245 sample queries later…

I just finished going through all of the Query Shark’s posts. I’m not sure why, I’m not really in the querying stage for any of my writing. But there’s something beautiful about schadenfreude, and about watching bad writing get torn to pieces. It’s addictive.

In this case it felt even better, because the Query Shark does it out of a sense of kindness – or, at least, purpose. People submit their queries and she critiques them so that we have the chance to learn how to sell that novel we’ve got in the wings. Because query writing is a lot different from novel writing, and far more complicated than I had considered before I read through all the archives.

One of the things she would often say when a query had been rewritten to her satisfaction was, “Now go back and apply what you’ve learned about writing to your novel. It won’t do any good to have a good query letter but a novel full of all these mistakes.” I’m paraphrasing, obviously, and I would suggest that anyone interested in publishing go read through those archives. Even if you don’t want an agent, and even if you plan to self-publish, there are some great writing tips in there.

One of the things that Query Shark suggests is the removal of excess words. This isn’t exactly new advice, but it’s a piece that’s easy to forget. My old creative writing teacher used to say, “Write prose as though you’re paying a dollar for every word you put down, and write poetry as though you’re paying five dollars for every word.” Despite this advice, my prose can be bloated and my novels are full of subplots that have nothing to do with the actual story.

The other piece of advice that stuck with me was the removal of gerunds. It can be easier to  write in that more passive tense, but it makes the writing less interesting. I have a tendency to use gerunds in my writing as well.

Just a warning: it can be a little depressing to read Query Shark. I, at least, felt inadequate when looking through the criticism. But there’s some encouragement in there as well, and a lot of people have written to the Shark thanking her for her harsh but needed words.

On with the writing! Perhaps one day I’ll send a query to her myself. But for now, I need to focus on Camp Nanowrimo. I’m bombing it this year, and not in the good way. Which is ridiculous, because in Camp Nanowrimo you set your own goals and can basically do whatever you want.


The Clarion West Writer’s Workshop

I am an online participant of Clarion West this year.

What does that mean? It doesn’t mean I’m attending online workshops or webinars, it doesn’t mean that I had to go through a big selection process. It means I signed up with the goal to write, and agreed to participate in the write-a-thon. At first my plan was to write 750 words of a novel that I wanted to get finished by the end of this year.

Then I found out about three (!) short story submission opportunities, and I think I want to go for those instead. They all have deadlines in August, and I feel like they’re all up my alley.

So that’s my idea for Clarion West during the write-a-thon: 750 words a day and three short stories at the end of it. And maybe in between, I’ll get a crack at my novel.

Too bad the write-a-thon started today. I’m already behind – it feels like Nanowrimo all over again.

Speaking of Nanowrimo, Clarion West coincided nicely with my decision to try Camp Nano this year. I’m starting up with a friend, though I’m not sure what she’ll be working on for the month of July.

Unlike Nanowrimo, Camp Nano isn’t all about writing a novel in a month. For Camp Nano, participants make their own goals and word counts. I think it’s a great way to be introduced to the concept of Nanowrimo for anyone who isn’t so sure that this write-50,000-words-in-a-month thing is a good or feasible idea. The pace is much more relaxed and you can work on finishing a novel, writing short stories, poetry, scripts of any kind, essays…pretty much anything.

In November I tried to update my blog every day with news on how the noveling was going. My experience proved two things to me: Firstly, that I would be terrible at the blog-a-day challenge, and secondly, that I didn’t necessarily want to share my tripe with the world. So I may not be posting as much as I would aim to during the month of July. But I’m sure I’ll find something to write about; no one can keep me silent forever.

On a finishing note, I have a question for any short story writers out there. I never seem to have a suitable short story when a compilation is requesting submissions. As a result I often end up writing a short story with the one compilation specifically in mind. There are a lot of cons to this procedure, which I may come back to (perhaps after I have submitted my short stories?), and I’m curious – does anyone else write a short story directly for a specific compilation? Do you do it often? Do you often submit previously prepared short stories to compilations and magazines? I guess I’m mostly asking genre writers here, since I’ve noticed that a lot of genre magazines/compilations have themes for each issue.

The Liebster Award

The amazing Helen of High Fantasy Addict has kindly nominated me for a Liebster Award. Thank you very much, Helen!

