Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Heard it through the grapevine...

You may have heard through the grape vine by now about a new venture I've started with the amazingly talented Jessica Bell. An online literary journal. (I know, I keep pinching myself, too.)

Well pop the cork on a fine bottle of merlot, my friends - Vine Leaves is open for submissions.

What the heck is Vine Leaves? I thought you’d never ask. It’s an online journal catering to a type of writing the publishing industry has yet to fully recognize. A snippet of atmosphere, a character tease, an excerpt from an unpublished piece of work , a poem, 800 words of…vomit? Beautiful vomit, of course.

Yes, a vignette.

Badass, right?

Yeah, I think so too, which is why Mr. Colin “badass” Farrel is this week’s (late) muse avatar. He has nothing to do with Vine Leaves other than provide the courage (and eye candy) to dive head first into this new world of literary publishing.

I’m loving it already. As we carefully review each submission, we’re dumbstruck by your absolute talent, your brilliant use of language, your ability to make us laugh – and cry. You’ve wowed us. Moved us. Inspired us.

What’s that? Not YOU? Well what are you waiting for? Take another few seconds to stare at Collin Farrel, and then head over to Vine Leaves for our submission guidelines and deadlines. 

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cranking up the heat

It's been a chilly couple of days, my friends. Something is wrong with my vehicle and only one vent is pushing out heat. The rest are circulating chilly Alberta winter air, and last week we got hit with one of our first true cold snaps. Minus 22C without the wind chill.

Not surprisingly, mechanics are booked solid, with the earliest appointment scheduled for Wednesday, when the temperature is supposed to return to the positives for a few days. Irony at its best, I suppose.

Sadly, my vehicle isn't the only thing in need of some warmth. I'm going to have to light a fire under my ass if I plan to tackle any of the items on my massive to-do list. Exciting projects on the horizon, for sure, but without some fiery inspiration, it's going to be a tough haul to find the light at the end of a hazy tunnel.

If heat is what I need, and believe me, I do, then Adam Levine is the perfect muse avatar for this week. Because let's face it, this guy is smoking hot.

I caught a (clothed) glimpse of him performing at the American Music Awards last night, and while Maroon 5 songs are somewhat hit and miss for me, there's nothing amiss with the band's lead singer. He turns up the heat on and off stage - this week I need him to blow some of that hot air towards my works in progress.

Come on baby, light my fire.

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

An open letter to my muse

Dear Damon Ian,

Last week, I had seven days to myself.


Our first true winter storm of the year knocked out the Internet, resulting in a distraction-free zone. No Facebook. Twitter. Heck, I even missed the excitement of my dear friend Jessica's blogging chart rush for her stunning debut novel String Bridge. (And wow, was it exciting!)

It should have been prime writing time, no?

It's not like I don't have projects on the go. I'm 15,000 words into my NaNoWriMo novel (don't cheer yet, that's still 35,000 words remaining and the clock doesn't stop just because my pen does.) There's Jagger's story to finish - I'm on the home stretch. I'm working on a new script and a play - something completely different for me. Not to mention that thriller-esque trilogy that's been rolling around in my brain for the past month.

And then. Wham! BLOOD OF THE FALLEN edits "appear" from seemingly nowhere.

Of course that's where my focus should be.

But I'm not content to work on just ONE project. I never have been. I know, it gets me in trouble.

Which is why I need you this week, Damon Ian.

Oh, I know you've been my muse avatar before. At least a dozen times. But last week I had this guy and as pretty as he looks, he didn't do much in the way of inspiration. Despite my distraction-free zone, I out-putted few words, and spent more time painting my craft/spare room (it's a very pretty room) instead of doing what should get done.

That can't be the case this week. It simply can't. Already I'm behind - my Monday Muse Avatar post is going up a day late (storm+country living=spotty Net) and I have a crap load of day job work to catch up on. I haven't completely given up on NaNo, and well, let's just say the "new shiny" has a bit of a hold on me.

So I need you to do your thing.

I know Vampire Diaries is on mid season break, so technically, you should have plenty of time.

I beg of you (and I'm not one to beg), go forth and...INSPIRE.

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fifteen minutes with Jessica Bell

If you've hung around my blog at all, my guest today needs no introduction. 

But just in case, a quick bio on the beautiful and talented Jessica Bell

Jessica Bell is a literary women's fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the '80s and early '90s.

She spent much of her childhood travelling to and from Australia to Europe, experiencing two entirely different worlds, yet feeling equally at home in both environments. She currently lives in Athens, Greece and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide, such as HarperCollins, Pearson Education and Macmillan Education.

In addition to String Bridge, Jessica has published a book of poetry called Twisted Velvet Chains. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website.

From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus.

What the bio doesn't capture, and what you can't find on Google is that Jessica is a rare combination of beauty, humility, grace and talent. She's also one of my closest friends, even though we've never met. That's the magic of the blogging world. 

You're a talented musician AND writer. Are you professionally trained in either? And if no, do you wish you had been?

I’m not professionally trained in music, but I am in writing as I studied various subjects such as writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry and screenplays at university. I even did a course in publishing and editing and now make a living as an English Language Teaching Writer/Editor for multinational ELT publishers.

Yes, I do wish I was professionally trained in music. I don’t even know half the notes or chords I play on guitar because I taught myself by ear. This makes it very difficult to improvise with other people in a jam session. Usually when musicians get together to have a jam they can just determine the key in which others are playing in and know exactly which notes will fit. I can’t do that. And yeah, it makes me a bit sad. But I only have so much energy and I’m putting it into what matters most to me. My writing.

If I opened your fridge right now, what key ingredients would I find in it?

Ha! Watermelon, grapes, zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese, milk, Lavazza coffee, lemons, left-over Bolognese, grated Kefalotiri (Greek hard yellow cheese), orange juice, pork chops, a couple of chocolate bars, red wine.

Where do you plot? While working out? While watching TV? Where did you have your biggest breakthrough for String Bridge?

I hate exercising. You’ll never catch me working out unless it’s the time of the month and I feel fat and decide to spend five minutes on the exercise bike. Ha! I don’t plot much. I plot as I go so things remain a surprise for me as I write. Otherwise I get bored if I know what’s going to happen next. Of course, I write a general outline so I know what I have to achieve, but I never work out the details until I’m actually writing it. Breakthrough for String Bridge? I honestly can’t remember. I wrote so many different drafts of that book that it all muddles together. I guess, though, if I had to come up with an answer, I’d say it was the idea of producing a soundtrack for it.

What key piece of advice would you give to young writers? 

Take criticism and feedback on your writing with a grain of salt. Ultimately YOU have to decide what works. And listen to your heart. Learn the rules and then break them intelligently. I learnt that the hard way. In the early days, I was told by an editor at a professional and very well-established critique service that I had a perfect voice for women’s fiction even though my heart kept saying to strive for literary fiction. I listened. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote until my story didn’t sound like it was written by me anymore. Despite hating what it turned out to be, I tried to get it published. Then Janice, from Lucky Press, came along and read between the lines. She understood me because she read other material I had posted online, etc. She understood that my real voice wasn’t shining through in this story. But she gave me a chance to rewrite it and it all worked out brilliantly. I can’t thank Janice enough. String Bridge would have been shelved for good if it wasn’t for her generosity and encouragement.

If you could be any character in fiction, who would you be? And why? (And which fictional character have you fallen for...)

Oh my, I’m blushing … I’ve never fallen for any characters in books, but I did fall for Sayid from LOST! Eeek! Am I seriously admitting to this in public? Shh! You can keep this quiet, right?

I’ve always wanted to be Mary Poppins. J

Describe your dream day.

You know I was actually thinking the other day that there is always something undesirable about the weather. It’s always too hot, too cold, too windy, too humid, too dry, too wet, too much of something. A day when the weather isn’t too much of anything is my dream day, so I can sit on my balcony and read in comfort.

