Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Interview with Barbara Rogan, and a Neil Gaiman Pep Talk, before Saint David's Day

Interview! With the amazing Barbara Rogan!

I first met Barbara through the Compuserve Books and Writers Community (thank you, Diana Gabaldon), and recently participated in her Revising Fiction Workshop, which helped me no end when I was trying to finalise the edits for Out of the Water (also, thanks to Matthew, I'm going to revise my query again!). And now, here's Barbara, first as an author, and then as an editor:

As an author...
Which is the most embarrassing song, book, movie or TV show that you love?

I watch those high-end real-estate reality shows, "Selling New York" and the like, which is pure voyeurism: seeing how the 1% live and imagining myself in those houses.

Which of your characters is most like you?

There's some of me in all of them, including (or especially) the villains. I do feel a great affinity with one character from my second book, Café Nevo: Emmanuel Yehoshua Sternholz a 72-year-old waiter in a Tel Aviv café. Sternholz is always there, sweeping up, eavesdropping, and interfering in his customers' lives... sort of like me with my characters.

Favourite literary character not your own?

Huck Finn, of course. And Elizabeth Bennet, for her attitude.

Would you like to be one of your characters, or do you the writer torture them too much?

No. I prefer at least the illusion of free choice.

What's the weirdest thing you've researched?

How to make Shaker-style furniture, which isn't so weird, except that I have zero affinity for any activity requiring tools. And of course the various methods of killing people, their advantages and disadvantages.

[Oh! I know what book that was for - Rowing in Eden. I loved it!]

As an agent and editor...

Just a note: I'm no longer an agent.

Do you go out looking for new writers, or wait for writers to come to you?

They come to me, as a teacher and editor.

If you don't like a book, how destructive can you be with your criticism? Do you change your approach depending on the author?

I like to think that I am never destructive. I don't only address flaws; I also recognize good writing or story-telling when I see it. But I do ask tough questions, and occasionally they reveal fault lines in a project. If I know a writer is super-sensitive, I'll wrap an extra layer of tact around my notes, or try to, anyway, but the substance doesn't change.

Day-to-day, what is the most challenging aspect of your work?

I started out on the publishing end of things. Being a writer is a lot harder and lonelier. It's a long wait between paydays, too. But I really have no complaints. I love what I do, and I get to make my living doing what I love. I'm very fortunate.

Which author would you most have loved to represent? Which authors did you love and represent?

I was an agent in Israel, where I represented many great writers for Hebrew rights on behalf of their primary agents. I was lucky enough to meet quite a few. Among my favorites were Isaac Bashevis Singer (who took me to lunch in a Jewish deli on the lower East Side), Madeleine L'Engle, and Nadine Gordimer.

[Madeleine L'Engle! I'm jealous!]

Is rejection a personal issue for agents? Is it harder to submit queries as an author or as an agent?

For agents, rejection goes with the territory. For writers, too, but writers take it more personally.

And now a longish question: I recently read an article about the editor Robert Gottlieb. At one point, author Michael Crichton describes working with Gottlieb:

"When I sent Bob a draft of The Andromeda Strain - the first book I did for him - in 1968 he said he would publish it if I would agree to completely rewrite it. I gulped and said OK. He gave me his feelings about what had to happen on the phone, in about twenty minutes. He was very quick. Anyway, I rewrote it completely. He called me up and said, Well, this is good, now you only have to rewrite half of it. Again, he told me what needed to happen - for the book to begin in what was then the middle, and fill in the material from the beginning sometime later on.

Finally we had the manuscript in some kind of shape. I was just completely exhausted. He said to me, Dear boy, you've got this ending backwards. (He's married to an actress, and he has a very theatrical manner. He calls me "dear boy," like an English actor might do.) I don't remember exactly the way it was, but I had it so that one of the characters was supposed to turn on a nuclear device, and there was suspense about whether or not that would happen. Bob said, No, no, the switch has to turn itself on automatically, and the character has to turn it off. He was absolutely right. That was the first time I understood that when there is something wrong in writing, the chances are that there is either too much of it, too little of it, or that it is in some way backwards."

I've always wondered about editors who take on authors and then expect them to rewrite everything – do they see something in that author that makes the process worthwhile? Would that not work with everyone? How do you feel about that level of editing? Do the lines between author and editor become blurred after a while?

Interesting story, but it reflects more on the past than the present. Very few editors now would take on a book that needed that amount of work. Even then it was unusual. Gottlieb must have thought it a great story, as indeed it was. (I doubt he thought C. was a great writer, or the book wouldn't have needed so much editing.) Notice that Crichton agreed with the changes and learned from them; they weren't shoved down his throat. I don't see an overlapping of functions here, just a zealous editor and a receptive writer.

