This is epic. Grand. Beautifully written, masterful in scope and execution, brimming with palace intrigues, murder and treachery, high-stakes conspiracies and closely guarded secrets amongst a large and intricately choreographed cast of memorable characters. The action is intense, complex but well-paced, allowing the reader to catch their breath along the way and hear the rain battering the roofs of country inns while thunder rattles the windows of remote castles. Settings and characters are presented with a remarkable degree of finely wrought detail, details that paint the total picture of place and time, so that the reader feels they are present in each scene over a vast landscape.
This book is the work of an experienced, accomplished, highly talented author. I give it an enthusiastic and appreciative 5 stars and recommend it highly to lovers of epic fantasy. I’m moving directly into the next book in the series (A Trick of the Light, second of Wheldrake’s Toxandrian Chronicles). I’m eager for more excellent writing and another sweeping tale of adventure, destiny, love and sacrifice.
Note: Contrary to my usual practice, I’m not including the book’s cover with this review because the cover — beautiful as it is — tends to suggest that the story is a romance. The young woman pictured on the coveris indeed a romantic figure, and she serves as the pivot around which the story turns. The cast of characters, however, is large and varied, with many among them who lodged themselves deeply into my heart and my sympathies. I cared for them, and the story’s end brought tears to my eyes. This is not a happily-ever-after tale. Some of the characters never find happiness, and even those who enjoy years of blissful togetherness are eventually at the mercy of the fates. Do not, therefore, judge this book by its cover. It’s not the category romance that one might expect from casting a quick glance at the beautiful girl in the purple dress.
Readers who have followed my writerly journey will remember that I hit a dry spell between 2012 and 2020. I wasn’t writing during those years. Promoting my work was the last thing on my mind. I was emotionally, mentally, and physically unavailable for any kind of bookish event.
Which is why I was both excited and nervous about participating in an author event sponsored by the local public library. It wasn’t just a book-signing opportunity. The 10 participating authors also presented a mini-workshop on Getting Started Writing, Overcoming Writer’s Block, Avoiding Common Errors, and Getting Published.
Nerves and eagerness led me to over-prepare, as I do. I had new posters printed for my book table. I obsessed over what I should wear. I actually practiced—in front of a mirror—my five-minute talks on two of those topics.
It all went fine, of course. Book-signings and writing workshops are like riding a bicycle: once you learn, you don’t forget. I fell back into it like the old pro I am. Prior to 2012, I’d done a bunch of author events and writing conferences.
Here are a few pictures from my “comeback.” It was fun, and I’m glad to go back on the circuit.
I’ve been invited to speak at an event for local writers and participate in a mini-workshop on “How to Fix Common Writing Errors.” As it happens, I published a little e-book on that subject, several years ago. The invitation reminded me to take a fresh look at what I’d written back then.
I’m pleased to report that the little book holds up. It’s aged well, and it offers solid advice: so much so, that I’ll be taking my own advice when I return to editing my work-in-progress.
The ebook is free at Smashwords:
If the Download button in the graphic doesn’t work, you can find my little book of advice here:
My fresh reread and re-edit of my own advice has reminded me of things I need to watch out for, as I return to my WIP. Is it possible that I’ve grown a little complacent, maybe a little sloppy in recent years? I’m grateful for the speaking invitation that has motivated me to revisit the basics. Every writer benefits from a refresher course.
Dialogue should sound natural—like real people talking. Or more precisely, like really interesting real people talking.
Strive to write dialogue as the natural outcome of the characters’ needs, desires, thoughts, personalities, reactions, and relationships. Don’t use it to dump information on the reader or, even worse, use it just to break up long passages of narrative.
Avoid commonplace dialogue—characters taking up space saying empty things like “Hi, how are you?” and “Fine, how are you?”
“The presence of commonplace dialogue means the manuscript as a whole will need a lot of cutting: if there is one extraneous line of dialogue on the first page, by the rule of manuscripts, you will also find one extraneous line on each page to come.”
According to Lukeman:
“Dialogue is a powerful tool, to be used sparingly, effectively and at the right moment.”
I greatly admire Ursula Le Guin. (If you don’t know her work, read the Earthsea books—you’ll be swept away.) For examples of pitch-perfect dialogue, see her Tales From Earthsea. Below is an excerpt. Study it and see all that it does, the many levels on which this dialogue succeeds.
