Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

The Star Thief
The Star Thief by Jamie Grey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this fast-paced novel–a blend of thriller and military scifi, with dashes of romance and humour thrown in for good measure. The characters are interesting and varied, and the strong plotline carries the story and keeps the reader turning pages. Lots of twists and turns, with much at stake for both the main character and the larger world. If you like science fiction adventure with a well-drawn female lead you should enjoy this one!

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A Witch's Kitchen
A Witch’s Kitchen by Dianna Sanchez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was enchanted by this sweet and funny book, about a young witch who thinks she has no ability at witchcraft. Her apparent failings only hide her true talents, however! Along with being entertained (it was a hard-to-stop-for-the-night read), I was also appreciative of a more serious core that underpinned the story without intruding itself–it really spoke to me about finding and appreciating who we really are. But the overall feel of the book is light and fun, the characters are well-drawn, and the reading pace is quick. I’ll be delighted to introduce some of the young readers at the school library to it! Highly recommended for both young and adult fantasy lovers.

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2017 Young Explorer's Adventure Guide
2017 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide by Maggie Allen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Admittedly I’m a bit biased, since I have a story in this anthology. However, I thoroughly enjoyed all the stories in the volume. Loads of intriguing tales and adventures that will have a wide appeal to readers of all ages and genders, covering a wide variety of subgenres of science fiction. I highly recommend this anthology for everyone who enjoys diverse stories of SF adventure and exploration.

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C is for Chimera
C is for Chimera by Rhonda Parrish
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This imaginative anthology offers such a wide variety of stories, themes, and ideas that it’s practically impossible to choose favourites. While the chimera is a unifying thread throughout the stories, the authors deal with the theme in stunningly different ways and interpretations. Although the flavour overall was a little darker than I might normally choose, I still enjoyed the stories and found them thought-provoking, and there is a broad mix of tone in the volume. If you like short speculative fiction you will not come away from this anthology disappointed.

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Cold Stone & Ivy
Cold Stone & Ivy by H. Leighton Dickson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This imaginative book takes us to a Steampunk London where Jack the Ripper stalks the streets, ghosts demand justice, and our brave heroine writes novels to escape into a world she can control. There’s a lot going on in this book, both in the characters’ personal lives and in the streets of the city, but all is interwoven into a fast-paced story about family, love, murder, and loyalty. I really enjoyed it! Highly recommended.

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Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Cold Stone and Ivy
Cold Stone and Ivy by H. Leighton Dickson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This imaginative book takes us to a Steampunk London where Jack the Ripper stalks the streets, ghosts demand justice, and our brave heroine writes novels to escape into a world she can control. There’s a lot going on in this book, both in the characters’ personal lives and in the streets of the city, but all is interwoven into a fast-paced story about family, love, murder, and loyalty. I really enjoyed it! Highly recommended.

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Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Black Heart
Black Heart by Holly Black
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Red Glove
Red Glove by Holly Black
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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White Cat
White Cat by Holly Black
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As usual, Holly Black creates intriguing characters and sets them in a world that is both familiar and strange. The writing and story are top-notch and I’m anxious to start the next book!

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nano2002Yup, today we’re going all the way back to the beginning. This was my first year of NaNoWriMo! And yes, in this picture you can see what I expect is a pretty rare artifact–the 2002 t-shirt.

My first NaNo novel was The Y Plague, a story about a future Earth where the male population has been reduced by a very large percentage. No, I did not write this because I hate men. I wrote it because it was an idea that interested me and I wanted to explore it. Here’s the blurb (from before I really understood how to write a good blurb, but someday I’ll write a better one):

In a future where genetic degradation has reduced the male population to only five percent of the total, fertile males are prized as research subjects and breeding partners. There’s unrest, however, as men begin to resent the bonds of society and start to form their own Freemen colonies. The radical X/Alt group wants to see the end of all research aimed at restoring the male genome, and in Rome, the last male Pope uncovers a secret that will either drive him mad or rock the Catholic Church to its foundations.

