My Writing Process Blog Tour: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Obscurity

Folks who know me have heard already about the odd spot I occupy. I’m deep enough in to know the e-pub/self-pub indie process, and put several books out there. I’m coming up on three years in the business (anniversary announcement later), and know my way around an Amazon author page, online interview, or Smashwords coupon.

Most important, I have rubbed virtual elbows with terrific, successful and deeply gracious online authors ranging from complete and former strangers (met in the past year) to beta-critiquers (some over five years’ friendship, and already “old” friends in that sense) as well as best-selling “colleagues” I knew back in college (and who’ve had time to become strangers again). I’m the writing equivalent of a rock-band groupie who riffs a little guitar in his basement between concerts, and once in a while gets called up onstage to dance badly in the background during his band’s encore. I dream a lot, but not when I’m asleep!

So yeah- it feels a bit pretentious to be tapped for this writing tour (not once but twice! Thanks Kat and Peter). My keys to writing or publishing success? As if. But provided you have your salt shaker with you, read on. Actually, maybe one of those fifty-pound salt blocks you use for your water purifier, or the cattle herd…

 

1. What am I working on?

My WiP is well known to readers here, the third installment of the Shards of Light series, called “Perilous Embraces”.

Nicknamed The Forever Tale, Sub-Title How to Let Your MC Put You in a Sleeper Hold

I nudge the manuscript forward in moments of clarity, with long gaps between. The main character is without question the most difficult I have ever encountered- she sees the future, for one thing, all the time, so guess what happens to her grip on reality? But the feedback I’ve received on the first two pseudo-chapters has been quite encouraging. I cannot give a time-line for publication yet (this is NOT the anniversary announcement I promised), but I can tell you that fans of Justin and Feldspar, who have already seen a little bit of W’starrah Altieri, are in for a treat. Someday.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

“Differ”, bah, I don’t know or care really. After much thought, I’ll settle for the one word I was most moved to hear from others, to describe my work.

Heart.

I have seen this word used a couple of times and I treasure it. I think it means that I have been able to show the reader how admirable these heroes and heroines are, to peek into their lives and empathize, root for them, to curse their mistakes but not their intent, and rejoice with their victories in spite of the costs. Is this rare, does it stand out compared to other authors? Pardon me, but I think that’s a blind alley. How many times is too many to be inspired? If I can show you the situation they faced, and get you to agree with the decisions they made, I succeeded. To me the word “heart” means simply that you read about these heroes and were moved. Just as I was when I first saw them, and have been ever since.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Nit-Pick Department: I don’t “write”, I chronicle and it’s a very important distinction to me, because I saw and studied the Lands of Hope for thirty years before I started to take down the events in story form. This point will also no doubt interest the guys in white coats, when they arrive to fit me out for the lloooong-sleeved cardigan. But putting the Tales of Hope on paper (OK, you know what I mean) has become a vocation for me. As in the Latin, meaning “job you would do for nothing”, I feel called to chronicle these stories and I’m pretty sure that whatever my talents I’m the only guy for the job. But it’s not a job- I have a great one, thanks- it’s what I do by preference, for love of doing it. Which brings me to another Latin word, “amateur” and therein starts a tangled skein of temptation.

4. How does my writing process work?

No better or worse than any other contradiction in terms.                  :: rim-shot ::

The Lands of Hope on DVD is running in my head at all hours, frequently punctuated by the email pinging for work or the sound of my lovely wife saying “did you get that?” I spend every waking moment falling in and out of a daze, but it’s probably not as disorienting or depressing as I make it sound. You get used to the dual-view, after a couple decades… And on an infrequent morning or evening hour I can tap away another paragraph, or maybe just reverse the order of two sentences. I won’t lie- rarely, I enjoy a torrent of productivity, where the manuscript rolls forward during some portion of every waking hour. I write down thousands of words, usually fairly polished, and hardly any work gets done for job or family. But that’s a thin, short sparkler, and well before I can start to feel like a prolific writer, it burns down. I spend a day or so catching up on my life-obligations, and then it’s back to a half hour, a nudge.

Point is, I’m living here. If writers write to live, then yes I’m alive. And well. If they truly had to write to eat, I’d be starving, but I’m far more fortunate than that.

In a moment, the announcement. But first I must play Typhoid Mary and pass along the joy of self-description to three other folks. I’m tempted to escape via honesty, and just say “here are the folks to who influenced me most”, naming Stephen Donaldson, Ursula le Guin and Robert B. Parker. Of course, not one of them knows me from a hole in the wall, none blog that I know of and one of them has already passed from the world. So I’ll have to knuckle down.

How about Tia Nevitt, EPIC-award winning author of The Sevenfold Spell? I interviewed her in ancient times, further back than I dare to go in our archives, so it’s high time we saw her work again.Tia also has one of the coolest blog titles for a guy like me to admire, and I urge you to check it out- Anywhere but here, anywhen but now

Continuing down memory lane, Tracy Falbe is the prolific author of the Rys Rising series and others, another of the first indie/online authors I got to know in this genre and somebody who knows a thing or three about the biz. Check out Her Ladyship’s Quest while we wait for her turn.

And in the sleeper category- no, I mean it, she hasn’t written back yet and could be asleep- I call on Mary B Kaley, evil genius behind the rogue’s asylum at the Writers Extreme critique group and the owner/operator of I am Not an Editor blog, but also a tremendous author in her own right, featuring works of urban fantasy and the dystopian future. {Post-Script: Mary has just sent her regrets, but I’m stubborn and keeping her on the list.  Go to her blog and bug her to publish the story about Asia, which she’s had on the shelf for YEARS- it’s incredible.}

Now for the Funny Thing that Happened

At last (at THE last) my news. There I was writing through another long winter, minding my own business when the darnedest things started to happen. The weather got no warmer, but I’ve been invited WriteOutLoudto speak at a writer’s gathering and I signed a publishing contract, so it might as well be spring!

