Read, Alyssa

If you were from a royal mage family why would you go to great lengths to hide it?

The second book in the Estrel series chronicles the life of Alyssa Jade Jeremieu Shulto de Tierney leads from her privileged beginning as the daughter of the Mage King and his Consort to her inconspicuous latter years disguised as the wife of a country merchant. As Alyssa faces her past that is fraught with danger, she learns that choices can sometimes lead to redemption.

(Right now, the book is Free with Kindle Unlimited/ Kindle Price $2.99)

The second in a series from Keri A. Kitson, author of the Estrel series.

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Keri A. Kitson is a friend of mine from college. We’ve also attended some writer’s workshops together. Her stories are rather interesting, but don’t just take my word for it. Check them out for yourself…

Alyssa

Author’s Page

Other Books on Amazon:

Estrel

The Tree Tales

Author Interview: Vanessa Salazar

Today, I will feature the work of Vanessa Salazar, a Trinidadian author who published her first novel, Selima and the Merfolk in 2014. A friend and fellow writer who I met a few years ago at Writers Union, she will be featured on the DIY panel at this year’s Bocas Lit Fest. Read on to learn more about Selima, and Vanessa.

Selima and the Merfolk

Selima and the Merfolk

1. Who are you and what do you do?

I am an easy-going blogger and first time author. If I had my way all I would do is write, read and hang out with my family.

Vanessa Salazar

Vanessa Salazar

2. Who designed the cover?

The painting was done by Jason Jarvis and Derick Smith did the graphics. I am extremely pleased with the cover.

3. Tell us more about the story…

The story begins with Selima going to live in Las Cuevas Bay with her estranged father, after her mother unexpectedly dies. Though her father is well known in the small community, no one knew he had a daughter except for his wife and mother-in-law. Selima feels terribly out of place and spends most of her time avoiding her perky stepmother, running away to the beach and eventually the forest. In the forest, she stumbles upon an extraordinary secret that has been hidden for hundreds of years…there is a mystical river, inhabited by merfolk.

Then, her adventure begins.

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Las Cuevas (North, Trinidad)

Las Cuevas (North, Trinidad)

4. How did you come up with Selima and the Merfolk, and why is it set in Las Cuevas?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and to write about mermaids. I am fascinated with them. When I was about six years old my grandfather convinced me that there were mermaids living in ‘The Fairy’ which is a river at the end of Las Cuevas Bay. That’s why the story is based in Las Cuevas.

This link gives more details as to why I wrote this book:  http://vanessasalazar.com/2013/01/15/whats-up-with-me-and-mermaids/

5. Who is your favourite character, and why?

Mrs. Clearwater. She is modelled after my grandmother who I like to call the black Sophia Petrillo (The Golden Girls).

6. What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing the novel?

Actually, I’ve had the story in my head for so long, it kind of wrote itself. My biggest challenge was finding time to write and edit.

7. What advice would you give to new writers?

Don’t rush. Your story is your own; tell it the way you want to tell it. However, never underestimate the value of good advice. Listen, learn and edit.

8. Where can readers find you?

I have a blog, www.vanessasalazar.com, and all my social media links can be found there.

9. Where can readers pick up a copy of Selima and the Merfolk?

If you are in Trinidad, copies can be purchased at:

Paper Based Bookshop – Hotel Normandie, 10 Nook Avenue, St. Anns

Deltex Art Shop – 66 Pembroke Street, Port of Spain.

Hardcover, paperback and e-book copies can be purchased online at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. You can also send me a message on my blog’s contact page.

10. What’s next for you?

On Saturday 2nd May 2015 I will be featured on the DIY Lit Panel at the Bocas Lit Fest.

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Location: NALIS POS, 1st Floor, Seminar Room 1

Times: The DIY Lit Panel – 1:00pm-2:00pm.

Check Out the link below for the list of authors:

Bocas Lit Fest 2015 Authors

Thanks for stopping by Vanessa. It was a pleasure having you here. I enjoyed reading Selima and the Merfolk and look forward to hearing you read on Saturday.

For those of you who live in Trinidad, do stop by and check out Vanessa on the DIY Lit Panel, and for others abroad go to amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com to purchase the book and post your reviews. It’s a really good read especially for young adults.

How Observant Are You As a Writer?

