Monthly Archives: November 2016

Fantastical Fantasy Sale

fantasy_sale_11-16

I’ve joined together with other great fantasy authors in the spirit of Black Friday shopping to bring you some awesome fiction deals.

November 24th (6am PST) – November 27th (11pm PST)

17 fantasy Kindle books for only $0.99 to $1.99 each!

Take a look and find out which worlds are for you. Happy Thanksgiving 🙂

Each book cover is hotlinked to its Amazon listing page & will open in a separate window.

Continue reading Fantastical Fantasy Sale

“Writing fiction is so easy … just make stuff up”


Before I get into my rant du jour, I’d like to remind you that my second book, Merlin’s Weft, is available for pre-order at a dollar off until Friday, November 18, 2016.

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What, Me Research?

Have you heard this comment before?

“Oh, it must be easy to write fiction. You get to just make stuff up.”

Those who say this really don’t know how much thought and work goes into “making stuff up.” Unfortunately, I’ve also heard that assertion from a few people who are trying to write their first book. After reading their work, I realize they have no clue about what it takes to tell a believable story.

In one case of a manuscript I saw, a character living in 1991 walked into a storefront parcel outlet to ship biological material across the Atlantic, which the corner shop happily packed in dry ice they kept in the back for just that purpose.

International shipping from a neighborhood storefront is common now, but not so much in 1991. I didn’t know whether the town of the story had such businesses, but what I found bothersome was that the concern hadn’t occurred to the author. And the idea that, even today, I could find a Fedex or UPS or DHL representative that kept dry ice in their back room astounded me. Not to mention questions over international protocols regarding the shipment of biomaterials, which I make no claim to knowing about, but then, neither did that author.

The author shrugged. “It’s fiction. I can make up anything I want.”

No, you can’t.

World building

Readers are willing to suspend their disbelief about a wide variety of things. They accept the existence of fantastical beasts, superhuman capabilities, faster-than-light-speed travel, and delicious Brussels sprouts. OK, maybe not that last.

However, the author has to build a world in which those things make sense. That’s hard work. Are feathered sentient beings present? What are their grooming habits? Are they otherwise birdlike, or something else entirely? How did they evolve? Or … perhaps they were created, and if so, why? Where are they in the social and political hierarchy? Are they genetically predator or prey? If they are a space traveling race, how do they keep from shedding feathers that might gunk up the Krapowski drive that powers their ship, regenerates their oxygen, and buffs their toenails.

Were you yanked from my narrative by that last bit because I just made up a pile of crap out of context?

Swashbuckling research

When I’m writing, I almost always have a window open to the Web. It’s great for checking facts, so long as you’re careful with your source. For example, when did the word swashbuckler appear? A number of sources indicate its origination in the sixteenth century—Merriam-Webster places its first known use in 1560. It’s a combination of two terms: swash, an imitative word meaning to make a noise like a sword beating on a shield, plus buckler, a small round shield. I had to look this up, because I wanted to give an early seventeenth century character a nickname of Swash. It would have been embarrassing to discover the word originated in the late nineteenth century, which is when the verb swashbuckle appeared. Not only did I confirm that I could use the name, but I had an origin for the word to work into the story.

For larger issues, reference books become necessary. I have about ten feet of bookshelf space of works relating to Arthurian times or sixth century Europe. I had a question about the use of carriages in France in 1625, so I bought a couple of books about the history of wagons.

May we waltz?

While most readers won’t have a clue about the number of carriages available for hire in Paris in 1625, its better to try to for historical verisimilitude rather than not. I read a book a few days ago that talked about a woman dancing a waltz at her wedding in the late 1620s. That throwaway detail completely pulled me out of the story. I didn’t know when the waltz was developed (Wikipedia: probably more than a hundred years later), but I knew it wasn’t that early.

