How Has Writing Changed Me?

A guest post by Kathleen Marple Kalb (Nikki Knight)

Saved by the Work

When my husband and I walked our son into his first day of kindergarten, I knew our lives were changing. But not quite the way I thought they would.

I came home that morning and started writing fiction for the first time in more than twenty years. As a teenager, I’d written for fun, and even tried, unsuccessfully, to sell an historical novel. Now, with several free hours a day, I wanted to try again with everything I’d learned as a journalist and a person.

I didn’t know then how much I still had to learn.

That first book, a mystery set at a Vermont radio station, featuring a young, single woman – think Stephanie Plum with moose, only not as good – didn’t sell. Neither did the next book. The third one did, but that was only half of the story.

While I was querying that third book (you may know it as the Ella Shane mystery, A FATAL FINALE) my husband was diagnosed with cancer. He was in remission by the time my agent sold it, and there was a brief period where it looked like everything was coming together.

Then came Covid.

And suddenly, my fun little escape project became a lifeline.

During the run-up to publication, I had enough time to work on other things, including a new version of that Vermont mystery. This time, the main character was a grownup and a mother, but the place was the same. A warm, wonderful, safe little town with a diverse cast of people who borrowed from my colleagues.

The first Vermont book was done when the lockdown hit, but I was working on the sequel. And as that short lockdown wore into months and more than a year of virtual school, that little town became my happy place.

I’d sit on the couch in the basement office we’d fitted out as a schoolroom, keeping an eye on my son’s virtual fifth grade, first finishing the second book, and then writing short stories.

The work saved me.

Even as the real world fell apart around us, I was able to return to my happy place whenever I opened my laptop.

Not just that, I learned a new form, short stories. Initially, I wrote one for my Sisters in Crime chapter anthology. I wrote it only to be supportive and assumed it would be rejected. Turned out I loved writing it, and it was accepted.

Soon, I was writing short stories set in the world of the Vermont book and enjoying both the pleasure of hanging out in my happy place, and the satisfaction of producing a finished piece of work in a short time.

Relishing the challenge of creating a good story in a small space.

Exploring the world of my characters for story ideas.

Escape, sure.

But growth as a writer, too.

These days, as we settle back into whatever life looks like after the pandemic, we’re starting to forget how hard it was to stay focused and sane during the height of it. Writing, and particularly writing Vermont stories, pulled me out of the anxiety and kept me moving forward – even if I didn’t know what was out there.

The first Vermont book, and many of the stories are out in the world now. And so am I – a better writer, and a more focused professional. I hope, too, a much more aware and understanding person.

And grateful.


Kathleen Marple Kalb describes herself as an Author/Anchor/Mom…not in that order. An award-winning weekend anchor at 1010 WINS Radio in New York, she writes short stories and novels, including the Ella Shane Historical Mysteries for Kensington and, as Nikki Knight, LIVE, LOCAL, AND DEAD, a Vermont Radio Mystery from Crooked Lane. Her stories are in several anthologies, and she was a 2022 Derringer Award finalist. She, her husband, and son live in a Connecticut house owned by their cat.


Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Storytellers: New Cover!

Like interior decoration and wardrobes, book covers can need updating. Bjørn Larssen has a new cover for his haunting novel Storytellers, and I’m pleased to show it to you today.

If you don’t tell your story, they will.

Iceland, 1920. Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith, dwells with his animals, darkness, and moonshine. The last thing he wants is an injured lodger, but his money may change Gunnar’s life. So might the stranger’s story – by ending it. That is, unless an unwanted marriage, God’s messengers’ sudden interest, an obnoxious elf, or his doctor’s guilt derail the narrative. Or will the demons from Gunnar’s past cut all the stories short?

Side effects of too much truth include death, but one man’s true story is another’s game of lies. With so many eager to write his final chapter, can Gunnar find his own happy ending?


My 2019 Review:

Set against Iceland’s harsh but beautiful landscape in the late 19th and  early 20th century, Bjørn Larssen’s debut novel Storytellers explores the multi-generational effect of the evasions, embellishments and outright lies told in a small village. The book begins slowly, almost lyrically, pulling the reader into what seems like situation borrowed from folktale: a reclusive blacksmith, Gunnar, rescues an injured stranger, Sigurd. In exchange for his care, Sigurd offers Gunnar a lot of money, and a story.

But as Sigurd’s story progresses, and the book moves between the past and the present, darker elements begin to appear. Gunnar’s reclusiveness hides his own secrets, and the unresolved stories of his past. As other characters are introduced and their lives interweave, it becomes clear that at the heart of this small village there are things untold, things left out of the stories, purposely re-imagined. Both individual and collective histories – and memories – cannot be trusted.

The book was reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, in both theme and mood. Both books deal with the unreliability of memory; both are largely melancholy books. And perhaps there is allegory in them both, too. Storytellers is a book to be read when there is time for contemplation, maybe of an evening with a glass of wine. It isn’t always the easiest read, but it’s not a book I’m going to forget easily, either.


Bjørn Larssen is an award-winning author of historical fiction and fantasy, dark and funny in varying proportions. His writing has been described as ‘dark,’ ‘literary,’ ‘cinematic,’ ‘hilarious,’ and ‘there were points where I was almost having to read through a small gap between my fingers.’

Bjørn has a Master of Science degree in mathematics, and has previously worked as a graphic designer, a model, a bartender, and a blacksmith (not all at the same time). He currently lives with his husband in Almere, which is unfortunately located in The Netherlands, rather than Iceland.

