Category Archives: Shadowlands: The Hand of Darkness

You Are What You Read

The thought has crossed my mind a few times lately. Being pregnant, I’ve never been more aware of how the food I eat directly impacts my body and the little (girl!) growing inside of me, and I can’t help but notice a similar trend when it comes to what I read, and watch.

People have compared my writing to CS Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia”. Well guess what? I grew up on the stuff. My parents read the entire series to me several times over when I was a kid. These books are so ingrained into my skull that I have to fight to eradicate the kindly English accent in my head that pops up whenever I write.

After that came Madeline L’Éngles’ books and by the time I hit grade three, I tackled Lord of the Rings for the very first time (took me a few years but I did it in the end). While living in Germany, the first English books I encountered were the Harry Potter series. At the time I the Shadowlands books were nothing more than a vague dream but the experience of wandering the German countryside (I read as I walk) with a book of magic in my hand stuck to me more than I’d like to admit.

I picked up a darker satirical edge from Simon R Green. Throw in a pinch of that great TV series ‘Firefly’, and you come out with an adventure fantasy series primarily aimed at pre-teens and teen boys.

The second Shadowlands book does feel different. Probably because it reflects a different time of life. I’ve been married and settled back in my home town for a few years, and I’ve got a baby in the oven. My life experiences revolve less around globetrotting and more around the relational complexities of family. Tavin’s shares a large part of the story with his sister Moreanna. Family loyalty seems to be a major theme in this second book…

But back to reading and eating. I still have to claim my initial influences (Lewis, LÉngle and Tolkien), but I’ve been reading a lot more Anne Rice lately, as well as some other more ‘grown up’ fantasy books. I’m not sure if I should admit it, but I’ve also been hooked on the TV series ‘Supernatural’ lately. The influence on my writing is probably slightly more than subconscious. 😛 If you ever read my next book ‘The Hand of Darkness’ see if you can spot it. Heh heh.

But what about dessert? My guilty pleasure has always been westerns. I know. It seems a little out of left field. But when it’s cold and rainy and I’m feeling down Louie L’Amour is who I reach for. Which is why… against the the strong objections of my husband (who thinks it’s a horrible idea), I’ve begun writing a western. 🙂 The best part is the reactions I get when I tell people. I get these blank looks as they try and process the idea. The conversation usually goes something like this:

“…so… it’s a time travel book?” “Nope. It’s a western.”

“So how do your characters get there?”

“In the west? They are born there.”

“Are there aliens or something?”

“Nope. It’s a western.”

“Do they have superpowers?”

“It’s a western. They shoot guns.”

… you get the idea. Personally, I’ve never had more fun writing a book then when I write this one. I can hardly wait to share it! Vampires? What vampires? Trust me, I’ve decided the market’s ripe: westerns are the new ‘it’. If you’re smart, you’ll write one too. 😛


Writing a series

Among other things, I’m busily working away on my next book. For those of you tackling something similar, I thought I’d record a few thoughts on what I think goes into writing a successful series here.

The light bulb turned on with Harry Potter. I really enjoyed the books and followed them all the way to the end… but for me, it wasn’t the plot.

I returned to the Harry Potter books because of the richly imagined world JK Rowling built. I’m convinced that it was the strength of her world that made her such a marketing sensation and kept us all reading. You know what I mean: you bought the scarf… JK Rowling’s world was big enough for us all.

Another example of an amazing series is the Nightside books by Simon Green (definitely not YA, or for the mildly squeamish… there are things in these books that you’ll never forget). Yes, the world Simon Green creates is amazing but I believe the real strength of the writing lays in one of the strongest character voices I’ve come across.

And that I think this is key. To write a successful series, the second ingredient is a character who refuses to die or even live happily ever after. They have to be so big that we remain captivated by the awe and horror of their lives. They need to be constantly evolving, struggling and reinventing themselves. And absolutely memorable.

Finally, I think the third secret ingredient needs to be dangling subplots… nothing too big (I like to feel as if I’ve read a whole story when I put down a book), but just enough that the reader can feel like there’s more to come. It’s very satisfying to discover the answer to a subplot several books down the line.

So there are my thoughts. Hopefully with some planning and a little luck I’ll be able to work some of these thoughts into my next book, Shadowlands: The Hand of Darkness!

