Can I just say again how thankful I am for this amazing creative community? Indie Author and Book Blogger S.J. Higbee interviewed me on her site for the release of CHOSEN, and I just had to share it here before diving back into all the student grading.
Jean Lee is a fellow author I encountered after reading her amazing blog, which talks mostly about family life, writing, music and films. What has kept me coming back is her quirky view on Life and her wonderful way of putting things. So it was a no-brainer that I’d get hold of her first book when it hit the shelves – Fallen Princeborn: Stolen – see my review. And I was thrilled when she offered me an arc of this new release, the second book in the series, Fallen Princeborn: Chosen – see my review. I asked her to be a guest on my blog to celebrate the release of this second book, which is a major triumph, after a major setback. I’m delighted that she agreed and I am able to share with you a slice of her writing and an insight into her writing process. Enjoy…
When plans changed, I wasn’t sure I could follow through on that banner, if this book would be “coming” at all.
But it has come. Thanks to the support of amazing souls like you, I was able to bring this book together and put it on the virtual bookshelf.
You wouldn’t let me give up. You saw something in me worth saving. You gave me hope.
You are the community that keeps me reading, writing, sharing, exploring. Your friendship is a blessing I thank God for each and every day.
You’ve even been sharing your reviews on Booksprout, Goodreads, and Amazon!
Already captivated by Jean Lee’s first book in the ‘Fallen Princeborn’ series, I was excited to get my hands on the ARC of ‘Fallen Princeborn: Chosen’. And I was not disappointed at all; what a richly told tale this continues to be.
The reader is launched straight back to where we left Charlotte and Liam at the close of ‘Fallen Princeborn: Stolen’. The action is intense and the wonderful world-building welcomes the reader back to this highly original, magical fantasy world.
The story continues and the action ramps up another notch. We are in familiar, yet unfamiliar territory of shape-shifting creatures, dark magic, old friends and even older and more frightening foes. Real page-turning excitement (and dread). How will Charlotte, and the magical folk, who are now her surrogate family, survive?
Not only is the story immersive, the principle characters are complex and the author’s depth of description provide a camera-roll of powerful images for the reader. From the Stellaqui sea creatures to the celestial Celestine and the House, we have a spellbinding array of classy cast members. Battles are fought and guts are ripped out; dark and dreadful scenes of sexual abuse and violence are played out too. These scenes are not for the faint-hearted, but not one of them is gratuitous.
Some ‘middle’ novels don’t quite cut it, but this one certainly does. So much more of this rich series plays out and the reader is left breathless for more. “Nothing smells as amazing as hope,” says one of the characters. It’s my hope that book three will not be too long in coming.
I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.
In the meantime, there’s school work to tend to, so allow me to leave you with the first chapter. If you like what you see here, I hope you’ll give this series a go!
Cold Dawn, Colder Drums
Ashes. Paper. Tea. Pie.
Charlotte blinks once, twice, to living color dancing about the library.
Yes, she’s sitting at Liam’s feet, having fallen asleep with her head resting on his knee. Liam’s fingers have wound themselves into her hair.
The hearth is cold, and the stale food… unsettling. Shouldn’t Arlen be in the kitchen by now, scolding Dorjan for raiding the fridge? Shouldn’t there be a kettle whistling for the velifol tea? How in brewin’ blazes are they going to defend Rose House against Campion and the Lady?
Charlotte slowly slips her hand beneath Liam’s to free his fingers from her hair. Still too many cuts and burns for her liking on his calloused skin. The Lady’s claws must have struck near his neck, where angry red inflammation peeks out from under Liam’s white tunic. The leather brace for his blood dagger seems to restrict the rise and fall of Liam’s chest, so Charlotte holds her hand up to Liam’s mouth and nose, and feels fitful breaths. Dreaming, maybe.
The teeniest, teeniest bit of space buffers her palm and his lips. She could close that space. Not, not too much: Charlotte’s thumb caresses Liam’s upper lip. Just once. It’d be nice to know his lips feel… oh yes, they feel so very different when not covered by musty facial hair. A dull violet glow emanates from just beneath Liam’s chair: the stone from Orna’s ring. Charlotte bends forward, chin on the floor, eyes almost crossing as she gazes deep into such a simple little thing, like marble, opaque with an inner shine. That shine’s got a power even Arlen doesn’t wanna touch. We better hide this, House, before a nasty Incomplete snatches it from Liam. She poises her thumb behind the stone, sticks out her tongue as she aims, and with a flick, the stone rolls into a little hole in the wall beneath the stained glass window. One eyeblink later, and the hole’s gone. Eight ball in the corner pocket. Thanks, House.
Time to find Arlen.
Charlotte hugs herself against the chilly summer morning as her feet pad softly down the corridor into the kitchen. No Arlen, no Dorjan.
Morning air clings to the Rose House’s walls, wary. Scared.
“House, where are they?”
A moment of silence. Then voices and distant footfalls: the third floor. But not Arlen or Dorjan: the gravelly voice booming orders has got to be Devyn, leading the other scouts to harvest the velifol flowers.
So Charlotte checks the patio. It did sound like the uncle and nephew went outside last night. Maybe they’re harvesting mint, or parsley, or whatever it is they use for pies—Charlotte never really paid attention to the cooking stuff. “Arlen?” She cups her hands to yell, “Dorjan!” Frost glitters upon the flowers beneath Rose House’s shadow, but under Charlotte’s feet the frost feels different.
It’s not melting.
And there is a rhythm.
Squeaks run through the silent halls and out into the kitchen: Poppy as her mouse self, scared.
“What’s going on?” Charlotte asks as Poppy changes before her. Though I think I can guess.
“Danger, Miss Charlotte, Danger!” Poppy says before her whiskers have the chance to vanish. “Terrible, terrible things below. Campion and the Lady, they got all juiced up and stronger than before and they’re just totally super angry, and they wanna get the Incomplete meanies up here, and they wanna just, they wanna, oh, they wanna—”
“Retaliate.” The human version of Ember lands on a patio chair, feathers not fully transformed into orange patchwork fabric. Her skin reflects the early morning sun from the hall window, turning her white with the frost. “Something’s helped the Lady regain her strength. Eating an Incomplete, perhaps, heart’s fire knows, but she’s moving through the tunnels, and Campion’s at her side,” she says, her voice cracking under her former friend’s name.
“So Devyn’s getting the scouts to take the velifol?”
Distant thunder rumbles under a blue sky. Then Charlotte realizes the thunder’s not from above. Oh. Shit. “Arlen and Dorjan, where are they?”
Ember’s voice remains smooth, but biting her lip doesn’t hide the trembling of her chin. “Not in Rose House, we’ve looked. The wolf kin can protect Arlen, I’m sure.”
Charlotte nods, but this idea of the Lady of the Pits somehow getting out again and acquiring new power despite Liam slicing her face off and taking that magic violet stone from her ring…. How the hell does she find more power inside a bunch of tunnels? And Campion’s bones were broken to bits. Something is wrong, way too damn wrong. “Okay. You’re right. They can take care of themselves.” Because to say it out loud makes it feel more possible, more true. She will not allow her body to shake as Poppy’s does, even And Poppy’s shaking only makes it worse with the thunder rippling through the ground again, this time upsetting the patio stones. She will not let the fear freeze her as frost does a flower.
Ember nods curtly. “We must hope Master Liam’s tree withstands the attack. Come, Poppy, we need to carry what we can.”
Poppy grabs Charlotte’s arm. “But we can’t leave Miss Charlotte! She’s my bestest friend, and she’s so nice, and she could come with us and be super helpful and—”
But Charlotte shoves Poppy towards Ember. “No, stay together. I’ll get out with Liam.”
“She is right, Poppy.” Feathers tuft through Ember’s neck and hands. “Upstairs.”
Another rumble. A patio chair topples.
Poppy gulps a breath, then two, then takes off, changing as she goes.
Ember takes a steadying breath. “You will hide,” she turns to Charlotte, “won’t you?”
Well what do you know. She kinda actually cares about the human in these here parts. A little. Maybe.
The frost thickens, latching onto Charlotte’s toes. “Long enough to see what that snake bitch’s hatched, yeah.” Another rumble bumps them both up and down. “You go, the House’n’I will buy you some time.”
Ember’s exhale mingles with the cloud of ash and feather already taking shape round her body. “We’re going to the far side of Lake Aranina. It is hopefully too far for the misshapen limbs of the Incomplete to run.”
“Far side, got it.”
