Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Spectacles and Tea: Guest Post by Misha Gerrick

Misha's guest posting today!

Let me just slip in a quick ROW80 and CampNaNoWriMo update: The words are flowing! (Of course, I'm woefully behind on blog visits...) I'm only 9,000 words away from meeting my CampNaNo goal, and that's not counting the nearly 1,000 words on a completely separate side project:

A murder mystery jointly written with some of my family. We've been working on it on and off for a while, passing paragraphs back and forth. None of us knows where the story's headed! It's titled The Horror of Horhor, and takes place in 19th Century Constantinople. What sorts of things would you hope to see in a mystery set in that time frame?

Misha's blog tour is for the War of Six Crowns series. The first two books are out now:

The Vanished Knight

The entity living inside Callan's soul orphaned her at age eleven.
By the time she's sixteen, it's ensured her being shunted from one foster family to another.
Her thirteenth foster assignment should be routine. Except... it's not.
A psycho in medieval armor kidnaps her and she ends up in a magical world.
There, she accidentally discovers a secret her parents had kept until the day they died.
Both actually came from this magical world, but left before Callan was born.
To cover their tracks, they'd lied about everything. Even who they really were.
Driven to find out where she comes from, Callan's trapped in a race for life and death.
Walking away isn't an option, but if she stays too long, the entity will find its next victim.
In this world where secrets are sacrosanct and grudges are remembered, finding the truth will be near impossible.
Especially when Callan has her own homicidal little secret to deal with.
One with a taste for destroying her life.

The Heir's Choice

After discovering her parents had kept a whole world secret, Callan races to discover her past.
Not easy to do with an increasingly agitated entity living in her soul.
Going to her long-lost elvish roots should answer all her questions. Instead, she ends up in the middle of a nightmare.
The elves are on the verge of an apocalyptic war. Their enemy, King Aurek of Icaimerith, will only be appeased if Callan marries his heir. It's either her life getting messed up, or an entire country's lives lost. Simple enough, right?
Because when the entity wants the elves blotted out of existence, saving them gets taken to a whole new level of complicated.

Misha Gerrick has been creating stories long before she could write
and is currently going after her dream of making a living as a writer.
If you'd like to see how that's going, you can visit her on her blog,
where she also discusses all things related to writing and publishing.
Or, if you'd just like to know what she's reading and
get updates on what she'll be publishing next (Sorry, no newsletter just yet.):
You can follow her tumblr
You can follow her on Twitter
And you can circle her on Google+

Spectacles and Tea

When Deniz mentioned that she's always been interested in landscape and history, it got me thinking about the large part I've let both play in my story.

Partially, I think they feature the way they do because of my love of both. I've always been fascinated by history, and grew up in a country with varying but beautiful landscapes in all directions. I've always enjoyed driving and seeing these wondrous places.

There's more to it than that, though. To me, history and geography both have a huge impact on what's going on in the world I've created. If I say so myself, I think this is the right way to go about it if you want to create a fantasy world that feels real.

The funny thing is that I go out of my way to make it so subtle, people probably won't even notice. In fact, I think I know enough about my world to fill a whole other book series, and that's just the history. Most of this knowledge won't get any special attention in my story, and this actually helps my series feel real. Why?

Spectacles and tea.

Let me explain. In the real world, Europe once launched themselves into the stratosphere economically by the time of the Industrial Revolution. But the thing people don't realize is that it was largely fed by a larger labour population than ever before, simply because people could now work even with age-weakened eye-sight. All this because of...


The invention of which would have taken much longer, had it not been for the fact that at the time, Europeans were more enamored with wine and making it display prettily as they drank. To show off the wines' colours, they needed glass, and someone realized that glass could be a lens.

China, the only empire that had the people power to compete with Europe, couldn't. They were pretty much stuck in the previous century where weakening eye-sight meant retirement. Why? Because their idea of the perfect drink was tea. And their idea of showing off the tea's lovely color was... porcelain. So they didn't bother to make glass and didn't import it (as far as I know). Which meant that no one could look at it and think: Hey, you know what? The distortion in this little spot of glass helps me see better.

As a result of this and obviously quite a lot of similar and larger events that determined China's course, China's only now starting to look like it might catch up to Europe economically. Most people drinking tea never realize all this, and honestly, I wouldn't expect them too. (I just know this because I can't help absorbing strange facts/stories.)

But everything that happened in the past (even glass and porcelain) helped to form the world as it is now. Even if someone doesn't realize it. When it comes to speculative fiction, I think people pick up on the sense that there's much more to a world than what's immediately relevant to the story.

Which makes a world feel even more realistic, and why spec fic writers should know a lot more about their worlds than they let on.

What's your most interesting historical titbit?

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Photo Interlude and An Unidentified Object

Progress...not so much. I've got bloggers to catch up with, three book reviews to write, a short story to edit, and more words of the new story to draft to meet my minimum goal for CampNaNoWriMo.

But we've been playing tourist again... A few random shots:

Alpine Horn concert!
Stained glass at the Ariana Museum
View from a window at Ariana
Swiss images: William Tell, and the Geneva coat of arms
Swiss alpine flora
A pub sign
The layout of Geneva in the 19th century
View from the Maison Tavel, oldest house in Geneva
A crib!
Kakelorum, a child's toy from the 19th century
More coats of arms

The kakelorum is intriguing. It seems to be specific to the Swiss and Austrian alpine regions.

What other ancient toys have you come across in museums or in research?
In a related note, can you help identify this item in Bardstown, Kentucky?

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Gauld and Riddell, 14,000 Happy Things, and CampNaNo


I've got two book reviews coming up, for Brenda Novak's The Secret Sister and Daniel Robinson's Death of a Century: A Novel of the Lost Generation.

Another book I've ordered and am eagerly awaiting is cartoonist and illustrator Tom Gauld's latest, a myriorama, inspired by the works of Laurence Sterne.
"Myriorama, or 'Many Thousand Views' consist of numerous cards depicting fragments or segments of landscapes that can be arranged in a multitude of different combinations. This 'entertainment' for young ladies and gentlemen originated in France.

The first English version in 1824 was a set of 16 cards which depicted Gothic ruins, castles, cottages, a lighthouse, a man fishing and a gypsy encampment. These landmarks had a backdrop of mountains with islands and a lake to add extra texture and depth.

Whenever the cards were taken out and arranged upon a table, they produced a landscape of harmony which was variable, compatible and satisfying to the user without being geographically identifiable. This first myriorama seems to have been an instant success and many varieties were created to satisfy the demands of the public."

Myriorama definition from the Oxford English Dictionary

Gauld's myriorama

Another illustrator who's work I really enjoy is Chris Riddell. The first illustrations of his that I saw were for The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman. He's recently been named Children's Laureate in the UK!

Here are two illustrations from his Sketchbook photos on tumblr:


A gorgeous word: Aquother

The Word Wenches are a group of romance authors who consistently blog about varied, intriguing topics. One of their more recent posts was a "What We're Researching" compilation, and a book mentioned by Jo Bourne caught my eye:

Barbara Ann Kipfer's 14,000 Things to be Happy About

I love the randomness and the gentle peace of that list. It'd be fun to browse this book now and again as a pick-me-up. Which reminds me, I meant to read more poetry...

I should add that to my ROW80 goals. Meanwhile, my actual goals are veering all over the place. I've written over 5,000 words on a new story for CampNaNo! But must return to editing the short story "One to Another" in time for the SIWC contest deadline.

Here's the first draft description for the CampNaNo story:

A YA/Historical crossover, this is the third book in the series of time travel adventures featuring 12-year-old Austin and Kedi the cat who takes him back in time to turning points in history.
At the end of the 15th Century, Christopher Columbus is returning from his second voyage, facing hatred and anger on all sides. Among his prisoners is a young man who dared to defy Columbus and his men when they raided his village.

Brother Arcturus, a Cistercian monk last seen in the novels Out of the Water and Rome, Rhymes, and Risk, is travelling with his friend Santiago, an officer on Columbus' flagship.

Austin is dropped into their midst as a cabin boy on the first day of the voyage home. Everyone assumes he's been transferred from one of the other 16 ships. Brother Arcturus finds Austin helpful and useful -- together they visit the imprisoned young man in the dark hold and gradually piece together the truth of what happened that day in the village.

Is Columbus purely a villain? What will happen to the captured men on the other ships? Will everyone make it safely across the Ocean?

And if Kedi has brought Austin to this time, does that mean that one among the men is plotting something even worse, something that will change the course of history?

Austin must find out quickly who he can trust -- and who the real villain is.

Which illustrator's work do you enjoy?
Are you writing for CampNaNo?

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Happy Canada Day and IWSG Day!

Happy Canada Day!

The above image is from the Activity Village colouring pages site.

Round Three of A Round of Words in 80 Days begins on Monday. And I just realised that CampNaNo officially opens today!

Luckily, I'd kept my goal for CampNaNo vague: I'd like to explore the story of Brother Arcturus, a secondary character in Out of the Water.

My other goals for ROW80 are to keep up with blogging and commenting, transcribing the Alfred Russel Wallace letters, editing my new short story "One to Another", and beta and review reading.

Today is also Insecure Writer's Support Group Day!

In line with the fact that I haven't written any words for CampNaNo yet and still use phrases like "keep up" with my goals, my theme for today's IWSG day post is: Let go of guilt!

Instead of feeling guilty for items we think we've missed or tasks we haven't accomplished (yet!), why not celebrate all that has gotten done?

Those Wallace transcriptions, for instance, won't end for a long time. I should celebrate the fact that I manage to submit one batch after another, instead of feeling guilty for some reason that I'm not whipping them out at lightning speed.

I should quit bemoaning the fact that I haven't edited one or the other of my novels in many weeks, and celebrate the fact that I've completed a short story!

Once you start looking, there are lots of positives to celebrate.

And just in time, there's a T-shirt for it, too!

Yes, it's the IWSG T-shirt! I can't wait to order mine.

Here's the full list of IWSG participants, and thank you to this month's co-hosts:

Happy Fourth of July, too!

What will you celebrate this month?

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Quote Auden and Carry a Big Stick


I tend to save many many things -- names of intriguing books, links to interesting videos or podcasts, poems, images, words, etc. -- and then sometimes return to them, as my interests in certain fields wax and wane, and then other times I forget why I saved a particular item.

For example, the poem If I Could Tell You by W. H. Auden. It's been floating in an email of To Do items, but I can't remember what the connections are. Perhaps it's linked to the fact that I'd like to read at least one poem per day, but this doesn't always happen. Rather, I think part of it was quoted in a novel I read last year or the year before (possibly Josephine Tey or Agatha Christie). Anyhow, here is a quote:

If I Could Tell You


If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.


The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reason why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.


This seems especially relevant today, given the news about Anthony Martignetti (whose books I've blogged about before). Here is the stick reference:
"We used to talk about what would happen when he died. I worried about it. He's more than twenty years older than me. It seemed inevitable. I once asked him what I should do at his funeral, since probably I'd have to say something.
He gave this some thought. He said he'd like me to walk up to the front of the room, carrying a stick from a tree outside.
'Don't say anything,' he requested. 'Just hold that sucker up in the air, break it in half, and throw it on the floor.'
Everything breaks."

This is the last week of this round of ROW80. Very pleased to say I've finished the short story -- except for the last line -- tentatively entitled "One to Another", and am slowly editing it. The first line comes from the Word Factory Fables for a Modern World contest (which is only open to UK residents): "Long ago, in the days when there were still fish in the oceans and cars on the road, there lived a woman who was not afraid of governments."

I've also pre-ordered some books! I haven't bought any since the last book fair, in April. Almost two months! That must be some sort of record for me. Although, actually, it's a bit inaccurate, since I've purchased at least five for my Kindle app...

Here are the books due to arrive at the end of August
(The Story of Kullervo is actually by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Verlyn Flieger):

Which poems and stories have you been reading?

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Mini Reviews of Smoke and Occasional Soulmates, ROW80 Check In, and WRiTE Club

More mini reviews!

I've been catching up on some beta reading, but I did finish my short story! Now I just need to edit it...

In the meantime, I've recently read two intriguing books about relationships:

Occasional Soulmates by Kevin Brennan

These days, since I have to read on a screen in the evenings (baby in the room!), I tend to judge books by whether they hold my interest despite the annoyance of holding up my iPad and reading on a screen (I'm sure a dedicated eReader would be easier, but I don't need another device in my life and I still don't like the pause that comes when swiping from one page to the next. I especially don't appreciate the random things that happen, for example, the Kindle app recently updated and the fact that I've read most of the books in my Kindle library was erased; they all look new and unread now).

Occasional Soulmates definitely held my interest. The voice and the locations are very specific and well-drawn. I read Maugham's Liza of Lambeth (published in 1897!) last year, and this book reminded me of that one. Maugham's story was also very specific in its location and also a sad slice-of-life (though Occasional Soulmates ends on a slightly more optimistic note). One hundred years from now, I'd like to think that someone will discover Occasional Soulmates just the way I read Liza of Lambeth, and be intrigued by the setting, the language, and the characters and the choices they make.

"An evocative tale of two women navigating the secrets and lies at the heart of a wildfire threatening their town.
After a decadelong career combating wildfires, Elizabeth has traded in her former life for a quieter one with her husband. Now she works as the local arson investigator in a beautiful, quaint town in the Rockies. But that tranquil life vanishes when she and her husband agree to divorce and a fire in nearby Cooper Basin begins to spread rapidly. For Elizabeth, containing a raging wildfire is easier than accepting that her marriage has failed.
For Elizabeth's ex-friend Mindy, who feels disconnected from her husband and teenage children, the fire represents a chance to find a new purpose: helping a man who has lost his home to the blaze. But her faith is shattered by a shocking accusation.
As the encroaching inferno threatens the town's residents, Elizabeth and Mindy must discover what will be lost in the fire, and what will be saved."

Another book that held my interest on screen, to the point where I stayed up too late one night because I simply had to finish it. The novel takes place over a week, and weaves in and out through the various interpersonal problems and revelations, so that the reader is always wondering what next. I'm getting to be a fan of tentatively happy endings, which leave the reader room to speculate on what the characters might be doing a few years after the end of the novel.

Smoke is told in alternating points of view, Elizabeth's in first person and Mindy's in third (along with a couple of brief chapters from other viewpoints), which further underscores Mindy's feelings of alienation from everyone in town. Oddly, it's relative-newcomer Elizabeth who has more connections to the town, as she interacts with more different people than Mindy does. But right from the start it's evident that the two need each other to help them navigate their lives.

Next up on the Kindle for iPad: Every Month Was May by Evelyn Eaton!

There's still time to vote in the first round of WRiTE Club!

This is the last week of regular bouts, before the next round of elimination bouts and then the playoffs. Good luck to all the entrants!

What intriguing books about relationships have you read lately?
Do you always hope for a happily ever after ending?

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Interlaken and Lauterbrunnen (Rivendell)

Photo day!

Nearing the end of the current round of ROW80 and my words have slowed to a trickle. The main excuse is travelling! Next week might be a photo post as well. Hope you all enjoy!

Interlaken and Lauterbrunnen (otherwise known as Rivendell)

Interlaken: the Catholic and Protestant churches, an old monastery, and roses:

Heritage apple tree

Views of Interlaken:

Selecting a Swiss single malt!

Train to Lauterbrunnen:

Lauterbrunnen, Tolkien's inspiration for Rivendell, from his trip in 1911:

Decommissioned bell from 1472


Site of the Last Homely House East of the Sea

Back in Interlaken:

Investigating a cow...

Our hotel

As if my own photos aren't enough, here's one from Shari Blaukopf, since I haven't shared her lovely watercolours in a while:

Hope the skies are clear, wherever you are!

Books I'm Reading and Finished Books

  • CassaFire by Alex Cavanaugh
  • Farmer Giles of Ham by J. R. R. Tolkien (reread but new edition)
  • ***Reading At Intervals***
  • So Anyway... by John Cleese
  • The War of the Ring - Book 8 in the History of Middle Earth series by Christopher Tolkien and J R R Tolkien (reread)
  • First and Second Things by C. S. Lewis
  • Journal of Inklings Studies
  • Beowulf and Sellic Spell by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford
  • 11 Doctors 11 Stories by various authors (including Neil Gaiman)
  • Creed or Chaos? by Dorothy Sayers
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien manuscripts edited by J. D. Rateliff
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Jerusalem Bible
  • ***Finished Books***
  • Slowly, silently now the moon by Walter de la Mare (poem)
  • I can't work like this by Neil Gaiman (poem)
  • CassaStar by Alex Cavanaugh
  • Death of A Century: A Novel of the Lost Generation by Daniel Robinson
  • The Fly by William Blake (poem, reread)
  • Tyger, Tyger by William Blake (poem, reread)
  • The Christie Notebooks by John Curran
  • The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White
  • What to Expect in Baby's First Year
  • Baby's First Year for Dummies
  • The Secret Sister by Brenda Novak
  • Chu's Day at the Beach by Neil Gaiman (reread, many times)
  • Sacred Inwardness by Marilynne Robinson (essay)
  • New Statesman issue guest edited by Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman (I don't usually include magazines in this list but I read this one cover to cover)
  • The North Star is Nearer by Evelyn Eaton
  • Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King (loved My Pretty Pony)
  • Every Month Was May by Evelyn Eaton
  • Occasional Soulmates by Kevin Brennan
  • secret beta!
  • Smoke by Catherine McKenzie
  • In Two Aeroplanes Over the Sea by Amanda Palmer (poem)
  • Jim at the Corner by Eleanor Farjeon
  • Finding Fraser by kc dyer
  • Mother Tongue -- The Story of the English Language by Bill Bryson
  • The Hook Up by Kristen Callihan
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  • Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
  • Come, Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie
  • The Lord Fish by Walter de la Mare
  • The Going To Bed Book by S Boynton
  • The Nursery Rhyme Book by Andrew Lang
  • In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck
  • Subterranean Scalzi Super featuring To Sue the World (an original, very short Redshirts story available nowhere else) Muse of Fire Mallet of Loving Correction Lock In, Lost Chapters (available nowhere else) How I Proposed To My Wife: An Alien Sex Story An Election Judge Sn Goes Golfing Questions for a Soldier The Sagan Diary The Tale of the Wicked The God Engines You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop by John Scalzi
  • Emily Goes to Market by William Mayne
  • Many Moons by James Thurber, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (reread)
  • Colours Are Nice (Little Golden Book)
  • Corduroy by Don Freeman
  • The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo by Judy Blume
  • The Wars by Timothy Findley (reread)
  • The Captive Diary of Catherine Logan by Mary Pope Osborne (Dear America)
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (reread)
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (reread)
  • The Poky Puppy (Little Golden Book) (abridged)
  • The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (reread)
  • Heidi by Johanna Spyri
  • secret beta read 2
  • Pre-Fix: A Ciel Halligan Short Story by Linda Grimes
  • Hidden by Catherine Mackenzie
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton
  • But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton
  • Oh, Whistle, And I'll Come To You, My Lad by M. R. James (short story) (1904)
  • Chu's Day by Neil Gaiman (reread)
  • My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl
  • Usborne board books
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson (so lovely)
  • Flowers for Mrs Harris by Paul Gallico
  • secret beta read!
  • The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend
  • HELP! Food Allergies Coming To Dinner by Kait Nolan
  • This Heart of Mine by Brenda Novak
  • The Owl Service by Alan Garner
  • Two Caravans by Monica Lewycka
  • Aunt Sass by P. L. Travers
  • An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten (actually a few pages of the story, written by John Green for the film of his novel The Fault In Our Stars)
  • January Brings the Snow by Sara Coleridge (poem)
  • Kissing song by Neil Gaiman (poem)
  • The Mother by Nettie Palmer (poem)
  • William Tell Told Again by P. G. Wodehouse
  • Her Ladyship's Companion by Joanna Bourne
  • The Long Way Home by Louise Penny
  • How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
  • Mes P'tits Contes, legends of Swiss cantons
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  • also in 2008 at
  • also in 2008 at