Sunday, 31 October 2010

Harvest Moon

As  Hallowe'en approaches, and ties to  the spirit world grow stronger, Canadian First Nations Dancing Cat joins us today to share a little of her story.

This is her introduction to the story she tells in the novella Harvest Moon.

As I sat on the bank of the swallow river, the drums pounding in the distance, I asked myself why the ancestors abandoned me. I had always behaved the way my elders taught me. I worked hard, shared with those around me, and never took more from the Earth than what I needed. I listened to my chief and my elders and respected the wisdom that the Spirits offered them. Why, then, would I be called “Cursed One”, never to be a person again?

The crowd in the distance sang and whooped in excitement, rhythmic drums echoing back to my isolated patch of ground. My job during the Gathering consisted of fetching water from the cold stream. Fearful of my presence polluting the festivities and angering the ancestors, several small children were designated to collect the bladders of water from me and run them back to the celebrating people. I could not even bring the water itself.

I was no longer Dancing Cat, messenger of my people. I was Cursed One. I would not experience the opening of the Sacred Bundle and receive guidance.

I looked out and over the endless field of grass opposite of the river and sighed. Someday, I will find a way to deliver myself. Even if I have to call upon death to rescue me.

Krista D Ball, author of Harvest Moon, is one of my favourite writers, one you can always rely on to produce a story that is different, a story that keeps you wondering what will happen next.

How did you go about writing this book ?

I’m a partial outliner. I like to write a quick blurb about the main purpose of the book and the outcome. Then, I ask, “What is the risk?” That answer allows for the overall direction of the story. For Harvest Moon, I wrote “discovery” as the risk. In reading Harvest Moon, you’ll find several instances of Dancing Cat’s fear of discovery.

How much research do you do?
As I knew some basic information about First Nations people in Alberta, Canada, I did my research after writing my first draft. If I do it before hand, I find that I include way too much back story and historical information that distracts from the main character’s path. I tweaked their wardrobe, their diet, and the passing months to better match the moon phases.

Do you have any feedback before you submit for publication?

After that stage, it went to a few of my beta readers in my critique group. I made some changes based on the feedback. The largest feedback was the assumption of this being set in the United States and the confusion over a six month winter! Inserting geographical references was the hardest part of writing the story, since Dancing Cat’s world is pre-contact.

After it was all tidied up, Harvest Moon entered the world of submissions and, happily, found a home at MuseItUp Publishing.

To whet your appetite even further, Krista has allowed me to share one further excerpt. Enjoy.

Harvest Moon
Cross-legged, Dancing Cat sat pounding the sun-dried Saskatoon berries between two hand-sized rocks. The stone, her hands, and her buckskin dress all bore the tell-tale signs of berry duty. Streaks of red dye, impossible to clean, striped her clothing and tanned skin. She tried pushing her hair off her cheeks, only to have the sticky residue coating her fingers glue the dark strands in place. The black flies swarmed and buzzed, ready to feast.
She worked in silence as part of the greater circle of twenty women, who chatted as they worked. Dancing Cat had no reason to join in. They only spoke to her to criticize or belittle, never for companionship. The band no longer even called her by name.
Her attention faded away from her work. She stared past the women to catch a glimpse of Eagle Eyes, her brother, mounting his horse. He was only six years older than her and already leading hunting parties, while she sat, docile and obedient, making powdered berries. His gaze caught hers, full of warning. She looked away with the heaviness of her situation pressing against her chest. Dancing Cat pounded her berries harder, trying to crush her own aching loneliness.
“I wish I could ride again,” she mumbled.
Her mother, Crow, glared at her. “I have no patience for you today. We have berries to crush. Shall I remind you why we need them?”
“No,” Dancing Cat said, sullen. They couldn’t start the pemmican cakes without the berries. Without them, they would starve when winter fell. Shed heard the lecture many times before and did not want to hear it again.
“Good. Put aside your childishness and work in silence, Cursed One.”
Dancing Cat swallowed down the slight. She remained silent against the grunts and nods of the other women. She dropped her gaze, making snide, internal comments about how her mothers black hair no longer resembled a crows blue-black feathers. It made her feel better, petty though it was.
Some days, she saw herself as Cursed One instead of her name. But today was not one of those days. Today, she was still the girl who wriggled out of the womb twenty years before and was joyously named Dancing Cat. Today, she hated her duty and silence. But she would do both and would not complain. One day, she would escape into death and be free.
Using a sharp stone, she scraped the mound of berry powder off the buckskin in front of her into the main pile. She dumped several handfuls of the tiny Saskatoon berries back on her ragged buckskin to resume pounding. But not before licking her fingers clean of the tart, feathery residue. No one noticed.
“Creator wills it, the men will bring home a buffalo from the hunt,” Crow said to the other women, who nodded in agreement.
Dancing Cat let her mind wander as the women chatted about the tribes need for a buffalo. The herd would move southeast in another moon cycle and so the entire tribe would move with them before the final move into their winter camp. Faded memories of riding ahead of the hunt flashed across her mind; images so foreign that she wondered if they were true anymore.
A chill crept up her spine. The late summer wind had turned cold. She flicked her gaze back to the hunting party. The rest of the men mounted their horses and galloped off to the nearby buffalo herd. She sighed, remembering the freedom of riding. She had been their tribes first female messenger. She missed it.
“Cursed One! Pay attention. You are chipping your rock. If I find stone in my cakes this winter, I will take yours and let you go without.” Her grandmother glared at her, her thin lips pursed. “Stop daydreaming.”
Dancing Cat stared at her grandmother, trying to control her tone. “Sorry, Nohkom. I was just…”
“Daydreaming,” Hawk Sight snapped. “We expect you to do your share of work. If you do not, you will be the first to starve this winter.”
Dancing Cat hung her head, fingers trembling from the nauseating mix of anger and fear. She bit back the disrespectful words that boiled inside her. Hawk Sight was not just her maternal grandmother, but also the band healer and an elder. No one would dare speak back to her, let alone the band exile. 
She looked up at the several generations of women around her. The nodding heads and smug looks told her that the threat of starvation was real. She pushed her grandmothers words out of her mind by grinding the berries perfectly between the two flat rocks.
“Remember Stoney?”
Dancing Cat slumped. Hawk Sight never could let things go.
“She thought she could laze around while we women worked. But when we ran out of food that winter, she was the one left to starve. We don’t need lazy women.”
“Yes, Nohkom.”
And on it went for the afternoon, story after miserable story about women who starved to death. It would have been bad enough for just her grandmother to have told the stories. Instead, the others joined in, telling of captured Red Valley, Cree or Inuit wives who had been left to starve when food stores ran low. All at her grandmothers say. Hawk Sight might have been a great healer, but she was also cold and merciless in Dancing Cats opinion.
They told the stories to make her work harder, but it had the opposite effect. Her work slowed. She could not stand up for herself against an entire band, but she could refuse to obey the people who threatened to kill her. If they wanted her to die, then they could starve, too.

Find out more about Harvest Moon

 Read further excerpts from this thought provoking novella and learn more about the author on the Muse It Up Publishing website

And watch the trailer Harvest Moon on You Tube, the scenery is staggeringly beautiful and a wonderful backdrop for the story.

Harvest Moon, a 10,000 word paranormal fantasy, first published October 2010, is available from MuseItUpPublishing in PDF, epub, prc, price $2.50
ISBN: 978-0-9865875-0-4         

Friday, 8 October 2010

How to Write Better

The Muse Online Writers' Conference
Practice makes perfect only if you know what and how to practice. That's where writing courses and conferences come in.

Writing itself is in the main a solitary occupation so meeting other writers working in similar genres, and often with similar strains and stresses on their time, is both inspiring and liberating.

Very few of us can afford time and cost of going to many if any of the great conferences around so The Muse Online Writers' Conference, now in its fifth year, is a writing lifeline for thousands.

The brainchild of Canadian author and editor extraordinaire--the great Lea Schizas--it hosts presenters for all genres, pitch sessions to publishing houses, week-long courses on all aspects of writing, publishing and marketing.

Attendees from all over the world pack freezers full of family friendly ready meals, shut themselves up with a computer for a week, and study to improve their manuscripts, start the book they always wanted to write and chat non-stop to like-minded cyberfriends.

It is an ideal annual venue for slow and steady writers who make lasting writing friends, rejoice in the successes achieved over the past year and commiserate on the inevitable rejections. Each year hundreds of us say, "It will be me pitching next year."

I am getting nearer--as back up moderator for pitches to Vivian Zabel of 4RV Publishing, Marlene Satter of Double Dragon, Caryn Wiseman of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, White Rose Publishing, the MacGregor Literary Agency, Sara Megibow from the Nelson Literary Agency, Lida Quillen of Twilight Times and Paladin Timeless.

My romantic suspense novel may be creeping through first draft but I am preparing for the day next year when I pitch my own work.

4RV Publishing
Double Dragon
Andrea Brown Agency
White Rose Publishing
MacGregor Literary Agency
Nelson Literary Agency
Twilight Times
Paladin Timeless
and of course