Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Research Weirdness Again - and Cthulhu


I've been doing a lot of it the past couple of years, for Out of the Water and Rome, Rhymes and Risk, both set c. 1492 in the Mediterranean. (And also quite a bit this past week, as I'm still in the midst of tying up loose ends in Ayten's story.)

I love researching historicals, and learning new things about the time periods my characters happen to be in. Bring on the square brackets!

And keep reading - you never know when something you read, even if it's not directly for research, will lead to an important fact that's relevant for your story. You might also come across weird information. I've listed some of my odd searches before, for Rosa's story and for The Face of A Lion, Austin's story.

Now, here's some what I've Googled or read about in primary and secondary sources for Ayten's story and for my shiny new idea:

Rome, Rhymes and Risk (15th Century):
metalwork and trading
marriage and burial rites
more parts of ships and nautical terms (these never stick in my head)
clothing in fashionable Roman homes
Cem, the exiled brother of Sultan Bayezid
layout of the town of Cadiz
hills and villages on the mainland beyond Cadiz - where would one be taken if one had the misfortune to be kidnapped?
donkeys and horses and mules, oh my! (Adam Heine's got an awesome reference for horse travel times)

untitled shiny new idea (modern day, but featuring a 1000+ year old curse/legend):

druids and their tombs
Welsh myths and legends
Cornish myths and legends
archaeological key words
fairy tales, especially genre staples for Beauty and the Beast tales
noble families of England, Scotland and Wales

...and that's just the beginning! I've also looked up mythical sea creatures. Which is why I'm sharing this image of Cthulhu, especially since I haven't featured him on the blog before:

Author Elizabeth Chadwick recently shared her historical research notes from an Institute of Historical Research workshop.

What crazy things have you investigated?

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Favourite Children's Books: Vince Ditrich's Picks, and ROW80

(reposted from 2010. Hope you enjoy!)

Children's books these days are divided into so many genres and categories that it almost seems funny to recommend, for instance, The Lord of the Rings, to a youngster. Yet I was 10 when I first read that and The Hobbit. Given the title of this blog, for one, it's arguably the book that touched me as a child, and I've reread it every year since then. But there are so many other authors that I'd also list as my favourites, which I won't repeat here; we've had discussions on this topic before on the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum, last year and the year before, as well as a discussion on what we learned from kids' books.

Which book touched you that you still remember? Was it a series, a specific genre, or a single story?

Many of the authors that have made a difference to me are Canadian, and sometimes I wonder if I would have discovered them at all if I'd grown up elsewhere. A number of authors and readers responded to the Compuserve thread, including Canadian authors (such as Marsha Skrypuch!), and then I started wondering, what about Canadian musicians?

And that's what led me to this series of posts (as detailed in my introductory post).

The first featured picks come from Vince Ditrich, drummer and manager of Spirit of the West, who chose a few, being a reader after my own heart and unable to pick just one (cover photos and links inserted by me):

"1) I recall just loving ‘The Mad Scientist’s Club’ by Bertrand Brinley. I haven’t laid eyes on it since elementary school, but I know I checked it out of the library about a dozen times. Mad science, all your best friends, pranks, and a clubhouse…Could anything be better (before puberty and beer)?

2) Lost in the Barrens / Curse of the Viking Grave / The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be – Well, pretty well anything by Farley Mowat, but these ones really rattled my cage. My first read of ‘Lost in the Barrens’ was a high point in my life... I think I stayed up till about 4 in the morning on a school night to finish it off. Man, I was THERE with Jamie and Awasin, a fly on the wall. Mutt the dog, on the other hand, was just plain funny and Mowat’s style had a permanent effect and influence on my own writing.

3) Citizen of the Galaxy / Starman Jones / Have Spacesuit, Will Travel – Robert Heinlein. I am not personally aware of anything that can touch these three ‘cadet’ books as far as Sci-Fi for younger people is concerned. I continue to re-read these periodically as they give me such pleasure and powerful doses of nostalgia. Heinlein was at the top of his game here, and the stories and characterizations are flawless. His skill blending science, drama, narrative, dialogue, theory and adventure is unmatched. Pure catnip.

