Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Most Influential Poet: John Keats

I discovered Keats as a sophomore; he still speaks to my heart almost twenty years later. It's been a beautiful day of firsts for me, so I wanted to spread the joy around. I can think of no better way to accomplish that than to leave you with the words of a magnificent poet. Here are my favorite three stanzas (out of eight) from "Ode to a Nightingale."

MY heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,
That thou, light-wingèd Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.


Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.


Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—do I wake or sleep?

Do you have a poet (or poem) that influenced you or gave you strength or made you laugh?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Finding a Writing Group or Critique Partner Just Got Easier: Crit Partner Match

Writing is a solitary activity much of the time. Sure, you can hang out at the local coffee shop or share your story on the ferry, heading to work, but ultimately, you're at your computer, alone, plugging away. So, when advised to find a Writing Group or a Critique Partner, what do you do?

Maybe you're one of the lucky ones who lives in the Seattle area. There are about five million writing groups in that area, floating in mystical nirvana, all waiting for that one more special member. But if you're like many of us, isolated by mountain ranges or rivers or time changes, you have little chance of stumbling upon a thriving, active writing group in your locale.

You have two choices left: You can move to Seattle. Or you can start one of your own. Or, maybe not. There is another option. You can join an on-line community as well.

Seanchai of A Field of Paper Flowers blog has started an on-line matching website named Crit Partner Match that helps writers find critique partners. In just two weeks, 62 potential writing partners have signed up under the headings of Short Stories, Poetic Thoughts, Children's Writing, Young Adult Advocates, and Speculative Fiction. Explore the site, maybe this is the answer you've been waiting for.

Monday, August 25, 2008

LiveScribe Your Life

I have a tiny attention span. Hmmm...that doesn't sound at all flattering. Strike that. I am consumed with curiosity and a constantly roving desire to learn. That sounds better. So driving down the road, I flip through every radio station I have access to, skipping anything monotonous or boring. When I happened upon an interview with LiveScribe CEO Jim Marggraff the other day, I was transfixed. Even though I had reached my destination, I sat in the car and listened.

And then I came home & jumped online to explore what I had heard. The techie geek in me greatly desires the Pulse smartpen. I am enamored with the idea of a pen that records audio (lecture, music, thoughts) as you jot down your notes. I am seduced by the fact that you can upload both notes & sounds to your computer. The beauty of this? You can search for key words within your notes. You can share everything you've done on-line. You can convert your writing to interactive flash movies or pdf's... the possibilities are endless.

I haven't bought one yet, so if anyone has, please email me. I'm curious about your experience. The smartpens are available at and Target, with 1GB costing about $149 and 2GB for $199 (which equals over 200 hours of recording).

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Calling Fantasy Movie Lovers

I have a quick favor to ask: What are your favorite fantasy movies? Of all time. Yes, I'm asking. Really. Lay it on me.

List as many as you want, but tag each one with the closest fitting title. If you can't find one that fits, create your own.

  • Speculative worlds;
  • Urban fantasy;
  • High fantasy;
  • Comic book hero;
  • Legendary hero;
  • Fantasy with Sci Fi twist
I am aware of the myriad of lists out there populating the Internet landscape. My purpose, however, is to discover the idiosyncracies and delights of the community that make up this portion of blog-world. Thank you for your contributions in advance!

Nathan Bransford: Literary Agent for Curtis Brown, Ltd

Previously this week, I mentioned Nathan Bransford as a blogging agent that anyone interested in publishing a novel should check out. I was serious. I've decided to post some of his gems, but I recommend that you seek his site out yourself.

Five Gems from Nathan Bransford:
1. August is a traditionally slow month in publishing, though he notes that it doesn't seem particularly slow this year. I had no idea that a particular time of the year was considered slow.

2. Quotes and blurbs from authors, editors, or clients are met with healthy skepticism, so don't bother soliciting them. On the other hand, if one of these respected individuals personally contacts him to refer your work, he'll definitely look at the manuscript.

3. He has a great post on the vital intersection of plot and character. The discussion of conflict, both external and internal, resonates. If the first and final images of your character aren't radically different, nothing happened during the course of your novel.

4. Query letter do's and don'ts. An interesting post on 1) copycat trends, 2) ripped from headlines trends, and 3) "simultaneous thought" trends is on the same page.

