Category Archives: Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

My Journey with Job ~ Inspiration

This past week I have devoted time to prepare for the 30-day challenge known in writing circles as NanoWrimo. Or, National Novel Writing Month. As it happens there is also a site for nonfiction writers. I signed up for both, mostly because nonfiction inspires me, but the fiction site has better progress tracking devices. And easier communication between participants. In any case, I am going to make a concerted effort to develop the rough draft for the balance of my manuscript, Why Me?

Which brings me to the thoughts which have followed me about during this time of preparation. The first has to do with how we master, or remaster a skill or character attribute, or how we manage the time allotted for all our pursuits. For this I have my wood stove to thank. Many years ago I lived in Montana and wood stoves were an everyday part of life. In the morning you check the coals, stuffed the box and urged it to full flame, closed the door and forgot about it until early afternoon. Then you stuffed more wood in, closed the door and ignored it until bedtime. At that point you damped things down, and, well, in the morning you likely had nice hot coals to start all over. Easy. Well, maybe not.


My new home has a wood stove. It’s a monster of a thing that at full throttle can run me out of the house. But it, in combination with the softwoods of the Pacific Northwest, can be temperamental. It is not unusual to check the box in the morning to find a cold, half burned log resting in the grate. I have learned, after a bit of instruction from a neighbor, how to nurture my fire during the day so that it neither gets over excited with roaring flames seeking the free air above the roof line, nor dies a sudden death leaving me with cold, charred, logs.

Writing and research are a bit like that. If you want to contribute something of value in the world of nonfiction (or fiction), you need to nurture the flame. It is of no help to run off on a tangent exhausting yourself and ending up with pages of barely intelligible musings with no basis in facts or logic or anything slightly related to acceptable story structure. Nor can you afford to be so remote that passion for the subject dies a cold, charred death rotting away somewhere on your hard drive. Nanowrimo is the starter log for many writers, the initial flame that helps build the fire to a level that can be maintained by adding fuel and substance in a regular and productive manner.

That brings us to thought two, inspiration. Webster defines it as “something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create: a force or influence that inspires someone.” Yeah, that.

Some years ago when I was going through a particularly difficult time, my husband-to-be suggested that I look for a book to read. Not just any book, but something that was connected to the things I like to learn. I chose a book about Hatshepsut. Within a few days I was back on the phone chattering away about some correlations I had found between the information provided and something else I had tucked away from some other reference. In the middle of a conversation he started to laugh. Then he explained. Whatever had been depressing me was long gone. As soon as I was back in my own world the pull of research, the love of the hunt for knowledge, well, consumed me.

This past week that feeling has been growing again. As I begin to collect the references and support that I need to build my manuscript, the more I felt drawn into that special space where ideas begin to link, to spark, to grow into a fire. I do have a rather extensive library in my own home on many of the subjects that are dear to me, but some of the material does not include the latest findings or developments, and well, it certainly isn’t a university library. That requires time on the web seeking sources that carry weight or lead to something that does. Rather than grow weary of sorting through the fluff, I find myself having a wonderful time tracking down men and women who have thought similar thoughts, who have been closer to source material, and who have developed worldviews close to or diametrically opposed to mine.

This is the thrill of creation. Taking the materials at hand and molding something unique that can be shared. I have received supportive commentary based on the first half or so of the manuscript. That is encouraging. Many folks that are familiar with my general thoughts on subjects related to Job do want to see me develop these into something cohesive. I do, of course, hope that others (even those that don’t know me personally) will find this work of value. In the meantime, I intend to enjoy the journey from scribbled notes, to polished manuscript.

Keep the flame burning.

National Novel Writing Month:

Write Nonfiction Now:

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Filed under Authored Works, My Journey with Job, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

Book Review ~ Chirping your way through Twitter

How to Be Twittertastic by Jo Linsdell, $3.99US (Kindle)

Twitter. All the rage for “everybody” (really, over 1 billion users as of now) but still a mystery to many of us. How does one say something meaningful in 140 characters – or fewer? Does it matter, or is it just another way to grab time from an already overloaded schedule? Must I twitter?

Every so often I delve into the world of “things helpful to authors.” In this case, though, I think the information has a much broader interest level. Jo Linsdell’s new book, Twittertastic, is written for authors; however a huge portion of the material would also apply to anyone who wants to get something out of the Twitter experience.

Here are some of the subjects that Jo covers:

How to set up your profile and personalize it
Creating your network
Ideas for making the most out of the new features
Tweets- Types of content you can share
Retweets, hashtags, and other Twitter terminology made simple
Twitter etiquette- Dos and Don’ts of the Twitterverse
Time savers

Jo, in her usual manner of clarity and brevity, introduces the reader to the fundamentals of Twittering. How to set things up, how to find people of interest to follow, how to get yourself noticed, WHAT to tweet and where to find content. Also, as is her habit, she includes pages and pages of links and references to get you started on the “but where do I find?” part. You really DO want this one in Kindle format, those hyperlinks are terrific.

Jo also researches her books and provides the statistics and supporting content that drive home her points. For instance, tweets with images garner a 40% greater response from tweeters than text posts. Jo shows you where and how to find image content, how to upload and how to capitalize on it.

As I mentioned, I am greener than the newest newbie in this world of word-spurts, that’s why Jo’s explanation of #hashtags, @addresses and lists, as well as when and where to use what is so helpful. She makes it all seem so easy!

Why, you ask, should someone listen to this particular voice in the crowd of “social media experts?” Because Jo is an internationally bestselling author and illustrator. Each year she conducts PromoDay to bring writing industry people from around the world together. She also manages a blog specifically for Writers and Authors. I should also mention I count her as friend and colleague.