He has only met an elf once. So far.


Purchase links on Bjørn’s website.

How Has Writing Changed Me?

A guest post by J. Dalton

I’m pretty new to writing as I didn’t start until I turned 64.  That was back in 2016 when I was diagnosed with CML Leukemia.

Getting Leukemia was a slap in the face that turned my life upside down.  I lost a job I absolutely loved because of that, and thought I was going to die.  Now that I am on the other side of it, I can honestly say that it turned out to be a good thing. It forced me to face my own mortality and look back on my life and the legacy I would leave.  Now, I don’t fear death anymore, and I am no longer totally focused on work.  I have found that family is the most important thing in my life.

With all of the high dose Chemo pills I was taking and the side effects they caused, (constant Pleural effusions where fluid would build up in the sack around my lungs making it difficult to breathe), there wasn’t much I could do physically any more, so I had this crazy idea that I would write a book for my grand-kids, after all, how hard could it be?  (What the heck was I thinking?) That was the beginning of The Gates to the Galaxies Sci-Fi series.

Now, I’m seven books into the series and working on number eight, and I’m pretty sure not many people write the way I do.

I’m not the kind of author that can sit down at the computer and pound out a chapter or two.  All of my Sci-Fi stories are based on my dreams.  They come to me in full color like I’m watching a high def movie where each character speaks in their own unique voice.  I dream a chapter or two each night when I’m “in the groove”, as I call it, and the next morning, I just write down what happened in the dream.  I can go days without anything going on, then every day for weeks I dream about my story and sit down and write.

In my books, the villains, called the ‘Ones’ speak in musical notes and telepathic emotions that have different meanings when spoken in a different key. 

I think this concept came from when I was a child.  Music was a big part of my life back then from piano lessons, band, chorus and being exposed to a wide variety of musical styles at home like country, big band and of course, the classical music in the cartoons of my childhood.  I would often just close my eyes and hear the music speaking to me as I made up words in my head to go along with the tune, so that became an integral part of my stories.

I don’t think of myself as an author or writer, but rather a story teller.  Money, (or sales) never was a driving factor in doing this.  All I ever wanted originally was to have my grand-kids and then eventually, other people read my stories and react to them. 

There are a lot of different concepts in my books that most Sci-Fi stories don’t use and I think, based on the reviews I’ve gotten so far, that once people read my books, they enjoy them.  That’s the most rewarding feeling to me.

As I said, for me the writing part is the easiest as I simply tell the stories of my dreams.  Marketing, on the other hand, is something I struggle with but I keep working at it. 


J.Dalton’s books can be found on Amazon.

Connect with him on Twitter using @JDaltonAuthor


Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Writing for Effect: A Dialogue with Mary L. Schmidt

Mary L. Schmidt writes under her given name and a pen name, S. Jackson with her freshman book a memoir, and she now has 30 books under her belt ranging from three memoirs to comic books, one recipe book, and a lot of children’s picture books. She chose to discuss three topic from three different books for this conversation.

  1. Childhood cancer is scary, horrific, and all consuming.

After surviving the cruel rage of tyranny from her mother and ex-husband, Sarah Jackson traveled a new path, a journey of loss, heartbreak, and ultimately strength. How do we survive the unthinkable, our child suffering from a terminal illness? They say there is no greater loss than that of a child; I say losing a child is the king of loss. Sometimes the thing that helps us survive it, is knowing we are not alone. Bestselling author, Sarah Jackson, will take you on her journey of hope and strength as she provides an intimate raw look at her life.

“I want to go to Heaven, Mom.” as my son lay in his hospital bed in the presurgical area.
“We don’t always get what we want in life, so you might have to come back to me.” I replied as my heart was breaking.

When Angels Fly

One cannot stop an angel from flying and when a child of age five wants to go to heaven, ask your child why, and what he or she knows of heaven. Don’t fear your child’s death but ask them. They will tell you what they know or have seen. My little boy had already spoken with Jesus.


Marian:
In this excerpt, you speak to the role of faith – both a mother’s and a child’s belief – in surviving the unthinkable. No parent should outlive their child, it is often said. But not all parents nor children will have a belief in a divine being. One of your stated goals is for people going through this life-altering experience to know they are not alone. Does your book speak to those who do not believe in a divine being or an afterlife, and if so, can you explain how?

Mary:

Great question! I can answer this one as my ex-husband is a practicing atheist and for his actions. My arm was wrapped around my son the final moments of his life. My ex wanted medicine for when my son’s heart stopped but no compressions. I wanted nothing done. I knew where my little boy wanted to go, and I knew he was moments away from death as he was in transition.  I had to beg my ex three times to let him go as his heart stopped for the third, and last time. He nodded his head yes. I rocked my dead son, after all tubes and such were removed. I talked to him in heaven. My ex simply watched. Then got up from the rocking chair and motioned for my ex to sit, after which I placed my son in his arms. He held him a few minutes then left the ICU. Essentially, as an atheist, my ex had to deal with his grief and such internally without help from the divine God. That led him to get drunk. But I turned to Jesus, and I was not alone.


2. A book on bullying evoking change in children.

In ‘The Big Cheese Festival’, we meet Stubby Mouse and his family and friends. We learn that Stubby Mouse has a secret, that he is being bullied by another mouse, simply because his tail is short. This story illustrates how everyone is different and unique, and it is a delightful read with adorable and eye-catching, cute illustrations for both children and adults. Take a stand against bullying today! 

