The Precarious Balance of the Writing Life

Writing. A career path only for those who wish to feel guilty every moment of their life. Every moment of every day becomes a choice between writing, and not writing. If you aren’t writing, you feel guilty because you should be writing. If you are writing, you feel guilty because there is a whole family outside of your novel who could be talked with. Or an email to be sent, or another hobby to be practiced. But if you don’t write at this moment you won’t at all, and you worked an eight hour shift today dang it!

Yup. It kinda sucks.

On the one hand, we know that if we don’t write we will never get better. On the other hand, if we commit to writing for so many hours every day, won’t we become kinda, well, like a hermit? The stereotypical author who spends all of their days writing, and only ventures out into real life when their groceries run low. If they haven’t decided to get all their groceries shipped to them already.

And that was all before the internet. Now, we have Facebook, Instagram, blogs, and countless other ways to be ‘doing the job of writing’, without actually writing. Now there is one more thing to juggle, one more thing to feel guilty over.

And here I almost forgot the infamous day job that every writer slaves away at, all the while hoping to someday break free and only write. Never mind the fact that their day job is the one place they never feel guilty at. They have to be there, and that is that.

The thing is, I am not about to give you some momentous advice about how to balance it all and still keep yourself sane. This is something I am not good at. In fact, you could say I am tremendously, awfully bad at it. Even when I have a schedule.

But sometimes those who are so terrible at it that any step is a step in the right direction, have more to say than those who have done it perfectly their entire lives.

Like this momentous realization that was probably obvious to the rest of you.

Multitasking doesn’t work.

Ever.

I can’t write an interesting scene and write a blog post at the same time, or color and try to teach myself grammar. The best I can do is listen to very, very tame music and write a blog post. But even then I have to pause the music if I really want to concentrate. I realize that some of you are wizards of multitasking. I ain’t. So I keep the tabs low and the projects one at a time lest I overwhelm myself and get nothing done.

The other thing I realized after a long time of trying and failing is that I can’t get everything done in one day. It isn’t possible. Unless of course I decided not to sleep, or eat, or talk with anyone. But that isn’t a good idea (though don’t think I haven’t considered it.).

I have tried to do everything in one day. And at the end of the day I either had a finished to do list and no energy whatsoever to read or be nice, or I had a half completed to do list and loads of guilt to go along with it.

Well. I don’t like feeling guilty, and I also like being able to read. So I stopped trying to do it all. Most of the time.

It’s called a weekly schedule, and I am still trying to figure it out. Turns out they don’t write themselves, and writing down the things you did after you did them doesn’t work. Also, it doesn’t really count if you never look at it during the week.

I still have a long ways to go before I can properly consider myself good at scheduling my days.

Till then, I will muddle through and do my best to have my blog posts done on time.

Shaina Merrick

Since we are one the topic, got any advice for the scheduling writing? Things that worked for you? I’m telling ya, I need all the help I can get!

Book Review: O Pioneers!

I have to talk about ‘O Pioneers’, or I am going to go crazy. Let me rephrase that. I already have talked about this book to anyone who would listen, now I need to again or I am going to go crazy. Yep. It was that kind of book. I mean, how could you not talk about a book that has these kinds of quotes?

‘People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in this world. It is always easier to lose that to find.’

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O Pioneers! (1913) was Willa Cather’s first great novel, and to many it remains her unchallenged masterpiece. (I think I like it better than ‘My Antonia’, and I really liked that book) No other work of fiction so faithfully conveys both the sharp physical realities (to be honest, there are not that many of these harsh realities when you get past the first couple chapters.) and the mythic sweep of the transformation of the American frontier—and the transformation of the people who settled it. Cather’s heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Hanover, Nebraska, as a girl and grows up to make it a prosperous farm. But this archetypal success story is darkened by loss, and Alexandra’s devotion to the land may come at the cost of love itself. (have you read the book? Obviously not, because her cost was not love, not really anyway)

At once a sophisticated pastoral and a prototype for later feminist novels,
(Yeah, right.) O Pioneers! is a work in which triumph is inextricably enmeshed with tragedy, a story of people who do not claim a land so much as they submit to it and, in the process, become greater than they were.

Don’t you love how there is an exclamation mark in the title? It makes the book sound so cheerful and upbeat. To that I say Ha! No no. It was not a tear jerker. But it wasn’t a enjoyable lark through the countryside either.

What I first noticed about this book was how I wanted to write everything. Every quote, every line. I wanted all of it saved forever it my notebook. But if I did that, I would just be copying the whole book word for word, and I already have the book so… The writing was beautiful, no, it was achingly gorgeous. Honestly, I would have read the whole book just for the prose alone.

But the prose wasn’t the only thing worth reading in this book. There were also characters.

This is the book that I want to shove underneath all writers noses and say, ‘This is how you write realistic characters.’

Willa Cather created characters underneath her pen that almost jumped off of the page. I could see them move and breath in my minds eye. Their strengths, weaknesses, foibles and pet peeves. They were all there for the world to see. What I think made each and every character so imminently real was their weaknesses.

While I can not read the authors mind, it seemed to me that Willa Cather did not set out to make you like her characters. She seemed to care less really. It was more like she was focusing on showing you her characters in all of their glorious mistakes. Did it matter that they were all people with blind spots and foibles? No, it didn’t. Despite every failing, I loved them anyway.

The character that the entire story is woven around is Alexandra Bergson. She inherits the farm from her father because he knows that she can run it better than her brothers. And she does. Her farm becomes the most well off in the entire county. She is hard working, diligent, cool headed, and smart. But in the novel what characterizes her most is her love for the land. She loves this Nebraska land that is so hard to farm, and after a while, you wonder if the land knows it, and so blesses her in return. She loves it, and so it loves her.

