On This Day: 27 June 2006 – The Lies of Locke Lamora first published

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day, Review | 0

This month’s OTD post will focus on Scott Lynch’s “The Lies of Locke Lamora” which is the first of the “Gentleman Bastard Sequence”.  It’s a novel that follows the main character, Locke Lamora, who alongside his best friend, Jean Tannen, get caught up in a caper-like story that they must survive after would-be allies turn on them.

As always, no spoilers will be found here.

While the characters and action are captivating, I want to focus a bit more on the setting.  The story takes place in a Venice-like city called Camorr.  Lynch does an amazing job of thrusting the reader into this new and interesting place.  The world feels expansive beyond this one city but unexplored beyond minor mention.  The layers of world building can be felt in the dialogue/language, history, and religions.  The weaving of these elements are everything a fantasy story needs.

As I’ve explored in past blog posts, fantasy can be a difficult genre to write both in creation and holding a reader’s attention.  There is little familiarity except in more generic of terms.  Elements of culture and society have to be infused within the narrative through observation and understanding possessed in the point of view offered.  Some writers are vague in this exploration while others like Lynch dive deeper in the ocean of world building and succeed!

More to the story itself, Locke and Jean belong to a lesser, smaller gang of thieves surrounded by danger at every turn.  This takes the form of secret police and larger gangs that all have collective agendas of their own.  Throw in the threat of a Bondsmage (a warlock for hire) bent on killing them and you’ve got quite a thrill ride to enjoy!

What I enjoyed most upon reading this book is that it is actually pretty straight forward.  I kept expecting crazy twists that knocked me backwards but instead, there were subtle actions that were consistent and reasonable within the world.  There’s absolutely surprises and double-crosses that will keep you reading but you truly stay engaged in the story because you want to see how Locke and Jean will make it to the end of the book.  Each are skilled in their own right but neither possesses magic or has an ally that does.  They must rely on their wits and knowledge of the culture and city to survive.

It’s a rich world with so many interesting ideas that are fresh.  The technology is advanced to a point where chemistry serves as an almost societal magic embraced by all where the more mystic of arts has to be purchased as I stated before.  For a fantasy novel, it does not have an epic magic feel and those who actually practice magic–the Bondsmage–serve as more a background entity.  It’s a controlled approach that doesn’t spread across the entirety of the narrative.  This is a very cool idea and one I enjoyed.  It put constrictions on what to expect from a fantastical stance.

Totally recommended.  I’ve read the first three books of the series so far and enjoyed each as they explore new places and characters, expanding the world in a way that I really enjoyed.  My only gripe (I realize I probably don’t do that enough in any of my reviews of things) is that I felt like some of the exposition was unnecessary.  I get why Lynch added it (as a fellow writer, exposition is tough to navigate and probably more of a preference thing on my part).  However, in this instance, it’s hard to go into more detail without spoiling anything.  So, I’ll leave it at that.

Call to Action: Read it of course!  (Click on the pic of the book above to purchase.)  Or let me know what you thought about it if you have read it.

Layers Upon Layers: Revising Tips

I’ll get to the topic of this blog post shortly but I wanted to speak a little to the Shoals to the Hallowed flash fiction pieces posted at the end of each month.  To clarify, these are not connected to the Ravanguard series and have remained a writing exercise/foundational laying of the future series.  I apologize to anyone who wishes there was more.  I’m exploring the best way to give you more, which leads to a thought I had but will require an adjustment of sorts to the newsletter cycle.

In a previous post, I had created the main protagonist of the next Ravanguard-related short story for the second newsletter slated to be released at the end of August.  I think I will put that on hold for now (apologies to those who contributed to the character building exercise we shared).  I will come back to it but I think I’d like to use the newsletter as a means for writing a short story for the Shoals to the Hallowed.  You, the subscribers, will receive more context into the world and it will hopefully connect some dots as well.

Also, my previous plan to have 12 POVs is now being cut to 6 so that means in July, we will be returning to one of the characters you’ve all previously been introduced to.  I may even try to squeeze in two flash fiction posts from time to time but it all depends on my schedule.  Thank you for reading and continuing to support me.

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Onto the post!

The more I do it, the more I think a first rough draft of a story is simply pushing from beginning to end.  There’s so much that can happen along the way and the writer can plan and outline and still come away after that last page is finished and be surprised by some twists and turns.  I actually enjoy starting a story and not knowing where it will end.  It allows for growth and space.  When I’m surprised by something that happens, I know the reader will be too.

I could easily go on and on but I wanted to bring to light revising tips I’ve accumulated over the years.  There is no true rule or standard for revising.  It’s simply polishing the rough edges of the manuscript.

One thing I look for as I revise the flow of words.  Is there one?  Or does the paragraph or dialogue read congested or even constipated (bad imagery I know).  There’s a rhythm to language that can and should be utilized in storytelling.  Sometimes, it can be rough but that usually falls in line with a particular character, mood, or tone set before.  Sometimes (in my experience), this requires some adding or removing of words or even rewriting the paragraph or dialogue altogether.  Either way, it’s about not putting the reader in a place where it’s difficult to keep reading.

Another thing I look for when I revise is detail.  Is there too much or too little?  This is a bit of a chess game between me and the page to be honest.  It’s not a simple, “Oh, I forgot to say what color that woman’s dress is.”  No, it has more to do with whether or not the scenery/character/conflict is lacking in any way.

I’ll often find that I use words improperly that I mean to have a specific connotation in relation to the colors or sounds in the scene.  Appealing to the senses is essential as a writer.  We want the reader to be immersed in the action taking place in front of them.  If I fail to provide a detail even as minuscule as the sound of footsteps approaching or the creak of a door when someone unexpected enters a room, I’m denying the reader an experience.

These are just a few of the things I look for and are mindful of when revising.  It’s difficult but when I look back at the early scenes/chapters I wrote for “So Speaks the Gallows”, I have to remember that much of the world and characters were not fully fleshed out at that time.  I wrote the first chapters almost ten years ago now.  So much has happened since then and I’ve grown as a writer, able to look at how I write now to those first rough drafts of chapters and it’s truly gratifying to know I’ve grown and not been stagnant.

Call to Action: I haven’t said it in awhile but you should sign up for the newsletter when prompted on the website.  Maybe the promise of a Shoals to the Hallowed short story will be more enticing to some who have resisted so far.

Urgency for Agency: Search for an Agent

Plans change.  Most often, they change because a previous thought or idea can be influenced by new information.

I recently listened to a Q&A with a literary agent and there were some preconceived ideas I had about the process for publishing for myself that were shattered.  This has opened my eyes and my mind to make some changes.  I’ve sat with it for a few weeks now and I’m willing to say I’ve been approaching my goal the wrong way.

While not going into the deeper specifics, I’ll simply say that I had previously planned to self-publish the first novella of the Ravanguard series and use that as a means for attracting an agent.  In my mind, this was a great idea that showed initiative and forethought.  While I think this is partly true, I think after some processing and reflection, my approach was also in due part based in fear that my writing would not be good enough to attract an agent based on the writing of book 1.

This is the kind of fear every writer deals with.  My wife is gracious enough to help convince me that it’s a fear that I do not and should not worry about.  I agree.  I believe in my writing and the story I have to tell.  I’ve simply suffered a flat tire in the journey but thankfully, the spare is on and I’m on track again.

So, my plan has shifted.  I will not pursue self-publishing “Dim the Veil”.  It still serves as a companion to the series and is canon and will likely be published in the future but book 1 of the Ravanguard series, “So Speaks the Gallows”, is the top priority from her on out.  This is the vehicle for the series and I mean to see it as the selling point for gaining an agent.

Currently, I have been moving through book 1 with a friend, who has graciously offered his time, to fine comb through the book.  Seeing as how this book is over 450 pages, it has been a long process.  However, I’ve decided to refocus my revision efforts based on the feedback and discussions and I will make this final polish before searching for an agent.

Finding an agent is a process in itself.  It requires patience.  I will likely receive rejection letters but I do believe the right agent is out there for me and it will be a person I can partner with for the future.  They don’t make money unless they successfully sell the book to a publisher.  I learned a great deal through the Q&A session I listened to and will likely listen to it a few more times just to make sure I’m fit with the knowledge needed to move forward.

My wife has actually encouraged me to look for an agent for a few years now and I fought it in an attempt to convince her my plan was the right way to go.  It’s never fun to eat crow but everything is better with BBQ sauce (hickory and sweet, not spicy).  It’s an adjustment and those are never easy to realign to but I believe now that this is the route I need to take.

While I am revising book 1, I will also be preparing my query letters for agents and making sure those are top notch as well.  It’s an art in itself.  There are some rules that stretch across the board but a lot of agents have some differences in how they want to be queried.  The list of agents is growing and I have hope that he or she who decides to invest in me is in that list.

Call to Action: Despite these changes, I will continue on as I have been.  The next newsletter is still set for an August release.  Sign up if you haven’t.  Definitely expect a bigger update on book 1 and searching for an agent at that time.  I’m going to limit how much I discuss it here on the blog (if I can).

Wonder Woman: Thoughts and Impact

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Review, Writing | 2

I’m juggling and shifting my blog post schedule around to bring you all my take on the film, Wonder Woman, which Leesie and I went and saw this last weekend.

This is not a review but rather an initial impact on me as a writer and storyteller.  Have no fear, there will be no spoilers shared here!

I went into the movie expecting it to be good based on reviews I’ve come across.  I have not been the biggest fan of the DC comics movies so far (I enjoyed the first halves of Man of Steel and Suicide Squad) but I have held out hope that the trailer I saw for Wonder Woman would hold up for the entire film.

We watched the movie and my first comment to Leesie afterward was, “I am amazed that it took until 2017 for us to get a movie like that.”  Now, what I meant was, “Holy crap!  Why have we not had a movie centered on a woman super hero?!”  Seriously, I loved the film.  It had so much good in it that I’m still processing everything to this day.

What’s more is I truly loved hearing Leesie’s take on it.  In case you all don’t know, I’m a straight white male and that has…interesting connotations in today’s society (let’s leave that ditty for another day though).  My wife’s opinion means a lot to me as a storyteller and I often expose her to movies or shows that impact me as a writer and I want her take on it.  This doesn’t always go over well though because she doesn’t see what I see but that’s not really a bad thing.  I’m just a nerd who gets inspired by things not everyone else does lol.  So, not a knock on her, I just really like to hear her reaction.

But for Wonder Woman, I absolutely wanted to hear her reaction.  To listen to her talk about how it evoked emotion in her to witness a woman who was both powerful and compassionate lead the charge (not a spoiler since it’s in the trailers but that “no man’s land” scene was one of the best I’ve ever seen) tore at me.  As a man, and I like to think I value women pretty well (all thanks to my mom), I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.  I don’t know how women feel or think.  I don’t know what their experiences are in the workplace and other social constructs.  I just don’t but I love that I can talk to my wife and listen to her talk about these things that are inspiring to her and for different reasons than they are for me.

One other aspect she brought up to me (after reviewing this blog post) was the fact that Diana did not devalue the men she encountered (for the first time mind you) but came alongside them, learning about them as people and valuing what they had to bring to the table.  This idea of co-value is what seems to be missing in a lot of the discussion between men and women’s roles in society.  We are different.  Biologically and mentally there are differences but in action we can carry out the same goals.  I am always thinking about this as a writer and even putting it up against other stories in any medium of media.

Already, my mind is going back to the female characters of my stories.  I’ve never wanted to write ones that feel inferior for the sake of a plot device.  I truly don’t want to tell the story of a damsel in distress who can only be saved by the knight in shining armor.  It’s been done to death and it’s not an interesting story to tell (at least not to me).

As I write and revise the first book of the Ravanguard series, I’m reassessing my main female protagonist’s scenes in which I explore her thoughts and actions in the conflicts she faces.  Yes, she has help from both male and female counterparts but I truly desire to write her stronger than I previously had.  Will she make mistakes?  Yes, because that’s believable and makes her grow as a character but I don’t have to write her into corners or the tallest, darkest tower with way to escape lest their be some chiseled Fabio chump to scale that tower to free her.

Wonder Woman was an amazing film to experience and I highly recommend it to everyone.  I came away extremely impressed with the direction of the film by director, Patty Jenkins (keep an eye on her as a director) and Gal Gadot’s performance as Diana aka Wonder Woman.  Gadot was mesmerizing and embodied a hero with a clear vision of purpose and power.  Ignore the naysayers and pompous twits who feel the need to gripe over sensitivity issues (most of these are results of their own biases).  Form your own opinion and let that be enough.

Call to Action: Go see it.  In fact, if you’ve already seen it, go see it again.  I don’t often watch movies twice in theaters but I would absolutely jump at the chance to see Wonder Woman again.

Pressure Tester: Meeting the Content Quota

posted in: Fantasy, Flash Fiction, Life, Writing | 0

I took the Memorial Day weekend as an opportunity to conduct a little experiment.  Since I started this blog and launched my website, I knew I needed to up my game and produce content.  I knew I needed to have more of a presence on social media (Twitter primarily because of its format, features, and links to other writers).  What I didn’t know though was the amount of time this required of me.

I’ve done enough research to understand how marketing myself as a writer on the interwebz is important as I pursue my dream of publishing my stories.  The blog was a great opportunity for me to write and share.  The benefits have been great (I’ve already shared that to some extent and won’t regurgitate it at the moment).  I’ve tweeted and interacted with other writers as opportunities allowed.  Overall, the experience has been good but… To put it bluntly, I’ve run into a bit of a wall.