“See! I did it! I stood up for myself and Cutter Mouse can’t bully me anymore.” replied Stubby Mouse.

The Big Cheese Festival

Thus, Stubby Mouse’s self-esteem increased, and he no longer allowed himself to be bullied by others.

Marian:

I’m curious to know what it is Stubby did to stand up to Cutter!  I like the choice of a simple thing like a short tail, because children can fixate on the smallest difference. How did you portray the bullying? Who helps Stubby stand up for himself?

Mary:

Stubby Mouse was happy and excited when he woke up on the morning of the Big Cheese Festival. All the mice in his neighborhood looked forward to this big event. There would be dancing and lots of cheese, and they would elect a King and Queen of the Festival. This was Stubby’s first Big Cheese Festival, but when Cutter Mouse came to pick up Stubby’s brother, Zippy, he made fun of Stubby’s short tail. Cutter laughed and said that no girls would want to dance with him. Zippy got angry with his friend for picking on his little brother, but the damage was done. After Zippy and Cutter left, Stubby began to cry. Cindy (a girl mouse) heard him crying inside the house, and she wanted to know what was wrong. She told Stubby that she liked him the way he was, and thought Cutter was an awful bully. They went to the festival together, and Cutter made fun of Stubby and knocked him down onto his short tail. Stubby informed Cutter that he would not be bullied anymore, and he pushed Cutter down on his normal size tail. This impressed all the mice attending as they loved Stubby and his bravery. Stubby became King of The Big Cheese Festival for his bravery.


3. A book regarding shyness in children as related by a turtle who was too shy to come out of his shell.

Tommy Turtle is a shy land turtle who likes to hide inside his shell. Tommy Turtle helps parents and teachers reinforce positive behaviors in an imaginative setting of a park and mud puddles as they learn about land turtles and shyness. Learning and sharing are essential for social development in all children.

“I’m scared to come out, I can’t splash the water puddles like the other turtles.” replied Tommy Turtle.

“I will be at your side, and you can jump when I jump. Okay?” said Jerry Turtle.

Tommy took a deep breath and poked his head out of his shell. He watched the other turtles playing, and finally decided to join in. Tommy made the biggest splash in the puddles, and learned that he could have fun, play, and be accepted by other turtles. Tommy also learned that he didn’t have to talk when he was a little more nervous. It was okay to watch, listen, and learn. It was okay to be shy at times. Tommy had the best afternoon, ever!

Tommy Turtle

Marian:

Is Jerry the same age as Tommy?  Or is he an older mentor?  Why does he take Tommy under his wing?  As you indicate, these are important skills for children to learn, but it is something they can do on their own without adult modelling? 

Mary:

Jerry and Tommy are nearly the same age. Tommy is new to the park this story is set in as some kids change schools, move around, and it’s natural to be shy. Tommy was shy and hid inside his shell because he didn’t know the other turtles. In Jerry’s case, he had been new to the same park the year before. Jerry befriended Tommy and drew him out of his shell. Tommy played and overcame his shyness. In the end, Tommy decided that he would help other new turtles when they arrived in the park, just like Jerry helped him. Children can read this book on their own and model their experiences to the experiences Tommy went through.


Find all books published as Sarah Jackson here and as Mary L. Schmidt here, or connect with Mary at her website www.whenangelsfly.net.

Would you like to be part of this series? Authors published or unpublished are welcome – leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

WHAT THREE THINGS?

By Helen Hollick

Hello Marian, thank you for inviting me onto your blog. You asked me to tell you and your readers about the books I write. Where to start!

I used to write straight historical fiction: my first Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy was about King Arthur with a setting in Roman Britain in the 5th to 6th centuries. These were originally published back in the early 1990s – so I’ve been writing for a lo-o-ong while now! My intention for the trilogy was to strip away all the myth and magic of then Medieval Christian-based tales and write the books as ‘what might have happened’. Not for me the familiar ‘love triangle’, there is no Lancelot in my story, no Holy Grail, no Merlin either. I saw Arthur as an ambitious but capable war lord, Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) as an equally capable woman. They love each other but are two people with intelligent minds – and firm ideas which often clash. I used the earlier Welsh legends, which are far more interesting and very different from the later Medieval tales.

Following these, I moved to the 11th century and the events that led to the Battle Of Hastings in 1066. I am a firm supporter of King Harold II, so this story is written from the English point of view – stripped of all the Norman propaganda. The other book is the story of Emma of Normandy – Queen Emma of Anglo-Saxon England. She was married to Æthelred the Unready and then to King Cnut. One of her sons was Edward the Confessor, so a prequel story to the people involved in the subsequent Norman Conquest of England.

I turned to crime during the months of lockdown – fictionally, that is. I branched out into writing cozy mysteries. My Jan Christopher Series are quick read novellas set in the 1970s against the background of my years of working as a library assistant – with the twist of a murder mystery included. There are two in the series published so far, I plan more!

My favourites, however, are the Sea Witch Voyages. I wrote the first, Sea Witch back in 2005/6 when I wanted to read something as good as the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie – but for adults (with some adult content, some adult scenes and language, and some violence.) I couldn’t find what I wanted to read so I wrote it myself. I have just published the sixth in the series, Gallows Wake, with a short read novella prequel, When The Mermaid Sings as a bonus read.

So, three things that I care passionately about in my writing?

