About Me

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Documenting my odyssey into the wonderful world of fantasy writing and beyond. Can't promise I will always be on topic as the world is vast and full of such wonderous, and sometimes terrible, distractions. Email me: cassandra.jade.author@gmail.com

26 June, 2009

Best Of

I know the blog has only been going for just over two months, and normally I wouldn't run a best of. However, this is my last post for until July 10 (or then abouts). For regular readers - I hope your writing goes well in the next two weeks. For new readers, check out some of the posts below and I look forward to your comments when I return.

As always, email me if you have suggestions, comments, want to promote a book, are interested in writing a post, interested in being interviewed, etc, etc. I will get back to you very soon.

The 6 Chosen Posts:

1. Writer's Lag - You've finished the first draft, now you have to edit.

2. Write For Keeps - Don't throw away anything you've ever written. It may come in handy.

3. Reasons Why Writing an MS is Like Being in a Relationship - You know it is true.

4. My Writer's Tool Kit - Some of the invaluable tools to assist me in writing. Add yours to the list.

5. Interesting Blogs On Writing - Links to some fantastic posts about writing.

6. Continuity - The importance on consistency in story telling.

Wishing everyone a great two weeks and I will 'see' you all soon.

25 June, 2009

Something Different - Quotes to Inspire

I love quotes. Finding those very short phrases that have been polished and worked until they roll right off the tongue and conjure the most perfect images is so much fun. Most of the time the speaker has been forgotten, the context lost, and all other relevant data forgotten, but the quote still stands, and people use it, on and on again.

Secretly, I think all writers want to create that amazing perfect phrase that stays in people's minds forever - long after they are gone and the work forgotten. I don't know that I ever will, but it is something to think about.

Some of my twitter thoughts on writing:

"If a journey must begin with a single step, than a novel must begin with a single word."

"If all the words have been written, take them, mix them up, and create anew."

"It bothers me when people talk about writing like a mystic gift - it seems to belittle all the effort and sweat most writers go through."

"Your life is like a book, a good blurb will only take you so far."

Anyway, the list. My favourite quotes of all time, as written in my notebook, from authors unknown or identified. Please be sure to tell me yours.

  • "Shoot for the moon! Even if you miss, you will land among the stars."
  • "How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then to rest afterwards."
  • "Teachers affect eternity; they can never tell where their influence stops." - Henry Adams
  • "There is nothing better than a good friend except a good friend with chocolate."
  • "The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the last disastrous." - Will Durant
  • "Do not ask me what you cannot give yourself."
  • "You'll never reach your destiny when only travelling on the shiny days."
  • "C.R.E.A.M - Cash Rules Everything Around Me." - (don't know where from originally) - quoted on Dark Angel
  • "Hearts do not break; they are only bent and mutilated." - Kerry Green
  • "False hope is nicer than no hope at all."
  • "To invent something you need a good imagination and a pile of junk."
  • "To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour." - William Blake
  • "Everyone is a moon and has a dark side, which he never shows to anybody." - Mark Twain
  • "It's kind of fun to do the impossible." - Walt Disney

24 June, 2009

Update to POV post

Just adding another link to the earlier post on Point of View.

Great post found through Twitter:

Ask the Editor: Do publishers have rules about POV?

Webook Poetry Vote

After the last webook vote, and the angry protests from the many poets on the site, the webook administrators have put together a poetry only vote. Essentially poets put up their three best poems and ultimately 100 of these will be chosen for an anthology. Or something like that.

While I am not a poet, I have made many friends on the webook site who are, and I've read a lot of poetry on the site (most of it stuff that's been thrown up by teens but occasionally work that has had a lot of thought and effort put into it). Having perused the offerings I am putting up a list of projects well worth checking out (though there are far too many for me to read all of them and if you find another that is incredible, by all means let me know) and the vote opens on August 1.

  1. Beerman's Best - particularly Mediocrity
  2. Croft Misfits "A Small Vista Into My Inner Workings" - particularly Burning Peacefully
  3. Aubrie Anne's Poetry Vote - particularly Unnatural Forces
  4. Sixteen Page's "Three Pennies" - particularly the Language of Words
  5. Kaizar's "I got a Bike" - particularly Hats
  6. Satyr's "possible three subs" - particularly Death
  7. Amariel's "Three Bestest Poems" - particularly Goddess
  8. Koengland's "Death of a poet" - particularly
  9. Sunyata's "My Heart's Evil Twist" - particularly Blood On My Mattress
  10. "The Best I Wish To Submit" - particularly Dream Prisoner
  11. Tiger Princess' "Extract from Dreams" - Particularly Happiness Is...
  12. AustinMcDonald's "Lady In Red"
  13. CordeliaChase's "Jen's 3 Poems" - particularly When will everyone notice?
If you have anytime at all - you should check out these submissions as well as the others that are up. Plus, people can keep adding submissions until the end of July so they keep adding new work to read. If you find anything brilliant, let me know. I find reading the work of others very inspiring.

Have fun reading.

23 June, 2009

Continuity

Have you ever watched a movie where something is happening on a Monday and then the next day is Saturday and everyone is on their weekend? Not because time has passed that you haven't been shown, but because they have literally jumped to Saturday without any events occurring in between, on or off screen.

Have you ever seen a character wearing one thing and then the next minute they are wearing something different? Or more importantly, they are eating something and it magically reappears, whole and untouched upon their plate in the next minute.

Continuity errors really jump out at me in films because you have to wonder with the number of screenings they do why nobody picked up on it. Of course, now that I'm writing regularly and finishing my own work, the answer has become quite apparent.

Too many details.

My brain is racing around trying to keep up with the main plot and sometimes small details slip by me without a second thought. Even on the third or fourth reading I don't notice. Sometimes even friends read the story and don't notice the error. Yet there it is in black and white, just waiting to be discovered and mocked.

I'm a lot nicer in my critique of stories since I've been writing.