Of course, occasionally facts or history have to be … bent … to conform to the story an author wants to tell. The degree to which knowledgeable readers let an author get away with it depends on how well the story is told—how well the world is built—and how far reality is distorted. I’ve knowingly departed from the world as it is for various reasons related to storytelling, but I don’t do it because I don’t care about the truth. Nor do I claim that I never inadvertently make a factual error. My own biases keep me from seeing some anachronisms. I just hope I keep them to a minimum, and keep the reader in the story.

Boners you’ve seen

Have you seen a huge boner in something you’ve read? Please don’t trash authors by name or books by title, but I’d like to hear what you’ve read that brought you out of a story because of anachronism or factual error.

My books

Merlin’s Weft will be released Friday, November 18. The eBook is available for pre-order on Amazon.com for a 25% discount until the release.

Merlin’s Knot is available on Amazon.com.

Go to my Web site to obtain a copy of the prequel, Merlin’s Shuttle. He doesn’t battle evil in that story, but he does face off against Mother Nature.

The Unending Story of Series Cliffhangers


Before I get into my topic today, I want to give a thank you and shout out to Audra Trosper. On November 12, she’s featuring a snippet from my upcoming book, Merlin’s Weft, on her blog. Go check out her blog.

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Cliff, hanging

Have you read any books that end like the one described below?

Cliff Studley and Kate de Lion have endured 327 pages of excitement, thrills, romance, near-death experiences and feats of paranormal derring-do to save mankind. In the past few pages, they’ve vanquished 1,132 enemies from seventy-three tribes of people, marmots, were-marmots, and wriggly sixty-two-inch-long earthworms.

Kate wipes marmot-goo from Cliff’s face, and he laughs with relief. They lean together to touch lips.

<you turn the page>

A 212-foot wide hole erupts before the couple and the vast, black spaceship last seen on page 217 rises from beneath the earth, laser cannons flashing.

The end.
Read the next installment of the Studley-de Lion series in
Yet Another Apocalypse,
coming next year.

A good book ends

Maybe you’re like me. I love a good book. I even read a lot of books to the last page that I don’t absolutely love. Some because they present an interesting idea and I want to see how the author carries it through; some because I like the characters but not the plot, or vice versa; some that are just … well … they’re not bad enough to put down.

So I read to the end. But lately, I’ve had to hope that the book I’m holding in my hand or on my eReader has an ending.

Even if I love a book, I am greatly disappointed if I discover that the author has so little regard for my time that I’m not given a satisfactory conclusion to a story in which I’ve invested hours of my time.

The nature of publishing today

I’m a fledgling author. I understand the nature of publishing today. You want to build a platform that carries readers from one book to the next. But more and more I’m seeing low-star ratings that are given because the author didn’t publish a book. A 327-page entry to a 20,000 word serial adventure often lacks the satisfying ending that readers like me crave.

“But wait,” the guilty cry. “There are some great multi-book series.”

Yes, and if you have the talent of JRR Tolkien or George RR Martin, I’ll buy your books and read them one after the other. But even JK Rowling wrote seven complete stories as she was constructing her mega-series about a young wizard.

Epic stories

The Lord of the Rings and the Song of Ice and Fire tell epic stories. Many other series require too many words, too many pages, to put into one binding. I don’t have an objection to long stories, per se. What I object to is the attempt to suck me into a series without telling me.

“But my book is listed as a part of a series. You should know.”

No, I don’t. Just because a book is a part of a series doesn’t mean each book is vitally dependent on the next one to complete its story. I point to the Harry Potter books as an example. Yes, you get more from them if you read them all in sequence, but each book has a beginning, a middle, and—here’s the kicker—an end. Many series are constructed around a sequence of complete stories, with the main characters developing as the tale progresses.

What do I suggest?

I ask for upfront honesty. If a book ends with a cliffhanger that requires—I repeat, requires—the reader to go to the next book to finish the story, then put that in the cover notes and the on-line description of the book. “This is part two of a single six-book-long story.” If I want to invest six books worth of time in the story, I’ll read it.

