Archive for November, 2014


Just so you know, this week’s post is not strictly about writing. It’s actually not about writing at all. But it is about creativity and making progress on one’s creative projects.

And there’s free stuff.

I’ve had this idea for a music video to go with Billy Joel’s song, “Running On Ice,” for about 25 years.  Half my life.

Thanks to YouTube and iMovie I have finally been able to actually make it.

About the time this song came out in the late 80s the PBS series American Masters aired three documentaries about silent film era greats Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.  I recorded all 8 hours of these (you know, on VHS tape) and watched them over and over all through my college years until I had them practically memorized.  And at that time Billy Joel was a big part of my personal play list (you know, on my Walkman).  At some point these two things collided in my brain, and thereafter every time I head the song “Running On Ice” — for the next 25 years — I pictured these silent film geniuses going through their paces, choreographed to the music. I had the whole thing worked out in my head. Only I had no way the actually edit the thing together and get the timing just right.

If you’re not familiar with the song, it is very frenetic, angsty, and full of cymbal crashes and drum rolls — the perfect soundtrack for the classic pratfall.  The song is about how difficult our fast-paced life can be, with all of our modern pressures and conveniences, and that pretty much sums up the films of these silent greats (only about 80 years less modern in their cases).

I think the video speaks for itself (here’s the free stuff I mentioned earlier).  Enjoy.

Now, if I can only get a couple of million dollars together, build a western town set with a bank and a saloon and hire a couple of dozen actors and a whole film production crew, I can start working on my other video idea … “The Ballad of Billy the Kid.”



My first book, The Last Princess, is about a 12-year-old girl who discovers that she’s descended from faeries, and that her mother is really a 500-year-old nymph princess. In the sequel, The Last Faerie Godmother, a botched wish sends the girl back 500 years into the body of her 13-year-old mother, in 1500’s Ireland.

This presents something of a problem. I have never been to either Ireland or the 1500s.

While she’s there, she finds herself caught in the middle of a familiar story she can’t quite place. It will turn out to be the story of Cinderella.

But not quite.

A few weeks ago I shared the story of Fair, Brown and Trembling, a traditional Irish fairy tale. With a few minor differences and the addition of a whole new (and rather brutal, if not unlikely) ending, it is basically the story of Cinderella we are all familiar with. Three sisters, the oldest two eager to marry a prince and both of them jealous of their younger, prettier sister, who they bully and oppress.

The Names

I’ve been taking great pains to learn everything I can about the period so that I can paint a fairly accurate — or at least convincing — picture. One thing I can tell you with certainty is that there were never three Gaelic princesses in the Middle Ages named “Fair,” “Brown” or “Trembling.” So the first thing I did was try to find traditional Irish or Gaelic names with those meanings.

The first two were simple enough. Fiona is derived from Aoife (pronounced ee-fa), meaning “fair or radiant.” Ciara (pronounced ki-ra) means “dark or brown of hair and eyes.”

“Trembling” turns out to be more problematic. Bheith ar crith (veth er crith) is Gaelic for trembling, but there are no names derived from it. Nor does it make a very convincing nickname. Delilah is a biblical name, originally meaning “delicate, weak and languishing.” But I need to work on that nickname.

The Kingdom

The fairy tale takes place in the kingdom of “Tir Conal.” There was, in fact, a territory in ancient Ireland – a kingdom, actually, from 464 to 1607 – called Tyrconnell or Tír Chonaill, which is now part of a larger territory called County Donegal, in Northern Ireland. This was one of the last of the many, many small kingdoms of Ireland, most of which fell to the English well before the 1500s. However there was still a King of Tyrconnell at the time my story takes place.

The king in Fair, Brown and Trembling is King Hugh Cúrucha. My search yields no such king in the historical records. However, to my distinct advantage, there seems to be a gap in the records between King Máel Sechlainn mac Domnaill in 1247, and King Manus Ó Donnell who died in 1564. Although I did learn Manus’ father’s name was Hugh. Again, I’m not trying to tie this story to a particular king, and I doubt Hugh O’Donnell had three daughters named Fiona, Ciara and Delilah. But it’s nice to know I’m not too far from reality.

The Castle

For this story, since Delilah is going to be the primary servant in the household, I imagine a fairly intimate castle.  A number of actual castles used by the kings of Tyrconnell (mostly the O’Donnells) still stand today. But several of note were in use at the time my story takes place. In fact, the story specifies that the king and his girls lived in Ballyshannon, which is a real place that still exists, and there are ruins of a castle known to have been occupied by the O’Donnells there.  The ruins are very minimal — none above ground — so I’m going to have to make my castle up.  But there were over 1,500 medieval castles in and around Europe that still exist in one form or another; I think I can find enough details to create my own.

Caste Ruins

The Fairy Godmother

Trembling’s “fairy godmother” is described as a henwife, which as I understand it is a servant who would have been in the employ of the king to take care of the live poultry. She does seem to have magical powers, however. But her origins, her relation to Trembling and her motives are never revealed. This is where my story will intersect. In my story the henwife will actually be my villain, a high faerie (Sidhe) who wants to rule the pesky humans and put them in their place.  At first she tried to seduce and marry the king (the father of our three princesses), but he jilted her and now she is bent on revenge. Her plan is to destroy the kingdom by manipulating the pliable youngest daughter into marrying a prince she can control (more on this below). So, in the greatest fairy tale tradition, she will have disguised herself as this old woman and pretended to be Delilah’s friend and confidant. Her faerie godmother, to be precise.

The Prince

The prince, in Fair, Brown and Trembling is never named.  He is only ever referred to as “the son of the king of Emania” or “the prince of Emania.”  The only references to Emania I can find is “Emain Macha” (Old Irish), currently called Navan Fort.  According to Irish mythology it was one of the great royal sites of Gaelic Ireland and the capital of modern Ulster.  Emania is mentioned most prominently in the Irish legend of Cú Chulainn, an epic hero similar to Hercules.  This has suggested to me that in my story, the prince will actually be a false prince, invented by the villain and based on this legendary hero.  He will, in fact, be a goblin with a glamour cast over him.

The Story

Instead of the traditional Royal Ball, where all of the single women of the kingdom are invited to meet the prince, in Fair, Brown and Trembling the princesses hunt for husbands at Sunday Mass. The Church was very big in Ireland at the time of my story, and great cathedrals abound. So this fits quite nicely.

Three times the henwife dresses up Trembling in amazing outfits she creates with magic, and sends her to Mass on beautiful horses, to be seen.  But she must not enter the church, and must race home before anyone gets too close.  She even loses a shoe, and everything.

The ending gets tricky, however. In Fair, Brown and Trembling, the young bride is betrayed by her older sister (who had been engaged to the same prince before he met Trembling). She pushes Trembling off a cliff into the sea, where she is swallowed by a whale with dubious magic and odd eating habits. According to the story, the whale comes in on three consecutive tides and throws Trembling up on to the beach, where she can’t leave due to the whale’s “enchantment,” then the whale swallows her up again each evening. She has to convince a young lad who wanders by to tell her husband, the prince, to come kill the whale.

I need to change this  to something more believable, more workable as a plotline, but still something that might be “interpreted” by a storyteller as written.  I also need to incorporate my main character, and I want very much to have them both end up in a castle dungeon together.  If I put the villain’s castle on a cliff (like many actual Irish castles), the dungeon could be at sea-level, and she could escape onto the secluded beach, but be unable to climb to freedom.  She could get the attention of the boy, and make up the story about the whale to explain her presence.

It’s all coming together quite nicely, and I think I’m off to an excellent start. I can weave this narration quite neatly into the major plotline of my novel, which is about a war between the light fae (led by my girl in her mother’s body) and the dark fae, led by my villain with her goblin minions.

Watch this space….



Okay, I know I already wrote about how I like to write using my iPhone, because I always have it with me, and so on and so forth … you can real all about it.  Yeah, that’s all still true.

But I got an iPad for my birthday.  And suddenly the world (the small one my writing lives in) is a whole new place.

I’m writing this on my iPad.   This isn’t really much different that writing it on my iPhone, except that in the past when I chose to compose a post on my iPhone, I usually just used the on-screen keyboard.  Now, I’m usoing my bluetooth full keyboard.  In both cases I use my Thinkstock app to locate and download the stock images I use in my posts (subscription required), and Dropbox to manage all of my files.  Oh, for those of you contemplatig doing this, let me recomment composing your posts in a browser, rather than using the WordPress app.  The tools are much richer on the web, which seems odd to me, but that’s how it is.

Working with my novel manuscript is where thigs have really changed for me.  And not only because of the new iPad.  Up until now I’ve been using an app called Documents to Go, which is a little pricey for an iPhone app ($16.99) but it lets you manage, create and edit Office documents right on your phone, and iitegrates seamlessly with Dropbox.  This was a match made in heaven for me.  The Word editor is a little light, in that you can’t work with headers of footers, but it is rich in other features such as text style and size, paragraph justification, bullets, etc.  Which Microsoft’s latecomer Word for iPhone had even less of.  Plus, I didn’t need to pay a yearly subscription fee to use it.

Literally the day after I got my iPad Microsoft released a new suite of Office apps for iPhones and iPads that do not require a subscription, and are still feature-rich.  Plus, it integrates with Dropbox.  Now, I can view an entire full page of my manuscript — including footers and headers — on my screen.

This is huge.  And I only have an iPad Mini.  (See what I did, there?).

And all the other writing-related things I have been doing on my phone are much better, too, on an iPad.  The book on life in medieval Europe I’m reading — and heavily highlighting — is full-size, now.  Books were always very readable on my iPhone before, but now I get the whole page all at once.  Viewing PDFs is suddenly practical, because unlike in an e-book reader, PDFs do not reflow the text to fit your screen.  You have see the whole page in miniature, or you have to look at small bits of it through a retangular window, and scroll around a lot.

I’m very happy with the Mini.  I think a full-sized iPad would bee too big to conveniently carry around.  But that’s me.  Up until now I have been telling myself that I was going to take part of my advance for this book (because I live in an optimistic fantasy world) and but myself a Macbook Air, and write it off as a business expense.  So I was going to be perfectly fine carrying that around.  But now … I don’t think I’ll bother.


All of this NaNoWriMo talk has made me acutely aware that I am not being nearly as prolific as I was when in the throes of finishing the manuscript for my novel, The Last Princess.  I was in a great hurry to put a period on my WIP by a certain date, and I had all kinds of tricks and processes in place to accomplish it — monthly word-count commitments, submission deadlines for my critique group, and so on.  It was exhilarating, uplifting, and gave me tremendous self-confidence every time I turned in a new chapter.

To be sure, I never came close to approaching 50,000 words in a month (more often 6,000), but it was steady, sustainable progress, and I could just squeeze it in between my two jobs, quality time spent with my wife and kids, a few household chores, and if there was any time left over, sleep.

But now, while thousands of writes are churning out pages of prose like snow falling in a blizzard, I am combing my manuscript for typos, fine-tuning my query letter, compiling a spreadsheet of likely agents, and watching my e-mail for the last few stragglers among my beta readers.  I am, in fact, not producing anything.

Oh, I’m also researching my next book, The Last Faerie Godmother — which will be set in Ireland in around 1500, and will incorporate an obscure fairy tale — but this isn’t exactly “progress” either.  Most of what I’m finding is about what life was like in medieval England, which is about 200 years too early and 600 kilometers too far east.  And until I can reconcile the differences and “see” the setting, I’m not comfortable putting pen to paper.

So I’m not writing.

Someone asked me why I’m not using NaNoWriMo as an excuse to hit the ground running.  I said,

The flavor wouldn’t be there; many of the ingredients would be missing. If I did, it would be like cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people without quite knowing what I was going to cook and before thawing the turkey. Making thanksgiving dinner for people I care about and who I hope will want to come back for more next year should not be a damned cooking show. I do not propose to slam everything together with a giant timer ticking away over my head, flailing around ingredients and hoping I don’t lose a finger in my haste. People could get seriously ill if I forget to, say, take the giblets bag out of the turkey. And who want’s a watery jello mold?

Novels are hard; I can’t just squeeze one out like toothpaste from a tube.

Having said that, I think if I was single, only had one job and could devote several hours every day to nothing but writing, I would probably start churning out pages, if for no other reason than to keep the writing muscles limber and because maybe 25% of what I produced would be actually useful or lead in useful directions.  But I can’t hope to produce 50,000 in a month.  6,000 was already an accomplishment.

So where does that leave me?  Vaguely guilty, to be honest.  Instead of writing I’m enjoying reading, which I firmly denied myself while I was producing chapters.  It smacks of avoidance and wasting time, even though I know I need to come out of my self-imposed literary solitude every once in a while.

So what do I do with this guilt?

I embrace it and hope it keeps me on my toes long enough to get going on my next book.