Visiting Susan Whitfield today

September 16, 2010 at 5:47 am (September Blog Tour) (, , , , , )

My next stop on the tour is on Susan Whitfield’s blog – hop on over and have a read.

Tomorrow I’ll have a post up here in the realm and then on the 18th, I’m over on Jemi’s blog looking at making fantasy unique.

Thanks all for the continued support on the tour.

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Visiting Thoughts In Progress Today

September 14, 2010 at 5:44 am (September Blog Tour) (, , , )

Hi all, I’m over on Mason’s blog, Thoughts In Progress today. Hop on over and have a look. If you’ve missed any of the stops on the tour the links are below.

September Tour So Far:

September 1st – Working my Muse

September 2nd – Misanthropolgy 101

September 4th – Like a Bowl of Oranges

September 7th – Sonya Clark

September 9th – The Rhapsodist

September 12th – Diamond – Yup, Like the Stone

September 13th – Alex J Cavanaugh

September 14th – Thoughts in Progress

And now that you are all caught up, remember I’ll be over on Carol’s blog tomorrow and she’ll be popping in here.

Still a lot of stops to go.

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Guest Post from Laura Diamond

September 12, 2010 at 5:48 am (September Blog Tour) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Note from Cassandra: I’m over on Laura’s blog today but she has come to visit us here in the realm to tell us about her writing schedule. Thanks Laura for being here today. After you check out her post here, hop on over to Laura’s blog to check out my post for today.

****

Gosh, I’m so excited to be a part of Cassandra’s blog tour. What an exciting month, right? Cheers, Cassandra, for all the hard work you’ve put into organizing this international writer fest!

I’ve been asked countless times about how I squeeze writing into my schedule. I’m going to preface this with a disclaimer. You see, I think my answer is a non-answer, but it’s the reality. Okay, drum roll, please!

I don’t schedule writing time. Nope. I don’t.

Why? Because if I did, I’d feel pressure to write, no matter the quality or topic. For me, pressure creates angst and frustration. Angst and frustration actually makes me freeze up. I get too caught up in things like: What should I write about? What if it sucks? What if I can’t find the right words? What if it doesn’t turn out the way I want it?

Notice most of those questions have a negative connotation. SO not cool. Once the negativity wheel starts spinning, I dig myself deeper and deeper into a rut and my writing stagnates like a 1000 year old bog. Stinky. Yuck.

So I don’t even go there.

Sure, I still have goals and I still work really hard to obtain them. For the most part, I do get some writing in every day, but I don’t go all ballistic and start berating myself if I don’t. I trust myself and my brain that the right words will come out if I let them come at their own pace.

Yes, it’s true that I will go days, sometimes weeks, without writing. And that’s okay. Because my brain is still processing things even if I’m not actively thinking about it. I can tell because when I DO sit down to write, the magic happens. An idea strikes. A dialogue snafu gets smoothed. A plot hole gets filled in.

It all works out.

That being said, everybody develops their own strategy to apply to their writerly life and I’d LOVE to hear your routine for writing!

**********

Laura is a board certified psychiatrist and hopes to become a published author. She writes adult and young adult urban fantasy, fantasy, and dystopian fiction. Her blog: Diamond, Yup, Like the Stone http://lbdiamond.wordpress.com/.

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What Began As A Rant

September 11, 2010 at 5:44 am (From the Book Shelf, September Blog Tour) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I actually did have a post planned for today just before I jump into a fairly extended stretch on my blog tour. Incidentally the next five days I will be bouncing all around the place and I hope you will come with me to some amazing blogs (links below). However, I re-read my post and realised that what had begun as a discussion about why I had been disappointed by a trilogy I recently gave up reading had actually degenerated into a rant and I decided to scrap it and try again.

Here is my second attempt.

I recently began reading a trilogy of YA fantasy books and was instantly hooked by the first book. There was this interesting (if a little generic) female protagonist who did some reasonably unexpected things and over the course of the first book I came to really want her to succeed in her goals. The villains were a bit on the melodramatic side and their scheme was clearly delusional and set to fail before it began but you can forgive that in YA because overblown villains are the norm and when stupid people reach for the moon, of course they fail. The story was enjoyable and the side characters well fleshed out.

Enter book two and we see our heroine in a new location only now she’s less interesting because she has nothing left to reveal and this time the actual complication of the story isn’t introduced until half-way through because they are so busy trying to get us to see the protagonist in the new location. Instead of some dark past haunting her every step, we now have petty annoyances and domestic squabbles that fill in time until somehow there just happens to be a serial killer stalking around in her new home and somehow she just happens to be the one who is going to solve everyone’s troubles. Not that she isn’t out of her depth and completely lost and with no actual reason to involve herself at all. In point of fact, the author spends a bit of time trying to convince us that she becomes emotionally attached to one of the almost victims, but this doesn’t really sit right with the protagonists character and ends up just being a plot pointer.

By book three, I was more or less over the protagonist. However, in the grand tradition of trilogies, the danger is now upped to the point where it is so overblown and melodramatic that you fully expect the sky to darken at any minute. And yet, I just didn’t care. The characters of the first book were now mostly too far removed because they had all but been completely absent (other than a tokenistic appearance) in the second. The characters of the second book hadn’t endeared themselves to me at all. And the third book seemed determined to rush us into a complication that made very little sense as fast as possible.

I’m going to point out at this stage that I didn’t finish reading the trilogy. I made it half-way through the third book and then realised I was hoping that mysterious, overblown, master-mind villain guy would just wipe them all out and call it a day. At that point I realised that I’d completely disengaged from the story and there was no point in my finishing it.

The point of this was my wondering where it all went wrong. The first book won me over. I loved it. I was totally hooked into this world and these characters. In all honesty, I think it was the big shift in scenery that lost me. I loved the world that was created in the first book, but in the second we were in an entirely different setting and I didn’t really feel it. I missed too much of the first setting. Perhaps that is a petty quibble but as a reader it threw me.

So my question to the readers out there is this: How long will you read when you know you have disengaged? Do you give up straight away, or do you plow on and hope for a big finish?

Tomorrow Laura Diamond is sharing a post here on the realm and I am off to her blog to talk about females in fantasy writing.

After that I am visiting Alex J Cavanaugh on the 13th, Mason Canyon on the 14th, Carol Kilgore on the 15th and Susan Whitfield on the 16th. Hope to see you on the tour.

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Guest Post from Sonya Clark

September 7, 2010 at 5:55 am (fantasy, September Blog Tour) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Note from Cassandra: It brings me great pleasure to introduce Sonya Clark today. Her debut fantasy novel ‘Bring on the Night’ is available from Lyrical Press. Thanks Sonya for hosting me on your blog today and thanks for sharing your thoughts today on your writing process. Hope you all enjoy this fantastic post and then jump on over to Sonya’s blog to check out my interview.

My writing process tends to be inconsistent and chaotic. Sometimes I outline, frequently I fly by the seat of my pants. Sometimes I start with a character, other times a plot or situation. Sometimes the words come quickly and I’m riding the rapids without a kayak. Sometimes I’m dragging a story, heavy and manacled to my body in rusty chains, across the desert Ray Bradbury called Dry Spell, Arizona. Hopefully one day I’ll figure out a sure-fire method to consistent writing.

One thing I have learned is how to start the actual narrative. I write urban fantasy, an action-heavy genre to be sure, but I think this could work for just about any genre. When I first started writing I made the newbie mistake of starting with set-up and background. I thought I needed that to set the stage, so to speak. I didn’t realize what I was doing was the dreaded info dump. I had a manuscript I was unhappy with. Well, I was happy with the manuscript but the beginning was seriously lacking. It was way too low-key and did a poor job of introducing my main character, a vampire named Jessie. One thing I tend to do when I’m having trouble with a manuscript is take a detour, write a short story or flash fiction about a character or two. It helps me learn about the characters and I’ve found it’s a good way to get past a block in the main work. So I did this with Jessie, and liked what I came up with so much I used it as the beginning of Bring On The Night. Rather than tell what she was all about, this showed it. From that experience I learned to always start with action. Find a way to introduce your main character that shows what they’re all about, and fill in the background details later.

Here’s an excerpt from that opening scene:

“Or are you one of those guys who want to take what you want, but you don’t want to put

the hurt on? Huh? You too tender-hearted to listen to some poor girl scream and cry and beg for

mercy?”

“But that’s not how I roll.” She laced the fingers of one hand in his hair and pulled his head

back sharply, black eyes boring into his. “I like to put the hurt on, and I want you to remember

every second of it when you wake up.” She leaned closer, close enough he should have been able

to feel her breath on his face. “If you wake up and you go looking for more girls to drug, you might want to think of tonight as a cautionary tale.”

She opened her mouth. He watched in horror as two teeth began to elongate into sharp,

curved fangs. He began to scream as she lowered her mouth to his neck, struggling in vain to free himself. Her fangs sank into his flesh like hot knives, ripping and tearing as she jerked her head. The blood began to flow, followed by the echo of his screams.

**

Learn more about Sonya Clark at her blog. Bring On The Night is available for purchase from Lyrical Press and the Amazon Kindle store, as well as other ebook retailers.

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Blog Tour

August 3, 2010 at 5:30 am (September Blog Tour) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This schedule might move a bit yet but here is the tour schedule for September. I’m asking the owners of the blogs I am visiting to check the links (I’ll have checked them but mistakes happen) before the tour and let me know if there is anything wrong (date, topic, link).

September 1: Guest post on Eric’s blog (Working my Muse) about character.

September 2: Guest post on Geoffrey’s blog (Misanthropology101) about the writing life.

September 4: Guest post on Lua Fowles blog (Like a Bowl of Oranges) about the need for quiet confidence.

September 7: interview on Sonia  Clark’s blog (Sonya Clark).

September 9: Guest post on Alex Willging’s blog (The Rhapsodist) about writing fantasy.

September 12: Guest post on Laura Diamond’s blog (Diamond – Yup, Like the Stone) about females in fantasy.

September 13: Guest post on Alex J Cavanugh’s blog (Alex J Cavanaugh) about visuals that help the writing process.

September 14: Guest post on Mason Canyon’s blog (Thoughts in Progress) about the origin of an idea.

September 15: Interview on Carol Kilgore’s blog (Under the Tiki Hut).

September 16: Interview on Susan Whitfield’s blog (Susan Whitfield’s blog).

September 18: Guest post on Jemi Faser’s blog (Jemi Fraser) about making fantasy unique.

September 20: Guest post on Nancy Allen’s blog (Nancy Kelly Allen – Writing Workshop) about reading.

September 22: Interview on Lee Robertson’s blog (Only Time Will Tell).

September 25: Guest post on Barb’s blog (The Creative Barbwire) about Death’s Daughter.

September 30: Guest post on Rosemary’s blog (Miss Rosemary’s Novel Ideas) about what happens after the manuscript is accepted.

And this one is not strictly in September but is definitely part of the tour:

October 3: Interview on Little Scribbler’s blog (Little Scribbler).

As you can see it is a busy month but there are still dates free if you would like to take part in the tour and host me for a day. Otherwise, I hope you come along on the tour.

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The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam

July 30, 2010 at 5:33 am (fantasy, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I recently cam across this website (The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam) and had a lot of fun reading some of these questions. The exam is supposedly set up to determine whether or not your fantasy novel is actually original and the instructions say that if you answer yes to any one question then you should abandon the novel immediately. Now when question four is:

Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?

This doesn’t leave a lot of room for the vast majority of fantasy stories and so while the quiz does reveal some of the more cliche parts of the genre I don’t think anyone should be taking the instructions overly seriously. We all know that there are very few ‘new’ ideas out there. That said I think most of us can agree that if you answer yes to the following maybe you are going to have to work really hard to make it sound fresh:

Is the evil supreme badguy secretly the father of your main character?

How about “a wise, mystical sage who refuses to give away plot details for his own personal, mysterious reasons”?

Does your story involve a number of different races, each of which has exactly one country, one ruler, and one religion?

What I found really fun was trying to think of at least five books I have read that the question would apply to. It actually was a lot of fun though there are a few cheap shots taken at Robert Jordon throughout as well as RPG’s which aren’t necessarily a bad thing though probably shouldn’t be used to plan the plots of novels.

So here’s the challenge for the fantasy lovers out there. Pick a question, any question from the list, and see if you can think of at least five novels that it applies to.

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Politics in Fantasy

July 25, 2010 at 6:04 am (Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have this story outline I’ve been kicking around forever and I have always wanted to write it. Yet every time I’m between projects or looking for something new I have chosen not to begin this particular project.

There may be a very good reason.

Essentially the story is a political thriller but set between two governments that don’t actually exist in a world that also doesn’t exist. See, I’ve always been interested in politics and diplomacy and this story kind of evolved out of that. It really is a guide on how not to be diplomatic and yet still not cause a war. The focus is on two characters that represent opposing governments but each have their own agenda independent of their respective governments.

The reason I don’t think I’m ever going to write this story is because I can’t think of anyone who would want to read it. The sheer number of people that don’t like real politics kind of convinces me that finding out about fictional politics wouldn’t really work for most people. And while other authors have used fictional governments as the scene to make social commentary, that isn’t what I would be intending. The story would simply be about the characters and there would be no social statement.

I have to wonder how many ideas are out there floating around that won’t ever see fruition because their owner decides they just don’t fit their current needs.

Do you have an idea you’ve sent to limbo?

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Bringing Fantasy to Life

July 21, 2010 at 6:36 am (Character, fantasy, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I was visiting Elizabeth Spann Craig’s very amazing blog when she posted a list of links that she’d posted on twitter. One of the many links that caught my eye was a link to the blog Novel Journey where Robert Liparulo was sharing his 5 tips for making fantasy fiction feel real. As an avid reader of fantasy fiction and a writer of it, I found this a fascinating read.

More importantly, his number one tip, I thought was possibly the best bit of advice that could be given on this topic. So, his number one tip for making fantasy feel real:

Characters who feel. The way to a reader’s heart is through a story’s characters. Doesn’t matter if they’re fighting dragons or stepping into the Roman Colosseum during a gladiator fight, a character has to experience fear and courage, love and heartbreak, blood, sweat and tears—all of it realistically rendered in a way the reader understands.

As I said, I’ve read a lot of fantasy and as a reader I know this to be true. The world can be beautifully structured and described but unless the characters feel real the story just isn’t going to work. And it is the way that characters react to situations that make them feel real. Stories where the characters shrug off weird thing after weird thing are really hard to connect to because you want the character to look closer at something and they don’t, and you want them to ask the right question, and they won’t. It makes it hard as a reader to really get into the story.

Thanks Elizabeth for sharing this link and thanks to Robert Liparulo for sharing some great advice with us all.

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Best and Worst Fantasy Creatures

July 5, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Despite being a fantasy writer by nature, I have noticed a distinct lack of fantastical references on my blog, mostly because I am focused on the art of writing in general and have tried not to be genre specific. That said, today I want to focus on fantasy.

Below is my list of favorite fantastical creatures and the books in which they feature. I’ve tried to think of one example where they are used really well and one example where the creature has become groan worthy. Certainly feel free to add your own opinions to the list.

1. Dragons – of course the list had to start with dragons. Whether we are talking wyverns, wyrms, drakes, western hunters, pernese, doesn’t matter, I love dragons. Yet they are quite frequently a hit and miss character in books (and movies, but that is an entirely different blog post).

  • The Best: Strabo from the Magic Kingdom of Landover Series (Terry Brooks). Who can dislike a dragon that can cross the mists between worlds, is intelligent and yet shockingly ego-centric, noble in a way and yet infuriatingly stubborn on other issues. By far my favourite dragon and the only down side is the limited book space he actually gets.
  • The Worst: Lady Ramkin’s dragons from the Discworld Series (Terry Pratchett). I don’t think the world really needed exploding dragons, no matter how amusing they might be.

2. Fairies – or faeries, doesn’t matter how you want to spell it. Surprisingly, fairies are few and far between in the books I choose to read. A shame, because these tiny characters could be absolutely incredible.

  • The Best: Applecore from the War of The Flowers (Tad Williams). The foul mouthed fairy dominates every scene she is in and despite her small size, utterly dominates Theo as he stumbles blindly around in fairy land. Quick witted and utterly devoted, she is definitely a fine example of fairies in action.
  • The Worst: Simon from A Modern Magician (Robert Weinberg). I love this story, and I love Simon’s character, but he is a terrible fairy. Admittedly, they are actually changelings, and they borrow their lore from Shakespeare, and in the modern age they now pose as long lost relatives or exchange students, but something about him is distinctly unfairy like.

3. Elves – way too broad a category really. Particularly when you consider how many different variations there have been on these characters. Still, they have a very active role in a large number of fantasies, and when used well, work superbly.

  • The Best: All of the elves as presented in The Deverry Series (Katherine Kerr). One of the best elvish cultures created and brought to life. Particularly in the later books of the series, the elves very much become dominant characters and are thoroughly enjoyable.
  • The Worst: ?

4. Ghosts – always did love a good ghost story, but the key word is good. Ghosts that simply spook for no apparent reason and finally at the end reveal that they were somebody someone knew really don’t work for me. I like ghosts with personality and voice.

  • The Best: Ariel from A Knight of the Word Series (Terry Brooks). Made from the memories of dead children, she serves The Word and delivers messages to those in need, as well as protecting Nest as she tries to save the Knight from his Demon stalker. Ariel is a fascinating character, though rather short lived.
  • The Worst: Nearly Headless Nick in Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling). Despite saying I liked ghosts with personality, Nearly Headless doesn’t really work for me and most of the time I found myself wishing that he and the other ghosts of Harry Potter would simply disappear. Though, I make an exception for Moaning Myrtle who was thoroughly entertaining.

5. Vampires – I really couldn’t do this list without including vampires. I’m a little biased in the vampire category, given I was a Buffy fan and that kind of skews my view point a little. Vampires are classic characters that have been given so many contemporary twists, and in many book shops even their own section, that I just had to include them.

  • The Best: Not technically a vampire (dhampir, half human-half vampire) I am giving best vampire to Magiere from the Noble Dead Saga (Barb & J.C. Hendee). Her dress sense, her attitude, and her continual ability to thwart destiny are incredible, as is her ability to get herself into the worst kind of trouble. Besides, the vampires she hunts are quite interesting, and very resilient – more so than the usual vampire. Makes for some very interesting reading.
  • The Worst: Again, not technically vampires by any definition of the word, but I place the entire Cullen family from Twilight (Stephanie Meyer). Not actually dissing Twilight, simply pointing out that glistening, venom producing creatures that do not grow fangs and can go out in daylight, don’t actually qualify (at least in my version of reality) as vampires. If she had named them something else, maybe I would have got over this already.

As I said right at the start of the list, please feel free to disagree of give me your own examples. I would love to know what you think about fantastical creatures in books.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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