Arms are wings, legs are shrinking. “Let us hope your luck carries us all through this day.” The orange bird soars up, plucks something from the rooftop, and darts south for the lake and beyond.
Ashes touch the air.
And a cackle.
A shriek, far and away.
Two entrances out of the Pits, both unlocked. One out in the woods.
And one inside Rose House.
“Liam!” Charlotte slams the patio door, locks it—idiot, it’s fucking glass—and bolts for the library.
Liam has yet to move, eyes closed, breath still slow.
“Liam you have to wake up!” Charlotte shakes him, cups his cheeks, brings her face close—dammit, this isn’t time for that, so she slaps his cheek. “Liam!” She yells in his ear.
Pounding, pounding below her feet.
They are coming.
Click here to scope out Fallen Princeborn: Chosen‘s Amazon, Booksprout, and Goodreads pages. If you read the ARC already, I can’t wait to see your review appear. Again, thank you all for your support! Stay safe, stay sane, and be the reason someone smiles today–you’ve already blessed me with a happy creative heart. x
Hellooooo, lovely creatives! I hope you’ll check out this wee guest post I put together for fellow indie author P.J. Lazos’ blog. Our mutual love of nature is a big influence in our storytelling, so for this post I elaborate on what inspired a particularly villainous element in my new book, Fallen Princeborn: Chosen. I hope you check out the post–and the book when it comes out tomorrow. 😉
Happy Sunday, blogger family! This week we’re going to hear from my fabulous friend and First-Rate Fantasy Writer, Jean Lee whose book, Fallen Princeborn: Chosen — currently available for pre-order — will be live in TWO DAYS!
If you are like me, after reading just a few pages of Jean’s work, you will quickly realize: she’s a writer’s writer! And it doesn’t stop there. Weekly, Jean distributes great writing advice like some give out Halloween candy. I’m going to let her tell you all about it.
Take it away, Jean!
Hellooooo, you wonderful creatives and lovers of the Earth! Fantasy author Jean Lee here. Pam invited me to stop by and say hello, and so here I am to talk about turning nature’s blessings into villains. I hope you’re ready to consider and chat—I’m excited to see what you have to say!
We’re all familiar with “traditional” forms of Nature…
I’ve been honored by other amazing indie author’s invitations to share my stories and thoughts on craft. Today’s share is a podcast I did with fellow fantasy writer Neil Mach. We covered all sorts of gleeful things, from flawed heroines to our mutual love of spaghetti westerns. I hope you enjoy it!
Lastly–for I don’t want to scamper off so soon, but there’s been one of those delightful domestic disturbances of a broken garbage disposal to deal with–here’s a sneak peak into one of my chapters of Fallen Princeborn: Chosen. Charlotte’s been separated from the others and in trapped inThe Pits. Only one thing could make it worse:
She is not alone.
Charlotte’s body slams into the ice-cold clay of the Pits. She slides down the tunnel, faster and faster, until it evens out and she slows to a stop. This clay is a little less damp, the air a little less putrid. And light: barely, but there. Any light at all must mean the atrium. So, breathe through your god-damn nose, Charlie, and sneak on over that way to get help.
But why would Orna trap you down here only to let you out again? The Voice puzzles.
Shut up, no one asked you.
Toes first. Charlotte wriggles them into place, then carefully brings weight back down on her heels. Charlotte holds the bone-knife before her, ready to slash and swipe, while her free hand finds the tunnel’s side and presses it gently. Step by step. Forward.
Stop breathing through your mouth, Charlie!
But Charlie isn’t breathing through her mouth.
In the void ahead…somewhere, someone is breathing. Slurping. A click-popping, almost like a frog’s broken croak.
Charlotte pauses. Looks back. Ahead.
Another broken croak. Followed by a slow, slow rattle.
Orna—or a Hisser?—lies ahead.
Charlotte takes another step.
The rattle stops.
Charlotte slaps her hand over her face. Counts her breaths and reaches for the pendant that’s not there. Dammit, Dad, I wish I had a piece of you with me like I did that first time down here.
But even though Charlotte’s alone in the darkness, she is not alone. Liam and Arlen can find me, and they will find me if I ain’t quiet.
“Bring it on, bitch!” Darkness sucks her words into the void.
The rattle starts again. The croaking quickens to a sort of buzz…
Charlotte’s fingers groove the tunnel’s side as she walks with blind briskness. Colors squiggle where her eyes strain for light, but the air continues to freshen—she is moving towards the atrium. “How the hell can you even see me in this dark? Ha! Can you see the reeeal me…” Charlotte starts to sing, and the rattle ramps up its insane rhythm. The Voice in Charlotte’s heart laughs as it presses the bellows to the rhythm of Charlotte’s favorite Who song. Orna’s henchman Cein thought he could take it from her—hell to the no on that.
“Can you see the real me, preacher? Preacher?!”
The rattle keeps getting louder, but now Charlotte sees a clear, definable web of light ahead—the tunnel’s exit into the atrium of the Pits.
“Can you see, can you see, can you see?” Charlotte runs and slides out of the tunnel, singing,
“Can you see the real me, doctor?!”
The atrium is a graveyard of branch and bone. Ash floats lazily in the air like dust mites. A wide gaping mouth high in the wall above Orna’s old platform still hangs open, drooling its lines of glass droplets—the old channel for the water road, now crystalized tears of dead magic because of the Wall.
Charlotte looks up to the atrium’s ceiling, where the white tree once grew. New roots, black as pitch, are sewing the gap shut. But in this moment shards of light can still sneak through. She breathes deep and belts as loud as she can, “Can you see the real me, Maaaaaaama?!” she holds that last “Ma,” ready to sing herself hoarse—
“No. No. No. No. No.”
Charlotte spins around. In another tunnel’s entrance stands a pale shadow. The bottom half writhes, and the rattle grows louder. Two needle-thin arms stick out and shoot up as though a child is positioning the limbs. Ten fingers as long and sharp as snake fangs jerk out, jerk up, and take hold of the head slumped to one side. They wrench it upright. Mangled, oily locks of hair fall into place, but the tongue remains free to slurp and drool where it wants.
Inside, Charlotte wants to gag. What drunk sewed your face back on?!? Outside, Charlotte sticks her hands on her hips. “What, no Anna skin this time? I could describe my grandma to you if you want. Always did want to punch that hag in the mouth.”
The rattle tones back. “Ha ha ha ha.” Her lips don’t—or can’t—move. The tongue slithers about in the air and catches Charlotte’s scent. It wavers in Charlotte’s direction, and Orna’s snake-half finally slinks forward in short, halting movements. The hands jerk free of her head, and The Lady’s head flops to the side once more. Her fingers move in mechanical fashion at Charlotte, even as one finger falls off to the ground, lifeless at last. Orna’s eyes look pathetic without the menacing stars that once glowed in them.
Charlotte scoffs. “Jeez, even I could kill you now.”
“Charlotte?!” The cry flies down through the crevices. Yet the roots still grow, bridging every gap they find.
Charlotte sticks her bone knife back into the red belt. “Pardon me for just a second,” she says to the herky-jerky Lady and cups her hands to her mouth. “DOWN HERE!”
“An an an ha ha ha.”
Charlotte’s eyes narrow at the name. “That name’s got no power comin’ out of your stupid-ass mouth. Damn, even I can sew better’n’that..” She pulls out the bone-knife—
—almost too late.
Orna’s tongue whips far longer than before, missing Charlotte’s shoulder by a hair. Charlotte rolls to the side and curses at herself. “Yeah, Charlie, you can really slay the snake-lady easy peasy, can’tcha?”
The roots threading the atrium’s ceiling shake and crack, but don’t break. Thunder shakes from within a tunnel, echoes of light rippling out the tunnel’s sides to die in the atrium.
Orna’s tongue blossoms into three, then five, then ten translucent pink living whips. The stitches at the bottom of her face rip as her jaw unhinges wide enough to swallow a human. The hydra-tongue descends—
Charlotte leaps aside and slashes with the bone-knife. Dammit, this ain’t no blood dagger! But the blade is wicked sharp and takes out one of the tongues. It flops fish-like on the ground, spurts of oil and veli barely missing Charlotte’s leg.
She runs away before Orna’s hydra-tongue can take aim again. If I can slash up the snake part, I bet I could bleed the bitch out. She spots the serpent portion of Orna’s body, its peeling, sick skin caught on the rocks littering the tunnel’s entrance. Charlotte picks up speed, bone-knife aimed for the massive molting serpent—
Fire lights up the atrium. Roots rain ash as Liam’s blood sword burns through them all. He rolls, sheathes the blade, transforms mid-fall into the golden eagle, talons at the ready.