The Liebster Award acknowledges bloggers who run great and underrated blogs. If your blog has fewer than 200 followers, you’re eligible.

I’ve seen this one making the rounds, and I think it’s both sweet and fun. It’s also my first award, so of course I’m really excited about it!

Since this is one of those awards where the nominees make their own nominations, there are a few instructions for me to stick to. To accept the nomination, I’m supposed to put a picture of the award with a link to the blog that nominated me. Thank you again, Helen. Then we have the following:

1. List eleven random facts about yourself
2. Nominate eleven other bloggers for the Liebster Award
3. Notify these bloggers
4. Ask eleven questions that the bloggers must answer upon accepting the Liebster Award
5. Answer the eleven questions that you were asked when you were nominated.

As soon as this is posted, I’ll contact the bloggers I’ve nominated. Everything else, I’ll do in order. Here we go!

List Eleven Random Facts About Yourself

  1. I’ve always wanted a Siberian Husky.
  2. When I was 18, I turned to my mom and said, “Mom, I’ve lived in the U.S. for 18 years. I think 18 years is enough time living anywhere.” I moved to Switzerland that year and I’ve been in Europe ever since.
  3. I didn’t major in Creative Writing during my University studies. I tried to take a class as a minor, but the professors refused me entry without even looking at a sample piece. I have never forgiven them. I still believe I can make it.
  4. I am a big proponent of people in fantasy novels using guns and gunpowder, but I have never held a real gun in my life.
  5. I despise raisins and everything they stand for. Don’t ask me what they stand for; I’m sure they stand for something, and I’m sure it’s despicable.
  6. I am nearly fluent in Danish. I plan to be fluent by the end of this year.
  7. I can read (but not speak!) hieroglyphics from Ancient Egypt.
  8. My current job is giving walking tours around Copenhagen for tips.
  9. If I played fewer board games, I might get more writing done. I reaaaaaaally love board games.
  10. I decided to be an author when I was six.
  11. I’ve been playing the piano since I was five.


I hereby nominate the following eleven awesome bloggers for the Liebster Award. Apparently a lot of cool bloggers are named Christine or Christina.

To accept the award, put a picture of the award at the top of the post and then say who nominated you.

  1. Christina Ruth Johnson at http://christinaruthjohnson.blogspot.dk/ is getting her MA in Art History and putting up really cool tidbits about writing in the meantime.
  2. Christine Haggerty at http://christinehaggertyauthor.com/ wrote a great, chilling rendition of the Hansel and Gretel fable.
  3. Brianna Vedsted at http://whenibecameanauthor.wordpress.com/ works in my old home state of Colorado and writes westerns.
  4. Paul J. Stam of http://papermudandme.wordpress.com/ writes about writing and about art – pottery, in particular.
  5. Aric Catron at http://ariccatron.wordpress.com/ writes about self-publishing from personal experience.
  6. Christine at http://plottingbunnies.wordpress.com/ has really cool writing prompts of all types.
  7. Aisha at http://ashscrapyard.wordpress.com/ puts up some seriously awesome picture prompt contests.
  8. Akleneth at http://akleneth.wordpress.com/ writes a lot of varied, thoughtful poetry and prose.
  9. Randy Ellefson at http://randyellefson.wordpress.com/ blogs about music and fantasy – could it get any better than that?
  10. Kate Sparks at http://disregardtheprologue.wordpress.com/ has some great laugh-out-loud moments, and good thoughtful pieces as well.
  11. Val and Ben of http://attemptingsweden.wordpress.com/ chronicle the difficulties – and exciting new experiences – that come with being an ex-pat.

The process of picking these eleven took me a couple of hours! It was so hard to boil it all down and pick just a few…

Eleven Questions for the Above Bloggers

  1. What pet would you own if you could own any pet in the world?
  2. What was the book/piece that inspired you to start writing?
  3. Which published author do you think is most underrated?
  4. What’s your favorite hobby (aside from reading/writing)?
  5. What’s your superpower? Would you use it for good or for evil?
  6. Do you prefer the country or the city?
  7. A man you have never seen before walks up to you, gets down on one knee, and asks you to marry him. What do you do?
  8. What’s the coolest reason that you ever skipped school?
  9. What has been your most disappointing experience in the world of writing so far?
  10. What has been your most inspiring experience in the world of writing so far?
  11. What is your favorite dessert?

Answers to the Questions I was asked:

  1. Favorite color: Green.
  2. Favorite hero or villain in a novel: The Gentleman with the Thistle-Down Hair from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. He was scary because he was incapable of understanding why his actions were wrong. Loose cannons are the best villains.
  3. Pet Peeve: When someone’s writing advice to me is ‘show, don’t tell.’
  4. Something on my bucket list: Hold a sloth.
  5. Favorite song to dance to: Hmmmm…any kind of salsa dancing music, really, except for the bachata beat.
  6. Best day of my life so far: Sneaking down to Lake Lugano with my friends and jumping in! It was nighttime, technically, but who cares.
  7. Favorite place I’ve traveled: Lugano, Switzerland.
  8. Most prized possession: My piano.
  9. If you could go back in time, which time period would you visit: Definitely Ancient Egypt, during the Ptolemaic Period. Egyptian women had strong rights in the ancient world even though beer, bread and onions doesn’t sound like a particularly fun diet.
  10. Who would they cast to play you in a movie: Umm…well, if we’re going off looks, I guess my closest celebrity lookalike is Deeta von Teese.
  11. If you could have one superpower, what would it be: Flying.

What do you need to get started writing?

Sorry but it’s going to be a short post today. I’ve been studying so I haven’t been spending much time thinking about writing. So today, my topic doesn’t demand a large word count.

A little while ago I asked about inspiration. How important is it to you in order for you to write, and how does it affect your writing?

While chewing over this question, I figured something out. It’s pretty easy for me to start writing something if I know how it begins. Then, even if I’m not particularly inspired, I can keep going until I come to another ‘beginning’ that I have to work with.

On the other hand, even if I know the plot, the theme, and the style of the story, if I don’t have that little detail of how to begin, I have a really hard time. I mess around with my prose but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. This was even true of my academic work – I couldn’t start writing a paper until I knew how it would start (not the introduction, but the actual body of the paper. Introductions are the worst).

I’m experiencing that problem right now. I’ve got a story that I’ve split up into chapters. I’m trying to work on a chapter but I can’t figure out how to start it. Usually I try to brainstorm while I’m on my bicycle. Do any of you have little ways to help you get started on a story or a chapter?

Happy Birthday, Blog!

One year ago, I started up this blog with the intention of getting some of my writing out there, where it might gain some constructive criticism (and, I hoped, approval).

Now I’m sitting with 155 awesome blog followers, many of whom have been active commenters on this site. I honestly didn’t expect so many people to be interested in my opinions as a writer, and the feedback I have received has helped alter my views on writing and publishing. I’ve picked up lots of tips and tricks that have already served me out in the writing world. So thank you so much!

For the one-year anniversary of this blog, I thought I’d go over some of the things I learned regarding blog content, social media, and interaction.


I started Forging Shadows as a place to put my poetry, short stories and eventually a serial or two. It was my aim to get people interested in my writing and to get feedback that would help me improve.

There are a number of blogs out there devoted to posting fantasy novels, section by section. I don’t know how it works out for them, but I found pretty quickly that people often weren’t too interested in what I posted. Maybe that says something about my writing (uh, oh), but I prefer to think that it says something about the way blogs work.  I got a lot more traffic when I discussed the writing process, or even posted an apology for procrastinating and not posting new content.

I think that unless you’re big in the world of blogging, a lot of people won’t read every single post you make. That makes a serial hard to pull off. People also like to weigh in, which is harder to do when you read a piece that is supposedly finished. And I can see why people wouldn’t want to put out full-blown critiques in the blog comments.

I also found that any writing I put out between non-fiction posts got more attention. A hybrid blog worked better than just a fiction blog. Of course, this is only my experience. Others may have fiction blogs with thousands of followers, and I’m glad it’s working out for them.

Social Media

Everyone in the writing world is currently concerned with the social media craze. Which one is best? How do you use them properly? Are they worth it? I decided to take a look at my stats page to see what’s working best for me.

One of the things that I noticed as I was preparing for this blog post was that I haven’t been participating in a lot of the social media that writers are supposed to engage in these days. I don’t have facebook, I barely use twitter, I’ve been trying pinterest but it really just feels like a personal bulletin board that happens to be online, where others can stumble across it.

I found that I just didn’t have time to give each of these social media outlets enough attention to make it worth looking over by someone else. I’d rather work on this blog, or a work in progress.

