Just Some Vanilla

amo:

A beautifully inspirational story from Stuart at Storyshucker. We all need that sense of being needed – we all need our bottles of vanilla.

Originally posted on Storyshucker:

I’m no fan of snow, but as my eyes roll in disgust at weather forecasts I concede there were times when snowfalls thrilled me. Not due to missing school, sleigh riding, or building snowmen, but because Vicki and I would go to the store for Nannie.

At an unknown point in our youth, after one snowstorm or another, my sister Vicki and I decided we must plod across the field through snow, no matter the depth, to see if our grandmother needed anything from the store. Nannie lived in a huge old farmhouse, had always cooked for many, and could have at any point in time prepared a meal for forty out of what she had in her cabinets and refrigerator. Not even touching what was stored in her cellar.

Still… Vicki and I were sure Nannie needed something and we’d save the day by trudging through snow to ask…

View original 546 more words

“That’s Funny,” He Laughed

quillandqwerty cropI just read a quite interesting article about “The Seven Deadly Sins of Dialogue”, i.e. what not to do when you’re writing fiction dialogue. And yes, I quite agree with the author on almost all points.

For example, a nasty writing habit is replacing “said” with other verbs like “queried” or “cajoled”. Or even worse, practising what they call “Impossible Verbing”.  “As a reader, that jolts me right out of the story,” I shuddered. ← There, that was one of those. One does not shudder a sentence. Try it – scrunch up your shoulders, let that shiver run over yourself from your head down your arms into your finger tips, and see if you get any sound out of that, let alone words. If you do, you’re a better vocal cord acrobat than I am.

However, there is one point on which I beg to differ with the authors of that article. Well, one sub-point. Under “Impossible Verbing”, they emphatically state that you should never use any verb other than a variant of “to say” as your speech tag, and they continue: “[E]ven more experienced writers can sometimes have a character laugh or sigh or cry a line that could not logically be produced in any of these ways.” That’s a statement I’ve heard more than once. But I’m sorry, just because people who lecture others on writing – uh, sorry, give out writing advice – like to repeat that statement that does not make it true. You can so laugh a line.

How would they suggest you describe it when someone says something while laughing? I presume the approved form would be “he said with a laugh” or something like that. But think about it: that’s actually quite a different thing than “laughing” the words. I don’t know about you, but laughing makes noise come from my vocal cords. Right? Hahaha. That’s sound. So, try this: ‘”That’s funny!” he said and laughed.’ What are you hearing in your head? Me, that arrives as: “That’s funny! Hahaha!” But now look at this: ‘”That’s funny!” he laughed.‘ Mental audio: “Thahahahat’s fuhuhuhunny!” Two different effects, no?

Okay, I’ll give you that you could write the latter as ‘”That’s funny!” he said laughingly.’ or even ‘with a laugh.’ But there’s a certain amount of clunkiness in that – too many “-ly” or “with a” would yank me out of the story more effectively than the occasional “he laughed” and “she sobbed”. (‘”You don’t love me!” she said sobbingly.’ Uh, no. Not with clunky language like that, I don’t.)

So, Impossible Verbing aside (she shrugged), I vote that laughing, sobbing, hissing, snarling, groaning, and sighing can take their occasional (very occasional) place alongside shouting and whispering in the lineup of acceptable synonyms for “saying”. After all, they do all make sounds. I will, however, draw the line at burping – yes, I know there are people who can burp the alphabet, but really, there are limits. If not of language, then of good taste.

“Life, the Universe, and Speech Tags,” she said. “Try laughing it sometimes.”

SEVENTH SON, the Movie: a Review

We went and checked out the competition the other day. By which I mean to say, we went to see the Seventh Son movie that was released last week, which, just to reiterate, has nothing to do with my Seventh Son novel, beyond the concept that the seventh son of a seventh son has special magical abilities.

I was, quite frankly, a little apprehensive about going to that movie. You see, I read the book it’s based on, Joseph Delaney’s The Spook’s Apprentice, or rather, The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch (that’s the American title). That book has the potential for a SCARY movie. Plus, the film is rated 14A around here, and that alone would make me, usually, stay away from it. I don’t do scary.