The biggest problem I have had recently is in weather and the time of day. I particularly had this problem in my second MS (though I had numerous other problems with this MS, including a psychotic protagonist who refused to work as per the plan). The story takes place over six days and is divided into six parts with approximately seven chapters per part.

It all seems wonderfully structured and organised until you realise that chapter three of part one has a character watching a sunset and then in chapter five there is another sunset. Not the same sunset in a different location. Hours have passed and the sun is definitely setting again.

Part three is equally inept with a storm brewing, that never approaches. Not disappears or goes around. There is a storm brewing, everyone is worried about it and then it literally never gets mentioned again. Gone. Unimportant. Except for the reader who flicks back wondering if they missed something.

I also had a problem with directions. If you walk north from this building you end up at that one. Except when you don't. Except when they head off north and exit the city from the same location, not passing the building they used to arrive at when heading in the same direction.

How to solve all these problems? I would say how to avoid them in the first place, except I know that is not going to happen, so now I'm just going to work on how to identify these problems and fix them.

1. Sometimes stories jump around or are not told in a linear fashion. After you've written the first draft, create a timeline of events and make sure that if something hasn't happened yet, it isn't mentioned.

2. Around the outside of your timeline, you might want to list any external phenomenon that are mentioned. Storms, tides, wars, grazing animals, etc. Anything that might give the reader a moment of confusion if it changes or disappears illogically.

3. Draw maps. I hate maps, I won't look at them in books. If I can't get a feel for the place from the writing, I certainly don't want to try and decipher someone's artistic rendering of it. However, for the sake of organising a place in my head, some sort of visual representation of the main areas (main city, main residences, main rooms) will help you sort out your location and spacing problems. Even in rooms, if the chair is against one wall, it can't suddenly be under the window, etc.

4. As to fixing these problems, don't do what I frequently do and change the story at one point without following the correction through. That just creates more problems in the long run.

Continuity errors - don't think no one will notice.

22 June, 2009

Point of View

When I first started this blog, I did a post on the trouble I had writing in first person. I followed that with a post sharing links to other blogs that discussed the benefits and disadvantages of first person. Admittedly I wrote both of these back when I first started my blog and I was the only person reading it.

Today I'm having another look at point of view and sharing yet more links. Admittedly, I have been avoiding writing in first person since my first ms. I found it way too limiting for extended writing as far as what I could and could not share with the audience. I am going to risk heading back to first person in a couple of months when I start a project I've been thinking about for a long time, but it is only after extended thought and planning that I've chosen to write in first person.

If you want the very brief definition (very-very brief definition) this list of literary terms is quite good as a quick reference guide. It keeps it simple and to the point and is fairly clear.

My own experience has told me that first person is great in the short term if you want to get inside a characters head, but is really difficult to maintain over an entire novel length manuscript because anything your character does not know is really hard to convey to the audience. In a fantasy or sci-fi particularly, it is unlikely your character can explain how everything works, and at times the reader is going to be left a little baffled.

Third person allows the narrator to fill the reader in on a lot of extra information, plus move between characters to where the action is occurring, but makes it harder to show the inner-character. This is how I feel about the styles at least. Feel free to comment and add your own view.

Jeanne of "the Raisin Chronicles" gives her own definitions of point of view and examples. Well worth a read.

K.M. Weiland of "Wordplay" has a list of reference books that have pretty much everything on writing, including one that looks at plot structure and point of view.

Nathan Bransford also shares his view on the first person or third person debate and some of the comments accompanying this post are well worth the read.

My Writing Journey and Twitter

I haven't done a recap on my writing journey recently, because surprisingly enough, I'm mostly too busy living it, and everything else to worry about it. Quick highlights include the ongoing editing process and improvement to most recent MS, the outline of new project, which after having crazy dream has now undergone radical changes, and of course finding and making time to write.

In addition to that I have continued to seek advice and friends. The advice just keeps coming along and one of my recent posts identified some of the more interesting information I've received in the last week or two from various blogs.

The other thing I have been doing is spending a lot of time on twitter. I really have become quite addicted to the social network. Not to the point where I put off other things because of twitter, but to the point where no matter what I am doing, if I'm online twitter is running in the background. A couple of reasons why:

  • As far as distractions, twitter is quick. You can read reply posts in a matter of seconds and respond instantly. It only takes a few seconds each time.
  • The range of people you can interact with is limitless. Which means the range of opinions and knowledge you can encounter are limitless assuming you are willing to listen.
  • People on there are amazingly helpful. Ask a question and watch the answers roll to your door or, at the very least, the suggested links to find the answer.
  • Absolutely nothing beats a good conversation and while the 140 characters might be limiting, it still doesn't halt the flow of conversation.
The journey continues.

21 June, 2009

You know you have become obsessed with writing when...


  1. You begin dreaming about the characters in your current project.
  2. You sit down to reread the last couple of pages of work and three hours later you have not only rewritten them, but you've added another ten to the pile.
  3. You start dissecting everything you read or watch in terms of character and plot development.
  4. Your fingers itch when you read the menu at your local restaurant because you want to edit the punctuation.
  5. Your keyboard no longer has any letters on it - they've all worn off - but you don't want to replace it because the keys are just 'worn in'.
  6. You've fallen asleep on your keyboard/notebook more times than you can remember.
  7. You divide your time in terms of writing goals (1000 words before breakfast...).
  8. Even if you've been out all day, you have to sit and write something before you can sleep, otherwise you'll just wake up in an hour to write anyway.
  9. You own more than three dictionaries.
  10. You never throw any paper out because you never know what you may have scribbled on the margins.
Add your own you know you have become obsessed with writing when...' to the list.

20 June, 2009

Interesting Blogs on Writing

I love reading blogs. I never used to, but since I started keeping my own, and regularly following others, I have become addicted to the process. One of the first things I do is check google reader to see which blogs have been updated. As a result, I now learn hundreds of new things and see hundreds of great ideas every week.

