Monday, January 30, 2012

Stop Everything!!

Go forth and buy...THIS!

Even if your local bookstore doesn't have them on display until tomorrow, THEY HAVE THEM. Cajole them...beg...plead... Offer them cash! Get them to bring this little puppy out to you. You won't regret it!!

Can I just say how stinkin' happy I am for my friend, Kristen Callihan?? She's awesome--both as a person and as a writer. I'm beside myself with happiness over the fact that I just walked into a bookstore and purchased her book. Many, many good things are in store for her.

Congratulations, Kristen!!

Timeless prose

My current burst of reading has taken me onto several classic novels I've meant to read for years, but haven't previously managed to tackle.

In the last week, the two I've read have been Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. I've loved them both- and as I've been reading, I've been struck by several things that make these brilliant and timeless stories. The first is voice- always, voice. Capote and Hemingway were assured and distinct authors, and the uniqueness of the way they use language, character and setting is surely at the heart of their longevity.

The second is character. Both novels are full of complex, larger-than-life characters with flaws, failings, and fascinating motivations. Their actions and their reactions are so unique that they jump off the page at you, as if you already know them. As if you're inside their heads.

And while there are many other reasons, another that comes to mind for me immediately is the sense of time and place imparted by the setting and the style. If I knew nothing about either novel, I think I'd still be able to figure out quite quickly where and when the stories were set. This is because the authors captured the language of the time, the character of the places, and all of these things are woven inextricably through the plots. Each story is a complicated whole that as a result will remain a part of literary history for decades if not centuries to come.

Good lessons, I think, for authors hoping to make an impact. Not that one can choose, necessarily, to be the next Hemingway- but there's no question we can learn to create authentic and unique characters, and to give our settings, plots and language all we've got. With practice, that kind of confidence becomes an authorial voice to be remembered- and once you have all that, hopefully you have a story for the ages.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Lengths To Which You'll Go ...

My seven year old daughter and I went on a mini shopping spree to IKEA recently. She had a list a mile long of things she wanted to buy for her room: a new bed spread, a pretty cushion or two to match it, a bright yellow rug for the floor. But I had only one thing on my list - a set of venetian blinds for my study. I'll show you why ...

See those lovely glass doors? Those lovely glass doors through which my three lovely children can still SEE me when I sit down to write? Well, I hate them. Even though I have explained to, and screeched at, and finally begged my offspring to understand that closed doors means mum is writing and must not be interrupted (with the exception of one of them spurting blood or the house being on fire), the fact they can see me means they think I'm still on duty for everything from sorting out arguments to making milkshakes to finding missing Lego pieces, and they barge on through those doors like they weren't even there.

These holidays, after five years, I was finally over the interruptus maximus. And now, when my study doors are closed, they look like this:

Um, please ignore the fact the blinds are too short. That'll happen when one goes shopping with the child who is the main cause of all the interruptus maximus. I'll go get the right size eventually, but for now, they're working a treat.

So. What lengths have you gone to, to protect your writing time from those who just do not get it?

Oh, and can I just have a moment to say how excited I am that this book will be out in less than a week:

Squee!!!! :-) :-) :-)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Price of eBooks: Colour Me Confused

It's summer, the sun is shining, and I'm about to head off on a three day trip to the beach ... so of necessity (and lacking the brain power to discuss anything in a deep and meaningful manner) this post will be short.

Harking back to Claire's post on eBooks and how she's surprised herself with just how enamoured she's become of her Kindle, today, I had a bit of a thought-provoking eBook moment myself.

I'm one of those types who roughly buys half eBooks, half paper books, but when it comes to vacation time I firmly favour packing my Kindle over trying to stuff four or five paperbacks (or, God forbid, weighty and spine damaging hardbacks) into my suitcase. So this morning, I set about doing a cruise of Amazon's Kindle shop to see what lovelies I could download for my beach reading pleasure, and to my delight I came across a new release by an author whose previous works I have very much enjoyed: SEASON OF LIGHT by Katharine McMahon. And it was available in Kindle format. Bliss!

But then I noticed the price: $US20.82.

Yep. Twenty dollars and eighty-two cents. I confess, I had to blink to make sure I wasn't seeing things, but no, that is indeed the price of the Kindle version (a price set by the publisher according to a disclaimer of sorts on the book's Amazon page). More expensive than the paperback version, which is selling on Amazon for $US19.84.

I didn't buy the book. I just couldn't.  And I've been questioning my reluctance (or stinginess?) ever since.

I've become used to paying no more than, say, $12 - $15 at the very top end for an eBook, and I guess the fact the paperback version is cheaper - ok, only marginally, and yes, freight charges would be added, but still cheaper at face value - than the eBook, came as a bit of a shock to me. With eBooks, costs such as paper and printing and warehousing and freight are eliminated; and yes, while different costs go into eBook production, surely, they can't be as much as those associated with paper production. Or am I wrong about that?

But I think the main reason for my reluctance, and with no disrespect intended to Katharine McMahon who is a very fine author, when the Kindle version of a book by an author as popular as Stephen King doesn't even break the $20 mark (his latest release, 11/22/63, sells for $17.69 as an eBook on Amazon) then I'm even more hesitant to buy.

Is it just me? Am I missing something? Am I just being a tightwad? Or is $20 for an eBook too much for you, too?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Unlikely Source of Inspiration

So, I've been sick for a long time. A really long time. I think a lot of it has to do with the amount of stress I'm under right now--both personal and work related. My life has seen some big changes the past few months and it was really only a matter of time until my health would begin to pay the price. That said, I thought I had kicked it--I think what was a sinus infection--and then it came back full force after my trip down to Knoxville. Let's just say I was in a great deal of pain this weekend from the worst earache I've ever had...and that's coming from a girl who once popped her eardrum while scuba diving. Okay, maybe it wasn't THAT bad, but it was bad.

At any rate, I didn't have a lot of get-up-and-go this weekend. What was meant to be a four day writing spree turned into four days of feeling like utter crap. I didn't want to get out of bed, let alone do anything productive. lol

So, I spent a good portion of this weekend watching the second season of The Vampire Diaries. I know...I know... but dang it, that show is GOOD. And I have to say, it is a Master Class in upping the stakes and how to create a no holds barred level of tension that has you saying "just one more episode" even when you're completely exhausted. I found myself simply amazed by what that show accomplishes week to week... (see where this is going? Translate week to week to: chapter to chapter..) I started thinking, how are they accomplishing what they're accomplishing? Well, here's a few things I noted...

1. They always leave each week with a mini-cliffhanger. Some twist that you didn't see coming and which is only revealed during the last couple of minutes of each episode. You're left with an URGENT NEED to know what happens next... and if you're behind like me, that means you can pop the next episode on and find out. That's exactly where you want to leave your readers: Needing To Know More. You can do this by leaving unanswered questions, cutting a chapter off mid-scene..lots of tension creating ways that will pull your readers forward. Be it to the next chapter or the next book...

2. No one.... and I do mean NO ONE... is off limits. The writers are just as likely to kill off a main character as they are some walk-on character who makes no more than a brief appearance in an episode. Once this precedent is set, you truly begin to believe that ANY character can be taken out. At any time.

3. Well-developed secondary characters. I love that this show doesn't solely rely on the main characters to keep the series going. They have some really well-defined secondaries that, in a lot of ways, I like even more than the principal players. They have great sub-plots going that feature them, making them more than just filler in the background. I mean, come on... who doesn't love Vampire Caroline? :)

4. It really illustrates the whole Donald Maass philosophy. Who can't your character live without? Take them away. Etc. Etc. Just when you think a situation can't get any worse... it does. Not only do the characters have big picture stakes in a certain situation, they also have personal ones. Nothing worse than choosing who should die when you're forced to choose between two people you love. Add to it the knowledge that the world will end if you don't choose... and Yeeeikes. Good stuff!

5. Characters that are well-defined, with both good and bad characteristics that make them BELIEVABLE. People that you either cheer on or hope and pray get their comeuppance. If you can't connect with the characters you're watching/reading, even if you can't stand them... you'll be rowing without a paddle. Seriously.

These points are really just skimming the surface, but they're definitely ping ponging around in my head right now, and I'm thinking about what I can do to ensure I have the same success that this show has. Even though I was sick, it was still a weekend well spent. :)

Anyone watch and love this show as much as I do? :)

Agree or disagree?

Monday, January 16, 2012


I'm now officially on maternity leave for my second baby, and correspondingly am also the size of a whale and not doing much more than lying around groaning in the hot summer weather we're having Down Under. Mooching around means more reading, naturally, so I've been ripping my way through a very large number of e-books, in particular the whole series of Captain Lacey mysteries by Ashley Gardner, which I highly recommend. I read all eight in about a fortnight and am really looking forward to the next one.

Something that struck me with the first Captain Lacey novel was the concept of character credibility, and making sure that from the very first, your characters are 100% believable in their actions and reactions.

Especially if you're writing a series, your characters can't have traits, good or bad, that make the reader pause and question. Would that person really react like that? Would she really have known how to climb a cliff face/ read fluent ancient Greek/ load and fire a blunderbuss? Would he really have walked away from that fight/ cried when he stubbed his toe/ killed a man who stole his cigarette?

