17 October 2014

Getting Up Again

It's been a busy few weeks—months! Moving from one house to another took up a considerable amount of my time, brain power, and emotion. So does "nesting," as I try to make this new place feel like home. Twenty-three years in the same house bestows a lot of comfort and familiarity. As much as I love the new digs, I still miss the feel of the old one with its well-known walls, much-loved landscape, and years of memories.

Then came the wedding. The first one we planned spoiled me with nine entire months in which to prepare. This time we had two. This time I felt more… disconnected from the process (and a little more panicky!), but it involved an entirely different set of people who worked in an entirely different way. And you know what? Everything worked out and it was beautiful, too. And as a bonus, I got to bring home the biggest, most beautiful bouquet of roses I've ever had.

I spent the two days following the wedding feeling like I hadn't slept in a month, and then I had surgery. It went well (clearly, or I wouldn't be writing this!), but I am tired, tired, tired…  I am supposed to be writing, but I've achieved pretty much zip. Nada. Zilch. Why? Because I'm so unorganized and because I've somehow managed to become stuck. Weirdly, when I am up to my eyeballs in cutting and gathering mules of tulle or hemming my new dress by hand because the darned sewing machine up and quit, I can think of all kinds of things to write about, scenes to develop, plot twists to include.

Then I have one entire quiet day to myself and do nothing but stare at the screen…


Even as I sit here typing this my gaze is wandering to the window, and it's such a gorgeous day outside! How many of those do I have left before the weather turns to miserable snow and freezing temperatures? Maybe I should go out and—

Wait, wait! Gotta finish this post, at least!

So where was I? Ah, yes, looking for inspiration and organization.

National Novel Writing Month is coming right up, and the good folks there always have a great store of inspiration to get writers pumped up. I got in on a TweetChat with author Scott Westerfeld and the on-going #NaNoPrep chat. Lots of good hints and lots of bubbling enthusiasm. I caught some! More resources and a schedule can be found here: NaNo Prep.

Joanna Penn and Joseph Michael did a webinar about using the fantastic Scrivener app for NaNoWriMo, but I'll confess that the side-by-side chat they had going at the same time distracted the heck out of me. Notwithstanding, I like both of them and you can always learn something useful from them. Check out Joanna's 8 Ways Scrivener Will Help You Become A Proficient Writer Overnight and keep an eye out for other webinars that Joe is presenting.

Armed with some new ideas for using Scrivener and some excitement for the upcoming November Word Dash, I  discovered one more gem that I want to share with you: Getting Started Again: Writers' Tips for When You Get Stuck, by Mary Carroll Moore.
Over the years, despite thinking I was the only one, I've learned that almost everyone who writes, professional or not, faces a time-out occasionally.  
Time-outs are just the creative self needing a break. Most are useful--they give us time for processing next steps in our writing. We can consider whether it's going where we want it to go, we can muse over a dilemma that needs heightening or a character that needs fleshing out. Every creative activity needs these kinds of time-outs, what some call "filling the well."  
But getting started again--that's another story. 
I've learned that time-outs can be OK, but it took a lot of practice to know when to get back to work. Otherwise, my time-out (stall-out) becomes procrastination. And we all know all about that. 
Here are some easy-peasy tips from writer friends that saved me from turning time-outs into book abandonment.

Keep reading!

How do you get unstuck when you're in a writing rut?

Are you participating in this years NaNoWriMo? Or are you a supporter lending your cheers from the sidelines?

Please come join me on Twitter as the preparations get refined and the real work starts! 

10 October 2014

Wedding Bells—Again!

We are celebrating another wedding! Preparation for this one was crunched into two months, and of course the last bit has been hectic! I was able to design the invitations again—I love that—and the hubster has, of course, done the pre-wedding photography again.

So. Tomorrow's the big day, and tonight there's a wedding dinner to attend (which is good, because I've had no time to cook today!). Sunday I'm taking a looooong nap.

(names and information changed to protect the innocent)
Isn't she pretty?

And he's okay, too… ;)

Is the picture too small to see? Click on it. I'll wait.

I wish I could post a picture or twenty two of her in her wedding gown, but it's still top secret. Maybe I'm a teensy, tiny bit prejudiced, but I think she looks so beautiful in it!

03 October 2014

The Author's Secret Sauce

It's the first Friday of October. Already! You know what "first Fridays" mean, right? It's the coming together of A Drift of Quills to chat about different aspects of reading and writing. It's the latter we're focusing on this time, with two question we often get: Where do we get our story ideas? How do we keep track of them when they come to us? And joining us today we have author Joshua Grasso. Please give him a warm welcome!


My ideas always come from the same source: usually a work of art, but sometimes, a stray moment or character from an old book. As a professor, I spend even more time than most people in books, and my teaching and research requires me to delve into all kinds of documents: epic poems, Renaissance art, odd biographies, scientific treatises, revenge tragedies, etc. As a teacher/scholar I’m looking for context for a paper or to explain something in class; as a writer, however, my eyes are alert for some small, teasing detail that suggests a larger narrative. I always believe the best material is just waiting for you to stumble over, though if you look/read too myopically, you’ll scatter the riches lying at your feet.

For example, the novel I’m currently writing came to me in a flash—the initial idea, anyway—from a painting I intended to use in class. The painting is Portrait of a Young Woman (1435) by Rogier van der Weyden. This beautiful, almost photo-realistic portrait of a woman wearing a ‘winged turban’ made me forget my lesson plan. I found myself trying to piece together the expression in her eyes, the rigidity of her body language, and the emotion the painter hoped to capture in the portrait. The germ of a story fell right into my lap, and I’ve spent the past two summers trying to make it into a proper story. I’m light years beyond the photo now, but I still keep it right at my desk to remind me of my initial inspiration.  

Sometimes, however, I simply don’t have time to start writing a novel or story on every stray clue from the ancient world. In fact, my most recent novel, The Astrologer’s Portrait, was inspired by a strange character from the Bayeux Tapestry—a person named ‘Turold.’ I read a book about the Tapestry which hinted at who this might be and the wheels started turning. But classes prevented me from doing anything with this for a year, so I simply had to add the clue to my notebook: “Turold in Bayeux Tapestry—sorcerer?” A year or so later I stumbled on the note and it all came flooding back. Three years later the novel was finished, and though it doesn’t resemble the character from the Tapestry in the slightest, I still maintain that the ancient Turold planted the seed of my modern work.  

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Author of the short story, Sanguis Dei and a poetry collection, Light and Dark

My story ideas come largely from life. As a young poet of five, I heard my kindergarten teacher say, "Write about what you love and what you know." Write What You Know has become a motto for me. I delve into the people I know, the place where I live, the situations and dramas around me to provide the fodder for my lyrical and literary creations. It is very simple, really…

…(Read more!)

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Author of Oathtaker
Patricia's website

My ideas come from numerous sources. Perhaps most notable are those bits of wisdom I’ve come upon over the years, either from some third party, or via some inspiration (or revelation, as the case may be). I like to take these gems and create characters out of them, or use them to move a character through my story or to draw and shape the world in which my stories are told. Sometimes I can use them “as is.” Other times, I ask myself how things might operate but for…

… (Read more!)

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Inspiration comes at me from every direction! Music, other books, news, dreams, conversation, pictures, quotes, you name it! Any of those things can easily set me to wondering how one of my characters might react or how the setting or culture or plot could be changed by employing the “what if” factor. They can spark ideas for new characters and settings, or generate an idea to help me fix problems. In fact, I was watching a fairly insipid urban fantasy on television the other day when the answer to why spirits follow Sherakai (the protagonist in my current work) came to me. One little sliver of a scene! The answer I came up with has nothing at all to do with vampires and werewolves, and everything to do with Sherakai's purpose. It turned into a whole support column.

I immediately dashed off to the office to scribble something down—which brings us to the question about how we keep track of our ideas. Once in a while (like this time) I'll jot it down on a piece of paper or into my cell phone, and (hopefully remember to) stuff it into a folder. I have a folder chock full of really cool ideas, but… The folder is a good place for random stuff, but a terrible place for specific stuff. So as soon as I am able, I fire up Scrivener and transcribe the notes either onto the appropriate character sheet or into the comments of the appropriate chapter. When it's pictures, I often stash them away on Pinterest, unless they're directly pertinent to the story I'm writing. If that's the case, then it's off to Scrivener with that, too, because guess what? In Scrivener I can keep pictures, music, and even whole web pages. Yeah, it's that awesome.

So, in a nutshell, that's how I find the meat and squirrel away the goodies!

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Are you a writer? How do you find inspiration? And how do you keep it?

Are you a reader? Sticking with the fantasy genre, what scene or snippet of conversation have you read that you find particularly inspirational?

26 September 2014

Sci-Fi Fantasy FREAK

Sci-Fi Fantasy FREAK. Yeah!

How would you like a subscription service that caters specifically to the sic-fi and fantasy genres? I know I would. And when founder Matthew Keith emailed me with the news I whooped a gleeful "YES!" and got up to do a Snoopy Dance. (No, there are no recordings. Too bad, right?)

The really cool thing is that I'd just been doing some serious wishful thinking for that very thing. I mean, I enjoy getting announcements the other subscription services, but even though some of them allow you to set a preferred genre, that's not always what appears in the ol' mailbox.

Not that I'm discriminating! I enjoy picking up books from other genres to read, too, but I have loved the speculative genre—and fantasy in particular—since I was knee high to a grasshopper. In fact, the first story I ever wrote was about a magic bunny. I think I was about five. It was before I could successfully produce penmanship legible to anyone but myself, but luckily I had a scribe: my big sister, who further encouraged my imagination with wonderful things like itty-bitty yarn dollies (whose necessarily upright hair styles naturally led to fantasy), stories she made up, Tolkien, and her fantastic artistic skills.

But wait, I digress. Here's what the site is all about:
With so many options available online to book buyers, it makes it hard to find what you're looking for. Especially if, like us, you only read SciFi and Fantasy. This site has been created to simplify your search. No more wading through "everything else" in order to find the books you want. At SciFiFantasyFREAK, we will never advertise anything that doesn't fall within those two genres.
SciFi Fantasy FREAK can be found here:

What do you think? Do you have any other go-to places for your sci-fi fantasy fix?

19 September 2014

Guest Interview: A.R. Silverberry

Today we get to visit with the wonderful A.R. Silverberry, who writes fiction for adults and children. His first novel, Wyndano's Cloak, won multiple awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Award gold medal for Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction. His newest release, The Stream, has folks waxing poetic. It's intensely captivating, thought provoking, an exhilarating adventure, wonderfully compelling…

So, A.R., how do you do that? How do you come up with such good stuff? Are you a story architect (plotter) or a discovery writer (pantser)?

AR: Writing requires strong hoodoo. See, it’s risky business. You never know until you’re finished if you have anything worthwhile. So I start off hanging lucky rabbit’s paws from my desk. Then I light candles and pray to various saints and a few sinners, not because they sinned but because they happened to be damn good writers, God rest their pickled livers. You know who they are. No need to mention names. After that, I light incense and begin chanting. The eastern Gods assuaged, I go down to the beach, build a fire, and with the constellations nodding in approval, sacrifice a ram and roast it as an offering to the Muses. The novel’s pretty ripe in my mind by now, but just in case, I strip off all my clothes and take a mad dash through the parking of the my local IRS, yelling, “Now you have it all!”

Gods appeased, I begin to write.

Anyone dying to know more, see the asterisked answer below. *

Ah, I see, I've been going about it all wrong. Gotta let the crazy person out of the box first. Extravagance is key! If nothing else, it'll give the neighbors something to talk about, right? Speaking of neighbors, where are you from and what do you love most about your hometown?

AR: I grew up in Northern California. Sometime in the late sixties, the Ballantine edition of the Tolkien trilogy came out. There I was, a teenager lost in fantasy, living in a place that looked like the Shire, with green hills where hobbit holes could be built and forests where Tom Bombadil and Goldberry sang (yes, she inspired my pseudonym). Add to that, the first Renaissance Fairs were being held. So we jumped into costumes and strode into villages where we could buy amulets and wizard staffs, and where sword fights and quarterstaff battles were played out. You can guess what all that did for my imagination!

Sounds like the perfect setting for nurturing the imagination. I love Tolkien (are you surprised?) and Renaissance Fairs are incredibly fun and full of inspiration. You practically had to write! When did you get started—and why? (Besides the obvious afore-mentioned influences!)

05 September 2014

Books We Love

Welcome to the Friday Feature of our Fantasy writers group, A Drift of Quills! We Quills get together once a month to chat up aspects of reading and writing. We’re returning to the topic of books we love best—and this will be something we revisit from time to time, because hello! we’re readers *and* writers. Being a writer (or an editor) changes the way one reads things. It’s not strictly for entertainment any more, but how cool is it to do your favorite thing for work? Still, the quality of a book obviously affects enjoyment. For me to forget about the occupational details (evil passive voice, plot, character development, voice, et cetera), the book pretty much has to carry me away. Read on to see what’s carrying the Quills away!

Lindsay Buroker is a wonderful talent in the Indie Author world. If you haven’t read her stuff, you’re missing out. She’s a fantasy writer and has works in the steampunk and urban categories. Either way, she’s good at what she does, which is writing fast-paced novels with intriguing characters, clever dialogue, wry humor, well-developed settings, and sparks flying—romantic, rhetoric, and magic. Hers was the first steampunk I ever read, and while the notion sounded interesting, I was a little dubious. Magic and Victorian-style technology? Hmm…

Buroker convinced me the genre was a worthwhile investment of my time. In addition to her fiction, she writes a blog geared both to her readers and to indie authors. She’s bright and funny, supportive, informative, entertaining… When I grow up I want to be like her. (Though there’s no WAY I’d want to live in Arizona. Uh-uh.)

Here’s a peek at a review I did for her book Emperor’s Edge:
“What a fun romp—I love the hare-brained schemes and the irreverent humor. The characters are really engaging. Of course Sicarius, with his sense of distance and mystery, begs following just to catch another glimpse of what lies beneath that unreadable façade, but I also found Books and Akstyr intriguing. The first for his wit and his intelligence as well as loyalty to Amaranthe, and the latter for his quirkiness and the hint of hidden depths. Maldynado, I suspect, hangs around out of curiosity: the adventures he gets into with the Edge are a lark, and how can Amaranthe not be attracted to him? Amaranthe herself is a funny contradiction of terms, alternately determined, fearing to fail, failing, and delighted at turning tables.”
You can read the rest here on Amazon: Emperor’s Edge Review 

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Author of the short story, Sanguis Dei and a poetry collection, Light and Dark

(Kristie is on hiatus this month, tending to real-world goblins and various kinds of general anarchy. We wish her luck and look forward to having her with us again next time!)
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Author of Oathtaker

With so many new books published each day, it can be difficult choosing something to read, but one genre I like to read and review from time to time, is fantasy for young readers. I enjoy the worlds created and look for those reads I would have passed on to my children when they were middle-graders. There are a number of prerequisites for me: they may not promote behavior I think objectionable for the young reader and they must be grammatically sound. Of course, it always helps if they offer a good dose of humor…

. . .  (Read more!)

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What's one of your favorite books?

What makes it and/or the author so great?

08 August 2014

Chocolate Fix: Cinnamon Toasties

There is a bag of chocolate chips in my pantry in severe danger of being exterminated. Or... I might break down and make a family favorite. Cinnamon Toasties.

Now, they're not 100% chocolate (I know, shocking isn't it?) but they are just so darned good it's hard to eat just one. And they have chocolate chips IN them. In the world of "almost chocolate," these little items are hard to beat. And they're ridiculously easy and quick to make. Always a bonus.

photo by Boyd Lythgoe

Once upon a time this recipe had no chocolate chips. It had raisins.

You should have seen the horrified expressions on the faces of my children when I shared that little historic tidbit…

My big sister used to make it (with raisins) when I was little. I don't remember when she decided to use chocolate chips instead, but it was a game-changer. When I moved out on my own—and out of state—I could not get the recipe to turn out right. It wanted to be flat and dry, so I experimented, and now it is wonderfully cake-y. And cinnamon-y. And, of course, chocolate-y.



Cinnamon Toasties

3 cups flour
1½ cups sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1½ cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsp. melted margarine
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 15x10x1-inch jelly roll pan.

In a large bowl combine dry ingredients. Blend in remaining ingredients. Turn into prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Drizzle with an additional ¼ cup melted margarine. Combine ½ cup sugar with 1 tsp. cinnamon. Sprinkle over cake. Bake 10 minutes more. Cut into squares and store in air-tight container.