We Otter Do It: I Won a Flash Fiction Writing Contest!

Guys! I won a contest! *squeaks*

I’m really excited to announce that I won the fan-voted Fellowship of Fantasy Mythical Doorways flash fiction Writing Contest! I can’t believe it, and little Gavin the otter and I are so grateful for y’all’s votes!

The contest was to write a 500 word or less story, opening with “The door creaked open …” I won the adult section, and the winner of the 15 and under category wrote an amazing story too!

FYI, flash fiction = a short story of one thousand words or less. Or, in this case, 499 words, which is how long “We Otter Do It” is — and you can read the whole thing on the Fellowship of Fantasy blog where it’s being featured today! 🙂 Along with the other winning story, which is fantastic. 😀

So drop by to meet a little otter secretary named Gavin. 😉 And leave a comment here or there to let me know what you think! ^_^

We Otter Do It

by Deborah O’Carroll

The door creaked open. A tall, wobbling stack of parchment pattered into the room on little furry paws. At least, that’s what it looks like when your otter secretary comes into your office carrying the mail.

I’m a respectable young man and a magician, and nobody would believe me if I told them my life is tyrannized by an adorable otter.

Read the rest at fellowshipoffantasy.com


P.S. Oh, and the writing contest was a publicity thing to celebrate the release of a Fellowship of Fantasy short story anthology which released last week, Mythical Doorways, featuring stories by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt, H.L. Burke, and nine other fantastic authors. You can get the ebook free online in some places (I think Amazon is currently being difficult but it’s 99 cents there at the moment and might be free again). Anyway, I’m reading it now and enjoying it. And it’s unrelated to the contest, except in both having doorways. XD

P.P.S. This is the first time I’ve won a writing contest and I’m SO EXCITED. It’s got me floating in the clouds! AWK.

Thank you for reading! ❤

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Draft Zero (Finally!)

I’ve only been meaning to post about my Draft Zero technique for AGES. XD

Many of you have asked if I’d share a little bit more about it, when I’ve mentioned this writing method of mine.

I’m so excited to announce that I’ve finally written a post about it and I’m sharing it today as my first-ever guest-post, on the blog of my dear friend Lisa Pickle!

If you’d like to hear about my favorite writing tip I’ve discovered, you now can!

There’s also a Howl’s Moving Castle reference. (Because obviously. We’re talking about me…)

Get ye hence and read! 😀

And maybe leave a comment if you’re so inclined!

(And follow Lisa because she’s lovely. ^_^)

When Writing Doesn’t Happen

When writing doesn’t happen, because life is happening and you can’t stop to write . . . it’s okay.

When writing doesn’t happen, because the worlds are alive in your head but they won’t go on the page yet . . . it’s okay.

When writing doesn’t happen, even though we’re halfway into the first month of that year you were really going to start working toward those writing dreams . . . it’s okay.

When writing a blog post hasn’t happened, because it’s late and your brain doesn’t function and your week has been too busy to allow time for writing a post . . . it’s okay.

It’s okay
because plans go amiss
and life goes awry
and all those dreams don’t always work out
but sometimes they work out better than you planned
because off the beaten path
and off the line on the map you’ve drawn
may be better than anything
you could have wished for.

It’s okay
because if the worlds are alive in your head
there’s no need to fear (like you are secretly fearing)
that they will never be caught on the page again
because that will only happen if you are afraid.
But there’s no need to fear.
Remember?

It’s okay
because two weeks is not make-it-or-break-it
especially when life is busy
and not having started toward that dream
doesn’t mean you’ve failed.

It’s okay
because if you don’t post on your blog one week
nobody will notice or care or be upset at you
and the world will not end.

When writing doesn’t happen . . .

. . . it’s okay.

I promise.

Because you can always try again.

Because the negative space of “I haven’t…” is not stronger than the positive space of “I have.”

And between the two is “I will” — a dream, and a promise, and a hope for the future.

So we’ll write when we can. And when we can’t . . . it’s okay.

When the busy week is up, or when the worlds are bursting to come forth onto the page, or when the new year calms down and you stop worrying about how much you’re getting done (or not getting done), or when the blog inspiration is there . . . then you will write.

