Jun 24, 2016

There's still some good in the world

2016 has hit us hard.

We've seen hate spill blood, constantly, and watched those in power do nothing to stop it. We've seen women and black and LGBTQ people literally beg to not be harmed, only to have it thrown in their faces. We've just watched fearmongering and racism dominate the UK, with who knows what consequences.

And to top it all off, we keep losing the icons we grew up with.

We keep losing our heroes.

But this isn't a post about how bad things are. Anyone will tell you, I'm a practical optimist. I believe good can win, but that we have to fight for it.

When the old heroes die, new ones have to step up.

It's your time. Your time to make a difference. Do something, anything, to bring some good into the world. You don't overcome fear and hate by wishing them away or quietly stewing. You do it by showing the rest of the world that you won't succumb to despair.

The world is begging for people to do great things. To end wars, cure diseases, change unfair laws, spread love. No matter who you are, there is something you can do to make the world a little bit better.

Become a doctor. Volunteer at a shelter or clinic. Give to charity. Join the police. Run for office. Vote, for the love of all, vote. Teach your kids love, compassion, and acceptance. Join the school board. Buy a meal for a homeless person. Sing. Hug a friend who needs comfort. Talk to people who are suffering the most, let them know they can count on you. Paint a picture. Make art. Write a book. Tell stories where the good guys win. Laugh. Start a business. Reach for something bigger than you are. Every one of you has had a dream at some point in your life. Go after it. Be relentless in your goals and let nothing stop you.

And while you do this, always be the best, kindest, person you can be. You might be a great success, you might fail. If you do, you can always get back up and start again. Do not let this hard world beat you to your knees. Because it will, if you let it.

Not everyone can be the biggest hero. But not all heroes are big. Some are small. All are important. And some day, somewhere, you will be the one somebody looks to at times like this, when the world needs heroes the most.

Those people will see you. They will hear you. They will need you.

Be a hero, even if it's just for one person.

Monsters can be beaten. Monsters must be beaten.

Jun 20, 2016

Auspices



This is an auspicious time. Today is the longest day of the year (though not the traditional Summer Solstice, which is tomorrow), and coincides with the Strawberry Moon, a full moon in June which signals the start of the strawberry season.

The Summer Solstice and the Strawberry Moon only coincide once every 70 years. This is something most of us will not live to see again.

And tomorrow, the 21st, the traditional solstice date, is my 8th wedding anniversary.

It is also the starting date for my IndieGoGo campaign to fund the publication of Blackened Wings, the third in the Lady Raven series. Watch out tomorrow for my post announcing the kick-off. It's going to run for 30 days, after which the money raised will go towards paying my editor (the awesome Amie McCracken), and fulfilling my backers' reward levels.

So tonight I'll be pouring a drink for the gods, and getting ready to see where this takes me.

Yo ho!

Jun 3, 2016

Storming the Castle

You might have seen some activity on my Facebook and Twitter feeds this past week, where I refer to "storming the castle." I thought it'd be nice to give some background to this.

As I'm sure most people will have guessed, "storming the castle" is a reference to one of the greatest movies ever made, The Princess Bride.


Way back when I was still working away on Locked Within, I reconnected, over Facebook, with an old friend from college, Ash, who is also a writer. It’s safe to say she’s one of my best friends, and we’ve supported each other through all the trials and tribulations that come with balancing writing with day jobs and, eventually, parenthood.

One day, I spotted she was talking about her work-in-progress, getting to the end of the book. She posted she was “Having fun storming the castle.” Being the shameless geek I am, I commented with the follow-up line “Do you think it’ll work?” Not missing a beat, she came right back with “It’ll take a miracle.”

Since then, it’s been a tradition of ours, when coming up to something big, to repeat that exchange. “Storming the castle” is now how I mark the moment when I start writing the climax of a novel, and without fail, Ash will be there to ask “Do you think it’ll work?”

The other day, I stormed the castle and finished the first draft of Blackened Wings

So here’s to storming the castle, and all the challenges we have yet to face. 

Do any of you have any similar traditions to mark the completion of large tasks?

May 26, 2016

Date With An Agent 2016

A couple of months ago I entered a competition to win a spot on this year's Date With An Agent. I was delighted to receive an email on April 7th, telling me I had been selected as one of 75 authors who would get to pitch their work to representatives from some of the most prestigious literary agencies in the business.

The big day is almost upon me. I'll be pitching Lady Raven. Just so you know, this in no way affects my plans for Blackened Wings. That book is nearly ready to go to my editor (and details for how you can help crowdfund it will be posted soon), and it will be released earlier this year.

What I'm hoping to gain from this is representation by an agency that can steer me towards a proper book deal, one that'll get my books into bookstores and supermarkets, and while I'm at it, bring me closer to the dream of a movie deal ;-)

I've taken tomorrow off work to do my last-minute prep. It's going to be an intensive weekend, because aside from my pitch session, there will be panels and discussions, and chances to meet agents face to face, and get to know more Irish authors, which is always rewarding.

Wish me luck!

PS: This is also a really good time to leave reviews on Amazon if you've read any of my books ;-)

May 23, 2016

Cover Reveal - Lady Raven Part 3: Blackened Wings

With mere days to go before I send the manuscript to my editor, and plans afoot for crowdfunding the release, I am pleased to reveal the cover for my latest novel, the third part of the Lady Raven saga, Blackened Wings.



Victory comes at a price. Cora Ravenell helps lead the growing rebellion in its efforts to spread dissent and rally more opposition to the Empire. For the first time since her father's funeral, Cora's life has focus and purpose. 

But retaliation is inevitable. 

The Empire reveals its latest weapon, shattering the heart of the rebellion's leadership and scattering its allies to the wind. On the run once more, Cora risks everything to find a way to stop this terrible threat. She and her crew set off on a mission to find the only people who can hold the answer; the last surviving master channellers. 

Laden Fell, now engaged to Princess Idella, pursues the White Raven. Surrounded by the horrors of war, he struggles to reconcile his sense of duty with his ever-weakening moral center. 

And all the while, the Emperor waits, eager to steer Cora and Laden closer to their final confrontation. A confrontation which may bring him within reach of the greatest power left in the world.


May 18, 2016

Funding, Writing, and Updates, Oh My!

Much apologies for my blog silence this year, everyone. I've been neglecting things here while I got things in order elsewhere. So I thought I'd give a summary of how things are, a State of the Author address, if you will.

I spent a lot of time in the last few years pushing myself too hard and neglecting my physical and mental health. You'd think I'd have learned by now, but I guess I'm a pretty rubbish student.


Health


I took some time this year to focus on individual things, like getting back into a sleep pattern that works for me (getting up between 5:30am and 6:30am leaves me feeling so much more relaxed than sleeping in until just before the girls have to get up - which also means my late nights have had to be cut back), as well as addressing some issues with my diet. I still miss keeping a pack of chocolate chip cookies on my desk, but my weight is going down, as is my waistline, so I'd rather be able to fit into my trousers, thanks all the same.

Those who know me well also know I'm prone to stress and I'm very hard on myself when things don'y go my way. Frankly I'm all too aware of the damage stress does to the body, so I'm happy to say that the combination of changing my sleep patterns, improving my diet, and being conscious of how I talk about myself and my career has left me feeling happier than I've been in a very long time.

My back still has issues (sciatica can go to Hell, for real), and I recently pulled a hamstring, so I'm still in some level of pain all of the time, but I'm counting all the wins I can get, and not letting this bring me down.

Gaming


Last year, as I was pretty much running myself into the ground trying to finish two books, I decided to take an indefinite break from running tabletop roleplaying games. I even avoided spending any of my time with video games, focusing all my attention on writing (and coming out with one particularly poor book, as a result, which will never see the light of day).

The GMing bug got me a little while ago and now I'm back at my favourite hobby. I'm starting a fortnightly WitchCraft campaign this week, which is an urban fantasy game involving lots of magic and monsters. And I'm getting a monthly Star Wars game going, using the Fate system.

I've also been chilling out with some video games. XCOM 2 is wonderful, and everything I hoped it would be. I'm waiting for the rest of the DLC to come out before I start my next playthrough, and am considering posting play reports on my progress. Shadow of Mordor, on the other hand, is a fun distraction, but very repetitive. I'm playing it for the Nemesis System and the vague plotline.


Family


Jen is teaching music and working on getting gigs performing her own original songs, which is all kinds of awesome.

The girls own my heart. We're seeing them grow into real people and every moment is amazing.


Writing


This is the big one. I am less than 2 weeks away from finishing Blackened Wings, the third of Cora Ravenell's adventures. Just to clear up any possible confusion; Lady Raven is a tetralogy, a four-part series (I refuse to use the word quadrilogy as it is etymologically incorrect ;-p), so there is still one more book to go after this.

So next up is editing and formatting. This is going to cost money, so I'm looking at my options. It's pretty much certain that I will need to crowdfund this, so I have to decide between Kickstarter, Indie Go Go, Fundit.ie, Gofundme, or Patreon. I'm leaning towards Kickstarter, as it has the higher potential audience base, but the other services also have their own benefits. If anyone has any advice, I'm all ears.

The other bit of news here is that I recently won a spot in the Date With An Agent event at this year's International Literature Festival, Dublin! I get a private pitch session with the managing director of the Watson Little agency, based in London. I'm pitching Lady Raven, because as much as I enjoy self-publishing, I don't have the reach or marketing expertise to spread awareness as much as I'd like. And while I can certainly gain that expertise, doing so will take time, and I want to follow every avenue I can to get my books into as many readers' hands as possible.

Here's to 2016


Let's be honest, 2016 has taken a lot from us. We've lost artists, actors, musicians, childhood icons. But on a personal level, this year has been getting better for me. And I'm thankful for that.

We've lost many great heroes. That just means it's time for the next generation to step up.

Here I go. Wish me luck.

Apr 25, 2016

100 Years

This weekend marked the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, the failed insurgency which left the Dublin City Centre in ruins, nearly five hundred dead, and over two and a half thousand wounded.

The Rising has been touted by politicians as something heroic. Something glorious. But let's be completely clear. It was a blood sacrifice. That was its purpose. To subject the Irish people to such degrees of bloodshed and violent reprisal that public opinion would sway towards the goal of Irish independence.

And it worked, in the end.

Is it something to be proud of? More than half of those killed were civilians. Innocent people who were shot in crossfires, mistaken for rebels, or caught in explosions from artillery.

But that was the plan. A romantic notion of glorious defeat. Of course, no-one told the young men and women putting their lives on the line. No-one told the thousands of civilians who would be injured and killed.

I look at were we are today; a nation whose non-existent government is utterly out of touch with the needs of the people, and lacking in common humanity. Politicians who make and break promises, who dither along while their inaction leaves people to die, who bend to prejudice and bigotry in the name of "fairness." People who have the luxury of regarding every social issue in purely academic terms. Who tell us that we'll all pull through if we live a little leaner, and all pitch in to do our part.

A romantic notion.

Makes me wonder what their plan is. The one they're not telling us about.

Just some thoughts on the 100th anniversary of a blood sacrifice.


Mar 9, 2016

Watch & Learn - 6 Writing Mistakes to Avoid in Revenge of the Sith

We reach the end of my Watch & Learn series focusing on the Star Wars prequels. I do plan to write a post on The Force Awakens (for which I'll return to the positive lesson format), but I want to see it again first, so it might have to wait until it's out on Blu-Ray.

It all came to this...

This is not the good movie you're looking for


Class is in session.

Jan 28, 2016

Watch & Learn - 6 Writing Mistakes to Avoid in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

Last time we looked at the first of the Star Wars prequels, The Phantom Menace, and the mistakes it can help us avoid. Today we move on to the second installment, Episode II - Attack of the Clones. And believe me, we've only scratched the surface of how mistakes such as these can damage your work.

That's a lot of lens flare, considering Abrams wasn't involved.
Class is in session

Jan 21, 2016

Is it Censorship, or is it Creative Choice?

News that Star Wars Episode VII has had its release date pushed back seven months has sparked a number of rumours. Chief among these is that the reason for the delay is to allow for script re-writes that will grant more development and screen time to fan-favourite characters Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron. Apparently the big cheeses over at Lucasfilm and Disney weren't expecting these to be the characters audiences connected with. Sources suggest that executives were sure it would be Kylo Ren who was the favourite, and this fed into the prominence of his merchandise, while toymakers were specifically instructed to leave Rey out, because of the belief that 'boy's toys' shouldn't feature female characters.

And this got me thinking a lot about the way we construct a story, as writers. Especially when writing a series, reader reaction is going to have some influence on your creative choices. Readers might love a character you thought was going to be forgotten. They may have zero interest in your favourite character, the one you've got so many plans for. What do you do?

Do you dig your heels in and write as you'd originally planned? You're taking a risk here. What if readers continue to show no interest in the characters and plotlines you wanted to focus on?

Do you change what you had planned, turning the focus to the fan-favourites? This might be a hard thing to do. Does this count as selling out? Have you compromised your artistic integrity?

There is no one universal answer to this, but it's naive to think that a writer can shield themselves from the influence of reader opinion. Something will change. Once you let your story out into the world, it's no longer really yours. Not completely. Part of it will always belong to the reader, and as you receive more feedback, you will have more factors to consider in all your decisions.

Is it wrong to stick to your guns and keep things the way you wanted them, regardless of what your readers want? No, I don't believe so. However, it's foolish to do this without accepting the risk that you will lose readers, and arrogant to assume that what readers want doesn't matter. No book or movie is perfect, and we shouldn't pretend our own work is any different. If someone later points out something they regard as a flaw, we must accept that our work is flawed, and decide if we're content with that, or if we want to do things differently in the future.

And neither is it wrong to change what you were planning. The term 'self-censorship' gets bandied about an awful lot. Any time I talk about the Bechdel-Wallace Test it is almost a guarantee that someone will make a comment about self-censorship, and ask why a writer should have to change their work just to satisfy what they see as an arbitrary condition. What's arbitrary or unimportant to one person, however, is an essential issue to another. We have to decide whether our own biases should determine what we write, or whether we're open to seeing things from another perspective.

Deciding to change something in response to feedback is not self-censorship. Nor is it self-censorship to make a decision in order to promote a particular idea. These are creative choices, made by artists who value not only their own ideas, but the feedback of their audience.

I believe completely in an author's responsibility to be honest about their work. So whether you're certain your work will be the best it can be by sticking to your original plans, or you want to do whatever it takes to make your readers happy, or you fall anywhere between those two extremes, write the best books you can. Accept both praise and criticism, because no matter what choice you make, you'll never receive all the praise you want, and you'll always receive more criticism than you'd like. ;-)