Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Celebrating agriculture literacy week

All across Canada this week, schools are celebrating the first ever Agriculture Literacy Week, an initiative funded by Farm Credit Canada to create awareness about the importance of farming.

It was my pleasure yesterday to talk to five Grade 4 classes at McKenzie Lake Elementary in Calgary, AB not only about agriculture, but also to share my book Fields of Home, the first in a series of graphic storybooks following the adventures of Chase Duffy and his grandfather, an Alberta canola farmer.

The kids were absolutely fabulous - all 125-ish of them! I was prepared for questions about being a writer, or farming, or canola... What shocked me was the number of questions about Chase.

Girls were dying to know his favorite color, flavor of ice cream, or whether he has a girlfriend. The boys wanted to know how fast Chase can run, his favorite brand of running shoe - and whether he has a girlfriend.

But the experience was an eye-opening reminder about the importance of character development. I didn't have to fake my answers because I know my character. I write as Chase every Friday on his blog, update his Twitter (@SupermanDuffy) daily, and post to his Facebook profiles a few times a week.

I can tell you whether Chase would eat an Aero chocolate bar (yes, as long as it's not mint), and what his favorite CFL football team is (Hamilton Tiger-Cats.) I don't know all of my characters this well. But I should. For sure the main ones.

In a few weeks, the second book in the Chase Duffy series, Gotta Jet, launches and the next few months will be a whirlwind of canola-related activity. But yesterday was all about McKenzie Lake Elementary and the fabulous Grade 4 students who made my first big reading an experience worth writing home about.

Huge thanks to Farm Credit Canada for supporting this initiative, and to Simone and the rest of the team at the Alberta Canola Producers Commission for believing in me and letting me share Chase's adventures.

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: Rot & Ruin, Jonathan Mayberry

Monday, February 27, 2012

Blake is a honey of a muse

I don't listen to much country music, and I couldn't sing the chorus of a single Blake Shelton song, but I'm seriously crushing on this entertainer - and I have The Voice to blame.

I started watching the show for Adam Levine (and really, who isn't?) - and maybe a little for Christina Aguilera, because the girl has got some impressive pipes. Not to mention I have an unhealthy addiction to reality shows where people showcase talent, mostly because when it comes to singing and dancing, I have none. 

But with every turn of his big red chair, Blake is winning me over with that adorable smile, genuine enthusiasm, and care-bear heart. So much so, I'm considering downloading one of his records.

I know, right? So not me.

Perhaps I'm looking for a little change. With the awesome Jessica Bell AT MY HOUSE this week (yes, be jealous, my friends), my routine is going through a bit of a shake-up. Trust me, I'm not complaining - I'm sucking up every. single. minute of her short time here.

But both of us still have work to do - lots of work. The week is busy, and I could use a bit of a muse avatar shakedown.

Enter Blake. Smiling. Adorable. Big heart.


Go forth and inspire, Mr. Muse Avatar.

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: Rot & Ruin, Jonathan Mayberry

PS - There's still time to WIN one of more than 100 YA fiction titles, including a signed copy (by me) of the Spirited Anthology. Join the "other me" at the hop here...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

300 chances to WIN a paranormal YA!

The "other me" is taking part in a book giveaway extravaganza where you'll have more than 300 chances to win a paranormal YA title.

Werewolves, zombies, vampires, oh my! The contest starts February 24, and ends February 29 at 12:01 a.m. So, don't forget to head on over to The Oubliette and let the winning begin....

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: Rot & Ruin, Jonathan Mayberry

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book #9 - Cinder

It's been a while since I've binge-read, but from the first chapter of Cinder, I suffered great anxiety - a terror I wouldn't be able to read as fast as my mind (and heart) begged for more.

I can almost predict how Marissa Meyer's agent pitch for Cinder may have gone: It's Cinderella. With a sci-fi twist.

Yes, but it's SO much more than that. 

Here's the official blurb, because frankly, the author can sum it up so much more eloquently than I ever could:

"Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . . 

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future."

And of course, she must get to the ball!

This novel was so tightly crafted, I found myself instantly submersed in Cinder's world, and by the first few chapters, had stopped looking for the Cinderella parallels, and instead allowed myself to swept up by what this book truly is: brilliant.

No, really.

The characterization is fabulous, the chemistry between Kai and Cinder is believable (and swoon-worthy), and the story moves at breakneck pace. I could not. Put it. Down.

Here's the bad news: Cinder is the first in this series of four, and it ends rather skillfully on a whopper of a cliffhanger. This is one instance where I wish I'd been on the tail end of the bandwagon, because waiting for the next in the series is going to be painful.

Without question, Cinder may be one of my favorite YA books...ever.

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: Rot & Ruin, Jonathan Mayberry

IN OTHER NEWS: Jagger Valentine dishes out some frank (and perhaps harsh) advice for the lovelorn on her website. Be warned: it's not for the weak of heart.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Original muse


A year ago when I began tagging muse avatars, Jensen Ackles (aka: Dean Winchester of Supernatural) was my original cast member. 

Karen had introduced me to Supernatural and I quickly became obsessed, not only with the show, but also with the lead actors. I know I'm not alone on this one. (I actually have Karen to thank for getting me hooked on many shows, most recently, the awesomeness that is Walking Dead.) 

Supernatural quickly became a weekly TV staple at my house, and the show even inspired my first foray into script writing.  

Which is part of the reason I'm going back to my original muse this week.

This Saturday, me and the brilliant Judith Graves will be talking to youth about writing scripts at the YAC Conference in Edmonton. Even a year ago today, I would have balked at the thought. Though the world of TV series and blockbuster movies has always been of interest, I considered myself a novelist. Three scripts later (not to mention a bunch of ideas that will morph into scripts with Judith and Kyle), and my whole writing world has shifted. 

I'm excited to talk scripts with Judith this week.

And even more excited to be working on a few over the next couple of months.

That doesn't mean I'm not writing books, as well. I have some key projects on the go, including finishing up the manuscript for Heartless. Last week, I launched Jagger Valentine's website and the response was tremendous. THANK YOU all for your support.  Jagger will be dishing out some advice for the lovelorn in the next few days based on the questions that came through the day after Valentine's Day. Should be...entertaining.

The "other me" is taking part in this blog hop on February 24th. Please head on over to my blog Thursday for a chance to win some amazing YA titles, including Spirited, an anthology of 13 ghostly stories. 

And of course, most exciting, is my impending visit from the amazing Jessica Bell, who just today was featured in a Greek magazine next to Sir Paul McCartney. 

Um, wow. 

I'll be showing the lovely Jessica some beautiful Canadian countryside while she's visiting from Greece (squee!!!) - and figuring out how to stuff myself in her suitcase when she goes back. And of course, we'll be fulfilling our dream of reviewing submissions for Vine Leaves Literary Journal while sipping a glass or two of wine. Together. Face to face. So. Freaking. Excited.

What's that? You haven't submitted for the April issue yet? Deadline is March 1, 2012. Send your 800-word or less vignettes to 

So much excitement this week! I'm hoping Mr. Ackles is up for the challenge.

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: Cinder, Marissa Meyer

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Book #8 - Matched

When my friend Kyle sent me a link to a write up about Ally Condie's Matched, I almost passed it by. Great cover, great reviews...but another dystopian YA?

Not quite what I had in mind.

Good thing I caved to the inside color blurb.

Just to be clear, I love dystopian - I've just been patiently waiting for the Hunger Games movie before moving on to my next book in the genre.

But Matched isn't like a lot of dystopian books out there. And it's a refreshing change in YA romance novels.

In Ally Condie's dystopian world, citizens are highly controlled. Everything from their uniform clothing and pills that suppress emotion, through to pre-arranged Matches is determined by a government reminiscent of Lois Lowry's The Giver.

It's a world that at first blush, seems almost natural for its citizens, particularly young Cassia who is eagerly awaiting the Matching Ceremony, where she will be introduced to her future husband. Except Cassia already knows the face that comes up on the screen - she is matched with her best friend Xander, clearly one of the most handsome and sought-after matches. Her friends are instantly jealous.

Cassia should be thrilled, but when she goes to review the background information she's been given on her match, it isn't Xander's face that appears. The officials tell her the second match is a mistake, that Ky is not only not supposed to be her match, he isn't intended to be anyone's.

It's here that Cassia's world begins to unravel - the point where she is no longer content to read and re-read the 100 approved poems the historians were allowed to keep, or listen to the 100 songs the officials did not destroy, or even marry her best friend if her heart is guiding her down a more rebellious path.

Of course she falls in love with Ky. But what I loved about Matched is the slow build of romance missing in some teen fiction. It isn't "love at first sight" or even second and third. The romantic triangle doesn't feel forced or fueled by jealousy. It's a romance that seems more rooted in reality than fantasy - and a wonderful demonstration that real-life love doesn't have to be the stuff of movies.

Matched is definitely worth its international acclaim.

