Month: February 2013

Real Life Inspiration: Thursday’s Children

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A weekly blog hop
where writers come together to
talk about whatever inspires them.

Writers can be terrible magpies – collecting colourful annecdotes, mannerisms or settings from all aspects of life and weaving them like wool and tinfoil into something new and colourful. However this habit is hard to explain to your non-writing friends or family members who wonder if your main character is basically yourself (albiet a butt-kicking, much more glamorous version) – or even worse – based on them.

The truth is of course, my life and the people in it often inspire my characters – but they certainly aren’t me, and nor are they thinly-veiled portraits of people I know.

This week I’ve been revisiting an old story that just would not leave me alone, a story that just so happens was inspired out of real life – but is not real life.

Let me tell you the real story first: (I shared part of this in yesterday’s post: Alternate Endings).

Ghostly House
This ghostly image is the only photo I could find of the outside of the house…

When we first moved to Wellington, we lived in this old house clinging to the side of a very steep hill. The way up was via what could only be described as a goat track. It was not in great shape, the inside hadn’t been redecorated since Adam was a boy and it had carpet that looked like a tatty red/orange tortoiseshell cat had given its hide to cover the floor. (Can I only say hubby found it while I was still in Auckland and sold me on it by saying it had ocean views…).

The first week we moved into that house I became pregnant with our son, and quickly became bedridden with hyperemisis (think non-stop vomiting and nausea). So my introduction to Wellington, where I didn’t know a soul apart from hubby, was spent alone for long stretches of time in that house.

Now while I was ill our landlord would turn up unannounced during the day to fix things. He was nice enough (heaven knew that house needed some fixing), but he did have an issue with an architect who owned much of the surrounding property. So while I lay on the couch feeling like I was dying (more often than not being sick while he chattered on), he told me all about his long history with the architect. In the interests of tact (and because I’m a lawyer – to make sure I’m not crossing into defamatory territory) let’s just say there wasn’t much love lost between them.

At one point I recall him telling me about the architect dumping gravel on the section above his, and it falling down into the bush above the house.

All this fed into my writerly imagination and the what if’s began. What if two strong personalities (lets call them the Landlord and the Architect… original I know) started clashing over a property. One was determined to get his hands on it – and the other equally determined to hold onto it – to the point of dragging it into the grave with him if it meant thwarting the other. Who might get caught in the crossfire?

View From Lounge
View from the lounge.

The unfortunate character I came up with was somewhat inspired by a feeling I’ve felt when we’ve moved city (or country). If you’ve lived somewhere for a while you tend to bump into people you know on the street, you recognise places or service people. But when you’re new to town, every face is a stranger, and I’ve often felt people tend to look right through you.

This feeling was amplified during this move, because I didn’t get the chance to make new friends before I started being violently ill. Also, because the house was up the goat track I couldn’t navigate the path when hubby wasn’t home – so the house in all it’s marmalade cat glory became the one place I felt grounded – safe. So although Claire definitely isn’t me – she is that type of invisible girl, who finds her security in the one place she can call her own.

The other main character is Damien, the architect’s son. Now funnily enough the real life architect’s son did live next door to us – although in the six months we lived there I never met him. So apart from the fact he was his father’s son, he wasn’t a huge influence in the creation of Damien. He wasn’t an artist, nor was he disfigured like the character in the story and the quiet little love story between Claire and Damien was totally fictitious (and unexpected).

So despite there being lots of real life influences (for those of you who read yesterday’s WIPpet – you can just make out the cabbage tree to the right of the picture – it’s the tree with the bare trunk and a round pom-pom-like head of spikey leaves) – it is actually real-life spun into a fanciful imagining. Albiet one that transports me back to a time in my life that marked many new beginnings.

It seems trite to ask if real-life inspires you, because the Thursday’s Children blog hop is full of real-life inspirations – but I’d love to know if real-life and writing have ever come too close for comfort?

If you want to join in the Thursday’s Children blog hop fun, I’ve found them to be a warm and welcoming bunch. You just need to blog about what inspires you to write and add your link to this linky. Thanks so much to Rhiann Wynn-Nolet and Kristina Perez for hosting!

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Alternate Endings – Wednesday WIPpet

Sometimes an ending just doesn’t feel right. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, it might even be what you planned – but months later you find yourself still wondering if perhaps it should have gone a different way… That’s exactly what happened with a short story I wrote entitled A Place of Safety.

The story itself has always been a bit special to me – even though it’s not epic fantasy (gasp). It was inspired during the period of time we moved to Wellington and lived in a big old house clinging to the side of a hill. Not long after we moved I became pregnant with our son and spent most of the pregnancy bed-ridden (with hyperemesis), and because my husband was working and I didn’t know another soul, I spent a lot of time alone in the house…

The story is about Claire, a girl all but invisible to society, who finds her solace in an old house. The house is owned by an old man she calls the Landlord, who has an ongoing feud with an architect who owns all of the surrounding properties. An unlikely romance develops between Claire and her neighbour Damien (the architect’s son), a physically deformed artist. Unfortunately, the way I wrote it, things did not end well for the lovers.

Although I’d planned it to have a tragic, things-got-out-of-hand, ending, when it came down to it – it seemed like such a waste. Over the course of the story the characters had grown so much I felt their courage and new-found strength would have pulled them clear of the wreckage. After a long time they’ve finally convinced me they deserve their happy ending.

So today’s WIPpet, (yes I got there eventually) in honour of the 27th of February – is the last 27 lines from A Place of Safety. Because even though I’m not going to use it – I still really liked it and wanted to share it with someone. (Oh and to give the last few lines some context Damien had carved the birds and put them, one at a time, up into a cabbage tree beneath Claire’s window):

When the world comes crashing down, Claire is at her desk, writing a letter to the Architect.  The only warning is a loud roar, a split second before the house lurches violently, slamming her forward into the window frame.

Staggering to her feet, her first thought is for Damien.  But where doors used to be, there is only unyielding rock and rubble.  She runs around the accessible windows, desperate for a glimpse of him. But his face, as comfortable and as familiar as home, isn’t smiling up at her.

The only thing she can find is his name. She calls it over and over, the pitch increasing, until the world retreats into the sound of her screams.

***

A neighbour who sees it happen, calls the emergency services.  Not knowing what else to do, she asks for police, fire and ambulance.

***

Because the site is so steep, a fireman has to use a ladder and break a window to gain access.  After a quick search he finds a girl sprawled in the rubble, a gash on her head, hands torn and bloody. 

He tries to talk to her, but she doesn’t respond.  Although her eyes are open, she doesn’t seem to see him at all – as if she’s focussing on something far away.

He has to carry her out of the house.

***

The Architect races down the hill looking for his son.  When he can’t find him he pleads with the fire-crew to search the rubble.  He is there, hours later, when Damien’s body is uncovered, broken within the rock.  He roars his grief at the world.

***

An investigation occurs.  Due to an unfortunate error, the truck driver was given the wrong address.  The top of the hill where the rock was dumped was unstable, causing it to fall onto the house below.  It is declared a tragic accident.

***

No one knows what to do with the house.  Eventually its weakened foundations collapse and it crashes down onto the cabbage tree.   There is no sign of the two wooden birds.  Their nest destroyed, they have flown away.

Oh and for context again – it wasn’t an accident.  The Architect was trying to scare Claire into selling the house…

For those of you who would like to join me and other WIPpeteers (a fun group if the twitter dress code is anything to go by) – the rules are easy. Just post something from a Work in Progress that relates to the date – today is the 27th, so 27 words, lines, something from page 27 or chapter 27 (it’s pretty flexible). Then add yourself to this linky. Thanks to the lovely K.L. Schwengel for hosting!

Happy Writing…

Have you ever had to go back and rewrite an ending? Or have you ever wanted to rewrite an ending to someone elses book?

Shades of Darkness & Light: An Interview with Author K.L. Schwengel

Today I’m super excited to bring you an interview with the very talented K.L. Schwengel, author of First of Her Kind, the first installment of the Darkness & Light Series.

Kathi hails from a small farm in Wisconsin, where she trains and trials working Australian Shepherds, paints, dabbles in photography and graphic design and weaves amazing fantasy stories. Her novella Blood Tells All was published last year in the anthology Witch Hunt of the Blood, with authors Devin O’Branagan, Sue Campbell, Keri Lake, and Krista Walsh. First of Her Kind, is her first novel – and it’s a real stunner.

fohkcoverebook
It seems everyone wants to dictate what Ciara does with her life:  Serve the Goddess, destroy the Goddess, do as you promised your aunt — all Ciara really wants is to keep the two magics she possesses from ripping her apart.

And that’s not going to be easy.

Not only are they in complete opposition to one another, blood ties pull her in divergent directions as well.  And then there’s Bolin, the man sworn to protect her.  There’s no denying the growing attraction between them, but is it Ciara he wants, or her power?

None of which will matter if Ciara can’t overcome her fear and learn how to use her gifts.  No one knows the depths of the ancient power she possesses, or what will happen if it manages to escape her control. 
 
Will she lose herself entirely?  Or be forever trapped between darkness and light?

So welcome Kathi, I’ve just finished First of Her Kind, and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I’m really looking forward to getting the inside scoop!

You’ve said First of Her Kind was inspired by one line: “There was nothing for it, in another turn of the glass Meriol would be dead.” What was it about that first image that captured your imagination?

Oh wow. Um. I think because it raised so many questions that needed answering. Who was Meriol? Why was she dying? Who would it affect? Answering those led me along the path and the story grew.

Great questions – and a great way to start the book. When did you first suspect that this might become your first novel?

Technically, I think it’s my fourth novel. But, due to my rewriteritiss, it’s the first one I’ve actually gotten to write ~Finis~ at the end of. I didn’t know if it would ever see the light of day. The first draft was bad. Which is normal for first drafts. I had a friend read it, which I normally don’t do that early in the game, and she loved it. So, I knew I had something to work with, and that was really when I decided it was worthwhile continuing on with it.

Your three core characters, Ciara, Bolin and Donovan are all strong and very memorable. Did you always see them clearly, or have there been any parts of their characters that surprised you when you were writing?

Donovan and Ciara were pretty clear right from the start. Bolin was a bit of a challenge. I knew exactly what I wanted it to be like, or for people to think he was like, but I had to balance his personality with the fact I wanted readers to love him. In the early drafts he was a bit more of an arse. I had to soften him a little. He hated that almost as much as I did and he fought me constantly.

Having read the book, I can see why – although I think you got the balance just right! However, from the outset of this book Ciara’s life is dramatically changed and she is pulled between conflicting forces and loyalties – that would be enough to destroy most people. Is there one key thing that helps her navigate her new reality?

I think it’s a combination of things. The love and respect she had for her aunt and her mother help guide her and keep her strong, even if she doesn’t share their love of the Goddess. And Bolin, of course. Even though he frustrates her to no end.

So there is clearly ‘something’ between Ciara and Bolin. Can you give us any teasers about what to expect?

I’m not entirely sure what to expect. You’re going to see the relationship grow. Bolin is doing to come to terms with his feelings but whether he’s too late, or not, remains to be seen.

I have to say I’m a bit of a Bolin fan – so go team Bolin. What is it about him you find most endearing? Is that different from Ciara?

Hurray. I’m a bit of a Bolin fan myself. But an endearing quality? Hmm, there must be something. I guess I’d have to say it’s his gentleness. Which we don’t get to see a lot of, just enough to know it’s there.

I can’t believe you had to think about that one, I loved his strength, stubbornness (with a capital S) and his dry retorts – which is why the gentleness, when he shows that side, is so appealing! On the other hand, Donovan has to be one of the coolest (unflappable), pithiest antagonists I’ve come across – and I love the way he constantly refers to the Goddess’s hags (no subtlety there). What’s your favourite aspect of his character?

I think it has to be his arrogance, which is weird, but it makes him fun to write. He’s such an infallible snob, with a kind of dry humor I appreciate.

Are you a plotter or pantster? Give us a sneak peek inside your writing process.

Total pantster that occasionally tacks notes on the wall for future reference. In fact, I have a rough idea how Book 3 starts and even have a few scenes written for it.

You also write fantastic dialogue (I’ve been getting funny looks from the family while having my own personal chortlefest) – can you give us any tips on how to keep it real?

Thank you. 😀 Tips, hmm? Pay attention to how people really talk, how they use language, what their word choices are. Donovan is very proper and correct so I purposely kept him from using contractions. Even when writing in his POV, no contractions. Most people don’t talk like that. They also don’t use proper sentence structure and they use adverbs. A lot. All the time. Also, read your dialogue out loud. If you trip over it, chances are something is wrong.

Thanks – great tips, and I see what you mean about Donovan now that you point it out! Actually I could chat all day, but is there anything else you would like to say about First of Her Kind and what we can expect to see in the coming installments?

It was a great pleasure, Raewyn, I loved your questions. I have to say, I’m getting some good comments from those who have read First of Her Kind. It makes me a little giddy. It also validates my faith in the story and the decisions I made. The second book, Emergence, will be a little darker than First of Her Kind. More characters are being introduced, Donovan gets himself a new helper, and we’re going to learn a lot more about Bolin.

I can’t wait!  Thanks so much Kathi for stopping by and giving us a sneaky peek into your writing world.

If you want to know more about Kathi, check out her excellent blog, My Random Muse – which contains links on how to get your own copy of First of Her Kind.

Why We Need a Back-up Plan – Thursday’s Children

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A weekly blog hop
where writers come together
to talk about what inspires them.
 

Some weeks are just tough on the old writing front. When the creative well is more of a dust bowl than a gushing font of inspiration. In times-gone-by I may have lamented my lack of talent and wallowed in self-pity, but frankly I just don’t have the time.  Any writing time is precious and I will not waste it staring at a blank page.

So what’s a girl to do?

In times like these it pays to have a back-up plan. The tried and true things that have inspired in the past and are likely to help again. (Sort of like Batman’s utility belt…).

So here’s what works for me:

1. Phone a Friend.

I’m pretty lucky to have some truly awesome, hang out in the same geographical location, writing friends. We try and catch up at least once a week and do a couple of chapter edits on each other’s WIPs. (Check out Chapter Edits – A Quick Overview to see what I mean).

I was able to hang out with one of these friends last night – dragging my stalled plot point along with me. Her feedback, and genuine interest in my story was hugely inspiring. She asked great questions about my villain’s motives, and as I explained these to her, a lot of new possibilities suddenly opened up. Now I can’t wait to get stuck in and write them!

2. U2.

I wish Bono was my phone a friend, but I am just as grateful I own a lot of their music. It’s fair to say their music makes up most of the soundtrack to this trilogy, and for some reason really transports me back to that world.

The tracks I’ve been listening to on loop this week: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, With or Without You, Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, One, Walk On and Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own.

3. Visual Diaries.

I still keep an visual_diaryactual (rather than virtual) scrapbook of images that inspire me (and yes for those with good eyes that is Daniel Craig on the desk waiting to be stuck in… *sighs*).

Skimming through these images, whether it’s a mood, a place, or the expression on someone’s face – is often enough to get the creative juices flowing.

The photo shoot of the man and woman looking at each other was inspiration for two characters in the third book (Eleanor and Andreas – and no it isn’t a romance…).

4. Other People’s Books.

When I’m creatively flat I often find somebody else’s great writing can be an inspiration too. I usually try to keep within the genre I’m writing, to remind myself of the reasons I enjoy it.

Occasionally this backfires horribly and elicits feelings of utter inadequacy… in which case I head over to position five…

5. Inspirational Posts.

I subscribe to some great blogs, and tend to bookmark posts that are really uplifting. People who stuck at it and got published, other people in the same boat who are keeping on keeping on, and even those who give you a good kick in the pants and say ‘just get on with it’. This usually reminds me of the higher goal and encourages me to get back in the writing saddle again.

And when all else fails, there’s always youtube and the lolcats

Glad to say the writing is still on track!

How about you? What’s on your inspirational utility belt?

If you want to join Thursday’s Children or just check out what everyone else is posting here is the linky. (If someone wants to let me know how to run the script on Rhiann’s blog so the posts pop up on here – I’d really appreciate that)!

People You Know Too Well – Wednesday WIPpet

There are some people you know so well you can predict how they will react in any given situation. Things they’ll find funny (that perhaps no one else would), whether they can laugh off a slight, or will get out the pitchfork over some pet peeve. In today’s Wednesday WIPpet one of my characters, Jae realises she knows one man more than she’d care to admit, and she’s not altogether happy about it.

In honour of the 20th, this is 20ish lines from Chapter 20 of my Work in Progress, The Fall of the Kings.

Jae sighed and reluctantly started to run back up the trail towards the Sanctuary. She had to lift the hem of the hated skirt in order to do so, but she couldn’t very well discard it now. Zak had better hope she could pass for a city girl, or they were both going to be in trouble.

She didn’t know who she was madder with; Zak for heading off into certain discovery, or Stellar for suggesting she understood Zak. If she lived to a hundred she’d never fathom the logic of that man.

Yet as the trees thinned out, to her chagrin she had a pretty good idea of what Zak might be doing – because it was what she’d do herself; skirt the tree line and find a good vantage point to view the crowd. It would be all but impossible to find a few people in a crowd this size, but he would have been persistent and wouldn’t take risks.

Not immediately anyway – patience wasn’t his strong suit, especially when it came to Jae.

Then he’d probably assume they’d been caught. She scowled – in fact he probably skipped straight to that presumption, which meant he’d be looking for them. But where? The Order had a small tent set up to the side of the Sanctuary – he might get close and try and catch word of the two women – but that would mean crossing the God’s Way through the crowds. The alternative was to get close to the soliders’ station – and even he wouldn’t be so stupid as to risk that. Excepting it was on this side of the road and close to the trees.

She puffed out a breath and picked up her pace. Just this once Zak, why couldn’t you wait?

If you want to participate in the Wednesday WIPpet we love the company! The rules are simple, post something from your Work In Progress that relates to the date. 20 words or lines from page 20 or chapter 20 – you get the idea. Then add your list to this linky (hosted by the lovely K.L. Schwengel) or leave a link in the comments.

Happy Writing!

Chapter Edits – A Quick Overview

I’m still in editing mode. Which means sometimes I feel like Sisyphus – the guy fated to push the rock uphill for eternity – because just when I feel like I’m getting somewhere I realise there is something else that needs attention and the whole process starts again.

Discouraged? Surprisingly not. I figure I’m on a learning curve and my writing is going to be so much better for it. I can already see improvement, and I’m holding on to this when the editing notes seem longer than the text itself.

My latest editing pass has actually been quite fun. (Yes I never expected to ever post those words). Probably because this time I’ve been doing chapter edits.

This format evolved when I was beta reading for some friends. I’d make notes in the manuscript, but in order to keep the finer points of the plot at the front of my mind I’d do a short chapter summary, so I could easily go back and check plot details. This included a short summary of what was happening to advance the plot, and short notes on where the chapter was working or not.

What really surprised me was how easy it was to evaluate the plot, and to identify character or writing weaknesses. The great thing about looking at a chapter like this is that you can quickly see where your plot is moving, where it’s slowing down, or worse – not moving at all. And I figured this would be a great tool to use on my own work.

To give you an idea of what it looks like, I’ve included an example I did on Chapter Two of my WIP:

Chapter 2:

Celeste’s POV: Celeste is watching Marcus spar, small intimate scene where Marcus indicates he knows Josiah is at the Upper Reach. Josiah arrives and asks Marcus to be King.

What I like about this scene is the ease between Marcus and Celeste and in particular her response to him. I’d like to see a bit more ambition / calculation from him and her surprise that he knew this was coming / was involved in making it happen? Show more small cracks between the two?

The dialogue is far too stilted.

The references to the children and family when Josiah is there aren’t working.

Having run the start of my WIP through this I’ve realised my dialogue needs serious work, the opening chapters need more tension and plot catalysts, and I haven’t hit the right note on two of my male characters (going back to make sure I’m showing someone in a moment of weakness – not a weak person). Things I can now attempt to remedy.

For many of you, further ahead in your writing journey, I imagine the editing process gets easier – especially as your skills improve. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway. So far this has been an incredibly helpful tool, and I’m confident my rewrite will be the better for it.

How about you? Do you have any editing tips you’ve found really helpful?

Show Some Love – Thursday’s Children

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A weekly blog hop where
writers come together to talk
about what inspires them.
Join us!

Given it’s Valentine’s Day, it’s only fitting this week’s inspiration is about love. As a writer of epic fantasy I enjoy writing about strange magical worlds, conflict, and intrigue – but every so often my characters fall in love. And these scenes terrify me.

So where does a love-phobic writer go for inspiration?

For me – it’s to the writer’s first rule:

Show don’t tell.

Forget the candy hearts, flowers, or balloons. Sure they’re nice, and always appreciated; but if you want to get something meaningful for the object of your affection – make it something that shows you get them. Consider this very unusual example from my own life:

On our second wedding anniversary, my husband and I had very little money. We had just moved to London (from NZ with a terrible exchange rate), and most of our meagre savings had gone on flights and setting up a flat. At that point, I was working as a temp in a very low paid office job (the first job I could find two days off the plane) to support us while my husband looked for a proper job. We had student loans to service and very little money for anything other than the basic necessities.

We couldn’t afford to go out for our anniversary, but when I came home from work (still adjusting to the reality that was the London Underground) – I found some tea light candles on the kitchen table and my husband (who looked like the cat who got the cream) holding out a present wrapped up in newspaper. To be honest my heart sank a little (the budget was never far from my mind), – but appreciating the gesture, I made a big fuss while I pulled off the paper.

And what, you might wonder was inside that gift that made such an impact on me?

Four blue and white egyptian cotton tea towels.

Yes, you read that right. Tea towels. Not impressed? Well I was.

You see he knew I was struggling coping with a grey UK winter living in a tiny flat decorated out of our backpacks. Although this was a practical gift (we needed to buy tea towels – no dishwasher in that flat) he’d chosen to spend a few extra quid to buy me some that were really beautiful. A little splash of luxury I would use every day in our little grey box – and beyond when we found our feet.

And because he’d discovered it was our cotton anniversary.

It may not have made anyone else’s list of a great ideas for an anniversary present – but I’ll never forget it. Because he knew it mattered to me.

So when my characters force me to capture their love stories I look for things or actions that matter to the character. Things that show the other person is paying attention. Has a backpack strap become frayed? Have they lost something important to them? Is there an important date that is going unmarked? Are they missing something from home? Or struggling to cope with a new situation? What small thing can the other do that says I see you and I want to make it better. To me that’s showing love.

There is a time for sweet nothings – although you probably won’t find much of those in my writing – but I prefer seeing love in action. To me that’s inspiring.

How about you?

If you want to join in and share the things that inspire you, or just check out what the other Thursday’s Children are inspired by click here for the Linky Tools list.

(NB. Just in case you don’t know – tea towels are the things you use to dry your dishes).