Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Pre-NaNo Jitters, Quebec City Photos, and Some Updates

What's that? Do I hear the sound of scurrying writers? Is everyone hiding? I thought we were all doing NaNo!

I'm all set.

I've read the blog posts about preparing for NaNo (Joshua's Five Lessons from NaNo, the ROW80 Round-up of NaNo Advice, and Jordan McCollum's advice on reaching NaNo goals on autopilot and getting your family on board for NaNo), made sure to sign up for miniNaNo on the Compuserve Books and Writers Community, joined Twitter (I must be crazy! but I figured, on days when I have no chance to check emails, I could at least keep up with fellow NaNoers this way - find me @DenizBevan), and am trying to keep my inboxes under control (see you next month FB, Pinterest and tumblr!).

And, oh yea, the writing. I have a vague idea for this story - Santiago and Mawdlen meet and fall in love - but very little in the way of advance plotting, beyond a few hastily scribbled scenes. For the first time, I'll be free to explore, in each scene, "what's the worst that could happen?"

I've got to get as deep into my characters as I can because, from the bits and pieces of feedback I've gotten over the last little while, one of my deeper faults is not emotionally connecting the reader with the characters.

If anyone has tips for getting past this, I'll be very grateful.

I'm doing chapter summaries next week on the Diana Gabaldon Yahoo mailing list, and while preparing them in advance, realised that I've never shared my Quebec City photos on the blog! Just a reminder that winter is around the corner:

We'd gone to see Blue Rodeo


Quebec poet Emile Nelligan


Horse and carriage, also called a caleche

Ice palace


Plains of Abraham

The fort on the Plains of Abraham

St Lawrence river

St Lawrence again

Another shot; all these were taken facing south

St Lawrence from round the side of a Martello Tower

St Lawrence ice


I've revised my ROW80 goals, since I've finished typing up Druid's Moon! A completed 32,000 word novella. Just needs editing.

My NaNo project is Santiago and Mawdlen's story, Captive of the Sea: Back when he was a young sailor, Santiago travelled to England and fell in love with a Welsh girl called Mawdlen (Magdelana). Mawdlen's involved in some shady activities, however, that soon get him into trouble.

How can Santiago win her heart? Will she be willing to give up her life of intrigue as a spy to return with him to Spain?

Finally, Happy Hallowe'en! Here's Neil Gaiman on Edgar Allan Poe.

What are you dressing up as?

Oh! Late addition - did you know about this Harry Potter prequel? I just discovered it!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Free Short Story, Links, Reading Weekend

Free Neil Gaiman story over on Audible. Written by him and read by him!

And the best part? For every download, Audible will donate money to Donors Choose!

I'm listening to it right now and Neil's voice - I mean, his accent - I mean, the story - is quite lovely. Also scary. Click-clack monsters made of the dark, coming for you out of their lair... Uh oh, I think I've just guessed what's going to happen next... Eek!

Speaking of stories, is it too early to start revealing the identities behind WRiTE CLUB participants? Well, maybe. Don't forget to vote in the finalists rounds! (Was that a hint? Maybe...)

I'm this close to finishing typing up Druid's Moon, before NaNo starts and I jump in to Santiago's story, Captive of the Sea. So this weekend I'm taking a break and switching from blogging and writing to reading and knitting. Thank you to everyone who commented on my last post; I'll visit you all soon!

Here are some of the other blogs I'm looking forward to:

Theresa and Len do a blog swap!
Le Comte St Germain's Poison at the Outlander Kitchen
Talli Roland visits Jessica Bell!

It's All Hallow's Read week until Wednesday. Go share a scary book with someone!

What's everyone got planned for Hallowe'en?

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Thoughts on Self-publishing, and ROW80 and NaNo Updates

Contest end! I know I said I'd wait till the WRiTE CLUB finals before announcing the winner, but the Show me the Words! Contest has been running since June and I decided to end it during Virtual Surrey, just in time to find prizes at the McGill University Book Fair (which was about to be cancelled before hundreds more volunteers stepped up). You can see the most recent contest entries over at the Forum. Winners will be announced in that thread this week!

ROW80 has been progressing much better. I'm almost finished typing up Druid's Moon, and I've a title for my NaNoWriMo project: Captive of the Sea Meanwhile, following on from Virtual Surrey workshops by Talli Roland and Kait Nolan (thank you both!), I'm reposting my self-publishing blog post from two years ago:

Before the Internet (remember those years?) self-publishing was a murky, expensive exercise. You sent the MS of your beloved book to a company by mail, they bound and printed it and you paid for every copy then turned around and tried to sell it or push it on family and friends.

