Well, my NaNoWriMo manuscript is sitting and percolating in December. Many writers would take this time to relax, but that nagging voice of a new story was too difficult for me to resist. So, I am over six thousands words into a prequel to The Rython Kingdom and Rython Legacy series.
As many of you know the first novella, The Rython Kingdom was supposed to be a standalone, however I was contacted by several readers pleading for the ‘next’ book. This is obviously a dream come true for any writer and of course, I obliged with Rython Legacy.
I thought this series was then complete, until I was interviewed on a podcast show and the subject of this specific tale come up. Through those discussions the seed of an idea was sown. I can announce that a prequel is in the making. The title – Malgraf’s Dawning. For those of you who have not read these novella’s this is the name of the evil witch in the story. It will reveal the emergence of the witch from child to evil avenger.
I am asking for your help in creating the cover – as you can see each book has a similar image but the colours are different.
What colour(s) do you think this prequel should have on the book cover?
Your suggestions and comments are welcome.
Thank you to all my readers who made this series possible.
How important are the arts and your creativity to you?
Life is nothing without the arts. Think of what we do to relax: listen to music, watch movies, read books, go dancing. And yet, when it comes down to a budget crisis, these seem to be the things that are cut because they’re considered somehow “non-essential.” I beg to differ. They’re life-affirming and allow us to share the human experience through the eyes and imagination of others. You can’t put a price on that. As for my own creativity, it’s present in almost everything I do.
How did you come up with the idea of the title, Music from a Strange Planet?
The book title for my short story collection is from one of my stories. In that story, “Music from a Strange Planet,” a talented and precocious girl wins an award for her composition called “Music from a Strange Planet,” a contemporary orchestral piece based on the convergence of cricket choruses. I, too, was a little girl who loved insects and nature (still do). There’s an undercurrent of insect references in the collection and small references to music throughout, so I thought giving the book this title would convey a sense of wonder and suggest to readers that they’ll be entering the particular, idiosyncratic worlds of a variety of characters in a particular moment in their lives. The “strangeness,” to me, is not so much weirdness, but points to a sense of mystery.
What drew you to write short stories rather than longer narratives?
In writing, in both poetry and fiction, I’ve always been a minimalist. I like writing and reading works that are succinct, compressed and convey a distinct mood in a few words or pages. I do read novels, but because I’m so attuned to concision, I find them wordy, even if they aren’t! I’m a writer whose problem is not wordiness but a tendency toward spareness. That, however, is why I love to write and read short stories. They’re a leap into a crucial point in a character’s life. We usually meet the character at a turning point and sometimes at the end there’s a sense of closure or development and sometime there isn’t. Some readers dislike short stories for that reason. That’s why I love them.
Where do you find your inspiration?
In many art forms! When writing’s going slowly, or when I’m not writing, I turn to the writing, music, art, dance of others. Or I slip into the garden and merge with the plants. I read critical works or essays about writing, I pore through literary journals. I subscribe to art and décor magazines, and garden design magazines, so I get a dose of creative ideas and people from all angles. A lot of my friends are also musicians, poets and visual artists so they inspire me with their own creations.
What exactly is a short story?
First of all, I wish we had a different term for the short story. These two words sound a bit dismissive to me. Not that long ago, the short story was denigrated as the shorter, lesser cousin of the novel. But rather than saying what it isn’t, here’s my take on what a short story is. It’s compact, it implies, it suggests. It contains subtext that requires the reader to work a little harder to unlock its meaning. Every detail in the story works hard to point the reader to the underlying context: setting, back story, character history, tone, imagery. It’s brief and intense and often does not give the reader closure. A novel is expansive, its narrative, plot and cast ever-widening. A short story goes in the opposite direction: inward and compressed. It doesn’t explain. It allows the reader to experience an intense event in a character’s life which often ends in a moment of awareness.
Your stories and poems deal with deep inner perspectives and emotions – what draws you to these topics/themes?
It’s characters themselves who draw me toward their stories and so unknowingly to certain themes or emotions that are operating in my subconscious.
Does your music influence your writing or vice a versa (or is it a symbolic relationship)?
Yes, it does! I’ve written several flash and poetry pieces that were inspired by musical recordings. And I’m a musician (voice and piano).
With regard to poetry, music does subtly influence my writing. Lots of people have remarked that my poetry is “very musical,” but by that they don’t mean it’s “rhymey.” I simply have an inherent and ingrained sense of melody, rhythm, pacing, and it shows up when I write. In prose, for example, I’m very particular about how a sentence reads and sounds, how it unfolds, whether it needs to race ahead or proceed slowly, how it reflects the character’s voice or emotions. Every sentence, in that respect, is like a tiny musical score that can influence the reader.
You designed the cover of your book. How did this come about?
A few years ago a social media whiz friend of mine told me that as a writer I should be on Instagram. Since I don’t have a cute dog or a photogenic cat, I wondered what I could post about. Because Instagram’s mostly a visual medium, I came up with the idea of collaging my writing. Except that I didn’t know how to collage! So the self-imposed crash course began, and I really started to enjoy dealing with visuals for a change. It was fascinating to choose a very short excerpt from a poem, flash or short story and illustrate it in paper. I continue to challenge myself to try different approaches and now have a small following, which is both surprising and pretty delightful. When my Caitlin Press publisher Vici Johnstone learned about my collages, she asked me if I would be interested in collaging my own book cover! I said yes, and after five or six trials, arrived at the illustration of a woman transforming into a caribou, which seems to intrigue people. It’s also based on a character in one of my stories.