5. Nathan does a fascinating query critique of three brave authors who submitted theirs for public dissection. This is the open window into how one agent thinks. Valuable.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Peter T. Masson: up & coming

[Note: This is a continuation of a series of posts on up-and-coming authors. Whether newly published, in the process of selling a manuscript, or still looking for an agent, these are authors who -- through word-crafting, plot-building, or sheer poetry of action -- have captured my mercurial and selective attention.]

A struggle of faith, a war of destiny: Peter T. Masson's second novel, The First Coming, takes a religious question and works it into a classic thriller. When a Chicago policeman, mired in the ashes of a bad marriage and a dead end job, stumbles across an extant Jesus wandering the streets like some homeless man, he finds himself in the midst of a millenia-old battle. The twist? Satan himself is fighting to keep Jesus alive, thereby thwarting any hope for the future of a redeemed world.

A character-driven narrative packed with action and spunk, Masson's novel is engaging, succinct, and descriptive. He draws the reader in without subterfuge, giving us a protagonist we can empathize with, and maintains a break-neck pace interlaced with precious moments of clarity and contemplation. The First Coming is that winning combination of wit and valor, action and relationships, crisis and hope, but even better, it's the midnight read you can't put down.

Masson is currently looking for an agent and can be contacted at p-ter at hotmail dot com

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Five Tips for Unlocking Writer's Block

Every writer knows the feeling. You've put it in four-wheel drive, and your tires are still spinning. Mud flips through the air, coating your windshield, and oozes down your side mirror. You groan. It didn't look that deep. or that muddy. or that messy. But here you are -- out of cell range, close to midnight, all alone. What do you do?

1. Read the hilarious but empathetic chapter on writer's block in Anne Lamott's must-have book Bird by Bird. She begins with: There are few experiences as depressing as that anxious barren state known as writer's block, where you sit staring at your blank page like a cadaver, feeling your mind congeal, feeling your talent run down your leg and into your sock. At least you don't feel quite so alone.

2. Go for a walk. This sounds asinine, and it might not work for you. But I've found that extra oxygen to the brain can work wonders. I have a five-mile loop, myself, and by the time I've finished, I'm ready to roll. I don't always remember every brilliant line or detail that I cleverly crafted, but I've had the chance to reassure myself that I haven't lost it, this precious golem I keep on a string.

3. Listen to a podcast. Not any podcast, of course, but one that inspires the writer in you. My favorite are from Odyssey: the Fantasy Writing Workshop. (If you have money, time, and writing talent, apply for their 6-week writing workshop. It looks phenomenal.) They have such writing greats as Patricia A. McKillip, Rodman Philbrick, and Jeff VanderMeer doing their guest lecturing, as well as editors like Gardner Dozois.

4. If you're really stuck, consider taking a true breather and pick up Christopher Vogel's The Writer's Journey. When you need to hit reset, take time out and re-evaluate, step back and look at the big picture, this book can help remind you of the epic structures of storytelling. This doesn't mean you're betraying your craft or concocting a cookie-cutter novel. It just means that you acknowledge a greater theme that ties humanity together and you're interested in universal truths.

5. Slog through it. Sometimes the only way to conquer Writer's Block is to bulldoze your way through it. Keep typing. Keep writing. Keep your fingers moving. Force yourself to sit there and slog your way through it. Yes, it's painful. Yes, it's dirty. And, yes, you'll end up deleting most of it later on down the line. But, sometimes, it's the only way.

Sometimes you are the only one who can rescue you. You have to get out the shovel and the sandbags, and dig your way out, sprinkling down a layer of traction as you go. You'll be sweaty and muddy, but oh so exultant when your tires finally wrench free. Go forth and conquer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Find a Literary Agent

Book finished? Revised four times? (Why is it that every time I talk with a "serious" writer they tell me, "I'm on my fourth revision"? Is four the magic number? Am I missing something? Have I lost out simply because I didn't do the requisite four?!) Have you toiled over your synopsis? Have you executed a finely turned query letter? Well, then, it's time to look for a literary agent. Good luck.