You write with such a beautiful literary quality. Have you ever had the urge to bust out and write something raw, commercial, and without strict detail to every word. If so, what's stopping you?

You know, I actually don’t see “raw and commercial” to mean less literary. I think that comes through when writing is written in a way that invokes a certain intensity of emotion; when the “way” something is written isn’t even noticed and the reader is left with their heart beating a little faster. So no, I haven’t ever felt the urge to “bust out,” because I try to achieve both lyrical and raw commercial quality in my work. I’d actually like to know if any of my readers think I achieve this. So please feel free to comment on this.

Are you satisfied with where you are at with your career?

Definitely. I couldn’t ask for a more steady-paced and satisfying road to publication. Every day I will achieve another success in my career, whether it be a fan sending me an email telling me they loved my work, or whether it be a major write-up in a well-known newspaper or magazine, or even simply thinking of a new idea for a novel and feeling excited about it. I don’t care what it is. As long as I keep learning and growing, as a writer and as a person, along the way. So far I think I am achieving this, and this is certainly satisfying. Ultimately it’s the doing that makes me happy. Not the result.

Jessica's debut novel, String Bridge is out NOW. If you don't have a copy (of the book AND the soundtrack), you should. Really. They are both breathtaking.

Purchase links:

My links:
String Bridge Website:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lock me up, Mr. Muse

After being away from home for a few days, I was really looking forward to seeing my husband, my stepdaughter and our doggies last night. But I was also desperate to get home in time to watch the newest episode of Once Upon a Time.

I'm a little bit addicted.

Yes, my husband teases me about that.

I can't help it, though. I'm loving how well the storyline is progressing on the show (though admittedly worried about sustainability), and the cross-over between the worlds of fantasy and real are really quite well done. It is one of those shows where I'm stuck between loving it and hating it for being so damn clever.

Not that I can't do clever.

I can, and this week, I will.

I'm taking some time to catch up on my deadlines, and hopefully rock out some serious NaNo wordage. My muse avatar will have no choice but to lock me up for seven days of writing solitude.

Good thing I chose Once Upon a Time's sheriff for the role. Oh, Jamie Dornan might not look the part on the show, but give his name a quick Google. You'll be begging for this former Calvin Klein underwear model to lock you up, too.

- Dawn

P.S. - NaNo words yesterday? None. And so the catch up begins...

The Book In My Bag Today: The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Finding the authenticity...and NaNo

Write from a place of truth.

How many times as authors have we heard this advice - from mentors, from our peers, from books written about craft?

But what does that mean, really?

It certainly doesn't mean, "write what you know."

The definition is still a bit murky, but after this evening's keynote address by the brilliant playwright Daniel MacIvor, I'm a little more clear on the concept.

And a whole lot more inspired.

Daniel MacIvor was in Calgary, AB Saturday night as part of Playworks Ink, a four-day conference for seasoned and emerging theatre professionals.

I am not a playwright, a director, a dramaturge (heck, before tonight I had no idea what that even was), nor a theatre technician, and I am most certainly NOT an actor. Admittedly, I was privileged to hear Daniel's mind blowing speech because I work for Theatre Alberta, one of the co-hosts of this amazing bi-annual conference.

The theme of Daniel's talk centred on truth - the ability to create something authentic from an environment that is fundamentally artificial, make belief.

He was talking about theatre. But, in my opinion, many of the concepts apply to fiction, as well.

As with theatre professionals, novelists are tasked with a challenge. We construct worlds and create pretend characters, spend hours, months, years in this imagined place of make belief in the hope of creating something genuine.

The false is clear.

But what is truth?

As Daniel points out, the authenticity is much harder to explain. But we KNOW it when we see it - or more specifically for authors, when we write it or read it.

It is not about standing on a rooftop to shout, "I am awesome." (Except while in Genius Mode, but that shouting should still be done from the safety of your sound-proof office.) The "I want to be famous/approved" attitude, as Daniel says, will get you to the laptop, but it will not sustain you. "Ego is excellent fuel. But it is a shitty engine."

And ego-based theatre - or writing - will be observed and perhaps appreciated. But never satisfying. Readers may be amused, but not stirred. Entertained, but not moved.

For this, you must be able to answer a fundamental question. Why?

Why bother?
Why should readers care?

The answer should be because you believe  - whether thriller, romance, or Pulitzer Prize winning literary fiction - that it is a story that must be told.

Even if it is never *gasp* published.

So how do we get there, to this place of authenticity? Here's some theatre-inspired tips from Daniel MacIvor, with a bit of a fiction twist.

1. Avoid boosterism. Keep the bar high. And encourage your peers to do the same. Critisize without judgement; trust instinct not taste.

2. Enough is not enough. Strive for excellence, and always push to get better. One of my mentors always said, "Don't get caught learning to write in public." I love that, because it reminds me that I should never stop learning, and to always put my best work forward.

3. The audience/reader is enough. If only one person reads your book, that reader should be the most important person in the world at that moment.

4. The show does not have to go on. Yes, you've invested the time, spent hours on creating worlds and characters and situations...but if it's not working, if the "truth" is somehow authentic can you expect the end product to be? Often this will lead back to the question of WHY. Which will also bring you back to the truth.

I still can't define authenticity - and it's been a long couple of days where I've been unsuccessful at string more than a couple of coherent sentences together. But I DO know genuine when I read it. My favorite authors - from Roald Dahl and Chelsea Cain to Nora Roberts and Melissa Marr (and the thousands inbetween) - write from a place of truth. I believe their stories had to get out - even if I was the only one who ever read them.

- Dawn

NaNo Update: No words today, authentic or otherwise. But to be fair, I had a plot breakthrough, and after listening to Daniel MacIvor, was completely inspired. And well...this blog should count, right? Playworks ends Sunday afternoon, and then I'm off for a week to write...a lot of make belief I hope will  someday be a genuine thriller.

The Book In My Bag Today: The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Saturday, November 5, 2011

NO NaNo. A regression.

Thank goodness the ever-wise Hart suggested I factor in another three days of slack writing days when recalculating my required word count to reach the 50,000 goal.

There was absolutely no way ANY writing was getting done yesterday.

And it's unlikely any will be completed today, either.

But next week. NEXT week I'm off work and writing is ALL I'll be doing.

Except maybe the occasional Pinterest craft.

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Friday, November 4, 2011

NaNo: Day 3 - Let's Get This Party Started

NaNo Day 3, and I may have hit my stride.

Not that I want to jinx it, of course, but I'm pleased with yesterday's word output - just under 2,000. That doesn't quite catch me up on the dismal previous two days, but I'm following the brilliant advice of blogger friend (and NaNo champ) Hart Johnson - recalculate the words required, factoring in another couple of days of non-productivity.

And then just get er done.

I'm in Calgary this weekend for Playworks Ink, a bi-annual conference for theatre professionals. It's awe-inspiring, fun, completely new to me, and busy! But there's also down time. And during that down time, I plan to write.

A lot.

Doing NaNo? Sending you inspirational vibes.

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Thursday, November 3, 2011

NaNo: 2 - Off to a great start. Not.

I admit, I was tempted to lie.

A piece of me wanted to report a 2,000-word day, and rejoice in catching myself up after an 800-word Day 1 start.

But National Novel Writing Month is intended to be about personal challenge, pushing yourself to bust through writer's block and actually finish (or start) that novel you've always been wanting to write.

Trouble is, I've got TOO many novels I want to write, and so when I sit down at the computer, it's a matter of determining which project gets the attention.

Yesterday, I didn't pay a single one of them any thought.

I'm not going to whine about being busy with the day job, or packing for my four-day trip, or even spending creative time working on pretty centrepieces for the display tables at this weekend's function. Few writers have the luxury of staying home to write - and a good portion of them are not doing NaNo. Life still happens.

And lying about word count will only hurt me in the end.

So. *deep breath*

The next four days will be busy, but when I'm not busy, I'm going to be productive and knock those words out. Because THIS IS THE YEAR.

And I'm not a quitter.

Doing NaNo? How's it going? Survival tips? Inspirational quotes? Send them along please.

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Day 1

I picked up a new pair of fleece pajamas the other day. They're red, and covered with images of tweety bird, who I happen to love. Most importantly, they're warm, and when paired with a fresh cup of coffee from the magic Tassimo machine, the perfect inspiration for the NaNo challenge.

Clearly it's going to take more than a pair of pajamas.

I'd planned a day of writerly stuff - breakfast with my crit partner, review of my NaNo outline, and then wham! A cool 2000 words to get me out of the gate.

I stopped at 800.

I'm not calling it a failure because 800 words is more than I've output in the last few weeks - NaNo or not. But if I'm to claim victory this year, I'm going to have to haul ass tomorrow. And the day after that.

Doing NaNo? How did you make out?

- Dawn

PS - I updated this blog on my iPhone blogger app. How freaking handy is that?!

String Bridge will tug on your heart strings

For many writers, November 1 marks the start of NaNoWriMo, a month-long write-a-thon whereby the ultimate challenge and victory is to complete 50,000 words.

But for Jessica Bell, an Australia-born author living in Greece, November is the beginning of a massive blog tour in support of her stunning literary debut, String Bridge. The novel releases today by Lucky Press.

Perhaps it is her readers and fans who are the lucky ones.

"Greek cuisine, smog and domestic drudgery was not the life Australian musician, Melody, was expecting when she married a Greek music promoter and settled in Athens, Greece. Keen to play in her new shoes, though, Melody trades her guitar for a 'proper' career and her music for motherhood. That is, until she can bear it no longer and plots a return to the stage—and the person she used to be. However, the obstacles she faces along the way are nothing compared to the tragedy that awaits, and she realizes she's been seeking fulfillment in the wrong place."

On November 8, 2011 I've scheduled an interview with Jessica, but even a quick skim of her website will tell you a lot about her – she’s passionate, nurturing, beautiful, and freaking talented. Not only can she write – and believe me, Jessica CAN write – she is also a brilliant musician, even composing and producing a soundtrack for this novel.

It’s not shocking then, that the underlying thread of String Bridge is music. Even the writing is lyrical. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph is strung together like fine poetry, creating the vivid imagery that is vital in bringing the story – and of course the characters – to life.

Melody is a protagonist many women will relate to. There’s no debating that she’s made some difficult life choices, giving up music being the most affective. It's important to note that she made these choices of her own accord. Like many women, Melody sacrifices a dream – or what she believes to be the dream, and the story is not so much about “what if” but rather the consequences of making a tough choice and then learning to find her happily-ever-after. 

You will either begin by loving or hating Melody – because Jessica’s writing has the ability to make you feel. Loss, pain, elation, hope…Melody runs the gambit in Jessica's ambitious first book, and at each emotional crossroads, I believed the author and empathized with the protagonist. From page 1, I was on Team Melody, even when I sometimes shook my head at her decision process.

If you love Melody, you will adore her daughter Tessa, and loathe her husband Alex. The threads of their complex relationships are woven through  a spider web of innocence, desire and guilt. In this difficult balancing act of being a mother, a wife, and a dreamer, it is no wonder Melody feels trapped.

Make no mistake though, this story is neither cliché nor boring. The plot twists are surprising, and often heart wrenching – but always page-turning.

Though String Bridge is Jessica’s first novel, there is nothing amateur about her craft. Character, plot, and the rich exotic setting meld into a literary debut that will leave you spellbound.

- Dawn

Purchase links:

Paperback: (Coming soon) 
Amazon UK: (Coming soon)


Jessica's Links:
String Bridge Website:
String Bridge Book Trailer:
retreat & workshop site: