Monday, October 31, 2016

Overly Ambitious

I've decided I was a little overly ambitious in setting up my new blog schedule. Doing that many posts a week is cutting too deeply into my novel writing time, so I'm going to be scaling things back a little. The Monday/Tuesday posts and the Thursday/Friday posts will now usually appear only every other week, alternately back on forth more or less. So one week would have a Monday/Thursday posts and the next week Tuesday/Friday. The Wednesday guest authors will remain unchanged as long as I don't run out of authors wanting to be guests.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Goddess's Choice audio, Chapter 5

Delve further into the lives of Robbie and Samantha in this week's installment of The Goddess's Choice on audio

Friday, October 28, 2016

5 Ways of Presenting Characters: Character as Voice

Last week we talked about using image to present your characters. This week I want to discuss a second way of character presentation: voice. In the same manner that you tell from a couple of words over the telephone who you’re speaking to, your readers should be able to recognize a character from her/his voice. All characters should have their own way of talking marked by difference in diction (word choice), rhythm, and style. In addition to differentiating between characters, the words a character uses and the manner of her/his speech can reveal a lot about the person.
Blaine, who begins The Goddess’s Choice as an undersecretary in the library, reveals himself through his speech. When he is summoned by the princess, the chief librarian asks him if he has offended the princess. He replies, “I-I don’t know. I-I had no intention of doing so. I-I did see Her Highness in the clerks’ office earlier, but I did bow, and I’m sure I did it appropriately. At least, I-I think I did. I did it exactly as you said I should if I ever passed her in the halls. At least, I think I-I did.”  As you can see, he talks too fast, says too much, and stammers. With these few words, the reader sees that he is very unsure of himself. This is further emphasized when the princess makes him her secretary and asks his opinion of her plans for the king’s birthday celebration. He responds, “Well, I’m sure Your Highness knows what she’s doing, and if you like things this way, I’m sure it’s a perfectly fine way to have them. I know I have very little experience, and Your Highness must have a very good reason for having—” The princess has to cut him off to get an answer.
Even without attributions, readers would never confuse Blaine with Darhour. Darhour strikes terror into the new secretary with few words. He threatens, “I am Captain Darhour, the commander of the princess’s personal guard. Her safety is my responsibility.” Darhour speaking those few words causes Blaine to fear for his life. Darhour doesn’t need to say much to cause men to “piss in their pants.”
The villain of the piece, Argblutal, reveals his contempt for women by the words he uses to describe them. He tells Count Nola, “Everything about Her Highness is my business. I will marry her. No chit is going to keep me from the throne that should have been mine by right of blood.” And “chit” is one the nicer words he uses to describe her. His thoughts further the reader’s distaste for him. “The air of authority in her voice grated on the duke. His groin tightened as he thought about the deliciousness of teaching her a woman’s proper place. He imagined her naked and tied to his bed. Her breasts were a good deal smaller than he preferred. But as he imagined thrashing them with his cat-o-nine, no breasts had ever excited him more.”
To get a character’s voice right, you need to place yourself in the character’s mind. Inhabit the character and see what words come pouring out. Through it all, it’s important to remember your job is getting your readers to care about your characters. It’s impossible for him/her to care much if they all sound like carbon copies of each other.
Tell me what you think, or describe the way your favorite character speaks in the comments below.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Handmaid's Tale, Dystopic Fiction at its Best

I just finished teaching the Handmaid's Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood to my American Literature classes. It's a dystopia set in near future United States, which has suffered a coup from the religious right. The Sons of Jacob have implemented a society based on a strict literal interpretation of the Bible. Women can't work or read. Gender Traitors (homosexuals) are executed. Sex is for procreative purposes only. Etc. Most of my students enjoyed the majority of the book, but were disappointed in the ending. The ending is typical of a post-modern novel, and Offred's fate is ambiguous. Offred also completely fails to be heroic. She won't join the resistance or help its cause despite the fact she hates what has happened to her world. She doesn't want to die or be tortured or any of the other horrific fates that the government of Gilead has in store for dissenters. Atwood's point in writing Offred in this manner is to comment on the human tendency to tolerate evil. Even if we think something is wrong, most of us are afraid to rock the boat. France under the Nazis is a good example of this. While the French Resistance did continue to fight, the majority of the French population accepted the occupation of their country by an evil regime. They didn't like it, of course. Just as Offred hates Gilead. But fear, complacency, etc. stopped most from taking action. In the U.S. we like to mock France for this, but Atwood shows its unlikely we'd be any different if it happened here. Fear is a powerful method of social control.

In 1990 MGM made an absolutely terrible film version of the story. The acting, script, etc. are awful. It keeps some of the elements of the novel, but rewrites it is such a way that it completely changes the point. The film tries to make Atwood's novel into a typical action movie, and it so doesn't work. Offred becomes a hero. She helps her friend escape. She spies on her Commander for the resistance. In the end, she kills him and escapes with her lover. In addition to being poorly done, the movie has no point.

My students told me that Hulu is making the novel into a streaming series, which will begin airing early next year. Let's hope they do a better job, but my hopes aren't high. Would the public embrace a protagonist who doesn't even attempt to be a hero? Is it the purpose of fiction to teach us about ourselves and about humanity? Or is it merely to entertain? What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Henry Melton, Science Fiction author extraordinaire

My guest author this week is a science fiction writer who looks like Santa Claus.

