Life

um, why aren't i a superhero yet?

I think I’ve put my finger on a problem.

We live in an age of instant gratification – we want things and we want things now dammit! (WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU CAN DELIVER THIS TOMORROW? THE DAY AFTER YOU SAY?! THAT’S TERRIBLE! HOW DARE YOU! WHAT ERA DO YOU LIVE IN – THE STONE AGE?)

For example:

I would like to have Project If published, and a trilogy of Our Intrepid Heroine professionally edited with sparkling new front covers – all ready to be released into the world.

I’d like to be so physically fit that if a vine suddenly appeared before me, I could swing on it and not fall off.

I’d like to speak several languages. Perfectly.

I’d like to be able say: why YES, I do think that the economy is going downhill. Just compare it to the statistics of 1970 when blah blah said blah blah in blah paragraph two … just like Churchill predicted.

I’d like to have a blog with regular posts and maybe a newsletter full of HILARIOUS doings.

AND I WANT IT ALL RIGHT. NOW.

I’m blaming Amazon Prime – it’s given me unrealistic expectations.

Begrudgingly, I’m learning what I’ve known for some time but haven’t wanted to accept: that life is spent in waiting periods and in steady step-by-step-keep-going days.

I know – it would be so much easier to have a ‘working montage’ to upbeat music:

DA DAAA HERE IS NESS TYPING DA DAAAA HERE’S ALL THE CUPS OF TEA SHE’S CONSUMED AND LOOK HOW THEY’VE BUILT UP AND GROWN MOLDY DA DAAA HERE’S HER SLAPPING HER MANUSCRIPT ONTO AN EDITOR’S DESK DA DA DAAAA HERE’S HER BOOK BEING MADE DA DA DAAA HERE’S READERS ALL OVER THE WORLD READING HER BOOK DA DAADADAADADADA HERE’S NESS LAUGHING HUMBLY AT HER ENORMOUSLY WELL-RECEIVED AND INTELLECTUALLY STUNNING WORK-OF-ART.

But alas, this is not how life works. Or at least, this is not how my life works. Yours may be different. (1, TELL ME YOUR SECRETS and 2, HOW DARE YOU.)

I didn’t win NaNoWriMo – I tried, but as a movie once put it: life … finds a way [to stop you writing.]

Is that an excuse? Probably. But I started a book and I intend to finish it because a) it’s funny [well. To me] and b) it deals with something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

I told myself ‘ah, just put in a few 10k word days – it’ll be done … no problem!’ because doing it in big chunks is so much better than a little perseverance and elbow grease.

(AND ALSO I HAVE VERY REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS AND TOTALLY WRITE 10 THOUSAND WORDS IN A SINGLE DAY ALLLLL THE TIME.)

(Also – imagine if it was elbow geese. Hahahahahaha.)

It’s December and a new year is dawning.

I’m going to try and be patient – with myself, with my projects, with life, with … everything. I’m going to try and learn that big things happen because of small actions carried out every day.

I’m going to edit Project If and I’m going to round-house kick the frustration that wails: BUT MUUUUMMM WHY CAN’T MY BOOK BE PERFECT STRAIGHT AWAAAAAYYYY.

(Because your first draft was trash, Jimmy*! TRASH!!)

*I have no idea who Jimmy is.

**also round-house kicks would leave me on the floor with a pulled muscle. No. With SEVERAL pulled muscles.

Recountings

hooray for Deb Grantham!

***mild spoilers ahead***

I’ve ranted and raved about the Heyer in which the heroine shoots the hero. How about the Heyer in which the heroine kidnaps the hero? Guys. I am ALL over that.

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Faro’s Daughter

by YOU’LL NEVER GUESS WHO

So let me set this raving and rambling post up: Miss Deborah Grantham has ended up – through no fault of her own – assisting her aunt in running a gambling establishment. There’s a young lord – Adrian – who has fallen in love with her and the young lord’s cousin – Mr. Max Ravenscar – who is determined to stop him from marrying Deb.

He meets with Deb Grantham. And in the process of doing this, He With The Suitably Wonderous Name (Ravenscar, people. RAVENSCAR) manages to thoroughly and completely offend her.

Deb Grantham  – who was never even considering marrying Adrian – vows to make Ravenscar pay, by pretending to do the very thing. Because obviously that is the only option – nay! the only reasonable course of action.

She doesn’t like Ravenscar. She detests him. If he were a slug, she’d dump a whole bag of salt on him.

“Oh, if I were a man, to be able to call him out, and run him through, and through, and through!”

Lady Bellingham [Deb’s Aunt], who appeared quite shattered, said feebly that you could not run a man through three times.

“At least, I don’t think so,” she added. “Of course, I never was present at a duel, but there are always seconds, you know, and they would be bound to stop you.”

“Nobody would stop me!” declared Miss Grantham blood-thirstily. “I would like to carve him into mincemeat!”

Miss Grantham, by the way, is quintessentially awesome. (Also, she is sort of falling in love with Ravenscar, but don’t tell her that.)

Ravenscar has an incredibly low opinion of her – and makes it known. So Miss Grantham has …

A strong inclination to burst into tears accompanied these more violent ambitions, and was followed almost immediately by a resolve to punish Mr Ravenscar in the most vindictive way open to her, and a perfectly irrational determination to show him that she was every bit as bad as he imagined her to be, if not worse.

I am rubbing my hands together gleefully, folks. GLEE. FULL. Y.

WITH MANY OTHER THINGS HAPPENING TOO – a bet, a runaway etc etc … Ravenscar attempts to pay Miss Grantham off.

As you can imagine, it does not go down well.

Miss Grantham’s scheme grows more and more outrageous – and hilarious. And it all culminates in one perfectly delicious series of events. (A KIDNAPPING!! A HILARIOUS KIDNAPPING IN A MANNER THAT ONLY HEYER COULD PULL OFF! I will leave you the following quote to whet your appetite:

‘Will you have some more wine, sir?’ asked Deborah, apparently conscious of her duties as his hostess.

‘No,’ said Ravenscar baldly.

‘You are not very polite!’ she said.

‘I do not feel very polite. If you care to untie my ankles, however, I will engage to offer you my chair.’

My dudes, read this one. It’s hysterical. It’s witty. It’s a romantic comedy with the best of them. An entire blacksmith’s forge worth of sparks fly between the main characters. I love it – and you will too.

(ALSO THE HEROINE KIDNAPS THE HERO. DID I MENTION THAT?)

Characters, I think I just rambled, On Writing

writing wrestling – failure, me, and my characters

Of all the scenes I’ve ever written, there’s one that stands particularly vivid in my memory. It’s part of a trilogy that I wrote and the character – Nefna – is just having an awful time. Not an ‘arghhh I forgot that my tea was cold and also this isn’t my tea this is old mouthwash and WHAT HAVE I DONE’ day. But a ‘I HAVE BEEN MISTAKEN FOR THE WRONG PERSON AND I AM GOING TO DIE but on the plus side the snow’s dope’ day.

She’s kneeling on some flagstones and her blood is staining the snow and it’s just SO dramatic and terrible. I think I may have had tears in my eyes; it felt very real and vivid. One of those magic moments that happens when you truly connect to the story you’re weaving.

But despite that, that’s something that happens to Nefna. It’s not her fault. It’s just a huge misunderstanding that she’s going along with because of VERY VALID REASONS. It’s not a personal failure. (THE JUSTICE SYSTEM AND SOMEONE’S EYESIGHT – THOSE HAS FAILED HER.) but she hasn’t.

And I think, that I don’t let my characters fail as much as I should. As someone who hates failure – I mean, who doesn’t? and takes it to a dramatic level …

PAUSE FOR EXPLANATION:

There was this one time that I was doing this work and I did it WRONG and basically it was awful and no good. Did I react maturely?

NO. You bet your sainted peanut I DID NOT.

I ran up the garden and climbed a tree. And considered a life of nomadic Tarzan-ing but with more clothes and FAR LESS MUSCLE. And so much shame and guilt.

That’s me. And yes, that was young me. But my gosh, I still do that inside.

If anyone else fails – you bet I’ll be there, thrusting both hands out to help them up. I can’t bear to see people fail. I can’t bear it because when they do it, I feel it. And it sucks. Because it does.

