Story Structure; Writing the Novel

New Beginnings Update

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It’s been a while since I’ve updated this site. Too long.

With spring approaching, I’ve renewed my commitment to writing, because it’s a commitment to ME.  It’s okay to step back and it can recharge you-even when all hope is lost.

It’s not always that way.

Sometimes life changes, work and family pull us in so many directions that we never realize. We put writing off for a day, a week and then the guilt. We tell ourselves that we don’t have time, we’re tired. It’s too much effort. We drop CPers, stop taking classes, let the writer association lapse.

Stop thinking of ourselves as a writer.

That’s okay, fine.

It’s when we listen to those insidious voices-I’ll never make it-the competition is stiff-I took this as far as I could-its just too HARD.

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That’s when the damage is done. The damage that we may never push through, the block.

And this is a block, make no mistake.

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It may not be a block of ideas, a true “Writer’s Block”, but it’s a block and one that is terrifying. Unexpected. Writing is solitary but this can make us feel isolated.

Sometimes it is the WIP. Sometimes. Just stayed too long. Usually, the rx is to put that aside and start something fresh.

Usually.

Because what I’m talking about, goes way beyond hating the WIP, characters etc. And it’s emotional, raw,  in the gut-like being in a marriage you want out of. You just can’t do it anymore.

Sound familiar? So you crawl out of the hole, it’s scary. It’s not pretty, but you climb.

During hiatus stay in touch with CPers. Keep one toe in.

Write on Sundays-sometimes if you felt like it.

One day, when the world comes crashing down turn to the oldest friend you know; writing.

You won’t even have to apologize. No excuses to make, let it take you in, like it has so many times. Renew old connections, take classes, jump into a contest or two and it will be like you never left.

I promise.

Writing is how I process the world, and my life. That’s just it.

Open up the WIP; write. And edit and believe.

And it’s HARD. Remember, yes the market is crowded, the slush is bursting but most people still don’t do this. Most people you know, won’t ever write a book, or finish a project. Yes, this is brass ring stuff. It’s HARD.

Even after the darkest winter, the cherry blossoms will always come out again, my writing will always welcome me back. Let it welcome you. I won’t stop being a writer. I’m old enough now to know I’ve been writing longer than not.

 

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JMLedwellwrites Welcomes RETURN TO ME Blog Tour

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This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Melissa will be awarding $25 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour, and a $10 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn host. Please click the banner to see additional stops on the tour.

Archaean bounty hunter Marek Coinnich isn’t particularly fond of Engels. In fact, he prefers them dead. But to save his injured brother, he must enter the manor of an Engel enemy. Marek finds himself enthralled by the slave girl nursing his brother back to health. When his enchantment with her lands them in a compromising position, he refuses to let the young beauty pay for the misunderstanding with her life.

Brynn of Galhaven prefers to keep to the shadows. When she is ruined by an outsider, she barely escapes with her life and finds herself left alone in an unforgiving land. Through her struggles to survive, Brynn discovers a world she never imagined and never forgets the enemy Archaean who stole her heart.

Marek can’t deny his desire for Brynn, but these are wartimes, and she is the enemy. And though love knows no prejudice, the world in which he lives isn’t nearly as forgiving.

Now enjoy an excerpt:

It was the scream that caught his attention, the sound of pure terror. A woman’s ultimate terror — he’d heard it many a time throughout his hardened life. For a quick moment, Marek’s eyes shifted in search of the treeline instead of the soldier he battled. The swing of an Engel sword narrowly missed his shoulder and sent him staggering backward on his heels. Marek barely escaped the bone-crushing blow. The soldier advanced on horseback, whereas Marek battled on foot. Regaining his stance, he blocked the Engel’s next blow with only seconds to spare. He couldn’t focus — he worried for her safety. Damn woman. He was going to get himself killed.

Marek was torn between the two battles. Did he attempt to fight the man he engaged, praying Brynn could fend off her attacker until he could reach her, or did he make a run for her, hoping to surpass his own battle? Given another few minutes, Marek would slay his opponent. Another scream sent him reeling. The Engel held a blade high above her.

