Thursday, December 29, 2011

Second Hand Bookstores, Henceforth Known as SHBs

I'm on vacation in the ever-wonderful US of A, enjoying Christmas and soon New Year's Eve here, too. At the moment, I'm exploring Washington DC and I've come across a phenomenon that I wish wish WISH we also had in Germany: The Second Hand Bookstore. I used to picture these fantastical places - I honestly have never come across one in Germany - as tiny, dark and dinky, filled with ancient books, so old in fact that they are falling apart or written in hieroglyphs or plain boring.

But, ho, I couldn't have been more wrong.

I stumbled across this one SHB called Idle Wild Books and was at first reluctant to go inside. But, me being me, I couldn't just walk right by it, either. So I went in and came out barely fifteen minutes later, proudly carrying a paper bag - because nobody uses plastic here, how cool is that?! - with four new books, books that had been released only this year, books I'd been contemplating on downloading onto my kindle and which I now got for half-price. 

What I especially loved about this SHB was that it was a little like unpacking a Christmas present, or maybe Forrest Gump's infamous box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get. Idle Wild Books had a LOT of books, but of course not the whole selection you'd find in any of the big shops or even an indie store. But they had lots of books I have at home myself and that alone tells me that SHBs indeed aren't the stuffy, dinky places I always imagined them to be. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

True Events Flash Fiction - Wrong Impressions

We had friends from South Africa visiting us the other day, who told us a pretty amazing / gruesome / yike-sy story they heard from a doctor-friend of theirs. It sounds like something you make up for your regular's table, so I thought I'd share it. They swear it's true...

A patient is brought into the hospital with a knife stuck in his eye after a fight. With him is another man who is also bloodied and anxiously hovers around the stretcher, getting in the way of the nurses and doctor. The wounded man is taken in for emergency surgery and his companion follows him all the way into the operating room, where the doctor tries to throw him out, this being a sterile environment and all. The man won't budge, until finally a nurse asks him what the problem is, they will be able to operate better if he isn't in the room with them and maybe save his friend. To which he says: 'I'm not worried about him - I want my knife back!'

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ilona Andrews' MAGIC GIFTS - Free Novella!!!

Ilona Andrews are so good to their fans! They have a novella, Magic Gifts, up on their blog to be downloaded for free. Considering Ilona Andrews are at the top of the urban-fantasy author list - as well as my all-time favorite and auto-buy list - this is an amazing offer. One that is only open for two weeks, starting today, December 24th. 

So go-go-gadgets get!

I'm off to read it now. Merry Christmas and thank you, Ilona and Gordon!! You rock!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Short Story: A Wish Named Snow

So yeah, it's been a while. I've mutated to the blogger who doesn't post diddly-squat; when I get home from work I'm just too tired. But now I have three weeks of holiday and being lazy ahead of me, so I'm hoping I'll be back to my spry old self in the new year. 

I've still been writing a little, for example a Christmas short story for my parents to gift their customers with. It's about a little boy, his impossible wish and the elf who tries to grant it. Hope you enjoy it:

A Wish Named Snow
by Pia Newman

Cory hastens from his mother's bedroom to the kitchen, trying hard not to spill the water in the bowl he is holding. He doesn't have time to sop up any puddles. His mother is feverish again and he needs fresh water to cool her face with.
He dumps the water in the kitchen sink and rinses out the cloth. While he does so, he looks outside the window before him, at the garden. In spring, the flowers bloomed beautifully and the lawn was as green as a golf-course. But now, in the heat of summer, the colour has gone out of grass and leaves and petals. Everything is yellow and brown and dead.
Usually, his mother would never let this happen. Last year, the garden was a riot of colour all summer long, well tended, watered every morning and evening to withstand the South African summer heat. Cory would 'help' her, by digging through the earth with his little red shovel and redistributing it in his yellow bucket. This year, mom hasn't stepped foot in the garden and Cory hasn't touched his shovel or bucket in two months. He hasn't even thought about them, nor about the Lego-set his father gave him four months ago for being such a good sport about dad never being there anymore.
The way it looks, mom won't be out of bed this Christmas. She won't bake cookies, won't make eggnog, won't hang the stockings up on the banister for Santa to fill on Christmas Eve. At least dad managed to buy a Christmas tree as he promised. He just hasn't had time to put it up yet. It's still lying in the garage, all packed in the net and far too heavy for Cory to drag inside and stand up by himself.
Christmas Eve is tomorrow.
Last year, when Cory was so homesick after the recent relocation, at least they had a proper Christmas, like they did at home in Manchester. The only thing that wasn't like home was the heat and the missing snow.
This year he would be happy to have just one christmassy thing. But the way things are going, he might as well wish for snow. Snow during the South African Christmas seems more realistic right now than a decorated Christmas tree, cookies, eggnog and stockings.
It's a wish, fleeting but incredibly strong: Snow. Cory wants snow this Christmas. Something, anything, to remind him of the good times, before dad's work relocation, before mom's sickness. Snow seems like the least Santa could do, if he isn't able to heal his mom or make his dad not have to work so much to earn the money for the expensive doctors. Snow is just icy water. Can't be too hard, right?
Cory fills the pail with fresh, cool water and carries it back to his mother's room. By the time he turns his back on the window, he has forgotten his fervent wish.

The wish named Snow races through time and space. It is strong and sure, leaving other wishes far behind in its race to reach its destination in time.
No wish ever disappears once set free, though they can get lost or be forgotten if they are vague and weak. Snow is neither vague nor weak. Snow is as bright and brilliant as its namesake. Snow will never get lost.

Faye’s shift is almost over and she’s looking forward to a hot bath and her cosy bed when Santa steps into her office. He is very tall and has to duck to get through the door, which was made for short little elves like Faye. He is holding a stack of golden-edged papers. Faye knows what the papers mean and feels like crying. She knows she won’t get her bath tonight. But she smiles at Santa. He is her employer after all and jobs have become hard to find for elves because people don’t believe in them anymore.
Santa takes the piece of paper from the top of the stack and lays it down on the desk in front of Faye. He taps it lightly with a finger as thick as Faye’s wrist and looks at her expectantly, as if she should be delirious with joy.
At the top of the page, in the same gold that surrounds the edges, it says: A Most Deserving Child, and beneath this stands a name, Cory Sean Trent, and, beneath that, a deceptively simple wish: Snow.
‘What’s so difficult about making it snow?’ Faye asks, knowing there has to be a catch. It is winter, after all, and she has a good relationship with Saint Peter, the guy responsible for the weather. Jeez, Santa himself could ask good old Pete for that favour. The fact that Santa came to her with this Most-Deserving-Child wish means it isn’t as easy as all that.
‘Think Southern hemisphere,’ Santa says.
By the time Faye finds her voice again, he has left with an apologetic little shrug.

She doesn’t bother asking for St. Peter’s help. Pete is very proud with the structure he has created in the weather and its seasons. He might bend his own rules every now and then - a hurricane here, a heat wave there - but no way will he agree to make it snow in South Africa at this time of the year. If he were that easy to persuade, Santa would have done it himself.
Faye decides to visit Cory Sean Trent and check out his situation. Maybe that will give her some ideas - why does Cory wish for snow so badly that he makes it to the top of The Most Deserving?
She takes Banner, one of Santa’s backup-reindeers, and heads South. Far South. But Banner is fast and knows his way around the world like a taxi driver around New York. He has her in South Africa in a very short time, landing softly on the roof of Cory’s house.
Faye pats Banner’s neck and straightens out her hair that got blown about during the flight. She dismounts and asks Banner to wait for her before slithering down the roof and peering over the edge.
She is looking out over the garden. It is the middle of the night and the only light comes from the street lamp behind the hedge at the back of the yard. It has potential, this little spot of land. Faye can tell with a practiced eye. In the old days, elves helped humans tend their gardens and Faye was the instigator of many a grand Garden-Warming, to which elves from the whole neighbourhood would come and plant a new garden.
This garden is a grey ghost of its former self. Every plant in it is dead. Even the weeds that overgrew the flowerbeds in spring have withered before the summer heat. Faye is sweating, even though this must be the coolest time of the day. How on Earth is she supposed to make it snow here?
Faye clambers quietly around the building, looking for Cory’s room. When she finds it, the first thing she sees is the Union Jack hanging in front of his window. She pulls the wish-paper with Cory’s name and basic facts out of her pocket and sees that, yes, Cory and his parents moved here from England only seventeen months ago. He probably misses snow at Christmas, like Faye would, too. But she knows the wish alone isn’t enough to make Cory a Most Deserving Child. Many kids have Christmas wishes, even make up extensive lists, but they don’t automatically qualify to end up on Santa’s list. There are so many children in the world these days, children who already get or have everything they could ever want and need, whose parents make sure their wish is granted, whether they were good during the year or not. So Santa has refocused on the wishes of children who were good and helpful, who deserve their wishes to come true, even or especially the impossible ones, the powerful ones. Wishes that are completely out of their grasp - like making it snow in summer.
Of course, some of these wishes are just as impossible for Santa and his Little Helpers to grant. Santa has his connections and his elves have a little magic, but it’s not the ‘abra-kadabra’-appears-the-candelabra kind. Elves are linked to nature. Their magic comes from all living things like plants, animals and the elements. They are nurturers. They can make things grow and thrive, heal and mend. They can make a flower bloom from seed to blossom in one night.
Quietly, Faye climbs down the drainpipe and shimmies over to the windowsill of Cory’s Union-Jack window until she can see inside beneath the giant flag. She can make out a wardrobe and an empty bed. The place is so tidy that she would never think it a child’s room except for the Care-Bear stickers plastered all over the wardrobe doors and the Thomas-the-Tank-Engine bed spread. Since the gilded piece of paper mentions nothing of siblings, this has to be Cory’s room. If the kid is this tidy, no wonder he is a Most Deserving Child.
Faye wonders where Cory is, this long past his bedtime. Everything inside the house is dark. Either the whole family is out or they are all in bed - Cory not in his own.
Faye climbs to the next window and finds her answer in the bedroom beyond it. Both the room and the bed are larger than Cory’s. At first glance the two sleeping figures lying in the bed look peaceful. Looking closer, Faye can make out that the smaller figure, a blonde little angel, has fallen asleep kneeling beside the bed, his upper body supported by the bed, his head on his arms, his arms on the mattress. Beside him on the floor lies a bowl upside-down, a wet patch spread beneath it and down the side of the bed. A washcloth is still clutched in the boy’s hand, hanging over the side of the mattress and dripping onto his legs.
The other figure is lying in bed properly, covered with several layers of blankets. This person’s pale face gleams with sweat in the darkness and the bald head shines like the moon in the light of the streetlamp falling into the room. Despite the lack of hair, the delicate features and sharp chin tell Faye that this is a woman. She assumes it is Cory’s mother. One hand and part of the arm are showing beneath the blankets, stretched out towards Cory but not quite reaching. The hand and arm are skin and bones and as white as the face. This woman is sick. Very sick.
Faye understands why this little boy has the status of Most Deserving Child. And, more to the point, she understands his wish for snow. For one thing that is normal again in his life. This life in which it is hot during Christmas, in which the garden is dead, in which his mother is wasting away and his carefree childhood is replaced by the responsibilities of an adult. Responsibilities he obviously takes very seriously.
Faye understands all too well. Not too long ago, elves were numerous and respected by every creature, great and small. Then the magic began to leek out of this world in which nobody believed in it anymore and everything was explained away with science and reason. Now the elves have dwindled and are reduced to helping Santa distribute his presents to children like Cory.
Faye accepts it - what else can she do? But she wishes that once, just once, something, anything, that used to be right and true in the old times, would be again, if just for one night.
Just like Cory’s wish for snow.
Suddenly, Faye knows how to grant his wish. And her own.

After returning to Santa’s headquarters at the North Pole, Faye springs into action. She sends out invitations to her elf friends, asking them to meet her at Cory’s house as soon as they have finished their tasks on Christmas Eve. She visits Merlin the wizard and cashes in an old favour for an invisibility spell. She packs a sleigh full of food and drinks, tools and seeds. She almost forgets to tell Santa of her plan and ask for his approval. He doesn’t object to her suggestion, because he knows Faye’s idea is the closest they’ll ever get to granting Cory’s wish.
Faye returns to Cory’s house late in the night of Christmas Eve. She parks the sleigh on the roof and throws Merlin’s invisibility spell over the back yard. Now anybody who goes into the yard can neither be seen nor heard from the outside. Then she begins to unpack. By the time the sleigh is empty and everything in the garden is prepared for a Garden-Warming, the first elves arrive.
Their eyes light up as they behold the feast Faye has prepared for them – a feast not just for their tummies, but for their hearts and souls as well; sacks of fresh earth are piled high in one corner; bags of seeds rest against them; pots of all shapes and sizes are strewn over the dead lawn; shovels, scoops, axes, rakes and buckets are waiting to be grabbed and used.
The garden is a blank canvas and they are VanGogh, Monet, da Vinci, eager and ready to leave their personal mark on this expanse of death. They sing and laugh as they distribute the soil and the seeds, casting their nurturing magic over the whole garden. When no more seeds, earth or pots are left, they continue to sing and laugh and now they also dance and feast and drink. Their joy and life nurtures the growing plants. Green roots shoot up beneath dancing feet, caressed by a hundred lovely voices. Even the most reluctant seed gives up its secret to such loving care.
When the first rays of the sun light up the sky, they help Faye pack everything back into the sleigh before leaving, most of them with tears of joy and gratitude in their eyes. Faye knows she isn’t the only one who misses the old ways and she is happy that she was able to make this a Christmas for elves as well as humans.
She is the last to leave. From the sleigh on top of the roof, she looks down on the garden and smiles.
If she squints her eyes just a little, it really does look like snow.

Cory wakes up on Christmas Morning with a hollow feeling in his stomach. His mother is still sick. They are still in South Africa. It is still hot, the sky a bright blue, the bugs buzzing against the fluffy white screen in front of his wide open window, looking for an escape. At least his dad made it home last night, even if it was late. Cory remembers being carried to his own room by strong arms, the tender kiss on his forehead...
Wait. Why is the screen fluffy white? Grey and shiny, yes. Riddled with holes, yes. Bombarded by big black bugs, yes. But fluffy white?
Cory sits up in bed and stares at the fly-screen framed by his window. Indeed, it is covered in white... something. It almost looks as if tufts of clouds have caught themselves in the tiny mesh holes. Or fur, maybe. Fur makes more sense. Sort of.
A flurry of white is carried past his window by the morning breeze, some of it catching in the screen, adding to the little white mounds already stuck there. It looks almost like... snow? Snow!
Cory jumps out of bed to take a closer look. His brain is telling him that snow isn't possible, not when it is already so hot outside that he sweats just lying in bed. But his heart is almost painfully full of hope and desire. Snow?
Tiny dark spots hang in the fluffy whiteness. Dandelion seeds, hanging by their little umbrellas, Cory realizes. His disappointment is so great it makes his knees weak - until he looks down at the garden.
It is covered in white. Not snow - the dandelion makes him see through that illusion immediately. But the yard is completely white and it is just as much a miracle as snow would have been. Yesterday every single plant in that garden was dead. Even the weeds. Now it is so full of blooming white flowers that Cory can't make out the ground or the grass or the green stems that surely hold up this blanket of white petals. There are white blossoms in every shape and size, from round to slim, large to tiny, straight to curly, high to low. All of them are white. When Cory squints a little, it looks like snow. Especially when another flurry of dandelion seeds dances across the yard like snow flakes.
Cory runs out of his room with a yell of joy. He has no clue how this miracle came about, but he doesn't care. It isn't snow, exactly, but he doesn't care. This is so much better, because mum will be able to enjoy it, too. He'll have his white wonderland and she will have her garden back. Maybe this won't be a lost Christmas after all.

Faye hears the joyful squeal of delight from the top of the roof and smiles. She is tired and she didn’t get her bath, but she has made many people happy this Christmas.
Especially herself.

 The End

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Possible Publisher

On Friday evening I went to a reading of a Swabian author who writes very enjoyable YA and romance novels based in and around my home town. The reading was fun; the author has a fun style both in writing and reading that prompted a lot of laughs and made the half-hour reading fly by in what felt like half a minute.

The author is a friend of my mom's and - squee! - introduced me to her publisher. I asked him a lot of questions about publishing in Germany in general and his press in particular. This publisher is a smalli press that releases all kinds of books themed in, around and about the state of Baden-Württemberg, in which I live.

I've actually had some ideas about basing an urban fantasy in the town I currently live in. This town is very old and has a lot of history, including a legend about the devil visiting and being chased off with an onion disguised as an apple. The publisher said that sounds like something they *might* (a very careful might, but hey, at least he didn't say 'no' outright) be interested in and I should send him a two-page summary of a story before writing the actual book. 

Now that, regardless of my chances of actually wowing him with my summary, is a sweet deal. It means I won't have to write the whole book before shopping it around. If the idea doesn't appeal to him, he'll let me know and that will be that.

So now I'm kind of excited and amazingly motivated; I scribbled away at the summary all weekend. It isn't finished yet and I'm definitely not going to rush it and send it out without other people taking a look at it. I'm also going to start reading a few more German books again, to get back into the flow of that language. I usually write in English because I read most books in English and it flows a tad more naturally for me. But just a tad and I can work on that.

*still excited*

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Meeting An Author, My NaNo-NoGo & Christmas Short Story Idea

I'm going to a reading on Friday, of a German author who is a friend of my mom. She has read some of my short stories and apparently really liked them, so I'm kind of totally mega-excited to meet her. After the Frankfurt Book Fair fell flat for me due to other commitments, this is the next best thing. Maybe this author has some suggestions how I could proceed getting my novel published in Germany. 

I don't want to get my hopes too high, though. I'm looking forward to meeting her, regardless, and to experience a published author in action on her book tour. It'll be my first reading ever.

I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo this year. That'd just be too much on top of everything else right now. Writing everyday is good but I won't manage the 1,667 words per day unless I buck up at the weekends - and, at the moment, I need those to do other things than sitting in front of the computer all day, like I do at work. Too much computer time and I get island fever and inspiration floats far out to sea never to be reeled in again. The NaNo-pace just won't work for this working gal.

So right now I'm typing away on a christmassy short story - I have what I think is a cool idea: what if one South African kid's Christmas wish is of a White Christmas, in the heat of his southern continental summer? How would Santa and his little elf helpers deal with making that one come true? 

I still have no clue how to solve this little quandary, but my main character is hard at work to get it done. Pantsers surely know the feeling. :-)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Change Of Seasons (A Poem)

We're having a beautiful Indian Summer, or Golden October, as we say in Germany. It doesn't exactly inspire motivation for sitting in the office all day. Alas, just as time and tide waits for no man, neither does the weather.
Fall always makes me think of the seasons, of change, and the inevitability of it. And it makes me feel lyrical.

This poem is the result.

The Change Of Seasons
by Pia Newman

Summer falls
with golden leaves
and blistering rain.

Winter rises
with misty breath
and mounting snow

until it fades
in melting rivers
and growing daylight

Summer springs
into blooming action
and brightly reigns

until its Fall,
as inevitable
as its Spring

Monday, October 17, 2011

To Be Found: A Balance In Publishing

There's so much going on in the Publishing World, with Amazon now entering that field as well, and authors being offered new choices to get past and/or avoid completely the NYC 'gatekeepers'. As Ilona Andrews points out, if this takes off - as, lets face it, it most probably will, this is Amazon after all - Amazon will be well on its way to creating a monopoly in which agents, editors and publishers are no longer needed, and will therefore no longer be in charge of putting out quality work or negotiating the best possible contracts for authors.

I believe that is a downside for the readers, who buy the books and (are allowed to) expect the best possible quality. Which, if it fails to deliver, will not turn said readers into the fans and auto-buyers an author needs and hopefully wants. In the world of books and publishing, it all comes down to the reader. It's the reader who buys the books and ultimately pays every worker bee of the industry their wages/royalties/pollen-to-make-their-honey. No matter what publishing looks like at any given time, that will never change.

Change is inevitable and should, in my opinion, be encourageed, but all changes the publishing industry faces and goes through revolve around this one fixed point, the reader. Where no reader, a.k.a. buyer, there no industry.

Which ties in to another recent post by agent Rachelle Gardner, that in future it will be progressively up to the authors to make sure their product is the best it can possibly be, without several editorial rounds overseen by experts. This means authors won't be just the writers of the story anymore, but will have to be their own editors as well. To an extent, they already are, of course, but I haven't heard of any author who dislikes having an expert go over their work and give their invaluable advice.

Of course, as an aspiring author myself, this publishing deal Amazon is building is something I might look into. It's one of the many options an author has these days of getting her work out there and I believe it's not one that will end up on the preditor-list of Preditors and Editors.

So what am I trying to say, exactly? To be honest, I'm not sure. I was just trying to get my thoughts down on virtual paper, to figure out my opinion, but in the end I believe what it comes down to is this:

Change is hardly ever as extreme as the prognosis makes it out to be. I don't believe Amazon will become so powerful a monopoly that all other publishing houses, editors and agents not involved with them go the way of Bobby Brown. I think a lot of authors themselves are cleverer than not considering them and leaving them out of the publishing process. As it is with everything, a balance must be found, and, because the reader is the focal point - not Amazon - and because displeasure has a way of surfacing quick, fast and hard on the internet these days, I believe it can and will be found.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Write Without Editing

Michael Hyatt had an interesting paragraph in a recent blog post about how editing while creatively writing will drive you crazy. The reasoning is that writing is primarily a right-brain function whereas editing is a left-brain function. If you edit while writing, you are constantly switching between the two hemispheres and can’t get into the proper flow of either one. This slows you down and can be extremely frustrating.

I didn’t know the reason for the frustration when editing while writing, but it’s totally true, at least for me. I’ve been having trouble lately getting into the elusive ‘flow’, and now I know why. That’s totally it! I’ve bogged myself down with trying to write everything perfectly in the first draft and don’t concentrate on the actual story anymore, don't let the story come to me. Before I can edit, though, I have to create something that can be edited. Kind of obvious, but sometimes you can’t see what’s right in front of your nose.

Write down those adverbs and adjectives, those repetitions, those clichés and info dumps, that rambling prose, those absurdities that flow like a sweet chocolate river from mind to fingers. You can beat them off with cursor and backspace later. But first they must be piled high before they can be carved into any kind of shape, just like a sand castle starts out as a simple mound of sand.

So my new motto and mantra is simply: Write. Write write write. Now. 


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Holiday Hiatus

... not that I've posted much in the past two weeks, but since I'm off on holiday on Saturday and probably won't have time for another post until then, I'm taking a blogging break until at least October.

Actually, I've been taking a good long writing break. From any kind of writing, period. Life and stuff - like preparations for the holiday, it's unbelievable what you have to think of for just two weeks - have kept me too busy. But I'm definitely taking a notebook with me to Cornwall, where I'll be backpacking with my brother. Oh, the stories we'll tell when we get back...

It's going to be interesting, to say the least. Neither my brother or I have ever been backpacking, let alone done much camping. I think I hold the record between the two of us with about six days of camping. And now here we are, with nothing planned except the flights to London and back, and a reservation at a B&B in St. Austell for the first night. (We thought it better to ease into this backpacking experience without doing the camping thing on our first night. :-))

So there, that'll be my new writing/blogging/scribbling fodder, probably for months after we get back.*

By the way, if you want an example of an amazing blog by an aspiring author (whose debut YA dystopian will be on sale in November), check out Grab a Pen. 23-year-old Tahereh Mafi is funny, authentic, energetic, interesting - she had a hoarde of followers on her blog before even nabbing a publishing deal. Just from reading the blog I can't wait to get my hands on her book, Shatter Me.

*If we get back - we might decide to become permanent extras for the Rosamunde Pilcher movies that are always filmed there, or fall in love with some picturesque little fisherman's village we'll never want to leave again. Or be lynched by said fishermen for insisting on installing this new-fangled thing called interweb or world wide net or some such in our little cottage that we'll rent from the old man in his beat-up hat with his rusty boat. I bet you can't at all tell what sights I expect to see on this trip...


Putting My Query On The Blog

The incomparable Janet Reid wrote an interesting post on her blog about how she nowadays sometimes does click on links or visits websites of aspiring authors looking for an agent, and how it is a good idea for said author to always be prepared for this possibility.

Since, in such instances, she's on the lookout for information on the book(s) - a query, first pages, an overview of the world building, whatever - it's a good idea for the author to make such information easily accessible on his/her website or blog. Else, that amazing chance is over and done with quicker than you can say 'Aww, maaaan!' and jab your ever-scribbling pen into your aorta.

So I'm listening to her advice and putting the query for my first novel, Magic Under Fire, and a description of my work-in-progress, Dream Raider, on this blog, in a hopefully easy-to-find way.

If you can't find it quickly, would you be so kind as to let me know?
Thanks! :-)

Saturday, September 10, 2011


As a half-blood jinn, Thalestra Ford can play with fire without getting burned. Problem is, the heat can come from many different directions.

Direction Number 1: Iblis, the most powerful jinn in existence, a.k.a. Daddy Dearest. He makes an appearance after twenty-five years of radio silence, commanding Thalestra to track down his missing rival ASAP. Typical.

Direction Number 2: Lucien, said rival, a rather unconventional jinn. Tracking him down is a piece of cake, but the idiot has gotten himself captured by humans and the paparazzi have caught wind of this sensational news. When Thalestra breaks him free he shows his gratitude by declaring her his mate. Hard luck for him she won’t bind herself to another jinn. Ever. No matter how intriguing or persuasive he may be.

Direction Number 3: Agent Dean, Mr. Ambitious. Of all the human factions (scientists, paparazzi, religious fanatics) now hot on their tails, the newly appointed head of the Paranormal Activities Division is definitely the biggest threat to Thalestra’s and Lucien’s unhindered bickering-ever-after. Well, unless you count...

Direction Number 4: The magi High Lords. They enforce one strict law, the breaking of which is punishable by death: Never ever alert humans to the fact that magic and its wielders are real.


97.500 words

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Elevator Pitching - Useful Advice Links

Two weeks ago, I posted about researching all things elevator-pitch to get ready for the Frankfurt Bookfair. So far I've only managed to scrounge together and peruse some useful links - so much to be learned! This weekend I hope to go through them once more and compile the advice to something I'll apply to my pitch in October.

Posts on pitching by Rachelle Gardner.

Posts on pitching by Jessica Faust.

Posts on pitching by Scott Eagan.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More Thoughts On Conflict

Earlier this month I posted a list of possible conflicts, as assembled by Chuck Wendig. Now, Scott Eagan also has some advice on conflict, the - as he calls it - most frequently screwed up story element.

Apparently, what agents and editors see most to mess up the conflict, are three scenarios:

1) The conflict is too easy .
I've frequently started new projects, only to find out that there isn't much meat to the conflict. This isn't only boring for a reader, but also for me as the writer. Where no conflict, there no interest. I usually break these off pretty early on.

2) The conflict is impossible (works only for James Bond ;-D).
I've also managed to write myself into a corner and couldn't come up with a solution that wasn't deus-ex-machina type or needed some drastic actions from my characters that wouldn't have fit either them or the story. When that happens, I go back to the key point where the impossibility is introduced, and try to fix it there. Sometimes, a lot of revision is necessary. Some such projects I haven't finished because it'd be too much effort.

3) The conflict would never happen.

I don't think I've fallen victim to this scenario yet. But I definitely recognize the other two, and voilá - Revelation of the Day.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge - Dreamscape

Haley Whitehall has another flash fiction challenge up on her blog, the theme of which is dreams. This time I went quite a bit over the suggested 500 words. I'll tell you why at the end...

