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Brewhaha Book Cafe

For Writers, Readers & Tea-drinkers

Announcing Novel in November 2017!

It’s that time. Can you believe it?

Camp NaNoWriMo is next month!

Which means that right now, all across the globe, tens of thousands of aspiring & already successful authors are getting in gear to write 50,000 word draft of their novels in the 30 days of November!

Bri & I absolutely Love this time of year. Like so many of you out there, we have become Camp NaNo junkies & true believers in the magic that happens when you have add a strict deadline & a sense of camaraderie to writing your novel. In fact, we love it SO much, we started our own spinoff called Novel in November last year.

This year, for Novel in November, our aim is to help you not only win at Camp NaNo (winning, by the way, simply means completing the challenge, not competing against other writers) but to wind up with 50,000 words you can be proud of… maybe even 50,000 words that you can brush up & send off to agents, publishers, or publish yourself in December!

But to do that, you’re going to need to do some preparation over the next 20 days…

Now is the time to GET READY!

To help you get yourself geared up & ready for success, we’ve put together a list of some of the best NaNo advice out there — from writers we admire & some from our own experience. Don’t get overwhelmed! It’s all about the baby steps. Aim to follow these, one step at a time, over the next week.

  1. Get intentional! Bri’s article Where Do You Start? will help you literally set yourself, your schedule & your space up for success.

2. Capture your idea & LOVE IT! Here are some exercises to help you with that.

3. Outline your story’s plot. Trust us on this. If you want to save yourself grief during NaNo and produce a coherent story you won’t spend months editing, a little planning goes a long way.

Not sure how to structure a story? Here are some great resources:

Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn shares 7 tips for writing your novel, including how to use classic story structure. She also explains the Snowflake Method of building your story’s structure scene-by-scene. And so many more goodies besides!

Nick Stephenson of Your First 10K Readers is co-hosting a webinar on story structure this Saturday. I highly recommend signing up to his email list for more details!

If it’s books you’re looking for, here are the two we recommend & why.

Finally, if you’d like to join us on this journey, you can sign up for Novel in November & get emails with our top tips & updates!

Happy Prepping, everybody!

Mez & Bri

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Dreamwood by Heather Mackey

Lucy Darrington loves helping her father in his work as a ghost clearer, traveling across America investigating supernatural phenomenon—and then he suddenly leaves her alone at Miss Bentley’s School for Young Ladies. There she is forced to stay while he travels to Saarthe, a logging town where the trees are dying from a mysterious blight. Stifled by the strict rules of the school and feeling a bit betrayed by her beloved father, Lucy takes matters into her own hands and runs away, determined to meet her father in Saarthe But when she arrives, she learns her father is missing after traveling to the Devil’s Thumb in search of Dreamwood, a potential cure for the blight. And no one comes back from the Devil’s Thumb.

Confident her father is alive and she can reach him, Lucy sets out for the Devil’s Thumb with the frustrating Pete Knightley, whose family stands to lose everything because of the blight. And all that stands in their way are sea serpents, the Lupine people, starvation, and a forest that causes horrific nightmares. As they travel, Lucy’s confidence begins to fade. Even if she survives the Devils Thumb and finds the Dreamwood, will she find her father?

Despite my less than stellar review (this book is incredibly full of plot, hard to pick what needs to be in the summary), this book was pretty good. It took me a while to get into it, simply because Lucy annoyed me with her overconfidence, bordering on snobbery at some points. She acts uppity even while she is (and I am) disgusted with herself for acting that way. Fortunately, this is actually a main point of the book, Lucy learning she doesn’t know everything. It just takes her a very long time to learn it, and it frustrated me. A lot.

The plot is fast paced and full of fantastical creatures and magic. While it starts out light-hearted, the book turns very dark by the end (think the beginning of the Harry Potter series compared to the end of the series). However, I think the second half is much better than the first. Overall, a good book if you can get past Lucy’s annoying personality. This is one of the very few times I have found the plot of a book to make up for an annoying character.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

Tea: Soothing Caramel Bedtime Tea

Summer Reading

Hi guys! Long time no blog! So sorry 😦 Apparently when Mez and I are in the same country, we get nothing done online. But we did read over each other’s manuscripts, and that was fun!

