A boy, a sphinx, and an unanswerable riddle

I have a new story out! It’s only a short story (quite tiny at 4,000 words), but it makes me feel all accomplished and author-y to have two books to my name—even if they are only ebooks at present. (Don’t ask my why the paperback of Twiceborn isn’t out yet. Sigh.)

So, new story: it’s called “The Family Business”. Here is the cover. Cute, no?

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The blurb is:

“Renardo and his brothers are up to their eyeballs in debt, with one last chance to save their merchant business (and their gonads) from the moneylender. The great city of Tebos is holding its Festival of Song in three days’ time, and they have a wagonload of songbirds to sell.

There’s just one large, man-eating problem: the bored sphinx who guards the city’s gates, and her deadly riddle game. Renardo doesn’t even want to be a merchant, but somehow it falls to him to outwit the sphinx. No pressure. All he has to do is come up with an unanswerable riddle.”

It’s on sale at Amazon for only 99 cents. Grab a copy and fill in a happy fifteen or twenty minutes on your next commute, or while you’re waiting at soccer practice/the doctor’s surgery/whatever.

And speaking of 99 cents: Twiceborn is also on sale at that bargain basement price for the next few days, so if you’ve been meaning to grab a copy of that but haven’t quite gotten around to it, now would be a good time! It was featured on Valentines Day on the Kindle Books and Tips blog. Not exactly your typical Valentines Day fare, unless your idea of romance includes homicidal dragons, but oh well. Not being much of a romantic myself, the significance of the date had slipped my mind when I made the booking!

So, you may be wondering why “The Family Business” has suddenly appeared. Weren’t you supposed to be working furiously on The Twiceborn Queen, Marina? You never mentioned anything about some random short story being published in that big long list of things you were going to achieve that you blogged about recently.

Well yes, that’s true. Life, as they say, is full of surprises, and one that landed in my lap mid-January was a sinus infection that is still ongoing. Surprise! At its worst I was getting maybe three hours’ sleep a night, and let’s just say that the revision schedule fell a little behind.

I decided to call it early on and shift my deadline with the editor from 1 March to 1 April, which meant that it would be four months between releases instead of the three I’d planned. So I decided to put out a short story instead, one that had already been published a couple of years ago in a magazine, so it didn’t need any work from my end apart from organising a cover and the formatting.

I’m still on the first revision of The Twiceborn Queen, a little over halfway. That’s not where I’d like to be, obviously, but all the new scenes I had to add were in the first half, so hopefully progress will be quicker from here.

The Carnivore even took the ducklings out on Valentines Day so I could work without interruptions. To a writer, that’s the best Valentines Day present ever!

When they came home, Drama Duck presented me with a single rose, nicely gift-wrapped.

“It’s from Dad,” she said.

They were both grinning like idiots, and she couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“We totally didn’t find that on the train where some guy had left it behind,” she added.

The Carnivore gave me a fond smile. “You’re worth it, honey.”

Hope you enjoyed Valentines Day, if you celebrate it. Did you get anything nice from your significant other (scavenged or otherwise)?

How to get down off a mountain in record time

So, we climbed this mountain recently. Okay, maybe I exaggerate. In reality it was more hillish, but try telling that to my quads. It was a steep kilometre of nothing but stairs, which took at least twenty minutes, and to my aching legs it felt like Mt Everest.

The reason we subjected ourselves to this torment—in searing heat too, mind you—was to see the lovely views from the top.

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And they really were worth the climb. I know it looks a little hazy in the photo, but that’s because I’d accidently knocked my camera’s setting off “Automatic” onto something called “Effects”. Naturally I didn’t notice this till the next day, so all my hard-won photos of the view look like they were taken through a lens smeared with vaseline. In fact it was a brilliant clear day, but you’ll just have to take my word for that.

Anyways, back to the getting down in record time thing: so we finally arrive at the top of Mt Quad-buster, and there are gorgeous 360˚ views. It’s quite a large area at the top, with trees and boulders scattered around, so you have to move around to see all the views.

Did I mention it was stinking hot? We were all dripping by the time we got to the top. One particular viewing platform caught the sea breeze, and we spent quite some time there cooling off.

Then I announced my intention of going to the other viewing platform, to look at the view back the other way. My beloved decided to join me.

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Pretty, isn’t it?

The two youngest ducklings decided that they’d rather stay where they were and enjoy the breeze. We told them we’d come back for them before heading back down the trail. (I bet you can guess where this is going already, can’t you?)