Henry Melton is often on the road with his wife Mary Ann, a nature photographer, and their travels throughout North America, Europe and Africa have inspired his YA series of novels; Small Towns, Big Ideas. The first, Emperor Dad, was the winner of the 2008 Darrell Award for Best Novel and Lighter Than Air won the 2009 Eleanor Cameron / Golden Duck.  Henry's short fiction has been published in many magazines and anthologies, most frequently in ANALOG.  Catacomb, published in DRAGON magazine, has been called a classic.  A new series The Project Saga starts in the current time and stretches through a future where the Solar System is re-engineered and Humanity finds its place in the stars. An online magazine of old and new short fiction is available at


1.      Tell us a little about yourself? — I love to travel. Three or four big family vacations while I was growing up set the pattern.  When I married, we decided that even though we were dirt poor and couldn’t afford it, we’d travel anyway.  I’ve seen far too many people who decided to put off travel until they could afford it, or until they retired, and then poor health shut down all those plans.  So, we traveled.  My wife Mary Ann cultivated her nature photography skills, and I was inspired by many of those locations, which formed the settings of many of my novels.
2.      What made you want to become a writer? — I read science fiction since the fifth grade and grew up in the very early days of NASA space exploration, so since my eyesight was bad enough I could never be an astronaut, I wrote stories instead.  At first, they were just for fun, but one day my biology teacher assigned a simple homework task, write the story of a tree.  Now, I’m sure he was just looking for a list of the various features of the plant, but he did say story — so I wrote a tale of an intelligent raindrop falling from the sky, entering the roots through the soil and meeting up with an elderly water drop who taught him all the features of the tree before transpiring out the stoma of a leaf.  The teacher gave me an A, then read the story out loud in class.  I took that same paper and turned it in as an English composition, and got another A.  So, two A’s, and some public notoriety off the same work?  I was hooked.
3.      Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book? — Most recently published is Humanicide, book 5 of the Earth Branch of the Project Saga.  That’s a mouthful, but my Saga is a multibranched future history and far too complex to go from book one to book 18 in a simple linear list.  Humanicide completes the Earth Branch, which started with Star Time.  In this novel, a genetically crafted, artificial human with all the best traits of humanity, decides that with his extended lifespan and superior intelligence, it was up to him to guide humanity, and the first order of business was to kill off 99% of the people and set us back to the stone age where we couldn’t get into trouble with our world-changing technology—all for our own good, of course.  That’s what he tells himself, that is.  Unfortunately for his plan, there was one other lab-grown human out there, and she was a circuit doctor working among the space habitats and smart enough to detect the beginnings of his pandemic.  The story follows several main characters and follows their lives through the greatest Plague the world would ever see.
4.      What is your favorite writing tip or quote? — The thing I tell everyone who comes to me talking about wanting to be a writer is this: Keep writing.  If you are already one of the fortunate few who can take an idea and put it down into words on paper, then the rest is practice.  Writing well is a craft, just like music, or painting, or carpentry. You get better by doing it over and over again.  Have several stories in the queue, so that if you stall out one one, you can switch over to the next.  Just keep on writing.
5.      Tell us a little about your plans for the future.  Do you have any other books in the works? — Many, many books.  My Project Saga will take about eighteen books, of which I’ve written seven.  Of the dozen YA novels I’ve written, easily half of them have unwritten sequels that I would love to have time to write.  In addition, the ideas keep coming.  I have a double-handful of unrelated ideas that sit there in my notes or in place-holder short stories that cry out for a full novel treatment.  The question is how may years do I have left before I run out of steam.
Twitter: @HenryMelton

Humanicide Blurb

Mars was terraformed, and the biotech engineers could walk on Luna without breathing gear. Earth
had three moons and hundreds of orbiting habitats in the Clusters. The great Terraforming Project was hitting its stride, but there were conflicts over which nations would get favored colonization sites on Luna and the antitechnology Three Sins cult was demanding that it all stop.
But what disturbed Dr. Bet Nomad, circuit doctor for many of the minor habitats in the Clusters was a simple cough that seemed to be found every place she visited. The more she learned, using banned genetic technology, the tighter her own limitations restricted what she could do—she was banned genetic tech herself, living in the shadows lifetime after lifetime. But she was certain something was wrong­—something evil.
Humanicide is the final chapter of the Earth Branch of the Project Saga.  


Alexandria Habitat, L4 Cluster
Dr. Bet Nomad crouched down behind a shipping crate as the officer passed by. A transport had too few places to hide. But if she could just wait him out… He had to get back to his command station soon.
When the footsteps on the deck plate dwindled, she stood up and tapped on the meter-wide display set into the wall. She dismissed the chart showing the inventory and how it was placed. A few familiar taps and it went into auto-reflection. She stared back at herself. I need to pay more attention to my appearance. I look too young today.
She brushed her hair back into place. The screen showed the texture of her skin looking unnaturally smooth today, not at all matching her hair. No one was watching, so she opened her kit and added a few age lines. She needed to look at least forty to match her current bio report.
Satisfied, she tapped DOCKING VIEW. Opening like an abrupt rupture into free space, she raised her hand, fighting the illusion that she was looking into vacuum. She squinted, trying to take in the details of the long range view.
This view has to be from Alexandria. That’s us. She laughed. Our ship looks like a virus.
I’ve got virus on the brain again. Concentrate. Today is public-relations.
There was a click on audio. “Dr. Nomad, report to Access G-4.”
“I’m already here, Captain Che.”
There was no answer. She was annoyed with the man. Stick to piloting and don’t try to entertain me. I’m cargo. The hardest part of every new assignment was the first few hours and she didn’t need his distraction.
The display was entrancing to her medical mind. It’s just like a viral attack. A tiny rod-shaped mobile capsule draws near to the membrane of a cell that is enormous in comparison. Soon it will locate a hatchway—a compatible spot of chemistry, and then inject its genetic cargo to hijack the cells life-force for its own ends.
A smile attempted to twist her practiced, professional expression. But that makes me the disease!
The remote camera watched dispassionately as the transport lined up with the clamps at the hub of the slowly spinning city in space. Latches secured the ship and the walls around her echoed a low metallic clang. The transport ship was being lowered to the rim by the huge external elevator. The docks were at the habitat’s full spin gravity. She could feel no difference—the transport’s own local pseudo-gravity kept everything balanced.
Captain Che’s voice echoed again, “Bet, it looks like you have a welcoming committee.”
Her smile reverted to a scowl. He’d ferried her twice now. First from Blanco to New Lusaka, and now to Alexandria. He’s getting possessive. She preferred to be invisible, and the voice of experience was nagging. He’d soon be a problem, but the best she could do for now was ignore him.
Better check out her greeters. Two assignments earlier, she’d bent a few of the medical restriction rules. Someone might have noticed, and cared enough to track her down.
She looked at her massive packing crate and shook her head. I don’t want to have to run again. Too much to lose.