In secondary school I knew a boy who routinely read Sherlock Holmes for fun, along with other tales of mystery and horror. A fan of science fiction and romance myself, I had little dealings with Holmes until much later, when I fell into Agatha Christie’s Mrs. Marple, and Ruth Rendell. And although now, I do enjoy a good mystery, I often wonder whether my reasoning skills would have been more prolific if I had picked up on the need to be an observer from early on.

ImageThis is something every writer will have to learn as they progress in the field and try to create more believable characters. In fact, this idea clicked more with me, when I was reading an interview given by Audra McDonald, a six time Tony Award winning actress for the Academy of Achievement as a Broadway Stage Sensation. Asked about her role in Porgy and Bess, and more specifically if she had approached anything differently in the character of Bess. She responded that her goal wasn’t to approach anything differently, or do anything differently. Rather she wanted to understand Bess and to do that she went back to the place where the character was first drawn by DuBose Hayward, because that was the only way to get deep inside the character.

As writers, I wonder, how many of us dig deep to discover the gem that is our main character or group of characters. How many of us actually pay attention to what is going on around us, so that when we find parts of them in someone else, we can take it down; like a kid at the foot of a great magician, trying to decipher the code.

I believe a character is built up, slowly over time. It unfolds like a flower, opening to take in sunlight. In the same way, every day you get a glimpse of it. Every day you get an opportunity to see something new. Although the note-taking, of the people around you and their actions, doesn’t have to be too obvious. But capture the small nuggets, the little pieces of information or character traits, that will become any one of your characters. Work it into the story, little by little. Conduct character interviews, like the one described by Lajos Egri in The Art of Dramatic Writing.

In her interview McDonald says how as creative people often we have to walk in a lot of different shoes. Something that for actors and performers means playing a lot of different roles. Characters, people that they may or may not agree with on many different levels: be it social, political or religious. Likewise, writers have to get to know their characters, so that what they convey to their readers, is as truthful and accurate as they can make it.

Which is not to say that I possess a super-brain that records everything. For example, where I go, what I eat or even wear; but sometimes, I get an inkling of something that suggests: write this down, it’s important. This is one of those reasons why we keep a notepad at the side of the bed. We let the camera in our brain record, or we grab something and write, plot idea. Or possible story lead. And then later when we have some free time, we try to piece them together. Other times though we file and save it for posterity, to use it some time in the future.

Or as McDonald suggests, we do things to replenish the well, because the process of creation can be exhausting. She talks about going to a show to see a great singer like Ray LaMontagne at Carnegie Hall… “I can fill up that way, but I’m still observing as a student as well. My mind’s still at work, and processing, processing and learning and learning and learning…I am very aware of the fact that my mind and my soul, or whatever, are processing all of this, and storing it to then be used at a later date when I get out there.”

This is why being observant is necessary. Why we have to pay attention to things that are happening around us. Or as she say, “be aware of the moment.” The present moment. Not yesterday or the day before that. With all of our electronic gadgets, it is a must that we unplug and unwind when we write, because what we are creating on some level is primal. And urgent. And necessary.

ImageRemember that writing is about revealing truth, and when a writer is honest in their approach to the work it shines through, if you’ve ever read Bastard out of Carolina, The Color Purple or Paradise, you know what I mean. I remember reading the novel, Wrecked (by E.R. Frank) a few years back and finding some similarities between the female lead and her relationship with her father. As a result, I started to see things in my own family circle from a different point of view.  Perspective. Good writing will do that, it will help you to see things more clearly.

Later in the week, I will talk some more about the art of observation, but until then keep your eyes open and your ears pealed for the sights and sounds of life.

Getting Down with the Basics : Writing Utensils

For some time now, I have been obsessed with learning the basics, or at least about getting them right. Like a guitar player who must routinely strum and then make chords so that later they can rely on muscle memory to eventually kick in. Or as my niece says,  play without looking. It’s been six years and without a steady music teacher, I am beginning to see places where my tactics are working, and others where they have fallen short. I realize, however, that if you stick with it and do them often enough, there comes a time when it begins to feel like magic, as though your fingers are actually flying off the guitar as you move between chords: going from G to A to D. Or vice versa.

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 This is a result, like muscle memory, of something that has already become ingrained in you. This is what a writer and anyone learning a new skill aims for. Something called mastery. Effortless proficiency which is an indication that your hours of hard work has indeed paid off. And this is why so many beginner questions may seem like an affront to anyone who has already put in their hours. Or paid their dues, because the struggling writer, grappling at straws, may seem more like someone aiming to know outright, something that has taken them ages to master.

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Worry not, the answers will come.

Even to questions that at first may seem rather pesky. Questions about the very semblance of a writer’s life. Questions about routine, and schedules and writing utensils.  For me the beauty of writing has always been that all you need is a pen and pieces of paper. Yet for the beginner it becomes: Which pen? What type of paper? Or even more probing questions, like where do your ideas come from? A couple of weeks ago, I watched a youtube video where Neil Gaiman joked with an audience member that writers are awful to people who ask such questions and that such questions shouldn’t be asked of writers. In many ways I agree with him, although I am also beginning to understand the need for the question in the first place.

Remember the writer, grappling at straws, is trying to figure out just how this thing is actually done. Needing only a little bit of guidance and maybe luck. Although persistence will be the best advice in the end.

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How to learn the basics and get some handle on writing utensils? you ask. Get a good book on grammar like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Read a lot. And most definitely, write a lot. And concerning writing utensils, they tend to vary. The writer and instructor Natalie Goldberg suggests writing in a funky notebook like the ones you would get for back to school. The ones with tweety bird. I use them sometimes, but I also write on yellow legal pads (like John Grisham) and use inexpensive faber pen. Although any other brand will do. You might need to keep a stapler or binder nearby to collate everything. I like Goldberg’s suggestion because she says as writers we should try not to take ourselves too seriously, especially when what we are trying to do is be creative. So if time permits, take a read of: Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. These are two excellent books for writers at stage of their writing career. And also check out Chuck Wendig’s site: terribleminds.com. It always has lots of info for writers.

ImageUntil next week, keep reading, writing and blogging!

 

12 Rules of Writing from 3 Master Craftsmen: What’s the Best Advice You’ve Ever Been Given?

Usually, I come to you with a question and then provide all of the answers. But today the tables have been turned, because I would like to hear from you. My Question: What’s the best writing advice that’s ever been given to you? It can either be something stated directly, or something you’ve picked up while writing and working on a project. You decide.

ImageHere, I’ll provide my own, after letting you in on one of my biggest secrets. For the past two or three years I’ve been a huge fan and follower of various writing websites, some of which have offered as much insight as the books I read and discuss here. This website has continually offered me great beginner advice that I would like to share with you, as well as, recommend that you check out the site; it’s called: brainpickings.org.

Maybe some of you have heard about it, but to the others when you’re through reading this article, do take a trip across the world wide web. For some time now, I’ve been intrigued by the type of advice offered to beginners by more professional writers. And like with many other things, I am learning how to accept the things that gel with me and drop the ones that don’t. On the site mentioned above, various writers like Ernest Hemingway, Neil Gaiman, Zadie Smith and Margaret Atwood (et al) offer anywhere from 8 to 10 pieces of advice. Or rules as it were, and from this group of four, I have chosen to discuss a few rules from the latter three, because they have been the most helpful thus far.

For me, Zadie Smith is like a level-headed guru, who offers practical advice. Some of which I have learned, others that I go over again and again. Below are three of her rules.

Image3. Don’t romanticise your vocation. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page.

4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.

5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.

These are the three pieces of advice that appeal to me most, but if you go over the entire list, others might stand out for you. As a beginner myself, aiming for the Young Adult reader, I have to remind myself that I cannot, as yet, do everything to get my novel to the level that it should be at. But every book created takes or will take me one step further. Closer. It will be the same for you. (As you can tell I am a firm believer in making incremental changes, small inroads into my weaknesses so that eventually they will be overcome. Only time will tell.)Image

Neil Gaiman is the second master craftsman, I look to for assistance. His rules are simple, direct and sometimes comical. Follow them anyway. Rule 1. Write. 2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down. 3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it. 4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and like the kind of thing that this is. (Gaiman’s link here.)

A lot of good advice, remember: writers write. And if you pay attention to the advice of writers, sometimes some things are often repeated. Pay attention to those, they are really important. Finally, the last writer, Margaret Atwood, seems pretty zany but her craft is superb. So, read on.