Can you believe summer is ending this Friday? At least here in the Northern Hemisphere. We had some cool temps two weeks ago, but we are back into the summer heat. I love the heat, but I’m a ready for fall with its cooler weather (the better to drink tea with!), the changing of the leaves, and of course, the holidays.

But before all of that, I wanted to share my summer reading. My awesome grandparents took all of us (as in their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, 40 in total) on a cruise. It was a ton of fun, but me being me, I had to escape into a book from all the people. I read 7 books over the 5 day cruise. Best vacation!

I’ll review all the books in separate blog posts, but for now, here they are!

If you are looking for a new book to read, I highly recommend any of these (ok, I don’t highly recommend Juliet Immortal. It was interesting, but I didn’t really like it). Except for Dreamwood, which is Middle Grade, they are all Young Adult and range from a science fiction to fantasy to a very strange psychological ghost story.  Stay tuned for a summary and review of each, and let me know what you read over the summer!

What’s the deal with Wattpad?

I’m writing with a pressing question for all you readers, writers & bloggers out there:

What do you think of Wattpad?

If you haven’t got a clue what Wattpad is to begin with, it is (as I understand it) a social network aimed solely at sharing stories. So virtually, anyone can write anything & gain a following on the merit of their writing. For writers, this sort of networking has an edge on platforms like Twitter  & Facebook because, rather than trying to gain readers with 140 characters or fewer, you can actually connect with readers who have read your work & are hungry for more! Sounds pretty catchy, no?

As I venture into the mirky waters of online platforms, I know this one thing: my readers are out there & I want to find them, connect with them, & offer them the best stories I can magic up. I’m hoping Wattpad will prove a good avenue for doing just that (although its largest audience demographic is 13-18, which is a bit beyond my gamut. Then again, I’m nearly 30 & still love a good Middle Grade adventure, so you never know!). If you’re a teen fiction writer (hint hint, Bri), I’d think Wattpad would be a no-brainer for connecting with your audience.

So there are a few musings from me. I’m in experimental mode with Wattpad at the moment, publishing chapters of my historical fiction murder mystery (with a twist of magic), Manor of Mystery serially. If you’re a Wattpad veteran, or would fancy joining me on this venture, you can find the book (& my Wattpad profile) here: https://www.wattpad.com/user/mezba4

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Now over to you! Any experience with Wattpad, either as a reader or writer (aspiring author)? As the newbie here, I’m all ears for tips & advice for how best to connect with readers, so do please bring it on!

Yours gratefully,

Mez

Dear Brewhaha Book Cafe Subscribers,

Mez here, after a long, silent summer. I do hope the summer months have been filled with all manner of Story reading & writing delights… not to mention tea (because it’s never too hot for a cuppa, I say!).

A little summer update from us: I made the voyage from England to sunny Georgia for a five week visit, which meant that Bri & I actually had the chance to catch up face to face, drink lots of tea together, review each others’ latest manuscripts (in HARD COPY!), and talk about the future of this blog.

And while we’re on that subject, we do apologise for leaving you in a lurch for so many weeks without hide nor hair of us. BUT, cross our hearts, we didn’t forget you. In fact, we have some exciting news to share about some changes on the horizon…

As lots you know, Bri & I are both working independently on our professional writing careers, & things have been coming along to the point that we feel it’s time we both host our own author pages (as Bri’s audience is mostly YA enthusiasts while mine is more Middle Grade).

What does that mean for Brewhaha? The good news: the cafe is not going anywhere! We will still be bringing you the best of our YA & Middle Grade book adventures, + news updates on our own work, + links to my new writing course (coming soon!) & our new author pages!

So thanks for sticking it out with us over the summer months. We’ve missed you, & we’re excited about getting back to sharing the wonderful world of Story with YOU!

We’d love to hear about your summer — any  book recommendations for us? Bring them on!

Yours truly,

Mez

Dragon Clouds-Summer

Summer in Georgia, USA, is hot, humid, and awesome. Home grown tomatoes, fast storms, and baby critters abound. Though it can be miserably hot, it’s one of my favorite times of the year. So I just wanted to share some of the photos I’ve taken this summer and remind everyone what an amazing world we live in!