1) My Characters. I fell hopelessly in love with ‘my’ Arthur, mind you, I was in that man’s mind for more than ten years (it took me that long to write what eventually became The Kingmaking and half of Pendragon’s Banner!) I am even more in love with my pirate (well, ex-pirate now,) Captain Jesamiah Acorne.  Funnily enough, I did notice, a while ago, when looking through bits of The Kingmaking, just how alike Arthur and Jesamiah are! They are both rough, tough guys. Both formidable when angry, but quick to laugh, both determined, both loyal in their own way – both would willingly die for the woman they love, even though tempers often flare between them. Honour is important for both of them – although both are also ruthless when needs must. They both have a solid, reliable friend and I wanted to portray them both as men who cared, who hurt when their hearts were broken and who drowned their sorrows …

2) I care about creating a feeling of believability. ‘Harold’ and ‘Emma’ both had a lot of historical fact to base the outline of the stories on: history tells us that this, this and this happened, and when and where it happened. The novelist has to decide (OK, make up) the whys and hows. For ‘Arthur’ there is nothing to go on – let’s face the truth, King Arthur did not exist (although he might have been an amalgamation of several notable post-Roman war lords.) So for the ‘facts’ I researched post-Roman Britain and used what little we do know as the basis for my trilogy. I also extensively used my knowledge of horses.

For ‘Jesamiah’ some of the elements in the Voyages are supernatural or fantasy – the love of Jesamiah’s life is Tiola, a White Witch, a Wise Woman of Craft. To balance the ‘made-up’ bits I was as careful as I could be to get the ‘real’ bits right, in particular the sailing scenes aboard Sea Witch. I also used quite a bit of factual history from the early 1700s – although some I did ‘bend’ a little to suit my timeline (but I mention what I changed in my author’s notes.) I have absolutely no knowledge of sailing Tall Ships, though. Fortunately there are a lot of good books to use for research and I have a wonderful friend in the author James L. Nelson who checks my sailing scenes for me – and doesn’t laugh too loudly at my bloopers!

3) I suppose my third passion is for writing the book I want to read. ‘Arthur’ I wrote because I have never liked the later Medieval tales. I could never see Arthur as the sort of king who would go off and leave his country for years (although Richard I, did). Nor could I see Gwenhwyfar as being so stupid as to have an affair with Lancelot (who, actually, I didn’t like anyway.) The familiar tales, I believe, were written as propaganda to get men to go off on Crusade, and to justify Richard I, the Lionheart’s obsessions.

‘Harold’ and ‘Emma’, were the same, I wanted to write their stories as they ought to have been written. As for Jesamiah, well, he’s entirely made up, but as I said earlier, I wanted to immerse myself in a swashbuckling, enjoyable and engrossing adult nautical adventure … I didn’t expect that first Voyage, however, to turn out to be such a successful series!

Choose an excerpt or two to illustrates one of your three topics.

1a. From The Kingmaking

With a short, exasperated sigh, Cei strode over to the drunkard. As he was about to shake the man’s shoulder, he broke into a chuckle. Ah no, the poor tavern keeper could not give this one to the street.

Roused by Cei’s persistent nudging, Arthur staggered unsteadily to his feet.

It was only a short journey to the palace but, hampered as he was by the almost dead weight of his companion, it took Cei a while to reach their assigned rooms, where, laughing, he waved Arthur’s sleepy servant aside. “Go back to your bed, I shall tend your master.” He seated Arthur on the bed and pulled off his boots. “An enjoyable evening, I assume. Trust you to spoil it by getting yourself over full of wine.”

1b. Excerpt from Sea Witch, the first Voyage

Waking several hours into the fore noon to a thundering headache, Jesamiah staggered to his feet. He tottered to the  door, peered out, squinting at the brightness of the morning sun.

Rue stepped forward offering a pewter tankard. “Drink this.”

Hesitant, Jesamiah took it wrinkled his nose at the foul looking liquid. “What is it?”

“Old French recipe. Brandy, ground garlic with ’alf a pint of ale. Deux œufs – fresh-laid is that cackle fruit – a pinch of gunpowder and melted pork lard.”

Jesamiah sniffed again at the concoction. He poked a finger into it and picked out a piece of floating egg shell. “I don’t care for raw eggs.”

“Just drink it.”

Doubtful, Jesamiah raised it to his mouth. Changing his mind, offered it back.  “Later perhaps.”

“Écoute mon gars,”  Rue said finally losing patience. “Look, my friend, you lead us like the brilliant captain you are or we leave you ’ere in this God-forgotten emptiness, with as many bottles of rum as you please.”

Jesamiah looked from Rue to the tankard. Hesitant, he raised it to his lips. “It smells foul.”

The fouler the medicine, the quicker the cure, or so ma mere used to say.”

“What was she? The village poisoner?”

Both these scenes get across to the reader that the men have good, reliable friends, and that broken hearts can be dulled by drink, but not mended. The mending, of course, comes later in the stories!

THE VOYAGES

SEA WITCH   Voyage one

PIRATE CODE  Voyage two

BRING IT CLOSE  Voyage three

RIPPLES IN THE SAND  Voyage four

ON THE ACCOUNT  Voyage five

WHEN THE MERMAID SINGS  A prequel to the series

(short-read novella)

And just published…

GALLOWS WAKE

The Sixth Voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne

By Helen Hollick

Where the Past haunts the future…

Damage to her mast means Sea Witch has to be repaired, but the nearest shipyard is at Gibraltar. Unfortunately for Captain Jesamiah Acorne, several men he does not want to meet are also there, among them, Captain Edward Vernon of the Royal Navy, who would rather see Jesamiah hang.

