The Heart Blade Guide To Connecticut

Most of the first book in the Blade Hunt Chronicles is set in Connecticut, which – oh, hey! – just happens to be where I live. I moved here from Brazil almost four years ago, and was surprised at how heavily wooded the state is. I live in the Farmington River Valley, which although technically ‘suburbia’, gets plenty of wild visitors, like the black bears that like to make seasonal appearances in the area, besides coyotes, bobcats, foxes, beavers, and many others.

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Bear taking a casual stroll through my neighborhood

The Farmington Valley is where a good deal of Heart Blade takes place. I don’t specifically name the area in the book, but it was definitely the inspiration. In the stretch between New Hartford and Granby, the Farmington River meanders about in a wide U shape, adding grace to the small towns that nestle in and around its bend. If you want to get up close and personal with the river, Farmington River Tubing operates out of Satan’s Kingdom. And yes, that’s the real name of an actual State Recreation Area.

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A quiet stretch of the Farmington River

Heart Blade starts in Connecticut’s state capital, Hartford. Chapter 1 finds my character Del arriving at Union Station. She sets off along Asylum Avenue, which leads past the Connecticut Historical Society Museum and Library and on toward beautiful Elizabeth Park. The park straddles Hartford and West Hartford, and in summer runs a popular series of outdoor concerts.

Another scene in Hartford finds Del and Ash outside the Connecticut Science Center. This is a great place to visit, especially if you have younger kids in your group, as the museum has a huge range of interactive displays on a wide variety of subjects. The CSS is right next to the Connecticut Convention Center, where ConnectiCon takes place every July. Lots of con attendees end up over at the CSS for lunch, so if you time your visit right, you might end up sharing a table with a bunch of cool cosplayers.

Just over the state line into Massachusetts, Old Sturbridge Village shows up in chapter 2, when I introduce Ash and the sentinels. This living history museum provides a nice opportunity to step back in time and see how life used to be in the 1830s. If you want to experience Sturbridge at night, as Ash does, they have a fantastic event that takes place on weekends in December. It’s called Christmas by Candlelight, and recreates traditional Yuletide activities such as carol singing and ornament making. There’s a big bonfire on the green, and visitors can buy mulled wine and other seasonal treats.

Go Huskies! Ash’s dad expects him to remain nearby after high school, and go to the University of Connecticut or another local college. Established in 1881, UConn’s main campus in Storrs is home to some 30,000 students from the USA and around the world. UConn has the top women’s college basketball team in the country; they recently suffered their first loss after a record-setting winning streak of 111 games stretching back to 2014, including two national championship runs.

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UConn Men’s Basketball at the XL Center in Hartford

Famous for it’s pizza, New Haven, on the Long Island Sound, also makes a brief appearance in Heart Blade. Here, you can tour Yale University, and make a stop at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. If you drive a little further up the coast, near public beaches such as Hammonasset and Rocky Neck, you’ll find Mystic Seaport. Like Sturbridge, Mystic is also a living history museum, but this time centered on New England’s maritime heritage. For boat lovers, the yearly WoodenBoat Show at Mystic is a real treat.

It was so much fun including in Heart Blade some of the places I’ve visited over these past few years. Book 2, Night Blade (out later this year!), moves a little further afield – there are still scenes set in Connecticut, but we also get to go to Toronto, Canada, and the Adirondacks, in upstate New York. I’m looking forward to sharing some new book locations with you soon!

*all photographs used in this blog post are my own*

 

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Spring Updates

Connecticut finally has its Spring on. Tiny baby leaves have tiptoed over the treetops like a green mist, and forsythia is blazing in glorious yellow splendor. The sun is shining. I have daffodils in the garden, and Easter chocolate is on sale everywhere you look.

So, what’s new in my world?

I’ve finished Book 2 in the Blade Hunt Chronicles, Night Blade. Now the manuscript is off being looked at by eyes other than my own. Until I get all the revision notes back, I can’t do anything else on that front. I’ve already outlined a lot of what will happen in Book 3, Star Blade, and I’m really excited about it, but I’m holding off getting a start on writing that one until I know if I have any substantial changes to make in Night Blade that might affect my Book 3 plot.

What’s in Book 2? No spoilers, but I can tell you there’s a heist, and Rose may have bitten off more than she can handle. Del gets to wear a ballgown. And you all get to meet my lovely new character, Ben Kelley. He’s a witch and, well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

I’m trying to get my head back into a stalled sci fantasy YA while I wait for Night Blade revision notes, but it can be hard switching worlds and projects, and to be honest it’s been slow going. I’m looking forward to this weekend, where I and some 700 or so New England kid lit authors and illustrators will gather at the NESCBWI Spring Conference for workshops, panels, and lots of great conversation about books and writing. I always go home revved up and inspired after these events, so this should be just the kick I need to get back into my rhythm again. Follow the #NESCBWI17 hashtag on twitter this weekend for lots of kid lit pearls of wisdom tweeted by event participants.

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New bookmarks, ready for NESCBWI 17

The Pixel Project’s Read for Pixels fundraiser is almost over. The donation page will be open until April 29th, though the main event has ended. I contributed three Heart Blade paperbacks with character art postcards to this, which were bundled together with 1st Edition hardcovers from bestselling YA Fantasy authors Kimberly Derting (The Taking) and Alyson Noel (Unrivalled). I was very happy to hear from the organization that all three bundles were snapped up.

You can find my mini interview on the Pixel Project blog.

What else… Heart Blade had a sale! (Yay!) The sale is over… (Boo!). But you can still find the Kindle version at a very reasonable U$ 3.99 on Amazon. *waves cheerleader pompoms* For those interested in a paperback, I’m planning a giveaway on Goodreads in May, so keep an eye out here and on GR itself.

And last (but not least), today I received a lovely letter from blogger Marguerite Gibson with two beautiful handmade book plates that I’ve promised to sign and send back. It’s always wonderful to hear from readers, whether on social media, or in reviews, or by snail mail, like Marguerite from Australia. Gives me warm and fuzzy writer feels!

Happy Spring to all. May your words be plentiful, your flowers beautiful, your mornings sunny and bright…and may your leftover Easter chocolate last many, MANY days.

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Cha-Cha-Cha-Changes

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Oh, hey! It’s another character naming post! (And here’s one I made earlier… *gestures like chef on cooking show*)

This time, it’s about naming difficulties I ran into while working on Heart Blade.

Changing a name after a first draft is done is always tricky. A new name can change a character in unexpected ways. But sometimes, it’s unavoidable. Here are three naming hurdles I came up against while revising my novel for my publisher.

1) Sometimes the character shifts and outgrows a name. Take Alex, who first emerged from my odd little writer brain as Brother Jerome. Jerome was originally supposed to be a sort of Old Master type character. The name was perfect at the time. He’s a vampire, almost 1000 years old, and he used to be a knight in the Crusades. But Jerome insisted on, well, not being Jerome. He’s perpetually eighteen years old, ruggedly handsome in a shaggy blond, broad-shouldered-from-sword-work sort of way. He’s covered in tattoos. And despite being an honest-to-goodness monk (though ‘recently’ ordained, I should add – only a couple of hundred years ago!), his penchant for wearing jeans, black tees, and an old pair of converse sneakers under his robes were a dead giveaway that I had the wrong name.

I renamed him Alexander of York and the poor guy got a whole new lease of immortal life.

2) Sometimes a character is too close to another writer’s character with the same name. I had this problem with Rose, née Lila. I have big plans for Rose in book 2! She’s a little edgy, and a little angry, with a lot of abandonment issues to work through. Her original name was Lila, which I loved. But then a couple of my critique partners had a Lyla in a co-authored story, and after a while their Lyla began bleeding into my Lila. They’re very different characters, but there are also a few similarities, and the name just stopped working. I needed my Lila to be 100% mine. So I ditched the name. It took me forever to find a new name I liked, one that showed her as she is in Heart Blade, but could be changed slightly by Rose herself to suit who she starts to become in book 2. I won’t tell you what she renames herself – you’ll have to wait for Night Blade for that. But I’m happy with Rose, and I’m glad she’s made the name her own.

3) Sometimes everyone just hates the name you pick! My main guy, Ash, was originally called Jimmy. It made sense to me: his full name in that first version was James Arthur Deacon III, after his father and grandfather. Jimmy matched the sweetness inside him. But although – interestingly enough – the guys who beta read the story for me were fine with the name, it got a resounding NO from all my female readers. This one took me a long while to puzzle out. I still wanted the family legacy thing to go on: Ash/Jimmy carries a pretty hefty family burden on his shoulders. So I decided to keep James Deacon and change his middle name. The men in his family would all have the same first and last names, but different middle names. The catch: it had to be a bible name. Ash’s family is descended from angels and they have an important role in policing the preternatural community. I went through a gazillion naming websites before I hit on Asher, a beautiful Old Testament name that just sounded right. (Kudos to my daughter, who suggested it in the first place.) I tried it out on a few female friends and relatives and everyone agreed it was a keeper. Jimmy was out – Ash was in.

I love the three new names, and can’t imagine my characters being anything else now. And the time I spent agonizing over the changes meant time spent thinking deeply about who those characters were and what really made them tick. That’s the light at the end of that particular tunnel: once you find the right shiny new name, you’ll feel you know your character even better than you did before.

May all your character naming problems be easy to solve! And now (because how could I not!), the gentle reminder that maybe get a second opinion if you’re in doubt. Courtesy of Friends and the inimitable Phoebe Buffay.

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Write Now

Blog post title is a play on Van Halen’s ‘Right Now’. If you don’t know the song, go and look up the lyrics, and maybe watch the awesome award-winning video clip, too.

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My kitchen table ‘office’

On a writing forum I belong to, someone asked whether it was worthwhile paying to rent an office space away from home and all its distractions.

Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer to that. I know people who need a secluded spot where they can shut everything out and write. Other people need the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop to inspire them. I’ve met people with writing sheds, or who prefer (like me) the kitchen table. One memorable encounter I had with a best-selling author revealed they go on location to wherever their book is set, and spend a couple of weeks dictating the entire novel onto a recording device, to later be typed up and revised from their home office.

Hey, whatever works. (And I’m totally up for the writing on location thing, by the way. Anyone want to sponsor my next book set in, say, some nice sunny beach? I promise to Instagram all my fruity umbrella drinks writing notes.)

The discussion thread got me thinking about my own writing habits, and I realized that, for me, it was less an issue of work space, and more one of head space. Wherever you write, there will always be umbrella drinks distractions. Writing takes discipline, whether you carve out a dedicated time of day for it, or snatch spare moments whenever you can. (Look up #5amwritersclub on Twitter for inspiration!)

When I decided to start writing seriously, I had young school-age children. Afternoons were full of homework supervision, and other kid-related things. So I promised myself a couple of free hours every morning. Between 9 and 11am, I would write.

It wasn’t easy at first. There were all those darn distractions! It was so tempting to jump up and do something – anything – to escape my self-imposed BIC (butt in chair) time. There were days when even cleaning toilets seemed like a good alternative to fixing a plot hole. But I stuck with it, and over time have reached a head space where I can sit down, tell myself ‘let’s write’, and switch the world off for a few hours until hunger and the dog remind me that lunchtime has come and gone.

My point? (Besides that fruity umbrella drinks sound like a good alternative to the snow piled up outside my door?) Don’t worry too much about your writing space. Not at first, not until you’ve found your writing groove, and worked out what (and when) works best for you. Get into the head space, and you’ll figure out the rest. If you wait to find your perfect office, or café, or public library nook before you can write, you risk never finding it. And that search becomes your excuse, your distraction.

Don’t wait. Write now.

(Not So) Bad Boys and Girls

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I recently tore through the entire Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater. This was serious binge reading of the ‘don’t come up for air before you’re done’ variety. I love (Love, LOVE) all of her characters from the first to be introduced, Blue, to latecomer Henry. But my hands down absolute fave has got to be Ronan Lynch.

What is it about those fictional (not so) bad boys and girls? I’m talking about those characters that are all rough and tough on the outside, with a center core of sweetness. The ones who give off all the appearance of a grumpy porcupine to their fellow characters while we sit on the sidelines silently screaming, “Just love them already!”

Take Han Solo. (Put your hands down, I’m not actually offering him!) When we first meet him in New Hope, he’s all, ‘Oh, I’m so bad, I’m the baddest badass smuggler around.’ But by the time the original trilogy is over, we all know him for what he really is: yes, grumpy and irritatingly stubborn. But, at the same time, loyal, caring, and 110% a secret Hufflepuff. (Shut up. You know Han would be a Hufflepuff. Just sayin’.)

