Downtime and the Back Burner

Every writer has moments when the flow of words stutters, stalls, comes to a sudden screeching halt. Call it writer’s block, call it what you want. In my case it’s usually a panicked ‘where do I go from here’ feeling which is almost always due to a misstep I’ve taken somewhere along the line. It’s that nagging sense of ‘something’s wrong’, and until I figure out what and how to fix it, I can’t move forward.

That’s where the ‘back burner’ comes in. That place at the back of your brain where you stick an idea to simmer while life goes on; never forgotten, but comfortably out of sight where part of your mind can worry away at it while you do other things.

While you have a little downtime from writing.


Taking some time out at the White Memorial Conservation Center, CT

For me, downtime can be as simple as shutting off the laptop for the day, and going out to do errands and walk the dog. A couple of hours is sometimes enough to work out a plot tangle. Other times, if I’m really stuck, it can mean a week or two of doing nothing but reading other people’s words voraciously or binge-watching an entire season of Supernatural in the company of my daughter.


A little break to enjoy the autumn colors

Eventually, after an hour, or a day, or a week, the pot finally stops simmering. The solution to my plot or character development problem is suddenly crystal clear. I can dive in again with new energy, and after taking a break things are stronger and better.


Energized, renewed, ready for the next round

Everyone has their own approach to writing. Every writer has that rhythm that just works, and that is all their own. I love living in my made-up worlds, and can write happily for hours on end. But I get stuck, too. And for me, taking a break from time to time is essential to keep things moving.

All photos taken at the White Memorial Conservation Center, Litchfield, CT.


October Updates



Dog bed under table for strategic canine foot-rubs

Hello October, you lovely thing. Plenty of the good and the busy going on over here in my autumn-colored neck of the woods.

My Heart Blade edits are pretty much done! I have the wonderful experts at Laurel City Sword looking over my fight scenes at the moment, but apart from that…the manuscript is ready to place in the copyeditor’s capable hands. Although in the past I’ve worked with plenty of fabulous (and patient) beta readers and critique partners, this was my first time working with a professional editor. It’s been a really interesting and positive experience, and I’m sure there’s a whole other blog post right there waiting to happen.

I have a cover! Well, almost. There are all sorts of things that still need to be done to it before it’s ready to share, like adding a title. But my publisher has let me peek and Merilliza Chan‘s artwork is lovely, with a dreamy vintage feel to it. Here’s a teaser:


Rose petals! So pretty! Shh, secret…

So what happens next? I have a sequel to write. That means I need to do some serious outlining first, and also a post-edits update of all my story and character arcs for the next three Blade Hunt Chronicles books. No spoilers for book 2 before book 1 is even out, but I may or may not have a heist tale in the works. I’ve been dying to try my hand at fictional armed robbery, and Night Blade is the perfect place for it.


Caution: fictional armed robbery may or may not include swords

I’m looking forward to a busy October, and that’s just the way I like it. Happy words to all you writers and readers out there!

Writing Girls

The second round of revisions for Heart Blade is safely back in the hands of my editor, and now I’m at that it’s-getting-closer stage that’s half panic and half extreme excitement. Some of the hardest work during the editing stage went into my female characters, especially my main protagonist Adeline ‘Del’ Raven. Originally I wanted to write one of those snarky, feisty girls that other authors do so well. But it turns out I don’t really do snark (seriously, I’m rubbish at it!), and halfway through my first ever draft Del changed into someone sweeter, fiercer, and more determined than I ever imagined she would be. During the revision process, I had to make sure Del was that person I knew she should be, rather than the one I had originally imagined.

Last month I wrote a blog piece on Writing Boys, with some of my favorite YA men in the fictional world. Since then, I’ve had my Heart Blade girls on my mind – Del, Rose, Camille, and Diana. So I thought it was about time for a follow-up with a few of my favorite young women in speculative fiction…

*Note: not all the books mentioned below are YA, but all the characters are in the young adult range of teens to early twenties and share that ‘coming of age’ vibe. Feel free to add your own faves in the comments!*


Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins) – When I first read this series, my immediate reaction was, ‘Where the hell was Katniss when I was growing up?’ Seriously. The books I read in the 80’s had no one like her, and I desperately wish I could time travel and hand twelve-year-old me this book. A talented archer and hunter, Katniss has a ferocity to her that’s both chilling and mesmerizing.