We learn the personalities of father and son. The son is quiet, he doesn’t say much. He’s subject to his father’s will, but he’s hoping his old man will stop pressuring him. The father is obviously conflicted: proud of his son’s gift, but disappointed that it doesn’t make the boy suitable to follow in his dad’s footsteps in the family business. The father is also in awe of his child’s talents. We learn so much from this dialogue, and the whole exchange rings true. Believable personalities are revealed.
Also study this passage for examples of how to punctuate dialogue, and how to break up the speaking with a little action. People move around, gesture, pause. They don’t just stand and talk.
The next morning Golden told his son again that he must think about being a man.
“I have thought some about it,” said the boy, in his husky voice.
“Well, I,” said Diamond, and stuck.
“I’d always counted on your going into the family business,” Golden said. His tone was neutral, and Diamond said nothing. “Have you had any ideas of what you want to do?”
“Did you talk at all to Master Hemlock?”
Diamond hesitated and said, “No.” He looked a question at his father.
“I talked to him last night,” Golden said. “He said to me that there are certain natural gifts which it’s not only difficult but actually wrong, harmful, to suppress.”
The light had come back into Diamond’s dark eyes.
“The master said that such gifts or capacities, untrained, are not only wasted, but may be dangerous. The art must be learned, and practiced, he said.”
Diamond’s face shone.
“But, he said, it must be learned and practiced for its own sake.”
Diamond nodded eagerly.
“If it’s a real gift, an unusual capacity, that’s even more true. A witch with her love potions can’t do much harm, but even a village sorcerer, he said, must take care, for if the art is used for base ends, it becomes weak and noxious … Of course, even a sorcerer gets paid. And wizards, as you know, live with lords, and have what they wish.”
Diamond was listening intently, frowning a little.
“So, to be blunt about it, if you have this gift, Diamond, it’s of no use, directly, to our business. It has to be cultivated on its own terms, and kept under control — learned and mastered. Only then, he said, can your teachers begin to tell you what to do with it, what good it will do you. Or others,” he added conscientiously.
There was a long pause.
“I told him,” Golden said, “that I had seen you, with a turn of your hand and a single word, change a wooden carving of a bird into a bird that flew up and sang. I’ve seen you make a light glow in thin air. You didn’t know I was watching. I’ve watched and said nothing for a long time. I didn’t want to make too much of mere childish play. But I believe you have a gift, perhaps a great gift. When I told Master Hemlock what I’d seen you do, he agreed with me. He said that you may go study with him in South Port for a year, or perhaps longer.”
“Study with Master Hemlock?” said Diamond, his voice up half an octave.
“If you wish.”
“I, I, I never thought about it. Can I think about it? For a while — a day?”
“Of course,” Golden said, pleased with his son’s caution. He had thought Diamond might leap at the offer, which would have been natural, perhaps, but painful to the father, the owl who had — perhaps — hatched out an eagle.
(From “Darkrose and Diamond,” Tales From Earthsea, copyright 2001 by Ursula K. LeGuin)
The Waterspellaudiobook is distributed by Findaway Voices, and Findaway now belongs to Spotify. Findaway has sent word that they are discontinuing their Authors Direct storefront and listening apps, and will move those services to Spotify.
This won’t affect many of my listeners. Happily, however, the relative handful who redeemed giveaway codes via Authors Direct will get to keep your Waterspell audiobook. Findaway promises to email you a redemption code to unlock each of your previous Authors Direct books on Spotify. Listeners can use Spotify Free and Premium accounts to access those books.
Please be aware that the Authors Direct listening apps (iOS, Android, and Web) will not be available after June 5, 2023.
Besides Spotify, many other audiobook retailers carry Waterspell, some at a discount off the $24.95 regular price. Audible offers the four-book boxed set (50 hours of audio) for a single credit. Such a deal!
Book description: Laura never realised she was different, or that she was touched in some way by the heavens, until she first set foot, contrary to all law and tradition, within the portals of Darkharrow. Here, in the remote Eastings of Britannia, far from the wealth and the power of London, the dead lie sleeping beneath the ancient towers and cloisters of the great abbey. For some, destiny dictates that their long slumber shall endure until the last trump sounds and all the dead shall rise from their graves, but for some the care of the Camalodolite Order shall reawaken them long before that day. No one has ever been able to look upon the countenances of the departed and tell whether they may be awakened, whether their hearts are of ice or of stone – until now.
Caught between the competing affections of those who love her, threatened by those who would destroy her, Laura finds herself enmeshed in a web of conspiracy that draws upon her deepest resources and enforces choices upon her that are of the most momentous kind.
My review: Dark, fascinating, original, and beautifully written
I love this book! It is utterly engrossing and kept me turning the pages late into the evening. I give it 10 stars for the original storytelling, masterful writing, fascinating characters, and a crisp, compelling plot that sweeps the reader into an ever-darkening story. The prose is elegant and perfectly matched to the story’s brooding, spooky, gothic aesthetic. Fans of Edgar Allan Poe and of Bronte’s Wuthering Heights will revel in this book. I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended. Take a chance on an author you might not know — you won’t be disappointed.
Just a quick update on my work-in-progress: I’m at 101,000 words. And only about 2/3 of the way through the story. This will either be a long book, or four novellas. I haven’t quite decided.
The working title is The Karenina Chronicles: A Waterspell Novel. The subtitles of the four chronicles: The Leviathan, The Nomad, The Adept, and The Wolf. I hope to finish the first draft by January, and then let it sit for a month before I begin what will be a major effort of revising and editing. Themes emerged as I went along. They are much clearer to me at the two-thirds mark than they were at the beginning, so I must go back and clarify my somewhat muddled thinking in the opening third.
But I’ve got time. I’m on nobody’s schedule but my own.
They’re inevitable. Every writer gets them. Even rich and famous authors get bad reviews.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever read, on how to handle the trolls, comes from Julia Whelan at Writer Unboxed. I excerpted some of her comments to give ’em the Canva treatment. But every writer will do well to read her entire post.
Julia Whelan is a screenwriter, lifelong actor, and award-winning audiobook narrator of more than 500 titles. Her performance of her own debut novel, the internationally best-selling My Oxford Year, garnered a Society of Voice Arts award. She is also a Grammy-nominated audiobook director, a former writing tutor, a half-decent amateur baker, and a certified tea sommelier. Her new book, Thank You for Listening—about a former actress turned successful audiobook narrator who has lost sight of her dreams and her journey of self-discovery, love, and acceptance when she agrees to narrate one last romance novel—released in August 2022.
“Write every day” is standard advice to writers. We’ve all heard it. I used to feel guilty because I do NOT write every day. I regarded my failure to do so as … well, a failure.
Now I know better. After eight books with a ninth in progress, I know what pattern or schedule works for me. I’m a binge writer, an all-or-nothing kind of wordsmith. When I’m writing, I don’t want to do anything else except drink coffee, eat when I start getting the shakes, and sleep when I must. That kind of intensity is productive, but exhausting. I can only keep it up for three days. Then, I must have a break.
Today was my non-writing day of “rest.” I’ve spent it doing a bunch of things that writers must do:
Checked Goodreads for new reviews (and found a lovely one)
Checked on my audiobook sales via Findaway Voices (and found a good number of new sales)
Communicated with my local library about adding Waterspell to their catalog
Made a new Bookstagram graphic with the lovely Goodreads review
Wrote this blog post
Additionally, I fulfilled my obligations to a save-American-democracy group in which I’m active in the area of Communications. And: I watched the Jan. 6 Committee Hearing on PBS. Busy day!
Would I have wanted to break away from my work-in-progress to do any of these things? Absolutely not. I suppose there are writers who can write fiction for just 4 hours in a day, and then put the book out of their mind, to focus on such mundane tasks as I’ve listed above. I’m not one of those writers. A far more productive approach, for me, is to devote whole days at a stretch to my writing, and to nothing else.
At the end of three intense days, I’m totally ready to turn my mind to less taxing tasks. By the same token, after one or two days of necessary but boring administrative/business work, I’m eager to throw myself back into the world of my imagination.
“Write every day” is a recipe for burnout, in my opinion. If you’re really into the story and the people you’re writing about, your mind and psyche can’t keep you deeply “in character,” indefinitely. You need a break. You need to come up for air, and spend a little time away from the story so you can return to it, refreshed. And unless you’re able to afford a personal assistant who can handle all of your non-writing jobs, you need to set aside time to tackle your To-Do list.
Don’t cut into your writing time to do those boring jobs. Hold your writing days sacrosanct. Set your phone to Do Not Disturb and commit yourself to do nothing except Write.
But don’t “write every day.” You’ve got other things to do.
Recently I was asked if Instagram is good for writers. I believe it is. Or at least its “subsidiary,” nicknamed Bookstagram, works for me. I’m not on Twitter (I tried it but found it to be too frantically noisy). I’m suspicious of TikTok, which the FCC calls a national security threat. Besides that, I have neither the time nor the inclination to make a bunch of videos, not even bookish videos, and certainly not silly vids. As for Facebook: Fewer than 100 people follow my FB author page, and that number hasn’t changed in more than a year. Facebook’s algorithms work hard to keep your posts from being seen, if you don’t pay to boost your posts. And I don’t pay.
On Bookstagram, however, I quickly attracted 900 followers (for free!), and that figure increases weekly. They’re all bookish people, a curated population of readers, writers, teachers, librarians, publishers, and bookstore owners. The collaborative connections I’ve made there have resulted in several very nice reviews of my books, and in turn I’ve been introduced to the work of authors from all over the world. My ebook library now overflows with books I plan to read and review, to support other authors as many Bookstagrammers have supported me.
Tips for Starting a Bookstagram covers nearly everything a newbie should know about launching a Bookstagram account and interacting with other book people. To that resource, I’ll add the following points, things I’ve learned in my year there:
Engagement is key. If you want people to like and comment on your posts, you must like and comment on theirs. Like all social media, Bookstagram can be an enormous time sink. You mustn’t let it take over your life, but you do need to set aside time for not only your own posting, but also for interacting with other people’s posts. I tend to peruse my Bookstagram feed during my coffee and lunch breaks, and sometimes in the evening when I should be reading.
Canva is your friend. I’m not much of a photographer, and my aging Android phone doesn’t take especially good pictures unless the scene is perfectly lit. To get around that deficit, I use Canva heavily. I’ll spend an entire day creating Instagram posts at Canva, using the covers of my books and incorporating the nice reviews that I quote or screen-shoot from Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Creating Bookstagram content can take quite a lot of time, but I enjoy playing with designs at Canva, seeing how creative I can get. (Pictured is one of my recent designs, to promote the new Waterspell audiobook.) For me, Canva and Bookstagram together have become a fun way to showcase a different side of my creativity. If the words aren’t flowing during a writing session, I can go to Canva and play with pictures, and still feel like I’m being productive.
Mix it up. My pattern is to alternate promos of my own books with quotes from famous authors, or writing-related memes, or the occasional review that I’ve written for somebody else’s book or audiobook. Over the course of years, I filled thick notebooks with admirable examples of other people’s writing, or with the wise words of established authors. Those notebooks have been a rich source of inspiration for my bursts of creativity at Canva. My Bookstagram followers always respond warmly to the quotes I share. Every writer needs a regular shot in the arm, an almost daily reminder that what we do, does matter. And that we’re not alone. Even famous authors have bad days and get one-star reviews or draw the ire of book-burners. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see something inspirational on Bookstagram, something that validates me as a writer. The writers and artists who are active there support each other, celebrate each other’s successes, and commiserate with the setbacks.
Once a day is plenty. There seems to be a general consensus among Bookstagrammers that it’s poor form to post more than once daily. Which suits me fine. Only on rare occasions do I violate that unwritten rule. Many Bookstagrammers post only weekly, or 2–3 times a week.
Block the spammers and bots. Newcomers to Bookstagram are instantly deluged with “Promote it on” scams. Every one of those fake accounts uses the same wording — “Promote it on” — typically followed by some variation of “Writers Heaven” or “Writers Paradise.” (The bots aren’t imaginative.) To fend them off, go into Settings, find Privacy & Security, find “Edit comment settings,” and find Comment Filtering, where you can list Hidden Comments. There, paste the following list of terms that the scammers use. You’ll need to add new terms to the list from time to time, as the scammers tweak the wording (“Writers Heaven” becomes “Heaven of Writers”). As one of your first steps, however, when you create your new Instagram account, put the following terms in your “Hidden Comments” list, and you’ll vastly reduce the amount of junk that floods in from bots and scammers. Eventually, as they figure out you’re not going to pay them to “review” your book, the scammers move on to more gullible writers.
As other thoughts occur, I may add to this post. For now, however, those are my main bits of advice for Bookstagram newcomers. I believe you’ll find, as I did, that it’s a welcoming community. Most of the writers and readers who are active on Bookstagram will follow you back, if you follow them. That reciprocity makes it fairly simple to grow your followers, in very little time, from zero to hundreds or even thousands.
I’ve been fairly selective about who I follow, being mostly interested in connecting with readers who might enjoy my books, and also with writers who work in my genre: traditional fantasy. I don’t follow many writers of urban fantasy, for instance, because I’m not trying to reach that specific audience. What works for them, in the way of promotion or reader engagement for instance, won’t necessarily apply to my efforts. From authors of epic or high fantasy, however, I’ve picked up many useful tips. I’ve learned about tropes and book blurbs and keywords. I’ve learned about online fantasy map generators, which is a new skill I really want to master.
In turn, I’ve shared what I’ve learned about cost-effective book promotion. Pretty much the only time anyone reads this blog is when I share something on Instagram about my book-promo efforts, and I invite my IG followers to learn more at my blog. That’s when I get eyes on posts such as Book Promotion Sites: Ranked and its followup, Book Promo Overview. I’m glad to know that other writers are benefiting from my experiences in the often predatory and potentially expensive world of book marketing.
If you’re an author on Bookstagram, I’d love to hear from you. Please drop your comments in the box below. I have a huge amount to learn about that platform, and I welcome the advice of more experienced Bookstagrammers. Please comment, too, if you’re just getting started. I’ll do my best to answer your questions, or to refer you to more authoritative resources.
Making a place for yourself in a world where you don't belong takes courage. So does moving in with a warlock.
“Such a joy to narrate this. It didn’t feel like work. The story and characters take flight so naturally and then soar.” —Simon de Deney
“Lightfoot has a sure touch with regard to characterisation. Each of her characters has their own authentic and convincing voice. Narrative, description and speech are exceptionally well-balanced.” —Martin Dukes, author of the Alex Trueman Chronicles
“I was HOOKED. I read until 3 am two nights in a row to finish this. The magic system is unique and the characters are as morally gray as they come.” —Megan, Goodreads
“In this four-book saga, the author has created an epic fantasy world full of magic, danger, romance, and travel through time and space. The characters are vivid and complex. This is a most enjoyable read for fans of fantasy and fine writing.” —Shirley, NetGalley
“An extraordinary book, four in fact! I read these over a five-day period and found the storytelling fantastic. See for yourself!” —Michelle, NetGalley
“Jane Eyre meets Beauty and the Beast. Amazing story, very original. Great series.” —Emma, Amazon UK
“A riveting series. Well written, excellent world-building with an engaging plot in each book and well-developed characters. I was gripped right from the start with twists I didn’t see and unpredictability.” —Aria, NetGalley
“A great read that features world building with drama and magical characters. Highly recommended.” —Neil, Amazon
“Addictive epic fantasy, with drama and adventure. I binged through the books, eager to see how the story unfolds. Great book. 5 stars.” —Di, NetGalley
“An entertaining, fast paced, and well-plotted fantasy series. The world building is fascinating, and the characters fleshed out. Highly recommended.” —Anna Maria, NetGalley
“I absolutely loved all four books! You kept your storyline throughout the four books brilliantly. The characters were all genuine and relatable.” —Carol, Goodreads
“Captivating. I loved this series from beginning to end. Complex characters who mature through the series and unexpected plot twists kept me reading far too late into the night.” —Amy, Amazon
“Complicated characters, plot twists, romance, adventure, and magic — all written in a voice that immerses you in a fantasy world both foreign and familiar. Get the box set because you won’t want to leave this world.” —Beck Digs It, Amazon
“I was hooked instantly. I willingly gave up sleep and could not wait to get up to read more. I’m reading the whole series, and absolutely loving it.” —Sarah, Amazon
Castles in the cornfield provided the setting for Deborah J. Lightfoot’s earliest flights of fancy. On her father’s farm in Texas, she grew up reading tales of adventure and reenacting them behind ramparts of sun-drenched grain. She left the farm to earn a degree in journalism and write award-winning books of history and biography. High on her bucket list was the desire to try her hand at the genre she most admired. The result is Waterspell, a multi-layered, intricately detailed fantasy about a girl and the wizard who suspects her of being so dangerous to his world, he believes he’ll have to kill her … which troubles him, since he’s fallen in love with her. Deborah is a professional member of The Authors Guild. She lives in the country near Fort Worth, Texas.
Magic, mystery, murder, and romance. Waterspell: An intricate save-the-world fantasy adventure with complex characters, cosmic calamities, and the gothic sensibilities of Jane Eyre.
Mix environmental fantasy with magic, mystery, and a little slow-burning romance, add dystopian undercurrents, and that’s the Waterspell series—a cross-genre story with too many layers for a single label.