April Update: It’s Still Winter

My garden. This is no April Fool’s joke.

I know I’m not alone when I say 2020 isn’t exactly working out the way I planned. Somehow I neglected to account for a global pandemic, massive economic shut down, suddenly having to home-school my three kids, and being temporarily laid off in my World Domination Schematics. Also, we appear to be trapped in an eternal winter.

I’d ask for help, but we’re not allowed to actually do that in person any more. Please send warm thoughts, if nothing else. My seedlings could use a little pep talk.

Among other things, the turmoil caused by COVID-19 has also disrupted the attention of my beta readers and I have only received feedback from one person. My husband. He pretty much has to do these things for me, though. Even when the rest of the world falls apart, I demand support for my pipe-dreams.

The good news is, he hasn’t found any major plot issues. Other than fixing a few detail inconsistencies, I am ready to package it up for my publisher more or less on schedule. I would have like to have more eyes on it, but I trust my editors to help me with the final polish. Hopefully the upcoming recession isn’t going to delay publication too much. If so, I may have to look at other options to get Book Two out to the world.

One other exciting thing I’m working on is some character art! I’ve commissioned two artists with very different styles to illustrate some scenes from both The Timekeepers’ War and Ghostlights. As soon as they are complete I will be sharing them here and on my Instagram feed. So stay tuned for that! I’d love to see some other artists try their hand at these characters, too, so if that is something you’d be interested in let me know.

I have started an online Permaculture Design Course to help stave off the stir-crazies and ease the transition to my new garden site once the snow finally melts. Gardening has become one of the things I look forward to the most right now, and which helps to ease the anxiety of our current situation. I hope you are staying safe, keeping sane, and reaching out in the midst of all this madness.

Tell me, what are you most looking forward to these days? How are you staying present? Let’s share our ideas!

Simultaneity: And How it’s Ruining Your Writing

Harsh words. But true…

There is a little talked about writing habit that slowly drains the life and excitement out of your story. It slows readers down and confuses them, often without anyone being able to articulate why. It is so common, most people don’t even recognize it as a problem. But if you fall victim to this habit often, it becomes the death of a thousand cuts. You are effectively killing your story, one sentence at a time.

Are you scared yet? Have you been the unwitting victim of this insidious monster?

Yes. Yes you have. And I’m willing to bet my daily caffeine ration that no one has ever pointed it out to you. I’m going to shine a light on this demon now, and together we’ll banish it for good.

Are you ready to face it?

The Devil You Know

I’m talking about SIMULTANEITY. You know, things happening at the same time. In real life, stuff happens simultaneously. The phone is ringing while the kids scream about the toy truck while you wipe up the coffee you spilled trying to reach for the phone, while your husband stumbles, bleary-eyed out of the bedroom and asks “What’s for breakfast?”

No? Just my house?

My point is, life is often chaotic. We are pulled in a hundred different directions at once. Even the more peaceful moments of life are a beautiful blend of simultaneous events. You sink into the cool grass as a warm evening breeze kisses your skin as the birds sing their final songs of the day as the sun disappears behind the trees as shadows lengthen into long purple fingers to envelope your body.

Whatever.

It is natural for writers to want to recreate that feeling of being “in the moment” with life happening all around us. It is “realistic” we say. That may be. But it’s also a huge mistake.

Fiction isn’t Real.

Fiction pretends to be real. Good fiction is so good at pretending to be real that we forget it is not. A gripping yarn takes something real or potentially real, and cuts out the boring bits embellishes the interesting bits. It plays around with the sequence of things in order to achieve the maximum emotional impact.

Fiction manipulates reality.

If you ever find yourself defending a writing choice as “realistic” you must pause. Reflect on what you mean by realistic. It is not always a compliment. Real life is tedious and often confusing. Your writing doesn’t have to be.

In real life, you must cross the room, reach out your right (or left) hand, turn the door handle, and pull (or push), in order to answer the door. Readers know this. If your character hears a knock and goes to see who it is, we do not need to know the precise details of how he gets from point A to point B. This is called stage direction. It is “realistic.” And that’s BAD. Let your reader fill in the blanks.

Simultaneity is also realistic. It is also bad. Not because it is boring, like stage direction, but because it is confusing. Why?

In real life, our brains can process many different things at the same time. You do not have to think about every sensation and thought individually in order to experience them. Do you remember the last time you stepped in dog poop? It is annoying. You do not have to think about it–the smell, the slippery sensation under your brand new shoe, rage at your neighbour’s apparent inability to keep his animal out of your yard–in order to experience annoyance.

