Category Archives: writing

MIDNIGHT OIL Book 2 of the Witches of Galdorheim Series

One of my writing partners has a new book that just came out and I’m really excited to be in her blog tour!  Bad Spelling, the first book in the series, just placed 2nd in the Preditor/Editor Readers Poll in Childrens Novels. Book three will be coming soon.  This is a fabulous series and I’m thrilled to be able to host a excerpt from “Midnight Oil.”  Check it out for a chance to win the book and help support a great author.

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Shipwrecked on a legendary island, how can a witch rescue her boyfriend if she can’t even phone home?

Bio: Marva Dasef is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and a fat white cat. Retired from thirty-five years in the software industry, she has now turned her energies to writing fiction and finds it a much more satisfying occupation. Marva has published more than forty stories in a number of on-line and print magazines, with several included in Best of anthologies. She has several already published books and the Witches of Galdorheim Series from her super duper publisher, MuseItUp.

Marva Dasef http://marvadasef.com

Blog: http://mgddasef.blogspot.com

MuseItUp Author Page: http://tinyurl.com/MIU-MarvaDasef

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/MarvaDasef

Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/?tab=wX#107073845875601488093/posts

Twitter Handle: @Gurina

Book Trailers: http://youtu.be/tdfNTVeMS1s

Buy Links:

MuseItUp Buy Page: http://tinyurl.com/6wswbsf

Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006UTL54A

Back Cover Blurb:

Kat discovers that an evil forest spirit has kidnapped her brand-new boyfriend. She sets out with her brother, Rune, from her Arctic island home on a mission to rescue the boy. Things go wrong from the start. Kat is thrown overboard during a violent storm, while her brother and his girlfriend are captured by a mutant island tribe. The mutants hold the girlfriend hostage, demanding that the teens recover the only thing that can make the mutants human again–the magical Midnight Oil.

Mustering every bit of her Wiccan magic, Kat rises to the challenge. She invokes her magical skills, learns to fly an ultralight, meets a legendary sea serpent, rescues her boyfriend, and helps a friendly air spirit win the battle against her spiteful sibling. On top of it all, she’s able to recover the Midnight Oil and help the hapless mutants in the nick of time.

GIVEWAY! Comment on this blog and you’ll get a chance to win a free copy of Midnight Oil.

 

Excerpt 1 – The Storm

The wind picked up until it whistled and moaned around the sturdy little craft. The waves climbed higher and rougher. The boat would rise on a wave and slam down into the next one, sending sheets of icy water cascading off each side of the bow. Kat tried to see what was ahead, but spray rattling against the windshield blurred her view. As fast as it drained off, a new wave splashed over it again. She hoped Ivansi knew what he was doing. She noticed he didn’t even bother looking at his instruments, and then she saw why—the compass spun crazily, giving no clue to their direction. Ivansi’s knuckles were white on the wheel spokes as he struggled to keep the boat headed into the wind. He kept his eyes glued to the one small area of the windshield kept clear by the wiper. Kat looked around for something to hang on to.

“Big wind,” Ivansi said.

“When will it stop?” Kat yelled over the roaring wind and sea.

Nadia spoke to Ivansi, and he replied in Sami. The girl translated. “He not know. Storm not, not…” She glanced at Rune, and he supplied the word she wanted. “Natural.”

Kat looked around at the whirling water. “Magic?” Kat shouted above the howl of the wind and the sound of the waves smashing against the little boat.

“I think so,” Rune yelled back. “Don’t you feel it?”

“All I feel is seasick,” Kat replied, her stomach lurching up and down in time with the waves.

Kat looked toward the stern and her father’s ice casket. To her horror, she saw how it lay at an angle instead of straight across the boat. One of the cleats tying down the block started to pull out of the top rail. She waved at Rune and pointed. “The ice is slipping!”

Rune and Nadia both looked back. Rune let go of the handhold. Kat knew he was going to try a spell to set it right. Another wave crashed against the boat. Rune lurched away from the bulkhead, banging his head and fell to the deck, pulling Nadia with him. He struggled to stand and grabbed the handhold again. He winced and held his hand to the side of his head, too stunned to continue his spell.

The boat slammed into another wave trough, and the block slipped a few more inches. Kat feared it would slide off the boat at any moment. She edged out of the wheelhouse and dropped to her hands and knees to avoid the worst of the wind.

Ivansi glanced in her direction. “No! Stay!” he shouted. She ignored him and continued to creep to the stern, water and wind lashing at her, holding the sides of the boat or anything else she could get a grip on.

“Don’t, Kat! You can’t do anything about it,” Rune yelled. With both hands occupied keeping himself and Nadia upright, he was unable to stop her.

She looked back at her brother and saw the desperation in his eyes. “Got to try,” she whispered, knowing the howling wind would whip away any words she spoke.

 

What I learned at Pitch 2.0

This last Wednesday night I did something complete new (and terrifying).  I’d signed up for Pitch 2.0, a CreateSpace workshop that involved giving verbal novel pitches to editors.  Eep.  I’ve never attended a conference before, although I’ve always wanted to.  Since this workshop was free, I jumped at the chance to give it a try.

It was held at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, which was a day’s drive for me.  I’d never been there, so I arrived early.  What a wonderful creepy old park around the museum!  Or at least at 4:30 pm on a winter afternoon it is.  I creeped myself out nicely climbing the water tower (it was about dusk).  I didn’t know which would be worse, to find a bunch of scary people at the top or have it empty, but it turned out empty.  I wish I had arrived sooner, so I could have gone through the conservatory, but I just peeked in the windows.  I’ll have to go back sometime and see it properly.

Anyway, the event started with a panel discussion about the current state publishing and what a pitch is and how that’s shifted over time.  On the panel was industry veteran Alan Rinzler, book editor Jason Black, and book designer Joel Friedlander. All three were lively discussing what a pitch is traditionally and the new uses for pitches in the modern market.

The old use of a pitch, was the classic “elevator pitch” idea, that if you ended up in an elevator with your favorite editor and wanted to sell your book, what would you say?  It needed to include the book’s content, characters, and why you were the person to write it.

In the market of indie publication, a pitch might end up being what is presented to retailers, customers, reviewers, catalog copy, or the e-book description.  Thus the term “pitch 2.0 for the title of the event.  The panel all agreed that pitches, but traditional and ones for new situations are hard to write.  Boiling your book down into a snappy 100-500 words is no joke.

Even more critical, as pointed out by the Amazon service representative, your book’s metadata is the new cover.  We search online not by pictures, but by keywords, and so those words in your pitch or blurb are even more critical.  They help people find your book.

Another thing the panel was very clear about–in this market, the author is also an entrepreneur.  Social marketing is the big way to sell books.  No one will care as much about the book or know as much about the book as the author, no matter if the book is traditional published or not, and so the focus on authors selling books is a trend that’s likely going to stay.

I’d be the first to admit I’m not the best at social networking.  I found their advice good but difficult.  I’m still letting it sift around in my mind.  What works, they suggest, is being present, engaging, connect with an audience, and encourage people to respond back.

You have an online persona whether you make one or not, so, its in your best interest to grab control of it and do it on purpose.  Their suggestion: use any small bit of an extrovert inside yourself and grow that part into your social network persona.

Hmm, what do you do if your inner extrovert is a villain though?

Seriously, I still don’t know what my online persona is past “author who flails around” and I’m not sure which self to be… so while I’d like to take this excellent advice, I’m still rather muddling through it.

Once I do though, the path presented seems fairly clear.  You create an author platform that supports your efforts to get unknown.  You find a niche to fill, or an angle people can’t quite find elsewhere.  Then you be your persona self, connect with people, and they just naturally buy your work…

How we as writers find time to actually write while doing this, I’m not sure.

But it was all very good advice and I’m certainly thinking a great deal about it.  The second part of the event was actually delivering pitches out loud to people.  I learned that when it came to giving a pitch, my experience with query letters was excellent training.  I delivered excellent snappy pitches (that I’d practiced carefully all last week) that drew the group’s interest.  I also was highly knowledgeable about all the new technology available, and able to tell other authors about it.