To be honest, part of the reason I’m concerned about this topic is that I’m working on a book right now that has 180,000 words. That’s longer than the word-count sum of my two Merlin books—each of which tells a complete story, by the way.

Since it’s historical fiction, its length is not as extreme as if it were a contemporary fantasy, but still, I’m not sure what I’m going to do when it’s ready to publish. I do have a “pause” about halfway through that could be a break between two sub-books. Hence, my soul-searching.

If I do publish it as two parts, I want to be able to let readers know up front that they are making a two-book commitment.

It’s a swashbuckler. I think it’ll be worth your time.

Meanwhile, I’d like to know what you think about unending books. Please leave a reply or comment at the bottom of the page.

 

Merlin’s Weft will be released November 18. The eBook is available for pre-order on Amazon.com for a 25% discount until the release.

 

Merlin’s Knot is available on Amazon.com.

Go to my Web site to obtain a copy of the prequel, Merlin’s Shuttle. He doesn’t battle evil in that story, but he does face off against Mother Nature.

Slipping In and Out of Post-Roman Britain in a Contemporary Fantasy

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What’s the point of writing a fantasy novel if the writer—me—can’t engage in a bit of it? My contemporary fantasy series, Merlin’s Thread, takes place in the twenty-first century in and around Houston, Texas. However, I wanted to provide a mechanism to ground the mythos in the time of King Arthur, in the late fifth and early sixth century.

The Merlin of my titles is King Arthur’s druid and Earth magician. He awoke from an extended slumber in his crystal cave and came to the New World to fulfill a quest. In my imagining, Merlin has two particular powers that he uses in a coincidental way to fulfill his quest.

What is not coincidental is the freedom I achieved to write about the times of the King.

Animal Experiences

One of the powers is his ability to share consciousness with his pets: birds and mice mostly, but also fish. That last is an admission that I borrowed the kernel of the idea from T. H. White, whose Merlyn turned the young boy known as Wart into a fish so the boy would learn self-reliance. I chose to move only a part of the mind into an existing animal, rather than actually converting into that animal. Like White’s Merlyn, my Merlin can perform the magic on another person. The protagonist of my first book, Merlin’s Knot, is rewarded with a stint as a fish in a koi pond.

Merlin’s second power of note here is to record those adventures in an animal and play them back into someone else’s mind. In that case, the recipient sees, hears, tastes, smells and feels what Merlin experienced while sharing with the animal, but the experiencer cannot influence the action in any way.

A Sense of Tense

Both books are written in first person past tense. I wanted the playbacks to have a feeling of immediacy, so I wrote them in first person present. In the following example from Merlin’s Knot, the protagonist Alfred suddenly experiences the first of Merlin’s visions without knowing what is happening to him. He’s on a tower a short distance away from a woman standing on another tower.

The woman looks my way again. This time her eyes focus on me for more than just a moment. She thinks, wonders about something. Something that relates to me. I see her sigh, then turn back to the distance.

I turn in the direction she has been looking. A cloud of dust hangs on the other side of the first hill, some distance away.

I glance back at the woman. She’s staring at me with intent and purpose now. I think she’s trying to send me a message, but I cannot think what it could be.

Without warning, I fall from the tower, hurtling toward the stone wall below. I shriek, knowing my body will be dashed and broken when I hit the rocks. Instead, the wall recedes. I glide along halfway down to it. My shriek becomes a cry, a call. I slide over the closed gate. I feel a rhythmic pulling on my back, on my shoulders.

Wings! Omigod, I’m a bird!

I beat my wings, rising toward the woman on the tower. She watches my approach. I see no surprise in her eyes, only expectation. I veer just before reaching her tower. My chest contracts and I hear another shriek.