The way we process written language is different from the way we experience events in real life. In real life, simultaneity is natural. Fiction isn’t real, and reading is different from first hand experience. No matter how good a writer you are, there is one inescapable fact that makes actual simultaneity impossible.

It’s so obvious that we don’t even think about it.

We Read One Word at a Time!

Attempting to create simultaneity in your writing will weaken it. Every time. This is not because you are a bad writer who cannot write realistically–would you stop trying to do that already? Your job as a writer is to create the illusion of reality. You are a magician!

The very nature of written language makes true simultaneous events impossible. Does that mean, like stage direction, you should cut these details out and leave them up to your readers imagination?

NO!

Details are the life-blood of your story. You want the reader to feel that they are really there with your characters, and you need details–the right details–to do that. And then you need to put those details into the right order.

“In wrhiting, one word follows another, instead of being overprinted in the same place… Any attempt to present simultaneity… obscures the cause-effect, motivation-reaction relationship that gives your story meaning.”

Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer


In real life, things happen simultaneously. But this is fiction. You are going to manipulate reality. You are going to create the illusion of simultaneity. Magic, in order to be believable, has to follow rules. The rule we are following today is that of chronological order.

If you want your writing to be clear, quick to read, and easy to follow (read: salable) you must pay close attention to the order in which you present your material. Whether it is the order of your sentences, or the elements of the sentences themselves, a strict chronological order is necessary.

You need to turn your whiles and ases into and thens, even if it’s just in your own head.

Let The Magic Begin!

Show, don’t tell. That’s another rule. And I’m going to show you what I mean right now.

Examples

Ex.1 The Phone Call

a) As the twins were screaming about whose turn it was to have the red car, the phone began to ring. I was reaching to answer it when I spilled my coffee. Cursing, I attempted to wipe up the mess while my husband emerged from the bedroom, stumbling into the kitchen.

Rubbing his eyes he asked “What’s for breakfast?”

“Answer the phone!” I snapped, barely able to contain my anger.

b) The twins were screaming about whose turn it was to have the red car. Again. The phone, not to be outdone, added its voice to the racket. I jumped to answer it and lukewarm coffee spilled into my lap. Shit! The kids shrieked louder. I grabbed a towel to contain the mess and reached for the cordless. My husband stumbled into the kitchen, rubbing his eyes.

“What’s for breakfast?” he asked.

I whipped the handset at his head. “Answer the damned phone!”

Ex 2. A Glorious Evening

a) Samantha sunk into the cool grass while relishing the warm evening air kissing her skin. As the birds sung the last songs of the day, the sun slipped behind the trees, causing long purple shadows to reach out to envelop her body. It had been a glorious day!

b) Samantha sunk into the cool grass and relished the warm evening air kissing her skin. The sun slipped behind the trees. Birds sung their last songs of the day into the deepening dusk. Long purple fingers of shadow reached out to envelop Sam’s body. What a glorious day!

Discussion

Are any of these examples glowing examples of literary brilliance? No. But which examples are easier to read? I hope you have answered “b!”

In The Phone Call, attempting to create simultaneity in a) actually decreases the tension of the scene. It adds confusion. The reader has to hold all of these bits of information in their heads and piece it together like a jig saw puzzle once they have all of the information. In b) the reader is able to imagine each event separately, and move onto the next step in the scene without having to hold on to loose pieces. This makes the scene move more quickly, and builds tension rather than confusion.

In A Glorious Evening, simultaneity might seem like a nice way to create a lovely flow of imagery that adds to the dreamy feel of the scene. However, allowing each image to stand on its own gives the reader the opportunity to linger on each moment without other images competing for attention.

Conclusion

As with all “rules” about writing, nothing is set in stone. It’s perfectly fine to write something like “Grinning, Mack laid his cards on the table,” or “Sucking on her pipe, Gretta glared at her grandson.” But in general, it is best to avoid simultaneity when you can. Be conscious of it. When you use it, use it on purpose. Ever word you write is a choice. You, the writer, get to choose the words that best tell your story. You are in control!

What do you think? Have you fallen victim to this attempt to write “realistically?” Have you ever read something that was awkward or confusing, and not been able to articulate why? Simultaneity be the culprit.

Do you agree with my assessment? Or is this just another rule you’re going to ignore while channeling the muses as you let the words flow through you water from a vessel?

Whatever your opinion, tell me all about it in the comments.

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Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer is my absolute favourite writing craft book. It’s a little old-fashioned, and is geared toward writing salable fiction rather than literary fiction. But I honestly believe it applies to all writers. Give it a go and let me know what you think! Here’s the Amazon.com link.