Actually, this post is not about finding the right literary agent. In fact, I think it's best to start with what this is not about.
  • It's not a list of agents. You can find that anywhere. Try Guide to Literary Agents, either online or in book format.
  • It's not a matching service. Zirdland is currently testing one, however, if that floats your boat.
  • It's not a get-rich-quick scheme. But I do have a large tract of undeveloped land to sell if you're interested.

There is a ton of information out there about each of those items. (Read my previous posts, if you're bored. Truly.)

What I've discovered, however, is that there are literary agents out there blogging who are phenomonal writers in their own rights. Treasure troves of information, inspiration, and motivation, they provide real tips in a timely fashion. So, my advice is to find a literary agent who "speaks" to you; who blogs on topics near and dear to your heart; who is honest about the work and the glory. You don't even have to query her. You just have to listen.

My contribution to the blogging agent list: Nathan Bransford. I'm not only impressed with his prolific blogging, but also with his uncanny ability to blog on topics I'm currently needing. Or even on topics I didn't know I needed but found great use for. Check him out.

Are there agents you subscribe to? Do you find yourself checking one agent blog in particular simply because there's always a gem nested there? Have you ever queried an agent that you found via blog? Let me know if you've found the perfect agent blogger; I'm always looking to expand my horizons.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Win $1000 in Unpublished Novel Contest

That well-developed muscle where the intersection of cynicism and skepticism spasm sporadically is currently twitching. But I'm willing to ignore it for now, if you're willing to suspend your belief system(s) as well.

Zirdland (sponsor of That First Line writing contest these many years) is hosting a new contest for unpublished novels. They're unabashedly up-front about their motives: After 4 years of development, it’s ready. Zirdland’s Story Arc Angel and analysis tool is in beta test right now. You can help us by entering our new contest. All you need is a completed novel that is unpublished. (Self-published works are acceptable.) There's no entry fee.

Since we're all being up-front about our motives, here's my request:

1. Explore Zirdland. It's not entirely up and running, yet, but it looks promising. What do you think?

2. Consider the Arc Angel Story Analysis. Can software really do this?

3. Think about registering a copyright for your novel. It's only $35 - $45.

4. If you're comfortable with the premise, enter the contest.

5. Come back here and post your thoughts. Collective wisdom far outweighs my humble little ploddings, and I'd appreciate knowing your gut reactions.

Bottom line for the contest:

  • No entry fee;
  • $1000 for first prize;
  • Enter as many times as you want;
  • Enter variations of the same novel;
  • You maintain all rights to your novel;
  • Only excerpts of top three are posted on-line;
  • Your win will be publicized (via a press release to literary journals, publications and our publisher/agent database)
  • The Contest ends at midnight on 10/10/08. The winner will be the highest scoring entry at that time.
  • Download a desktop widget so that you can track contest standings.
Oops, I almost forgot: they're sponsoring a screenwriting contest as well, which will open up as soon as the novel one is finished.

Monday, August 18, 2008

How to Publish Without an Agent

My advice is to secure an agent (see previous posts). However, it's still possible to see your book in print without the advice and guidance of one. Read on for tips.

It is possible to be your own literary agent. I don't personally know anyone who has gone that route, but I do know it's been done.

1. Search out publishing companies that accept unagented, unsolicited manuscripts. There are lots that say they do, but whether or not your manuscript receives more than a cursory glance is hard to determine.

2. Do the research. Each of these publishing companies details specific guidelines for submitting your work. They're all different. Look up what they want, do a google search for an editor to send it to, and then personalize the query letter.

3. Find out what it takes to represent your own work. I would recommend Martin P. Levin's book Be Your Own Literary Agent: The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Getting Published. While not the final word on the subject (chapter on contracts advises finding a lawyer or an agent) , it will still give you some tips on getting an editor to look at your work.

Are you someone who has gone the unagented route? What were your experiences? Did you find that getting published led you to an agent? Or did you decide to continue on alone?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Publish My Book: Steps You Can Take

Note: This posting is a continued conversation on the topic of Agents & Publishing.

So, what now? It's really a matter of choosing a course and following through. If you're determined to get published, you must commit to the following steps:

1. Write the best novel you can. I can't tell you how many people I talk to who have a great idea or have just written the first fifty pages. Stop talking and write. There's too much competition out there to simper over what you're going to do. Just do it.

