The (Successful) Book Launch

I crossed my fingers, ordered nibbles for twenty-five people, and hoped for the best.

Friday – yesterday, the day after my book launch for Empire’s Hostage – I was an exhausted wreck.  Partly dueme reading ebar cropped to only four hours sleep (more on that later); partly due to the adrenaline-overload aftermath.  The launch was beyond-my-expectations successful.  The room was full, the applause after the readings generous, and I sold a lot of books.

So how did this happen?  I put posters up in all the cafes downtown, and did lots of Twitter and Facebook promotions, which were generously retweeted and shared by a lot of people and organizations in our town. The local arts council put the event on their calendar, and did their share of advertising. The bookstore in whose upstairs bar the event was being held did their share with an in-store display and advertising on their website. And then I crossed my fingers, ordered nibbles for twenty-five people, and hoped for the best.

I had asked a couple of my writing friends, one a poet with a newly-published book, one an established writer of genre fiction, to read that night as well.  That broadened the appeal a bit, I hope, and provided some new exposure for both of them, as well. Anyhow…it all worked.  I could have ordered a lot more food; the beer and wine flowed nicely at the bar, people stayed for the whole evening.  I signed my name on title pages many times. It felt like a good night.

But I am not a night person.  I start falling asleep about 8:30 most nights, and struggle to stay awake till 10 pm. The first thing I’d done when arriving to set up at 6:30 was order a coffee.  It was quite a large coffee, and I drank it all.  So I was very awake for the whole evening…and the late evening….and the early morning…. Even the pint of beer I’d had after my reading didn’t help. I finally fell asleep about 2 am, and slept till 6 am.  Yesterday felt like the day after an overnight flight. I managed to send thank-you emails and twitters and facebook posts. I organized breakfast for my overnight guests (even baking muffins); I remembered our appointment with our lawyer to sign our wills.  I went grocery shopping (and didn’t forget anything).  And then I crashed. The day is a blur from early afternoon onward.

Would I do it again?  Definitely!  But next time (perhaps when Empire’s Exile comes out) I won’t drink a large coffee at 6:30 pm.  Mid-afternoon might be better….

Here’s the link to the books on Amazon.  The e-books are free through Sunday the 28th.

(The less-than-wonderful photo is a friend’s phone shot.)

Introducing Geoffrey Saign

Wyshea Shadows is an epic fantasy with three main women characters whose lives are intertwined with war, mystery, a common enemy, and love.

In today’s blog, I’m chatting with award-winning  author Geoffrey Saign, whose newest book, Wyshea Shadows, is the first in his new series, Divided Draghons. Geoff is, as well as a writer, a biologist, teacher and sailor…I’m not sure how he finds time to write! His first novel, WhipEye, won the International Book Award; Readers’ Favorite Children’s Fantasy; Outstanding Children’s Fiction in IAN Book of the Year Award; Top Choice, LitPick.com; a Bronze in the eLit awards; and Notable Indie—Best Indie Book, Shelf Unbound. His second novel in the WhipEye Chronicles, Gorgon, was selected as a Finalist, Midwest Book Award; Outstanding Children’s Fiction in IAN Book of the Year Award—third place in Book of the Year, and Top Choice, LitPick.com.wyshea-shadows

Geoff, tell us a bit about yourself. 

I love to bake/cook healthy food, hike, swim out to the center of lakes, snorkel, am a black belt in kung fu, and sail big boats, around 42’, to islands and beaches to swim. I don’t watch TV, but I love movies—stories. I spent 11/2 years traveling in the South Pacific, and it taught me that beauty is everywhere and you don’t have to go anywhere to find it—as long as nature is present. I teach in special education to very bright young adult students, which is both gratifying and worthwhile.

What is the premise of Wyshea Shadows?

Wyshea Shadows is an epic fantasy with three main women characters whose lives are intertwined with war, mystery, a common enemy, and love. As a thriller, it also has enough elements of romance, world building, and mystery that it probably is one of my best books. The wyshea are able to be around animals without scaring them—kind of like our world on the Galapagos Islands, and have a special relationship with nature. There are also elements of old mythology, like precursors to unicorns, wood sprites, and faeries that are only hinted at. The stories build dramatically, and the intertwining of characters is some of the best writing I have done. Each book (two others are written and will be released this year) has a very climactic ending, which always brings emotion out of me even after reading it 100 times. This is because the characters have so much at stake in the story, including protecting those they love. Nature and wildlife have major roles in all my writing.

