New Directions…

I have come to a difficult decision, one I’ve been weighing in my heart for the last several months. However, I just received a wonderful research opportunity with long-term potential that will require my time and commitment. So, I’ve decided to put writing aside.

The plans for my books were getting out of hand, and I think, were I not distracted by anything else then it would have been a wonderful career path to give them my all. Creativity, after all, is addictive.

But I am a passionate lover of math and if the last few months have taught me anything it’s that writing, while rejuvenating, is more for me; it belongs with art and hobby time. Art is my balance, and accordingly I can only give so much time to it.

So, I will continue to do my art – you can visit my website http://www.graemebrownart.com if you are interested in what I’m working on, and for those Twitter friends I’ve been privileged to meet, I will continue to Tweet what inspires me (though be warned – math tweets may be coming…)

Most importantly, though, I will no longer be blogging here anymore. I am going to leave this up for those authors who are interested in the author spotlights – it was a privilege to learn from so many talented authors, and it’s taught me that one must pour every ounce of passion they can into the things they believe the most in.

I’d love to see all you writers still use #writersinoffice – and I’ll be sure to check it out regularly. I look forward to staying in touch via Twitter.

Thanks for your wonderful energy!

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Author in the Spotlight: Sharon Plumb

A warm welcome to Sharon Plumb, my guest author today!

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Sharon Plumb-400H

Tell us about yourself.

I started writing as soon as I could hold a pencil, and wrote a lot of stories growing up.  Then I switched to writing computer programs and a Master’s thesis in Computer Science. Reading books to my children re-ignited the creative spark, and I took up writing stories again about 20 years ago.

I have two published books—becoming a writer is not always quick and easy! The first one is a grade 2 level picture book published by Scholastic Education in 2006. Bill Bruin Shovels his Roof is about, well, a bear who shovels his roof because the heavy snow prevents him from opening his bathroom door and having a hot, bubbly bath.  Along the way, he discovers the fun of playing in the snow.  It is listed as a fantasy, presumably because of the talking animals.

My second book also has talking animals, actually aliens. Draco’s Child is a young adult fantasy novel published by Thistledown Press in 2010. It has a talking dragon, a star-child who speaks in mind pictures, and a lot of fungus that doesn’t speak but does make life difficult on a new planet. It also has a teenage girl who needs to figure out how to help her colony of transplanted Earthlings survive.

I am currently working on another story set in the same world, but hundreds of years earlier, and with a whole lot more dragons. Besides fantasy and picture books, I also write plays, songs, and children’s poetry. I am the president of the Saskatchewan chapter of CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators, and Performers).

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SEVEN SPOTLIGHT QUESTIONS:

#1: What do you enjoy the most about writing?

I love being able to get away from my ordinary life and explore other worlds. I love creating places that don’t exist anywhere except in my mind—although I depend a lot on the things that do exist to make them believable and realistic. I love exploring ideas and the “what if” questions that arise from them. For example, I recently heard a scientist talking about the possibility that children who relate to people via technology instead of face to face don’t develop the ability to read body language and facial cues. If they are “plugged in” for much or most of their time, they tend not to daydream, which is normally how people make sense of their relationships and other things that happen in their lives.  So this makes me wonder, as a writer, what would happen to our society if people lost these social skills? Autistic people have trouble with social relationships for different reasons. Would autistic-type traits become the new normal, and how would our lives change as a result? I haven’t used this idea in a story— I don’t know if it will lead anywhere. It takes at least two good ideas to make a story, and part of what makes writing fun is finding those good ideas and fitting them together in creative ways. I also enjoy exploring how characters like us might act in situations unlike any we have ever seen.

#2: What was your earliest writing experience?

My earliest memory of writing is sitting on a small chair at a child-sized table in our kitchen and printing something—I don’t know what—on a piece of clean, white paper. Later I used the regular kitchen table to turn out stories inspired by the ones I read. After reading one of my stranger fantasy stories, my teacher told me that either I had psychological problems or I was going to be a writer. I think I was flattered that he found my story so disturbing. I don’t have that old story, so I don’t know exactly what he was referring to, but the dream was born.

In grade 7 I wrote (and typed out on an old, mechanical typewriter) my first novel: a 25-page coming-of-age story about a wolf cub. It was called Leader of the Pack, and was inspired in large part by Felix Salten’s novel Bambi, which is far more serious and philosophical than the cute Disney version. 

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

For most of the past 20 years I didn’t have a daily writing pattern; I fit my writing around all the other things I had to do. In the very early days, naptimes were writing times. Sometimes my husband took our three boys somewhere for a weekend so I could concentrate on writing. Now that the boys are more independent, I have more freedom to structure my time. I soon realized I needed an attitude update: to make a conscious decision to value my writing enough to do it FIRST, not only when everything else is done.

I like a quotation from Carl Sandberg: “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” I now make a weekly list of everything I have to do, with writing at the top. Each morning I schedule in what I will spend the coin of my time on—taking care to distinguish writing from “writing-related activities”, like working on my website. Yes, other things are important. But many things are only urgent, not important, and they can wait until I have time for them. I also evaluate carefully what it will mean to my writing if I agree to take on something new. The result? I am writing more, and faster, than before. And I hope, better.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

I suppose I should start with Felix Salten (see question #2). All of my favourite authors show me what good writing is and make me aspire to write as well as they do. Here are a few:

  • Cynthia Voigt’s Jackaroo series, with its lyrical writing, so-real characters and rich medieval-type world. I want to write stories so convincing that readers forget they’re not real.
  • Orson Scott Card’s Ender and Homecoming series, which confront serious ethical issues through the eyes of his larger-than-life intellectual characters. I also want to consider every implication of what my characters do, although I don’t want them to spend so much time talking about it.
  • Megan Whelan Turner’s Attolia series, with her crafty thief Jen and richly imagined ancient-Greek type world. I would love to create such a tricky character—and make it work four times!
  • Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant and Mordant’s Need series, with intricate plots and worlds that reflect the main character’s psychological states.  I would like to try that world-building technique.
  • David Brin’s Uplift books, with his alien characters that don’t think at all like humans.  I hope mine don’t either.
  • Kenneth Oppel’s Silverwing series, convincingly told through the eyes of bats who see with sound, and his soaring Airborn series. And everything else I’ve read by him. I want to write such enthralling books.
  • Monica Hughes. Fun science fiction set in places I know. I hope I have as many good ideas.
  • Sheree Fitch’s poetic prose, generous spirit, and “seriously joyful nonsense”. I want to make my words say as much as hers do, and sound as delicious.
  • Melina Marchetta’s On the Jellicoe Road. Heart-stopping from the first sentence to the last. Dialogue that is always one step ahead of the reader. Inspiring in every way possible.

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

The first thing must be better writing. I thought I wrote well 20 years ago, but when I look now at what I wrote then, I see all sorts of flaws. This is a good thing, because it means I must have improved. How do I learn to write better? Lots of ways. I read books about writing. I read books that contain good writing. I attend writing conferences and workshops. I learn from other writers.

My writing group friends have probably taught me more about good writing, and how to improve mine, than anyone else. When we read each other’s drafts and dig into them, we see what works and what doesn’t. We brainstorm ways to improve what we wrote. Amazingly often, our combined attention leads to solutions that no one of us would have come up with on our own. I am also lucky enough to have a son who reads voraciously, especially science fiction and fantasy. He helps me weed out bad ideas before they grow, and plants a lot of good ones too. Every writer should have a son like him—as well as a writing group!

The next important thing I had to learn to be a writer was how the book publishing industry works, how it is changing, and how to find a way in. Once a book is published, of course, and even before, it is essential to know about promoting a book with social media. There is a lot to learn, and I expect the learning never stops.

#6: Describe your writing method:

Some writers put words to screen and see where they lead. Not me. I need to know where I’m going, not least because I have a very hard time coming up with characters and events at the same time as sentences I like the sound of. So I keep notebooks. When I get an idea that intrigues me, I write down everything I can think of about it: who the characters might be, what the world is like, what the characters want to do, what obstacles they face, what the ending might be. I write down questions and try to answer them. For Draco’s Child, I filled two school notebooks; for my current project, I’m deep into the second.

Once I have the idea fairly clear in my mind, I make a general outline and a list of things that need to happen in the first chapter. Then I write. And the story changes because as I write I add details that turn out to be significant, and they change the characters and the plot. So I go until I’m stuck, then pull out the old notebooks, work out more ideas, and revise the outline. If there are multiple plot strands, I often make a timeline so I know what each character is doing relative to the other ones. When I’m happy with each part of my novel, I show it to other writers for feedback. Then I revise. And write more. And revise to keep everything consistent. When the first draft is done, I print it out and revise, and again ask my writing friends to read it and comment. And then revise. Only once I’m thoroughly happy with it do I start looking for a publisher.  And plan to revise again.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

The most important ones are probably to read a lot and write a lot. Figure out what makes good books good, and bad ones bad. Don’t be afraid of feedback. In my first writing group, our guiding principle was that we always tell the truth, because our goal is to improve our writing, not make ourselves feel happy. So find a writing group with people who also want to improve their writing! Writing can be lonely and discouraging, even if it is the thing you most love to do. Having people on your side will help you through the dark times and make the bright times even brighter.

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About Sharon’s Book Draco’s Child:

Dracos ChildVaria is a 12-year-old girl who lives with her family and several other space colonists on a planet they call “The Kettle”. Or is she 13 or 14 years old? Because she spent several years on a spaceship getting to her new home, and time is different at high speeds, no one really knows.

One thing she does know is that her colony is in danger. Their food is being infested by illness-causing fungus, the ship containing the other half of their colony, including all but two of the other children, never showed up, and two of their group died of a horrible sickness shortly after exploring the forest around their base. Obviously, the planet must be hostile to animal life–after all, it has no animals of its own, except a few kinds of overgrown insects.

Then two things happen. A constellation that looks like a child falls out of the sky and starts offering them help–in return for shrinking them back into children. And Varia discovers the skeleton of a dragon in a cave, along with a brilliantly coloured stone that she deduces is the dead dragon’s egg.  Varia will be tested as never before as she attempts to save her colony and reverse whatever it was that killed off all the planet’s animals. But to do so, she must figure out who is telling the truth: the mysterious star child or the secret-hugging dragon. Because they are at war with each other, and they can’t both win.

Excerpt:

Dad whistled softly. “A weighty question for this hour of the morning!” He glanced at the sleeping children on the floor. “You’re really asking about your mother, aren’t you? I’m trying to figure her out too. She looks like a nine-year-old, but she still knows everything she used to, and does almost as much. Except for her size, she’s the same person.” He sighed. “No, not completely the same. She runs everywhere, and sleeps like a rock.”

Varia grimaced. “We need to find the other lander,” she said. “Maybe they’re in a nicer part of the planet, and if we went there, no one would need that star water.”

Dad sighed. “Except that they haven’t made contact so we have no idea where they are, and we would have to walk to this unknown place, and we don’t even know if they’re still alive.”

Varia sat up. “But if we found them, we could join them.”

Dad didn’t answer right away. “What would they think if they saw us now? Except for you and me, they wouldn’t even recognize us.”

A jolt ran through Varia. She stared into Dad’s eyes. “Is that the real reason you aren’t drinking the star water? In case they find us, so you can explain what’s happened?”

Dad shrugged.

Tears sprang into Varia’s eyes. She buried her face in Dad’s neck. “You still think they might find us,” she whispered. “I thought I was the only one who hadn’t stopped hoping.”

Dad stroked her hair. “Don’t hope too hard,” he said. “They might not.”

Varia pulled away and looked into his eyes. “No, Dad,” she said. Her voice trembled. “We’ll find them.” She stood up, threaded her way to her mat, and lay down facing away from him. Mom lay curled up beside her. I wouldn’t know her either, thought Varia, in that stranger’s body. She buried her face in her empty pillow. How could things be so wonderful and so horrible at the same time?

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Buy Draco’s Child:

Kobo, Kindle: Sorry—not (yet) an e-book! If you wish it were, please tell the publisher at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com! (see links below)

Print Books:

Chapters-Indigo

Amazon.ca

Amazon.com

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Connect with Sharon:

Webpages:

  http://sharonplumb.ca  (main site)

  http://sharonplumb.wordpress.com (blog)

  http://books4kids.ca  (writing group site)

Facebook: Sharon Plumb Hamilton

Fan email address: sharon@sharonplumb.ca

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Author in the Spotlight: Nikki Andrews

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Nikki Andrews has worked as a picture framer, community activist, and stable hand, but in her real life she’s a writer and editor. She writes cozy mysteries, of which Framed is her latest, as well as sci fi, YA, and assorted short stories, songs, and poetry. She edits freelance and for two indie publishers. In her spare time, she makes jam, serves as a river monitor, and falls off horses and mountains. She has been known to make train noises in front of the local planning board, and is still waiting for her Formula One Ferrari with driving lessons from Fernando Alonso.

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SEVEN SPOTLIGHT QUESTIONS:

#1: What do you enjoy the most about writing?

Who was it who said, “I don’t enjoy writing. I enjoy having written”? Seriously, it’s not that bad. I love that moment when the words explode out of my fingers, the characters urge me on, and the story grows into a living world all by itself. It does happen. It’s called “flow,” and it also happens to me when I’m gardening or stitching or making music. It’s like that moment of unity with a horse, a perfect turn at speed, singing in harmony, or summiting a mountain.

#2: What was your earliest writing experience?

I’m told I made up a song about ladybugs when I was five. I’m not sure I remember that, although it’s definitely the kind of thing I’d do. The one I remember is a song I made up as I walked through the woods to my aunt’s house. I was so annoyed at forgetting the words that I made up new ones on my way home. I still have a piece I wrote in fifth grade, describing an afternoon ride with my beloved mare, Irish. My teacher scrawled across the bottom, “This is beautiful!” Unfortunately, it was years before I realized I could do it again.

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

Not every day goes like this, but a lot of them do: Check my bedside notepad and decipher any notes I may have left overnight. Get DH off to work, sit down in my jammies and bring up yesterday’s efforts. Shower with my characters. Jot down whatever comes to me. Take care of whatever chores need doing. After lunch, if all goes well, I settle down for a couple hours with my work. Edit some other folks’ work. After supper, review and make notes for tomorrow. Sweet dreams.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

As a kid I devoured Walter Farley’s books about the Black Stallion. If he influenced me, it was to write what I love. I stole my brother’s Hardy Boys books when I could. I never was much for the girly-girl books my mother thought I should read. Later, Ray Bradbury entranced me with his imagination and his breathless, rapturous writing. Is there a pattern here? Adventure, mystery, otherworldliness? Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan for clarity of thought, Tony Hillerman for spare rich beauty, Anne McCaffery for people skills, the Indigo Girls for romance. (Have you read their lyrics? Your heart like a dam when it breaks. Fantastic.)

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

~Yes, I can write.

~Yes, I deserve the time to write.

~Yes, it’s real work.

~Yes, there is always more to learn.

~No, the book will not sell itself. Promotion is absolutely necessary.

#6: Describe your writing method:

Throw it on the wall and see what sticks. Outlines do not help me, although for my longer works I usually have a mental map of where I want to go. Songs and poems are gifts from the universe; short stories lure me out of my daily routine, bouncing just out of reach until they turn around and pierce my heart with their unexpected conclusions.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

~Learn your craft. Yes, this does mean boring old grammar. You can’t build a house until you know how to hammer a nail.

~Read and reread. The first time, read for pleasure. The second time, read to understand why it pleased you. Take notes of what worked and what didn’t, and apply the information to your own work.

~Submit to critique from strangers. Find a group or partner, either live or online, and generously share both your own work and your critiques of theirs. You’ll learn more from people you don’t have to live with.

~Write and rewrite. Do it again. Then do it over.

~The first manuscripts should probably stay in the desk drawer.

~Trust your editor.

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About Nikki’s Book Framed, a cozy mystery now available from Wild Rose Press:

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  1. When a long-lost painting turns up at Brush & Bevel, a decade-old mystery is reawakened. What really happened to artist Jerry Berger and his model Abby Bingham? Was it a murder-suicide, as the police proclaim, or was it something far more sinister? Gallery owner Ginny Brent and her loyal staffers, Sue Bradley and Elsie Kimball, each take a different path to unravel the mystery. Together, their discoveries start to form a cohesive whole. But as they get closer to the solution, they discover to their horror that art is not the only thing that can be framed.

Excerpt:

“Were they lovers?” Jenna asked, wide-eyed. “You always hear that about artists and their models.” Then she blushed.

“Oh, no! Jerry never had any interest in her as a woman.”

“But they died,” Jenna prompted, absorbed in the story.

Ginny nodded. “Ten years ago last winter. They went missing during a snowstorm. The police went nuts trying to find them. At first, everyone assumed they had just run off together, but it wasn’t like that. Mike, her husband, really stirred things up, insisting something had happened. He forced the cops to look into it.

“It took the authorities about three weeks to find them. A hunter came across them in the snow.” She looked rather sick. “The coyotes had been at the bodies, but it looked like he killed her and then himself. Mike moved out west and never came back.”

She sighed and returned to the present. “All of which means you may have a gold mine on your hands, Jenna. Let us clean it up, verify it is what I think it is. There may even be a signature under all the grease and smoke. Would you feel better if we came up with an agreement about what happens then?”

Sue and Elsie excused themselves and went to the workshop down the stairs from the gallery. “I’d forgotten he killed himself,” Sue said.

“Don’t you believe it,” Elsie replied. “Jerry wouldn’t hurt a fly. That was no murder/suicide. It was a double murder.”

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Buy Framed:

Kindle:  http://amzn.com/B00HJEHFV2

Other(s): The Wild Rose Press: http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=5515

Framed will be available on all vendors on April 18, 2014

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Connect with Nikki:

Webpage: www.nikkiandrewsbooks.com

Twitter:@NAedits

Blog: www.scrivenersriver.blogspot.com

Fan email address: nikki@nikkiandrewsbooks.com

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