Posts Tagged 'Writing Craft'

The Wearable Book

     by Franci McMahon 

   for Clifford Henderson


Knitting a pair of socks is a lot like writing a novel. When I craft socks they demand I spend a considerable time living with them before they are fit to be seen in public. During this time the garment and I become very intimate.DSC03662

The process takes place on many levels, from origin of idea to building row upon row of tiny loops, chaining the wool into a complete creation and I type, The End.

My imagination forms the socks into a kaleidoscope of finished work before beginning the construction process. I play with alternative endings, colorful characters that clash and are eliminated, or develop them into rich, even shocking forms. Will they be made from the wild colors of my mind, or rise out of a dutifully followed pattern? I suspect I’d be bored if I tried to structure a genre mystery using a blueprint from one of the many How To Write guides. A template can be seductive, but as with any formula, it is hard to deviate onto new ground while following the rules.

Perhaps I’ll use odds and ends left over from other projects. Tidbits and yarn endings I didn’t want to throw away, but probably should have.

My mind spins at the range of textures, choices spanning the contrast of mohair or lambs wool to give softness, nylon to add wear, or cotton for cool weather. One odd concept I’ve always loved is this: the weight of wool. Among knitters this is a common term, but for me it has always held mystery. So I imagine yarn of fingering weight, small but tough or light airy angora, or bulky yarn knit on larger needles for the work booted country dyke.

In many ways this relates to the author’s voice, this elusive term that defies definition, yet you know if it is present, or when it is generically absent, and the words have a certain flatness. You know that the author has reached for the Thesaurus one too many times.

Modern developments have introduced another decision, whether to knit them in wool that is machine washable versus the kind of wool I caress in a warm sink full of water and Woollight, gently squeezing the knitted creation out in a towel, and lovingly arranging them on a dry cloth on my dresser or kitchen table. The first wash gives the product shape, checks for flaws and leaves them smelling of the natural aroma of sheep’s lanolin.

Staying the Distance            Editing also lovingly shapes the final work. I am increasingly saddened by the quick ease of authors to self-publish. Most often they are deprived of this keen-eyed scrutiny, which enriches them as writers. For me the learning process is obvious comparing my first novel with my third. If you’re lucky you can have the opportunity to pull out and reknit the worn foot or foundation of a novel. In the years since my first novel Staying The Distance, was originally published, I’ve learned more about the building of a piece of writing. With the guidance of my editor, Jerry Wheeler, I reshaped and reconstructed a better fitting foot.

So, to all my knitting siblings out there, I wish you cozy feet this winter. And those of us who also write, try to imagine your novel as a friendly pair of socks.

Slaves of Greenworld



Slaves of Greenworld Poster


The Post

I’m excited to broadcast that Slaves of Greenworld, my latest novel from Bold Strokes Books, is coming out this very month. In fact, I’m brimming over with pride—which is revolting and messy—that I created Slaves of Greenworld. This novel involved complex world-building, mythological invention, and imagining an alien species quite unlike their human invaders.


Slaves of Greenworld is SF—science fiction, speculative fiction, and speculative fantasy—and then came the plot and the sub-plots that twist and weave through the narrative.


The Plot, Characters, and Setting

Slaves of Greenworld depicts an alien landscape with unearthly creatures, a lurking hostility from an extinct alien species, and environmental dangers. Human versus nature always makes for an interesting theme. However, as is typical in human activities, the greatest dangers to people come from other people. As a result, the most essential conflicts in Slaves of Greenworld involve human versus human, and the fights, skirmishes, and battle scenes in this novel are colorful, sad, glorious, and convincing.


Humans settled Greenworld more than a thousand years before the events of this novel take place, and at some undetermined point in that past, humanity lost its technology. No one living on Greenworld knows why they lost their science, nor do most even know that it was lost. Some texts from the old Earth exist, but the Greenworlders don’t possess texts that explain their downfall.


Greenworld is riddled with justice, and cruel capital punishment. Of course those are all human institutions, which are abhorrent to the two surviving native species. For reasons unknown to them, Greenworld’s humans have settled into a caste system and slave economy with the xeng, the slaves, being at the bottom (where slaves customarily end up). One of the several plot threads in Slaves of Greenworld involves a violent slave revolt.


Just prior to the beginning of that murderous slave revolt, the novel’s narrator emerges naked, after nearly drowning in a stream, only to discover that not only does he not know how he came into the stream, but also he cannot remember his own name or anything of his past.


When the narrator encounters Paun, an old and fanatical hermit, something prompts him to declare that his name is Dove, although he cannot imagine why. Paun rescues Dove, and by the next afternoon, Dove is claimed as a young lover by a wealthy woman, Lalayla. It is in her house in Rivertown (see map below) that Dove meets the great love of his life, a male slave named Raret.


Raret and others teach Dove about Greenworld’s society, while Lalayla teaches him the basics of commerce. Soon Dove commands a caravan of riches, with Raret as his choice of personal slave. Dove’s caravan must travel to New Marth on the south coast, but along the way, Dove increases his personal wealth and knowledge.

Map of Greenworld

Map of Greenworld


Dove and Raret travel together over much of Greenworld, sharing adventures as they seek out Dove’s origins. Along the way they gather friends and enemies, and they are surrounded by intricate webs of treason, trickery, and political intrigue. Dove, Raret, and their companions survive attempted assassinations, judicial malfeasance, and marauding sex slugs (orgasmic but unsexy).


Finally, Dove will discover his origins, his true name, and his destiny as this dramatic, sweeping, picaresque SF saga winds to its close.



Cruelty—I don’t like it, so I depict cruel acts as being as repulsive as possible.

Slavery—I’m against it, so I emphasize the ill effects of owning people upon both the owners and the owned.

Love and devotion—I’m all for them, and I show self-sacrifice and enduring affection.



Yes, sex happens. There is male/male sex, female/female sex, male/female sex (though he’s thinking about another male while he does her), solo sex by everybody, and even some interspecies sex (not disgusting, but joyous and contagious, while being ultimately tragic—if I’m not giving too much away).


More, More, More

I’d like to talk more about the battles, the courtroom scenes, the prisons and execution yards, the throne rooms, and the conclave, but further description might spoil it. I’d like to describe the lurid encounters and the horrific tortures, the strange and terrible beasts and the wondrous beauty, but those must be enjoyed in reading the novel.


In between editing, cutting, and proofing Slaves of Greenworld, I’ve read my own book three times in this past year. And as soon as I get a print copy, I plan to read it again for the pure enjoyment of this story. I hope that you will do the same.


David Holly

Happy Valley, Oregon

March 2016



Searching for CeceliaSeeing one’s novel published is always thrilling, but I am especially excited that Bold Strokes is releasing my new mystery, Searching for Celia, this month because it took 18 years to get it published. No, really—18 years. A lifetime. Or at least the length of a childhood, and that can seem like forever.


When I started Celia back in 1997, the world was a different place. The Internet was still in its infancy, and there was no social media. Pre-9/11, we still got to keep our shoes on at the airport, and the name “Kardashian” was known only as OJ’s lawyer (ah, the good old days).


When I started Searching for Celia (then known as Celia Frost), my second novel, The Remarkable Journey of Miss Tranby Quirke, had been published by Little, Brown in the UK and my third novel, Rainey’s Lament, was scheduled for publication in 1998. I was living in London, in a studio flat in Hampstead, writing full-time. I was young, single, debt-free, carefree, on top of the world.


My then-agent and editor were excited to see my follow-up to Rainey’s Lament. When I handed in the first six chapters and synopsis of Celia Frost in early 1998, they responded very positively, and we seemed to be on track for publication in 1999 or 2000.


But…(and there’s always a “but”) then Rainey’s Lament came out in May 1998. The reviews were generally positive. But sales stank. Like, really stank. To this day I don’t know the actual numbers, but I imagine sales were less than half what the publisher had anticipated. And suddenly, Celia Frost was in jeopardy. My agent explained that my publisher couldn’t justify sinking more money into another of my books with sales so poor. Moreover, he warned, it was unlikely any publisher would ever invest in me again. But he still saw Celia’s potential and advised me to finish the book and let him submit it under a pseudonym, so he could pitch me as a young, unknown author with a debut novel. I considered his suggestion, but the book wasn’t near finished, and without money from a book deal I couldn’t stay in London. (I never had a work permit; I was there on a writers-and-artists visa, which meant my only income could come from publishing deals and book sales).


