Saturday, September 25, 2010

More NZ Pics

All righty then... when I put up the previous post, it just made me wish I could go back to New Zealand, especially now that it is spring, and take in more of the beautiful scenery.

Here's a shot looking DOWN the Whangarei Falls. The drop is at least the height of a three story building.

One of the things that made this waterfall so unique is that it's right in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. We were surprised to turn into what appeared to be a typical city park and heard the roar of the falls. We walked over a small rise and there was the river roaring over the side of the hill!

This is the clearest picture I got of the Tutukaka coast, not far from Whangarei (a couple of hours north of Auckland). Unfortunately it was rainy and windy the day we took this spectacular drive along the water and this photo does not begin to do the place justice. If you have been on seen pictures of the road to Hana on Maui, this area is very similar. Oh, and so is the road!

The only real 'freeways' we encountered were in Auckland and Wellington. Everything else was narrow, two-lane roads.

Here is a shot of the Sky Tower in downtown Auckland. No we didn't go up. However, they have a very similar structure in downtown Sydney that we did go up when we were in Australia. Also, we've been up to the observation deck of the CN Tower in Toronto, which is the tallest structure in North America. It looks almost exactly like this tower, too.

And speaking of Wellington, here's a shot of the capitol city and a bit of the very beautiful harbor. Maybe because we were there on a Sunday, Wellington felt like a much more easily managed city than Auckland. I know which of the two I'd prefer to live in...

Of course, if I decided to move all the way to New Zealand, I would rather live someplace where I had a view like THIS -- a quiet cove on the Bay of Plenty!

Do you have a dream hideaway where you'd like to live? Is it near the ocean? In the mountains? In a city? Please share the details with Aunty!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Te Puia

A couple of months ago, I got to visit the number 1 place on my "Bucket List" -- New Zealand!

It was a FANTASTIC trip and the country was just as beautiful and the people even nicer than I anticipated. One of the most fascinating places we visited on our recent trip was the city of Rotorua and the area surrounding it. The region is visually stunning with gorgeous lakes, mountains, and geothermal hot springs. But also the most native New Zealanders, the Maori, live in this area, which has historically held deep spiritual significance for them.

The city of Rotorua is built on the shores of a beautiful lake of the same name, and has lots of geothermal hot springs and other natural wonders within the city and close by. One of the places I enjoyed seeing the most was a Maori historical and cultural center called Te Puia which showcased two geysers (shown above) and all things Maori.

The entrance to Te Puia.

A closer look at one of the elaborate wooden carvings, which are tributes to a family's ancestors.

There is also a carving school on the premises which teaches traditional Maori carving techniques like these as well as construction of things like buildings and war canoes.

The local Maori also give several performances daily in traditional dress. They do dances, songs, and even some fighting moves. Here are a couple of Maori warriors in authentic costumes, inside a beautiful meeting house built with traditional decorations.

Here is the outside of the meeting house (called a wharenui). The red color was originally derived from local clay.

I was surprised at how many place names and cities in New Zealand are from the Maori language, which is Polynesian in origin (so there are lots of vowels). Besides Rotorua, we also visited Whangarei, Paihia, the Tutukaka coast (gorgeous but I didn't get any good piccies due to rain), Taupo (including Haku falls), Otorohanga, and Mangere, to name a few!

I'll stop for now but will post more pictures of the simply stunning landscapes later. Since we stayed on the North Island for this visit, we will have to go back for a tour of the South Island! I can't wait!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Three Years Later

Last Tuesday, September 14th marked the three year anniversary of the day I received The Call and sold my first book. In some ways that feels like a very short time, but in others, it seems like a lifetime ago.

One of the things I found most ironic was that as soon as I got The Call that someone wanted to publish my work, other people suddenly wanted to hear what I had to say (either in person or on paper) about writing and publishing.

One day I was just another struggling writer. The next day an editor offered me a contract and I was an instant expert! Of course, I didn't know anything more than I had before, but having sold a book gave my work validity. Proof positive that perception is everything. No matter what or how much I knew before, it had no value until I became a "published author."

Of course, all of this comes with the hindsight of three years. If I were doing it all over again, you better believe I'd do some things differently! But my road to publication and beyond has been quite a ride and I'm certainly glad I've made it this far.

Speaking of traveling, I have a post up today on Romance Bandits (just click on the title of this post to go there) about my recent trip to New Zealand. I'll be posting more pictures and a bit of commentary on here about the trip in a few days. Meanwhile, here's a piccie of a beach on the western shore of New Zealand on the Bay of Plenty.

Did you have a day that changed your life? Please share the details with Aunty.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

NO Info Dumping!

Last night the DH and I were watching a movie, same as we do three or four nights per week, every week. This one was actually pretty interesting, but suddenly in the middle, the action ground to a complete halt and one main character gave a five or six minute monologue about his background to the other main character. In the midst of this recitation, my DH muttered, "What an info dump!"

I was almost overcome with pride, because a) it really was a terrible and, for the most part, unnecessary info dump, and b) the DH recognized it as such, which proved that he actually DOES pay attention to some of the things I say!

Info dumps are one of my pet peeves. To me, nothing marks a beginning writer faster than a pile of information just sitting there, usually at the beginning of a story, doing nothing.

Sometimes info dumps are some interesting bits of research the writer uncovered and just can't wait to tell it to the reader.


No matter how interesting the research is, I (the reader) want to read about THE STORY first and foremost.

