Why writing a book is like planning a dinner party

I’m hanging out with Esme at The Recipe Hunter today. Stop by for a little excursion into the joys of “research.”

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It’s a delight to be over here on Esme’s blog, and I’m going with the cooking theme. But since I can’t cook, this will be a half-baked analogy.

If you’re having a group of important people (like potential readers) over for dinner, it’s a good idea to have a handle on what you’re cooking up. Reading recipes and browsing images on the internet is a great first step, but it probably makes sense to check out the recipe yourself before you serve it to others.

Well, writing is the same way. Authors can collect amazing information online, and to be honest, there’s often no way around it, but trying things out ourselves provides invaluable inside knowledge that we can’t always get in other ways. I’d argue that the dish of details from first-hand experience is what deepens and enlivens our writing, and it’s the tasty meal that we want to serve up to our readers.

Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way, calls these experience-collecting excursions “Artist’s Dates.” Basically, you make a weekly date with yourself to expand your horizons, culinary or otherwise. I’ve taken the advice to heart on several occasions:

Three books of the Dragon Soul Saga take place on old sailing ships, and sailing around the lake on a sunfish as a kid didn’t cut it. So, I packed up my husband and dragged him off for a tall ship sailing adventure. While the rest of the passengers were drinking rum and listening to pirate stories,…

(Continue Reading… The Recipe Hunter)

A Human Story: Guest Post with Andrea Flory

After reading Andrea Flory’s book Miira (Innerscape: book 1) , I asked her if she’d be interested in a guest post. I expected a cerebral exposition of the fascinating science of virtual reality. What I got was so much more, a sharing of the true beauty of her work, a human story. My review is below, but before heading there, here’s Andrea:

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Andrea Flory

Some people know they want to write from a very young age. It’s all they dream about.

That was never me. I did spend a lot of my childhood daydreaming, but those were private adventures, and I never saw them as potential ‘books’. Books were magical portals created by geniuses with towering imaginations.

How could I ever aspire to write stories?

It was true that I liked words and was good with them, but I was too pragmatic, and much too logical to ever emulate gods like Dostoyevsky and Dumas, LeGuin and Herbert. No, daydreams were for that magical time between waking and sleeping. They were most definitely not suitable for the real world.

And besides, I was busy. I rode motorbikes and  went up in gliders, travelled overseas, learned more languages, taught high school French, fell in love with computers, got married, had a child. You know…life.

But neglected passions don’t always wither away, and one day while I was doing tech support, I realised that many of my clients were asking the exact same questions, over and over again.

Ah hah, thought I. I liked writing, and I’d been a teacher, why not combine the two and type up the tech support instead of re-inventing the wheel each time? And that was the start of my technical writing career, but it would still be another ten years before I was brave enough to give fiction a try.

I guess that lack of courage is something I share with Miira, the protagonist in my latest science fiction story. She’s not a coward, exactly, but she’s not brave either, and it’s not until she’s bed-ridden and almost completely helpless that she finally decides to take the plunge and enter the digital world of Innerscape.

At first, Miira only sees Innerscape as a pain free way to die. Once inside, however, she discovers that her healthy young body and the virtual world it inhabits really are indistinguishable from the real thing. But if she has been given this second chance at life, what on earth is she to do with it?

I think this is a question we all have to answer at some point in our lives. For me, the moment came after a brush with cancer some years ago. Until then, I’d felt no sense of urgency; I was learning to write the kind of fiction I loved to read. What was the rush? Besides, I still wasn’t sure my writing would ever be good enough…

After the cancer scare I realised that writing wasn’t a competition. I might never be as good as my heroes, but my best was good enough. For me. The only question that still remained was whether I had the courage to share my best with others.

In 2013 I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and jumped. Four years later, so did Miira Tahn.

My Review

What a beautifully written book. Innerscape is a science fiction story about a middle-aged woman Miira whose disease-ravaged body is dying. She decides to enter Innercape where her body will be pared down to her essential components and preserved while she lives out her life in a virtual world as a younger, healthy version of herself.

The first book in the series covers two aspects of her immersion in Innerscape – first, the preparation of her new body and the tests to prepare for her transition, and second, the transition into the VR world and her orientation. As a series, the story continues beyond the initial book, and Flory hooks the reader with the introduction of several challenging characters, corporate compromises, questionable ethics, and love.

The science is detailed and utterly entrancing, as well as completely understandable to the layperson. The premise and technology also seem entirely plausible, if not now, then in the not-so-distant future. Flory’s writing is meticulous and detailed, and the world she’s created held my fascination throughout.

And all that wasn’t even the best part! Set against the scientific backdrop, is an engrossing human story. Miira is reserved, sensitive, inquisitive, and vulnerable, a beautifully rendered human being undergoing a process that requires complete trust and a step into the unknown. The story is told primarily in her point of view and the immersion in her experience is complete. The Innerscape staff that supports her are multidimensional and believably flawed characters.

The pace is steady and yet I flew through the book because I could NOT put it down. Exquisite writing, gorgeous descriptions, high tech science, and human pathos that grab the reader. I’m a fan and gladly recommend this book to readers of science fiction and anyone who enjoys an unusual human story.

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If we’ve enticed you to enter the fascinating world of Innerscape and meet Miira, here’s the global link to her story: Miira, Innerscape: book 1

Guest Post: Andrew Joyce and his Stories

Click on Any Cover for Amazon Link

If you haven’t run across Andrew Joyce in your blog travels, he’s a prolific writer of short stories and novels. He’s here at the Mirror to share a bit of his writing journey, and if can entice you, sell a book or two. His latest book, a collection of short stories, is on sale today for $.99. Take it away, Andrew:

Hello, my name is Andrew Joyce.

I have a new book out entitled Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups. It is a collection of short stories I’ve written over the years. Inside Bedtime Stories you’ll find tales of fiction and nonfiction. There are all sorts of genres within its pages, from westerns to detective stories to love stories and just about anything else that you can imagine. Some of the stories are dark and some are lighthearted, but I hope you’ll find them all captivating.

Okay, now that I’ve got the commercial out of the way, I can get down to something Diana and I thought I should talk about. Namely, my experience writing short stories versus novels, and why I chose some of the stories included in the book.

First, a brief history of the modern short story:

Magazines had been around for a while, but were never widely distributed until the early 1900s. That’s when future novelists such as Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Louis L’Amour, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Raymond Chandler, to mention just a few, honed their writing skills by writing short stories for monthly publications. They all thought the stories would be a one-time shot and that would be the end of them.

Long after they and their novels became celebrated, their short stories were collected into anthologies and published. I’ve read every one of those collections. My point is, they all wanted to write novels, but while they were writing their first novel, or in between their first and second, they wrote and sold short stories as a way to keep the wolf from the door.

Not that I’m putting myself in their class—no friggin’ way! I’m just saying that I, too, started out writing short stories, but they were not for publication. I wrote them because I like to tell stories. My earliest short stories were just emails to friends, telling them of my youthful adventures. They were all true, but because I led a somewhat colorful life way back then, the emails read like fiction stories. When I ran out of stories about myself, I started in on writing fiction.

Just for the hell of it, I threw one of my early nonfiction stories up on a writing forum on the internet, and it was granted the honor of being included in a print anthology entitled The Best of 2011. I even got paid for it.

That prompted me to try my hand at writing a novel. I had read an article about the Great Sioux Uprising of 1862 and it outraged me. I had never heard of it before, so I started doing research and that research led to a 164,000 word novel (eventually edited down to 139,000 words). It took about two years to research and write. To entertain myself when not working on the novel, I would write short stories, but I never did anything with them. They just sat in a file folder.

So anyway, I set out to get an agent to help me publish my recently completed novel. I sent out about a million query letters. But in the publishing world, anything over 80,000 words for a first-time author is heresy. Or so I was told time and time again when I approached an agent for representation. After two years of research and writing—and a year of trying to secure the services of an agent—I got angry. To be told that my efforts were meaningless was somewhat demoralizing, to say the least. I mean, those rejections were coming from people who had never even read my book.

So you want an 80,000-word novel?” I said to no one in particular, unless you count my dog, because he was the only one around at the time. Consequently, I decided to show them City Slickers that I could write an 80,000-word novel!

I had just finished reading Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for the third time, and I started thinking about what ever happened to those boys, Tom and Huck. They must have grown up, but then what? So I sat down at my computer, banged out REDEMPTION: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer in two months, then sent out query letters to agents.

Less than a month later, the chairman of one of the biggest agencies in New York City emailed me that he loved the story. We signed a contract and it was off to the races, or so I thought. But then the real fun began: the serious editing. Seven months later, I gave birth to Huck and Tom as adults in the Old West. And just for the record, the final word count is 79,914. The book went on to reach #1 status in its category on Amazon—twice—and it won the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Western of 2013.

I wrote two more books before I finally got my original novel published. And in all that time, I continued to write short stories. You see, I don’t own a TV. So at night, after working on a novel all day, I’d bang out short stories, mostly for my own entertainment.

That’s why I write novels and that’s why I write short stories. But some of my short stories are not that short. Some are over 20,000 words. Many are in the area of 10,000 words. I do have a few that are no more than 100 words. But I would have to say that the majority of my stories fall into the 2,500 word category.

My current book came about because my editor hounded me for two years to put all my short stories into one collection. Actually, it was supposed to be a two-volume set because there was so much material. I fended her off for as long as possible. I didn’t want to do the work of editing all the stories—there were a lot of them. But she finally wore me down. Instead of two volumes, I put all the stories into a single book because I wanted to get the whole thing over with. I had other books to write.

Bedtime Stories is comprised of 218,000 words. I couldn’t fit another story in if I had to. Yeah, for an eBook I could have, but the print book already had 700 pages and was three inches thick, so I kept a few stories out. And it’s a good thing too. The ones I left out, I didn’t think were up to par. One cannot hit a home run every time one’s at bat.

In the month since I published Bedtime Stories, I’ve written at least ten new short stories. But please don’t tell my editor.

Andrew’s Bio:

Andrew Joyce left high school at seventeen to hitchhike throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. He wouldn’t return from his journey until years later when he decided to become a writer. Joyce has written five books. His first novel, Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, was awarded the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Western of 2013. A subsequent novel, Yellow Hair, received the Book of the Year award from Just Reviews and Best Historical Fiction of 2016 from Colleen’s Book Reviews.

Joyce now lives aboard a boat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he is busy working on his next book, tentatively entitled, Mahoney: An American Story.

Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups: 

Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups is a jumble of genres—seven hundred pages of fiction and nonfiction … some stories included against the author’s better judgment. If he had known that one day they’d be published, he might not have been as honest when describing his past. Here is a tome of true stories about the author’s criminal and misspent youth, historical accounts of the United States when She was young, and tales of imagination encompassing every conceivable variety—all presented as though the author is sitting next to you at a bar and you’re buying the drinks as long as he keeps coming up with captivating stories to hold your interest.

Comprised of 218,000 words, you’ll have plenty to read for the foreseeable future. This is a book to have on your night table, to sample a story each night before extinguishing the lights and drifting off to a restful sleep.

Mr. Joyce sincerely hopes that you will enjoy his stories because, as he has stated, “It took a lot of living to come up with the material for some of them.”

The Light and Dark of Sarah Brentyn: Guest Post

Sarah Brentyn swears she’s an introvert on the verge of becoming a recluse, and yet she’s one of the stars of the blogosphere – hilarious, clever and outgoing, commenting, visiting, guest posting, writing, and managing two blogs (in addition to a real life). Her posts are full of the humor and sarcasm of a natural wit, and yet, her book of flash fiction, Hinting at Shadows, is a foray into the darker, deeper emotions and struggles of the human journey. Sarah is a conundrum. Who is this woman? I invited her here to answer that question and tell us about these sides of her writerly self.

Sarah Brentyn: Living in the Light, Writing in the Dark

I’ve been asked how it is (or why it is) that I write a light-hearted, pseudo-humorous blog then turn around and pen some seriously dark fiction. I’m here to answer that question.

I am Dr. Jekyll.

Okay, I’m not. Or I could be. You don’t know.

Buckle your seat belts. We’re in for a bumpy ride. I’ve no idea where I’m going with this.

Here’s the thing about me. I’m a conversational writer. People often say I write in a stream of consciousness narrative. That’s fair. I do. It’s why I like pantsing. (In the writing sense, that is. I’d never pull your trousers down to humiliate you. No, I would not.)

My blog? I freewrite. Jot down whatever comes to mind. My life, writing, the world around me…  Since I simply sit down and write, it’s unfiltered me. Sarcastic and silly and, sometimes, accidently serious. (With tons of alliteration, apparently.) There are ridiculous posts where my inner child is peeking out and there are thought-provoking posts where my philosophical nature is showing. It’s a mish-mash. Or “eclectic”, if you want to be nice. It doesn’t fit into any specific category. I’m okay with that because, if you think on it, people don’t fit neatly into specific categories, either.

My fiction? I dig deep. Find those roots and rip them out to have a good look. Examine what lies beneath. Get inside people’s heads. Dissect the sticky center. (Okay, that’s gross. It’s more studying inner workings than wielding scalpels.) There are a lot of psychological struggles, tricky emotions, and shadowy memories in there. I’m obsessed with the anatomy of human behavior. And I enjoy exploring it in flashes.

What’s so remarkable about flash fiction is that you can hint at the stuffing inside the teddy bear or you can show readers the rip in the seam. Cotton fiber or bean pellets? What’s inside the story?

I want to make readers wonder what the hell just happened then decide for themselves three hours later because they can’t stop thinking about it. When readers engage, I’ve won. Huge. Like that impossible water gun game at the carnival that’s completely rigged and no one ever really wins. Like that. I got the biggest prize they have and now can’t go on any rides because I’m hauling around a unicorn the size of a VW Bus. But that’s okay. I have cotton candy.

With fiction, I create things I wouldn’t want to experience. Though I do anyway. Vicariously. I’m very close to my characters. They’re like family. (The ones I don’t dread visiting during holidays.) Their stories affect me but I’m not stuck in their reality.

I think it’s safe to say that I live in the light and write in the dark.

My (Diana’s) review of Hinting at Shadows:

A string of story pearls

I just finished Hinting at Shadows and had to rave a little about this book of short fiction. When Brentyn says short, she means short. Most of the stories are about 100 words, what I refer to as flash fiction. I enjoy flash fiction, but wasn’t sure about reading a whole book of it. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.

Every story is a pearl. The writing is exquisite and full of pathos with a focus on the poignancy of the human condition. Hinting at Shadows is the perfect title as each story is a tiny hint at a larger human story, one that is characterized by shadows – sometimes secrets, but more often complex feelings of loneliness, regret, longing, disappointment, and hope.

It would be possible to whip through this book in a couple hours, but I think it’s meant to be savored, just as one might read poetry. So that’s what I did. It’s perfect for someone who enjoys filling their free moments with words or someone who just loves beautiful writing.

Author Bio:

Sarah Brentyn is an introvert who believes anything can be made better with soy sauce and wasabi. She loves words and has been writing stories since she was nine years old. She talks to trees and apologizes to inanimate objects when she bumps into them. When she’s not writing, you can find her strolling through cemeteries or searching for fairies. She hopes to build a vacation home in Narnia someday. In the meantime, she lives with her family and a rainbow-colored, wooden cat who is secretly a Guardian.

Book Link: myBook.to/HintingAtShadows

Sarah’s Hang-outs: 
Amazon: Author Page
Blogs: Lemon Shark    and   Lemon Shark Reef
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Sally’s odd jobs and characters – The Cosmetic Department

Today, I’m welcoming author and blogger Sally Cronin to the Mirror to share one of her wonderful characters and tell you about her new book, What’s in a Name?: Vol. 2. Needless to say, I think she’s a superb writer, and this is one of my favorite chapters in her book, Just an Odd Job Girl. Take it away, Sally…

Thank you so much Diana for inviting me to share my odd jobs and the characters I met that now star in my stories.

The Cosmetic Department.

I had been working in one of our large local department stores as I waited to begin my training in the Royal Alexandra Nursing Service.

Following on from my six weeks over Christmas and New Year in the shoe department of the store, I moved downstairs to the cosmetic department.

I was nineteen, and into make-up, as most of my generation was at the time. This offered me the opportunity to sample anything that I wanted, within reason, as I was appointed ‘roving consultant’. This meant that I would be trained by the different cosmetic houses in their individual products, and on their regular consultant’s day off, I would take her place.

For example, one of the cosmetic firms offered a powder blending service to its customers. This involved checking the skin tones of the client and then mixing a specific blend of powders for their complexion. There was a base powder and about twelve different shades that could be added. We used a giant spatula to whisk the powder over the tissue paper with little pinches of the different shades added until the perfect blend had been achieved.

The combination was noted on the client card, and would then be made up to that formula each time the customer needed it. The variety in my new position made my life much more interesting and I loved working with cosmetics and perfume.

I had been in the position about four weeks, and was practising my powder blending technique, when a rather large, reddened hand stretched across the counter towards me.

‘Have you something that might tone this down a little please?’ said a rather deep voice.

I looked up, a little startled by the depth of this female voice, to be confronted with rather an arresting sight. She was very tall with broad shoulders that were draped with long blonde hair. She also sported a five o’clock shadow. I was rather taken aback, as this anomaly was something I had not previously encountered. My training and upbringing took over and I stopped staring directly at her face and concentrated on the hand still being proffered to me.

‘I think that we might have a foundation that would tone down the redness,’ I offered.

‘I can then blend you a powder to ensure that it lasts all day if that would help?’

She smiled at me and perched on the little round stool the other side of the counter. The following half-hour was both informative and enjoyable. My new customer was funny and totally unconcerned by her strange appearance. She introduced herself as Dolly and regaled me with her recent escapades on her path to becoming the woman she wished to be. One of these being the removal of hair on the backs of her hands and lower arms. Hence the reddened skin on show.

As I came to the end of her particular powder blend, she leant across the counter and motioned for me to come closer.

Slightly reluctantly, I leant forward until I was staring into large blue eyes, below rather bushy eyebrows that were considerably darker than the cascade of blonde hair.

‘My real name is Arthur’ she whispered quietly. ‘I have to dress and live like this for a year before  I undergo more treatment.’

This encounter was to lead to a rise in takings for the cosmetic department, as we became the best place to go for advice and products to enhance feminine beauty, for anyone who needed it.

Dolly became our unofficial PR agent, and I was invited to a party in a pub one night, where I was delighted to see all our advice and products being used to their full advantage.

What a lovely bunch of ladies and they taught a young woman much with their bravery and support for one another.

Dolly went on to star in my book Just an Odd Job Girl with some creative embellishments.

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All the previous posts in the series can be found in this directory with links to my host’s blogs: Sally’s Odd Jobs and Characters

About Sally Cronin

sally wedding day 1980

My name is Sally Cronin and after working in a number of industries for over 25 years, I decided that I wanted to pursue a completely different career, one that I had always been fascinated with. I began studying Nutrition and the human body twenty years ago and I opened my first diet advisory centre in Ireland in 1998. Over the last 18 years I have practiced in Ireland and the UK as well as written columns, articles and radio programmes on health and nutrition.

I published my first book with a Canadian self-publisher in the late 90s and since then have republished that book and released ten others as part of our own self-publishing company. Apart from health I also enjoy writing fiction in the form of novels and short stories.

My latest book – What’s in a Name? – Volume 2

Our legacy is not always about money or fame, but rather in the way that people remember our name after we have gone. In these sixteen short stories we discover the reasons why special men and women will stay in the hearts and minds of those who have met them. Romance, revenge and sacrifice all play their part in the lives of these characters.

Kenneth watches the love of his life dance on New Year’s Eve while Lily plants very special flowers every spring for her father. Martha helps out a work colleague as Norman steps back out into the world to make a difference. Owen brings light into a house and Patrick risks his life in the skies over Britain and holds back from telling a beautiful redhead that he loves her.

My Other Books

Sally’s Contact Links: 

Books: Amazon Author Page

Blog: Smorgasbord Invitation 

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