Friday, October 24, 2014

Mage Revealed

Today I want to introduce you to a very special friend of mine, author CD Coffelt, aka Huntress. You might know her from Unicorn Bell, the blog she founded, or you might know her from her first book, Wilder Mage.

I can't remember exactly how we first met, but at some point we started exchanging manuscripts, and I credit Huntress with making me more aware of all my passive verbs and my overuse of the word 'which.' She's one of my most valuable critique partners. I've also read Wilder Mage, the first book in The Magic Withheld series, and an early draft of Mage Revealed, both of which I highly recommend if you like urban fantasy ala Jim Butcher style. Don't know Huntress? Here's what other bloggers you might know have to say about her...

"A do-or-die writer, Huntress is honest, honed, and ornery. Her characters are bold and deep and meld together like the colors in a Van Gogh painting. I enjoyed working with her in the early days of Unicorn Bell and reading her awesome stories!"
Tara Tyler, author of Pop Travel The Cooper Chronicles, Book One and Broken Branch Falls Beast World, Book One. 

"CD is an awesome writer with a generous heart, a genuine spirit, and a devotion to friendship. She rocks. Now, go buy her book before I go all Ninja on you!"
Alex J. Cavanaugh, author of the Amazon best sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, and CassaStorm.

"Carol is truly one of the blessings in my life. Although shy, she's a great listener and always knows how to calm me down. She's been my critique partner and friend for years. Congrats on the release!"
Charity Bradford, author of The Magic Wakes, and Stellar Cloud.  

"I'd say that I'm not sure what to share about Huntress, but when I think of how gifted a writer she is, how spectacular she is when providing critiques, and how much fun I have interacting with her in Bloggy-land and Facebook, well, I guess I DO have something to say. So for Huntress, I make this wish: May the golden threads you've woven for this and every story reap you all the bountiful fruits your hands and heart can hold, okay, maybe overflow a little...or a lot :-)"
Angela Brown, author of NeverloveFrailties of the BondAtone, and They All Fall Down

Struck with enough malevolent Spirit to turn him into a raving beast of a man, Bert Reese fights to remain human. Alone, he walks a slender path between sanity and madness. Then, an unlikely source enters his life to help—one of the now-hated mages.
   But Ashleigh is different and calms his butchered senses. Her fierce nature is the only rock that stands between him and the crevasse that is beast. In all ways, she walks beside him toward a new beginning. But at the end of their journey lies the one who used Spirit against him. Questions arise; did Tiarra, head of the Imperium, lose her magic, die, or simply give way to the new order? Or, like a spider, does she wait for a mage to blunder into her web?
   Forced on him without a care for his humanity, Bert is the mage who should not exist, born with a different kind of magic. 
   And the gates of Hell are no match for the magic he wields.

Author C.D. Coffelt’s world of magic started in Wilder Mage with the words “The earthquake wasn’t his fault. Not this time.” It continues in Mage Revealed, the second book of the three-part series. Watch the book trailer on YouTube.

Excerpt from Mage Revealed:

Energy slithered around him, encased him and…
All the elements slammed into him at once filling him like a bursting dam, sloshing into a maelstrom of Fire, Earth, Air, Water, and Spirit. Magic filled him, cascaded into every pore of his skin until there was nothing left that was of his essence.
He raised his arms. “I am a wizard,” he said.
His words echoed, like the roll of a bass drum in an empty coliseum.
From his fingertips, fluid lightning forked and shot into the empty sky. A violent whirlwind as tall as he wanted it to be caught up a whirl of leaves. A roar of Fire sprang from the palms of his hands, crowned his head. And Spirit, the silvery element waited for his command, to charge into any foray he so chose.
He turned to the panting women, frozen in the grip of panic and fright.
“I am a wizard,” he said again.

C.D. Coffelt lives outside Skidmore, Missouri with a bemused husband and way too many cats. She is a member of the Missouri Writers Guild. But despite that bit of conventionality, she adores all things fantasy with a special love for urban and epic.

With a passion for good writing and Doritos as companions, locating Middle-Earth on a dusty road in rural Missouri wasn’t difficult. All it took was a little Magic, hours of reading, and an overactive imagination.

She blogs as Huntress on, Facebook, Twitter, and her writer’s critique site, Find her books at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Congrats, Huntress :)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A few more pumpkins...

this one was my favorite :)

Thursday, October 16, 2014


As many of you know, every year at this time Damariscotta and Newcastle, aka the Twin Villages, celebrate Pumpkinfest, which features massive pumpkins that local artists decorate, a prize for the biggest, a pumpkin catapult (hey, we know how to have fun here), and a pumpkin regatta (yep, guys - and gals - in pumpkin boats). It's a lot of fun but my favorite part is always the big pumpkins lining the streets all carved and painted. Here are a few that caught my eye...


loved this one with the sea monster

and this one with the purple flowers...

yep, that's 1695lbs!!!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Why I love Buffy

Recently my son and I have been re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And yes, there's a significant cheese factor I may have overlooked the first time, but guess what? It's just as funny - if not more funny - than it ever was before. And I mean funny in a brilliant way. Let me give you an example of just how brilliant.

Oh, and if you haven't seen the show, spoiler alert.

In this episode from season 3, Spike returns to Sunnydale and kidnaps Willow in the hopes of creating a magic spell that will make Drusilla love him once again. Meanwhile, Willow and Xander are secretly lusting after one another (with Oz and Cordelia clueless); Angel is back, no longer demonic, and Buffy is trying to resist her feelings for him (why, I ask you? Why? Okay, so he killed a few people when he was demonic, but he's good again now and anyway everyone knows he and Buffy belong together. right?). Anyway, there's a lot of emotion in this episode between the secret lust, unfulfilled passion, and of course, poor broken hearted Spike. At one point he goes to Buffy's house and gets her mother to invite him, then, instead of doing something horrible, Spike pours out his heart to her.

Then, just to make things more interesting, the Mayor of Sunnydale (and is he awesome or what?!) has sent a few thugs to take care of Spike who's on his do-not-pass-go list. Buffy and Angel are forced to join Spike in order to save Willow and Xander, and Spike delivers these words of wisdom:

See? I told you they belong together.

Anyway, the obligatory fight scene ensues, after which all the vampires and demons are dead, and Spike does an about face and says,

"Now that was fun! It's been so long since I had a decent spot of violence; it's put everything in perspective. I've been all wrong-headed about this. If I want Dru back I've just got to be the man she loved. I'm going to do what I should've done in the first place: I'm going to find her, wherever she is, tie her up, and torture her 'til she likes me again."

He then tells Buffy and Angel where Willow and Xander are, and off he goes. Unfortunately, by this time  Cordelia and Oz have found them (thanks to Oz's wolfy nose), and caught them kissing. The last few scenes show the fallout. Buffy tells Angel she can't see him any more, Willow is all sad in her room, Xander moping  in the library, and Cordelia and Oz broken-hearted. It's a total dwell scene for everyone.

Except Spike. In the final scene of the show there he is, driving down the road in that car of his with the windows all blackened against the sun. He's got some punk rock blasting away and he's as happy as a pig in shite.

That's why I love Buffy.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Unbreakable is the second film M. Knight Shyamalan directed, produced, wrote, and acted in. Bruce Willis stars as the hero who discovers he's literally unbreakable after a train wreck kills everyone except him. Samuel L. Jackson plays his opposite and nemesis, a man who's stricken with a rare disease in which bones break all too easily.

I loved how their stories unfolded over the course of the movie, how Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson's character) is born broken and suffers all through his life with bones like glass. Comics are his only friends and it's through them he comes to the conclusion that if there's someone as breakable as he is, there must be someone who isn't. This leads him to seek out, and find, David Dunn (Bruce Willis' character). How the two interact and what happens after is riveting, from the parts where David explores his ability, to his private life with his son, excellently played by Spencer Treat Clark, and estranged wife, played by Robin Wright (who I will forever picture as Princess Buttercup, but that's another movie...).

I remember when I first watched this film and wishing there was a sequel.

Have you seen Unbreakable? Like M. Knight Shyamalan?

A big thanks to The Armchair Squid for hosting Mock Squid Soup: A Film Society.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Gears of Brass

Gear up for GEARS OF BRASS! 

A world like ours, but filled with gears of brass, where the beating heart is fueled by steam and the simplest creation is a complex clockwork device.  

Within this tome, you’ll find steampunk fairy tale re-tellings, as well as original stories that will send your gears turning.  

Welcome to the steampunk realm, with eleven authors guiding your path. 
GEARS OF BRASS is a steampunk anthology published through Curiosity Quills.  It will be available for purchase on November 10, 2014.  Within the pages, you’ll come across clockwork inventions and steampunk-ified fairy tale retellings.  Eleven authors will guide you through worlds filled with airships, top hats, and corsets. 
Meet the authors:
Jordan Elizabeth writes young adult fantasy for Curiosity Quills, including ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW which was published in October and the upcoming TREASURE DARKLY; she’s represented by the Belcastro Agency.
J. Million is the author of Last of the Giants and can always be found reading or writing.
Lorna MacDonald Czarnota is a professional storyteller and author of several books including, Medieval Tales That Kids Can Read and Tell, Breadline Blue, Legends Lore and Secrets of Western New York, Wicked Niagara, Native American and Pioneer Sites of Upstate New York, and Dancing at the Crossroads: Stories and Activities for At-Risk Youth Programming.
SA Larsen is represented by Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary and is the author of published short stories, community-interest stories, and magazine articles focused on children. 
Grant Eagar is an Engineer who would take the tales he told his children at bed time, and transform them into fantasy stories. 
Clare Weze is the author of The House of Ash (forthcoming) and the co-author and editor of Cloudscapes over the Lune.
Eliza Tilton: gamer, writer and lover of dark chocolate; author of the YA Fantasy, BROKEN FOREST, published by Curiosity Quills Press.
Heather Talty's stories have been featured in Enchanted Conversation, as well as her own fractured fairy tale site, Mythopoetical (
W.K. Pomeroy is a third generation writer who has published more than 70 short stories/articles/poems across many genres and styles, which now includes Steampunk.
Christine Baker is the author of Lana's End, The Guild of Dagda, and many more. 
Natalia Darcy: a bookilicious reader, tea drinker and Zumba aficionado who enjoys playing cards against humanity and washing her hair with ice cold water. 
You can get your steampunk fix before GEARS OF BRASS is released in November.  To enter for your chance to win a copy of GEARS OF BRASS, you will need to share the cover.  This can be on your blog, Facebook, Twitter… Each time you share the cover image, log it into Rafflecoper to record it.  It will give you more chances to win.  The drawing for the winner will be held on October 27th. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

First Impressions - Squatch Watch

Our final First Impression for this month comes from Michelle L. Brown who has written two books for Razorbill (By the Grace of Todd-Feb. 14, In Todd We Trust-March 15.) You can find her on twitter: This is the first page of her MG humorous adventure novel, SQUATCH WATCH.