Stuck in the Middle

The manuscript for my second book should be done now… but I’m flagging. I seem to be having trouble sitting still and focusing on my book for long periods of time. I have, I’ve realized, a common case of the horrible middle blues.

There can be many reasons for this, but an interesting one I’ve recently read about is a clash between the outlined plot of the story, and the characters who drive the story. Outlines are a the best way to harness a story, but my experience is that art can be a slippery thing to handle.

Sometimes your characters just don’t want to follow the outline. You spend the whole beginning of your book developing a character, but when you reach the point of enthusiastically releasing him into the middle of the story: he flounders.

Characters may strike out unexpectedly or overreact emotionally… sometimes you are forced to make them do things that seem out of character and then you wast time trying to explain just why they did… all in the name of sticking to your outline.

So if you are like me, perhaps it’s time to disseminate your outline and return to the point in your story that you loved the best. Now listen to your characters. What do they want to do?

Or I suppose,

I could kill them all and start anew.

I bid you now ado.



Why We Need Friends

It’s a lonely lonely world out there… or at least it can be if you’re a writer. Our work and nature tends to be reclusive and total isolation is never a good thing. That’s why my beloved writer’s group (Writing In Progress) is changing my life.

WIP is an awesome place to get honest critique in a safe environment. We just had our very first writing retreat together and well… this is what I did for two days…

(They made me pose like this because they say I tap my lips with my fingers whenever the writing’s going good. Apparently I also I rub my chin and frown when I’m struggling. I don’t believe it.

On I side note… I’ve been invited to play poker with several of the members anytime I want)

Annnndddd. Just in case you’re wondering what REALLY goes on at a writing retreat. This is what everybody else did:

So pretty awesome huh? We set goals, wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote. We ate and discussed our progress and then wrote more. In the evenings after dinner we read what we’d worked on aloud and got critique back. And then went hot tubbing.

I can’t remember having so much fun. I can be really shy and I loved hanging out in a group where I had no problem being exactly myself. We often wrote together in the same room and it was really fun to be able to look up from my work and ask “how long is it okay to delay revealing the main conflict in a story if the inciting incident doesn’t happen for 50 pages?”…

They understood. They cared. And they answered back!

Book 3: Day 11

Or… the eleventh day that I’ve sat down to work on this book. In reality it’s been kicking around for months. But hey, I’ve written 15,000 words (1700 today!) so I’m pretty happy.

I have a goal to reach somewhere between 20-25 K before my writers group on the 15th. I happen to know for a fact that if they weren’t there to keep me accountable and focused I’d watch more mythbusters on my writing days. 🙂

Until later then! Gotta go talk contracts with my publisher! 🙂

Goblin Fart

So time has gone by- I’ve been busy editing the first book in my series and getting it ready for *yip* publication. Now that the manuscript is back in the hands of my lovely publisher I’ve had some time to work on my next book, and I must say… it’s been fun.

I’ve noticed I can tend towards the silly side in my writing- which is probably perfect for fifteen-year-old boys (my ideal audience) but I had to sit back today and wonder if I’ve just overdone it… take this little beauty I wrote this morning:

In the movies, goblins always wore rags and loincloths, or dark wicked-looking armour. This one wore a pair of jeans, a stained yellow t-shirt and a puffy hunting vest.

In the dim light, from far away, she guessed the goblins could have slipped into town to light the fires and possibly go unnoticed. Up close however, it was hard to miss the rusted machete hanging from the goblin’s belt–or the smell.

The odour was like rotten blood and stale musk. Moreanna couldn’t help but remember the leaky infection she’d seen on the back of a stray dog, or the mold-slimed pizza she’d had to pull out of a garbage can. The goblin smelled worse than both of them put together. Moreanna buried her nose deep into her arm and held her breath as the goblin drew nearer.

To her horror, it stopped right in front of her. Moreanna began to squirm. She risked a small breath and choked. She pressed her lips tightly together, ignoring her lungs’ demand for oxygen. The goblin slid the machete back into his belt and lifted a leg partly off the ground.

Moreanna, on the verge of passing out, pinched her nose and opened her mouth for a desperate breath.

The goblin farted.

She gagged and toppled over. Choking, she scrambled backwards, sliding deeper into the ditch. She wanted to tear her tongue out. She’d swallowed a lungful of goblin fart and nothing could ever remove the taint of it from her mouth. She could never kiss a boy again.

So what do you think? Should I keep it?


A dark and stormy night…

I learned something new today.

I learned about two easy traps to fall into when you’re opening a scene. These are called ‘weather openings’ and ‘landscape openings’. Apparently beginning a new section of your book with a lengthy and poetic description of either of these things is cleche and way overused. Thinking back on how many times I do this very thing I guess I’m forced to reluctantly agree.

Like anything however, once you know the rule- you can break it. But you have to do it with style and knowledge. If you must start with the weather relate it DIRECTLY to some gigantic emotional inner turmoil your POV character is having. Environment has to do more than just set the stage, it has to be part of it filtered strongly though the eyes of the person that’s viewing it.

I’ve got some tweaking to do. But it’s good, all good…

Scrabbling in the mud

Grrr… such a great start and yet I’m struggling today. Part of the problem is- well I’m a perfectionist when it comes to art. I want every little detail perfect, every sentence layered and tense… I have so much trouble with just letting go and writing without a care… Which translates into me only writing about 600 (I wanted to write 1500) words so far today and now I have to go to work at my other/real? job.

Right now I’m my own worst enemy. Oh well. That’s what it’s like for me. One day I’m on top of the clouds, the next, I’m scrabbling in the mud. On the up side, I think doing something different for a few hours will help clear my head.

In the Beginning…

Yeah! I actually started writing book 2 today! I’ve finished arranging the bits and pieces of my outline and have finally got to my favourite part: putting one word after another to create something beautiful. I’ve forced myself to stop developing the outline anymore so that I can have creative flexibility as I write. I know things will change and I need to have the freedom to be able to go with the flow. Some writers (a few) never actually outline at all, but I think it helps me write with more confidence if I know where I’m going.

I also created a time line for myself. I guessed at how long I think my book should be and figured out how many words I need to produce per writing day to finish my first rough draft in three months.

In celebration, I’m going to do something I know I shouldn’t- I’m going to post my opening scene. Remember, this is a very first draft so things will probably change but I’m so excited right now I’m going to do it anyways.

Here’s the intro to the second book in my Gateworld series… very tentatively called ‘The Hand of Darkness’.

Fear crawled over her skin with cold fingers, worming its way beneath her bedclothes and freezing her breath in her chest. A breeze, like a sigh, rippled the sheets across her legs and tugged them to the floor.
Moreanna wanted to move, wanted to take control, even a scream would prove she still owned her body. Instead she lay frigid upon the bed, her horror locked upon the darkness of the open closet door.
I’m going crazy, she told herself. There’s nothing there, there never is. It’s genetic; mom always said it would happen. One day I’d lose control; start seeing things that aren’t there. This isn’t the first time. He won’t get me, he can’t. He doesn’t exist.
He did.
Lancing pain plunged into her temples. The darkness swallowed the doorway and turned the corner of the bedroom into an empty vortex. She saw a shoe, drab, and shadow grey, and then an arm. He walked from the darkness as if pushing past a velvet curtain.
He dressed in a stiff old-fashioned suit with tall boots and silky white gloves. He sat on the side of her bed and touched a strand of dark hair curling across the pillow.
Moreanna’s lips parted and a quiet groan escaped.
“It’s your own fault,” said the ghost. The words ground together like stones. “You call me: night after night. I think you want me to come.” He leaned forward. “Yes, you’re strong, irresistible in fact. But I’m still in control.”
“No,” Moreanna pushed the word out with a frosty breath. The ghost drew back in surprise; the look on his face sharp.
“Go away,” she whispered.
Something exploded out of her, rippling like an invisible shock wave and smashing back the darkness. The ghost staggered backwards. Moreanna gasped, feeling blood drain from her face, her hair damp and heavy upon her forehead.
The ghost recovered quickly. He sprang forward with a glint of red in his eyes.
“You think you can banish me?” he said. “This proves nothing! One day you will serve me, everyone will.” He thrust a pale hand through her forehead, taking hold of her thoughts with numbing cold. He smiled. “Say hello to your brother for me.”
Fear like she’d never known invaded her mind. Caught in a cage of terror, her mind folded back on itself, wrenching free from the last shred of sanity. Reason and thought shattered like broken glass. Finally, she began to scream.
Doorways, hundreds, even thousands of doorways. All of them open, all of them leading to him.
“Sis! Snap out of it!”
Monsters were coming for them. Not nightmares, real monsters. Monsters to tear and kill . Blood and fire. The world was burning.
“It’s a dream!”
Fire. The world killed by fire.
“Wake up!”
A sharp blow jarred her free from the madness. Her ey­es snapped open. Had they really been closed? The smell of wood, wax, and lavender incense filled her nose. She felt the rough touch of a warm woollen blanket against her bare arms. Her cheek stung and throbbed with heat. She raised a hand to touch the skin.
Her brother stood beside her bed, wearing striped blue pyjama bottoms. His eyes were wide with fright.
“I heard,” he said. “I heard your dream in my sleep.”
Already the dream was fading. She remembered a voice in the darkness, fire… and endless doorways. She shuddered and glanced at the bedroom closet. It was closed.
Moreanna took a slow breath. She closed her eyes, counted to three and sat up.
I am a stone, she told herself.
She looked Tavin over, using her concern to push away the nightmare.
“Are you okay?”
Tavin’s face flushed. “Am I okay? Are you insane! You were the one screaming!”
I am a stone.
Moreanna frowned. A scar with three parallel cuts dragged itself down her brother’s face. It was faint; she’d only just noticed it. She wondered why he’d never said anything. She studied him with a careful eye, wondering what else she’d missed while they’d been apart.
His shoulders had grown strong, and his jaw had lost its roundness. He needed a haircut; his black bangs fell constantly into his eyes. Her gaze wandered to the white scar that tore itself into Tavin’s bare chest.
She’d been there for that one. It had happened the same night their mother died. It’d been years since she’d seen it. He saw her look and flinched, but instead of turning away, he sat down upon the edge of her bed and took her hand.
“What did you see?”
She shook her head.
“Just a dream.”
“It felt like more than a dream.” Tavin’s dark eyes grew flat and stubborn, the way their father’s used to.
“I’m sorry.” She meant it.
Tavin looked as if he wanted to say something but changed his mind and closed his mouth. He knew she didn’t like talking about their connection. Or at least they called it a connection. As far as Moreanna could tell, it was usually a one-way street; she blasted her thoughts and Tavin received them. She only heard him if he wanted her to. In contrast, her thoughts drained out of her mind like water in a leaky tub.
It irritated her that she’d lost control again. She was the oldest; she was supposed to be the one taking care of things. Lately, it seemed to be the other way around.
“Go to bed Tav,” she said. “I’m fine.”
Tavin stood up, watching her warily. The scar on his chest glowed pale in the dim light.
“You’ll need to talk about it sometime.”
“Not tonight. Go to bed.”
Tavin backed down. He moved towards the door, his eyes watching her the whole time.
We’re not normal you know. He stepped out of the room.
Moreanna flipped onto her stomach and buried her head beneath the pillow, hoping to block him from picking up on anymore of her thoughts.
You think I don’t know that? 

So… what do you think?

So the world ends, why should I care?

I’m spending the day bashing my head against a bulletin board and moving little pieces of paper around to make my outline work. Every time I get stuck I read a book about it. And drink more tea… mmmm… tea.

Today I discovered that the big goal of my protagonist has to matter to him so much that it’s impossible for him to walk away at any part in the story. This is the glue that makes all the little story pieces stick together. In other words, if my Hero, Tavin Thornbush, fails or abandons his quest at any point in the story it will mean tragic death… emotionally. And the world will come to a violent bloody end… but the real secret to tense story-telling (or so I’ve read in ‘Plot and Structure’ by James Bell) is to make it personal.

In my story, Tavin is trying to save the world, yes, but he’s also trying to prove that he’s a hero like his grandfather and not a coward like his father who abandoned him when he was a child. Tavin’s determination to do better than his father did is the thing that drives him the entire story, swinging him between triumphant highs (as he defeats monsters) and crushing lows (he looses control of his power and nearly kills his friends)..

Okay, break over. Back to the board.