Nessa Doherty (The Call, Peadar Ó Guilín) – Nessa is smart, focused, and a quick thinker. She’s determined to survive in this post-fairy-apocalypse version of Ireland, despite the physical limitations of her polio-induced disability and the disdain of many of her classmates at the training academy she attends. The Call is a brand new release, and already Nessa has made it to my list of all-time favorite female characters.

Beth Bradley (The City’s Son, Tom Pollock) – Graffiti artist Beth is as dark and edgy as the urban fantasy trilogy she dwells in. In the Skyscraper Throne series, she meets London’s gritty magical underbelly head on with a smile and a challenge, and never, ever shies away from a fight. Bonus points for goddess powers!

Delilah Bard (A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab) – Oh, Lila… Another one who never backs away from danger, preferring instead to court it without shame. Thief, adventurer, pirate, magician… There is nothing that impulsive Lila won’t try her hand at if she gets the urge. No matter how perilous, or who gets swept up in her path.

Annabeth Chase (The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan) – Although only twelve in the beginning of the saga, Annabeth totally counts as she is now seventeen and preparing to head off to college. And how could I not include the daughter of Athena? One of the main characters in Rick’s Greek gods books (she even has a cameo in his new Norse gods series), Annabeth is cool logic under fire, and a master tactician who prefers to think her way out of trouble. But when the going gets tough, she’s not afraid to engage, getting up close and personal with her preferred weapon: a knife.


Worlds Apart

I recently read a great blog piece by SF/F author Jo Zebedee on how every character is a protagonist in their own story. Her post stuck with me, and I began thinking about how – in real life – we create stories to live in which color and enrich our world. Children do this all the time: they walk around in superhero outfits or princess dresses, or use sticks as swords in the park. We say, “Oh, so-and-so has such a wonderful imagination!” But it’s not just ‘imagination’, is it? It’s an ability to rewrite the world around you, however temporarily, and make yourself the star at the center of your exclusively crafted solar system.

(And, shh! Adults do it too! Daydreaming, they call it, but when you’re lost in an alternate world where you’re treading the red carpet, or being awarded the CEO-of-the-year award, or sunning yourself on a tropical beach somewhere, you’re not just playing imaginary games. For a brief instant, you’re the key player in a story of your own making, and not only are you the main protagonist but the script writer, the costume designer, and the director all in one.)

I have a clear fairytale memory of being four, and arriving in Brazil to spend a year with my mother’s family while my parents made work contacts and began setting things up for our permanent move to Brazil a few years later. Of course, I didn’t understand about the work contacts and all that stuff. What I do remember is that we drove up to a palace, and when I was shown my vast bedroom I opened a huge wardrobe to find it spilling with beautiful silken dresses while my grandmother went ta-da! in the best fairy godmother style.

Fast forward many years later and now, when I look back at the scene, I smile at my small self. Yes, my grandparents’ house was big and sprawling compared to our tiny London semi, but far from being a palace it was actually a former farmhouse. The wardrobe still exists: it’s a teensy thing built for a child’s room. And while I’m sure there were probably a good handful of dresses inside, they were all nice, serviceable hand-me-downs from my older cousin. But who cares? Because for that brief moment, that was my narrative. The fairytale, the princess dream. It was a real thing, as was my part in it, and though the narrative twisted and changed over time, that perfect dream moment will always be a part of my personal story.

As Jo points out in her blog piece, when she compares two books written by different survivors of the same horrific event, each character in a story will focus on different aspects of the same event – the aspects that touch them most, that become a part of their own particular story. They are the main characters in that tale, but the stories are different, too, not just the protagonists’ place in them. If we, as non-fictional and real, living people, can create our own worlds around us, beautifully distinct and personal to each of us, then our written characters should, too.

One child’s wardrobe is another one’s key to a magical princess world. Which world do your characters live in? What story does each of them tell? Personally, I can’t wait to find out.


In each person’s eyes, a different world.

Have Book, Will Read #12

August is at an end, bringing a promise of cooler days and autumn colors. I got through a surprising amount of books this month, considering I was working almost full-time on edits for my own novel. But escaping into someone else’s words at night can be a blessing when you need to get away from your own work for a while! Here are a few of my top picks…

Recent Reads: War – magical, civil, and interplanetary. And a dash of wandwork for good measure.

