Category Archives: about writing

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Thoughts on Genre

I’ve been thinking about genre recently. The genres I prefer to read…and the genres I choose to write.

I know the defining characteristics of genre. I can tell the difference between fantasy, science fiction, and mystery. I can even tell when they overlap (I’ve been reading a very good series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch which melds science fiction with mystery. If you haven’t met Retrieval Artist Miles Flint, I highly recommend you do so quickly :D ), but where in the story does genre reside?

Let’s look at the bare bones of a story: A character – in a setting – with a problem.

What part of that equation represents genre? I’m going to posit that genre resides in the setting.

The character has to be relatable to the reader, someone the reader can identify with and care about. Even if the character is an alien, s/he has to have enough “humanity” to allow the reader inside his/her skin. So, genre doesn’t reside in character.

The problem also has to be relatable. Something the reader understands and can identify with. So no matter the genre, the problem must be of a common enough nature to allow the reader to care whether or not the character solves it. Nope, the problem (plot) doesn’t represent genre.

Setting is where genre resides. Science fiction settings are vastly different from fantasy settings. Mysteries can take place in a sci-fi or fantasy setting, but then they aren’t classified as mysteries (unless the setting is so minimally sci-fi as to make it almost invisible – JD Robb’s “In Death” series fits this bill).

Romance is character-centric with the essential element residing in relationship, but romance also transcends all the genres. You name a genre, and there’s a romance sub-genre covering it.

So, setting, and how the character understands and interacts with the setting, is where genre resides.

In order to write science fiction, an author doesn’t have to be a scientist. S/he just needs to imagine a rich enough world (setting) for the reader to know that the characters don’t live on our planet / in our time / or within our current understanding of the physical universe.

Back to the bones of story:  A character the reader can identify with (thereby gaining access to the story) – in a setting (which determines the genre) – with a problem (which defines the plot).

What do you think?

Of Magna Carta and Magnum Opus

In just two weeks, give or take, my greatest chronicling effort to date will start to unroll before the world as Judgement’s Tale Part One, Games of Chance hits the internet equivalent of the shelves.

And last week, following rare in-person meetings with my business colleagues in the UK, I took a completely uncharacteristic walkabout in the countryside north of London near the site of the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.

Think these two events are completely unrelated? How little you know me.

Business and Pleasure

In England this is called a hotel. Anywhere else, a castle.

In England this is called a hotel. Anywhere else, a castle.

Alleged Real World first. I was moping all the way to England for my business trip- no money, no way (I figured) to see any sights in a land of one hundred castles, and– this is the key– no idea where my business meetings were taking place. I  only knew Egham as the town that had my company’s offices, and also MI-6 (the British Secret Service) in it, somewhere. Turns out, Egham is the town next door to Runnymede. As in, the unknown field where King John had to put his Hancock on it eight centuries ago. My boss, unlucky fellow, was with me in the cab on the way in; I shout, “Look, there’s a memorial to the signing of the Magna Carta!”. He’s French, says “what ees thees magna carta?” No escape! I had him for ten minutes, poor devil, on and on about John Lackland and the barons, forced to sign a charter promising not to do naughty things anymore just to scrape up money. And over the years, that backroom deal between two dozen feudal lords somehow came to stand for the immutable rights of every British citizen, and on beyond that to all the rights of man.EuropeGoBargingB

My boss finally escaped the cab, but I was already determined- me, the guy who never exercises anymore, the dope who gets sore the day after playing golf ON THE WII- I was going to have my British sight-seeing vacation on foot. I went on a walkabout through scenic, charming Runnymede, got up close and personal with memorials to that famous signing and others. I walked for MILES. Me! Channeling Lewis and Tolkein, strolling through rural England and ruminating deep thoughts in search of historical markers. And the weather was perfect, I mean just cool enough, no humidity, bright sunshine, and a breeze that blew energy into you. I could have walked across the island. I stopped part-way along, folded my hands and thanked God for saving me from my own torpid idiocy.

So then, how is the signing of the Great Charter in any way similar to the release of another epic fantasy tale? Am I really going to try and convince you that my next book is some kind of milestone of world history?

My answer- it depends which world you mean.

Adventurous Times

In the Lands of Hope, I started watching a time where things were beginning to happen after a long period of peace and prosperity. The Age of Adventure was first signaled around 1992 (ADR, their SavillCt3calendar) with an incredible act of stealth unheard of since the days of the heroes millennia ago (see Three Minutes to Midnight). I spent a lot of time examining things that were going on in late 1995-6 when the curse lying over the Percentalion (the Land of One Hundred Castles in my world) was finally lifted. A band of despised adventurers was a big part of that wondrous deed, you meet them in this tale. So yes, history pivots on the events set down here, and all the other tales I’ve published come later, largely because of them.

