Friday, December 30, 2011

Book 1: Mockingjay

And we're off!

I chose Mockingjay to kick off the 100 Books in 2012 challenge. It's been sitting on shelf for a few months, waiting for me to bust through this "non-reading" phase.

After the brilliance of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I figured the third in the series required my full attention - and it's taken until this new challenge for me to give it.

I wasn't disappointed.

As with the previous two books, Mockingjay is filled with the same shocking twists, emotional turns, and masterful storytelling I've come to expect from this author. The kind of writing that makes me ache with envy.

And get me off my butt. Collins' skill is inspirational.

I'd be lying if I said Mockingjay lived up to Hunger Games, but how could it? Quite often, the first in a series is the best - and in so many ways, Hunger Games is flawless. Collins knows just when to tug on the heart strings, and the craft of character development. This remains true throughout the series, but I didn't quite feel quite the same urgency as with Hunger Games.

Still, if you're as far behind as I am and have yet to read Mockingjay, I'd slide it up to the top of your TBR pile. Regardless if it's my favourite in the series, it's still one hell of a great book.

Special thanks to my niece Bailey for "coveting" this copy for me - I'll take you to the movie to make up for it...xo

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, Michelle Hodkin

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My muse reads - and this year, I do, too

Karen and I are doing it again. The great 100 Book Reading Challenge.

We attempted it in 2010, aiming to devour 100 *new* books between the end of December and the start of 2011. Neither of us made it, though 70-ish books is nothing to sneeze at.

But I can almost count on two hands the number of books I actually finished reading in 2011. There were a number - far too many - starts and stops. Maybe I burnt myself out the year before, but one thing I know for sure, without the dedicated reading time, my creativity suffered.

I have many projects on the go this year. And with the help of my good friend, Judith, I'm working on a spreadsheet to organize them all. I'm positive none of these works in progress will be accomplished if I don't make reading a priority.

It's not like I don't have enough books lying around my house. I went on a book binge months ago, and most of the titles are on my shelf, collecting dust. Even the novels sent FROM GREECE by Jessica.

So, the challenge begins now. Actually, it began yesterday - and I started with Mockingjay, the third and final book in Suzanne Collins' brilliant Hunger Games trilogy. I'm 100 pages in and loving it.

The rules are simple:

  • 100 books *read in full* by January 1, 2013
  • Each book must be reviewed/talked about on our blogs
  • Books we've read before don't count
  • Picture books don't count
  • Manuscripts for friends/writers DO count

Missed anything? Up for negotiation.

If you're up for the challenge, I dare you to join us. Or, you're welcome to hang out at our blogs and add to our TBR list and maybe get a few recommendations for yourself. 

Oh - and special thanks to Johnny Depp for his double duty muse avatar role this week - reading AND writing. When you're that sexy, you deserve the jobs, no?

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bet on this muse

Paul Bettany had me at hello.

I first fell in love with him as Chaucer in A Knight's Tale. The role was such a sweet mix of comedy and unassuming sex appeal - kinda like Paul.

My adoration for him continues to grow every time I see him on screen. I loved him in Priest and the DaVinvi Code and positively swooned over him in A Beautiful Mind. He's brilliant.

Which is why I've mentally cast him in a lead role for my thriller - which is currently going through extensive edits.

I need the mental push. I've been staring at this manuscript for what seems like an eternity, constantly tweaking every paragraph, every sentence, every word to painstaking perfection.

Frankly, I'm more than ready to send it off into the world.

But alas, it needs one more pass. Which is how I'll be spending my evenings this week while I wait for Santa to arrive.

I'll supply the computer and the crantinis. Mr. Muse Avatar, I'm leaving it up to you to provide the inspiration.

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: Heartsick, Chelsea Cain

P.S. Find yourself on the Naughty list this year? You might want to acquaint yourself with this beastie before Sunday.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My muse is not "this" Jack

At least not this time.

It's true Kiefer Sutherland (aka: Jack Bauer) has been my muse avatar more times than I can count. And it's not that he doesn't completely fulfill the role (he does!) - and my crush on him is legendary in my household. I own all eight seasons of 24, and many Kiefer Sutherland movies. It's doubtful I'll get over him any time soon... (sorry handsome, hubby...)