4) Carrying the Fire – Michael Collins – Autobiography of Apollo 11 crewmember. Far and away the best astronaut book and honestly one of the most balanced and best written autobiographies I have read. It was a bit over my head when I first tackled it at age 11, but I re-read many times and learned a great deal about history, the vicissitudes of life, and how to write with excellence from this really outstanding book.

5) Honorable mention – Yertle the Turtle – Dr Seuss.
I think everybody has read it. It is worthy of everyone reading it, and then they should read it to their kids."

I agree - what about you?

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Book Reviews and More UK Photographs

Lots of review sites and articles up!

I've got another new article at Bizim Anadolu, this one about Pâté Chômeur, a yummy Québecois dessert.

We're still seeking reviewers over at the One Hundred Romances Project - come join the fun. I've got reviews of Carol Spradling's The Night Lamp and Nina Jade Singer's Secrets of the Knight up right now.

Song of the Sea also features romance book reviews - I'm hoping to contribute a few someday soon.

And Forumite Betty Navta has a new blog titled Books Uncaged, "for readers and writers with a passion for books." The blog is a joint one with her friend author Michelle Yd Frost.

"We're stepping out from being rather insular about our processes, experiences and efforts at writing, editing, cover-designing, self-publishing, e-book publishing, etc. Both of us have written for other venues - magazines, newspapers and blogs, of course. And both of us are avid readers. It's something new and different for both of us. And exciting! Drop by and take a look at your leisure. (Well, leisure meaning when you hit that spot in your writing that you just have to get away from!)"
I've written more book reviews on this blog than I thought I would when I started. Sometimes I rave about a book or author (Joanna Bourne is the greatest!) - whether they're authors from my neighbourhood or classic novels - and other times I'm less than enthused. I don't know if - provided I'm published some day - I'll ever be comfortable with reviews. Right now I can handle commentary and critique because, no matter what, I can still fix the story. But what about when it's between covers?

Which leads me to ROW80 and all the scenes I've still got to write for Ayten's story. Progress is slow. Why must shiny new ideas always be more exciting?

Meanwhile, I've got some random photos from our UK trip:

Air Canada

A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen. I really wanted this book. But, I was good. I added it to the wishlist, instead. That TBR pile's not going to get any smaller if I keep acquiring books.

 Sunrise over the wing

 A mini history of The Brown Jug pub, including the fact that Canadian soldiers used to drink here when stationed in England during the war.

The Brown Jug, between Broadstairs and Ramsgate, at Dumpton. Awesome. 200 years old (relatively new!). Possibly haunted. I'd love to write here every day!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

New Linda Gerber!, Writing Chain, and Book Award

Linda Gerber has a new book out:
Hacked, the third episode in the Lights, Camera, Cassidy series.

To celebrate, she's running a giveaway for the next two months! Spread the word (tweet-ready!):

"Lights, Camera, Cassidy Charmed Summer Giveaway! Win charms, one-of-a-kind charm necklaces, even a chance at an iPhone 4!"

Someday I hope I get to celebrate a book launch (future ROW80 goal!)...

Meanwhile, I've made a list of all the missing scenes in Ayten's story, as well as the names I still need, including a couple of priests, a handful of Castilian brigands, a kitten... Any suggestions?

The other thing I've been doing really well for two weeks now - surprise! surprise! - is keeping up a writing chain each morning. Love me that shiny new story!

I got the chain idea from Jenny Maloney's blog:
Step 1: Get a big calendar.
Step 2: Draw an X on each day you write. (After a few days, you'll have a chain of Xes)
Step 3: Don't break the chain.
I've gotten an award from Chris Fries!

"This award is for book bloggers only.
To receive this award the blog must be at least 50% about books (reading or writing is okay)
Along with receiving this award, you must also share the top five favorite books you have ever read
(more than five is okay)
You must give this award to 5-10 other lucky book blogs you adore."

Since my favourite books are obvious (including, at least, The Lord of the Rings, Outlander, Anne of Green Gables, and so on), I'm going to list five that I don't talk about often enough:

Five Classic Novels That I Love

1. White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
2. Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell
5. anything by Evelyn Waugh and Somerset Maugham

Chris passed on the award to everyone he follows, and I'm going to do the same!