 If you’re going to be the first human to interview Bigfoot, you need bait. Great first line.
            But my bait had a sore throat. Rodney, the other founding member of the Junior Squatch Watcher’s Society, was the best Sasquatch caller in the whole state of Washington. Now that Rodney was raspy, I was stuck with my kid sister, LuEllen, who didn’t even believe in Bigfoot. Conditions were ripe for a Squatch sighting, though, so I couldn’t be picky.
            “Hurry up and put this on,” I said, handing her the Squatch suit.
            She sniffed. “Leo, I am not wearing that thing. What’s on it, dog hair?”
            “Precisely. (I'm not sure an American MG kid would use the word precisely - a Brit might.) I gathered clippings from Mom’s clients, then glued them to these coveralls. This suit is just the right Bigfoot blend of grays and blacks. Sheepdogs and schnauzers, mostly.”
            “You mean this came off the floor of the Triple P?”
            “Lu, you’re an eight-year-old Einstein. Isn’t that what I just said? Now put it on. You know you owe me.”
             I’d been doing all her chores in our garage, better known as the Pampered Pup Parlor, for the last two months to build my collection of dog hair. Of course, I hadn’t told the Kidster or Mom the reason I’d morphed into Mr. Helpful.
             LuEllen slid her skinny body into the suit. “You know I’m only doing this to prove you wrong.” She pulled a fur-covered ski mask over her frizzy blonde braids. “Ugh! What’s that awful smell?”
            “Sasquatch scent,” I said, squirting her with my mister. “It’s my own special blend of sweaty socks, rotten potatoes, and pickle juice. Mixed with wet dog hair, you’ll smell perfect!”
            “Now swing your arms when you walk, like this.” I swung my long arms in classic Sasquatch style.
            She flapped like a chicken on fire.
            “Bend your knees, and twist your hips while you take giant steps.” This time I went slower, doing my best Bigfoot swagger straight of the old 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film I’d been studying.
            LuEllen tried and face planted. “The pant legs are too long,” she whined. “I’m a lot shorter than Rodney.”
            “Never mind the walk.” The moon was up, and the man-beasts would be on the move. I  shouldered my backpack and switched on my headlamp. Then I grabbed LuEllen by her furry glove and led her a little way into the Umatilla Forest that bumped up to our back yard. We came to a clearing where I’d seen lots of deer. “I’ll spread the peanut butter sandwiches in a wide circle around this stump, then take my position in that bush. You sit here and try to look like a helpless baby Bigfoot. Hmm, I wonder how this night is going to end...

My thoughts: Aside from the two places I marked, this read very smoothly and the voice seemed right on for an MG narrator. I also thought this was a fun first page and the idea of trying to interview Bigfoot seems like it would appeal to MG boys. However, Dianne Salerni is a much better judge of the MG genre than I am so do pop over to see what she had to say. Meanwhile I hope my MG readers will chime in and offer their thoughts.

Thanks a bunch to Michelle and everyone else who either submitted a first page or offered a comment. And if you would like to have your first page critiqued, just check out my sidebar for the FAQs. We still have spots left for November.

Friday, October 3, 2014

First Impressions - The Pet Connection

Today we have the first page of THE PET CONNECTION, a humorous contemporary MG submitted by Rebecca Anderson (MG Binders Member).

Badger Jacobs didn’t think he was an especially lucky person. So he wasn’t listening to the intercom as Principal Tessie called off the students who would participate in the Pet Connection game show. Instead Badger was picking at a hangnail on his left pointer finger.
        All around a chorus of voices quietly chanted, “Please, oh please, oh please, oh please ...” Out of the corner of his eye, Badger saw Lisa Ling with her eyes closed and hands folded in silent prayer.  From behind him, he heard Lance Swag brag, “I know she’s going to call my name.  My mom is head of the PTA.”  Badger rolled his eyes. Lance always got what he wanted including the best shoes, all the video game systems and a gold iPhone.
        The voice over the intercom continued, “The second fifth grade student will be Omar Ahmed.” There was a collective groan in the room and Badger felt Lance kick the back of his chair. Badger thought it must be rough for Lance to experience disappointment for the first time.
        Their teacher, Miss Rockford, held a finger up to her lips and motioned that everyone should continue listening. Badger went back to tugging on the hangnail. He didn’t need to hear the names of the 6th graders who would participate.  Maybe next year he’d finally get chosen.  Maybe next year he’d finally hear his name called out.
        “... and that student is Bryan Jacobs.” At the sound of his name, Badger’s whole body jerked in surprise.  Unfortunately, that included the fingers that had been toying with the hangnail and he yanked off a hunk of skin, leaving a quarter-inch gash.  (This sentence feels awkward here, interrupts the rhythm of the rest of the paragraph - imo.) At the same time, every head in his class turned to look at him.  He saw Lisa’s eyes stray towards his bleeding finger and Badger covered it with his opposite thumb.  What was going on?  Why had Principal Tessie had called his name?  Weren’t there were only two fifth grade contestants.  She had already called both of them, right?
        Badger held his thumb on his bleeding finger as Principal Tessie finished talking over the intercom.  “I’m so excited to see how the lucky contestants combine the wisdom of words, the power of pets and a little bit of magic. Teachers, please send the contestants down to my office.  I’ll have them back to you before next period.”

