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Carving The Light https://www.createspace.com/3439520 Also available at Amazon.com. Merchandise can be found at: http://www.cafepress.ca/CarvingTheLight

Monday, January 11, 2016

Just Write

Today I submitted a proposal to adapt one of my unpublished novels into a television series. It wasn't done with the intention of getting anywhere with it, but rather for the experience of writing a proposal, and eventually learning to craft a pitch. There are some similarities between pitching a novel to a literary agent and pitching a TV series, but there are many more differences, and I wanted to get a little experience in both, if I could. I try to take the opportunities to learn as they come, at least when it's something that interests me, and generally, I like to learn.

See, I am a pretty terrible writer. Average at best, and that's being generous. I feel like things have gotten worse in recent years, but it's possible I am just more aware of my inadequacies, which is fine, too, because it means I'm still learning. I learned a LOT during my few forrays into the world of ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award), but since it's been shut down, my growth as a writer has been stagnating somewhat. In addition to not having that outlet (and the instant access to all the new author friends I made over those few years), I've started wondering if I should be trying a different storytelling medium all together. I've been thinking that, if I can't find the words I need to express myself, maybe I should be attempting to tell my stories in a more visual manner.

So I tried writing my first screenplay for what would be a short film, if I ever decided to actually shoot it.

It wasn't the greatest thing ever, but I don't think it was terrible either, so that's something!

The best part is, if I ever shot it, I would let the actors have some leeway with the dialogue and such (and the director – I don't think I'd be a very good director, as I've said, I lack leadership skills), and they could potentially bring more of my idea alive than I am able to with words alone. And that's pretty exciting to me.

I always have tons of idea rattling around in my mind, hence part of the reason I decided to start this blog. To express myself better than I have been. I've said for a long time that my autobiography would be titled, “Great Idea, Poor Execution”, because I have a good thinking brain, but lack the skills required to express my thoughts adequately. Or even, in many cases, in a way which other people can understand. It's frustrating for me, and no doubt unknowingly frustrating for you, because I could have solved so many of the world's problems by now – and be rich and invite you to parties and such to hang out with me and all the animals I'd live with – if I could have just expressed myself better all this time! Haha

I should probably re-phrase the whole statement about me being a terrible writer – I think it's more that I'm just...juvenile? Simple? I can't even think of the word I'm looking for to describe myself. Geez! However, I've toyed with the idea of writing books for adults who read at a lower level, or for whom English is not their first language, etc. Because the story idea can be okay for adults or young adults – albeit uncomplicated - but the language is more for elementary school readers. I remember tutoring Grade 8 students in reading when I was in University – they were mostly all reading at a Grade 3 level or below, and the stuff we had to work with to teach them was pretty boring. I mean, I enjoy the occasional caterpillar story, but to those in their early their teen years, it didn't exactly hold their interest, let alone spark imagination and a love of reading. So maybe my stories would do better with an audience who is interested in something they can relate to, but that is written in an easier to digest language. How cool would it be to help turn a reluctant reader into someone who actually chooses to pick up a book, rather than having to read one for a class?

I also kind of want to try out the graphic novel format someday, but I have zero skills with the visual arts, so that would be more of a collaboration. Again, though, it is a more visual medium, and if I could find someone to help me express what I see inside my head, I think it could be pretty awesome.

Photography is also a visual medium, and I have an idea about a book that tells a story and uses photos I take, but I really don't feel like that's something I'd be very successful at, either. I see lots of things, and can envision how I want a photo to look, but it rarely turns out that way in actuality. I've never taken a class or had a very good camera, and really, I take most of my photos on my phone now, because it's always on me. I used to wish I had a good camera that I could somehow just carry around with me everywhere and be ready to snap something at a moment's notice. I'd imagine what an amazing photographer I'd be if I could blink and take a picture of what I saw, as I saw it. Bionic camera eyes, anyone? Maybe someday.

If there's one thing I have learned, though, it's that nothing comes easy. If it's worth doing, it takes work to do it well. Unless you're one of those annoying child prodigy types. Is 43 too old to be a child prodigy? Why do I keep wanting to type progidy??

And that's another reason for this blog. To practice. It won't necessarily make my writing better, nor will I definitely be able to express myself better as I go along, but it absolutely will not hurt. I need to keep trying, keep writing, keep experimenting, and keep learning. Maybe none of my ideas will come to fruition, or if they do, maybe none of them will turn out as amazing as I'd envisioned. But for sure nothing will happen if I do nothing, and writing it down is probably a good first step.

