Our office does a quarterly(ish) junk swap, where staffers can bring things they’d like to get rid of – be it books, clothes, gadgets, etc. The basic rule is bring stuff that is still usable, take stuff if you want, even if you didn’t bring stuff. At the end of the day, anything not claimed by someone else gets packed up and donated to our local Goodwill.
Slowly, I’ve been going through some of the final tote bins, books and piles o’clothes at home and bringing them in for the various swaps. It’s been a not-so-easy task, thanks to the fibromyalgia, but last night, I got motivated (I think it was the caffeine) and I loaded up a grocery roller cart* full to the brim with books, clothes and bags. Lots and lots of bags.
Some of the bags came from conferences. Some were purses or backpacks I’d bought over the years. I’d been leery of opening the tote bin o’bags, simply because I knew it would be tough for me to part with some of them. The nostalgia! The utter usefulness of some of them!
I was ruthless.
In went the awesome bag from Left Coast Crime in Monterey, CA more than a decade ago. In went the nifty blue bag from Lone Star Con. In went the black leather backpack/purse that I hadn’t actually seen in at least a dozen years.
After a couple of hours and a Tramadol, I was done. The rolling cart was full.
This morning, I rolled it down the hall, into the elevator and out through the lobby, somehow managing to get through the building’s foyer without help. Unpacked the cart into the back of Phil-the-car, then repacked it when I arrived at work.
The swap starts this afternoon at 3 p.m. – Normally, I’d be a little anxious…do I really want to donate X item? Maybe I’ll keep it for a little bit longer.
Not today, though. I’m relieved–happy that more stuff is going to find good homes and perhaps even delight someone else.
Is my changed attitude because I’m getting older/wiser? Is it just the semi-annual burst of “OMG, I need to declutter?”
I don’t know.
All I can say is that I’m taking advantage of that urge and going forward.
Years ago, I could fit everything I owned into one small truck. I don’t know that I’ll get back to that point again, nor would I want to, but hanging on to stuff just because I can is silly and makes no sense.
Maybe I am growing up…just shy of my 55th birthday.
* the cart stands about 3.5 feet tall at the handle and is nearly 2 feet wide.
Welcome to this week’s guest, Lillian Stewart Carl. I’ve known Lillian for eons–first, when I was living in the DFW area and attending/working at local SF/F cons, then via Malice Domestic, an east coast mystery con. Most recently, Lillian and I have shared a publisher: Wildside Press.
For a Scots-descended redhead with a newt-like complexion and an affinity for the thud and blunder of British history, Lillian came late to Celtic music. She’s been doing her best to rectify her tardiness by imagining a soundtrack for her cross-genre (but mostly suspense) novels.
* * *
Many years ago, on one of our trips to Scotland, my family and I visited Culzean (“Cull-ane”) castle in Ayrshire. The gardens soon became the setting of an early scene in Dust to Dust. Even sooner, though—as in, when we returned to the hotel—I realized that the album I’d bought in the gift shop was missing.
I dug through the suitcases I’d packed for our trip home. I phoned the castle. Nada.
Still, we stopped by on our way to the airport the next morning. The people in the shop were very nice but couldn’t help…. Until, out of the mirk and mist, appeared a young man who was the doppelganger of Michael Campbell, the hero of Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust. He handed over the damp but undamaged album, announced, “‘Twas in the carrr parrrk,” and vanished.
That album is, appropriately enough, Scottish folk/rock group Runrig’s Discovery. Story of my musical life.
When I was very young, my mother signed me up for ballet classes—only to learn that despite being born with a love of music, I’d also been born with two left feet, a condition only remedied when I recently discovered tai chi.
Music classes came next, and, since we didn’t have a piano, I found myself playing a small piano accordion. This enterprise was a success—I had two left feet, but all ten fingers—and I soon graduated to an adult-sized instrument, so much larger and heavier I might as well have been wearing pleated body armor.
For years I played pieces such as “Fascination” and “Beer Barrel Polka”, nothing that really, well, sang to me. For even more years the accordion sat in a back closet. At last I donated it to the Salvation Army. Whether it made a joyful noise for them, or was sold in a thrift shop, I have no idea—but someone got a beautiful instrument.
Only then did a friend give us his Steeleye Span albums. The music of the British folk/rock group opened up new worlds, and led me to the albums sold by a dealer-friend at science fiction conventions—British and Celtic folk/rock groups like Runrig, Battlefield Band, Silly Wizard, Wolfestone, Clannad, and more.