If you like what you've seen, you can buy the novel on Amazon.

And be sure to comment.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sherlock Holmes is Elementary

On today's favorite character Tuesday, I will indulge more in my love for the tortured soul by analyzing the greatest detective of all time. Although I've taught Sherlock Holmes in my literature classes and I will be so again, I've never been a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Despite the dozens of stories Doyle wrote about him, Holmes is never developed past the rough outlines of his character. There is always an extreme distance between the reader and the character. Also, Holmes does everything too easily. He's too perfect to be of much interest.

When I saw that Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite characters, it isn't Doyle's creation I'm Elementary that I have in mind. Sherlock Holmes purists far prefer the Holmes in British TV show Sherlock, but I have to disagree with them. Yes, the British show portrays Holmes closer to the one imagined by Doyle than the American program, but as I said, I'm not really a fan of Doyle, and the Sherlock Sherlock is a dull character.
referring to. Rather it is the Sherlock Holmes of the TV show

The Elementary Sherlock takes pieces from Doyle's creation, but re-imagines them in ways that creates a very appealing character, the ultimate tortured soul. Sherlock is the child of a cold, unfeeling father who sent him to boarding school very young to get him out of the way and still only sees him as an annoyance to be avoided or as a chess piece to be used. Throughout the first few seasons, Holmes's father would repetitively claim to be coming to visit. Sherlock assured Watson (another great character for another time) that his father wouldn't show, and he never did. In the last season, his father takes a more active role in Sherlock's life, but only because he is using him in a game he's playing.

Because of his father's coldness (and probably other reasons), Sherlock grows up as a person unable to relate to others on a human level. He is a narcissist concerned only with himself. And he becomes a drug addict whose addiction spirals out of control and nearly destroys his life. In Elementary he is trying to put his life back together. To do so, he must learn how to be human. Watson becomes his first friend. We see him struggling to relate to her as a person rather than as a useful piece in his own game. He is often rude and selfish, but he grows as a person as the relationship becomes so important to him that he realizes that he must change his behavior in order to maintain it. I also love that the relationship remains a friendship only. There is not any sexual tension between them. They are friends and partners, not lovers or potential lovers.

But Sherlock isn't magically transformed over night by his relationship with Watson, we see him continue to struggle to apply what he's learned with Watson to other relationships in his life. He grows in a believable manner that makes him one of my favorite characters.

What's your opinion on the Sherlock versus Elementary question? What's your opinion of Sherlock Holmes in any of his manifestations?

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Introduction of Darhour

In anticipation of the release of The Ghost in Exile next month, today I've decided to post the scene from The Goddess's Choice in which Darhour is first introduced. The scene can be found near the beginning of Chapter 3. You can listen to the entire chapter here:

Introduction of Darhour

The Master of the Horse scowled at Samantha when she arrived; he and his two assistants were mounting up. Most people found Darhour intimidating, if not downright terrifying. The princess thought he liked it that way. It’s not his fault someone carved horizontal lines all over his face, but he doesn’t have to wear his hair in those stupid Saloynan braids. Still, she grinned at him. “You thought you were going to get away without me?”
Darhour scowled deeper, but she saw the smile hidden beneath the scowl. “I’d hoped the late night would cause you to oversleep, Your Highness. You know how His Majesty would feel about this excursion.”
She laughed easily, as she always did with Darhour. “I suggest we not tell him. But don’t call me ‘Your Highness’ today. I don’t want people to know who I am. A simple ‘Milady’ will do.”
The stable lads brought horses for her and her bodyguards. Vaughan smiled shyly while he held Muffet for her to mount. He was a stringy boy of twelve and gave the impression of having grown too fast. He was nearly as tall as she was, but no bigger around than a fence pole. As always his hair stood up all over his head and was full of bits of straw.
“Let’s ride,” she said, as soon as she was in the saddle, and took off. Darhour and the other men had no difficulty catching up. Unlike the princess, Muffet was far too much the lady to do something so undignified as race.
They rode out of the palace gates and through the city. As they left Murtaghan behind, Darhour pulled up beside her. “Did you enjoy the ball, Your Highness? Found that someone special yet?”
The princess shot him a withering glare, and he laughed until she finally joined him. Darhour was the only one who ever teased her. But she didn’t want to think about the ball, and she certainly didn’t want to think about the strange orange glow that had surrounded Count Pandaran. Darhour’s presence made it harder for her to push such thoughts away. He was the first person she’d ever seen surrounded by color. She’d been fourteen when she went to the stables, hoping the new Master of the Horse would be more reasonable than the man he was replacing. His back was to her as she entered, and as he turned, he’d suddenly burst into color—the green of a meadow on a spring morning. Part of her had been terrified by the strange colors, but the peace that accompanied the green calmed her fear. She’d known immediately Darhour would become a close friend, and unlike nearly everyone else, she’d never been afraid of him.
* * *
Darhour was happy as he rode beside the princess. He’d had little joy in his life, but every moment he spent in Samantha’s presence was a gift from the goddess, both unexpected and undeserved. “I want to thank you, Your Highness, for intervening to save Vaughan’s job. His family would have been hard pressed if he’d lost it.”
The princess laughed, her eyes full of the mischief. Holy Sulis, she’s beautiful. Vaughan’s a sweet boy, and it was hardly his fault the older boys gave him so much ale he puked all over Count Pandaran’s shoes. I wish I’d been there to see it.”
Darhour chuckled. “The count nearly fainted. He wanted Vaughan not only dismissed but flayed. You know how obsessed he is with his appearance. Positively womanish, he is.”
Samantha’s eyes narrowed. “Why is it that whenever a man is weak, they say he is womanish? Look at these hands.” She held up a callused palm. “I can use a sword nearly as well as you. Pandaran is most definitely not womanish! Have you ever seen a woman give birth? Do you think Pandaran could do that?”
While Darhour knew the princess’s skills weren’t equal to his own, she was far better than Pandaran. “I apologize, Your Highness. How shall I describe the good count?”
The princess wrinkled her nose. “Rabbitish. Smooth, soft, and cowardly. I’d rather sleep with my horse.”
“I pray it never comes to that, Your Highness!” Darhour grew hot at the thought of any of those at court touching the princess. In another life he’d have castrated any man that tried. But he’d left that life behind, and intervening in her marriage plans wasn’t his place. In fact, he had no right to even take her with him today. If the king found out, it would cost him his job—or worse. But he’d never been able to say no to the princess, just as he hadn’t been able to say no to her mother so many long years ago.
The princess suddenly slowed. He reined in and followed her eyes. She was staring at Gloine Torr, which rose out of the plains less than a quarter mile north of the road. The mountain was formed from pure black obsidian and rose over five hundred feet from the valley floor. Shaped as an almost perfect pyramid with the top chopped off, its sides were as smooth as glass, which made climbing it impossible except by the staircase carved into one side. Wide ledges circled it at a third and two-thirds its height. It couldn’t be a natural phenomenon, but he couldn’t imagine how it could have been built either. “Have you ever been to the top?” the princess asked.
“No,” he answered. He didn’t tell her he was unworthy to approach the goddess’s holiest shrine. “The king still threatening to place you up there?”
Samantha laughed at the long-standing joke. “Regularly. And now I think about it, the old ways of choosing husbands for princesses might not be such a bad idea.”
Darhour raised an eyebrow. “You want to stand at the top and see which man can ride his horse up and prove he is the goddess’s choice for your husband?”
“Since nobody could do it, wouldn’t it prove nobody was the goddess’s choice? I wouldn’t have to marry at all.”
Darhour laughed. “I guess it would at that, Your Highness. Have you made such a proposal to the king?”

“I’m working on it.” Despite her light tone, Darhour could sense uneasiness in the princess. He wondered if it was merely because she didn’t wish to marry or if something about Gloine Torr disturbed her.

Tell me what you think. If you want to read The Goddess's Choice, you can find it here:

The Ghost in Exile can be pre-ordered here: 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Goddess's Choice audio, Chapter 4

This week I give you Chapter 4. If you're listening, please leave me a comment.

Friday, October 21, 2016

5 Ways of Presenting Characters to Your Reader: Character as Image

For me, I have to care about a character before I care about what happens to him/her. If I don't have an emotional response to a character, the plot if boring to me no matter what else it may have going for it. So for me, character creation is the key to fiction. If an author gives me characters I love or love to hate, I can forgive a lot of other weaknesses or shortcomings in their work.

Last week, I wrote about what I believe is the most important point in character development, which is determining what your character wants. If you don't know your character's ambitions, you don't know your character.

This week, I'm starting a discussion of five ways that a writer has of presenting his/her characters to the reader. The first of these is presenting character as Image. Image is using description in any way that evokes the senses. 

What does your character look like? The emerald green brilliance of Robrek's eyes.  

What does she smell like? The scent of cinnamon that lingers in Samantha's hair from her shampoo. 

How does he sound? Father Shylah's raspy voice that reminds one of a gelded goat.

What does your character feel in terms of sensation, not emotion? The smoothness of silk against her skin.

What does she taste like? Or what do things taste like to her? The sticky sweetness of the fruit preserves. 

We experience life only through our senses, so if you want our readers to know and care about our characters, we need to have our readers experience them sensually. The more of the reader's senses you can appeal to, the more s/he will be drawn to our characters.

Talk about your character's appearance. Robrek has skin as dark as night or of demons. Tell the reader how she dresses. Samantha's favorite color is green, which brings out the whiteness of her skin and the freckles the speckle her nose. Give your character vivid mannerism or gestures. Lord Dylan has a tendency to curl his fingernails into his palms to hide the paint he forgot to clean out from under his nails. Talk about the objects they carry. Blaine always has his hands full of lists. 

