Sunday, 28 October 2012

Chapter One of The Scarlet Omen


Despite his large build and scales so thick they deflected the bright rays of the evening suns, Raja Naga, the ruby red dragon, soared effortlessly through the dark clouds, scanning the horizon. Below him, the Valley of the Hornbills, Lembah Kenyalang spread out to the East and West, bordered by two ancient mountain ranges. He glanced at Catfish Mountain to his left, where his good friend Raja Ikan--a once powerful member of the Gathering of the Elders--resided in his eternal prison. The merfolk and their Princess Salma guarded him and kept him company, accessing the mountain caves through their enchanted pools. The venerable catfish dejectedly spent the rest of his days trapped in his own dark pond, put there by forces so evil that even the red dragon shuddered at the thought of them.

“How is the old Catfish?”

The dragon had almost forgotten that Kayanya, the handsome prince of the Lake People was riding on his broad back. He often joined the dragon on his rounds in the cool night air. “He’s getting older and blinder each day. Maybe he’ll soon be put out of his misery.”

He felt the prince go rigid. “Raja Naga, how can you say that?!”

“Imagine, Prince. Lying in that pool for the rest of your days, never seeing another sunrise, never again breathing in fresh air.”

“I’m sorry, Raja Naga. You’re right--death would be better. But isn’t it imperative that we not give up hope of rescuing him.”

Raja Naga shook his large head as thin tendrils of smoke rose from his nostrils. “After three hundred years? I’m sorry to seem like a killjoy, but you know who the only person is that can save him now. We’ve tried everything.”

The prince remained silent for awhile, probably thinking about the ancient prophecy.

Still furtively watching the land where the thick rainforest gave way to the dreaded swamp land, Raja Naga glanced down at the Pygmy Village where he saw the little people scurrying around their long houses, their intricate ethnic tattoos only a deep green blur, preparing for nightfall.

“I despise the nights of the dark moon. Look at them, frantically casting their protective spells, the poor things. Sri Cahaya must be there somewhere among them, working the hardest. They’re just so small and seem so vulnerable compared to those beasts that they fear,” said Kayanya through clenched teeth.
The dragon sensed his despair. “Don’t fret, Kay. Sri Cahaya is the best medicine woman that ever walked the land. She’s protected the pygmies from the creatures of the night well and will continue to do so long after you and I are gone.”

The creatures of the night, the dreaded Blood Drinkers, would soon emerge from their castle in Ghost Forest, glide over the swamp lands like ghost ships and arrive at their villages, as they did every dark moon. The red dragon shook his large, bejeweled head again and literally heard the piercing screams of the fallen, the cries of the mothers whose babies had been taken. The Pontianak had appeared long before like a plague that swept over the valley and left their once peaceful land in tatters, its inhabitants wrecked with fear and the magical heartbeat of the valley beating slower, coming to the end with every breath.

Smoke rose thicker now from his large nostrils as Raja Naga fought to keep calm. He watched the animals in the forest below them hurry into their burrows, nests and caves as the Animal Kingdom, too, prepared for the inevitable menace. The dragon observed the webbed fingers of the merfolk disappear into their aquamarine ponds, which were strewn all across the valley. His fellow dragons, his subjects, were setting up guard outside their lair, close to the Great Lake to the North. He spotted his mate giving them orders at the mouth of their cave before looking up into the sky and nodding at him. She smiled sadly before retreating into the gigantic rock formation.

The prince patted the dragon’s back companiably. “Now it’s your turn not to worry, Wise One. The Blood Drinkers can’t touch them.”

“Yes, but they covet our precious eggs. I know, they rest safely in the underground tunnels deep below our lair, but I wouldn’t put it pass them to find a way in.”

The dragons had not known, at first, why the vampires would be interested in their offspring, but as time passed, the inhabitants of the valley noticed the Pontianak stealing more of their magical properties and depleting in a matter of years what took centuries to mature. It was still a mystery what they used it for. Further to the north, Raja Naga watched cautiously how the silver winged fairies in Fairy Forest circled their borders, sprinkling their blessed golden sand around the perimeter, hoping that its magic would protect them yet again.

As the suns set and the sky suddenly plunged into darkness, Raja Naga heard with his highly tuned ears that feared rush of robes billowing in the wind. He looked toward the swampland with his eagle like eyes and saw the cloaked figures glide at an eerie speed toward the lake. From that distance they looked like innocent ants gate-crashing a peaceful picnic, but he knew what they were capable of. Raja Naga picked up his pace, pounding his wings in the night air. Kayanya held on tightly, pressing his own body to the dragon’s back, as the wind rushed over his head. “I don’t see anything, Raja Naga.” The Pontianak were the most difficult to spot during Dark Moon, which was why they chose that particular time of month to go hunting.

Raja Naga did not answer; he swooped and willed his wings to take them further, faster, but they were too far away. They heard the blood-curdling screams of the Lake People long before they could reach the fishermen’s village to warn them. The dragon could only watch, his ivory teeth barred, as the almost invisible flock of vampires retreated back to their castle, leaving broken hearts behind them. Kayanya bellowed with rage, his voice strangled with tears. When they finally reached the fisher settlement, the dragon opened his cave-like mouth and breathed violent red flames at the Pontianak’s retreating backs, but the blood drinkers were too swift. Kayanya made to leap off the dragon, but Raja Naga sensed his yearning to kill those wretched beings and pulled up into the air. Jumping into the middle of a hoard of vampires would be suicide.

The vampires cackled at them like a group of hyenas, taunting the two proud leaders. “Are you going to catch us, Old Beast? Watch your brittle bones! Don’t drop your handsome package, now.”

A cloaked woman floating effortlessly at the front of the entourage turned around and smiled cheekily at them. Raja Naga snorted and flew higher into the night sky. He knew that arrogant gait; the whole valley did. The Queen of the Vampires had taken yet more lives. Raja Naga closed his eyes and saw her pale complexion burn behind his lids. He thought how she must have been beautiful once, before she became the monster that haunted everyone’s dreams. As the vampires disappeared into the cover of the mangrove trees, he felt the prince sigh and relax his tight grip on the dragon’s back. The prince cursed, echoing the dragon’s own feelings. Raja Naga looked toward the Great Lake and pleaded to the wind, his long snout shining with pearl white tears that now flowed freely. “Where are you, our Nirupita? You’ve been appointed, so come as it has been written.”

END OF CHAPTER

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Time's a Wasting!


When I was a kid, it seemed like the days just dragged on in that never ending cycle of “What shall we do now?”. Today, there just isn’t enough hours in the day...sleep may have to wait till I’ve retired or my son moves out! When did it change? Did I change or did society?

Before e-mail, it took weeks for my friends on other continents to get my letters and I made an effort to write lovely, eloquent essays and pick out the funniest birthday cards. Now, it’s a quick “happy bday” and “omg guess what” PMs on FB or Twitter. (There should be a dictionary explaining a lot of the short cuts we use nowadays because by the time I figure out which acronym to in, there are new ones ready to pounce and make my life that much harder!) Let’s not even mention the lack of punctuation. Did we just get lazy as the Internet took over the world or are we simply fighting to save time in our increasingly hectic lives?

“…The reality is that the pace of our modern society brings out the characteristics that mimic ADD. The question then becomes, are you suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder or from Modern Life Syndrome? Reflect on a few of the ADD symptoms:
  • Trouble focusing attention for more than a few seconds
  • Tuning out in the middle of a conversation
  • Likely to have many projects running simultaneously
  • Always in a rush and impatient
  • Feeling of being overwhelmed by daily life
  • Difficulty getting organized
  • Problems with time management
Do you know anyone who does not exhibit some or all of these traits? The truth is that society has evolved to bring those tendencies to the forefront for all of us. We are now suffering from Modern Life Syndrome as every part of our lives is barraged by messages demanding attention.”—Is It ADD or Modern Life Syndrome, http://www.keyorganization.com/is-it-add-or-modern-life-syndrome.php

 So we’re all doomed?!? These bags under my eyes will just have to go on boosting concealer sales?!?

When I first started writing for young adults, I was constantly told that YA novels need to be fast paced…like give your readers whiplash (I don’t want to, honestly, but the gods of modern writing say so) fast. In other words, if at least one of your characters doesn’t have a life changing experience within the first few sentences of your novel, readers are going to file it away as another bad buy/What Was I Thinking. 

Really? Is that really how it works? And how did we become like this anyway? When I glance through books that I read as a kid, writers always had time to build up their stories, set the scene and draw readers into their world before killing a character off. Nowadays, a paragraph of describing a room or landscape is seen as literary suicide.

“Whether you are suffering from Modern Life Syndrome or ADD, you need to employ processes that will limit distractions and increase your productivity. The strategies are similar:
1.       Determine what your goals are, business and personal, and make sure some of your efforts each day are moving you in that direction.
2.       Prioritize your work before you leave the office each evening. You will be focused from the time you start working the next day.
3.       Plan a solid block of time with limited interruptions. Use that time for your most important, focused work.
4.       Track what causes the interruptions. Once you find the patterns, you can begin to eliminate some of these distractions.
5.       Do not let email control your day. Set up specific blocks of time when you will focus on email alone.
If you do not stop now to make changes, the result can be a major overload because of constant stress. Stress is responsible for many of our illnesses, from colds and flu to heart conditions. 80% of our medical expenditures are now stress-related. When you are not willing to step back and make adjustments, you may wind up with a situation over which you no longer have any control.”
(Source as above)

Oh, well, no solutions here—only ways to prioritize because fast paced everything is here to stay. So we just have to get with the program. Fine by me…I wouldn’t want to wake up in a world where shoulder pads are still making their rounds. Eeeww!!



Sunday, 14 October 2012

Ignorance is Embarrassing!

I used to think that the Dummies books were really only for, well, Dummies. It used to be a running joke between my friends and me. (“I’ll get you Dressing for Dummies if you don’t stop wearing those leotards” or “Parking for Dummies has been given awesome reviews” after the hundredth failed attempt at squeezing between two cars at the side of the road.) It just goes to show that I have proven myself right once again…ignorance is really a disease that we must strive to eliminate. The Dummies series is a godsend!

I’ve been taking some time off writing (I just sent my second book in to my publisher, so I CAN) to do some research. I love reading about writing and getting all the millions of tips that other writers have so graciously put up all over the internet. I’ve also read The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman and can’t stress enough how important this book is to the storytelling community.

So during my journey of literary enlightenment, I stumbled upon the Dummies website and—drum roll please—fell in love! I would never have imagined that such professional, insightful and amazingly easy to understand articles existed. I was contemplating whether or not to keep the tips for myself but then my ‘Oooh, I found this amazing place’ syndrome got the better of me. So here are (a few of) my favourite tips from Dummies.com! (There are many things that I’ve already read somewhere on the web before, but this site explains everything so well! I was one of those kids that annoyed everyone with "Why?" so you can imagine the lengths authors have to go to to keep me satisfied.)

1.       When writing young adult fiction: embrace your inner drama queen, relax your grammar, generally use shorter more declarative sentences, embrace immaturity and DON’T PREACH.

2.       In creating teen dialogue: blurt things out, choose simple words (simple does not mean patronize your readers, though), exaggerate, string words in footloose fashion, make a conversation mostly about the speaker.

3.       While evaluating characters and plot in young adult fiction: push your protagonist out of his or her comfort zone, each obstacle must push plot and characters forward, the consequences of failure must be dire at each stage of the plot, each scene and each chapter must contribute to overall goal, the protagonist must GROW throughout the novel.

4.       Creating a character profile: have a character diary which explains looks, past, present, fears, hopes, dreams and quirks etc.

5.       Remove: any unnecessary information and explanation, dialogue passages that go on forever, clunky descriptions that give too much detail, clumsy images that don’t really work, too many adjectives and adverbs.

And the list goes on! No, Dummies are not paying me for advertising. I just think knowledge should be sharedJ

Friday, 5 October 2012

Watcha Doin' with Peggy Tibbetts


Author Bio:

Peggy Tibbetts is the author of two middle grade novels, “The Road to Weird” and “Letters to Juniper,” a 2012 Colorado Book Award finalist. Her current young adult novel, “PFC Liberty Stryker” is a compelling and authentic story about the Iraq War from a young female soldier’s point of view. Peggy has worked as a professional editor and is a fervent blogger at Advice from a Caterpillar (http://advicefromacaterpillar.wordpress.com) and From the Styx (http://fromthestyx.wordpress.com).

Questions:
Have you always wanted to be an author?
I have always been a writer, but I didn’t always want to be an author. As a young child I wanted to be a veterinarian because of my love of animals. When I was 13, the Beatles song, “Paperback Writer” was released and I decided that’s what I wanted to be. From then on the writing bug took over.

Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met? Why?
I could opt for the most famous people I’ve met like Madeleine L’Engle, Judith Guest, Phyllis Whitney, or Hunter S. Thompson. But the award for most interesting goes to fellow author, friend, and now publisher, Natalie Collins (Sisterhood Publications). Her background in the mysterious Mormon faith is fascinating. Oh, the stories she tells in her books. Natalie has endured many hardships throughout her life and career but she keeps on keeping on. She is one of the most talented, determined, hard-working people I have ever known. She inspires me daily.

What books would you say have enriched your life and improved your skills as a writer?
So many books to recommend, but I’ll focus on books for writers: Sol Stein’s “Stein on Writing” and “How to Grow a Novel”; “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler; “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maas; “Story” by Robert McKee;  and “Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life”.

What was your most recent writing project? Could you tell us about the ups and downs you faced?
“PFC Liberty Stryker” was released this year by Sisterhood Publications. Here’s the blurb: Libby Stryker joined the Army to avenge her daddy's death on 9-11 but it's nothing like she expected. Operation Iraqi Freedom takes her on a harrowing journey north with a mysterious Arab through bomb devastation, hot zones, and RPG attacks. A different kind of horror awaits Libby in Baghdad. Her past and present, and why it's all gone wrong, blow up in her face.
Our imaginations take us to strange and wondrous new places. One place I never expected to go was to war. But there she was. This young, female soldier stranded in the desert in Iraq. Libby Stryker. Her story tormented me – at first during the daytime – then in my dreams. So I gave in. I went to war with Libby and came back a changed person.
The research was daunting. I have never been a soldier. I have never been to war. I have never been to Iraq. Every single page required research. From baby wipes to weaponry to chai, I had to immerse myself in the culture of war. To stay in character I often wore a heavy coat and helmet while I was writing.
I must confess, before I wrote “PFC Liberty Stryker” I was not in favor of women in combat. Through my extensive research I learned that female soldiers are already serving in combat missions but they are not allowed the same recognition as their male counterparts. Under the current combat rules, women are doing all the compromising. Without defined roles in combat, female soldiers have no voice when it comes to strategy and execution. As a result they can be used as pawns on the battlefield – and often are. This became Libby’s predicament in the story.
Writing this book didn’t change my mind about war. But it did change my mind about women in combat. Women are capable, even outstanding soldiers. They have earned and they deserve fair treatment and equal opportunities.

My protagonist Anjeli in The Scarlet Omen does not believe in love at first sight but soon learns that there’s no escaping certain clich├ęs in life. Do you believe in love at first sight? How do you think this phenomenon should be approached/handled in a novel?
Yes, I do believe in love at first sight – or at least mutual attraction. Love at first sight can be fun writers’ play. A love at first sight situation between two characters is open to all kinds of “what ifs.” The couple is in love but one obstacle after another keeps them apart or prevents their happiness. One of the pair resists his/her feelings. One of the pair (or both) has a handicap or special power. The possibilities are endless.

As I started delving into author community scenes and forums, I realized that no one is really safe from bullying. What is your opinion about bullying, be it at school, work or in the author community? How do you think we should approach this topic in young adult novels?
What a great question! It’s easy to say we shouldn’t tolerate bullying. The problem is the act of bullying stems from intolerance. For example, a kid on the playground doesn’t tolerate the way another kid dresses. Or one person doesn’t tolerate another person’s opinion on Facebook. When it comes to bullying we need to teach tolerance.
When faced with a bully in real life we are far more cautious, even fearful. In fiction, we as writers can let out all the stops and take all kinds of risks with our characters’ behaviors. We have control over the outcome. We can work through our own demons and help readers work through theirs. We can show what makes a person behave like a bully. We can show ways to cope with bullying.

When my novel was first published, many people asked me if my vampires had anything to do with the Cullen family from Twilight. I said no and actually resented being asked in the first place, because Asian vampires really are not something you want to meet during the day let alone have a relationship with. What do you think about trends? What are the implications for writers?
Trends come and go. Trends have always been a part of society. Even Shakespeare probably felt some pressure to come up with a poignant, star-crossed romance to satisfy 16th Century audience demand – or trend. For centuries hence, there have been countless copycats and derivations of “Romeo and Juliet.”
As writers we are often told to ignore trends and write our best stories, the stories we feel passionate about. Yet we are surrounded by trends, not only in books, but also in music, art, film, television, products, etc. We are constantly influenced by trends in our daily lives. How can we not be influenced as writers?
I am currently working on the final revisions for my nonfiction book – a dogoir (dog memoir) – titled “Crazy Bitch.” It’s about our dog Venus’s struggle with Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD). This is my first nonfiction book and my first dogoir. If dogoirs were not trending upward in popularity, I probably wouldn’t have come up with the idea to make a diary of our experiences with our dog’s mental illness and then write the book.
So you see we can be inspired by trends to write our best stories.

Parting words of wisdom:
It’s not enough to write a good story. You must revise. The process of revision brings your story to life. Read your manuscript aloud. Find a good editor.

Wow! Thanks so much for joining us, Peggy. Very insightful stuff and we wish you loads of success for your upcoming novels.
Hey readers, if Peggy’s work interests you as much as it does me, below are some sites where you can further immerse yourselves in her awesomenessJ Enjoy!!

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/peggy.tibbetts
YAAYNHO -- Young Adult Authors You’ve Never Heard Of (group blog):  http://obscurekidlitauthors.blogspot.com/