I took a leave of absence from my teaching gig to write my first novel. At the time I was burnt out on teaching, but at least when I was teaching I knew what I was doing. I didn’t know how to write a novel, but I started writing anyway. It took about five months to write the first draft. It was over seven hundred pages long and it was a mess!
I’m not sure I’ll ever feel that first novel is finished enough to publish, but it was good practice for what was to follow. In the intervening years, I’ve written four more novels. For this progress, I have to thank Nanowrimo.
Nanowrimo is the cutesy acronym for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November. It started years ago when a group of friends in the San Francisco Bay Area challenged each other to write 50,000-word novels in a month. Well, actually, not a finished novel, but as Anne LaMotte would say “a sh***y first draft.” By the way—I know you’re wondering—50,000 words is approximately 180 pages.
Within a few years, this group of friends had taken their challenge to the internet, and before too long tens of thousands of people were joining in.
Before I heard about Nanowrimo I had an idea for a second novel, but I couldn’t seem to get it on the page. I was teaching again, and most nights I’d come home exhausted. I’d wolf down dinner then start writing. Suddenly I’d stop in mid-sentence and think: this is boring, I don’t like this, I don’t know where it’s going. Then I’d eat an unhealthy snack, watch something stupid on TV, go to bed, get up the next day and do it all over again.
But Nanowrimo is about quantity not quality. Your goal is to write 50,000 words. You hope at the end that you will have something resembling a story but that’s not required. Just keep writing.
This emphasis on quantity allowed me to turn off my internal critic. What happened next? My imagination took over. Ideas popped up and a plot formed. That was the most astounding thing to me: my imagination leaned toward story. I didn’t have to force it. It led me there.
Sure, some nights, Samantha (my main character) was given a pie, and I pasted in a pie recipe I’d found on the internet. That upped the word count! Other nights Samantha had had a day just like my day. Did I forget to mention that Samantha was a special education teacher just like I was? Well, if I’d had a really rough day at school, coincidentally Samantha wanted to complain about her day too. Funny how that happened.
But when I hit 50,000 words, I had a real story. In later drafts I edited out the recipes and the venting, but that stuff got me where I needed to go.
I wrote Yellow-Billed Magpie during my first National Novel Writing Month. For me this book will always represent a leap of faith, an exhilarating thirty days when I let my imaginary friends, Samantha, Charlie and Craig run wild on the page, when I let them have their way with me. I’ll be forever grateful to them because they’re the ones who taught me how to write a novel.
I hope you enjoy reading Yellow-Billed Magpie as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you’re interested in writing a novel of your own, I recommend giving Nanowrimo a try. Here’s a link: there are lots of folks there ready to support you!
Check out more about Nancy's book and her giveaway here!
Back when filmmaking was in its infancy, it was easy for the moviegoers to pick out the bad guy. He always wore black. In the really cheesy westerns, it was even easier for moviegoers because not only did the bad guy where black, but the good guy wore white.
White as good. Black was bad. The audience cheered for the guy in white and they booed at the villain in black.
Now, we all know that this is not the way it is in real life. And, if you’re writing a murder mystery whodunit, then you really don’t want the readers to pick out the killer, or just plain antagonist, based on the color of their clothes. You might as well pin a sign on his chest that says, “I Did It!”
When it comes to writing, authors yearning to give their characters depth will attempt to include shades of grey to their bad guys or gals. Let’s face it, there are few people who are really all bad—dressed in stark black. (I wish it was that easy in real life!) Just like there are few people who are all good—dressed in shining white.
As a reader, I am disappointed when I pick up a book or turn on a crime drama to find that practically every bad guy or girl fits into a tight box labeled “cliché:”
How about having a rich man who is loving and generous? Such was the case in Shades of Murder, which opens with a multi-millionaire who breaks down into hysterics after the murder of his wife. Years later, he is still grieving. His son, the wealthy heir, had left college to proudly serve in the military overseas after 9/11. Self-centered and arrogant, he is not.