I think I have this issue with my characters – I can’t bear to let them fail. I can’t let them because it’s painful and killmenow to write. I haven’t noticed properly until quite recently, but I can see how it has seeped into my subconscious and oozed out of my fingertips.

(Also. That analogy was icky. I beg your pardon.)

But I think I’m going to let them fail a little more. And perhaps – be kinder to myself when I fail as well. After all, it’s pretty prideful to expect constant perfection of myself. Or, like, any perfection.

We’re flawed and we fail but we’ve got God and so it’s okay.

And my characters … they’re going to fail, and it will hurt and I won’t enjoy writing it. But perhaps it will help me a little as well. I wouldn’t say writing is therapy, but I would say that I look back and see myself reflected. Glinting at me through the sentences. A little piece here and there.

I’ve always thought that I was disassociated – even divorced – from my stories. That they and I were different things entirely. Ha! But I WAS WRONG.

I look back and see – hopes, dreams, bad spelling – all of it.

And maybe I’ll look back and see failure and won’t be horrified. Won’t want to bury myself in a pit of dark duvets. Or travel to the tip-top of a high mountain and be a monk, looking serene and untroubled and having my meals delivered by an elaborate system of pulleys that I’ve already have-planned.

So, here’s to failure.

To forgiving and learning and dusting yourself off and continuing on regardless.

On Writing

i totally didn’t kidnap deborah o’carroll for an interview. pfft.

I HAVE ANOTHER GUEST … I KNOW, I KNOW – am I being slightly over social? I’ve agonised about it, but I think it’s going to be okay.

I have the glorious Deborah O’Carroll with me – of her own free will (!!!!) – so sit yourself down (or don’t), grab a cup of tea (or coffee or NOTHING!) and settle in; we’re in for (another) treat.

***DON’T READ ON … if you don’t want book recommendations, VITAL TIPS on participating in NaNoWriMo, and a banquet of scintillating conversation***

Quick! A confirmed book-hater is heading your way – what’s the book you lob at their head to make them change their mind?

That all depends on if it needs to be a thick book (in order to knock some sense into them) or simply the best book! Or maybe both! In the first case, a dictionary should do the trick. In the second, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, because it’s my absolute favorite! Or if both, then a hardcover single-volume edition of The Lord of the Rings because it’s huge AND the best, a.k.a. my other absolute favorite! (Yes, I can have two — shush — because I’m making up the rules here!)

Stories – what draws you to them?

What DOESN’T draw me to them? I love the way stories can draw me into a new world to explore, with characters who feel like friends, and can show me new things about life in an interesting way. But mostly I love the FUN of stories because life is too short to not have fun. 😛

… and what’s the one thing that would make you hurl a book across the room in mild disgust/ferocious loathing? Or maybe you have two things. OR THREE!! DO TELL!

Killing off a favorite character = number one cause of hurling books in loathing. XD UNACCEPTABLE. Ahem. Also having a tragic ending. Worse if it’s both together! (Milder cases also include: being super dark, being super dystopian, or, sometimes, love triangles. XD)

What’s something that you’ve read that’s really, truly impacted your life?

OH BOY. Many things, but one that leaps to mind right now is Stephen R. Lawhead’s Bright Empires series. That impacted me in multiple ways (like pounding into my head that coincidences doesn’t exist), but the biggest was in the character of Mina. She was the first female character I’ve read who I WANT TO BE (other than Eowyn and Princess Eilonwy, but hello, who doesn’t want to be them?), and showed me things about the kind of person I want to be, and that you can survive — nay, thrive — in totally unexpected ways. (For some reason, the usual Accepted List for those entering their twenties seems to be one of three options: have a 9-5 job, get married, or go to college. Leaving out the fourth option, which is doing your own thing!) Mina is whisked out of her humdrum modern London existence and thrust into 1600s Prague in an alternate timeline. Instead of wallowing, she gets out there and DOES SOMETHING, and it’s sort of spoilers to go on too much about it, but she basically becomes an entrepreneur with the bestest kaffeehaus ever. She carves a place for herself in the world while being the nicest and bravest person and CAN I BE HER? She’s a major role-model, and definitely one of the reasons I’m an editor today. Mina’s the actual bomb and I love her! (And she also reminds us that, you know, if you happen to be stuck in 1600s Prague — in case that’s somewhere on your vacation list — even if you love it there, it’s okay to be missing 21st century showers.)

Is there a book that you haven’t yet read but would like to AND ARE YOU GOING TO WRITE IT?

YOU BET. SO MANY. I have a list. XD I want an excellent world-hopping book with all of the whimsy (in the Diana Wynne Jones tradition). I want a Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling. I want a super epic, awesome (but also fun!) urban fantasy heist book that’s not super gritty. I totally have plans to write all of these! Preferably soon! Those are just on the top of my wishlist. 😀

How do you fit writing into your day-to-day life – what’s your routine?

Um. I don’t. *hysterical laughter* I have been far too busy this year to keep up a regular writing schedule, so I don’t even remember what regular writing IS LIKE. I just write if I have time to fit it in. However, I’m going to make room for it during the insanity that’s NaNoWriMo, and I’ll probably fit it in my writing in the mornings (oh, say it’s not so) or late at night. I don’t really have a “routine” but I should probably make one, at least for November. *nervous laughter to join the hysterical laughter so they can be best buddies and my constant companions throughout the coming month*

What keeps you motivated? Not in a ‘ah, look I just might do this’ way but more ‘ARGHHH THERE’S A T-REX AFTER ME LET ME RUN IN HEELS TOWARDS MY GOAL!!!’?

Firstly, I’m not a heels person, so I promise I’d be in much more sensible footwear for running from T-Rexes toward goals or in any other direction. And secondly, deadlines! They are both the bane of my existence and the power to my engine. Sometimes I think they’re the only reason I get anything done. XD There’s nothing like having that review book due tomorrow or that NaNoWriMo clock ticking down toward the Final End of Doom to get you in gear with a healthy (or unhealthy? Who’s counting) dose of panic. And as far as writing goals, I’m kept motivated by having a lovely writer friend who keeps me accountable, and I know I’ll have to admit I didn’t finish the thing if I miss my goal, so that’s a total motivator!

Is there anything you wish you’d have known when you first started out as a freelancer?

Things about time and money and organization. XD It sounds obvious, but one should always know these things. Like that Taxes Are the Bane of Life, and also the golden rule: Things Always Take Longer Than You Think (so you should make more time for them than you thought you needed, and should probably charge more than you do. *nervous laughter*). Oh, and detailed record-keeping. Hugely important. You learn all these things fairly quickly, but it’s nice to know them in advance. 😛

As a copy editor/proofreader – what’s the number one mistake that you see writers make in their manuscripts?

Incorrectly punctuated dialogue and dialogue tags. MY WORD. Everyone has done it at some point, so I understand that it’s hard (I was there once, myself, as a smol writer, before I knew better — or rather as a young writer, since I am and always will be smol. #heightchallenged) but once you learn it, it’s not ALL that difficult to do properly. The easiest way to remember it is to think: “Would this make sense as a sentence if I removed the quotation marks?”

AND LASTLY: You’re doing NaNoWriMo … can you give a hot tip on HOW ON EARTH TO SURVIVE IT – NAY THRIVE?!

Two things! Timers, and STAY AHEAD.

Timers, because wordsprints/wordwars are your best friends — and you can do them with your other best friends (a.k.a. your writing pals) or even just set a timer and sprint/war against yourself (guaranteed to win!). If sprints aren’t your thing, at least set a timer to make yourself write during that set time (whether it’s ten minutes, twenty minutes, or an hour), and no matter how slow you write, you WILL have words to show for it when the timer “goes ding when there’s stuff!” (In this case, the stuff is words. And, if we’re very lucky, also story.) Then take a quick break before starting again. When the timer’s running, you may not do ANYTHING other that write, which includes checking the internet!

My other brief tip is to make sure you stay on par each day as much as possible — or get ahead if you have extra time, so that you can skip a few days later on, which will also happen, because Life is a Thing. But once you dip below that daily goal, it’s going to be mentally harder to catch up, so staying on track is HUGE. 1667 words per day. If you haven’t quite made it, set that timer again and soon you will! You can do the thing! I believe in you and so do all those unwritten words waiting for you! (And also all of our characters, who will quietly judge us if we don’t write them more, so that’s also a great motivator. *cough*)

Thanks for having me, Ness — your questions were highly superior and I had a blast being here! Huzzah! And thanks, blogly readers, for putting up with my rambunctious ramblings and exclamation point addiction!

Thank YOU for popping over!


You can politely stalk Deborah on her website here and read about her recent millionth word mark right here. If you want YOUR dialogue to be perfectly tagged and punctuated, head over right here.

(And if you just want to smile – go right here.)

On Writing

i kidnapped suzannah rowntree for an interview (again)

Guys! Guys! I did it again! I kidnapped Suzannah Rowntree for ANOTHER interview – marvel at my prowess! Gasp at my skill! Today, we have a veritable feast of scintillating conversation, conspiracy theories about the Crusades, hot tips on researching historical novels and A BOOK ON OFFER AND ONE FOR FREE.

Right now, as you inhale (yes! INHALE!) this post, I shall be in Italy. What I’m doing in Italy, I’m not terribly sure – it’s the day before we’re leaving and I haven’t got a full itinerary ready yet. The hotels are booked but … as for the rest? Who knows. It’s going to be an adventure ‘fo sure.

So while I’m in Italy, Suzannah’s in Australia and you are seated (comfortably, I hope) in a country which I’m certain is lovely … let’s dive in and cross-examine have a nice chat with Suzannah …

Your current series Watchers of Outremer is set against the backdrop of the Crusades, what drew you to this time period?

I’ve always been in love with medieval history, but I was never really interested in the Crusades until I read Ronald Welch’s book Knight Crusader, a classic YA novel dealing with the battle of Hattin and the subsequent Third Crusade – think Richard the Lionheart versus Saladin.

I already knew about Richard and Saladin, of course. What I had somehow missed until then, was why the Third Crusade happened. The reason was that Saladin had just come within an ace of destroying a Frankish-ruled kingdom based in Jerusalem which had occupied the Holy Land for nearly a century since the First Crusade. The main character of Knight Crusaderwas a Frankish boy whose family had lived in Palestine for generations, and who had never even seen Europe. My brain exploded, because I’d always had the impression that crusading was something you went home from.

Why did some of them stay? How did they build this incredibly diverse and unique culture? What was life like for them? What was their relationship with the locals, whether Syriac Christians or Arabic/Turkish Muslims? All the stories I grew up reading about the crusades mostly focused on what happened when you got home from them. None of them focused on what life was like for the people who had roots there, either as Franks who decided to settle down and raise families and build something lasting or as people who had always lived there and were experiencing this unexpected new state of affairs with overlords from across the sea. “Someone should write a story about this,” I thought. It took a while to realise that I was going to be that person.

Little known conspiracy theory about the Crusades – GO!

Ha! OK: who ordered the murder of Raymond II of Tripoli? In the mid-1100s he was knifed by Assassins within view of his gates as he was returning from escorting his wife Hodierna and sister-in-law Melisende, who was ruling Jerusalem as its queen, a short way on their road south.

Hodierna was a famous beauty who inspired the songs of troubadours as far away as France, and one of them was even said to have sailed to Tripoli to die in her arms. Raymond was terribly jealous of her and kept her locked up, which turned their marriage sour. So she was actually leaving him at the time…but when Raymond was knifed, messengers caught up with Hodierna and her sister, and Hodierna then returned to Tripoli and ruled it until the young heir, her son Raymond III, came of age.

So…did Hodierna order the hit on her husband? Some people certainly think so. In fact, I doubt this is true: at the time the Assassins didn’t usually act as hitmen for hire, and Hodierna was already leaving Tripoli with her powerful sister, destined for a comfortable life in the neighbouring kingdom – she didn’t need to kill her husband to get free of him. Much more likely, Raymond was killed by the Assassins in revenge for his allowing the Templars to build a fortress in the mountains of Lebanon, near the Assassin stronghold.

They say that history repeats itself – do you see any repetition in what happened with the Crusades in today’s age?

Great question! Yes…and no? 

In one sense, people are always people, and the things they worry about and the way they act doesn’t change a great deal. In another sense, the Crusades were in so very many ways, a manifestation of the most unique things about medievalism. 

