Lessons from the Fledgling Author: There Are Places I Remember

A question came up in one of my Facebook writers’ groups today—is it all right to write about a place you have never visited?

It is certainly best to write what you know, but that is not always possible. In your research of a place, do not forget to understand its geography, what plants and animals live there, and what the climate is like, especially during the time your story is set there. Investigate the local cuisines and dress and other cultural aspects. Then, create a character that is that place (and, now I realize, I should do this). Describe if it is hot or cold, dry or muggy, dusty or moldy, noisy or quiet; how it smells; what colors it is; if the buildings or rocks or whatever are rough or smooth, spiky or rounded. If it is very hot, describe how the air feels entering a character’s lungs, or how their lips dry and crack. If it is very cold, describe how their toes get numb and, the longer they are outside, how the cold creeps across their feet and up their legs. Those are the showing things you can use to describe a place you have never been. It helps if you are describing something you are at least familiar with, even if you have never been to the exact place.

If you have never been in snow, felt it touch the skin on your cheeks, made a snowman, or run outside in your bare feet just to see if you could make it to the fence and back, then you will be hard-pressed to be able to describe it. If you have never tried to sleep when the temperature is 90°F, the humidity is 98%, there is not a breath of air moving, and the cicadas are so loud you can’t hear anything else, it would be hard to pretend you know what that feels like. Your readers who have experienced these things, they will know.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

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Lessons from the Fledgling Author: Too Much Hair

I keep reading that I should limit—even severely—the descriptions of my characters. Yesterday, I read a 2001 article in The New York Times by the late author, Elmore Leonard, titled “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle.” It was from their WRITERS ON WRITING series. Point 8 said, “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.” It went on to say, “Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ what do the ‘American and the girl with him’ look like? ‘She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.’ That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.” I would guess, you might envision these characters as white Americans, as I did.

I understand this concept. It allows the reader to become part of the creation of the story—to become vested in the characters. I think it might be outdated. When we let readers create their own images of our characters, they will more than likely view them as white, and probably with light hair and blue eyes. In American media, we are completely conditioned to do so—even consumers who are not white.

My characters are predominantly brown. They come from mixed places and cultures—much like our own America. I feel it is important to make it clear that my protagonist would not be played by one of the Chris’s—Hemsworth, Evans, Pine, Pratt. I would choose someone like Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman. I do not know how to do this without describing him in vivid detail.

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Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman – Photo: Paste Magazine

In the first scene of “Tishta the Crystal Orb,” Coltan arrives.

“He was a large, muscular man, about the same size as Malcan—but that is where the similarity stopped. His dark walnut hair was neatly cut to just above his shoulders. As he turned, one wavy lock fell over his brow, above expressionless brown eyes. His hand ran up over his head, integrating it into the rest of his hair. He wore a well-tailored black riding coat, and black boots that came halfway up his calves—he looked like a gentleman, out for an evening ride.”

I attempted to do a couple of things here—and maybe it is too descriptive. He is a big guy. Even though he is traveling, he keeps himself neat and clean. But, I also described his wavy, walnut-colored hair and brown eyes. Later, I describe his skin.

An issue one of my early readers had was that I described everyone’s hair in the first two chapters. But that is where I introduced the majority of my main characters, and there are a lot of them—eleven, at least. That was a lot of hair. I have since removed some of those descriptions and put them in later chapters—I still think it is important to note that it is not blond and straight. Well, actually, one of them is currently golden-haired, but I need to make her darker to fit in with the place she is from, as well as make her physically more similar to her cousin, who is another one of travelers.

Even Malcan and Brant, the two fairest among the group—with blue eyes—have dark hair. Brant’s is black. Malcan’s is dark auburn.

My lead warrior, Gillan, and her side-kick lover, Toran, are from a place where everyone is what we would call black. Their skin is very dark, their eyes are nearly black, and Gillan’s black hair is softly curled. How can I not describe at least some of that the first couple of times they are introduced?