Failing and Freezing

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We are in the middle of a midwinter deep freeze. Lows of -42 Celsius overnight. I can remember very few winters that have been this cold as relatively far south as we are. My husband, who works in the real north, suffers through a few weeks of the -40 stuff every year but this is unusual for us. He’s in his truck right now, and I’m trying not to think about what will happen if he has truck or trailer problems. It’s unforgiving out there.

School busses are cancelled and the kids have a fort built in the living room. We’ll be hiding inside today. I’m going to make bread and do some writing. I really can’t complain.

But the cold has got me thinking about freezing. Not the freezing of fingers and toes and the tips of your nose, but that full body/brain freeze that only really happens because of fear. Fear of getting hurt, fear of looking stupid, fear of failure. You know the freeze I’m talking about. Would-be writers suffer from this all the time, myself included.

This thought started to solidify for me this winter when the kids started skating. We all bought skates, even though my husband and I haven’t been skating in 25 years. My husband didn’t do a lot of skating growing up and was never great at it (so he says). My dad has always played hockey, right up until he broke his ankle a few years ago (in his 60s!), and I learned to skate young. But when we got on the ice for the first time, I was the one who froze.

Ice is hard. And slippery. And I was exquisitely aware of how vulnerable I was in my now middle-aged body. It was terrifying. My husband, who is naturally athletic and, it seems to me sometimes, completely immune to fear of physical injury, took off. He was a little shaky at first, but pretty soon he was doing just as well as most people out there.

In the end, I did fall. I had a nice purple knee for a couple of weeks. But it took falling, and getting that fear out of the way, to allow me to move forward. It hurt, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I knew, suddenly, that I would survive if it happened again. And when you’re skating, my husband reminded me, you fall just as hard when you’re standing still and when you’re going fast. So you might as well pick up the pace! Next time we went, I wasn’t doing half bad. I still have to work on my technique and my ankle strength, but I’m not afraid to move and (mostly) not afraid to fall anymore.

With the kids, it was different. They’ve never skated before. It wasn’t all that long ago that they were learning how to walk. This was totally foreign and scary and they didn’t know how to handle it. My son, who has inherited my (lack of) athletic prowess, has been convinced since he was tiny that he will be a hockey player. That enthusiasm skips a generation, apparently. He envisioned himself as a pro. So the rude shock of having to learn how to do this thing, just like everyone else, was incredibly frustrating.

The first hour that we were out, the kids basically just fell over. Got up. Fell over again. They were in tears; I was nearly in tears (my knee really hurt!). My son kept saying, “How can I learn anything if all I do is fall down!” And I told him that every time he fell down, his body was learning what not to do. If you step like this you fall. If you lean like that you fall. And eventually, once it had eliminated a bunch of “wrong” motions, it would start to figure out the “right” ones.

I mean, I was just making that up. I didn’t want him to be frustrated. I honestly had my doubts that any of us would figure out this skating thing this year.

But sure enough, by the end of the two hours that we were on the ice, all three of the kids were shuffling around and mostly staying upright. And when they fell down, they were really good at getting themselves back up again.

Even more interesting was the fact that my son who, like I said, has my natural cautiousness and lack of athleticism, was doing much better than his twin sister who, despite the fact that she has my husband’s fearlessness and agility, quickly loses interest in things that don’t come easily. She doesn’t get angry or frustrated, she just moves on to the next thing, like running around the bleachers with her cousins.

To see my son skating, you’d think he was having a terrible time. His eyebrows were furrowed and he frowned in concentration. There were a lot of breaks and tears of frustration. But when the skates were off and we were back in the truck he lit up, and couldn’t stop talking about it. He had focused on his goal and powered through the challenges just out of sheer determination to be a hockey player. And maybe that’s just what he’ll do!

But guys. This story is not about my kids.

It’s about me. It’s about us. It’s about learning to love the struggle of getting better at the thing we are passionate about. It’s about failing, and failing repeatedly, because it’s the only way that we learn. When have you ever learned anything by being good at it already? Never. You might coast for a while on natural ability–that’s what I was doing when I chose to study English Literature in school–but eventually, if you want to grow, you have to fall on your face. You have to make mistakes. You have to try new things, and mess them up, and try again.

