I know what you’re thinking. What’s she on about now?

Well, it’s simple. Research. I’m a writer and I have to do lots of research. Not only is it interesting and builds my own knowledge, it’s important to the story. If I make a mistake, my readers will tear me apart and I’ll lose credibility. This means I have to be sure that what I write is right and when the subject is something that is general knowledge to some people then that means I have to be even more careful.

Volcanoes are looked upon as disaster areas. They erupt without warning and are deadly to those who live within close proximity. However, that isn’t what I’m researching. I want to know about “extinct volcanoes” and the links I leave here will explain what that means for my future reference.

Active, Dormant and Extinct Volcanoes – This site gives clear, concise meanings for the three categories.

Examples of extinct volcanoes – Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Mt Warning (Australia), Chaine des Puys (France), and Elbrus (Russia). Well, how’s that, we have an extinct volcano right here in Australia and I didn’t know.

The Mesozoic extinction event – This page gives an insight into an extinct volcano site. The wording is a bit technical, so bring along a dictionary.

Hawaii Forest and Trail – This page has some excellent photos of the empty crater on Hualalai. This is what I’m really after. I need to know that there are empty craters but the volcanoes are inactive.

Now, I’m off to read the books I borrowed on the subject from the library. I love research. 😀

Punctuation: Comma

In years gone by I was extremely good with punctuation. I always received top marks for comprehension and extra marks for presentation. However, with the introduction of the internet, I’ve found that I’ve become confused with some punctuation usage. I suppose reading a lot of American websites has done that.

Lately, I’ve been wanting to return to the basics (as you’ve no doubt realised by my latest blog entries), and relearn what I had always known. I discovered that in most areas I had stayed true to what is expected in Australia, but I seem to have digressed in two areas. One of those areas was the comma.

Please note that the following usage is for Australians only (it definitely does NOT apply in America, but may apply in England). You should check what your regional standard is.

The Comma

The comma makes the meaning clearer by separating parts of a sentence. It sugges a short puase and is used in the following places:

  • to separate items in a list:
    We had sandwices, fruit, a cake and milk for lunch.
    (There is no need for a comma before “and” in the above sentence.)
  • to separate lists of adjectives or adverts:
    She is a bright, friendly, happy girl.
    The dog moved slowly, carefully, quietly and warily away from the cat.

    (That second sentence is a shocker; never, ever do that in your manuscript.)
  • to separate principal cluases in a sentence:
    They were tired, but they hurried anyway.
  • to separate words, phrases and clauses at the beginnings of sentences:
    However, I wish to disagree.
    In the afternoon, the opposing team arrived.
    If you try hard, you will succeed.
  • to separate words and groups of words that add extra information:
    My dog, Honey, swam in the creek.
    The captain, our best player, scored the goal.
    Sarah, who had a sore throat, stayed at home.
  • to separate words that are said in direct speech.
    “I know,” said Mary.
    “Would you mind,” I asked, “if I sat next to you?”

Sometimes the use of the comma is optional; you can decide whether or not it is needed, for instance, either example is acceptable here:
I hurried but I missed the train.
I hurried, but I missed the train.

Always use a comma if it makes the meaning clearer.

Child Development

As a writer of children’s stories, I think it’s important to understand how a child develops. Yes, we’ve all been through it but can you remember how you thought when you were five? I can’t.

A writing friend, Scarborough, gave me these two links:

General Developmental Sequence – This site shows the typical activities and achievements for a child aged between two and five.

Erik Erikson’s Personality Theories – This is an in-depth look at personalities of children and culture. About a third of the way down the page is a table that was interesting.

I don’t intend to look into this side of my writing in any great length, but to achieve realism I believe we have to have a five year old doing what a five year old would do. Yes, there are exceptions but we need to know what we are doing in order to be accepted.

If you lose credibility, you lose the reader forever.

Chapter Book Fantasy Stories

A writer must always be prepared to do research. No matter what the genre. Because if your reader discovers errors in your facts, you will lose their respect and their readership. An author cannot afford to have this happen.

If you’ve followed my progress over the years, you would have seen that I’ve researched all sorts of things – martial arts, poisonous plants, medieval times, weaponry, medical terms, feudal system, scientific facts and heaps more. All these things had some level of importance in a story I was writing at the time and I doubt my research will ever be over.

At the moment I’ve turned my attention to writing children’s chapter books. This has sparked an interest in me that had previously disappeared completely. Yes, this is a good thing. 🙂

I found myself thinking about how popular Chapter Book Fantasy Stories are. As you can see from the list, it seems quite popular. Children want to believe in magic (hey, I want to believe in magic) so why wouldn’t they be drawn to stories filled with wonderous things. The prospect of lighting up a child’s eyes with a story that fills their imagination inspires me. I love the thought of that.

Right now, at this very moment, the decision to write a chapter book feels right. Maybe the writing I’ve done up till now has all been in preparation for the journey I’m about to embark on.

Writing for Middle Grade Children

Well, this has to be a good start. I’m actually interested enough to do some research on writing for middle grade children (that’s the 8 to 12 age group).

The following information was taken from Ask Laura at Write4Kids and was written by Laura Backes:

1. Middle grade novels contain about 12-15 chapters, with about six to eight book pages per chapter. This translates to up to 10 manuscript pages. This is just a general guideline; your story might require more chapters, but will probably fall within this range.

2. The traditional middle grade audience is ages 8-12. There is also now an upper middle grade age bracket of 10-14. The main thing that differentiates a middle grade novel from a young adult book is that the protagonist is 10-14 years old (most are around 12) and so are dealing with problems and concerns of a preteen, as opposed to a high school student. Middle grade characters are wrapped up in themselves, their friends and family. Young adult characters also think about these things, but in the context of how they fit into the larger world. Young adult characters are stepping across the threshold to adulthood, whereas middle grade characters are learning how to be adolescents.

3. Subplots are a hallmark of middle grade novels, and are what set them apart from simpler chapter books for ages 7-10.

4. Most publishers accept a query letter along with one or two chapters. Send for publishers’ guidelines to be sure.

And this was a comment made about talking animals, which I’m not sure if I’ll have or not but it’s worth knowing:

Talking animals aren’t completely taboo, it’s just that most writers don’t do them very well. What’s important is that your animals have completely developed, unique personalities and characteristics. You need to develop these characters just as carefully as if you were creating human characters. Too many writers use their animal characters as stereotypes, thinking kids will be immediately drawn to them just because they’re animals.

Everything your animals say and do should be a logical extension of their individual personalities. And give your readers some surprises. For example, a rabbit might not be cute and cuddly; he may be absentminded, selfish, or cunning. I suggest you read some previously published “talking animal” books to get a sense of what I’m talking about. William Steig and Kevin Henkes are two good picture book writers. Also, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (a middle grade novel) is an excellent course on how to create unique animals characters.

The Importance of Water

In planning this next novel I’ve been talking about over the past week, I’ve had several scenes rolling around in my head. One of them is where a man tumbles into a shaft and is trapped for a period of time before he’s rescued. How long? I wasn’t sure but I thought I’d do some research to find out what a person could stand and how the body would react with limited water and food. Here are some interesting tidbits that I found helpful for this scene, but also horrifying as true facts. I’ll start out with the nicer facts on water and the body and then I’ll go into the not so nice facts. Be warned, some of the following is not suitable for the faint hearted.

The following quote was taken from Answers.com:

About seventy two percent of the fat free mass of the human body is made of water. To function properly the body requires between one and seven litres/quarts of water per day to avoid dehydration, the precise amount depending on the level of activity, temperature, humidity, and other factors. It is not clear how much water intake is needed by healthy people. Water is lost from the body in urine and faeces, through sweating, and by exhalation of water vapor in the breath.

And the next two quoted sections were taken from this page:

A reliable clue to indicate dehydration is a rapid drop in weight. This loss may equal several pounds in a few days (or at times hours). A rapid drop of over 10% (fifteen pounds in a person weighing 150 pounds) is considered severe. Symptoms may be difficult to distinguish from those of the original illness, but in general, the following signs are suggestive of dehydration; increasing thirst, dry mouth, weakness or lightheadedness (particularly if worsening on standing), darkening of the urine, or a decrease in urination. Severe dehydration can lead to changes in the body’s chemistry, kidney failure, and can even become life-threatening.

However, this is the grusome bit. I was shocked to discover that a person could die after only 5 days. This does, of course, depend on the person’s health and the situation.

  • The mouth would dry out and become caked or coated with thick material.
  • The lips would become parched and cracked.
  • The tongue would swell, and might crack.
  • The eyes would recede back into their orbits and the cheeks would become hollow.
  • The lining of the nose might crack and cause the nose to bleed.
  • The skin would hang loose on the body and become dry and scaly.
  • The urine would become highly concentrated, leading to burning of the bladder.
  • The lining of the stomach would dry out and the sufferer would experience dry heaves and vomiting.
  • The body temperature would become very high.
  • The brain cells would dry out, causing convulsions.
  • The respiratory tract would dry out, and the thick secretions that would result could plug the lungs and cause death.
  • At some point within five days to three weeks, the major organs, including the lungs, heart, and brain, would give out and the patient would die.

Naturally, there will always be an exception, but imagine how stupid I would have looked if I had this man trapped down that shaft for 6 weeks with no food or water and when he was rescued all that was wrong with him was that he’d lost a little weight? I would have lost all credibility immediately. Researching facts for your manuscript is essential.

A Horse as Transport

Source: “Der Wanderreiter und sein Pferd” by Sadko G. Solinski; and courtesy of Firlefanz, who actually wrote this in reply to a question on the message board


Basically it depends on horse, rider and terrain. At any rate it is not possible to gallop long distances. Generally a mix of gaits is preferable, although a steady trot is the best way to eat up miles, if necessary. Unfortunately it is also the least enjoyable gait.

Gait most often used is the walk, which may seem surprising. All gaits are never ridden at full speed, so you’d see a comfortable fox trot or a gentle canter, rather than any running.

Walk: 5-6 km / hour

Trot: 10-12 km / hour

Canter: 20-24 km / hour

A typical 2-hour schedule according to my book:

40 min walk – 20 min trot – 20 min walk – 20 min trot – 10 min walk – 10 min break. (This will get you about 15 km in two hours.)

Note that with this schedule you’ll reach the 30 km daily distance in four hours, and 45 km in six hours. This would be the limit for the average horse. (In effect, that leaves your travelling heroes time for sword practice, reading, cleaning tack, foraging … )

The book also suggests having a whole day of rest every three to five days, so the horses can regain their strength.

Travel times (in regions with seasons):

Summer: sunrise until noon

Spring and fall: morning till noon and mid-afternoon till early evening

Winter: mid-morning till mid-afternoon


My handbook is in German, so I have km as unit.

Generally, for a ride of several days, and with the same horse, you can expect to get 30 – 40 km without straining the horse.

Very good horses can go 50 km per day, and exceptional ones can reach up to 70 km per day. However, for such a feat they need perfect training, food and conditions.

In addition, it’s good to remember that horses are rather inefficient eaters of grass and need long foraging times or good, additional grain fodder.

Chatting with an Agent

I won’t go into details about how this came about but yesterday I chatted with an agent about writing, what is expected in the industry and what an unpublished author should be aware of.

The agent was Brian Cook, a well known figure in the Australian publishing world.

Word count has always been an issue for me and I wanted to “know” what was really expected in the industry. He said that a lot of people say a story takes as many pages as a story takes, but if you’re an unpublished author then this is not really the case. For unpublished authors the rules change, and economics come into affect instead. Publishers won’t invest a lot of money into an unknown so an unpublished author should tell their story in 80,000 to 100,000 words. 80,000 to 90,000 for young adult (age 12 to 15) manuscripts and 80,000 to 100,000 for adult (age 16 and over) manuscripts. He said for each 1,000 words you go over the 100,000 words you lessen your chances of getting published. The publisher might stretch to 120,000 words but your story “better be bloody good”.

The ages for young adult and adult was a surprise to me. I told him that I was aiming for 16 and 17 year olds and had been saying that was the young adult market. He told me I was wrong and that I was an adult writer if I wrote for that age. This was a shock.

Also, at this stage I must mention that word count is NOT based on what Word or OpenOffice tells you you’ve written. It is based on the proper way to work out word count. See this previous post for how this is done.

Anyway, once you’ve been published the rules change and you have a higher limit to play with – especially in the fantasy and SF genres.

He went on to say that every single word must have punch, must have a reason. If there isn’t a reason, delete it.

I asked him how an unpublished author should handle trilogies in their proposal. He said that it’s unlikely that the publisher would contract all three books up front. Most of the time they contract the first two books with the third book as an option. Sometimes they will only contract the first book and wait and see how things go.

However, the publisher doesn’t want to risk investing in a new author unless they know there are more books in the planning stages. I told him that in my trilogy all three books are stand alone, although there is a thread that will link them. I asked if I should mention this when submitting my manuscript.

He said that I definitely should because it shows that I have plans for future writing but it means the publisher doesn’t have to contract more than one book, which will go in my favour. Any trilogy where the reader has to read all three books to reach a satisfactory conclusion will be difficult to place (unless you are already published).

Then we went on to talk about our CV and what should be included on there. He said anything that shows you are an active writer should be noted (even if you haven’t been paid). However, he said to be careful about which internet publications you note down. Naturally, high profile ezines should be mentioned but if you only submit to a shabby ezine that has no credability then don’t mention it (this is commen sense, of course).

Actually, most of what was said is common sense, and all is subject to an exception if you have a fabulously great manuscript, but none of us know if we fall into that category (we’d like to believe we do, but do we really).

If you are unpublished, and you’re writing an epic, maybe you should think about starting another story which is shorter and can be your first novel. Get a name for yourself before you try to sell something that the publishers won’t want – not because you can’t write, but because they don’t want to take a chance on you.

This was my chat with an agent. I’m feeling quite pleased with myself.