Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Image courtesy of
As I wrote yesterday, I'm in limbo at the moment after finishing the Crown Phoenix series. For the past few months, I've spent most of my days inside at my computer to write the book and edit it.

After a while, the solitude of that life becomes normal. After all, people are moving around in my head and talking; their relationships and adventures became my version of human interactions, instead of shopping with friends or going to lunch.

Once the books was delivered to my editor, for a few months at least that little world is closed off to me. So today I sashayed to my kid's school, to put in a few hours of volunteer work. I thought it would be a good way to re-enter the Real World. Where you have to Talk and Stuff.

And so it proved. The other women working to prepare for a huge fundraising event were chatty and hardworking. They accepted that I had reappeared from my office after months of sequestering myself without questions or comments, and I can't tell you how happy that made me.
This woman is a god to me.

We had to do crafty, creative stuff. Yeah, I'm really BAD at that. I can't tell you how much I'm NOT the scrapbooking mom, the decorating wife, the flower arranging lady. If you want a room to look thrown together, as if someone unloaded a moving van right in the center of the floor, I'm your gal. When it comes to decorating, I just don't have that gene.

One mom, who is a genius with that kind of stuff, came to my rescue. She was able to move one thing in the lumpy projects I put together and make them look like breathtaking pieces of art.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to different forms of creativity or talent. Some can organize like there is no tomorrow (I cannot.) Some can paint or make music. Some can put kids instantly at ease, start long conversations with strangers, make friends easily, or bake incredible cakes.

My own little talent is creating imaginary worlds, and it is neither worse nor better than any other form or creativity. It is what it is - I just know that it's there in my brain, and that's that.

Would I trade it in for the ability to make my house look like a magazine shoot or effortlessly organize my life?

Well, no. But I will stand next to that mom who can whip those projects into shape.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lost in Limbo

Hello, everyone! 

I'm not retired or kidnapped; I've simply been steaming away on an edit of The South Sea Bubble so I can send it off to my editor, the fabulous Carlie Cullen. (We call her Eagle-Eye Carlie.)

The edit has been completed at last, and now I'm ready to start a new book. 

But here's the deal: The South Sea Bubble is the final book in the Crown Phoenix series. I've been writing these books for ages, and to finish with them now is like being lost in the aethersphere.

I know that there is more to come. I have flashes of new books to write and hosts of ideas. The characters in them bump around in my mind, and eventually they'll become real people, as the ones in Lamplighter's, Devil's Kitchen, and the rest did in the end.

Still, it's just like that day at the end of the school year, when I used to teach. My classes and students were always so nice, and I hated to see them go at the end - especially when they were graduating high school.

I knew that a different class would come in and I would enjoy teaching them just as much (or even more!) but that moment of saying goodbye was always - strange. It left me lost for a moment.

Now my mind is wheeling like a compass in an airship caught in a windstorm. Eventually I'll find the correct path, and I'll be able to steer again.

For now, though, I have search for the map...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Quillective Project

The Quillective Project is an ongoing writing project to help no-kill animal shelters. Their first publication is a collection of poetry called Four Paws, available today on Amazon.

Today we are part of a book blast to show the cover, showcase a few of the poems and give you some links to the project.

Here is the group's press release:

The Quillective Project's mission is to turn the power of the written word into an instrument of compassion, hope, and generosity by putting that power directly in the hands of organizations that share our principles.
The 2013 Quillective Project is Four Paws, a poetry anthology featuring bestselling authors Scott Morgan, Ben Ditmars, Amber Jerome~Norrgard and Robert Zimmermann, with a "fourward" by Russell Blake.
100% of all proceeds from the sale of Four Paws will benefit The Dallas Humane Society's no-kill shelter, Dog & Kitty City. Your purchase of this book makes a difference.
You can find out more about Quillective on Facebook and Twitter.

Here is one poem from the collection:

And another:

Cover Release and Book Blast!

dog pawsm

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tower of Bones

Thus begins the Quest of a lifetime...

