#AuthorInterview: #indie #writer @DanielKuhnley shares his #writinglife with #worldbuilding #darkfantasy and #mystery, then shares great #writingtips and #music for #NaNoWriMo #writinginspiration

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Good morning, my friends! As promised, I have a lovely author interview to share with you while I run off into the snow to teach high school calculus (yes, you may giggle). Meet the amazing writer of mystery thriller and dark fantasy, Daniel Kuhnley!

First things first! Tell us a little about yourself please.

Sure. My name is Daniel Kuhnley, pronounced like “coon lee.” I’m a Christian and an author, but I don’t write Christian fiction. I enjoy all sorts of activities, including music, movies, disc golf, working out, programming, and writing. I’ve been married to my wife for 22 years. Wow, it doesn’t seem that long! Just this last weekend my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary. That’s quite remarkable in this day and age. There are no children or pets in our household (my wife is allergic to both!)  I have three siblings and six nieces and nephews.

What is your favorite childhood book, and how would you say it influenced your own passion for storytelling?

This is a tough question. How far do I go back? Perhaps a few examples would be good. I loved The Monster at the End of This BookThe Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree, and Where the Wild Things Are when I was young. All three of them have a fantastical and sorta scary story. I think those led me on to books like A Swiftly Tilting Planet. This book opened my eyes to a new world where I could escape from everyday life as I read it. The characters and world and adventure stole my heart and made me want to write stories of my own. There were many other books as well.

I see you enjoy writing in two different genres: mystery thrillers, and dark fantasy. What draws you into these different writing-worlds?

Passion for the genres. I absolutely love Dean Koontz and the thrilling and mysterious books he writes. Old Stephen King ones too, like Cujo and Firestarter. What really drew me into fantasy and wanting to write it was Terry Goodkind’s series, The Sword of Truth. The first book, Wizard’s first Rule blew me away with the characters and depth of story. I’d never really read anything like it before. I knew I had to write character-driven stories like his. So, each genre is a different challenge. With fantasy, you get to create anything you can imagine. Worlds full of unique characters and places. No one can tell you it’s unrealistic. However, mystery thrillers allows me to delve into the human psyche and tell tales of sick and psychotic characters that fill nightmares. It’s fun to imagine how people like that think and what drives them. It’s even more fun to write about flawed heroes and heroines who are trying to stop them.

World-building is often one of the most difficult elements of fantasy writing: how far back should a writer go in creation? How much should be shared with readers, and what can be left in the notebook? What’s safe to rework from reality, and what’s got to be built from scratch? (You don’t have to answer my rambly rhetorical questions , but I am curious about your world-building process in creating Centauria for your Dark Heart Chronicles.)

World-building is a tricky thing. There are so many factors that go into it, and it can be the crowning achievement of a series or its downfall. A robust magic system is a must. It doesn’t need to be overtly complicated, but it should be a reflection and a driving factor of your world and its characters. Whether or not to include a language of your own is also another question to solve. I’ve read many books without one and it takes nothing away from it. I chose to create one for my world just for uniqueness. As far as creation of the world, you can go back as far as you want for its history or treat the moments your characters are living in as its beginning. I know many fantasy authors with tomes of history and backstory on their world and characters and others who have little to none. Personally, I find it far more interesting to understand the history of a world, its cultures, creatures, landscapes, and everything else that is part of its make up. I think if you’ve got some history to your world it creates a depth to it and your characters that you might not otherwise have. The readers will never know and understand everything about the world and its characters. The reason for this is that you never know when you might want to create another series based on some of that information. It could also spoil the mystery of the stories if the reader knows everything about your world and the characters. I’d say 70% of the information gets left in the “notebook.” It can cause issues though, too. Often I’ll be talking to my wife about something that happens to a character in my story and she’ll stop me and ask where that information was relayed to the reader and I’m sitting there thinking it’s somewhere but quickly find out those details are only in my head or “notebook.” As far as what can be reworked from reality vs. what should be built from scratch, that’s entirely up to the author. You want authentic, fresh worlds but readers also expect familiarity. If there’s no familiarity, it can cause the reader to have trouble picturing your world. There are obvious things that cannot be drawn from reality like unicorns, dragons, and other fantastical creatures. The hardest part for me in my world is describing the flora and fauna of the landscapes. I see them in my head, but I’m no expert in what those types of trees and plants are.

So I’m a HUGE fan of writing with music. I’ll even build up playlists to match up with major plot points as I write. What scores/composers would you like to recommend and why?

For me, I MUST listen to music while writing. It keeps my mind focused. However, I cannot write to music with words. I’ve tried and find myself singing along and not writing.  As far as recommendations, my absolute favorites are Epic North, Audiomachine, and Brand X Music.

All three of the produce movie trailer and movie score music. Epic North has some great music for writing battle and physical conflict scenes. I’ve got a little over 500 of their songs in a playlist that I keep on repeat. I never get tired of listening to them. I love some of the music from Two Steps from Hell, but it’s difficult sifting through their music because they do have quite a few songs with lyrics. Some of the music I listen to does have chorus chanting but its in Latin, Italian, and other languages I don’t know, so it doesn’t bother me.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Outlining. I pantsed my first book and it took me 12 years from start to publication. With the second book, I pantsed the first half of it and outlined the second half. It took about 14 months from start to publication. Those time frames may seem quite drastic, but I had lots of time where I didn’t write anything. I put the first book away for 7 years after writing the first 70 pages. I loathe outlining, and I’m sure my wife loathes helping me with the process as well, but it’s a necessary evil. After outlining my third book, The Braille Killer, I wrote it in 2 months. That book went from start to publication in 6 months. So, outlining is both my kryptonite and my timeline shortcut.

Your Dark Heart Chronicles tell the tale of three unique characters: a family man, and twins bonded in magic. Do you find it difficult to shift between their points of view? What advice can you share with writers who struggle with writing multiple points of view?

I’ve gone back and forth through many ways of dealing with the character perspective changing over the years. Honestly, it just depends on the day. Sometimes it’s nice to switch between characters when I’m feeling blocked with one character. Other times, when I’m really in the flow of one character, I might just write multiple scenes from their perspective across the entire book. If a writer is struggling with multiple points of view, I suggest they take each character who has a unique POV from their novel and just write their story. Once they do that, weave those stories back together in editing. It sounds daunting, but it’s really not that bad. The most important thing is to get the story down, whatever the means. Piecing it together is far easier (at least for me).

Your mystery thriller The Braille Killer also carries a unique writing challenge: writing from the perspective of another gender. What was the writing logic that led you to share this story in first person from the perspective of Detective Alice instead of, say, Detective Alan?

Well, all of my novels have female POVs, so it wasn’t too difficult writing a novel strictly from a female POV. Stories come to me in a unique way. It always starts with a character’s name, like Alice Bergman. As I thought about her more, what she looked like, how old she was, etc., I began to get an idea of what her story might be. Initially, I never thought she’d be a homicide detective or have the challenges that she did, but it just felt right. Alice could never be an Alan. I have a friend who is blind, so I often talk to her about her challenges and fears, and that led me to Alice’s story.

What would you say has been the most difficult scene to write in your novels and novellas, and how did you overcome that challenge?

For me, there are two things that are difficult. The first is fighting/war scenes. I never served in the military, nor have I studied wars, so writing about them can be challenging. That’s what I’m working through in my current WIP, Rended Souls (Book 3 of The DarkHeart Chronicles). I’m also no fighter, so blocking fight scenes can be tricky. It’s best to literally act them out to get a feel for what makes sense and is physically possible for a given character. The other issue I struggle with, especially as a Christian, is how far to go with language, violence, and sexual encounters. I’ve learned to just write it all out in the first draft, no matter how vulgar, sexual, or violent,  and then tone it down (if needed) in the editing phase. Because I’m writing dark fantasy and mystery thrillers about serial killers, my books can be quite violent and bloody at times. There is mild cussing in all of my books as well (depending on the reader’s view of what that means). Although not vulgar and explicit, there is also scenes of sexuality in all my books as well. Humans are…human. It’s difficult to have compelling characters without exposing their flaws as well. No one is perfect, and I hate reading books where all the characters are wooden and sinless.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

To be honest, it goes both ways. There are times where the writing is flowing really well, and I’m excited to get the story down and discover what’s happening with my characters. But then there are the times where I feel writing constipated. The words are in my head, but I can’t seem to push them out no matter how hard I try. This third dark fantasy novel has been that way. I know the story and all the events that must take place, but I’m struggling to get the words out at a decent pace. Sometimes you just have to take a step back and focus on something else for awhile. I’ve done that, and I’ve finally started making progress again.

That’s wonderful news to hear, Daniel, and congratulations on the release of your latest!

An evil dragon. A powerful mage. An ancient realm on the verge of a devastating nightmare…

Nardus is terrified he may have doomed his kingdom. Instead of resurrecting his beloved wife and children, he brought forth a malevolent winged-monster who is advancing on his people with a mind-controlled army. And now his last hope of redemption lies in discovering an age-old magical secret.

Twins Alderan and Aria’s hostile history delivered them to opposite sides of a brewing war. And as Alderan struggles to master his abilities while torn between loyalties, Aria’s growing powers could hold the key to the kingdom’s fate. But faced with an enemy that controls his sister, Alderan has no choice but to outsmart a manipulative wizard and a centuries-old dragon.

As the battle lines are drawn, can Nardus and Alderan claim their rightful place to rescue their world and save Aria from herself?

Rended Souls is the third book in the riveting The Dark Heart Chronicles epic dark fantasy series. If you like dangerous magic, page-turning adventures, and headstrong characters, then you’ll love Daniel Kuhnley’s spellbinding tale.

Buy Rended Souls to enter a clash of conjuring today!

How about we close this chat with some encouragement for those who are participating in National Novel Writing Month? I know I could use all the support I can get. 🙂

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo three different years and have yet to “win” it. However, I encourage everyone to think of it as more of a launching point than a “gotta get it all done this month!” panic. Not winning hasn’t stopped me from finishing novels and getting them out to the world. In the last two years, I’ve released 4 novels and two novellas. The key to success is to keep going and finish the job, no matter how long it takes. So many people give up right in the middle. Don’t do that to yourself. Keep pushing forward, and best of luck with NaNoWriMo!

Thanks again for sharing your writing life with us, Daniel! Folks, you can connect with Daniel in all sorts of places. Why not stop by and say hello?

As for me, I must endeavor to survive teenagers and their crazy math so that I may hopefully return tomorrow to the Crow’s Nest and the mysterious Perdido family.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: sharing an #AuthorInterview while #writing a 4th #chapter

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Hello, everyone! Thanks for sharing your wishes and prayers–yesterday was a rough one, but today can and will be better. It’s been wonderful to write a little every day, so much so that I am going to let myself take it a liiiiiittle bit easier this week, as my university students are starting to submit finals and I know I’m subbing for at least two full days in other schools. So, be on the look out for an indie author interview as well as some guest writing from my awesomely sweet daughter Blondie.

Speaking of interviews, I was honored by fellow indie author and book blogger Colin Garrow with an interview on his site. Click here to check it out!

Now, where were we–ah, the mysterious doctor is stirring something while sitting next to a butchered rabbit.

Sumac pulled a long, dirty knife out of the kitchen sink and stabbed what remained of the rabbit’s abdomen. “Hungry?”

“You have got to be kidding me.” Chloe said, one foot already sliding back to the kitchen’s door. She stumbled back, and back, and lunged for the bare bathroom before the heaving started. At least the toilet wasn’t covered in animal blood, oh jeez I cannot STAND IT.

The doctor listened to Chloe puke, then said, “I may have something to help with that.”

“How—” Thomas’ hand swept from the shaven Santa Claus to the carcass and back. “How is this remotely sanitary?”

