Friday, October 3, 2014

Giving the Reader More on SavvyAuthors Today

Starting October 13, I will be teaching my workshop on Harry Potter for Writers, at SavvyAuthors.  For a taste of what's to come, they are today hosting my blog post - Giving the Reader More, A Glimpse Behind the Veil of JK Rowling's Success.  Hope you will check it out!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Return to Blog & a Workshop

So...looks like I've been away from this blog much longer than my past breaks.  Unfortunately, it was a necessary hiatus.  I spent most of 2013 dealing with my aging parents' health issues, which being the long-married couple that they are, they had to have health crises together. :-(

They are all well now and have been for a few months, but it has taken me time to find my way back here.  I've got a couple of upcoming posts planned, one Harry Potter related and another about my new love, Paleolithic goddess imagery.  But for the moment, I've been prompted to mention a workshop that I'm teaching starting next week, info below.  I hope to see some of you there!

I will be teaching an online workshop for the Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal chapter of RWA from March 3 - 16.  The topic is Conflicts of Myths and we'll cover myths from a variety of cultures to understand their essential conflicts and how these classical struggles can be used in our storytelling today.  For more information and signup, see the Conflicts of Myth page at FF&P, and join me for a fun two weeks!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is it Red or Is it Blue?...Basing Conflict on POV

My husband and I are in the middle of fixing up our house...painting, re-flooring, taking out a wall here or there.  And as a finishing touch in one of the rooms, we needed to dig out a long-stored Turkish rug that neither one of us had seen in years.  I was trying to communicate to him which one I wanted in front of the new door...

"You know, the blue one.  It will fit perfectly here."
"I don't remember a blue one," he said.  "What about the red one?"
"Red?  What red carpet?  We don't have a red one.  But I'm sure the blue one will work great."
"No, the red will be better.  Hold on, let me go find it and show you."

Can you tell where this is going?  Can you spot the ending a mile off?

So, my dear husband returns with the exact BLUE rug I'd been talking about in his hands.
"See," he said.  "Red."  He pointed to the geometrical and floral designs woven in red.
"No, look," I pointed to the border and background throughout surrounding the design.  "It's blue.  There's more blue than red."

Blue rug / red rug.  Blue states / red states.  Blue character POV / red character POV.

My husband remembered the design.  I remembered the background.  My husband tends to focus on aesthetics, whereas I tend to focus on function.

To me, this simple dialogue demonstrated so clearly to me a simple difference between me and my husband.  Because of our background and cultural differences, we have a different way of viewing the world.  And quite often, as with the rug, the way we see things, while different, is not...wrong.  (Though shhhh, don't tell him I said so).

In life, real conflict between people is rarely simple or easily solved.  Quite often, true differences in opinion stem from a deeply based belief system that is neither right nor wrong, just different.

Well-developed characters have strong POVs.  These POVs should be informed by their cultures, their personal history, their beliefs, their backstory.  And to create an intense read, your characters' POVs should conflict with each other in a way not easily solved.

How much more interesting will it be to your reader if you build up a complex conflict between characters that has no clear good guy or bad guy but rather a deeply differing level of seeing and understanding their world?

So, you tell me -- is the rug red or is it blue?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Guest Post: Laura Pauling on How to Research an Ancient Society for Your Fiction

Today I am thrilled to welcome to the blog Laura Pauling as part of her Ancient Spells & Crazy Kings Blog Tour!  Laura's book, along with her post, are right up my alley.  Laura has managed to combine an intriguing ancient society with a compelling mystery with a couple of great middle-grade characters.  Bianca is a delightfully curious girl with a tremendous amount of drive and determination to find her disappeared grandfather.  She won't let a few ancient (and really scary) Mayans get in her way.  One of Laura's early scenes, where Bianca first witnesses a Mayan ceremony on top of a pyramid temple (don't want to reveal too much) had me reading on the edge of my seat...and then didn't let me go until the end.

I love how Laura makes these ancient people and their society come to life, literally.  I'm sure you (or your kids!) will enjoy it as well.  Please join me in welcoming Laura to the blog and read how she went about researching the Mayans for Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings.  Then make sure you enter her giveaway to win one of her great packages (see bottom of post)!

    Published by Pugalicious Press

When Bianca and Melvin brave the jungle to rescue their grandfather, they stumble upon the ancient Maya city of Etza, where the people haven’t aged in 2,000 years. They must learn to work together as they face loincloth-wearing skeletons from the underworld, a backstabbing princess, and an ancient prophecy that says in three days the city will be destroyed. No problem. They’ll find Zeb and zip right out of there. The fact that a crazy king wants to serve Bianca up to the gods as an appetizer is just a minor technicality. But this ancient evil dude has finally met his match.

