I’ll be signing copies at Prose in the Park!

On June 10th I’ll be heading down to Canada’s picturesque capital Ottawa to sign books and meet readers at the third annual Prose in the Park literary festival. If you’re in the vicinity of the capital region, come listen to the speakers and say hi to me in the YA literature tent.

Here’s a link to the festival’s Facebook page.  With over 150 fellow authors speaking and a number of interesting panels, it looks like it’ll be a great day for all lovers of lit. Hope to see you there!

Setting isn’t the same thing as location

I’m getting back on the horse. That’s if the horse’s Latin name was equus socialmedius. In other words, I’m trying to post more often. Now that the first draft of Starley’s Rust has been written and is in the hands of my editor, I can put more time into blogging, posting, tweeting, and, um, tumbling.

Horses being social, without the use of media.

Horses being social, without the use of media.

That being said, I’m wary of spending too much time on social media work compared to, you know, work work. But to help stoke the flames of the buzzfire without having to write 800 words every day or two, I’ve decided to write more frequent shorter blog posts with links to articles by other writers or in the media (like yesterday’s post). So here’s another one. It’s short, but it makes a very good point. It’s written by an “award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor” by the name of Richard Ridley.

He’s written this concise article about the crucial difference between location and setting. Very good advice. I’ll add another cent to his two cents: basically, if you’re describing scenery, it had better have an emotional impact for the reader, otherwise you might as well be writing an IKEA catalog.


Photo credit: Βethan / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)



Random noises about Silent Symmetry

The totally incredible cover for Silent Symmetry was finished last week, and the first book in my Embodied trilogy is now available on Amazon. Many, many thanks to Alex Nereuta for again doing an amazing job with the cover design. It actually makes me want to read the book, and I already know what happens! Judge for yourselves:

Book 1 of the Embodied trilogy - design by Alex Nereuta.

Book 1 of the Embodied trilogy – design by Alex Nereuta.

What’s Silent Symmetry about, you ask? Well, I’ve cooked up a blurb, and here it is, fresh out of the blurb oven:

Silent Symmetry
a mystery-fantasy love story

Book 1 of the EMBODIED trilogy

The Embodied glide through the busy streets of New York, uttering barely a sound.

Their eerie beauty comes from their perfect symmetry. Male, female, old, young… their faces are always absolutely symmetrical. Are they flawless humans, the epitome of evolution? Are they a genetically modified super-race? Are they extra-terrestrials? Once prep school student Kari Marriner becomes aware of their existence, she is driven to find the answer and finds herself ensnared in a web that reaches further than she could possibly have imagined.

Kari’s earliest memory is her father’s death in a car crash back in small-town Wisconsin. Now, 12 years later, her mother has been hired by a pseudo-religious organization in Manhattan called the Temple of Truth (a.k.a. the ToT). At Chelsea Prep, Kari develops a crush on classmate Cruz. But when she realizes that Noon, another attractive guy at school, is involved with the ToT, her curiosity gets the better of her.

Kari stumbles upon a secret tunnel leading from her apartment to another in the building, where an ancient book holds images she can scarcely believe, and a cavernous room contains… something inexplicable. As Kari pieces together the incredible evidence, she discovers that the ToT is run by other-worldly beings called The Embodied who influence human behavior and have established a global long-term human breeding program. But why? And what is her role in all this?

Just as she starts wondering whether the love she feels for Cruz is genuine or if her emotions are being controlled by The Embodied, her mother is kidnapped and Kari has to figure out who is human, who is Embodied, and who she can count on to help rescue her mother.

Silent Symmetry is the exciting first novel in JB Dutton’s EMBODIED trilogy. The second instalment, Starley’s Rust, will be published in late 2013.

Silent Symmetry is available on Amazon exclusively until mid-April, but if you’re dying to read it and don’t own a Kindle, fear not – you can download free Kindle reader software for your PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android phone or toilet*.

Of course if you’re in Canada or Britain you’ll want to download it from Amazon.ca or Amazon.co.uk. As you can see from the blurb, Silent Symmetry is set in the U.S., so if you’re offended by American spellings and vocabulary, please read it sitting next to a cuspidor for spitting into every few sentences.


*Kindle toilets only available in Japan.

The power of storytelling

Beowulf is the name given to the oldest surviving English-language poem. One of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature,  it is a true epic, with a legendary hero: Beowulf of the Geats, a Scandinavian tribe.

The story begins when Beowulf receives a message from the Danish king asking him to come to Denmark and fight a monster called Grendel which has been terrorizing Heorot, the king’s mead hall (basically a huge private pub).  The Danes are in a right pickle. I mean, nobody likes the idea of being eaten by a monster while knocking back a few pints of mead, swapping battle stories and comparing lustrous facial hair with one’s fellow Danish noblemen. Yet they just can’t bear the thought of drinking at a different pub, so Grendel continues feasting on them.  In sunny Sweden, Beowulf sighs, goes, “Fine. I’ll put on a clean pair of underwear and set sail, even though the weather forecast is a bit nasty.

When he gets to Heorot he not only kills Grendel with his bare hands, but also slays Grendel’s mother (bizarrely played by Angelina Jolie in the 2007 movie version), thereby saving the Danes and receiving a free pint of mead for his troubles.

The first page of the Beowulf manuscript

The first page of the Beowulf manuscript

Geatland, 50 years later: Just like Danny Glover’s character in Lethal Weapon, Beowulf (now king of the Geats) is all set for a nice, long retirement, possibly contemplating a Baltic cruise with his wife or a leisurely trek through Tuscany in a motor home. Then a terrifying dragon attacks the country, burning everything in its path. Beowulf once again realizes that he’s the only man who is man enough to do a man’s job and sends his soldiers away so that he can take on the dragon single-handed. All except for one trusty fighting companion, Wiglaf (in the Mel Gibson role), who teams up with Beowulf in archetypal buddy film fashion and ultimately slays the fiery beast.

Sadly, our hero is mortally wounded during the battle. As he lies dying, Beowulf commands Wiglaf to build a huge burial mound called a barrow atop a cliff so that sailors returning home will remember his heroic deeds:

A barrow bid ye the battle-fanned raise
for my ashes. ‘Twill shine by the shore of the flood,
to folk of mine memorial fair
on Hrones Headland high uplifted,
that ocean-wanderers oft may hail
Beowulf’s Barrow, as back from far
they drive their keels o’er the darkling wave.

(Modern English excerpt from Beowulf chapter, 38)

No, Wiglaf didn’t say, “Huh?” on hearing those words; he actually went and built the burial mound. Here’s a photo of it, bedecked with cows.

Beowulf's supposed burial mound.

Beowulf’s supposed barrow, or burial mound.

Beowulf was clearly aware of his own heroism and greatness. His instructions to Wiglaf were intended to make sure that he went down in history. It makes sense, right? Build a big monument, just like countless other leaders have done in the centuries since. Yet here’s what’s interesting: the only reason that Beowulf’s heroic deeds are remembered today is because of the two unknown scribes who wrote the poem. One single copy of the work survived for over a millennium. Old English words beautifully transcribed in a crumbling manuscript have preserved the legacy of King Beowulf better than any physical monument could have.

This is the power of storytelling. It rouses emotions. It inspires. And it persists.

A scene makeover

This week I rewrote a scene from my YA novel Silent Symmetry, the goal being to make it a bit more suspenseful. I’m sharing my rewriting method in case it’s useful for other writers, either aspiring or already published.

When I need to give a fiction or screenplay scene a makeover I find it unproductive to work on the existing scene. Why? Because I’m too precious about what I’ve already written. Oh, those wonderful turns of phrase and deliciously appropriate vocabulary choices! Right. It wouldn’t need a makeover if it was so amazing…

Blank pages

The dreaded blank pages can be your friend!

So I find it best to set aside my original scene, start a new Word or Final Draft document and rewrite it from scratch. That way, the best bits from the first version of the scene should automatically pop into my head when needed, while the chaff will be forgotten. Even though most writers hate the blank page, it’s actually the most effective tool if you want to truly revamp your scene rather than simply tinker with it.

Then, when you have your brand new version, you can see whether it’s an improvement on the original and incorporate whatever elements you’d overlooked but were actually good (since the human mind, and hence this method, isn’t infallible).

Oh yeah – here’s some news – the Silent Symmetry rewrite is done. I started proofreading yesterday. Out loud (as I discussed in a previous post). It’s kind of fun and really is the only way to make sure the sentences flow and that you haven’t made any mistakes.

And now it’s time to get back to it!

[“Image courtesy of adamr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net”]

Write as people speak

There’s a place for florid prose. And there’s a place for wordplay. But if you’re not trying to do either when you write your story, you should always keep in mind whether what you’re writing reflects how people actually speak in real life. I don’t just mean dialogue; that’s a given. I mean the prose that describes actions, people and places. Even the prose where you waffle on about some pet-theory-you-have-that-doesn’t-really-have-a-place-in-this-work-but-you-can’t-help-yourself, like most writers do.

Because the thing is, when people read a book they have a voice in their head. And if that voice doesn’t skip along the lines effortlessly, you’re probably not doing your job right. Even government agencies and banks have begun to realize that turgid texts make readers go through the same process as reading something in a foreign language. If you have to keep stopping or backtracking to figure out what the writer wants to convey, there’s a problem. Or maybe you should be a lawyer instead.

So why do fiction writers do it? It’s probably the legacy of the classroom, a teacher telling them that they shouldn’t write in a certain way. That starting a paragraph with because is wrong. That ending a sentence with a preposition is wrong, even thought it’s perfectly good English to say, “What’s this made of?”.

This isn’t just about rules and uncommon vocabulary (“five-dollar words”), it’s about rhythm too. Punctuation. Repetition. And more punctuation. See? I repeated that last idea for emphasis.

The only way to really find out whether your prose passes the talking test is to… talk. Read it aloud. Slowly. My trick is to do it in a funny accent so things don’t get boring. It’s also a great way to proofread. It doesn’t matter whether your Irish accent turns Scots or your Tennessee drawl sounds like a hillbilly – read ’em and weep. I mean, smile.