“Shortly after the sun passed its zenith, Gillan slowed her horse while she removed the cord that bound her black hair. She shook out the curls before retying it.”

In the same scene, I described the boy, Kano. While he is not black, he is… well, I’ll let you read it.

“She was surprised to find a young boy, no more than eight or nine, sitting in a ray of sun.

His clothing, skin, and even his long, straight hair, so nearly matched the color of the russet and tan stones around him, he almost blended in with them. Laying beside him were a quiver of arrows, a bow and a small pack.”

Again, I think it is very important to describe him in this much detail when he is introduced, and not let the reader envision him as a white boy.

Ever since I first pictured my very large warrior, Toran, I have seen Isaiah Mustafa in my mind. If I was casting Tishta as a film, Mustafa would probably be my first choice, although, he is a little old to play my 30-year-old warrior. One night, a couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of eating dinner with Mustafa. Toran embodies a lot of Isaiah—big, handsome, beautiful smile, polite, deep booming voice (not the Old Spice voice).

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Isaiah Mustafa with Michael Rosenbaum at 2015 Echoes of Hope Celebrity Shootout Hockey Game – Photo: Ramona Ridgewell

Interestingly, in all of the early descriptions of Toran, I just discovered I do not describe him beyond how large he is. Now, I wonder if my readers assume he is as dark as Gillan, since they are a couple. And, I wonder if my transposition of Mustafa onto my character made it so I found no need to describe him. Writing about things like this always seem to lead me to some new revelation. I shall undertake an investigation of all descriptions of Toran.

I am interested to know how other writers overcome the assumption of their readers that their characters are white. Let me know in the comments.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Lessons from the Fledgling Author: Making Notes with iBook

I wrote about making and exporting Notes from a Kindle (on a Mac). In this blog, I will explain how to do that on an iBook. Interestingly, this is far more straightforward on my iPhone than on my Mac—just the opposite problem from the Kindle.

First, I will talk about the iPhone, since it is the easiest to use. Download the .ePub file. I think it automatically opens into iBooks. You’ll have to scroll back to see the title page, copyright, beta readers’ notes and, dedication. Otherwise, just start reading. When you find something to comment about, select the text. Above the selected text, a menu should appear with “Copy,” “Highlight,” “Note,” and and arrow to the right. Select “Note.” Then, type in the comment.

Click “Done,” at the top right to get back to the book. Keep reading. Add another comment. If you just drag you finger over a block of text, it automatically makes it into a Highlight to which you can add your comment. Sorry, the top-level menus don’t get captured in the screenshots on iPhone.

When you are ready to export the Notebook, click the Menu icon at the top left.

Switch from “Contents” to “Notes.”

Click the Upload icon at top right. Select “Edit Notes.”Then, “Select All” at the bottom left of the page. Then, click “Share,” which is at the bottom in the middle. This will pop up the option of where to share it. If you choose email, it puts the notes into email.

As you can see from the email I received (at the right, above), I did not get much context on where the comment occurred. Be sure to include enough of the text to make it easy for me to find it.It would also be nice to know the Chapter and Scene.

For exporting Notes on iBook on a Mac, the only method I have been able to find—so far—is covered on this YouTube video. The gist is that, when you are ready to export the comments: open the Notes panel by clicking the third icon in the top menu; expand all of the chapters to see all of the comments; select all the comments and copy; paste into email. It’s pretty ugly, but it works. Let me know if you find a better way to do this.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Lessons from the Fledgling Author: Making Notes with Kindle

My writer’s journey has led me to figuring out how to get feedback on my first novel, “Tishta the Crystal Orb,” prior to its publication. Over the course of the last year, whenever I talked to people about the book, I asked them if they would become Beta Readers. I ended up with a list of around two dozen friends and acquaintances, as well as a few strangers. Over the weekend, I felt ready to share “Tishta” with other people, so sent out an email explaining what I was requesting of them. To my happy surprise, seven of them have agreed and taken possession of a beta copy of the ebook and provide me their thoughts about it.

