Your bibliography shows you love crafting a wide variety of poetry and prose. For instance, your series The Gaia Collection explores what happens when the global environment is completely under commercial control. Can you describe your writing process for creating this dystopian setting?
The Gaia Effect, the first book in the series, was an idea I had for a long time just sort of kicking about in my head. I don’t know why it went the way it did, I’m a discovery writer not a planner and I literally had no idea what was going to happen next when I was writing. I just followed the characters. I realise authors aren’t supposed to admit that they don’t know what they’re doing lol. With each subsequent novel I write, I tend to plan a little bit more but then I have had two kids since I started writing so I find it harder to remember everything now.
After being an author for over five years, what would you say are common traps for aspiring writers?
Thinking that they know everything, I don’t think you ever stop learning about the craft of writing and storytelling. And also, not being able to take critique – figuring out that it’s different from criticism and that other people (writers and readers) can see things that you don’t. I do find it difficult to put that first draft out there and I often get highly defensive at feedback but that’s usually because they’re right and I just don’t want to admit I need to make the changes lol.
Ha! I get pretty defensive about my own writing, too, but you’re right–that feedback is crucial in ensuring a plot line, a character arc, or whatever else actually makes sense. Would you consider this to be the most difficult part of your artistic process, or would you consider that to be something else?
Not being able to find enough time to work on my writing. At the moment, I have to squeeze things in between being a stay-at-home mum and oftentimes I am super tired in the evenings so trying to be creative can be tough. Also, my kids get up at 5am so trying to join in the 5am writers club is difficult as well. But you know, if you love doing something, you find the time for it.
OH MY GOSH I KNOW JUST WHAT YOU MEAN. Seriously, I totally do. I started blogging in 2015 when my kids were teeny. That was likely a crazy thing to do, but blogging helped me preserve what little sanity I had left, and eventually helped me re-ignite my creativity. Even though my kids are older now (well, still 10 and under, but still), they are my writing Kryptonite just as much as they are my writing inspiration. What is your writing Kryptonite?
Ironically, procrastination! I am an excellent procrastinator. I have even cleaned the oven instead of sitting down to write. But then at other times I’m in the writing zone and nothing can stop me.
I have a feeling you and I would be friends, because that’s just what I do on some days, too. Suddenly the floor absolutely must be cleaned that day because in my imagination, I just haven’t worked out a plot kink yet and it’s easier to clean than to sit and stare at my notes about fantastical elsewheres. I noticed that you enjoy writing all sorts of fantastical stories like Ye Olde Magick Shoppe, but you also enjoy exploringthe “commonplace” kind of life. Now most people–me included–write to escape this sort of place, but you found so much inspiration you created a collection called Tales From Surburbia. Can you share that particular inspiration with us?
I had released my first book The Gaia Effect and although I thought there might be another book in the series, I didn’t feel ready to write it straight away but I wanted to maintain the momentum I felt I’d created by publishing a book. I decided to look back over short stories, plays and blog posts that I’d written previously and grouped together those that had a similar theme. I wrote a couple of new pieces and voila! I had a shorts collection on the theme of humorous observation of life in the suburbs. All of it is inspired in some way by real events that happened to me or happened where I lived at the time.
Life in the suburbs certainly has its own wacky misadventures, like when toddler Biff decided to just join our new neighbors housewarming party and started tooting through their toddler’s toys. Heavens, that was so mortifying! The most common thread of the misadventures around our neighborhood, however, would have to be the animals. There’s a fox that occasionally wanders through our backyard; I like to imagine where he comes from and what brings him hunting about our yard. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
My writer mascot? Hmm… that’s a good question. I have absolutely no idea. Maybe a dragon, which is probably a little cliché. I’d actually love a dog
Ah, there is a history of beloved dogs among amazing writers! I’ll always remember my favoritest of favorite writers, Diana Wynne Jones, writing an entire fantasy novel inspired by her own dog. When we have the right inspiration, we cannot help but tell stories, you know? Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It depends – when the muse is with me, the words seem to run out of my fingertips into my keyboard and dance across my computer screen. Those are the days when I can write 2000 words in less than an hour and get to the end of the writing session feeling happy but wiped. Other days it’s a struggle and it feels like I’m pulling the words out. Those days are exhausting and filled with doubt. I think if writing doesn’t energise and exhaust you then you’re just not doing it right.
I completely agree, Claire. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, your stories, and your life with us! My friends, you can learn more about Claire and her work via the various social media links below.
Hello, lovely creatives! It’s been crazy adapting to the new full-time schedule, but I know I’ll find my groove in time. I did get to share a virtual slice of cake along with an interview with fellow indie writer Claire Buss.
I was also fortunate to interview another awesome soul in the midst of crazy remote schooling. Read on to check out my chat with the fantastical F.D. Stewart!
What is your favorite childhood book?
The Beautiful Bible Stories for children book.
I know what you mean. There are some powerful stories in the Bible! I was raised in a preacher’s home, so faith has always been a part of life.You mentioned your family has inspired some of your fantasy writing.
My mascot for this series is Grandma Quinones. She reminds me of my grandmother, who is the backbone of the family, and she keeps us together. She is a grandmother of wisdom and knowledge and does not play at all
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I was a little girl, I started as a lead singer in the Sunbeam Choir. I went from being a lead singer to one of the lead singers in the Gospel choir with my dad, which was extremely exciting for me. Right then, I realize how powerful your words can be when you put your all into what you are singing and seeing the reaction of the people being blessed by it. Even when I write poetry and reading it in front of people of what’s a part of me, is very successful, and you would be amazed how people who you don’t know and do know approach you afterward. Words alone are productive when it begins to help, encourage, or build up a person who needs to hear you at any given time. So, I will always be careful with my words.
We should all be careful with our words, to be sure! For some of us, it takes time hunting down the information we put into words. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Well, I had never done any research regarding my book until afterward. My book comes to me like a dream, and within that dream, many things pop out at you. You see yourself directing a story that has never been written or heard, and that is why I keep a notebook at my bedside. When things start happening, my pen starts writing, and later I am looking at words that I never knew existed.
I can just picture this dream-like state! It’s amazing what comes from us when we’re taken over by the story. It’s not always that way, though. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
The hard part of the artistic process is trying to match what is in your head. When you can see so many ideas running in your head concerning your work, you want it to be just like that. Even though it would not come out as how you would like it, but it would always be close enough for you to use. So, I learn that my mind would have a clear picture of what I am trying to bring out in reality for others to see, but in real life, things can only come close to what is in your mind.
Would you say you have a writing kryptonite that can interrupt your process?
I always try to avoid distraction, but sometimes that does not work. My family is my kryptonite. I love them, but I always carry a notebook everywhere I go. So, I can continue to write something down regarding my story when I am away from my office and have time to do so.
Oh yes! Notebooks are a must when we’re away from screens and spending time with family–you never know when you’ll get an idea! Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Energize me. It makes me feel alive that I can bring non-existence characters to life. You can create and design anything you put your mind to do. Sometimes, if I do not watch the time, I can write all day and forget to eat until my stomach starts to growl.
Ha! That’s a very important writing tip–don’t forget to eat! What are some other common traps for aspiring writers?
I am still learning about the common traps as I continue to write my novel, but I can share the ones that I overcome.
A) I learn to overcome your fear of what you are writing. Meaning: Everyone is not going to like/love your work, or what you write, or your style of writing, and the way you write your story.
B) I learn to never speak negatively about what you write or accomplish. Meaning: All the effort that you put in your work is worth more than you realize. It does not matter how long you have work on a story. The point is you accomplish something that is the first of its kind and a part of your legacy of who you are.
C)Never question yourself whether you have written enough. Meaning: It does not matter if the story is long or short. Your way of writing your book is different from how everyone writes. So, never compare yourself to anyone because you are an original writer/Author, who’s doing your own thing.
YES! We need to build our stories our own way with our own processes. One process that always fascinates me is word-building in fantasy. Can you explain your process in building the setting and rules of magic for the Wizard’s Estate?
Everything is based upon scripture that is common among everyone. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18: 21 NKJV
The story begins way before Livingston University. There was an owner who created the Wizard’s Estate. He was a wealthy man, and he established many things in the town of Livingston, but as the story goes… in which you will be reading it in the prequel of the series, the owner ended up dealing with the people later on throughout his life. Several decades had passed in the new owner took over the wizard’s estate.
Now, the story begins at Livingston University. There are no rules to the game. Everyone must find themselves. Each and everyone have a purpose in life, but the choice is theirs. They can either accept who they are or get destroyed by who they are not.
These characters must find themselves before they get destroyed by the words of their enemy.
Their words are deadly than magic alone, and every sorcerer knows it very well. It takes a small seed to be planted by an evil sorcerer to cause chaos in a person’s life who is struggling with their identity, and it’s going to take these characters to accept who they are to overcome who they are up against in this series.
There are no rules when it comes to building magic in this series. Every character goes through challenges that allow them to build up themselves and produce their own words from experience.
Welcome to my world!
I’m feeling most welcome, indeed! Putting characters through challenges can be difficult to write, though. What was your hardest scene to write? I know battle scenes are always tough for me.
My hardest scene that I have ever written for this series was when an evil sorcerer violated one of my female characters. It was incredibly detailed that it made me feel uncomfortable.
I know just what you mean. I had to crawl through the darkest natures inside my characters in order to start them on the road to redemption. It’s not pretty, what we learn inFallen Princeborn: Chosen, but it matters to the characters and story, so readers must go there, too.
Through Charlotte’s broken door and across the hall, Arlen stands in Liam’s quarters, mouth agape. “How did you fly through….” He inches towards them, eyes roaming the glass, his student, Charlotte. His head cocks towards the stairwell, then back. “You must face your bloody days, Liam,” he says pointedly. “There will not be another chance. I’ll stall them.” He leans the door into place. Rose House unrolls the wallpaper across the space, removing the door completely once more.
Liam’s hands still grip Charlotte like his talons when he first rescued her from the Pits. “Guess that Bloody Prince thing had to start somewhere,” she says. A sob bursts out, taking any energy to stand with it.
Liam crumples to the floor with her. “I was…” His hands slowly slide down Charlotte’s arms to her wrists. A tear escapes his eye only to be cradled in his scar like a captured star. “I was so…” He pulls out his blood dagger, holds it between them. Grinds his teeth. “…angry.”
My deepest thanks to F.D. Stewart to taking the time to chat with me! You can check her out on Twitter and Amazon. You can also check out my newest release Chosen on Amazon, too.Author Anne Clare left a marvelous review!
Dark, dangerous and immersive–the River Vine grabs hold and won’t let go. The second installment of the story of Charlotte- a survivor of beatings and abuse who now has to face down deadly dangerous magical shapeshifters- doesn’t disappoint. From the River Vine to an underwater realm that is horrifyingly imaginative (and gives me the creeps!) to a family reunion that is anything but welcome, author Jean Lee’s action packed sequel kept me up reading late- partially because I was afraid of what creatures might visit my dreams! The story does deal with childhood abuse suffered by some of the characters-for this and for the intense narrative and language, I’d recommend the story for older readers who enjoy dark, high-stakes fantasy stories.
Anne Clare, Author of Whom Shall I Fear?
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
Ack, I can’t believe the end of the year is nigh! I’m so excited for Christmas my husband can’t stand it. 🙂 We’ll see what quirky little analysis I can cook up in the midst of finals, but first I have another interview with an indie writer who started her own awesome line of kid’s story books to support rescue animals. I also unearthed a forgotten soundtrack in my archive that I’d love to share for those embarking on thirty days and nights of literary abandon. I hope you’ll be back to check it out!
I’ve been honored by other amazing indie author’s invitations to share my stories and thoughts on craft. Today’s share is a podcast I did with fellow fantasy writer Neil Mach. We covered all sorts of gleeful things, from flawed heroines to our mutual love of spaghetti westerns. I hope you enjoy it!
Lastly–for I don’t want to scamper off so soon, but there’s been one of those delightful domestic disturbances of a broken garbage disposal to deal with–here’s a sneak peak into one of my chapters of Fallen Princeborn: Chosen. Charlotte’s been separated from the others and in trapped inThe Pits. Only one thing could make it worse:
She is not alone.
Charlotte’s body slams into the ice-cold clay of the Pits. She slides down the tunnel, faster and faster, until it evens out and she slows to a stop. This clay is a little less damp, the air a little less putrid. And light: barely, but there. Any light at all must mean the atrium. So, breathe through your god-damn nose, Charlie, and sneak on over that way to get help.
But why would Orna trap you down here only to let you out again? The Voice puzzles.
Shut up, no one asked you.
Toes first. Charlotte wriggles them into place, then carefully brings weight back down on her heels. Charlotte holds the bone-knife before her, ready to slash and swipe, while her free hand finds the tunnel’s side and presses it gently. Step by step. Forward.
Stop breathing through your mouth, Charlie!
But Charlie isn’t breathing through her mouth.
In the void ahead…somewhere, someone is breathing. Slurping. A click-popping, almost like a frog’s broken croak.
Charlotte pauses. Looks back. Ahead.
Another broken croak. Followed by a slow, slow rattle.
Orna—or a Hisser?—lies ahead.
Charlotte takes another step.
The rattle stops.
Charlotte slaps her hand over her face. Counts her breaths and reaches for the pendant that’s not there. Dammit, Dad, I wish I had a piece of you with me like I did that first time down here.
But even though Charlotte’s alone in the darkness, she is not alone. Liam and Arlen can find me, and they will find me if I ain’t quiet.
“Bring it on, bitch!” Darkness sucks her words into the void.
The rattle starts again. The croaking quickens to a sort of buzz…
Charlotte’s fingers groove the tunnel’s side as she walks with blind briskness. Colors squiggle where her eyes strain for light, but the air continues to freshen—she is moving towards the atrium. “How the hell can you even see me in this dark? Ha! Can you see the reeeal me…” Charlotte starts to sing, and the rattle ramps up its insane rhythm. The Voice in Charlotte’s heart laughs as it presses the bellows to the rhythm of Charlotte’s favorite Who song. Orna’s henchman Cein thought he could take it from her—hell to the no on that.
“Can you see the real me, preacher? Preacher?!”
The rattle keeps getting louder, but now Charlotte sees a clear, definable web of light ahead—the tunnel’s exit into the atrium of the Pits.
“Can you see, can you see, can you see?” Charlotte runs and slides out of the tunnel, singing,
“Can you see the real me, doctor?!”
The atrium is a graveyard of branch and bone. Ash floats lazily in the air like dust mites. A wide gaping mouth high in the wall above Orna’s old platform still hangs open, drooling its lines of glass droplets—the old channel for the water road, now crystalized tears of dead magic because of the Wall.
Charlotte looks up to the atrium’s ceiling, where the white tree once grew. New roots, black as pitch, are sewing the gap shut. But in this moment shards of light can still sneak through. She breathes deep and belts as loud as she can, “Can you see the real me, Maaaaaaama?!” she holds that last “Ma,” ready to sing herself hoarse—
“No. No. No. No. No.”
Charlotte spins around. In another tunnel’s entrance stands a pale shadow. The bottom half writhes, and the rattle grows louder. Two needle-thin arms stick out and shoot up as though a child is positioning the limbs. Ten fingers as long and sharp as snake fangs jerk out, jerk up, and take hold of the head slumped to one side. They wrench it upright. Mangled, oily locks of hair fall into place, but the tongue remains free to slurp and drool where it wants.
Inside, Charlotte wants to gag. What drunk sewed your face back on?!? Outside, Charlotte sticks her hands on her hips. “What, no Anna skin this time? I could describe my grandma to you if you want. Always did want to punch that hag in the mouth.”
The rattle tones back. “Ha ha ha ha.” Her lips don’t—or can’t—move. The tongue slithers about in the air and catches Charlotte’s scent. It wavers in Charlotte’s direction, and Orna’s snake-half finally slinks forward in short, halting movements. The hands jerk free of her head, and The Lady’s head flops to the side once more. Her fingers move in mechanical fashion at Charlotte, even as one finger falls off to the ground, lifeless at last. Orna’s eyes look pathetic without the menacing stars that once glowed in them.
Charlotte scoffs. “Jeez, even I could kill you now.”
“Charlotte?!” The cry flies down through the crevices. Yet the roots still grow, bridging every gap they find.
Charlotte sticks her bone knife back into the red belt. “Pardon me for just a second,” she says to the herky-jerky Lady and cups her hands to her mouth. “DOWN HERE!”
“An an an ha ha ha.”
Charlotte’s eyes narrow at the name. “That name’s got no power comin’ out of your stupid-ass mouth. Damn, even I can sew better’n’that..” She pulls out the bone-knife—
—almost too late.
Orna’s tongue whips far longer than before, missing Charlotte’s shoulder by a hair. Charlotte rolls to the side and curses at herself. “Yeah, Charlie, you can really slay the snake-lady easy peasy, can’tcha?”
The roots threading the atrium’s ceiling shake and crack, but don’t break. Thunder shakes from within a tunnel, echoes of light rippling out the tunnel’s sides to die in the atrium.
Orna’s tongue blossoms into three, then five, then ten translucent pink living whips. The stitches at the bottom of her face rip as her jaw unhinges wide enough to swallow a human. The hydra-tongue descends—
Charlotte leaps aside and slashes with the bone-knife. Dammit, this ain’t no blood dagger! But the blade is wicked sharp and takes out one of the tongues. It flops fish-like on the ground, spurts of oil and veli barely missing Charlotte’s leg.
She runs away before Orna’s hydra-tongue can take aim again. If I can slash up the snake part, I bet I could bleed the bitch out. She spots the serpent portion of Orna’s body, its peeling, sick skin caught on the rocks littering the tunnel’s entrance. Charlotte picks up speed, bone-knife aimed for the massive molting serpent—
Fire lights up the atrium. Roots rain ash as Liam’s blood sword burns through them all. He rolls, sheathes the blade, transforms mid-fall into the golden eagle, talons at the ready.
Charlotte’s knife strikes hard and deep into the snake’s belly. Oil laced with veli oozes from the gash. The funk of rot floods Charlotte’s nostrils.
Thunder builds in the tunnel. There’s a light, white and spectral, running with the thunder…
Orna’s body shakes and screams. Her head flops as the hydra-tongue feels the air for Charlotte.
It finds Liam’s talons instead.
“Liam fly up, NOW!” Charlotte screams. The hydra-tongue quickly coils round both Liam’s legs. Liam’s whole body burns feathers of fire, but the tongues don’t give. He transforms and hangs upside-down several feet above Orna’s gaping jaws.
The empty eyes meet his. A moan of pleasure oozes from her mouth.
The blood dagger slips from its sheath into Liam’s hand, and he slashes one leg free. Charlotte runs and aims for those needle arms, ready to rip one out.
“Can you see, can you see—” A tenor voice barrels out of the tunnel, followed by a pale figure wielding a sword of white light. Charlotte slides to a stop as he lops the bottom half of Orna’s jaw clean off. “Can you seeeee the real me?!”
Orna’s eyes roll towards him. A geyser of oil and screams erupt at the base of her tongue.
Liam slashes his other foot free, and he somersaults to the ground.
The pale figure wraps his hand in a hank of Orna’s hair and lifts her oily, sparkling half-face off the ground and right up to his own, the star-less orbs even darker next to his white-blond hair and ice-blue eyes. “You should have played the game my way.” Her herky-jerky arms begin to reach out, but he stomps down on her breasts and pops her head off with a thock! He tosses the head over his shoulder, spins the light sword. It flickers down into a broad, thick dagger with vicious claw marks crisscrossing in its steel. He slips the dagger into a leather sheath strapped to his right calf, then looks at Liam. “And where in Aether’s Fire have you been?”
Hello once more, my friends! I thought it’d be fun to continue sharing some of the inspiration for my Fallen Princeborn characters, this time including some kickin’ writing advice I got from the craft books 45 Master Charactersand 20 Master Plots.
“But I hate templates!” Of course, no one wants their story to be considered some sort of cookie-cutter tale. What’s cool about these particular craft books is their analysis of how far back certain kinds of stories and character types go, and in so doing shows why these kinds of stories and characters are timeless and therefore always relevant no matter what the story.
First, let’s talk plot.
It’s all right to let yourself go when you write, because you’re using the best part of your creative self. But be suspicious of what comes out. Plot is your compass…Fiction is a lot more economical than life. Whereas life allows in anything, fiction is selective. Everything in your writing should relate to your intent. The rest, no matter how brilliantly written, should be taken out.
