Too long away

There are few excuses for neglecting a blog but here are mine.

2016 was a difficult year for us. My husband’s cousin, a youngish man of 64(young from our perspective) died in the late Spring, a shock to all his family. Late in the summer our beloved dog Charlie became ill and died of a small tumour in her great heart. Health issues, since partially resolved, both our own and those of close friends, occupied the rest of the year.

But we are in a new year, and the pain of those losses is receding. Not to say the world is comfortable with a man with a clear personality disorder in the White House, but one can carry on.

My plans to become a writer of non-fiction have faltered, mainly because I write fiction and that seems to be that. However, there is a good deal more to learn about writing fiction and I am looking forward to a retreat in April with the kind friends of Writescape. Before that, I  will travel to Bermuda to visit my sister and her family. One of my journeys there resulted in No Motive for Murder, the third in my Dangerous Journeys series.

Another book, currently titled Painting of Sorrow, is under consideration by an agent. Fingers crossed.

Bad news is that my long-time publisher, Arline Chase of Write Words Inc. has closed up shop. Soon I hope to republish the books under my own imprint. so many thanks due to Arline for taking a chance on a beginning writer when she published Murderous Roots. All best wishes to Arline going forward.

Because of Arline’s retirement, I’ve been studying self-publishing both at CreateSpace and at Smashwords, where my books currently have a home. When I’m ready, I’ll reissue all four plus in the fall, the fifth in the series.

Of course, I read. Today I finished a book by a writer friend, Crozier Green. His novel of the early days of the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, titled The Little Wagons, was a terrific read. Please see the review below.

Crozier Green has written an engrossing, action-filled novel of the beginnings of the Cosa Nostra in Italy, seen through the eyes of three men and the woman they all desired. Two of the men rose from sulphur mines, graduated to the prison of Palermo and battled for supremacy in the nascent crime families of nineteenth-century Sicily. The woman, a wild and wildly-intelligent daughter of one of the bosses, manipulates both men and the officer of the Carabinieri who loved her, to gain power of her own.

The Little Wagons is suspense-full, fast-paced, well-written book that deserves five stars for its vivid characterization. Even minor characters are well-described. I won’t forget any of them soon.

The plot, involving as it does the entwined lives of four different people, is handled well. The opening description of the sulphur mines brings the reader into a hellish, claustrophobic world. The setting alone is sufficient to explain why men would do anything, including murder to escape from it.

The Little Wagons is a great read and terrific history.

That’s about it for a sunny and warm Saturday in the Kawartha Lakes.





10 Literary Devices

I was browsing my writing files today. You know the kind, a dump for every website or blog you come across that has information that might be useful someday. I have two: Writing about Writing and a catch all Writing Stuff. Interesting items in both, especially one about writing devices.

Writing devices have names like aporia and pathetic fallacy and if like me, you’re a writer whose last formal English course was in 1st year, the definitions are murky at best or absent at worst from memory. The website below discusses 10 and relates them to Science Fiction, mostly movies, that make the use clear. Annalee Newitz posted it in 2012 and it’s well worth a read.

Beautiful day in Southern Ontario and the weather promises to be seasonal and sunny for the next week!

I’m revising my WIP and still marketing The Child on the Terrace while waiting for my reviewers. If anyone would like an ARC, please let me know.