Also, a character’s surroundings can tell us a lot about a character. Fergal, Leigh’s father, owes a house that reeks of new money. When Leigh approaches after being a way for some time, he notes:

While most of the houses in the neighborhood had the quiet dignity of old money, his father’s had the gaudy opulence of newly acquired wealth. It was blindingly white and trimmed in swirling gold and silver designs interspersed with stained glass in every shade of the rainbow. Gilded statuary and marbled fountains littered the space between bushes and trees, which had been trimmed into geometric shapes, along with flowers in beds so precisely spaced they looked unnatural.

Leigh’s room in that house contrasts sharply:

Leigh had allowed no sign of his parents’ wealth and bad taste to penetrate his sanctuary. The walls were a plain brown. The wooden star of Sulis hanging over his bed was their only decoration. Besides the bed, there was only a chest for his clothes, a desk, and bookshelf. 
Image how he smells

From that description alone, the reader knows quite a bit about Fergal and Leigh.

Don’t neglect senses other than sight. Scent can be particularly powerful.

While image is crucial in presenting character, you still need to be careful about going too far. Don’t describe everything in exhaustive detail. A full page description of your character’s outfit will quickly become tedious. Instead, focus on telling details that help to reveal the inner being of your characters.

The image is one of the most crucial tools we writers have of letting our readers know our characters. Don’t forget your senses when you evoke character.

Comment on an author you think uses image particularly well in bringing her/his characters to life.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Can a sci-fi/fantasy series we love go on too long?

So many great series get cut off in their prime when they are still great and still have so much to say and so many directions they could go. Robin Hood, Roswell, The Almighty Johnsons, The 4400. I could go on.

But last night I watched the first episode of Season 11 of Supernatural. (I know I'm behind the times. I don't have television and only watch shows when they make it to Netflix.) But watching it last night got me thinking that some series have the opposite problem. They go on so long they almost become parodies of themselves.

I must admit I was hooked from the time I watched the first episode of Supernatural. I'm a sucker for the tortured soul, and Dean and Sam are the ultimate in tortured souls. They are also damned sexy, which doesn't hurt. In addition to the Winchesters, the series some great minor characters: Castiel, Kevin, Sheriff Mills, Crowley. I absolutely adore Charlie. The series also has great story lines and asks important psychological questions about religion, morality, and what it means to be human. I binge watched it after I first discovered it. (I think eight season were out at the time.) I binge watch whenever a new season becomes available.

But the series seems to believe it has to keep topping itself. For awhile this was fantastic, but after
you've been to hell and back a few times, topping yourself can start getting a little ridiculous and increasingly far-fetched. Killing Death and bringing The Darkness into the world at the end of Season 10 really started pushing the boundaries of being over the top. But when I watched, the first episode of Season 11 last night and found out The Darkness has been incarnated in a sweet little newborn baby, I really started thinking enough might well be enough. What are Sam and Dean going to do now? Kill a baby? Allow the Darkness to destroy the world because they can't kill a baby? And it took God to lock the Darkness up at the beginning of time. Just how are two humans supposed to defeat it?

I hate to say it because I have loved the series, but it seems like it's time to stop making new episodes. I'm unsure if I'll watch the rest of the season. What are your thoughts? Any series you think went on too long?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

JD Byrne, Master of Fantasy

The author of the week is JD Bryne, who writes in the greatest of genres: fantasy.

JD Byrne was born and raised around Charleston, West Virginia, before spending seven years in Morgantown getting degrees in history and law from West Virginia University. He's practiced law for more than 15 years, writing briefs where he has to stick to real facts and real law. In his fiction, he gets to make up the facts, take or leave the law, and let his imagination run wild. He lives outside Charleston with his wife and one-eyed dog.


1. What are your biggest literary influences? Favorite authors and why?

I’m always a little uncomfortable talking about influences because I’m one of those people who believes you’re influenced by everything you read (or hear or watch or . . .). So it’s hard to point to particular authors and call them influences without giving short shrift to a host of others who have influenced you (for good or for ill).

Favorites much easier to handle with the qualification that just because somebody is a favorite author of mine doesn’t mean I actually write like them (or even try). My old school favorites, ones I grew up reading, include Douglas Adams (love Hitchhiker’s Guide in all its forms), Kurt Vonnegut, and Ray Bradbury. More recently, I’ve fallen in love with work by Neil Gaiman (thanks to my wife), George R.R. Martin (ditto), Margaret Atwood, and John Scalzi.

2 What are you reading at the moment? Would you recommend it to readers of this blog? Why?

Right now I’m actually reading nonfiction - Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. It’s about the Supreme Court’s decision in the 1920s affirming the ability of states to sterilize the “feeble minded.” It’s one of those cases where, from the distance of history, the Court got it terribly wrong. The book dives very deeply into the people involved with that case and the proceedings themselves. Fascinating and disheartening all at the same time. I’d certainly recommend to people interested in the area.

The last piece of fiction I read was The Rise of Endymion, the last of Dan Simmons’s Hyperion books. I wouldn’t recommend it - it’s overlong, undoes some of what’s come before in the series, and has a horribly annoying narrator. But if you’re a science fiction fan, and you’ve never read Hyperion or Fall of Hyperion (they’re really one long story), I highly recommend those. The first is a sci-fi take on the Canterbury Tales. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

3. Do you think people have misconceptions about the speculative fiction? Why do you think it is a worthwhile genre?

I do think lots of people have misconceptions about what speculative fiction is (or where the boundaries of it are) and whether it’s a “worthy” genre. I think you see that in authors with literary reputations who dip their toes into fantasy or science fiction but insist that’s not really what they’re doing (I’ve written about that before here). As much as I enjoy her work, Atwood is a prime culprit in this, insisting that books involving future dystopias and genetic engineering aren’t sci-fi because they don’t have laser guns and space ships. I think the reluctance of authors like that to embrace the genre leads to a perception among some readers that it’s a backwater, good for cheap entertainment but not much else.