But there was another character, just before that time, one everybody knew as The Man in Grey. I saw Solemn Judgement first, even before I saw the Lands of Hope. The image of this grim, erudite, reserved and skillful pariah was always clearly before me, more than thirty years ago. Everywhere that things went wrong, wherever adventurers argued about the best solution while “regular” folk moaned about the good old days, there he was; stalking briefly in and out again, a few words, a few blows, a miracle, and then gone. No hesitation, no explanations, and nobody sorry to see him leave, to resume his mysterious walkabout across an entire continent.UK_Windsor

But he never left my mind. Before I go any further, let me reassure you- my lovely wife is very knowledgeable about all manner of mental problems and keeps a close eye on me. If she ever says I need to put on the looonng sleeved cardigan, I will; just let me out for an hour a day to write some more, because that’s the only way Solemn Judgement leaves me alone.

My entire adult life I have worked in some way to placate him. Like him, every stitch of my clothing is a shade of ash, slate, charcoal or steel. Though much older than he, I feel a kinship now that my hair is coming to match the outfits. But these gestures do little to put him off, year in and year out- in my mind he is always standing there, not saying a word but only looking on me with that serious face that clearly says “what should be done”.

So I have done it. This is literally his tale, the story of how he came to the Lands and what drives him to be the way he is. Against all odds, against nearly everyone he meets, Judgement is determined to do what is needful. A mighty river of other peoples’ lives flows in one direction, but only he can swim, and chooses to fight the current. Nothing deters him; as he pressed on against undead and demonic foes, so too he bore down on my mind all those years. And as his story finally comes out, Judgement wins, over endless enemies and feckless friends alike. But if I know him, it will merely mean another task, more adventure that needs doing, and then needs telling.

Hoookayy then. What about the connection? You still don’t see it?

More than They Seem

Baht rrRicharhd!-, after oll, I am your brrrothah.

Baht rrRicharhd!-, after oll, I am your brrrothah.

John got in trouble because he was supposed to be a king and was doing such a LOUSY job. Notice there’s no number after his name? Eight centuries and no queen has dared try the most common of English names, there will probably never

Paid for by the US Bar Association. Rough Translation: Thanks for all the jobs

Paid for by the US Bar Association. Rough Translation: Thanks for all the jobs

be another John of England. A few of his barons finally made him sit down and put it in writing before they’d leave him alone- the Great Charter was a private deal, just to stave off immediate rebellion, and only later came to be seen as this mystical guarantee of the rights of every English peasant, and every citizen of the Alleged Real World. Not to mention the whole bad-guy-in-Robin-Hood-thingie, which was a bum rap but too fun to correct. Safe to say the Magna Carta became a much bigger thing with time. But John didn’t give a damn- he was just out for some peace.

And so it is for me. A few heroes, one especially, have been pressing me day and night for thirty years because I’m the guy, the sole chronicler of The Lands of Hope charged to tell their tales. And I’ve sucked at it. William Lack-hand, until recently: it’s no accident I chose July 4th for my first publishing date back in 2011. Writing for me is about shedding chains. With this magnum opus, the work of my lifetime I seriously believe, I’ve made a bargain with the leader of the rebels. His story starts. You can read it for yourself. Perhaps history in later years will make much of this beginning, more than I or Solemn ever intended. Hey, they only made seven copies of the Great Charter, I should be able to beat that! But Judgement takes no notice of what others think of him. Soon now, like John my name will be on it, my debt to him discharged, and perhaps he will leave me be awhile.

Cover Reveal- Games of Chance

If you’ve followed the tour, you’ve seen the cover already. I love the elemental simplicity- a pen and a sword, I wonder if they will come into play at some point. And if you haven’t seen the tour yet… LoHI_JT_GoC_Cover_front

 

The Games of Chance blog ride is in full gallop with original material (only one repeated post in the lot). If you haven’t seen it I have an itinerary here which I will update as the links go live. Judgement’s Tale Part One, Games of Chance will be on sale July 4th at Amazon.

Games of Chance Blog Tour Itinerary

LoHI_JT_GoC_Cover_frontIn case you rode in late, here’s an updated list of the sites visited by the blog tour for Judgement’s Tale Part One: Games of Chance in June 2014. This tour preceded the release of Games of Chance on July 4th. It’s a who’s-who of cool fantasy authors and bloggers who are helping shape the internet and the indie publishing world- I’m privileged to have been a guest on these sites.

As they go live I will update the schedule with specific links: check back here if you missed a day or want to revisit a topic from an earlier post.

Ar Aralte! (Hope Forever)

DATE     HOST           TOPIC

6-14-14             Tracy Falbe, Her Ladyship’s Quest

Chapter One Podcast- the first meeting with Solemn Judgement, in the chronicler’s voice

6-15-14             Karen Woodward

Being a Writer: What Does it Take and Where Will it Take You?- advice to writers? Maybe good for a chuckle!

6-16-14             Lori Fitzgerald, White Raven Writing

Introduction to Prince Gareth of Shilar- one of the main characters of the novel makes his debut appearance.

6-17-14            Katharina Gerlach

Introduction to Solemn Judgement- the title character, known to the Lands as the Man in Grey, on his first day an orphan and alien

6-18-14             Susan Stuckey, Kalieri Tales

Author Interview- the one and only for this tour, not for lack of trying!

