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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

And So it Begins ... NaNo

In a little over two hours it will be November 1st here in little ol' New Zealand. The official start of NaNoWriMo 2010.

While I haven't managed to get to the plot points I talked about on Friday I have made good progress on my Character List - it is full and over flowing with interesting characters. I've complied an intriguing list of gadgets. I have lots of information about the culture and place swimming through my head, though I haven't had the time to set much of it to paper at least it's there and I can note it as I go.

I have to confess on the eve of NaNo I'm feeling really exited about getting immersed in this new world. I've had to tie my darling muse to his chair and gag him, he's that keen to get started. My head is buzzing and my fingers are itching to get writing Mercy's story.

So how about you? How are you feeling on NaNo's eve?

Inspired? Unprepared? Are you nervously biting your nails to the quick? Or are you just chillin and surprising relaxed?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Steampunk New Zealand!!

If you are an avid fan of Steampunk - or simply curious - and you happen to be kicking your heels somewhere in the Southern Island of New Zealand you might like to take a gander in the direction of Oamaru.

This weekend sees the official opening of the first ever New Zealand Steampunk Exhibition. Oamaru is world famous in New Zealand for their annual celebrations of all things Victorian making them the perfect place to host this exhibition.

For more info you can check out their website at http://www.steampunknz.co.nz/

Apply Bum Glue HERE

Only three days until the official start of NaNoWriMo, Novemeber 1st. I had a fairly good sleep last night and after all of yesterday's visual inspiration I'm itching to get writing.

My plan for today is (aside from the odd foray into housework) to glue my bum to the chair and get working - planning, plotting and designing - to my heart's content in readiness for Monday morning.

Things I need to work on:
  • Character list
  • Plot outline (filling in the story arch as best I can)
  • Evamere's Culture and History
  • Gadgets!!!

I might also dig out a few movies over the weekend to add a little more fuel to the fire. Sherlock Holmes will be at the top of the list. I might also re-watch Van Helsing, Around the world in Eighty Days and a couple of Jules Verne's movies.

I'm open to any suggestions of Steampunk/Victorian-esk films to watch. Ideas anyone?

Update: I have to confess I got a just a tinsy bit distracted after writing this and went off on a tangent hunting up Steampunk-esk movies to curl up and watch.

After a few recommendations from friends I trotted down to my local video store and have returned with a tidy stack which should give me lots of hours of fun viewing this weekend.

I brought a copy of Sherlock Holmes (something I'd been promising myself for a while) and rented a few others. Steamboy, an anime film. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The Prestige, which was on TV recently but I missed it. The Rocketeer, which isn't technically Steampunk but comes highly recommended and is gadgety enough for me to give it a whirl.

With these under my belt I'm good to start. But any other suggestions are more than welcome!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Finding NaNo Inspiration

I had hoped to get back into blogging a bit more quickly than I have done. However life has conspired against me and this illness has knocked me far more than I had anticipated. I haven't had much chance to do any reading or writing since getting out of hospital. To be honest I'm struggling just to get through each day.

I had hoped with NaNo just days away that I'd be a lot more organised and plot prepared than I am. As it stands though I have the first 5 or 6 chapters pretty clearly in my head, after that things degenerate into pretty misty details. Ah, the joys of writing...

A couple of my Mad Scribbler friends have decided to join me in my crazed leap into NaNo this year - a first for all of us - and I'm really excited to have them along for the ride. One of them, JT Webster, has plotted out each and every scene she plans to write! I must admit when faced with my plot-haze I'm just a little jealous of her.

On the plus side I've been having a lot of fun trolling through Google images looking for inspiration. Victorian fashion. Steampunk gadgets. Gothic architecture. All these things and more are teasing my imagination and giving my muse fits of excitement. Here are a few of the pictures that inspired me today.

I'm dreaming up amazing gadgets for my steampunk-come-secret agent characters to play with and weird and wonderful creations for the Professor to invent. In the gothic-steampunk world of Evamere just about anything could be possible.