Thank you very much, Barbara, for visiting on my blog and answering all my disconnected questions!

Parting words on this ROW80 day (I've edited a few more pages and typed up two filler scenes. Yes, it's going s l o w l y) come from Neil Gaiman's Journal:
"It does help, to be a writer, to have the sort of crazed ego that doesn't allow for failure. The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering "Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!" and then writing something so unbelievably brilliant that all other writers will disembowel themselves with their pens upon reading it, because there's nothing left to write. Because the rejection slips will arrive. And, if the books are published, then you can pretty much guarantee that bad reviews will be as well. And you'll need to learn how to shrug and keep going. Or you stop, and get a real job."

(image found in a Google search)

Tomorrow is Dewi Sant/Saint David's Day. If you're Welsh, wear a leek or daffodil!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Matthew Critiques My Query! More Questions, and An Award

Questions! More questions! I've mixed up a few from Cherie and from Julie:

1. What's your favourite item of clothing and why?

Leggings. I'm really excited that they're back.

2. If you could have any exotic or fantastical pet, what would you have?

Misha mentioned a cat-sized dragon...

3. What is your current writing project? Ayten's story, Rome, Rhymes and Risk (historical romance, set in 1493):
Ayten, an Ottoman girl kidnapped as a slave, is rescued and embarks on a voyage across the Mediterranean with her new friends, on their way to join Columbus' second voyage. She finds herself falling for the man who owns the ship: Devran, the son of the Grand Vizier.

Exiled for a crime he did not commit, Devran's also got one secret: before Ayten was kidnapped, her father had arranged for her to marry Devran.

Devran's been in love with Ayten for months - but having met him only after his exile, Ayten believes him a penniless rake. Their ship docks for a week at Venice, where Ayten turns her attentions to the Sultan's brother, Cem.

Can Devran prove his worth to her before they set sail again?
4. What's the worst book you've ever read?

Shane. Hands down. I reread it once, just to check, and yes. It's horrible.

5. If you could write any other genre besides the one you currently write, what would it be and why?

Humour. I just can't seem to write like Donald Westlake, or Kurt Vonnegut.

6. You have the winning $50 million lottery ticket. What do you buy first?

A house with a library!

7. What do you usually order for dinner at an Italian restaurant?

Pizza. I can make pasta at home, but not an oven-baked pizza!

8. How many agents have you queried (or are planning to query)?

I've sent out ten letters in January and February, gotten four rejections, and plan to try at least 50. Wish me luck!

9. Name five things you would pack in your apocalypse emergency suitcase.

Wilderness Survival for Dummies. The Lord of the Rings. A crank radio. Matches. And cash from my lottery winnings (ha!).

10. What is your one weakness?

Volunteering for all sorts of things. I need to say no, and take time to write.

If you'd like to answer some questions, feel free!

Matthew's critiquing my query! *wave* to all the lovely people I've met through his posts.

Also, I must be nuts. I just signed up for Arlee's A to Z Challenge!

I've got an idea of a theme, which should make things a little easier.

Voting's still on in Rach's challenge! Mine's number 24 - two posts below.

And I picked up a lovely award from Sarah:

I've had so many lovely comments this week, I'll hand it out to all of you!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Outlander Fun Facts, Tolkien and Jo Bourne, Sam Sykes, and Eleven More Questions

Friday fun facts! That's the name of the fun new weekly feature Karen has on her Outlandish Observations blog. They're all Outlander-related, of course, but interesting even if you haven't read the novels, including titbits about 18th Century printing presses, poisonous tomatoes, what a bodhran sounds like, electric eels, and more.

[Don't forget the Campaign Challenge! My post is below the post about Talli. If you like my entry, please click on Like on Rach's page - I'm number 24]

I've been distracted by reviewing former blog posts for Pinterest, and noticed that I barely knew how to format a blog post when I first started, in 2007. Some of my links are spelled out, and there are hardly any images - some posts are only one one sentence long! One of the first to feature an image was the post where I talked of discovering a photo of my character Austin, from the MG The Face of A Lion. Along the way, I found a quote from Joanna Bourne, featuring Tolkien, on the sillier side of "write what you know" advice.

C. V. Marie tagged me with eleven new questions!

1. Plotter, pantser, or a rad combination of both?

Definitely the latter. I pants my way through the initial two drafts, then start drawing up lists and charts and timelines, and edit in a (s l o w) but organized fashion.

2. Which two fictional characters would you want to see get in a fight?

How about an argument that leads to a kiss? It happens to my characters quite often.