Devastated, I moved back to Wisconsin to start again from scratch. I felt like an utter and abject failure, wondering if I’d ever be published again. Back home, I started a freelance editing, critiquing, and ghostwriting business, The Writer’s Midwife, which I still run today. But Celia Frost stuck with me, even if only as a whisper on my creative consciousness. From 1999 to 2001 I rewrote the book three times and approached dozens of agents, finally securing a top New York agent in 2000. Celia had morphed over time and the version I had then was set 50/50 in Wisconsin and London, and involved the main character, Dayle, investigating a white supremacist group in northern Wisconsin who were implicated in Celia’s disappearance. And Dayle’s “interesting character quirk” was that she raised show rabbits. (Seriously. And I wonder why that version didn’t get published?)


The agent submitted the manuscript to 25 major publishers. And, one by one, all 25 said “no.” Some hated it, some “liked but didn’t love” it, a few really liked it, but there was always a reason why it just wasn’t quite “right” for them. One publisher said Edwina, Celia’s ex-girlfriend, should be “Edwin” and Dayle should have a romance with him; one claimed no one would read a novel with an author as protagonist, some said the book was too character-driven, others said too plot-driven, but most believed the story of the relationship between two women, from friendship to love and back to friendship—just wasn’t “big” enough or commercial enough for a large mainstream readership.


In 2001 my agent advised me to dump Celia and try something else. I ended up writing another novel, Dear Mr. Carson, published in 2006, but I never completely gave up on Celia. I knew there was something of value there; I just had to keep digging until I found it.


In 2005 the TV show 24 inspired me to try a “real-time” structure for the novel, setting it entirely over the course of a single day, with each chapter representing roughly an hour in Dayle’s life. That seemed to breathe new life into the project, and I was optimistic that this was “it,” but then another project took precedence, a nonfiction memoir about me exploring Scandinavia’s most depressing tourist destinations. Alas, the fourth agent of my career (long story) submitted that memoir to more than 20 publishers, and all 20 said no.


In 2009, I returned to Celia determined to publish it at last. That rewrite took five years (mostly keeping the “chapter-per-hour” structure; happily jettisoning the rabbits and Neo-Nazis.) By 2014 I knew that Bold Strokes would be the perfect home for the now-titled Searching for Celia and I was thrilled when they accepted the manuscript right away, for publication this June.


I don’t see my story’s message as being that perseverance always pays off. Indeed, I can look back at projects that I wish I had abandoned earlier. My message is more that you’re ready when you’re ready, but you can’t always know when that will be. A project, whether it’s a creative work or a personal project of some sort, has a genesis and a journey and a destination all its own, invisible to its creator until the final piece slots into place, and only then can you step back and say, “Ah ha! This is what it was meant to be all long.”



A Tale of Silence

By Franci McMahon

I’d be willing to bet the ranch there isn’t one writer out there who hasn’t yearned for more time alone to write. Sometimes we think we have silence. It is so uncivil to notice or complain about those small sounds of another person in the house, the water running in the kitchen sink, soft music a couple of rooms away, a cough or sneeze. Even the air moves in a different way when there is someone else in your living space.


There are days that the silence holds an unbelievable amount of racket no matter how long I sit unmoving. The amount of silence I relish is something another person may find intolerable. The partner brushes fingertips across the panels of the closed door, to whisper, “You’re so quiet in there. Are you okay?”


I applied to Hedgebrook, a writing retreat for women on an island in Puget Sound, in search of that solitude. This place of author bliss, imagined just for women writers, has six little cedar cottages spaced privately throughout the woods. After spending the day alone with our writing project we all troop down to the farmhouse with our Red Riding Hood baskets and a flashlight. The Hedgebrook chef prepares for us a superb and organic meal. Replete, we retire to the lounge where we may read from our pearls of words to each other and gently comment on our sister’s works. I stayed a month and have never felt so pampered as a woman and honored as a writer. This gift of silence and sisterhood of the book, became my benchmark.


