My 12-year-old son, a voracious reader, recommended this YA dystopian book to me.  Here’s my opinion.

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Thomas comes to himself in an elevator, his memory wiped, and emerges into a boxed in area called the Glade.  Inside are a bunch of young boys with their own cobbled-together society and their own slang.  Their objective: to survive, and to find a way out of the giant, shifting maze that surrounds their home.  Thomas soon learns that they are hunted by frightening creatures called Grievers, and watched by the maze’s creators, but no one will tell him much else.  But despite the giant holes in his knowledge, Thomas is driven to unravel the mystery and help the Gladers escape the maze.

The Maze Runner is a fun, gripping mystery that keeps the reader guessing right up to the end, and beyond.  The story is filled with great twists and steady pacing, the characters are interesting, and the setting is imaginative.  Fans of the Hunger Games or Divergent will especially like this one.

Like most young adult fantasy novels, this one is going through the Hollywood machine, too, so if you want to read it first before seeing the movie, act fast.  It looks like it will adapt well to the big screen.

I’m looking forward to reading the two sequels to this one, which I’m told give up few answers until much later, and the prequel that explains how the Gladers got in the maze.  I’ll be reviewing those as well, so keep an eye on my blog in the future.

In this excerpt from my work in progress, a time travel story set in Renaissance Florence, Alessa has just met Mason, and has seen a portrait of herself that has yet to be painted.

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Alessa couldn’t feel as sorry as she ought.  Oh, Matteo was trying as hard as possible to make her feel sorry, appealing to her sense of family honour, of filial duty, of love for him and for Grandfather.  But he couldn’t make her sorry.  Wretched, yes, but not sorry.

 

She endured his lectures all the way home, glad at least of his company and the safety of the carriage on the dark road even if her magical evening had ended so abruptly.  

 

“What have you to say for yourself?” He pinned her with a stern look so like Grandfather’s that she drew away, eyes wide.  

 

He softened then and held out a hand.  “I’m sorry, Alessa.  I know how you feel about things.  It was a cruel accident of birth made you a girl, otherwise you would have had the same freedoms—and responsibilities—as I do.”  

 

She took his hand in forgiveness.  “I don’t regret begin born a girl, Matteo.  I rather like being a girl.”

 

He looked at her skeptically.  “In any case, what is cannot be changed.  You are a girl, not a boy, and you have the family you have.  You simply can’t go flitting off into the night alone like some serving wench to dally with strange men.  What might have happened had I not found you when I did, I don’t want to imagine.”  He shuddered at some horror involuntarily brought to mind.  

 

Alessa scoffed.  “Nothing happened, or would have.  Mason is nothing like that.”

 

“How do you know?  Do you know anything about him?  None of my acquaintances have met him before tonight.  Do you know he appeared in Florence wearing the most outlandish garments this morning?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“What?”  Matteo stared at her.  “How did you know?”

 

Alessa realized her mistake and blushed, though he couldn’t see it in the dark.  “I heard.  I also heard he was in the company of the artist, Botticelli.  Doesn’t that vouchsafe his character?”

 

Matteo shook his head.  “The word of an artist?  You are sheltered, my dear sister.  Things may not be as bad as Grandfather says, but the art community is not the picture of moral uprightness, either.”

 

She shook her head and looked out the window, frosting the darkness outside with her breath.  But Matteo’s seed of doubt had taken root inside her heart and was sending down roots into the hidden places.  

 

What did she really know about the stranger?  The more she thought about him, the more mysterious he seemed.  He had been seeking her, just as she had been seeking him.  And he had a portrait of her—a portrait that as far as she knew never should have existed.

 

Memory of the painting sent a chill through her, not entirely unpleasant.  It was undoubtedly her.  Not just the face and the hair, but the dress.  That was the strangest part.  She had altered this dress only today, but the mysterious painter had captured every detail to perfection.  It couldn’t be possible, but that painting had to have been made only today.

 

Besides that, there was the state of her in the picture—her hair unbound and flowing around her shoulders, just as she’d imagined earlier today, her dress unlaced and half-open at the neck, the deep flush of her cheeks and the knowing smile in her eyes …

 

Alessa blushed deeply even now, thinking about someone painting her like that, seeing her like that.  It just wasn’t seemly.  But at the same time, she wanted to know what would make her look at someone like that.  It was a look she’d never given anyone before, she was sure of it.

 

“What are we going to do with you?” Matteo said with a sigh, startling her out of her strange thoughts.

