I’m so honored and excited to present an author interview with one of the most wonderful authors and most sparkly badgers I’ve ever met. Please welcome Claire Buss, it was such a delight having her stop in for a bit to answer some questions. She is a wonderful lady!
I see that you have four books available on Amazon. Which one was your favorite to write and why?
My favorite book to write so far has been The Rose Thief, I enjoyed the initial rough draft story creation and the editing process. I'm excited to write more stories in this world as well. I manage to release my books into the world quite well, I'm more inclined to think - right that one's done, what's next.
How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?
They say you write what you know, whether you mean to or not and I think that's true. As a writer you just can't help putting bits of yourself and other people in your life into your characters. More often than not it will be strangers who can spark the most inspiration as you tend to only see a tiny, tiny part of their personality - we are left to fill in the rest ourselves.
Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?
I'm afraid I am a pantser rather than a plotter. I don't outline before I start, I prefer to just sit down and write. When I'm in writing mode I'll aim for a minimum of 1000 words a day and then the next day I just sit down and carry on. I don't go back over what I've just written until the very end. That's because when I start writing the idea has been bubbling in my head for a while previously and it's really about the characters being ready to talk to me, telling me what has to happen next. I actually love not knowing what's going on. Once I've written the rough draft, I find I have huge plot holes but that's when, for me, the hard graft begins - figuring out the plot and how we get from A to B. It seems to work for me so I'll carry on with this method until it doesn't and then I'll try something else.
What has changed for you personally since you wrote your first book?
I've become more confident in myself. I've rediscovered a passion and can now spend my time doing something I love as well as something I can actually do. I used to think I didn't have a talent then I started blogging casually and friends would tell me how much they loved my writing. It wasn't until I entered a local book writing competition that I really pushed myself and discovered that actually I could write a coherent story. I've learnt that I will never please everyone, and that's alright, and as long as I am happy with the final result then that's what matters.
Do you prefer to write at a particular time of day?
I'm a stay-at-home mum and housewife, my little boy is 4 and a half, just started Reception school and my second baby is due on 26th November so really for me, anytime is the best time to write! It used to be once little man had gone to bed for an hour, then it changed to the first hour of the morning through the summer. Now, with him at school I can write during the day but goodness knows what I'll do when the new baby gets here. The key is not to get discouraged if you don't manage to write because then that will hang over to the next day and the next. Every single word is a win.
What are you working on right now?
At the time of this interview I am getting my new book. The Rose Thief ready for release on 10th November. I hope to take part in NaNoWriMo this year and plan to work on the sequel to my debut novel, The Gaia Effect. I've also started a Wattpad account sharing flash fiction and poetry - this is to encourage me to keep writing something new every week.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
When I was little, I wanted to be Lois Lane - it looked like the dream job to me so I eagerly went to my local paper for work experience at the tender age of 15. Needless to say being a local reporter isn't quite as glamorous as being Miss Lane so I drifted into secretarial and administrative work for a few years before qualifying as a chartered marketer and then an adult ICT tutor. All these roles involve words and people which is a bit like being a writer!
What was the first story you remember writing?
One of my earliest writing memories is writing a story about Santa Claws and being incredibly proud of presenting it to my mum and step-dad. I couldn't understand why they were laughing so much. It wasn't meant to be a funny story.
Do you have mental list or a computer file or a spiral notebook with the ideas for or outlines of stories that you have not written but intend to one day?
I have a folder with scraps of paper scrawled with ideas on them. I keep all the ideas I have - some will become flash fiction, some short stories, some may develop into full blown novels. And of course some will never, ever see the light of day unless I enter a worst idea ever competition.
How many stories do you currently have swirling around in your head?
At the moment I have an idea for a fairy-tale retelling, a top secret multi-book series, a techno-western, some short stories from the world of The Rose Thief, the sequel to The Gaia Effect, another Tales from collection and I plan to enter as many short story competitions as I find myself inspired to do.
What are your current writing goals and how do you juggle the promotional aspects with the actual writing?
This time last year I wasn't an author, I had no books available to buy and absolutely no indie author social media presence. By the end of this year I will have three books out, short stories in two anthologies and a stable author platform via my website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and other social media sites. Obviously with a new baby due to arrive, everything will have to be a bit more fluid but the plan is to release the sequel to The Gaia Effect next year as well as Tales from the Seaside, another humorous look at life around me - this time on the local coast. Anything else will be a bonus. Every day I do a little social marketing, I have a daily checklist which I sometimes manage to complete fully but again I don't panic if I don't manage everything, every day. The key is to be consistent so that's what I try to do. I think the hardest thing for indie authors to accept is that they have to do all their own marketing and it's not just release day promos - it's every day and you can't just go hard sell, sell, sell. You have to share some of your personality, hopes & fears, support other writers and share tips. Respond to everyone, interact and encourage others. You won't become a bestseller with your first book, it's going to take time but you will get there.
Where can people learn more about your books?
You can find out more about my books and all my social media links at my website – CBVisions. Sign up for my newsletter to never miss an update and experience.
Thanks so much to Claire, for joining us today! It was great getting to know her better. I wish her all the success in the world!! 😀
Angelique S. Anderson
As Dillion Vermeer prepared to step from the elevator on the top floor of Asteroid Prospectors, she still expected to see her long-time friend Kevin Mayberry in his large corner office, but she suppressed the urge to cry as she reminded herself Kevin was dead. Needlessly checking her deep blue business suit, and white shirt she stepped out looking more confident than she felt. Her brown eyes glanced around and she could not see much difference in the office suite.
“Doctor Vermeer, the others are in the conference room,” Kevin’s secretary, Jason, said to her. “May I get you anything? I could easily make a cup of cinnamon kohvi for you.”
Dillion brushed her black hair back over her ear, and met Jason’s eyes. The exchanged look needed no words to go with it. He felt her sincere appreciation. She smartly turned and walked toward to the conference room.
Then she stopped and turned back, “Thank you, Jason. Kevin appreciated your work.” A blush came over his face, and he turned away, but not before a tear rolled down his cheek.
The polished hickory doors of the conference room were open, and the oblong table had two other people already seated at it.
“Well, here is our little lady now, Miss Vermeer! Come right in, and make yourself at home,” a man said in an overly-loud tone as he rose to his feet. He was shorter than Dillion, husky, with slicked-back hair, and a new, but ill-fitting suit. Dillion was surprised that with the expense of the suit, he had not had it tailored for his own frame. Dillion would never spend that amount of money on apparel, and she wondered why anyone would.
“Reverend Jaxson Rhono,” Dillion nodded and extended her hand as she entered.
Acting as if he had not seen her attempt at a handshake, Jaxson turned and motioned to the other man, “I believe you know our friend, Nigul Rebane of Rebane Space Construction.”
“Yes, Nigul and I were classmates,” Dillion withdrew her hand. Nigul was thin with a sharp nose, somewhat too large for his face. His sandy hair and very dark eyes were just as she remembered, distinctly contrasting physical traits. His business-casual attire was in tasteful colors.
“Classmates, along with Kevin,” Nigul replied. “We all desperately grieve over our lost alum.” He did reach out and give a brief clasp to Dillion’s shoulder.
n“Oh, indeed, we all do, yes we do,” Jaxson interjected, and stepped between the two. “Doing Kevin’s memorial service was one of the hardest funerals I’ve ever performed, yes it was. But, I did daddy’s funeral as well—some years ago—and most recently, Kevin’s sainted momma’s funeral. That poor woman, poor, poor woman. She never did get over the loss of Kevin out in space. Oh, the day I sat with her when they told her of that tragedy. The Mayberrys they’re some fine folk, yes, fine folk. There don’t get no better people than them Mayberrys were. By heaven’s graces, that’s a fact.”
Both Nigul and Dillion cringed inwardly at the grammatical dialect Jaxson used. They did not agree on many issues, but both had been trained in engineering and recalled the motto coined by the Dean of Engineering, Professor Hubert Carvalho, “If you can’t say cannot, you can’t be an engineer.” Dillion had even made that official policy for her work.
“Congratulations on your win in the courts,” Nigul added quickly.
“It was a blessing that the courts followed Olga Mayberry’s wishes in her will. I never expected to be the heir to all of Kevin’s estate, but as his blessed momma directed, it came to pass unto me.” He looked around the office. “Well’s we are here now to talk about—not memorials and funerals—but the future,” Jaxson went on, as his sad face was replaced by a different look. “I’m just a simple minister, and this Asteroid Prospectors is a right big endeavor, that’s fallen into my lap. So’s I called in you two folks, to help me understand this terraforming business. Just what is that?” He gestured as he spoke, and Dillion and Nigul both took a seat.
“Perhaps, you would consider having some of the Asteroid Prospector senior staff join us? Kevin recruited and hired only the best and brightest people, and I am sure they would be more than willing to assist,” Dillion offered.
Jaxon sat at the head of the oblong table and looked down at the display screen in front of him. “I could’ve done just that, but I need honest answers. You see, the employees here, well, they’re all worried about jobs and such, since I am now being their boss and all. I don’t need no mealy-mouthed people pleasers. I need honest feedback.” He pressed a couple buttons on the table, next to the display and then stated, “I’s got my helper here, E1877—a name I must change, just must—come on boy, answer me.”
A mechanical voice came from the display, “This is E1877. I am listening. Were you addressing me?”
“No other machine helper here, is there? Well, you just record all’s that we are a sayin’ here now. Got that E1877?”
“Affirmative. Recording initiated,” E1877 replied.
“So’s what is terraforming and how does it play in with colonies? Well, Nigul, my friend, what is terraforming, and why should my business be interested in it?” Jaxson asked.
“Terraforming, in a simple, basic sense, just means to transform somewhere to resemble the earth, especially so that it can support human life,” Nigul replied.
“Like that there moon colony where all them folks died?” Jaxson asked.
“Limited terraforming was attempted without success on the moon, roughly thirty years ago—with Moon Base Alpha. Despite the fortuitous locating of subsurface lunar lava tubes, which did expedite making the base, it was unsuccessful,” Nigul replied. “Our engineering today is far superior to that era.”
“The Great Event, and the 90 Hour War contributed more to that failure, than any engineering problems,” Dillion brusquely interjected. “Reverend Rhono I started Dome Survival Systems just so we can address the issue of repairing and restoring the Earth. Dome Survival Systems is a non-profit entity which is open to all who want to participate, I do not even take a salary.” She glared briefly at Nigul. “I think if you…”
“Miss Vermeer, your charity service is noted, and I want to come back to that in a bit, yes, I do, but right now, I am tryin’ to figure out this colony idea, and how it goes with terraforming?” Turning to Nigul, he asked, “Terraforming is sort of like having some creation kit to make the Garden of Eden, again?” Then smiling broadly, he joked, “Minus them snakes, of course.”