Damn, she won’t be afforded another few minutes. He was out of time, and no risk was greater than that of her life. Narrowing his eyes, Marek charged his opponent and wrenched him to the ground. The soldier, caught off guard, slid from the saddle, dropping his weapon. With one swift jerk, Marek’s sword slid along the man’s throat, severing it. A wild fray of blood spurted at the sky as the body slumped to the ground. Marek spun on his heels to race across the field.

Losing his footing to the slick mud, he skidded to his knees, realizing he’d never make it to her side in time. The soldier would have the dagger in her chest before he could intercept. Marek fumbled for the protruding handle of the knife still wedged in his boot. Finding it, he pulled the blade from its sheath. With his heart racing and his hand oddly trembling, he whirled the knife into the back of the soldier’s skull.
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Melissa grew up surrounded by dragons, fearsome creatures, and damsels in distress from the wonderful world of make believe. She soon found her ideas on paper, littering her desk with world maps and character biographies. Study hall was used not for homework but for writing. Although she pursued a career in theater, the written word never left her. Melissa now leads a full life with her husband and children (five amazingly adorable clones to be exact), though she still finds time to write in her “spare time”. She sports a Military Wife badge of honor, and is lucky enough to have her own knight in camo armor.

Melissa enjoys writing everything from sexy, sword-toting heroes to spit-out-your coffee funny romantic comedies. Her passion lies within the ancient walls of fantasy and historical romance, where anything is possible.

Melissa MacKinnon: http://melissamackinnon.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MelissaMacKinnon602?fref=ts

Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/melissa.mackinnon.author

Twitter: https://twitter.com/M_MacKinnon

SMASHWORDS  | KOBO | ITUNES

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Also, Don’t Forget!! PRIZES So please please Comment. Remember this is the Prize that Melissa will be giving away so please stop by and comment often. WIN that prize!

Enter to win a $25 Amazon GC! A Rafflecopter Giveaway

If you want to up your chances of winning Melissa’s giveaway follow the Blog Tour link for more chances.

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Blog Tour and Review The Dance of The Spirits

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Please join Catherine Aerie as she tours the blogosphere with HF Virtual Book Tours for The Dance of the Spirits from August 11-22, and enter to win your very own copy!

02_The Dance of the SpiritsPublication Date: November 16, 2013
Aurora
Formats: eBook, Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction

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Spring 1951: it is the fiery zenith of the Korean War, a war that the youthful US Army lieutenant Wesley Palm and his men thought that they had won… until the Chinese swept across the Yalu River.

Traveling with the million-man army bent on driving back the march of “American imperialism” is Jasmine Young, a Chinese surgeon who has volunteered herself into the war for unspoken, grave reasons. Through a chronicle of merciless battles, freezing winters, and the brutality and hypocrisy of human nature, the two will find themselves weaving through the twists and turns of fate and destiny. Though their love is forbidden, their passion and pursuit of liberty cannot be quenched.

Praise for The Dance of the Spirits

“…On the surface, The Dance of the Spirits is a story of love and of war, but on a deeper level, it is a story of the misery that the communist ideology brought to millions of souls in the twentieth century. Whether that philosophy is related to nationalism, internationalism or faith, Catherine Aerie reminds readers that when a system that will entertain no contradiction in thought or deed comes to power, no one is safe — and no one is free. Aerie draws a vivid picture of war and its price, and a tender image of love…” – Readers’ Favorite (5 Stars)

“…a love that is stronger than all the horrors that war can throw at them… compelling…poignant… sensitive and beautiful…” – San Francisco Book Reviews (4.5/ Stars)

“Adversaries in the Korean War find love in Aerie’s debut novel. The story starts in the middle of a firefight… Out of the rubble, two characters emerge: an American officer… and a Chinese military doctor… Their paths cross again and again… In the intimacy of the war, these coincidences don’t feel forced, nor even particularly fated–it’s just the way things went… Readers will likely find Palm a decent, very human person, but Young has more complexity and vibrancy… As the war rages around them, Palm and Young fall in love… but their romance is ill-starred and open to tragedy. Aerie keeps readers on their toes with the twists…fleeting but intense…
An often engaging tale of a flickering moment of love during a forgotten war.” – Kirkus Reviews

Buy the Book

Amazon (Kindle)
Amazon (Paperback)
Barnes & Noble

About the Author

Catherine Aerie, a graduate from the University of California, Irvine with a master degree in finance, grew up in China as the daughter of a Shanghai architect. She was inspired to write The Dance of the Spirits while researching a family member’s role in the Korean War, deciding to revive an often neglected and overlooked setting in fiction and heighten the universality of resilient pursuit of love and liberty. Her debut novel was finished after about two years of research. She currently resides in southern California.