Which books will you choose?

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

I've Finished Editing!, Author Tips, Matilda Cat, and Talli Roland's Latest


I've finished editing on paper (ROW80)!

Rome, Rhymes and Risk (Ayten's story) is a mass of scribbles at the moment. I don't think I've ever had a story that needed this much scene-moving before. On the other hand, I've never done a substantial edit like this so early on in a story's life; even with Out of the Water (Rosa's story) I went through at least three drafts, if not more, before I printed it all out and tackled it en masse. But I'm trying to develop a quicker pace.

I have all these lofty story goals now:

June: make list of missing scenes for Rome, Rhymes and Risk and write them; continue with shiny new idea drafting in the mornings

July: type up all new scenes and edits for Rome, Rhymes and Risk; continue with shiny new idea drafting in the mornings

August: reread Rome, Rhymes and Risk one last time; continue with shiny new idea drafting in the mornings

September: enter changes for Rome, Rhymes and Risk and send it to betas; type up draft for shiny new idea

October: edit the shiny new idea; catch up on what I haven't finished in September; start drafting for Santiago and Mawdlen's story (Rosa's parents)

November: NaNo! for Santiago's story

December: edit something. Burn out. Take a two- or three-week vacation just to read books off my TBR pile!

All this while v e r y s l o w l y (to avoid rejection, of course) querying Out of the Water.

I wish I was writing here:

(photo from My Turkish Joys)

I'll just have to remember what Ray Bradbury said in Zen in the Art of Writing: "That's the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you."

Also what Neil Gaiman said about the faces of authors: "Since then, writers have looked like other people even when they write (though sometimes their lips move, and sometimes they stare into space longer, and more intently, than anything that isn't a cat); but their words describe their real faces: the ones they wear underneath."

And all the things Diana Gabaldon says, in a lovely long interview with The Authors Road.

In other author news, last week was the 45th anniversary of Dorothy Parker's death.

Which reminds me, the Algonquin Hotel cat, Matilda, is back at home!

We've been playing a round of The Minister's Cat game with Matilda, and you're welcome to join in for a second round!

On top of that, Bloomsday is coming up! Who's got plans? I might be attending a local quiz night...

In more exciting news, Talli Roland is launching her latest novel, Construct a Couple!

"Is any relationship strong enough to survive a string of secrets?

With a great job at a reputable magazine and a man who's the perfect match, Serenity Holland thinks she's laid the foundation for an ideal London life. When a routine assignment uncovers a shocking secret threatening her boyfriend's company, Serenity decides to leave nothing to chance, taking matters into her own hands. Soon, though, she realises keeping secrets isn't as easy as she thought . . . and the consequences are far worse than she ever imagined."

And there's still lots of time if you'd like to enter my Show me the Words! contest - blog about your writing and editing, and share photos!

Which new releases are you looking forward to this summer?

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Recent Reads, Bradbury and George, and Hedwig!

Tolkien Conference! Celebrating 75 years of The Hobbit. And Surrey Writers' Conference!

I wish I was attending both, especially Surrey; it would be so exciting to pitch a story 'live' for the first time. Scary, but exciting.

I've been doing well with my schedule - only ten pages of editing left (ROW80)! And don't forget my Show me the Words! contest. I'm adding another feature to the contest - for an extra entry, head over and watch the Whisky Trench Riders' single Driftin'. You can like it or share it, too, if you wish, but the important thing is the views - the band is trying to hit 1000 views before the end of the month.

We've lost two authors and inspirations this week, Ray Bradbury and Jean Craighead George. Neil Gaiman has some touching tributes to Bradbury, and here's the New York Times on George. I have to admit I've only read one of her books, My Side of the Mountain - she has 99 others that I haven't read yet! The film version of My Side of the Mountain was filmed in and around Knowlton, not far from Montreal.

I've been lucky lately, winning lots of books. Just finished Linda Jackson's The Lie That Binds, which I'd won off Sara, and am about to start Who Writes This Crap? by Joel Stickley, the genius behind the How To Write Badly Well blog.