When we started attending the Texas Scottish Festival, I discovered more music, ranging from hard rock flavored with Celtica to traditional ballads—Seven Nations, The Killdares, Jiggernaut, Beyond the Pale, Clandestine, Ed Miller, John Taylor, and Brian McNeill.
Some of these musicians played accordions. Accordions could make compelling music. Who knew? And now that I knew, was it too late?
Thanks to Enya and Riverdance and all, Celtic music is no longer obscure. When Howard Shore wrote his magnificent score for The Lord of the Rings, he based many passages on Celtic melodies. The haunting qualities of that soundtrack are worthy of the source material, my favorite book of all time.
Three decades ago we bought a piano. For way too long I did no more than parse bits of classical music—nothing like pounding out the Mozart “Rondo alla Turca”. But I usually played only the right hand. The left hand on the accordion is played on buttons, so I couldn’t equate the written music with the left side of the piano keyboard
Then I discovered that there were books of the music from The Lord of the Rings—and lo and behold, I play the piano with both hands! From Middle-earth to Middle C….
I’ve never written a character who plays the accordion or the piano, unless you count the haunted piano in Blackness Tower. But my characters and I definitely hear the music. For example, in Shadows in Scarlet the couple falls in love while an accordion plays “The Misty Mountains of Home”. (Isle of Lewis native Alyth McCormack once sang this at a Chieftains concert, making the hair on the back of my neck tingle. If they ever make a movie of The Blue Hackle, she’s the banshee.)
The abovementioned Michael Campbell plays the bagpipes. So does Mick Dewar in Lucifer’s Crown. There’s nothing as evocative, not to mention assertive, as a well-tempered set of pipes.
They, however, are amateurs. My professional-musician character is Hugh Munro in the Fairbairn/Cameron series. Hugh is a thinly-disguised version of the also abovementioned Brian McNeill, a founder of my early favorite, Battlefield Band. He’s a Scottish storyteller, singer, songwriter, novelist, and player of fiddle, guitar, mandolin, concertina and more—but not the small Scottish harp or clarsach, never mind Hugh doing so in the novels.
Brian keeps telling me I should kill Hugh off in some horrible fashion, and I keep refusing. I need my literary soundtrack. Who knows what musical discoveries I have yet to make?
* * *
Lillian Stewart Carl has published multiple novels and multiple short stories in multiple genres, all of them striking at least a glancing blow at history and myth. Her latest novels are the Jean Fairbairn/Alasdair Cameron mystery series: America’s exile and Scotland’s finest on the trail of all-too-living legends.
Lillian, thanks for that wonderful musical tour! I <3 me some bagpipes. How about you readers? What musical discoveries have you made? Anyone who comments will be eligible to win a copy of The Charm Stone, book number four in the Fairbairn/Cameron series, that takes place in Colonial Williamsburg.
Welcome to Ellen Byerrum, a former Washington, D.C., news reporter, and a playwright. Ellen also holds a Virginia private investigator’s registration. Her Crime of Fashion mysteries star Lacey Smithsonian, a reluctant fashion reporter in Washington D.C., “The City Fashion Forgot.”
The latest book in the series, Shot Through Velvet, takes Lacey on assignment to the last velvet factory in Virginia on its final day of operation. Her story takes a turn when a blue body is pulled out of the dye tank. A starred review in Publisher’s Weekly said it provides a “serious look at the decline of the U.S. textile and newspaper industries and provides much food for thought.”
If you like cozy mysteries with an edge and great characters, you’ll love her series.
Sometimes a simple “yes” will lead to a surprising discovery., taking you away from your comfortable little box and into another world. It’s led me to stories and story ideas over and over again. All you have to do is be a little curious, say yes, and you’re off.
One of my more vivid discoveries happened years ago at my first reporting job in a place I call Sagebrush. (Not its real name.) Walking down the sidewalk, a local real estate agent drove up to me, rolled down his window and yelled, “Hey, there’s a massage parlor in town! You want to go see it?”
Now, this was a time when “massage parlor” did not mean a spa package with a pedicure and New Age music playing in the background. This massage parlor didn’t cater to a female clientele. But the county had nothing in their rules that outlawed this new business, so it came to pass that a massage parlor crew from the red light district in Denver moved to Sagebrush to a house on a county road.
There was a padlock on the door so the real estate guy and I had to crawl through the window. Not sure what the deal with the lock was, but we all had to crawl up and over, and through the window: the girls, the clients, real estate guys, and me. Once inside, I interviewed the “manager” and the masseuses. They were happy for the publicity. I discovered that customers could order off a menu of services. The client could order one masseuse or two and determine what they wore or didn’t wear. No pedicures, manicures, or facials. I left with a front-page story. And a job offer. They assured me I’d make a lot more money than working for the newspaper. I declined, preferring the poverty of a journalist, but we sold out of every copy of the paper that day.
