You’ve Got Five Pages, Wayward by #BlakeCrouch, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Wayward by Black Crouch

So in my podcast I note the peculiarity of the publication and how it’s tied to Amazon publishing. It looks like a new edition of this book is coming out later this year through Ballantine, so I wonder if Blake Crouch started with self-publishing and has since gone traditional. Either way, good for him! Still wonder how my library got a hold of the old edition, though…

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

Honestly, this was a curious find. It’s plain to see we’re not starting with the regular protagonist, but that outsider perspective does provide a unique look at the setting for this trilogy. For all the quaint beauty of this small town, there is a very real, very lethal menace in all the razor wire and posted snipers. To begin the story with one of those snipers immediately establishes the high stakes involved with surviving this mystery. We may be entering this story arc in the middle (it is Book 2, after all), but the first chapter does its job in establishing some major ground rules for a reader uncertain of the road ahead. We have action, we have monsters, and we have an unsuspecting populace.

Sounds like a recipe for mischievous disaster to me!

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

Author #Interview: Let’s Chat with #IndieAuthor Sarah of @MindfulWrites!

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You can catch Sarah on her blog as well as on Twitter.

Welcome back, my fellow creatives! I’m thrilled to continue sharing some lovely indie authors I’ve met in our community. This month, please welcome the lovely freelancer Sarah of Mindful Writes!

Your work as a content writer and freelancer gives you a unique perspective on the publishing industry. If there was one thing you would want to see changed in the publishing industry to make it better, what would it be?

I personally love the aspect of creating a perspective and I find that really interesting to read too, in terms of understanding how others perceive specific topics. However, I would love to see this done more, combined with accurate facts. I feel this is a vital part of writing, ensuring you have researched enough before conducting a piece.

You mention you are a journalist as well as part-time novelist. Do you find that one writing medium helps inspire/influence the other? I’ve never tried the journalist’s style before, so it’d be neat to hear how that affects your storytelling prose.

Personally, I find they intertwine in terms of making the writing flow, as well as creating perspectives. The characters in my thriller novel (which is a work in progress), harbours thoughts and perceives the actions of others in a specific manner. It then adds to the overall plot and also gives the reader an insight to how things can be understood and felt too. In terms of writing as a journalist, I have found that some articles have in fact been proven to help others, especially when awareness has been created through my articles as well as the ability to be able to break down the information into smaller and digestible chunks.

What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

Sometimes creating a plan and making it become a chronological piece can be difficult. It requires a lot of methodical work but once it’s in place, everything else flows and comes together.

Freelance writing can often require a tight time window for research, drafting, and editing. How long would you say it takes you to go through this process to complete an assignment? How do you optimize your process to ensure the process doesn’t overtake the deadline?

It certainly does, but the research is one of, if not the most important aspect of the writing process. I feel this because if the information you pour into the article is incorrect or you are not knowledgeable enough about a topic, it can hinder your business. It would also be unprofessional, and your articles would be classified as unreliable and in turn this would affect the readers and lower the chance of someone recommended your website as a source of information. So, to me, if that is incorrect then no matter what you have written, could well be unproductive. However, it can take hours, weeks and days but it’s crucial this is completed. I usually determine the deadline in terms of realistic expectations. If the topic was something I was not very educated on then I would certainly create a longer deadline to ensure I have taken enough time to learn, write and proofread the information too. If the deadline is pre-set and is tight, I would create notes and scatter them in places I could visualise or read multiple times for absorption and help with digestion too.

What was the hardest project you ever undertook as a freelancer?

The hardest project I ever conducted was a musical journalist piece. I was writing an article on a band I had little to no knowledge on, but through research, listening and incorporating my own personal opinion on their music made the piece come alive. It required a lot of time, in terms of planning but it was really interesting to do and rewarding when it received wonderful feedback from the band themselves and of course the fanbase.

What are the most important magazines/websites for any writer to subscribe to?

I have subscribed to the Medium website. I find this harbours a lot of information and fellow writers. It’s a community. I am yet to publish work here though. But I do read the content. I would also suggest creating a blog and follow fellow bloggers that you love too. Follow blogs, topics and websites that you love.

Speaking of reading, what’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

To Keep You Safe – Kate Bradley. This gripping thriller kept me hooked until the very last page. Their novel incorporated multiple twists and turns too, it was a masterpiece.

Thanks for the recommendation! I love catching new releases in my local library for my podcast, and they often tend to be mystery/thrillers (though one of these days I will HAVE to pick up one of the dozen westerns the librarians keep ordering). Does your family support your career as a writer?