For more information please visit Catherine Aerie’s website. You can also find her on Facebook and Goodreads.

The Dance of the Spirits Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August 11
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews
Spotlight at Mina’s Bookshelf
Interview at Library Educated

Tuesday, August 12
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Wednesday, August 13
Review at Book Nerd

Thursday, August 14
Review at Queen of All She Reads

Friday, August 15
Review at JM Ledwell
Review at Based on a True Story
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Monday, August 18
Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes

Tuesday, August 19
Review at Book Babe

Wednesday, August 20
Review at Unshelfish
Spotlight at Princess of Eboli

Thursday, August 21
Review & Interview Back Porchervations

Friday, August 22
Spotlight at Just One More Chapter

Giveaway

To win a copy of The Dance of the Spirits please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Giveaway is open to US & UK residents only.

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on August 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on August 23rd and notified via email.
Winner have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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My Review of The Dance of the Spirits

As a writer of Asian fiction and Historical novels with a sweep-this one sounded close to my heart.

I’ve read some reviews which warned of heavy combat action and gruesome details of a little-known, not much discussed war. As war epics go, certainly this one-set against the sweep of the Korean War-stands out. Yes, it has combat scenes and all the vivid details one would expect in a novel set against the battlefield. But this is not an “Asian Band of Brothers”, and if that’s the take-away, it misses the mark.

One could make comparisons to Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, with a bit of Joy Luck Club thrown in. As the main character, Jasmine Young holds up the whole book. The novel opens with a window on the hero and the heroine as we are thrown into their lives mid-combat. Then, we are whisked away to Jasmine’s past, her idyllic and pampered childhood in Shanghai on the eve of Revolution. Aerie pulls us closer, to see the inner workings of a family in torment, Jasmine’s loving, though recalcitrant father who refuses to stay faithful, and brings a series of children he fathered by concubines into the house. This has disastrous effects on Jasmine’s mother’s self-esteem and will spin the family into far greater disaster and poignancy. I really felt for the mother here. She was not easy to love, or like for that matter. She’s tough. She’s not soft but there is a tragic sense of pity I felt with each one of the father’s infidelities. Aerie makes me care about the mother, and without giving too much away, really feel for Jasmine’s plight as she tries to cope with dark changes within the family. This is my favorite part of the book.

When Jasmine goes off to war to save her family from further disgrace in the post-Communist takeover of South China, we start getting the Zhivago feel again. From the homes taken over and sectioned off, to the hopelessness and dazed way Jasmine’s father sleepwalks through his ruined world to the romance that blossoms mid-war between Jasmine and Wesley, an American officer at the Korean front. They grab hold of what they have, brief and shining, yet intensely real, perhaps felt all the more because of circumstances. Wesley offers Jasmine his whole soul, but “can make her no promises”. And while there is a passionate, brief and heart-breaking love story, overall, the book ultimately makes the case for the life of the inner self versus the greater good sacrifice of Communism. The joys of having dreams, hopes and fears kept alive when the rest of the crazy world outside-the war and the Communist rigmarole is telling you not to; to get rid of your thinking problem as Jasmine is reprimanded again and again. This only serves to steel her heart and her spirit, to grab what is hers and hold true in a difficult, shifting landscape.

We need more books like this. We need to get back to the meaning in fiction. Luckily, this book has a great love story, and interesting time period and a beloved heroine. I loved it.

The Dance of the Spirits

Historical Research Tips For the Writer

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If you’re writing Historical Fiction you’re most likely in love with the past. While writers adore research and taking notes, diving into costume templates and other delights, it’s important to remember that unless you’re writing a text book there’s Story and there’s History. Don’t confuse the two.