Obviously this is not an all inclusive list but these are my most recent favourite posts:

A really great list of links can be found:
Some posts about writing and style:
Some specific thoughts on genre and story:
Interesting discussions about the use of pop-culture in writing:
Some fantastic advice for authors starting out:

These last aren't specifically about writing, but they are amusing reads.

18 June, 2009

Fiction Vs Reality

Of the two, I much prefer fiction. Mostly because in fiction you can be reasonably assured of getting an ending (whether it is happy or not depends on the genre and author really), and you can be reasonably assured of a basic underlying logic to the entire thing.

Reality, unfortunately is not like that.

Recently I was very harsh in my criticism of comedies where events just seem to randomly pile, one after the other, onto the heap in any old fashion. This doesn't suit my view on how a story ought to be told. However, it does kind of follow the natural order of events in the real world.

Maybe we could say there is some underlying logic to most of the things that happen. As in, if you speed, you will get a ticket, etc. However, sometimes things just happen. They are random and unpredictable (though random kind of has to be unpredictable) and they don't really connect logically to any decision or process that was set upon by anyone.

In fiction, if you wander out into the forest, you are going to get lost. You are then going to be accosted by a little old lady, a wolf, or a band of cannibals, and several of your friends are probably going to die horribly. Unless you are the unfortunate one selected to be the friend, in which case, you are going to have a really interesting death sequence and set your friend upon a course of vengeance or flight. There are only a limited number of possibilities in the average fiction.

In reality, nothing may happen. You wander into the forest, you wander out. You might break your leg, or fall down something steep. You might get chased by a pack of wild dogs and end up in a tree. You might simply take some interesting photos. Possibly you could disappear for a ten year period then mysteriously turn up on the other side of the world -but this seems less likely.

Reality - unpredictable - illogical.

Stick with fiction.

17 June, 2009

My Writer's Tool Kit


There are many tools writers need in their writing tool kits. Admittedly, mine has taken a battering recently and is threatening open rebellion. It probably goes without saying that a basic understanding of grammar and plot structure should be swimming somewhere amongst the collection of skills a writer has gathered in their time. I say probably because there are a few people who feel that this is an optional extra and as every tool kit is unique, you never know what you may, or may not, find in one.

Below is a list of things I've added to my tool kit that I have found invaluable.
  • Binary Oppositions - I'm a fantasy writer. At the heart of so many fantasy stories, there is a duel between opposing elements (usually good and evil). I try to avoid this, as I have always found the world to be a far more complex place, however a basic understanding of the principle of opposing ideas is something I think every writer needs. As far as creating conflict, and giving people motivation, binary oppositions are useful in almost every genre.
  • Bookmarks - This is one I will always kick myself for not utilising earlier. I never used to bookmark websites. If I found a really good one I would manually record the site, but that was as far as it went. I probably lost a lot of really informative sites that way. Now, bookmarking is something I couldn't work without. And using folders correctly to file my bookmarks, so I remember what the site is about and why I bookmarked it. Saves me hours in search time trying to find information I already located.
  • Trivia - Similar to bookmarks. It is amazing what some of your characters can know, if only you know it first. Besides, I find that small details add to the believability of characters and settings as a whole, so random facts can sometimes come in very handy. Unfortunately, when writing in a fantasy setting most of the trivia needs to be made up for the specific world, and you need to record it in someway so you don't end up contradicting yourself.
  • Time Management - A definite necessity for any writer. Particularly the yet to be published writer who is probably working in a different profession and is not yet really being taken seriously by family and friends so making time to write can be tricky. (Note that I said making time to write, not finding.) Using a diary, setting out blocks of writing time, and prioritising activities are all absolute essentials for writers and need to be a skill added to the tool kit.
  • Speed/Skim Reading - Not necessarily an essential, but if I was working on a project and have since abandoned it, and then suddenly been completely inspired, returning to the project can be quite difficult. Particularly if I don't recall all of the nitty-gritty details, and particularly if - like most of my projects - the outline I wrote at the beginning was rendered useless by my creative diversions in the plot. Reading the entire project could take days and by them whatever flash of inspiration will probably have withered with neglect and died, so skim reading to get myself up to speed within about twenty minutes is essential. Get the inspiration down, then skim through again to see if it fits.
  • Dictionaries of everything - Actual dictionaries, dictionary of first names, dictionary of place names, dictionary of popular foods, dictionary of obscure herbs, dictionary of religious terminology... On and on the list goes. Collect and store for future use. My favourite at the moment is Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, but the Claremont's Dictionary of First Names (pocket sized) has a permanent place on the shelf under my computer desk. Dictionaries are the best, quick reference tool for any writer and the more you have, the easier life can be.
  • Friends and Family - Remember what I said before about friends and family taking time, so worth it. Even if it does eat in to writing time, friends and family are an invaluable part of the tool kit. They give you inspiration, encouragement, at times outlines for characters, dialogue, reasons to get away from the computer and into the world, editing assistance, audience assistance, sound boarding, etc, etc...
That was a peek in my tool kit. I would really love to know what is in yours.

16 June, 2009

The 'And Then This Happened' Approach to Writing

Those following me on twitter will probably remember that I saw 'Land of the Lost' on the weekend and was somewhat less than impressed with it. To be perfectly honest I hated it, and I probably would have walked out if not for the fact that I had bought a frozen coke and it would have been a waste.

My problem with 'Land of the Lost' is the same as the problem I have when I read a lot of drafts for stories. Instead of some sort of plan or cohesive idea that is explored within the text, one random event after another is squished together, pasted and held by improbability, and linked only by chance.

Caution - spoilers ahead.

For instance, early in the movie, Will Ferrell's character meets a young scientist who respects his theories and inspires him to get on with inventing the time travelling device. Fair enough. She found out about him at college and tracked him down. No problem believing that.

