A reblog from last Christmas! I will be away for Christmas and these are my favorites to share! Merry Christmas to one and all!
Whilst we sleep, and the snow falls deep,
Snow fairies alight, to watch through the night,
As boughs of ice and snow, fall heavy, upon our roofs.
With a twinkle in their eyes, and a snap of their fingers,
They light a fire aglow, blazing in our hearths.
Thus, do they keep us warm and snug in our beds,
Whilst wintry winds do blow.
They watch with grave intent, to keep us safe,
And stay the goblins away, one and all, at bay,
Less the bale of wolves, upon our doorsteps,
Howl through the night, to cause us fright.
When all is safe, they hence take flight,
On gossamer wings, they glitter and glow,
And sprinkle fairy dust, as they go,
Upon the newly fallen snow.
And in the morn, whence we wake,
Our baskets, do we find, brimming, with berries,
Hidden well and safely kept, as wide-eyed babes,
Giggle with delight, in the wonder of fairies,
That cometh in the night, leaving magical treats,
Beneath, their Merry Christmas, Yuletide Tree.
By K. D. Dowdall
A much loved story reblogged from last year!
At this time of year, I think of The Little Match Girl fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. “It was terribly cold. It had snowed that day and it was almost dark”, begins the story of The Little Match Girl who carried with her a little box of matches to sell, but no passerby had stopped to give her even a penny as she walked along, hoping for someone to buy her matches for a penny, but no one even glanced her way.
The Little Match Girl was so terribly cold and her thin little body ached with the cold. She had no coat or shoes. Her old hand-me-down sweater was soaked through from the snow that had fallen earlier in the day. She shivered uncontrollably as the snow started falling again. She saw a place between two houses where she could sit down and look across the street.
There she saw warm yellow lights from windows. She thought she could even smell the holiday goose that was headed for the dining table. She was so weak from the freezing cold and so hungry she could no longer stand again, so she took one of the matches and lit it and she began to feel warm and then she lit another one. She knew she dared not go home, her father would beat her.
She began to dream of her grandmother and lit another match, but this time all the matches came aflame. To her it was like heaven with the sky ablaze and she saw her beloved grandmother as she watched as a star fall from the sky. She remembered what her grandmother told her, when a star falls a soul goes to heaven. “Take me with you Grandmother” she cried, and her grandmother picked her up and flew to heaven with the tiny Match Girl in her arms. The next morning, the little Match Girl was found frozen to death on the street corner where no one had stopped to give her even a penny.
This is more than a fairy tale, it is real because around the world there are many little Match Girls and Boys and they are dying for want of a little kindness from those of us who have shoes, warm coats and Christmas dinner waiting.
THE IMITATION GAME: Learning How to Be a Copycat!
In Writer’s Digest magazine this month, I was stopped in my tracks, when I saw this article by Karen Krumpak. I thought…What?
But then reading on, I realized that this is what artists do all the time. The apprentice artists are required to copy their “Master’s work” in paintings, watercolor, and pastels. Okay, I thought, but how is copying, word for word, another author’s work going to help me? And is this a good idea? In my effort to understand this “Game”, I read on.
And, I then discovered that this is a practice game to improve writing skills. Great, I thought, I am hooked! It was a relief though, to know I wouldn’t be the only copycat. I was in good company: Jack London, Benjamin Franklin, and Hunter S. Thompson (I honestly don’t know who this man is or was.)
Next step: Learning to Copycat or rather finding a writer I love and want to copy, but, as I found out, this is not as easy as pie…it takes work! Work?? More work??
Okay…I am Game! (pun intended)
Ms. Karen Krumpak, the author of this article, states that “You will learn to have your own Voice and your own Distinctive Style!” This sounded like magic to me, as I imagined my own Strong voice, and my own Distinctive style!
Or, would I be, “The New Copycat Killer of Words?” (secretly, I wondered if I would finally learn to properly use punctuation, and even learn how to use italics with confidence.) I have a secret love for italics—don’t ask me why, I don’t know. Italics are very pretty to look at, aren’t they?
The first thing is to sort through your personal library for a writer that you would love to imitate. So, several hours later….I finally made a decision!
I chose a book with 870 pages: THE MISTS OF AVALON. I figured that after 870 pages…I would really have my own Strong voice and my own Distinctive style! This would be the “Cat’s Meow” (Pun intended)!
This choice was perfect for me with my love of legends, fantasy, fairytales, and most of all, the Magic of Morgan Le Fay, in other words; the magic of a legends, and the magical saga of all the women behind King Arthur’s Throne. Ah Ha! This is true…there are always women standing behind a man’s throne! (Just to be sure he didn’t forget anything. We women are so helpful.)
Next step: Learn how to be a Sherlock Holmes, but where is my Watson? Well, as Karen Krumpak states, “forcing yourself to impersonate another writer takes off the pressure of writing? Really? What pressure?
Soon, I am told, I will start reading like a writer. But, I do that already…maybe. Normally, I just read, for the pleasure of it. But, if I must, I will.
Soon, states Ms. Krumpak, I will learn to stretch my skills and improve my technique. This better work…if it doesn’t, well, I will have enjoyed immensely, re-reading The Mists of Avalon, just like a real writer reads a book. Good to know!
She comes to him at Midnight,
The Witch of his Dreams,
Her eyes a forest green,
Her hair, dark and long,
Her voice, a sweet magic,
Calling out his name,
He could not help but watch her,
Dance among the flowers,
Beneath a waxing moon,
She whirls and cast her spells,
A haunting chant she sings,
And soars into his soul,
On gossamer wings,
She whispers things he longs to hear,
Of secret longings in his ear,
She enchants him with delights,
Though she must fly into the night,
She tells him of her love,
And casts her spells upon him,
To love him evermore,
Though never shall she return,
For she was only ever,
The Witch of His Dreams.
Composed by K. D. Dowdall October 2017
As writers and authors, we know or should know, the importance of creating a book cover that shines. The cover should also represent as much as possible what the novel is all about. On October 20th, 2018, I will be interviewing Judy Rumsey Bullard, a very talented Book Cover Designer, who will talk to us about Book Cover Designing. She will be displaying 6 more of her great designs, and will talk to us about what it takes to be a successful Book Cover Designer! Here are three Book Cover designs that she designed for three of my novels and I love each one!
An excerpt from: Paul Goat Allen | March 12, 2018, Writer’s Digest. Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.
Novelists live and die by reviews yet uncovering what garners a gushing ovation or blistering takedown is often a mystery. A professional critic lays out what it takes to earn five-star book reviews. For two decades I’d been working as a freelance genre fiction book critic for outlets such as BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and the Chicago Tribune. After sharing my credentials with the group, some of the writers began telling stories about mediocre or bad reviews they’d received at different points in their careers from one or more of the companies I’d listed.
As a reviewer, not much has changed since then. I enjoy all genres and have reviewed thousands of titles in hundreds of sub-genres ranging from apocalyptic fiction to zombie erotica. (Yes, there’s such thing as zombie erotica.) In the end, genre categorization matters little to me—it’s all about the story. With that in mind, I decided to formalize a universal framework through which I process and analyze my various reading experiences. While there are undoubtedly specific narrative elements I look for in-particular-genres (pacing and tension level in thrillers, for example), there’s a pyramid of qualities—a Hierarchy of Needs, if you will—that I seek in every story. While highly simplified, it’s this structure that dictates whether I give a book a positive or negative review.
These five criteria will not only provide a glimpse into how a veteran book reviewer dissects and evaluates a novel but, hopefully, make you look at your writing in a different light. See for yourself: Does your work-in-progress have what it takes to earn a positive review?
The Book Reviewer’s Hierarchy of Needs: How to Earn Five-Star Book Reviews
A book’s degree of readability is the base layer of my reviewer’s pyramid, and the foundation for any good story. The quality of a novel—narrative clarity, narrative fluidity, having a coherent storyline—is directly related to the number of times I put that book down. Some are so bad, so poorly written, that I struggle to get through a single paragraph without wanting to walk away. Others have such a fl uid plot that I find it virtually impossible to stop reading—Tad Williams’ The Witchwood Crown and Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass being two such examples of utterly readable, page-turning novels.
I’ve read a lot of “unputdownable” books over the last few decades, and the vast majority of these all have something in common beyond a clear and fluid narrative: The stories have noticeably strong chapter beginnings and endings. It’s a small thing, but a great way to compel readers to keep reading. How can you put a book down when every chapter begins and ends with a cliffhanger sequence, bombshell plot twist or powerful statement? When I consistently find these elements in a novel, I know the author fully understands the significance of readability.
Conversely, novels that aren’t as readable—that are poorly written with awkward sentence structure, a confusing storyline, weak chapter beginnings and endings—are almost asking to be tossed aside. This may sound obvious, but if you can’t compel a reader to read your story, then you need to focus more on your craft before penning another book.
I define immersion as the ability for me, the reader, to not only lose myself in a novel (I call these “stay-up-all-night-till-your-eyes-bleed” reads) but to experience the story intimately, living vicariously through the characters. This trick is accomplished through a continued focus on setting, rich description and atmospherics. I don’t want to experience the story as a detached viewer looking down at what’s happening—I want to feel like I’m in the story.
The litmus test for this is easy. If I become so engaged with a book that I lose track of time—if I glance at the clock and hours have passed by—you’ve succeeded in drawing me fully into your read. Writers who are absolute immersion masters (think Cherie Priest, Justin Cronin, Charlaine Harris) are so good at captivating description that weeks, months and oftentimes years after reading their novels I can still vividly recall specific scenes.
This layer is where many writers stumble, and here’s why: While they may excel at world-building and meticulous description at the beginning of a novel, once the action and adventure ramps up, they not only lose focus but completely ignore description altogether. I’ve seen this happen countless times in every genre: rich description for the first 100 pages or so, then almost nothing in the final 200. It’s called literary escapism for a reason. If I can’t lose myself in a read—from beginning to end—then I haven’t fully escaped. Writing the Intimate Character: Create Unique, Compelling Characters Through Mastery of Point of View
- Character Depth and/or Plot Intricacy
Three-dimensional, interesting and identifiable characters bring emotional connectivity and intensity to the read. If your readers aren’t emotionally invested in your characters, then the narrative impact of your story is inevitably going to be negatively impacted. Emotions wield power. If you can bring your readers to tears, make them laugh out loud or scare them to the point of checking under the bed, then you’ve succeeded on some level.
Creating authentic characters to whom readers can relate is a solid achievement—but an obvious word of warning: Stay clear of clichés and stereotypes. Overused conventions—like the Chosen One in fantasy who is consistently a white male, or the emotionally damaged billionaire entrepreneur in erotic fiction who needs to sexually dominate his love interest—even if brilliantly rendered, will underwhelm and disappoint more than a few readers (and reviewers).
Now, the reason I include an “and/or” between character development and plot intricacy is because, in some rare cases (particularly in mainstream thrillers), a novel with an impressively knotty storyline can still succeed with relatively cardboard characters.
Which is why plot intricacy is key: Why read a novel where you can accurately predict what’s going to happen after a few chapters? (I do that quite often. After reading the first chapter or two, I’ll jot down a prediction in my notes. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve guessed the ending correctly.) I just finished reviewing a brilliant historical mystery for Publishers Weekly that was filled with so many plot twists I was left guessing until the last few pages. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a fantasy or a thriller or a romance—the plot has to be intricate enough to keep your reader simultaneously engaged and a bit off balance.
- Originality and Innovation
This one ties in with embracing originality, be it atypical characters or unconventional story structure. So many books out there today are built upon unoriginal, rehashed, derivative storylines. I read a lot. And I get bored easily, especially when reading the same basic story arc again and again. My advice? Don’t play it safe. Write a story that you’ve never read before. In a 2016 Goodreads interview I conducted with fantasy novelist Michael J. Sullivan, author of Age of Myth, he said,
“It doesn’t matter if it’s been done before. It just matters if it’s being done well now.”
I love that quote. Just because something has been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be re-envisioned or reimagined but be innovative—put a new twist on an old mythos, turn a stereotype on its head. Have the courage to be creative!
- Thematic Profundity
In the introduction to the 2006 reissue of Walter M. Miller Jr.’s 1960 Hugo Award–winning classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Mary Doria Russell writes, “You’ll be different when you finish it.” That’s my hope for every novel I pick up—that within the story there will be a kind of spiritual and/or existential wisdom, a kind of revelation or insight that will change the way I look at myself and the world around me.
A novel that holds this kind of thematic power—as well as the other elements in the Hierarchy of Needs—will get a starred review from me every time. Stories, no matter the genre, have the power to change lives. Novels like Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We have irrevocably changed who I am. After all, that’s the ultimate goal, right? To write a commercially successful and critically acclaimed novel that is both entertaining and enlightening.
Evaluating a novel is a cumulative process. Those with masterful character development but zero immersion will still receive a poor review, for example, while a thematically profound read with excruciatingly bad readability will receive a terrible review.
May this Hierarchy of Needs not only make you more aware of how your writing is experienced by readers—and jaded book reviewers like myself—but also offer up a few invaluable insights that can be used to improve your craft. Who knows, maybe my next starred review will be yours.