Let me explain (No, there is too much.  Let me sum up).  Being that active on Twitter has been time consuming.  I got into a habit where I always had a tab open to Twitter and would continually keep an eye on my feed.  I wouldn’t tweet something every hour on the hour but I tried to so throughout the day because all the research I did told me I had to be a continuous presence in addition to adding content.  Other than tweeting, my blog posts every other day have been the majority of my content.

A little vulnerability I’d like to share with everyone: it has been a bit a let down but only because I think my expectations were too high.  I get way more spam comments (all of these I have to go through and mark as spam behind the scenes of my website) and I see no real evidence that I am gaining consistent followers.  This could be for a number of reasons (everyone’s got a blog nowadays, especially writers, so I get that there are a lot of options) and the one I keep coming back to is I’m still at the beginning stages of this season of being “present”.

This is not to say I do not appreciate the comments I do receive from real people.  I love being able to read them and respond.  If I don’t respond, I apologize.  I am trying to be better about it.

Even on Twitter, I’ve come to this hovering number of followers and wonder what I’m doing wrong.  Am I tweeting the wrong things?  Am I hash tagging wrong?  Am I focusing too much on writing and not other interests I have?  If I tweeted more about sports, music, food, etc. would I risk losing the followers I do have?  These are questions I continually wrestle with and have yet to find an answer.

Please don’t take this blog post as a rant or complaint.  It’s not.  I’m processing my actions and the steps I’ve taken over the last five months of going all in.  I trust that I am very much in the early stages of this leg of the race and need to merely slow to a steady pace whereas I was sprinting and have started to hit the wall (I carbo-loaded on the Twitters).

In my mind, the experiment during the last holiday weekend was to see what it “felt” like to unplug.  I decided to step away and not have my laptop in front of me with a Twitter tab open the entire three days.  It was difficult at first because there’s this odd sense that I will miss something by not staying connected.  But then, I have to ask myself, why do I feel the need to stay connected at that level?  It was ultimately draining and I suffered from something I truly don’t want to fall under the pressure of and that’s always being connected through social media.  I can easily let my posting habits become more organic than forcing myself and putting myself on a strict schedule.

If not, then I will burn myself out.  I’ve done so in other areas and through different seasons.  Trying to constantly put out content and interact through social media is too much for me.  I have so many other interests and priorities that I don’t want to let slip away.  These “others” are what fuel me and give me joy.  Constantly tweeting and trying to come up with content that would attract readers and followers is exhausting and it’s not how I want to live my life.  What I want is to write and share the stories I have in me with the world.  Writers have done that for centuries before we ever got to this place of instant-connectivity.

This is not to say technology and our current culture of content intake is bad but I think I need to take a step back and refocus.  I can do both but I cannot sacrifice my relationships, writing, and interests for the sake of building my brand when I’m not quite there.  At least not at the rate I have been trying to.  It’s too much weight and I’ve been putting it all on my shoulders.  I think once I have “Dim the Veil” ready for release or leading up to the release, I need to step back.

Call to Action: No, I’m not going to encourage you to step away from your devices today, lol.  We get that from all over now.  While I do think it’s healthy, I want to encourage everyone to simply consider what they’re putting out there.  What’s your involvement?  What content are you pouring out?  Is it about sharing your life and being encouraging or dumping your trash for the world to see?  We should strive to be better than the negative ninnies out there.  Let’s be better.  Let’s be uplifting, honoring others wherever they are at in their journey.

Pulp Diction: Writing Dialogue

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

I cannot tell you how to write dialogue.  There are some standard rules and basic principles attached but in the long history of writer’s writing dialogue for their characters, there is a spectrum of style and usage.  This is not an instructive attempt by me or “how to” post.  Instead, it’s more about how I have come to learn to write it.

A story without dialogue is…well, let’s just say not impossible to write but in my mind difficult and not really necessary especially in fiction.  Readers dive into fiction to experience the lives of the characters in the narrative.  The best way to do that is through the dialogue (external and internal) and actions of the characters.  I cannot for the life of me think any modern story would be a fun read if dialogue were removed.

(Actually, something tells me Tolkien could have done this but the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings would have been a fantasy history rather than an epic.  See the multiple appendices for Middle Earth for reference.)

When I started out, my dialogue writing was less than stellar (as it should have been by an eighteen year old with no experience).  It has taken years for me to learn the discipline to do so.  And I’m far from being what I’d like to be when it comes to dialogue.  I think my current venture into writing the film treatment/screenplay for my movie idea will help since dialogue plays a huge role in the telling of the story (no interior monologues included and all visual storytelling methods are used).

It’s easy for me to say all my characters in the beginning of my writing journey sounded the same (that’s just an easy way to describe it).  What I mean by this is, I did not understand how to write the “voices” of different characters very well but that’s because I did not have the practice or skills of diving deep into the characterization of each speaking person.  In my mind, this was not an important element.  Back then, I just wanted to write and create new worlds.  Start at the beginning and work my way to the end to see what I come up with.  The voices of characters was sort of tossed in the side bin labeled “consider adding later”.

Characters who do speak in the story have to be differentiated by a number of things.  Where were they born?  What were their experiences growing up?  What was the culture like in which they lived?  What is the extent of their education?  What religion, if any, did they practice?  What are their dreams?  What are their fears?  Did they suffer from any abuse or disabilities?  All of these factors shape people into who they are!

Now, you can go over those questions and easily say, “A writer has to know all of those for each speaking character in order to write dialogue?!  That’s crazy!”  Yes.  Yes, they do and yes it is.  Maybe this is why non-writers are so mystified (I embellish a bit by using that word) that writers (especially fantasy writers) can create so much and hold of it in their heads and write full epic stories from start to finish.  We’re not wizards ourselves, I assure you (or are we?).  What we possess is a strength in creativity that is just different.  I can easily admit I’m mystified (I do mean to use that word in this case for myself) at the creativity and ability of artists who paint, sculpt, sketch, compose, etc.  It’s something I envy and wish I could do!

When I start writing the main point of view character and begin to have them speak, I learn so much about them.  I wish I could explain it in a way that is academically profound but the truth is, I learn who they are as I write the words coming out of their mouths.  How they speak to others is just as enlightening!  Developing a relationship between them and family, friends, strangers, and/or enemies is part of the magic.  It’s writing interactions between my characters that gives me the most joy.  I could not write scenes upon scenes where dialogue is absent.  Some writers can and I applaud them but I need to write dialogue for the sake of keeping my characters and their journeys progressing forward.

Differentiation between characters and giving them their own voice in the story is difficult and takes practice but it can be done well and in a way that stands out to the readers.  This is important and I stress that to anyone who wants to write or has recently tackled the art of storytelling.  I cannot tell you how to master this but I can tell you it’s worth mastering.  There are plenty of resources out there that can help and I encourage looking for them, studying them, and putting those methods to use.  Stories should be vibrant in their descriptions and in their use of dialogue.

Call to Action: Listen to people and how they talk.  Pick a few you know and really keen in on the differences from you and from those you know well.  It’s amazing the little nuances people have in the way they speak that makes them an individual.

The Benefits of Writing Flash Fiction

My experiment of writing flash fiction since January has been one of invaluable joy.  While it started out as a way to flex the writing muscles and provide additional/different content through the blog, it has turned into something that I believe will thrust me into a sea of possibilities in the future.

I hope you all have enjoyed the flash fiction posts at the end of each month.  The next is fast approaching and I truly enjoy writing these little glimpses into the Shoals to the Hallowed world.  (Side note: My goal is to provide several viewpoints–a new one each month–and then continue on in those viewpoints by next year.  So that means you’ll have twelve distinct viewpoints introduced this year and next year, I’ll be continuing from those twelve.)

My never delving into flash fiction was a result of not really having a platform to explore and release those kinds of stories.  The blog opened the way for me and I’m glad I took those steps.  The benefits have helped me in many regards but I want to focus on one single benefit for this blog post.

Flash fiction forces the writer to value each and every word, choosing only the ones that matter most for the current story told.  What I mean by this is, I try not to exceed 550 words in a flash fiction story.  Some that I have written over the last few months have been too long and I had to whittle those down.  Parameters aren’t always a bad thing when telling a story.

This practice forced me to pick and choose, editing finely, so that the story could be told in full without what I like to call “fluff”.  This makes the story in its glimpse form edged and to the point.  Too often when writing in larger word counts, the propensity for fluff leaks through.  I chalk this up to the desire to add detail in a first draft more for the sake of the writer, setting reminders for themselves, more so than for the readers to need at that time.

As you can probably imagine, I notice the fluff as I go through the revision process with the longer works like book 1 of the Ravanguard series.  Both good and difficult at times, I definitely struggle with knowing what is sometimes fluff and what is important to the details of the narrative (that’s the continued process of becoming a better writer).

The flash fiction stories serve multiple purposes for myself as I continue to write and gain experience.  You all are involved in the experimental process I’ve set in front of me.  I know there are other lessons I’ve learned but being able to take notice of detail in word count forces my hands (ha!) to be patient and considerate whereas in past cases I’ve acted very loose in how I frame the narrative and each scene within.

Call to Action: It may be years down the road, but I do plan on compiling all the flash fiction stories for the Shoals to the Hallowed.  I’ve even started planning and thinking about the bigger picture for the series though it may be many many years down the road.  I’m curious to know what people think so far.  Let me know because I’m interested in getting feedback.  Thanks!

The Bolder the Better

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 3

There’s this desire within me to be bold as a writer.  I have to ask myself what that looks like and after some reflection and processing (that will take place as a I write this blog post), I’ve come to a few conclusions.

Bold doesn’t necessarily mean crass or of high opinion to the point where I am obstinate.  Let’s say courage instead.  I think there’s a measure of courage needed to be the writer I want to be.  When I first started (here’s a bit of transparency), I thought I had to be a type of writer and write to a certain audience who shared the same religious views as I did.  Yikes!  (I’ve come a long way since then.)

This is not a bash to my beliefs (my convictions and beliefs are very much my own and I hold to them still but I have no interest in forcing them onto others).  No, rather, I realize now that I was a young, very green writer who did not know how to write without inserting this part of my life into the story.  As I look back, this is not in my opinion bold or the example of courage.

My train of thinking has definitely shifted since then.  A writer’s courage does not necessarily look like inserting ideals and doctrines of belief (whether they be religious, political, or cultural) within the narrative of the story.  No, in my mind, courage is knowing your beliefs but willing to explore the alternative options or opinions that others might have.

For example (I think I could write several more blog posts on this topic), I believe in a single God who created and loves humanity and wants a relationship with His creation.  Very basic description.  Yet, in the Ravanguard series, I have multiple religions (quite different from each other in some instances) that are important to the development and growth of my characters.  I cannot (in good conscious) write a character who has a belief in a monotheistic deity similar to my own and treat them in any superior manner over another major character who believes in a polytheistic system of religion.  Neither can I try to have one character convert another to deliver some subconscious agenda!  If I do so, I’ve made the story something (or at least the interaction of those two characters) that I don’t wish it to be.

I hope that makes sense and my words are coming out clear.  It would not be bold for me to treat my writing (this particular fantasy series especially) as a means of forcing my personal convictions down the throats of my readers.  There’s a different kind of book one could write if that was the intention.  Rest assured, my friends, this is not my heart in reality or in fiction.

For me to be a bold writer, I have to be willing to explore ideas (through characters and cultures) that don’t line up with who I am and what I believe.  This should not be a scary endeavor but a vulnerable and mature one that in my mind makes me a better writer in the long run.

Call to Action: As I was writing this blog, I thought about the current model that Pixar is utilizing in their movies.  My wife and I watched Moana and man we loved the movie and its exploration of that culture.  It was different from what we believe in terms of religion but the beauty in it could not be denied.  I think its worth celebrating these different cultures and in no way wrong to want to learn more about them.  Honor looks like loving others no matter their differences.  I encourage everyone to do this!

Flash Fiction: “The Bloody Dove”

Chasiel stopped and stepped backwards to look down the narrow street deep in the Weavers Ward in the city of Khamda.  Night cast shadows all about the mottled-stone corridor but she could see the two men easily enough.

Smoke from her exhale curled around her face, pipe bowl glowing as she sucked in soon after.  A hum of sound in her throat followed.

The men faced each other, one slapping at the other in obvious intimidation fashion.  Chasiel would never think to intervene in such a common scene in the gloomy wards of Khamda but the slapping man’s attire drew her attention upon recognition.

Smoke continued to drift from her mouth and caress her face as she approached the abuser and his victim.  The sweet scent of the sigda leaf filled her nostrils.

“Help!” the bloody-faced man cried, hands raised to protect his face from further injury.  Common by his appearance, he did wear at his waist one of the leather kits used by runners to keep writing supplies on hand and ready at a moments notice.

With a twist, the other man turned to see who approached, as Chasiel did not change her footing to a quieter step.  Dark hair and beard hid his features but the three intersecting silver rings sewed into the sleeves of his jerkin marked him a mercenary belonging to the Silver Way Band.  “What’s this–”

His question could not be finished as Chasiel lashed out with a combination of punches to his lower back, aiming for the kidneys, and finishing with a grab and throw technique she had recently learned from Fenroe who would receive a well-deserved “thank you” the next time they saw each other.

The bruised runner trembled in shock at witnessing his attacker being bested by a woman no doubt.  Once he came to his senses, he began to sputter thanks.

Chasiel waved him off.  “Give me whatever contract he had been offered.”

The man winced.  “What?”

She blew smoke in his face, ignoring his coughing.  “The contract.  Give it here.”  She snapped her fingers at him.  The humming sound in her throat followed and the runner’s eyes widened before dropping to her throat where he finally noticed her choker and the pendant that rested cold against her skin.

“Damned whore,” the Silver Way mercenary growled as he rose to his feet, still in pain but reaching for a dagger at his waist.

Chasiel reacted in kind, pipe stem pinched between her teeth, as her hands shot for the hooked blades sheathed behind her back.

Dead men screamed, grunted, and/or pissed themselves when the clutches of the Hallowed seized their soul.  Men of the infamous Silver Way were no different.  Blood flew from her slashes and pooled on the old cobbles at her feet.

“The Bloody Dove,” the runner whispered.

Chasiel nodded.  “I’ll have that contract.  Then you can go.”  Placed in her outstretched hand, she unrolled the thin paper and read, finding the details both interesting and enticing.  “Hallowed be Praised,” she said through smoke and leaving the runner alone with the dead.

There’s Nothing Romantic About War or Writing

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

Something that I think is misconstrued about being a writer is that it is a glorious affair in which the heavens rejoice over poignantly illuminated prose writing.  As if all existence can be summed up and shared with the world in a way that would eradicate hunger, sow peace between rival nations, and/or make immortality attainable.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Writing is romanticized much like war was during the times of the Greeks in epic fashion.  For example, Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  This is probably one of the most romanticized ways of describing writing if ever there was one.  I’ve done it from time to time too.  Neither writing nor war are romantic.  I’ll be speaking to the former here (I don’t think anyone is disillusioned when it comes to the horrors of war in this century).

Here’s the truth.  Writing is both easy and hard depending on the day.  I’m not sure it is romanticized like it was in past eras when books and plays were all the rage for entertainment.  I kind of wonder if there is maybe a growing eagerness in the younger generations to write because there’s a belief that it’s a lost art (though it’s not) or that it has been raised on a pedestal in society to be another way to have your voice be heard and recognized among the masses.  (Just some random thoughts I’ve had.)

What I want to convey today is that for me, writing is difficult–but also easy.  Life does not sit back and say, “Tell you what, I’ll pause for a bit–take a siesta–and let you have a few hours to attack that scene you’ve been thinking about for the last two weeks.”  Ha!  I wish that were the case except I don’t.  My writing itch would be like one of those medical monitors that tracks heart rates.  Up and down, up and down.  That incessant beeping must stop!

Take this last week.  I started working on the film treatment for the movie idea I’ve had clattering about in my mind.  I’ve worked on it and felt good about it (so far…) but I’ve struggled to keep consistently working on the revision of book 1 of the Ravanguard series.  I would love for my desire to work on both to be of equal fervor but that’s been a bust.  And often is to be honest.  The creative juices go tepid from time to time and I’ve had to learn to be okay with it.  Sometimes I grumble and sit in solitude but I roll with it.

All this is to say that writing is fluid and should be recognized as such.  Maybe there are writers out there that can be disciplined to monk-like standards and write whenever they want and produce exactly the content they want but they are few and far between.  The biggest challenge for the rest of us (whether you write blogs, articles, poems, short stories, novels, screenplays, technical manuals, etc.) is to find a balance, give ourselves grace when it’s needed, and by Jove, continue to have fun!

Call to Action: Find that happy medium when it comes to feeling overwhelmed by things.  Take a walk, garden, cook, watch a movie, play music or even just sit back and read.  These pastimes should be integrated into life.  I know a lot of people who are not writers but would love to write something.  I always encourage it to be done but definitely don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by the thought that it is too big a goal.  It’s really not.  You sit down and bleed on the paper.  Ha!

My Cup Runneth Over

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Music, Review, Writing | 2

Couple of things to go over first before I get into the trappings of my mind today.  This is going to be kind of subject to subject type of post but a good overview of the happenings in my fun-filled life.

Business first.  There may be some changes coming to my blog posting schedule.  If you’ve paid attention, I post on every even day of the week (2nd, 4th, 6th, etc.) unless the “On This Day” post lands on an odd day.  Roughly, that means I’ve posted about 14-15 posts a month.  After five months of this, I’m beginning to wonder if I can keep up that kind content production for the foreseeable future.  So, starting in June, I’ll be switching it up.  My plan is to begin posting every three days instead of every other day.  That means blog posts will likely be on the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and so on of every month.  There will be variances of course depending on when the “On This Day” post falls (maybe that will be a bonus post for the month).  Everything else will stay the same though.

Still nothing on the book art for “Dim the Veil” but I’ll let everyone know once that happens.  No progress on the method for savings towards the professional edit either.  I’m going to be looking into some options soon though and hopefully come to a decision.  Again, I decided against gofundme and kickstarter because if someone decides to give anything over $5, I fear that I cannot offer them anything in return besides the novella once I release it and I don’t believe that’s ethical.

Viewing pleasures.  I recently watched the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and I have to say I truly enjoyed the film.  It did not quite go in the direction I expected and I was pleasantly surprised by the more sentimental parts and its focus on family.  It hit the heart strings on a few occasions.  And the music was awesome of course!  No other movies I can think to bring up but I am watching the new seasons of Better Call Saul and Fargo.  Both are great television shows that continue to hold strong in their narratives and character explorations.  I’ve wanted to get into the American Gods show based on Neil Gaiman’s novel but I haven’t had the time yet.  I can’t say I loved the book so I’m not uber-drawn to the show.
Soothing Sounds.  As both a writer and musician, I’m naturally drawn to music.  My musical journey has been interesting to say the least.  I may have to do a separate blog post on that soon because I’ve gone from genre to genre over my life and settled recently on pretty much a place where I didn’t think I would.  One of my favorite bands is Cold War Kids and their latest album “LA Divine” has been a constant whenever I have music on in the background (heads-up, I’ll be working on a blog post soon going over some of the lyrics from that album in a sort of semi-review).  Also, freaking Paramore (probably one of my top-five bands ever) has released their fifth album “After Laughter” and that will be played out in no time between myself and my wife (her favorite band).

Bookworming.  Recent reads include a bevy of books.  A couple of fantasy tomes were “Heroes Die” by Matthew Woodring Stover and “Shadowmarch” by Tad Williams.  Both were good for what they were but did not blow my hair back.  “Heroes Die” was more an original idea with sort of a pseudo-sci-fi element to it.  “Shadowmarch” reminded me of “Game of Thrones” and some of the other books of that ilk.  I also finished Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” which I will probably review in the next newsletter.  Definitely a fun “read” as I listened to the audiobook.  I’m a little behind in my reading challenge over at Goodreads so I need to get on it and read some shorter books I think.  It’s these 500-600 page fantasy epics that really slow me down :/

Fun Stuff!  So, we’ll be going to Colorado to visit family in September and I was lucky to find that my baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, will be in Denver playing the Rockies while we are there.  So, I jumped on the chance to see my team play  for the time live and bought tickets for one of the games!  Super excited!  I haven’t been to a baseball game since I was in my early teens.  Should be a great experience with my dad, uncle, cousin, and brother-in-law.  The great thing about baseball games if that they don’t cost an arm and a leg to go.

And that concludes your quick update of my life.

Call to Action: I’m curious to know if anyone has any thoughts on how often I post blog posts.  One every other day was really a challenge to myself to see if I could do it but also provide enough content to gain readers.  I can’t say for sure if this has really gained people interested in reading my content though.  I don’t get much feedback besides from friends and family (am I even doing this right? lol).  Maybe switching it up will help.

True to Self

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 3

Something that I continually come up against each day (I’m sure you do too if we’re being honest) is staying true to self.  This extends beyond my writing.  Everything I’ve given since starting this blog has been my genuine voice.  Thoughts are legit, lessons learned are still gripped tightly, and humor is straight from my wacky brain and how I view the world.  I admit, I hold some things back but for the most part, I keep it level.

I know I’m not alone in this because I see so many people everyday whether in my day to day or on social media expressing these practices of self.  Sometimes, you can tell people are still not all the way there but inching closer to understanding who they are, what they believe, and what their purpose is.  One thing I’m forever grateful for is my own journey in this regard.  To look back at my life just ten years ago, I get a little embarrassed knowing what I did and said to others and even what I thought about myself.

You can’t go back but you can learn from mistakes.  It’s only by these mistakes that I am able to shake my head and thank God I’m not there anymore.

(At this time, you’re probably saying, “Oh, it’s one of these blog posts.”  Yes, it is.  I dare you to keep reading!)

How this relates to writing is simply you have to write what you know and like.  I’ve tried writing stories set in another genre but not even I can push through the struggle.  Now, I don’t think I will forever write fantasy (I truly hope not) because then I’d be limiting myself.  My hope is that I can get these stories that are fresh and inside me out and off to the world, making way for others that might stray to different audiences.  A great example is Stephen King.  Love or hate him, he actually has stories that are not horror/thriller.  Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are both his and wonderful stories!

If I wanted to have success in the literary world (or just a better chance at it), then I’d chase whatever fad is happening at the moment.  I tend to joke that I may do that just to see if I can get published faster but I’d feel too bad for selling out.  (No vampire meets werewolf gets locked in a game to the death dystopian future will be found in my books.  Ha!)

Again, in order for me to be able to push outside the boundaries (and comforts) of writing fantasy, it will require me to expand myself in new ways.  I don’t know what that looks like at this time or even how it will come about (probably naturally since that’s how most major changes in my life take place).  My climb out of the places of immaturity and naivety in my early twenties took quite a while (they do say boys take longer to become men and there’s definitely truth to that).

Perhaps a lot of people struggle with or are not willing to admit to their shortcomings or falls in youth but I love that I can share that journey.  I’ve had the opportunity to do so a few times with others and it’s therapeutic to be genuine and honest about that part of my life.  Even now, I have this sense of peace being a bit vulnerable and transparent with all of you.  I write and I consider myself a writer but if I cannot be true to myself in that aspect of my life, how could I expect to anywhere else?

Call to Action: If I did write the vampire meets werewolf after getting locked in a game to the death dystopian future story, I’d call it “Fang Games”.  Uh oh… I might have a fun little tongue-in-cheek story prompt I should throw out there to the interwebz.  By the way, if you are one who wastes time on Pinterest (I say that light-heartedly of course), then follow my writing board where you will no doubt be entertained by my pins of what I enjoy and find inspiring to my writing.  Find here: https://www.pinterest.com/adamhenderson49/my-writing-board/

The Disposition of Exposition

If there’s anything in writing fiction that needs to be done well and balanced throughout the arc of the story, it is exposition.  The inserting of background information for the sake of explaining characters, history, setting, culture, etc. is tricky for first time writers.  As with many literary devices, this is especially difficult in fantasy.

In works of fiction set in the real world, in real places, during real eras, most of us can draw from our education and/or experiences to fill in the gaps.  If I’m reading a book set in the United States during the 90s and certain people, places, music, and events are mentioned, it is very likely I’m able to draw from my time growing up in the 90s (I was born in ’84, so I’m well-aware of the decade).  Yes, I was a freshman in high school by the end of the 90s but as the years go by, I know more about the global conflicts, major historical events, sporting events, etc. (lots of etcetera’s in this blog post, right?).  I think you all get my point.

Fiction set during this era doesn’t need a lot of exposition.  If you grew up or were starting a career or nearing retirement during the 90s, then you knew the culture.  If you are reading a book (let’s say a John Grisham novel set in this time), I guarantee you don’t need much background explained on a national level.  If we are talking about Grisham’s “The Runaway Jury” then we are looking at Mississippi in the 90s.  Exposition here would focus on the setting the story takes place in and the region and those cultural nuances that would be prevalent.  That’s very little to expound upon to the readers because one would be able to presume the majority of readers in the US would be familiar with the time period, social issues, etc.

Now, let’s jump to fantasy.

In fantasy, you are being introduced to an entirely new world with its own history, society/culture, foods, religions, conflicts, and more!  One thing I’ve run into when speaking with people who are not the biggest fans of fantasy is that they struggle to immerse themselves in a world that they are so unfamiliar with, filled with ideas and things that are not explained in detail.  I get this.  So much in a fantasy world needs to be revealed in order to understand the roles and complexities of the world the plot takes place.  However, we as fantasy writers (I being one of them) run into a problem if we try explaining every new thing that is unlike something in the real world.  We slow down the action of the narrative if we do this.

The problem in doing so takes the reader out of the story and they are forced to read paragraphs of information that almost acts as a pause button.  I’ve seen fantasy writers tackle this problem of exposition a few different ways.  The first is a glossary or primer (I’m a fan of this method) that usually can be found at the back of the book where people, groups, events, etc. can be explained and defined.  The second way (I’m not a fan of this) is adding footnotes at the bottom of the page.  I have struggled reading books using this method because I always feel I have to drop my eyes to the bottom of the page when I come across that footnote letter or number within the prose.  It’s very inconvenient.  I’m curious to know how many readers prefer either method or could care less.

My preferred method in my own writing when dealing with exposition is looking for ways to explain background information either through the dialogue or inner thoughts of the characters.  The problem with this method however is that the reader has to wait for it and be on the lookout.  For example, in the “Shoals to the Hallowed” flash fiction series I post at the end of each month (I hope you all are enjoying them and my promise to create a primer is still in the works) I am giving you all very little information about the world due to lack of writing space.  Flash fiction in its desired format limits the amount of words I can provide, so my goal (and this is a bit of an exercise for me) is to give you hints of things, reinforce them from time to time in each new story, and allow you to make important connections.

It is my feeling and belief that if I just explained the Wielders and the Shoals they are able to access and harness the power of, I would be denying you the joy of the small windows of story provided.  Now, maybe that’s my own ignorance and you all are just like, “What the heck is going on here?!  Just tell me!”  If you are, there’s your call to action, hahaha!

