Sunday, 25 December 2016

When you can't write a positive review

I'm sure I'm not the only one this has happened to: you receive a new book for review from someone you genuinely appreciate as a person, friend, blogger or writer... and, after reading through, you realize with a sinking feeling there's simply no way you can write a positive review in good conscience.

Let's face it: the writing world, and especially the indie writing and publishing world, is full of exaggeratedly flattering, contrived, fake glowing reviews by people who have chucked good conscience out of the window. When not given by friends and family (who, after all, have a natural claim to partiality) these are often penned by fellow writers acting on the principle of "review mine and I'll review yours".

Reviews are so very important to peaking readers' interest, getting a book out there and, ultimately, to book sales, that there's no wonder indie authors are scrambling for them. I'd like more reviews as much as anybody else, and I see the importance of networking and being nice to other indie writers as much as anybody else, but I refuse to gain my point by chucking my integrity aside. Neither will I caper around in a clown's suit, waving pom-poms and chanting, "Buy my book! Review my book! Promote my book!"

To do the trick, reviews have to be genuine. They must be disinterested, offered by people who don't expect to gain any favors by writing them. When I browse through a book's reviews, a few 4-star comments saying, "this is a good read, but I wish the author had done so-and-so differently" gain my trust as a reader a lot more than a host of glowing 5-star reviews that all go, "OMG, this is genius! Best book ever! Should be made into a blockbuster! Better than Stephen King/JK Rowling/ whoever is the king or queen of the genre".

So what, in my opinion, should conscientious writers do about reviews to keep them helpful and genuine?

1. Never commit in advance. There are many reasons not to review a book, something as obvious as genre being one of them. For example, I find it too emotionally trying to read Holocaust-themed books. I have read many of them in the past, but now they simply unsettle me too much.

2. Don't feel obligated to put yourself forward as a critic (unless you don't mind people hating you). You can read a book and decide it really isn't up to scratch, but it doesn't mean you should go ahead and deal a lethal blow to another writer's self-esteem (unless you are specifically asked for your opinion). And sometimes, what can be fit for a private comment would be unnecessarily cruel in a public review.

3. Don't be tempted to enter a "review for review" practice. It's beyond pathetic. I don't mean a case when two writers begin networking, get to know and like each other's work, and disinterestedly review each other's books. That's completely legit. I mean cases when complete strangers approach each other on forums or the social media, swap review copies, each skim through each other's work and each give each other an, "OMG, this is genius...", etc.

4. Do your best to reach readers, not other writers. Obviously writers are also readers, but if you reach people who are looking for stuff to read, not for reviews for their own work, you've struck gold. With my fantasy trilogy, Quest of the Messenger, I have the first two books complete on Wattpad, and have put up an excerpt from the third, adding a postscript that people who wish to read it may either buy it or contact me to receive a review copy. In a very short time I have received requests from people who like the genre, like my books, are hooked by the series and want to know how it ends. These are people who are likely to write a positive review for the right reasons, without any manipulation.

5. Be honest. Be real. If a book deserves 5 stars (in your personal opinion), give it 5 stars. If it deserves 3 stars and you aren't sure the writer wants such a review, contact them personally and tactfully ask. Some people would rather have a 3-star review than nothing. Others would rather not have you publish it.

Give your words value. Make your expressed opinions matter and cultivate a reputation of professional honesty and integrity. It is a long haul, but ultimately, it will get you a lot farther than contrived reviews.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Improving as a writer: my Viking-era novel

Ever since I was just a kid, I was fascinated with the character of Leif Erikson (Erik the Red's son and the leader of the Norse discovery of America). Actually, fascinated is an understatement. I was head over heels in love with Leif Erikson, reading all I could get my hands on about him (which wasn't much) and writing short stories, novellas and poetry about his life the way I imagined it. I knew I would write a full-length book about him one day.


Then, a few years later, I've heard of Tom Holt's Meadowland. At first it was a blow - someone had already written my book! But after I've read it through I realized my perspective is so different that there is still space for the story I wanted to tell. Six years ago, just after my second child was born, I sat down and began writing in earnest.

It was a messy job as I constructed hand-written (yes, on actual paper) drafts, incorporated bits from my past prose and poetry, did additional research, typed, added a whole modern-day-spin part and then opted for discarding it. At some point the work ground to a halt and I laid the manuscript aside, satisfied that at least the first rough full-length draft of my book has come into being.

Not so long ago I pulled the book out of its virtual drawer and began posting chapters on Wattpad. At the same time I began doing some intensive editing, mercilessly hacking away at the manuscript with the view of getting it in publishable shape. There is a lot of work - awkward sentences, awkward grammar, contrived imagery, paragraphs that do nothing to enhance the story and, of course, lots and lots of typos. The first draft is 130,000 words long and very rambling. I expect the final version will be slightly shorter and a lot more cohesive, though it is still going to be a long and epic novel.

My initial reaction as I dove into editing was deep embarrassment. I couldn't believe I was such a lousy writer six years ago! But then I felt a sense of satisfaction, as I knew I've really come a long way (if I do say so myself). Of course, I didn't just sit there twiddling my thumbs, I was busy writing other things.

Writing takes patience. This Viking-era book (which I have tentatively titled The Greenlanders: A Tale of Sea and Steel) has walked with me through most of my adult life and spent a lot of time in a hiatus stage. But I do hope that now, finally, I'm going to make it into a good book - or at least a much better and more palatable book than it was likely to end up when I just finished the first draft.

