Thursday, December 10, 2009

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers - Book Review

I did a proper review of this book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print, over at my Sci-fi fan letter blog, wherein I posted the table of contents and some of the basics about this book. Here, I thought I'd expound a bit on what I learned from reading it.

First off, the book is great. If you want to improve your writing go out and buy it (or borrow it from the library :) ). After finishing this book I came up with a significantly better opening for a book I'll need to reedit in the future. Not my current project, but it's nice to know that even an older project can be improved, and potentially edited to the point where it is more professional and saleable.

The first chapter deals with something all writers are familiar with: Show and Tell. What Renni Browne and Dave King do, however, is point out that a balance is required. Showing and telling are both important tools for a writer, provided you know how and when to use each one to improve your novel.

My favourite aspect of their book is the 'checklist' at the end of each chapter, point form notes of things you should examine your manuscript for in order to improve it. And these are not simply 'remove this' pieces of advice. They want you, the author, to understand what your doing in each paragraph, each word of dialogue, each word period, in order to make your story the best you can do.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wish You Were Dead - Todd Strasser

Todd Strasser's new book, Wish You Were Dead, is like a modern technology Christopher Pike novel. I loved Pike's books as a kid, and I think today's teens will enjoy this book just as much.

The book is told through three mediums. The first is a blog. The blogger has been tormented by the popular kids at school, especially Lucy Cunningham, for years. So when Lucy disappears the blogger is glad. Then we see through the kidnapper's eyes and learn what happens to those who vanish. The book is predominantly told through the point of view of Madison, a high school student whose popular classmates are disappearing one by one. She's friends with these people, though she's considered more of a goody two shoes in that she's polite and kind to those 'below' her in the school popularity chain. Though her cyber stocker still thinks she's a little too stuck up.

People paying close attention will figure out who the kidnapper is before the end, but the book is a lot of fun to read and shows some of the dangers of airing all your personal grievances on the internet. The characters are realistic high schoolers - in all varieties (the cool, the cruel, the picked on, the jocks, etc.). The story is quick to read and seeing the kidnapper's viewpoint keeps things tense and fast paced.

Scheduling Writing Time

I wrote a post about this several months ago. Guess I should have listened to my own advice. I finally got around to doing up a basic schedule showing when I get up and when I have to have all my work done (when the hubby gets home). Then I wrote down the various chores I needed to do during the day and you know what? I realized if I get up late I can eat lunch late and my afternoon doesn't have to start at 12 like everyone else's. It can start at 1:30 or 2, or whenever I want it to. I have this idea that at 12 I need to have lunch and that's when more active chores should commence. But if I push that back, then my morning writing time doesn't vanish because I had too many emails to read through or because some chore *needs* to be done NOW. I can see (because it's all written out) that there's plenty of time. Indeed, if I waste less time on the internet there's more than enough time to write, read and do everything else that needs doing.

And so this morning I sat down to write and actually got some writing done. Not just editing, which is where I've been spending time lately (I've made some changes to major characters that needs some back editing in the segments already written in order to go forward). Today I found a few side scenes that needed to be written, and it's a lot of fun to be writing new scenes again. And I LIKE editing. I think I've been working on this novel much too long (over 3 years, though to be fair I spent 1 1/2 years of that writing a different novel).

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Recipe For Death - Mystery Reading List

I've been posting my SF & F reading lists over at my scififanletter blog for years, but it occurs to me that I prepared several mystery endcap displays at the store and I might as well post those here. This list is a few years old so I'm sure the authors have 1 or 2 new books. The list was not meant to be comprehensive, merely to fill a display. Each book deals with food or drink. I highly recommend A Debt To Pleasure, though it's a tough read and definitely not for everyone. The books are in no particular order.