Image1. Take a pencil to write on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils. 3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do. 4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick. 5.  Do back exercises. Pain is distracting. 6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

If you can hear the slant of humor coming through, then maybe you can also see all the valid points that are swirling around with them. Things like holding the reader’s attention and backing up your work. To check out Margaret Atwood’s 10 Rules of Advice to Beginning Writers, go to brainpickings.org. Trail the site on weekends, when you get a bit of free time and look out for anything interesting.

Now, I leave the floor open for you. In the reply box below, please share any bits of advice that you’ve found helpful. Maybe we can learn a thing or two from each other.

Meet My Main Character : Blog Tour

First off, let me just say, thank you to Mike for asking me to be a part of this unique group of writers; and for allowing us to be a part of this fantastic blog tour. Much appreciated. I’m also a great fan of your work (and even though I might be a few months early), congrats on Eye-Dancers turning two. Like you, I am also grateful for being a part of this WordPress Community. Without it, I wouldn’t have progressed so quickly.

And thanks, by extension, to Sherri for coming up with such a brilliant idea. Without you I wouldn’t have been able to hear about the work of all these wonderful writers whose pieces, I am looking forward to reading, along with your own. Check out Mike on his blog and Sherri on her blog. Also be sure to look out for Teagan Geneviene’s post next week and that of Jennifer K. Marsh and Joanne Blakie, in the subsequent weeks. So now, onwards to my main character.

For this Blog Tour, I’ll be answering a few questions about my main character (from a work in-progress). If you’ve been following Today, You Will Write, since last December, you will be familiar with the antics of Brandi Daniels and part one of The Way of the Seer. And although a few people have asked about a second installment, I am not ready to make such a huge commitment. After all, the decision to blog the novel came about after working through a couple of drafts. I have however, begun work on another piece, the one for which this blog was created. Hopefully it will provide enough intrigue and suspense to keep you going.

Unlike Brandi Daniels who wanted to go on an adventure and find out more about her father, this female protagonist is more interested in staying in her own place and time. A mind reader who has various abilities, she is trying to forget her past and the one moment when everything in her life changed from seemingly good to horribly wrong.

1. What is the name of your main character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Ife Bomani is indeed a fictional character, although I’ve only ever met one person with Ife as a first name. There are no similarities, however, because I didn’t really know her. In a family of four, Ife Bomani is the first born of two children. At seventeen she works to provide for her mentally sedated father and domineering mother. The product of a society that is learning to depend more and more on a younger work force, she is all too aware of how the society is changing; becoming more insular, as the gap between the black and white mark youths increases.

2. When and where is the story set?

The story is set in the not too distant future, in, an American state like New York City, where everything is run by the government. Or in the case of the City, by a Governor elect. In this post war climate, though, the people have been imprinted with a chip, which distinguishes, those who rule from those who must follow orders.

3. What should we know about him/her?

Ife Bomani looks like a punk rocker, with short black hair and even though she stands out in a crowd, she is not a rebel at heart. Although she has been known to get her best friend, Thom out of tight places she has no intention of leaving either her home or her family.

And the fact that other people are suspicious of mind readers and their abilities, she will do anything to appear normal, because she feels guilty about what happened to her father and grandfather, the day she became too curious about the government and how they were controlling the people.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Having the ability to remember everything would seem like a pretty impressive gift, but  Ife would like to forget some of those memories, like her grandfather’s murder. Unlearn the ways in which her society is changing. Because there is a rift between what she has been taught and what she is beginning to see: People who do not follow the government’s way will be exterminated, including her, unless she can find a way to rectify what she was taught and the way of the world.

5. What is the personal growth of the character?

The challenge of possession so many memories is that after a while it can seem more like a burden and less like a gift. One think Ife will have to learn is how to depend on others so that the load will not seem so heavy, and to find commonalities of their shared existence. And how to process guilt and move on.

6. Is there a working title for the novel, and can we read more about it?

The working title for this piece is One Moment in Time.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

Hopefully a year from now. Honestly, I am trying not to rush this, because somehow it is starting to feel right and I want the story to come out as it should.

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So thanks for reading. I’ve had a blast, sharing this with all of you and I’m looking forward to reading about Teagan’s Main Character, before then, make sure to check her out. Along with the other authors featured in this piece. Remember, she’ll be up next Monday. And Jennifer and Joanne will have pieces on the following Mondays.

Thanks again Mike, reading your piece has given me many pointers. Thanks again for the invite and inspiration!

And as always, keeping reading, writing and blogging! Every day you write you will get better.

Many Kind Regards,
Melissa

The Promise of a Good Beginning

What’s the best way to start? For many writers this choice can be daunting. But using other novels as a guide, you can find a way that will suit your story. It may even garner you some attention, if from beginning to end the fictive dream is maintained. Now, consider the following openings by a few authors whose work I greatly admire. They are used here only for reference:

I was born on the night of Samhain, when the barrier between the worlds is whisper thin and when magic, old magic, sings its heady and sweet song to anyone who cares to hear it. (Once a Witch)

Rei Ellis whispers to me as the light goes dark.
“Anna, don’t go.” (Auracle)

Tana woke up lying in a bathtub. (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown)

According to Nancy Kress, in Beginnings, Middles and Ends, “Every story makes two promises to the reader.” One is emotional and the other intellectual, “since the function of stories is to make us both feel and think.” To do this however, the writer has to engage the reader. Grab them. Hook them into the story so that nothing else matters.

Can you do the same? The three openings above highlight ways in which three separate authors have tried to do just that. Sometimes a writer can open the story with a prologue and at other times, at chapter one. Whichever method you choose, remember that every story is different, so if you opt for a prologue, use it wisely, to dispense information that is pertinent to the tale; without which the story might not make sense. Or be weighty.

Truth be told, the first opening from Once a Witch is taken from a prologue which does a lot to enhance the story, which in and of itself is quite compact. In fact, you can think of it as a story that has two parts. The first part being somewhat like Harry Potter going off to Hogwarts. But unlike JK Rowling, this author (Carolyn MacCullough) has only a few pages to catch you up on her protagonist’s past before the spinning of the tale.  How she does it? You’ll have to read the tale and find out for yourself, but the first few sentences give you a glimpse of the protagonist and lets you know what sort of story you are about to encounter. I believe without it, the story would not seem complete or fully fleshed out.

Nevertheless do remember that every story is different. And the decision to use or not use a prologue, should be taken with care, because the information introduced in a prologue should be something pertinent, that will further the reader’s understanding of the story. Something without which the reader may be confused or hesitant about undertaking the journey. For some this might even be the why of the story. Clues that will only come to life after you have accepted the challenge and agreed to delve further in for example in Shaunta Grimes’ novel, Viral Nation.
So, using a prologue can help you to create a better story, if you give the reader vital information. Do the same with your story. But make sure that whatever it is that you are telling them is just enough for where they are in the story, and that it is not a sensory overload, of too much information being introduced into the story all at once.

For other writers though the first few words of chapter one heralds a new beginning. Think of Auracle (Gina Rosati), the two lines quoted above and the first line of Taken (Erin Bowman) given below. Both of them present you with the main character (and hint at the people that they hold dear).

Today is the last day I will see my brother. (Taken)

Whenever possible, start your story either with your main character or the opposing force. And if you cannot begin with the opposition, then use some other minor link to it, that shows the reader what’s at stake. If you can help it, don’t wait.

Because part of what will make you a good writer, is your ability to convey emotion to your reader. To get them interested in what is going to happen to your protagonist. But to do that you will have to make them care about who your protagonist is and then eventually what he is up against. Think of Guy Montag in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
Part 1.
It was a pleasure to burn.
It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flickered the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

And then, another part of what it takes to be a good writer is to be a good reader. Use emotion but make sure that what you present is believable. Take your readers on an emotional journey and remember to make your opening words count, like Mr. Bradbury. Or even with the two pieces below:

An icy wind seeped through the floorboards and I shivered, pulling my gray wool sweater tighter around myself. (Blackberry Winter – Sarah Jio)

I felt it coming this time. I shoved my drawings into the hidden slit I’d made in the back of my mattress, then grabbed the metal bed frame to steady myself as my brain suddenly jolted back into connection with the Link. (Glitch – Heather Anastasiu)

Although I have focused mostly on first person point-of-view stories, such openings can work no matter which person or perspective you choose. Reel your reader in. Start strong and make every word count. A strong beginning sentence, paragraph, chapter or prologue if well done can be enough to entice your reader and get them to dive in. How? Let them see your main character doing something. Or familiarize them with the story world and your opponent. Take it one step at a time, if you are a beginner or still learning some of the techniques. But make sure every word counts and whatever is said, is meant.

And until next time, keep reading, writing and blogging!