6-19-14               Day Off, Resting the Tour-Horse

6-20-14             Daniel Marvello, The Vaetra Files

  Magic and Miracles in the Lands of Hope- a view of one background element of the world setting, for the enthusiast

6-21-14              Sher A. Hart, Written Art

An Interview with Solemn Judgement- or as close as anyone can get to such a thing

 6-22-14             Mathew Reuther

An Interview with (not About) Cedrith Fellareon- the tale’s principal guide to the mind of Solemn Judgement discusses his protege

 6-23-14                Matt Graybosch, A Day Job and a Dream

Technology and Despair- the bad guys don’t show mercy, and they’ve got better stuff!

 6-24-14                Robin Lythgoe, The Series that Snuck Up on Me- because all my stories are going to connect eventually

6-25-14                 Peter Cruikshank, Introduction to Treaman the Woodsman- one of the main protagonists revealed, and already fighting for his life

6-26-14                 Karin Gastreich, How to Write about Combat- you could say I struggled with this one…

6-27-14                 Mysti Parker, World Building on the Sly-a familiar topic for me, am I actually getting subtle in my elder years?

6-28-14                  L. Blankenship, Character Interview with Cedrith Fellareon- a major supporting character, talking about anyone other than himself of course

 

Fantasy Classics to Read: Part Two

My last post was about C.S. Lewis and his classic Chronicles of Narnia.  Today I’d like to talk about another excellent author that has stood the test of time: Madeleine L’ Engle.   The first book in her Time series, A Wrinkle in Time, won a Newbery Medal, the Sequoyah Book Award, a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and was a runner-up for the Hans Christian Anderson Award. It was also rejected by at least 26 publishers!   When it was finally published in 1962, it  has been in print ever since.  The next four books in the series are: The Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time.

In A Wrinkle in Time  science and mysticism are twined together as Meg Murry and her brother search for their father.  He is a government scientist and has gone missing while working on a project called tesseract.  A tesseract is revealed to be a way of time/space traveling in seconds by folding time and space, hence the title. Meg must learn to fight evil with love instead of hate to rescue her father and her young brother.

L’ Engle has written this series of books with memorable characters, vivid descriptions, and through it all, she celebrates family, friends, life, and love.  Supposedly these are children’s books.  However, I highly recommend them for all ages.  If you love to read fantasy, try this series.

Author Interview with Lori Fitzgerald- The Dragon’s Message Blog Tour

I never try to hide my methods: the horror of my interrogation chamber is so graphic it should probably come with a warning. Yet the victims keep trooping in- thanks this time once again to the offices of my good procurer, the Magic Appreciation Tour, we have ensnared Lori Fitzgerald making the rounds for her latest work, entitled The Dragon’s Message. I have eagerly anticipated her arrival, not just because I have a new branding iron I’ve wanted to try out, but for several other reasons. My spies inform me that Lori is a devotee of Medieval Lit (sooooo close to Medieval History!), has excellent taste in books and television, and even frequents Ren-Faires (one of the only places in the Alleged Real World where I can blend in). No more delay, let’s get cracking… and I do mean that literally

:: whip-cracking sound :: confess, benighted reprobate, and it will go easier for you!

 Q: OK, first of all… a novelette, seriously? I was barely seated, just getting warmed up on this cool tale, and suddenly I’m nearing the end. Is this some new form of torture for your fans? Perhaps I should take notes! Or is there a devious method to this idea of yours. Tell us how you hit upon the notion of publishing something so bite-sized.

The cover art gets you halfway there by itself!

The cover art gets you halfway there by itself!

A: Finding a peaceful block of uninterrupted time during daylight hours in a household with two young children is quite the dropping of the gauntlet. In fact, can you untie me for a second so I can break up the light-saber battle going on in my living room? (Anachronistic, I know, but explain that to a 6 year old and an 8 year old.) Perhaps one day I’ll be able to concentrate on a lengthier work (I do have novel ideas), but right now I feel a great sense of accomplishment with my novelettes. I find snippets of time here and there throughout the day to write, in between errands or while dinner is in the cauldron. This type of “scheduling” I think lends itself better to a shorter form. Never fear, there will be more stories in the world of The Dragon’s Message. I have both a prequel and a sequel in mind. I would love to bundle all three stories together in a longer form, perhaps even a paperback.

Q: I can name one tale there had BETTER be a sequel to! At the risk of spilling all the magic beans, there be dragons here. I want you to rank these creatures in your world, along the following Eat-to-Greet scale: Tolkein’s Smaug = 1, LeGuin’s Sobriest = 4, McCaffrey’s F’lar = 8. Where do the scaly ones of your world rank in their relations to humans? (Ed. Note. The dragons of the Lands of Hope rate about a 2. On a good day.)

A: I would say that my dragons are most like LeGuin’s Kalessin. Although the details of their backstory is for another tale, I can tell you that dragons are scarce and mistrustful of humans generally because they have been hunted for the magic in their blood. Out of necessity for survival and to share their true nature, they have bestowed their knowledge to one human of each generation. One special human. In The Dragon’s Message, this is Lady Rhiannon, and she is the only human who knows their secrets and can decipher the language that is written in the Dragon Tome. Here be dragons (and an excerpt):

 When Rhiannon was small and had just learned to read, her mother brought her into the hall one day when her father was on campaign, and led her to the large table upon which a great map of their lands lay. She instructed Rhiannon to read the words of the landmarks: castle, road, mountain, forest, village. The young girl touched words inscribed over a place where trees met craggy peaks. “What does that say, my love?” her mother prompted.

“Here be dragons,” Rhiannon answered, glancing up at her mother.

Her mother nodded, smiling. She knelt down in front of Rhiannon so they were at the same height. The lady’s hazel eyes sparkled as she whispered, “I have a secret to share. But I can only share it with a little girl with red and gold hair,” she pulled playfully on Rhiannon’s braid,” who knows how to read.” Rhiannon giggled. “Are you a little girl such as this?” Rhiannon nodded eagerly, and her mother laughed. She stood up and gestured at a tapestry on the wall. “Come, child, the dragon guards our treasure.”

Hand in hand they walked to the tapestry of the sleeping dragon. “Your great-great grandmother wove this tapestry when she was an old woman. It took her a long time to complete, with her hands gnarled so, like the twisted oak by the drawbridge.” The dragon was curled up in front of a turret, with stone dolmens in a semi-circle behind it, interspersed with trees and a mountain peak in the background and bright blue sky above. The dragon’s scales were crimson and woven through with glittering gold thread, and its curved horns and talons were gold. As they paused in front of the large tapestry, Rhiannon looked closely at the eyes of the dragon; she thought perhaps she could see a slit of gold, as if the dragon were only pretending to be asleep.

Rhiannon’s mother stood on tiptoe and moved part of the tapestry to the side, revealing a slit in the stone wall. With her free hand she reached in and drew out a large leather-bound tome. She motioned her daughter to come sit with her on one of the benches that lined the walls. “Look and listen well, my daughter,” she said, and ran her fingers along the smooth cover, “this book is our special treasure, and it contains many secrets within its pages. I am going to teach you how to read them.” She opened the book as Rhiannon snuggled closer to her, her mother’s loose red-gold hair falling over the girl’s shoulder and brushing the crinkly parchment pages of the book which she turned until she came to the picture of a girl.

“The first secret is a story…”

 Q: I was very taken by the unfolding liaison between your two main characters. It’s an April-October relationship, quite touching- the girl who long ago gave a knight her scarf as a favor is now grown. We see a lot through Rhiannon’s eyes- what can you tell me about the knight Gwydion and his feelings? And importantly, how old would you say he is now? I wonder that he stayed unmarried in this society, especially as renowned as he’s become.

A: Gwydion is about my age…and no amount of torture gets a lady to reveal her age! In my head I have Gwydion around 15-20 years older than Rhiannon. When he takes the quest to bring Rhiannon to

My acolytes thought her too cute to torture. I must remain resolute until she confesses!

My acolytes thought her too cute to torture. I must remain resolute until she confesses!

safety he is simply fulfilling his liege-lord’s orders, although he has a fondness for Rhiannon from when she was a child, as readers will see from a flashback as well. However, on their journey Gwydion quickly realizes that she is not a child anymore and (luckily for him) is also quick to change gears and respect her as a lady. Once he sees her more as a peer he allows himself to fall for her. Sir Gwydion is the champion knight of Rhiannon’s father, basically his general, and so between fulfilling his duties to his lord and also running his father’s estate as the eldest son, he has had a lot on his trencher and thus never got married. And there’s also the dragon’s actual message to consider…you know, destiny and true love and all that written in flame can’t be ignored. It’s a scorching hazard.

Q: Yowch! Quite correct :: sucks fingers :: You’ve already given ample evidence of your guilt in this writing-fantasy matter. But now we come to the most grievous of crimes- you help to spread the word on the internet! Tell us more about your involvement with Once Upon a Fan.

A: I’m so proud to be a Staff Writer for the website Once Upon a Fan, the top-rated fansite for ABC’s show Once Upon a Time. One of the popular features of our site is the Origins articles, where we compare and contrast literary characters with their portrayal on the show. I’ve written Origins articles on Sir Lancelot, the Sword in the Stone, and Robin Hood, among others. I’ve tried to show how the symbolic landscape of the medieval mind comes into play in various aspects of Once Upon a Time as well. You can find the Origins library here. I really owe my publication to the show and the fandom. Once Upon a Time inspired me to create my own worlds again after 20 years (oops, is that an inadvertent clue?) in which I stopped writing to focus on my teaching career and having a family. The website and all the writers, artists, and crafters I met in the extremely creative Oncer fandom encouraged me that my lifelong dream of publishing could become a reality.

Once Upon A Fan Logo 1000px SquareQ: Aha, confederates, we shall have them arrested shortly. Where does all this leave you for your writing schedule? Have one, much? I see evidence of two children in my spies’ reports. Egad. Do you have a sacred space with a locked door? Set times to jot your thoughts? If I could take away any money-trouble with a wave of my wand- no wait, that’s my cat-o’nine-tails, hold on- there, supposing you COULD devote full-time to writing, would much change about your writing life?