The words will be there. Later. When they’re ready.

These are things I’m trying to learn, so I thought I would share them, in case they help you too.

Sometimes you need to try. But other times . . . you need to let the road surprise you, and relax on the journey.

Sometimes you find Narnia when you’re not looking for it.

And sometimes, just sometimes, when you’re not trying . . . is when you succeed.

And oh, look, I have a blog post after all. 🙂

A Writer’s Net for Catching Ideas: Keeping a Writer’s Journal (What, How, and Why)

Today I’m here to talk about keeping a writer’s journal: what it is, why I do, and why — if you’re a writer — you should too. 😉

Nearly nine years ago, on November 17, 2008, I pulled out one of my many hoarded empty journals, and started my first volume of what I called “A Forest of Thought: An Author’s Journal”.

I call it my writer’s notebook/journal these days, but each year since finishing that first journal on December 31, 2010, I’ve started a new Writer’s Journal on January 1st of each year, which means I’m currently on my 8th volume. (I may actually stick with this current one for another year since it has room, but we’ll see.)

So, your question: what is a writer’s journal, and why have one?

Firstly, it is not what I call my writing log (which is where I keep a list of all the writing I do each week, throughout the year) and it’s not a place for journaling in diary-form about what it’s like to be a writer (though occasionally such thoughts will creep in).

For me, at least, it’s my catch-all go-to place for keeping writerly notes.

  • New story idea? Goes in the journal.
  • Cool name I want to save for later? In the journal.
  • Pages of frustration about how I’m stuck in my writing? Journal.
  • Snatches of dialog at 2 a.m. because my characters were talking in my head when I wanted to be asleep? Ditto.(Though these I often type in on my phone and transfer them to my journal in the morning.)
  • Random fact or cool thing I saw that day, or description I jotted down about a building I went by, or an overheard conversation? That goes in the journal too.
  • Writerly to-do lists? Yep, that too.
  • Lists and lists and lists of WIPs? Lots of those.
  • Snatches of poetry? In it goes.
  • Hit an exciting place in my writing (like finishing a story)? That goes in there too.
  • Interesting dreams? Jot ’em down. (Never underestimate the power of dreams for ideas.)
  • And, probably the most common one (besides random ideas), are new plot point flashes of inspiration for any of my dozen or so WIPs. So many breakthroughs.

Basically, this is where I write down all those things that I think “Oh! That’s cool! So cool that I’ll remember it.” Because… I don’t. How many awesome ideas have I had, only to lose them to the mists of mysterious brain fog of forgetfulness, and kicked myself over losing… I’ll tell you, it’s been a LOT.

Which is why I decided to start keeping one journal, specifically for all my writerly thoughts. I’ve had lots of other journals, for writerly or non-writerly purposes, and I still sometimes use other ones for writing-related stuff, but mostly, I stick with these, which makes it handy and easy for me to know where to find my ideas.

The first page of my first Forest of Thought journal. (Please excuse the dubious punctuation. *cough* Also, disclaimer: my handwriting is rarely this neat because I’m usually in a hurry. XD)

Because let me tell you, these journals are a gold mine of ideas. You may not know what to do with an idea when you first have it, but believe me, when you’re about to start a random novel the next day for NaNoWriMo and you’ve never done it before, these notes scribbled down over time are going to be a lifesaver.

I give this example because it’s what I did my first NaNo — I spur-of-the-moment decided to write a book the next month, and I had a vague idea, but flipping through my very first Forest of Thought notebook was when I gathered all the ideas I needed to turn it into more of a book.

The final lines of The Owl of Kedran’s Wood were originally more or less a random snippet I wrote in there one day and had no idea who said it — imagine my surprise when it found its way into the lives of Tare and the Chess Club and formed the perfect ending to book one.

The snatch of song that became so central to my novella The Rose and the Raven was originally jotted down much earlier at random.

The idea for countless of my WIPs began with a few hastily scribbled lines in my Forest of Thought journals.

So many characters have gotten names at the right moment when I needed them because I flipped back through and found the right one I had saved.