Before we left for vacation, I read the wonderful Go Ask the River by Evelyn Eaton, which I'd recommend to everyone.

"The haunting story of the great female poet Hung Tu, who flourished in the ninth century during one of the great periods of Chinese literature. The daughter of a Government official far from the capital, on the Silk River, she was, most unusually, brought up with her brothers, whom she far outshone. Falling on evil times, her father sells her to the best Blue House on the Silk River.

Hung Tu's poetry and calligraphy bring her great renown, and the story traces her rise from Flower-in-the-Mist to Official Hostess at the court of the governors of the Silk City, and her love affair with the poet Yuan Chen. Set against the backdrop of the scholars, poets, officials, and warring factions of ninth century China, this wonderful story reconstructs one of the great periods of China - turbulent, cruel, yet with a sense of beauty remarkable by any standards and in any age. Go Ask the River is a tale not only of historical China, but of the human struggle to discover how to be alive.

'Throughout runs the Taoist Philosophy - the Eight Signs of the Golden Flower, the meaning of Tao, the place of women in Oriental society. Hung Tu emerges as a vibrant figure, radiating a sense of beauty, balance, and well-being' - Montreal Star' [another Montreal connection!]" (description from Amazon)

Speaking of Montreal, I've got sunrise photos for Joshua, who always shares his mornings with us:

looking south, towards the former planetarium

same shot, but if you squint you can see the Canadian flag atop the building

I seem to be full of books this weekend. Here, for instance, are two random quotes about writing:

"When I was a child I read books. My reading was not indiscriminate. I preferred books that were old and thick and hard. I made vocabulary lists." - Marilynne Robinson, sounding like me

"[Secret window, secret garden] seemed to me as good a metaphor as any for what writers - especially writers of fantasy - do with their days and nights. Sitting down at the typewriter or picking up a pencil is a physical act; the spiritual analogue is looking out of an almost forgotten window, a window which offers a common view from an entirely different angle... an angle which renders the common extraordinary. The writer's job is to gaze through that window and report on what he sees." - Stephen King

And one about life: "Looking back over a lifetime, you see that love was the answer to everything." - Ray Bradbury

Also, I couldn't resist sharing this photo from the Ecomuseum, of an owl who might be Hedwig:

Which books have you been reading?

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Contest!, Book Reviews, ROW80 and Insecure Writers


What better way to celebrate the Insecure Writer's Support Group than by running a writers' contest?

It all started with my new schedule. Everything's going swimmingly, especially the Monday and Wednesday editing nights. Observe!:

That last shot is mainly because I felt badly for Frodo, since all the other photos featured Sam (and yes, that's the cap off a beer bottle on his head).

So that's me editing. Meanwhile, though, I keep having all these shiny new ideas. What to do? If I don't start exploring them right away, they'll disappear or become less sparkly; if I take notes and try to come to them later on, that would make me *gasp* a plotter.

Which is why I've added to the schedule, a la ROW80 (change your goals each week to suit you!): I normally read on the train to and from work, but I'm so excited by this latest shiny new idea (a little tweak on the old beauty and the beast story, involving Druids, a minotaur's labyrinth, an archaeological dig - and romance, of course) that I've got to start drafting.

I promised I'd do at least 250 words each morning, and you know what? It's hard to tear myself away from the notebook once the train ride is over!

In honour of all this steady work, I'm hosting a Show me the Words! contest from now until 31 July.

Are you editing? writing? plotting? Share photos of your progress on your blog, website, Twitter feed, wherever, and post the link here in the comments.

There are prizes!
International: 20$ Amazon gift card (whichever Amazon you prefer)
residents of the United States and Canada: you can choose either the gift card
or one of these two awesome books:

Hélène Boudreau's Real Mermaids Don't Hold Their Breath

"Jade begins her summer confused. Yes, there's that whole "will this be a leg-day or a tail-day" kind of confusion, but Jade's got even bigger problems:

It's been three weeks since Mom returned to the ocean with no news of her whereabouts. Plus, it's been twenty-one days since Jade first kissed her mer-boy Luke and now - nothing.

Will Mom find the enchanted tidal pool that will allow her to become human?
And why is Luke acting so weird?"

The second part of the mermaid series - Jade's summer is heating up! I read this book in a day, I was that excited by Jade's adventures.
Her voice (first person pov!) is fresh and endearing; Jade and her best friend Cori are just the sorts of characters you wish you lived next door to.

Kristen Callihan's Firelight
"London, 1881

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."

I could go on and on about this book - the Victoriana, the paranormal aspects, how real each and every character is, right down the shortest scenes. But the best part? Well...

You know that scene in a romance where the hero and heroine are finally beginning to admit their feelings for each other, and come that bit closer, and feel their skin tingle, and their fingers briefly touch and they might be about to kiss... Yea, that moment. Callihan's an expert at it. I love rereading those scenes!

Spread the word!

And if you need prompts, Malcolm's got Writing Prompts for the Bold, Insane and Desperate.

Or you can follow Hemingway's advice to Fitzgerald: "That's what dries a writer up... not listening. That is where it all comes from. Seeing, listening. ... write and don't worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket. ... Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously."

One last thing, for those of you trying to get children to read, here's a tip from Judy Blume: "First, invest in one with a new cover. Even if you like the old, original covers. Second, don't give it to them. Just leave the books strategically placed around the house and then occasionally say: 'Oh no, you're not reading that – you're not ready for it yet.'"

Oh, and if you need musical inspiration, the Whisky Trench Riders are now on Twitter!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Oreos, Choughs, Research, and Letters of Note (with many photos!)

Although I meant to talk about editing and my crazy new ideas today, this post has been OBE.

Yes, it's Jubilee weekend, but no, there's no knighthood forthcoming (not even an agent! Though I'm still querying, and blogging about it at Misha's). I just like using the phrase OBE - Overtaken By Events.

All silliness aside, what I mean is, I was going to post about editing and a contest I'm going to run (speaking of which, Claire Legrand is running an awesome Cavendishlicious giveaway) but I can't figure out why my new phone won't let me email myself the photos that I need, and my chip reader is in my desk at work (I also haven't figured out where in the phone the chip is, yet).

On top of that, I was going to talk about the amazing Letters of Note website, but I seem to have lost the email in which I saved all the links to the best letters, by Tolkien and Lewis and Hemingway, and so on. So instead, I've got lots of random images and ideas to share.

To start with, 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the Oreo cookie! Here's me dunking:

Back in the UK, our first week there was National Stilton Week in England!
We enjoyed some Stilton and other cheeses at Helen's:

I took lots of photos of pre-1500 buildings, imagining that Rosa and, earlier on, her mother Mawdlen, might have stayed at one of them (ignore any chimney pots, lampposts and cars!):

A street as seen from Warwick Castle:

Some of the houses aren't as old, but have interesting connections: A crooked house in Canterbury...

...which inspired Dickens:
"a very old house bulging out over the road... leaning forward, trying to see who was passing on the narrow pavement below" (from David Copperfield)

I also learned about a rare bird:

And I might have spotted him:

I did some research at the Victoria and Albert Museum on metals I'm not very familiar with:



and bronze (the one on the left is 'Mounted Turk Attacked by a Lion'):

Suddenly I spotted a Dalek attacking shoppers through a window:

But we got away in the TARDIS:

Whew! Meanwhile, I couldn't help it; I went back really quickly through the Letters of Note site.

Here's Bill Watterson with cartooning tips,
C. S. Lewis on writing and pantomimes,
Charles Bukowski on censorship,
Henry VIII writing to Anne Boleyn in English and French with nary a comma in sight,
Helen Keller describing the view from atop the Empire State Building (you'll see!),
J. R. R. Tolkien on names and ancestry,
Roald Dahl on dreams and criticism,
Stephen King, age 14, writing a query letter to a magazine,
R. L. Stevenson writing to his father for money,
Stephen Fry on depression,
and fan mail from Wil Wheaton that I'm all envious about.


That's how I feel as I enter the last run of edits.
I can't wait till I'm done and can change my ROW80 goal to - draft missing scenes!

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