Especially given that my memory is so bad lately.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Suffer The Fury - Chapter One Edit

“Happy birthday to yooou – and you, and you; happy birthday to yooou – all three of yooouuuu; happy BIRTHday, dear Malleri-Teri-and-Alexaaaa! Happy birthday to yooou – and you, and yoooou!”

Alexa Reid smothers a grin by passing a hand over her mouth. Seventeen years in and Dad still can't carry a tune, she smirks to herself. One glance at the twitching corners of her sisters' lips, and she knows they are all sharing the exact same thought.

As triplets, the Reid sisters have often shared similar ideas and emotions, but while they've always been very close – closer than most siblings – the three girls are quite different in looks and personality. Having raised them alone after their mother died during childbirth, their father, Peter, has always been very adamant about fostering each of his daughters' individuality, even to the point of having them attend different schools much of the time. He can be strict, Alexa knows, and he has some very specific rules that are not up for discussion, but he loves them each with everything he has, and does whatever is necessary to keep his family feeling close, safe and happy.

Now, celebrating their 17th birthday, all three girls are looking forward – with varied emotions – to embarking on their final year of high school in just under a week. Their father seems less enthusiastic, but he always seems to get nervous around the beginning of a new school year. Alexa assumes that it had something to do with him being a teacher himself. A professor, she corrects herself, he's a professor now. Dr. Peter Reid took on a long term contract with a local city college in Toronto about a year and a half ago which, for the girls, means that they can attend the same schools this year as they had last year – a rare occurrence in their academic careers that adds even more fuel to their excitement for the upcoming school year.

For Alexa, another year in a public high school means even more, however. It means she'll finally be able to spend more time with her boyfriend, Marc. Her very secret boyfriend, Marc. No one in her family even suspects that he exists, despite the fact that it about killed her to go without seeing him all summer long. Finally, though, the time when she and Marc can be together again is drawing very near, and Alexa can feel her excitement growing with each passing day. Not for the first time, Alexa wishes that she could have spent her birthday alone with Marc, but knowing how her father would react if he knew she was in a serious relationship quickly dispels any notion Alexa has of ever mentioning Marc's name in mixed company. Still, a girl can dream.

I'm sure he'll text me at some point today, anyway, she smiles to herself.

“Come on, ladies,” Dad cries with the same level of enthusiasm he'd used when singing 'Happy Birthday', “blow out your candles, already! You know the drill! Let's go! Mallie, you're up first this year.”

“Please don't call me that,” Malleri sighs in phony irritation. “And are we seriously still doing this?”

“Yeah,” Teri chimes in, “aren't we getting a little old for this whole candle ritual?”

“Impossible!” Dad exclaims with a grin. “Especially not when we're so close to a balanced year! Now blow!”

“That's what he said,” Alexa mutters under her breath, smiling as her sisters dissolve into laughter.

“Hey!” Dad snaps while failing to stifle his own chuckle. “None of that, now! Come on, Mal, they're melting!” Malleri lets out another heavy sigh and one of the candles puffs out.

“Ack,” she cries, dismayed. “I wasn't ready!”

“Too bad,” Dad laughs. “Lex, you're up!” Alexa chooses one of the remaining 16 lit candles and quickly blows it out before stepping back to let Teri have her turn. Every birthday since they'd turned three years of age, their father had insisted that they each take turns blowing out one candle at a time until they'd reached a multiple of three, and then they'd blow out whichever ones were left together. As kids, it had just been fun on its own, since the more candles there were on the cake, the harder it became to just blow one out. As they grew older, however, the sisters began trying to create a pattern in the candles that they were blowing out and, if there were two remaining, they'd tried to leave a split to divide the candles that were left and see if they could still get them blown out in one go, even if they all took a step back from the cake to do so. On what Dad referred to as a “balanced” year, each girl had the same number of candles to blow out, and they always tried to get just theirs out in one breath, while leaving the rest still lit for the other two. It's the little things, Alexa decides as she bends to blow out another candle for her turn.

Once all of the candles are out, Teri goes to the kitchen to grab plates while Dad makes a pile of melted wax out of the stubs that are left.

“You girls were slow this year,” Dad observes. “At this rate I'll have to just ice the cake with candle wax by the time you turn twenty-one!”

“Ugh, we are NOT still doing this when we are twenty-one, Father!” Malleri wrinkles her nose in disgust. “After next year, it's done! Kind of a gay tradition, anyway.”

“Hey,” Dad frowns, “what have I said to you about using that kind of language?”

“You said, 'don't',” Malleri concedes, “but...”

“Exactly,” Dad cuts in, satisfied.

“BUT,” Malleri continues, “when someone actually IS gay, we can say it all we want, however we want. Take back the power of the word, you know?”

“Oh really?” Dad has turned on his most skeptical voice now.

“Yes,” Malleri insists. “Everyone does it! It's like how black guys are always calling one another n-”

“Plates!” Teri pushes herself between her father and sister, effectively cutting both off from saying anything further. “Let's eat!”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Suffer The Fury Pitch - Another Draft

Everyone dreams of being someone else, but for teenaged triplets Melinda, Teri and Alexa Reid, the sentiment takes on a more literal meaning when they are transported into other people's bodies while they sleep.

As the sisters embark on their final year of high school, each has been having vivid dreams of events and emotions happening in lives not their own – but all from a victim's point of view. Melinda feels an instant attraction to one of her classmates, but fears for the girl's safety when she begins to have nightmares involving a man's frequent visits to her bedroom. Teri becomes more withdrawn and depressed each day, but it's not until she meets another cutter at school that she realizes her problems are not hers alone. And Alexa just wants to spend more private time with her boyfriend, until she endures visions of another boy being brutally bullied by some of their schoolmates.

When one sister has a vision while she is awake, the girls learn that they are Furies – ancient creatures believed by most to be only a myth. Even more troubling is the discovery that a Fury's visions will only increase in intensity until their wrath is invoked, perpetrators are punished, and justice for the victims has been done.

SUFFER THE FURY tackles some universal issues like sex, bullying and suicide, but ultimately it is a story about family and friendship, which transcends the norm by adding a modern supernatural twist to an ancient myth come to life.

Suffer The Fury - Pitch Draft for ABNA 2013

Everyone dreams of being someone else from time to time, but for teenaged triplets Melinda, Teri and Alexa Reid, the sentiment takes on new meaning when they are transported into other people's bodies while they are asleep.

As the sisters embark on their final year of high school, each has been having vivid dreams of events and emotions happening in lives not their own – but all from the victim's point of view. Melinda feels an instant attraction to one of her classmates, but fears for the girl's safety when she begins to have nightmares involving a man's frequent visits to her friend's bedroom. Teri becomes more withdrawn and depressed each day, but it's not until she meets another cutter in her school that she realizes her problems are not hers alone. And Alexa is just happy to spend more private time with her boyfriend until she endures nightly visions of another boy being brutally bullied by several of their schoolmates.

When one sister has a vision while she is awake, the girls learn that they are Furies – ancient creatures believed by most to be nothing more than myth. Even more troubling is the discovery that a Fury's visions will only increase in intensity until their wrath is invoked, perpetrators are punished, and justice for the victims has been done.
SUFFER THE FURY tackles issues of relevance and importance to today's teens and adults alike, but ultimately it is a story about family and friendship which transcends the norm by adding a twist of supernatural flavour to an ancient myth come to life.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Toronto Library's Writer In Residence Program

One of the many wonderful things about the Toronto Public Library system is their Writer In Residence program.  I'd never heard of it until a friend pointed me in that direction last year, just in time to get an except of Carving The Light submitted to the woman who was the WIR that time, Elizabeth Ruth.
The idea is that, depending on what sort of manuscripts that particular author is willing to work with, budding writers can submit the first 10 pages or so of their work, and earn a conference with a published author to receive feedback and possible tips for strengthening their manuscript.  There are usually several lectures, receptions, readings and such, as well, but I have yet to attend any of them due to time constraints and my work schedule.  One of these days, hopefully.

Last year, unfortunately, I got my submission in so late that Elizabeth didn't have enough conference slots to book me into before the end of her term.  However, she decided to go through and make notes for me, anyway, then delivered the whole thing to me in person so that we could go over it all at least for a few minutes!  Who does that?  :)

Her notes were very helpful to me, actually, and I used many of them - along with feedback from Vine Reviewers - to re-work the entire manuscript for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award when I submitted it this year.  Since Carving The Light was named as a Quarterfinalist in the contest this time around, and since the reviewer from Publisher's Weekly who read it did not seem to abhor the entire submission, I'm thinking that all of that advice put me futher along on the right track!  My plan for CTL now is to take all of the feedback I've been receiving, re-work the complete manuscript once again, and then re-issue the book in paperback and e-book versions again.  I'm taking a break from it first, though, because I want to let it sit for a bit - and because I have far too many other things to focus on at the moment!

Anyway, THIS year, the Writer In Residence is children's author Sarah Ellis.  I was deciding between sending her Ebon Black and the Seven Dryads - which is already in print - or the rather new and untitled Ellie Skye story that I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year.  I submitted pretty much right away this time, and then waited a few months before getting my conference time with Sarah booked.  Which means that, by the time I got to her office, I really had no idea which manuscript I'd decided to send her.

Luckily for moi, Sarah Ellis is a lovely person, and we had a great chat about writing and indie publishing and choosing children as a target audience before we even bothered to get down to the actual submitted piece.  I was pretty sure walking in that I'd given her the more polished Ebon piece to read, and was all ready to talk about possibly fleshing it out and making it more appropriate for young adult readers, rather than children.  So it was kind of a happy surprise to find that I'd actually given her the first chapter or so of Ellie Skye, instead!

I had to change gears, but it all came back really quickly, and we started off with the things I'd done well, before moving to the things I could work on in the next draft.  She loved Ellie as a character, and said I'd gotten her voice just right for a 12-year-old girl.  She also loved Teddy the stuffed dog as a character, because I'd infused him with all the personality that he has in Ellie's eyes.  And some of my imagery was unique and well done, to boot, so apparently I am off to a good start.

We discussed narration, and I told her about how I'd written Ellie so quickly (50K words in 30 days) and that I'd done Ebon not long before, so I struggled with keeping Ellie's close 3rd person voice throughout, rather than slipping into the sardonic omnicient 3rd narration of Ebon's tale from time to time.  We also discussed the infamous show-don't-tell rule, and she showed me examples where I'd done each one, while giving suggestions for how to show more of the things I told.  Oh!  And she said I'd created Nana's house so concretely that she felt it was an actual house I'd known in life.  It's not, but parts of it are based in reality, and I drew a floorplan for how I thought it would actually look before i wrote about it.  That helped a lot, but I am pleased to know that the world I was creating seemed visual and real to the reader, too!

Sarah gave me the excerpt back with her typed-out notes to take with me when we were done.  Then she sat back in her chair and said, "So...what happens next?"  I spent a good 20 minutes or so going over everything that happens in the book, after which she asked detailed questions about different character motivations, how hierarchy in the alternate world was established, what the weather is like there, how time works between the two, etc.  The funny thing is, I haven't looked back at Ellie since I wrote its first draft in November 2011.  But as we talked about it, everything came rushing back to me, and I was answering her questions with the knowledge of the story that is in my head.  Now, whether that is all evident in the book, or not, remains to be seen.  But as I shook her hand and left, I felt pleased with and excited about the story again.  It's back in my mind, and now I have both the bare bones of a first draft to work with, as well as the overall tips I received from my conference with Sarah to help me move through the editing and revising process.  There is something important I think I need to write first, but Ellie is definitely still in there.  Maybe now she stands a good chance of being seen in print one day soon, as well!

A fabulous experience, this Writer In Residence program.  I'm so happy that my friend finally showed me the way!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012 - Carving The Light is a Quarterfinalist!!!

I'm still sort of in shock, and struggling to figure out what I want to say, let alone how to say it, but I promised myself that I would do my best to get some thoughts down tonight, on the eve of this very crazy day.

Carving The Light was announced as one of the 250 General Fiction novels to advance to the Quarterfinal round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. I can't believe it! I checked the list, saw my name, and was in the processing of refreshing the page (I was certain that I was still looking at the 2nd round list instead of the quarterfinalist list) when I got the first congratulatory note on my Facebook profile page. It was true - it was real. I'm a quarterfinalist for the first time ever!

Before I talk about my reviews this year, let me first talk about last year. It was my first time entering the contest, and I met a lot of wonderful people (many of whom I'm still in touch with), and learned SO much about the contest and the process of finding a publisher and/or agent for my work. I got help from the awesome folks on the Pitch Thread, and they helped me craft a pitch that was good enough to get me through the first round. After that, it was a matter of waiting for the excerpts to be reviewed by two different Vine reviewers to see who would advance to the Quarterfinals from there.

I was not one of them. My reviewers both pretty much hated my excerpt. They didn't like the characters, they felt the plot was slow to nonexistent...there wasn't much good to say about it at all. And I was heartbroken. More than that, I'd already lost all faith in myself, before I even wrote the book. But this was somehow more personal. I'd had faith in the characters - in the story - and now it seemed I'd been mistaken in that, too.

So I pouted a good long while, and then wrote the first draft of a whole different story to enter this year. A couple of months before ABNA submissions began, however, I slowly began to realize that Carving The Light and I weren't done with one another yet. There were still revisions to be made, and it still needed to make another run at this whole contest-entering process.

I started trying to come up with ways to change the manuscript and make it stronger. I went through all of the criticisms that had been brought up in conversation over the years, and the two reviews I received in the second round last year. I even tried to come up with ways to make it flow a little more logically for my own mind.

I focused on the beginning; on making the excerpt strong. I wanted to make it move faster, and have the tension build for the reader as much as it was building for the Collins girls as the weekend grew closer. I made the time between the death of their parents and the present events, so everyone is younger. This benefits Trick the dog especially well. I was also told to focus on the present more in the beginning, so i moved some flashbacks either further back in the story, or took them out all together. I tried to lose most of the adverbs in the excerpt (though I suspect they are still plentiful in the rest of the manuscript). I tried to make Sarah stronger and less willing to just accept all of Sam's crap all the time. I think there were other things, but I am too distracted to remember now. Suffice it to say, I tried to create a stronger beginning, and am now wishing I'd spent more time on the rest of the manuscript, since now it's all going to be read from start to finish, and by Publisher's Weekly, of all things! Egad.

Additionally, there were some small but wonderful changes in the ABNA process this year. One is that the Vine reviewers were also given a copy of the pitch to read with the excerpt, which would give them a chance to see where the story was going once the beginning pages had been read. Another was that the reviewers were able to list their preferred genres to read, which means there was at least a minor chance that our manuscripts would end up in the hands of readers who wouldn't hate them from the opening lines.

Based on my experience from last year, all of this made me hopeful that my reviews would be a little better this time around. I used the same pitch to get through the first round again, and then basically just prayed quietly that my literary baby wouldn't be quite as chewed up this year.

NONE of that made me think I'd make it through this round to the quarterfinals, though! I mean, I didn't even talk about it! I didn't tell anyone how nervous i suddenly was this morning, waiting for the lists to go up. I couldn't mention how many times I checked the boards to commisserate with my fellow 2nd round authors as we all waited together. And even when I actually saw my name on the list, it wasn't until after I'd received my first congratulations (Fielder, that was all you, so you know) that I verbalized the impossible. Somehow, Carving The Light had made it through, and had become an ABNA Quarterfinalist at last!

I hadn't even bothered to look ahead to what this round would entail. I had to go back and read the rules to find out what's supposed to happen now. And, admittedly, part of me want to check AGAIN to be sure that I made it through before I even post this. However, I have received my two Vine reviews, and I will post both of them below. Also, once everything has been set up, you'll be able to read everyone's excerpts and reviews and leave comments of your own here.

I've read the reviews  below through a couple of times, and I am still having trouble sorting out my thoughts. I am grateful, I am relieved, I am eager to make even more changes (though I will wait for Publisher's Weekly to give their two cents first), and I am suddenly a bit panicked at the idea that I may have to revise and re-issue Carving The Light in softcover and e-book versions a third time to keep everything consistent. Sigh.

But that is for another time. For now, please feel free to read and comment on the reviews I received below, and once the Amazon links are up, I highly encourage everyone to go through and read some of the other excerpts that made it through this year. You can even read mine, since I don't think I let anyone read what I actually submitted to ABNA, now that I think about it! ;)

There are a lot of wonderful indie authors out there, and not all of them made it through to this round. I am honoured to be among them all, however, because just entering takes an enormous amount of courage and determination, and as peers and friends, I don't think I could ask for any better. I am a very lucky Sue, indeed.

ABNA Expert Reviewer
What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

The story line, the writing, the characters, the situations each girl finds herself in, all are strong and firm aspects of this excerpt. The book seems to be headed in a good and definite direction. The plot is interesting and held my attention. The characters are people a reader would care about and want to travel on their journey with them.

What aspect needs the most work?

Honestly, no weak points were evident to this reader.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

This reader would love to read this book. This excerpt had my rapt attention and I was sorry when it ended. I wanted more -- !!!

This would be a great book club read. This is definitely a book for women. Each character has a story to share that most women can relate to.

There is a strong sense of family and love, which just adds sweetness to the pot. However, this book has depth and isn't some sunshine and lollipop read.


ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

Three sisters, each harboring secrets from the others, are preparing to meet for Thanksgiving. Good start on a story with infinite possibilities. Thanksgiving is always a hotbed of family intrigue, and this one promises to have more than most.

What aspect needs the most work?

It's a quirk of mine, but I like knowing where events are taking place. Reference is made to plane travel, to weather issues, but I'd like a little more specificity with regard to locations.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

Three sisters who have had to be unusually close due to the sudden death of their parents 15 years earlier, plan their Thanksgiving reunion. Each is harboring secrets of their own, worrying about whether truths will be revealed. Each is so self absorbed that she doesn't realize the other two are holding their own earth shaking revelations. The reader is teased about what the final outcome will be, and since the younger two have secrets of exceeding relevance, it pricks interest in the outcome. The writing is smooth, and the excerpt ended with me wanting more.