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: Cinder, Marissa Meyer

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It's Getting Hot In Here Blog Hop

Happy Valentine's Day!

I'm thrilled to participate in today's "It's Getting Hot in Here" Valentine's Day blog hop, where the objective is to share a sexy kissing scene - either from a book you've read, your WIP, or a memorable smooch of your own.

I'm cheating a bit.

The following scene is from the first book in my Heartless series.

JAGGER VALENTINE is jaded on all things to do with love...lust, on the other hand, she can handle just fine. Check out how this Cupid handles sexy Nic Bazzano.

And then be sure to check out the rest of the fabulous blogs taking part in the hop. Whoopa - it IS getting hot in here.

“You going to stand up, or do you plan on just crawling to the bedroom?”
Nic reached into his pocket and produced a small, light blue box, thin white ribbon wrapped around the center.
Jagger's stomach lurched as though she’d been sucker punched. Sticky perspiration beaded along the small of her back and behind her thighs.
She turned and walked away, disgusted with herself for trusting Nic to respect the boundaries of their relationship. She’d accepted his declarations of love in the past, dismissing them as the mutterings of a mad man. But this?
Bloody hell.
How could she avoid this?
“Jagger, just open it.”
She had every mind to kick him out, send him and that vile Tiffany box across the city. Of all the stupid –
She set the wine on the kitchen counter and ripped open the floral packaging. A bouquet of Gerbera daisies leapt free, their vibrant colors somehow lightening her dark thoughts, and reminding her of Seth. She couldn’t leave her dog without a sitter when she took off for India, and it was too late to find a back-up plan.
She looked back at the door where Nic remained on bended knees, his cheeks flushed and his eyes glinting with mischief.
Not the look of a romantic, she thought as the gears in her mind began working again. The face of a jokester. A lock of his dark chocolate hair curled over an arched eyebrow and the corners of his mouth twisted into a smirk.
“Bring it here.”
He hopped to his feet but didn’t step forward. “Half way?”
And so it begins, she thought. She inched toward him, sidestepping the coffee table and he reciprocated, pushing past the loveseat, until they stood on either side of a burgundy recliner. She leaned her hip against the cushioned arm and extended her hand.
He set the box into her palm and waited while she tugged on the ends of the ribbon to release the bow. Half expecting a spider or some comparable creepy to jump from the package, she lifted the lid with hesitation.
And pushed out a breath.
Inside nestled a pink heart-shaped candy, not a diamond ring. Not a symbol of promise she couldn’t keep, but yet another token of acknowledgement – for while she remained jaded on all things love, she had a well-known affliction for sweets.
She heard Nic’s soft chuckle over the purr of relief from her throat.
“Guilty,” he said. “Read it.”
She lifted the candy from the box and flipped it over. Kiss me.
Nic had already stepped around the recliner and leaned in, his lips slack and waiting. Jagger popped the candy into her mouth, moved in close enough for him to smell the sweetness of her breath, and snapped the heart in half with her teeth. “Dream on.”

                                                                 - 30 -

Want more? Head over to Jagger's site where she dishes up unsolicited advice and general snark about all affairs of the heart.

The Book In My Bag Today: Matched, Ally Condie

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dead Muse Walking

I discovered Walking Dead this weekend.

I know. I'm way behind the 8-ball. For someone who writes about all kinds of monsters, you'd think I'd be locked solid on to a show about zombies. It's not that people didn't try and tell me. Karen and Judith have been nudging me in the direction for quite some time. Maybe I'm a little stubborn.

But I'm also big enough to admit when I've made a mistake. Walking Dead is incredible. The acting, the special effects, the story lines, the character arcs. All of it. So, so, SO inspiring!

Somehow, my amazing husband found me a Walking Dead marathon on TV, which is where I spent the entire weekend - 14 hours on the couch, glued to my new favorite show, falling deeper and deeper in love with, well, everything.

Including this week's muse avatar, Norman Reedus. He plays Daryl on Walking Dead, one of the many characters I started out disliking but has suddenly emerged as one of my faves. Doesn't hurt that he's not bad on the eyes, either.

His good looks might warrant him enough to star as this week's muse, but perhaps more compelling is his skill with a crossbow.

This week is big for bows.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, and I'll be participating in the It's getting Hot In Here Valentine's Day blog hop. I typically don't have many "excerpts" on this blog, but if you come back tomorrow, I'll be sharing an "almost" kiss between two characters in a new series, starring Jagger Valentine.

Some of you know all about Jagger. For those who don't, I'll be launching her website tomorrow, just in time for Valentine's Day. If you want to get a head start on getting to know her, please follow Jagger on Twitter. You can find her @JaggerValentine.