While summer storms usually only last an hour or so, they can be very fierce, to the point I can get a little nervous, despite the fact I love storms. But when they are over, the sky is incredibly beautiful. And what is more beautiful than a full moon on a summer night? I wish my camera cooperated on that one…

And here on the twin fawns who have made our farm their home! I see them almost everyday, sitting together as they wait for their mom to return to them. So cute!!

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Does that look like a puddle of muddy water? Well, it is! But you see those little black dots? Tadpoles!! I’ve been keeping an eye on them and refilling their puddle when necessary. I’ll keep everyone updated on their journey from tadpoles to frogs! As long as they don’t wash away, which, unfortunately, is definitely a possibility.

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And, of course, we can’t forget the tomatoes! This is from one picking…after they were picked the day before. My mother is about to go on strike. But we love our home grown tomatoes! I’ll be super sad when the season is over!

What is summer like where you are? Doing anything special? Let us know in the comments!

Awesome Blogger Award

Thanks to Loonyloonyvish at Idlejabber for this award!! According to her own post in response to this award, it is  “an award for the absolutely wonderful writers all across the blogging world. They have beautiful blogs, are kind and lovely, and always find a way to add happiness and laughter to the lives of their readers. This is what truly defines an awesome blogger.”

Which makes Mez and me super flattered for being chosen!! Those of you following our blog may have noticed we are reposting our older posts. One reason is that we want to share what we consider our best writing advice (the stuff we’ve learned the long, hard way) with our new readers. The other reason: we are BUSY! Mez is in the middle of packing and editing and I have 50k words to write before she gets here, so we are going to answer the questions, but hold off on making our own questions and nominating others for now.

Who is your favourite superhero?

Bri: Confession time: I’m not a huge superhero fan. But if I had to pick, Catwoman. Not technically a hero, but she’s a girl, and a cat, what better for a girl who loves cats??

Mez: I always liked Spiderman as a kid because he’s more lighthearted than the other brooding superheroes who always seems to be wrestling with an identity crisis.

 

 

How do you go about forming a new post?

Bri: Intense planning and lots of thought. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

Mez: To start with, Bri & I will usually agree on a monthly theme. Then I try to write from  experience so that what I share is fresh, tried & tested & hopefully helpful to other writers walking the same path!

 

 

Describe your dream home?

Bri: In the woods, no neighbours, lots of windows, and a multi-floor library with a sun room at top. With a large theater room in the basement for watching movies on a huge TV.

Mez: I’ll happily live in Bri’s dream home if she’ll invite me! Only addition- put it in a tree!

 

 

What do you prefer: writing or typing? Why?

Bri: Typing. Definitely typing. Everything has to be typed anyway, writing it out just adds a step. Plus, half the time I can’t read my own writing!

Mez: While typing is the only way I can get a book done quickly, I don’t love screens. I really enjoy the planning phase of jotting down wild ideas in a journal. But when it comes to serious drafting, it’s got to be typing.

 

 

Is it appreciation, or the lack of it that motivates you to strive for perfection?

Bri: Probably appreciation. Though I can be a bit contrary about people telling me what I will or will not do (as in, you’ll change your mind about having children when you get older, I HATE hearing that, makes me want to prove people wrong), when it comes to my writing, someone telling me it’s good will drive me further than someone telling me it’s awful.

Mez: I’m a person who thrives on encouragement and words of affirmation. It’s very easy to deflate me with criticism, but I’m working on taking it graciously and using it constructively as all writers must!

 

 

What is your fondest childhood memory?

Bri: Playing in our treehouse. It had an awesome rope swing and we would ‘cook’ things over a ‘fire’ and pretend to be fairies or that we were that grand old age of 13!

Mez: Building dens in the woods with my brother and sisters, going for wheel-barrow rides with my Dad & the neighbourhood dogs, my mom’s amazing bedtime stories,  running a “restaurant” in the stream with my friend Katherine… I had a good childhood. Too good to choose just one memory!