While we were admiring the other view, the oldest and most sensible duckling joined us. We chatted, I took photos, then we went back to collect the other two …

… who were no longer enjoying the sea breeze where we’d left them. A quick search of the area made it clear they were no longer anywhere on the top of Mt Quad-buster.

“They must have thought we’d gone without them,” said the Carnivore. “I bet they’re rushing down, trying to catch up with us.”

It seemed hard to believe. I mean, Demon Duck is fourteen, and usually quite sensible. We’d told them we’d come back for them, and we’re really not the kind of parents that would absent-mindedly wander off and abandon their offspring on the top of a mountain anyway—if indeed anyone is that type of parent.

Being the worrying type, I briefly considered they might have both somehow fallen off the (well-fenced) lookout and crashed to their deaths on the rocks far below—without anyone noticing—but even for me that was a bit of a stretch. So I had to agree, ridiculous as it seemed, that they’d both suddenly decided they had the starring roles in Hansel and Gretel, and had rushed off to find us.

Which brings me, of course, to the “how to get down off a mountain in record time” part. We practically fell down that mountain in a mad attempt to catch up with the stupid children who were dashing down in a mad attempt to catch up with us. We were lucky we didn’t break our ankles.

It took us twenty minutes to get to the top. It took perhaps three to get back down. But they were a very tense three minutes! The whole way down, all I could think was: what the hell do we do if we get to the bottom and they’re not there? I sure wasn’t climbing back up again!

Fortunately our story has a happy ending. We found Hansel and Gretel at the bottom, walking back up to meet us, pale, stressed, and very apologetic. There were some tears of relief and grateful cuddles.

So yes, a very quick method of descending a mountain. Not really one I’d recommend, however!

A Round of Words in 80 Days: Goal-setting

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. There are four rounds each year. You set your own goals for each 80-day period, announce them on your blog, then track your progress. Your goals can be anything writing-related, as long as they are measurable.

And why do we like writing challenges? Apart from the fun of hanging with other writers who are also beating their words into submission? Because of the Big A: Accountability.

No, it shouldn’t make any difference, and yet, somehow it does. Whatever works, I say. Anything that helps me achieve my goals. And what are those goals?

So glad you asked! This round of ROW80 started on 5th January, and finishes on 26th March. As it happens that fits very neatly into my most immediate goal, which I’ve already been working on: get The Twiceborn Queen published!

The first draft is written, and the revision all planned. Last week I started working my way through the revision. So, by the end of March, I need to:

  • finish first revision, which includes going through the whole manuscript, writing new scenes and revising existing ones, fixing all the big problems;
  • finish second revision, which goes through the manuscript again, focusing on smaller issues, like smoothing out prose, making the voice consistent, adding setting details (which I always forget) and checking facts;
  • finish third revision, which goes through the manuscript again focusing on more sentence-level detail, checking for typos, overused words, repetitions, rewording ugly bits;
  • send to beta readers. While it’s away, fret, write a 1000-word short story, begin planning revision of another novel, fret some more;
  • when it comes back from beta readers, do another pass through manuscript, making suggested changes where applicable;
  • send to editor 1st March;
  • when it comes back, go through editor’s changes, accepting and rejecting as appropriate and rewriting;
  • one more read-through (on the kindle this time) checking for typos, then send to formatter;
  • finally, when the formatter’s finished, upload to Amazon!

Gosh, I feel overwhelmed just thinking of getting through all that. I have to remember it’s like eating an elephant. You do it one bite at a time.

Four scenes done so far out of 33 in the first revision. Yum yum. Love the taste of elephant.

“Meet My Character” Blog Hop

The “Meet My Character” Blog Hop is a tour through the blogs of various independent speculative fiction authors as they talk about a character from their latest work. Each week a new author discusses what makes their character tick, and this week it’s my turn!

Thanks to Vincent Caine for hosting the previous stop on the Blog Hop. Vincent writes over-the-top action thrillers, just like Clive Cussler or Matthew Reilly. Visit his website at www.vincentcaine.com to read about his characters Silas and Feather, a father and daughter who’ve been on the run from the US Government for seven years in his new novel The Sword of the Magi.

Now it’s time to meet my character!

What is the name of your character?

Garth. Garth hasn’t shared his last name with me yet. He was only meant to have a walk-on role, but ended up becoming my favourite character in the novel.

When and where is the story set?

The story is set in my own home town of Sydney, Australia. Only of course the real Sydney isn’t hiding a secret shifter world behind its sunny sandstone façade. More’s the pity. Everything is better with dragons!

What should we know about him or her?

Garth is a werewolf with a Star Wars obsession who tends to act first and think later. He’s a great guy to have at your back, but you don’t want to get on his bad side, as my heroine, Kate, does. They meet when he attacks her in her darkened kitchen. Trust me when I say you will never look at pepper grinders the same way.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his or her life?

Garth’s employer has come to a very messy end, and Garth’s out for bloody vengeance. His tendency to go off half-cocked leads him to Kate’s kitchen, and it takes him a long while to accept that Kate’s not guilty. “Stubborn” is his middle name.

Not that his life wasn’t messed up before that. His hot head has had him lurching from one crisis to the next for most of his adult life. But his employer’s death was a move in the war of succession between the daughters of the dragon queen, and it’s a dangerous time to be a werewolf with no pack.

What is the personal goal of the character?

Garth’s goal is simple: blood and lots of it. Someone has to pay for his employer’s death, and Garth is a most enthusiastic debt collector.

What is the title of the book, and where can we find out more?

The book is called Twiceborn. It’s available at Amazon, where you can read the first three chapters in the “Look Inside” feature (but sadly the sample ends just as Garth slams Kate against the wall).

When was the book published?

It was published last Christmas, so it’s one month old now!

Next week’s host is Elle Chambers at www.indiespiritpress.com. Elle has been a lover of horror from the minute she heard the words, “It was a dark and stormy night”, and is now a paranormal investigator in Ohio.

Does life end when you give birth?

Fictionally speaking, you could be forgiven for thinking so, at least in the fantasy genres. Sure, there are older female characters, some even powerful: queens, sorceresses, seers, etc. But how often do you find a fantasy where the main character is a mother?

Off the top of my head, I can think of … umm … none. (And if you know of any, please point me at them in the comments!) You can find strong female leads, particularly in urban fantasy, which is great. I love to see strong, competent women take starring roles. But they’re nearly all single young women. Some of them have partners, but nobody has kids.

It’s as if life somehow stops when women give birth. And, sure, I can see how fitting kids into the life of a busy demon-slayer or white witch could be tricky, and why authors choose to free their characters from such complications. But it makes me feel as if, being a mother, I’m invisible, or that it’s not possible for me to have any adventures any more. Only young women are interesting enough to write about.

And hey, I get it, I really do. Being young and single is more glamorous than being a middle-aged taxi driver for a brood of children. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with stories about kick-ass young single women, or that I don’t enjoy them, because I do. I’m not trying to insist that authors should write stories about middle-aged mothers if they don’t wish to, or suggesting that there’s anything wrong with their choice not to.

But life with children can be complex and beautiful and interesting. It’s not all soccer practice and dirty socks. Love comes in many flavours. Romantic love and the bonds of friendship—even the bonds between siblings—are well represented in fantasy, but the relationships between parents and children aren’t often explored. And yet they are such a big part of many people’s lives. It seems an untapped area just waiting to be explored.

So after I had my big moment of inspiration in the bathroom of the local cinemas, I had some decisions to make about the story that would eventually become Twiceborn. I had a woman changing disguises to evade pursuit. What was she carrying? Who was following her and why?

As the idea developed I decided to throw in memory loss, since I love stories about amnesia so much. Dragons too—I love dragons!

And I also chose to make Kate, my main character, a mother. In the end I chickened out on making her middle-aged. She’s only twenty-nine, so she still qualifies as young and glamorous, but she is most definitely a mother. Love for her son drives a lot of her actions and has a huge influence on the outcome of the story’s main struggle. There is nothing so fierce as a mother’s love for her children, as the dragons of Sydney discover.

There’s a little romance in the book too, as well as the love between friends and siblings, but Kate’s love for Lachie is at the heart of Twiceborn. What will a mother sacrifice for her child? What won’t she?

Twiceborn is available now at Amazon. For all the kick-ass mums out there!

Twiceborn is out!

How long have I been writing? Depends on what you count as writing.

There was that little Easter story I wrote and illustrated for my mother when I was about seven. So cute! Or the three exercise books I filled with the story of the Romney children when I was in fifth class. It was a blatant Enid Blyton Famous Five rip-off, but despite all those words, I never finished it.

My next big writing spurt was in Year 8. I had a fabulous English teacher, who was very encouraging of my writing. (As it happened, his name was Brian Caswell, and he’s now a well-known writer himself.) I actually managed to finish a book that year. By then I’d progressed from Enid Blyton rip-offs to Georgette Heyer ones. I shudder now to think of it, but to his credit he read it with a straight face and urged me to keep writing.

So I did. But, being me, the finishing part was a real problem. Sure, I started lots of novels over the years, always with much enthusiasm. I even remember declaring 1994 to be “the year of the novel”, but that teenage Regency romance was the last one I finished until 2007, when the ducklings were at last old enough for me to be able to string two thoughts together in a coherent manner again.

It was also the year I discovered NaNoWriMo, which has been a huge motivator for me ever since. I completed the first draft of a contemporary romance that year, and was hugely proud of myself.

But of course, “first draft finished” and “publishable quality finished” are two very different beasts. I did NaNoWriMo again every year except one, and produced many more first drafts, but I didn’t revise any to a publishable stage until this year, 2014.

That novel is Twiceborn, and the ebook is available now on Amazon.

Or to put it another way:

OMG I PUBLISHED A BOOK!!!

I’ve been waiting such a long time to say that.

Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas, everyone! Hope Santa brings you lots of nice books to read. I was lucky: I have a new Benedict Jacka, a new Guy Gavriel Kay, and a lovely quilting book so I can plan a whole bunch of new quilts to join the unfinished pile.

Christmas was very yummy at our house. The girls made these gorgeous Santas that featured in the Sunday newspaper last weekend. Aren’t they cute?

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And here’s a couple of photos for the Dr Who fans. Don’t blink! There’s a weeping angel on the top of our tree this year:

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Fortunately my husband’s traditional tree-topper is a great defence against their deadly gaze:

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Hope you have/had a lovely day, full of friends and family and good cheer!

Twiceborn cover reveal

I’m very excited to be able to show you the cover for Twiceborn at last. It was done by Yoly at Cormar Covers several months ago, but I didn’t want to reveal it till I was almost ready to publish.

Guess what? I’m nearly there! Twiceborn is buffed and polished as shiny as I could make it, and it’s now off at the formatters getting a fresh lick of paint. It’s almost a Real Book!

Are you ready?

Here it is in all its glory:

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Isn’t it gorgeous? I feel like a proud parent showing off baby photos, only this baby doesn’t have forcep marks on its face, or a weird pointy head. Or jaundice. Or any of the other not-so-photogenic features my real babies had. And unlike Baby Duck, the insides of this baby are all present and correct too.

Let me remind you what the story’s about:

 “Still grieving her beloved son, Kate O’Connor’s just going through the motions. She doesn’t care that strangers often shadow her on the unorthodox courier jobs she does for a friend. She doesn’t even care what’s in the packages till the day she returns from a special rush job with no memory of the event. But it must have been pretty wild, because now there’s a werewolf in her kitchen trying to kill her – and he’s just the first in line.

Dragged into a supernatural war of succession between the daughters of the dragon queen, Kate discovers a Sydney she never knew existed, peopled by all kinds of strange half-human creatures. To have any hope of surviving she must uncover the explosive secret hidden in her memory – but first she has to live through the night.”

Can’t wait to share it with you!

Giving a hoot for charity

Some hospitals have programs where quilters donate quilts for children with cancer. When a new patient is admitted they get to choose a quilt to keep, to have something personal to brighten up their often long and arduous hospital stays.

My quilting group decided to make such a quilt, and gave me the job of designing it and choosing fabrics. Knowing my weakness for owls, they cunningly suggested an owl theme to make the job more appealing.

How could I resist? I turned, of course, to the internet, and good old Google did not disappoint. There are so many generous quilters out there offering patterns and tutorials for free. I found the cutest little owl applique here. Originally intended for a bib, it made a perfect quilt block once it was enlarged.

Look at this little guy! Isn’t he gorgeous?

 

That’s the one I made. I found a great stripey fabric in bright bold colours to go between the owls. I gave everyone a plain background piece and asked them to make their owls in colours to go with the stripey fabric. Here are a few of the gorgeous little owls I got back:
 Putting it all together was nice and simple. Baby Duck and I had a lovely time rearranging owls to get the most pleasing design. (Taking a picture was tricky, though. Apologies for the less-than-stellar photography here. One of the lovely ladies in the group is quilting it at the moment. Hopefully I can get a better photo when it’s finished.)
 
 I’m very pleased with how it turned out, and I hope that it’ll brighten some sick kid’s day. It certainly made me smile. Those owls are so adorable!

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?