The doctor furrowed his brow and held up the spoon for inspection while the sounds of Chloe’s wretching lessened. “The dishes have been washed, if that’s your concern.” 

“You have medicine next to a dead animal in the goddamn kitchen!”

“And where else is one expected to prepare food and drink?” The doctor’s belly shook as he laughed. “All will be well, Sir, if you calm yourself.”

When Chloe returned to the kitchen, the doctor was politely patting her father’ limp arm. Thomas was standing, but not with the straight back he always kept when a white man talked to him. “Yeah…” The word dropped from his lips, vague and distant.

“Oh, I admit, this place is terribly morbid.” The doctor went to grab the teacup, sniffing it with disdain. “But it won’t do a dying old woman any good to raucous over stuffed birds and dirty stoves. What matters now is giving her a bit of comfort–like a pain reliever in her tea–and a bit of company.” He was only as tall as Chloe, so it was her he looked to with a smile. The scar running along one side of his shaved face almost connected the smile to his eyes–almost, but not quite. “Would you mind attending her with me? Just for a few moments while this brogue tidies up.” The doctor added a rebuking look at Sumac for good measure.

Not that Sumac seemed to care. “Look, the lady wants to keep the crows coming, and they won’t come if there’s no food.” With four slick moves, the rabbits limbs were severed. “There’s proper human vittles in the fridge anyway. Unless you put something off-limits in there.” And this plowman Sumac gave the doctor a snotty stare.

Weren’t doctors supposed to be respected? 

Chloe tugged her father’s arm. “C’mon, Dad, let’s—”

“Not your father.” The doctor raised a hand to stop them. He had a pretty fancy ring on, much like the professors who taught at Angela’s college. It reflected the light in their faces as the doctor continued. “Your father can find you something more appropriate to eat. I know I wouldn’t trust that butcher to boil an egg.”

“Hey!”

A low rumble: Thomas’ stomach, then Chloe’s. She could picture a full plate of chips, grapes, pb and j, cookies, milk…she must not have emptied her stomach, but her whole body of fuel, and she so needed fuel. Her legs felt like they could buckle right now, and the rabbit didn’t look gross so much as dinner-not-ready-yet…“Nothing with, you know, its teeth still in.”

Thomas smirked, and gave his daughter a wink. “No kidding. Look, I owe your mom some ice, anyway. Five minutes, I’ll be up to get you.”

“Five minutes?”

Thomas held up five fingers. Chloe clapped her hand against his, and said, “Okay.”

Word Count: 553 Total Count: 7434

I was going to go a bit longer, but the boys are demanding basement time, and those groceries ain’t gonna buy themselves. Guess we’ll all have to meet the infamous grandmother tomorrow. 🙂

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a #firstchapter, part 2

Hello, friends! Let’s continue with Chloe in this first chapter and get her family to the Crow’s Nest. (There’s a two-part prologue in case you missed it.)

Writing Music: Mychael Danna, Capote (which can’t be found on YouTube, sadly)

When the Nina Simone cassette began a fourth time, Chloe’s father slapped the console to turn it off. A bead of sweat trickled down the backside of his right ear and soaked into his coat collar. “If I knew we’d be in the woods this long, I’d of filled up by that bastard out in Eagle River,” he said. His eyes stayed fixed on the truck ahead of them, so he didn’t see Chloe glaring at him from the back seat. Thomas Watchman never swore, not even when his tools sliced his skin open on a job. This was bad.

So Chloe put her other hand on her father’s shoulder. “We’re okay, Dad.” For as much good as those words could do in a car low on gas in the middle of nowhere.

A large snowy owl comes to a sliding perch upon the truck’s tailgate and looks into the Watchman station wagon with yellow eyes. 

Chloe risks a smile. “Didn’t think owls liked free rides.” For it clearly did, preening its feathers as the snow blew around him and the truck bumped on beneath him.

“I know I wouldn’t mind one in this snow,” Thomas added with a relaxing glance Chloe’s way. 

Trees stopped reaching for the car. The snow no longer swirled in ribbons, but straight down, gently, like a snowglobe left to play its song. The truck was turning away to park upon an open space; Thomas pulled the station wagon up alongside him and shut off the engine. “Finally. Tomorrow I’ll ride with the plowman  to a station for more gas to get out of here tomorrow.”

“No!” Chloe’s mother nearly lunged out of her seat, her fingernails digging into Thomas’ arm. “Don’t leave me here alone with her!”

“Mom, Mom, I’ll be with you, it’ll be okay, I’m here.” Chloe tried to hold her mother’s face like she’d hold Chloe’s after a bad dream. Her skin was so cold Chloe almost recoiled from the touch, but she didn’t. She had to be strong. If her momma could walk by protestors demanding segregation of schools without wincing once, then Chloe could be strong with this…this grandmother, whomever she was. Not a good mom, if her own daughter’s too scared to be around her.

Chloe’s father finally released the steering wheel. He slid a gloved thumb beneath her clawing fingernails, and gently pried her off. “All right. I’ll pay him to bring us gas. That better?” 

Angela Perdido Watchman breathed his words in deep, exhaled, breathed in a little easier exhaled a little easier. She closed her eyes, nodded, and said, “Don’t say anything about the owl.”

“Why?” Chloe asked. She turned to look out the passenger window–the owl was already gone. The plowman stood back there now, rubbing down the tailgate with a cloth. He noticed Chloe watching, and tipped his cowboy hat to her. “It’s already gone.”

“Good.” Angela took a few more breaths, then eased back into her seat. “She asked for one night, and that’s all we’re giving. The others agreed. We hear her out, and we leave in the morning.”

Thomas, too, watched the plowman wipe down the truckbed. Two other snowy hulks became visible in its headlights. “Those cars?”

“Sal and Reg must be here already.” Angela slid her hands into chunky green mittens a student had made her for Christmas. She was about to put on her hat when there was a knock knock on the windshield: the plowman again.

“You’re not going to sleep in there, are you?” He had a nice grin, the plowman.

Word Count: 593 Total Count: 2,627

I like stopping mid-scene sometimes–it’s a lot easier to pick up the writing momentum. Blondie’s been back at her Alley Heroes story, too. Here’s hoping I can share some of it with you later this week!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a #fairytale sort of #prologue, part 2

Hi, friends! I’m continuing the fairytale backstory today. Of course I realized there was something I wanted to include in yesterday’s submission, soooo I’ll just manage it into this one. That’s the way of NaNoWriMo: always write moving forward. xxxxx

Today’s Writing Music: Philip Glass, Dracula

“Good morning,” said the Silver Man with a tip of his tall hat.

Such a strange creature! This man was not like Papa at all. His skin was darker, his voice smooth and fearless. He wore no wool sweater or flannel shirts as they, but a suit much like the fancy men in story books, right down to the shiny shoes. Beneath his long silvery coat was a lining that looked like white fur, but the hair was too long to be fur.

The girl and her brothers clasped hands. The little brother shivered. A crow called from atop the roof of their home, but the children didn’t answer him, either.

The Silver Man tucked his hands into his pockets and took another step away from the forest and closer to their front stoop. “I do hope I have the honor of addressing the children of Master Perdido.”

Black wings flew out of the forest–more crows for the roof just above the children’s heads. When the girl watched them perch, they seemed more like holes in the sky than birds.

It is just Mama and Papa and us, the older brother said, very loud and sure as he gripped his sister’s hand. Are you from beyond the forest?

“Indeed I am.” The Silver Man removed a small bottle from his coat pocket and took a drink. “I come from a land without snow such as this.” He picks up a handful, and tosses it in the air between him and the children.

The snow does not fall. Each flake remains clear and still and perfect before the children’s eyes, blinding them to the Silver Man and the forest behind him. Not even the crow swooping over the their heads as it circles the house can take their eyes away.

The Silver Man begins to speak.

“From beyond the forests and oceans and mountains…” A dot of still snow melts, revealing the Silver Man’s finger. The finger melts snow as it draws little lines, little circles, little arms and legs–

–three. Three little children.

“…I have crossed the world on magical waters to find you.”

A flurry of scratches in the snow surround the drawn children–the eternal forest that, to the girl’s amazement, is not eternal, for the Silver Man’s scratches end—the forest, it must end, too! He sketches lines for rivers, and, and squares for buildings, squashy circles for lakes and bumps for mountains. Snow melts into the ocean and there’s more, there is more to the world, such a world! The girl leans away from her brothers to see the Silver Man draw some buildings and trees, and…another line, circle, arms and legs. Himself, surely.

The world, it had never felt so near…and so achingly far away.

A dark shape melted into the snow map: The Silver Man waved his top hat through the snow, and the snow fell to the ground as normal, boring snow does. He brushed the last flakes from his hat, and replaced it upon his head. “My farm is kissed by the son every day, its air filled with the scents of sweet fruit and flowers. You can run free to play with other children all day, and the fairies will tuck you in to bed at night. That is,” his legs bent and suddenly he was eye to eye with them, “if you wish to go.”

The scent of oranges drifted from his shoulders. The children swooned, their imaginations filled with grass and no trees, with treats and no wool sweaters, with other children waving to them, calling their names, wanting them, them, to come and play–

–until a crow swooped again, knocking his hat off his head. There had to be a dozen crows now, circling the house and cawing, cawing, the noise too loud for dreams and maps and–

“Children!” Their mama stood in the open door, wild-eyed and shaking. “Inside!”

The children ran beneath Mam’s arms, the girl almost caught in the door as Mama swung it shut and brought down the beam to lock it in place. The children clung to the stairwell’s bannister, waiting.

Step.

Step.

Step.

The Silver Man approached the door.

Mama’s chest moved up, down, up down, fast like the bellows when she stokes the kitchen fire. “You can’t have them!” She yelled at the door. “I don’t know where it is! You can find your own demon seed!”

Black shapes whipped by the windows surrounding the door: crows, flying.

Step.

Step.

Step.

The Silver Man left the door.

Crows cried from the rooftop.

Mama’s breath kept heaving hard, so hard, harder than her children. Her skin shone with sweat, her dress sleeves sliced and bloody.

Who is he, Mama? asked the little brother.

All crowing stops.

Silence.

A cold wind tumbles down the stairs and over the children’s backs. The girl watches a snowflake land upon her older brother’s cheek…followed by a white feather.

The top stair creaks.

Only the girl dares peak over her shoulder to see the Silver Man standing there above them all, brushing snow off his top hat.

“You know I can’t.”

Word Count: 857. Total so far: 1420. Yay!

While I know 50k won’t happen, my goal is to write 500+ words every day through the month of November–enough to have a solid start on my next novella. So, I’ll see you tomorrow! xxxxx

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#AuthorInterview: #SFF #writer #AdrianTchaikovsky discusses #writing #openinglines, #worldbuilding, and other bits of the #writinglife. Thanks, @aptshadow!

Happy Thursday, everyone! While Biff, Bash, and Blondie go after each other–and occasionally me–with squirt guns, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Adrian Tchaikovsky. He’s penned over two dozen books, including the Shadows of the Apt series and Children of Time, winner of the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award.

In short, Tchaikovsky is an amazing creative soul that we should all get to know a bit better. 🙂 How would you describe what you do, Sir?

So basically I mostly write books about spiders. Also dogs, AI, shapechangers, insect-people and anything else that lets me get out of a human skull. There’s not much more to me than that, in all honesty.

Considering the depth and breadth of your work, your imagination must have been nurtured with rich inspiration from little on. Are there any folks or favorite authors from your childhood that helped spark your passion for storytelling?

Absolutely – my great storytelling guru from teenage onwards was Diane Wynne Jones.

(Insert girly squeal here) I’m a huge fan, too! Her life is such an inspiration, not to mention her use of classic literature to help create new timeless stories and her knack for building complete characters we readers want to cheer for time and again.

Oh yes, she vastly expanded my frame of reference as to what you can do with a story, how you can play with reader expectations, that sort of thing. The Homeward Bounders and Power of Three, especially. Jones pulls a number of switches on the reader in Power of Three, with regard to precisely what the setting is, who are the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people, all that, which really opened my eyes. Before that, as well as cutting my teeth on Dr Who novelisations, I loved Tove Jansson, because she built such a wonderful world with her stories.

My home state of Wisconsin is a curious patchwork of farms and wild places. I love exploring this landscape in my mind, creating stories to give shapes to the shadows hiding just out of sight. Would you say the landscape around you inspires your writing, or has been utilized in some way to help build a story’s setting? That swamp you describe at the beginning of Guns of the Dawn feels like this horrible place I knew near my summer camp… 

So… actually no. I don’t tend to relate much to places I’ve been, per se. No more than places I’ve read about or seen pictures of. It all just feeds into the general melting pot in my head that I draw new creations from. I’ve never been in a swamp like that, but I seem to be able to imagine these places and put them on a page well enough to make them real to my readers.

All the more impressive, then, Sir, that you can stimulate the reader’s imagine to build such a real place known only in your own mind!

Now, let’s stick with Guns of the Dawn just a touch longer because it has an amaaaazing opener: 

I killed my first man today…

The air was hot,muggy with moisture, filled with flies. Emily had not known hot before she came to these swamps. Hot had once been pleasant summer days with the corn ripening gold in the fields. Hot had been the good sun and the rich earth, and the labourers scaring crows or bringing a harvest in; a picnic on the Wolds, with a blue, blue sky cloudless above. Hot was a fierce fire burning in the study when the world outside was chill. There must be another word for this all-encompassing heat.

I’ve already told my husband I’m treating myself to this book after I complete my pedagogical training this summer. 

Anyway.

So after a first line that provides the point of view, time, and controversial action, you launch us into a paragraph filled with extremely vivid sensory details further enriched by memories of the past. Thanks to these memories, readers get the impression of a narrator who cares more about the quiet life in the farm land–a stark contrast to one who’s said she’s killed a man. You strike a delicate balance of grounding readers in the present moment of the story while also flashing back into the narrator’s past and how the world once was. Can you describe your process of finding this balance? 

This is going to sound very zen, which frankly I am not in any way, but there is a big subconscious element to that level of my writing. I was never formally taught about writing technique, I just read a whole hell of a lot, and then I wrote a whole hell of a lot, and my writing got better with each book I tried. Although there is a definite conscious input, and as I’ve got better I’ve become more aware of things I can do deliberately to create an effect, a great deal of it just comes out of the way the words spill onto the page in their raw form.

Well paint me green with storytellin’ envy, Sir, because your opening lines are as consistently effective as those created by Diana Wynne Jones. A wee survey of your stories uncovers hooks both big and small.

From The Children of Time:

There were no windows in the Brin 2 facility—rotation meant that ‘outside’ was always ‘down’, underfoot, out of mind. The wall screens told a pleasant fiction, a composite view of the world below that ignored their constant spin, showing the planet as hanging stationary-still off in space: the green marble to match the blue marble of home, twenty light years away. Earth had been green, in her day, though her colours had faded since. Perhaps never as green as this beautifully crafted world though, where even the oceans glittered emerald with the phytoplankton maintaining the oxygen balance within its atmosphere. How delicate and many-sided was the task of building a living monument that would remain stable for geological ages to come.

From this paragraph we learn the story’s location, the time frame, and the narrator’s love of this created home. We are also left asking: “What happened to earth?” And we are driven to read on.

From The Expert System’s Brother:

It went wrong for me when they made Sethr an outcast.

From this sentence we learn the story’s point of view, that there is some powerful “they” capable of ruining someone’s life, and because one person’s ruined, so is our narrator. We are also left asking: “Who is this mighty ‘they’? Why should Sethr’s fate mess up life for the narrator?” And we are driven to read on.

Writing compelling openers is surely one of the most important challenges any writer faces. Do you have any advice for writers who struggle crafting their hook?

I am going to raise a hand and say that good lord I’ve had books where the opener has been a problem, and it is super important. Often it’s a matter of where in the story you start – easy to start things too soon and have too much lead-in. And there’s a huge pressure to start with everything on fire, meaning that certain types of storytelling are virtually extinct in the genre right about now. Sometimes I’d like to feel people would just amble with me a bit at the start…

I love the idea of ambling…and with over thirty titles to your name, there’s lots of ambling to do! Some of your titles are stand-alones, like The Expert System’s Brother; some are in trilogies, such as Echoes of the Fall; and then you have your TEN-book series Shadows of the Apt. I tip my hat to you for building worlds unique and complete time, and time, and time again, just like Jones. What thrills you about building a new world? How do you avoid the temptation of re-using elements? No writer wants readers to get déjà vu and think they’re just reading the same story over again.

Building worlds *is* the thing that thrills me, and I have a whole host of ideas yet to come. So far repeating worlds hasn’t been the issue (outside of sequels obviously). I’m more worried about repeating themes, because obviously there are certain things you come back to, each writer to their own, and there’s a real danger that you end up telling the same snippets of story over and over if you don’t remember to give them a different spin.

Another common problem for many writers–as well as movie-makers, I’d say–is crafting an action sequence that moves quickly and fiercely without confusing readers as to what’s going on. I know this was one of the toughest elements to hammer out in my own novel, which contains battles involving several key players duking it out all over the place. Your novels contain intense action on both an epic scale as well as an intimate one. How do you keep the language quick-footed without losing readers along the way?

Action sequences are very much an art of their own. Having a good grasp of the shape of the sequence is important I think – I plan a great deal anyway, and action sequences get thought through in the same way. A chase or a fight has a mini-narrative of its own, including opportunities to bring out character, to foreshadow, and to have their own emotional beats. A particularly big action scene can almost be a book in miniature.

How true!

Another resource that’s always helped me write action scenes as well as stay focused on the feeling of any given moment is music. For every author that tells me he/she loves having music to help set the mood for writing a scene, I hear from another author that he/she needs silence in order to write. Which camp do you call home and why?

I tend to listen to music when I write and have a series of playlists for different moods, to help me focus and blot out distraction. I generally listen to instrumental music from film soundtracks, computer games, and music written specifically for trailers (a good source of consistently hammery action music), Some composers you might not know who have some interesting stuff include Kyle Gabler, Lorne Balfe, and Bear McCreary.

(Gasps) GODZILLA?! Hell to the yes! Sign me up for some new composers to study later this year!

One reason I depend so heavily on music is because it helped me write when my children were small and at home all day. Now that my kids are old enough to attend school, I can usually find an hour of peace to write. Still, it’s extremely tough some days to balance parenthood and writer…hood. Authorhood. You get me. Do you have any tips for balancing writing and parenting?

Honestly my son’s 11 now so he’s more self-sufficient. I write in the mornings and very late evenings, though, which is a convenient way of working around family commitments.

Lastly, let’s talk about the ever dreaded Kryptonite. Writing Kryptonite, to be precise. There’s always something that can sap all creative power away in a heartbeat. For me, it’s a phone call from my sons’ school principal. It takes a good long while of watching my sons lose themselves in their own adventures with droids, transformers, and wild animals before my own creativity sparks back to life. What would you call your Writing Kryptonite, and how do you overcome it?

Arguments with my son will do it, but as a sort of contributor to a general cycle of depressive ups and downs that are quite capable of just doing their own thing with me, without any actual outside stimulus. Writing is a big drive for me, though. If I’m not writing, it has a serious negative effect on my mental state all its own. So although a downswing can make it hard to get going, once I’m actually writing I can generally retreat into it from my problems.

I know just what you mean, Sir. Do I ever know just what you mean.

My deepest thanks again to Adrian Tchaikovsky for taking the time to talk to us today! You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and his website, too.

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

We’re going to meander through some gorgeous western scores in anticipation of my upcoming Night’s Tooth.

Mississippi River Valley, 1870s. The white man wields rails and guns to bring law to the land. But there are more than wild animals hiding in the territories, and it will take more than guns to bring them down.

Sumac the bounty hunter needs no guns to hunt any bandit with a price on his head, even one as legendary and mysterious as Night’s Tooth. But Sumac didn’t count on other bounty hunters coming along as competition, nor did he expect hunters sharing his own magical gifts.

It’s one man against a gang and a mystery, all to protect a train that must cross the territories at all costs…

Inspired by classics like For a Few Dollars More and fantasy cult favorites like Highlander, “Night’s Tooth” is a western with a fantasy edge set in the Fallen Princeborn universe.

Did you miss my August newsletter? Here it is!

We’ll also do some adventuring about Wisconsin and do a wee worldbuilding study of a recent western fantasy, Charlaine Harris’ An Easy Death. More author interviews are on the way, too. I hope you’ll join me!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

For the love of #westerns: one #indieauthor #writes her #fantasy world into a #timeless #genre.

Once Upon a Time in the West

I wish I could tell you just when it started, this love for the western. It should have been decades ago, when my brothers and I watched our old recorded VHS on the making of Star Wars yet again while Mom just wanted to sit and watch John Wayne in a classic like Stagecoach or The Searchers. But I had no patience for the kind of western where women clutch their aprons while Native Americans gallop by with villainous intentions and only John Wayne with his swaggering cadence can talk a coward into being a brave man just long enough to shoot the savage and save this little refuge of civilization.

Oh no. Iiiii had to sit and watch a rogue with a laser gun help out wizened old man and a snot-nosed kid who thinks he’s smart in the saddle hold out from attacks by corrupt powers….heeey…sounds, um…

Sounds kinda like a western. (More on that later.)

But aren’t westerns just glorified propaganda for western civilization uprooting native cultures? Don’t all their shoot-outs result in a lot of powder in the air, women swooning, and men clutching their chests going, “Aaaurgh!”?

Hardly.

Countless storytellers–be they writers, filmmakers, or game developers–refuse to leave the Wild West alone. Type “western” into the books’ search engine on Amazon, and thousands of results pop up. Western films have been regularly produced for audiences since 1903. That’s over a century’s worth of western storytelling produced by the United States; the number skyrockets when you look around the globe. And just last year, the best-selling video game was, of all things, a western.

What is it about this period spanning thirty years (or sixty, depending on whom you ask) that draws us back again and again?

I can’t speak for others, but dammit, I’ll speak for me.

A Hero uncivilized and unrestrained.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the antihero, and how this individual for good or ill lives by his own code to meet his own ends. In the western this character certainly exists, but there are plenty of heroes, too, who are out to right a wrong and carry out some justice…only, their means ain’t exactly pretty (see High Plains Drifter for the ugliest justice there is). Plus, these folks are by no means super-heroes or ramped up by crazy technology (unless, of course, you’re in Wild Wild West).

The hero–or antihero–of the western is often one of minimal means caught up in a conflict where the other side has more bullets, more men, more high ground. Jack Shaefer, a writer of westerns, elaborates on this point:

The western story, in its most usual forms, represents the American version of the ever appealing oldest of man’s legends about himself, that of the sun-god hero, the all-conquering valiant who strides through dangers undaunted, righting wrongs, defeating villains, rescuing the fair and the weak and the helpless — and the western story does this in terms of the common man, in simple symbols close to natural experience . . . depicting ordinary everyday men, not armored knights or plumed fancy-sword gentlemen, the products of aristocratic systems, but ordinary men who might be you and me or our next-door neighbors gone a-pioneering, doing with shovel or axe or gun in hand their feats of courage and hardihood. 

quoted in Jeremy Anderberg’s “21 Western Novels Every Man Should Read”

This is why I love Clint Eastwood in so many of his westerns. He’s shot, beaten, left to die in the desert, and God knows what else. We see him lose as much blood as he draws. He, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Jeff Bridges, and loads others show their struggle for a better self in a world that rewards the greedy and vicious. The price to be paid when doing the right thing can be pretty damn high, and the heroes are willing to sacrifice it all, including their own goodness, to pay it.

The Magnificent Seven

Which brings me to my next point. (And to one of the happiness quotes I was challenged by the lovely Lady Shey to hunt down and share.)

“I was happy in the midst of dangers and inconveniences.”

– Daniel Boone

Action! Bang bang, punch kick kapow, boom blam CRASH!

In case you didn’t know from other posts, I’m something of an action junkie. (The fact that 1987’s Predator is another one of my all-time favorite movies should tell you a lot about me.) Westerns promise action. There may be tons of gun fights, or only a few. There may be a total blood bath such as in Django Unchained, or a drawn….out….showdown…years…in…the making….

That’s part of the western’s beauty. The climax can be a chess game of men, where pawns are removed one by one until all that remains are the kings of the board…and, perhaps, a rook. We have to watch their necks sweat, fingers twitch, eyes narrow, and wait, wait, wait for the moment where Hell will break loose–

Or, bullets fly and characters die in epic battle fashion, such as in The Magnificent Seven; we’re not sure who will survive the climactic battle, and because we know these heroes experience the broken bone and spirit of mortality, we cannot be certain any of them will make it at all.

(Unless, of course, you’re the townspeople of Blazing Saddles’ Rock Ridge, who all wind up breaking onto the set of another film and then the studio’s commissary for a huge food fight.)

Speaking of settings…

*

*

*

A landscape beautiful, terrifying, and untameable.

Western civilization may have crossed into the territories, but it is by no means in control of the land.

True Grit

Communities are rarely large, and their ties with “proper” society–towns and cities east of the Mississippi–are tenuous at best. The first transcontinental railroad wasn’t completed until 1869, the first transcontinental telegraph only a few years before that. If someone travels west, they travel a lonely road, or a railroad often unguarded. They enter territories that never belonged to them, and yet are determined to keep them.

Pale Rider

La Crosse was such a place, once upon a time.

I figured this riverside town would be the perfect place to set my western fantasy novella Night’s Tooth. Wisconsin earned its statehood in the 1840s, sure, but it’s not like all of it was paved with pristine society by the end of the Civil War, right?

Well…the first settlers established the community of La Crosse in the 1840s a few years before that statehood, so yeah, Wisconsin still had a bit of wildness to it as far as governance goes, but by the end of the Civil War the log cabins had been replaced by a full-on city with one of the country’s first swing bridges for the Southern Minnesota Railroad.

La Crosse, Wisconsin, 1867

No longer did rail cars have to be ferried across the great river to journey west. The White Man had brought his roads and buildings and built them all square and orderly to the Mississippi River Valley. Man had conquered Nature.

As far as Wisconsin was concerned, the Wild of its West was lost.

I can’t write a story where the West ISN’T Wild!!!

The idea of La Crosse being so damned orderly and efficient at growing really galled me. It galled me so much I figured my main character, a bounty hunter named Sumac, would be galled too, and call it a damn shame.

Then it hit me.

Use the city’s history in the story. Show how this final bastion of “civilization” before the territories had its own moments of dark dealings. Perhaps, if I am very careful, sew some patches of magic goings-on onto time’s quilt of history, and in their threads tell a new tale of hunters who hide among us…

Mississippi River Valley, 1870s. The white man wields rails and guns to bring law to the land. But there are more than wild animals hiding in the territories, and it will take more than guns to bring them down.

Sumac the bounty hunter needs no guns to hunt any bandit with a price on his head, even one as legendary and mysterious as Night’s Tooth. But Sumac didn’t count on other bounty hunters coming along as competition, nor did he expect hunters sharing his own magical gifts.

It’s one man against a gang and a mystery, all to protect a train that must cross the territories at all costs…

Inspired by classics like For a Few Dollars More and fantasy cult favorites like Highlander, “Night’s Tooth” is a western with a fantasy edge set in the Fallen Princeborn universe.

~*~

Intrigued? I sure hope so! 🙂 I’ll be posting an excerpt from the story in this month’s Exclusive Free Fiction from the Wilds. Once I’m done mucking through the formatting business, I’ll publish Night’s Tooth as an e-book and set its price for 99 cents. If all goes well with children and teaching, Night’s Tooth will be available near the end of this month.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your favorite westerns in the comments below! You may also enjoy watching Cinefix’s very interesting breakdown of favorite westerns from across the decades, including the changes of tone and theme created by different directors in countries. (If you’re wondering when Star Wars was supposed to come up again in this post, watch the video.)

~Stay Tuned Next Week~

I’m super-stoked about next week’s interview! He’s a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award as well as a fellow fan of Diana Wynne Jones. After that we’ll study a new and unique Wild West set in an alternate America, then take a tour through some amazing composers for westerns before finally (fingers crossed and turning thrice widdershins) launching Night’s Tooth into the publishing wild!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Author #Interview: #indie #writer @jdstanleywrites talks #writing #scripts, #reading #magic, and the power of a #storyteller’s #imagination

Happy Thursday, everyone! I’m please to introduce you to J.D. Stanley. He’s an award-winning fantasy writer of novel and script as well as a Bardic Druid of the OBOD. It’s an honor to share his thoughts with you today on this, the writing life.

First, let’s talk a little about your background. I see you’ve done some work on radio and studio engineering. That’s so neat! It reminds me of Celine Kiernan, who spent years as an animator for Don Bluth before beginning her own writing career. How would you say your time with language-aloud influences your language-written?

It really was a neat experience. What a blast for a day job! Studio engineering and writing were the reasons I went into radio broadcasting in 1986. For a creative, nerdy introvert, all the behind-the-scenes stuff was super appealing. Audio engineering is a singular, unique avenue of creation – all you have are the sounds to build a world. I still love it. Without solid writing, though, no matter how good the production, it won’t sound realistic. Writing for that still makes me hyper-critical of my dialogue and narration today.

When I studied Radio in college, there was a great deal of focus on learning to write words meant to be spoken – so commercial copy, radio plays and show scripts. And the flip-side, how to speak that writing, too. The point was, to craft something that didn’t sound scripted even when it was. I was lucky enough to get picked up by a program director who heard some of my freelance work and jobbed-out halfway through. Getting thrown into the deep end like that really hammered it home. Knowing listeners would hear my writing live shortly after I put the words down or a sponsor would pay more than tens of thousands of dollars as soon as I produced or voiced a spot was… terrifying. Nothing like having your feet to the fire to hone skills. Those lessons will never leave me and my continued voiceover work as well as coaching written and spoken communication keeps it fresh in my head.

I would say, all that time with language-aloud makes me remember to read my writing outloud to check with my ears for believability. The human ear is extremely sensitive to the naturalness of speech, the nuance of humans speaking, and it strikes you when it’s fake. In my opinion, it’s the best gauge a writer can use to check not only the flow, but human believability of what’s written. I think it can help us make better connections with our readers. If we can reach them as another human, be accepted as a companion on a journey with them, we can connect. And when we can connect, then what we write can mean something to them. But if we sound like their Lit teacher? Dude, that’s just not gonna happen.

I once attempted a bit of screenplay writing some time ago, and…okay, not going to lie. I stunk at it. What challenges do you feel are unique to screenwriting as opposed to novel writing? What advantages? Do you have a preference between the two?

I really don’t have a burning desire to write screenplays daily and do prefer novel writing. I actually prefer fixing other people’s work, being a script doctor, over writing them if I’m being totally honest. I enjoy helping other people’s words work better. A script doctor gets no credit and most people don’t even know that’s a job.

There’s a specific pattern to the storytelling in screenplays aspiring screenwriters need to learn. If you want to be a rebel and not do it that way, that’s cool. But understand, that may be the reason you’re not selling anything. It may be an interesting concept, for instance, so someone takes a peak. And then they’re judged on a single page where there’s supposed to be a predictable beat and it’s missing, so their work gets round-filed. Or they don’t know the first thing about proper format and think their story is so extraordinary everyone will look past that and give them gobs of money anyway. Or they can’t write a logline to save their life, so no one ever goes past the logline to read the script. Or they’re actually bad writers operating under the delusion it doesn’t take good writing skills to write a screenplay.

I’d tell anyone thinking that screenwriting is a cool career choice… First? Understand the chances of selling one are slim to none. Once you get over that, you can move on. Practice the shit out of your writing and, especially, educate yourself from film industry professionals. Study books like Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat, read their blogs and absorb a crap-tonne of successfully produced screenplays – there’s a million available online – so you can see what it takes. And forget all those no-name Internet screenwriting contests held by genre enthusiasts who aren’t writers and don’t know what goes into a decent script. Sure, you’ll get something to put in your credits. But winning a contest not hosted by industry professionals isn’t validation of your talent as a screenwriter. If you thought it was? That’s probably why you aren’t selling any scripts after the contest is over. Pick contests held by actual screenwriters, directors and producers. They know what they’re looking at. And a lot of them include feedback in reply for free even if you don’t place. They’ll be harsh, you’ll hate everything they tell you and will probably make you cry, BUT they’ll tell you exactly what to do to your script to turn it into a saleable product. Use them as your university.

You’ve quite a rich variety of favorite authors shared on your website. Do you think you can pinpoint which author and story first sparked the passion for storytelling inside you, and why you think it was that story more than any other?

No, I can’t say there was any single author or story that sparked it for me. I could read and write before I started kindergarten, so was a bit ahead in that area and when I started writing my stories down consistently from when I was about nine, I hadn’t read any of those authors yet. My first love was sci-fi and that’s where I started writing, so maybe Gene Roddenberry was probably my earliest influence? I grew up on Star Trek in the ’60s, though didn’t know him as a writer at the time.

When I was about twelve, I’d read everything I was allowed by that point and got special permission from the local library to have an adult library card, so I could read more books. Real books. Normally, you had to be eighteen to have one of those puppies. Then I read everything in the adult fiction section. And all the poetry books. And then went through all the reference books. You want to know the depths of my nerdiness? I do, in fact, still relish the secret thrill of reading encyclopaedias and the dictionary for fun. Not even kidding. Back then, I read so fast, I started at one end of the adult section and used to take out thirty books at a time. Just clear them off the shelf all in a row, any genre, any author, and bring them home. I read one a day, sometimes two, and read every book from one end of the library to the other. Hence the massive list of authors.

Sad as it is, I couldn’t even tell you who the rest of those fiction authors were, but I remember the stories. When I was thirteen, I read the John Jakes saga The Kent Family Chronicles and I think I can say around there was when I realised I had an affinity for historical stories. And then after ingesting more books, I fine-tuned that down to historical fantasy for what I most often prefer to write. Reading for pleasure, though? Just about every genre as long as the story is good. I wish there were more gunslinger books. What an under-represented genre.

Out of that ocean of stories, three will resonate with me until I’m dead – Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers and Don Quixote. And overarching all of them is The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart and all Arthurian legend. I’m a total junky. And, of course, Lord of the Rings. Definitely a common theme. I’d like to think that says something about my character, but probably more what I would hope to aspire to and will never achieve. I think I was born in the wrong century. New things, like technology and science, fascinate the hell out of me and I continue to love sci-fi. But old things and old centuries make me feel at home.

If I understand your writing process correctly, I get the impression you’re something of a “pantser”—one who doesn’t plan out a story, but runs with the story as it comes.  How on earth do you balance the madcap writing this method requires while also having kids? I got three, and there’s no way in Hades I can focus on my own story when they’re crashing Transformers and Enterprises into the land of Care-A-Lot.

Well, nowadays, my four kids aren’t little, so I’m at a different stage. Though every stage comes with its own unique challenges. I also no longer drive due to my cataract, so have built-in writing time while commuting everywhere which I use to my advantage.

The ability of life to persistently work to steal our focus never ends, though. I just got the kids all self-sufficient and almost out of the house (two down, two to go!), but now have different roadblocks. My dad has declining dementia from a brain injury sustained from a fall, so now? Two of the kids still need me for some things, and alternating between being with my dad at long term care after work until about midnight, and travelling an hour-and-a-half across the city to look after my mom and helping maintain their house. I’m basically writing long-hand wherever I can get it in and it’s weeks before I get to sit down to transcribe it. Or I’m doing everything on my phone and tablet on the go. It’s not the way I prefer to work and it’s slow, but it still lets me get it in there. Because I have to do it or my brain will explode!

When the kids were small, though? Honestly, if I was a different person and they were different kids, it probably wouldn’t have worked. I’m a super analytical control freak with troop movement-level organisation skills, so there’s that. Okay, and a life-long insomniac, so have more awake hours at my disposal than normal people. My most productive writing time is midnight onward, so it actually worked in my favour when they were little. I used to go to bed at 7:30 or 8:00pm when they did and woke up at 12:30 or 1:00am to write. I also got the laundry and cleaning done then to leave me free time to focus on the kids in the day – every time I got up to make a coffee, I did one task. Once a month I planned all the meals and snacks on a chart that I made shopping lists from so I wouldn’t waste time or money. Sundays I cooked five full dinners and parcelled them up in the fridge with labels on them to save time in the week. I wrote a lot long-hand sitting on benches waiting for them to finish swimming lessons or martial arts or whatever else I had them signed up for. Somewhere in there, I cranked out five full first draft novels. I didn’t go on trips. I didn’t go out. My entire life was kids and writing or consignment art. And I was totally okay with that. Someone else? Maybe wouldn’t be.

I have very clear priorities. I’m also very clear on what I’m willing to sacrifice. My mother wasn’t ever a well person, so I learned early how to squeeze in things I really wanted to do between looking after her, raising my two sisters and working part-time to help my dad. I already had the experience when I found myself in the position of being the only parent of my own four kids.

Okay, so the “pantster” thing… I can say, with all honesty, I’ve never “pantsted” anything in my life. Being this consistently, incredibly busy, most times? There’s no opportunity to write plans down. But let’s be honest, a lot of the kid stuff wasn’t rocket science and it left my brain free. So I trained myself to do it in my head. All of it. All the figuring out, all the plotting. By the time I had a block of time to sit down in front of a keyboard or with a pen and paper, I could just write my ass off. All my “outlines” start the same way – with a super-descriptive hinging scene, usually the story conflict or premise, with an important exposition of the main character. It’s my brain shorthand for the whole story, a memory trick. Then I start telling myself the story – the who, what, where, when, why – and it morphs into the opening lines and I just keep going. The story is already done in my head and I’m basically transcribing by that point. I do it that way now, because that’s how it needed to happen then or it wasn’t getting done. And it not getting done is unacceptable to me. Since I still don’t have a lot of time, I’m still outlining in my head. At least when I have stolen moments, I can write like a demon and not have to waste time plotting.

Wisconsin’s landscape has a been a HUGE source of inspiration for my fantasy fiction. Your first novel, Blood Runner, is set in Canada—just like you! Do you find yourself utilizing special places from your life for settings in your stories, or is the landscape itself a muse?

I’d say it’s more the landscape that’s the muse. There’s a few countries I have a huge affinity for, for no particular reason, though more in the historical sense – ancient Ireland, Britain, Rome, Egypt, Sumer, Japan. I’ve studied a lot about them over time, so have a lot of fodder in my head for inspiration. I can’t go to those places, because the ancient versions I want to visit no longer exist. So instead, I use them to write from. Being immersed in one of those places is like taking a visit back in time to me. It’s cool, like owning your own time machine, y’know?

In the grand scheme of things, Canada isn’t that old and doesn’t fit in with the affinity I have for some of those other ancient places. But the forests here are old and I do love that. The trees and rocks have been around a very long while. There’s forest here with trees hundreds of years old and the Canadian Shield is right underneath us and that’s been there since the last ice age. How cool is that? I’ve spent a lot of time in the forests, so love to write about them. Thinking about them is uplifting to me. I’m big on nature overall and love to write longhand outdoors when that’s possible. I find that very inspirational, sitting outside under a tree scratching words out.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Well, I’m a research junkie, so I’m doing research all the time, often not even toward a purpose, but because I love it. I have so much useless information in my head. So, the length of time I study is moot. With that much constant input, my subconscious has a tendency to make connections between seemingly unrelated things while I’m busy with life. When one of those connected circumstances bubbles up, that’s when I sometimes do extra research to fill in the holes. I can’t write about anything until I can speak about it with authority and I need to have it all in my head before I start. It’s what we do as writers, isn’t it? Become forty-eight hour experts on anything from rocket science to earth worms. When I know enough, then I write. To get to that point could be a few weeks, but could also be years. Since I don’t work on only one story at once, it’s always in rotation.

I do a lot of book studying, but depending on what I need, also do practical study. Fight scenes or any hand combat, for instance, I do, in fact, act out to make sure they’re plausible. I’m lucky, because my eldest son does stunt work and is a multi-disciplined martial artist, swordsman, archer and edge weapon aficionado. He helps me physically block out my fight scenes for authenticity. I’ve done an extreme conditions survival course where they drop you in the forest in the middle of winter and you need to build a shelter, fire, find food and the like. I love camping and living off the land and know how to fish and clean animals and find edible forage. I had an organic garden when the kids were growing up, but it wasn’t only that – it was major practical study. I read up on everything about crop rotation, pioneer techniques for vegetable gardening, organic pest control and composting, practiced it everyday, became a Master Composter, and tracked the results and weather patterns complete with sketches in a large binder over all the years I had it and still have that research data for reference. I also study, make and use herbal remedies myself, so that’s ongoing, and have a great interest in living off the grid, so currently practicing those behaviours as I work in that direction. Over time, anything I needed to know about, I taught myself and picked up that skill from jewellery-making to calligraphy to hand quilting to home renovation to ceramics to building a hydro generator in a stream.

When the zombie apocalypse happens and it’s end of times? You can come with. I plan on building a town. Only people I like get to live there. 😉

I also find it interesting that you created a fresh take on vampires. How much research did you do on vampires before choosing the path you took for Blood Runner?

I’ve been a big Anne Rice fan for a long time and loved Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but actual vampire research for that story? Zero. Is that bad? I had actually been stuffing my head full of Ancient history and mythology from Egypt and Babylon for another story. And me being me, kept going backward in time, because for whatever reason, it became important I got to the root mythology and first organisation of city-states and society. That history fascinated the holy crap out of me and still does. When I studied the bits of translated mythology available at the time (there’s more now), I couldn’t stop. For whatever reason, I couldn’t leave it alone.

There’s a myth about a man who cannot eat or drink. And in their mythology, a dead body can be reanimated by the Water of Life – blood. To me, that sounded like some kind of proto-vampire. I stitched elements of a few myths together to create the premise. Gave him a nemesis, a real historical figure in the invading Akkadian king Naram-Sin who was painted in myth as pure evil and cursed by the head of the pantheon. The Great God Enlil’s disdain for humanity was so well-documented as was a whole soap opera of inter-family pantheon conflict, the story told itself. It turned into a tale of mistaken vampire identity.

I still have so much story left that never made it into Blood Runner, a whole universe. I think once I’m done getting it out, it’ll lose its association with vampires and people will see what it really is. Vampires are cool and I love them, but that’s not the story focus, so I really didn’t need the depth of research in that area I might have otherwise. It was only a device.

Your latest book, The Seer, is about a Druid named Bronan, and I see you yourself are a Bardic Druid. I would love to hear how your spiritual nature influences your writing; or, would you consider your storytelling to be its own “faith,” as it were? I can’t help but ask because I myself am a Christian, but I rarely include elements related to faith in my fiction. Severed Selves, you could say.

I don’t think I can separate those things, because it’s both – inspiration as well as the storytelling being its own brand of sacredness, since words come from the soul. I’m lucky, from the fantasy writer side of things, because Druids and magic are popular story topics with readers. I know a lot about modern Druids and history and mythology, so can speak with some authority in that space. Besides, people love that stuff. And why not? I’m just like everyone else – the ancient Druids are just as mysterious and fascinating to me, because there’s really so little known about them. And magic is, well, magical!

I write foremost to amuse myself and being immersed in those magical worlds is escapism. Right up there with dreaming of flying and imagining we’re superheroes when we’re kids, right? I mean, it’s a sad fact that the more life imposes arbitrary boundaries and traps us in expectations and responsibilities, we lose those dreams. It’s limiting. I think we need to escape into times of unfettered brainspace to balance off all the other crap. Druidry is the continuous responsibility to keep balance on a cosmic level and this is exactly the same thing to me. When we can immerse ourselves in a world where those boundaries aren’t grinding us down, even for only the length of time it takes to finish reading a story, we can regain some inner balance and perspective. As a reader, I love that. And as an author? I consider it a public service. lol

Words are my medium as a Bardic Druid, my divination, and how I connect with universal consciousness. I walk the path of knowledge, so seek out universal truths, those things that are real and true for everyone. That’s where we all connect, so goes hand-in-hand with taking a reader on a journey. A lot of my writing to amuse myself is speculative, where I’m figuring these things out and pushing down my own thought barriers. As a Druid, I embrace the responsibility to maintain balance, speak the truth and especially to oppose injustice and be an agent of fairness for everyone around me. I’ve been told that makes me some kind of throwback, dying on a hill of my own moral code, and they may be right. But to me, treating people right and standing up against wrong is simply the right thing to do and not because of a prize at the end. I know all this stuff influences my writing and you can see it leaking out. In the sense of all that, being a writer is more than a job to me. It’s rolled into my spiritual path and there’s no way to tell where one ends and one begins.

I think the biggest influence on my writing is probably hyper-awareness about what I’m capturing in words. To me, words are so much more than only letters arranged on a page. The writing should be real and true, should be honest, and should allow us, as human beings, to meet there on common ground. We can laugh together, get riled-up together, cry together, I can lift people up and that’s all about keeping balance. Speaking about injustice within the confines of a fictional story is giving voice to it, but in a way less uncomfortable to explore. I can write about universal truth. Or that, in fact, we’re all the reluctant hero, working through our own myriad life crap and evolving as we go while learning to step up about bad things even when we don’t want to. It’s easy to relate to, because we’re all on that same journey. In that way, we can connect with people we’ll never know on a very deep, emotional level. That’s so powerful, y’know?

Magic is simply intention charged with our own energy and that’s carried into writing for a writer. From our perspective, there’s an element of sacredness to it, because we do, in fact, tear those words out of our soul to get them on the page. Whether we know it consciously or not, that ability through writing is the greatest magic there is. If you want to get super existential about it… From that perspective?

Lastly, do you have any tips or encouragement for your fellow writers?

No, nothing.

Wait, yes. If you’re not already lost down that road, take an ice cream scoop and dig out that part of your brain telling you it’s a good idea and go get a real job. You’ll thank me later.

Seriously, though, remember you’re playing a long game. If you’re doing it to become rich next week and can’t understand why you’re not famous after your first six months? Take your ball and go home. While that would be lovely, that’s not the reality for most writers. You really do have to do it, because you get something out of it, out of the creation. You have to do it, because it makes you sacrifice for it and you don’t care about that. You have to do it, because you can’t think about not doing it or you’ll go insane or die. If that’s not where you live? Adjust your sails and get that ship on course. And newsflash, you have to actually love writing or you won’t stick with it through the length of time it takes. I’ve seen some “writers” who apparently woke up one day and thought they’d become famous and make millions of dollars at writing after having never written a day in their life previous to that. They thought it looked like an easy gig. *Cue massive eyeroll.*

I’ve been a working writer, writing every day, mostly for others and getting paid for it, for over thirty-five years. Did it make me famous? Nope. It kept the lights on and bought groceries and clothes for the kids. And yet? It’s fantastic to me, because I made money doing the thing I love the most. How many people can say that? With the kids now grown, recently I shifted to focus on only my writing and that new reality takes time to build. No matter how much previous experience I have, it doesn’t matter. I’m fully prepared for the length of time that comes with creating a new reality. You’re no different coming in thirty-five-odd years behind me. Creating any new reality takes time and that’s where you have to live in your head every day. My goal now is the same as when I started back in college – do the thing I love every day and aspire to make that my entire supporting income. If you don’t, you’re going to have a lot of heartache and frustration. I think that’s a solid, realistic and attainable goal adjustment for new writers to make.

Ask yourself if you want to be famous or successful – they’re two very different things. Thinking about becoming famous is setting yourself up for disappointment. Think about becoming successful instead. Don’t waste energy on whether anyone else is getting famous or rich before you and put all your focus and energy into honing your craft. Other writers aren’t your competition, dude, they’re your compatriots. Stop worrying about their pay check and worry about your own. Good writing means you can get paid, so never think you’re a good enough writer. That self-doubt can be your continued catalyst – it makes you extra careful about what you’re putting down there on the page and prevents you wasting time churning out garbage no one’s ever going to give you money for. I live in a constant state of terror myself. LOL If you keep your head down that way, you’ll end up becoming a polished, hard-working, consistent producer which is exactly where you want to be even if that magical fame unicorn never makes a stop at your house. Plain and simple, success takes hard work and hard work produces better writing.

It does indeed, JD. Thanks so much for chatting with me!

To find out more about JD, check out his website http://jdstanley.com/.

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK~

I’m goin’ back to The Boys. Yup. THE Boys.

It’s time to talk about what makes–and breaks–a hero.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

A #summer of #writing and #parenthood: #Celebrate #nature and #imagination with a little #summertime #adventure in your own #backyard

Welcome to July, friends around the world, and Happy 4th to my fellow Americans!

Yowza, July already! June whipped by thanks to summer school for the kiddos. Biff and Bash have been doing a class to help them get ready for 1st grade, which means time with the three R’s and some extra socialization. It also means me going through all their kindergarten work to pack up the most memorable bits, including their writing. After going through their pieces, I couldn’t help but ask Biff and Bash about their favorite work.

For a girl reticent about meeting new people and trying new things, it was a bit of a challenge getting Blondie to participate in summer school. With the bribe of a computer gaming class, I was able to sign her up for photography and geocaching. Lo and behold, she’s found those courses way cooler than playing ol’ computer games!

(This isn’t the only chat I’ve had with Blondie lately! Moss Whelan interviewed us both for his Story in Mind podcast. Check out our awesomeness!)

For some, summertime means going on adventures in far off places. But my experience with Blondie in the Horicon Marsh was a beautiful reminder that one doesn’t have to travel far to escape to other worlds.

From accentnatural.com

So often we think we have to travel miles and miles to escape the humdrum.

from cityofwaupun.org

We presume the truly fantastic is beyond the horizon, just out of reach.

From horiconchamber.com

But if we take a moment to step outside, we might just discover adventure awaits us in the here and now, be it in the nearby marshlands…

From horiconmarshcalls.com

…or with the imaginations frolicking in our own backyard.

What are your imaginations up to this summer? Any recommendations of fun daytime-adventures with kids? Let’s chat!

Looking for some summer adventures? There’s free fiction to explore on my site as well as a fantasy novel on Amazon that’s free via Kindle Unlimited. Many thanks to Ronel Janse van Vuuren for her recent review!

Did you miss my monthly newsletter? Catch the July edition here, and subscribe here so you don’t miss another update.

Stay tuned… I’ve got some terrific interviews lined up this summer, starting next week!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

The Childhood of an Unlikely Shield Maiden: Wynne III

What follows is a continuation of my previous two installments of free fiction–a dialogue between me and Wynne, a character from my Shield Maidens of Idana fantasy series.Today we learn more about The Man of the Golden Hound Crest and his dangerous power over Wynne’s household.

What would you consider to be your worst defeat?

An easy choice. You may disagree with me later on, but I promise you, here lies the root of all present sorrows.

But I cannot speak of it in the open….surely not in my home. It is midday, is it not? Then the water mill is no option. Wild Buddug meets her sweetheart there for the next few hours, and one accidental intrusion is quite enough for me, thank you.

Caddock’s warehouse will be filled with loud talk and eyes far keener for lifeless goods to protect—or steal, depending on how you see it. Let us leave the market and follow this alley, here, the one where someone carried their slaughtered pig too close to the wall. The blood has gone dark, but is still there, you see it? A curious stripe against the daub. Normally animals do not walk this way, as it is too narrow for even three people to walk together, and the roofs nearly touch over head—it feels close, does it not? Like a chest left open by chance, and by equal chance will be slammed shut upon you. It is a dare to walk this way, and a relief when the walk is done. But this alley takes us from Market Street straight to Stock Street, where Lord Murchad built his warehouses. This is not a place to come friendless, I promise you, and while it is indeed highly questionable for a young woman to be roving about where thieves and murderers and the occasional honest man make their living, I have earned my immunity through Caddock’s friendship. No one here, of good or evil, crosses Caddock.

Through the front door, are you mad? That, that wretched man, his, his eyes follow us even now. No no, come around, where the cart horses graze. The parked carts make this pasture an ever-changing labyrinth, and there, see it? Galene flows nearby to keep us company. Let us use this covered cart with mud still wet upon its wheels. Yes, I know, it is the smallest of group, but it is also the least likely to be called upon in the near future.

Now, you spoke of defeats. Mine comes from no battle. The battle never had a chance to begin.

It took place not long after the Man of the Golden Hound Crest had found Morthwyl and me among the orpines. I did not dare walk north for the next few days, not even with the Galene strong and silent by my side. I feared beheadings, I feared death on the cusp of tasting life upon the lips of my Morthwyl.

Thank the gods for Market Day! I sat without complaint among my sisters in the garden, eyes fixed upon the road beyond the fence. My notes were soft and rarely in harmony, but I received no chastisement, as all my present kin were just as keen to watch the arrivals. Two large barges had arrived, and Father paraded proudly with their owners past our home and on toward the market. Furs and velvet, perfumes and fruits—bah! Mud clings to silk as well as homespun, I voiced with low, harsh notes upon my flute. When the last of Cairbail’s barge-oxen carried what appeared to be a dead stone monster with a horn upon his snout, I saw them: Morthwyl walking obediently behind his father and elder brother. Their smithy cart was compact and efficient, requiring but a few loads of firewood throughout the market hours to fuel the forge. That would be Morthwyl’s duty: he would move down Farmer’s Alley to the town’s edge where farmers often left cords of wood for convenience. They knew him, liked him for his father’s skill, would offer him a chance to sit, eat a bit of sops, and I would be there waiting…My flute sung as the skylark from me, eager to hear Morthwyl’s whistle in return.

But then bells jangled out of my sight, their harmonies discordant.

I caught back my breath and fixed my eyes upon Almedha as though awaiting some cue to play anew. Oh, Morthwyl, did he follow you all the way here? Has he spoken to you? Oh to hear your thoughts and know your safety! But I dared not look. I listened instead, and knew by the rhythms of their footfalls that they moved without haste. Nor did their cart house whinny in complaint. If she, an old thing, was at ease, then it was quite likely The Man of the Golden Hound Crest merely walked behind, please Galene he only walks behind…

The Man called his beast to hold before our gate.

The stallion loosed dark clouds from his nostrils. I thought of forge smoke, full of embers that burn the unthoughtful, how the sunlight upon the golden hound would surely burn the eyes of my sisters and turn them blind to all but wealth.

Cordelia audibly gasped and broke her flower wreath. Morwenna dropped her lyre and whimpered as she threw herself to the ground and fumbled herself into a new, ladylike position on the grass.

The Man dismounted, not once minding mud upon his black polished leather or his scarlet cloak. Sunlight fell upon his ringed hands as he gathered up the reins…

And my sisters’ Contest of Sly Accidents began.

First Isolda. She filled the air with a scream and cried, “My finger, surely the needle has pierced my bone!”

Next came Morwenna, who stumbled up from the grass and fell again. “Oh sisters, my ankle, surely it is broken!”

The Man led his beast to our fence and tied the reins to a post.

“Sisters, my week’s work will surely be ruined by the blood. Please, help me!”

“But my ankle!”

Cordelia clung to her broken flowers as her eyes searched for the pruning knife to slice a bit of flesh . Scoff all you want, but I would put it past no sister to cut off a hand for the sake of a wealthy suitor’s attention.

“I am sure to faint upon this sight of such bloodshed. Will someone not catch me lest I fall?”

“If only some kind-hearted soul could carry me to my room!”

“What in Hifrea is all this?” Mother burst forth through the door. I found myself watching the cake crumbs leap from one neckfold to another and down to her chest. “You know how noise up…sets….me.” Mother lost all control of her jaw, letting it hang complete open as The Man stood at our gate’s door, one fist upon his hip while the other swept the air before him.

“Madame, is this the most excellent house of Master Adwr, Trader Extraordinaire?”

How his golden chest did glitter, and his hair did shine! Almedha moved towards the gate as if in a dream. Isolda’s finger bled freely upon her skirt, and Morwenna’s ankle miraculously healed as she stood to move but a step closer to him.

“Y-yes, why, yes, yes it is, Good, Gentle, Sweet Sire,” Mother hopped down and to the side in such a bow no body her age could possibly fulfill without the utmost willpower.

I see your face. What was I doing in that moment?

The same as this moment: sitting.

Hush, someone’s coming…

Who’s out there, Caddock?

Thank the gods, His eyes haven’t come round yet…no, not Caddock, or his men. I tell you, I do not fear the men who work here. No, it is…there is always one of his…no. I cannot call them men. I’ll call them followers. There’s always one of them skulking about Cairbail. They never fraternize in the market, or drink by the docks with the other free men. They only move, listen, observe, and vanish. Life dims in their presence and closes in upon itself as a flower in night’s chill.

Did I close up when The Man of the Golden Hound Crest came through our gate? No. I changed nothing with his arrival. I did not stand, or even cease to play. What did I matter? I was not of marital age, and clearly, all my sisters were more than willing to meet whatever he envisioned as an ideal wife.

How foolish I was.

“Madame, I must confess to you that I committed a great sin against your husband.” His face contorted into such pain and sorrow that my mother looked ready to hold him to her bosom and weep upon his hair.

“Oh Sire, surely no such sin exists, but merely a misunderstanding to be easily expunged.” She curtsied, arms open for her own unique business. “I am Mistress Ffanci, wife to Master Adwr, and can speak with confidence on his behalf that the only sin in business is the unpaid service. And surely, Sire, you are one who would never commit such a sin.”

His face altered again, this time to ecstasy. I did not like how his face changed so quickly, like an actor with a table of masks at his side. “Ah, Madame, you flatter me. I am but a simple businessman, no different than your husband, and nowhere near as blessed as he with beauties to call my own.” His eyes shone with as much gold as the rest of him, and when they fell upon Almedha, I heard Morwenna moan in envy.

“A man of, business?” Mother blinked away her tears of elation. I could see her mouth turn about the word “business” as one tests a bit of fruit to see if it is spoiled. Would Mother’s talent for scrutiny save us? Surely she could see that no mere trader amasses such wealth, let alone parades it without reason. “Wynne, cease that infernal noise at once in the presence of such company.”

I did so with eyes down. “Yes, Mother,” I spoke hoarsely, and coughed. No one wants to admire a sick girl.

“Ah.” His boots approached the hem of my skirt. His gaze burned as summer’s sun upon my hair. “A lovely name for a lovely face.”

Isolda gasped. Cordelia whined, “But what about—”

Sssss!” Mother’s dress blew closer, and I could see her hands shaking as they lay folded against her girdle. “You, you know my daughter? Then I must apologize for Wynne’s rudeness, as she said nothing of—”

“Dear Madame, lay no blame upon the child.” He bowed low enough to grace Mother’s hand. I liked not ring that sparkled on his ear. “My guards found her in the forest, and surely frightened the memory from her head. They are forever armed with the most terrible looks upon their faces.” He politely put his lips to her hand, then turned to me with a smile.

He said nothing of Morthwyl.

His words were enough for Mother. She laughed with total ease, and said, “May I present the older daughters of Master Adwr to you?” My sisters formed a curved line next to me and curtsied in due course with their names and smiles. But the look of him, the way he never spoke of the boy I was with, never uttered Morthwyl’s name, of which I had no doubt he knew…I felt as though he already had a trap set for him, for us, and with one false step we would all be ensnared.

“Surely, Sire, we can speak more of business, sins, and beauty this evening with Master Adwr. Would you care to dine with us?”

He joyfully accepted, and departed with just as much ceremony and wistful gazes as his arrival.

Almedha promptly clocked my ear. “You might have said!”

“I didn’t!” I spat back. “I’m not old enough, and please, please think: is it not strange he never shared his name?”

“You wanted him all for yourself!” Isolda hissed.

“Because you,” Cordelia said with a swift kick to my leg, “were supposed to tell us.”

“He never spoke it!”

None of them believed me.

Please tell me you ran off for, like, the next several days. This guy just screams “bad news.”

No, he never screamed “bad news.” If he had, even Mother might have noticed and reconsidered a more intimate acquaintance. I doubt my sisters would have minded, though…

No no, I meant…oh, forget it. I’m assuming he didn’t forget the dinner date.

If only he had!

Never has my house been in such an uproar. No other suitor existed accept Sire. That is how my sisters referred to him in their rush from room to room, harassing Heledd and Ysball as they purred, whined, hissed.

“That’s my girdle, Morwenna!”

“But who will braid my hair? Mother, my hair will be dreadful for Sire and he’ll never look upon me again and I’ll simply die!”

“Isolda, please, pleeease take it in another inch, I can hold my breath!”

“Where is my brooch? This old thing must be yours, Wynne.”

“Now girls, as an army prepares together to conquer a new land, so must we all work together,” Mother called from the living room, finger ever ready to pinpoint a command. “Isolda, surely you have some ribbon we can work round Almedha to tighten the dress without alteration. Cordelia, go to Heledd, your hair must, be, perfect. Morwenna, give Cordelia back her girdle and polish both lyres. Cordelia, make a crown for Morwenna’s hair, then yours. Wynne…” Mother’s finger froze right between my eyes. I watched her nose pinch, her lips twist.

“Help in the kitchen?”

Mother snorted. “You would like that, wouldn’t you? To live in the dirt and dust as a servant. Off to your room! Morwenna, give her your second-best dress.”

I heard her still as I changed: “Master Adwr, at last! You simply must hurry, we are all on the cusp of disaster!”

“Oh my, don’t tell me Morwenna’s lyre strings have broken at last? That would certainly be a disaster.”

“Don’t you dare joke, Master Adwr! A trader bearing the crest of a golden hound, yes a golden hound, such detail, such perfection in the stitches, a businessman of such wealth that any king would envy him has come to this very house, and complimented your daughters, and will return to dine in our house tonight! And all this would be for naught had he not sinned against you in some fashion. How could you not tell me such a merchant was in your acquaintance?”

“Madame Ffanci, I am most certain I know not of such a man.”

“Then what can he possibly mean that he has sinned against you, a fellow businessman?”

“My dear lady, I have not the faintest idea upon the matter. Perhaps it is he who altered the prices with The Yoruach as his wealth seems capable of dictating the ebb and flow of currency across several countries.”

“Oh but it is, Master Adwr. And that he should know Wynne, of all our daughters, and she says nothing of him! I swear, my husband, that the child surely is a changeling. She could not possibly be of my womb.”

Morwenna harrumphed in agreement as she polished her lyre with smooth, precise strokes. “None of us would have kept such a secret.”

“You’re…” I squeezed myself into the pale blue, pretending it the river Galene, but failing. The Galene would never choke the life from me like this tortuous device. “…welcome to him.” Delicate stitches depicting baby’s breath wrapped around the collar and cuffs. I could only hope they would be white still at dinner’s end.

Morwenna narrowed her eyes skeptically to me as she tossed her oldest girdle across the room. “I know what you’re doing, Mistress Hard-to-Get.”

“Morwenna, I’m twelve. He can’t marry me. I don’t want to marry him. Insult me all you wish at dinner. Mock me, make light of my inadequacies.” I felt the girdle press hard against my hips. Did my sisters ever eat? “I had no desire for his acquaintance before and still don’t.”

“Likely story.” Morwenna’s glare would not waiver, not even as I left the room.

Oh, how I yearned to sit at river’s shore and lay all these troubles among Galene’s stones! She’d whisk them away on her current to join with the toxins that wretched tannery dumped. But no, all I could do was sit in the garden, mindlessly fingering a hollow song upon my flute.

Chirps and squeals and bickering continued to fall from every window of the house. In time Father stepped out, his eyes squinted in concentration as he blinked once, twice, upon my countenance. “Wynne, your mother has told me quite a story. Is it true, what the other females in this house say about this phantom Sire?”

I lay my flute upon my lap. “It is.” I wanted to speak more, but feared what words would carry into the house.

Father sat beside me. “You think nothing of his wealth and manners?”

“I think them dramatic. As an actor for the theater.”

“Ah,” Father stroked his naked chin. “You think him a charlatan.”

“No. I…” How could I explain my fear without sharing the woods, sharing Morthwyl? More than anything, Morthwyl needed to be safe, and I could not trust my parents, who speak their thoughts with no consideration or restraint. “I do not doubt his wealth. But I do doubt his nature.”

“Were I only to know of your Mother’s words, I would be in complete agreement with you,” he said with a tired smile.

Oh, heart, still, be at peace! Do not quake the baby’s breath upon my chest. “You know more?”

Father nodded as he prepared his pipe. “A servant boy bearing a golden hound upon his chest approached me in the market today. He thanked me on behalf of his master for your mother’s gracious invitation and insisted to supply the meal since, as he said, his master’s home was not yet ready to entertain guests.”

“What a curious insistence,” I said, pondering how on earth the servant could know Father, let alone the sense of transporting a nobelman’s meal through the forest to our house. “And rude. If our means are too meager for his taste, he need not have accepted Mother’s offer.”

“I, too, have wondered this.” Father patted my hand and almost smiled, but a shriek from Almedha over a broken ribbon and a cry from Mother of “Master Adwr, make sense of this chaos if you please!” interrupted him. “I am quite certain, Wynne, that your sisters and mother are the silliest women in all of Idana.”

We shared a smile before he left. If that was what this Sire wanted, a silly woman who happily swooned at the sight of coin, then he was welcome to any sister. I would not swoon. I would not be silly. In fact, I would be so disastrously dull that all would think me doomed to live my years as an old maid.

I’d like to think this all went to plan, and that you succeeded, buuuuut then we wouldn’t be here talking.

Indeed, we would not.

Oh it began not unlike I imagined: refreshments in the garden while Mother called upon us to perform both individually and as a group. He bowed and applauded, provided every imaginable courtesy in his manner, and yet one thing remained absent: his name.

His servants also attended all in the garden and in the kitchen. Heledd and Ysball were more or less shooed out of the house to make room for his five servants, boys all Almedha’s height, all of wooden pallor and demeanor. They never smiled, they never joked. They merely blinked their green eyes and answered yes or no. Were they all of a family? Their features never changed from lad to lad, as though all came from the same womb at once. So very strange! My curiosity welled beyond control, and I felt compelled to create a test for them. After one song, I turned to the servant nearest me and asked him what he thought of our harmonies. He twitched his mouth, coughed, and said “Yes.”

“Yes, they are in need of improvement, or yes, they meet your ear pleasingly?”

“Wynne, do not tire the servants with your pointless talk,” Mother spoke through grated teeth. “I do apologize, Sire. Our youngest is not nearly so polished as the others, whom you can see are all well and healthy, with proper hips and quiet manners.”

“They are each as delicate and rich as a king’s rose,” he spoke with a swooped into a stand. “I see by my servant that dinner awaits us. Shall we?”

Such bows and curtsies and pleas for the other to go first—it is a miracle any of us entered the house before midnight!

His servants dizzied me with their slow, eternal loops around the table, the meat of freshly slaughtered pigs and chickens upon their platters, forks for all to use at their leisure. Olives, dates, strange fruits, cakes filled with honey, berries, mincemeat. I ate little, though my stomach grumbled for more.

“And that tapestry there?” Mother spoke and chewed all at once, firing bits of sinew in every direction. “Isolda’s at the age of ten. Ten, I tell you! Such a gift, we knew it the moment she touched a needle. But no one can fill a house with music as our sweet Almedha, and such a head for figures! Young Garnoc, who just took up his uncle’s shipping company, has been wooing Almedha for months, think so his cloth-eared fool of a manager doesn’t burn through all his funds!”

“I’m quite proficient with numbers, as well,” Cordelia bowed her head, nearly knocking the cake platter from the lad’s hands. “I’ve studied with Father for many years, and I’m quite good with recording all the goods of a household.”

“But I’ve the best hips for bearing children,” Morwenna nearly stood up next to me, but Father coughed her back down. Gods know how far Morwenna would have gone then and there to prove this trait. “Mother says so, and our mother does know best.”

The Man leaned back in his chair, sipping little, eating less. “Every beauty here, absolutely ripe with talent. Madame, you are most blessed indeed! And yet, I have heard little said of your youngest.” He pointed his cup at me.

The silence was not only pregnant—I am certain it gave birth.

Mother chewed with a look I could only describe as consternation. “Well she’s not afraid of getting dirty—”

“There there, my dear, you’ve said quite enough about tapestries and hips to fill all our daughters’ minds for several lifetimes.” Father cleaned his fingers upon the table cloth and studied his wine. “Wynne is not like her sisters, nor is she of age.”

The Man watched Father’s face. “Do you mean to say your daughter is without talent?”

Father watched back. “Hardly. But since she fell into the Galene eleven years ago, she has had more sense than any other female of this house. If I’d known a few minutes of Galene’s waters in the lungs improved the mind, I would have thrown in the lot.” He passed about his cup as if to toast. He received gasps in return, including from me.

“Master Adwr, mind your tongue!” Mother laughed with daggers in her eyes. “My husband, he has such a humor.”

I dug through as much memory as I could, but I could not, with all my strength, find a moment of water filling my lungs. “You never told me I fell into the river.”

Father did not look at me or any of us. Something had dawned in his mind and caused him to smile. “But you were there. At last, I—” he set down his wine and looked upon The Man with new eyes. “I do know you, my humblest apologies. But it has been those eleven years, has it not, since I last saw you?”

By the Galene, never did I think I would see his perfect face crack! It lasted but a moment, but that moment portrayed fear, even some anger. The Man, whoever he was, knew vulnerability. Oh he covered all well with a smile and a laugh, but I have never forgotten that one moment where all looked ready to crumble. “And that is my sin, Master Adwr. To have lost contact with you since taking over my father’s business. I owed you a proper meeting when he died on a trip to the coast, but alas, my mourning threw all proprieties asunder.”

“Ah, that is all long, long ago. Surely you’re your father’s son. I cannot think of a clearer mirror than your face.”

He bowed in gratitude. Cordelia tackled the opportunity to speak. “But why was he present for Wynne’s drowning, Father?”

“She didn’t drown, Cordelia, lest we’ve been raising a ghost these eleven years. No, in that time you all often accompanied me along the Galene whenever I journeyed to the King’s Stronghold. Wynne was never one to enjoy the silks and spices, and often tired Heledd out as she explored the river, even talking to it. And one day, the day I was doing business with Master Prydwen, this Sire’s father,” he pauses to toast The Man, “we all heard Heledd scream for help. We run over, and what do we see? Little Wynne climbing up onto the opposite shore.” Father chuckled as my sisters oohed and tisked at my daring infantile impertinence—clearly, I was doomed from little on. Mother chewed through another cake with impatience. “Strangest thing. And you’d think that sort of experience would keep a child away from water. Just the opposite with little Wynne.”

“Perfect for a charwoman,” Isolda said with a glare before poking her tongue with an empty fork.

I was beginning to regret my request to Morwenna for a banquet of insults. I wanted only to sit by the Galene and think, and speak, and understand. “I see no need to pretend I’m better than I am.”

“No, you choose to pretend you’re worse, and I frankly find that just as distasteful.” Mother licked her fingers and patted his shoulder. “She’s far too much growing up to do, but no doubt she’d be a fine assistant to any one of her sisters in the house of Prydwen.”

The Man held his cup out, and a lad who carried meat a moment ago now held the pitcher of wine. “Your daughters inspire tears, Madame. Not only are they beautiful, but they are talented and humble as well. I must confess that I, too, yearn to have such a family about my table, to come home to music and beauty every evening as you do, Master Adwr.”

Father waved the wine lad aside. “You feel yourself ready for children, Son of Prydwen?”

The Man twitched, just as he had when I was fool enough to mention I had sisters. “Just, Prydwen.” His face fled into a smile. “I carry my father’s name. For the business, you understand.”

Father squinted a moment, then shrugged. “Of course. So, you think yourself ready for family?”

The easy manner returned. “Yes, I do. My manor is so very lonely with only servants and guards to talk to. But with the right companionship,” he raised his glass to Almedha, to Isolda, “life could be very,” to Cordelia, “very,” to Morwenna, “exciting.” To me.

I knew, in that moment, he had plans for us. And I wanted to be as far from those plans as possible.

I welcome any and all thoughts on Wynne, her family, Prydwen–any thoughts at all, really. Reader input rocks!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Lessons Learned from #TheHobbit and #RobinHood: use the familiar to build, not burn, bridges into your #fantasy #writing.

There comes a time when one must face Truth.

Despite all the amassed resources and ideas all around, there seems to be an insurmountable physical obstacle. For Plankton, it’s his size. For me, it’s being a mom during the summer months in the United States, when kids are home nearly all day. Oh, I plan on getting them to read and write as much as possible (Bash is reading to me from the Owl Diaries as I type this very post). But there’s no denying the time crunch to cram whatever writing AND school work I can into the few morning hours they spend at the school. (More on their accomplishments in a future post, including a sample of Blondie’s photography!)

So this month’s world-building post is going to cheat, just a smidge. I’d like to compare how a classic novel and a more recent film each utilized words and/or visuals they felt the audience would understand to help engage them in the story’s world. One accomplishes this brilliantly.

The other, not so much. (To me, anyway. I get this is all subjective. Moving on!)

I knew the animated film before the novel itself. “The greaaatest adventure / is whaaat lies ahead…”

Let’s start with the beloved first paragraph of The Hobbit, including one of the best first lines in literature.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Consider that phrase “hole in the ground.” Lots of us know holes: rabbit holes, construction holes, water holes, badger holes, snake holes, buried treasure holes, etc etc etc.

But a “hobbit”? What the heck’s a hobbit? Considering what we know about holes, we imagine it to be some sort of digging creature, maybe a mole or some such beast. Certainly not one to wear clothes and enjoy afternoon tea.

(Unless, of course, you’re Mole from Wind in the Willows.)

The rest of the paragraph continues to lead readers away from their presumptions about holes and establishes that a hobbit hole is nothing like they we know as far as holes go. Once given the line “it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort,” readers immediately begin associating other things they know, this time the focus on familiar comfortable things, and building them into the hole.

Tolkien, of course, helps readers accomplish this with the second paragraph. No flying into adventure or action here; readers take their time entering the hobbit-hole and peering about.

It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats–the hobbit was fond of visitors….No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage…

Readers, especially young readers, understand what halls are. They understand what kitchens are, bathrooms, all the rest. By providing the hobbit with rooms and possessions readers know from their own lives, readers can quickly and easily build the The Hobbit‘s setting in their own imaginations.

Another tactic Tolkien often utilizes in telling The Hobbit is directly addressing the readers.

This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him. This is a story of how a Baggins has an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but he gained–well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.

Readers have not even met this Baggins yet, but once again they can put their own knowledge to use: the humdrum uncle, for instance, that always plays life safe, or the old man down the street that goes through the same routine every gosh darn day.

In other words: boring. Kids know what boring looks like, and they’ll paint this Baggins fellow up with all the shades of boring they know. Tolkien starts readers on common ground so that when he’s ready to share the details of what they don’t know–like what a hobbit looks like–the readers can more easily integrate these details into their personal visualizations of the story.

Yet using common ground to engage the audience at story’s beginning can go wrong. Very wrong.

Enter 2018’s Robin Hood.

It’s an adventurous tale of heroes and villains, justice and evil. We all know the plot’s rhythm, the characters’ harmonies.

Until now!

This film begins with a CGI book titled Robin Hood. The book opens to a stark black and white illustration of a town (and their artsy credits) an unseen narrator tells us: “So, I would tell you what year it was, but I can’t actually remember. I could bore you with the history, but you wouldn’t listen. What I can tell you is this is the story of a thief. But it doesn’t begin with the thief you know.”

O-kay.

So like The Hobbit, Robin Hood starts with a direct address to the audience. Unlike Tolkien’s narrator, who walks hand in hand with readers into the story, helping them find their footing in its fantasy world, the film’s narrator treats its audience with a bit of condescension–I’d explain things, but it’s not like you’d really listen, right? You think you know this story? Well you don’t! Ha!

The opening scene shows a lady in a buxom dress, sheer veil, and dolled-up face sneaking into a barn to steal a horse from the “toff” (ugh, the American accent takes all the fun out of that word) who lives there. The “toff” who catches her is–ta da! Rob. He gives her the horse for her name. Ta da! Marian.

In comes the narrator again, showing Marian and Robin being all cute and playful. “Seasons passed. They were young, in love, and that was all that mattered. Until the cold hand of fate reached out for them.”

The audience watches hands sign some curious paper, hands coming out some super-smooth grey leather sleeves.

The narrator continues to speak while a messenger takes all these ominous letters from Grey Sleeves and enters the town. Grey Sleeves stands up and whirls his giant Matrix-ish long coat around as he walks towards a balcony. The messenger continues into town; the town reminds me of something from a Renaissance Faire, a mix of periods for color, stone, and wood.

“He stole from the rich and gave to the poor. He became a bedtime story. But listen. Forget history. Forget what you’ve seen before. Forget what you think you know. This is no bedtime story.”

At long last, we are shown a huge metropolis that we can only presume is Nottingham, which is later called “the Bank of the Church, the beating heart of the Crusades“.

Not that viewers ever feel this depth of city, as they only experience one, maybe two streets the entire film.

Anyway.

All the curious papers are draft notices for the Crusades. So the audience is shuttled ahead four years to a stealthy unit of soldiers all dressed in sand-colored armor. It’s all sniper fire with arrows, complete with several repeating crossbows that act more like machine guns–yes, sound effects included.

So.

The filmmakers have told viewers to “forget all you know,” removing the medieval style of warfare they’ve seen before so it can be replaced with scenes strongly eliciting scenes of modern-day conflict in the Middle East.

When Rob returns to Nottingham and finds Tuck, who’s ecstatic he’s alive even though viewers have never seen these two together before and therefore have no clue how deep or strong this friendship is, they learn ANOTHER two years have passed. Tuck dumps a bunch of exposition about the war tax and how the Sheriff has forced many townspeople to work in the mines.

You know, the mines that look like something out of Bladerunner, what with the towering exhausts of flames built into the endless frame of the mountain.

And at this point, I just had to give up trying to figure out this world.

The opening narration told me to forget what I knew. Yet the opening scenes of the film insisted on showing me characters in modernized dress and modern cosmetics. For all the exposition about war tax driving people into poverty, they show plenty of clean streets. Sure, the people are all sooty from the mines. Mining for what? How do John and Rob jury rig so many ropes and pulleys into a frickin’ firing range in the old manor? Where the heck does food come from around here? How is a Sheriff living in a frickin’ palace that makes the castle in Prince of Thieves look like a rat hole?

If Robin Hood really wanted its audience to “forget all they knew,” then MAKE THEM FORGET. You want all the modern flair in an olden time? Go all out in a sub-genre like steam punk. How awesome would it be to see Robin with an array of amazing crossbows, Little John with a clockwork arm, or the Sheriff’s stronghold as some air-fortress circling Nottingham?

But the filmmakers didn’t want viewers to forget, not really. They wanted people engaged in the story, but today’s audiences don’t understand the medieval period, right? So throw some modern music in, make even the poor commoners capable of dolling themselves up in velvet and smooth fitted leather. Sure, the coins can be old, and people can ride horses. The font on their draft notices can be printed in medieval font so they look old (seriously, those things look like they’re printed from a computer). But nothing in this world feels old. I kept waiting for the Sheriff to check his phone for a text from the Cardinal. Jeez, DC’s Green Arrow is more medieval than this Robin Hood.

I rest my case.

Don’t even get me started on how Muslim John can move around Nottingham with ease even after the Sheriff’s fear-mongering speech. He is the ONLY man of color in the city, and nooooobody ever pays him any mind.

Just…done. (That, and there’s a movie review that covers all my complaints and then some.)

Of course writers shouldn’t just go and do what’s already been done. How boring that would be! But there’s a difference between building world-bridges and burning them. Tolkien took elements of modern life that the audience would know and used them to help readers connect to The Hobbit‘s world of fantasy. The crew behind Robin Hood wanted everything to look cool, but that’s all it could do–“look” cool. There’s no age to the sets, no life beyond what the camera shows us. Audiences are left wondering how these peasants can dress so elegantly, why the Crusades look more like the Iraq war, why NO CIVILIANS seem to actually LIVE anywhere (again, just…Loxley’s manor and the Middle Eastern town, apparently, are tooooooooooooooooootally uninhabited). They told us to forget what we know, yet took exactly what we know from the here and now and did their damndest to stuff the Robin Hood story into it.

Gah, now I’m just rambling.

I love the story of The Hobbit. I love the story of Robin Hood. As a reader, I’m always ready to run headlong into these fantastic adventures because I want that escape from the humdrum everyday of the here and now. I don’t want to see the here and now used as some sort of tape to patch the fantasy together. No audience wants to see the tape hanging over the edges, blurring what’s underneath.

Only the beautiful fantasy world built with love, with time, and with care.

Thanks for following me through this meandering post! Next month’s posts shall be a bit more whimsical, as I’ve got interviews, marshes, creativity, and point of view ponderings to share.

Oh! And hopefully I’ll have everything set with the free fiction of the month and a newsletter, too. Have anything you’d like to share and/or plug? Let me know!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!