But as it turns out, the movie has very little to do with Delaney’s novel, either. Oh, they retain the basic premise, and the names of the characters. But other than that they’ve taken a quite innovative storyline, and pounded it flat into a stereotypical, run-of-the-mill fantasy movie plot, which might have been okay as a made-for-TV story, but on the big screen is a waste of money, special effects and great acting talent.

Speaking of acting talent, as I mentioned before, one of the reasons I made myself go see the movie is that it has the daughter of a friend of mine in it, Lilah Fitzgerald. But that, too, was a disappointment – Lilah gets hardly any screen time; apparently most of her scenes were cut. And that’s too bad, because Lilah’s character, Tom’s little sister, had the potential to carry one of the major themes of the story, that of Tom having to give up his family in order to do the work he is called to do.

But then, most of the key themes of the book were simply left out of the movie. Just to give you a brief synopsis, what the story is about is Tom Ward, a farm boy, the seventh son of a seventh son. He becomes apprentice to the Spook, whose job it is to deal with spirits or creatures of magic. Their greatest antagonist is Mother Malkin, an evil witch, who is out for revenge for the Spook’s having locked her up in a hole for the last however-many decades (or centuries, or something). There’s also a young witch named Alice, with whom Tom gets involved, who throws all kinds of wrenches into the works.

Incidentally, none of that is a spoiler; it’s no more than what you get from watching the movie trailers. And because the trailers hit those major plot points, which are also the main points of the book, I fully expected the film to live up to the book – hence my apprehension about going to see it. But as it turns out, the things that would have made the movie really bothersome to watch were left out. Yes, the film is still scary; I wouldn’t recommend it for young kids or other sensitive souls. But it doesn’t warrant the 14A label it got here in BC; I think the PG13 it was given in the US is closer to the mark in comparison with other fantasy movies out there, say, Harry Potter or The Hobbit, which have equally scary scenes (albeit with better narrative reasons).

Seventh Son is bristling with fire-breathing movie monsters; however, they’re rather stereotypical as far as movie monsters go – again, if you watch the trailer, you’ve pretty much seen it all. And even the most hideously scary character from the book, the witch herself, is stereotyped to such an extent she loses in translation. Mother Malkin, in print, is creepy; her evil is profoundly frightening. Julianne Moore’s screen version is just another nasty character with a grudge against an old guy in a white beard – as a matter of fact, Moore is more antagonistic as Mrs Cheveley in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, where she’s playing a mean Victorian lady trying to blackmail an honourable man, than she is as a shape-shifting witch.

Another character that is completely changed from the book is Tom’s mother. I don’t want to give anything away here, but the film version of the mother is turned into, again, a stereotype, the Fantasy Hero’s Mother who wrings her hands at her boy’s departure into war and danger and wants to keep him safe at home – which is the exact opposite of the character in the book, who has been planning for this very thing since Tom’s birth. One minor beef I have with the casting here is that Tom’s mother is played by Olivia Williams, who is no more than thirteen years older than Ben Barnes (Tom), and it shows. He is supposed to be her seventh son – when did she start having kids, at three years of age? It’s just one of those inconsistencies that made me scratch my head. Ditto for all the changes of clothing that Tom seems to have at his disposal, without a suitcase in sight or anything.

Well, I’ll stop grousing now. All told, the film isn’t really all that bad. I went into it with fairly strong expectations, most of which were disappointed. But it’s not like I hated it, and the fact that it wasn’t as scary as I’d feared is a good thing (for me – I hate getting nightmares). I did spend a couple of rather enjoyable hours in the theatre; there are some definite good points about this movie.

The actors are one – Ben Barnes is excellent (and oh-so-handsome); Julianne Moore is good, of course; and even though Lilah Fitzgerald didn’t get nearly as much screen time as she deserved, I did get to see her in a movie, so that’s great. Another fun aspect for me was that the movie was shot in and around Vancouver; the outdoor scenes are recognisably West Coast with its majestic scenery. The visuals are good; in fact, if we weren’t so utterly spoiled nowadays by over-the-top-fantastic special effects, they would probably be utterly mindblowing. My favourite CG scene (it’s in the trailer) is the one where the wizard transforms himself into a dragon, trailing chains turning into wings. Pretty nifty, that. And even the ‘simple’ visuals, like costuming, were enjoyable – I kept looking really closely at Tom’s knitted sweater, trying to figure out what kind of yarn this is meant to be (at some point in the movie it even changes into looking almost like knitted wire – chain mail stitchery?).