They were later busted for prostitution, another story I was able to write.
A fellow reporter always complained that I got the good stories. But she stuck to her school board beat and high school sports and she tended not to say yes to random people on the street with story ideas.
There are always new discoveries every time I write a book. My latest book, Shot Through Velvet, developed after I toured the last velvet factory in Virginia. It opened up a whole new world to me. A world of exquisite fabric, dangerous equipment and desperate people out of work.
My next book took me back to Sagebrush.
Although I said I would never do it, I returned to Sagebrush to research Death on Heels, (to be published next February). I used that dusty Western city as the place where my sleuth, fashion reporter Lacey Smithsonian, earned her spurs as a reporter. It’s not at all like Washington, D.C., where she usually hangs out.
There were no massage parlors this time. And in fact the town has changed and improved. There are no parks and pools and some greenery. But I was on the trail of an old cowboy line camp outside of Sagebrush. I was lucky enough to find one broken down log cabin, a line camp where cowboys would stay while working with the cattle. It was in the wilderness, framed by clay colored bluffs. I made a lot of discoveries on that trip, including:
A legendary cowboy, who I interviewed years ago, spoke with me again, and gave me a marvelous motive for murder.
The highway signs around Sagebrush are still shot full of bullet holes.
A lone wild horse patrolling the line camp, was as curious about us as we were about him. Never getting close enough to touch, but never out of sight. The inquisitive fellow followed us for a mile or more to the gate of the public land that we crossed.
On the gate were the skeletal remains of a grinning coyote, perhaps a warning to other coyotes.
I am allergic to Sagebrush.
Yes, most of these things may make it into my next book. Except the allergy business. I could have cobbled together the story and fictitious town of Sagebrush for Death on Heels from my memories, but it would be nearly as vivid, and hopefully as true. Although I once swore I would never go back, I’m glad I did. I’m glad I said yes to more hands-on research.
Thank you, Maria, for letting me to guest blog today. It’s an honor.
Thanks, Ellen! Love the story about Sagebrush. Readers, tell us about a time you said “yes” and had an adventure…even if it was a lot less adventuresome than Ellen’s. A random commenter will will a copy of Shot Through Velvet.
Welcome to Suzanne McLeod, author of the Spellcrackers series. Suzanne writes about magic, mayhem and murder – liberally spiced with hot guys, kick-ass chicks and super-cool supes!
One of the things I’ve discovered, and always amazes me, about writing is how there appears to be a synchronicity in the universe when it comes to creating stories. This synchronicity often happens to me, and I’ve heard my writer pals mention it too. So what do I mean? Well, here’s an example. When I was in the very early stages of writing my first book, The Sweet Scent of Blood, I was a lot more of a panster when it came to plotting*, than I am now.
So when I decided I needed a scene in a police station where Genny has gone to find out about a magical murder victim, I just started writing. Then my first troll appeared on the page. Now, in the ‘nebulous story background’ floating around in my head, I knew this troll was a longtime friend of Genny’s, that he was a police officer, and that he’d helped her in the past, but that was it. I hadn’t a clue what his name was, what he looked like, where he came from, etc.. So as I wrote, I ad-libbed the details. Here he is in Genny’s own words as we first meet him:
“You need all the front you can muster when facing seven foot of solid granite troll, especially when the troll is Detective Sergeant Hugh Munro. Never mind that he was as soft as faerie moss, he was not going to be happy I was here.
‘Genny, good to see you again.’ Hugh’s voice was a deep bass. He lifted one large hand in greeting and smiled, pink granite teeth gleaming: his bite was way worse than his bark. His shock of black hair grew straight up, two inches above his scalp ridge, contrasting nicely with the deep red of his skin – not sunburn, just his natural colour. Hugh came from the Cairngorms, from the largest tribe in Scotland, and his grandmother was the matriarch.” Extract Ch 5 – The Sweet Scent of Blood
Give or take a couple of commas, this was my first draft and what actually ended up in the book*. But as soon as I’d finished the scene, I knew I might be in trouble. This was urban fantasy, so I could make things up, but not when it came to a real place. What if my facts weren’t right? I’d picked the Cairngorms for Hugh’s birthplace as it was the first Scottish mountain range that popped into my head, but I hadn’t a clue what type of stone it consisted of. What if it wasn’t granite, and what if it wasn’t pink/red? I liked Hugh’s description and I was going to be bummed if I had to change it. So I started on the research . . . and discovered my first moment of synchronicity: luckily for me, the Cairngorms are mostly pink and red granite, something I’m 99.9% sure I’d never heard of, let alone known.