Connie Jasperson's books are filled with fantasy, magic, and more than that - overriding humanity. Tower of Bones and The Forbidden Road are addictive reads for fantasy fans like myself. I'm lucky enough to be able to present some selections from her books today:

“But here, I have not told you the special thing - My childhood nurse, a woman with, shall we say an ‘earthy’ past, long ago told me a small secret gate lies hidden in the garden wall beneath the Rose Tower, which some now call the Tower of Bones.” Edwin started on hearing the tower which figured so prominently in his dreams named. “It is a very dark garden when there is no moon and once this gate was quite useful for ‘private trysts’.
“Consider this - If a maid’s clandestine lover could find the gate useful for secret trysting, why then a thief could easily enter or leave, should they wish - but only on a moon-dark night. You will see why when you get there.” He looked over at a table full of traveling merchants and their guards, and then leaned forward as if talking to his closest friends. “I tell you this knowing it is safe with you, and you will carry it either to the grave or to his Holiness, which ever you see first!”
Jaxon leaned back and tossed a money pouch to Friedr, who accepted it with some confusion. The huge warrior’s face cleared up as he felt the contents of the pouch, and he tucked it into his shirt with a knowing smile.
“I will take the horse, and thank you for offering it to me,” Jaxon said as he stood up, automatically casting a wary eye around the room. “It is good to do business with you. The Mercenaries of Arlen stand ready in case of need, at the usual price of course. The Temple has only to call.” With that said he flipped a coin to the bartender and walked out into the night, followed by his guards.
“What was that all about?” asked Edwin, speaking in a whisper. “I don’t remember us having a horse to sell. We need our pack-ponies.”
“Don’t be so wool-headed, farm-boy,” whispered Aeolyn, who only caught the last of the conversation. “There are others, not of Arlen in this room tonight. It was a cover for what is really in the little money pouch. Come on Friedr, what is in the little bag?”
“I would guess it is a key of some sort,” suggested Christoph quietly, smiling faintly. “Perhaps it is the key to a gate beneath a certain tower?”

“Why does the land change so radically here?” Zan finally asked Edwin. “This is the worst road I’ve ever seen!”
“Tauron’s poison is nearly at the door,” replied Edwin, wondering what was bothering Zan. “It’s a mere fifty leagues away from the gap now. I thought you understood. We’ll be in Tauron’s Mal Evol in three days.”
“I knew it on one level, but I guess I didn’t understand what it meant,” replied Zan, feeling temporarily dismayed by the grim reality of the landscape. “I guess I was thinking of the adventure, not the reality. I was thinking it’d be like Aelfrid Firesword, all fun and adventure, with no worry.”
 “Actually, Aelfrid Firesword’s life must’ve been terribly difficult,” said Edwin, walking next to Zan. “Think about it. He was forced to kill his closest friend who’d become a rogue mage and gone over to Tauron. Can you imagine how you’d feel if, say, I went over to Tauron? How would you protect the people of Neveyah from me? What would you do?”
“I never thought about that aspect of the story,” Zan admitted. “Making those sorts of decisions, having to kill someone you love in order to protect others you love, I can’t imagine what that was like for Aelfrid.” He sighed. “But I’d do it, if I was forced to. I think it’d kill me, though.”
“I know.” Edwin clasped Zan’s shoulder. “Daryk was the most famous of the Dark-Mages, but most people don’t know he fought desperately against Tauron’s minions at Aelfrid’s side when the two of them first came into their powers. He worshipped Aeos, and loved Neveyah with all his heart. It never occurred to either Aelfrid or Daryk he would ever fall to Tauron, but there was no Temple, and no vows to protect him from Tauron’s blandishments. There was no college to teach young mages how to use their magic, so they had to learn how to control the build-up of chi and avoid the madness by gaining apprenticeships to older mages. Daryk was lured away from their kind master by a mindbender who was under Tauron’s spell. It was because of Aelfrid’s grief over the loss of the man who’d been closer than a brother, and his struggle to save the other mages still loyal to Aeos that Aeoven and the Temple exist today. Without Aelfrid we wouldn’t have the augmentations allowing us access to greater chi reserves, nor would we bind ourselves to the Goddess with the vows. It must’ve been a terribly hard time to live through.”
“I see what you mean,” admitted Zan. “As a kid I read all the stories, and just thought it was all good against evil, romance and happy endings. But maybe it’s just the way the bards tell it.”
Edwin laughed. “It wouldn’t be a good story if it was all dirt, bug bites and poor sanitary conditions now, would it?”

