Friday, July 31, 2020

Celebrate the Small Things 31-7-20

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

And I have absolutely nothing planned which is something to celebrate in my book.

I finished and published a major document at work this week, which is always something to celebrate, and have made some very good progress on another.

I've been critiquing a book for a writing friend, and am more than halfway through.  I hope to get the rest of that done over the weekend so I can get back to my own writing next week.  The new story that's brewing away in my head may just need to be written.  Or at least started.  These characters are pretty insistent on getting onto the page...

What are you celebrating this week?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Books I've Loved: Far From the Tree

Okay, so I loved this book.

It has everything I love in it.  Kids with real problems.  Found family - in this case, actual real family.  Damaged boys.  Lesbians.

It's about three siblings who have grown up apart.  Two were adopted into good families, the third has been in foster care his whole life and not all his families have been as great as the couple he's living with now.

The book follows these three as they discover each other exist, meet and deal with some major, life-changing events.

Grace has just had a baby she gave up for adoption, and naturally this brings up questions about her own birth family.  Maya's perfect family is falling apart and for the first time her sarcastic sense of humor isn't enough to pull her through.  Joaquin isn't used to being settled or loved or cherished, so when his foster parents ask to adopt him, he's not sure how to react.

Against the background of these individual issues, the three siblings find out about each other and meet for the first time.  As each deals with their personal crises, they begin to bond and discover that their problems are easier to deal with together.  

The characters in this story are beautifully drawn, each with their own set of rules, values and ways of dealing with the world.  Yet as soon as they meet, they start recognizing similarities.  I loved the way their first meetings were strained and awkward, yet they warmed to each other and learned quickly to rely on each other for support and friendship.  

Definitely one I'd recommend.  Strongly.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Weekly Goals 27-7-20

Isn't it typical?  I'm working away, getting a bunch of different writing projects finished, and I get an idea for a new book.

I promised myself I wouldn't write a new book until I've finished all these partially done ones.  But this idea is brewing up there.  The characters don't have names yet, but that'll come.  A lot of their backstory is revealing itself to me each day.  And I already have a few scenes brewing in my head.  This one has even come with a title!  In fact, the title kind of inspired the story.

I dashed off a few notes yesterday so I won't forget what I've been thinking about, but I know from experience that won't be enough.  Once a story starts haunting me, I need to write it.  So it looks like I may be writing a new book soon, despite my plans not to do that...

I just need to wait until these characters tell me their names.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Celebrate the Small Things 24-7-20

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!  

And the film festival started today.  Although it's not quite the film festival I'm used to.  Because of this damn virus, the festival went online this year because when it was being planned and organized, cinemas were still closed and it seemed improbable that they would re-open in time.  Now of course, that is not the case.  So there are a few screenings in cinemas - I'm going to one tomorrow and another on Tuesday - but most films are available only online.

Last night my favorite singer did an online concert from London.  It was good, but certainly nothing like the experience of being there, in the room, with a crowd of sweaty people pressed up against you.  But at least people are figuring out ways to keep making a living, and keep up the illusion that life is still ticking along as usual.  

And considering our borders are closed and look likely to stay that way for some time to come, this is going to be the only way to see our favorite international artists for a while.  Luckily we have some amazing performers here, so we're not going to be lacking for live music.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Books I've Read: Bowlaway

I read another book by Elizabeth McCracken many years ago and think I enjoyed it, so when I saw this in the library, I thought I'd give it a go.

It's an epic historical novel set across three generations in a small New England town.  The writing is gorgeous, with lots of acidic descriptions, and characters with odd little quirks.  Yet somehow I didn't find it at all satisfying.

The book begins with Bertha Truitt arriving in Salford.  No one knows where she came from, and she's not saying.  All she has with her is a bag full of bowling equipment and gold.  All she wants to talk about is bowling.

Before long she has used the gold to build a bowling alley and scandalously allows, no, encourages, women to bowl too.  Even more scandalous, she marries the doctor who was one of those who discovered her.  A black man from Canada who she builds a peculiar house with and starts a family.

When a freak accident involving treacle kills Bertha, the future of the bowling alley is unclear.  Especially after a man appears, claiming to be her son (although he appears to be the same age or older than people remember Bertha being) and takes over.