How to Research an Ancient Society for Your Fiction

Oy, if only I’d known what it would take to fully understand the Maya civilization. I might have gone a different path. But I have a love of learning, especially topics that seem completely foreign to me, so I jumped in.

Research in layers. I started with a used book I bought on Amazon. I absorbed the culture of ancient Tikal and learned about the lives of kings and war. I developed plot lines that reflected the parts of their culture that fascinated me.

Start writing. I wrote the first draft then went back to fill in the holes. I also learned that the book I’d read was outdated! Yikes. So always check the publication date.

Complete more research. I went back to Amazon and this time I got smart and went through interlibrary loan for most of them. I did purchase a one-thousand-page college text. And yes, I read the whole thing and took notes on index cards, including page numbers for the facts I wrote down.

Rewrite. I rewrote, layering in the new understanding I’d gained of this culture.

Find primary resources. Yeah, this was a bit more difficult. But primary sources on ancient civilization can be found in a couple places. 1. Direct interpretation of original art. From this I learned exactly what they wore and how to describe their clothing, their intricate tattoos, and their fancy headdresses. This source also revealed more about the culture too for the Maya had many murals in their buildings. 2. Translation of a first hand witness. I read a book by a Spanish priest who saw the Maya civilization first hand. 3. Translation of their glyph writing, which I believe has been fully understood. 4. Email questions to college professors. (I didn't do this for fiction, but I would have for nonfiction.)

More research for the finer details. I searched online for first hand accounts from tourists who went where I couldn’t and walked where I couldn’t, namely Tikal National Park. I read their website and looked at pictures. I read about the region, the weather, the plants, the animals, and the jungle. I read blogs about what it felt like to be inside a temple. I perused pictures of the temples taken by many different tourists. I did this until I felt like I’d been there. And then some.

When to stop. I knew I was done when I watched a History channel special on the Maya. And I knew everything. I knew the questions before they asked them. And I knew more than they revealed on the show! Yes, I learned much more than I could ever put in the book but it’s the small details here and there that add authenticity to a story. I enjoyed every aspect of my rocky relationship to How To Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings. But let’s just say I haven’t chosen such a research-intensive project since!

Thanks for letting me take over your blog for the day, Susan!

How To Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings released in November. Pugalicious Press did a fantastic job, and I’m extremely happy with the results. This book would make a fantastic gift for boys or girls who enjoy adventure stories with lots of excitement! You can purchase it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You can read the first chapter here. Thankfully, my journey is just beginning and I’m excited to see where it leads. Click here for the list of blog tour stops! Enter to win these prize packages!

Prize Package One (signed paperbacks)

Prize Package Two (signed paperbacks)

Prize Package Three


Refresh the page if you can't see the Rafflecopter form! a Rafflecopter giveaway


Monday, December 3, 2012

Digging Up Inspiration From the Past

Writers -- where do you get your inspiration?

This is not an easy question for most of us to answer because the sources of our inspiration is ever-changing.  From the people we meet, to the places we visit, to the things we read.  Inspiration, like the ancient Muses, lives and breathes around us constantly.

Because of the stories I'm drawn to writing, one of my sources of inspiration is the news section on  Most weekdays, someone on staff there lists snippets from current news items related to archaeology.  These headlines are collected from across the world and through thousands of years of human history, even including early human ancestors.

I've not only gained whole story ideas from reading these discoveries, but more often gained valuable bits of world-building detail to help flesh out stories that I'm already working on.  And these stories don't have to be historical.

For example, someone writing a paranormal romance may be very intrigued to read this article on a recently reported Medieval English skeleton with metal spikes driven through its shoulders, heart, and ankles -- a form of burial not only for suspected vampires but for social deviants.  I could imagine a young, unusual heroine running afoul of her society not only because of her paranormal abilities but because of her non-conformist practices and beliefs.

Or maybe you would be inspired to write a story of a man's quest to find the cave inhabited by a Native American woman which inspired another great story -- The Island of the Blue Dolphins.  Does he have some sort of psychic connection with the woman from another time period?  Would his discovery pave the way for a time-traveling romance? Or perhaps, could he be a descendant?

Or maybe you could envision a contemporary romantic comedy where an eccentric Civil War collector, in cleaning his house, has to call in the bomb squad to remove some of his collection.

I could envision a whole new archaeologist-style adventure series based on the re-opening of an ancient site (Karkemish) on the Turkish-Syrian border, one littered with mines, where Lawrence of Arabia once excavated.