I’ve never actually enjoyed writing. Writing, at least in the draft stages, is a lot like hard manual labour. It is the equivalent of getting a shovel and digging until you find clay. Digging until you have enough clay that you are ready to make something. It’s the re-writing and the editing that is the real art, I think. That’s when the magic happens. That’s when you sculpt your lump of clay into what you want it to be. But you can’t edit a blank page. You can’t finesse the words you haven’t written yet. So sometimes you have to force yourself to sit down and write. You’ve got to dig.

You can’t let yourself worry about the what if. What if what I’m going to make will be no good? What if no one will like it? What if the thing I’m trying to say is derivative and pointless? That’s when you freeze. That’s when you get “writers block.”

Because none of that matters. If what you write is a bunch of rubbish, that’s fine. Then you go back and work it again. And the next time you try, it will come out a little closer to that piece of art you are envisioning in your head.

So I hope you aren’t freezing this winter. But I do hope that you fall on your face a couple of times and, more than anything, I hope you pick yourself up and try again.

“Cheese-Head” by S.C. Jensen: 2019 NYC Midnight Short Story Competition

Here it is! This is my draft for the NYC Midnight Short Story competition. My assignment was Genre: Fairy Tale, Subject: Superhuman, Character: a cheesemaker. Word limit is 2500 words.

Here is their genre description for a Fairy Tale as per the contest guidelines:

A narrative that often features folkloric characters such as fairies, elves, trolls, or witches engaged in fantastic or magical events that illuminate universal truths. Fairy tales usually exist in a time-suspended context, with minimal references to actual events, people, and places. They are often short and intended for children, although there are exceptions to that rule. Common elements: conflict between good and evil, talking animals, royalty, archetypes, use of traditional beginnings and endings, i.e., “Once upon a time…” and “…happily ever after.” Fairy Tale books include Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making. Fairy tale films include Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and The Princess Bride (1987).

I’d love your feedback on the story, how well it works with my assignment elements, and any other considerations. I still have three days to submit it, so I have time to apply any changes I need to! Without further ado, here it is:

Cheese-Head” by S.C. Jensen
2496 words

Once upon a stormy night a witch stirred up a foul smelling concoction in a cauldron as black as mould. Thunder rattled the tiny windows of her cottage in the woods and the wind outside howled. Inside the kitchen a fire crackled and, to anyone left out in the gale, its blaze would have appeared like the glowing red eyes of the devil herself flashing in the pitch. There was no one outside, though. The witch had even brought in her cow, Etheldred, who stood next to the wash basin contentedly chewing her cud and watching the fuss.

“That’s three turns widdershins,” Etheldred said, for she was a magical cow and never could keep her opinions to herself. “With the wooden spoon, not the iron. Do you want to spoil the whole batch?”

“I know that,” the witch snapped and quickly dropped the iron poker she’d been about to thrust into the brew. “What do you care if I spoil it, anyway?”

“Whose teats did you squeeze with your clammy hands to fill that crock, you half-witted hag?”

“Half-wit, am I?” Flames licked up around the fat belly of the pot as the witch muttered over her potion. “Managed to get the best of you, didn’t I?”

A gobbet of twice digested grass hung from Ethelred’s mouth. “I happen to like being a cow,” she lied.

“It certainly suits you. Saggy teats and all.”

“They were good enough for your husband, Frances Stein.” The cow licked her lips lasciviously and let a steaming pile of dung fall to the kitchen floor.

“Well, there’s no accounting for tastes.” Witch Stein poured a vial of alarmingly yellow liquid into the cauldron. “Anyway, you can have him once this spell is finished. I’m making myself a new husband.”

“That,” the cow said, “was Bile of Basilisk.”

“That’s what you said to use!” The witch gave a horrified look at the evil-looking liquid. “Who’s the cheese expert here?”

If a cow could grin, then Etheldred was grinning. “Banshee would have been better.”

“You baggy bovine!” the witch glowered. “You’re trying to sabotage me.”

“You did turn me into a cow.”

“If this doesn’t work,” the witch said, waving the wooden spoon at her companion, “you’re going to stay that way for the rest of your udder-lugging life.”

“Relax,” Etheldred said. “It’s curdling isn’t it?”

“Milk thistle to thicken,” the witch held up another vial. Then her eyes flashed with menace. “Unless you have another suggestion? I hear cows’ stomachs produce excellent rennet.”

“Rennet is terribly old-fashioned,” the cow blinked lazily, not in the least worried by the witch’s threats. “Besides, I’m using all of my stomachs.”

Witch Stein poured the milk thistle into the pot and watched the mixture coagulate. After a time, she prodded the jellied mass with her spoon and said, “Looks about right.”

“Get on with it, then,” the cow chided. “This weather isn’t going to last all night.”

“You mind your own magic,” the witch said.  With leather mitted hands she heaved the stinking cauldron over to the kitchen table and dumped its contents without ceremony. “This bit is mine.”

Slowly, surely, the witch began to mould and sculpt the mass of fresh cheese. After a time, the shape on the table took a new form. The cheese became a large, slightly misshapen man. Once she was satisfied, Witch Stein hauled out a coil of fine, hair-like metal fibers and used them to pierce the body in a few vital locations: the head, the heart, the belly, and the groin.

“What are you stabbing it for?” the cow brayed. “This isn’t one of those black magic dolls, is it? You said I could have Ralphie and I want him in one piece!”

It was Witch Stein’s turn to say, “Relax.”

She uncoiled the wires and attached them to a strange looking harness over the fireplace. More wires climbed from the harness, up the chimney, and onto the roof. The witch rubbed her hands together and looked out the window at the roiling storm. “Now, we wait.”

No sooner had she said that, then the air of the room fizzed and crackled and a smell like old coins replaced the stink of the cheese. Forks of hot white light shot from the wires on the chimney and sparked around the body of the cheese man. Etheldred mooed in alarm as a finger of lightening got too close for comfort.

“My tail is on fire,” she bellowed.

But the witch wasn’t paying the cow any attention. The creature on the table was moving its great lumpy limbs. She clapped her hands ecstatically. “It worked!”

The cheese man sat up and shook its fat, misshapen head.

“It’s alive!” Witch Stein shrieked and she did a little jig. “You thought I couldn’t do it, admit it!”

“Well,” said the cow as she gingerly dipped her tail in her water bucket. “He’s not much to look at, is he?”

“Neither is Ralphie,” the witch snapped. “I don’t need him to be handsome, I just need him to be big and strong and to follow my every command.”

“He’s certainly big,” the cow said. The cheese man’s head seemed to be growing closer to the thatched roof. “And with that recipe, he’ll be stronger than any human man. So that’s my end of the bargain. Now change me back!”

But the witch was too busy admiring her handiwork to worry about Etheldred. The cheese man tore the mess of metal wires away and stood almost to his full height. His neck bent awkwardly and his shoulders pressed against the ceiling. He looked at the witch with eyes of dry curd, and he spoke.

“Mama?” The cheese man’s voice belched out in a cloud of air that reeked like rancid feet.

Etheldred cackled as well as she could with her cow’s mouth and dropped another pile of dung.

“I’m not your mother, you oaf.” The witch poked him in the belly with her wooden spoon. “I’m your wife, Frances. Now quit lazing about, we’ve got work to do!”

“Hungry!” the cheese man grunted. And with that, he reached out his huge, lumpy hand, grabbed Etheldred the cow, and gobbled her all up.

The witch said, “Huh.”

The cheese man suddenly doubled in size, stood up to his full height, and crashed through the wall of Frances Stein’s kitchen. He lumbered into the night wearing the thatched roof like a hat, eating rocks and trees and whatever wild animals he scared up along the way.

“That’s a shame,” said the witch. She hitched her sleeves up to her elbows, grabbed her broom, and followed after her cheese husband.

The storm had abated and dawn was breaking by the time Witch Stein caught up with the cheese man. He moved quickly on legs that were growing longer every second, but he left a path of ruin that was easy enough to follow. The witch found him sitting on his huge, bumpy bottom in the middle of town, plucking the roofs of houses and snacking on the terrified villagers inside.

“Stop that this instant!” The witch flew her broom up to the cheese man’s head and buzzed around him like an angry bee. “We don’t have time for this nonsense.”

The cheese man swatted at her clumsily. “Hungry,” he moaned.

“I’ll get you some food,” the witch promised, an idea brewing in her brain. “But first, you have to give me back that cow.” 

The cheese man blinked his curd eyes at her.

“The one you ate in my kitchen,” she prompted.

The cheese man opened his cavernous mouth, reached a hand down his throat, and pulled out Etheldred. He plunked her on the ground, sodden and stinking. Then he heaved himself to his feet, now the size of schooners, and lumbered in the direction of the next town eating everything in his path.

“Disgusting,” the cow said.

“Quit your whining,” the witch said. “I need one of your food spells.”

“What I need is a washing-up spell,” Etheldred replied, dripping with whey and misery. “I’ll never get this smell out.”

“Can you do a never-ending bread loaf?”

“Bread loafs, salt pots, cheese wheels, you name it.” Even in her soggy state, the cow wasn’t above a little bragging. “If you can eat it, I can make it last forever.”

“I’m going to change you back,” the witch said begrudgingly. “But I need your help.”

“I suppose I’m in no position to bargain,” the cow said.

Witch Stein snapped her fingers and lifted the curse. Etheldred, still dripping but looking slightly more human, stretched her back and thrust out her buxom bosom. “That’s better,” she said. “Now what’s on the menu?”

The two witches went to work scouring the town for oats, molasses, and flour. Etheldred was as good as her word, and in a few hours they had an enchanted loaf of bread the size of a cart horse.

“Big and dense,” the kitchen witch declared. “Just like your cheese husband.”

“And Ralphie, too, while we’re on the subject.” Witch Stein rapped Etheldred on the head with her broom. “Now shut your gob and help me carry this thing.”

The witches wrapped the loaf up with thick ropes, strung it between two broomsticks, and flew—a little wobbly and with a lilt to the left—after the cheese man. They followed the path of broken trees, flattened cottages, and absent livestock all the way to a river. The cheese man, who was now the size of a large hillock, knelt on the ground beside the water guzzling for all he was worth.

“What are you doing now, you great galumph,” Witch Stein bellowed at her cheese husband. “I brought you food that will never run out. Now it’s time for you to get to work!”

The cheese man peered at her with his curd eyes and blinked. He snatched the loaf of bread from between the witches’ brooms, nearly spilling them both into the river, and took a colossal bite. Before he finished chewing, the loaf sprang back to its original size with a pop. The cheese man took another bite, watched the loaf grow back again, and grinned a cheesy grin.

Then he tossed the loaf aside and guzzled at the river again. Witch Stein and Etheldred looked at one another and shrugged.

Soon, the raging river became a babbling brook, the brook became a trickle, and then the trickle dried up completely. He’d guzzled up all of the water for miles and miles. The cheese man sat up and coughed out a cloud of dust.

“Thirsty,” he said and made like he was going to lumber off again in search of more water.

“Don’t you dare!” Witch Stein flew up and buzzed in his ear like a gnat. “You stay right where you are. Etheldred, can you do that trick with water, too?”

“Water, milk, ale,” Etheldred puffed out her chest. “If you can drink it, I can—”

“Yeah, yeah.” Witch Stein landed her broom and hitched up her skirts. “What do we need?”

“Why should I help you again?” Etheldred put her hands on her hips and blew a strand of whey soaked hair off of her large, crooked nose. “I kept my side of the bargain. The deal is done.”

“If you don’t, I’ll find Ralphie and turn him into the toad he is!”

Etheldred landed beside Witch Stein and muttered, “I’m starting to think that Ralphie is more trouble than he’s worth.”

“Well, at least you didn’t have to marry him to figure that out,” snapped Frances. “Are you going to help me, or not?”

“We’re going to need a big pot,” Etheldred said. “A really big pot. And after this, you’re going to owe me one.”

“You heard the woman!” Witch Stein clapped her hands at the cheese man. “Go fetch us the biggest pot you can find. And be quick about it!”

The cheese giant picked up his loaf of bread and lumbered off into the distance, munching away, and leaving slightly less devastation in his wake. It took three whole weeks for him to return, by which time Etheldred and Frances had put aside their differences and more or less become friends.

“Now that’s a cauldron!” Etheldred said when the cheese man trundled up to them with a vessel the size of a house. “Where did you find that?”

“Giants,” said the cheese man, and that was all they got out of him on the matter. But Witch Stein heard, a few years later, about a stone giant named Hymir who had developed a sudden, and rather ferocious, aversion to dairy products.

“What’ll it be,” Etheldred asked, pulling herself up onto the lip of the cauldron. “Water, milk, tea?”

Witch Stein looked up at her mountain of a husband and shook her head. “Better make it wine,” she said.

“You’re my kind of woman, Frankie!” Etheldred cackled and she waved her hands over the pot, reciting a complicated incantation that involved a little too much hip wiggling and bosom shimmying for Frances’s taste.

Soon the cauldron was brimming with a fragrant, dark red vintage.

“My best merlot,” Etheldred winked. “It pairs very well with cheese.”

The cheese giant picked up the cauldron and drank. He drank and he drank but, just as the kitchen witch promised, the cauldron never emptied. Then, with a belch that shook the birds out of the sky, he smiled. “Good.”

“Finally!” Witch Stein threw her hands up in the air. She pulled a roll of parchment out of her bosom and thrust it at her cheese husband. “Gather these materials, Cheese-Head. We have to build a bigger house before we do anything else.”

“Wow!” Etheldred exclaimed as the cheese man lurched away on his first mission, carrying the over-sized wine flask and bread loaf with him. “He can read?”

“Grab your broom, woman.” Frankie Stein launched herself into the air. “We’re going to find a nice secluded spot in the mountains. I need space for my laboratory and the hard-to-find magical elements Goudard is going to collect for me. I have hypotheses to test!”

“Goudard?”

“Well I have to call him something besides Cheese-Head.”

“Wait just a minute,” Etheldred said. “You still owe me a favour.”

Frankie rolled her eyes heavenward. “I promise not to turn Ralph into a toad.”

“Forget Ralph.” Etheldred hopped on her broomstick. The witches zipped over barren fields and flattened forests toward the mountains. A bovine bellow could be heard for miles around, “I want a cheese husband!”

And they would all have lived happily ever after except that Goudard, it turns out, didn’t like being berated and bossed any more than Ralphie had. So he joined the circus, and Frankie Stein had to do her own ingredient collecting. That didn’t stop her from trying to create new husbands, though. Once, she even dug up a cemetery for parts… But that’s another story for another time.

Writing full-time again… Damn, it feels good!

Yes! More than a quarter of the way done my first draft of Book 2...
Yes! More than a quarter of the way done my first draft of Book 2…

Just a quick update on my progress this week… It is my first week of writing full time since I really buckled down on The Timekeepers’ War. And it feels incredible. I didn’t meet my goal of 5 full days this week. I helped my sister move and had family visiting. But I am sitting at 90 good, usable pages of my first draft. Not a rough draft. A real draft. I will likely do one round of edits before submitting to my publisher, and one round with my editor before it goes to print. If I am able to keep this pace my goal of having a complete draft by the end of November is completely attainable! And that means we should have The Children of Bathora in our hot little hands by next summer. That’s great. Because I promised a lot of people that TKW Book 2 would be out by next Comic and Entertainment Expo!

Also, my latest Goodreads Giveaway had a record number of submissions. Over 1700 people entered to win a copy of The Timekeepers’ War and I just spend the last half hour signing, packaging and addressing books to send around the globe. The winners were from the United States and Canada, as well as Germany, Great Britain, Australia, the Philippeans, and India. It’s so exciting to imagine my book in the hands of people across the world. I hope it is well received!

That is all for now. Wish me luck for week two! My goal is to make it to 150 pages…

It has begun…

Writing of Book 2 in the Timekeepers' War trilogy has begun in earnest. The Children of Bathora will be finished before the end of the year!
Writing of Book 2 in the Timekeepers’ War trilogy has begun in earnest. The Children of Bathora will be finished before the end of the year!

Sometimes the hardest part of writing is actually just sitting down and doing it. Unless you are lucky enough to already be making a living off your trade, writing often takes a back seat to other obligations. Life tends to intrude on what precious time is left for writing. At least, that’s how it goes with me.

I have managed, in the year since The Timekeepers’ War was released (August 2014), to do some extensive planning for Book Two in the trilogy. I’ve told this story a hundred times, in a hundred different ways, without ever actually committing a word to paper. But I’m mentally much more prepared to write The Children of Bathora than I ever was it’s predecessor. The Timekeepers’ War evolved organically. I let the characters and the situations write themselves.

It was an interesting, if wasteful, process. I ended up cutting over 50K words from my first draft to the version that actually went to print. The trouble with free-writing and entire novel is that you end up spending a lot of time and energy on writing scenes for yourself, rather than your reader. A lot of thought and detail went into building the City and its History that never made it into the finished book. I needed it to write the rest but, as I learned in the editing process, the reader didn’t need it to understand the story. All those details that were so necessary to my writing process simply bogged the reader down, and robbed them of their own vision.

This time I’m trying a different tack. Last week I completed a point form summary of the entire plot. Yes, and even wrote it down! I’ve honestly never written with an outline in mind. This is new to me. Even in my university days, I wrote long research papers without a concrete idea of where I was going with my thesis until I got there. Then I used the editing process to make the whole thing coherent. It usually worked.

The trouble is, I don’t have ten years to write my next novel. Not if I actually want to be a writer of any prolificacy (is that a real word?) So I need to do things differently this time around.

I wrote the first 100 pages of The Children of Bathora before I even found a publisher for The Timekeepers’ War. I needed something else to do besides hounding agents and publishers, and I knew the story wasn’t finished yet. I was still on a roll. But after those initial ideas ran their course, I realized I didn’t really know where I was going with Book Two yet. I didn’t want to have to cut 50K words from another novel. As cathartic as the process was, it would be better to have not wasted all that time and energy in the first place.