I caught up with the latest in the Pax Arcana series by Elliott James, In Shining Armor. In his fourth novel, tensions between the knights and their werewolf allies rise to boiling point when the Grandmaster’s granddaughter is kidnapped, and John Charming must find out who’s behind the whole mess before an all-out war breaks out.

I love Elliott’s characters; they always feel fresh and yet – at the same time – familiar, and starting a new Pax Arcana novel is a guarantee of a good time. If you’re an urban fantasy fan, I thoroughly recommend this series.

I’d been anxiously awaiting the release of This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, first in her brand new Monsters of Verity series. I liked the premise: a city overrun by monsters, and the story certainly didn’t disappoint. Her new world is bleak, but not horribly so, and her two protagonists are a delight.

This Savage Song tells the story of Kate, a human who wants to become as monstrous as her mobster father, and August, a monster who tries his hardest to be human and keep the darkness at bay. Set in civil-war-torn Verity, the tale has shades of Romeo and Juliet, but with Victoria’s unique spin.

Jo Zebedee’s Sunset Over Abendau had been sitting on my Kindle for a while, waiting for the right mood to strike. Jo’s work is always of the devour-in-one-sitting variety, and this one certainly lived up to her previous exciting reads.

This is the second installment of the Inheritance Trilogy, which follows the story of Kare Varnon and the battle to overthrow his mother, the tyrannical Empress. Sunset picks up ten years after the events in the first book, Abendau’s Heir and, different from the first, the entire story takes place over a brief, heart-thumping few days. A nice sequel, and I look forward to the last book, out later this year.

Of course, Summer 2016 wouldn’t have been complete without the latest Harry Potter installment, The Cursed Child. I know that the play by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany has been the subject of numerous heated internet debates, and that everyone is probably sick of hearing about it by now. But I found it an enjoyable read, and would love to see it brought to life by the actors. Scorpius Malfoy was a personal favorite among her new characters, and it was nice to get a glimpse of Slytherin as something other than Big, Bad, and Villainous.

Now Reading: To boldly go…down space wormholes and the paths of the dead.

I’m reading The Summoner, the first in Gail Z. Martin’s Chronicles of the Necromancer series. I’m really enjoying it so far, mainly because I like the main character, Tris, so much. The magic is really cool so far, and it’s refreshing to see a necromancer as the hero.

I’ve also started dipping into a brand new anthology from Woodbridge Press, Explorations: Through the Wormhole. This is a shared world collection, with all authors writing around a theme and setting. I’ve only read the first story so far, by Ralph Kern, and it sets the bar pretty high for the others, but I’m sure they’ll all live up to this great start.

To Read: Fae…In…Space! (okay, not really, but c’mon, Muppets references are always gold, right? Also, now I really want to read about space fairies.)

I have three books at the top of my to-read list. First is The Call, by Peadar Ó Guilín. This horror/fantasy YA intrigued me when I first heard about it a few months ago, and it just launched in the USA (UK launch is tomorrow). It has a sort of ‘Hunger Games in fairyland’ premise, and I can’t wait to dig in.

I also have a couple of military SF titles all lined up and waiting on my Kindle. First Comes Duty is book 2 in P.J. Strebor’s Hope Island Chronicles series – I’m looking forward to more of Nathan Telford’s saga. The other novel I have in my reading queue is Liberator, a brand new offering by Nick Bailey and Darren Bullock.

So, I think I have enough to keep me busy for most of September! How about you, read any good books lately?



Writing Boys

For the last month and a half I’ve been working on edits for my young adult novel, Heart Blade. A good part of the process included digging deeper into my characters. I spent a lot of time on my main male protagonist, seventeen-year-old Ash. James Asher Deacon is a complicated bundle of anger, fear, sorrow, sweetness, and sense of duty, and I hope that when Heart Blade comes out next year my readers will like him as much as I do.

I handed in the first big round of revisions to my editor yesterday, and since then I’ve been thinking about some of the fictional boys I’ve enjoyed reading about and what makes them appealing as characters. By ‘boys’, I mean that interval between late teens and early twenties; the ‘growing-up’ years, the defining years, the years when life is so full of urgent questions and – well – urgent everything. You find them all over YA, and a good bit of regular ‘adult’ SF/F too. They fuel fan art, and fanfics, and heated debates. They can be lovely, and frustrating, and stubborn, and inspiring. Here are a few of my favorites.

