A Perfect Book for an Imperfect Father’s Day

Having last blogged for Mother’s Day (on my author blog), it seems only fair to blog here for Father’s Day. Not too much direct experience with the mother thing, granted, but I do have experience with being a father. In 2014, I launched my novel AIKO, about a man who discovers he is a father. However, before he can celebrate Father’s Day, he must overcome a lot of obstacles to claim his child. Perhaps it is a simple story. The details make it special. And yet, it is strangely similar to one of the grand opera stories of my youth: Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. (Here is the Metropolitan Opera’s synopsis.)

As a music student in college, I was not averse to attending an opera or two. Some were more interesting than others. My mother, who always promoted my musical interests, took me to my first opera when I was a boy: Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, about a ghost ship doomed to sail the seas forever. (Why is there no movie version today? It would make a great paranormal film.) But it was Madama Butterfly that became my favorite, and the only opera I can enjoy just listening to without having to see the stage production.

In the opera, an American naval officer visits Japan and because he is staying there a while on business, he arranges to have a “temporary” wife. The inevitable happens: his business is concluded and he leaves, promising to return, and later she discovers a child will be born. He does eventually return, but with his American wife in tow. He is surprised to find his Japanese lover has a child but he is determined to bring the child home to America. The Japanese woman is so distraught over that verdict that she commits suicide in one of opera’s most tragic scenes.

While I was living in Japan in the late 1980s and early 90s, teaching English to the students of a small city, I wrote the story of an American man who meets a Japanese woman. They have a relationship then must inevitably part. A child is born. Eventually the man learns of the child’s existence and wants to do the right thing. Despite his American wife’s objection, he goes to Japan to check things out. I’m skipping over a lot of details, of course, but you see how the plot is similar to the Madama Butterfly story. That was purely unintentional.

Seeing that similarity, I decided to exploit it and revised my story to use some elements of Madama Butterfly more overtly. First, I wanted to tell the story from the man’s point of view. The opera is all from her side. Before I knew much about Japanese history and customs, I had always wondered why Cho-Cho-san (literally “Madame Butterfly”) decided to kill herself to solve the problem. She should have killed him for trying to take away her child! Not to say killing is acceptable, of course. In my Western mindset, I could not understand her motivations. Now I do. So in telling the story from his side, I would need to show him as a rational, responsible, do-the-right thing kind of guy who has all the best intentions while dealing with the situation.
The next thing I wanted to change was the time period. The opera is set at the turn-of-the-century when American naval forces first begin to rule the Pacific. In changing the setting to the late 1980s and early 1990s (the same time period I wrote it), I could exploit the new “internationalization” focus of Japan. Because of a booming economy and criticism of Japan’s unfair trade practices, the government initiated (among other acts) the importing of foreign English teachers from the USA, UK, Canada, and Australia. I was part of that influx of teachers who went to Japan. I was there at the exact time of the story, and I described the clash of generations: the older World War II seniors and the pop culture youth who knew little about the war. It was an interesting yet awkward time. And it fit perfectly for my version of the story.

So there you have it: Art imitating a life which imitates art.

Being a guy, of course I wanted my male protagonist to not be a jerk, to do the right thing. But he is human and thus has flaws. He also faces the clash of customs, lost among people who think differently, where the acts that make no sense to him seem perfectly logical to the local folk. Japan in the 1990s is a modern place, but in inaka (the rural, “backwoods” regions), the old, traditional ways still hold sway. So our hero, Benjamin Pinkerton (yes, I borrowed the name from the character in the opera, just to make the connection more obvious), tries to do the right thing: save a child he never knew he had while risking everything in his life back home. It is another stranger in a strange land scenario I like to write.

The #CockyGate Trademark Kerfuffle

Cockygate takes over Twitter!

This weekend, Twitter blew up with the #cockygate or #cocky scandal, where a romance author trademarked the common English word cocky. Normally, these kerfuffles are way over my head and I don’t pay attention but I used to work in a patent agency and I have a little, read very little, knowledge of intellectual property and what I read filled me with horror.

Quick disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are the author’s personal opinion alone and do not reflect Myrddin’s.

I worked in the search department. It was my job to check the validity of patents and report to clients on them as well as other duties. Because of this I had to attend ‘lessons’ with the ‘baby’ agents (affectionate term for trainees) on patent law. I know this isn’t trademark law and that they are very different but it did kind of crop up in conversations now and again. It was drummed into us that patents had to be unique. Part of my job was to find other patents or find inventions in use before an application was filed to ‘blow it out of the water’. I thought of myself as a bit of a pirate. Arrr!

Trademarks were supposed to follow a similar vein. Trademarks were supposed to incur protection for novel and unique marks. I may have not paid the proper amount of attention when they were talking about it, the smoked salmon bagels were particularly delicious in those lessons, so I admit I may have got the wrong end of the stick. I’m always willing to be wrong.

This brings me back to cockygate. An author filed and was granted a trademark for the word ‘Cocky’ as well as another for the stylized word to do with her book series.

The USPTO is notoriously busy and things can slip through which probably shouldn’t. Saying this, it does only take a few seconds to determine on Amazon that there were pre-existing books on there with the word Cocky in the title and even (so I’ve heard) there was a series with that word in the series title.

The danger of letting this trademark happen is that authors could trademark other common English words. This could be ‘the’ or ‘billionaire’, how about ‘star’? The last one could be great. You could retroactively sue the Star Wars or Star Trek franchises as well as untold books. This lady is a genius. Edit:  I’m pretty sure you can’t do this. I thought you could only threaten people who use your trademarked mark AFTER you’ve got it. Prior use and all that. It doesn’t stop people from trying though and sometimes just the threat is enough to scare someone to do what you want. End of edit.

I’m not saying trademarking words is stupid. Apple for example is a trademark of the computer company. An ordinary every day apple of the fruit variety cannot be confused with the maker of computers and iPhones etc. I’ve always believed that was why some are allowed and others not. Cocky on the other hand is a descriptive word which is used on a daily basis in the field the author inhabits. It has been used before and it makes it difficult to remove that word from that field without affecting others. You do not need to refer to apples in any way when talking about computers, I suppose you could give away a bag of apples with every purchase, but that is stretching it!

There may be a happy ending with this. An attorney with knowledge in the field has filed a petition to get rid of the offending trademark. I believe with my little and limited understanding that he has a real chance of this working. Also, allegedly, one of the trademarks granted was using a font that was not permitted to be trademarked. Unfortunately, I think this trademark has a genuine basis. It was the word cocky but only written in a certain way. This meant that an author could use cocky in their title but they would have to use a different font, no biggy. Except she was given the word cocky as well which meant cease and desist letters went out when maybe they shouldn’t have.

The attorney is also an author and so has a stake in this debacle as all authors do if this precedent stands. He has my undying admiration for undertaking this, not just for filing the petition but also for not seeking damages or any financial penalties. After all, the trademark happy author may have just received bad advice and is acting on that advice. I do like to think the best of people.

However this pans out, there will still be fallout even if this trademark is annihilated. Authors will be out of pocket and let’s be frank, authors don’t make a ton of money unless you are one of our heroes like Stephen King, James Patterson, JK Rowling or the other heavyweights.

I really hope this can be resolved soon and no one suffers too much from what could be traced back to a simple mistake of not enough staff at the USPTO to assess the viability of a trademark.

I Know Nothing

Like John Snow and Sergeant Schultz before him, I know nothing about marketing a book. Anticipating the release of my first book, Gates of Fire and Ash, I developed a woefully inept marketing plan and forged ahead like Wile E. Coyote in pursuit of the elusive Road Runner. I’m here to share my experience.

Remember I know nothing, so I read what other writers had done and what the gurubloggers had to say. Pronounced Goo-Rub-Loggers, a gurublogger is an internet blogger that claims to know the answer. The answer to what you ask? Oh, I’m glad you asked. The answer to anything that gets you to generate revenue on their site. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to bloggers making money from their sites. I’m opposed to bloggers using teasers and snake-oil techniques to sell high dollar items or provide useless information in order to collect impressions and clicks for advertising fees. At any rate, I came up with the “plan.”

My plan was pretty basic:

  1. Have a good cover
  2. Prepare a catchy description
  3. Use social media effectively
  4. Obtain reviews
  5. Pick perfect Amazon categories & keywords
  6. Try Amazon Marketing Services
  7. Spend as little as possible

I can confidently state that Step 7 was accomplished. I’m less sure of the others.

Good Cover

I’m not a graphic designer, and Step 7 precluded hiring one. I cobbled together a cover with a good deal of help from my Myrddin Publishing friends. I spent $29.00 for a couple of photos and at least two dozen hours working with an old copy of Photoshop Elements that had come bundled with a long gone printer.

 

Did I get a good cover? I don’t know, but it was good enough.

Catchy Description

It is harder than you might think to write a book description. It’s supposed to encourage people to click Add-to-Cart using just a sentence or two. Lines that capture one person’s fancy may be a complete turn-off to another. The truth of this became clear when I asked for feedback from writers and non-writers. In the end, I went with the majority vote because I agreed with it.

