Saturday, December 9, 2017

Weekend Writing Warriors December 10

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

Continuing a scene from my first book, Ghosts of Innocence.

Shayla has stolen the identity of a newly-appointed senior public servant, and infiltrated the Palace in disguise. She has already fallen foul of her new boss, Mabbwendig ap Terlion, Master of the Emperor’s Domestic Household, but has since kept out of Mabb’s way while she establishes herself in her new position. However, she’s decided to face Mabb on her own turf - in the cavernous staff dining hall.

Brynwyn is Shayla’s stolen identity. Colin and Jojo are members of her new staff.


Colin Bandolini had explained why Shayla's request to have food brought to the office on that first evening had been met with surprise. Although there was officially nothing against it, she had breached another unwritten rule of Mad Mabb's regime. There appeared to be no order to the seating in the thronged dining hall. Robes and uniforms showed a mixture of ranks and professions. But each place setting on the top table was labeled with a faded card. Shayla knew there would be one that read 'Master of Circuses'. Brynwyn bin Covin was expected to be there.

Shayla spotted the rotund figure of Jojo bin Duvin on the far side of the room. She turned her back on the high table and walked over to him. As she crossed the open space in the center of the room, the hairs on her neck prickled; a lull in conversation seemed to follow her.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Cover qualms

I still have a long way to go on the editing for The Ashes of Home, but having completed some major scene additions last month I’m taking a breather from the words to focus back on the cover art.

I haven’t touched the artwork since I last posted about it in June. The main reasons were (a) summer, and (b) all my spare time was going into critiquing and editing.

But there was a third, unspoken reason lurking in the background that kept me from my brushes.

I had misgivings about how the artwork was turning out.

Worse still, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was worrying me, or what to do about it.

The initial draft has a spaceship being destroyed by a beam of energy. In expanding it to full size I didn’t like the acres of plain black in the background. Instead I had visions inspired by spectacular Hubble images of glowing nebulae cut through by billowing dust clouds. BTW - I regularly visit the NASA website for their Astronomy Picture of the Day.

This was where I got to before sensing things were slightly off track.

There’s nothing wrong with any specific part the painting itself, in isolation. I especially liked the stark contrasts in the lower section. But the upper and lower portions just didn’t belong together, and neither was quite right for the book cover I had in mind.

So this week I bit the bullet and got back to work.

Still some tweaking to do, but I think I’m getting back on track.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Weekend Writing Warriors November 26

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

I’m back with the start of a scene from my first book, Ghosts of Innocence.

Shayla has stolen the identity of a newly-appointed senior public servant, and infiltrated the Palace in disguise. She has already fallen foul of her new boss, Mabbwendig ap Terlion, Master of the Emperor’s Domestic Household, but has since kept out of Mabb’s way while she establishes herself in her new position.


Shayla joined a flood of people streaming into the cavernous staff dining room. A wall of sound, the voices of hundreds of people, seemed to squeeze her chest. The air was heavy with the remnants of the day's heat and the scent of cooked meats steeped in pungent sauces. The senses combined to form a suffocating blanket around Shayla's head.

Am I doing the right thing? Her eyes burned from fatigue, but there was no turning back. After Shayla's brush with Mabbwendig yesterday, she knew she could no longer put off this moment.

Three rows of long tables stretched away left and right, broken by an aisle ahead of her which led to the center of the room. Three more rows of tables filled the far side. To her right, a more lavishly appointed table sat apart, under the frowning portrait of Emperor Julian Skamensis.


Note - both Ghosts of Innocence and Tiamat’s Nest ebooks are still on sale at $0.99 for a few more days.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Books on sale

It’s that time of year again ... time to wish our American friends south of the border a peaceful and stress-free Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, if anyone you know is interested in picking up a bargain (maybe to wind down when all the family festivities get a bit too much) both Tiamat’s Nest and Ghosts of Innocence e-books are on sale for the rest of November.

Down from $3.99 to $0.99 (US).

Links to Amazon and other markets are in the sidebar >>>

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Taking the scenic route

I made another discovery last year, while drafting The Ashes of Home: The power of writing in threads and scenes.

I blogged in more detail about this last year, but the essence is that my entire manuscript at this point is a long series of scenes with only a few tentative chapter breaks marked in as yet. Alongside, I have a summary spreadsheet listing the scenes, a brief description of what the scene is about, and the scene’s point of view. The latter is color coded so the whole list provides a great visual for how much attention each of the main characters is getting throughout the story.

I found this approach really helpful in keeping up momentum along the different parallel threads of the story during the drafting phase. I could just get on with writing each point of view as its own story and worry about weaving them together later.

Now I’m into final edits, the power of this technique is showing itself again. There is one particular story line that I want to draw more to the fore. There was a whole hive of activity linking two of the main characters that I never articulated in the first draft, mainly because I wasn’t even aware of it. When I thought about it, it was obviously present but happening entirely off stage. I decided to bring it explicitly on stage, which means writing a series of new scenes, or additions to existing scenes, and weaving them back into the storyline.