The aforementioned Ronan Lynch is another one who’s crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. When we meet him in The Raven Boys, he’s all snark and swearwords, a shaved-head-and-tattooed bad boy supreme. When The Raven King rolls around, we know better. Sure, he’s still a street-racing punk with an attitude bigger than anyone I’ve seen in a while, but he has this amazing capacity for love and for goodness, and if by book four you haven’t fallen for this dreamer, then please, what is WRONG with you?

How about those (not so) bad girls? Like Kate Harker from Victoria Schwab’s Monsters of Verity duology. In This Savage Song, Kate’s all sharp edges and nails you wouldn’t trust anywhere near your eyes for fear she’d gouge them out. A gangster’s daughter on a mission to prove herself, Kate could just be one of those thoroughly bad to the bone girls that crop up every now and then in fiction. And nothing wrong with that, but. But. She isn’t. There’s sweetness, somewhere under all those rock-hard layers, and longing, and a desperate need to love and be loved. I can’t wait for the concluding book, Our Dark Duet, to come out in June.

And hey, let’s not forget Disney. The House of Mouse can (not so) bad with the best of them at times. One of my fave princess movies is Tangled, in part for the creative use of frying pans and for the World’s Best Horse. But a big part of the appeal is bad boy Flynn Rider, especially when we find out that under all that sass and ego, he’s actually the adorable and sappy Eugene.

Yup, show me a character who’s a prickly marshmallow, and I’ll show you me in a molten puddle of goo. Or, well, maybe not, because no one wants to see that. But I do tend to melt for the difficult ones, for the tough guys and girls with all the secret hidden vulnerabilities. They’re so hard to resist. Especially when they tip you a smuggler’s wink and whisper, “I know.”

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“Frying pans. Who knew, right?”

The Write Stuff: author blogs

So you’re a writer. Perhaps you’re still at that fledgling phase, taking those first word-steps into the world of stories and looking for some guidance and support. Or perhaps you’re on your tenth novel and just looking for a jolt of inspiration. Wherever you are in your journey, inevitably there will be moments where a little craft advice comes in handy.

The Internet is full of free (FREE!) blog posts written by us writer-type folk out there. There’s something for everyone, for all tastes. I used to feverishly check out dozens of blogs by my favorite authors back when I was first starting out on my own writing journey, looking for pearls of wisdom from the Great And Published that resonated with me. Over time, I discovered a few that I love enough to keep checking on a regular basis. Here are JUST SOME of my many personal favorites – author blogs that give great writing advice or provide information I can apply to my own work.

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Chuck Wendig, for the writer’s blog equivalent of a shot of very dark espresso, or tequila perhaps, depending on the time of the day. Chuck’s blog isn’t for everyone – his writing advice is very sweary and tongue-in-cheek, but so much fun to read.

Jo Zebedee writes extremely candid blog posts on writing and publishing, and you really can’t go wrong for an honest breath of fresh air in the blogosphere. Her posts are always useful and to-the-point.

Thaddeus White’s blog has a mixture of writing posts, book reviews, and gaming write-ups. He’s always interesting, but my favorites are his history posts: prime inspiration material for muse-hungry writers. (I rather like this one on Eastern Empresses.)

The Winged Pen is a writing craft blog run by a group of both published and unpublished writers; there’s always plenty of good advice and they also have a monthly critique session contest.

Jim Butcher’s website has a hidden gem: if you click on his now inactive blog and scroll down to the very first entries, dating from 2004, you’ll find a ton of writing craft info written in Jim’s trademark hilariously snarky style. This was literally the first ‘proper’ writing advice I ever read when I decided to take my own work seriously. I owe Jim big time for helping me complete my first ever novel, back in 2012 when I was still trying to figure out how things worked.

Juliet McKenna has a wonderful blog, with plenty of writing-related posts to browse. If you’re looking for great pieces on writing about subjects such as gender, history, or mental health, this is definitely the place to visit.

Dan Koboldt runs an amazing series of weekly blog posts named Science in Sci-Fi, Fact in Fantasy, which he describes as “a blog series for authors and fans of speculative fiction”. Each week he’s joined by specialists in a number of fields – from biology to space travel – offering their expertise so that writers can get the details right in their work.

Latinxs in Kid Lit has a nice series called The Road to Publishing that focuses on the query/agent/editing side of things. Some great personal stories and information. (And it’s a very nice project that’s worth checking out!)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.