So, bottom line: I’d give this movie a three out of five. It’s not great, but it’s not horrible either. If you’ve got a couple hours to spend on a Tuesday evening when movies are cheap, you could do worse than to watch this one. Or, alternatively, just wait until it comes out on Netflix, and put the money you’d spend on tickets towards buying a copy of my book instead – I picked the title first (better yet, buy several copies, and give some to your friends).

Life, the Universe, and Seventh Son. Just go read my novel.

Enough!

Enough already. Enough with the Facebook posts, the rants, the forwards; enough with the anti-anti-vaxxer posts, anti-Fifty-Shades, anti-Muslim, anti-everything. Enough with the hating.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I’m necessarily for any of the ideologies those posts are against. I’ve had my kids vaccinated; I haven’t read Fifty Shades; I’m not Muslim; and I don’t intend to change any of those practices.

But I’m so very, very tired to hear the harping, the incessant banging, clanging, beating of the drums, the tapping of the hammer that keeps driving home the message that YOU are right, and [insert opposing position on issue du jour] is wrong, evil, and to be resisted with every fibre of our beings.

Telling me of your opinion once is fine – please, I really do want to hear what my friends have to say. But not over, and over, and over. Because, you see: all that energy you’re using to be AGAINST, that is energy that is no longer available to be FOR. It’s negative energy, energy that takes away. And it’s sucking the life out of me.

Darkness, someone once said, isn’t an active force – it’s simply the absence of light. Contrary to what Star Wars would have you believe, The Dark isn’t a power in its own right – bring one single candle into a dark room, and you no longer have darkness. Light is the overpowering force. I don’t have to push back against the dark bits underneath my couch, build barriers to keep the darkness from flowing out into the room and overwhelming the light that is coming in the big picture window. I don’t have to relentlessly draw attention to the fact that there is darkness under the furniture, hold my book beneath the sofa to demonstrate just how dim and impossible to read it is under there. All I have to do is draw back the curtains.

Candle cropI let off a plea for the antidote yesterday, on Facebook. I asked my friends – rather with a tongue-in-cheek attitude at that moment, not expecting to be taken seriously – to post some cute pictures of their kids, or pets, or what-have-you, because I was just so very fed up with all the controversy. And within minutes, I had responses. Picture after picture of smiling children, furry critters, funny captions – it was wonderful. Because trivial as those images might seem, they testify to what really matters. They put the attention back on the light.

And that, people, is what it’s about. Don’t bewail the darkness, light a candle. Or throw the electric light switch, as it were; draw back the curtains; step outside into the sunshine.

If you’re concerned about unvaccinated children, show me how you are keeping yours strong and healthy. If you are worried about extremist Muslims, show me that your religion does not inspire you to similar self-righteous hating – and let me see the potency of your faith in engendering life-giving love. If you despise Fifty Shades, show me what powerful romantic love is really about – or even better yet, write a heart-gripping novel that lets me experience it for myself when I identify with your heroine, and leaves me feeling empowered and inspired, ready to take on the world – because that is what love can do.

Don’t show me everything that’s bad – let me see what is good. I’m tired of being asked to stare into black holes. Show me the light, instead.

First Draft

So the first draft of Checkmate, Septimus Series Book 3, is in the bag, as of two hours ago. And by first draft, I mean raw, unvarnished, un-spell-checked, NaNoWriMo-ish, plot-hole-riddled, wordy etc etc. (you get the picture). I had frozen in place at the end of NaNo in the middle of a scene, having crossed the 50K-word finish line. Then Christmas happened, aka no writing for about a month, and then a January full of sort of limping along, stuttering my way to the completion of the book. But now it’s done – there is a STORY here.

And I’m exhausted. Writing is tiring, you know? Especially if you write the way I do, which is in spurts – nothing, nothing, nothing, writewritewritewrite, nothing, nothing… I’ve yet to master the fine art (which some of my friends are experts on) of writing so many words a day, come rain, shine, or cloudy-with-a-chance-of-meatballs. I don’t know if there’s anything I can do in little bits every day – I tend to be an all-or-nothing person, sort of a single-track mind. I obsess on whatever-it-is until I’m done, or lose interest and pick up the next subject.

So, draft is finished, dinner has been had, and now I think it’s time for another glass of wine and an episode or two of Once Upon a Time (we’re up to Season 2, Episode 10). And tomorrow, or whenever, it’s back to the drawing board for Checkmate. Re-read, re-write, rinse and repeat.

Life, the Universe, and Finished First Drafts. Checkmate!

IMG_20150208_085655

Sunrise on sea of fog – this morning as I started writing.

The Print Copies Are Here!

IMG_20150204_101147One lovely box full of print copies of Cat and Mouse. Aren’t they pretty? So if you’re a local and want to get a copy, give me a shout.

And when you’ve read it, let me know what you think! Also, any reviews on the Amazon page would be greatly appreciated (ditto for Seventh Son – reviews make a big difference).

CAT AND MOUSE - get it now!

Marmalade

marmalade (4)

A Paddington Bear notebook my daughter got for me at Paddington Station

So I promised you a post on marmalade, didn’t I? Well, now’s the time. We went and saw the Paddington movie last night, and when can you write about marmalade if not fresh from a viewing of a film starring The Bear With a Worrying Marmalade Habit? (The latter bit is a quote from Mr Brown, the movie version. The one in the book doesn’t seem to be worried about it at all.)

(In case you’re wondering, Steve didn’t come to the movie; they don’t have bears as a category at the ticket counter. Seniors, Children, and Generals, but no Privates, Corporals, or Bears. Also, even though I would have smuggled him in in my purse, he’s a little leery of watching things on a big screen. If you’re six inches high, even a large-screen television can be a little overwhelming.)

marmalade (1)So. Marmalade. Oh, the movie was quite good. However, I have to inform you that it presents a quite serious factual inaccuracy: they’re using the wrong kind of oranges for their marmalade. Yup. The movie shows Paddington and his Aunt Lucy making marmalade out of ordinary sweet oranges, the ones you get year-round in the grocery store – you know, navel oranges. How do I know that’s the ones? Because they chop them open, and they’re way too juicy on the inside. No, no, no. Just wrong. Marmalade is made from Seville or bitter oranges, which are a different thing; their flesh is quite dry.

Now, the funny thing is that nobody in my family actually eats marmalade except for me; and I only have it occasionally with a bacon-and-egg breakfast (the bitter taste offsets the grease something wonderful). It’s one of those acquired tastes, and I’ve acquired it in order to be able to feel more British. Well, yeah. It allows me to say “Pass the squish!” like Lord Peter Wimsey, and reminds me of the line in Gosford Park where Mrs Wilson, the housekeeper, asks Mary if her employer couldn’t have strawberry jam for her breakfast: “Only, we’ve run out of marmalade. Dorothy [the stillroom maid] didn’t make enough last January.” And then Lady Trentham (played by Maggie Smith at her most snobbish), the next morning on lifting the cover off her breakfast tray: “Boughten marmalade! I call that feeble.”

marmalade (2)Marmalade oranges are only available for a couple of weeks in January – hence the fictional Dorothy’s failings in producing enough for the household; if you don’t make it in January, you’ve missed the boat for the year. And I think that might be one of the reasons I like making marmalade: it’s the one preserve that you make in the dead of winter. The canning jars and rings and lids, the funnel and tongs, all the paraphernalia of canning season, which live in the kitchen all summer long, are put away in the storage room in the basement from October to June. But this one short stint of once again stirring the fragrant amber bubbling away in the big pot, of whirling around the kitchen to get the steaming hot jars out of the dishwasher and ladling the sticky-soft sweetness into the glass, clapping on the lids and then listening for that satisfying little snap when they seal – it’s an unmistakable reminder that even though the snow flies outside, summer’s warmth and harvest will be back.

I don’t have a worrying marmalade habit myself – although I might have a marmalade-cooking habit. And I have friends who are quite happy to support me in that habit by taking the product of my hands – or they say they are, anyway. Maybe they’re just being polite, being English and all? Paddington is a very polite bear – it’s the English way.

Life, the Universe, and Marmalade. Pass the squish.marmalade (3)

PS: Here’s the recipe, the short version: 2 lbs marmalade oranges, 8 cups water, 4 lbs sugar. Cut up oranges, take out pips. Chop whole oranges in food processor, boil with water for 1 1/2 hrs together with the pips tied in a little bag. When the orange peels are soft, take out the bag of pips, add the sugar, and boil for about 15 minutes, proceeding like for any other jam. Makes about 8 half-pints of marmalade. (Pardon the imperial measurements – I got the recipe from an older pre-metric English cookbook. Seems kind of suitable.)

It’s Another Book!!

CatMouse_CVR_XSMLAnd here it is, the moment you’ve been waiting for: IT’S ANOTHER BOOK! CAT AND MOUSE, Book 2 of The Septimus Series, featuring further adventures of Catriona, Guy, Bibby, and Sepp – and introducing Cat’s best friend Nicky! Also introducing a whole lot of mice, a number of cats (one of them with only three legs), and more people who are going to be pretty important – but I’m not telling you too much about them yet because that would be giving things away.

Here’s the official blurb:

A silent young boy, a man like a rat, and a plague of mice—Cat has her work cut out for her.

It’s hard enough for Catriona, an ordinary modern woman, to get used to living in a magical medieval world, even without having mice pop up at every turn. Good thing Cat isn’t as squeamish about rodents as her friend Nicky, who has her own issues to cope with back in the regular world. What does the man with the twitchy nose want with young Ben, Nicky’s ward? And does the mouse plague back in Ruph have anything to do with the new apprentice Cat’s husband has taken on—the boy who won’t speak?

This book is now available:

on Amazon.com and .de for Kindle and in print

Amazon.ca for Kindle (print hopefully coming soon)

Smashwords for all other ebook formats

Createspace in print

CAT AND MOUSE – go get it now!

This & That & CAT AND MOUSE

I have things I was going to tell you about. Marmalade, and Charles Dickens, and watching the last episode of Season 1 of Once Upon a Time and what I think of it. But we’ll leave that for later, because right now the big excitement is that it’s only two more days until Cat and Mouse is available for actual sale in actual, um, virtual, um, online book stores.

Steve was complaining that he hadn’t had enough screen time recently, so I let him and Horatio model the print copy of Cat and Mouse. He was also complaining that there aren’t enough bears in my writing, and I’m sorry to say this book is no exception. Not a single bear in sight, in this or in Seventh Son. But of course, there’s cats, so that’s where Horatio comes in. Well, a tiger is a cat; so even though there are no tigers in Cat and Mouse, only domestic cats, I thought he’d be a suitable advertising model.

The picture also gives you an idea of the size of those two. Some friends who’ve met Steve in real life were surprised at how small he is. He’s a Gund, only 9″ (22cm) on his tippy-toes, 6″ (15cm) when he’s sitting – but I guess his screen persona comes across as much bigger. He’s a large bear on the inside.

So here they are. Doesn’t Cat and Mouse look lovely?

Steve, Horatio, Cat & Mouse

But there’s one more thing I had to share with you. I just got this awesome comment on my “Clean Air” post from the other day. You know the one where I rant about rude, inconsiderate, pushy salespeople with tunnel vision about their product? Here’s the comment, verbatim:

“it is great to see about air purifier . how many people know about air purifier we should know about air purifier this the mean thing so everybody should know about air purifier you can check about air purifier here [spam link]”.

I liked that comment so much, I left it up, with the guy’s name and links removed (wouldn’t want to risk even the slightest chance of giving him any business from his spam). Gotta love it when spammers make your point for you.

So, just a couple more days, and you can have Cat and Mouse in your sweaty little hands – umm, on your sweaty little Kindles and Kobos and iPhones and computer screens. The hardcopies will be a bit longer in coming; I’ll let you know when I’ve got some on hand for locals to buy from me directly, or you can order it yourself from Amazon US or Europe (Amazon Canada will take longer).

Life, the Universe, This and That and Cat and Mouse. Steve and Horatio say hello.

What SEVENTH SON Is Not

SeventhSon_CVR_XSMLThe other day someone asked me, once again: “Did you write Seventh Son?” Well, yes, yes I did. However, that’s actually not what they’re asking. They don’t want to know if I wrote a fantasy novel called Seventh Son; it’s something else they have in mind. And so, to answer that question, let me enlighten you about what my SEVENTH SON is NOT.

My novel is not the source text for the movie Seventh Son that is coming out next week (well, in North America it is; the release date is February 6th). The film has been several years in the making,  and stars Ben Barnes (heartthrob!) in the lead role. The source book (or, as they put it, “inspiration”) for that movie is actually not even called Seventh Son, but The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch (original UK title: The Spook’s Apprentice), and it’s written by Joseph Delaney.

Another book my Seventh Son is not is the 1987 novel of that title by the great Orson Scott Card. His book is the first in his series The Tales of Alvin Maker (which he still hasn’t finished, as far as I know).

Hmm, now that I look it up, it appears there’s another work called Seventh Son I was unaware of – a 1926 silent film from Germany. I’ll  have to check that out; maybe Youtube has it.

So, just for the record: none of these stories are mine. And I’m not ripping off any of their ideas, either. In fact, I had written the text and decided on the title of my book before the forthcoming movie was even filmed; and didn’t read the Card book until several years later. Really, what all these stories, mine included, have in common is the old folklore trope that the seventh son of a seventh son has special powers – magical ones, generally. And that’s about all that’s similar, other than the title.

My book is a light romantic fantasy (well, yes, they’re all fantasy stories) about a young woman named Catriona, who looks into a turquoise pottery bowl and suddenly finds herself whisked off to a magical medieval village called Ruph in which the – you guessed it – seventh son of the seventh son has just gone missing, and she has to figure out not only how she ended up where she is and how to get out of that predicament, but what’s been happening in this town. I call it a Cosy Fantasy – you know, like a Cosy Mystery, but in a fantasy environment.

Card’s and Delaney’s stories are much more classical fantasy. Delaney’s would probably classify as Sword and Sorcery – well, definitely the sorcery bit (there’s a very nasty witch); while Card’s is the alternative-history variety – a different 19th-century USA with magic. The stories are darker than anything I would ever write; actually, they get darker yet as the series progress – I gave up on Delaney with the second book, and on Card with about the third volume. They’re well-written books, but I don’t enjoy reading that sort of thing, let alone writing it.

However, “dark” is a matter of definition. Both Delaney’s and Card’s “Seventh Son” stories are also Young Adult novels, at least these first books in the series are, in that the protagonist, the seventh son of the seventh son, is a young boy – twelve years old in the case of Delaney’s Tom Ward, even younger in the case of Card’s Alvin Maker. So what I call “dark” here is really very mild, by fantasy standards – it probably wouldn’t even warrant the term for most readers (yeah, well, I’m super-sensitive. So sue me).

And that’s another thing my book is not: a YA novel. My Catriona is not a teenager, she’s twenty-eight; and the Seventh Son in question is not a twelve-year-old, but right around Cat’s age, too. But that’s not to say that YA readers wouldn’t enjoy the story; in fact, I have it on good authority (i.e. word of mouth/keyboard) that several of them already did.

Incidentally, the movie that’s coming out is not a YA, either. The screen version of Tom Ward is most emphatically not twelve years old – in fact, Ben Barnes is over thirty. I have a feeling the movie might not have a whole lot to do with Delaney’s book. But whether it’s dark or not, I’ll have to go see that film; gotta check out the competition, dontcha know. But more importantly, while I’m a big fan of BB’s, there’s another young actor in that movie I can’t wait to see on the big screen: Lilah Fitzgerald, who plays Tom’s little sister Cate – I’ve met her in real life, although she probably doesn’t remember it (she was quite small then). Her mother is a friend of mine.

When I first heard that a movie with the title Seventh Son was coming out, I seriously considered changing the title of my book (I was going to go back to Septimissimus, which was its working title). But then I thought, No. I picked it first. Actually, Orson Scott Card picked it first, and they didn’t ask his permission about the movie title, as far as I know. Titles aren’t copyrighted, you can use whatever you want. And the basic idea we’ve all named our stories for is something none of us can claim credit for – the originator of that trope is lost in the mists of folklore.

So there you have it: Life, the Universe, and What My Seventh Son Is Not.

Incidentally, speaking of BB – a little side-track-advertising here: there’s a Ben Bauer in Cat and Mouse, the sequel to Seventh Son.  You know, just sayin’ – book release is in just five days! You can pre-order the ebook right now!