writing tips

Public Service Announcement!

You may have noticed I’ve been gone a while. That was due to several factors including illness, a very busy period at work, trying to write more, a vacation and general laziness (not in that order).

However, I’ve since got over my bronchitis, killed my work assignment and had a blast on vacation in St. Vincent (My first 5 star resort! Pictures to come!). When life gets that good, it follows that something not so great might happen and that was this week, when I tried to put on my computer and return to my writing schedule.

sad star wars depressed disappointed yoda

Suffice it to say, I paid $1,000 to fix this thing in May, and it’s not working. Again. I was heartbroken. Especially since my vacation has left me with cashflow problems the like of Bear Stearns before it died a swift, painful death.

Worse, I have no computer to write on.

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But there are angels in the world, and one of them is my sister. So I am getting an early Christmas/Birthday present in the form of my very first laptop ever. I’m a bit nervous about using a smaller device and I will also need stuff like a new desk, but I’m incredibly happy to be getting a new machine.

love happy smiling hug computer

new computer glitter graphic year

Unfortunately, this means writing and blogging will also take just a bit longer before I start up again, but hopefully this time I’ll be able to keep at it for a while. My priority these days is writing though, so I’ll not be as frequent a poster as I used to be, as you probably already noticed.

In the meantime, I’ll post cool stuff I find on the internet when I can. So here’s a link to a helpful blog on 51 things that break reader immersion for my writing friends out there. 

Till we meet again…stay thirsty, my friends!

A Talk And An Award

* Edit:  It appears I got my history a bit wrong. Marlon James is the first Jamaican to win the Man Booker. However, the first Caribbean national to win it appears to have been V.S. Naipaul. It just so happens he was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago! 

Yesterday I had a great time giving an informal talk about speculative fiction and what it takes to be a writer to the 6th Form students at St. Augustine Secondary School. I also read a bit from one of my current shorts, Wire and Blood.

The school was newly built, the library really nice–just like the librarians–and best of all, it was air-conditioned!

This was my first class of teenagers. I’ve given talks with teenagers present before, and even younger children, but not an entire class of them. I was delighted to meet a room full of intelligent, open, enthusiastic young men and women who needed no prompting to ask questions or react to what I was saying. In short, they were a great audience that gave me lots of energy, and I hope I was able to give them some insight and inspiration.

Here’s me accepting their wonderful tokens at the end of the talk. I made out like a bandit with stuff that included a new book and writing materials. I hope the librarian remembers to tell them how much I appreciated it!

St. Augustine Secondary Talk

On another note, I just read that the Man Booker Prize has been won today by a Caribbean national for the first time! Jamaican writer Marlon James bested the competition with A Brief History of Seven Killings. I’ve been hearing about how wonderful this book is since the Bocas Lit Festival put him on the short list for the OCM Bocas Lit Prize.

Scratch that–I heard about this book long before that, through an article in Caribbean Beat Magazine just before it debuted. It’s in my very large to be read pile, I’m sad to say, but I’m delighted that the Caribbean has another great author to celebrate, and a young one too. Jamaica to the World!

Congratulations, Marlon! Thanks for raising we nose!

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Stay thirsty, my friends!

Tantie, Papa And The Mango Tree On Diego Colony

A bit from a story I’m still working on. Funny thing is, I finished another story with the same character and it got an Honourable Mention in the Writers of the Future Contest last year, but for some reason this story is just not cooperating. It won’t tell me how to get to the ending, just yet.

Guess I’ll just have to trunk it until it does…

The day I turn ten, my mother walk into the corrosive sea on the western edge of Diego colony.  She used to cut sheself during her depressions, so she wasn’t no stranger to pain.  She didn’t even whimper when the hissing lilac waves attack her legs and red stains start to drift ’round her in threads. 

I don’t know if I scream or say anything.  I remember her sinking into the waves, graceful, graceful, and I remember running toward her.  I was lucky–I trip and kilkitay on my face. I fling out my right arm, trying to save myself, just as a wave come toward me.  My hand started burning, as if a thousand flames was under it, and I could still see the lilac coming toward my face, hissing all the way.

That was a bad day.  The worst day.  I could deal with anything because of that day.

I keep telling myself that as I walk down to the pier, sand sucking and trapping my shoes all the way.  I have to prepare myself before I get to the crowd on the beach or crapaud smoke my pipe.

I have to forget the waves biting the shore in front me.

I almost reach them when they turn as one to look at me.  Resentment and anger shifting and molding so many faces.  It fascinating how them faces is every shade between white and brown.  You don’t notice them things when you pass people on main street, but here, together, I can’t see nothing else.

I blink and shake off the distraction.  The metal in me like patterns. Is just the wired side of me, fixating, as usual.

The crowd split as someone push they way toward me.  Manno.  He bare arms shiny with sweat in the midday sunlight.  He nutmeg brown face twisted with grief and rage.  Big man, Manno, but usually no trouble.  Today, with his son John John in a coma back at Diego’s only Clinic, he definitely my biggest problem.

Before the crowd shift and fall back in behind Manno, I see Boyie standing next to the pier. He scared, poor thing. Beyond him, at the end of the metal platform, he tiny ferry rising and falling on the lilac waves. 

“Now you reach?”  Manno’s voice almost cracks.  “Now?”

“Is Market Day.”  I reminded him.  “I come when I hear.”

“Well, we don’t need you.”  Esther, Manno’s wife, push through behind him and grab he arm.  She small and bald with big grey eyes in she cappuccino face.  Today, the look she give me make them less beautiful.

“Esther,” I nod my head at her.  “I very sorry for what happen, but don’t forget who you talking to.”

“You threatening us?”  Esther’s eyes narrow.  “Who food you does eat every day?”

“So you exempt?  You could do what you like because you run the hydroponics lab?”  I shake my head.  “Esther, I not Tantie for some–I Tantie for all.”

“You protect him long enough,” Manno says through tight lips.  “No more.  Not after John John.”

A murmur of agreement goes through the crowd.  I ignore it.  People will talk theyself into anything if you let them.  My job is not to let them.

Wondering if to even bother to finish it. Perhaps I should just move on to other stories instead of wasting my time?

Decisions, decisions…

Stay thirsty, my friends!

Excerpt: The Nightward – A Battle Approaches

I’m a bit busy today, so I thought I’d post a tiny excerpt from The Nightward wherein the Lady Gretchen and her Amazores prepare to do battle with an ancient weapon called the Dark.

The Amazores waited in the cold.  Even the walls above were empty of their presence.  Behind Lady Gretchen, the sounds of banging doors and dragging furniture drifted out from within the Court.  She didn’t look back.     

“Your swords.”     

Metal shrieked as over seventy swords, all engraved with the same script as the Lady’s, were drawn and piled neatly on the colorful tile.  Lady Gretchen added her sword last, then stepped back from the heap.  Palms forward, she chanted a short spell, the words taut as the expressions on the Amazores’ faces.     

The Lady’s sword began to burn a fierce yellow.  Then golden wraithlight with a heart of green slid along the edge of the blade, limning it with a cold, magical glow.  The wraithlight kept going, jumping from blade to blade, circling each one until the entire heap shone with its light.    

Lady Gretchen lowered her arms and gestured at the Amazores to take their swords.  They did so in silence, the wraithlight throwing multicolored shadows on the gold armor.  Around them, the wind howled and tiny veins of frost began to spread in the cracks in the tile beneath their feet.     

She motioned the archers forward, directing them to pile their quivers on the ground.  Another spell and yet another heap glowed with the unearthly light.  The archers collected their property, dropping the straps over their heads and settling the quivers against their backs.     

“Be warned,” the Lady shouted above the wind.  “Each time you plunge your sword into the Dark, it will take away some of your wraithlight.  The sword is useless without the magic.  If it fades, retreat.  Do not attempt to engage the Dark without it or you will die.  Now, to your positions.”      

See you later, alligators!

What Kind of Introvert Are You?

There’s a new paper out that discusses the possibility that there are really four types of introversion. Not only that, but people can have more than one kind of introversion. Not only is it an interesting take for understanding people, it might be relevant when it comes to building out characters past the cliches.

It’s something worth thinking about. And I took the quiz at the end and found that I’m almost evenly split among the various types, with a slight majority in ‘Thinking’.

I know there are people in my life who will be amazed it didn’t just spit out ‘Extrovert! Get thee gone!’

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Go ahead. Take the quiz. Let me know how it turned out in the comments.

We Live In A Weird And Wonderful Universe

Once again, we’ve identified a new species of fish that seems to have been created just to give us nightmares.

Scary New Fish Discovered in Ocean Depths

This gorgeous George is apparently a ceratioid anglerfish. That funny looking glow-stick on its head is used to lure fish looking for nightclub to dance the night away into its jaws instead.

The diversity of life on this planet alone is just mind-boggling to me. It’s one of my favourite things about world-building in my novels, by the way. Using the explosion of life on Earth to inspire creatures and aliens in my stories. I figure, as weird as this world and its inhabitants are, you can never go to far in imagining worlds that are even stranger.

So the next time you’re thinking about where you want to set your story, challenge yourself. Look up the bacteria, flora and fauna that populate our world. Branch off of that and take it to the next level. Go crazy. Get inspired.

And then get to writing. ‘Cause that’s the best part.

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Stay thirsty, my friends!

Excerpt from LEX TALIONIS Sequel: Iacta Alea Est – Analise Mentions An Old Friend

I allowed myself to become completely distracted by “So You Think You Can Dance” so my post is late today. And because I’m being lazy, I’ve decided to give you a little excerpt from my other Work In Progress. This is from the sequel to LEX TALIONIS, which I’m calling IACTA ALEA EST (The Die Is Cast) for now. In it, we meet Shalon again, and one of her new friends. It’s not perfect (lots of editing passes to go) but I hope you have fun with it.

Analise Macon swept his wet, orange tongue over his broad face and black-bead eyes before gracing Shalon with grin.  “Shalon, how nice of you to call.”

“Analise.”  Shalon propped her foot up on the console in front of the captain’s chair and settled back into her seat.  “How have you been?”

“Not as good as you.  A Kaag freighter?  You are even more blessed by the Will than I thought.”

“God had nothing to do with it, Analise.”  Shalon smiled at the holo, which had been set to show Analise as he relaxed on the pillows in his office.  It was impossible not to like the rotund Roulon factor.  Even if he had proven himself to be one of the cleverest and most ruthless black-market operators around.

“Like the wind against a flag, the Will moves all things, even those that are unaware of its existence.”  Analise stretched his small jaw, revealing pointed teeth, cream in his mottled pink and brown face.  “But enough of this existential poctae.  One of my clients is very interested in the weapons shipment the freighter was supposed to be carrying.”

“How lucky for me.  I’m very interested in selling.”  Shalon flicked at some dirt under her thumb-nail. 

“Would an hour’s time be too soon to begin negotiations?”  

Damn it.  “Actually, yes.  I have a prior engagement.”

Analise made a grating noise that sounded like the prelude to an attack, and meant that he was surprised.  “More important than my offer?”

“Much more important.”

The Roulon waved a six fingered hand.  “I am saddened by how little I mean to you.  I count you amongst my true friends, yet see how you brush me away.”

Shalon rolled her eyes.  “You’ll get over it.  I’ll come by the hotel with an inventory tomorrow, so don’t go anywhere.”

“I would not miss your visit for all the wealth in Sudamin’s palace.  Wherever it is.”

And before I forget…  “By the way, Sojo said you linked me earlier?”

“Yes.”  Analise cocked his head.  “I have a visitor at my hotel who asked to see you.”

Shalon frowned.  “Me?  What is he, a mercenary? Soldier?”

The Roulon coughed, an expression of amusement.  “You would not ask that if you had seen him.  No, he is not of our world.  He is a doctor.  Colin Mayfeld?  He said you would know who he was.”     

Shalon covered her start by gathering her hair behind her neck.  My God.  She took a breath, forced her heart to stop racing.  Colin Mayfeld.  A name out of a past she had thought gone for good.  Colin had saved her life years ago, in more ways than one, but she’d only contacted him a couple of times since then.  In the last few years, her network had checked up on him now and again so she could make sure he was okay and remained well clear of her enemies.  So why is he here now, and asking for me?

“Did he tell you why he wants to meet with me?”

“He said it was private.  That he could only speak to you.”

Stay thirsty, my friends!

Excerpt: The Nightward – Farain the Cat

Another snippet from Viyella’s story. In truth, I’m well past these bits, but I don’t let myself post unless I’ve done lots of fresh work. Just keeping myself honest 😉

Hope you like it!

He stood and sent out one more thought.  Yowls filled the courtyard, punctuated by screams.  Seconds later, his cat Farain rounded the corner, his tail lashing the ground, his golden beard dripping blood on the stones.  Farain threw his head back and roared at the night sky, the sound alone enough to unhinge a man’s courage.  Dagen felt the scream building in Viyella, and he clamped a merciless hand over her mouth.          

“Silence,” he hissed, “or you’ll meet your mother’s fate.”     

Tears slicked his fingers, but he felt her shudder once more and then go still.  He removed his hand and called the cat closer.  With one more twist of its red, red tail, the cat obliged, thinking vague bloody thoughts in its indistinct but unique pattern.  Farain had no saddle, but Dagen had done without on many occasions, and at the moment, he had no time to inquire if the Princess was capable of the same.       

Gripping a handful of the coarse long fur that ridged the cat’s spine, he swung himself up on the sinewy back, fur prickling him between the joints of his armor.  He bent down and swept the gasping Princess onto Farain’s back, settling her between his arms.     

“Grip with your legs–tight.  Good.  Now, hold the fur with both hands and don’t let go.”     

She followed his instructions with a silent obedience he had never guessed she could muster.       

“Now,” he said, still in his low voice, half his mind engaged in soothing the cat into accepting this extra and unaccustomed burden, “this would be a good time to use that incantation you’re so fond of to hide us.”     

“I can’t,” she whispered back, fear making her voice tremble.  “I’m not strong enough.  I can only hide myself for a few minutes.”     

He sighed.  My luck runs with distressing consistency this night.  “Then hold on Princess, and pray that Ragat arrows find their target with more difficultly when a Dagen’s speed accompanies it.”     

He spun the cat around and dug his heels in.   

Have a great weekend. Stay thirsty, my friends!

A Story About A Man, A Trail And The Life Before

I don’t even remember why I clicked on this story. It was in one of my digests simply listed as ‘One Heckuva Hike’. Mild curiosity was probably the culprit. But what started off as a beautiful story about the Appalachian Trail ended up going deeper into the human psyche than I ever expected.

You can read A Long Walk’s End here.

It’s long, but really, really worth the read. Especially if you’re a writer.

So go on. Dive in without knowing anything like I did. It will be much better that way. I’m just going to sit here for a while and wait.

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Done?

Good.

Amazing right?

Not done? Fine, but here there be spoilers…

I’ve never been someone who reads a lot of non-fiction, but I have read a lot of crime non-fiction. I think it started in my childhood with the crime magazines my older cousin left out in her room. Back then, I’d read anything new I could get my hands on in a household that had books, but rarely bought new ones. The magazines were horribly violent, had pictures of crime scenes and were definitely not meant for a child still in primary school, but they were fascinating. I loved the way they related police investigations, even if they did give rise to my unfortunate ability to be terrified by just about any true crime story because, ‘it could happen to me’. However, those magazines were not particularly well-written. They were about shock and gore.

A Long Walk’s End is the exact opposite. It’s a masterpiece that uses some of the best tools of fiction writing. It just happens to be non-fiction. Truman Capote would be proud. I was blown away by how the writer suckered you in with this heart-warming story of Bismarck the hiker, only to bit by bit, mind-blowing twist after mind-blowing twist, peel away the layers of this affable man to reveal a sordid story worthy of the Coen brothers.

Even with few answers presented to us about motivations, the missing money, what really happened in Bismarck’s brain all those years, and what happened to his first wife, we have a story here that builds tension to revelations we never saw coming. Is Hammes guilty of the crimes the FBI suspects he committed? A trial will tell us eventually. Perhaps even fill in the blanks.

But it’s the way the writer wove the story out of the low-key, mostly unknown, laid-back and genteel life of those hikers that walk the Trail that really made it work. You come away feeling you’ve experienced something beautiful, peaceful and right. Something that makes you smell the pinecones and long for the vistas. That Hammes was part of this world–a valued, loved part of it–boggles the mind, even as it does nothing to diminish its pureness. You want to join that Trail. You want to escape. You want to remake your life and leave all the mistakes and trials and problems behind.

For a brief span of minutes, you can relate to what this man did and why. For an instant, you run away with him to this beautiful place where you can be anyone. Where you can start over.

It is a profoundly disturbing realisation and key to this article’s impact. If what the FBI believes happened is what happened, then Hammes is that most terrifying of villains. The guy next door. The monster that wears a normal-skin. The one you think is just like you, until you realise too late, he’s not even human.

I’m not surprised William Browning has won awards for his writing. It’s hard to spin captivating truths out of your imagination, as writers do. It’s even harder to do it when you’re writing about the real world, and your main characters will never fully be known to you.

I take my hat off to this piece of writing and to Mr. Browning. And I’d tell every writer, new or old, to read this and take a look at how drama, tension and stunning plot twists can work in fiction, and non-fiction, if you know how to wield theme, setting, pacing, characterization and revelation the right way.

It’s a lot harder than it looks, we all know that. But when someone gets it right, it’s looks so, so easy. And we should all take notes.

Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.

Stay thirsty, my friends!

Punctuation Love, Or, There’s a Mark For That!

Was toddling around and found this old article about punctuation marks that are extremely specific, denote all sorts of useful stuff, but aren’t in wide use.

My favourite parts include:

9. SARCMARK

The SarcMark (short for “sarcasm mark”) was invented, copyrighted and trademarked by Paul Sak, and while it hasn’t seen widespread use, Sak markets it as “The official, easy-to-use punctuation mark to emphasize a sarcastic phrase, sentence or message.” Because half the fun of sarcasm is pointing it out [SarcMark].

10. SNARK MARK

This, like the copyrighted SarcMark, is used to indicate that a sentence should be understood beyond the literal meaning. Unlike the SarcMark, this one is copyright free and easy to type: it’s just a period followed by a tilde.

And…

Which I send out to all you faithful followers and readers of my blog.

Have fun finding out if there’s a mark for that!