One of the complications is how to communicate the feedback. I knew that in a Word document, you could take notes, embedded in the text. This is how my editor, Anne Bean, provided feedback on the first draft of “Tishta.” Recently, I discovered you can make notes in both iBooks and Kindle. This blog tells how to do it for Kindle on a Mac. A following blog will include iBooks instructions.

First, download the .mobi file. If you double-click it, Kindle will open into the book. This can be pretty slow, so be patient.

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You’ll have to scroll back to see the title page, copyright, beta readers’ notes and, dedication. Otherwise, just start reading. When you find something to comment about, click the “notes” icon—at the bottom of the menu on the left side.

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That should open the Notebook panel.

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Next, highlight the text you want to attach a comment to, and click “Add Note.”

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This should bring up a pop-up dialog where you can type the comment.

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Click “Save.” The highlighted text and the comment should show up in the Notebook.

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Keep reading. Find another place to note.

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Click save. It will show up beneath the first comment in the Notebook.

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One note about text selection: Always select more than one word, otherwise, there is no highlight to go with the comment. It will be easier for me to match up the comment with the text if I have some context to go on.

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When you are ready to export the Notebook, click the upload icon at the top of the Notebook panel. Click OK on the warning. Then save it somewhere that you can find it.

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This generates a .html file. Here’s what it looks like.

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I haven’t figured out how to import the .html yet so I can apply it to my own copy of Tishta, but I think this will be a workable option.

There is definitely a way to make notes on Apple devices—specifically, my iPhone—that is similar to the steps above. It appears to be complicated to extract/export the notes from an Apple device. It might be possible to sync up to your Amazon account, but that might not work for a local copy of a book. I don’t see the export icon that some of the how-to blogs talk about. One talked about a new email option, but I can’t find that, either. If someone figures this out, let me know and I’ll update this blog.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Tishta the Crystal Orb: Beta Version Ready for Readers

Since the last time I wrote, I poked around a little more, doing a few edits here, ensuring some things I was concerned about were being addressed there, and generally feeling uncertain about whether or not this is a good time to engage with Beta Readers. Even though I have some story points to cover that will ensure things are set up for following books, I decided it is the right time.

I sent the initial email to my list of about two dozen volunteers this morning. I know at least a few of them are definitely going to do it–I’ll find out soon, how many others want to dive in.  I am excited and nervous, at the same time.

This is an enormous step forward for me. It makes me feel like I am almost done. I am sure there will be many things I did not anticipate to slow me down. I have maps to draw, one more story arc to add, a cover artist to locate, audio to record, and edits, edits, edits, but I am optimistic about publishing before the end of the year.

If you know of a good cover artist, please refer them to me at TheWolfDreamBooks@gmail.com. Any other advice you have for a first time author would also be much appreciated.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Tishta the Crystal Orb: Another Quick Edit

In my research, I found an answer to something that has been nagging me. In the very first draft of “Tishta the Crystal Orb,” I put a line with a centered tilde between short scenes within scenes. By the time I finished the last major edit of the second draft, I had removed all of these. At times, I thought the leaps between the sub-scenes were too jarring, so would likely confuse my readers.

A few days ago, I found some words about switching between the points of view of different characters within a scene. The strong recommendation was to avoid it, pretty much, at all costs. This was food for thought. There are so many characters in Tishta that it is difficult to avoid doing it. The second bit of advice was, if you must change POV, put a blank line between the sub-scenes. As with all writing advice, once I understood why the advice was given, I could see lots of the “bad” writing behavior in my own words. I sighed and dove into the book, yet again.

What I discovered was enlightening to me. A lot of the places I was already uncomfortable with were exactly those place where I was changing POV—or the timeframe or location. With “permission” from the blogs and posts I had read, I added line feeds between the sub-scenes. What a relief.

A secondary benefit was realized. Just like when I broke up my paragraphs to make them contain single character/actions, I edited the transitions to make them cleaner. Things read more easily now.

As I went through the scenes, I took notice of places where I was “in the character’s head.” I removed a lot of these, trying to ensure the scene or sub-scene was from the POV of a single character. I decided many of them were extraneous. With others, I changed the line or lines to “show” the same thing without simply having the character thinking about it—which is really telling, not showing.

A nice thing is, the word count, again, went down—this time by 150 words—although the page count went up, with all those additional empty lines.

While I’d really like to get this draft of the book into my Beta Reader’s hands, I found something else out today, as I was preparing for open mic at Two Hour Transport tonight. (Two Hour Transport happens each month on the fourth Wednesday at Cafe Racer. Host Theresa J Barker keeps the atmosphere warm and nurturing—a great place to practice reading to an audience, to share your stories, and to get to know other writers in the Seattle SciFi and Fantasy community.) I mentioned in prior posts that I have not recorded the scenes after this last major edit. I recorded a couple of scenes that I might read tonight—to make sure they would fit into five minutes or less; to practice; and so I could listen to them. After speaking, and then hearing, the words out loud, I made several changes to both of the scenes. It makes me uncomfortable releasing the book without first recording and listening to it. I will be debating with myself over the next several days about this.

Right now, I am inclined to just send it out. The sooner I get some feedback, the better. It does not need to be perfect at this point. I have about two dozen people on my list. I have collected a list of focus points and questions for my readers. I need to compose a letter; figure out what format to create the book in; maybe create a Facebook group. I feel very close.

If you have ever sent your book out to Beta Readers, what advice do you have for a fledging author?

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Lessons from the Fledgling Author: Common Misspellings

I just heard someone say, “admittably,” in place of “admittedly.” I’m calling it out because this was a new one on me. One of my pet peeves is “supposably.” I think these kinds of mistakes are due to never using them in writing. I can’t even figure out how to spell them. Auto-correct doesn’t like them. It’s a strong case for having students write more.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Tishta the Crystal Orb: Revised Draft Complete

Words cannot express my excitement. This morning, I finished the final edit of my revised draft (so, the third draft) of “Tishta the Crystal Orb.” I am barely able to contain myself.

As I suspected would happen, I made far fewer changes to the last section, “Part 5: Mondar.” The word count dropped by a mere hundred, to 46,591, while the page count increased by two, to 146. The totals for book now stand at 173,079 words and 539 pages (according to Scrivener).

The increase in pages is consistent with one of the edits I have been doing—ensuring paragraphs handle a single character’s actions whenever possible. While this edit has created a plethora of single sentence paragraphs, it has allowed them to convey a single idea. It also helped, organizationally, to clarify the actions being made by the characters. Now that I have completed this, I will likely try out combining sentences into paragraphs on a future edit pass. It might help me to see where words, sentences and paragraphs can be removed—it has already made some of these more clear and led me to do some pruning.

I love this section of the book. It tests the crucial relationship that has grown between Malcan and Coltan, and shows how far each is willing to go to protect the other. It starts to distance Criften from the group, which will play a pivotal role in following stories. Brant comes into his own as a warrior. Mar’s abilities as a healer, and some other ones, manifest and grow. And, a new member is added to the band.

Now begins the work of sending out the draft to my Beta Readers.

I need to look into ChimpMonkey and other tools for managing email lists. For this round, I might simply manage the emails myself—my list of readers is around two dozen.

Scrivener will produce the manuscript in whatever format my readers require, but I have to figure out how to distribute it—probably a DropBox with all the requested formats in it. But, I have not yet decided. I will blog the steps here, when I get it sorted out.

Once the beta is distributed, I will focus on creating my maps, cover art, spine art and back cover. As I find the tools to do these, I will share here. I also need to figure out how to include them in Scrivener.

I need to polish my “elevator pitch,” “About this Book,” “About the Author”—oooh, “author”—and “Afterwords.” I will review the “Dictionary” to ensure everyone and everything are represented, and that the text does not give away spoilers for the next books. The last of the notes need to be reviewed to ensure I did not miss anything important.

It is not quite time to look into better recording gear. I hate it, that this revision of the book has not been recorded. I usually listen to it whenever I am not doing something else—even as background noise while I am asleep—so having an out-of-date recording is aggravating. I keep hearing things I want to change, and I don’t know if I already updated them. I would also really like to hear the parts that I changed, to ensure they sound correct to my ear. This will have to wait until I get feedback from my readers. Sigh.

There is, undoubtedly, a lot of work left to do before “Tishta” can be published. I am feeling confident that I can meet my scheduled deadline of the end of the year. It will be my birthday present to myself.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Tishta the Crystal Orb: Part 4 Revised Draft Complete

This has been a week of distractions.

Smoke and soot filled the air—and our homes—in Seattle and the entire Pacific Northwest. We literally could not see the sun through the haze, or, if we could, it was a red ball, casting an eerie amber glow.

The smoke came from the wildfires blazing throughout the West—1300 of them at a time—predominantly, in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. The soot—that fell like tiny snowflakes throughout the region—came from the Jolly Mountain fire near Mount Rainier, as well as the devastating Eagle Creek fire in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge.

I had trouble breathing, so I cloistered myself inside my house with all the windows closed—this is a big issue in Seattle, where only 15% of homes have central air-conditioning. At the beginning of August, when it was projected that we would have a week of record-breaking temperatures around 100° F, I bought a little room AC. It turned out that, with the pall from the wildfires, the temperatures stayed down around 90°. People were making the choice between unbearable heat and unbreathable air. For me, the AC unit made sleep possible—cooling the air and filtering it a little. It continued to do so through the nearly constant smoke we have endured in the Pacific Northwest in August and September, a result of several very dry years in a row that have led to increasing numbers of fires every summer.

Beyond the local weather, last weekend, Hurricane Harvey blasted through Texas, bringing unheard of amounts of rain. During the week, my attention has been on Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Katia. As a category 5 storm, Irma flattened some of the Leeward Islands, especially Barbuda, where 95% of the buildings lay in ruins. It will make landfall in the Florida Keys as a category 4 storm early tomorrow morning. Amazing. Fortunately, Jose seems to want to go north, after grazing the Leeward Islands as a category 3. At the same time, Katia entered Veracruz, Mexico, as a category 1 hurricane—not so much damage there although two people died—only a few days after an 8.1 earthquake struck southern Mexico off the coast of Chiapas, leaving 66 dead.

From my own experience with the smoke and from viewing video of the destructive forces of wind and water, earth and fire, I have new images to draw upon in future writings. You have to look on the bright side.

A final distraction—one that is more subtle, but much more personal—is that today marks the fifth anniversary of my husband’s death. Because of the quirkiness of Earth’s rotation, and its revolution around Sol, it fell on the same day of the week. He was an emergency relief volunteer—a logistician—with the local, national and international Red Cross/Red Crescent, and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). He was deployed to numerous hurricane disasters. Hurricane season—especially a powerful one like this year’s—always brings back memories of sudden deployments and worry over his safety. It’s strange how the mind pulls up these things—of its own accord—disrupting sleep and causing lack of focus. The month from August 20 (his birthday) to September 22 (our anniversary) has been rough for me over the past four years. I’m doing better this year, but it’s still there.

Through all these distractions, I finished the revised edit of “Part 4: Colmaria” in only three days. Gonna toot my own horn a little on that. There is only one more part to go—albeit, the longest one in “Tishta the Crystal Orb.”

As I suspected would happen, the further I get into Tishta on this edit, the less I am removing—it is converging with my current writing style. In part 4, the word count actually went up by one word, to 27,322. I was a little surprised by this, but then I remembered adding some clarifying bits here and there that would have offset the word trimming I did. The page count went up by one, but that is totally expected as I continue to split up paragraphs by discrete subject/action.

An edit I will need to review one more time is the use of “not,” instead of  negative contractions, in the narrator’s text—I still use contractions in dialog, well, except for Mar. I am not sure how I feel about this yet. It makes the text a bit more formal. I had been making this edit already on most contractions, but now include “don’t,” “can’t” and a few others that did not sound right before. My ear must be changing as my style changes. I won’t know for sure how I feel about these until I record them and listen to them—and I don’t plan to do that until I finish this edit and get a copy into my Beta Reader’s hands.

Something I have recently been pondering is how often to use analogies. There are some in my text, but I have not gone out of my way to add more. I sometimes think authors overuse these, making them seem forced or contrived. The only ones I have included just popped out while I was writing. One of my favorites, in the scene called “Gnarled Limbs,” is:

The gelding nibbled at the feed, its soft muzzle gently picking at the grain, like mittened fingers.

Now that I have looked for examples to include here, I found analogies scattered throughout the book. I will quit worrying about this. I am sure there are plenty, and fairly certain they are not overdone.

Every day, I become more confident that Tishta is nearly ready to publish. Hopefully, I will make it through “Part 5: Mondar” very quickly. Creating the ebooks will be a snap using Scrivener. I think I will have no trouble meeting my goal of having books in the hands of my Beta Readers by the end of September. If you are interested in being part of this, let me know and I will add you to the list. Contact: TheWolfDreamBooks@gmail.com.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Tishta the Crystal Orb: Part 3 Revised Draft Complete

Woot! I finished the revised draft of “Part 3: Travels and Battles” in only five days—and it is the second longest part of “Tishta the Crystal Orb.” I guess all I have been doing in my free time is work on the editing. I am getting more excited—only two more parts to go.

I, again, was able to trim words—the edit took part 3 down by 700 words. The pages went up by two. This seems like a fairly consistent pattern. If it continues, the word count will be down by about 3700 by the time I finish editing the entire book.

Although, the intent of the edit is to tighten up the story as much as I can, I have found places where adding a few words—or even a sentence or two—added clarity or filled out the scene. I am trying to be very judicious about my choices to add anything.

One of the most surprising discoveries was finding that the following gerund phrase does not match the subject of the sentence:

The thin bamboo skewers were long enough to hold as they walked, eating the chunks of meat right off the sticks.

Can you see the problem with it? I had read and listened to this sentence so many times, I was blown away when my brain said, “Hey, wait a minute. Did I just hear what I thought I heard?” This was my initial fix:

The thin bamboo skewers were long enough to hold, as they walked, allowing them to eat the chunks of meat right off the sticks.

The final edit yielded this:

The thin bamboo skewers were long enough to hold, allowing them to eat the chunks of meat right off the sticks as they walked.

Recently, my friend and I discussed how certain accomplishments caused an endorphin reward from the brain—very different accomplishments for different people. Only a few days later, when we worked though a mathematical proof together (yes, we are geeks), he turned to me and said, “I just got an endorphin rush.” I did not. But, when I found this grammatical error and fixed it, I found my reward. We decided this was indicative of writing being a good choice for me to pursue.

I am getting an unexpected sense of fulfillment while making my way through this edit of Tishta. I hear people complaining about this phase of publishing, but I don’t understand it. I do miss the mental stimulation of writing new material—that stream of consciousness directly from the brain into the computer. I know I will be doing that again, but right now, editing is a really exciting activity, for me.

While editing this section, I felt confident there was little that needs to be extracted (or exorcised?). I hope the pacing is better—my editor’s comment on the first draft was it was too slow. A lot has changed since she wrote that.

More and more, I am finding that I want my maps to be done, so I can reference them as the group travels. I may need to provide sketches, at least, for my Beta Readers. Drawing the maps is something I have planned for when the Beta is out, along with securing a cover artist, creating other art—such as, for the spine and the back—and recording the whole thing (although, I might wait on that until I get feedback from my Beta Readers). If you are interested in becoming a Beta Reader, let me know at TheWolfDreamBooks@gmail.com.

Onward into “Part 4: Colmaria.” Hopefully, I will be writing another blog within the week about completing that.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.