Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Interview with Author Matt Posner

Buy it HERE!
It's been a while since we've had an author interview on here, so grab a cuppa and and have a seat. Matt Posner, author of the School of the Ages series is here to discuss...well, his books, among other things. From the snippets I've read, I have to say this series looks to be a fun ride about a kid in NYC who attends a quirky school of magic.

Without further ado, welcome to Unwritten again, Matt. And I say again because you've been here before, as the winner of the "What'd Ya Say" dialogue writing contest in August of last year. Now, tell us a little about yourself. What do you do when you're not writing about magically-inclined teenagers?

When not writing about magically-inclined teenagers, I write about other things. :-)
I'm a high school teacher. I teach English and I specialize in kids with learning disabilities.
I also tutor for SAT and other types of test preparation.
Also, I'm a voice and musical performer for The Exploration Project, an avant-garde multimedia band. I write and perform original poetry and use a variety of percussion and electronic instruments. There are some of our tracks on my youtube channel mixed in with my promotional videos. My Kindle book Vampire Poet has a good selection of the poetry I perform. The group also contains a guitarist who does electronica, a horn player who does electronica, and a painter. Our performances are always mostly improvised. We don't rehearse, but evolve our music as we go by reacting to each other.

I've been perusing your book's website, and came across this description:
The School of the Ages series, set to be five books in length, tells the tale of the young magician Leicester Moore, who calls himself Simon Magus, as he develops his magical power at America's Greatest Magic School -- School of the Ages. Simon is accompanied in his painful growth by an exciting cast of allies and enemies, including his best friend, Goldberry, a tart-tongued and beautiful English girl; Robbie Ravitz, his roommate who likes to summon elementals; Yakov Mermelstein, a big and volatile Chasidic cabalist; his stern teacher Dr. Solomon Archer; and many many more. It's NOT Harry Potter -- it's real magic in the world we know -- it's School of the Ages. 
I can see why some might compare your books to Harry Potter, so for the sake of our readers here, what makes School of the Ages (and its protagonist Simon) different from that other series?

My series have a definite American flavor, and they’re multicultural, incorporating characters and magical traditions that are very diverse. This reflects the melting-pot character of New York City, the main setting. Also, my magic system is very realistic, and you will feel like you are learning magic the way people would really do it if they did it. There is no whimsy, no allegorical names. I’m realistic and I’m serious. Also, the events in the story are tied into the real world. Simon, my protagonist, and his friends aren’t living in a separate isolated realm, but in the same society that we live in, and their feelings are truthful, raw and painful. I’m not making a mythology, and I’m not telling a story about ultimate evil and prophecy and the ultimate conflict, but a story about people. As Simon and the others grow up, we will see how they mature and change as they confront challenges, but those challenges are close and personal to them.

Oh, and I use religion in my books. Magic comes from God, and religious beliefs and history are incorporated and explored.

Also, I can’t help it, being a teacher:  all the teachers at School of the Ages are good. Not a wicked, selfish, cruel one in the bunch. They are all there because they want to help and take care of kids, just like the teachers I see with every day in the city high school where I work.

But J.K. Rowling is better-looking than me; she wins that point. 

Mysti: As any true gentleman would admit.

If I had it to do again, I would not write about a magic school because I think it is hurting sales when people think my books are Harry Potter knockoffs, but some day they will be saying my stuff is better.

Have you always wanted to be a writer, or did you have other occupations on your "when I grow up" list?

I decided when I was twelve that I wanted to be a writer. I began writing novels immediately, and submitted my first novel to a publisher when I was sixteen. It didn’t work out, but I got pretty close!

While I was in college, I decided to train to be a college professor also. I’m actually pretty good at that job, but the profession took a nose dive in the early 90s with the nigh-elimination of the tenure track system, and I decided to move on and train to teach high school. In New York City, it’s a union job with benefits and security, the best thing I could seek for my wife and me. Five years later, Mayor Bloomberg decided to begin attacking my union, and his media tools have engaged in systematic assault upon my profession as part of really a nationwide anti-teacher movement. So it’s a scary time for the teaching profession. Guys, we love kids! It’s not our fault! Teaching has become the only profession in which experienced people are considered inferior to young and inexperienced ones. The young teachers don’t think that – they always come to us veterans for support and ideas. Only the people trying to cut salaries have the ludicrous view that all experienced teachers are incompetent leeches. WE AREN’T. One more time, we love your kids, we get better with experience, and we work hard. Please stop trying to fire us!  

Mysti: Amen, Matt! Teachers are my heroes!

From my snooping, I discovered that you moved to NYC from Florida in 1999. How has that move influenced your career, and what are the ins an outs of living in such a large city?

Did you hear that Nietzsche wrote “Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger”? Yes, he did write it, but he wrote it as an example of the foolish beliefs of uneducated people. If you say, “Overcoming obstacles by hard struggle makes me stronger,” then you are closer to a usable statement. And that’s New York. If I had stayed in Florida, I might not have made much progress in my career. Florida was economically dead then, and it’s worse now. Being exposed to the hard-knocks life of New York City makes you stronger, as it has for me. I work harder and complain less and have more ideas in the city than I did in Miami. People are nicer and drive more safely here than they do in South Florida, incidentally. 

Mysti: I have yet to travel to NYC, but my husband did and was pleasantly surprised at how nice everyone was--even to him, a Kentucky boy!

The ins and outs of living in such a large city – well, for me, it’s about squeezing the most out of time. I always want to be doing something during the day. While driving, I do a lot of creative thinking and use audiobooks and podcasts and Kindle text-to-speech reader in order to take in information. Even at home, if we’re watching TV, I have my iPad on my lap. I read magazines in the bathroom. I check my email in the middle of the night. The hugeness of the city is manageable if you focus on the parts of it you need to frequent. I almost never go to the Bronx or Staten Island or the northern part of Manhattan Island.

It looks like you earned your MFA (Masters in Fiction Writing) from the University of Alabama in 1996. I've asked this of other authors. Did you find the program worth it in terms of time and money spent, and would you recommend other aspiring writers to consider getting their MFA?

I wanted to be a college professor. The MFA is the final degree for a professor of creative writing, although the Ph.D. is better. I got the degree with the goal of moving on to be an academic fiction professor. I didn’t spend any money to go to Alabama, as I had a fellowship and then two years of teaching assistantships. I definitely got my money’s worth. It was a bitter place full of infighting, and I soon became a pariah when I was perceived as an arrogant intellectual bully. Ultimately, none of the regular creative-writing professors were willing to sponsor my thesis, and they brought in a guest faculty member to take care of me and a few others in the same position. That professor, upon reviewing my work, told me he was surprised to see how high-quality was the work of the students he had been asked to handle. We had political problems; we weren’t poor writers, you know? So I think it was a pretty bad experience. I had writer’s block for almost TEN YEARS after that. I am now starting to reconnect with my classmates of that time, very slowly, using Facebook, and perhaps I will bring some of them over in time to the ranks of subversive indies like you and me, Mysti! 

Mysti: If you bring them, I will interview them--it's Field of Dreams, Unwritten-style!

I do not recommend MFA programs or academic fiction training for aspiring writers. Academic writing is different than the kind of writing that sells, and I don’t find that MFAs have a better track record than people with other types of writing-intensive education.

If you've seen any of my other author interviews here, you know everyone gets a random question. Here is yours: What is on the walls of the room in which you are sitting?

Buy it HERE!
There is a photograph of the Eiffel Tower in scaffolding in Paris, and two paintings of flowers, and a Ganesha clock. Also in the room are two small color field paintings by my wife and a miniature of a snowy landscape, some ceramics, and a picture of me in Prague; these things are all on the bookshelves amid the books. Not hung yet are a woodcarving of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer made by my late grandfather, Morris Posner; and a scary-looking kabuki doll given to my wife Julie by our friend James Rogauskas, the author of Office Haiku. I am listening to a CD called Asian Drums by Kiyoshi Yoshida and I have on the desk by me the audiobook of Adam Mansbach’s Go the F* to Sleep

Mysti: Thank you for giving me a nightmare about scary-looking kabuki dolls. *shudder*

Finally, Mr. Posner, would you mind sharing an excerpt from the School of the Ages series?

Sure. Here’s a sample from book two, Level Three’s Dream. Simon has just met Level Three and is learning about his unusual mental power.
 I was standing on a dirt road with grassy slopes on either side. Pine trees and large boulders and a rippling brook were nearby. The sun shone in a cloudless sky. Booming thumps from behind me. I turned. 
A man the size of a building was behind me. He wore leather sandals, a loincloth, and a Robin Hood hat and held a wooden club as long as a pickup truck. 
“Fee fi fo fun,” he trumpeted. “I am the giant Cormoran. I smell the blood of a magician.” 
Was this some kind of mind trick I’d never heard of before? I didn’t like it, and I wanted out. I responded. “Fee fi fo fred. Get off my case and go soak your head.” 
The giant’s shadow engulfed me as he lowered his face toward me. That face was Level Three’s face turned monstrous. His breath was like a taco restaurant dumpster. “I’ll hurt you, little boy.” 
“You look like a giant,” I said, “but you need to grow up.”
           I saw the girl, Lorena, step into the shadow next to me. “Let him go, Linus,” she said calmly.

          “He interrupted me,” said the giant. “He’s a little jerk.”

           I struggled for some weapon or technique I could use against him. Could I be a giant too? Or create a sword? I tried to reach behind me for a rock, as I had in my real-world fight that day, but nothing happened. I was totally helpless, trapped in Level Threes world. Lorena kept scolding her brother.

           Then I was back in Amsterdam Auditorium. I was on the edge of panic, my breaths coming fast. He had made me lose my cool, in a way the fight earlier had not. My continuous defense, taught to me by the School of the Ages teachers, was gone, too. Wobbly, I grabbed him by the shirt front. “I’ll kill you if you do that again,” I shouted at him. “I will kill you, you hear me?” 

Thank you SO much for appearing on Unwritten. I do hope you can make it back here very soon!


Matt is giving away the first four (4) handwritten, signed pages of his manuscripts for The Ghost in the Crystal and Level Three's Dream, shipped by him to a US or Canadian winner!

Please take advantage of this very unique prize and leave a comment with your email like this: mystiparker(at)yahoo(dot)com.

I will draw a winner exactly one week from today. Good luck!!

Don't worry! Your manuscript will be soaked in lime
and scraped clean before it is hung to dry. Not really.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Facing Your Giants

We all have them, casting their dark shadows on everything we try to accomplish. They won't leave us alone, no matter where we travel or how much we try to drown them out with stupid reality shows and cheap wine. They're the giants of our past struggles. Our pain. Our heartaches and regrets.

