If You Look Back Far Enough, You Can See…

I don’t ever do writing prompts. Why? It’s silly. Because I think that if I’m going to be writing something then I should be writing something I’m working on, an actual project of mine. My main work in progress (WIP) is my paranormal fantasy novel but I will also write a short story here and there should I be inspired to do so. The idea of writing prompts makes me think At the least I should be writing my own short story, not putting my time into some snippet just for fun…or am I looking at this all wrong? Perhaps I am.

A writing prompt isn’t necessarily all for fun and joy, it’s also for practice. But then I think, eh but who cares? Who’s going go want to read it? Well silly after all this time and all the stuff you’ve posted on your blog (this and the previous version which is no longer available) you’re really going to get stuck worrying about whether or not someone would read your response to a prompt? Come now, at least then they will get a taste of your creativity because what says anyone is going to read your thoughts on Outlander or you ranting review of some book you wanted or did love? And why do you care so much? Why don’t you try?

So I’m going to. I’m going to share responses to prompts I find anywhere on the web. Of course I’ll post the source. If you want to jump in and try it too go for it, share with me! Link back to me! But this is for my practice first but for your enjoyment second as well as a chance to get to know more about me as a writer. So let’s see…

Today’s prompt is actually from the June 18th on Writer’s Digest by Cassandra Lipp. The phrase to be used is “If you look back far enough, you can see…” in 500 words or less.

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By one I was done digging around in the dirt out back. I don’t know what my mother thought this was going to accomplish but I was done. I kept watch for her though she never came out I was sure she was watching me. Mom had eyes in the back of her head, even though I’d proven that to be a myth at least three years ago. If I had siblings I’d bet them now that if I stopped digging she’d be out here in 13 minutes spitting words all over me.

She told me to dig down 12 inches then move over six more if I didn’t find anything. That was 10 this morning when she’d brought me out here telling me to start by the apple tree. Sure I took breaks, she let me come in around 11:30 for lunch. And I figured I could get away with a good 10 minute sit every 20-30 minutes without being noticed. I don’t know how many holes I’d dug at that point but I was clear to the garage and ready to start crying. She’d have to do something then right? But I found it. A little metal box down at the bottom of my latest hole, that was my goal. I looked up but she wasn’t there. Yet. Was that for her or for me? I dug the hole a little wider so I could lift it out. Making sure there were no holes behind me I sat down in the grass and brushed the dirt from the box.

Now I know she didn’t tell me to open whatever I found. She didn’t tell me anything about after I found whatever. For all I knew she was mad I’d been secretly wearing makeup to school and wanted to punish me. But it would make me crazy if I gave this to her and never got to see inside. Parents can do that, whatever they want, they can do it.

The decision was easy, open it, peek around, close it. Put it back in the hole. Go get mom. Simple. But I had to be fast.

Inside I found at least 20 or more charms, the kind I put on my bracelets. There was a small notepad with writing in it. There were four small horses, metal, glass, wood and plastic. There was a smaller metal box. I lifted it out and there was mom.

It was a photo of her and my father holding a baby. It had to be me. They were sitting in the grass with a metal box between them, their legs crossed in front, mom had a small shovel in her hand. Then mom was with me.

“If you look back far enough, you can see he was always thinking of your future. He added new charms every year. His plan was to give you the box when you graduated high school. The notes say when, where, and why he picked each charm.”

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There you have it! I’m going to add a weekly prompt exercise to this here blog so if you want to read more or join in the fun, stay tuned. Sometimes I just might make one up for us all to try. 😉

Let me know what you think. Share your own. Like & follow if you please! And have a great start to your week. 😀

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Here’s What’s Up: Outlander & More!

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Here’s what’s up, another Saturday is here, can you believe it? I hope so otherwise there might be trouble in paradise. What else is up is that I’m catching up, or at least I’m trying, it’s only May right? Ha, I wish. Okay today I’d like to confess one of my latest binges, the TV adaptation of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I can’t tell you what channel to watch it on because I streamed it on Netflix although they only have seasons 1 & 2 I’ve learned she’s writing another book and they’re filming season five. What! For real.

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The TV series first aired in 2014 while the first book was published in 1991.

