Day of the Writer

I have coffee, then get up. (Coffee in bed was part of the marriage proposal.) Nothing is done without coffee. Concentrate. it’s the COFFEE.

Hubby always gets breakfast. (yes. I know. I am beyond lucky). So I play on the computer for a half hour while he cooks. First round of email checking, deleting things I know I won’t read or get to, or consider unimportant, leaving things I need to consider.

Leave the computer, have breakfast. Pour another cup of coffee.

Alma Coffee photoGo to my computer. Load Facebook. I need to know what is going on, especially on morning-after-the-night-befores like a Brexit vote, for instance. As it always happens with social media, one thing leads to another. I respond to stuff that interests me. Then people respond to me, needing a response in turn. I glance at the clock on the wall. The minutes are ticking by.

Deal with the rest of the email from yesterday/last night. Check mail. Get a fresh batch in. Deal with those.

I need another cup of coffee.

Look over research notes. there is something I need to know. Google that. Get distracted by side-research. Finally get it under control. Go back to notes.

Then I write a few words, or a few hundred words.

Need another cup of coffee. Glance into FB. Some things need replying to.

At some point, my husband fixes our second daily meal, usually at 6 p.m.

Watch a bit of TV.

Following that, depending on how much TV and what it was we watched, it’s back to the computer and catch up on the news of the day, perhaps write some more but perhaps run out of time.

Around midnight most days, bed.

There’s a fresh batch of emails brewing for me for next morning. And so it goes.

My routine sounds like a classic case of endless procrastination, doesn’t it.

But then one day…

A story grabs me by the throat and wants told nownownow.

Suddenly everything else disappears and I tunnel-vision into writenowwritenowwritenow. I HAVE to write!

Those are the days when THOUSANDS of words happen. I once wrote a 100,000 novel, my most successful, in a little over two months.

But you know what? Those days are only possible because *I already know what to write*. And THAT happened on all those days I was not furiously putting words on screen, but rather thinking about them while I Facebooked and browsed and skimmed email – and drank coffee.

There IS no procrastination. It’s simply the way I write.

I just wrote an essay about loss for Book View Cafe. As is almost always the case, the essay was related to one of my novels, ‘Letters from the Fire’, that was also written during one of my writenowwritenowwritenow moments.

Letters was a much smaller book and was written with a co-author. But from conception to bookstore took less than six months, practically an instant book which was based on current events.

Loss and longing

I tell people that I was born in a country that no longer exists – and it doesn’t, not on the maps, not in atlases, not on globes. It has vanished into history, now.

Novi Sad Bridges photoBut the land that the “country” maps onto, that exists, will always exist. That little piece of earth is where I first opened my eyes to the world, first knew the love of family, first saw the sky and the stars, first told stories, first watched the grand old river flow past ancient shores and underneath iconic bridges… ah, but remember those bridges. They will become important in a moment.

This was the piece of land which held my ancestral spirit and it is the piece of land where my ancestors’ bones are buried.

I did not even know how much that mattered until that piece of land became the target for an unprovoked, undeserved attack, a war waged on the strength of spin and propaganda, something ginned up to achieve a political goal by the greater powers no matter how much was lost by somebody else whose welfare they didn’t care all that much about.

I had left the country once known as Yugoslavia when I was ten years old – and it was still that, then. It was later, during a bloody series of wars of secession, that it disintegrated, and what was left of that country-of-origin was a place called Serbia. And a town called Novi Sad.

Read more at The Book View Cafe HERE

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The disappearing women

At LitHub, author Dorthe Nors writes about the conundrum that so many middle-age women face.

I write books about middle-aged, childless women on the brink of disappearing—or you could say—on the brink of losing their license to live. If a woman has kids, she will always be a mother, but a woman who has chosen not to procreate and who now no longer is young and sexy is perceived by many as a pointless being.”

Later on in her article, Nors says that a journalist told once told her that she was glad that she writes about middle-aged women without children because “there are so many of us, and because it quite often feels as if we’re not really here.”
Middle Aged Women, movie framePhoto: A still from “Another Year”, dir. Mike Leigh (2010).

Read the whole article at LitHub HERE

Road Tripping While Female

Also at LitKub, Bernadette Murphy writes about the absence of women in the literature of American adventure;

“In American letters, there are plenty of male adventure tales unspooling on our nation’s highways and byways…(but) the story of a woman on the road—joyfully, expansively, freely, experiencing this land in the way these male authors do—it turns out, is a rare thing.

There are exceptions, she says. For example:

Wild CoverWild, Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, lauded by Oprah and made into a feature film starring Reese Witherspoon, tells of the author’s life-enhancing and resolve-testing solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail in an effort to reclaim the woman she had been.

Read more at LitHub HERE

Women may be mostly absent on the road, but when it comes to other books, Terrence Rafferty writes at The Atlantic,

Women Are Writing the Best Crime Novels

They don’t seem to believe in heroes as much as their male counterparts, which in some ways makes their storytelling a better fit for the times, Rafferty writes in his article, adding:

“When in doubt,” Raymond Chandler once told his genre brethren, “have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” When today’s crime writers are in doubt, they have a woman come through the door with a passive-aggressive zinger on her lips…their books are light on gunplay, heavy on emotional violence.

Darkest Secret cover photoDeath, in (some) women’s books, is often chillingly casual, and unnervingly intimate.

As a character in Alex Marwood’s brilliant new novel, The Darkest Secret, muses: “They’re not always creeping around with knives in dark alleyways. Most of them kill you from the inside out.

Read more at The Atlantic HERE

Quote of the Day
OneTrue Sentence illustration

Ah, if only it really were that easy.

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When I was young and innocent

Queen Guenevere illustrationBack when I was nineteen years old and steeped up to my innocent ingenue ears in The Matter of Britain, I wrote a novel about Queen Guenevere.

A publisher who was considering it sent it to South Africa’s pre-eminent novelist for comment. He started his report thusly:

“This is an impressive piece of writing, especially if it is taken into account that it was written by a 19-year-old. I have no doubt that this young woman will be a major writer one day.”


You heard the but coming, didn’t you?…

Read the whole story at the Book View Cafe HERE


Passing over the Rainbow Bridge

Just found out today that a friend I knew as Cat but had never met in real life has died.

For over twenty years, Vickie Barcomb was and always will remain this wonderful, wise, larger-than-life Internet friend whom I loved. For a reason. Usually the first question asked over one of our phone calls was “How many cats do you have now?” And it was always answered by a laconic, “Oh, I’m down to about 40.”

Forty cats and kittens rescued and fostered under the umbrella of her organization, Kittens, Inc. – some of them very young, some of them severely special-needs,
all of them loved and cared for by this great-hearted woman who knew everything there was to know about things feline and who was my go-to source of advice when megrims threatened my beloved fur family.

I’ll never have that again – those conversations over the phone, usually punctuated by random crashes in the background and “HEY! GET OFF THAT!” addressed to the cats in her vicinity.

She had one cat, Ivy, who would ‘talk’ to me on the phone. Cat would put the receiver next to Ivy and I would ask how are you feeling today. “Mmmrrrow?” – and how was the weather? – “Mmroweoweow. Meow.” – Oh, I see, too hot, was it? – “MEOW. meowowowow.” And then Cat herself would take back the phone and we’d just carry on where we had stopped.

Cat was always phoning me from her cell phone while negotiating traffic. “Hang on a sec, there’s a moron in front of me who has no clue what he’s doing. TURN, YOU IDIOT! Okay, where were we?”

She was also one of the most, um, breakable people I knew. The other common theme of those phone calls was “What have you broken lately?” There was always something. A finger. A hand. A hip. But she was always up and at it anyway, typing with a broken hand, crawling around with a leg in a cast to clean cat boxes. Never give up, never surrender.

She was always full of awful jokes, but her full-throated laugh made even the worst of them hilarious. And we laughed together a lot.

DAMN. I am going to miss this friend whose face I never saw with my own physical eyes, whose hand I never shook, whose voice I never heard other than through the telephone. She was always geographically distant from me – but she was a kind of a soul sister. And I will miss her.

Rest in light, Cat. And I just KNOW that you were smothered with love and wet kisses at the far end of the Rainbow Bridge. And only the BEST people are.


Author buries latest manuscript for a hundred years

David Mitchell photoDavid Mitchell ‘Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

At The Guardian, Alison Flood reports that the author of Cloud Atlas has delivered his new work to Oslo’s Nordmarka forest as part of the Future Library project.

David Mitchell is used to his novels being picked over by the critics, so it’s something of a relief, he says, that his latest work won’t be seen by anyone until 2114.

Mitchell is the second contributor to the Scottish artist Katie Paterson’s Future Library project, for which 1,000 trees were planted two years ago in Oslo’s Nordmarka forest. Each year for the next 100 years an author will deliver a piece of writing which will only be read in 2114, when the trees are chopped down to make paper on which the 100 texts will be printed.

The Future Library Project offers “hope that we will be here, that there will be trees, that there will be books, and readers, and civilization.”

Read more at The Guardian HERE

Did you hear how the sandwich was invented?

Since the first cave paintings thousands of years ago, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods, Leo Widrich says at Life Hacker, because it is the most powerful way to activate our brains.

What does this mean? Well gather around while he tells you a story.

Read more at Life Hack HERE

Mortifification! Reading from your adolescent diaries on stage

At KQED News, Linda Flanagan tells us that when Georgia Gootee examines the journals she wrote as a 15-year-old, she sympathizes with her younger flailing self.

“You can read through these journals and tell that at some points I’m just so terrified that it’ll never come together, I’ll never find my place in the world, I’ll never feel loved or love anyone myself.”

Now 26, Gootee can chuckle at the overwrought nature of her youthful preoccupations. “It’s a weird duality,” she said.

She read excerpts from her teenage journal at a Mortified performance in Portland last year. Mortified shows, as they’re called, feature adults reading aloud and on stage from their adolescent diaries.

Read more at KQED News HERE

Quote of the Day
Noun Or Verb posterI knew what I was before I could hold a crayon in my hand. How about you?

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Are you a god?

If you are a writer, yes.

In a very real sense what you do when you create a fictional world is neither more nor less than being a god of a universe of your own creation.

We writers, we artists, we take the building blocks of the familiar and go on to make something different from them, something rich and strange. There is a train station where all the trains to these places stop, and we all stand there on the platform selling tickets, tickets to OUR worlds, and we smile when someone picks one up and boards a particular train and sits there leaning forward with shining eyes full of anticipation.

The worlds we create can be filled with intricate and painstaking detail – or they can be just hinted at, with the larger picture there for you, the reader, to fill in when you lift your eyes from the words on the page and the ideas blossom in the back of your mind.

Some of the best world-creating moments are almost incidental – like in a fairly silly episode of Doctor Who named “Gridlock” where the premise rests on this ludicrous idea of a traffic jam that has literally lasted for lifetimes… and yet this silliness is lifted into the transcendent.

Right at the end of the episode, the Doctor speaks with passion and pain and longing and regret and nostalgia and the purest love, of his lost home, Gallifrey. The world is built, sketched in a a few powerful words, a couple of incandescent sentences.

I’ve never been to Gallifrey. I can’t have ever been there. It does not exist any longer – the Doctor said it’s been destroyed. But, of course, it never REALLY existed at all, outside the story, outside the Doctor’s own mind and heart and memory.

Gallifrey illustrationAnd yet some part of me thrills to the “burnt orange sky”, and the “mountains that shine when the second sun rises.”


(With a little search you can find a video clip of this brief scene online and it’s worth the effort.)

I do this thing, worldbuilding. I take pride in creating worlds that live and breathe.

And sometimes I get rewarded.

“I could almost smell the cold and the freshness of the air and the tremble of the earth,” someone told me the other day, in reference my novel ‘The Secrets of Jin-shei‘.

I took a reader into a world that rose, real, around her as she rolled into the heart of it. One journey into a sense of wonder, validated. There are moments of which entire days are made. This gave me one of those moments.

Professor Tolkien wrote about all this, powerfully:

Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not de-throned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned:
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons- ’twas our right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we’re made.

Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker. — J.R.R. Tolkien, Tolkien on Fairy-stories

In a LiveJournal essay a few years ago I challenged my readers to:

“Take me to a place you’ve never been and make me homesick for it. Make me yearn for it and believe in it and love it and miss it as though it once belonged to me and I still carry it in my heart.”

It’s easy – well, easier, anyway – to write about a place one has personally known and loved. I have done it talking about the Danube and the way I feel about that river; I’ve done it about the places of my childhood.

But can you be homesick for a place you have never been, can never go? Is it possible for an Earthbound human to be homesick for a planet called Gallifrey, or a wood known as Lothlorien? Is it possible to be homesick for some patch of this our own world which one has never seen or visited?

For instance…

Oh, the moment in which the sun is not yet quite risen, not yet quite ready to pour itself around the shadowed crags in their veils of mist, but the day has started – and the light is pearly and nacred, shifting and shining, and the mists flow and coil around their great standing rocks and islands as though they are saying farewell to a lover. And the sky is lost in a brightening glow and the silhouettes of stones sharpen into individual sharp edges, and trees, and in between all there is the river, and the water is starting to change from darkness to a dull pewter glow which echoes the pre-dawn light to the glitter of sun on water as the first fingers of sunlight touch the ancient river and wake it into day once more, another day.

Already there are boats moving, and men silhouetted against the sky, and the faint shimmery lines of nets being cast into the water where the fish are waking, too, and waiting to offer themselves in the daily act of love and sacrifice that feeds the people of these crags, of this river. And the shadows are black, and the crags are charcoal gray and deep deep green in the faint light, and the water is turning golden and the sky is turning a faint blue, like the delicate shell of a bird’s egg, and soon the sun will come and the water will blaze with glory.

I am talking about a real place, the Li river, Guilin, China. But I’ve never been there. I’ve never seen this, outside of pictures.

River in China photo

I found this photo AFTER I wrote that paragraph above. I went looking for images that matched the view from my mind’s eye. I wasn’t describing the pictures; the pictures were found later to match and illustrate what I had already described…

And yet it’s there in my mind’s eye. And I can make myself homesick for it by letting the image live in my mind.

Perhaps it is possible to take a soul to Gallifrey. And make that soul love a place never seen, impossible to reach, a place that may never have existed outside the mind and heart of a character in a story…


My first book audiobook – Paper and ebook and voice, oh my.

I am a very visual writer. I sometimes basically close my eyes and just transcribe the movie that’s unfolding before me on the backs of my eyelids. I SEE things.

Some writers dictate their books into a recorder before transcribing them onto the page, and some use software such as Dragon to dictate their books directly onto the screen. But that is not the way I think, not the way I write. I need to see the words dance on the page. Not hear them.

For the same reason, I haven’t really taken to audio books the way others, my husband for example, have. I don’t take in stories JUST by listening to them.

But the times they are a-changing, audiobooks are becoming more popular and I have now taken a step into the future with my first book in audio format, ‘Embers of Heaven‘.
Embers of Heaven coverI listened to the sample on the Amazon page for the audio book and it’s eerie to hear my own words spoken at me. It’s well done, at least in the sample I heard. (I have to admit that I would probably have chosen a female narrator voice since my main protagonist is a woman and the final section of the book is pretty much a first-person journal-like narrative from her POV.)

My first audiobook. Huh. I feel all grown up now.

You can sample or buy it at Amazon HERE

Quote of the DayBenjamin Franklin posterIn his own way, he was talking about building a world.


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It’s YA; aren’t you embarrassed to be caught with that book?

First of all… repeat after me: “There is no such thing as ‘YA LITERATURE‘.”

There isn’t. Not really. Not specifically. The category was created, whole-cloth, as a marketing niche for those who wanted to capture a particular kind of readership. But let’s unpack that a little bit.

1) Kids tend to read “older”. That is, they like protagonists older than they are. Ten-year-olds will yearningly read about teens. Young teens will read about older teens. Older teens… well, most of them will read adult literature.

In short, any book marked as a YA book is going to be read, at least at first, by young teens.

2) Quite often the people who actually PURCHASE books for young(er) readers are not those readers themselves but parents, grandparents and other adults who are paying the money and making the choices. Yes, they will choose the books that they think their kids are likely to enjoy, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is the adults who are choosing.

And those adults might well have a personal stake in what they choose.

3) I have written books with young protagonists that have been marketed as YA.

Girl Reading WordweaversMy heroine in the Worldweavers books starts out aged 14, and is 16 at the conclusion of the final book. In The Were Chronicles my POV characters are 14, 17, 19+. Both series deal with serious, some life changing, situations.

The Worldweavers books have been marketed as for “12 and up”, and The Were Chronicles for possibly slightly older teens – but these are books that have been read by 9-year-olds at one end and by grown ups of a range of ages at the other, and enjoyed by all of them according to reader responses that I am getting.

And here’s the truth of it: these were books WRITTEN for all of those readers. A good story is a good story and can be enjoyed by anyone from 10 to 100. A reader will find their own level, a place where they are reading things they understand and enjoy. This means that I am perfectly fine with younger readers reaching for a slightly “older” book, and I am also more than happy when a reader who is beyond – often well beyond – the “YA” criterion reaches for the same book.

Those readers are likely getting different things from the same novel, and that is absolutely fine. But just because something is flung out there with a warning label that screams “YA LIT AHEAD! PICK UP AT YOUR OWN PERIL!” is absolutely no reason for ANY reader to avoid it, whether for being “too young” or “too old” for it.

Readers, hearken! My books are for all of you. As one reviewer so perfectly put it, my books are for everyone who is or might once have been a child. Read freely, regret
nothing, and choose to read whatever you wish without knuckling under to the stigma of reading “outside of your age range”, of what has always been no more than a marketing label designed to sell more books.

Read. All the stories are yours.

Another blogger had some interesting thoughts on this. Austin Hackney wrote:

“…an article I recently came across in Slate vilifying adults who read young adult or children’s literature rubbed me up so far the wrong way that I simply had to write this if only to let off some steam. And mix up a few metaphors while I’m at it. I’m not going to link to it. If you want to read it you can find it for yourself…

“No matter what the self-appointed cultural guardians at Slate may think, the facts speak for themselves. All the recent surveys I’ve been able to find suggest that well over 55% of the readership for YA literature is made up of people 18 years old and up. Namely, adults..quite frankly some of the very best writing in English today is categorized by the publishing houses and the booksellers as being for the young adult market.”

Read more at Austin Hackney blog HERE

The page 69 quiz

Reader selecting book photoCan you identify the classic book from a single paragraph? 69 is a big number: in 1969, man walked on the moon. Bryan Adams had a summer. At the age of 69, Marshall McLuhan died, leaving behind his theory of how to choose a book: if you like what’s on page 69, chances are you’ll like the rest too. Can you pick these page 69s?

From what book did this passage come?
“Boleyn is still smiling. He is a poised, slender man; it takes the effort of every tuned muscle in his body to keep the smile on his face.”

I personally liked this item because I never could figure out why the book in question worked. But it did. BTW, I won’t tell you how I did on the rest of the quiz.

Take the quiz at The Guardian website HERE


Quote of the Day
Book Reviews poster

Once upon a time, at the bright dawn of my career, I had an international megahit. A few other books went international, but nothing like the Blessed Book, “The Secrets of Jin Shei”. I’ve written LOTS more books since then and some of them – just as worthy – have been lagging in the review department. If you read them, and liked them, mosey on to Amazon and tell the world…


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