A: I would love to have a sacred space, but alas, my laptop and I are wandering minstrels. Sometimes I write at the kitchen counter, sometimes in the attic, on rare occasions in the dungeon where the library and playroom are located. I would prefer to have a set time and schedule to write, maybe a few hours every morning, but that just doesn’t fit with my lifestyle right now. Sometimes the kids wake up sick and the actual storming of the castle has to wait a few days (after all, that’s what sieges are for).

Q: If I had to use the old infiltrate-through-the-garderobe trick, a mother of little kids is the one I’d send. I suppose that will have to suffice, for now. So many instruments, so little time… You may go. But be certain that you leave ample contact information here- your book and web links for reader-interest, should we need to drag you back for further interrogation. Thanks, Lori!

A: Thank you, Will…I think! But it’s never truly torturous to talk to a fellow medievalist.

The Dragon’s Message, a Dragon Tome Novelette, is available on Kindle and Nook for $1.99.

A dragon writes a cryptic message with its ember breath in the evening sky…

Lady Rhiannon watches from the turret wall with an ache in her blood. She’s the only person who can decipher the message as the sole keeper of the Dragon Tome. When an old enemy threatens the castle, her father charges his knight with escorting her to a safe haven—the same knight Rhiannon had a crush on as a girl. But she must now convince him to change his plans, for she has her own sacred charge to fulfill…

So begins a journey to hidden ruins where magic slumbers in the stones and love lies in the heart, waiting to awaken. As Rhiannon and the knight face seemingly insurmountable odds, only the dragon knows if they can fulfill their destiny…

 Here are the magic links:

Amazon: http://www.amzn.to/OCTcq9

Barnes & Noble: bit.ly/1epYuBC

 

My blog http://www.whiteravenwriting.blogspot.com

You can also find me on Twitter @MedievalLit and on Facebook at my author page White Raven Writing.

 

Rafflecopter Link:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/YzZiMWJiNDVkMzNkOGZhZDZjMjQzNmEwZTJjZDFlOjE=/

 

Getting to the Third Level of Writing

The writing I love. It’s literature I can’t seem to get along with.

In 10th grade, the final essay question on our test for “Catcher in the Rye” directed our attention to the final passage where Caulfield speaks longingly about his desire to serve as a kind of life-guard for children playing in a meadow- literally, the title of the novel. The question posed to us was “What did Holden REALLY mean?” I wrote a full response arguing simply that he didn’t mean anything- it was a job he had thought of and he really wanted to do that. Because hey, that was a great job! The teacher and I got into a rather furious argument- I know for a fact, she told me exactly what she thought about the true underlying meaning of the speech, but I couldn’t remember one word of it an hour later. Still don’t.

That stuff never meant a thing to me. I still struggle to get there, this third level of writing. Coming up on six years of formally chronicling the Lands of Hope, I begin to see, just dimly, a distant… something. It’s not something I do particularly well, or on purpose. But at least now I think I see it.

One more time, it bears repeating for those who just came in, I’m merely a chronicler. I have less control over what happened in the Lands of Hope than a first-time student driver on an Alpine ski slope with the brakes cut. Make it up? Puhleeze- it happens, I take it down. But no question, I can improve the way I describe it to all of you. You’ve done this yourself, right? The Lands of Hope are like a movie that you’ve seen but your friend hasn’t. There’s a way to describe the thing- concise, evocative, fascinating- you’re working uphill because every picture is worth a thousand of your words. If you get them interested enough to go see it on their own, give yourself a prize.

First level- the Plot

You need to put the events in order, they must lead to something, make sense by the end. Stories with plot weakness simply can’t work; the suspension of disbelief fails and there’s a chance the reader stops, never to start again. When I spot a loose end, or a lovely piece of description that doesn’t point to anything, it’s not fatal but I usually feel disappointed, or a bit impatient. Nowhere is this more of a danger than in epic fantasy- the world-building train so effortlessly becomes a runaway locomotive, taking the reader down a steep siding about magic forces, or the adolescent growth cycle of a gryphacorn, the alignment of the northwestern sky-quadrant… hey, where’d everybody go? Of course, fantasy carries a balancing advantage because you can have the most incredible things happen to sustain the interest level (at least temporarily).

Pretty much everyone does plot- I’ve read a lot of harsh editorials about how all indie pub is garbage, but I couldn’t have been this lucky in the stories I’ve downloaded. Personally, I have a lot of experience with story-telling: I’ve never thought that History was anything else, frankly, and I told those stories to high school students five days a week for thirteen years. I didn’t have any control over what happened in the Alleged Real World either… but I flatter myself that I got pretty good at putting the facts in the right order, having it all make some sense.