Have a happy Monday - and hope to see you tomorrow for some Valentine's fun.

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: Matched, Ally Condie

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Book #7 - Switched

I'm probably the last person in the world who up until recently, hadn't heard of Amanda Hocking's Cinderella-esque publishing story. 

In case you were under the same rock as me, the short version is this: Hocking needed a few bucks to attend a Muppets convention, and thought, Hey, I've got some old manuscripts lying around. Maybe I'll throw them up on Kindle and see if I can sell a few.

She sold more than a few. Millions, actually - and needless to say, she had enough money to go to the convention and then some. In fact, she became a millionaire long before she picked up a $2 million publishing contract from St. Martin's Press. You can read her inspirational full story here.

Book sale numbers (and the attention from a major publisher)  clearly demonstrate that Hocking's novel Switched is loved by millions.

Unfortunately, I'm not one of them.

The opening chapter is strong, compelling enough that even before I knew her story, I was intrigued by Hocking. The cover is equally as enchanting.

But between that opening scene and the end, things continued to spiral downhill. At least for me.

The story centers on Wendy, who turns out to be a changeling or trylle, which literally translates to troll. But not the stereotypical trolls you might be used to seeing in movies like Labyrinth (Hogwart!) - they're pretty much human with some special powers. 

Wendy is whisked from her somewhat dysfunctional family by a tracker - who she ultimately has a crush on. And in her new role as Princess, she must learn the rules of the trylle, under the watchful eye of her mother, the cold Queen.

It's not that there's anything particularly wrong with the storyline - I just wasn't drawn into this world. The relationships - all of them - fell flat, and the "romance" between Princess and tracker lacked heat. A general absence of description (and sensory detail) left me confused as to the environment , and the showdown that had been alluded to throughout the book fizzled out almost before it began.

Maybe the book was too short, or maybe I just expected more. Either way, Switched didn't change my perception of trolls, and they're definitely not a paranorm I'd be itching to read more about. 

And while I respect and admire Hocking's success, I doubt I'll pick up the second book in the series. Considering Hocking's inspirational rise to fame, I expected a novel that would sweep me off my feet. I'm disappointed to report they're still firmly rooted on earth.

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: Matched, Ally Condie

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book #6 - Tunnel Vision

Disclaimer: I have to be honest. The author of Tunnel Vision, Gary Braver is one of my most cherished writerly friends. He is a mentor, and without his words of encouragement many years ago at my first Maui Writer's Conference, I would not have pursued writing. His continued faith in me is inspiring and treasured.

That said, Tunnel Vision is an extraordinary book - no bias required.

At conferences (and in his writing classes), Gary often lectures on the 10 Ingredients of a Good Thriller. Since I write thriller, I know them all off by heart. I thought I'd reiterate them here in the context of an unbiased review of one of Gary's best novels, Tunnel Vision.

Rule #1 - A Strong Story
Gary teaches that "dread" is often accomplished through the quest for some "elixir" or cure-all to make things better, or to provide a deeper understanding to a bigger question. Consider the "what if" or story questions of Tunnel Vision:

What if you didn't have to die to know that heaven exists?
And what if that knowledge could get you killed?

Bam! You had me at hello, Gary.

Rule #2 - Dread
Thrillers are about emotions - primarily the feeling of dread. Good thriller writers are continuously turning up the dread factor.

Consider this jacket cover praise for Tunnel Vision, from another of my revered mentors, NY Times Bestselling author, Steve Berry:

"A tantalizing premise, stylish prose, sharply etched characters, and tension that ratchets up degree by degree."

This is NOT a religious book. But, as you can imagine, the question of God and an afterlife have long been debated by people on both sides of the belief coin. It's a breeding ground for conflict, and in Tunnel Vision, that conflict quickly becomes deadly.

Rule #3 - Write About the Underdog
Protagonist Zack Kashian has been hurt in the past. Strained family bonds, failed relationships, trouble with money and gambling, and as if that isn't enough, in the first few chapters of the book, he's in a bike accident that sends him into a coma. Yes, he's an underdog.

But then he rises from his near death experience on Easter, quoting the Lord's prayer in the original Aramaic. Not such an underdog anymore - in fact everyone is hoping for a piece of the new Miracle Man, including the killer.

Gary does everything right in terms of creating sympathy for Zack. You'll be rooting for him all the way.

Rule #4 - Make Clear What the Protagonist's Goals Are
Zack's goals change from the beginning of the book, where he's really just in need of some money to get him out of gambling debt, to the end of the book, where what he really wants is...I can't say. Spoilers!

Rule #5 - Multiple Points of View
Thrillers are almost always written in third person shifting point of view, which allows the reader to see the book from different eyes. Of course, there are a few exceptions - Steve Martini writes some fabulous first-person thrillers, for example.

Every POV in Tunnel Vision has a distinct voice. And the voice of the killer is extremely compelling.

Rule #6 - Open the Book With Action
Check. Check. Triple check. In the very opening scene, a man rises from the dead and stumbles out of the hospital. No, this is not a zombie book. Gary's novels are rooted in science and new discovery, which may sometimes seem paranormal, but is not. It's just thrilling science.

Rule #7 - The Main Character Has to Change by the End of the Book
Yes, and in this case, quite convincingly. Of course, this is true in all fiction.

Rule #8 - Pacing Must Be High
Gary is a tight writer - not a lot of extra fluff between the covers. If you're looking for sweeping paragraphs of elegant prose that transport you to a different time and place, this isn't the book for you. Gary gets the job done - but quickly, and with suspense-building precision. Near the end of Tunnel Vision, the action is so fast, it's like a ping pong match, each POV digging deep for the final nail in the coffin. Brilliant pacing!

Rule #9 - Cliffhanger Endings for Chapters
Those who have read my work often comment on my cliffhanger chapter endings. I learned them from Gary, who is a master at getting you to turn the page. Many of the chapters in Tunnel Vision are short, but they make their point. And you will continue to the next scene. I dare you not to.

Rule #10 - Teach the Reader Something
Perhaps it is this rule that has changed the way I think of thriller fiction over the years. I adore the research of any story building project, but more than that, I am a sucker for learning. Gary's books are jammed with intriguing research and fast facts. Gary knows when to pull back, too, so you never feel like you're reading a textbook. I love this about each of his books, but perhaps most in this one.

I've read all of Gary's books and though I have enjoyed each, some obviously stand out more than others. Tunnel Vision is one of the best. Skin Deep remains my favorite, but Tunnel Vision is a very close second.

Congratulations, my dear friend, on another thrilling read.

- Dawn

The Book in my Bag Today: Switched, Amanda Hocking

Monday, February 6, 2012

Driven to select this week's muse

I forced my husband to watch the movie Drive this weekend.

He'll tell you it was the worst movie he's ever seen, even suggesting that it was second worst only to The Expendables. Really? In my opinion, the only thing Expendables had going for it was a bunch of big action stars hanging out together for one really bad hour and a half. (Thank goodness for the hotness that is Jason Statham...)

Drive had much more going for it than that.

Starting, of course, with the incredibly sexy Ryan Gosling. 

The opening scene in the movie is quite impressive, with Gosling delivering some fabulous driving skills as a hired get-away man. Perhaps it gave my husband a false sense of security that Drive was a fast-paced, high-action thrilling ride, like Fast and the Furious.

It's not. Not at all. But if you're prepared for that, you can settle in for what I thought was a stroke of cinematic brilliance. The movie is not without its flaws, of course. The first half is a bit slow, and there were times during Gosling's quiet, stoic, and somewhat zombie-like character performance that I wanted to shout at the screen, "Just talk, damn it!"

That's not saying anything about Gosling's performance. He's brilliant.

As is the violence. Saying that may unnerve some people, but as a fan of Quentin Tarantino, and a lover of thrillers, I've seen gore that ranks much higher on the gross scale. I don't mind when violence makes a point other than just shocking the audience. To me, Drive achieved this goal - and then some.

Perhaps more importantly, the movie seems stuck to me, evoking a buffet of emotions I can't quite shake. Maybe it's the gore, but more likely it's the style in which the movie was shot - and a little bit of Gosling's sexy smile. There were moments in the film that literally took my breath away. I want to write something this well done - and have Gosling star in it, of course.

The soundtrack is spectacular. In fact, I'm listening to it right now as I write this post. For the second time this morning.

It wasn't a stretch to choose this week's muse avatar. Part of me was already heading in that direction because he's a favourite of my friend Stephanie's (and I accidentally gave the nod to Ryan Reynolds last time), but after seeing Drive, I'm all over Gosling for the role. I'm sure he'll make a great muse in what's shaping up to be a busy work and writing week.

I'm also quite certain, I'll be listening to this song over and over again to fuel that inspiration:

Love <3

Happy Monday!

- Dawn

PS - Did you see Drive? What did you think?

The Book In My Bag Today: Tunnel Vision, Gary Braver