 

 

When did you start blogging and why?

Bri: It’s been a little over a year now, and it was kind of funny because I had just decided to talk to Mez about us co-blogging because I’d read it could only help us when it comes to full on writers. And then Mez suggested it! Great example of great minds.

Mez: Need I say more? 😉

 

 

Which is that one flaw in you, however major it may be, which has become part of your identity?

Bri: Probably my procrastination. It is a part of who I am and I’ve given up trying to fix it, so I’ve just learned to deal with it. If I work best in the last hour of the day, that’s when I work. I’m much more productive at the end of a time limit than the beginning.

Mez: I’m a pushover. I hate disappointing people to a crippling level. Most everybody who knows me can tell you I have issues with the word “No.” But again… I’m working on it!

 

 

What do you prefer: fiction or nonfiction? Prose or poetry?

Bri: Fiction, hands down. I don’t read nonfiction except for writing books or when I’m researching for a book. And prose. Now and then I find a poem I like, but it’s rare. And it’s usually poems that tell stories I like.

Mez: Fiction. Prose. Having said that, my favourite book is Surprised by Joy which is C.S. Lewis’s personal memoir. Ha!

 

 

Which is that one movie that you can watch anytime without getting bored?

Bri: Almost anything. I watch movies over and over. Aliens, Strange Magic, Ultraviolet, Delgo, and all of Criminal Minds are my go to when I want something on in the background. But really, unless I really don’t like it, I can watch any movie a zillion times and still enjoy it.

Mez: How many times have we watched the BBC Pride & Prejudice, Bri? And we’re planning on watching it again this summer while I’m in the States. There’s your answer!

 

 

A Time to Create. A Time to Critique. (are you putting a cork in your creative flow?)

Let’s get brutally honest for a moment. Writing — I mean really going for it — is terrifying!

Each and every time you sit down to put words on page, you’re actually transcribing a little piece of you: your wildest dreams, your deepest desires. So what if you don’t like what you see looking back at you? What if your reflection exposes you to be not the creative genius you’d hoped and imagined, but a failure and a fraud?

And that’s just the first cause of anxiety… (Who wouldn’t want to be a writer?!) As if looking at your own work wasn’t cringe-worthy enough, if you have any hope of publication, at some stage you will have to cast your story (that hard-laboured insight into your soul) before the eyes of complete strangers! Or worse: people you know!

To some extent, the anxiety is only natural: the nerves, the fist-fulls of hair and palm-to-forehead moments… it’s all part of the writing process!

 And yet, anxiety may be the very thing that’s putting a stopper in your creative process. You may be carrying a parasite: a little monster I like to call…

 The Horrible What-iffer

The Horrible What-iffer comes along to gawk over the shoulders of would-be writers as they attempt to plant their sapling idea into the soil of a First Draft. Then, just as that idea is about to blossom, the Horrible What-iffer strikes!

What if it’s over-the-top?   

         What if it’s too long? Too slow?  

  What if it’s not what the market’s going for these days?

         What if your characters are a bit flat?

                                                                 What if it’s just. plain. dumb?”

I guarantee, if you’ve ever tried to create anything, you’ve heard that measly, mettling voice of The Horrible What-iffer. His antics are enough to make Shakespeare want to drop his quill, crumple his parchment and curl up in a fetal position on the floor as he beats his brow and sobs “No one will ever want to read this RUBBISH!” (Hey, it might have happened for all we know!)

You see, the Horrible What-iffer is absolute death to your creative process as a writer. There is nothing more paralyzing to Creativity than self-critical thoughts. They drown out the sound of our creative thinking and lead to self-destruction and eventually quitting before you ever have the chance to know what sort of full grown tree your sapling story idea would have matured into!

Thus ends tragically the career of many a writer before it’s begun. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Don’t be defeated by the Horrible What-iffer!

You can be creative. You can be self-critical. But like Harry Potter and Voldemort, the two cannot co-exist. One will eventually have to kill the other. There is only one solution: You must destroy the Horrible What-iffer before he destroys your story… your joy of writing… YOU! Shakespeare did it, and here’s how.