Definitely. My family area huge part of my dreams and aspirations. They inspire me to keep writing, keep going and most certainly read my work. It is encouraging and heart-warming, when they recommend the work to others. And overall, they have seen me pour blood sweat and tears into everything I do which makes it more rewarding for me when they praise and provide me with deep encouragement.

The support of loved ones truly makes a difference! My husband Bo surprised me with a copy of my own novel because I had never bothered to get one for myself. “You should see your own name on your bookshelf, too,” he said. Oh yes, I cried. 🙂 Such moments reinforce what I want to achieve in literary success: my stories on a shelf, ready to be experienced by others. What does literary success look like to you?

Success can be interpreted in many different ways. Though for me personally, I feel it is achieving a goal, whether that’s small or large. It is an accomplishment and something I did possibly not have the day prior. For example, having ten readers can seem rather small but to a writer this can be huge. And then those numbers increase once you incorporate an audience and those who love your work so will check out your work and recommend it to others. It was a huge moment for me when my work was published and recommended. Literally success is about being authentic, being you and people accepting it and loving every word you write.

I love that vision of success, Sarah, thank you! Let’s wrap up with some parting words of encouragement. Any advice you’d like to share with others who want to freelance as they work on their fiction?

It is a difficult process, but one of the most rewarding in terms of achieving a goal and passion. I would like to also encourage them to set up a writing profile on a platform, share their work and really get it out there. It’s good to start with a topic you love or know a lot about to get started and find your voice, as well as a writing style. Social media is also an incredible thing if used correctly, to help promote your work, create live streams if that’s your thing and talk about your passion. There will be times it will feel frustrating and as though you are not progressing, but you are and sometimes it can be slow, really slow. But when that breakthrough comes, it’s certainly magical.

Thank you so much for taking time to chat with us, Sarah! I’m excited to hear more about your upcoming writing projects. May your story-worlds be full of mystery and misadventure!

~STAY TUNED!~

We’ll go back to that precarious writer’s problem of balancing character development and worldbuilding to craft compelling…content? Composition? Consarnit, I wanted more alliteration! Regardless, after holding two others under my critical lens, it’s time I do that to myself.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You Have Five Pages to Tell Me It’s Good: #TheShatteredSkies by John Birmingham. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

The Shattered Skies by John Birmingham

We have a unique situation here. This is a new release in Science Fiction, but it’s also the second book of a trilogy, which means a lot of establishment of character, conflict, and setting have already been accomplished. So, we’ve got to seriously temper our expectations when it comes to worldbuilding and character development, for much of that could be present in the first book, The Cruel Stars.

What will you, fellow creatives, make of these first five pages? Let’s find out!

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

The conflicts and worldbuilding alluded to by the first chapter’s primary character sound epic in their scope, and the character’s voice certainly fits a military mind. I just wish this character could have interacted with someone instead of only inwardly reflecting on all the epic conflicts and political intrigue. Let the man talk to a subordinate officer or some other henchman while waiting to land on a planet! You know me–I’m a sucker for a beginning with some action. 🙂

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You Have Five Pages to Tell Me It’s Good: #RileysGhost by John David Anderson. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Riley’s Ghost by John David Anderson

Yes, this is a Middle-Grade (MG) novel, but a paranormal mystery for a kid can be a fun read for an adult, too! My daughter Blondie has been on my case to share this book on the podcast, so this week I’m buckling and here we are. 🙂 Honestly, though, I’m glad I did.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

The story begins with a graphic description of a dead body…a dead frog body. It’s a wonderful way to set the tone for this school setting: the “barbarian” seventh grades, the disconnected teachers, and Riley, who just doesn’t feel like she belongs and would rather forge an adult’s signature to escape accountability rather than get help. Blondie promises very creepy moments are in store for anyone who loves a ghostly read, and if you’ve listened to my December 2021 collabs with Blondie, you know she wouldn’t gush about a story if it wasn’t worth reading! 

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#WriterProblems: Finding that Balance Between #Worldbuilding and #Character Development

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Happy May to you, my fell creatives!

As I mentioned last month, I got something of a stick in my craw, a monkeywrench in my gears, a fly in my ointment, and other such little irritants over some story series two friends recommended to me. These irritants led me to create this rant/debate/discussion/whatever you want to call it that we’ll be getting into today, so buckle up, my friends–this one’s going to be a bit raw (in a good way (I hope)).

First, a little context.

