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

Saturday, October 31, 2009

First Drafts and Self Editing

In his latest blog post agent Nathan Bransford suggests we go visit the blog of author Natalie Whipple to read her latest offering "Tips for First Drafting." So, like the good little girl I am, I went and had a read. Gotta say I love her blog. (You can now find a link to it in my blog roll.) And I am going to echo Nathan's cry: Go check it out!!!

On a related note, for some light hearted self-editing revelations you can go here, where author Stephanie Perkins shares some of her wisdom with us lucky ducks. Don't let her chatter about her celebrity boyfriends put you off, she does get to the point eventually. :D

Read and enjoy ... and keep writing.

Structure and Plot

Nicola Morgan, the awesome author of such books as THE HIGHWAYMAN'S FOOTSTEPS and its sequel THE HIGHWAYMAN'S CURSE (she has also written many others but these are the two I have read ans loved) has a great post up on her blog today about story structure and shape. You can find it here:


Reading Nicola's post got me thinking about the very varied methods we writers use to structure or map our stories. Some of us don't map in any way shape or form, while others of us are quite anal about the method we use.

To be honest, my methods seem to change from story to story and book to book. I tend not to do any sort of physical mapping when I write a short story, I just keep the story plot in my head.

The first book I started writing (and haven't yet finished - it needs too much work and I have too many other things to write about at the moment) has a working title of THE BLACK HAWK (adult fantasy). When I started writing it (many years ago) I vaguely knew where I wanted the story to go, so I had the big climaxes worked out, but I ended up mapping and plotting the story as I wrote it. It had a mind of its own and while I managed to tame it enough to get the highs and lows I wanted it to have, getting to those moments was a wonderful ride of surprise and suspense. :D

Once it was half written, I mapped the whole novel from beginning to end, charting every high and low point and wrote in the event at each peak and valley. This really helped me SEE what the story looked like. It helped me figure out where I had desert wastes (long dull bits where not much happened) and oceans (where too many peaks were happening one after the other) and my readers might drown due lack of breath from too much excitement. See Nicola's comments about allowing your reader to breath.

The children's historical novel, PRINCESS OF THE PIGSTY, began in much the same way. Though once I began to write, I quickly knew exactly where the story was going and plotted it out from start to finish. This made it much easier and faster to write. I did muck around with the placement of some of the minor events in the story which made for a smoother read, but ultimately the plot and story structure remained unchanged. I was able to finish the SFD in about four months, though my tendency to be finicky about editing dragged the whole process out much longer.

My new YA MS has been a different experience altogether. I got the idea in a sudden flash of inspiration, then thought about it and chatted about it with my writing buddy for a month or so. Then one afternoon I sat down and plotted in detail the whole novel from start to finish, and wrote a short synopsis for the two follow-on novels. It was amazing! Now I understand how writers can churn out a couple of novels each year. I started writing it at the beginning of October and my SFD is now 1/3 written. (I know some of you write much faster than this, so stop gloating!)

Plot outlines and story structure maps might be tedious to draw up, but I am now totally sold on how worth while they are - especially if your story in complex and multi-layered. So, if you have never tried it, I encourage you to give it a go.

I'd love to hear how you formulate your story structure.
Do you just write and see what happens?
Are you like me and vary in your method from story to story?
Or are you very ridged in the method you use?
How do YOU do it?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Effective Query Letters

Are you struggling to write a query letter? Are you staring at the blank screen willing magical agent / editor irresistible words to simply appear? Uncertain where to start or how to go on?

The agent Janet Reid has some great advice about what to make sure you include and what you ought to be sure to leave out. Make use you check it out.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What's hot and what's not

If you're a YA writer like me and keen to know what subgenres are most popular now and what's not pop over to Susan Adrian blog. Her guest, literary agent Suzie Townsend, gives a detailed analysis of the 5 most common genres she's seeing and what she would like to see more of. So drop in and have a look see.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Praise for Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I've just finished reading PRINCESS BEN by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. If you like new fairy tales you will love this quirky YA novel about a young princess's journey of self discovery and coming of age. Its a charming, witty, fantasy-fairytale with a generous sprinkling of magic, tragedy and love.
This is a fun read, hard to put down and sure to bring a smile to your lips.

With her parents lost to assassins, Princess Ben ends up under the thumb of the conniving Queen Sophia. Starved and miserable, locked in the castle's highest tower, Ben stumbles upon a mysterious enchanted room. So begins her secret education in the magical arts:mastering an obstinate flying broomstick, furtively emptying the castle pantries, setting her hair on fire ... But Ben's private adventures are soon overwhelmed by a mortal threat to her kingdom. Can Ben save the country and herself from foul tyranny?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

YA update

Since writing yesterday that I haven't been writing much since I started the new job, I am pleased to say I am back into it once more and my YA MS is now a healthy 15,000 wds. It is coming along well I think.