If I’d worked directly on the manuscript, agonizing over where to edit in new material at the same time as trying to draft it, I think I’d have been paralyzed by the complexity of the task. Instead, I focused simply on the thread I wanted to weave in as if it were a complete story in itself. I jotted down notes about how that storyline would evolve and ideas about point of view and timeline.

The novel’s scene list helped here, giving me an overview of the story structure and making it easier to see where this new thread would fit naturally into the overall structure. Then I simply wrote the new scenes as if they were a standalone story.

I’m now in the process of editing the new material into the whole, and I have to report I’m very pleased with the effectiveness of this technique.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Musical nostalgia

I mentioned in a post last year how I discovered, unexpectedly, that music helps me to write. I say “unexpectedly” because I had many times tried writing with music on in the background, and always found it a distraction.

The difference was ... headphones.

Ambient music = distraction. But put on headphones and the music suddenly becomes a shield, a cocoon walling me off from the outside world.

At the time that was a new and surprising discovery, but it seems to be consistently true, not just a passing phase. Music has since carried me through many productive writing sessions, even when the going got tough and the words just weren’t co-operating.

Many writers use music to set the mood. They make up playlists that in some way reflect the writing. It’s not a mood thing for me. Regardless of what I’m writing, the music is simply my productive setting, like absolute silence is for some people, or their cozy writing den, or an inspiring landscape in front of them. For me this means the music has to be fairly loud, rhythmic, melodic, and not too demanding. Classical music would kill the muse.

I started off with recent artists like Taylor Swift (yes, I happen to like her music, don’t judge!) and Mumford & Sons because they were already in our family iTunes library.

Along the way, this started to turn into a bit of a nostalgia trip. I’ve been seeking out artists I remember from my university days. I found loads of early Genesis albums on iTunes, and am currently listening to The Stranglers.

Remember when punk horrified nations with its iconoclastic break from sugary pop blandness?
What a difference a few decades makes! In a world of rap and hip hop, some of that early rock and punk today sounds remarkably lyrical and I wonder what all the fuss was about.

What about you? Does music help or hinder your artistic endeavors. And is there any particular music that brings back powerful memories?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sensory overload

With some exceptions, my view of the world is very flat. I perceive pretty much everything in my field of view with equal weight, nothing stands out except what I’m specifically focusing on at that moment.

This caused me no end of problems as a child, and no end of frustration for my parents. Asked to fetch something, I’d be frantically hunting for it, unable to see it even right in front of me. As an adult, I’ve learned to laugh this off as “can’t see for looking” but as a child it made me feel stupid.

The best way I can describe it is constantly playing a game of “Where’s Waldo”, or one of those “hidden object” puzzles. What you’re looking for is in plain view, but overwhelmed in a sea of similar but irrelevant distractions. The only way I can find and latch onto something is to scan my visual field systematically until I find what I’m looking for.

That is my view of the world, every minute of every day.

This shows up in everyday life in ways such as:

Finding the right product on supermarket shelves - and don’t get me started on the twin evils of supermarkets regularly moving things around, or manufacturers’ insistence on producing a dozen variations on a product in almost identical packaging. Why must shampoo, conditioner, and body wash all look identical?

Making sense of many websites, trying to track down the button or menu item I want from the smorgasbord of icons on display.

Trying to find the turnoff I need amongst the roadside background clutter of signs and driveways.

Even something as simple as breakfast can become a nightmare. Last week I traveled to a business workshop. With no direct flights it’s a long way from Victoria to Ottawa - about 10 hours of traveling. The first morning, I was still a bit woozy and looking for simple sustenance to set me up for the day.

First off, I had to ask at reception where they were serving breakfast because the bar where I’d eaten the previous evening was empty. I felt stupid when I realized my eyes had glossed over the head-high three-foot-wide sign alongside reception saying “Breakfast this way”. I get the same problem with headings on many websites too - you’d think bigger is more obvious, but unless my eye happens to take it in all at once it’s more likely to go unrecognized.

Then there was Ordeal by Buffet.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a fabulous buffet, and very visually appealing. But simply too much to take in.

I’m a tea drinker so the server brought me a pot of hot water and advised that I would find the tea over by the buffet. Searching, searching, searching ... it took me a good five minutes to recognize the row of shining steel pots for what they were - containers of loose tea to make your own tea bags.

Once I’d got my food, it was time for Hunt the Spoon. The table was laid with knife and fork, but I had a helping of yoghurt and no spoon. Back to the buffet. When looking for something (as my childhood experiences showed) everyday items simply don’t leap out from the background. I had to start at one corner of the room and work my way around the tables scanning every item on them looking for something recognizably spoon-like. It was a big room, so it took me a while, feeling increasingly foolish, thinking “it surely can’t be this hard?”

This may sound exaggerated, but it’s not. And it’s fairly typical of my experience in any unfamiliar place.

With familiarity, I’m happy to say that breakfast the following day was far less traumatic. And the food was truly delicious :)

How do you either portray (as a writer) or understand (as a reader) a sensory experience very different from your own?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...