I had a one-year-old and a six-year-old when I wrote this novel, so it required getting up early in the morning and staying up late at night. I remember pouring up a glass of juice every night so that in the morning, I just had to stumble out to the fridge and retrieve it, sipping as I made my way to my office. Then I pried open my eyelids and tried to get a few hundred words down before the day started. This strategy worked out very well for me, as I found that by the time I got to write again once the kids were in bed, my brain had been working on the next part all day. I wrote over 2k words nineteen days of the month that year, which I think was pretty consistent.

Looking at my spreadsheet from that year, I see that I passed 50k words on the 25th of November! Wow. I was on fire that year. I finished out the month with 58,337 words, and an outline for the final fourteen chapters of the novel. I kept writing until the 3rd of December and reached 59,029 words, but wrote the outline when I realized that although I hadn’t gotten to THE END, I had to turn my attention to the upcoming holidays. I didn’t want to forget where the novel was heading when I picked it up again in January.

I have never written those last chapters. *headdesk*

However, I pulled this novel out last year and began looking at it. I think it’s good. Better than I remember, actually, and perhaps even more relevant in many ways than it was when I started it. It’s very near the top of my list of things to finish. I think it probably needs a new title, since the “plague” is not really a plague and has happened long before the book begins, but I can deal with that.

One thing I’m doing during this retrospective is considering these unfinished novels, what state they are in, and what they need. From this I’m making a to-do list for 2017, so expect to see some of these titles (or replacement ones) popping up over the next while.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Nano2012

Today we jump ahead to 2012 in the NaNoWriMo Retrospective. This was the year I wrote most of the first draft of The Family Business, which is, sadly, another of the still-unfinished manuscripts waiting for my attention.

I had a lot of fun with this one; it’s a ghost story and a mystery, and it’s definitely one I want to finish. Here’s the blurb:

Stella McKarron is sorry when her Uncle Ambrose dies suddenly, but she doesn’t think it will actually change her life much. They’ve never gotten along terribly well, anyway. So it comes as a surprise to learn that he’s left her his cat (she’s allergic), his car (she doesn’t drive), his private detective agency (she’s a librarian) and his collection of ten thousand books (she’s actually okay with that one). The bigger surprise is yet to come, however, when his ghost appears and tells her that he was murdered, and the first case he wants her to take on is his own…

familybusinessHere’s my hastily throw-together cover mockup; I still like the concept although it could be MUCH better executed.

The November draft came in at just barely 50k, since I was also working on the rewrite of One’s Aspect to the Sun that month. I see from the notes in my spreadsheet that I actually did not have an idea for what to write this year until I actually sat down to do it. I’m trying to remember where the idea eventually came from, but it appears to be lost in the mists of time.

Notably, this was the year I set up my treadmill desk, and this was the first project I wrote at it. I don’t seem to have stats from that month, although I suspect they are around somewhere…I do like obsessive record-keeping from time to time.  We do seem to have had a lot of word wars in the Ramsey household, according to my notes, and some successful write-ins with other Cape Breton Wrimos.

I believe that this one remains unfinished because I made that classic error of trying to write a mystery without enough advance planning. Other genres can work out okay with the “gardening” approach, but mysteries require more of the “architect” thinking. Or as I once said in a radio interview, “When it comes time to lay down a clue, you’d better have a clue.”

Someday soon I’ll pull this one out and see what it needs. It’s  fun tale with some quirky characters and deserves to play out to “The End.”

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Poppies by Benoit Aubry of Ottawa

This morning I walked “into town” to observe the Remembrance Day ceremony. I do actually live in the town, by the way, but on the outer edge, and going “into town” has always been the family nomenclature. I had planned to walk with some others of my family, but due to this and that I ended up going alone with a new plan to meet them there. It was a sunny morning, and the wind held a jagged edge–but, hey, it’s November in Cape Breton–and altogether lovely for walking.

Since I was alone and hadn’t taken my headphones to listen to music, I set my mind, as I walked, to the problem facing me in my current novel project. Which, coincidentally, had to do with war. The question I have been trying to answer is basically, how can a small group of people stop an interstellar war?

The obvious answer, I suppose, is: they can’t. But this is fiction, and that wasn’t the answer I wanted. I wanted an answer that involved cooperation, and determination, and compassion, and alien races working together. I just couldn’t seem to find the right way to make all those pieces fit together into what also has to be a good story.

So I mulled it over as I walked, and I thought a bit about war, and a bit about my Great Uncle John, who fought in the Second World War and did come home, if a changed man. I thought about the characters in my book, and what’s just happened and is happening in the United States, and about other wars and other places and other stories. And I came back to my characters and all the bits of the novel that have already been set in motion.

And. I think it worked. By the time I met up with my family members, some very important story pieces had fallen into place, and others had revealed how they could work together, and new pieces had appeared, too. I didn’t quite dance in the street since it would have seemed quite disrespectful under the circumstances. But I felt much better than I had about the story in a while.

There isn’t really a moral to this story, but I suppose if there is one for writers, it’s that sometimes you have to give your brain a quiet place to churn, and let it go. Maybe it means a change of scenery or activity, maybe it means a nap or just a break from staring disconsolately at the screen. Maybe it’s not forcing ideas, but nudging your thoughts in a certain direction and letting them run, instead of staring at an outline that isn’t working any more. Maybe it’s a walk on a sunny, windy day, alone with your thoughts and a question to be answered. If you’re stuck, try all of these things, and more, if that’s what it takes. The pieces will fall into place.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

My NaNoWriMo Retrospective continues with a look back at 2003. I came, I wrote, I bought the t-shirt. And I wrote “THE END.”

nanoretro2003This was my second year of NaNoWriMo, and the year I wrote the first draft of One’s Aspect to the Sun. I learned a lot about novel-writing that year, including the fact that sometimes characters you intend to kill off in the second chapter just keep hanging around until you realize they’re not ready to die after all. I also found out how fulfilling it is to reach some semblance of an ending and type those two wonderful words.

I wasn’t certain if this was the year I became a Municipal Liaison, but I’ve just gone and checked my email (yes, I’m an email hoarder, I confess), and this was the year I started. So I’m glad to have that figured out, because I’m never sure when filling out the ML form each year. It didn’t occur to me before this to just go and check those old emails, for which I really have no excuse. As I recall, we were a pretty small group that year, and far-flung across the Island, as we still are, although there are definitely more of us participating now. I remember mailing out pins and possibly stickers to a few participants.

Anyway, this is a big year in the retrospective, because the draft I wrote this year became my first published novel (from Tyche Books) in…wait for it…2013. In November, even! Yes, ten whole years after I wrote that first draft. Now, I wasn’t working on it constantly during those ten years (I wrote a lot of other stuff in there, too), but I did write several drafts. I submitted it to the Atlantic Writing Competition (now Nova Writes) and took second place (which one of the organizers assured me meant that the novel was “publishable”), and rewrote it using the feedback I received from the judges. After a couple more rewrites and submissions, it found its home at Tyche. The beautiful cover art is by the talented Ashley Walters. The book was named “Speculative Fiction Book of the Year” by the Book Publishers of Alberta.

Here’s the blurb, which remained pretty much the same from the time I first wrote it in 2003 until the book came out:

When Luta Paixon, captain of the merchant trader Tane Ikai, looked in the mirror, she saw a woman in her thirties–even though she was actually eighty-two. Luta’s only explanation might lie with the mother who had disappeared over sixty years ago. But even if her mother were still alive, it would be no small task to track her down in the vast, wormhole-ridden expanse of Nearspace. With the ruthless PrimeCorp bent on obtaining Luta’s DNA at any cost, her ninety-year-old husband asking for one last favor, and her estranged daughter locking horns with her at every turn, Luta’s search for answers will take her to the farthest reaches of space–and deep inside her own heart.

Looking back at my spreadsheet from this year, I see that I finished November with a word count of 50,715. On the second day, my note says, “A little worried that I don’t know where I’m going,” but by the end of the first week I seem to have settled into a groove and flown straight on till morning. I actually finished on the 27th, averaging 1878 words per day.

Which year will we visit next? Stay tuned!

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_municipalliaison-2-250x250Yes, 2016 marks the 15th year I’m participating in the wonderful creative blast of National Novel Writing Month. I thought it would be fun, as the month progresses, to look back at the things I’ve written, the data I’ve kept, and, even more important, the t-shirts and other nano-merch I’ve acquired over the years. So sit back, pour up a celebratory glass of your favourite liquid for toasting, and enjoy this little trip through time and word counts.

I’m doing this in no particular order, so today I randomly picked 2008 (because that’s the t-shirt I’m wearing today).nanoretro2008This was the 10-year anniversary of NaNoWriMo itself, and the brown baseball-style tee boasts “NaNoWriMo” and a large number “10” on the back. This is one of my all-time fav NaNo t-shirts. That was the year I wrote At the Sign of the Starcase, and yes, that’s STAR CASE, not a typo. This was a middle-grade to young adult story, and I know I wrote it specifically trying to incorporate many of the elements my daughter enjoyed in the books she was reading at the time. Here’s the blurb:

In the five years since Maddie’s father disappeared, she and her family have struggled to go on with some semblance of a normal life. That life is shattered by the arrival of Neb, a vaguely rabbit-like creature who turns up in Maddie’s room one night, pleading for her help in finding a powerful book called the Cyclopedia and telling her that her father is still alive—but trapped in an alternate world. There’s no question that Maddie will try to help Neb and hope that by doing so she’ll be able to rescue her father. But keeping the rest of her family safe grows increasingly difficult once she finds out that there are others from that world who want the Cyclopedia too…and they don’t care what they have to do to get it.

Looking up my tracking spreadsheet from that year, I see that I finished up at 50,699 words. Some selected comments from the daily “notes” section of the spreadsheet: “Still no idea what I’m doing with this story, but at least it’s started,” “I hate that message that says, at this rate, you won’t finish on time,” “bleh,” and on a more positive note, “Woohoo, I’m getting so many great ideas in the last 24 hours!”

Unfortunately, all those great ideas did not lead to a finished first draft of Starcase, and I didn’t get to type “The End,” which is always my ultimate goal during NaNoWriMo. I always get the 50k, but that goal is more elusive. My daughter is no longer a middle grade reader, but I’m sure if I ever finish Starcase she will read it anyway just to be nice.

We launched our first Third Person Press title, Undercurrents, during that November, so I think that contributed to my struggle with this manuscript. However, I still like it and think it has potential, so it remains on my TBF (to-be-finished) list.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

barneysriverfall

I detest the end of summer, but we do have a beautiful autumn in Nova Scotia.

So far, October has been a super-busy month. Unfortunately, not a lot of that busy-ness has resulted in word metrics to report. In between home improvements, road trips, meetings, family events…sometimes writing does get sidelined.

Oh, I’ve been working, it just hasn’t been the sort of working that translates into a lot of new words. It’s been planning, reading, changing, re-evaluating. A few new words written on a couple of projects, but hardly enough to share the numbers.

However, that’s what the writing life is like, sometimes. It’s not always quantifiable. That hour I spent working out the story thread for a new short story–sure, it looked like I was only doing jigsaw puzzles on the iPad. But there was so much going on behind the scenes while part of my brain focused on looking for patterns in tiny digital pieces; another part focused on looking for different kinds of patterns in that short story project.

lapdeskRemember that “Shoe” cartoon from Jeff MacNelly? I won’t put it here since I don’t have permission, but Google will find it for you. The one about how typists pound keyboards, and writers stare out windows? Yes, that’s what it’s like a lot of the time. I also considered the trajectory for one of the characters in my current novel manuscript while I sewed a new pillow for my lap desk – it was spilling tiny styrofoam beads and also had lost some velcro. It now has a new life and I like it better than before! AND now I can use my laptop more comfortably again, which will help productivity. See how it’s all interconnected?

