can trust each other and not willing to admit to each other what their ultimate aims are. Yet they are also finally of an age where their attraction to each other leaves no alternative but that they open themselves up.

What's not to like in this book? The Fluffy Aunts, the kitten in the bed, the sayings of the Baldoni, the glimpses of beloved characters from earlier novels, and -- if any writers needed an ideal to emulate -- Jo Bourne's masterful command of languages and dialect and deep point-of-view.
Highly recommended!

Look, a colouring book!
Coloring Animal Mandalas by Wendy Piersall.

"From the Sanskrit word for "circle," mandalas have been used for meditation and healing for thousands of years.
"Coloring Animal Mandalas" adds the beauty of the animal kingdom—including butterflies, tigers, swans, snakes, peacocks, seahorses and even unicorns—into these intricate designs for page after page of coloring book bliss.
As you transform the detailed shapes in this book into stunning works of art, you'll find yourself relaxing, focused, reaching a higher state of mindfulness and simply enjoying yourself."

Here are a couple of sample pages, both coloured and in black and white:

It might be a fan-of-Tolkien thing (he drew lots of friezes and sigils and emblems that I find very attractive) but I've always enjoyed colouring in patterns and shapes, and even drawn a few geometric repeating patterns of my own (usually when in class...).

There's lots of enjoyment to be had in this book if you're also a fan of that sort of thing. Just looking at the images gets my fingers itching to pick up coloured pencils!

And there's even a time lapse video showing a colouring-in.

I'm a week late in posting my ROW80 goals. Mainly because I've counted up all the remaining notebook pages and I know I won't be able to finish typing up Larksong before NaNoWriMo starts. I might try to finish with the current notebook, at least, or I might stop in the last week of October to begin preparing for NaNo (updating my profile, finding a title for the story, settling the character's names, and finding the various pages of notes I've made here and there).

I'm also doing the October writer's exercise over on the Forum, where we're sharing First Five Sentences (and, later, First 25 Lines) for critique. Here are the first five sentences of paranormal romance Druid's Moon:

From the moment she'd been accepted to join Professor J. Ronald's team on his much-publicised dig near Afanc Cave in Cornwall, Lyne Vanlith had secretly hoped for an exciting, mysterious find that might earn her a co-writing credit on the Professor's paper. But the manuscript that turned up in the first week of excavations was not quite the type of puzzle she had allowed herself to daydream about.
"'The Curse of the Octopus,'" she read out loud, , the Middle English script as she went. Octopus? A sudden gust of wind shook the printout in her hand.

Next week I'll share the first 25 lines...and a cover reveal by Medeia Sharif!

Will you be doing NaNo?
Please share your first lines, here or on your blog!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Jessica Bell's Blog Tour for White Lady!

Welcome, Jessica!


To celebrate the release of Jessica Bell's latest novel, WHITE LADY, she is giving away an e-copy (mobi, ePub, or PDF) to the first person to correctly guess the one true statement in the three statements below. To clarify, two statements are lies, and one is true:

Jessica Bell has ...
a. two kids—a boy and a girl
b. one kid—a girl
c. no kids

What do you think? Which one is true? Write your guess in the comments, along with your email address. Comments will close in 48 hours. If no-one guesses correctly within in 48 hours, comments will stay open until someone does.

Want more chances to win? You have until October 31 to visit all the blogs where Jessica will share a different set of true and false statements on each one. Remember, each blog is open to comments for 48 hours only from the time of posting.

If you win, you will be notified by email with instructions on how to download the book.

Click HERE to see the list of blogs.


*This novel contains coarse language, violence, and sexual themes.

Sonia yearns for sharp objects and blood. But now that she's rehabilitating herself as a "normal" mother and mathematics teacher, it's time to stop dreaming about slicing people's throats.

While being the wife of Melbourne's leading drug lord and simultaneously dating his best mate is not ideal, she's determined to make it work.

It does work. Until Mia, her lover's daughter, starts exchanging saliva with her son, Mick. They plan to commit a crime behind Sonia's back. It isn't long before she finds out and gets involved to protect them.

But is protecting the kids really Sonia's motive?

Click HERE to view the book trailer.
Click HERE for purchase links.

Jessica Bell, a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, is the Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the director of the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

Connect with Jessica online:

Congratulations, Jessica!
Good luck to all the entrants!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Insecure Writer's Support Group Anniversary, Celebrating Writers' Houseparties

Happy anniversary to the Insecure Writer's Support Group!

The group was founded by Alex Cavanaugh, and the website now has a number of administrators. Each month there are different co-hosts; this month they are:
Kristin Smith
Suzanne Furness
Fundy Blue

To commemorate their anniversary, the IWSG is putting together an anthology of tips on writing and publishing.

My favourite bit of advice, which I never tire of talking about, is as follows:

It starts with a shiny new idea. The characters and situation grab you right away and you start drafting madly. Dialogue, action, intrigue all come together.

Sooner or later, though, many of us get bogged down in the middle bits of a novel. Our drive and attention dwindle as fear and self-doubt creep in, especially if we compare our pace with that of others. Insecure writer's syndrome at its worst.

Insecurity hit me hardest a few years ago, not just with one novel but with all of my in-progress stories at the time. Excitement was few and far between, left behind a year or so before when I'd started the first drafts. Researching grew more exciting than editing and it was easy to lose my characters' voices and slip into long stretches of expository omniscient telling. And then something happened...

I sent my characters off to a houseparty.

Writers' houseparties take place on the Compuserve Books and Writers Community, or Forum. There have been over ten such parties to date and I –- or should I say, my characters –- were present at the very first one in June 2007. Each party after that grew in size and complexity, as more writers brought their characters in on the fun.

Party-goers have included (in a mixture of adjectives) an FBI agent, a rock star, soldiers from wars throughout history, ghosts, King Charles II, a talking cat, a married threesome, a selkie, Ottoman citizens, modern yet ancient Egyptian travellers, werewolves, a retired teacher and her adopted daughter, and even a family of bombs with a wee baby bomb!

Chaos is the norm at these parties. We've been at a ceilidh in Scotland, a barbecue in Australia, a mall at the end of time, and more. Houseparties have it all, from magic to skipping between time periods, to anachronistic events and language, to romantic interludes down in the hidden folder on the Forum. No link available for that one -- you have to request access on the Forum if you'd like to see the spicier side of a houseparty.

Parties last anywhere from a long weekend to a week. No one worries about typos and writing mechanics, and there's no need to worry about timing either; if you'd like your character to be involved in something you may have missed you can always tack on an "[earlier]" or "[later]" to the start of your post. Time trousers – where a characters ends up in two places at once at the same time – can be quite fun!

Previous parties are all available on the Forum; some of them are fluent and fluid enough to be read as a novel, even if you haven't met the characters before. One of the more recent ones topped 198,000 words; the length of two long novels -- or one Diana Gabaldon novel! Here are some statistics from that party, which give a rough idea of the madness:

# of participating authors : 17
# of official characters: 44 (including Kedi the non-cat cat and Siri the non-dove dove)
# of unofficial characters: 2 (including Cthulhu)
# of explosions/crashes: 2 (plus 1 volcano and 1 flood)
# of casualties: 1 kick by a kangaroo, 1 koala fed to a dinosaur, and 1 leg stolen from Oscar Pistorius
# of MandMs fed to Cthulhu: unknown

Value of character revelations: priceless

And that's the best part of a houseparty: they're a great way to thrust your characters out of their familiar worlds and learn things about them that you may not have known before. You can always go in with a goal, whether it's characters you're trying to develop, a specific voice you'd like to hone, even a motive you're trying to figure out. It's amazing what you can uncover when your characters -- and their author -- are plunked into a chaotic new setting. Writing for a houseparty is just like writing your first draft –- fast paced and fluid, with no second guessing.

When I was feeling insecure, that anything-goes mayhem brought back the rush and the fun I'd thought I'd lost. I've churned out more words at a houseparty and in my own stories in the weeks after a party than I usually manage to squeeze out all year -- words that don't have me feeling insecure about my writing or the story itself.

If you can't wait for the next Forum houseparty, and you have a trusted group of writing friends -- and you're feeling a little insecure -- why not host one of your own?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

New Blogs!, Ongoing Blog Blitz, and ROW80 Round Three Final Check In

It's the end of another round of A Round of Words in 80 Days!

If I sound excited, it's because I've actually been consistent this round; typed a few hundred words each day, and even did some formatting on the Alfred Russel Wallace letters I've been transcribing. I just need to double check all the words I wasn't able to decipher at first glance and then I can send off this batch.

Caught up on a teensy bit of blog visiting too, especially voting on the WRiTE Club final. And here are two interesting (brand new!) blogs:

The Nature of my Memories: lovely flowers and nostalgia

Desserts and Drawings: one drawing and one yummy recipe per week

Plus the Blog Blitz, hosted by DL Hammons, is still going strong!

"...what would it be like if the support, encouraging nature, and community spirit of the blogosphere were ever focused on a single blogger? ... Sign up on the [linky list], making sure to record your email address, and you’ll instantly become a member of the Blog Blitz Team. Then from time to time, I will select a deserving blog (that must be part of the Blitz Team) and a specific date. I will then email the team members that information and on that date we all will go out of our way to visit that blog and leave an encouraging comment on their most recent post. I'm talking about hopefully a 100+ comments appearing out of the blue in one day!"

Part two of the figurative language writer's exercise is up on the Forum; here's the short version of my scene, featuring characters from Larksong:

From the aviary, the chittering of the birds suddenly rose. He pictured Alice as she'd been yesterday, straight as a goal post, with that elegant thin-limbed stance. Her shoulders back, and both palms held tirelessly high in the air, as the birds swooped in and out, taking seeds from her hands.
A wild image came to him, of himself grabbing her about the waist from behind, birds and seeds scattering every which way as he buried a kiss deep in her neck.
"What in blazes?" he muttered, and turned away from the house. "Pull yourself together, man!" He tried to focus once more on the building opposite and the finances of his country club daydream. Yet the image of Alice in the aviary, flushed by his kisses, would not leave him.

The full scene is over at the Forum, if you'd like more of George and Alice.

Do you use figurative language often or sparingly?

Which blogs would you recommend for the Blog Blitz?

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Writer's Exercises, ROW80, and Deadly Contact by Lara Lacombe

Quick post today as I'm hoping to start catching up on comments. Thanks to everyone who's come by lately!

The current round of A Round of Words in 80 Days is nearly over. I've done steady work on my typing; over 5000 words of Larksong already typed up. I can see where a lot of editing will be required, though (sigh).

Hoping to use a scene from that story during the second part of the September writer's exercise on the Forum. Here's what we did for part one:
"We’re going to use some figurative language.
First select the subject.
1. A celestial object: sun, moon, stars, comet, rocket, etc.
2. A geographical feature: mountains, meadows, canyons, dunes, desert, etc.
3. A body of water: ocean, lake, river, waterfall, puddle, etc.
4. Growing things: trees, forest, garden, weeds, cactus, etc.
5. An animal: Oh boy. Pick one
6. A gem: Again, pick one.
Now comes the fun part. Begin by brainstorming. What does your chosen word remind you of? Let’s say you picked the sea. Is it like a cauldron, a playful child, a wicked woman, a temptress, a mirror, and so on. Think about movement and mood. Does it dash, crash, rumble, or hypnotize, soothe, whisper?"

Here are the three sentences I came up with:

The squeak of a small child at night, like a kitten with a full belly who mews for yet one drop more.

She was all hard like the lines of a crystal, but whenever I came to her, each facet softened and blurred and I saw her rainbows.

Sleep came over him as I watched, wavering, as moonlight does over the still surface of sea waters cradled in an Aegean cove.

As you can see, similes and metaphors are difficult to use! Original ones in published works always catch my eye; it's such a wonderful way to be inventive as a writer.

Speaking of the forum, I just read a great book by a fellow Forumite: Deadly Contact by Lara Lacombe.

