27 February 2015

Five Good Things

If you’ve been keeping up with my Facebook page, you’ll know I’m neck deep re-working the outline for my Work In Progress. I suffered a round of depression when I calculated that Act 1 needs to go on an extreme diet or I’ll end up with a 1200+ page doorstop, just for the first book! Using a physical plot board rather than the computer screen has helped a lot. It’s much easier to see what’s going on and what’s missing. (Don’t worry, Beloved Scrivener [http://www.literatureandlatte.com], I still love you!) I’ve used the board to reorganize my Scrivener files and I’m rarin’ to go!

In the meantime, I want to share with you some fun news and articles from people who are not suffering Writer’s Embarrassment.

“HEA is thrilled to unveil the cover of Fierce: Sixteen Authors of Fantasy, a multiauthor boxed set that features 16 of the most entrancing high fantasy reads from Mercedes Lackey, Michael Manning, K.F. Breene, Morgan Rice, Michael J. Ploof, Daniel Arenson, Kate Sparkes, David Adams, Amy Raby, C. Greenwood, David Dalglish, K.J. Colt, Shae Ford, Endi Webb, Michael Wallace and Terah Edun.”

Game Of Thrones: PowerPoint Edition
Stock shapes in PowerPoint take fantasy to a new level.

Hardback Editions of Thread Slivers and Thread Strands
My friend Leeland Artra is about to bring his books to the world as both hardbacks and mass-media paperbacks. And his video is pretty fun to watch, too.

Dragon Sketch by HELMUTTT on DeviantART
“This is just a quick sketch of a dragon I did. really nothing special and actually quite boring.” Methinks he doth protest too much.

Joe Abercrombie’s Fantasy Land
“With the second book in his YA-flavoured Shattered Sea trilogy out this month - featuring a quote from none other than Game Of Thrones’ George RR Martin on the front - novelist Joe Abercrombie talks to Vision about why fantasy is just as adept as literary fiction in reflecting the world in the 21st century.”

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What fascinating fantasy have you seen on the ‘net recently? Comment below, and share this post in your Google+ groups.

20 February 2015

Nail Your Villain

via Sam Lavy, Flickr
Who doesn’t love a good — er, bad villain? Some excellent examples are Prince Regal in The Farseer Trilogy, Norman Bates from Psycho, Commodus* in Gladiator, Professor Umbrage from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Eremus from Mordant’s Need, Arienrhod in The Snow Queen.

What makes them so bad we love ‘em and can’t wait to see them brought low?


Yup, you read right. A villain—or antagonist, adversary—is so much more believable and so much more frightening when he’s not simply evil for the sake of being evil. As author Ben Bova noted, “No one actually sets out to do evil.” (12 Things I Wish I had Known When I Started Writing) From his point of view he’s not the bad guy at all. He has goals, feelings, regrets, dreams, wants, and needs just like the protagonist. They just happen to get in the way of our leading character, whose sterling qualities would look a lot different from the other side of the tale.

So what makes this chill-producing, nightmare-inducing opponent work?
  1. He’s trying to accomplish something achievable. “Conquering the world” is usually a little over the top, but conquering a city, country, person, culture, belief, or behavior is perfectly credible.
  2. He has motivation. “I’m just evil that way” ain’t it. He needs to right a wrong, seek justice, prevent what he believes is disaster.
  3. He has feelings about what he’s doing. Does he believe he’s superior to his opponent or the situation he’s in? Is he bitter? Humiliated? Vengeful?
  4. He has depth. While his purpose may drive him (and may drive him around the bend a bit), there are other things going on in his life. Normal things. He enjoys the opera, collects chess sets, is an avid rider, and a smashing yachtsman. There are things about him that people like or respect besides his fearsome temper, ninja skillz, or deadly aim.
These are all things I’m keeping in mind as I’m circling around the villain in my current WIP and getting to know him better. He’s a tough cookie, both for my protagonist and for me, but I’m enjoying the challenge, and I can’t wait for you to meet him!

*Does anyone else see “commode” when they read the name “Commodus”?

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Who are some of your favorite villains or antagonists?

13 February 2015

Saira & the Dragon's Egg Serial by Moira Katson: New Release + Giveaway

I'm so excited to have the lovely Moira Katson visiting today! She's got a new YA fantasy series — or rather serial — out and it sounds so fun! Take a gander at the blurb for the first one:
Saira doesn't know how she ended up in a mountain cave. She's not quite sure where she got this magic sword, either - or the tattoo on her arm. In fact, Saira can't say for certain who she is.  
What she does know: she's been kidnapped by bandits. And apparently, they're planning to use her as bait for a city full of ghosts ...
And take a look at this cover. Isn't it gorgeous?

This is going to be of great interest to Crow, who has an interest in dragon eggs himself. Hehe!

What, I wondered, motivated her to write the story? So I asked.

Moira: As many stories, Saira began with a "what if:" What if this series of events occurred (I'd tell you, dear readers, but there are so very many spoilers) and our hero woke up alone, in a cave, with no memories? What would she make of it? What would everyone around her make of it? How would she figure out what had happened to her? I knew I wanted to write something that, while there were serious elements to the story, would have room for a lot of fun and humor — and Saira and her cohorts were just the group!

RL: Sounds perfect, right? Humor, adventure, amnesia… Okay, we have got to see how this turns out.

Question: In a nutshell, what’s your writing process, Moira?

Moira: Morning is my writing time — I get up when the house is still quiet and put in an hour or so, and then write when I get home at night. Weekends will often find me curled up on the couch with my laptop and a mug of tea! For each story, I write an outline with the specific scenes and objectives I'm looking for in each chapter, and proceed to ignore about half of it. I've learned to trust that characters can solve problems — If I know a chapter needs to end with them finding a safe way to jump off a cliff, they'll oblige. 

RL: So an outline is more of a guideline than a rule. Just what I thought! I, too, like to have an idea where I'm going, though there are no rules against detours. They might be better than the "plan"!

One more question: What was the toughest challenge you faced when writing, and how did you overcome it? 

Moira: To quote Robin McKinley: "Every 'once upon a time' for me is another experience of white-water rafting in a leaky inner tube." It really does hit the nail on the head. With Novum, I had to reach into some very dark parts of myself in order to have my characters face an apocalypse with realism — and in this story, the struggle was to keep the characters from getting lost in the tumble of events. The difference in the type of writing was very jarring. It's new every time, so the toughest challenge is adapting!

RL: That sounds like an exciting challenge, though, and similar to what I'm facing with my current project. It is amazing the things we learn about ourselves when we write, and amazing all over again to be able to share it with readers. I don't know about you, but after experiencing "writing," I often find myself wondering about the author when I read. What life experiences do they have that puts these stories in their heads? It is a mystery!

But hey, you know what's not a mystery?

The giveaway that goes along with the release! Hooray! Somebody's gonna have free stories to read …! A copy of Episode 1 (Saira & the Magic Sword) will go to five lucky individuals, and one winner will get all 8 episodes. Booyah.

Moira will choose the winners from those people who comment here on the post or on Facebook.

So what are you waiting for? Go! Quick! Type! Win!

06 February 2015

Miniviews (With A Drift of Quills)

A Drift of Quills is here again! We’re like clockwork that way, every Friday! Today we’re doing “miniviews” — shortshortshort interviews with some of our favorite authors. We each picked a victim, er… writer, and asked them the same three questions. Read on to see how they answered.

A.E. Marling leaped into the indie writer scene about three years ago with his impressive debut, Brood of Bones. (Not that I’ve talked about that before, but who’s counting?) Behind the book’s gorgeous cover is a story about an enchantress with a sleeping problem and a city full of pregnant women. All of them, from virgin to grandmother. What’s a curious, respectable, responsible woman to do?

I thoroughly enjoyed the book—and his others as well. So I asked him if we could take a tiny peek at his writerly self, and he was gracious enough to accept.

Q: What makes you write?
A: I want readers to be able to take adventures to the farthest shores of imagination. To see things they've never seen. To be told a new story with a beginning, middle, and resonate end. To have it finish in a weekend's worth of pages.

Q: Badguys: pure evil or misunderstood adversary?
A: Every story is a tragedy from the perspective of the antagonist. I write my villains as having some of the same strengths as my heroes, but whereas the heroine overcomes her fatal flaw, the villain fails to grow. The villain's inability to change dooms him in the final act.

Q: What was the toughest challenge you faced when writing, and how did you overcome it? 
A: My first draft of Gown of Shadow and Flame was a disaster. No one liked or understood one of the principal characters. I self-medicated with a binge session of Skyrim, then I set about making the mechanics of her magic clearer. She's a character who has sold her humanity for the power to survive, and in the first draft her depression and bitter thoughts dragged down the reader. In the next version I gave her moments of joy, so we can glimpse her younger self and wish for her to succeed. Now Gown of Shadow and Flame is my best-reviewed story. 

I completely agree with this way of thinking  — except for the "weekend's worth of pages." I want mooooore!  I love big books and I cannot lie. And the misunderstood villain is challenging to write, but fantastic to read. Thank you for joining us, Mr. Marling! As always, I look forward to reading your next books (and he's a blast to follow on Twitter, too) and wish you the best of luck with your writing. 

Be sure to check out A.E. Marling's books!

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Author of the short story, Sanguis Dei and a poetry collection, Light and Dark

I hear tell that sometime in the late 1980's, Deanna Smith, author of the children's book The Dragon's Rocketship, received an old Mac Plus computer from her step-Dad and Mom. Trees all over the world heaved a sigh of relief. Because Deanna writes. About everything. Anywhere. All the time.

Read about what she’s up to (Read more!)

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Author of Oathtaker

I would like to introduce you to one of my new and dear Australian author friends, L. J. Clarkson. L.J. is the author of The Silver Strand (Mastermind Academy, #1) and Heaven and House – Rise of the Alpha.  She writes for middle graders and trust me when I say that she has a unique ability to think and speak like one!  She offers some interesting and off-beat characters, and providers readers with some good laughs!   

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Now it's your turn: Pick one of the questions and answer for yourself. We'd love to hear what you have to say!

30 January 2015

The Great Cover-Up

I love great book covers. I have a digital collection that I go through every now and then, admiring and deciphering what it is about each that particularly intrigues or pleases me. Some days the walk through my virtual gallery is for the simple desire to appreciate the artwork. On other days (especially when I’m contemplating the creation of a cover) I look through the collection to inspire ideas.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Book covers have to do a lot of work!

Aspiring authors, get this through your head. Cover art serves one purpose, and one purpose only, to get potential customers interested long enough to pick up the book to read the back cover blurb. In the internet age that means the thumb nail image needs to be interesting enough to click on. That’s what covers are for.” 
― Larry Correia

I will argue that cover art has another purpose: they’re for admiring, too. And they last longer than chocolate at my house. These are all quite different, and quite striking:
cover artist:  Larry Rostant 
cover artist:  Alejandro Colucci
cover artist:  unknown

If you are interested in reading (and seeing) more about covers and graphics, try these posts:

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Please share YOUR favorite covers in the comments below!

23 January 2015

More Good, Clean Reading

Are you one of those people that loves to read but hates trying to disinfect your eyeballs after they've been exposed to blood, guts, profanity or sex? Yeah, me, too … And I have good news!

As the hunt continues for providers of "clean" fiction, more sites and blogs are cropping up. This time I'd like to introduce you to Clean Indie Reads:
The goal of this site is to connect writers from across the fiction genre spectrum with readers who want to discover something great. Specifically, it is to find independent authors who are writing fiction that would generally be deemed “clean”. Does that mean everything featured on this site is squeaky-clean Disney-Princess pure? Well, no. But you can rest assured that these books are clean […]

Naturally, I'm most interested in their fantasy listings, and I'm always up for a little science fiction, but they have other categories too (so easy to get side-tracked to the pages for dystopian and steampunk!).

And look at their tagline! "Home of Flinch-Free Fiction!" You might want to pay a visit to my own list of Flinch-Free reading recommendations: Read these!

Clean Indie Reads also has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
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Have you got a go-to site for finding clean fantasy and sci-fi reads?

What are some of your favorite (clean) fantasy and sci-fi books?

16 January 2015

Getting Graphic

The word "graphic" comes from a Greek word that means "writing, drawing." Graphic representations are visual, symbolic, illustrative …  and written. Graphic descriptions are vivid, detailed, descriptive, illustrative. Do you see a connection here?

Authors who wants to sell their books (as I suppose most authors do) will draw more attention to themselves and their books if the package (author and books) is attractive.

I've talked before about what an important job book covers have. Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, points out that:
A book’s description is the “first and foremost concern” of the blogger and book reviewer known as “The Picky Girl.” Still, she thinks twice before accepting or buying a book with a bad (or cheap looking) cover. “I wonder what other areas lack quality and refinement,” she says. 
Like Picky Girl, Naomi Blackburn, one of the world’s top Goodreads reviewers, founder of the group The Sisterhood of the Traveling Book, and author of the business advice column The Author CEO, selects books based primarily on their description. But Blackburn, too, passes on books with bad covers. “If the cover seems to be nothing more than a catalog photograph with block lettering, I bypass it,” she says. “If the author didn’t care enough to dedicate time/effort to their cover, I wonder how much time they put into the book itself.”
Graphic designer and author C.L. Smith lists (and goes into detail about) some important guidelines in his article 14 Tips for Good Kindle Cover Design. These do not apply exclusively to Kindle/e-book covers. If you're concerned with making that first good impression, it would be well worth your while to read the full article.

But wait! There's more!

Your book may or may not be your first introduction to a potential reader. Your social media presence is important, too. It's your cover, your first impression space. Do you have a good-looking icon/profile photo? Does your header/cover photo (the "graphic page title") take advantage of the space to promote your brand or your books? Does it carry your logo or your tagline?

Identities with generic icons (Twitter's "egg" anyone?) and/or headers produce the same question as books with low-quality covers: I wonder what other areas lack quality and refinement?

Can you imagine Target's social media pages without the familiar red-and-white icon or heading? Apple without an apple? Coca-Cola without the bottle of coke and a smile? Toyota without their (okay, what IS that?) icon and "Let's go places" tagline?
"A strong visual brand helps you connect with your community and effectively convey your brand’s personality." (4 Ways Visual Design Can Improve Your Social Media Marketing, by Zach Kitschke via the Social Media Examiner)
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"Whatever our objectives are for marketing ourselves (establishing a reputation as an industry expert, selling a book we’ve written, or finding a new job are just a few ideas that might apply), our personal brand can help us familiarize our target audience with the facets of our character that make us an appealing investment." (Many Platforms, One Voice: How to Maintain a Consistent Social Media Persona, by Steve Glauberman via the Content Marketing Institute)
* * * 
"Due to the rapid growth of social media, consumers are exposed to a barrage of Tweets, "Likes," texts and messages on the Web and on their mobile devices. With the need to read or view images in seconds -- as well as on smaller screens -- graphic design plays an increasingly important role not only in building brand awareness and recognition but in merely attracting the user's attention." (The Importance of Graphic Design in Social Media by Elle Smith via Small Business Chron)
Look at social media pages.

Search for "images for social media headers."

Think about your brand's personality — What colors define it? Pick out a "brand font." (Remember to make sure it's commercially licensed and readable!) Choose a style (medieval? retro? futuristic? something else?).

Then what? Use them together every time you create new marketing materials. Consistency is important. It's noticeable. When your particular brand appears across the internet, people will recognize you.

So if you're not artistically talented (do your Photoshop or GIMP skills mimic the quality of your favorite book covers, social media headers, marketing materials?), where do you go?

There are loads of websites that design packages for you to use or custom-made graphics.

If you prefer doing it yourself, be sure the images you're using are 1) legally licensed, 2) not popular stock images—you don't want your cute-girl-with-a-ponytail showing up on a dozen other covers— and 3) following the 14 Tips for Good Kindle Cover Design.

Or, if you're on a tight budget, you could look into hiring dirt cheap affordable freelancers from sites like Fiverr, FiverUp, GigBucks and the like. Caveat: be careful. Research the site, research the artist. Like any other business, you want to make sure they're reliable.

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Do you pass over books with poorly done covers?

Do you ignore social media connections with generic graphics?

What do you struggle with as an author? Reader?