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Three Hundred and Fifty… Two!

Today I was going to wrap up my series on disturbances in your writing, but then something very exciting happened: the number of people subscribed to Dianna’s Writing Den reached three hundred and fifty. In fact, it reached three hundred and fifty-two.

Usually I don’t make a big deal of these markers, but three hundred and fifty seems like a really big deal. So today I’d like to say a few things about Dianna’s Writing Den.

The first is that I appreciate every single one of you, and that I’m thrilled to be forming such an amazing community of writers here at Dianna’s Writing Den. I’m really proud of the work I do here and I’m glad to be helping all of you. I hope you’ll stay with me on this journey and that someday when we’re all famous authors we’ll be able to have a big party together, sipping tea and talking about the early days of our journeys.

The second is that I’ve learned a lot from you, maybe even as much–or more–than you’ve learned from me. I know a lot of my subscribers are also wonderful authors who I’ve interviewed or who have written posts for me, and I learn a lot from these interviews/posts. I’ve also learned about what the most common challenges for writers are, and you’ve taught me how to foster an amazing community. Again, I thank you.

The third is that I’d like your help. Inspired by hitting three hundred and fifty subscribers, I’ve thought of a big goal. That goal is to reach 400 subscribers by May 20th. It seems lofty, but I know with your help I can do it. What do you get for helping me? Well, if I hit 400 subscribers by the twentieth, in exactly two weeks, I’m going to host a giveaway. I’m not sure how big it will be as I’m still working on prizes–if you’re an author and you’d like to donate a book, shoot me an email(diannalgunn@gmail.com)–but I do know that it will involve something special: a small ebook I wrote myself, full of advice for writers. And at least one issue of Penumbra, so if you’ve wanted to check it out for a while, now’s your chance.

I haven’t decided what this ebook will be about yet. I might use the Ten Commandments project I’ve almost finished, but I thought I’d ask you first: what would you like this ebook to be about?

Let me know what you’d like to see in the comments–and don’t forget to spread the word about Dianna’s Writing Den over the next couple of weeks.

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Zeus, Inc. by Robin Burks

zeus-inc-cover
Robin Burks originally contacted me in early October. Seeing that she’d published one of her Nanowrimo novels, I invited her to write a guest post here about character development. I also agreed to review her book, Zeus, Inc.

Zeus, Inc. is a novel that’s hard to classify. It reads like something between a detective novel and an urban fantasy novel, and is even borderline science fiction. The story is set several decades into the future, after the world has nearly run out of power and been saved by a renewable energy source found by Zeus, Inc.’s CEO, Joseph Brentwood.

At the beginning of the story, Mr. Brentwood goes missing. Alex Grosjean, the wonderfully smartassed main character, is hired by his daughter Alisha to find him. Black outs start happening all over the place and Alex believes they’re somehow connected to Mr. Brentwood’s disappearance. She soon discovers that nothing is really what it seems to be, especially not Mr. Brentwood himself.

There are a lot of really cool things about this story. For one thing, it makes extensively detailed use of several aspects of Greek myth. I love stories that have elements of both the real world and mythological ones. In Zeus, Inc. Alex actually goes into Hades and meets a large cast of Greek gods. These gods were masterfully represented and I appreciate the detail of this part of the story.

One thing I found odd but amusing was Alex’s reaction to discovering that she was dealing with gods. She’s suitably shocked, but not suitably cowed. She continues to defy the gods and doesn’t treat them with any of the expected reverence. She treats them like normal people anyway. Now, I know a few people who I think would react much the same way, but it’s still pretty hard to believe. I enjoyed reading it, but I did read with one eyebrow raised as she cursed at the gods without a second thought.

Really though, my main complaint about the book is that it felt over written. The story was wonderful but I felt it could have used some more editing. Sometimes I would find things said twice but in slightly different ways, and other times I would find redundant words. I think that this book could have been much more closely edited, looking for instances of things like “she sat down“(down is implied by sat) and other small things that aren’t technically incorrect but still look sloppy. I saw a few more typos than I usually find in traditionally published books, but mostly the issue was over explanation of everything.

The only thing that bothered me about the story is that Alex at one point gains some supernatural power of her own, but it feels like the power is foreshadowing because it’s never properly explored. She never even really takes the time to learn how to control it, but it only causes her one problem–I would have liked to see this newfound power take a bigger role in the story.

Still, I loved this book. It used mythology in a totally new way, crossed genres a few times and made me laugh several more times. The best part? Ares is afraid of Alex’s cat. A war god who’s afraid of cats? That’s comedy gold right there.

