Category Archives: Ask An Author

Ask an Author: When Your Characters Take You Somewhere You Didn’t Want to Go

Summertime is more of a season we associate with reading that with writing—but for our group of authors, we continue to write away, just as much—if not more!—than we read.  That’s why we have some great news to share: at New Zealand’s 37th annual national conference for science fiction and fantasy, author Lee Murray won her sixth Sir Julius Vogel Award, this time for Best Short Story for The Thief’s Tale, which appears in the charity anthology, The Refuge Collection.  A big congratulations to her, and to many more successes of the kind to her and to our other authors!

Now she might make it look easy, but even Lee has trouble with her writing at times.  This week’s question focuses on one of these problems.  Many (if not all!) authors find that they have written their characters into situations they aren’t sure they can get themselves out of.  We asked our authors: when was the last time one of your characters wrote himself into such a situation, and how did you deal with it?  Other than the characters you had to kill off as discussed in the “Murdering Ideas for the Sake of the Story” edition of Ask an Author!​

Lee Murray

My current work in progress appears to have stalled for that very reason. Not because I haven’t got an idea of where I want to take my character. In fact, the outcome of the story is already clear in my mind. The current challenge is how to get my character to this pre-determined conclusion in a way that both challenges him and also makes for an exciting and engaging read. At the moment, my poor hero is running around in circles on a bottle top while I decide what to do next! I have another work, also not-in-progress, where I’ve written my characters into a corner because the dilemma is so big, the problem so catastrophic, that I cannot think of a way mere humans can possibly make a difference. It’s as if I have sent a child to hold back a forest fire armed only with a watering can. Of course, in my case there’s hope: if I wait long enough perhaps scientists will come up with a way to solve the problem for me! (Check out Lee’s blog for more)

A.Carina Barry

In Love at the End of all Things, I had one of the main characters develop a seriously difficult-to-keep-up-with dietary issue.  The character in question worked 12 hour shifts, and his coworker wasn’t going to go for eating at the same establishments that his buddy planned on using.  How to get around it?  I ended up puzzling over that one for a couple of days, I think, and then I realized the solution simply sat in the hands of the second MC.  Problems aren’t all solved by the character you are following at the time.

Jean Gilbert

So far, (and I say that because I know it will happen one day) the situations caused by a misbehaving character has led to a better story than the original storyline. For example, one of my male characters fell in love with the main protagonist, which was not in the outline, but because it felt right, the conflict it caused made the story more interesting. Characters became more invested, danger grew from it, choices changed- some good, some bad – making the end on the story richer. Sometimes, we have to trust that our characters know what they are doing more than we the writer does, and let them draw our pen to whatever end their story takes them. After all, it is their story, not ours. :) (You can ask Jean more about this and any other topic on Twitter.)

Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order: A. Carina Barry, D. Odell Benson, F.C. Etier, Jean Gilbert, J. C. Hart, Hunter Marshall, Catherine Mede, Lee Murray, Karo Oforofuo, A.J. Ponder, Meryl Stenhouse, Lorene Stunson Hill, Lynn Voedisch, and Sybil Watters.

Ask an Author: You Write What You Read

It’s finally summertime where I live, which means the season to spend time on a deck somewhere with a pitcher of ice-cold water and a pile of books to read!  A couple of years ago, I started reading not just books that I was interested in, but books that I wanted, as a writer, to emulate: storylines that I enjoyed, genres that got me engaged, writing styles that enveloped me from the first line, anything that I was aiming to be as a writer, I looked for in the books I read.

This is not a novel (ha) idea; it is a well-known fact in the writing world that you write what you read, as a writer is greatly influenced by the books he or she reads.  So this week we ask out group of writers: of the books that influenced you the most as an author, which handful would you recommend an aspiring writer first focus on?  Which books do you keep returning to again and again?  Which atypical book do you use as inspiration for your writing?

Lee Murray

As a person — and I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before — the book which most influenced me growing up was Dr Seuss’ Horton Hatches the Egg. My dad would read it to my brother and me, each of us sitting on a knee, and the book perched between us. Dad did the best voices: “I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful 100%.” It’s a statement to stand by, and not just professionally. I’ve tried to live my whole life on this mantra. Plus, my dad made it pretty clear that you didn’t want to be one of life’s Lazy Maisey birds!

I’d love to return to books again and again — and I have reread childhood favourite To Kill a Mockingbird this year — but I no longer have time to reread books, when my to-read list is full to overflowing with new talent to discover. However, I recently attended StokerCon, the American Horror Writers’ convention in Las Vegas, where Bram Stoker Award-winning editor, Stephen Jones, reminded attendees of the importance of reading backwards in our genre, to rediscover those ground-breaking writers who made the genre what it is. It’s only reading those pioneers, that we can then challenge ingrained tropes to create something fresh, and perhaps ground-breaking in itself. So I may have to re-evaluate my thinking because re-reading may be just as important as reading something for the first time.

An atypical book I use for inspiration? Hmm. Maybe reading outside our own genres. If you never read romance, maybe pick up a romance. Or if horror isn’t your thing, try it again. Sometimes, reading outside our genre can help us discover innovative ways to approach our own storytelling.

Catherine Mede

I proofread a lot for other authors, and the books vary from erotic romance, to contemporary and urban paranormal.  I guess this is why I tend to focus my writing mostly on contemporary and paranormal books.  Reading these kinds of books gives you an idea of what other authors are writing, where their focus is.  Its all about genre trends, and reading the latest books coming out lets you know where the trends are heading.  Also reading their styles makes you realise what you do and don’t like about their writing styles, and adapting your own.

I don’t have a specific book that I read for inspiration, but J A Huss, Melissa Pearl, T. G. Ayer are my regular go to authors as I love their writing styles.

A.Carina Barry

I’d suggest reading something from every major genre.  Understanding the feel of the stories, the format and formulas will fuel their writing.  Just because you love sci-fi doesn’t mean you might not have a gambling scene on a space ship that could have come out of an old Western.  Just because you love fantasy, that doesn’t mean you won’t have an implacable foe that could do well in a horror novel.  Just because you write mysteries doesn’t mean you won’t have a fateful meeting of two lovers worthy of a romance novel.  To me, working with the different themes is like having different arrows in my quiver to draw on when I’m writing.  Creating a story is more like working with a mixing board for music.  You dial up some themes and down others, but you need to know what all is available to you.