Does this mean that six years from now I'm going to look back at what I'm working on today and cringe? I hope not. I do think and hope that, though prolific writers keep on improving throughout their life, there is a certain rapid growth period which marks the difference between literary messes and publishable, readable work. I believe that for me, this period occurred while The Greenlanders lay dormant. It didn't happen overnight, but it did eventually. And now, in this final and hectic stage of bringing the book out, I'm ready to give it all I've got.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

On Martin Eden

Recently I've re-read Jack London's timeless novel Martin Eden - which, I believe, is something every writer should do once in a while, counting it as an inspirational story about rising from obscurity into fame as well as a warning on becoming burnt-out, jaded and disappointed.

Image result for typewriter

In two senses at least the modern struggling writers have an advantage over Martin Eden - one, we generally don't have to choose between buying either food or postal stamps, as most places these days accept e-queries (on principle, I refuse to contact those who don't. Printing out and mailing manuscripts, especially overseas, is a great deal of trouble, and expecting writers to go through this - especially considering that most of us submit to multiple agencies - is simply unfair and inconsiderate. OK, end of rant); and two, if we query and re-query and run out of places to submit our work to, it's always possible to give one's book a chance by going the indie route. The chance of considerable success isn't very high, that's true, but at least there is still an option for those entrepreneurial authors who are willing to work hard at book promotion and networking.

Nevertheless, I do feel a deep sense of kinship with Martin Eden in the way of never having enough time for everything I want to do. Being in charge of three kids, a house, a garden and a bunch of animals is more than a full-time job, so my writing cuts into stuff like recreation, spending time with friends, showers and sleep. Many of my friends are wondering whether I'm still alive and I can't remember the last time I just put up my feet, relaxed and saw a movie.

In a recent forum discussion, author Michael Sullivan told he spends "only" 3-4 hours a day writing and editing (this not counting time spent on work-related emails, book promotion, etc). Well, all I can say is Wow! If I have two hours a day together for everything - writing, editing, formatting, querying, networking - I consider myself lucky. And usually those two hours are spread out in snippets throughout the day.

Another thing is Eden's motivations. Martin Eden tries to make a living writing so he can give his adored Ruth the future she, in his opinion, deserves. I am trying to earn money by my writing so I can supplement my family's income while still being home for my children (anything more would be fantastic, of course, but for now this modest goal is what I'm striving for). This was what prompted me to try and go public with my work, after many years of accumulating manuscripts in a drawer.

All in all, I feel lucky to be living at a time when nobody can tell me I'm not allowed to be an author. Today, anyone's books can see light. Does this mean every published book is a good book? No; does this mean every indie book is a success? Again, no. But there is chance and hope for everyone, and that's worth a million.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Quest of the Messenger now in eBook Bundle


All three volumes of Quest of the Messenger (Paths of the Shadow, Warriors of the Realm, Guardians of the Gates) are now available in a convenient Kindle eBook Bundle for only 4.99$. The trilogy contains close to 1,200 pages and 450,000 words. Each single title is currently priced at 2.99$ so customers who choose to go for the bundle save 4$.

I've been meaning to create a Kindle Book Bundle for a while now and have finally quit procrastinating and was spurred on to action by this post.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

New covers for Quest of the Messenger


I am quite thrilled about these new covers for the Quest of the Messenger trilogy - updated covers will soon appear on my Amazon page. The cover artwork was done by Katie Cody, a talented designer whom I was very lucky to find. Katie has been amazingly helpful and responsive and working on the covers with her was a true pleasure. You can check Katie's work on her website - there are some great finds in the Premades section for those who are in a hurry. The prices are very flexible too - an important point for an indie author working on a tight budget. 

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Starting from the beginning

I have begun the epic quest of seeking an agent for my first Middle Grade fantasy novel, Tales of Silverbell Wood: A Bride for the Beast, which features dragons, fairies, unicorns and other magical creatures in humorous out-of-the-box settings. After a long, sweet break from querying during which I mostly worked on getting Wild Children ready for publication, together with the team of Mason Marshall Press, I'm in the game again.



On the first of this month, I sent my query to eight agents. I will wait one month and if I get no interest, and on January first I intend to send queries to 8-10 more. I will keep at it until I get an agent (or find a publisher who doesn't require an agent, or decide to self-publish). If needed, I will tweak the manuscript and/or query letter, but I won't obsess. Repeat: I won't obsess.

Even if this book never makes it out there, in this case I'm already a winner, because I have created a family reading tale which my children have enjoyed at least as much as Winnie the Pooh, Pippi Longstocking or The Chronicles of Narnia. Whenever I slacked off in writing, I got a kid or two pestering me. "Well? When are you going to write more? We want to know what happens when they find the dragon!"

And let me tell you, my kids aren't at all afraid to hurt my feelings. When I ask, "what do you think of this?" or "did you like this chapter?" I have to be prepared for honest opinions, which can be as brutal as "this is stupid" or "you should change all of it". So when I had them sitting enthralled and begging for more, it was a huge compliment. It was a reward in itself. Even if I just print one souvenir copy of this book for my children, it's all worth it.

Furthermore, one big advantage of writing for children is that children's fiction is, well, short. A Bride for the Beast is 40,000 words, which is a breeze compared to Quest of the Messenger, each book of which contained on average 140,000 words, or soon-to-be-released Wild Children, which will be no less than 100,000 words.

I have really, truly, thoroughly enjoyed writing this book. Now I just have to cross my fingers and hope other people will like it as well.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Social media: love it or hate it?

Social media and writers' platforms (in particular Wattpad and Inkitt) have been extremely helpful for me in connecting with people, interacting with and learning from other writers, and discovering many things I would otherwise have no clue about. So three cheers for Facebook and Goodreads!



On the other hand, social media can be a real time-guzzler - you hop from one page to another and from one post to the next, and before you know it, an hour is gone. This may be alright for full-time writers who have no problem dedicating a slice of their day to social media, but I'm not a full-time writer, I'm a full-time mother. Sometimes an uninterrupted hour is all the time I have on the computer in a day (and that's a good day), and if it all gets spent on social media, this means I have no time left to actually write.

So my current strategy is this: I log into Facebook once a day, do a basic catch-up (friend requests, posts by people I'm following, page and group invites) and log out. Until next day. Same goes for Goodreads and Wattpad and even my email. I can't be tuned in to social media and networks all day long if I want to be productive.

And then what? I sit down and write. There's always more inspiration and ideas than time, but I guess this means the big writer's block monster is kept well away!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

3 reasons to love indie publishing

A lot of negative things have been said about indie publishing, in particular that it has flooded the market with poorly written, poorly edited, substandard books that make it nearly impossible for the truly talented to stand out, and that serious writers should stick to traditional publishing.

It's true that back when traditional publishing dominated 100% of the book market, it ensured certain quality control - a book that had to pass through agents, editors and publishers to get out there had to adhere to certain standards. But on the other hand, many great books that were like a square block trying to fit in a round hole didn't get a chance at all and had to remain in the drawer (sometimes being discovered as masterpieces long years later, even after the author's death). No one is infallible or a perfect judge of what makes a good/successful book (as the publishers who had rejected Harry Potter can testify).

Personally, I see at least three main points that, in my opinion, justify the existence of indie publishing:

1. Higher profit - in some cases, writers/authors specializing in a niche market have their own following and their own access to a readers' platform they can connect with, for example blogging for a major website. Or maybe they have a real knack for marketing and promotion and want to give it a go doing things by themselves. If so, they might have no need looking for a go-between that would get most of the profit - they can do publishing on demand through CreateSpace and Kindle and reap much higher royalty (even if, in absolute numbers, authors published by major houses still earn a lot more).

2. Speed - a writer bypassing the usually long and tedious querying process, which is then followed by the long and tedious process of the agent submitting the book to various publishers, can get their work out to the market a lot more quickly. Again, this is especially great for writers of a niche market a big publisher wouldn't have bothered with.

3. Everyone gets a chance - For me, that's the bottom line. With indie publishing, everyone gets  a chance - maybe not as good as they would have with traditional publishing, but at least you don't have to spend your whole life beating against the glass gates guarded by agents and publishers. If you genuinely feel you have a great, overlooked book, you can still get it out there.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Why book series are like dope

On Nov. 25-26 I'm going to run another free book promo for Paths of the Shadow, with the goal of getting more people introduced to the series. In a way, getting readers hooked to a book series can be like pushing dope: you offer some for free at first and, if it works, people pay their own way later.

Series can be tricky this way: on the one hand, once you have a loyal reader who has read the first book in the series and become enthusiastic, the sales for the rest of the books are pretty much in your pocket. On the other hand, a lot - and I mean a lot - hinges on the first book: if it fails to grab the readers, it doesn't matter how brilliant subsequent books are - most people won't bother reading them; although it may occasionally happen that people stumble upon a middle book in a series and start from it. Back when I was introduced to Harry Potter (many years ago) I first came upon book three, started reading that, and then went back to book one.

Another catch with series is the need to keep providing good-quality books with a cohesive storyline. I have known several instances when a series started well, but latter books were clearly drawn-out with the idea of generating more books and more sales. This irritates readers and makes them feel cheated. It is important to know where to stop; better to have a good-quality trilogy than ten endlessly stretching books.

Also, the author of a series must be consistently productive or risk losing readers. Even (and especially) a world-famous bestselling author such as George Martin receives a lot of criticism from disappointed readers who feel they have waited for the next book far too long. Most authors will have reader simply tune out, forget about the series and move on to something else.

Having said that, I think series are wonderful, especially for fantasy. They allow for intricate world-building and make a terrific platform for reader engagement - if done right.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Author J.C. Steel reviews Paths of the Shadow

From J.C. Steel's review on Paths of the Shadow



"Paths of the Shadow is one of those books that rewards a little patience. While the first few pages come across as incredibly mundane, as Dr. Swift is prodded into attending a pointless social event, the book quickly gathers steam and colour, weaving together a complex set of characters and story arcs that focus on love, loss, and change."

Sunday, 30 October 2016

No longer cramming

When I started writing Wild Children, it was supposed to be a stand-alone project and, therefore, I was determined to tie any loose ends without exceeding the 100K or, at most, 120K words mark. It made things a bit rushed and strained in various points, but luckily a friend - who is worth her weight in gold as a patient first reader - pointed out that I'm fighting a losing battle here and that I'm never going to be able to wrap this up in one book in a satisfactory way.

This gave me fresh inspiration and I began working on The Hourglass, sequel to Wild Children, which gives more extensive insight into the lives of the corrupt ruling elite and also takes the readers across the border to Mexico, where sinister plans are brewing underneath the noses of innocent, unsuspecting people. The narrative is told mostly from the perspective of Priscilla Dahl, the president's daughter, a fleeting glimpse of whom we get in Wild Children.

I'm also planning a third book in the series, called Freeborn, which will focus on the next generation of outcasts and their refusal to be controlled by the government, whom they suspect (not without reason) of double-dealings and lack of respect for human rights.

So is this it? Will Wild Children end up as a trilogy, or will there be more? I confess that right now I can't see anything beyond Freeborn, which will probably wrap up the series, but one never knows. In the meantime, I'm enjoying my work on The Hourglass, which allows me to dig deeper into the family life of Alexander Dahl, the arch-villain who discovers, to his annoyance, that human beings sometimes refuse to play the parts allotted to them.

***

"Dahl thought that some quiet work in his home office might be more profitable than going on at the White Tower through half the night; Silver Oaks was a lot more private and better sheltered from reporters, and he was sick of reporters. He ordered the driver to take him home and tried to peruse a couple of documents as the car moved smoothly and almost soundlessly along the newly-repaired road, but it was no good. His thoughts were with Priscilla, and anger was bubbling up below the surface, hot and bitter and hard to suppress. I don’t understand. How could she do this to me? And precisely at this moment? If she had to run off because of some stupid teenage crisis, couldn’t she have waited until after the elections?"

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Paths of the Shadow available for free on Kindle, October 26-28

Attention: from October 26-th through the 28-th, Paths of the Shadow will be available for free download on Kindle! I invite all new readers to dip their feet into the vast imaginary world of the epic Quest of the Messenger saga.


Also, the entire trilogy is now available on Kindle in one convenient bundle.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

The importance of courtesy

I don't usually rant on this blog, or go at length into my pet peeves, but there's one topic I really feel should be aired for the potential to make the world a little better.

It has happened to me more than once that I was besieged with reading requests, review requests, writing help requests, and I carved some time out of my busy day to do it, reading other people's work and providing helpful feedback.

And when I was done, I received no acknowledgment - no "thank you", no "I appreciate it". Nothing.

I'm not a vain person or an egomaniac, but we're talking common courtesy here. The way I see it, if you're asking someone for a favor - which a review or feedback basically is - you thank them. It's as simple as that. To ask a person to put in their time and effort when they don't owe you anything, and then omit sending a "thank you" message is not just rude, but also incredibly short-sighted.

A book reviewer can be a lot more than a one-time contact. They can become someone who follows your social media, signs up for your newsletters, recommends your books to friends and reviews your next book without being asked. It is, in short, another option of expanding your social network, but it is unlikely to happen if you fail to acknowledge the goodwill of someone who responded to your review request.

Bottom line: thank people. Always be polite and courteous, whatever the circumstances. You will never lose anything, and might gain a whole lot, by doing so.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

An author interview

Jessica, of Coffee with Architects of Worlds Afar, invited me for an interview which can be read here - thanks a lot, Jessica!

"Of the characters you’ve created, which one is your favorite?
Quest of the Messenger comprises around 450,000 words and many, many characters, most of which I really enjoyed writing. However, the most interesting, enigmatic and controversial character in the series is probably Jadine, the talented, ambitious witch with, shall we say, an unusual moral standpoint. What I find most compelling about Jadine is that she genuinely wants, plans and tries to do what is best and right, but ends up in some pretty tragic circumstances."



Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Guardians of the Gates is here!

Guardians of the Gates, the third and final epic installment in the Quest of the Messenger trilogy, is finally here! Now available on Amazon Kindle:

The entire trilogy can be found on my Author Page.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Greenlanders: A Norse saga of exploration, adventure and faith

I have been fascinated with the characters of Erik the Red and Leif Erikson for almost two decades, and knew I would, someday, write a book about the Norse discovery of America. Then, one day, I discovered that such a book already exists: Meadowland, by Tom Holt.

Bummer, but this happens to many writers. Since no idea, plot or title is absolutely original, you can be pretty sure someone somewhere had used it already. Still, this was a disappointing coincidence (does the world really need two books about the people who had founded the Greenland colony?), but after reading Tom Holt's book, I realized our vision and perspective was so different that I might as well go on with my own.

After a couple of years of writing, rewriting, moving on to other projects and pulling the book out of my virtual attic again, I am finally getting ready to editing it anew and sending it out into the world. In the meantime, I am serializing it on Wattpad.

"Ah, Erik the Red is a brave man," said King Olaf dispassionately. "I think at least half his fault was simply bad luck that made him cross paths with important people. He is not bloodthirsty. He is not even a typical Viking who raids and plunders and murders and rapes at every opportunity. All his energy he put into settling that land he calls Greenland. Anyway, Erik is getting on in years. His son, Leif, will be chieftain of the new settlements. He is the one I summoned here, and he is the one who interests me the most right now."
"He is quite an impressive man, is he not?" said Thorgunna, recalling the tall, powerful, red-haired stranger, a glimpse of whom she caught earlier in the day.
"He is," said the king, "and he possesses an influence which has the potential of growing. Despite the harsh conditions which, as far as I know, make life in Greenland difficult, people continue to go overseas and settle there, looking for profit and especially for freedom. This way, they distance themselves from the Norwegian rule. I had the privilege of entering the covenant of our Savior, Lord Jesus, together with all the royal court," the king placed a hand on his chest and fingered the heavy, ornate gold cross, a jewel he started wearing not that long ago. "I sent priests to all the provinces under my rule, to show the light of the Christian faith to my people. But Erik the Red is a stubborn pagan, and so are most of the people who flock to the shores of Greenland and lose the place that is prepared for their souls in paradise, by the throne of Lord Jesus – and simultaneously their place here in this world by the throne of Norway. It pains me to think of all the souls that are destined to burn in hell, without getting even a chance to hear the Gospel."

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Publishing Pitfalls

Not long ago I was contacted by an entity who introduced themselves as a publishing company interested in my fantasy series, Quest of the Messenger. At first, of course, I was all thrilled: hurray! My talent is recognized! But then, some red flags ultimately made me reject the offer. In particular:

* The business was very new and run entirely by very young people.
* I could find no information about this "publishing company" anywhere online, except their website.
* The company made all sorts of glorious claims regarding their achievements which, again, couldn't be verified by online search, no matter how extensive.
* I received no personal specific comments regarding my work from the "editors", despite requesting feedback.
* The company founder who communicated with me paid no attention to details; requested materials that had already been sent; alluded to Skype conversations that never took place (I don't use Skype). Overall, I got the impression of sloppy, unprofessional, undiscriminating modus operandi.

I sent them a brief message politely but firmly declining their offer of a publishing contract, and got a long, very defensive, grammatically incorrect email which only confirmed my impression of dodging a bullet. Overall I feel I've had a lucky escape.

It's very easy, especially after pitching your work for a long time and getting many rejects, to be tempted to enter into any contract, with anyone who seems to appreciate you as a writer. However, this can lead to very sad implications. Check out Writers Beware.

Also check out this post by Writer UnBoxed.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Upcoming: Wild Children

I am happy to announce that Wild Children, my dystopian novel, has found a home with Mason Marshall Press. Planned release is in early 2017. Your Likes and Shares are much appreciated.

"Society's rejects. Unwanted, unloved. Raised in orphanage until age 12 , then taken beyond the boundary and left to fend for themselves, to live or die."


Sunday, 21 August 2016

Quest of the Messenger now in paperback!

I'm happy to announce that Paths of the Shadow and Warriors of the Realm are now available in paperback. Although I went for the lowest price allowed in the listing, the paperback is of course more expensive than Kindle. However, personally I always prefer old-fashioned paper books.

Paperbacks available for order:

Paths of the Shadow
Warriors of the Realm

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

On dealing with criticism

Yesterday I participated in an interesting discussion on Wattpad, started by an aspiring writer reluctant to show his work to agents and publishers out of fear of harsh criticism. I thought I'd write a bit more about this here. 
First off, if you garner any personal response at all from agents and publishers, you can congratulate yourself on at least grabbing someone's attention. From my experience, most commonly you'll receive lots and lots of silence and some impersonal rejection notes. 
If someone does take the trouble to point out flaws in your work, even if you disagree with their opinion, reply in a polite, courteous manner and thank them for their time and attention (unless, of course, we're dealing with " constructive criticism" along the lines of, "this is complete rubbish. You should give up writing altogether"). Also, even if your critic is rude, sit down and think if maybe, just maybe, there's a grain of truth in what they are saying. For example, if someone says, "I couldn't get past the first pages. They are filled with excruciatingly boring, meaningless detail", of course it will make you bristle. But is it actually true? Be honest. Maybe your opening chapter can, in fact, benefit from some trimming down of details. 
Finally, if you want to put yourself out there, either via traditional publishing or self-publishing, you absolutely must NOT let criticism get to you. There will always be people who dislike your writing and even you, personally (yes, even though they don't know you, personally). I can testify to having actually received death threats (yep) in response to several items I posted online. You must develop a thick skin, if you want to go public and live to tell the tale. 
That is not to say you ought to ignore feedback altogether and say that your work is perfect and the product of a genius, etc. But you just cannot afford to topple over every rejection letter or scathing review, taking them personally and letting them get you down.
Look at the big picture. View your work with a critical eye, with honesty and good sense. And just always keep writing, reading and improving; always strive to make the most of your abilities.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Doom... er - Querying Day

For the past several months, I have followed an established system. The first of each month is Querying Day. This means I log into my email, dig up my long list of literary agents and publishers, and send a batch of 7-8 queries (complying, of course, with everybody's various requirements). An hour or so later, I commend myself for a job well done, and forget about querying until the beginning of the next month. Sometime in between, I might look up a few more agents or publishers to add to my list.

That's it. No fretting, no obsessive email checking, no wondering about when, or if, I'm going to receive any replies.  I block anything query-related from my mind unless I actually get a response (usually it's a generic rejection note), which frees me to concentrate on my newer projects. Good system to preserve one's sanity while looking for ways to publish one's novel.

***

And here is another excerpt from Tales of Silverbell Wood:

“Another dwarf!” exclaimed Adros, none too happily.

The stranger gave a crooked half-smile. “Yes,” he said, “a dwarf – but none like your companions,” he gestured at Thwayne, Freyder and Vynn. “I was born at the village, to a mother and father as tall as any of the local peasants… but a quirk of nature made me the way I am,” he waved in the direction of his abnormally short legs.

“So you are a local?” Prince Darin said. “Freyder, lower that bow.”

Freyder obeyed, but reluctantly. “You sure?” he said. “This one has seen us. One arrow will silence him for good.”

“We will hear what he has to say. What is your name, stranger?”

“I’m Oster Marshfield, more commonly known as,” the young man scowled, “Short Osty in these parts.”

“Alright, then, Oster,” Adros said, “Why did you follow us?”

“I overheard you at the inn,” Oster said. “You talked about dragons. You wanted to find them, but you didn’t want any guide. At first I thought that’s because you don’t want to share any of the treasure. I know better now, though,” he eyed the group with sincere fascination. “I have never seen anything like you before,” he added, not taking his eyes off the unicorns.

Buttercup neighed in dismay. “Anyone like us, if you please!” she snapped.

“And what did you mean to gain by creeping after us in this manner?” Prince Darin demanded, crossing his arms on his chest and frowning.

“Well,” Oster said, “I thought I might convince you to use a guide after all. Nobody knows these mountains better than me. My legs might be short, but I walk well and climb like a monkey.”

The companions exchanged glances. “What do you think?” Prince Darin addressed everybody. “Can we trust him?”

“As he’s here, we might as well make use of him,” Thwayne said. “We can always push him off a cliff once we don’t need him anymore.”

“Is that what passes for gratitude at Underwood?” Adros said with disgust. “Will you swear you won’t tell anybody about us?” he demanded from Oster.

“If I told, who would believe me?” Oster said reasonably. “Now, my old Ma always says curiosity will be the death of me, especially my mixin’ up with complete strangers. But I’d sure love to go with you. Nobody is the village is brave enough to go looking for dragons.”

“Don’t expect mounds of gold,” Tolimar said warningly.

“Oh, I’m not,” Oster assured him. “I know nobody can promise that. But if there is treasure… I’ve heard about dragons’ hoards. One is enough to make a hundred people rich for a lifetime.”

Loriel quelled him with a look. “Not all dragons hoard gold and gems,” she said, “Did you know that? Some actually prefer different things – like unusual rocks and shells, for example. Or pinecones.”


Oster’s face fell slightly. It was plain he didn’t think much of facing a dragon only to discover a lair full of pinecones. “Well, that would be disappointing,” he said. “But we won’t know until we try, will we?”

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Fantasy and poetry

I love poetry that accompanies fantasy; in my opinion, it adds so much soul and atmosphere to the story. Consider Tolkien's Lament for Boromir or all the Elvish songs; or the funny songs of the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, or The Last of the Giants in ASoIaF.

Below is a poem I composed for my latest project, a fantasy book called Tales of Silverbell Wood, which is currently in progress and being greatly enjoyed by an eager audience of two children aged 7 and 5 (with a toddler clamoring to join). It is called Joar's Hall.


The mead in Joar’s Hall will flow
When storms are raging down below,
And when the mountain caps are white
We’ll be all snug and warm at night.

A weary traveler’s retreat,
A place to share some bread and meat –
Be welcome, guests of Joar’s Hall!
There’s food and featherbeds for all.

O friendly keep! Thy lights do shine
And speak of times to rest and dine.
The winds may blow, the snow may fall –
It’s always safe in Joar’s Hall.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Following literary trends

On many boards, blogs and websites I've read the same message over and over: "post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction is out. The market is saturated. Novels in this genre stand no chance of being published right now." Which is kind of depressing, because my most recently completed novel, Wild Children, happens to be a post-apocalyptic dystopia. It doesn't feature zombies or deadly viruses that turn human brain into banana pudding (simply watching TV will do that), but still.

Sure enough, after sending out about two dozen queries, so far I've had only one request for a partial. So perhaps there isn't much interest. That's too bad, because I'm currently working on the sequel, and it's discouraging when you know you're working on something that's unlikely to sell.

But you know what? I know I didn't write Wild Children because I wanted to ride out a literary trend/catch the wave of success/whatever. I wrote it because an idea grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I remember I read an item about China's enforced birth control policy, and thought, What would happen if this practice was implemented in the Western World? I sat there and imagined the heartbreak, the corruption, the injustice, the families torn apart. Then I remembered the Biblical story of the Israelites in Egypt, Pharaoh's death decree to every newborn male, and the bravery of Jochebed in giving birth to, hiding, and eventually letting go of her son, in the hope of a brighter future for him and all her people.

It all fused together, to re-emerge as the story of Benjamin Grey, a boy who supposedly had no right to live. And, for all it's worth, I'm happy with the result and not sorry that I wrote Wild Children. Maybe it won't sell right now; maybe it will have to wait in the drawer for several years, until the market again experiences an upsurge of interest in dystopia.

Still, I can only write what appeals to me. I can't force myself to be inspired by what's currently "hot"; so I'll write what I like and cross my fingers.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Writing non-fiction

Writing fiction, especially fantasy, is the lifeblood of my creativity, but lately I find myself writing more and more non-fiction - articles, DIY instructions, blog posts. While sometimes the need to write "technical" stuff feels like a hindrance that is taking away precious time from working on my books, writing non-fiction does have its benefits:

1. It helps achieve a clear, concise style that enables you to say what you want to say quickly and efficiently, without a lot of embellishment (which you get in the habit of using when writing novels).

2. It helps put your thoughts in order, for example when writing a clearly outlined plan or article.

3. It's a lot easier to make some money writing non-fiction than fiction. Getting my books published is a lofty goal, one I'm constantly working towards, but I realize it's a long, slow uphill walk. Writing website content or articles, and getting them published, read and liked - which is much easier to do than publishing a book - can give you some immediate gratification and a moral boost while you still do what you do best - writing.

Last week, I got a letter from the editors of a magazine where I submitted an article for publishing. The editing team was unable to use my article, for various reasons, but I got a very kind message from the editing coordinator, complimenting me on my writing style and inviting me to submit more articles. It was a more personal, more encouraging message by far than I ever got from a literary agent, and gave me a great deal of motivation.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Let's talk about Thadorn

When I was working on Quest of the Messenger, I did not expect Thadorn to become such a controversial figure. I mean, he's a good guy, right? However, Thadorn has been accused of being a humongous blockhead who won't take the time to understand other people's feelings and motivations.

Warning: spoilers ahead!

I do have to say I don't envy Thadorn. He falls in love with someone who proves to be untrustworthy and sends him on an emotional roller-coaster. He ends up heartbroken and the single parent of three young children, a position he is remarkably ill-suited for. His wife left him, his friends left him, and all that he has to support him by the end of the first book of the trilogy is his sense of duty.

It is this sense of duty, however, that prevents him from sinking into an abyss of despair. He rallies up and just does what has to be done, as always. Because with Thadorn, it's always about duty; when he stops a host of terrified refugees from crossing the border, he is sorry for them because he realizes they will probably die. But it never occurs to him to act against a royal decree.

I would like to have a friend or a business partner like Thadorn. He is loyal, dependable, honest, and solid as a rock. Being married to someone like that, however, is an entirely different matter. His union with Jadine was, I fear, doomed from the start.

However, those who love Thadorn need not despair. A brighter hour does come for him in the next book of the trilogy, Warriors of the Realm. 

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Some Shadowy Facts

Starting from last week, things have kind of snowballed for Paths of the Shadow. Being Featured gave me more reads and comments in a very short span of time than I ever thought possible. So thanks to all the new readers who have given me a high-five by following the book!

I thought I'd share some fun, little-known facts about PotS this week.

1. Jadine, Thadorn, Dr. Nicholas Swift and other beloved characters of Paths of the Shadow were initially meant to be no more than backdrop to the second part of the trilogy, Warriors of the Realm, which was originally written as a stand-alone novel. It was not until later that I decided to write a full-blown prequel. Guardians of the Gates (soon to be released), the third part of the trilogy, naturally followed.

2. Though the setting of the story is medieval, the political conflicts are inspired by contemporary, rather than historical events.

3. Spoiler alert! A question often asked by those who finish reading PotS is, predictably, is Jadine really dead? Though I will refrain from giving a clear-cut answer right now, I can say that there is more to her death/suicide/disappearance at the end of the first book than meets the eye. Those who continue to follow the series will learn more about Jadine in time.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Featured on Wattpad!

I'm thrilled to be able to say that Paths of the Shadow  is now featured on the Wattpad Fantasy list! This really proves that patience pays off. After months of updating with comparatively little public attention, it was truly mind-blowing to log on and see the number of reads. I do hope that the new readers of Paths of the Shadow enjoy the book, and move on to Warriors of the Realm and Guardians of the Gates.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

It's been a long time

It's been a long time with a very, very bad internet connection, which is good in its way, because it makes me actually sit down and write, without feeling I must just pop over to read the latest notifications on Wattpad. I've made excellent progress with several ongoing projects:

* The Hourglass, sequel to Wild Children, is under way with some interesting twists on the classic runaway princess theme;

* Tales of Silverbell Wood, a children/young teen fantasy featuring fairies and dragons, is also progressing and thoroughly enjoyed by my own children;

* A fantasy book actually written when I was only 12 is getting resurrected, revamped, and shaped into readable form.

Also, today I was finally able to log into my Gmail, and was astounded to receive an email from Inkitt saying that Paths of the Shadow was noticed and was featured on the social media on May 8-th! I had no idea. You can just imagine how thrilled I was.

***

A short excerpt from Tales of Silverbell Wood:


Loriel took a slice of bread and spread some honey over it. “There’s some early honey this season,” she observed.

“Oh, yes,” her father nodded, “it comes from lovely early flowers such as these,” he gestured towards the bouquet she had picked, which now stood in a slim crystal vase upon the table. “Try the gooseberries, they are good. Did you meet anyone while you were walking?”

“No, I expect it was too early – well, there was Gadrak, but dragons don’t count,” she added half-laughingly. To her surprise, she saw a crease appear between her father’s eyebrows. “What?” she looked at him intently.

“Well,” Garwell said slowly, as if contemplating every word. “Let’s just put it this way – Gadrak has become quite wild lately. Now that winter has ended, hardly a day passes without him crossing the borders of Silverbell and swooping down upon the lands of the humans. I know he does that more for entertainment than for food.”

“Well, of course,” said Loriel, “but why does it matter? I mean, the humans are there and we are here – and whenever Gadrak returns to Silverbell, he flies straight back to his cave. He doesn’t bother anyone in the wood.”


“That is true,” said her father, “but the humans aren’t stupid, you know. They see where Gadrak comes from. It is only a matter of time before they decide to raid Silverbell and rid themselves of the plague of the dragon once and for all.”

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Guardians of the Gates

Thanks to the awesome @crookedaydreamer from Wattpad, Guardians of the Gates, the third and final book in the Quest of the Messenger trilogy, now has a cover - and an amazing cover it is. 
Guardians of the Gates is most definitely my favorite book in the entire QotM saga. Its events take place several generations after Paths of the Shadow and Warriors of the Realm, which makes for a broader perspective. Also, it contains more action, more adventure, more travel - finally taking off from the shores of Tilir - and more cultural variety. 

However, I believe the real reason for my partiality lies in the character of Claire Swift - the first and only female main protagonist in the trilogy. There are some strong and important women in the first two books as well, but up until now, the main POV had belonged to a male. Claire's appearance is a refreshing change - not that I like her just because she is a girl. Quite simply, I wish I had a friend and companion like her - brave, honest, loyal, resourceful, ready to undertake any project and very forgiving of other people's idiosyncrasies.

***


"Perhaps,” said Gahrod, “when they – when we are sold, we can prevail on our new owners to return us to Tilir. Our clans would ransom us... and Claire and Ed too, of course.”

"That is a cheerful thought,” said Jonnar. “I fear, however, that not many people in Kanterra, especially these days, would venture upon a journey to Tilir in order to collect whatever ransom they would be willing to give for us.”

"It wouldn't be a small sum,” argued Gahrod. “Your uncle is Head of the Tionae, and mine of the Kamtesir.”

"Even so,” insisted Jonnar.

"Well, if you are so determined to spend the rest of your life in slavery, there is really not much I can do - “

"This is no question of mine being determined. It is about discerning the truth of our circumstances.”

"We must stick together,” Claire interrupted them both. “We must prevail upon this captain to sell us together, and then there will be a higher chance for us to fall into the hands of someone rich and powerful enough to make the journey to Tilir easily. You must swear that the ransom will be very high,” she added, looking from Jonnar to Gahrod.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

What I'm working on

Right now, my main project is a sequel to Wild Children - I'm still undecided on the title. Here is an excerpt:

***

“Aren’t you ready yet?”

Priscilla Dahl must have heard these words a thousand times. She heard them when she was little and they were preparing to go on a visit to her grandparents; she heard them when she was a little older, and running late to a dancing lesson or piano practice. She heard them every time the family needed to present its sleek, perfectly groomed face to the photographers – and she was not surprised to hear them now, on the night of her sister’s debut ball. The whole thing, in her opinion, was a lot more fuss than it was worth. Her mother and Stephanie hardly talked of anything else the past fortnight.

“Prissy?” her mother tapped on the door again – a little refined tap-tap with perfectly manicured fingernails.

Feeling annoyed, she opened the door a crack. “I’m nearly ready, alright?” she said. “And besides, there’s plenty of time.”

Eleanor Dahl put a slender, beige-slippered foot between the door and the doorframe. “Can I come in just for a moment?”

Priscilla shrugged and stepped back, allowing her mother room to pass. Eleanor strode over to the closet and pulled the door open. “Have you decided what to wear?” she asked.

“Kind of,” Priscilla muttered, sitting down on the bed with an expression of grumpy carelessness.

“There isn’t a lot of choice,” observed her mother in clipped tones, flicking through the dresses on the rack. Stephanie had an entire dressing-room with several closets, full-length mirrors, and ceiling-high shoe racks. Priscilla was quite satisfied with a simple closet, the contents of which she always attempted to thin out.

“There’s the new green dress,” she suggested half-heartedly.

“It won’t do,” said Eleanor. “You are supposed to wear it at the charity concert next week. And besides, it isn’t festive enough for a ball. Here,” she pulled out a floor-length spangled silver gown. “It will go nicely with the color of your eyes, dear. Do you have matching shoes?”

Priscilla wrinkled her nose as she looked at the dress. “It’s too chilly for this dress tonight.”

“Nonsense. I made sure the rooms are all well-heated. Ah, there are the shoes,” Eleanor emerged out of the closet triumphantly, holding a pair of silver slippers.

“I won’t wear them,” Priscilla declared, “they pinch.”


Her mother put down the shoes and glared at her. “Now you listen to me, young lady,” she said, raising one finger. “This is a big night for Stephanie, but that’s not all. Do I have to remind you that only two weeks are left until the elections? The press is going to be here. We are going to have plenty of coverage, and everything should look just right.”

Monday, 22 February 2016

New writer: are you deluding yourself? Am I?

I am that kid who always loved writing and making up stories, ever since she could write at all.

I am that kid whose teachers always swooned over her writing; the kid who was praised and flattered and told how talented she is.

I am that kid who, frankly, thought rather too much of herself for too long - the one who labored under the illusion that, as soon as she has it in her to churn out a full-length novel, agents and publishers will immediately swoop down on her and snatch her book up to glorious bestsellerdom.

I am not a kid anymore. I won't say how old I am, but two of my children are now old enough to write stories (which they do every day, to my great delight).  And I was no teenage mom, in case you are wondering.

And I joined these terrific writing communities on Wattpad and other websites, and was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people's literary efforts,  and by the brilliance of some of them. And I realized that I'm not a bad writer (no exaggerated self-humility here), but that neither am I that special and outstanding. And that a lot of people much more talented than I am never get published - because their work is a little quirky and doesn't precisely fit into a niche, because they don't have the right connections, because an editor somewhere up there decided their book isn't marketable enough and therefore not worthy dealing with on a commercial scale...

Oh, and a bunch of rejection notes from literary agents does wonders to sober one up, too.

I guess many writers come to this point, that of asking yourself, what do I expect? Is there any point in going on? Am I investing time, energy, thought, effort, hopes and dreams in writing books no one will ever read? Perhaps I just don't have what it takes, whatever it is, to succeed?

There is no definite answer, obviously. Nor can I offer any clever strategy except keep doing what you love (which, I assume, is writing), and try to do it in the best way you possibly can.

I will confess here I'm not a big fan of writing circles, writing support groups, writing workshops and guides such as Create a Gripping Plot in 8 Easy Steps (there are plenty of those out there on the web). I'm more into learning from the greatest, best (and often deceased) authors. Read good books; read them mindfully, not to copy, but to learn from them. Read; and write. 

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Writing and rewriting

For a long, long time, I labored under the illusion that the only kind of "real" writing is writing something new - making up new scenes, characters, plot outlines, etc. You know, the time when you're flying on the wings of inspiration and your first draft is coming rapidly together, but with lots of mistakes, typos, inconsistencies and misuse of grammar and vocabulary because you're working so fast.

After finishing the first draft, I'd go over it, notice the mistakes and wrinkle my nose. "I guess I should go over this again and correct it at some point, when I have the time", I would tell myself. Somehow, the time never came, because I was taken up with another great new idea.

It is no wonder, then, that I ended up with a whole lot of first drafts that could have been good - but would never become good, because I thought the "drudgery" of editing, rewriting and correcting mistakes was beneath me. It was, in fact, lack of diligence. Because of it, a very long time passed before I had anything that was even theoretically publishable. 

The truth is, unless you're a best-selling author with a publishing team dedicated to polishing and perfecting your work while you're writing the next Big Thing, you will have to put a lot of work into editing, polishing, and improving your novel. There's no way around it, if you ever want something that moves beyond the first draft stage.

No author is perfect, and nobody produces a first draft that is impeccable. Sometimes you'll want to make changes in the content: swap the order of two chapters, write a prologue, delve deeper into your MC's motivations. You might add characters, or decide a character is superfluous and edit them out. You might encounter inconsistencies, especially if, like me, you often work late at night when your concentration is not at its peak. For example, just today I was editing a scene from Wild Children at which some of my characters are attending a funeral. Then I noticed that, while I mentioned one character who had stayed home, that same character is standing next to the grave in the next paragraph. Obviously I was interrupted while I was writing that scene and lost track of things.

Editing your first (second, third, fourth) draft can be more time-consuming than writing the whole thing in the first place, but there are no short cuts. It is essential to producing good-quality work.