2. Do the research. Who repesents your market? Who's accepting unsolicited manuscripts? There are so many good resources out there already (on-line: AgentQuery, Writer Beware, ForWriters, Writers Write & book form: Guide to Literary Agents, Literary Marketplace, Writer's Market to name a few), that I'm not going to repeat it all here.

3. Do the research part II. Think you're done? Not by half. Once you find a sizable agent list, research them. Visit their websites and find out exactly what they want. If they're looking to publish urban fantasy with a steampunk edge and you're writing high fantasy, look elsewhere. Tailor everything you do in your query to each specific agent. Yes, that means that you might be doing a great deal of editing and work. That's okay. That's your job.

4. Do the work. Write a darn good query letter. Again, this means doing your homework, discovering what a query letter is supposed to accomplish, and perfecting your work of art.
  • Reminder: Different agents require different things. Look up their requirements on their website. They may ask for a query letter, a synopsis, or a chapter outline, an ounce of blood or DNA proof that you're not a child of the antichrist. Give it to them.
  • Note: If agents have no unsolicted manuscripts written on their site, that simply means that you need to write an effective query letter. Don't strike them off your list.

5. Send off your queries in batches of ten (see previous post on this strategy).

6. Don't stop -- Keep writing. Just because you've written the next best thing since LiveScribe doesn't mean you rest on your laurels. Nope. Instead, you keep on a' truckin'. You write. After all, it's what you do.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Agents 201: Do I Need an Agent?

Part II of III on understanding the world of agents. The content for today's post has been gleaned from the ever-so-gracious Jody Conrad, author of When Goliath Doesn't Fall.

Are agents necessary? Having a reputable agent represent you is like having Coca-Cola represent your unknown, brown, chemical syrup. Without an agent's well-respected name representing you, the the chances of a publishing house seeing your brown liquid as anything but brown liquid are slippery at best.

Authors can get published without agents, it's just sometimes more difficult, especially for a first-time-author, to get the attention of a busy publishing house. It's easier for a publishing house to rely on the trusted name of an agent they already know sends them good referrals.

Agents do three things:
1. Help you get your foot in the door of the publishing world.
2. Negotiate the finer points of a book contract (i.e. % of advance, basket-accounting, etc).
3. Provide market tips and strategies, keep an eye out for further placing your work, and give general encouragement.

Why is it so hard to find an agent? All that said, agents are sometimes just as hard to 'win-over' as publishing houses. They have to really believe in your work to take you on because taking you on means they are endorsing your kind of writing which, in turn, reflects on them. Too, besides a percentage of your advance, they only get paid if your book does well; a risk for them. So, they weigh whether your writing is worth putting their time and effort into tweaking, representing, and pitching to publishing houses. In essence, their agency's name is on the line.

When you keep that in mind -- that an agent takes a risk by associating with you, an unknown -- it starts to put things in perspective. And a bit of perspective is like a twist of lemon: it keeps things real while giving you mouth-watering insight into the life of others.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Query Letter: Five Steps Toward Publishing

OK: I'm guilty of it myself. I've toiled hours over my query letter. I've perfected it. I've tweaked it. I've buffed it. In fact, my query letter is a work of art, right up there with coffee ice cream.

And then I've sat on it. For six months.

Next step? GUILT. If I'm not out there beating the bushes for an agent, then how will Ceilyn see the light of day? I'm certainly not going to be hit over the head and dragged off by the hair to some publishing cave. So I decide to send out the query letter.

Retrieving the somewhat squished and wrinkled pages is the easy part. Determining the agent is pretty simple, too. Head held high, I mail off my one query letter. I'm still awaiting the results.

So -- if you were wondering -- this is the wrong way to do it. If you've taken even one class in statistics, you'll know why. Elizabeth Lyon, author of The Sell Your Novel Toolkit, pleads with us writers to do it the right way, the kinder, gentler, smarter way, the Lyon way.

The Lyon Way:
1. After you've perfected your query letter, send it out to ten agents.

2. Keep track of how many agents request your manuscript. A successful query letter nets 30%, or three out of ten requests.

3. If "successful," send out individualized letters to scores more agents. Increase your odds.

4a. If your query nets you zero, then your query letter is a failure.