It's just that there's a new Jack in my life now - one infinitely cuter than Jack Bauer (no, seriously) and this new Jack has completely stolen my heart.

My new nephew, Jack Lawrence.

He was born at 9:30 a.m. yesterday, and though I have only one picture of his sweet and perfect face, I know no other Jack will ever take his place in my heart. I now understand the phrase, love at first sight.

My sister lives a billion miles away from me - okay, just across the country, but yesterday, it felt like we were world's apart. I'm dying to hug her, and tell her how proud I am of her - and I am going crazy not being able to give my new nephew a hug.

This isn't my first nephew - my sister's husband has two awesome boys who stole my heart the first time I met them. My sister-in-law also has a beautiful son and a beautiful daughter. I love them all, completely. But there's something so special about this moment, that instant when I heard her trembling voice on the other end of the line telling me about her son.

Her son.

I've been an emotional basketcase since that early morning call, caught between smiling hysterically and crying uncontrollably. His picture is now my screen saver, my phone wallpaper, and imprinted in my mind. Every perfect detail.

I actually can't stop thinking about him.

And so this week - and likely for some time to come, my nephew, baby Jack Lawrence, is my muse. But Jack Bauer can still do the avatar part.

Have an amazing week. I know I will <3

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: Heartsick, Chelsea Cain

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gift the gift of theatre this year

I haven't been an employee of Theatre Alberta for long, but I've been passionate about theatre for as long as I can remember. How could I not be?

As a writer, I perhaps have a more vested interest in the arts - whether that be musical, theatrical, graphic, literary or otherwise. We live in a society where often the "artist" is underappreciated, misunderstood, and certainly underpaid. 
But Alberta is fortunate to have champions of the arts - from government bodies that support like-minded organizations through financial support to specialized societies that provide artists with the tools to help them learn and grow - and ultimately survive.
It's a tough economic climate out there, folks, and those of us who struggle to make a living as artists know that we do what we do not because of the money, but because we must. 
Theatre Alberta is a provincial arts service organization dedicated to the growth and development of the Alberta theatre community and all its constituencies. It is committed to achieving its mandate by providing the highest quality services – support, programming, information, and advocacy – to the Alberta theatre community.
And it needs your help.
This month marks the start of Theatre Alberta's 100x100 Campaign, a targeted effort to raise $10,000 by asking 100 people who are passionate about theatre to donate $100. By pooling resources with other like-minded supporters, your individual donation can turn into a whole lot of love in support of theatre education in Alberta. 
Believe me, I understand the financial difficulty the holidays can bring, but I'm also fortunate to see everyday how theatre has changed lives. 
Not convinced? Consider this:
From birth, children instinctively use pretend play as a means of making sense of the world. They observe and respond to their environment, imitate words and actions, create situations to play and assume roles, and direct one another. Children arrive at school with rudimentary skills as playwrights, actors, designers, directors and audience members.

Although frequently thought of as only entertainment, the imagined and enacted world of theatre is also one of the primary we learn about life: about actions and consequences, about customs and beliefs, and about others and ourselves.

More importantly, it is a forum that showcases and nurtures notions of acceptance, vulnerability, leadership, public speaking and creativity.

I'm a huge advocate of creativity - because like many of you, writing - and reading - saved me.

If you do donate over the holidays, I hope you'll consider a contribution to Theatre Alberta. Check out the many ways you can help here.

- Dawn

The Book In My Bag Today: Heartsick, Chelsea Cain

Monday, December 5, 2011

Double duty muse

I've never given Ryan Reynolds much thought. In fact, I couldn't even have named a single of his movies until I looked him up on IMDB.

But a co-worker sent me a specific request to appoint him muse avatar, and I know after this weekend, she could really use a pick-me-up, so I'm happy to oblige.

Especially after going through his pictures on Google.

Very nice.

Lots on the go this week (shocking) and Mr. Reynolds seems the accomplished sort. Perhaps he can help me accomplish some of my writerly to-do items - and make my friend Stephanie smile at the same time.

- Dawn

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

PS - Are you following the other me? This month, I'm counting down the days until Christmas with crafts, recipes, general holiday cheer, and an epic book contest.