Second level- Character

Yeah, we’re going in ascending order here, this is substantially harder than Plot. You have to convey the tale through the vehicle of beings whose lives and choices the reader comes to care about. I bet there is isn’t a bad character on the internet- we authors often don’t introduce or describe them well enough, is all. That’s partly because there’s more wiggle-room: your character doesn’t have to have clear set goals, the conflict can hit them in differing ways, they don’t even have to be protagonists or antagonists in the traditional sense. But in my honest assessment, the biggest problem at this level is that the author assumes too much and shows too little. I’ve read halfway through a book before exclaiming to myself, “oh, really? This guy loves his country? That explains a lot!” or something similar. The patriotism was assumed by the author, but now as a reader I have all the work of thinking back, reconstructing everything that happened from that perspective- and I don’t want to do that, it’s already ruined.

When I try to assess my own craft, I would say again that Character is harder than Plot, but I believe it’s the part I do best. I love and admire the heroes of the Lands, and I believe I can bring a certain depth-perception to describing them within the plot that helps inform, entertain and move the reader. In The Plane of Dreams, the intrepid stealthic Trekelny has taken it upon himself to open a cage in the enemy camp, freeing a wild tiger to roam in the nearby woods. The rest of the party catches up, and when one of them tries to reproach him for it, Trekelny coolly responds “I happen to like cats.” There is an entire story- Three Minutes to Midnight – from nine years earlier in his career to reinforce this one fact. And that’s just an example I can point to in publication. Time and again, I benefit from being able to back up a preference, or a love of something in my characters like that. I could tell you a whole story about it. Don’t challenge me on this- I will bury you.

This far I’ve been able to go on my own, by chronicling. And it’s made me rather happy, I won’t scruple to deny. Before I was telling these tales, setting my notes and memories to narrative, my brain was tenser, life less settled this past decade. The vocation of teaching gave me such great personal joy I didn’t miss out. But having a new life course, where I teach only as a pinch-hitter, plus the lack of contact with the Lands in other important ways, just made me miss it  more. So the telling has helped me tremendously.

And I think I always knew, I wasn’t getting where the really good, much less great writing went.

My daughter is home-schooled, so I overhear her mother talking to Genna about The Great Gatsby these days. And that’s what really pushed all these thoughts I’m having around the bend: I think to myself, “how could your writing ever be treated like this guy’s?” I say again, I never liked literature. The English teachers in school would gather to one side of the faculty room discussing books, even books I had read, in ways that made me feel stupid. Yet they were so engaged- gushing, really- over the deep meaning of it all. Those books had something I wasn’t noticing, a level of appreciation that maybe I’m not built to “get”, and if so, then I’m a poor guide to describe what it is to you. But a distant, misty glimpse is still something seen.

I call the third level, for now, Theme

It’s another entire strata tying the tale together, like Plot and Character, and I only guess from the clues of others and my inchoate vision, it’s the level that makes everything mean two things at one time. While all the stuff is happening, as the characters are displaying their virtues, vices and quirks, there’s just another THING that it all means. I can joke about it rather easily, even in my ignorance: pull my glasses down my nose, mimic holding a brandy snifter and say, “of course, it’s man’s struggle against himself”. Or nature, or the futility of breathing; or maybe it’s all of those things all the time, I just have no idea. Theme is the word one of my close friends advised me to consider, in the second year of my chronicling (2009). I was drafting my beloved opus, the work closest to my heart- and coincidentally the tale that’s coming out beginning this summer, at long last a trunk novel no longer. Judgement’s Tale means more to me than I can readily say, so it’s fair to describe my state as constantly heightened these days. But my close friend urged me to think of the theme of any longer work like this- what is the one thing it really means, he asked. And I could tell then he was onto something, I knew it. But I also knew that if I made any part of my work beholden to it- if I refused to continue before I answered the question- I would stop altogether, and probably for good.

Looking back, now that the novel is done and I’ve polished it seriously twelve times, I think I have an idea or two about what it means. There are some themes that run through the book. I know it would be better if I had noticed them from the start, worked them in and not settled for just letting things happen or for characters to grow and deepen in (my) ignorance of them. But not to put too fine a point on it, that’s what writers do. Not me. My tales will either have deeper meaning for you, or they won’t. I pray for the former because I’m vain and because no one wants to do something less well than possible. But trying to describe the themes I see to you, as if some exciting movie I’d just seen, that’s where my train stops and I get off. I shall keep my counsel, for a change- but I am eager to hear your feedback around Theme especially, as you discuss the way you analyze tales.

Do you get to the third level in your writing?

 

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.

 

 

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!

AmazonNookOther major retailers

Disciple-PartI-cover-2000.jpg

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.

Author Interview: Kristen S. Walker

To my ongoing amazement, we continue to lure aspiring authors to the Independent Bookworm for interviews. Even with the incontrovertible evidence of our perfidious cruelty right before their eyes, they come- driven by passion, by desperation or perhaps just a terminally short attention span. And who are we to complain?

Next up in the chair of interrogation is Kristen S. Walker, whose new novel “A Flight of Marewings” is debuting this month. Perhaps she believes her previous acquaintance with the eminent Ms. Gerlach will save her. Perhaps she is grievously, tragically mistaken… now where did I put that YA-sized strappado…

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

In the sky, behind her… are those wings?

Q: All other questions must wait! What is Wyld about your world’s Magic, besides the spelling. And most important please, how soon can I start to use it?

A: Wyld Magic is actually the forces of Nature on steroids to fight back against the advancement of human civilization. It twists normal plants and animals into deadly monsters, from marewings to stranglevine, virtually all of which are hostile to humans and are actively trying to destroy farms and settlements. Humans in Seirenia have to band together in the safety of cities, or get the aid of priests to bless their fields and keep back the encroachment of the Wyld. As for humans harnessing that power for their own purposes, well, I will tell you that some of the characters in this book try to do just that. You’ll have to read the novel to find out what happens, but I don’t think you’d want to mess around with it lightly. The effects of Wyld Magic on human society will be an ongoing theme for the series.

Q: You describe the world of Seirenia and Marewings as epic fantasy. Does that mean it’s not YA? Can kids read epics?

A: Epic, high, or heroic fantasy are all terms used to describe a flavor of fantasy that focuses on magical quests or adventures with dangerous monsters. Some of it is written for the YA crowd (see Tamora Pierce’s Tortall novels for a bestselling example), but A Flight of Marewings has almost entirely adult characters, so it’s not aimed at that age group. However, many kids and teens (including me when I was younger and my own teen girls now) read above their age group as well, so I wouldn’t say that my novel could not be enjoyed by teens. After all, the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy is considered non-YA epic fantasy, but many people read it for the first time in middle or high school, and it’s often their introduction to the fantasy genre.

marewings-tour-banner

Q: What would you say is the biggest difference with trying to interest a younger reader- in any kind of story?

A: Well, the contrary thing about younger readers is that they often don’t want to read something that you’re “trying” to tell them to read. In general, YA, MG (middle grade) and children’s books are just those stories with younger characters who are also probably trying to deal with issues that kids of that age can relate to, from school bullies to first love. Otherwise, these books shouldn’t be written any differently than novels for adults, especially when you’re writing for teens—they can handle complex concepts and advanced vocabulary at that age, and they really don’t like to be talked down to. That means you can still tackle difficult issues and dark themes in YA, to some extent in MG, and delicately in children’s books. (I remember being seven years old and reading about one of the characters in the Babysitters’ Club when her grandmother had a stroke, and how that affected her family. This was two years after my own grandmother had passed away, so I was no stranger to those kinds of issues.)

 In the end, every reader is different, and they’re going to be interested in different things. I would say that my approach has been to talk to a few teens and ask what they think of my ideas or what they want in a story. I’m lucky to live with two of them who are very vocal in their opinions, and teen readers are also easy to find online.

Q: I see that you, madam, not satisfied with owning an entire fantasy world, need to invade the ARW (Alleged Real World) as well. “Small Town Witch” sounds pretty close to magical realism, yes? Everything’s the same except we have, um, a few thousand spellcasting monstrous beings running around in Northern California. I wonder if anyone would even notice! Did you have more world-building to do with a small town in this world, or in describing an entirely new one?

A: What can I say? I love world-building and I never know when to stop! I think that I did more world-building for Seirenia for two reasons: I’ve been working on that world since I was thirteen (although it doesn’t resemble its original incarnation much at all by now), and I cheated with my small town because it’s actually mostly based on a place where I grew up—in Northern California. It prides itself on being weird, so there’s already plenty of strange things running around, but I do think people would notice if magic suddenly started to show up. (There would be photos up on the community blog, like the escaped parrot that roosts in neighborhood trees and sightings of the alleged “ghost” in a certain hotel.) I don’t know if magical realism applies, though, because the magic is front and center without too much of the realism. I call “Small Town Witch” alternately Urban or Contemporary or Modern Fantasy to emphasize that it’s in our time and our world. (As a joke, I once said that it was the opposite of Urban Fantasy because it’s not in a city, and wanted to coin the sub genre of Rural Fantasy, but I don’t know how many other books would join mine in that category!)

Q: Tell us more about the series (“The Fae of Calaveras County”) that you started with “Small Town Witch”, and particularly your decision to serialize the later volumes (available now on her Facebook page). Would you recommend that publication plan?

A: Well, I self-published “Small Town Witch” first on all of the traditional digital platforms like Amazon and Smashwords, but it’s been tough to get visibility with so many other books out there. I knew that my friend, Jimena Novaro, was releasing her novel “The Withering Sword” as a serial on both her website and on Wattpad—a website that lets writers share their stories for free. I learned from her and a few other writers that Wattpad is a good community to connect directly with readers, especially teens. So when I started to write the sequel to “Small Town Witch”, I decided to experiment with sharing the novel as I wrote it. Other than writing too fast for many readers to keep up with (I managed a rate of a chapter a day for the whole month of November), I think it was successful, and I’ve made some new friends and fans that way.

 I know many authors wouldn’t like this approach, because it means giving away your work for free. I don’t personally plan on leaving up my entire story there indefinitely—in the next few weeks, I’ll remove it from Wattpad and start revising the story to publish it as an ebook later. But for getting visibility, one of the major hurdles of a self-published author that doesn’t have the backing of a big publishing company or a huge marketing budget, I do recommend sharing at least some work with readers for free, on Wattpad, your own site, or any of the other similar communities. You get direct feedback. If you share the first part of a longer series, you can get people interested in later books. And not just self-published authors use this to find new readers—Margaret Atwood and Brandon Sanderson both have entire books on the site. Every author has to find their own plan that fits their work and their goals, so I don’t think it’s ideal for everyone, but it’s worth looking at as one option among so many available today.

Q: Are you a disciplined writer, with a regular schedule and habits? Notes, much? How about a Muse, did you pick up one of those along the way? And how are the two people inside your head getting along- Kristen the author and Kristen the marketer? Any fistfights, and if so who won?

A:I do try to keep up the habit of working on something every day. Sometimes I write a story, sometimes I work on outlines or world-building, other days it’s revision—but I keep my momentum going better when I do some kind of writing and my stories stay fresh in my mind. I’m trying to cut back on my massive amount of notes that I do for each project, because I can spend too much time planning and never get to the actual story. My Muse is a hyperactive child who gets easily distracted by shiny things, but when she’s focused she hovers over my shoulder to demand everything from explosions to unicorns.

 Kristen the writer has been a strong force since I was eight and started my first notebook (which was blue and had a unicorn on the front). It’s been much harder to learn how to be Kristen the marketer. I hate trying to talk about myself in job interviews or self-evaluations, and I’m very shy about asking for anything like “buy my book”. I try to approach it as I’m excited about my stories and I want to share them with other people, so I think about what I can say to explain why I think they are interesting. Marketing is still a very new skill for me, though, and Kristen the researcher has been hard at work to dig up virtually every article and book on the subject so I can learn more. But when it comes to any kind of decisions that I have to make, like what’s the best kind of cover art (something that follows bestselling trends versus something that I think represents my story), then Kristen the writer has been winning every time. As a result, I might not be making the best plans from a marketing perspective (I am giving away stories for free on Wattpad after all, and I don’t think the cover of “A Flight of Marewings” looks like any traditionally published fantasy book released in the last five years). That kind of stubbornness is probably not going to make me as much money.

Q: You seem quite open to sharing space on the web at your site and on your blog with other authors. Names, we must have the names for future interrogation purposes. What’s your theory about sharing interests with other authors- is it United We Stand, or I Am a Rock/Island? And BTW, is this strictly a Hear Women Roar deal, or is the Y chromosome set also welcome?

A: So far, I’ve hosted fantasy author Jimena Novaro, science fantasy author Nadine Ducca, superhero author Thomas Healy, and recently, fantasy romance author Juli D. Revezzo. It’s been a lot of fun to hear about their different stories and approaches to writing, and I hope to host many more in the future. (If you’re an author looking for a guest blog spot, please contact me!) Now, I think it’s much better for authors to work together instead of standing alone—we can all use the help and support, and readers benefit by finding more stories they love. After all, it’s not really a competition between us, where I have to fight Jimena or Nadine to sell more of my books. I know from personal experience that no single writer (even the crazy prolific ones that you hear about releasing a book every month) can keep up with the rate of an enthusiastic reader (I know people who read two or more books a week, and I myself read a four-book series in about two days when I was sick over Christmas break). Also, while I’ve only hosted one man on my site so far, this is simply because I know more women who write. When I offer to host someone, it’s because I like the kinds of stories that they write, not which chromosomes they have or any other physical differences.

Q: OK, before I work another 60s rock ballad into my questions, you may go for now- but don’t leave the, um, multiverse, we may wish to question you further. Let us know how we can get in touch with you and your work, and thanks again for your cooperation, Kristen. Sergeant, take off the cuffs.

A: Hey, I have no problems with 60s rock ballads! I love classic rock (along with a lot of other music). I have an eclectic music collection, and classic rock even features in my karaoke song rotation (when it fits into my soprano range). The best way to find me is through my website, kristenwalker.net, which links to my current books, has a blog for updates on future works, and also points to my Facebook, Twitter, and Wattpad accounts. You can even contact me directly through blog comments on a form. Thanks for the friendly interrogation, Will!

Korinna’s life gets turned upside down when the ghost of her father suddenly appears. Her father was duke of Kyratia City and he wanted Korinna to marry his warlord, the foreign mercenary Galenos, and inherit his title–but the city’s Council has other plans. When the Council denies Korinna’s right to rule, she decides to join Galenos’s mercenary company and tame a wild marewing in order to take the city by force. But people whisper that the late duke’s untimely death was murder, an induced madness that forced him to dance himself to death–and now that madness is spreading. Can Korinna become a marewing rider and conquer Kyratia in time to save everyone?

A Flight of Marewings at Amazon

A Flight of Marewings at Smashwords

Author Bio

Fantasy author Kristen S. Walker dreams of being a princess with a flying horse, but she settles for writing stories for teens and adults. Her new epic fantasy 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. A Flight of Marewings is now available in print from Amazon and digitally from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and other ebook retailers. To read a sample chapter or check out Kristen’s world-building references, please visit kristenwalker.net. You can talk Sherlock, horses, and crochet with Kristen any time on Twitter (@KristenSWalker) or Facebook.

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