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Reading (when everything is a) Challenge

Last week I tweeted about how excited I was to smash my 2017 50-book reading challenge on Goodreads, since I was ridiculously proud of my mere 30 in 2016 (recap, and, okay, a bit of justification: 2016 was not a smooth year for me). I WAS excited, I noted, until I’d decided to re-read J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE SILMARILLION and THE LORD OF THE RINGS this year (the latter being my absolute favourite book of all time).

Don’t get me wrong — I’m euphoric about reading these. It’s been several years, and while I try to watch the LOTR trilogy every Christmas, reading the books takes a bit more time. My books-read counter is going to crawl over the coming weeks. Not because I’m a massively slow reader, but because these words must be  s a v o   u   r    e      d.

As Pippin quoted Treebeard:

So I’ve started THE SILMARILLION, this time with a Tolkien dictionary and map beside me (for following all those Valar and Maiar and Quendi around). But it got me thinking.

Reading As Respite — and Motivation

Truth is, in times like these where concentration is hard to come by due to current issues, the best thing to do is dive into what inspires you, and remind yourself of what makes you feel hopeful, and strong, and creative, and motivated, and just plain good. And just as Tolkien described in his beautiful essay, On Fairy Stories, this isn’t about escapism in the negative sense:

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used . . . Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he . . . thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.

And as C.S. Lewis said in OF THIS AND OTHER WORLDS regarding the reader of fantasy: “He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

So. Rather than buckling down and sticking to my usually-demanding daily word count (or, when editing, scene tally), I’m giving myself a bit more grace. If my struggle to focus is throwing up brick walls (or walls that look like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and news outlets…), I need to step back and not beat myself up for it. And in the evening, maybe start my reading a little bit earlier. Rather than staring at a screen and berating myself for sub-par productivity, I’m trying to tell myself it’s okay to just go to words I love, and sit there for awhile.

Granted, I’m not on a deadline other than any I give myself right now…

Why I Write

I love what Tolkien said about his Elves in the preface to THE SILMARILLION:

Their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations . . .  And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation.

The Elves used their abilities to add beauty to the world, not control it nor become its master.  Tolkien wrote much about writers as sub-creators, made by a creator they’re naturally inclined to wish to imitate. “We make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made.”

But this is WHY I write — with the hope I can also create a world of a story and characters and events that might someday be someone else’s respite, inspiration, or encouragement.

We create to inspire, and we read for inspiration. While my productivity might be a bit lower currently, my well is being filled, and that’s no bad thing. It’s the very thing I need to prepare me for the next set of words, and the next set of days.

I hope you’re filling your well with words that inspire you. <3

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A Love Letter to Rupert & Julia – or how characters capture my heart.

This is a story about Rupert and Julia. Prince and Princess, respectively.

Growing up, I was enamoured with fantasy as a genre more than any other. I played text adventure games on our fancy Tandy TRS-80 computer (haha) back in the early ’80s, and graphic fantasy/adventure games. I read every fantasy story I could get my hands on, including some rather dodgy Dungeons & Dragons Choose Your Own Adventure-type books. When I was 13, my oldest sister, René, loaned me her copy of BLUE MOON RISING by Simon R. Green, thinking I might like it.

René had this impressive floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in her bedroom that I’d sneak in to stare at when she was out of the house. It was overflowing with fantasy and science-fiction and it enthralled me. So when she picked one out she thought I’d like, I devoured it. I remember being deliciously terrified by the creatures and situations, and loving how it took the genre and turned it on its head, back when not many writers were doing that (though now it seems commonplace).

Since that time, 23 years ago (oh my goodness…), I have read that book more times than any other. Rupert and Julia became close companions, as book characters do, like Harry and Ron and Hermione, Frodo, Aragorn, and so many others. Rupert and Julia went off to live in disguise in the HAWK & FISHER books and I remember being so freakin’ SURE they were Rupert and Julia, though Green didn’t explicitly say. He began dropping hints through the series, though, and I was so thrilled when Green released BEYOND THE BLUE MOON in 2000, fully admitting that H&F were Rupert and Julia, and bringing them back to the Forest Castle from BLUE MOON RISING. I couldn’t believe it. Old characters revisited, old settings rediscovered. It was a dream come true.

I thought that was the end of it, but lo and behold, Mr. Green has just released ONCE IN A BLUE MOON, 14 years after the last book. I finished it last week while sick in bed. While no book in the series will ever surpass BMR for me, it flooded my heart with emotions to see these characters interacting with characters from the original book they hadn’t seen since, and some they’d seen along the way. The very end nearly broke my heart with happiness. I would love to shake Mr. Green’s hand (again) and thank him from the bottom of my heart for creating this world that has shaped so much of my imagination since I was a brand-new teenager.

How do characters do this? A select cast of characters from various books, TV shows, and films have captured my heart and now live in my head, inspiring me, moulding my perspective, setting ideals and a place to aim for, but also making me feel not alone in my flaws and hopes and desires. They’re always in there. I think it’s as simple as seeing myself in some of their decisions, maybe especially the wrong ones, the times they screw up, or make a fool of themselves, and then I feel redeemed as they redeem themselves. It’s a balance of relatability with creativity, believable dialogue with logical reactions. But somehow, it can seem like a magic combination lock.

My biggest professional dream, as well as creative one, is to create characters that readers, maybe even just ONE reader (but hopefully more 😉 ) feel even a fraction of the depth I feel for the cast of characters who’ve found a home in my head. I adore settings and magic systems and visiting other planets and fight scenes and love stories and tragic events and mysteries and intrigue all the rest, of course. But…

When I really think about it, characters are what stay with me most. How they handled those situations. How Hawk & Fisher dealt with the massive spider in the sewers that landed on Hawk’s head. How Rupert dealt with the gigantic underground worm that was chasing him through the mines, crying in the voice of a little girl. How they handled the relationship dynamics that resulted from their families’ interference.  While all those situations stay with me, how the characters acted in light of them is what stands out in relief. And I hope with all my heart to create characters whose actions and fallible personalities might stick with someone else in the same way, someday.

Thank you, Mr. Green, and thank you, Rupert, Julia, Dragon, and Breeze. You’ve made my heart happy for more years than I care to count. 😉

xxx

The setting for DRINKING MIDNIGHT WINE, one of SRG's books.
The setting for DRINKING MIDNIGHT WINE, one of SRG’s books.
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Borrowing Light.

This week I received two fantastic emails. One was from a friend I’ve never met, who ironically lived in two cities I lived in, but never when I was living there, and now he lives in one of them again. The other was from a writing instructor from a workshop I participated in awhile back. Sometimes you hear just what you need, when you need it, and I’m so grateful for it.

I asked for honest advice, and I received it – and it surprised the heck out of me. They both believe in me, and neither one gains anything from it – one’s not a writer but a reader, and the other is a bestselling author, so I don’t think they need my feedback on their work. 😉

Because writing can be so solitary, it’s heartwarming to find you’re not just wandering around in the dark on your own, fumbling from one attempt to the next, being a harsher critic on yourself than anyone else. There are others out there, and sometimes their lights are better to see by than your own. Just want to encourage you not to feel like no one will understand, because it’s simply not true.

Thanks, friends. You know who you are. 🙂

One a similar note, I made a new friend today, on Twitter. We’ve followed each other for awhile, both writers working on non-conformist fantasies (haha), and her attitude really encouraged me on this drizzly, 58-degree-typical-British-weather day.

I took this photo only 3 weeks ago, in Glenfinnan, Scotland where I’d stripped down from a jumper, scarf, and hiking trousers to shorts and a tank top by 10 a.m. I’m going to pretend it’s still this marvellous outside.

Loch Shiel, Scottish Highlands
Loch Shiel, Glenfinnan, Scottish Highlands

#WriteMotivation Update

I won’t bother to re-list my writing goals for the month, suffice it to say I ACTUALLY FINISHED THEM in the first week. I’ve spent this past week entering a few contests (and not the online variety), making notes for and researching my next story, and reading. Currently on C.J. Sansom’s DISSOLUTION, and really enjoying it. Hoping to read and enjoy (rather than plow through, which never does me any good) more books this month than I have in awhile. 

Have a great week, and I wish for you a bit of light that fills a dark corner when you least expect it. 🙂

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No Day But Today

I’m nearing the end of THE HAPPINESS PROJECT by Gretchen Rubin, and it’s making me think a lot. I found the book in a very odd way – after our trip to Disney World in June, my husband randomly found a photo via Google of a couple going down Splash Mountain (our favourite ride) posing with a Jenga game. It’s a great photo. The woman in the photo ran 30candles.net, a “30 before 30” list, and one of the items was taking a ridiculous Splash Mountain photo (I know what I’m stealing for my “Before I’m 40” list ;).

ANYHOW, on her page she mentioned Rubin’s book, and I loved the whole idea – the list, the book, and the project. If you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it. It’s not a one-size-fits-all book, but it’s got some fantastic ideas and how they played out in Rubin’s life.

The first thing on my list of notes taken from her book is this:

Nothing is insurmountable if you do what ought to be done, little by little.

No news flash there – it’s a summation of Dale Carnegie and a thousand others’ mantras, but as I say, it’s the first thing in Rubin’s book that put my pen to notebook. I’m learning this slowly over the last few years. The other week when the Scotsman and I climbed Buachaille Etive Mòr in Glencoe, it reminded me that the first time we climbed it, I was new to hillwalking. I was nervous, especially during the scrambling bit. But I kept telling myself, “This is like writing. One step at a time. Just do what’s right under my feet, and that’ll take me to the next bit. One step at a time.” And I was amazed, and so proud, when we finished. I’m not an unfit person but this was a big deal for me, mentally as much as physically, being afraid of heights, falling, and all the rest.

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It’s a sentiment shared widely in the writing community, particularly among those of us un-agented and unpublished, with good reason. Little by little, a word becomes a page, becomes a chapter, becomes a book. Then you start over… edit, revise, cut. But it is that simple. One word at a time. I have to remind myself of this – and maybe others are the same – because I’m one who gets all too easily overwhelmed in life. One step at a time.

“No Day But Today” is one of my favourite songs (from the musical RENT). I used it as the song my bridesmaids walked down the aisle to last year, before I entered the room (I walked to my favourite piece of music of all time, “Glasgow Love Theme” by Craig Armstrong), because I think the message is universal. There’s only now and here, and I can happily say that finally in my life, I’ve gotten to the place where I’m grateful for every day and try to get the most out of every moment I possibly can, because I’ll miss it when it’s gone – especially the smaller moments. I might only get one chapter edited today, or I might not get any done if another moment takes over. But the important part that this book has brought to mind is that any mountain can be overcome if you take one step at a time, and today is your best time to do that.

#Writemotivation Update

I’m actually on track! Hard to believe, I know…

1. Finish WIP revisions. Finished this last week. Now currently Cutting All The Words (flabby, weak, soft words, as highlighted by John Skipp on the LitReactor course I did in August).
2. Send to CPs. Sent full MS to one CP, another friend has read the first three chapters, and I think a third CP to read the entire thing would be brilliant.
3. Get back to routine! Doing this 🙂
4. WF x5. Done!

I hope you’re having a great September and accomplishing little by little whatever you want to do 🙂

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Severn Estuary, Portishead. Enjoying my last few runs in this neighbourhood.
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Cover Reveal! CONFLICT OF INTEREST by Allyson Lindt

Drum roll, please . . . . . . .

Not long after we met up as critique partners, Allyson Lindt got fantastic and much deserved news and success, and I’m proud to share in her cover reveal for her debut novel, CONFLICT OF INTEREST! SPICY!!

Now, let’s hear a bit about the tantalising story behind this saucy cover! 😀

“Kenzie propositions a sexy stranger in a coffee shop to prove to herself she’s capable of taking a risk. She doesn’t expect him to be sitting across from her the following Monday as her newest client. Even worse, she can’t stop thinking about what might have happened between them on a personal level if it weren’t for their professional relationship. He knows how to push her buttons, and she doesn’t want him to stop.

Scott has built his software company from the ground up to escape things like stuffy old men telling him how to behave, so he loathes his board of directors ordering him to make the public forget he doesn’t have a verbal filter. When his new publicity manager is the almost-fling he never expected to see again, he seizes the opportunity to have fun and still pretend he’s complying with the board’s edict.

Giving in to desire could mean both their jobs, but each “one last time” always leads to another. Now they have to decide what they’re willing to sacrifice to indulge this conflict of interest.”

Next, a bit about the fabulous author:

Allyson Lindt has been telling stories since before she could put the words on paper. She was lucky enough to marry her muse and soul mate. Their cats are their children, and when they’re not spending way too much time gaming, they’re building new worlds together. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies, and she made her authorial debut with a racy, erotic short story on a popular porn site for women. She loves a sexy happily-ever-after and helping deserving couples find their futures together.

And lastly, an excerpt from the forthcoming CONFLICT OF INTEREST:

“Why are you always so direct?” She had asked him the question once before, but she wanted more of an answer.

His gaze raked over her face as if he was trying to peer into her thoughts. “Chicks dig honesty, right?”

“No,” she corrected him. “Chicks only think they dig honesty until it includes something they don’t want to hear.”

“It worked on you.”

Arrogant ass. The thought didn’t have any malice in it. “You got lucky.”

He snorted. “Damn straight. And I wouldn’t mind getting lucky again.”

She rolled her eyes and shook her head, but couldn’t lose her smile. “Seriously, it has to be counterproductive most the time.”

“I’ll answer your question if you tell me something. Where do you usually meet guys?”

She stared back, confused about the gentle curve in the conversation. “Why?”

He pushed his barely touched plate aside. “Let’s see … probably not business meetings, that would be inappropriate. And I can’t see you spending much time in bars. We can add coffee shops to the list.”

“You were the only one.”

His grin spread. “I knew it.”

She slapped his hand playfully. “Yes, fine. You were a first. Happy?”

“Immensely.” He meant it. “Where did you meet your last boyfriend? The bookstore or something?”

Heat flooded her cheeks, and she ducked her head. It had been a lucky guess, that was all.

He laughed. “I was kidding. I’m right, seriously?”

“Yes, I met my last boyfriend at the bookstore.”

“The relationship section?”

She twisted her mouth in irritation and just glared at him. “Fiction and literature.”

“Bronte?” he asked.

“Vonnegut.”

He raised an eyebrow. “So what was the first thing he said to you?”

Why were they having this conversation? Not that she minded, but she was still trying to figure out his random tangents. “I don’t remember.”

“You’re lying.” There was no accusation in the words, it was a simple statement.

She looked at him, eyes wide. How had he known that? “It was something about how Vonnegut had nothing on William Gibson when it came to the cynical but not completely fatalistic future of the planet. And I told him that wasn’t a fair comparison because Kurt Vonnegut was absolutely a fatalistic literary genius and William Gibson was some sciency guy.”

His jaw dropped. “You called the father of cyber punk a sciency guy? I mean, I guess technically you’re right, but you said that?”

Finally she had caught him off-guard. “And his reaction was a lot like yours. Don’t get me wrong, William Gibson is fantastic, but it’s still like comparing Apples and Windows.”

She wasn’t sure why she’d tossed the reference in to mangle the cliché. It wasn’t like she cared if he knew she had any sort of geek cred.

“Nice.” His shock faded back into amusement. “And you went out with him after that.”

“For a while.” She didn’t want to get into the details. She was over the guy, but there was no reason to divulge she’d dumped him because he was boring in bed.

“So, last guy you didn’t go out with—the most recent one you’ve turned down. What was the first thing he said to you?”

“Like I remember. Maybe, do those legs go all the way up?” The background noise had faded as the lunchtime crowd thinned, and she was grateful she didn’t have anywhere else to be.

“But you let the guy who asked you about your honeyed walls give you a lift home.”

And she realized what he was doing—trying to point out to her why it was wrong to try and change him for the sake of appearance. He seemed fond of the object lesson rather than the direct answer. “Yes. Because you were sincere, and the guy in the bookstore was sincere—both of you inflammatory—but still sincere, and those assholes with the lines were just saying what they thought I wanted to hear.”

“I’ve made my point?” He didn’t look smug.

“Yes.” She took another drink. “But I’m still going to teach you to behave in public. You’re not learning to pick up women. You’re learning to keep your investors happy.”

He leaned in, voice low. “I already know the legs go all the way because how awkward would that be if they didn’t?” An underlying current ran through his words. “But if I told you that you had a beautiful body, would you forget this mission of yours?”

“You mean my job?” The way he’d twisted the otherwise horrid line added to her enjoyment, and the underlying compliment warmed her more than the wine had. “No. But don’t let that stop you from trying.”

“You’ve really read William Gibson.” He switched gears without pause.

“I prefer Philip K. Dick, but Neuromancer has a special place on my bookshelf. I was in a really weird frame of mind the first time I read it, it kind of screwed with my head, and I haven’t been able to forget it since.”

The rough canvas of a High Top traced up the back of her calf, sending a pleasant chill through her. His expression softened, eyes pulling up at the corners. “I know the feeling.”

*   *   *   *   *

I thoroughly enjoyed reading another novel of Allyson’s and I’m totally excited for the release of CONFLICT OF INTEREST. Hop over to her site, check her out on Twitter, and follow her blog! She has a wicked sense of humour, and she’s having giveaways throughout April for the A-Z Blogging Challenge, so you can’t lose. Check her out, and keep your eye out for CONFLICT OF INTEREST, out soon!!

As always, thanks for reading! 🙂

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