Monday, October 24, 2016


The time has finally come to reveal one of the big secret projects I've been working on! Today I'm thrilled to announce that I am part of an exciting collaborative project with five other terrific indie authors: a collection of historical fairytale-retelling novellas, releasing in ebook format this December. Ladies and gentleman, may I present the cover of Once:

It hasn't been easy to keep from spilling over with excitement as the months of planning and work have built toward this day! Especially after seeing that gorgeous cover designed by Suzannah Rowntree. I'm proud to be working with all these great indie authors, whose work I've already enjoyed in the past, on something that I think is going to be pretty special.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may already be familiar with the name of my own contribution: The Mountain of the Wolf, a suspenseful Western take on "Little Red Riding Hood" filled with secrets, outlaws, wild horses, mountain storms and revenge. I'm very fond of this story, which I'd say probably plays a bit more freely with the elements of the original fairytale than any of the retellings I've written so far! I've been working it throughout most of this year, and it's been an adventure—from the Camp NaNo first draft in April through rounds of editing, feedback, tweaking and polishing it into its final form. For a sneak peek into the story's atmosphere, you can visit my Pinterest storyboard and my YouTube playlist of music that helped inspire the story.

Meanwhile, be sure to visit all of our authors' announcement posts to get a preview of the five other fascinating stories in the collection:


Having read all of these stories myself, I can tell you, you're not going to want to miss this collection! Each story is an imaginative take on a different classic fairytale, set all over the world in a dazzling variety of historical eras. If you're as excited as I am (or even just a little bit excited), you can help spread the word by sharing the announcement using the hashtag #OnceFairytales on Twitter, Instagram or other social media, and adding it to-read on Goodreads. We're also looking for advance reviewers! If you'd like an e-ARC of Once and can commit to posting a review during the first week of its release, drop us a line at cinderella19395[at]gmail[dot]com.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Quote: The Thing Which Lies Close to Your Heart

Regardless of the popular literary trend of the times, write the thing which lies close to your heart.   
~ Bess Streeter Aldrich

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Fun Is In the Planning

Hard as it is to believe, I haven't done the official November NaNoWriMo in five years. Every time November rolls around, I'm either already in the middle of a project or not up to the pressure of trying to reach 50,000 words in a month. (This year it is definitely the latter.) I feel like NaNo helped jump-start my writing career, but hasn't been absolutely essential to it since; especially given that I've found myself to be a naturally slow writer. But I always get a little wistful when late October rolls around and the internet begins to buzz with writers excitedly getting ready for NaNo: sharing their plot synopses, introducing their characters and settings. And I recently realized part of the reason why this is so—because the planning is the fun part.

I learned this principle quite early in childhood, in a place called Animalworld.

Animalworld was one of my siblings' and my favorite things to play. In essence it was extremely simple: a menagerie of toy animal families, both wild and domestic, who all lived harmoniously together in a town built of wooden blocks and the accessories from every dollhouse, toy horse barn, Wild West playset and so forth that had ever passed through our possession—furniture, food, fences, buckets, campfires, blankets. Animalworld had its hierarchy, its cliques, its legends, its invalids (the unfortunate few from every toy animal set who can't stand up unless you lean them against somebody or wedge their feet in the carpet). The elephant and his twin sons ran the general store; a young cheetah appropriately served as courier, delivering messages from a little felt bag slung around her neck.  For reasons nobody can remember, the commander of Animalworld's armies was a female tiger cub who must have been some sort of tactical child genius, and henceforth the Tigers' house always guarded the national treasures: a cannon, map and treasure-chest from an old Peter Pan playset. Their hereditary enemies were a set of toy dinosaurs given us by a relative, commanded by a plastic Captain Hook (further relic of the Peter Pan set). Neither Hook nor the largest dinosaur would stand by themselves on floor or carpet, so the dinosaur was Hook's bodyguard and they went into battle arm-in-arm.

About once a day, Animalworld was seized by the desire to explore new lands. Everyone took down their houses, loaded the contents onto "boats"—the largest pieces of furniture, board books, the lids of toy bins—and set out through the house in an impressive caravan, flanked by scouts in case of a surprise attack by the dinosaurs. Hardwood floors were bodies of water, carpets were dry land, and the boats navigated equally well on both. When the caravan reached the living room, the boats were unloaded and the town set up—and as it would be getting close to dinner by this time, after a few minor adventures everybody would take down their houses and load up again, and the caravan would wend its way back to the original homeland in a bedroom. We never got tired of doing this.