Twitter is quickly becoming my nemesis. To be honest, I have a hard time seeing why it’s so great. I’ve seen just a few interesting conversations, and just a few witty remarks. I’m in love with the TNG Season 8 twitter account and I like other accounts with similar concepts. A lot of the news I get on twitter revolves around book promotion, but with just 140 characters it’s hard to make a sell or even generate much interest. I’ve even unfollowed some people because all they do is tweet about themselves (ahem, Mike Wells).

Of course, this makes me a raging hypocrite. These days, I pretty much only tweet when I’ve put up a blog post. And I only do that because wordpress tweets it for me automatically.

Of course, we’re not just here to talk about twitter. Here’s a list of referrers to my blog:

WordPress Reader: 158 views
Search Engines: 94 views
Other Blogs: 57 views
Twitter: 19 views
Fantasy sites and Forums: 10 views
Writing sites and forums: 2 views

I think I’ll save a full breakdown of this for later, particularly the analysis of writing sites. The stats may not be stellar to some of you, but I was just shocked that some people might want to read what I have to say.


WordPress advises us to read other blogs and comment on them, and it wasn’t until I took that advice to heart that I started getting more traffic to my own blog. It also meant that I found some awesome people out there who have taught me a lot about writing.

One thing I have really enjoyed is reading the comments that you all put up about writing. It has been really lovely to hear from you all throughout this year. You’ve given me a lot to think about and I have always felt better after reading a comment that someone put up. No one has ever left a nasty or even particularly negative comment on my blog. Plenty of people have disagreed with me, but always in the most civil of terms.

Thank you everyone, for making forgingshadows’ first year a great one. Hopefully next year will be even better!

Who Needs Inspiration?

I’ve been reading a lot of writing advice recently. Don’t ask me why, since most writing advice hinges on style and method, which are personal to everyone. This is just one of my ways of killing time instead of doing productive things, like finding a new job.

Since I’ve been pretty much indiscriminate about which writing advice I read, I’ve come across a lot of contradictions. Sometimes the advice is meaningless enough that I don’t really care whether someone contradicts it or not. But some quotes on each side of a debate have stuck with me.

One thing people seem to be in disagreement about is the matter of inspiration. A number of authors advise writers not to wait around for it. If we sit around waiting for the inspiration to strike, it never will and we’ll finish our lives without ever having made our goals. Others say that it will come. Don’t worry about it. Better to wait and write something inspired than to wallow in bad prose, trying to push through a mental block.

I feel like I’ve been on both sides of the fence here, opinion-wise. When I’ve truly been inspired, I’ve taken every spare moment to work on my piece. I’ve been driven to ignore all temptations such as games, books, films, and the internet. I’ve neglected meals, because the end is always a few sentences away and I can’t bear the possibility of losing my inspiration and my train of thought just because my brain couldn’t control my body.

That being said, my moments of inspiration have come few and far between. When I was really busy on my MA, I only wrote when I was inspired. As a result, I have two pieces from that time – a completed short story, and the prologue to what I believe will be a very interesting novel if I can ever capture that voice again. I do regret that I didn’t spend more time on my fantasy writing during my MA.

I feel – and perhaps some of you do too – that the writing I do when I’m inspired is superior to what I do when I’m just writing because my story needs to go somewhere. But I don’t honestly know whether my writing is better. My judgment may be clouded because I enjoy writing more when I’m inspired. After I finished that inspired short story during my MA, I sent it off to a writing buddy. She tactfully avoided my questions about it and did not provide me with the critique I requested, so I can only assume she didn’t like it. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad, of course. I would ask for at least a second opinion before I decided to scrap the whole thing. It might, however, be something that should never see the light of day again, no matter how inspired I was to write it.

I feel as though my first drafts need more work when they’re uninspired, even if I’ve planned them out beforehand. However, my extra level of attachment to my work might cloud my judgment.

Does anyone else feel a difference in the quality of their work when they’re uninspired/inspired? Or is it just that things get done faster, so the draft is finished at lightning speed? Or does inspiration come in the ideas, rather than the more concrete written word?