A Debt to Pleasure - John Lanchester
Rueful Death, Rosemary Remembered, Thyme of Death - Susan Wittig Albert
Death Dines In - Claudia Bishop
Murder Can Spoil Your Appetite - Selma Eichler
Creeps Suzette, Just Deserts, Legs Benedict - Mary Daheim
Shades of Earl Grey, Jasmine Moon Murder - Laura Childs
Death Du Jour, Spice Box, Stiff Risotto - Lou Jane Temple
Chocolate Quake, Crime Brulee, French Fried - Nancy Fairbanks
Crepes of Wrath, Custards Last Stand - Tamar Myers
Catered Murder - Isis Crawford
Courting Disaster, Cook In Time, Red Hot Murder - JoAnne Pence
Fudge Cupcake Murder, Strawberry Shortcake Murder - JoAnne Fluke

Cat Who Cookbook - Julie Murphy (a cookbook based on the 'cat who' mysteries by Lilian Jackson Braun)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My historical Pet Peeves + Europe's Inner Demons Book Review

There are two items of 'common knowledge' that really bug me as a history graduate. The first (which I won't discuss here) is the idea that 'everyone' believed the world was flat during the time of Christopher Columbus. How people continue to believe that when navigational instruments of the time required a knowledge of a circular earth in order to work astounds me (and yes, I'm sure some peasantry in Europe didn't know the earth was round and probably wouldn't have cared either. My complaint is that the people who were in charge WOULD have know and WOULD have cared).

The second historical 'knowledge' is the idea that the witch hunts were a medieval invention brought forth from the smelly dirty time where people had no sense of reality. Luckily we were saved from this nasty brutish existence by that wonderfully golden age the renaissance.

I just finished an incredible book, Europe's Inner Demons by Norman Cohn. In it, he examines where the ideas of the witch hunts come from. Yes, the roots of the beliefs came out of the middle ages (based off of beliefs attributed to heretics, folkloric beliefs and the practice of ritualistic magic) and yes, there were a few isolated witch hunts (or, more accurately, heresy hunts in which heretics - proved or not - were burned singly and en mass). But the witch hunts from popular imagination did not take place during the middle ages. They were a later invention. Read the book to find out his reasoning. It's extremely well documented and carefully considered. He examines the secondary sources from which the idea that the middle ages started the witch hunts and then examines the primary sources they quote in order to check their validity. What he discovers is quite remarkable, and debunks much that is considered 'common knowledge' with regards to the witch hunts.

About how the witch hunts actually started I'll quote a little from his book, page 215. Information in [ ] brackets is supplied by me to explain things the author explained earlier.

"Almost throughout the Middle Ages - very generally until the thirteenth century, in some parts of Europe even to the fifteenth century - the accusatory form of criminal procedure obtained. That is to say, the legal battle was fought out not between society and the accused [as was the case in the witch hunts and heretic trials, where the Church was often the accuser and could employ torture to achieve 'confessions'. This was also the case when asking an accused to denounce others, something that wouldn't happen in trials brought forth by an individual.], but between the accused and a private person who accused him. In this respect there was no difference between a civil and a criminal case; in the latter as in the former the individual complainant was responsible for finding and producing proofs such as would convince the judge.

The accusatory procedure was derived from Roman law, and it retained all those features which had characterized it under the later Empire. By and large it favoured the accused rather than the accuser. The accuser was obliged to conduct the case himself, without the assistance of prosecuting counsel. Moreover, if he failed the convince the judge he was likely to suffer as heavy a penalty as would have been visited upon the accused if he had been convicted. This was known as the talion.

The intention behind the talion was simply to discourage malicious or frivolous accusations, but the effect was far more sweeping. How was the law to distinguish between a mere mistake and deliberate calumny? In practice it seldom distinguished; everyone knew that an unsuccessful complainant would almost certainly be penalized, whatever his motives. ...

Everything possible was done to impress the would-be accuser with the risks involved. When notifying the judge of the proposed action, the accuser had to give a written undertaking to provide proof and, if the proof were found inadequate, to submit to the penalty of the talion as a culminator. And that was not all: once the inscription had been accepted by the judge, the accuser could not withdraw without incurring the penalty of the talion."

Now, this does not mean people were never tried for maleficium (witchcraft) and punished. Nor does it mean the middle ages were an entirely lawful time, as lynching of suspected witches sometimes and maybe even often took place. There are a few isolated group trials of heretics and others performed during the middle ages by religious fanatics. But by and large the majority of witch hunts as considered in popular belief were, at best, late medieval and renaissance inventions.

Mr. Cohn concludes his work with the idea that later Ecclesiastes and bureaucrats were more willing to accept the truth behind accusations of witchcraft and evil doing in ways that those of earlier times were not. Allowing for miscarriages of justice where individuals were forced into confessions and then forced to denounce family and friends as being participants in an underground movement wherein the practitioners had denied Christ and begun worshiping the
Devil and performing malicious acts upon their neighbours.

At any rate, the book is fabulous - though it is fairly dry and scholarly - and the topic is fascinating.

Wikipedia's entry on the witch hunts is accurate and is a great jumping off point for learning more.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Infinite Flickr: The Movie

A couple years ago my husband (known as "Monkiineko" on Flickr) put together all the photos posted (at the time) to the Flickr group, Infinite Flickr, and set up animated transitions from one to the next to make a continuous video from the images entitled "Infinite Flickr: The Movie". It's pretty cool.

The music is "Tribute" by Eric Hamilton - check out his royalty free music at and click on the "Music Archive" link in his right hand navigation column.

If you wish to download a high quality version of this video, you can use the following link:
105 image version (H.264 codec, 640x480, 30fps) 167 seconds, 19.5 MB
(right click the link and use "Save Link As..." or "Download Linked File")

Friday, August 07, 2009

Patty Froese Ntihemuka - Author Interview

Mary: Call Me Blessed

Mary and Martha
The Woman at the Well


> What made you want to be a writer?

I've always wanted to be a writer. It doesn't make financial sense to write. You get paid is little chunks that are never enough to cover the bills, it seems, and you certainly can't count on a regular pay cheque! But I have to write. It's a need I have. If I don't write, it feels like a gear in my head starts to grind, and I need to express myself creatively in order to get back to normal. I've heard it said that writers don't retire, they die, and I think I can understand that. I'll keep writing, even after I stop making sense! It's not about "the job" so much as "the need."

> In the books you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why?

I think my favorite character so far is Nilloufar from "The Woman at the Well." She is the woman who meets Jesus at the well. She had five husbands and is living with a man. In Biblical times, this was horrific. She was really fun to write because she is such a survivor! She might go through men, but she doesn't let them ruin her. She isn't "good" or virtuous in any way, but she doesn't just get run under, either. She does what she needs to do to keep going. Getting into her head was really cathartic because I could experience her passion and drive without having to tame her down to keep her "good" in the cultural view. I loved that!

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

Not a chance! I do horrible things to my characters. I break their hearts, I mess with their love lives, I dash their hopes, I marry them off to inappropriate people... No, I would never change places with them! Drama is great to read about, safely in a book. I wouldn't want that kind of drama in my real life!

> What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

The first novel I wrote was called "Love on the Links." It was a romance novel, and it was truly terrible. As you might have guessed, it remains (thankfully) unpublished. It took me about six weeks to write it. While it was a terrible piece of work, it taught me a lot about planning a novel and writing it. I was also very proud of myself to have finished an entire novel. It was an achievement!

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

The crucifixion of Jesus. I hate violence, and the Romans were some pretty brutal people when it came to executions. Having to focus on the torture was difficult for me. In fact, I almost abandoned the book I was writing because of it. I ended up finishing the book, but it didn't get accepted. It might have been that the readers could feel my discomfort with the topic. I'll certainly never attempt that scene again! There are too many ways to get around it...

> Share an interesting fan story.

The only time I have ever received fan mail, it was a package that someone sent to my publisher and asked that they redirect to me. In this package, the person had photocopied pieces of articles that someone else had written, and they highlighted the highly racist parts, in essense telling me that I was a bad person for having married a person of a different race from me. I was really shaken by the experience. It still makes my heart pound a little bit to think about it!

> If you still have one, what’s your day job? If you don’t, how long did it take before you could support yourself only on your writing?

I have worked all sorts of different day jobs. I tended to work part time so that I could focus on my writing. I've worked retail, worked as a bank teller, managed a retail store, and worked as an interior decor consultant. When I had my son, I quit working outside the home to be a mom and write whenever I could squeeze the time in. At this point, I probably make the same amount of money I did at a part time job. However, I'm pretty confident that I can get that up to a full time income with freelance work once my son is in school.

> What is your university degree in?

English Lit.

> Any tips against writers block?

Nope. Sometimes, if I have a deadline coming up, I don't have the luxury of writer's block. Other times, I watch entire seasons of TV shows, episode after episode, until I either finish the entire show, or feel guilty enough to get back to work and produce something that will make me some money!

> How many rejection letters did you get for your fist novel or story?

I actually don't approach things in a traditional way. I picked a market (for me the Christian market) and then picked a publisher and researched what they wanted. My options were limited, since most publishers want an agent. Then I just kept writing piece after piece until they finally accepted something. I think I sort of battered them down, after a while! It worked for me... What can I say?

Thursday, August 06, 2009


Yesterday's determination to start writing daily stayed with me. So, this morning I sat myself down at my computer - and though a few things tried to distract me - I managed to stay in my chair and write/revise chapter 1 of my novel!

It's a great feeling, knowing I'm working towards my goals again! Here's to keeping up the good work! ^_^

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Procrastinating Again

An author friend of mine recently recontacted me. She asked how writing was going and I wrote back all sorts of excuses as to why I wasn't writing. Good excuses. Logical excuses. But excuses all the same. It's time I buck up and start writing again.

So I took a walk. I used to walk everywhere in Toronto, and since I knew where I was going this gave my mind time to wander, to go over problems in my novel, work out plot points, characterization and even craft entire scenes. I lost that. First by getting a bicycle and then by getting an MP3 player. I lost my thinking/planning time. It's time to get that back. So I went for a walk. It was supposed to be a quick walk, from which I'd come back invigorated and ready to work. It turned into a 2 hour walk and I got back exhausted (but with 2 cheap but nice shirts!). Wow, procrastination strikes again.

I did buy a calendar which I intend to use the plastic holder for making a daily schedule. I've wanted to get back into this habit and it hasn't happened. The idea is to plan out your day, hour by hour to show that you have time to both write and get all the other work done you need to. Yes, it means less websurfing and doing all those things that make hours vanish. But writing happens - and that's the important thing because writing gives me a great sense of accomplishment and makes me happy the rest of the day. What I need to do now is find a good new writing time. Writing in the morning doesn't work for me anymore. I used to work at night but with my husband coming home then that won't work either. The late afternoon is when I tend to feel tired so... That's why I went to mornings. But somewhere in the day is enough time to write 100, 250, 1000 words. And I need to find and use that time.

So my new goal is to make a writing schedule. If I have to juggle things from day to day until I find the time that's best for my writing that's ok. So long as I get some writing done, every weekday, in the meantime. The only way to be a writer is to write!

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a 'Freelancer's Guide', that I stumbled across today in which she has a lot of great information. I'd highly recommend the posts on discipline and priorities.

Her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, has some excellent posts about writing as well. Time, and how much is needed per day to write a novel if you want to get technical. And his post on setting goals.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Time management for writers

A few years ago I went to Ad Astra and heard what was probably the best writing advice for someone like me (by which I mean someone with a lot of time but also a lot of 'projects', housework, etc with which to occupy myself). That ideas was: planning your time.

The speaker showed how if you plan your week - writing down all the chores, work, your writing time and actually allotting time for other projects, you can see how much time you have and GET EVERYTHING DONE. I tried it when completing my chick lit. Up until then I had the idea that chores should be done first, while realizing that by the time my chores were done I was too tired to write and ended up reading and doing other things with the rest of my day. By scheduling chore time into the day I could see that I had the time to write - when I was most awake and excited - AND time to do chores and other things. As an 'achiever', someone who needs to check things off my to do list in order to feel like I'm accomplishing something, it made writing time something I could schedule in as a necessity rather than a hobby. It became work - and work to be done before all my other work. I also learned I didn't need to rush myself when writing. I could spend an hour or more before moving onto daily chores because THE TIME WAS THERE.

I've been trying to get back into the habit of scheduling my time again. Not only did I waste less of it by surfing the internet or watching TV, I also get a lot more writing done.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Writer's Block

I've always assumed that writer's block only referred to that time when you sit down at your computer and stare at the white page in front of you. You want to write. You just can't seem to get started.

But writer's block can also be that time when you have no motivation to write at all. When you feel that novel you want to write weighing on you. I read once that a project like a novel is so large that it takes your brain a while to accept that you're actually going to try it. Until it can accept that fact, it simply stares blankly at the screen, waiting for something to happen.

I recently went through a period of this. I think in some way it's a good thing. It clears your mind. Allows you to do other work that might distract you once you get the 'inspiration' you're looking for. I've noticed in my own writing there are times when I feel the NEED to write - when the story WANTS to be told and I have to work on that novel every day in order to get it out of my system and into the world. That's when I do my best writing. When I know where the story is going and how to get there. If I'm not in one of those 'phases' writing is a chore. It's dull and uninspired. It's boring - both to write and read. I've found it's best to wait out those 'dry' periods while my brain works itself around whatever issue with the story is causing problems and start writing when my brain clicks back into knowing what to do and how to do it.

In the mean time, there's lots of other things to keep me occupied.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Show Don't Tell

This is the advice given to most writers when it comes to, well, everything. Telling your audience that the protagonist likes to eat pizza on the weekend isn't as effective as having the person simply order the pizza and enjoy eating it while watching TV.

I just read a post by Paperback Writer, where she relates a story that happened to her in a restaurant. She'd recently had surgery and her eye was affected by it. Her waitress believed - due to the 'shown' information, that her husband had hit her and treated the couple accordingly. Paperback Writer concludes with the moniker that we need to be aware that our readers may not see our hints the way we intend, and that sometimes we need to tell to get the right message across.

This actually brings up a different question for me. How much of stereotypes, how much misinformation about people, races, cultures, religions is due to literature showing rather than telling? We've been trained to take a few pieces of often disjointed information and pull together a so called composite picture from that.

If you saw a woman, sitting with her back to the room at a restaurant, wearing sun glasses that - once removed - prove she's sporting a black eye, what conclusion would you jump to?

What about the black man standing in line behind you, one hand in his coat pocket, obviously covering something? Would your first thought be that he's holding his wallet because it's a bad neighbourhood? Or would you think it was a gun - because that's the stereotype we've been trained to assume is the truth?

How about the Muslim woman wearing the hajib. Do believe she's wearing it because her husband is forcing her to or because she's a pious woman who honestly prefers it?

And why are we too afraid and ashamed to ask and discover the truth?

I'll never forget reading Black Like Me by John Griffin. I shook my head at a lot of the racist slurs being perpetrated against the African American population as described in his book. Growing up in Canada, born after the civil rights movement ended, I had never heard these things before. Nor had I realized how many people believed such slurs to be the truth. Or how many people continue to perpetuate such insidious lies rather than discover - or accept - the truth. The truth that people are inherently all the same. We have the same needs: food, shelter, heat and love, the same wants: to provide for our families, be successful and find happiness.

Maybe we need to discover a better way of writing. One that doesn't require jumping to conclusions. Or perhaps we need to realize that jumping to conclusions about characters in a novel is harmless - while doing the same with real people can be devastating.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Book Expo America 2009

I just came back from BEA in New York City. It's a forum for new ideas, mixing publishers, booksellers and more in conference sessions and a trade show. And boy, did it ever give me ideas. I'll be busy with my scififanletter blog over the next few weeks, but I intend to start planning and writing my novel in conjunction with that, so stay tuned for what I hope will become regular posts.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Back to the Drawing Board

Several years ago I started writing a fantasy prequel to a novel I'd completed. I took a break and wrote my chick lit because the romance was flowing and the fantasy was not. Once I'd finished the chick lit I thought it would be easy to get back into the fantasy. It was and it wasn't. I had the drive to write but the story just wouldn't budge. I wrote chapters - invented whole new scenes I hadn't planned on writing - but the actual story just wouldn't move forward.

So I decided it was a flawed idea and quit. Or thought that perhaps the idea was simply too big and I didn't have the skills to write such an epic story at this point in my career.

I've since come to the conclusion that I was too hasty in that pronouncement. The problem was: my timeline was simply too long. The chick lit took place within a few months. My previous fantasy was just over one month in duration - from the start of the novel until the end. This fantasy had the temerity of taking place over several years - years in which nothing happened. So there was a lot of detailed action, nothing and then more detailed action. I simply couldn't figure out how to make that 'nothing happened' realistic while at the same time explaining that, yes, of course stuff DID happen, it just wasn't important enough to write about.

The solution? Reduce the timeline. Why does this war have to take place over 8 years? Can't things progress faster while still showing the horrors of what war can do? Yes. It won't be a short timeline - it is a war after all - but it will be a timeline I can confidently write. This novel has too many good elements for me to simply toss it by the wayside. A few days to reconsider my outline, and then I can get to writing again!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


It's tough trying to get a foot in as an author when you're not the best speller. There's only so much help spell check can give. Sometimes the errors are simple typos. Sometimes they're not. The odd thing is, you can read quite well over the errors without (for the most part) losing the meaning. Yes, there are times when a letter seriously affects the meaning of the word, at which point you lose a lot of credibility, but it's amazing how much you can read with typos.

I read a chain email once that, using typos, explained that humans only need the first and last letters of a word to be correct for their brains to tell them the words, even if all the other letters are scrambled. Incredible. And yet, as impressive as our brains are, we like words spelled properly. It drives me nuts when I see posts using short forms that don't 'officially' exist. Or even non short forms, that just seem 'cool'.

And it's strange. When I read books (and other things) I hate finding typos. It feels like the person was being sloppy when, in fact, their eyes probably passed over the words, reading them as if they were spelled correctly. And it's so easy to miss letters and mistype them yourself. I find with my own work I often have to let it sit for a while and then print it out to find typos. If I edit on the computer I tend to read what I want the words to be rather than what they are.

In the writing business it's important to catch spelling mistakes before you post or submit work though. Editors look for any reason to disregard you, and bad spelling - even just one typo - seems to be a favourite reason to send work to the discard pile. It almost doesn't seem fair. Yet, from their point of view, if you have one typo you'll surely have more...

So, does anyone have tips on editing so that they can catch these tiny (or not so tiny) errors? Do you use spell check, beta readers, let the work rest for a while or some other tactics?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bad Blogger!

Looks like I haven't posted here in several months. Oops. In my defense I've been busy planning a wedding (mine) and had to get all the preliminary work done fast. Now I've got a bit of breathing room.


For months I thought I'd post chapters from my chick lit. I know, I know. I'm a SciFi nerd and fantasy freak. Why did I write a chick lit? I can't tell you either. I didn't want to write it. I purposefully tried to get all the chick lit ideas out of my head so I could go back to my nice respectable fantasy but it just wouldn't let go. I like my chick lit - though I've rethought a few things and will probably be editing it sometime in the next few months (ah for more time in the day).

To keep things simple I'll post the chapter in a new post. While I've had several working titles, the one I like the most is:

Dating Plan Desaster