What it comes back to, really, is how well you set up your character and their background. But at the beginning of a novel (or a series) you don't have time to do that in full depth. Your readers want the action to start now- they don't want a lesson in personal history. So by the time you've seeded in bits of backstory like a good little writer, progressively over many chapters, your character will already be acting and reacting to things without the reader having a complete understanding of why.

That's where it gets interesting, for me. What it requires is that you the author have full command and confidence over your characters. Your writing bears no hint of uncertainty- just the sense of authority that you know exactly what you're doing and why. And you're also making a promise to the reader that there's a good reason for your character to behave the way he or she does- and that all they need to know will be revealed before the story is done.

I mention this in the context of the Captain Lacey mysteries- Regency crime tales set in post-Napoleonic War London- because the first novel was jammed full of unusual character behaviour from the main man, which was accompanied by frequent hints at all manner of interesting past events. It was a bit of a tightrope walk for me as a reader, teetering rather close at times to too much backstory and too much coyness in revealing the past. But the one thing that kept me reading was that Lacey as a character never wavered from his convictions, always reacted consistently, and was made flawed and interesting by his responses to various events. And in the end, when the numerous threads of backstory were brought into full light, I could appreciate that the author had in fact done a very good job of setting up a complex character with lots of potential grist for the future mill. All of the characters in the series have likewise tangled backgrounds, and all are being slowly revealed book by book, which I'm enjoying- there's always an unanswered question hanging around somewhere.

So- the key to all this, I guess, is to know your own characters and their motivations, and to practice moderation wherever possible in how you reveal their history and the reasons why they behave as they do. Trust the reader, but give them your assurance through your authorial authority that they're reading about a credible character- and that neither you or your fictional people will let them down if they trust you.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday Extra

As a little Sunday extra, I just wanted to let you all know that I've put an excerpt of Ember, the prequel to Firelight, up on my personal blog here.

So stop by. That is...if you feel so inclined as to read it. :)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Simple Question

Kristen here,

So we've been discussing, very briefly, the direction we'd like to take here at ATWOP. Because now, more than ever, the five of us are a very different paths in our writing careers. This is a good thing, in my opinion, because you, the visitor, can hear about the writer's experience at various points of the process.

The thing is, as I sat down to write today's post, I was suddenly unsure as to what track to take in regards to experience. Do I write about the craziness that occurs on the road to publication? Or do I write about craft, and what I've learned so far?

So I guess what I am asking is this: Do you, dear reader, want to hear more about the business side of things from me? Or more about the craft side of things?

That is all. For now. :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The future is now

A few years ago, I happened to catch Nathan Bransford's first poll on the future of e-readers. Since 2007, he's been asking the same question every year: will you ever buy mostly e-books? The change in answers over the last five years has been pretty startling. I remember voting a firm no in the early days, convinced that you'd never pry my paper books away from me.

And you won't, I'm pretty sure. But this year will be the first time, I admit, that my answer has flipped to the other side- I do, and I will, now buy more e-books than paper.

This change in my own opinion has sort of sneaked up on me.

My husband and I are both huge readers, and between us we worked in a bookstore for 11 years. As a result, more than half our home contents are books- or they were, last time we moved. There's been an interesting shift for us lately, though. We're trying to clear space where there is none to fit a second baby, and for the first time ever, one of the things we've had to get rid of in some volume is books. We've always been determined that once you own a book, that book is yours for life. But given then choice between a room full of books and a kid who has to sleep in a sock drawer, we're erring on the side of good parenting and making a little space.

This means looking through all these books with a really critical eye. So we've read and loved it. Would we read it again? If yes, it gets to stay. If no, gone. Have we read it and hated it? There are plenty of those on the shelves- it's a no-brainer. Gone! Have we been meaning to read it forever but we keep finding excuses to delay and delay? Will we really, truly, realistically get around to it, or are we just slow to admit that it's not really something we want to check out? We've had a fair few of these, too. All in all, I think our cull probably sliced at least 30% of our book collection- unthinkable a few years back.

Or at least until 2009, when we first got a Kindle. I love the Kindle, but I always saw it as a backup for books we didn't care much about- the Steig Larsson and Janet Evanovich and Kathy Reichs ones that were never going to be of lifelong importance.

Enter the iPad in 2011. Even after I adapted to the Kindle, I never thought I'd want to read a book on the iPad. But like everything Apple, it has managed to win me over, against all expectations. And suddenly, looking back on the past year of reading, I realise that I probably purchased at least 90% of the books I read in electronic format. It's now my first choice rather than my second. And world-changing, amazing books aside, I can't see that being any different in years to come.

One of the greatest discoveries of the e-book world for me has been fabulous series of books at great prices. I devoured all six Nell Sweeney mysteries by P. B. Ryan last year, and paid no more than $2.99 for any one title. And over Christmas, I discovered the brilliant Captain Lacey mysteries by Ashley Gardner, and I've chewed through six of those in a fortnight, again paying no more than $1.99 per book. For someone who reads as fast as I do, this is a revelation. It allows me to read so much more than I did before. I'm also reading my way through a small virtual stack of modern classics that I should have read before but never got around to- like The Great Gatsby, which I picked up for 0.99c.

In short, my e-readers have changed my reading habits for the better. They've brought me back to reading in much greater volume than I was before. They've saved my son from having no bedroom while allowing me to keep my book collection booming.

So, against all my expectations, my answer is now yes- I will buy mostly e-books from here onward. And I can see why the market is shifting, because if I move in that direction, it means there are plenty of others out there who've done so well before me.

The only thing I still don't believe will change for us is that our kids' books will be paper for as long as possible. Growing up surrounded by words, pictures and stories is far too important to move it all to another piece of electronic wizardry for them. But I can hardly imagine what the reading world will be like by the time they're my age.

How about you? I'm curious not only as to whether you'll ever buy more e-books than paper, but as to how your opinion has changed over the last few years.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Friday Fun Video

This little clip is extraordinary in a couple of ways. It's engaging, clever and fun. I admire the fellow for his sense of adventure, his great eye for setting a scene, his timing, and most of all for his motto, which is Move.

Isn't that what we all need to do? Move. Move forward in our writing, our relationships, our physical well-being.

This year, let Move be one your mottos, too.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tis the Season to Procrastinate ... and Cogitate

Ah, the holiday season. Here in Australia, our kids get roughly eight weeks off school to enjoy Christmas and our summer.  And while I've been trying my best to keep working on revisions with a house full of my kids and their friends, truth be told, I've kinda given up.

How could I not? With trips to the beach, the movies, BBQs, bush walks, sleep-overs to oversee ... well, real life seems to be much more worth living at the moment. And, wimp that I am, the battle for some writing time for me seems all too hard.

It's not procrastination. Really. But I must admit, I've been a tad worried that the real reason I'm barely touching the WIP is I've hit a point where I'm questioning why I keep on pushing on with the same old WIP. I've been at it - in its current incarnation - for a couple of years now. Older incarnations go back even further. I've still got a bunch of work to do. And the worry is setting in ... is the reason I'm taking so long to be done simply that I'm climbing the learning curve all writers must climb? Or more worryingly, is it because there's something fundamentally wrong with what I'm writing?

The good thing about not having time to actually write and revise is that instead, you find you have time to think and absorb what's around you in the universe. And being in this frame of mind I read an interview with a very successful Australian recording artist, Gotye. In November 2011, his song Somebody That I Used To Know won the Australian Recording Industry Award (ARIA)  for best single of 2011. And according to this interview, this was also the song he was closest to scrapping from his album.

There are lots of reasons why. Mainly because of scheduling problems with the other artist he recorded with, but also due to the fact the song went through many different incarnations while he laboured through a lot of second guessing in his quest to get it just right.

So. At the end of the day, who knows whether I'm on the right track with my book? I have a certain gut instinct that I just might be, but really, I'm clueless. But if even the greats among us can get hung up and stalled by self doubt, why on earth should I be immune?

There's something comforting in that for us all, really ...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Life, Whatnot

Kristen here. I'm dropping in on Claire's day for just a moment to say that we at ATWOP are aware that we've been...shall we say a bit lax about posting these past few weeks. Blame it on life, whatnot. It happens from time to time.

In the meantime, I wanted to mention two things.

One, I've got a short story coming out in conjunction with FIRELIGHT. It's called EMBER, and it will be released in ebook form on February 7th I believe.

See the cover hanging out in left field? Hey there, Miranda! :)

And here is the cover copy, fresh from my publisher.


After a fire consumes the Ellis family fortune, the beautiful and resourceful Miranda finds herself faced with an impossible dilemma: enter a life of petty crime or watch her family succumb to poverty. But once her fiancĂ©e learns of her descent into danger--and of the strange, new powers she’s discovered --saving her family may come at the high price of her heart.

When his one chance for redemption is destroyed by corrupt London antiquarian Hector Ellis, Lord Benjamin Archer vows to take what Ellis values most—his daughter Miranda. Forced to hide his face behind masks, Archer has travels the world hoping to escape the curse that plagues him so that he might return to claim his prize.

But once Archer returns home to London, will it be revenge he seeks? Or will the flame-haired beauty ignite new, undeniable desires?

Heh. Fun, eh? As soon as it is up on various book seller sites, I'll provide some links. ETA: the link to pre-order Ember on Amazon is up! Here!

Secondly, as I head out into the wide world of publishing, I'm also starting a personal author blog. You can find it here. This is blog will focus on my books, and more personal topics. If you'd like to come and visit, I'd be thrilled, and promise to put the kettle on. :)