I say 99.9%, because the other thing I’ve discovered when writing is my muse (a.k.a my subconscious). When my muse is in a generous mood, good things often appear on the page with no conscious decision from me. Which brings me back to my police troll, Hugh Munro. I picked the name Munro because I knew it was the name given to Scottish mountains over a certain height (3,000 ft/914.4 m)*, and ‘Hugh’ just seemed to fit. Then I did the research and discovered Sir Hugh Munro (1856–1919) is the name of the man who wrote the first list of the Munros, known as the Munros Tables, in 1891. Now, I didn’t know who ‘Hugh Munro’ was when I was naming my police troll, but I’m pretty sure I’d heard the name at some point previously, so my muse/subconscious kindly hit on the association and plucked the name from the far reaches of my brain and offered it up on the page. Always wonderful when that happens.
Many thanks to Maria for having me over to blog and I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading my discoveries. So, I’m wondering if any of you have had anything similar happen?
*I discovered pretty quick that I had to change partway into a plotster (or as my critique partner, Jaye Wells, calls it: a Plantser, which makes it sound rather triffid- like in origin . . .) if I was going to finish the book: sitting staring at a screen wondering what’s going to happen next doesn’t suit the way I write.
Pantser = write by the seat of your pants.
Plotster = plot every move out first.
Planster = outline it from A to B, then take a few detours getting there as you go with the flow.
*Oh, boy, I wish this happened in my writing way more often; things would go so much quicker.
*Yep, I had to look the height up too! *g*
Thanks, Suzanne! I’m totally a believer in serendipity and synchronicity…and very much a Plantser these days. Readers, how about you–what unusual synchronous events have you had? Comment below and be entered to win a copy of 1 of Suzanne’s books–your choice.
Welcome to this week’s guest, Elena Santangelo. Elena and I go way back–I think we met about 11 years ago? Something like that. She’s always been a steady buddy and I thoroughly enjoy her ghostly mysteries.
Elena writes the Pat Montella mystery series, which includes Agatha Award finalist By Blood Possessed and continues most recently with Fear Itself. The series combines ghosts, history, a protagonist brought up on Italian cooking and superstitions, and a 91-year-old sidekick. Her nonfiction book, Dame Agatha’s Shorts, a Christie Short Story Companion, won the Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction, and earned nominations for Macavity and Anthony Awards. Elena is also the author of 16 published short stories, available for Kindle. Follow her blog, contact her at her website, or become a fan of Miss Maggie Shelby’s on Facebook.
Take it away, Elena!
Explorers have to be creative and those who create need to explore. As explorers go, I emulate my paesan’, Columbus. I always think I know where I’m going, but instead of following conventional wisdom, I tend to head out the opposite way. Like Columbus, I rarely reach my original destination, but usually discover something interesting en route.
Most of the writers I know have minds that explore not only when they’re doing research, but all the time, out of habit. Discoveries are out there for the taking, so why not bring a few home as souvenirs? Someday you might draw on them for a story.
The best discoveries are the ones that give me new perspective. Back before any of my writing was published, I went hiking with my brother in Utah’s Arches National Park. On one trail, we came out onto a high flat rock. The views were gorgeous. We stopped to take pictures. My brother always takes four times as many photos as I do, so while I waited, I sat, drank water, enjoyed the view. Something bothered me about the place, but I couldn’t pinpoint it right away. Then I realized that I couldn’t hear anything. No birds, insects, traffic, airplanes, no other hikers, nothing. There wasn’t even a breeze that day. The place was profoundly silent. So much so that I desperately wanted to whistle or tap my foot—anything to create sound. Of course, doing so would have been the equivalent to Columbus forcing his religious beliefs on the natives. The silence was an integral part of that piece of wilderness. I’ve never experienced a silence so perfect since, and probably never will again.
A few years later, when I wrote By Blood Possessed, the first novel in my Pat Montella series, I used that discovery to try to instill an equally vivid sense of place by using all of my senses. That one hike is likely responsible for half my writing style.
In the last five years, I’ve been a hospice caregiver twice. I discovered what the dying process is actually like. For someone who writes death into every book, this practical knowledge is bound to come in handy (not that I would wish the circumstances on my fellow writers). I also discovered that caregivers often get Post-Traumatic Stress, the chemical outcome in a brain pumped up with too much adrenaline for too long, on too few hours sleep. More than that, though, I found how far society, with all our technology and medicines, has moved away from compassionate care for the dying. We insist that a corpse be treated with respect, but we’re willing to let a dying person be alone and neglected. A family in the eighteenth century wouldn’t have let that happen.
You can bet all of this will find its way into my writing if it hasn’t already.
Of course, few discoveries are that extreme. Writers need small finds, too. My protagonist is an avid cook, so I’m always on the lookout for recipes. Another series character, Beth Ann Lee, is an amateur environmentalist. When I come across do-it-yourself green projects, I stow the info on my PC. My novels feature history and ghosts. My favorite vacation destinations include historic sites. Once there, I collect local ghost stories.
It boils down to being open to all experiences, whether you’re actively doing research for a story or not. And, like Columbus, sometimes you have to ignore the “One-Way” signs.
Elena, thanks so much! I think we writers tend to be explorers, even if it’s just of the armchair kind! How about you, readers? What have you stumbled across that you’ve later used in your own writing or in some aspect of your life? What senses were brought into play?
Comment below for a chance to win your choice of one of Elena’s latest, Fear Itself or a copy of By Blood Possessed.
This week’s guest blogger is a truly wonderful online buddy, whom I discovered via the now less active Fangs, Fur & Fey livejournal community. Karen Mahoney writes lovely YA urban fantasy and (I think) is poised for a fabulous career. She s the author of The Iron Witch, the first book in a trilogy that continues in 2012 with The Wood Queen. She has also published stories about a kick-ass teen vampire called Moth in The Eternal Kiss and Kiss Me Deadly. Karen is British and currently lives near London with way too many books, though she dreams of one day living in Boston. She doesn’t mind if you call her Kaz.
When I agreed to write something for Maria’s ‘Summer of Discovery,’ I thought it would be easy because I’m always discovering new (to me) authors and TV shows which I figured I could babble on about. (For example, my latest discovery is JUSTIFIED with the brilliant Timothy Olyphant.)
But then… it came time to write my post and I didn’t want to write about that kind of thing. I’m in the middle of a period of self-discovery with my writing—and my life—so I decided I would share something about that here. If you’re bored, just skip to the end for the giveaway.
A lot of people think I’m younger than I am, but I’m 37 and have been dreaming of being an author for 25 years. My debut novel, THE IRON WITCH, came out in February of this year, so what the hell took me so long? Of course, the many (many) hoops and hurdles of the publishing industry are part of the answer to that question, as well as my own writing ability and level of craft (i.e. it takes time to build those skills). But, quite honestly, I think that the thing holding me back the most was my lack of self-belief—a fundamental, heartfelt belief that I wasn’t, and never would be, good enough to get my writing published.
Discovering that has been painful, because I have wasted a lot of time simply not writing; there was a 5-year period of nothing but journaling and writing ABOUT writing in my late twenties and early thirties… I was frozen with a deep terror that I could never achieve my dream, so what was the point in even trying? I wonder what I could have done with that time had I been more focused on actually putting words (fiction, I mean) on the page? And yet, this discovery is also sort of freeing. There is something powerful in admitting that we are afraid to face our most precious hopes and dreams—afraid that we won’t measure up, or that they won’t come true. By facing up to those fears, we also let them go and leave space in our lives for new things; new experiences and, yes, new discoveries.
Back in 2007 I discovered that I loved to write stories inspired by mythology and folklore, which is where THE IRON WITCH trilogy initially came from. If it weren’t for my discovery of a folktale called ‘The Handless Maiden’ there would have been no Donna Underwood and no debut novel. I think what I am trying to say is that writing—as with life—is just one discovery after another. Some of the things we discover are small, but many are big and potentially life-changing. Staying open to those possibilities is a massive challenge, but a very important one.
Right now, I’m discovering that there’s more to me than being a writer of young adult contemporary fantasy (much as I love doing that!)—I am working on something for an adult audience which is much more romantic and has all kinds of action and adventure in it. I’m having a lot of fun, whether it’s something that ultimately sells or not, and that feeling of ‘letting go’ of any final outcome is yet another discovery. Just taking it day by day and enjoying the process.
In the spirit of giving something new a try, and to thank you for listening to me ramble, maybe you’d like to discover a world of alchemy, dark elves, and a girl with magical iron tattoos… If so, leave me a comment telling me what YOU have discovered lately, and I’ll send one randomly chosen winner a signed copy of THE IRON WITCH. (Book 2, The Wood Queen, will be out in early February 2012.)
Thanks, Karen!! Doubting oneself is the bane of many of us authors–most definitely.
Readers, leave your comment before next week’s guest author post and you’ll be entered to win!
Welcome to this week’s guest blogger. Stacey Jay – a self described recovering workaholic (or at least working hard at recovering) with three pen names, two small children, and a passion for playing pretend for a living.
Take it away, Stacey!
First up, thanks so much to Maria for having me over to the blog! *waves at Maria’s readers*
Now I blog:
WRITING WHO YOU’RE NOT
As writers, we’re often told to “write what we know,” and I think that’s good advice. To write about things you believe in, emotions you’ve felt, truths you’ve learned/observed about the human condition—these are all goods things.
However, I think that “write what you know” can also lead to writing who you know. And in that case, writers often find themselves with a character that isn’t much of a character at all. The character is simply the author. In disguise. *waggles disguise fingers*
I’ve certainly created characters that resemble myself at one age or another. But with DEAD ON THE DELTA I set out from the beginning to create a heroine different from myself in almost every way. I wanted to experience this book from a truly alternative point of view.
Here are just a few of the differences that developed as I worked on Annabelle Lee, narrator of DEAD ON THE DELTA, and an officer for Fairy Containment and Control in an alternative Mississippi Delta infected by killer fairies:
Annabelle isn’t a wildly driven person. She works to live; she doesn’t live to work. I, on the other hand, confess on my website bio that I’m a “recovering workaholic.” The truth is that the “recovering” part of that statement is total B.S. I’m still a workaholic. I’ve just learned to work as hard at spending time with my family as I do writing books. But I’ve still written and revised five full-length novels—creating over half a million words—in the last ten months. It’s been fun to spend time in Annabelle’s head, imagining what it’s like to clock out at five and be done for the day, to have two whole days a week where you don’t have to do any work at all.
Annabelle has a lot of friends. She’s an integral part of her community and spends face time every week—and sometimes every day—with the people she loves. Most of the people I love are far away, or are people I only ever *see* online. In addition to writing full time, I’m also a stay at home mom to two young boys and I don’t have time to find good friends in my community at this point. So writing this aspect of Annabelle’s life has been a bit of wish fulfillment for me, as well.
Some of Annabelle’s other traits, however, haven’t been wish-fulfill-y at all:
Annabelle is commitment wary and uncomfortable around children. I married my husband less than six months after meeting him—and am still falling in love with him six years later—and have always been more at ease with children than adults.
Annabelle is slow to anger; I can get whipped into a snit fairly quickly.
Annabelle is slow to forgive; I have a hard time holding grudges. Even when I try.
Annabelle is, at times, disorganized; I make lists and refuse to let the ball drop.
Annabelle would do anything for a friend; I have to put my family first and sometimes that means saying “no” to friends.
Annabelle is a jeans, tank top, and very little make-up kind of girl. I’m a sun dress and cowgirl boots girl and say yes to both blush and lipstick, thankyouverymuch.
I think the only thing my heroine and I have in common is that we both enjoy a good joke and believe in fighting for what we believe is right, especially if it means defending someone who can’t defend themselves. She’s slower to rise to the challenge, but she rises, and that’s where I found the “what I know” in this story.
But it’s not the “what I know” that’s made working on this series so special to me. It’s slipping into the headspace of someone so different that makes writing Annabelle’s story such a sweet escape. (Even when the killer fairies are attacking.)
I hope it will be an equally sweet—and scary and surprising and sexy and all other “s” words that apply—escape for my readers.
Learn more about Stacey Jay and DEAD ON THE DELTA at staceyjay.com.
Watch the DEAD ON THE DELTA book trailer:
Stacey, thanks for a great post!!
In a word: yes. I write who I’m not, because frankly, no one wants to read about me. I share a few traits with Keira–primarily her non-fashion sense (black is *always* appropriate) and her tendency to want to be left alone. Other than that, I’m about as far from her as I could be. It’s fun making up character traits, exploring who each person I write is and isn’t.
Readers, what do you like best when you read about characters? What characters have stuck in your mind? Which have you truly disliked?
Hello everyone and thanks to Maria for having me in for a visit!
I’ve been thinking a lot about discovery lately and one of the things that’s really hit home is that while the word carries this wonderful connotation of fresh encounters, wonder, joy and excitement, it also can have negative connotations–fear and worry primary among them.
Discovery implies change and I think that change itself can be both frightening and wonderful. But once you discover something, once you know it, you can’t unknow it. As humans, I think we’re inclined to want to discover. To expand and to enrich ourselves and even though we know that pain can come with that, we are willing to put ourselves out there because the joyous possibilities outweigh the more frightening ones. Or so we tell ourselves anyway, and I think we are mostly right.
I’m working to create a change in my life and it means there’s going to be a whole lot of discovery to come. I’m terrified. And exhilarated. I’ve got to have faith that it will all come out in the end—faith in me, faith in my family, and faith in the world.
Which brings me to risk. Discovery also implies risk along with change. Because you are taking a chance that whatever you discover won’t be a good thing. We have to rely on ourselves to carry us through and sometimes I think we doubt our strength. We fear our fragility to handle what comes. It’s hard to believe in our own untested strengths, and I think we push ourselves to find out what we are capable of.
Writing is a journey of discovery that can be terrifying. Not like there’s a serial killer stalking you sort of terrifying, but more in the chance we’ll discover we are fragile, or we aren’t capable, or we aren’t good writers. That fear is tied so tightly to our sense of personal value that it can become debilitating. You’ve heard the advice, I’m sure, that if you have any choice about becoming a writer, if you can choose anything else, do it. That’s because writing is so hard on levels that many people don’t understand.
It’s just words. If they don’t turn out, write more. Sounds simple. But then you have to wonder if the bad words signal a discovery you need to make—that you can’t write. That you are a hack. That you should never have left that fast food job. The doubt worms into your soul and is impossible to fight.
But then there are moments of discovery where the story just grabs you and the words flow and pour out and they are so right. You can hardly keep up with them, your fingers flying over the keyboard. At the end of the day, you just want to hug yourself and chortle madly and then jump up and dance.
Those days don’t come often enough, but they are the days of discovery for writers. When we find new worlds, new friends, new enemies, new joy. When the worms of doubt incinerate inside us and we’re whole again.
It’s scary and it’s dangerous. It makes it all worth it. But it’s the reason I keep writing.
Thanks, Diana! Risk and change – yep, that’s pretty much the standard writer mantra, right? We create worlds, even if firmly ensconced in the “real world”, create people, make stories that we hope others will want to read. Eek! Why do we do this again? Oh yeah, because it’s cool!
How about you readers? What risks or changes have you discovered in your lives, whether writing or just in something you love to do? Would you give up the risk or avoid the change? What kinds of benefits have you encountered?
Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Crimson Wind, the 2nd book in Diana’s fabulous Horngate Witches series!
Nancy Holder is the multiple-award winning, New York Times bestselling coauthor of the Wicked series, written with Debbie Viguié. She and Viguié have sold a total of eleven books together so far. Their Crusade series is available now from Simon and Schuster, and the Wolf Springs Chronicles series will debut in December with Unleashed. Nancy also writes the Possessions series for Razorbill. She writes comic books and pulp fiction for Moonstone Books, and is on the faculty of the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing Program, offered through the University of Southern Maine.
I have been so lucky to discover my coauthor, Debbie Viguié. Debbie was a student of mine at the Maui Writers Retreat and she was so talented and fun right from the get-go. Shortly after the retreat, I began work on a four-book contract for the Wicked series, and I asked Debbie if she would join me. She added so much to the books, including all our fantastic poems, that it became “our” thing rather than my thing-with-help-from-someone-else. We had a great time working together, and it’s just gotten better through the years. We’ve sold eleven books together so far. Plus, we have become very, very good friends.
Not only do we like each as friends as collaborators, but we have so much in common—we both love the Italian metal group, Rhapsody of Fire, Stargate SG-1, and Chuck; we love going on book tours; and we are both total Disney kids. In fact, I’m flying to Orlando in a week so we can go to Disney World together. We have so much to celebrate–no one throws better parties than Holder & Viguié!
Nancy, thanks for introducing us to your coauthor! I’m looking forward to reading all your books!
Readers & writers – have you ever collaborated with another person on a project? Was it difficult? Easy? What did you find the most rewarding?
Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Crusade in trade paperback with a signed bookplate.
I real a lot of fiction. (Most editors do.) What I read tends to be on the older side, usually from pulp magazines (circa 1915 to 1955). I select stories to be reprinted by Wildside Press in the “Wildside Pulp Fiction” line of books and anthologies (and in Adventure Tales magazine). Most of the fiction I read is your usual, standard fare. Rockets and rayguns in the science fiction pulps. Gats and gumshoes in the mystery pulps. A mix of romance and adventure and mainstream in the general-fiction pulps.
But every once in a while I run across something truly special. An author or a short story whose work transcends its humble pulp roots. I’d like to talk a little bit about one of my favorite discoveries over the last decade and, hopefully, steer you toward some great reading you might otherwise miss.
I first encountered Arthur O. Friel’s fiction in the pages of Adventure magazine. I had a vague idea he might be of interest, since his novel The Pathless Trail had been reprinted by Centaur Press in the 1960s – which meant early fantasy had enjoyed his work. (Centaur also reprinted works by Robert E. Howard, Talbot Mundy, and H. Warner Munn, among others.)
But I was completely unprepared for what I found. It was the story of two rubber-plantation workers in the Amazon jungle. And it was good. Better than good—great. So great that I had to read more. And as I searched through my archive of Adventure pulps, I discovered the adventures of Pedro and Lourenço continued in quite a few other stories (and in some with just Pedro by himself). Each story had a animal theme (with titles like “The Firefly,” “The Ant-Eater,” “The Spider”) in which Pedro compared a person to the traits of an Amazonian animal and spun a tale around it.
Most of them are action-adventure, but some (such as “The Tailed Men”) are fantasy. The writing was fresh, vivid, and modern. There wasn’t any racism, dialect, or any of the other dated elements which can detract from writing of the period. If I hadn’t seen the stories in their original context, I could easily have believed they were written today.
I quickly compiled a manuscript of 8 stories and 1 complete novel from the pages of Adventure. It would be a fairly thick (300+ page) book. And I titled is Amazon Nights: Classic Adventure Tales from the Pulps.
Beyond the stories, one pressing question remained. Who, exactly, was this Friel guy, and how could he write so brilliantly about the Amazon? Most pulp writers never left their home countries. Look at Robert E. Howard, who seldom ventured far from Texas, and yet he wrote about the Far East, Puritan England, and South Sea islands – not to mention the Hyborian Age of Conan. Could a set of Encyclopedia Britannicas and a set of travel brochures have given Friel the authentic feel of his stories?
No. Friel really was an Amazon explorer, after a career as the South American correspondent of the Associated Press. Nowadays you can go to Wikipedia to look him up, but in 2004 — when I began my project — very little info on him was available. It had to be gleaned, in bits and pieces, from the bios in pulp magazines and the notes at the end of his later novels.
Here’s the link to his entry at Wikipedia, which will provide more info:
I have continued to seek out his work, and now I am proud to have Wildside Press as one of the leading publishers of all things Friel. We have reprinted 2 collections of his Pedro and Lourenço (Amazon Nights and Black Hawk and Other Tales of the Amazon), as well as the novels King of Kearsarge, Tiger River, and Forgotten Island.
And you know what? The Friel revival seems to be spreading. I’ve been seeing other new editions of his books appearing on Amazon.com.
Next time you’re in the mood for adventure fiction set in the Amazon – sometimes tinged with fantasy, but always well written, fresh, and full of the authenticity that only first-hand experience can provide – look no farther. Arthur O. Friel is your man.
John, thanks for the fascinating look at Arthur O. Friel! What a wondrous world those old pulps contained. I hope you readers were as entertained as I was!
Don’t forget, if you comment on each week’s Summer of Discovery post, you’ll be entered to win the grand prize – a complete signed set of my Blood Lines books, including the upcoming book 5, Blood Sacrifice!
Join me next week as we welcome the prolific & most excellent Ms. Nancy Holder, a New York Times bestselling author and producer of many wonderful books. Her latest novel, Crusade (book 1 of the Crusade series) is now available in trade paperback.
* Selected contest winner will be sent a copy of the eBook via email.
I live in the world of mundania: work, traffic, rent payments, politics, climate change, terrorists. Is it any wonder that I seek escape in books–both writing and reading? As a kid, I often found myself rushing through schoolwork to get to my library books*. I’d discovered Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels. Later on there was Dracula (in all his various permutations), Anne McCaffrey’s Pern, Charles deLint’s Ottowa, Tanya Huff’s Toronto, Joss Whedon’s Sunnydale, Chris Golden’s Shadow Saga…all of which eventually led to my own Rio Seco, Texas and my take on urban fantasy.
Every single day I discover something new about the world of books, whether a new author, a new story, a new world created by an old friend. This is a never-ending feast and I’m glad to share my blog this late spring/summer with so many brilliant folks who helped create that feast.
Join me tomorrow, May 5, as we kick off our series with John Betancourt, owner/publisher of Wildside Press and the man who helped start my own writing career. In addition to his publisher hat, John is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and mystery novels as well as short stories.