*Note: not all the books mentioned below are YA, but all the characters are in the YA range and share that ‘coming of age’ vibe. Feel free to add your own faves in the comments!*


Han Alister (The Demon King, Cinda Williams Chima) – Heartless streetlord, loyal friend, waif, leader, lover, healer, mage. The blond and blue-eyed hero of the Seven Realms series wears many different faces for many different people, and Chima does a spectacular job of showing him to us through different lenses as she builds on all these facets. Han is a compelling character who is not afraid to fight and suffer for what he believes in, and who will go to extraordinary lengths to defeat the villains and save the girl.

Darrow of Lykos (Red Rising, Pierce Brown) – What’s not to like about Darrow? Fiercely determined to do the right thing, free his people, and avenge the love of his life, the Helldiver of Lykos can be hard-hearted and unforgiving when necessary. But the talented military leader in Brown’s trilogy never loses the ability to love those who surround and follow him, and this faith in his friends is ultimately what saves him, time after time.

August Flynn (This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab) – August is sweetness personified. A beautifully gentle soul – who just happens to also be a monster who needs to kill in order to survive – he’s one of the prettiest characters I’ve seen in a long time. He’s brave, loving, and utterly committed to doing the right thing, even if everyone else is against it. He’s a bright candle flame in the dark world that Schwab has created in her new series, Monsters of Verity.

The Raven Boys (The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater) – I’m totally cheating here, but how am I supposed to choose just one? In the first book of the Raven Cycle series we’re introduced to the loyal and eccentric leader, Gansey; to Adam, handsome and broken; shy and mysterious Noah; and prickly Ronan, whose tough exterior hides a caring heart. The four ‘Raven Boys’ from Aglionby Academy come as a package deal, complementing each other and weaving their personal stories into one rich tapestry.

Jorg Ancrath (Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence) – Jorg is definitely the bad boy of this bunch. Cruel, ruthless, very often unfeeling, and damaged beyond belief, Jorg is also brilliant, determined, and an inspired leader to his equally damaged men. The dazzlingly dark hero of the Broken Empire trilogy may be one of those love-him-or-hate-him characters, but there’s no doubt he makes for an extremely exciting read.

Martris Drayke (The Summoner, Gail Z. Martin) – I’m only halfway through the first book in Martin’s Chronicles of the Necromancer series, and already Tris has made it onto my faves list. Tall, slender, and handsome, Tris is also sweet and loyal, always trying to protect his friends and loved ones from harm. When tragedy strikes, Tris is forced brutally into a coming-of-age journey that brings out his still-nascent summoning magic. But even with everything he loves ripped away from him, he still retains an essential niceness that’s very endearing.

Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch

I’ve had Ben Aaronovitch on my to-read list for a while. Somehow he kept getting pushed down the list, until the other day I spotted Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the USA) at my local library and thought, ‘why not?’

I was hooked by the end of the first page.

I’d heard plenty of good things about Ben’s Rivers of London series, also called the Peter Grant books after the main character. I’d heard that they were well written. Fast-paced. Exciting. I certainly agree with all of those, but somehow I missed out on how funny they are. I wasn’t expecting funny. He had me constantly grinning as I zapped my way through his first, second, and third book in quick nail-biting succession.

In his first book, Rivers of London (Midnight Riot), we meet PC Peter Grant, a lowly constable in the London Metropolitan Police Service. Peter… Well let’s just say he isn’t headed for great things. In the words of his friend and co-worker PC May, he’s just too easily ‘distractible’. But distractible turns out to be a good quality when it leads to an interview with a murder witness…who just happens to be a ghost.

From here on, Peter’s life grows steadily weirder and more interesting, in equal proportions. Pretty soon he finds himself working for a secret branch of the police force under the supervision of England’s last official wizard, Inspector Nightingale. The plot jumps and leaps and twists between river gods and vengeful spirits bent on mayhem and murder in this absolutely delightful book.

I had to have more. Soon I was diving into Aaronovitch’s second book, Moon Over Soho. This one delves into the world of jazz with an investigation into the mysterious death of a number of musicians. Ben’s third book, Whispers Under Ground, takes us into the tunnels and sewers underneath London’s streets when a murder victim is found at the end of Baker Street tube station.

I finished the third in a bit of a fangirl daze, thinking why haven’t I read this before!!! Luckily for me, there are more published books in this great series, just waiting for me to pick them up.

If you like your supernatural police novels to have a decidedly cheeky approach to apprehending a number of not-your-usual sorts of suspects, then Ben’s work is definitely for you.