At least, that's how I think it used to be.

I never paid much attention to it before; the few books I've read that were self-published back in the day were very badly edited and had plots and story lines that went nowhere. Let's not even get into historical fallacies...

Post-internet, self-publishing is a different dimension altogether. Writers now have not only many more options for the formats of their books, but since information on the publishing process itself, not to mention editing and marketing, is so widely available, there is no longer the easy excuse of "I didn't know about that!" for putting out a badly written, unedited book. As Kait Nolan explains, formatting and editing are NOT hard and must be done.

Many authors who market their own work want to be sure they're putting out the best possible story they can, and work hard to build online platforms and polish their work prior to publication.

They might even hire an outside editor, such as India Drummond (shameless plug).

The issue still stands though: Are readers likely to choose self-published books by authors they don't know? And does traditional publishing give you more of a platform for attracting readers?

I find genre and format are very important considerations. To put it bluntly, I write MG and YA; I doubt I could market such books entirely on my own. If my latest wip turns into straight romance and loses most of the YA elements when I reach the editing stage, I might consider an online publisher that also offers print options; marketing romance would be vastly different. To put it bluntly, I think I could handle an RWA conference much more easily than addressing a group of kids at a school. But those are my shortcomings, and only relate to self-publishing on my terms.

For others, self-publishing - or indie - is the best choice available, for many reasonsAnd many more.

And reading all those reasons why others have chosen the indie route, I'm thinking I don't have many excuses left for not looking into self-publishing.

Except that the current wip isn't finished and the completed novel needs more beta reads :-)
Two years on, I do have not just one but two and a half (if you count Druid's Moon and Captive of the Sea as the half) romance novels. I'm inching that much closer to considering self-publishing, especially after reading two of Barbara Rogan's recent posts, What if J. K. Rowling Had Self-published? and Have red pencil; will travel?

Note semi-colon use. We had a Virtual Surrey grammar thread too!

Nothing to do with anything, but I recently read the cutest kids' book: Elephant and Piggie in We Are In A Book! by Mo Willems:

Happy week-before-NaNo everyone!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

A Flaw in Harry Potter, and the LOOK Challenge

Virtual Surrey Writers' Conference is in full swing!

This morning we've got a workshop on genre and voice, and later there'll be one on surviving NaNo! More on that in a bit.

Meanwhile, you know what's sad? I've come across a flaw in the Harry Potter world.

"How it happened is easy to see. Rowling is just translating the everyday world into wizarding terminology. Hogwarts is just like any other school +MAGIC. The Ministry of Magic is just any other government +MAGIC. Everyone's job is just some normal boring bureaucratic job +MAGIC. Rowling doesn't see poetry as making a difference in the world, so it doesn't even have to be translated. The world forgets poetry, so Rowling forgets it as well. ...

Real magic – the opening out into the terrible beauty of faerie-land that we see in, say, Tolkien – is intimately bound up with art and music and poetry. One might say that magic's enchantment just is the enchantment of art and music and poetry. (This is why it sometimes seems like The Lord of the Rings has a poem every ten pages.) The Potterverse, by contrast, doesn't have magic, it just has +MAGIC: an amusing shiny glowing meaningless property Rowling can tack onto things to make us not look away. It replaces the enchantment with enslavement. If +MAGIC didn't pretend to be magic, I wouldn't care. If Rowling had written a book that was just about childhood and rebellion and courage and the evils of discrimination, and set it in the real world, I wouldn't care. ...

But by being about magic, you can't avoid being about poetry. The Potter books make pretty clear, I think, that Rowling sees poetry as a tool for social improvement, and nothing more. If that way of thinking bothers you, the Potter books should too."

I hadn't thought of this at all before. While it explains why I love Tolkien's world and writing so much, it does make me sad about the Potterverse. Not that I think that poetry was entirely missing from Rowling's creation; it was simply more on the order of the kind found in The Chronicles of Narnia. The way they celebrate Christmas at Hogwarts always kinda reminded me of Father Christmas showing up as the snow melts in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And I already know what Tolkien thought of that series: "It is sad that 'Narnia' and all that part of C.S. Lewis's work should remain outside the range of my sympathy, as much of my work was outside his."

Would you try reading a book a day for a year, and blogging about it? Maerwydd Mcfarland, writing as booklolly, has done just that! I might be able to do the reading, maybe, but to blog about it with any kind of coherence? Maybe if I could live on about four hours of sleep a night, I might try it.

As an aside, thanks to Maerwydd, I've found out about an amazing secret bookstore in New York City: "if you are dedicated to the acquisition of delicious books and happen to be in the vicinity of the St. Agnes Library on Amsterdam between 81-82nd, check out the flyer on the door to find the next shop-op in the basement. ... There are no overstuffed chairs and bookstore cats to add atmosphere but you could always repair to a nearby pub to peruse your intemperate purchases and use some of the money you saved for a pint or two. Literary New York, paradise for savvy book junkies."

Not to mention, if I speed read books like that, my own writing would suffer! I haven't typed up anything on Druid's Moon this week, as I was busy planning for and then hosting Virtual Surrey. I do think about my characters, though! I've been trying to think of Santiago, as I'm meant to start his story for NaNo.

Yes, I've signed up for NaNo! Have you?

Meanwhile, I've got a wee snip to share from Druid's Moon, thanks to Marcia Richards and Raelyn Barclay, who posted about the LOOK challenge:

"Here's the way it works: You take your current manuscript and find the first instance of the word 'look'. Then you post the surrounding paragraphs as an excerpt of the book on your blog. Lastly, you tag five more blogging authors who you think might be a good choice for the game."

Here's Lyne, talking to her landlord, soon after she's uncovered the Curse of the Octopus:

"Mrs. Glick, do you know any local legends?"

Lyne accepted a mug of milky tea and followed her landlady out into the sitting room. She'd offered to do the washing up after their meal, which she called dinner and Mrs. Glick called tea, but the older woman had waved her off. "I've a girl comes in for that. No need to wear ourselves out." With another laugh, she added, "Tha's too wise an' I'm too old."

It was easier to understand Mrs. Glick's Yorkshire accent, Lyne found, once you'd spent a couple of hours in her company. But when she took Lyne's question as a launching point for a long folktale, complete with twists and turns and a slew of characters all with the same name, she became as hard to follow as ever. Lyne put on an awe-filled expression and laughed in what she hoped were the right places.

As the tale wound down, she ventured to ask what was really on her mind. "Are there any tales about an octopus?"

"A what?" Mrs. Glick looked like she was about to let off a cackle of laughter, then stopped short. The change that came over her features was frighteningly quick. "Why do you ask?" she whispered, her brows coming down over eyes that darted quickly from left to right.

"Professor Ronald found -" 

"You lot are meddling far too much. The Council will have to hear about this."

"But we've already got the permits -"

"Not that Council." Mrs. Glick grabbed Lyne's arms so quickly, tea sloshed over the rim of the cup. Her bony hands were warm, hot even on Lyne's skin, as if she was generating electricity with her grip. A drop of tea rolled down Lyne's arm and she itched with the urge to wipe it away, but Mrs. Glick pushed her face up close. Her pupils were wide in her cloudy green eyes, like a cat's in darkness. "Listen," she hissed. "Keep on with the old coins and the bits of pottery." She'd lost her accent entirely. "Forget about legends - and don't disturb any old bones. The waters are rising."

Tagging anyone who's got a snip they'd like to share!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Rant on Reading, ROW80 Delayed, and Gender Bias in Character Inspirations

Joy of reading.

Nathan Bransford recently talked about the strangeness of rereading older children's books.

He says that "The magic that made them classics still absolutely remains, but it's striking how much sensibilities have changed. ... I was struck by the very adult perspective in From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and the way A Wrinkle in Time starts slowly before veering into what I now think is a bit of a scattered plot by today's standards."

Also, the most recent Letters of Note features a letter from Harper Lee to Oprah Winfrey: "I arrived in the first grade, literate, with a curious cultural assimilation of American history, romance, the Rover Boys, Rapunzel, and The Mobile Press. Early signs of genius? Far from it. Reading was an accomplishment I shared with several local contemporaries. ...we children began to circulate reading material among ourselves until each child had read another's entire stock. There were long dry spells broken by the new Christmas books, which started the rounds again. As we grew older, we began to realize what our books were worth: Anne of Green Gables was worth two Bobbsey Twins; two Rover Boys were an even swap for two Tom Swifts. ... We were privileged. There were children, mostly from rural areas, who had never looked into a book until they went to school. They had to be taught to read in the first grade, and we were impatient with them for having to catch up. We ignored them."

Now, just last week I heard a parent say they wouldn't bother teaching their kids to read before they (the kids) started kindergarten, because otherwise "they would be ahead of the class and might get bored."

Cue appalled and disbelieving silence.

First of all, just because they might be ahead in reading doesn't mean they'll have caught up with everything else - there's always something new to learn.

Second of all, we're talking kindergarten, and maybe first grade. I'm sure the teacher can give them another project to work on while she runs through the alphabet with the other kids.

Third of all, bored? The whole point of learning to read, and loving to read, is that you will never be bored again.

I was trying to find a copy of the Non Sequitur comic that brilliantly illustrated that last point, but Googled for ten minutes without success. It featured one of the characters (Kate?) reading and, when questioned by another character (Danae?) whether she wasn't bored, there was a wonderful illustration of all the exciting adventures inherent in simply opening up a book.

And by that token, I'd have to disagree with Nathan. The books I loved as a child don't sound dated to me at all, any more than reading any other type of classic from before c. 1995.

Sure, some of the language and points of view might be dorky (as much as I love C. S. Lewis, his asides in The Elderly Narrator's Voice in The Chronicles of Narnia come to mind), some of the customs might seem too restrictive in places and too liberal in others, but the reader knows all that going in. The emotions, the growth of the characters, the excitement and adventure, are all there, and sometimes seem more real than those in books published nowadays. But then, I've always been attracted by the dusty patina of time.

A description like this always gets me excited: "There is no greater joy than picking up a new book without knowing much about it and being suddenly transported to a new world. This is what I felt after reading The Winter Pony by Iain Lawrence. This middle-grade novel, set in 1910-11, reads like a classic adventure story."

On the other hand, I don't know how anyone could study this many books in depth in one semester: here's W. H. Auden's syllabus for a class he taught in 1942. Yet I'd try it if I could have Auden lead the class. Off the list I've read Augustine, Shakespeare, Blake, Rilke, Eliot, Kafka, Lewis, and some Dostoyevsky, Rimbaud and Baudelaire. Still haven't read Moby Dick!

I wonder what a modern version of that syllabus might look like?

Don't forget the Virtual Surrey Writers' Conference starting Friday morning! My ROW80 goal-catching-up-on might be derailed this week as I have to prepare to host the conference. If anyone wants to come over to the Forum from Friday to Sunday, there are lots of workshops and book promotion activities to take part in! Actually, speaking of Druid's Moon (only 10,000 words to go!), I took a look at my images for the story the other day:

Does anything look off to you? The fact that I only have one maybe-image for Lyne, but seven times that many options for Fred. I've got fewer images for her than I do of Beauty and the Beast related illustrations!

Do you have a gender bias when stumbling across images that remind you of your characters?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

James Forrester Interview!, Surrey Conference Update, and 90s Blogfest

Long post today:

First there's my interview with author James Forrester!

Then there's an update on the Virtual Surrey Writers' Conference!

And then... the 90s Blogfest (official day tomorrow), hosted by Dave!

All interspersed with a video and a couple of photos. And my ROW80 update.

First up, Sacred Treason:

"It's 1563, and rumors against the young Queen Elizabeth have plunged the country in a state of fear and suspicion. Despite being descended from treasonous Catholic lineage, William Harley has managed to earn the high-ranking position in the queen's court, until a late-night knock on the door changes his life.

"A friend visits William, begging him to hide a puzzling manuscript. It seems harmless, but as William begins to unravel the clues inside, he realizes that he's been entrusted with a dangerous secret about the queen's mother, Anne Boleyn – one that could tear his family, and the country, apart.

"Sacred Treason combines betrayal and romance with accurate historical detail, bringing to life the sights, sounds, thoughts, and fears of sixteenth-century London.

"James Forrester is the pen name of acclaimed British historian Ian Mortimer, author of nonfiction works including The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England (a Sunday Times bestseller) and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society."

Where do you do most of your writing? What do you need to help you write?

At home, in my study. But ideas for fiction regularly strike me when I'm out on a walk. I live in a particularly stunning landscape, Dartmoor, in SW England, so the unspoilt countryside certainly helps my writing.

Which scenes are hardest for you to write?

I don't find any scenes significantly harder to write than any others. I find some more enjoyable than others – I like writing the dialogue of bitter arguments - but that is a different thing.

[Ooh yes, arguments are always exciting. Those and romantic scenes.]

What are the particular challenges of fiction, compared to non-fiction?

Good question. One of the most significant is simultaneous character development. When writing a history book you don't have to develop your characters – the facts of their lives do that for you. In a novel you must have your characters develop alongside each other, and of course they must interact with one other, and the writer has to imagine all this development – completely the opposite to history.