However, at actually having something to show off to real live people, I sucked.  Most of the authors not only had lovely copies of their books, but also notecards or business cards with book art on them and all all their webiste information on the back.  I have a bunch of nice shiny ones to check out and say hi to people… and it seems it’s high time for me to take a trip to vistaprint and get my own hand-out goodies.  Mostly because I will be doing this again.

Talking to real life people, both authors and editors, was terrifying, but a great experience, and I can’t wait to repeat it.

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Also, while I was gone, author Katie W. Stewart interviewed me on her blog. (Gotta love how the internet lets you do multiple things at once.)  She’s an illustrator as well, so check out her gorgeous art.

Going for Print

I’ve been debating if it’s worth making POD copies of my novels available.  According to my contract, after “Chosen Sister” has been out a year (it’s been out 2 years) I have that option.  At first I didn’t think it was worth it, but over the past year I’ve re-evaluated the circumstances.  For one thing, lots of children still read middle grade novels in print.  Also, book fairs and other real life events support print copies better than e-books.  I’d enjoy trying to create some local events, or perhaps read to children in schools, even if I’m not sure how to set these things up.

So, the last couple of months I’ve taught myself how to format a book for print, something very different than making an e-book, hired a cover artist (I can’t use my publisher’s cover and reviewers wants something more middle-grade themed anyway), and got cracking on making print copies.  I learned when I finally held the proof copy in my hands, that it actually does mean something different to my old fashioned mind to hold a paperback book, then to have a pdf on my computer screen.  Wow it felt good.  It makes me really glad I did this.

I’m also in love with JP’s cover for the book.  It captures the humorous tone of the book perfectly and suggests the reader age is 9-12, which is really the best audience for this novel.  Today I finished up looking it over and “Chosen Sister” is now available at Create Space for $9.99 in print.  In a few weeks it will come available on Amazon and other distribution sites.  I’ll make an announcement when those go through.

Now I just have to get “A School for Villains” finished up in the print edition and I’ll be set to crash some book fairs and farmer’s markets locally!  Until then though, there’s e-copies available at AmazonB&N, and Smashwords.

Also, once I get all the site up-dated, I’ll get a non-advertising blog post up this week as well.

What makes a book ready to write?

It’s been an interesting first week of Nanowrimo for me.  One reason I didn’t make a blog post last week, because between getting “A School for Villains” out on Amazon and starting my novel, I was too overloaded.  However, three days in, I got stuck.  That’s happened before but not quite this way, or with quite this result.

See, I spent a lot more time outlining the book than I have in the past, partly to prevent getting stuck, but despite that, I was hitting a wall that seemed more about a lack of getting into the character’s heads properly or the spirit of the world.  Because the work was connected with my new release I found the stress was too high, and ended up realizing the book just wasn’t ready to be written for several reasons.  I set aside the project at my husband’s suggestion, set my word count to zero, and started another novel instead.  While I’m still tragically behind, the book is far easier to write despite no planning at all.

This has gotten me pondering when a novel is ready to be written.  You would think after having drafted twelve novels in full and publishing two of them I’d already have an idea of when  new idea is ready to be written, but this year’s progress (and the first time I’ve ditched all my word count instead of sticking it out) has made me realize I actually don’t know the perfect magic that means some books get written and others get stalled.

See, those twelve novels have at least that many or more that got started and never finished.  I’m just one of those disgustingly prolific writers and to be fair I’ve done this over eight years, so it was a rather long period of time.  So, I thought I’d do a bit of self examination and try to figure out what makes a book ready to write for me.

The problem is, it doesn’t seem consistent.

My first novel took five years to write (not counted in my tally for the other novels) and that was understandable.  I was learning the craft.  That also gave me plenty of time to ruminate on other ideas because I’d vowed not to start a new project until I’d finally finished the book.  It was my way of making myself finish something.  So, when I made myself finish in time for Nanowrimo, it didn’t surprise me that the idea I picked for my second novel was easy to write, it’d been sitting in my head for 5 years.  The same with the third book I finished, a  sequel.  It’d had a long incubation period.

But then, the next two Nanowrimos I picked brand new ideas instead of the ones that had been sitting around in my head.  They just insisted they were more interesting and so despite being new and unplanned I went for them.  I wrote two very tight and well-plotted novels with them, one of which was my first published book.  In both cases I had a strong premise and a concrete climax and little else, yet they flowed easily.  Meanwhile better plotted and researched projects languished.

Thinking that perhaps an idea being new and energetic was the answer, I tried just going with it and discovered over the following few years it didn’t work reliably. I had a lot of false starts and painfully long battles to finish a number of following novels.  I had about three Nanowrimos in a row that the final product was basically unfinished and unreadable and the only progress on finishing novels that I made was on slower written projects during the rest of the year.  It made me feel like being better researched and plotted would help the novels come out better.  Thus my attempt to prepare better this year.

And yet here I find that my well plotted and researched project wasn’t ready, while an idea I’ve had kicking around in my head that’s indistinct and vague seems to be ready to go.  Apparently I’m not very good at knowing myself.  My only consolation is that this time I realized what was wrong was I didn’t feel ready to write the book and that I was better off setting it aside and writing something else than getting  a mangled draft out of all my work like in some of

This leads me to think that perhaps the only way for me to know if a book is ready to be written is to try it and see if it flows or if it flops.

Ten Reasons to Try Nanowrimo

Every year about this time, there starts circulating a few mean-spirited blog posts about Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) and why it’s stupid or ineffective or objectionable. Setting aside that an attitude that looks down on new writers for “not being very good” and discouraging them from writing is mean-spirited, arrogant and even more counterproductive, what are some actual reasons to try 30 days and nights of literary abandon? Can you actually get anything good or worthwhile from working so quickly?

As a participant since 2004, here’s ten reasons I think Nanowrimo is worth a try. It’s not for everyone, but can be quite rewarding. And whether you “win” or not, the experience is enlightening.

1) Motivation – if you’ve always wanted to write a novel, but never had something to force you to sit down and just do it, Nanowrimo is the perfect motivation to get a move on it. It’s a tight deadline that gets you working and working fast.

2) Out-writing the inner editor – in a lot of my early writing, I’d give up early, because I’d realize the story/writing sucked. The thing is, the only way to get better at writing is to write, revise, and then write some more. If you don’t keep writing in the first place, that never happens. True, without some revision, you don’t improve, but without getting stuff drafted in the first place, you don’t have anything to revise. Sometimes after writing crap and outrunning the editor, you get brilliant bits of writing later in the book that are quite useful when revising.

3) Imaginative Experience – I believe writing a novel expands our brains and that’s useful even if you’re not intending to become a professional author. We experience characters coming to life, who then chat in our head, argue about the plot, and start feeling a bit like real and independent people. It’s a magical and exciting creative experience I think it’s good for people to experience. The power of creation, and watching your own fictional world come to life is something that builds us up as creative people.

4) Collective energy – there’s a wonderful support in Nanworimo. All that collective energy of so many people working together at once is inspiring. It gets me moving in a way writing on my own often doesn’t. With so many people to cheer you on, you’re never alone.

5) Experimentation – I’ve found Nanowrimo is a perfect time to learn something new, try something that isn’t part of the normal flow of my writing. Try a new genre, or a tricky plot, a strange point of view, something challenging. The rushed speed forces me to try wresting with it and making it work and either it does or it doesn’t. Usually by the end of the month I know if the idea was worth it or if I’m trashing it.

6) Connections – I’ve met a lot of fantastic people during Nanowrimo, both online and in my community. The real-life based “write-in” groups make it possible to connect with a ton of local and inspiring people. Online, you can meet even more people on the forums. I’ve joined 2 critique groups I found during nanowrimo, and made lots of new friends and connections. It’s a fantastic networking experience.

7) Keeps a sense of humor – when you’re working this fast, you can’t take your work entirely seriously, and you shouldn’t. Keeping a sense of humor means you’ll weather the challenges of writing better. When you get writer’s block, being able to suddenly switch genres, use a challenge from the challenge thread, or start giving your characters all 2 or 3 word long names to up the word count helps keep writing fun and playful. So does breaking the fourth wall and ranting at your characters and letting them rant at you. Who cares if none of this stuff makes it into the final draft, if you do revise the book, it was fun, and writing ought to be fun.

8 ) Community Education – by participating in Nanowrimo, you help drive educational and literacy programs for children, as well as give your community an opportunity to think about authors, books, and writing. I’ve written in public places as part of the event, talking to and educating people on writing. I’ve even been interviewed for local papers. I’d love to also work with schools who do Nanowrimo in class someday.

9) Being an inspiration – creative energy has a way of encouraging other people to be creative too. By telling all your friends and relatives what you’re doing, you’re challenging them to consider their own creative projects, and watching you succeed will inspire them to try as well. At least that’s what I’ve found, my family’s creativity feeds off itself. My father’s composing inspires me to write, my writing inspires my brother to draw, and his drawing inspires my mother to get moving on her educational craft projects, and so on. Inspire people to do something creative by doing it yourself.

10) You can’t lose – no matter how many words you write, you’ve written more than you had before the month started. Even if they’re terrible, they’ve gotten you writing, given you ideas, expanded your mind, and inspired you to perhaps start a brand new project in December. Seriously, no matter how little you get done, you’re a winner and the supportive community surrounding Nanowrimo helps remind you of that.

Some of these were the reasons I chose to try Nanowrimo; some of them I learned along the way. My own personal journey and how Nanwrimo changed my life, was published here on the Nanowrimo blog in 2008.

A Villainous Halloween

I’ve set the date for “A School for Villains” to be released on the auspicious day of Halloween.  It seems the perfect date for a villainous debut.

To celebrate I’m going to take a look at what makes a good (or is that bad) villain.  While not every story features a villain, many good stories have one.  A villain keeps the story moving, throws all sorts of challenges at the heroes, and sometimes, completely steals the show.

It seems to me there’s several sorts of villains.  Some of them are despicable, others pitiable, and some even sympathetic.  Some are nearly all powerful, others weak and paltry.  Yet they all have one thing in common, they’re out to stop the main characters from getting what they want.

Here’s some my favorites in a few of my mental categories:

Distant All-evil and Powerful Villains

These guys are big, bad, and often ugly.  They lurk like an evil force throughout the book spurring everyone on to save the world from their evil plans.  Usually these guys are set on world/universe domination, but sometimes they’re just making everyone miserable for the fun of it.  You don’t know why they’re evil, they just ARE.  And they’re out to get you.

Some of my favorites include Sauron (Lord of the Rings), Emperor Palpatine (Star Wars), Arawn Death Lord (Prydian Cronicles), Maleficent (Disney Sleeping Beauty), Shan Yu (Disney Mulan) and the White Witch (Naria).

Beleaguered Villains with Entitlement Issues

These guys are trying hard to belong to the first category. They  desperately want to be all evil and all powerful, but whether they’re beset by incompetent minions, stumble into some bad plans, or just have bad luck, things keep not going their way, no matter how evil they are.  They continually have to prove they deserve their villainous title, all the while smacking the idiots they’ve surrounded themselves by.  Yet, even if they are really at heart, evil, you can’t help but sort of like them and admire their determination to get what they feel like they deserve.  My favorites in this category include: Cluny the Scourage (Redwall), Jafar (Disney Aladin), Scar (Disney The Lion King), and Darth Vader (Star Wars).

Mistaken Villains

These guys are are convinced they’re doing the Right Thing.  The trouble is, they’re wrong.  Sometimes they figure that out, sometimes they don’t.  These villains end up in a gray area, because sometimes evil isn’t straightforward.  Are they justified or not?  They make the argument they’re just doing their job, or working for something that’s also good.  Some prime examples include: Prince Ramses (Dreamworks Prince of Egypt), Attolia (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia), Ratcliffe (Disney Pocahontas) and Mother Gothel (Disney Tangled).

Miserable Villains

These guys are pitiful in their misery, but they can’t let go of what they think they want and be happy.  They’re struggling, and you normally would feel sorry for them, except they then turn around and do nasty stuff to other people you like more.  They just can’t let go of what’s ruining their lives, often their pride.  Some of my favorites here include: Gollum (Lord of the Rings), Prince Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender), and Captain Hook (Peter Pan).

Oh, and just for fun, here’s the Disney Villain Kombat.

Who’s your favorite villain?

“A School for Villains” From Concept to Publication

Every book has a unique journey and I thought in the final stages of production, I’d share the one for “A School for Villains.”

I have a long history of writing satirical pieces for friends and family.  In college,  I won an English award for the satirical epic poem “The Chronicle of Sir Morseau de Fromage” written in fakely translated verse, complete with an un-scholarly introduction.  I’ve written several goofy and satirical short stories, several of which have been published in online magazines, and often my “serious” fiction also tended to have some satirical elements, such as the colored wizard names in “Chosen Sister” and the long troll names in the still under revision “Dragon Boy.”  However, I had yet to write a full length satirical work, until the idea of a magic school for villains that taught kids how to become Dark Lords came to me while joking around about Harry Potter.

I’m an avid Harry Potter fan.  The books already have some great humor in them, and a wonderful tone that’s a pleasure to read.  So, I had no intention of attacking or tearing them down, but rather wanted to use their conventions as a launching off pad for my own creative satire, poking fun at the whole “bad guy-good guy” dynamic in so many fantasy worlds.  I had already committed to writing “Chosen Sister” as a gift for my sister that year for Nanowrimo (2006) and decided at the same time to attempt to write “A School for Villains” as a fun joke gift for my brother.

I got horribly stuck.  Full length satire turned out a lot more difficult than I expected.  I got about 2/3 of the way through the book by the end of the month.  To motivate myself to keep playing with the idea and finish it, I made a plan.  Some people find working just for fun motivating, but I tend to want to write for an audience, so I planned to finish the book the next year, run it through my critique group, then submit it to agents as practice for facing rejection for my more serious work.  After 30 rejections (and hopefully with a new and serious project  ready) I would self-publish it on the web with print copies offered for sale.  If I sold 10,000 copies I would write a sequel.

Following through on the plan turned out a lot harder and more involved than I could have imagined, not to mention some major changes in me, the book, and the industry in these past five years.

First and foremost, I fell in love with my book as serious project at some point within the revision and critiquing process.  I found the characters were not just satirical, but also real people.  The plot wasn’t just mockery, but a true coming of age story, with room for a lot more in it.  The novel offered a humorous but very real world, rather similar to Patricia Wrede’s satirical “Enchanted Forest Chronicles” in tone.  A world that was self-aware of fairy tale conventions and thus bent on making people conform to them and their often ridiculous perspectives.

And then, when I started sending the book out, I got such positive reactions, despite the rejections.  Several times thanks to helpful comments from agents I reworked and deepened the book.  I really fell in love with the idea of seeing it out there entertaining people as well as actually saying something worth saying.  Taking my book seriously, however, had downsides.  I got wrapped up in the rejections.  They hurt and discouraged me.  They made me question myself and ask hard questions, despite their mostly positive tone.

Twenty five rejections in, I started noticing some trends.  Agents kept citing the economy being tight and the fact satire is a niche market.  They were concerned there weren’t many appropriate editors looking to acquire a book like this one, or if there were, they weren’t editors they knew or had connections to.

At this point, so much has also changed in the industry.  E-books have taken off and opened up niche markets.  I found on Amazon at least two other authors who had published Harry Potter satires and both looked like they were selling well.  After some hard thinking about my book, I decided to return to my original plan and go ahead and self-publish the novel.  After all, when I’d started out, this work was just for fun, something I wanted to share with fellow Harry Potter fans for a laugh.  And I felt looking at the other satirical offerings that my novel could offer something new and deeper to that audience.

Having had a deal with an online press with “Chosen Sister,” I also had considerable more experience than my early plans.  I now knew what having an editor could do for my work and how many times a novel has to get proofed in order to actually get all the typos out of it.  I knew that I had to have a commitment to a high quality product if I was going to do this and sign my name to it.  I considered finding a small press for the novel, but I wanted to follow my original plan and have more artistic control.  I wanted my novel to be properly illustrated like most traditional middle grade novels.

So, I hired an artist and editor, researched indie publishing, and now am in the final stages of proofing the book.  It’s been an amazing and very educational journey and in the next couple of weeks I’ll have a book I can be really proud of.  I don’t have a firm release date, since I’m still waiting on some of the art, but it’s definitely worth the wait.  I hope to have the book on sale sometime in the next couple weeks.

Through all of this, I’ve learned that sometimes humor can be serious business.  I’ve learned to believe in myself and face rejection. I’ve learned that making a plan and following it is useful, inspiring, and can help give me perspective on myself and life.  I still plan to pursue traditional publishing with my other work, both serious and humorous, but I’m also thrilled to be able to have the means to share a more niche work with readers.

And yes, if I sell 10,000 copies, in any format, I will write a sequel.

Ten Unusual Adjectives

I’ve been brushing up on my particles of speech. As an author, keeping myself clear on the parts of a sentence and how they work together is critical to improving my writing. I’ve been enjoying “When You Catch an Adjective, Kill it: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse” by Ben Yagoda. It’s a lot more fun than my college grammar book, that for sure.

I think my attitude towards words has shifted as well. Once I used to look at them only in terms of homework, spelling, or what I can use to get the story down on the page smoothly. Now however, I enjoy learning new words. Yagoda collects unusual adjectives, and some of them are quite amusing.

Here’s my ten favorite from his list. See how many of these you know. My spell checker didn’t even know a few of them.

capacious
contumelious
fissiparous
fustian
nugatory
otiose
penumbrous
piacular
shambolic
tenebrous

Here’s the definitions, along with a random attempt to put the word in a sentence. I feel like I have returned to grade school. I bet they sound just as stilted and homeworkeque as ever, but I keep telling myself it’s good for me.

capacious – containing or capable of containing a great deal

In “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” Hermione has a capacious handbag.

contumelious – insolently abusive and humiliating

The contumelious teacher upbraided the student for doodling in class despite it in no way interfering with his listening to the lecture.

fissiparous – tending to break up into parts

The setting sun cast a fissiparous reflection upon the flowing river.

fustian – high-flown or affected in style

Cinderella in her fustian gown and shoes was the star of the ball.

nugatory – of little or no consequence

Scandals in Congress are so common they feel nugatory these days.

otiose – useless; futile

The baby’s otiose efforts to escape the playpen left him cranky.

penumbrous – shadowy or indistinct

The penumbrous towers rose about them in the twilight.

piacular – requiring expiation; wicked or blameworthy

The piacular student enjoyed sticking nails in his teacher’s car tires.

shambolic – disorganized or confused

She searched desperately for socks through her shambolic pile of laundry.

tenebrous – dark or murky

He peered into the tenebrous depths of the basement.

A Commentary on Creativity

As I had to leave unexpected last weekend on a family matter, I didn’t have time to write a proper post for this week.  Now that I’m home, my brain is still a little scattered, so I’m going to share a short piece I wrote as a metaphor for creativity while at a live orchestra performance in the park.

***

In the gathering gloom Elana waited, one hand clinging to Migov’s arm. Pooli tagged along, busy peeling the bark off a twig. People kept arriving, striding into the green fields of the park. They laughed with their friends, bragging about how strong or how fancy a light they’d make. Some of them clapped others on the shoulders and challenged them, while others claimed tonight’s prize for the best light would be theirs, that they would be the ones called up front in front of everyone.

Elana looked down at her pink hands, smeared with a bit of dirt from when Pooli shoved a rather muddy rock at her, insisting she look at it. A couple of fingers were sticky from dinner, a bit of fuzz clinging to the side of her right forefinger.

She tried to rub it off on the bottom of her shirt, but that only made it fuzzier. Pooli, as always, was oblivious.

“Are you sure we’re supposed to be here?” Elana tugged on Migov’s arm.

He chuckled. “Of course.”

“But what if I can’t make any light? Or what if my light is small and ugly.”

“Everyone can make a light, sweetheart. It comes from inside of you. Maybe it’ll be weak at first, but as you practice, it’ll get stronger and prettier. If you feed it, it will pour of out you and light up everyone around you.”

Elana sighed. Oh how she longed to do that, to stand at the front, light pouring out of her in bright rainbow colors, to have everyone gasp in awe at her, to wonder at what she could do with it.

The sky, as if beckoning them to try it, turned bright colors as the sun set. Golds, pinks, violets, the rest of it pale blue fading to royal blue, and then to black with stars as the sun sank down. All across the field people cupped their hands. Light sprang from them in small colorful flames, dancing across palms in twisting shapes.

Migov pressed his own together. “Like this,” he whispered. Between them started to glow a soft golden light. As it expanded, tendrals like purple flames glittered and sparkled, swaying through it. Elana caught her breath, awed.

“Oh!” cried Pooli, dropping his stick.

“Now the two of you, try it.” Migov smiled.

Pooli screwed up his face in concentration, slamming his hands together. For a moment nothing happened and then they began to glow, light in blues and greens dancing across his palms. “Oh! Oh!” Pooli turned in a circle, laughing. “Look, look, I can make pretties!”

The people around him chuckled, encouraging him, showing him their own lights. Migov laughed as well, calling out advice to him.

Elana tentatively put her hands together and pale light formed between, before disappearing. She took in a sharp breath and tried again. Slowly but surely the light formed, but no colors danced. It wasn’t as big as Migov’s, not even as big as Pooli’s. Glancing around at the happy people around her, Elana couldnt’ help but notice hers was smaller and plainer than anyone’s.

“What’s wrong?” Migov took his hands apart to place one gently on her shoulder.

She stared at her cupped hands in dismay. “It’s… not very big.” She peeked again at those around them. “It’s so ordinary.”

Migov frowned, considering her light. “So, what you’re saying is, you don’t think it’s bigger or brighter or prettier than anyone else’s?”

She bit her lip. “Everyone else’s is better. I have nothing to add.”

He shook his head. “Little one… oh, little one.” He cupped his hands, the light dancing and swaying, pink and green in its depths, beautiful, unique. “When you put your hands together, when you call on the depths within yourself… you make light! Isn’t it wonderful? Beautiful? Mysterious? Who cares how great, how different, how much it stands out. You’ve made it, from within you! And it comes out—becomes alive.”

“But I want to stand out. I want it beautiful and wondrous like yours. I want everyone to see it, admire it, recognize it… only it’s not very good.”

“It’s yours and it lives only because of you.”

She shook her head.

He sighed. “Dearest, everyone longs to be recognized. But I’m going to tell you now… the recognition you need most is to recognize yourself. When you do this, when you can feel the pure joy of bringing this to life, when you can stand in the dark, bring light, and rejoice, then you will have everything you need, and with time the rest of it will come.”

Elana dropped her hands as he turned away, talking with the others. Pooli ran in circles, making light. Everyone was so happy, so content. For a moment she felt bitterly left out. Then Migov’s words, like the evening breeze, brushed against her again. Bitterness was not something that could be poured out, shared. It made no light.

Elana took a deep breath, the night air caressing her cheek, ruffling Pooli’s hair, swirling around Migov. She was here, with them, in an evening park, full of light, full of people. A thousand set of hands burned, a thousand flames danced.

This power within me, it makes light, a beautiful light. And she soared above the crowd, free, soaking it in, so that in the future she could again pour it out.