Monday, December 12, 2011

All I Want for Christmas . . .

. . . is my coughing gone away, my packing finished, house cleaned, Christmas letters written and sent. A personal chef for the next year. And a personal trainer. And edits finished for Book One. And a rough draft finished for Book Two.

And this post is not about me. So I wrench myself away from the hectic nature of a 21st-century Christmas with four kids and a cross-country trip of two weeks and steal you away with me to a more serene Christmastime. In a placid, peaceful, joyous world where beauty reigns and love is everything, right up to the moment where swords are drawn and wives are beheaded and rebel armies are launched at an unpopular king . . .

It's Christmas 1553 in England's Tudor court. A Tudor court ruled by Henry VIII's son, William. What, you say in astonishment, you've never heard of this son of Anne Boleyn and Henry of the six wives? Well, that's because in my world, Henry only ever had two wives and the baby boy Anne miscarried in January 1536 was actually carried to term and born that summer to save his mother's life. And thus alter--for a bit--the course of English history.

This is the world of The Boleyn King, my first novel which will appear next winter from Ballantine. In this world, William is a hotheaded, charming, beloved 17-year-old king ready to take on the world as his father did before him. His best friend, Dominic, is both older and wiser and spending this particular Christmas in France spying for his king. Elizabeth is all that the future Elizabeth I should be--except with a mother who's still alive and a brother who is firmly ensconced on England's throne. And then there's Minuette--poor, pretty, orphaned, clever, and beloved by the inner circle of Tudor royalty.

In their own words, here are their Christmas wishes.

William: What do I want? I want a reason to go to war with France. I want Dominic back from whatever clandestine work he's doing. I want to win the lands my father failed to, and make his Field of Cloth of Gold but a shadow of my own glory. I want my council to look to me for orders, and not my uncle. I want Eleanor to go away for a while so she will stop sniping at Minuette and give me peace. I want the next women I take to bed to be rather more silent.

Dominic: I want to go home. I am not meant to be a spy, or an envoy, or whatever the council wishes to call it. I want to make certain Will is behaving himself, keeping his temper with the council and not flaunting his relationship with Eleanor too openly in front of her husband. I want to have a small command of my own, of soldiers who are trained and loyal and know only their own work without meddling in politics. But more than any of that, I want to serve my king and my friend so well that my loyalty need never be doubted. So I will curb my impatience and do my duty. And try not to think of Minuette. Who is all that I really wish for.

Elizabeth: I don't have time for wishing. It is pointless and also more than a little ungrateful. I am a princess royal, a daughter of England, educated and trusted and with work that satisfies me. If I were to wish for something, I suppose it would be the power to choose my own future. It was a great relief when the French pulled out of the treaty--I should not have loved to marry the French king's widowed brother. But whom should I love? Sweden's prince? A minor royal from the Netherlands? Prince Philip of Spain is by far the grandest choice--and he is, at least, of an age with me. But I do not wish to live in Spain. I do not wish to ever leave England. Almost I would be content to never marry, if only I could stay here. Almost content . . . were it not for a particular young lord with gypsy-dark eyes who can always tease me into humour. A particular young lord who is, himself, very much married to someone else.

Minuette: I wish for fabrics--satins and velvets and shot silk. And ribbons, yards of different colors. Perhaps a puppy. A letter from Dominic would be nice--one that discussed more than the state of the weather. One that perhaps hinted at when he might return to court. I wish that Eleanor may grow very fat this winter. I wish that Elizabeth would settle to a new project, to keep her from fretting at things she cannot control. I wish that the new year will be even more glorious than this one, and that next Christmas will find the four of us together, as we should be. As we always and ever should be.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Links for Focused Time Wasting

There is a lot of talk about how the internet is a horrible time suck, a devil waiting to distract writers from their work. This certainly is true. However, cruising the internet also can be a great way to recharge the brain or refocus and find fresh solutions to writing problems.  The trick is to set limits on the time spent online or the number of sites visited.

In the spirit of focused time wasting, here are a few blogs and websites I use for inspiration and recharging.

  1. Strangest Situation--a practicing child psychologist and writer, blogs from her unique perspective about psychology, books and more.

  1. Llewellyn—Along with the books they publish and merchandise, their website has a ton of articles on all things new age, paranormal and supernatural. Fresh articles are added regularly.  Also, many of their writers have blogs focused on various areas of expertise.   and

  1. Archaeology News from EuropeAll kinds of funky and informative news clips. Follow them on Twitter and click on the link when a topic hits your fancy.

  1. YouTube—Yup, I’m recommending YouTube--as long there’s a connection to your current project. If you want a hint about my current WIP, here’s what I watch for inspiration.

  1. Scott Eagan—He is a literary agent who represents romance (which I don’t exclusively write). However, I regularly read his blog because his advice is solid and inspiring.

  1. Heroines of Fantasy—Three sharp as a tack women writers blog about a variety of topics such as: food in fantasy, the realities of traveling on horseback . . . and they offer a look at writers and novels which break from the mainstream

  1. Stephanie O’Dea--last but not least, because we all know writers are short on time, this is a wonderful website with amazing techniques and recipes for slow cooking

What are your favorite time wasting links?  Do you have a problem with spending too much time online or do you easily curb the urge?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Interview with Suzanne Warr

Cabinet: Why chickens? And all that land? And how does that affect and/or contribute to your writing?

Suzanne: Chickens because they make me laugh, and keep me entertained. Also, I like their eggs. The five acres because I really do need that much space between me and everyone else while I’m writing. It’s a dangerous process, and spectators need to stand back.

Cabinet: Costuming--you do it big and you do it gorgeous. (I'm thinking of a hoop skirt crushed into a suitcase in Denver . . .) What's the appeal? Do you ever dress up like a character?

Suzanne: If dressing up is reserved for Halloween, the average person only gets twenty to eighty costumes in their life. Where’s the fun in that? I’d dress up once a month, if I could. I was Bellatrix Lestrange for Halloween.

