Monday, February 28, 2011

The Most Magical-ist

Posted by: Christine Bell

After a discussion with my kids this weekend, I finally figured out what I should blog about today. We’d gone to watch I Am Number Four at the movies, and were debating what “legends” we wish we had. In the movie, legends are powers that the protagonist and the others like him develop as they get older. Cool stuff, like being fire proof, or shooting kind of light power from your palms, or the ability to disappear, or do what looked like some super-rad parkour.

After a good thirty minutes, we had each hashed out our top five. It was that I realized I’ve spent the better part of my life wishing for special powers. When I was growing up, we would play house, orphans, or Happy Days (I was always Pinky Tuscadero), but it wouldn’t be your standard variety make believe. Before we even started, one person would just shout out what their special abilities would be a la “I’m the most magicalist, most swimmingest, most beautifulest most flyingest!” which would then prompt a flurry of responses, everyone yelling over everyone else to get the *good* ones that were left, “I’m the strongest, can talk to dolphins and can breathe under water!” You get the picture.

I was also obsessed with Wonder Woman (my mom had a gold stretchy belt that was PERFECT for lassoing) and Spider Man. Even now, I love superhero movies, fantasy and anything with magic. In fact, even now if I’m in an elevator alone, I will pretend I’m Magneeto, and flick my wrist to open and close the doors or make it rise with my “super powers”. I also own a wand (Severus Snape’s, it’s AWESOME) and have forbidden my children from uttering the unforgivable curses at each other when we wizard duel. It may be pretend, but it makes me nervous.

The point of all this prattle is that we take the idea of magic and special abilities VERY seriously in my house. After a lifetime of contemplation, I know exactly what powers I would want (and none of them are the ones I called out first as a kid).

So, here it is, my top three picks and why.

1. The ability to rewind. I wouldn’t use it much, but I’m a mom, and I can’t think of anything in the world that would give me more peace of mind.

2. Super strength self-discipline. I am so disciplined in some ways, and just so not in others. I just wish I had more of it.

3. Shape shifting. Mainly because it’s really cool and so versatile.

Totally lame, except the last one, right? How about you, blog friends. What ability or magic powers do you wish you had and why?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Climaxes—a love/hate relationship.

Posted by: Julia Knight

No, not that sort. The climax of the book. I love them when I read them, I love trying to come up with a satisfying climax to what I’m writing but…but I hate them too. Because the climax is, no matter how good the rest of the book, the part that the reader will take away from it, and if I don’t get it right, then the whole book isn’t right.

This is probably made worse by the fact that I have only the very vaguest idea of what the ending will be at any given time up till I write it. I’ll usually have a line of dialogue to aim towards, or maybe the notion that ‘stuff blows up’ or ‘this character will probably die’. That’s about it. And then, when I write the climax, I sit and look at it and think ‘Ack! Too obvious! I have ‘Luke, I am your father’ mixed with ‘Soylent Green is people!’ maybe with added ‘Shades of the Berlin wall coming down.’ only, er, different.’

At which point I generally bang my head on my desk till I get a better idea, such as Luke shooting his dad.... Because it’s very hard to get everything together into one or two scenes that tie up enough, but not to much, and do it in such a way the reader will (hopefully) think both ‘I should have seen that coming, but it was still a surprise’ and ‘That is the best ending for this story. *sigh*’. An ending that really satisfies.

Of course, just to complicate everything, what each person considers satisfying differs. So, to you, dear readers, my questions are this: What should an ending have to make you close the book with a satisfied sigh? On the other hand, what sort of ending makes you want to reach through the book and give the author a good shake?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Walled In

Posted by: Joely Sue Burkhart
My husband gets soooo tired of my movie watching habits.

You see, I can watch just about any horror movie, no matter how cheesy. Terrible effects? TSTL characters? Silly plot? It really doesn't matter to me. I would happily stay up all night munching popcorn and watching movie after movie.

Since getting Netflix to cooperate on our Wii, I've been in hog heaven watching all kinds of horror movies when the family is away. Black and white, old and new, remakes, monsters, ghosts, you name it. None of them are spectacular movies, but I recently watched a "no-name" movie I'd never heard of....and I felt the itch.

You know, the STORY itch. This movie is important to a story that I'm cooking in the back of my brain, even if I don't exactly know which story.

The movie was Walled In. I'm not familiar with the actors or the director. What caught my attention was the mention of Egyptian mythology in the blurb. I looooove mythologies, but especially those involving pyramids! (Obviously, see The Bloodgate Guardian!) In the movie, a crazy murdering architect has deliberately walled his victims up in his buildings, believing that their pain and sacrifice would make his foundations eternal.

His argument: look at all the wonders of the ancient world. How many of them are still around other than the pyramids? He claims the reason they're still solid is because the Egyptians deliberately sacrificed people to "cement" the foundations.

Now I've never heard this particular twist on Egyptian lore before so I can't speak to how accurate it is. I know architects and workers were sometimes killed to hide the secrets of the Pharoh's tomb, but were they actually ENTOMBED in the walls? The idea is horrific and yet wonderfully compelling at the same time.

Here's where the story itch comes into play.

The Maya believed that buildings took on the life force offered through sacrifices to "birth" the foundation. That's one reason they often built on top of older ruins--because they wanted to increase the existing energy already infused into those walls. They didn't "bury" people in their foundations, but they definitely offered sacrifice, often blood, and other items were buried in the foundation in key spots (matching the three-stone hearth stars in the sky), like polished mirrors of obsidian, bits of amber, shells, sacrifical knives, etc.

I'm definitely going to have to use this idea in an upcoming book. I mean, think about it....

Bodies buried beneath the cornerstones of those magnificent pyramids. It gives me chills!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Books that Started It All

Posted by: Jenny Schwartz
"The Flying Carpet"
Victor Vasnetsov, Wikimedia
If I’m completely honest, the first fantasy books I read were probably Enid Blyton’s magic folk of the Faraway Tree. But seven year olds grow up fast and I was soon diving into Lloyd Alexander, discovering Narnia and a whole range of young adult books. Diana Wynne Jones remains a favourite till this day, and does anyone else remember “Mind Call” by Wilanne Schneider Belden? 

But it was “Beauty” by Robin McKinley that showed me how magically romance and fantasy weave together. Patricia Wrede (who can miss her Enchanted Forest Chronicles?), Barbara Hambly (I love “Bride of the Rat God” and its early Hollywood setting), Ursula le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Scarborough, and the list goes on. I fell in love with romantic fantasy.

Some people have this idea that the fantasy genre is escapist. Sure, I insist on a happy ending, the good triumphing over the bad, the heroine getting her hero. But a fantasy can challenge as well as reassure.

I think Terry Pratchett is one of the sharpest, and definitely wittiest, social commentators around, and his work is pure fantasy. The Discworld presents a funhouse mirror to our society and we see our ridiculousness in it. He’s in the tradition of Jonathan Swift, who satirised his society in “Gulliver’s Travels”, a fantasy classic.

Unlike science fiction stories which explore what might be possible, fantasy embraces the emotional landscape of fairytales and legend, the land that never was but ought to be. If we ever lose our passport to that land, our sense of wonder, then I think the real world becomes a harsher place.

I seem to have wandered a bit from my starting point, talking about my fantasy reading journey. It always happens. In the fantasy genre there are so many fascinating things to talk about, you can’t help straying. Fantasy novels are a celebration of life.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Beware: Burnout

Posted by: Janni Nell
I was considering topics for this blog, when I heard some stories of writers suffering burnout. These were people, who juggled full-time day jobs with raising kids and writing to tight deadlines at night and on weekends. To meet the deadlines, they cut down on sleeping, relaxing and caring for themselves. They had breakdowns. Sometimes they ended up in hospital. It made me remember how important it is to care for ourselves. So I thought I'd blog about some of the things I do to keep sane in a crazy world.

1. Say no. We'd all like to be Superwoman (or Superman) but sometimes you just have to admit you can't do everything. There aren't enough hours in the day. Learning to say no can be hard but it's worth learning.

2. Treat yourself. Even something as simple as chilling out with a coffee or rereading your favourite book. Do anything you can to nourish your soul.

3. Stop giving. Take instead. I know, I know, we're told this is selfish, but if you don't care for yourself, you don't have the energy to care for others, or do your best work. The trick is to find a balance between taking and giving.

4. Meditation. Whether you use a relaxation tape, deep breathing or reciting a mantra, meditation is a great way to de-stress.

5. Smell the roses. Take time out to enjoy the simple things: the colours of flowers, the sounds of birds, the patterns of clouds. Feed your soul.

So what do you do to help you cope with a busy life?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

When the Magic Fades

Posted by: Jane Kindred
There's something magical about the process of writing that defies explanation. Ask any writer that ubiquitous question: "Where do you get your ideas?" and after she resists the urge to roll her eyes and punch you in the junk (um, perhaps that's just me), she'll probably tell you something along the lines of "I'm not really sure; nowhere and everywhere." We may have inspiration for a specific idea, or we may take general inspiration from things like music and art, but whatever sparks the idea, what we write often seems to take on a life of its own, and we have no idea where it's coming from.

In my writing, at least, there comes a moment when I'm no longer in charge; the inmates have taken over the asylum and the story is writing itself. And there's nothing I love more than that moment. A lot of writing is work—editing and revising can be downright grueling—but writing a first draft can be magic. I can hardly get the words out fast enough when I hit that magic spot. It's like a drug, and it makes me want to write more, to go through the looking-glass or the magical wardrobe and just stay in that other world for hours. Often during such episodes, I have to be reminded to eat, sleep, and take care of bodily functions. (Just let me finish this chapter, and then I'll go to the bathroom!) I think a whole year went by once where I forgot I had a kid.

But what happens when the magic is gone? When you sit down to write and suddenly every word is like pulling teeth? When you've fallen into a giant plot hole and you can't get up?

Well, I have a magical mantra for that moment: Write it anyway. Write a big stinking mess if you have to, but write.

One of my early manuscripts sprang out of my imagination and my keyboard like it was birthed fully formed from the head of Zeus as I sat and wrote nonstop for three months, while the one before that was a painstaking labor of eight years. (Or fifteen if you want to count the version I started as a novella in high school—which I don't, and will deny any knowledge of if asked.)

Most of what I've written, however, has been much more of a mix—magical bursts of inspiration interspersed with agonizing plods up a steep hill (barefoot, through snow). Each time I lost the magic and found myself staring at a blank page, I had to remind myself: Write it anyway. Sometimes it takes just a few minutes of forcing myself to write through it to get back into the groove. Other times I end up with pages of stinking mess that I'll have to go back and deal with later, but they get me to the other side and eventually back to the magic.

That book I birthed through parthenogenesis may never come to anything, and the one that caused me 26 hours of excruciating back labor (er, wait...that was my son) definitely won't. But they were both part and parcel of the magical elixir of "write it anyway"—write it even if you think it's awful; write it even if it's never going to be read. Do not ignore the muse. (Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.)

Write It Anyway also works for maladies such as Black Moods, Crying Jags, Fits of Hysteria, Moments of Despair, and the ever-popular Why Did I Ever Think I Could Write a Book??

Try it and see what you think.*

*Caution: Write It Anyway elixir may suddenly accelerate to dangerous speeds. Discontinue use of Write It Anyway if any of the following occurs:
  • itching
  • vertigo
  • dizziness
  • tingling in extremities
  • loss of balance or coordination
  • slurred speech
  • temporary blindness
  • profuse sweating
  • heart palpitations
Write It Anyway elixir not responsible for loss of limb, sanity, or employment, and will not be at fault if you put your eye out.**

**Author may have been under the influence of Write It Anyway while composing this post.

Jane Kindred

Friday, February 11, 2011

When Paranormals Attack...

Posted by: Dee Tenorio
Seriously, it happens. It's called "getting an idea". But when you get a paranormal idea, it's somehow far more...aggressive. Paranormal ideas tend to come with an entire world attached. Not to mention, claws, teeth, poison or serious steam burns. And yet, they're sooooo compelling.

But no matter how many books or stories you've written, sometimes you're going to get a book that is literally like brushing an alligator's teeth to get out. You're scared, you're pretty sure those teeth are going to sink into you and you're not at all sure you're getting out of that book alive.

So is there a solution for how to survive writing an Alligator book?

Well, all I can give is my own 5 Tip Advice, some tongue in cheek, some very real.

1) Don't Stop Writing: Overwhelming books and stories are usually like that because they are a challenge and you're likely upping your skills—which a painful process that makes you want to bang your head on the wall. When you stop writing, especially for days at a time, you lose momentum and those needed daily word counts can really add up once you get behind.

2) Don't Let Yourself Worry If It's Good: Truth is, rough drafts suck. Especially on Alligator books. Write what you need to, get it down and get going on the next scene. Editing is where you'll save the wheat from the chaff.

3) Don't Get Attached: Sure, follow the sparks of inspiration when they hit. Never be afraid of that, but keep in mind, some ideas just won't work, no matter how tempting. If they lead to dead ends, you don't have a story to work with any more. Weigh the amount of time you have against the amount of work you'll have to do to keep your little darling. And if it can't be done, slice that darling off like a bad haircut. (But DO save them in a file of cut scenes, because you might be able to use parts of it in later scenes or during editing!)

4) Gird Yourself With Snacks: My mother always said never to read (or write) with food because it will become a habit, and while she's right, sometimes a gal needs to do what a gal needs to do. Comfort yourself with something healthy but tasty. For the hard scenes, break out the chips and donuts.

5) Keep Your World Building In Mind: Nothing is more frustrating to a reader than having the author change the rules of the world because it would make this particular book easier to write. And trust me, they'll be able to tell. Especially if you get in the habit of doing it in a series of books. Now matter how good you think you write, readers do stop forgiving writers who screw with their favorite worlds. Respect your world.

And when you're done with your rough draft, take a few days—if possible, some deadlines won't have room for much—before coming in to edit. This is when you truly become the alligator tamer. Be ruthless. Keep the plot foremost in your mind and be sure that your leads maintain characterization all the way through—starting on page one.

Alligator books—even paranormal ones—don't have to mean you can't write. They usually mean you're learning something. Like how to write with the big girls.

Best of luck, Gang,
Dee

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

To Love a Paranormal Hero

Posted by: Nicole North
Something about a paranormal hero is irresistible. Although we all realize the shape-shifters, vampires, werewolves, sexy aliens, angels, demons, genies, mermen, etc. are more fantasy than reality, something about them draws us in. Maybe because they are fantasy, we're willing to let go and escape from reality. Our minds do enjoy flights of fancy. We don’t have to be children to believe in magic, extraordinary creatures and happy endings.

I have the most fun creating interesting and unusual paranormal entities… and these are usually heroes. Scottish heroes. Scotland has a long history of superstitious beliefs, fairy tales, myths and legends. To many Scots, fairies, selkies, kelpies and mermaids were real. The first step in making something real is to believe in it 100%. No doubts allowed. And to make your reader believe in your hero (or any character) with supernatural abilities, give specific details about him. Show how and why he’s able to do what he does.

In my upcoming March 21 Carina Press release, Laird of Darkness, the hero, Duncan, is half-Fae. His father was human and his mother a Fae or fairy. He inherited some of his mother’s magical Fae abilities. These vary among half-Fae people because of the unpredictability of genetics. Duncan happens to be able to disappear except for a red spot and then fly through the air. No, he isn’t tiny, nor does he have gossamer wings. His normal sized, very manly body simply becomes invisible whenever he wants, his clothing drops to the ground, and he flies through the air like a spirit. He also has enhanced strength while he’s invisible. He can knock men from their horses and send their weapons hurtling through the air. He can pick up a person and carry them through the air, like he does the heroine. He also possesses enhanced Fae senses, which means he sees, hears, smells, etc. better than a normal human.

You might think these abilities make his life easier, but actually his Fae blood causes him a lot of agony. Because he is half-Fae, he is forever linked to Otherworld where the Fae live. And because the entities of Otherworld wanted his Fae mother and her children returned, Otherworld demon creatures were sent after him. They attack him at night in his sleep.

The heroine, a human with extraordinary healing abilities, sees beneath his dark surface to the tormented man beneath--a man who has always been denied love and acceptance. He isn’t the evil villain his reputation paints him to be; he’s simply misunderstood.

Do you love paranormal heroes? If so, what types and why do you love them so much? What is it about them that captures your heart?

Laird of Darkness: Half-Fae Laird Duncan MacDougall is cursed. His nights are haunted by Otherworld creatures sent to kill him. The only way to stop them is to possess the magic bow currently in the hands of his enemy half-brother, Kinnon MacClaren. In desperation, Duncan plans to take MacClaren's bride-to-be hostage and exchange her for the bow.

Lady Alana Forbes has never met her intended, but she hopes he is handsome-and a good lover, for Alana is no innocent virgin. On her way to Castle Claren, Alana and her escorts are intercepted, and she is kidnapped by a man with extraordinary abilities-and every attribute she longs for in a mate.

Duncan didn't expect the woman he thought of as a mere pawn would be so beautiful, and so arousing. Alana is drawn to him as well-but Duncan still needs the bow, and Alana is betrothed to another. How far will Alana go to save the life of the man she's come to love?

Thanks!
Nicole
www.nicolenorth.com

Sunday, February 6, 2011

FLYING SOLO

Posted by: Barbara Longley

This post isn't about magic. It's about writing, and I'm interested in hearing how the rest of you handle this issue.

Once I decided to take writing seriously, I enrolled in a class offered through The Loft, a literary center in Minneapolis. The instructors were both veteran romance writers with multiple published titles under their belts and careers spanning decades. They stressed the importance of working with a critique group.

Some of us writer-wannabes taking the class got together and formed a group. As with all new endeavors, there were upheavals, clashes, changes and growing pains, but our learning curve was entirely vertical. We truly became a cohesive circle of dedicated writers improving our craft.

After a year, some of the members drifted away, but a core group emerged. We bonded. The trust and the friendship developed into something very rare and precious. We all began to final in writing contests on a regular basis, and two of our members secured agents. Sharing the triumphs and disappointments along the bumpy road toward publication became a way of life for us. We worked together for five years. I believed we'd work together forever. We often spoke of writing retreats, sharing promotional strategies, evolving as our needs changed.

The only thing constant in life is change.

For various reasons, our group recently disbanded. The breaking up part felt like a divorce; it was that painful. In my more objective moments, I wondered if maybe we'd gone as far as we could together. We met every week. Had we burned out? Perhaps we'd learned all we could from each other, and we needed to fall apart to continue to grow. Does this make any sense? Have any of you gone through similar experiences?

So, now I'm trying to learn how to fly solo. I second guess myself constantly. I'm a toddler again. My legs wobble, and I end up on my butt . . . a lot. I want to learn to trust my own voice, judgment, and story-telling ability. Can I do this? Is it possible?

How do the rest of you handle this? Do you write alone, or do you have CPs? Am I making a mistake? should I seek new partners? Argh, the angst.

Friday, February 4, 2011

My deep dark secret

Posted by: Eleri Stone
I have a confession to make and it’s a pretty big confession for someone who writes fantasy and paranormal fiction so prepare to be shocked.

I’ve never read Harry Potter.

It’s horrible I know and I’ve always felt a sort of vague niggling guilt about it. I’ve picked up the first book a few times and I’ll get maybe a chapter or two in before setting it aside. Not for any reason. I get distracted by something and just never come back to it. It’s the same with Ulysses by James Joyce. Except with that book I guess I do know what it is. I get to a point where he says something about an outhouse and a loosening of his bowels and I’m out. Sorry James, TMI, even if that’s the point.

But Harry Potter. It’s adventure and wizards! Right up my alley. There’s no bowel sliding going on there (I don’t think). So I have trouble explaining this reluctance even to myself.
My kids love the books. We have two complete sets of the series in the house. I’ve had to watch all the movies and I know strange facts about the HP world like the basic rules of quidditch and that Harry’s birthday is on July 31st.

So why then haven’t I read Harry Potter?

I think that some of it’s the hype. Is it really possible for any book to live up to it? I mean, c'mon, they built a frickin' theme park. Some of it’s my aversion to young adult literature in general. And yes maybe some of it’s a perverse sort of stubbornness that makes me want to resist giving in to the crowd.

Anyway, I’m thinking about taking the plunge into the big bubbling cauldron of Kool-aid. So tell me now if I shouldn’t bother or if you think the books really are as wonderful and cracktastic as everyone says.

Are there any books out there that everyone raves about and you’re afraid to pick up because of it?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Starts With 'F'

Posted by: Christine_Price
My mom doesn’t curse. She hates it. She considers it lowbrow. She can’t even watch a movie in which there is frequent cursing without wondering where the director’s mother was the week she should’ve been covering good manners. It’s one of a host of small sins that she considers to be the weak foundation atop which modern society is collapsing. So imagine how hard it was for her when she and my father taught me and my husband to play Canasta (or, as she and Dad are fond of calling it, ‘Canasty.’) As she doesn’t swear, she had to find a different way to communicate her extreme agitation when my father and husband went down and out when she and I didn’t even have cards on the table. Hence her decision to utilize the term ‘fizzlewiggies’ in place of another word that starts with F that she couldn’t in good conscious bring herself to say. Except for that one time, but I promised her I’d never speak of it again.


Why is this important? Well, I suppose in the great scheme of things, it’s not. It’s one of those stories that’s funny to family members but few others. I just wanted to explain the context behind the word ‘fizzlewiggies’ so you’ll understand what I’m talking about when I substitute it for another ‘F’ word for the remainder of this post.


While writing The Usual Apocalypse (my new paranormal romance, due out from Carina in September), I didn’t notice the frequency of the word at the time, but when my wonderful and probably-more-than-slightly-beleaguered editor Deb returned the first round of edits to me, she included a small note along the lines of ‘Chris, the word fizzlewiggies appears in Usual Apocalypse over 200 times. You might want to do something about that.’ Apparently, I’d sort of gotten my Quentin Tarantino on. Initially, 200 occurrences in a manuscript of 80,000 words didn’t strike me as particularly bad (come on, 0.0025%? totally a non-issue, amirite?). And we’re not talking the casual use of the word once every few pages. I tended to cluster them together. And when you have the word fizzlewiggies appear more than six times on a page, it tends to start standing out.


It never crossed my mind that this was a problem while I was writing it. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the casual use of it detracted from the importance of the word and how useful it was if used rarely and for emphasis.


Let me use the following excerpt from The Usual Apocalypse to illustrate my point:


Where the fizzlewiggies was the fizzlewiging stupid fizzlewiging form for this fizzlewiging requisition?


She’s not leaving the country. She’s not even leaving the building. She’ll be on a different floor, that’s all.


And why the fizzlewiging fizzlewiggies wasn’t this fizzlewiging program opening? What the fizzlewiggies was an invalid fizzlewiging file type?


She’ll be on a different floor, with different people and doing an amazing job, like she always does. And this is all my fault. I was the one who pushed for results. She never would’ve gotten caught on any of those security breaches if I’d been patient enough to wait for them to edit the info before sending it my way.


Fizzlewiging computer. He was going to fizzlewiging throw it out the fizzlewiging window.



(Hold on a second, seeing the word ‘fizzlewiggies’ used that much has caused me to collapse into incoherent giggling from the sheer absurdity of it).


I ended up revising the section to this:


Where was the form for this stupid requisition?


She wasn’t leaving the country. She wasn’t even leaving the building. She’d be on a different floor, that was all.


And why wasn’t this program opening? What was an invalid file type?


She’d be on a different floor, with different people and doing an amazing job, like she always did. And this was all his fault. He was the one who pushed for results. She never would’ve gotten caught on any of those security breaches if he’d been patient enough to wait for them to edit the info before sending it their way.


He hated this computer. He was going to throw it out the fizzlewiging window.



When I changed it, suddenly it went from being ridiculous to having significant emphasis on the last sentence. Instead of trying to drop it into common parlance, saving it and using it sparingly was a better way to utilize it. Because no matter how you try to get around it, it’s a powerful word. One of those words that will automatically draw someone’s attention. And, while it took me a while to figure it out, I finally realized that total overuse of the word made it less meaningful. Deb knew this, and instead of trying to tell me, she simply highlighted every instance of the word in the manuscript and let me draw my own conclusions. And while I might’ve been inured to the word itself after frequent exposure to it during the course of far too many Tarantino films, seeing them all highlighted and standing out really drove the point home.


There’s a time and a place for fizzlewiggies. And I maintain that it’s still an excellent word. But it’s a word that’s more effective when used sparingly. Instead of twelve times in a section of 120 words (hah! Got up to 10% there!) using it once made it that much better.


I’m not saying that I’ll never use it again. Just that I’ve come to appreciate how to use it.

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