Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Faces of Edits

Today's guest author Claire Robyns has walked with me on my writing path for a long, long time. In 2003, we met up and founded a small on-line crit group. We've long known that Claire is a talent worth watching, and last year her hard work and dedication to her writing paid off. She is now a published author with Carina Press. Claire is going to share with us her experience of the process of editing her manuscript under the guidance of her Carina Press editors. 

Welcome, Claire, and take it away...

The Faces of Edits by Claire Robyns

I’ve gone through the edit treadmill for two of my books now and the one sure thing I’ve found (and learned from fellow authors) is that no two edits are the same. Nothing is guaranteed.

You had almost no edits on the last book you handed in. This means you’ve finally skilled yourself up enough to be edit-proof? No! Your very next book could easily require a major rewrite, whether it’s your 2nd or 100th published novel.

So, if you wanna be a published author, you’ve gotta learn to love edits. Right? Um…

Happy Face Edits

I absolutely love editing my initial draft, polishing my story and filling in all those holes I dug while writing. This is where I get to play and tweak. I have wonderful beta readers with a quick eye for detail and I pay careful attention to their feedback. But, at this stage, I am still judge, jury and executioner. If I’m editing and go off on a tangent, who’s to care? If my ending no longer lines up with the tweaks I’ve done, I change it. If aliens landed while I wasn’t paying attention, I can turn my story into a SyFy book.

The initial draft of my debut novel, Betrayed, was 160k+ words. By the time I submitted it to Harlequin’s Carina Press, it was down to 100k. That’s a lot of editing all over the place to suit my – and only my – fancy.

Anxious Face Edits

Usually accompanied by nails bitten to the quick and bald patches on my scalp. These are the edits done on an editor’s suggestion before they’ve actually offered for the book.

This stage of edits is my worst nightmare. Usually the revision letter is so cryptic, it’s impossible to know whether you’re making things better or worse. You have no idea if you’ll reap any rewards from all the extra work you’re putting in. You’re tempted to stray from your original vision to satisfy a stranger who knows nothing about what you’re trying to achieve. Do you stick to your guns or bow down to a professional? The revision letter offered for you to contact her if you need any points clarified, but she’s the expert and you’re no one and you’ve read in a million places how busy editors are and she will remember you if you waste her time, won’t she?

This is a second-guessing exercise in pure madness.

Betrayed was a revise and resubmit. Twice. I’d previously gone through this with an editor who ended up declining. She wanted me to lessen the grit of the novel, turn a dead character into a merely injured character. I declined. She declined.

I went through this again with my Carina Press editor, except she loved the gritty reality of life in medieval Scotland. And all her suggestions were a ‘light bulb’ moment to me. I guess this is the first clue that you’ll work well with an editor – she gets you. And this is incredibly important in the next stage of edits. So, if you ever feel that your story was rejected because that editor just didn’t get you, breathe a sigh of release. And try again.

Nervous Face Edits

Finally, after years of writing and no more space under the bed to shove unwanted manuscripts, an offer comes along. My editor loved Betrayed. She wanted to publish it. She loves my voice, my style, she loves everything about me!!!

Except, when the development edits came in, my manuscript was covered in red (word change tracking) Numerous scenes had to be completely rewritten, my poor heroine and hero were put through the wringer all over the place, my writing had to be tightened up, etc.

This was a very emotional exercise for me. Why did she offer for Betrayed if it sucks so much? I thought she’d loved it? After scanning the extensive revisions she required, I was convinced she hated it. And it didn’t matter that her suggestions were good, that I could see how much better Betrayed would be. I was happy to do the edits, but I struggled to wrap my head around why she’d contracted Betrayed when it was so obviously ‘not ready.’

Of course, I’ve since learned that this is not only not unusual, but very normal in the publishing world. When editors say they love your story, what they really mean is that they love your voice, plot, characterisation, etc. They believe they’ll be able to work well with you and they love the promise of what you can both accomplish together as a team to make this book perfect.

The struggle with this stage of edits is that you’re contracted. If the edits break the story and your brain dies, you can’t just kick the manuscript under the bed and try again with something else. You’re committed. One way or another, you’ve got to make this work, and you’ve got to make it work in tandem with your editor’s vision for this story. This is why it’s so important to gel with your editor. This might sound callous (and I’ve been writing for many years, I’ve been rejected for many years, I’ve gone through times when I’d do anything to get accepted) but it really is better to get rejected than to land up with an editor that wants to take you where you don’t want to go.

The developmental edits for my second novel, Second-Guessing Fate (release date 26 September 2011,) were also pretty extensive, but I was a lot less emotional this time round. I trusted my editor, I knew she loved my work, and I appreciated all the hard work she was putting in to make the story fantastic.

The beauty about this stage of edits is that you build a relationship with your editor. If her suggestions are cryptic, you phone or send an email. There’s a lot of back and forth, swapping ideas and suggestions, joking, laughing, ranting together. You can challenge her ideas, and she can challenge yours. As I prepare to go into editing of my third book, The Devil of Jedburgh (release date early 2012), I am much calmer and confident about the process. And yes, I can say it, I’m actually looking forward to it.

Happy Face Edits

Full circle. These are the line edits and copy edits. At this stage, the story is basically sorted out. The line edits address punctuation, misused words, etc. The copy edits are similar, although these are done by a copy editor and vetted by your editor before passed onto you.

At this point, the editors are sympathetic to your voice and the style of your book, and those take precedence over grammatical correctness. You’re also free to stet any changes if you don’t agree.

For Betrayed, which is a medieval Scottish romance, this was very interesting and, I’ll admit, brain-stretching. Try writing a hot romance without using the words ‘sex’ and ‘flirt’. In medieval times, ‘sex’ referred only to gender distinction and was never used in ‘pleasures of the body’ context and ‘flirt’ had just not yet been invented. There were many other word usages I had to get rid of as well and come up with something more era-appropriate. I’ve read many historical romances that ignore these accuracies, and I could have kept my words, but I decided I like the idea of being correct. 

For example,
‘Flirty smiles’ became ‘sensual smiles’ or ‘teasing smiles’
‘Sex’ became ‘bed sport’
‘Sexual games’ became ‘dangerous games’

It was a fun exercise, finding just the right word.

Serene Face

When it’s all over. The last round of edits have been handed in and approved. It’s out of your hands now. And before you know it, your release date arrives and you go straight back to Anxious Face as you wait to see how it will be received. :):)

Thanks for having me here, Judy, it’s always lovely to have the opportunity to ramble on about writing. 
Claire, thanks for joining us and for sharing your experience with us. The thought of going through all those rounds of edits doesn't sound quite as daunting now! Good luck with your new releases.
Remember to enter the LAUNCH COMPETITION for the chance to win great prizes, including a full manuscript critique or an Amazon US$100 gift voucher.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

No Escaping Tax Payments

In the excitement of publishing my eBook Dancing in the Shadows of Love, I gave no thought to paying tax. Who wants to think of such boring stuff in the soaring joy of seeing your book come to life? 

A few days before my eBook went live on Kindle and Smashwords, award-winning Botswana author Lauri Kubuitsile  asked me what I'm doing about the IRS tax number. I was brought to earth with a plop. 

As I frantically searched the internet for any info on this subject, I found very little information. What I did find is that foreign residents who wish to self-publish in the USA need to sell their soul to the IRS.  

Here's what I've discovered so far:

*A foreign author does need a US Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) and you need to fill out a foreign residents form applying for exemption. I’ve read on the net that this can take up to FIVE months!  

*Some retailers require an ITIN number to set up an account - Apple, for instance.  

*Before you apply for an ITIN (which can take 6-10 weeks to be issued), the IRS requires you to include a physical, signed letter or document attached to your application, supplied by the withholding agent (Amazon or Smashwords), on an official Amazon/Smashwords letterhead, showing your name and evidencing that an ITIN is required to make distributions to you during the current tax year that are subject to IRS information reporting or federal tax withholding. 

*Without this letter from the distributor, you cannot complete your W-7 application (required to obtain your ITIN from the IRS), and without the ITIN you cannot submit a W-8 form to the distributor (eg Amazon or Smashwords) that will qualify you for reduced tax withholdings. 

* To make things more complicated, the IRS instructions are that the distributor’s letter, on letterhead, must be signed in ink by a official of the company (meaning no emailing digital versions of the letter required by IRS - it must be delivered via paper mail and be included with the W-7 ITIN application.) And getting this letter is a mission in itself. Smashwords is far more open to helping authors with this process than Amazon, but even there you need to have earned royalties of at least US$10 before they will issue a letter, which you have to apply for in writing, not via email or fax. The whole process is well documented on the Smashwords site (thanks, Mark Coker!)

*Because of that lengthy delay in becoming official with the IRS, I left the royalty payments section blank on the author royalty forms. On Smashwords, I deferred payment of royalties until I have the necessary tax paperwork completed. I couldn’t load my eBook on Barnes and Noble as they only allow that for a person with a US Bank account but, as I’ve applied for Smashwords Premium Catalogue which distributes on my behalf to Barnes and Noble, Apple etc, that's not a major problem. 

For more information go to the US Internal Revenue Service website 

And here’s the link to the application form for an ITIN 

Once you have that you then need to fill out a W8-BEN form.  

As far as receiving payments goes, when I’ve finally got the IRS sorted I’ll be using PAYPAL to receive any funds.  It’s by far the easiest way to get paid. In South Africa, any funds I receive via Paypal have to be deposited within one day into a Reserve Bank allocated financial bank, in South Africa, that is First National Bank. I don’t know what the rules are about receiving funds via Paypal in other countries, so you need to check your country's laws for that.

I’m still finding out myself what the procedure is, so if I come across anything major, I’ll post an update on my blog! 

As I said...there's no escaping death or taxes. I'm just thankful Lauri Kubuitsile asked the right questions, otherwise I might have found myself answering to the dreaded IRS!

ADDENDUM (6 June 2011)

A reputable publishing source, who asked to remain anonymous for professional reasons,  has sent me some further information on the issue of taxes for Non-Resident authors who publish in the USA.

"Yes, it takes up to 6 months for an overseas author to get an ITIN, or the overseas authors simply won't get their royalties. It can be a hassle and a headache, but is a necessary step. The reason LULU does not require an ITIN from overseas authors is because they withold a certain percentage (about 30%) to pay the taxes on behalf of the overseas author. This certainly explains why LULU's prices to publish a print book are so high. And, if you want to sell through their expanded distribution service (Amazon, etc.), you have to get...an ITIN. Imagine that. So, there really is no way around applying for and getting an ITIN unless you want to fork over the 30% of your royalties to the US government (when your taxes probably wouldn't even amount to that, anyway). And, unfortunately, it takes 6 months to get one."


"You get a business license in the US. You can choose any state you wish (Nevada has the lowest taxes, so that's a good choice) and apply for a business license in that state.  If, for a specific book, you're 
donating all the royalties to a charity, you can apply for a non-profit organization license and none of the taxes are applied to your other books' royalties or affect your taxes in any way. You will get a business license number at this point, when all of that is completed. When you have that number, you can then apply for an ITIN through your business, and guess what? This can all be done online with no signed-in-ink forms and does not take very long to get. Since you're applying for it as a business, they aren't as picky as if you're just an individual.  However, I think there's a yearly fee for a business license.

The easiest thing to do may be to accept paper cheques (or PayPal) and let the IRS take the 30% for taxes."

ADDENDUM 2 (22 November 2011)

Amazon Direct Publishing has finally put up some details about paying tax for non-US resident  authors. You find out what Amazon Direct Publishing has to say about tax payments for non US resident authors here

ADDENDUM 3 (4 August 2012)

Here's a helpful blog post on tax payments with well set out steps to follow on the Romance Writers Organisation of South Africa website written in February 2012 by romance author Romy Sommer. You can also find the article on Marketing for Romance Writers.

ADDENDUM 4 (4 November 2012)

I had an interesting chat with South African YA author Joanne McGregor at the recent Sanlam 2012 Youth Literature Award  ceremony at Emoyeni. Joanne had previously contacted me about getting a tax number for a non-US resident author and kindly shared with me a very detailed blog post on a short cut to getting that dratted US tax number.

Here is the excellent and detailed blog post by Irish author CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD on an easier way to get a US tax number for Non US resident authors.

The many comments on Catherine's blog are worth reading too. 

Joanne followed these steps and said it took her less than an hour to get her US tax number via Skype.

Any further info I find out about taxes and non-resident authors I'll continue to add here.

DISCLAIMER: I must be more brainwashed about tax after 20 years with my hubby Dr Beric Croome than I realised. My idea for this tax article was all my own - a middle of the night brainstorm! - and it's all my own research too (one doesn't get free advice from tax lawyers, I'm afraid, not even when you're married to one!!!) :)

Free Image from ClipArt

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

A Muse of Fire: the inspiration behind "Dancing in the Shadows of Love"

Author Tiah Beautement recently interviewed me on her blog Travelling Write Along. Tiah asked what inspired me to write this story. Here is what I answered: 

There’s a Hebrew phrase “Tikkun Olam”  which means ‘repairing the world’ and denotes the restoration of the right order and a true union; a correction of our spiritual selves to be made whole again. Kabbalists see a tikkun as a special healing: they experience themselves and each other as the Divine sefirot (Divine potentials; planes of God made manifest.) This act of healing connects across differences, without becoming the Other. In essence, for a person to find inner peace, there needs to be a healing (a sacred union) of the inner fractures of the soul which create dualities such as racial or gender divides (black vs white, male vs female.)
This phrase lies at the heart of my story. As an ordinary person, happy in my ordinary little life, I’ve always tried to be a “good” person. But South Africa’s tragic history, as revealed by the TRC, left me questioning so many things about myself.  I came to the conclusion I just don’t have the warrior personality that wants to change the world. That made me wonder what I could have done to prevent or heal the wounds of our past.
Through the eyes of three very different women, Dancing in the Shadows of Love explores how an ordinary person, one who doesn’t have what it takes to be hero, can also find a way to repair the fractures of a broken world.
Read the rest of the author interview by CLICKING HERE
"Dancing in the Shadows of Love" is a novel of hope and mystery, examining the sacrifices people make in the pursuit of a love that transcends everyday existence. Lulu’s quest, and that of Jamila and Zahra too, is to find the divine love that will fulfill their hopes and save their souls...if they can recognise the masks of those who seek to lead them astray.
You can purchase this story as an eBook on Amazon and Smashwords.
Remember to enter the LAUNCH COMPETITION for the chance to win great prizes, including a full manuscript critique or an Amazon US$100 gift voucher.
For those of you who like to know the source of your quotes, "A Muse of Fire" comes from Shakespeare's Henry V, Prologue, 1, and reads "O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend /The brightest heaven of invention."

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Curtain Rises

Dancing in the Shadows of Love  is now available for sale at Amazon.com and other international on line stores. (See sidebar for direct links)

For your reading pleasure, below is the first chapter of Dancing in the Shadows of Love

Before you start reading,  here is a book review by Gary's Reviews (with the first edition cover)

Chapter 1Lulu (The Past)

 “I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;
and, if I die, no soul will pity me.”

I stopped believing in promises when I was young.

‘You’ll be happy here,’ they said, as they bundled me into the car that would take me to the Sacred Heart Holding Camp. I was five years old. ‘Children like you have fun in the Camps. You’ll have friends to play with. You won’t miss your mother.’ Why they thought I would miss the woman who abandoned me because my skin was too pale and my hair too white is still a mystery.

We left the City of Gold—a misnomer if ever I heard one—and headed south. The drab and narrow streets, huddled between tall, concrete skyscrapers on either side, gave way to long stretches of highway; this, in turn, surrendered to wide open spaces as we travelled away from the sun.

As one day changed into the next, the vegetation became sparser and sparser until only a few quiver trees stood scattered amongst the dust and rocks that lined the dirt road we bumped along. Their multitude of fat succulent branches, crowned with spiky blue-green leaves, arrowed out of a single trunk. Stretches of sand and rock and clumps of dry stubby grass isolated each tree from the next.

Long before we arrived, I saw the camp in the distance. At first the dust kicked up by the tyres, and the haze of heat we’d followed since the sun rose, softened the view. It looked welcoming; a haven, nestling in the foothills of the forbidding Droogrivier Mountains. As we drove closer, the silhouette sharpened into three buildings. Built in an L-shape, they were square and squat. A patch of green and white—it looked like a small rose-garden, struggling to survive—broke the dullness. Beyond that, lining the dry old riverbed that gave the mountains their name, a hedge of buffalo-thorn trees, with delicate branches and double-hooked thorns, offered a meagre welcome. There were no other signs of life.

The man switched off the engine and we sat in the heat until, ‘Come,’ he eventually said. ‘There must be someone to sign you in.’

He climbed out of the old Jeep and opened the car door. I scrambled down, but he did not offer to hold my hand as we approached the heavy wooden doors. He clanged the old brass bell that hung from a hook underneath a sign that proclaimed “Sacred Heart Holding Camp: Home for the Unwanted.” Above the sign was an effigy of the Spirit King; the doors had large novas carved in their centre to remind us that this was a holy place.

As we waited for the noise of the doorbell to die, a gust of wind captured unwary grit and leaves, refusing to release them until they struck my bare legs, stinging them with a million pinpricks of pain. An old windmill creaked into life, the dull clacking ominous in the vast silence of the inhospitable landscape.

‘You never said she was a Pale One,’ the Controllers complained when they let us in.

After the city man left, they forced me to my knees, before yet another statue of the Spirit King, nailed to a colossal wooden nova in the small court, behind the holding camp’s dining room. His face, carved in ivory, was harsh with the suffering of his people. Black horsehair curls drifted downward over a coral bead pressed into the centre of his forehead and this symbol of his ancient and divine ancestry mocked me from between the empty slits that were his eyes.

‘Ask the Spirit King for forgiveness,’ they said.

‘For what?’ I dared ask.

‘Your Great Error is your skin; your white, white skin,’ and they pushed me so hard I fell to the ground.

The callous stone floor scraped through the thin calico of my dress. I flinched, but welcomed the pain. If I appealed hard enough to him, perhaps the Spirit King would love me. It’s what he promised: to love me, no matter how great my error. He would paint my hair and my skin as black as the other children, as black as it should have been were I not born an outcast by virtue of the paleness of my skin.

‘Cleanse yourself and you will be whole,’ the Controllers chanted. To ward off any contamination from my aberrant appearance, they would make the sign of the nova, lifting their hands to brush their foreheads, their mouths, their hearts, in an age-old gesture of subservience.

‘What did I do? Why don’t the others want to play with me?’ I asked Sub-Prioress Dalia one day. ‘Why does the Spirit King hate me?’

Although, in the end, she wasn’t courageous enough, Sub-Prioress Dalia—the youngest of the Controllers, her round face framed by her black-and-white pandita—had not yet forgotten what compassion was.

‘He loves you, child. You’re the Spirit King’s special angel,’ she whispered. She slipped a white rose next to my pillow and bent to kiss my chafed knees. ‘Believe it.’

Then, I believed her. Then, I asked and asked for her to be my friend, to ease the loneliness. Even the quiver tree had the tiny sugarbird as its winter visitor when it came to eat the tender yellow buds sacrificed by the tree. Like those isolated trees, all I wanted was one friend; one beloved to compensate, in some small way, for all that I suffered in my difference.
• • •
By the time I was fourteen, I had learned the lesson well: believe no one’s promises. Except, perhaps, the promise of my beloved.

‘Lulu? Lulu!’ Exasperation twined itself around the Prioress’s call. Leader of the Controllers, if she spoke, she was obeyed. ‘Where has that child disappeared to?’

I could have told her but I did not. Hunted again, I pressed myself deeper into the undergrowth and ignored the bite of thorns into my pale and vulnerable skin.

‘She’s hiding,’ Sub-Prioress Kapera answered. Close, she was too close. I rooted myself as close to the ground as I could. Already I had learnt to depend on myself. Sub-Prioress Kapera was quick to teach me that. ‘She’s the Levid’s child, that one,’ she said. I imagined the sly sign of the nova she made, to ward off any unsettled spirits I bring.

‘Shush,’ said the Prioress, ‘the child may hear you.’ A silence followed, broken by the heavy sullenness of Sub-Prioress Kapera’s footsteps. ‘Lulu?’ the Prioress called again. ‘Answer me, child. I want to talk to you, not punish you.’

She lied. They all did. Every word they spoke was a punishment. For if they could find a way to evade me, they did; even the plump Prioress, Leader of the Controllers. It showed in the way they glanced over me, and not at me, when they spoke. It showed in what they said, when they thought I did not listen. Was it because I was young, I wondered, that they talked about me when I stood right beside them? Or was it because I am what I am that I was invisible?

Why, I sometimes asked the Spirit King, why do they hate me? The Spirit King never answered, but the mirror told me why. Born a Pale One, I am different. A freak. White skin where there should be black. Pink where there should be white around my eyes. Brass curls cup my head, when they should be a soft sooty black.

That time they stalked me because of the girl, Taki.
• • •
All I wanted, when the Prior arrived with new toys after the morning service, was to play with Taki and her friends. To be their friend.

Scrawny in his dingy chuba, the holy Prior looked like a crow proud of its scavenging. He pressed the tatty plastic bags, familiar with their red, blue and white logo, into Sub-Prioress Kapera’s clasp and, as he always did, brushed close to whisper his secrets.

The toys were never new: a doll’s clothes, mended with small neat stitches, and a painted truck, dulled by love. Other children had scuffed the newness off them.

That day the younger girls got a ball. We got a game called pick-up-sticks. The shabby box, held together by worn tape, had no instructions. Sub-Prioress Dalia showed us how to play. She let each of us have a turn, until we understood the rules.

When my turn came, I lay on my stomach, crouched close to the sticks because my eyesight already showed the weakness of my kind. I ignored the chatter of the other girls and, with steady patience, diminished the pile, stick by stick.

As the heap next to me grew larger while the one in front disappeared, the buzz of chatter sputtered out. Sub-Prioress Dalia murmured quiet words of encouragement until, as I picked up the last stick, she clapped. ‘Well done, Lulu! Look, girls, Lulu’s got them all!’

Quivering at her praise, I held out the last thin spike. My grin must have looked foolish to the circle of faces around me.

‘Ergh,’ said Taki. ‘The freak can smile.’

‘Don’t look! Don’t look! You’ll go blind,’ another girl shouted. I never could remember afterwards who cried out. The howls of laughter bewildered Sub-Prioress Dalia.
‘Stop!’ she said. ‘Stop at once!’ The meek threat had no effect and, above the chorus of taunts, she added a more forceful one. ‘I’ll fetch Sub-Prioress Kapera to deal with you!’

The door slammed behind her, and they gathered around me like thunderclouds over an anthill. I hunched my shoulders and tucked my head between them as I began my appeal. ‘O Great Spirit King, warrior wild…,’ I chanted. Inadequate protection for what came next, I mumbled on as the first shoe struck, ‘Look upon a little child…’

It had always been clear that they hated me, except perhaps Sub-Prioress Dalia. ‘Pity my simplicity,’ I continued to whisper without hope that my plea would be heard. I did not flinch, because the kicks always came faster when they sensed my fear. ‘And suffer me to come to thee…’

Above the scuffles, we heard Sub-Prioress Dalia’s steps, sharp with anxiety, as she returned. With one last kick, Taki said, ‘You’d better not tell on us, you child of the Levid, or it’ll be worse for you.’ She cast a feral, warning glance at the others. ‘We’ll tell the Controllers she tripped.’

Today, I carry within me the rage born in that moment.

I snarled. A little snarl, one they didn’t hear above their laughter as they gawked at me sprawled in front of them.

They heard the next one, though. It stunned them into immobility and I surged upwards, clenching the red pick-up-stick in my fist. The force I stabbed with pushed it backwards through my palm. I ignored the pain; even welcomed it, as the thin plastic toy became a nail lodged deep in Taki’s leg. I will carry a small, round scar on my hand for the rest of my life. Nothing much. Not compared to my satisfaction at her yowl of pain, her pack around her as they bayed their sympathy.

Before they remembered me, I fled. This time, I didn’t run towards the holding camp court, where the smell of incense and the nova high above the altar used to soothe me. For I had already begun to ask: when has the Spirit King ever answered any of my petitions? Instead, sucking the blood from my wounded palm, I ran outside. I ran through the rose garden I saw on my arrival—three straggly bushes of white roses the Prioress indulged herself with—and over the dry river bed bordering the mountains until I could fling myself beneath the buffalo-thorn hedge. I crawled deep into the filmy branches, their gentle leaves and vicious double-hooked thorns my protection. For aeons, they have collected the spirits of the lonely dead returning home from exile. There, in their dark silence, I was always welcome.
• • •
Later, much later, as I lay on my narrow bed—nothing more than a slab of concrete topped with a thin foam mattress—my face wet with tears of hunger and the exhaustion of my unhappiness, Sub-Prioress Dalia glided in.

‘The Spirit King is your friend,’ she whispered. She placed a slice of bread, lathered with honey, and a glass of warm milk, mixed with a teaspoon of red wine, on the bare pine table next to my bed. ‘You are his beloved,’ she added, ‘so you need to love them. Just love them.’

My rage, so recently birthed, was too great. I turned my face away, away from her and her unbearable words of love. She hesitated, as if she wanted to say more but, without another word, she left as softly as she had come and I smelt the promise in the sweet, sweet fragrance of the single white rose my beloved laid next to my pillow.
• • •

Continue reading about Lulu and her journey in 
Dancing in the Shadows of Love
Print edition available from Amazon (July 2011) 
 Available as an eBook on Amazon , Barnes and Noble or Smashwords
Remember, you can read an eBook 
even if you don't have an eReader by downloading

Monday, 16 May 2011

It Beggar'd All Description

Do you remember what Christmas Eve felt like when you were a child? That sense of heightened anticipation. The hours dragging by. And, underneath it all, the vague disquiet that perhaps Father Christmas never received your list of presents and he'll forget to visit your house...

I'm full of those same mixed feelings, because the release date for my eBook is coming closer and closer. In all the excitement and exhaustion, I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas Day to arrive so I can unwrap my parcels and share them with others. And, underneath those good feelings, I'm filled with an awful sense of disquiet because the moment of truth about my novel is approaching more quickly than I thought.

Here's a sneak preview of the blurb that I'll be posting on the distribution sites such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords and Scribd:

Dancing in the Shadows of Love
(ISBN 978-0-620-49871-5)

After a decade in prison for a murder she did not commit, Lulu begins a new life at the Court of St Jerome in the Old Sea City. An albino, abandoned as a young child at a Holding Camp for unwanted children, she has always been ostracised, for her difference to others makes her an easy victim of prejudice.

Once, she believed, she had a friend to love her. Then that friend betrayed her and Lulu learned that hate is safer than love. But, from Jamila to Granny Zahra, the people of St Jerome’s appear to accept her into their fold. Against a backdrop of never-ending war, the women of the court fight their personal demons: hatred, ambition and greed. As Lulu shares their victories and their losses, she learns to trust again, perhaps even to love.

Nothing, however, is as it seems and Lulu discovers that love does not always wear the face of the one you yearn to call beloved.

This compelling story explores the sacrifices people make in the pursuit of a love that transcends everyday existence. Lulu’s quest, and that of Jamila and Zahra too, is to find the divine love that will fulfil their hopes and save their souls...if they can recognise the masks of those who seek to lead them astray.

What do you think? Does it make you want to peek beneath the wrapping? Do you think the book trailer I made accurately reflects the blurb? Any advice is welcome!

And would you be willing to host me as a guest blogger either as an author interview discussing my novel, or on another topic if you wish, such as a writing tip or a South African interest or a discussion topic? If you would like to host me, please email me so we can set a mutually agreeable date. 
For those of you who like to source their quotes, the title of this post comes from Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra, Act II, Sc ii. 

Friday, 13 May 2011

12 Easy Steps to Make a Book Trailer

Today I'm over at Joel Friedlander's great blog The Book Designer talking about how I made the book trailer for my soon-to-be-released novel Dancing in the Shadows of Love.

Why don't you pop over and join the conversation by CLICKING HERE?

Saturday, 7 May 2011

How to Boost Your Creativity with Freewriting

Today, as my first ever guest blogger, I have the privilege of introducing self-publishing guru, Joel Friedlander (right), who teaches us about the valuable skill of free writing. And here's Joel... 

How to Boost Your Creativity with Freewriting
by Joel Friedlander

Several years ago while looking for activities we could do together, my wife and I joined a writing workshop.

This wasn't your ordinary writing workshop however, where people bring pieces they've written to get critiques or suggestions on how to make their work better or more attractive to publishers.

The entire practice of the workshop was learning and practicing something the teacher called freewriting.

I had never heard of free writing, have you? Since I had paid a fee for the course, I knew it wasn't going to be "writing for free" but I had no idea what was involved.

Freewriting, as I came to learn, is a specific writing practice used by many writers. It's actually both simple to describe, easy to get started at, yet remarkable in its effects and profound in its implications.

How to Freewrite

Freewriting is simple. You'll need whatever you like to write with and a timer. Here's how to get started:

Set your timer—start with 5 minutes or 10 minutes, you can't go wrong here, so pick one.

Pick a prompt—this can be almost anything, but common writing prompts are like ones you’ll find in the wonderful writing books by Natalie. For instance, one I use often is the prompt "I remember..." Another that works well is, "It began ..." You can also use non-verbal prompts, but start with these or similar ones to get going.

Okay, you've got your timer set and your prompt written at the top of the page. When you're ready, take a deep breath to center yourself for your task, let the timer start and begin writing.

Once you start writing, the idea is to write as fast as you can, and to not lift your pen from the page until the timer goes off.

You don’t judge what you are writing, and you don’t try to control it. Your aim is to watch and see what comes out.

If you can write a bit faster than you can think, that's perfect. If you draw a blank and no words come, start writing the prompt again and just keep writing until more words come, because they will.

What Happens in Freewriting

If you try this, I guarantee you'll be surprised at what happens. At the workshop, stories from my past spontaneously rose to the surface, flowing out onto the page. Sometimes the words were fragments or just glimpses of a scene, sometimes they were nonsense, some kind of cross-wiring as my brain tried to keep up the flow of words.

Sometimes they were beautiful images, startling word choices, things that I had no intention of writing but which simply seemed like they were expressing themselves through me.

Over the next two years I kept freewriting every day. I got better at finding prompts, and started a group to freewrite together. Because most of the pieces we were writing were short, we would take turns reading after the timer went off.

What Makes it Work

Here's the secret that makes freewriting work: this is not finished writing like you’re used to. It's more of a direct access to your subconscious. You may find yourself writing surprising things, or violent images, or things that don't make sense to your logical mind, and that's okay.

The secret is that in freewriting we give ourselves permission to write perfectly awful first drafts. We don't judge or criticize or critique the writing in any way. Instead we treat it as raw material, like mining for gold. You're bound to come up with a lot of junk, but there will be gems also.

The effect of giving myself permission to let anything that wanted to come out do so was unbelievably liberating. The idea of a writer's "block" became nonsensical. There is no block in the unconscious mind, it just keeps churning.

This practice has lead me down many other roads. I have a novel that's taking shape from dozens of freewriting sessions. I started a blog where I post an article every day of about 1,000 words. I just published A Self-Publisher's Companion, a book that I hope will be of help to people thinking about getting involved with self-publishing.

I couldn't have done any of this if I hadn't learned and practiced freewriting.

If you're looking for a way to generate new material, to find subjects that may have eluded you, to give yourself a creative jolt, give freewriting a try.

If you'd like more guidance, there's a PDF instruction sheet you can download here: How to Freewrite. Or pick up "Writing Down the Bones" or one of Natalie Goldberg's other books, where she provides many prompts and tells about her own writing practice, which seems like a variation on the freewriting I've described here. You'll be glad you gave it a try.

Even if you only use freewriting to get you "warmed up" for a writing session, it's going to enhance your creativity. And that's a good thing.

Joel Friedlander is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks in San Rafael, California, a publishing services company where he's helped launch many self-published authors. He blogs about book design, writing and self-publishing at http://www.thebookdesigner.com/. Joel is also the author of the newly-published A Self-Publisher's Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish.
I've read Joel's book "A Self-Publisher's Companion" and can highly recommend it, as it's full of practical tips and motivational wisdom. Read my 5* review CLICK HERE.

Joel, thanks so much for sharing your time and wisdom with us!

Monday, 2 May 2011

You Can Do it: A Novel in 90 Days!

Any writer who wants to be successful needs to continue their professional development, irrespective of where they are in their writing career. Established authors, as well as beginner authors, need to refresh their skills and learn new tricks to keep their creative juices flowing.

I find the webinars of Writer’s Digest University an excellent source of courses and literature to grow myself as a writer. The latest webinar I attended, called “Write Your Novel in 90 Days,” was presented by Dr Sarah Domet. Sarah is the author of 90 Days to your Novel. You can read more about her illustrious career on her website http://sarahdomet.com/

I live tweeted part of the webinar and today I’ll expand on those points. Novelists, according to Sarah, are not crazy arty types. Well, not all of them! A large majority of writers are ordered, logical people with good organizational skills. And organisation is the main requirement of writing your novel in 90 days. Without planning, your novel is likely to meander off into the sunset without anything concrete being achieved.

Let’s take a closer look at planning a novel in advance:

• Set a definite start and end date for your novel
• Use an outline
• Assess marketability of your novel
• Write daily

Setting a Date: 90 days or 90 months, set a definite time period in which you want to complete your first draft. Stephen King says that 90 days is the ideal time period for the completion of a first draft. But we’re not all the master of horror. The key is to commit to any set period that suits your personality and life style, draft a detailed schedule and then hold yourself accountable for meeting those goals. Without a definite start and end date, your novel could end up like Casaubon’s great work in George Eliot’s Middlemarch: unfinished!

Use an Outline: It’s a myth that outlining is a restrictive process that stunts creativity. Rather, outlining promotes creativity. A good outline will show your story’s narrative arc and you can use it to work out any errors of logic before you begin to write, rather than wasting time on twists and turns that lead nowhere. Find an outlining method that suits your personality.

• If you’re a linear thinker you may prefer the traditional method, which details every scene, every character and every plot point in advance.
• If you’re a non-linear thinker, you may prefer the sign-post method. With this method you make loose notes—use cards or post-it notelets—providing just enough detail to keep you on target.
A visual thinker, such as myself, would prefer the flow chart method. Using a bulletin board or a white board, you can create a physical representation of your novel.

Assess Marketability: You’re a writer, not a marketer. But it’s important that, before starting your masterpiece, you understand your market. This is different to writing what you think the readers want. No one can plan to write a best seller. Rather understand your themes and then assess which readers will be interested in such story and whether there is enough universal appeal to justify your efforts. Your great-aunt Mary might love to read the adventures of the family pup descended from a great-great-Grandfather’s first pet, but will the rest of the reading world care?

Write Daily: Forget inspiration. Rely on habit. Make time in your day to write something every day, or at least every other day. You’ll have to tell your family and friends about your writing goals. Let them know how important those goals are to you. Then make the necessary sacrifices and write! write! write!

You’ll be able to get more details on how to write your novel in 90 days by investing in Sarah Domet’s 90 Days to your Novel. Use this book as a reference and soon you’ll be writing the two most important words you’ll ever write: THE END!