Welcome to the Dragon's Pen, the blog of an aspiring kiwi author ... chatting about reading, writing, querying and publishing

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Tis the Season

This is my final blog until after Christmas (thought it was a good idea to take a blogiday like so many of my favourite bloggers are doing).

I wish you all a Merry Christmas where ever you may be, whether you are enjoying a white, wet, wintery one or a sunny, hot one with the traditional kiwi bbq (that's barbeque for those who don't know).

Happy reading or writing if you aren't abstaining over the holidays. Personally, I haven't vowed to take a formal break - we'll see what happens.

Lots of love, laughter and best wishes for the Season from the Dragon's Pen!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reviewing Murder

And now for something completely different! I've been reviewing a few YA fantasy books lately and I thought it was time for something new.

So today we get a taste of murder, mystery and mayhem.

I'm a little nervous and more than a bit excited because this is the first time I'm reviewing a New Zealand author. Not only does Vanda Symon hail from the same country I do, she actually lives in the same fair city!

Earlier this week I worked a couple of night shifts. During the wee hours of the night and in the weary days in between I read Vanda's first two novels Overkill and The Ringmaster.

Vanda is an immensely talented writer. Her voice - and I think this is where Vanda shines - manages to capture and portray the evasive "unique kiwi voice".

The books are written from the the perspective of Sam Shephard, policewoman, and set in modern day Southland, NZ. I quickly fell in love with Sam's character. She is gritty, opinionated, ballsy and a shamelessly a woman. She wants justice for the victims of injustice - they aren't just bodies - she cares about them about their stories, who they were and how they came to die. She gets angry - furiously so at times (a note of caution: she does swear a bit). And sometimes she cries (I cried with her). She is thoroughly human and thoroughly "kiwi" and I loved her for it!

Sam really resonated with me. She felt so real. Though she's a character in a book she feels like a friend and I can't wait to read Containment and the next book in the series (So, hurry up with the fourth one Vanda!). You can visit Vanda's website here or check out her blog here.

From Blurb: When the body of a young mother is found on the banks of the Mataura River a small rural community is rocked by her suicide. But all is not what it seems. Sam Shephard, sole-charge police constable in Mataura, soon discovers the death was no suicide, and has to face the realisation that there is a killer in town. To complicate the situation the murdered woman was the wife of her former lover. When Sam finds herself on the list of suspects and suspended from duties she must cast aside her personal feelings and take matters into her own hands to find the murderer and clear her name.

The Ringmaster
From the blurb: Death is stalking the Southern City of Dunedin. And what role does the visiting Darling Brothers Circus have to play? Sam Shephard is on the bottom rung of detective training in Dunedin, and her boss makes sure she knows it. She gets involved in her first homicide investigations there when a university student is murdered in the Botanic Gardens. Sam soon discovers this is not an isolated incident. There is a chilling prospect of a predator loose in Dunedin.

I haven't yet read Containment, this is on my list of books to read in the New Year. Can't wait!

So if you like a good mystery story I highly recommend Vanda Symon's books: Overkill, The Ringmaster and Containment (at all good bookstores now!).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wildwood Dancing

Wildwood Dancing is written by Juliet Marillier. Born in Dunedin, New Zealand, she now lives by the Swan river in Perth, Australia. This was her first YA novel but she has gone on to write a number of others which I can't wait to get my hands on.

I read Wildwood Dancing over two days. It was near impossible to put down, grabbing my attention and ensnaring my curiosity from the first sentence:

"I've heard it said that girls can't keep secrets. That's wrong; we'd proved it. We'd kept ours for year and years, ever since we stumbled on the way into the Other Kingdom."

Who could resist? I couldn't!

Set in Transylvania, Wildwood Dancing draws on the mythology and rich folklore of the region, mixing it and melding it with familiar elements of common fairytales. There are hints of the Frog Prince and the Twelve Dancing Princesses, stories I know and love from my childhood.

The book is rich in fantasy and imagination. Darkness and the foolishness of greed overshadows everything even as love seeks to overcome it. Things are not always as they seem. The st
range and wonderful revelations kept me turning the pages, hungering for more and desperate for true love to prevail. And yes, I even shed a tear or too.

So I'm adding this to my list of favourites. I hope you enjoy it too.

Five adventurous sisters...

Four dark creatures...

Three magical gifts...

Two forbidden loves...

One enchanted frog...

From the blurb:
"The Wildwood holds many mysteries. Jena and her sisters share the biggest of all, a fantastic secret that enables them to escape the confines of their everyday life in rural Transylvania. When their father falls ill and must leave their forest home over the winter, Jena and her older sister Tati are left in charge.

All goes well until a tragic accident allows their overbearing cousin Ceza to take control. The appearance of a mysterious young man in a black coat divides sister from sister, and suddenly Jena finds herself fighting to save all she holds dear. With her constant companion, Gogu,by her side, she must venture to realms dark and perilous in her quest to preserve, not just those she loves, but her own independence as well."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More on the Dreaded Query

Once again Natalie over at Between Fact and Fiction has hit the nail on the head with her latest post about the dread query. If you haven't read it yet, I urge you to go check it out (whether you are in the midst of the fire swamp that is querying or not).

I'll be back in the next day or so with a new book review.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Longer and Longer

I hit 45,000 words today. It has taken me a few days to add the further 5,000.

But with it has come a realisation.

This novel is going to be longer, I think, that the 70,000 words I planned.

For the last few days every time I sat down to write I thought, okay, today I'm going to write the scene where my heroes and heroines escape the Silver Snakes at The Crossing. But every day something else has come flowing out instead.

I love when things just reveal themselves as you write, leaving you going: "Oh, yeah, that's cool. I like that. That explains..."

It isn't that the scene I planned isn't going to happen, it's just that it seems to be taking (chapters) longer than I anticipated. I don't think this is a bad thing.

A lot of important stuff is coming out: information about the characters, their abilities and their relationships to each other. All of it helps to build a bigger, bolder, deeper and more holistic story. (That's what I tell myself anyway.)

I have finally begun The Crossing chapter, so we're there now, finally. Almost a week later than I thought, but we're on the verge none-the-less.

Suspense, terror and surprise here I come!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Draft Update

The picometer ticked over 60% today. I've broken the back of 40,000 words. Whoopy!

I'm feeling really good about the story thus far and reasonably happy with the pace I am writing at: Steady.

In other news, our new writing crit group (of which I am one of the founding members) is officially up and running. At the moment we have four members which is small but works really well for what we aim to achieve. We had our second meeting last month. The Mad Scribber's Tea Party meets on the last Monday of each month.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Revision Game?

Here are a couple of somethings to lighten your day.
(Hat tip to Chris for the links.)

If you liked the old computer games you are bound to find this take on novel editing and this text adventure amusing.

It made me laugh ... and cringe 'cause it's so true!!

Enjoy :D

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Curse Dark as Gold

Since I promised to review the books I have been reading, here are my thoughts on A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce which I finished a few days ago.

Follow the link above to visit Elizabeth's site and see further reviews of the book.

I admit it took me a little while to get into the story, but once there I was hooked.

This is a fairytale-meets-novel with a twist: The classic Rumpelstiltskin story re-wrought.

It's a dark story haunted by ghosts and the evil deeds of the past. And while it is fantasy, it is set in a reality so close to our own cultural past you feel it might perhaps be a true story or a legend from our own history. For me, this helped heighten the suspense and the terror as the story unfolded.

This is a story about love and loyalty to those who depend upon us and self-sacrifice, of ancient hatreds and grief, and of a battle to lay the ghosts of the past to rest.

If you like a spooky story with suspense, intrigue and a bit of romance I recommend A Curse Dark as Gold.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Question Answered: "MG or YA what's the difference?"

Last week I asked the lovely Natalie a question over at her blog Between Fact or Fiction. She kindly answered my question in a post a couple of days ago.

My question was basically:
How can I be sure of the age bracket my novel fits into?
Is it MG (middle grade) or YA (young adult)?
What is the difference?

Well, that's three questions, but you get the idea. This is what I wanted to know.

I'd been pretty sure my novel fell into the genre of YA fantasy fiction until I posted a very basic draft query at The Query Slush pile, noting the sorts of books I thought it was similar to.
Someone there pointed out that those books were in fact MG not YA.

