Friday, August 19, 2016
This is happening over on NetGalley!
Release Date: September 20th
A Note From the Publisher:
Read this book as a standalone or as the fourth and final book in the series! You will love meeting Finn in this adventure which the prologue masterfully sets the stage for.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
We’ve all heard of the negative effects of sitting too long. It’s bad for our muscles, organs, and can even increase the risk of various kinds of cancer. As writers, we must be extra vigilant to guard against this insidious stalker of our health. If you want to know more of the medical hows and whys, you might want to read Get Up! Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It by Dr. James Levine (co-director of the Mayo Clinic). In his book, Dr. Levine lists the areas and systems of the body that are damaged by too much sitting:
Brain Damage (due to less fresh blood and oxygen)
Strained Neck and Shoulders
Even more depressing news: A study by the 2015 Inaugural Active Working Summit also found that sitting increases lung cancer by 54%, uterine cancer by 66%, and colon cancer by 30%.
Yikes! What’s a writer to do?
Well, for one thing, get up out of your chair. The current manta from health experts is to “stand up, sit less, move more.” And by moving, they mean more than just our daily walk/run/gym time. Yes, vigorous sustained exercise once a day is vital to our health. However, a number of findings report that standing more during the day is also beneficial to people who don’t exercise. In other words, any kind of moving around counts. The more, the better, but even a little helps.
Here are some straightforward, but effective, alternatives to sitting:
Stand at your desk. A couple of boards across two stacks of books will do the trick. Or, you can get those cool gizmos that raise and lower your work surface. Some experts recommend putting a foot rest (a small box works fine) under your desk. Standing with one foot on the box eases the strain on your back and hips. Switch feet as often as you like. This is one I use a lot, and it really works.
A treadmill/desk combo is also very popular. Just be careful not to get too engrossed in your writing and fall off.
An inflatable exercise ball is a cheap and easy alternative to chairs. Roll it side to side as you write to work your core muscles.
Of course, a gadget that you wear on your wrist that measures your steps is another way to keep moving. I’ve never tried one, but a lot of my friends find them motivating.
However, standing or walking makes it harder to concentrate. So, a rule of thumb that I found helpful is the 20-8-2 Breakdown. For every 30 minutes, sit for 20 minutes, stand for 8 minutes, move for 2 minutes. You can set your phone’s alarm, your sports watch, or even an egg timer, to remind yourself.
Once you’re up, the moving around part can be as simple as walking around your house or office, climbing up and down a flight of stairs, jogging in place, do a round of jumping jacks, or break out the yoga mat. Even light housework counts. Just move. I read of one executive who makes a point of walking laps around her office whenever she’s on a phone call.
The 20-8-2 Breakdown isn’t supposed to be a hard and fast rule, however. It’s more of a reminder to incorporate opportunities into your work day to rise up. The more you move, the more your body craves it, which in turn, encourages you to be more active. It’s a wonderful, virtuous cycle.
So, give it a try for a week. See what works for you. Even small steps can add up to big results. Like writing a book, no? The hardest part is getting started.
I’d love to hear your suggestions on what you do to keep healthy while writing. Please feel free to share in the comments below.
(This article was previously posted on Writing from the Peak)
Sunday, July 24, 2016
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
What’s in a character’s name? Well, a heck of a lot, really. The perfect name expands your imaginary universe and helps establish the character’s personality. It can be obvious or subtle. For many writers, including myself, characters do not become “alive” until they bear the perfect handle. That holds true for readers, too.
Here are some things to think about when choosing names for your characters:
Respect Your Genre
This is especially important in fantasy and sci-fi and historical fiction. Culturally-inspired names add another layer to your world building and helps ground your work in a real place and time, even if your book is fantastical in nature. And just as period costumes, manners, and vocabulary set the tone for your historical novel, so, too, can the proper name.
If your novel is inspired by legends from other cultures, this is fairly easy to do. Since my middle grade series, The Adventures of Finn MacCullen, is based on the Irish legend of The Boyhood Deeds of Finn McCool, I took the Gaelic spelling of Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhail) and Anglicized it to Finn MacCullen. A tried-and-true practice within the fantasy genre, but it is still an effective technique, especially for younger readers who are coming across this stuff for the first time.
Another tip: Use the name to reveal about the character’s essence. In my YA series, Griffin Rising, the hero is a teen guardian angel named Griffin. I gave him that name for two reasons: One, it means “Strong in Faith.” Two, it begins with a hard consonant (more on the actual sounds of names later). The challenge for you as the writer is to find a clever way to weave background tidbits about the name(s) into the story. Some readers will skip over this kind of geekery. Others will eat it up. Sprinkle it in judiciously.
J.K. Rowling, in her Harry Potter series, did a wonderful job taking roots words (many which had a Latin or Greek origin – just screams English boarding school, does it not?) and creating spot on names. For example: Serverus (severe), Albus (white), Draco (dragon). She also used alliteration (Rowena Ravenclaw, Salazar Slytherin, Helga Hufflepuff, etc.) but beware—too much of a clever thing is too clever by half.
Is the name appropriate for the age of your character? Check the baby names lists for the year your character was born, not the time period they are living through in your story. For most part, a woman born in the 1950s would have a different name than a teen girl born in the early 2000s.
A New Twist
That said, you might want to make your character stand out by giving them an unusual name (perhaps an old family name). In Stone’s Heart, Stonewall Wheeler is a modern-day farrier living in western Colorado. His son is Beau. Good, solid cowboy-ish monikers, and a tip of the hat to Civil War aficionados, to boot.
Music to the Ears
Say your characters’ names aloud. How do they “feel” when you say them aloud? A hard consonant (B, D, G, T, etc.) can project strength or power. Softer vowels (A, M, N, O, etc.) might indicate a gentler personality. Sibilant sounds (S, Z, sometimes P or Th) can go either way. One of my characters from The Stag Lord is Shay Doyle. She is a shield maiden, as well as her clan’s healer. So, I chose the softer-sounding ‘ay’ in Shay and paired it with the hard consonant of ‘d’ in Doyle to show both her sides: healer and warrior. Soft and hard.
Ready for something subtle? Take Game of Thrones’ Ned Stark. The name starts off with a softer sound of ‘n’ (a family man, Ol’ Ned was), then it ends in a hard, clipped consonant. The ‘k’ sounds like the snap of a dire wolf’s jaws. Yeah, yeah. I’m stretching it, but you get my point.
Mind Your ABCs
Make sure none of your characters have similar names: Ken/Ben. Mac/Max. Casey/Kaci/Cassie/Kelsey. Olive/Olivia. Jim/Jem. Readers will get frustrated having to pause to figure out who’s who, especially at the beginning of the story.
One way to avoid this is to make sure your main characters’ names start with a different first letter. A lot of readers only skim the first few letters of a name. You want your readers turning pages, not slowing to remember if Mike was the romantic lead or was it Mitch?
I admit that the geek in me takes great joy in researching and selecting just the right name for my characters. It helps me understand who they are, why they are the way they are, and what they want out of life. I hope these thoughts help you, too, in your writing adventure.
Now, if folks would just stop calling me Darcy instead of Darby…
Monday, June 20, 2016
On the road to publication, there's one moment that never gets old: when the box of ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) arrives at my doorstep. FINN'S CHOICE arrived in Colorado just last week. I danced a jig, took some pictures, then sent them on their way to the gracious and supportive librarians and bloggers who have followed Finn's journey from the beginning. Very cool beans.
Then, this past Friday, Spencer Hill Press let me know that ARCs had also been sent to the pro reviewers (School Library Journal, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA, etc). As my publisher said in her email, now we cross our fingers. Oh, man, that's for sure!
You see, middle grade books need the affirmation of those big name reviewers to get the attention of schools and librarians (the book's target market). In many ways, schools and libraries are the force behind a middle grade book's success. They're the ones who will purchase the book and promote it to upper elementary and middle school students (the book's target reader). Schools and libraries have a limited budget, and they must be selective in what books they purchase. So, they depend on the gatekeepers (pro reviewers) to help them use their budget wisely. And, in some cases, to justify their spending.
Because of the volume of books published each month, it's difficult to get a review from the pros. It takes time and money for a publishing house to send the ARCs, and some houses cannot afford it. I was so very fortunate that the first book in this series, FINN FINNEGAN, landed a nice review from School Library Journal back in 2013. It helped. A lot.
And that's why I'm so appreciative of Karen Hughes, and the team at Spencer Hill Press, for all their support of this series, and especially of the final book in Finn's adventures. Who know? Maybe the luck o' the Irish will be with us again. Fingers crossed, to be sure.