As writers, we are tempted to write anything BUT what those giants represent. Re-visiting them is too hard. It opens us up and makes us vulnerable again. We might even shed a tear or become so depressed thinking about it, that we won't be productive again the rest of the day.

But I say it's high time we faced those giants head on. Because when we do, it will give our stories the emotional impact they need to grab the reader and never let go.

Call it pawning the giants off on some innocent reader if you like. Hey, they asked for it when they picked up a book to read, didn't they? They weren't looking for a book about macrame--they were looking for a story that would move them in some way.

I'm not talking about nonfiction, as in memoirs, biographies, or autobiographies, as those will have some different rules. You can't expect to write about Aunt Angie's hideous bunions that gave you nightmares and not expect her or her progeny to be offended. I'm talking about fiction and how you can use your real experiences to fuel the events of your FICTIONAL characters.

Though it can be very hard, sometimes you gotta look those giants in the eyes and tell them exactly how you feel by transplanting your actual emotions to the page. 

Grief for instance, is not an easy giant to face. It took me years to be able to write about my mother's death, but when I wrote about Caliphany's father's death in A Ranger's Tale, I might as well have been writing about that awful day in 2003. When my mom died, I remember the foggy night of the visitation at the funeral home. I stood by her coffin. She was dressed in the pretty pink skirt and blouse she had worn at my wedding. The flowers were pretty. Music droned from hidden speakers, alternating between calm instrumentals and old hymns I'd heard my mother sing in church since I was big enough to understand the words. Except this time, I didn't hear the words. I only recognized the melodies when they managed to pierce my consciousness enough to break through my grief. And then there were the people. They streamed in, one after the other, old and young, and I remember some older ladies saying something about not having seen me since I was a baby. There were condolences, hugs, and tears, but unless I look back at the guest registry, I couldn't tell you who exactly was there other than my husband and brother.

Hard as it was, I had to tap into that grief and let Caliphany express it as she stood like I had, strong, yet weakened by her loss, as she was here:

     I half expected him to walk across the pavilion, the waves of people parting as he passed. That mountain of a man, leveled to nothing before my eyes. I took the hands of faceless guests, nodded my acknowledgement of their condolences, and prayed for something, anything, to take our pain away.

The morning after my mom died, I remember waking up in her house, in my old room. Sunlight brightened the windows. Birds sang in the walnut trees. It was a beautiful October morning, but the house was too quiet. Her kitchen radio wasn't playing the local buy/sell/trade call-in show. There was no smell of bacon or sausage or her funny admonitions of "Stop that!" when the grease would pop out and burn her hands. Life had dared to go on without her.

Caliphany had to face her father's absence from life too.

     The manor seemed so lifeless when I visited my mother the next morning. Without Father there, the place was too vast, like a labyrinth of endless space. Clocks ticked, insistent reminders of time moving on when we didn't want it to.

Remember, you can base your characters' struggles on yours, but they are NOT YOU, so draw from conflicts you have read, heard about, or seen to add variety and originality. 

Take Serenya, for instance, in Serenya's Song. She was bullied in school for her deformity, as I was for the scars on my cheeks and my glasses. As bullying can do, it left a long-lasting impression on me (and her) in terms of crippling low self-esteem. I am very fortunate to have never been the victim of domestic violence, but I used what I've seen and read to portray how Serenya's poor self-image makes her vulnerable to the cruelty of her husband.

     He grabbed my fingers and bent them back until the tendons stretched and protested with pain. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from crying out. My heart pounded a warning in my ears. Hot, alcohol-laden breath, a mixture of ale and brandy, steamed through Sebastian’s clenched teeth, heating my face with its putrid stench.      
I tried to pull away from him, but he pushed closer, trapping my body between him and the desk. “Please,” I whispered as the hot sting of tears blurred my vision, “you’ve been drinking. Go to bed and sleep it off.”      
Sebastian’s grip loosened a bit. He brought my fingers to his lips and sucked the tips one by one. His tongue lingered on each pointed nail.  “You see,” he said, pausing between my middle and ring finger, “I’m the only one who can love you like this.”    
“I know."

And lucky for Serenya, I gave her a strong ally in Lillyanne. Wish I'd have had her growing up!

    Dear Lillyanne Sawyer—it was so good to see her again. A few years older than me, she was like the big sister I never had, even though I’d passed her halfling height years ago. I think she pummeled every school kid who ever looked at me the wrong way.

My husband and I grew up in a small town. We moved back to another one shortly after our first child was born. Relocating to an unfamiliar small town is harder, I think, than relocating to a city, where there are plenty of other transplants like yourself. It took us a full nine years to start feeling like we belonged in the last town we lived in. Though we did make some very good friends, we couldn't shrug off that "You're not from around here, are you?" mentality. And the gossip...oh the gossip! Every time I sat in the local hair salon, I heard dirt on people I didn't know from Adam (I guess because I "wasn't from around there").

Unlike Serenya, I didn't face anyone shunning me over a physical deformity, but I played up the uglier bits of small town politics I'd witnessed to show how Serenya and Jayden both face scrutiny in their little town of Summerwind. Take this conversation Serenya overhears in the tavern:

     “What happened to Lady Crowe?” 
     "You know she’s different—always wears those gloves.”       
   “Something’s not right. I knew it ever since Barnaby and that daughter of his moved here.”