"It's a race against time—and a fatal outbreak—in this thriller of a debut
In one passionate night Special Agent James Reynolds and scientist Kelly Jarvis went from friends to lovers. Then Kelly walked away with only an apology. Now James is charged with solving a bioterrorist attack—and Dr. Jarvis works at the suspected lab.
Is Kelly an accomplice or a victim? Just what are her secrets that drove her from James's bed? Soon one thing becomes clear: The ghosts of her past have nothing on the terrorists targeting her and Washington, D.C. Another threat bathes the city in red alert, and now there are lives at stake, in addition to hearts..."

Fast-paced and smooth, this story had me eagerly moving from one chapter to the next. I loved the way the characters started as friends and the slow unravelling of their deeper emotions for each other. And it's always exciting when a story has the reader go "I never expected that!"
Highly recommended!

Which books have kept you in suspense lately?

Friday, 12 September 2014

Big C Bloghop, Thanksgiving in Geneva, ROW80, and a Song

Happy thanksgiving!

No, it's not a joke. Yesterday was the Jeûne genevois holiday here in Geneva, the fasting day which is a holiday in all of Switzerland but falls on a different day in Geneva.

The tradition began back in the 16th Century, apparently, as a way to show solidarity with the suffering of the Huguenots in France. Wikipedia doesn't say why, and I haven't delved further, but it appears to be a somewhat recent tradition to have plum pie on this day. Sounds yummy to me!

It's interesting to think of all the titbits and trivia I've learned since we first moved here. I wrote a brief article on them all for the Turkish newspaper Bizim Anadolu.

I'm posting early for the Big C Bloghop, hosted by the wonderful Michael di Gesu.

The goal of this bloghop is to compile an anthology to help towards Melissa's treatment. "For this anthology post on Sept 15 a story about cancer. We are trying for comical, uplifting, inspirational... Let's give cancer a big kick in the pants! All posts will be included in the anthology so please edit it as best you can. Thanks All!!!"

I don't have one specific story, just a lot of warm memories of friends and family. It's scary, in a way, how many people we each know that have been and are affected by cancer. I like to say affected instead of afflicted because I try to see something positive in every situation. I'm on my annual reread of The Lord of the Rings and there's a great line by Sam, quoting his father: "Where there's life there's hope...and need of vittles."
Speaking of food reminds me of one specific memory: a great aunt who was diagnosed with cancer the summer of our wedding and told she didn't have much of a chance... She just congratulated us over Skype the other day on our ten-year anniversary!
I hope that was short and sweet. Sending Melissa lots of {{hugs}}

And now for a brief interlude, a song about good times:

I'm excited, too, because I've gotten some steady ROW80 work done, typing a few hundred words per day of last year's NaNo story. I won't think yet about all the editing it'll require... Hope you hop over to Michael's and join in the anthology!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Insecure Writer's Support Group, New Brenda Novak, and a Snip

Can't believe it's September already! Where does the time go?

It's Insecure Writer's Support Group day today!

We make all these schedules at the start of the year and then...well, real life does happen. But that's one reason the Round of Words in Eighty Days goal setting is so flexible. As founder Kait Nolan says, it's the writing challenge that knows you have a life!

Another aspect of real life is that sometimes your muse can fade. At that point the goals you've set can either hold you to task or make you feel doibly guilty that you can't achieve them without any inspiration.

One thing I might try, since real life is keeping me from editing (and a few of my other goals), is to not feel so guilty if I start drafting another story!

I've got two or three ideas I'd like to explore but I've been putting it off, thinking I shouldn't be drafting new stories while so many others need editing. But that's very self-limiting, isn't it? If I've got time and space to write (especially since I draft with paper and pen, and what could be more portable?), then why not go ahead?

No need to feel insecure!

In fact, I've already written a very brief scene of a dystopian idea, as part of the August exercise on the Forum:
"I've lost control."
What'd you say?" Sam glanced up from across the table, then shut his book and slid it to one side, obviously more than ready to give up the pretense that they were studying.
Summer hadn't realised she'd spoken aloud. She lowered her eyes to her own book and muttered, "I've lost an earring."
She'd been fingering her earlobe, running a hand on her collar, but forced herself to stop and wait a second. No sense drawing undue attention from the nearby tables. Someone might pick up the earring-microphone and hear a crackle of static.
The cameras saw everything and there'd be no missing the reaction on the face of someone who thought they were trying to help a fellow student and discovered a spy instead.
She didn't dare meet Sam's gaze, but copied a line from the text into her notebook, turned a page in the text, and made a tiny annotation in the left hand column, as though marking her place for the next study session.
This single bit of carelessness could cost her entire mission. If she couldn't recover her link to control, she'd have to rig up another method of contact. Otherwise she'd be trapped in the Domed City.
There weren't enough teams available for control to spare a search and rescue mission for idiots who couldn't even keep their communication devices screwed in.

Twisting in her seat, to face the nearest camera full on, Summer finally looked at Sam. She was pleased to see he'd kept up an act too. He was slumped over his closed text, doodling in his notebook, the very image of the lazy boyfriend who'd rather be out partying than studying and who certainly hadn't heard a word she'd said.
"I've lost my earring," she repeated, enunciating for the benefit of the watchers behind the cameras. "Help me look."
She dove under the table. If the device wasn't here, or caught on her clothes, or up in her dorm -- any place she'd been in the last hour -- that meant only one thing.
It had fallen when they'd snuck out to explore The Staring House.
Not fallen; she wouldn't lie to herself. She had lost her only contact with control. They wouldn't send a search party, but they'd deploy a replacement team as soon as possible in order not to jeopardise the mission, and then her failure would be discovered.
She refused to allow that to happen. And she would not let herself be captured, at least not without leaving behind more information than the team before her had been able to gather.
Communication with control or no, there was no other choice.
The Staring House must be infiltrated.

I'm also in the middle of another exciting Brenda Novak book, this one a standalone historical romance: A Matter of Grave Concern:

"When Maximillian Wilder joins the notorious body snatchers known as the London Supply Company, the last thing on his mind is love. He’s worried about Madeline, his vanished half sister, who was last seen in the company of Jack Hurtsill, the gang’s conscienceless leader. Raiding graveyards, stealing corpses, and selling them to medical colleges as dissection material is dirty work, but he has to gain Jack’s trust. He’s determined to find out what happened to Madeline—and to bring Jack to justice if she was murdered for the coin her body could bring.

Beautiful, spirited Abigail Hale, daughter of the surgeon at Aldersgate School of Medicine, detests the challenging, hard-bargaining Max. But she must procure the necessary specimens if she is to save the college and her father’s career. She believes she is going to be successful—until Jack double-crosses her. Then she’s swept into a plot of danger and intrigue, one where Max must intervene and protect her, no matter the risk to his plan . . . or his heart."

Hope everyone's having a less insecure day! I'll try to visit many of you but might not have enough time to comment everywhere...

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Exciting News!

Funny thing about social media -- posting announcements across various platforms when a major event takes place. (Which makes me wonder, why do we say "change my status update" instead of "update my status"?)

Harking back to my Belated Announcement...A joyful development from last week!:

Not quite the usual A Round of Words in 80 Days update I suppose...

Hope everyone else has had an exciting week!

Books I'm Reading and Finished Books

  • Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery
  • Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King
  • ***Reading At Intervals***
  • Beowulf and Sellic Spell by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford
  • The War of the Ring - Book 8 in the History of Middle Earth series by Christopher Tolkien and J R R Tolkien (reread)
  • What to Expect in Baby's First Year
  • Baby's First Year for Dummies
  • 11 Doctors 11 Stories by various authors (including Neil Gaiman)
  • Creed or Chaos? by Dorothy Sayers
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien manuscripts edited by J. D. Rateliff
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Jerusalem Bible
  • ***Finished Books***
  • The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
  • A Rose for the ANZAC Boys by Jackie French
  • The Adventures of Tom Bombadil by J.R.R. Tolkien (expanded edition; reread of some)
  • Married by Midnight by Talli Roland
  • Hansel and Gretel by Neil Gaiman
  • The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
  • The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny
  • Dead Cold by Louise Penny
  • The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison
  • Lessons for a Sunday Father by Claire Calman
  • The Magician by Somerset Maugham
  • Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne
  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (annual reread)
  • The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving (skimmed last third)
  • A Matter of Grave Concern by Brenda Novak
  • Fatal Fallout by Lara Lacombe
  • secret beta read!
  • The Heart of Christmas by Brenda Novak
  • Deadly Contact by Lara Lacombe
  • Carry On, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
  • The Floating Admiral by the Detection Club, including Christie, Sayers, Chesterton, etc.
  • Brief Lives, Sandman 8 by Neil Gaiman
  • Liza of Lambeth by Somerset Maugham
  • The Mapmaker's Daughter by Laurel Corona (I give up on finishing this; skimmed to the end)
  • Childe Harold by Lord Byron (listened to the parts of it set in Switzerland read aloud)
  • Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon
  • My Dancing Bear by Helene de Klerk
  • The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
  • The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier
  • Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery
  • Tu Vas Naitre by Sylvia Kitzinger
  • Goodbye To All That by Robert Graves
  • secret beta read 2!
  • Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay
  • The Caliph's Vacation by Goscinny (Iznogoud series; Canadian translation) (reread)
  • Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson
  • Le Tresor de Rackham le Rouge by Herge (Tintin series) (reread)
  • Le Secret de la Licorne by Herge (Tintin series) (reread)
  • L'Affaire Tournesol by Herge (Tintin series) (reread)
  • The Bum by Somerset Maugham (short story)
  • The Colour of Magic, Discworld 1 by Terry Pratchett
  • Fables and Reflections Sandman 6 by Neil Gaiman
  • Doctor Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party by Graham Greene
  • Once Upon an Heirloom by Kait Nolan (novella)
  • The No-Kids Club by Talli Roland
  • Snip, Snip Revenge by Medeia Sharif
  • Journey to an 800 Number by E. L. Konigsburg
  • various Neil Gaiman short stories on the An Evening With Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer album (reread (well, this time in audio))
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (reread; actually this was an older edition, published under the original title of Ten Little N******)
  • Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie (reread)
  • Never Saw It Coming by Linwood Barclay
  • How To Fall In Love by Cecelia Ahern
  • biographical note on Lord Peter Wimsey in reissue of Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers (on Gutenberg)
  • One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern
  • Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernieres
  • The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
  • Temptation by Sandy Loyd
  • The Incorrigible Mr. Lumley by Aileen Fish
  • Effie's Outlaw by Karen Lopp
  • Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
  • The Christmas Crossing by Bev Petterson (short story)
  • secret beta read!
  • An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
  • Forgotten by Catherine McKenzie
  • Arranged by Catherine McKenzie
  • Emil In the Soup Tureen by Astrid Lindgren
  • Whales by Jacques Cousteau (excerpt essay from his book)
  • Tutankhamen's Tomb by Howard Carter (excerpt essay from his book)
  • Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson
  • Everything's Eventual by Stephen King
  • Go the F*^$ To Sleep (board book)
  • Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss (reread) (brought to you by Neil Gaiman:
  • The Sagan Diary by John Scalzi
  • mini Twitter stories by Talli Roland (available here:
  • The Book of Jane by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul: O Canada The Wonders of Winter
  • Beloved Demons by Anthony Martignetti
  • Hands-on Therapy by T L Watson
  • Let Me Make Myself Plain by Catherine Cookson
  • The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham
  • Mystery of the Fat Cat by Frank Bonham
  • Spin by Catherine Mckenzie
  • Virgins by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen (reread)
  • The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
  • The Ghost in the Window by Betty Ren Wright
  • The Progress of Love by Alice Munro
  • The Treason of Isengard - Book 7 in the History of Middle Earth series by Christopher Tolkien and J R R Tolkien (reread)
  • The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling (reread)
  • Behind the Lines (poems) by A. A. Milne
  • the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (reread)
  • Chicken Soup for the Expectant Mother's Soul
  • see the 2013 list and statistics at
  • see the 2012 list and statistics here
  • see the 2011 statistics on
  • see the 2011 list at
  • see the 2010 list at
  • see the 2009 list at
  • also in 2009 at
  • see the 2008 list at
  • also in 2008 at
  • also in 2008 at