Friday, October 29, 2010


What is my writing process? I thought that might make a good blog topic but then I wondered, do I actually have a writing process? So I sat down and thought about it.

Sometimes I start with a character. Other times I might start with a situation, a "what if." Either way, I need a fairly solid handle on the main characters before I can get very far. After much flailing around I finally created a character worksheet. It's based on different ones I found in different sources, plus a few things of my own I felt it pertinent to know about a character. It's a four page table made in a Word doc and it includes all kinds of stuff you might or might not need to know about a character. One of the things I added was a section called "soundtrack." I need to know what kind of music suits a character best, what songs in particular, in order to really get to know them. That section will usually evolve and expand over the course of writing.

I like to at least get my plot started before having to delve into a lot of research, but sometimes that varies. Depending on what I'm writing, some form of research will be an ongoing activity during the process. Maybe I'll need to clarify something, maybe I'll need to go looking for more ideas. Internet access has made research very easy for writers now. Just be savvy about your sources. You'll want to make sure you're using a creature out of some real mythology and not something dreamed up for World of Warcraft.

Because I'm still more of a pantser than a plotter, I write myself into a corner with disturbing frequency. When that happens I have to step away from the keyboard and figure out how to get out of that corner. This is about the only time pen and paper come into my process anymore. I have a few small spiral notebooks that I use. One is dedicated to my Mojo series. Here's an example of some of what's scribbled in there on the page it's open to, if I can make out my own handwriting:
Go back to chapter 2 and start over. Blake needs to work for her trust. Why is he back? He wants Roxie but there's more to it. Has he been stealing for Paralda? Someone else? Why? Somebody have something on him? What does he want? 

Story questions that I need to answer. I don't always write the answers in the notebook - the answers get put in the manuscript. But having a place to write these questions down, and break them down with as much specificity as possible, has been an invaluable aid in getting out of those corners.

After the first draft is done, I try to let it sit a while, go work on something else if I can. When I'm ready  to start revisions I use track changes and go to town. Frequently while writing the first draft I'll make a lot of changes and fixes, as details and ideas shift. I usually do so much of that to start with that the revisions process only deals with major issues. Every writer handles that differently, though. Some writers might change a name halfway through the first draft but not go back and change the early mentions of that character until they do revisions. Me, I use find and replace as soon as I decide to change the name.

I get to a point where I cannot keep rereading on my own. I either need a critique partner or beta reader to give me feedback, or I need to consign the work to the Trunk folder, or I need to get it ready to submit. I freely admit that I cover a lot of the same themes in my work, but I can't keep rewriting the same novel over and over. There are too many voices, I mean characters, in my head for that.

This may not seem like much of a process, but then, I am pretty much a pantser. If you'd like a copy of my character worksheet I uploaded it to Google Docs at this link. You can take a look at it and if you go to File and Download As, you should be able to download it as a Word document. If that doesn't work but you do want a copy, shoot me an email at and I'll send it to you.And if you have any suggestions about what could be added, feel free to share them in the  comments.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Death By Defenestration

A quick update on the WIP...

Actually, I have two works in progress. The first one is the urban fantasy, which to be honest is going nowhere until I figure out how I can make the plot make sense.

The second one is Book 2 of the amateur sleuth series. This is moving along nicely, but I am in the early stages of Draft 1, so there's a long way to go yet.

I'm currently about 10,000 words in and I've been setting the scene and introducing characters. In fact, I've only just killed the victim. I threw him out of a window. Mwah ha ha.

Rather disturbingly, I enjoy killing people off in novels. I am a recent arrival to the crime writing scene, but I do rather enjoy it. Death features prominently in all of my writing, but the main difference between the crime novels and everything else I write is that there are no supernatural elements in the crime novels.

"Death By Defenestration" is NOT the title of this novel. But I figure it's the title for something. I rather like this. I need to find a way of using it for something other than the title of today's post!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mythology Monday #2

Note: A storm is wreaking havoc with Ashley's internet so she asked me to get this posted for her, just in case. 

Hi all and thank you for tuning into Mythology Monday, your place for quick tidbits of mythology. I'll be doing this on Monday's leading up to the release of The Witching Hour, since mythology factors big time into the book. I thought this would be a fun way of introducing you to some of my favorite deities and mythological heroes from various pantheons as well as give you a little background to some of the more intriguing mythological figures in the book.

Last week I shared some fast facts and stories about Apollo. This week Belenus gets the spotlight.

Belenus is the Gaullish (People from Gaul)/ Celtic god of light and fire. He's sometimes compared to Apollo as he is also considered to be a sun god. At one point his cults had spread as far as Aquitaine, Austria, and Northern Italy.

In Italy, he is married to the goddess Belisama and is also in charge of protecting sheep and cattle.

The festival of Beltane (celebrated on May 1) is in honor of the "fires of Bel". On this day purifying fires were lit and cattle were driven between them before the farmers allowed the herd out to open pasture. This was done to ask for the god's blessing.

In Roman-dominated areas on the European Continent and the isle of Britain, he was associated with Apollo. One count of inscriptions inventoried by archaeologists noted that there were more dedications to Belenus than almost any Celtic other deity on the Continent. In some areas, he was a healing deity; in others, he was the protector of the town. In Ireland, only his name survives in the name of the summer feast, but we can assume that he was considered a protector of health and happiness and promoter of fertility. Which again is why he draws the comparison.
Many of stories depicted as occurring at Beltaine involve forms Belenus as a young god.

Often the young god was depicted as attempting to woo or capture a wife.

In an Irish story, spurred on by Mebh of Cruachan’s jealousy, Conall Cernach killed her husband Ailill while the latter was consorting with a woman behind a hazel-bush on Beltaine.

Hunting seasons re-opened around Beltane. Also, Beltane coincided with the part of the year when military activity—riding and hosting—resumed after the pause for winter. During the winter, professional troops—such as the fĂ©nnidi—were dispersed and quartered among a chieftain’s dependents. At Beltane, these troops were re-assembled, often living in the woods and hunting for their food. Also, once the crops were sowed, chieftains felt freer to call on their clients for the military service that was part of what a client owed his lord. So Beltane would be an appropriate time for an invasions to occur, by medieval Irish standards.

In today's world, Belenus is not an often remembered deity, but once upon a time, he was uber important. In researching the god, one finds countless examples of myths where he or his holiday hold significant importance to the ancients.

Anyway, thanks for tuning in this Monday and now back to your regularly scheduled web browsing.

Friday, October 22, 2010


National Novel Writing Month is an annual event to challenge people to write fifty thousand words in thirty days. That breaks down to 1, 667 words a day - every day - for a solid month. Some writers can do that in their sleep, and yay for them, but for some of us that truly is a challenge. The story may not be flowing smoothly every day, and regular non-writing life can frequently intrude. But during NaNo, participants try to power through the days when the muse runs off to Vegas and the day job/housework/family/everything else demand attention. The point of NaNo is simply to write. You don't have to write well, you don't have to edit as you go even if you normally do at least some revising while the story is in its first draft. You don't have to think about it too much, because frankly you don’t have the time to put too much thought into your manuscript with such a tight deadline. All you have to do is write.

That's not saying you can't outline beforehand, though. I'm normally mostly a pantser but I'm trying to get better at outlining in order to cut down on revisions and rewrites. Right now I've got the first third of my NaNo project outlined, with a pretty good idea of what the second third is going to be like. Sometime before the first of November, when NaNo starts, I'm going to work out the rest of the outline so I'm ready to go.

This will be my third NaNo. In 2008 I started Bring On The Night but didn't finish it in November and didn't get the story to fifty thousand words. In 2009 I finished, which was terrific, but the novel was such a mess I never did anything with it. (It did give me a character that will probably show up in another story eventually, though.) That's the main reason I wanted to outline this year. I'd like to not only finish this year, but have something that might be revised into a manuscript worth submitting.

I won't lie to you - it can make for a rough month. Especially the last week or so, as we head into the holidays. But pouring that much energy into a work that quickly can also give you a sort of drunken, heady buzz that helps you get through the dark moments when you feel like you couldn't possibly write another word. After I finished last year I said to myself, ok, this is something I've done and I'm never doing it again. Never. But when the first of October rolled around and I started seeing other writers talking about it online, I felt the temptation pull me back in. It can definitely lead to a reckless, slap-dash sort of writing, but it's also fun. In an "OMG I just ran across six lanes of traffic on a Friday night" sort of way.

After the first you can follow my progress at my blog or at my NaNo profile. If you're doing NaNo yourself, feel free to add me as a writing buddy and I'll do the same.

If you're doing NaNo for the first time, just remember to have fun with it, don't stress if you don't finish, and most important of all - caffeine is your friend.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Wrong Point of View

The right point of view is essential to any novel, but it's easy to get confused. Do you go with first person - ie, the narrator tells the story? It means the reader can get inside the head of the MC, but the writer is limited to the MC's experiences. Third person POV gives you the option of telling the story from the POV of more than one character.

However, a lot of writers seem to commit the cardinal sin of "head hopping" when operating in third-person POV, and this is not limited to inexperienced writers. I've picked up many published novels - released by otherwise reputable publishers - that also commit this sin. As well as making me throw the book across the room, I wonder about the editors that this publishing house has employed when this happens.

Let's just clarify what I mean by "Head-hopping", just so we all know what we're talking about. Take the following paragraph:

"Mary sensed John's gaze on her as she entered the room, and it made her uncomfortable. John wondered if Mary had forgiven him yet for last night."

The first sentence establishes we're in Mary's POV. But in the second sentence we jump to John's POV - how does Mary know what John is thinking?

This is just a bad example from the top of my head, but I have actually read published novels that are almost as bad as this. There's nothing wrong with multiple POV characters, but there should be a clear break before switching from one character POV to another.

I think part of the problem with POV shifts is a lack of understanding of how they work. Being in third person POV does not mean that you can be in every character's head simultaneously, but I think some writers - and editors - suffer from this basic misapprehension.

I lay the blame for this partly on the fact that the education system does not teach people how to write correctly. I remember being taught POV in my English lessons at high school. What I was taught was: first person means the narrator is telling the story directly, and so the pronoun "I" is used. Third person is when the narrator is outside the story, looking in, and the pronoun "he" or "she" is used. Second person is when the story is told by someone who is not the main character, such as Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

I remember this lesson very clearly, and I knew at the time it was wrong. The Sherlock Holmes stories are written from a first person POV - Watson's. Second person is when the story is told from the point of view of someone directing the main character, and the pronoun "you" is used. It's pretty unusual to find a novel told in second person, but it was used for all the "choose your own adventure" books I used to love reading as a kid.

"Head-hopping" is an easy mistake to make - there were a couple of examples of it in early drafts of SUFFER THE CHILDREN. Fortunately for me, my editor picked up the ones that had slipped through my own editing process and berated me for it.

But other publishers do not seem to have such diligent editors, and I get tired of reading published novels that would not pass one of my writing group's critique sessions.

It emphasises my belief that one does not learn how to write at any educational centre. The only way to learn how to write is through the experience of writing.

Sadly, some editors need to go through the same process. Perhaps there should be an 'editor school'. POV should be one of the first lessons.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mythology Monday #1

With a little over a month left until The Witching Hour is available, I've decided to share my love of mythology with you in. Why, you may ask? Because The Witching Hour is full of mythological figures and deities from pagan cultures.

So to kick off my mythology kick, we'll start with the god Apollo who makes an appearance in The Witching Hour. Apollo was, in Greek mythology, the god of healing, prophecy, music and the sun.

Like most of his fellow Olympians, Apollo did not hesitate to intervene in human affairs. He was the reason the mighty Achilles fell in battle. Of all the heroes besieging the city of Troy in the Trojan War, Achilles was the best fighter by far. He had easily defeated the Trojan captain Hector in single combat. But Apollo helped Hector's brother Paris slay Achilles with an arrow.

When someone died suddenly, Greeks and Romans said to the victim was struck down by Apollo's arrow.

As god of music, Apollo is often depicted playing the lyre. He did not invent this instrument, however, but was given it by Hermes in compensation for cattle theft. Some say that Apollo did invent the lute, although he was best known for his skill on the lyre.

He won several musical contests by playing this instrument. In one case he bested Pan, who competed on his own invention, the shepherd's pipe. On this occasion, King Midas had the bad sense to say that he preferred Pan's music, which caused Apollo to turn his ears into those of an ass.

In The Witching Hour, Apollo is depicted as a god full of bravado until he's forced to admit he can't intefer with other pantheons. He, along with the other gods, get a chance to mess with Lucky Sands, my hero, but also show some complexity beyond Greek Myths. Still, it's always a good idea to understand the core stories that inspired them, and I hope you take away some new knowledge.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Daily Writing Goals

Many writers rack up word count on their manuscripts with the help of daily writing goals. They might set for themselves a goal of 500 words a day, 1000, 2000, perhaps even more. Having such a clear-cut goal can provide great motivation.

Sure wish that worked for me. ;-)

Once I've gotten a good start on a new work in progress I'll aim for at least a thousand words a day. Sometimes I get more, a lot more, but I've had plenty of days when I was happy to squeeze out two hundred words. Plenty of writers are a lot faster than I am and therefore far more prolific, and that's fine. If you can write five thousand words a day, I applaud you. Especially if you're happy with all of those words. Every writer is different and I figured out some time ago that I'd rather write two hundred words I was happy with in a day than two thousand words of crap. When you're just starting out and still trying to figure out what kind of writer you are and you see all these writers on Twitter reporting their daily word counts, it's easy to pressure yourself into thinking you need to do that, too. Both the high daily word count, and the reporting it to Twitter. I can't say I've never reported my word count, because I have, but I don't always do it, even on days when I write a lot. I know there will be days when I don't write as much, and I've learned not to worry about that. I only start to get worried if I go too many days in a row without writing at all, and that rarely happens anymore.

If a daily word count goal works for you and helps motivate you, then by all means go for it. But if you start to get obsessed with your numbers, you might want to remind yourself that it's the quality of the words that really counts.

Next Friday I'll talk about the complete opposite of this advice - NaNoWriMo. ;-)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Writing Lesson #2: Redrafting

In the early days, when I was writing stories in the back of exercise books, I wrote in pencil. And when I got to the end of the story, it was finished. The concept of First Draft was alien to me. But writing in pencil, for me, has always been rather messy. I'm left-handed, and tend to smudge the page when I have to lean my arm over it.

After a while I got to a point when I was rather proud of some of the stories I had written. I thought maybe they deserved better presentation. So I got some nice clean new notebooks, and wrote some of these stories out again. Neatly. In pen.

And in doing so, I discovered - quite inadvertently - that I was making corrections. I was changing an awkward word to something more concise. Rewriting sentences that I thought didn't sound right. Sometimes even taking out entire paragraphs, and substituting something else. And the story always sounded better for it.

I learned, therefore, Lesson Number 2 - the importance of redrafting.

When I started using a word processor, some years later, the whole rewriting process became much easier, of course, as all changes could be done on the computer without the need to waste all that paper. Now I couldn't imagine stopping with the first draft. It's strange to think back on those early days of assuming the story was finished when I wrote the last word.

Over the last twenty years, multiple drafts have become second nature to me. The thought of submitting the first draft to anyone is unthinkable. Yet it was only experience that taught me that the story gets better through rewriting; it wasn't a lesson I learned consciously.

That's the strange thing about writing. Learning the theory is all well and good, but the only real way to learn is by doing.

In writing this series of posts, I hope to impart some of the lessons that I have learned, through experience, through a lifetime of writing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Music thine Muse

First off, allow me to start this blog post with an apology. Last week I missed my post because we had family come in from out of town and it was a crazy busy time for me.

This week I chose to blog about music. Music is intrinsic to my writing process without it, I find my words fall flat, my scenes are less dimensional and my characters don't seem like themselves. I, like some of my fellow writers use music to set scenes, motivate us and just keep us in the zone.

For my current work in progress, Dead Before Midnight, I often rely on music to help me get in my character's heads and set the tone of the scene. When I listen to the blues, it connects me to Derek, who doesn't find the blues painful or heartbreaking, but rather uplifting. I tend to switch it up to jazz and some old school Edith Piaf for Alex, because surprisingly, the often times complex tonality of jazz music fits her rather colorful personality.

When the two of them together, I find that classical music works best. Hauntingly beautiful nocturnes best illustrate all the things left unsaid. While during a fight seen, I find myself listening to Do-wop (50s and 60s pop) like The Chiffons, The Shirelles, and The Shang-ri-las.

Since the beginning of time, music has been able to move writers to create beautiful words and painful moments. And I find that this is increasingly true the more I write. Each book has it's own soundtrack, each character their own theme.

So the next time you want to get into a writer's head, ask them what's on their might just be able to figure out what motivates your favorite characters.

And now one last thing. I leave you with a piece of music that helped me write a zombie fight scene (I kid you not).

Friday, October 8, 2010

Some love for novellas

In dead-tree publishing the average urban fantasy or paranormal romance will be anywhere from ninety thousand to a hundred and ten thousand words. That translates roughly to a three hundred to four hundred page paperback. I've read plenty of authors that can fill up that many pages and make you love for every word. I've also read books with sub-plots that made me think, this was added purely to pad the  word count and make it a full length novel. The truth is, not every story needs ninety thousand words. For a long time, publishers did not find it cost-effective to publish novellas unless it was in an anthology, and usually even then you had to already be a name-brand author and be invited to contribute. Digital publishing has changed that.

I've read some terrific novellas released by digital publishers. Most of those stories probably would not have found a home otherwise, simply because of their length. My own novella, Bring On The Night, would not have been released by a dead-tree publisher because of that very reason. There would have been no point in my even submitting it to one, or to an agent for that matter. In the world of digital publishing, novellas are welcome, as are shorter works of twelve to twenty thousand words. (Always carefully read any publisher's submission guidelines before submitting.)

With a novella you have to get down to business pretty quick, and you have to stay focused on your main characters and the driving plot. That can create a different set of challenges for a writer than a full length novel that may have various minor characters and sub-plots, and a different experience for a reader. I like both, as a reader and as a writer. My second release from Lyrical, Mojo Queen, is a full length novel. The project I'm working on now is a novella and though I started it just for fun, it's turned into something with promise. I've decided I want to try submitting it once it's finished and polished, and turn it into a serial. (This is just a personal quirk of mine that has nothing to do with anything, but with full length novels I think of the word "series" and with novellas I think the word "serial." This has nothing to do with terms used in publishing, like I said, it's just me. And no, I don't know why.) What I have in mind would be novellas with an interconnected main story arc, something I've never done before. But that doesn't mean the individual pieces each need sixty to ninety thousand words. The purpose of part one can be done in about thirty thousand words. I like the idea of having these shorter works to both tell a tight, focused story and also be part of a larger story arc, getting closer to the payoff with each installment. Digital publishing offers writers a chance to do something like that.

What do you think of novellas? Are there many in your "stack" of ebooks?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

E-books and Obstacles

Since acquiring my e-reader, I have been buying e-books. And I have encountered two intensely annoying problems that are preventing me from buying all the e-books I would like.

First of all, each e-reader uses different software, and not all e-books are available in all formats. If an e-book I want to buy is only available on the Kindle, I won't be able to read it on my Sony e-reader. This I find rather irritating. It's like buying a film on DVD and discovering that this DVD won't run on your Toshiba DVD player - you have to have a Sony.

The other problem is the whole DRM issue (otherwise known as digital rights management). I've heard several arguments for DRM now, but I am yet to be convinced it's a good idea. In practice, what it means is that if I am at my computer in the UK, and I find an e-book I want to buy that's only available on a US e-book site, I can't buy it.

This seems, to me, to be completely daft. As I have family in Canada, hubby and I frequently visit there. We love browsing in Toronto's wonderful book stores, and we will invariably find books that we want to buy when we browse - generally things that aren't in print or available yet in the UK, or sometimes just because this is the sequel to the book one of us finished reading on the plane on the way over. So we'll buy the books, we'll put them in our suitcase and we'll bring them back to the UK. We're not doing anything illegal. We are legitimately buying the books; we are contributing to the Canadian economy; and we are putting money in the pockets of the writers. And we will enjoy the books. Even if I buy a print book from the US Amazon site it's not a problem - Amazon will happily ship the book to me in the UK - I just pay a bit more for postage.

Yet, if I try to buy an e-book from the US, I can't. I have discovered there are a number of e-books I can't buy, either because they are only available on US e-book sites or they are only available on Kindle. And it's really starting to bug me. Here I am ready to embrace this new electronic technology, and I find obstacles in my way. Have publishers not yet figured out that if the books people want to read are freely available to all as e-books, there's less of chance they will be pirated?

I will take a moment to praise my publisher, Lyrical Press, here because neither of these problems exist with their e-books. There are no digital rights restrictions on e-books purchased direct from Lyrical's site, so you can buy them from anywhere in the world (and I've had people in Canada, US and the UK buying my e-book), and each e-book is available in six different formats, so you can load it onto whichever e-reader you wish.

Yay for Lyrical. Now we just have to get the rest of the publishing world to follow in their trailblazing footsteps.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Some love for our bad (fictional) boyfriends

I've been struggling, fighting tooth and nail to finish a very uncooperative novella. It started out strong but at some point things fell apart. Now I'm trying to put it back together and see if I still have a story at the end. I'm afraid the whole thing may be a fail.

I also fail at blog posts this week. The part of my brain that comes up with blog topics, and usually doesn't have too much trouble, is empty right now. The best I can come up with is a counter-argument to Sara's great post on Wednesday about how vampires make bad boyfriends. I will make my argument with YouTube videos, because that is far more coherent than anything I could come up with right now.

The first video features Bad Boyfriend by Garbage and extols the vices of two blond vampires, Spike from the Buffyverse and Eric Northman from True Blood.

Next up is a fanvid set to Black Black Heart by David Usher. I'm a recent convert to The Vampire Diaries, only having started watching the first season recently. I was afraid it would be too sparkly and good brother Stefan Salvatore is afflicted with both a great deal of sparkle and more than his fair share of Angel-ish brooding. Maybe it’s all that forehead, I don't know. But bad brother Damon - wow, Damon is an actual vampire. And he's bad. So very, very bad. I am now completely addicted to this show.

Here's something for Sara and her inexplicable and somewhat blasphemous affection for Buffy's rebound boyfriend Riley. The song is by Taylor Somebody or other. I have no idea what's going on in the video because I gave up watching it in order to go look for more Damon Salvatore fanvids.

After a great deal of searching and a regrettable exposure to Britney Spears (apparently Toxic and Womanizer are very popular song choices for fanvids, to which I say, what the hell?) I found this gem set to Anberlin's cover of Enjoy the Silence. I watched it more than once, to ensure the overall quality of the product and to make sure that Damon's drunken sexy dance was adequately represented.

To sum up: if loving Damon Salvatore is wrong, I don't want to be right.

I promise I'll have an actual post next week. ;-)