Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween & Samhain!

Graveyards and Portals and Spells – Oh My!

Me and my family of zombies
Halloween, 2011
Halloween is my absolute favorite time of year! I grew up in the Midwest where October meant a chill in the air, fallen leaves, hot chocolate and football.

Now I live in the desert where it has been known to be in the ‘90’s on Halloween. Now, instead of worrying if our costumes will keep us warm, we consider if it will make us sweat!

But I’ve found the Halloween spirit flourishes in the American desert southwest. Adults and kids alike don costumes, trick-or-treaters come in flocks of faeries and vampires, ghosts and Harry Potters. Our neighborhood is like Mardi Gras carnival, a giant block party with food, wine and happy kids running and swirling, hyped up on sugar.

The fantasy writer in me loves the opportunity to be someone else for a night. Each year I ponder – Will I wear a saucy, sassy, sexy costume (leaving my frumpy shorts, T-shirt and flip flops in the closet)? Or will I go for the scare factor with some spooky contacts, fake blood and face paint?

While writing Emily’s House (Book 1 of the Akasha Chronicles), I researched ancient Celtic myth and lore. For the ancient Celts, the holiday that we now call Halloween was known as ‘Samhain’ (pronounced SAH-win). The Celts believed that the end of October/beginning of November was the best time to commune with the spirits of the dead and to go to the “other” worlds. The Celts had a strong belief in the existence in worlds parallel to our own. The legends are full of hapless souls wandering into the “Otherworld,” and when they found their way back – if they found their way back – those they had loved had long ago perished.

It was believed that around Samhain, the ‘veil’ between the worlds was at its thinnest, thus making it easier to slip between the worlds. So be careful on Halloween not to accidentally walk into a portal!

Day of the Dead Festival Goers
Tucson, 2011
Isn’t it weird that other cultures around the world have a similar belief? I live less than a hundred miles from Mexico, so my hometown of Tucson is enriched by its Mexican-American roots. In Mexico, they celebrate the “Day of the Dead.” In Tucson, there is a parade that ends in a festival with Mariachi bands, Mexican dancers and a festival atmosphere. It is a time when families visit the graves of their deceased family and friends, leaving offerings of food and flowers. Isn’t it strange that a half a planet from each other, two different cultures have a belief that around the end of October is the best time to converse with the spirits of the dead?

Do you think it’s coincidence? Or is there something to it?

Whether fact or fiction, the spookiest time of the year is just too fun not to use in a story! In Emily’s House, Emily and her friends have to poke around an ancient Irish graveyard at night, looking for a magical object. Then they end up at the Sacred Well – a portal to the Netherworld – on Halloween! Perfect time to ‘pierce the veil’ and travel to another dimension.

In Emily’s Trial, Emily once again has some portal hopping to do. Lucky for her, Halloween is near! And what better place for a teenager and her friends to be on Halloween than a cemetery, complete with a full moon and crypts. What will happen when she opens a portal to another world in a graveyard, surrounded by the dead? Will the spooky energy of such a place affect her spells?

I had a blast writing Emily’s Trial! I hope you enjoy reading it :-D

Excerpt of Emily’s Trial:

The Apocalypse didn’t start with four horsemen, harbingers of the horror to come. It didn’t start with a plague, or pestilence, or even zombies rising from the dead.
It came slowly and without warning. It crept up on people in the shadows, no more than a vague darkness that spread like an unseen cancer.
And it wasn’t set into action by a divine hand. A teenage girl was the catalyst for the End Times.
I should know. I’m the one that started it.
I didn’t plan to. I didn’t want to start the End Times, and I’m not evil.
Madame Wong taught me to tell the truth, and so here it is. I’m the one responsible for the Apocalypse. And this is the story of how I unwittingly unlocked the door to the darkness; of how a Priestess of the Order of Brighid, entrusted with powerful magic that was supposed to be used for the benefit of all humankind, unleashed a force that would destroy it instead.
And it all began with desire.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Spellbindingly Fun Blog Party

Welcome to some Friday fun - the Spellbindingly Fun Party in celebration of the release of a fun novella written by one of my newest writer friends, Janice Horton. You can click on the picture to go see her blog and get your copy of How Do You Voodoo by Janice Horton. It is FREE, but for today only. And use hashtag #voodoo to follow the party on Twitter all day.