Then she returns the next day to find him in a sugar coma. After his response to her the day before, why she returns is never adequately explained, but fair enough. She decides to have a second go and there she is.

They travel into an alternate dimension, by means of a waterfall, which makes no apparent sense (but there have been worse ways to travel between worlds so I will let it go), somehow they survive and are now stumbling through a desert (what happened to the waterfall) where they encounter a group of ape people sacrificing another ape person.

After saving the sacrifice they then chase him, to fall through a pit of sand to land upon a pile of bones. Lots of falling and landing in random places without any real point or link, other then the writers decided they were bored with the old set and couldn't be bothered writing some kind of transition.

And on it goes.

The part that made me want to walk out was when the writers clearly decided the bit with the dinosaur was getting old, and suddenly our 'hero' receives a psychic message from an injured lizard man in a tunic seeking help.

This is very much akin to dropping a clown from the sky and saying 'ah-ha, the story goes this way' and waving your arms vigorously in front of the audience and hoping they are too caught up with that 'wacky' gags to care, only we aren't because the script is flat, the acting mediocre and the best performance is delivered by a computer generated t-rex.

Now, I don't expect a lot of story from a comedy. A loose sketch of characters in a basic setting with a barely plausible context will usually do, as long as it keeps heading in some sort of coherent direction.

Incidentally, foreshadowing is an important writing technique. 'Land of the Lost' demonstrates how not to use it, with their "If you don't make it - it's your own damn vault" poster at the beginning of the movie, and the line used during the confrontation with the T-rex. This is not foreshadowing, this is a desperate attempt for the writers to remind us that at some stage in the story, there was a point to all the ridiculousness.

As far as cheap laughs, the movie does have them, but that is about the only thing I found to recommend it.

15 June, 2009

Moments

  1. a single raindrop
  2. a broken pencil
  3. an overflowing bin
  4. an obnoxious crow
  5. a door slamming in a sudden breeze
  6. a crowded room
  7. an empty room
  8. an old shoe
  9. new shoes that someone coloured in with yellow highlighters
  10. a blown light bulb
  11. a rumpled toy
  12. pink and purple clouds before a setting sun
  13. a traffic jam
  14. the open road
  15. grass bending over in the wind
  16. sunlight glinting off a broken window
  17. a tissue, falling over as it sticks out from the box
  18. peeling paintwork
  19. a new face
  20. a new name
  21. an old friend
  22. an empty mailbox
  23. a peculiar shadow
  24. an empty rack
  25. an overflowing drawer
  26. sudden pain (after slamming my finger in the drawer)
  27. a whistle
  28. a stain on the carpet
  29. water running into a pond
  30. steam lifting from a hot cup
  31. water falling into the sink
  32. a face reflected in the mirror
32 moments today that brought me inspiration. How many did you have?

14 June, 2009

Reasons Why Writing an MS is Like Being in a Relationship

Originally this was an offhand comment I made on twitter. Just a random thought generated by my sleep deprived mind at seven in the morning. Then I started thinking (always a bad idea) and I started to realise how true it was.

My reasons why writing an MS are like being in a relationship are many and varied. And like any good relationship, there is a definite cycle to it all. In the beginning:

  • You get to know your characters, plot and settings. It is all fun and fresh and it feels like everything is possible. There is so much new territory to explore.
  • You start to spend hours alone together, just one-on-one. You and your manuscript notes. You pore over every bit of it, until you think you know every nuance.
  • You become addicted. When you aren't with your MS, you're thinking about it. You visualise it in your mind, it dominates your conversations, it is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning.

As the relationship progresses:

  • You start to realise that there is a hidden underside to your MS. The characters hadn't revealed themselves fully. A plot twist deceived you by making you think it would work. Suddenly the setting that seemed so right is just wrong.
  • You begin to argue with your MS. Things don't just naturally flow into place. Suddenly every decisions leads to three other decisions unravelling.
  • You still spend every moment you can thinking about your MS, but now the thoughts are frequently harried as you wonder how to make it work.
If the relationship is working:

  • Finally, you come to an agreement with your MS, it may not be your perfect vision that you began with, but you see the light at the end and you move forward.
  • All the hours and tears and tantrums start to feel worth it. You eagerly spend more time smoothing over the rough edges and healing the wounds that opened up.
  • You go through a period of rediscovery where you begin to understand what the MS actually is, not what you thought it should be.
If the relationship has failed:

  • You start finding yourself working on other projects - only an hour or two at first, and then you make excuses to spend more and more time away.
  • You want it to change - make it change - and then find the changes unsatisfying. The MS begins to feel resentful and you begin to tire of its tantrums and difficulties.
  • You find yourself rehearsing the 'it's not me, it's you speech', and give yourself reasons to dump the entire project because it is looking more and more like it is over.
  • Ultimately, you will either begin the whole thing over, or tear it apart and save what characters and lines you can. The rest will end up on a shelf or in a folder, waiting for you to realise how good it could have been.

13 June, 2009

Gender in Fiction

You may have already noticed, but I am a female. As such, most of the stories I enjoy and most of the my writing tend to focus on female characters, or at least have female characters doing more than fainting and swooning over the hero of the tale.

Females have come a long way in fiction. Even though I was born in the eighties, I grew up watching a variety of television shows that were dated even then (battlestar galactica and buck rogers to name a few) and what used to trouble me was that even the women who came on tough in the beginning would ultimately end up waiting for some guy to rescue them. Or in the case of Apollo's wife (battlestar), they would just shoot her in the back on some planet and that was the last we'd ever hear of her.

The nineties were an amazing time for females in fiction. On television we saw Xena, Buffy, Charmed, Alias, Dark Angel, and on and on the list goes of females who were taking control. Not always convincingly and sometimes one had to wonder why there wasn't a single capable male in the Buffy-verse (not taking a swipe at Angel but seriously, even when you turned evil your girl-friend ran you through with a sword and sent you to hell).