Jo’s Bio:

Jo Linsdell is a bestselling author and illustrator and internationally recognized marketing expert. She is also the founder and organizer of the annual online event “Promo Day” ( and the Writers and Authors blog (

To find out more about Jo and her projects visit her website

Here, then, are all the great places you can find Twittertastic (the first in a series of Social Media for authors).

And here are the places Jo hangs out:




Filed under Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

Reviews ~ The World Beyond Facebook

Virtual Book Tours, Effective Online Book Promotion from the Comfort of Your Own Home by Jo Linsdell, Available in Kindle for a special release price of $2.99. ($4.99 after the tour)

virtualbooktoursJo graciously asked me to provide a review of her new release as part of her book-tour-in-progress.  I have to admit I am quite honored and shall give her the full Alcove Treatment.  First the basics.

Virtual Book Tours are a great way to create a buzz for a new release, or to put life back into an older publication. This book takes you through everything you need to know to be able to set up and carry out a successful virtual book tour.

The book is divided into 4 main sections for easy navigation:

1) What is a Virtual Book Tour?
2) How to organise your own tour
3) Promoting a tour
4) Useful resources

You’ll find it packed with links, tips, and advice to help make your tour a hit.

I don’t often visit the world of writing on my blog.  Most of the writers I have interviewed were invited to contribute to a special interest of the time, such as research for books on science fiction or history or some other topic I was delving into.  Sometimes I just get excited about something I’ve found that really helps me as I work through my own writing.  Most of the time, I stick to building my platform and letting my fans and readers get to know me.  That process is rooted quite deeply in how a blog is managed.

I adore many of the friends I have made over the past couple of years as I have become more deeply involved in social media.  I probably spend far more time on Facebook than I should; it is, however, my main source of “outside world” contact.  Granted, that can be a bit skewed.  What I have noticed is that many of the places I visit, the groups that have included me in hopes of my contribution, and the pages that are created for various and sundry books, products, or people, have become overwhelmed with advertising.  Some of my most cherished groups have clamped down hard on hawkers and provided a day or a place to “hang out your shingle.” Then, the managers work hard to keep the communication as informative as possible.

Many marketing gurus in the book industry will tell you that blasting your new release in a dozen or more groups/pages in social media is looked on as spam and does more harm than good.  Sadly, I tend to ignore most of those announcements, focusing more on the informative chats and concentrating on building my network.  I must smile as I write this, because I almost missed a review on my own book with this inattention. So, where can you express yourself, tell people about your latest work, define for the world the thing you most want to say?  On your blog. There are books on how to structure a really successful blog, whether you want to sell books or not – and I will look at them in coming weeks.  Right now I want to talk about Jo Linsdell and her marvelous little book about tours.

Blogs are wonderful things if used to their greatest advantage.  I use mine as a quiet place to express my discoveries, share my wonder, and build an audience for the way I think and write.  In that process, it is often fun to entertain a guest.  This, of course, is what happens in a blog tour.  It is a time when you have someone in for tea (or coffee) and chat about a mutual interest.  Jo shows you how to use that chat to the best advantage of the host and the guest.

There are rules one should follow to be a good guest and a good host.  If you want to discuss some aspect of a work in progress, then you need to find blog hosts interested in your topic, the way you work, how you write, where your inspiration comes from.  As noted, I have invited guests to share their point of view on a number of topics.  It gives my blog life, draws traffic and, well, I usually learn something very interesting.

I learned a great deal from Jo’s book.  She will take you through all of the steps of organizing, managing, closing and analyzing a blog tour.  This little book is packed with page after page of links and references to help you find the blogs that fit you like a glass slipper.  There are even commercial resources you can take advantage of, if you don’t feel confident enough to manage the first tour on your own.

One of my favorite parts (since I’m so obsessive when it comes to organization) is how you think through the process of organizing.  What do you want to accomplish?  What is your goal for the tour in general?  (Don’t cop out here and say – “sell books.”)  Think about what is most important about your work.  Do you write fun youth fiction where the character grows?  Is it steampunk or scifi fantasy?  Do your characters portray historical personalities?  If you know where you are going, then you have a much better chance of picking effective blog hosts (ones that will actually welcome you) and you will know what type of blog posts you want.  Reviews are only one.  There are interviews (of you and your characters) or feature stories.  Jo knows I like to do book reviews, and that is what she asked of me.

As it happens, I also work with a small publishing company, and marketing is one of our highest priorities.  Her book has saved me hours of research combing through the internet.  All those feeble attempts to have volunteers help me dig up suitable blogs for tours for our authors became passé the moment I read her book.  For this I will be forever grateful!  People are busy and volunteers do have lives.

I think that Jo has addressed a really important aspect of the cyber world, and she has given clear and sound advice.  Exchanging ideas, progress, thoughts, and connections in a media that allows reflection and preparation has a very different flavor from the “buy me,” “like me,” freebie  hurly- burly of social media.  Don’t get me wrong: I believe that there is a place and time for marketing on the big network sites.  But I much prefer the path described by my friend and colleague, Jo Linsdell.

Here comes all the “where to find her and who she is!”


Jo Linsdell is a bestselling author and internationally recognized book marketing expert. She is the founder and CEO of the Writers and Authors blog and the annual online event Promo Day. Learn more about Jo at

For more information about Virtual Book Tours: Effective Online Book Promotion from the Comfort of our own Home, please visit or contact

Some of the titles now available by Jo on Amazon are:

Children’s’ Books:  Out and about at the Zoo, A Birthday Clown for Archer (& Coloring book and in Spanish), Fairy May

Guides: Italian for Tourists: Pocket Edition, A Guide to Weddings in Italy

Social Media Links:

Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube,
Goodreads, Amazon

Click to tweets:

Add Virtual Book Tours: Effective Online Book Promotion From the Comfort of Your Own Home to your to-read list

Learn everything you need to know about virtual book tours in this book by best selling author Jo Linsdell

Must read book about organising virtual book tours! #Authors


Filed under My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), Stuff about Writing ~ Research Tools, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

Dragons and Magic and Songs in the Wind

DeceptionsmToday we shall do something a bit on the lighter side of things.  Way back in March I posted a bit about how a writer finds a path between showing passion for their subject without getting pushy with the reader.  If you are truly passionate, you want to share the things you love so much and not overwhelm someone and chase them away.  I had asked Dianne Gardner to share a bit of her style in the process of writing her series, Ian’s Realm.  That article can be found here.

Well, here we are many months later and Dianne has become a fast friend and we’ve managed to get mixed up together in a number of projects.  I have read all of her books and novellas with the exception of Cassandra’s Castle.  Never fear, I have an advance copy sitting on my computer.

I find the series absorbing and rollicking good fun.  In fact, Ian kept me company into the wee hours of the morning during a recent hospital stay.  Add to a great story a truly talented artist and you have an irresistible mix. I have been invited to be one of Ian’s stops as Dianne showcases her anniversary edition of Deception Peak.  The book has undergone a complete remake with its new publisher, PDMI Publishing, LLC. Re-edited, re-mastered cover, maps, character reference charts and other great things make this not only a great story; it’s a collector’s item!  My duty in the ceremonies is to let Dianne talk a bit about what the future holds for Ian’s Realm.

My vision for the series!

When I began the Ian’s Realm Saga, the goal was to complete the three-book story arc and get it published. Simple undertaking (not!). Once the trilogy was completed something unsettle remained inside of me though, as if I hadn’t really written the whole story. There just wasn’t enough magic. The history was missing. And there wasn’t enough explained about the Meneks or the Kaemperns and their cults. Hence A Tale of the Four Wizards took shape, and a very loveable character named Silvio emerged. What happened to the old wizard in that first short story couldn’t be the end, and it wasn’t. You see him make a cameo appearance in The Dragon Shield (edited after the short stories were completed). There was more!

After Rubies and Robbers, I personally didn’t want to leave the Realm. I already missed Ian. But of course, I’ve already introduced plenty of dynamic personalities to carry on. Fast forward a few years and we have Ian’s daughter Cassandra.

Her story came from some real life events that occurred not long ago. I was helping a friend do some interesting research on her family tree which branched into Portuguese royalty at the turn of the century. The more I researched the more I got sidetracked until I discovered the last king of Portugal, Manuel II. Such a compelling story, I needed to write this young king into one of my characters and so enters Martim of Cassandra’s Castle. Cassie is one of my favorite tales and I’m not sure why.

Having had so much fun filming The Dragon Shield , it was time to make a trailer for Cassandra’s Castle, though the book won’t be out for a while. Our crew filmed at Fort Worden State park and Manresa Castle here in WA, and everyone was so excited about working together, we vowed to make a movie.

When I say crew I’m talking about a group of very talented, and experienced people. You can meet them on my website.

Currently, we’re writing the script, and making plans. I’m not sure how long the movie will take to film but we’re working toward that being our goal.

As far as other visions for the series? Anything! Like a piece of artwork I want to sculpt this story into 3D with audio and music (note the lovely music that Lexa Rose wrote with the lyrics to the songs of the Realm), audio narrative, a Boxed Set, a large coffee table edition with full color illustrations and gold leaf. We’ll see where this takes us, but it’s a project!

And that’s my friend, Dianne!  Full of never-ending energy and ever-growing ideas.  She left one thing out though, I really, really want to see Xylon and Promise dolls out by next Christmas…you’ll have to read to learn why.

So far the series includes: Deception Peak, Dragon Shield (scheduled to be re-released), Rubies and Robbers (also scheduled to be re-released), and four novellas about the wizards.  In process is Diary of a Conjurer and Cassandra’s Castle.

Now, for all the places you can find Ian, Abbi, and Dianne:

Ian’s Realm, the blog

Dianne’s Art Site (there is some amazing fine art here, folks).

Ian on Facebook

To Twitter to Dianne

And for goodness sake!  Don’t forget the launch party!


Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Fiction, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

All Authors Blog Blitz ~ June 15th, 2013


During one of those unguarded moments scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook my eye was caught by the phrase, “this sounds like fun!”  Uh oh.  Weak moment – instant response – “Where do I find out about it?”  And so it went.  However, I did meet some really interesting people and now I am a guest blogger in places as far off as Wales and Australia.  My guest is from right here in the good ol’ U S of A. In fact from New York, I have Ms. Y Correa herself and here is her internet home: and

After getting all the rest of us up and running she was a bit stumped for her own piece, I asked her to post something about her current release, Marco Antonio & Amaryllis.  After all, there are several posts in the Alcove about historical fiction, a few on research, and a few things on what makes a good story when it’s wrapped around an event in history.  This is what she had to say.

Introducing Ms. Y Correa ~

9781301007493_frontcoverTruly, at heart I am a Paranormal Romance reader. I love all things Paranormal (Alright, maybe except for Vampires and Werewolves…!), yet I’ve also had a lifelong fascination for Historical Romance stories. More specifically Medieval times, Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Greek Mythology.

Those are eras that have always caught my attention. So, upon choosing a story to read, I tend to always lean to those genres.

My biggest issue had always been finding stories that combined all of those elements. They are incredibly hard to find.

I was born and raised in the state of New York, which is a melting pot of culture and diversity. Every day people interact with each other no matter what their race, creed and color. “Multicultural”, is simply a way of life. This is how I was raised – to appreciate everyone’s individuality and respect their differences.

The day I decided to write a story, for me, it was only natural that this every day diversity that I knew so well be incorporated into the story. This is how I developed my style of writing.

The day I started writing “Marco Antonio and Amaryllis”, I played on my own personal knowledge of the Spanish culture (being Hispanic myself), as well as a specific time in history.

Doing some research (which took no time at all) I came across the Anglo-Spanish war of 1585. During this time the English invaded Spain: and I thought to myself that this time in history would be ideal for writing an Interracial Medieval story.

I simply knew that if in THIS day and time there are so many interracial couples, they MUST have existed in that time as well. Only, in that time, it must have been frowned upon and taboo, as most people fear what they cannot understand.

Immediately, upon starting my venture, my natural affinity for the paranormal simply meshed into the story. I played on the beliefs of the people from that time. Many of them lived in perpetual fear of witch-craft and things of that sort.

Just like that, the story simply came to life and “Marco Antonio and Amaryllis” was born. The original manuscript had been written in Elizabethan English, however realizing that many people today have a hard time understanding that method of speech, I changed it to modern English while keeping the Medieval feel and content. There are some Spanish notes in the story, and those were written in Medieval Spanish. Our language too, has changed throughout the years.

Stories like the well know and admired classic “Romeo & Juliet” inspired me, as well as “The Romance of Tristan and Isolde”, “Stardust” the novel, was another great inspiration. Withal, I remained true to my roots and heritage and tried to portray the diversity of the people of that time as best I could.

It may seem odd, but as I was writing (much like it happened with all of my stories prior), my characters took on a life of their own. They came to thriving life, and it very much felt like they were the ones narrating the story to me, and I was the privileged individual whom they’d chosen to write their story.

Following is an Excerpt:

His focus returned to her. What cruelty life offered him, that his one true love was unattainable. Yet, obtaining her was his only conviction – his only mission and obsession. She was in fact the most beautiful woman he’d ever known both inside and out. She’d yet to fully be his. But he was certain, that one day, she would be his – totally and completely. He would fight for her until he exhaled his last breath. Even if that were the very cost.

However, for today, he’d be content (as he always was) with just looking at her from afar. Contemplate her beauty and know – in the depths of his soul – that this was a battle worth fighting.

“Altivo, stop! Para!”, digging his front hooves into the dirt Altivo came to a screeching halt. MarcoAntonio had been so preoccupied in his train of thought, that he’d barely realized that they’d arrived. His body slightly thrust forward with the abrupt stop. He leaped off his horse, checked his hip for his sword and took in hand his ebony shield. Even though it was the middle of the night, time and space was never to be trusted. Things lurked everywhere. In his experience, he knew that the most unexpected things could happen, at any given moment. It was always best to be prepared.

Unhinging a small sack from Altivo’s saddle, he tossed it lightly in his hand. These small jewels were what he used as pebbles, to toss at the balcony of her quarters. What use did he have for them anyway? He owned millions. Yet, he wanted none. So, why not use a precious stone to tap the window of his precious treasure…?

Tossing the first blood ruby, he called – his Spanish accent as natural as the air he breathed, “Psst!” no answer. He tossed another, this time an emerald, as green as the forest, “Psst! Amaryllis! I am here…”, he called out again in a strong whisper. He listened. He heard some rustling around.

The first thing that he caught a glimpse of was her hair as it came floating over the edge of the balcony wall, and grazed the ledge. Then her head leaned over, and she looked down….

There they were! Those eyes! That smile! Enough to melt even the coldest of hearts. Everything about her made his heart skip a beat. Her long luscious, silky hair, that was the perfect combination of fire and ice all neatly intertwined into the most vivid shades of red and gold. Her bright, sea blue eyes which seemed to carry the entirety of the ocean within them. The milky brilliance of her skin. The birthmark that was placed just above her lip, which seemed to be set in just the right spot to accent her lips and all of her beauty to perfection. Her body! That alone was enough to make any goddess jealous. She was not too thin: MarcoAntonio appreciated a woman that looked healthy. Amaryllis was just right, in every way. At least in his opinion.

“You are late…!”, she pointed out.

“Well, that may be true ma’ lady,”

“’Tis!”, she said in a teasing tone, then smiled again, “You cannot stay long. I’m being watched.”

“And?”, he replied with mockery lingering in his voice.

Amaryllis giggled a little, covering her mouth she tried her best to keep quiet. His wit always made her laugh. Then she quickly got serious, “MarcoAntonio, ’tis dangerous. You know this to be true. ‘Tis always a risk to visit me at these hours, my love.”

“And this is precisely why I love her so!”, he stated bravely as if he spoke to an audience, “Amidst everything, my beautiful lady, is always concerned for the well-being of her knight…. Knight, may I remind, ma’ lady!”

A knight, that appears to be looking for trouble, should our foes become aware of his scrambling.”

“Let them become aware!” he raised his voice, still with lightness and taunting sounding in it, “Should they come, I will slay them…!” he pulled his sword from his hip and began a little dance. Bouncing around, sword in hand, he swung it in the air as if he were fencing against the strongest of men, “I will give them a little of this! Then… a little of that!” He jumped in Altivo’s direction, “And my trusted steed, shall save me, and whisk me away into the darkness of night,” then he turned to look up at her, “of course, never, before first having valiantly saved, ma’ lady.”, then tossing his arm into a whirl in front of him, he bowed at her graciously.

Amaryllis giggled some more, covering her mouth with a hand, “You shall never change: will you?”

“Why should I, ma’ lady? If I change then I shall lose my most precious treasure… your love,

“Well, I suppose that is true, noble sir.”

“’Tis, ma’ lady.” and he smiled at her.

Now – my blogs are rather diverse in this case.  For Rachel Rippon I wrote a blog that was a bit biographical.  It tells a bit about my published book, “Who I Am Yesterday,” and described my work in progress “Why Me.”  You can find Rachael in all kinds of places, here are a few: (where the post will be).

