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Dec 29, 2011

One Ridiculously Easy Way To Improve Your Manuscript

So you want your writing not to suck. There's a ridiculously effective way to improve it. It's easy--once you know how:

Put your manuscript on a diet!

I have a guest post from writing coach extraordinaire, Rayne Hall, with some tips.

Does your writing style have bulges and saggy bits? Dr Rayne's Word Loss Diet helps you to trim, slim, tighten and tone your manuscript. 

In thirty years as an editor, I've found the same fatty words bloat the style of many authors.

Here is a notorius, fattening, calorie-rich word: 'could'.  If you cut it from your diet your writing style will be come sharper and tighter.

Beginner writers are prone to overusing it. Experienced authors  may use it a lot in their drafts, but edit it out in the final version.

Instead of telling us that the heroine could see, could hear, could smell or could feel something, let her see, hear, smell, taste, feel it. Simply cut the word 'could'.

'Could see' becomes 'saw', 'Could hear' becomes 'heard', 'could smell' becomes 'smelled', ' could taste' becomes 'tasted', 'could feel' becomes 'felt'.

Better still: cut 'see/hear/smell/taste/feel' as well.  If you have established the point of view of your story, you don't need to say that your PoV hears the sounds, smells the smells and sees the visions.

Obese version (before diet)
He could hear footsteps clanking down the stairs.
Overweight version (after mild diet)
He heard footsteps clanking down the stairs.
Slim version (after strict diet)
Footsteps clanked down the stairs.

Obese version (before diet)
She could see his lips beginning to twitch.
Overweight version (after mild diet)
She saw his lips beginning to twitch.
Slim version (after strict diet)
His lips twitched.

Obese version (before diet)
She could feel her cheeks firing.
Overweight version (after mild diet)
She felt her cheeks firing.
Slim version (after strict diet)
Her cheeks fired.

Obese version (before diet)
She could sense that something was wrong.
Overweight version (after mild diet)
She sensed that something was wrong.
Slim version (after strict diet)
Something was wrong.

Obese version (before diet)
He could understand that it was time to leave.
Overweight version (after mild diet)
He understood it was time to leave.
Slim version (after strict diet)
It was time to leave.

Obese version (before diet)
He could feel the air chill.
Overweight version (after mild diet)
He felt the air chill.
Slim version (after strict diet)
The air chilled.

Use your wordprocessor's Find&Replace tool to count how many times you've used 'could', and cut most of them.

I'd love to hear from you. When you've checked your WiP for 'could', post a comment to tell me how many you've found, and whether you're going to cut some of them.

What other 'wordy words' do you think writers can cut from from their word diet?

If you have questions about writing style, or need advice on  how to tighten your writing, please ask. I'll be around for a week, and I enjoy answering questions.

If your writing style tends towards wordy waffling, if your critique partners urge you to tighten, and if editorial rejections point out dragging pace, this class may be the answer. It's perfect for toning your manuscript before submitting to editors and agents, or for whipping it into shape before indie publishing.

This is an interactive class with twelve lessons and twelve assignments, for writers who have a full or partial manuscript in need of professional polish. At the end of the class, you may submit a scene for individual critiques.

Dr Rayne's Word-Loss Diet is much more fun than depriving yourself of food, and you'll see real results fast.

Deadline: December 29, 2011. Fee: $25

Rayne Hall is the author of a deliciously dark fantasy about a man trying to protect a kingdom and protect a woman...from himself. You can buy it here.

Dec 27, 2011

Release Day: The Unfinished Song : Root (Book 4)

The Unfinished Song : Root (Book 4) will officially be released on December 28, 2011. For two days only, it will be available for just 99 cents. Of course, you can also still get it free by signing up for my newsletter. I have already filled the 100 slots for free books that I allocated, but I have decided to give out twenty more, so you can still squeeze in!

In the holiday spirit, I'm also offering my short story anthology, Conmergence, for free. If you've always wanted to read my short stories, but were afraid it might be a total money-wasting, mind-melting experience, now you can at least protect your money. (As for your mind, you must still read at your own risk.)  You can download Conmergence from Amazon, but if you'd prefer a pdf, that's fine too, just email me and let me know.

Happy holidays and good wishes for New Year!

Nov 30, 2011

Woot Root! Sign up for a free copy!

The Unfinished Song: Root (Book 4) is coming soon! And to celebrate, I'm making an insane offer. I will give you the book for free.

Sign up here... or just email me. But hurry up, because I'm going to cap this offer at 100 and I'm already almost halfway there. I want you to get your free book before they run out!


Well, two reasons.

One, I am crazy. My relatives will attest to that, if I ever introduced to you (which I wouldn't because my relatives are also crazy).

Two, I want to recruit folks to the Faearth Fanclub, which I'll be rolling out this month. Basically, it's just a newsletter at this point, but I'm working on a website where fans will be able to get all kinds of cool, free stuff.

What better way to start than by giving away a free book? So fans, if you want to read Root, Book 4, for absolutely free, just sign up and I will gift you a copy on the Super Secret Release day!

(Reviewers, as usual, you can have a free copy, even without becoming fans. Yes, that's right, you can have a free copy of my book for the sole purpose of mocking it. That's just how nice I am. Or possibly, I have secretly bargained with the fae to put a Love My Book spell on reviewers. Bwahaha! Whoops, shouldn't admit that in public. I'll be stoned as a hexer!)

What juicy awesomesauce can one expect in The Unfinished Song: Root?

Dindi knows her life is forfeit if she cannot solve the faery riddle of the Unfinished Song. But to do that, she must first unravel the mystery of why the Aelfae hexed her whole lineage long ago. 

Zumo, while technically honoring the deal with Kavio, takes advantage of Kavio's absence to scheme. His victim this time is Kavio's mother, Vessia the White Lady (how low is that?!). But although Vessia may look like a harmless old lady to some, she is still a faery, and one of the most powerful dancers in Faearth. You shouldn't try to cage a woman with wings...

