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Month: July 2014

Learning from the mistakes of others – 1

Posted in Irritated Reviews, and Just for Writers

We're often blind to our own faults. I find it easier to see problems in the works of other people, especially now that I have a hard time turning off my editorial eye when reading fiction (the downside of being a writer).

I can forgive a few typos, and the occasional fluffs, like a gun that starts as a .22 and ends up as a .357 — these are understandable mistakes.  They're errors of execution, not of understanding.  But there are limits…

Here, for your amusement, are some things I encountered in last night's book which I've sworn never to do myself. I've spared the author name and book title, since the point is not to heap scorn upon the efforts of someone else but to go and avoid these problems myself.

I'll post more of these Irritated Reviews™ from time to time, when sufficiently provoked.

The no-muss-no-fuss death in the family

The tops of the Blue Ridge mountains have no rivers

This thriller is set in the unnamed mountains of North Carolina (presumably the Blue Ridge). Our heroine has returned home, after the recent death of her last parent (no siblings), to her architectural home perched high up in the mountains with a view of chasms.  Her family is one of the founders of the town nearby, and her home has lots of land.

She works for a living, no reference to independent means.  There is no mention of inheritance, estate taxes, or any duties involved in dealing with the death of her mother, other than a funeral.  No mention of property taxes, which would likely be substantial.  Hard to believe she's the last surviving member of her family, or that she can support the house, or that there has been a death of a parent just weeks ago with its necessary financial impacts and unfinished tasks.  Doesn't seem to have any new inherited money or financial responsibilities.  It's a shallow plot device to give her an interesting home, but since it has none of the reality of supporting such a home or the passing of the torch, she operates in an unbelievable financial vacuum.

The river on top of the mountain

The most river you'll see high on a mountain
The most river you'll see high up on a mountain

Her high school boyfriend takes her to a cabin higher up the mountain to reminisce about old times.  It sits along a river, and there's her old canoe.

Now, in my experience, navigable (even if just by canoe) rivers do not appear high up on mountains, even the modest Blue Ridge ones.

Of brownies & of bogles full is this book

Posted in Other Voices

Tam o'Shanter 1
Tam o'Shanter (Abraham Cooper)

Online Scots Dialect Dictionary

Tam o'Shanter: A Tale by Robert Burns (1790)

Where sits our sulky, sullen dame
Where sits our sulky, sullen dame
WHEN chapman billies leave the street,
And drouthy neibors, neibors, meet;
As market days are wearing late,
And folk begin to tak the gate,
While we sit bousing at the nappy,
An’ getting fou and unco happy,
We think na on the lang Scots miles,
The mosses, waters, slaps and stiles,
That lie between us and our hame,
Where sits our sulky, sullen dame,
Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.

This truth fand honest TAM O’ SHANTER,
As he frae Ayr ae night did canter:
(Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses,
For honest men and bonie lasses).

O Tam! had’st thou but been sae wise,
As taen thy ain wife Kate’s advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;
That frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou was na sober;
That ilka melder wi’ the Miller,
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
That ev’ry naig was ca’d a shoe on
The Smith and thee gat roarin’ fou on;
That at the L — d’s house, ev’n on Sunday,
Thou drank wi’ Kirkton Jean till Monday,
She prophesied that late or soon,
Thou wad be found, deep drown’d in Doon,
Or catch’d wi’ warlocks in the mirk,
By Alloway’s auld, haunted kirk.

Check reader demographics with Yasiv using reverse also-boughts

Posted in Just for Writers

yasiv-booksI've just encountered a tool (new to me) for checking the Amazon “also bought” lists that point back at your books: Yasiv.


I typed in the name of the first book in my first series under Search Category = Books, and was fascinated to see how my readership broke down.

The series, The Hounds of Annwn, is a contemporary fantasy involving a Virginia foxhunter who ends up in the fae otherworld leading the Wild Hunt.  Now, as it happens, I spent several years as a semi-pro photographer following the Virginia hunting scene, so when I published To Carry the Horn, the first book in the series, I had a ready-made audience of foxhunting enthusiasts who already knew me from my photography.

Many of these people have never read fantasy (beyond, say Harry Potter) and bought the series out of horse-related interest.  The people who were already followers of Rita Mae Brown's foxhunting mysteries, with their fantasy elements of talking animals, were especially susceptible.  There weren't any other fantasy readers who bought print editions where I showed up in their “also-boughts.”

I'm a writer of Fantasy and Science Fiction, not a horse or hunting mystery writer, but I chose this first topic as a bit of a crossover to appeal to my built-in audience so that I wouldn't have to start from scratch to build a fantasy audience, figuring my next series would be a more conventional fantasy (which it is).


I already knew that many of the first series readers didn't do ebooks and would be responsible for most of my print sales.  What I didn't fully realize until now was how little connection there was between my print and my ebook audience.

Breaking the logjam

Posted in Characters, Setting, Structures of Earth, and The Affinities of Magic

Sometimes I'm asked, “How do you come up with these invented worlds so you can write about them?”

I don't think that's the right question. I think the real question should be, “How do you make these invented worlds seem real?”

I'm working on Structures of Earth, the first book in the series The Affinities of Magic. I plan to write several books in this series, and I'm approaching the first book as the foundation story, the prequel to the long string of stories to follow. I have a plot and a team of characters, and a good bit of the book written, but for the last while my brain has been raising alarms, saying “Stop. Something's wrong.”

Using Scrivener to Track Loose Ends

Posted in Just for Writers

tangled cat
Loose ends in my first draft novels

I converted to using Scrivener (from Word) more than two years ago and have never regretted it.  It's a wonderful dedicated platform for writing.

Today I want to talk a little about how I use it to track loose ends that I'll want to fix later.  I'll start by talking about Scrivener scenes.

A typical structure for a Scrivener novel project is to organize it by chapters and scenes, with scenes being the smallest unit.  For my purposes, I have created a scene template which I use for each scene that has a Notes structure already in place to help me remember what's important in each scene.Scrivener scene notes template

Once the scene is done, I copy the material above the dashed line into the Synopsis box as a description of the important parts of each scene.  That's what's visible in higher-level views when you're rearranging scene order.

Let's go over each of these items in detail.

  • POV – Identifies the point of view character.  I also have a special Label (above) for scenes by POV character.
  • SUMMARY – A couple of lines about the scene.
  • SPECIAL MENTIONS – anything crucial to the plot, like clues or back stories
  • GOAL OF POV – What the POV is trying to achieve in the scene.
  • CONFLICT OBSTRUCTING – What is standing in the POV's way.
  • STAKES (WHAT-IF FAIL) – What will happen if he fails.
  • FORESHADOW – Explicit foreshadowing of some future event.
  • LOOSE ENDS – Something that needs to be cleaned up.

Of course, not every scene uses all of these notes, but they're a helpful reminder as I plot the scene out — if I don't know what's going on, how can I expect my reader to follow along?

So, what's a loose end?

Books vs Banking

Posted in Readers

Book & Art Collector: Abraham Warburg
Banker & Patron: Max Warburg

From a review by Ingrid Rowland of Dreamland of Humanists: Warburg, Cassirer, Panofsky, and the Hamburg School by Emily J. Levine (Chicago)

For more on Aby Warburg's fascinating life see here.

A school photograph taken in Hamburg in 1879 shows thirteen-year-old Abraham Warburg among his classmates, conspicuous for his dark coloring and the mischievous, bemused expression on his face. Aby is obviously a handful. He dominates this solemn group portrait as definitely as he dominated his boisterous and numerous family, seizing attention with his quick wit and his tempestuous moods.

Aby knew his own mind. At thirteen, around the time the photograph was taken, he made a deal with his twelve-year-old brother Max: if Max would promise to buy Aby all the books he wanted for the rest of his life, Aby would hand over his designated position in the family bank. Both brothers were as good as their word. Max Warburg, the illustrious banker, would later declare that “this contract was certainly the most careless of my life,” and it would cost him dearly over the years. By 1914, Aby Warburg’s personal library numbered 15,000 volumes, many of them manuscripts or rarities from the earliest days of printing. Max and the three younger Warburg brothers, Felix, Paul, and Fritz, continued to subsidize their eldest brother’s bibliomania up to and beyond his death in 1929. Aby called the resulting collection his Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg or Warburg Library of Cultural Science.

Not long after making his pact with his brother, Aby Warburg decided to become an art historian. This was a brand-new profession in the late nineteenth century, a profession greatly facilitated by the new medium of photography, which enabled scholars to keep extensive, informative visual records of the things they had seen as a supplement to written notes. Aby collected photographs as eagerly, as imaginatively, as he collected books. He assembled his photographs for a specific purpose: he wondered how and why images could trigger such powerful emotions. Hamburg’s most famous Enlightenment intellectual, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, had addressed the same question in his essay “Laocoön,” a poignant meditation on the relationship between beauty and suffering that focused on an ancient marble statue group unearthed in Rome in 1506. The sculpture, signed by its three Greek creators, portrays the Trojan priest Laocoön and his two sons wrapped in the coils of two gigantic deadly snakes, slowly suffocating to death. Lessing marvels that the figures can provide such pleasure with their beautiful bodies and exquisite surface polish as they writhe and grimace in their private agony. (Lessing, amazingly, might have worked from engravings and a plaster cast of the sculpture rather than the real object.)

Like his contemporary Bernard Berenson (they were born one year apart, Berenson in 1865, Warburg in 1866), Warburg took special delight in the sinuous lines of late-fifteenth-century Florentine painting and sculpture, aware that these works had been inspired in turn by the era’s reawakened interest in ancient art (including the remains of frescoed walls as well as works of sculpture in marble and bronze). Both men revered Botticelli, and Warburg also admired Botticelli’s contemporary Ghirlandaio. (Baroque artists such as Bernini, Borromini, and Caravaggio struck them both as monstrous corruptors of the classical ideal.)

Read the whole review.