My podcast You’ve Got Five Pages…To Tell Me It’s Good has me constantly asking the questions about what as readers, hooks us into a story and what, as writers, helps us create that hook. By looking at first chapters only, I am expecting a book to somehow get my attention in those opening pages. Usually, one of two things will do the trick: either a fascinating setup for the story, or fascinating characters I want to hear more about. Ideally, we would get both, but I know this will not always be the case. The lovely P.J. Lazos recently reminded me that there will always be stories that take their time building up interest and intrigue (Outlander was her example). She’s certainly not wrong! How often have we come across stories where “the good stuff” showed up later on? So I won’t knock a book for that approach. Yet I do think something in those opening pages encourages a reader to keep going. When that something peters out…well, that’s why we’re here today.

So, the books in question: one was all about epic battles with fire and ice and lightning–

–while the other was a trip down Pride and Prejudice Lane, only from Mr. Darcy’s point of view:

Both series sounded promising to me from the outset. One’s providing insight into the silent character whose heart is a mystery to the characters around him, while the other alludes to a mysterious Ascension, the physical lifting of six gigantic islands the size of Australia into the air in order to save humanity from drowning in the now Endless Ocean.

So, on the one hand, you have a character-centric story; on the other, a plot-driven story.

Is it necessarily bad to have one or the other? No, not…not necessarily. But it’s certainly tougher to appeal to readers. Jeff Gerke is pretty blunt about this matter in Plot versus Character: A Balance Approach to Writing Great Fiction:

The problem is that each kind of novelist is usually as awful at the one thing as she is terrific at the other thing. The plot-first novelist tends to create characters who are flat, unrealistic stereotypes: cardboard cutouts who, despite different moods, agendas, genders, and occupations, seem eerily similar to one another–and the author’s personality. The character-first novelist produces wonderfully vibrant characters–but often has no idea what to make these interesting people do.

This point came home as I read each series. Here’s the blurb for Skyborn, which is both succinct and totally encompassing of the story at the same time:

Six islands float high above the Endless Ocean, where humanity’s final remnants are locked in brutal civil war.

Their parents slain in battle, twins Kael and Brenna Skyborn are training to be Seraphim, elite soldiers of aerial combat who wield elements of ice, fire, stone and lightning.

When the invasion comes, they will take to the skies, and claim their vengeance.

Aaaand that’s what they do. So there’s no false advertising, at least.

Now again, I want to be clear: this series, to me, had a really cool premise. After all, SOMEthing like an apocalypse must have happened to lead to this Ascension that allows SIX continent-sized land masses to remain perched atop giant beams of water high above an endless ocean. How could such an event affect these different lands? What kinds of people would live on each land, what kinds of wildlife? Would they have different habitats, like deserts and rainforests and such? Plus, these islands had strange prisms that could help power metal wings one could strap on–where did those come from? How do they shoot fire and stuff? Does that mean they have advanced technology, too? Where and how does all that history affect this world’s present?

I had so many questions about this epic place filled with epic war. And oh yes, there’s lots of fighting with ice and fire and lightning and such. This author knows how to write a battle, and there are a LOT of battles across the trilogy. Plus, he included some very interesting themes at work involving God and free will, the needs of the many over the few, and so on. Such themes fit very well in a world where people flew like angels.

And yet, I was bored. Why?

Because I didn’t care about the characters. There wasn’t enough about them to make them feel like actual people.

Readers meet these twins just as they are watching their parents battle in the sky and die. And the next thing you know these twins are now going to school to be Seraphim. We don’t really explore how such a traumatic event affects these two. They were growing up to be Seraphim, and they’re still going to be Seraphim. The first book almost immediately takes us away from whatever sort of everyday setting there could have been for the twins to process their grief so we could instead see “underdog kids in school” situations while they train to be Seraphim. Grief? What grief?

On school grounds, the twins are surrounded by cutouts like “snob boy,” “quiet girl,” “smart librarian,” “deceitful politician,” “kindly teacher.” And what really got me is that the very protagonists themselves never really grew out of such descriptions either: the girl Bree was eternally “out to prove herself,” and the boy Kael was eternally “thoughtful and supportive.” Even when the twins’ father who was thought dead in the first two books shows up in Book 3, there’s hardly any interaction between him and his children–and as a result, there’s hardly any emotional resonance. (spoiler alert) And since he also dies in Book 3, the aftershock of his loss amounts to…nothing.

In all of their epic battles, the characters never really transform. Even when the boy twin literally grows wings at one point, it never seems to matter because the girl twin’s got to prove herself again, so off she goes with his support to keep fighting and on and on.