My focus, when I’m writing the novels, has been more on faithfully depicting the people as they were rather than drawing parallels to today’s political or religious motifs. That said, one beta reader for The Lady of Kingdoms (Book 2) told me she felt convicted about ethical fashion after reading about textile workers being kept as slaves. That had never crossed my mind, but it’s true that patterns of oppression and exploitation persist in today’s world. Another contacted me to say that the way some characters complacently referred to the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem as a particularly holy entity with God’s special favour, was uncomfortably close to American exceptionalism. Well, obviously, I’m not American and I don’t think that way about either my own country or about America! But when she pointed that out, I couldn’t stop seeing it. The temptation to presume that one’s own tribe has some kind of special divine status that will excuse the vilest deeds is one that humanity across the centuries is prone to.

But I think it’s also important to emphasise that the Crusaders have very limited relevance to world politics today, especially since they have become mascots for things, like white supremacism and racially-motivated terrorism, that would be totally alien to their worldview. Crusaders were primarily religiously motivated in a way that people just aren’t today. They couldn’t care less about banning burkas (their women also wore black veils) or shariah law (scholars believe that Muslim law courts in the crusader states were able to apply a limited form of shariah), and the crusader states spent far more of their time in negotiation or peaceful coexistence than they did in war. It’s preposterous that the Christchurch mosque shooter, for instance, described himself as a “Templar”! To be a Templar, you had to take an oath of poverty, chastity, and obedience to what was at the time a very conservative religious/military institution that answered directly to the Pope. In a nutshell, while there is a growing discomfort today between extremist Islam and extremist white supremacy, it would be false to trace this directly to the crusades. Although both take inspiration from the crusades, they are both drawing on romanticised and weaponised mythologies more than real history. 

Do you have a favourite stage of the writing process? If so, what is it? 

Absolutely my favourite stage is when I’ve written the darn thing and people are telling me how much they loved it.

But my second favourite stage would have to be the drafting process – when the words are flowing and I’m living intensely through the story and feeling super excited about it. There’s a lot of drudgery on both sides of that, but it’s hard to beat the sheer joy of creative flow.

What’s your LEAST favourite stage?

The last few revisions are always the worst. You’ve done all the work and you just want to move on to something new, and you have all these beta readers and editors getting nitpicky about details and every tiny change seems to take immense quantities of blood, toil, tears, and sweat, to coin a phrase. I call it the Grumpy Stage.

What’s your favourite book of 2019?

Haha, you know the answer to this one: M.L. Wang’s The Sword of Kaigen.It’s an Asian-inspired indie fantasy that caught me completely unawares and blew my socks all the way off at the start of the year. It hasn’t exactly been all downhill since then, but I think it’ll be a long time until a story sweeps me away like that again. The heroine is to die for, and it’s one of those books that simmers on a slow, intense burn for pages and pages before erupting into something utterly breathtaking.

[Honestly – that was one of my favourite books too. Can’t thank you ENOUGH for the recommendation.]

What’s a top tip for researching a historical novel?

Don’t wait until you’ve answered all your questions to start writing. But also, start early and don’t stop researching until the book is done. Everything you read will give you inspiration and guidance at every stage of writing and editing.

It also helps to be honest with yourself upfront that you’re guaranteed to make an embarrassing mistake somewhere. It’s OK. It happens to everyone. 

What’s happening soon that you are excited about?

Well, Book 2 in this series, The Lady of Kingdoms releases on the 26thof November! I’m particularly thrilled about this one because it’s probably my favourite instalment of the whole story (which will be 9 books long, DV). Multiple beta readers have told me that it left them feeling slightly giddy. So if you’re up for a mild literary intoxicant, don’t miss this one! It has celestial dragons and people getting assaulted with textiles! 

Thank you, Suzannah for stopping over. Of your own free will.

On a side note – I highly recommend signing up to Suzannah’s newsletter. With juicy tales from history and banging book recommendations, I quite enjoy them.

Suzannah Rowntree lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, researching and writing historical fantasy fiction.

The Watchers of Outremer series began with A Wind from the Wilderness (on sale for just 99c this month!) and Children of the Desolate (free on the author’s website).