Friday, October 22, 2010

T K Roxborogh Part 2: Blood, Sweat and Tears

As promised here's the long awaited second part of my interview with T K Roxborogh, New Zealand author of Banquo's Son and Blood Lines. Here she talks about the challenges of writing a trilogy and offers some advice for the aspiring writer.


DragonsPen: So T K, let's talk about trilogies. Having written stand alone novels and now a trilogy, would you say there is a big difference between the two when it comes to the writing process?

TK: Yes. Firstly, if everyone loves the first book, you have to make the second one at least as good as the first. There is that expectation now. You need the book to be complete in itself so that your reader is looking forward to the next one but is also satisfied. You don't want them to throw it across the room. You have go from who the character is and take them to another place, to who they will become. You can't just start with a fresh canvas. There is that pressure to get it right, to remain consistent. You have to keep the continuity.

DP: What would you say are the unique challenges of writing a trilogy and how did you overcome them?

The challenge was to make sure that this whole story – which is the trilogy – had a beginning, a middle and an end. So that at the end people will have tears in their eyes and go … “Ohhhh!” and then they'll live happily ever after. Though Bree will probably be growing up and making a real nuisance of herself somewhere. I haven't written the third book yet but I think that, by thinking about that story arch the whole way through, we'll get everything sewn up. I keep copious notes and there are lots of threads that need to be tied up. You don't introduce stuff if it's not going to be important to character development.

DP: What have been the high and low points in the writing of this trilogy?

TK: The high point was Banquo's Son being short listed for the Children's Book awards, being short listed for LANZA and winning the LANZA. That was wonderful.

The low points have been the sheer hard work: to make yourself sit there when you don't want to and you have to and it's long, tedious and boring. When you know what you're writing isn't good enough but you have to keep going because you have to at least have something you can work on. That's the hard thing.

DP: You told us at the launch that you had a year to write the book, but you wrote the first 60,000 words and had to scrap them, was that the lowest point for you?

TK: I think at that time we, as a family, were going through a really difficult time and I had to not beat myself up about that. We were already in the place of grieving and being angry, we were involved in legal matters and financially it was taking its toll. I know my publisher was worried I wasn't going to do the job. She was worried I was going to tip over the edge. I almost did. The stress of everything the family was going through, continuing to teach, the pressure of trying to write and trying to market the first book. It was a really hard time.

DP: Given all these pressures it is amazing that you managed to produce the book you did, Blood Lines is great!

T.K: I wonder if some of the deeper considerations in the book are because I personally went to some pretty dark places. I was pretty angry with God. I knew I was going to test Rachel, to send her to a pretty dark place. There is a quote on page 41. I had been going through this thing, asking “why, why, why?” And I wrote this almost automatically, so I don't really feel that this came from me.

The dowager's words came to mind. They had spoken often over the last month but always Rachel had tried to grasp an answer to this question of why.

This is a dangerous question to ask, Rachel. For, after each answer, another question surfaces just like a weed in the garden. If you depend on knowing why, a good life, one that can makes a difference in this world, will be taken from you just as those weeds drain the goodness from the soil, leaving the plant gasping. If you why is to do with human behaviour, you must look only to the story of The Garden on Eden: why? Because someone had a choice and their choice has caused you pain.”

I finished writing that and I was sobbing. That was an answer for me. It didn't take away the pain but it stopped me thinking that I'd done something wrong. When I wrote Banquo's Son, I prayed every time I wrote. For Bloodlines, I didn’t because I was so angry with God, and yet the message is still there.

DP:What is the best piece of writing advice you've been given?

T.K: There are two things:

The first one is to do with the mechanics of writing. Bum Glue. Persistence. Not giving up. Go out there, do the hard yards. Just DO!

The other one is simple: Show don't tell. I see it creeping in, even in my drafts and I'll put a little highlighter to remind me to come back. Don't tell me that he is feeling guilty. I want to see it! Don't tell me she is cross. I want to see it!

I think it's really good to be part of a group of writers who are honest and supportive of you. People who have your back and want to see you succeed.

Writing is hard. I don't believe there are any born writers. You might be a great story teller but you still need to learn the craft of writing.