Stone Patrick author interview

What inspired you to write your first book?
I initially thought of writing as a way to make money, and lots of it, but as I did more research, I read time and time again that most writers will never be able to support themselves with their writing alone. That was a sobering thought, but I didn’t want that to stop me from at least trying. I continued to read books about how to write — I bought at least 20-25 books, some of which I have read multiple times — and when I tried it for myself, I felt a real sense of accomplishment when I wrote something that moved people emotionally. It’s that acclamation from other people that motivates me to continue writing.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Yes, I try to write simple sentences, changing the structure to make it easy to follow, and I don’t use big words that most people won’t know the meaning of. I like to think that my dialogue is full of conflict and reflects the characters’ traits and biases. When I write, I try not to create word combinations that would sound foreign if they were spoken out loud. I believe my style of writing is conversational and smooth, and that it conjures up images in the reader’s mind that are specific to that individual, instead of being so descriptive that there is only one possible image that can be thought of.
How did you come up with the title?
In coming up with the title, I wanted something simple that would be easy to say, not easily misunderstood, and was based on the crime that needed to be solved. It started out as a working title, and by the time the book was completed, I couldn’t think of anything else that personified both the crime and the one responsible for what happened.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The book starts out focusing on the death of Neil Baines, and how a small-town lawyer, Taylour Dixxon, found herself defending his wife, who is the one accused of perpetrating the crime. I chose a small-town lawyer because I wanted to highlight the challenges that these sole practitioners face, day in and day out, as they try to practice law outside of the big city. The message that I want the reader to come away with is that the job of a lawyer, especially in a small town, is vitally important to the sustainability of order in society. It can sometimes be a thankless job, but in the end, Taylour knows that this is where she belongs.
How much of the book is realistic?
I took bits and pieces of places and buildings that I know and made a fictitious town of Marlinsville, TX. Some of the pieces were patterned after where I live, with certain names of restaurants and streets and festivals that are similar, and I chose a central county in Texas (Falls) and the county seat (Marlin) for the actual spot on the map, but the description of the town itself is made up and has no similarities to the actual town of Marlin, TX.
Are the experiences in the book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Not at all. I did reach out to a small town attorney named J. Burton Hunter, III who helped me with some of the legal questions that I had, but the characters and experiences are not based on any actual events.
What books have most influenced your life the most?
The books that have influenced me the most are the scriptures of my church, including the Holy Bible and The Book of Mormon, as well as the books that I have read of several mystery authors, John Grisham, Dick Francis, Jeffrey Archer, just to name a few.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
My biggest challenge is finding the time to do everything that I need to do with the limited resources that I have. Between writing, spending time with my family, working my day job, fulfilling my church responsibilities, marketing my book, and a thousand other things, I never seem to have enough time to do everything that I want. I am not good at prioritizing my time, and I do like to watch certain TV shows that I can’t seem to give up.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part was trying to tie everything together. I wanted to use most of what I wrote, but some of the scenes didn’t always fit, so I either had to adapt the scene or cut it all together if it didn’t move the story along. Also, there were times when I was simply too exhausted to type any further, but I needed to complete the scene so that I wasn’t falling behind schedule. I had to push through that more than once.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write what you know, and don’t be afraid to create characters that have flaws. No one likes a perfect protagonist or someone who is always happy. Inject humor when possible, but don’t overdo it. Decide early on if you want to write for the sheer joy of writing, or if you want an audience. If you want to write for an audience, then know who that audience is and write as much as you can.

Also, you need to read about the art of writing! Study and see examples of different points of view, learn how to develop plot and characters, and understand the underlying structure of a great story.

And finally, tell everyone that you are writing a book because 1) people think it’s cool that you are a future author, 2) it will motivate you to keep writing when your friends and family constantly ask about your book, and 3) it will help you to sell more books because you are creating buzz, and buzz sells.

This interview first appeared on Smashwords.

Writing and reading and more writing

What with one thing and another, it’s been a while since a new blog appeared in this space. I haven’t been slacking but focussing on three projects.

Revision of A Child for the Taking for the tenth or eleventh time. I’m using AutoCrit to revise this time. The software’s frequency of words feature allows me to rework phrases and sentences, one scene at a time.

Reading Saving Fillide, my work-in-progress up until Christmas. I sent it to my Kindle and reading in book-format allows me to catch and mark errors.

Writing The Spanish Connection(tentative title)  my latest Anne McPhail mystery.

In between I read Will Ferguson’s 419, a brilliant novel until the ending. Although the ending is dramatic and memorable, I didn’t believe it as I had the rest of the novel. The character as I understood her was too clever to make the decisions Ferguson detailed.

Fun reads over this time have been the latest Penny Brannigan mystery set in Wales: Never Laugh As a Hearse Goes By by Elizabeth J. Duncan and a series by Susan Shaber—The Louise Pearlie Mysteries. The latest is Louise’s Dilemma. Great period detail of WWII Washington.  Her Majesty’s Hope , the latest in Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope Mysteries is set in Britain during the same time period.