Not that there’s anything wrong with cheap entertainment! I’m perfectly happy to tell people a good, engaging story and walk away. Having said that, speculative fiction provides so many tools to allow writers to examine basic questions about what it means to be human (or not) that it can really go as deep and thoughtful as any other genre. It’s the ability to cast off the shackles of reality that, ironically, gives speculative fiction its ability to speak to our deepest humanity. All that makes it as worthwhile as any other genre.

4. Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book?

I’m currently in the process of finishing a fantasy trilogy. The first two books, The Water Road and The Endless Hills, were released earlier this year. The final one, The Bay of Sins, should be out by the end of the year.

It’s fundamentally about a secret that’s uncovered and what people choose to do with it. Do they make the truth known, even if it means ripping society apart? Do they try to rally an oppressed group to seek justice even if it might spiral into revenge? All that set in a world that isn’t our own (there are no humans, for instance), but also not like most fantasy settings (there’s no magic and armies fight with gunpowder, not swords).

I’ve been blogging about the trilogy all year on Water Road Wednesdays. You can find the list of those posts here.

5. Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why?

I think my favorite characters are the ones I don’t really know much about going into the writing process and then reveal themselves as I work on a book. That pretty much eliminates main characters from this question, but I’m fond of them. Ben Potter from Moore Hollow has a lot of me in him (car guy, Marillion fan, eternal skeptic), so he has that going for him.

The best example I can think of for the situation where a character really grows into something unexpected is a woman named Mida Innis. Mida shows up for one scene in The Endless Hills, mostly as a way to show Antrey the horrors of war. When I was planning out The Bay of Sins, I decided to go back to Mida and see what she was up to following the events of The Endless Hills. I decided she had a story that needed to be told, which entailed coming up with a much better idea of the kind of person she was (and would become) than I ever had when I introduced her.

6. Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer?  If so, what do you do during the day? 

I do have a day job, one that thankfully allows me to write a lot, although it’s very different from writing novels - I’m an attorney. I’ve spent the last fourteen years in a Federal Public Defender office, where I do research and work on appeals. That means I write a lot of briefs and other legal pleadings. They’re not like writing fiction, obviously, but by the time I started writing fiction I had spent quite a bit of effort on becoming a better writer, on self editing and making sure I was connecting with readers.

Obviously, when you’re writing a brief or something similar you’re stuck with a set of fixed facts (often very ugly ones) and limited in what you can write by the applicable law. One of the reasons I enjoy writing fiction - fantasy and the like, especially - is that I can step outside those boundaries and let my imagination roam free.

7. Tell us a little about your plans for the future.  Do you have any other books in the works?

I’ve got so many other books in the works I don’t know quite which direction I’ll be heading in next. The things I’ve published so far - Moore Hollow and The Water Road trilogy - were things that had been in the works for a long time. Once The Bay of Sins is finished I’ll be looking at a (relatively) blank slate for the first time in a while. It’s both exciting and terrifying at the same time.

One thought is to start a series that’s sort of John Grisham meets The X-Files, about an attorney who gets swept up into all kinds of paranormal activity. I actually started a book along those lines for NaNoWriMo years ago, and I like the idea of finishing it up and expanding on it. It may even dovetail into the world of Moore Hollow eventually.

The other idea is to dive into one of several stand alone novels with concepts I’ve flushed out a bit. One involves a thief trying to bring magic back to a world where is absence has created an environmental crisis. Another is a sci-fi story about woman who seeks asylum in a repressive place and is called to account for not speaking out against it. But then there’s the one about the poor schmuck who gets an alien tattoo on a strange world that drastically complicities his life . . . or the one that involves a humorous exploration of the afterlife.

Like I said, so many ideas, so little time!

Where can we find you online? (please cut and paste links):

The Water Road

Two women are about to expose a terrible secret that will turn their world upside down.
For centuries the great river known as the Water Road separated the Altrerians in the north from the

Antrey is a woman without a country, the daughter of a Neldathi mother and an Altrerian father. She’s found a role for herself in Tolenor, the headquarters of the Triumvirate, that's given her access to a secret the alliance has kept for generations. When she finds it, she explodes with rage and embarks on a quest to find justice for the Neldathi people.

Strefer is a reporter without a story, desperately working the streets of Tolenor for any kind of lead. When Antrey flees the city, Strefer slips in and discovers her uncovered secret, stained with blood and fury. It’s the story of a lifetime, one powerful forces want to keep her from telling. With the help of a renegade Sentinel, Strefer sets out for a mythical city in hopes she can make the world listen to the truth.

Together, they’ll inflame the passions of a people and set the world alight. The Water Road - first book of The Water Road trilogy.

Neldathi in the south. When the Neldathi clans united and struck out across the river, the nations of Altreria formed an alliance, the Triumvirate, to drive them back. For more than a hundred years after, the Triumvirate kept the Neldathi barbarians at bay, fighting amongst themselves across the Water Road.


