Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Words of wisdom from Daisy Banks

My guest today is Daisy Banks, who is sharing with us her hard-earned insights on pacing a story effectively:

Timing it right.

One of the things I have always struggled hard with in my writing is getting the pace and timing right. When I first started writing, I would spend an age during the first chapter lovingly setting the scene. Yes, I know you are smiling at that point. I’d linger over the most inconsequential things; being English, I could devote several paragraphs to the weather alone.

Thankfully, I found some wonderful critique partners, who, once they’d squashed the giggles my efforts induced, pointed out something very important to me. If I lingered over; the leaden skies and torrents of rain falling like silvery skeins--yes, I once truly wrote that line--my readers would throw the book up the wall and read no more.

“Honest?” I asked, full of hope my critique pals would say they were teasing.

“HONEST!” Came the reply. “Cut it.”

So, though it hurt, because I wanted to paint beautiful word pictures, I cut it. I didn’t just snip; I forced myself to be brutal and I savaged. I ripped out whole chapters. I discovered with my early efforts I could usually take out the first two chapters and no one would even notice because the action often didn’t start until chapter three.

The key word there is action. Experienced authors know readers want action or a situation to lure them into the story, not a lot of back story before the action begins.

Timing or pace in a story is the key to holding the reader’s interest, and despite my love of the season in which the story was set, or my wish to offer details about the character's environment and traumatic past, these things must wait.

I’d like to say the more I write the more I improve in some aspects of writing. The only people who can tell me that for sure are readers and I’m grateful when they do.

I have three new stories coming out in the next nine months or so and I hope people will find their beginnings compelling enough to want to read on.

In the meantime, while I’m waiting for those things to be ready to share with you, I thought I might offer the beginning of Your Heart My Soul, published by Liquid Silver Books.

Moonlight shimmered. The sliver of pale shadows on the grubby floorboards he crossed wavered like ripples in the shallows. William “Reliance” Smith sat and tipped his sailor’s cap over his brow. With no one about to cry shame, he lounged back, putting his feet up on the comfortable, red leather chaise. A dim pattern of blue light from across the street sparkled and played on the opposite wall, where yellowed paint flaked and peeled.
The windowpanes rattled in their leaded squares, buffeted by the wind outside. Or, on the other hand, perhaps their agitation had another cause. A small bloom of anticipation swelled in his chest and the fine hairs on the back of his neck rose. Might this be the night his dreams came true? He sighed and battled to hold down the ache inside.
How many times had he hoped before? All for naught.
Not a Jack lived in the wide world that’d make him tell of it, but he feared the flavor of the bitter cup of loss, had tasted it too long and too often. He shook the thoughts away. No matter what, he’d linger, as he’d promised his darlin’ for as long as need be. Unsettled as he was this night, he sought a fresh distraction to help him through the waiting and glanced around the shop.
Before God, he couldn’t deny it. Tonight, change hung heavy in the air, but not in the way he longed for. No sign of his sweet Sally to cheer him; not a breath of her fragrance in the stillness; no clatter of her red-striped heels over the flagstones outside announced her arrival.
A part of him long ago warned this vigil, it were a waste, and he’d never hear those precious sounds again. That time had gone … he’d only to glance at the star patterns in the winter sky to know it … but … what if he were wrong? Mayhap all these doubts, this waiting, it might be a test of his love. Perhaps the day would dawn when his Sal would come to him. One precious evening he’d find her here, and they’d be happy again as they’d sworn.
Faith must be the key. He’d a head start on others in that quarter, for his very name gave his offer of assurance to his family, to his master, and to his shipmates. They’d never yet found him wanting and nor would his darlin’ wench.
Yet this night his senses jangled, out of kilter. The room didn’t set right with him at all. If anyone asked, he’d have been hard put to say what had changed, but his gut told him for sure something had occurred.
A prickle rose on the back of his neck; the fine hairs stood like a hound’s ruff to warn of storms to come and his certainty grew. T’was said only those who’d made it ’round the Horn got the sense of predicting stormy winds. Well, he’d made it ’round the Horn and home twice—and tonight, in the twilight shadows, proof of it raced icy down his back.
You can find the rest of this intriguing story here. And new, coming this summer, you'll find:

A Perfect Match from Taliesin Publishing

Coming later in the year:

To Eternity, sequel to Timeless from Lyrical Press
Marked for Magic from Lyrical Press

She is also the author of:

From Lyrical Press, a Kensington imprint:
A Matter of Some Scandal
Fiona’s Wish

From Liquid Silver Books:
Your Heart My Soul
A Gentleman’s Folly
Valentine Wishes

All are available on Amazon:

Find Daisy Banks here:

Twitter @DaisyBanks12

Cat fail--What awaited me when I got home from MisCon

How many cats does it take to catch one mouse? I don't know, because I'm still waiting. Four cats, one mouse; you'd think the little bugger would be toast by now, wouldn't you? It's been five hours and I'm still waiting. At this point I think I'm rooting for the mouse. If I could catch him without getting the hanta virus or contracting rabies I'd toss him outside. At this moment he's under my recliner while the cats languidly watch the exits. My feet are safely tucked up under me in said recliner, as I refuse to surrender the field to the little twerp. But geez!!!

Thus the cats have been entertaining themselves all weekend, I presume, since I was at MisCon in Missoula, Montana and can't really say. MisCon, as always, was a hoot, and if you ever get a chance to go, I highly recommend it. I met many delightful people, some of whom were kind enough to buy my books, which always warms the cockles of an author's heart. As always, I ate too much, laughed a lot, and learned quite a bit about the art and craft of writing. I hope my advice to the writers who submitted to my group in the writers' workshop was helpful more than hurtful and that their stories succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

Good fortune and safe travels go with everyone who came to Missoula. See you next year!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

MisCon: A Whole Weekend of Laughs

Yay! Memorial Day is coming, and with it MisCon in Missoula, Montana. Aside from being in a lovely area to visit, MisCon is just about the most fun science fiction convention ever. It's fairly small, which makes it more intimate and relaxed, but for some reason it is also just fun. The fans are enthusiastic, everything (including readings) is well attended, and the con hosts a barbecue on the back lawn beside the creek every year. Even though most years it is pouring rain that day, it does not seem to dampen anyone's enthusiasm, and who doesn't like sitting on the grass beside a rushing mountain creek to eat their hamburger?

At any rate, I'll be there if you're in the neighborhood, reading from The Mask of God and signing books, etc. Here's my schedule so you know where to find me. I am SO looking forward to that panel on cussing! :)

Fri 2:00 - 2:50 PM, Good Reviews, Bad Reviews, Upstairs 1 (Upstairs Programming 1)
Fri 4:00 - 4:50 PM, Writers' Workshop Meet and Greet, Containment Room (Upstairs)
Sat 11:00 - 12:50 PM, Writers' Workshop Great Hall, Great Hall (Upstairs)
Sat 1:00 - 1:50 PM, Anti-Hero, Hero, or Villain?, Containment Room (Upstairs)
Sat 7:00 - 7:50 PM, Art of Swearing, Containment Room (Upstairs)
Sun 10:00 - 10:50 AM, Author Book Signing, Containment Room (Upstairs)
Sun 3:00 - 3:50 PM, Reading: S. A. Bolich, Upstairs 3 (Upstairs Programming 3)
Mon 10:00 - 10:50 AM, Monday Morning Coffee Klatch (Hour 1), The Tent (2)
Mon Noon - 12:50 PM, Art of the Short Story, Upstairs 2 (Upstairs Programming 2)

I am looking forward to seeing old friends and making some new ones, so come out out! I'd love to see you.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Horses in Fiction: (Trying) to Work around Horses

Note that I did not say "work with horses" here. Working in close proximity to horses on something that does not involve grooming, tacking up, or groundwork is an adventure in itself. Oh my, the joys of maintaining a farm with horses around are many and varied. One of them is attaining close companionship with your beasts whilst attempting to improve their home (or yours). Really close. Like, beat them out of your back pocket because they are playing with the pocket flap while you're bent over close. Like, guard the shift lever knob of the lawn tractor because Pilot is trying to crib on it close. Like, get your frigging nose out of the tool bucket close. When horses are loose in the pasture and you need to do something there, your choices are always to lock them up somewhere else or live with their curiosity. Me, I enjoy the entertainment value. Most of the time.

Let me back up and explain how this subject sprang to mind. Every spring is, of course, the time when fences need to be checked and mended, the weeds get sprayed, the barn gets thoroughly scrubbed out and reordered, and general maintenance on the whole place gets done. Landscaping projects get started, and I get to spend a lot of time outdoors, in and out of the pasture and barn. My horses are currently on pasture, sleek, fat, and happy. So happy, in fact, that they have lost their initial exuberant attitude toward being out on grass and are now spending a lot of time lazing in the shade in the barn. This is lovely so long as one is not required to do anything related to the stalls or the corral itself.

My latest landscaping project is putting in small square edging bricks between the driveway and the yard. It looks really good, but there is a low spot at the end that needs filling. Since the manure pile has been nicely rotting down for years, it provides a good source of dirt, albeit a little rich to use without mixing it with less fertile soil. For filler, though, it's just fine, so this morning I got out my trusty lawn tractor and my dump wheelbarrow, hooked 'em up, and drove into the corral. And, of course, there were Nellie and Pilot swishing flies in the barn. Hoping for treats and/or their itchy spots scratched, naturally they came over to say hello.

Now a horse cannot say hello without getting as close as possible. This means sticking his head in the wheelbarrow (it's MANURE, guys. Yours. There are no treats here.), nudging the whole works to see if it might move and entertain him, and checking out in close detail the fascinating apparition that is the lawn tractor. The noise doesn't bother them, nope. In fact, I have to shoo them off quite vigorously or threaten to nudge them with the front end in order to get them out of the way when I'm ready to drive off.

Not at all discouraged, back they come when I make the second trip to fill the wheelbarrow. This time they are completely mesmerized by the shovel and the dent I am putting in their precious pile, which I have actually seen Nellie back up to and contribute to on her own over the winter. It is tough to dig with el├ín with a horse's nose two inches from the shovel tip. Likewise, the suspicious crunching noise behind me turns out to be Pilot checking out the possibilities in the round, hard-plastic knob on the tractor's shift lever. Meantime, sweet Nellie really wants her ears scratched, and butts me hard in the side to get my attention. Noticing the flies buzzing around her head, I now have to stop and go get the fly spray (she HATES fly masks and promptly rubs them off). This at least gets rid of Pilot, who is traumatized by spray bottles and goes nuts at the feel of the descending droplets. He even tries to duck out when I rub it on with a cloth, so for the moment the tractor, et al, are safe from his attentions. He's too busy watching me to see if I'm going to attack him with the fly spray.

As I climb on the tractor again to drive off, Pilot blocks my exit by presenting his butt to be scratched, knowing full well that I won't. Nellie gazes at me wistfully before turning to examine the new hole in her pile again. I slap Pilot's butt to encourage him to move; insulted, he moves off and glares at me over his shoulder. Tough, buddy, I've got things to do. I race them to the gate and manage to get the tractor and barrow through without also introducing two Thoroughbreds to the wonders outside the pasture. Do I want a third trip? No. Thankfully, it is now raining (thanks so much, guys, for the delay). I drive the tractor up to the house, park it beside the spot that needs filling, and trudge in to have lunch and write this post.

At least neither of them is as nosy or determined as Kalup was, that fiddler par excellence. I once had to mow an area that had never been kept short, so the grass was a couple of feet tall in places. A push mower is really not designed for this. Mine kept choking out every minute or so, which meant I spent a lot of time yanking the start rope. Kalup, who was munching said grass inside a temporary hot wire fence, kept watching me through all this but keeping his distance from the noise. However, when I walked away to help my husband and my brother-in-law hang a gate between this area and the regular pasture, Kalup seized his chance. He walked right over to the lawnmower and grabbed that starter rope handle. Fortunately for all of us, the mower also had a safety bar that had to be depressed at the same time the rope was pulled for it to start. Kalup was frustrated in his ambitions to start that thing, but I sure would have loved to have seen him do it. I know we could have won big money on America's Funniest Home Videos!

I love my horses. I love that they trust me and like me enough to want to come check out what I'm doing all the time. It is my choice to not run them off, in part because I like watching them exercise their curiosity and I'm always interested in what they will do. Your fictional characters may have much less patience, or much greater urgency, in whatever brings them into proximity with loose horses and tools. You can certainly write a great scene with personable horses and exasperated people, and have every bit of it be perfectly authentic. The horses will show up as though magnetized the second you get down to work, so take advantage of it and have some fun with your scene.

Until next time, happy writing, and don't forget to check out The Mask of God to see how I use my own fictional horses.