During the nineties I started reading Traci Harding and Katherine Kerr, who were the first female authors I encountered who were really trying for epic fantasy. There were probably others out there, but I hadn't really encountered them, and this was a really great moment for me, because it made me feel not so out of place for enjoying the genre. Katherine Kerr particularly managed to show a balance of characters in her Deverry Series with strong, weak and every character type in between, for both men and women. Her characters were dynamic and realistic, they evolved over time and just read very well.

As a writer, I have been working hard over the last few years to improve my inclusion of male characters. Reading some of my earlier story outlines, every significant character was female. The female princess with the female bodyguard (envied by all the male soldiers who of course were completely useless), who was then attacked by the female assassin who was sent by the female evil sorceress, and on it went. That was highschool.

In all honesty I was probably trying to counter Eddings - who I read a tonne of and was very influenced by, but had this nasty tendency to have only one or two female characters who would sit on the sidelines and assume the role of mother and nurse and that was it.

Seems many writers and reviewers and bloggers and everyone else has an opinion on gender roles in fiction. Below are some of the opinions and views I've encountered recently, and I'm sure that there are many others that can be added to the list:

1. The Female Action Hero - from Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin' News & Reviews - This is a great trip down memory lane for me and some of my all time favourite television shows and movies.

2. The Gor Books - from Lit Soup - A discussion about the treatment of men and women in fantasy books.

3. Author Interview - Karen Miller - from Graeme's Fantasy Book Review - I love her answer to the question on whether being a female writer makes it difficult to write male characters.

4. All you need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka - from Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin' News & Reviews - An interesting take on the evil female, and sounds like an interesting story as well, I really enjoy reading reviews on this blog, they always give a unique insight.

5. Slow Going - A Progress Report - from Fantasy Debut - indicates the trouble readers have when you have an all male cast (it kind of defies reality a little).

11 June, 2009

Writer's X Factor

There is something almost magical about reading. No matter what was happening before you picked up the book, and no matter what condition that book may be in, as soon as you start reading the words, you can be transported anywhere. Your mind just folds right in on itself and takes you away. Or at least it should.

I always know if I am enjoying the book I am reading. It's the book that I pick up for five minutes, and two hours later someone (mum, husband, sister, friend) throws a tissue box at me to get my attention, having been trying to carry on a conversation with me for nearly twenty minutes and failing utterly to get my attention (the tissue box is better than having the cat dropped on my lap, she tends to try to eat the book).

I also know when I am reading a book that I'm just not that into. It's the book I sit down to read, skim a page, then realise I need to take something out of the freezer for tomorrow. Or, maybe I suddenly can't remember if my phone was charged. I have a sudden urge to check email. Did I watch that episode of whatever I taped last week? I don't want to read the book. I find any reason not to read and two days later, I still haven't progressed through the book.

Why? Why does one book take me on that quest through time and space and into a place where I am utterly untouchable and the next leave me wondering if maybe it is time to vacuum the rug?

There really is an x-factor when it comes to writing. It isn't about technical perfection, or about uniqueness (most of the stories I read are about as generic as they come) and it isn't even really about the characters, though good characters will make me forgive a lot. That x-factor is what makes me an David Eddings fan, but dislike J.R.R.Tolkien. It is why I find Barbara Hambly charming, but Tamora Pierce, I could probably do without. I'm not saying one is a better writer than the other, or one does this better than another; what I am saying is that one works for me, and hits just the right tone and just the right note and the other doesn't.

Fortunately readers are varied in what works for them, so there is room in the world for most styles. I have had many arguments with other adamant fantasy fans who have told me that I cannot call myself a fantasy fan without enjoying Tolkien. I do call myself a fantasy fan, and a fantasy writer, and I still don't enjoy reading Tolkien.

There are countless times when someone has said, 'oh you like so-and-so, you'll love this', and they've handed me a book which I have taken gratefully. Two pages into it and I'm finding excuses to go weed the garden and six months later I'm returning the book having ruffled a few more pages to make it look like I've gotten further along than I have.

As a writer, this tells me a few things. One, if I don't like reading my own work, I have problems. Two, people who read similar books to ones I enjoy, should, theoretically enjoy reading what I have written (or at least most of it). And three, not everyone in the world is going to like my work, even if they happen to like some of the same authors I do. So when people say they despise my writing, I probably shouldn't take that personally and I should look for someone who will enjoy it for what it is.

10 June, 2009

Guest Blog: Lawrence Johnson Sr. on Book Promotion

Today I introduce my third guest blogger, author Lawrence Johnson Sr. It is a great pleasure to have Lawrence's blog, on book promotion and I think he has some wonderful advice to share with all of us.

Book Promotion

I love to write, especially science fiction. It gives me the freedom to create and develop any character, place or thing without boundaries but as thousands of authors are finding out everyday writing a good story is only half the battle.

Promoting a novel requires time, effort, and money. If you are considering putting pen to paper in hopes of become the next J.K. Rowling or Mary Higgins Clark ask your self two simple questions. What is my motivation for writing this story?
The answer is usually one of the following.
1. Recognition
2. Gratification
3. Financial gain

The second question is: how bad do you want it?

Promoting your book online is a must these days and many new authors are na├»ve in thinking that all you need is a slick website, a fancy book trailer and you’re set. I call it the “build it and they will come” strategy. Well with hundreds of new books being published every week the competition is fierce and that strategy is destined to fail. As a member of the writers’ network called Book Town I am struck by the large number of authors who do not actively promote their work. No, I am not the peddler of doom and gloom nor am I here to rain on your parade. I am a realist and I am speaking from experience.

Book promotion is about getting the word out to as many people worldwide as possible in the most effective way possible. Spending thousands of dollars on ads is not an effective way of reaching your target audience unless you are targeting a specific market. If you write romance novels buying ad space on Life Time’s website would make more sense than advertising on CNN’s site. As I said earlier the internet is a valuable tool. I have a website, several book trailers, and a weekly blog. I also am a member of MySpace, Facebook, Booktown.ning, Twitter and a few other social networking sites however in my option nothing is more effective than meeting potential buyers face to face at book fairs, conventions, and book store book signings. Every year I do a minimum of four. This year I will attend book fairs in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. I enjoy meeting other sci fi fans, talking about my book and science fiction in general, but as an added bonus every now and then I get to hang out with really cool people like John Billingsley (from Star Trek Enterprise) and his lovely wife Bonnie ( from Chuck).

The sequel to Escape 2 Earth titled Return 2 Earth has been completed for sometime now and I have also finished writing a short fantasy story, and a collection of inspirational quotes titled Observations from the Edge of Society but I will not release them until I am satisfied that I have done all that I can do to promote my current novel. Escape 2 Earth has a 2012 theme and with the highly anticipated release of Roland Emmerich’s 2012 movie I hope to capitalize on the publicity that comes with it. I am also currently working on the final book in the Escape 2 Earth trilogy.

Launch parties, interviews, having your book reviewed online, book club appearances, e-mails, Craigslist and word of mouth are just a few of the ways that you can promote your novel free. I always keep a few copies in the trunk of my car, you never know who you may run into.

I know what you are thinking, wow, that’s a lot of work. You’re right, it is, but it brings me back to my original question. How bad do you want to succeed? Remember this, the worse thing that could happen to an author is to have a really great story that no one ever gets to read.

Lawrence Johnson Sr., author of Escape 2 Earth.

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09 June, 2009

5 Words I Would Love To Use

The problem with so many interesting words is that you so rarely have the opportunity to use them, and when you do use them, most people either stare at you blankly or ask if you just swallowed a dictionary.

As a collector of words, I have this problem a lot, particularly with some words that appear quite frequently in medieval fantasy, and nowhere else. I've read them so many times they appear common place to me, but tend to throw people listening to me for a loop.

So, here is my list. Five words that I would love to use, if only I could find a practical application for them.

1. Oubliette - A secret dungeon with an opening only at the top (incidentally the word derives from oublier which means 'forget'). Now I fell in love with this word as a very young child watching Labyrinth (David Bowie was superb as the goblin king) and ever since have looked for opportunities to use this word. I still haven't found any practical use for it but that doesn't stop me looking.

2. Defenestration - the act of throwing someone out of a window. David Eddings is responsible for this one, having used the word to great effect in his Tamuli series. It was then used on an episode of Dark Angel where they made the appalling joke of mixing the word up with deforestation.

3. Felicitate - to compliment upon a happy event. The problem with this word (other than my own inability to pronounce it properly) is that there are so many other ways of saying the same thing that people can actually understand. That doesn't change the fact that I really think this word is interesting, and I would love to hear it in common usage.

4. Piliferous - having hair. You always hear about characters being bald or having thinning hair, but I don't think I've ever heard a character described as piliferous. Probably because unless you are told otherwise, you assume that to be the case. Either way, I don't think I'll be using the word anytime soon, but I would really love to see someone else have a go at it.

5. Suspire - to sigh or to breath. This word I encountered while looking in the thesaurus for a new way to describe a character sighing (as I pointed out in an earlier post, my characters sigh way too often and I was well and truly sick of the word). This one lead me to suspiration, which is a long, deep sigh, and as entertaining as it may be, I think I'll leave both suspire and suspiration out of my writing for the time being.

That's my top 5 of words I would love to use at the moment. I'm sure to think of more at a later date, but I would love to hear your words. There are some wonderfully, fantastic words out there, also some obscure and ridiculous ones, and I would love to hear them all.

08 June, 2009

Write For Keeps

I love going through old writing. Things I've scribbled and put aside. Frequently it is only a few lines, or a single line of dialogue that I have heard clearly but have nothing to add to it. I write it down in a notebook, or on a single piece of paper and tuck it away. Some of it may never be read again. Some of it will be shuffled off the side of my desk or tossed with the scrap paper as I forget I wrote something on it. Some of it, will end up pasted into a notebook that I have used to plan a novel, and that single image or line of dialogue will be exactly what I need.

I do know that today I was feeling very tired and the last thing I wanted to do was edit - and I certainly am not in the mood to begin a new project at present (with two manuscripts in very progressed draft form just waiting for me to actually finish them). That said, I was still streaming ideas for a couple of new projects and so I was jotting them down as I watched television and went about my business.

Then I had a brainwave. A couple of lines of dialogue that I was sure I had heard somewhere before. I'm always cautious about this because usually I'll remember they were lines from some book or movie I saw or read a couple of months ago and of course I then can't use them. So I racked my brain trying to remember where I had heard them before, because they flowed, and soared and I could see the characters plain as day and the scene was unfolding beautifully in my mind.

At last I remembered where I had heard the dialogue before. I wrote it. In a notebook that was stashed on the edge of my desk under an ever growing pile of rubble (including forms, letters, hats, CD's, books, other notebooks, and an ever growing collection of jewellery that has bothered me while trying to type and so has been discarded) I found the lines as well as a whole pile of other half-thought out conversations between nameless characters from nameless places. Usually I've woken from a dream and during the day drifts of conversations roll through my mind and I would quickly record what words could be remembered.

So I found the lines. And I realised that they would be absolutely perfect for a character I'm thinking about for one of my next projects. I also realised I know who she's going to say them to and so I'm starting to get the framework together for a second character that before today did not exist. It works perfectly with the ideas I already have on this project and the tone of the dialogue helped me to realise exactly who this character should be. All and all, a very productive day in non-writing.

In many ways I'm really glad I almost never throw things away. Particularly things I've written. I'm also glad I do not rely totally on the computer. It is way to easy to hit the backspace and make things disappear. Things that maybe don't fit where they are but would be perfect for the project that is just over the hill. I've gotten into the habit of writing things down before deleting, or at the very least copying into a blank document and saving under scraps before deleting.

Maybe I'll never use something. Maybe it was never any good to begin with. Why take the chance? Why reinvent the wheel? More importantly I have always believed that beginning is hard. Getting something onto paper (or into type). Once it is there, making it better is easy. Making it good is a little harder. Making it brilliant is at times tedious, but well worth the effort. Whichever way, you have to start with just having it before you can even think about good.

That said, I continued my hunt through old note books thinking maybe I had some other materials stashed away that might be helpful at this time. This isn't, but I remembered when I wrote this and it made me smile.

Can I reach the stars?
Do I really care?
How can I think to reach so high?
When I know I'll never dare.

Maybe not the most optimistic of texts, but I wrote this when I was seventeen and living in overseas as an student exchange (my first and only time out of Australia, so far). What made me smile about this was I wrote this the day I began hand writing my very first novel manuscript in a school book I'd been given. I dared to think that maybe one day I'd be a writer. The lines above illustrated how impossible I believed that goal to be. Seven years later and I not only think to reach that goal but I have dared to try and continue to dare on a daily basis.

I still have the notebook that I hand wrote that first novel manuscript in. I know that since then I typed those first few chapters at least four different times, beginning to dream and then discarding the notion as foolish, before last year I finally wrote and finished that manuscript. It became my first finished manuscript and I remember the feeling of elation that it gave me. Seeing it before me, finished, knowing that at first I hadn't ever believed I would finish, let alone consider publishing. Since then I've written two more manuscripts, finished the drafts and am working on polishing them. I don't see an end, only more beginnings.

This particular note will probably never be used in any of my stories, but I will keep it forever. To remind myself of how far I have come, and how much things have changed. Whenever I feel a moment of doubt or hesitation I can remind myself that I didn't believe it was possible for me to finish even one story, and I proved myself wrong.

What I write, I write for keeps. I never know when I will need it.

07 June, 2009

The writing journey this week

Busy times - both in writing and in life - and I am really starting to feel it. Quick wrap up of some of the events from this week and a look into next week.

1. I have taken yet another step toward being a published writer (instead of a wanna-be published writer). Some more information on this coming soon (mostly as soon as I know for sure), so watch out world, I may yet be coming.

2. In keeping with big steps forward, I finally started to think about getting an actual website. At the moment I'm just playing with google sites but eventually I'll have to move and get serious. You can see the mess, as it progresses into a slightly bigger mess, at http://sites.google.com/site/cassandrajadehome/. The background image is definitely a work in progress, and I'm getting there. You know, Rome wasn't built in a day. Of course, it was a vast empire and involved thousands of people, and not a tiny website.

3. David Eddings, a fantasy writer who inspired me through high school and is probably the reason I stuck with fantasy, rather than moving to mysteries or thrillers, has passed away. This was really sad news for me, and probably hundreds of other fantasy readers. I started reading Eddings at twelve and, unlike Tolkien, I loved it. His use of humour and incredibly interesting and dynamic characters captured me entirely. It was a time when I was really looking to move beyond YA fiction and move into more adult books and I think he had a massive impact on the type of writer I am trying to become. I would never try to emulate, but having read his books over and over again, I think a lot of his words have rubbed off on me over time. I'll be rereading my Eddings collection over the next couple of weeks to remember a fantastic writer.

4. Coming this week: Guest blog with Lawrence Johnson (author of Escape 2 Earth and you should check out his website because it is fantastic) , as he shares practical and realistic advice on book promotions. Definitely worth checking out on Wednesday.


It has been a full-on week and the next couple of weeks are looking every bit as packed. Definitely facing interesting times and hoping to keep them going.

06 June, 2009

The Joy of Bookfest

Given yesterday's post was so ill-tempered, I am happy that today's post is entirely the opposite. Admittedly, I've decided that problem with my car is that it hates me - I concluded this after it worked fine all day for my husband - but at least it didn't stop me from getting out and about today.

For those not living in sunny Queensland (even though it is currently winter and entirely too cold by my standards), this weekend is the long weekend for the Queen's Birthday and that means one very important thing to me: Lifeline Bookfest.

Every six months the wonderful people at lifeline gather all of the books they have been donated, book out the convention centre at dazzle the book loving world with literally thousands upon thousands of books. Rows and rows, table upon table, of beautiful, and very cheap, books. All proceeds, of course, go to charity.

I arrived just after opening, in my now apparently-working-perfectly car. Within minutes I am striding into the first hall, passing the registers, and staring out across a vast sea of books. Just the smell, of that many books in that immense hall, is dizzying.

Of course I am straight to the sci/fi and fantasy table. Mostly because these books go reasonably fast, and I'm getting pickier in my choosing as I already have a large number of the books on offer. I remember that I picked up and re-bought the same book at three separate bookfests. I hated it the first time, re-donated it, bought it again, donated it, and bought it a third time before I finally committed the name to absolute memory so I would never get caught again. I think the person who wrote the blurb for that book deserves a medal, they made it sound magnificent.

After sci/fi, I wonder aimlessly through reference and paperbacks - collecting a few good mysteries and crime stories in the process as well as an old favourite that I had read in high-school but never gotten around to buying. I also ran into quite a few familiar faces and generally had a fun morning socialising while reading the backs of hundreds of books. My hands turned black, I ended up sneezing a lot, my back is killing me from carrying bags of books to the car, and I cannot stop from smiling. I simply love books.

This is a sentiment that is apparently shared. For all that they tell us people don't read anymore, the entire centre was packed with readers, some pushing trolleys, others with suit cases, many with environmentally friendly canvas bags, and all of them packed to the limit and straining under the weight of all the books people were buying. Particularly heartening are the number of young children happily perusing the books and selecting, then waiting outside on the carpet, their latest books opened before them as they check out their purchases.