 

“Oh, please!” She placed an appealing hand on his arm.  “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”

 

He gazed at her for a long moment, appraisingly, then sighed again.  “I couldn’t.  It would break Grandfather’s heart, for one.  And yours.  For all your foolishness, I know you didn’t mean to hurt anyone.  I’ll have to swear the groom to secrecy, as well, you realize.”

 

“Yes.  Thank you.”  Alessa lowered her eyes, miserable at having caused this trouble.

 

“But you’ll have to promise not to do this again.”

 

Her eyes snapped back to his, wide.  How could she promise such a thing, after the night she’d had?  It would be tantamount to vowing never to see Mason again, never to be free again, and though she wanted to do the right thing, her mouth wouldn’t let her say the words.  “I can’t.”  Her voice broke.  “God help me, Matteo, I can’t.”

 

At first he frowned.  She could see the outlines of his features, mask-like in the dim wash of the carriage lantern.  But then he softened, resigned.  “I doubt anything would stop you.  Nor me, if I was in your plight.”

 

She watched him, eyes wide as though she might miss something.  

 

“Alright.  Promise me, then, sister—don’t do this without me again.”

 

She inhaled deeply, unaware till now that she’d been holding her breath.  “I can promise that, at least.  Oh, thank you, Matteo!”  She threw herself on him, holding him tight. 

 

As always, please share your honest opinion.  :)

If you have a daughter, you know this song.  You’re probably singing it right now.  And if you’re anything like the millions of people who love all things Frozen, this song probably resonated with you.

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There is something profound about the song, the moment in the movie when frightened, oppressed, crushed little Elsa blossoms and becomes the powerful snow queen. 

It makes me think about all the ways I’ve let fear control me: fear of what people will think, fear of failing to meet some self-imposed standard.  It makes me long to become what I was meant to be.  

When I told my husband this, he asked me: “What does letting go mean for you?”

I didn’t know the answer.  I still don’t.

But I am thinking about it.  And I encourage you to think about it, too.  

What was I made for?  What do I love to do?  What makes me feel most alive? Then go out and do it.

But just remember one warning: just like with Elsa in Frozen, we can’t just let go with abandon and forget about the world and our responsibilities.  We can’t isolate and live out our passions alone.  

So I need to figure out how to let go, just a little bit at a time, until I’m building my own ice palace, but leaving the fjord thawed, too.  :)

The internet is full of helpful lists of questions to ask your date so you can get to know them.  But have you ever thought about using these questions to get to know your characters?  

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After all, you’re about to embark on an intimate journey with this person.  You need to know more than just height, build, hair colour and eye colour.  Just because they’re not actually real doesn’t mean these aren’t important things to know.  And even if you never use these details in your writing, they will inform how you think about your character, resulting in a more multi-faceted picture.

So, here are a few things off the top of my head.

  1. What’s your biggest goal in life? (Most important question you will ever ask your character!!)
  2. What was your childhood like?
  3. Have you been hurt before, and how have you responded?
  4. Do you have a nickname, and how did you get it?
  5. What are your hobbies?
  6. What is your relationship like with your family?
  7. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
  8. What do you think about love?
  9. Are you easily convinced, or a skeptic?
  10. What would you die for?

This is in no way an exhaustive list.  I hope this will serve as a starting point when it comes to getting to know – really know – your character.  Feel free to add your own questions in the comments below.  :)

In this latest excerpt from my Renaissance time travel story, the hero meets a hero of his own, the artist Botticelli.  Please feel free to share any feedback, as honest as possible.  :)

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Mason recognized Sandro Botticelli easily from his self portrait, picking him out from his apprentices at once. A man of around forty, with a mop of greying brown curls, wide-spaced grey eyes, bowed lips and prominent cleft chin, he couldn’t have been anyone else. Besides that, he looked up at his entrance from a large canvas, paintbrush in hand.

“This is a private studio, signore,” he said mildly, continuing with his art. Aside from a quick glance, his students continued with their work, ignoring the newcomer.

“I’m sorry to intrude, Signore Botticelli. It’s just that Bertoldo di Giovanni thought you might be able to help me with a mystery.”

He raised his eyebrows and took another look at Mason, weighting him with his cool grey gaze.

“What is this mystery.”

“A painting. Bertoldo thought it showed some similarity to your work.”

Botticelli put down his paintbrush and walked over, peering at the phone Mason held out. He frowned.

“That is unlike any other painting I’ve seen. What is this type of wood?” He reached out for the phone as if to touch it, but Mason pocketed it quickly, before the touch of the artist’s finger could change the screen.

“Do you know the artist?”

Botticelli shook his head. “It’s not mine, nor any artist I know.”

Mason sighed. That was that, then. It was unlikely he’d track down the artist now. But then another thought occurred to him.

“Do you perhaps know the model?”

The artist thought for a moment, then shook his head. “She does not look familiar.”

Mason must have looked crestfallen, for Botticelli’s face softened.

“Are you an artist, yourself?”

Mason nodded.

The painter seemed to weigh his thoughts. Then he beckoned Mason around to see the front of his canvas. “Come. Tell me what you think.”

As Mason stepped around the enormous canvas—which was nearly as tall as he was, and half again as wide—he caught his breath in awed recognition.

He would know this painting anywhere. It was more familiar to him than his own reflection, as much as he had stared at it. He knew every brushstroke, both the ones already on the canvas, and the ones still to be painted.

“The birth of Venus,” he whispered.

“You know it?” Botticelli was pleased. “I didn’t think I’d painted enough yet to identify the subject.”

“A guess. I can see the sea shell here.” He held out a finger but carefully did not touch the canvas. “Venus was born full-grown from the sea, was she not?”

“Indeed she was.” He gazed at the contrapposto figure, only just sketched out in plain tones awaiting contours. Something in his eyes reminded Mason of the way he looked at La Bella Ragazza.

There was a theory that the model for The Birth of Venus was a noblewoman Botticelli knew, Simonetta Vespucci. More so, that he was in love with her. He had asked—or rather, one day would ask—to be buried at her feet.

The art scholar in Mason burned to know if this was true, especially watching the light in the older man’s eyes as he studied his painting, but he knew enough not to ask. Instead, he too gazed at the painting, into the hazy eyes of Venus, the likeness of a woman now dead for a decade.

And suddenly Mason answered one question in the sea of mystery in which he foundered. If Sandro Botticelli was just now painting The Birth of Venus, then the year was between 1484 and 1486.

He breathed a heavy sigh, as though he’d been drowning, and this one nugget of truth had given him a gasp of air.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t help you,” Botticelli said, genuine apology written on his face.

Mason shrugged. “It was a long shot.”

The artist smiled, chewing on his lip for a moment in thought. “I probably shouldn’t do this, but …” Then he stepped closer, so his apprentices couldn’t hear.

Intrigued, Mason leaned in to listen.

“My patron, Lorenzo il Magnifico de Medici is hosting a masquerade ball tonight. I would like to bring you as a guest. If you are to discover anything about your mystery painting, it will be there. Besides, I have a suspicion that he would be most fascinated by you, and Lorenzo loves to be fascinated.”

Mason’s eyes widened. “I would be honoured, Signore.”

Botticelli shook his head dismissively. “It’s nothing. But just understand that my reputation is at stake.”

“Of course.”

“And so I must insist on one thing.”

Mason looked at him in question. But instead of answering, the artist called one of his apprentices, a young boy of about twelve who was grinding pigment in a mortar, to come over. Obediently, the boy trotted to his master’s side.

“Take this man to my tailor, and tell him Sandro sent him.”

Mason remembered his modern attire with a start and laughed at the dubious expression on Botticelli’s face.

“They must dress very differently where you come from.”

“Indeed, they do,” Mason replied. If you think the men dress differently, he thought, you should see the women.

 

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I’ve always been a daydreamer.  More often than not, as a child, it got me into trouble.  But the more I’ve thought about my wool-gathering habit as an adult, the more I realize that my greatest strengths rely on this sometimes misunderstood state of mind.  Here are some ways I think we’ve got daydreaming wrong.

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Myth #1: Daydreaming is a time-waster.

Not so for the creative person.  Unless I take time to let my mind wander, my creative juices just won’t flow.  It’s more like the 12-inch ice buildup everyone in my area of Canada has been dealing with this winter in their eaves troughs.  So if I don’t daydream, I’m actually making myself less productive, not more.

Myth #2: Daydreaming is childish.

Just because I’ve always daydreamed since I was a child doesn’t mean it’s something I should stop doing as an adult.  When I daydream, I stimulate the creative centre of my brain.  I pick up little bits of data that have been lying around without a home, dust off the places I’ve been neglecting, and make new connections that weren’t there before.  That doesn’t sound childish, does it?

Myth #3: Daydreaming doesn’t accomplish anything.