My thoughts:  My first thought is that this is a pretty darn clean first page. Aside from where I marked, the only other spot that gave me pause was the last sentence of the previous paragraph. I was expecting Badger to be thinking how there was no way he'd ever get chosen due to the fact he isn't lucky. But that's minor. Really, I liked this a whole lot. A lot of questions are set up in this first page, like, why is his nickname Badger? And why doesn't he think he's especially lucky? What has led him to believe this? Did the principal mean real magic? And what the heck is this Pet Connection game?! I would definitely be turning the page to find out.

Readers, what did you think? And if you want to know what Dianne Salerni thought of this same first page, head over to her place :)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

First Impressions - Moving Fear

Our first First Impression for this month comes from DL Hammons, founder of D.L. Hammons' Write Club, who has submitted the first page of his YA Horror, MOVING FEAR. As always, author Dianne Salerni will be critiquing this first page as well and you can see what she thought here.


“Are those restraints really necessary?”
The orderly continued strapping the wide leather belt around the woman’s waist without a sign he heard the question. His ill-fitting uniform of matching white pants and short- sleeve shirt suffered from a terminal case of the wrinkles and did a poor job of covering his massive bulk. The laminated hospital ID clipped to his uniform pocket flapped around like a cowboy holding on for dear life atop a bucking bronco. Working without a sound, he finished with the leather girdle and then guided the woman's listless body into the chair opposite the visitor. Only a small metal table separated the two of them.
The priest, dressed in a dark gray suit with a black clergy shirt and white clerical collar, studied the orderly. He watched without comment as the hospital employee (I think you could replace this with 'man' and it would read a little smoother - imo) treated the woman as a side of beef, maneuvering her roughly back and forth, oblivious to her own will.
Thus the reason for the frown on the priest's face. This feels intrusive to me, but I can't quite pinpoint why.
The room he had been waiting in was brightly lit, which he found odd because the intense lighting only accentuated the dust and grime. (So now we are seeing thing's from the priest's pov, correct? Then who's pov were we seeing things from before? An omniscient narrator? Just asking...)  It was clear that the cleaning staff hadn’t concerned themselves with this part of the hospital for quite some time. The filth was emphasized by a musty smell of neglect and a faint hint of stale sweat and urine, which assaulted his nose and had put him in a foul mood as soon as he'd entered the room. The orderly’s actions now only deepened it.
The priest had taken the seat on the far side of the table, putting the mirror covering the majority of the back wall behind him. On the wall to his immediate left rested an old metal radiator, fed by a pipe that ran along the baseboard and into the floor adjacent to the lone entrance. A table and two stiff chairs, all bolted to the concrete floor, were the only furniture in the interview room. I'd get rid of that and cut to the chase. But again, that's just my opinion...
The woman offered no resistance throughout her man-handling, her distant eyes providing no hint that she was even aware of the orderly’s actions. Grabbing the bulky chain hanging from the rear of the belt the woman was now wearing, the hospital worker orderly (because shorter is better here, I think) secured it with a lock to a loophole at the base of the chair. He gave it a quick yank when he was finished, jerking the woman back in her seat. Only then did he step back and look at the priest.

My thoughts: Okay, so I marked this up a bit, because I think this can be shorter which will increase the tension of the reader dying to find out what this priest is doing, who the woman is, and why she's been treated as she is.  I also think cutting some of the description will make the place seem even more stark and gloomy. This is a page turner as is, but a bit of tightening would make it killer.

Readers, your thoughts?

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Cephalopod Coffee House - Red Glove

A while back I read the first book in this series, White Cat, by Holly Black, which I absolutely LOVED. Today, I want to tell you about Red Glove, the second book in Black's Curse Workers series.

In White Cat readers are introduced to Cassel Sharpe, whose family are not only curse workers - people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands - but grifters as well. His brothers both work for the Zhakarov crime family and his mother funds her lifestyle by conning and cursing wealthy men, all with a touch of her hand. Cassel meanwhile (who believes himself to be without any worker abilities), is mourning the death of his best friend Lila (daughter of said crime boss), attends a private high school, and runs a betting operation on the side for extra cash. He also has strange dreams about a white cat which soon leads to his discovery that he's been worked by his own brothers in the biggest con game ever.

Red Glove continues from where White Cat left off, with Cassel having discovered what really happened to Lila, as well as his own ability, which just happens to be the the most powerful and rare. He's back at school for his senior year but before he can settle in one of his brother's is killed, Zhakarov offers him a job, and the Feds grab him and try to blackmail him into helping them solve his brother's murder.

I loved Cassel and the way he manages to con everyone. I also loved the world Black creates, where everyone wears gloves, curse working is a crime, and no one - not even your own family - can be trusted. I highly recommend both books in this series and can't wait to read the third, Black Heart.