Social Media

Social media will make your book the key that unlocks the door to success. I’m not so sure about that, but many gurubloggers seem to believe it and are willing to share their hard-won knowledge for a free pamphlet and a paid subscription. My social media effort was limited to making a few posts on Facebook letting folks know that the book was coming and announcing its launch on Amazon. What about Twitter and the other sites, you might ask. I don’t know a Twit from a Ter and even less about the others. I didn’t have the energy to find out. Oh, I unintentionally “boosted” one of my launch adverts on Facebook. It cost me $7.00. I probably could have gotten a refund but decided it was a cheap lesson look before I click.

Reviews

Reviews are the lifeblood of successful independent authors. Get as many reviews as possible and as quickly as possible is the mantra. If you succeed, the magicians at Amazon will brew a potion in their algorithmic cauldron that brings readers to the altar of your product page. So, I solicited people to read an advance review copy (ARC) of the book hoping to get reviews. I sent out emails to my friends (some are now former friends) offering a free copy in return for an honest review. I also made the offer on Facebook as part of my clever social media marketing plan. I received ten acceptances to be an ARC reader. Five of them posted a review on Amazon. They averaged 4.5 stars, though. Oh, well. I tried.

Amazon Categories & Keywords

Categories and keywords are supposed to make it easier for readers to find my book by browsing. Think of it like the sections of a physical bookstore says Amazon. Excuse me, a monitor and mouse have nothing in common with a physical bookstore. I don’t believe readers browse in the physical sense. They can’t, there are too many books, 1.8 million titles by one account. Still, I played the game.

Amazon’s help screen: Selecting Browse Categories, includes this quote, “During title setup, you’ll select a BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) code. The codes you choose, along with your selected keywords, are used to place your book into certain categories, or browse paths, on Amazon.” I  didn’t actually select a code number. Instead, I  picked from an outline of options. For example 1. Juvenile Fiction > Action & Adventure > General, or 2. Fiction > Science Fiction > Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic. I need to mention that none of my options seemed to fit my book.

Keywords are different. I created them thinking they’d be a good way to help readers find my book. I’m not so sure now. They may be more import as a way to narrow the books I’ll be compared against for sale rank purposes. My story intentionally excludes magic as a plot element, but it involves a quest to find a cure for a disease. I used quest as one of my seven keywords. Amazon included my book in a Sword & Sorcery subcategory as shown here, (2241 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Sword & Sorcery). It turns out that using the keyword quest triggered the classification. I’ll be changing that soon.

Amazon Marketing Services

Amazon receives a piece of the action from the sale of each book. I have no problem with it because I can publish a book on Amazon without spending one dollar. Zon even offers me free tools to help.

Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) is one of the few ways it can get extra moola from me. Remember I know nothing, but I wanted to try AMS to boost the visibility of my book. AMS offers two types of advertising: Product Display and Sponsored Products. In a nutshell, Display ads appear on a competitors Amazon sale page.

 << Display ad

Sponsored ads appear in search results.

 << Sponsored ad

I tried Product Display first. The $100 minimum budget scared the hell out of me, but I was feeling confident and went for it. Twelve days later, I terminated the ad. The AMS report showed that my ad had been displayed 17 times. Each display being an “Impression” on the Big A reports. Sadly, no one checked-out my book by clicking or tapping on my ad. Clicking or tapping is reported as a “Click”—clever.  The cost to me was $0.00 because I only had to pay for clicks, not for impressions.

Unimpressed with Product Displays, I tried Sponsored Products next.  Sponsored ads let me pick search words that AMS calls keywords. Why did Amazon choose to use keyword for two distinct purposes? Seriously, if you know, please tell me. But, I digress.

If a reader used one of my AMS keywords to search for a book, my ad might appear to them (an impression), and if they clicked on my ad I’d be billed for it; a daily budget limited my risk.

I played with the system because I know nothing. Initially (2/26/18), I let Amazon pick my search terms. It chose 35 terms and over 12 days generated 792 impressions and 24 clicks. Amazon’s report (see below)  implies that the ad generated $8.99 in sales at the cost of $3.89 for a healthy 43% cost of sale percentage.

In truth, the $8.99 was for the purchase of a paperback by a personal friend and had nothing to do with my ad.  I made three more attempts using search words generated by KDPRocket. KDPRocket analyzes Amazon data to find terms that buyers have used in the past. In theory, I could do it myself, but it would take many hours, if not days, to find as many terms as KDPRocket can in minutes. At $97.00 it’s not a cheap program, but it saved me many hours.

Each of my attempts used at least 250 search terms but was generated with different beginning criteria. As I hope you can tell from the table, I didn’t sell enough books to pay for KDPRocket. However, about 200,000 prospects saw my ad. Marketing is about building brand awareness more than generating current sales according to my Marketing Professor who is probably dead by now.

Spend as little as possible

Excluding KDPRoceket, I’ve spent less than $50.00 so far to create and market my book. Am I happy? No. But, I’m not unhappy either. I’m experimenting and haven’t finished yet. I see KDPRocket as an investment more than an expense and can use it for future projects that may be more profitable. Actually, profit isn’t my motive. I hope readers will enjoy my writing, but they must find it to do that, which is why I’m making an effort to advertise.

Do you have comments? Please share them.


Copyright by David P. Cantrell 2018

Men Reading Women

With the passing of fantasy author  Ursula K. Le Guin, it seems a good time to reflect on the women authors of my life, especially in science-fiction and fantasy where the percentage has been more skewed.

When I was a young reader, science-fiction got my attention. Imagining other worlds, traveling in space, or dealing with futuristic possibilities was my thing. I started at a young age reading such sci-fi authors as Ben Bova and Robert Silverberg. Also an author named Andre Norton. Mostly these were short stories, often in an anthology edited by Silverberg. One day, though, I was surprised to learn that one of my favorite authors was a woman. I thought Andre was a boy’s name! It made me think.

Boys tend to want to read stories of other boys or men doing things, heroic things. At that age I honestly didn’t care what the girls did in stories. It was just that male authors tended to write about men doing manly things (I’m generalizing, of course), so I had no reason to try female authors. I also did not have much knowledge then of how difficult it was for female authors especially in the genre of science fiction and fantasy; I just wanted a good story. My mother pushed A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle on me, telling me it was a good story, but as a young boy I was not so interested in reading a story about a girl!

Gradually, I grew up. Focusing deliberately on a wider range of fiction, literary and decidedly non-SF works, many of them were written by women. I enjoyed them: I got to experience life as a female character, got to understand the issues they dealt with, and perhaps gained from perspective I did not previously know. It was educational. Whether or not the authors were women still did not matter to me as a reader more than what the story itself was. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books about Authorian legend interested me, not because of the author but because of the Arthur. Nancy Kress and her sci-fi and books on writing mentored me for a time, as well.

Classic women authors starting with Mary Shelley and continuing through the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen entered my experience in college by making me play along as the man in the pages of their books. I could empathize, to a point, with the women in the novels. That experience helped develop the Romantic qualities which have eventually ruined me. I can’t confidently say, just from reading, that I now “get it” or that I understand all the characters endured and could cheer as they rose up and took whatever position they deemed in the story to be a success. Yet my empathy continued to grow.

In grad school, read Francine Prose and Annie Proulx, partly to see a view of life which I could not see without the lens of a woman author writing about a woman protagonist. A couple years ago I read a teenage romance series by Stephanie Perkins, not for the thrills of young love and relationship conundrums but to understand how a young girl thinks and acts. I used what I learned from those books for my own novel which featured a young girl. More than research, I deliberately tried to learn to see what I could not with my own experiential eyes. And then a film on cable TV one night prompted me to check out Margaret Atwood’s novels, starting with The Handmaid’s Tale. Now, of course, it has returned in a new series.

Having a daughter further instilled in me the urge to seek women authors for her to read. The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer became a milestone in my daughter’s life. Inspired, she even wrote fan fiction herself. No matter what word or label you may apply to me and my experience with women authors, I want the best for my daughter, and for her to understand other women’s lives and times, struggles and triumphs.

More recently, as I worked on my own epic fantasy involving dragons, I returned to the novels of Anne McCaffrey. While her dragons and their world are remarkably different from the ones I was writing about, I very much appreciated the craft, the imagination, the pure exhilaration of the world she invented in Pern.  Then the sci-fi/dystopian trilogy by Marie Lu caught my attention as something my daughter might like to read…but I read it first. Before reading these authors, Marian Perera, a fellow newbie, came out with Before the Storm, which wonderfully taught me how women think and act in sci-fi romance. It was liberating as I was composing my own sci-fi trilogy.

Now Ursula has passed on, never to write another novel. Yet we remain blessed to always have the products of her mind, the outpouring of words that frame and construct and fulfill our own hopes and aspirations for years past and years to come…for the world of make-believe is our world, today’s world, in disguise.

 

‘Twas the Night B4 Xmas

‘Twas the night before Xmas, when all through the base
Only robots were stirring, but none with much haste.
The backpacks were taped to the air vents with care,
In hopes that old Santa would find his way there;

The kiddos were tucked in their coffin-shaped beds,
As a Twix induced sugar-rush played with their heads;
Mom in her flannel and I in tighty-whites
Had just settled in after saying good nights.

When suddenly our module shook to and fro,
I leapt from my bed and was soon ready to go.
Away to the view screen I flew like the Flash,
And focused the monitor in a hurried dash.

The blue Earth above gave an eerie luster
To the dwellings that formed our lunar cluster.
Then, a vision beyond belief did appear,
A tiny red shuttle, manned by tiny reindeer.

Anon, a weird looking pilot escorted them out.
“I am Captain Saint Nick,” he said with a shout.
His four-legged crew must surely be tame,
Because clearly I heard him call them by name;

“Now, Crasher. now, Lancer. Now, Rancher and Buttless.
On, Gromit. On, Wallace. On, Dander and Gutless.
Gather your pouches, gifts stuffed to the top,
We must hurry and scurry there’s no time to stop.

And then in a jiffy, I heard from the ceiling
The clatter and chatter of eight little beings.
I stood from my perch and then turned around,
To see the pilot materialize with nary a sound.

Unsure of his purpose, my phaser at ready,
I stunned the old guy, my aim was quite steady.
His bundle of toys were thrown to the floor
“Oh no, this must be Santa,” I had to implore.

His eyes – how they twinkled, from the stun no doubt.
His cheeks soon grew as red as if they had gout.
His mouth formed a circle like a black hole,
His chest expelled the growl of an evil troll.

The sound of his anguish filled me with grief;
I feared for my life when he gritted his teeth.
He had a narrow face and surprising round belly.
Plus a wicked smile; I thought of Machiavelli.

With the wink of his eye he turned his head;
The look on his face filled me with dread.
But soon I realized I feared without reason
When he chuckled and said, “I love this season.”

He looked to the floor and gathered the toys,
Several were for girls and others for boys,
He filled all of the packs hung by the vents
Then touched his comm-unit and off he went.

From my viewer I saw him gather his troops,
The eight little reindeer were a strange group.
He walked up the ramp, his team close behind.
When the shuttle rumbled, it began to climb.

The craft hovered high over our airless dorm;
Through some unknown magic a dome did form.
These words were written on the white hemisphere,
Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


By David P. Cantrell (c) 2017 with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore

The Hero as Social Justice Warrior

Do you write what you preach? 

Are fiction authors supposed to promote their personal values? Or is the story supposed to be a self-contained entity with its own political views and separate from the author’s? Must (or should) the author reveal personal positions on every social and political issues undergoing discussion in the public arena? Or is the story just a story and everything political is thrown to the wind for the sake of the story?

The writer is supposedly imbued with a welter of imagination, able to leap tall plots in a single bound, about to stop dastardly antagonists with bare hands (obviously, on a keyboard). So it should go beyond the “write what you know” –shouldn’t it? It is the mark of a true author if he/she can make you believe he/she knows what he/she is writing about.

However, there are plenty of instances where readers get in the way. I mean that in a wholly innocent sense. If writing for a particular category of reader, the writer may shape the story in certain ways to appeal to those readers. Part of that may be, say, to use initials instead of a name or to use a pen name completely to hide the gender of the author. Because a Romance author cannot be a man…in theory. And a hardcore sci-fi author cannot be female…traditionally.

If an author is against guns…would the story be gun-free?

If the author believes in a nation having a strong military and the government protecting its citizens by militarizing city police forces, would that idea be reflected in the author’s latest book? If the author is opposed to abortion, would the character in the story who gets pregnant have an abortion or have the baby and offer it for adoption? It starts to get complicated. Or perhaps it’s very easy. Do your characters act as you would act?

And then there is the marketing question.

If an author writes books in which characters act as he/she would, hold views the author holds, act as the author would act with regard to a whole host of political and social issues, views, and positions, where does that leave the reader? Could that reader like a story enough to buy it and read it even though that reader and the book’s author may have different views on, say, immigration reform? Or do we authors censor ourselves so as to be as mild-mannered as possible and not offend anyone who just might be tempted to buy our book? Do we write so as to not alienate half the potential readership, or do we go forth boldly proclaiming where we stand on this or that issue, and hope or expect that we will be praised for our stance(s)? Tough questions–or non-issues?

Perhaps many writers, authors, dabblers in words, whatever the label, just don’t care about such matters because just writing an interesting story is hard enough and we don’t have time to be concerned about things outside the story. Or are we politely disingenuous, hiding our true nature and our true beliefs and values for the sake of that interesting story, afraid to speak out about something we feel strongly about because we worry about offending fellow authors and potential readers. Compare the statistics of recent voting and decide which half of the book-buying population you will market to.

I don’t believe fiction writers, as a clan, deal much with pushing agendas. Or do we? Or should we? Or…why shouldn’t we? When I’ve written sci-fi and fantasy, I’ve invented political systems which run the spectrum from left to right, not as a reflection of my own view of “how things should be” but only for the sake of plausibility in the story and influence on the plot.

Sure, the literary canon is full of authors who pushed agendas, who wrote dogmatic tales, who gave us strongly-worded suggestions of how we should behave, what we should think, what we should do or stop doing–woven more or less subtly through a fictional narrative that served to entertain us long enough to get the message across. And others wrote to warn us of possible future scenarios we may not wish to experience.

The world of literary imagination is both a safe space and a war zone. Reader beware.

Or are they simply stories which only in hindsight do we see a message or a warning? And if the warning may be too strong, too upsetting, too triggering, then such a book might be moved into the banned book pile. Fearing the ban, authors may self-censor, keep it clean, water it down, set it all in a land of make-believe where nothing is actually meant to be real or serious, certainly not as a commentary on the present political climate, oh no!

And yet, in this present day world of saying the right thing, being politically correct or decidedly not, what is the author’s responsibility…or compulsion? Must a novel follow a political agenda? May a work of fiction illustrate differing views on particular social issues?

Should our protagonists be social justice warriors? 

Writing a book: Researching fiction

 
This blog offering has been stewing in my mind for days now. What shall or should I talk about? A quick glance at national and international days mention it is national webmistress day this week. I happen to be the webmistress for the Myrddin Publishing website and it is going through a revamp at the moment (still at planning at the moment in afraid) but I need to face it, people don’t come here for web tips. You are here to find out about the authors right?
Some of our most popular posts are from our author Connie who talks about her writing process and our other popular posts talk about authors lives such as Gypsy and her blog about cosplay. In that vein, I’m going to talk about the research I do for writing a book.
In case you are not familiar with my fiction I write primarily fantasy with a dash of sci-fi and picture /puzzle books. My first fantasy novel didn’t take much research. I only really looked up how different cultures viewed the elements, the rest was from my imagination but my latest novel that is serialised on my blog needed a little more.
Accidental Immortal is set in the modern day but, there is always a but, unfortunately the protagonist finds herself transported across space to the ancient Egyptian colony of Duat. It is still in the 21st century but she ends up in a pyramid built during the New Kingdom. And that my internet friends is where my research hat had to be found.
I’ve never been to Egypt, I’d love to go but the threat of terrorism and costs puts me off. Luckily there are internet sites, academic journals and YouTube!
Did you know that there were sleeping platforms, raised on one side? Me neither – before doing research for this book. The building materials changed during the time the pyramids were built as well. What I also found fascinating was the Egyptians were supposed to have crude batteries. Couldn’t this have been the basis for a technology that the priesthood would keep to themselves to keep them in power? My mind was racing.
After my character leaves the pyramids  I had to look into desert tribes but it didn’t need to be exact. After all, our culture has changed tremendously since the pyramid so why wouldn’t theirs? They would have a different environment influencing them, as well as a melting pot of cultures from all the different slaves sent over to create the new world. The possibilities were endless. Add in a dragon and the story takes on a new dimension.
For my picture books, I had to research rhyming poetry but I didn’t just want to do a straight picture book. My son, I hate to say it being an ex – librarian, isn’t really into them. I created an interactive book that could keep his attention – that meant puzzles. He was three at the time but I had some cousins who were four and five and a friend who had a four year old. These munchkins made excellent guinea pigs for the puzzles. Were they too hard?
My son found the latter puzzles too difficult but I designed it so that he could go back to it later. My nails began to look a bit ragged but the answer came back. After being shown the first clue in the word search, my cousins were off completing it themselves. The response from my friend’s son made my day. “This is awesome, it has games in it!“ I should explain that as well as letter and number tracing, dot-to-dot and logic puzzles, there is also a snakes and ladders game in the middle with a link to download the pdf so people can cut out the counters without destroying the book. Phew! That gave me the confidence to publish them.
I have to say, as it was a picture book, leaning towards the ridiculous is always encouraged to spark their imagination but I also wanted them to learn something. I had to research puzzles in my chosen age range which meant giving my son lots of puzzles to try! I also had to check I had the planets right, I do feel so sorry for Pluto, downgraded to a dwarf planet. Other research included looking up the dancing twins for the dot to dot section.
I was surprised how much research even a picture book demanded. I assumed before I started that I could get away with just slapping a couple of rhymes together but it turns out you need to put your heart, soul and brain into everything you do to have something you are truly proud to call your own. The first draft iterations were deleted never to be seen again.
Research can be incredibly boring, fascinating and time consuming at the same time but I think, essential for any book I write! As I expand the Minkie Monster universe there are already three picture books, a letter tracing book, a colouring book and there is a number tracing book about to be published, I am continually learning and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Minkie Monster Series
Letter Tracing: Handwriting practice for preschool and kindergarten (Letter Tracing Practice)
Christmas Puzzles: Minkie Monster Saves Christmas (Preschool Puzzlers) (Volume 4)
Space: A Minkie Monster Coloring Book
Under the Sea Puzzles: Minkie Monster and the Lost Treasure (Preschool Puzzlers) (Volume 3)
Space Puzzles: Minkie Monster and the Birthday Surprise (Preschool Puzzlers) (Volume 1)
Jumbo Animal Letter Tracing Activity Book: Handwriting and Coloring Practice for Preschool and Kindergarten (Letter Tracing Practice) (Volume 2)
Number Tracing: Number tracing, dot-to-dot and counting practice for preschool and kindergarten
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15 Reasons to Quit Writing