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From Goodreads:

Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another…

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach an ‘outlander’ in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire’s destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life …and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire…and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

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This isn’t the first I’ve heard of this series, it was at least two years ago probably longer. I listened and watched many an author interview in which there was a panel of authors that included Diana Gabaldon, at least one also had George R.R. Martin. I listened along interested enough, though I didn’t know anything about her story or characters. Then one day several weeks ago I needed some background noise and so I went to Netflix and there it was. I thought, meh, what the heck, I’ve heard of this story so I’ll give it a shot. This became my go to show while riding my spin bike and winding down the evening.

While romance is not my go to genre this story is also fantasy, which is my genre. It has not disappointed. I indulged in the first two seasons with interest, intrigue, and plenty of shock. However upon learning there’s going to be a fifth season I can’t wrap my mind around this story seemingly going on forever. Sorry to all you die hard fans but it could have ended with the second season if you ask me. I like Jamie and Claire (the main protagonists) although I like Claire less because she annoys me sometimes.

It’s a heck of a story full of emotion and shocking twists. There’s also A LOT of graphic violence, sexual violence and of course sex. So if you’re sensitive or triggered don’t watch this show, it’s love and warfare across the board. Diana Gabaldon knows her craft to say the least, and it’s fair to say she did some impressive research. Nevertheless, I still think this is a good example of a story that shouldn’t go on and on just because it can.

DISCLAIMER: I know almost nothing about season three so if you feel like you want to slap me for my presumption I’m sorry. It’s just that I don’t believe that’s it’s going to be as interesting to follow the next generation around time and space. I’m sorry but until I gain access to the third season I’m going to hold my position.

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The main reason I want to talk about this today is because even as I haven’t (and won’t) read the books (because I’ve seen the show) there’s a lot a writer can learn from this series. For one this story shows us why it’s super important to have tension and to build on that tension in your story. Claire Randall is married in 1946 but falls in love in 1743 at the same time she’s dying to return to the present. Tension? Yup, loads. At the beginning of the show we see how Claire & Frank (her present day husband) truly love each other. So when she travels back in time we can feel her desperation to return to her husband. Of course she’s desperate to get back for a lot of reasons but we all worry for Frank and what he must be thinking after his wife mysteriously disappears. And then she has to marry Jamie in order to survive? Claire’s struggle with this marriage and the fact that she didn’t ever want to leave her husband is palpable. We the audience ride the emotional roller coaster alongside these characters.

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When I think about this story and The All Souls trilogy I’m taking notes for my own writing. It’s clear to me that a good story is like a tree. There’s a main theme – a witch finds a highly prized missing manuscript, a mysterious vampire is stalking her, and her powers are growing; a married woman accidentally travels 200 years into the past, while trying to get home she falls in love and must choose between her two lives – like the main trunk, it is the base of the story, the foundation. The trunk then branches out to large branches that divide further into small branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, and fruits. When constructed the reader/audience is not left wanting. We don’t simply hope for the ending. We want to explore and discover all these nuanced divisions from the trunk. When written like this I think you’re always giving the reader something. Of course you have to hold out for the big reveals but let’s face it we don’t want to wait until the end of the book to learn new things and to get answers. Reveal other things to the reader. Teach us. Show us your world so we can explore because we can’t do it on our own. These other stories all build on the main trunk/theme ramping up my interest in the larger story. The added complexity raises the stakes and the tension.

As I may have mentioned before in The All Souls trilogy I was impressed that every chapter seemed to reveal something new to me. For instance in book two, Shadow of Night, I recall a chapter that ends with Matthew and Diana on a date. I really could care less about their date but whatever. As the chapter, and their date, came to a close I expected nothing more but a steamy end to their night. I got that but I also got a last minute reveal, like really last minute and it was a good one. Not only was that awesome for me as a reader but as a writer I was really impressed. That piece of information also brought me an answer to a couple of questions then brought up a host more. A lot of writers would have ended with that date, not every chapter can be thrilling right? And a lot of people would have been fine with that. But Deborah Harkness wasn’t. She let you relax into their date then BAM guess what!?

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Needless to say that stuck with me. As I develop my own story I remind myself to give my reader new information often, even if it’s little bits and pieces. Add buds, leaves, and flowers to your story tree, don’t just build a bare tree like a stick figure. As a reader I don’t think I want to read a story that just starts and finishes unless it’s a short story. Reflecting on these stories and more, stories that I really enjoyed reading, I recognize that I’m apt to get lost in them if they’re more than just a main theme/trunk. It seems that it’s easier to forget you’re reading a story if it weaves around and doesn’t just travel from A to Z to answer the main question.

