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Ode to the Cat

She looks so innocent.

The cat, at darkest nighttime hour

Woke me from my deepest sleep

Clawing windows, screaming mee-owr!

Threatening glass with forceful leaps.

What beastie caused this early ruckus?

Fox or cat or something else?

But whate’re it was, there is no justice,

For this human, sleep has left,

But cat is snoring on the loveseat,

Unperturbed by nighttime fun.

While I wonder, eating chocolate,

Where it is my words have gone.

The Dreaded Author Interview

Authors know we shouldn’t turn down the chance to promote our work.

Being interviewed as an author is one of those love/hate situations. We’d probably all be happy to talk about our books and characters – but not about ourselves! But we also know we shouldn’t turn down the chance to promote our work.

Here’s my latest author interview, from A Muse Bouche, an Ottawa-based writing site:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUFOo1wpNOZVKbvHfXdJdmg

Camera image by StockSnap from Pixabay; Frightened girl by Pezibear from Pixabay

Listening

I got 50K words in, and I stopped writing. Not because I didn’t know what came next, but because I was both bored and frustrated by my own writing.

My current work-in-progress, Empire’s Heir, is probably the most planned book I’ve ever begun. I’m moved from complete pantser to at least acknowledging that an outline isn’t a bad idea. With Heir, I did a really detailed outline. I know my themes and my subplots, and where I was introducing a new twist to support the saggy middle – all before I began to write.

I got 50K words in, and I stopped writing. Not because I didn’t know what came next, but because I was both bored and frustrated by my own writing. Bored because I’d already done ‘young woman coming of age under challenging circumstances’ story with my protagonist’s mother – it’s what my whole first trilogy is about. Frustrated, because some of the themes and subplots meant I was stretching credulity to have my MC present for some of the conversations and action, but without them, the book would be too simplistic.

My last book, Empire’s Reckoning, also challenged me in different ways, and I found having a playlist for it helped keep me focused. Maybe that would help, I thought, and went looking for (and soliciting) ideas for songs. And I gave my playlist for Reckoning one more listen.

One of the songs on that playlist is Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Teach Your Children, one of the anthems of my youth. I listened to it, and sang (ok, that too is stretching credulity – let’s say I vocalized) along with it, and then I went to bed.

To wake up early the next morning hearing, very clearly, the voice of my protagonist’s father, a voice I’ve never heard, although he’s been a central character in all books but one – and the solution to both my problems with the story. Switching its focus just a little, creating a two point-of-view story that contrasts Gwenna’s youth and naivete with Cillian’s wisdom and experience, adding a ‘passing of the torch’ theme – all those made the story so much more interesting. Situations central to overarching themes in the series can unfold without Gwenna directly observing them.

I should know by now that linear planning doesn’t work for me. I’m a mind-mapper on paper, a doodler, working with free-flowing thought and image, creating lateral connections – and I think that’s what ‘pantsing’ is about: letting the subconscious make those connections and drive the story. “Feed them on your dreams…” Graham Nash wrote, fifty years and more ago…and it seems it’s still the best advice for my writing.

(Lyrics to Teach Your Children here.)

Sit back, put your feet up, and listen…

An audio version of your writing is an interpretation of your characters that extends out to others, a shared experience.

A writer, releasing her work into the world, gives her characters over to the readers. We have our own idea of their personalities, their appearance, their voices, but what we see and hear will not be what the reader sees and hears.

But an audio version of your work – that’s an interpretation of your characters that extends out to others, a shared experience. I’ve had other work read before on podcasts, but Benjamin Kelman’s reading of the first chapter of my novella Oraiáphon surpassed them. He has given his own versions of personality to my characters, surprising me with some, but in the end completely pleasing me.

Here’s the link. You’ll need about half an hour, but please, listen to his other readings too on Stories to Drive By. You won’t be disappointed.

The Moon Hunters, by Anya Pavelle

An atypical post-apocalyptic story.