If the writer absolutely must impart this information (and sometimes it is germane to the story and the reader really DOES need to know) then please weave it into the dialogue or show it through the point-of-view character's thoughts or actions. Please don't toss it into the middle of the scene like a point in an academic lecture that somehow wandered into a novel.

I had to practice what I preach while writing The Wild Sight. I stumbled across an absolutely fascinating piece of scientific information called the Niall Marker during my research and I knew I just had to include it in my story. In fact this interesting tidbit on genetics became an important turning point in my story. But I couldn't just dump the info out there, so I stuck it into dialogue instead.

Rylie could feel her hopes plummeting as Brenna McRory spoke. "How long does that take?"

"Oh, only a day or two," the older woman reassured. "I've all my equipment set up and I was preparing a batch of specimens for my own research project. I've isolated a specific genetic marker and tied it back to the Irish High King, Niall of the Nine Hostages."

"He was the original forefather of the O'Neill clan," the professor interrupted his wife. "And quite a prolific old carouser." He cast a sly glance at Donovan. "I'd say our Donovan would be a good subject to include in your study, Brenna. With his dark hair and blue eyes, he appears to be the only true Celt amongst us. I don't have the marker myself." He brushed at his sandy brown hair and added, "Too much Viking blood."

"I don't mind being part of your study," Rylie quickly volunteered. "Even though I know I'm half Polish."

"A most kind offer," said McRory's wife. "But I'm afraid this marker is gender specific, only found on the male chromosome."

I like to think that was much more interesting than merely sticking in the facts:

The Niall Marker is a gender-s
pecific genetic trait that has been traced back to fifth century High King of Ireland, Niall of the Nine Hostages. Research studies indicate that as many as fifteen percent of the men in Ireland carry this trait.

And I was able to show (not tell) a bit about the characters too.

I'm also not the only one who has a 'thing' against stinking up prose with info dumps. Mary Buckham recently passed along in her newsletter an article from Writer's Digest about what agents and editors hate to see in Chapter 1. Miriam Hees, an editor from Blooming Tree Press said, "I hate seeing a 'run-down list:' Names, hair color, eye color, height, even weight sometimes."

Or as my DH would say, "What an info dump!"

Have you experienced any info dumps in books or movies lately? Care to share with Aunty? Pretty Please?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere

Here's another blog from my recent tour to promote The Wild Irish Sea...

Not long ago, my critique partner and I were discussing our current works-in-progress. After we finished our line-by-line assessments of each others’ chapters, we started to discuss overall themes and motifs in our work. She made the observation that water figured prominently in all my novels.

My first reaction was denial. Astrologically, I’m a fire sign and I’m not attracted to earth or water signs. And I’m not keen on being wet in my everyday life either. Rain is fine, as long as I’m inside, not out in it. I’ve never been much of a swimmer… okay, I can barely keep myself afloat, and I hate water in my ears or nose! Large bodies of water scare me a little. Confession time – when I’m on a cruise (and I’ve been on sixteen of them), I’m always a bit nervous if I can’t see land.

For an aqua-phobe like me to write about water made no sense. But then I looked at my three finished books and my WIP and saw that she was correct! Every one of my stories contains a strong water related element.

My first book, The Wild Sight has a number of scenes in a marshy area called the fens. These particular fens are connected to the largest fresh water lake in Ireland, Lough Neagh. And if that’s not enough, one of the characters drowns in the lake. Yes, my CP was correct. This book had a ‘watery’ connection.

Book number two was The Treasures of Venice. The story is set in Venice, Italy which is known for… CANALS!

Big DUH moment.

All the characters spend quite a bit of time in boats of every description, motorboats, barges, gondolas. In two key scenes, the hero winds up taking a very chilly dip in a canal. No point in belaboring the obvious any further, this book has a major water element.

Let’s move on to my current release, The Wild Irish Sea. As if the title weren’t a big enough no-brainer, there’s even crashing waves on the cover! Um, look a wee bit lower than that open shirt… See?

Once again, the main characters spend a lot of time in various kinds of boats, row boats, motor boats, even a sail boat. As the title suggests, the sea plays a major role in this story both literally and metaphorically. Not only is the sea wild, but it is also mysterious and dangerous, as well as life giving.

My characters in The Wild Irish Sea also interact with marine mammals, namely seals who play an important part in the story. I’ve always had a fondness for seals and sea lions, and I greatly admire how agile and graceful they are in the water, unlike me. Plus there were all those wonderful Celtic legends about selkies. In case you aren’t familiar with selkie lore, here’s a brief explanation by one of my Irish characters:

Parker shifted his weight to a more comfortable position before he admitted, “Actually, I’m not even sure what a selkie is. Can you fill me in?

The teen looked askance, like he couldn’t believe a grown man could be so ignorant. “Why they’re seals, of course. Enchanted ones who can shed their skins and look like humans." He crossed his arms and huffed out a dismissive breath. “Can’t believe someone named O’Neill never heard of selkies. Even if ya are a Yank.”

“Clearly my education has been sadly lacking,” Parker said, sorting out this newly discovered information. “Why would a selkie want to be human?

Connor’s brow furrowed, as if he’d never considered such a question. “I expect they’re curious. Or maybe even bored. The thing is, if you find their selkie skin and hide it, they can’t turn back. They’re stuck in human form, but they pine for the sea forever"

Parker made a sour face. “Too tragic. Nope, definitely don’t want to be a selkie."

The boy appeared unconvinced.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little glimpse into my watery stories, especially my new release The Wild Irish Sea. Have you read other books with references to water in them? What are some objects or motifs that your favorite authors use?