The other characters in this novel act out a play of love and loss on the backdrop of her steadfastness. She has one love, the land, and one goal, to live on the land. The rest are action to her stillness, the passion to her calmness.

Plot wise, I would not recommend this book to anyone who must have an action plot where things are happening all the time. For one thing, this small book reaches through decades of living to tell its story. For another thing, there is much introspection allowed to the characters. Things happen, and sometimes things happen quickly, but there is always ample time for the characters to think about, and react to, that particular action.

Inside the book events build and become more intense, everything is straining at the seams, until the world snaps in a single moment, and everyone is left stunned.

I will let you read the book to figure out what that event is *evil laugh*

On the whole, I would recommend this book to anyone who liked ‘My Antonia’, and to those who enjoy slower stories with rich characters. Though I would hesitate to recommend to anyone younger than thirteen, because while nothing is explicit, a couple of the things the book deals with are not for the young.

Enjoy!

Shaina Merrick

Favorite Reads of 2019

Fine. Since everyone else is doing it, I will to.

I have been keeping track of what I read, and how much I liked it, since I was… In Middle School? And all of those lists are around here somewhere. Heh. Thankfully, the list for this year is not in the depths of some journal, and easy to get to and finally organized according to month and year. (don’t ask)

I read a bunch of good books this year, so this list is not going to be short. Sorry not sorry.

The Chestnut King by N. D. Wilson

The Chestnut King (100 Cupboards, #3)

The only reason the rest of the 100 cupboards series isn’t on here is because I didn’t read them in 2019, and I had to cut myself off somewhere. This was the finale to end all finales. The perfect wrap up to the series, and a scene at the end that left me crying happy tears. You must read this series. I don’t think I can put into words how much I love all of these characters and the relationships between them. Also, this series is the reason I now like baseball. Thanks Henry.

A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews

A Thousand Perfect Notes

This, this is the book that I will fangirl over with anyone, anywhere. I was not expecting this book to bowl me over, but it did. Every scene left an ache in my heart, every word made me fall in love with the main character even more. Beck was so, so wonderful, all I wanted to do was hug him and give him a cookie. Also, there was piano. My other great love in life. This book combined my two favorite things. The way the author explained playing piano was something I knew. This was an experience I could share with Beck because I have done that. Played the song, had the nerves, hoped the soul I was bleeding over the keys would be liked by others. So yeah. It was great.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater

The Scorpio Races

I will shove this book at almost everyone in existence. I will admit, I avoided it for years because it seemed to be a combination of things I didn’t like. Ha! I was wrong, and I have never been so happy about it in my life. Scorpio Races has the most beautiful prose, and her way of describing left me in awe. All I wanted was to learn how to write like that. Well, I also wanted to figure out what happened next. But ya know, priorities.

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Romanov

I know I have done a review on this book somewhere on this blog. But I am too lazy to look it up and link to it. Anyway. This is one of the few historical fiction I read this year, and it was also a fantasy. Two of my favorite genres! What I really loved about this book was the way she handled the Romanov family itself. I loved the relationships between them all, and how they were compassionate even in the midst of cruelty. The father showed forgiveness in the face of men who hated him, and even though in the terms of the world he ‘failed’. I think the story showed how such acts of compassion and forgiveness change people, and the world. Go read it! And bring a box of tissues with you.

Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

Fireborne (The Aurelian Cycle, #1)

Enter tears, chills of awe, and a stupid grin. I don’t think my heart will ever recover from the emotions of this book. Up and down, and down some more, and then back up we went as I followed the characters around. I literally stopped in the middle of an intense scene and started trying to figure out why I was feeling so much emotion. (yay logic) I might have figured it out. Sorta. I couldn’t believe all the things this book covered when I stepped back and looked at it. Love, friendship, politics, family, this book covers it all. Yet never feels overly full or preachy or that things are going at a breakneck pace. I adored it.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain, #4)

The best word I would give this book is melancholy. The whole book was melancholy. But I loved it. Every melancholic word of it. Somehow, Taran’s journey became a rippled reflection of mine this year. Trying different things and hoping that one of them will work out. Only to realize that the one skill I ache to have may not be within my grasp at all. Can we discuss the ending for a moment? Where everything is answered and yet nothing is at all? There is inward screaming right now. I wish more books could pull off that kind of ending.

The High King by Lloyd Alexander

The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain, #5)

Yes, I am allowed to have a two books by the same author, and both in the same series, in my list. It’s my blog. Anyway, what would a list of 2019 favorites be without the last/best book of the series that made me rethink everything I thought I knew about fantasy? It wouldn’t be a list, that’s what! This book perfectly wrapped up every loose end in the whole entire series, yet still reminding you that there are more adventures to come. Every question was answered, yet there were still questions. But good questions, the ones that make you think about the book long after it has finished. The characters all came to their poetic justice, though mercy was shown to those who didn’t deserve it, yet you were glad they got it anyway. I better stop while I am ahead.

There you have it folks! A by no means complete list of my favorite reads of 2019! What did you read, and love, this year?

Shaina Merrick

Grown Up Christmas List

Since I grew up, it has become harder and harder to find things for my Christmas list. My mom, or grandparents, tend to start asking me around the end of November, and my mind always draws a blank. ‘Um, clothes? Money? I dunno…’ I like what I have, and there isn’t too much that I need or want. Which is good I guess? But it can be hard when all your relatives are staring at you, waiting for you to reply.

Perhaps it is so hard to think of things because the things I truly want for Christmas can’t be bought, by any average income anyway. But if I could write to Santa and ask him for something, this is the list I would give him.

  1. A months worth of gas in my car. Do you know how much money I would save if I didn’t have to fill my car?
  2. A new computer. One that doesn’t die as soon as I unplug it, or warn me about imminent death as soon as I turn it on.
  3. To eat anything I want during the holidays and not gain any weight. I may have had a few too many cookies…
  4. A walk-in closet dedicated to books. My bookshelf is overflowing, and so is the box in the closet.
  5. An unbreakable phone screen. My poor phone, that is all I have to say about that.

A couple of these may happen someday, a couple of them, not so much. (when will someone invent calorie free sweets that still taste good?) But hey, it is always fun to wish!

Shaina Merrick

Know the Novel Link Up: It is Written (mostly)

Nanowrimo is over! Somehow, I survived. I lost my sanity and my brain somewhere around week three, and still have to catch up on sleep (though is that even possible?).

Also, I won!!! I somehow managed to scrape out 50,000 words in the month of November. Even with an epicly slow plot, Thanksgiving, and interruptions every two hundred words. Some evenings…

To celebrate such epicness, I am doing the last part of the ‘Know the Novel Linkup’ by Christine Smith. A great link all about your nano novel, or your current work in progress! This last link up is ‘It is Written’. Or half written, as the case may be.

If you would like to join the link up, you can here!

Know the Novel Part Three: It Is Written

1. Firstly, how did writing this novel go all around?

Ummmm… Terrible for the first third of the month, okay for the middle third of the month, and great for the last third of the month! I got into a groove with writing, and finally got to the bits I was excited for. Yay snarky character relationships! I am pleased with where the novel is going, and I can’t wait to write the next half!

2. Did it turn out like you expected or completely different? And how do you feel about the outcome?

In some ways, it turned out the way I expected. No new characters or plot twists. However, some of my characters are exhibiting strange new tendencies and depth that I am simultaneously liking, and wondering how on earth to deal with. No new love stories or anything. But unexpected friendships, moral dilemmas, and conversations. Overall, I like the unexpectedness. I think every bit that surprised me ended up being some of the stronger parts of the novel. So, yay!

3. What aspect of the story did you love writing about the most? (Characters, plot, setting, prose, etc.)

Characters!!! I love Kerina and Terrence’s relationship, and their growing shipness (we are pretending that is a word). I also love the beginnings of the threesome Nerl, Kerina, and Terrence. Nerl likes Kerina, though she is terrified of him; Nerl and Terrence have a sort of friends but mostly enemies relationship. Alllll the snark, mostly from Nerl. Which is nice because he is the only one in this novel who is. Heaven help all my serious characters…

4. How about your least favorite part?

Subplots. They sounded like such a good idea at the time, and now they are so frustrating! Trying to balance them all, and remember them all, is hard! I am consistently forgetting some plot thread or other and having to go back and find them again.

5. What do you feel like needs the most work?

Pacing. Blegh. my beginning is too slow, and then finally stuff happens, and then it got slow again, and now stuff is happening again! When I edit, there is going to be many, many scenes cut out because all they do is, well, give me a word count. Yeah. During Nano I have a tendency of putting in random dreams and scenes because I don’t have any more ideas and I needed two hundred words an hour ago!

6. How do you feel about your characters now that the novel is done? Who’s your favorite? Least favorite? Anyone surprise you? Give us all the details!

Technically, my novel isn’t done yet. I got about halfway in 50,000 words, and now have to write the last half. Eheh. This novel will never end…

My favorite character is Terrence. I like being in his head and writing things from his perspective. He is so interesting! Though Kerina is slowly growing on me. She is learning stuff, and I think I am getting better insights into her character.

My least favorite character is… Do I have to choose one? I kinda like ’em all. Though, Akel is being irritating. He isn’t very nice to the rest of my characters, and sometimes he is very hard to keep in line!

7. What’s your next plan of action with this novel?

Finish it. Write The End on a novel that has been in the works for years. And this time, I will do it! It will be finished! So says the procrastinating writer who already has a couple more ideas now that Nano is finished. *headdesk*

After that, time to edit! Which includes ripping out half the beginning and starting my novel someplace else entirely. And cutting out that weird dream, that was not a good day of writing, let me tell ya.

8. If you could have your greatest dream realized for this novel, what would it be?

Get it published. This is the first novel I have written that I think could be publishable material. It is interesting, needs lots of work, but the characters are slowly popping up off the page. If I do it right, this novel could be worth pursuing publication for. And that would be really, really awesome.

9. Share some of your favorite snippets!

Valon said something, but at that moment Terrences attention had been arrested by something else entirely.
There was a girl laying on the grass. A girl. When was the last time he had seen one? Maybe it wasn’t a girl. She had flowers in her hair and looked for all the world like an elf that had been transplanted to the forest.

There was a rustle above his head, then a thud at his side as the tree deposited a grinning Kerina. Her braid was covered in leaves and twigs sticking out at odd angles from her head.

“How did the biscuits taste this time?” She asked with a smirk. “I think I finally found a charm that keeps them from burning.”

He hadn’t eaten dinner yet. Now that she mentioned it, the smells coming from thirty odd plates was overwhelming. Not that he was going to tell her that.

“What is the charm?” He asked instead.

Kerina tapped the side of her nose with a mysterious air. Then shrugged and grinned again. “I don’t know, they just worked out this time.”

Terrence blinked, was she teasing him?

“You should try one,” Kerina added airily before turning around and walking off to who knew where. She was definitely teasing him.

And my favorite…

‘These buttons were going to be the death of him. Maybe he should just stuff them in his pocket and pretend bare hands were all the fashion in Valai. They were, as long as you didn’t count the court. Which could be wearing rags for all he knew.

“Wretched things, aren’t they?” Terrence looked up to a lady in a green dress floating towards him. She took his glove and began to do the buttons for him. He almost jerked away, ladies of this court were too forward. He didn’t even know this woman, and she presumed to do his buttons for him. Then she spoke again. “Minnie had to help me with them. With all the ribbons and things they have to look pretty, they should invent things so that you can get dressed in them yourself.”

There was one person who talked like that. Kerina. Even if Terrence had wanted to move, his feet were stuck to the floor as he looked down at her hair. It was fixed with ribbons woven in and out of her brown, glossy hair. He had never noticed how well green and brown went together.

Her dress swished against his boots. Silk, how well she looked in it. Just like a lady of the court. As if she belonged here.

She finished the buttons and looked up at him. Any thanks was stuck in his throat. Her green eyes were iridescent. He couldn’t look away, couldn’t step back. There must be something to say. All words had left his mind, except three.

“Good evening Kerina.”

10. Did you glean any new writing and/or life lessons from writing this novel?

I am a faster writer than I thought. When I started Nano I was under the impression that I am a slow writer who creeps along at a snails pace. When in fact, I can write a thousand words an hour. (yes yes, some of you are sniffing at such a small number, but it was news to me!)

No, I am not a steady writer. I write in spurts of creativity followed by a few minutes of staring into space. Or fifteen minutes, depending on the day. Even this blog post has been written in increments. But those increments add up, and I was finding that I could write two thousand words a day no problem (ish).

I also learned that my peak creativity is at about 4:00, 4:30, and at 7:00. Go figure, I am an evening writer. Not a late night writer, because at about 9:30 my brain decides to turn into a pumpkin and I run out of ideas.

There you have it folks! Another successful Nano under my belt, and a scrap of sanity left to spare. Yay! Despite what I did learn about how much I can write and when, I was still left drained. My creativity has all been sucked up by my novel. To rest, and to renew that creativity, I am taking a hiatus from most writing for a couple of weeks. You will probably hear from me sometime around Christmas, or right after, and then it will be back to your regularly scheduled blog posts in January.

Have a great holiday season!

Shaina Merrick

How You Should End Your Novel

Endings. How I love to hate thee. The bane of my existence, yet the reason what I read book after book. Maybe it is because I love endings so much that they scare me so much when I am writing them.

Honestly, ending anything longer than 150 words terrifies me. I long for a WIP to end even as I am avoiding thinking about it. And now you are wondering why on earth I should be writing a blog post about it.

Because I am opinionated! And where else should I air my opinions then my blog?

Well, also because I have given this a lot of thought. Especially when I read a book that leaves me unsatisfied and grumpy when I finish it. Aspiring authors, never leave your reader feeling grumpy. They may never come back.

So welcome to How You Should End Your Novel.

Step One

An end is not The End.

Endings are not just two words saying The End. If it was, no one would ever do it wrong and you would never hear anyone complaining. Since there seems to be so much complaining about book endings in the world, there must be a right way to do them and a wrong way to do them.

We will be discussing the right way to do them. At least, the right way according to me. Other opinions may vary.

Your ending will dictate the course of your entire novel. Whether your character goes right instead of left. Why your mentor says the things he does. Basically, your entire novel is foreshadowing the end. Your job is to hint to the reader how your story is going to end, and it is up to your reader to first see, and then interpret those hints accordingly. If your hints point to a completely different ending then you have planned, your readers will end up feeling jipped.

Mystery stories are the master at this. Every single detail points to the solution to the mystery, and the end of the story. Yes, there are red herrings. The flashy hints that catch the readers attention. However, if every hint you have is a red herring, the reader will end up being frustrated and may slam the book shut out of puzzlement and never pick it up again.

The best writers are weaving subtle, real hints along with their red herrings. If you have a well done plot twist, the reader will be surprised, and then look at the book and realize that the right answer was there the whole time.

Step Two

Happy ending or no happy ending?

This is not a question to take lightly. As we have established, your answer to this question will determine every step of your novel.

For sanity’s sake, please do not throw in a tragic ending just for the sake of a tragic ending. Or because of the shock value. That is a terrible way to decide which ending to have. Terrible.

I have read a story where you are rooting for the main character the whole time, and then he dies. I was left wondering what the point of the story was, and if there was a point at all.

If you have tragedy, there must be a point, a reason. If you have happiness, there must also be a point.

Let’s look at it this way. What if Hamlet had been a happy ending? He got his revenge, the girl, and everyone lived happily ever after. While that is what I was hoping for during the play, if I had gotten what I had wanted, the play would have fallen flat. The entire point of the play was to show the affect of Hamlet’s father’s murder. How one murder turns into two, then three, and on and on. How one terrible decision leads to another terrible decision. Tragedy fit the tone and point of the play.

How about Pride and Prejudice? What if everyone had died in the end? We would hate that book until our dying days for one thing. For another thing the book would have no point whatsoever. The entire story is about finding love and overcoming pride. If the characters never overcame their pride and died, well, we would get an entirely different message. The tone of the book fits the end, the end fits the book.

Choose an ending that fits your book. And don’t be afraid of happy endings.

I think many people believe that authors are afraid of tragedies. Of killing characters and making readers unhappy. Perhaps that is the way it used to be, but at the moment I see more and more authors toying with tragedies, unwilling to give their characters happy endings unless everything else has gone wrong and they have worked really hard for it. Basically a book where everyone dies except for the love interest and the MC who magically stay alive.

Meh.

No, you should not just hand out happy endings like cookies. However, it is fine for people to be happy in your books. If they have worked hard for it, they deserve a happy ending. Lots of people are happy, lots of people have happy endings in real life. Lots of people also have tragic endings in real life. Either way, your ending should be true to your book.

Step Three

Tie up thy plot threads

This is not a suggestion. Let me repeat myself, THIS IS NOT A SUGGESTION!! There is not much in a book that bugs me more than loose plot threads the writer didn’t bother to find and tie up. At the moment, we are not talking about books within a series, we are talking about stand alone’s and the end of a series. The places where you have to search for every stray character and account for them.

Remember step one? Just because you slap a The End on your novel does not mean it is finished. You should have been foreshadowing this end since chapter one. Now consider every hint you have given to be a solemn promise to the reader.

Have you foreshadowed character one and character two falling in love? They had better go on a date by the end of your novel! Did you hint that character one is going to fall off a cliff? Find a cliff and dump him off of it before finishing your novel. By the way, red herrings are tied up when they are revealed to be red herrings.

If you give a hint, a.k.a. a promise, that has not been fulfilled by the end of the story, your reader will be left feeling unsatisfied. This includes any mysteries like backstory and world building stuff. Unless you have a really good reason why not to explain something, explain it. Give your reader the satisfaction they are reading for.

Quick Rant: Wrapping things up has a subcategory called fulfilling all of your prophecies. If you have a huge prophecy at the beginning of the book that is supposed to guide the entire plot, please, please fulfill the prophecy. There are clever ways to get out of killing your character, but honestly, if you want your hero to leave, don’t prophecy his death. That red herring is so old it isn’t even red anymore. Quick Rant Over.

There you have it. A three step process to finishing your novel well. Good luck finishing all your Nano novels!

Shaina Merrick

Know the Novel Linkup: Part Two

This is the story of how I died. Also the story of how I can’t remember much about November except the fact that I have written so, many, words. As of at this moment I am at 30k. Whoo! Not totally sure how I made it, but, hey I’m here so why not have some fun.

Christine has posted the next part of her Know the Novel Link up! You should totally join if you are doing Nano, or if you have a WIP you want to showcase! Go check out the details here!

And now for…

Within Valai

1. How’s the writing going overall?

Bwahaha! You mean how the story is actually going? Or how I am feeling about it? Cause… There have been a few days where I wanted to throw my story out the window and never write again!

Confession, I hate writing beginnings. It isn’t the first line that bothers me so much as the first 20 pages. Yup. Writing those few twenty is like pulling teeth. It is awful and it happens every. Single. Nano. I actually ended up completely stopping one day and going to another project altogether because I hated my story so much.

But I did come back. I did make it through those first twenty pages, and I am enjoying my story again! I am suspiciously thinking that my main problem was that I started my story in the wrong place. Namely way too early. Because now that things are actually happening it is fun!

So, I guess overall it has been good, and I like where the story is going so far.

2. What’s been the most fun aspect about writing this novel so far?

Terrence and Kerina! Their interactions are the absolute best. My favorite scenes are when the two of them are together. I have to work really hard to make sure that my whole book is not just the two of them talking…

Their relationship has begun to take on a life of its own. AND I LOVE IT! It isn’t quite what I expected, but it is more than I had hoped. Terrence loves to spend time with her, but while Kerina likes his company, she also spends every moment terrified that he will learn her terrible secrets. So all the subtext behind what they say and the hidden emotions are just so fun! And their banter, and the way Kerina is like the only person able to make him laugh and… Yeah, I should move on now.

3. What do you think of your characters at this point? Who’s your favorite to write about?

Kerina is finally becoming a regular person! Yay!!! Ever since I started this story sooo many years ago, Kerina has always been my trouble child. I found it hard to latch onto her motivations, her emotions, and basically everything about her. She just always felt so flat. And I couldn’t find a way to bring her to life. Now, that is not to say that I have finally found the perfect piece that totally brings her to life, she is still a little flat and totally angsty and girl would you please lighten up?! But it is getting there. She feels more like a real character than she ever has, and I might actually like her now!

Terrence is a bit different than I expected him to be. A little less preoccupied with stuff and more focused on the here and now. I had created him to be a bit more introspective, but he refuses to spend hours thinking about stuff. Soooo. Yeah. He is still my favorite though! I love spending time in his head, and his chapters are always waaay longer than Kerina’s. (oops.) He is so much easier for me to write. I dunno, the words just flow easier. He has also become more fleshed out in this draft, and is more like a living breathing person than this weird ink and paper doll.

4. Has your novel surprised you in any way?

Considering how much planning I have done for this, one would think that nothing would catch me by surprise. Well. I still was.

They have all been little things though. Little nuances of characters here and there are different then the way I expected them to be (looking at you Kerina). My first plot point may have ended up being something different, and an event I thought would be a huge deal ended up not being such a big deal after all. Ya know, normal writer problems.

5. Have you come across any problem areas?

You mean other than wacky characters, plot holes, and terribly slow beginnings? Um. I am beginning to realize that some of my side characters, and all of my side plots, and not as fleshed out as they should be this far along in my novel. As in they have barely made an appearance. Too many characters, not enough brain space.

I am going to try to give my characters some more screen time, esp. the ones who come more into play later. But I have a feeling that all of those are going to have to be fixed during the editing stage. (sorry future self) Ah well, Nano drafts are supposed to be messy, right?

6. What’s been your biggest victory with writing this novel at this point?

Kerina is not a paper doll! After so long with struggling to find this character, I love that I have begun to see into her character. Though less bubbly than I imagined her, she has become more convoluted and interesting, while still keeping to a more artistic personality.

She is less of a puzzle to me than she was before I started. If that is the only thing that happens during Nano, those thousands of words will be worth it.

7. If you were transported into your novel and became any one of the characters, which one do you think you’d be? Would you take any different actions than they have?

I would be Kerina. Hands down. Though I wouldn’t say we are exactly alike. She is the only girl in the novel so… Yeah. (I am still trying to decide if that is a problem) We also share a rather important trait. We both worry waaay too much. Worry about what other think of us for the most part. She is terrified that if anyone else finds out who and what she is they will hate her. So she has built up a mask to show to the world, hoping that they will accept her.

If I was her, I think I would worry less and do more. But maybe I am just kidding myself and I would still worry too much.

8. Give us the first sentence or paragraph then 2 (or 3!) more favorite snippets!

Phooey. Consider yourselves lucky because I never share my unedited stuff. *deep breath* Here we go! (please excuse any weird grammar, I try but…)

‘If they were lost, then Terrence had failed. Again. Or he was reading the map spread out on the table in front of him wrong. He glanced at Colen and Wizard Gyre. If either of them were confused, it wasn’t showing on their faces. Maybe the squiggles and lines made sense to them, while he was wracking his brain trying to remember map class all those years ago. Was that one of the ones he had skipped?’

‘Terrence scrambled up the hill that guarded the end of the valley. The place where mountains made way for the plains. He couldn’t reach the peak fast enough. The rest of his men were far behind, their steps slowing as they reached the extent of their territory. The moment familiarity ended and the unknown began.

A few more steps. He could see his goal. Stumbling over a rock, Terrence reached the summit. There it was. The sight he had been dreaming of. Stretched out before him was the plains of Sunlight. Nothing but grass reaching out towards the horizon. The horizon. The place sky reached down to touch the land, its blue arc glorious to see.

An unfelt wind swept over the prairie, bending the tall grass to show their golden sides to the sunlight. Sunshine from above meeting sunshine from below.

He sighed, this was home.’

‘“When was the last time you saw the plains?” Kerina asked.

“A week after Torroc came to power,” Terrence replied. He had entered the mountains for the first time with Gyre as a mourning boy who dreamed every night of his sister and of flames. Only the smallest hope of coming back kept him going.

Now he was leaving with a battalion of men at his back, and a way to take back his country. Something he had barely hoped for all those years ago.’

9. Share an interesting tidbit about the writing process so far! (For example: Have you made any hilarious typos? Derailed from your outline? Killed off a character? Changed projects entirely? Anything you want to share!)

I have not actually killed off a character as of yet. I have had a bad habit of that lately, so I am very proud of myself!

So, I think I mentioned earlier that I took a day off because I couldn’t stand the sight of my story anymore. Well, during that day off I went a finished a novella that I have been writing for months. I had tried to finish it before Nano, but it hadn’t worked out. I took that day to finish my novella. Finishing that gave me the momentum I needed to get back into Valai and chop half a chapter so that I could get back to the story I wanted to write. Let me just say that there were many, many words written in those two days.

‘Valai’ isn’t actually the title of my story. It doesn’t have one. But since I needed to call it something I decided to give the name of the country the book is set in to the novel. Because to be perfectly honest, the only thing I hate more than beginnings is having to title things. So until further notice, my story is called Valai.

10. Take us on a tour of what a normal writing day for this novel looks like. Where do you write? What time of day? Alone or with others? Is a lot of coffee (or some other drink) consumed? Do you light candles? Play music? Get distracted by social media (*cough, cough*)? Tell all!

I work every morning from 8:00 to 1:30 so needless to say, I don’t write in the mornings. I try to write as soon as I can in the afternoons. But lunch comes first. Then a couple life things like do laundry or something like that. So often I don’t get started until 4ish. (awful I know) I also have to work myself up to a writing session so sometimes I procrastinate a little too much.

I will write for a while, have dinner, then sit down and write some more! I try to finish writing by about 9:00, 9:30. Well, I tend to run out of ideas by then and am ready to wrap up so I can go to bed. Like I said, I work in the mornings so a good nights sleep is really helpful!

I have my water bottle nearby and music going most of the time. Though I might try writing without music today, because sometimes I get more done if I don’t have that distraction. Other than that… I write alone, with my sister, I write at the dining room table, on the couch, on my bed, wherever the mood strikes me that day! I will say that some of the best writing times have come at the dining room table. (don’t ask why I don’t know)

Phew! That was more than you probably wanted to know about my trial and tribulations while trying to write 50,000 words in a month. Unfortunately, I will not be finished with this novel by then. It has decided to turn into a monstrosity that will most likely be around 100k by the time it is finally done. (somebody help me)

How are you all’s Nano’s going? Or if you aren’t doing Nano, how is your lovely stress free November going? 🙂

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: Romanov

I love history, I love books, so when someone decides to write a historical fiction, I grumble under my breath and roll my eyes. My mother lovingly calls me a history snob. Usually with a laugh, because it is right after me ranting about how this movie or that book got some history wrong. I really hate it when books get history wrong. I mean, a detail here or there isn’t so bad, but most of the time authors take the general idea of the era and then do whatever they want. Ugh.

You are probably expecting this to be a long rant on how much I hated this book. Wrong!

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The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. (might be?!? It is the only thing giving them hope at the moment!) But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are to either release the spell and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik (heh, later on anyway. At first though? Bolshevik through and through). Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her (one of my favorite romantic arcs ever).

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my opinions on ‘Romanov’ by Nadine Brandes.

I loved it. Review over.

Or not. Because I can’t help myself, and because this is such a lovely book.

For one thing, Nadine Brandes actually did her research! Don’t laugh. You would be surprised how many authors don’t research. And it shows. She, on the other hand, wrote a book that was at the same time fantasy and true to history. It was fantastic. I loved how rich in detail the book was. Everything from the setting down to their clothes had the perfect details. I knew how worn their clothes were, and what the apartments looked like, and she never had to bore me with a long page of description.

It was those details that showed the era and climate the characters lived in far more than the date and place.

That, writers, is why you research.

It can be tricky to write any historical novel, especially one that deals with such high profile people as the Romanov family. Yet once again, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of research Nadine Brandes did. I felt like I knew these people. I felt closer to them that I would have if I had picked up a biography (and believe me, I had). Yet I knew the family had been portrayed correctly. There was no let down later when I realized that she had mussed with peoples personalities and beliefs. Yes, the story was fictional and some of the scenarios. But she had drawn from real life people and events, and did those people and events justice.

I think my favorite part of the book was the characters. Each and every character captured my attention and held it. I miss those people and I have never even met them! Oh, the woes of a bookworm.

Nastya has three sisters, and each one of them has an integral part to the story. Far from being nameless backdrops to her own story, their lives and stories intertwine and intersect with her own. But by far, other than Nastya, my favorite character was her father, Nicholas Romanov. The strong man who loves his enemies and sees the good in people. He is the one who makes friends with his guards, even if his guards hate him. He is the one who strives to understand his captors. Nicholas Romanov is the rock of his family, the one who keeps them all together.

No I didn’t cry. No I am not crying. Be quiet.

I loved Nastya. The precious little person who is trying so hard to help her family. Her struggles with being gracious to her captors and not being bitter tugged at my heart. It was so hard for her to be friendly to those who obviously hated her, but she got up and did it anyway. When anything was hard, Nastya did not back down. She did it. Whether she liked it or not, she did what needed to be done to help her family.

Lets talk plot. This is by no means your typical fantasy novel with epic journies and huge battles with world wide stakes. This is a story about a family put under house arrest. A family trying to come to terms with a country who now hates them. A country they had dedicated their lives to serving.

As a result, the plot does not go swiftly. And I loved it. The long periods of rest and reflection in between the bits of action revealed the characters. You got to know them, their dreams and wishes, and why each one acted the way they did.

This isn’t to say that the book dragged on. Definitely not. Each period of rest was preceded by a tense bit of action where you are holding your breath the whole time hoping against hope that things turn out alright.

That doesn’t even mention the tension through out the whole book as the reader is wondering if the family will escape or not. Will this work? Will it not? Will they ever get out alive!?!

SPOILER ALERT: I have to say that after the Romanov family died, I was a little bit bored. I was mostly reading it for the family, and when they were gone, I felt like quite a bit of the tension leaked out of the story. It did still keep my attention though. SPOILER OVER

The pacing was very well done throughout the book. It didn’t drag at any points, and didn’t rush along helter skelter either. Each point of high stakes and heart pounding chases was tempered by a point of character interaction. Yay for balance!

Oookay, I have to touch on the romance before I leave. When Nastya and Zash meet. He immediately hates her. She is wary of him and frustrated that her attempts to befriend him fall flat. He has preconceived notions of her, she decides very quickly who he is. Obviously, they are both wrong. Here is the thing though. It doesn’t go from enemies to lovers within a chapter. They are friends first. Friends before romance, imagine that!

They talk, laugh, argue, he builds a swing for her, all things that friends do. Well, except maybe for the heated arguments about her parents.

I actually really liked those arguments. Because each of them had a valid point. Neither side had a weak argument. And they both presented them well. You were forced to see both sides of the question they were arguing, and decide for yourself who was right. Because the characters did not necessarily do that for you. Zash and Nastya pushed each other to think, to see another side, and to truly decide for themselves instead of buying into whatever they had been told. And it is out of that friendship that a romance is born.

If you love historical fantasy, and are curious and or fascinated by the Romanov family and the Russian Revolution, definitely pick up this book!

I would recommend it to mid to late teens and above, while nothing is graphic, there are many of tense situations. And one scene with quite a bit of death.

All in all, ‘Romanov’ was one of my favorite reads this year. It most definitely earned its five stars. * * * * *

Shaina Merrick

The Tales of Lunoor: Extra Tales

Was anyone wondering what exactly happened to poor Belissa, Lord Beldons sister? Well here you go. Just remember what happens to curious minds…

The echo of a pixies giggle was the first sign that she had gone where no wise man dared to tread. The soldier ignored the sign and trudged on. Her heavy boots sunk into the moist earth with every determined step. She kept her fists clenched tightly at her mail clad sides. Refusing to touch the mossy sides of the trees, to raise her fingers to the golden rays of the sun that filtered through the leaves to the forest underneath.

A breeze sighed through the underbrush and wisped her hair around her face.

“Come, “ It whispered into her ear. “Come with us and be happy. “Be free.”

She shut her ears to the voices that couldn’t hurt her. Ignoring the second sign.

Another breeze tousled hair flattened by a helmet long since tossed aside. Joining her sword on the forest floor. Both relics of a war she had left behind forever.

She stepped over a clear, chuckling stream. Keeping her head up so as not to see her grimy dirt streaked reflection. The marks of a battle she had fled from.

The air she breathed into her lungs was heavier on this side of the stream. Every heave of her chest took a little more effort. It was only that she had been walking for so long. But she refused to sit on the grassy bank. She could rest when the war was far enough away to be but a distant memory.

She was the only sign of war in the forest. The trees were still unbroken, the ground unmarked by hundreds of stomping feet. Marching off to yet another battle in the never ending war.

There was one battle weary soldier here, one who batted aside chattering pixies like flies. Flies didn’t dare enter this part of the forest.

“Come,” The pixies coaxed deaf ears. “Come with us. Come be happy.”

“I could use some happiness,” the soldier said unknowingly. Unable to hear the triumphant laughter of the pixies who flew ahead of her to ready the path.

The trees grew in twisted shapes here, unlike the straight trunks of the forest behind her who reached up to the sky in joy.

Faces appeared in the nooks of the crooked limbs. Smiling and winking at the heedless woman.

The air underneath the trees was close and warm. The woman stopped to remove her armor, leaving the worn and dented metal underneath a tree, alongside another pile of armor long since rusted beyond repair.

“It didn’t do me much good anyway,” The woman said with a shrug, walking with a spring in her step. “A war can’t make me happy.”

“Come with us instead,” The faces in the tree cooed. “We will make you happy.”

“The King didn’t make me happy either,” The woman told herself, beginning to walk alongside a whispering stream. Her next sentence was muffled. “All he asked us, his ‘loyal soldiers’,” she spat out the words. “To do was fight in a civil war. To uphold a promise he made to defeat the Rebel and undo the evil he has caused.” The dryad in the stream murmured her sympathy. The soldier kicked a stone that squealed as it bounced away. “I can’t believe I bought into that.”

“Come,” The dryad lifted her white head from the water. Beckoning with long fingers and a charming, sharp toothed smile. “We will right your wrongs. Come.”

The woman plodded along the stream.

Fluttering wings announced the pixies return. They teased her hair and tugged at her clothes with their tiny hands. The woman sighed out the last bit of the determination in her eyes. The steel in her gaze  fading to a dull eyed stare. The dryad laughed in delight and splashed back into the stream.

The faces in the trees crawled out onto the branches and chattered from their perches, “Keep going. You are almost there. Come and be happy!”

“Be happy,” The soldier muttered in response. The pixies fingers tugged more insistently. The naiads spoke louder. The dryad laughed longer. All fell on deaf ears. The soldier’s eyes saw only the path in front of her. The grins and sly winks going unheeded.

The soldier stumbled on to a chorus of faeries whispering, “Come, come and be happy.”

“Be happy,” the soldier repeated, stumbling over a log who glared at her retreating back.

Tripping over another stone, the soldier stumbled into a sudden clearing. The chorus of shrill voices stopped. The pixies flew away, the golden sunlight reflecting off their wings in sparkles of gold. The woman blinked in the bright sunshine that put every leaf and tiny blade of grass in sharp relief.

The bubbling stream went silent as it made its way to the center of the hidden meadow. Pooling at an old stone archway.

The stones of the archway were covered in wet moss. The cloud of sparkling pixies guiding the soldier alighted there. All silently watching the woman.

The dryads head lifted out of the water just before the pool. She grinned, a fierce smile copied by the carvings peeking through the moss warning the woman of the place no soldiers ever dared to touch.

The dryad beckoned to the woman who lurched forward to the archway. Barely heeding when she splashed into the pool.

Now the view through the arch revealed itself. A castle stood on a faraway hill, its flag waving proudly in the wind that rustled the treetops of the forest below.

“Home,” The woman whispered. She sloshed through the pool, eyes so focused she did not heed the lack of sound. She stretched out her arm to touch the place destroyed long ago.

A spindly hand grabbed her ankle in a vice. The woman frowned and tried to lift her foot. She looked down at the grinning dryad. A film fell from her eyes and she beheld her faeries guides for the first time.

A gasp tore from her lips as she reached to her side. Her fingers grasping empty air where her sword used to be.

A giggle came from the dryad. Echoed by the pixies that rose as one into the air. The woman’s gaze went again to the archway. Yet it too had revealed its true self.

Thorns and darkness awaited her beyond the mossy stones. Darkness full of grinning eyes and glinting teeth. The woman recoiled from it, but the dryads hand stayed firm.

“No!” The woman wailed. “No! Let me go!”

“Come with us,” The dryad chortled. “Be happy!”

“Be happy!” The pixies repeated, flying over her head. Little hands were placed on the woman’s back and hundreds of little wings fluttered.

The woman flailed for the carven stones, reading their warnings even as her hands slipped on the moss. Her shriek echoed through the meadow. But there was nothing to stop her fall into darkness. The faeries laughed. The arch had claimed another life.

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Shaina Merrick

To Begin

One of the most important bits of any story is the beginning. The part that convinces a reader to keep reading, or to shut the book and move on with their lives. The blank page that keeps writers trapped in fear. We know beginnings are important, we know they must portray character, setting, plot, and tone all without info dumping, we know that a good beginning will keep readers, a bad beginning will deter them. As writers, we are acutely aware of all of this. And that awareness keeps us frozen, staring at the empty page and waiting for the perfect words to begin our stories.

It doesn’t have to be that hard. Don’t laugh, yet. Beginnings have the possibility to be easy. Well, easier anyway. Now, I am no expert on this. On anything to be perfectly honest, but I do have an idea of what a good beginning is, and what a good beginning isn’t.

It all boils down to a couple of questions to ask yourself as you are settling down to begin your epic novel.

What is the most important part of this story?

Don’t tell me the characters. You haven’t thought about it yet. Think about it. What, in your book, is most important? Is it the plot? Is it the setting? Is it the theme? Or is it your characters? When you have answered that question, you know what to showcase in the beginning. If your setting is the most important part of your story, you will most likely want to start with a description of said setting (don’t scoff, many classic novels start out with description). If it is your plot, get that plot started right away!

Cut straight to what is important and leave out the fluff.

Is this story plot driven or character driven?

For the sake of this post, we will not be discussing the differences and potentials of each kind of story here. Suffice to say that plot driven stories rely on the plot to drive them forward, character driven stories, the characters.

If your story is going to be plot driven, you will want the plot to start off with a bang. Plop your reader in the midst of a gun fight, have the inciting event start two pages before the novel begins. However you do it, make sure events are happening from page one. This is a plot story after all, there isn’t time to be introspective.

If you have a character driven story, you will, most likely, start at more of a leisurely pace. Your inciting event can start a few pages down the road. Breath, introduce your readers to the characters they will be hanging out with for a few hundred pages. Don’t worry if things seem a little slow at first. Just worry if they stay slow when they aren’t supposed to be.

Since we are all about to being new projects, I thought it would be worthwhile chatting about beginnings. Don’t stress writers! Your beginning will be awesome. Are you guys ready for Nano yet? I am pretending that I am, also trying not to hyperventilate as November 1st looms ever closer. Eep!

Good luck everyone!

Shaina Merrick