The Moon Hunters: A Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction Adventure by [Anya Pavelle]

The Moon Hunters is an atypical post-apocalyptic story; instead of a devastated, destroyed world, much of the narrative occurs on a lush tropical island. Members of a group led by a charismatic man escape an early 21st century pandemic by travelling to a remote, privately owned island. Out of touch with the rest of the world, sub-societies within the group evolve in several different directions. But one man’s belief in his own divine enlightenment – and his power over others – challenges the lives of everyone, but most of all the protagonist Leilani.

The reaction of individuals or small groups to years of isolation is not an uncommon theme in books: Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, Lord of the Flies – but the evolution of a isolated society is usually the realm of science fiction stories based on lost colony ships. That The Moon Hunters is set on our world was a refreshing change.

What does a group withdrawing from the 21st century world take with them? The eclectic choice (Leilani is a librarian/scribe, and so has access to the books and written documents brought) is, I think, key to Pavelle’s world-building. The society has developed cultural traditions that appear drawn from a wide range of cultures, as it would be if their libraries – and members of the group – reflected a varied cultural heritage. Add to that the materials and foods available on a island in the tropics, and the rituals and hierarchies that have emerged in one of the towns on the island are reasonable developments.

World-building is The Moon Hunters greatest strength: detailed, precise description of the environment, of clothes and buildings, of the sounds and sights of the island – and of the off-island settings. Immersive and imaginative, the reader is subsumed into the world. But for all the lushness and beauty of the physical world, the political one – in Leilani’s village, at least – is harsh and unforgiving. How she navigates and eventually breaks free of its restrictions and expectations is a large part – but not all – of the story – and there is a romance, too.

Recommended for readers looking for a post-apocalyptic story less dark and disturbing than many.

Sorry? Not sorry.

I love this season.

I haven’t been blogging much recently, and I’m not apologetic. It’s October, my favourite month. So instead of sitting at my desk, or even going out for an hour on my bike, I’ve been hiking – and hiking takes longer. Sometimes half a day, sometimes more, depending on how far I drive to get there.

I often don’t drive far. My city is blessed with good hiking trails, both in it and close by. We’re a ground-water-dependent community, and the aquifers in the limestone bedrock are protected. So lots of naturalized parkland, and lots of trails. Two days ago I hiked for nearly three hours, through old cedar forest, regrowth deciduous, and open, regenerating pasture – and I didn’t leave the city.

Spending time on Guelph's trails more important than ever - GuelphToday.com
Preservation Park

Some days, I don’t drive at all. I just walk 10 minutes to the university arboretum across the road, and from its own loops of trails I can connect onto the river trails, and go either west or east. One way takes me into the city (and the BEST ice cream shop); the other takes me away from houses and roads and alongside limestone cliffs. It depends on my mood (and my craving for ice cream.)

Cliffs along the Guelph Radial Trail. Photo: Emily S Damstra
Guelph Radial Trail

Other days I have a wish for less familiar trails, and I drive to somewhere new, or less visited. My hiking boots and pole live in the car now.

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, grass, outdoor and nature
Pinehurst Lake

I love this season. The colours are beautiful, there are no mosquitoes or deerfly, and the air is cool. Winter will be here far too soon. I’ll blog more then. In fact, I’m only writing this post because it’s raining!

Children: Out and Proud (A Re-post).

This isn’t exactly a guest post, but Bjørn Larssen’s newest post on his blog is the best (and funniest) description of how it feels to have a new book published and out in the world to be read (or not read) and reviewed I’ve ever seen. So follow this link! You won’t be disappointed.

Children, by Bjørn Larssen

Is this a story about gods and their damaged children alone, or is it allegory?