Think about it in terms of the clip below, in terms of boxing matches. Do you want to watch a fight where one guy just knocks out the other guy and we have a clear winner? Or do you want to watch a fight in which it’s a battle, they exchange blows, and you’re not quite sure just who will win but ultimately it’s a clear win (maybe someone does get knocked out)?

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Of course there’s a caveat. Don’t just add separate story lines and characters in an attempt to make your story more dynamic and nuanced. They have to grow naturally from the trunk, not be grafted on in a lab. Your reader will only be more upset to be sent on a fruitless tangent or one that feels forced. Brainstorm. Ask yourself a lot of questions about your character’s motivations and your own. Question if what you just wrote makes sense in regard to your characters. Make sure you can come back seamlessly from one of these other branches. Don’t just write it just to write it, we the reader will know and we’ll frown at you. Plus IMHO such moves add the wrong kind of weight to a story.

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Thanks so much for reading and visiting. I hope you found this post insightful both in terms of how you use reading and how you write. Please let me know if you did and how perhaps this helped you progress.

Have you seen or read Outlander? What are your thoughts?

Don’t forget to follow me if you enjoyed this and would like to hear more about what I’m reading, writing and watching. If you want to read more of Here’s What’s Up with Writing CLICK HERE.

Here you’ll find my reviews.

And my 2019 TBR.

Until next time,

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My Review of The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy, #3) by Deborah Harkness

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Info from Goodreads:

The #1 New York Times bestselling series finale and sequel to A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night

Fans of the All Souls Trilogy sent this highly anticipated finale straight to #1 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. Bringing the series’ magic and suspense to a deeply satisfying conclusion, The Book of Life is poised to become an even bigger phenomenon in paperback.

Diana and Matthew time-travel back from Elizabethan London to make a dramatic return to the present—facing new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home, Sept-Tours, they reunite with the beloved cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency.

Paperback, 561 pages – Published May 26th 2015 by Penguin Books (first published July 1st 2014)

My Review

4-4.5/5 stars (depending on the day)

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Trigger warnings: violence, mention and talk of rape(s)

Sorry it has taken me SO LONG to get this posted but I did it. Lol. Hopefully before the month is up I can get you a post regarding my thoughts on the TV adaptation of this series. Let me just say I’m not happy, although it was still interesting…mostly…sort of…*sigh*

I was all set to give this book 5 stars but I’ve been re-thinking it. The Goodreads’ rating system is what I refer to when I’m thinking simply about how I feel.

  • One star – did not like it
  • Two stars – it was okay
  • Three stars – liked it
  • Four stars – really liked it
  • Five stars – it was amazing

Four stars for sure as I really liked it but I got stuck thinking how I loved this book but I don’t know if it necessarily is amazing. Ugh… and yet I think the series as a whole is pretty amazing.

While I disagree with a lot of other reviewers I do agree that this book has a lot of flaws. I’ll be more transparent here. Okay, I was set on five stars right and then I read several other reviews with two stars that made some pretty valid points in terms of unanswered questions. Then I felt kind of embarrassed that I still liked this book so much when Deborah Harkness and her editor(s) really missed some key points, or didn’t care to include them. That said I think it says a lot about the book that even without those answers – some of them key plot points – I was wholly satisfied with the ending. And yet, even as I think about these complaints I recall that I’m very sad to see this trilogy come to an end as I will miss the characters.

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Unlike the bad reviews I didn’t mind the large amount of characters, especially those brought back from the other books. Sure there was a lot to keep up with but I think Harkness did it well. For the most part I found the majority of the characters, especially all the “important” ones, to be distinct. There are some very satisfying character reveals. As far as characters are concerned, five stars all day!

She does change POV from chapter to chapter and it is a little strange at times. I can’t say I loved it, this being one of the complaints from the bad reviews. For me these changes were like that little bump in the sidewalk that you don’t catch when you’re strolling along having a lovely time and then OPE, you trip but catch yourself and turn around like WHAT THE HECK! Huh, what a nice little rush of adrenaline. And you walk on, BUT you DON’T fall and wreck your day. These POV changes tripped me up a second but the bulk of the story kept me moving along swiftly.

Maybe half way through the book I felt like I did after a couple seasons of the TV show True Blood. (I did not read the books by the way.) It got weird and not in a cool way. It was like they were trying too hard to make things extra different. I started to worry about this happening in The Book of Life. If you’ve gotten this far in the series you already know Diana is an incredible witch with all the powers a witch can have. Sure that’s a trope that bothers some from the get go, not me, and it might bother even more people as her power grows and grows. But let’s be honest, that’s what this story is about. This story is about that extraordinary moment in time when everything changes. A time when two powerful people discover each other and more about themselves. In my humble opinion, tropes are a problem when the story and characters are lacking, perhaps that’s why the bad reviews exist, because for those people it was lacking. I disagree; I think the story itself carried its weight. The content woven in and out, the character arcs and the constant discoveries, however great or small, worked for me.

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All in all I can’t make a decision, some days it’s 4 stars, others it’s 4.5. Either way I was satisfied. My great aunt has finished book two at this point and she’s on to book three so we’ll see what she thinks about this finale.

As I mentioned there is a TV adaptation of this series on AMC (pretty sure). It’s over now but of course you can find it on demand on Sundance or AMC (depends on your subscriptions of course). They are planning a second season, and I will watch it no matter how frustrated the first one made me.

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In other news Deborah Harkness published her latest book (and I do believe the first since The Book of Life) Time’s Convert (All Souls Universe, #1) in September 2018. I think it’s fair to say it’s a paranormal fantasy romance that follows the history of Marcus – Matthew’s vampire son – up to the present. I’m not sure yet how I feel about reading this but I’ve signed up for a giveaway so if I win then of course I’ll be reading it. We’ll see.

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Thanks for reading everyone. Please let me know what you think about this series if you’ve read it or maybe you want to? If I’ve introduced you to the series please do give me a shout out. See you next time!

Here’s What’s Up With Writing

Look I did it, I made it back to writing a Saturday Here’s What’s Up post! Woo hoo! Sometimes it really is the small victories. 😉

Okay, so what is up? Well, here’s what’s up:

The point of this post is to share some resources/apps I use for my writing as well as to describe how I use a variety of methods to work on my novel. Sometimes it’s not a enough to just sit down with a pad of paper and a pen. Other times you just don’t have the time or capacity to hammer out a whole paragraph but you’re internally driven to work on your world and/or the story. If you don’t have the resources and/or flexibility to capitalize on that drive you might wind up doing something else entirely, liking surfing the net perhaps? Or social media? Yep, that kind of stuff. Allow me then to provide you some suggestions based on my own methodology.

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Voice Recorder

I have a couple different voice recording apps on my phone. Honestly I haven’t gotten into their details and just what all they can do or even compared them to each other. I just use them to record what I’m saying to capture my ideas. If I was going to present this recording I might care more but that’s another story.

When I’m in the car or walking my dog I can’t very well write, not by hand or by keyboard. But that doesn’t stop my wheels from turning (pun intended). It would be a tremendous waste to just let those thoughts go to the wayside. Maybe you have a great memory and those thoughts aren’t wasted but why take the chance? Sometimes I won’t need to listen to the recording afterward when I can write because I do remember, the very act of recording meant those thoughts were fleshed out and implanted in my brain.

I have a bluetooth headset that I wear so I’m not walking or driving around holding my phone talking into it. Turn on the voice recorder, record the date and time and maybe even what I’m doing and what’s happening in my life, then start talking. There are times I know just what I want to talk about – my character’s backstory or a new plot twist – and other times I have no idea what I want to talk about but I want to work on my story. In those cases I start off with what I last worked on in my story then I think about something that was a problem there or I think about what should happen next. Just talk to yourself, brainstorm. You might find this is easier than writing because you don’t have to edit your sentences or edit yourself as you would while writing actual chapters. Say whatever, discuss who, what, when, where, why, how, first, next, then, finally. Use voice recording for free form brainstorming.

Mindjet Maps

This is a specific app I use on my devices and have for some time. I use the free version and it works just fine for my informal yet important purpose. This app allows you to create maps for ideas, notes, tasks, etc. Think bubbles connected by lines to other bubbles, webs of ideas. It’s fabulous! You can zoom in and out, use dropbox (although I haven’t tried that yet), access anywhere, open and close branches of the web/map so you don’t have to see everything all at once or see it all open before you.

