Saturday, December 13, 2014

On anniversaries

Anniversaries, on the whole, are celebrations. But some bring sad memories, some bring anxiety. From a cosmic perspective, anniversaries are arbitrary points in time. Why attach significance to the orbital period of a small planet around an average star? Yet they are psychologically powerful.

Yesterday, an anniversary passed which released a build-up of anxiety in the household that had grown so stealthily we didn't notice it until it was upon us.

Yesterday marked one year since my (luckily very minor) stroke. A year ago, my body gave me a warning. What it was trying to warn me of remains a mystery. A year has passed in which batteries of tests showed no obvious cause, which is good in many ways. The most likely explanation left is a culmination of stress and fatigue at that point in my life. So stress, presumably, is the obvious risk factor I need to manage.

Yup. So what did I do?

Started a new job in March, which I'd applied for before the stroke and which I didn't want to pass up. Stressful much!

And published my first book.

Nothing like taking it easy :)

Well, I'm still here. After the early weeks of complete disorientation, the new job has been a good move on balance. It's exciting, challenging, great people to work with. The only persistent down sides are the hideous cost of downtown parking, and the extra 15 minutes commute each way (which doesn't sound like much, but when it was previously 25 minutes it's a noticeable addition).

And keeping on the positive side, we recently marked our tenth anniversary since landing in Canada as new immigrants. Now that's what I call an anniversary!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Shopping bags

Every Saturday, I go grocery shopping for the family for the week. I take an armful of shopping bags with me to load everything in to. These are large and sturdy cloth bags bought from the store and which have served us well for many years,

Yes, it's a greener option than getting and discarding paper or plastic bags each week, but it's also convenient. It makes everything easy to carry from the car into the house in three or four trips. I take shopping bags with me, and I expect to use them, because it makes life easier for me, the paying customer.

So why do I have a battle every week with the cashier trying to leave items out of the bags for me to carry individually? They seem to be on a mission to use as few bags as possible.

I wonder if it's in their cashier training manual, because the store offers 3 cents per bag incentive for shoppers to bring their bags in. Well, I've brought mine in and I'd like to be allowed to use them. I honestly don't care about pitiful incentives, keep those few cents if that's what you're worried about, just stop trying to make life awkward for me.

A 5lb bag of potatoes, a similar-sized bag of carrots. "Do you want those left out?" No I bloody well don't. What an asinine question. You can get both of those into one bag and still have room for other things on top.

But while you're at it, stop trying to stuff one more item on top of that already-overflowing bag, I have plenty more here. No need to overload them so that they spill their contents all over the car on the way home.

Even that family-sized carton of cereal can go in. Yes, it's pretty much the size of a bag on its own and there's not much chance of getting anything else in there, but yes, I want it in a bag. You see, rather than tucking an awkward box under my arm to carry, a bag has handles!

So don't roll your eyes at me. Have you ever shopped for a family of four? If you did, you'd know what I'm talking about.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

30 Days of Thankfulness

I'm over at Mysti's blog today, taking part in her epic 30 Days of Thankfulness giveaway.

Hop over and join in the draw, and you could...

**  win a Kindle  **

... loaded with books from all the authors taking part this month - including Ghosts of Innocence.

Enter at Mysti Parker's blog here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Critique Survival Guide

Have you ever submitted your work to a detailed critique or edit?

If not, why not?

I believe that getting detailed, line-by-line feedback, whether from other writers or from paid professionals, is a vital part of the writing process. A necessary step along the way to polishing work for publication, and for self-improvement as a writer.

But, it can be a brutal and dispiriting process.

Next week, I'm giving a talk at my local library on how to receive and handle critiques.
https://www.goodreads.com/event/show/942825-talk---the-critique-survival-guide

I've based the talk around a series of blog posts I wrote last year.

The aim of the posts was to give tips on how to handle the pain of critiques and become objective and receptive to things you may not want to hear, how to look for points worth taking note of, pitfalls to avoid, and exercising judgment. As well as fleshing these themes out more thoroughly, I've book-ended them with the need to get onto the critiquing road, and some practical pointers on working with online critique groups.

Now I've expanded my notes into a ninety-minute talk, and I wonder if they could be developed further into a short e-book. If I did something like that, the aim would be to make it a freebie.

Do you think there would be interest in such a book? And how do you handle blunt critiques?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

First Page Review bloghop

This post is part of the First Page Review bloghop. The idea is simple. On your own blog, post the first 1,000 words of something you're writing or have written, then sign up on this page linking your 1,000 word post. Visit other people on the list and read theirs, then leave a comment to let them know if you liked it, what worked, what didn't, and if you'd keep reading.

Just for fun, here is the opening from The Ashes of Home, sequel to Ghosts of Innocence, which will likely be my next project once I've polished and published Tiamat's Nest.


=====

'Hope springs eternal' the ancient saying goes, but hope is a poor foundation to stake your life on. Shayla Carver, master assassin (retired) and first governor of the Freeworld of Eloon, was shielded by more security than any normal paranoid could hope for.

Any normal paranoid would have died years ago.

Shayla did not believe in hope. The official security measures were there to keep out the bounty hunters and the merely competent. The serious threats she relied on her own senses and training to deal with.

Her airways had clamped shut instinctively at the first salt-sweet taste on her tongue. Years of assassin training identified the airborne drug immediately. Peritax. A small dose would render her senseless in seconds.

Ambushed! In my own fucking bedchamber! Shayla pushed aside the annoyance. Questions of who and how could wait. All that mattered now was survival.

Time slowed as Shayla's mind went into overdrive. Long seconds marked by the thump of her heartbeat in her ears. She knew she had only moments to assess her situation and deal with it.

Peritax was not a poison, it would just leave her helpless. And it dispersed and broke down quickly, which meant there had to be someone nearby to release it and to finish the job. Whatever that might be.

Shayla's eyes scanned the bedchamber while she stumbled forwards a couple of steps, feigning the effects of the drug.

Two figures stood to one side in servants' robes. Barras and Gingallia? No! These could not be her servants. They were still standing for one thing. Any innocent party in this room would be comatose by now. And these two moved with stealth and menacing purpose. One behind Shayla, cutting off her escape, and one between her and the doors leading out to the balcony to her right. The only other way out of her suite.

Any more?

Shayla's lungs screamed for release. To draw a breath. A breath would mean death. Hah! I'm a poet! The irrational thought flitted through her mind on butterfly wings of madness. Focus! Shayla realised that she was losing her fight against the drug just from that small taste.

Her hand crept towards the hilt of the knife under her robes. She stilled it and instead stumbled another step towards the bed. I can't fight these two. If the drug didn't take her, anoxia would.

Another step.

The figures closed in.

Shayla let herself flop towards the bed, buying herself a few precious moments. As she pitched forwards her legs folded under her, then she launched herself across the bed. She rolled, outstretched hand reaching for a concealed button under the edge of the headboard. As she rolled, she glimpsed a face in the shadows of a hood. It looked like Barras, but Shayla noted nose plugs, a tiny breathing unit clamped between thin stretched lips, and eyes filled with hate.

A razor line of blue fire bisected the space she'd just vacated. A rapier shimmerblade!

Her groping fingers found the hidden button as she completed the roll. The bed collapsed behind Shayla, halved effortlessly by the shimmerblade. Tall windows ahead of her flew open and she continued her motion, hurdling the waist-high sill out into a hundred foot drop.

Gravity took Shayla as she forced the last dregs of tainted air from her mouth and drew in a deep, clean draught from the night rushing past her face. A second later, her feet connected with the broad eaves overhanging her bedroom windows. She hung upside down in the grip of an artificial grav field and drew her own blade, watching the lit window for signs of movement.

Every bedchamber should have its secret emergency exits.

Shayla hoped that her disappearance might have confused her attackers. If at least one of them leaned out of the window to see where she'd gone, she'd quickly have one less to deal with.

No such luck.

First one, then the other, appeared through the opening in a tuck roll, too fast and just out of Shayla's reach. Damn, they're good! They must have figured out what had happened. But she'd really expected no less. Only the very best assassins ever got this close.

They both landed in front of Shayla, back to back, in fighting crouches. The nearer one saw Shayla and signalled to his companion, who also turned to face her.

The first one, the Barras lookalike (traitor or impostor?) swung his rapier. Shayla's own blade flashed blue and met it with a jarring wrench.

A shimmerblade was a rare and fearsome weapon, highly prized by undercover agents as a weapon of stealth. When activated, the vibrating crystalline edge could shear through anything less than military grade vehicle armour -- or another shimmerblade. But when two such blades met in hand-to-hand combat, the results were random and potentially catastrophic for one or both combatants.

Shayla's knife hand went numb. She barely managed to keep her grip on the hilt as she stumbled back against the wall towering over her head to meet the ground hanging impossibly above.

But at least she had been prepared. She'd activated her shimmerblade at the last moment and knew what to expect.

Her opponent staggered back in the other direction. One foot found the edge of the eaves, and he stepped, without thinking, to keep his balance. But he was now half out of the edge of the grav field, and conflicting forces led his reflexes astray. He lost his balance. The planet's natural gravity reclaimed him and he fell, shrieking, into the night.

The remaining assassin reached into her robes. Her hood had slipped, revealing a good likeness of Gingallia, one of Shayla's senior personal servants. It also revealed eyes filled with fear and shock at her companion's sudden demise. This looked like the junior of the two, but she was still a force to be treated with respect.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Are we really half-way through October?

The first faltering signs of Autumn are starting to show. The unseasonable mild spell is giving way to grey skies and an evening chill. We switched on the heating and started lighting wood fires for the first time last week.

Writing goals for October/November:

Still plodding through critique feedback and revising Tiamat's Nest. This is a long haul. I'm about half way through since starting in earnest back in July.

I'm also beta-reading a novel for a friend, making good progress there.

Finally, I'm preparing a talk on critiquing to give next month at the local library.

Even amongst friends a detailed critique can be hard to take, but blunt and honest critiques are a necessary growth pain for any writer. Venturing into the anonymous jungle of online critique groups in search of tough love is both terrifying and exponentially rewarding. I will be sharing practical tips for surviving - and thriving on - the harshest of critiquing experiences.

Details here if you happen to be in the vicinity and want to say "Hi."


All this adds up to a load of things competing for my time this month, but variety is good.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Soulless

Today is the release day for Crystal Collier's Book 2 in the Maiden of Time trilogy.

Alexia manipulated time to save the man of her dreams, and lost her best friend to red-eyed wraiths. Still grieving, she struggles to reconcile her loss with what was gained: her impending marriage. But when her wedding is destroyed by the Soulless—who then steal the only protection her people have—she's forced to unleash her true power.

Crystal has lined up a blog tour to celebrate, with games, interviews and prizes. Hop over to Crystal's blog for details...and don't forget to bring some cheese!
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