20 Master Plots is likely a book I’ve mentioned here before, but I can’t help but re-recommend it for both inspiration and reflection on the primary shapes a story has taken through literature. Now I love pantsing my way through plot development like many other NaNoWriMo folk, but when it comes to a series, stuff has to fit, dammit, and if you don’t take time to make things fit, you are promising yourself a story-world of plot holes and problems. You may very well mixing several of the “Master Plots,” such as Rivalry, Rescue, or Riddle, and there is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is losing sight of what those Master Plots need in order to complete the story. For instance, I know I’ve got some Riddle in mine, as Charlotte’s curious abilities to handle Velidevour magic are not yet explained. Were I to leave that unexplained book after book until the series ends, readers would understandably give me a good rap with the knuckles and ask what’s going on. Pursuit is another Master Plot I use quite often, which Tobias defines here as–
Two games never seem to fail to capture the imagination of children: hide-and-seek and tag. Try to remember the excitement of being on the hunt and finding where everyone was a test of cleverness (how well you could hide) and nerve. Tag is like that, too. Chasing and being chased, always trying to outwit the other person. We never lose our appetite for the game. For children as well as adults, there’s something fundamentally exciting in finding what has been hidden. As we grow older, we grow more sophisticated about how we play the game, but the thrill at the heart of it never changes. It is pure exhilaration. The pursuit plot is the literary version of hide-and-seek.
Perhaps you’ve seen thrillers, suspense, and/or mysteries referring to the “cat and mouse” chase within the story. Welp, there you go! We love this game of seeking what’s hidden, or hunting the baddie. It means a constant foray into uncertainty with high stakes, and dire consequences will befall whomever fails. This drives any pursuit within Fallen Princeborn: Chosen, and I promise you now it will only grow in the stories to come.
Liam keeps an arrhythmic staccato pace with Dorjan. Scattered leaves and pine needles hide an array of sharp rocks. Liam’s feet seem to find them all, but with the sparks of Charlotte’s touch still alight within him, he cares little about the pain. Only Dorjan’s nose matters now, tracking the scent of their quarry. He slows, checks the ground, speeds up. Slows, checks the ground, speeds up. They move like this out of the sun-baked brambles and into the tattered forest.
A branch breaks. A creature cries. But nothing is close enough, not yet.
Dorjan is the first to slow. He points where a few drops of oil speckle upon a pine’s crusted sap. The brittle cove around them bears a pathetic green compared to the lushness of the foliage surrounding Rose House.
Then Liam feels it—a prickling around his wrist. Blast it. Already the mark is alive and moving. “The Wall is close.” He strains to look past the scattered clumps of life around them but sees nothing of the Wall surrounding River Vine.
Dorjan sniffs the air. “And Campion’s got company. Two, by the smell of it. Bully for us.”
The first time I read 45 Master Characters, I had already drafted my series’ first book (Stolen), and it struck me how much this description fit Dorjan, my rogue Princeborn who’s appeared in both my novels as well as my novella Night’s Tooth. Unlike other Velidevour who don’t care much about devouring the desires of an adult or child, Dorjan takes extra care to defend human children to the point of killing his own kind, as he does in Stolen:
Human once again, Dorjan grabs Jamie by the neck and pins him against a tree. “You wonder, do you, why I do this. Why I hunt you and Campion, why I seek a duel with Cein. Know, then: I do this for Jennifer Blair, whose brother you unlawfully stole, an innocent, a borderland child. A child!” His fist breaks skin and muscle and bone. Blood splatters Dorjan and leaks from Jamie’s mouth.
“Just… human… just… human…” he murmurs like a broken toy, hiccupping between words.
“A human worth far more than you or me,” Dorjan says with a low voice that begins with a quiver and ends on a battle cry as his fist tears in and then slams out of Jamie’s ribcage, heart in hand. The moment his last artery snaps, Jamie’s eyes deteriorate into dull gems, onyx. Then mist. Another breath, and his entire body blows away in a cloud of violet embers.
Dorjan studies the black heart a moment before pitching it far into the trees. “Let me know if Cein and Campion get my message, will you?”
Every character needs motivation to be what they are, be it through principals, wants, needs. Whether or not that purpose lifts them up to heroics or plunges them deep into villainy is up to you, fellow writers.
…the Male Messiah may not know of his connection to the Divine, but he may just be driven to accomplish something important. In this respect, he isn’t working on a spiritual goal. It seems his whole life is for one sole purpose and that purpose affects the lives of thousands of people…The Male Messiah has the ability to see the whole picture when it comes to problems. He never jumps to conclusions or gets involved in the gossip or drama of everyday life…
As the Punisher, he’ll curse the man who has “fallen” to teach him a lesson. He wants to break the man’s ego. He’ll kill the man’s spirit to transform him into his image. He may try to justify himself to others, but they’ll never fully understand his power or the burden he carries. They view his reprimands as harsh and uncaring. Many will leave his side, unable to follow his rules and treatment…He feels his word is law.
Just one unmet need–love, hope, peace, whatever else–and one’s soul is cast in darkness. This struck me good and hard as I developed another character in Fallen Princeborn: Chosen. You will know him when you meet him, this carrier of pale fire and song.
Stay tuned for my next post to read his introduction as well as information about a cracking podcast I got to do with fellow indie fantasy author Neil Mach.
Nothing grinds my storyteller-gears like set-ups that go nowhere. As writers, we don’t want to be too predictable, but we also know that subverting expectations is a HUGE risk that does not always pay off. Filmmaker J.J. Abrams is notorious for his “Mystery Boxes,” a method where one establishes several plot questions and mysteries early in the story to hook the audience and keep them riveted. Do Mystery Boxes have a place in storytelling? Of course. The problem comes when the content inside the Mystery Boxes fails to meet expectations.
And you do want to know, don’t you? Want to know if those stories your mother told you are true. If I really killed them all. If I am that mad. This is the story as I recall it, and yours now too, to guard or treasure or forget as you please. I wanted someone to know, you see. To know my truth, now that I am gone. How everything and none of it happened. (17)
The marvelousS.J. Higbee recommended Camilla Bruce’s suspense-filled tale of dark fantasy…or horror-fantasy? I’ll call this a suspense-fantasy with a taste for blood. Anyway, Sarah highly recommended the novel, and her recommendations do not come lightly. When my copy came in at the library, I tore through Bruce’s narrative in just a few days. It wasn’t for the world-building, mystery, or drama–all of which were aces in this book, for the record. Actually, it was Bruce’s work paying off expectations that really impressed me.
Let’s start on the very first page, a prologue of sorts in the form of a newspaper clipping detailing renowned writer Cassandra Tipp’s disappearance.
She has a history here, Officer William Parks Jr. said. The officer is no doubt referring to the trial following her husband’s violent death 38 years ago, where Cassandra Tipp was a suspect. The murder and its aftermath launched Mrs. Tipp’s writing career; her fame partly due to her therapist, Dr. V. Martin’s book about the case, “Away with the Fairies: A Study in Trauma-Induced Psychosis”, which briefly climbed the bestseller lists.
Woah! So this famous romance novelist was suspected of MURDERING her husband?! We haven’t even started the story yet, but we are intrigued. As readers, we picture what we think a romance novelist is like. Tipp presumes her nephew wonders the same thing as he and his sister embark on the directions Tipp’s lawyer gave for the two to inherit their mysterious aunt’s money: “How could a childless widow write so much about romance and love?” (15). The two find a manuscript in Tipp’s house, the final manuscript she will ever write. The lawyer’s directions to the siblings were clear: the manuscript must be read in order to find the code word needed to access the inheritance. When the two read the above excerpt from page 17, we readers are now wondering whether or not we’re entering Unreliable Narrator territory. After all, there was a doctor who said this Tipp lady was psychotic. And not just any psychotic, but a psychotic writer, which means Cassandra Tipp isn’t going to simply tell it like it is. Oh no–this character’s life comes in a fragmented sequence, shifting about in time, alluding to people and things in different eras of her life so you are always curious about something.
Take the opening of the next chapter on page 19. Tipp describes her husband and what he was like.
Who doesn’t love a redeemed villain, an angel with the alluring taint of sin? I never was so blind, never wanted him for being dangerous; I already had a dangerous lover–already knew the taste of sin. No wonder the ladies were cross, though, when his gorgeous body was found in the woods. But I’m moving too fast, we’re not there yet. A lot of things happened before that. One thing you must know: I was never a good girl.
As you can see, Cassandra Tipp is not going to “spill the tea” so easily, which means Camilla Bruce isn’t going to give away all this story’s secrets so quickly. This moment contains an example of something Bruce–and thereby the protagonist Tipp–does to “set up” the readers and stretch their expectations: she alludes to the promise of telling it all, and then diverts readers with something else, be it another experience or the introduction of a new character, like the Faerie named Pepper-Man. The promises are shared frequently throughout the book, such as two chapters later, when Cassandra Tipp interrupts her experiences to address her niece and nephew from within the manuscript:
This isn’t the story you expected. You were expecting a repenting sinner’s last confession. Expecting me to cry on the page, admit my wrongdoings and beg your forgiveness. Instead you et this: childhood memories. I am sorry about that–sorry to disappoint, but the truth of it is, I cannot recall a world without Pepper-Man in it, and him being in it was the beginning of it all. We will get to the bodies eventually. (33)
Not just “body.” BodIES. Don’t ask about those bodies yet, though, for we have been promised to learn “eventually.” The word choice here hints to readers that whatever explanation will come about the bodies is a long way off. At this point, however, I doubt many readers are complaining, for now there’s this Faerie companion to try and understand. Camilla Bruce does not completely open Pepper-Man’s Mystery Box, for protagonist Cassandra Tipp is given multiple “claims” from the Pepper-Man on how he came to be in her life. All that matters is that he is in her life, changing as she changes both mentally and physically. As a girl, Cassandra is in constant conflict with her mother, a woman who hates nature and wild, unkempt creatures. The fighting is often violent, and results in Cassandra spending most of her time locked in her room.
I would think back on this time of ceaseless fighting later, when I was the one who had to fight–in vain–to make a teenage girl see reason. It’s as hard as catching a slick fish, the way she skitters and twirls out of reach. (53)
Please keep in mind, Cassandra Tipp is telling us on page 53 that she “was the one” fighting with a teenage girl–that is, that Cassandra Tippis a mother. Yet didn’t we hear in the very beginning that she was childless?
Indeed we did. Another Mystery Box has been set before us, one just as bright and intriguing as the murdered bodIES. Is Camilla Bruce going to keep presenting these boxes, or is she going to start opening some?
Considering I don’t want to open all these boxes before you get a chance to read the story, I will allow us to peek into a couple, just to prove that You Let Me In isn’t the Dark Faerie version of The Force Awakens.
Recall how the prologue alluded to the murder of Cassandra Tipp’s husband and her place in the case. Camilla Bruce sprinkles the promises that Tipp will tell us at various places in the first 100 pages, each promise revealing just a smidge more new information. Take this excerpt of a conversation between Tipp and her psychologist Dr. Martin:
“I did kill him, T-; I mean, but that was a long, long time ago.” “You see, we disagree about that. I remember very well meeting you and T- at your house, and he seemed very much alive to me. Very much flesh and blood. Very much a man.” “He was supposed to appear so,” she said patiently, as if I [Dr. Martin] were a child. “But it wasn’t really real, you know. When the spell finally broke, his body would just be twigs and moss again.” “That is not what the police found in the woods.” I kept my voice calm. “They found several body parts. All of them were human.” (69)
Oh…so, we are not just dealing with a body. We are dealing with “parts” in the woods. This sounds vicious, cruel, inhuman.
But that is all we are given. So we must read on.
And now, my young friends, it’s finally time to talk about Tommy Tipp and what happened to him in those woods. (83)
You would be confused at this point, I guess. This all happened long before you were born, yet you have met Tommy Tipp many times. He was my husband for over a decade, so how could he have died at twenty-four? Tommy was not what you thought he was, but then I have told you that already. If you keep turning the pages, I will tell you just what he was. (102)
You see those page numbers? Almost 20 pages go by, and Cassandra’s truth about Tommy Tipp is still not complete. Camilla Bruce carefully paces the information so that as one Mystery Box is slowly opened we are constantly distracted by a different Mystery Box, such as Cassandra Tipp’s aforementioned “teenage girl.” Cassandra Tip rarely mentions her in the first 100 pages.
“Denial, my dear,” Dr. Martin said. “Denial is a powerful drive.” “Mara says that you are the one in denial, and that she will leave a token on your pillow tonight to prove it.” …. Mara said later that she had indeed visited the doctor that night leaving half a leaf and acorn by his side. Dr. Martin never mentioned it, though, so either he had not seen it…or maybe–just maybe–he too was in denial. (76)
It is not until after Cassandra’s wedding to Tommy Tipp–and that Mystery Box, as it were, was fully opened–that Camilla Bruce lets us pay more attention to Mara.
“A faerie bride,” she whispered. “That is what my mother is.” “A faerie child,” I whispered back. “That is what my daughter is.” ~*~ I guess that through all this you have started to wonder about Mara. Who is this person so dear to me, yet absent from your mother’s memories, this woman who draws me to the mound and calls me Mother? The young girl I have been fighting with–and warning you about, though perhaps not strongly enough? I’ll tell you about Mara, and how she came to be. (121-2)
This is a section where readers’ wonderings about an unreliable narrator strengthen. Dr. Martin’s study of Cassandra Tipp becomes more scientific, more “expert” in matters of the mind and how it copes with trauma. Cassandra herself gives us two different tales of what happened to her body as a teenager. Camilla Bruce does not direct readers one way or the other. All readers know is that questions remain, and the answers to those questions are rarely easy. Or safe.
…questions about what happened later–those other deaths that occurred…I guess I owe you some answers about that. The “family tragedy.” The violent end. Somebody ought to know what really happened. And so I keep writing–and you two keep reading. (137)
I’ll end my analysis here, so as not to ruin any more surprises for you. Obviously I highly recommend You Let Me Infor an unsettling, thoughtful read to pass the time on a chilly autumnal day. But I recommend this book even more to my fellow writers, for we all can use a good reminder of what it means to pay off those expectations. No matter how much our Mystery Boxes sparkle with magic and intrigue on the outside, the inside–the payoff, the promise, the end–must be just as unique as that which enticed readers in the first place. If not, then our stories will be forgotten beneath the tattered scraps of expectations our readers throw away.
I’ve another lovely interview with an indie author coming up! I’m also hoping to share some highlights from Fallen Princeborn: Chosen as we grow nearer to its release later this month.
Throw in the twins’ virtual schooling and my promotion to full-time teaching at the university, and we’ll have an interesting October, indeed. x
Welcome, Friends, to yet another splendid interview with a beautiful indie author soul! I am thrilled to pause all this chaos of teaching, parenting, and preparing my own novel for publication so I may introduce you to the cosmic dreamer and eternal adventurer, S.J. Higbee.
To call you an “avid reader” feels like a huuuuge understatement. Can you share a little of your reader’s journey with us? That is, can you tell us what inspired you to take on book reviewing with such gusto, and your process for choosing the books you do for reviewing?
I’ve always been an avid reader. Once I got to school and realised the power of words and how stories could take me away from where I was and to different worlds – that was it. I was away…
I originally started reviewing for SFReader.com, a forum for science fiction and fantasy readers and writers from 2006-09. However, I soon had a hefty backlog of reviews stacking up, as I thoroughly enjoyed the process of writing down my thoughts after reading a book. So once I started my own blog back in 2009, it made sense to mostly review books on it. I stumbled across other book reviewers, almost by accident.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
The late, great Terry Pratchett. There aren’t many authors whose complete output we own, but we have all his books, including Where’s My Cow? We also own all Lois McMaster Bujold’s books and I’ve read nearly all of Jo Walton’s output. I am the ultimate mood reader, however. While I do get a steady stream of books from Netgalley, I take care never to overdo it, so I’m forced to sit down and read something that I really, really don’t want to.
Hmmm, I bet those moods can put a damper on the book joy at times. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Yes. When I’ve forced myself to trudge through a book that isn’t speaking to me on any level. So I don’t do it, anymore. If I don’t like a book, I DNF it – and that includes Netgalley arcs. I generally don’t mention DNFs on my blog, because I have strong opinions and specific tastes and while I cut loose when discussing book covers and in my private notes about books I’ve disliked sufficiently to stop reading, I don’t think it’s fair to share those views with a wider audience.
I know you’ve recently moved out of the classroom, but as a fellow teacher, reader, writer, and parent (well, I know you’re also a grandparent, but I’m not there *yet*, thank Heaven!), I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can spread literacy awareness among children today.
I’ve taught children with specific learning difficulties and the secret is always to find what motivates them – be it rulebooks for computer games, cookery recipes and in one case building suppliers’ lists, and use those to spark their interest in reading. Above all MAKE IT FUN! Words games… silly voices… reading a word each… And always stop before the child becomes fed up, so they are left wanting more. Little and often is far more effective than longer stints twice a week, which is why so many children don’t learn to read effectively at school.
Amen to that! When we turn reading into a treat, we know they will ALWAYS be ready for that treat. Rather like cookies, don’t you think? I wonder now if the publishing industry could be doing more to promote literacy.
Children’s writers do a fantastic job in promoting literacy by visiting schools and talking about their characters. But I would LOVE to see more serious imagination with regard to interactive programs to aid literacy. In fairness, I don’t think the publishing industry should be responsible for promoting literacy skills – but governments certainly should. What about a game like Fortnite actually using wordgames, punning, jokes and literacy games, in addition to all the cool graphics, driving music and action scenes, as part of a national reading scheme? It shouldn’t be the only way to reach children, of course. But certainly ought to be part of a range of resources to target children who spend a lot of time on their screens.
Now, let’s talk about your writing. You’ve written a number of slick Sci-Fi novels, including the YA Sunblinded trilogy, the Arcadian Chronicles, and the standalone Netted. What draws you to science fiction more than other genres?
I love the fact that when I open the cover, I never know exactly what I’m getting. To ensure that’s the case, I very rarely bother reading the blurb in advance, either. Sometimes, it’s a bit of a struggle to make sense of what is going on – especially if I’ve crashed midway into a series, but as long as the worldbuilding and characterisation are sound, I’ll generally make sense of what is going on. It’s the genre I love reading the most – and when it goes well, the tingle factor is off the charts… Fantasy is right up there, too.
I never get tired of that tingle! I must admit, though, I cannot crash into the middle of a series as you often do. 🙂 In an age where publishers are eager for stories that smack of potential franchise, what do you consider to be the strengths of a standalone novel?
Sometimes, there is a story I want to tell that is only the length of a single book. If that’s the case, then I don’t want to elongate it into something more drawn-out. I think most stories have a natural arc length – and part of the skill of the author is figuring out exactly what that length is. Some of my best reads, ever, have been standalone books.
You have certainly written your share of both series and standalones as well! Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It depends. If it’s going well, I find a high that I don’t get anywhere else. If it isn’t, then it’s both exhausting and depressing.
I love how you don’t peg yourself into writing a specific kind of character. Running out of Space’s Lizzy and Mantivore’s Kyrillia are both adventurous heroines, while Netted’s Kris is very reticent to take on the responsibilities the story quickly demands of her. Would you say each story helps you shape the characters, or the characters come to you and the story shapes around them?
Oh, it always starts with the character and an initial scene. Often I have dreamt that starting scene. However, the characters don’t leap onto the page fully formed and it is often a question of trial and error as to how they react to events around them that help me figure out exactly who they are. Up to now, I’ve been a pantser, but I’ve just started planning out my stories – and the main success has been in nailing the narrative arcs of all the main characters – it has made such a difference to the writing process.
World-building is HUGE for my writing process. If a story-world’s rules aren’t clear, then it’s a lot harder for readers to fully appreciate the plot’s stakes, let alone care about the characters. Science Fiction is no “easy” genre to write for—not only do you have to create a realistic place, but it also has to feel possible to reach in our future. Can you share a step or three in your world-building process?
I think anyone who writes SFF with any measure of success has to care about worldbuilding. The first rule has to be that it makes sense. I studied History at college, for which I’m constantly grateful. That perspective on how humans behaved in the past is really useful for extrapolating as to how they’d behave in the future. And if they doing something completely different from anything that has happened before, there has to be a solid reason for it.
However, all of that has also to be balanced against my personal loathing for pages of long-winded explanation in some nebulous authorial viewpoint. So readers often don’t get to know exactly what is going on all the time in all the corners of my worlds, because my characters don’t. I’m quite comfortable with that – though I’m aware it bothers some readers. It’s one reason why I use language as one of my main tools for worldbuilding – the slang and swearwords also denote issues like being overrun with pests, or melting icecaps without my even mentioning them.
Blech, I am not a fan of long-winded explanations, either. They exhaust me to read, let alone write…not that my kids give me oodles of time to write, anyway. Their moods are something of a writing Kryptonite for me. What would you consider to be your writing Kryptonite?
Becoming too tired. My instinct is to try and sprint, which is a problem as writing a novel is a marathon. I’m also one of those people who tends to hurl themselves, body and soul, into whatever they are doing. It has many rewards, but the cost is that I can get exhausted. And when that happens, I become ill. I have quite a lot of different calls on my time, which again, I really enjoy. I am lucky to have a lovely family and a range of wonderful friends, but there are times when it would be awesome to also have a writing clone I could shut up in an attic with a computer and never let out until she’s finished the book…
Let’s end on some help for aspiring writers. What’s a common trap you see them falling into time and again, and how can they avoid it?
Dialogue is often a surefire way of working out how experienced a writer is. Don’t use someone’s name if there are only two characters, unless one character is being hostile or arguing. When there are two people, they generally don’t call the other by name unless they are making a point. Don’t have your characters talking for too long – we generally bat a conversation back and forth between us if the power dynamic is equal. And rather than have a dominant character drone on for ages (as they often do in real life) have them, instead, constantly interrupt the subordinate character. Remember to include the thoughts and feelings of your viewpoint character, as they are on one end of a conversation.
YES! Thank you so much for sharing your reading and writing journey with us, Sarah, and for helping us find ways to better our own writing. This issue with dialogue is something I still struggle with, even as an editor when I was tidying up Fallen Princeborn: Chosen.
Arlen sets the bear cub running towards the thicket. “Come along, all of you. Dorjan and the others are waiting.”
But She-Bear does not move. “Why do you wear his weapon?”
Liam remains still on the shore where Charlotte and Arlen placed him, his speckled curls limp, his bruises painting what must be an abridged story of the pain he felt in the nets. So Charlotte answers, “The dagger worked for me in Dissecto-Library-Horrorland .” Charlotte grips one of Liam’s arms and hoists him to his feet.
The She-Bear bares her teeth, but Arlen’s hand upon her head silences her. “You…you worked land magic underwater?” he asks.
“How do you think that one mer-dude’s face got melted?”
Liam’s hand, as mottled as the rest of him, opens and closes as Charlotte wills. Her fingers press his own tightly about his own weapon.
Leather, iron, blood. Then comes the touch of Charlotte—sparks rip through his frame. No more the beaten boy.
“Try it now, Liam. C’mon, get some heartburn goin’. Blood firin’. You know. Flame on. Ppppffffooow.”
Liam closes his eyes and feels his inner wings stretch to blot out the past, if only for a few moments. He wraps his other hand around the base of the blade. The dagger takes its blood, as always.
This time, it pays back.
The blade crackles as it lengthens, its feathers smoldering. The blood sword shines as it did in the forge so long ago, when Liam’s ambitions burned their brightest. He brings the blade close to his face to taste old victories in its heat. He sees the world in melting waves, as he did so often after striking the earth, commanding it to swallow armies and villages whole.
There are no armies now. No villages. Only Charlotte dripping like a botched painting. Arlen halved on one side of the dagger; the beast halved on the other.
The beast, whom he was meant to kill. A mother and her child so…cared for…by…
“Who is this, Arlen?” Liam’s question rumbles slowly out of his lips.
No more evasion.
While Autumn creeps its way slowly through Wisconsin’s forests and farmlands, I will continue to share more and more of my coming sequel with you. I’ve also got some interviews waiting in the wings as well as music and analyses to share. Thank you all once more for traveling with me through these unknown lands of indie publishing. You are each and every one of you a blessing to be thankful for.
In Wisconsin, summer is a time for nature immersion. Whether you hike in the woods, take to the lake in a boat, or hunt for bugs’n’birds’n’fairies, this is the season for journeys into the wilderness of the North Woods.
Every venture “Up Nort'” requires mysteries for road reading. Since Bo had gotten me some Poirots for Mother’s Day, this seemed like the perfect time to catch up on them. (Bo can’t read in the car because a)motion sickness and b)my driving style freaks him out.) What was meant to be a little simple escapism turned into a reflection on narrative point of view and how it helps–or hurts–a story’s ability to hold a reader.
Back when I was researching the nonfiction writing workshop I had to give at my university last month, I came across an article that referenced “Fleming Method.” This method, the author said, called for blasting through a story by writing only key elements: the dialogue, the action, etc. All the other elements were to wait for the next draft. Doing this allowed Ian Fleming to complete the initial draft of Casino Royale in a few weeks.
After reading Sad Cypress–published years before Casino Royale–part of me now wonders if Christie came up with the Fleming Method before Fleming did.
The premise is clear-cut.
Beautiful young Elinor Carlisle stood serenely in the dock, accused of the murder of Mary Gerrard, her rival in love. The evidence was damning: only Elinor had the motive, the opportunity, and the means to administer the fatal poison.
Yet, inside the hostile courtroom, only one man still presumed Elinor was innocent until proven guilty. Hercule Poirot was all that stood between Elinor and the gallows.…
The story itself is divided into three parts: Elinor’s flashback through all the events preceding the murder, Poirot’s investigation of the murder, and then the trial. Again, clear-cut.
Yet when I finished the book, I let out a “hmph” and tossed it onto the car’s dashboard.
Bo’s not used to me doing that, especially after what was, by all accounts, a good morning. We had successfully completed a walk and lunch at a beer garden with the kids–a HUGE accomplishment when two out of three are picky eaters. “Wasn’t the book okay?”
The mystery itself, I explained was fine. There’s a love triangle of sorts, a girl gets murdered, Poirot eventually shows up to investigate, yadda yadda. But the way Christie tells it was weird.
Bo gave me a look. “What do you mean?”
I show him a thick pinches of text–Part 1, the flashback. It’s all quite narrative, with descriptions, exchanges, changes of scene. Part 2 changes point of view character-wise, from the accused murderess to Poirot. Again, we’ve got multiple elements of storytelling. Grand. Part 3, however, drops almost all pretense of story-telling and moves forward almost entirely through dialogue–that is, through the exchanges between witnesses and lawyers during the trial. After 200 pages of “traditional” storytelling, 50 pages of almost pure dialogue jolted me so much I found myself nothing but irritated with the story when the mystery was resolved.
I stared at Bo so long that Biff scolded me. “It’s rude to stare, you know!”
How did Christie “normally” write a mystery? Was there such a thing as “normal”?
I looked at the other books I had packed along: Dumb Witness, After the Funeral, and Death on the Nile. I thumbed through them, sharing observations with Bo as I went…
Everyone blamed Emily Arundell’s accident on a rubber ball left on the stairs by her frisky terrier. But the more she thought about her fall, the more convinced she became that one of her relatives was trying to kill her.…
On April 17th she wrote her suspicions in a letter to Hercule Poirot. Mysteriously, he didn’t receive the letter until June 28th…by which time Emily was already dead.…
This story had a mix of methods I both liked and disliked. The first few chapters involve a lot of head-hopping amongst the characters of the victim-to-be’s family. I have written about this head-hopping before–nope, not a fan of this “I’m thinking murderous thoughts” to “and I’m thinking murderous thoughts, too!” to “oh, we’re just aaaaaaall thinking murderous thoughts, aren’t we?”. After those opening chapters, however, the unreliable-yet-charming Captain Hastings takes over as narrator until the end of the book. I’ve also written about benefits of the unreliable narrator for mystery writing, and in Dumb Witness those benefits were seen once again: clues quickly dismissed by the narrator Hastings carry crucial importance, and characters Hastings suspects or respects often tend to be something else entirely.
I always enjoy a trip alongside Poirot and Hastings; the two have a wonderful chemistry that allows for light-hearted moments, such as when the victim’s intelligent dog takes such a liking to Hastings that Hastings feels he knows what the dog is saying.
If Christie had written every Poirot mystery with Hastings, though, the misdirections would grow tedious, the joviality stale.
In other words, we’d get bored.
After the Funeral(also known as Funerals are Fatal)
“He was murdered, wasn’t he?”
When Cora Lansquenet is savagely murdered, the extraordinary remark she had made the previous day at her brother Richard’s funeral suddenly takes on a chilling significance. At the reading of Richard’s will, Cora was clearly heard to say, “It’s been hushed up very nicely, hasn’t it. But he was murdered, wasn’t he?”
Did Cora’s accusation a dark truth that sealed her own fate? Or are the siblings’ deaths just tragic coincidences?
Desperate to know the truth, the Lansquenet’s solicitor turns to Hercule Poirot to unravel the mystery. For even after the funeral, death isn’t finished yet . . .
I hope you like head-hopping, because this story moves from character to character in an entire family tree throughout the whoooole novel. For the record, I didn’t throw this book out the car window because a) I recalled some of the plot from the David Suchet adaptation, but not all the bits and that was really irritating, and b) the kids would have yelled at me for littering, which would have been even more irritating.
But, I must admit, there was something else here, a good something that kept me wanting to remember the solution. For all the head-hopping, there remained a consistent uncertainty between characters, a singular dread of not feeling entirely comfortable around one’s own family, of relief for getting money and the simultaneous guilt for being thankful someone died so that money could be given. By giving these characters that mutual guilt and suspicion, the narrative no longer jostles readers about. We’re still following that dread, catching the little things that make the characters unique instead of having those things hit us in the face page after page after page to remind us who’s who.
Death on the Nile
The tranquility of a cruise along the Nile was shattered by the discovery that Linnet Ridgeway had been shot through the head. She was young, stylish, and beautiful. A girl who had everything . . . until she lost her life.
Hercule Poirot recalled an earlier outburst by a fellow passenger: “I’d like to put my dear little pistol against her head and just press the trigger.” Yet in this exotic setting nothing is ever quite what it seems.
I feel like this is the mystery that inspired spoofs like Monty Python’s Agatha Christie sketch or the movie Clue–you know, where someone says, “I saw the ___ who did it!” And just before that someone says a name, the lights go dark, a shot rings out, someone groans, and thud–another murder.
(I’m likely quite wrong on this, but that sort of scene is in Death on the Nile, so it’s all I can think about now.)
Blessedly, Death on the Nile is told with an omniscient narrator who mostly follows Poirot about, only occasionally lingering with other characters if there’s a romance arc to propel along.
The narrator never focuses readers away from what Poirot’s doing, nor does the narrator give unnecessary attention for the sake of distraction or red herrings. Being a third person limited point of view, readers don’t get insight into Poirot’s head, either, so we still don’t learn the full solution until Poirot’s ready to “do his thing,” as it were. And that’s fine.
It’s all fine.
Honestly, it is. The head-hopping, the unreliable narrator, the traditional omniscient–each are appropriate approaches to telling a story. Even a chapter of pure dialogue has its place. What matters is that the chosen method encourages readers to continue the story. Can the reader get the information by following one character around, or are multiple viewpoints needed in order to get the big picture? Would readers enjoy the guessing game that comes with unreliable narrators, or does the plot require a more neutral voice to share it? Does the scene’s power come in what is said, or what is not?
It never hurts to experiment and find which approach is the best fit for the story at hand, for like our kids, every story is different. So long as we consider the heart of the story–spurned love, broken family, desperate greed–we can take a step back and consider how readers should reach this heart. We don’t want it to be a simple straight path, nor the path we know so well we could write it blindfolded. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the understanding in that?
So, try directing readers to different characters to help them appreciate the multiple relationships. Let them follow the outsider to reach that inside perspective. Leave them with one soul and see if they will trust that character–or not.
Just don’t commit the Unforgivable Writing Sin, one that leads to readers abandoning your story to the Did Not Finish shelf, never to be journeyed again:
Thou Shalt Not Bore.
Have you ever been intrigued by an author’s choice in narrative point of view? Befuddled? Disappointed? I’d love to hear about it!
Interviews, music, and fantasy fiction lie ahead! I’ll also provide more updates regarding my new novel, Fallen Princeborn: Chosen and how YOU can get your hands on an ARC.
(Yes, I know this says 2019, but IT’S HAPPENING, dagnabit, and that’s what counts!)
Thank you for companionship on this writing journey. You help make my corner of the world a brighter, saner place. x
Hello, everyone! I’m slowly finding my way back to the balance of teaching, parenting, and writing. Let’s start this balancing act right with an interview, shall we? Here’s a fine fellow whose fantasy adventure has recently been published by the small press of the masterful Lady of Wit and Conflict of the Heart, Shehanne Moore. Hello, Paul Andruss!
Thank you for having me over. It is a pleasure to be here. I am up for any questions you to care to ask. Fire away.
Let’s start with where the writing life begins for all of us–our reading lives. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
The Story of Your Life tells of first contact. It was made into the film Arrival. Here’s the elevator pitch: We learn to think in an aliens’ language and see time is simultaneous not sequential. Past, present and future exist together, making us observers in our own lives, unable to change a thing. In other words, imagine being up on a hill looking down at your child on a road. You see the speeding car. Know what will happen. There is nothing you can do.
A great idea, but how do you turn it into a story?
I’ve seen new authors produce stories that are no more than info dumps. We are force fed blocks of imaginative scenarios rather than left to experience the highs and lows, tension and excitement of a story unfolding. Characters are rough sketches whose actions do not move the story along. Plots are loose, falling apart when closely examined. There is too much clutter. Unnecessary characters and background details overwhelm the narrative. Turgid sentences roll endless on. You find yourself counting pages to the end.
Chiang avoids this by telling the story in the first person, non-sequentially which fits with the new time sense developing in the narrator — a linguist learning the alien language. Seeing the story unfold through her eyes we are pulled into her world.
She opens by telling her daughter how she identified her body after she died, aged of twenty-five in an accident. Two stories run parallel. One is how she learned to think in the language. The other reminisces about her child’s life. At the end we discover she is reviewing her daughter’s whole life on the night of conception — echoing the story’s parallel time theme; the linguistic past and the maternal future.
Chiang gives hints of a bigger story behind the one told. She and her husband are divorced. Perhaps when she told her husband of their daughter’s future death he could not accept his failure to protect his child, nor the guilt that came with it? Perhaps he blamed her for having their daughter, already knowing her fate. Even though every life is pre-destined.
Through his storytelling choices, Chiang turns cold hard science into something exciting, tender and ultimately, uniquely human. A story that stays in your mind long after you finish reading, as you explore the implications.
I’ll have to check Chiang out! I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries lately to get into the feel of finding the best point of view for a story. I’m also tempted to dig into some historical fiction to help me find the voice for another WIP. What kinds of research do you do for your own storytelling, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I normally I don’t do a lot of research beforehand. I just jump in. I do lots while writing though. I fact check endlessly. If a reader spots even a niggling gaffe, it can destroy the illusion.
I recently wrote Ollywoodland, a faux-noir murder mystery set in 1949, the twilight of Hollywood. Not so much a who-dun-it, more a who-the-hell-wouldn’t-want-to.
Every single thing was checked: the history of the Hollywood sign, studios, highways, Las Vegas, the impact of WW2 on Hollywood, armed forces demobilisation, where academy awards were held, what newspapers were popular, local radio stations. Every libellous rumour had to be a quote in public domain. It was hard work, but a huge amount of fun.
Things are different with the new novella Porcelain, set in the UK’s glam rock era. Because of work commitments, I was unable to get on with the story and so ended up researching and writing copious notes. I now have 50 pages of material and almost the entire story in my head. It’s frightening and exhilarating because I have never started this way before.
I know just what you mean about all those notes. When I was working my own fantasy novel, I needed to get a feel of the current animal life of Wisconsin as well as some ancient history from which my shapeshifters could grow. I even wrote up notes on various names to work with, working out origins of names for various groups, even plant names for a certain class of creature. I suppose this is something you wouldn’t want to intimidate your younger writing self with. If you could tell that Young Paul Andruss anything,what would it be?
Nothing. Not because I’m a genius, believe me. I just wouldn’t listen. How do I know? Because I went back in time AND I DIDN’T LISTEN!
Okay, if you want to be pedantic, I didn’t exactly go back in time, but I might as well have. Others told me much the same and I ignored them. What is more, I’m glad I did. If I knew what was in store in terms of the hard graft and knockbacks ahead, I never would have written a word.
I came late to writing. Out of the blue, I thought, write a short story — how hard can it be? The story was what you’d expect. Naturally, I thought it the best story in the whole world and modestly basked in my genius. Are you beginning to see why I would not want to hear anything as inconvenient as the truth?
Drunk on overconfidence, I started a second story. A short Sci-Fi romp inspired by a history book that said the Celts went naked into battle. What if they were biker gangs?
Six years, and 180,000 words later, I had the 2nd draft of Finn Mac Cool. (Let’s not talk about 1st draft, shall we?) To be fair the 2nd draft wasn’t bad, just not good. I spent the next 2 years sending it out, while attempting to write a play (abandoned) and another novel (never to see the light of day). It was rejected by 30 publishers and agents. I then spent another six years rewriting Finn Mac Cool.
When I sat down to write that short story, if someone told me it would take the next 14 years of my life, I wouldn’t have bothered. It is lucky that when we first leap out of the nest and spread our wings, we are too exhilarated to give much thought to the way down.
Noooo kidding. I loved making that first draft of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, but if you would have told me it’d take eight years to actually publish, I’d have worked out some other projects before dedicating that much time to a single story. What would you say are some other common writer’s life traps for aspiring writers?
I can’t speak for others, but for me writing is like peeling an onion.
Because it makes you weep?
Good one. And yes it does. I was thinking more that when you peel one layer you find another underneath. As we see from Ted Chiang, each layer: plot, characters, story twists, even the language we use, contributes to a good story.
There is no trick to writing. It is a result of time, effort and a lot of difficult choices. Because the writing process is long, and solitary, we cannot be blamed for seeking instant reward.
If I did go back to young me, I would say, Don’t be in too much hurry. Remember the old cliché: there is no second chance to make a first impression.
Instead of rushing out your latest piece, put it away for a couple of weeks. When you come back, you’ll see it with fresh eyes. In the old days I thought, “That will do.” These days, I want to write something that will stand the test of time. I know a story is finished when I read it for the fifth or sixth time and do not want to change a word. Like that proverbial onion, the story has developed layer by layer.
Never forget we become authors when read by others. Like literary hookers we ask readers to spend time and money on us. Yet, as readers, how do we feel when a writer doesn’t deliver? New writers often think they are special cases, especially after busting a gut to write a story. But readers don’t see you. They only see what’s on the page. Family and friends might lavish praise, but such praise can be poison. If you think you are as good as they say, where is the impetus to improve?
And yet we struggle on, don’t we? No matter what readers say, we must write our truest, or strongest, our brightest, our darkest, our best…est. We keep on keeping on no matter how difficult the subject matter. What would you say was your hardest scene to write?
A while ago, I’d had enough of people spouting doggerel blank verse. I’m no poet but do appreciate good poetry. When poetry is good, you have no choice but to appreciate it. Firmly on my high horse I wrote According to the Muse – A dialogue. Naturally enough, it started with ‘poem’ …
There are people who,
Aspiring to be considered poets,
Devise mundane sentences
Usual to any written piece
And arranging them in verse
Claim it is a poem
According to the muse
Swiftly followed by a quote from the poet Marianne Moore … ‘Poetry is a matter of skill and honesty in any form whatsoever, while anything written poorly, although in perfect form, cannot be poetry.
The Muse discusses poetry and illustrates points with some of the greats, from Emily Bronte to Alan Ginsberg’s Howl. The argument goes that poetry should intoxicate the senses, leaving us drunk on loquaciousness. As the Muse’s mouthpiece, I needed to conclude with something really special.
I decided the Muse’s closing monologue should be loosely based on Molly Bloom’s 50,000-word stream-of-consciousness soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Molly’s gorgeous monologue is divided into 8 sentences without punctuation. It allows each clause to be constructed differently depending on which word you start. It is also a bugger to read.
The Muse’s monologue took me four weeks to write.
She requires it to be read aloud.
Under gods, man thought me tamed. Then man forgot the gods. But poetry remained. A poet seeking to invoke no longer knows how. He thinks to flatter and seduce and if he succeeds in blind fumbling excuse, believes I allow because he understands a woman’s needs. As if setting a rose in my hair like I were an Andalusian girl kissed breathless against a Moorish wall under a hot Alhambra moon was enough to make me acquiesce to his urgings for my yes, putting hands on me and kissing my neck while I thinking as well him as another draw him down to the perfume of my breasts with his heart drumming like mad in the expectation of my yes. The bloom and the breast is not his to possess or caress until my liberal yes, for this is woman talking and I am sick of love. Yes. I am no more his than a snatch of song heard on the jessamine breeze or a flower of the mountain born to die. So let me be. Yes. Set me free from the inky bars of this prison page to roll off a tongue careless as a lover’s air whistled on Palma Violet scented breath, let loose in an empire of senses where guileless yes is yes. A paradise garden of delight. A sensual world pregnant with life.
Beautifully put, Paul. Thank you so much for taking time to chat with me and all my fellow creative souls! Folks, you can check out Paul’s latest right here.
Paul Andruss’ first novel, the young adult fantasy Jack Hughes & Thomas the Rhymer is published by Black Wolf Books.
When 12-year-old Jack Hughes sees a sinister fairy queen kidnap his bother Dan, he knows his parents will never believe him. Nor will the police. Not when he says Dan vanished into thin air. If Jack wants to see Dan again, he has to save him. And not just him …
If he ever wants to find Dan, first he must save Thomas the Rhymer from a wicked enemy.
Bravely embarking on a rollercoaster adventure into the dark fairy realm, Jack and friends face monstrous griffins and brooding tapestries with a life of their own, learn to use magic mirrors and travel on ley lines that whip them off faster than sound.
Jack knows even if he returns Thomas the Rhymer to his selfish fairy queen, she might make Jack her prisoner. With the odds stacked against him, can Jack succeed in finding and freeing Dan? Or will he lose his brother forever?
If you enjoyed reading this, or even if you didn’t, Paul asks you to kindly send him all your money. If you are not quite gullible enough to fall for that one, then visiting his website will please him almost as much. http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/
I’m excited to get back on track with my writing goals! We’ll take a look at them to make sure I’m not burying myself too deep (as I am oft prone to do). This will include sharing my work on writing book proposals to see if this approach could also help you meet your own writing goals. There’s another swinging interview coming your way, plus I’ve also got some keen ideas on selecting point of view for writing thanks to my summer book binge as well as mellow music for calming the soul.
Oh, and hopefully I can get Blondie off her summer sliding duff to get creating for you, too. 🙂
And let’s not even talk about the parents that spend the day graveyard-hopping with their kids (post forthcoming).
For those of us confined to a house of snits and snaps and other plastic mayhem, the hope for peace and quiet and magic feels all but gone, especially when lockdowns are extended, when schools are closed for the year, when jobs are furloughed until further notice.
Oh, I cried when Wisconsin’s governor extended the lockdown. Even though all the rational parts of me knew this was coming, I still cried. I had hoped my mother could finish her teaching tenure with her students. I had hoped my sons could continue their Occupational Therapy. I had hoped my daughter could return to her friends. I had hoped for a little time for myself, too.
But none of this is meant to be, dammit, so here we are, fearful of the outside world while driven mad by the inside one.
How do we counter this?
Perhaps you find it in an old story, as I did. “The Final Tampering of Madame Midsomer” began with a photo spotted in the fall of 2018.
Something about the old woman reaching for that apple…it was like she was reaching for, for something else. For me? N-no, but something about the urgency in her manner, the aggressiveness. She needed that fruit. But why? I mean, it’s not like people’s lives depend on a single apple.
Uuuuunless they did.
And from here came the crack and thunder of magic gone wrong. People’s lives did depend on this apple, if that apple was needed in order to stop a Happening from, well, happening.
But what was Happening?
Why, a story, of course.
But sometimes even an inspiring photo isn’t enough. We need to look beyond the photo’s perimeters. What does the traffic sound like on the street? How high do the buildings tower over others? Are we in a world of electronics, or some sort of yesteryear? And smells, don’t forget smells.
In order to build upon that initial inspiration, we’ve got to put our sense-memory to use. After spotting the wee shop in the background named “Meatball Obsession,” I focused on my first date with Bo when he cooked me spaghetti. He loves making his own sauce, a day-long endeavor that fills the house with a rich, spicy, meatiness that makes you think the very air is edible. And suddenly I’m imagining people walking about nibbling on saucy meatballs since apples were for magic and not eating.
Hmmm. Sounds a bit silly.
Eh, why not? It’s my story, dammit. At the time I wasn’t looking for serious fare. To help me stay lighthearted, I even put on the soundtrack to Midsomer Murders while I wrote, Parker’s themes for mystery in rural life the perfect balance of spooky and delightful. The mix of smell, sounds, and sights helped me focus on building a story about a woman—no, not just a woman. Look at that hat and coat. Come on. Surely this is a Madame, one of status and prestige…even if no one else agrees. But Madame who? Hmmm…say, isn’t that my Midsomer CD over there?
(Yes, that is occasionally how things come into my stories. If something’s in my eyeline, then iiiiiiiiiiin it goes! So when in doubt, look around you.)
And one apple seems so paltry. Surely Madame Midsomer would insist on purchasing not just one apple but a dozen, certain she could stop the mayhem of her own doing from destroying the entire town. The seller, however, doesn’t like her, refuses to help, and the magical authorities take her away and everything’s fine and life is happy the end.
After posting the story on my free fiction page, I decided to send it off to an online magazine. They didn’t take it, citing the need for more developed worldbuilding and consistent tone.
Well, poop. I liked it, so the story stayed as is…until this past March.
Something Or Other Publishing reached out with information regarding their latest anthology project and inquiring whether or not I’d like to submit.
Um, sure? Except my current short fic WIP wasn’t close to being ready, and SOOP’s deadline was just a few days. What to send, what to send…
I passed “Tampering” off to another fantasy reader to get feedback. While he liked a lot of things, he just couldn’t wrap his head around the meatballs.
But. I. LIKE THEM!
Maybe in this confinement, when we’re so ready for ANYthing to break us out of the rutted dread, I was hoping for those meatballs to just come a’ rainin’ down, blessed by the wind.
A fresh challenge comes when we remove that presumed Thing from the worldbuilding. To us, that Thing embodied so much of the story, like the meatballs representing the out-there zaniness of my setting. In focusing on that zaniness, though, I forgot to give the setting any sort of history, or rules, or heck, even a name. When we over-prioritize the gimmicky Thing instead of characters or plot, is it any wonder readers question the story’s logic or tone?
This calls for serious inspiration.
I didn’t want this urban fantasy to feel too dated, but I did want it to feel different. It hit me I wanted magic to be a normal thing in this society; at first this was to be through the meatballs, but now, I wanted a calmer presence, something akin to Ingary in Howl’s Moving Castle. Witches and wizards were simply a part of life there. One went to a wizard for spells or potions to protect a voyage, help a crop, etc.
Why not let magic be as natural as a flower from the ground?
*gasp* Or the fruits of the trees?
So many possibilities opened in that moment. A quaint farming community, a town proud of its home-grown magic…because it was unique?
Or because it was dated because the rest of the world had moved on to more modern methods?
Imagine magic factory-made and shipped to big box stores, as pleasantly packaged as a box of cookies, consistently good. Not as good as home-made, mind you, but still, you know, good.
Now this story wasn’t just about a sorceress angrily fighting with a fruit seller. This story was about a community struggling under the weight of a pompous magic-wielder. A town proud of its natural magic and fed up with those who misuse it.
At last, I’d found the world built.
And its name was Pips Row.
“Hullo, Seller!” Madame clacked her way down the walk with the straightest of spines and the most pointed of chins. It made no difference to her that the Seller was addressing a small group of whiny school children and their frazzled teacher on the importance of fruit in Workings and other Spells. “So, just as there’s a fruit for every season, there’s a magic for every fruit. Why, if not for lemons, you’d never have fireworks. If not for holly berries, you’d never have snow for Christmas.”
“Isn’t that fascinating, children?” the teacher said with as much enthusiasm as a slug in a salt shaker. “While most communities import their magic from the capital’s factories, little places like Pips Row carry on the old-fashioned way.”
Old-fashioned, indeed! Madame Midsomer had half a mind to show this frumpish excuse of human being just how “old-fashioned” a Regional Sorceress could be. “Excuse me, Seller?”
“Why don’t people here buy by their magic from Merlin’s Mart like everything else?” One gap-toothed girl asked while licking sprinkles from her fingers.
The teacher opened her mouth to speak, but Madame Midsomer brushed her aside. “Manufactured powders don’t hold a snuff to the real thing, child. Now out of my way. I have urgent business to discuss with Seller.”
Out of the corner of Seller’s eye, he could see the tower of Madame Midsomer’s residence shudder ever so slightly, sending a cloud of pollen from the flowers of her creeping vines into the air. The wind coughed—an unsettling sound to any native of Pips Row.
Seller gave a tight-lipped smile to the teacher behind the little mob. “If you’ll excuse me.”
But this school group was not of Pips Row, and had so far only learned they can throw sweets without consequence. “No! The hag can shut up so you can show us real magic!” the girl said, and the lot of them pitched fistfuls of sprinkles at Madame Midsomer.
This was unwise.
Dear writing friends, do not look upon this time of lockdown as a creative drought. Peruse old works for new potential. Tap the dust off favorite reads for new lessons. Lose yourself in the emotions of music. Look upon the world outside your window, and ask:
Greetings, one and all! After a rough week schooling the kiddos at home (stay tuned for THAT post), it’s high time we celebrate Indie April with an interview with an AMAZING writer and reader, Chris Hall.
Let’s begin with the niceties. Tell us a little about yourself, please!
Nice to be here, Jean!
I was born, grew up, lived and worked in the UK until 10 years ago, when childless, in our forties and fed up with our jobs, my husband, Cliff and I upped sticks and emigrated to South Africa. We’d already met people here through a school exchange programme which Cliff was involved in, visited numerous times, and finally decided to come to a new country and do something different.
We’ve settled in a town about 30 miles from Cape Town, where we can almost see the ocean from our house. Our cat, Luna (after whom my blog is named) emigrated with us and loves it here. We inherited some chickens along with the house, all of which have since gone to chicken heaven at a ripe old age, but now we have two large brown hens which usually means lots of lovely eggs, although it’s a bit hot for laying at the moment they tell me.
Since I moved out here I’ve done various voluntary work, been employed as an administrator in a guesthouse and an art gallery, and now I’ve turned freelance doing copywriting, ghost-blogging and social media stuff for other creative people who lack the time/patience to do for themselves. In my spare time I write a lot and read a lot (when I’m not chasing hens off the veg-patch or catering to Luna’s little whims). It’s all a far cry from the 24 years working in risk management which I left behind in the UK.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Two of my favourite authors have written about the craft of writing. On Writing by Stephen King and Steering the Craft by Ursula K. le Guin, have both had a positive impact on the way I write. Their words are wise.
But also, when you read any book with the eye of a writer, your experience is a whole lot richer. Considering the way that other authors construct their books and frame their words makes me think that little bit harder about my own writing.
What is your favorite childhood book?
This is difficult! I’ve wrestled a bit with this, but having roamed my bookshelves, it has to be Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series – and if forced to choose one, it would be The Little House on the Prairie. For the whole of my first high school year (aged 11-12), I totally lost myself in Laura’s world. The daily chores, the struggles and adventures of pioneering life, within the context of this close-knit family, enthralled me. I always had one of her books in my school bag. I’d take it out at every opportunity before and between lessons and bury my head in the pages. The covers are little battered and the pages yellowed, but I still have them all.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
My ‘stand out’ visits were to the homes of the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. I fell in love with his poetry when I was studying advanced level Spanish, prior to a series of visits to Spanish-speaking countries back in the early noughties (that’s another story).
Neruda has three houses in Chile: in Santiago, Valparaiso, and Isla Negra. I visited all three over the course of two trips to Chile, and I found all three utterly stunning: true reflections of the man and his poetry. The ultimate is the house at Isla Negra, located right on the beach in a tiny, remote town. Getting there on a local bus was an adventure in itself, but the sprawling, single storey property and its surroundings are jam-packed with mad collections of ships mastheads and bottles, shells and ship’s bells and all manner of things. I especially liked Neruda’s writing room which looks out onto the ocean. He made his desk from a piece of driftwood which he waded in and rescued from the waves.
Blogging has been a very happy accident. When I began with my website, I really had no idea that there was this big, friendly and supportive world of writers (and others) out there. What a revelation!
The support and the feedback from the people in our little corner of blog-land has been a tremendous encouragement, which I hope I reciprocate adequately. Keeping up the blog has helped me with the discipline of writing something almost every day, although I don’t post all that I write. Some things are remaining under wraps.
A blog gives you a presence as an author (indie or otherwise). It gives you a chance to get out there, show off you books and share a little about yourself. My Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn accounts are all connected to my blog, and more recently I’ve added Instagram too. So now I can be found and so can my books, should anyone care to look. Whether this had as much impact on the sales of my books, I’m not so sure, but it forms a foundation.
Blogging has been, and still is, a journey for me. What I put out on my blog now is all my own work or about my work: stories, installments, reviews, a bit about my successes (and failures) in trying to promote my books and occasionally, a bit about my writing life.
And I don’t think there’s anything I wish I’d done differently at the start. As in many things, I’m still learning and growing. Change is good; development is better. I’m planning to set up a separate author website under my actual name; it’s something I’ll ‘get around to’.
You chose to publish your first book, The Silver Locket (2012), under a pen name. May I ask what your reasoning was for using a pen name then and not now?
I have to admit that it was out of a lack of confidence. I was a ‘secret’ writer then. I hardly told anyone about the book when I first published it on Amazon, much less publicized it. But little by little, as people I knew downloaded it – even bought paperback copies from me – then read it and told me that they enjoyed it, my mindset started to alter. I could actually bring myself to tell people that I was an author!
Then I had a couple of short pieces published in online magazines and I joined Medium and started publishing on there, all under my own name, so it seemed logical to continue. I now wish that I’d written under my own name from the start. Holly Atkins will remain a one book wonder.
Your next publication, A Sextet of Shorts (2018), takes reader through a variety of quick adventures both personal and fantastical. Can you take us through the process of how you choose to craft a story as short fiction and other stories as novels?
The six short stories I published in that slim volume were ones I’d written way before I started working on The Silver Locket. They were the stories which I’d written for the creative writing classes which I attended for a couple years before we left the UK. I’d had good feedback from the writing tutors and members of the associated writing groups, and I was pleased with them.
Two years ago, I decided to dust them off and publish them to use for a bit of local publicity. With my bio and blog details on the back cover, there are copies in waiting rooms, doctors’ surgeries and hair salons around my home town. A couple of them are quite well-thumbed now!
Since writing them, and although I continue to enjoy writing the many, many micro- and flash-fiction pieces I’ve put on my blog and flung out around social media, I’ve discovered how satisfying working on a novel is. There’s so much more time and space to get to know the characters, immerse myself in their lives and watch what they get up to. And that comes back to finding my Happy Place.
You’ve published TWO novels in 2019! The first, You’ll Never Walk Alone, takes readers back to the 1980s in a location quite different from your own! What inspired you to set the story in Liverpool, and in that particular decade?
My former life in Liverpool has been an enormously important part of my personal history. I moved there in 1981 to attend University, and You’ll Never Walk Alone is set in that city at that time. I was in my early twenties and those were truly my formative years, when away from where I grew up, I started to make my own way in the world. Very little of any of that is in the book, but Gina and Lucy would have been my contemporaries, and the house in which they live is based on one of the large, converted old buildings where I had a flat, even down to the Chinese landlord. The locations in which the novel is set would be very recognizable to anyone who knew the city then, but everything else is pure fantasy!
The novel was a long time in the making. Gina, Lucy and Cynthia were born out of a short story I’d written more than 10 years earlier. That’s a long time for a character to be hanging about in The Well of Lost Plots (Jasper Fforde, 2003), but now they have a book of their own, and they’ve told the world they want another. One day, ladies!
Considering your experience writing fiction set in the past, how would you describe your research process in taking care the historical context is accurate? What would you consider to be the ethics of writing about historical figures?
Can I say how scary it is to think that the eighties are historical now?! But I do always check my facts so far as I can, mostly via our friend, Mr Google. Even though I lived through the times and events which form the backdrop to You’ll Never Walk Alone and The Silver Locket, (circa 1983 and 1989 respectively), I covered the research ground as wanted to make sure there were no glaring errors.
When writing Following the Green Rabbit, I was even more conscious of the two time periods in which the narrative is set. I researched what people would have worn, what they would have eaten and drank, what herbs would have grown in England in the early 17th century and so on. I deliberately left the earlier date vague and avoided mentioning any identifiable historical figures for the very reason of avoiding any dilemma about portraying real people.
Your latest, Following the Green Rabbit, features some heroic children in an Alice in Wonderland-esque adventure. What would you consider to be the biggest challenge in writing a Middle-Grade adventure, and how did you see yourself through that challenge?
First if all, let me correct any misconception that despite the tropish title, the story has anything in common with the Lewis Carroll fantasy story. It may be sub-titled a ‘fantastical adventure’, but that’s to do with the girls’ inexplicable transition to ‘past-times’. There are no mythical creatures or size-changing potions; the children find themselves in a place and time where the dangers are very human and very real.
As for the challenge of writing for a MG audience, I hope I made the story page-turning enough, I hope there were sufficient cliff-hangers and there was adequate suspense and enough alarm. But I suppose I fell back on telling a story which I would have wanted to have read, with characters with whom the much-younger me would have identified.
Time and feedback will tell me to whether I pulled it off as a MG adventure, but I’ve described it as a ‘novel for adventurers everywhere, from 9 to 90 years’, partly based on the fact that my 90 year old mother said she ‘really enjoyed it and didn’t want it to end’. My mother is not one to hand out compliments lightly, so I consider that to be praise indeed!
Out of aaaaaall the fiction you’ve written through the decades, what would you consider to be the most difficult scene you ever had to write? What made it so hard, and how did you overcome it!
Ah, this is where sex rears its ugly head!!
Both of my adult novels required sex scenes. None is gratuitous; each is an integral part of the story. The ways in which each of the scenes play out tell the reader something more about the characters involved, and after all, people in their 20s who are attracted to each other will inevitably end up in bed.
There is no doubt that sex scenes are difficult. You don’t want to be too cheesy and you don’t want to be too anatomical, and I believe that cutting to ‘waves washing over a beach’ is a cop out. The scenes must feel real.
Basically, they all involved a large number of rewrites to hit the right tone. I haven’t written anything especially graphic, although I did end up toning down the one at the start of Chapter 10 in You’ll Never Walk Alone during my final, final edit.
Well, yes, I was indeed busy with a new book during NaNo. I guess I’m almost half way through the first draft now. It has been semi-parked through December, but now we’re in the final days of the holidays, I’m ready to get stuck in again.
I decided to write a novel firmly rooted in South Africa this time. The story is set in the present day, in a fictional small town on our West Coast and the overarching theme is the lack of water which is a serious and on-going concern for us here. The narrative combines a slightly romanticized tale of everyday folk with a large dollop of magical realism and myth thrown into the mix. I have assembled an eclectic cast, some of whom people might recognise from some of my stories last year. All but one of them is contributing nicely to the story, but I can’t quite get under this one’s skin yet.
It’s a more ambitious project than any I’ve worked on before, but for the moment I’m just going with the flow. I’m not sure how I’m going to pull all the strands together, but that’s all part of the fun. I’m hoping to complete the first draft by mid-2020, so who knows, maybe it’ll be ready for release towards the end of this year. No promises though!
Last question, I promise! (Hee hee!) Does writing energize or exhaust you?
When I’m deep inside a story, crafting that story energizes and excites me; there’s a little shot of adrenaline too. That’s when it’s going well.
Ah, but when it isn’t! It’s frustrating, it’s unnerving, it’s heart-thumping for all the wrong reasons. I question what I’ve written. Is this a story? Is it going anywhere? I guess some of that might not happen if I planned properly. But that’s not how I write.
I go through a whole gamut of emotions. Not every day, not all the time, but enough.
Many, many thanks, Chris! I can’t wait to see how your writing blossoms in the months to come.
Inspired by street photography and fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones, “The Final Tampering of Madame Midsomer” takes readers to the town of Pips Row, where magic grows as sweet as the fruit of the trees. In the wrong hands, however, magic becomes as rotten as the sorceress who wields it, and no one is more rotten than the fearsome Madame Midsomer. Today, the people of Pips Row have had enough.
The Final Tampering of Madame Midsomer
Stay tuned! Gah, I gotta vent a little about teachers NOT used to distance learning having out-of-whack expectations of little kids. I’d also some lesson ideas for you to use with your children, and then some music to escape the home and discover writing inspiration.