The invite comes from the Write Out Loud student group at the local university, who are sponsoring their first Reading Gala next month and asked me to speak. I am so jazzed! If you’re from the tri-state area near Newark Delaware, check it out, scheduled for May 9th. The publishing contract- I almost have to go look at the thing every time I think of it, just to convince myself- is quite real, a single sheet of paper that means so much to me I’ll have to blog about it separately. I can say this honestly- being “under contract”, as hilarious as that seems, makes me want to put in my very best effort ever, to promote my upcoming work and the cause of epic/heroic fantasy in general.

For now, I will say only:

This July,

The Man in Grey

approaches.

 

 

The Voice

For those of you expecting some sort of exposé or update on Blake Shelton, Usher, Shakira, or Adam Levine; I apologize. This has nothing to do with the popular American TV show, though I guess there is some similarity between the show and the topic of this post.

In the TV show, the celebrity judges are trying to identify singers with unique voices… which gave the show its name. In a way, this is what an agent/publisher, and our readers, are looking for. A Unique Voice. Or at least a voice that they can align their desires with.

The VoiceMany authors have been told by an agent/publisher that they need to find their voice. So the question becomes. What is an author’s voice?

When I first started writing, I was worried because I didn’t feel like I was skilled in all the different aspects of writing. Well, actually, I wasn’t skilled with any of them, but as I kept writing I realized that there were some things which came naturally, and others that were… let’s just say, didn’t feel very natural. Not natural at all. But as an author, I needed to develop my skills in all areas to produce a work that would draw readers to me, not to mention produce something I would not be ashamed to claim.

Learning about the areas that felt awkward to me, and training to become more proficient in them, helped to make me a more rounded writer. However, I can still easily identify where my forte lies. I am pretty good with character development, and have a knack for creating the world around my characters that readers can see and believe in. I also can describe action scenes in such a way that readers can see the action happening in their own mind, like a movie. I’ve been told that this is very similar to my personality. When talking with someone, and need to explain something to them, I go into great detail to make sure they fully understand what I am trying to say (sometimes to their chagrin). I use simple words, but long sentences. This is a trait that I realized fit my character. A desire to break things down as simply as I can, but to string them together in a way that makes sense – at least to me. I can see my philosophies, beliefs, and demeanor played out in the personalities and actions of my characters.

This is what I see as the Author’s Voice. It is unique to that author and is easily identifiable by their readers. Many new writers try to copy the voice of other, more popular authors, and while they may be able to emulate some of that author’s writing, the writer’s unique self does not come through, and the attempt fails.

Like an author’s speaking voice, their writing voice distinguishes them from all other authors. The voice is what comes across, in the author’s work, as the author’s attitude, personality, and character. They can be objective or subjective, emotional or rationale, intimate or remote, sober or whimsical, or any combination of the above. But whatever it may be; it will be unique to the author. How I speak, the words I use, the way I say them, the little flaws, and my personal idiosyncrasies; all combine to make my voice uniquely mine. And no one else has these exact same traits, so they can’t perfectly duplicate my voice.

I, and other authors, have a voice that distinguishes us from each other. It is what makes each of our writings different from anyone else’s, just like when we speak, our voices tell our listeners (readers) who we are.

In the end, the author’s voice is what they put into their work that no one else can do. It is their soul, woven into the pages of their stories.

I have shared what my voice says about me, but what about you? If you have found your own voice, please share with the rest of us as to what it is and how it impacts your writing. If you are still having difficulty identifying it, share with us your struggle – maybe we can help guide you or at least sympathize. Leave a Comment to share.

There are many different opinions on what constitutes an author’s voice, so if you have other thoughts, or just want to expand on what I said, please leave a Comment.

Food in Fiction: Welcome Kristin

We are expanding our team again. Welcome Fantasy author Kristin S. Walker who we already interviewed a while back.

In the sky, behind her... are those wings?

In the sky, behind her… are those wings?

Kristen dreams of being a pirate mermaid who can talk to sharks, but she settles for writing stories for teens and adults. Her new novel, A Flight of Marewings, tells the adventure of a duke’s illegitimate daughter who must stop her father’s murderers–by taming a dangerous monster. You can find Kristen (and her pirate pictures) on her homepage on kristenwalker.net. You can talk good books, cats, or medieval cooking with Kristen anytime on Twitter (@KristenSWalker) or Facebook.  Today, she’ll tell us something about…

Food in Fiction (well, she said she’s into cooking, didn’t she)

Stories are more vivid for the reader when they engage all five senses, but sometimes, it’s difficult to incorporate every sense into writing. One fun way to describe taste, smell, texture, and even sight is to use food in a story. The use of food can help set the mood for a scene, to establish a particular cultural setting, or even to show something about the person who made or eats the food. And since we all have to eat, we all understand how important food is—whether it’s a character starving after they lose their supplies on a long journey or a lavish wedding feast!

Familiar Recipes

The easiest way to use food in a story is to mention something familiar or iconic. You can know which city the characters are in if they’re eating thin crust pizza (New York) or deep dish (Chicago). Certain foods also call to mind a certain time period, like Dicken’s Christmas punch. In a medieval fantasy, characters in a tavern will call for a mug of ale the way patrons in a modern bar order beer. We can learn more about the characters the more details are given. For example, does the burly trucker drink domestic beer, or does he stand out from his friends by ordering an imported brand? Does he slap his gut and complain about the flavorless light beer?

Sub cultures can also be revealed through food. Imagine the Jewish grandmother making matzo ball soup for the whole family. Do the characters like their food mild or spicy? And just about everyone has foods that make them think of their childhood. Calling to mind specific memories associated with different foods is one way to introduce a character’s history.