Kemla and Tamio connive together to trap Dindi. Kemla's goal is to prevent Dindi from dancing in the upcoming competition before the White Lady, and Tamio's goal is to seduce Dindi. If at first they don't succeed, they aren't above hexcraft to get their way...

Zumo's sister, Amdra, is up to her own schemes. Her allies from the Orange Canyon ride giant birds, raptors, and they are hunting...

And finally...Dindi will meet the Man in Black for the first time. He plans to kill her.

Anyway, free books. Awesome! What more could one ask? How about a sneak peek at the cover? Yes, I love you that much. I have it for you! Yay!

Coming Soon on Super Secret Release Day!

Sign up here to receive a FREE copy!

The first book in the series is also still FREE right now for anyone who is new to the series. This is a great time to start reading The Unfinished Song!

 Please help me spread me let folks know about this by spreading the word through Twitter, Facebook and your own blogs.

Nov 28, 2011

What Spammers Think of My Blog

I saved this remark from the plebian comments section, because it was so beautiful I felt it deserved more attention. Look at what this wonderful spammer has to say about my blog:
I’m impressed, I must say. Really rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. Your idea is outstanding; the issue is something that not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something relating to this.
See? This blog is both "educative" and "entertaining"! My ideas are outstanding and much more intelligent than most blogs the spammer is spamming. And a spammer would know, right? After all, their bots visit so very many blogs, most of which don't hit the nail on the head at all.

There you have it. My blog is worth reading. You have it straight from the spammer's bot.

Nov 21, 2011

Amanda Hocking Joins the Million Books Sold Club

Amazon announced today:
David Baldacci, Amanda Hocking and Stephenie Meyer are the latest authors to join the Kindle Million Club, selling over 1 million paid copies of their books in the Kindle Store. They join 11 other authors in the Kindle Million Club: Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Charlaine Harris, Lee Child, Suzanne Collins, Michael Connelly, John Locke, Kathryn Stockett, Janet Evanovich and George R.R. Martin.

As with John Locke before her, Amanda Hocking sold the majority of her 1 million Kindle books independently using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Since its launch in 2007, KDP has provided a fast, free and easy way for authors and publishers around the world to make their books available in the Kindle Store. In addition to the more than 2 million books sold by John Locke and Amanda Hocking, 12 KDP authors have sold more than 200,000 books and 30 KDP authors have sold more than 100,000 books.

Nov 1, 2011

When is a picture worth a million words?


*ok, fan girl glee that my book is parallel to George R. R. Martin out of the way*

They say it takes 1,000,000 words to become a good writer. I have written more than that... most of it so awful, dreadful and nausea-inducing that a goblin wouldn't even feed it to his mutant rat-horse. Many a day I despaired nothing I wrote would ever be worth sharing.

Now, it is true, that George R.R. Martin's book is $15 and mine is free, but a lot of people must still want to read it to make it the number one downloaded epic fantasy on Amazon. And that feeling... it's just... I'm going to have a write a whole new book just to capture that feeling in words. For now, all I can say is...

This picture was worth a million words.

Oct 24, 2011

A Writer's Tribute to Steve Jobs

20 Things I’ve Learned from Steve Jobs  

1. Build stuff that you love, then ask people to buy that stuff so you can keep building more. In 1974, Steve Jobs invited Steve Wozniak to join the Homebrew Computer Club. Woz wanted to keep it a hobby. Jobs convinced Woz to start a company. In 1976, they sold the first fifty Apple I computers.  

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
At age 13, Steve Jobs called up the head of HP and asked for free computer chips…and got them.  

3. Even if you don’t graduate, you can still keep learning. Jobs dropped out of Reed College, but kept auditing classes. (I learned to write BASIC on an Apple II.)  

4. If you lose your job, stay focused on what you’ll do next. In 1985, Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, the company he’d help found, and replaced by John Sculley. Jobs promptly founded a new computer company, NeXT. "I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods in my life."  

5. Sometimes it takes reaching the bottom before you can soar to infinity and beyond. Steve Jobs turned Pixar from a software company into a movie studio, which produced the first full-length computer-animated feature, “Toy Story,” the first many box office hits. He sold Pixar to Disney in 2006 for $7.4 billion.  

6. Even if your ship is sinking, point it in the right direction. In 1997, Jobs returned to Apple as CEO. “I’m actually convinced that if Steve hadn’t come back when he did — if they had waited another six months — Apple would have been history. It would have been gone, absolutely gone.” – John Sculley

7. Don’t be too proud to accept help, even from a former enemy. He turned to long-time rival and founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, for money to help Apple survive. “We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose. We have to embrace a notion that for Apple to win, Apple has to do a really good job.”

8. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Think different. 
Rashmi Bansal was so moved by Steve Jobs’ commencement speech she quoted him in the titles of her two books on India’s entrepreneurs.

9. If you find something you like to wear, hey, just go for it.  

10. People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.  
“That doesn’t mean we don’t listen to customers, but it’s hard for them to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it. Take desktop video editing. I never got one request from someone who wanted to edit movies on his computer. Yet now that people see it, they say, ‘Oh my God, that’s great!’” Fortune, January 24 2000

"I didn’t know I wanted a portable multimedia platform that would permit me and my kids to hurl angry birds out of a slingshot at thieving pigs. But Steve Jobs did."  

11. Art is as indispensible as science. Fonts matter. (I wrote all the Unfinished Song novels on successive iBooks.)

12. Focus doesn’t mean just mean saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.  
"Apple is a $30 billion company, yet we've got less than 30 major products.”  

13. Staff your stores with geniuses. 
There are now over 300 Apple stores world wide. They have the highest revenue per square foot of any stores in the world. 14. For you to sleep well at night, quality has to be carried all the way through.

The first server node on the World Wide Web was a NeXT box.

I used a Mac to email my mother from the other side of the world on Sep. 11, 2001.

15. Simple can be harder than complex. The first Game of Life was designed for the Apple I.

16. Stay hungry, stay foolish.
Steve Jobs was one 1% richest people on Earth. But he stayed hungry until the last day of his life.  

17. Creativity is just connecting things.
The iTunes Store opened in 2003. By 2007, Apple was selling 5 million songs a day.
In 2007, the Apple iPhone, became the most popular phone in history.  

18. Wealth is just connecting people.
App Store has sold over 10 Billion Apps.

(My books can now be bought in the Apple bookstore.)

19. Don’t rest on your past accomplishments. When you reach the top of your industry, start a new industry. Then do it again.
Apple II, Macintosh, Pixar, iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iBooks, Apple App Store, iCloud...  

20. Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for changing the world and leaving it a better place.

This video was made on iMovie.

Oct 6, 2011

Sep 28, 2011

Creating Believable Magician Characters

Today we have a guest post by Rayne Hall. Rayne Hall is a traditionally published author, who has recently made the move to self-publishing for her latest dark fantasy Storm Dancer, which is only $0.99 on Amazon and definitely worth reading. She also teaches writing classes, which I highly recommend. She is an excellent teacher. You can find out more about the classes below, or on this site:

Creating Believable Magician Characters
by Rayne Hall

Does your story have a magician - a shaman, a sorcerer, a necromancer, a ritual wizard, a theurgist, a miracle worker or a witch? The traits which make them effective magicians shape their personality. Here are ten tips for their characterisation. Your magician should have most - not necessarily all - of these character traits.

Although I'm using the female pronoun for this article, everything applies regardless of gender.

1. Intelligent
Magic requires a sharp intellect, critical thinking, critical analysis, the ability to make difficult decisions, and a good memory.

2. Creative
Magicians need to adapt existing spells and rituals to new situations.

3. Self-disciplined and focused
A magician needs to be able to concentrate and shut out distractions, even under difficult circumstances. A good magician possesses enormous self-control and is able to resist temptations. She is probably the kind of person who can stick with a diet and never goofs off to play computer games until the current job is done.

4. Patient
The study of magic requires endless practice and repeats, most of them boring, so impatient people drop out of the training before they achieve much. A good magician can spend hours sitting still, watching a candle flame or listening to the sound of the wind in the trees if that's what the spell requires.

5. Highly trained
Mere talent is not enough. Magic requires intense, prolonged study and practice. If she's a powerful magician, she has probably studied magic for many years.

6. Specialist
She is probably highly skilled in one particular area such as improving livestock, changing the weather, building wealth, protection, or healing.

7. Musical
Many forms of magic involve drumming or chanting; it helps if she has an ear for tunes and a strong sense of rhythm.

8. Spiritual
Most forms of magic are linked with religious practice. Your magician may be devoutly religious and begin every ritual with a prayer. Even if she's an atheist, she probably engages in spiritual practices such as meditation.

9. Studious
Magicians are always keen to learn more - expanding their own skills range, acquiring new spells, understanding other forms of magic, exploring natural and philosophical subjects. Whenever she can, she seeks instruction in some subject or other. She can often be found with her head in a book, and if your story is set in a pre-literate period, she listens avidly to bards and storytellers.

10. Well-organised and methodical
The best magicians always have information and ingredients at hand and know where to find them, and they have their equipment assembled before they begin the ritual. They keep careful records of the ingredients and exact wording used in every spell, and they measure the results.

11. Introvert
Most magicians like quietude and solitude. Given the choice, your magician probably prefers spending time alone in nature over partying with noisy crowds. After a night in close company with many people, she needs a day alone in nature to recharge her energies. She may even be a loner.

12. Ethical
Magic gives a person enormous power, and requires moral judgement to apply this power wisely and for the good. All magicians have ethic codes of conduct, and they take them seriously. These may be based on their religion, the principles of their form of magic, the rules of their coven, or their individual conscience. Modern magicians often follow the principles 'Harm none' and 'Don't interfere with someone's free will'. Some consider it wrong to accept money for magic. In other cultures and periods, other rules applied. If writing about a fantasy world, you can invent rules. You can create powerful conflicts if your magician's goal conflicts with her ethics. Perhaps the only way to help her child/rescue her lover/save the world is to do something against her conscience and against her magic's rules. Even the villain of your story, the evil sorcerer, abides by strict ethical rules. You can have fun inventing them, for example 'Be kind to animals' (hurting humans is ok), 'Never harm a minor' (wait until they're eighteen), 'Never sacrifice a virgin girl' (deprive her of her virginity first).

13. Sharp senses
Your magician probably has keen eyesight and good ears, and her senses of smell, touch and taste are more refined than those of most people. This natural ability has probably been refined over years of practice. Now she can recognise barks by how they feel in the hand, and identify crumbs of dried herbs by their smell.

14. Descended from magicians
Magical talent is often, though not always, genetically inherited. Perhaps her parents and siblings are also magicians, or perhaps her revered great-grandmother was a famous witch.

15. Psychic
Although magical and psychic gifts are separate matters, many magicians have a some psychic abilities as well.

16. Day Job
Few magicians can make a living from their magic. Most have day-jobs. Surprisingly many modern magicians work in the healing arts: nurses, doctors, aromatherapists, complementary medicine practitioners, massage therapists. Others are employed in scientific or engineering fields (using their analytical minds) or they work the arts (using their creativity).

All magicians are different. You can choose which of those traits suit your magician's character profile and your story's plot.

If you have questions creating magician characters, if you want feedback for an idea, or if you need help with an aspect of magic in your WiP, please ask. I'll be around for a week and will answer questions.

About Rayne Hall

Rayne Hall teaches an online workshop 'Writing about Magic and Magicians'. Create believable magicians (good and evil), fictional spells which work, and plot complications when the magic goes wrong. Learn about high and low magic, witches and wizards, circle-casting and power-raising, initiation and training, tools and costumes, science and religion, conflicts and secrecy, love spells and sex magic, and apply them to your novel. This is a 4-week class with 12 lessons and practical assignments. If you wish, you may submit a scene for critique at the end of the workshop.
The next dates for this workshop are:
October 2011: Celtic Hearts RWA  
March 2012: Lowcountry RWA
April 2013: Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal:

Rayne's other workshops include 'Writing Fight Scenes', 'Writing Scary Scenes' and 'The Low Word Diet'. For an updated listed of her upcoming workshops, go to

Sep 9, 2011

9/11 Ruminations

Last year, this was my 9-11 Post:

On September 11, 2001, I was living overseas. I remember that a local newspaper carried the headline, the next day, "Superman Cries." I very much wanted to buy a copy, but I had other priorities at the time. My mom was scheduled to be on an airplane on that day, and I was trying to track her down, make sure she was safe (she was), and then I spent a lot of time on the phone or trying to get online to talk it over with her and other loved ones. By the time I tried to pick up a copy of the newspaper, they were sold out.

It's interesting that at a moment like that, people would turn to a fictional character to try to make sense of the tragedy. They could have used the Statue of Liberty or Uncle Sam, the more usual allegorical figures of nationhood, but instead featured the comicbook Superman, with a single tear.

* * *

I included a link to this emotional timeline of 9-11 from Mind Hacks.

What I did not discuss was my own emotional timeline.

I happened to be in a Muslim country, as a humanitarian volunteer. We found out when one volunteer received a text message from her boyfriend. The local, government controlled television had no news about it, so we had to drive to a hotel to watch CNN. I was terrified because my mom was supposed to be on a plane to Washington D.C. that day. At another table, a group of drunk men were laughing. Yes, LAUGHING. 

The feeling I had, worrying that my mom might be dead, feeling my country was under attack, listening to people laugh as the news showed the planes crashing into the building... I experienced a terrible helpless rage. I had never felt that way before. I am generally not a rage-full person. In college I travelled to Nepal and studied compassion meditation at a Buddhist nunnery. A few months before 9/11, while living on the streets to experience what it was like to be homeless (answer: it sucks), I had been mugged, and using satyagraha techniques of nonviolent engagement, ended up chatting with my mugger to the point he started crying and telling me about his abusive childhood and how his religious sister wanted better for him. I came out of the experience, if anything, more convinced of the goodness of every human soul than before.

But on 9/11, my compassion deserted me. All I felt was horror, grief and rage.

I did not want to feel that way, and so I felt doubly violated, because I felt as if I lost my innocence as well as my illusions of safety.  When I returned to the States, I had a different view on a lot of things. Not just because of 9-11... I had also lived in a war zone, met with men who had been tortured, and met the men who done the torturing and smiled about it... I had seen a lot of evil, and it wasn't so easy for me to believe in the goodness of every human soul anymore. I had been exposed to so much virulent anti-Americanism that I became hyper-sensitive to it, and I fought with a lot of long time friends for whom anti-American one-up-manship is a harmless past time, like bowling or "yo' mama" jokes. By the way, I still shiver whenever anyone makes an anti-American comment, so if you tweet one or post it to Facebook, I will do my best not to reply. We would just fight, and that's not what I want or who I want to be.

For a long time, I wondered if I would ever feel "normal" again. Every year, when 9-11 rolled around, all those feelings crashed back down on me again.

Then I noticed a strange thing. This year as the anniversary came around, I didn't feel enraged. In fact, it was hard to remember the anger I felt in those days. It wasn't until I read Maria Zannini's blog post that I felt a jolt.

Perversely, I then worried about the fact that I couldn't remember what it felt like. Is that like betraying the memory of what happened? But that's absurd, isn't it? To want to hold on to the anger? How can you not betray those feelings yet stop being a slave to them?

Well... I am a writer. I realized maybe the time had come to write something. I had enough distance, yet could still capture those emotions, and honor them, yet move past them. I started a story. 

I'm not ready to share it year. Maybe by next 9-11.

I'm curious how to know about your emotional journey on and since 9-11. How did you feel? Would you undo what you felt (I'm not talking about what happened, because I'm going to hope that's a Yes, but the feelings you experienced in response) or are those important for you to remember and hold on to?

Aug 31, 2011

Confessions of a Were-Tiger Mom

My oldest son started kindergarten yesterday. It was also the release date of the third book in my series -- The Unfinished Song: Sacrifice. Usually, I neglect my kids because I'm busy writing, but yesterday, I neglected my new release so I could spend the day with my little man.

At least, that was my intention. It's not possible to turn off Writer's Brain. After Roll Call and Storytime, the kids ran outside to play while the parents squeezed into tiny chairs to listen to the teacher. The teacher was a perfect kindergarten teacher: sweet and chipper and friendly and yet down-to-earth. While she expounded on the daily schedule and how budget cuts impacted the status of art supplies, I gazed around the room, struck by an idea for a story about a woman whose three preschool sons are werewolves. I would call it, "My Three Werewolf Sons."

Right at the moment I was puzzling out the backstory about how the young children came to be bitten by a werewolf (I would blame their uncle, I decided) the teacher called on me with a question. I had no idea what the answer was, or, indeed, what the question had been. I had an instant flash back to the million times in school when I had similarly blanked on a question for the same reason...I'd been off in another world.

"Bag lunch or lunch card?" repeated the teacher, smiling patiently, with that cajoling tone most people use with small children, that kindergarden teachers use with everyone.

"Um. We'll be getting a card thingy," I said. She moved on to ask the next parent.

I admit it. I suck at parenting sometimes. Now you know.

Despite this, I am an aspiring tiger mom. If you haven't heard of the term, or the controversy, it's a term popularized by an Asian American mom/author to designate an aggressive approach to one's child's academic career. I'm kinda like a were-tiger mom. I manage it only when the moon is full.

When the teacher handed me a piece of paper with the class objectives for the year, I read it as an indictment of all the things my son should be doing already. If he isn't even ready for first grade by the time he's in kindergarden, how will he be ready for calculus by sixth grade?

During my first pregnancy, I fancied I could be like those moms who homeschool their kids. I looked up several programs, and even designed a curriculum. After my son was born, even before his little sibs came along, I realized that idea was sheer lunacy. I have increased respect for any parent who could pull it off. In my case, I would go mad. Pre-school and elementary school teachers, I salute you. You are amazing.

Anyway. I compromised. I have a notebooks for each werewolf, er, kid,  with re-usable transparent sheet protectors. I order have a couple of different workbooks I use. These workbooks are designed to be used once, but the workbooks are expensive and I have three kids. So I cut them up and then choose the pages I want, which I slip into the transparent sheet protectors. This also allows me to mix up series. The Critical Thinking Co. is strong on mathematics and logic, but weak on reading and writing (for the Pre-K to first grade level especially). Most other series are the reverse. It's not hard to find workbooks with guided handwriting and phonics for the ABCs.

I also found a great series by a teacher friend of mine which uses sign language and physical activities to help kids use total physical response to learn to read. I am trying to convince her to self-publish her book. If she does, I will let you know more about it.

I made sets of four pages of Alphabet/Handwriting/Phonics and four pages of Counting/Logic/Puzzles plus two pages of fun stuff... drawings or mazes. (My oldest son loves mazes). For my middle son (2.5 yrs), it's just three pages of Alphabet and three pages of Counting. The littlest one has a notebook too, just to have something to scribble on while the others are working so he doesn't get jealous.

In the evening, I spend about 20 minutes with each of them on the notebooks. A finished notebook results in a treat. (Yes, I bribe with candy. Not health food. I am a bad, bad mom.) If one is too squirrelly to finish, that's ok, we just stop, though there is no treat. For obvious reasons, the two year old has more trouble concentrating than the older one, although one night he surprised me by demanding two sessions in a row.

My son was worried that he wouldn't be ready for kindergarden. He feared they would all be doing things that were too hard for him. So when we went into the classroom and he saw the alphabet on the wall, illustrated with cartoons of things that started with those letters, he pointed it out to me gleefully.

"Mommy, look!" he whispered. "That's all the letters and their things! She's a good teacher. She knows the alphabet too!"

* * *

By the way, expect a new series from me soon. Don't worry, I will still keep publishing the rest of The Unfinished Song as well. The Unfinished Song is aimed at young adults and adults, but I also have a series I'm working on aimed at four to seven year olds. It is about Jaden and Jacie, twins that can turn into dragons, who help other dragons when they get sick or hurt. Each book introduces a science concept and includes a home science experiment at the end. In order to cure the sick Rain Dragon, for instance, Jaden and Jacie learn about the precipitation cycle, and so on.

NOW AVAILABLE: ONLY $.99 for a limited time

Aug 30, 2011

The Unfinished Song: Sacrifice Now Available

At some magic hour today you should be able to buy Sacrifice, third book in the twelve part series The Unfinished Song.

Early bird buyers will be able to pick up the book for just $.99.

Aug 23, 2011

The Unfinished Song: Sacrifice Debuts Tuesday, Aug 30!


Thank you to those who have waited patiently...Sacrifice, the third book in The Unfinished Song, is here! Almost. It should be available for review copies and early bird purchase on Monday, August 30, 2011. This will be a busy day for me, since it is also the day my oldest son starts kindergarten.

UPDATE: Except, of course, I meant TUESDAY, because that is the 30th. D'OH!

Here's a sneak peek at the cover:

Jul 30, 2011

How Writing Daily Can Help You Lose Weight

Writing daily can help you lose weight.

No, I am totally serious.

I know it seems counter-intuitive, because, after all, you are sitting around on your buhunkus, and, if you are like me, tempted to eat snacks while you write.

But writing each day takes willpower. Learning to discipline yourself to write can have a positive impact on the rest of your life.

Willpower is like a muscle. This has a downside and an upside. The downside is that it can become exhausted, which means that you can find yourself more susceptible to temptation. The upside is that by exercising your will every day--for instance, by writing daily, if you a writer--you can improve not just your ability to write, but also strengthen you willpower in other areas, like dieting.

Heidi Halvorson, a researcher on willpower, writes:
So if you want to build more willpower, start by picking an activity (or avoiding one) that fits with your life and your goals – anything that requires you to override an impulse or desire again and again, and add this activity to your daily routine. It will be hard in the beginning, but it will get easier over time if you hang in there, because your capacity for self-control will grow.

She also suggests that you shouldn't try to do two will-power intensive activities at the same time. For me, this means that I need to have healthy snacks on hand while I write, so that my urge to nosh'n'type won't lead me to the cookie jar.

Heidi Grant Halvorson has a great book that combines the latest data from scientific studies with practical advice on how to make this work for you.

Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals

Jul 27, 2011

15 Drunkest Countries

15. United Kingdom
Per capita alcohol consumption: 13.37 liters
Recorded consumption: 11.67 liters
Unrecorded consumption: 1.70 liters

Per capita consumption by type (recorded) Beer: 4.93 liters
Wine: 3.53 liters
Spirits: 2.41 liters
Other: 0.67 liters

14. France

Per capita alcohol consumption: 13.66 liters
Recorded consumption: 13.30 liters
Unrecorded consumption: 0.36 liters

Per capita consumption by type (recorded)
Beer: 2.31 liters
Wine: 8.14 liters
Spirits: 2.62 liters
Other: 0.17 liters

13. Ireland

Per capita alcohol consumption: 14.41 liters
Recorded consumption: 13.41
Unrecorded consumption: 1.00

Per capita consumption by type (recorded)
Beer: 7.04 liters
Wine: 2.75 liters
Spirits: 2.51 liters
Other: 1.09 liters

12. Portugal
Per capita alcohol consumption: 14.55 liters
Recorded consumption: 14.55 liters
Unrecorded consumption: 2.10 litres

Per capita consumption by type (recorded)
Beer: 3.75 liters
Wine: 6.65 liters
Spirits: 1.27 liters
Other: 0.51 liters

11. South Korea
Per capita alcohol consumption: 14.80 liters
Recorded consumption: 11.80 liters
Unrecorded consumption: 3.00 liters

Per capita consumption by type (recorded)
Beer: 2.14 liters
Wine: 0.06 liters
Spirits: 9.57 liters
Other: 0.04 liters

10. Croatia
Per capita alcohol consumption: 15.11 liters
Recorded consumption: 12.61 liters
Unrecorded consumption: 2.50 liters

Per capita consumption by type (recorded)
Beer: 4.66 liters
Wine: 5.80 liters
Spirits: 1.91 liters
Other: 0.14 liters

9. Belarus
Per capita alcohol consumption: 15.13 liters
Recorded consumption: 11.22
Unrecorded consumption: 3.91

Per capita consumption by type (recorded)
Beer: 1.84 liters
Wine: 0.80 liters
Spirits: 4.08 liters
Other: 2.67 liters

8. Romania
Per capita alcohol consumption: 15.30 liters
Recorded consumption: 11.30 liters
Unrecorded consumption: 4.00 liters

Per capita consumption by type (recorded)
Beer: 4.07 liters
Wine: 2.33 liters
Spirits: 4.14 liters
Other: 0.00 liters

7. Andorra
Per capita alcohol consumption: 15.48 liters
Recorded consumption: 14.08 liters
Unrecorded consumption: 1.40 liters

Per capita consumption by type (recorded)
Beer: 3.93 liters
Wine: 5.69 liters
Spirits: 3.14 liters
Other: 0.00 liters

6. Estonia
Per capita alcohol consumption: 15.57 liters
Recorded consumption: 13.77 liters
Unrecorded consumption: 1.80 liters

Per capita consumption by type (recorded)
Beer: 5.53 liters
Wine: 1.09 liters
Spirits: 9.19 liters
Other: 0.43 liters

5. Ukraine
Per capita alcohol consumption: 15.60 liters
Recorded consumption: 8.10 liters
Unrecorded consumption: 7.50 liters

Per capita consumption by type (recorded)
Beer: 2.69 liters
Wine: 0.58 liters
Spirits: 5.21 liters
Other: 0.02 liters

4. Russia
Per capita alcohol consumption: 15.76 liters
Recorded consumption: 11.03 liters
Unrecorded consumption: 4.73 liters

Per capita consumption by type (recorded)
Beer: 3.65 liters
Wine: 0.10 liters
Spirits: 6.88 liters
Other: 0.34 liters

3. Hungary
Per capita alcohol consumption: 16.27 liters
Recorded consumption: 12.27 liters
Unrecorded consumption: 4.00 liters

Per capita consumption by type (recorded)
Beer: 4.42 liters
Wine: 4.94 liters
Spirits: 3.02 liters
Other: 0.14 liters

2. Czech Republic
Per capita alcohol consumption: 16.45 liters
Recorded consumption: 14.97 liters
Unrecorded consumption: 1.48 liters

Per capita consumption by type (recorded)
Beer: 8.51 liters
Wine: 2.33 liters
Spirits: 3.59 liters
Other: 0.39 liters

1. Moldava
Per capita alcohol consumption: 18.22 liters
Recorded consumption: 8.22 liters
Unrecorded consumption: 10.00 liters

Per capita consumption by type (recorded)
Beer: 4.57 liters
Wine: 4.67 liters
Spirits: 4.42 liters
Other: 0.00 liters

Courtesy of the Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2011

Jul 24, 2011

Excerpt: The Unfinished Song, Sacrifice


Rthan’s old hut had been dismantled after he had fallen in battle, as was customary. During his captivity, his tribe had mourned him as one already dead.

On his return to the tribe, a new hut was built. Kinsmen in Sharkshead and others from his birth clanhold, folk who had heard he still lived and come to see if it was true, helped him with the building. Six sturdy rib bones from a whale provided the main support, around which was woven a skeleton dome of femurs and fibulae. Then layers and layers of skins rubbed in lard, fur side down, facing the interior, were stretched tight and lashed to the bones, so that when the hut was finished, it was slick and waterproof on the outside, soft and warm inside. Kinsmen thumped his back and insulted him affectionately, lighting the hearth fire as their last favor before they left him alone in his new house.

The fire burned blue. Against the light, he could see Meira’s silhouette. The little girl stroked a patch of otter fur.

“Otter is my favorite fur,” she said. “I love how thick and supple it is.”

Rthan closed his empty hand. On his wedding night, he had stroked his wife’s hair, whispering to her, “Soft as otter fur.” After their daughter was born, he remembered stroking the soft black down on her head in amazement. “Just like yours,” he’d told his wife.

Meira turned to him, big blue eyes in her heart-shaped face. “I can be a baby if you prefer, Daddy. I can be any age you want.”

“Could you…” Shame filled him at his need. “It is said that other faeries take the shapes of men’s wives, tricking them into infidelity. But you have always appeared to me as my daughter. Never once as my wife.”

“You never objected before.”

“I miss her.”

The little girl shifted and matured. Breasts sprouted, hips widened, hair lengthened. “I can be older, if that’s what you want, Daddy.”


“Don’t be angry, Daddy.” Little girl again. About eight, her age when she had been murdered, eight years ago.

“I asked for my wife, not for some sick fae game. Never mind.”

“I will live with you, just as before. I will be everything to you.”

Before. The first days after he had lost his family were a blur to him. Then one day he found the interior of his hut illuminated with an eerie blue glow. His daughter waited for him. He didn’t understand. He thought she was alive, that the attack on the clanhold had all been a terrible dream, he’d even searched the yard for her mother. But as he hugged Meira and rained kisses on her long black hair, he had noticed how coarse and strange it was, how clammy and cool her skin, how pale and bluish. Yet he had not questioned her closely, not at first. Instead, he fed her and told her the jokes Meira had always loved best, just to hear her slightly frog-like laugh.

She had given him the gift of his own memories, mirrored back to him. His favorite days, like pearls plucked from the oyster husks of his daughter’s life, beaded on a worry string, to be rubbed between finger and thumb in a restless circle. A favorite was the day he had returned after a successful whale hunt, when pungent smoke from roasting blubber permeated everything in the hut. She wheedled him for a piece of the succulent fat, but her mother had said not until the feast that would be shared with the rest of the clan. He’d sneaked her a piece and she popped the whole thing in her mouth. Her cheeks had puffed up just like a walrus. Many, many times they had reenacted the details of that day.

Those reenactments were always missing something, of course. His wife was never there, whereas she should have been. Nor any one else from the clan. If a kinsman came in while the play was in progress, the blue light died, and Meira vanished, leaving Rthan telling jokes to the fur wall. Then, when the interloper finally left, the play would begin anew, all the same words, jokes, and laughs.

Rthan wondered if he could go through that again. What had once been a crutch felt like a net. The thought of repeating, word for word, every line he had exchanged with his dead daughter repulsed him now. The repetition only showed him the one thing the faery could never give him: a woman to hold and love and seed with more children, children who changed with time, who cried as well as laughed, who could one day outgrow him, leave him, and one far day, show him a grandchild with a head of black fuzz soft as otter fur.

The Unfinished Song: Sacrifice (Book 3) is coming soon. Email me if you want to be alerted as soon as it's out...the first day, it will be available for just $.99 on Amazon and free on Smashwords!

Jul 5, 2011

Why We Love Princesses

Princess Kate gets hitched.

I love princesses. I should. A princess taught me to read. A princess convinced me to get married. And a princess made my dream come true.

But I met a guy once who hated princesses. He was a Spanish anarchist who would hold up protest signs whenever any Spanish royalty showed up. The problem, he complained at a dinner party attended by radicals, pacifists and intellectuals, was that just about everyone in Spain adored the Spanish royal family, and for good reason. The king of Spain had defied terrorists to defend democracy.

The anarchist didn’t care. “I hate the kings. But I especially hate the damn princesses.”

“I love princesses,” said the activist next to me. “I LOVE them!”

She and the gay guy on her other side then started talking Princess Fashion Tips.

The anarchist rolled his eyes. I wondered if he was right. Are we unhealthily obsessed with royalty?

Dany from Game of Thrones. 

Some examples:
The Royal Wedding. Need I say more? Just as Princess Diana was the idol of millions, Princess Kate is the new darling. Ok, I know she’s actually “Duchess Kate,” but she did marry a prince. And let’s face it, if she invited you to tea, you would totally be tweeting all your friends, “Check me out having tea with a princess!”

Game of Thrones. This is the most awesome new fantasy series on television, and it’s all about kings and princesses and warriors and barbarians vying for power.

Harry Potter. Wait a minute, you’re saying. There are no princesses in Harry Potter. That’s true. But there is a half-blood prince. I rest my case.

Snape, I love you.

Let’s face it, even when the word “princess” is not used, the role sneaks in. For instance, in my epic fantasy series The Unfinished Song, there are no kings or princesses. But there is a Vaedi: The one girl in all the world with the magic to fight Death. The hottie warrior who loves her is not called a prince. He’s just the biggest badass of all.

Is there something wrong with us for being so interested in royalty in the age of democracy? I don’t think so, because I believe our obsession about princesses isn’t really about princesses at all. It’s about fairytales. You might think fairytales exalt royalty, but they don’t. They exalt common heroes. The boy or girl who is plucky and compassionate and daring is the one who becomes the prince or princess at the end of the story.

The princess who taught me to read wasn’t born a princess. She didn’t even marry a prince. Her name was Sarah Crewe and you might know her. She was the heroine of A Little Princess, the 1905 children's novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

In second grade, when most of the kids around me were already reading primers, I couldn’t read three words. I had dyslexia and reading was just like torture for me. Then my grandmother began reading to me from A Little Princess every night. One chapter at a time. And suddenly the torture of needing to know what happened in the next chapter overpowered the challenge of reading. I don’t know how my brain made the leap. I just knew I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to Sarah Crewe and I raced ahead, finishing the rest of the book by myself in one day. It was “the Magic” just like in the story.

As you wish.

I went from being unable to read at all to being a voracious reader. That’s how another princess came to unite me with my true love. When I met a man who took me to a bookstore for our second date, I knew I had found a prince. Flashforward half a year, and he bought me a copy of The Princess Bride. Inside, painstakingly fitted into the chapter entitled, “The Bride,” gleamed a diamond ring. That day I was amazed to discover that when he was saying, “Read this book,” what he meant was, “I love you.” And even more amazing was that I realized I truly loved him back.

The princess who pushed me to follow my dream was Dindi. She’s not really a princess either, she’s just a girl who is plucky and compassionate and daring, who insisted that I write her story. Ten years of research, writing, re-writing, querying agents, and finally publishing went into achieving that dream. I went from being a kid who couldn’t learn to read to a fanatic reader to a published author. When I think about that, I feel so grateful to all my readers, the fans who write to tell me how much they love Dindi and Gwenika and Kavio, and to everyone who made it possible. Thank you all. You make feel like a princess.

The Unfinished Song: Initiate  The Unfinished Song: Taboo  

The Unfinished Song: Initiate -- Nook, Kindle UK, Kindle US, Paperback

The Unfinished Song: Taboo -- Nook, Kindle UK, Kindle US

Look out for The Unfinished Song: Sacrifice, coming soon.

Jul 2, 2011

Sneak Peak

Rather than drone on about how edits on The Unfinished Song: Sacrifice are going (except to say they are indeed ongoing), I thought I'd let you have a peak at my next project-in-progress. This is going to be a military hard sf series called STRAT.

On a hell world where feudal mech lords use memetic tech to imprint loyalty onto their vassals and thralls, all Charlie and his people ask is to be left alone, free to think for themselves.

Then, on his wedding day, Charlie's bride is kidnapped to be a thrall. As he fights for his life and her freedom, he discovers the war helm of an ancient and powerful lord. He needs the knowledge in the helm to bring the battle to his enemies. But if he uses it, he risks losing himself...

I'm going to release it in novella-lenth episodes of about 25,000-35,000 words each. Charlie is gonna fight in a lot of wars, and each episode will cover one war. I'll start with a trilogy and may expand from there.

Jun 28, 2011

Scary Scenes

My friend Rayne Hall is an excellent writing teacher, and she has another class coming up on Scary Scenes. Even if you're not writing Horror, if you want to learn to add suspense to your novel, this is a great class. (I speak from personal experience!)

Are your frightening scenes scary enough? Learn practical tricks to turn up the suspense. Make your reader’s hearts hammer with excitement and their skins tingle with goosebumps of delicious fright. Whether you’re working on a ghost story, a thriller, a paranormal romance, an urban fantasy or a romantic suspense, this workshop is perfect for planning or revising your scary scenes. If you wish, you may submit a scene for critique at the end of the course.

Jun 24, 2011

Teaser and Revisions

Sorry, my blog is boring right now because I'm working hard on the edits for The Unfinished Song: Sacrifice. It will be a few more iterations, I fear. Since I don't have the energy for a real post, I'll give you an excerpt from the book. Here's a rare scene with no spoilers, unless you haven't read The Unfinished Song: Taboo yet, in which case go do so at once before you read this. (Just kidding.)


“You can’t be rid of me that easily.”
The voice was unexpected. Vessia whirled around to see Nangi watching her.
Vessia felt a frisson of resentment shudder through her. It had been so long since she had run through the meadows alone, as she’d used to when she lived with Old Man and Old Woman. She missed the smell of heather under open sky. She needed wind to lift her hair off her neck, she needed to swing her arms without anyone touching her shoulder to calm her. The land they were passing through now was hot, dry and dead, closed up into canyons of striated rock. Trekking through the stone passages, where sometimes the overhang was so high it blocked the sun, was like traversing caves, or tombs. When she’d told Vio she wanted to leave and be on her own for a while, he had only laughed and told her that being a prisoner meant not being free. She had retorted, “But am I not your wife?” and either because of that or because he noticed the mad itch in her, he relented. He let her go alone to a cool gathering of water in the rock, a place where aspen grew around the water’s edge and swans paused on their migration to swim. And now, just when she thought she was alone, she discovered Nangi had followed her.
“I can eat your thoughts, you know.” Nangi smiled a nasty smile.
Vessia had seen her do this with others; she would sidle up to them, hiss at them that she could eat their thoughts, and then grin while they broke into a sweat and began to stammer. Vessia didn’t understand why they feared having their thoughts eaten.
“Do they taste good?” Vessia asked. This was something she had always wondered.
Nangi’s eyes narrowed like a cat’s. “How do you do that?”
“Do what?”
“Shield your thoughts! How do you do it? Stop it at once! It only proves you have something to hide! Let your thoughts out at once or I shall report you to my father!”

Oh, and there's this too, if you somehow missed it: J.K. Rowling is now an indie author.

Jun 16, 2011

Should You Start At the End to Reach the Middle?

Beginnings are difficult. Endings are difficult. But connecting them is the most difficult of all.

As usual, a few plot holes have opened up during revisions, a few broken bridges between the Beginning and the Ending. To fix them, to tie up the loose strings, I am writing from the outside in...from the beginning toward the middle, but also from the ending toward the middle, until the two meet.

To to this, I take each character's story arc and ask myself, Where does this person need to end up? Then I ask, where does this person need to begin?'s just a matter of figuring out the steps in between. Generally I try to have each major character show up once a chapter, and supporting characters at least three times in the book. I have a lot of characters, so this in itself can be tricky. My main characters have one to three scenes per chapter.

Designing each individual story arc is not too hard, in and of itself; the tricky part comes when I juggle them. I have to make certain the logistics are feasible. Scene X logically must come before Scene Y. But I also try to coordinate the themes of each scene, which should contribute to the mini-story arc and theme of each chapter. (Each chapter has its own chapter theme, which contributes to the larger theme of the book.)

For instance, the chapter theme in the first book of The Unfinished Song: Sacrifice, is "Recrudescence," or the resurgence of a disease which had been dormant or cured. For a few characters, their recrudescence is literal, and they suffer a relapse of the disfiguring skin disorder they had when they were Shunned. For most of the others, however, the recrudesce plays out more symbolically. Kavio discovers an old enemy is back, in an unexpected position of strength. Brena meets the bear again and realizes her injury is getting worse. Gremo... well, I could go on, but I won't spoil anything by saying that Dindi also finds something won't stay down, so to speak.

Each scene focuses on a different character dealing with a relapse or reoccurrence of a problem or person who was supposed to be gone. The chapter as a whole contributes to the book's overall theme of sacrifice because the each person will realize in their own way that to truly conquer their problems, they have to do more. They have to give up more than they thought to gain what they want... possibly much more than they are willing to give.