The View From The Road

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Last week, I posted this brief thread on Twitter:

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Sounds easy, right? Except that us writer types are a notoriously insecure and self-doubting bunch of people, and this isn’t always easy advice to follow.

Once you’ve been bitten by the word bug and you’ve made it past the first hurdles and learnt a little about publishing, chances are that you’re either going to run away screaming and never look back, or dig yourself in and prepare for the zombie apocalypse long run. Those who decide to stay in the bunker and face the crazy, fascinating, heart-breaking, wonderful world of writing will find themselves periodically adjusting their dreams and goals.

SF/F writer Jo Zebedee, after asking writers on Twitter, Facebook, and internet forums, brought out this great blog post on writer aspirations, where the many different responses led her to conclude that not only did the goals and dreams reflect where a writer was in their journey but also that, for every step reached, there’s a new one ahead. Perspective is not only necessary, but crucial, and so is taking time to celebrate the steps you’ve already climbed, rather than just dwelling on the ones to come.

Not long after Jo’s blog post, a comment on the SFF Chronicles forum, by author Stephen Palmer, touched briefly on envy. I think that a certain dose of healthy envy goes hand-in-hand with a writer’s goals and aspirations. Being able to look at someone else’s success, wish them well, but also say to yourself I want to get there someday can be a powerful motivator. Emphasis on healthy envy: as long as you use that as a push to grow in your work, looking up to other authors and using them as inspiration is never a bad thing.

The problem with comparing your writing career to other people’s, is that there will always be someone who is already there, at your next goal, or who has managed your dream achievement. It’s easy to get discouraged, and to think your work will never be that good, that perfect. But I think that sometimes we forget to look back and see how far we’ve come. I’m incredibly proud of my published novels, but sometimes I find myself dismissing the hard work I’ve put in and the stages I’ve reached when I get too stuck on looking ahead at the next big goal.

That stone in the Twitter thread? I bought it for exactly that reason: to remind myself just how much I’ve accomplished already. Do I have objectives, dreams, and lofty aspirations? Absolutely. Do I sometimes feel a quiver of envy, a touch of ‘I’d love that to be me’? Hell, yes. All this keeps me going and fuels my passion for what I do. However, commemorating how I got here, one step at a time, is just as important.

Celebrate your path. Take joy in what lies behind, especially when the way ahead looks daunting. And keep writing. You’ll probably never reach the top of the mountain, because there will always be a higher peak to climb. But the view from the road can be pretty darn satisfying if you take the time to look around.

Poconos Retreat, Part I

(In two parts, because it was just THAT great!)

 

Ever since I met the ray of sunshine that is YA author Kim Briggs, five years ago at my first ever SCBWI conference (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), I’ve wanted to go to the annual retreat organized by her region, Eastern PA SCBWI. This year I finally made it down to Pennsylvania, and I’m so glad I did!

Around thirty or so writers and illustrators gathered with faculty and staff at the lovely Highlights Foundation center in the Poconos, for a weekend of workshops, critique sessions, good food (so much good food!), and lots and lots of creative chit chat. The theme? May The Force Be With You, of course. What else for a start date of May 4th?

The magic began on Friday evening. After appetizers, the illustrator showcase, and dinner, we were all invited to go to the podium and present our homework. Yes, homework: to prepare a short presentation of what the Force means for you and your work. A great opening for the weekend. (I’m saving mine to share in another blogpost; wait and see!)

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Wookiee Cookie from Saturday’s lunch

Saturday, after a generous breakfast in the Barn (seriously. So. Much. Food.), we were treated to an opening keynote by YA author K.M. Walton, who encouraged us to trust our goals and dreams; to know our dreams and do the work to make them happen.

Next, I headed up to the Lodge for a workshop on Plot Meets Character with Kate Prosswimmer, editor for the Sourcebooks Fire and Jabberwocky imprints. Kate went over some of the key approaches for breaking down plot and character in stories, and then suggested we chart our own novels with the tools she introduced us to.

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Plot Meets Character workshop

After lunch (more REALLY GOOD food; I was feeling thoroughly pampered by that point!), it was time for the keynote by author/illustrator Angela Dominguez. Angela talked about the difficulties of growing up bilingual — something that most people in my family can relate to! She also gave us an important reminder: that there’s a lot of waiting in publishing, and it’s okay to get frustrated.

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Keynote by Angela Dominguez

It was time for a break and a group photo, and then onto the keynote by editor and author Harold Underdown. Harold walked us through a selection of children’s books for all ages and talked about the importance of beginnings and endings: of making a promise to your reader at the start of a story, and following through on that promise at the end.