I know many friends who have been the unfortunate victims of racism and prejudice, and I don't think I'd have taken it with half the grace that they have. Jayden (a wood-elf) experiences some racism as he's investigating the occurrences involving a strange portal. The halfling farmers are not happy in the least:

Photo by Acwaith,

           The farmers grumbled in their Haddo tongue. Shade edged her horse closer to Zephyrus. Perri put himself between us and the farmers. I settled my hand on the hilt of my sword. If they took their frustrations out on Perri, I’d have to do something I would really regret.
            He held his hands palm out, mimicking my gesture to placate them. “Ye all go back home now. Jay and the others will take care of this. Give ‘em time.”
            Most of them turned to walk away. The last farmer who spoke lowered his scythe, but wagged a stubby finger at us. “I’ll have ye know, we don’t trust yer kind here, especially ye city-dwellers. We take care of our own.”

My point in all this blathering on is that, no matter how hard it is, you need to face those giants if you want to add an authentic ring to your fictional story. I think many people equate the advice of "write what you know" to specific occupations and skills. Like being a forensic pathologist so you can accurately write a crime thriller. But, it goes a lot deeper than that. If you've never experienced the loss of a loved one or have never witnessed anyone else's grief, how can you accurately portray that? If you've never faced racism or bullying or never known someone who has, how can you get that across effectively on the page? 

Even if you're young and inexperienced, I bet you have a giant or two you can use to fuel your writing.
Delve deep, find those giants that are lurking in your psyche and use them to your advantage. It's cathartic, therapeutic, and will give you a story your readers won't forget. 

What giants have YOU faced in your writing or hope to face in the future? 

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Review of "Return to Me" by Tara Fox Hall

Buy it HERE!
At just twenty-two pages, this story may be short, but it's jam-packed with sentimental, paranormal goodness. Tara Fox Hall brings us a love story in which half of the participants are from beyond the grave.

Samantha Reading loves spending the summer at her family's vacation property. Until one fateful night when the strange noises and footsteps materialize into something unexpected--a full-fledged ghost.

Harrison Benning built the house that Sam and her family now enjoy. Way back in 1816, that is. Unfortunately, he met an untimely demise and is bound to the property, but can only become solid one one night a year--the summer solstice.

As soon as young Sam and Harrison meet, and after she gets over her initial shock, they form an instant connection. Since she was just a teenager, I was glad it didn't progress beyond that for a few years. Finally, on that one night when Harrison can touch her, the two of them can't resist each other any longer, and it's that moment you wait for in every romance novel.

But it doesn't end there. Years pass and things change, but really only for Sam. It was painful to read about Harrison's suffering as he waited for her to return to him. Sometimes, she didn't, and sometimes she did, but he was forced to watch her move on as a mortal young woman would.

The only thing that never changed was their love for one another, even across decades and beyond.

I enjoyed this short read from Ms. Hall. Her writing style is light and easy, and she doesn't shy away from some really painful events. The only thing I wanted was more about Harrison. I didn't feel like I knew him as well as I'd like. However, for a powerfully moving, paranormal love story, I give Return to Me a solid 4.5 stars!

I'd recommend this story for adults who enjoy short, rather spicy romance. Grab your copy today!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Review of "Domingo's Angel" by Jenny Twist

Buy it HERE!
It's been a while since a book pulled at heart strings I didn't even know were there. Jenny Twist has delivered a tale that delves so deep, it will leave a lasting impression in anyone lucky enough to read it.

The story begins in a tiny mountain village in post-WWII Spain. A pale-skinned, red-haired woman who "barks like a dog" and carries some sort of witch's book has bought a house there and has the whole place in an uproar. A lowly goat herder by the name of Domingo is the first one to approach her. She could be either witch or an angel for all he knows. But whatever the case, he is instantly enchanted by her sweet charm.

Angela, who is actually just an English woman looking for a fresh start, becomes known as Domingo's Angel. The two of them are inseparable, and their romance forms a warm undercurrent throughout the book. However, what I found most clever about this story is that Angela's arrival does more than just spawn gossip. Her presence uncovers some very real wounds, but in a good way.

Everyone suffered tremendous losses in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). They had done well to push past their grief and get on with the business of living. But, they hadn't really found closure, and they hadn't really healed. Angela helps them do just that, particularly the formidable Rosalba, the town's most important (and feared) woman. And in return, Angela also finds closure for her painful past.

I absolutely loved the way Ms. Twist weaved together the real-time events of Angela, Domingo, and the townspeople with the past atrocities the people around them had to survive. Instead of being info-dumpy as a lot of backstory can be in novels, she wrote it in seamlessly. Characters that came across in the beginning as cold and aloof became so very real and human as I read about their struggles.

Besides the story itself, I love Ms. Twist's writing style. It's smooth, vivid, and lyrical--just a pleasure to read. If I hadn't had to stop to eat, work, and sleep, I'd have finished it in a day. And that's rare for me.
If you're looking for a great read, look no further. I'd recommend Domingo's Angel for young adults and beyond, particularly those fond of sweet, historical romance. You'll be glad you did!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Why All The Drama??

I don't know if it's the position of the moon or if Saturn misaligned with Uranus (tee hee), but I've seen some serious online drama unfolding this week on various websites. See the llama? He's not amused.

Let's be clear. I avoid online drama (or real-life drama, for that matter) like the plague. And I've not been involved in any of these recent online quarrels. But...just from being present in the general vicinity, I've picked up on the current of negativity. One word, peeps. Privacy!

You're shaking your head and really wanting to pound those keys and unleash your own drama llama avatar...I know. I can feelz it. Refrain! Why? Because your online dramas don't just affect the ones you're sparring with. It leaks out all over the social networks and brings us all down.

I'm moody enough, people. Just ask my husband.

Just to illustrate, picture this....I'm swimming in the warm currents of posts about a baby's first poop, or cat caption pictures that make me squirt coffee out my nose, or wondering why cousin Al even bothers getting married when his relationship status changes every equinox. And whammo! Here comes the drama riptide dragging me down. Somebody did something to somebody, and I have no idea how or why. All I know is nasty words are flying about like mutated fireflies and there's all these !!! everywhere.

How am I supposed to enjoy my coffee and go back to anything productive after all that? Honestly!

Please don't make me give you the Drama Llama Award. I've heard it's 10x heavier than an Oscar and smells like my uncle Daryl's feet.

Save the drama for your mama or your llama or better it in private!!! If you have an issue with someone or a group of someones, send private messages or emails. If they don't stop what you consider harassing, IGNORE it. Stay away from the venue for a while. Supposedly, there are other things to do besides being online. That's what I've heard anyway.

Not unlike that Kevin Costner movie from long ago..."If you ignore it, it will go away." Really. It does. Don't respond, and eventually, they'll stop too.

Better yet, don't even engage in a public forum in the first place. That's the first mistake. Because, once you do, the you-know-what hits the fan, and that crap's hard to wash out of the pleather. The negativity spewing over into innocent bystanders' surfing time makes them want to ditch the place. And that's a shame. We shouldn't be running anyone else off because we're too riled up to step away and cool down. YOU be the wiser one and engage privately. If the other person refuses to do the same, THEN ignore. They'll move on to better activities, like Scottish boar wrestling. I know this from experience.

**Disclaimer--This is in no way targeted to one or even a few individuals. It's a comprehensive warning to all you drama llamas out there, though I'm certain the compulsion to think "It's all about me!" will strike. So, if I see yet one negative post HERE, into da trash it goes. Why? Cause dis is MY blog, dat's why! 

Respectful, positive, and witty comments are welcome! Until next your mama, kill a llama.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

O' Theme, Where Art Thou?

Among the various writing how-to books on my shelf, Stephen King's On Writing is the one I absorbed the most. And not just because he remains a favorite author of mine, but because his advice was rational and came straight from his own experience. From the trenches, so to speak.

One such practical topic was on theme. Everyone knows from grade school how to look for the theme of a story. I've seen writers stress over this. How on God's green earth do you write toward a theme? According to Mr. King, you don't.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write that doggone story to the best of your ability. Make sure your characters, plot, setting, and all the guts of said story are solid and relatively polished. THEN, go back and look for the themes. Like the sodden earthworms that emerge after a downpour, your themes will emerge after the story is completed. Now, it's your time to go back and tweak those themes to make them have more impact.

Why even worry about it in the first place? Because theme is more than just a lofty moral lesson. It answers the age-old question of "What's the point?". If you cultivate a strong theme(s), your readers will walk away with your story lingering in their minds, instead of turning on the Playstation, never to think about it again.

Since I love examples, I'll use A Ranger's Tale as one. As I wrote it, I remained mindful to not be mindful (um...yeah) of the themes in the story. When I worked on the final drafts, I started looking for them, and what do ya know? I spotted themes of loyalty, forgiveness, and making the right decisions even when they're not the easiest ones.

To my surprise, Caliphany turned out to be one of the most loyal characters in the book. Sure, she was impetuous, naive, and downright stubborn to a fault, but deep down, she remained loyal to her family and friends, even when she felt betrayed by them. I made sure to bring this aspect to light in how she handled situations with some of the other characters, making sure she never completely abandoned those people, but experienced realistic hurt and inner turmoil over her decisions regarding them.

The theme of forgiveness came about through Galadin's interactions with the Juntay family, who were old family friends of his parents. I won't give away any spoilers, but his story with them was probably the one that touched me the most in the whole book. Forgiveness can also be seen through Caliphany's interactions with her father and Jayden Ravenwing. In her case, both she AND the other parties made mistakes, so I made sure their paths back to one another were not easy, particularly the relationship with her father. I added a few little scenes to make their journey back to forgiveness real. Because, in real life, forgiveness really is a journey, particularly when the hurt runs deep.

Now that I'm finished with Serenya's Song, I've found a strong theme that ran throughout the story. I suspected such a theme going into it, so on my final drafts, I made certain to bring it to light.

Would you just tell us already?!

All right, all right. It's a theme close to my heart, and one that I drew on from my own life, which speaks to the "write what you know" advice you've probably heard before. It's the theme of a father's love, particularly when the child isn't biologically his.

It all really started with Jayden in A Ranger's Tale. And again, I won't ruin it for those of you who haven't read it yet. But, as you'll see in the prologue for SS, Douglas Barnaby risked life and limb to save his stepdaughter, Serenya, when her mother died during childbirth. He outran some pretty deadly creatures to get the tiny infant to safety. And as you'll see from chapter one onward, he raised and loved her as a single dad and made plenty of sacrifices to ensure her happiness and survival.

In early drafts, I had Douglas more in the background, but as the story went on, I realized he needed a bigger presence. He deserved it after that life and death run! I made sure to make this theme into both a connector for Jayden and Douglas and to make it a driving force in some of the biggest events in the story. In fact, the scenes in which the theme is strongest are the ones that brought the most tears to my eyes.

Bet you're just dying to read it now, aren't ya?

But, let's talk theme. Writers, share with me your thoughts on themes. Do you consciously work toward them in your story or just let them emerge organically? What are some of your favorite or strongest themes you've employed in your stories?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Catching Up is Hard To Do

Photo courtesy of
Kinda like breakin' up, with less snot and tears.

Congratulations to Shadow, who won a copy of A Ranger's Tale, from the Romancing the Book Blog Hop.

Congratulations to Christine, who won a copy of Ghosts of Rosewood Asylum by Stephen Prosapio, from his blog tour and giveaway.

Congratulations to all the peeps who have answered the trivia questions correctly on my Facebook Fan Page. You'll get your copies of Serenya's Song as soon as I have a final one back in my bony little hands. I'll keep posting those daily (sometimes twice a day if I'm feeling ornery enough). You'll have to read A Ranger's Tale to know the answers, but it's super easy to order. Scroll along on the sidebar, and you'll see a few links for it. It's at Melange Books, Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and a bunch of other online places.

Photo Courtesy of
Last but not least, thanks to everyone who is reading and voting for the "Love at First Sight" writing contest submissions. Keep the votes coming in by spreading the word. I'm already thinking about the next contest topic, and I think it will involve death or evil monkeys. I can't decide. Maybe death BY evil monkeys. Bwahahahaha!

Next on my list is to catch up with feedback for my critique partners and for a writer buddy and to prepare a couple of interviews that will appear next week. And sometime VERY soon, I've got to jump back into full-fledged writing. I've got to quiet all the voices in my head, screaming at me for their turn on the page.

I'm the tortoise, baby, slow and steady, though there may be some snot and tears along the way!


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Nothing Is Ever Really Free

Everything comes with a price, and this is no exception. If you want to win an e-copy of Serenya's Song when it's released in April, you'll have to visit (and like) my author page on Facebook:

AND you'll have to answer a trivia question about A Ranger's Tale, Book One of my series.

See? There's always a catch...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cast Your Vote for the best "Love At First Sight" Scene!

The finalists have been chosen. Five of the thirteen entries were deemed interesting by my blind hubby, who is actually not a blind man, in case you're wondering. All that means is that I removed all names and had no say whatsoever in his choices.

So, without further are the top five, in no particular order. Read and vote (from the poll in the sidebar) for your favorite. The poll will be open for two weeks, so let others know about it too. I'm also making a static page under my header so you can direct folks there to read the entries. 

Review of "Visions" by Anna James

Buy it HERE!
If you like short reads filled with passion and intrigue, this novella by Anna James might be right up your alley.

The story begins when Prudence (Pru) Bailey arrives in Salem, Massachusetts to acquire the house her parents owned when she was born. The relative who raised her admitted that both her parents both met their untimely demise at the hands of her father in an apparent murder/suicide. Though too little to remember the events of that tragic night, immediately after moving in, she's haunted by visions of what really happened, though the killer's identity remains a mystery.

Detective Matt Cavanaugh remembered how scared Pru was as a little girl back then, and is intrigued by her visions. He's determined to find the truth and dispel the rumors of hauntings and madness surrounding the house. He's a sexy, protective guy and provides good hero material.

Pru and Matt share an instant attraction, which leads to some pretty hot (though not overly-graphic) love scenes. Pru's visions are vivid and interesting, and the story culminates with a nice, and unexpected, twist.

On the downside, Pru and Matt's relationship felt rushed, and a little bit of expansion on that aspect would have given it more impact for me. However, for quick read with a paranormal, sexy slant, it was worth it.

I'd recommend this story for adults who enjoy a short, hot, tale of murder and mayhem. But don't take my word for it. Grab your own copy today!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review of "Raeliksen" by Renee Vincent

Click HERE for purchase links!
In a word: WOW.

I stumbled upon Renee Vincent quite by accident online, and after discovering she was a fellow Kentucky gal AND wrote historical romance, I had to purchase the first two books in her Emerald Isle Trilogy. It took a while for me to finally get to Book One in my reading list, and I'm so glad I did.

It had been a while since I'd read a historical romance, especially one set in 10th century Ireland. I can't claim to be a history buff, but every detail, from Viking customs to speech patterns rang true. The writing is exquisite, and the characters grew on me, even most of the support cast, whose numbers weren't scanty.

The story begins with young Mara, an Irish princess who has caught the eye of Daegan Raeliksen, son of a Nordic king. It's love at first sight for Daegan, but not for Mara, who believes that all of his kind are murderous and cruel. He saves her from a horde of his fellow Northmen, whisking her as far from them (and consequently her home) as possible, and deciding that on the way, he'll convince her to fall in love with him and make her his wife.

Their journey together is one of extreme peril, betrayal, and war in the midst of their compelling and heart-wrenching romance. You can't read this book and NOT be rooting for this couple to find peace at last. The love scenes between them were simply beautiful, becoming bolder as the two of them explored their shared passions.

Daegan was wonderfully cast as both hardened warrior and tender lover when it came to Mara. Even though she was young and naive, she brought out the best in him. Especially endearing to me was how she encouraged him to finally embrace the faith of her God and let go of the violent nature of his pagan gods. As any man worth respecting, he was also devoted to his family, particularly his mother and younger brother. I got pretty teary-eyed on a few scenes he shared with them.

The only issues I had with the book were pretty minor. Within some scenes, the point-of-view changed from one character to the next abruptly, which was a little jarring until I got used to it. Also, at the very beginning, I wished Daegan had more incentive to fall for Mara other than her just being young and pretty while she rode her horse by the River Shannon. She did grow from naive princess to a strong woman by the time the story was over, which pleased me greatly.

I have to say, there were points that I ranted and raved, laughed, cried, and pounded my fist on the table. But, I won't offer spoilers, because you just have to experience Raeliksen for yourself. I'll be reading the next two in the series, MacLiam and The Fall of Rain as soon as I can.

I highly recommend this book for any historical romance fans out there, particularly if you enjoy Irish/Nordic settings. It won't disappoint!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Updates and Such

I've gotten in 13 entries for the Love at First Sight writing contest. I have decided to narrow these down to the top FIVE thusly:

An impartial judge (my hubby), who wouldn't know any of you from Adam, will receive printed versions of your entries, with your names removed. If you can catch his short attention span with your snippets,  you'll be chosen. I will then add all the finalists' entries to a new post and open voting so all you dear Unwritten followers can vote on your favorite. I'll be emailing each participant with that link as soon as this is finished.

Don't fret if you don't make it this time around. I have decided I like hosting contests, so I'll do them fairly regularly. 

And just another note: I noticed too late that some early entries went over the 500 word limit. From now on, I will have to be more strict on accepting these so as to be fair to those who remain within the guidelines. Not that this is a ginormous contest, nor am I a word count Nazi. I just want to be fair to all involved. Savvy?


Thanks to everyone who signed up for a spot in my March author series. We're all full up now. I think it will be really fun and informative for all involved. Do try to send in your guest post (along with your promo info) sooner than later. I can draft them early and just hit "publish post" on your special day. I'll try to email you when yours comes up too, but I'll also be posting on FB, Twitter, and here for you to see.

If this goes well, I'll see about having another series later in the year. Stay tuned!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Wanna See A Sneak Peek?

Check out the prologue for Serenya's Song! I made a new page. It's subject to the editor's axe as of yet, but I think the meat of it will be the same. I'm not sure you can comment there, so feel free to comment here on this post.

Curious Cat is Curious

Thursday, February 9, 2012

How I Edit, Part One + The Best Review EVER!!!

Editing for me is a never-ending process. Serenya's Song has seen more drafts than a Budweiser factory. Now that I'm in the last stretch, I'm cutting things down to the nitty gritty.

I believe it was EB White who told William Strunk, Jr. (Elements of Style) to "Omit needless words."

I've taken that advice to heart. Extra words can bog down the pace and make the reading experience bumpy. I have a whole list of words I look for in final revisions to make sure there's not a plague of them. Some of those are (drumroll please)...

of                appeared to        that             looked            almost     after
at me          seemed to           when          nodded            just          heard
at him         down                  while           very                 well          saw
at her          up                      then            really                so            felt
began to     that                    as                nearly              before     

None of these words are "wrong". But just like adverbs, we tend to resort to them to get our point across a little too blatantly. <---Adverb!! (gasp)  These words can often be omitted to smooth out a sentence. If you come across words like appeared, seemed, or began to in your writing, you can usually reword to make the sentence more active. And if we're in a specific character's POV, we usually don't need to be told they saw, felt, or heard. If you're looking out a window, do you think to yourself, "I'm looking at the neighbor's dog eating our garbage for the fourteenth time."?

Examples: The force field appeared to wobble. (weaker)

                  The force field wobbled. (stronger)

                  Jayden saw Serenya sitting at the piano in her pretty red dress. (weaker)

                  Serenya sat at the piano in her pretty red dress. (stronger)

And now for a little example of how I take out unneeded actions. Take this little excerpt from Serenya's Song, Chapter 13, for instance (in Jayden's POV):

The path brightened as we rode out of the trees. Serenya reined in her horse at the edge of the clearing. I halted Trick beside her. She smiled and inclined her head toward the scenery in front of us. I’d seen it this morning from another vantage point, but now the afternoon sun and the appreciation in Serenya’s eyes brought the place to life. The huge vineyard striped the rolling hills. Rows of trellises loaded with corbet vines treated my eyes to a sea of golden fall color.
I looked at Serenya. She (Serenya) wore a proud smile. “I know you’ve already seen it, but isn’t it beautiful here?”
“It’s remarkable.”
She dismounted and held a hand above her eyes to block the sun. “I love this spot. The view is perfect. We just had the harvest a month ago. Time to open last year’s casks.”
            “Great timing with the Opera coming.”
            “Exactly,” she answered with a laugh.
            I slid out of the saddle(.) and admired the view as well. “You love Summerwind, don’t you?”
            She nodded. “I can’t imagine a more beautiful place. Of course, you’ve probably seen all sorts of things I’ll never see.” 

Here, I've taken out some actions that are not necessary. I think Stephen King (in On Writing) referred to these as "stage directions". First of all, you don't have to mention characters looking at each other that much, unless the look is really key to the scene. Saying Serenya wore a proud smile SHOWS us that Jayden is looking at her. Secondly, you can see from the first paragraph that Jayden is admiring the view, so the line "and admired the view as well" isn't really necessary. Third, my characters start nodding so much that they look like bobble heads, so things like "She nodded" are often unnecessary and can be inferred by the reader from the dialogue alone.

***Remember: Your goal as a writer is for the reader to see your story, not your words.

And in other news, I got the BEST REVIEW EVER for A Ranger's Tale on Goodreads. 

Mommaseymour says: "Wow!!! I loved it. All I have to say is, why haven't I heard of this book before? It is a must read people!"

But that's not all. She went on to write a longer review, including pictures and video! Let's just say I got to drool on Orlando Bloom all over again! Yes, Orlando Bloom = BEST REVIEW EVER. You gotta check it out:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Two Interviews Are Better Than One

Hiya peeps! 

I managed to get myself on two blogs this week. Both of them interviewed me, and one is giving away a copy of A Ranger's Tale! I'll post them both here so that you may go read, comment, and FOLLOW!!!

That's right...listen to my the swaying Hershey's kiss...follow their blogs......

Seriously, both of them have great sites, with lots of reviews and more, so be sure to check them out.

1. I'm at my not-so-evil twin (Misty Rayburn's) blog, The Top Shelf, with an interview and giveaway. Leave a comment there with your email, and she'll choose a winner tomorrow (2/9/12). She reviews lots of books and hosts tons of giveaways, so it pays to join her book blog!

2. Dan Wright is hosting me at his really cool blog, Pandragon Dan. He's one of  several awesome guys who have read A Ranger's Tale and liked it! He's a fantasy author himself and reviews books for the website Read2Review. Hop on over to to his site to see his reviews, interviews, and to check out his books, Trapped on Draconica and The Wandering Valkyr.

What do ya know? That kiss magically disappeared... Laterz! ~Mysti

Monday, February 6, 2012

New Author Series for March!

Hey authors!

Yeah, you...the one with the thick glasses and "I are serious" profile pic. March means spring. Spring means new beginnings. In almost every interview I've done, I've been asked about story beginnings.  This is a topic a lot of aspiring authors are curious about.

I thought it would be a great time on Unwritten to host guest posts about how YOUR stories are born.

Possible topics to discuss...

Inspiration: Where do you get your ideas? Does Little Orphan Annie whisper them to you in your dreams? Are you inspired by travel, work, or family settings? Have other books or movies inspired your work?

Planning: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you do months of research before you write a word or research as you go? Do you prepare an extensive outline? Do you use any plotting software?

Routines: Do you write the same time each day? Do you write in the coffee shop or your home office? Shoot for a specific word count every hour? Do you have to have a Tab and a Kit-Kat within reach as you write? Do you write alone or in cahoots with critique partners?

I'll schedule posts on a first come, first serve basis. Look at the schedule below, comment here, and let me know which date you'd like. I'll edit the list as dates are taken. As soon as you have a guest post ready, please send to mystiparker (at) yahoo (dot) com. Along with it, please send your profile pic (I are serious or not-so-serious, doesn't matter), a short bio, book cover(s), and any links (buy, blog, website, Twitter, etc) you'd like to share.

March 1--Leanore Elliott
March 2--Bree Donovan
March 5--Chrystalla Thoma
March 6--Ruby Standing Deer
March 7--Dan Wright
March 8--Diana Hardy
March 9--Ashlynne Laynne
March 10--Mark Tierno
March 12--Raven McAllan
March 13--Ian Scott
March 14--Lindsey R. Loucks
March 15--J. Andrew Jansen
March 16--Jenny Twist
March 19--BC Sirrom
March 20--Tori L. Ridgewood
March 21--J.A. Beard
March 22--Stefanie J. Pristavu
March 23--Alyssa Reyans
March 26--Lizzy Ford
March 27--Laurel Wilczek
March 28--Ninfa Hayes
March 29--Anna James
March 30--Doris O'Connor

Thanks in advance for participating! ~Mysti

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Playin' With a Blurb

So, I had a blurb early on and decided it was rather blah. I've been playing around with it, in the hopes of making it intriguing enough for people to want to read Serenya's Song.

Of course, that's what blurbs are for...ahem...anywho, I'm posting it here for any and all feedback. Like it? Love it? Hate it? Want to gag or yawn? Feel free to leave a comment.

          No one ever said love was easy...
Serenya Crowe may be a half-elf commoner, but she's no ordinary woman. With the ability to interpret dreams, and a birth defect that forces her to wear gloves, she’s endured gossip and the cruelty of her husband, Sebastian, The Earl of Summerwind. All she's ever wanted is to live a quiet life and raise a family. When she meets the new stranger in town, her world, and her heart, are turned upside down.

Wood-elf Jayden Ravenwing is an ex-secret agent who wants nothing more than to forget matters of the heart. He left the bustle of Leogard and his failed marriage to make a fresh start in Summerwind. He never planned to fall in love again, especially with the enchanting Serenya Crowe.

When a strange portal opens on the Crowe property, Jayden is thrown into an investigation, knowing that if he fails, Serenya and everyone in the town may die.  

Together, he and Serenya must overcome an ancient evil, and their own inner demons, to save Summerwind and find the love they've always dreamed of.