Imagine a big, bald tattooed club bouncer. Make him as repulsively scary as you like. Now set him to work in front of the VIP Creative Party going on in your mind every time you sit down to draft. When smarmy old Horrible What-iffer comes whiffling along with his party-pooping, negative notions to gate crash, POW! Mr. Mental Bouncer gives him what’s coming to him. And your Creative Party can go on in peace! It takes practice, but it’s well worth the discipline to keep your story alive and moving forward.

But aren’t we writer’s supposed to self-critique? Isn’t it our job to chip away at our ideas until they become the perfected story we can present to the world with pride?

Yes… and No. We will never create the perfect Story. Aiming for perfection will again paralyze your creativity. But we can strive to write better & better stories all the time. And yes, that requires revising your story with a critical eye.

 The point here is this: make sure you’re bringing in a critical eye at the right time (ie. NOT while writing your FIRST DRAFT!!!).

Here’s why you can’t Create & Critique at the same time:

 

The writer wears two different hats: The Creator Cap (that corresponds to our creative right-brain hemisphere), and the Editor Cap (which alerts our analytical left-brain hemisphere). New writers often try wearing both hats at once, but this is a fatal error. Each one has its time to shine. The left-brain helps the right-brain turn all of its fluttering fancies into some sort of coherent plan. But then it’s time to swap hats and let Mr. Editor left-brain take a backseat while Mr. Creator right-brain drives. Eventually, after the drafting phase, Mr. Editor left-brain will return on the scene to analyze, problem solve and tweak away to his heart’s content while Mr. Creator gets some well-earned R&R.

And so you see, the balance between Creativity and self-criticism is like a dance! But it’s entirely up to you, the writer, to make sure criticism of your work isn’t self-criticism (product of the Horrible What-iffer), and it isn’t stepping on Creativity’s toes. That would only throw off the whole process and put you back from achieving your goals.

So next time you sit down to draft, put criticism in his place, or you might just have to call your mental bouncer on him!

In The Beginning There Was A Goat Named Blue

Isn’t Blue adorable? She had two little girls this year, Cocoa and Zanzi. I’m naming all the goats born this year after bugs. If you can guess where I got those two names, I will know we are destined to be friends! Anyway, this is a post I wrote a while ago about how I get my story ideas; Blue was the inspiration for a 90K manuscript I hope to be worthy of submitting to agents by the end of this year. If it gets published, I might have to give her a commission.

I love it when Mez’s posts segue perfectly into what I’ve been thinking about! I would say great minds think alike, but I think it’s more like crazed, fantasy writing obsessed minds think alike, and that doesn’t sound quite as flattering. Oh well, at least it’s honest!

Mez posted some great tips on getting your creativity going, and I’m going to go from there. So let’s start from the very beginning…your very basic story idea. This is where observation and the ‘What if’ question comes in. We all get our ideas from different places since we are all different, so I’m just going to tell you where I got some of my ideas, and maybe that will give you some inspiration where to find yours!

If you read the About Us page, you know I raise dairy goats. Here’s how to get a fantasy story from goats! I have a cute little goat named Shining Bluestar. I just call her Blue. That’s her pictured above. Forgive the bad photo; she doesn’t stand still for more than a nanosecond! So Blue and I were going through our nightly routine, which goes something like this:

Me: Come on, Blue, time to get off the milk stand!

Blue: But I’m still hungry!

Me: Blue, there is water outside for you to drink. Come on.

Blue: But I want THIS water!

Me: BLUE! Come ON! Your sisters are already outside. LET’S GO!!

Blue: Hey, what’s that??

You get the idea. Since this is a nightly routine, my mind was wandering (a great thing for a mind to do!) and I got to thinking about Blue’s name. I’ve heard of lots of animals named Blue, but I would never name a goat Yellow or Orange, and I was wondering why that was. Then I backed up and wondered what a human named Blue would be like. The idea intrigued me, so while I milked my next group, I imagined a girl named Blue. Like my goat, she would be small but a force to be reckoned with. Like me, she would like fantasy animals, so I decided she wanted to be a cryptozoologist. A quick check on that told me it wasn’t what I thought it was (Big Foot and Nessie, not fairies and unicorns) but I liked the idea so much, I kept it.