Then there is the spy, Richie Tearle, and manipulative Ascham Doone who has dubious plans of his own. Plans that involve Jesamiah, who, beyond unravelling the puzzle of a dead person who may not be dead, has a priority concern regarding the wellbeing of his pregnant wife, the white witch, Tiola.

Forced to sail to England without Jesamiah, Tiola must keep herself and others close to her safe, but memories of the past, and the shadow of the gallows haunt her. Dreams disturb her, like a discordant lament at a wake.

But is this the past calling, or the future?

From the first review of Gallows Wake:

“Hollick’s writing is crisp and clear, and her ear for dialogue and ability to reveal character in a few brief sentences is enviable. While several of the characters in Gallows Wake have returned from previous books, I felt no need to have read those books to understand them. The paranormal side of the story—Tiola is a white witch, with powers of precognition and more, and one of the characters is not quite human—blends with the story beautifully, handled so matter-of-factly. This is simply Jesamiah’s reality, and he accepts it, as does the reader.”

Author Marian L. Thorpe.

BUY LINKS:

Amazon Author Page (Universal link)https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick

Where you will find the entire series waiting at anchor in your nearest Amazon harbour – do come aboard and share Jesamiah’s derring-do nautical adventures!

(available Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in paperback)

Or order a paperback copy from your local bookstore!

ABOUT HELEN HOLLICK

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She is now also branching out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon and occasionally gets time to write…

Website: www.helenhollick.net

Newsletter Subscription: http://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick

Blog: www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/HelenHollick Twitter: @HelenHollick https://twitter.com/HelenHollick

How Has Writing Changed Me?

A guest post by Raina Nightingale

I hardly remembered when I first started to write. I was eight years old, having just learned to read. And what I wrote first was something that was at least half fanfiction: sometimes simply out of love and enjoyment, I would write stories very much like those I read, but other times, when it seemed to me there was something lacking in a book, or something that was wrong and not the way I wanted it to be, I would try to write a story that was like it, but different.

I think in stories. Both reading them and writing them is a big part of my thinking. In some ways, the exploration that comes from both is similar, but in some ways it is different, and different books are very different to read and very different journeys, though I do love some good escapism now and then (especially if it has nice world-building that speaks to me, more on that later)! In reading, I explore other people’s thoughts and am sometimes prompted to consider things about myself and what I like from angles I might not have considered on my own, and it does not take the same energy that writing does.

But writing, making up stories and exploring them as I will, is how I really think, how I discover, challenge my thinking, and consider new thoughts that I find in other places or other people suggest. Or sometimes thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere. Character, plot, and world-building can all be a part of thinking to me. A lot of my world-building, even – especially – the more magical parts of it, is inseparable from my appreciation for and understanding of this world, and helps me to articulate things I see better.

My characters are more wild. Sometimes I don’t understand them very well, and sometimes what I think I ought to have learned from them, whether their relationships with each other or their responses to their environments, I’m not at all sure that I do.

Probably most of my characters share some likeness with me, even if it’s as trivial as an aesthetic appreciation or a taste in cuisine. Some of them are very unlike me, while others can be largely deep explorations of aspects of my personality, dreams, or desires, or questions about these might be, but in general I don’t think too much about whether a character is like or unlike me, or how. Yet I always find it fascinating when I’m writing a character like none that I have ever written before, and I keep having moments of, “Oh, this is how someone who is like this thinks!” It’s really quite surprising. Yet, in real life, I sometimes feel like my empathy, my ability to understand and feel for people, is far behind my characters. Yet what would it be if I didn’t try? Or what would my stories be if I didn’t try in real life?

It’s hard to enumerate, or even really define, how writing and stories have been a part of my life and thinking, since it is so interwoven altogether. I don’t think there’s anything where it can be fully separated: sometimes I learn, through writing a character who enjoys something, to have more appreciation for it myself. Some recent examples are that I see the beauty in the ocean so much more after having written Corostomir, a man who is in love with the ocean, and writing a dry plains-loving people sharpens my appreciate for desert climates, something that used to not exist at all: the greener and the wetter the better, I thought.


Raina Nightingale has been writing fantasy since she could read well enough to write her stories with the words she knew (the same time that she started devouring any fiction she could touch). She enjoys rich characters and worlds where magic and the mundane are inseparable. She calls her fiction ‘Dawndark’.

Author/Review Website: https://www.enthralledbylove.com

Universal Book Link for all my books: https://books2read.com/raina_books

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Areaer_Novels

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20243136.Raina_Nightingale


Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

The Welsh Dragon, by K.M.Butler

A Review

Henry Tudor—the victor of Bosworth who defeated Richard III to claim the crown and become Henry VII of England, beginning the Tudor dynasty – had a weak claim to the throne. Descended on his mother’s side from the royal prince John of Gaunt and his mistress Katherine Swynford, Henry was barred from the line of succession by this illegitimacy. But Henry’s father Edmund Tudor was half-brother to the king, through his mother’s second marriage to Owen Tudor, and this too brought a potential claim.

When Edward IV took the throne from Henry VI in 1461, amidst the complex politics and battles of The Wars of the Roses, Henry Tudor and his uncle Jasper fled to Brittany. It is the fourteen years that Henry spent in exile that is the focus of nearly the first half of The Welsh Dragon – a period of which little historical fact is known. Author K.M Butler therefore had a fairly free hand to imagine this time in Henry’s life.

Butler shows us a young man attempting to live a life free of the politics of court and crown, in love with a commoner, the competent merchant Jehane, and learning to be useful and skilled in trade. A small life, perhaps, but a free one. But his mother’s (and others’) letters from England, the emissaries who come, and his own sense of duty can’t let him forget who he is. Nor can his enemies: Henry’s life is frequently in danger.

History takes its course, and Henry accepts his role. Butler handles the complexities of factions, allegiances and intrigue well (a small caveat here: I am familiar with this period and the historical people portrayed here – for someone new to it, it might still be a touch confusing) and does not, thankfully, underrepresent the role of the powerful and politically astute women on both sides.

One of the enduring mysteries of this time is the fate of the Princes in the Tower, Edward IV’s last two legitimate sons, imprisoned by Richard in the Tower of London. While generally considered to have been murdered by Richard’s orders, there are other theories. The one proposed by Butler was new to me – but plausible.

Henry may have been reluctant, but his acceptance of the expectations of his birth and upbringing rings true; Butler portrays him as a sympathetic character who grows into maturity and what he sees as his duty, accepting his role in the larger tapestry of politics and history, rather than his personal desires. The book ends with the victory at Bosworth: it is the making of a king, rather than his reign, that is brought to vivid life in The Welsh Dragon.

Writing for Effect: A Dialogue with Jamie Tremain

Jamie Tremain: aka Liz Lindsay and Pam Blance

Currently, Jamie Tremain has two series. The Dorothy Dennehy Mystery series is in the mystery/crime genre revolving around a female private investigator, Dorothy Dennehy.  The story is set in Portland, Oregon. Her office is aboard a houseboat, ‘The Private, Aye?’, moored in the Willamette River. She has a solid circle of family and friends who assist in her cases.  By the time we’d written the second book, we realized what we seemed to enjoy from writing this series, and Grant’s Crossing, is the building of character dynamics and relationships with one another.

Grant’s Crossing is our second series and is a mystery/amateur sleuth series. It might have cozy ‘overtones’ but doesn’t classify as a cozy.

It’s set in rural Ontario. We have two main characters, Alysha – owner of the home, and Dianne – a resident, and the story is told from each of their POV in first person. The setting is an old farmhouse converted to house 8 retired seniors in a guest-home type environment. 

As mentioned above, we feel our strength, and passion, in these stories has evolved to focus on character relationships, to show what life can do to all of us and how we cope or carry on. We’ve been successful based on comments and feedback received from readers.


Emotion of Characters, Witty Dialogue, and Diversity are the three topics we’ve chosen. They dovetail into each other as we build stories that portray life experiences on different levels a reader can relate to, while still providing a crime or mystery to solve.


Emotions of Characters – The Goal to build relationships built on human experiences common to readers.

These are two scenes from Lightning Strike, the second book in our Dorothy Dennehy Mystery series. Our protagonist, P.I. Dorothy Dennehy has learned her fiancé, Paul, has been murdered.  The first scene is her father, Max, trying to comfort her, and the second scene is Dorothy waking up from a dream the day of Paul’s funeral.

“Why did you change your clothes? she asked, wondering why his casual jeans and sneakers had disappeared. Now he wore his best corporate attire. Perfect tie and polished shoes.

“I had to change, Dee. You know what today is. Have to look my best.”

She awoke with a cry on her lips and a breaking heart. As the dream’s images fluttered away, she sighed. “You always looked your best, my love. I miss you so much and today will be the hardest day I’ve lived through.”

Marian’s thoughts:

Dreaming of lost loved ones is a common human experience. Dreams, too, often have hidden meanings. If I read into the scene that Paul’s message to Dee is that she must put on her ‘best’ today: best clothes, best front, best control – to change her real feelings to get her through this hardest day – would I be reading something into it you didn’t mean?

Jamie Tremain:

We think you’ve reacted as we intended. And without “knowing” our character Dorothy, this is even more true because she is a strong and independent woman, but the death of Paul has knocked her off her feet, and in addition to his funeral she knows that she, as a private investigator, is going to do her best to solve his murder. So, control of her emotions is paramount to her staying level-headed. Her grief will be put on hold. And Paul would have known that, as well.


Dialogue – The Goal to bring humour at times, but to always show that our characters are “human”, subject, for example, to petty backbiting, or one-upping.

We have fun with some characters’ dialogue scenes. This is from Resort to Murder, the second book in our Grant’s Crossing series. Our characters, most retired, live together in a small retirement “guest” home – Leven Lodge. Mealtimes can be lively due to their various personalities.

Rose changed the subject. “Anyway, I hope the investigation wraps up soon so the spa can reopen. I’m anxious to try out some of the services they offer.”

“Maybe they can do something about those wrinkles,” sniped Minnie.

“At least I know what a spa is for,” retorted Rose.

I settled back to watch the show, but Nina broke things up. “Now ladies. Let’s not bicker. Life’s too short. I’d hoped to make use of the spa while I’m here as well, but if it doesn’t work out, c’est la vie. That’s French you know.” The barb hit its mark with Minnie.

“Well kiss my derriere. That’s French too.” Minnie smirked. Then she exited the room. I noticed Lily’s small grin as she watched our wicked witch’s departure.

I had a feeling breakfast congeniality was done.

Marian’s response: 

Writing ‘gurus’ often say that no dialogue tags other than ‘said’ and ‘asked’ should be used. (Not that I agree with it!) Here you’ve used a variety of other tags and descriptors. Can you expand on why you chose them?

Jamie Tremain:

When we were traditionally published with our first 2 books, we had an amazing editor. Her opinion favoured avoiding the overuse of ‘said’ and it stuck with us. Not that there is anything wrong with ‘said’, but I (Liz) recently read a book, where about ten consecutive pieces of dialogue were tagged with ‘said’, and I found it boring, as if the writer couldn’t find something more descriptive to use. Balance is key, because to overuse any tag runs the risk of reader turn-off.

The narrator and Lily both seem a little detached from the bickering. You convey this both through the use of ‘watch’ and the fact that neither speaks. Were those conscious choices?

Jamie Tremain:

Definitely on Lily’s part, yes. She is an introvert, overshadowed by her extroverted twin sister. As for the narrator, yes as well. She enjoys being a bystander during these exchanges, although she has been known to stir the pot when it suits her.


Diversity – The Goal to have diversity in various forms, woven into a story so that it’s done in a way to make it seem natural and not because we have to tick boxes.

Without really intending to, we find our Grant’s Crossing series has touched on several areas of diversity, most done in subtle ways, to hopefully show diversity is taken for granted, and not a big deal to be fussed about. We’ve touched on Aboriginal issues, mental health, have had a gay character, and, aging is a general theme throughout. We, as writers, hope it’s a reflection of ourselves, that diversity is, and should be, a natural part of life’s fabric.

The example concerns a new couple, Sasitha and Bachan Patel, who have taken up residence in Leven Lodge – from the third book in the series, Acting Off-Script. It’s a small town in rural Ontario, with little familiarity of East Indian customs.

I decided to ask about a question I had. “I noticed you’ve placed some beautiful small candles in the front room. Are they for a special occasion?”

Sasitha beamed. “Oh yes, my friend. These are for celebrating Diwali. So important for us.”

“Festival of Lights,” interjected Bashan. “Lighting these candles, for us, means we are getting rid of the darkness. The darkness can be meaning bad vices, such as greed.”

From what I knew of the Patels, greed was a foreign concept to this generous and kind-hearted couple.

Marian’s thoughts:

You have subtly captured the rhythmic speech patterns of West Asian immigrants speaking English. Did you worry about being accused of stereotyping in the name of diversity?

Jamie Tremain:

The Patels are my (Liz) characters and have been modelled after a former co-worker, whom I am very fond of.  The speech patterns were part of everyday work life. Honestly, if a reader feels this is stereotyping, then, with respect, that would be an inaccurate assumption.  Earlier in the book, the Patels give an account of how they came from India, lived in Scarborough, and ended up in Grant’s Crossing. We thought having a retired married couple, who happened to be East Indian, would be an interesting dynamic to add to the mix of characters living at Leven Lodge.

Was the use of ‘foreign’ in the last line purposeful? To me it creates an effective dissonance between the idea of ‘foreigner’ and how we all share universal human attributes and concepts.

Jamie Tremain:

That’s an interesting observation, Marian. It wasn’t intentional, but we agree with your assessment of its use.


One final question from Marian:

You strive to show character relationships, ‘to show what life can do to all of us and how we cope or carry on’. Author intent and reader interpretation can be very close, or it can be very far apart. Art is a tension between the creator(s) and the ‘consumer’, the person experiencing it. Have you had feedback from people whose interpretation was far from what you intended?  If so, how did you handle it? (And if not, how would you handle it?)

Jamie Tremain:

We’ve been told our character relationships are a focal point of both series, and so we now make a conscious effort to create life situations for our characters that most people could relate to at various times in their lives – aside from finding murdered bodies, of course!

The most feedback we received was when we “killed” Paul in the second book of our Dorothy Dennehy Mystery series. Readers who had enjoyed the first book were dismayed, and even a little angry, that we’d dispatched him. We didn’t expect the level of disappointment but were gratified in a way because it showed readers connected with the character. And it made us realize that a mystery is not just about the crime to be solved, but it’s about the characters. So having the strong feedback about killing Paul was valuable.

Every reader has their own viewpoint and interpretation on what they read. We’ll continue to create scenarios we hope are relatable and always welcome feedback, be it positive or not, on how we’ve tried to portray relationship dynamics. We may be the author, but we can always learn from our readers, as well.


Links:

Web: http://www.jamietremain.ca/   

Blog : https://jamietremain.blogspot.com/

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.ca/Jamie-Tremain/e/B06X1FFCCF/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1

Books2Read :  https://books2read.com/ap/nObabJ/Jamie-Tremain

Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/jamietremainwrites

Email: jamietremainjt@yahoo.com


Would you like to be part of this series? Authors published or unpublished are welcome – leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

I Began with a Landscape

Thoughts on Worldbuilding, Part I

“Observing the interplay of minute details…within the larger, overall picture, sensing the tension between the revelatory particular and the general condition…the written stories we most trust about life begin to take shape.” 

Barry Lopez

Worldbuilding. There are a thousand blogs and articles and books on how to worldbuild in fiction. I wouldn’t be adding to them, except I was asked to. For years, my response to the readers and authors who ask me how I created the (apparently) immersive, believable, world of my books has simply (and honestly) been, “I don’t know. I just write.” 

But being asked to share my ‘wisdom’ on this subject made me analyse it – or try to. With the serendipity or synchronicity that often, I find, happens, I had started to read Barry Lopez’s last book, Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World, a collection of essays. Lopez is a writer I have returned to over and over; like Annie Dillard and Robert MacFarlane, his relationship with the natural world goes far beyond empiricism. And from the quote above, I began to see a way to explain how my fictional world came into being. At the heart of that creation is the often-given advice: write what you know.

Earlier in the summer I’d begun a stop/start/continue exercise to combat a growing sense of irritation and dissatisfaction with my life. Part of the exercise is to define what is important to you; what you truly care about. I knew that during the pandemic years, I’d lost sight of some of it.             

Here’s what that analysis showed me:

As I studied this result, I realized that these are not just the things I care about deeply. These are the things I know and have spent my days on. And as Annie Dillard wrote: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Write what you know. What do we know better than how we spend our days and our lives?

I took those eight identified foundations of my life, simplified it a bit, and created this slightly wonky Venn diagram:

At the intersection of these six passions, where their interplay of both detail and general weave together, is where, for me, worldbuilding occurs.  The world of my books – its ecology, geography, history; even its languages, arose from what I have spent a large part of my time on for over fifty years. Tolkien, the philologist, began with languages and built a world around them. I began with a landscape.

And I always did. Right from my first ‘apprentice novel’, begun when I was seventeen, the major theme of all my work has remained the same: the interrelationship between place and identity: what keeps us there, what drives us—or calls us—from it, how it shapes who we are both in its presence and its absence. In Empire’s Reckoning, the young Gwenna, visiting her mentor Sorley’s boyhood home with him, asks him about what it means to him. (The first-person speaker here is Sorley.)

“This all should have been yours.”
“I gave it to my brother,” I said.
“But you still love it here.” She shook her head in frustration. “That’s not right. More than love, but I don’t know how to say it.”
“Dùthcas.” She looked up at me quizzically. “I can’t translate it,” I said. “Belonging is close. It’s as if I carry this place deep inside me, and I hear it calling to me, always.”

This is the basis, the core of creation of a world for me. The bedrock. Place and culture are—or were—inextricably linked. The knowledge held and expressed in the tundra and taiga of northern Canada and the vast expanse of Australia are not the same, nor is the knowledge needed to navigate life in a big city the same as that needed to live on a ranch fifty miles from the next one. The next step in worldbuilding is showing that knowledge and its attendant skills in context, whether the world in question is real, quasi-real, or entirely fictional.

To be continued….

How Has Writing Changed Me?

A guest post by J.C. Paulson

On following your muse: it might just save your life, and other benefits.

When I awakened at three one morning a few years ago, as I had for months after a traumatic career ending moment, I was, for a change, not in tears.

I saw a (beautiful) reporter, a (stunningly handsome) cop, a (stupid homophobic) decision made by a church and a (dead) bishop. Where did that come from? Would I remember it all at a more reasonable hour of the morning?

Didn’t think so. But I did.

It became Adam’s Witness, a novel I never thought I’d write. Nor any novel, really.

I’m not much of a believer in intervention, divine or otherwise. Neither do I believe in astrology, but I am a perfect Virgo: analytical, critical, loyal to a fault . . . and very much with my feet planted on the hard unforgiving ground. Lightning bolts from heaven or any other mystical place do not, in my view, occur. At least, not to me.

But something happened. Somehow, my brain was trying to save my sanity, or perhaps myself. The mood did not actually improve much for a long time, in the overall; my father became desperately ill and eventually died, among other rather traumatic life events.

Even so, the creative muse eventually took hold and if nothing else served as a distraction. There’s nothing like diving into someone else’s life.

Even someone fictional.

And now, I am powerfully inclined to pitch my method of mind-bending to others. Simply, it is this: If a creative or athletic or other positive new thing is calling you, I advise answering the mental phone. Even if it’s hard.

Obvious by now is that my own escape from hell came via my creative cells, and I believe that most of us have those. Sometimes we have to go looking for them, but they are there; and in my view, they represent the best of ourselves.

Learning that I could actually sit down for longer than a few minutes, focus, type, research and write a book was an epiphany.

I am also here to tell you that publishing a book online and in print by yourself is not the easiest thing you’ll ever try, creatively or technically. Nor is trying to disseminate your new invention.

(I’m sure similar difficulties apply to all other pursuits.)

But I did it.

It boosted my self-confidence that I could learn something new — actually, several somethings. It cleared my mind of everything but my plot, characters, and message. Then it forced me to think, as they say, outside the box: how do you format a book on Amazon?

It also allowed me to blurt many of my strongly held beliefs (for example, why in the name of all that’s sane would some discriminate against or loathe LGBTQ people? Or any people?) when I had no other outlet.

To this day, I haven’t entirely sorted out why or how walking a new creative path changed my mind. Altered my brain, really. But it absolutely did. I’m quite sure it forged new synaptic pathways, and no kidding.

As to other benefits, there’s always a chance someone else might like, or even love, what you have made. Your book. Your painting. Your photograph. Your song.

You might make someone’s day. You might change their outlook for the better. You might entertain, or elevate, or excite.

But this is for certain. You have created something new and unique that did not exist before. And for that, my heartfelt congratulations.


Joanne (J.C.) Paulson, a long-time Saskatoon journalist, has been published in newspapers including The StarPhoenix, The Western Producer, the Saskatoon Express, allSaskatchewan and a variety of magazines.

She is the author of a mystery series including the novels Adam’s Witness, Broken Through, Fire Lake, Griffin’s Cure, and Two Hundred Bones, a novella. Her most recent works are a historical fiction/western novel entitled Blood and Dust, published by Black Rose Writing, and a wee children’s book, Magic Mack and The Mischief-Makers. Find her books via her website or on Amazon.


Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!