Wow, that’s complex. How do you conceive your plot ideas?

Usually I think of one line, one situation. In WhipEye I imagined a boy walking into a pet store to talk to an animal. That became an 80,000 word award-winning fantasy novel. In Wyshea Shadows, I envisioned divided races, with good and evil in all the races, and the antagonist an evil that used individual weaknesses of greed and power to his advantage. Once I have a beginning, the rest seems to develop organically.

 Are any of your characters based on real people?

I have a character in WhipEye that reminds me of special needs young adults. All characters probably have bits and pieces of people I know. In WhipEye, the main character is grieving, and is in love with nature. I drew upon myself for both of those attributes at the time (I experienced a loss of not being able to be outside due to a difficult health problem for years, and when I got better, I grieved that loss.)

 Given how you describe Wyshea Shadows, you must have needed to do a fair bit of research!  Tell us about that. 

I usually have to research wildlife, nature elements, and also some of the weapons to understand limits and abilities. The world building is solid, and the magic in this world is concrete and explainable in a scientific kind of way. That doesn’t mean it’s based on science, but there is cohesion in understanding the underlying principles of energy in this world.

 

Do you outline your books or just start writing?

I write about 1/3-1/2 of the book, or at least the first few chapters, and then I might do a quick, one line outline for successive chapters to see where I’m going. It changes depending on the book and what type of story it is.

Given everything you do, how do you find time to write?

I write almost every day. Three hours or more in the evening after my education job, weekends 8 hour/day. There are breaks, friends, socializing, family, and play time. But I’m pushing 3 series now, plus 2 thrillers that I will come out with this winter, so 2017 will be a big year for me.

Is there a specific place in the house (or out of the house) that you like to write, or a specific mood you try to create with music?

The mood is in my head. I don’t mind listening to birds outside, or children playing, but music is distracting when I’m writing. Every writer is different in this aspect. I write at home, at my desk, and it’s comfortable and cozy.

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

I just finished 4 new books less than 2 months ago; Bubblegum Mike, Book 1, the YA epic fantasy, Wyshea Shadows, Divided Draghons, Book 1, the 3rd WhipEye Chronicles book, Drasine, and a stress reduction book (I teach that in my school)—so I’m taking a little break with marketing and rewriting an adult thriller. In the next 3-4 months I plan on finishing the 2nd Bubblegum Mike Book and 2nd Divided Draghons book, two thrillers, another young children’s book, and a nonfiction book. It’s a lot to do in one year. I also have some school visits in Minnesota and Chicago. It’s all very exciting!

And exhausting, I would think!  Links to Geoff’s social media and book sites are below. 

 

https://twitter.com/geoffreysaign?lang=en

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33259256-wyshea-shadows?from_search=true

https://www.facebook.com/geoffrey.saign

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01NCQ0X8P/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

A Guest Post from Andrew Joyce

The history of European-First Nations conflict and cooperation is complex and has rarely been told from the First Nations’ viewpoint.

At the end of today’s guest post by author Andrew Joyce, I’ve added a few thoughts of my own.  Meanwhile, keep reading – this is a really interesting post!

My name is Andrew Joyce and I write books for a living. I would like to thank Marian for allowing me to be here today to promote my latest, Yellow Hair, which documents the injustices done to the Sioux Nation from their first treaty with the United States in 1805 through Wounded Knee in 1890. Every death, murder, battle, and outrage I write about actually took place. The historical figures that play a role in my fact-based tale of fiction were real people and I use their real names. Yellow Hair is an epic tale of adventure, family, love, and hate that spans most of the 19th century.

Now that the commercial is out of the way, I can get down to what I really came here to talk about: the Sioux people. The people we know as the Sioux were originally known as the Dakota, which means ally. The name Sioux came from the Chippewa and the French. The Chippewa called them Nadonessiou, which means adder, or enemy, and then the French shortened the name to Sioux.

Every culture has an origin myth. We in the West have Adam and Eve. The Ancient Greeks had Gaia. Odin and Ymir founded the earth according to the Norse people. If you will allow me, I’d like to tell you the creation story of the Dakota.

In the beginning, before the creation of the earth, the gods resided in the sky and humans lived in darkness. Chief among the gods was Ta՜kuwakaŋ, the Sun, who was married to Haŋyetuwi, the Moon. He had one daughter, Wohpe. And there was Old Man and Old Woman, whose daughter, Ite, was wife to Wind, to whom she gave four sons, the Four Winds.

Of the other spirits, the most important was Iŋktomi, the devious trickster. Iŋktomi conspired with Old Man and Old Woman to increase their daughter’s status by arranging an affair between the Sun and Ite. His wife’s discovery of the affair led Ta՜kuwakaŋ to give the Moon her own domain, and by separating her from himself, created time.

Old Man, Old Woman and Itewho was separated from Wind, her husband—were banished to Earth. Ite, along with her children, the Four Winds, and a fifth wind—the child of Ite but not of Wind—established space. The daughter of the Sun and the Moon, Wohpe, also fell to earth and later resided with the South Wind. The two adopted the fifth wind, who was called Wamŋiomŋi.

Alone on the newly formed Earth, some of the gods became bored. Ite prevailed upon Iŋktomi to find her people, the Buffalo Nation. In the form of a wolf, Iŋktomi went beneath the earth and discovered a village of humans. Iŋktomi told them about the wonders of the Earth and convinced one man, Tokahe, to accompany him through a cave to the surface. Tokahe did so and, upon reaching the surface, saw the green grass and blue sky for the first time. Iŋktomi and Ite introduced Tokahe to buffalo meat and showed him tipis, clothing, hunting clubs, and bows and arrows. Tokahe returned to the underworld village and appealed to six other men and their families to go with him to the Earth’s surface.

When they arrived, they discovered that Iŋktomi had deceived Tokahe. The buffalo were scarce; the weather had turned bad, and they found themselves starving. Unable to return to their home, but armed with a new knowledge about the world, they survived to become the founders of the Seven Council Fires.

The Seven Council Fires . . . or Oćeti Šakowiŋ . . . are the Mdewakanton, the Wahpeton, the Wahpekute, the Sisseton, the Yankton, the Yanktonai, and the Lakota.

After Tokahe led the six families to the surface of the earth, they wandered for many winters. Sons were born and sons died. Winters passed, more winters than could be counted. That was before Oćeti Šakowiŋ. But not until White Buffalo Calf Woman did the humans become Dakota.

Two scouts were hunting the buffalo when they came to the top of a small hill. A long way off, they observed the figure of a woman. As she approached, they saw that she was beautiful. She was young and carried a wakiŋ. One of the scouts had lustful thoughts and told the other. His friend told him that she was sacred and to banish such thoughts.

The woman came up to them and said to the one with the lustful thoughts, “If you would do what you are thinking, come forward.” The scout moved and stood before her and a white cloud covered them from sight.

When the woman stepped from the cloud, it blew away. There on the ground, at the beautiful woman’s feet, lay a pile of bones with worms crawling in and among them.

The woman told the other scout to go to his village and tell his people that she was coming, for them to build a medicine tipi large enough to hold all the chiefs of the nation. She said, “I bring a great gift to your people.”

When the people heard the scout’s story, they constructed the lodge, and put on their finest clothing, then stood about the lodge and waited.

As the woman entered the village, she sang:

With visible breath I am walking.

A voice I am sending as I walk.

In a sacred manner I am walking.

With visible tracks I am walking.

In a sacred manner I walk.’

She handed the wakiŋ to the head chief and he withdrew a pipe from the bundle. On one side of the pipe was carved a bison calf. “The bison represents the earth, which will house and feed you,” she said.

Thirteen eagle feathers hung from the wooden stem. White Buffalo Calf Woman told the chiefs, “The feathers represent the sky and the thirteen moons. With this pipe, you shall prosper. With this pipe, you shall speak with Wakaŋ Taŋ՜ka (God). With this pipe, you shall become The People. With this pipe, you shall be bound with the Earth for She is your mother. She is sacred. With this pipe, you shall be bound to your relatives.”

Having given the pipe to the People, and having said what she had to say, she turned and walked four paces from the lodge and sat down.

When she arose, she was a red-and-brown buffalo calf. She walked on, lay down and came up as a black buffalo calf. Walking still farther, she turned into a white buffalo and stood upon a hill. She turned to bow in the four directions of the four winds and then she vanished.

Because of White Buffalo Calf Woman, the Dakota honor our mother the Earth; they honor their parents and their grandparents. They honor the birds of the sky; they honor the beasts of the earth. They know that Wakaŋ Taŋ՜ka resides in all animals, in all trees and plants and rocks and stones. Wakaŋ Taŋ՜ka is in all. They know that Wakaŋ Taŋ՜ka lives in each of us.

Because of White Buffalo Calf Woman, they have become Dakota.

Marian here….

The history of European-First Nations conflict and cooperation is complex and has rarely been told from the First Nations’ viewpoint.  Andrew Joyce has written – both here and in the book Yellow Hair – in a way that honors and recognizes the humanity of the Dakota, and by extension all First Nations.  Some years ago I stood on the plains at Wounded Knee, the wind blowing, as it always does, and thought about what had happened there.  It felt like the land itself held the memory of the massacre, a feeling I’ve only had once before, at Glencoe in Scotland, the site of another infamous massacre.  This poem was my response:

Wind and Silence: December 29, 1890 (July 30, 2001)

The wind is the first thing; that,

And the silence. Dry land, brown bent grasses,

Blue sky.

In the valley, where the tents were,

Where the children were,

There are dreamcatchers for sale.

On the hill, against the carven stone,

A buffalo skull and flowers lie

Beside rolled tobacco and a teddy bear.

What dreams are caught at Wounded Knee?

 

Yellow Hair is available from the following retailers:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

iTunes

Kobo

Smashwords

Andrew Joyce left high school at seventeen to hitchhike throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. He wouldn’t return from his journey until decades later when he decided to become a writer. Joyce has written five books, including a two-volume collection of one hundred and fifty short stories comprised of his hitching adventures called BEDTIME STORIES FOR GROWN-UPS (as yet unpublished), and his latest novel, YELLOW HAIR. He now lives aboard a boat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with his dog, Danny, where he is busy working on his next book, tentatively entitled, MICK REILLY.

Shivers up my Spine

Got 10 minutes or so? Click on the link and listen!

You’re a writer. You write something – a short story, say; you think it’s good. Other people read it; you read it out loud at a couple of open mic nights. People like it.

But hearing it read by someone else, someone who is a really really good reader, is a whole new experience.bssh

Bob Daun at Bob’s Short Story Hour reads my short story A Spider’s Spinning so well, it sent shivers up my spine. (Which it is supposed to do – it’s a scary story – but I didn’t expect to have that reaction, given I’d written it.)

Got 10 minutes or so? Click on the link above and listen, while you’re cooking dinner or folding laundry or just sitting back with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Not just to my story, but to the music and other readings on this episode. You won’t be disappointed.

Community

Yesterday I saw a glimpse the other side of it, the heart and soul and sweat and generosity, of time and talent and spirit, that makes the festival.

Yesterday I read at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, in the tiny Ontario hamlet of Eden Mills. I was reading because the two pieces I had submitted to the Fringe contest, for not-yet-widely-published authors, had been chosen by the jury. Four poems in the first submission, and a short story in the second.

eden-mills-wall

I’ve been going to this festival on and off for the last twenty-five years. Eden Mills, a hamlet of many 19th century limestone and clapboard houses, spans the Eramosa River. Readings are done outdoors, mostly, in back yards running down to the river; in a sculpture garden, on the grounds of the old mill, in a re-purposed chapel. It’s been a way to spend a lovely September afternoon, listening to people read, eating ice cream, browsing the books in the publishers’ way.

Yesterday I saw a glimpse the other side of it, the heart and soul and sweat and generosity, of time and talent and spirit, that makes the festival. The Fringe readers were treated no differently from anyone else reading: we were invited to the authors’ lounge, (which had taken over the ground floor of a resident’s house) where there was coffee and breakfast pastries available when we got there, then lunch, and later wine and nibbles. Conversations were open and welcoming; I talked to Steven Burrows, another birder and author of birding mysteries (we talked about birding, not writing), and then I talked to the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada, George Elliott Clarke, about the surreality of beginning a writing career in my fifties. (His take on it? It’s a good time; fewer distractions).

I read in a natural half-ampitheatre with the river behind me and people ranged in lawn chairs, on blankets, on the grass, on the hill in front of me. My readings both went well – I was sure I was going to stumble over the line “No survey stake or draughtsmen’s pen rules here” (try saying that!) in one of my poems, but I didn’t.

In between the readings, I mostly worked the table of Vocamus Press, the Guelph-based small press that also promotes and publicizes the work of other Guelph writers. This too is hard work, lots of chatting to people (many aspiring writers), selling a few books, handing out cards for the book promotion Vocamus is doing in October. I was a poor backup for Luke, the founder, whose natural salesmanship is far better than mine.

At the end of the day, in the middle of a conversation about literary theory and criticism with a young poet, after a glass of well-earned wine at the lounge, we took ourselves to the village hall for the dinner for all the authors and publishers. Salads, rolls, butter chicken and rice for the first course – and wine on the table, replenished when we’d emptied a bottle – but it was the desserts that were the crowning touch. Because residents of Eden Mills take it on to bake pies – goodness knows how many – for this annual event. How many pies do you need to feed more than fifty hungry writers, plus publishers, volunteers, and organizers? However many it is, they did it. And they were goooood.

There are two – or maybe three – intertwined communities here: the community of Eden Mills, which welcomes, organizes, hosts, bakes, provides food, opens homes, washes dishes (and puts up with writers taking over the village once a year): the supportive, involved people who don’t live, perhaps, in the village, but who are nonetheless integral parts of the Festival, whether it’s organizing the Fringe, arranging the buses, selling books on the Publishers’ Way, and doing a thousand other things I’m not aware of. And then there are the writers themselves, who were again most welcoming, generous, and open, with their time and their thoughts. I was proud to be, in a small way, part of these communities on Sunday.

Thank you, Eden Mills Writers’ Festival!

Reading about Writing

The key to any advice on writing is to pay attention to what lies underneath the overarching organizational structure …


I’ve just finished reading two diametrically opposed books on writing.  One is Robert McKee’s Story, which is really about screenwriting but almost all of it is applicable to any writing.  He’s an advocate of the ‘plan everything out in detail’ style of writing, with some very good insights on conflict and pacing. 

The other was Stephen King’s On Writing (King is up there in my favourite writer category, when he’s at his best), in which he says basically: think up a situation, and let the characters take the story wherever it goes. No planning.  Which is exactly how I wrote Empire’s Daughter, so I automatically favour his approach (confirmation bias, that’s called) – but I think McKee has some very good advice as well.

The key to any advice on writing is to pay attention to what lies underneath the overarching organizational structure of the advice. I’m not going to plan out every scene before I write it, as McKee suggests, but his discussion of how scenes need to move the protagonist and the story from one place to another (physically, emotionally, spirituallly); that each scene must involve meaningful change, now that’s useful for me. But I need to let my subconscious guide that meaningful change, let my characters speak and do and think and react for themselves. I can’t force them to do something that isn’t right for them, and my understanding of my characters’ temperaments and beliefs and emotions resides somewhere that I can’t reduce to lines on an index card or in a notes file on my laptop. On the other hand, when I have a fair idea of the overall story arc and the major conflicts inside that arc, then that place that knows who my characters are and what they’ll do has more time to develop a deeper response from them.

Both books agreed on a couple of things, the biggest one being: don’t write what isn’t necessary. Every word should be there for a reason. That doesn’t mean we all have to write like Ernest Hemingway, nor does it preclude description, but there should be more to describing a setting or a person or a facial expression than just filling space: the invocation of character, of mood, time, familiarity or alien-ness, joy or desolation. If we’re showing the reader something important, good. If we’re over-describing instead of showing character through dialogue or reaction, bad.

Related to this is the need for dispassionate editing. You may have written the best scene of your writing life, but if it doesn’t play a part in the story, why is it there? “Kill your darlings,” King quotes. (I never got to see the movie Genius, about the relationship between Thomas Wolfe (not Tom), author of Look Homeward, Angel, and his editor Max Perkins, but I gather this was part of the conflicted relationship between them.) King says if the writer’s reaction to the advice to cut a scene is ‘Yeah, but…”, then the scene most likely needs cutting.

McKee and King both discuss the difference between writing and story-telling; the first is a matter of having the skill to put words together in a way that is literate and has style, a way that evokes emotion and captures setting and mood. But you can do all that, and still not have a story to tell. Some of the world’s best story-tellers have no or limited written literacy skills, but they know all about character and pacing and tension and crises and climaxes, and that a story – any story – must contain some universal features – the struggle for identity, the conflict between life and death, a facing of horror: a personal journey of some sort. But of course, a good story is not necessarily well written.

A writer can learn the elements of style, and a story-teller can learn to structure her stories for maximum impact. When the two are skillfully put together, in a story told in a way that is truthful, honest to the characters, and concise, then the result should be a book (or a movie or a play) that is remembered by its audience.

What have been your most useful books on writing?

A Season for Killing Blondes, by Joanne Guidoccio: A Review

An extended Italian family, lots of food, and four murders.

An extended Italian family, lots of food, and four murders are at the heart of Joanneseason for killing blondes Guidoccio’s A Season for Killing Blondes, a cozy mystery set in Sudbury, Ontario. While followers of my blog and reviews on Amazon and Goodreads know that this is not my usual genre to review, every so often, I like to read something different, just as while my preference in cinema is for small, independent, international films, once in a while I watch with complete enjoyment a rom-com, or a Hollywood blockbuster.

And enjoyment is what A Season for Killing Blondes gave me. It’s a fairly quick read, at 264 pages on my iPad Kindle app, perfect for a lazy Sunday or as a beach book. Competently written and plotted, it gained points for me by not only being set in my home province, but by its protagonist being middle-aged. Gilda Greco is fifty-ish, setting up a new business as a career counsellor after winning a major lottery, when a body is found in the Dumpster behind her office. The investigation reunites her with police detective Carlo Fantin, a high-school crush of Gilda’s. Family secrets, rivalries and jealousies factor into the escalating crimes. Can Gilda clear her name while helping to find who is responsible?

There are sufficient clues dropped, along with a few red herrings, to keep the reader engaged in the mystery and at the same time guessing. I had a minor niggle with a plot point which I felt rang untrue, and characters tend to be a little two-dimensional, but no more so than they are in an Agatha Christie mystery, so that’s not really a criticism. A nice addition to the book is the inclusion of several recipes at the end. Overall, 4 stars.

Empire’s Daughter paperback now available from Amazon!

Empires_Daughter_Cover_for_Kindle

Since Amazon moves pretty quickly, if you live in the US or the UK, you can order the paperback of Empire’s Daughter from Amazon:

Amazon.com 

Amazon.co.uk

Canada?  Not so quickly.  I’ll let you know when it can be ordered from Amazon.ca….or when you can order it in Canada directly from me.

Of That Day and Hour, by Anthony O’Brien: A Promotion

A page-turning psychological thriller.

“‘Of That Day and Hour’; a page-turning psychological thriller. Of that day and hour cover

Jefferson Davies is a lecturer at Harvard University. His life takes on an unexpected, dark and chilling twist after receiving a phone call from an ex-student and lover.

Eve works as a psychiatrist at a maximum security prison. Her patient is Casey Lee Jones. A convicted killer. His defense for the murder of two police officers is his ‘knowing’: his precognition. He knows the future, moments, hours, days, weeks or years before it happens. It was kill or be killed. He will only cooperate if Jeff’s involved, yet the men have never met.

Jeff flies out to Colorado, convinced he’s dealing with a psychopath. Scientifically he dismisses the phenomenon of precognition. Through a series of mysterious incidents, he begins to have serious doubts, even questioning his own sanity. Seeking the truth opens a Pandora’s Box, and what’s been started cannot be undone.

A fast moving, chilling, psychological thriller that will keep you guessing right to the end.”

This isn’t a review: it’s a promotion for a fellow indie writer. I was the editor of this edition of the book (previously titled Bad Man & Mad Men), so I can’t ethically review it.   Of That Day and Hour is available from Amazon in e-book or paperback format.

Amazon.com link

Amazon.co.uk link