Wednesday, March 27, 2013

They are those little lines that use their influence...To help a sentence make more sense!

Good Day Everyone!  Yet another fabulously snowy gray day in Wisconsin.  I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing of Spring in everyone else’s back yard though.  I am simply pea-green with envy.  (Snarl.)

 Lovely bloggers!  Please check your gravatars and make sure there is within them a direct link to your blog.  As of late I have had many wonderful new followers sign on but whenst (?) upon clicking your avatar to go and visit your own fabulous blog, I get a dead end or merely links to the blogs that you follow.  I believe it would just take a trip to your Google profile (or similar ilk) and affixing your blog address under "links”.  Caveat:  The blog link will sometimes work when you leave comments, but not when you are listed as followers.  Anyway, since it is all about networking I thought I would bring it up.  Does anyone else have comments or similar experiences with this?
Okay.  That was tres boring, but I’ve been meaning to bring it up forever, but didn’t because of its tedious nature.

 I know I have waxed and warbled quite a bit about the established pedentry as of late (see:  On Word Count and Other Matters and Debbie Downer and the Dreaded Don'ts ) however, when it comes to punctuation, I shall conform and sign on with zeal. 

“Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss is a fabulous read and a joyful romp into the land of punctuation and its misuse at the hands of the uninformed multitudes.  (Of which I must admit to being a previous soldier in the ranks, though an unwitting one.  The worst kind of soldier!)
I struggle with punctuation quite a bit while writing, especially dialogue. I love the colon and semi-colon, and the much-used, beloved dash.   I have long wished to use them with grace and aplomb but have never sought help.  I try them out, but then—unsure, change everything around so I only have to use the period.  And those grammar and punctuation websites are so…yawn.  Stretch.  Where was I?  Oh, yes—cookies! (You get the picture.)

My overuse of the comma has been shameful to the point of gluttony.  The little buggers are like potato chips.  Why have just one when a whole bag is SO much more gratifying?  Why indeed!  Don’t even get me started on the ellipsis…

With chapters entitled “The Tractable Apostrophe”, “That’ll Do, Comma”  and “Cutting a Dash” this book delivers the goods
in an amusing, entertaining way and will have you guffawing out loud and finding grammatical errors everywhere you look. 
If you get through the preface and find beating in your heart a newfound zeal to master the art of punctuation, this book is for you. (And it  does make one feel so good to know one is perfecting an art so few care to learn—like hurling.  (The kind with a broom. And ice.)
Its’ never too late to learn something new.  (I did that on purpose.)

 Please do check out the new offering by our lovely blogmate Hart Johnson.  I look forward to the read and best of luck to you, Hart! 

The Begonia Bribe: 2nd in the Garden Society Cozy Mystery series by Alyse Carlson (aka: Hart Johnson).
Roanoke, Virginia, is home to some of the country’s most exquisite gardens, and it’s Camellia Harris’s job to promote them. But when a pint-sized beauty contest comes to town, someone decides to deliver a final judgment … A beauty pageant for little girls—the Little Miss Begonia Pageant—has decided to hold their event in a Roanoke park. Camellia is called in to help deal with the botanical details, the cute contestants, and their catty mothers. She soon realizes that the drama onstage is nothing compared to the judges row. There’s jealousy, betrayal, and a love triangle involving local newsman —and known lothario—Telly Stevens. And a mysterious saboteur is trying to stop the pageant from happening at all.  But the drama turns deadly when Stevens is found dead, poisoned by some sort of plant. With a full flowerbed of potential suspects, Cam needs to dig through the evidence to uproot a killer with a deadly green thumb.         

   I’ll close with an observation:  Has anyone noticed the new sandwich McDonalds is touting on their billboards everywhere?  The McWrap.  Seriously?  Say it with me people. 
"Mick-Crap."   Guess who was absent from the boardroom THAT day?

And what does one sandwich in between those two buns?
 ~Just Jill

(Extra points for anyone who can tell me where the title of my blog came from...)




Friday, March 15, 2013

On Word Count and Other Matters

Greetings all.
Thanks so much for all the great comments regarding “Debbie Downer and the Dreaded Don’ts” What fun it was to read your comments and I must say I did enjoy flipping the established pedantry the collective bird.  We are such rebels, aren’t we?  Take that Elmore!!! And that!!!  We are artists!  We shall not be conservative with exclamation marks!!  Hyah!!!!

Some of you may remember my blog entitled “Force-Feeding the Classics”.  Many had fond memories of “Where the Red Fern Grows” in particular.  Well, I force-fed it to my eleven year old and was surprised by how much eye-rolling and groaning accompanied the enforced reading.  It began with making fun of the rather stodgy picture of Wilson Rawls on the back.  (He did look like a bit like a rat-pack gangster.) Then she had the audacity to guffaw at the names “Old Dan” and “Little Ann.”  Eventually she ended up siding with the raccoons!  ("Who’d want to spend two years working to buy dogs just so you could go out and kill raccoons?!  They’re adorable!!")

I finally told her she didn’t have to finish the damn thing but she wanted to find out why everyone always makes such a fuss about the ending and “those dogs better not die after all the time and energy I am putting into reading this book!”  I let her off the hook and that one went back to the library unfinished.  Experiment over.  Back to fairy-land for her.  (Note to readers:  I didn’t re-read it either.)

Lastly a poll:  Do you feel the need to be brief when you write?  I’ve noticed as I’m hitting the 50,000 word-mark in my WIP there’s this nagging feeling that I am taking too long to tell my story.  Now this may stem from a life-time of talking too much, and being told I need to stop talking so much, or it could just be the desire to expedite the story and get to the end already--fer cryin’ out loud! 

The guy in the turtleneck over at Writer’s Digest tells me I’m already past the acceptable word-count mark for MG fiction and explains it is because I don’t know how to edit.  However, Turtleneck assures me that YA word count is “very flexible” but to still shoot for 55,000 to 70,000 words.  Any more than that and I’m “playing with fire”.   
A very nice editor named Jessica over at Bookends made me feel a trifle better with her realistic post on Word Count.  She went for an overall of 80,000. I can live with that—I think.

Well, what’s your feel on this topic Peeps?  Do you pay word counts no-never-mind?  Do you aim for a required number or do you bunch of rabble-rousers fly your own kite in the face of such creative communism?  Weigh in below.  What are you and yours tipping the scales at?  (Yes, I know I ended a sentence with a preposition and somewhere Elmore Leonard is developing a sick headache!!!)

~Just Jill (!!)


Sunday, March 10, 2013

An Interview with Author Alison Deluca

Hi Everyone,
Recently I have had the pleasure of reading Alison Deluca’s superb book, “Night Watchman Express”, the first of four in her “Crown Phoenix” series.   I was delighted by the book, which kept me up reading each night much later than I wanted to be—my barometer for a good read.  Many of you are probably readers of Alison’s charming blog “Fresh Pot of Tea” but perhaps you have not yet had the chance to indulge in one of her steampunk fantasy novels.  I thought to share the wealth of a good read and asked Alison if she might do an interview… and she graciously agreed! 

Oh—and If you would like to read the “Crown Phoenix” series yourself, there is a giveaway (courtesy of Ms. DeLuca herself) at the end of the interview!

And so, without further ado…

An interview with author and steampunk maven ALISON DELUCA

*What inspired you to write the Crown Phoenix series and when did this whole journey start for you?

I think that inspiration is part coincidence and part mystery. I was playing around with an adventure story about four kids – two boys and two girls – who would encounter villains  and new countries as well as desperate danger.      
While I was at my desk, plotting out the story, I put on a CD by Angelique Kidjo, a wonderful singer from Benin.  Her songs made me think about Mana, my lovely governess who is so elegant and intelligent.

As I wrote about Miriam – my scrappy, filthy orphan – and her meeting with Mana, out of the blue I got an idea for the Crown Phoenix, a quantum computer that could bend time and space – but one that would exist in Edwardian times.

From there, the adventure simply took off.

Is there really a Crown Phoenix machine?

Of course there is! I have one in an old trunk up in my attic. Once I’ve finished raising my daughter, I plan on activating the device and visiting Lampala. Who wants to come along for the ride?

Ummm.  Me? Please?  (interviewer raised hand here…)

When did you realize you were writing a four book series and not just one book?

I set out to write a three book series at first. In fact, Night Watchman comprises the first two volumes, and the story is completed in Devil’s Kitchen. However, there was much more to add; in particular, I wanted to discover what became of Neil’s family, and I also had to find out how Miriam and Simon’s relationship turned out! After a long hiatus, I returned to the series and wrote The Lamplighter’s Special and now The South Sea Bubble. They are books three and four and the end of the series.

This was the first “steampunk” book I have read. (But not the last…)  For readers unfamiliar with this genre, (as I was) Wikipedia defines steampunk as : a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery,  especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Therefore, steampunk works are often set in an alternate history of the 19th century's British Victorian era or American "Wild West", in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power.  

Did you choose steampunk to represent your book’s genre post publication or did you set out to write a steampunk series?

I always loved the very first steampunk authors: Doyle, Wells and Verne. I think I was influenced by their books on some level. After I wrote my books and went back to them, I realized I had written some steamy stuff. And by steamy, I mean that my world is powered by steam engines!

My books don’t include airships or clockwork men, but I think that those things don’t have to be a given in steampunk.

 The first book is entitled “Night Watchman Express”. I think that title captures the essences of the steampunk vibe very well, but I was curious as to what moved you to name the book after the story’s mysterious train, when it plays a rather minor (albeit pivotal) role in the story.  Do you see it as the vehicle for the following books?

Great question! Another inspiration for the book was a poster I gave my sister of a train called “The Scotsman” that showed an old engine surrounded by billows of smoke. For some reason I saw it as a very eerie image and devised my own Night Train that would run at midnight for nefarious purposes.

I fell in love with the name of the train and added it to Crown Phoenix. But of course, the book is really centered on Miriam, Simon, Neil, Riki, and my own gorgeous Mana.

I found your characters so vivid and memorable.   From the main characters like defiant Miriam, Simon and Neil and of course the enigmatic Mana, to scrubby Riki and her family, and then there’s fabulous Odjo the cook, (does he do catering on the side?) and even that uppity snoop Mandayala.  Did you have a favorite character you especially enjoyed creating?  Was there a character that was challenging for you to write?

Thanks! Creating characters is my favorite part of writing, and of all of them I really had the most fun with Barbara. She’s so beautiful and really evil at the same time – plus a bit of a cougar as well.

But I love the others too: Riki was a delight, and Simon was a blast as well. I thought he would be one-dimensional at first, but he really grew on me, with his loyalty and stubbornness.

And then there’s my Miriam, filled with anger just on the verge of growing up into a young lady. Mana saves her from becoming feral, and in the end it is her own anger that saves her.

The beautiful island paradise of Lampala sounds simply marvelous.  The food, the customs, their way of dress, the architecture, is all just so sumptuous!  (I’m still craving fried plantain and honey-rolls with nuts!)  Did you use any linguistic models for the Lampalan language or did you just come up with it on the fly? Oh—and what does “Ipa” mean?

Aha! Ipa means ‘Hey!’ or “Oy!’ And now you know that the language was based on Kidjo’s songs and her Benin language. I spent a long time devising Lampalan – thanks so much for noticing it!

And for anyone who hasn’t heard Kidjo’s music, do yourself a favor a give it a listen. It’s like an African version of ABBA, with lyrics that evolve into deepening layers of meaning. I got to see her in concert once, and I’ll never forget her energy and sincere love for her music and the audience.

How did you come up with the setting(s) of mainland vs. islands?  It works well for the story.  I always enjoy having a map in the beginning of a book too.  Was that your idea?

FISTBUMP – I’m a huge map slut. I always loved opening a book and seeing a map of the setting, whether it exists on the globe in reality or not. Narnia and Middle Earth – I’m all about those maps.

I am lucky enough to work and write with Dr. Ross Kitson, an incredibly wonderful author and cartographer. I send him my very basic sketches, and he draws the lovely maps and floor plans for my books. (And I simply must plug his Infinity Bridge book for anyone who loves steampunk and urban fantasy – it’s amazing.)

As for the island setting – that’s one of those things that was a bit of a mystery. Somehow the island of Lampala evolved as I wrote, and I created the language and economy for it.

Lampala is based on the real-life island of Madeira. It has lots of wooded areas, of course, that grow my magical Bolemor trees. As well, it was very important that my island population was NOT colonial in nature but rather a thriving, independent people who had their own art, architecture, and (as you pointed out!) culinary skills.

Can you tell us a bit about your publishing journey?  Was this series your first foray into being published?  Did you initially market your book(s) as a series or as a single book?  Did you/do you have an agent? 

The Crown Phoenix series has always been an Indie venture. I’ve met amazing people along the way, and I’ve learned some very important lessons – how to guard oneself from the wolves who are all too ready to pounce, alas, as well as how to produce a polished, mature work for my readers. And, yes, Crown Phoenix started as a single book. Once it went to print, we saw that it was far too long to be one single volume. Although I do fantasize of one hardcover omnibus edition…. Perhaps in the future!

Can you tell us a bit about Myrddin Publishing?

Yes! Myrddin is a writers’ collective. We self-publish under the Myrddin name and meet every day on Facebook. Our authors are international and very talented. We include Ross Kitson, whom I mentioned, as well as Carlie Cullen, Connie Jasperson, Ceri Clark, Shaun Allan, Kathleen Barker, Gary Hoover… and many other lovely people. It’s a fun group, and I’m very lucky to have found such an amazing support system.

What’s going on in your writing world at the moment?

I just finished The South Sea Bubble, the fourth book in the series. It’s going through edits and beta readers at the moment, and I hope to publish in April or May.

What’s next for you?

I have a new book started. It’s a completely different world from the Crown Phoenix books, with new characters and plots… and of course I have a few other books inside that crowded turret room I call a brain, just waiting to be born.

You can find me here:

Twitter -

Crown Phoenix: Night Watchman Express is available on Amazon US :

Thanks so much for having me on the blog. This was a blast!

And thank you Alison!  How fun for me to read a book and then get to pump the author with questions!  I’ve enjoyed learning all these juicy tidbits about “Night Watchman Express” and the “Crown Phoenix” series. (I’ve always been a foot-note-kinda-gal.)  I look forward to savoring the other two books, and just let me know when we leave for Lamapala…

~Just Jill




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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Debbie Downer and the Dreaded Don'ts

Greetings to all my Insecure Brethran and Sisterns (?) out there.  Today's offering comes from a very Vitamin D-deprived-seasonally- depressed writer who has yet another super-sized order of snow looming in her forecast—again!  Sorry for the sass-fest but I feel the need to whine and who but you could better commiserate with my self-doubts and insecurities in a matter such as this?

As of late I have been reading much of what NOT to write.  Some of my favorite bloggers have been partisan to the sharing  of this information, and I mean no disrespect, for you have offered it fairly and with many well-placed caveats, but honestly, I’m far too fragile for such fodder.  I get a sick head-ache from contemplating the all too familiar pedestrian nature of my own writing, so apparently filled with these foibles and faux pas, it makes me want to chew a few Bufferin, find the nearest divan and faint dead-away. 

You know what I’m talking about.  The dreaded LIST.  “The top ten things never to put in your fiction” kinda parasitical lists that stalk the writing world looking to bloodsuck the creative juices out of every unconfident, neophyte writer out there. 
For the sake of this post I too shall have to indulge in further propagation of these evil weeds, which take root in my tender subconscious, make honest writers seize up, hedge in their tracks and ponder their own eloquence and flow. The List seems to grow exponentially, as negative things are wont to do, and includes, but is not limited to several of the commandments listed below:  (The snarky comments in parenthesis are mine.)

*Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.  (Keep ‘em guessing is my motto!)

*Don't go into great detail describing places and things. (Sense of place is like—so last year!)

*Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue and never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" as in “ He said gravely.”   (Now we’ve NEVER seen this done, right?)

*Never use “ing” verbs or “ly” adverbs.  (Effing Hell.  Total rewrite.)

*Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.  (Bummer!!!!!)

Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation.  (Yet suddenly, I want one.)

Show don’t tell. (Everybody’s favorite!)

Be specific; not vague.  (How vague is THAT?)

Avoid using: Really, you, feel, think, as, a lot, sort of, kind of, like, just and used to.  (There goes my word count.)

 See now?  I’ve gone and given myself an eye twitch.   I find this list is also affecting my reading, as I have been programmed and directed to turn over all infractions to the literary police, and they are everywhere!  (The infractions--not the police.)

This type of creative coercion was made popular by author Elmore Leonard in his book "Ten Rules of Writing" (above) and is still regarded by many as the bar for excellence  though this is the man who also brought you this:

So, in the spirit of “growing as an artist” and “developing my craft” I thought, “Let’s give it a shot, shall we?  Give it the old college try?”  So I took a sample of my latest WIP and subjected it to the austere standards of  The List:  I removed  the superfluous verbiage, those irascible exclamation marks, and all the redundant, excessive, unnecessary words that so clutters my elementary prose and I was truly amazed by the results!  This is what I was left with:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

Well I’ll be damned.  It worked.
~Just Jill

Get you the heck back to the IWSG list!