In an effort to recapture some of this productive time alone, I encouraged my lover of over twenty years to spend time with her friends. Ones with whom she shared other interests. My long weekends were like excursions into writing nirvana.


All of this brought our relationship into focus. We faced the fact that our lives had very separate and different joys and needs and took the plunge into divorce. Or what passes for it in the queer world.


Sometimes I listen to my border collie Mollie, breathe. She’s a quiet breather. On her breath rides the peace I seek. She shares my home and brings me solitude. I have never been a chatter on the telephone and have become grumpy about phone calls that reach beyond “Meet me at six…”

Artist: Franci McMahon

Franci McMahon

I’ve managed to scare everyone off calling me on the phone. I think I was too effective in that endeavor. I feel like I have one of those emergency only phones. I do write, but it is amazing how little of the twenty-four hour day that consumes.


image1Two and a half years into my self-chosen silence I have solitude. I am learning how solitude can also be intermittent loneliness. Yet out of that productive alone time has come White Horse in Winter, due out from Bold Strokes Books in September. The next novel is shaping into a satisfying whole story. I know I will hit my stride, but I stumble where large cracks have opened in the dry earth. My feet are finding the ground, avoiding the rocks, or, that which I like even better, picking up the rocks and examining the grain of feldspar, red iron oxide and the conglomerate of sand. Then I want to see if they can fly.

Big Things Happening!

By Anne Laughlin


There are two big things going with me these days. The first is the publication last week of The Acquittal, my third novel with Bold Strokes Books. A new release brings with it a lot of joy and a lot of work. Self-promotion is not something I’ve ever been terribly comfortable with. I do love giving readings, however, and as I was going through the scenes I’ll be reading over the next couple of weeks I was reminded of the other big thing going on in my life.

Let me explain. At my reading in Milwaukee on Oct. 25, I read from The AcquittalBSB-Acquittal and a short teaser from Sometimes Quickly, which is coming out in January. As I was reading through these I realized that the scene I want to read from SQ and one from The Acquittal are concerned with drinking – alcoholic drinking. It’s a theme that has popped up in all of my books. In Sometimes Quickly it’s a major part of the plot. You’ll see how this intersects with the other big thing in my life right now – on Nov. 8 I’ll be celebrating twenty-five years of sobriety, a milestone that means the world to me.

Here’s the challenge in writing about alcoholism. If your main character’s an alcoholic, you’re asking a lot of your readers to hang in with her, waiting for her to get her act together. An alcoholic is seldom an attractive character and you want your protagonist to be sympathetic. In Sometimes QuicklyBSB-SometimesQuickly my main character is a stone alcoholic, but when the book begins we see Peg is sober and has been for some time. I show her drinking years in flashback, so the reader knows she’s not always going to be a jerk. And Peg’s drinking made her do bad things. She was not a stand up person. She was a falling on her face drunk most of the time. I wanted to show the reality of how ugly that can be without alienating the reader. Hopefully, I succeeded (you’ll be able to read Sometimes Quickly in January, when it’ll be published by BSB). In The Acquittal, one scene I’ll be reading shows the alcoholism of my main character’s mother.

My own drinking history plays into this intimately. I don’t need to go into the details; suffice it to say I was a stage 4 alcoholic at the age of thirty-five. If I hadn’t stopped, I wouldn’t be alive today. I’m positive about that. I wouldn’t want to be alive, at any rate. So the disease that almost killed me plays a big role in my life. I have a happy sobriety, but I’m never complacent about it. One slip and I could easily find myself worse off than the day I had my last drink. In other words, I work at my sobriety. It would be almost impossible for me to not write about alcoholism in some way.

Which brings me to the second difficulty in writing about alcoholism. It’s essential that it not be preachy. I’m not preachy, but tones of recovery do not land well with many readers. It’s easy to misunderstand and to make fun of. And let’s face it, the drinking is more interesting that the recovery, at least in terms of fiction. So I tend to stay away from talking about recovery and instead write with verisimilitude about what being an alcoholic is like, what it means, how it affects others. And, just as importantly, I try to write it with a sense of humor. It’s dark enough on its own. My own sense of humor didn’t return until I’d been sober for awhile, and then, as with others like me, I found it hilarious to tell and listen to stories of the idiotic things we did as drunks. Without a sense of humor, everything feels lifeless. I don’t want my fiction to feel that way.

I feel I’ve been successful in not imbuing too much of my writing with alcoholism. Just a bit here and a tad there. But it’s an important connection for me, one that I can’t not write about. As they say, write what you know.


(Whether we write it or not)

by Juliann Rich


I lay on the floor with a throbbing knee and two still-squealing dogs and blinked into the darkness.


How the heck had a simple trip to the bathroom gone so wrong?


I replayed the events in my mind, delaying the inevitability of moving for a few more necessary seconds. The awakening to the awareness of need. The throwing off of covers in the past-midnight darkness. The swinging of one leg and then the next over the side of the bed. The standing. The first squeal as one foot landed on fur. The instinctive jerking away. Ah, yes, that’s where things began to go awry. The stumbling. The second squeal after another brush with fur. The spinning. The collision with the small staircase that allows the littlest of the fur-babies to access the bed. The tangling of feet and legs in stairs.


The slow fall, all the while praying not to land on the four-legged bodies darting in and out beneath


The crash. Knee on carpet. Shoulder on floor. Head into the closet door.


Sigh. I didn’t even need to go to the bathroom anymore.


End of story.


Or…was it?


I settled back into bed at two am on a Sunday night in August. My knee still throbbed beneath the Bandaid, but the damage was relatively minimal. The pups were scattered around the floor like little landmines waiting to explode while I eased into the cocoon of sleep.


Then, my cellphone rang. I may have answered it swearing. I can’t be sure.


“Mom?” My favorite voice shattered the darkness and all hopes for sleep. “I need help. I think I’m in trouble over here.”


My pulse didn’t trip or flare or surge. It froze as it translated my son’s words. Over here was China where he had flown days before to begin his job as a professor of English at a university. Trouble could be a million horrible things, but in this case it was pressure to accept a different job (without being able to review a contract first) since his job had “suddenly” become unavailable. My son was caught in a classic bait and switch scam and nearly seven thousand miles separated us.


Project Get The Kid Out of China began immediately and two nights later, I held him in my arms. It was a prayer and not a swear that sprang from my lips on the night when the sequel to Sunday night finally ended.


Sequels. They’re damn hard to write. They’re even harder to live. But such was the dilemma I faced when my first book, Caught in the Crossfire,Caught in the Crossfire 300 DPI concluded. I had brought Jonathan on such a difficult journey as he moved from repression to acceptance of his sexuality. Like me, he’d landed on the ground in a heap (more than once!) and taken a few moments to try to make sense of things before he needed to move on. Now here’s the truth. It would have been easy to leave Jonathan in the car, driving home with his mom whose silence stretched further than the horizon of Lake Superior. We could have believed that they would find their way to each other through the love they shared. We could have dreamed about Ian visiting Jonathan in Minneapolis, strolling hand-in-hand through bookstores and sharing a strawberry rhubarb pie at a little café. On days of extreme optimism, we could have even imagined the guys sitting around Jonathan’s house while Ian and Jonathan’s mother got to know each other.


But dreams (and sleep) often elude us when the story continues. Such was the case with Searching for Grace. Searching For Grace 300 DPITo all who had hopes for good times and easy transitions for Jonathan Cooper, I apologize, but sequels—like real life—are infinitely capable of tripping us up when we least expect it.


Juliann Rich’s second novel, Searching for Grace, came out with Bold Strokes Books on September 1st, 2014. The prequel, Caught in the Crossfire, released in June 2014. The final installment in the Crossfire Trilogy, Taking the Stand, releases in April of 2015.


Juliann lives with her husband and two chronically disobedient dogs in rural Minnesota. Her son is now grown and recently returned from a turbulent but short trip to China! Juliann is a PFLAG Mom who writes affirming young adult fiction and is particularly drawn to stories that shed light on the conflicts that arise when sexual orientation, spirituality, family dynamics, and peer relationships collide. You can read more about Juliann on her website at

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