DP: So there you have it folks. Thank you so much TK for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with us. It's been fun! Congratulations too on how well Blood Lines is doing and we look forward to the next installment.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

We're Back in Business

Thanks JT Webster for letting everyone know why everything went dark here for a wee while.

I'm back home, having finally been released from the hospital this afternoon. I was admitted quite suddenly on Wednesday with an extremely low platelet count. Turns out I have something called ITP or Indopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura which basically means a blood disorder of low platelets (the blood doesn't clot as it ought) due to an unknown cause.

After a bit of therapy my platelets are still low but no longer at critical levels, and I've been released back into the wide world.

So thanks everyone for your kind words and your patience. I hope to get the second part of my interview with TK online tomorrow, so do check back.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Pen was hoping to have posted Part Two of her interview with TK Roxborogh this week, but right now she is in hospital.

She has spent all day reading, while the Doctor's are running lots of tests. She's thankful for all those books Tania.

Pen's not feeling too under the weather, but it will be good to know exactly what is going on and how they plan to fix it.

Hopefully she will be back home soon and writing her own posts. In the mean time, if there is any updates, I'll let you know.

Posted by JT Webster.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It has Begun ... dun-dun Dun!

I wrote the first words of Tremorgan's Quest today.

Yes! As promised I have started book two.

The adventure has begun...!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Trilogy ... Smilogy

I'm discovering that writing a trilogy is an entirely different beastie.

The second book has to continue the first story, while also being a separate story in it's own right. It must be true to the characters and continue to challenge and grow them. The world and culture must continue develop, containing intrigue and interesting surprises without giving away too much. After all, there still has to be something worth revealing in book three. I can't spend all my pennies at once, as it were.

All of this must be kept in mind as I try to knit together the story of book two.

The challenge I'm facing right now is to take the over arching outline and under this umbrella create three other arches, representing the three linked but distinctive stories.

Book one is done(-ish). Book two is plotted out. Book three, on the other hand, is for the most part a dark void of possibilities.

I now have enough plot points or stepping stones to actually begin writing book two. These scenes are brewing in my Agorian dreamscape, taking shape into something worthy of the book. Now to tap them into existence...

And Here is the rub!

I have the second book hovering there, waiting. But I can't quite bring myself to open a new page a start typing. Hence all the blogging I've been doing lately.

Perhaps I'm afraid the words won't live up to my expectations. Perhaps it's that I worry it won't be as good as the first book. I heart book one. Will I heart book two as well? Perhaps ...

Oh, I don't know!

Is this something like the pre-marriage jitters? Am I ready to commit? Is it really going to be as awesome as I'm hoping or will my dreams be dashed? Can I trust my muse to keep the inspiration coming? Am I going mad?

Is this dithering typical when writing a trilogy?

Does everyone get "the next book jitters"?

(Trilogy ... smilogy ... wilogy) Yep. I'm mad! Stark and Raving.

That explains everything ... I've gone and lost my marbles.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Recommendation: Fancy Pants

Yesterday I started reading a book I'd nicked off a friend's book shelf a couple of days ago. Fancy Pants by Cathy Marie Hake (published by Bethany House). It is a fun, light read. One of those "Don't talk to me I'm reading books!", a compulsive, page turning read.

It's the story of an English Lady who travels to America to met a prospective husband. However upon arriving she discovers the man is only interested in the influence her connections can provide him. He even has the audacity to call her by the wrong name! So Sydney decides to take matters into her own hands and skips town to find her mother's brother, someone she has never met. But things quickly get out of control with disastrous results.

When "Big Tim" Creighton spies the mincing fop headed toward Forsaken Ranch, he is appalled. Thankfully his boss isn't around to witness the arrival of his kin, Tim decides he'll turn "Fancy Pants" Hathwell into a man worthy of respect.

Lady Sydney Hathwell never intended to don men's attire, but when her uncle mistakenly assumed she was a male, the answer to her problems seems clear. Her disguise as "Syd" was meant to be temporary... but the arrange marriage she is fleeing, her uncle's attitude to the fairer sex - and her own pride - compel her to continue the guise far longer than she had planned.

Cathy Hake is the author of over twenty books. Her prose is smooth and easy to read, her characters are spunky and distinctive. All in all, a great book to curl up with. Four and a half stars from me.

Hmmm, makes me want to go write a romance....

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Chatting with T K Roxborogh, Part 1

Recently I blogged about the launch of New Zealand author T K Roxborogh's latest book BLOODLINES. At that time I promised I'd soon be posting excerpts of an interview with her.

Yesterday I enjoyed a couple of hours chatting with T K about books, authors, writing in general and, more personally, her writing journey and her trilogy. She's a lovely lady and shared quite openly about the difficulties she faced in producing Bloodlines (but you'll have to wait until the next installment to learn more about that *teaser*).

I'm going to post the interview in two parts. In this post, Part 1: Writing History (sort of...), we talk about the books and writing in general. Next time, in Part 2: Blood, Sweat and Tears we'll be talking about writing trilogies and T K will share with us some good writing advice. So do up your seat belts, here we go!

PART 1: WRITING HISTORY (sort of...)

DragonsPen: Hi Tania! Thanks so much for agreeing to chat with us about your books and writing in general.

TK: Hi!

DP: My first question is one I like to ask every person I know who writes, and that is:What is it about writing that really gets you? Why do you write?

TK: I really like reading. I love stories. I get these stories and these characters in my head. I think it's a bit on a knock on effect in that I wrote a story, someone really liked it, that gave me a buzz and then more stories came. I discovered writing was something I was quite good at and something that I could work on getting better at. Because it becomes easier (HAHA) I don't block the stories. The trilogy aside, I have lots and lots of stories in my head.

DP: You have had quite a few books published previous to Banquo's Son, haven't you?

TK: Yes. Twenty-five or twenty six. Most of them were designed to be used in schools. My first published work was a text book for drama teachers and I wrote little Shakespearean skits and they were published. Then I wrote couple of novels. I got a publisher who was very supportive and I made a name for myself. Because I was a secondary school teacher, the stuff I was writing really appealed to teachers and so my name got known and it flowed on from there.

DP: Do you think being already well known in this way helped you when it came to approaching a publisher with Banquo's Son?

TK: Absolutely. Vicki, my publisher, was already familiar with my work and full of praise for me. She had moved to Penguin and kept saying to me “I want to publish you” which was really wonderful. So I sent in something – a novel called G Force that I wrote when I was on residency at Otago - she didn't like it! That really annoyed me.

At that time I had this idea that I'd just scribbled down. Fleance's story. It was her passion and excitement that made me shelve all the other things I'd been going to do and start on Banquo's Son.

It was only going to be one book deal until I got to know the characters quite well and I realised that I'd created more problems for Fleance than I had room to solve in one book.

I've done the hard yards. I've been writing and publishing for fifteen years. It's not as though I've just become an over night success. I think in part it's being available to be involved in writing workshops and making myself available. It's in making a name out there, like you're doing with your blog. The online community is really, really helping people getting to know each other and supporting new writers.

DP: In a way Fleance's story is a 'sequel' to Macbeth. What was it that sparked or inspired the idea?

TK: About three of four years ago when I was reviewing for the ODT I reviewed a John Marsden book called Hamlet, the novel. In that review I said “Hmmm, it makes me want to dust of my plans to write a sequel to Macbeth”.

And then, I had this dream where I could see Fleance. I knew him who he was. I knew he was hiding but I didn't know why. I knew that there was a ghost or someone dangerous in the woods with him. It's like you get an image of something and you go, “I wonder what's going on here? Why is he here? Who was he staying with? How did he get there? Why is he not in Scotland? Why is he in England?

So I was thinking, if I'm going to say Fleance becomes King, how is that going to happen? How is he going to go from the Northern woods of England to Scotland? What is going to spur him and motivate him? As I started asking those questions the story came to me very quickly.

When I was about half way through the book, Vicki suggested that we make it a trilogy. So what I had to do then was to make three story arches. So I did the one, over-arching arch, from the beginning to the end of the trilogy, and then considered the story arches for each of the three books.