4b. This is the good news: you haven't been rejected; just your query letter.

5. Re-write your query letter. Repeat steps 1-5.

If you have successful query letter stories or even "don't do what I did" stories, please share them! Are there better methods out there? Must-read books on the subject?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Agents 101

Disclaimer: I am not an agent, nor do I have an agent myself. These are simply insights I've gleaned as I've listened in on the writing world. If you've anything to add, please post!

Via conferences, the Internet, and conversations, I've heard friends, Romans, and countrymen discuss their various books and agent experiences. It occurs to me that there are not only some common themes, but also common misconceptions. This is Part I in a series of III that attempts clarification of the Agent World.

1. Agents are human, too. Although it may seem as if they're the gatekeepers, warding you off from the inner sanctum of the Published Ones, they're all very human. They have hopes, dreams, and desires, just like you. And, oddly enough, their world doesn't revolve around you. My point? Don't take their idiosyncrasies personally. You don't know if Agent X has just found out that her mother has cancer or if Agent Y has just broken up with his girlfriend of nine years. Cut them some slack, and they're more likely to cut you some.

2. Agents want your book to be "The One." In a sense, agents are the gatekeepers. It's their job to search out the next great American novel or the next epic fantasy, and they are Desperately Seeking Susan or David or Theo. If you've done your job and sculpted that literary "intersection between art & commerce" then you're on the right track. But, if you're mewling about an agent just not appreciating your artistic execution of Banana Drying In Lavender's Window, then take a few minutes (or days) to re-evaluate. Then look for a different agent or start a different project, but don't blame your lack on the agent.

3. Agents want to work with you. More important than getting an agent is finding one who complements the person you are. If you're willing to take suggestions and/or guidance, the relationship will be mutually beneficial. If you are so "principled" that you refuse to bend on anything, you've already limited your success. Your agent wants to be excited about your project, brokering the best possible outcome for you. If your personality prevents any of that, then you best look for a different agent or an altered attitude.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

To Prologue or Not to Prologue

Each one of my books in The Chillwane Chronicles trilogy opens with a prologue. In my mind, a prologue provides upfront information not directly revealed in the first 50 pages; it weaves an element of continuity through the three books; and, frankly, it provides an instant tinge of mood. Now, I don't pen lengthy prologues. I figure (and this is just me) that if I can't say it in a page or less, then it needs to be part of the exposition or wiggled into the conflict.

Minju Chang, an agent with BookStop Literary Agency since 2006, disagrees. There are few times when a prologue is needed, she says. When she looked over the opening pages of my manuscript, she asked pointed questions about the purpose of the prologue. To my credit, I think I defended its existance adequately enough. But I can't thank her enough for her willingness to be that difficult combination of sharply critical and graciously kind.

Because, ultimately, the prologue didn't matter. I tucked my tail, sidled into my study, and took a good, long, hard look at each one of the prologues. And deleted them. Even though I had initially thought them integral to the story, each was entirely dispensible. Minju was right. And thanks to her insight, I have a stronger beginning: more solid, more impact.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Calling All Young Adult Fantasy Writers!

Although a previous blog mentioned briefly Mirrorstone, the children's/young adult imprint of Wizards of the Coast (distributed by Random House, Inc), I'd like to expand on that in today's thoughts.

Mirrorstone, once a place where you could propose series or standalone books of your own in the YA fantasy category, "will now focus solely on books inspired by the lore of Dungeons and Dragons, such as the Dragon Codex books and The New York Times best-selling Practical Guide series." Stacy Whitman, an editor at Mirrorstone, posted on her August 8th blog some of the changes facing Mirrorstone, though you can also check them out directly on the Mirrorstone website.

So the question is: good or bad news? Ultimately, it's a smart move on the part of Wizards of the Coast. By focusing on their brand name (Dungeons and Dragons) and clearing the table of anything that could blur that venture, they're committing all their resources and energy to what puts them on the book, so to speak. It's also good news for D&D (and Forgotten Realms, etc) fans because a tauter focus leads to an overall better product, better writers, better adventures.

Finally, I think it's a golden opportunity for the aspiring writer. To mangle the old proverb, "Blood will out," good writing will out. In other words, if you've got the ability to write, the stamina to see it through, and the desire to get your feet wet, send in a writing sample. They're looking for "talented writers" to continue the series lines, and this is your golden opportunity to prove you've got what it takes.

An Aside: Practice makes perfect. It occurs to me that all too often we writers baby our egos. We're not always willing to admit (as so many famous authors before us have) that we may need to write a couple of novels before we're where we want -- or need -- to be as writers. Writing someone else's story takes not only discipline but a steely resolve to keep your characters in line and your setting in keeping with the established world. Think on it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

When Goliath Doesn't Fall by Jody Conrad

[Note: A continuation of the up & coming series on new authors.]

Sometimes, no matter how hard you pray, babies dies. Sometimes, no matter how much you trust God, doctors find cancer. Houses catch on fire; tornados demolish entire communities; and terrorists successfully crash airplanes into buildings.

Jody Conrad's first book, out in 2008 and entitled When Goliath Doesn't Fall, asks the question What happens to our faith when our giants defeat us? Weaving true life stories with historical and biblical ones, and generously interspersed with gentle wisdom, Conrad strikes a balance between insight and compassion. A book of hope, When Goliath Doesn't Fall delicately probes the questions believers often feel guilty about asking God and lays bare the souls of those who have been answered.

Encouraging, thought-provoking, and always empathetic, Conrad provides the only answers possible to these questions: a Habakkuk heart, unconditional surrender, and a yielded spirit. Her own gentleness pulls back the curtains in a way that doesn't preach or nag but only reminds that God is in control.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Terry Brooks: Genesis of Shannara

As a writer, it's almost cathartic to see the connections between events, the spiderweb-thin threads that weave us and our experiences of one another together. It is also humbling to realize that each of us is just one of 6.8 billion on planet Earth.

Connection 1: Just about a year ago, when I contacted Terry Brooks via his website to ask him to be the keynote speaker at our small, local Young Authors' Conference, I received a kind email from his manager: Terry Brooks is feverishly finishing his next novel. Not even his family is seeing him right now.

Connection 2: Fast forward a year. The Gypsy Morph, third and final book of the Genesis of Shannara trilogy, won't be out until August 26th, 2008. Imagine my surprise when, at the final event of this summer's PNWA conference, we all receive a free copy of Terry Brooks' Armageddon's Children, the first book in the Genesis trilogy which, in a simplified nutshell, spans the gap between the Shannara and the Word & Void books.

Connection 3: The News? The book was a teaser, designed to whet the appetite. So, save up your frequent flyer miles! Terry Brooks will be the keynote speaker at the July 2009 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Summer Conference.

Churning out a novel a year, Terry Brooks has an entire novel finished by the time the current one goes to print. Whether you love him or hate him, Brooks is a titan of the fantasy world, intent upon retaining the crown of authorship.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

James Merrill Writer-in-Residence Program

Serious about writing? Have muse firmly in hand, but no space to let her dance? Consider applying to the James Merrill Writer-in-Residence Program in Stonington, CT. You can apply for either a five-month or an eleven-month residence in which you work and live rent-free in the apartment Merrill left to the village of Stonington. The only requirement is that you complete a project of literary or academic merit and that you contribute in some way to the community life of Stonington.

Although the program has been in place since 1995, this is the first year that a stipend will also be granted, with a $5000 stipend awarded for the five-month term and a $10,000 stipend awarded for the eleven-month term. Applications for 2009-10 are due January 15, 2009

Friday, August 8, 2008

Double Trouble

Today's the day! 08-08-08 marks the release date of the next Billibub Badding's mystery (The Case of the Pitcher's Pendant by Tee Morris), as well as Philippa Ballantine's Digital Magic. Check these two out via and add 'em to your shopping cart. Enjoy.

Here are my brief reviews:

I am not a baseball fan, but that doesn't matter when it comes to The Case of the Pitcher's Pendant. If you like witty dialogue and clever plot twists, then this is a must-add to your library. Tee Morris skillfully weaves Chicago, lit noir, and fantasy into a kick-butt narrative of angsty fun. If you haven't giggled or tee-hee'd in a while (no pun intended), then definitely purchase this puppy. You won't regret it.

Carefully crafting a dark world of paranoia, rage, and destruction, Ballantine manages to weave in those bits of silver lining that we all crave. Although Chasing the Bard was a delightful frolic and immensely enjoyable, Ballantine has upped the stakes and taken her writing to a new level in Digital Magic that fairly screams masterful finesse. Don't miss out on this 'through the glass darkly' adventure.

D.M. McReynolds: up & coming

[Note: This is my first in a series of posts on up-and-coming authors. Whether newly published, in the process of selling a manuscript, or still looking for an agent, these are authors who -- through word-crafting, plot-building, or sheer poetry of action -- have captured my mercurial and selective attention.]

Book One of the trilogy The Fate of Port Goldsend, Alliance, pits new ways against the established culture, drawing in the various threads of Dragon Riders, Fate Changers, Map Makers, the Barter Lord himself, and young painter Rainbow. Against the backdrop of a bustling port city, we watch the various backstories intertwine into one compelling narrative.

McReynolds skillfully weaves believable characters, exquisite imagery, and a cause worth fighting for into a world where many humans still have ties to their animal brothers. It is the complexity of character that draws the reader in: we empathize with the very human desires of the antagonist; we question the motivations of the protagonist; we secretly root for the cause of the rebels.

When an author can give us a fun romp while bringing us face-to-face with some of our long-held convictions, the uncomfortable squirming is worth the ride. D.M. McReynolds delivers meaning with dexterity, not stooping to preach, but rather providing fodder for thought.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Five Lines to Live By: Wisdom from my Father

[Note: this is not a posting on theme]

As writers we have a special privilege (& responsibility) to provide depth and clarity through our work. This doesn't mean being preachy or even being weighty; it simply means having larger meaning. Writing that is all candy doesn't stick with you -- it'll even make you a little nauseous, wish you hadn't gobbled quite so much. Weaving in bits of wisdom, golden nuggets of common sense, or slices of epiphanies means writing with substance. A little goes a long ways, but it's the bit that will stick with your reader long after the catchy plot fades.

My father is my hero, which means I tend to listen to his advice or at least take it into consideration. Here are five lines I've heard him say countless times over the years:

1. Don't be selfish.

2. Think before you act.

3. Life is a series of stepping stones.

4. Motherhood is mankind's highest calling.

5. In the end, all that matters is who you love and who loves you.

There are exceedingly long stories, sermons, and sandwiches wrapped up in all of these, but who cares what they mean to me. What do they mean to you? What are the proverbs, words of wisdom, or reality checks that your role models have handed down to you? Add your two cents worth via comments, and maybe we'll end up with a compendium of wisdom that outlasts us all.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Shared Worlds, Wizards of the Coast, and Fleetwood Robbins

I had always wondered what it would be like to write a shared world novel, but I had never considered doing so until I met Fleetwood Robbins, an editor at Wizards of the Coast. Slightly rumpled, an air of distraction, and ever-so-boyish mannerisms assure you at once that he is the real deal. I have no doubt that his mind works in overdrive while everything about him runs interference, lulling the unsuspecting into a false sense of security. Still waters run deep.

As I made my pitch for Ceilyn's Calling, I barely noticed what words poured out of my mouth. I was more interested in watching Mr. Robbins in action; sometimes you learn more from observing how others behave. When he asked if I had any questions, I blurted out (in front of five other aspiring authors) that my questions were more about him and his experiences in publishing. I almost expired from the embarrassment. My only salvation is that he no doubt forgot me the moment our ten minutes were up.

I did learn some items of importance, however:

1. Wizards of the Coast will accept non-agented work. This is good news for anyone who hasn't found or doesn't want an agent.

2. Writing for shared-world fantasy is not about building your story or your characters into an established D&D or Forgotten Realms storyline or setting. In fact, they won't accept unsolicited manuscripts for their shared-world fiction line.

3. Instead, write a character-driven, fast-paced, high fantasy or sword & sorcery novel. Send it in. Impress them. And they will then solicit your manuscript.

4. If you want to write Young Adult fantasy, simply submit to the Mirrorstone imprint. Although they're no longer looking for series proposals or standalones, they welcome writing samples from writers who wish to work with them on a work-for-hire basis.

5. And, finally: Nulla dies sine linea. Never a day without a line. Go forth and conquer, fellow writers. Life's too short to put off your goals for even one moment.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Brave Soul & Intrepid Traveler

I had just mentioned to our exchange student that I've been disconnected from all news the past seven days. When Mechanical Hamster brought to our attention via blog that Alexander Solzhenitsyn had passed away on Sunday, August 3rd, 2008, I was stunned. I wasn't ready for him to die. I had yet to stand in his presence or shake his hand. But, then, it's not about me, is it?

Several months ago, in her keynote address at Wenatchee's Write on the River, Elizabeth George had mentioned that she was reading The Gulag Archipelago. I was suitably impressed and immediately went out and purchased her latest book. After all, anyone reading Solzhenitsyn couldn't be all bad, right?

Setting and the Creation of Magic

Although comprehensive world-building is something you should do before you write an entire novel, I'm still going to participate in this activity post-Ceilyn's Calling. The novel takes place entirely in a monastery, so thus far Ceilyn has not encountered the world at large. His "journey" is an internal one, both within his own psyche and within the structure of the building.

The world of Renaciman is a mixture of the sub-genres high fantasy and sword & sorcery, with requisite struggles of good versus evil, fantastical creatures, and doses of magic use. It's all very medieval in nature, with swords, crossbows, and magic potions. So what makes it unique in nature? How is Renaciman any different that any other high fantasy novel?

Ceilyn's Calling, unbeknownst to the reader (and perhaps never openly revealed), takes place in America in the year 3050. Instead of being a futuristic, science fiction piece or a dystopian literary rage against societal ills, this book explores a post-apocalyptic world without any of the angst. In fact, all that the citizens of Renaciman know are their current lives, spent -- for the most part -- within the same village they were born in. History has been left in the dust of the ages; the religious institutions are embroiled in their own intrigues; and a god-king is attempting to usurp all power for himself.

In order to explore the world, we need to understand the nature of magic. This was actually the most difficult part of my novel, because, after all, how many people ponder the nature of magic? It just is, right? But how can magic come into being somewhere down the road in a future America? Well, in most cultures there is an tacit agreement that magic is or consists of energy. We know that energy exists on a sub-atomic level. Therefore, in my definition, magic is simply the ability to shift, control, or manipulate energy on the sub-atomic level. And that cleared a lot up for me.

Once I penned a post-nuclear Planet Earth where survivors developed the ability to control different forms of energy, I understood how I could interject a scientific form of magic (scientific used loosely).

Over time, some survivors focused their new-found abilities to rid themselves and others of radiation sickness, keloids, and tumors. They became known as 'healers' within the society. Others, who were either simply curious or desirous of exploiting new-found powers, experimented, studied, and learned many skills outside the scope of healing, becoming known as 'mages.' Notice the reliance on known concepts or words within the English language.

None of this exists within the novel Ceilyn's Calling. Instead, the only remnant of past civilizations are the village stones that hold the last waning vestiges of radioactivity, now vital for any magic user. Some stones have disintegrated; others have been lost; still more are being plundered by the king's soldiers who have been instructed to haul every stone they find to the palace. The only other place that has its magic intact is the monastery, where Ceilyn has grown up using spells and chants. He does not know that the world around him is gradually losing its access to power.

The second novel, Ceilyn's Curse, details his journey from monastery to palace -- one place of powerful magic to another -- and the emptiness between. He must learn to rely upon himself and the skills of his friends if he hopes to survive without magic along this circuitous and dangerous route. Once he arrives at the palace, of course, he uses this new-found confidence and self-reliance to outwit the most powerful mage and enemy of the people, Lord Xavier. What else could he do?

Friday, August 1, 2008

World-building Month

Today is August 1st, the first day of World-building Month. Following Nils' lead, I'll give a brief overview of who I am and what I wish to accomplish in the off chance that you stumble upon this blog and wonder, "What the heck is World Building?" or "Who the heck is Alex Moore?"

I'm Alex Moore, writer of young adult fantasy novels. I've been exploring the idea of expanding the world I've written about in The Chillwane Chronicles to incorporate more adult themes. Ultimately, I intend to write a novel of high fantasy based in the same world.

I'll be using the month of August to work on the world of Renaciman. More as thoughts unfold.