Is it difficult to decide how often to play with the language of the characters, that is, whether to have them use more modern words vs maintaining historical accuracy in their speech?

Historical accuracy in language is impossible. If I started using words like 'budget', 'puke', 'nice', 'cheap', 'slops', 'defecated', 'ecstasy' I would deceive the reader because the vast majority would not know that these words had quite different meanings in the 16th century from their modern ones. 'Budget' was a bag, for example, 'puke' was a bluish colour; 'nice' meant exact or accurate; 'cheap' was a market; 'slops' were items of clothing; 'defecated' meant freed from impurities; 'ecstasy' meant madness.

I would add that most writing from southern England in the 1560s is significantly less intelligible than Shakespeare's language, and I really don't like the faux 'verrily' and 'sirrah' that some writers interject into their dialogue to convince readers they are being authentic. They aren't, they strike me as silly, like a teenage boy using certain words in order to impress his peers.

As far as I can see, my readers are all modern people who don't want me to deceive them in this way. The language we use today has its own poetry and cadences too, and attempts to emulate those from the past often end up destroying the poetry of our own times. So I keep it modern and relatively formal. I do use old slang such as 'God's Wounds' but I don't use modern slang unless it really is unavoidable as we tend not to associate vulgar words with the distant past.

[Very interesting. Especially as I'm reading Turtledove's Ruled Britannia at the moment and I find it odd how far he goes to try to make his characters sound authentically Elizabethan. At times it feels over-the-top. More importantly, though, the deeper into the book one goes, the more obvious it becomes that only the English characters in the book are speaking in 'Elizabethan' - the dialogue of all the Spanish characters is written in modern English, rather than 16th Century Spanish-accented phrases. So the author's device becomes evident, and pulls the reader out of the story.]

Who is your favourite author? Who inspired you to write fiction?

My favourite author is Shakespeare. As a boy I loved the King Arthur stories, Robin Hood stories, Tolkien's Hobbit, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. My favourite historical fiction writers are Robert Graves and Mary Renault, plus James Clavell's Shogun (which deeply influenced me as a 15-year-old) and Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, which knocked me for six when I read it at nineteen. Pasternak has inspired me as a poet and as a novelist; but Shakespeare has too.

[Must read Pasternak. I love Tolkien and Graves!]

Who is your favourite literary character not your own?


Rebecca seems like one of those characters that almost take the story into their own hands; did you foresee how close she and Clarenceaux would become? (I was surprised by how freely they undressed before each other, in front of Julius no less!)

The idea for Rebecca came from two women I know. There were emotions involved. Yes, she did take over the novel somewhat, but I was prepared for that, and was happy to let her character lead me astray. As for the undressing, the number of woodcuts showing men and women bathing together in the mid-16th century, with attendants around them, inspired that scene.

[Oh, now that's interesting! So many possibilities there...]

Is Clarenceaux's revelation about Lord Percy's accounts (during the time of Elizabeth's conception) historical fact?

No. Lord Percy's accounts do not survive for 1533 (as far as I know). But the whereabouts of the king and queen leave no room for doubt that Elizabeth I was her father's daughter. So if the accounts of Lord Percy did survive, they would state that Percy was not with Anne Boleyn at the time of Elizabeth's conception, as I state in the book.

Thank you for coming by!

Thanks for asking me. I hope you enjoyed the book. Two more volumes of the trilogy yet to come!

The second installment, The Roots of Betrayal, will be published in May 2013; I can't wait to see more of these characters' adventures! I was also interested in the name changes of historical characters, and found an explanation on Forrester's website. He's also written a short piece on How To Be An Elizabethan Woman. Hope you all enjoyed the interview!

Autumn in Montreal, by Agnieszka

The Virtual Surrey Writers' Conference is coming on Friday! Here's an update on the schedule (all times EST):

Friday, 19 October
8 to 9.30 am – Roll Call on the Compuserve Forum

9:30 am to 5 pm – Writers' Workshops. Today's topics are:

   9.30 am – Who's Attending SIWC (the real one, in Surrey, British Columbia)? Writing examples and discussion, showcasing the authors who are presenting at this year's SIWC, including Diana Gabaldon, Linda Gerber, Chris (CC) Humphreys, Donald Maass, Jack Whyte, Sam Sykes, and kc dyer

   11.30 am – Author-led Workshop, featuring Kait Nolan

   1.30 pm – Adventures in POV, featuring samples from Christopher Brookmyre, Diana Gabaldon, and J.K. Rowling

   3.30 pm – The Doctor Is In: Troubleshooting Problems

Night Owl Session: Virtual Surrey is, of necessity, an all-night-owl event, as participants are joining from many different time zones.

Saturday, 20 October
9 am to 5 pm – Writers' Workshops. Today's topics are:

   9 am – Author-led Workshop, featuring Talli Roland

   11 am – Grammar Time

   1 pm – Technical Topics with Joanna Bourne

   3 pm – Blue Pencil: Share Your Blurbs for Critiques

5:30 pm – Book Fair and Giveaway!

9 pm – Movie night! Discuss your favourite adapted novels and screenplays.

Sunday, 21 October
8:30 am – Trade show: Free-for-all Marketing. Talk up your book!

9 am to 12 pm – Writers' Workshops. Today's topics are:

9 am – Genre and Voice

10.30 am – National Novel Writing Month Survival Tips and Hints

12 pm – farewell; there'll be a wrap up session in the next day or two to discuss what worked and what didn't, and to hear stories from those who participated in the real Surrey.

Hope you'll all come by!

The Nineties Blogfest Starts Tomorrow!

All you have to do is post a favourite something for each year from 1990 to 1999. Having done an all-book A to Z Challenge this past April, I've decided to focus on some of my favourite bands for this blogfest:

1990 I was young in 1990, so I missed the slow growth of grunge. But later, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, and so on, became some of my favourite bands. I remember a friend taping Pearl Jam's Ten for me, and drawing a pretty cover for the cassette case. My CD of Alice in Chains' Jar of Flies had something spilled on it, I don't know what, but it had the loveliest woodsy smell. Strange, but true. I'd take a sniff every time I was putting the CD in the stereo.

1991 Round about here I discovered the classic rock station on the radio, which started years of loving Led Zeppelin, Rush, all that. But at some point a law was passed requiring a minimum amount of Canadian Content on the radio so, besides Rush, we also listened to lots of Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, Lawrence Gowan, and Blue Rodeo. Blue Rodeo have released a new mix of one of their singles, Try, for their 25th anniversary!

1992 U2. Achtung Baby. My first concert ever. I must have watched the Rattle and Hum documentary (on VHS!) a hundred times, at my equally-obsessed friend's house.

1993 The first three bands I discovered on my own, rather than learning about music from my parents, were U2, Bryan Adams, and Roxette. I finally got to see Roxette live this past summer, after 20 years. Someday I hope I can catch a Gyllene Tider reunion.

1994 Love Spreads, the first single off The Stone Roses' Second Coming, is released. I fall in love. They only have two albums, and a collection of b-sides, and I listen to all the songs over and over non-stop. Right around this time I was on the internet for the first time, and The Stone Roses mailing list was one of the first that I joined. I also scribbled their name in chalk on the side of the stone wall of my grandmother's summer place - and two Mancunians on holiday saw it while walking past, and we became pen pals for a while.

1995 Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers disappeared in February of this year. Meanwhile, 2012 sees the 20th anniversary rerelease of their debut album Generation Terrorists, with never before heard extra songs and demos. Can't wait! I wish they would come to Montreal some day.

1996 The height of Britpop. All my favourites, Oasis, Pulp, Marion, the Bluetones, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals (I started trying to learn Welsh), Gene, and so on and on. I remember meeting the Charlatans round the back, by their tour bus, except Tim Burgess wasn't around... I did a lot of taping interviews and live clips off TV and the radio, back when there was no YouTube to find whatever video you wanted.

1997 Speaking of Canadian bands, I loved The Tea Party's first album so much that round about this year, while listening to it for the umpteenth time, I wrote a short vignette based on a character named Elaine, with one paragraph for each song title.

1998 The first Crowded House song I ever heard was Distant Sun. Later on, Pineapple Head was my favourite for a while. Even later, I loved Neil Finn's solo album Try Whistling This, which was released in this year.

1999 The Divine Comedy's Fin de Siecle was technically released in mid-1998, but it celebrated the end of the century in a glorious mix of rock and orchestration. Going Downhill Fast and Tonight We Fly still make me feel like dancing, and I never willingly dance.

What do you remember loving in the 90s?

My friend Holly, all dressed up and looking sort of like Ayşegül, the heroine of At Summer's End,

As for ROW80, I've been doing well typing up scenes from Druid's Moon. I've got about 10,000 words left, and then the story will be between 30 and 40,000 words in total. A novella! That was unexpected. But I hope, if I can hit the right word count, to submit to The Wild Rose Press.

Ending this long post with a new band...
Heart Beats Harder by Whisky Trench Riders

Hope everyone has a great week!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

J. K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy, and An Accomplishment or Two

Rowling's newest novel, The Casual Vacancy, isn't as different from Harry Potter as people think it might be.

I forgot who the author was while reading - something that actually didn't happen the first time I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, because I'd slipped and caught a brief part of a review that averred that all Harry did was get angry all the time. So I was very glad to have avoided all spoilers before reading the latest Rowling.

Don't read this post above the line of stars if you want to avoid spoilers, too!

Omniscient narrative isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I love it when it's done well, as Christopher Brookmyre does in Pandaemonium and Rowling does in The Casual Vacancy. There was one specific instance, which I'll go into in more detail during a Virtual Surrey workshop, where the narrative follows a group of characters full circle, and then comes back - with an extra bang of revelation - to the character who opened the chapter.

I must admit, I've had a couple of people say things to me like "what's she peddling now, doesn't she have enough dough?" Obviously such snark has not come from writers, who realise how lucky they are if the ideas continue to flow. The New York Times reviewer, especially, has some particularly schadenfreude-driven comments to make. The site no longer accepts comments, so I'm distilling a few of my reactions here, having devoured the book in a couple of days - Rowling has always been deft at pacing.

"There is no magic in this book", the reviewer says, having missed completely the magic of children who, despite being slapped in the face time and again with their parents' failings and failures, still manage to find hope in the world, still seek an adult to trust and emulate.

"...this novel for adults is filled with... self-absorbed, small-minded, snobbish and judgmental folks, whose stories neither engage nor transport us." Methinks the reviewer might have recognised himself in Rowling's latest cast of characters. His opinion that the "real-life world she has limned in these pages is... dull" strikes me as rather a feeble protest. I'd be interested in going back to see what the New York Times has had to say about Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections over the years. Now there were some dull characters, hiding behind clouds of self-delusion and prescription pills. Stuart Wall, one of Rowling's main characters, is on an unending quest for a Holden Caulfield-like authenticity, and his creator seems to have heaps more of it than Franzen did.

In the same breath, the reviewer goes on to note that the book features "alarming scenes of violent domestic abuse." Alarming? Where on this planet does he live?

"Instead of an appreciation for the courage, perseverance, loyalty and sense of duty that people are capable of, we are left with a dismaying sense of human weakness, selfishness and gossipy stupidity." So, just another glimpse of reality, then. Not to mention that he seems to have skipped every part of the book that dealt with Krystal Weedon, who was made up of equal parts courage, perseverance, loyalty, and a sense of duty.

The reviewers most unforgivable comment, though, comes when he says that in the Harry Potter series "the civil war was literally between good and evil; here, it is between petty, gossip-minded liberals and conservatives." He's basically implying that supernatural elements make people's lives worthwhile, but without magical powers, real life is hardly worth the trouble to be good.

The Guardian reviewer, meanwhile, though generally positive, notes that "the inhabitants of Pagford – shopkeepers, curtain-twitchers, Daily Mail-readers – are mostly hateful Muggles, more realistic versions of the Dursleys, the awful family who keep poor Harry stashed in the cupboard under the stairs. The book has already been dubbed Mugglemarch." How quickly people forget. There were curtain-twitchers and hateful folk among the witches and wizards too. Let's not ignore Harry's other scar - I must not tell lies - and the witches and wizards responsible for it.

I'm not sure where the reviewer gets the idea that Krystal and the others in her neighbourhood "use a kind of generalised, Dickensian lower-order-speak, that owes more to written convention than anything real: "I takes Robbie to the nurs'ry"; "Tha's norra fuckin' crime"; "No, shurrup, righ'?"" - I've heard people speaking like this. You don't have to go far from your Guardian offices at King's Cross, Mr. Reviewer, if you want to hear the same. Just take the Tube to the end of the line somewhere, someday.

Finally, the reviewer ends with this probable reason for why the Harry Potter books have been so popular: "people still enjoy reading about good people, and seeing them rewarded." Right, and then they can go back to their mean-spirited, petty, selfish lives? Good on Rowling for not mincing words. Nearly 15 years later than his book, she's accomplished all of what Julian Barnes tried to do in England, England


I accomplished something on Monday!