That said, if you want a good book for a first-time writer as a reference, I’d recommend “How NOT To Write A Novel:  200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide”.  “The Emotional Thesaurus” is also a helpful one for avoiding the same words over and over.  As for regular novels, it depends on what moves them.  Mine include “Bardic Voices 1:  Lark and Wren”, “Hogfather”, “Dragonsinger”, “Valley of the Horses”, “House of Leaves”, “The Billionaire’s Muse”, “Needful Things” and pretty much anything from Stephen King and Louis L’Amore.  Go find yourself, and most of all, write.

A.J. Ponder

Of all the strange books in the world, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones is the one I’d recommend for aspiring fantasy authors. It’s a hilarious romp through fantasy tropes best avoided. (In alphabetical order.) Warning, never lend it out, it may not come back. Unlike Grunts by Mary Gentle which will never come back if you lend it out. So always keep your copy close at hand, unless you want to stay young and innocent, in which case, run a mile.

The other weird book I’d recommend aspiring science fiction authors is The Martian by Andy Weir. Yes, it’s the same book as the movie. Written in diary form, it’s innovative and accurate (mostly) but really, given the fact I still know where my copy is, Grunts and Tough Guide to Fantasyland are the outstanding picks – and worth returning to time and again. More so even than Verdigris Deep and The Hobbit, my most loved, and longest loved stories, in that order.

Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order: A. Carina Barry, D. Odell Benson, F.C. Etier, Jean Gilbert, J. C. Hart, Hunter Marshall, Catherine Mede, Lee Murray, Karo Oforofuo, A.J. Ponder, Meryl Stenhouse, Lorene Stunson Hill, Lynn Voedisch, and Sybil Watters.

Ask an Author: Title and Covers, Seemingly Easy, Anything But

Communities are awesome.  Well, more specifically, communities bound together with a common vision and the strength of stepping up to the plate again and again are awesome.

I have to tell you the story of how this edition of the Ask an Author feature came around because, although it is a little embarrassing for me, it really reflects something special about authors: they have such a capacity to band together once they are part of a small group working together on something specific.

I usually email this group of authors a good week before the feature goes up.  They are all quite busy individuals and I want to make sure that they enjoy writing their submission rather than stressing out about it.  But this time around, I made a pretty big mistake.  I noted down in my editorial calendar that I had to contact you all on Monday 18 April…  But what I should have written is to contact them last Monday 11 April because the next edition is set to go up this Thursday 21 April 2016.

But despite the turnaround is, just check out the number and the quality of the responses I got within 48 hours!  A reflection of the dedication of the authors in this group.

So without any further ado, this week’s question, which focuses on titles and covers.  It might be the shortest sentence they write, but a title is probably the most important thing an author can come up with.  How do each of our authors come up with a book title?  Do they do it before they start writing, as they are writing, or after they are done writing their book?   Similarly, how do they come up with a cover concept?  Do they do it themselves?  Do they delegate it completely?  Have they ever chosen a title or a cover that they either completely regret or are still extremely proud of?

Lee Murray

Wow, good question, Sahar! It’s really made me think about my title process. I usually start with a working title, and then, as the story progresses, come up with something more concrete and relevant. My latest book, Into the Mist (Cohesion Press) was originally called Global Blockbuster. It gave me such a kick to see that very flippant file-name because it reminded me of my intent to write something explosive and compelling. As the story evolved, and the misty mountain ranges of the Urewera Ranges became more significant ‒ almost a character in itself ‒ then the name Into the Mist emerged. I didn’t check to see how many other books already had that title because it was right for the story. (Luckily, Stephen King hadn’t already used it).

My YA novel, Misplaced, was Story for Florence, since it was inspired by my dear friend who went missing in France over a decade ago, and who has yet to be found.

The first scribblings of my middle grade novel Battle of the Birds were entitled The Mound Rising. It’s an odd title, with odd beginnings. Living in Madison, Wisconsin, many years ago, I was missing home. I had this crazy idea that an effigy mound ‒ an actual one, shaped like an eagle which occurs on a Madison campus ‒ might be a secret portal back home. The eagle would throw off the leaf-litter, emerge from the ground, and fly me back home.

A Dash of Reality is a play on words, since the novel is a fun romp about running and reality TV. The story began with the lacklustre filename: Novel. A Dash of Reality’s first cover was a disaster. It involved a piece of original art commissioned from a talented local artist who knew the setting well. The resulting cover was fun, full of colour, quirky, and, to those in the know, gave visual cues to the setting. I loved it but, being sensible, I carried out a focus group study of local readers who knew the story. Everyone said it was perfect. They were wrong. That first cover did not sell the book. Oh, it worked well locally, but international readers thought it looked naïve and unprofessional. I did not learn this for a long time ‒ people were too polite to tell me ‒ but when I found out I had the cover redone by a professional designer. The revised cover is still quirky and fun and colourful, but now I hope it has wider appeal than just my hometown.

Catherine Mede

For my first book – Cursed Love – the title came to me before I started writing the book.  I knew what the story was about, and that title reflected that.  Running Away was also the same – I had two characters who were running away from their problems.

Shards of Ice, however was a different story.  I had it as ‘Ice Planet’ although it wasn’t the title I wanted.  It was a friend who suggested that title, and it really fit.  Some titles come as I am writing the story, or just before, and it is really helpful in the telling of the story as it helps to keep it in line.  Of the two stories that don’t have titles, I have struggled to get them really working for me, because I don’t have any idea of how I want the story to be told.  I hope that makes sense.

Hunter Marshall

I usually begin writing and throw around titles throughout the whole rough draft process.  I will start with a title and invariably change it 2, 3, sometimes 4 times by the end of writing it.  As far as the cover, I like to pick the photo or model and then let my friend do her magic as far as looks.  This has come after doing a rewrite on Wake Up! Based on a true story of abuse and betrayal.  Hopefully, the next book will be great so I don’t have to do a 2nd edition. :)

Meryl Stenhouse

Titles are funny things. They seem to either arrive fully formed and perfect at the generation of the idea, or else they remain elusive and unfathomable until the last minute, when they are cobbled together from the prose just so I can ship the story off to editors. I have some titles that I love (The Demon, The Hare and the Girl in the Green Needle Crown) and some I’m still not happy with (No Home for Us) and many in between. Covers are a different matter. I farm them off to my talented graphic Designer (Dwell Design and Press, http://parchmentplace.wix.com/dwell-design) and I’m always happy with the results.