At the start, I had no idea what was going to happen in the third book. I was getting an idea of what might happen in the second book but I wasn't quite sure because I hadn't finished writing the first book. Things can often come up unexpectedly.

I have an idea of what my main characters are going to do but I have no control at the moment over the other minor characters. And I have a feeling that a couple of them are very dodgy and that some others are going to become very important. They haven't shown themselves to me yet but I'm sensing that they're there.

DP: One of the things that was very cool in Blood Lines was the intrigue you had going on. There were a few characters who you were never quite if sure they were really good or not. That was really great.

How scary was it for you to try to bring the historical figures, like Harold and William, to life? I know I 'd be really nervous of putting my stamp on a historical figure.

Well, yeah, but it's so long ago. One of my students gave me a CD of the History of Scotland by an archaeologist. It went from about 300AD but, dammit, missed the whole area that I'm writing. It jumped from 1020 to 1240 or something like that. Still, it was a great thing to watch,

Also, we have the Bayou Tapestry and a few others things like the Doomsday Book (which is, unfortunately, after the time I’m writing) and archaeological digs but that's all really. It was just so long ago. The written word was very laborious because it was before the printing press, but it's very hard to pick out the personality of man from these records. For example, it's well known - and backed up by the Bayou tapestry and other writings - that William the Conqueror had very long arms and very big hands and he was quite short. So, I have used such detail in some of the description of my story.

There is a measure of freedom. I try to imagine what a character is wearing? Is she wearing woollen garments? For instance, if I was her and I'm feeling unwell, how would that cloth feel against my skin?

DP: How long did it take you to write the first book, Banquo's Son?

TK: Three months.

DP: No way!

TK: I wrote the synopsis in September, a month later I began writing. Two months later I'd written 106,000 words. I was also teaching and marking NCEA in that time as well.

(I think my jaw was hitting the floor at this point :P)

TK: I really did nothing but write.

DP: How do you fit it all in? You're a wife, a mum, you teach full time. How do you find time to write?

TK: The kids are teenagers and I expect a bit of independence. I'll still cook and stuff like that but I don't mollycoddle my children. I don't garden and the dusting might get done occasionally. Plus, I type very fast. We all, particularly women, have something that we do. Some people knit and others have groups they attend.

DP: I'm curious ... who is your favourite character?

TK: In the first book, the one I killed. Duncan. I cried. After I killed him I said to Vicki, “I've changed my mind.”

At the moment, in the trilogy, I really like Henri. He intrigues me. I still haven't fully figured him out yet. I think he reminds me of me because I say the wrong thing or the right thing at the wrong time. Henri doesn't give a shit about procedure and protocol especially if he sees it as being pompous, but he isn't perfect. He gets it wrong. He can recognise when he has over stepped the mark.

DP: It's obvious in reading Blood Lines that you have done a lot of research in order to write the book. Which scene was your favourite to write?

TK: The nits! I had to research what natural remedies they would have used at that time. There were two things. Britain and Scotland used bacon fat and ash. That root, which is the method in the book, was used in Europe. It's made into a paste and had a sting to it.

The other scene I liked writing was where Rachel was getting the clothes off the dead bodies. I know, it's terrible. It's all the gross stuff that's the most fun to write.

DP: I have to admit I love the hard, gory stuff too. Thanks for sharing Tania!

Everyone join us again soon for the next installment!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

NaNoWriMo Steampunk

I wasn't sure I'd ever be mad enough to try it, but is seems I am.

This year I've signed up for NaNoWriMo. What this means for those of you at home who are scratching you heads and saying "You're what now?" come November I'll be doing my best to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

That means writing a minimum of 1,700 words a day, which is easily do able.

It also means that I'll be doing nothing but writing, no fluffy and procrastinating, no stopping to edit and prettify my prose. It's simply about the word count and getting a short novel written in a month, as badly written as it might be when the 30 days are up.

I have to confess, hubby isn't best pleased. He seems to think this means that come November I'll be checking out of life. I might be a little more distracted than usual but I'm not going to kill myself trying to met the goal. It's meant to be fun after all!

The challenging thing about this is coming up with something new to write. I've decided to use the experience to try something new. Something I've wanted to dabble in for a wee while. Steampunk Fantasy.

All in the name of fun this is my short synopsis for my NaNo novel:

Mercy Me

On her fifteenth birthday Mercy discovers there is far more to her eccentric family than she ever imagined. Her Father isn't just a mad scientist, he is a secret agent. In fact her whole family is in on the game and now they expect her to join the team. Then on the eve of Mercy's first mission, her father is attacked in his lab and the mysterious Gizmo he has been working on is stolen. Now Mercy and her siblings must do everything they can to get it back before the people of Evamere start to die.

All over the world this November thousands of writers will be putting their fingers to the keyboard in an attempt to write a 50,000 word novel. If you have ever considered giving NaNoWriMo a go I encourage you to join the fun. Go here to find out more and join up.

A Trail of White Pebbles

As many of you know the MS of my fantasy novel is with beta readers. In the meantime I've been slowly and quietly chipping away at a short story due in next week for another competition, though I'm not holding my breath about it being placed.

What I've really been hoping for over the last few weeks is that my Muse would drop a few idea gems for the sequel to Tremorgan's Gift. Unfortunately he didn't seem too keen to come to the party and co-operate. Maybe he was determined to have the holiday I promised, in spite of my growing restlessness.

Well, the Muse seems to be back. Half unpacked travel bags are strewn through the hall ways of my mind, half formed ideas are everywhere.

My Muse can be a very lazy and disorganised creature! Last night, frustrated by his mess I sat down with my lap top and started tapping out Plot Points.

Things that I knew had to happen, crisis points, relationship conflicts and resolutions, and scenes that I'd only glimpsed fragments of. When I'd finished I had two pages of bullet points!! Awesome. Thank you Musie.

At the moment I feel a bit like Hansel and Gretel when they escaped from the witch.

I want to get home safe. In theory I know where I'm going but the empty page is shrouded in gloom. It's as if I'm lost deep in the forest in the dead of night, the story is there, I just can't see it clearly. The only clues I have to keep me on the path are these shiny white pebbles gleaming in the moonlight.

It's all a bit daunting but I'm excited too. This is a new journey! A new adventure with characters I already know and love, though I'm sure they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. I know I have... ;)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

You know you have made it as a writer when...

An old folks home and hospital has a reading of your work as one of their daily activities.

*Crazy Grin*

I work in an old folks home part time. When I won the trophy for my short story recently one of the staff took in a copy of the news article (I was soooo embarrassed). The old folks were totally thrilled, some of them have photo copies of the article on their wall!

Many of them asked me to bring in a copy of the story so they could read it. I warned them that it was a young adults fantasy / fairytale but they were quite insistent.

So earlier this week I enlarged the font, printed off a copy, put it in a clear leaf folder and took it in.

It has been making the rounds ever since and the latest word on the street is that they're going to read it aloud sometime this week as one of the activities.

Now I know that it is really small time, so-what type stuff, but the experience has really opened my eyes to the buzz of writing.

I've always said I wrote to share something with others, to make others smile and give them a taste of another world. But lets be honest, apart from my beta readers and my writer's group the world hasn't been reading my work.

This past week I have experienced what it's really like to have the world read my writing, embrace it, be thrilled by it and make it their own as only readers can.

The buzz it amazing!

Most of these people are in their eighties and nineties and they're being enthralled and inspired by a story for young adults, that in itself has been an eye opener.

One lady came up to me, her face aglow, and said, "I kept thinking, she can't die, she can't die. It's marvelous! I read it three times and I was almost late for tea!"

Another said, "I was there. It was as if I was her. It was so good!"

An old man said, "It was really good. I read the first sentence and I just had to keep reading. That's the rub for me, if the first sentence doesn't grab me I won't keep reading. But yours did and I had to keep reading right to the end. You had me the whole way through."

This is it. This is why I write. This is the buzz I crave. To have people love and enjoy the stories (the adventures, the worlds and the characters) that I create.

You know you have made it as a writer when ... your work has given pleasure to others.

This is what it's all about!