Definitely a good day today and tomorrow, as I go through my stash of new found books, will also be a very good day.

05 June, 2009

Car Trouble

This is not a writing related post. This is me, having had a very long, very tiring day, and I think I just broke up with my car.

I have never been a car person, ever. I probably would never have tried to claim a great love of cars, or convince anybody that I know anything about them at all. However, after today, I have decided I really, really, really (add as many really's as you can here), dislike cars.

Today my vehicle of choice - that being the only one I could afford after finishing university and taking my first steps into the full-time working world - decided that changing gear was far too much effort and that twenty was the perfect speed to be stuck on while I was trying to merge into traffic doing about eighty (that would be kilometres per hour).

Now I am generally an understanding person, but my level of understanding wanes as I am trying to perform emergency manoeuvres (such as pulling my car to the non-existent shoulder of the road without freaking out). Admittedly, my understanding was gone entirely by the time the nice repair man came out, and the car was working perfectly. Frustrating and annoying.

My car, obviously as I am at home, managed to limp home, and got a swift kick in the tyre for its efforts - hurting my foot far more than the car - and finally I walked away, determined to not even look at it until tomorrow.

That is my day, I hope everyone else had a better day. I'm going to go make some hot chocolate and read.

03 June, 2009

You’ve Got a Book Idea—Now What? - Elizabeth Craig

This week, I am very happy to introduce Elizabeth Spann Craig, author of "Pretty is as Pretty Dies", as she gives us her views on how to take an idea and get writing.

Elizabeth also keeps a very entertaining blog, Mystery Writing is Murder, where she regularly shares advice on writing.



You've Got a Book Idea: Now What?

Your novel starts with a germ of an idea. It doesn’t matter where the concept came from—you’re sure it’s something you can create an entire book around. What’s more, it’s something you’re excited about and the words are spewing out on the page faster than you can pin them down.

But…where do you go from here? That depends primarily on the type of person you are.

The planner: Do you like to make lists? Do others consider you Type-A? You may want to try the outline route. The planner’s tools:

  • One of them is a mind-map. You can get a free mind-map at FreeMind. With a mind-map, you can create a plot tree and connect your ideas and concepts with subheading branches.
  • Another quick idea to determine your plot direction is to write back cover copy for the new project. If you sketch out one yourself, it can help you identify your main conflict right off the bat. Veronica Heley explores this concept more when she guest blogged on So You Wanna Be Published.
  • You can also write out your standard outline—either chapter by chapter or scene by scene.

The Ad-Libber: Do you like to make things up as you go along? Would a structured outline for your book make you feel constricted? You should just write. The important thing is just to start creating the first draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect or even very good—that’s what revision is for.

The Middle of the Roader: You don’t do well with too much planning, but too little planning also trips you up? Try writing mini-outlines. Just map out what you want to accomplish for that particular piece of dialogue, or that particular scene, or that chapter. You have some direction and an idea what you want to cover, but it’s not an overwhelming and restricting plan, either.

Questions for all types of writers to ask themselves:

What’s the big conflict in your story? Without conflict (either internal or external), there is no plot at all.

Who is the protagonist? What makes us care about this person—what sets them apart? Are they sympathetic to the reader?

Who is the antagonist (the antagonist can also be society at large, the protagonist’s own inner demons, etc.)?

What will be the big turning-point moment in your plot? What causes this turning point? How is it resolved?

And finally, how much time can you realistically devote to writing every day? The important thing is to make a workable goal and not one that will set yourself up for failure. My original goal was a page a day, which I was able to successfully accomplish. Yours could be as little as ten minutes a day. As long as you write daily, you’re working toward completion of your goal…and the seed of an idea you first got becomes a novel.

Elizabeth Craig


02 June, 2009

Word Search And Destroy

I've been having fun the past few days, re-reading some of my draft work. It is fun at the moment, because I'm not seriously editing, simply reading through and getting a feel for the flow of the story, and circling the more obvious (and therefore ridiculous) mistakes. Things like where a character is eating deep-fired pork instead of deep fried, or a character with short, spiky hair suddenly has hair long enough to brush her shoulders. Slightly inconsistent.

As I said, it is fun. Particularly is I distance myself sufficiently from the writing. It really does become a simple game of search out mistakes and annihilate them. And I have always been good at that. It is one of the reasons I don't mind editing drafts in my day job as a teacher; I find the process of circling and correcting somewhat relaxing. What I find less fun is actually going through and rewriting major stretches of writing, changing track when something isn't working, eliminating characters and dialogue, and then realising that in the process of all of this I've added another thousand mistakes to a previously edited text.

Part of what I do, when checking flow, is try to identify overused words and phrases. I have a few that I am overly fond of and I know that I use the with alarming regularity. I pepper my pages with words like 'dismay', 'surprise', 'sighed' (a lot of my characters seem to be sighing, I just hope my readers don't), 'easier', 'moment', and 'warmth'. So I read through the text again on a search and destroy mission. Find them and disappear them (obviously not every single one, just enough that it no longer makes the reader want to scream in frustration at the sight of them).

I'm reminded of Lily Allen's song 'The Fear'.

"Forget about guns and forget ammunition, because I'm killing them all on my own little mission."

My little mission, to eliminate unnecessary repetition and redundancies. Only time will tell if I'm successful or not, but it won't be from lack of trying. But then again, I forgot how many times I described that characters eyes - another must fix drama.

All and all, I'm kind of pleased with this latest draft. Unlike the previous manuscript that I wrote in December and after two rewrites it still doesn't actually make sense from a narrative perspective, the first draft of this has come out more or less readable. Certainly there are some rough edges and a few minor points of clarification, a couple of out right contradictions, a mentioned storm that never appears, and a stolen car that appears out of nowhere without any seeming consequences, but for a first draft reads quite well.

I'm back to search and destroy, but remember Guest Blog tomorrow with Elizabeth Spann Craig.

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