I know technically it means nothing to have members of your family tell you your work has merit, but yesterday I persuaded my ds (dear son) to read the first chapters. He is very particular about what he reads. He loves fantasy, but usually won't touch something with a heroine protagonist - lets face it he'd rather read a boys book. What boy wouldn't?

He read the first five chapters and told me, with a shy smile on his face, that it was very good. Now, this is VERY high praise coming from my ds. :D I was so thrilled he liked it I gave him a hug - which made him blush.
But then he said, "What if I said it was really, really good?"
I grinned even wider.
"What if I said it was excellent?"
I said, close to leaping off the chair in excitement, "Do you really think so?"
He grinned back a me. "Yup. It's really excellent. Can I read some more of it tomorrow?" Laughing I pushed him away and said, "You better get to bed and let me write some more then!"

So I am thrilled!

Hopefully I can keep him on the edge of his seat until the end and his enthusiasm will help me maintain my momentum.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Published in the Challenge

Things have been a little crazy around here lately. Not much writing has been going on, instead I have been trying to get my head around the sudden way my life has changed. I was a home schooling mother of four, but since the beginning of term my kids are now all in school and I am working part time and planning to write on my days off.

Things have been so nuts I forgot to blog about the fact that I had an article published in the Challenge Weekly. If you don't live in NZ, this is the primary nationwide Christian Newspaper. It was featured in Vol 67, issue 39 under the title Unique writing for a good purpose.
So, I was pretty happy about that. :)

Our new writing group starts up this coming week. We will be sharing a piece of our work and giving each other constructive criticism and praise, of course. We'll do an exercise or two and later chat over supper. It'll be great fun and all in the name of encouraging each other to write better, tighter and ultimately getting published.

I'll be taking the first few papers to my new YA novel and I have to admit I'm excited because I think they are reasonably good, but quite nervous too. It is always a little hairy when submitting your work for someone else's assessment. So, if you are looking for a serious writing group in the Dunedin (NZ) area you can email me at ruthDOTpeoplesATgmailDOTcom.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Futher clarification from Shooting Star Stories

After I blog recently on Camilla's comment about Star Stories, I contacted her again to ask for clarification on their method/medium of publishing. In short, I basically asked if they were primarily a "software based" publisher or hard copy, or both.

Camilla replied and gave me permission to post her response here for you all to see. So, thank you Camilla for your openness, and do let us know when the your blog is up and running.

Here is what she had to say about publishing with Shooting Star Stories:

We are an e-book publisher primarily. This gives us the ability to give authors about twice the percentage profit they'd receive on their book if they were printed hard copy. (However, should an author require hard copies published, we can do that too). That's not our primary distribution channel though.
To print a book hard copy, you'd be looking at about $12 per copy - just for the printing. Because we don't have that overhead, we can give authors better returns and make the books more attractive for readers/parents to purchase.
E-books are the way forward for publishing now, you only need look at mp3s and CD's to see which way people are consuming their information/media. The beauty of our idea is that our software will really allow the books to come alive, so for all those readers (and authors) who love the way their own childhood books ignited their imagination, we aim to continue that magic, in a modern day medium.
We're passionate, creative and forward thinking. And most of all - we're writers, working with and for other writers. Already we're creating an amazing community of people who are so excited to be a part of what we're creating, and that's exciting for me.
Don't get me wrong - this is a 16hr/day job for me now, it's a hard slog and at times you're so bogged down with submissions and email enquiries that you forget about the amazing, empowering idea that started this venture. And when I do stop to remember, I know that we're doing something that has never been done before and so it's important for me to do it right, do it with respect for my fellow creatives and keep the magic alive for the kids who will read the books we publish, fall in love with them and remember them long into their adult lives. It's a very important and special venture for me.
Please post this comment on your blog if you like - we have a policy of being transparent with those we're working with - and as a genuine author, I'm happy for you to share this information with your network. :)
Happy writing and I'll be in touch again soon with more.
Camilla Jones
Shooting Star Stories.
p.s - I'll be staring a blog soon with free hints and tips for authors to help them get published (either with us, or if they choose with other publishers).


I've re-organised my blog list so that it is easier to find your way to the sort of sites that might pip your interest. Now you can find a separate list of Agent and Publisher blogs, another for NZ writers like moi, and the others I follow.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Paragraph Challenge

For those of you who like writing competitions, Nathan Bransford is hosting a fun paragraph competition over at his blog.


Write the best paragraph of your life and be into win!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Shooting Star Stories: A few Words from the Editor

Well, I was wondering what to blog about today when I received a comment on last month's post about Shooting Star Stories (the new childrens publisher) from their editor, the lovely Camilla Jones. So, rather than leave it there, where most of you would be more than likely to miss it, I thought I'd put it up in a post of its own for you all to see.

If after reading Camilla letter you're keen to join me on the growing list of eager writers banging on the door of Shooting Star Stories feel free to contact her.

Here's what she had to say:

Hi Ruth!

A friend sent through an email this morning mentioning she'd seen our company on your blog - so for your sake and those that read your blog I thought I'd get in contact as I'm the Head Editor for Shooting Star Stories.

Basically, yes it's a scary process submitting your work to people you don't know and whenever anyone is wary with us, we fully encourage them to hang fire and send a sample of work when our site is up and running (scheduled for early 2010).

When you're a new company and you have a brilliant idea for delivery (ours is software based) you are wary yourself as a company with regards to protecting your own IP. That's why we don't have a huge amount of info on the internet about the delivery method etc. This will come online closer to our launch date, when we can safeguard against any copy cats.

The company was started by myself (a full-time writer/ex-advertising copywriter) that wanted to sell my own work and found that in reality, I wasn't going to see much return on my effort with a traditional publisher. I started putting the wheels in motion to sell my work online, recruited the help of some good friends who were editors and had worked in the publishing industry, and all of a sudden, friends and family wanted me to help them sell their children's books TOO!

The idea has grown and grown, and we thought, "I bet there are a million authors out there that don't know where to start in the whole process of getting published and want some decent return for their work." So we published an ad on seek and the response has been phenomenal - we receive over 100 submissions a DAY!

So, as you can imagine, we've got a bit of a backlog. What we ARE trying to do though is manage people's expectations with regular email contact as to what stage in the process they're up to and also provide feedback where we can.
In-depth feedback for everyone is unfortunately not possible, but we try to give as much help as we can.

Anyway - just thought I'd send you this so that if any of your readers also are interested, they'll have some info too.

Best of luck with the process and as with all our applications, we'll respond personally to you.

Happy writing and have a great day!

Camilla Jones
Shoooting Star Stories
email me @: editor@shootingstarstories.com

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fire of Hope

Today, for something different I thought I would share with you the story of mine which was published recently in FUEL FOR THE SOUL. Hope you enjoy it.

Fire of Hope

It was a cold morning. The kind of cold that ate into our bones and made our teeth chatter. Outside the world dozed under a layer of white frost that could be mistaken for snow. It blanketed the trees, hedges and cars, and sparkled on the road like a thick dusting of diamonds. My kids huddled over their school work, dressed in multiple layers, quilts tucked over their knees. Their breath hovered over the table in white clouds.

Crouched beside the fire box, I looked at the few pieces of wood I had left and felt something akin to despair: There was no money to buy more. I felt helpless. Arguing silently with myself about the wisdom of using the last of the fuel, I glanced at my kids.

My daughter's nose was red, her lips purple. She held her pencil in a mittened hand. That decided it for me.

The hungry flames licked at the meager reserves of wood. I huddled close to it, desperate to get warm before it was gone and the cold settled in for good. Bitting my lip, I racked my brain for a solution. There seemed to be only one. I prayed:I don't know how you can do this, Lord ... but I need your help ... I have to keep my kids warm...”

Beside me, the fire burned with dancing orange light. My kids were squabbling over the pencil sharpener, again. Sighing, I confiscated it and wandered into the kitchen to flick on the jug. I needed a coffee.

While the the jug boiled, I spooned instant coffee and a generous helping of sugar into a mug. Outside, gravel scrunched on the driveway. I couldn’t believe anyone was prepared to drive on that road. Curious, I moved to the window and looked out. The nose of a white station wagon was parked in my driveway. It was Kate.

Odd, what would she be doing here? I watched her get out of the car. She looked like she'd dressed for a trip to the antarctic. I waved. She smiled and headed for the front door.

I opened it before she knocked. “Hi! Come in.”

She shook her head. “I can't stop. I know you're low on wood and when I saw how cold it was this morning I was worried about you. I've brought you a boot load of wood. It's not a lot, but it should keep you warm for a few days.”

My jaw dropped and I stared at her, stunned. “Thank you.” I couldn't believe it!

You don't mind giving me a hand to unload it do you?”

I laughed. “Not at all.” That was the least I could do.

Kate had gone. I sat by a roaring fire, sipping my drink, and staring at the small mountain of wood stacked along the wall. A smile curled my lips. God had provided. He had found a way. "Thank you.” I whispered into my coffee.

*** Do not copy or publish all or part of this story without the permission of the author: R. E. Peoples (c) 2009***

Friday, October 9, 2009

Missing Muse

This little gem was part of an email sent to me by a friend struggling with his inability to find his muse. I thought it was so delightful I asked his permission to share it with you all. After all we have all been there at some point or an other. Read and enjoy.

Wanted, Muse.
Last seen a year ago, scurrying under the sofa with the bleeding heart of this writer clutched in hand. Warning: May be armed with a poison pen, a cutting remark or swinging its trademark weapon: a busted computer keyboard dented by the heads of a thousand writers. Also prone to invisibility when approached directly. Unlike
what is depicted in popular media, Muses do not become visible again through the use of psychedelic drugs, prodigious amounts of imbibed liquor or by squinting your eyes at the ceiling. Also do not try to capture after midnight. While Muses don’t follow regular hours, you should if you intend to follow in their footsteps. Will only appear to the sound of a scratching pen or the clacking of typewriter keys.
- Muse Hunter Extraordinaire

First mile stone

I've just passed the 10,000 word mark of SFD.
Whoop whoop!

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Just in case you're interested. I've updated my profile so you can see a little bit more about me. You might not be interested - that's okay too. :D

On another note...
Ages ago, well, it was a few blogs ago anyway, I mentioned that the results of the Katherine Mansfield Competition were to be released on the 1st of October. Well, the 1st has been and gone and since I haven't been screaming excitedly from the roof tops as you have probably guessed I didn't hear a thing. Nope. Not a peep. Still it was fun to give it a go. My story probably wasn't literary enough for the judges tastes. Never mind. Ten grand would have been nice though.
(My son was guttered that I didn't win. I told him I'd buy him a Nintendo Wii if I won. Alas, no win; no Wii. It's tough at the top.)

The story I submitted was set in WW2 and titled White Feather. I might expand it into a novelette or short novel one of these days.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New YA Fantasy

As I have mentioned before, the new novel I am working on now is a YA fantasy.
(For those of you who don't know, YA means Young Adults)

Now, I have decided, just for fun, to be very secretive about the name of my heroine. Why? Well, to be honest, I think the name is so cool I don't want anyone else to steal it. Her name will be the brand or signature of all the books in the series so I've decided to keep it under wraps for a while. So, when I talk about her here. I'll simply refer to her as "T".

I started seriously writing about four days ago. My word count now stands at approx. 8,800.
I'm pretty pleased with my progress thus far. That's about 1,800 words tonight. YAY!

By the way, is there a guideline as to roughly how many pages per chapter of a YA novel?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Princess Bride

I first saw the movie of the Princess Bride as a young adult (not that I am really old now, but you know...) and fell in love with it instantly.

I was always intrigued by the rumours that William Goldman was not the real author, but a guy called Morgenstern was the true and original writer. If the first two chapters of the "Good Parts Edition" of the book are for real the rumours are all true.

I have wanted to read the book for years - ever since I discovered that there was a book. Well, last week I visited my local library and there is it was: the 25th Anniversary Edition of THE PRINCESS BRIDE: S. Morgenstern's classic tale of True Love and High Adventure - the "Good Parts" Version, abridged by William Goldman.

I am almost half way though the book and loving every minute. It's hilarious!

If you enjoyed the movie you will love this read. It's quirky, funny and sweet. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fuel for the Soul

Fuel for the Soul is an inspirational anthology of 59 pieces of poetry or prose, the work of 41 New Zealand writers.

The pieces explore life, loss and hope in a way that is sometimes challenging and always encouraging.

It is nice little paperback (pg 134) interspersed with beautiful photographs. You can see the pretty cover of Fuel for the Soul in my side bar.

If you would like to order a copy leave a comment and I'll get in touch. Books are $20 + p&p.
All proceeds go to support the Pleasant Point Presbyterian Church's work in the community.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Off to Launch...

I'm procrastinating ... blogging when I should be writing. :(

Tomorrow morning, Sue and I will pile into her car, me with my red coat and lavender suitcase and ... well, actually I don't know what Sue will be taking.

The plan is to meander our way from Dunedin to Timaru, making it there in time to visit the Timaru museum, which I've been told, is quite good. On Saturday we will go on a tiki-tour of the surrounding countryside. If you're not from NZ this means we are going exploring. :)
We'll visit some of my families historical sights; a church, a graveyard and the ancient family farm of Castlewood. I've never seen any of them except in photos, so I'm really excited. We'll also visit Lake Tekapo and the church of the Good Shepherd which sits on the shore, I wrote about it in a novelette once, but I've never seen it in person.

The launch of Fuel for the Soul starts at 5pm on Saturday. It will be great to meet some of the other contributors and finally hold my first published work in my hand. YAY!