Since then, I’ve been mulling it over. I’ve been telling myself this story, and playing with alternative plot lines, and trying to get a feel for the next stage in Ghost and Lynch’s adventure. I even toyed with the idea of shifting the locus of the story from Ghost to someone new. Last week, something clicked. I found the piece that was missing to tie everything together, the thread I needed to pull to tighten everything up. That’s when I wrote the summary.

Today was my first full day of writing. 8:00am-4:30. A quick break for lunch and eight solid hours of work. It feels amazing!

Not only that, but I realize that much of my initial draft is usable. I’ve chopped, re-ordered, and re-written the first 25 pages. If I can keep up this pace with recycling the original draft, I should have the first third of the book done by the end of the week. The last two thirds will be a little slower going, since I will be doing new writing rather than reworking old. But knowing where the plot is going makes me confident that the process will be much smoother this time around.

My goal is to have a completed first draft by the end of November, with The Children of Bathora submitted to Bedlam Press at the beginning of the new year. My mother-in-law is kindly staying with us for a month (or more?) so that I can write full time, while she spends some quality time with the grandchildren and makes sure I don’t starve to death. It is an amazing gift! And it means I can’t procrastinate, which is just what I need.

So here’s to writing full-time. It’s been a couple of years, but the groove is still there. I am looking forward to this!

One more week!

Hi everyone!

I’m trying not to post an update every time we get something finalized, but things are wrapping up now 🙂 We’re looking at a tentative online release of June 17th provided there are no issues with printing (which I am told is fairly common, so we’ll keep things tentative for now). We’re just wrapping up the tail end stuff: documents to be signed, financial stuff settled, final documents approved and sent to print. It’s not glamorous, but it’s extremely  exciting for me!

Just to give an idea of the scale of editing we’ve gone through, I’ll give you the final word count. 115,058! If you’ve been following, you know my original MS was over 146K words. So we were able to trim over 31K words from my first “final” draft, haha. Goes to show exactly how final the editing process is. So, if you’re looking to translate that into actual published pages, you will be interested to learn that The Timkeepers’ War weighs in at 312 pages in Trade Paperback format.

What? That’s not actually that interesting? If you’re a writer, final page count is something you obsess over. I don’t know how many times I’ve picked up a book, checked the page count, and tried to imagine how mine will compare. Too big? Too small? Just right? Don’t tell me you don’t have a page count sweet spot! Some books are too big to hold comfortably for binge reading sessions. Some are flimsy and insubstantial feeling. I think I hit my sweet spot 😉

Anyway. Expect another update in the next week, give or take a few days. And hopefully that update will be “Buy now, at your favorite online bookseller!” Stay tuned 🙂

Where are the blood, sweat, and tears? This can’t be editing!

Things are finally wrapping up on The Timekeepers’ War. I’ve just gone through my editor Amy’s final changes and suggestions, and am greatly relieved to find that we are on exactly the same page. I had the very difficult task of hitting the “accept” button on her edits, and hardly had to do any actual work myself this time (This is what I was missing out on before finding a publisher!?!) I can hardly believe it.

The last time I did an edit, I was pretty much in tears over the pages and pages of “lost” material.

But I guess if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be here. So there you go.

So, we’ve got to do one more run for all the little stuff–typos, missed/punctuation, final formatting. And then we’re done! Still right on schedule for a June/July release date. I’m starting to count down the days to when I hold a copy of my very first (hopefully of many) novel in my hands.

Time to get cracking on the sequel, I guess 😉 The Children of Bathora is up next!

The Timekeepers’ War: Official Cover!

Final cover art for The Timekeepers' War. Look for it this summer!!
Final cover art for The Timekeepers’ War. Look for it this summer!!
It’s official! The cover art for The Timekeepers’ War has been finalized! I feel very fortunate to be working with such a great team at Bedlam Press. They have been nothing but supportive and cooperative throughout this exciting experience. I just hope there are no scary surprises when Amy gets back to me with the final edits… She’s a little later than expected, which can only mean more work for me, haha. I’ll have to mentally prepare myself for the overhaul 😉 Thank you for sticking with me during this slow time in the publishing process. It seems to come in spurts and lulls. In the mean time I’m trying to finish up some other writing projects I’ve got on the side. The less-fun, more-money journalistic kind, rather than the more-fun, (so far)less-money fictional kind! But I’m fortunate to be able to scrape together a living from writing, no matter what kind it is! Hope I’ll be back soon with an edits update!