Giving your bad guy or gal a reason for their bad-ness can add depth to their character. In Twelve to Murder, Lenny Frost was a former child actor who had won an Academy Award before he got his first pimple. By the time he was of legal drinking age, he had been a kidnapping victim and drug addict. In sympathy, his agent, who contrasted the stereotype of the Hollywood leech, got him a regular gig in her son’s comedy club when no one else would work with him.
The backstory alone gives readers a tinge of sympathy for Lenny Frost when he appears on the page as a foul mouth drunk who takes a whole bar hostage and demands that Mac Faraday prove his innocence of a double murder.
Likewise, in Kill and Run, when readers Tristan Faraday, Jessica’s younger brother, he bears no resemblance to the multi-millionaire son of Mac Faraday (the protagonist in the Mac Faraday Mysteries) that he is. The cliché is the arrogant young man who feels entitled to anything he desires. In college, he majors in sex, drugs, and booze—not learning. Not so when it comes to Tristan Faraday. He is a professional student and computer geek and proud of it.
In this excerpt from Kill and Run, readers meet Tristan soon after his home has been flooded:
“Tristan, what are you doing cooking breakfast in my kitchen instead of yours?” Jessica charged into the kitchen so abruptly that her brother jumped from where he was buttering toast.
The slice flew off the counter and dropped into Spencer’s waiting mouth. With a joyful bounce in her step, Spencer (Jessica’s sheltie) raced into the living room to show off her prize to Newman (Murphy’s mongrel).
“My kitchen is too wet to cook in.” Pushing his dark framed eyeglasses up onto his nose with the back of his hand, Tristan took another slice of bread out of the pack, dropped it into the toaster, and pushed down the lever. “Murphy doesn’t eat bread, does he?”
“Only organic whole wheat and not very often,” Jessica said. “He’s not a fan of carbs.”
With the butter knife, Tristan pointed at the blender containing a green frothy drink. “I made a kale protein smoothie for him.”
She started to ask where her brother had found the recipe for Murphy’s breakfast smoothie until she’d noticing Tristan’s tablet resting upright on the counter with the webpage of a healthy recipe site displayed.
“It’s got all kinds of green disgusting stuff in it,” Tristan said. “Murphy will love it.”
Tristan was a third year undergraduate student at George Washington University with a double major in natural science and computer engineering. With a tall, lanky build and dark framed eye glasses, Tristan Faraday resembled the computer geek he was, of which he was quite proud.
“What do you mean your kitchen is too wet to cook in?” Jessica peered into the aquarium resting on their dining room table. “It’s true. You did bring her.”
“I guess you didn’t see the news this morning.” Tristan opened the oven door. “When did you and Murphy decide to adopt?”
“We didn’t.” While peering into the aquarium, Jessica shuddered when she saw the huge, black, hairy tarantula looking straight at her. “Why can’t you have a more normal pet—like a pit bull?”
“You have to walk pit bulls.” Tristan plopped a warm plate filled with scrambled eggs, hash browns, and two slices of bacon onto the table—at the opposite end from Monique. “Here you go, sis.” He kissed her on the cheek. “Now you can’t say I never did anything for you. Who’s the kid I fed a little bit ago?”
Uttering a low bark, Newman came into the dining room and stomped his big feet at the end of his short legs. At the same moment, the slice of toast popped up from the toaster. Tristan took the toast and tossed it to the dog as if it was a Frisbee. Instead of jumping to catch it, Newman watched it fly over his head. Once it hit the floor, he picked it up and returned to the living room to resume watching the morning business and financial news channel.
Tristan dropped another slice of bread into the toaster and pushed down on the handle. “Toast is on the way, sis.”
Jessica asked, “Are you telling me you fed breakfast to someone without asking who she was and what she was doing in our home?”
Tristan came out of the kitchen with a mug of coffee, which he placed in front of Jessica. He also placed the cream and sugar next to it. “Maybe she thought I was the cook. I came out of the kitchen and caught her trying to take Monique out of the aquarium.”
“Izzy was trying to take your tarantula out of the tank?” Jessica stopped with her fork in mid-air.
“She wanted to pet her,” Tristan said. “You’d be surprised what a chick magnet that arachnid is. So, I took Monique out and introduced them. Monique took right to the kid. She crawled up her arm and chilled out on her shoulder while this kid ate her breakfast. She must have good vibes. Monique likes her and,” he lowered his voice, “Monique doesn’t like just anyone.”
“Izzy obviously loves animals and they seem to love her.” After blowing into the hot mug, Jessica took a sip of the hot coffee.
“What’s she doing here?”
“Her mother was murdered yesterday,” she said in a solemn tone. “Murphy is working the case.”
“Oh.” Tristan hung his head while Jessica concentrated on moving the food around on her plate.
“If I had known about her mother, I would have let her have the second pack of chocolate pop tarts.”
“You gave her my pop tarts?” Jessica said
“You can buy more. My biscuits are burning.”
While her brother rushed into the kitchen, she called after him, “What happened to your townhouse?”
“There was a water main break in Georgetown during the night,” Tristan said. “Flooded two whole city blocks. Guess which brownstone bore the brunt of it.”
“The whole lower floor is under a foot and a half of water,” Tristan said. “By the time they drain it, I’m probably going to have to replace drywall and the hardwood floors—the first floor is going to need to be completely renovated.”
“What about your roommates?” Jessica asked.
“They both went back home to their folks.” With a wide coaxing grin, he wrapped his arms around Jessica. “Of course, since Dad lives in Deep Creek Lake, the only place I could go …”
“Of course you can stay here.” Jessica returned the hug. “But I’m not so sure about Monique.”
“I can’t leave her alone at the townhouse,” Tristan said.
“Murphy hates Monique,” Jessica said. “He hates bugs.”
“His sister loves Monique.” Tristan eased down into the chair next to her.
“Sarah is not like her brother,” Jessica said. “Just like you’re into spiders and crawly things, and I’m into high heels to stomp on those crawly things. Murphy and Sarah are two different people.”
Tristan cleared his throat. “Speaking of Sarah …” Staring down the length of the table at the aquarium, he fell silent.
Jessica dropped her fork. “What about Sarah?”
“Well, you know she and I have been texting and skyping and … stuff.” He cleared his throat.
“I knew you two had become friends.” Jessica’s brows practically met in the middle of her forehead. “’Don’t tell me it’s more than that.” She gasped. “Are you two sleeping together?”
“No,” he replied sharply. “But if I play my cards right …”
“Cards right?” Losing her appetite, she shoved the half-filled plate away. “How long has this been going on between you two?”
“Uh … how long have you and Murphy been married?” He cocked his head at her. “I thought you’d be happy that I was finally dating again.”
“Sarah is Murphy’s little sister,” Jessica said. “Think about it, Tristan. Murphy and I are married. One day, we’re going to have children.—”
“Are you—” His eyes dropped to her stomach.
Clutching her flat tummy, she glared. “No!”
“Then why are you talking about having kids?”
“Because one day we will!” With a grimace, she plunged on. “My point is—our two families are joined together with Murphy and me in the middle. Our dads are friends. Dad had selected Josh to be a groomsman at his wedding. If you have a fling with Sarah and things don’t work out, you two can’t just walk away and never see each other again. When Murphy and I have family gatherings here then people are going to be feeling awkward with each other.” She sighed. “If you really love Sarah, then go for it. You have my blessing. You’ll have Murphy’s, too. But, if this is just a pair of hormones calling to each other—then I suggest you go take a cold shower and walk away before it’s too late.”
Tristan’s face fell with disappointment. “Problem is,” he said, “it may already be too late. I feel really good about how things are going with her, and Sarah was planning to come out next weekend. We were going to hook up.”
Jessica was out of her seat. “Here?”
“No, at my place, which is now under a foot of water,” Tristan said. “I was hoping you and Murphy would go away for the weekend so that—”
“No what?” Murphy asked upon entering the dining room. He had his towel slung around his shoulders. Upon spotting the aquarium with the huge, hairy, tarantula, he pointed and yelled, “No, no, no, and hell no!”
“That’s exactly what I was saying no to Tristan about,” Jessica recovered to explain.
“I like Monique.” Izzy pulled up a chair and peered with wide eyes into the tank. “Can I hold her again?”
“Don’t even think about it,” Murphy ordered Tristan before he could answer.
“Tristan’s townhouse got flooded in a water line break, and he’s asked if he and Monique could stay here,” Jessica said.
“Where?” Murphy asked.
“You have two guestrooms,” Tristan pointed out.
“But Izzy is staying in the one and Cameron is going to be in the guestroom off the loft,” Murphy said.
“Cameron?” Tristan’s eyes grew wide. “Cameron as in your stepmother, married to your father, Cameron?”
With a quizzical expression on his face, Murphy replied, “If she wasn’t married to my father, she wouldn’t be my stepmother.”
“She’ll be here this afternoon,” Jessica said. “Tristan, the sofa in the rec room pulls out into a queen sized bed. You can stay down there until Cameron leaves. It should only be a few days.”
“Is your dad coming to visit too?” Tristan asked Murphy in a voice that was one full pitch higher than normal.
“No, he’s got a big court case, and Tracy has him up to his armpits in her wedding.” Murphy asked, “Why?” He chuckled. “Are you afraid of my dad?”
“He carries a grenade launcher in the back of his SUV,” Tristan said.
“Your dad carries a grenade launcher in the back of his SUV?” Izzy’s eyes were wide.
“He only uses it when he has to,” Murphy replied with a shrug of his shoulders.
“What does he do?” Izzy asked.
“He’s a lawyer,” Jessica giggled.
“Must be some bad-ass lawyer,” Izzy muttered before turning her attention back to Monique. “I wish I had a tarantula. If she has babies can I have one?”
“She’s not going to have babies,” Tristan said.
“Thank God,” Murphy replied.
“Why not?” Izzy asked. “You should get her a boyfriend. She probably gets lonely in that tank all by herself.”
“Spiders don’t get lonely,” Murphy said.
“How do you know?” Izzy asked him.
“Yeah,” Jessica giggled. “You’re not a spider.”
With a wink, Murphy told his wife, “I’ll explain it to you later ... upstairs.”
Tristan whispered to her, “I thought you already knew about the birds and the bees.”
“But Mom never told me about spiders,” she replied in a low voice.
“Can we get back on topic?” Murphy asked.
“What were we talking about?” Jessica asked with a smile.
“About getting Monique a boyfriend,” Izzy said.
“No,” Murphy said.
“You were about to say that Monique can stay,” Tristan said.
No, Tristan is not your average multi-millionaire. And yes, I assure you, it is a little more difficult to figure who the bad guys—and gals—are in Kill and Run. They don’t all wear black hats. Some readers had been pleasantly, and frightfully, surprised to find that some of the villains look just like them.
But, let’s face it—when it comes to reading a mystery—isn’t figuring out who done it most of the fun?
Check all that apply now or may in your future:
a). money and/or property
b). a family heirloom and/or ancestral documents
c). a talent and/or interest
d). a birthmark and/or physical resemblance
These are the usual items identified. The Inheritance, however, will prompt you to re-consider your understanding of theterm.
The Inheritance is set from 1897 to 1913 in Calabria, a region in southern Italy. It tells the story of Caterina, an atypical peasant woman who challenges social norms and the tragic chain of events her determination to live a life of her choosing ignites.
Answer Yes or No:
a). Were you raised according to defined social norms?
b). Were you expected to respect certain cultural values and religious beliefs?
c). Were you obligated to honour existing loyalties and continue the family business?
Did you answer “Yes” to any of the above? If so, do you believe family expectations can also be inherited?
What if a son or daughter spurned this type of inheritance? What conflicts would rejection ignite? How would family dynamics change? What would be the societal impact?
The Inheritance explores these issues from various perspectives and in so doing, reveals the complexity of the term. By the end of the book, you will be compelled to re-examine your personal situation and perhaps, change your definition.
I took this photograph (SEE BELOW) while wandering on a country road during a research trip to Calabria. I inherited my love of nature from my grandmother and my yen to explore and learn from my late father.
What have you inherited?
Marianne Perry welcomes your comments at her website where she blogs about writing, travel and genealogy. Visit her Pinterest boards @marianne5018 for more photos.
A Song for Bellafortuna is a Historical Fiction novel. I am often asked why I write for
that genre. My easy answer is that I always loved history and was a history major in
college at Loyola in New Orleans. I remember vividly one of my professors who brought
history to life for us students. No longer were we just reading facts on a page, but instead
history was brought to life.
When he taught about the Civil War, muskets, bugles and swords were brought in to class
as our professor would go into character and we were back in 1861. Or when we studied
about the D-Day landings, and he gave a class along the levee of Lake Pontchartrain
where the Higgins boats (which were built in New Orleans) were used in 1944 to practice
for the landings. History came alive.
So what is historical fiction? The academic definition is historical fiction is a literary
genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past.
A great historical fiction novel should tell a story, but, and here is the key, place the
reader in a time and place from a long time ago.
Sir Walter Scott’s novel Waverly is often recognized as the first historical fiction novel.
After Waverly, many authors begin writing historical fiction works.
My contribution to this genre, A Song for Bellafortuna, takes place around the year 1900
in Sicily. As one reviewer put it, “The author paints a picture of the era before motorcars,
when agriculture provided the most employment. One gets the feeling of the slower pace
of life. Journeys take longer. Distances feel greater.
What I love about this genre is historical fiction can also have elements of romance,
mystery, coming of age, or a thriller. It really cuts across all genres and incorporates all
these genres together, and at that same time, teaching us something about the period.
As for me, my two novels are regarded as Italian Historical Fiction. Hopefully, for a few
hours while reading, you will be transported to Italy, and see and feel the sights and
sounds of that culture and time.
Author of A Song for Bellafortuna and Tempesta’s Dream
When reading a fantasy set in a different (non-historical) world or time, I find it jarring if the characters’ names are old familiar ones from our everyday reality. Why would people in a strange time/place have names like Steven or Julia? Also, why would they use the same words to refer to time or distance that we do? Convenient for the writer perhaps, but too familiar for me as a reader.
TIME AND DISTANCE:
In my fantasy trilogy, The Star-Seer’s Prophecy, I tried to evoke a different world in subtle ways. For example, I avoid using our familiar measures of time. Instead of “minute,” I use “moment.” Instead of “week,” I use “quarter-moon.” Many cultures measure time by that clock in the sky, the Moon. For distance, I just referred to how many days a trip took.
And I had fun making up names and words to help evoke a different world. I used two methods for creating these new words: listening/intuition, and research.
For most of my characters’ name, I start by ‘listening’ for a name, using my intuition. Sometimes, that’s it. I get it on the first try, like Zhovanya as the name of the Goddess in my trilogy. For others, I play around with the sound of the name until it fits the character. And for some, the name evolves as I get to know the character better. For example, originally Kyr’s name was Arik (which I believe relates to an old Nordic word for eagle). Somehow, I didn’t like the hard ‘k’ as the last sound of his name, so I changed it to Kyr (“keer” like “peer”), which to me sounds like the high, lonely cry of a hawk or eagle, and suits his character.
Over time, I noticed that there was a pattern in the way I was naming men vs. women, and changed a few names to fit that pattern, though there are some exceptions. You might check out the Cast of Characters (in Book Extras) on my website, and see if you can detect the pattern. I also ‘listened’ for the magical commands used by the Warrior-Mage, Rajani; for the names of magical potions; and for the sacred chants. (See the Glossary in Book Extras.)
In the case of the evil sorcerer-king called the Soul-Drinker, I found his name through researching the roots of words in the Dictionary of Word Origins by John Ayto. The Soul-Drinker’s name is Dauthaz, which comes from the Old English and Germanic roots of the word ‘death.’
This is also how I created the name of the land where the story takes place, and the terms used at the Sanctuary. The land is named Khailaz, which is a prehistoric Germanic word, ancestor of our word, ‘whole.’ Adding the suffix –itha to khailaz produced khailitha, the root of our words, ‘health’ and ‘heal.’
From this, I made up the words kailitha (divine healing energy); Kailithana (a priestess-healer); Kailithara (healing work of the Kailithana); Kailithos (one who is undergoing the Kailithara); and Kailithama (sacred chamber in which the Kailithana works with the Kailithos).
I don’t recall exactly how I tracked down the roots from which I constructed Aithané (Listener, Confessor), Phanaithos (Speaker, Divulger), or Phanaithara (Divulgence, Confession). I believe they come from Greek roots meaning to listen, and to speak.
A few other words, I just made up. For example, I derived zhan (life force energy) from Zhovanya.
Now, admittedly, I am not Tolkien, creating whole languages, and races of fantastic creatures. My focus is more on the inner world and healing ordeal of my hero, Kyr, than on detailed world-making. However, I did do my best to evoke a different place/time by creating new words and names, and avoiding overly familiar names and terms.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
As a reader, which do you prefer: familiar names and terms; or new and different ones?
As a writer, what is your approach to evoking a different world?
It's finally here! Children of Darkness - Book One in The Seekers Series is available NOW. Check it out on Amazon.com. FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. GET YOUR COPY
“A must-read page turner.” Kirkus Review
About the Book:
"If the whole world falls into a Dark Age, which it could plausibly do, who could bring us out of it? According to David Litwack in The Children of Darkness, the only answer is us, now, somehow reaching into the future." - Kaben Nanlohy for On Starships And DragonwingsPublication Date: June 22, 2015 from Evolved Publishing Purchase Link: http://smarturl.it/
About the Author:The urge to write first struck when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter's editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. But he was inspired to write about the blurry line between reality and the fantastic. Using two fingers and lots of white-out, he religiously typed five pages a day throughout college and well into his twenties. Then life intervened. He paused to raise two sons and pursue a career, in the process becoming a well-known entrepreneur in the software industry, founding several successful companies. When he found time again to daydream, the urge to write returned. After publishing two award winning novels, Along the Watchtower and The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky, he’s hard at work on the dystopian trilogy, The Seekers. David and his wife split their time between Cape Cod, Florida and anywhere else that catches their fancy. He no longer limits himself to five pages a day and is thankful every keystroke for the invention of the word processor. Website: www.davidlitwack.com Facebook: David Litwack - Author Twitter: @DavidLitwack
Giveawaya Rafflecopter giveaway Fiction Fervor “The Children of Darkness is a dystopian novel that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.” C.P. Bialois “This is a satisfying exploration of three teens' journey into the unknown, and the struggles faced by all who seek true emancipation - both for themselves, and for the people they love.” Suzy Wilson “Litwack's writing is fresh, and Nathaniel, Orah and Thomas come to life in your imagination as you frantically flip (or click) the pages of this book.” Anna Tan “...many profound themes, lovely characterizations and relationships” R. Campbell “I was enthralled and intrigued by the authors creation of this society... David Litwack has an enjoyable and captivating writing style.” Jill Marie “...a perfect story for young adult readers, but its underlying theme and character development will keep any adult engaged.” Kathleen Sullivan