There was never any question that setting up the town was the best part. Once it was built, there was only so much domestic drama you could invent before Animalworld's social life began to go stagnant, and the dinosaurs were only good for about one attack per day. I remember playing with a similar set-up at our cousins' house once, and all of us agreeing with some surprise that after everything had been built to our satisfaction, the most fun part was over. That was why the urge to go exploring new lands seized Animalworld's elders so often—you had the fun of taking the town down and putting it up all over again.

Really, this is true of writing too. Some of the moments of the most pure, unadulterated fun come in the very beginning when you're first seized with an idea. Making up lists of character names, imagining their personalities and what they look like, what their relationships are to each other; figuring out your setting and naming towns and streets; brainstorming the main points of your plot—somehow a story never seems more exciting and promising and alive than it does in those first hours of inspired invention. It's the kind of excitement that one got as a child when setting out brushes and smocks and paint for a craft project; or opening a toy bin and spilling out the colored wooden blocks and dollhouse furniture to build Animalworld—or whatever yours was called, because I know you must have had one too.

Of course, when you're serious about a writing project, it's necessary to move on to the next stage. You've got to settle down and put in the hours of work to actually bring that bright idea into existence. And there are plenty of other rewarding moments, and even just plain fun moments along the way. But there's still nothing that quite compares with those first thrilling sensations of brainstorming and daydreaming, when the story in your head looks the brightest it will ever be.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Blackout Poetry, Edition V

This is one of my favorite bits of blackout poetry I've done so far. I call it "Family Saga":

Perhaps this one should be called..."Plot Synopsis"?

Well, this one's easy. "Diagnosis":

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Published short fiction: "Rubicon"

I have a new Western short story, "Rubicon," up at The Western Online! Here's a brief excerpt:

They reached the bluff at sunset. Below they could see the ford of the river rippling wide and shallow and muddy, and on the other side of the river the clean brown slash of the dusty road cutting away through the sagebrush. There was an orange cast of light over everything: on the few spires of rock standing up alongside the road, on the necks of their horses, on their own faces and hands.

Randall McClenahan walked to the edge of the bluff after he dismounted, and looked down at the setting of the scene they had chosen to play. It looked a little strange to him—perhaps because he was seeing it with the eyes of tomorrow night. Tomorrow night it would all look the same, but by tomorrow night’s sunset he would be an outlaw.

Read the rest here

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Favorite Indie Reads for #IndieAuthorDay

Today is the inaugural Indie Author Day! All day long, libraries across North America will be hosting events celebrating indie authors, and there will be a discussion panel on indie publishing broadcast live online at 2 PM eastern time. I wasn't able to make it to a live event (I'd love to manage better next year!), but I wanted to do something here to celebrate some of my fellow indie authors whose books I've enjoyed. So here's ten favorite indie books, in totally random order. Some of them you may have heard me mention before, others may be new to you—I've linked to my Goodreads reviews wherever applicable. Be sure to visit all the authors' websites and check out their other books as well!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Who's Afraid of Editing?

Pretty much the only thing happening on the writing front right now is revisions to The Mountain of the Wolf—and there's only so much you can say about your progress on one particular project. But as I was thinking yesterday, I think you learn a little something from the process of writing each new story, no matter how long or short. For instance...

not so scary any more

After five years as a published author, I'm beginning to entertain the hope that I may be growing out of my fear of feedback. Oh, sure, I still get nervous when I know someone is reading a new story; but it's no longer the abject, craven terror that it used to be. I guess I've been fortunate: I've had several good experiences with really good, helpful feedback that helped me improve a story. And I've discovered that with some projects, you really do come to a point where you just can't decide objectively for yourself whether it's good, bad or in-between, and need someone else's perspective to help you move forward. End result: last month I was astounded to find myself actually looking forward to my beta-readers' comments on The Mountain of the Wolf. That's progress.

take a deep breath

There is always a moment (okay, it's more like a few hours, or a few days) after you first read through your feedback when you feel totally overwhelmed by just how much work the story needs. Even if you know exactly what edits you want to make, it looks like a massive job. I think the thing to do is just breathe for a while, before you even think of touching a red pen. I got most of my feedback for The Mountain of the Wolf just before heading out on a camping trip, and initially I thought the hours on the road and by the lake would be a good time to think it over and try to rework my outline. So I brought my notebooks along. But once there, I didn't want to touch them. I realized what I needed to do was just put the whole thing out of my head for a couple of days, relax and enjoy the peace and quiet, and come back to the edits later with a calmer perspective. And you know what? On the second night, some of the ideas that I needed simply popped into my head, and I pulled out my notebook and sat by the campfire and scribbled them down. After that, nothing seemed as overwhelming anymore.

a little goes a long way

Somewhat along the same lines, it's amazing how much you can change the purport of a scene or even a whole story by just altering a few lines—or even a word. Changes that I initially thought would require whole paragraphs of new text have ended up being much easier than I expected. Overall, this editing process has ended up being encouraging to me in a variety of ways, and I'm actually glad it was necessary.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Weekend Odds and Ends #30

Haven't done one of these in a while! Here's various entertaining links that I've shared on Twitter over the last few...months.

  • This is pretty awesome: To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Chisolm Trail next year, a cattle drive is being planned to follow the original route from Texas to Abilene, Kansas.

  • Austin Kleon recently shared this older article from The Art of Manliness: "Communities Vs. Networks: To Which Do You Belong?" Very good stuff.

  • From, here's a nice list of 5 Healthy Habits to Get Into Today. Journaling and fresh air are two of my own standbys!

  • The Royal Mail recently released a set of Agatha Christie stamps to mark the 126th anniversary of her birth. Each stamp features one of her most famous novels, and contains "hidden clues" to the solution!

  • On a more mysterious mystery-author note, a British publisher which has begun reprinting the works of an obscure author named Clifton Robbins is seeking help in finding the heirs to his literary estate—if there are any.

  • A letter mailed to a farm in Iceland with a map on the envelope instead of an address made it there anyway.

  • The mark of a great humorist is when the preface is as entertaining as the book itself—A.A. Milne was excellent at that, and (no surprise) so was P.G. Wodehouse.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Things I Have Enjoyed This Month: The Getaway Edition

photo by me

All the delights of this month were crammed into three days of camping on a lake in the Adirondacks—three marvelously peaceful, refreshing, soul-restoring days spent simply gazing on beauty, and forgetting that stress and worries and deadlines ever existed. I learned for myself the truth that sometimes, you simply have to get away—and if it's back to nature, so much the better. So many things, both big and small, which filled my heart and which I don't want to forget:

~ The sweet, definitively-autumn scent of pine needles and sand and fallen leaves moistened by a pre-dawn rain shower

~ A glimpse of the Great Sacandaga Lake alongside the highway—brilliantly blue and sparkling and so huge I felt an inkling of what it must be like to see the Great Lakes or the ocean

~ Driving up through a hillside city amongst beautiful old Victorian houses; and through a quaint village on a river where every house seemed to have a front porch overlooking the water

~ Fresh air, fresh air, fresh air—breathing it, drinking it in, living in it from dawn till dark

~ Playing old songs softly on the harmonica by a campfire at night

~ Millions of stars like silver glitter against the midnight-black sky over the lake, and their streaked reflections in the water

~ White morning mist—so soft, and yet so impenetrable—obscuring the whole lake at dawn, and then slowly, slowly burning off and drifting away to reveal the trees and mountains shining in the sun again

~ Reading Coleridge and Tennyson by the lake shore

~ Tallying up the numbers of out-of-state license plates to pass the time on the highway—twenty-two states and two Canadian provinces. (Most: Massachusetts. Furthest away: Arizona.)

~ The delicate pattern of elm leaves lit up by campfire light against the dark forest roof

~ The lonesome cry of a loon (a Red-Crested Web-Footed Lake Loon, naturally)

~ The gnarled roots of pine and elm trees twining over rocks and through moss

~ The feel of coarse beach sand, like thousands of tiny rock crystals that strike sparks in the sun

~ Hilarity when someone (I will not name names) sat down on a styrofoam cooler (result: scratch one styrofoam cooler)

~ Tiny lights of other camps winking out through the dusk on the far shore of the lake

~ The small marvel of creation that is a duck: shimmering iridescent feathers on heads and wings, soft white ones inside their wings like the lining of a coat; their jet-ski landings on the water, their comic quacking and chirruping and conscientious preening

~ Tramping up a footpath with fragrant moldering leaves underfoot, between lichened boulders and moss-covered fallen trees

~ The glorious tapestry of autumn color spreading across the Adirondacks; the majestic shoulders of hills crowned with pines and glowing with red, rose, orange and gold

In short, if you want to see New York at its best, come in autumn and visit the Adirondacks.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Lost, Stolen or Strayed: Six Weeks of Summer

Like the dew on the mountain, like the foam on the river, like the bubble on the fountain...August disappeared. And then half of September. I had fondly hoped to have a good three or four chapters of Dearest Lieutenant written by this time, but as yet I haven't written a word and am floundering in the middle of a couple research books I just haven't had the time or energy to read properly.

Life just keeps getting in the way. Looking after a convalescent dog, and then beginning a daily program of dog-training. Closing the pool for the year. Celebrating my youngest sister's sixteenth birthday. Beta-reading for several different authors and sending in feedback (exciting, with the great stories I'm getting an early look at, but a little exhausting when you're scrambling for a deadline!). Preparing for a camping trip that ended up getting postponed...and then re-preparing for it at a later date. All normal and even enjoyable things (barring the injured dog), but they don't usually get crammed breathlessly into six weeks, without leaving you any breathing space.

At times I've felt terribly frustrated—I've had the dreadful feeling that I don't even deserve the title of "writer" any longer, given the complete absence of fresh new words put to paper in the last few months. I haven't written any actual new fiction since a rather slapdash CampNaNo in July, though I have done a little editing. I keep telling myself that next week...I'll finally have free time to sit down and do what work I choose without pressure. Next week...

We were told Bär would have to wear the plastic "cone" to protect her stitches for only two weeks. Six and a half weeks later, she's still wearing it. (And boy, does that thing hurt when it whacks into your shins.) Her stitches healed well, but she is still prone to lick the area and badly irritate the surrounding skin—so the cone has to stay on whenever we can't keep a close eye on her. There were various other complications and setbacks along the way, such as when she had an adverse reaction to a medicine prescribed by the vet (incorrectly prescribed at that, we discovered afterwards).

We also had a session with a dog trainer, with an eye to preventing any more catastrophes in the future. You can't do anything about the behavior of neighbors' dogs, but you can train your own dog not to react to them—but it takes time, patience, and the right kind of training. My goodness, I could write reams about everything we learned during that training session. To put it in a nutshell, America as a country has a terrible track record when it comes to dog training—we treat dogs too much like humans, rather than learning to understand their pack mentality and establishing ourselves, the owners, as the dominant leaders of the pack. America has the highest rate of dog bites in the world, with the numbers going up every year—while in Germany or France, the trainer told us, you can go to an outdoor café and find that a third of the tables have dogs lying quietly beside their owners, minding their own business and ignoring each other.

So. Daily training exercises, including ten-minute walks three times a day. Did I mention that I've been trying to re-read The Brothers Karamazov since August too? Of course I head for Dostoevsky during hot, humid, high-stress months. No, I'm not crazy at all. I will admit, though, that the Brothers K. have been sitting neglected on the coffee table for the past several weeks, as I've had very little time for pleasure reading and only enough mental energy for something light and cheering (like an English murder mystery) when I do find a spare moment.

Next week...
photo by myself

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Agatha Christie Blogathon: The Secret of, Chimneys

The Secret of Chimneys (1925) and The Seven Dials Mystery (1929) are not your typical Agatha Christie novels. Published early in her career, they're probably best described as light-hearted spy thrillers—indeed they can almost be read as good-natured spoofs of the genre. Though both feature a murder or murders, their plots revolve much more around international intrigue and rely a good deal on fortuitous coincidences, and their chief joy is the witty banter between the characters.

Chimneys, one of the "stately homes of England," is fairly hopping with mysterious guests, secretive detectives, foreign Counts with unpronounceable names, sinister servants, secret passages, pompous politicians, Bright Young Things who relish every bit of the excitement, and naturally a stately butler who manages to remain unfazed by it all. In the midst of the maelstrom is the owner of Chimneys, the hapless Lord Caterham, a vague and mild-mannered peer who devoutly wishes that all of these top-secret diplomatic conferences and deaths by foul play didn't have to occur in his home. His daughter Lady Eileen Brent (known for some unfathomable reason as Bundle) is far more ready to get in on the action—a supporting character in The Secret of Chimneys, she's promoted to heroine in The Seven Dials Mystery.

The first book finds footloose adventurer Anthony Cade agreeing to deliver the manuscript of a defunct diplomat's memoirs to a London publisher—a job that takes on a much more lively aspect when it becomes clear that several different parties are out to get hold of the manuscript by hook or crook. Anthony winds up at Chimneys, where an important conference on the future of the (fictional) revolution-prone Balkan country of Herzoslovakia is disrupted by a murder. Nobody at Chimneys is quite what they seem, and everyone seems out to nab the manuscript or a famous missing jewel or both; and the process of straightening it all out is highly entertaining.

In The Seven Dials Mystery, the seemingly accidental death of a guest at Chimneys ("I don't like anyone who comes and dies in my house on purpose to annoy me," Lord Caterham complains) leads Bundle Brent into the investigation of what seems to be a secret society known as the Seven Dials, who are out to steal a valuable invention formula. A mostly new cast of characters are joined by a few old friends from the first book, including the pompous Cabinet Minister George Lomax and his young assistant, the not overly bright but eminently likeable Bill Eversleigh. The character of Superintendent Battle, who appears in both books, would later feature in three more Christie novels, including one of the best Poirot books, Cards on the Table.

I read both of these books for the first time years ago, and have always had a soft spot for them despite their being much lighter fare than Christie's top whodunits. But just recently, something else began to dawn on me about the Chimneys books.

I have a feeling that the establishment of Chimneys may be a nod to Blandings Castle.

If you know P.G. Wodehouse, you probably know Blandings Castle—that stately pile where guests are also hardly ever what they claim to be, and quite often spend the book vying with each other in attempts to pinch something, whether it be a diamond necklace or an Egyptian scarab—always with Lord Emsworth's secretary, the Efficient Rupert Baxter, highly suspicious and hot on their trail. Where prowlers run rampant in the halls at midnight, and the lord of the manor usually has absolutely no idea what is going on.  The more I look at it, the more I can't help believing that Christie's Chimneys is a cheeky hat-tip to Blandings. First you have the proprietor: the similarity between mild, vague Lord Caterham and the even vaguer Lord Emsworth, both of whom frequently have trouble following a conversation, cannot be denied. Take this conversation from Wodehouse's Leave it to Psmith (1923):

"He threw a flower-pot at me," said Baxter, and vanished moodily.

Lord Emsworth stared at the open window, then turned to Eve for enlightenment.

"Why did Baxter throw a flower-pot at McTodd?" he said. "And," he went on, ventilating an even deeper question, "where the deuce did he get a flower-pot? There are no flower-pots in the library."

Eve, on her side, was also seeking information.

"Did you say his name was McTodd, Lord Emsworth?"

"No, no. Baxter. That was Baxter, my secretary."

"No, I mean the one who met me at the station."

"Baxter did not meet you at the station. The man who met you at the station," said Lord Emsworth, speaking slowly, for women are so apt to get things muddled, "was McTodd. He's staying here...And," said Lord Emsworth with not a little heat, "I strongly object to Baxter throwing flower-pots at him. I won't have Baxter throwing flower-pots at my guests," he said firmly; for Lord Emsworth, though occasionally a little vague, was keenly alive to the ancient traditions of his family regarding hospitality.

And, in one of the best scenes from The Seven Dials Mystery, a conversation with Lord Caterham:

"I haven't been to London," said Bundle. "I ran over a man."  

"Only I didn't really. He was shot."

"How could he have been?"

"I don't know how he could have been, but he was."

"But why did you shoot him?"

"I didn't shoot him."

"You shouldn't shoot people," said Lord Caterham in a tone of mild remonstrance. "You shouldn't really. I daresay some of them richly deserve it—but all the same it will lead to trouble."

"I tell you I didn't shoot him."

"Well, who did?"

"Nobody knows," said Bundle.

"Nonsense," said Lord Caterham. "A man can't be shot and run over without anyone having done it."

"He wasn't run over," said Bundle.

"I thought you said he was."

"I said I thought I had."

"A tyre burst, I suppose," said Lord Caterham. "That does sound like a shot. It says so in detective stories."

Both establishments, of course, have their stately and unflappable butler. Even more telling, both have a despotic Scottish head gardener who strikes terror into the hearts of employers—at Blandings a McAllister, at Chimneys a McDonald. Blandings is located near the town of Market Blandings, and Chimneys near Market Basing (a town name Christie would re-use in many books).

But the crowning touch is that in The Seven Dials Mystery, Christie gives Sir Oswald Coote, temporary tenant of Chimneys, a secretary called Rupert Bateman—a serious-minded young man who can provide eminently practical advice in any situation. If Rupert Bateman isn't based off Rupert Baxter, I'll eat my hat. He's even referred to outright as "the efficient Mr. Rupert Bateman," in Chapter 20. And the scene in Chapter 27, with Bateman dogging the steps of Jimmy Thesiger during a midnight country-house prowl and insisting on verifying his story of why he's creeping about in the middle of the night, is Efficient Baxter to the very life.

I think it's worth noting that decades later, Christie would dedicate her 1969 novel Hallowe'en Party "To P. G. Wodehouse—whose books and stories have brightened my life for many years. Also, to show my pleasure in his having been kind enough to tell me he enjoyed my books."

This post is an entry for the Agatha Christie Blogathon, hosted by Christina Wehner and Little Bits of Classics. Don't forget to check out all the other posts in the blogathon!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Slight Blog Break

I'm going to take a brief hiatus from blogging for the next week/week and a half. I have several different deadlines to meet and will probably be away for a few days, so I just need every bit of extra time—and brainpower—I can scrape up! I'm planning on participating in the Agatha Christie Blogathon on September 18th, so I should definitely be back in the blogging business then, if not before.

See you then!