The author, in a festive moment

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Blue Morning

Alexander from
the Judith Viorst book
My kid woke up in an instant tantrum, and I had a touch of stomach flu. 

Due to the tantrum, Kid missed the bus and I had to drive her to school, yells and all. 

On the way there, I saw that the gas needle was pushing E. 

At that point, I knew I was having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

I got stuck behind Mr. Slow in traffic, and we reached the school too late to get in the side drop-off entrance. I had to get out of my car and sign her in as late.

The temperature had dropped at least 30 degrees overnight, and I was wearing a light spring jacket. Also, since I had expected to stay INSIDE the car for the drop-off, I was sporting bedroom slippers.

Thanking the good Lord that I had at least changed out of pyjamas, I walked Kid in, signed her in, and got back in the car with a sigh of relief. 

I coasted into the gas station and rolled down the window. The man came to the car, and he was skatting. Skatting! in 20 degree weather!

"How are you, lady?" he asked with a broad smile.

It was infectious. I smiled back. "Just fine," I lied. "And you?"

"Oh, you know, I'm in that moooood!" This was followed by a fine belly laugh and more skats. 
Image courtesy of

At that point I began to feel ashamed of myself. Here I was being cranky about stuff that was, in the grand scheme of things, nothing but minutia. And if Gasoline Pump Man could be happy and skatt-ish while he worked outside in freezing weather, I could be happy inside my heated SUV. 

Maybe, I thought, I could salvage the morning. I would play some sweet tunes, have a long cup of tea and a hot shower, and wash the bad start away. 

Filled with these virtuous plans, I paid Happy Skat Man and drove off.....

.... only to realize my kid had left her coat and lunch in the car.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

That Antique Moment

This action is known as "dialing."
At a dinner party over the weekend, one guy started complaining that his nephews had no idea how to use a dial phone. His dad still had an old rotary in the kitchen, and the boys couldn't figure out how to use it.

"It's a PHONE?" was their shocked reaction. "But how do you dial?"

In fact, I'm surprised they know the concept of dialing. Soon we'll just speak to Siri, and she'll dial for us. 

My own antique moment came when my husband and I were first married. We moved to Evanston so he could go to Kellogg business school; part of the MBA experience was going to Friday night mixers to chat with other students.

At one mixer, I started talking to a very young, very attractive girl. She was wearing a pendant on a long chain that looked exactly like this:

image courtesy of

"Oh, that's so cool!" I gushed. "It looks just like those things we used to pop into the center of 45's!"

She frowned. "What are you talking about?" she asked.

And that's when it hit me: I'm old. It was that awkward, antique moment.

That moment is arriving faster as the speed of technology picks up. After all, those old rotaries had a good run - they were around for fifty-odd years, I'd guess. (Before that, people picked up a sort of speaking tube and demanded numbers like Pennsylvania 65000.)

Now tech gets replaced every year, at least. Remember burning CD's? That wasn't all that long ago. Soon, though, that action will seem as quaint as floppy disks or my little 45 rpm doodad, as we place huge mp3 lists on external memory sticks and trade those.

I sort of miss those rotary phones. It was fun to dial them with a pencil, and I liked that clicky noise the dial made. Ditto real records - when you played a great album on a sweet stereo after midnight, in your sister's room, listening on headphones. That ROCKED.

It's cool that my kid doesn't need a ride to the mall every single time she wants to buy a One Direction song*; plus, she and her friends are doing stuff on their iPods that I would have considered witchcraft when I was her age. Still, I really want a phone number that has a word in it. Make mine Antique 1960.

*I know. She's 8 - what can you do?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Scars and Coming Home

Remember that scene from Jaws, when Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw start showing off their shark bites? And Roy Scheider looks at his tiny nick and decides not to talk about it after all?

I have two scars on my face that I got when I was five. It was the sixties, and I was riding home with Frankie, my boyfriend at the time. We had a torrid relationship going - I used to wear dress up clothes to show off for him, and in return he gave me a small glass bear. 

As it was the sixties, the ride home was in the back of a huge Rambler Marlin, the kind with a long, sloping window where you could look out of the back. Frankie, his sister, and I all sat there and made faces at the traffic behind us. 

Seat belts? Not at all. We weren't even in seats. We lay on our stomachs and propped our chins in our fists. It was springtime in Arizona and the day was already sweltering, and Frankie's mom, who was driving at the time, had promised us a few runs through the hose.

Life was good, until the mom blew a stop sign. Another car hit us, and there was a short, loud Bang! I looked down and thought, That's strange; my white shirt has red polka dots now. 

I don't remember much after that, beyond a woman's voice, screaming. Kids' head injuries bleed a lot, and I was no exception. 
Image courtesy of

My mother didn't let me ride in Frankie's car any more, and eventually we moved to the east coast.

That incident is immortalized by two scars: one right in the center of my forehead, so I look as though I'm always frowning, and another that bisects my lip. Neither injury was life-threatening, and they were almost worth running through the hose in sweltering Tucson. 

My daughter's own perfect face will one day acquire its own scars. Maybe she'll trip in dance class or bite the pitch in soccer. But she won't get them in the back of a Marlin.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Best Toy Ever

One of my friends and I are secret toy fiends. We love when Christmas rolls around, because it means we get to go on shopping trips together, looking for the rare Monster High Dolls, the coolest American Girl outfits. We managed to acquire Zhu Zhu pets for the kids back when they were as difficult to find as Cabbage Patch thingamerbobbers in the 80's.

Now I have a big box of Zhu Zhu's in the basement and no idea what to do with them. Zhu Zhu's, in case you never heard of them, are battery-powered hamsters that run around and make weird noises. They have houses and tracks that connect the houses, and you can build a whole city for these things.

My kid was ecstatic when she received them, years ago. For one glorious afternoon she played with them. And after that, she abandoned them, and now they lie in that box, collecting dust. 

I've noticed that is usually the case with battery-powered playthings. In fact, the more batteries involved, the shorter the play-with-life, unless there is a lightbulb included and we're talking EZ Bake.

Perhaps it's different for boys, although I remain skeptical.

This lesson came home to me over the summer, when my daughter's friend invented the COOLEST TOY EVER. It was so much fun that she and my kid, as well as all of their friends, played with it for months. 

Here's what the cool toy was: my kid's friend invented a planet, and her mother donated basement space for world-building. The kids made the houses out of old boxes and the alien inhabitants with cotton balls and swabs. Someone created a dress shop and sold fancy clothes made out of cupcake liners.
image courtesy of

Other parents donated boxes and supplies. The houses and stores expanded, and one boy was in hot demand for his building skills. The kids started a message board near the planet, where they would leave notes for each other to create new aliens, to invite the planet dwellers to parties, to ask that boy to build them a new house.

The planet grew to the point where it took over the entire basement, and I had to applaud the mother for allowing it all to continue. Because, without a doubt, it was the coolest game / toy / playdate EVAH. The kids made movies of the aliens and showed them to each other. There were commercials for the cupcake dress shop, as well as reminders to frequent the boy's construction business.

At last the mess was too much. The basement had dissolved into a crafty, glittery, gluey nightmare, and the parents spent several days cleaning it up. But for one summer, the kids had interacted and built and experienced the fun of just being kids, without anything electronic to interfere.

I know my kid will always remember that summer when she created a planet with her friends. And I must add a word to all toy makers everywhere - how are you going to compete with that? A doll that talks, a dog that walks, a gun that shoots nerf darts - nothing is better than creating your own world.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Love of Books - Valentine’s Day blog hop

This blog is part of  Terri Long's Valentine's Day blog hop. Scroll down for other blogs in the hop (highly recommended - they are a lot of fun) as well as a big giveaway and raffle.

I vaguely remember a time, far in the past, when I couldn’t read. Even then, I was surrounded by books – our tiny living room in the Arizona row home was wall-to-wall with bookshelves.

Both my parents were “desperate” readers. She loved reading so much that if she picked up anything with text on it, we would find her, hours later, frozen in one spot, eyes glued to a book on Irish poetry or the old newspaper that lined the drawer.

In order to entertain me as she graded papers and did dishes, she used to put on records of Alice Through the Looking Glass. I listened to them so often that I nearly memorized the story. Later, it was the Oz books – the entire series, along with the Ruth Plumly Thompson continuations.

When we finally learned to read in first grade (from the old-fashioned Dick and Jane books – really) I loved it right away. The thought that those black marks on a  white page meant something was magic – real magic, that could transport me to different eras and countries in the turn of a page.

Did I say Arizona? Summers there were HOT. My parents scrimped all year to save up enough to take us to Ireland, and there we spent weeks in my grandparents house. There was no television there, only an old radio to be used for the six o’clock news.

As a result, my entertainment was books. My grandmother had old volumes of girls’ school stories – Angela Brazil and the Chalet school books. The volumes were filled with ancient Brit slang and funny, copperplate illustrations of females from a vanished era. They wore huge hair ribbons and dropped waists, and I loved them. They had names like Philippa and Mabel, and their exploits and successes were completely real to me.

I read so much that it became a vice – Mum used to threaten to take my book away if I didn’t wash the dishes or at least clear a path through the books piled up around my bed.  When I had my head in a really good story, I was lost to the outside. People would talk to me, and I wouldn’t respond. I wasn’t there at all, you understand – the book had wafted me off to some fantasy land. (Still, it must have been extremely annoying at the time.)

And did I mention the fascination of maps? (yes, I'm obsessed.)

The pages of those books were often covered in a soft “bloom” of age – yellowed spots that spread like lichen throughout the books. As I read, I inhaled the tantalizing scent of must and old leather. Years later, I would seek out that smell in old bookshops and libraries, and it never fails to quicken my pulse.

Now we have  Kindles and Nooks, and I like them as well. I enjoy carrying entire shelves filled with books on my iPad, and I always having a few books going at once. Still, nothing can replace the feel and the smell of those old books, as well as those gorgeous illustrations.

My dream vacation is to stay in Scotland or some rainy, windy place, in an old inn with soft beds and huge fireplaces. I’ll bring stacks of books and stay for a few days, just reading. Maybe I’ll take a long walk each day to compensate for the cream teas I plan to eat.

Who’s with me?
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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Dance

Over the weekend, our Brownie troop hosted a Father-Daughter dance. It was a lot of work, let me tell you. We had to coordinate the space, as well as a DJ, food, drinks, portraits, gifts, and ongoing clean-up (little girls make big messes.)

Thanks to some very bright, energetic moms, of which I was not one, the work and set-up was all coordinated perfectly. I was happy to receive my to-do list and do it.

Of course, at the same time I had to help my own daughter get ready for the dance, which involved matching outfits with her bestie and battling her desire to wear her new, pink suede flats in the falling snow.

(They have bows with rhinestones on the toes, and I can't blame her for wanting to wear them every waking minute. I would have killed for those things when I was 8.)

We arrived at the dance and sprang into action. The girls ran around in their sparkly dresses, while we flung food on trays and slung them onto long tables. Heart decorations were duct-taped to the walls and the tables were set with plastic tablecloths and confetti.

Our guests arrived and the girls ran on the floor, intent on doing Gangnam style and ignoring the dads.

As usual, some unforeseen, last--minute problems arose. We were short a few Brownie patches. The weather predictions were growing dire, and we had to schedule dads to take pictures of other dads with their girls. 

At one point, as I dashed from the kitchen to the sign-in area, I realized that the dance floor itself had quietened down. Gangnam style had been replaced with an old slow song (I believe it was Love Me Tender) and the girls - were actually dancing with their fathers.

Picture this: a group of Big Guys wearing uncomfortable neckties and starched shirts, holding little girls  in red and pink sequined dresses and sashaying in silence to that old song. Some of them, my own Big Guy included, had their daughters up in their arms and twirled them around, to the satisfaction of all.

My hands smelled like hoagie sandwiches, and I had a blister on one heel. I knew that later I would have to clean up a messy girls' bathroom and throw away one gabillion of cups of pink lemonade.

Yet, at that one moment, the universe stopped and everything made sense. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Image courtesy of

I'm editing the fourth and final book in the Crown Phoenix series now, and as a result my brain is  a bowl of tomato soup. As I edit, I have to pay attention to the normal line edits and story lines, but I also have to watch who gets what letter, which characters are in what room, and what lessons the children are on. It's called flow of logic, and it bogs me down each time I go through a book.

Did I mention the three huge glaring holes in the plot, as well as the amazing disappearing person who fades away for no reason? Well we can't have that. Getting the writer's version of my toolbox ready now.

After a long day of edits and rewrites, I am ready for distractions that don't tax poor old Soup Brain too much. In a way, it's like my college days when I finished studying for exams and I couldn't watch anything more intellectual than The Love Boat.

First distraction: Other books, of course, and I mentioned before that I'm reading The Sable City, Beautiful Creatures, and The Night Circus. Next up: book three of the Darkness Rising series by Ross Kitson, Losing Hope by Johanna Garth, The Body War by Kathleen Barker, Yum by Nicole Antonia Carson, The Azalea Assault by Alyse Carlson, and The Forbidden Road by Connie Jasperson.

And I'm waiting on Fireseed Two, *ahem* Catherine Stine....

Second distraction: Food. Tonight it's fresh salmon, baked with fresh lemon juice, dijon, dill, and sea salt. New potatoes alongside, as well as a Romaine salad. And, since I have a gafrillion Hershey kisses leftover from the recent Brownies Father-Daughter dance, maybe a few of those as well. 

Third - The "Don't Judge Me" section. Nog's Gem Quest and Vanderpump Rules. Nothing to see here, move along...
Image courtesy of

Fourth - The "It's a Given" section. Tea, more tea, and a glass of wine at the very end of the day.

Fifth - Because I have to - Laundry and dishes. Also, scrubbing toilets and floors, and exercising my authorly butt.

Sixth - Friends, with all the laughs and chat that comes with them. Best of all and not a distraction really  - my pals are a necessity.

Also, this blogpost by ZenCherry.

My cup of tea is at the dregs, so I'm off to fill in plot holes with tarmac and boot leather. See you on the other side!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Saying Grimly

Image courtesy of Wisegeek
Do not use -ly adverbs! This is howled from editors' desks and reviewers' blogs. And they are right - too many adverbs in a manuscript sinks it to a hackneyed, overdone, immature level - although this is true of anything (more on that later.)

But should the writer purge every single -ly from the page? Adverbs, if used judiciously, are a lot of fun. 

See what I did there? Sure, I could have written: "Adverbs, if used in small amounts by a writer who is taking care with her script, are a lot of fun." Yeah, that's a lot of convolution to get rid of one word.

And I like the word judiciously. It calls to mind an author being a judge of her words

Furthermore, I like other adverbs too, and not just of the -ly variety:

"Nobody under the bed; nobody in the closet; nobody in his dressing-gown, which was hanging up in a suspicious attitude against the wall." - Dickens

The gloom and mystery of a Victorian house.

I always loved this sentence; it seems to project the gloomy, Victorian atmosphere of Ebeneezer's house as he prepared to go to bed by the light of one candle. In a  suspicious attitude describes perfectly the heart-jolting moment when you think you see someone in a room where no one should be, only to discover it is your coat or, in this case, a dressing gown.

If we removed that adverbial phrase, the sentence is: 
"Nobody under the bed; nobody in the closet; nobody in his dressing-gown." 

No. It has now lost that dark, dreary punch of the original.

Let's try some pop culture now, and examine one of my favorite voice-overs: 

"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

The last clause not only uses an -ly adverb, the infinitive has been split as well. Let's try it without the dreaded -ly word: 

" go where no man has gone before."

Nope. That loses the tone of the show, highlighting a brave group of explorers looking for new class M planets and civilizations. I want that boldly back in the sentence. It's perfect.

(Mindworm alert: Who's humming that theme in their head now?)

Of course adverbs can be overused, and if they are they lose all punch. "Boldly" is the only adverb in that voiceover, and if they had put in more, it would have collapsed:

" bravely explore strange new worlds, to carefully seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

This dude is THE MAN.

Welcome to hack-ville!

As with all rules, the -ly and adverb rule can be broken. But the writer must use care and precision as she commits adverb usage.

As I said in the first paragraph, this is true of anything. Another example is the present participle, or -ing verbs. They have fallen out of favor, and after two years of editing, I see why. 

Beginning writers lean on -ing to add imagery to a scene. It's an easy way to show what's going on, especially after a burst of dialogue:

"I don't care what you think!" he shouted, slamming down the phone.

"Will you come with me?" she asked, pushing back one stray curl of her hair.

Read ten of these on one page and you may, as I have seen other editors do, decree that the writer must purge all present participles from the manuscript. It's exhausting going through a MSS to work out 99% of those present participles; we editors would much rather concentrate on vocabulary choice and story arcs.

However, if an editor does lay down that decree, that it can lead to verbal gymnastics as a writer tries to evade the dreaded ING. If a writer takes two sentences where one would have done in order to avoid one verb tense, then for heaven's sake go and use an -ING, I say.

And, of course, the present participle is also used beautifully in literature, as in this line from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

If I "dare disturb the universe" for a moment and rewrite T. S Eliot, the sentence becomes:

Image courtesy of Phillip Colla and OceanLight

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
That scuttles across the floors of silent seas.
Again, NO. "Scuttling" is so much more evocative; I can hear the clicks of the crab as it scurries along under unimaginable ocean depths. 

As with cooking, authors can use adverbs and present participles as spice and seasoning. However, too much curry will certainly ruin the soup. Not enough, and the meal is bland.

The problem and glory lies in finding the balance.

Friday, February 8, 2013


SPOILER ALERT - If you haven't finished Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings do not, I beg, read this blogpost. Be off with you to the library or bookstore and check out both series.

Yesterday, I wrote about Karma and how the idea of Nemesis must exist, internally at least. Later, one comment on the blogpost really grabbed my attention. A friend wrote that once someone does evil, and does it again, the internal guilt eases until the dark deeds are seen as "normal" by that person.

She's right, and it erases my neat metaphor of an interior angry goddess. However, I do wonder about the dreams of the people who live with dark deeds, as well as their lives. If someone is truly evil, truly in the dark side - can anything be satisfactory? Love, life, family, relationships? Do they have friends?

Oh, the fascination of villains. 

My sister, whose intellect I greatly admire, once told me that in her opinion a great book offers redemption for the villain. As an example, in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Gollum (that strange, brilliant character) is redeemed by one act at the very end, thus saving Frodo from soulless eternity. 

Another example is Snape, although that dude is seriously complex. I wonder as an author, if he developed himself on the page, or if JK suddenly had one of the concept flashes, the kind that hit just as you get into bed and you haven't any paper handy. (Although, of course,   he isn't a villain at all.)

Redemption for the villain ... it's a tricky concept. It has to be organic and come from within (thus bypassing the interior angry goddess) or from a series of events that evolve naturally, like a Bach concerto or the inside of a seashell. The writer has to seriously Fibonacci sequence it. 

If redemption is handed out with a Deus ex Machina fanfare, the gloriously evil villain is compressed into a cardboard cutout. No, redemption itself must come, like karma, from within.

A final word on villains - as I was writing this post, my sister and some of our friends from high school were facebook chatting about a murderer. 

The murderer didn't seem to be evil, so much as STUPID. Her act of violence and terror came from being so dumb that she couldn't comprehend that it would change her life (and, most sad of all, the lives of her kids) forever. 

That is real life, not fiction, and it brings me back to the concept of karma. Probably that sad little murderer will never even understand the depths of what she has done. But will she ever feel soaring happiness of motherhood, the solid comfort of an enduring marriage, or the quiet triumphs that come with ordinary life? 

Of course, all of that is pretty impossible behind bars. But the prison I wonder about is the one in her own mind.