Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Crazy Things Authors Have Done

A little over a year ago, I was driving to work when I noticed smoke coming out of my car's hood. At this point, the logical thing to do would have been to pull over and call a tow truck. However, I'm not the most logical person in the world. There's a scene in Artificial Absolutes where the protagonist has to pilot a starship that's falling to pieces. I wasn't particularly happy with the scene, and the misfortune suddenly turned into an opportunity. How often do I get the chance to find out what it's really like to drive a vehicle that's breaking to pieces? What kinds of things could go wrong? What would go through a person's head?

Well, I found out all right. The smoking, the rattling, the wondering if I was going to catch fire and explode... Not sure how much of that actually helped the book, but at least I could say with confidence, if ever questioned about the scene, that I had some idea what I was talking about. Worth the risk? Probably not, but as I'm sure you know, authors do crazy things for their books. Here are some others:

"When I was writing Making Angels I did have my husband push me along the carpet with my hands crossed on my chest to see which was best head first or feet first for ease of introducing a body into an old altar grave (head first pushing on the feet won out)."
- Diane Dickson (http://dianemdickson.wordpress.com/)

"For Reflections, I did every crazy diet the character tried: cabbage soup, three day hot dog diet, master cleanse and an apple diet. I gained about 20 pounds, was tired, moody and basically miserable."
-Jennifer Bogart (http://jenniferbogart-author.blogspot.ca

"When I still wrote 'sword & sorcery' fantasy, I learned how to use a sword. I tried one maneuver, which involved making an overhead sweep, then ducking. I overbalanced and nearly fell on my sword. Fortunately it was made of wood." -Katrina Jack (https://www.facebook.com/katrina.jack1)

"I had my husband sew a BananaBoy costume in support of my children's book Sending You Sammy and I played basketball in it with a lot of kids in a public park!"
-Sarah Butland (http://sarahbutland.com/blog/)

"My whole family and I took tiny flashlights inside a non-commercial cave and explored so I could see what it would be like for my mystery series set in a town full of caves. I'm the shortest in the family, and I bumped my head on the ceiling of the cave in a really low section. It hurt like crazy. One of my characters does that on two occasions in the first book, now."
-Susan Finlay (http://susansbooks37.wordpress.com)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Girl Books vs. Guy Books

Everyone knows that there are certain genres geared more toward one sex than the other. Fluffy Harlequin romances are clearly geared toward women, for instance. But I've noticed that there are distinctions within the co-ed genres as well. Not in terms of plot or the gender of the protagonist, but in how the book is written.

Men and women write differently. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but generally, I've noticed that men writers tend to up the physical stakes more and focus on the external. Action scenes. Political maneuvering. Plottiness in general. Women writers are just as plotty, but, more often than their male counterparts, they up the emotional stakes as well, taking more time to focus on the internal.

For instance, in the world of children's books, take Alex Rider and Harry Potter. Both are plot-driven adventures starring schoolboys thrown into dangerous scenarios they're unprepared for. Both have suffered familial tragedies. But whereas J.K. Rowling uses scenes like Harry's discovery of the Mirror of Erised to show the reader how heavily his parents' deaths still weigh on him, Alex barely seems to care that his uncle, the only parental figure he's ever known, was murdered. There are a handful of mentions of the uncle throughout Alex's James Bond-like spy adventure, but only in that they're important to the plot.

Of course, I'm speaking very broadly here, and only with regard to contemporary commercial fiction. Maybe things are different for lit fic. I just find it interesting that there is that distinction - guy writers focusing on increasing dangers and gal writers wanting the reader to truly care about their characters.

Monday, August 19, 2013

An Author's Perspective on Her Book Cover

Guest post from Carol Moreira, author of YA fantasy, Membrane (Fierce Ink Press) about Membrane’s cover art
Hi, thanks for having me on your site. I thought I’d talk about Membrane’s cover because I love it and think Nova Scotia-based designer Anne Verge did an amazing job. I should point out that I haven’t had an in-depth discussion with Anne about the Membrane cover, so this post is mostly my interpretation of Anne’s interpretation of my book!
I was thrilled when I first saw the potential covers from Anne (www.avcreative.ca). Anne created six possible covers and they were all excellent, but I and the editors at Fierce Ink Press all felt that some version of her girls-in-a-globe design would work best for Membrane.  
We felt that way because Membrane opens with Tanya, a 16-year-old from Nova Scotia, breaking through the membrane that separates our world from a parallel universe where she meets her genetic double, who is far more confident and together than she is. The two doppelgangers don’t get on at first, but become friends as they battle threats posed by beings from other universes.
For the cover, Anne used an image of a globe, split into two halves, that floats against a dark background. Each half contains a mirror image of the same girl as well as a looming background tree and a night-time moon. The globe and identical girls represent the parallel universes and parallel girls in the story. Some physicists theorize that parallel universes lie within giant cosmic soap bubbles, so the globe is a good fit for that theory.
The globe also creates a sense of claustrophobia. The head and neck of each girl rise from the centre of the globe; one looking up, the other down. The girls seem to be emerging from water, but in this case the liquid represents the membrane through they travel to parallel worlds.  The girls look confined in their respective halves of the globe, and at various points in the story each does become trapped in another world so that is very effective.
The upper half of the globe is coloured a night-time blue, the lower half is an earthy brown. Both colours leach slightly into the darkness of the surrounding cover, suggesting that they are separate universes within the multiverse.
Anne’s choice of colours is evocative and mysterious. As well as the black background and earthy brown and moody blue of the globe, she has used a pretty, pale blue for the title and author name. Outside the globe, she has incorporated scattered blue symbols, representing DNA, stars and space. The symbols look great against the dark background and refer to the book’s genetic and multiverse themes. 
The book’s title is written in lower case with a drop of something liquid spilling from the first ‘e’ in ‘membrane’ to suggest the membrane’s stickiness. Anne has put the author name close to the title, presumably in order to maximize the impact of the dark background. She’s also kept the prominence of the title by making the author name upper case as well as smaller and paler than the word ‘membrane’.
When laying out the text, Fierce Ink editor Kimberly Walsh also used DNA and star images on the inside pages, which make the book look even more beautiful and compelling.
It’s amazing how talented designers are able to combine their own ideas and concepts with those of the writer and publishing team to create artwork that represents the book and – hopefully – attracts readers to it.    

You can’t outrun the membrane ...

For Tanya turning sixteen sucks. Her former friend Rachel is bullying her, the love of her life doesn’t know she exists and her self-esteem isn’t exactly sky-high. Things go from bad to worse when she gets slimed at a bus stop and finds herself in an alternate universe and faced with another version of herself.

Her alternate universe double is cool and confident, if a bit bossy. P — short for Princess because in Tanya’s eyes she is one — is part of an organization called Resist. Trained in tactical defense, Resist is preparing for an invasion by the Others. But are the Others really mobilizing to take over P’s universe or has there been some kind of galactic miscommunication?

On the other side of the membrane, who can Tanya trust to make it back to her universe alive?

MEMBRANE is available at StorenvyAmazonKoboiTunes and other retailers.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

REVIEW: Squabbit Farm / J. Owen

TITLE: Squabbit Farm
PUBLISHER: Self-Published

Comedy - Satire/Dark Comedy

Squabbit Farm is a quick read, being short and to-the-point.

Third person omniscient. This book is written with a satirical lilt, so the narrator himself (and you'll see by the end that it is a "him") is one of the characters.

Squabbit Farm is the satirical tale of a fictional race of sentient, bunny-like critters living in an idyllic world of green fields and blue skies. Although the everyman Robert Fluffenstein is ostensibly the main character, the real star of the story is the narrator himself. J. Owen writes with a distinctive voice that brings his dark comedy to life. I just happened to be listening to Good Omens, the Neil Gaiman/Terry Prachett satire about the end of the world, on audiobook around the same time as I was reading Squabbit Farm on my Kindle. While the subject matter is pretty different (although they're both about the end of the world), the two books share a similar dry sense of humor. I could practically hear the narrator for the Good Omens audiobook in my head while reading Squabbit Farm.

Squabbit Farm brings to mind another critter-centric satire: George Orwell's classic Animal Farm. In fact, just as Animal Farm is a thinly veiled allegory for the Russian Revolution and the communist rule under Stalin that followed, Squabbit Farm is a thinly veiled - if more exaggerated and bizarre - allegory for twenty-first century politics. It's almost a protest novel, depicting how technological advances and warmongering turn the picturesque Squabbit Farm into a totalitarian dystopia. While stand-ins for familiar sights such as social media, bureaucracy, and jingoism are instantly recognizable, Owen keeps the allegory from getting too heavy-handed through his wry wit. Even Squabbit Farm's darkest moments are told in an offhand, incongruently cheerful tone. It reads like a children's book gone wrong.

The key difference between Squabbit Farm and its comparable predecessor is that while Animal Farm is clearly about one particular place and time, Squabbit Farm is broader. It could apply to any country, really. Its faux lightheartedness also takes away any perception of judgment; this isn't a "shame on you" book. More of a "I see what's happening, and I'm just going to laugh about it because there's nothing else I can do" book. The happenings are more outlandish and exaggerated - for instance, the Squabbit version of the Internet is invented and implemented in a matter of days. Other than the thinly veiled allegories, the limits of reality are completely ignored.

While reminiscient of Animal Farm in subject and Good Omens in tone, Squabbit Farm is original in its warped sense of humor. Funny, engaging, and daringly unique, Squabbit Farm is a thoroughly entertaining read. Best of all, behind all the weirdness is an intelligent and well-produced dystopian satire.

This book is very well edited. I didn't find any errors.

This book contains references to sex, drugs, and violence, but everything is depicted in an offhand, satirical manner. There's nothing graphic or gruesome.

Squabbit Farm is J. Owen's first published book.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Deb E. Howell, author of the Wild West fantasy Healer's Touch, talks about her novel's development and inspirations.
Deb E. Howell

Book Blurb:

For Llew to heal, something must die.

For Llew, a young pickpocket who lives as a boy on the streets of a Wild-West mining town, the real problems begin when she survives the gallows. Forced to run, she persuades a group of fighters escorting a young girl to her wedding to let her travel with them across the badlands. On the journey Llew faces hostile tribesmen, desperate bandits and, the enmity of her own companions should they find out who and what she is: a girl, a fugitive, and a feared Healer. One of the fighters, Jonas, possesses superhuman prowess as a warrior, and carries the knife able to ‘kill the unkillable’; the knife that can kill Llew. Despite being of races at war for centuries, they are drawn to one another.

During the journey, they encounter Braph the magician, Jonas’ half-brother and potential nemesis. He pursues them as they journey across the sea to the continent of Phyos and at the moment Llew finally feels safe, he abducts her. He begins to take what is most precious to him: her blood.

Healer’s Touch is a mesmerising mix of fantasy, steampunk and Wild West adventure – and even a dash of romance! 

Hi Deb! Welcome to Zigzag Timeline. Can you tell us a bit about your book, "Healer's Touch"? What inspired the story?

Healer's Touch is about a girl with the ability to transfer life-energy, giving her the power to heal, but in order to do so she much hurt something/someone in the process. Usually she just uses plants to heal small nicks and cuts, but when she dies for the first time, things get real. It's also about a girl (the same one) whose experiences regarding men have left her distrustful... queue romantic sub-plot. The ultimate inspiration for this healing ability, I can't recall. Back in high school I created a (male) character with this power. I used to share his stories with some of my friends. I would have been influenced by many things at the time, no doubt. I think there were a few "super hero" type cartoons on in the after school time slot...

Why did you choose to set your novel in the Wild West?

Ultimately? I love horses; simple as that. I also love the grittiness that comes with the Wild West. It was wild, dusty, dirty, rough... but ultimately, it was where people's dreams were realised (or lost). There's a certain romance to that that I can't get enough of. I'm also from New Zealand, and our history of colonisation is still brief and I think shares many similarities with the pioneers of the USA's West. And then there's the fact that I've loved almost anything Wild West since I was a kid: Bonanza, The Young Riders, Brisco County Jr, Deadwood... I've watched them all. Some many, many times. Main reason? Horses. Then I got older and thought the men riding them were quite nice, too...

How did you go about developing the magic system in "Healer's Touch"?

Bit by bit. I was originally going to write a Fantasy novel without magic in it... Yeah, I know... but, now I've read Joe Abercrombie's stuff so I know it can, in fact, be done. Anyway, after a bit of pottering, I decided I needed something, so I stole the power from my old character and slapped Llew with it (and she will never, ever forgive me for that). Then I figured Jonas should have something (and as it turns out, Llew would have been stuffed if Jonas hadn't been magic, too). I went simple with him: he's super strong and fast. Basic, but essential to helping someone who has a ton of enemies. Over time, I realised what I'd done (actually, a friend pointed it out): Jonas' power, being about strength, is internally derived; while Llew's power, which basically turns her into a conduit, is externally driven. It's made for interesting thinking exercises into how these two powers can interact and what the outcomes might be.

Who was your favorite character to write? Can you tell us a bit about him/her?

Braph was quite fun. He looks down on everybody, which is not something we make a habit of in polite society... It had its uses, too - he spots weaknesses in my main characters that I may have missed originally.

Anya was also great, and she's become even more fun as I've been writing the sequel.

What's your favorite scene in "Healer's Touch"? Can you please describe it?

Really hard to pick one. The whole story was really written around the scene in which Llew asks Jonas about his knife and learns that it is the one thing in all the world with the power to kill her for good. Being one of my first scenes, I have a soft spot for that one. Jonas and Llew get a little bit tipsy, letting them get a little closer than they might have if they'd remained sober. But we also learn that Jonas is an incredibly dangerous person for Llew to be around, and that he's lost everyone he's ever loved. I guess that scene sets the tone for the rest of the story.

What was the most challenging part of writing "Healer's Touch"?

Decisions. That's the hardest thing about fiction in general. Writing non-fiction, you have to do your research, but how things are is, well, how things are. With Fiction, you can do as much or as little research as you like, but then you still have to decide what to show, how to show it and in what order... I played around with the timeline of the first half of this book so many times, and the map evolved (Rakun was originally on Aghacia... then I decided to move it across the sea onto Phyos). I still find it hard to know if I've started a book in the right place, if I'm following the right course for the first half or so of the book. Once you're past a certain point and you've set a few things in "stone", the writing gets easier: character decisions and reactions can only be influenced by what's gone before, not by all the other possibilities that were still open to them in those early chapters.

Can you tell us a bit about what the publishing process has been like for you?

On the whole, it's been good. I got lucky and found a publisher that was a good fit on my first attempt at submitting. It was a right time, right place kind of situation. Sammy's (of Kristell Ink) early enthusiasm for the book really spurred me on through those final edits. I think what I like best about being with a small publisher (and particularly KI) is that it's not a big push for release day and then nothing... I mean, here I am doing another push for the book and it was released back in January. Sure, maybe I'd have got huge sales in that first month, but as a debut author, that's unlikely. It's great to know KI are there to help keep a light on my book even after release day. I had also been tempted to self-publish, but I'm finding it hard enough to carve out the time needed to write my next book (between childcare and work and life), if I was all alone with the publishing too... phew! No, I definitely like having a partner in crime.

Are any of your characters borrowed from real life, or are they entirely fictitious?

I'd be lying if I tried to say I'd come up with my characters all by myself. I borrowed certain characteristics that I liked in my own favourite characters and put them to work for me. At this stage, I haven't put real people in the mix... that might come as I get more experience, i.e. brave. The only real "person" I have plans to base a character on in the future is my first dog, Griffin. People who were lucky enough to meet him will understand how that could work (I'm not meaning a dog character, either... I'm meaning a person with a shared attitude).

Are you an outliner, or do you write by the seat of your pants? Can you share a bit about your writing process?

I'm a loose-outliner. I tend to start writing by the seat of my pants to get a feel for the story/characters. Then at some stage I'll sit back and brainstorm and that usually leads to a few story "beats" and a few scenes to aim for. Then I get back to "just writing" until I hit trouble. The main thing that can slow me down is trying to keep on top of ALL the motivations in the story - some are obvious right the way through, while others are more subtle and I need to be careful not to ignore those ones, since often they can become relevant later in the story. My best writing tends to be handwritten, or at least comes from a writing session in which I started out handwriting (and then the floodgates opened and I had to ype the rest 'cause the words were flowing too fast), so I have notebooks full of scenes and general story notes. And if I'm trying to work through a problem I've struck, again handwriting is the best way for me to get my brain focused on the problem at hand and tease it out into something coherent. It can be quite entertaining going back over old notes and seeing how my story ideas have evolved over time... even things I thought I was pretty well settled on can change (sometimes dramatically) if the story needs it.

What got you into writing?

Well, I think I always have. I wrote diaries right through, particularly in my adolescence. I used to love creative writing in school. I can remember struggling to write "short stories" at Intermediate (middle school)... I always wanted to keep going. Then there were those stories I shared with my friends in high school... After school, my writing energies went into scientific reports for my university study. It was boredom that brought me back to fiction. I was temping between permanent jobs (or so I thought) and I happened to pick up this role that had me answering the phone, putting the caller through to who they really wanted to talk to, hanging up and twiddling my thumbs. And so, I wrote to entertain myself. Then I fell in love with it, so I stuck with temping because it left me more time to write. Now, I can't imagine not writing. So, if I could get it to pay for itself one day, that'ds be fab!

Website/Blog: http://deberelene.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deberelene
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/deberelene
and many more... 


Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/323265
Amazon US (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00DJE8NSK/
Amazon UK (Kindle): http://www.amazon.co.uk/Healers-Touch-ebook/dp/B00DJE8NSK/

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Audiobooks Rule!

Audiobooks are the best things ever. I've had times where I just lie back in bed and listen because I don't want to do anything else. This may sound like blasphemy, but sometimes, I think they can even be better than the print book. Put down your pitchforks and hear me out!

The first audiobook I listened to was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I remember getting into it from the first minute of narration and being puzzled at the popular opinion, "It's good if you get past the first hundred pages." What was wrong with the first hundred pages? I liked the opening! I was also surprised by the criticism people had of the writing. People said it was stilted and clipped, but listening to the narrator, I thought it sounded plenty lively. Also, I tend to speed through sections when I read with my eyes, since I get impatient and want to know what happens next. Listening to an audiobook forced me to be patient, but I didn't feel forced. I was enjoying the reader's words.

Since I liked the first book so much, I bought the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire. I felt like returning to paper, so I got a paperback at a newsstand. Reading that book was among the more painful experiences of my life. I was so bored, I didn't know what to do with myself. I only powered through to the end out of sheer stubbornness, and I skipped entire passages I didn't give a damn about. The clipped writing got under my skin, and the pointless scenes (like Lisbeth going grocery shopping) made me raise my eyes to the skies and ask, "Why is this here?!"

I think, if I'd listened to the second book on audio, I may have enjoyed it more. Something about a talented actor can bring even a dull sentence to life. The nuances in one's voice, the expressive lilts... things that appear dull somehow develop color.

Also, when it comes to dialect, audio definitely wins. Another book I listed to on audio was The Help. I loved it. First person narration often bugs me for some reason, especially if the person has an accent. But listening to the four talented actresses who narrated different sections of The Help, I felt like I was in a room, listening to these ladies tell me a story one-on-one. Again, I was surprised by the criticism. People evidently didn't like the women's accents in the written book. When I cracked open a paper copy, I saw why. Having to read all those apostrophes and "Law" as "Lord" was pretty painful.

As a medium, I'm sure audiobooks are here to stay. The fact is, people don't have that much time to read anymore, and audiobooks present a nice solution. Instead of having to block out a chunk of time to just sit down and read, people can listen to audiobooks while at the gym, racing down the street, or driving. I have an hour and a half commute (each way), and audiobooks have been my saviors. They make me want to drive around the neighborhood for no reason so I can keep listening!

Lately, I've been listening to the audio version of my own book, Artificial Absolutes, which was just released this past weekend. I've never heard it before, and I figured I should listen to it at least once so I know my own product. It's so weird, hearing my own words read back to me. Most of the time, I forget I wrote it!