J. C. Hart

Titles are the bane of my existence.  They truly are.  I have so much trouble with them that quite often the placeholder title becomes the real title, simply because I can’t think of anything better or because it’s now so familiar I can’t think of anything that could replace it.  I now try and think of them before I start writing, because I know how often I get stuck with them if they are with me for the duration of the writing period, and it has begun to get easier.  Only slightly though.

Covers are another beast entirely.  I have a fabulous cover designer and I tend to leave things in her hands.  We typically do a massive search for images at the same time, passing things back and forth until she gets a feel for the vibe I am going for, though more often than not, she changes that dramatically 😉  I trust her, so it’s okay.  There is one cover that I picked the image for and had complete say so over, and it’s still one of my favs.  I’m not such a visual person so it can be really hard for me to come up with a concept on my own.  I’m so pleased I have someone to work with.

Jean Gilbert

Titles are an entity of their own. Sometimes I know the title right away. Other times, I don’t have a title until the story is finished. However,I have noticed that if I outline a novel, the title will come by the time the outline is completed.  The cover concept is more difficult in the sense that I feel it must not only represent the story, but also a part of my personality. The idea may be mine, but the final book cover is a collaboration between me and the artist. So far, I have been fortunate to have worked with great artists. :)

D. Odell Benson

When it comes to the title, it depends.  A few times I would write around the title, but then I end up changing it three or four times before it goes out for review.  I prefer to come up with the concept of my cover, and my brother ties it all together.  So far, I love my titles and covers.

Lorene Stunson Hill

My title is based on a statement made to me by a wise woman many years ago!  She always ended our meetings with a statement: “Don’t Dance with Ugly People.”  Many, many years later I realized I had done just that and wrote my book titled To Dance with Ugly People to detail how miserable that can make your life and to warn others to not make the mistakes I’d made.

Do you do it before you start writing, as you are writing, or after you are done writing your book?  Before I was writing.

Similarly, how do you come up with a cover concept?  I search Morguefiles for a suffering pix.

Do you do it yourself?  Yes, using Morguefiles and Createspace.  I am self-published.

Do you delegate it completely?  Have you ever chosen a title or a cover that you either completely regret or are still extremely proud of?  I am proud of the title, To Dance with Ugly People, although I have had people laugh at the title because they are taking it literally rather than metaphorically.  The sequel is titled Ugly People can’t dance.

Karo Oforofuo

I think up my titles before writing. I have never written a story or book without first thinking of its title. The title has a way of guiding me. If there is no title I’m afraid I’ll stray away from the storyline because it’s open to changes. For that, I love having my titles first.

As for book covers, I do mine. I started with a not so great work but I’m above average now with graphics design. All my covers, except one, we’re done by me. I love the challenge of doing my cover. I have gone further by helping a lot of authors with their book covers too.

Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order: A.C. Barry, D. Odell Benson, F.C. Etier, Jean Gilbert, J. C. Hart, Hunter Marshall, Catherine Mede, Lee Murray, Karo Oforofuo, A.J. Ponder, Meryl Stenhouse, Lorene Stunson Hill, Lynn Voedisch, and Sybil Watters.

Ask an Author: Murdering Ideas for the Sake of the Story

Being an author is awesome.  We get to be the gods of our little world where everything depends on us.  If a character misbehaves, then oh yeah?  Off with his head!

But this can also cause quite the headache at times.  Seriously, it’s a good thing the real God is so powerful, because some of the decisions we have to make as authors are so tough that they can even make us want to give us at times.  Can you imagine if God did that?

Thankfully He doesn’t.

And as for us poor little authors, we just stumble along and try to figure it all out, each in our own way, as demonstrated by the diversity of answers to this week’s question: Sometimes a character or plot idea doesn’t fit the story, but we love it so much we hate to lose it. How do you deal with murdering a particularly good idea you are really attached to?

My dilemma is a little bit flipped the other way around.  You see, when I first started writing Spirit Within Club, which is the first of a series of seven, I knew that one of the characters would end up dying in the 5th or 6th book because of decisions they were already making at the age of 10 in the first book.  But once I put the finishing touches on the manuscript for the second book–which is currently under review by a publisher–I realised that I just couldn’t do it.  I don’t want to kill this character because I want them to overcome and live on to help others.  So do I kill the character as originally intentioned, or do I kill the idea of killing the character?

Oh what a tangled web we weave…

Lee Murray, Author

Every two weeks I have my writing critiqued by a group of four talented writers, including, amongst others, Ask an Author’s AJ Ponder. We meet at the library café over coffee and eggs, and dissect each other’s writing for its strengths and weaknesses. Sounds civilised, right? Not on your life. These writers hack and carve at my work until it is a shiny as a scalpel. Like precision surgeons, they incise tumorous phrases and suction away the putrefaction. They’re not deliberately invasive — like doctors, their first mandate is to do no harm — but inevitably their treatment leaves my work looking pinker, healthier. In short, if my team think a character or plot idea doesn’t fit the story, then I tend to trust them.

A.C. Barry, Author

I have characters who show up that don’t fit into my stories.  I try to keep them in mind for later.  Some haunt me, like the white-furred female biker werewolf who has never given me her name, and others await their time to get mentioned in later tales.  Mostly, I try to keep them in the notes so I can pull them out when a good spot for them appears.

Sybil Watters, Author

I love that you used the terms “murdering a particularly good idea”, because that is exactly how it feels.  I don’t let any ideas I find to be particularly good go wasted, however.  I may slice and dice them out of a current project. Then I sew them back together on a rainy day when I will most certainly resurrect them in a different tale!  So it is really only a temporary, violently induced snooze, not murder- my conscience is clear.

Catherine Mede, Author

One of the first stories I wrote, I specifically wrote in a character that I knew was going to die at the end, but as I continued writing him, the more I liked him, and I just didn’t want him to disappear from the story.  I argued with myself, with my characters, but in the end, I let the story tell itself.  How did I deal with it?  He battled the dead guy, and they both vanished, but he did a Gandalf, and came back as a stronger wizard than he was.  He still helped with the story and still turned up at the end to congratulate the happy couple – but so did the bad guy.  That novel will never see the light of a publishers press, but I was extremely happy with the outcome in the end.

Hunter Marshall, Author

I haven’t written a book yet where I need to kill of a character. In Wake Up! Based on a true story of abuse and betrayal I felt like I wanted to kill off the Antagonist, but because the story is about reality, there was no way I could. Even my second book is based on reality and the main male character in that one I wouldn’t kill off at all; he may not like me anymore if I do that. :)

F.C. Etier, Author

I write the first and last chapters of my books when I begin. My method of writing is to turn my characters loose. let them tell the story and drive the plot with dialog. Of course, you have to set boundaries. You don’t want to kill your main character. If you’re going to let characters drive the plot and action, you can’t afford to get too attached to them or plot devices.  Consider Hitchcock’s Psycho. Marion Crane dies approximately forty-seven minutes into a movie that lasts one hour and 49 minutes. Audience members think she is the main character only to discover later she is not.

Meryl Stenhouse, Author

I’ve murdered a good many ideas. I’m a serial idea-murderer. But I wasn’t always this way. One of my first written stories was a very traditional queen/castle/high-fantasy piece that I loved. I could see every room, I knew every character. Or I thought I did. I wrote the story, and submitted it. I got a very detailed rejection from an editor pointing out everything that was wrong with it. So I sat down and revised the story completely, keeping the spirit of the original idea intact, and resubmitted it. And got rejected.

Fast forward ten years to my first paid short story sale. It wasn’t that story. I was still rewriting, reforging and resubmitting that original story. And it kept gathering rejections.

Years later, with many sales under my belt, I pulled out that story again, intending to rewrite it with all my hard-learned skills.

And I realised why it hadn’t sold. I was in love with the idea, but it was nothing like the stories I was selling, because it wasn’t ME. It was an homage to the fantasy I had read growing up. It was all nostalgia. It wasn’t a story that belonged in my body of work. So I put it away, finally, after nearly 15 years of lovingly working on it.

And it felt great.

What I learned from that exercise is that, no matter how attached you are to something, it’s better to let go if the idea doesn’t serve your vision. And there will always be other ideas to replace it.

A.J. Ponder, Author

Murdering good ideas is really difficult. So I wrote a poem…a while ago now.

It’s too long for here, but says everything – and may even answer the question of why you should – it’s at http://anafflictionofpoetry.blogspot.co.nz/2011/04/remember-remember-babes-in-wood.html

Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order:
A.C. Barry, D. Odell Benson, F.C. Etier, Jean Gilbert,
J. C. Hart, Hunter Marshall, Catherine Mede, Lee Murray,
Karo Oforofuo, A.J. Ponder, Meryl Stenhouse,
Lorene Stunson Hill, Lynn Voedisch,
and
Sybil Watters.

Ask an Author: Double Feature! Pi Day, and Answering the “What do you do for a living” Question

I hope you had the time to celebrate Pi Day!  I know, I know, it’s just another way to get us to spend time, energy, and resources on something utterly unimportant.  But at the same time, it’s not that hard to add a pie to one’s day.  Then again, who really needs an excuse to eat pie?

Great, now I have a craving for pie.

But first, some exciting news!  Lynn Voedisch’s fourth book, Kiss of the Goddess, is one step closer to being published, with another round of editing completed.  And that’s not all—one of Lynn’s short stories is going to be included in an upcoming anthology!  Congratulations to Lynn, and here is to much more good writing news from her and the rest of the Ask an Author crew!

Today’s Ask an Author feature is yet again a double one.  You guessed it, one part is dedicated to Pi Day, namely asking them about the kind of pie they had on 14 March or, if they didn’t have any pie, what would they have picked had they had the choice.

As for the more serious question in this edition of the feature, it comes courtesy of our very own Lee Murray, who was wondering what our fellow contributors have to say when people ask them what they do for a living.  Do they tell them that they are an author when they are out socially?  How do their audience react?  What is the best reaction they have had?  The funniest?

Personally, I do mention, when I consider it appropriate, that I am a writer.  I have to admit that most times people’s eyes tend to gloss over though, and I’m not sure why.  The best reaction was when a mom found out that I was the author of a book that changed her daughter’s life.  The 11 year-old and I spent two hours chatting afterwards.  The funniest…  Well, this is kind of rude and funny in a roll-your-eyes way, but someone once said: “Oh, you’re one of those.”

Come to think of it guys…  It was actually just plain rude, no?

Lee Murray

Yes, I say I’m a writer. It tends to go down well if the group is full of accountants or lawyers or software engineers. One or two people will ask what my real job is, but most people are polite and ask what I’m working on. The next question is usually, “Have you published anything I’ve read?” or “Can I buy it in an actual bookstore?” (For the record, the answer is yes: you can buy any book in any bookstore if you ask the retailer to stock it!). Then there are the people who say, “Oh, I’ve thought about writing a book,” as if it’s as easy as making a sandwich. Those people can’t wait to tell you the premise for their bestseller, and how it’s all written in their head, if only they were as lucky as you and had the time to get in on paper.  (Yes, there are people who believe the book they have yet to write ‒ the first thing they’ll have ever written ‒ is guaranteed to be a bestseller.) Sometimes those people have already written something; a paragraph or a couple of chapters, or even 250,000 rambly filter-laden adjective-heavy words, complete with stilted talking-heads dialogue and systematic punctuation issues. I secretly dread those meetings, because inevitably they’ll ask if I can have a quick look at it and give them some pointers. Or could I look at their friend’s/sister’s/mum’s work and give them some pointers. There are the “I’ve written a book, how do I go about self-publishing it?” “Will you come to my kid’s school and talk?” and “Can you donate books for my rowing club raffle?” people. There are the sorts who will come to your book launches and help themselves to a free copy because “the publisher pays for them, right?”. But I still tell people that I’m an author, because occasionally, just occasionally, there will be a lovely someone who says, “I’d love to read your work. Where can I buy it?”

A.C. Barry

I do tell people I am an author when I’m out and someone happens to ask.  Usually the reactions are quite positive.  The best reaction I had was getting to chat up a sales clerk who was thinking of writing a book and encouraging her to go for it.  I guess the funniest was having a friend of a family member get a copy of my book to be polite and then having her be shocked that it was as good as anything she’d read.  I didn’t get pie for pi day this year as I was sick.  I did get a flower for White Day though which falls on the same day.  That was nice.

Sybil Watters

It really depends on the company, but on the whole, I generally do not tell people I am an author, even though I would rather tell them that than the fact that I am a lawyer.  Everyone hates lawyers, including me.  That being said, someone always pipes up out loud “she is an author too!” and then the good conversation ensues.  Nobody likes to talk to or about being a lawyer but everyone seems bedazzled by a novelist.  I truly believe it is because everyone has at least one story to tell- one book in them.

As for funny, I always find it funny when people ask you to write them in as a character, because they are assuming you have all good things to say.  If people could gain perspective they might not ask that so frequently!