Children, by Bjørn Larssen, may be unlike any book you’ve ever read. In this first book of the Ten Worlds series, Larssen rips the layers of civilizing transformation off the Norse gods. Forget Marvel’s Thor. Forget the Christian and Hellenic influences on Baldr – in fact, forget Baldr altogether. His gods are self-centred and thoughtless and cruel, and their children pay the price. But is this a story about gods and their damaged children alone, or is it allegory?

This isn’t a review, because I was involved, a little bit, in this book’s development. I read an early version, and the almost-last version. I made comments and suggestions, and I wrote a blurb for it, which I think is on the back cover of the print versions. So it would be unethical for me to review it. But I can comment.

Children brought tears to my eyes more than once, both for the characters and the reflection of our own society. Bjørn himself has written about the influences in this book, and I won’t repeat them here, except to say that some are political, and some are personal. The use of allegory to hold a mirror to the politics and ethics of a time is an established literary form: Spenser’s Faerie Queen, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Orwell’s Animal Farm. In Children, I see Larssen continuing this tradition.

If you choose to read Children, you’ll need time: time to absorb the story; time to walk away from it (at least I did); time to appreciate Larssen’s spare prose. It’s not a Sunday-afternoon-by-the-fire read. But watching – from a distance and in a small way – this book come into being, and the author wrestling with how to write with clarity and precision what needed to be said, to express the horrors the gods’ children experience – and yet still, in places, be extremely funny, as life is – all I can say is that I was honoured to witness this book’s gestation and birth. Thank you, Bjørn.

You can find all the purchase links – ebook, paperback, or hardcover – here, along with a description of the worlds and characters, written by Loki, and an excerpt.

Hollow Road, by Dan Fitzgerald

As with all good speculative fiction, Fitzgerald has asked some hard questions about our society

I’m pleased to be participating in the Storytellers on Tour blog tour for Hollow Road, Book I of The Maer Cycle by Dan Fitzgerald.

Legends describe the Maer as savage man-beasts haunting the mountains, their bodies and faces covered with hair. Creatures of unimaginable strength, cunning, and cruelty. Bedtime stories to keep children indoors at night. Soldiers’ tales to frighten new recruits.

It is said the Maer once ruled the Silver Hills, but they have long since passed into oblivion.

This is the story of their return.

Carl, Sinnie and Finn, three companions since childhood, are tasked with bringing a friend’s body home for burial. Along the way, they find there is more to the stories than they ever imagined, and the mountains hold threats even darker than the Maer. What they discover on their journey will change the way they see the world forever.

Travel down Hollow Road to find out which legends are true, and which have been twisted.

Three friends on a journey together: what a classic start to a fantasy story! Two men: an apprentice mage and a soldier; one woman, a skilled archer. They’ve been hired (and well paid) to take the dead body of a friend back home for burial. Too well paid, in truth. Why?

Danger lies on the road home; danger that comes from legend and story: the Maer, a humanoid people reputed to be cruel, fierce fighters. But as Finn, Sinnie and Carl discover, the perceived danger from the Maer is mostly that: a perception, the result of fear and lack of communication. The Maer are as human as they are, although their appearance is different, and their culture perhaps more advanced than the three companions’ own.

Hollow Road is the first book of a trilogy. It serves as a wonderful introduction to Fitzgerald’s world, introducing the societies, the conflicts, and the main characters deftly. The three main characters are distinct personalities: conflicted Carl, who’d wanted to be a mage but had no skill; Sinnie, a woman who knows she can’t settle to the village life of her mother; Finn, the young adept who quickly will outstrip his mentors. Each has a role to play in the tentative alliance with the Maer, and each have things to learn from them.

The scale of Hollow Road appealed to me. The world is small (so far); the action takes place in a limited geography, devoid of huge armies, fortresses to storm, or vast distances to travel. Sufficient small details build the world without weighing down the story, building a believable iron-age society with some magic, but not so much that it dominates. Finn’s body magic assists the trio in their goals, but only in a way equivalent to Carl’s prowess with a sword and Sinnie’s skilled archery.

I had two small niggles with the story, neither major. One is the pacing of fighting scenes, where I felt tension could have been increased by a change in the rhythm of the narrative; the other is in some of the language in dialogue. Fitzgerald’s characters speak naturally, often using modern words in an iron-age setting, and while for the most part I didn’t find this jarring, one or two words did jump out at me as inappropriate.

As with all good speculative fiction, Fitzgerald has asked some hard questions about our society; about how we judge and fear people by their outward appearance. His characters – and readers – see that once true dialogue begins, commonalities outweigh differences. But while individuals learn this, and accept the Maer as human, will the Realm, the larger government which is only hinted at in this first book? Hollow Road ends with questions that should make the reader impatient for the next book in the trilogy, The Archive, due out December 4th. It certainly made me frustrated that I couldn’t keep reading the story immediately!  Strongly recommended for readers who like character-based fantasy with a solid plot.

Win a signed paperback copy (US only) of Hollow Road!

September 13, 2020 at 12:00am EDT to September 20, 2020 at 11:59pm EDT

Hollow Road by Dan Fitzgerald. Adult Fantasy, 243 pages, published: September 17, 2020 by Shadow Spark Publishing.

Book Links

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54801285-hollow-road

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08FDPR332

Author Information

Dan Fitzgerald is a fantasy writer living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When he is not writing, he might be gardening, doing yoga, cooking, or listening to French music.

Find out more about Dan and his books at www.danfitzwrites.com, or find him on Twitter or Instagram, with the handle danfitzwrites in both places.

Author Links

Website: http://www.danfitzwrites.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanFitzWrites

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danfitzwrites/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/danfitzwrites

Writing, Full Time…a Day in the Life.

11:30: Shouldn’t I have a shower today?

6:30:  Wake up, hoping the plot problem’s solved itself overnight. It hasn’t.

6:45:  Make coffee.  Nothing happens without coffee. Feed the cat.

7:00:  Sit at desk. Remove cat from keyboard.

7:15:  Check social media. Attempt to refrain from checking sales stats. Fail. Sigh today. (Cheered yesterday.)

7:45:  Stop procrastinating. Check e-mail for business-related items. Answer 5 emails. Remove cat from in front of computer screen.

8:30:  Look at whiteboard. Realize with horror there are three deadlines looming.

8:45:  Finish community newsletter column.

9:15:  Finish drafting the promotional ‘blurb’ for another author’s book.  More coffee.

9:30: Write and schedule social media promos for the next week.

10:15: Becoming one with desk chair. Go for a walk and think about (a) the book review due and (b) the knotty plot point. Apologize to neighbours whom you’ve ignored because you’re deep in thought.

11:30: Shouldn’t I have a shower today?

12:00:  Food might help. And more coffee.

12:30: Check social media. Type one-handed because cat is insisting on cuddles.

1:00:  Solve some problems for the community newsletter. Apologize to a contributor whose article had a typo.

1:30: Begin the book review.

1:35: Clean up cat’s hairball. Return to book review.

2:30:  Ask writer friends via DMs about the plot point. Much discussion….not all on topic.

3:30:  Break time. Discuss plot point with husband…or whoever this man I live with is.

4:00: Dear gods, is that the time?  Open WIP document.

5:30:  Cat is being very loud. Oh. She’s hungry. Oh. Dinner. Good: it’s husband’s turn to cook. Pour wine.

6:00:  Eat. 

6:30: Clean up. Write a grocery list. Return to desk. Read what I wrote in the WIP. Sigh.

7:30: Couch and tv time. Watch with half an eye. Make hopefully relevant comments to husband about what’s happening on-screen. Write ideas in notebook with the other eye-and-a-half.

10:00: Return to keyboard. Write for a bit.

11:00: Pour scotch. Look at whiteboard of writing/marketing/editorial tasks. Swear. Feed cat.  Pour more scotch to counteract too much coffee. Go to bed, plot point still unsolved.