Actually, without daydreaming, I wouldn’t have accomplished anything at all.  Every one of my books and stories has been the direct result of daydreaming (and some night-dreaming).  Not to mention all my blog posts, paintings and murals, and many of my life plans and goals.  That’s a pretty good reason to daydream, right there.

 

So I encourage you, today, to take some time to daydream, to get away from people and computers and pressure and just let your mind wander.  You might be surprised where it takes you.  :)

So, a while ago I posted a review on the first book of the Mortal Instruments series, City of Bones.  I didn’t like it that much.  But I gave the rest of the series a try, and here’s my opinion.

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The story began to improve in book two (City of Ashes) and really hit its stride in book three (City of Glass) as it diverted from the encyclopaedia feel of book one and really got into plot development.  Also, I found the story line became a bit less cliche, the plot twists more surprising.  I began to settle into the world of the Shadowhunters, but it was a slow courtship.

I enjoyed the new story arcs involving Simon, Maia, and Isabelle.  I enjoyed the lavish detail of world building, the idea of an invisible fantasy world enmeshed in an epic war.  But though I wanted to root for the main characters, Clary and Jace, I still can’t shake the feeling that I don’t really know them, and when it all comes down to it, don’t really care what happens to them.

Although the interesting story and setting can almost make up for Cassandra Clare’s clunky, trying-too-hard prose, it still sticks out here and there to my writer’s eye.  It makes me wonder how a good editor might have improved these books.

All in all, I’m not sorry I read these books, but alas, I don’t think I’ll be rushing to recommend them, either.

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Have you ever come back to a work in progress after a break and found it a stranger?

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This is something I’ve done many a time.  Hello there, book-to-be.  Who are you exactly?  And where do we go from here?

I’ve made plenty of mistakes with this process, daunting mistakes that almost made me give up on finishing a neglected novel.  Here are some things I’ve learned about getting back in touch with your manuscript.

  1. Don’t reread the whole thing.  Especially if you’re really far into it.  You’ll get so bogged down that you won’t want to start writing once you get to the blinking cursor.  If you have to remind yourself where you are, make yourself skim, and maybe really read the last scene, just to get into the mood.
  2. Jump in.  Really.  You don’t have to be scared.  You’ve got muscle memory.  Once you start tapping away at those keys, your brain will remember what to do.  It might take a paragraph or two, but that’s okay.  Your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect.  And in the same vein …
  3. Don’t revise as you go.  When you’re skimming (not reading, skimming!) through what you’ve already written, it will be tempting to stop and revise what you wrote weeks, months, or years ago.  There will be a time for that.  But your story will never be finished if you keep nitpicking at your partial manuscript and never working on the rest.  Finish a first draft first, then revise, no matter how tempted you are.
  4. Keep cheat notes.  This is a good idea when you start a new project.  Keep a binder or a file or a set of cue cards or whatever works for you that outlines the plot, lays out the scenes like a story board, describes the characters (not just the physical but their motivations, etc.) and the settings.  These will be invaluable to you if you have to take a hiatus for some reason.
  5. Don’t stop!  Sometimes you really do have to take a break.  You might have personal issues to deal with, or another project that’s taking all your time.  But you can almost always squeeze in a few minutes of writing each day.  Even if you can only write a page, it’s something.  And it keeps you acquainted with your work.  So if you can do this one thing, you don’t have to do any of the others!  Don’t be a stranger to your manuscript.  :)

So there are some tips to help you get to know your book again.  Feel free to share any others you might have.  

Here’s a new excerpt from my time travel story set in Renaissance Florence.  Hope you like it! :)  Please feel free to comment and critique.  

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Mason stepped into the garden, feeling as though he’d just entered Eden.  Birdsong and the trickle of fountains mixed with the sough of the wind through a million leaves.  The garden opened out into a vista of orderly trimmed hedges and a riot of flowers, each spilling their perfume into the sun-warm air.  

And everywhere he looked Mason saw statues.  

Pale and gleaming against the glossy green foliage they stood, silent witnesses to his trespass.  Priceless artifacts, rare and beautiful, most of them lost forever in his own time.  It was a curator’s heaven.

As he trod through this paradise, the sounds of occupation rose from the row of cypress that the guard had mentioned.  Here was the greatest concentration of statues—ancient ones, even at this time—and beneath them, a collection of artists working at sculpting and painting.  

Mason scanned them eagerly for a familiar face, but he knew none of these.  They were mostly youths.  Even from here he could tell they were none of them masters.  At least, not yet.  An older man strode between them, hands clasped behind his back, leaning over them in the unmistakeable stance of a teacher.

Recalling something from his histories, Mason took a risk and approached the teacher.  “Signore Bertoldo di Giovanni?”

“Si,” the man said, looking Mason up and down with a frown.  “Do I know you?”

Mason shook his head.  “No.  But I know you.  Your name precedes you as a great teacher of artists.”

Bertoldo raised his eyebrows at this, but remained aloof.  

“I am a travelling artist and I seek a particular painter.  The one who painted this.”  He took out his phone again and showed it to the teacher.  Bertoldo’s reaction was much like the guard’s, though he showed a keen professional interest after his initial surprise.

“It’s very good.  Reminds me a bit of Botticelli.”

“I thought so, too.”

He grunted in surprise.  “You know his work?” 

“Some,” Mason replied.  How about intimately, he thought.  “Do you think it might be his?”  Mason held his breath.  A lost Botticelli would be a career-making find.  That is, if he ever found his way back home.

But Bertoldo shook his head.  “Not his.  But someone who studied under him, perhaps.”

“Would you know where I could find him?”

Bertoldo shook away his fascination and narrowed his eyes in renewed suspicion.  “Where did you say you came from?”

“I didn’t.  Please excuse my poor manners.  I come from . . .”  He thought quickly.  He couldn’t say America.  That didn’t exist yet, as far as these people knew.  “The countryside outside Milan.”

It was true, strictly speaking.  His family did hail from that area, a century ago at least.  Or perhaps even now his early ancestors lived under the Caro name.  That was a thought.

Bertoldo gave a nod.  “Signore Da Vinci is there right now.”

“Really?  A shame I’ve missed him.”  That was a helpful bit of information.  It narrowed down the possible window he’d landed in.  Leonardo spent several years in Milan, but all between 1482 and 1499.  So somewhere in the eighties or nineties then.  The golden age.  Leonardo wasn’t here, but based on history others were, such as Botticelli, Girlandaio, and Perugino.  Even a young . . .

“Michelangelo, can’t you see I’m busy?”

Mason turned abruptly to see a young boy of ten approaching the master, a chisel and mallet in each hand.  His jaw dropped, but his surprise went unheeded by both teacher and pupil.  

“I’m sorry, Signore, but I need some help with the horns.”

Bertoldo excused himself and went over to where the youth was working on a block of half-formed marble.  Even at such a tender age, even in the crude first cuts of a sculpture, the mark of a master was evident.  Bertoldo jabbed a finger at a certain point and said something to the boy then stood back, arms folded to watch.  He nodded and smiled, then came back over to Mason.

“Young Buonarroti.  He shows a great deal of promise.”

I’d say so, Mason thought.  He watched the boy work, his dark curls close-cropped over a high brow, sensitive, wide-set eyes, long nose, small delicately-shaped lips and pointed chin—a face not unlike his own sculpture of David.  He allowed himself an indulgent smile.  Now I get to say I knew him when.

“You asked about Botticelli?” Bertoldo recalled him to his mission.  

“Yes.”

“He has his own studio.  I can send a guide with you.”

“No need.  I know the city.”

Bertoldo gave him the address and Mason thanked him.  

“You are welcome in the garden any time,” the gruff master said.  “I would like to see some of your own work one day.”

“Thank you.  I’d like that very much.”

Still buzzed from meeting one of his idols as a child, Mason left the garden and went out to find another.

 

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Ever watched a baby learn how to walk?  I’ve had the privilege of a front row seat to this phenomenon four times.  And every once in a while I’d marvel at how they struggled, how they pushed through each phase of learning, from rolling over to running, how they failed and fell – often in ways that would leave a grown-up feeling bruised – and each time they got back up again and kept trying.

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I feel like that in life plenty of times.  In my writing.  In friendships.  In parenting.  In keeping my house clean.  In singing, or painting, or cooking – pretty much anything I put my hand to, it’s inevitable that I’m going to fail at it at some point.  

I used to think failure was the end of the world.  But I realized as I failed more and more and lived through it that the world wasn’t over.  

Then I had this choice: would I let failure cripple me, or would I keep trying until I got it?  I’d like to say that I’ve chosen right every time, but I’m still working on this.  Still falling down and getting back up again.  

Sometimes you’ll stay down longer than others.  Life has been pushing me pretty hard these past few weeks, and I’m just now feeling like I can get steady on my feet again.  And this is me getting back up again.  Watch me walk!

What about you?  What have you given up on because you were afraid to fail?  Is it time to get back up again for you?  You never know, you might not just learn to walk.  You might learn to run.

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