Sometimes, stories take a familiar food and add their own twist. Many fantasy and science-fiction stories invent a coffee alternative, like klava in the Vlad Taltos books or klah in the Dragonriders of Pern. And other stories remind of us old recipes that had been forgotten to most people, like Harry Potter’s butterbeer and many of the medieval-style foods in A Game of Thrones. While medieval cooking once meant the typical turkey legs and ale to most people, the popularity of A Game of Thrones has gotten many people interested in researching older recipes and cooking techniques for parties or just for fun. What was old is new again!

 

Fictional Dishes

Moving away from the realm of the familiar, there’s some foods in fiction that just don’t exist in the real world. These are usually found in fantasy and science fiction stories that take place in other worlds, where strange plants and animals live. As much as we can try to approximate the flavors of klah, the tree bark that it’s made from just doesn’t grow on Earth. And although my daughter has asked me many times, I can’t seem to find any unicorn meat for sale at the local grocery store!

How does an author manage to describe something that no one’s ever really eaten? Well, often by comparing it to things that are more familiar to us. But sometimes it’s just magical or impossible to replicate in the real world. For example, the elven-made lembas or waybread in The Lord of the Rings is known to taste better than honey-cakes, keep for a long time without spoiling, and a single cake can sustain a man through a full day’s march—perfect travel rations! Sadly, without the elves’ secret recipe, there’s no way we could bake anything resembling lembas.

 

Food With My Fiction

When I love a book, I want to embrace everything about it and keep enjoying it long after I read the final page. Getting art of the characters, watching a movie or TV show based on the book, eating the food—these are all ways to keep the magic of a story alive. I’ve baked shortbread to pretend I was eating lembas, mixed spices into my hot chocolate to find the perfect balance for klah, and eaten bowls of fresh fruit salad while constructing a replica of Redwall Abbey. Today, it’s even easier with the Internet, because I can find other readers’ recipes and ideas for recreating my favorite fictional meals. I even own several fan-made cookbooks, because my whole family enjoys experimenting with food!

So naturally, when I write my own stories, I make sure to put food in! I’ve had to learn to branch out a little beyond my comfort zone for this—I’m a lifelong vegetarian, but not all of my characters are, so I have to rely on others’ suggestions for meat-based dishes. Some of them are things my family likes to cook, some are dishes that I find online. But maybe someday, a reader will want to make something they found in one of my stories.

Readers–How Do You Cope With a “Mixed Marriage”?

I’m not talking about mixed religion, not even mixed race or nationality.  Then what?   I’m talking about readers who marry non-readers. Can there be any bigger divide!

I love to read.  I read a lot, always have and, God willing, always will.  I read on a wide variety of subjects and genres.  I was the kid who read the backs of the cereal boxes as I ate my cold cereal before school. When it came time to give a book report (which I hated doing–it ruined the book), I had to decide which of the many books I’d recently read that I would do the report on.

I never read while driving a car, nor can I read while riding in one–motion sickness.  I must confess that I sometimes read in the bathroom. I read magazines in waiting rooms.  While I was still working and earning a regular income, I subscribed to about 10-15 different magazines.  As soon as one would come, I would sit down and devour it in about half an hour to forty-five minutes, depending.  Much of my spending money went to buy books.  When I received a Kindle for Mother’s Day a few years ago, I found another reading medium! (Now that I have a Kindle, I buy many fewer books, but I don’t read any less.)  Reading was and is a daily constant in my life.

So what’s the problem?

My DH (Dear Husband) is not a reader.  Oh, he reads a little, but he feels that fiction is a waste of time.  He rarely reads anything but nonfiction, mostly devotion-type books.  And that, Dear Reader, brings me to my problem.  Don’t get me wrong.  My DH is a good man, but since he doesn’t read, he has a non-reader mindset.  He thinks buying books is a waste of money and reading them is a waste of time.  (Strangely enough, he is fine with my WRITING books.)  He complains that I read too much and spend too much money on books/magazines.   Now sometimes I can just let all this scolding slide off my back, but sometimes it gets to me.  So, I’m asking you readers out there who are married to non-readers.

What are your methods for coping with the great reading divide?

 

 

Author Spotlight: Juliet Nordeen

This week I’m pleased to introduce you to one of my favorite indie writers…who also happens to be one of my very best *real life* friends: Juliet Nordeen. Julie is a wonderful writer, a fabulous friend, and all-around awesome person. Take it away, Julie!

Juliet NordeenI am a child of the 80s who misses big hair, anthemic rock’n’roll songs, and The Muppets. I have been blessed with a kind father, a high-school sweetheart worth marrying, and more good friends than I ever hoped for. For fun I hang out with canines, design and make quilts, and I bake anything with a recipe containing flour and sugar…and then run my butt off at the gym so I don’t wind up carrying the calories around for the rest of my life. My writing has been published in a couple of obscure websites and anthologies to some very kind words from both readers and professional “book-tearer-aparters,” also known as critics. I’ve decided on the self-publishing route for my work because I don’t fit so well into the established paths of life. And I’m impatient.

Why did you become an author? Was it a childhood dream?
In grade school I did dream of becoming an author. In Mrs. Hepler’s fifth grade class I won a Young Authors classroom contest. I wrote “the best short story” for which I was to be awarded a day in the city with real writers, learning about the whole process of writing and publishing books. Unfortunately, for reasons probably having to do with inadequate parental support, I got bumped from that excursion and that was the beginning of being derailed from my dream.

My detour widened when the teachers at my middle school decided that I had great talents in math and science and challenged me to accelerated classes in those subjects. That lead to many tears and lots of teeth gnashing before my brain decided to get on board and make sense of things like “story problems” and “letters used inside math equations.” Though I do not regret earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering, I did whine and complain a lot during my engineering career about how I wanted to be a writer. About once a year I would vomit out the first few chapters of a book and naively (and stupidly) send those off to the biggest publishers I’d ever heard of. They were each nice enough to acknowledge me with a rejection.

Thankfully, about twelve years ago, the universe offered me an amazing opportunity to stop working for pay and learn the craft of writing. I was smart enough to see the gift and seize it. I’ve learned amazing things, met wonderful people, and made progress toward my dream.

Oh, wait…you asked why I’m an author. Silly me. That’s an easy answer. I’m an author because there’s this voice in my head, her name is ArtChi, and she keeps telling me stories…she absolutely will not shut up. And I’m so very glad about that. Also because I believe books are the best escape from reality, ever.

What’s your greatest obstacle in writing?
I would chock it up to lack of confidence. Every once in a while I get negative thoughts in my head that interfere with my ability to create work that I’d be willing to share with others. I think it happens when my Internal Editor gets too strong and muzzles ArtChi. I have to be very careful when I provide/accept critique of fiction or do actual editing-for-pay because it’s very easy for me to get caught up in “knowing the right thing,” which is very different from taking the kinds of chances that lead to the creation of stories.

I find that there’s a fine line between “Affect the Reader” which is my goal when conveying the stories ArtChi tells me, and “Don’t Throw the Reader Out of the Story” which is what my Internal Editor is trying to prevent. Some days it works out, some days it doesn’t. But on great days, the ones where someone I’ve never met says something nice about my work, I do my best to use those compliments to build the virtual cinder block walls of a small, comfy office with an imaginary locking steel door to throw my Internal Editor into…until I need to let it out to write a synopsis or marketing blurb.

What makes the world of your novel different from ours?
My novel is an Urban Fantasy, so it has an aspect of realistic magic involved. I’m not saying that there isn’t magic in our world, because I believe there is, though my story’s magic is that Faeries are real and they like to mess about in the lives of human beings. And I’m not talking about little flitty things that come and tend to the garden when you’re distracted, perhaps talking to the mailman. My Faeries are full-sized, cunning, smart, deadly, and highly addictive for any human lucky (or unlucky) enough to discover their sexual side.

What was the most exciting thing happening when you wrote your novel?
In my novel world? Okay, that’d be when my main character, Bailey Faye Michaels, discovers that she has a Faery mother and as a result, the power to speak telepathically with anyone she chooses. Lots of people at once, even, if that’s what the situation calls for. A telepathic conference call, if you will. The exciting turn for me in drafting the novel was when I realized that Bailey can use those telepathic skills to do more than communicate; she is capable of defending herself by invading and influencing the mind of dangerous folks. Telepathy as defense, pretty exciting.

If we’re talking about the real world…I’m oblivious, I was buried in the writing. *grin*

Who is your favorite Indie author?
I gotta have two here. I’m a recent fan of Rob Cornell’s and have been a long-term fan of Debbie Mumford/Deb Logan’s.

Who is your favorite traditionally published author?
I tend to go in phases. Right now I’d have to say Robert J. Sawyer. That man is a frickin’ genius. He writes hard Science Fiction novels based on fantastic premises. I just finished “Triggers” in which he explores the possibility of sharing a whole life’s memories with another human being and what that might mean if the memories you’re sharing come from the leader of the free world. I wouldn’t have gone to the same places he did with a premise like that, but that’s why I read. To take my mind places it wouldn’t go on its own.

If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?
I would live someplace with warmer weather. And I will, someday, but for now the Pacific Northwest is home. Heck, if I wait long enough the warmer weather might just come to me. Though I suppose Global Warming won’t do anything for the tilt of the Earth’s axis, so we’ll be warmer here but still lacking daylight a few months a year.

Thanks, Julie. And thanks for the plug *grin*

And now…what you’ve all been waiting for: a look at Julie’s work!

Juliet Nordeen’s Current books:

Blue Suede Darlin’ (Bailey Michaels Book 1)blue-suede-darlin

For Bailey Faye Michaels — Rockabilly drummer, fierce friend, and bedpost-notch collector — making a life-saving deal with a Faery could not have gone more sideways. Ignoring the usual Faery Godmother playbook, hauntingly beautiful Laume “rescues” the other four members of Bailey’s band, holding them hostage until Bailey completes her end of the bargain: reuniting a foster child, Hannah, with her addict father. Faeries and Faery magic complicate everything as Bailey uncovers her own ties to Faery, the destructive force of Faery-addiction, and the unyielding power of Mab, Queen of the Winter Faeries. With help from the queen’s own Winter Knight and an unexpected new human love-interest, Bailey fights a battle to rescue her best friends, her phamily, that no one but her intends for her to win…

Blue Suede Darlin’ is available from:
Amazon paperback | Amazon Kindle | Nook | Kobo

*~*~*

Mom is a Dirty Word MomEbookCover2sm

When Lara Guthrie gets the opportunity to drive one race in the top tier of stock car racing, she thinks she’s reached the pole position of her life: a great job, a wonderful fiancé in Nate Rickert, and a real chance for a car of her own to drive. But when Lara passes out during the post-race celebration, and finds out she’s pregnant, it’s like her whole world is spinning out of control.

Mom is a Dirty Word is available from:

Amazon Kindle | NookKobo

*~*~*

Coming Soon:
Short Story: Canine Agent Rocky Arnold vs. The Evil Alliance in Fiction River 9: Fantastic Detectives (edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch)

Moon Crowned Darlin’ (Bailey Michaels, Book 2), coming through all e-distributors in electronic and paperback in July 2014

Guest Author/Character Interview: Louise Blankenship’s Disciple series Prince Kiefan

We are very fortunate to have a guest post this week from author Louise Blankenship, an interview with one of the protags in her “gritty romance” series. I say “we” are fortunate just as a courtesy- actually, it’s ME who’s the luckiest guy on earth, because this lady is hitting the target right on the little black circle thingy at the center. The Disciple series has already run three books, and the fourth installment just went live at the start of March. I’ve wondered how to get people cranked up if they only discover you in the middle of a series- I’m chipping away at one right now myself- and here’s a great answer. Louise has combined the first three books into an epic-value tri-pack called the Disciple Half-Omnibus (I took Latin in high school, Louise, I see what you did there). So now with a single purchase you can be all caught up. I’m thinking “yes!” (you know, loud and punchy like a cheerleader), but also “yyyeesssssss” (like the evil genius who’s just had another brilliant idea).

So to whet your interest even further here’s a terrific character interview with Prince Kiefan.

Interview with a prince

Prince Kiefan is the only surviving son and heir of the king of Wodenberg. Like his father, he has a reputation for discipline and stern expectations — and he’s eager to prove himself now that he’s come of age. I had some questions for Prince Kiefan at the beginning of Disciple, Part I. He’s about to leave on a vital secret mission to find allies for the kingdom.

L: You’re an alpha male in training and this secret mission is your most important command yet. Do you feel ready for this?

Kiefan: I trust the saints’ judgement. Though Father and I disagreed over the cavalry charge that I led some months ago, he cannot deny that it won the battle. The saints have judged me fit to lead and I will not fail in my duty to them or my people.  

L: You didn’t expect the master healer to send his apprentice, though.

Kiefan (frowning): No, I was told he would be with us in this, and then he brought Kate in his stead — but the saints affirmed her, gave her charge of our well-being. One must work with what’s given.  

L: It’s not because she’s a girl, is it?

Kiefan: (he laughs) I squired with Captain Aleksandra. Any who dares doubt her will be put straight on the matter of a woman’s strength and courage. But Kate’s no disciple of the sword. She’s a healer. It’s clear enough this will be no easy journey across the mountains — none have made it and returned, that any know of. The saints ask much of us, as it is.

L: So the problem is more that she’s — bookish?

Kiefan: Kate has never even been in the saddle before today. Surely she’ll learn it, but yes, she’s spent more time among books than —

L: I hear you’re fond of books yourself.

Kiefan: Father’s seen that I’ve studied tactics and —

L: No, I mean those philosophy essays you’ve been sneaking peeks at.

Kiefan (frowns): Father’s kept my days busy enough with serious matters.

L: There’s nothing wrong with a little philosophy, surely?

Kiefan: The king of Wodenberg must be a knight, firstly. He must see to duty. We’re at war.

L: Yes, it’s always duty for you. Including a political marriage someday.

Kiefan (gets up from his seat, impatient): The privileges of the throne have their price. I’ve a mission to lead. (strides away, armor clinking)

L: You’re not concerned about traveling with a cute, philosophy-reading healer?

Kiefan (circles back): Pardon?

L: Well, she is cute.

Kiefan (spreads one hand, confused): Yes, certainly she’s… cute. Philosophy?

L: Oh, yes. She’s been reading those essays too. Her teacher might’ve sent some homework with her on the mission.

Kiefan (doesn’t know what homework is, but he gets the gist): Why should that be troublesome?

L: I’m sure it won’t be, Mr. All Work And No Play.

Kiefan: Which books is Kate bringing?

L (shooing him off): It’s not part of your duty, is it? Go, you’ve got a mission to lead.

Thanks so much Louise- I really like Kiefan, though I can just TELL he’s headed for… eh, he is out of earshot now, right?

Let’s have you back in person- did I just write that?- to talk about the saga, the travails of marketing yourself, and other Herculean Labors. Until then folks, click on these links and get in now on a terrific-looking series right on that cusp of romance and fantasy.

Back cover blurb

War is coming. Kate Carpenter is only a peasant girl, but she’s determined to help defend the kingdom and its bound saints against the invading empire. Her healing magic earned her a coveted apprenticeship with the master healer; now she must prove herself ready to stand in the front lines and save lives.

She’s not ready for the attentions of a ne’er-do-well knight and the kingdom’s only prince, though. This is no time to be distracted by romance — the empire’s monstrous army will tear through anyone standing between them and the kingdom’s magical founts. All disciples must put aside their tangled feelings and stand in the homeland’s defense.

Available at

AmazonNookOther major retailers

DISCIPLE, PART IV arrives on March 10th!

Get a reminder by joining L’s mailing list

Try PART I for only 99 cents!

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Classics You’ve Never Read Part Five: Getting Better All the Time

First off, a quote I should have used to open the series back at Part One. But I didn’t know he’d said it.

“Classic. A book which people praise and don’t read” – Mark Twain

Now you know for sure I was right with the title of this series; you wouldn’t dare contradict the author of Huckleberry Finn. It’s a classic!

For the sixth book (trust me, I can count, we’re on book 6), I come at last to a deeply embarrassing confession. I loved the book, really. But not the way I expected, not as much as I hoped. And my expectations were set in this case, because I had seen the movie first! {Oh, the shame…} And LOVED IT! But that’s OK, because you probably haven’t seen the movie either (not the right one anyway- there has of course been a remake).

Now you need to thank me, because the easiest thing to talk about with this book would be, ONCE AGAIN, world-building. Or at least, society-building in its lowest common denominator. But this is a tale about how life continually improves, and why, when you land on … The Mysterious Island

You map something and it's real!

You map something and it’s real!

I heard that wise-crack- “enough with Jules Verne already”. Pipe down, you- do you realize all of his tales I could have used? And I will, if you don’t behave, you watch me. But I admit this is not one of his more famous novels, which is curious because he did what we’re all supposed to do as authors- went back to one of his most popular characters for a sequel. Even better, he hid him for half the book! Instead he follows more good writerly advice and whacks you between the eyes with a fabulous opening. Five remarkably-diverse but worthy men and one faithful dog escape a Confederate prison in the waning days of the war, by stealing a balloon Mys_Isl1which promptly gets caught in one of the most powerful storms of all time. Blown halfway around the world, marooned on an uncharted island… oh, you’ve heard this one before? Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson… guess what, Verne’s first draft of the tale was titled Shipwrecked Family: Marooned with Uncle Robinson. So, there’s some encouragement for you if you think the greats were never inspired by (read- cribbed from) what they read. Or never got rejected by publishers.

So yeah, it’s the whole we’re-alone-in-a-strange-place-what-do-we-do-now genre: at the bottom looking up. Ingenuity to the rescue- MacGuyver without phones, A-Team without helicopters: when you think about it, there’s a very  long standing tradition of we-can-do-without-almost-everything, one that can be really fun to contemplate. These five guys drop onto foreign soil with just one penknife and the scraps of the stuff that makes a balloon. No food, no orientation, no extra clothes or shelter or whiskey or  cigars. But they’re AMERICANS, by golly; once they create a fire, it’s all downhill from there.

Sure enough, they construct shelters (even becoming socially mobile and moving up to better and better quarters over time). They fire bricks, smelt iron, create explosives, herd cattle, determine their latitude and longitude- it’s the man-cave run wild. I kept waiting for them to make a toilet with no seat to have to put down. Which brings me to my first observation about this kind of story- survival and improvement tales are all about authority in your voice. If you do a ton of research about an historical period, or a scientific subject pertinent to your plot, you know you want to show it off to the reader. And that’s not wrong- it excited YOU, there’s got to be something there for them. But how?

Here’s how- the castaways are struggling for their very lives, and that’s an empathic situation for the reader, they wonder “what WOULD I do?”. Once you introduce an authority figure- in this case, the super-genius American entrepreneur Cyrus Harding- who starts to tell the others how to do a thing, it naturally translates for the reader. See that red earth there? Here’s what you do… and the reader is practically feeling like one of the workers now, going step by step, building it up and sighing with satisfaction when the job is well done. As the characters feel increasingly empowered, the reader is also carried along, thinking “wow, I could survive on a desert island”. If you get there, you’ve got them.

Lucky they teach guys so much as civil engineers! My credulity got strained when it became clear that Harding knew everything, like the combined reincarnation of Archimedes and Da Vinci. They build a boat, a serviceable sailing ship, and while discussing whether they could make it to civilization aboard, they get a mysterious message in a bottle from another castaway on a

Hey, sustainable.

Hey, sustainable.

“nearby” island. Me, I’m thinking “maiden voyage, nearby means I can see it from here!” but nothing scares these guys, and they duly depute a couple to sail over and pick the fellow up. Then comes the elevator, the telegraph- OK, now I can chuckle and relax into a more normal state of suspended disbelief. After all, what did Jules Verne know about “Gilligan’s Island”?

And that’s the second point- do you want to be a laughing stock with your story? Isn’t it kind of, you know, bad to portray nothing but uninterrupted progress throughout a tale? What about conflict, downturns, that terrific way you can play yo-yo with a reader’s emotions? Your sadistic cackle of satisfaction as you picture the reader alternately throwing the book on the floor with a scream, and then snatching it back up along with a tissue, to turn the page. Is that why Mysterious Island wasn’t a big hit, isn’t this something you should never do?

My unhesitating response is- let me get back to you on that. I can only speak for my genre, and even there not with authority, but I think it’s safe to say that epic and heroic fantasy are in a strong swing towards anti-heroes, deconstruction and morbidity right now. I’ve gone on and on about Game of Thrones, but GRRM is hardly alone and it’s hardly been just recently. We’ve become more hard-bitten as an audience generally, I think; all kinds of rather horrible things get lined up under the rubric of “realism”. Witness the incredible popularity of “The Walking Dead” on TV! There’s a point of view that your story needs to portray the world “as it is” which is to say, going to hell in a handbasket, in order to be serious or believable. So you certainly can’t afford to show the heroes constantly progressing, improving and having nothing but good times… right?

But there’s so much to be gained from a rise to triumph over circumstances, against all odds. All-time best survival-struggle-ingenuity tale in history- Captain Kirk, the 23rd century starship

Well sure, all us space-age guys know the formula for gunpowder!

Well sure, all us space-age guys know the formula for gunpowder!

captain, marooned on a worthless planet against a bipedal xenophobic gila monster, manages to cobble together a prehistoric shotgun that fires diamond ammo. Man, they learn almost as much at Starfleet as a 19th century civil engineer!

I guess the only right answer is, sometimes. If readers believe their own  alleged-real lives are going in the hopper- first of all, they might be right or wrong about that. And second, assuming they’re right they might want to see it played out straight (fist-raised, rock-musicked, drug-smoked anti-war movies for the Vietnam generation) or to escape it (Astaire and Rodgers skating around a richly decorated ballroom for mass audiences during the Depression). We seem to  be in love with bad these days, the only reason the characters get a lift is so the next drop can be even deeper. Me, I get about five hundred pages along, and realize the latest bout of good fortune is just another dead-cat bounce, and I’m done. So a movie like Mysterious Island should tank. I gather the remake in 2012 did; I didn’t even get past the trailers. But it wasn’t about things getting steadily better- it was another thrill-ride with crisis after crisis, you can tell.

Um, does the CRAB know it's on the menu?

Um, does the CRAB know it’s on the menu?

The REAL movie, from 1961? Man, what a fantastic flick. Same survival theme, manly men scraping for their lives and making it better. But hey- giant crab for dinner! My debt of pure joy to Ray

Harryhausen is vast… And I have to admit, once in a while Hollywood gets it right. They put two women in- another shipwreck- and it was the right move. No big romance, but more of a balance to this miniature society.

There you go. It’s not necessary to have the tale’s tone be all-down, or only-up-to-go-down. But it does have to point to something else to Mysterious-Island-2really succeed. Swiss Family Robinson always emphasized the family above all; Robinson Crusoe found out a lot about what he didn’t need (and what he still did). With Mysterious Island there is a strong aspect of what it takes to be a society: Harding is elected leader and his judgment always prevails. The members of this tiny nation have their parts to play, and work hard to reap rewards with satisfaction, overcoming their differences in the process. Others can be admitted if worthy- the castaway is a wrongly accused pirate, and while the handling of the former slave Neb is still stereotypical, it’s a big step that he is accorded equal’s treatment. The group even domesticates an orangutan and raises him to near-human status. Oy, give me the English ladies in the movie, who make the point perfectly well that you can admit new members who merit our interest, but still decide to reject the pirates (who show up in both the book and

Ah yes- tonight's special.

Ah yes- tonight’s special.

the movie). Yeah, pirates with cannons, not exactly a fun development- and by the way, lest you think this tale is Sunnybrook Farm without the little girl, did I mention the volcano is going to blow!!

The book and movie have a second theme as well- the eventual discovery of the island’s former total population, Captain Nemo. Once again I found the treatment of his character and his

Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and-  oops wrong movie.

Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and- oops wrong movie.

part in the plot was better done in the movie- his heroic sacrifice stayed with me since childhood when I first saw the film, and I kind of realized that he wasn’t all bad, but it was better he wasn’t coming back to the world. Pretty serious thought for a kid of eight watching a movie- maybe things don’t have to get better all the time, for everyone.

In The Plane of Dreams, the main party of adventuring heroes starts out having ejected one of their members, and admitting new ones to their society. Along the course of their new adventure, they run into some serious trouble, not quite marooned on an island but nevertheless bad. The party is looted and beaten up, and it’s somewhat a wonder why they haven’t been killed. Still, things are not good…

Zoanstahr was certainly surprised to awaken at all. Twice he had been the special target of an attack, and this time he had already seen the rest of the party fall before him. But the unusual fact that he was still alive paled to insignificance when he realized that he was completely naked.

Wm. L. Hahn. The Plane of Dreams (Kindle Locations 870-872).

Starting from there with literally nothing, the party starts its climb back up- and they must redeem their reputations as well as their belongings. It was a long haul for them, but a fun and ultimately rewarding one to witness. (That’s all I do, by the way, just watch them in action) Even the party member they rejected at the start helps to save them all,  by sacrificing his life unknown to the world. The more I think on it, the more I realize how much I’ve drawn inspiration from the work of others (and we both know what THAT word means!). For me, it was the movie first this time- but then, they read the book, so it’s all good.

And I didn’t have to wait to be rejected by a publisher before putting The Plane of Dreams out there. I guess it is getting better all the time, for me.

How Tales are Born

Probably, the number-one question I get when I meet someone at a party, and they find out I am an author is: “How do you come up with the ideas for your stories?”

Naturally, I tell them “I turn inward, using my keen introspective to dig deep within my soul for the story.”

After they ‘oww’ and ‘ahh’ over my artistic creative ability, I then tell them, “That’s not really true, in reality, I owe it all to Willow!

First the eyes go wide, and they want to know, “Who’s Willow?”

“My Muse of course.”

Their eyes narrow as the person glares at me like I just dropped out of the sky from the human-like planet of Torenlia (which is just a hop, skip, and jump over in our nearest neighbor, the Alpha Centauri solar system). I especially love it when their nose squishes up like a rabbit.

“But it’s true. It really is,” I tell them.

Then I get The Smile, and they say, “Oh, you mean your imagination. Cute.” It’s a bonus when they shake their heads and roll their eyes.

“But I actually hear Willow talking to me.” I have the story down pat and try to keep a smile on my face the entire time, hoping it will help my case, but I know my next words will only add to their disbelief. “And after I come up with the basic concept, the characters start to converse with me, though not nearly as often or as a clear as Willow.” After all I don’t want to seem crazy.

Oops, narrowed eyes again. “It’s just you using the right side of your brain versus the left, correct?”

I can see the look of incredulity, though it is somewhat difficult through the slit their eyelids have become.

“Yes and No.”

That gets me a frown.

“It is somewhat true in that the right side of your brain tends to look at pictures and events as a whole, opposed to the left side, which looks at sequential steps to make a whole come together.” I don’t bother to go in the study of right and left sides of the brain, but just continue, “But Willow draws from both sides to provide me the images and the flow I need to come up with a story idea. And I can actually hear her voice, the inflection and everything.” By the way, it has a bit of a southerly draw to it, like found in the deep south of the USA, with a southern California overlay.

“So it is just in your own mind?” Their face lights up like they proved a point, but then the lips twist or similar facial expressions appear that reveal their hesitancy. “There really isn’t a Willow is there?”

I have to smile myself now as I have them thinking, maybe, just maybe. “Let me give you an example of how I come up with a new story idea.” I don’t want to make it all about me (well yes I do), but after all, they did ask me.

Meerkat on Guard Duty“I was on a family outing to the zoo, and decided to take a break, just away by myself to commune with the animals. Actually, I was looking for a beer garden, but that really isn’t pertinent. However, while I was walking around (looking for the ‘commune garden’) I turned a corner and there was an enclosure of meerkats. Their little butts sticking out of dozens of caves in the ground, dirt flying behind them as their long claws dug further under the surface.” I take a dramatic pause; which works out nicely as I can also take a sip from my glass of wine.

The momentary break also gave me time to consider something that had always bothered me. What happened when the meerkats had created a honeycomb of tunnels that would cause the ground to collapse? Then I rationalized that maybe zookeepers came in at night and filled in some of the caves. But I digress.

I pick up the story, “What really caught my attention, and made me block out the zoo visitors and all the other meerkats, was the one meerkat sitting upright on its hind legs, at the highest point in the enclosure. Its head darted from side-to-side looking for a threat to the clan below. This one meerkat was giving up its favorite pastime, digging (which I still don’t get), to look after its family, its clan. After a while, another member of the clan took its place and the new meerkat continued the constant guard duty. “

I would get a lot of responses, at this point, from “I knew that.” to “Yeah, I’ve seen them do that. They almost seem human.” And this is normally followed with a well veiled comment like “Interesting.”; which can be translated to, “So what?”

Nevertheless, I push onward. “Like everyone else, I am amazed at the organizational instinct and loyalty to family and clan, but then I sort of zone out, and I can actually see someone. Well, to tell the truth, I don’t see them, but I can feel them as if they are standing next to me and I can tell you what they look like.”

I have to talk fast now, or I know I will lose them. “Then I hear ‘What if it was dragons rather than meerkats?’”

My educated response is ‘Huh?’

Dragon Guarding the Clan“The voice continues ‘What if there was a clan of dragons that lived in caves?’ This voice starts to feed my mind with images. ‘The caves could even be in the ground rather than on a mountain. And what if the older dragons took turns perched on a high peak, above the clan, looking for danger, so they could warn the rest of the clan?’ A landscape starts to fill my mind. I start to picture the concept — a desert or a forested area, with a lot of small hills with cave entrances cut into them, and a lone spire that rises above the hills, where the dragons stand guard. I’ve got the concept, and this is where my right brain would have done its duty, but then Willow gives me more.”

“So that is how you come up with a story?” They still don’t look convinced.

“Yes and No.”

Another frown.

“That is part of it, but there is more to it than that.” I always get to this point and find it hard to describe what happens, but I try nonetheless, “Willow takes these images from my imagination, if you will, and starts putting them in a sequential manner. Then she says ‘What if there were other clans, and the clans didn’t get along, just like meerkat clans? However, the clans must come together with the help of a small group of humans (got to have a group of humans) to combat some great evil that would otherwise devour both humans and dragons alike.’”

“That sounds kind of cool.” I can see a bit of excitement in their expression.

So I drop the bomb. “Then one of the main characters, a dragon, starts telling me how it wondered what these puny humans that had intruded on the clan’s nest wanted from it?” I think they thought I was maybe kidding earlier about characters talking to me.

At this point, I normally get one of two responses.

The first one is “Really? You hear voices?” And then I can count to myself, and before I reach ten, they will have to go refill their drink or just saw someone they needed to talk with.

The second one is “Really? That must be so cool!” And they will spend the next hour pumping me for more information about how I write and my stories.

But the bottom-line is that a tale is born. Or at least that is what Willow tells me.

How do you find inspiration and come up with the story line for your tales?

“Swordplay” blog tour

Blog Tour Badge

The release for my blog tour is running rather smoothly. Here is the link to the schedule. Of course, there were a few tiny hickups, but nothing major. For the last few days, there’s still the chance to enter the the giveaway to win a copy of the book. Also, I wrote several mini-stories about the most important characters that will go out to anyone joining out list (plus an exclusive YA Fantasy eBook, so it’s well worth leaving your eMail address — we won’t spam you, promised).

YA Urban Fantasy Murder Mystery

YA Urban Fantasy Murder Mystery

About the Book

CSI with magic but without the gore

Despite her obvious lack of magical talent, nineteen year old Moira Bellamie apprentices with the Gendarmerie Magique, the magic police. She puts all her effort into solving a burglary at the National Museum where antique weapons have been stolen, to keep the hard won job. Falling for her partner Druidus wasn’t part of the plan. When more and more people are murdered with one of the stolen weapons, Moira must tame uncontrollable magic, or the people she cares for will die, her partner first and foremost.

For lovers of Fantasy and Mystery from 14 years up

eBook on Amazon:        German, English
and Smashwords:           German, English
other retailers will follow

Paperback in German or English on Createspace (Beware: postage), or in German or English on Amazon (no postage)

If this sounds like a book you might enjoy, joining out list and receive exclusive mini-stories about the characters. Thank you.

Some Musings on Animals and My Daughter

This post is not about writing, nor is it about reading.  It’s about life and living, death and dying.

All three of my children like animals, but my older daughter has always had a special affinity with animals.  She loves animals and they seem to know it.   When she was just a tiny little girl, she boldly walked up to our cow in the field with a fist full of grass to offer her.  I didn’t see her until she was already right up to the cow.  I held my breath as the huge cow with sharp horns leaned down and gently slurped the grass from her small hand.  Then I remember when she was about four.  I sent her out to dump the small garbage container into the compost bin.  She returned talking about the pretty black and white kitty that was out there.  (It was a skunk!  I’m very glad it did not feel threatened by her.)

As she was growing up, we had a succession of cats, some were strays that stayed, which she name, petted, and befriended.  We had two main dogs as she grew up.  One was named Tippy, a black and white shepherd and the other was Pal, a small mutt.  Both were with us for years.  Katrina loved feeding and caring for the dogs. It was never a chore for her.

As she became an adult, her love for animals did not fade.  She and her husband took in two cats and they were part of their family for years.  Then they took in a rescue dog that had been abused. He became another part of their family.  (They have no children, so the animals really were their family.)  A couple of years ago, one of the cats died.  It left an empty place in their hearts, but after a few months, a kitty was added to their “family”.   That cute little kitty grew and grew, playing with the older cat and the dog.  Three months ago the second older cat died unexpectedly, which left the grown up kitty and their calm older dog, and another hole in their hearts.  They had had the dog for almost ten years.  Last week he suddenly became ill and they found that he had a tumor.  The rest of the sad story you can guess.  Now only a lonely kitty wanders the house, looking for her playmates.  And another giant hole gapes in their home.

Animals.  They give much to our lives within the short time we have them, asking for little in return.  Dogs, especially, love their people unconditionally.  Maybe we should take a lesson from our animals and love each other unconditionally.  Stop asking and start giving.

Life is short.  Don’t put off telling your loved ones that you love them.  Don’t put off all those things you want to do or learn. Live life now!

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