The afternoon was set aside for peer critiques (and one-on-one critiques with faculty for those who had signed up for one), but as I had been deep in revision mode when the deadline came around, I hadn’t sent anything in. Instead, I snuck off to my cabin for a bit of tea and quiet time. With so much information bouncing around in my head, it was a perfect way to unwind.

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Some much-needed downtime

Saturday evening brought nachos on the patio while the faculty signed books inside, followed by dinner and the silent auction. There were lots of amazing items to bid on, and I’m pleased that one of my bids made it to the end: a 15-page manuscript critique offered by agent Kira Watson, along with a signed ARC from her client Naomi Hughes’ upcoming release, Afterimage.

We closed the night on a high note: with s’mores on the patio by the open-air fireplace under twinkling lights. And then it was off to our cozy cabins for our last night in Writer’s Paradise.

 

Embrace the Night

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Blue cake to match my lovely blue cover

It’s release day for NIGHT BLADE! Happy book birthday to my second Blade Hunt Chronicles novel.

NIGHT BLADE brings familiar characters you’ve met in HEART BLADE, as well as some new faces. Rose is up and center in this book, as she attempts to infiltrate a heist and steal a certain object of interest from the very thieves she’s partnered up with. Del is learning to handle all the attention she’s getting from preternatural society, while at the same time trying to figure out her past. Ash is still dealing with all the fallout from the events in the first book, while hanging onto Del like a lifeline. And newcomer Ben just wants to keep his head down, do his job, and fade back into his self-imposed obscurity, hopefully without losing his boyfriend along the way.

I’m really excited to share this new installment of the Blade Hunt Chronicles with you all. If you haven’t read Book 1 yet, HEART BLADE will be free for Kindle from November 8-12th, so don’t miss out! NIGHT BLADE is only $2.99 right now…

Heart Blade on Amazon

Night Blade on Amazon

Add Night Blade on Goodreads

 

 

 

Five First Kisses

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Fiction, even the bloodiest and grimmest of bearded Viking fantasy, is a fertile place for romance. You can find love among the laser blasts, or heartbreak in the shadow of a castle siege. It might be vast and all-encompassing, or tiny and discreet – sometimes barely a hint – but it’s usually around someplace. Stories are about characters, and characters must necessarily relate to each other. Some of these relationships might include friendship, or hate, or camaraderie…or love.

Not all of my examples are from YA novels, but most are. This is because young adult fiction, in particular, is full of first kisses, which makes sense. After all, YA is all about teens discovering themselves and their place in the world around them, making difficult choices, and often saving the day along with all of that. Finding love (however ephemeral), and all of the heady emotions that follow, is often a key part of this experience.

Lila and Kell (A Gathering of Shadows, V.E. Schwab):

Schwab’s lovely characters share a bare brushing of lips in the first book, but their true first kiss takes place almost at the end of the second book in the trilogy. By now they’ve fought together, fought each other, escaped death and caused it to others, and this kiss is every bit as dramatic as their lives have been. You can just feel the pent-up passion and frustration jump from the page, and it’s everything that Lila and Kell (finally) deserve. They’re at a ball, at night, fresh off an argument – nothing unusual for these two – and Kell storms off onto an outside balcony. Lila follows to talk about the fight they just had, and emotions finally boil over:

            ‘They crashed into each other as if propelled by gravity, and he didn’t know which of them was the object and which the earth, only that they were colliding. This kiss was Lila pressed into a single gesture. Her brazen pride and her stubborn resolve, her recklessness and her daring and her hunger for freedom. It was all those things, and it took Kell’s breath away. Knocked the air from his lungs. Her mouth pressed hard against his, and her fingers wove through his hair as his sank down her spine, tangling in the intricate folds of her dress.’

The scene goes on, kisses that turn to biting, bodies pressed up against the wall. And ends like this:

            ‘He kissed her until the cold night fell away and his whole body sang with heat. He kissed her until the fire burned up the panic and the anger and the weight in his chest, until he could breathe again, and until they were both breathless.’

There. I think we’re all a little out of breath now, right?

Ronan and Adam (The Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater):

After the longest build-up ever (seriously, it took almost an entire series for Adam to really see Ronan), fans of the Raven Cycle finally got their reward in book 4. I love this kiss scene for various reasons: the first is that, by the second book, Ronan Lynch was already my favorite character. Prickly as a hedgehog, but so vulnerable underneath, he absolutely deserved his happily-ever-after. I also love the way Stiefvater handled the scene. It’s quiet, understated, with no huge fanfare, but so beautifully intense. Adam is sitting on the edge of Ronan’s bed in broad daylight, holding a model car and thinking, when Ronan walks into the room. He sits beside Adam, and holds out a hand for the car. A moment later, he leans over and kisses him. What makes it such a great scene is what comes next:

            ‘Ronan let out a breath, put the model down on the bed beside him, and kissed Adam.

Once, when Adam had still lived in the trailer park, he had been pushing the lawn mower around the scraggly side yard when he realized that it was raining a mile away. He could smell it, the earthy scent of rain on dirt, but also the electric, restless smell of ozone. And he could see it: a hazy gray sheet of water blocking his view of the mountains. He could track the line of rain traveling across the vast dry field toward him. It was heavy and dark, and he knew he would get drenched if he stayed outside. It was coming from so far away that he had plenty of time to put the mower away and get under cover. Instead, though, he just stood there and watched it approach. Even at the last minute, as he heard the rain pounding the grass flat, he just stood there. He closed his eyes and let the storm soak him.

That was this kiss.’

Ahh. Beautiful.

Harry and Ginny (The Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling):

The Harry Potter books aren’t really known for their romance, but there are lots of great moments in there, nonetheless. And one of my favorites is Harry and Ginny’s first kiss. It’s so very much them. Harry’s character, for all that he’s the hero of the series, has an odd, quiet sort of passivity to him, possibly from years of trying to make himself invisible at the Dursleys. And Ginny is everything but passive. She’s one of my favorite Weasleys – the only girl and the baby of the bunch, who can give as good as she gets, and even out-hex her twin prankster brothers. So it makes sense that their first kiss would be all about Ginny riding the emotional high of a Quiddich win, and throwing herself into Harry’s arms – something he’d probably never get around to initiating himself. Ginny takes charge, and it’s every bit as awesome as she is:

            ‘Harry looked around; there was Ginny running towards him; she had a hard, blazing look on her face as she threw her arms around him. And without thinking, without planning it, without worrying about the fact that fifty people were watching, Harry kissed her.’

Pen and Espel (The Glass Republic, Tom Pollock):

Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy isn’t as well known as the other series I’ve mentioned here, and it really deserves to be. Check out my review here. The books are full of great characters and rich worldbuilding, and one of my favorite characters is Pen, a Pakistani teen from London brought up in a traditional household. In the first book Pen is sexually abused by a teacher, and later becomes terribly injured in a supernatural battle.

In this second book, she stumbles through to a mirror world where her face full of patchwork scars is considered the height of beauty instead of something freakish. When Pen finds herself attracted to another girl, it’s a shy, tentative thing – perfectly written considering where she’s coming from, and the issues she carries around. Their first kiss is equally tentative, and I love it for the way it reflects not just Pen’s uncertainty, but the uncertainty of most teenagers (and probably many adults) facing a first kiss with someone they like.

            ‘Pen put her hand over Espel’s temple and wound her fingers into her hair. She hesitated for a fraction of a second and kissed her.

Espel inhaled sharply. There was a terrifying, paralyzed moment, when Pen was certain that Espel was going to push herself away, and then that breath came out again and the steeplejill’s lips gave way under hers. They held the kiss for long moments, Pen’s heart loud in her ears, and then Espel stepped into her.’

You can just feel Pen’s relief when Espel reciprocates. Nicely done, and with very relatable feelings, too.

There are so many great kisses in fiction. These are just a few of those romantic moments that – however brief – can help warm a plotline and add character depth to a story. I promised five, so here’s the last; this one’s a little tongue-in-cheek (sorry! Sorry. Bad kissing pun…) but I just had to include it.

Buttercup and Westley (The Princess Bride, William Goldman):

I’m always surprised by how many people love the movie but have never read Goldman’s masterpiece. This book is so much fun, and worth picking up if you’ve never given it a chance. And here it is, the (alleged) best kiss in history (according to the author):

            ‘He reached out with his right hand.

Buttercup found it very hard to breathe.

“Good-by.”

She managed to raise her right hand to his.

They shook.

“Good-by,” he said again.

She made a little nod.

He took a third step, not turning.

She watched him.

He turned.

And the words ripped out of her: “Without one kiss?”

They fell into each other’s arms.

There have been five great kisses since 1642bc, when Saul and Delilah Korn’s inadvertent discovery swept across Western civilization. (Before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy, because although everyone agrees with the formula of affection times purity times intensity times duration, no one has ever been completely satisfied with how much weight each element should receive. But on any system, there are five that everyone agrees deserve full marks.

Well, this one left them all behind.’

By the Sword: a writer’s guide

After I’d written my first couple of drafts of Heart Blade, the first book in my Blade Hunt Chronicles series, I thought it would be cool to maybe watch some sword action in person. Luckily for me, I found out there’s a school not far from home that teaches Historical European Martial Arts, with emphasis on longsword. I went for a one-off lesson, and was quickly smitten.

My instructor at Laurel City Historical Fencing, Christopher Valli, has been an awesome source of inspiration and research for Blade Hunt sword scenes, as well as being kind enough to revise all of those scenes when I got to the editing stage of Heart Blade and Night Blade (out in November – shameless promo moment!).

My mistakes in that early draft of Heart Blade got me thinking about all those sword fights in fiction, many of which are probably wildly incorrect and highly cringe-worthy to experts. I tossed a few questions to Chris, and here are his answers…

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Juliana: What is the most common #swordfail in fiction?

Chris: The biggest pet peeve of mine is the idea that European swords, particularly two-handed swords like the bastard sword or longsword, are heavy and unwieldy. As you’ve seen, Juliana, the average longsword is 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds and well balanced. Many authors and movie fight choreographers think of European swords as big heavy blunt objects, not the graceful weapons they are.

Juliana: Name a favorite book or movie where the sword techniques are accurate…

Chris: Well I may be a little biased as I was consulted, but I love the fight scenes in Heart Blade. I loved reading about a character practicing longsword using Joachim Meyer’s cutting square exercise; its one of our standard warm-up exercises at Laurel City Historical Fencing, and one I practice on my own regularly.

My favorite movie fight scene has to be the dueling sequence in The Princess Bride. I credit that movie as being a big influence on me, from playing with sword-shaped sticks as a kid, to starting to study Chinese swords and weapons through my teen years, to getting into HEMA in college.

Juliana: Which real life sword master do you find inspirational?

Chris: My favorite period sword master is Paulus Kal. Master Kal was a member of the Gesellschaft Liechtenauer, a group of sword masters in the German tradition. During the 15th century, Kal served Duke Ludwig IX of Bavaria as a sword and wrestling master, and also led a contingent of cannoneers in defense on a siege of the castle. He later went on to serve Archduke Sigismund of Austria (who by the way had one of the finest examples of Gothic armor!).

Over his career as a sword master, Paulus Kal left behind several manuscripts on the Liechtenauer tradition. His manuscripts covered the use of the longsword in and out of armor, sword and buckler (a small shield), large dueling shields, fighting on horseback, a duel between a man and woman, wrestling, and dagger. Copies of his manuscripts are still around today and I regularly reference them for our HEMA class.

Juliana: Please share three hot tips for writers planning on including swords in their work.

Chris: 1 – Research. Decide what kind of time period you’re looking at writing about, and what types of weapons would be used, then reach out to martial arts schools, fencing groups, reenactment groups to learn more about how the real sword would have handled. Maybe even try it out yourself! Take a class, try cutting some water bottles or tatami!
2 – Visualize the fight, make friends or family stand in and really imagine how a scene would play out.
3 – Remember, katanas aren’t magical items that can cut through anything!

Juliana: If you could own any fictional sword, which would you choose?

Chris: Amoracchius, one of the Swords of the Cross from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. In the lore of the Dresden universe, three swords were forged from the nails from the Cross and have been used over the centuries to defend against the forces of darkness. Amoracchius is the sword wielded by Michael Carpenter and is designed liked a medieval two-hander. The fact it can slay demons and vampires just makes it cooler!

Laurel City Historical Fencing is located in Winsted, CT, USA. You can find more information about Chris and Historical European Martial Arts at www.laurelcitysword.com, and watch demonstration videos on the school’s YouTube channel.

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Heart Blade!

Finally, the cover I’ve been teasing you all with for months. I’ve been longing to share Merilliza Chan‘s gorgeous artwork, and here it is in all its glory.

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The official reveal took place on Sunday over at SFFWorld.com; check it out for an exclusive sneak peek excerpt.

Heart Blade is now up on Goodreads, and the e-book is available for pre-order on Amazon. The paperback (yes, there’s a book-book for those who prefer it!) will be available for purchase on release day.

I have more treats coming! The talented Corinna Marie has been working on some Heart Blade character art for me, and I’ll be introducing four of my main characters on the blog over the next weeks.

E-BOOK PROMO:

The e-book version is at a special promotional US$0.99 at the moment. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the app for free onto your tablet or phone.

PAPERBACK PROMO:

For all those interested in the paperback version, I have a special promo lined up for you. Once the paperback hits Amazon, I’ll be giving away exclusive sets of postcards with Corinna Marie’s character art to the first 30 people to send me proof of paperback purchase. More on this later!

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