By: David P. Cantrell

It is very presumptuous of me to write about writing. I don’t make a living as a writer, I’d starve if I tried to, but I love (and hate) the process.

I love the rush that comes with ideas unfolding like a map to reveal the path within. Sometimes the words come faster than I can write and they evaporate. Just a wisp of the thought lingers behind to taunt me—I was great, but you weren’t good enough to catch me. And that brings me to what I hate about writing–the self-doubt: I’m not smart enough, people will laugh at me, who cares what I have to say.

My musing got me wondering what others have had to say about the process, which led me to a Goodreads list of 795 quotes about writing. Some of my favorites are set forth below. I hope you enjoy them.


  1. The first draft is just you telling yourself the story. ― Terry Pratchett
  2. 10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer Write.
    Write more. Write even more. Write even more than that.
    Write when you don’t want to. Write when you do.
    Write when you have something to say. Write when you don’t.
    Write every day. Keep writing. ― Brian Clark
  3. You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. ― Octavia E. Butler
  4. Anyone who says writing is easy isn’t doing it right. ― Amy Joy
  5. I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. ― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
  6. There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing… I am a recording instrument… I do not presume to impose “story” “plot” “continuity”… Insofar as I succeed in Direct recording of certain areas of psychic process I may have limited function… I am not an entertainer… ― William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch
  7. Sometimes I scare myself at how easily I slip inside my mind and live vicariously through these characters. ― Teresa Mummert
  8. There are three secrets to writing a novel. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are. ― W. Somerset Maugham
  9. Rules such as “Write what you know,” and “Show, don’t tell,” while doubtlessly grounded in good sense, can be ignored with impunity by any novelist nimble enough to get away with it. There is, in fact, only one rule in writing fiction: Whatever works, works. ― Tom Robbins
  10. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page. ― Jodi Picoul
  11. The only ‘ironclad rules’ in writing fiction are the laws of physics and the principles of grammar, and even those can be bent. ― Val Kovalin
  12. But in the wake of ‘Bullet,’ all the guys wanted to know was, ‘How’s it doing? How’s it selling?’ How to tell them I didn’t give a flying fuck how it was doing in the marketplace, that what I cared about was how it was doing in the reader’s heart? ― Stephen King, Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales
  13. Don’t over edit. Don’t second-guess yourself, or your ideas. Just write. Write every day, and keep at it. Don’t get discouraged with the rejections. Tape them up on your office wall, to remind you of all the hard work you put in when you finally start getting published! It’s all about persistence and passion. And have fun with it. Don’t forget to have fun. ― Heather Grace Stewart
  14. I’ve discovered that sometimes writing badly can eventually lead to something better. Not writing at all leads to nothing. ― Anna Quindlen
  15. The writing begins when you’ve finished. Only then do you know what you’re trying to say.” ― Samuel Langhorne Clemens

    You will find all 795 quotes here.

Writing from another gender’s POV

Writing Gender Perspective

Writing Gender Perspective

It can be downright painful to read a book that poorly represents a certain gender. If the author does not have a great understanding of what it means to be male, female, or that squishy place in between, their book will fall flat with certain people (or be just plain offensive!). It can be a tricky dance to realistically portray male and female characters and give them distinct and interesting personalities, but unless you’re planning on writing about an all-female planet or a bros-only frat party adventure, you’ll have to learn how eventually.

Misrepresenting gender can take many forms.

Sometimes authors over-exaggerate typical male or female characteristics to the point of caricature. All the women have big breasts and are obsessed with makeup, gossip, and painting their nails. All the men love muscle cars, grunt, and smoke cigars. Why do people write in stereotypes when it’s clear humans in everyday life don’t (usually) fit into a neat “males do this, females do this” boxes?

Part of the problem is due to existing media.

In traditional works of fiction—and this absolutely crosses over into movies and television—women and men are often portrayed in an exaggerated fashion. Think of Marvel comics. Even the tough women are sexualized, while the men all have rippling muscles and are usually stoic, emotionless.

In my childhood, I read Nancy Drew books obsessively. Nancy was supposed to be a strong-willed, capable detective, but whenever she got in a bind, her knight-in-shining-armor, Ned Nickerson, would swoop in and save the day. Not to mention, she was thin, blond, and attractive.

Another way gender is misrepresented is when it is ignored completely.

Although it is better to ascribe specific personalities to your character than to box them in by gender, it is necessary to take some gender differences into account. For instance, if you’re writing a book about a present-day business, a female executive will likely face struggles that her male counterparts do not. Since she is in the minority, she may occasionally feel ostracized by her male coworkers, or she may feel that she has to constantly prove herself. And her troubles may compound if she has a child or children at home, since many people still view child-rearing as primarily women’s work.

In this example, if your female exec protagonist only has to deal with outsmarting competitors and firing poor-performing employees, you’re missing a large part of her struggle. Even if it’s not the focus of your book, it deserves a mention.

I’ll give you another example of how gender differences come into play in literature. I read the manuscript of a male friend’s work in progress lately and encountered a scene that played out like this:

Male character and female character meet.

M and F characters hit it off.

M and F characters decide to go for a walk in a quiet woods.

My immediate reaction was NOPE. No, no sir, no way. Even if your female character has a good feeling about the male character, she’s been trained her entire life to be on guard and aware. She would never (unless she was feeling either remarkably stupid or bold…or she’s a seasoned karate master) traipse off into the woods with a strange man. That’s just an ugly scene waiting to happen.

So, how do you accurately portray gender?

Even though lots of problems can occur when you’re writing about another gender, it’s not impossible to get it right. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but here a few methods you can try:

Hang out with people of a different gender.

Be observant. Notice others’ mannerisms and comments. If you feel comfortable, be direct and ask questions like, “what would a male typically do—how would he feel—in X situation?”

NOTE: Of course not every person can fully represent their gender. Be strategic. If you’re writing about a female athlete, go to female sports games, talk to your athlete friends, and hang out online in forums geared toward female athletes.

Go online.

This may come as a shock to you, but a lot of people hang out online (winky face). Go to forums or social media sites where your “targets” hang out. Writing about a man in the military? Subscribe to a military subreddit, ask questions on Quora, or follow blogs written by military men.

Practice empathy.

The root of empathy is letting go of preconceived assumptions and simply paying attention. Be observant of the world around you. Listen to others’ tones of voice, their actions, the way they interact with others. Visit new places and be around people who are different then yourself. You could initiate conversations, but it’s often best to just watch and listen (in a non-creepy way…obviously).

Understand that gender traits often don’t matter.

A well-written character is a dynamic character. They are more than male, female, or something in between. They are teachers, tattoo enthusiasts, virgins, poets, wine snobs, home owners, bus drivers, parents, hamburger fans, Labradoodle owners, Russians, painters, botanists, and so much more. Your characters are defined by their occupations, interests, family history, upbringing, ethics, and a host of other factors.

Why pigeonhole your characters? They are multi-dimensional and each distinct part of them matters. YES, gender is important and should play a role in character development, but it shouldn’t play the ONLY role.

 

Dragons vs Christmas (Lights) #flashfic #amwriting

This story by Lee French originally appeared on Edgewise Words Inn.

Enion poked the wad of Christmas lights with a claw. “What is it?”

“It’s pretty!” Pimkin snapped her silver wings out and jumped onto the tangled wad of bright colors and dark green wire. She landed on top with a toothy grin. The ball pitched her forward, wiping away her triumph as she thumped on the table. Flapping her wings to escape, she found them snared by the wires. All four legs had wires wrapped around them too.

“I’ll save you!” Enion plowed into the tangle. The devious wires seized his head, wings, and tail. They slid across the table in a clump to stop at the edge. One end of the wires fell off the side and clattered on the linoleum floor.

Both tiny dragons wriggled and squirmed to escape, pulling the wires tighter around their bodies. The ball quavered on the verge of falling. Enion noticed and froze.

“Stop! We’re going to fall.” He shoved one foot through the wires to the table and scraped his claws on the table. Its plastic coating foiled his efforts to dig in.

Pimkin tried and failed to fold her wings in. “Why is this pretty thing so mean?”

“It’s evil.”

“Then we must defeat it!”

Enion pulled his neck back only to have the frill of tiny horns around his head catch on the wires. He snapped at a wire, sinking his sharp little teeth in and grinding. The soft plastic coating gave way to metal underneath. Electricity jolted through his body until he let go.

Not knowing which way was up anymore, he slumped. His weight sent the tangled ball over the edge. Enion and Pimkin both shrieked until the wad hit the floor. It bounced, cushioning both dragons from the fall, then rolled until it hit a kitchen cabinet.

More ensnared than before, Enion gasped.

“No more pretty lights!” Pimkin thrashed her tiny legs in frustration.

“It’s evil,” Enion agreed, his words slurred.

Pimkin gave up with a heavy sigh. “It wins.” She sagged in the wires.

Ready to also admit defeat and wait for a human to find them and fix everything, Enion gave one last heave. He caused the ball to roll far enough for him to put all four clawed feet on the floor.

Now facing up, Pimkin noticed one foot fell through the wires against he body, leaving it free so long as she didn’t move it again. She tugged gently on her other foreleg and discovered she could move it a tiny bit to the left, then pull it through. Suddenly, she had two legs free.

Enion sank his claws into the linoleum enough to gain traction. He dragged the ball away from the cabinet. “Not giving up yet!”

“Wait. Stop.” Pimkin eased one back foot free, then the other. “If you move slow, you defeat it!”

Pausing in his trek to the living room, Enion looked down at his raised foot. He’d lifted it to take the next step and only now noticed it had come free of the wires. With a step onto the wires instead of the floor, he lifted his other foreclaw and freed it also.

“Hurray!” Enion looked up and saw Pimkin’s wing near enough to reach. If he bit the wire around it without trying to chew through, he could loosen it.

A few minutes later, both dragons stood two feet away, glaring at the ball of lights attached to the wall socket by an orange extension cord.

“It’s pretty.”

“It’s evil.”

Dear Santa By Connie J. Jasperson

Dear Santa,

It was my sister’s fault.

Mostly. I also feel the Frigidaire company is partly to blame. They should make their products less prone to tipping over.

It all started because we were robbed on Halloween. Mrs. Sullivan gave out Snickers Bars, and Mr. Gentry gave Hershey Bars. Mrs. Morris had handed out M&Ms. In fact, all of Plum Street was handing out chocolate, so we knew we really did well that night. Chocolate is our favorite candy, so we were quite excited about having made such a grand haul. It was the best trick-or-treat night ever.

But by the time we had washed the face paint off our faces and changed into our jammies, and were allowed to sort through our candy, all that was left in our bags were Skittles, LifeSavers, Jujubes, Jolly Ranchers, and Tootsie Pops. I’m sure thieves snuck in and did it while Mom was watching Dancing with the Stars. Everyone knows our mom has sworn off sugar, so the thieves must have known there wouldn’t even be any stray Reese’s Pieces at our house under normal circumstances.

Cathy said the thieves must have spied on us as we made the rounds in the neighborhood and knew just where to come to steal it.

However, on Thanksgiving, we received reliable information from our cousin Jeremy (he’s fifteen and really tall) that some of the missing chocolate from our Halloween candy had been stashed in a secret cupboard on our premises. Probably the robbers couldn’t carry it all because there was so much chocolate, it took both Cathy and me to carry it home in the first place.

When Cathy counted what was left, it was clear the thieves had made off with more than half of it. We feared they would come back for the rest of it.

Now, I know I have a certain responsibility for how things turned out, as I am technically older. Mom is always telling us how sisters should be loyal to each other as they grow and venture into new territory.

The cupboard over the top of the refrigerator was definitely uncharted territory.

When Cathy told me about her plan to rescue the stolen chocolate, I felt she needed a safety net. Or at least someone to hold the chair while she climbed on top of the fridge.

We were surprised to discover her plan had a fatal flaw, although I should have expected it. After all, she’s only in third grade, so engineering is not her strong point. Although she’s amazing at drawing horses, much better than I am and I’m a year older. But I wasn’t consulted in the planning stage, or I would have suggested approaching the cupboard from the side via the counter instead of the front from a chair. All she asked me to do was to hold the chair, which I did until I had to drop it to catch the refrigerator.

Sort of.

I accidentally dropped that too.

You see, the door swung open, and she was hanging on it but managed to jump clear, and you know the rest.

Did you know that when your refrigerator falls on the door, more food falls out of it when you go to lift it back up? This is because the doors don’t latch too well.

So Santa, even though it wasn’t my idea to tip over the fridge, I did try to clean up the mess before Mom got back from the store. It’s just amazing how far pickles and olives can travel when they’re mixed with orange juice and moldy brussels sprouts. I didn’t realize they had rolled all the way to the back door. I felt terrible that mom slipped and dropped a gallon of milk.

And please don’t be too hard on Cathy. She was only trying to rescue the stolen chocolates.

Sincerely,
Jennifer Martin, Cathy’s sister

Dear Santa By Ceri Clark

Dear Santa,

It was my sister’s fault. I don’t normally write these things but I didn’t do it. I swear! I just wanted you to know.

I am so tired, I hate being alone but there is no one left. Do you even come this far?

Please help me. I can hear her calling my name. Mary’s got her hair in a pony tail and she’s stolen mom’s make-up. She looks really scary. It won’t be long until she finds me. They call it moon madness but she was always mean, even before we left Earth. Do you remember Toby? He lived next door to us. He must have been on your nice list. That wasn’t an accident. I was there. I saw the whole thing. She pushed him. The smile on her face as she did it. I never told anyone before. She scares me so bad.

Maybe I should have told Mom and Dad. Maybe everyone would be alive now. Harry and me would be in Hydroponics playing football. Dad would be telling us off right now…

Their faces. They were all collapsed. Higgledy piggledy. I was lucky I forgot my jumper. It was to be our first Christmas concert in space. Mom and Dad were more excited than me. It was going to to be broadcast back to Earth so Mom said we all had to look our best. I ran as fast as I could but when I got back the air was already gone. I saw her through the airlock window. My sister is a monster.

She’s playing with some rope. Like I don’t know that is for me if she catches me. There is no way I’m going to her. I saw the bodies. I’m not stupid. She’s using THAT voice – the one that gets mom to give her the chocolate from the top shelf. It just makes me shiver.

Mom said we should write letters to Santa – that you always hear us. She said that you had a sleigh that can ride high into the sky. I will leave this letter by the heating panels, its as close to a fire-place as we have here.

Please Santa, my sister blames me for everything. I heard her talk to her cat. She’s going to say I opened the air lock and killed everyone. If you can just get her the communicator she wants, the pink one, she might let me live. Its why she did it, Dad said it cost too much. But you can afford it can’t you?

I’m going to have to finish this now, I need to find a new hiding place. Please Santa, please come, you are my only hope.

 

Dear Santa By David P. Cantrell

Dear Santa,

It was my sister’s fault. Well, she didn’t light the fire. I did that, but there’s no doubt she caused the damage, and she could have stopped it if she hadn’t been running so fast. She’s selfish like that.

The fire wasn’t that big. It charred the front leg of Mommy’s favorite chair. I sat in it, so I know it’s okay. It does smell odd. Mommy says a skunk peed on it. I didn’t see a skunk, so I think she was wrong. Nobody’s noticed the scorched leg on Daddy’s chair. It always smells funny according to Mommy.

This all started in Mrs. Gold’s fourth-grade class. She showed us how to make candles and told us to make one to celebrate the holidays. Bobbie Schultz said our teacher was Jewish and didn’t like Christmas. I don’t know why she doesn’t like Christmas. For that matter, I don’t know what Jewish is, but Bobbie is smart. He knows the time’s tables all the way to thirteen.

Most kids made candles that looked like Rudolph, Frosty, or an angel. Two kids made pitchforks. They called them Minotaurs, I think. Zachery made a Navytea scene. It had little farm animals in a circle around a butterfly larva. I asked Zachery if it was a Monarch. He said it was a Baby Jesus. I’d never heard of that kind of butterfly. They probably come from Utah like Zachery.

I think I upset Mrs. Gold. I didn’t mean to. Honest, I didn’t. I made a devil. Mommy wouldn’t let me be a devil for Halloween–I had to wear Sara’s old Princess Jasmine costume. My devil was really cool, Santa. It had goat legs, the body of a man and the head of a bull. The bull horns had wicks in them. It was all red like you are, but not so round. Daddy says it’s not nice to call people fat. I hope round is okay. Anyway, it was sooooo cool. It didn’t stand up very well, so I glued on Popsicle sticks–they looked like snow skis.

Mommy and Daddy went shopping after dinner last night and left Sara and me to protect the house. I put the last ornaments on the Christmas tree, which sat between Mommy and Daddy’s chairs in front of the fireplace. We don’t use the fireplace because it’s anyfishunt. But, we still have a log lighter. I know, because I saw Daddy point it at Mommy like a gun. He said, ‘I’m going to light your fire woman.’ I wonder if I was adopted, sometimes.

Mommy and Daddy would be home soon, and I wanted to surprise them with my devil. I stood on Mommy’s chair to put the devil on the mantle. It looked great next to Grandma’s antique quilt on the wall.

“Sara where is the log lighter?”

She continued texting and mumbled, “On the hearth by Dad’s chair.”

“Thank you,” I said, but she ignored me, like always.

I had to stand on the armrest to reach the devil horns. The first one lit easily. I stretched to reach the second horn. The wick had started to flicker when Sara screamed, “What are you doing?”

I yelped and lost my balance. My hand caught the devil’s skis, and we both fell into the Christmas tree which fell on Sara. She squealed and ran like the wind. I landed on my back and stood up. The devil ignited the tree skirt which exploded in flames that died down quickly after I threw Mommy’s poinsettia plant on it. The ceiling sprinklers helped, too.

I hope you take it easy on Sara. I know this horrible incident was her fault, but she tries hard to be good. Sometimes things just don’t work out for her.

By the way, I’d like a Lego Super Hero High School for Christmas.

Yours most sincerely truly,

Elsie Montgomery, age 9 and 3/4ths.

 

When you get what you want …and it’s Winter!

Winter

 

Once there was a time

when the snow finally fell,

spreading like diamonds across the yard,

back when winter was a reason

to light the fires and embrace one another.

 

I counted the days

through the spring and summer,

watching the flowers bloom,

seeing people shed their clothes,

feeling the warmth cut through me.

 

I counted the weeks

through the falling leaves

watching them sweep my path,

seeing them blow casually away,

feeling how life fled from me.

 

And winter returned

as forever I prayed it would:

when all the birds take flight

yet there is one that remains,

willing to brave the cold

 

and shiver to death rather than escape,

wanting to believe rather than deny.

 

—Stephen Swartz (© 2007)

 

[Stephen likes to write about winter. His most wintry novels are A Beautiful Chill and A Girl Called Wolf.]

National Novel Writing Month

htb-225-px-for-2016-banner-boxEvery November I participate in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Around our house it is also referred to as “National Pot Pie Month,” an homage to my culinary efforts during November.

For the last five years I have been a Municipal Liaison for the Olympia, Washington Region. Last year indie author Lee French agreed to be a co-ML with me, which really took the pressure off in regard to small ML duties. We had 165 active novelists at that time and are gaining new wrimos all the time.

The primary goal of participating in NaNoWriMo is to produce a 50,000 word novel in the space of 30 days. That sounds crazy but it can be done–I do it every year. The first draft of Huw the Bard was written from start to finish during November of 2011 as my nano-novel that year.

HOWEVER:  I spent the month of October 2011 outlining the novel. After the first draft was completed, I spent the next three years getting HTB ready for publication, rewriting it through 3 more drafts, having it edited professionally, and finally it was published in March of 2014. Mountains of the Moon was written in 2012, and published 2015.

Many people use the concept of NaNoWriMo to jump-start their noveling career, but there are just as many who spend the month of November writing family histories or memoirs, writing daily blog posts, writing essays, or even working on their dissertations. I know two people who write screenplays during November.

The month of November is when we celebrate the act of creative writing, and encourage every person with an inner author to let that creative energy flow.

Last year, I am worked on a series of mixed genre short-short stories, all of them written during National Novel Writing Month. Altogether I wrote 42 short stories, one of which, View from the Bottom of a Lake, was selected as a finalist in the annual PNWA literary contest. It didn’t win, but hey – I got the honorable mention. That was pretty amazing!

So I am doing it again.

My intention is to write one tale a day, or two or three longer tales a week, many of them set in a Medieval village, but some set in the fantastic future.  Robots, Spaceships, Dragons, Fairies, even Mad Scientists and Crazed Wizards–all will be fair game.

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafb

This year there will be no novel in the traditional sense, but hopefully a LOT of short stories will emerge from my fevered mind, things I can use for contests and submissions to magazines and anthologies. For me, writing the first draft of anything  is only the beginning. Once that struggle is out of the way, the real work begins–making it fit for others to read. Getting it through the editing process with Carlie Cullen and Dave Cantrell are tough but necessary steps.  I don’t rush the revisions. I have nothing to lose by taking the time to do it right. Right now, I have three books on the back burner in various stages of dismemberment, but I am setting them aside for NaNoWrMo and in December I will return to getting them through that process.

Delving Into History To Discover The Truth Behind The Vikings Lagertha And Ragnar

Lagertha and Ragnar as depicted in History's 'Vikings'

I know my last blog post was on research when writing. But, here I am again, writing another post on the virtues of research. Actually, to be honest, this one is more about my latest book series, The Truth Behind.

When I started writing TV articles for the Inquisitr, I never thought it would lead me to my next novel. But, thanks to one of History Channel’s shows, Vikings, I have managed to find out an awful lot about a group of people I previously knew very little about. Vikings tells the story of Ragnar Lothbrok, based on a character from Viking lore that may, or may not have existed, Ragnar Lodbrok. Season 1 started with Ragnar and his wife, Lagertha, as farmers. Ragnar, being a typical inquisitive Viking, decides to travel West to raid rather than East and manages to wind up in England. While there he does the normal Viking thing — pillaging and murdering — before returning to Norway with his loot.

 Ragnar and Lagertha as depicted in History's 'Vikings'

Ragnar and Lagertha as depicted in History’s ‘Vikings’ [Image via HISTORY]
By Season 4 of Vikings, Ragnar is a king, having quickly traveled up the ranks because of his adventures in England. His wife, however, has left him thanks to an affair Ragnar had with Aslaug. Yet, their love story still keeps fans of the show swooning. And it is this story that has brought me to researching the sagas as I delve into the real story of Ragnar and Lagertha.

While it seems very likely that Lagertha is not a real person that existed during the Viking era, there is one recorded story about her. This tale comes from book 9 in Saxo Grammaticus’ History of the Danes (you can read this story for free via Sacred Texts). Saxo was a scholar who lived in England. He was tasked with recording the Viking stories up to two hundred years after the actual events. So, if this is the only record we have of Lagertha, it seems likely she doesn’t exist since none of the Viking sagas mention her.

Regardless, for the sake of a great love story, I have been using this one story, along with the many stories about Ragnar (that may or may not be about several men named Ragnar), to formulate the true story of Ragnar and Lagertha rather than the current romanticized one. Along the way I have come across some very interesting facts about the pair. For example:

 Ragnar wears his hairy breeches to protect himself against a dangerous snake

Ragnar wears his hairy breeches to protect himself against a dangerous snake [Image via AngloSaxonNorseAndCeltic]
  • Ragnar’s surname literally translates to hairy or shaggy breeches. This name came about after Ragnar wore shaggy pants in an effort to get past a dangerous viper that breathed venom. In some instances of this story, it is a dragon Ragnar has to pass. In both stories, Ragnar was trying to impress a lady (or her father anyway).
  • Ragnar first met Lagertha in a brothel. But it’s totally not what you think. Ragnar was merely saving a group of women that had been taken hostage by Frø, the king of Sweden, after he killed King Siward. Frø placed these women in a brothel to publicly shame them. Ragnar, a fan of Siward, decided to avenge his friend and rescue the women. During this battle, many of the women in the battle decided to dress in men’s clothing and fight on Ragnar’s side. And so the myth about the shield maiden called Lagertha was born along with the prose below.

“Lagertha, a skilled Amazon, who, though a maiden, had the courage of a man, and fought in front among the bravest with her hair loose over her shoulders. All-marvelled at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed that she was a woman.”

Lagertha on a ship
Lagertha (as the goddess Thorgerd) in battle [Illustration by Jenny Nyström (1895).
  • Ragnar attempted to woo Lagertha after he saw her fighting ability. However, Lagertha was not one to fall at a man’s feet. She made it quite the task to win her hand and Ragnar ended up having to kill a bear and a hound just to reach her house.
  • Lagertha really did love Ragnar though. In fact, many years after they had divorced (Ragnar had taken a fancy to Thora Borgarhjört, the daughter of King Herraud, that resulted in his surname), Lagertha chose to fight for Ragnar once more when he needed support in a civil war. Being the independent woman, she brought 120 ships to his aide.
  • What ever happened during that final battle together is not mentioned. However, the final part of her tale is very revealing in that she returned home and slayed her husband rather than be with him a moment longer. It is unclear why she killed her husband or what happened after this other than she went on to rule independently.
  • It seems likely Lagertha may actually be based on a Norse goddess called Thorgerd. It is also possible Saxo made the story about Lagertha up using his knowledge about the Amazon women from Greek mythology.

My research into Ragnar and Lagertha is far from complete, however, I have already created a page on Goodreads. So, if you are intrigued by the story of Lagertha and Ragnar, why not add The Truth Behind the Vikings: Lagertha and Ragnar to your reading list.

Have you watch History’s Vikings or read any of the Viking sagas? Let us know by commenting below!

The Story So Far

Having recently completed my own writing challenge, namely finishing a series of fantasy books that I set about commencing six years ago, I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect upon the journey. Before you worry that this’ll turn into a mawkish post about what I learned about myself, and the industry, and all the wondrous people I’ve met (I have, but that’s not what I’m blogging about), console yourself with the title of the post. The Story So Far…

One of the difficulties of writing a six book series is deciding what to put into each book with regards the prior events. The problem spirals as the sheer complexity of events expands throughout the epic. Now, not being a vastly successful mainstream author, it’d be unlikely that anyone would pick up my series half way through, although possible. And the books themselves are meant to be a part of a series, not standalone with a common thread/ milieu running through. Yet, given the books came out roughly one a year, I don’t flatter myself that my readers are so obsessed with my work that they remember very last detail from the prior one… I know I don’t!

When I began editing and rewriting sections of book two to cope with the fact it had originally being the last 40% of a mega-volume one (for those that don’t know, Darkness Rising 1 and 2 were originally Dreams of Darkness Rising, and clocked in at Tolstoy length, so was split) I began considering my ‘story so far’ options. Option 1 is some slightly clunky prose between characters where they reminisce and ruminate on recent events to the degree that the reader can catch up. That’d read like…

Emelia smiled wrly at Jem. “It’s funny to think that my latent Wild-magic powers were so successfully manifested at the time you and Hunor sneaked into Lord Ebon-Farr’s rooms, fought that hidden Air-mage, and procured that darned blue crystal that turned out to be part of a prism of power.”

“And all the stranger that that would then lead to Ebon-Farr’s niece, Lady Orla pursuing us across to Azagunta and capturing us, before flying to Thetoria, fighting a demonic humour, and setting Aldred on a course of investigation that would lead him far away.”

With a flicker of nostalgia, Emelia began to recall all the events that had lead up to that fateful day…

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AAaaaarrrggghh! Stop, just stop. No-one talks like that out with TV fantasy series. Yet it’s slightly preferable to the… ‘Story so Far’ info-dump that by book six would run to eight blooming pages!

It was our own literary goddess Alison DeLuca who edited Darkness Rising Book 2, and when faced with the info-dump story so far section I’d written to start the book, she got her virtual red pen, drew a big line through the forty paragraphs, and simply commented ‘we’re writers, we can find better ways of doing it than that.’
Challenge accepted.

Six books, five ‘story so fars’ and because of the plotlines and structure, several disparate groups and POVs , often in ignorance to one another. How to maintain originality…?

Well, here were my top five:

1. The Dream Play (book 3: Secrets)

Emelia, whose dreams are so significant to the plotline, and who through dreaming becomes linked with the main protagonist , Vildor, recants a ‘story so far’ by dreaming she is watching a play.

I know this place. It is a hall of deception, and for this I am glad. For all here wear cloaks of secrets, which wrap around their souls with the strength of iron.

I am seated in the decayed stalls, and before me the first Act has commenced. At my side sits Emebaka. She holds my hand with her own tiny scaled one. Her eyes glitter like diamonds in the winter sun. I make to speak, but she shakes her head. The dream must command my attention. My wayward mind needs order—I need to reflect on all that has passed.

There are children on the stage, stuttering their lines like nervous suitors. The faded backdrop is of the Splintered Isles. A man is taking a sack of gold, and the children are wailing as they are carried off stage.

My father is selling me. To the Eerians.

No more spoilers!!!

2. The Prayer (book 4: Loss)

In this ‘story so far’ the knight, Sir Unhert, offers a prayer for his companion, Aldred. This allows a reflection on their actions, and the second ongoing plotline in the series.

Blessed Torik, hear my prayer.

I have never been a devout man. I placed my faith in the strength of steel and the might of griffons, yet this day I ask for your forgiveness in this matter, and your aid. There is one I hold dear who lies dying before me, every passing day taking more of his vitality away, stolen like a thief in the dark.

And though we are far away from the majestic peaks of Eeria, and your great temples in Coonor, I know that my prayer will carry on the four winds, across the ravines and gullies of the Emerald Mountains, to your omniscient ears.

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3.The Crystals (book 5: Broken)

This one was quite random: the crystals, the focus of the quest and the goal of both Vildor and Jem, begin discussing the current situation. I was proud of this one, as it was fairly off the wall, and I think worked well.

That, and more. We must understand if we are to prevail. We must understand if we’re to be whole again—our four primary facets, and our newer darker aspect.

Then I shall go first, sister. For is it not the wind that drives the water, the wind that fuels the fire? I was first to be found, two centuries from when we were cast asunder by the jealousy of a son.

The emperor who bore me, whose blood is barely dry?

Hush, brother, let our sister speak. Let her tell you how she came to be here in this desert of flame.

4. Words (book 6: Redemption)

This was a tiny bit of a cheat, as I used a character from a prior book (Orla’s old flame, Muben) as a storyteller, who learns of the historic events and their precursors by meeting a goddess. Very Greek. I figured by book 6 most readers would just want a recap of key events that are relevant to the finale.

Words. Words as keen as a magnate blade, or as dull as a mace. They can freeze a man’s heart, or ignite his soul. And words… words are all I have.

When I was a young man I craved books. The intricacies of the script held such majesty, such power, that even before I could read them they made my spirit soar. Their wonder became my life, my livelihood, as I slipped the chains of my Eerian masters and took to the infinite roads of Nurolia.

The druids of Artoria, they carry their words on their flesh. Whorls and swirls of ancient scripture cover them like walking parchments. I often wonder if you took the contents of my skull and smeared it across the ground would it leak ink not blood. For words, dancing together in fables and tales, flow through me.

I sit watching as the fire peters out, my audience dwindling back to their farmsteads, I reflect upon one word. Ty Schen—that’s what they call me in Mirioth. It means ‘chronicle.’ They come from miles to hear the stories, the histories, and the legends. Yet once I had another name, one given to me by my late father, in the tongue of my homeland, the Sapphire Isles.
“Muben?”

Oh, I know, I’m a tease… leaving you with that excerpt… of a recap! And finally, I used this device in couple of books…

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5. The Journal (books 2 and 3)

Very similar to the letter idea (which I used in book 4, and turns up in a later book for someone else to read), I used the idea that some of my characters would write a journal as a recap device. It felt less contrived than the joking dialogue method I tried above, and served the purpose in earlier books where the plotline was perhaps easier to realistically summarise from a key character’s point of view.

It feels odd writing this in the pages of Livor’s journal, but it’s what he would have wanted, what he would have told me to do if we had had a chance to speak more in life.

Is there folly in conversing with the dead? Once I would have said so. Once life was simple—you lived life to the full, embracing every moment as if it were your last—and then you died. You died like my mother did, rotted by a wasting disease. You died like my father did, killed by his traitorous servant, a Dark-mage


So now I’m editing the sequel to my sci-fi/ steampunk series, The Nu-Knights, I’m toying with different ideas: files/ dossiers, diaries, confessions… The nature of the series makes it easier to do succinctly, and as a gradual dialogue in the story, so perhaps I’ll not need one for book two.

What about you other authors out there? How do you tackle it? And for the readers, is info-dump a big turn-off, or do you accept that fantasy=massive amount of summarised plot detail in first five pages?

And that length of post, probably needs a summary of its own!!!

ss7

What I Learned From NOT Writing

writing dry spell

writing dry spell

Sometimes life happens and finding time to write becomes challenging.

Maybe you’re struck with a personal tragedy OR work ramps up OR you welcome a child or grandchild into your life. Maybe you’re mentally in a poor place and find it difficult to summon even an ounce of inspiration and drive.

Personally, I recently hit a writing dry patch because of a three-ingredient cocktail: I got married, my business hit a growth spurt, and summer arrived in Minnesota. Those of you who live in green-all-the-time, temperate climates may have difficulty understanding the last reason. When summer rolls into the North Woods states, there is a tremendous amount of energy and activity that comes with it. We try to cram all our music festivals, bike rides, river tubing, picnics, and food fests into four or five months. This year, I was so swept up in the fervor (along with marriage planning and writing* for a bucketful of new clients), that I completely neglected writing for myself.

For three months.

It’s embarrassing to admit my negligence and it pains me to be disengaged from the novel I’ve been working and reworking for the past three years (Although I heard somewhere that your third novel is the hardest. Maybe I took that totally subjective assertion to heart a little too much?)

Fortunately, my writing dry spell hasn’t been for naught. I’ve learned a thing or five that I’d like to share with you.

  1. It Doesn’t Get Any Easier

Each day away from your notepad or laptop is another day you’re not practicing your craft. Writing is just like any sport—if you don’t take the time to practice, your abilities begin to slip. You begin to feel clumsy and less mentally agile.

  1. Not to Mention, You Lose the Thread of Your Story

Not only does your writing deftness suffer during writing droughts, but (if you’re working on a novel or novella) your story suffers. You begin to lose track of characters (What was Simon doing in the last chapter? Does he have brown eyes or green eyes? What was his cat’s name, again? Mr. Meow? Purrdita? Ah, hell.) and you also lose the rhythm of the story.

After long periods away from my works in progress (WIP), I’m forced to go back and re-read several chapters, or even the whole darn thing. When you write every day, you avoid that kind of time-sucking nonsense.

  1. But Time and Distance CAN Be Healthy

There are a few times when it can be beneficial to step away from your WIP. I’ve found that if I need to do a major developmental edit on my writing, it’s a good idea to step away from it for a while. That way, when I do approach it again, I am less attached to particular scenes or characters; I forget how long I toiled over this description about a garden or that bar fight. I’m better able to, as Steven King says, “kill my darlings” when I no longer perceive them as darlings.

  1. Distance can also open you to new ideas

When you’re not completely immersed in your writing, you may stumble across ideas for new characters, scenes, and plots twists in your day-to-day living. Even if these ideas may take your WIP in a new direction, I’ve found that you’re more likely to consider them when you’ve had some time to distance yourself from your story. When you’re deep in your writing, it may seem daunting to derail your story and take it in a different direction, but when you have distance, you’re better able to view your story as a whole and understand the benefit of a major plot or character change. It’s like viewing a route on Google Maps, versus taking whatever turn you feel like while navigating your car.

  1. Not writing = not great

When writing is a huge part of your identity, it’s tough to endure a dry spell. During the past three months, I’ve often asked myself, “What, oh what, am I doing with my life? Isn’t writing who I am?” It could be my inner tortured artist bubbling to the surface, but I think my emotions stem from something more than that. Writing is not a hobby or something I pick up on the weekends and forget about during the rest of the week. Writing is part of the fabric that composes my being. It’s who I am.

I’ve learned a handful of useful things during my writing drought, but mostly I’ve realized that I’d rather be writing. Sounds like a bumper sticker, but it’s true. I’d rather be writing than wishing I was writing or thinking about writing. And, as I noted in point number one, it doesn’t get any easier to jump back in and start writing again. Maybe I should start today. Or right n…

Procrastination, thy name is mine

Distracted student uid 1427251I love to write, but I also like to facebook, play with my son, design and redesign my websites, watch TV, read and apparently clean the house. This only happens when I near the end of a book. There we have it Procrastination.

I want to write, in fact I have several books on the go and several half-finished on my computer which probably won’t see the light of day. At the beginning I work like a demon, hours spent on the computer but when I can see the finish line, it’s like. ‘oh, I can relax now, I’m nearly there.’ Procrastination has hit me with a baseball bat.

Noooooo, I’m not nearly there. There are so many steps I have to do to have a polished book.

That is the crux of the matter. I know I have nearly finished but I also know I am nowhere near the end! I am trapped like a rabbit in headlights. I usually get through it by doing a little each day. Focussing on one thing and just pushing through but oh it is painful.

Anyone else suffer from this? 🙂

Milking the Dragon

Dragon_rearing_up_to_reach_medieval_knight_on_ledgeToday is the day I’m supposed to write a blog post for Myrddin Publishing. I stare at the blank page, wondering what to blog about. I guess I could talk about writing…just set the fingers on the keyboard and let the words flow… Writing is a way of life for me, one that require the ability to become immersed in the story and….

“Ahem.” A knight in shining armor stands at my elbow, looking over my shoulder and tapping his foot.

Pardon me, dear reader. I know it’s rude to interrupt my blog post just when we were getting started, but I have to deal with this—-it’s Hero, the main character from my current work in progress. Characters are like cell phones: they always choose the worst times to communicate their problems.

“Ahem,” he clears his throat again. “You there. Are you the person plotting this book?”

Surprised, I nod my head, wondering where this is going. Usually, my heroes just leave me to the task of writing, and don’t really feel compelled to harass me beyond the occasional ‘Hey, Doofus! You forgot Lord Anselm lost his leg four chapters back, so he’s not going to be able to dance the night away, right?’ So I say to Hero, “I am your author and creator. How may I help you?”

“Well, the Dragon is dead, did you notice?”

Again I nod my head. “Yes, I wrote that scene, and if I do say so myself, you were magnificent.” Heroes require obscene amounts of kudos, or they turn sour.

“Thank you,” he replies, attempting to appear modest and failing. “Well, the thing is, Lady Penelope has thrown herself into wedding preparations.”

“Yes, I did know that.” I smile encouragingly. “I am helping her with designing the dress.”

“Well, I’ve been booted outside. Kicked to the curb. No one needs the groom, apparently until the big day so, heh-heh, here I am… Bored… Looking for something to do…” He glares at me. “Well, really, what sort of author are you? Here we are 32,527 words into your novel, and you’ve already shot the big guns! You wasted the big scene! I mean really, unless this romantic comedy is a novella, you just blew it big time.”

I am shocked that this man who owes his very existence to my creative genius should talk to me thusly. “What are you talking about? I have lots of adventures and deeds of daring-do just waiting to leap off the page, and occupy your idle hands.” See? I can give a dirty look too!

“We-e-ell?” he drawls. “You have 50,000 or so words left, and I hope to heck that you do not intend to spend them on wedding preparations!” He looks at me expectantly. “I have nothing to do! Find me a Quest!”

By golly the man is right. I have timed my big finale rather poorly, and now I have to come up with something new for the man to do. Hmm…maybe trolls … no, too reminiscent of Tolkien. I know – elves! No, still too Tolkienesque. I glare at him. “Well, I can’t work with you staring over my shoulder, so find something to do for a few minutes.”

Good Lord. I should have made him less impatient and given him a few more social graces. “Look, why don’t you sit here, and play a little ‘Dragon Age’ for a while?” I park him in front of the TV and give him the controller.

“What the hell is this?” He looks first at me and then at the controller in his hand. “I am sure this odd-looking thing is quite entertaining, but I don’t find it amusing.”

Sighing, I show him how to turn the thing on, and help him set up a character file. For some reason, he wants to play as a dwarf mage. That takes an hour.

Go figure.

Finally, I can sit down and invent a few more terrifying plot twists to keep this bad boy busy. The trouble is, all I can think of is dragons, but he has already fought one and killed it. Of course, that means he has acquired a certain amount of skill in dragon molesting… heh-heh… but what good is that sort of ability?

“Ahem.”

I look up, and see Lady Penelope’s mother, Duchess Evillia, standing at my elbow. “Yes?”

“Well, I am sorry to bother you, but we are in desperate need of a certain magical ingredient for my special anti-aging cream.” She looks at me expectantly. “Despite the fact she is intent on marrying that unemployed waster in the tin suit, my daughter’s wedding is a Very Big Deal.”

OMG, she’s capitalizing her words for emphasis. And she’s still staring at me.

“I simply MUST have my beauty cream.”

“And that ingredient is…?” I hope it not a complicated thing because now I have two bored characters nagging the hell out me.

She smiles and says, “Dragon’s Milk.”

How odd, that I never realized until this moment just how malevolent Penelope’s mother looks when she smiles like that. “I’m sure that our dear Hero can get me some since he’s just sitting around pretending to be a dwarf.”

This woman is very likely to be his worst nightmare, and Hero intends to share a castle with her? I suppose he has no choice, now that I think about it, as he has no castle of his own, and Penelope’s father, Duke Benedict, has made him his heir.

Wait a minute…that was against his wife’s wishes, wasn’t it….

Yeah…I guess I could rewrite the original battle scene, just add a bit here, tweak a bit there and subtract the dead dragon part.

Ooh…but he could get singed milking the dragon, and that would probably delay the wedding.

Oh, what the hell—he is a hero isn’t he?

I look over at the Hero, who is now bashing my coffee table with my game controller. Oh, yeah, this boy needs to go outside and play in the fresh air. “HEY!!! Hero, I have a task for you! Take this bucket and get some dragon’s milk. It’s a matter of life and death.”

He looks up, wild-eyed and sweaty. “I will in a minute. I just have to get to a place where I can save… Gah!!! No, no, no! I only have one health potion left!”

Well, kind reader, I had intended to write a blog post today, but that’s out. I won’t have time as I have to get the Hero pried loose from the game console and on his way. He has to go and milk the dragon.
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Milking the Dragon © 2016 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved