Okay. I started to write another Then and Now post. But it was boring. So I deleted it.
Instead, I thought we’d play a bit of a game.
‘Tis the season for feasting. I’m just back from a wonderful holiday trip to visit family on the other side of the country. My mother met me at the door with a half dozen types of cookies (including her can’t-be-matched sugar cookies — heaven!) During the course of one week, I indulged in Mom’s incredible teriyaki chicken wings, her brisket, and her mashed potatoes, along with Dad’s turkey (one of my favorite “big meal” stand-outs!). That doesn’t even count my new favorite pie — Mom’s key lime, with homemade cookie crust.
All of which leaves me thinking about the food and drink in the novels I write.
It’s no secret that food is important in my novels. Jane Madison has her Cake Walk bakery (with its dozens of specialties, including the famous Almond Lust and Lust After Dark…) FRIGHT COURT has its cupcake tarot, with the characters reading their fortune through randomly-chosen mini-cupcakes. My Diamond Brides baseball books have each featured at least one meal (ah, the seductive potential of food…)
Diana Wynn Jones famously derided Stew as a prototypical Fantasyland meal (and yet, stew is a good way to stretch tough cuts of meat and less-than-prime vegetables to feed a crowd. Hobbits famously love mushrooms. The Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster is legendary for its potency.
So… What are your favorite foods in the novels you’ve read? Or have you created special foods in the novels you write? What food stands out in the magical words that have inspired you?
(For me, it was the Turkish Delight that lures Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I didn’t even know what Turkish Delight was, but it was so magical I wanted some then and there. (Turns out, I’m not much of a fan, in real life )
John G. Hartness
It’s that time of the year again. That time when you’re standing around in a lot of stores thinking “what the heck am I getting (insert difficult to buy for person in your life here) this year?” The Big-Mouth Billy Bass idea didn’t go over so well, and they’ve never quite forgiven you for the t-shirt with Kirk, Picard, Janeway and Sisko in a Mt. Rushmore arrangement. So this year it’s time to get them something they’ll actually like. And of course, here on Magical Words, we’re pretty much always going to recommend books. Because no matter what that episode of Hoarders said about me, you really can never have too many books.
I used a couple of specific criteria in selecting books for this list. First, none of the books on this list will financially benefit any of the contributors to this site. That way I can appear to be unbiased. So, even though Kicking It just dropped this week with some stories from amazing writers, you won’t find it on the official list. But I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings to receive it as a gift. And even though How to Write Magical Words is a project near and dear to all of our hearts, and an excellent gift for writers at all stages of their careers, it also won’t be on the list.
See what I did there? Ok, good, you’re still with me.
1) The first project I’m going to recommend is an anthology that does feature a story of mine, but it’s a charity anthology, so I’m not breaking my own rules. Writers for Relief Vol. 3 is a project by Davey Beauchamp and Stuart Jaffe to raise funds for the victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes last year and Typhoon Haiyan earlier this year. The antho features stories from Kevin J. Anderson, Eugie Foster, Ben Bova, Todd McAffrey, Janine Spendlove, and me! I’m thrilled to be part of something so awesome, and it was a huge boost to my not-inconsiderable ego to be listed on the cover among such giants in the field. Especially Ben Bova, who was one of the first science fiction authors I ever read when I was a kid.
2) If you have young people in your house, they should read, too. And A.J. Hartley’s Darwen Arkwright series of fantasy novels for middle grade readers is some truly awesome stuff for the kids who are all done with Harry Potter and are looking for the next thing to read. Or if they’ve seen all the movies and want to read something similar, I highly recommend the Darwen books for the young fantasy lovers in your life.
3) I picked up Alex Bledsoe’s The Hum and the Shiver at JordanCon last year in a book swap after we did a signing together, mostly because the cover looked cool and the premise of bleding fantasy with Appalachian mountain life and bluegrass music sounded like something right up my alley. I thought I’d find a light read, kinda like most of the stuff I read, you know, popcorn novels. Boy, was I in for a surprise. In my favorite book of 2013, Alex created a world as rich in character as any lit fic novel could ever hope to be, with just enough magic to keep him firmly planted in with the rest of us genre hacks. He reminds me of some of my favorite Southern authors like John Hart, Pat Conroy and Ron Rash. I can’t recommend the novels of the Tufa highly enough.
4) After Misty Massey became something like the seventh person to recommend Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora to me, I finally bought it. And of course I love it. I’m halfway through the book right now, and it’s my “couple of chapters before bed” book every night right now. The characters are charming, witty and incorrigible, just like I like them. The title character owes a bit to Raymond Feist’s Jimmy the Hand, which in turn owes more than a little to The Artful Dodger, and both are old favorites of mine. So I can’t wait to grab the rest of the Gentleman Bastards series, and I’ll probably do so in short order, since they’re all on sale for kindle right now.
5) I hate Brandon Sanderson. Let me be perfectly clear in this. I hate the fact that he’s so immensely talented, and such a nice human being, and so prolific. In short, he’s better than me on every level, and my acquaintance with him got me back into playing Magic:the Gathering, which has cost me thousands of dollars and brought me countless hours of joy over the past couple of years. So of course when he broke down and wrote a superhero novel, it was excellent. Steelheart is his foray into this genre, and he handles this with the same level of talent and skill (and if you’re on this site, you know they’re not the same thing!) that he brings to everything. But the bonus for me was Legion – with maybe the most inventive new protagonist in years. I’m not going to give any spoilers, just buy the book. It’s friggin’ amazing.
6) Speaking of friggin’ amazing, I can’t really do that without talking about Seanan McGuire and Mira Grant. The woman just has too much talent to be contained in one name, and everything she’s put out is gold. Add to that the fact that she’s hell on wheels at karaoke, and you’ve got talent to be reckoned with! I fell in love with her writing in the Newsflesh series, which started with Feed. I was a blogger long before I wrote fiction, so the book really hit home with me. I love everything about the series – the intrigue, the characters, the plot, the world-building, everything.
I’m going to stop there and tell you that you should also check out all the stuff that I and the rest of the MW crew have out, and if you’re anywhere near Rock Hill, SC next Saturday morning, come out to the BooKnack at 11AM and pick up some signed stuff.
Whatever. Anyway, Yesterday was an amazing day. Today, I am just now getting the word out and telling people and…
It’s like this. And it’s all about creating characters.
Yesterday was the release day for KICKING IT, the anthology Kalayna Price and I edited. It did well (very well) on release day, in no small part to the efforts of my PR team and my street team and the efforts of Chloe Neill who has PR nailed.
Yesterday was also the release day of the new revamped (haha) website www.faithhunter.net . It is stylish and slick and I love it!
Yesterday was the day I turned in a proposal and character for a new series.
And Yesterday was also the day I turned in my notice that, after the first of the year, I will no longer be a full time lab rat. I went on fill-in part-time at the hospital. I am now a full time writer (with one toe in the lab pool so I have a way back if I am not able to swim in this full-time writing gig). Call me chicken. I am. But I am also brave. And terrified. And excited. It has been a long time coming. And maybe — maybe — I am ready for it.
For the purposes of this site, I want to talk about character. As in the new character and new series I am proposing to my editor. This new character doesn’t mean I am abandoning Jane Yellowrock or even Thorn St.Croix. The eighth JY book (BROKEN SOUL) is due to my editor the first of January. Two shorts about Thorn St.Croix are due the end of January. The proposal for the ninth JY book is due the middle of February. All important stuff. But it’s the new and untouched that is exciting. It’s calling me like a spell whispered on the breeze. And I want to share my process with you.
In creating a character, my very first step is to decide what I hope will happen to her in a commercial sense. Not the conflict sense. That comes later. The very first thing I decide is whether I am hoping for a standalone book and character or a series book and character.
When I was writing standalones, it was easy to character-create, because a character had to live only for 120K to 140K words. But I am writing series characters now. And I wanted to quit the full-time lab job, so I wanted this book to sell to replace lost income. Like, who doesn’t want that, right?
So I approached my agent and discovered that ROC was willing to entertain a two book series set in the Jane Yellowrock world, but not about any of the Jane characters. They wanted a new character in an urban fantasy world but not New Orleans or Asheville. What this meant was that the magical system would remain the same, but the world around it would change.
That meant I needed a back story that was involved enough to be constantly revealed over the course of two books, but not so deep as to require fifteen books to fully reveal, like Jane’s character. So, with that consideration already made, here are the steps I’ve taken so far.
1) Decide on backstory depth. This is the two-book part. If I had been writing on spec, I’d probably plan on a standalone and hope for three books, so this is pretty standard.
2) Ask a pal or two (who are currently starting new series) if they are using certain names as a first person character. I had hoped to use Grace (looking for an old-fashioned name) and, yes, it was in use. So I went with my second choice, Nell. Though that may still change.
3) Chose strengths and weaknesses. Working on that. And this is part of the story that I pants a lot, allowing the strengths and weaknesses to be revealed by the conflict development.
4) Decide on magical gifts. (This is a fantasy world after all.)
5) Decide on physical description. This still eludes me. I’ll never go for classically beautiful. All of my heroines are ordinary looking women. And in this case I may go for *very* plain. But I don’t need it for the proposal.
6) Create a conflict and a proposal with all that in mind.
7) Chose a location/setting that makes sense in light of all of the above.
8) Write five pages or so and see if I feel her. If I know her. And if I like her.
Well I’ve done all that and now the proposal is in the hands of my agent, and has been turned over to my editor. I am in the waiting stage. Waiting is hard. I am now ready to dive back into the BROKEN SOUL of Jane. But it’s harder than I thought it might be. Isn’t it always when you have a new shiny?
I can hear some people say, “Well, you have it easier than the unpublished among us. You have direct access.” And that is true. But the negative side of that is that I’m already thinking in terms of commercial sale, not the creative process. Already the idea is slightly tarnished with the words work and job and paying bills. And I am standing on the outside looking in, my creative freedom hamstrung, however great the result will be if the character takes off. And … just like anyone, I can be turned down.
Share with me how you do (or would) create a character if an editor handed you a few guidelines, based on the work you already have in progress. Can you twist your brain around it? Would it be easy? Harder than with total creative freedom? Share with me!
Today we welcome L Jagi Lamplighter, a writer of fantasy and children’s stories. When not writing, she reverts to her secret ID where she lives in fairytale happiness with her husband, writer John C. Wright, and their four delightful children Orville, Ping-Ping, the Cherubim, and Justinian the Elf King. Jagi’s latest release, The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is a YA fantasy series, described as “Harry Potter for girls with angsty romance”.
All About The Magic Or the Gosling of the Golden Creek Vs. The Unicorn Pooper-Scoopers
Beside the road leading to my street, there is a small pond. This pond is the favorite nesting place of a flock of Canadian geese who like to walk out in the street. The other day, I found myself sitting and waiting for the geese to depart, so I could drive home without running over them. As I watched the birds waddle by, I thought of people I knew who had expressed hatred for these creatures that stop traffic and leave goose droppings all over the sidewalk and golf courses. Their hatred added to my impatience.
After all, I wanted to get home. I had things to do, man! But then I remembered something. As a child, I had loved these birds. Why? Because at the gateway to the local county park was a river. Canadian geese used to nest on the river bank. If one was lucky, if one came at just the right time, one might catch a glimpse the tiny goslings paddling behind their august parents. These adorable creatures were the only baby wild animals visible to us as children. Seeing these little beige and yellow bundles of fluff lit our hearts. It was as wondrous as magic!
When had I lost the magic? Was it familiarity that had bred such contempt? I saw them all the time, now, so the magic had fled? This thought led me to the following question: If flocks of unicorns roamed my hometown, would the magic go away with them, too? Would I be sitting here wishing the herd of unicorns would just get off the road? And then it struck me. The difference between my current thought about unicorns and my childhood memory was like the difference between urban fantasy and stories of wonder. In a story of wonder, ordinary creatures, such as Canadian geese goslings, became objects of awe and magic. In an Urban Fantasy, people argue about who was responsible for scooping up the unicorn poop.
Before I go on, I should clarify: I am a big fan of urban fantasy. This insight is in no way meant to detract from the delight of reading about a tarnished pixy with tattered wings, a base-playing goblin, or an elf in a fedora asking questions and taking names. However, there are much better writers, here at Magical Words, than I for giving advice about writing good urban fantasy. So, I will concentrate on the subject of how to bring that childhood sense of wonder back to our stories.
If Urban Fantasy is about the magical in a mundane setting, Stories of Wonder are about mundane things in a magical setting. The first drags fairytales, folk lore, and mythology into our world, kicking and screaming. The second lifts us out of our ordinary daily life and into the extraordinary. So, how does one capture this magic when writing? How do we portray pixies up close without tarnishing their wings? How do we become familiar with unicorns and yet not grumble about how irksome it is that they have been eating our flowers? How do we turn the geeseholding up traffic back into creatures of enchantment? The key is to look around and imagine what the world would be like if it were alive…and it loved us. The marvelous world in stories of wonder is not always friendly. It can be grumpy, or angry, or tricky. It can be dangerous, sometimes terrible. But, underneath, there is a sense of something wonderful, something precious, something that makes you catch your breath from joy. If that is lacking, it is not a Story of Wonder.
So, how is it done? By looking around and imagining what the things we see would be like—if they just happened to fall into fairyland. The small stone pump house on the corner becomes a home for tiny folk who peek their little whiskered snouts around the edge of the door and peer at us with very large black eyes. Little doors into the crawl spaces of an attic become gates that transform those who pass through, so that they can fly, or turn invisible, or talk to fish. Misshapen tree trunks, with a horizontal section low to the ground, become riding trees that can pull up their roots and run though the forest during the mysterious cusp of twilight. Go ahead, try it. Pick a perfectly normal object in your environment and think about what it might be if you suddenly discovered it was a friendly visitor from the Court of Oberon. (Feel free to note your discoveries in the comments section.)
The next question one might ask is: Who does this well? Whose writing can we look to as an example? In my humble opinion, I believe the mistress of writing wonder is British author, Barbara Sleigh. (Who is that, you ask? If you missed her in your childhood, I am so very sorry! I will introduce you now, as I first met her.) Once, in the long ago dream time, I attended an old elementary school that had a marvelous library. This library was not as libraries are today—filled with new books all shiny with bright picture on their dustcovers, all published in the last twenty to thirty years. This library was filled with old books. I wouldn’t be surprised if a book bogie* had lived there as well. One day, while peering into the shadows of the dimly lit stacks, I found a slim volume I don’t think anyone else had ever checked out. It was Kingdom of Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh. It would be years before I met anyone else who had read this book. And more years before a friend traveling to England finally brought back the first book, Carbonel, for me. But these two slim volumes, in their own quiet way, remain among the most magical I have read. (I may not be the only author who has felt this way. These books were written in England in the 1950s. The villain is referred to as You-Know-Who, and there are characters with names like Tonks and Pettigrew. So it is possible that another author, far better known than I, once fell under their spell a well.) The fantasy in the books is low key. The children need to deal with mundane issues such as chores, being home in time for supper, and finding enough money to cross town by bus. Yet the magic, when it comes, seems all the more wondrous for its unexpectedness. There is a talking prince of cats, a flying rocking chair, and a cantankerous witch who is losing her powers. Yet, there is so much more. Only a step away from the roofs of mundane England is the Country of Cats, another land that the children glimpse but briefly. And when they need magic to speak with animals, they are given a prescription that causes the clerk to scratch his head and then climb up on a ladder to draw liquid from the large red bottle propped as a display in the window of the chemist’s shop. (There is even an amusing sub-plot for the poor clerk, who accidentally licks his finger after pouring out the liquid and believes himself to be going mad when he begins to understand the speech of worms and bugs.)
In this bestowing of magic to ordinary things—roofs, rocking chairs, and window display bottles—there is the curious wonder that comes from peeking into another world not meant for human kind, a world to which the children can only be temporary visitors—and yet when they leave, we know that they have been changed forever and will never again be quite as other people are, that they will always be something more.
And isn’t that, really, why we read? So we, the reader, can enter a magical kingdom that gives us a glimpse of something beyond the ordinary, beyond the world we know, in the hope that we, too, will emerge from the book changed, having been made better by the experience, so that we, too, will never again be quite as mundane as we were before? So that, while others sit in the road grumbling about being held up by “rats with wings”, we alone will behold the majesty of the graceful dancers of the sky, who once were the goslings of Golden Creek.
* — creature said to haunt libraries and help children find the perfect book.
Who is your favorite weaver of Stories of Wonder? What ordinary objects would you like to see woken to fairy life by the breath of enchantment?
John G. Hartness
For those of you in the U.S., today is the day we celebrate our forefathers coming across the Atlantic to star in D.B. Jackson’s novels and eat turkey. Or it’s the day where you try to get out of washing the dishes to watch football. Or maybe it’s the day that you still have to sit at the “kids’ table” even though you’re forty.
But anyway, for those of us in the US, this is Thanksgiving, a day when we take a minute to rest, look around at the carnage we just unleashed upon our diets, and give thanks for the stuff we have. So I’m going to take a minute and talk about things I’m thankful for this holiday season, and give you a couple of chances to make things thankful for other folks while you’re at it.
1) I’m thankful to be over bronchitis, which laid me low all of last week. I was sick as a dog, and it sucked, and while I still have a cough, which I expect to have for a while yet, I’m over the worst of it and feel much better.
2) I’m thankful to have new books coming out and new stuff under contract, so I’ll keep my nose to the grindstone. Big Bad 2 is still open for submissions, go to my site to check out all that info. Capes & Clockwork is a superhero steampunk anthology that will come out in the very first part of 2014 with one of my Bubba stories in it. And of course, it’s time to get cranking on Book 5 of The Black Knight Chronicles.
3) I’m thankful to have been asked to participate in Writers for Relief, Vol. 3, alongside such greats in our field as Kevin J. Anderson, Todd McAffrey, Ben Bova, Eugie Foster and others. All proceeds from the sale of the book will be divided between those affected by the Oklahoma tornados last summer and the massive typhoon that just struck the Phillipines.
4) I’m thankful for my readers, and my writing support network, both here on MW and in real life in Charlotte. You guys are awesome!
What are y’all thankful for this holiday season?
Diana Pharaoh Francis
I want to talk about endings. I just wrote a book. Most of it I wrote in six weeks. Then it took me just about a month to write the ending. Now I’ll admit, I had no idea what the ending was, and that time coincided with some time off I intended to take, and a family emergency I did not plan on. I finished the book two days ago. I was in the very last chapter and I finished that chapter, and then started the next very last chapter, and then I was within a paragraph or two of finished, then several pages later I was within a paragraph or two of finishing, and then a few pages later I was within a sentence or two of finishing, and then pages later . . . .
Well, you get the idea. I call this ending creep. It happens every single time I write a book. Stories, too. It drives me nuts.
So why do the ends of the stories become creepy? The main reason for me is that I’m looking to make sure that I’m hitting all the notes to make the ending satisfying. That means conflict and plot resolution, emotional climax, and a pithy closing. The worst part is that I’m working off a feeling–of whether I feel that it’s all there or not.
Okay, so here I am working on the end of this book. I’ve wrapped up the major action. I’ve not yet pointed to what’s happening next, but that’s coming. Well, I hope it is, but I haven’t quite figured out what will be happening next. I’ve gathered my major characters together for the aftermath. This is where the emotional stuff boils over and has to be dealt with, while at the same time, there has to be a resolution that points forward into the future (next book). So this story has to be resolved, and yet there are loose ends that have to make a reader want to read on to the next book. (This will be a duology). I know, at this point, that even though this is romantic, it’s not all going to be sunshine and roses. At the same time, I don’t want the two romantic leads to be stereotypically angry at each other. I want the troubles that interferes with the romance to be organic and not feel like it’s just something to break them apart. The truth is, up until this point I didn’t know if they would be apart or not. I had this image that said not, but frankly that never turned up in the book. So I was free to keep them together. But it was too easy. Too pat. I didn’t believe that they wouldn’t have to struggle more. So struggle they will. I think that the situation that pulls them apart and puts them on opposing sides is organic to the story and makes sense. So in the same moment there’s both a declaration of love and a separation.
So I’m writing the scene and I hammer out several important threads–the lovers and also how to handle some of the war stuff as I go forward. Since the two are deeply intertwined, that resolution felt a lot like the end of the book. Mostly. But it wasn’t. I didn’t have the emotional resolution that I wanted. Specifically, beyond the romance, I knew that I needed my heroine to make some active choices. She’s been growing into those choices throughout the book, but I needed her to make some decisions that were less reactive and more proactive. She needed to take a good hard look at what she wanted and decide to walk into the fire, fully aware.
I needed that ending because for me, while the romantic part was critical and while the action had a dramatic conclusion, the story is at its heart about this woman who has to confront herself and her past and her present and what she wants out her life. In the end, she comes to a choice of paths and and that choice is an interior conflict that’s been building the entire book. This is the central conflict of the book. So all the exterior stuff has largely resolved or pointed forward, but now this primary driving conflict needs its resolution.
It wasn’t enough to have her just make a decision and go from there. I also needed some panache. Something snarky/pithy that could leave the book on a powerful note. It’s like having the last word in an argument.
The end creeping, the time spent on that last chapter, both were a function of hitting all the right notes and of making all of those various endings strike together into a crescendo. I’m honestly pretty happy with it. There’s a lot of work going on and I’m hoping that it’s as satisfying to the reader as it is for me.
And now, to go clean it up and send it out.
Okay, I’ve saved the toughest one for last. Today I’m going to talk about one of the most insidious of enemies – jealousy.
You probably already know how damaging jealousy can be to a romantic relationship. Suspicion and unwarranted anger builds walls between people who care for each other, walls that prevent effective communication and take serious work to bring down. Jealousy can also crack your creativity into tiny shards of meanness that poke you every time you sit down to make your own magic. It happens to all of us. You read in Locus that someone from your writing group just signed another three-book deal, when you only got a one-book deal from the same publisher. You get a phone call from a writing friend who excitedly tells you that she’s been offered representation by an agent who’s previously turned you down. You want to feel thrilled and happy, but somewhere inside of you, there’s a voice whispering ugly things. So you think, “Let me go put words on the page. That’ll make me feel better.” Except that you can’t seem to settle your mind. You start second-guessing your word choices and your characters behave in bizarre ways that they never would have before, and pretty soon you find yourself obsessing over how on earth that book that you helped beta-read ever got sold to a publisher because you told your friend the villain wasn’t cruel enough but he wouldn’t change the way he wrote her, and now that book is out there in the world on bookstore shelves and why isn’t it happening to meeee….
Sounds a little crazy, right? It is. You leave your own creativity behind in favor of a neverending mental litany of how wrong the publisher was or how undeserving your friend is. Jealousy loves to pretend it’s righteous and important. “What do you care,” it says to you, “Obviously your friend only got published because the editor is a noodlehead who hasn’t figured out that zombies are totally last year.” Or “Of course that agent would like him. Have you seen how he flirts?” When that’s all you can think about, there’s no more room for your characters to live inside your head, and there goes your story. Jealousy refuses to accept that someone else has talent or has worked hard, and it takes away your own ability to work hard at the same time. Meanwhile, your friend is at home writing the next book, because your jealousy is not hurting her. All you’re doing is punishing yourself.
I can’t tell you how to not feel jealous. What I can tell you is that recognizing what’s happening to you is 90% of the battle. When I say “recognize”, I don’t mean “blame”. Blaming yourself for having jealous feelings isn’t going to help. You’ll just equate feeling bad with another’s success, and that’s even more self-abusive. The idea isn’t to switch the focus of your anger from one target to another. It’s to point it out, away, into the vastness of space where it won’t bother anyone at all. When those evil thoughts sneak in, feel them. Listen to them. Really listen. More than likely, what you’ll hear, under the disguise of how terrible and unworthy someone else’s work was, is how much you wish you were having that success, too. And now that you’ve reminded yourself of what you’re really hoping for, you turn that thought loose. Let it go, and concentrate your energy on making success happen for yourself.