Where do you write?
When cafes were open before the pandemic, I often went for a coffee, took my teeny-tiny Moleskin writing journal with me and found inspiration among the hubbub of chatter and clatter. I always write first drafts by hand and never, ever, at a desk. I prefer to slump on my small sofa in the living room or go out to my back garden studio and write from a low-slung chair while the birds twitter outside.
Just how tiny is your writing journal and why?
There’s a story to this! A few years ago I attended the Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon. On the first day, we each got a gift bag from the organizers which contained, among other things, a very compact writing journal. At the time I always wrote in a lined 8 X 11-inch coiled workbook. I scoffed that I would never use such a tiny journal. Off I went that afternoon to a café to write, except that I had forgotten my usual workbook. I wrote in that tiny, unlined book. I loved it. I have now filled over 40 of the compact Moleskin journals. In fact, all the short stories in Music from a Strange Planet were composed in them!
A writer’s not a writer without readers. Thank you, readers, for making my book come to life in your own imagination. And many thanks for the interview, Mandy.
Barbara Black writes fiction, flash fiction and poetry. Her work has been published in Canadian and international magazines and anthologies including the 2020 Bath Flash Fiction Award anthology, The CincinnatiReview, The New Quarterly, CV2, Geist and Prairie Fire. She was recently a finalist in the 2020 National Magazine Awards, nominated for the 2019 Writers’ Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize and won the 2017 Writers’ Union of Canada Short Fiction Award. She lives in Victoria, BC, Canada. http://www.barbarablack.ca, @barbarablackwriter and @bblackwrites.
My household has begun a monthly creative day. Before COVID19, I used to host a ladies group, where we went on outings, enjoyed potlucks and craft days. So this is a welcome addition to keep my creativity inspired. This past Saturday, we learnt acrylic pours. There are a lot of techniques and various ways to use the paints and make effects.This was my first foray into this medium. I love learning new things. How did I do?
I finished Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs:
A fabulous fantasy of tension, extraordinary events, friendship and excitement. Can’t wait to read the next one. Ransom has created a fantastical world you become immersed into with such ease it is a delight.
My new read is a debut novel, One Step Closer by Sophie Pollard.
Other books news.
I have commissioned an artist to create the book cover for my steampunk novel, The Commodore’s Gift. It is always exciting to begin the process of determining what the cover should look like. Sometimes there is a vision in your head, which you have to describe (or illustrate in some way) to your chosen artist. This gives them the concept you are wanting. There is always a to and fro with images and adjustments. It is a fun project. This particular artist has created a cover for me previously. I love how she can make my vision come to life.
It seems like an easy question until you try to write it. There is always the cover, the blurb and, of course the competition of a favoured best seller author’s new book compared to yours to overcome. However, it can also be those first few lines glanced at as a reader browses the shelves of their local book store or library. These are the most worked on, pondered and despaired lines by authors. They must capture a reader’s attention so completely that they are compelled to continue reading. Sounds easy doesn’t it? It is far from easy it though.
There are some key elements that draw a reader in:
Make them wonder.
Begin with a pivotal moment.
Create an interesting scene.
Intrigue them with a character.
Begin with an unusual instance.
Use a compelling narrative voice.
Begin with a conflict.
Use a life changing moment.
Here are a couple of my first lines:
Celeste watched her daughter, Maralynn; grow over the years while seeing her power increase. She could see her own mother, the previous Eldenma’s movements and expressions reflected in her daughter. Since her own mother, Juliana and her lover, Guillem’s transition to the other realm, Celeste and her lover, Michael, were her daughter’s only protectors in the earthly realm. They knew in time their ability to protect her would end as Maralynn learned how to control and manipulate her powers.
“Come back, here, Bubble – you’ll get stuck up there.”
Lenni called to her pet in vain. Bubble climbed up the bark of the tree in her usual wobble side-to-side manner, getting higher and higher. As she watched her pet, Lenni could see the two moons begin to converge in the magenta evening sky. Once they were one moon, she would need to be safely at home behind the dome wall. Lenni realized there was only one thing she could do, climb up the frackist tree and carry Bubble down.
These are the first lines from a book I re-read quite often. It was the first book I found that centred around reincarnation, a fascination of mine.
Ferney by James Long.
As he looked for the bones of his long-dead wife, old Ferney came close to death. Caught in the traffic jam that resulted, Gally Martin’s life changed.
I am an advocate for always reviewing every book I read, not only does it give other readers an insight into the narrative but also acknowledges the author’s hard work. A review is the life blood of any author – so please write a review, even a single sentence is enough. It can be on any platform: Smashwords, Goodreads or Amazon or copy & paste to put it on all three!
2019 Books: The Clockmaker’s Daughter, Elevation, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, The Lucky One, Spook-Science Tackles the Afterlife, The Icarus Girl, Things Withered, Magnetic North, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, Becoming, Sixpence House, Hollow City, Lomita for Ever, The Little Paris Bookshop, To Air the Laundry, Mrs Everything, Hearts in the Spotlight, Stranger in the Woods, 10 Days in December, Dirt Road, Steampunk FAQ, River of Destiny & Past Presence.
This number equates to about a book and a half a month, which considering I was also writing is not too bad.
As you will see, it is apparent I do not have a particular genre I favour, I much rather chose a book due to the topic or story line than stick to one type of narrative. The Spook book was loaned to me by a friend, who knew of my life long interest in reincarnation and I ordered Stranger in the Woods, as it was one of the news stories I utilized in a work in progress. The others were picked by chance as the blurb caught my eye.