Seriously, though, I understand the struggle to not have exposition in new, unknown fantasy worlds.  I truly do and my hope is that I can give you the answers in ways that do not slow the story or act as a distraction.  It’s my belief (and preference to be honest) to learn as I read and trust that the writer will explain things naturally without inundating me with info dumps every other page.  I’d like to think I’m not alone in that.

Call to Action: Show of hands.  Who’s completely lost in the “Shoals to the Hallowed” flash fiction stories and would like a future post or a working primer to be added to the website so some things can be explained?

On This Day: 04 May 2006 – The Blade Itself First Published

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day | 0
I hope you’ve all enjoyed the OTD posts I do each month.  They are a lot of fun and let me work different writing muscles.  First, today is Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you) but that would be too easy.  I decided today’s post would be about a book I have come to love and refer back to whenever I think about how fantasy can stray away from the clichés and tropes we too often see in the genre.

Joe Abercrombie’s “The Blade Itself” is the first of the First Law Trilogy and my introduction to the subgenre of “grimdark”.  The agreed definition of grimdark is usually one of realism in tone, setting, and violence in the story.  Think: gritty.  Few things feel clean and there is this sense throughout the world that characters are gray more than anything else.  Heroes with shining swords are not found here.  They are more the antihero type who have vices that are magnified and they do not come out of the fight unmarked in some way or another.

“The Blade Itself” is such a novel.  The main viewpoints follow a cursed warrior, a conniving torturer, and a selfish nobleman who has bought his position as an officer in the army.  None of these characters are your Frodo, Aragorn, or Gandalf type.  They’re characters caught in a violent world of webs of conspiracy.  The world of the book never feels warm or inviting.  The settings are often cold and dark and truly realized through the arcs of the characters as they traverse through the plot, never guaranteed the next day.

Depressing, right?  Well, I don’t mean to paint a murky picture here but what Abercrombie genuinely does is make all of these characters worth your time and interest.  They are compelling despite their grayness.  Each of them realizes they have choices to make and they can either fight to live or let higher powers manipulate them into servitude.

You all know how much I enjoy well-rounded characters (at least I hope you do after these last four months).  This book is where you get some of the best.  Plus, no one is quite what they seem.

Another reason Abercrombie has gained me as a fan is the fact that he purposely sets up what you, the reader, thinks will be common clichés and tropes and he awesomely twists and turns to surprise you from page to page.  This is more realized as you read the entire trilogy but enough so in the first book that you can’t help but smile once you realize what had happened.  He crafts the narrative perfectly.

I recommend this book and series to everyone who asks me but I must warn that it is not for everyone.  Grimdark is like whiskey straight.  It punches you in the mouth at first taste but the more you sip, the better it gets and you truly appreciate the writing you’ve immersed yourself into.

Call to Action: Read it if you dare.  If it’s not your preferred order when it comes to reading, then I definitely don’t fault you.  I actually have not delved into other grimdark books because they are difficult to read.  I personally think Abercrombie provides more than the gray characters and violence but has paved the way for other writers of the genre, exploring new worlds and ideas that color outside the lines.

Update Time!

Some quick updates.  Nothing received on the book art front yet but I know that will be coming in due time.  I heard from my friend who is helping me and things are moving forward.  There is no rush at this point simply because I think for now I’ve decided against either starting a gofundme or kickstarter option to put together the money for the “Dim the Veil” edit.

Without going into the details, I’ll just say that unless I can offer more than a “free” copy of the ebook of the novella, I don’t feel like I can justify asking people to donate or invest more than the cost of the novella itself.  Going with either of those crowd funding options would have (in my mind) required me to offer a gift/reward of equal value.  At this time, if someone decided to donate $10-20, there is nothing I can think of practically to offer in equal exchange for that amount of money.  Not at this point at least.

The downside of this is that I will not be able to get the novella edited and released in the timeframe I had originally hoped.  It will take time for me to put together the amount required to pay for both the line and copy edit.  At this point, I could not in good conscious release the novella without taking that step.  Quality is so important to me as a writer.

I’m thankful I encountered this realization and do not look at this as a defeat or setback in any sense.  I’ve been doing this long enough to know that while I’m a writer and storyteller, I am not (I wish it weren’t so) a professional fiction editor.  I’ve invested time and resources in getting better at self-editing but there is a skill set that I don’t necessarily possess in comparison to the editor, Victoria, I’ve since worked with.

I do plan on getting better though, having asked Victoria for feedback on any repetitive mistakes she may have noticed in the short story provided in the newsletter (I hope those of you who signed up and received it enjoyed the story!).  I have her redlines and comments and I will make it a priority to study and understand the corrections and changes so that I can fix any bad habits I’ve developed over the years (it happens…).

One other positive is that I will be working on the short story for the second newsletter, which will be released at the end of August for all of you!  Yay!  I will have Victoria edit that short story as well and it’s format will be different than the last.  My hope is that I can continue to offer up quality content and still learn to write more better (I did that on purpose, ha!).

Call to Action: While I won’t be starting a crowd funding option to save towards the “Dim the Veil” edit, I will be looking for an alternative way just so I can set aside money and be able to track my progress.  If for any reason you do want to invest in me and my writing, I will not turn away the compassion.  Contact me on my website and we will discuss the details.  This will be beneficial to anyone in the long run.  You will get exclusives and when I am able to, gifts worth the amount you gave.  I thank you all of you for continuing to come here and read what I have to say.  It means the world to me!

Flash Fiction: “Separate From the Sorrows”

 

Gasping breath invaded his stinging lungs, feet slipping on the glass-formed ground where the Shoalway opened for him to exit the harsh environment of his Shoal, Qorum.  Always, the elements of the other realm challenged his body and mind–still in ways the scholars and Wielders did not fully understand.

His wounds required attention.  Cuts stung, slashes needed sutures and burns demanded salves.  The Wielder, Damrin Graeves, surveyed his body wherever the pain emitted from, revealed by the rips and singed parts of his once fine clothing.  The fight had been unexpected.  His hands shook, fingers clenched into hard fists.  Tears streamed from his eyes down his cheeks, stinging throughout their trails.  Not from the pain–no–but from the betrayal he had just survived.

There in the abandoned courtyard of stone and overgrowth in the dead city of Hasselor, Kesree baited him repeatedly like a man mad with deceptive intent.  His vile words, lined with poison, echoed in Damrin’s mind.  His friend…one of many years since they first encountered one another in the Wielder’s Congress.  How had it all unraveled like frayed rope?

Damrin dug his fingers into the dirt of the field outside the capital city of Talloe of the Hold, Teras.  Birds sang beautifully around him, mocking his heartbreak.  Kesree had managed to slip away to his Shoal but he could not have lived.  The wounds he had suffered were far worse–fatal to the body.  Passing through the Shoalway to wherever he ended up in the world was a desperate risk.  The Shoals did not coddle or pity the Wielders able to bridge the world by their power.

Losing his dear friend would leave a wound that would never heal but the confrontation between them was a slow-moving agony.  The betrayal drove his thoughts to consider the turn of events.  If Wielders were turning against one another, then war was surely churned up in the garden of peace.  He had to seek out allies, but knew the chance of further deception was likely.  He needed his mind and body to be healed completely, forcing himself to be ready in an instant.

A small opening to his Shoalway appeared before him, earth melting to glass underneath.  He gazed into the portal, able to look through the haze of power to an atmosphere of peril.  Even a small opening was large enough to let out some of the most dangerous threats that dwelled within Qorum.  But he needed it open.  Only then could he draw out the current of power, healing his wounds.

Developing Characters

Short of being able to properly and coherently write sentences, characters are by-far the most important aspects of your story.  I’ve wrote on this to some length over the last few months and wanted to get into some specifics.  This will be a post about developing characters and I’m going to do it in a way that I hope makes things fun for you the reader.  How?  Well, as I write, I’m going to develop a brand new character for you!  (This character will be in a future short story–maybe in the next newsletter!)

Have at it!

Alright, there are “aspects” I want to consider first and you’ll just have to roll with me as I do this.  I want to create a character who is distinct.  What does that look like?  Well, I need to decide a few things that will be both somewhat general and differential when it comes to others.  (Just as a heads-up, all of these characteristics we’ll be developing are subject to change but I am going to try to keep everything the same so that when you come across the character in the short story, you will feel like you know them!)

Back to the distinctity (yeah, I know, not a word but it is fun to write and say!).

Let’s say the character’s name is Avroes Toal.  That’s a random name if ever I came up with one but let’s roll with it as we move on.  What will make him distinct.  Let’s say he is younger but has early signs of graying hair, making him self-conscious with the ladies.  One lovely lady in particular (this is a bit of a plot element so we’ll leave that alone for now).  Who is this man named, Avroes?  If he’s self-conscious about his hair, how else would that affect his personality?  I imagine him as being a bit of an over-compensator.  He looks for opportunities to prove he’s not older than he is and therefore has adopted more childish or immature ways.  This also affects his relationships both personally and professionally.

How are we doing?  Are you staying with me?  Good!  Onwards!

So, Avroes Toal is a young man (mid-twenties) who has prematurely graying hair and over-compensates this by acting out in ways to prove he is young and not old.  We’ll stray away from specifics because we don’t want to get too close to plot points.  Let’s also throw in some other details to round him out.  He likes the outdoors and would prefer pursuing a profession that allows him to see the world (cliché a bit, I know), but let’s say he wants this because his father and grandfather were both men perfectly fine with living their lives as scholars, devoted to studying and page-turning.  This is not Avroes the Gray (poor guy has a nickname he hates too!)

He’s a man looking forward and beyond the confines of a study or library, wanting nothing more than to see the world and prove he is not like his father and grandfather who have paved the way for him to have a good-paying occupation that will allow him to marry, have children and carry on the Toal legacy of ink stains and paper cuts.

Also, he hates heights and the library he would have to spend all of his days in is at the highest story of a building with many stairs and no banisters.  He seizes up anytime he actually has to approach a tall staircase, afraid his footing will give way and he’ll stumble to his death.  In fact, let’s say his grandfather fell and died and his father fell and lived but became crippled by the horrible circumstance (a little too tear-jerking for you? Misery is drama, ha!) and Avroes has to take care of his father.  Even better dramatic tension!  It’s so sweet, it drips.

There are many more (is that correct grammar?) things we can do to round out who Avroes Toal is and maybe that can be explored in the short story (guaranteed it will) but this is just to show my process for creating a character somewhat on the fly.  Who are they, what do they do/want/hate/love/etc.?

Call to Action:  Anything we can add?  Seriously, throw out a detail!  It doesn’t have to be too precise and can be a bit vague.  What’s his favorite color, food, idiosyncratic ticks, bad habits, etc.?  I’ll be able to add that into the short story and you’ll be able to say you had a part in it!

No Naturals Here

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

While I don’t necessarily like long road trip drives, I do enjoy them so long as I am with someone who’s enjoyable to talk to.  My wife is one of these wonderful kinds of driving companions.  We truly do find the hours a great time and opportunity to talk and discuss a bevy of topics.  Some of course are private (you won’t get access to those) but we do talk about music, writing, and art a lot of the time.  We’re creatives and are able to explore are our likes and dislikes pretty easily, encouraging each other along the way on the highway of asphalt and lines.

Something she said during our most recent drive home was that she boasts about me being a writer (a nerd writer to be precise, lol) and that led to her talking about how impressed she is that I can do what I do and she feels nervous writing anything and letting me read it.  I do the thing where I tell her she doesn’t need to be nervous and that she’s a good writer herself (she really is) but that led me to think about something I’ve encountered a few times: perception of writing abilities.

Let me be brutally honest and a bit transparent for a few seconds.  I really am not a natural talent.  If I was, I wouldn’t have two shelved novels that no one is allowed to see.  I’m not sure if there’s a misconception out there about writers as a whole or something else.  Our ilk is one often labeled with fine descriptions of neuroses, depression, inebriation, etc.  You know, those darn clichés.  Yes, I like sipping whiskey and I own a pipe but I’ve never used it (not yet and probably not ever).

In my experience and what I’ve been able to glean over the years is that if ever there was a “natural” when it came to writing, the closest specimen might have to be ole Bill Shakes-the-speare.  Even then, there are many who believe the persona of WS was fabricated and that his great plays and sonnets were in fact written by another’s hand and mind.  Could be, I don’t know.

My point is that writers are just like any other who is or becomes proficient in their craft.  They work at it.  Practice and exercising the appropriate muscles are a requirement in order to find any semblance of success.

I think where there’s any natural talent is just in the imagination gears of the minds of writers.  For me, to be able to create a vast world (fantasy definitely lends to being able to create more and bend some rules) filled with characters, nations, cities, cultures, flora, fauna, magic systems, and all the other little nuances that make the world come alive is purely by imagination.  I did all this as a little kid playing with action figures way before I was able to put words to paper.

Where others may be intimidated to show me or other writers their own writing, just realize I would be completely wrecked to try to play drums or bass with a bunch of professional musicians.  I would be a knot of nerves so tangled together that it would take way too long to undue.

Everything worth doing well takes time, experience, mistakes and maybe a hundred other things to get it right.

Call to Action: Just to continue with the topic, I would encourage you to keep at whatever you love to do when it comes to your creative outlet.  It’s absolutely worth it once you reach a level of proficiency.

No Dragons, Dwarves/Elves, or Dreams/Prophecies: Access Denied

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0
Something I continually encounter when telling people I’m a writer and they ask, “What do you write?”, is I have this sense that they have preconceived ideas when I answer, “Fantasy”.  I can see it in their eyes.  “Oh, so dragons, elves and magic.”  Not a question but a definite statement.  To which I silently in my head respond, “I should have said fiction…”

I don’t blame people for this assumption.  I get it.  All you have to do is look at the main cultural references we have in our society.  Lords of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and most recent, Game of Thrones.  These big ones have set the stage and have planted the seeds one would expect from fantasy.  (Wizards, dragons, and elves, oh my!)

Unfortunately, I do not have the means or assignment to correct people on how vast and wide the fantasy genre has come since Tolkien laid the modern foundation.  I wish I could have that job, trust me! (King of Correction!  Hear me!)  Alas, I do not have that honorable title, but thankfully, I have a blog and I can voice my knowledge and experience in the genre to better help people who may not be big nerds like myself.

Three tropes or elements you will not find in my writing: dragons, dwarves/elves, or dreams/prophecies.

I’m going to dissect each of these somewhat quickly.  These are not tropes like my previous blog posts on magic but rather ones I have intentionally avoided because I choose not to employ their function in any of my stories.  None of these are intrinsically overdone in the genre and I often enjoy them when done in a new way in the books I read.

Magical creatures and or races in the traditional sense simply do not play any significant role in the worlds I’ve created.  If you’ve read any of the series I recommended in my fantasy reader’s guide post, then you know that I have a preference for worlds and stories that read more “human” in nature.  This does not mean there are not other kinds of races in these books (Stephen Eriksons Malazan series is chalk full of different races that are awesomely imagined) but there’s a bit more creativity and imagination involved.  For myself, I’ve created races that seem familiar to the reader but in the end are their own.

I’m actually not big on books or stories involving dragons as major characters and/or plot elements.  There are plenty out there but I’ve truly never been a fan.  Smaug in my mind is one of the best examples of a dragon in fantasy.  Robert Jordan does not use dragons but actually calls his savior-of-the-world main character, The Dragon, which I really liked because it called to the fantasy element instead of including it in the Wheel of Time series.

Dreams and prophecies are elements I have avoided on purpose.  I could easily throw these into the narrative of the Ravanguard series but I consciously did not because I did not like the idea of using them as a crutch, which I think some series utilize to that advantage.  These are seemingly always used as a means of foreshadowing and installing the hero as the savior to all mankind (again, a bit overdone in the genre).  I prefer to use foreshadowing without these because I find that it’s more difficult and a challenge.

George R.R. Martin actually does this very well despite his use of dreams and prophecies.  He explores foreshadowing by use of language and visuals, which is what I have tried to emulate in my own way.  In fact, if I were ever to use dreams or prophecies as a literary device, I’d probably try to do it in a way that has not been done before.

For anyone who is looking forward to reading my stories, I hope this is helpful and lays out what to expect or in this case “not expect”.  Fantasy is not restricted to these few common/popular elements.  If that’s what you like, there’s plenty of options out there!  Trust me.  The vast coffer that is the fantasy genre overflows with different worlds and subgenres that have their own mix of devoted fans.  Sometimes, I wish there was another way to describe what I write but my use of limited technology, magic and swords kind of puts me in the barrel.  That’s probably why enjoy the genre so much: it’s not constricted but goes as far as the writer’s imagination can stretch.

Call to Action: I admit, there is one series of books that involve dragons that I am interested in reading.  Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series is an alternate history fantasy that has dragons in the Napoleonic Wars.  That just sounds like a fun read.  If you’ve read it, let me know what you think!  If not, then it may be worth exploring.

Working With an Editor

I’ve just completed my first experience with an editor for the short story that will be included in the newsletter.  Just to lay out some first impressions and give some general thoughts on the process, I thought I’d share.

It’s a new experience to actually communicate with and hire an editor for their services.  It did not really hit me right away but I think I’ve been able to marinate in it for long enough now that I can actually express my joy and sweet release of held breath.  Mind you, this was just for a short story but to receive the manuscript back and see the redlines (corrections) and read the comments included is almost victorious.  Obviously, I have a long road to go.  The novella, “Dim the Veil”, is the big goal–the true launching point (more on that in a bit).  But there is this overwhelming sense of, “Wow, what just happened?  What does this mean?”

I have no satisfying answer except to say I recognize the road I’ve been walking for several years and feel I actually know the destination it leads to.  I do not measure success by signing a multi-book deal with a major publishing house.  While that would be a dream come true and very much still in my aspirations, I feel that success is writing and completing this Ravanguard series.  It started as a few pages of three characters in a tense situation and has now become a short story (with more to come; I’m already thinking about the next one), multiple novellas and just as many books.  If anything–if I am able to accomplish one thing as a writer–I want to see the Ravanguard series finished.

And I assure you, those stories will be released in one form or another.  I know the cost of editing now and while it may be a slow process, I will absolutely see them all released as ebooks.  I’ve told my wife that to hold an actual printed hardback and/or paperback book of my story in my hands would be nothing short of amazing, I have long since been willing to settle for digital formats if that’s my only option.  I’m okay with that and I know, so long as the story keeps progressing until I put that final period in place on the last page, I’ve reached my first goal.

Back to the option of starting a gofundme option for the editing price of the novella, I think I’ve been leaning in a slightly different direction.  There are plenty of options out there for crowd funding projects.  Plenty of people do it and find success.  After talking to my wife about this at length, and I think she has raised some very good points, I need to consider more than the simple funding of an edit.  There’s this question of “then what?” after I get the novella back, edited and polished, to my satisfaction.  Well, there’s this thing called marketing that I have little to no experience or knowledge in.  Apparently it’s important and requires money.  Yay…

Hahaha, I kid.  But seriously, it’s a viable and essential step.  Sure, I could post on social media that I have a novella for purchase over on Amazon but is that truly effective?  I don’t know to be honest but I have a sneaking suspicion it might not be.  So, I’m now thinking of doing a kickstarter that would actually enable me to raise the funds for launching not only the novella but my brand as a writer.  I have no interest in being hasty (words of wisdom from Treebeard if ever there were some) and I don’t want to be slow either.  This is simply more to consider and requires some additional research and preparation.  Wish me luck!

Call to Action: I recently finished a book worth reading, especially if you like witty writing that’s quite meta if you enjoy literature.  It’s called “The Eyre Affair” by Jasper Fforde.  Very good and clever.  Check it out!

Fun with Foreshadowing

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 1

Let me start by saying I love the literary device of foreshadowing and as I revise and edit, I have thought about it more and more.  Some writers are big on allusion or theme or even setting.  I commend those who frame their writing with these aspects (really, I do).  For me though, it’s about the foreshadowing threads interwoven in the framework of the plot(s) tapestry.

By definition, foreshadowing is hinting at what is to come.  This can be subtle and apparent depending on the use by the writer.  For example, a writer could use an object noticed or used by a particular early on and then have that object play an important role later on (usually in the final act or climax of the story).  One example I continually see used as an example is if you were to see a gun on a mantle or one placed in a desk drawer. It’s very likely this element could come into play to impact the outcome of the plot.

In my opinion, the two best examples of foreshadowing used effectively in an epic fantasy story can be found in Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” series and George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.  I know… I know…  I reference these two a lot in my blog posts and I’ll try to discuss other works in the future but for now, these are the two that I return to whenever I think of the proper and effective use of foreshadowing.

I could use examples here but I won’t because the nature of a foreshadow is to allude to something in the future, which in our current culture is notably called a “spoiler”.  I wish I could!  But I won’t.  All I can do is recommend you read these series.  The best foreshadowing in epic fantasy is usually presented in the first book and does not come to pass until the last and towards the end of the series.  Some big payoffs definitely add to the fanfare of readers.

What has happened with me in the Ravanguard series has been beneficial when it comes to these deep details.  My method for writing the series without stopping has allowed me to see where the story has gone and then as I edit and revise, I can recall a “future” event happening in book 2, 3 or 4 and go back and then see if there’s a place for foreshadowing to work.  There’s one key though: it has to make sense within the prose.  There is a balance and trust me, I do not look for spots to drop in foreshadowing just to be cheeky (well, okay, sometimes I do but those are more for the readers who are paying attention).

I think one could argue my approach to foreshadowing is somewhat cheating but I would argue it’s just fun writing.  Sometimes, these foreshadows are quite clever and subtle and sometimes they’re right on the nose.  Both are fine and my hope is that my readers would simply consider it good storytelling.  There’s a sense of intrigue to be added too because you as the reader (and I do this too whenever I’m reading a new book.  I pay close attention to details, thinking it could be a bit of foreshadowing) are more invested in the these details.  I could never be a speed reader because I fear I would miss what I love most in the writing.

Another fun aspect I’ve run into in my own writing is that I have sometimes stumbled onto a moment of foreshadowing accidentally.  Seriously!  I have been planning the story arc of one of the next books, thought of an idea for a character and been like, “Wait, didn’t this thing happen back in book 1?”.  I’ll go and check and boom!  Slap my feet and call me Chip, I inadvertently set up a foreshadowing moment!  Now, it’s probably coincidence but I actually attribute it to my advanced internal, subconscious understanding of the world and characters.  Almost as if I know it all before I should.  (I know, you’re not buying it.)  Truthfully, though, the readers will discover in due time that I have foreshadowed some things that I hope brings delight and maybe a little shock.

Any literary device used is meant to add to the enjoyment of the reading experience.  When used properly and not in abundance to the point of distraction, these practices are worth getting better at.  I definitely encourage looking for these in the books you read.  Train yourself to look for it and see if it pays off.  Happy reading!

Call to Action: See below a video of foreshadowing in popular movies.  Obviously, there are possible spoilers so here are the movies in the top ten list:

 

Medieval Gardening Tips

Remember in my very first blog post back on January 1st?  When I said, “…I’ll be revealing more about who I am with each blog post.  Topics will include writing, books, comics, movies, video games, music, food, weather, medieval gardening tips…”  (See, I did say it.)  You probably thought I was just being sarcastic.  Well, I was but also being a little tongue in cheek with an aftertaste of meta.

The following quote comes from author, George R.R. Martin:

“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”

I’ve written a prior post on outlining and the value of doing so in the short and long run of your writing.  I’m more of a rough outliner now than I was when I first started the Ravanguard series.  It came out of writing a minor scene found in the first book and I liked it so much, I decided to expand on the idea, developing characters and ideas until I had a general sense of where to start.

However, as I’ve been revising a lot these last couple of weeks, I’ve come back to this idea of being an architect or gardener, which is a term I heard a few years back when listening to one of my preferred Game of Thrones podcasts.  The phrase was discussed a bit and I looked for Martin’s quote.  Back to the present and I very much consider myself a gardener despite my attempts at thinking ahead and outlining subsequent books in the Ravanguard series.

I’m currently revising chapters 6-10 in “So Speaks the Gallows” (Book 1) and I’m reading through each paragraph, cutting, massaging, polishing, etc. with forethought and understanding I have now that I didn’t have back when I first wrote these chapters.  My point (and I do have one) is that I’m able to approach this revision process with a much-needed advantage I otherwise would not have had if I only tried to outline the future books.

Years ago, I had very rough ideas of where these plot arcs were heading.  Now that may sound a little chancy and reckless (it is actually) but I had enough faith in my writing to steer the story where it needed to go.  So, the gardener writing method was at full play in the beginning but as the years and subsequent books and novellas came into existence, I can now return and trim the dead branches and dig up the weeds, able to have a bit of foresight.

All of this encompasses my writing style.  I am not convinced this is the perfect way to write an epic fantasy series and I bet I could write a counterargument that even I would be convinced of.  But I cannot shake that this is my method.  I’ve worked at this for over a decade and found many things that work and don’t work, still adapting as I edge closer and closer to releasing the first Ravanguard novella to launch the series.

My medieval gardening tips are just that.  If you are a gardener more than an architect, continue to process and write in a way that works best for you.  Be careful of comparing yourself to others.  Writers are quirky folk.  Get too many in a room discussing process and method and you’ll have a real kerfuffle on your hands.

Call to Action: I’ll be pushing my newsletter throughout this month as we move closer to the end.  April 30th is the day you will be receiving the newsletter.  So if you haven’t done so (and I don’t know why.  It’s for free), please sign up when prompted on the website or go to the “Contact” form under the “About Adam” tab above ^^^  Just make sure to include your email address and in the comment section that you’d like to be added to the mailing list.

Women and Their Value in Fantasy Literature

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 2

Today I’m exploring a topic that I’m continually conscious of in my writing and the writing of others in fiction.  How are the role(s) of women in the story, society and culture in which they live portrayed?  I’d also like to stress the value of women and whether or not they are used (I say that word lightly) in a cliché way or not.

Some background first.  I started reading more in high school and the book that hooked me (as I’ve stated in previous posts) was Robert Jordan’s “The Eye of the World” where women play a prominent role in those areas I stated.  What always intrigued me is how Jordan (being a man) was able to write such strong female characters who were all very different and distinct from one another.  As a high school freshman, this was new for me as were most aspects of storytelling.  Years down the road, I’ve come across many bad examples and good examples of women in fantasy.  Jordan did what I consider a very good job of depicting women whereas (I definitely have another well-known fantasy example that I could insert but…screw it) in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series women are often treated horribly and victims of despicable men.

(Side note: I only read the first book all the way through and part of the second but couldn’t finish the series.  If you’re a fan and you disagree, that’s fine but I’ll continue to stay away from that series.)

For myself, though, I never wanted to write women in a way that was cliché or in a way that would depict them as a means to the end for the masculine hero.  I never wanted to pack any of my characters into a box or tower so to speak to be rescued by a man.  We all know the story cliché (prominently featured in fairy tales) where a princess is the prize for the hero.  I have made it a goal of mine to avoid this at all costs and have changed plot arcs if it looked like this was to be approached.  Now, this doesn’t mean my female characters are never aided or helped by men.  They are but I make sure that is not the sole goal of the men and often have my women characters show they are just as capable of being heroes.

I planned on this post over a month ago but wanted to take a new approach.  I asked a few women close to me in life (all of whom I respect and value a great deal) what they want to see and read in fiction when it comes to women characters whether they’re protagonists, antagonists or supporting characters.  The following responses are great and will serve as references to me as I continue to write.

“Strong female character in fiction: I’d like to see a woman who is realistic. She is strong but insecure.  She is smart and loves learning and acquiring new knowledge and skills.  She is funny but an introvert who only opens up to a select few.  She has a good heart and great intentions, but can be flaky and selfish sometimes.”

“Historically, women who are strong are seen as arrogant, aggressive, or evil.  This is in both pop culture and literature (for example, Cersei in Game of Thrones).  The other end of the spectrum usually involves a very insecure woman who has been oppressed and almost ‘accidentally’ is thrust into a role where they save the world (for example, Vin in Mistborn series or Lirael in Garth Nix’s books).  For me, a strong female character that goes beyond these clichés would be a woman who has faced oppression (lets face it, it has happened and still happens) but instead of becoming self-deprecating, goes on a journey to discover that she isn’t what others have made her believe she is.  A truly strong woman has had doubts and trials, of course, but instead of constantly believing she isn’t worth it or disbelieving that she is the ‘chosen one,’ she recognizes the strength she has and continues to build on her strengths.  She becomes the wise woman who speaks up when needed and is respected as a wise woman.  She has her own hang-ups, for sure, but they aren’t that she is ‘too much,’ aggressive, insecure, or power-hungry.  Her hang-ups are that which we all suffer, to stay strong in the face of temptation, to connect with those we love on an authentic level, and to stand up for what is right in spite of opposition.”

“I want to see more female characters that aren’t the cliche trope of ‘needing’ men to help them. I want to see women that know their strengths and can be self-reliant but are also not afraid to lean on the strengths of the people around them. They are so self confident and secure in themselves that they are able to see the value in others. I’m tired of reading insecure women who feel like they have to hide their weakness and  prove themselves to the world. I want to read about women that let their biggest weakness become their greatest asset.”

I love these!  I’m gonna be honest with all of you.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.  I know!  Shocking.  However, I have no delusional miscues that women are essential to the progress and benefit of society.  To limit or cast them in any role that would be lesser than would be to grant us all a great disservice.

It’s coming but I’m going to dote on my wife a little here.  I have often said that in marriage, every day is about learning for me.  I am constantly aware of who she is and the way she views the world, which is very different from me in many respects.  Her interests and passions travel along lines that I don’t always follow or have a grasp of but I make it a goal to show interest because its what she loves to spend her time doing and learning about.  I’m not always good at this and I often have to process things before I’m able to share in her enthusiasm (thankfully, she forgives me for this delay in response) but my desire is to know her better.  This is the same for the women in my stories.  I want to know them better so that their story is one worth telling.

My wife asked me on one occasion if I based any female characters on her.  I had to chuckle because there’s an adage in writing that says to never base a character on any people you know in real life.  It just doesn’t turn out well.  What I told her is I base all my female characters on women in my life whom I admire.  Their qualities can be found in each of the characters you will read about in my books.  Even the so-called “villains” and that’s not a slight.  Far from it because I don’t write antagonists from a stand point of being solely evil.  The best villains are those that are complete, having desires, fears, experiences, etc. separate from any other character.  Their motivations are based on these factors (see my prior blog post on writing believable villains).

I’ve had several beta readers who are women and I’ve gained a great deal of feedback from them about my women characters that has been beyond beneficial.  I loved being able to read their comments, converse when I had questions and taking their suggestions to heart.  Plus, I learned a butt-load of things about women I did not know and I’m all about learning when it comes to people and what makes them who they are.  Understanding the value in someone breaks away any misgivings or misconceptions and as I do that in real life, I can do it even better in fiction.

Call to Action: This one’s for the guys.  Whether it’s a friend, sister, mother, girlfriend or wife, I recommend talking to them.  Ask them questions.  Don’t be inconsiderate or selfish and seriously talk to them about what they think of things in our society.  Take it from me, you’ll learn something and that’s never bad.

Dim the Veil Updates


For today’s blog post, I wanted to give some updates on the first Ravanguard novella, “Dim the Veil”, which will act as the launch vehicle for the series and where I’m at in the process moving forward.  Some developments over the past week are worth sharing and I feel like the more I talk about it, the more you all will be intrigued to read it once it’s released.

First, I recently reached out to a professional editor and inquired about their services.  Through some dialogue, I was able to get an idea of what to expect by a sample edit of the first two pages of the novella and I absolutely loved the feedback from the editor.  Their expertise was so impressive that I now know I need to get the novella professionally edited before I release it.  There’s a level of scrutiny involved that I miss despite being a writer and one that I cannot expect from my beta readers (whom I absolutely appreciate in every regard and love getting feedback from).  That’s not a knock but professional editors look for specifics when it comes to sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, narrative consistency, etc.  While a writer does so with a pen, an editor commits to their craft with a blade.  Ink and blood (how’s that for an image?).

Due to the cost of such services, this could potentially push my plan to release the novella later than anticipated.  My plan was to shoot for a summer release but in all reality, I could be looking at a fall/winter release.  I am okay with this because I want the novella and anything I put out there for purchase to be the best it can be.  So, expect updates on this process in the near future.  It’s not cheap, which means I’ll be setting money aside every month until I have enough to take this big leap.  However, I may consider starting a gofundme option but only if I can assure anyone who donates that they will receive some free gifts (I’ll explore this a little bit more and hopefully I can make this an option).

Update number two!  I met with my friend who has offered to create a cover for “Dim the Veil” as part of a school project.  We had a great sit down and he was able to provide a rough mock up of the cover while we met and I’m excited to see what he creates!  That old adage of “you don’t judge a book by its cover” is long dead.  We absolutely judge the quality of a book by what we see.  I do this every time I go into a bookstore.  Eye appeal draws the potential reader in and I want to have the best cover possible.

We are working to create something subtle in design (this is my preference) that captures the essence of the main character and his affiliation to the Ravanguard.  I wonder now if I can come up with something “art” related to offer if I do in fact pursue a gofundme for the professional edit.  Show of hands, who would like me to do this?  In fact, let’s make that the CTA for today’s post.

Call to Action: Who would like me to pursue a gofundme page to get the novella professionally edited?  Those who donate would absolutely be given a free download of the novella when it’s released.  Maybe…even the Prologue to Book 1 as a bonus?  Hmmm, intriguing to say the least.  Let me know by commenting!

Flash Fiction: “God’s Bones”

The smoldering corpse lay just outside the center of the destroyed thicket.  The melted ground a foot from the body’s collapsed position revealed it to be a man or woman possessed prior of great power.  The Ajjuun had no name for these things but the whispers of “gods” did come from time to time.

Hijeneva ground her teeth while waiting in the humidity.  Signs of the early morning duel could not be ignored.  The trees and vegetation bore singed ends and deep cuts from unfamiliar weapons. She watched the young man–brave and bold–begin his attempt forward.

Imko’s first few steps boasted courage, produced by confidence none of the young warriors in the thicket lacked.  Why would they not?  The bodies of their dead brothers, sisters and friends who had tried to approach the corpse at all different angles did not find death until they crossed an invisible threshold some few feet away from the looting opportunity.

Nine had died so far.  Imko would be the tenth though none would warn him to avoid the fatal fate.  To do so was against the ways of the Ajjuun.  Bravery was never questioned aloud but in her head, Hijeneva begged him to stop.

Perhaps it was bravery that made Imko refuse to stop at the line and consider another option.  Perhaps it was his desire to impress them all and secure a wife for his next name day.  Perhaps, it was the will of the fallen god.

Imko stopped in mid-step and his body jerked violently until he spasmed so hard an audible snap of bones drowned out his scream.  Far before he fell to the ground, the tenth of them died.

Hijeneva’s heart tweaked in pain, the loss of another–a friend–was never as simple as the death itself.  Her aversion to look upon the fresh corpse of Imko drew her gaze upwards where she could see the overhanging branches of the hosta tree.  Strong and able to hold a grown man’s weight, they extended all the way to where the god lay.  A wall could not be pushed through but it could be cleared.

The fathers and mothers who waited back in the tent grounds did so in anticipation.  Did they know or fear their children died within the crucible?  Would there be crying?  Or would the way of stone be practiced even then?  She could hear the names of their own gods being cursed for their cruelty, unafraid of being stricken with sickness or drought.  The Ajjuun may be considered primal by many in the world of the civilized Holds but they were not denied the capacity to challenge the highest of powers that governed their loyalty and worship.

Hijeneva spoke a prayer in the waning silence.  Someone would announce their intent to follow Imko and she knew it had to be her.  To save the lives of those remaining, to scavenge what could be potentially invaluable to their survival in the days to come and–least important to her–to attract the eyes of a suitable husband.

“I’ll go,” she declared, plan barely formed but knowing her attempt might be what was needed to collect the god’s bones.

On This Day – The Name of the Wind Published

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day | 0

This month’s OTD post will focus on a work of fantasy that really enraptured me as a reader.  I had heard of Patrick Rothfuss’s book, “The Name of the Wind” for a while but I was reading other books from my stack of “to reads” (you know that pile of fresh hard/paperbacks without the spine crease and that pleasing aroma of untouched paper).  It was a book I knew very little about but saw it recommended a lot of places.  I want to say I finally got around to reading it in 2011 during a six-month period where I was unemployed (I read a lot of books during this time).

I love to read.  Honestly, if you’re a writer but you struggle to read or find time to read, drop some time-wasters and make this a priority.  Stephen King famously said, “If you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have time to write.”  This just harkens (such a great word) back to my previous post about time management.  Priorities are key in our lives.  Reading should be up there near the top if you’re a writer.  If you’re not a writer, then reading should still be something you do because studies have shown, you are smarter by doing so.  A post of quotes coming at you.  Mark Twain said , “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

There are few books I’ve come across that kept me fully engrossed in the pages.  I love my sleep but every once in a while, I come across a book where I’d happily forego sleep to keep reading.  “The Name of the Wind” was such a book.

I’d love to give an in depth review of the book as a whole but I never want these blog posts to become long-winded and full of smoke.  And just like my first OTD post about Robert Jordan’s “The Eye of the World”, I want to focus on one aspect of the book and share how that has impacted me as a writer.  Here we go! (Dang…the “Raising Hope” theme song is stuck in my head.)

Language.  Yes, language is what still lingers with me whenever I think about “TNotW”.  Rothfuss has a great story about the years he spent crafting this book that would introduce him not only to the fantasy genre but literary world as well.  There is what I can only describe as a lyrical flow to his writing that makes the book easy to start and urges persistence to finish.  Music is a theme throughout the book and every bit a part of the main character, Kvothe, as his wild red hair and quick wit.

How has this affected me as a writer?  Well, I think the obvious answer would be, I learn from what I admire.  I don’t write like Rothfuss but I appreciate his ability with words, which lends itself to my own writing.  Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time with what I wrote years ago.  Doing so has been an “experience” to say the least.  I can easily take those old words and rewrite/massage and find a better flow because I’ve been far enough removed that I can recognize stale sentence structure better than before.  It’s not Rothfuss’ writing alone that has helped me grow but also time and maturing as a storyteller.

Clunky writing is distracting.  Anytime you’re reading and just get stuck on a certain sentence because you can’t understand what’s being said is usually because the words chosen don’t work or fit.  Rough and early drafts often have these problems.  The best thing to do is consider revising.  Obviously, those sentences have to be flagged or called out.  Beta readers are the best option but you have to find one who pays attention to detail and doesn’t gloss over these alarming sentences.

Writers depend on words.  We take what’s available and construct them in such a way that the reader comprehends and envisions the characters, world and conflict with ease.  That should be our main goal.  You can have a great idea, character, magic system, etc. but if you fail to construct a coherent framework of sentences, paragraphs and/or dialogue you will not attract readers.

Rothfuss is an avid learner and student who spent a great deal of time at university, tutoring and teaching.  This translates to his writing because he actually treats his readers like students.  He wants to teach you about the characters and world they inhabit.  All of which are fleshed out very well.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a vast world introduced and mythos that serves as the main mystery and conflict that drives Kvothe in search of knowledge.  It helps that Kvothe spends a great deal of time at a university himself and takes classes from the very best of teachers.  Flow of phrase within the prose and dialogue come through in all of this in a way that you’ll be surprised when you read twenty to thirty pages without noticing.

I highly recommend this book to everyone.  Even if you’re not fond of fantasy.  You’ll enjoy the flow of the story and Rothfuss’s ability to pull you into the current.  I wish I wrote more like him to be honest.  I feel that my writing can get clunky at times and therefore requires me to spend extra time revising, but I’m satisfied with my style as I’ve matured and polished my voice, hoping I can solidify myself as a respected author.

Call to Action: Come on.  You know what I’m going to say here.  Read “The Name of the Wind”.  You won’t be dissatisfied.

Recommended: Lost

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Writing | 2

4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42

Never trust the numbers, ha!

From time to time, I’d like to go back and give you all some of my recommendations when it comes to movies and TV shows.  You’ll definitely be getting book recommendations but because I’m a bit of a film nerd and a lover of great storytelling, I want to share my thoughts on my favorites of the screen.

This is all subjective, of course, and I don’t expect everyone to agree.  That’s totally fine.  You have the right to my opinion.  I would even say these are not for everyone.  Some are a bit on the edgy/grim side when it comes to content.  To each their own.  Everyone has their limits and preferences and I respect those of you who would rather not invest their time in something they choose to abstain from.  Good?  Great!

Onto the show!  Lost.  Such a divisive show now that we’re years removed from its run.  From 2004 to 2010, this show was number one.  For those not initiated, it involved a mixture (a potpourri if you will) of plane crash survivors who ended up on an island in the South Pacific.  The first season focused a great deal on these survivors doing all that they could to survive and hope for rescue.  If you read that and you’d never heard of the show before, I’m sure you’re saying, “Oh, so it’s Gilligan’s Island but with drama”.

Not so.

Throw in the wrinkles of strange things happening on the island and the fact that each episode focuses on one of the survivors and presents flashbacks to the days before the crash and you’ve got compelling stories about individuals and their interactions when faced with a horrible dilemma like being stranded on a mysterious island with a bunch of strangers, not knowing how quite to adjust.

So here’s the thing…  I watched the pilot episodes (it was a two-parter if memory serves right) of Lost back in 2004 when it first aired.  I remember thinking it was interesting and a fun new show.  Then, I didn’t watch it again.  It’s been over a decade since then so I can’t say for sure why I stopped.  Jump a year into the future (so 2005, not 2018) and I was working at Hollywood Video (ah, remember the home rental experience?  That sweet sweet memory) and I had free rentals as an employee perk.  The first season was out on DVD (Blu-ray was not there yet) and the second season was either going to start soon or had already started.  Well, I was always looking for something to watch and I came across the first season while putting recently returned rentals back in their proper places.  I thought sure why not see what happened.

And that’s how I became a “Lostie” which is the dumbest name for fans of the show but what can you do.  I missed the day where we all voted on that one.

To talk about the show in any kind of great detail would be to give away a lot of the greatest parts of the show so I won’t be doing that.  What I will do is tell you why this is and remains one of my top three favorite shows ever.  If you’ve been reading my blog since I started, you’ll probably be able to guess or at least not be surprised by why I love this show and barely care that the entirety of its run divides a lot of fans.  I love this show because of the exploration of people.

Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Locke, Charlie, etc.  These are the people that were introduced in 2004 and whose lives were so well written in six seasons that I still go back and watch this show from time to time.  Most are tragic characters who lack any kind or semblance of happy upbringings, yet they grow throughout their time on the island and become favorites who grow, mature, love, win and so much more.

I could take any one of the characters listed above and go into a long dissection of the character beats they go through both on the island and in their flashbacks.  Without them, the show would have fizzled out really fast.  Yeah, I know all about the problems with the show and some of the writing when it came to the plot.  I don’t disagree.  I hate some of those directions and choices just as much as the detractors.  I get it but there is absolute satisfaction in watching these characters find redemption and closure at multiple points throughout the series.  This is what makes the show better than the problems.

Call to Action: It would be easy to encourage you to watch the series but its quite the endeavor nowadays.  We’re talking hours upon hours.  I guess I would encourage you to try out a little at a time.  So, instead, tell me who your favorite character is.  NO SPOILERS!  I’ll delete your comment (I’m making my serious face) if you do.

My Essentials for World Building

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

World building in fantasy is almost like writing a full story in itself.  All fantasy authors I’ve researched and read about on this topic usually have the same process.  You have to do it.  In order for a full-fledged world to come alive in the pages, the reader has to believe these are real places that the characters live in.

I’m going to go over a few essentials that I highly recommend all writers develop, especially in fantasy.  All of these are aspects I’ve written extensive notes on and should not be overlooked or put to the side.  You’ll actually be surprised how much your story rounds out when these details are included.

1. Culture

What is it that makes the country/nation/island/region what it is?  History, customs, holidays, government, religion.  These are musts.  Think about whatever country you live in or are native to.  How did that country come into being?  What foundation was laid and at what cost?  Did it face conflict in order to maintain its statehood (is that the word?)?  What has each generation brought and caused to evolve?  I would not say you need to write an entire history book but the most important details should be explored and be a part of the characters.

1a. Religion

This is a big one that I never paid too much mind to in my early days.  I usually left it to a monotheistic deity that encompassed a wide range of belief or unbelief.  Honestly, I was a bit lazy and didn’t think it was worth exploring further.  Now, in the Ravanguard series, I have five dominant religions that are very different from each other (with the exception of two that are closely related but different in some respects).  I found after fleshing these out and applying them to characters that they were much more interesting and their choices were reflected according to their beliefs, which is very much what we do!

2. Landscape

This kind of seems like an easy one.  Oceans, rivers, mountains, etc.  All needed to give the appearance of a convincing natural setting but there’s more than these staples.  Bays, copses, ravines, hills, etc. to name a few.  Study these.  Look up pictures to get a good grasp of what they look like and how they form.  THEN, look at how they are utilized by civilization.  Boom.  Full circle.

2a. Ruins

Are there ruins?  Would there be historical sites?  What significance do they play?  Not everything has to be to the level of an Indiana Jones adventure but unless its a new civilization, there are usually signs of prior populations where artifacts are left behind and/or preserved.

3. Dialogue

Maybe there’s a fantasy or just fiction novel that uses no dialogue to tell its story but I’ve yet to run into it.  We speak just as characters should to reveal who they are and their understanding of the world in which they live.  Giving characters their own voice can be a challenge especially if you have a large number of speaking characters within the story.  If I had to make a rough estimation of speaking characters in “So Speaks the Gallows”, then I’d have to say there are anywhere between 60-80 characters who speak.  Those who speak more than a sentence or two shaves that list down quite a bit but I’m still writing the voices of a large number of people who I am telling you, the reader, is an individual and has their own history, experiences, beliefs, convictions, humor, dreams, etc.  Try handling all that and remaining sane!  I do and as I’ve spent time with these characters (some for the better length of three novels), their voices are as clear as crystal.

3a. Dialect

As I said with the religions above, that also means I’ve developed multiple forms of dialect, which includes vocabulary and slang.  This takes practice.  When I started out, all my characters talked the same as if they were all born from the same village.  It has taken years of writing and years of practice writing dialogue to be able to distinguish the speech of individuals from the place they came from.  I wish I could say I studied and did research to a great extent but I didn’t.  I’ve done a little but most of any differences you will find in speech between regions, nations, etc., is purely organic on my part.  I have those places and the people in them developed enough that they speak in a manner that I know how they would be differentiated.  The hope is that it translates onto the pages.

All of these elements are important in fantasy literature.  From Tolkien to the more modern writers, we can find great examples of worlds given great consideration.  Even in the fantastic genre, readers want to believe the world is real enough to be lived in.

Call to Action: Are there any other world building elements you think are just as important?  I’m sure there are.  I’d like to eventually write blog posts devoted to some of these and my experiences with them, especially since in my three major series that I have in the works, there are vast differences in the worlds.  Those may be in the writing queue.

Viewer’s Storytelling Recalibration

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 2

My wife and I watched the latest Disney animated feature, “Moana”, this past weekend and while I loved the movie, there was something that made my creativity gears start working (this happens alot when I watch shows or movies) and I wanted to share a bit of this…processing I possess.

This is not a review of the film.  Honestly, there is no reason not to see it.  Great music, story and humor throughout.  Fun for everyone!

So, this is what happens and I blame it on the writer in me.  I will often be watching something, and I’ll all of sudden wonder why a particular story moved in the direction it did.  Why did the character do that?  What caused that factor to play a part?  Why did they decide to shift the story in that direction?  All of these hit me from time to time and my wife knows because (only if we’re at home), I’ll pause what we’re watching and begin to tell her what they should have done.  Yes, I’m that guy but only when it comes to my wife and I watching something alone.  Don’t worry, I won’t do that if we’re ever enjoying a night in with friends in front of the old flatscreen.  I’ll hold my tongue.

Back to “Moana”.  This hit me (the most recent episode of what I’ll call “viewer’s storytelling recalibration”) when in the beginning I realized we’ve sort of hit on what a lot of Disney, Dreamworks, etc. animated movies do.  How many times do we see the theme of the main character, who has a dream, want to fulfill that dream but authority figures in their lives prevent them from doing so “for their own good”.  Without jumping on any kind of soapbox, I will admit the theme of rebellion against parents is kind of overused here and maybe not the best thing to teach children.  I digress (let’s avoid that whole mess of moral discussion for the time being).  So my “VSR” episode took place when Moana wants to sail across the sea but cannot because her people do not do that.  They stay to their island.  Guess what, she sets sail anyway.  But my thoughts went in another direction instead and wondered why they can’t explore another theme like say…conquering fear?

I paused the movie and asked my wife, “Why can’t they have her (Moana) sail the ocean at a young age but fails and then becomes afraid of the ocean?  This prevents her from even going near the water.  Then, something happens and she has to sail in order to help her family/village/island.  Why don’t we see this theme in these wonderful animated features?

Maybe I’m off but I can’t help but feel this is a great theme to explore, especially for children.  Rather than saying to them, “you’re fearless and no one should stop you from your dreams,” why can’t they say, “you were fearless, you tried and failed and became afraid but there’s an opportunity in the future for you to conquer that fear”?

These thought processes are not always fun to deal with.  As I’ve stated before, my mind wanders to my stories all the time now and I begin to “plot” or consider scenarios.  This has spilled over into the movies/shows.  I feel doomed…  No, not really.  I take it as a sign that I’m always creating and looking at stories from other angles.  The hope is that I can recognize in my own writing to avoid the obvious path.  Too often, the story takes a turn to the left when I planned or expected it to go right.  These are great moments.

Call to Action:  Am I wrong about the theme I stated in “Moana” and other animated features?  Am I missing something?  Let me know.  Thanks for reading!

Slow Burn the Beginning

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

I recently finished a book that started off in a way that I just didn’t prefer.  While the book as a whole was fine and had some interesting concepts and characters, I could not shake the way it started.  So, I figured I’d share and discuss this a little (this is just my opinion and in no way a rule).

The book, “The Garden of Stones” by Mark T. Barnes, is fantasy that leans towards the “epic” sub-genre.  This means there’s a vast world inhabited with diverse cultures, languages, magic systems, etc.  I have no problem with this and often gravitate towards these stories as a whole (I’ve widened my range of reading considerably the last few years though).  My problem and this was evident in this book, is when within the first ten pages I am inundated with names, places and things all at once, I automatically have to push through, trusting the story will shape itself into something I will enjoy.

(Just in case Mark T. Barnes ever comes across this blog post, I hope he knows I respect his style and enjoyed reading, happy I finished the book.  This is not a review.)

My preference and the way I choose to write my books is to start small and let the world as a whole expand in a gradual but evenly paced track.  Short of like a narrow passageway that becomes wider and wider until the whole of the cavern is open.  There are advantages to this approach that I’ve found to be more appeasing to the reader who is already trusting you to take them on a journey.

The number one advantage to not throwing the reader into a whirlwind of information is that you give them time to get comfortable with the writing style and initial characters introduced.  The world should be shown through the eyes of the main point of view character.  The reader should not be told anything that the main POV would not themselves know.

For example, if Frodo had been introduced and already knew about the One Ring, its history, Sauron, the Nazgul and so on, then we would have been denied his natural reaction and learning of these forces.  Let’s take Harry Potter next (I know I use these two different sources to make use of my examples but I feel they are the most widely known along the literary spectrum.  Having the movies helps too, hahaha!).  Harry is naïve to the wizarding world as he should be.  How in the name of He Who Shall Not Be Named is he supposed to be aware of that hidden world!  Discovery.  This is the key (and second advantage).

This is more prevalent in the sci-fi/fantasy realm of books and may cross over into general fiction, but discovery of the unknown is the greatest asset to the story!  As a reader, I want to discover who the main protagonist is most of all and that includes the world they live in and all that entails from society to the more ethereal aspects.  Show me these things through their eyes and understanding.  I prefer a slow burn at the start.  It’s what keeps me engaged.

Now, you may be one who likes a rush of the world thrown at you (find Barnes’ book if you do) and that’s totally fine.  No fault on your part.  I simply think it’s more beneficial to learn as a writer not to set out all ten courses on the dining room table rather than going from course to course.  You savor what’s put in front of you in the beginning rather than ignoring it, only to be told it was really good but now its cold and stale if you dared try to return it.  Stories are an adventure.  We shouldn’t be given a straight shot to the end.  It should zig and zag with small and great surprises along the way!

Call to Action: Are there any books that do this?  Were you turned by the method of storytelling?  Comment with examples.  I’m curious to see what’s out there (not necessarily to avoid, just as a reference).

Book Art Coming Soon


Some more news to share with everyone today.  I’ll be working with a friend who is off at college and has a project he contacted me about.  This is also my friend who helped me launch the website and blog.  Major thanks are still in order for his help.

The project involves creating art and material for book promotion.  So, we’ll be working together in the coming weeks and hopefully have some things to share and use on the website.  I’ve got lots of ideas and a style I want to pursue that can spread across my writing projects.  Getting art specifically related to the different stories and worlds of the Ravanguard, Evinsaale and Shoals to the Hallowed will be quite the task.

For the book cover, we will be focused on the first novella, “Dim the Veil”.  I’m all about subtlety and minimalism when it comes to book art.  Some of my favorite are below.  This is not to say I’ll be copying these designs but looking for inspiration.  It’s these things I wish I was versed in.  I’m always thinking I should take graphic design classes but I really don’t know if I could add that to my plate and maintain my sanity.

So be on the lookout for these developments.  I’ll also be looking at making some aesthetic changes to the website/blog.  There are some features I’ve come across on other sites that I like and want to make available on my site.

The first newsletter is still set for an end of April release.  If you haven’t signed up, I implore you to do so.  With this new development and book art project coming, it may increase the content released.  I’ll definitely be exploring a newsletter art design as part of our to do.  Bookmarks?  Would anyone be interested in a bookmark gift or a brochure that serves as a primer for any of the series I’m working on?  These are all ideas worth exploring and being able to give out to those of you who sign up.  So make sure to do so!

Your continued support helps keep me going (I’d still write and release my writings no matter what.  Let’s be honest, hahaha) but I do appreciate all the kind words and whenever I get to talk to someone about my stories.  It’s fun to share and I look forward to growing my readership in the coming years.

Call to Action:  Follow me on Twitter @adamhenderson49, Like my author’s page over at Facebook https://www.facebook.com/adamhenderson49/, find me on Goodreads.  Stay connected!

It’s Not a Rewrite…sort of


A bit of news for everyone in today’s blog post.  I realize those who come here to read my thoughts don’t necessarily want to always read “how to” posts.  I get that.  I’m still finding my stride.  However, I do have a new development for book 1 of the Ravanguard series, “So Speaks the Gallows”.  Is that name in your head yet?  I’m hoping that it and “Dim the Veil” get more and more affiliated.

One of my good friends, David, and I have been hard at work the last few months going page to page in SStG (a little acronym action for you).  This involves us meeting up once a week and going over whatever he’s read since the last time we got together.  This has been an invaluable time for me for several reasons.  David (we’ve been friends for more than twenty years, which is crazy to think about!) is an avid reader.  Not just of fantasy but all kinds of genres.  He has an amazing memory and attention to detail in what he reads, which means he’s the perfect beta reader for me.  He sees things that I as the writer and editor gloss over.  It’s sort of the problem a writer runs into after they’ve been working on a story for several years.  A new set of eyes does wonders!

Now, I’m onto my fourth draft of SStG and that means I’ve looked at all 38 chapters and 450+ pages of the story a lot.  So much so that it’s difficult to remember the smaller details.  I have a glossary I’ve kept over the years but it’s in bad need of an update.  This is extremely difficult to maintain but necessary with the scope of the Ravanguard series (remember, I have written three novellas and books set in this world with more coming.  It is expansive).  I say all of this because it’s led to a wrinkle that I need to attend to.

I added the prologue of SStG last year after not being satisfied with the way the book starts.  David had already read some of the book before I added this small insert.  As he’s continued to read the book, though, he has made it clear (and I appreciate his honesty) that my style of writing is not consistent from the Prologue to the later chapters.  I had a suspicion of this early on but wondered how much of an issue it may be.  Lo and behold, it’s evident now that I need to do a deep edit of the book.

Consistency of flow and style are essential and very important to me as a writer.  I have my own style and with anything, I’ve grown in my skill (mad skills).  As an exercise, I took the first five chapters of the book and from paragraph to paragraph, I massaged everything from details to dialogue.  I was extremely pleased with this practice and know this is my next step moving forward.  My hope and goal is to finish the entire deep edit before this summer.  Priorities take precedent (as I stated in my previous blog post about time management).

I’m bringing this to light because I want my readers to be aware of my journey and process but also because I want my writer brethren to not be disappointed if they discover their growth may force a rewrite/deep edit.  Don’t be disheartened.  Take a breath and trust in your abilities.  Don’t rush the process.  It’s more important that you write the best possible story only you can write.  Put on your gloves, lace up the boots and climb out of the dense forest that is your story.

Call to Action: Pray for me, ha!  It’s okay.  I’m not upset like I might have been ten years ago at the thought of having to rewrite my book.  If it’s about getting published one day, then I need to be willing to make this a priority.  As for the real Call to Action, consider your creative passions.  Can you think back to when it was difficult and now it all comes with ease?  Settle into that growth and be thankful you’ve grown and matured to such a degree that you are no longer struggling with the smaller things.  That’s the goal!

Best Supporting Role

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

For me, rich stories involve a great deal of detail, forethought and most of all believable supporting characters.  Focusing on the latter today, I’m always thinking about the characters I consider to be placed in the “support” role.  Some are bras and some are jock straps (I’ll give you a second to consider that and all the nuances entailed, lol).

Sometimes, these characters can be glossed over, especially if they serve more as place holders than actual aids to the main protagonist(s) of the story.  There are clichés (plucky sidekick or daft henchman) and we can often locate those with ease.  The best, however, are those that actually play such a role that if removed, the story arc would suffer!

Where would Frodo be without Sam?  What about Harry if any of the many supports he had were gone (not counting Hermione or Ron because frankly, they’re more quasi-protagonists than supporting)?  There are countless other examples of this that I could go into but I think you get what I’m throwing at you.

The absolute best advice I’ve come across when it comes to writing and including supporting characters is that in those characters’ minds, they are not secondary. In other words, they have their own history, experiences, virtues and vices that make up their persona.  All of these should be included and evident during their scene(s).  Obviously, you will have stories where there are nameless, stand-ins who serve a broader role, especially if they make up the collective of a population, mob or army but those that actually speak and lend action to the story must be more.

Whenever writing these supporting characters, I always envision them having qualities both in physicality and personality that are unique to them.  For example, I recently started the fourth novella of the Ravanguard series.  The main protagonist is a woman who hires the service of a somewhat ruffian type who swears, loves to gamble, but hates to drink and has an extra pinky on his left hand, which has earned him the nickname of Two-Pink Simm.  That’s the most basic description I can give (you won’t be seeing him in readable form for a few years.  Sorry.  I’m working on it) but it gives you a lot of information.  The question automatically is: Why doesn’t he drink?  What’s the story behind that?  That’s a good question to ask and one that lends depth to him that may or may not be explored.  It’s a wrinkle of character that in my mind needs to be there.

Supporting characters should also be voices of dissent, challenging the main protagonist from time to time when there’s other options not yet explored.  No “yes men”!  What’s their personal agenda?  This is something that should be at the back of our minds when reading and coming across a portion of story where the supporting character says or does something that seems a method of contention.  This doesn’t mean they are a rival/antagonist but an opposing voice.

Let’s consider our own lives.  Do you have a friend (supporting characters are often friends, maybe an acquaintance) that you love and trust but they challenge your words or actions from time to time?  If yes, then keep that person in your life!  If you have one that is the opposite (remember what I said about the jock strap type), then don’t get too attached.  I have a few friends who I know I can be honest with about all kinds of things and know that if they disagree or have another way of approaching a situation, it’s not because they want me to fail.  They want me to succeed but not be hasty or irrational.

True support lends itself in beneficial ways that does not necessarily mean they benefit from the outcome.  I hope this all comes through the way I intend.  Stories are far more envisioned when the people whose point of views we, the readers, are denied but are ones we would love to peer into the minds of!  (This is actually something I struggle with because I would love to write from the POV of some of my supporting characters from time to time.)

Call to Action: Find those supporters in your life and thank them!  Go one step further and buy them a Starbucks gift card (I fully expect a full slew to be sent to me, ha!) and let them know you appreciate them.

Identity: Theme Explored

Write what you know.  That’s what they tell you (I don’t know who they are…still looking to be honest).  For whatever the reason, I’ve struggled to really explain to people what my books are about.  Seriously.  If you asked me in person to tell you what the first Ravanguard book is about, I would struggle to do so without going into vast details in order to make sure you are tracking with me in what I consider a complex tapestry of interwoven major and minor story lines.  In short, I’ve had to narrow it down.  The book is about identity.

I’ve done this recently on a few accounts and simply saying identity helps me focus the vision.  The story follows the viewpoints of the three main characters and their struggle through identity.  All of these are explored through different methods.  One has their identity stripped away and must establish a new one, the second strives to make a name for herself in a predominantly male order, and the third (the youngest) has little knowledge of his family and their history, only to be introduced to secrets that make him realize who he is.

I like to think that you could take any of these three quick descriptions I’ve provided and apply them to a number of stories in all kinds of genres.  That’s the beauty of the theme of identity.  It is not restrictive or limited.

This is all very organic in my writing process.  I did not write these out and go from there.  No, I started with the character and their conflict and the theme of identity grew.  Imagine the smallest of frames–better yet, a bare Christmas tree.  I set it up and throughout the process of writing, editing, re-writing and editing some more, I’ve placed the ornaments, ribbon, tinsel (not just for decoration), etc. in their proper places to give the tree–or characters–identity.  Muscle and skin added to the skeleton once again.

Write what you know.  Well, much of my main point of view characters in everything I write has one underlying theme of identity.  My writing focuses on this because I truly believe individual identity is the key to success.  A character’s journey to discover/re-discover their identity and purpose in life is the quintessential most important conflict in literature (at least I think so).

So, I relate personally because I spent many years unsure of who I was, what my purpose was, etc.  Same old story…  It took time, patience and putting myself around people who saw the gold in me.  This righted much of the upside down thinking I struggled with as a young man.  Once I found what I was looking for, though, I settled within myself to be okay.  Were there things that could still use work?  Of course!

The theme of identity will likely be what I write about the rest of my life.  My hope is that this will transcend the pages and help people.  Obviously, I cannot tell every reader who they are but hopefully, through my characters, readers will find tools that make sense to them and lead them to discover what’s most important.

Call to Action: If you are struggling with identity in any capacity, I would encourage you to not lose sight or hope.  Don’t merely look for others to tell you who you are.  Do not seek acceptance or relationships because someone else thinks you should be this or that.  Ask questions.  Pursue the truth of your convictions.  These will better guide you in the long run.

Kill the Cliché, Twist the Trope: Magical MacGuffin

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 2

There are conventions in fantasy literature that we know well, maybe to a lesser degree if you’re not an avid fan or reader, but you can recognize them with ease.  You can be reading/watching a story unfold, snap your fingers and say, “That’s so and so in this story…” or “I bet that’s what’s needed to solve…”  How?  Why?  Because you’ve seen it done so much, your brain does its magic and the dots are connected, always aware and finding the patterns.  These conventions that are easy to call are often clichés or tropes.

I relied too heavily on these clichés/tropes when I first dabbled in the genre and to be honest, it was good because it helped me understand and know what I wanted to avoid later in my journey as a writer.  For today’s post, I’m going to explore another one (don’t be surprised if this becomes a monthly post-type by the way).

The Magical MacGuffin.  What’s this?  Well, it’s the One Ring in Lord of the Rings, the Holy Grail pursued by Indiana Jones or King Arthur, and/or most recently, any of the Infinity Stones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  A MacGuffin in literary terms is a plot device pursued by the protagonist to form the basis of the plot.  Now, these devices don’t always have to be magical.  You could literally take any story (from a book, play, tv show or film) and find the MacGuffin.  It could be a goal, dream, desire, object, idea, etc.  All of these fill the role.  Honestly, I don’t have a problem with the device as a whole but in fantasy, it is (in my opinion) a cliché/trope worth avoiding.

In the second book I wrote (one that has been shelved for the time being), I actually tried to take this trope and twist it.  I asked the question, “What if the magical objects in the world suddenly quit working, forcing the societies that relied on them to deal with the resulting conflicts that would naturally ensue?”  A malfunction of the MacGuffin if you will.  Now, this is an idea worth exploring and I may still do it to a degree but on a lesser scale.  Maybe a standalone novel…  There are elements in that world that I created and quite like a lot and don’t completely want to abandon.  Hmmmmm…  Yep, you’ve read it here first.  I may have just realized I do in fact have another story to put in my queue!

Back to the topic.  I struggle to get behind the idea of a Magical MacGuffin because its played out in fantasy.  Tolkien did it the best with the One Ring.  We have a magical item that is in fact filled with the evil of the main antagonist who wants it back.  The goal of the protagonists is to take that item to the only place where it can be destroyed (which happens to be in the most dangerous place in Middle Earth) all the while having to avoid its influence and the desire of others who want to claim it for themselves.  It’s actually a very good device used by Tolkien and plays better in the story as an item to destroy rather than attain.  Kudos to the master!

What we see since then is a lot of stories that drive the plot forward with magical items being the end goal (a sword, crown, horn, bowl, knickknack or patty whack).  Once attained, it usually gives the hero the power to overcome the evil one.  There are usually obstacles that bring lessons learned and help the character grow but for me, both as a reader and writer, to form an entire plot on the magical device, just doesn’t hold my attention.  When looking for new books to read, I actually check to see if the synopsis includes a Magical MacGuffin.  If so, I set it aside.

Thankfully, there is a wave happening in fantasy literature that doesn’t rely on this particular device.  Maybe there are magical items in the world but they are not the bones to hold everything up.  In my Ravanguard series, there are things that could be considered magical but play no major significance to the overall conflict.  I do introduce something that may look the part in the early chapters but as you read, you realize I’ve twisted the expectation of the convention.  The story centers around the three main point of views and their inner struggles to cope with a world that is turned onto its side.  They must rely on themselves and those they trust in order to survive.

I should be clear and say I’m not opposed to a Magical MacGuffin entirely in a story so long as there is a twist or subversion.  Let there be a price to pay in order to use it.  The One Ring actually does this.  Using it makes the wielder dependent and a slave to it.  That’s good!  To compare, consider the Goblet of Fire in the fourth Harry Potter book.  It’s a magical item that is the goal to attain.  Why?  Harry has to because he’s in the contest but what else?  I won’t spoil the book or movie but at least there’s a twist at the end that does extend the overall saga as a whole.  This is also good!

Maybe you prefer this convention for whatever the reason.  Not a bad thing.  We’re just different and have different tastes, which is great, fine and dandy.  Hopefully, that won’t keep you from reading my books (Ha!).  Happy reading!

Call to Action: Do you prefer Magical MacGuffin’s in stories?  If so, share them with me!  I’m always curious to read other people’s preferences and opinions.  Are there any that have been twisted and subverted that you enjoyed?