Welcome to my writing cave, where myth, magic, and mystery collide. Please come on in, step closer to the fire, and let's share some stories...

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Updated and Expanded Edition of A Writer's Guide to Harry Potter Releases Soon!

A Writer's Guide to Harry Potter
I'm thrilled to share some exciting news. A newly updated and expanded edition of A Writer's Guide to Harry Potter will be releasing July 26, 2016! My publisher, Deep River Press, has some wonderful plans for this 5th anniversary edition.

First, the book has been completely revised and expanded with more examples and some new analysis, including thoughts on the upcoming Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This edition will be available in both paperback and Kindle through all major retailers.

But one addition I'm truly excited about are the upcoming workbooks and teachers' guides. Encouraging a love of creative writing with Harry Potter as the text is a natural step for many teachers who grew up on the series. Now, we'll provide educators with workbooks at two levels, middle grade and upper grade, along with a teacher's guide to help make this an exciting enhancement to the classroom curriculum.

If you've read my Writer's Guide in the past, or attended any of my workshops, and would be willing to give me a quote, or are interested in reading an ARC of the new book and providing a review, please contact me at SPSipal AT gmail.com. Or, if you're an educator interested in the workbooks and teachers' guides, you may contact my publisher at publicity AT deepriverpressinc.com.

Check out the new book on Amazon here. It's available only for preview until July 26, but you can add it to any of your wish lists now.

Note: I will also be teaching from the new Guide and using the workbook when I teach the class at Central Carolina Community College from July 14 through August 8 at the Pittsboro, NC campus. See more info and sign up here under the link for The Crafting of a Bestseller.

About the Book:

A Writer's Guide to Harry Potter
Improve Your Writing with Harry Potter as Your Text!
The Harry Potter magic lives on as J.K. Rowling expands her wizarding world into new stories and formats. For five years, writers and fans from all continents have used A Writer's Guide to Harry Potter to delve beneath her pages' surface to discover the skill and artistry which created a story that enchanted audiences across generations. In this newly revised and expanded edition, S.P. Sipal takes you even deeper than before, exploring new techniques, and even peering into the artistic and marketing vision behind the upcoming Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

No matter your genre, this guide will help you strengthen your craft by virtually apprenticing under a bestselling mentor. Through fourteen lessons, discover the expert techniques Ms. Rowling employs which makes her series such a phenomenal success and which will help improve your own craft and style.

Topics include:

  • characterization
  • world building
  • backstory
  • mystery plotting
  • myths and archetypes
  • fan interaction
  • social media
  • and author-driven publishing and promotion.

Friday, June 10, 2016

On JK Rowling, The Cursed Child, and The Right of an Artist to Choose Her Canvas

Certain corners of the internet have been blowing up the last few days over Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The trouble started brewing when JK Rowling announced in December 2013 that the long-awaited next installment (sorta) of Harry Potter would be a play. A theater production in London. Something only a few people among her millions of fans could attend. Those around London. Or those with money.

Needless to say, fans were NOT happy! And for good reason. Fandom is a large reason that Cursed Child is even possible. It seemed the beloved headmistress of reader magic was deliberately cutting off the people who had made her such a success.

Hearing these rumblings, Jo and her people deliberated, doubtlessly, and on February 10, 2016 another announcement was made that Cursed Child would be published. A book! (Sorta) Of the script, at least. Something all fans could read!! (By the way, this is the same plan for the upcoming film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them -- a scriptbook to be released along with the movie).

But then the play's previews were announced. Seven weeks before the book Cursed Child is to be released, a very few lucky fans have been able to actually SEE Cursed Child in London's West End Palace Theater. Those lucky few have been told to #KeepTheSecrets. Not spoil the unlucky millions waiting for the book's release. But, of course, the Fidelius charm only works with a very trusted secret keeper.

So fandom is heating up again. It's not fair! Some people are getting to see a play earlier than we can read it! Spoilers are everywhere! I can't view the story in its intended format.

At the heart, I think, is a sense of loss, a collective bereavement for a time that may never come again...and yet, for a glimmer of a moment, we thought it had magically re-apparated. That time when fandom was ONE in waiting for, instantly opening, and together reading the highly anticipated new release. Good times.

Believe me, I understand this universal sense of loss. I stood in line for each new Harry Potter release, read as much as I could over night, and was ready to shoot out new theories for the next book the next day. Sigh. I'm upset too that I can't afford to hop on a plane to London, book a hotel, and purchase expensive theater tickets...for two nights! Because Cursed Child is a play in two parts, with a cliffhanger ending at the end of the first.

But I'm a writer too. An artist like Jo (sorta, don't have that legions of fans things going on, ya know). And there's one thing I feel passionately about -- the right to tell my story the way it needs to be told. Each story dictates to me how it should be told. Almost everything I write is in a different genre, category, format, or style. If I want to forego the advantage of building a fanbase in one medium, that's my choice.

I've chosen the artistic life not for the fame (ha!), or the money (bent over in hysterics), but because of the intense, driving need to get the stories out of my mind and out to the world in a way that is as true to them as it possible in this materialistic business.

Despite Jo's millions of fans, and maybe even more so because of them, she STILL has the right to choose her canvas. She has every right to tell her story in the way it needs to be told, to remain true to her artistic vision, to broaden her creativity, even if that means some people get to experience it before others.

Of course, she has a responsibility to her fans as well. Respect and story-telling is always a two-way street. But that's what the book is for. She listened to the fans whom she's always treated well*. She responded. And now, for her readers to demand that they get it all, to time-travel back to an experience they adored, is, in my POV, a bit self-serving...and living in a fantasy world.

I'll never forget the power of waiting among a unified community of  passionate readers for the release of a book....as if the biggest rock star had come to town. But I'm now equally excited to see what a woman of such creative magic can do for stage and screen when she is allowed free rein with her artistic tools.

What about you? Are you eagerly awaiting the release of Cursed Child? Or content to let your Harry Potter years rest preserved in your memory?

*Putting aside, for now, the controversy surrounding the Pottermore release of four stories related to Fantastic Beasts and the criticism the first drew regarding cultural appropriation. I'll discuss this in a future post.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Southern Fried Wiccan Release Day with Giveaway, Plus Interview with Editor Mary Waibel

Release day is finally here! Southern Fried Wiccan is live today!

Southern Fried Wiccan by S.P. Sipal
Many moons ago, when I first got the offer from BookFish Books, I was thrilled.  Finally, this story I had worked so long and so hard on would be shared with the readers I'd written it for. I didn't quite realize how much more long and hard work I had ahead of me.

But Mary Waibel, as my content editor, and Ellie Sipila, as my line and copy editor, made that work a fun and learning experience. I'm so thrilled that Mary is celebrating with me today by sharing her experience not only as an editor, but a writer as well.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Presenting Workshop on Harry Potter for Writers and Upcoming Blog Tours

 Southern Fried Wiccan
It's finally here! The release month for Southern Fried Wiccan!!! And with the March 24 release comes a lot of activity.

Workshop on Harry Potter for Writers at SavvyAuthors:

First off (and this was actually set before my release date for SFW) -- I will be presenting my Harry Potter for Writers workshop for SavvyAuthors from March 16 - April 12. Here's a brief description:

Using Ms Rowling's phenomenally popular series as a base, we will delve below the surface of her prose to determine what made her writing so magical for so many. Learn about giving the reader more, the value of subtext, using mythic themes and structure to advantage, plotting a trail-of-clues mystery, and the business of self promotion.
Check this link for more detailed information and to sign up. This workshop is always a lot of fun, and I do my best to incorporate new aspects that are of interest to the participants.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Withholding Backstory to Ensnare Readers' Interest with Examples from Harry Potter

I once heard literary agent Donald Maass give a workshop on his Writing the Breakout Novel. One thing he said I will always remember -- backstory is called backstory because it belongs in the back of the story.

Too many beginning writers make one big mistake -- loading their first scene, first chapter, first quarter of the book with way too much backstory. They feel that the reader won't understand their protagonist, their plot, their world, unless they TELL ALL upfront. However, this usually deadens the forward movement, the energy of the story, and leaves the reader without any urgent mystery to propel them onward.

One of the most important mysteries you should be pushing your reader to discover is the compelling backstory you’ve withheld. Think about JKR. Her masterful withholding of backstory is the energy that thrust the reader not only through the first book, but the next several to come as well.

Take a look at these key Harry Potter series mysteries, based on backstory, that readers were dying to know:

  • What actually happened in Godric's Hollow?
  • Which side was Snape truly on?
  • Why did Voldemort want to kill a one-year-old baby ?
  • What did Dumbledore see in the Mirror of Erised?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Love Stories from Irish Myths Retold in Grá mo Chroí "Love of my Heart" by Ali Isaac and Jane Dougherty

I am so happy to welcome two very special guests to the blog today. Jane Dougherty is one of the most talented writers I know. Her Green Woman trilogy is a vividly written and fantastically dark post-apocalyptic story that breathes old myths to new life. I'm just getting to know Ali through Grá mo Chroí, and love the passion she brings to the retelling of these classic stories. Together, Jane and Ali have written a beautiful collection of love stories that transported me to an Ireland long ago...and yet still alive. And with Valentine's Day approaching, I can't think of anything lovelier to read. So join me in wishing a:

Happy Book Birthday to Ali Isaac and Jane Dougherty with Grá mo Chroí - "Love of my Heart"!

Thank you Susan for letting Ali Isaac and Jane Dougherty (that’s us) use your blog today. On February 11th, Grá mo Chroí will be released, a joint adventure into the retelling of some of the great love stories from Irish myth.

 Grá mo Chroí

‘Love of my Heart’

Love Stories from Irish Myth

Long ago in a green island surrounded by protective mists, a people lived among the relics of a bygone age of which they knew nothing, not being archaeologists, but around whom they created a mythology. They were a volatile people, easily moved to love or war, and motivated by a strict sense of honour. They had women warriors and handsome lovers, wicked queens and cruel kings, precious heroines and flawed heroes. Magic was in the air, beneath the ground, and in the waves of the sea, and hyperbole was the stuff of stories. They were the Irish, and these are a few retellings of some of their beautiful stories.

Ali Isaac and Jane Dougherty are writers with a shared heritage. Ali has woven that heritage into the fabric of her stories about Conor Kelly and his adventures in the Otherworld. Jane consistently slips references to the old stories and the old heroes into all of her novels.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Symbolism behind the Ancient Magic of the Cauldron

In my area of the South, no proper family reunion would be held without Brunswick stew. And, as everyone knows, a proper Brunswick stew is prepared in a cast iron pot over an outside fire. The stew needs that smoky flavor to attain its true heights of deliciosity. Yum!

I've been thinking about these cast iron pots since I incorporated one into a key scene in Southern Fried Wiccan. There's magic long associated with this old, simple cooking implement, and I began to wonder why.

Humans have always eaten, but only in the last million years or so have we transformed our food from its natural, raw state by the aid of fire. Some scientist credit this new cooking technology with the rapid expansion of the Homo brain into the modern humans we now are.

from spicycinderella.wordpress
Imagine for a moment that you are living in days long ago, before electricity, before solidly constructed homes and a reliable heat source. How amazing would the warmth and protection that a fire offers feel to you? Then to add to this magic, the transformation that occurs when tough, bloody meat is roasted over the crackling flames to bring out the tender, savory goodness. Or later, when technology had progressed enough to put a vessel atop those flames - a pot (of leather or baked clay initially) of hot liquid giving new life to leftover bones and discarded scraps of plants. Surely this was magic.

Gundestrup cauldron, from Denmark
Is it any wonder, then, that one of the most ancient, most universal symbols of magic is the cauldron over a fire? This simple, common pot that has nourished people for millennia? Long considered the domain of women and the goddess, the spiritual aspect of food transformation has been associated with Hestia as the hearth goddess of ancient Greece, to the Celtic Ceridwen and her cauldron, to Kamuy Fuchi the Japanese goddess of the hearth and gatekeeper to the other realm. In the mystical beliefs of Islamic Sufis, only those who attained spiritual enlightenment were fully "cooked."

In Southern Fried Wiccan, I employed the symbolism of this cooking vessel by two women who each use it to perform their own brand of magic. Mother Faith, the Wiccan priestess, uses a small altar cauldron to help her young witches focus their minds and energy on what it is they truly want to achieve, whereas G-ma, the protagonist's grandmother, uses the food and drinks she lovingly prepares to heal and strengthen all those she comes in contact with.

In modern times, women have fought to free themselves from the enforced bonds of hearth and home. Which, as someone who knows full well how time-consuming proper food preparation is, I 100% agree with. But I also believe it important to understand and embrace the original associations of this ancient symbol...for ALL sexes. The cauldron and the fire were born from the awe of those who wielded the magical abilities to transform one substance into something new and delicious. It's a symbol of power and knowledge.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Secret Door Through Platform 9 3/4 into a World of Our Dreams

The portal. The secret door. The entry into an unknown and fantastic world. Is there any more cliched trope of fantasy writing no matter how creative the author may get? For L. Frank Baum, a tornado  acts as the portal, transporting Dorothy from her farm in Kansas to the magical world of Oz.  In C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, it was the...well...wardrobe that hid an entrance to Narnia. And as all Potter fans know, it was Platform 9 3/4 that is best remembered as the secret door through which Harry left his Muggle life with the Dursley's to truly enter the magical world (although he'd taken a short dip through The Leaky Cauldron into Diagon Alley).

The Appeal of the Forbidden Secret:

In his book The Writer's Journey, author Christopher Vogler talks about the Law of the Secret Door (p. 112-113) (also related to Carl Jung's "Forbidden Door"). Many myths include a set-up whereby the heroine is told she must never eat from a certain tree, never open a certain box, or never pass through a certain door, upon pain of death. Of course the myths I’m referring to are Eve in the Garden of Eden, Pandora with her box, and Belle in Beauty and the Beast. We all know what happens, what is sure to happen anytime this sort of situation presents itself in a story. If you have children, you probably have this happen quite regularly in your life as well.

The power of curiosity is universal. In the words of the immortal Dumbledore, "Curiosity is not a sin.... But we should exercise caution with our curiosity... yes, indeed" (p. 598, GoF). Whereas later in the series Harry more strongly develops his own driving need to set the world right by stopping Voldemort, in the first three books, curiosity is one of the prime motivators driving on Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

Threshold Guardians Challenge the Seeker:

To further drive home the dangerous and important nature of these portals to new worlds or gateways to new challenges, Threshold Guardians are before them to keep the unworthy out. A guardian may be a goodhearted ally of the hero, looking out for his best interest, or he may be an accomplice of the villain, seeking to harm or hinder the hero from completing his quest. Either way, as part of his quest, the hero will be tested by his ability to overcome or win over the many Threshold Guardians he will encounter along the way.

At Platform 9 3/4, it is the guard who, with Muggle ignorance of the wizarding world and his belief that Harry is pranking him, keeps Harry from, initially, finding the hidden door. Harry must not give up, he has to listen for clues and approach the odd family that will provide him entry...the Weasleys.


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