Oh no!
I panicked and started searching the net to find out exactly where those book fit. Problem was the more I looked the more confused I got. Some people were labeling them YA others calling them MG, some saying they were cross over books. So how could I be sure where my novel fit?

I then started looking at definitions and guidelines for YA and MG.
This is what I discovered:

Middle grade: 10-12yrs (typically 20,000 - 40,000 words)

Upper middle grade: 10-14yrs

Young adults: 14 and up (approx 125 - 250 pages long)

The lovely people at write4kids.com had this to say (go there to read the whole article).

Characters are also a key element to young adult novels, but these books often have more complicated plots than those for middle grade. Protagonists experience an internal change, but this change is triggered by external events and fits into a bigger picture. They begin to step outside themselves and see how they influence, and are influenced by, the larger world. They go beyond their backyard and encounter adult problems for the first time.

The author of the true, classic middle grade novel does not worry about vocabulary choices or simple sentence structure; once children are ready for these books they are good readers. Middle grade novels are characterized by the type of conflict encountered by the main character. Children in the primary grades are still focused inward, and the conflicts in their books reflect that. While themes range from friendship to school situations to relationships with siblings and peers, characters are learning how they operate within their own world. They are solidifying their own identity, experiencing the physical and psychological changes of puberty, taking on new responsibilities all within the boundaries of their family, friends and neighborhood. Yes, your character needs to grow and change during the course of the book, but these changes are on the inside. Middle grade readers are beginning to learn who they are, what they think. Their books need to mirror their personal experience.

This place has some great hints for understanding YA fiction. I've pasted a bit here, but do go there and see what else they have to say.

Don't let its name fool you: Young Adult fiction is not watered down adult fiction. It's also not children's fiction with older characters. It is literature that doesn't waste a breath. YA fiction moves at a clip that keeps pace with busy teens who are pressed for reading time, whose attention spans are brief, who are accustomed to and crave instant gratification. YA lit is the movie version of a great story... gripping from the first line, never slowing down, with all the slow parts edited out. YA literature is crisp, lively, and hip.

Now, if you haven't already, go read Natalie's post.

So what have I learnt on this roller coaster journey?
  • That peoples ideas of what is YA or MG can be subjective.

  • The libraries ideas about what is YA and what is not is not necessarily the same as the option of random folks on the net (So far, in my reading, my library has been right).

  • Read a book if you're not sure, then classify it.

  • My novel is YA. I was SOOOO right!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Embracing Your Creative Process

Just a quick note to encourage you to check out Bookends latest post about the writing process.

Jessica is so right.

Each one of us is a unique individual. We look different, we speak differently, we think differently, we are born in different cultures. Heck, we come from different ends of the earth with different life experiences, so it in makes sense that our creative writing processes will be as unique as we are.

And that is okay. Diversity is (mostly) a good thing!

So embrace your process. If it works for you it's the right process for you. (It's when it doesn't work that you really should question your process!)

So stop the self doubting and get WRITING people!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Shannon Hale's Goose Girl

I haven't blogged or written for a wee while, I've be working too hard, catching up on house work and snatching the odd snooze in between.

What I have been doing is reading (at breakfast, meal breaks at work and to wind-down when I get home).

My new favourite books to read, while I'm exploring the world of YA fiction, are unashamedly the fairytale-meets-novel variety.

Note to self: Could this be the next project?

My latest find has been Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl. It has won a host of awards, and with good reason. The story melds deception, intrigue, and murder with the golden virtues of loyalty, friendship and true love - and magic.

Shannon Hale has an amazing gift. I'm in awe of her talent and only wish I could write such creative imagery. Her words almost sing on the page, painting visual images so delightful they linger in your mind. When you set the book aside you're left with a deliciously sweet after taste that begs for more.

Ani sat under the beech and listened to the wind. It sought out trees, running around their trunks and weaving through their branches, the way a cat arches its back under a hand, seeking a good scratch. When it touched her skin, she could feel the rumbling, wispy voice that let images of its wanderings whisper out into sound. Not speaking to her, but just speaking, its existence alone a language. (The Goose Girl, pg 252)

Shannon is the author of a number of fairy-tale novels you can check them out at her website and blog at www. shannonhale.com