If I’m stuck or discouraged, I go to the pages of my notebook and scribble down my thoughts and usually find my way out of the woods, or at least I know what my problem is and feel better.

And there’s no greater way to get re-inspired to go back to working on a project than to be perusing my old notes and find how excited I was about a plot-twist I had scribbled down and semi-forgotten.

But even aside from all the usefulness, it’s just a wonderfully secure feeling to know that even if you don’t actually USE your idea, or won’t for years, that at least you didn’t lose it forever, like if you said you’d remember it and then the next morning — gone. Having that security and peace of mind is fantastic.

It’s also a handy way to keep an eye on the chronicles of your writing career, as for-fun or serious as you want it to be. Each volume of my Forest of Thought journals (I call them FT: Volume 1, Vol 2, etc. and am currently on FT8) has a different flavor, both because they’re all different shapes/sizes/”feels”/looks, and because I go through different books I’m working on or focusing on, and I remember that and associate the different years with those books.

Sometimes if I’m trying to remember when I started a story, I can say “Oh, well I wrote about it in my green journal, which was in 2013, so that must be when I started”. It’s chronicling my journey as a writer, and all while saving great ideas that I periodically go back and glean from the many pages I’ve filled.

The hardest thing? Getting into the habit of writing in your writer’s journal.

It took me years to find the balance and get so that when I had an idea I would be sure to write it down.

2008 and 2009, I hardly did any writing in my journal — just every few months, if I had a really interesting idea and remembered to write it down, I would sometimes remember. Later in 2010 was when I got more active with it, and by the end of the year I was chronicling my NaNo adventures most days, and managed to fill the last page on December 31st. The opportunity to start a new journal on January 1 was too much to resist, and I’ve done it every year since. I often fill the whole journal and write on the last page on the last day of the year, but sometimes I don’t fill it and end up leaving the final pages blank so I can start a new one, but it’s a tradition of mine that I look forward to the most about the new year: starting my new writing journal the first day of the year. 🙂

It’s hard to turn it into a habit to remember to write in your journal all the time, especially without thinking you need to write something even when you have nothing to scribble, but I think I finally have it down. So far this year and last year, I’ve written something (even if it’s just a single note/jot/name) in my writing notebooks every week except one. (Yes, I keep track of my writing each week in a writing log on my computer, and I noticed this trend and have kept it up.) It hasn’t really been on purpose, but even if it’s just a note to say that I’m stuck on something, it really has become a habit to dip into my journal at least once a week with whatever writerly ideas are on my mind.

But remember, I started this process nearly a decade ago, and it’s only in the last year or two that I’ve gotten better about remembering most of the time — and I still sometimes think of something and don’t jot it down, so the process isn’t perfect. 😉 So if you’d like to do something like this, don’t feel discouraged if it doesn’t work out for awhile. Just keep at it and save those ideas!

If you’re not an oldschool journal hoarder like me, try keeping your notes on your phone or in a file on your computer — sometimes I wish I did that because they’d be searchable. XD And at times I do opt for typing my ideas when I have a LOT of them, and so they don’t go into the journal because it’s more efficient. But I do enjoy having a physical place to keep notes with a physical pen — it’s soothing for me, and also handy if I don’t have my laptop with me. But if it’s likely to make you procrastinate keeping notes, then don’t let the idea that it has to be a physical notebook keep you from doing something like this–just do it on your computer, like I said! Just try to make it a habit to keep those ideas, somewhere you can go to save your thoughts.

Later this week, on Friday, I’ll be celebrating 9 years of A Forest of Thought: An Author/Writer’s Journal, and starting (hopefully) on my tenth year keeping a writing journal. My FT volumes have been some of my best friends through my writing years, something in which I can confide my story ideas and struggles. (They of course can’t outdo real, actual writer friends, who are the absolute BEST. ;))

I’m very glad I started back in 2008, and I look forward to much more scribbling. 🙂 I know I wouldn’t be the same writer without them.

I will leave you with the last words from my first volume, penned December 31, 2010:

Onward to new horizons! Horizons never seen, horizons merely dreamt of, horizons that have but been glimpsed — onward!

How about you? How do you save all those little ideas/tidbits/plotbunnies? Thanks for reading! ^_^

Beautiful Books: The Siren and the Skyship (NaNo 2017)

It’s almost NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, dontcha know), so that means it’s time foooor…

Beautiful Books!

Yes indeed, Sky and Cait have thoughtfully put together a questionnaire to fill out regarding our NaNo novels! (Or any kind of novel, really.) So check out the linkup and join in if you like, and read on for a look at the novel I’m planning to write this November! 🙂

1. What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?

I’m not sure exactly what sparked the idea… it just sort of happened.

June 26, 2015: I wrote in my then-writer’s-journal (I keep a new one every year) about a steampunk fantasy Little Mermaid story with the roles switched (mer character a guy, prince character a princess/skyship-captain). The title arrived a couple weeks later, and a week or two after that, I met the side character whose subplot tied everything together, along with an explosion of other characters and details, turning into a novel I was dying to write.

It’s expanded somewhat since then, but the main story idea is all from June-July two years ago, and I’ve been excited to write it ever since!

2. Describe what your novel is about!

I don’t mind if I do! It’s a YA Steampunk-Fantasy retelling of The Little Mermaid… ish.

Here, have a burb. *tosses summary at you*

The Siren and the Skyship

by Deborah O’Carroll

(NaNo 2017 Novel)

It’s just another mission on a voyage through the clouds for Her Royal Highness Princess Tasmania Peckham-Archley, Captain of the HRSS Star-Dreamer. Until she is saved from a fall from her skyship by an unseen rescuer, and an odd young man comes into her life with sky-blue eyes and cloud-white hair.

Auren never chose to be a cloud-siren prince; he would rather steer a skyship alongside the young woman he loves—who happens to be a princess and a captain. But to become human he must make a trade. Who needs a voice, anyway?

All Rook wanted was to serve in the skynavy, but everything he holds dear is taken from him. Fighting to forge a new life for himself, he carries the most dangerous secret of all—one the Sorcerer of the Mist will be happy to take off his hands.

When assassins strike close to home and send Princess Tasmania’s world spiraling into disarray, she will need all her friends at her side to face cloud-city ambassadors, spies, more assassins, sky pirates, the Sorcerer of the Mist (who keeps collecting things that don’t belong to him), and oh—maybe a little love.

These cloud voyages may turn out more interesting than the Star-Dreamer’s crew anticipated.

3. What is your book’s aesthetic? Use words or photos or whatever you like!

Clouds. Skyships. Steampunk. Tea. Love.

(All images from Pinterest and belong to their respective owners)

4. Introduce us to each of your characters!

(All images from Pinterest and belong to their respective owners)

Meet Princess Tasmania, captain of the skyship Star-Dreamer; Auren, the invisible/insubstantial wind-spirit-type Cloud Siren who wants to be human (okay, so he will be very early on…); and Rook, the former skynavyman whose father was a skyship admiral and whose mother was the daughter of a pirate king and an assassin.

Rook keeps threatening to steal the show because he’s awesome, but I keep trying to remind him that this is a LITTLE MERMAID RETELLING and he’s neither main character from that story. (Tasmania and Auren are awesome too, but, well… Rook…)

Anyway, consequently, I don’t know who’s the real MC, so I’m currently calling all three of them Main Characters and letting them fight it out. We’ll see what happens. XD

(All images from Pinterest and belong to their respective owners)

Other characters include: Noya (Tasmania’s best friend/right-hand gal), Xasper (a street-thief-turned-cabin-boy who may or may not be WHOOPS SPOILERS), an assassin lady, a couple of cool pirates (and some scary ones), various quirky/eccentric/epic crew-members on Tasmania’s ship, several villains, and Tasmania’s awesome brothers. The side characters are nearly as vivid in my mind as the main ones and I’M SO EXCITED TO WRITE THEM ALL. ❤

5. How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)

Getting ready for the hectic adventure that is NaNoWriMo, and prepping to write a book, are two separate (but in this case related) things. NaNo prep I usually do all or most of the stuff in this post: 30 Things To Do For NaNo Prep.

When I plot a novel, I like to have a summary, a rough outline, and a chapter-by-chapter list if possible, as well as names for characters, maybe some inspirational pictures, and just… well… to feel READY.

I also set up a pin board thing each NaNo. This is my current one (subject to change) and includes inspiring quotes by friends, NaNo stuff, inspirational pictures, and links to my Scrivener and folder.

This year I’m currently trying something new, which is having a dedicated journal just for writing down ideas for this story. I haven’t done much with it yet, so I’m not sure how helpful it will be, but so far I’ve jotted down some thoughts I’ve had over the last two weeks, which was handy. I’m hoping, soon, to really buckle down and write out a lot of my brainstorm ideas, and sort through old notes I have, and then see if I can organize (perhaps with Scrivener’s help) something out of the jumble that will hopefully end up resembling a plot outline… Hey, at least I have three weeks in which to do so, right?? *eye twitch*

6. What are you most looking forward to about this novel?

ALL OF IT. Okay, so I’m really excited to do a Little-Mermaid-ish story; I’m suuuper excited about the skyships and this world, and just the FEEL of it; I’m in love with these characters and can’t wait to write their stories. 🙂

7. List 3 things about your novel’s setting.

  • It’s in a fantasy world, which largely consists of floating cities in the clouds (Princess Tasmania is from the palace at the top of one of these), lots of rocky pillars thrusting up into the clouds and mist, farms and forests on the land below, and lots of ravines with cliffs plunging down into the misty unknown (nobody goes down there because it’s Not Safe), with wooden slat bridges and/or rope nets strung across the ravines and between pillars in some places.
  • There is no ocean in this world. (Oh, look. The Little Mermaid without the SEA. XD It’s all in the sky, peoples.)
  • A lot of the story (theoretically) takes place on skyships (a mix between our seagoing ships of the 18th century and STEAMPUNKERY), because skyships are awesome.

8. What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?

Auren wants to marry Tasmania, and, well, there’s a lot standing in the way of that, which will include the trading-away-his-voice thing. (How can you ask somebody to marry you when you can’t, you know, ask?) So, that is to say, the Sorcerer of the Mist is in his way, and he’ll have to do something about that if he wants his happily ever after…

Princess Tasmania’s ultimate goal is order and keeping those she loves (and her ship) safe. Standing in her way is… pretty much everything in the book. XD Assassins and pirates and plots and all the things. But mostly her goal is getting rid of the threat against her and her family and friends, and definitely standing in her way is the Sorcerer of the Mist…

Rook just wants a normal life in the skynavy, and a family to love wouldn’t be amiss. His family being… pretty much dead… is therefore awkward, and so is himself being presumed dead and therefore kind of out of the navy. Then his major problems are a captain with a vendetta against him, oh, and awkwardly ending up without a memory… Yeah… So — surprise — it’s the Sorcerer of the Mist’s fault again… (This guy’s behind a lot; he’s a very busy fellow. XD)

9 How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

Whaaaat? And ruin the surprise?? (*cough* Which is another way of saying: I have no clue as of yet, since I haven’t written it. XD)

10 What are your book’s themes? How do you want readers to feel when the story is over?

So I don’t really pre-plan themes? But I think I’d like a strong theme of love and also friendship and loyalty. *shrug* What can I say, it’s a YA romance-y-ish novel, and I want all the characters to learn to be friends too. XD

I’d like the reader to feel like they just read a swashbuckling, EPIC, fun (and hopefully amusing?), possibly feelsy story, one worth spending all that time reading (and all the time I anticipate I’ll spend writing it. XD). I want them to feel like they just read a GOOD book, and to close it with a smile. 🙂 (And possibly hug it, but you know, that might be asking too much. :P)

~ ~ ~

So there you have a look at the novel I’m planning to write for NaNo! I’m also featuring it for #WIPjoy over on Twitter, so if you’re curious for more tidbits, you can peruse those throughout October.

I’m also thinking about posting some NaNo tips here on my blog next week, maybe, so stay tuned for that…

Who else is doing NaNo?? You can find me on the site as Celtic Forest Dweller if you need another writing buddy, and, yes, I do have a Pinterest board for this novel (which is currently messy and in need of organizing, but for what it’s worth, there you are. XD).

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed. ^_^