Until the telepathy breakthrough works itself down to people like me, it’s the best way I know of to get outside my own head. When else can I curse all the people who deserve it? I have also made up a character as I created the costume. It’s interesting to think about each piece of bling and imagine what history it would have for the character I’m dressing up to be.

Cabinet: I just heard a great panel of authors say how they're nothing like their daredevil characters--their leading ladies are the daring sort the authors wish they were themselves. You, however, are a martial artist, sword fighter and spontaneous building climber. How does the daredevil in you contribute to your own characters or writing?

Suzanne: Writing is itself a high-adrenaline sport with way too much risk for the probable returns, so it makes sense I’d be a writer now that I’ve stopped risking my neck on a regular basis. As for my characters, I guess I still indulge in a little wish-fulfillment. I’ve never had a zipline for my backdoor, and I’ve never defeated a demon. My characters get to do both. But I have been told that my fight scenes are both entertaining and realistic–I guess the hands on research has paid off.

Cabinet: You write many genres–picture book, adult short fiction, middle grade, YA and (gasp) even a romance novel that’s gathering dust. Do you have a favorite, and why or why not?

Suzanne: I’ve definitely found my favorite medium in middle grades. I guess that should’ve been a no-brainer cause that’s where I migrate to in the library or bookstore. But, I really think that writing on a variety of projects, ranging from science fiction to mysteries and yes, even romance, has helped me develop different skills as a writer and explore my craft. Which is a fancy way to say I can justify my constant dabbling cause it helps me be a better writer.

Cabinet: What is your closest call with a peanut?

Suzanne: Hmm, that would probably be the day I showed up to my son’s school for volunteer time and discovered every desk in the classroom loaded down with a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter. They were making edible teepees, and the peanut butter was the glue. Idiot that I am, I tried to stick it out and help. I got to re-think the wisdom of that decision all afternoon in the hospital, with an IV shooting me full of Benadryl and a big bruise on my leg as testament that my epipen had worked just fine. Nowadays, I carry a double-barreled pen, because my second reaction comes on pretty fast, and I can sniff out peanut butter from across the room. That onerous smell is my cue to leave!

Cabinet: You’ve had a number of short stories published. How does writing short fiction differ from novel length? Any tips on writing short stories?

Suzanne: The truth is, I’ve never figured out how to write short stories, but let’s not tell that to the editors who published them! Mostly I write flash pieces (snapshots that use less than one thousand words) or novels, and when a short story works, I shrug and thank my muse. I do think that becoming somewhat enured to the rejection side of publication and learning to work with editors on rewrites has been invaluable.

Cabinet: And finally, one last question the Cabinet just has to know: When or where do your story ideas come from?

Suzanne: I have a contract with a hive of Polytheneroids on Pluto. They feed me ideas, and I give them our extra chicken eggs. So far they’re buying my story that chicken eggs are priceless and rare. Let’s not disabuse them of that notion, okay?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wardrobe Malfunction!

Hi Cabinet friends!

I'm back home from a book tour for my third novel, SILENCE, and thought you might like to hear about the dark side of touring. Namely, traveling with a teeny tiny carry-on suitcase for, wait for it, an entire month.

It was probably a crazy idea to think I could do it (hello! I love shoes! And shoes take up space!) but there was also this growing fear that since I was flying to a new city almost every day, if I checked baggage, and it got lost, it might never catch up to me. In the end, I decided to sacrifice fashion and variety for the simple necessity of clothes, period.

First, I determined I had enough room to take exactly seven outfits. Then I picked my clothes oh so carefully, making sure each piece could be used in at least two different outfits. (In real life, when people do this to minimize buying lots of clothes, I think it's called wardrobe capsule. It's a pretty accurate description. Capsule = small case. Small case = Becca's carry-on bag.) For example, I packed a simple white button-down shirt that could be worn with a skirt and scarf, with jeans, and under a cardigan. In theory, it was a brilliant idea...until I spilled marinara sauce down the front of the shirt about a week into the tour. Marinara sauce is NOT easy to remove via hand-washing in a hotel sink.

Which brings me to my next survival tip: travel-size Tide laundry packets. My awesome assistant was wise enough to supply me with a handful of these, and even if they didn't get my clothes clean, at least they made them smell good. Every night, even if I arrived at my hotel close to midnight, I made laundry a priority. In one case, the drain on the sink was broken and wouldn't hold water. In which case I jury-rigged my own drain using a plastic shower cap. Just call me MacGuyver.

I towel-dried my freshly washed clothes, then hung them to dry overnight. If I woke up the following morning and they were still slightly damp, I utilized the blow dryer. In fact, if memory serves, I never once used a blow dryer on my hair. But I can think of at least four mornings when I frantically waved the dryer over damp socks.

Oh, and I did catch a lucky break once. While in Chicago, my hotel had a coin-operated washing machine. Moira Young (BLOOD RED ROAD) and I had all kinds of fun chasing down enough quarters to wash a load. It was work, you must understand. And then when Moira inserted her money to buy soap, a box of fabric softener shot out instead. It was DEVASTATING. Okay, maybe you had to be there.

All in all, I was impressed with myself for rising to the challenge of making seven outfits last for thirty days. There was only one thing I didn't think of.


I don't know why it never occurred to me that readers would take pictures at my events. And post them online. And tag me. During my month on tour, my Facebook feed was filled with pictures of me wearing a pink-and-blue striped dress in San Diego. And then again two days later in San Fransisco. Oh, wait, and in Chicago. Ah! The same dress in Boston. And London. And even Toronto.

By the end of the tour, I swore to Moira and Elizabeth Miles (FURY) that the minute I returned home, I was going to light a bonfire in my backyard and burn my clothes. And probably chant, "Burn, baby, burn," as I danced around the flames with glee.

But here's the thing. I can't stop wearing those same seven outfits. Is it a curse? An addiction?

Or have I simply realized how easy life is when I don't have to worry about what to wear?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Writer's List of Thanks (and a little NaNo tip)

A couple of my Cabinet buddies had great ideas for my post today: How to NaNo (Been There, Done That); and Loving and Hating your Manuscript--The Art of Revision. The fact is, I'm just not feeling all that informative today (meaning the murk of November is making my brain fuzzy). But those sound like great posts, hopefully one of us will write them (hint, hint).

What you get from me today is a writer's list of thanks. I figure it will be easy to come up with this if I'm truly thankful. We'll see...

  1. Writing. Duh! (You can tell I'm really reaching here).  I'm grateful for anyone who ever set story to page, committed words to forever, and who inspired me to do the same. Long live imagination and the hope of touching another life with wisdom...or just pure entertainment.
  2. Critique buddies. It takes a certain kind of friend to point out all your flaws in such a way that you want to thank them afterward. My writing friends are twined around a special part of my heart that spills into every facet of my life.
  3. Computers. Oh yes. Word processing programs. Email. Can you imagine doing all this in longhand? 
  4. Hope. I think writers must be the most hopeful people on the planet--even the naturalists. Without hope of completion, publication, communication...why write? (Professionally of course). Hmmmm, I may be hitting on the reason I haven't written in quite some time here.
  5. I like fives. It just seems there needs to be five things in a decent list. PUBLISHERS! READERS! Thank you, thank you. (Oh, and those little things like family, conferences, seeing my books in print, organic raw chocolate and the delete key...I love you, too).
And for those who just want a NaNo tip:

For the love of Castle, if you want to finish, JUST WRITE THOSE WORDS! Don't look back. Just go, go, go!

Your editorial hat will never in a million years get you through NaNo. Just type. Seriously.

Did you make a false move? Who cares. Just zing your character to a new place and go.

NaNo isn't about sonnets, it's about words. You can SO do it if you just type the words. Now quit reading this and go type.

No editor.


 No deleting. None.


(Now editing, that's another story. We should probably cover that in December.)


Type--and remember to be thankful that you can and are!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rose and Carmen Giveaway!

I really wanted to have Ginger do the drawing in person, and not just cause Ginger's one of my most favorite people. Well, okay, that was why. :) But, seeing as Ginger and I live on nearly opposite sides of the country, that just isn't possible.

I settled on the next best thing. Closing my eyes, I imagined I had Ginger's glorious curly hair, just like the hair my mother promised me if only I'd eat the burnt crusts on our homemade bread. The hair felt lovely. Then I stretched my imagination even further, and pretended I had Ginger's sweet disposition and unfailing kindness. My imagination starting cracking at the seams, so I gave my bowl of names a quick shake and dipped in my hand. One name for Rose, one for Carmen. I could picture these lovely stories as I drew out the names and wanted to linger in my Ginger-fied state, but my imagination coughed, sputtered, and spit out a WARNING: OVERLOAD IMMINENT red flag. Sigh. Well, I enjoyed the few minutes while they lasted!

And those little bits of paper? The ones you're all waiting to hear about? Alright, let's open them up. The winner of a signed copy of Wild Rose's Weaving is:
Mirka Breen! Congratulations! I know you're going to love it--guaranteed!

Now let's just open that second slip of paper and see who's going to be giggling their way through Carmen's Sticky Scab:
Marcia Hoehne! Marcia, you must have really good karma as I seem to recall your having an extra interest in Carmen, and now you'll be getting your own copy! Yay!

Congratulations to both of you, and thanks to everybody for entering. If our winning M ladies can send me an email with contact info at spartan_writer at yahoo dot com with your info we'll get the books out to you!

Once again, thanks to everybody for playing and congratulation to Ginger on her book bday!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Interview: Kersten Hamilton author of IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT

Today the amazing Kersten Hamilton has stopped by to answer a few questions. We’re going to be discussing IN THE FOREST OF THE NIGHT (the second book in her Goblin Wars series), writing complex stories, second novels, sexual tension, Shakespeare and more!

Please feel free to leave questions and comments for Kersten. She’ll be checking back through out the day to answer them—and she is an amazing source of wisdom

Pat: Welcome, Kersten. Before we get going, could you please give a quick overview of the Goblin Wars series, in particularly IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT.

Kersten: The Goblin Wars is the story of Teagan Wylltson, whose family is an unlikely mix of Stormrider and the human blood of Myrddn Wyllt, the real Merlin the Magician, and Finn Mac Cumhaill, cursed by Fear Doirich, the Dark Man, to die young fighting Goblin Kind.

I really like the description my editor wrote for In the Forests of the Night:

Teagan, Finn, and Aiden have made it out of Mag Mell alive, but the Dark Man’s forces are hot on their heels. Back in Chicago, Tea’s goblin cousins show up at her school, sure she will come back to Mag Mell, as goblin blood is never passive once awoken. Soon she will belong to Fear Doirich and join them. In the meantime, they are happy to entertain themselves by trying to seduce, kidnap, or kill Tea’s family and friends. Tea knows she doesn’t have much time left, and she refuses to leave Finn or her family to be tortured and killed. A wild Stormrider, born to rule and reign, is growing stronger inside her. But as long as she can hold on, she’s still Teagan Wylltson, who plans to be a veterinarian and who heals the sick and hurting. The disease that’s destroying her—that’s destroying them all—has a name: Fear Doirich. And Teagan Wylltson is not going to let him win.

Pat: A lot of scenes in your novels are packed with characters and dialogue. It feels to the reader like they’ve stepped into a bustling family. Were you raised in a loud active family? And could you share some tips about writing scenes with multiple characters not only talking, but physically doing different things?

Kersten: I grew up with four of my seven siblings, and little or no parental supervision. My mom was out of the picture and my dad worked nights and slept days, so we rarely saw him. The usual state of affairs at our house was merry chaos. I grew accustomed to it and continued the tradition after I married—only with many, many more people. We (my husband and I) have always had an open home, where people could come if they needed a place to stay. Some people have lived with us for months, and some for years. The most we have ever had under our roof at one time was seventeen. So, yes. We are a loud and active family.

Pat: Was Shakespeare Irish? And what about his muses?

Kersten: Of course he was. Even if he was born in England. Of English parents. But the Irish muses gave up on him. Too much humor for a proper Irish story, and way to many happy endings! J

Pat: In addition the main fears and concerns, your stories have ever-present subtler worries (such as Mamieo’s heart problems). Were these details something you preplanned when developing the characters or is it something that emerged as you wrote?

Kersten: They definitely emerged as I wrote. ‘Meeting’ my characters is one of the things I love best about writing. They all have such complex, real lives! I really, really miss them when the book is over.

Pat: Second novels—any advice about writing them?

Kersten: Yes! Someone very brilliant (I don’t remember who) once said, “Nobody reads a book to get to the middle.” The second book of a trilogy fills that dreaded ‘middle’ of the story arc. The story had to be bigger without losing touch with the things people loved in the first book. You have to ramp up the stakes while moving the story forward. And remember to surprise your readers. On a very tight deadline.

Pat: The Greenman, Mab, Fear Doirich . . . Do you have a favorite non-human character or myth?

Kersten: Actually, yes!  I do have a favorite non-human character, one that I would  like to be. I’ll tell you if you promise not to laugh. I would like to be….A FAIRY GODMOTHER! (Stop laughing. You promised!)  No, it is not the poofy pink sparkly outfits that I adore. (I’d wear jeans and a t-shirt) Its what fairy godmothers do: they show up at a key point in someone’s life with the tools or opportunities the person needs to achieve their dreams. What could be better than that?

Pat: LOL. I can so see you as a fairy godmother. Okay, I mentioned in my review of IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT that I was going to ask you a couple of questions related to sexual or romantic tension.  Here we go.

The budding romance between Finn and Teagen really sizzles. Is writing romantic tension a craft aspect you work on specifically or does it come naturally?

Kersten: Action and adventure come naturally to me. Romance I have to work at. And kissing scenes make me blush. Some of the most romantic scenes in these books have no kissing—but they still make me blush!
The way I work at it is by reading a lot of classic romances—Pride and Prejudice is one of the romances I study. First we meet the characters and are shown exactly why they do not like each other. And there are very good reasons for them not to get along. Then, slowly, we are allowed to see deeper into each of the characters as they change and become perfect for one another. Tension comes from the fact that we know what they will miss out on if they don’t come together.

I really like books such as The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer and the Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters by as well.  They are masters of mischievous romance. And what is true romance without a little humor? I never did like Romeo and Juliet. Some of the funniest moments in my own books are also the most romantic.

Pat: Balancing the main plot and subplots in your stories must be difficult. When you revise, do you sometimes have to cut back on subplots to let your main plot shine through? Aka—how do you avoid having the romance take over the storyJ

Kersten: I think that you have to drop your characters into such a BIG story that the readers are always a little worried about what will happen next. A little on edge, even during the kissing scenes—because it all could be taken away in a single story heartbeat. And…there are always so many sub-plots in my own life that I guess they come naturally to me.

Pat: What one piece of advice would you give new authors on how to strengthen the romantic tension in their own works?

Kersten: Don’t move the physical relationship forward too fast, as if sex were relationship. Romantic tension is just another word for anticipation. Don’t lose the delicious relationship building and anticipation that comes with love.

Pat: One last question. Where did the title IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT come from?

Kersten:  From William Blake’s poem:

The Tyger:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Pat: Oh, yeah. And I still think Ms. Skinner is one of the scariest characters.

Kersten: Ah, Ms. Skinner. Anyone with a heart will cry for her by the time the books are done. I promise.

Pat: Thank you so much Kersten. Will you be willing to stop back later and answer questions?

Kersten: I will be! Thanks for having me on your blog, Pat!

Pat: Here’s a link to my review of IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT

Order TYGER, TYGER and IN THE FOREST OF THE  NIGHT  today from you local bookstore on check it out online:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Wild Rose's Weaving Book Bday and Giveaway!

It's been a busy month for cabinet members, and we haven't even finished it yet! Ginger Churchill, author of the hilarious Carmen's Sticky Scab, is to be congratulated on the release of her latest picture book Wild Rose's Weaving. Yay Ginger!

With one peek inside this book you find yourself transported to a world full of wind and color, creation and inspiration. In fact, a world where any of us would love to live! A four star review on City Book Review puts it well: "Wong’s watercolor illustrations and Churchill’s touching story charmingly convey the common misunderstandings between old and young—and the places where they can come together to share adventure and imagination."

Since I'm the 'old' in our family scenario, I'm excited to share with my daughter my newfound love of all things yarn. I even made her a little purse, using yarn scraps from our local recycle center and a child's crafting loom:

There's not much to it, and the idea for it isn't even original. But I can personally attest to the wonderful feeling of discovering creation through weaving. And, since my daughter's showing an interest in weaving as well, I'm scheming to give her a copy of Wild Rose's Weaving for Christmas, along with some new yarns. If you've got a little weaver in your life, or an older weaver, too, you might do the same!

To win a free copy of this lovely new picture book, just enter your name in the comments, and tell us how you've spread the word or if you've followed us. We'll do a drawing of all the names (extra entries for each blog post, facebook mention, etc.) on Tuesday, Nov. 8th, and some lucky soul will get a copy signed by Ginger! As an added bonus, if we can add ten followers to the blog (making a total of 80) we'll do a second drawing and give away a copy of Carmen's Sticky Scab!

Best of luck, everbody!

Monday, October 17, 2011

And the Winner is . . .

Jennifer! (Click on her name to find out more about her and her own blog. And look, I am so excited that I wantonly threw in an exclamation point.)

Jennifer has won the first three books in the HUSH, HUSH series by the Cabinet's very own Becca Fitzpatrick. Signed, naturally. Just as soon as Becca returns home on the 29th from her tour of the UK.

I personally had a wonderful time at Becca's panel yesterday at the Wellesley Free Library in Wellesley, Massachusetts. It is amazing to see this girl (I don't care how old you are, Becca, as long as you are ten years younger than me you are a girl. Also because I was once mistaken for your mother) . . . to see this girl rock the world of YA lit. And not just with her books, but with her wonderful personality and ease with readers. She is articulate, she is funny, and she is seriously beautiful. Besides the fact that she can write.

If we weren't friends, I might have to dislike her on principle.

Jennifer, please email me at laurawriter(dot)ymail(dot)com so we can ship your winnings. And also, because it appears you, too, live in Massachusetts and having moved here only two months ago I could seriously use some friends. Who have four kids. And write. I think it's meant to be (I say brightly, and not at all in a stalker-like fashion).

But this, gentle readers, is only the beginning of another fabulous week at our Curious Cabinet. Because tomorrow is release day for our very own Ginger Churchill's second picture book, WILD ROSE'S WEAVING. There may be another giveaway on the horizon. At the very least there will be cake.

And possibly a discussion about scabs and sharks. You never know what curious things will pop up around here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Online Writing Class Review and Recommendations

Over the years I’ve taken a lot of online writing classes and I highly recommend them. However it’s important for a writer to take classes that work with and, at the same time, challenge their skill level.

Here’s a quick overview of a few online writing classes which I’ve taken and my thoughts on who might most benefit from them.  This is only a small sampling of the classes available. All these writing sites have been established for quite a number of years.

  1. Coffee House for Writers.  Classes for beginner to intermediate skill level. 2-day mini-workshops and longer 4 and 5-week workshops. Experienced teachers.  Good interaction with teachers. The amount of interaction with fellow students depends on the students themselves, can range to from none to moderate camaraderie. Great classes for writers who want to improve specific aspects of their writing or simply need a kick start. The variety of classes is somewhat limited, but fun.

  1. Writers College. Classes for beginner to intermediate skill levels (some of the classes appear to be advanced, however they do not require as much experience as other classes I’ll mention later in this post).  4 to 6 week classes.  Interaction level with teachers is good, but can vary. Writers College has some amazing teachers who have been there a long time and others who are less experienced.  Student interaction depends on the students in the class, can range from none to moderate camaraderie. Great classes for writers looking focus on a specific topic. Writers College has a large selection of classes, some of which are quite unique.

  1. Writing In Depth with Caleb Warnock. Classes for beginners to advanced skill level. Small groups, private 8-week classes. Moderate prices.  Interaction level between both students and teacher is high. Great classes for writers wanting to take the step from dreaming about writing to becoming a professional. Limited selection classes, with some flexibility.  Specialty classes sometimes available. This link has information on Caleb Warnock, his experience, success stories, upcoming classes and links to more information. for an example of Caleb’s successful teaching style, listen to this 3-first-page-critique

  1. WriterUniv. Com. Classes for intermediate to advanced writers. These classes may be helpful for intermediate writers, but are best for those with pro-level skills.  2-4 week duration. Fast pace, challenging classes with lots of reading and homework. Experienced teachers. Student interaction is friendly, but minimal. Interaction with teacher is exceptional. Class topics are advanced and great for working on specific writing issues or for developing general skills. The amount a student gets out of these classes is directly related to the time put into reading the teachers comments on other students’ homework--and classes are large. Their website is a bit lacking, but the classes aren’t  For more information:

Have you taken any online classes? Any recommends or problems? Any questions?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, SILENCE! (Want to win three books?)

I really wanted to use multiple exclamation points in the title, but I was haunted by the voice of my former writing teacher whispering that I'm only allowed three exclamation points. In my life. Ever. So one it is--but what better way to use one-third of my exclamation point lifetime allowance than in celebrating book release day for our fellow blogger, Becca Fitzpatrick.

Today is SILENCE day. The day fans of Becca's HUSH, HUSH series have been waiting for since the moment they closed the last page of the second book, CRESCENDO. The book that takes the tension of Patch (the best bad guy I've ever wished I dated) and Nora (the control-freak who loves being reckless with Patch) and throws one almighty wrench into the works. (Okay, maybe it's more like five or six wrenches but I'm telling you--that first one is a doozy.)

Here's a link to Becca's website where you can read all about her books and the exciting news about what she's working on now. Her tour schedule is also on her website, so check it out and see if she's coming somewhere near you.If you're a fan, you've probably already discovered Fallen Archangel, the official fansite for the series And if you're not (yet) a fan--well, let us change that for you.

For our own celebration right here at Cabinet of Curiosities, we're giving away the first three books in Becca's series: HUSH, HUSH; CRESCENDO; and SILENCE. Donated by our friend the author and signed by her as well. That's right--three signed books.

Want in? Here are the guidlines.

1. Do one of the following: become of follower of Cabinet of Curiosites; write a blog post announcing the giveaway and link to our site; or link to our site via Facebook or Twitter.

2. Leave us a comment with your name and a link to whichever of the above you've done.

3. Be patient: the contest will run through midnight Saturday, October 15. Because on Sunday, October 16th, I will be seeing Becca at a reading in Wellesley, Massachusetts and I'm going to let her draw the winner.

4. Be a little more patient, because once the winner is announced, it will take at least two weeks to get your books due to Becca's extreme popularity and the fact that she is currently on a month-long tour of the U.S., Canada, and the UK. When she returns home on October 29th, she will sign and send the books to the winner.

It's hard for me to believe that two years ago Ginger Churchill and I drove to Colorado to surprise Becca at the launch party for her first book. It's even harder to believe that three and half years ago she had nearly reached the end of her rope with agents asking for rewrites and then turning her down after. Becca is my shining example that life can change almost instantly--for the better. (I am, trust me, well aware that life can instantly change for the worse.)

Becca, I adore you and all of us at Cabinet of Curiosities have only one complaint about your success--when will you have time for a writers' retreat?!

(Ha, used up my second exclamation point. I'll have to be cautious with my last one.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

SCBWI Carolinas Conference--Filling the Blank Page

It's been almost ten years since I attended a regional SCBWI conference. Ten years, two changes of writing genre, three changes of writing category, four novels, a handful of abandoned picture books, and endless short stories. Plus a history degree, a black belt, and three moves. But for all those changes in me, the conference rush for writing and the deep-down satisfaction from rubbing elbows with my peers hasn't changed. I'm so grateful to Teresa Fannin and her marvelous group of cohorts who made the conference happen. I've never put on a conference, but I've done things similar and I'm always grateful to the known and unknown folks who work tirelessly behind the scenes making this kind of thing happen. Woot, woot!

Now, on to a few highlights, since I know that's why you're reading. :)

The highest highlight was Marietta Zacker's keynote on writing with passion. She didn't pace, but she gave the impression of pacing while standing still. Sharing with us memories of the special bond she had with her grandpa, a writer, she talked about writing from the deepest parts of who we are, and making sure that what we send out into the world is our best work. She reminded me that even though we all come from different backgrounds, we all share certain core emotions. Also, that there's power in ritual, and in traditions. It was a wonderful insight into Marrietta herself, but also the child readers out there that we hope to touch with our writing.

Another high was Mallory Kass's workshop on writing emotional mysteries and intertwining them with plot mysteries. I loved her insights, and we as the audience had fun coming up with ways to supplement one mystery style with its other half. She also had some nice material on voice, and why it's so important to write characters which the reader will want to spend time with. We looked at snippets pulled out of books and analyzed them for character traits. An all-around great workshop.

Mary Kate Castellani challenged us to come up with a snappy handle for our books, and guided us through the tip sheet (title information page) using examples from books she's worked on. I've seen the tip sheet before, but never seen it filled out for a middle grade. It's always interesting to look at how a book gets sold. If a writer is tossing around different projects of equal interest, working up a personal tip sheet could help decide which comes first.

We also had a great agent's panel, and I really enjoyed the first pages/first impressions feedback. We writers can suppose this, and suppose that, but a little feedback from the editors and agents themselves can really shed light on our suppositions. One thing I was a little surprised to hear was how often the editors preferred a story that didn't start too fast. An immediate conflict or hook went over well, but if the reader was thrown straight into the core of the action, the editors usually asked that a little character development be added.

My weekend was trimmed on both ends, leaving me mostly just Saturday to attend workshops, but I still enjoyed a brain-full of great material. My favorite part of the conference may have been how small and intimate it was. The agents and editors mingled with writers and illustrators, rubbing shoulders with us and chatting over life, the universe and everything. When I met people in one workshop, I often bumped into them at lunch, or at a schmooz. It was really nice to feel I was making real connections with people that are local enough I stand a chance of seeing them again. The last few conferences I've attended were national or world in scope, and I've loved the energy of the big conference. So it was great to find myself a fan of the smaller, regional conference, and discover the joys of that more personalized setting. I'm looking forward to next year!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Curious Interview: Caleb Warnock

We're excited to bring you words of wisdom and whimsy from Caleb Warnock, author of bestselling nonfiction title The Forgotten Skills of Self Sufficiency used by the Mormon Pioneers (Cedar Fort, 2011). Caleb has been writing since he was old enough to string letters together and has been teaching the craft nearly as long. In fact, his online classes brought all five of us cabinet members together. We are ever grateful for this and happy to call him a teacher, colleague and friend. (Some may or may not be grateful to call him a cousin).

CabinetYour book,  is a bestseller--congratulations!

Warnock: Thanks! That the book has sold this fast was unexpected for both me and my publisher. Happy days!
Cabinet: Tell us preparedness newbies what first small step can anyone take to move them toward self reliance? 

Warnock: Buy the book, of course! Knowing what to do is most of the battle. If you don't grow any of your own food, start. If you don't grow any of your own vegetable seed, my book will tell you the five easiest vegetables to get started with. 

Cabinet: Have you had any surprising moments during your popular garden tours? 

Warnock: Many. My chickens were video-interviewed without my knowledge (I didn't find out until the video was blogged.) My FM100 interview has brought me fan mail from all over the world, and seriously spiked the interest in touring my garden. People are taking my advice, and sending me photos of what they've done to their gardens, and their pioneer yeast baking.

Cabinet: Do you have any marketing tips for would-be bestsellers? What works? What flops? 

Warnock: Lucky for me, I have a team of marketers behind me courtesy of my publisher. I have two publicists (working with them is a whole story by itself). Bookbuyers from around the world came to the LDS Booksellers Association conference, and speaking to them (twice) was nerve-wracking. But apparently it went well because they started buying the book! 

I have learned in book signings that you are wasting your time if you sit there and stare at the floor. I speak to every single person that comes by. If I can get them to pick up a book and leaf through it, I have a 50 percent chance of them buying it -- this is because they listen to my explanation of the book while they look at it. One of these days I'll do a whole blog about what I've learned about making a book-signing a success. 

Cabinet: If you could be any nutritious plant, which kind would you be and why? 

Warnock: Hard question. This year my favorite in my garden has been my fresh figs -- yum. I'm very partial to my Noir des Carmes cantaloupes. My stevia is the thing that most people find the most surprising about my garden -- well, that and the Egyptian Walking Onions and the mangels and all the winter vegetables. 

When I die, I want to be reborn as my cat -- then I can just wander my garden all day. And I won't have to weed!

Cabinet: What is your next project? We hear rumors of fiction... 

Warnock: Ah, yes, the fiction. My editor has asked for rewrites on "The Given Son" which is a good sign. Now if I only had time to do those rewrites.... Apparently my kissing scene needs to be drawn out, says my editor. 

I have a natural yeast cookbook finished with a co-writer that there is a lot of interest in, so we are trying to see if that is going to be regional or national. 

And I'm working on a book that will teach people how to save seed vegetable by vegetable, and how to do a winter garden, since those topics seem to be what people are most fascinated by. I've had to practically open my garden to the public because people don't believe that you can grow fresh food 12 months of the year. But you can, and people have for centuries. 
Cabinet: Do you feel branding is necessary to market today's authors and books? 

Warnock: Who knows? This is my first book, so I don't know that I had any "brand" but people have loved the book. I think more important than branding is to actually know what you're talking about, and to be useful.  People appreciate people who are useful.

Cabinet: Do you still teach writing classes? We hear you hold like...five jobs? 

Warnock: I am one of the very few lucky people in the country who is over-employed. 

I have owned for 12 years, and it is still going strong (where we teach online writing classes) and I teach every Wednesday for the American Fork Arts Council, and I teach corporate writing for Utah Valley University, and I sell vegetables, eggs, and pure open-pollinated seed out of my garden. I work full-time as a journalist for the Daily Herald in Provo, Utah, and I write books and go to book signings. 

I have a privileged life. Very few people spend their life doing what they love every day, and that is what I do. I'm also a step-father and grandfather and husband. Those are my favorite jobs. 

Some people invest in the stock market. I've invested in education and family and my return on my money is enviable. :)

Cabinet: How can our readers find you? 

Warnock: Great question! Glad you asked. :) My book is available at and everywhere books are sold in the West. My blog is, and I try to answer all emails at Thanks for the interview! 

Cabinet: Our pleasure! Thank YOU.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Any Excuse Will Do (YA Reads)

Sometimes I can be such a task master. I mean, it's one thing to assign myself research books on the history of the outer banks and how the ecosystem of the islands have changed. That makes sense, when I'm setting a book on the NC islands. But making myself read a whole stack of YA novels? That's just cruel.


I must have checked out a dozen YA books this summer, and devoured them all in the month of August while we ran from place to place. I even taught myself to read on the road, something I've never been able to do before. And it was so much fun! Here are a few of the highlights, with my writerly insights thrown in for good measure.

Vampire Academy, Book 1, by Richelle Mead.

I know I'm years behind the curve on this one, but I'm so glad I didn't let that stop me from picking it up. This was so intense! I loved it! The heroine is
a tough girl, which I like, but has a soft side and is fiercly loyal. The stakes
are super high and feel genuine--nothing superimposed or put there for plotting purposes here! My takeaway was that dark, intense novels with relatable but hard core girls can sell--which is a yay for me, since that's what my YA is shaping up to be! Also, the reader can really tell when the situation deserves extreme measures and the character's fears are justified...kind of like the potential fate of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice. Part of the book's lasting appeal is we know that despite the charming and peaceful veneer, society has no use for washed up old maids without an inheritance. In each case, the characters are going to have to find a way through their problems, 'cause going around them simply isn't an option.

All-American Girl, by Meg Cabot.

I've read several of the Princess Diaries, and liked them okay but never fell in love with the books. This one I enjoyed more. It's the story of girl who accidentally saves the life of the President, and gets caught up in a bit of political intrigue, high school popularity pushing, and the fascinating young man from art class who happens to be the President's son. It's cute, and a fun read. I liked the interesting background of 'At Home in the White House,' and the well-developed supporting characters. I also liked--and this is going to sound so writerly--how well put together the book was. Everything made sense, the plot threads weren't introduced and then dropped, and the end fit the beginning without being too predictable. I know some people don't care about endings, but I see the ending as the place where all the parts of the book synergistically come together and create something more than we started with or could piece together from the parts. And All-American Girl pulled that off.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares.

I confess, this book made me cry--and coming from me, that actually means something! I don't (normally) cry over books, and I don't choose books in the hopes that they'll make me cry. I read to escape, or work through my emotions. Rarely am I picking up a book so I can wallow in a tear fest. No, Pants made me cry because it touched the core of human loss in a girl I could relate to, especially having just experienced loss myself. And that's part of the beauty of Pants. The girls in the book are so different from one another that there's sure to be someone for everyone. They aren't brought together by any one commonality--like family, money, or hobbies--all that's tying them together is their friendship. In lesser hands, the different girls might have felt like spot holders for one cliche or another. You know, the pretty one, the smart one, the athletic one, etc. But instead the girls were each given unique problems, then left to muddle through them like real human beings. It was refreshing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

And there you have it! Three 'current classics' that you really don't need a reason to read! Of course I read other books this summer, but most of them either blurred together into forgetable characters set against bland backgrounds or did the same thing as these books, only not as well. One thing I think both my reading side and writing side can agree is that books should stand our crisp and clear in my mind months after reading them, so yay for these books that achieve it!

What about you? Got any good books to recommend?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review: IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT by Kersten Hamilton

IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT: The Goblin Wars, Book 2

Official blurb:
The battle against goblinkind continues . . . but which side will Teagan be on?
Teagan, Finn, and Aiden have made it out of Mag Mell alive, but the Dark Man’s forces are hot on their heels. Back in Chicago, Tea’s goblin cousins show up at her school, sure she will come back to Mag Mell, as goblin blood is never passive once awoken. Soon she will belong to Fear Doirich and join them. In the meantime, they are happy to entertain themselves by trying to seduce, kidnap, or kill Tea’s family and friends. Tea knows she doesn’t have much time left, and she refuses to leave Finn or her family to be tortured and killed. A wild Stormrider, born to rule and reign, is growing stronger inside her. But as long as she can hold on, she’s still Teagan Wylltson, who plans to be a veterinarian and who heals the sick and hurting. The disease that’s destroying her—that’s destroying them all—has a name: Fear Doirich. And Teagan Wylltson is not going to let him win.

TYGER TYGER (the first book in The Goblin Wars series) was one of my favorite novels in 2010. I was terribly excited when I received an ARC of IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT--and a bit worried. Frankly, I’ve read a number of second books this year which were letdowns and I was hoping it wouldn’t be the case with this one.

Though IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT is slightly different than TYGER TYGER, it was definitely not a disappointment.

Rather than being trapped in the doldrums of reiterating book one, like happened in the other second books I read,  IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT dove right into the action—or more correctly into a house crammed with fun characters and their interrelationships. The back story from TYGER TYGER was revealed, but at a rate and manner which didn’t distracted from the ongoing story.  And the writing was as excellent as in the first novel.

Everyone from TYGER TYGER returned in this book, and their dilemmas wove in and out of the main plot. Teagan and Finn’s romance blossomed with realistic sizzle, trepidation and humor. Here and there, I feared I might get lost in the pandemonium and huge cast of characters--but I never did. Kerstin Hamilton’s ability to create individualized characters and juggle a host of subplots is amazing.  

The second half of the story moves way from the larger familiar cast and sends Teagen on a fantastic mission, featuring the same awesome blend of Irish Traveler traditions, Christianity and Celtic myth as TYGER TYGER.  Very cool, fast paced, scary and fun.

Oh, and the end--it was perhaps my favorite part of the whole novel. It was totally exciting and satisfying, and at the same time it opened up the story’s world with an unexpected twist. If I’d had book three, I’d have started reading it as soon as I closed IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT.

Bravo to Kersten for a great continuation of The Goblin Wars series!

IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT comes out November 22, 2011. Order it now at your hometown bookstore. Or here’s a link to Amazon if you want to take the easy route.

 I do recommend ordering and reading TYGER TYGER in preparation for this story.

AND--as if having a wonderful series to read isn’t enough--Kersten Hamilton is hosting a contest for the chance to win $1,000 dollars for your favorite library, live Skytype visits and more!

ALSO, I’ll be posting an interview with Kersten in the near future. Be sure to stop by, check it out and leave questions for Kersten.  By the way, I’m taking a class in crafting sexual tension and I plan on quizzing Kersten about how she achieves such wonderful romantic sizzle in a story packed with characters and action.

AND if you’d like to know more about TYGER TYGER here’s my review

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

At the End of Summer, a Word on Beginnings

     I love beginnings. Weddings, babies, new school years, mornings. Clean slates, possibilities, nothing I’ve screwed up. Yet.
     I never begin reading a book without the feeling that almost anything might happen. I might love it. I might hate it. I might throw it across the room in frustration. I simply don’t know yet.
     As for writing beginnings . . . well, here’s the deal. I hate it. With the white-hot passion of a thousand suns I prick the blood from my fingertips and achingly scrawl letter by letter--
     Okay, you get the clich├ęd drift.
     There are just so many things to remember about beginnings. And so much riding on them. We all know the beginning will make or break our shot with an agent or editor. If they don’t like the first page, they’ll never see the second. So you’d better write a killer first page. Or first paragraph. Or even first word.
     Sigh. Now I’m looking at the first word of this piece and worrying about it. I. Is that a good word choice? Does it make anyone want to read further? Or does it turn readers off? Are they thinking to themselves: “Why would I want to read anything that’s so obviously self-centered? It’s not about me—it’s about the vanity of the author.”
     Double sigh.
     It’s my completely biased opinion that beginnings are rewritten more times than anything else. Polished to a perfect gloss, every word chosen with aching care, paced to perfection—I’ve done it myself. Recently. The only catch? I never got around to finishing the story. My characters were stuck in mid-novel for months at a time while I tinkered with the opening.
     You’d think that, after landing an agent and selling a trilogy, I’d have learned my lesson. That lesson being: Beginnings are often dictated by the endings. If the ending hasn’t been written, how do you know that you have the perfect beginning? Clearly I haven’t, because in ten weeks I’ve only written a thousand words in book two of said trilogy. Yes, sure, I’ve been blindsided by a cross-country move and living in temporary housing for three weeks and a hurricane, but still. Some of that delay is sheer terror at screwing up the beginning.
     So my advice, completely unasked for, is this: Write the whole piece—poem, essay, column, story, novel, whatever. Finish. See your entire story arc on paper. Get a feel for the style and structure and voice of the piece. Find out just what it is you have to deliver.
And then go back and write the opening that promises whatever it is you have to give.
     But for the love of books and libraries and all things sacred to the writer:  Do not get so caught up in the opening that you forget to write the rest.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Preparation for the Noobs

Your hurricane shopping starts on the baking aisle, with the all-essential muffin mix. Now, you may see folks stocking up on matches, water, or batteries, but don't let them distract you from your goal. You are aiming for the baking aisle. Once you've bought all the ready-t0-make muffin mixes on the aisle, cleaned them out of cake mixes, and picked out five of every flavor of jello, you're ready to go home and get to work.

Now, depending on how close your hurricane is, you may not be able to make up ALL the muffins and mixes, but do your best. Keep that oven going right up until the minute the power cuts off. If family members protest, start screaming about water pouring into the house and starving children. That'll make 'em back off. When you're finished making muffins, take eight dozen and cram them into every crevice and cranny you can--around the doors and windows, behind electric outlets, around pipes under the sinks. You'll probably find that pumpkin muffins work best for bigger holes, while blueberry and chocolate chip work great on small ones. The cakes you made can go over the windows, if you want the extra security of protected glass. When you're finished with your muffin-plugging, mix up a package or two of jello, any color. Wait until it's almost gelafied, then pour it over your muffins and--voila! You've not only hurricane-proofed your house, you've also prepared emergency rations fit for royalty!

Now that your house is secure, fill your bathtubs and sinks with water--you may have heard others are doing this, but they're missing the essential last step--then mix up your jello flavors in the tubs, sinks, and even toilets if you feel like going the extra mile. This will make sure you have the liquids you'll need if water shortages follow the hurricane, while surrounding you with a cheerful rainbow of nutritious yumminess. Your neighbors are all going to envy this one. But--shhhh! Don't tell them. They like to see the noobs suffer through their first hurricane, but you'll be living it high!

Happy Hurricaning!!!