Thanks Haley, this was fun. Great theme!

by Pia Newman
(593 words) 

I am running, leaping, spinning through a dank and foggy forest. Snarls ride the air in front of me; my sole purpose is to reach them, eliminate them. They are chasing that which I must protect. I catch glimpses of four-legged shapes leaping through the forest. Their claws send up sparks in the soggy underbrush.
Hellhounds, a whisper of knowledge provides me with a label. I feel detached, confused. I have a purpose, but nothing else, nothing. Questions are raising their heads like a waking many-headed monster, the first of which is: What do I protect?
Me, the whisper says.
>Who are you?<
Isabelle. Please help me.
Because they want to eat me. You are the only one who can help me.
>Who am I?<
My protector.
>Yes, but who am I? What is my name? What is my history?<
Oh… I’m not sure yet.
>When will you know?<
When I see you. Hurry.  

Now I have a personal agenda behind my general purpose: Find Isabelle. Save her. Learn who I am.
I run faster, legs pumping. Dead branches slap my face and arms. I have no idea how I will fend off the hellhounds, but I know that I can.
>How do I know this?<
Because I know.
>How do you know?<
Because you are my protector.
The trees give way to a clearing, in the middle of which stands a large, craggy rock. Isabelle - I know it's her - stands on the rock in her night-gown, swinging a thick branch, beating off the hellhounds as they try to jump onto the rock with her. She sees me emerging from the trees, looks at me. She has the body of a young girl, but the face of a wise old lady.
Eden. You are Eden, she says without moving her lips.
Yes, of course. I am Eden. I'm an elf, of the Ash Tribe. Beautiful, independent and fierce, one of Pearson’s best growers and warriors. My favourite weapon is the shortsword.
I feel two of them crossing my back diagonally. I’m sure they weren’t there before but now I reach behind me and draw them. This is how I will fend off the hellhounds.
One of them suddenly sprouts wings and takes off. Isabelle watches it fly at her, the look on her face changing from panic to absolute horror.
This is a dream! The drugs aren’t helping. I'm dreaming!
The hellhounds become unfocused. They forget Isabelle and turn toward me. Their eyes burn red.
>How can you be dreaming when I am not?<
Because this is my dream and you are in it. I created you. And now I’m waking up.
Somehow, I know this is bad. 

>Will I cease to be?<
No. You will become reality.
>I prefer that idea to not existing.<
But you will be incomplete and they will hunt you. I’m sorry. The drugs were supposed to prevent this… Try to blend in. Trust no one if you want to survive.
Bright light blinks across the sky, like an eye opening to daylight.
I’m awake…
My body burns in the bright light. Sound roars in my ears, accompanied by my scream. Then focus returns to my senses. I’m still standing on the clearing, holding the shortswords, a sea of hellhounds before me, the large rock sprawling in the background. But the sky is blue, the rock is empty, and there are gigantic silver towers looming above the trees.
The dreamer has left her dreamscape, yet the dream manifests in her waking world.
I have become a dream that survives in reality…

Do you think I could have cut this down to 500 words? I didn't want to cut more or I felt like this would be purely confusing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Post Nr. 100, Publishing News and Fun

Virtual bubbly all around! I just realized this is the 100th post on my blog since the first in September. Kinda cool. Time flies. So, apparently, do my fingers over the keyboard.

The New York Times published an article about a survey that shows publishing is changing though alive and well, contrary to current beliefs.
Very uplifting.

Also, here's a hilarious and to the point tid-bit of fun: Try Not to Sound Like a Writer, pilfered from Rachelle Gardner's blog.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Preparing For The Frankfurt Book Fair

The Frankfurt Book Fair in October is approaching, only a two hour drive away from where I live. You can so bet your ass I'm going.

I've never been to a book fair, not even the one in Stuttgart, where I live. It just never worked out. Plus, I never thought so many agents/agencies from English speaking countries would attend.

After going through the program of the Frankfurt Book Fair, I realized that this is actually a golden opportunity. I mean, when else will I get another chance to pitch my novel and communicate with American agents other than via the good old query?

Never, unless I win the lottery.

So now's the time to dive into the details of the "elevator pitch". That's the right term, I think. Many agents have already put in their two cents as to what a good elevator pitch is, and I did always skim over them, never assuming I might need these particular grains of wisdom in the near future.
Good think I realized this now, not two days before the fair. That might have ended in a mess. By 'that' I mean both my pitch and me by extension.

Therefore, my guess is that my next few posts will be elevator-pitch related. Maybe I'll even post what I come up with in the end here on the blog.


Either way, I'm looking forward to October. My first ever book fair. Squeeee!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Writing Interesting Baddies And Disagreeable Characters or Why I Have Backstories

How do you get your baddies not to be the cardboard super-villains who only want world-domination and our hero to suffer?

This is not the key question answered in Sympathy for the Devils: How to make Disagreeable Characters Agreeable by Brian Hodge, but I think the point he makes - "We can overlook, forgive, or even empathize with just about any character flaw, no matter how bad it is or how deep it runs, as long as it’s clear that the character is genuinely resolute about getting better" - is what it all comes down to in the end:

Is your character, even your baddie, redeemable?

In many stories, the villain isn't supposed to be likeable; it's supposed to be clear that this is the baddie, the antagonist who makes our hero's life hard and miserable.

Personally, I prefer stories - books as well as movies - in which the reader/watcher can almost sympathize with the baddie. Almost. It seems more real that way, at least to me - nobody is two dimensional, not even somebody who does really bad things. Some ambition or other usually drives a person to be 'bad', do bad things, and I think as a writer, you want to get to the bottom of what that is in your antagonist. 

My favorite example: Severus Snape is a constant pain in Harry's arse; I always felt while reading the books that there was a lot more to Snape and what he did, why he did, and in the end everything made so much sense - which made him a much more interesting character to me than Voldi. All he ever wanted was to be powerful enough to overcome his inferiority complexes, whereas Snape was a torn character, both in himself and for the reader, posing the constant question of is he or is he not a bad guy.
It makes everything much more interesting, IMO. The reader has to get the sense that there's 'more' behind this character than simply his ambition to rule the world - why does he want to rule the world so badly as to destroy it, f.e.?

This, as Brian Hodge put it, makes for interesting characters. It also poses the question of whether the baddie could change, if only he wanted to. If there's a way out for the baddie, it makes the possibilities so much more ambiguous and less predictable.

And therefore more enjoyable.

It's why I think it's good to have or create a backstory to every one of your characters, even if said stories never make it into your novel. It gives the characters more depth, and can help make even the baddie multi-faceted.

I create such backstories as I go along. I try not to outline too much right at the beginning, because it narrows down and eliminates many possibilities right from the start. But when I introduce a new character, I look at his motives, his reason for being in my story, and this person's backstory evolves from there, more or less automatically.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Causing Conflict In Your Story

Chuck Wendig's as always hilariuos post 25 Ways To Fuck With Your Character (or Building Conflict One Cruelty At A Time) puts into words the themes which every writer uses to cause conflict in their story, whether instinctively or by conscious design - and lets hope it's mostly instinct.

As Chuck so nicely puts it, 'story is born of conflict and conflict is born of characters in trouble'. So dump your characters right in said trouble - there are many fun, excellent, sadistic ways to do so.

Here's the gist of the list:

To torture your character into an intriguing situation, a writer may add the following ingredients:
1.  An antagonist who stands actively between the protagonist's deeds and desires.
2.  A 'Mightiest Burden', i.e. the stakes on the table.
3.  Impossible odds.
4.  Opposed choices.
5.  An untenable secret life, that, if discovered, will destroy/ruin what your character wants/loves most.
6.  A roadblock that denies your character the success of gaining what s/he wants.
7.  Things your character doesn't want - as opposed to knowing only what s/he does want.
8.  False victories. Chuck gave the perfect example: 'John McClane succeeds in calling the authorities and ultimately ends up causing a bigger shitstorm as a result'.
9.  Take away what your character(s) love(s).
10. A time limit, like in some video games - sends your adrenalin right through the roof, doesn't it?
11. Hurt your character. Again, John McClane style.
12. Betrayal by a loved one - far worse than hurting John McClane style.
13. Rob the character of his fundamental identifiers - make him/her question who s/he is anymore.
14. Shatter your character's preconceived notions.
15. The Love triangle. 'Nough said.
16. Force your character to lie, thereby putting him/her on treacherous ground.
17. Throw in a 'simple' misunderstanding, sitcom-style.
18. Opposed goals.
19. Let your character make mistakes, maybe even willingly and wantonly.
20. Put loved ones in danger.
21. 'Never say never' - identify a role your character never wants to fill, then drop him right in it.
22. Let your character's weaknesses complicate the story.
23. Environment as antagonist. Freezing ice storm. Scorching desert. Setting can bring misery.
24. Let your character's past catch up with him/her.
25. This point is more of a summary, really. In Chuck's words: ' (the writer) like the character, you want them to succeed, and that’s all well and good.... But you have to be willing to put the irons to their feet – a character’s success is only keenly felt and roundly celebrated when first he had to go through hell to get there'.

I have worked with ten of these 'trouble-devices', namely 1, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, 14, 20, 21 and 24. This list has helped me realize that some of them repeat themselves in every single story I write, sometimes more than once. Not sure if that makes them predictable, exactly, but it certainly makes them similar. Hopefully, now that I've had my nose rubbed in it, I'll recognize when I go off on that same ol' same ol' path again and can spice things up with some other trouble to wallop my protagonist upside the head with.

Two of these points will be difficult for me to integrate, just because you have to plan them in advance and I'm more of a pantser than a plotter, therefore I don't know what will happen early on in the game. This makes points 8 and 10 more challenging for me than the others. Still, I've learned to never say never. :-)

Are there more such conflict-themes? Which have you used and which ones are difficult for you?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Back To Pantsing It

Lately, I’ve been finding myself in a bit of a pickle. I used to be a 100% pantser. I wrote what came to mind, what felt right should happen next in my story, having no idea where the story was headed and often not even with any specific world building or character background in mind. That all just seemed to come out of the woodwork and mostly fit together perfectly as the story progressed.

I wrote my first book like that and was surprised when in the end everything did actually fit together and several of the major plotlines turned out to be connected. It was basically as much a surprise to me as it was to my characters. :-)

But this process also took two years. Two years for just under 100.000 words. Of course, the original count was far higher; too many side plots, too many insignificant characters that didn’t move the story along or enrich it in any way. Taking them out and rewriting things to fit again was what took the longest.

So I decided to do a little plotting before starting my next story, to eliminate the time and energy spent on unnecessary story development. I had an exciting new idea and started jotting down notes for world building, character backgrounds and vague plot possibilities before starting on the actual story.

I’m about ¾ done with that story. It was a lot of fun to write. I say ‘was’ because I’ve stopped. I already know how it ends and that’s taken all the fun out of it for me. It’s like at Christmas, when you know exactly what’s in the big present. It’s what you wished for and wanted for months, and you still love it when you’ve unpacked it, but that initial moment of thrilling excitement - your true squee - when unpacking something you really want and weren’t expecting, isn’t there. It has been taken from you.

Knowing the end of my story has taken that initial thrill from me. Without it, writing is an effort, one where I sit down in front of the computer with this feeling of ‘I could be doing something better with my time’, and that’s not how I used to feel. I used to hardly be able to wait to sit down and write again. Basically, it became a chore instead of fun.

I’ve started other stories, all of them with a good idea of world building and what I wanted my characters to go through.

I broke them off, too, most after only two or three chapters. I bog myself down with too many certainties to actually enjoy the sensation of creating something while writing. My characters' motives and events used to be a mystery even to me. As a pantser, I was living in my characters’ here and now. I knew what they knew, or often even less. The possibilities started out endless and remained open. As a plotter, I have the feeling I eliminate all possibilities. With the rules I set for my world and characters, there’s only one course the story can take. Or at least that’s how it seems.

And that’s capital-b Boring.

So, I’ve decided to go back to being a pantser. It may take longer to finish a story, but who cares? I have only myself to please.

I’ll probably finish that ¾-story at some point - it’s too cool not to. But I will try to continue it with fresh eyes, picking up right where I left off without thinking about the ending I had in mind. Hopefully I’ll be able to surprise and thrill myself again that way.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hilarious Amazon Customer Reviews

I've never posted a review on Amazon, but I'm always surprised at how well they all seem to be written and not at all spoilery. Or at least, where there are spoilers, they are clearly stated as being present beforehand. Also, I've never heard of the reviewers dissing each other or starting flame wars. I figure there are guidelines you're supposed to follow when posting a review, and people abide by them. I can't imagine somebody at Amazon screening all the reviews before they are published - you'd need a whole planet of somebodys for that.

I guess that's how reviews like these are even possible. I especially liked number four.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Writing In German And/Or English

For the past five years or more, whenever I wrote, I did so in English. Mostly, I think, because I read more books and watch more movies in English than in German, so the language somehow flows easier for me. The English language has more distinct words (over 250.000, Oxford English Dictionary) than German (approx. 130.000, Duden Handbook) and is therefore more expressive in small details and nuances, IMO.

Yet over the past six months, while driving to and from work, I've been listening to mainly German Audio-Books (and two of my favorite authors are, in fact, German). I had this one reader's voice in my head, which fit the story so perfectly that it made it even more funny and entertaining. And there's been a story-idea slogging around my mind that apparently was just waiting for that voice to make it seem real. 

That idea has now taken shape and whenever I write more on it, I have this woman's voice in my head - in German. It's working so well at the moment that my protagonist is basically taking me through the story all by herself, based on this voice and the story's premise, which opens up a lot of fun possibilities and situations to play with.

So my English urban fantasy stuff is on hold for now. This German story is more chick-litty - no fantastic or magical elements, a surprise in itself. Maybe my "German voice" is more "everyday" because I live here, while my "English voice" is fantasy and magic because I need to fill in more blanks and tend to do that with magic.

If I finish this story, I'll definitely look into finding a publisher. As I understand, the process of getting your book published in Germany is a little different than doing so in the US, but I haven't fully immersed myself in the research yet. I'm hoping it turns out to be a little easier, though I'm not getting excited over the possibility just yet.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Flash Fiction: Lunar Enchantress

Another piece for a Flash Fiction Challenge from Sonia Medeiros, this one themed "Moonstruck". 

I had a (very) different ending in mind at first - I'm not usually this moony, har-dee-har - but the puck apparently had a different idea about his motives than I did. Very headstrong folk, them pucks. Scoundrels first...

Lunar Enchantress
by Pia Newman
(499 words)

The sky had been clouded during the past three full moons, so I hadn’t been able to collect any moonbeams. By now I was running perilously low - and the puck knew it. He would try to stop me from harvesting tonight. If he succeeded, my shields would run out before the next full moon and he could simply waltz into my den and steal my precious fairy dust. He’d been trying to do so for years, though he had yet to best me with his trickery.
Tonight’s moonlight electrified me. I couldn’t help but dance and float and twirl across the canopy of trees, despite the pending puck-peril. Moonbeams caught in my wings and hair, lighting me up like a silver flame.
“Hello Enchanté,” the puck greeted me, climbing from the highest branch onto the canopy’s ethereal landscape. He couldn’t fly, but he was agile and attractive nonetheless.
“Hello Rob,” I said, dancing past him, feigning indifference to his presence.
He watched me, eyes sparkling like the stars. “I see you’re busy collecting your moonbeams.”
Indeed, my wings were almost full with the first batch.
I twirled closer, almost touching. “What’s your trick this time?” I asked, brushing a finger along his jaw, teasing. Now his eyes sparkled with my reflection.
He held out a hand. “Dance with me.”
I spun away, laughing. “Seduction won’t work. You’re handsome, but no match for Luna tonight.”
“I’m no match for you,” he corrected. “You have conquered me.”
“How so, oh Mighty Trickster?”
“I have no more tricks,” he said. “You’ve seen through every one and thwarted me. Now I must try something I have no experience with: honesty.”
Intrigued, I stopped dancing. This ought to be good.

She didn’t believe me. I could read the incredulous ridicule in her beautiful eyes. If she knew my true motivation - making her mine - she’d laugh in my face. Who would ever trust a puck? Especially in love. Pucks fell in lust, not love. Except this one.
I pulled five strips of silk out of my pocket. Moonbeams clung to them, so thick they basically dripped off the fabric. “This is a night’s worth of harvest,” I said. “I shall give it to you in exchange for enough fairy dust to last me one dance with you.”
“You tried to steal my fairy dust so you could dance with me?” she asked. Truly, it sounded silly when put that way. But what can I say? I’m a scoundrel first, a rational being second.
“I have something to tell you,” I explained, “but you’ll never believe my words. You might believe in my honesty if we danced. But a puck dancing with a fairy is like pairing a butterfly with a dung beetle. I would only weigh you down. To truly dance with you, I need to be able to fly.”
“Why would dancing with you convince me of your honesty?”
“You’ll feel the truth in my touch.”

He was right.
I did.