I don’t eat desserts, but if I had to choose a pie, I would bake a hot huckleberry pie with homemade crust myself and eat the whole darn thing by myself…. with vanilla ice cream on top….in one sitting! 😉

Lynn Voedisch

Yes, I tell people that I’m an author (I usually say “writer” first) and when they find out that I’m a fiction author they get all misty-eyed, as if I told them I was a fashion model or Hollywood actor. There seems to be some glamour attached to it all. Next thing they want to know is if I get published, when I say yes, about half of them will get all excited and ask if I’m on Amazon. When I say yes, they promise to look me up. I haven’t got any big sales on my books, which are getting old, so I doubt they really do look me up. There are a certain percentage of people who look at me like I’m crazy. These almost always are my journalist friends, who would give their right arms to write a novel but don’t know how. They act like they couldn’t be bothered to read my stuff. One person is trying desperately to write a romance but can’t get off the first draft. I give her advice over and over. But she’s never bothered to order a book of mine. Odd isn’t it?

I do absolutely nothing on Pi Day, as I’m barely aware it exists. I’m a complete math idiot and would have no idea what I’m even supposed to do with Pi. So, no pie for Pi. I use a calculator when times get rough.

Lorene Stunson Hill

I do not tell people I am an Author when I am out socially, unless I am in a Promotion Mode.  For example: Leaving business cards on tables of doctor’s offices, in convenience stores, etc.  I’ve even carried a purse of books to give away and just ask the recipient to leave a review.  Most people don’t seem to be interested.  It’s hard to do, also because I don’t know their preferred genre.  But, I have had one book signing and the best reaction I had was with an older couple who were so amazed at the idea of meeting someone who’d actually written a book they kept hugging me.  They pulled up chairs and sat and talked to me and gave me hugs as they left, inviting me to visit them someday.  The funniest was from a woman who read my book title, “To Dance with Ugly People,” and burst out laughing. I mean she rolled!  At first I was offended, but realized she was reading the title literally when it is meant to be read figuratively.  I have not had pie for pie day but if I were to have a pie it would be APPLE CRUMB.

D. Odell Benson

It depends on the atmosphere if I mention it. I have at times and people tend to look me up via Google and most times surprised that I’ve taken out the time to write a book. Generally they request me as a friend on Facebook or like my fan page because I put up short stories to show people my skills when it comes to bringing words alive. The best reaction I’ve had so far was when I was in a business meeting for my current employer, I didn’t bring up that I was an author but the head of our Human Resource department made mention. That day I ended up selling a little over 600 books and donated five to each of our sister clubs, total of ten offices. What a day!

The funniest reaction came from my Doll-Doll (grandmother), she was telling us at Sunday dinner that she’s been reading this book and it’s really good but she couldn’t remember the name. I didn’t think anything of it because I know that she normally sticks with romance and not murder/mystery novels. When she pulled the book out everyone almost hit the floor laughing. I never told my Doll-Doll because of the content but she found it because someone gave it to her as a gift. When I mean hysterical, it had to be the funniest situation ever. Apple pie was my contribution to Pi day.

Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order: A.C. Barry, D. Odell Benson, F.C. Etier, Jean Gilbert, J. C. Hart, Hunter Marshall, Catherine Mede, Lee Murray, Karo Oforofuo, A.J. Ponder, Meryl Stenhouse, Lorene Stunson Hill, Lynn Voedisch, and Sybil Watters.

Ask an Author: Double Feature! Writing and Editing, and when Real Life is Stranger than Fiction

Fine, fine, fine. Yes, I did it again. This week, two questions were submitted to our group of authors, and both of them were inspired, yet again, by the recently completed round of new The X-Files episodes. But yet again, there is nothing paranormal about the answers to either question; one delves once more in work technique, and the other into the strange occurrences of day-to-day life.

But first, some exciting news! One of authors has a new book available on pre-order! A big round of applause, please, for Ask an Author’s own Lee Murray, whose latest book, Into the Mist, is now available on Amazon. Hip hip, hurray!

The fist question has to do with the fact that some of our authors are editors as well as writers, and readers were wondering if it helps or hinders their writing. How is this related to The X-Files? Well, the latest opinion columns state that creator Chris Carter needs to step away from all creative aspects pertaining to the show except for sharing initial ideas and making sure that it all fits in the overarching mythology, since the three episodes of the revival he wrote were, well, kind of messy (to put it mildly. Lee is the only author in the cabal who answered this question.

Our other authors focused on the second question, which asked them to describe one time in their lives when the truth was stranger than fiction. And the relationship between this question and The X-Files is so obvious that I am going to leave her and go commiserate with other X-Philes on forums and chat rooms because yes, some of Carter’s work was that painful.

On Writing and Editing

Lee Murray

Being an editor certainly helps with my writing ‒ you can’t help but be on track with genre trends, and writing styles. Seeing other people’s errors, and how certain techniques can be used to remove those errors, thereby tightening and strengthening the narrative, ultimately helps me to improve my own writing. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone struggling with a sagging plot, a lacklustre character, or a dwindling-down-to-nothing ending. But when it comes to reading, being an editor can spoil your enjoyment of a story if the text is muddied with spelling and grammar issues, plot holes, and consistency issues. We can’t help but see them. They jump out at us more than the mole on an ugly stepsister’s chin. Some self-published writers will tell you their readers are more concerned with the story, than things like typography. They’ll tell you the odd error doesn’t really matter, but it does. I have a writer colleague ‒ not one of the Ask an Author stable ‒ who writes bestselling historical romances. An indie writer, she spins a fantastic story, full of period intrigue and rippling muscles and romantic angst. But almost every speech in her books are incorrectly punctuated – resulting in up to six or seven errors per page. I’ve alerted her to the problem, but it seems neither she nor her editor understand standard punctuation rules. Sadly, I can’t read her work anymore and she has lost a valuable reader and reviewer. I wonder how many other loyal readers have drifted away for the same reason.

On Life Being Stranger Than Fiction

A.J. Ponder

Life is always stranger than fiction, because if you wrote fiction that unbelievable, who would read it? Krakens, manatees, animals that can freeze solid, be unfrozen with a blowtorch and still live. They are all true – so long as you recognize a kraken is really a giant squid. So I’ll not talk about the strangest things that have happened to me, because after reading something so unbelievable, how will you be able to suspend disbelief for my fiction?

Catherine Mede

I haven’t really had a time where truth was stranger than fiction…  But I can tell you a funny story :)  I have a cat who turned 16 on 22 February.  He’s got arthritis in his hips so he’s fairly slow and cautious when it comes to moving around.  He was sleeping on the couch, and it must have been deep, because I run my hand over his fur as I walked past.  He levitated off the couch, back flipped onto the couch arm, and then did another backflip onto the floor.  He stood in the same position for 5 minutes, I guess while he tried to process the incredible acrobatic moment!

Angela Barry

I have times when I am creating the backgrounds in stories that I make something up only to find out it really exists.  I had this happen in a Vampire LARP setting where I made a Lasombra Elder want to go to the stars as a goal.  I later got to read the Lasombra source book and it was something they were written to want to do…except I had never read it prior to that.  Now I’ve got my paladin books and I pictured a blue flower with four petals being the symbol for the order that fights undead.  Looking into it, I found the exact flower I had imagined and it tends to grow…near cemeteries.  Reaching for art, sometimes we hit truth and come up with life.

Hunter Marshall

Well, the reason for writing Wake Up! Based on a true story of abuse and betrayal is one of those “Truths are Stranger than Fiction” types. I never thought I was the type of person who would trust a man so easily, but as that story will portray I was stupidly in love and even as things got worse and worse I thought I could “fix” him. Boy, was I wrong!

Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order: Angela Barry, D. Odell Benson, F.C. Etier, Jean Gilbert, J. C. Hart, Hunter Marshall, Catherine Mede, Lee Murray, Karo Oforofuo, A.J. Ponder, Meryl Stenhouse, Lorene Stunson Hill, Lynn Voedisch, and Sybil Watters.

Ask an Author: Rule Breaker or Rule Follower?

I’m sorry guys, but I have to confess that yet again, The X-Files revival totally influenced my choice of question to set before our cabal of wonderful authors. But I would like to point out that, as regular Sahar’s Blog readers have noticed in the last few weeks, although the show has basically gone from a constant companion to an almost complete focus, I’m sticking to my regular posting schedule, including the latest edition of the increasingly popular Ask an Author feature.

Rest assured however; there is again nothing paranormal about the answers to this question. It’s yet another question delving into work technique. As you might infer from the answers, some of us follow all kinds of rules when it comes to writing, while others go all over the place just because we can.

Seriously, writing is sometimes like being a little god of your own tiny world. #delusionsofgrandeur

I personally flip between following rules and breaking them. It really depends on what I am working on. I usually try to follow rules; if I am trying to convey something that the rules I am currently aware of don’t manage to convey, I’ll do research and even take an online writing class to expand my “writing toolkit”. But after a few months at the most, if I haven’t found anything, then I just go ahead and do my own thing.

What about our authors? When it comes to their writing, are they a rule follower or a rule breaker? Do they create their own rules and follow them, or go completely rogue? What about with life in general?

Lee Murray

Many years ago, when I was living in France, I joined a group of international students taking a language and cultural course where we studied, among other things, Jean Anouilh’s version of Antigone. Of course, one of the questions lecturers pose when you study Antigone is whose position would you take and why? Of all my classmates, I was the only one who chose Creon’s position over Antigone’s. So rules over rogue. I still ask myself why that was. Perhaps it’s because I’m the eldest child of four, and so I was always expected to set an example for my younger siblings, to take care of them and be the responsible one. Or maybe it was because I was a bit of a swot at school, regularly getting myself elected as the class councillor or school prefect. Perhaps I took that stance because I’m half Chinese, a culture in which femininity is closely associated with selflessness and duty to family. So yes, in the same way, I think my writing tends to stick to the rules, at least at the technical nuts and bolts level. I don’t mind pantsing a story, but I like the grammar and punctuation to be correct. I like there to be a consistency in style and voice. Accomplished, experienced, out-of-the-box writers can afford to break the rules. Until I’m one of those, I prefer to be disciplined. And in my real life? Well, sometimes the free-spirited Kiwi side of me wins out, so overall I believe my life is a balance of free will and sticking to rules.

F.C. Etier

Typically, readers will notice that my writing is within the boundaries of most of the rules, most of the time (The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.) Particular attention is paid to the rules important to my publisher, and I’ve always been a stickler for English grammar.

At work, my boss refers to me as an “obedient renegade.” One of my many motto’s is, “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.”

Meryl Stenhouse

Ooh, that’s a tough one. When it comes to life, I’m a rule-follower. I stop at stop signs and do my taxes and cheerfully stick to the speed limit. But writing is one of those places where you can break the rules and no one gets hurt. I used to worry a lot about what makes good writing, but that is such a subjective measure that it’s no use at all for a writer. So now when I write I only work to a single rule: write the best story I can. Times change, my skills grow and change and my interests change. All I can do is write the best story I can write right now.

A.J. Ponder

Gosh I hate rules, if I find a rule, I can’t wait to break it. Especially when it comes to writing.

But there’s a catch. Rules should only be broken in the right circumstances. I mean, imagine there’s a volcano erupting behind you, and a wall of ash is threatening to overtake your car. Do you stick to the speed limit? Or do you put the foot down?

I’ll put my foot down thank you very much – because uncertain death beats certain death every time.

Rules are great, they keep you safe, they stop you from making silly mistakes. But sometimes they’re a trap. They stop you from thinking for yourself, or doing something original. So I’m a rule breaker. Yes, it will lead to some silly mistakes, but maybe, just maybe, the mistakes will be worth it. I suspect that’s why most lists of rules for authors include what I call the “get out of jail free” clause. It comes in various guises, but always seems to boil down to, “if a rule isn’t working, break it.”

P.S. Today’s message is brought to you by, mixed metaphors, grammar violations, and the letter of the law.

Catherine Mede

Ruler follower or breaker? interesting question, because I’ve never really considered it before. As a new writer you’re constantly being told to follow the rules, only those who’ve been writing for a while can break the rules. That’s really confusing for newbie writers, so I just do what I want. I believe if my story is great, people will read it, regardless of whether I’ve followed some rules or not. In life, I take calculated risks, I don’t break rules – they are there for a purpose, to protect you.

Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order: Angela Barry, D. Odell Benson, F.C. Etier, Jean Gilbert, J. C. Hart, Hunter Marshall, Catherine Mede, Lee Murray, Karo Oforofuo, A.J. Ponder, Meryl Stenhouse, Lorene Stunson Hill, Lynn Voedisch, and Sybil Watters.

Ask an Author: When a Character Comes to Life and Takes Over

I must confess that the title of this feature sounds like an episode of The X-Files probably because of my obsession with the show and its recent revival. Regular Sahar’s Blog readers know that although the show has basically taken over my life in recent days, I’m still sticking to my regular posting schedule, including the latest edition of the increasingly popular Ask an Author feature.

Rest assured however; there is nothing paranormal about the answers to this question. Rather, it’s an issue related to work technique. As you might infer from the answers, some of us are more logical and methodical in our approach to creating characters, while some of us are emotionally invested to the point of our characters becoming our friends.

You might have guessed the question that was posed to our authors by now: do they find that characters take on a life of their own and overtake their lives? For me personally, it depends; if I choose to immerse myself in a story I am writing (to the tune of 8-9 hours a day) then definitely, the story and its characters take over my thoughts at all times. But when I only spend my obligatory hour a day writing, the characters take a backseat to, well, chores, errands, and the such. But all my characters always live in my mind to a certain extent, and random things will remind me of them at sometimes the most inopportune moments (exam time…)

Lee Murray

In my heart I feel I’m not a natural writer – not like some of the other writers here ‒ so my characters don’t often to speak to me. Not typically. At least, not until I know them really well and that doesn’t tend to happen until after the book is written. More often, dragging the thoughts and fears from my characters is like hauling water from the bottom of a deep well; I get there eventually, but not without a lot of hard work. But there have been times when I have had an idea for one of my characters and they have refused to play along. For example, I once wanted a heroine to cheat on her boyfriend. She refused to do it. “I’m not that kind of girl,” she insisted (yes, this time the character was riled enough to talk. Actually, she spat it at me in a rather indignant fashion). “I’m prepared go as far as contemplating it,” she said, “and I might even get myself into a slightly awkward and compromising situation that could potentially be misconstrued as cheating by observers, but don’t ask me to cheat on my boyfriend because I just can’t.” Please. It would really spice up the plot. “Too bad. You want spice? Get yourself another heroine.”

F.C. Etier

Yes, my characters become autonymous, but they won’t overtake my life. I still hold the pen, or rather, it’s my fingers that stroke the keyboard. One of the joys of writing fiction is to create characters and turn them loose. They often surprise me. I do, however, write their dialog by “getting into character,” and play that role while writing. My dialog has garnered accolades and I believe that is why. I discuss this in an interview on YouTube, at the 3:53 mark where I address the topic of character control.

Lynn Voedisch

My characters definitely have a life of their own. I think people who obsessively outline their books cannot understand this, but I have characters who almost knock on the door and want to be let into my story.

I had one guy literally do that. He blocked my protagonist on the way out of his apartment building! So, I had to let the guy into my story. He turned out to be one of the most popular characters in the novel.

The novel BTW is now on my publisher’s desk awaiting approval. I think it will go well, as he liked it before but wanted me to rewrite the end. He’s a little behind with all the rush of the holiday stuff just behind him, but I’m sure he’ll get to my novel soon. I’m already working on a new one! (And, no, these characters haven’t come to life yet.)

Meryl Stenhouse

I wouldn’t say the characters overtake my life. They don’t talk to me, for one thing. But they will have conversations with each other, often when I am in the middle of mundane tasks like washing up or driving. They’ll also put on plays for me, and some of my favourite settings have come about from walk-on moments with characters.

One of the main characters in the novel I’m working on first appeared in a steam carriage sitting opposite her husband, and her first thoughts were, “He was a good man. Why couldn’t she love him?” I knew then that she was going to be a tragic and interesting character, and she hadn’t even been on the character list until then.

The story I’ve just sold to Black Denim Lit, ‘The Corpse’s Legs Arranged So Prettily’ had a similar start. Marissa appeared on the landing outside her apartment, fumbling with her keys, the sweet-hot scent of death in her nose. I didn’t know who had died or what was happening, but I was willing to follow Marissa around to find out.

So, yes, I agree that characters do take on a life of their own, and that’s what makes them interesting.

Hunter Marshall

So far the only book I’ve written as well as my work in progress are based on actual events and real people although the names, dates and places have been changed. The characters come out as the way I either remember them being or how they are. For example, in my WIP the main male character is based on my best friend, both as the way he was when we were kids as well as how he is now. In Wake Up! Based on a true story of abuse and betrayal, the male character is the way that person has always been.

A.J. Ponder

As an author, I’ve worked with many headstrong characters. But the ones who are really difficult are the ones who decide that since it’s their story, they’re going to write it. My first fictional co-author was an old curmudgeon, who took a long time to realise that girls really can do anything. And still insists on using old-fashioned floral language, and notes to his students whenever he thinks he can get away with it. Most recently, I was happily writing about a young genetic engineer, Miss Lilly Lionheart. She was creating cute, but very dangerous animals in the hope of escaping an evil mastermind’s bunker, when Lilly decided she had other plans. Watch out for her diary entries, they are nothing but pure manipulation.

As for overtaking my life, my characters are generally confined to the story they’re in. Unless one of them is terrible at spelling and grammar. In which case, I’ll blame them for any occasional lapses. After all, why not?

Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order: Angela Barry, D. Odell Benson, F.C. Etier, Jean Gilbert, J. C. Hart, Hunter Marshall, Catherine Mede, Lee Murray, Karo Oforofuo, A.J. Ponder, Meryl Stenhouse, Lorene Stunson Hill, Lynn Voedisch, and Sybil Watters.

Ask an Author: New Year, New Beginnings

A new year is all about new beginnings, so this edition of the Ask an Author feature focuses on the beginnings of our authors. We asked them, quite simply, what inspired them to write their first book.

In my case, I was always crafting stories for my sisters and my cousins’ playtime; my Mom, God bless her, noticed that I was really good with stories, so she encouraged me to write them out, helping me make covers and illustrating my own books.  I’m pretty sure she kept them somewhere, but rest assured, these are books that will never see the light of day!

Lee Murray

I’d always written bit and pieces, stories and letters and things, and over the years several friends and mentors had suggested I write a book, but it wasn’t until eight years ago that I decided to give it a proper go. My first book—the first one I wrote, not the first one published—was a chick-lit entitled A Dash of Reality. It’s the story of Mel, a ditzy marketing assistant who dreams of becoming famous. But Mel’s sleazy bosses have other ideas and she risks losing not only her job, but also the apartment she’s worked so hard for. Happily, Mel comes up with an idea which might save both. She comes up with an idea… an idea… what idea? I’d pantsed my way through the first few chapters and now I had to come up with an idea that would carry the plot for the rest of the book. Something fun. But what? What could ditzy Mel do that might save her? There’s an old adage in writing that you should ‘write what you know’ so being a newbie I did just that. By that time, I’d run nearly 20 marathons, ploddy slow ones, but I knew something about finishing a long distance race. I drew on those experiences—yes, that bee incident actually happened, and yes, that’s exactly how sports bras work—I borrowed anecdotes and characteristics from running friends, I even used some of my favourite running routes, to carry Mel’s story.

Angela Barry

My first book, a fan-fiction writing guide, was created for a contest.  It’s very short as per the requirements for the contest in question.  My first book of any real length is from my Lost Heroes set.  It was born of a need to get closure on the backstories of a couple of characters from an RPG I was in that fell apart.  Inspiration, it will strike from the most unexpected places.

F.C. Etier

My photography was chosen to be featured on a new website, Venture Galleries (VG). The owners of the site asked me to blog about the photos. Turns out, VG has a publishing division and strongly supports indie authors. They made me an attractive offer, “If you write a book, we’ll publish it.” How could I turn that down? My wife and I began to discuss the subject and throw out possible topics and characters and we came up with The Tourist Killer. A future blog will detail how our discussions brought Claudia Barry to life and got her story in print.

Catherine Mede

I started writing as a child.  In Yr 6 (age 10-11), we wrote and illustrated our own books, and I enjoyed it so much, I came home and wrote more stories (including one on how to train your cat!)  It wasn’t until College (US equivalent is High School) and we had to chose three types of written assessment for English.  One of the options was to write a story, so at the age of 16, I wrote a novella, which was given high marks.  Years later, I rewrote it into a trilogy, just for the sake of writing a story!  I’ve since written about 7 novels, although only two have been published.

Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order: Angela Barry, D. Odell Benson, F.C. Etier, Jean Gilbert, J. C. Hart, Hunter Marshall, Catherine Mede, Lee Murray, Karo Oforofuo, A.J. Ponder, Meryl Stenhouse, Lorene Stunson Hill, Lynn Voedisch, and Sybil Watters.

Image credit: Chad Mauger.

Ask an Author: Making Some Great Holiday Memories

Christmas has come and gone, and we are already a whole week into the new year! I hope you had the opportunity to make yourself some great new memories to add to your hopefully already full roster. I have a brand new holiday related memory I added to mine, which was so incredibly insane I chronicled it on this blog. And it’s such a long memory that I am only going to refer you back to the three posts it took to run through it (Part I; Part II; Part III). Hint: it’s travel related and involves a tornado. Our authors also have some memories related to the holidays, and this week’s Ask an Author feature is in homage to a wonderful, warm time of the year. I wish all authors a fabulous 2016—and hopefully all of them will have news a couple of times this year to share with us all, just like the wonderful AJ’s upcoming new paperback coming out later during the year! Her work is already online as the omnibus edition of Miss Lionheart and the Laboratory of Death. A big congratulation to AJ, and here is hoping to more!

Lee Murray

Sahar, this is tricky. My best holiday memory? Now let’s see…

  • There’s the most poignant ‒ my elegant opera singer Chinese grandmother wearing my dad’s shorts while helping us to paint our Pukehina beach house one Christmas when I was a kid.
  • Most ridiculous ‒ the year we decided we would only eat foods beginning with the letter ‘C’, which was great for things like chocolate and Christmas cake and candy, but admittedly the kids were less enthused with cauliflower, cabbage, courgettes, cucumber and capsicum.
  • Most practical – the make-your-own Christmas presents year, in which I pretty much superglued myself to the kitchen table.
  • Most worrisome, when our then-puppy managed to climb on chair and chomp her way through half a 5kg dark fruit Christmas cake and we were terrified it might kill her.
  • Most gruesome – when our friend tried out his new Christmas racing bike and, unused to the bike, had a massive accident at the bottom of the road, and all the adults spent Christmas in the emergency room. (Yes, he survived!)
  • Most difficult – the year my grandmother died of cancer just before Christmas.
  • Most joyous ‒ the year my sister came to spend a White Christmas with us in France, which was also the first family Christmas my husband and I shared with our baby girl.
  • Most fun ‒ the extended family Olympic Games and BBQ at a country school: sack races, egg and spoon, and running backwards races, with plastic medals for the kids.
  • Most work ‒ the year we all put on our gloves and boots and spent a day helping a farmer friend bring in his hay for Christmas.

So many rich and varied memories, but I think, or at least I hope, the best Christmas memories are the ones still to come.

Lynn Voedisch

My favorite memory of Christmas was the year—two years after my mother’s untimely death (she died at age 48)—we decided to have an open house and invite all our friends and the whole neighborhood on Christmas Eve. To our amazement, just about everyone showed up. We thought everyone would be too busy with their own Christmas Eve celebrations. Even our Episcopalian priest showed up. I remember my uncle teasing him when the priest was holding a glass of Swedish glögg (highly alcoholic), saying “Don’t you have to work later tonight?”

The year before, without my mom, was so dismal. So, this was a wonderful comeback for all of us and we all had a splendid evening. Even the priest, who did get to work on time (although I wasn’t there to see the service).

No matter how you celebrate the holidays—and I know a Hindu guy who still celebrates a secular Christmas, tree and all—may they be happy ones. And happy New Year.

A.J. Ponder

In New Zealand, Christmas is a summer holiday. Evening picnics, salmon on the BBQ, and lounging in the shade of pohutukawa trees crowned with brilliant red flowers, are popular pastimes. I too, generally enjoy relaxing in the summer heat, but my most memorable Christmas was spent running around Wellington at dawn, with my children, as we took photographs for Wizard’s Guide to Wellington. It was magic, the streets were deserted, the water sparkled, and my two children ran about the flagstones, wizard’s cloaks flying behind them.

Hunter Marshall

I have several awesome Christmas memories from when I was young. The one I think sticks with me the most is also something we still do, when we can (my mom has had cancer so the last few years we haven’t done this)is making home made peanut brittle, caramels, fudge, peanut butter cups and sugar cookies (the sugar cookies is something I’ve added in the last few years). Then taking plates to the Nursing Home, Assisted Living places, elderly, friends and neighbors and singing carols to them. Afterward we go back to my parents house and drink hot chocolate and play games or watch a Christmas movie.

Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order: Angela Barry, D. Odell Benson, F.C. Etier, Jean Gilbert, J. C. Hart, Hunter Marshall, Catherine Mede, Lee Murray, Karo Oforofuo, A.J. Ponder, Meryl Stenhouse, Lorene Stunson Hill, Lynn Voedisch, and Sybil Watters.