3. What is the first line of your current WIP?

"The two women were disguised in men's clothes." (from Rome, Rhymes and Risk)

4. Two things within arm's reach:

My older cat, sitting on the printout of my wip. (I'd share a photo, but the batteries need recharging)

5. Describe your current book, MS, or WIP in three words:

Rome, Rhymes and Risk

6. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?

All over the rest of Scotland and Wales that I haven't seen.

7. Favorite past time?

Reading. Of course! And knitting.

8. If you were trapped in an elevator, who would you want to be trapped with?

Let's choose someone literary... and not from history... Diana Gabaldon or Neil Gaiman (with Amanda Palmer).

9. Favorite fictional character? male/female

Faramir / Luthien Tinuviel (daughter of Melian, for whose enchantment I named the blog)

10. Favorite time of the day to write?

Early morning if I can get up, late at night if I'm home alone.

11. Who inspires you to write?

All my favourite authors, but especially the ones that write short stories.

If you'd like to answer some questions, you can take any of these, or any of the 22 questions I've already blabbed answers to!

Speaking of questions, Sam Sykes' Denaos and Kataria recently answered some Valentine's Day questions, including one that Devran asked!

And now, the latest Wordle for the blog (the last Wordle was in 2008):

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Romance Book Covers and Talli Roland's Miracle at the Museum of Broken Hearts

Don't forget to take a look at my challenge entry below, if you're part of Rach's campaign!

Abebooks did a round up of romance book covers over the years, featuring recurring motifs of nurses, uncomfortable embraces, floating heads, another tropes. While the article generally deplores the kind of 'art' that's graced the covers of this genre over the years, it also seems to reinforce the point that these novels are mostly about fantasizing and escapism - as is science fiction and fantasy.

Er, no. There are worlds in those stories, and there can be just as much character development and interaction as in any other genre of story. They're not all fluff.

Unfortunately, they're right about the old covers: "Just like your favorite sci-fi novel will often be adorned with outdated fonts, blinding color schemes, multi-headed monsters and embarrassingly scantily-clad space-vixens, you’ll similarly rarely find a subtle romance cover. No tasteful muted tones, no small, understated title, not even a plain cover, here. Instead, the covers are generally dripping with flowery, serif-heavy lettering [and the] illustrations (or even photographs, sometimes), leap off the cover with their swarthy, smoldering men, swooning, passion-addled heroines and the like, in any one of a seemingly limitless number of interchangeable scenarios."

It's time to take back our covers! I think we're on the right track with Kristen Callihan's Firelight, and Talli Roland's latest, the novella Miracle at the Museum of Broken Hearts.

"When chief romantic Rose Delaney scores her dream job at London's quirkiest new attraction, The Museum of Broken Hearts, she thinks she's got it made. Sure, it's a little depressing dealing with relics of failed relationships each day, but Rose is determined not to let it break her 'love conquers all' spirit. After discovering the museum's handsome curator is nursing a broken heart of his own, Rose steps in to fix it. Can Rose heal the rift, or will this happy ending go awry?"
Talli had me hooked from the first paragraph - what a brilliant way to set up an intriguing tale! - and I empathised with Rose as soon as I started reading, and couldn't wait to see what happened. And the cover's not schmaltzy at all.

As for my story: Still editing. But my query letter for Rosa's story, Out of the Water, is up for critique again. I won an auction during the Write Dreams auctions for Donna's Dream House, and Matthew will be looking at my query any day now...

Monday, 20 February 2012

Ayten and Devran in the First Campaigner Challenge of Rach's Fourth Writers' Campaign

Campaign challenge!

Shadows crept across the wall. Devran picked up her quill and twirled it. "I was banished to Smyrna."
"Yes." Orange ink splattered onto his knee. "I was there last autumn."
The quill came close to her dress. "So that's how you knew everyone at my father's funeral." She pushed his hand aside and the quill fell on the sand.
"I wasn't long in Smyrna. My mother took ill and -"
"You said it'd been years since she'd passed away. Or was that a lie?"
"I was not lying, Ayten," he said, rising. The sunset behind cast his body into shadow. "I don't tell falsehoods or embellish my words. That would be the task of a poet." He tossed the quill beside her.
"Tell me the story then, and we'll see what poetry comes of it. A young girl, lost in the city. The spoilt son of the Grand Vizier, who takes advantage of her innocence -"
"Be careful what rumours you repeat. Or have you not heard the one where I have a garden filled with bones?"
He spun on his heel and cut across the beach, trampling the wild grass. The sunk sank into the sea. Everything faded.

Here are the rules I followed (I met every single condition!):

"Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. Begin the story with the words, 'Shadows crept across the wall'. These five words will be included in the word count.
If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), do one or more of these:
end the story with the words: "everything faded." (also included in the word count)
include the word "orange" in the story
write in the same genre you normally write
make your story 200 words exactly!
Feel free to use the picture [of a couple on a beach at sunset] to inspire you, or else see how whacky, creative, and original you can get :)"

Looking forward to reading everyone else's!

Now for some more Neil Gaiman, featuring quotes from Stardust, reading which is like digging into the world of William Morris and George MacDonald and unearthing a lost story.

"'I am the most miserable person who ever lived,' he said... 'You are young, and in love,' said Primus. 'Every young man in your position is the most miserable young man who ever lived.'"

"He was walking into Faerie, in search of a fallen star, with no idea how he would find the star, nor how to keep himself safe and whole as he tried. He looked back and fancied that he could see the lights of Wall behind him, wavering and glimmering as if in a heat-haze, but still inviting."

"Every lover is, in his heart, a madman, and, in his head, a minstrel."

"He stared up at the stars: and it seemed to him then that they were dancers, stately and graceful, perfomrming a dance almost infinite in its complexity. He imagined he could see the very faces of the stars; pale, they were, and smiling gently, as if they had spent so much time above the world, watching the scrambling and the joy and the pain of the people below them, that they could not help being amused every time another little human believed itself the center of its world, as each of us does."

"It's not hard to own something. Or everything. You just have to know that it's yours, and then be willing to let it go."

Friday, 17 February 2012

Surprise ROW80 Update, A Question About Sailing, and What Magdalena Looks Like

Now that I've signed up for the campaign challenges, I'll miss my Sunday ROW80 updates this week and later on in March, as I'll be posting Monday. Wish me luck with the first challenge!

So here's a quick update: I've gotten a few more scenes under my belt, and a little more research reading - which reminds me:

If you were sailing from Constantinople all the way to Spain, in 1493, and had left rather in a hurry, what sorts of items would you need in your cabin? Items you might purchase in an Athens market. Candles? Extra clothing? A knife? A lantern? Something else?

I've also been agonizing over this month's Writers' Exercise on the Forum. Something about writing a metaphorical bedroom scene...

Meanwhile, though, I'm closer to finding an exact image of Magdalena, Rosa's mother. The timeline goes like this - Santiago and Magdalena meet in London in the 1470s. Their only child is Rosa, who goes on to marry Baha, as told in Out of the Water. They rescue a girl named Ayten, who falls in love with Devran (also seen here, posing as the Canadiens' Tomas Plekanec), and their story, Rome, Rhymes and Risk, is the one currently being edited.

I haven't started Magdalena's (or Mawdlen's - she's actually Welsh) story yet (barring some of the salient facts of their meeting that Santiago tells his daughter in Out of the Water), but she's the only one I hadn't found a photograph or painting of. I've kept an eye out for months, and come close here and there (love this Ralph Lauren ad, for the romance), and I'm finally getting there!

Magdalena does a lot of this:

(painting by Rob Hefferan)

And bears this expression:

And she's this pretty:

(image found here)

Now, how to put all three portraits together?

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Eleven - no, Twenty-two - Interesting Questions and ROW80

Tag! I'm it!

Thanks to Kaylie for posing these interesting questions:

1) What is your most embarrassing moment?

Aha, you think I'm going to reveal that here? I'll think of another one though... there might be something book related... ah yes. I'm a rather bad (read: terrified) public speaker. My brain pulls a Homer Simpson, and disappears. So one day, in eighth grade, I had to do a book review, in front of the class. I'd been warned that we'd lose marks for reading, so I tried not to look down at my notes and instead, out of sheer nervousness, went off on a rant about the author. Caught sight of my teacher's open-mouthed expression and promptly shut up. Afterwards, one of my classmates said, "I could see your knees shaking." Yes, thank you. I was aware.

2) If you had to play a sport as a career, which one would it be?

Good question! Something historical, like archery or swordfighting. I think I could do darts and archery rather well, but I'm not coordinated for games involving others.

3) Who is your favorite music artist, and why?

Just one? That's impossible! But I managed to narrow it all down once, for the 30 Day Song Challenge.

4) What is your favorite movie, and why?

Still hard to choose one, but I recently watched Waking Ned Devine for about the tenth time. So wonderful and sweet. And, of course, there's Ioan Gruffudd in Solomon and Gaenor.

5) Would you rather live in a fantasy/paranormal world or a sci-fi one?

Fantasy, hands down. But a real place, like Middle Earth.

6) Can you list all seven dwarfs?

Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Fili, Kili, Thorin Oakenshield... Oh wait, that's not what you meant, is it?

7) If you were tossed into a fairytale, would you be a helpless princess/prince, a kick-butt heroine/hero, or the bad guy?

Helpless, at least until I figured out what was going on. Then I'd look out for myself, but probably not be the greatest at saving others. Unless I was part of a kick-ass team! Who's coming?

8) Aside from writing, what is your dream job, and are you living it?

Yes and no. I do get to copy edit a lot at work, but that doesn't see me copy editing for Neil Gaiman (or Diana Gabaldon or the Tolkien Estate or...) or doing the dream copy editing job:

I sit at home, in pyjamas, with a latte, and the doorbell rings. It's the mailman, delivering the latest book from the big publishing house. I get to scribble all my copy edits on the manuscript, and send it back - and someone else has to type them up! Every once in a while, when I crave human interaction, there are meetings downtown, with endless free lattes.

So, anyone hiring?

9) What is the best cheese you've ever tasted?

Ooh, a yummy question. I love very old cheddar, and goat cheese, and Turkish white cheese, but the best is kaşar cheese, melted on a poppyseed Montreal bagel.

(not exactly a bagel, but image from Balbadem)

10) Wolverine or Cyclops? (Either to be, for men, or to have, for ladies.)

Er. Neither? If forced, I'd go with Wolverine. My vision is bad enough for two!

11) Coffee or tea?

c.f. Question 9. Latte, latte, latte. Nothing against tea, though. I usually have one a day, a lovely English Breakfast from Harrods that I received as a gift. Or Lord John Grey tea!

I'll tag... All eleven folks who commented on my post last Friday!

And now, here are the other eleven questions, which Melissa asked:

1. If you were given a yacht, what would you name it?

Something out of Tolkien, definitely.

2. If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?

I'm not sure... Maybe have some fun scaring/confusing people by moving things in front of them.

3. Where's your favorite place to write?

My favourite place - at home, with coffee, cats and music - isn't conducive to writing. Better if I get out of the house.

4. Give us a sample of a conversation you might have with one of your characters.

I did an entire interview with Devran!

5. What punctuation mark best describes your personality? Why?

The question mark. And then what happened? But why?

6. Just like "Everybody Wang Chung tonight!", what action would your name be if it were a verb?

Well, actually... It all ready is a verb. My boss calls editing "Denizing."

7. What's one thing you'd like others to know about you?

I won't say no to a night out at a pub.

8. What's one misconception people tend to have about you?

That I'm ruthless about grammar. I try to refrain from correcting others.

9. Who cares if the glass is half empty or half full. What's in the glass?

Milk. Coffee. Tea. Hand-squeezed grapefruit juice...

10. Name one of your strengths when it comes to writing?

Er, besides copy editing? Ahem... Bedroom scenes, if I do say so myself.

11. What's the most unusual or outrageous thing you've ever done to understand and perfect a character's POV?

I know what I'd like to do - make the same journey my characters make, back and from from Cadiz and Barcelona, all the way across the Mediterranean in a caravel, to Istanbul.

I'll tag... everyone who commented on my last post!

ROW80 is on track - I've only got a few filler scenes left to write. A bit daunting, actually, because this means I have to start opening up the MS on the computer, and spend my evenings entering all those missing scenes, and deciphering all the messy edits. Maybe I should set up a latte fundraising drive...

How's everyone else doing?

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Origins Blogfest! and Pinterest

Very slow progress. Steady, but slow. I just want to sit there, eating that ice cream, and spend the weekend reading. I think I'll set aside next weekend as Reading Weekend, just to try to make a dent in the TBR hills, especially all my author friends' books .

Although, the other day, I came up with a new trick that seems so obvious, I don't know why I didn't think of it before. I was all stalled and lazy and just wanted to read, so I thought:

Why don't I WRITE the kind of scene I feel like READING?

And I did! I might post a snip, once I've done a little editing.

Then, the next day, I got a little distracted by my new Pinterest boards. It's like Tumblr, but with images only.

Here's one of the images I'm going to add on there,
Quentin Blake's illustration for the Folio Society book bag:

And now... Origins!

This fun blogfest, which officially begins tomorrow, is hosted by DL Hammons, Alex Cavanaugh, Katie Mills, and Matthew MacNish.
"Post your own origin story. Tell us all where your writing dreams began. ... It all started somewhere and we want you to tell us your own, unique, beginnings."
It all started with my Scottish teacher, Mrs Allan, in the first grade. I wrote this story:
Where was All I did not know what All was or where it was
The Adventure was nice but where was All the cow? - I did not know
Soon it was an adventure
I went out to find him he was no where I went up with a jet he was with the moon
Though I don't actually remember showing the story to anyone except my teacher and my mother, it must have sparked something, because I've been writing ever since.

I attempted my first novel in fourth grade. It was called The Strange Girl, and was about a new girl at school and the tribulations that ensued. I wrote it, and rewrote it, on yellow notebook paper. Somewhere in there, the girls TPed someone's house; my mother's only editorial comment was "you can't use acronyms your readers won't understand."

And the rest is - a long and convoluted - history. Now I write same-theme articles for the newspaper Bizim Anadolu with my mum. And, here's a list of all my stories to date, as part of The Rule of Twenty. Since that list, I've started Rome, Rhymes and Risk, and have a pile of new ideas on the back burner - some of which came from dreams, something I'm still excited and slightly scared by.

Jessica Bell, along with Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest, is hosting a writer's retreat in August - The Homeric Writers' Retreat and Workshop.

How I wish I could go, and have all that time to start drafting new stories, by the Aegean Sea!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Fourth Writers' Platform-building Campaign! and Kate Kaynak's Latest

Kate Kaynak's Operative is coming! This is the fifth book in the Ganzfield series, all about Maddie Dunn and the other G-positives who live at the Ganzfield training facility. I reviewed the third book, Legacy, here.

In the latest book, Maddie and the others (including sparks and minders - and Maddie's boyfriend, a telekinetic (who, because of what happened in the last book, is now afraid to touch her)) have to catch the person selling classified information about them to terrorists - before they become the targets. I'm looking forward to reading it this weekend!

"the Campaign is a way to link those of us in the writing community together with the aim of helping to build our online platforms. The Campaigners are all bloggers in a similar position, who genuinely want to pay it forward, make connections and friends within the writing community, and help build each others' online platforms while at the same time building theirs."

This time around I've limited myself to one Campaign Group: Group 18 - Romance/Contemporary Romance/Sweet Romance/Historical Romance. So far we've got Frost, Christy, Melissa, Kaylie and Synithia. Come join us!

The Campaign runs until Saturday, March 17, 2012. The List of Campaigners closes 15 February, so make sure you sign up before then. We'll be having two challenges, in the weeks of 20 February and 5 March. Rach always sets great challenges, featuring impossible words and fun scenarios. Here are some that I've participated in:

A snip from Out of the Water, tweaked to include the words "imago", "miasma", "lacuna", "oscitate", and "synchronicity".

A snip from Rome, Rhymes and Risk, tweaked to show that: it's morning; a man or a woman (or both) is at the beach; the main character is bored; something stinks behind where he/she is sitting; and something surprising happens. Also involves all fives senses and includes the made-up words "synbatec," "wastopaneer," and "tacise."

Whew! And don't forget, the challenges from the last Campaign were collated into an ebook, Campaigner Challenges 2011:

176 stories from 81 participants, including mine. All proceeds go to Help Harry Help Others to fund research on brain cancer.

Welcome to all campaigners!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

James Joyce and the latest ROW80 Update

On 1 January, the published works of James Joyce came into the public domain. Apparently his grandson and only living relative, Stephen Joyce, used to keep a tight rein on all Joyce's works, but now that his published novels and stories are in the public domain, they can be (among other uses) freely quoted from.

If anyone knows, please tell me - can't executors of a literary estate keep 'buying' the copyright? That is, if Stephen Joyce was oh so controlling over his grandfather's estate, could he not have kept renewing the copyright?

I first read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in my early teens. I had a sweatshirt that featured Joyce and jokingly referred to Beckett going out in the middle of the night to get pizzas. Or something like that. Tried to Google it, but can't find the exact text, so here're Joyce and Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare & Company in Paris:

(image from Princeton Magazine)

Here's the lyrical opening to Portrait:
"Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming
down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road
met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo...

His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a
glass: he had a hairy face.

He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne
lived: she sold lemon platt.

O, the wild rose blossoms
On the little green place.

He sang that song. That was his song.

O, the green wothe botheth."

Development on the Round of Words in 80 Days front is rather slow. I have about 15 missing scenes still to write but these, when I originally left them blank, covered more than one actual scene. So my notes say things like:

"add more between the ball and the expedition - there has to be a reason Ayten starts becoming attracted to Prince Cem..."


"does she rescue him at the end or do they work together?"

Not very helpful. I think, like it or not, I'm going to have to return to my waking-at-5am-to-write regimen. At least I get a latte when I do!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Messy Edits, Helen MacInnes and Kristen Callihan's Firelight

My latest update for ROW80:

If slow and steady wins the race, I might have something tangible by the end of this round. I started with 25 scenes to fill in and I've done close to 10 of them already. I hope I don't cringe when I come to type them up. I do still love the story and the characters, and that's always been my benchmark for whether an MS is worth sticking with.

But look at all the scribbled paper edits I have to deal with once I've typed up the missing scenes:

The opening:

A few blurry shots of the worst messes:

Frodo gets in on the act:

"Keep this page":

I really hope they reprint and publicise Friends and Lovers.

I picked up this novel at a book fair or secondhand bookstore years and years ago and fell in love with it - with the story, with the characters - on the first page. None of the handful of other MacInnes books I've read have had that same effect. Every few years I reread Friends and Lovers with a shivering sense of delight.

Firelight by Kristen Callihan is out now!

Once the flames are ignited...
Miranda Ellis is a woman tormented. Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, she has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family's fortune decimated and forced her to wed London's most nefarious nobleman.

They will burn for eternity...
Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it's selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can't help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn't felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask.
Kristen's agent shared some of the rejections Firelight received before an editor finally snapped it up. And now look!

"Callihan has a great talent for sexual tension and jaw-dropping plots that weave together brilliantly in the end." Diana Gabaldon, New York Times bestselling author of Outlander

"Debut author Callihan pens a compelling Victorian paranormal with heart and soul... Readers will cheer for the couple, especially when the obstacles piled in their paths appear unsurmountable. The compulsively readable tale will leave this new author's fans eager for her next book." Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

Congratulations, Kristen!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Charles Dickens, and Getting To Know You Blogfest

Two hundred years ago on 7 February, Charles Dickens was born. If I was in London, I might try to get tickets for the bicentenary dinner at the Dickens Museum.

"In celebration of the birth of Charles Dickens 200 years ago, a dinner will be held at Mansion House.

The evening will commence with a sherry reception at 6.45pm, followed by a three-course dinner at 7.30pm with wines and coffee. Carriages at 10.30pm.

Featuring Dickensian entertainment led by Sir Patrick Stewart." (emphasis mine)

Wonder what carriages means? Do you get driven home in style? How come you don't get picked up, too?

Sometime back, during NaNo, J. L. Campbell hosted a getting to know you blogfest for the romantic suspense group of Rach Harrie's Writers Platform-building Campaign. I came across this the other day on Tara's blog, and thought I'd answer the questions.

Only, of course, I'm going to do them from a historical romance point of view...

1. Name two historical romance authors who inspire you.

That's easy - Joanna Bourne and Diana Gabaldon. Diana's not a romance author, of course, but that's precisely why she's so inspiring - she's an everything author.

2. How did you start writing in your genre?

Short answer - I don't know. Long answer - One day in high school I stopped writing middle grade stories and started writing a romance between two real life musicians. I knew they were meant to be together, even if they couldn't see it.

Some years later, after two finished novels and a few aborted story ideas, I went back to MG. But everything moved slowly. Ideas were halting, editing was plodding along at a snail's pace. And then... well, I've told this story before:

I sent my characters off to another houseparty.

"One or the other of them had previously participated in the writers' houseparties that take place on the Compuserve Books and Writers Community; there have been eight such parties to date and I – and my characters – were present at the very first one in June 2007. Each party after that grew in size and complexity, as more writers joined in the fun, bringing their characters to interact with the characters of other members, who all come from varying places and time periods. Houseparties are a great way to thrust your characters out of their familiar worlds and learn things about them that you may not have known before. Writing for a houseparty is just like writing your first draft – fast paced and fluid, with no second guessing; anything goes at a houseparty, from magic to skipping between time periods, to anachronistic events and language, to romantic interludes..."

I rediscovered my love of romance, the ideas began to flow - unstoppable - and I haven't looked back.

3. You've landed a meeting with your dream agent. Write a one-paragraph pitch to sell your novel to him/her.

Let's go with the one I'm pitching to agents right now:

Out of the Water is a 15th Century historical romance, complete at 115,000 words.
Rosa becomes separated from her family as they flee their Spanish homeland – and the Inquisition. Now her one hope of reaching Constantinople, and reuniting with her family, lies with a stranger, Baha, an artist from the Ottoman Empire. As they travel together, Rosa's drive to find her loved ones is matched by a deepening desire for the man at her side.

Her family refuses to accept this man of a different faith, but when janissaries arrest her father and brother, Rosa and Baha risk everything to rescue them. Together they will prove that their love can withstand their differences... if the Grand Vizier doesn't throw them both into the dungeons first.
4. Sabotage or accident - which would you put your female lead through, and why?

I have to say, I don't plan many of the incidents. Some appear out of nowhere and some are the characters telling me "I know you thought this would happen, but I'm going to do that."

Sometimes they grow out of exercises on the Compuserve forum; that's how I met Baha.

And I always, always, worry that I'm not raising the stakes enough.

5. Plotter or panster - who are you?

Oh, definite pantster. Especially for the first draft. Then I do a read through, with editing, and make a list of all the scenes and links I need. And pants my way through them.

If anyone else wants to turn this into an ongoing blogfest, feel free!

Mr. Dickens:

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Neil Gaiman Writes Back, Insecure Writers, and a Shower Curtain Story

Jumping up and down:

Neil Gaiman wrote back!

Hope this catch sways Gaiman towards taking me on as copy editor (she says wistfully).

All this is very timely as I'm in the midst of editing insecurity. So many missing scenes (25 to be exact) to draft for Rome, Rhymes and Risk, and each time I sit down to write one all I hear is a negative inner critic cackling at my efforts.

I know, I know, just quiet that critic with a little whisky latte, right? But it doesn't always work. Yet the only way to plough through is to do so despite the insecurity. As John D. MacDonald said, in his introduction to Stephen King's Night Shift:
"The only way you learn how to write is by writing. ... Because that's the way it is done. Because there is not other way to do it. Not one other way. ... Compulsive diligence is almost enough. But not quite. You have to have a taste for words. Gluttony. You have to want to roll in them. You have to read millions of them by other people. You read everything with grinding envy or weary contempt. ... Diligence, word-lust, empathy equal growing objectivity and then what? Story. Story. Dammit, story! ... Story is something happening to someone you have been led to care about. It can happen in any demension--physical, mental, spiritual--and in combination of all those dimensions." (lucky for me, someone else had already typed all this up)
Or you can, you know, try something new:

Shower curtain story

Dave Eggers has published a story on a shower curtain: "The McSweeney's founder has given a new meaning to idea of reading in the bathroom. His text is printed on a shower curtain for people to read while getting clean. It costs $65."

I don't know. I think I'll keep using my notebook.

Have you ever printed a story on something other than paper?

Books I'm Reading and Finished Books

  • The Making of Outlander by Tara Bennett
  • Testament of Experience by Vera Brittain
  • Zoom sur Plainpalais by Corinne Jaquet
  • beta read! (JB)
  • ***Reading At Intervals***
  • Sophie's Choice by William Styron
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw
  • Burning Sky by Lori Benton
  • 12 Anne and Avonlea books by L. M. Montgomery (skimming/reread (this was free on Kindle!))
  • Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford
  • Istanbul Noir (Akashic Books anthology)
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien manuscripts edited by J. D. Rateliff
  • The Jerusalem Bible
  • ***Finished Books***
  • The Children of Men by P. D. James
  • A Daughter's A Daughter by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
  • A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
  • Sunlight by Margaret Rucker (poem; floating in a cocktail glass)
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  • Preface to The Hobbit, by Christopher Tolkien
  • Ilk Defa... by Beste Barki (essays)
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (essay)
  • The Moon and I by Betsy Byars
  • The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
  • Rogue Warrior by Regan Walker
  • Beauty and the Beast by Villeneuve
  • Black (what was this? I don't remember!)
  • Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
  • Thomas the Tank Engine by Rev. Awry (26 book collection)
  • beta read (Born to Run by RB)
  • The Little Turtle by Vachel Lindsay (poem; reread)
  • The Kraken by Alfred Lord Tennyson (poem)
  • Android's Dream by John Scalzi
  • The Mysterious Tadpole by Stephen Kellogg (reread)
  • Yashim Cooks Istanbul by Jason Goodwin
  • Miniatures by John Scalzi
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
  • Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter (illustrated by Quentin Blake)
  • All or Nothing by Rose Lerner (short story)
  • Merry Christmas, Emily (board book)
  • Extra Yarn by __ and Jan Klassen
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Outlandish Companion II by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Outlandish Companion I, Revised by Diana Gabaldon
  • MacHinery and the Cauliflowers by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Dileas by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Gold Watch by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • betty, butter, sun by Monica Byrne (short story)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay by J.K. Rowling
  • The Very Cranky Bear (Scholastic)
  • various haiku by R. Wodaski
  • ongoing rereads of most board books listed last year!
  • see the 2016 list and statistics at
  • see the 2015 list and statistics at
  • see the 2014 list and statistics at
  • 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