When I wrote this post, my blog was called Ancient Children.  The photo above shows me with a friend back in the 1970’s.

I named this blog Ancient Children for a couple of reasons. One is that it gives me an excuse to use an old photo of myself, taken when looking good required no effort. Another is that Ancient Children is the title of my first novel, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and almost got published.

Ancient Children is a typical 70’s novel. It tells the story of a crew of aimless dopers who devise a harebrained scheme to kidnap one of their friends whose parents happen to have money. Since I was more into realism than plot back then, the scheme never really comes off. Too bad. If it had, maybe the novel would have got published. It also might have helped if the protagonist were more likable. She’s a cynical little shit.

I haven’t looked at the manuscript for years, but I remember the beginning: “Maggie steps into her shadow.” As a young writer, I wanted every sentence to be fraught with symbolism.

Now the manuscript sits in a box in the storage area of my office along with other writing that’s unfinished or unpublished, or both. I think of the film The Hunger, with Catherine Deneuve as a beautiful vampire whose lovers succumb to old age but cannot die. She locks them in coffins and finds someone new, but she can’t forget them. They call to her constantly, a chorus of voices in her head, begging her for release, reminding her of the love they shared. Ancient Children calls to me occasionally, but it’s mostly silent now. I’m afraid to look at it. If you saw The Hunger, you know why.

Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger

Billy Land wins the $25 Amazon gift card. Everyone on my mailing list was automatically entered in the drawing, which was done at Random Picker. I’ll be having more of these, so if you’re interested in receiving occasional news about me, why not sign up? You’ll find the subscription form for my mailing list on the upper right of your screen.

In other news, the release date for The Memory Pool: Reflections of Past~Forward grows nearer. The advance reviews are in. Read them here at the Cantraip Press website.

 

Haley Molnare can’t inherit her father’s estate until she runs his company for two years. Her father has been absent from her life, and the little she knows of him comes from her embittered, narcissistic mother — hardly a reliable source. Haley’s idle, materialistic lifestyle suggests she will become much like her mother. She dreads the two years of hard work but wants the money.

Kirsten Mortensen’s Dark Chemistry is the story of Haley’s entry into her father’s world. No more partying every night, sleeping in every morning, or taking her survival for granted.

The company makes raw ingredients for cosmetics companies. Its research department has developed a dangerous and potentially lucrative chemical, and the current CEO intends to profit from it. He will do whatever is necessary to get Haley out of the way. She lacks the experience and knowledge to fight him, so for much of the story the CEO manipulates and uses her. She turns away from her new friend, Donavon, even though she cares for him and he cares for her.

Her weakness could have made her unsympathetic, but one of Mortensen’s strengths as a writer is her ability to get inside a character’s head. Readers experience Haley’s struggle to understand what’s happening and her newfound determination to succeed. Mortensen brings the same insight to the other characters, even the villainous CEO, who is loathsome but also pitiful.

For a moment I doubted the story’s premise, the discovery of a chemical that has the potential to change the world, but the author’s research and careful plotting won me over. Besides, I was already hooked.

Dark Chemistry has the essential ingredients of a page-turner — professional prose, a gripping plot, interesting and believable characters, and a love story that’s touching but never sappy.

Every evening I looked forward to reentering the story, and I read late into the night to reach the ending.

It did not disappoint.

Dark Chemistry Cover

 

 

A weird thing happens when I take a walk after spending several hours staring at a computer screen. The world becomes stereoscopic, the kind of artificial, exaggerated effect you get watching movies in 3-D. And as with those movies I’m slightly off keel. Not dizzy, exactly. Floaty.

Hannah Eads-5For the past few weeks I’ve spent most of my waking hours in front of the computer. I plowed through a line edit of my new novel Daemon Seer, knowing I had to finish by a certain date. Another task loomed — to create the interior of The Memory Pool: Reflections of Past~Forward, an anthology that Cantraip Press, Ltd is publishing this fall.

Despite being an S-corporation, Cantraip Press is just me, Mary Maddox.

Hannah Eads-6The Memory Pool contains the work of the Past~Forward Memoir Group, begun several years ago by students who had taken a course in memoir writing with Dr. Daiva Markelis. Daiva’s memoir, White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life, was published two years ago by The University of Chicago Press. Passionate about memoir, she inspired her students to keep writing and learning. The group flourished and their writing became better and better.

Hannah Eads-7The Memory Pool is the group’s second book. The first, Occasional Writers: Bringing the Past Forward, also published by Cantraip Press, is available online and through special order from bookstores.

Creating the book’s interior took me a week of steady work. I haven’t worked with Hannah Eads-8InDesign enough to know the program inside and out, which slows me down, and the process requires an attention to detail that becomes exhausting after a while. But I’m happy with the result. The anthology contains some fascinating old photographs supplied by the authors and wonderful photos and drawings by local graphic artist Gaye Harrison, who also created the cover.

Hannah Eads-9The book still needs to undergo a final round of proofreading, but I’m posting the pages of one piece, Hannah Eads’ “My Mother,” to give you a taste. (Click on the images to make them big enough to read.)

The Memory Pool is a local project. The Past~Forward group is sponsored by the Coles County Arts Council, and almost everyone involved in it lives in this area. One exception: our proofreaders, who work for The Editorial Department, a company I’ve worked with before and come to rely on and trust.

Hannah Eads-10The book’s interior is finished and copies have been sent to reviewers. After a day of downtime binging on episodes of Supernatural, I’m ready for my next challenge—preparing to bring Daemon Seer to market. Hard work is, well, hard and often isolating. But for me it’s the only way to get things done.

I began wondering about the fine distinctions between a writer and an author after encountering some online snootiness toward those who self-publish. One commentator sniffed that self-publishers cannot be authors since no one has validated their work; they’re merely writers who scribble whatever nonsense comes to mind and upload it to KDP or CreateSpace or Spark or wherever. Another commentator sneeringly called self-publishers authors because they’ve published books, no matter how awful, but refused to consider them writers because they have yet to master their craft.

Which title confers respect and validation: author or writer?

In the broadest sense, a writer is anyone who writes, but usually the word refers to a person devoted to the craft of writing — as opposed to someone making a grocery list or dashing off email messages. A writer of fiction works at shaping a narrative, developing characters, choosing the right word, finding an appropriate voice, and expressing a theme that will resonate with readers. A writer of nonfiction works at developing an argument or presenting information in a fresh way that engages readers.

Anyone who wields a pen or taps a keyboard in pursuit of these goals is a writer at some level. Beginning, aspiring, accomplished, masterful.

Jenny Sanford Signs Copies Of Her New BookAuthor refers to a writer who has published a book, article, or poem. The title’s kinship to the word authority lends it prestige. I get uncomfortable at the way some folks puff up at the prospect of being authors, as if publishing a book is an accomplishment. It’s the writing that matters. Does it show craftsmanship? Does it offer anything fresh or entertaining or informative to readers?

In a way, the author is the writer’s public face.

Suppose you sign up for a writers’ workshop. What do you expect? Probably to read and critique the work of other writers and receive their feedback on your work, all with the goal of improving your craft. At an authors’ workshop you’re more likely to learn about marketing and promoting your books. Both kinds of lessons can be useful.

My understanding of the distinction between writer and author coalesced when I read Stephen King’s novel Misery. Some readers say The Stand is King’s best work, but I think Misery surpasses it. Annie Wilkes is the most compelling psychopathic character I’ve encountered in fiction, scarier than Hannibal Lector, whose abilities verge on the supernatural. Annie is terrifying in her realism.

Misery Cover 2She drags author Paul Sheldon from his car after an accident and takes him prisoner. Crippled in the accident, he’s trapped in her isolated house in the mountains of Colorado. She calls herself his “number-one fan.” When she reads his just-finished manuscript and discovers he has killed off her favorite character, she demands a rewrite. Addicted to the drugs she feeds him, at the mercy of her violent whims, Paul doesn’t have much choice. He rewrites the story and even takes inspiration from his tormentor’s criticisms.

His breaking point comes when she chops off his foot to punish him for leaving his room. After that he stops caring whether he survives, yet he continues to care about the book Annie is making him write. He hangs on from day to day to finish the book. For Paul authorship and the acclaim that comes with it are secondary to the process of creation.

So what are you — writer or author?

If anything you’ve written has been published, you’re both. What matters is where you love to be. Is it sitting behind a table in Barnes & Noble, autographing copies of your book for adoring fans? Or alone in front of a computer screen or notebook, perhaps late at night, practicing your craft?

As for respect and validation, either you don’t need it or you can never get enough.

Daniele is a loner. The way she looks at it, who needs other people when you can read a good book? Worried about her reclusive ways, her brother gives her a parakeet so she won’t be altogether alone. She takes the bird reluctantly and names him Yubi. To her surprise Daniele enjoys having Yubi around. Then Yubi begins a romantic courtship of Daniele, and she finds herself unable to resist his bold advances. The pair settle into a happy relationship — until Daniele steps out into the world and begins dating her boss.

Now she becomes torn between two lovers. One of whom is very jealous.

“Yubi” is a short story with comedy, mild erotic content, and a touch of magical realism.

It was first published in Yellow Silk: A Journal of the Erotic Arts.

Available below as a free download:

 

For Kindle

 Cover Draft 5

 

For iBooks, Nook, and Kobo

 

Cover Draft 5

 

In Manroot Anne Steinberg tells the tragic story of Katherine, who inherits the gift of magic from her Native American mother and nothing but heartache from her abusive white father. After her mother’s death Katherine and her father travel from the Southwest US to a small town in Missouri, where they find work at a tourist hotel. There Katherine falls in love with a local judge who hangs out at the hotel with his cronies.

She begins collecting items connected to the judge—a cigarette butt, one of his cuff links, a few strands of his hair, and a man-shaped ginseng root (the manroot of the title)—negligible things, but she believes their magic binds him to her. For a brief time the couple is happy even though the judge refuses to leave his spoiled, childless wife. Then the magical items are discarded when Katherine’s room is repainted. Distraught, she behaves in ways that alienate her lover.

At this point in Manroot I wondered if Katherine’s belief in magic is supposed to be a delusion, since her reaction to the loss rather than the loss itself triggers the chain of events leading to her ruin and threatening her sanity. Later events show the magic is quite real. Just not altogether under her control.

I can’t give specifics without spoiling the story, but the narrative shifts away from Katherine in the second part of the novel. She stays in the background, emerging now and then to do her magic and influence events. Although these events are compelling and matter to Katherine, it’s as though her destiny is sealed and her personal story has ended. From now on she must live by proxy.

An omniscient narrator tells the story, which necessarily creates distance between the reader and the characters. Both the point of view and the narrative structure kept me from fully identifying with Katherine. In addition, the narrator comments on and reacts to events. The editorial omniscient is more common in 19th Century fiction, and it gives Manroot an old-fashioned feel. Not a bad thing in itself. Sometimes, though, Steinberg uses it to insert long expository passages that become a bit boring. Manroot coverOne quirk irritated me, the overuse of the exclamation point. The author attaches it to sentences that are declaratory. For instance, “That was when she sent for Katherine!” Those exclamation points were like flies. Just when I hoped I’d seen the last of them, another one buzzed me.

Overall, though, Manroot is a haunting story with lush description, complex characters, and a kind of mystery that cannot be neatly categorized or explained.

The Awesome Indies are looking for short stories for their upcoming anthology. Submissions are open to anyone. Here are the guidelines:

1.    Length: 4500 word maximum with no minimum. Short shorts are as welcome as longer works.

2.  Target audience: We want to appeal to a general adult audience.

a.  No explicit violence or sex, nothing offensive to any cultural or religious group, nothing encouraging socially inappropriate behavior.

b.  Follow the grammar and spelling conventions you are comfortable using. We can include a short note somewhere about our multinational authors.

3.  Send submissions to: by July 14, 2014. You may submit as many stories as you like.

4.  We prefer stories that have not previously been published and that you don’t intend to publish elsewhere for at least a year, but pre-published stories are acceptable; just let us know where they have been published and make sure that they aren’t under some preexisting agreement for exclusivity. We don’t want stories presently in publication as stand-alone short stories.

5.  Payment: All fame and glory accrue to the authors. Awesome Indies will use the remainder for maintenance of the website.

6.  Authors who do not already have a book listed on the Awesome Indies site will get priority on our review request list for one of their books.

Have questions? Send them to the submissions address or leave a comment here.

 

I began David Litwack’s novel The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky expecting the title character to be a fabulous creature supercharged with magical power. Instead I met Kailani, a nine-year-old girl who has run away from home. Kailani does have the ability to transform the lives of those she meets, but her power isn’t supernatural. It comes from the altogether human qualities of beauty, innocence, and love.

The world of the novel consists of two hostile nations, the Blessed Lands where people believe in the Spirit, and the Republic of Reason where people embrace empiricism. Most of the action unfolds in the Republic, a place much like our own world with technology circa 1985. The Blessed Lands are less advanced. Decades after a long and bloody war, the two nations have an uneasy peace maintained through rigid diplomatic protocols. Each side demonizes the other. Believers are zealots; non-believers are soulless. Free travel between the nations does not exist although procedures exist to seek asylum. Those who enter surreptitiously are considered enemies until proven otherwise.

When Kailani arrives on the shores of the Republic of Reason in a foundering boat, proclaiming herself the Daughter of the Sea and the Sky, she presents a problem for the authorities. Although only a child, she breaks the law by preaching the existence of the Spirit. She tells Helene and Jason, the young couple who rescue her from the sea, that she has come from the Blessed Lands to do penance. For what sin she refuses to say. The couple tries to protect her and discover that doing so requires greater personal sacrifice than they imagined. Meanwhile subversive elements within the Republic see in Kailani a means of advancing their own agenda.

A major theme of the novel is that grief is unavoidable for anyone capable of love. Almost every major character mourns a loved one and struggles to make sense of the loss. Yet love gives meaning to life. After the death of her father Helene is cast adrift until she reconnects with Jason, her childhood sweetheart. Significantly, the villain, a religious fanatic who would sacrifice Kailani to his faith, feels neither love nor grief. He only cares about getting what he wants.

Another theme examines the dichotomy of faith and reason. The two nations struggle to coexist yet they need each other. The Blessed Lands lack modern technology. The Republic of Reason prospers materially, but it’s a drab and uninspiring place where many people hunger for a greater meaning. Kailani shines there like a candle in the dark. Litwack suggests that we need both faith and reason and our challenge is to find a way for them to coexist within us.

The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky is a beautifully written story with a fully imagined world and complex characters. I would have preferred a bit more subtlety in the presentation of theme, but other readers will disagree. Without a doubt this is a novel worthy of your time even if you don’t usually read fantasy.

The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky

In Ebony and Spica: Two Birds in My Life, Janet Doolaege tells about a blackbird and a starling who were rescued as fledglings and spent long and happy lives as part of her household. It might seem like there wouldn’t be much of a story here, but the author’s keen observations and skillful description make this brief memoir an entertaining read.

The writing abounds with vivid imagery and information about birds, the kind of knowledge that comes only through close observation:

An aggressive blackbird looks very different from an aggressive starling. Ebony in an angry mood would look like a horizontal missile, all feathers on his head flat and his beak pointed forwards. . . . An enraged starling, on the other hand, is a vertical challenger with crown feathers sticking straight up.

Bird lovers will enjoy the antics of these feathered sweethearts, who worm their way into the hearts of Doolaege and her husband. The latter occasionally loses patience with Spica’s dinner-table incursions. My husband and I share our home with a budgie, so I know how birds can take over a household and how annoying they can sometimes be. I had quite a few moments of recognition while reading Ebony and Spica.

Some think of birds as neglible creatures. Anyone who has lived with them knows they’re intelligent and sensitive. but even bird lovers might not think of starlings and blackbirds as beautiful. Doolaege reveals their beauty—Ebony “with a fine gold ring around each large black eye” and Spica “with his feathers slightly puffed out like miniature cockle shells.”

The story of the birds inevitably allows readers into the author’s daily life. I enjoyed visiting a world not fraught with melodrama or darkened by disaster, a world where people with ordinary problems find contentment in their day-to-day experiences. The author adopted Ebony and Spica because they would have perished otherwise, but she concludes that birds cannot live a full life among human beings. I understand her arguments but think a bird, wild or domesticated, could meet a far worse fate than life in a French farmhouse with other birds, cared for and loved by compassionate human beings.

Ebony and Spica

checking your grammar day and night

There’s nothing like a dose of ambivalence to add unwelcome melodrama to your life. Allow me to introduce Grammar Nazi. She takes up space in my head, and like any good nazi she’s always looking to expand her territory. I think I remember her from sixth grade.

 

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No way am I a grammar nazi. I think any writer who finishes a novel, no matter how flawed, deserves some respect.

 

 

Grammar Nazi ThumbnailImpertinent fools, they presume to pen a novel without having mastered the fundamental skills of their trade. They deserve your scorn.

 

 

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Who am I to criticize?

 

 

Grammar Nazi Thumbnail

Your sole mission in life should be to point them out and humiliate them.

 

 

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Experience has made me what I am: a reader so bothered by grammatical errors that they sometimes spoil my enjoyment of a book.

 

 

Grammar Nazi ThumbnailNever apologize for having received an adequate education. You are right to disdain the ignoramuses who cannot understand why the prepositional phrase “between you and I” is improper usage.

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 4.54.17 PMWhile teaching writing at a university I marked thousands of comma splices, run-on sentences, clumsy sentence fragments, comma errors, apostrophe errors, etc. I learned that small mistakes matter less than creativity and thoughtful argument.

 

Grammar Nazi ThumbnailOne expects such errors in students’ writing, not in books offered for sale.

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 4.54.17 PMCreative writers have great leeway in their use of language.

 

 

Grammar Nazi ThumbnailThank you for stating the obvious. Good writers know how to break the rules because they have mastered them. We are speaking of people who cannot even punctuate the vocative case correctly. They ought to go back to grade school.

 

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Here’s the thing: correctness doesn’t always result in effective writing, but mistakes often prevent writing from being effective.

 

 

Grammar Nazi ThumbnailFine. I enjoy a catchy platitude as much as anyone.

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 4.54.17 PMMost readers don’t even notice the mistakes that bother me.

 

 

Grammar Nazi ThumbnailOh, they notice. The mistakes are a major reason why many readers ignore indie books and why critics argue that the self-publishing revolution has flooded the market with garbage. You, Mary Maddox, are an indie writer. Join the procession to the virtual landfill.

 

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As a reviewer I dislike downgrading an otherwise good book because of rampant grammatical mistakes, but to overlook them would be a disservice to the author and potential readers. I guess the key is to balance faults with virtues and remember that everyone makes mistakes, including me.

 

Grammar Nazi ThumbnailYou made a mistake? Where? Where? Find it at once. You will be the object of universal derision. You must scour every page of the manuscript for errors that have escaped your scrutiny. Take all night if need be. I stand at your back with my whip.

Author Tahlia Newland has offered me the opportunity to join in this blog tour. The idea is simple. I answer a series of questions on my writing process and my current work, then I tag new authors to answer the same questions, and the chain carries on, a pattern of infinite growth. Unfortunately, the authors I hoped to tag could not participate. Ah well. Suppose every branch of a tree kept growing and sprouting new twigs that grew into branches and divided. It would be one cancerous tree, and eventually someone would attack it with a chainsaw. But I had lots of fun answering the questions.

I want to thank Tahlia for tagging me . Check out her website here.

What am I working on?

Right now I’m revising a suspense novel, Darkroom, for about the sixth time.

Kelly Durrell, assistant curator at a small museum, befriends Day Randall, a footloose and immensely talented photographer. While Kelly is home attending her sister’s funeral, Day disappears. Kelly is too grief stricken to care until Day’s boyfriend, art collector Gregory Tyson, asks for her help. He’s determined to find Day. As Kelly searches for her missing friend she finds herself drawn into a world of dangerous people. She begins to question Tyson’s motives. What is he really after? How far will he go to get what he wants?

And will I ever finish this novel? The story is radically different from the first draft I wrote some years ago. Maybe I should have left this one in a virtual drawer, but something about it keeps pulling me back. I hope it will have that effect on readers.

Why do I write what I do?

My stories come from a bleak place. Though I’ve been lucky enough to find love and joy in my life, my imagination thrives in the dark. The darkness of my stories puts some readers off, but it’s so much a part of my worldview that I can’t change it without losing my authenticity. If I wrote lighthearted romance readers would sense the phoniness.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write urban fanstasy and horror as well as straight suspense. I also like to mix genre elements. But I’m hardly the only writer who does these things. In the end only one thing sets my writing apart from others in my genre: its voice. Voice encompasses a writer’s prose style, imagination, and worldview. It’s a quality hard to define but easy to recognize. Like a singer’s voice it can’t be acquired, only developed. You can often recognize a writer’s work by voice alone. And of course some voices are more accomplished and versatile than others. Not everyone can write a first-person narrative with an unforgettable voice. Mark Twain sure could. He’s one of the greats.

Sometimes I think stylistic rules (which, let’s face it, change through time) hamper the writer who is trying to find his or her voice, but without rules the new writer usually produces awful prose.

How does my writing process work?

Voice is important to my writing process. It can slow down my writing. If a paragraph sounds wrong — off key or discordant with the rest of the piece — I can’t proceed until I’ve solved the problem. If it sounds right I can move along at a steady pace. I know voice shouldn’t matter so much in a first draft, but my creative process depends on it. Fortunately I’ve reached the point where I can find the right note quickly, but sometimes I fail to catch false notes until I read through the draft later. They make me wince.

I wish I could write faster. Commercially it’s a good idea to produce two or three books a year. But what’s the point if they suck?

 

About Tahlia Newland:

She writes heart warming and inspiring contemporary fantasy and magical realism . You can also call it metaphysical fiction. She has  been writing full time since 2008, and is also a respected reviewer with over 300 published reviews. All her novels have been awarded a place on the Awesome Indies list of quality independent fiction, and have received the AIA Seal of Excellence. Two of her novels, You Can’t Shatter Me and  Lethal Inheritance, also received a B.R.A.G Medallion for outstanding independent fiction.