Thursday, July 24, 2014

Interview with M.J. Fifield

Hi all! Sorry for my very long absence! The good news is that that lucky break I've been hoping for seems to have come. But of course, that means that I'm putting in some long hours. (As in I've been putting in 18 hour days since Monday.)

But enough of that. Today, I'm welcoming MJ Fifield to my blog, so that we can talk a bit about writing, her new book and everything in between. 



Welcome to my blog, M.J. Why don't we start off with you telling the readers more about yourself?

Thank you for having me, Misha. I see we're starting with the tough questions...Let's see...I live in New Hampshire's Mount Washington Valley where I work in retail by day and write by night. I'm a semi-avid hiker and biker. I'm starting to become more of a runner, too. (Of course, I was so much NOT a runner before that any amount of running now would make me more of a runner.) I watch too much television and eat too much junk food. I'm also addicted to buying pens, spiral-bound notebooks, and books. So many books. Oh, and swords and daggers. I do have a lot of those, too. I'm also prone to rambling, but that's probably obvious right now, huh?

Ooh the swords and daggers sound fun, but I'm sure your notebooks interest our readers more. What do you write in them? 

I write story notes, notes about character or possible plot problem solutions—that kind of thing. Dialogue. Lots and lots of dialogue. There are a lot of full scenes, too, as just about every scene I create starts off handwritten in a notebook. I also jot down song lyrics that resonate with me and soundbites from shows that amuse me. And, of course, every notebook has a section devoted to sarcastic work-themed haiku.

Ah yes. I know from reading your blog that you're a plotter. How do you approach planning out your drafts?

I still consider myself to be relatively new at being a plotter. I have yet to plot out a novel from start to finish, and I'm curious to see what will happen when I do. Effigy wasn't plotted out at all ahead of time—probably what took me so long to get it to a point where I was happy with it. It wasn't until I was in Part Two of its sequel, Second Nature, that I really started to plan things out. And because I am a visual learner, I do it on my dining room walls (I have a very understanding significant other) with a combination of index cards and post-it notes. I scribble a one sentence synopsis of each scene (index card), or each proposed scene (post-it note), and stick it on the wall. I move them around like puzzle pieces, adding and subtracting as needed, until I find the order that feels correct. Then I start writing.

Sounds sensible. What inspired you to write Effigy?

When I was probably twelve (maybe thirteen) years old, my mother bought me a trio of books she found in our local bookstore. They were the first three books in a series called The Secret of the Unicorn Queen, about an ordinary teenage girl who's accidentally transported into a parallel universe filled with magic, swords, and women warriors riding unicorns. It was totally my thing. It still is my thing. Anyway, I loved the premise so much that, in high school, I decided to write my own story about an ordinary teenage girl who's accidentally transported into a parallel universe filled with magic, swords, and rebels riding unicorns. Many, many moons and many, many incarnations later,Effigy was born. Thanks, mom!


Speaking of Effigy. Want to tell us a bit more about it? Where will we be able to buy it?

Effigy is the first book in the Coileáin Chronicles, a fantasy series which ultimately will tell the story of the three Coileáin sisters and the role each will play in an epic struggle between good and evil. I set out to write a more character-driven fantasy because for me and the books I like to read, character is king. So in addition to the more traditional fantasy elements—magic, sword fights, unicorns (yes, there are unicorns in my novel. Some of them even talk.), etc.—there's also a good amount of human drama. Effigy's main character is a young woman named Haleine. She starts off leading this very charmed and happy life, but after one of those cruel twists of which fate is so often fond, she ends up on a much darker path that really leaves her raw by the end of things. And did I mention the sarcastic pegasus?

The novel will be available in both paperback and e-book form. It can be found on Amazon beginning July 22nd, and will eventually make its way to Smashwords, iTunes, and possibly a pair of local independent bookstores in the Mount Washington Valley.

Sounds awesome. What's your favorite part about Effigy? 

It's finished?

Seriously, though, I'm not sure this is the right way to answer this question, but it's true confession time: While I am immensely fond of this entire book—this labor of love over which I've been toiling for longer than I care to admit—there are a pair of scenes of which I am particularly proud. (Even though it is probably very uncool to admit such a thing.) They're emotionally raw (rawer?) scenes that are, I think, an example of me pushing outside of my comfort zone (a very small and cozy, if sarcastic, place) to write them the way they needed to exist for the benefit of the story. Whenever I receive feedback from a beta reader, I usually flip to these scenes first, always hoping to see a note like, "THIS IS THE MOST BRILLIANT THING I'VE EVER READ!" but ultimately just happy when I don't see something like "MAN, THAT WAS SUPER LAME!" scribbled in the margins.

But, also, I am legitimately thrilled that this book is finally finished. It's been a long time coming, after all.

Yeah I know exactly what you mean. There are some places that simply come from a deeper place in our hearts. 

Last question: What's the best piece of writing advice you ever received? 

Well, it probably isn't the most traditional writing advice ever, but there was an English poet named Philip Sidney who lived from 1554 to 1586. I came across him in high school, and one of his sonnets ended with the line "Fool," my Muse said to me, "look in thy heart and write."

And that really resonated with me and has stuck with me ever since. It just seems like a good writing philosophy to have.

As is "Never Give Up, Never Surrender!" from the late 90's movie Galaxy Quest. 

I apparently never do anything traditionally.

Hahaha awesome advice. Loved having you over, M.J. 

You can find M.J. here: 


Buy Effigy on Amazon

So ladies and gents, how did you get inspired to write what you're working on at the moment? And how are you doing? Who else thinks the Effigy cover is beautiful? 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tyrean Martinson on Reading and Writing

Reading and writing walk hand in hand in every storyteller’s imagination. The art of story and the heart of story dwell within each of us; I think the love of “story” draws all of humanity together. A story lifts us out of our everyday existence or adds meaning and depth to our lives. As I write this, my brother-in-law who is unable to move from the neck down (MS) and my dad who has dealt with lifelong disabilities are swapping stories in the other room – stories of plane flights, fast cars, farm work, and animal antics. We all love to hear stories and tell stories. Reading and writing flow from that mutual love of story.

I grew up surrounded by stories. My grandmother told stories when I spent the night at her house. My mom read to me every night. My dad tells stories in every conversation. My first favorite books and movies expanded my horizons. I became an avid reader and started daydreaming alternative endings or further adventures for my favorite books. From there, writing became a way of getting those ideas and my own, new stories on the page so I could keep them close or share them.

As a writer and a reader, I find myself enjoying books more than once. I love to read. I love to write. Books hold countless treasures for me as a reader and as a writer. I love to study the way that a writer has structured their book in plot, pacing, character, and setting. It helps my writing to grow. Sometimes, I go back and take notes on a book, studying the structure and characterization. As Stephen King famously stated in his book On Writing, “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Now, I know that some writers find King’s quote to be a stressful “command” statement that requires us to read massive amounts of books each year. I don’t think that’s what King meant. Even as a voracious reader, I try to slow down in my reading to let the words breathe, to study the structure and characterization, and to uncover the nuances of the words. I get more out of books that I re-read multiple times because I’m less concerned with “what happens next” and I’m reading for the enjoyment of each part of the story.

How do you read? Do you think it’s necessary to the act of writing or just a natural part of it? Are there other ways to be surrounded by the world of “story” that work just as well like verbal storytelling, listening to music, or watching movies?

And here’s one last quote:

“We live and breathe words. .... It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone.” Cassandra Clare

Bio

Tyrean Martinson lives and writes near the waters of the Puget Sound (Washington State, USA) and daydreams daily. Currently, she is hard at work on a writing curriculum book and the last book in The Champion Trilogy. Her blog is: http://tyreanswritingspot.blogspot.com/

Thanks all for stopping by! I'm still accepting guest posts, so if you want to see how to sign up, please click here

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sigh. Just once in this damned year, I'd like to catch a break. Just once.

Just. Freaking. Once.

Ahem. Sorry peeps. This is again me saying that my blogging will be sporadic. I will keep track of guest posts so they go live at the right time. But I have to prioritize my writing, and with all the shit going on, my writing is slowing to more and more of a crawl.

I will try to visit you guys, though.

In the mean time, please keep praying.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Crystal Collier on What Makes a Cover Awesome

What is it that makes an epic book cover? What is it that reaches out and GRABS you so hard you HAVE to HAVE that book, even if it's total rubbish?

For me it boils down to four elements:

1. Title
2. The overall art
3. Intrigue/mystery
4. The human touch

TITLE: In YA, one word titles are especially potent, but I've read that titles should be no longer than 4 words, or you start losing readers. If the title is set on fire by the background images, you've got gold.

THE ART: A professionally designed cover says, "I've got class, and what's inside was professionally edited and has class too." I think we can't measure how powerfully this is believed on a subconscious level. I've heard it said (and I believe it,) that the cover should communicate the genre or mood by way of color scheme, and the images on the cover should help us interpret the age group the book is intended for.

INTRIGUE: Does the cover make me think, "Ooh, I wonder what that sword has to do with the title..." The individual elements should plant curiosity in the readers mind.

THE HUMAN TOUCH: It's proven that people are drawn to images of people. (Imagine that.) I'm no exception and it's my personal opinion that portraying some kind of human element--a hand, a face, a body--adds a level of connection with readers.

You can get into all kinds of other elements like motion, topography, focal point, and a dozen others, but I think the key is just to get someone interested enough to crack open the book. You can NEVER undo a first impression, so it has to count.

How about you? What aspects of a cover really draw you to a book? 

Crystal Collier is a young adult author who pens dark fantasy, historical, and romance hybrids. She can be found practicing her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, three littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. You can find her on her blog and Facebook, or follow her on Twitter

Her second novel, SOULLESS (book 2 in the Maiden of Time trilogy), hits the worldOctober 13, 2014!  

Alexia manipulated time to save the man of her dreams, and lost her best friend to red-eyed wraiths. Still grieving, she struggles to reconcile her loss with what was gained: her impending marriage. But when her wedding is destroyed by the Soulless—who then steal the only protection her people have—she’s forced to unleash her true power.

And risk losing everything.

What people are saying about this series: 

"With a completely unique plot that keeps you guessing and interested, it brings you close to the characters, sympathizing with them and understanding their trials and tribulations." --SC, Amazon reviewer

"It's clean, classy and supernaturally packed with suspense, longing, intrigue and magic." --Jill Jennings, TX

"SWOON." --Sherlyn, Mermaid with a Book Reviewer



PREORDER your print copy
or 
Sign up for Crystal Collier's newsletter to receive release news and freebies.

Thanks for stopping by, Crystal! Anyone else want to do a guest post? Click here for more info. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Today at Unicorn Bell

Hey all! Today's my last day at Unicorn Bell, and since I took a break yesterday (thanks, migraine), I thought I'd write about the necessity of breaks.

How are you all doing?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Currently on Unicorn Bell...

Hey all!

Just want to let you know I'm still at Unicorn Bell, sharing my non-traditional tips to surviving Camp NaNo.

Today's tip: Psychological Tricks, AKA Mini-Goals

How are you doing with your goals?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Where I am and a short update

So... uh... I didn't know until last night that I'm supposed to be manning the stations for Unicorn Bell this week.

Because I'm pretty much stuck in my writer cave, I thought I'd use the opportunity to share tips that help me get through writing marathons like NaNo and Camp NaNo.

Today's topic: Multitasking.

You read that right, and no, it's not wrong.

A short update on my progress: I've written 21k words and am now about 500 words away from being two days ahead. The real bragging point here: 12k of those words are written by hand.

How's your Camp NaNo going?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ellie Garratt on Spec Fic Mash-ups

Hey all! I was supposed to do this update on Friday, but see, I was writing. So I just want to let you know that yes, I have managed to work through my issues. At least enough so that I'm still on course to complete my Camp NaNo goal.

Also, I hope all my American friends had a wonderful 4th of July. 

Anyway, today I'm welcoming spec fic writer extraordinaire and Untethered Realms co-writer, Ellie Garratt. She's here to share her love of mash-ups with us.

Thank you for having me here today, Misha. I'm **waving** hello to you and all your followers.

Time for a confession. I have a weakness for literary mash-ups, where normally polar opposite genres are mixed together. There's something refreshing about taking an old classic such as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and adding zombies into the mix. I'm not sure how Austen would have felt about her novel being re-written in such a way, but I loved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.


There are more mash-ups - Android Karenina, Sense and Sensibility, and Jane Slayre are just a few examples. Then there are mash-ups involving characters from books, such as Mr. Darcy,Vampyre.

Another style of literary mash up is taking a famous historical figure and giving them an alternative speculative fiction story. One of the most well known examples of this is Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. A genius idea of re-writing the history of the iconic President Lincoln to include vampires. Or how about Henry VIII: Wolfman or Queen Victoria Demon Hunter? I wonder if their Majesties would have been amused?


Then there are mash-ups which involve an iconic film or television series such as Star Trek. Night of the Living Trekkies is a favourite of mine. It doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is - a gory and funny mixing of the Trek Universe and zombies. It's also a great read, though I should warn you quite a few Star Wars fans meet with a grisly fate.


There are many more I haven't read, such as The Undead World of Oz or Wuthering Bites. The number of literary mash-ups has grown significantly since the publication of the first, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. There are many to choose from, should they appeal to you.

Have you read any mash-ups? How do you feel about them, especially those re-working a classic book or character? Have you ever considered writing one yourself? I'd love to know your thoughts.



Author Bio

A life-long addiction to reading science fiction and horror meant writing was the logical outlet for Ellie Garratt’s passions. She is a reader, writer, blogger, Trekkie, and would happily die to be an extra in The Walking Dead. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and online. Her first short story collection, Passing Time: Nine Short Tales of the Strange and Macabre, was published in March 2013 and contains nine previously published stories. Her second, Taking Time and Other Science Fiction Stories, followed shortly after.

 You can find Ellie here: WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreads.

Thanks for visiting, Ellie! Anyone else want to do a guest post? Please see here for more details. 

Who else adores reading and/or writing mash-ups? 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rossandra White on How She Found Her Writer's Voice



Hey all. Just want to say a quick thanks to everyone who left messages of support and encouragement to yesterday's post. It really meant a lot to me. Today, I'm welcoming Rossandra White to my blog, so she can talk about her early days in writing. Her memoir, Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There's The Dog, is available now. 

loveyoubye_Cover 19Sept2013.indd

I didn’t start writing until I was in my 40s. It was one of those middle of the night decisions. I figured maybe it was just time to finally record all those stories about growing up in a small Zambian copper mining town as well as all those trips we took up to the Congo, Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania. The time an elephant chased our car for five miles, forcing my dad to reverse down an excuse for a dirt road before the elephant gave up. The time we spent in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro with a crazy Belgian who kept wild animals for filmmakers’ use. What I didn’t realize was that I intuitively chose writing, “to take fuller possession of the reality of my life,” to paraphrase Ted Hughes. But it was hard.

The poor volunteer reviewer from National Writer’s Association who tried to help me with my 500-page manuscript penciled in the margins: “Oh nooo, not another flashback.” I started over with a library of how-to books. I took classes and learnt about structure, plot, conflict, pacing, and theme. I joined critique groups.

I started with the time I was poisoned by rebels as a six-year old in Zimbabwe and turned my messy tome into a young adult novel and sequel with two teenage protagonists: a black boy and a white girl. The story had political and spiritual overtones, lots of action, but the white girl and her family were essentially me and my family. The black protagonist represented Africa and her people.

Trotting it out to agents, I learnt that I hadn’t found the heart of the story. I kept writing. And then discovered that I hadn’t connected in any meaningful way to my characters. I had plot points, I had a climax. I had my people say words that revealed character and furthered the plot. But I didn’t know how they felt about all the conflicts they were going through. I didn’t know how they felt about each other—not in any meaningful way. That was because I had avoided my own feelings from the past. It was too painful. But in order to find the heart of my story I had to dig deep.

I immersed myself in the past and all those feelings I had suppressed. The white girl became more vulnerable, a little less reactive and rebellious, her mother more loving and sympathetic than my own distant mother had ever been, the father more fallible than I’d believed my own father to be. Overall every character grew, including Africa, a country with which I’ve always had a love-hate relationship. In the end, what I managed to produce was a fully realized coming-of-age story. Both for the protagonists, but especially for me. Through the power of words, I had set down roots in time and explored my own personal myths, uncovered their purpose and grounded myself in a way I might not have been able to do otherwise.

Bio: 

I'm a fourth generation South African, raised in Zambia until I was twenty-two when I emigrated to America. My memoir, Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There's The Dog, published April 2014, is my third book. The other two are YA novels: Monkey's Wedding and Mine Dances, which take place in Zimbabwe and Zambia. I've received many writing awards and my short stories have been published in Writer's Digest and Interstice, among others.  I live in Laguna Beach, California where I hike the hills and canyons with my Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Fergie and Jake. More information can be found on my website and blog at http://rossandrawhite.com/