Much thanks to The Cephalopod Coffeehouse for hosting this monthly event :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Order of Things and Fatal Flaws

So.  A short while back I told you about how I'm working way too much out of necessity, getting home late, no time off, blah blah blah. I also said I 'd give you an update on what I'm really working on, you know, the important stuff: the writing I squeeze in whenever I'm not too tired or mind dead (this is when all you can handle is re-runs of Criminal Minds or whatever show you're currently following, like The Killing, which could be a post all itself...).

Anyway. I am currently making slow progress on an old project I haven't quite given up on: GRIMOIRE. Some of you might remember me talking about it. I queried it and got a lot of requests for partials and fulls but ultimately no takers. Why? I'd read the manuscript a million times and every time I came away thinking, damn, that's a great story! Why didn't agents like it enough to take it on?

And I finally figured out why. I found the fatal flaw. It was the order of things. Especially the order in which information was presented through dialogue. Either the conversation didn't track quite right or a question wasn't asked when it should've been. Fixing this flaw has involved a whole lot of cutting and pasting, rearranging dialogue, adjusting events...basically revising - again. But in the end, I hope I'll have something I can be truly proud to send off, or, perhaps even publish myself.

Meanwhile, ponder this question I heard on The Big Jab, a sports radio station my son listens to:

Would you rather keep your thumbs and go bald or keep your hair and lose your thumbs?

PS As of this writing, Dianne Salerni and I have two spots left for October's First Impressions. Interested in having your first page critiqued by two authors? Check out my sidebar for the details. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

First Impressions - untitled

Our final first impression comes from Talynn, who unfortunately is in the midst of a move and without internet. Because of that we have no piccie or title to share, altho I did find Talynn's blog, Ink in the Book. Here is the first page of her manuscript, which we think is either a YA steampunk or fantasy. As always, my partner Dianne Salerni will be critiquing this same first page on her blog so head over and see what she thought if you get a chance. 

The clockwork dragon detonated in a barrage of fire and metal.
I yanked the sword I wielded and shoved the shield in front of my body, but it was too late. The acid laced fire already started to melt the silver blade. I growled and flung the weapon away from my body. It settled (settled feels like a weak verb here in comparison to the others used thus far) in a muddy bog and slid beneath the surface. The dragon hissed and disappeared, transmitted (ooh, wait, I want to know more about what this means) back to it’s creator, though it left most of it’s working parts scattered around the battleground.
“Echo!” I yelled over the explosion of noise. “It’s over. You can come out now.”
My twin sister had been standing behind me a few minutes earlier, tucked away in safety, but now (who is she fighting now? And with what? Didn't her blade melt? Or do you really mean:  My twin sister had been standing behind me a few minutes earlier, tucked away safely while I fought alone in the damp muskeg.) I fought alone in the damp muskeg. I scrunched up my nose, the acrid smell left behind from the dragon burned when I breathed. I glanced around me. It wasn’t easy to concentrate on the battle when Echo wasn’t in sight. (Why?) Nothing but dark shadows, where the bog mixed with cypress tress and deep caves in the distance. All I could make out was rocky crags with dark circles that looked like black eyes keeping watch over the swamp. Creepy, even for me. Echo wouldn’t have run in there. With one last look around, I walked back toward base camp, betting my cards she’s run home to the safe house.

My first thought is that this is a pretty cool beginning. A clockwork dragon? Transmitting back? Transmitting back where? And who's its creator? Lots of interesting questions to encourage the reader to turn the page. I would've liked a little more character, but I like that our narrator is worried about her twin and the last line makes me worry, too! The only other thing I'll mention is the second paragraph which suggests that the fight is still going on but nothing happens. It seems more like the aftermath to me. But that's an easy fix. Either show that the fight is continuing or reword the paragraph. Other than that, I thought this was a darn good first page.

Readers, what did you think? Any thoughts for Talynn?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Guest post with author Julie Musil

I am thrilled today to turn my blog over to author Julie Musil, who offers Writing Lessons Learned from her latest read. I'm a big fan of Julie and I love her lessons. I hope you will, too.

Writing Lessons Learned from HOME FRONT

One of my favorite unintentional things to do while reading a great book is to take away writing lessons. I love jotting down helpful techniques used by some of my favorite authors, such as Kristin Hannah.

Here’s a brief blurb of Kristin Hannah’s novel, Home Front, which I recently finished.

Like many couples, Michael and Jolene Zarkades have to face the pressures of everyday life--children, careers, bills, chores--even as their twelve-year marriage is falling apart. Then an unexpected deployment sends Jolene deep into harm’s way and leaves defense attorney Michael at home, unaccustomed to being a single parent to their two girls. As a mother, it agonizes Jolene to leave her family, but as a soldier she has always understood the true meaning of duty. In her letters home, she paints a rose-colored version of her life on the front lines, shielding her family from the truth. But war will change Jolene in ways that none of them could’ve foreseen. When tragedy strikes, Michael must face his darkest fear and fight a battle of his own--for everything that matters to his family.

Here are some writing lessons I learned from this gut-wrenching book (Alert! If you plan to read this book, and don’t want to know any plot points, read no further!):

   Role Reversal--the main character, Jolene, is a female helicopter pilot in the reserves who is sent off to war. I normally think of men in this position, which is just me stereotyping. The female warrior angle was really cool. The end of the book included an interview with a real female helicopter pilot, which was intriguing.
   Unhappy Goodbye--leaving for war must be bad enough. But leaving for war while your marriage is crumbling? Saying goodbye to a tween daughter with attitude? These sad puzzle pieces made Jolene’s goodbye even harder. How can you repair a marriage and guide a young daughter when you’re thousands of miles away?
   Natural Conflict--Jolene is Army Strong and believes in her mission. Her hubby is a talented lawyer with strong beliefs of his own, and doesn’t support her mission. This natural conflict added layers to the plot. If the husband had been supportive, a heap of conflict would’ve been missing.
   Character Flip Flop--at the beginning of the story, Jolene is a can-do, turn-that-frown-upside-down kind of person. After a tragic injury, she changes completely. The internal dialog is what carries this massive change. The survivor’s guilt, the frustration, and the depression all add to this believable character shift. There are some things in life you just can’t fake your way through.
   Make Matters Worse--just when the situation was bad for the main character, the author made things worse. Going off to war is bad enough, but then add a fractured marriage. A fractured marriage is bad enough, but then add traumatic injuries. Injuries are bad enough, but then add deaths of friends. Kristin Hannah is brilliant at piling it on her poor characters.

What do you think of these writing lessons? Have you used any yourself? Have your read Home Front, or any other Kristin Hannah novels? Any new writing lessons you’ve learned lately? Please share!

Julie Musil writes from her rural home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and three sons. She’s an obsessive reader who loves stories that grab the heart and won’t let go. Her YA novels The Summer of Crossing Lines and The Boy Who Loved Fire are available now. For more information, or to stop by and say Hi, visit Julie on her blog, on twitter, and on Facebook.

Friday, September 5, 2014

First Impressions - Out of Touch

Back again today with our second First Impression of the month, this one from Robin Richards who blogs over at Your DailyDose. Here is the first page of OUT OF TOUCH, which you might remember from a previous First Impression...

Chapter One
It was astonishing, when a person actually thought about it, how little a resume revealed. For instance, whenever I touched an emotionally charged object, I saw and felt everything that person did. There was not one word about this "gift" littered in amongst my vast and dismal Job History, Experience, or Education. I closed my eyes and pondered that bizarre fact, as well as the exhilarating idea, that my visions, for the first time, were not going to ruin a job for me. I was Julia Roberts becoming my own Pretty Woman and I gleamed shiny as a newly minted silver dollar. I traced my finger over today's date on my calendar and was tempted to write down "promotion" to inspire destiny to hurry.
Roger Brown stood over my desk. My boss. "Gigi, can I see you in my office please?" I smoothed down my suit jacket and tried, with a modicum of success, to erase the goofy grin painted on my lips. Destiny had arrived wearing a golf shirt and Polo and wanted a private meeting.
He settled into his chair, cleared his throat, and fidgeted with his name plate. When I sat down the sharp pain in my thigh caught me off guard. I groped for the offending object and was assaulted by a vision when my fingers made contact.(Too passive. )
I was (was is too passive a verb here, how about, 'I groped for the offending object and the second my fingers made contact a wave of desperation and lust slammed into me.' Or something like that.) swamped by desperation and lust. I saw my co-worker, and biggest competition for the Publicist position, Bambi, half naked. Roger tore off his clothes in an effort to catch up. When he dropped the cufflink, the connection was severed.
I stared at my hand, and the cufflink, in horror. I wanted to take a bath in rubbing alcohol.
"....understand that Bambi is more qualified for the promotion," he said.
Bile rose in my throat. Bambi stooped lower than I dreamed possible to beat me out of a promotion. And Roger... it disgusted me (telling. I'd delete the whole sentence, that way I see her thinking about Roger and Bambii, then shaking her head, obviously disgusted, without you, the author, telling me.) that he fell for Bambi's obvious move to pull herself up the ladder. I shook my head in an effort to erase the scene of them together.
"I realize that this is a tough break," Roger said, "but refusing to accept it doesn't change anything."
" I know this is a disappointment. "
This was more than a disappointment. This changed how I felt about Roger as a boss. As a man. As a human being. "You and Bambi have (did you mean had?) sex...." Time stopped. My brain reconnected to my mouth and I sat there frozen in horror. I wanted to suck the words back in, but it was too late. The damage was done.

My first thought is that this is better. My second is that it can still be improved a wee bit. Here's how I might revise that first paragraph:

It was astonishing, when a person actually thought about it, how little a resume revealed. For example, there was absolutely nothing in mine to suggest I had the ability to touch an emotionally charged object and see and feel everything that person did. Or the fact that my little 'gift' had sabotaged every job I'd ever had. Until now.
I closed my eyes and pondered that bizarre fact, as well as the exhilarating idea, that my visions, for the first time, were not going to ruin a job for me. I was Julia Roberts becoming my own Pretty Woman and I gleamed shiny as a newly minted silver dollar. I traced my finger over today's date on my calendar and was tempted to write down "promotion" to inspire destiny to hurry.

The rest of the changes I'd make are noted above. But remember, this is just my subjective opinion. Readers, what do you think?And do head over to Dianne's blog to see what she thought of Robin's first page. Monday we'll have our final FP for the month.

Have a fabulous weekend!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

First Impressions - Crimson

Well. Here we are, beginning of the month, and it's time for First Impressions again. Today we have the first page of CRIMSON, a fairy-tale spin-off of Little Red Riding Hood from Ashley who blogs at The Tattered Page (what a great name for a blog, eh?). Dianne Salerni will also be critiquing this first page so do hop over and see what she had to say if you get a chance.

Memories could change in fifteen years. Altering to fit how you wanted to remember them.
When I woke the light of the morning was still gray. For a few moments I continued to lie in bed counting the seconds on my old clock. Finally settled in my morning skin I stood up and walked to the window. The only one I had in my matchbox bedroom. Fog still clung to the glass as I gazed out at the Statue of Liberty in the distance from our small high-rise apartment in Red Hook. My father moved us out to Brooklyn when I was three years old after it was clear he could not afford to pay the mortgage on the bungalow in New Hartford. That was what happened when half the family income vanished into thin air along with your mother. For about a year, he put up a good fight though, wanting to at least let me keep my home since I could not keep my mother. The mother I could not remember. Or maybe my memories choose to be forgetful when it came to her? (This last sentence is in the present tense while the rest is in past - watch your tenses.)
Cracking the window open, my nose was instantly assaulted by the delicious aromas of the local bakery across the street. I remembered the first time I had a crescent roll. Flaky, buttery and sweet. My father held my hand as we made our way to the other side of the black paved road. The bakery normally did not sell to customers before 8 a.m. but my father wanted me to try the crescent before I went to daycare. It was my first day. But the owner of the shop was a Vietnam veteran and could not refuse my father’s request. (why? Is this important?) Ever since then, if Dad was home from deployment we would head over there to enjoy a crescent as he walked me to the train station before school.
The neighborhood was starting to yawn and stretch. Old men were walking out of the grocery store with their morning newspaper and hot tea. Mothers were juggling their workbags and their sleepwalking toddlers. The stoplights were doing their dance for an invisible audience. Exhaust clouded the air as cabdrivers rub their hands together and waited for their engine’s to heat.
As I watched the other world carry on, I wondered why it got to continue on when mine did not. As if nothing happened. Sighing, I shivered to shake the chill that settled in my bones. Didn’t matter that the heat in the apartment was stifling.
First thought: I like the first line.
Second thought: I've heard it said more than once we should never start our stories with our characters waking up. Probably because not much happens. They get up, shower/shave/brush teeth what have you, and then they go about their day. Just like everyone else. But our characters have to be more interesting than we are otherwise we wouldn't read about them, right? So, in order for this to be a better first page, I';d start when the action starts, or the mystery, or whatever it is that pulls this character out of her normal everyday life and into the interesting one we want to read about. The back story, the moving from New Hartford to Brooklyn, that can come later or in smaller pieces. For example, when she leaves the apartment, is she going to have to lock a lot of locks? Is this place less safe than where she used to live? Maybe she'll remember that briefly as she leaves, make comparisons in her mind. The main thing is to intersperse description with action (no easy task - I know!) in order to move the story along and thus keep the reader's interest. As this first page stands, all the reader knows is that a motherless girl is waking up in her smaller apartment. The first sentence, on the other hand, is what makes this first page interesting and I think that's where the focus needs to be. Why is she thinking this? Why is she remembering her mother on this day?

Thank you Ashley for submitting and I hope this helps. Readers, I hope you'll chime in and offer Ashley your thoughts on her first page. Friday, we'll have another First Impressions :)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Pawn Star

Some of you may remember when I was unemployed last year. Well...I got hit again this year which led to me to picking up a bunch of part time jobs and working a lot more hours than I'd really like to and only one day off. This makes for a tired little camper. So tired in fact that I've hardly had energy for writing never mind blogging. And instead of reading something new from the library I got out my old tattered copies of The Hobbit and LOTR, which I've read about a zillion times. But. One one of my jobs is working at a pawn shop/antique store, which means I get to see a lot of old and interesting stuff. We have swords, duck decoys, art, china, and a whole room devoted to nautical items like portholes, propellers, ship wheels, and anchors. One of the things we got in recently was a gorgeous carpenters tool chest with thick brass corners and hinges in mint condition - seriously, it was a show piece - with slide out drawers and a compartment for saws. I should've taken a picture. But we had it less than 24 hours before someone bought it. Then there was this cool loon carving I told my son he had to see.

He bought it. Last weekend we had a yard sale, and my son came by and bought a few more things, like this bottle:

this lovely box of ornaments (I encouraged him to buy these; they were just so pretty!):

and this odd item:

We don't know what it is and neither did my boss. If you know, please speak up!

Anyway. As you can see, I kind of like my new job; it's fun and interesting. And I can see why people get addicted to 'finding the next treasure.' I'll let you know if one comes in our door :)

Meanwhile, due to the fact that my work hours aren't likely to change any time soon, I may not be around as much as I'd like. I do, however, have a few fun things planned, like First Impressions starting tomorrow, a guest post from author Julie Musil on Saturday, an update on what I'm working on, and of course, the Cephalopod Coffeehouse at the end of the month. In other news, West of Paradise currently has 43 reviews with an overall rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars!

Yay me!

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Cephalopod Coffee House - Hollow City
Today is the day we talk about a book we've read, supposedly within the last month but I'm still slogging through Guns, Germs, and Steel so you're getting a review of something I read last month, which was a much better reading month anyway. Click on the pic to see what the other Coffee House members are reading. As for me, I'll be telling you about Hollow City by Ransom Riggs.

I think I enjoyed this just as much as the first book, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

...and that was as far as I got before hitting schedule and forgetting to finish writing my review. My apologies to those who commented thus far but I've been working far more than I would like (more about that later) and I completely forgot about this. Now on to what I really thought about this book...

I liked it a lot and I will definitely be reading the third installment when it comes out. I love all the peculiar children and their strange gifts like floating away, being invisible, and swallowing bees (ick!). This story continues from where the first left off with Jacob and the crew of peculiars trying to escape the island and get to the mainland and London where they hope to help Miss Peregrine who is stuck in her bird form. If you like time travel, people with strange and unusual abilities, and things that go bump in the night, you will probably like this.

See you next Wednesday for First Impressions :)  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Author interview - Carol Kilgore

Today I have author Carol Kilgore here to answer a a few questions, tell us a little about the book she's written, and a little more about the book she'll soon be releasing.

When Coast Guard Commander Taylor Campbell returns to Rock Harbor, Texas, to tend to her uncle’s estate, she meets a mysterious former Navy SEAL, Jake Solomon, and learns her uncle didn't drown accidentally. His murder was one in a string of murders of a group of Vietnam veterans who called themselves the Compass Points.

Before her uncle died, he sent Taylor a message with the location of his buried treasure. Unearthing it will place her squarely in the killer’s crosshairs, but she’s determined to fulfill her uncle’s last wish.

Jake, sent to protect her and find the killer, has other plans. His mission would be much easier to accomplish if he could forget how good she’d tasted when he kissed her.

1. Where did the idea for Solomon’s Compass come from?
My ideas rarely come tied in a neat little package. Solomon's Compass was no exception. I knew the story would be set on the Texas coast, and I wanted to write about a small ship chandler. Nothing came together for me, so I let that idea simmer. I also wanted to write a story about the Coast Guard, and that one was starting to take shape. Then one night I had a dream. When I woke, I knew how to make the story work. I combined elements from both stories, changed some the characters around, and Solomon's Compass was born. But it wasn't an easy birth.

2. Wow, that’s pretty cool that a dream helped you pull the two ideas together. Who did you model Taylor after, if anyone, and how did her character reveal herself to you?
I modeled Taylor after USCG Captain Anne Ewalt, now retired. I didn't know her, but she agreed to a couple of short interviews. When we spoke, she was the commanding officer of the USCG Training Center in Yorktown, Virginia. She graciously took time from her busy schedule and answered all my many questions. Like Taylor, Captain Ewalt was a graduate of the Coast Guard Academy, and every inch a Coastie. My husband is also a retired Coastie, so I've been around the Coast Guard for many years. There's probably a little bit of a lot of Coasties in Taylor. When the book was published, I sent a
copy to Anne. After reading it, she emailed me with an idea for a sequel and said, in part, "...every time you mention Taylor's crew, or her CG life, or her choices, pressures, etc. I say to myself, 'She got it exactly right!'"

3. That must’ve made you feel good! What did you learn from writing Solon’s Compass?
A lot! Mostly I learned how to trust my subconscious - not just in writing but also in life. I also learned more about the history of the Coast Guard, especially during the Vietnam Era. A few of the other things I learned were the principles of sailing a catamaran, what the cover of an old James Bond paperback looked like, and the importance of decluttering!

4. Ha! I need a lesson on decluttering! Tell us what you’re working on now…? Where did the idea come from? When will it be released? Cover pic?

I've just sent SECRETS OF HONOR to the formatter, and it will be released in Kindle and print on September 15. Like with Solomon's Compass, the idea for Secrets of Honor arrived in bits and pieces. If anything, it was even more scattered. I'm not sure what my initial inspiration for the story was. One day it was just in my head to write something "spylike" that had a jewel thief as the main character. In the first version, Kat and Dave were not a team, and there was a whole other subplot that I stripped out, as it didn't add anything to the message of what the story turned out to be. When I did that, I discovered that I needed different motivations for most of the characters. Once I had those, the story came together. I'm still in love with the cover, which was designed by the awesome Linda Kage. My next project will be a trilogy. I'm currently mapping out the overall elements of each of the three books and the trilogy itself.

5.  And just for fun, what was your first car?

Omigosh, major flashback! My first car was a beat-up, OLD, black Ford with a stick shift on the column and no air conditioning. Whenever my speed dropped below 30mph, I had to downshift or it would chug and lurch like a zombie with the hiccups. It's because of this car that I learned to drive fast :)

7. Finally last book read and next on your TBR list?

The last book I read was Organized to Death by Jan Christensen. It's a lighthearted mystery with an amateur sleuth who's a professional organizer. It's fun, and there's a romantic element with Hank the Hunk. I just started reading Blessed are the Dead by Kristi Belcamino. It's a darker story about a crime reporter at a newspaper, and so far very good. I highly recommend both books to readers that like reading in these genres.

Thanks for the recommendations, Carol, and thanks a bunch for coming by :)