My second blog was on a much lighter note.  Lucinda Elliot has a lovely lighthearted blog that talks of gothic tales and heroes that are allowed to have runny noses and heroines that are allowed to have some strength of character.  For her I wrote a bit about one of my favorite authors, Clive Cussler and his series starring Isaac Bell.  Staged in the early 20th century, this series has the type of characters I thought would be right at home in Lucinda’s world. A fan of Shakespeare and a citizen of Wales, she can be found on here: (where the post will be)

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Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Fiction, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

The Next Big Thing – Stacey Brewer

Last week I went off and visited Mari Collier as part of “The Next Big Thing.”  My participation in the project can be found here.  This week, Stacey Brewer is visiting me.  Her blog can be found here.  Once she has draw answers from her friend, Ivy Hanalea she will post them and then pass the torch to Ivy, who lives here.



(Graphic courtesy of: PicGifs

Deep breath!  So, here are Stacey’s answers to questions about her current work in progress.  I hope the originator did not think singular because I don’t think there is a writer on earth that can work on only one WIP at a time!

1.      What is the working title of your next book?

That’s actually the toughest question on this list!  My working title changes almost daily.  Today, it’s “Crystal Cave,” but yesterday it was “Edge of Shadows.”  Who knows what it will be by the time it’s ready to publish!

2.      Where did the idea come from for the book?

I heard a line in a movie incorrectly, and it created all sorts of new questions and ideas that I want to explore.  Specifically – what happens when a character that is almost purely selfish suddenly discovers he wants to protect someone other than himself?

3.      What genre does your book fall under?

Historical Fiction

4.      What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Actually, I have a Pinterest board dedicated to that question!  Celie, the female main character, looks a lot like Irish singer Janet Devlin, and Orin, the male main character, looks exactly like German model Paul Boche (in this picture).

5.      What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Celie Bryant – a master potion-maker and witch of great talent, is called upon by the Sidhe to renew the potion that keeps the legendary Spear of Lugh safely sleeping before a rogue Sidhe succeeds in waking it fully and using it to tear the Veil between the worlds.

6.      Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I hope to find an agent and traditionally publish.

7.      How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I’m still writing.  We won’t discuss how long I’ve been at it…  >_<

8.      What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker” by Leanna Renee Hieber is probably the closest of anything I have read.  It uses a historical setting mixed with otherworldly creatures and events.  “Percy Parker” is set in the Victorian Era and mine is set in the Roaring ’20s.

9.      Who or what inspired you to write this book?

All of the great books I’ve ever read, and the hope that someone, somewhere will love my book as much as I love so many others.

10.  What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Flappers, faeries, and speakeasies!

There you go!  Visit Stacey and Ivy to see the continuing saga of how writers manage to guide their creative spirits as best they can until they capture a piece of their imagination for the fun and edification of their readers.

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Alternative History ~ More Than an Adventure, It’s a Mind Expanding Point of View

As my readers know by now, I am a history junkie.  My banner pretty much says it all because I believe there is much we have left behind that could teach us about what we have “yet to find.”  My writing tends to explore both the past and the future and is, consequently, driven by research.  For this reason I like to find fiction writers that do much the same thing because it helps me at least try to share the passion I have for my subjects with my readers.  Learning how people build fictional worlds that attract an audience helps me see the parts that interest readers so I can arrange my factual material in an engaging way.  My current interview target gave me some very interesting ideas.  We will visit my thoughts after we hear from Rob Cerio (

Steampunk World Building and the importance of knowing your history…

One of the trends in science fiction and fantasy literature is toward the rapidly growing genre known as “Steampunk”. For those that are unfamiliar with the genre, it’s a world of steam engines, Victorian sensibilities and fashions, and good old human courage. For those that write Science fiction, it’s also a nice departure from our usual, dreary dystopias and a walk into a brighter world. I have heard it described by many to be the shared universes of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, or by others as visions of the future as envisioned by the 19th century. What most of these definitions fail to realize is that Steampunk at its core is an exercise in alternative history, and the best Steampunk Authors do a lot of research into the Victorian era, and the technology and terminology of the time to give their worlds authenticity.

dgstorecovThe key point of divergence between our real world and the imagined universe that most Steampunk stories use is the inventions of Charles Babbage. In 1822, Babbage proposed a device for completing complicated mathematics that he called a “Difference Engine”. The device was intended to replace error prone humans in the calculation of complex polynomial tables for engineering and science reference material. He later refined this design by the mid 1800s broadening its usage to an “Analytical Engine:” a very basic computer. The tremendous cost of building these intricate machines proved too high for him to continue his research.  If he had it was entirely possible that the Computing Revolution of the mid 1970’s could have happened a hundred years earlier, in the “age of steam”, most notably before the development of the internal combustion engine.

Which leads to a neat question… “If modern computing had been applied to the refinement of the steam engine, would we have ever developed the internal combustion engine?” Somehow, I don’t think my uncle would appreciate his Corvette if he had to shovel coal into it every 300 miles.

Steampunk literature suggests that the great scientists and engineers of the Victorian era would have made tremendous advances with access to Babbage’s Difference engines. We are asked to imagine a world where the Montfoglier Brothers used computers to turn their Ballooning experiments into practical airships… A world where Nikola Tesla was able to figure out the Unified Field theory 60 years before Einstein even got a job as a patent clerk… A world where Captain Nemo’s Nautilus was a practical machine instead of a flight of fancy.

As a result, to write confidently in the steampunk genre, there is a lot of research you have to do, especially since readers of your fiction will absolutely call you on any errors in facts or style. (I had an editor return a story because a character used the term ‘patsy’ when the word wasn’t in popular usage until the 1920’s or so). On your reading list should be at least one of the works of Jules Verne, and of H.G. Wells, as well as some Mark Twain. The first two are to help you establish the conventions of the genre, the third to help you get the tone and jargon of an American of the period set into your mind. Depending on where you set your story, you may need to look into the real-world history of the country in question.

Many Steampunk stories are set in Great Britain and the United states, but the genre has been opening up to include the Far East, Africa, and the moon. This is great for authors that love writing in the genre, but I still cringe every time someone refers to it as “Space: 1899.”

In my case, the post-Civil War America that my short story “The Great Steamship Race” is set in is very much our current reality. Despite my embellishment of ironclad airships, the tensions in the post-war south and animosities that were held onto for generations are still in evidence. The race that takes place between my fictional airships Natchez and Robert E. Lee is based upon a real event and real historical figures that I discovered while researching other works. While some authors might look at the restrictions of using real history to frame an alternative history story as a chain binding them from telling interesting stories, I would say that they haven’t researched thoroughly enough. The Victorian era of both British and American history is rife with vibrant characters that truly shine when handed futuristic technology.

In addition to old fashioned library and internet research, there is quite a bit of real world research you can do to give your locations and Steampunk devices life. I am lucky enough to live in New Orleans, where one of the last steamships operates on the Mississippi River. By asking politely, I was able to get a behind the scenes tour of the engine and boiler rooms of the vessel, as well as a rare look at the wheelhouse. While not everyone has a steamboat in their backyard, there are steam locomotives that still run the rails in most states as tourism ventures. While much of what you learn by observing these machines in action may never make it onto the page, knowing the smell and feel of these amazing machines in action will help give your fictional versions life. I would also recommend trying on some Victorian era clothing… while I have never personally worn a corset, many of my female author friends insist that it was key to bringing a certain perspective to their heroine’s lives.

Me, I just settled for a top hat and a pair of aviator goggles.


So, the ideas that Rob has popped into my head?  If you have ever watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series you may remember a segment where he mentions that the Greek renaissance of science and math that started somewhere around 570-495 BCE was squelched by Pythagoras and his mystics.  If not for him then the first ship on the moon may have had a Greek name and it may have been centuries before the Americans made their landing.  Maybe, maybe not.  As a race we tend to fear those things that we do not understand.  We give them the aura of mystery and magic and sometimes call them evil.  Or, we do our best to control them.  Some of those “mystics” Mr. Sagan was so perturbed with became the fathers of a more lasting modern science: Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, Kepler, and on and on.  There are several Jesuit priests in the mix as well.  Many men, and women, discovered much about our universe while seeking the mind of God: and shared their passion by showing the world what they found.  Sometimes it is a war between the mystics and the rational thinkers; sometimes it’s a matter of timing.

So, what I learned from a point of view such as Rob’s, is a way of inserting or taking away a concept that could change helicopterhistory in order to better understand the pivots of that history.  For instance, what if Leonardo had gotten his whirly bird off the ground?  It is interesting that Rob mentions Mark Twain as a source since he used this approach himself.  If you haven’t read A Connecticut Yankee in King Author’s Court you should give it a try.  An excellent example of “what if they had this!”

Thinking through the “could have beens” help us better understand the “what is now” and may help us build a better “what will be.”  In the meantime, check out Rob’s website and see what he is up to.  You can also let me know what you would like to learn about as we explore our history, our thoughts, our hopes and dreams.

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Bringing History Alive ~ And Discovering Your Own Past

Even when you love history, the task of picking some subject small enough to fit in a book but large enough to engage a reader can sometimes be quite a task.  The shear volume of information that we have about the past can be overwhelming, and yet there is more to learn, more to capture, more to place in a setting that helps us understand more of where we come from and where we are going to.  One of my very best friends ever has taken this task to heart.  Drawn by her love of the book she has written a couple of small books about her experience as a wife coping with Alzheimer’s and her experience as a book seller.  Now she brings us a taste of what it was like to live at the turn of the last century.  What it meant to fight in the Spanish-American War and World War I.  What it meant to live in an America still finding its way in the world.  The product of that journey is Wild Hay, Wild Hairs and Shell Shock.  I asked her to tell me something of her journey to her great-grandfather’s life and times.

CraigieCoverSmI don’t look at myself as the author of Wild Hay, Wild Hairs and Shell Shock; rather something of an interpreter and translator, as well as an editor. To me, Charles Henry Craigie is the true author. He was my great-grandfather by marriage and he left his family with the treasure of his thoughts.

Craigie’s notes were left in the form of a draft manuscript without punctuation or paragraphing. As I typed the work before me, there were times when the whole meaning would be confusing. Suddenly a light would dawn as soon as I switched punctuation and words would fall into order in different sentences or phrases.

Included in the punctuation puzzlements were quotations (without quote marks), many of which involved dialogue. Thus, separating his own writing from his remembered conversations became another challenge.

One curiosity with this manuscript is that Craigie grew up in an era of alphabet sounds (not yet referred to as phonics); his spelling wasn’t of overall importance to him. He simply spelled things the way he heard them. Couple that with penciled, difficult-to-read handwriting on browning, brittle paper, and there you have a picture.

My mother, Sharon Smither-McFarland, had typed up the manuscript in 1999. Having her comb-bound copy in hand, I would go back and forth between Craigie’s original and Mom’s manuscript. Many times, a combination of the two or three (counting my own) ways of looking at his words would spark something of an “Oh” moment. Then I’d be on to changing punctuation (or paragraphing) around again. Without Mom’s initial efforts, I would still be working on this project.

I did succeed in keeping the majority of Craigie’s sentences in the word order he had written them with few exceptions. CraigiePicUniformSmA lot of his philosophical paragraphs and thoughts ended up at the end as Chapter 11. Some just did not fit in with his narrative. In this way, Chapter 11 became my concoction of Craigie’s thoughts.

Because this story isn’t “mine,” I didn’t change anything in his intended narrative. It wasn’t mine to rewrite in that sense. It was only mine to translate for the reader.