“Speaking broadly, you could phrase it that way,” Nigul replied but gulped as he did. “It is essential to the proposed generational colony ship program. Now, Rebane Space Construction has been the primary contractor for Asteroid Prospectors, and has built the vast majority of the spacecraft which have so effectively mined the asteroids. The Mayberry Mover…”
Jaxson interrupted, “That is Kevin’s motor for space travel, and part of my portfolio now. Came along with the whole shebang. I was told the mineral wealth of the asteroids is like five-hundred billion unified credits, using the fancy new money talk, and that fleet of space planes and stuff. I knows the company is flying up there and taking rocks and smashin’ them into usable stuff. But I want to focus again on terraforming. That astronomer gal, Gretchen Westerhuis, I think that’s her name, well, she is mapping out some very interesting places up in the heavens. Very interesting.”
“Professor Westerhuis has made amazing discoveries of exoplanets, and Rebane Space Construction stands ready to build ships to take us to those locations,” Nigul stated, and rubbed his chin a bit. “Vision is all that is needed to take that first step toward colonizing other solar systems.”
Turning back to Dillion, Jaxson asked, “Dear girl, I owe you an apology. I was rude, and knows it. You were about to tell me about saving the Earth, I believe. Now, what plans do you have? I know Kevin was’a working on a grand scheme to help us all. What part do you play? You don’t need to get all technical on this right now. Just gimme the big picture, and we’ll start with that.” He gave her a smile that held little warmth.
Dillion let out a breath she had not been aware of holding in, “Well, sir, it is a project that Kevin and I discussed many times. It is about the protection of what is left of the Earth’s fertile soil and stopping the decline of the human population. I can provide you with an entire portfolio of information, in case Kevin’s files are not easily accessible. I have all the scientific studies, research findings, and proposals which support Dome Survival Systems.”
“Let me see if I understand, your plan is to make colonies on Earth? In places to protect what is left of this ruined old world?”
“Yes, sir. We must take action before it is too late, although, in all honestly, I would not use the term colonies. I prefer refuges, or perhaps sanctuaries,” Dillion replied.
“Sanctuaries are in houses of worship,” Jaxson retorted.
“Yes, excuse my phrasing. These domes will be safe-houses, during the implementation of comprehensive mitigation efforts to reverse the course of the ecological damage. It is all in our reports and projections. Kevin had a wide-ranging plan, the Earth Restoration Project, to reverse the ecological catastrophes which are happening.”
“Oh, yes, so I’ve heard, and that’s part of why you two are here. I’ve been wondering, I guess I see two things happening. There’s your idea of staying here on Earth and ridin’ out the storm, so’s to speak. Then the other idea’s those gigantic colony ships goin’ off to the heavens on some sojourn through the ages. What about us just doing that terraforming on our neighbor planets here? Say, Mars or Venus?”
“With all due respect, there is not a need to go to another planet. Neither Mars nor Venus is a good candidate for a colony, or for terraforming. Kevin has a plan, excuse me, had a plan, to bombard the Earth’s stratosphere with the nuclei of comets. He charted and tracked at least twenty-seven suitable prospects, some out in the Kuiper Belt. By strategically placing them into the jet stream from orbit, they will cause climatic change which will basically rinse the radiation out of the sky.”
“I must not’a heard you correctly,” Jaxon stated, “Miss Vermeer, are you saying that bombing the sky’s a good thing? That sounds like what them enemies did in the 90-Hour war when the Holy Land was laid waste.”
“Well, the term ‘bombard’ was the one Kevin used to describe his plans. It probably is not the best term, sorry. The science is sound, and not like the nuclear detonations of the war. As you know, Kevin was brilliant. Essentially, he planned to bring a massive amount of water, via the comets, into the jet stream. That will drench the Earth and wash the radiation down out of the atmosphere.”
“Sorta like in Noah’s day. The gates of heaven opened up and the waters from above came down. The rains came down for days and days and days.”
“Yes, something like that. It is not just about the water. There will need to be survival places for humanity to be protected from the falling radiation. There will need to be radiation mitigation systems to absorb what is concentrated by the water run offs.”
“Miss Vermeer, you’re saying, you want to drench the earth with space water, cosmic snowballs, and then have hidey holes for people to live in to escape the stuff the rains bring down? All while some sponges soak up the poisons?”
“Yes. That is the basic project. Kevin and I discussed this at length. My specialty is the Dome Survival Systems. The plan calls for 10,000 domes each holding 10,000 people. I know that is a far cry from the current population level of 1.8 billion. But consider our current population level is only about a fourth of what it was just a few years ago, and the birth rate is plummeting and mutations are causing even those babies born to have very high infant mortality rates. Therefore, with proper screening and testing, we can save 100,000,000 people who have no radiation damage, and build secure places for them to survive. Then, when the radiation levels are down to where they will not endanger humanity’s ongoing evolution, the people can come out of the domes and repopulate the newly revived planet.”
“Evolution?” Jaxson exclaimed. Then he caught himself. “Well, yes, thank you. I will give that my full and due consideration.” Turning back to Nigul, he asked, “Do you agree about Mars and Venus?”
Nigul looked at Dillion, and then back at Jaxson. “Yes, neither of those planets are suitable for colonization in the long-term. We have tried to make ships capable of surviving on the surface of Venus. They all failed more quickly than any of us expected. The people who planned those missions envisioned a dome which would convert the atmosphere of Venus into a swampy mess. They quoted ideas about Venus being known as Earth’s twin. But that was a manipulation of the data. Sure, it is the closest of all planets to Earth. Venus has nearly the same mass and size as the Earth, but they ignored all the facts which show it to be unsuitable. A quick list; there is not much water on Venus, the incredibly slow rotation of the planet gives it a day many Earth months long. The atmosphere of Venus is chiefly toxic gases which generate a surface pressure nearly a hundred times greater than that on Earth. Then there is the fact that Venus’ surface temperature averages nearly nine-hundred degrees in that old Fahrenheit scale.”
“Sounds more like Hell than a Garden of Eden,” Jaxson replied. “But what about Mars?”
“Reverend Rhono,” Dillion interjected, “Mars is far more difficult to terraform than Earth is to repair. We tried a small-scale colony on Mars and due to air filter problems, all those people died as well. It was not public knowledge, but it is in the records here at Asteroid Prospectors.”
“Oh, my, no,” Jaxson replied, and for the first time seemed to have a genuine emotion on his face. “E1877, is that true?”
“Yes,” the mechanical voice replied.
Dillion continued, “Mars is unsuitable. It has some water, but extracting that is far more laborious than was initially expected. The air filtration problems continue, and we do not have a good answer to that issue yet. Mars’ gravity too low. There is no shield from cosmic rays, no magnetic field to speak of, no protection from solar radiation. Mars is much further from the sun, and has a more elliptical orbit. Basically, Mars is just too dry, extremely cold, and its best places—equatorial regions—are similar in temperatures to Antarctica but with the normal night time temperatures far, far colder. Where the attempted colony was located, which was considered the best Mars offered, routinely had nighttime temperatures of less than one hundred degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. Mars is too dry, too cold, and too exposed. The other possibilities are so far and remote on the outer planets' moon systems, and those are just variations on the problems Mars has, and worse. Building protective domes on Earth remains far easier than to build similar domes on Mars, the outer moons, Luna, or even worse, on Venus.”
“Sounds like water is a prime factor for this colony idea, and the terraforming tool,” Jaxson stated. “That Westerhuis gal says they have found water on some other planet, far way.”
Nigul jumped in, “Indeed they have. Westerhuis 23, with its four known planets, the second one shows very positive readings for large amounts of water. The colony ship program can build ships to reach that system, and others, if we have the backing and the vision to seek out the heavens. Plus, and if I might add, the colony ships will have generations to study the target worlds and design terraforming specific to each planet. It is a winning situation, or might I just say, a divine calling.”
“Them gargantuan colony ships, can they really be built?” Jaxson asked. “I mean, if I was to…”
“Not as cheaply or as efficiently as the domes right here pn Earth can be built,” Dillion interrupted. “The Dome Survival System is our best chance to protect humanity and set us back in a proper upward spiral.”
“Yes, Miss Vermeer, you’ve made your position clear, and I respect that, yes, I do. But is it either or? Is it? I could fund both projects, and we would double our chances, right?” Turning again to Nigul. “When can those colony ships set off?”
“We can build ten ships in thirteen years, sir. Just thirteen years,” Nigul stated with confidence. “That assumes we have proper funding and support from Asteroid Prospectors and the leadership that sees hope in the heavens.”
Dillion nearly choked as she caught the religious tones Nigul was spewing. She knew he was agnostic at best, but saw how Jaxson lit up whenever Nigul spoke like that.
“Miss Vermeer? When can you begin building your first dome?”
“Right away sir,” she replied. “For less than the colony ships, and to protect far more people. I am proposing protecting 100,000,000 people, while the colony ships will hold at most just one million people, if that.”
“Now, Miss Vermeer, do not disparage Mister Rebane’s ideas here. None of that petty cat-fighting. I am going to approve both of your colony ideas.” He stood up, and walked to the window. The tan clouds of radiation were far on the horizon, and were not expected to make their way toward the city. He pushed thoughts of them away, and looked at the blue skies that were still visible in most of his panoramic view. “I believe we have come to the end of this meeting. Initial checks will be issued for both your projects.” He turned around and looked right at Dillion Vermeer. “Come out and be ye separate. Go and build your domes, but we will meet again to talk about repairs to creation.”
Dillion rose, surprise on her face. “Thank you, sir. Thank you. Future generations will look back at this as a turning point.”
“Good bye Miss Vermeer.”
Dillion walked away, planning who to call, and what to do to start building Dome 1. She caught Nigul’s eye as she walked out, and he nodded ever so slightly.
After she had left, the Reverend Jaxson Rhono said, “The stars are our covenant. I will start a New Canaan Movement. Now, you go and build me a Noah’s Ark for space. You may build seven of them. Distribute out six, but you save one just for me.”
“Thank you, sir! Thank you!” Nigul left the room.
After a few moments, Jaxson Rhono said out loud, “So, now that I’m in charge here, I suppose Jaxson Rhono might as well use these toys Kevin Mayberry built.” Jaxson Rhono leaned forward and pushed a button on the table.
“How may I assist you?” the very mechanical E1877 asked.
“Are you aware of who is in the room with you?” Jaxson asked.
“Yes, you are Jaxson Rhono. Current President of Asteroid Prospectors. Current and sole member of the Board of Directors of Asteroid Prospectors. How may I assist you?”
“Well’s I’ll be. I really need to change your name. I have a cash-cow and a plan. Bring me my elders and deacons.”
“Yes, sir. Messages being sent now,” E1877 replied.