Using My Device

Merlin gives Alfred visions as a sort of payment to induce his assistance. In the second book of the series, Merlin’s Weft, the protagonist is a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder. For her Merlin provides visions of strong women in unusual situations.

Of course, like any good dramatic device, once I created it I used it for other purposes. You’ll have to read the books to find out what they are.

 

Merlin’s Weft will be released November 18. The eBook is available for pre-order on Amazon.com for a 25% discount until the release.

Merlin’s Knot is available on Amazon.com.

Go to my Web site to obtain a copy of the prequel, Merlin’s Shuttle. He doesn’t battle evil in that story, but he does face off against Mother Nature.

Using Language as a Metaphor for Healing

Merlin's Weft available November 18
Merlin’s Weft available November 18

Multiple Personality Disorder

The main character starts the second book of my Merlin’s Thread series with her mind fractured into pieces. During the course of Merlin’s Weft, she fights to become one whole woman. Traumas in her past generated distinct personalities that are epitomized by fear, rage and lust.

While the struggle to heal her fractured soul continues throughout the book, a considerable amount of healing takes place during the first few chapters.

I wanted to show the reader the progress of her healing, especially in that crucial first third of the book. I used several mechanisms to illustrate her getting in touch with the different aspects of her former selves, but here I want to focus on one way that I used to show a gradual healing.

In a Manner of Speaking

Adele, the protagonist, suffered from multiple personality disorder. Although she is a thirty-four-year-old woman, parts of her mind are seven years old, and the dominant part is an uneducated seventeen-year-old girl. She speaks with an ignorant laziness that is extreme even for a teenager.

Here’s an example of her dialogue in the first chapter:

“I thought you were suppost-a be a healer. I thought you wanted the best f’r people. Amber always thought-a you that way. But you knew, too, did’n ya?”

Now, since Neve, her healer, has some schoolmarm tendencies, she focuses on improving the quality of speech in her charge. She starts with the laziness of the negated verb forms, such as “did’n,” and works up from there. The reader can see the progression of Adele’s healing through the changes in her dialogue.

Of course, throughout the book, stresses cause Adele to relapse and bring into question the efficacy of the whole healing process.

But She’s the POV Character

With lazy-sounding dialogue, a little goes a long way. The book is written in first person from Adele’s point of view. Not only do we sometime hear her internal thoughts, she provides narration from her perspective. Hearing that lazy child’s voice for so much of the book would drive even me crazy, and I like the girl.

I wrote her narration and internal dialogue without the sloppy diction.

How do I get away with that? Well, there are two threads to the explanation. First, one of the minor personalities that she is incorporating was an educated, adult person. Adele has access to that person’s vocabulary and speech patterns, and strives to overcome the verbal laziness of her main persona to emulate that one. Adele even voices that thought about having the internal adult speech patterns to Neve in the book.

The second explanation is that—I think—the voice people hear in their heads is more refined and polished than the one that comes out of their mouths. She hears herself the way she wishes she could speak.

Writing the Change

Frankly, I was reluctant at first to write scenes of Neve correcting Adele’s speech. In my early draft, I elided much of that into summary paragraphs. Who wants to sit through a schoolmarm’s language class? But my editor, Catherine Payne Jones, chastised me for my own laziness. “Show, don’t tell,” is the rule I was violating.

I needed to include background from the first book, Merlin’s Knot, for those readers who either hadn’t read it, or who had read it far enough in the past to have forgotten details. So I showed Adele’s relating her story to Neve along with her reactions to Neve’s corrections. I showed her struggles to speak better.

I hope you enjoy the result of my own language struggles.

Merlin’s Weft will be released November 18. The eBook is available for pre-order on Amazon.com at a 25% discount. From now until November 18, the eBook is only $2.99.

Merlin’s Knot, the first book of the series, is available on Amazon.com.

Go to my Web site to obtain a copy of the prequel, Merlin’s Shuttle. He doesn’t battle evil in that story, but he does face off against Mother Nature.