By 2:00 AM (NOT a good idea, by the way) I had a pretty good idea who Blue was: a 17 year old blonde with blue eyes, not even five feet tall, who wants to be a cryptozoologist when she graduates, despite the fact her teachers discourage her. I knew her backstory and the guy she is going to fall in love with. What’s going to happen in Blue’s story? I HAVE NO IDEA!! But I have a character ready to go on an adventure because I asked “What if” in a completely random way.

Here’s a little exercise for you using “What if.” Open a document on your computer or turn to a blank page in your journal, and get ready. Imagine you’re sitting somewhere, maybe in a doctor’s office or a coffee shop, and you look over to see a small girl talking to her stuffed bear. Not just talking to it, you realize, but having a full on conversation with it.

So here’s your “What if.” What if the teddy bear is actually talking to her? What if she isn’t pretending, but having an actual conversation? How is this possible? Write down the first idea you think of.

Got it? Good! Now write down nine more. Go now, fast! Be creative, silly, scary, random, not even possible, just get down nine more ideas as fast as you can. If you have to, set a timer for 2 minutes and get those ideas down in that time. If you get stuck, look around. I find looking away from my screen or page helps!

If you are like me, the first five are easy. The next two are harder. The last ones get weird. But the very last one I came up with is the most interesting. I could definitely make a story out of it. I’ll post mine in the comments, feel free to post yours to!

There are things happening all around you that can inspire a story as long as you are looking for them and willing to ask “What if.” And to think way, way out of the box!

I also look to other books and movies for inspiration. Note, I am not talking about using other people’s ideas. But sometimes there is just a certain aspect of a book that resonates with you. I read a book years ago, and I found I really liked the idea of a werewolf guiding a girl through a forest. Random, right? But that idea led to another story I am working on now. It looks nothing like the book I read. (If anyone knows what book I am talking about, please tell me, I can’t remember! It’s got two simultaneous stories going on, one in our world, one in a fantasy realm. The real world story has a girl looking for her brother and the fantasy has a girl looking for a kidnapped dragon baby with the werewolf helping. I read it almost 10 years ago and really liked it!)

Anyways, back on track, while that book inspired me, I made sure my story was mine, not a variation of the book I read. I love rewriting books and movies in my head, and sometimes I realize what is in my head is no longer anything like how it started.

So here’s another exercise! Pick a movie or a book. What would you change about it? I usually start by making sure the main character is a girl, but that’s just me! Was there a certain scene in the book you absolutely loved…if only the author had done this instead? Write it the way you would have done it. You may not be able to use any of this, but follow the rabbit trail. If you change that scene, what else changes? Keep going and you may eventually find you’ve created a whole new story. I want to reiterate, plagiarism is bad! But take inspiration where you can get it.

One last one! Sometimes all it takes is a phrase or a sentence. Something you just like the sound of. I read a book about a girl trying to save her family home, a crumbling castle. I finished the book, opened a word document, and wrote this sentence:

I live in a castle.

Simple, right?

For some reason, I tend to start writing in first person, present tense, and end up writing in third person past tense. I’m weird. Anyway, I had the mysterious ‘I’ describe the castle a bit. Then tried to figure out who ‘I’ was. The princess? Nah, not feeling it. A servant? Cliché. So my next sentence was written.

I’m not the princess or a servant. No, I’m the castle…

In an effort to figure it out, I started listing everyone who might be in a castle. Guess what I went with! The castle cat. Yep, ‘I’ was a cat. And from that first short sentence, a trilogy was born. Crazy!

So keep an ear out. Sometimes you hear or think of something that would make a wonderful first sentence. I didn’t keep any of the stuff I wrote at first, but doesn’t matter, I had the idea. And make sure you write it down. It is beyond frustrating to come up with a sentence perfectly phrased, then realize you can’t remember the exact wording!

So there you go, some weird ways I came up with story ideas! Stay tuned for my next few posts. I’ll write about some ways to start your stories, end them, and maybe even how you can get through the hardest part, the middle of a story.

Write on!

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