I use this resource when I don’t have a lot of time to write or I’m not in a position to haul out my portable keyboard, laptop or even a notebook. Sometimes that’s just too much. Mindjet Maps is great for me when I’m not drawn to working in complete sentences or paragraphs but I still want to work on story details. For example, I have a map of one my main character’s family and background. There’s a branch for her paternal and maternal families. These details are relevant to my story so it’s important I flesh out the details and know them at least for myself. There are bubbles for his mom, dad, siblings, birth, death, career, hobbies, and more. You can even draw arrows from one bubble to another to tie them together or make notes pertaining to a particular bubble. You can use icons, a variety of colors, and all sorts of customization, although you can’t use just any shape of bubble, you’ve got 3-4 options mostly just size difference.

These maps can serve as great references for when you are back to formally writing. Here you can record names and statistics such as age, schooling, career, hobby, physical details, family, etc. It’s also satisfying to work with this visual, especially if you’re a nerd you’ll have fun creating all kinds of new branches! This can be a great way to source new ideas if you’re having trouble. It’s a new way of looking at things as opposed to just strings of words on the page.

OneNote

This is a Microsoft service provided with Microsoft Office. You can download it across your devices as well as use on your computer. This means you can access it across devices, of course. I’ve been using OneNote for a long time so it tends to be my preferred program though Google drive/docs can serve a similar purpose.

Within OneNote you create “notebooks” that you can share with others should you want to. Once you’ve created your notebook (and you can make as many as you want) you then create and use as many folders as you’d like, they look like tabs across the top. And this goes on and on like having a notebook with an infinite number of “subjects” inside. You create pages within your folders and can go further to have subpages for those pages. You can move sections or pages from one folder to another. You can, let’s say you’re on a touchscreen with a stylus pen, use the handwriting function and write into the document. Your writing opens a block that you can move around the page, should you want to move horizontally you can, thereby dividing the page up how you want. You can do all that you would in word but more. It’s excellent.

OneNote saves and syncs automatically as you write, assuming you’re on a network that is it syncs automatically. So go ahead and type three pages on your computer, then when you’re in the waiting room sitting pull up OneNote on your phone and go over what you wrote, make changes, add to it, whatever. Go home later and pick up where you left off.

Scrivener

Last but not least, and newest to me, is Scrivener. I heard of this software long before I actually downloaded it for NaNoWriMo 2017. It is a paid service but I think it’s quite reasonable and worth it.

I’m still learning my way around Scrivener and haven’t been using it a lot lately for no other reason than I just haven’t. It’s not as accessible as some of these other programs I’ve described. I only use it on my laptop and desktop which I think is all you can do. But that doesn’t make it any less worth using.

In terms of organization it gets down to work even more so than OneNote although it is similar in that it’s arranged like a binder with folders and tabs and documents. You can create multiple binders and break them down from there. While Scrivener looks a little more primitive it’s complex and starts you off with a tutorial on how to use it. You can create notecards, use templates such as character sketch, and more. Also Scrivener provides the option to compile all your work together as a novel when you are done. You can sync and back up your documents and it saves automatically as you work. Also when you open a new project you have the option to choose blank, fiction, non-fiction, scriptwriting, or miscellaneous.

I’m not going to go into anymore detail here as I’m still very much learning this software but I do recommend it. You’ll find that this is a popular and well known program among writers.

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I need not mention but will, that I use pieces of paper (to add to binders later), notebooks of paper, notepads and journals to write as well. I might also use note cards although my organizational skills are lacking and will get a good heave-ho here soon. Also, I have a whiteboard set up on the wall in my house. This is a new thing but I’m looking forward to finding how best to use this for my story. So, here’s what’s up!

What about you? Do you use any of these tools for writing? Do you use others?

If you would like to share this post please link back to me and share proper credit. If you find this helpful hit the like button and let me know, I’d love to hear about how this helped you or how you’ve used these tools to your advantage. I really hope to share what I can that gets me through the process and gets my ideas flowing.

Don’t forget to check out my latest writing exercise post and let me know if you give it a try. I’m digging it!

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Like any job it’s important to have the necessary tools. Thanks so much for visiting and reading. Have a lovely day.