(in this scene, Antrey has discovered the secret that's going to change this world forever):

When she reached the end of that page, Antrey sat back in the chair, stunned. She read it again, to ensure that she knew precisely what it said. The Triumvirate, in order to protect itself, would set the Neldathi clans against each other, arranging a series of civil wars tied to fabricated, or exaggerated, religious disputes.

“That’s very clever,” she said to herself, recognizing that the strategy made a certain degree of sense when divorced from any concerns about right and wrong. “Keep your enemies fighting each other. That way, they can’t fight you. If any one side prevails it
 still benefits you, since whoever is left after the conflict will be weakened in the long run.” But she could not set aside the anger building inside her at the implementation of such a plan. She sat back in the chair and stared out the large window across from the desk. “By creating conflict where there is none, you sacrifice the lives of your enemies for your own comfort.”

Antrey knew too well of the wars between the clans. Although she knew that the stereotype of the brutal Neldathi barbarians that populated many of Alban’s books was not accurate, she could not avoid the fact that the clans fought each other regularly. The battles were fierce and, in some cases, lasted for days. Even the brief raids were terrifying. Antrey remembered seeing members of her clan carried away in such raids, taken for who knows what purpose. She remembered how the Speakers told of horrible things that one clan did to another, in the name of the gods, and how the other clan would respond in kind. Most of all, she remembered that the death and violence of those battles visited not just the warriors, but the old and young, the weak and the ill. That those she saw brutalized did not think of her as one of them did not mean she had not been heartbroken by their fate and furious at those who had caused it.

But it was only a proposal, right? Surely the Grand Council would not agree to such a ruthless policy being carried out in its name. Antrey leaned forward and turned the page to a brief summary of the debates about the proposal. They shocked her. The speeches were peppered with references to the Neldathi “barbarians,” “savages,” and “animals.” One Council member argued that “these brutes are going to fight anyone they can find, why not let them fight each other? If I hold a spear which may slip and pierce someone by accident, should I not point it at my enemy rather than my friend?” No one spoke up against the proposal. Not a single member of the Grand Council argued against it. No brave soul stood up and argued that, whatever threat the Neldathi might legitimately pose, they were sentient beings who should not be lied to and set upon one another like dogs.

By the time the votes were taken, there was no doubt about the outcome. There, in the neat script in the small red leather book, it was recorded that each of the nine members of the Grand Council voted in favor of the proposal. All agreed to purchase their own security with Neldathi blood, the blood of women, children, the aged, and anyone else.
 Antrey sat back in the chair and closed her eyes. Rather than weep, she sat and shook with fury, unable to get up. Clouds shifted outside and sunlight began to flow in from the balcony. It burned her face, but she did nothing to avoid it. She wanted to explode in a hundred different directions.

If you like what you've read, please comment and buy the book here:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Wonder Woman, my childhood hero

Two weeks ago I talked about Rey on Favorite Character Tuesday. Today I want to go back to my childhood hero who is in many ways Rey's precursor. I was born in 1967 and grew up in the 70s and 80s, so I wasn't exactly inundated with strong, powerful female role models on Television. On Scooby-Doo there were two female characters. The highly intelligent Velma was also a dork, unattractive, and completely useless without her glasses, which were always falling off. Then you had Daphne who was attractive but a completely brainless ditz. The truly interesting characters on the show were, of course, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo, both males. Other TV programs showed me a  called the man "Master" and bowed to his every wish. Darrin on Bewitched makes his powerful wife promise never to do witchcraft and makes sure she washes the dishes by hand inside of with a twitch of her nose. She is almost always the dutiful housewife. I liked both Samantha and Jeannie, but even as a child, I was uncomfortable with them bowing to masculine control.
powerful 2000-year-old genie who

Then Linda Carter as Wonder Woman comes on to the scene in 1975. She may hide her identity in that of a secretary, but she's an Amazonian princess. In the Amazon, the women rule, and they never bow to male authority. Wonder Woman undoes her hair and twirls around, and she is a superhero with a magical golden lasso and bracelets which can deflect bullets. She fights with superhuman strength and ability and never needs to be rescued. As the theme song stated, "All the world is waiting for you, and the power you possess." She flies an invisible plane and defeats the bad guys. She is honored for her power by men, unlike Darrin whose threatened by his wife's strength. Wonder Woman taught me that women can be strong, and I absolutely loved her.

Yes, I know that she was sexually objectified by her skimpy outfit while Superman and Batman are always fully clothed, but that didn't occur to me as a child. Her butt kicking ability, however, did. She wasn't my only influence, but Wonder Woman helped nurtured my feminist consciousness before I even knew what a feminist was. (In my house, they were called "women libbers" and always referred to with disdain.) Heroes like her helped me to throw off the repressive patriarchal values of the culture I grew up in. I owe Wonder Woman a debt I try to repay through the creation of my own female characters.

Cheer her on!

In the comments, tell me about your childhood hero.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Magic of the Joined Kingdoms

Last week I discussed the geography of Korthlundia. Today I discuss its magic.
The most important thing to remember about in my world is that it results from mixed blood, usually a mix of races, but occasionally a mix of classes will work. The more mixed the blood or the more unusual the mixture, the more powerful the magic. The requirement of mixed blood is the primary reason there is so little magic in the joined kingdoms any more. Korthlundia is a small, isolated country with a mostly homogeneous population. To make things worse, the church in Lundia, the southern half of the joined kingdoms, insists that the mixing of blood is an abomination to the goddess. The clergy refuse to believe that the great Sulis would bless such an outrage against all that is sacred with her holy gift. Sulis is the goddess of healing, and her clergy are supposed to be able to heal both body and soul, but because of the ignorance of the clergy, there are few Lundian priests with true healing magic. The Korthian church, the northern half of the joined kingdoms, has a more tolerant view of mixing blood, so they have a higher percentage of true healers among the clergy.
There are three main classes of magic users. The first, as I have mentioned, are healers. Healers are able to go into a trance and join their consciousness with that of the patient. In this way they are able to feel the disease or injury and manipulate the tissue to promote healing, or they can as easily use their gift to harm. Healing is exhausting, but produces intense pleasure for the healer. Most healers exist outside the church and are looked down because of their mixed blood; they are seen as witches or demons and are not infrequently killed. One of the two main characters in The Kronicles of Korthlundia, Robrek, is one such healer. Slavers kidnapped Donella, Robrek’s mother, from her homeland, a far distant land whose people had never mixed with those of Korthlundia. Because of the unusual mixture of his blood, Robrek grows into the most powerful healer the joined kingdoms has seen for centuries. However, having such power is not without its drawbacks. Because of his power and dark coloring, he is often called “demon seed.” The local priest wanted him exposed at birth and tried to have him burned at the stake as a young man.
The second class of magic users are the auroras. An aurora can see the multi-colored aura that surrounds all people and reveals their character, including their honesty. Since the magic of an aurora rests in the womb, they are always female.  The onset of an aurora’s power happens when she first bleeds in the way of a woman. However, she cannot fully control her power until she has given birth to a child. Samantha, the crown princess of Korthlundia, is an aurora. One might think that such an ability would be invaluable in a monarch, but there is a problem. To be an aurora, a woman must have a mixture of common and noble blood. Since Samantha’s mother was indeed noble, the fact that Samantha is an aurora means that she is not the true daughter of the king. She is, in fact, a bastard. Her gift, therefore, becomes a liability that she must hide to preserve her position and even her life.

The final class of magic users are the Bards. Bards are able to affect the emotions of their audience with their music. There has not been a true Bard in Korthlundia in over a century, and little is known about them. That is why the Bard Alvabane is such a powerful enemy of our heroes. Since Robrek and Samantha do not understand bardic magic, they have great difficulty figuring out how to stop her.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Goddess's Choice audio: Chapter 3

Today I present to you the Chapter 3 of The Goddess's Choice. When I get all the chapters done, I will release it as an audio book. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your comments on either the story itself or my narration of it.

If you like what you hear, you can buy the complete book on Amazon or other online stores.

Friday, October 14, 2016

What does Solar want? Desire: the key to character

In character development, one of the most, if not the most important, aspect to think about is your character’s motivation. What does he or she want? It is a character’s desires that controls their actions, and if you don’t have a clear idea of what those desires are, you end up with an inconsistent character that acts in ways that don’t make sense. You need to know what your character desires in the abstract as well as what achieving that desire will mean practically in any specific situation.

King Solar in The Goddess’s Choice has ruled over 50 years of unbroken peace. What he wants is for that peace to outlive him, to be the legacy he leaves his people. This is his great desire, what he wants
in the abstract. For that to happen practically speaking, he knows he must have an heir. Without one, rival claimants will tear the country apart. But he reaches 70 without having fathered an child despite having had two wives and numerous mistresses. The priest tell him that the only way for him to have an heir is to take a wife just entering puberty. He finds this distasteful, but since peace is so important to him, he takes a thirteen-year-old wife. If you don’t understand his motivation, this might seem a little creepy of him, but if you know what he wants, it makes perfect sense. Achieving his desire of peace means in this particular circumstance he must marry someone he views as a child. When his young wife Fenella also fails to get pregnant, he is forced to face that fact that he is indeed sterile and decides that if he can’t get his own heir, someone else will have to do it for him. He manipulates circumstances so that Fenella will have an affair. Thereby, he gets his heir.

However, this complicates his life in ways that he hadn’t anticipated. Solar, like many characters,
finds himself wanting more than one thing. Before Samantha’s birth, the nearly only focus of his desire was for lasting peace, but against his expectations, he falls in love with his daughter and finds himself wanting her to be happy.

When those two desires come into conflict, he becomes indecisive. Samantha is so young that he knows she needs a strong husband to ensure the stability of her reign, but Samantha doesn’t want to marry, and he is convinced that she will hate him if he forces her into a marriage. Desire #1 one--continued peace--is now in conflict with desire #2--his daughter’s happiness. Which will win out? You’ll have to read The Goddess’s Choice to find out.

What do your character want? Discuss them in the comments.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fantasy Food: Should we really make butter bear?

I was a bit disturbed when I read the following article from Forbes: Fantasy Foods. A food company is attempting to create food from fiction that fans want to eat. They serve this food at New York's comic con, but this is certainly sacrilege, isn't it?  Jellybelly tried to make Bertie Botts Every Flavor
Beans, and that was flat out wrong. They couldn't make every flavor. They don't have magic. Yes, they made some unusual flavors, but really they were just Jellybellies with new packaging. While reading Harry Potter to my son (and yes, I read the first four books to him nine times), we both would salivate over butter bear. It sounds so smooth and tasty. My son and I both craved one, but no one without magic should try to make it. No real drink to leave up to the imagined deliciousness of butter beer. And Meadow cream from the Redwall books? One
shouldn't even try to make the mouth water flavor of this imaginary food. Reading the feasts in Redwall would set both of our stomachs rumbling, but any attempt to reproduce them in the real world, couldn't be anything other than disappointing.

What do you think? Should butter beer exist?