Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Bern, William Tell, and Preparing for NaNoWriMo

Photo day!

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

The river Aare

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

A lovely courtyard

The founder of Bern, across from the Theatre

A house Einstein lived in

Mountains rising above the mist on Lake Leman

View of the lake from the train, headed towards Lausanne

Bern Old Town, a UNESCO heritage site

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

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

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

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

How to write tips from Nathan Bransford

Writers need cats by Beth Camp

Happy Hallowe'en and All Souls Day!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

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

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

YA Contemporary, Prizm Books
Release Date December 10, 2014

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

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

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

Find Medeia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

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

Books galore!

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

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

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

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

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

Next up is Joanna Bourne's Rogue Spy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Jessica Bell's Blog Tour for White Lady!

Welcome, Jessica!


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

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

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

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

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

Click HERE to see the list of blogs.


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

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

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

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

But is protecting the kids really Sonia's motive?

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

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

Connect with Jessica online:

Congratulations, Jessica!
Good luck to all the entrants!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

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

Happy anniversary to the Insecure Writer's Support Group!

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

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

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

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

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

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

I sent my characters off to a houseparty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Value of character revelations: priceless

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

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

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

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