Since a lot of his story concerned places-in-time, I wanted accuracy. In order to make sure I reported his story accurately I researched things as detailed as street names in Minneapolis. He grew up and worked in the farm country of Minnesota and the Dakotas and again, it took research to following his narrative. I also researched the places that seemed pivotal to his narrative as a verification of history.

Verifying places in a historical context had me looking up modern and older maps in order to take his words and translate them to places he had been in America and abroad. When it came to his involvement in the Spanish-American War I spent some time learning about the Philippines. I also researched places of importance in the British Isles and France during the time of World War I.

Craigie’s spelling became especially difficult to interpret as he entered his World War I chapter. He seemed to enjoy throwing in some French words here and there, as well as referring to French places. I was getting lost with that research and enlisted the help of my sister, Kelly McFarland-Sellers. Her background in French helped me resolve what he was trying to say.

What I left out of my manuscript were his repetitions. Keeping in mind, this had never before gotten beyond draft form; Craigie was very good at repeating himself. Not wanting to bore the readers, I started to chop a lot of the repeats; especially the clichés, although I didn’t feel it was my right to drop the cliché entirely from his book. It was part of his style and a more acceptable part of his era than ours.

As far as photographs go, I ended up choosing only one, and that is the one of Craigie which was used on the cover of the book, in uniform, with his abundant, white, shell-shock hair. For some reason, the family pictures of Charles with my great-grandmother Lula Belle, in the end, didn’t seem appropriate for the public book.

As you can see, sometimes something as simple as finding your own story can help other see a piece of history they would not have known.  As it happens, Connie’s little book has made it into the top 20 of Amazon’s Hot new Releases in Military/Veterans!  Touch the past, and find the future.

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Conveying Important Truths ~ By Telling a Story

As a writer of primarily nonfiction, I am often confronted with the need to explain a conclusion I arrived at without making the reader feel as though I am pushing some ideology or agenda.  I want to provide food for thought; not pronouncements.  Many guides on writing will tell you that the way to engage the reader is to present them with something of humanity, some changing moment, some conquest, or some goal.  So, even in nonfiction, we have what we call a character arc or something similar that moves your concept from idea to conclusion.  In order to accomplish this feat with historical people, the author needs to be able to pick and choose relevant individuals (and facts) from the time period in question, or from persons somehow connected to the events or their interpretation.  Then these personalities can be used to convey the different points of view and how such views might resolve into the conclusion the author wishes to explore.

I am in the midst of such a process in my current work, Why Me ~ Come Let Us Reason With Job.  In order to make sure that I keep my text on point and not overwhelm the reader with an unnecessary gaggle of participants, I thought it would be helpful to discuss the issue with a fiction writer that I respect.  Particularly someone who deals with moral growth in her characters.  How, exactly, does she plot a character arc and can I use some of the same tools in selecting the supporting cast to my central figure?  The author I chose is Dianne Lynn Gardner who is both an author and an artist.  She has two books available in her series:  Deception Peak and The Dragon Shield.  This is how she responded to my questions.


I believe that character arc is one of the most important elements of story telling.

Being an author of young adult and middle grade fantasy, my stories are coming of age tales about youths confronted with obstacles they need to overcome. When faced with events and hardships that they are unfamiliar with, their character is going to change. It’s inevitable. I see it in real life, and I use that paradigm in my stories.

I want to take a step back though before I discuss character arc because Victoria posed the question: “How do your characters develop deeper morals without being preachy.”

During my most recent period of studying the art of writing I was introduced to John Truby’s instructional The Anatomy of Story. I was deeply impressed with his system because it was the only book I’ve come across (note– I haven’t read them all) that actually talked about theme and moral development as a plumb line in a story.  I highly recommend it. After reading his book, I interpreted his ideas and formed my own blueprint for story writing.

This technique requires planning and is one reason I don’t thoroughly believe in writing by the ‘seat of my pants.’ (I think that’s the term many authors use). Since I really want to say something important in my stories, (writing for me is a form of inner expression) I must design the plot and conflict from the ground up.

1-2012-12-30 15.51.52For visual learners such as me, (I am an artist after all) the process begins by drawing a line in the center of our paper and giving it a name of some moral importance.  This might be Honor, honesty, integrity, or something along those lines. Then we take our characters, protagonists, antagonists and all their sidekicks and decide where each of those individuals stand in relation to that line. Are they indifferent? Do they care deeply?  Which side do they stand on and how close are they to the middle? Indifferent would be far away, close would be passionately for or against, near to the line. One side will be negative (such as being loyal to evil) and the other positive. Immediately you can see how conflict will develop between the characters and how the main character will be tested.

This plumb line isn’t the plot. It isn’t an event and it isn’t defined in any obvious way. It’s simply the moral fiber of the story. It weaves in and out of everything that happens. The author is the only one aware of it. He or she sifts it into the story. In fact, the more subtle that “plumb line” remains, the more effective it is in developing the plot.

09-SparklesNow we can talk about that character arc.  As I said earlier, all of the main characters should have some kind of growth. We all do. These people on paper won’t have a semblance of humanity if the trials and tribulations they go through don’t have some kind of persuasion over their ideas and inner being. They might grow backwards, but they will grow.

When I have a character that’s young and I want the story to be a coming of age story I’ll define what I want him to look like at the end of the story. Then I’ll create his personality so that he has to really work to get from point A to point B. I can do the same by first creating his character and giving him something to work toward, but I find it easier to work backwards, or to work toward the middle. I explained this process in another blog post during the tour for The Dragon Shield.

So in conclusion, if you develop your characters so that they are real, and give them goals, and obstacles along the way, always weaving around that plumb line of your story, you won’t come off preachy, and you’ll have meat your readers can chew on!

If you’d like to learn more about Ian and his dragons, check out Dianne’s blog.


Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

Science Fiction/Fantasy Research ~ What Ingredients Make a Cake Part III

This is a continuation of a series I started about just how science fiction and fantasy writers stay up on the latest to give their tales substance.  This week we have Cindy Koepp, a teacher, an author, a craftsperson and the loving mother of an African Grey parrot.   For Cindy research is a part of the fabric of life as well as an “as needed” exercise in her writing.   From sword fights to aerial (or space) dogfights, seeking that perfect piece of information is what it’s all about.

From Cindy:

remnantResearch for Fiction Writing?

Most days of the year, I teach 3- and 4-footers in 4th grade.  In Texas, that means writing is a huge concern.  Recently, I gave my students an assignment of locating three facts and three opinions in a little reading book they were given.  One of my students lamented that he couldn’t find facts anywhere in his book.  It was, after all, fiction.  When I told the student that I do as much research for my fiction as I do for my nonfiction, he was flabbergasted, but it’s true.  Sometimes the research occurs long before the work on the story ever begins.  Sometimes I don’t go digging for details until I need them.

Real Life as Research

I find it hard to believe that most of twenty years have passed since the first time I put on some loaner armor, borrowed someone’s foil, and tried my hand at Renaissance fencing.  Even at sundown in central Texas I often felt cooked wearing jeans, a T-shirt, a four-layer jacket and hood, gloves, and a fencing mask. Even with all the bulk and temperatures in the nineties, being properly suited up was better than risking a foil or epee up the nose.

During the next few years, I learned two styles of Renaissance fencing: Spanish and Italian.  My studies were as much on the tennis court where the group practiced as in the library reading, and sometimes translating, books about Renaissance culture.  At the time, I had no idea that this information would prove handy in my writing. After all, I was working on science fiction, and the characters were not armed with blades of any sort.

A few years later, I had an idea for a fantasy novel involving a regent who’d rather be training her griffin.  I wrote the original rough – very rough – draft of Lines of Succession, a book currently under contract with Under the Moon Publishing.  Since the main character loves fencing almost as much as she loves her griffin, all that study and practice came in handy.  I ended up with three different styles of fencing in the story, one for each of the fictional countries known for their martial skills.  One group uses a mutation of the Spanish style I’d studied.  Another took on a close approximation of the Italian style.  The last?  I totally made that one up based on things I thought might be possible.

Last summer, I started a serial called The Condemned Courier with JukePop Serials, and that one, too, has had a lot of input from my fencing adventures.  The main character is a fencing instructor who was tasked with discovering a traitor.  For that tale to work, she has to be very competent with a sword.

I have another case of research long before any project was conceived.  I’ve had parrots since I was in high school.  Some have been little shavers like cockatiels.  Now I have a goofy African Grey.  Parrots are a real hoot, literally and figuratively.  They have each had different personalities and their own flair for bizarre antics.  I had a cockatiel who would wolf whistle, and if I either didn’t answer him or if I answered him “incorrectly,” he would repeat the wolf whistle very slowly until I “got it right.”  One of my other cockatiels would have qualified for the parrot version of the X-Games.  She would walk off the side of the cage and fall more than halfway before she started flapping her wings.  At first, I thought she’d just been klutzy, but when I put her back on top of the cage, she did it again and again and again.  She’d also fly to my purse and go exploring, taking everything out one thing at a time and inspecting it carefully.  I had a cockatiel who made spitballs out of whatever bits of paper she could get her beak on.  My dusky pionus beat up his toys.  My white-capped pionus strutted around his cage and gutted jalapeños for snacks.  My African Grey chatters and destroys oatmeal boxes.  She’s also learning all the bird calls from a new clock donated by an interested student at Christmas.

A couple years ago, I came up with a wild idea: tell a whole story from the point of view of a parrot and a dog.  I’ve recently finished the rough draft, and although I really do need to have the human characters tell parts of the tale, especially when the bird and dog are nowhere in the scene, the parrot in the story took on characteristics of each of the loony birds I’ve had over the last couple dozen years.

Research on Purpose

Not all of my research happens years in advance.  Sometimes I’m working on a project and need information on how something works so I can give my stories more realism.

I am not a pilot.  What I know about actually flying an aircraft wouldn’t fill up a sticky note, but when I wrote Remnant in the Stars, one of the main characters was a pilot, and a combat pilot no less.  I had to find out how flight physics works so I could extrapolate for how it would change in space.  While I was at it, I also studied up on dogfighting maneuvers.  I never actually use the term “Immelmann turn” in Remnant, but the pilot executes one a couple times.  She also experiences G-forces in a couple places and has to compensate for it.

Lines of Succession, for a fantasy story, had a lot of research.  In addition to fencing, I needed to know how black powder weapons work.  They were going to be loaded and fired on camera, so I really needed to know what was going on.  Fortunately, I found some sites with videos and descriptions, and my editor and some pals pointed me toward some other videos, and the mission was accomplished.

Another manuscript that took a lot of research was Like Herding Wind.  I needed to find out how old mines of the late 1890s and early 1900s in Michigan were built.  For a scene that has since been cut, I learned about the early cars, especially the Ford Fordor. Then there was medical phenomena.  Boy, did I have to do some digging for all kinds of information on medical phenomena.  The main character is an alien paramedic, and the trouble she doesn’t get into…

Research in Fiction? Oh, Yes, Please!

So, true enough.  I do indeed research very many things that I sometimes don’t use at all, but at some point in the tale, I thought I’d need it, so I paused to go scare it up.  If I do a good job, you shouldn’t be able to tell the research has been done.  In any case, I have almost as much fun learning the new stuff as I do writing the story that initiated the spark to learn.

Check out Cindy’s book, Remnant of the Stars at Amazon.  Kindle is currently available, paperback soon.   You can also visit her website: Cindy Koepp: Writing on the Edge  or her Facebook page .

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