The continuing education course I’m teaching this month seems to be going swimmingly–I’m enjoying it very much and I think my students are, as well. We’ve covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and it’s hard to believe there’s only one class left. And that experience has been inspiring as well. Interacting with other writers and creative people is always rewarding.

And then it will be November. I’m considering being a bit of a NaNo Rebel for National Novel Writing Month this year. I’m thinking of a project I’m going to call “The Finisher.” This will entail finishing the first drafts of several–I have three in mind–NNWM manuscripts that still need final chapters. Still toying with the idea, and it will depend on the state of some deadline projects, but it’s appealing. I do, of course, have new ideas begging to be written this November, but it’s impossible to overstate the importance of finishing things, too. So I’m thinking about it. Stay tuned…

Interesting things from the Internets this week:

Art isn’t free–can we stop pretending it is?

7-Point Plot Structure Story Mapping Template

Creating Mood Worksheet

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

virtualfantasyconThis week I’m taking part in the Virtual Fantasy Con over on Facebook. I’ll have a “booth” on Science Fiction Monday, Urban Fantasy Wednesday, and YA Fantasy Sunday.

The entire week looks fun, with many authors participating. Book sales, panels, contests, and other events will take place all week, and of course the best part is that you can participate in all of it from the comfort of your home!

I’ll be checking in regularly at my booth, hosting some giveaways, answering questions, and talking about some things that (with luck) folks will find interesting.

The first link above should provide you with a jumping-off point for all the convention pages and events. Drop by and say hello!

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

img_6712

Lavender shop in Venice (I’d like to be back there breathing in its soothing scents right now!)

It’s been a purple week around here.

Purple, because that’s the color we’ve been painting my daughter’s room…rich, luxurious purple. The color of royalty, luxury, and the unity of mind, body, and soul.

Which is actually kind of ironic, because rarely do my mind, body, and soul feel so out of sync. Too many things on the to-do list, too many aches and pains (from moving furniture and painting and climbing up to stretch and reach), too much chaos in the house (always the fallout of painting jobs), too many deadlines zooming at me at once. I just made a loooong rapid-entry list in Nirvana, which is part of my current attempt at staying organized and getting everything done. That feels like a step in the right direction, and, whew, it’s Friday…

…and the beginning of a busy family weekend, since it’s Thanksgiving here in Canada. So I guess I’m not getting a whole lot done until Monday.

This week saw the start of a continuing education teaching gig for me, though, which runs throughout October. I have a small but enthusiastic class of students, and we’ll be discussing pathways to publication and all the attendant considerations, best practices, and pitfalls to avoid. Not that I consider myself the last word in any of these things, but I do enjoy sharing what experience and knowledge I’ve gleaned to this point. I think it will be a fun and enjoyable course.

I did finish editing that novella and sent it off to my beta readers. Huzzah! I also sent out my newsletter, but hmmmm, that could have been last week…

And I just looked at my year-out schedule spreadsheet (which plots what I should be working on and when, and which I adapted from Ron Collins), and I realize I’m not irrevocably behind. Not yet. So that’s a bit of a relief. But I need a lot of desk time this coming week, so we’ll see how it goes.

Fellow writers and procrastinators, I wonder if you see yourselves in this article? It goes a little off-track at the end, but it does make sense in a way. I think this might be a good time to re-install Cold Turkey on my computer…and it has nothing to do with Thanksgiving.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

The Spaceship Next Door
The Spaceship Next Door by Gene Doucette
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed every moment of this fast-paced, fun, and funny book. The characters really came to life in the audiobook narration, and I particularly liked the main character. Definitely recommended for YA readers!

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Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

The Night Bell
The Night Bell by Inger Ash Wolfe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An unsettling but well-written mystery. Kept me intrigued from beginning to end, and although the subject-matter is distressing, it was not too graphic to read about. I was a bit confused about the motivations of one of the characters but it did all come out pretty clear in the end. A deft handling of a difficult subject.

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Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

The Drop
The Drop by Michael Connelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another page-turning entry in the annals of Harry Bosch. As usual, this one does not disappoint.

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