Charlotte’s knife strikes hard and deep into the snake’s belly. Oil laced with veli oozes from the gash. The funk of rot floods Charlotte’s nostrils.
Thunder builds in the tunnel. There’s a light, white and spectral, running with the thunder…
Orna’s body shakes and screams. Her head flops as the hydra-tongue feels the air for Charlotte.
It finds Liam’s talons instead.
“Liam fly up, NOW!” Charlotte screams. The hydra-tongue quickly coils round both Liam’s legs. Liam’s whole body burns feathers of fire, but the tongues don’t give. He transforms and hangs upside-down several feet above Orna’s gaping jaws.
The empty eyes meet his. A moan of pleasure oozes from her mouth.
The blood dagger slips from its sheath into Liam’s hand, and he slashes one leg free. Charlotte runs and aims for those needle arms, ready to rip one out.
“Can you see, can you see—” A tenor voice barrels out of the tunnel, followed by a pale figure wielding a sword of white light. Charlotte slides to a stop as he lops the bottom half of Orna’s jaw clean off. “Can you seeeee the real me?!”
Orna’s eyes roll towards him. A geyser of oil and screams erupt at the base of her tongue.
Liam slashes his other foot free, and he somersaults to the ground.
The pale figure wraps his hand in a hank of Orna’s hair and lifts her oily, sparkling half-face off the ground and right up to his own, the star-less orbs even darker next to his white-blond hair and ice-blue eyes. “You should have played the game my way.” Her herky-jerky arms begin to reach out, but he stomps down on her breasts and pops her head off with a thock! He tosses the head over his shoulder, spins the light sword. It flickers down into a broad, thick dagger with vicious claw marks crisscrossing in its steel. He slips the dagger into a leather sheath strapped to his right calf, then looks at Liam. “And where in Aether’s Fire have you been?”
Hello once more, my friends! I thought it’d be fun to continue sharing some of the inspiration for my Fallen Princeborn characters, this time including some kickin’ writing advice I got from the craft books 45 Master Charactersand 20 Master Plots.
“But I hate templates!” Of course, no one wants their story to be considered some sort of cookie-cutter tale. What’s cool about these particular craft books is their analysis of how far back certain kinds of stories and character types go, and in so doing shows why these kinds of stories and characters are timeless and therefore always relevant no matter what the story.
First, let’s talk plot.
It’s all right to let yourself go when you write, because you’re using the best part of your creative self. But be suspicious of what comes out. Plot is your compass…Fiction is a lot more economical than life. Whereas life allows in anything, fiction is selective. Everything in your writing should relate to your intent. The rest, no matter how brilliantly written, should be taken out.
20 Master Plots is likely a book I’ve mentioned here before, but I can’t help but re-recommend it for both inspiration and reflection on the primary shapes a story has taken through literature. Now I love pantsing my way through plot development like many other NaNoWriMo folk, but when it comes to a series, stuff has to fit, dammit, and if you don’t take time to make things fit, you are promising yourself a story-world of plot holes and problems. You may very well mixing several of the “Master Plots,” such as Rivalry, Rescue, or Riddle, and there is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is losing sight of what those Master Plots need in order to complete the story. For instance, I know I’ve got some Riddle in mine, as Charlotte’s curious abilities to handle Velidevour magic are not yet explained. Were I to leave that unexplained book after book until the series ends, readers would understandably give me a good rap with the knuckles and ask what’s going on. Pursuit is another Master Plot I use quite often, which Tobias defines here as–
Two games never seem to fail to capture the imagination of children: hide-and-seek and tag. Try to remember the excitement of being on the hunt and finding where everyone was a test of cleverness (how well you could hide) and nerve. Tag is like that, too. Chasing and being chased, always trying to outwit the other person. We never lose our appetite for the game. For children as well as adults, there’s something fundamentally exciting in finding what has been hidden. As we grow older, we grow more sophisticated about how we play the game, but the thrill at the heart of it never changes. It is pure exhilaration. The pursuit plot is the literary version of hide-and-seek.
Perhaps you’ve seen thrillers, suspense, and/or mysteries referring to the “cat and mouse” chase within the story. Welp, there you go! We love this game of seeking what’s hidden, or hunting the baddie. It means a constant foray into uncertainty with high stakes, and dire consequences will befall whomever fails. This drives any pursuit within Fallen Princeborn: Chosen, and I promise you now it will only grow in the stories to come.
Liam keeps an arrhythmic staccato pace with Dorjan. Scattered leaves and pine needles hide an array of sharp rocks. Liam’s feet seem to find them all, but with the sparks of Charlotte’s touch still alight within him, he cares little about the pain. Only Dorjan’s nose matters now, tracking the scent of their quarry. He slows, checks the ground, speeds up. Slows, checks the ground, speeds up. They move like this out of the sun-baked brambles and into the tattered forest.
A branch breaks. A creature cries. But nothing is close enough, not yet.
Dorjan is the first to slow. He points where a few drops of oil speckle upon a pine’s crusted sap. The brittle cove around them bears a pathetic green compared to the lushness of the foliage surrounding Rose House.
Then Liam feels it—a prickling around his wrist. Blast it. Already the mark is alive and moving. “The Wall is close.” He strains to look past the scattered clumps of life around them but sees nothing of the Wall surrounding River Vine.
Dorjan sniffs the air. “And Campion’s got company. Two, by the smell of it. Bully for us.”
The first time I read 45 Master Characters, I had already drafted my series’ first book (Stolen), and it struck me how much this description fit Dorjan, my rogue Princeborn who’s appeared in both my novels as well as my novella Night’s Tooth. Unlike other Velidevour who don’t care much about devouring the desires of an adult or child, Dorjan takes extra care to defend human children to the point of killing his own kind, as he does in Stolen:
Human once again, Dorjan grabs Jamie by the neck and pins him against a tree. “You wonder, do you, why I do this. Why I hunt you and Campion, why I seek a duel with Cein. Know, then: I do this for Jennifer Blair, whose brother you unlawfully stole, an innocent, a borderland child. A child!” His fist breaks skin and muscle and bone. Blood splatters Dorjan and leaks from Jamie’s mouth.
“Just… human… just… human…” he murmurs like a broken toy, hiccupping between words.
“A human worth far more than you or me,” Dorjan says with a low voice that begins with a quiver and ends on a battle cry as his fist tears in and then slams out of Jamie’s ribcage, heart in hand. The moment his last artery snaps, Jamie’s eyes deteriorate into dull gems, onyx. Then mist. Another breath, and his entire body blows away in a cloud of violet embers.
Dorjan studies the black heart a moment before pitching it far into the trees. “Let me know if Cein and Campion get my message, will you?”
Every character needs motivation to be what they are, be it through principals, wants, needs. Whether or not that purpose lifts them up to heroics or plunges them deep into villainy is up to you, fellow writers.
…the Male Messiah may not know of his connection to the Divine, but he may just be driven to accomplish something important. In this respect, he isn’t working on a spiritual goal. It seems his whole life is for one sole purpose and that purpose affects the lives of thousands of people…The Male Messiah has the ability to see the whole picture when it comes to problems. He never jumps to conclusions or gets involved in the gossip or drama of everyday life…
As the Punisher, he’ll curse the man who has “fallen” to teach him a lesson. He wants to break the man’s ego. He’ll kill the man’s spirit to transform him into his image. He may try to justify himself to others, but they’ll never fully understand his power or the burden he carries. They view his reprimands as harsh and uncaring. Many will leave his side, unable to follow his rules and treatment…He feels his word is law.
Just one unmet need–love, hope, peace, whatever else–and one’s soul is cast in darkness. This struck me good and hard as I developed another character in Fallen Princeborn: Chosen. You will know him when you meet him, this carrier of pale fire and song.
Stay tuned for my next post to read his introduction as well as information about a cracking podcast I got to do with fellow indie fantasy author Neil Mach.
Good morning, friends! The autumn leaves have all but fallen here, and the glorious color I was blessed to share with you in my newsletter a few days ago is slowly parting. To celebrate the coming release of my new novel Fallen Princeborn: Chosen, I’m back to share a bit more background on my Fallen Princeborn series.
The inspiration for a number of my Fallen Princeborn characters comes from the PBS shows I enjoyed in my childhood. Arlen, Liam’s teacher, is rooted in Ellis Peters’ Cadfael character, whose series I loved both watching and reading. Here was a man who held to his own principals no matter the dictates of the world around him. He found a divine peace in nature, and was not afraid to help others in need.
Liam’s parents, though, are something else entirely, inspired by something I saw because of Sir Derek Jacobi: the epic historical miniseries I, Claudius. If you have not seen this series, I HIGHLY recommend it.
As you can see from the interview, the chemistry between Brian Blessed and Siân Phillips was–and is–still magical. Together they make not just a couple, but the couple–Ceasar and his wife. There is no denying Ceasar what is Ceasar’s, but the wife? Ah, not even Ceasar knows what she truly wants. The power-plays they commit together and against each other are part of what made this series and book such a fascinating study in family drama, and their relationship showed me as a storyteller that an action-packed scene need be nothing more than a conversation between two dangerously driven characters.
In Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, there is a flashback into Liam’s childhood where Charlotte briefly sees Liam’s parents. In Chosen, she meets them in person.
It goes about as well as you would think.
The present-day Lord Bearnard Artair bears some resemblance to the figure Charlotte witnessed in Liam’s memory. He is shorter than Arlen and Liam, his body still rough and stocky, only now beneath a tailored pinstripe suit. His flaxen hair has greyed. But his face shows more wear than anything else: the crescent bags beneath his eyes, the slight jowls beneath his cheekbones. A jagged scar runs down his right cheek. A muscle above the scar twitches a little. …. Rose House seems to shift beneath Charlotte’s feet. A stench of dread wafts from Liam, still stiff and silent behind her. “You never said your name.” She adds a spit bubble for a pop of a period, just like her sister would do with bubble gum.
The chuckle dies on Lord Artair’s lips and in his eyes. Yet the corners of his lips remain turned up with a sick sort of glee. Jeez, Santa Claus to psycho in two seconds flat.
“I, human, am Liam’s father, Lord Bearnard Artair. And you will do well to show some respect, lest I find you a fitter meal than what is being served later this day.” His frog-like eyes stare, unblinking, at Charlotte’s face and through it. She can feel him trying to page through her mind, thumbs all licked up and gross.
While Charlotte has no qualms about battling a pair of immortal meglomaniacs, Liam is another matter.
His mother stands with her back to them all, facing Liam’s tree.
It’s maintained its beauty and terror—a lightning storm above the sea, that’s what he imagined as he brought silver ore to shape and sheen. The branches leading to the troughs in the glass house are intact, though many of the glass frames are broken. The silver roots embedded in the floor boards from the tree into the intended rooms for humans remain, even if the floorboards around them were torn up or smashed. Any room with a human had been destroyed—Liam’s sure he can see through the broken walls all the way down to either end of Rose House.
“I must say, I could not bring myself to destroy this peculiar sculpture.” Her voice is as measured and cool as it ever was. “I was pleased to see you had gotten rid of several portraits—though one modern girl appeared in several mediums. Recently, by the feel of the clay.” Lady Treasa Artair turns.
Liam loses his breath.
Where his father’s body betrayed his age, his mother shows hardly a century’s passing. A few gray hairs color her temples, noticeable only because her hair is raven dark and pulled back into a bun at the back of her head. Gold jewelry older than several revolutions adorns her manicured fingers, a gold chain belt and necklace against her billowing black silk shirt and pants. Heeled boots peek out from the cuffs. …. “And here you are.” Her painted red lips smile. “My little eaglet’s returned to me at last.” Her heels click clack across the room. She holds out her hands. “Come, Liam, embrace your mother.” His hands tug up, knees tug forward. But he bows his head and hides behind a curtain of curls. A tall woman, Lady Artair can hold her son and rest her sharp chin upon his shoulder. Her perfume assaults his nostrils. “So shy? So mute? But you are injured.”
Every time I watch I, Claudius, I am transfixed by Livia. She speaks much, but listens more. She grants many favors, but ties a thread to every one, and you never know when she’ll pull upon that thread, summoning you back to do a certain thing, a little thing, a thing which affects you so little…and the royal family so much.
Livia’s presence felt supernaturally powerful to me, and for a long time I could not work out why. Only when I was sharing bits of my own childhood with the kids was the mystery revealed.
And that reveal came with the Ewoks.
Yes, I’m serious.
Did you see her in all the black hair and feathers? How the heck did I forget this woman???
But that’s the thing–I didn’t. This Livia-Witch buried herself deep into my psyche, just as Jacobi’s voice encapsulated the impossible because of The Secret of NIMH. That which captured our imaginations as children never truly leaves us. Our imaginations may escape to engage with other wonders, but they will always turn around to look back, back into curiosities of those young years. And perhaps, if one is very lucky, there will be that portal in this everyday present that transports your imagination into the past. I found my portals with Jacobi and Phillips, for their performances gave shape and sound to one of the greatest, bestest things I have always adored in stories:
Do you have any favorite villainous and/or dramatic families in literature? I’d love to hear about them!
Hello, you amazing creatives, you! While I fuss about with preparations for my new teaching responsibilities as well as the launch of my new novel, I want to introduce you to an awesome YA fantasy writer who has a flair for bringing magic into the everyday world. K.M. Allan is a stellar indie author who loves sharing tips on writing and “authoring” on her website, and I’m thrilled to have her share some of her lessons learned with us.
Even though I’ve loved writing all my life, I still feel like I’m a newbie to this whole writing thing. What would you consider to be traps for aspiring writers? Never knowing if you’re good enough. All writers have a level of Impostor Syndrome, but as an aspiring writer, it can be very crippling. You’re constantly looking for others to validate your work and tell you if it’s good enough when you should learn how to judge that for yourself. Another common trap, and one that I learned when I was first starting to query, is thinking you need to pay to have a submission professionally edited or assessed before sending it out. While you need to make sure what you’re sending out is as polished as you can make it, and definitely have it read by someone else to see if the writing works and there aren’t any typos, but it’s unnecessary to pay for these things.
That’s a great point! I have a short story submission I need to finish tweaking without stressing about it. Does writing energize or exhaust you? It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m writing and it’s going well and the ideas are flowing, it’s very energizing. If I’m editing, especially the nit-picky type of editing like looking for weak words to remove, it can be very exhausting.
Uuugh, the editing! I had to lock myself in a room to force myself through those final edits of my novel. Hands down, editing is the hardest part of my writing process. What would you say is the most difficult part of your artistic process? Definitely motivating myself to write. I love writing and always enjoy it when I do, but sometimes the motivation to sit down at the keyboard, especially when there’s a huge task ahead, can be hard to do. I think the fear of writing perfectly also hinders the artistic process. I definitely have ideas for how I want a scene to play out, and getting the words to create that same picture so others can see it too, can be difficult.
Selecting the right character for the focal point of the story is one of the crucial decisions a writer makes as they craft a story. Your Blackbirch series follows a male teen protagonist. Can you explain the process that led to the choice of choosing a male lead and not a female? This is a bit of a hard one to answer. The writer in me has always considered one of the female characters, Kallie Jacobs, to be just as much a lead as Josh. She’s in the first scene of book 1 with him and is one of the first characters the reader meets. Book 2 is mostly her story and contains a scene where she saves Josh, which is what gave me the initial idea to write the series. From a reader’s perspective, though, the story of Blackbirch starts with Josh Taylor and what happens to him, so by default you could say Josh is the lead. It wasn’t a conscious effort on my part to choose a male lead over a female; it was just how it ended up being once the plot came together on the page.
I’m a sucker for worldbuilding studies, especially when rules for magic are involved. Can you walk us through the process of the magic system in your Blackbirch series? The source of Blackbirch’s magic (or magick, as it’s referred to in the books) comes from an ancient form of power. Eve Thomas, the book’s self-proclaimed witch, tells the MC, Josh Taylor, that the magick used to belong to ancient gifted humans but it became too much for them and was shared into every living thing, tainting and weakening the magick. There are some, like Eve, who believe greater sources of the power exist and are hidden in magical objects like crystals. She believes that if you find them, you can harness the power for yourself. What Eve doesn’t know is that Josh possesses the power Eve has been searching for. How he got that power and what he does with it is a big part of the first book in the series. In the second book, he learns more about the magick from a girl named Kallie who also has power like him. In that book, it’s revealed the power gives special abilities or gifts to whoever has the power, and these gifts are unique to them. If a witch dies, then whatever gift they possessed and their magick is gone forever, making it a rare and dangerous thing to have.
Magical Realism is a very unique niche in the urban fantasy sub-genre. What was it about the worldbuilding process that made you feel this was the right direction to take your story as opposed to something in a different time or place? I didn’t know Magical Realism was the genre of my book until I started looking at what I needed to categorize it as when I was first querying, and then later picking the right category for self-publishing. I wasn’t aware it was a unique niche, so correct me if I’m wrong hehe. When I first started writing this series I was inspired by TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Roswell (the original TV series, not the reboot) and the YA books I’d always read. These were all set in modern times, so it made sense that my series was also written in a modern-day setting. It never occurred to me to write it in another time or place because that’s not what I like reading or watching.
As a little preview for readers here, would you like to share a favorite exchange, description, or moment from your latest Blackbirch installment? Yes, I would, thanks. This exchange is from book 2, Blackbirch: The Dark Half and happens right around the time Kallie Jacobs is first pulled into the world of magick when she witnesses the death of a friend. Kallie has always had a natural ability to see the future, and that comes into play when a witch named Melinda uses it to help Kallie—with fatal consequences.
“Don’t move,” a woman whispered in Kallie’s ear. “And don’t scream.” The hand dropped from her mouth, followed by the arm around her waist. “My friend,” Kallie’s voice cracked. “He’s hurt.” “Your friend is dead.” Kallie shook her head, as if it would somehow erase the truth. The woman’s hand returned to her, fingers combing through Kallie’s blood-tangled locks. Who was the person trying to comfort her? The lined face and long blond hair weren’t familiar. The woman tilted Kallie’s face toward herself. They didn’t know each other, yet the lady’s blue eyes trained on her like she was staring at an old friend. “Surely you knew about the boy. You foresaw it.” “How… how do you know about that?” “I was watching the two of you when you entered the forest.” “Why didn’t you help us?” The woman glanced over her shoulder; in the direction the man had run. “I can’t interfere.” What kind of bullshit was that? “Who is that man?” “It would be better for you if you didn’t know.” “It would have been better for me if you helped!” Kallie scrambled to her knees. The woman grabbed her wrists, holding her in place. “Don’t ignore the things you see, or you will lose everything.” Heat rushed to Kallie’s cheeks. “Are you threatening me?” “You threatened yourself. And that boy’s life.” Kallie twisted her hand free, slapping it across the stranger’s face. “I did not kill Jerry!” She flexed her wrist, her stomach sinking as finger shaped welts surfaced on the woman’s cheek. The lady touched her reddened skin. “When we don’t ask for our gifts, they’re hard to accept.” “I didn’t ask for anything.” The woman nodded, the deep lines around her mouth sagging. “But you still have it.” Her hand reached back to Kallie’s blood-stained hair and Kallie flinched, worried the woman was going to slap her back. Instead, her touch tapped across Kallie’s forehead. How did this woman know about the pictures she saw in her head? Kallie yanked herself away, spying a tattooed wrist. Black ink in the shape of a witch’s pentacle stained the blond woman’s skin. “You’re the witch! You did this!” Kallie clenched her hands. “I didn’t see anything real until you started watching me.” “I started watching you because you began to see what was real.” “No! You made this happen. You knew Jerry would die, that’s why you’re here.” “You knew it too.” “My vision of Jerry wasn’t real. It didn’t feel like the others.” Her usual visions came to her like snapshots, surfacing in her mind without any effort on her part. The image of Jerry in the water had been different, forced, jammed inside her head like an intruder. Like it was placed there… “By someone else,” she whispered the end of her horrified thought out loud. “What did you do to me?”
I’ve got some bonus posts on the way to celebrate my own novel’s release!
I want to share the inspiration for my new antagonists, music for those moments of action and tension, and more. My first novel, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, will also be on sale during the last five days before Chosen‘s release.
Nothing grinds my storyteller-gears like set-ups that go nowhere. As writers, we don’t want to be too predictable, but we also know that subverting expectations is a HUGE risk that does not always pay off. Filmmaker J.J. Abrams is notorious for his “Mystery Boxes,” a method where one establishes several plot questions and mysteries early in the story to hook the audience and keep them riveted. Do Mystery Boxes have a place in storytelling? Of course. The problem comes when the content inside the Mystery Boxes fails to meet expectations.
And you do want to know, don’t you? Want to know if those stories your mother told you are true. If I really killed them all. If I am that mad. This is the story as I recall it, and yours now too, to guard or treasure or forget as you please. I wanted someone to know, you see. To know my truth, now that I am gone. How everything and none of it happened. (17)
The marvelousS.J. Higbee recommended Camilla Bruce’s suspense-filled tale of dark fantasy…or horror-fantasy? I’ll call this a suspense-fantasy with a taste for blood. Anyway, Sarah highly recommended the novel, and her recommendations do not come lightly. When my copy came in at the library, I tore through Bruce’s narrative in just a few days. It wasn’t for the world-building, mystery, or drama–all of which were aces in this book, for the record. Actually, it was Bruce’s work paying off expectations that really impressed me.
Let’s start on the very first page, a prologue of sorts in the form of a newspaper clipping detailing renowned writer Cassandra Tipp’s disappearance.
She has a history here, Officer William Parks Jr. said. The officer is no doubt referring to the trial following her husband’s violent death 38 years ago, where Cassandra Tipp was a suspect. The murder and its aftermath launched Mrs. Tipp’s writing career; her fame partly due to her therapist, Dr. V. Martin’s book about the case, “Away with the Fairies: A Study in Trauma-Induced Psychosis”, which briefly climbed the bestseller lists.
Woah! So this famous romance novelist was suspected of MURDERING her husband?! We haven’t even started the story yet, but we are intrigued. As readers, we picture what we think a romance novelist is like. Tipp presumes her nephew wonders the same thing as he and his sister embark on the directions Tipp’s lawyer gave for the two to inherit their mysterious aunt’s money: “How could a childless widow write so much about romance and love?” (15). The two find a manuscript in Tipp’s house, the final manuscript she will ever write. The lawyer’s directions to the siblings were clear: the manuscript must be read in order to find the code word needed to access the inheritance. When the two read the above excerpt from page 17, we readers are now wondering whether or not we’re entering Unreliable Narrator territory. After all, there was a doctor who said this Tipp lady was psychotic. And not just any psychotic, but a psychotic writer, which means Cassandra Tipp isn’t going to simply tell it like it is. Oh no–this character’s life comes in a fragmented sequence, shifting about in time, alluding to people and things in different eras of her life so you are always curious about something.
Take the opening of the next chapter on page 19. Tipp describes her husband and what he was like.
Who doesn’t love a redeemed villain, an angel with the alluring taint of sin? I never was so blind, never wanted him for being dangerous; I already had a dangerous lover–already knew the taste of sin. No wonder the ladies were cross, though, when his gorgeous body was found in the woods. But I’m moving too fast, we’re not there yet. A lot of things happened before that. One thing you must know: I was never a good girl.
As you can see, Cassandra Tipp is not going to “spill the tea” so easily, which means Camilla Bruce isn’t going to give away all this story’s secrets so quickly. This moment contains an example of something Bruce–and thereby the protagonist Tipp–does to “set up” the readers and stretch their expectations: she alludes to the promise of telling it all, and then diverts readers with something else, be it another experience or the introduction of a new character, like the Faerie named Pepper-Man. The promises are shared frequently throughout the book, such as two chapters later, when Cassandra Tipp interrupts her experiences to address her niece and nephew from within the manuscript:
This isn’t the story you expected. You were expecting a repenting sinner’s last confession. Expecting me to cry on the page, admit my wrongdoings and beg your forgiveness. Instead you et this: childhood memories. I am sorry about that–sorry to disappoint, but the truth of it is, I cannot recall a world without Pepper-Man in it, and him being in it was the beginning of it all. We will get to the bodies eventually. (33)
Not just “body.” BodIES. Don’t ask about those bodies yet, though, for we have been promised to learn “eventually.” The word choice here hints to readers that whatever explanation will come about the bodies is a long way off. At this point, however, I doubt many readers are complaining, for now there’s this Faerie companion to try and understand. Camilla Bruce does not completely open Pepper-Man’s Mystery Box, for protagonist Cassandra Tipp is given multiple “claims” from the Pepper-Man on how he came to be in her life. All that matters is that he is in her life, changing as she changes both mentally and physically. As a girl, Cassandra is in constant conflict with her mother, a woman who hates nature and wild, unkempt creatures. The fighting is often violent, and results in Cassandra spending most of her time locked in her room.
I would think back on this time of ceaseless fighting later, when I was the one who had to fight–in vain–to make a teenage girl see reason. It’s as hard as catching a slick fish, the way she skitters and twirls out of reach. (53)
Please keep in mind, Cassandra Tipp is telling us on page 53 that she “was the one” fighting with a teenage girl–that is, that Cassandra Tippis a mother. Yet didn’t we hear in the very beginning that she was childless?
Indeed we did. Another Mystery Box has been set before us, one just as bright and intriguing as the murdered bodIES. Is Camilla Bruce going to keep presenting these boxes, or is she going to start opening some?
Considering I don’t want to open all these boxes before you get a chance to read the story, I will allow us to peek into a couple, just to prove that You Let Me In isn’t the Dark Faerie version of The Force Awakens.
Recall how the prologue alluded to the murder of Cassandra Tipp’s husband and her place in the case. Camilla Bruce sprinkles the promises that Tipp will tell us at various places in the first 100 pages, each promise revealing just a smidge more new information. Take this excerpt of a conversation between Tipp and her psychologist Dr. Martin:
“I did kill him, T-; I mean, but that was a long, long time ago.” “You see, we disagree about that. I remember very well meeting you and T- at your house, and he seemed very much alive to me. Very much flesh and blood. Very much a man.” “He was supposed to appear so,” she said patiently, as if I [Dr. Martin] were a child. “But it wasn’t really real, you know. When the spell finally broke, his body would just be twigs and moss again.” “That is not what the police found in the woods.” I kept my voice calm. “They found several body parts. All of them were human.” (69)
Oh…so, we are not just dealing with a body. We are dealing with “parts” in the woods. This sounds vicious, cruel, inhuman.
But that is all we are given. So we must read on.
And now, my young friends, it’s finally time to talk about Tommy Tipp and what happened to him in those woods. (83)
You would be confused at this point, I guess. This all happened long before you were born, yet you have met Tommy Tipp many times. He was my husband for over a decade, so how could he have died at twenty-four? Tommy was not what you thought he was, but then I have told you that already. If you keep turning the pages, I will tell you just what he was. (102)
You see those page numbers? Almost 20 pages go by, and Cassandra’s truth about Tommy Tipp is still not complete. Camilla Bruce carefully paces the information so that as one Mystery Box is slowly opened we are constantly distracted by a different Mystery Box, such as Cassandra Tipp’s aforementioned “teenage girl.” Cassandra Tip rarely mentions her in the first 100 pages.
“Denial, my dear,” Dr. Martin said. “Denial is a powerful drive.” “Mara says that you are the one in denial, and that she will leave a token on your pillow tonight to prove it.” …. Mara said later that she had indeed visited the doctor that night leaving half a leaf and acorn by his side. Dr. Martin never mentioned it, though, so either he had not seen it…or maybe–just maybe–he too was in denial. (76)
It is not until after Cassandra’s wedding to Tommy Tipp–and that Mystery Box, as it were, was fully opened–that Camilla Bruce lets us pay more attention to Mara.
“A faerie bride,” she whispered. “That is what my mother is.” “A faerie child,” I whispered back. “That is what my daughter is.” ~*~ I guess that through all this you have started to wonder about Mara. Who is this person so dear to me, yet absent from your mother’s memories, this woman who draws me to the mound and calls me Mother? The young girl I have been fighting with–and warning you about, though perhaps not strongly enough? I’ll tell you about Mara, and how she came to be. (121-2)
This is a section where readers’ wonderings about an unreliable narrator strengthen. Dr. Martin’s study of Cassandra Tipp becomes more scientific, more “expert” in matters of the mind and how it copes with trauma. Cassandra herself gives us two different tales of what happened to her body as a teenager. Camilla Bruce does not direct readers one way or the other. All readers know is that questions remain, and the answers to those questions are rarely easy. Or safe.
…questions about what happened later–those other deaths that occurred…I guess I owe you some answers about that. The “family tragedy.” The violent end. Somebody ought to know what really happened. And so I keep writing–and you two keep reading. (137)
I’ll end my analysis here, so as not to ruin any more surprises for you. Obviously I highly recommend You Let Me Infor an unsettling, thoughtful read to pass the time on a chilly autumnal day. But I recommend this book even more to my fellow writers, for we all can use a good reminder of what it means to pay off those expectations. No matter how much our Mystery Boxes sparkle with magic and intrigue on the outside, the inside–the payoff, the promise, the end–must be just as unique as that which enticed readers in the first place. If not, then our stories will be forgotten beneath the tattered scraps of expectations our readers throw away.
I’ve another lovely interview with an indie author coming up! I’m also hoping to share some highlights from Fallen Princeborn: Chosen as we grow nearer to its release later this month.
Throw in the twins’ virtual schooling and my promotion to full-time teaching at the university, and we’ll have an interesting October, indeed. x
Welcome, Friends, to yet another splendid interview with a beautiful indie author soul! I am thrilled to pause all this chaos of teaching, parenting, and preparing my own novel for publication so I may introduce you to the cosmic dreamer and eternal adventurer, S.J. Higbee.
To call you an “avid reader” feels like a huuuuge understatement. Can you share a little of your reader’s journey with us? That is, can you tell us what inspired you to take on book reviewing with such gusto, and your process for choosing the books you do for reviewing?
I’ve always been an avid reader. Once I got to school and realised the power of words and how stories could take me away from where I was and to different worlds – that was it. I was away…
I originally started reviewing for SFReader.com, a forum for science fiction and fantasy readers and writers from 2006-09. However, I soon had a hefty backlog of reviews stacking up, as I thoroughly enjoyed the process of writing down my thoughts after reading a book. So once I started my own blog back in 2009, it made sense to mostly review books on it. I stumbled across other book reviewers, almost by accident.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
The late, great Terry Pratchett. There aren’t many authors whose complete output we own, but we have all his books, including Where’s My Cow? We also own all Lois McMaster Bujold’s books and I’ve read nearly all of Jo Walton’s output. I am the ultimate mood reader, however. While I do get a steady stream of books from Netgalley, I take care never to overdo it, so I’m forced to sit down and read something that I really, really don’t want to.
Hmmm, I bet those moods can put a damper on the book joy at times. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Yes. When I’ve forced myself to trudge through a book that isn’t speaking to me on any level. So I don’t do it, anymore. If I don’t like a book, I DNF it – and that includes Netgalley arcs. I generally don’t mention DNFs on my blog, because I have strong opinions and specific tastes and while I cut loose when discussing book covers and in my private notes about books I’ve disliked sufficiently to stop reading, I don’t think it’s fair to share those views with a wider audience.
I know you’ve recently moved out of the classroom, but as a fellow teacher, reader, writer, and parent (well, I know you’re also a grandparent, but I’m not there *yet*, thank Heaven!), I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can spread literacy awareness among children today.
I’ve taught children with specific learning difficulties and the secret is always to find what motivates them – be it rulebooks for computer games, cookery recipes and in one case building suppliers’ lists, and use those to spark their interest in reading. Above all MAKE IT FUN! Words games… silly voices… reading a word each… And always stop before the child becomes fed up, so they are left wanting more. Little and often is far more effective than longer stints twice a week, which is why so many children don’t learn to read effectively at school.
Amen to that! When we turn reading into a treat, we know they will ALWAYS be ready for that treat. Rather like cookies, don’t you think? I wonder now if the publishing industry could be doing more to promote literacy.
Children’s writers do a fantastic job in promoting literacy by visiting schools and talking about their characters. But I would LOVE to see more serious imagination with regard to interactive programs to aid literacy. In fairness, I don’t think the publishing industry should be responsible for promoting literacy skills – but governments certainly should. What about a game like Fortnite actually using wordgames, punning, jokes and literacy games, in addition to all the cool graphics, driving music and action scenes, as part of a national reading scheme? It shouldn’t be the only way to reach children, of course. But certainly ought to be part of a range of resources to target children who spend a lot of time on their screens.
Now, let’s talk about your writing. You’ve written a number of slick Sci-Fi novels, including the YA Sunblinded trilogy, the Arcadian Chronicles, and the standalone Netted. What draws you to science fiction more than other genres?
I love the fact that when I open the cover, I never know exactly what I’m getting. To ensure that’s the case, I very rarely bother reading the blurb in advance, either. Sometimes, it’s a bit of a struggle to make sense of what is going on – especially if I’ve crashed midway into a series, but as long as the worldbuilding and characterisation are sound, I’ll generally make sense of what is going on. It’s the genre I love reading the most – and when it goes well, the tingle factor is off the charts… Fantasy is right up there, too.
I never get tired of that tingle! I must admit, though, I cannot crash into the middle of a series as you often do. 🙂 In an age where publishers are eager for stories that smack of potential franchise, what do you consider to be the strengths of a standalone novel?
Sometimes, there is a story I want to tell that is only the length of a single book. If that’s the case, then I don’t want to elongate it into something more drawn-out. I think most stories have a natural arc length – and part of the skill of the author is figuring out exactly what that length is. Some of my best reads, ever, have been standalone books.
You have certainly written your share of both series and standalones as well! Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It depends. If it’s going well, I find a high that I don’t get anywhere else. If it isn’t, then it’s both exhausting and depressing.
I love how you don’t peg yourself into writing a specific kind of character. Running out of Space’s Lizzy and Mantivore’s Kyrillia are both adventurous heroines, while Netted’s Kris is very reticent to take on the responsibilities the story quickly demands of her. Would you say each story helps you shape the characters, or the characters come to you and the story shapes around them?
Oh, it always starts with the character and an initial scene. Often I have dreamt that starting scene. However, the characters don’t leap onto the page fully formed and it is often a question of trial and error as to how they react to events around them that help me figure out exactly who they are. Up to now, I’ve been a pantser, but I’ve just started planning out my stories – and the main success has been in nailing the narrative arcs of all the main characters – it has made such a difference to the writing process.
World-building is HUGE for my writing process. If a story-world’s rules aren’t clear, then it’s a lot harder for readers to fully appreciate the plot’s stakes, let alone care about the characters. Science Fiction is no “easy” genre to write for—not only do you have to create a realistic place, but it also has to feel possible to reach in our future. Can you share a step or three in your world-building process?
I think anyone who writes SFF with any measure of success has to care about worldbuilding. The first rule has to be that it makes sense. I studied History at college, for which I’m constantly grateful. That perspective on how humans behaved in the past is really useful for extrapolating as to how they’d behave in the future. And if they doing something completely different from anything that has happened before, there has to be a solid reason for it.
However, all of that has also to be balanced against my personal loathing for pages of long-winded explanation in some nebulous authorial viewpoint. So readers often don’t get to know exactly what is going on all the time in all the corners of my worlds, because my characters don’t. I’m quite comfortable with that – though I’m aware it bothers some readers. It’s one reason why I use language as one of my main tools for worldbuilding – the slang and swearwords also denote issues like being overrun with pests, or melting icecaps without my even mentioning them.
Blech, I am not a fan of long-winded explanations, either. They exhaust me to read, let alone write…not that my kids give me oodles of time to write, anyway. Their moods are something of a writing Kryptonite for me. What would you consider to be your writing Kryptonite?
Becoming too tired. My instinct is to try and sprint, which is a problem as writing a novel is a marathon. I’m also one of those people who tends to hurl themselves, body and soul, into whatever they are doing. It has many rewards, but the cost is that I can get exhausted. And when that happens, I become ill. I have quite a lot of different calls on my time, which again, I really enjoy. I am lucky to have a lovely family and a range of wonderful friends, but there are times when it would be awesome to also have a writing clone I could shut up in an attic with a computer and never let out until she’s finished the book…
Let’s end on some help for aspiring writers. What’s a common trap you see them falling into time and again, and how can they avoid it?
Dialogue is often a surefire way of working out how experienced a writer is. Don’t use someone’s name if there are only two characters, unless one character is being hostile or arguing. When there are two people, they generally don’t call the other by name unless they are making a point. Don’t have your characters talking for too long – we generally bat a conversation back and forth between us if the power dynamic is equal. And rather than have a dominant character drone on for ages (as they often do in real life) have them, instead, constantly interrupt the subordinate character. Remember to include the thoughts and feelings of your viewpoint character, as they are on one end of a conversation.
YES! Thank you so much for sharing your reading and writing journey with us, Sarah, and for helping us find ways to better our own writing. This issue with dialogue is something I still struggle with, even as an editor when I was tidying up Fallen Princeborn: Chosen.
Arlen sets the bear cub running towards the thicket. “Come along, all of you. Dorjan and the others are waiting.”
But She-Bear does not move. “Why do you wear his weapon?”
Liam remains still on the shore where Charlotte and Arlen placed him, his speckled curls limp, his bruises painting what must be an abridged story of the pain he felt in the nets. So Charlotte answers, “The dagger worked for me in Dissecto-Library-Horrorland .” Charlotte grips one of Liam’s arms and hoists him to his feet.
The She-Bear bares her teeth, but Arlen’s hand upon her head silences her. “You…you worked land magic underwater?” he asks.
“How do you think that one mer-dude’s face got melted?”
Liam’s hand, as mottled as the rest of him, opens and closes as Charlotte wills. Her fingers press his own tightly about his own weapon.
Leather, iron, blood. Then comes the touch of Charlotte—sparks rip through his frame. No more the beaten boy.
“Try it now, Liam. C’mon, get some heartburn goin’. Blood firin’. You know. Flame on. Ppppffffooow.”
Liam closes his eyes and feels his inner wings stretch to blot out the past, if only for a few moments. He wraps his other hand around the base of the blade. The dagger takes its blood, as always.
This time, it pays back.
The blade crackles as it lengthens, its feathers smoldering. The blood sword shines as it did in the forge so long ago, when Liam’s ambitions burned their brightest. He brings the blade close to his face to taste old victories in its heat. He sees the world in melting waves, as he did so often after striking the earth, commanding it to swallow armies and villages whole.
There are no armies now. No villages. Only Charlotte dripping like a botched painting. Arlen halved on one side of the dagger; the beast halved on the other.
The beast, whom he was meant to kill. A mother and her child so…cared for…by…
“Who is this, Arlen?” Liam’s question rumbles slowly out of his lips.
No more evasion.
While Autumn creeps its way slowly through Wisconsin’s forests and farmlands, I will continue to share more and more of my coming sequel with you. I’ve also got some interviews waiting in the wings as well as music and analyses to share. Thank you all once more for traveling with me through these unknown lands of indie publishing. You are each and every one of you a blessing to be thankful for.
Wisconsin’s upper half is filled with roads like this:
Narrow strips of asphalt and concrete wind their way through woods of towering pines, oaks, and birches. Turkey, deer, ravens, and squirrels keep a mindful watch of the roads we meager humans travel, feeding in the nearby grass and trees, unafraid to cross what little land we claim for our own. The North Woods may have its cabins and towns, but make no mistake–it is a wild place of bears and coyotes, wolves and cougars. It is not a place for wandering off the known paths.
Yet it is so very tempting, especially when someone has been there before…
I don’t know what it is about ropes, chains, and logs being used to mark a territory, but they always make me smile. I suppose it’s because they assume we Wisconsinites are polite folk adequately deterred by a rope. “Someone put up a rope? Well, I can’t go there, then.” It’s just a rope, not barbed wire. All it would take is a little slip under.
Not that my goody-goods of kiddos would allow it. “You can’t go in there, Mom!” Blondie says. “It says no trespassing!” Bash says. “Can I call the police now and tell them what your’e doing?” Biff asks. This then devolved into who would get to talk to the police officer, who would get to sit in the driver’s seat of the police car, who would get to use the radio, aaaaaaaand I didn’t get to cross over. Probably for the best–I don’t want them wandering off where wolves will happily greet children with toothy grins. But oh, my friends, that desire to explore was so very strong, for magic buzzed among the cicadas and dragonflies that day. And who doesn’t feel the magic when surrounded by trees so tall the sun only greets your face at midday? Who doesn’t follow the herons’ call as they soar overhead? Who doesn’t sit upon the lakeshore to watch the eagles swoop across the water to pluck thrashing fish with their talons? Who doesn’t feel their spirit glow green as the moss upon the rocks, eager for the North Woods to burn bright crimson, orange, and yellow in the coming autumn?
All it takes is a willfulness to cross into the forbidden.
It’s the start of so many beloved stories, isn’t it? The Father in Beauty and the Beast is a classic example, or Alice crawling into the White Rabbit’s hole in Alice in Wonderland. Many of Diana Wynne Jones’ stories involve crossing into new lands and/or worlds, be it Deep Secret, House of Many Ways, Fire and Hemlock…heavens, there’s a lot. The first that came to mind, though, was Enchanted Glass. The entire story revolves around Aidan and Andrew defining the invisible boundaries of Andrew’s “field-of-care” bestowed upon him by his wizard grandfather so they can determine who’s siphoning magic away for their own purpose. In Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Agnieszka defies village law and enters The Wood, a place full of cursed, angry magic, to rescue her best friend. In Peadar Ó Guilín’s The Call, Faerie re-define their own borders by surrounding the Emerald Isle in a timeless fog. Nessa and other youth must face The Call, that moment when they are transported into the Faerie realm, or find that access point to the realm first. The mound Nessa finds that marks the entry point reminded me of the mound Camilla Bruce creates in You Let Me In (a wonderful review by fellow indie author S.J. Higbee put me on to this dark adventure). The protagonist Cassandra has been involved with Faerie all her life, and in this moment she describes that initial crossing from “her path” to the Faerie path to the mound.
The shift was subtle, like the beginning of a rainstorm with oncoming mist. My trees gave way to strange ones, taller and wider, older by far, thick roots curling at their trunks. Their branches brushed my head as we walked beneath them, felt like fingers with very long nails. The path beneath my feet shone dimly in the faint light, scattered with fist-sized leaves, it was like walking on glass or silver, or on a frozen stream…the ground turned soggy and moist; the trees were drooping shapes with clusters of leaves brushing the ground…Finally, we came to a halt by a circular shape in the landscape, a grass-covered mound studded with jutting stones…They parted for us when we approached. Smiling faces, glimmering eyes. Hands that patted and touched. Inviting me into their nest. Into the dark, dark earth.
And then there are portals through boundaries so very ordinary that no one bothers to notice them. The wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe comes to mind. In Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife, Will finds a typical looking knife that it is capable of literally cutting through the boundaries of time and space and into other earths. In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, passages between the muggle and magical pieces of the world can be separated with very commonplace things, like a tavern or a train station’s wall. Recently I read the graphic novel version of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, where unlike the stop-motion film, the door to the Other Mother looks like any other door in the house. But we all know what looks can be, don’t we?
She walked into the drawing room and looked at the door. She had the feeling that the door was looking at her, which she knew was silly, and knew on a deeper level was somehow true.
In another Neil Gaiman novel, a town next to a magical border is literally named Wall.
Immediately to the east of Wall is a grey rock wall, from which the town takes it name. This wall old, built of rough, square lumps of hewn granite, and it comes from the woods and goes back to the woods once more.
There is even a guard who watches over the wall. Sure, those who live in Wall think that guard is crazy for thinking anything interesting could be beyond the wall, but the guard knows what lies beyond is not ordinary at all…
Such a wall became an inspiration for my own fantasy series, Fallen Princeborn. Readers first experience the Wall’s power with protagonist Charlotte when she’s stranded on an old farm with her sister. The farmer’s daughter, Jenny, trusts Charlotte to tell her about what it’s like to live in this unnatural place:
Chattering. Outside. Charlotte looks out to see the full moon blanketing the woods in pale light. The Wall glows but for its shadows, and one in particular: a tiny shadow moving swiftly along the stones. The squirrel. It stops. Faces them. Jenny’s body seizes. “Shit—” Charlotte blinks. “Where’s my Charlie? My badge could use a shine.” Charlotte blinks. What the—? Dad? No— The squirrel, chattering. Charlotte pulls the window shut and hugs Jenny to her chest. “Breathe with me, kid, one, two. Breathe with me, okay? Come on, he’s gone,” she lies, afraid of the squirrel’s chatter because it shouldn’t be able to create ghosts out of wishes and dreams— A howl, long and furious. A swift black shadow runs along the Wall’s edge. It leaps into the air toward the Wall and—with a streak of violet and shadow—is gone. Charlotte waits for the squirrel to return, or that wolf, but nothing comes. Even the stars seem to move and search the Wall, their light transforming the clouds into fleeing ghosts. … Jenny’s face breaks from relief. “D can’t do much in the day, but at night he chases the nightmares away.” She puts her head to the floor and listens. Television voices keep talking. The hall floor doesn’t creak. Mrs. Blair never heard them. “But where do they go? Where do they come from?”
“The Wall.” Jenny crawls to one side of the sewing table while Charlotte positions herself on the other. Together, they can just see different pieces of the Wall exposed by moonlight. “My parents have never gone over it, and they’ve never talked about anyone living back there. It’s not marked as a nature preserve or conservancy or anything. It’s just… there. It’s been there as long as this farm. Longer.” “Some wall, if it can’t keep them in.” “I don’t think it’s about keeping them in so much as keeping us out.” Autumn so often brings traces of smoke in the air from those who burn leaves or have final campfires. This evening there is a smell in the air, but it’s not leaves: it’s thick. Sticky. Persistent. Hate. Jenny pulls another sheet from her book, a page ripped out of a literature textbook. Jenny’s circled the four-line refrain over and over and over: Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild With a faery, hand in hand, For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand. “Yeats. ‘The Stolen Child.’ You think…” Charlotte has to pause, because to say this is even possible… No, she couldn’t let this be possible. “You think those animal things are fairies?”
Now, at long last, we can continue Charlotte’s story beyond the Wall, where another wall, this one underwater, awaits her crossing into the unknown…
It towers above them, surely taller than Rose House. Yet it stands incomplete: the wall runs about the width of Rose House, but the lake waters continue on either side. And directly in front of them there’s a large hole in the wall, as if it was built that way. Unlike the Wall above, this one allows life to grow upon it: seaweed, old and frayed as an ancient mariner’s hair, yes, but still, it is something growing upon the rock around that hole. The hole has a pull to it, a current that barely touches them with soft fingertips, but it is there, palpable, and Liam’s wings feel its pull. He has not known such a pull since traveling the Water Road so very long ago… “Where does that go?” Blinkey sneers, steps backward. “Nowhere. Everywhere.” “On pain of death, we’re bound by magic to remain within the Wall of River Vine—” “Is that what you are afraid of?” Blinkey grins, displaying two solid rows of teeth shaped like little white Ws. Charlotte feels the muscles in Liam’s arm tighten as he replies, “I am not afraid.” “Think, Blinkey: your queeny can’t talk to us if these cursed tattoos kill us first.” Charlotte holds her right wrist up actually hoping the thorns will start moving. But they don’t. Blinkey lazily twirls her spear as she steps out of the air bubble back into the water. The magic that reshapes her legs into a tail comes and goes, but the smile has not yet left her face. Charlotte wishes it would. Liam can’t take his eyes off the hole in the wall, or the seaweed that fails to sway with the current flowing through the wall. The seaweed is still. Resistant. It keeps all its fronds away from the hole. The water beyond the hole, it looks… dark, unfathomable.
Yup, this last bit is an excerpt from Fallen Princeborn: Chosen, the second installment in the Fallen Princeborn series. Despite what happened with my publisher, you all encouraged me to fight the good fight and write on, so write on I did! Now at last Chosen is ready to be shared with you via ARC–Click hereto access and get started. Come the week of Halloween, the ebook (and paperback, I hope!) will be ready for purchase.
CHARLOTTE’S FAMILY MAY NO LONGER REMEMBER HER NAME,
BUT HER ENEMIES WILL NEVER FORGET.
Charlotte just wanted to start a new life with her sister Anna out of the reaches of their abusive uncle. When their journey led to Anna’s disappearance from human memory, Charlotte hunted for her sister and the mysterious creatures that took her behind an ancient Wall that hid a land of magic the world had long forgotten. Charlotte woke the Princeborn Liam Artair, and with his return the conflict between factions of the magical Velidevour turned cursed and deadly.
Now Charlotte must end this conflict before the land of River Vine and the inhabitants she’s befriended are consumed by Orna, Lady of the Pits, who is still very, very eager to see her beloved return. And Orna is not the only one who wants hold of the Princeborn Liam’s heart. These Velidevour come armed with firey wings, crimson claws, and pale fire, and like dead magic, they know no kindness.
The Bloody Days are soon returning, and they will not end until a choice is made, a choice that could tear the heart of River Vine apart.
Fallen Princeborn: Chosen is a direct continuation of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. Recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely, and Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Mist and Fury.
I am thrilled beyond measure to finally reach this milestone, and I cannot thank you again for encouraging me through all my doubts and fears. You, each and every one of you, are a blessing to cherish in this community.
Do you have a favorite story with a boundary into a magical realm, where a character willfully crosses into the unknown? Please share in the comments below!
I’ve got some fantastic interviews underway as well as music both cozy and creepy to get our autumn adventures started. I’ll also be sharing more excerpts from Fallen Princeborn: Chosen and the sources of inspiration that helped create pivotal moments.