Twiceborn Endgame cover reveal!

Drum-roll please! It’s finally time to reveal the gorgeous cover for Twiceborn Endgame:

Twiceborn Endgame small

I love it, and I can’t wait to see it sitting side by side with the first two on Amazon. That should only be a couple of weeks away now. It’s still with the editor, but should be back any day now. Hopefully she won’t suggest too many changes, then it’s off to the formatter and we’re into the home stretch. Still have to write the blurb, though. I always put that off until the last minute! Considering how short they are, blurbs are surprisingly difficult to write.

This one will be a doozy, too. There’s so much going on in this book! So many threads to tie off, as it’s the last book in the trilogy. Lots of exciting twists, none of which I want to give away in the blurb, so I’m going to have to give it careful thought. Kate has more hair-raising adventures! And does kick-ass dragon stuff! (Sadly the blurb requires a little more detail than that.)

In other news, the second Fairytale Curse book has a name: The Cauldron’s Gift. It also has a most delicious cover, but I can’t show you that yet, as the book’s not due out for several months yet. I’ve had a stressful but exciting time lately working with the cover designer to come up with something that suited the book and was genre-appropriate. That’s another thing about publishing that’s not as easy as it sounds (though it’s a lot more fun than blurb-writing).

And of course it’s November, that time of year when crazy people all over the world commit to writing a whole novel in just one month. I was still finishing up revisions on Twiceborn Endgame when November started, and then I had a bit of a mental blank for a few days: what on earth would I write about? I was supposed to be writing the third Fairytale Curse book, but the prospect left me unenthused, so I sat down on November 5th and began a random new story instead.

So now I’m pulling my usual November stunt of madly scrambling to dream up enough story to be able to continue writing every day. “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Well, the road is exeptionally foggy, but I’m motoring on, trusting to the process. Hopefully I arrive at the end with a finished draft!

How about you? Are you doing Nanowrimo? How are you going?

From character flaw to superpower in one easy lesson

 It’s November, which means it’s National Novel Writing Month, that crazy, stressful, sometimes blissful time of year when hundreds of thousands of people all over the world decide to write a 50,000-word novel in just one month.

Did I mention crazy and stressful?

And yet, every year I do it again. Which means that it’s also that time of year when I feel an urgent desire to quilt. Or crochet. Or even garden (and I hate gardening). Basically, when I have to write, I desperately want to do something – anything – else!

I mean, sure, I like writing (or else this wouldn’t be my seventh Nano, right?). Yet I have this odd character flaw, that I’m a real grass-is-always-greener kind of person. If I’m writing, I’d rather be quilting. If I’m quilting I’d rather be scrapbooking. And if I’m scrapbooking … you get the picture.

Yet I always force myself through the wordmines of Nano each year, because I’m basically lazy, and the added pressure of the Nano deadline really works to make me finish a first draft in just one month. Any other time of year it takes me at least two.

This year, case in point, I was working on the first draft of another novel (the third in the Twiceborn series), which was meant to be finished before November, but I just hadn’t been able to push myself to get it done. I only had about eight scenes to go, but I had to set it aside in order to begin my new Nano novel. (And yes, I did consider skipping Nano in favour of just finishing the damn book already, but since Nano is my big chance to get a whole first draft in one month, I didn’t want to give up that opportunity.)

I told myself I could work on both at once, but I’ve never been able to do that before. I have enough trouble coming up with one novel on the fly, without trying to cram a completely different story into my limited creative brainspace.

So I was plugging away on my Nano novel, but feeling more and more guilty about the unfinished one, when I decided, dammit, I was going to give it a go.

And lo and behold – what happened? Instead of being harder than writing them individually, it was actually easier! I wrote faster and with more dedication, knowing I had to make my wordcount on both of them each day.

But it was more than that – it was that whole grass-is-always-greener thing coming into play. Suddenly what had been a character flaw started working in my favour. When I was working on one, my subconscious would be mulling over the other one, getting excited about the next scene coming, and I’d happily switch. Then when I got tired of that one, or ran out of inspiration, the other would be calling to me.

Yesterday I wrote nearly 4,000 words on one and 2,500 on the other. (And yes, my shoulders are killing me, thank you for asking.) To quote the great Vizzini: “inconceivable!”

So I seem to have acquired writing superpowers. Just in the nick of time, too.  I hope they stick around for a while. As long as I don’t also find some writing kryptonite, November should be a very productive month.

What about you? Are you doing Nano? If so, have you found any ways to make yourself more productive?

Follow the spark

Once upon a time, a writer wrote a book full of twists and surprises, about dragons and werewolves, mothers and lost children, loves and betrayals. The first draft was completed in the rush of blood called NaNoWriMo, and for once the writer was so pleased with her story that she stuck with it and started the laborious process of revising and beautifying.

The plan was to finish this process loooong before Nano rolled around again the following November, which would leave her plenty of time to plan the next novel, which would be a continuation of this exciting story.

Can you guess what happened next? Or rather, didn’t happen?

Yes, that’s right, I didn’t finish the revision. I still have seven scenes to go. As November loomed closer I began pushing myself to plan the next novel while still madly revising – not an impossible task, certainly, but every time I tried I ran up against the same problem. I knew, in very large terms, what needed to happen, but everything I loved about the first book was missing. The twists and mysteries were what made the first book exciting for me, but they’d all been revealed, and the second book would be a much more straightforward “kill the baddies, win the battle” affair.

And I couldn’t think of any way to make it interesting enough that I wanted to write it.

I’m sure, ultimately, I will be able to, but with mere days left in October I knew I couldn’t come up with anything in time. It looked like I’d have to sit Nano out this year.

Then, on the 30th of October (why do I do this to myself?), I thought: Self, don’t be such a piker. Why don’t you just write something else?

Oh, sure. Last year I was so organised. You should have seen me! I had characters, plot twists – scenes planned out on index cards. Me, the ultimate pantster, and I even had an outline! I was so proud of myself. No more flailing around in the dark! And Nano had gone so smoothly as a result.

And now here I was, getting ready to buy a ticket on the express to Flailsville again. What was I thinking?? I didn’t even have an idea. What could I possibly find to write about in one day?

Well, said the little voice, you always said you wanted to write a version of the fairy tale Toads and Diamonds. Even as a kid, though I’d loved it, it seemed to end too soon. But what happened next? Maybe I should write it and find out.

A little spark of excitement flared. Okay, get out a pen and piece of paper, and write down half a dozen different ways you could approach it. Change the sisters to brothers? Set it in an unusual location? Tell the story from the “bad” sister’s point of view?

Soon I had a bunch of ideas and a whole lot more excitement going on, and that’s what decided me. Write the book I felt I should write, or the one I now really wanted to write?

Easy decision. Writing a book is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re not bursting with excitement at the beginning, the chances of making it to the end aren’t good. When you have two (or more) ideas to choose between, go with the one that sparks for you. 

So that’s how I came to be 13,361 words in to Attack of the Fairy Tales, a novel I had no inkling of a week ago. I’m living in downtown Flailsville again – crazy place, but a lot of fun sometimes.

So there’s my writing tip for the week: follow that spark!

The long and the short of titles

Over on Magical Words, Will McIntosh raises an interesting point about story titles: that you have a lot more leeway in naming short stories than novels, because a short story is usually part of a collection (either magazine or anthology) that people are reading, and most will try each story regardless of whether the title grabs them.

With a novel, however, the title is one of the holy marketing trinity that makes a browser pick up a book in a bookstore, or click on it on a website (the other two are the cover and familiarity with the author’s name). A good title is a selling tool that hints at what the reader can expect to find in the novel while making it sound enticing. A lot to expect from a handful of words, no?

Some writers don’t worry too much about finding the perfect title, knowing that their editor will probably want to change it anyway to suit what the marketing gurus think will sell. Many publishing contracts specifically say that while the author may be consulted on the title, final say lies with the publisher.

Other writers obsess over their titles, feeling that their knowledge of the book makes them the best person to find a title that perfectly encapsulates it – and who wants to get stuck with an awful title? Better at least to have some suggestions ready when the publisher starts to talk titles.

But what makes a good title?

Till last November I always thought I had a knack for titles. The “perfect” title usually leapt into my brain along with the story, usually something drawn from the writing itself. Easy peasy. (I say “perfect” since very few of my stories have been exposed to the rigours of the outside world, so they could be atrocious titles in reality, but at least I haven’t had to strain my brain too much to think of them.)

Then I started last year’s Nano novel. Step one: open new file. Check. Step two: name and save new file. Er …


Despite being unusually prepared story-wise, nothing leapt to mind. Oh well. “Nano novel.doc”. Brilliant, I know.

Never mind, something will occur to me as I write the story.


I’ll think of a title when I finish writing it, then.


I’ve now been working on the revision for two months, and it’s still called “Dragon novel”. It’s like having a six-month-old baby called “Hey You”, because nothing better’s occurred to you yet. Very frustrating.

So. Back to the elements of a good title, courtesy of another post on Magical Words:

You want something punchy, and short enough to fit on the spine of a book and still be legible (a very practical consideration that I hadn’t considered!). It should raise a question in the reader’s mind, so avoid common words – uncommon words, or unusual combinations of words are intriguing, like A Game of Thrones, or Fahrenheit 451. And make sure you don’t have to read the story for the title to make sense.

All of which are good tips, though sadly not helping with “Dragon novel”. There are a couple of huge secrets at the heart of this novel, and every title I’ve thought of is too spoilery. I guess I’ll just have to keep plugging away at the revision and hope that something brilliant comes to me eventually.

In the meantime, have you come across any intriguing titles lately?

Made it!

Phew! Finished my NaNo novel at 3 pm this afternoon. Soooo relieved. An entire first draft in a month, a new PB for me. I estimated I’d need about 60,000 words to tell the story, and it came in at 60,088. Not bad!

The ducklings all finished their novels too, though you will be shocked to learn there was some “cheating” involved this year. The girls both set their goals a little higher than turned out to be achievable. Not to worry – just change your goal to something lower! It’s not really cheating, of course, since that’s allowed in the Young Writers’ Program, it just feels like cheating to those of us who have to make 50,000 or bust!

I bought “Nano carrots” again this year – a much-desired book each, that they couldn’t have until they reached their “goal”. (Maybe next year I’ll have to specify which goal if they’re going to keep changing them to fit.) For a while it looked as though Drama Duck was going to have to wait till Christmas to get hers, but she put in a final effort this afternoon and managed to stagger across the (adjusted) line.

Baby Duck finished before any of us. His goal was 1,000 words, and he did more than that in Chapter 1 of his magnum opus, so he stopped writing and read his Nano carrot instead. It may take some effort to get him going again, but his idea is interesting so I’d like to see him finish the story.

All in all, a successful November. I hope, if you were doing NaNo this year, your novel went well too.

And now – oh joy! – I get to do something other than write again. Like maybe read some of these:

Or do some more of this:

Or even this:

Yay! So happy!

Life is full of purple satin

Let’s face it: there’s never a perfect time to undertake a large project, is there? Like, say, writing a whole novel in a month. Life will always get in the way, whether it’s family emergencies, dramas at work, sickness, or just plain old daily grind. We all try to fit so much into our lives, it’s hard enough to carve out time for another big project even if everything goes smoothly.

I lost a great deal of time this November to making dance costumes for Demon Duck’s class of thirty kids. It was my own fault – I stupidly volunteered, underestimating, as usual, the time it would take. Funny how I always think I’m some superhuman production machine when these things come up. Ten bubble skirts and twenty singlets with fake satin braces sewn on them? Sure, no problem!

In the end, with the dress rehearsal mere days away, I had to put my NaNo novel on hold. For three whole days I did nothing but sew *@#%^$!! singlets, till I was so sick of the sight of purple satin I could scream, with not a single word added to my wordcount.

But eventually even this torment had to end, after 17 metres of satin, 600 metres of thread and about 60 hours of swearing, and I had to face the novel again. The idea of giving up was hugely tempting at this point. After all, that was 6,000 words I had to make up, and time was already tight because I wanted to finish the whole novel by November 30th, which I estimated meant writing 60,000 words instead of 50,000. A big job, and one I’d never managed before. To have lost three days, when I’d been determined not to miss any, was a huge blow, but that’s life, isn’t it? Just chock-full of damned purple satin.

I’m hopeful there’ll be a happy ending to this story. I have three scenes still to write, and three days left to do it in. It’s tight – tighter than I’d hoped – but should be do-able. I’ve passed 50,000 words, which is kind of a psychological barrier, and feel the end just over the horizon.

I’m glad I forced myself to go on. If you have a goal, it’s no use giving up at the inevitable setbacks. Giving up seems so much easier, and so tempting. Maybe there’ll be a better time later, you think, and you’re desperate for sleep and sick of the whole thing anyway.

But there’ll always be purple satin, in some form or another, and you just have to pick yourself up and keep going. However much the to-be-read pile beckons, or however many tempting crochet projects you find on the internet in those too-frequent breaks from novel writing!

Writing a novel is only glamorous and exciting for about the first week. After that it’s work, like any other task that takes hours out of your life. Like making *&#!!%* purple satin bubble skirts. Often interesting, occasionally exciting, but still work. It requires some stick-to-it-iveness. (I’m sure there’s a real word for that, but my brain is too fried at the moment. Tenacity? Stubbornness? Something like that.)

Every time this month I’ve sat down to add more words to this novel, I’ve thought “I can’t do this”. The temptation to give up never goes away. But every time I push myself to do just a little more, and slowly the story grows. Tortoise-like, I inch my way toward the finish line.

Have you ever felt like that with a big project? What kind of purple satin has life thrown your way?

Imaginary medicine

Recently I took the ducklings to the dentist. In the grotty old carpark out the back is an equally grotty sign, advertising for a chemist shop that no longer exists:

CHEMIST: Prescriptions made up

This tickled Demon Duck’s sense of the absurd.

“Hey, look Mum – ‘prescriptions made up’. What’s this prescription do? We don’t know! We made it up!

In other efforts of the imagination, I progress with my NaNo effort. Yesterday I would have said I was progressing well. Today has been more of a struggle.

I’m trying a new approach this year. In the past I’ve started writing with no more than a premise, a handful of characters and a couple of scenes worked out. This can bring great delight, as your imagination throws up exciting ideas and connects elements in surprising ways. It can also, of course, create a huge amount of stress, as you struggle to work out the plot on the fly. I’ve never managed to write more than about 500 words an hour this way, and often considerably less, so it’s always been a stressful slog.

This year I have much more of the story mapped out – perhaps as much as three-quarters – with many scenes neatly noted on plot cards. This has meant a more cohesive story and a writing speed hovering close to 1000 words an hour, or double my usual. Go, me! This is more like it!

Sadly, today I arrived at one of the holes: “memory scene involving characters A and B”. I hoped by the time I got here something brilliant would have occurred to me. No such luck.

After procrastinating most of the day I decided to skip it and write the next scene I knew instead. Lord, it was like pulling teeth. Eventually I got something half the length of my usual scenes, that took twice as long to write, and lay limp on the page like cold spaghetti.

And I still have to write another 900 words to make the day’s quota. I’m well ahead, but I’m determined not to lose any of my buffer. This year I’m not stopping at 50,000 and outlining the rest of the book; I want to write my way all the way to The End.

My poor imagination is feeling bruised already. I could do with one of those imaginary prescriptions!

‘Twas the night before Nano

’Twas the night before Nano and all through the house
Every writer was panicked and glued to their mouse
The outlines were dodgy and full of plot holes
And 50k words seemed impossible goals

Okay, so now you know why I write novels and not poetry. But yes, Nanowrimo starts tomorrow, that month of mass insanity where writers all over the world egg each other on to write a 50,000-word novel during November. I’m equal parts excitement and terror. 50,000 words in a month – even though I’ve managed it four times before – is very daunting. Or maybe that should be “because I’ve managed it four times before”. I know exactly what I’m getting myself into!

On the other hand, knowing what’s ahead is also kind of exhilarating and I guess that’s the reason I keep coming back – the excitement when marvellous plot twists come to you seemingly from nowhere, the buzz when the writing’s going well and, above all, the rush of making it to the end. (And maybe the joy of collapsing when it’s all over!)

This year we have four Nano-ers in our house. The girls will be doing it again for the third year, with Drama Duck aiming for 15,000 words and Demon Duck going for 5,000. Baby Duck is joining the fun for the first time, with a goal of 1,000 words. I don’t think he’ll have any trouble. Some of his dinnertime monologues about lego or Skylanders are waaaaay longer than that.

If only he could find a way to write a story using lego bricks he’d be set.

No no Nano

Stop the presses – it’s November and I’m not doing Nano. I’ve done NaNoWriMo for the last four Novembers in a row, so not to be pounding out 1700+ words a day in a panicked scramble feels weird. Like December without Christmas.

I have all this time on my hands. Ha! I wish. Those pesky renovations. There’s always another wall to scrub or a ceiling to paint. That was one reason I decided not to participate this year. Another was that those last four manuscripts haven’t got any further. As with quilting projects, I’m great at starting new novels. Not so hot on the revising and finishing thing. Character flaw, I’m looking at you.

NaNoWriMo, in case you don’t know, is a group madness that overcomes tens of thousands of people all over the world every November. They agree to write a 50,000 word novel in a mere 30 days. There are no prizes; nobody sees your novel, or checks your wordcount. It’s purely a motivational thing. There are forums where you can chat with other like-minded novelists, finding answers or inspiration. How far can a horse travel in a day? Someone will know. What’s a good name for an alien artefact? There’ll be lots of suggestions.

There are also local groups which hold writing get-togethers if you’d like to meet writers in your area. Parties too, when it’s all over! You can become online “buddies” with others and send encouraging mail, or just chat. Your wordcount and your buddies’ will be displayed in your own little corner of the Nano website, which is a feature I really like. Watching those wordcounts creep up is very motivating. I hate getting left behind! (Who, me? Competitive??) Updating your wordcount at the end of every day and seeing the little bar edge along is very satisfying.

The girls are both doing the young writers’ version. It’s basically the same thing, but on a separate minors-only website where they get to choose their own wordcount goal. Obviously most kids go for something a leeetle smaller than 50,000. Drama Duck’s goal this year is 8,500 words, and she’s already reached it. Demon Duck is shooting for 3,500.

So at least there is some nanoing going on here, just not by me. I miss the excitement and the buzz of doing it alongside so many others, but reason had to prevail. As a kind of non-Nano consolation, I’m trying to outline a novel this month instead. I’ll still have to write it later, but outlining doesn’t take as much time as writing, and can be done while painting or cleaning, so it’s a more viable option this month. It doesn’t come as naturally to me as just making stuff up on the fly, but I figure it’s worth trying at least once. Doesn’t mean I’m permanently converting to the dark side!

It’s hard, though. Not as hard as writing coherent scenes while desperately improvising the plot, but answering the “what happens next?” question for a whole book-sized plot even in outline is brain-straining stuff. The “big idea” that makes you want to write the thing in the first place has to be broken down into hundreds of smaller ideas that all link together in a meaningful and apparently inevitable progression.

People are always asking authors the dreaded “where do you get your ideas from?” question. I think they assume the whole book falls into your head fully formed, so when they ask “where do you get your ideas from?” what they really mean is “how do I get the complete plot of a bestseller to fall into my head so I can simply transcribe it on to paper and wait for the money to roll in?”

Get the idea and the book writes itself. If only it were that simple! That bit about 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration should be in giant flashing letters. Only the people who sit down and actually try to turn their idea into a book realise that getting the initial idea is the easy part.

Everything else requires effort. And, pants it or plan it, it’s still work!

Nano carrots

“What the hell’s she talking about?” I hear you say. “That’s just a photo of a pile of books.”

Work with me here, people. You’ve heard the expression about the carrot being a better motivator than the stick. Well, I explained this one to the two eldest ducklings this month, along with a practical demonstration.

They both signed up for the Young Writers’ version of Nano again this year. In order to avoid a repeat of last year, where Demon Duck stopped writing after a week and I had to take 1500 words of dictation from her on the last day to get her over the finish line, I bought her a book she’s been begging for.

“This is your Nano carrot,” I said. “You don’t get to read it till you finish Nano.”

Hers is the Young Samurai novel, and she finished her 3,000 words before school this morning.

Drama Duck had no trouble finishing last year – she was done a week before the deadline. That suggested to me that her wordcount goal was too easy for her, and I wanted to encourage her to tackle a bigger project. Out came Nano carrot number two, the new Rick Riordan novel.

“If you make your goal 8,000 words instead of 5,000, you can have this book when you finish.”

And hey presto! She marched up the stairs last night, having finished her wordcount, and swiped the prize off the pile in triumph.

The third one, of course, is for me: Jackie French’s new novel Oracle. I read a good review of it in the papers a couple of weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to it. Adventures in ancient Greece are always fun.

And yes, I get to read my Nano carrot too. I put in a big effort yesterday, because I knew today would be crazy, wrote nearly 4,000 words and just scraped across the finish line. Thank goodness. It was a real struggle this year.

Just to add to the challenge, our computer guy arrived in the middle of the day yesterday and took over my computer for a couple of hours. Aaargh! What’s a girl to do when she’s thrown off her computer?

Why, go and sew something to relieve her feelings, of course.

I’m so in love with this bird fabric, this is the third thing I’ve made with it, and I’m not done yet. The whole of that particular range is so delicious I could eat it. (If, you know, I had one of those weird disorders where people eat stuff they’re not supposed to, like coal or chalk. I would eat only the most bright and beautiful of fabrics.)

Isn’t it gorgeous? I think this will be a pillow for my bed. Yum yum. Someone pass me a knife and fork.