Woke up out of a dream with another story idea and for once had the time - day off for Canadian Thanksgiving - and the space in which to sit down and write it. So here's what I managed to do, all for the very first time:

1. Write an entire story in one sitting
2. Draft an entire story on the computer from start to finish (love Scrivener!)
3. Write a story without using a single square bracket (though I did keep a sticky note handy of the three or four facts and references I had to double check)
4. Not turn on an internet browser the entire time I was writing
5. Write more than one erotic scene in one sitting
6. Name all the characters and give the story a title without taking days to do it

So what's it about, you might ask. The story is a short one - 5725 words - called At Summer's End, an erotic romance about two characters who meet on vacation and overcome deceit, secrets, and their own fears of risk, as they explore a newfound passion and fall in love.

Kinda derailed my ROW80 goals for a moment there, but I'm not complaining! Now I just have to edit the story. Printed, of course. Heh.

Speaking of new stories, you can still vote over at WRiTE CLUB. And look! New Tolkien! Gotta love your favourite author when, 40 years after his passing, he's still got new releases coming out. I wonder why they waited so long with this one?

"HarperCollins has announced the acquisition of Tolkien's never-before-published poem The Fall of Arthur, which will be released for the first time next May. ... These are the 'new' poem's opening lines:

'Arthur eastward in arms purposed
his war to wage on the wild marches,
over seas sailing to Saxon lands,
from the Roman realm ruin defending.
Thus the tides of time to turn backward
and the heathen to humble, his hope urged him,
that with harrying ships they should hunt no more
on the shining shores and shallow waters
of South Britain, booty seeking.'"

Which books have you gotten excited about lately?

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Story Ideas, the Beatles, OED Appeals, WRiTE CLUB Still On!

Has anyone else seen this letter from Robert Heinlein?

It's chock full of story ideas, some political, some scientific, some completely out-there:

"'June 28—The new bull calf looks better all the time. Met a leprechaun today. Nice little guy. I'm going to have to drain the south forty.'"

Or these two:
"This guy sells soap and cosmetics, door to door like the Fuller Brush man. She tries their beauty soap; she becomes beautiful. So she tries their vanishing cream...
A little cat ghost, padding patiently around in limbo, trying to find that familiar, friendly lap..."
Which reminds me of Stephen King's idea about the ladies' room at the airport. Husband and wife come up to the gate, she says she has to use the ladies' room. And she never steps out... A few other couples come along, and the same thing happens. So now you have this group of men, waiting outside the door, wondering what's happening inside.

Speaking of ideas and words, the Oxford English Dictionary needs our help!
"the Oxford English Dictionary announces the launch of OED Appeals, a dedicated community space on the OED website where OED editors solicit help in unearthing new information about the history and usage of English. ... Here are some of the words we are researching right now: Disco (earlier than September 1964) Bellini (earlier than 1965) FAQ (earlier than 1989) Cootie (earlier than 1967) Can you help us find documentation of these words’ earliest history? Happy hunting!"
This weekend is the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles! In honour of which, here are two songs with the same title, 50 years apart:

The Beatles - I Feel Fine

Whisky Trench Riders - I Feel Fine

My main goal for ROW80 is progressing nicely. Only 10,000 words left to type up on Druid's Moon. While I was calculating that, I discovered that my total word count for the story, once I write the few missing scenes, will be around 30,000 words. I've written my first ever novella!

Don't forget, WRiTE CLUB is still on! Vote in Round 29, and if you've missed previous ones, vote in any that are still open. I'll be drawing winners for my Show Me the Words! editing contest at the end of this year's WRiTE CLUB.

Anyone know of any other fun anniversaries, blogfests or contests?

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

IWSG, ROW80, New Releases, and Banned Books Week

Banned books week is on!

Here's a list of challenged books from the last few years. I'm not sure who's doing all this challenging, but I do hope they're at least reading the books before they challenge them. I mean, what possible objection could anyone have to Auden's The More Loving One?

I'm over at Jessica Bell's today!

And A Round of Words in 80 Days is back on! I've been keeping up with my draft typing. But I'm finally losing that it's-the-first-draft-but-this-book-is-AWESOME-SQUEAL! stage. Now I can see all the flaws, and it hurts.

Today is also, coincidentally, Insecure Writer's Support Group Day, hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh. I'm as insecure as they come. But I love Neil Gaiman's Rule No. 8 for writing: "The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can."

I've gotten two new books this week, one that's new for me, and another that's a new release:

I'm reading alternate history fiction for the first time: Harry Turtledove's Ruled Britannia.

Interesting to see Shakespeare as the main character!

And there's a new anthology out, featuring Kait Nolan!

What are you reading, for Banned Books Week or otherwise?

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