Then to the empty conference room, Jaxson Rhono prepared his next speech. He thought of it as his finest sermon, and the words poured from his mouth, “My friends, you are the elders who have served with me since our days of small time rallies and meetings in basements. But now we’ll need to work. We’ll need good and clean land, and animals of all types, and this has to get done. You must acquire, by whatever means necessary, whatever we need to succeed. I mean anything. Look everywhere. Find what we need. Nothing shall prevent your righteous goal. No matter what, get it all. This old world is under a curse, and the wicked are reaping their just rewards. So, just like the children of Israel plundered the Egyptians before their exodus, we’ll gather whatever we need to make the Noah’s Ark work. The prophets of old used the wicked to advance their goals, and so will we. Did the Hebrews care about the Egyptians after the plagues? Make friends for yourselves with with those who have dishonest wealth. We’ll use whatever we need, for it is our inheritance. We’ll take the honey out of the corpse. We will offer the six vessels to the people of the world. That is our gift of charity. They can buy them from us like the nations of the world bought the grain from Joseph. Yes, after they buy those six they can outfit them however they will. But our golden angel will get all the very best. And that is your task. Elders, you will find the best and get it for us, by whatever way you can. We’ll call our golden lamp the Rapture, for it’ll carry us all away, in the twinkling of an eye. No, it’s the last days now. So, better yet, ours will be named Eschaton! Yes, the last day is here! We will build the Eschaton! Jaxson Rhono you will get to purge out the evils. You will set up what is right and proper. Yes, Jaxson Rhono will forever be the new messiah! Jaxson Rhono, will be the deliverer. Jaxson Rhono, will be the Savior of all of mankind!”
The maniacal laughter echoed off the conference walls.
Adventures in Nano Land
We live in a world full of acronyms, some sound mysterious and interesting and turn out to be accounting shorthand. Others – like Nano – are simple and elegant, yet hidden behind those four letters is a world of mystery, imagination and creative frenzy. Once you know what Nano stands for, your life will never be the same again. Every October, the whisper will rise nano – nano is coming. Will you answer the call?
Ok, I might be exaggerating a little bit. Nano is National Write a Novel in November, often NaNoWriMo, with participants being wrimos. Entry to this experience can be found at https://nanowrimo.org/ where you can login and explore.
So what is it? Basically, the idea is to sign up and write 1,667 words a day for the month of November – every day. This gives you 50,000 words in a month. There is no compulsion, no punishment for not finishing, and you write it on your own software.
To become a wrimo:
- Register and pick a login name etc, then you can add your book details after October. From now on you are part of the Nano family, and receive pep talk emails, you can make buddies and join in the forums which are fantastic resources. Continue reading...
Prepping for the Nanopocalypse
So, you have taken your courage in both hands and signed up for Nano – congratulations! I have done it a few times now, so I thought I might share some tips on how to prepare for the month and keep your partner and your sanity.
For your partner and family
Nano is all about you – or at least you will have such an intense relationship with your novel writing that other people seem to fade away. This is probably not great for your relationship, and it can be quite boring to listen to as well.
To avoid getting things thrown at you, or hearing the door slam and wondering why, make sure you break up your writing with family time, and talk about things other than your book. Do some housework, cook, or contribute in some way. 1,667 words a day can be squeezed into commute time, early morning or late evening or lunch breaks without huge disruptions to family life. The time taken by social media or TV is an ideal swap for writing time.
If you are in the position where someone you know is doing Nano, you may well be familiar with the vacant gaze into space when creation is happening, or the lost conversation as a side thought hits them. You have my sympathy! For November, they are following a dream, and provision of coffee/tea/snacks and scrap paper is helpful. Of course, don’t pander to the grumpy writer, this is a stereotype that no one needs to continue. Do take this as an opportunity to slack off on the housework and do nice things for yourself as they won’t notice.
Even dreamers must eat, and no one wants to wake up in December to a house that looks like it needs to be condemned! Continue reading...
Well, it tends to be a long month, and most wrimos go through a few stages.
Day 1 (1,667 words)
Either blind panic, or oh, look I have written 3,000 words. This is just impossible / so easy. Neither of these states last.
Day 7 (11,669- words, dude)
You will be in a routine by now and feeling ok. Make sure you keep up the daily exercise, and say nice things to your family. They are sick of your novel by now.
Back up your work.
Day 15 (25,005 half way)
Despair may set in at this point for a number of reasons.
- You hate what you have written. We all do. Plug on and don’t listen to yourself, and do not edit.
- You have run out of ideas. This happen too- take a walk, a break, or check the Nano forums for prompts and ideas. At this stage the travelling shovel of death or a team of ninjas may need to appear. At the very least they will be entertaining to write, and remember you are allowed to edit after November.
- You are so far behind you will never catch up. This happens too. You can try a ‘Night of Writing Dangerously’ Nano event, or change your location to a café or library. Ask yourself why as well, you may be able to overcome the problem by stepping away from the panic.
Back up your work again. Be nice to your family – they hate your novel by now. Continue reading ...
And so are unicorns, gryphons, and snail sharks.
Why do I love fantasy? I enjoy the glimpse well-written fantasy books give into alternative worlds. After a long day at work, organising a conference or patiently answering emails, it’s wonderful to be able to pick up the Kindle and lose myself in a world where women take up swords in battle, the castles are magnificent, and the dragons are--
Oh, dear, the dragons. And the unicorns, gryphons, snail sharks…
But first let’s talk about the humans in fantasy books. Writers often seem to offer us a medieval society, set in a form of England which never existed. Kings and Queens, knights and cooks, stable hands and pig herders, all of which can seem like a quick shorthand so the book can focus on the characters and the action.
But a book which has a well considered social backdrop is all the better for it. How has this kingdom come into existence, and how does that history affect the way its citizens interact with each other and with other communities? Are people fixed into the social strata into which they’re born, or can they move between them? How does this affect the characters and the choices they might make?
The same cultural considerations can be applied to the non humans which feature in the story. What sort of culture do dragons come from? Do they live in groups, or are they solitary? Were they driven from the nest or did they never know their parents? Or what about unicorns? Do they live in herds, like horses, or do they have a very different social structure? Do gryphons take after eagles or lions?
Snail sharks, by the way, are my own invention, and the group noun is ‘a rabble’. You do not want to encounter a rabble of snail sharks. They have very sharp teeth and they can move very quickly. And they grow to be the size of a large dog.
When I started to write my ‘Penny White’ urban fantasy series, I wanted to offer something new to the genre. The main character, Penny, is a Church of England minister for a village in England which, strangely enough, isn’t that far from my own home. In the first book, ‘The Temptation of Dragons’, she stumbles across a dragon dying at the side of the road. To her amazement, he asks her for the last rites. And so she is made aware of the existence of Daear, a magical world which exists in parallel to our own. Lloegyr is the equivalent of England and Wales in this sister world, and it’s to this country that Penny often travels.
As Penny comes to know the non human characters, their own social structures become clear. And their cultures affect them, even as our own societies affect each one of us. For example, Raven, the dragon who has romantic intentions towards Penny, is a search dragon. Search dragons are rare, and hated by their own families for their abilities to find out treasure and secrets. Raven had to flee from his mother, or she would have eaten him. Perhaps this explains why Raven is a loner, and why he demands independence from others. ‘I’ll fight alongside Penny,’ he states, ‘but I won’t fight for her.’
Lloegyr is undergoing an industrial revolution, which is bringing all the different races (dragons, unicorns, gryphons, harpies) to live side by side in cities and towns. Cultural differences are causing tensions, particularly when cross-species romances develop. A group who are against this mixing, called Cadw ar Wahân, will attack those who dare to marry outside of their own type.
Morey, the cat sized gryphon who becomes Penny’s Associate, was once an ordained priest in Lloegyr’s Christian church. He left the Church, and his gryphon clan, when he insisted on marrying a were-fox. The loss of his two communities, church and clan, helps to explain why he has suffers from sarcasm management issues and always tries to be the cleverest person in the room.
“What are they?” Allen stared closely into the view screens. Receiving from exterior cameras, the monitors showed the planet surface around the landing area.
“No idea.” Brale set his face alongside the commander’s, peering at the images with equal intensity. “The surveys have picked up nothing like this before, and they’ve been over the whole place in detail, within a fifty-mile radius.”
Outside, in the half light of the planet’s dawn, two ridges appeared, seemingly pushed up from the rubble strewn plateau. Two waist-high ridges in concentric circles, the closest perhaps a hundred metres from the small craft.
“Could we have set up vibrations?” The commander’s eyes did not leave the screen. Yesterday, carriers had transferred the first of the colonising equipment to the surface. But those larger craft had returned to the ship in low orbit, leaving only the two leaders of the mission to keep a final watch overnight.
“Doubtful,” said his companion. “Where are the other waves? Why are those two the only ones? There should be more.” He straightened. “We need a sample.”
Brale was the planetary expert, appointed to be the colony’s head for ten years. Trained in exo-world physics, human psychology and international politics, he would be the person who very soon would formally step onto the planet in full view of billions of other humans, variously placed in this system and beyond, and claim it as Earth Colony Three.
On this particular landing, however, he was just general dogsbody and observer, until the commander gave the final word to bring the people down and begin the whole, irrevocable colonisation process.
He turned to the board beside him and began entering a sequence.
“No, Edmund.” Allen’s hand held his arm. “Not a rover.”
Surprised, Brale looked at his friend. The commander’s brown face was concerned. “I think we should keep this quiet, just for the moment, just until we have an idea of what these things are.
“If we send out one of the rovers, the main record will show it, and they’ll want to know why…” his hand waved upwards, indicating the colony ship. “But if the lander’s record drops out for a little while…?” After a moment, Brale grinned, slapped the commander’s shoulder, and reached for his helmet.
Half an hour later, Brale regarded the low ridges before him. He should have a companion, but who would have thought an excursion necessary at this late stage? Still, they were both almost fully suited, a programme requirement for small surface expeditions, and if anything happened, Allen could be outside the lander in ten minutes.
Please don’t let there be anything wrong. Brale could not bear the thought of abandoning the years of planning, building and preparation, of extinguishing the eager hopes and expectations spreading throughout the ship in these last days, as the possibility of settling grew into a reality for the people now four years out of Earth.
He had been here all through the exploration phase, with his base on Colony Prime, one Earth month away. He had gone as far as anyone across this terrain. He had seen that it was viable as a support for human life. He knew this planet better than anyone else, and already he felt it could become home. Come on, Three, he said inwardly, tell me what this is all about.
He bent as closely as his suit would allow. These were not ripples caused by vibration. They were a build-up of some material, but so evenly formed, so evenly placed. How could it have gathered in such a seemingly intentional shape? Cautiously, he lifted a scoop of what appeared to be coarse sand and poured it into a sample collector.