Things I Learned About (Action-Based) Writing from Horatio Hornblower

Recently I have been obsessed with the miniseries Horatio Hornblower, the story of a young man who wins glory at sea during the Napoleonic Wars. I’m not going to attempt to do it justice in this blog post, since I’m trying to get some other writing done, but if you haven’t watched it, you’re missing out. Especially if you have a thing for the BBC miniseries. It’s classically cheesy, swash buckling, and fantastic. I liked it enough that I put down the book I was reading and ordered the Young Hornblower omnibus (the first three books) from the library. The books are always better than the movies, right?

Young Hornblower doesn’t quite sweep me away like I thought it would. It’s not a great surprise that my excitement is reduced, seeing as I don’t have a strong understanding of naval terms and ship anatomy, so it’s easier for me to visually process what’s going on in the miniseries during an action scene. But the sense of strength and cameraderie is missing from the books, in a sense. In the miniseries, Hornblower’s got a whole crew of secondary and tertiary characters who bring out different parts of his character. In the books, the characters behind Hornblower change constantly so I haven’t developed an affinity for anyone else (Note that I’m only partway through the second book, though, so this might change). The format is also strange, for a book series – the first book has chapters that function like episodes, recounting isolated incidents in the life of the young Horatio Hornblower. While this made it greatly adaptable to television, I wasn’t a fan of the style. It was almost as though C.F. Forester wrote a serial for a magazine before being picked up for a full novel.

All of this rambling is only a preface to discussing some of the things I appreciated about the storytelling in the miniseries. Sorry about that. But here are some of the things that made Horatio Hornblower, the miniseries, something addictive to me:

  • Flawed Characters: I’m not just talking about Horatio here, though it sometimes seems he’s got more flaws than good points. Virtually all the characters had flaws. Oftentimes their flaws were shown in a manner that made me laugh. And on the other side of things, virtually all the ‘bad’ characters, or characters with whom Hornblower had a strong conflict, had something that redeemed them. It’s easy to provide a backdrop of characters that don’t do much and stick to one tack – support or dissent. But by making sure that every character had good and bad traits, every interaction has several factors tugging on it, not just one or two.


  • Strong motivations: This is another character one. People who went against Hornblower often had strong moral reasons for what they did – in other words, they truly believed their actions were for the best. A number of them were still rather cheesy about it, and of course there were a few exceptions, particularly when the miniseries was just finding its feet. But generally speaking, something greater than such influences as greed or mean-spiritedness pushed characters to act as they did.


  • Everything mattered: In television your characters can’t spend a morning contemplating the sunrise over the desert, the play of light on sand and rock. Things have to get done in a specific amount of time, and there’s not much to waste. Horatio Hornblower’s best episodes made certain to use every minute they were allowed to convey something important. Every incident was important to the plot of the episode, and every conversation helped both with character development and with moving the story forward. Everything was so tight knit that sometimes I think it would take me longer to explain the episode correctly than to watch it. Now, of course, this is an action-based show, and perhaps not everything is suitable for the non-action writer. But I think it can be boiled down to – every sentence should matter. In a book, every sentence should contribute somehow to the overall story. My creative writing teacher once told our class, “Write prose like you have to pay a dollar for every word you put down on the page. Write poetry like you have to pay five dollars for every word.” That stuck with me. If everything matters, it will also keep people engaged. They won’t skip the long paragraphs because they’ll be afraid of missing something.


  • Each Story is Complete, but has an Open Ending: I was griping about this a couple of months ago. You’re reading along, your book’s just winding up to a climax, and then BAM. No more pages. Check back in our next installment to find out how the story you purchased ACTUALLY ENDS. As you can see, this might be a tiny pet peeve of mine. It’s the next big thing in selling books – you’ll be hooked and grab the next volume if the first one cheats you of an ending! Thankfully, each episode of the miniseries was complete (with the exception of one two-parter, which I can forgive because it was so freaking amazing). Horatio was given an assignment, came into conflict, ingeniously fought his way free, impressed his superiors and all was well and good. The end was always left open, so we knew that more was forthcoming, but only one episode wholly relied on its predecessors. Now, I love book series and I think there’s nothing wrong with having a closely knit lineup. I think people are less likely to read only the fourth book in a series than they are to watch only the fourth episode of a miniseries. That being said, there is a structural soundness to a complete story, and in my opinion Horatio Hornblower does it very well.

That’s all I’ve got, for now. But maybe some of you have tips you picked up from a separate art form. It doesn’t have to be television or film, it could be any type of art.