Now for the record, we’ve all enjoyed plenty of stories where the characters don’t really change–heavens, I don’t read any given Poirot or Marple mystery by Agatha Christie for the character transformations. I read for the murder, mystery, and mayhem. The characters are just a part of that plot-puzzle. So, I tried to treat the Skyborn books that way as well–the characters were just pieces to lead me to the puzzle that was this world.

But I also feel like this was part of the problem: I wanted to care about these characters and this world. But since, outside of battles, this world interacted so little with the characters and vice versa, we never really got to see much beyond destruction. And considering the obvious care put into creating this world, this felt like a missed opportunity.

~*~

Now let’s flip to the character-centric.

Who is Fitzwilliam Darcy?

In An Assembly Such as This, Pamela Aidan finally answers that long-standing question. In this first book of her Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy, she reintroduces us to Darcy during his visit to Hertfordshire with his friend Charles Bingley and reveals Darcy’s hidden perspective on the events of Pride and Prejudice. As Darcy spends more time at Netherfield supervising Bingley and fending off Miss Bingley’s persistent advances, his unwilling attraction to Elizabeth grows—as does his concern about her relationship with his nemesis, George Wickham.

Setting the story vividly against the colorful historical and political background of the Regency, Aidan writes in a style comfortably at home with Austen but with a wit and humor very much her own. Aidan adds her own cast of fascinating characters to those in Austen’s original, weaving a rich tapestry from Darcy’s past and present. Austen fans and newcomers alike will love this new chapter of the most famous romance of all time.

I found it fascinating to see Pride and Prejudice from a different set of eyes and it was particularly fun because, for those who may not remember, Darcy spends the first half of the book more or less skulking about and staring at Elizabeth. What on earth Darcy was thinking in all of that time? Through this retelling, we know it’s not just his observations of Elizabeth Bennet, but also his concerns as a big brother for his little sister Georgiana. Reading from Austen’s original narrator, we as readers do not learn until Darcy’s letter (halfway through the story) of the cad Mr. Wickham’s attempt to whisk Georgiana Darcy away with elopement. So in this retelling, it makes perfect sense that Darcy’s very worried about his sister from Chapter 1 onward, and the very sight of Wickham drives him to fear and anger. In the original Pride and Prejudice, we as readers just don’t understand that concern’s effect on Darcy’s actions in Meryton until later. In An Assembly Such as This, we see the motivations plain as day, and it helps us better understand why Darcy is as he is.

But then, there’s the second book.

The first book ends with the Netherfield ball, and the third book takes readers to Rosings Park and Darcy’s first–and disastrous–proposal to Elizabeth Bennet. So what the heck was going on in the second book?

Darcy goes to a rundown castle for what amounts to a bizarre gothic mystery. Darcy’s determined to find a woman of his own class to marry so he can forget about Elizabeth, so he visits a castle to hang out with a bunch of rich people. Only they are all being snobs, and then there’s some sort of haunting, and some sort of ritual sacrifice and kidnapping of children and just all sorts of mysterious whatnots that should be interesting.

Yet it wasn’t. Why?

The plot of this overall story arc has already been set. We know that this retelling can’t divert from the eventual coming together of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Since it takes Elizabeth’s refusal for Darcy to finally reflect and grow as a character, his character does not really change during this second book, either. So we as readers are simply plowing through this gothic mystery to, essentially, “get back on track.”

And considering how this whole second book could have explored more of Regency England’s concepts of marriage and how such pressures can impact characters and transform them, this installment felt like a missed opportunity.

~*~

Perhaps THAT is my problem in all this. I’m a writer grumbling about the “missed opportunities” I see in other writers’ work when all along those stories aren’t mine to dictate. Perhaps all that author wanted to do was make lots of epic battles featuring angel-like people, or perhaps that other author just wanted to get a gothic mystery on paper and this was her moment. We all have a right to tell the stories we want to tell, so please, PLEASE, feel free to love those stories and approach your own tales your way.

For let’s face it–some readers just want those epic battles, or those dramatic interactions. And others still want to see what happens when vastly different genre elements get tossed together. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, anyone?

Gosh, this post is LONG.

Know what? We’ll break it off here and finish this off June 1st (I’ve an author interview planned for later this month–stay tuned for that!). In exploring books for my podcast, I did find a book that balances character and worldbuilding without sacrificing either, so we’ll cover that next time.

Plus, I will hold myself under this critical lens. Since I’m revamping Middler’s Pride for a novel release instead of its previous serial release, I need to make sure I’m also balancing the worldbuilding and character development to propel the story forward. Stay tuned!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

Author #Interview: Let’s Chat with #IndieAuthor Bryan R. Quinn!

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Welcome back, my fellow creatives! I’m thrilled to continue sharing some lovely indie authors I’ve met in our community. This month, please welcome the mysterious Bryan R. Quinn!

You have a unique history in the publishing industry as well as in technical writing. From your experience, what do you consider to be the most unethical practice in the publishing industry, and what can be done about it?

Vanity publishing scams that milk naïve and, perhaps, desperate writers dry who haven’t done their due diligence are concerning. I hate to see writers, or anyone for that matter, get swindled. Writers need to investigate online publishers before trusting them with their hard-earned money.

Do you see your work as a technical writer influence your prose style as a fiction writer? Technical writing must be precise and concise, so I apply this precision and concision to my prose. At least I believe I do. I try to make my sentences lean as possible, even when they are long.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer? Sandra Johnson and Wendy Waters, who I met on Twitter, reviewed NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED before I published it. They gave me valuable advice about some of the characters and their motivations.

What is your writing Kryptonite? (Mine is a call from my sons’ school principal.) When my wife tells me to find a real job. I’ve been out of the workforce for eight years now, so it’s real tough getting back in.

Have you ever gotten reader’s block? Original question. There are times, and they are rare, when I don’t feel like reading a book, whether fiction or non-fiction. In those moments I’ll watch a DVD or surf the Web.

I think it’s safe to say we all have those moments when we need that visual stimulation over the written word! Still, that doesn’t mean language has no hold on us. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power? Way back when I wrote a young woman a farewell letter that had sprung from my heart. We lived far apart at the time. Through a mutual friend I learned she felt my letter read like poetry. That was a real surprise to me. I wish I had a copy of that letter.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel? Fields of Grace by Wendy Waters. Sublime writing and original storytelling.

How about your favorite childhood book? I know I always loved to adventure the fantastical lands in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader time and time again. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I received a copy of it from my parents on my 8th birthday. Many years later, I studied the hidden themes in this novel in an American literature course at university. It was a fascinating intellectual journey.

You have written both short fiction as well as novels. What process do you undertake to see how many words a story truly requires in order to be told? I look for gaps in the story much as one would look for missing pieces in a puzzle. Conversely, just like a puzzle, every piece in a story must belong there. To that end, I look for fat, that is, if I remove a chapter, would the story improve or worsen? I like to keep my stories as lean as my prose.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process? I always know how my stories begin and end. How the story moves from beginning to end without seeming contrived is the difficult part.

Oh yes, that’s a familiar trouble. Goodness knows I’ve had my share of mishaps in plotting my way from first scene to last. Still, you’ve successfully conquered this journey recently for your new noir thriller. Congratulations! Please tell us all about it and what inspired it. The germ of NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED, a tale set in New York City, was planted by a sister. I polled my sisters for story ideas. My youngest sister suggested a story about the Mob’s treatment of its foot soldiers. The Mob is always good fodder for a story, so I combined that premise with the premise of a Manhattan billionaire falling into the clutches of the Mafia. But more than that, this is a cautionary tale about wealth and its seeming guarantee of protection from the vicissitudes of life; it is this false sense of security, this chink in the armor of the wealthy, that evil, in the guise of a Mafia don, exploits in this story.

Sounds like a delightfully dangerous read, Bryan! Thank you so much for stopping by for this chat. May your future storytelling take down other alleys unknown of mystery, murder, and mayhem.

~STAY TUNED!~

I’m still waiting on that frickin’ copy of the new Death on the Nile, but that’s okay. I’ve been finishing a trilogy a friend recommended, and it’s got me wondering about yet another problem many writers face: worldbuilding vs. character-building. Let’s discuss, shall we?

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#WritingLife: The Neglected Garden

Gardening is really an extended form of reading, of history and philosophy. The garden itself has become like writing a book. I walk around and walk around. Apparently people often see me standing there and they wave to me and I don’t see them because I am reading the landscape.

Jamaica Kincaid

My love of nature is great, though my show of it is meager. The shadow of expectation, I suspect–my mother is an avid gardener with a number of bird feeders for the cardinals, orioles, woodpeckers, chickadees, and various other breeds flittering among Wisconsin’s trees. Those feeders are always stationed outside a window near the kitchen table, where no matter the season, my mother can enjoy her meal with the company of the nature she tends so lovingly.

My mom had a setup similar to this when we lived in the country. Noooo idea how she pulled this off.

Meanwhile, the bushes around my home have withered and died. Hostas–I think they’re hostas–have grown so wild and tangled in the back that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rats of NIMH had made a second home beneath their roots. Our single shade tree’s losing its bark and many of its branches refuse to bud. Even the small potted cactus my mother had given me years ago for some sort of greenery in the house has long since died.

Years ago, I would simply blame all this botanical death on motherhood. I couldn’t focus on a garden with Biff and Bash running rampant. I couldn’t afford to garden when the basement flooded and we had to replace things like the furnace and air conditioner. I couldn’t afford to garden when the kids were in school because I was only working part-time and money’s needed elsewhere. I can’t afford to garden because I’m working full-time and time is always needed on the computer, not outside.

Yet my mother worked full-time all my life, and her gardens surrounding any home always thrived. Why?

The love was there. The passion. Just as she loved the beauty in growing things, I love the beauty of stories, of helping them grow. What has one to do with the other?

When I’m writing, I think about the garden, and when I’m in the garden I think about writing. I do a lot of writing by putting something in the ground.

Jamaica kincaid
This book is the inspiration for this post. 🙂

We do our damndest to bring nature to us through artificial means–ambiance videos of forest sounds, for instance. Pretty desktop pictures of gardens.

Yet no matter what pretty picture or sound we acquire on our screens, we’re drawn to our windows, to our doors, our porches. We want to feel the breeze that lifts the dandelion seeds to the air. We want to smell the fresh earth tilled by farmers beyond our borders. We want to see those first bright shoots of green reach for sunlight. We want to reach for that sunlight. We want our senses to revel in Nature because we want our readers to feel the worlds we create for them to explore.

We must break through that thick dark that buries us, and reach. We must break through, and grow.

The gardener just has to accept that gardening is not a set-it-and-forget-it activity…A gardener must know his plot. He must think about what he wants it to look like. Then it is the daily cultivation that leads to beauty, in a landscape and a life, too.

Laura Vanderkam

No small feat, this.

The soil and all its mysteries, the shadow of my own mother’s accomplishments–I find myself taking small steps into tending nature. Caring for birds felt a safer, easier place to start. After all, it’s just a matter of supplying birdseed, yes? Plenty of wild birdseed to be had. But then there’s all those specialized suets and seeds for special birds, special feeders for different breeds. Damn, there’s a lot to work out. I begin with a general birdfeeder and a suet holder for the woodpeckers.

I need this birdfeeder!

Chickadees, sparrows, cardinals galore! The children especially love to spot the pairs of cardinals and guess where their nests could possibly be. Mornings are filled with birdsong outside our front window. I can stand with coffee in hand to watch the sun rise above houses and farmland, the sky awash in orange and pink behind those early risers perched upon the feeder. It’s a daily joy to see so many birds make themselves at home on my porch. The morning doves have even taken to hanging out upon the roof. Of course, this also leads to hawks occasionally stopping by for breakfast and leaving their leftovers in our yard, but that just creates a fresh science lesson for the kids.

No woodpeckers, though.

Not a one.

And still, I leave the suet in hope one comes.

Bo kisses my head as I once again stare at the suet holder. He shakes his head. “That suet’s getting moldy out there,” he says, and hooks a plastic bag on my fingers. He’s right, of course. Only a few small steps into nature, and I’m already stumbling.

But is that not the way with writing, too? Even the safest, smallest of steps into story-worlds isn’t without some risk of falling. We’ve all the unfinished prose and poetry that pain us to think on. Does the pain prevent us from writing?

Perhaps for a while. But never forever. We find new words, new worlds. We peer into the gifts from loved ones and find new seeds, a new feeder.

New life.

New hope.

~STAY TUNED!~

Since Death on the Nile is coming to video in early April, I’m just going to save my next Christie post for when I can rent the film and watch it. I refuse to be foiled by a lack of a babysitter! More indie author interviews are also on the way, and Blondie’s just about done with the third chapter of her Elementals story.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

Author #Interview: Let’s Chat with #IndieAuthor Alan Scott!

Welcome back, my fellow creatives! I’m thrilled to continue sharing some lovely indie authors I’ve met in our community. This month, please welcome the fantastical Alan Scott!

Let’s begin with your journey as a reader before you embarked as a writer. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

It’s been long and winding path. As a dyslexic, I was constantly told that I was thick and stupid, and that I should leave anything to do with being creative with the written word well alone. (Which is quite funny as I later learned that Agatha Christie, Jules Verne, F Scott Fitzgerald were all Dyslexic) Hence, although I read a lot in my youth, I never did any writing nor was encouraged to. Throughout my twenties and thirties, I continued to read a lot, mainly Fantasy or Science Fiction. It was not until I was in my early forties that I decided to sit down and write Echoes of a Storm and from there I have written 8 books in the Storm Series, 2 sci-fi books and of course my semi-autobiographical novella about being dyslexic in the modern world called. The Rain Dancer. I have spoken to library groups about being dyslexic and being an indie writer. I have also done The Lost Explorers Club podcast. I am now 52, so it has been a long journey. However, it’s one that has been very positive.

What a discovery of such a connection with your favorite writers! It’s wonderful to hear you are now sharing this journey with readers…and hopefully, inspiring other writers, too. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

You are not thick nor stupid. You will just have to wait 30 odd years until technology allows you to tell your tales. Keep reading all those books, it will pay off in years to come.

Let’s continue exploring your reading self a bit more before we explore your current writing self. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

For me it’s a book by an author called Hugh Cook. It was called The Wizards and the Warriors and was the first book in a 10 book fantasy series where all the books had very similar titles for example book two was The Wazir and the Witch. I just loved the way Hugh created his world and the way each book whilst self-contained, built upon the last.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

Yes, Richard Matheson’s book I am Legend. We mention short stories later; I am Legend is only about 175 pages, but within those pages it deals with so much and raises so many questions about society, what are monsters and the twist at the end is one of the all-time greats.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

Being Scottish, I love Billy Connolly (A comedian) and here in the UK in the 80’s they was a series of shows called an “An audience with….” And a popular star of the time would come and preform to a celebrity audience. An Audience with Billy Connolly has gone down in history as a master class of storytelling and making people laugh. His use of language, timing and showmanship is impeccable. He had people crying with laughter. Not the fake polite laughter you get with some show, but with real howls of laughter. That, to me, was language and storytelling at its most powerful. As writers, I think sometimes we forget that our tales are there to entertain and for people to enjoy. Yes, you can slip in the occasional social commentary (I’ve done it myself) or create 7 new languages each with their own sub dialects. But if your story is boring then no one will read it. If your story is difficult to read, no one will read it.

I LOVE this point! Readers will forgive much if the story engages and intrigues; that’s why I enjoy working on my own podcast, You’ve Got Five Pages…To Tell Me It’s Good. If we as writers cannot engage readers from the get-go, all the flowery prose and profound ideas in the world will not keep them.

So at this juncture, let’s venture into your writing life. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I self-published Echoes of a Storm over 10 years ago and don’t get me wrong I am very proud of that book and it holds a very special place in my heart. However, I made a lot of mistakes, which most likely cost me over the years. Since Echoes I got myself a really good proofreader, my writing style has improved a 100 fold, and the pacing of my stories is a lot better.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I don’t do a lot of research as such. However, I served 12 years in the Royal Air Force, so I have all that experience to draw upon when writing military characters. I’ve been that guard, standing in a guard box at 0200hrs with the raining pouring down on a cold Novembers night. I’ve also got a commendation in the New Years honour list for my work the Royal International Air Tattoo in 2000 . I have been dyslexic all my life and drew upon my experiences of that for The Rain Dancer I have also read a lot of very good fantasy authors like James Gemmell, Richard Matheson (when are they going to do a film that does justice to that fantastic book – I am Legend), Franz Lieber, Terry Pratchett, and many more. All of which have influenced my writing.

I can see by your Storm Series that you enjoy writing both novels and short fiction in a single universe. What is your process for choosing which stories are told in which form?

I started to write short stories and publish them on Amazon as a way of promoting my novels. Then after a year I realised I had enough to put them into a book and hence Stories for a Storm Filled Night came about. I thought it was just going to be a one of thing. Then I got thinking about one of my antihero characters that people really seemed to like. A man called Solomon Pace (I still don’t know why people like him) and suddenly stories involving him started to swirl around my head, and I started to write them down. That is how one of my most popular books came about Tales of Solomon Pace. There is something fantastic and very freeing about writing standalone short stories, that can be place in chronological order which enhance your main novels. You can explore different facet of your main story or a character personality in ways that you just cannot do in a novel. Due to pacing, size or editing issues. The third book of short stories Tales of Salvation and Damnation was a bridge between my two trilogies.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

As an indie writer, simply finding time to do it.

Amen to that! I’m currently working on expanding some fantasy storytelling myself while also drafting some short stories for publication. My frustrations with word count and worldbuilding leads me to ask your opinion on the following point: Writing short fiction in fantasy can be extremely challenging due to the restrictions in word count: agree or disagree?

100% disagree. You can write fantastic fiction in only a few words. For example *** Jane kissed her husband passionately on the lips, before placing his severed head back into the fridge. Humming a happy little tune that was currently playing on the radio. She turned off the device, before picking up her car keys and mobile phone from the kitchen table, grabbing her coffee cup, quickly drained it of its contents, and walking swiftly to the front door and exiting her home. Jumping in her car, she started the engine and made her way carefully out of the drive, and onto the road. Where she drove in happy silence along the quiet suburban leafy area in which she lived. The tranquillity was broken when her mobile went off. Jane picked up the phone and answered. “Hello Detective Inspector Jane Grant speaking.” *** Yes, I know it’s a bit rough and needs polishing. However, as an example of the length of short stories it works. You could stop at the first para and have a very short monster horror story, or you could stop at the end of the third para and have a slightly longer psychological horror short story. Or you could add 10’000 words and keep adding layers. For me the skill with short stories is to try and give hints and suggestions for the reader to pick up on and then let their imagination fill in the gaps.

You share your perspective well! You remind me of some wonderful writers who’ve done brief stories in the past: Joy Pixley and J.I. Rogers come to mind. I agree that with the right word choices, you can pack a lot into a tight space, for you can trust your reader’s imagination to fill in a lot of gaps. Sometimes we cannot help wanting to share more detail, though. 🙂 Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Writing definitely energizes me. When I am in the zone and the plotline is being built in my head and the characters are doing their thing. It’s brilliant. When I write, It’s like I am a director making a film and the characters are my actors. I have a general idea of what I want to happen, but there is always a great deal of improvisation by the characters. Which has lead to a few intriguing and thought-provoking outcomes.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your writing and reading journeys with us, Alan! Let’s end on a fun one here. I’m a HUGE fan of building music playlists for my writing time. Do you have any artists/composers you’d like to recommend for other writers looking for mood-setting music?

Oh yes. I love using music when I write and for each book, I produced a soundtrack. Some examples of the music I use are:

For my main character Nathaniel West:

  • Got you (Where I want you) by the Flys (from the Album Rock Band classics)
  • The Seer by Big Country
  • Behind Blue Eyes by the Who.

For one of my characters called Jane:

  • Deadlock by Tristania (from the album World of Glass)
  • Weak by Skunk Anansie

The last stand of the old guard:

  • Open Book by Gnarls Barkley (from the album The Odd Couple)

For my character Mancer:

  • Don’t let me be misunderstood by Nina Simone

For the Queen:

  • The Other Side by Sirenia (from the album Nine Destinies and a Downfall)

For my character Kathleen:

  • The Howling by Within Temptation

For a battle:

  • Pretend Best Friend by Terrorvision

For Twever the magnificent and his invisible psychopathic pet Ardo…well, there are more but I won’t bore you with them.

No worries, Sir! I’m just thrilled to have more music to seek out for inspiration. “Behind Blue Eyes” has always been the theme for one of my own characters as well, so seeing you share that song here immediately got me excited. 🙂 Thank you again, and Godspeed to you on your future wanderings through story-lands dark and fantastical.

~STAY TUNED!~

Blondie is tidying up her third chapter and I’m tidying up my notes about Death on the Nile and how this story’s adaptations reveal a common writing problem many of us face. We’ll see who finishes first!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You Have Five Pages to Tell Me It’s Good: #TheParadoxHotel by Rob Hart. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart

Now I recall there being quite the to-do over The Warehouse, so I admit I have high hopes for this one.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

I do so love a good genre-blend, and this combination of science fiction and mystery has already got me intrigued with just a few pages. The protagonist’s narrating style mixed with the concept of an illness that causes one to time travel (!) promises to be a bloody good read with time never truly being on anyone’s side.

And as always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You Have Five Pages to Tell Me It’s Good: Fatal Lies by Frank Tallis. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

Jeff gerke, the first 50 pages

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Fatal Lies by Frank Tallis

Now while this is new to my library, it’s the third installment of a longer series, so this should be interesting.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

This story had some beautiful details in it, but something about its characters really threw me off. Perhaps these characters’ actions and/or knowledge is better established earlier, but for a period novel, some things just didn’t ring true. AND IT’S PERIOD! I had no idea whatsoever by this paperback cover that this story is set in “Freud’s Vienna.” So I get rather sassy on this podcast near the end. 🙂

And as always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!