Bertha's secrets and her unwillingness to speak of her past haunt the alley and the generations of family that inherit it - often unwillingly - and create ripples that spread far beyond the small town and its community.

I wanted to like this book more, but I never felt like I got a real handle on any of the characters.  There were so many of them, all touched by Bertha in some way, yet I never felt like I got more than a sketch of any of them even if we were let into each character's head for the brief period the story was shown through their eyes.

The writing, as I mentioned, was witty and clever, but I think maybe it also kept the character's emotional truths obscured.  There were characters in there I knew I could care about, but I never felt like I was let far enough into their thoughts and feelings to truly connect with them.

And as a result, I reached the end of the book with more of a sense of relief that I'd finished it than anything else.

So I wouldn't necessarily recommend this one.  If you have an interest in bowling, particularly candlepin bowling (which is different to ten-pin bowling), you may enjoy this, but then again, maybe not...

But don't just listen to me. Here's the blurb:

A sweeping and enchanting new novel from the widely beloved, award-winning author Elizabeth McCracken about three generations of an unconventional New England family who own and operate a candlepin bowling alley.

From the day she is discovered unconscious in a New England cemetery at the turn of the twentieth century—nothing but a bowling ball, a candlepin, and fifteen pounds of gold on her person—Bertha Truitt is an enigma to everyone in Salford, Massachusetts. She has no past to speak of, or at least none she is willing to reveal, and her mysterious origin scandalizes and intrigues the townspeople, as does her choice to marry and start a family with Leviticus Sprague, the doctor who revived her. But Bertha is plucky, tenacious, and entrepreneurial, and the bowling alley she opens quickly becomes Salford’s most defining landmark—with Bertha its most notable resident.

When Bertha dies in a freak accident, her past resurfaces in the form of a heretofore-unheard-of son, who arrives in Salford claiming he is heir apparent to Truitt Alleys. Soon it becomes clear that, even in her death, Bertha’s defining spirit and the implications of her obfuscations live on, infecting and affecting future generations through inheritance battles, murky paternities, and hidden wills.

In a voice laced with insight and her signature sharp humor, Elizabeth McCracken has written an epic family saga set against the backdrop of twentieth-century America. Bowlaway is both a stunning feat of language and a brilliant unraveling of a family’s myths and secrets, its passions and betrayals, and the ties that bind and the rifts that divide.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Weekly Goals 20-7-20

Standing Too Close is out with another reader, so this week my goal is to keep working through the revision I'm doing on Shook.

I'm also thinking about writing a short story for an anthology one of my crit group friends is editing.  I just need to find right myth or folk-tale to base it on.

And in non-writing things, I managed to get to the gym three times last week during my lunch hours, so this week I want to keep up with that.

What are your goals this week?

Friday, July 17, 2020

Celebrate the Small Things 17-7-20

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?


It's been a long week and I was ridiculously tired yesterday.  So tired I went to bed before 9pm, something I very rarely do.

I think this year has been draining for everyone.  And not having things to look forward to - overseas holidays, gigs by our favorite performers etc - is beginning to take its toll. Especially now that the winter is well and truly here.  It feels wrong to complain since compared to the rest of the world, our lives are pretty much back to pre-pandemic normal, but it's really just an illusion of normal.

But on the plus side, I got notes back on Standing Too Close from one reader, and sent it out to a second reader.  I think it still needs more work...  Just have to figure out exactly what it needs.

In the meantime, I'm working through some revisions on an older piece and thinking through the various pieces of my story for adults that's still lurking back there in my brain.  One of these days I'll just sit down and start the first chapter and that will be it.

What are you celebrating this week?

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

New Book: Keep Writing With Fey

I'm happy to invite my blogging friend Chris Fey to Fiction and Film today.  Chris has written a fantastic book to help writers who may be suffering from depression or burnout, something she knows about from firsthand experience.

Catch the sparks you need to conquer writer’s block, depression, and burnout!

When Chrys Fey shared her story about depression and burnout, it struck a chord with other writers. That put into perspective for her how desperate writers are to hear they aren’t alone. Many creative types experience these challenges, battling to recover. Let Keep Writing with Fey: Sparks to Defeat Writer's Block, Depression, and Burnout guide you through:

·        Writer's block
·        Depression
·        Writer's burnout
·        What a writer doesn’t need to succeed
·        Finding creativity boosts

With these sparks, you can begin your journey of rediscovering your creativity and get back to what you love - writing.


Amazon / Nook / iTunes / Kobo

When I shared my story about depression and writer’s burnout, I received many emails, comments, and Facebook messages from other writers thanking me for my bravery and telling me about their own trials. That really put into perspective for me how many people suffer from depression and/or burnout in silence. I had no idea those individuals were impacted by these things, just as they hadn’t known that I was, because my outward presence to others was always happy and smiley and bright.
After the supportive response and upon realizing how many writers in my online circles were struggling, too, I wanted to do something to help. I was candid with my experiences and blogged about the things that assisted me through the rough times in the hope that it would aid others.
During this time, I recognized the need for writers to receive support, guidance, tips, reminders, and encouragement during their writer’s block, depression, and burnout. That’s how I got the idea for this book. A book not just about depression or only about writer’s block, but both, and much more.
Since you have picked up this book, that means you may need assistance with one or all of these areas, and I sincerely hope you find what you need here…that tiny spark to get you through whatever you are going through.
As always, keep writing.
Keep believing.
Keep dreaming.
Chrys Fey

Chrys Fey is the author of Write with Fey: 10 Sparks to Guide You from Idea to Publication. She is also the author of the Disaster Crimes series. Visit her blog, Write with Feyfor more tips on how to reverse writer’s burnout.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Weekly Goals 13-7-20

I don't actually have any big goals for this week.

I'm just ticking along with doing some revision on an older book, but there's no pressure there, so I'm cruising at my own pace.

Otherwise, the only goal I really have is to keep up with going to the gym at lunchtime at work.  I managed it three times last week, which is about as much as I probably can do, so I want to keep that up this week.  And maybe beat my time on the rowing machine...

What are your goals this week?

Friday, July 10, 2020

Celebrate the Small Things 10-7-20

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

It has been a busy week, though somewhat less frenetic than they often are, which was good.  I managed to get a lot of work done at the day job and am feeling like I'm in quite a good place with a big project I'm working on.

I sent Standing Too Close to a couple of critique partners, so am nervously awaiting their feedback.  To keep my mind off that, I've gone back to another book that needs work and am working on edits there.

I have no plans for this weekend, so intend to get all my chores done early so I can spend the rest of the weekend reading.  Can you imagine anything more luxurious?

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Books I've Loved: Lady of Shadows

Once again, this is a fantasy novel that even I, well-known loather of fantasy, loved.  It's the sequel to Lord of Secrets which I also loved, and may even be a bigger roller-coaster ride than the first book.

Corcoran Gray is back, but he's living in the new body he stole from the guy calling himself the god Jaern.  It's a better body than his old, lame one, but is no more immune to the forces of magic. It doesn't help that the body's previous owner somehow managed to inscribe spells under this body's skin.  Dangerous spells too.

When the Madge's Guild come calling, demanding his help to stop a plague that is felling its members left, right and center, he's forced to call upon every spell he knows and others he doesn't.

Initially reluctant to help the Guild who have been nothing but trouble for him most of his life, Gray agrees to help them after his partner, Brix, is infected.  This plague is a miserable way to die and Gray will do anything to keep Brix from falling ill.  Even work with his mortal enemies.

Together with a Guild Madge, Gray and Brix travel to the place Brix grew up, a place she has not been back to since she was stolen away and sold into slavery as a child.  It becomes increasingly obvious that whatever this plague is, it began here, but how it began and who is controlling its spread is more complicated - and dangerous - than Gray could have believed.

As he uncovers the truth behind the illness, ancient magic is revealed as is the dark secret at the heart of this seemingly innocent town.

The world building in these books is stellar.  I love that magic, while useful, makes the user sick.  The way it is regulated by the Guild and protected for use only by its members is also clever, although Gray is clearly more skilled at its use than the Guild Members.  '

Gray is a fantastic character too.  A lovable rogue who will stop at nothing for those he cares about.  He's a very skilled user of magic, but not entirely in control of the spells he carries under his skin.  Throughout the book he learns more about the magic he holds and learns how to use what he carries with him.

And the creatures are delightful too.  Horrific things stitched together by some madman and set loose upon an unsuspecting town.  Necromancy at its finest kids!

So it goes without saying that I would recommend this one.  It's exciting, fast-paced and full of twists and turns you'll never see coming.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Death is simple. Dreams are dangerous. Life is . . . unexpected.

Outlaw wizard Corcoran Gray expected death to be final, but life, and his loved ones, had other plans. A year after being resurrected and flung into a new body, he's still trying to come to terms with his situation - and his self - when the all-powerful Mages' Guild demands his help to stop a deadly plague.

He's inclined to refuse the organisation that still wants him dead, until his partner Brix starts showing symptoms - to save her, Gray will do anything, even if it means working with his greatest enemies.

But it quickly becomes clear that this is no normal plague. The situation is more complicated, and more lethal, than anyone has realised. Ancient dangers are stirring, and thousands of lives are at stake . . .

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Tracking Yearly Goals

I just realized its more than halfway through the year, and I haven't yet done my follow-up on the goals I set for myself in January.

So instead of weekly goals today, let's see how I'm tracking...

Dear Me,

It’s now mid-January, so I’m a little late writing this annual letter to myself.  But I have a good excuse because before the New Year hit I was writing a novella to deadline and I went away on holiday right afterward and didn’t take my computer with me.  So here we are... You see? It's been a trend all year. I was late setting the goals, so it's not such a big deal I'm late tracking them. That's my story, anyway.

For those of you who haven’t followed me through this annual ritual, each year I write a letter to myself outlining my goals for the year ahead.  Around mid June I check in on it to see how I’m tracking, and then again at the end of the year.

Before we look at the year ahead, let’s just take a moment to reflect on the year just gone.  For the last couple of years I have struggled a little as a writer.  After 23 years working as a cinema manager, I moved into a new role which has evolved to a point where much of my day is spent writing, editing and otherwise wrangling words.  While I have learned an enormous amount doing this, and really enjoy the work, I often find myself completely depleted by the end of the day and unable to find the energy or inspiration for my own writing. This has gone double this year, what with the lockdown and having to work from home in the place I usually write. No way was I going to write at night after sitting there all day working...

Learning to accept that I’m not able to be as prolific as I used to be has been a challenge, but I think I am now at peace with it.  It means that any opportunity I have to write is all the more precious.  And toward the end of 2019 I think I fell back in love with writing after being somewhat disenchanted with it for a time.

So my main goal in 2020 is to keep being in love with writing and to keep doing it whenever the opportunity arises.  I think perhaps I have given too much weight to publishing novels over the last few years, and while I still want to write and publish my books, I also want to explore other opportunities. 

I have always written short stories, and have a pile of good ones just sitting there, waiting to be published.  So this year I plan to do some writing and submitting of short stories as well as continuing to write and submit novels. I have submitted a few short stories this year. Not many, but a few...

I also still have several finished, almost-finished and partly finished novels sitting on my hard drive.  Some of these are really good and I need to get them to the point I can send them out to publishers etc.  In 2019 my goal was to finish all these books too, but I only actually got one finished and sent out during the year, despite my best intentions.  I’m still waiting to hear back about that one too, so we’ll see... It was rejected, but I've sent it back out. So still waiting.

There’s a contest I’m hoping to enter too, and it closes in early February, so I’m working to get another one of those unfinished/almost-finished books ready to send out.  I’ve changed my mind a few times about which one to work on, but I think I’ve landed on the right one for this particular contest. I entered My Murder Year. It didn't win. I sent it out to a publisher and it was rejected (which I kind of expected because it wasn't 100% right for that publisher.). Will be sending it out again soon.

Once that one is done and out the door, I have notes from critique partners to address on two other books.  Plus two other books that need endings.  One of these I really like, but I struggled for months last year over how to end it.  I’m still not 100% certain I know what to do with it, but I’m determined to figure it out because I really love the book and its characters. I just finished this book on Friday! Talk about relief! Now to go back to one of the others that need work.

The other things I’d really like to try and tackle this year are writing a novel based on my “beach house” series of short stories, and attempting my first novel for adults.  I have a loose kind of outline for the adult novel written and I had planned to write it during NaNo in November, but chickened out.  So I wrote something else during NaNo while I started reading more adult books to try and figure out how the tone of voice is different.  Hopefully I’ll feel ready to write this story this year.  It’s one that’s been hanging out in my head since about 2010... I've been reading a lot more adult books, but I'm still not sure I'm ready to write this. But I might start and just see where we get to with it.

On the non-writing side of things, I plan to keep exercising regularly.  While the weather is good and daylight saving keeps the evenings light enough, I will keep riding my bike to and from work as much as possible.  Once the weather turns, I will get back into going to the gym at lunchtimes as often as I can.  And I will keep going to my Saturday morning spin classes every week because I enjoy them, even after 10 or so years.  The lockdown kind of put paid to the gym going, but I'm back now. And during lockdown I was actually better than I usually am because I didn't have to commute to work so instead I spent that time walking or cycling. The gym near my work has just cancelled its classes which is a pain, but I'm going to try and go at lunchtime three or four times a week and just run or lift weights. We'll see.

My younger son starts high school this year and I think he’s going to find it quite challenging.  I want to be available to him if he struggles and find ways to help him settle in, make new friends and hopefully find something that interests him (other than video games). A good ambition, but he doesn't seem to want my help. Even with doing school online, he wouldn't really share what he was up to (no good, most of the time).

And I think that’s about it.  I know I should probably make some kind of goal around being kinder to myself or taking time out for me, but writing time is “me time” and as long as I can have a bath each night and read a book while I’m soaking, I’m happy.

What are your goals for the year?

Love, Me.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Celebrate the Small Things 3-7-20

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

I think I finally finished Standing Too Close.

Yes, at about 2pm yesterday, I realized I was actually done.  Or as done as I can be at this stage.

This book has been the hardest one I've ever written and I'm not sure quite why.  It's 12K longer than it was the last time I thought I was finished, but that's okay.  It was a little on the short side then anyway.

So now I need some people to read it and tell me it isn't really done at all.  If you'd like to be one of those people, just let me know...

What are you celebrating this week?

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

IWSG - July

It's the first Wednesday in July, so it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

This month's question is an interesting one:

There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

That's a pretty broad-reaching question, but I'll endeavor to answer it.  Obviously it's going to be couched in my own experiences so may not offer the solutions to the world's problems, just my own...

And right now, my biggest problem as an author is that it costs me money to have my books stocked in bookstores in my home country.  Because I have to buy my own paperbacks from Amazon, then have them shipped to New Zealand, then pay tax on them, each book ends up costing me over $20.  Then the bookstores need to make a profit so they take 15% of whatever they sell the book for - usually $25 -  which leaves me losing money on every book I sell in a store.  Not to mention $25 is pretty expensive for a YA paperback.

Readers want to be able to buy my books in stores.  They don't necessarily want to read e-books or have to order their own paperback copies from Amazon.  They want to be able to go into a store and browse and maybe discover my books on their own.  I want them to be able to do this.  Yet it makes no business sense for me to supply stores, even in my hometown.

I would love to see things become more flexible in the future.  Rather than small presses like mine having to rely on Amazon to supply their hard-copy books, it would be great if the load could be spread around.  If my books could be printed in New Zealand, the cost would be drastically reduced because I wouldn't be paying hundreds of dollars in duty and freight costs.  I would be able to buy my books in larger numbers to supply to stores.  Stores might even buy them directly if they knew they could sell them, saving me from having to do another round of shipping when I send the three or four copies each store wants to stock.

Instead, I tend to buy only 10 books at a time to avoid having to pay the extra tax you have to pay on packages valued over $200, which means I pay a lot more in freight because lots of smaller parcels costs more than one larger parcel.  I can't stock as many stores as I'd like to stock, and if the books sell out, it's often months before I can get them more.

And I still lose money on every hard-copy of my novels I sell.

Now, I don't write to make money.  I write because I love to write.  I write because I have stories I want to tell.  I write because sometimes it's the only way to make sense of the world.  Writing a novel takes a long time and it would be nice to be able to make at least a little bit from all those hours of work.  I've always subscribed to the "don't pay to play" theory which means I don't enter contests that ask for a fee to enter.  Yet now I find myself in the publishing business and it's very much pay to play.  

Pay for my own books.  Pay for my own advertising and marketing.  Pay for my own equipment and writing space.

When does it turn around?  When do I get paid?

What changes would you like to see happen in the industry?