But before you run off, first you must check out my spell.

Janice gave us the task: Create one spell, but no curses. She gave us a fun ingredient list and we were off to spellcasting.

It was hard choosing a spell! But I finally came up with it. How about abundance. Abundance of health. Abundance of love. Abundance of joy. Abundance of wealth. Cast this spell for abundance of all wanted things in your life.

Multum Copia

You will need the following for your Multum Copia spell:

1 Sprig of Scottish Heather
1 charged Moon Stone
3 Dragon Tears
A Pinch of Pixie Dust
3 White Candles

Place all of your ingredients, except for the candles, in a beautiful silk bag, blessing each one. Then arrange your three white candles in a circle, place your blessed bag in the center, and light your candles while casting this spell:

With Scottish Heather
and Stone of Moon,
Abundance come
and none too soon.
The Dragon Tears
and Pixie Dust.
Abundance find me,
this magick a must.
I am open to abundance,
a well to fill.
Abundance in all,
but not of ill.
Love, Joy,
friendship, health.
When my cup is full of these,
the I shall know great wealth.

If you cast this spell, let me know how it works for you *wink*. And if you find dragon tears, let me know where you found them!

Now pop over to Janice's blog where you'll find a list of other fun spells in this Spellbindingly Fun party.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Inspiration at 35,000 Feet!

Much of my first novel, Emily’s House, takes place in Ireland. I’d been inspired to write a story partially set in the Emerald Isle, but I’d never been there! As I finished the first draft, I knew that I had to go to Ireland before I could finish my revisions.

But there was a problem. I didn’t have the money to make the trip. But that problem was solved when I won a trip to Ireland in a radio contest – true story! (Read this post for more on that story.) Less than a month after I’d prayed for the opportunity, my plane touched down in Dublin.

It was magical to traipse around the Irish countryside, roughly following the path that my characters tread in Emily’s House. I smiled so much my face hurt!

That's my head, peaking from behind an Irish Megalithic stone

Before I left for Ireland, I’d envisioned Emily’s House as a single novel, not a series. Written for a late tween to early teen audience, Emily’s House is a classic hero quest. Emily learns of her ancient magical heritage; journeys solo and learns secret knowledge from a wise mentor; receives magical objects; and then defeats the bad guy and saves the day. A grand adventure for Emily and her pals. One big story. The end.

But on my way back from Ireland, cruising at 35,000 above the Earth, something happened. Maybe it was the lower-than-normal oxygen level. Or perhaps the white noise hum of the engines created stillness and focus. Whatever the reason, my mind was open and my imagination flowed.

And there, 35,000 feet in the air, three titles popped into my head: Emily’s House, Emily’s Trial, and Emily’s Heart.

On that flight, Emily told me that she had more than one story to tell. In Emily’s House, Emily was faced with obstacles, to be sure. But I hadn’t challenged her as much as I could. I wanted to see what would happen if I pushed her to the edge of the cliff. All I needed was a juicy catalyst of a challenge.

By the time I touched down back in the U.S., the theme of book 2 was clear to me: Fear.

What if Emily’s worst fears began to come true? What if her friends’ nightmares became real?

My initial premise was born on that flight in September, 2010. And by the time I touched down back in the U.S., I had a brief outline of Book 2, Emily’s Trial.

Last November (2011), I gave myself a challenge and participated in NaNoWriMo (Nat’l Novel Writing Month). The goal: To write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

 My family ate out of boxes and bags for much of the month, but I achieved my goal. By December 1, I had the first draft of Emily’s Trial written! It was an incredible challenge to push myself to write that much each and every day. The truth is, usually I’m a sporadic writer. I may write for eight hours one day, then not write at all for a few weeks.

But I soon found that total immersion in the story for thirty days straight was a blessing. I ate, breathed, slept and dreamt Emily’s world and characters for a whole month. And as I lived with them, they spoke to me more clearly than they ever had. The characters took the story to places I hadn’t imagined. And I ended up with an ending that required me to go back and rewrite the beginning!

It was wonderful fun for me, as a writer, to explore the theme of fear with these characters. Poor Emily – I pushed her so hard! But the reward is a character-driven action story that tests long-held friendships and loyalties.

I had so much fun writing Emily’s Trial! I hope you have fun reading it J

Emily's Trial, Book 2 of the Akasha Chronicles

I may be crazy, but I’ll be doing the NaNoWriMo challenge again this November, and banging out a first draft of Book 3, Emily’s Heart.

So think of me this November, foregoing decent food, sleep, fresh air and Facebook as I write the last chapter of Emily’s amazing journey. Will Emily rise to the challenge left her at the end of Book 2? And will love flourish in Emily’s Heart?

I’ll see you in December ;-)

Happy reading!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

3 Tips to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

Last year I participated in NaNoWriMo (Nat'l Novel Writing Month) for the first time and penned the (most of) the first draft of Emily's Trial in 30 days, and 'won' NaNoWriMo. Phew! It was exhausting, but also highly productive. And now, a year later, much like the pain of childbirth, I've forgotten what I vaguely recall as a bit hellish and I've committed to doing it again! 

Why? Because now I've got the paperback of Emily's Trial, my NaNoWriMo novel, staring at me and I know that I wouldn't have met my promise to get it to readers in the Fall of this year if I hadn't poured out the first 50,000 last November.

I learned a few things from the experience last year and I'm sharing:

1. Stock Your Freezer! For thirty days, you need to sit your butt in the chair, strap your fingers to the keys, and type your heart out. If you want to 'win' NaNoWriMo, you need to hit a word count of 1,666.66 words per day (but who's counting). And if you're an American, you'll likely take off at least one day for Thanksgiving feasting, football and elastic waistband wearing. So if you account for 5 days off in November (Thanksgiving + one day each weekend), you're word count just went up 2,000 words per day, six days a week. For those of us who are more sporadic-prolific than plodding along each day and meeting a word count prolific, this is a lofty goal.

For you NaNo virgins, take this piece of advice - seriously. Cook your pants off now, and fill your freezer with ready-made meals that you can pop into the oven. Last year, I did not prepare for this and gained 8 pounds in one month! Okay, Thanksgiving was in there with pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and ladles of gravy. And sure, I munched Halloween candy like like a whale sucking in krill. But both myself and my poor family succumbed to food out of boxes and bags far too many days last November.

You're getting ready for a writing marathon, not a sprint. You need to prepare you mind - and body - for day-in and day-out writing.

When you're engrossed wholly in your story (as you must be to make NaNoWriMo work), you are not going to want to think about 'what's for dinner?' If you fill your freezer with homemade food, you can pull it out in the morning before you set to work. And you'll have the leftovers for lunch the next day.

I took my own advice and did my own day-long cooking marathon last weekend. I created seven dishes in about six hours and stocked my freezer.

Ingredients at the Ready - Time to Cook

Really cooking!
One Recipe, two meals. Boosh!

My freezer is now full of healthy soups, stews, casseroles and a few comfort food dishes, all sans MSG and mega doses of salt. Now all I have to do is add some steamed veggies or a salad. How easy is that? No more bags or boxes.

2. Playlist Created & Writing Tools Gathered. For some of us, a 'soundtrack' for our novel is imperative. I've done this from day one of my writing. In fact, my idea for a work in progress, H.A.L.F., came straight from a song. And songs inspire scenes and imagery. If you haven't tried this before, give it a test. If you use iTunes, I've found it very helpful in creating 'soundtracks' for my novels. Use Genius and the sidebar to find tunes that are similar to a few of your inspiration songs.

My playlist for my NaNo novel, Emily's Heart, includes Mumford & Sons, Parachute, Christina Perri and Snow Patrol (among others). I play it while I'm driving, brushing my teeth, pissing away the afternoon on the internet. The songs create the mood of my novel and many of them represent emotions of certain characters at various stages of the work. 

While I write, I do NOT listen to my soundtrack, opting instead for ephemeral, mediatative music. I don't want someone else's words in my head :-) But the soundtrack is essential to help me stay in the mood of the story even when not writing.

Other tools and essentials? For me, plenty of black tea, a fresh Moleskine, lined notebook, Dr. Grip pen, some strong coffee, a good bar of very dark chocolate, Scrivener, and all ringers off on all phones. (Sorry mom, I'm not even taking your calls when writing.)

My office and iPhone are ready for NaNoWriMo:

3. SnowFlake it, Outline it, Think it, Breathe it, PLAN IT! I'm not going to lie to you. As I write this, it's only ten days until NaNoWriMo 2012 begins, and if you haven't already planned what you're going to write, you better get crackin! Best practice would have been to start planning probably 2-3 months ago. True Confession: I haven't outlined my project yet. I haven't snowflaked it either. I've got ideas and notes written in notebooks and some character stuff in Scrivener. I know the big picture idea of what needs to happen. BUT I HAVE NO CLUE WHAT I'M GOING TO WRITE ON DAY 1! I'm scared.
Don't let this be you during NaNoWriMo - PLAN!
The good news: It's not too late to get a clue. If you apply yourself each day and put in as much time now as you plan to put in during NaNoWriMo, you can have a decent outline or other type of plan for what you're going to write.

Last year, I used the Snowflake method to plan Emily's Trial. It worked pretty well. I was glad to have done that work before I sat down to write on November 1. But about 25% in, I was lost. I was trying to follow my plan, but it didn't feel right. And I'd created a much more detailed plan for 'Act 1', but a very sketchy plan for the rest. I had writer's block for the first time in my life. 

How did I break past it? I broke out of the narrative and did a Q&A with my character about setting. What do you smell? What do you see? Hear? etc. This was an incredibly useful technique for moving me past my blockage. And the details revealed helped me to create a richer setting - and helped me see what Emily was feeling at that moment in the story.

But you know what's even better for combatting writer's block? Having a plan! Another resource I recommend is using Scott Bell's Plot & Structure. For commercial fiction, I've never come across any book better for helping me plan a novel. Go through it chapter by chapter and use Bell's structure to think out your whole novel before you begin.

Food Ready. Workspace cleared. Playlist Created. Plan of Action. Boosh!

You can do it. Now get to work!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dream Cast for Emily's Trial

Emily's Trial, Book 2 of the Akasha Chronicles

Some writers “cast” their characters before they pen the first word of their story.  I didn’t search for actors or models to serve as references for my characters before I wrote Emily’s House, Book 1 of the Akasha Chronicles. But when I set out to write Book 2, Emily’s Trial, I decided to give casting my characters a shot.

It was a lot of fun to search out real-world faces to match the characters I’d created in my mind. There aren’t any exact matches of course. But I’ve come pretty close here.

Allow me to introduce you to the cast of Emily’s Trial:

Actress Rachel Hurd-Wood 
Emily Adams – played by Rachel Hurd-Wood. Emily is the main character, reluctant hero, ordinary girl with a painful past turned modern Celtic Priestess. Emily’s signature long, red hair and piercing green eyes make her a somewhat hard character to cast. Emily is beautiful but in a natural way. She doesn’t wear much makeup and tends to let her hair go au naturel. But when I came across this picture of Rachel Hurd-Wood, it was like looking at a picture of the snapshot of Emily I’ve had in my head for about five years now!

But hold on, when we cast the model to pose as Emily for the cover of Emily’s Trial, I think we found a girl that may be even more of a dead ringer for Emily than Rachel. Here’s Ashley playing Emily Adams for the cover of Emily’s Trial.

Armed with her magical dagger and wearing the golden torc, forged long ago by faerie hands, Emily is ready to take on the forces of darkness in Emily’s Trial. But will desire tempt her to use the powerful magic entrusted to her in a forbidden way? And what will happen to her and her friends if she succumbs to the forces of temptation?

Acrtess Allisyn Ashley Arm
Fanny Katz – played by Allisyn Ashley Arm. Fanny is the wisecracking, loyal friend to Emily. The two have known each other since pre-school. Fanny has always had Emily’s back. But in Emily’s Trial, the friendship is tested. Will their bond survive the ordeal of Emily’s Trial?

Fanny’s strong, athletic and although physically small, can kick the ass of just about anybody. When I’m writing, Fanny’s voice comes out with a potty mouth! So to keep the Akasha Chronicles series YA appropriate, I’ve had to tone down her language ;-) It has been a fun challenge to try to find other ways to say her trash-mouth phrases that won’t scald the ears of parents and librarians!

I saw this picture of Allisyn and couldn’t believe the resemblance to the Fanny in my mind! Just add curly hair and you’ve got Fanny.

Actor Ian Somerhalder
Owen Breen – played by Ian Somerhalder. How hot does a guy have to be to get Emily to put her friendships – the most valuable thing to her – at risk? How about Ian Somerhalder hot?

Those smoldering eyes, the full lips, the dark hair. Ian is slightly older than Owen, and Owen has dark, chocolate-brown eyes. But the swagger is all Owen. I think Ian Somerhalder could persuade me to do anything he wanted me to. Hell, I don’t think it would take much persuading!

Actor Sterling Beaumon
Photo Getty Images
Jake Stevens – Played by Sterling Beaumon. If you’ve read book 1, Emily’s House, then you know that Jake and Emily have been best friends since they were little kids. Jake is super-smart and as loyal as they come. What he lacks in courage, he makes up for with his calm, level-headed reason. When the shit hits the fan, and you find yourself in a big mess, Jake is the go-to guy to come up with a plan to get you out (a good thing, because Emily has a way of getting herself into lots of messes!).

Jake is what you might call a “late bloomer”. In Emily’s Trial, he’s now 16 but still waiting to “fill out” a bit. When I came across a picture of Sterling Beaumon, I thought he was perfect to play Jake. Just add glasses and you’ve got Jake Stevens.

Astute readers of book 1 may have guessed it, but in Emily’s Trial, it’s confirmed – Jake has been crushing on Emily - big time! But the oblivious Miss Adams hasn’t put it together. When they’re thrust into danger, will Emily start to crush on him too? And if she does, is it too late for them?

Sterling sure is aging well! Perhaps a look at Jake in the last installment of the Akasha Chronicles, Emily’s Heart, coming 2013.

Sterling Beaumon
What’s a story without some conflict – antagonists? Emily’s got plenty of antagonists in Emily’s Trial. Her old nemesis Greta Hoffman makes an appearance in Emily’s Trial.

AnnaSophia Robb, Photo by Jonathan Ressler
In Emily’s House, we learned that Greta was the kind of girl that, as a child, could melt the hearts of adults with her blonde curls and large, blue eyes. Greta still uses her physical beauty and charm to get what she wants.

There are plenty of blonde-haired, blue-eyes beauties in Hollywood. But whoever plays Greta has to have something other than good looks. After all, Greta has to hold her own against Emily Adams – no wimpy, lithe runway walker will do!

Greta Hoffman – Played by AnnaSophia Robb. When I saw this picture of AnnaSophia, I thought this is Greta! I can picture her as a popular, a cheerleader, and a teacher’s favorite. But this picture also captures that side of Greta that no one knows – the secret side. There’s more to her than meets the eye. What role will she play in Emily’s Trial? And I promise you, there’s more of her to come in Book 3, Emily’s Heart.

One last character to get you in the spirit of it all. A nasty creature – sometimes I wonder where my brain comes up with this stuff! Should I be worried?!

In Emily’s Trial, Emily and crew meet perhaps the ugliest beast they’ve ever seen. What would happen if you took this . . .

"What? My mother thinks I'm beautiful!" 
And mixed it with this . . .

The mixture would turn out to look a lot like Dorcha, a strange creature that roams the Umbra Perdita.

There are other characters to meet in the pages of Emily’s Trial, but I have to leave you some surprises.

Happy reading J

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