Some of the loose material seemed to stick to his glove. Then, under a form of static attraction, it moved along his arm. Other particles rose over his boots, disturbed by his steps. With careful strokes he brushed himself clear, making sure the particles fell onto the ridges, and turned back to the lander.
He and Allen would run the sample through the analyser carried by all landing craft. They would find what it was—and they would make a decision. He felt cold at the prospect, his mind contemplating the unthinkable.
Half-way to the lander now. He hoped no-one on the mother ship had picked up his unplanned excursion.
“Edmund!” Allen’s voice sounded through his speakers, alarmed, urgent. “Get back! Quickly as you can! Get back to the lander! The ridges behind you have changed. They’ve joined up. Only one now, but it’s big and it’s moving, closing in on you—fast. Edmund…!
In the suit he could not glance back, but he believed the commander and increased his speed. He heard nothing from outside—how could he?—but almost immediately there was a sensation. He felt something pressing on him, as sand had pressed against him once during a storm in the Sahara Desert back on Earth.
This sand was not driven by a fast wind, but it engulfed him. He was surrounded completely by swirling purple and brown particles, but not abrading, not buffeting, just covering him. They clung, moving slowly over his faceplate. Why didn’t they flow past, on their way to wherever dust storms on Earth Planet Three went?
He lost all sight of anything outside his suit, and the commander’s voice faded into the far distance. His legs grew heavy, walking became slow and finally stopped.
The interior mask display showed three minutes passing, then four. Then he began to hear Allen’s voice again, calling his name and “Do you copy?”
“Copy! I’m all right—I think.” The brown and purple dust was thinning. He could see the lander and at the foot of the steps, Allen outside and fully suited. Brale raised an arm
“It’s the prokaryotes!” Brale swung the chair around and stared at his friend. The analyser had done its job and identified what the sample was made of—the microscopic forms of proto-life which had caused the colonial programme to move so slowly, in case these simple organisms had complex cousins elsewhere on the planet.
“It’s only the bacteria and archaea—nothing else. But in the highest concentration I’ve ever seen! There are so many, they’ve turned themselves into sand.” Brale’s voice shook. “I have no idea what caused this. It’s not happened on any other colony planet.”
“Tomorrow’s landing is out. We’ll have to investigate…” The commander turned to the view screens, looking onto the set-down area once again and there was heavy silence in the lander cabin.
“Edmund, what’s that other type of basic organism? The one that builds potentially intelligent life? There is one, isn’t there?” The sudden sharpness of the commander’s voice took Brale across the cabin.
“You mean the eukaryotes?” Brale also looked at the screens and his heart began to beat furiously.
“Eukaryotes. Yes. You and I are made of eukaryotes, aren’t we?”
“Thirty-seven trillion of them, give or take.”
“It’s how life developed on Earth? The other two prokaryotic types got together?”
“They made cells with a walled nucleus. Walled nuclei build complex life.”
Outside the lander, the ridges had disappeared, leaving a stretch of brown and purple sand. It was an uneven surface, and it was moving. All over, wherever they could see, appearances of objects were emerging and collapsing back into granules. Brale thought he recognised a small lander.
As the two travellers watched in fascination, a half-formed shape of what might be a space-suited person rose near the ladder and lifted an arm, just as Brale had done not two hours earlier.
“Mission abandoned!” said Allen, his voice dull and defeated.
But in Brale’s mind, a gleam of understanding grew, followed by realisation, and a sudden surge of joy that the planet would become his home after all.
“No,” he said, placing his arm around his friend’s shoulders. “Don’t do that. It will be all right. Take the word of your expert. The people can come down. We’re going to be colonists.”
He went to the exterior hatch, keyed it open, and waved at the brown and purple sand below.
I am very proud to announce the first Sci Fi Roundtable Anthology featuring sixteen of our own members. You'll travel to distant worlds, meet new species, and discover that what you think you know, isn't all there is to Life.
What is Life? Is it awareness of the ability to interact and understand the world around us? As we dig deeper into reality, what will we discover about ourselves and what it means to be alive? When we stare into the mirror, are we really sure that we see staring back is the only definition of life in the Universe?
Sixteen talented authors of The SciFi Roundtable each come up with their own unique answers to this challenging question. The Quantum Soul is a collection of short stories destined to leave you wondering if there isn't more that humanity has to learn about the ultimate meaning of life.
- By Design - Alan VanMeter
- What Measure is a Homunculus? - Ricardo Victoria
- New Year - GD Deckard
- The Machine in the Mountain - Darran Handshaw
- Aether Technician - Jim Webster
- When Words are not Enough - Cindy Tomamichel
- Soul Mates - Victor Acquista
- The Endymion Device - Lyra Shanti
- Patient Data - Claire Buss
- The Trees of Trappist - Brent A. Harris
- Pixels - Greg Krojac
- Wondrous Strange - E.M. Swift-Hook
- The Dream Miner's Drill - CB Droege
- Project Chameleon - Jeanette O'Hagan
- Second Contact - Leo McBride
- Shepherd of Memory - Rob Edwards
With several focuses of style and medium, Ian Bristow values the marriage of artistic exploration and trusted compositional foundations most in his work. His work has been sold in local galleries and shows as well as online. In recent years custom freelance work has become his focus, most specifically creating works for others who wish to boost their professional presence. When he isn’t painting, he writes books and music and finds that his artistic endeavors can be quite valuable as inspiration for both. Guitar is his instrument of choice, and he celebrated his twenty year anniversary playing it last June. When writing, he focuses mostly on work that includes some kind of fantastical element but enjoys reading many genres.
We interviewed Ian to learn more about his world and his art. He is multi-talented and works with three forms of art that he often blends into one harmonious whole. So we decided to ask him some questions about his passions.
You have an interesting bio there, Ian. So can you give us some examples of how you “boost their professional presence?”
When someone sets out to make a splash online, there are only a few things that can separate them from the millions of others doing the same thing, and creating a quality “image” of one’s self with professional art or design work is arguably the most important. So when they have an idea of how they want to present themselves but have no idea how to realize that image, I come into the picture, creating their logo, banners, and other images they might require.
How long have you been an artist? When did you start?
I’ve been creating art since I can remember, so around five years old, which was twenty-eight years ago. I didn’t start taking art seriously until I was about ten, and it was during my high school years that I truly found a style (which has changed over the years) that I felt passionate about.
Of your 3 passions - art, music, and writing, which feeds you soul most?
Oh, this is tough because they all mean so much to me and have different impacts on my life. However, I think if I was put in the very difficult position of choosing one I would pick music. I’ve been playing guitar since I was thirteen, and the connectivity of playing music with others is unparalleled in the way it makes me feel. I don’t even know if it’s possible to describe the feeling of it.
What would be your “dream come true” concerning your art?
My dream come true would be a place among those who have been recognized as having any sort of contribution to the art world. To be honest, where I am at right now, creating works for other creative people, already feels like a dream come true.
Where do you go from here? After that last question, what are your realistic goals for realizing that dream?
I think the best way to realize any dream is to stop dreaming and start doing. And that’s what I have been doing. Keep working, keep producing; never stop making the next piece of art that could be the foot in the door to another great experience. My realistic goal is to reach a place where I can pay all my bills with art and book sales. I think I can end up there if I keep working hard, and if I don’t, I will still appreciate all the experiences I have along the way, each are brilliant and teach me something new.
Following are two pieces of Ian's work for you to enjoy. The first one is a time lapse video he made of the process of creating cover art for one of our own Knights.
And the second one is the banner he helped create for our Sci Fi Roundtable Co-Op. This banner is 4'x6' and will be on our booth at all the conventions we attend. Isn't it great?
Connect with Ian at the following links:
It was never a straight line to get them home when they came to him. Sometimes they liked to play a while.
"You're cheating!" Paula said. Her voice accusatory, but her smile playful.
"No, I'm not," Walker said. But you are, he thought with a small grin.
"I'm five, and I'm just better than you," she said boastfully.
"You sure are, Paula." His grin widened, but there was a touch of sadness in it.
She stuck her tongue out at him. She was cute.
He'd been playing checkers with Paula for a few hours and letting her win. He'd made a show of his turn, looking at the board carefully, holding his finger on the checker, making sure she couldn't jump him, and then he'd raise his finger, and nod. Your turn. He watched her eyes seeing the glee in them at the tack-tack-tack of her pieces moving over his.
"You lose," she said delightedly.
He chuckled. "You win, again," he said, folding his arms.
"Wanna play something else?" she asked. "Let's play family. You're the daddy and I'm the–."
She stopped short and a melancholy shadow passed over her pallid face. Paula's gaze fell to her hands and her long dark curls drooped forward covering her big brown eyes. Walker saw the depression on the top of her head. His throat felt full and his heart hurt looking at her. He didn't know the details of what happened. He didn't want to. He'd learned not to ask. Instead, he pushed his emotions away and asked her if she wanted to sing a song. She peeked from behind her curls and he watched her sadness melt away.
"Do you know Let It Snow?" she exclaimed, and proceeded to belt out the chorus.
Before Walker could ask her to turn down the volume, an anxious voice echoed up the stairwell.
"Walker? Are you okay?" It was his mother.
Paula abruptly stopped singing and her gloom returned. "Your mom doesn't like me," she whispered.
"Fine Mom," he replied.
Their gaze held each other for a minute. "Time for me to eat now," he said. Her eyes glistened back at him.
He stood and she followed him like a puppy down the stairs and to the front door. He turned to her.
"Hug," she said and opened her arms.
"Walker..." his mom croaked from the hall. He turned toward his mother. Her face was grave.
"Coming," he said.
He turned back to Paula but she was already gone.
Walker frowned. He went past his mother to the kitchen. Her chest heaved a sigh of relief as he sat down at the table and held his chin in his hands.
"You shouldn't get close to them," she said.
Walker didn't look at her. He couldn't help feeling sorry for the children. They were lost like the others but...they were just children.
"What were you playing?" his mother said placing a dish in front of him. Cheeseburger with all the fixings. His favorite.
"Checkers. Then she was singing," he mumbled.
"Will you take her soon?" she asked, stroking his hair.
Walker shrugged. He would take her when she was ready. He had no say in the matter. He glanced up and her face was dark, her eyes wet.
She was scared. He was too. They only had each other, now.
He touched her hand, "It'll be okay, Mom." She squeezed his hand and went to the stove to clean up.
"...8...9...10! Ready or not, here I come!" Paula shouted.
Walker grinned from under the deck. He hadn't played hide and seek for years and peeking through the lattice as she passed, her steps eerily silent on the fallen leaves, a wave of nostalgia passed over him.
A moment ticked by. The air was quiet and still.
"Gotcha!" she called from behind him, startling him, and a small yelp escaped his mouth.
"Walker!" His mother immediately called from above, worry knotting her voice. "Walker!" she called louder.
Paula's frown showed in the squares of sunlight that passed through the latticework. Walker glanced up and his mother's worried footsteps rained dust and dirt down on him through the cracks in the deck. He sneezed and she stopped above him.
"Walker," she said, relief replacing worry in her voice.
"She hates me," Paula said. Walker glanced back to where Paula had been, but she was gone.
"Coming," he said.
He crawled out from under the deck and met his mother's frightened gaze at the steps. "Hide and seek," he said. "I didn't mean to scare you."
His mother's lips were tight. "When will you show her how to get home?"
He kicked the bottom step with his sneaker uneasily. They'd had this conversation before.
"Has she asked you yet?"
"No," he said and his eyes dropped to the bottom step, kicking it harder. "Soon, I think."
"Can't you just take her, Walker?" she asked. "Why do you–"
"It doesn't work like that, Mom," he said softly. "I told you before."
"I'm frightened," she said, her voice thick. "There's something not right with her..."
Walker nodded and a moment passed in silence between them. He glanced up. "It'll be okay."
"That's what your father said. It'll be okay. And now, he's...he's... Don't you let her...like they did to him...I..." she couldn't finish.
Walker took the steps, putting his arm around her as they went inside. "They're not all bad, Mom. Most are just lost..."
Walker opened his eyes. Paula sat criss-cross-applesauce beside his bed, her brown curly hair hiding her face. Pale light stuttered across the floor behind her. It's time, Walker thought and adrenaline pumped into his veins.
"Do you like playing with me?" Paula whispered.
"Of course I do," Walker said.
"Will you come with me?" she asked, her voice pleading.
"I can't," he said. "But I'll show you how."
Tears fell from her eyes.
Walker got up slowly and walked to his closet door. He pulled it open and was blinded by a burst of flickering white light from inside. He glanced back at Paula.
"This way," he said softly.
Paula shook with a sob.
"It's okay," he said, "It’s where you belong now."
Paula rose and glided, head down, to Walker's side. She hovered there, the white light dancing on her pale form.
"I'm scared," she said, choking on the words.
"I know," Walker said. "Don't worry. I've shown a lot of people how to get home."
She reached for his hand and Walker felt an electric tingle on his skin. Whispers echoed into his room from the closet. Hundreds of them.
"Please come," she said.
"I can't," Walker replied, but he felt her pulling him. Her grip became like iron, and fright leaped into Walker's chest as he stumbled forward.
"No!" he shouted. "Stop, Paula!" His heart hammered in his throat.
Paula sniffed and looked sideways at Walker. Her face was grim and filled him with dread. "I need you," she said. "We need you..."
The shadows closed around him and the whispers rose to a clamor. Cloying air and the smell of dead things and rotting meat filled the room. Walker's bedroom door burst open and his mother ran to him, and wrapped her arms around him.
"No!" she shouted. "Leave him alone!" Tears ran from her eyes. Her arms bulged.
Paula's face darkened and so did the light from the closet. "He is ours!" she said, but her voice had become all of the voices reverberating in the room.
"Not my son too!" Walker's mom cried, veins popping out on her neck as she pulled.
Paula's skin fell away exposing a luminous skull and eyes as dark as the deepest ocean. The light behind her changed to crimson and fire. Paula's hand became a claw, and tore into Walker's arm. The voices howled, rattling Walker's teeth.
Walker felt a surge of power flow through him. White light exploded from his chest. The voices in the room shrieked in unison, and Paula was thrust backward and into the fiery light. Walker slammed the closet shut. A thunderclap and a gust of hot wind pushed Walker and his mother to the floor.
The room was suddenly still, and they lay on the floor, holding each other. Walker's mom wept on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Mom," he said. But there was nothing he could have done. This was his curse.
She sobbed and he rocked her. Another lost soul would be along soon. They weren't all like Paula, but some were.
The title may have been click bait, but while I have you, horror really has saved your life whether you realize it or not, of course not in the Caped Crusader sense or even the chemotherapy sense, but in the very way the repulsive taste of rotting meat saves your life by warning you away from ingesting it. Horror is a tool to sharpen our awareness and keep us from fearing things that can’t hurt us, teach us to avoid the things that can hurt us, and helps us strategize a plan for facing the real threats that we face every day.
Ever seen the film from the 70’s Night of the Lepus? If you have not, don’t. It was a failed effort. There are reasons for the film’s failure other than psychology (like the poor script, worse special effects, and just laughable dialog), but the Night of the Lepus’s biggest blunder was having it be about Lepus. Evolution has taught us plenty about how to survive. One key little thing that has been engraved into our genetics is to not fear rabbits. So when they made Night of the Lepus, everybody’s first reaction is always, “Really? Killer rabbits?” The second reaction is to call for the Holy Hand Grenade. This film illustrates the first way horror really helps us grow as people. It helps us to sort out what should be feared and what shouldn’t. This is also where many sequels fail. Halloween 37 for example, or whichever one came right before H20, in that one they tell us that Michael Meyers is actually driven mad by the moon and star alignment on Halloween night. It was such a ridiculous explanation that the movie instantly fell to being on par with the average Scooby Doo episode, with slightly more bloodshed. The suspension of disbelief is more crucial for horror than for any other genre…except maybe erotica. The instant you are able to stop believing you stop fearing.
While discussing the Halloween franchise, the reason the series worked so much better as truly scary films is because being scared of large men in Captain Kirk masks is probably a pretty good idea. Horror exploits those real fears we have and makes us keep them in the forefront of our minds. Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh yes, but don’t forget the bats and spiders and rats. Building terror from the real dangers that we face daily keeps us on our toes. The black plague is often blamed on the rats and mice and with good cause, but they hadn’t acted alone. They were just victims of a bigger culprit: the fleas. Swarms of the black bugs came from the rats and crawled through the body hair, inching their diseased bodies up pants legs and into the tussle of pubic hair before biting down into the skin to drink the blood and spread the walking death. Go ahead and scratch at it, you are already infected. Ah, but the flea itself, like the scurrying rodents, was also just an accomplice. The virus itself was the true culprit, and the thing that most crucially needed to be avoided. Is it any wonder that our makeup has a natural inclination away from all three of these threats? We have grown to avoid them, even though the rat in itself is no more dangerous than a cat or dog or any flea carrying vermin.
The years following the release of the film Jaws had fewer reported shark attacks than any of the years in recent history. The reason was because of the movie. Jaws hit the natural chords in our brains that made us fear sharks, something that the vacationing tourist usually didn’t think about. Jaws brought it to the public’s mind, and the public reacted to it. Shark attacks also became big news, and every lost toe was reported from Portland Oregon to Portland Maine, just to keep the public afraid. The movie was able to capture one of humanity's genuine fears. The fear has been diminished now, in large part by Sharknado and its bastard offspring. These films lose the suspension of disbelief before they even begin, making the very concept a joke, resulting in a declining respect towards the danger presented by both sharks and tornadoes. Films like Sharknado, while fun, are bad for the psyche and should either be avoided of followed up with Open Water and a Weather Channel specials on sharks and tornado destruction just to balance out the mind.
When a horror novel or film is done well, it should be something that makes you question the choices of the characters and has you thinking of how you would have handled the situation. Would you have taken the chainsaw instead of the machine gun, knowing the demonic rhino had to be decapitated? Would you have burnt the house down with the killer inside and not worried about the damn cat? Would you have taken the ear rings off the old dead lady and melted them into bullets to kill the werewolf? These are good questions to ask yourself, as long as you don’t let it get too far. Most families in America have a zombie apocalypse strategy but not a house fire strategy. That’s a problem. But having a home intruder plan, an attempted abductor plan, or even a S.H.T.F plan is a good idea. Watching and reading quality horror fiction will better prepare you for all possible scenarios.
So yeah, horror has saved your life, or at least it has mine. When I was a child, I used to catch snakes and play with spiders. The horrific scene in the Well of Souls in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the scene with the snake in the mummy’s mouth stopped me from catching snakes. The silly John Goodman movie Arachnophobia actually got me to leave spiders alone. The multitude of ghost stories had me staying away from abandoned buildings. Reading Cujo made me stay away from strange dogs. I’m sure one of those saved my life, but if not there are hundreds of other scenarios I could think of. So embrace the fear this fall, and allow it to steer you to a rational and healthy fear of all that could threaten you.
Anyone who knows me well can tell you my love of all things fantasy and horror started at a young age. So when I started writing my first epic fantasy novel some 17 years ago, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone -- let alone me -- that elements one might find in a chillingly good horror novel started popping up in my sword and sorcery tale.
Since then, I’ve written several more books that one could easily call not just dark fantasy, but sword and sorcery/horror mash-ups.
So how does one make that blend of fantasy and horror work well? How do you introduce horror into sword and sorcery without jarring the fantasy reader or turning them off to your story?
Well, you can’t just mash fantasy elements and any old horror elements together and hope they go together. Otherwise, it will come out looking more like Frankenstein’s monster than a well-structured, pulse-pounding novel that any fan of fantasy or horror could enjoy.
Everything has to blend seamlessly for the reader.
When a barista makes a latte, what they hand you at the end of the process isn’t just a bunch of splotches of milk suspended in the espresso. Everything is one well-blended drink. That’s what you want at the end of creating a good fantasy/horror mash-up. Only instead of putting the steamed milk in the espresso, you start with milk and add the espresso. And you want to start slow for the reader as you’re building your blend.
You don’t want your mix to slop out all over the page. Ease the reader into the horror so that by the time you really flip the switch and put your characters into a scene worthy of a full-blown horror tale, your readers are prepped for that extra dose of spine-tingling horror.
How do I mean start slow?
Let me use Into the Darkness, book 1 of my Cathell series, as my example. The book starts out with a deadly curse and sell-sword Aeryn Ravane's quest to not only break that curse, but find the legendary sword trapped in the caverns sealed off by that curse. It has a lot of the elements of a standard epic fantasy setup. But it slowly turns into something darker as Aeryn explores the cursed caverns where the sword had been locked away for the last century.
She soon gets the sense she’s walking into something very dark and very wrong. She finds murals that depict strange ancient rituals and a room with an altar and a black rock she feels inexplicably drawn to. When she touches that rock, bad things happen, and throughout the caverns, she cannot shake the feeling she’s being watched.
So now the reader has been introduced to elements more common to a horror tale, but in the context of a fantasy tale. So for the fantasy reader, it works. Now the stage is set for me to throw in a little more horror. But I always take care not to move past the confines of a sword and sorcery tale.
What are “the confines”?
If I throw in elements that fall well outside the normal realm of fantasy -- like adding a Pinhead or Pennywise type character -- I risk confusing and even disappointing the fantasy reader who picked my book up expecting dark fantasy, not The Hellbound Heart with swords. So I can’t do that.
Adding horror into a sword and sorcery novel requires thinking a little outside the trope box. But not too far. Every piece of horror I put into my novels is relatable to a fantasy reader in a sword and sorcery fantasy context. Honestly, there are still plenty of things to choose from, like a vampiric sword and The Harbinger’s armies of the dead.
Are you talking about zombies?
Yes, zombies play a featured role in modern horror flicks, survival horror games, graphic novels, and plenty of dystopian novels. But fantasy?
Consider this: they work equally well in a novel that features an evil god or a necromancer or two. I have it on good authority from my fans that zombie-type creatures are no less frightening when chasing the heroes through the streets of a medieval-style city as they are when chasing people through a modern American city. So I’m not afraid to let the zombies out, in limited quantities.
Keep in mind that zombies have also been a little overdone in contemporary supernatural and urban fantasy books. I tend to choose wisely where zombies come up when it comes to my dark fantasy novels.
So how do you know when you’ve gotten the blend just right?
Let your book reviews spell that out for you. If you get a lot of comments about too many horror elements happening for a fantasy book or that your book was too scary to finish, you know you went too far. Instead, you want a review that says something like this one for Into the Darkness:
“An excellent read, one which I wholeheartedly recommend to any fan of fantasy, horror, or any combination thereof.”
If you get that kind of a review, you know you got it just right.
Several reviewers of my book Zombie Turkeys have commented, "I don't normally like zombie books, but I loved yours!" I know exactly how they feel, for I feel the same way.
In my fifty-five years of reading, I read one Steven King novella, in the anthology Legends. I enjoyed it, admired his craftsmanship, but I didn't like the genre. I also read John Ringo's zombie apocalypse series, 'Dark Tide Rising'. I loved that, but I generally love John Ringo. The zombies were just a convenient opponent . I looked with horror on the rising tide of zombie popularity in our culture, generally thinking zombies were disgusting and not nice.
Then I wrote Zombie Turkeys. What made me change my mind? My mind didn't change; I just enjoy parody. So I have to read zombie books and watch zombie movies to write my parody. No one said the life of a writer was easy. I knew that when I signed up.
What was the genesis of Zombie Turkeys? Where was the moment when I, like Dr. Frankenstein screamed, "It's Alive!"?
Frankenstein, "It's Alive" scene.
I just fried a turkey, outside in the driveway, with my obligatory bottle of cold beer. We got a new turkey fryer and I wanted to test it before Thanksgiving. I achieved complete success. My family gathered around the table, laden with the golden turkey and I had a funny, random thought.
"What if the turkey came back to life and started eating us?"
And one of my children, not known for reticence, chimed in, "A zombie turkey!"
"A zombie turkey!" I exclaimed. "That's it! That's what I'll write for NaNomo!" That's National Novel for November month.
You see, I had been forced into retirement at 59. My company, Caterpillar Inc., was in the third year of a sales slump and as a grizzled, highly paid veteran, I was on the chopping block. They made me a retirement offer I couldn't refuse, so I didn't. This happened in September. By October I decided to write my first novel for NaNoMo, so I wouldn't sit around and mope. I expected to fail with the first novel, so I wanted to write something light, easy, and expendable. Fail worthy, if you will.
Zombie Turkeys filled the bill. I could visualize the whole plot immediately: the zombie turkeys start from a small flock and spread irresistibly over the whole country. I could start in central Illinois, where I lived for the past thirty years. I would use all the standard zombie tropes: people would begin with denial and disbelief. There would be horrible grizzly deaths—not by a grizzly bear, but by a turkey. The government would be forced to take action by the outraged citizenry. There'd be political infighting. There would be denialists. There'd be blazing military action. There'd be chainsaws and axes. There'd be screaming teenagers.
And every time the turkeys seemed defeated, they'd come back. But they'd be better, stronger, more numerous than before. Then, just when all hope seemed lost and the country and the protagonists were going under, they'd discover the cure and stop the plague.
In November 2015, the story seemed to write itself—except when it didn't. This was the first time I had written a novel full time with a deadline. I soon discovered I loved writing dialogue and action scenes—but I hated transitions and descriptions. Every time I came to a lull in the action, I got bored and stuck.
I knew this was a learning process, so I stuck to it. To my chagrin, the novel ended and I didn't have my required fifty thousand words. I went back through it and added descriptions and transitions. I only had forty-eight thousand words. So I failed NaNoMo's goal of fifty thousand.
Worse, I knew the novel needed to be longer if I wanted to sell it. I imagined selling thousands due to its novel nature. But I was burnt out. It was December and the holiday season. We were busy spending my severance pay and we had a big Christmas planned. So I took the month off.
In January, I searched earnestly for a 'real' job, as a project manager. I applied to hundreds and got lots of interviews, which took my time. I also read about publishing, traditional, indie, and hybrid publishing.
The more I learned, the less I wanted to go the traditional route. I had to sell my book to an agent, then he or she had to sell it to the genre editor, then the editor had to sell it to the company. Too much waiting, too many things I couldn't control.
Indie publishing, using Amazon, Smashwords, or other online publishers looked really good. I loved the idea of selling with no inventory. I soon realized the major criticism of indie authors who were self-publishers was atrocious editing. Having gone through my Zombie Turkeys six times by March 2016, I realized I couldn't edit myself. I had to pay the piper, the editor.
One of my neighbors had written and published a children's book and he suggested some editors. I contacted them.
"Too gory!" said one.
"I don't do horror," said another.
But one editor suggested another and I contacted her, Dori Harrell. She was willing and gave me a sample edit. She really made the first chapter better! Dori was positive and encouraging, just what I needed after months of discouraging self-editing. Oh, and I got turned down from all my job interviews too.
I had some more self-editing to do before I sent the manuscript to her. I had been busily reading about publishing and writing. I re-did several scenes and honed my transitions and descriptions. I also added a surprise ending. Then I sent it off in June 2016. My baby had left home and was in the hands of another.
Meanwhile, I knew I needed a book cover. I was quite pleased with the title, Zombie Turkeys, but I knew the cover was just as important. I had no clue about what to use, but I thought an action scene from the book might be good. Then, there was the minor detail of the artist.
I talked with my son, who led an art group when he was in college. He recommended his childhood friend, Sean Flanagan, who was an excellent artist. We talked and he agreed to do the cover art. With a couple of other artists, we brainstormed ideas for the cover.
They considered my action scene too busy. Looking at the top selling zombie books I saw all the covers were simple and dramatic. Sean came up with a group of cover proposals:
I liked the first image, but all the artists liked the third one. I thought it was a little childish, but I trusted my artistic crew. We went with the third image for the cover. My action scene idea was deemed acceptable for the back cover.
This was in August. Dori had been in steady, encouraging communication with me. She was doing line editing, going over every sentence, making it better. She pointed out several scenes where I didn't describe the setting or the placement of the characters. She loved certain characters and I suggested adding a romantic subplot for them. Between corrections, additional descriptions, and new scenes, my forty-eight thousand word novel was now fifty-four thousand. I really felt it was salable now.
I just needed the cover and chapter icons. We brainstormed chapter icons, where a brief image would summarize the chapter. Sean worked on those and the covers.
My first launch date was September 30, 2016. The chapter icon artwork wasn't ready in time. Also, I had passed the manuscript from Dori to my layout editor, Rik Hall. He formatted the interior and the chapter icons, and much to my surprise, I found additional errors both Dori and I had missed.
I had decided to go Amazon Kindle and Createspace for publishing. I set up my accounts and got everything ready. I got the cover art in time, but even if the icons had been ready I couldn't make the interior and exterior ready for the launch date. I pushed it back to October 31st. That seemed strangely appropriate for Zombie Turkeys.
The book was also set from November to New Year's Eve. Everything came together in synchrony for October 31st. I arranged the launch party at the local library. I invited dozens of guests. And I became a horror author.
Firstly, I should say the purpose of this article is not to steer you away from clichés but rather to help you recognise them, then twist them into a different evil mould.
There are many clichés and right off the top of my head, I can name at least five. The main character gets eaten; a scientist with the ego tries to play god by preparing an experiment that goes dastardly wrong, the characters ignore warnings, vampires and the like - rules set in stone – (and although it is hard to steer away from main stream perception, it would likely create a great prose if you did), another cliché is the characters splitting up to supposedly increasing the chance of survival.
Turn the knife a little and you have to admit, most clichés can be the output of lazy writing. Some writers repeat what earlier writers have written, only to end up disappointed with the performance of the novel in the literary arena. This imminent death is a lack of imagination and, if not kept in check, and may lead to Coronary Writers Disease!
My point is, these plots, have been beaten to death and some writers may think it is becoming increasingly harder to develop your own original idea. But it’s not. And I’ll tell you why.
We humans are inherently evil! *loud wicked laugh escapes and twists hands in a circular motion* Have a look at the news headlines on any random day. There’s endless reports of robberies, bullies, murderers, corporate fraud and terrorists. Not entirely convinced we are predisposed to evil inclinations?
What about Funniest Home Videos? Who of you actually looks away when the young child on a bike runs over his little sister on purpose? Didn’t you want to do that when you were younger? You laughed as well, didn’t you? Questioning your stance yet?
Hands up who’d you rather be – a troll living under the bridge coming up with ingenious malevolent ways to stop people getting to the other side or a fairy flitting around the bulb of a lovely sun yellow flower? The latter, I’m sure you’d agree, would become boring quite quickly.
It comes down to this, do you yearn to take the opportunity to answer the dark whisper that lingers to the front of your mind every once in a while, the one that aches to know what full control and complete power over another human feels like? The answer should be ‘no’, however, there is an internal nature of evil in us and we can choose to embrace it or suppress it (For writing sake).
Let’s adapt clichés by wrenching them forward to the present and by defining our thoughts on the word evil. If we are so inherently wicked then it stands to reason that we write from our black hearts.
Sometimes it’s not easy but the monsters we create may well be looking back at us in the mirror on a daily basis.
By defining evil as it relates to ourselves, not as an enigma, writers are able to feel the struggle within their characters; imagine how it would feel. It may be painful at times, it may show a lack of moral solitude or ethics but when all is done, you may well have a best-seller on your hands.
- The Gross
CLICHÉ - This is the slimy green ‘Ghostbuster-type’ stuff or the severed head on a stick.
- Unnatural Horror
CLICHÉ - The huge spiders of Harry Potter or the dead rising to wreak havoc on society.
This is what puts the horror into horror. The psychological terror of messing with your mind, your life and society. The real-life, where our readers are not yet conditioned to this way of thinking.
Sigmund Freud said, “No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the struggle unscathed.”
The facts cannot be ignored any longer, you must put yourself into that character’s head, that terrifying hypothetical situation of dire consequences. The chilly truths of your minds darkest secrets provide a prose which eliminates the clichés or at the very least twists them with the sadistic scrutiny of a real-life human.
Be the monster!
The genre of horror can potentially inject a potent concoction of originality, style, 3D characters and a plot that you can really get caught up in if you allow the darkness within you to rise.
I have an idea for a new novel. Opening chapter begins with an crazy mob carrying fiery torches and pitch forks, heading to the laboratory of a mad scientist who is experimenting with powers of creation. The leader of the mob, likely a religious man, is taken by a ‘monster’ which escapes.
A few years later a group of fit super-model teens run out of fuel and end up in the township, they decide to split up after the monster, half-human and half-beast, scares the bejesus out of them.
The gorgeous blond, Bimbo, is trapped in the old lab. Its dark and when the monster enters the store room, she heads in too investigate why she heard a strange moaning noise come from inside.
Now, a lot of running and screaming happens as she tries to escape after the monster kills her friends.
With just Bimbo and Dumbo (her soon to be boyfriend after such a tragic situation brings them together) left, they confront the monster and kill him.
But wait! He’s not completely dead!
The monster rises and while Dumbo isn’t looking the monster kills him. Leaving Bimbo left to finish off the monster and leave the town alone.
What do you think? Do you think this plot line is original and would sell? What would you do to make it better?
Halloween is coming up this month so I thought I’d start my scaring posts now (you can tell I love this holiday). Today, I’ll be talking about a few types of horror elements in books/media.
We all know that there’s plenty of genres of horror out there. However, people often forget that scary elements can be incorporated into genres that aren’t just horror. My own book is an example – its urban fantasy with some dark overtones. I would say there’s definitely a horror element to quite a few scenes given urban fantasy’s nature of involving the supernatural. So let’s have a chat about three of the main scary elements in non-horror books.
This is the most straightforward, to me, and the one I make use of in CALIGATION. It involves something that is physically greusome or horrifying (eg: monsters and beasts) whose threat to the characters is purely physical. This is incorporated into a lot of fantasy (as, oftentimes, characters in most genres are chased by some sort of nasty creature) and probably one of the more family-friendly types of scare.
However, it can easily become dark and gruesome, depending on the levels of violence and gore, or just make for very suspenseful scenes.
Sub-genres include body horror (eg: disfiguration) and splatter-house (eg: gore). Both of which are much less family friendly but can also be added into other genres to turn up the tension or add a bit of unpleasantness for the characters.
2. Fear of the Unknown
Continue reading ...
Brent A. Harris
Interview by Bonnie Milani
Bonnie: Your up-coming novel, ‘A Time of Need’, is an alternate history set during the American Revolution. Could you explain a bit just what ‘alternate history’ means?
Brent: Sure! And thanks for having me. Alternate history is when a writer takes one historical fact about our past and changes it. Then the past as we know it unravels to reveal a completely new world. What if a sharp-eyed soldier saw Lee’s Special Order 191 on the ground and recovered it before it fell into the hands of the Union? What if Teddy Roosevelt won his third term in office and persuaded a reluctant America to enter WW1 early? These are threads that masters of the genre have woven, and they’ve inspired me to write my own.
Bonnie: In ‘A Time of Need’ you’ve re-imagined George Washington as a British loyalist (Oy!) and Benedict Arnold as the great American leader with some serious character flaws. Talk about a reversal! Whatever made you conceive of Washington as a British loyalist?
Brent: The nice thing about writing alternate history, as the late Robert Conroy once said, “You’ll never run out of ideas.” The truth about Washington is that he always wanted to be part of the British forces, but every attempt was either thwarted or he was turned down. His mother refused his attempt to join the Royal Navy. And his service during the French and Indian War was all in the attempt to petition the British Foot for entry. I believe he tried and was turned away three times in his quest to purchase a commission. Washington’s eagerness to lead the American forces twenty years later came from both his ambition and perhaps a feeling of scorn at being passed over by the British so many times.
Bonnie: What is it that drew you specifically to the time period of the American Revolution?
Brent: I’ve always loved history the same as a poet loves words or an artist loves colors and canvas. Not a lot is written about the American Revolution; go to a bookstore and compare sections: Civil War and WW2 are fat with books while America’s founding is skeletal. It’s a shame because our history wasn’t founded on the mythos of founding fathers rallying the war cry for liberty. It was founded on rifts between families, loyalists and rebels, fought by famished farmers, led by a few ‘radical’ idealists up against the greatest army of its time. The future was far from pre-ordained. It’s scary how close it came to collapse on many occasions. One loud clang of pots to break the still night air as Washington retreated, one clear morning instead of fog; the Revolution was, in many cases, constantly one clear sky away from failure.
Bonnie: You’ve said elsewhere that history needs to be taught as real stories about real people instead of flat, dry facts. That is SO true! How do you think ‘A Time of Need’ could help Americans of any age better understand our actual history?
Brent: History is about people. Flawed, angst-ridden, passionate people – who made a lot of mistakes. The American Revolution is about those people. It’s about the slaves that found themselves caught-up in a world where words like ‘freedom’ didn’t apply to them. It’s about farmers who didn’t know if they could grow enough tobacco or indigo or rice to make it through to the next trading season, or if they had a trading partner left. It’s about Hessians who had no interest in being involved at all. And it’s also about the generals who cared for their own ambitions and agendas, sometimes moreso than the people under their command. If there’s one thing I hope to do with A Time of Need, it is to hold its world as a mirror to our own. After you’re entertained, of course.
Bonnie: Now, tell us something about yourself. What first drew you to science fiction and alternate history as opposed to, say, writing straight historical novels?
Brent: Historical fiction is a pretty fun and gritty genre. While I appreciate the stories it brings (I haven’t shut down the possibility of writing in the genre in the future) I’m too much of a science fiction fan to start off limiting myself to what is just in the historical record. I like the Science Fiction aspect of building new worlds and discovering what those worlds might say about our own. I think alternate history bridges that gap between Science Fiction and straight historical dramas.
I read a lot of Science Fiction and we exhale what we take in. I love history, comics, board games, and all things science-fiction, so for now, I think I’ll meddle in the genre some more until, like my cat getting her ears scratched, I see something shiny dangling in the corner and stop, then stalk over to pounce it.
Thank you for having me!
Brent A. Harris is a Sidewise Award nominated author of alternate history. He also writes science fiction, horror, and fantasy. Previously published works can be found through Insomnia Publishing, Rivenstone Press, Rhetoric Askew, and Inklings Press, the latter having published his short story, Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon, which reaped the Sidewise Award nomination.
He is the author of A Time of Need, an alternate history of the American Revolution, which sees a world where George Washington fights alongside the British against American forces marshaled under a power-hungry Benedict Arnold.
Brent A Harris resides in Southern California, where he's become convinced that Joshua trees are in fact, real trees. When not writing, he focuses on his family, shuttling children around as a stay-at-home dad, and staying up late to write after they are nestled in their beds.
When most people hear that question, common images come to mind. We usually think of fantastical, imagined worlds with knights, sorcerers, exceptional creatures, new species, and in some cases, new languages. There are heroes and heroines, life-changing quests, battles with swords and magic, and evil-doers plotting to destroy mankind and obliterate life as we know it.
Those are some of the images evoked when most people think of this genre. But what is Epic Fantasy? That question appears innocuous enough. In the age of Google and instant information, it’s simple to find the answer to such queries. Or is it? When typing “epic fantasy definition” into my search bar, the first response is Wikipedia. Ah yes, the wealth of information that it provides is astounding. However, when I click the link, “High Fantasy” is the result. For some reason, High Fantasy and Epic Fantasy are presented as interchangeable genres, having exactly, or nearly identical meaning. From my perspective, the concept of Epic Fantasy has become simplistic and marginalized over time.
Let’s look at the short definition Wikipedia provides: High fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy, defined either by its setting or by the epic stature of its characters, themes, and plot.
The EPIC in Epic Fantasy should be an indicator of something deeper and more multifaceted than a fantastical world encompassing heroes and like themes. In an Epic Fantasy, the cast is large, the world building is intricate, it’s usually expressed in several viewpoints, and the success or failures of the “heroes” has a substantial effect on the entire world. That level of intrigue elevates the story and increases the breadth and controversies (moral and otherwise) associated with it.
The word EPIC itself is in reference to an epic poem, epos, or epopee. These lengthy works detailed exploits of heroic deeds and events significant to differing cultures and nations. Classic Epic Poems recount the journeys of their heroes and the physical and mental fortitude brought forth to overcome and subsist during devastating trials. They were lengthy and complex works depicting great battles, mystical forces, intervening deities, and malefic beings. The Epics weren’t meant to merely entertain; their meaning was greater than that. They not only told these masterful stories, they revealed the impact these adventures had on the world as a whole. A few examples of such works are Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Aeneid, Mahabharata, The Iliad and Odyssey, Story of Ramayana, and Paradise Lost.
So, what’s classified as Epic Fantasy in 2017? That definition has certainly altered over time and will probably continue to remain malleable to a certain extent. Evenso, there are specific criteria that we look for in fantasy as a whole. I’m not speaking of the common tropes readers and unfortunately many authors have begun to rely upon: elves, dragons, ogres, and dwarves. I’m referring to much broader elements and concepts. Some examples are the story’s time-span encompassing years or more, a new and engrossing world or setting, a well-defined magic system, devastating conflict, complex characters, and mythos. Those common aspects are almost universal and applied differently depending on the author.
The world itself is contrived by the author and requires time to acclimate the reader to this fantastical creation, its magic systems, mythos, species, deities, and histories. Most Epics are grand in scale, structure, concepts, and prose. Thusly, Epic Fantasies usually span several volumes, covering multiple years, and depict the growth of characters and their mounting conflicts.
When discussing Epic Fantasy, one author is mentioned before any other. J.R.R. Tolkien is usually revered as the master of Epic Fantasy. His novels, unique languages, and fantastical worlds have fascinated readers for decades. With his exceptional world building, characters, and structure, Tolkien is an accepted standard for many fantasy authors and readers alike. But even Tolkien received inspiration from other sources. The exceptionally written epic poem, Beowulf definitely fits that bill just as the Elder Edda, Leiden Riddle, Macbeth, The Pickwick Papers, and greats like William Morris, George MacDonald, and Owen Barfield.
Recently, I was a panelist with Christopher Paolini and Michael Livingston at a convention. It was enlightening to hear their viewpoints about Epic Fantasy (classical and otherwise). Both are accomplished authors in their own right and draw inspiration from Tolkien and others. During our conversations and audience questions, the definition of what constitutes Epic Fantasy varied immensely.
What is Epic Fantasy? That question will probably be debated for years to come. Epic-ness isn’t defined by merely the length of a story or even by how many battles are fought and how much magic is used. Epic tales definitely encompass a new and fantastical world facing perils and destruction. There’s a well developed magic system, complex and flawed characters, unique world building and species. But if it lacks a definable and significant change to this world and what its denizens must undergo, relatable and complex characters growing to achieve this common goal, and how this failure would impact the world, it’s lacking in Epic-ness. Epic doesn’t speak of the verbosity of the author. Epic speaks to the depth, significance, intrigue, scope, characterization, and plot created by the author to draw us into this fantastical world and care about the outcomes of its characters.
I don’t remember the first time I tried to tell a story. My mother always maintained it was about forty seconds after I said “mama’. I’m inclined to doubt her on this one point, since it takes more than a word or two to make a story. Still, by the time I was six or so, it was my duty and delight to tell Mom a bed time story each night. And, like bed time stories everywhere, my tales did the trick: Mom never stayed awake to the end. That might be satisfying – or just a relief – when you’re a parent. It feels a whole lot less satisfying when it’s my stories that put my audience to sleep. Obviously, I had to improve.
I spent my youth and early adulthood working through the ten thousand ways that stories don’t work. I experimented with POVs; came up with intriguing, intellectually stimulating plots that disregarded mundane things like logic or character or development. Then I tried ignoring plot altogether – character was the thing! Always, I could feel the story I was trying to get out. I could feel the wrenching emotions of my characters. I just couldn’t get the damned stuff to come across on the page. My readers – Mom, my Grandmother, and any unlucky cousin too slow out the door – tended to wander off within a page or two. Or worse, fell asleep.
It’s a testament to just how deep the need to tell my stories ran that I kept on trying. Non-fiction was no problem: in college, I wrote an early environmental fairy tale that was picked up by the State of NJ for its grammar school curriculum. I scripted TV programs for the school. And I kept writing stories. Only now my audience consisted of college professors. The universal advice: stick to non-fiction, kid.
So I did. I went on to earn a Master’s in Communication (Journalism, what else?) from Stanford. I freelanced feature articles for newspapers up and down the East Coast, did a cover story for Science Digest, and features for magazines ranging from ‘Peninsula’ to ‘Mankind’. I built up a portfolio, but my bank account stayed close to empty.
I finally got tired of living on the border of bankruptcy. I moved to L.A., developed a career in insurance for the Hollywood crowd. I had one huge advantage over other agents: everybody else believed that selling life insurance is the hardest sell on the planet. I knew better. Compared to trying to sell my stories, getting somebody to put money down on his own death was child’s play. I built a career, earned a good reputation. By the time I left to start my own agency I was representing Hollywood lawyers under pension audit to the IRS. (A job, I might add, that is guaranteed to make one sympathize with the tax man.)
It wasn’t until my whole family died that I realized I had to either figure out how to make my stories work or go not-so-quietly crazy. So I threw myself into really studying what makes a story work. I took classes: UCLA extension, post-grad Professional Writing classes at USC, where I had the great good fortune to study under Hollywood’s structural guru, Syd Field. I found a professional caliber writer’s group that was willing to let me in. I wrote stories and turned them in to be shredded. Only now, finally, I had critics who told me why my stories didn’t work:
- No conflict
- No clear protagonist
- No clear antagonist
- No desire line for the protagonist
- No character development
- No plot development
- Faulty structure and/ or pacing
- All of the above
I asked questions. I rewrote. Listened to my best effort get shredded. Again. Re-rewrote. Swore, pounded desks, swore some more. Tried whiskey; didn’t help. Drunk may have worked for Joyce, but it only rendered my stuff incomprehensible. But over time, slowly, I learned what makes a story tick. I learned it’s not any one element of character or plot or structure but all of them together, weaving in and out and around each other within the DNA strand of the story world. I learned why generalities don’t work for characters and their motivations. I learned to hate and cherish the question ‘why?’.
And if I learned nothing else it was that writing in and of itself is not the way to improve your story-telling skills. Simply writing and rewriting without honest, critical feedback only hardens errors into bad habits. Nobody can teach you the NEED to tell stories; that’s a divine gift. But effective, emotionally powerful story telling is a craft. To make your stories affect readers the way you intend, you need the guidance of writers and editors who can analyze your work and explain the elements you’re missing. Why? Because, pure and simple, no writer can see those mistakes on his or her own. We’re just too close to the material.
The good news is that today it’s easier than ever to find honest, critical feedback:
- Join a FB writers group (where better to start than our own Sci Fi Roundtable?)
- Put your stories up for critique. Note that’s a critique, not an Amazon review. Your first (and second and …) draft is just a starting point, not the finished product. As Hemingway supposedly said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”
- LISTEN to the critiques! A good critique will NEVER take aim at you personally, but having your best work-to-date reduced to rubble still hurts. Accept it – and get better.
- Remember that your story MUST stand on its own two feet. Readers can never feel what you did putting the words down unless those words make them feel it.
- Resubmit to your critique circles. When your story is as good as you can make it, then hire a professional editor to critique it.
- Then LISTEN to your editor! It will hurt (trust me on this one!) but listen anyway.
And finally, the day will come when a beta reader picks up your story and feels what you felt. There are precious few thrills on Earth to match the feeling.
And then it’s time to take everything you’ve learned up another level with your next story.
By Claire Buss
Originally posted on April 23rd 2017 on Matthew Olney's Blog
I never need an excuse to spend the evening curled up with my favourite book, but events like World Book Day aim to encourage non-readers to pick up a book and have an adventure. That’s the great thing about reading, it will take you somewhere you’ve never been before or if you’re lucky, take you back to explore it all over again. Often readers of fantasy get a bit of a bad rap – there can be mocking and sometimes you don’t want to admit that you read sci-fi & fantasy because it puts you in a pre-determined box, but when you're celebrating reading I think we can stand loud and proud and shout to the stars that we read fantasy and it’s brilliant.
Or to put it another way – isn’t all fiction fantasy? Because it’s fiction therefore it’s not ‘real’. When you read that chick-lit novel about girls doing lunch and talking about their love lives you may sit wistfully wishing you could be a "lady wot lunches". It’s no different to me wishing I could go on a quest in a magical land. My imagination just requires a little more immersion, perhaps.
It can be difficult for an avid reader to entice a non-reader to pick up a book, especially when you stumble over the intricate plot twists of sorcery and sword fights. But think about the books that brought you into the genre. I can go as far back as The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, talking animals in Farthing Wood by Colin Dann and The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy. These aren’t hard-core fantasy tomes. They’re magical children’s books and what a great way to get kids reading by giving them a little bit of adventure. I mean, Harry Potter wouldn’t have been the sensation it’s been without the reader’s ability to immerse themselves in an alternate reality.
Not only am I an avid reader – of all genres but with a particular liking for fantasy & sci-fi – I am also an author. My book is hard to define, it doesn’t really set within a predetermined category. It’s listed under sci-fi because it’s set 200 years in the future but there are no aliens or spaceships. It’s dystopian because there has been a mass extinction event; we learn how humanity coped, adapted and now tries to break free of control. But it’s hopeful and in general, dystopian novels are bleak and literally end of the world. And my book is not about a plucky group of teenagers. Instead it looks at the relationships of couples and how they cope with massive life changes. Being a new author it’s hard to get readers at first so you turn to friends and family, most of whom said 'Oh I don’t read Sci-Fi'. However, once I am able to convince them that The Gaia Effect is not hard-boiled sci-fi, that they should try it, that they might be surprised and hey look, it’s such a lovely slimline novel with great cover artwork – how can you say no? Then they read it and text me, telling me off for making them cry. Success! All reviews from family and friends start with the phrase ‘This is not my usual genre’ or ‘I don’t normally read Sci-Fi but…’ and I think that’s the key, if you can just get a non-reader to try something new they might be surprised.
Let’s not forget that genre is an invention of the publisher to make it easier to categorise books and not a request from the reader. I don’t think about genre when I recommend books to friends and family. I think about them and choose books to fit, overriding any objections of ‘I don’t read that genre’ with reminders of all the previous excellent recommendations I've made. Once we’ve managed to get sporadic readers picking up our novel and getting to the end, our next challenge is to ask them to write a review – even a simple star rating is enough, every little bit helps.
The threads of your imagination are a very tangled web. Tracing the sources of inspiration can be difficult as you poke the forgotten corners of your mind to see what lives in the dark. It is a never ending source of wonder to me that stories pop up fully formed, birthed by a random phrase or photo. Where were the stories before this? However, for the piece below, I think I can pull together some of the main threads, so here is a glimpse into what went into making this story.
The themes are post apocalypse, trees, and mutation to new species.
Post apocalypse – this is from the picture below, posted as a writing prompt in a facebook group ‘Elements of Genre Writing’. The darkness, the sense of some great catastrophe and the emergence of new mutations comes from this. It was also the trigger that drew together all the other ideas.
The transformation to a new species theme and trees are from a memory of an old fantasy magazine cover. I read this over and over as a teenager. The stories are great, but don’t relate to the cover, so I never knew the story behind the picture. But the anguish of transformation stayed with me, lurking, for 30 years. There is also perhaps an element of my fascination for tree spirits, dryads and Ents.
I also explore this concept in a novel, a fantasy sword and sorcery, which I hope to get published eventually. The druids all have different aspects of magic, and one has tree magic. When her magic is exhausted, she transforms to a tree as a resting time. It reconnects the magic bearers with nature, and reinforces their duty to care or the Earth.
The final part is that I enjoy gardening and have a background in geology and environmental science, and so the description of roots and nutrients reflects this, in an attempt to show what might be the feelings of someone becoming a tree.
So I hope you enjoy the story!
So it was true then, the cities were dead. They hadn’t lied to me. I had met many people on my travels, all seeking answers I for one could not give them. I shifted my backpack, wishing it was a little heavier, I had no food left. I had caught a rat earlier this morning, but had chewed the bones bare by mid day.
The wind whistled through the empty buildings, and somewhere in the distance a dog barked. Other than that it was silent, and I tried to imagine the place bustling with people, talking into phones as they waited for the lights to change. I failed. This place was beyond dead, the silence was taking over, nature was reclaiming the space.
At my feet the pavement was cracked, and grass and flowering plants were flourishing. I unlaced my boots, there was no one to condemn me here. My toes wriggled free and dived down into the cracked pavement, and I felt the rush of nutrients and deep water revitalise me. I stretched my hands to the sun and breathed in the silence. I had covered up that I had survived the fever; covered up the changes until I could hide no more, only flee.
The sun was warm on my face, and I smiled, feeling my skin roughen. I had tried to hide the bark that had grown, covering myself with heavy clothes. But now I laughed, feeling the clothes fall from me, the backpack straps burst as I grew. My fingers stretched out, caressing the wind, leaves forming in my hair. My thoughts slowed to tree time and I wait with endless patience as the buildings fail and the forest comes.