Caffeine Withdrawal and Game Of Thrones

Winter is coming...

Winter is coming…

*Note: This post contains Game of Thrones spoilers, so don’t read if you haven’t seen the latest episode yet 🙂

I am, for some reason, a day ahead of myself. I thought today was the solstice, but the 21st is tomorrow. Although, the solstice seems to move around a bit, so it could be today.

Sorry. I’ve just given up caffeine so I’m a bit foggy, hence this rather random blog post. As to why I’ve given it up, health reasons blah blah blah boring. I’m interested to see how it goes, as that’s how I tend to approach most things in life – with a ‘let’s try it and see’ attitude.

I also just watched Game Of Thrones episode nine and SPOILER ALERT DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN”T SEEN IT I’m totally overwhelmed. It was truly spectacular television. First Dany with her dragons taking control, then the Battle of the Bastards, then Sansa finally getting back into Winterfell and giving Ramsay his (very) just desserts. I sat there for a few minutes afterwards just taking it all in. Sounds mad, doesn’t it? After all, it’s only a TV show. But the beauty of GOT, the reason I think it’s so popular is that it is, at its heart, despite dragons and magic and castles, a soap opera. The characters drive the stories, and what started as a group of different kingdoms and families has now been woven together in ways unexpected, each twist and turn keeping the viewer hooked.

As a writer I can take lessons from the way the show pulls viewers along. We are made to care, to choose sides, to hope and fear and despair alongside the characters, to mourn (or rejoice) in their deaths. I realise GOT is based on the books by George R.R. Martin, and so reflect the world he has created – however, with his latest book delayed, the showrunners have had to forge ahead without a source document, and I think they have succeeded in keeping the story alive.

I’m not sure whether it’s caffeine withdrawal or dragons that has me so shaken up.  I have editing to get on with, plus some other work, so I really do need to get back to work. But for now my mind is filled with smoke and battles, and the feeling you get at the end of a really good story, when things turn out as they should.

Oh, and Melisandre? You’re in trouble. Ser Davos knows.


Guest Post: Legends Of Windermere Author Charles Yallowitz on Character Sacrifice

Today Charles Yallowitz is stopping by with a post on the idea of sacrifice in story-telling, and how to make it effective. As a story element, sacrifice needs to be handled carefully, and Charles makes some excellent points on how to do so while keeping the reader engaged. Take it away, Charles!

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

A big thank you to Helen for having me for a guest post to help promote my newest release, Legends of Windemere: Tribe of the Snow Tiger. This is the 10th installment of this fantasy series and the stakes are going to be pretty high for several characters. A core aspect of the story involves the concept of sacrifice and how far a person is willing to go for either a person or a belief. Turns out that this is a very debatable topic among authors and people in general because everyone has different views on sacrificing. In fact, I’ve seen some pretty big arguments on if it’s even a sensible decision.

One of the biggest hurdles with a sacrifice is to convey to others that it is worth doing. Most times this is a crucial part of a story too, which means a lot is depending on the scene. This is an act that you cannot take back and the character might not even live to see the associated positive/negative outcomes. As an author, you really need to think about writing a sacrifice scene and make sure it is the best decision for the story and character. Most importantly, you need to have it be believable. If a reader feels that the character dying to save the others is a fool and the sacrifice was pointless then you could lose them for the rest of the story.

That risk is a big part of why I’ve heard some authors try to steer clear of them. Personally, I like writing those scenes, but I’m careful to make sure they have impact. I’ve also learned that what hits me hard could miss the mark on someone else. The reason for this is because a reader and author may be working off different interpretations of the character motives, personalities, and the concept of sacrifice in general. This is human nature since you have some people who would jump in the way of a moving car to save a child and others who would simply upload the accident on YouTube. Yes, it does come down to morality and how much weight a person puts
on sacrificial gestures.

One thing I’ve noticed is that you can put this spectrum into your characters as well, which can help connect to a variety of readers. For example, say a supporting hero sacrifices himself to allow the others to escape a dungeon with the weapon needed to defeat the main villain. If you have every survivor act the same toward the sacrifice then you can alienate a reader who thinks differently. So have some be angry, others be sad, and even one or two that thinks the deceased was a fool. Try to run even a small gamut of emotions because that is what can bring the scene home. An act of sacrifice is really defined by the impact it has on the rest of the story instead of how amazing it was in the moment.

So, what can you do to make a sacrifice scene work?

1. Relax and let it flow naturally. You don’t’ want to force something like this to happen. It might even reveal itself to be unnecessary.

2. Foreshadowing isn’t necessary, but it shouldn’t be ignored. Some readers don’t like the unexpected shock scene, so putting in even a single clue can help soften the blow. This is especially true if the sacrifice is being done by a favored hero.

3. Think ahead to make sure the sacrifice has an impact on the story. In the previous
scenario, the ultimate weapon not working means that hero died in vain. Might be funny or exciting, but you weaken that earlier scene. So consider the pros and cons of
minimizing something that is typical an emotional moment.

4. Focus more on the aftermath than the actual death. If a character dies then it should
change the mental and emotional dynamic of those they were connected to. For example, the Fellowship showed sadness and crumbled after Gandalf died. It became a driving force in a way. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Chiaotzu self-destructing against Nappa in Dragonball Z. The attack didn’t work and then his friend did a similar sacrifice with the same result and let’s just say DBZ is rather infamous for the failed sacrifice maneuver.

5. Finally, you really do need for there to be consequences both good and bad. I know I
keeping pointing at the death sacrifice, but that is the most common. Still, giving up a
belief system, a loved one, a future, or anything has two sides. One is that it should help
the heroes (or villains if they’re on that side) continue on their path, which is the good
part. The other is that it causes pain. Reader and author have to remember that this is the giving up of something precious. A feeling of loss is probably more important than any other result.

Now, I’ve said all this from my own opinion, which means some may disagree. That’s the
challenge with this topic because it works off what we may do or how we would judge those who sacrifice. So, it’s really a concept that I find better to discuss than dictate because it’s just so different for every person. In other words, feel free to voice your opinion on sacrifices in the comments and let’s see how many angles we can look at this from.

Thank you, Charles, for an excellent and thought-provoking article. So what do you think? Have you ever read a story where a character’s sacrifice has put you off reading the rest? Or where it’s resonated so strongly you can’t stop reading? Or have you written a sacrifice scene of your own? Looking forward to the comments 🙂

Need to catch Legends of Windemere from the beginning?  Then click on the covers below!

You can start for FREE . . .

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Or grab the $4.99 ‘3 in 1’ bundles!

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen 3D Conversion by Bestt_graphics

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen
3D Conversion by Bestt_graphics

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

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Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Interested in a new adventure?  Then grab your Kindle & dive back into the world of Windemere!  Don’t forget an apple for Fizzle.

Author PhotoAbout the Author:

Charles Yallowitz was born and raised on Long Island, NY, but he has spent most of his life wandering his own imagination in a blissful haze. Occasionally, he would return from this world for the necessities such as food, showers, and Saturday morning cartoons. One day he returned from his imagination and decided he would share his stories with the world. After his wife decided that she was tired of hearing the same stories repeatedly, she convinced him that it would make more sense to follow his dream of being a fantasy author. So, locked within the house under orders to shut up and get to work, Charles brings you Legends of Windemere. He looks forward to sharing all of his stories with you, and his wife is happy he finally has someone else to play with.

Twitter: @cyallowitz
Facebook: Charles Yallowitz

When A Character’s Story Ends


Killing your darlings.

I’m certainly not the first writer to use this phrase, nor will I be the last. In fact, it comes from the lectures of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a professor, journalist and literary expert who used the term to describe removing fancy words and overblown description from your writing. But here I’m using it to talk about my own darlings, the characters I’ve created in the world of Ambeth.

I wrote a blog post some time ago about how it feels to dream a character to life, how they take on characteristics you may not expect, leading the story forward. But what happens when their story ends, when you (as the omnipotent writer) have to kill off one of your favourites for the sake of the narrative?

In the Ambeth series, I find (slight spoiler alert) that I’m killing off at least one character per book. One I did not mind at all – a most unpleasant fellow, it was a pleasure to concoct a poetic justice for him, a deserved death. But there was another who I mourned for weeks after he ‘died’ – I couldn’t read the section where he meets his end for quite some time as I found the whole thing too upsetting. Still do, to be honest. But there was no other ending for him, his death a pivotal moment that shaped much of what was to come in subsequent books. And there are others – some whose deaths I’ve written, others that I know are to come and it is a very strange feeling, that idea of their story ending. It’s as though whatever feeds their story through to me tapers off and I know there is no other way forward.

In life I tend to avoid films and TV that depict violence, murder and mayhem, guns and gore. Unless it’s fantasy, for some reason. Orcs and elves and vampires and superheroes, that sort of violence is OK, I guess. Strange, isn’t it? And yet here I find myself killing people off, writing their deaths. But I guess the key is that I also write their lives, their loves, their thoughts, give them as much of a chance to live as I can.

In my most recent completed novel, the main character dies in the first sentence. She is dead for pretty much the whole book. So that’s another way to look at it, I guess. I killed my darling before the story started, so it didn’t hurt so much.

Getting Ready for Camp NaNo

If you go down in the woods today...

If you go down in the woods today…

I was going to write ‘It’s Monday.’ Then I realised that it’s Tuesday. The Bank Holiday has thrown me off a little, the week already starting without me realising.

It’s only a few days till I head to my virtual cabin for Camp NaNoWriMo. We have a full cabin, twelve writers in all, and our cabin name is The Wordcount Slayers. Some of the writers I already know, the rest I’m sure I’ll get to know over the next month of writing and commiserating as we slog towards our word count targets.

Camp NaNoWriMo is slightly different to November NaNoWriMo in that you can set your own word count target. Mine is 30,000 words and I’m planning on seeing how far I can get with Silver and Black, my vampire story that’s been arriving in bits and pieces. I have a bit of an outline now and I can feel the characters gearing up, ready to tell their tale. Kyle in particular has been pacing around, impatient to be unleashed upon the page.

Now that may sound quite odd, but I’ve had a few comment conversations recently about the fact that I am a Pantser. Stories come to me with characters, I’m given a few key events and then away we go, the characters pulling me along with them as a sort of scribe, or perhaps a director in that I give them some ideas of what I want from the scene, then they go with it. Or not, as is often the case. I feel quite strongly about my characters as well, wanting to tell their stories as best I’m able, that their voices be heard. After all, they decided to come to me, so it’s only fair I do my best to accommodate them.

So, April will be a month of vampires for me although, and I don’t think I’m giving too much away, these vampires are perhaps a little different than the accepted mythology. At least, I think they are. And my blogging schedule may suffer a little, depending on how the word count and school holidays pan out, so please do bear with me. Scheduled programming will resume, as they say, in May.

See you on the other side!

Cast Of Characters

Como House, Melbourne

Como House, Melbourne

I’ve been watching Miss Fisher’s mysteries for a little while now. I used to live in Melbourne, so it’s nice to see the familiar streets and buildings such as Rippon Lea, The Manchester Building, Como House and Melbourne Town Hall. And the fashion! If I could have anyone’s television wardrobe it would be Miss Fisher’s – in fact, it’s become so celebrated that Vanity Fair wrote an interesting piece devoted to the secrets of her wardrobe – you can read it here.

The other thing I love about the show is seeing the characters come to life. I first discovered Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher books about fifteen years ago and was instantly hooked. I loved Greenwood’s stories of 1920’s Melbourne, of wealthy Phryne and her devil-may-care attitude as she solved mysteries and set the world to rights. When I heard it was going to be made into a series, I was thrilled. And, so far, it has not disappointed (other than the fact that the divine Lin Chung was relegated to a one-episode lover). Essie Davis is perfect casting as the elegant Phryne, as is Ashleigh Cummings as Dot, Hugo Johnstone-Burt as Constable Collins, and Nathan Page as Inspector Robinson.

Luna Park, Melbourne. The iconic park is in St Kilda, home to the fictional Phryne Fisher

Luna Park, Melbourne. The iconic park is in St Kilda, home to the fictional Phryne Fisher

I had a recent conversation in the comments section on one of my posts with Kristin, from Pursuit Of A New Adventure. Kristin has read both Oak and Mist and No Quarter (thanks Kristin!), and she was talking about how she pictured the characters in her head, naming one celebrity in particular as her image of Deryck. This was interesting and really, really cool. I loved hearing what she thought, as I have a clear picture in my own mind of each character and how they look. And of course I have considered the idea that one day, if my books ever took off, they could be televised or made into a movie. In fact, if I’m being really honest, I might have even spent a bit of time googling images of different actors, assembling my fantasy cast should it ever come to pass.

Well, that’s not embarrassing at all, sharing that with you 😀

But it’s true, and I bet I’m not the only one out there. I didn’t base any of my Ambeth characters on real people (except for one, who looks like a friend of mine). But as they’ve come to life in my mind it’s been an interesting process to try and marry their physical appearance with someone in the real world. For reference purposes, you understand 😉 And while I’ve not yet ‘cast’ every character, I have a pretty good idea of who I’d like to play most of them.