Maybe you'd like to write a medieval drama of a nunnery run afoul of the church due to reports of bearing children and lesbian conduct.  It might be fun to create a Modern Family sort of soap opera with this unusual, historical setting.

What about a story of a youth in ancient Rome who suffered from gigantism, causing him to be at least a foot taller than all his friends.  Was he revered as a Titan-like being?  Or did he endure jeers from his friends?

Or perhaps one could craft a historical murder mystery out of two skeletons -- a 19-year-old woman and an older man -- found at the bottom of a Neolithic well in Israel's Jezreel Valley.  Were they killed together, having been discovered in an illicit romance?  Or could it have been an ancient murder-suicide?

I picked up another cool bit, but can't reveal that one here.  Keeping it for myself. :-)

Writers continuously draw from bits of evidence such as these and then let their minds go wild with questions that build their worlds and their stories.  But having real evidence to back up a story makes it that much more fascinating and the world building more lifelike.

So, writers -- where DO you get your inspiration?  And would any of these tidbits that I find fascinating inspire you as well?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Interview with Fuzzbom Publishing

I am thrilled to welcome to the blog today Ian Kezsbom and Deborah Pasachoff from Fuzzbom Publishing.  Ian and Deborah are the publishers of Fuzzbom and the driving force behind its speculative fiction anthologies, Journeys of Wonder.  Ian also writes wonderfully high-concept middle grade and speculative fiction, while Deborah is a meticulously detailed editor.  I have been completely thrilled with my experience with Fuzzbom as my short story "Lighting the Sacred Way" was included in the most recent JoW (volume 2), and thus wanted to learn more about how Fuzzbom started and what their future plans are.

Deborah and Ian are quite focused on producing quality books and bring a drive and energy to their work that is both professional and exciting.  The level of editing, the quality of the cover art, the attention to detail, and their drive to market and promote are just top-notch.  I hope you will enjoy the interview with the masterminds behind this up-and-coming publisher as much as I have!

Welcome Ian and Deborah!

         1)  How did the idea for starting Fuzzbom originate?
Ian: Deborah and I have always loved books. For the past years (and still currently), I have been focusing on traditionally publishing my books for children (primarily middle grade). During all this time I noticed two things occurring. One was the rise of digital publishing, which in turn helped independent publishing grow. The second was that it was getting harder and harder to sell short stories for any significant amount of money. I had a bunch of adult short stories I had been shopping around, sometimes being offered only $2 or less for them. I had a bunch of writing partners with the same issue, and we approached them about creating our own compilation (which became “Journeys of Wonder”). Originally it was just something we were doing for fun, but it soon became apparent that we had something more in our hands.

Deborah: Fuzzbom itself is the film company that Ian and some friends started before he and I met. We decided to use the same name for our publishing company so that someday when all our creative ventures are super profitable, we can easily have them all under one umbrella. But the idea for publishing started as just the anthologies; it was only after creating the first one that we started to consider doing other projects. The anthologies were Ian's idea...we know so many great authors shopping short stories around, and we felt like we could offer a more lucrative outlet than most of the traditional magazines. 

2) How did you go about forming your team?
Ian: As I stated above, I initially approached other writers I knew and trusted who also had short stories they wanted to try and sell (in this case it was Lisa Gail Green and Leslie S. Rose). It wasn’t long before we realized that, between the four of us (including my wife), we created a powerful editing team.

Deborah: Initially, we just went to some authors whose work we respected to see if they would want to contribute stories. Then it became a huge collaboration to get things edited to the point we were happy with. For volumes two and three (which we started working on at the same time), we reached out a little further to include friends and industry contacts.

3) What were the surprises you faced in publishing your first book?
Ian: There were a few. One of the big ones was how much work went into it. It’s not that we ever expected it to be easy, but it ended up being much more difficult and time-consuming (and rewarding) than we ever expected. From the editorial aspect of getting the stories just right, to the technical aspect of creating the physical ebook from scratch, we faced new and harder challenges every step of the way.
Another big surprise was how much support we found in the independent publishing community. There are so many people who aren’t writers/publishers helping us to promote our books, giving honest reviews, and even giving advice, that it’s been fun making new “online” friends.

Deborah: We knew that there would be a ton of work to do this the way we wanted to. I think Ian was a little surprised by just how much technical work he had to do to get the ebook created. We are just lucky that between the two of us we have a really diversified skill set. I think everything in this process takes longer than you expect it will, and that's the biggest surprise.

4) What are the challenges that a startup publisher faces in today's market and what are the advantages this changing market presents?
Ian: As with any startup in any business, one of the major challenges is getting recognition. This is especially hard in this new market. There are a lot of independently published books out there all competing for the same virtual space. Even though that space might be unlimited, it’s still a challenge getting your books to a place a reader might find them.

Deborah: There are so many opportunities in today's market for startup/indie publishers. But I think the biggest challenge is that everyone seems to view that as meaning that there are no costs of entry into the industry. That's a two-fold problem: the first is that people don't always take us seriously, and the second is that there is unfortunately a lot of bad stuff out there by indie "publishers" who don't even take the time to edit the work before making an ebook. We also have to compete with companies out there that just do ebook formatting, even though we think we have a lot more to offer than they do. On the flip side, it is so great to have access to low cost ways of publishing like ebooks and print on demand.

5) What do you think Fuzzbom has to offer to readers that isn't already available elsewhere?
Ian: We’re hoping that we can offer affordable independent books that have as much time and care put into them as any traditionally published book. We’re very selective in the stories we choose to work on, and once we select something we put a lot of time into giving it the care both it and the eventual reader deserve. While there are a lot of well-written independent books out there, we hope that the care we put into anything under the Fuzzbom brand will be able to stand out in an already crowded market.

Deborah: We are excited to introduce readers to some great new writers. A lot of folks seem to only want to publish someone who has already made a name for themselves. Or else people will publish anything they can. But we want to make high quality books that help writers and readers find each other. I don't think that's something that doesn't exist yet, but I do think it's something that isn't prevalent enough.

6) What are your future plans for Fuzzbom?
Ian: We have some novels and non-fiction works that we’re in the early stages of production on, as well as plans for other short story anthologies (in addition to the “Journeys of Wonder” line).

Deborah: We plan to keep producing anthologies through “Journeys of Wonder”...probably around three volumes a year. Eventually we will also be able to offer volumes with all the stories of a similar genre, etc. We are also already talking with some authors about totally different projects, both fiction and non-fiction. In short, we're busy!


Thank you so much Ian and Deborah for taking the time to share your experience with us!

For the blog readers -- you'll want to be sure to check out the Journeys of Wonder blog where Ian and Deborah post regularly on their experience as independent publishers.  I think you will find it quite interesting and informative.

You can also find names and links to the rest of Journeys of Wonder staff here, including Lisa Gail Green and Leslie S. Rose, both talented writers and readers of this blog.

If you have questions for Ian or Deborah, please feel free to post them in the comments.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

In Storytelling, POV is Everything

There are so many aspects of writing a story that are crucial to the success of reaching your reader, so as a follow-up to the post I did on Monday, In Storytelling, Emotion Trumps All, I thought I'd focus on another aspect that I also consider absolutely essential to telling a compelling story.

In storytelling, POV is EVERYTHING.

Think about it. Where else in life can you get into somebody else's head?

You can't do it in real life.  No matter how close you are to your husband or wife, no matter that you've loved and watched your child's every development since the moment of still cannot get inside their head to hear their thoughts and feel their emotions as if they were your own.

Even TV and film do not offer the deep POV which we can find inside the pages of a book.  Aside from a few voice-overs, most of what you see on the screen is watching characters from the outside...just like in real life...though the story may be so focused that we may come away with greater insights.

It is the unique opportunity presented by a story that allows the reader to fully enter into someone else's point of view, to feel their emotions, understand their beliefs, experience their fears, which makes novels forever appealing to readers.

I think getting into a POV that is not your own is one of the greatest exercises we participate in when becoming a writer.  If we as writers can truly immerse ourselves in the thoughts, beliefs, and fears of someone who is not "me," we can expand not only our own world view, but that of our readers as well.  Having just come off a brutal election, I think developing this ability to empathize and understand someone who is not ourselves is perhaps the greatest gift writers have to offer the world.

There is so much to say on developing the POV of your characters, but I'd like to offer two points here.  Choose a compelling POV(s) and then dive as deep into that head as you possibly can.

With each story I write, I try to work with a POV that provides unique insight to the story for the reader and an interesting challenge to me to write it.  A POV can be compelling because of the personality of the character or the conflict they are experiencing.  Whatever you do when choosing your POV, don't go for easy.

Then dive deep into that head.  Try, as much as possible, to get out of your own world view and into the perception of how your character would experience the story.  Filter everything through the POV that you are in -- the setting, the other characters, the dialogue, and especially the conflict.  Make this POV so real and so compelling that your reader will feel as if he or she is truly inside someone else's head experiencing the world through their eyes.

Because what a powerful gift to the world that is.

Monday, November 5, 2012

In Storytelling, Emotion Trumps All

Last year, in honor of NaNoWriMo, I did a series of short posts, taken from Harry Potter, to encourage and inspire NoNo participants.  As I know writers are intent on keeping their focus on writing and don't have much time to read blog posts, I kept them short (for me) and (hopefully) sweet.

I'm late to the gate, but plan to repeat that this year, though it will probably be 2-3 times a week rather than every day.

For this first post, I thought I'd go write to the heart of the matter - emotion.  When I present my HP for Writers workshop, I usually start with the three things which I believe drove HP to the stratosphere of success: 1) lovable, quirky characters, 2) fantastically detailed, fun world building, and 3) an engaging series-spanning mystery.  However, what lies beneath and powers all of these is the emotional conflict Harry and his friends face in each book, and the emotional response their adventures and interactions arouse in the reader.

I've read a couple of articles recently warning writers not to let their words get in the way of telling a good story, and reminding us that our  largest audience is not other writers, but readers -- who have a different set of priorities than our writer friends.

I think for many of us who care deeply about craft, we can get so focused on crafting our words, that we forget to enthrall our reader with a deeply-felt emotional story.  To be honest, when we hear ourselves complaining about how this-or-that book made it onto a bestseller list, this is often the reason why.  That author may have not written with exquisite craft, but I guarantee you they had a storyteller's heart that elicited emotions in their reader.

Think back to your best-loved books, especially the ones from perhaps younger days that you dog-eared favorite passages.  Were those passages where the prose was luminescent, flowing like a river through the sublime subconscious?  Or did they rock with emotion?  Emotion that gripped you, made you hold your breath, or wish you were in those pages?

In looking back at my favorite Harry Potter book, Goblet of Fire, I'll share a passage with you that would be dog-eared if I still did that to a book. :-)

     A torrent of sound deafened and confused him; there were voices everywhere, footsteps, screams....He remained where he was, his face screwed up against the noise, as though it were a nightmare that would pass.... 
     Then a pair of hands seized him roughly and turned him over. 
     "Harry! Harry!" 
     He opened his eyes. 
     He was looking up at the starry sky, and Albus Dumbledore was crouched over him. ...
     Harry let go of the cup, but he clutched Cedric to him even more tightly. He raised his free hand and seized Dumbledore's wrist, while Dumbledore's face swam in and out of focus. 
     "He's back," Harry whispered. "He's back. Voldemort." 
     "What's going on? What's happened?" 
     The face of Cornelius Fudge appeared upside down over Harry; it looked white, appalled. 
     "My God - Diggory!" it whispered. "Dumbledore - he's dead!" 
     The words were repeated, the shadowy figures pressing in on them gasped it to those around them...and then others shouted it - screeched it - into the night - "He's dead!" "He's dead!" "Cedric Diggory! Dead!" 
     "Harry, let go of him," he heard Fudge's voice say, and he felt fingers trying to pry him from Cedric's limp body, but Harry wouldn't let him go. Then Dumbledore's face, which was still blurred and misted, came closer. 
     "Harry, you can't help him now. It's over. Let go." 
     "He wanted me to bring him back," Harry muttered - it seemed important to explain this. "He wanted me to bring him back to his parents...." 
     "That's right. Harry...just let go now...." 
     Dumbledore bent down, and with extraordinary strength for a man so old and thin, raised Harry from the ground and set -him on his feet. Harry swayed. ... Fudge was saying loudly. "He's ill, he's injured - Dumbledore, Diggory's parents, they're here, they're in the stands...." 
     "I'll take Harry, Dumbledore, I'll take him -" 
     "No, I would prefer-" 
     "Dumbledore, Amos Diggory's running...he's coming over....Don't you think you should tell him - before he sees - ?" 
     "Harry, stay here -" 
     Girls were screaming, sobbing hysterically....The scene flickered oddly before Harry's eyes.... 
The emotion of this scene, especially when I first read it as a young parent, was so deep and so real, it struck a chord with me.  I've analyzed part of why I think it worked on my post about the power of touch.  But there's such a complex web of emotions being woven into this scene: Harry's horror at witnessing the murder of Cedric and his vow to his spirit; Dumbledore's care and concern for the injured Harry; the news reaching Cedric's parents in the stands of the loss of their son (the worst horror of all); and the emotional reactions from Cedric's friends.

NaNoWriMo is the month in which we commit to starting and finishing a complete novel, in which we turn off our internal editor and just keep going.  It's an excellent time, therefore, to remind yourself to focus on the one thing that matters above all...the emotions of your characters and the story you are telling.

Happy writing!

Question: What would be the primary emotional response you would be seeking from your reader in the story you are currently writing?

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