I would definitely like to see more Alex Grosjean stories as she’s a wonderful character and I love the things that spring from Robin’s imagination, but I hope that if a second novel in the series is published more time is taken to edit it thoroughly so it’s a smoother read.

I give Zeus, Inc. a 3/5 star rating. You can purchase it for just $3.00 here.

Robin’s Bio: Robin Burks is not only a novelist, but also writes for RantGaming.com, Syfy Network’s DVICE.com and as well as her own blogs – FanGirlConfessions.com and Robin-Burks.com. Robin’s first novel, Zeus, Inc., is now available on Smashwords, BN.com, Amazon.com and in the iBookstore. She also occasionally speaks French and loves Doctor Who.

Little Knitted Things


I’ve spent most of my weekend doing homework and quite a few hours trying to figure out what to write for my blog. Some days the posts just come to me and I make notes for five or ten posts and write two or three drafts. Other days I struggle just to get one idea down on the page.

Of course the answer was right in front of me–in the form of a little red-headed knitted doll. Her name is Jeanie Stuart, and she’s one of the main characters in my friend Karen’s novel, Angel of Death(which you can look at here). She’s an Irish gal with quite the attitude, one of my favourite characters in Angel of Death–or in any book, really.

Karen knitted up several dolls of not just Jeanie but two of her other main characters as well in order to promote her new novel, a sequel entitled Shadow of Death. I ran into her at last year’s Word on the Street festival and told her how much I loved the little dolls. She told me people had been coming up to her all day asking about them. I admired them for some time, but, not having any money, I had to move on.

That same day I went to the Pagan Pride Day celebration here in Toronto, where I participated in the Bardic. A Bardic is basically a talent competition. It is open to storytellers, poetry readers, singers, dancers and musicians of all kinds. The number and kinds of both prizes and contestants vary from year to year, but the feel is always the same and it’s a fun challenge.

One of last year’s prizes was a little knitted doll donated by Karen, an active member of the Pagan community and leader of the Pagan Pub Moot, the oldest gathering of its kind in Canada. I won third place and ended up taking her home, bringing her to sit on my desk for future inspiration.

We can all learn three lessons from this little doll.

1. Everything can be a marketing tool. Can you sew? Knit? Draw? Do you know how to work with clay? You’d be surprised how helpful those other creative endeavours can be when trying to market your novels. You can make little replicas of your characters, paint landscapes from your novel, create live replicas of jewellery or vases in your book. Not only will these draw extra attention to you at book festivals, but you can sell them to your fans and even random people who enjoy the aesthetic feel of what you’ve created, creating an extra stream of income for yourself.

Jeanie cost $15 at Word on the Street, and I know for a fact that Karen managed to sell most of her knitted dolls. With how cute they are, and the number of hours she spent making them, I think they’re worth the price.

2. Good things come to those who wait. I probably could have convinced my boyfriend–or one of my friends wandering around the festival–to buy me one of Karen’s little knitted things, but instead I decided just to go to the Pagan Pride Day celebration. If I’d convinced someone to get me one as a present, or if I’d had money and decided to buy it for myself, it wouldn’t have been special when I won the doll. I’d already have one, so it would be cool, but it wouldn’t be awesome.

Instead, I went on about my day and managed to stumble upon a little knitted thing anyway–an exciting way to end my day.

3. Always perform your work when given the opportunity. If you’re going to an event where you know there will be an open mike at some point, bring a short piece of your work with you–even an inspiring blog post can work. If it’s a competition, spend an hour practising your piece aloud. Actually, it might be helpful to do that anyway. You want to have a feel for how the piece sounds going in. Knowing how the piece sounds will help calm your nerves.

Performing your work out loud gives you the opportunity to make connections and to really see people’s reactions to your work. The only way to really understand how awesome it is when people clap for work you’ve taken the time to write and then read to them is to live through the experience.

Perhaps the most important lesson that can be learned from this little knitted thing is this: there’s a lesson in everything around us, if we’ll only take the time to look.

Where have you found your most unexpected life lessons?

What to do with Your Dear Diary Project

Now that you’ve finished your Dear Diary Project, there are several things you can do with it. They range from hiding it in a corner in your basement to trying to turn it into something publishable. But before you do anything with the file or manuscript itself, you need to properly extract all the valuable information from it for later use.

Extracting Information for your Dear Diary Project

Now, I don’t know about you, but my character profiles are pretty messy and I usually don’t have much room left on the page by the time I’ve written a Dear Diary Project for that character. So I like to create a fact sheet, which is a simple list of facts about my character. Things like their favourite colour, what kinds of animals they like, and experiences that changed their life that either weren’t important enough to be included in the profile itself or that hadn’t been thought of when you made it.

Reread your Dear Diary Project. Scan it for the things that are most important. Write down all the things you’ve learned about your character over the course of the month.

Once you’ve finished that, take a separate piece of paper and write down any new stories you might have gotten from writing or rereading your Dear Diary Project. Make note of any moments you think it might be important for your character to remember during the main project you’re working on. Pick out ones you might be able to turn into short stories. Write down as much about these ideas as you can, but try not to spend more than fifteen minutes on that.

Now you should be ready to start thinking about what to do with the project itself.

What can I do with my finished product?

There are a few things you can do with your Dear Diary Project. It’s possible that there are a few I haven’t thought of. In fact, writing that sentence I thought of something I’ve never considered before. I’ve created a list of things you should be able to do with your Dear Diary Project. Some are harder than others.

Leave it in a corner in your basement
Or in my case, a corner on my computer. I’ve never done much with my Dear Diary Projects. I’ve posted a few entries on my blog every year, but I’ve never done anything more than take knowledge from my Dear Diary Projects. I’ve thought about doing character blogs and all kinds of exciting things with them. But to be honest, other writing projects and school have always taken priority over transforming my Dear Diary Projects.

You know what? It’s all right if you do the same thing. Having a character’s diary stashed somewhere in your basement or your computer is pretty nifty. The important thing is what you’ve learned from working on your Dear Diary Project. Whatever you do with it, you’ll still have learned something about the process itself–and that was the real goal of this project.

Create a Character Blog
There are these nifty little things called character blogs. I don’t know all the history of them and I can’t tell you who wrote the first one, but I know they’ve existed for a few years now with varying success. Your Dear Diary Project can easily be turned into a character blog. At the very least you’ll want to clean up your grammar and spelling–unless you’re OCD and already have–and make sure that each entry shines, that each one is memorable.

If you want to get serious about character blogging, brainstorm what comes after your Dear Diary Project. Create a proper storyline around the Dear Diary Project. Decide how long–not exactly, but generally–you want to write your character blog for. Then go to great pains to make sure your character’s blog looks good and start putting your work up. You can generate quite a following with a character blog, but it’s a long and painful process. Then again, so is building a following in any kind of writing. If you want to do it enough, you should make it. But if you don’t want it bad enough, it’ll never happen.

Book
There are books made up mostly or sometimes entirely out of diary entries. There are tons of them. Most of them are historical novels set in our world during some particularly interesting part of history. There are also books written entirely in letters, and depending on how you wrote your Dear Diary Projects, transforming them into letters and adding some return mail might not be too hard. You’re going to have to polish the crap out of it though.

I don’t know how much of a market there is for this kind of story in genre fiction. I haven’t read or seen too many fantasy novels in the form of diaries, but I’m sure there is a market available for them. A book like this might do better in the ebook publishing world. It’s easier to find a specific group of readers with the internet and there’s an endless supply of people online. With dedication to your work and lots of revision, I’m sure you’d be able to sell a few copies, maybe a few hundred. With a little bit of luck, you might even be able to sell a few thousand. It might be worth a shot–you just have to decide how important this project is to you.

Screenplay
This is the one I thought of while writing this post. To make it into a script would probably take the most work, because your Dear Diary Project is probably mostly exposition rather than dialogue, and scripts are usually mostly dialogue. There’s more room for exposition in a screenplay than in a stageplay, and you can even take the most important parts and make them into a series of scenes for a screenplay. This is probably the hardest option, but it might just be the most entertaining. I, for one, think my Dear Diary Project would be a better movie than book.

The other thing about turning your Dear Diary Project into a script of either kind is that it’s really hard to start producing a play or movie. You have to do a lot of networking and you have to find funding for it. You have to find people willing to help you out on set, and you need to find actors. There are always lots of people wanting to be actors. It will be hard to turn some of them away, but you’ll only get one for each role. Finding people to help create your set, fund your project and film your movie will be much harder. Maybe even harder than getting a book published.

This is just the beginning of your options. With any luck, you’ll have thought of something I haven’t. Think about your options for a while before you do anything with them. You’ll need to get away from the story for a while before you can edit it anyway. Besides, Nanowrimo’s next month. It’s time to start planning–and I’ll talk to you a bit more about that on Friday.

What are you thinking about doing with your Dear Diary Project?

Now Hear This! Blogging Position

This summer I decided that I really wanted to hunker down and focus on my writing. For the last three or four summers, I’ve always told myself I’d get a lot done with all my spare time, but I didn’t actually get all that stuff done. I spent most of my time out and about with friends, or buried deep in somebody else’s book. Even when I stayed home, I spent most of my time reading and researching on the internet.

This summer was different. I got a brand new computer at the start of the summer, and I managed to write an entire new draft of Moonshadow’s Guardian. I participated in an online summer writing group called the Writer’s Circuit. I’ve been going to acting for camera workshops, where they’re teaching me how to act and soon we’re going to start working on a short movie. I’ve written two short stories and edited one of them. I’ve edited a short story that I wrote a long, long time ago twice.

I got a lot of work done this summer. And it’s paid off. Literally. Paid.

How so, you ask? Well, when I was just finishing up with the Writer’s Circuit, I got an email saying that Now Hear This, the parent company–a Canadian company promoting literacy–was looking for new youth bloggers. They wanted youth to come and offer writing tips, book reviews, and to talk about local literacy events. And they were offering payment.

I jumped on the chance and sent an email back right away, with two ideas for blog posts: a book review and a post about online writing communities. I’ve been corresponding with the people in charge, and I wrote up and sent in my first blog post. The first piece of writing I will ever receive payment for. And sometime soon, a cheque is going to come for me in the mail. The first cheque I’ve ever received, since I’ve never had a real job. I’m ecstatic. Heck, I’m more than ecstatic. I’m bouncing off the walls. Really, really quickly.

So if you want to check it out, today I’m on the Now Hear This blog with a book review of Mad Kestrel by Misty Massey:
http://www.nowhearthis.ca/blog/book_review_mad_kestrel_misty_massey

Thanks for reading, guys. Your support’s made all the difference in this journey.

Trying to be Healthier

My boyfriend, apart from being a wonderful guy, happens to be a mover. Sometimes his clients are also trying to get rid of things, because they won’t fit or for whatever other reasons. One day somebody wanted to get rid of a huge box of books. My boyfriend wanted a couple of them, but he was told if he was going to take any of them, he had to take all of them. Imagine my excitement-like a kid in a candy store–when he came home with this big box of books. There were only a couple of titles that grabbed me on my first look through, but now that I’ve finished those, I’ve realized that quite a lot of them interest me.

What does this have to do with getting healthier? Well, one of these books happened to be a book called New Choices in Natural Healing. It says edited by Bill Gottlieb. That’s the only name on the front. The book is several hundred pages long, including an introductory section which briefly discusses each method of natural healing, and remedies for dozens of common health conditions. Most of these remedies are ancient, and they can be good research for us as writers and as people. What we learn in books like these can be applied both to our every day lives and to our writing–that’s part of what makes it so exciting.

This book contains pretty much everything. They discuss acupressure, aromatherapy, massage, yoga, food therapy, herbal therapy, and I’m sure there’s something I’ve missed. So far I’ve only read a couple of the introductory chapters–acupressure, aromatherapy, massage and yoga–but I’m already fascinated. I’ve got some other books on the go, and they’re library books, so this book will be more of a side project than anything else for the time being. But I’ve already started to make it useful in more ways than one.

Somewhere in the five hundreds, they have a series of illustrations for acupressure, relaxation and meditation, yoga, and reflexology. The yoga exercises which have been illustrated are an excellent basic routine for day to day use. I’ve started to do these yoga exercises in the morning when I wake up, although I haven’t been doing them for long enough to notice much of a difference. During the school year, this might become something I do after school (I doubt that I’ll be up for the task of waking up a half hour early to do yoga), but I do hope to continue. Having the book with the illustrations makes me a lot more likely to do it than if I were to look up yoga online-by the time I’m on the computer, I’m very hard to distract from whatever I’m doing.

I already eat fairly well–mostly veggies and whole grains, since I don’t eat meat–but I don’t spend a lot of time exercising or meditating. Yoga for me is a good combination of both, and it’s something I’ve enjoyed in occasional one hour classes. My brain is such that I could never really remember more than a couple of the exercises though, so having this book to guide me will hopefully help me get into a proper yoga routine.

For those of you who, like me, don’t get a lot of exercise and tend to stress about things, yoga’s a great solution. Part of yoga is focusing on your breathing, and this will help calm you during the exercises and throughout the day. It strengthens your mind and your muscles, and helps you learn to live in the moment. Focusing on breathing and keeping your mind clear from worries will help you focus on your writing, too. Let the focus on your breath that started during your yoga follow you throughout the day, and you’ll probably enjoy your day a lot more–and even get more done.

If you can get your hands on a book or a DVD that will guide you through the first poses of yoga, do so. Start doing them every day and learn them well. Yoga is a mix between stretching, relaxation and exercise; it really is something you can do every day if you put your mind to it. If you can afford a class, that’s even better. Someday I hope to take yoga classes, but for now, with no budget to speak of, I’ll stick with this book I happened into.

How do you try to stay healthy? Have you ever tried yoga?