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Historical facts are like backstory. Their there to enhance, not overwhelm. A delicate hand is needed to spice up stories if we’re going to transport readers to the world we are recreating. It’s rich details, the little bit of this, and little bit of that we can use to enliven stories without dumping a lot of unnecessary, dry facts on top of readers who will turn away.

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Because history to me is so enjoyable, when I approach a project in the early stages, I give myself a time limit to do research. It helps keep me centered on story, and prevents a trip far off field that will prevent me from actually writing the story and over-researching. In fact, I under-research. In the beginning. When I get into the draft, I leave blanks if I haven’t read deeply enough and go back after my first draft is done to read more on the topic so I can flesh out the scene first. Always remember, story first. I typically limit my initial research to two weeks to a month, depending on scope and familiarity with subject matter. I watch documentaries, read primary and secondary sources and research costumes. I do not research technical aspects yet, such as weaponry and language. Once I start writing the draft, I review notes and let the story guide me. If something needs more research, I’ll note and go back. The old Stephen King Cleveland trick. These things are usually things I want also to see in person. I’ll watch a YouTube video first, then schedule an appointment with a local expert. That’s it.

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It’s crucial not to get overwhelmed with details. If you’ve loaded your draft with too much detail or find your characters speechifying-teaching history-you’ve gone too far. History like backstory is a spice. While I want readers who enjoy that time period to be charmed and delighted, I know I’ve done my job when I’ve transported a reader who knew nothing about the era. Those are the ones you should be aiming at. Don’t be afraid to use foreign words with elan, these are the things that bring your world to life.

If you don’t know how to do it, try something like, “I wrapped the rich uchikake around my shoulders for warmth. It was always welcome to have padded kimono on a night like this.” You’ve defined the item once, now be free to use the word again without having to define and the effect is seamless. The reader gets it.

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How do you like to research? Do you dive in or do you do just enough to sprinkle the story?

Getting Serious About Writing

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I was chatting the other day during my errands. Writing came up, and they grew wide-eyed and interested as they asked, almost conspiratorially, “You’re a writer? How do you get published?” I realized then, that the novice who dreams of writing, is all too interested in putting cart before horse. It was only after I was slugging bundles in the back seat that I wished I could have said more.

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I vaguely recall that place. Where the drive is nascent but not yet crystalized enough to carry them through the long days night. They really have no idea what they are doing. It’s dangerous, and kinda exciting too. Pull up a chair, or a bed because it’s not easy and it’s not over night. It’s not even next week, maybe not even next year.

1.) Forget publication. For now.

So often when we start thinking the world is ready for our stuff. If you’re just starting out, the world is not ready. You’re not ready. Develop your craft. Take classes through Writers Digest or local extension schools. Write and write some more. If you’ve written a novel or have a Nano project that was never EDITED TO DEATH, forget about subbing. You’re barely out of the gate.

2.) Get in the habit.

Write every day. If you want to write a novel, make an outline first. I started out years ago as a panzter. It made the editing process extra-long and while the book got better with every draft, I knew there was a better way. There are great books on craft out there. Story structure will save your life. You can’t hope to plot out a novel correctly without some form of road map.

3.) Get an obsession.

If you find a higher reason to write all the better. Figure out why you want to do this, not money. Not fame. And when you do, don’t talk about your work. Keep your novel close while you’re in writing phase, don’t show it to friends and family. Trust me, your enthusiasm will wane. It always works for me. This will help you through the endurance phase, when your writing buddies quit, but you have the chops to stick it out.

4.) Speaking of writing buddies.

If you can’t post your work because you can’t take it, you’re not ready. You need good critique partners to swap with. They are your only line of defense in a tough industry. Getting editorial help is a good if you can afford it, but it WILL NOT GUARANTEE success. Why? You pay editors. They have a pecuniary interest in your work. They also take too many projects, if they are in demand. You need unbiased truth here, the kind you will only get from friends who want you to succeed and who play a valuable role helping you along the journey. You help them, they help you. They are the best help you will get, and you will learn hugely by critiquing their work.

5.) Read often.

Writers read. It’s that simple. You can’t learn the craft if you don’t read what others do. Read wide, in your genre and read outside your genre. If you’re trying to get published, read as many debuts as you can to crack the code.

6.) Believe in yourself.

Not everybody can write, despite the old saw that everyone has a story inside. If you can’t write, you’ll find out sooner or later. But if you learn the craft and stick to it, you may be able to get better. It takes grit and a thick skin, those who would give up at the first rejection letter will give up. They won’t believe in themselves or their story. They’ll be swayed by one agent’s opinion and won’t realize that while they can always improve, writing is subjective. Not everyone will love their story. But someone will.

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Here’s a great link to K.M. Weiland’s site on Story Structure. I highly recommend the book.

http://www.kmweiland.com/book/structuring-your-novel/

If anyone is interested, e-mail me I have great Theme/Structure Chart you can use to help plot your novel. It’s copywrited by a well-known agent so I will not post. But it helped me immensely.

Happy writing!

Building The Perfect Book is a Temple

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As a writer of Asian fiction, I am drawn to Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat temple. I can’t get enough of it. It’s so mysterious and incredibly beautiful that I have multiple pictures in my home, writing space and office. It uplifts me. It makes me chillax and it reminds me how something great can be brought forth from ideas and stone.

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But first, there was the jungle.

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Angkor Wat is a Buddhist temple complex. The largest ever built in the word. It’s a 12th century Khmer king’s dream come to life. It’s still standing. The temple broke from Shavism tradition and instead celebrated Vishnu, and there is a legend that holds construction happned in a single night by divine help.

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The temple’s gradual focus shifted from Hindu to Buddhism. This amazing place was abandoned over the years, as regimes came and went but never completely. And it had protection. The jungle prevented destructive encroachments. The vines and the snakes actually preserved the jewel inside.

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Our drafts. Just like this magnificent temple, they are laid out scene by scene, page by page from nothing. They age. They take shape and they become overgrown. Time to prune.

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The writing process can feel as if we are enveloping our beautiful words in a morass of vines. So we put the book away. The proverbial shut the drawer moment. Maybe we write something else because we grow bored. Can’t sell it. Can’t fix another scene. Can’t face it.

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But it’s when the vines are at their worst tangle that we know some hidden jewel awaits us. Some books can’t be fixed, and some are meant to teach.

Here come the Ifs.

If you can’t get that story out of your head, if you followed a linear path, if each scene flows from outward progression, if you follow goal-motivation-conflict, it’s all there. You just need to edit. Cut back. Combine scenes that don’t work. Try cutting anything that’s boring. Odds are cutting will save that book.

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So, if you’re still haunted by the book in the drawer, there is hope. Think of the temple in the jungle, because it’s true. Greatness comes from drawing out the bits that excite and entertain us. Nothing great came from the easy path, if that were true we’d all be living in log cabins.

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I’ll take the temple and the jungle, please.

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Blogging A-Z Highlights

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So I actually committed and made it through the Blog A-Z Challenge. To pat myself on the back, I’ve written two books but this was different. Blogging is different.

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I had a lot of fun. I loved the camaraderie, meeting new peeps taking the challenge and seeing how they came up with inspiring content. I hope they’ll still come around. I hope when the excitement wanes, they won’t too. I will visit my new friends, and often.

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The numbers shot up too. Nice. There were moments. After a few in the restaurant, I had to really pull myself to the Surface to get it done. Tax night? Yah, reason why the Ikebana Post was not getting much love, I was literally doing turbotax and the post at the same time. It wasn’t my best, but I didn’t want to quit. And hey, it was “I”.

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Some posts were surprisingly popular.

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Cherry Blossom C. Kyoto K. Good eye candy. Everyone loves cherry blossoms.

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Life of Oharu, okay that was X but it got good comments and it’s a fantastic film.

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This one was close to my heart.

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The Real Madame Butterfly M.

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Zelda in the Shadow Z.

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I can see the value of blogging often. I feel energized. Great challenge with like-minded people. Wouldn’t have missed it.

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