I’m looking forward to attending Writescape’s Spring Thaw with Ruth Walker and Gwynn Scheltema in April at Elmhirst on Rice Lake: great company, opportunities to learn about the craft and free, uninterrupted time to write.

Thoughts on Rejection

Should rejection of a piece of writing arrive mere hours after submission, or after months of waiting?

I submitted the same novel to two publishers, one in the UK and one in Canada. The UK publisher is a new enterprise, the Canadian one a press that has been going for years. The UK publisher rejected and notified within a day. I’m still waiting for the Canadian publisher. It’s been 79 days.

I think a month or three of waiting is preferable to a rejection by return e-mail. The latter suggests to me that only the query letter has been read and perhaps not all of that. I purchased a query letter assessment from Writers Digest and the doctored version is the one I send.

Noah Lukeman, in The First Five Pages, states  that agents and editors are looking for reasons to reject, beginning with the presentation and will only read those first five pages. If they can’t find anything there, they will move on to page 99 or read other random selections.

His book details the reasons for rejection and proposes solutions. Each chapter ends with exercises to address the problems.

So what should I do?

Take the first chapter to my critique group? Done.

Ask writing teachers to assess it? Done.

Revise and rewrite? Done.

Ask a beta-reader’s opinion? Done.

I’ve considered posting the first chapter online at Wattpad and inviting comments, but hesitate because some publishers won’t look at anything that has been published in part by others, even oneself.

Should I decide that the manuscript belongs in a drawer? Perhaps, but not yet. I have a few weeks until I want to start serious revision of my work-in-progress, and I think that I will spend them revising A Child for the Taking. Noah Lukeman’s book will be my guide this time.

Elora Writers Festival

On Sunday, May 26, I attended the Elora Writers Festival, an afternoon of readings by six authors, several of them local to Elora-Fergus. One of the readers commented that the day’s readings had taken the audience on a journey from the sexy inhabitants of  Sonia Day’s garden to the streets of Budapest with Ailsa Kay. Andrew Westoll’s The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary  left some of us with hearts broken by the sadness of their fate  while laughing at the hapless author’s first day among them. Mystery writer Robert Rotenberg is  very much a Toronto man. Indeed the city plays as important a role in his books as some of his characters. Carrie Synder took us to war in Nicaragua and Terry Fallis brought us back to Canada and Northern British Columbia.

I spoke and read at two events so far this year and wanted to learn some of the methods other writers used to keep an audience engaged. Of course the methods used were as diverse as the writers themselves: Sonia Day’s funny, erotic reading, Robert Rotenberg’s engagement of his listeners as a sort of cheering section for a candidate for Mayor of Toronto, Terry Fallis’s sharing of his personal experiences in Northern B.C.

Ailsa Kay: Under Budapest

Carrie Snyder: The Juliet Stories

Robert Rotenberg: Strangle Hold

Sonia Day: The Untamed Garden, A Revealing Look At Our Love Affair with Plants

Andrew Westoll: The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary

Terry Fallis: Up and Down

What did I learn? The audience seemed to respond best to writers who shared parts of their lives as well as their writing.

I’m looking forward to reading Robert Rotenberg’s latest. He inscribed it for me and when I told him I also wrote,  encouraged me to “write every day”.

A fun, interesting afternoon. Don’t miss it in 2014.

Otherwise, we had  a terrific weekend staying with our friends at The Gardeners Cottage.

Writing contests

I entered the New Kindle Book Review contest today. My last book, The Facepainter Murders, made it to the semi-finals last year, and I have hope for No Motive for Murder, this time around.

Some years ago writer Louise Penny suggested entering contests as a way to jump-start a career. I took her advice and have entered quite a few, achieving success in the first one entered, at Wynterblue Publishing in North Bay. I have continued to enter, both to add new achievements to my cv, but also for the increase in confidence that comes from the praise that so often accompanies the awards.

My most recent success was coming first in the September contest of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly, published in London, England. Its first prize is 150 pounds sterling and publication in the April edition. The judge’s comments were gratifying.  I have included them below.

The Decision

Beautifully written, technically assured, The Decision tells a painful story in language that is sharp, precise, pared to the bone.  Not a word is wasted here, every sentence, phrase and word playing its part in the achievement of an artfully achieved whole.  This is one of those stories you know will haunt you.  A very worthy winner.

Very encouraging, indeed.

Publishing a novel

I’ve been away from the blog for two weeks or so, correcting proofs of my latest book in the Dangerous Journeys  Series. When the manuscript is finished and sent to the publisher, in my case electronically, time passes, and then it is returned, or at least the files are, downloaded to some vast internet cloud, and then to me. Line by line, error by error, recorded first on legal pads and then into Excel, and finally it is ready to return to the publisher. The process repeats itself, she corrects, then I correct again, and finally we both agree that we can find no more errors, omissions or outright howlers. After that, I wait, and wait and wait, while mysterious manipulations go on to convert the files to e-book format and prepare for the paper press as well.

In the meantime, I write and then of course, rewrite, a press release, find multiple free services that could disperse the press release across the internet, and read books about marketing and the importance of an author platform. So  I sign up for twitter, post more books at Goodreads, expand my Linkedin network and ask friends and relatives to post my press release when the book is ready. And then I wait some more. A problem with the files at the printer, I’m told, is delaying the appearance of NO MOTIVE FOR MURDER.

I  return to writing, now a rewrite of a book that has been hanging around in a virtual drawer. It was fun to write and now even in rewrite, mostly because of the settings, besides Toronto, my protagonist travels to Rome and Venice, Bari and Dubrovnik.

I’m still waiting.

Marketing for Writers

I’ve just posted a new link on my blog to The Creative Penn, a blog by Joanna Penn, an Australian writer, whose blog was voted one of the top ten for writers in 2011. Her online, free course titled Author2.0 details the myriad ways an author can promote herself and her writing, and make some money along the way.

She has also posted a video introduction to the course, available here: Joanne is an engaging and enthusiastic speaker, who manages to make the online and offline marketing world clearer.

The development of a blog, a website, a facebook page, a twitter account, a linkedin presence etc and so on is daunting, but Joanne makes it all seem possible.

I’ve just sent off Book 3 of my Dangerous Journeys series, entitled No Motive for Murder and set in modern-day Bermuda, but as in all Anne McPhail’s adventures with perilous links to the past, to the publisher. I’ll keep progress detailed here.

In the meantime, below are the links to Anne’s first two journeys. Write Words My page

The Internet Review of Books

Bob Sanchez reviewed my novel, Murderous Roots, today for the Internet Review of Books.
The Internet Review of Books is a great source for information about both fiction and non-fiction. Check it out before making your next run to the bookstore, or the download site. Murderous Roots is my first novel, and I’m grateful for the review.
My short story, Freddie’s Athabaska, was published today in The Other Herald, an arts broadsheet from Northern New York state.
I’ve finished editing the galley proofs for the print-on-demand version of Murderous Roots, coming soon to Write Words Inc.
Amazon has been granted the right to a “bricks and mortar” facility in Ontario. This is a warehouse they will use for their Canadian customers. As I live in a small town, I’ve used Amazon frequently(except during the period when our son owned a bookstore). I can appreciate the problems of the small bookseller who faces the competition from giants like Amazon and Chapters. When you buy the book from these guys, remember that they have used their vast buying power to bully the publisher into a 40% discount, while your neighbourhood bookseller is paying the full wholesale price.
The publisher and the author pay for your convenience.
All that being said, the publishing trade is in a state of flux, with the fastest growing segment that of electronic books. Does this mean the days of books in paper are coming to an end? I hope not, at least for the small format paperback that is the easiest to read in bed! I read for many reasons: to be entertained; to be informed; to learn my writing craft; to pursue an interest in the arts. Most of these are better served by a book on paper, I think now. I’m going to have a look at a friend’s ipad today, and perhaps my view will change.