So many stars to choose from ;-)

So many stars to choose from 😉

It would be fascinating to see my work interpreted by somebody else, which is why I so enjoyed Kristin’s comments. I wonder how Kerry Greenwood feels, seeing her creation on the small screen. I also wonder if the cast match her original vision of the characters as she saw them.

So how do you feel about the idea of seeing your characters onscreen? And do you have a fantasy cast list already? (go on, you can tell me)


Return To The World


It’s been nearly a week since I returned from holiday, and it seems to be taking a while for me to return to regular life. I still wake most nights wondering where I am, the familiar lines of my wardrobe and dresser taking several moments to register, as though I’ve been travelling far in my dreams and not yet quite returned.

This is somewhat unusual. I wonder whether it has anything to do with the busy nature of my time away, spending two nights here, one night there, waking each morning to realise where I was and where I had to get to that day. Perhaps in my subconscious I’m still travelling, my mind not having caught up to the reality of my body.

I’m not really back into writing yet, either. Sure, there are lots of ideas running around in my mind, as per usual, but I can’t seem to assemble them into any kind of order just yet. Flashes of story here and there, bits and pieces I know I need to add into the third Ambeth book, blog posts yet to write. I am doing a lot more reading than I was, though – I had gone from being someone who read several books per week to someone who hardly read at all, my time being consumed by writing. So I have made a conscious effort to include reading in my day again, having a backlog of books and work to catch up on. So far, so good.

Coming back to the third instalment of Ambeth, I have a question for those of you out there who write series: Do you find you need to go back and read your published instalments again before writing the next one?

I know Ambeth intimately, a world inside my mind. I know the characters and all their motivations, why they do what they do, why they will do other things and, for the most part, where they are going to end up at the end of the series. However. There are small details that I have to continue with, intricacies of the world I’ve created that must be adhered to, especially with the multiple storylines. So, even though I’ve already written book three and am at the structural edit stage, I’m considering reading my books again, just to make sure I haven’t missed anything. Plus it’s a nice way to get back into Ambeth and see the story moving forward.

Perhaps you’re all just shouting ‘Well, of course you need to!’ Or perhaps you’re just shaking your head. Perhaps I’m just stating the obvious. I’ve heard of writers keeping books of notes on all their characters so they don’t forget anything, but that seems far too organised for a Pantser like me. Plus, as I say, the characters live in my head, notes complete. It’s more the storyline details I need to check on, rather than the character motivations.

So I’m just putting it out there. Feedback appreciated 🙂




Margaret Atwood and The Man On The Bus


He had been handsome once, but now his hair was greying and unkempt, his face reddened by the elements or drink or some combination of the two. Still there was a twinkle, a lively curiosity in the dark eyes.

‘Hello, little one.’

His voice was roughened, gravelly, but his smile was wide as he watched the child bouncing to the back of the bus, keen to sit on the ‘cool seats.’

‘Do you like school?’ he asked and, when answered in the affirmative, seemed pleased, adding that he hoped she would go to university as well. ‘I never had the chance to go,’ he said, smiling at her. Then he looked at me. ‘I only really learnt to read properly when one of me ex girlfriends sat down to teach me.’ As he recounted his story it was without resentment – simply acceptance of a life lived and choices made, sweet appreciation of opportunities missed that now appeared again, manifested in a small girl.

‘What did you think of the man on the bus?’ I asked the gorgeous child as we walked, hand in hand, to dance class.

‘Nice,’ she said. ‘He was curious.’

Sometimes it takes a child to see to the heart of things.

I think that taking in your surroundings and the people you meet is a huge part of making your writing believable. Many years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Margaret Atwood. My friend Mark and I, two nervous high school students, interviewing one of the greats of Canadian (and world) literature – can you imagine? But luckily she was wonderful, absolutely charming and just as interested in us as we were in her. She was particularly taken with the tights I was wearing (from memory they were white and footless – bear with me, it was the eighties) and asked me several times if they had a special name. Then she explained that she kept the people she meets in a ‘filing cabinet’ in her mind, so she could call them up whenever she needed a character for her stories.

What a wonderful way to describe something so important to every writer, and a lesson to us all to remain engaged with the world around us.

Character Building

Book envy? Me?

It’s a strange thing, to dream a person to life. Yet that is what a writer does, creating characters to walk the pages of their book, talking and breathing and thinking and doing. I’ve had to come up with quite a few people for Ambeth, and the interesting and slightly eerie thing is that they seem to have taken on a life of their own. Oh, not in some sort of horror movie way, where I wake in the dead of night to find their hands on my neck (although that’s an idea for a story, isn’t it?) No, it’s a far gentler thing in that they speak through me, letting me know what is right and what is wrong for them, who they are with, who they are interested in and how they relate to other people on the page.

When I started to write about Ambeth I had three characters – the main protagonist and two others. I also had a situation, an idea of how they would combine and then implode, a single event that would change everything. As the story grew around them, more characters joining the cast, this single event did not change – in fact, it became even more pivotal, a jumping off point for much of what was to happen in subsequent stories. So I couldn’t change it; no matter how I looked at it, there was no other way. But the character who precipitated the event did change. He started off life arrogant and not so nice, someone who thought only of himself and his own needs. That was fine, I thought, as it was what I needed him to be. But then he started to become nicer, gentler, more loving. It was as if he were speaking to me, saying ‘I’m not such a bad guy.’ And, looking at it now I can see that this was absolutely true, that he is so much more than the one dimensional villain I dreamed up initially. But what was I to do about the ‘very bad thing’ he needed to do, the point on which the story turned? What was his motivation? A wise friend once said to me, ‘go to sleep on a question, wake with the answer.’ So that’s what I did. I commended my plot problem to the gods of storytelling and went to sleep. I woke the next morning and there it was. The answer. The reason for everything.

So the lesson for me was, as a writer, once you dream your characters onto the stage of your story, stand back a little and let them tell the tale. They will guide you as to what is right.

‘But this I know; the writer who possesses the creative gift owns something of which he is not always master–something that at times strangely wills and works for itself.’  Charlotte Bronte

Unearthing Ideas


Where do ideas come from? Ambeth was inspired, as I’ve said before, by something that happened to me when I was a child. But it has grown and evolved, the characters telling me things and taking me down paths I didn’t realise were there, and I’ve learnt to sit back and let them tell the story, my fingers mere conduits on the keyboard for what they wish to say. I’ve a few other ideas floating around – a house full of leaks, a glimpse of something in the Thames, a porcelain cap for my tooth, a dead woman – they are all jumping off points for other stories that are still percolating in my brain, waiting to come out.

I’ve heard the feeling of finishing a story being described as ‘entering open water’ – heading out to sea. But for me the analogy that rang true immediately came from the great Stephen King. He described finding a story as ‘unearthing a fossil,’ and as soon as I read those words I could see mine. Can still see them, poking out from the forest floor, delicate carapaces of bone or polished wood, it’s hard to tell as I unearth even more of them. Three are now clear of the ground, the stories complete, just a bit of polishing required. The others are still offering up new discoveries, new aspects every time I look at them, whether it is a change of only a few words or a whole new idea. But the important thing is that I keep looking at them, keep exploring the angles, the nooks and crevices, until the job is done, the story told.

Perhaps it is something to do with the way a writer’s brain works. That we can take a single small event, or notice something strange while out for a walk and spin from them a story. Ideas are everywhere, if you care to look for them.

Night Scribbles


I woke last night with a half formed idea for a blog in my head. Something about rejection and happy thoughts and yet acknowledging it was tough yada yada.

I tossed and turned and mumbled about it, then went back to sleep, a smile on my lips, certain I had a nice post for this morning. But when I woke up the idea that had seemed so good at whatever-o-clock in the night now felt kind of silly. And the thoughts that had held it together and made it seem workable were breaking apart, like tatters of silk in the wind.

A friend once said to me ‘Go to sleep on a question, wake with an answer.’ This is actually a pretty good way to address things sometimes – it’s certainly worked for me with several character issues I’ve had. One character, who I had written as quite awful, had been whispering in my ear, insisting he wasn’t that bad, that he had reasons to be the way he was. And he was right.

But then how could I justify him doing ‘the very bad thing’ he  needed to do in order for the plot to turn out the way it did? For there was no way around that – I’d thought on it for weeks and there was no other option. So I went to sleep, keeping the idea in my head, and when I woke the answer was there. I suppose you could say this is a form of mindfulness, of targeted thinking with a desired result, and so that’s why it worked.

The tatters and rag-tag ends of ideas that come to us, unbidden, in the night are quite different. Some of them are excellent and worth keeping, while others, like my post, are not. I have on occasion woke with fully formed sentences wanting to be written down, or characters insisting to speak. But for the most part they are things like this classic Tumblr post, which always makes me laugh.

So how about you? Have you had an amazing idea for a story arrive in the middle of the night? I do confess I keep a notebook next to my bed, just in case inspiration strikes. But for the most part it is rag-ends and bobtails, disappearing like mist as the sun rises.