Friday, December 2, 2011

My NaNo hang over, a contest, and other holiday goodies

I'm suffering a bad NaNoWriMo hangover, my friends. Yes, even though it's been two days since the deadline.

And uh, no, I didn't complete the challenge. I did not write 50,000 words of a single project. Not even close. I didn't even write 30,000 words of a bunch of projects.

I'm trying not to beat myself up over that, and remain thrilled for (and only slightly jealous of) the thousands of writers from around the world who are now using their NaNo Winner badge as their Facebook profile pic. In truth, I am happy - and in awe - of all of you. Congratulations!

My hangover comes more from processing all of the new ideas that filtered through my mind and somehow became Works in Progress (WIPs) during November while I was staring at the blank page that should have been my NaNo submission.

So what the heck was I doing in November? Good question. Here's the list:

(Oh, and I'll call myself out before a number of my blogging pals - you know who you are - do it for me. 80% of this list happened in the last week or so of the month. The first half is kind of a blur...)

I followed and cheered on the amazingly talented Jessica Bell, whose astounding blog tour for her debut novel String Bridge must have set records for sheer blogger support. Read about her success here.

I continued marketing for my children's book Fields of Home, journaling at Chase Duffy's blog, and updating the Facebook (Chase Superman Duffy) and Twitter (SupermanDuffy) feeds. Not following him? I'd appreciate the support. The second book in the series, Gotta Jet, is slated for January, 2012.

I wrote posts for Bridge Social Media, the company I co-own with the brilliant Judith Graves. Never heard of us? Our clients include Leap Books (for the Spirited anthology release), Jessica Bell and the recently-completed (and successful) Crossroads Tour. Need some social media marketing help? Consider Bridge in the New Year. (And watch for Judith's second book in her SKINNED series, Second Skin, to be released in February!)

I critiqued for the awesome Donna Milward, who just completed her second book, Aphrodite's War last week. If you thought her debut novel Thoeba was great, wait until you get your hands on this one. Brilliant. (And last week, I even exchanged pages with her...which means, I did write something in November.)

I read - and provided feedback - for the awesome Hart Johnson whose cozy mystery is in final stages of edits and coming to a bookstore near you very soon.

I began a bucketload of edits for my novel, Blood of the Fallen and am sitting, uncomfortably, on some big news with respect to that project. I promise to share soon! (Well, as soon as it gets with this industry...)

I wrote random chapters for my YA, Heartless, Jack of Hearts, and two secret projects. (Really, I'm only keeping them secret from my husband so he doesn't get on my case for having too much on the go...)

I brainstormed several new collaborative projects with Judith Graves, which I'm sure will keep us both busy in the New Year. (She tried to go "dark" to finish her Second Skin edits but we have this crazy energy about us that just breeds new ideas.)

I mapped out two new projects with my friend Kyle Kerr, one of the greatest undiscovered talents in the literary world. Seriously, when he gets writing, he will blow your mind. Lucky me, we've got a script treatment completed (thanks to him) and a book in the works. Or maybe it's multiple scripts and multiple books? Oy. Good thing his whip is less deadly than Judith's!

I launched my Christmas countdown on my other blog. Not following me there? Please do...I'm sharing holiday crafts, recipes, and general holiday cheer. Not to mention a book prize of epic proportions! Come join me for an eggnog latte.

And oh, I launched an online literary journal with Jessica Bell. Because, you know, we don't have enough on our plates. Vine Leaves combines my love of editing, my passion for writing, and my deep desire to work on something cool with one of the most talented writers I know. How could I resist? Our first issue submission deadline is December 15, 2011. If you haven't checked us out, please do. I bet you've got a vignette you could submit.

Of course, November was also filled with the business that comes with my amazing day job at Theatre Alberta, and spending time with my awesome family.

I'm still bummed about not completing NaNo, but looking at this list gives me a bit of confidence - I wasn't just sitting on my ass all month. Maybe I should for December --

* ducks *

Just kidding!

But I AM going to take some time to read this December, and spend some quality holiday hours with my family. (And I'm going to be an aunty...eep! So excited!)

Happy December!

- Dawn

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

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: