Robert Jackson Bennett: Plot


robertjbennet-low-5164Plot is frequently a matter of control and timing. Even the dullest of plots can seem feverishly readable if its events are framed and staged in the appropriate manner.

My favorite metaphor for how to plot books is that of a hydroelectric dam: you have a gateway, and a lot of stuff that must go through that gateway. However, you have to be aware of what the demand is. You can’t let it all through at once, nor can you limit it so it’s a slow and unsatisfying trickle. You essentially have to alternate between large bursts and slower trickles.

To graph it out, conventional wisdom will tell you that a book’s plot must proceed like this:


Here we see that the tension in a story is a slow increase to a peak – the climax – after which the tension then relents.

But that’s not quite how it works. A book isn’t a constant, slow build – it’s almost always a series of scenes, each one with its own purpose. And more to the point, you have to give the audience some time to breathe and process what’s going on. So I often find that the tension in a book really functions like:


Here you can see that some scenes have quite a lot of tension, and others have much less. Imagine the hydroelectric dam having to let out quite a bit of water during the day when everyone’s working, then less so at night when they all go to bed – that’s how tension in a book’s plot often works.

But the key thing to remember here is that there does need to be a mounting sense of tension, built up by several key scenes, but likely not by every single one of them. Some of them need to be “breathing” or processing scenes.

I’ve often said a mystery plot (“Something is happening, we need to figure it out”) is the simplest and most durable plot structure, in that it’s essentially a series of scenes in which the characters first conjecture about, then actively unveil, a sequence of “unknowns” – who killed the millionaire, what was the millionaire up to, was his wife involved in it, why’s the gardener skulking around all the time, etc. These are all evolving, developing mysteries around one central mystery plot line, and it’s got an innate quality of tension to it.

But every once in a while the characters have to step back and establish the bigger picture. They have tocity_of_stairs-cover1 remind the reader why these details matter to the larger whole. These would be the “breathing scenes.”

Likewise, if you’re writing an action story, it can’t be nonstop action. That would be exhausting and dull. So you have to have scenes that function as “setup” scenes, establishing the arena for the action, then setting the stakes for why the action matters. Then you would have the actual action scenes themselves, significantly amping up the tension.

The key thing here is to pace yourself. Don’t reveal a giant mystery halfway through the book – that lets out all the tension and makes later mysteries seems unimportant or irrelevant. Don’t stick the giant impressive action scene 1/3 of the way in – you have to pace yourself, and give it its appropriate space and breathing time.

If you take into account the expectations and capacity of the reader, then structuring the tension of a plot quickly becomes an easy thing to feel out and adjust for, leading to plots that feel more natural and much more satisfying.


Robert Jackson Bennett‘s 2010 debut Mr. Shivers won the Shirley Jackson Award as well as the Sydney J Bounds Newcomer Award. His second novel, The Company Man, won a Special Citation of Excellence from the Philip K Dick Award, as well as an Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original. His third novel, The Troupe, has topped many “Best of 2012” lists, including that of Publishers Weekly. His fourth novel, American Elsewhere, won the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel. His fifth, City of Stairs, will be released in September of 2014.

He lives in Austin with his wife and son. He can be found at Robert Jackson Bennett and on Twitter at @robertjbennett.

Party Talk: Dragon Con!

Misty MasseyMisty Massey

Hey y’all, happy Labor Day!  I hope you’re all having a good day, whether you’re at DragonCon, or the beach, or your mama’s house, or even if you’re among those souls who have to labor on Labor Day, I wish you a good one.

The vast majority of my social circle has been at DragonCon all weekend, so we decided to do something a little silly for today.  I asked them to answer the following question:

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever witnessed/heard/participated in at a con?

And here are their answers!  Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments!

Faith Hunter

The craziest thing at D*C –
The kids (both genders) dressed up in Star Trek uniforms traipsing up and down the hotel hall, drunk (of course), and claiming that they were going to have a galactic orgy. They then proceeded to lie down (en masse) on the hallway carpet and leg wrestle.
I am still perplexed by it but they were having fun.

Emily Lavin Leverett

This isn’t a crazy con story, but a sweet one.  I was walking through the Hyatt, I think, at Dragon Con, and I saw a guy dressed as some kind of space punk. He was scary. Skeletal face make up, spiky spikes on his leather costume. Spiked, Mohawk hair, the works. He looked scary and mean, as was his intents I’m sure. Then, I hear “Daddy?” There’s this little, blond-ringleted girl. Monster guy turns to her, sweeps her up, and cuddles her. Sweetest thing ever. And very Con.

Alethea Kontis

I’ve been attending Dragon Con since 1996…so much craziness to cover! There was the time I accidentally started a conga line with John Scalzi at the Rainbow Frog Party, or the time I caught Saruman playing “Hey Jude” on the grand piano in the Hilton, or the 2013 Epic Princess Spill into Vomit Lake. (Link for that last one: )

There's always a Red Shirt somewhere...But one of my all-time favorite moments occurred during my first Harry Potter Yule Ball in 2011. I happened to be dressed as a Slytherin that night–my posse included Narcissa Malfoy, Sirius Black, Bellatrix LeStrange, and Severus Snape. Since our Snape was also the lead singer of the band that evening, we bypassed the line and were let in through the velvet rope (as is the right of all Slytherin). Some of the costumes at the ball looked like they had come straight from the movie set–the best was a Death Eater Barbie, mint (and writhing) in her box. And then I turned around and saw a Star Trek redshirt, alone, staring out into the crowd and looking a little lost. All I could think was: BEST AWAY MISSION EVER.

John Hartness

So at my very first Dragon Con, let’s look back into the foggy mirror and try to figure out when that was . . . I was a sophomore in college, so it would have been 1993. The con was much, much smaller then, and if I remember correctly was hosted by the Sheraton. Yeah, it fit into one hotel. I mentioned that I’m old, right?Anyway, I was there with my fried Jay and his friends Mike and Carol. And we commenced to get biblically inebriated on White Russians in preparation for the Saturday Night festivities. I’d say we moved right past Beauchamp Drunk into How the Hell Did Nobody Die Drunk, also known as Torch Drunk.

So I achieved Torch Drunk before sundown, which is something I don’t recommend for anyone after the age of 25, because it’s a good way to get dead. And Carol and I proceeded to the main ballroom, where there was to be a dance later in the evening. The room wasn’t ready for the dance yet, so Carol and I lay in the floor in the center of the ballroom and began to study the geometric precision of the chandeliers.
Remember, Torch drunk.

So we’re lying in the middle of the ballroom floor staring up at the chandeliers at about 6:47PM when I felt something sharp on my neck. I looked over and there was a buxom young woman on her hands and knees (well, really elbows and knees) biting me on the neck. I thought about this for a moment, and then said “Ow.”
The young lady leaned back, sitting on her heels and looked at me with a quizzical look. Then she said “Hi.”
“Hi.” I replied. Then I looked over at Carol, who had turned to watch this exchange. “Carol,” I said. “She was biting me.”
“I noticed that.” Carol replied.
“Should I sleep with her?” I asked. For the record I was married in 1995, so this was a perfectly valid question at the time.
“No, honey, that would be bad.” Carol said.
I looked over at the young lady, who had great tracts of land, as some may say, as well as tri-colored hair and fake vampire fangs. I smiled at her in my best apologetic smile and said “I’m sorry, but Carol says I shouldn’t sleep with you.”
“Okay.” She said, then got up and walked away.
“Thanks, Carol.” I said, returning my attention to the fascinating chandelier.
“Friends don’t let friends sleep with dogs, darlin’.” Carol said, giving me a little pat on my arm.

When you need an inappropriate story, I’m your guy. :)

Gail Martin

I can’t possibly compete with John Hartness….. Some outstanding crazy things….There was the “Livers for Boobies” charity drink-a-thon at Daveycon the year the guy (not Davey) got tasered in the Ravencon parking lot, there was this year at Mysticon when the hotel got hit by lightning and the 6th floor caught fire so they sent us all outside in the parking lot during a torrential rainstorm and a tornado warning because it was safer than being in the hotel that was on fire … there was the other year at Mysticon where KT Pinto and I ended up outside in the freezing cold in our pajamas along with the rest of the con at 3 am because the fire alarm had gone off and we found out later that Gray Rinehart had slept through the entire evacuation… there was the room party at ContraFlow in NOLA with the Dalek who was a beer dispenser and its lights flashed multi-colored in time with the music like a lethal disco-ball alien…

David B Coe

Back at my first DragonCon, probably 1997 or 1998, I saw a woman wearing a bikini made entirely of quarters. And, of course, being Jewish, my first thought was, “I’m not sure she saved herself any money making that at home . . .”

Misty Massey

At my last DragonCon, my husband and I were returning to our hotel room from dancing at the Steampunk Ball, when a young man wearing nothing but a pair of red and green Christmas boxers leaped into the (surprisingly) empty elevator next to us, and spent the entire ride pleading with me to sell him my badge. When we got off on our floor, he stayed on the elevator, pressed against the glass staring after me with the saddest puppy eyes.I’d have been unnerved if he just wasn’t so silly-looking.

Tamsin Silver

My “best” story is my first visit to Dragon Con in my late 20′s (1997?) with my boyfriend at the time, his friends, and the cast of Rocky Horror Picture Show (cause I was playing Magenta and we were the Rocky cast performing at DC that year…yeah, I know, none of you are surprised at that.)Anyhoo…here goes…

So, my boyfriend JJ drank real absinthe (or something as strong as) when hopping from room party to room party…and pretty much blacked out while still walking around. Problem is JJ is a 5th degree black belt and any alcohol other than beer could make him violent. So…he got in a fight (suprise suprise) and when we stopped him from kicking someone’s ass, he broke a glass table in the hallway of the hotel, almost pulled the fire alarm, and just about got us all thrown out of the con. As we all traipsed him back to the room like a five year old, a man was running by yelling, “I want someone to dominate me!” I’d seen him around a few times that night yelling this…but thought nothing of it…cause hey, its a con…right? Anyway…It took all of us, including me, to get JJ to stay in the room. But we did. He passed out…and wet the bed (he was a winner…not). The next morning, he had no idea why he was sleeping alone or why I was mad as a hatter. Oh…and the guy yelling to be dominated? Turned out he got his wish……let’s just say it involved two women, candles, and his rear end…I’ll leave it at that…no one wants the details I heard. *shudders*

I didn’t go back to Dragon Con for…uh…17 years, aka last year. LOL!

Jim C Hines: Despair


Codex-Born-Full-185x300-Jim-C-HinesMore than a decade later, I vividly remember the lowest point in my writing career.

It wasn’t really a point so much as it was a line stretching downward over several months like one of those profit/loss graphs you see right before someone throws themselves out a window. It began in late 2002 with an offer from a major publisher, something I had been dreaming about for seven years. After hundreds of rejection letters and countless manuscripts, someone wanted to buy my book about a nearsighted goblin runt and his pet spider fighting against those obnoxious adventurers.

And then, after a number of increasingly unpleasant interactions, the publisher withdrew the offer. It turned out that newbie me had violated an unspoken rule of etiquette for this particular publisher. (My agent was shocked as well, so looking back, I don’t feel too bad for not knowing this individual’s quirk.)

At this point, a logical, rational being would note that perhaps this individual wasn’t someone I wanted to work with. Furthermore, getting an offer from a major publisher proved I was capable of writing professional, publishable novels, which meant I’d either sell Goblin Quest to another publisher (which I eventually did), or else I’d write a new book and break in that way.

The problem is, I’m not a logical, rational being. I’m an author. And I was crushed.

The goblin book had been rejected by several other big publishers, and I was convinced I had blown my one and only shot. I would never be a writer. From that moment onward, I would be branded as a Failure, my utter worthlessness as a human being clearly visible to all who looked upon me.

The Black Cloud of Despair™ lasted for about two months, at which point my son was born, and suddenly I had something more important (and cuter) to focus on. It was an effective way of escaping the BCoD, but not one that would be practical to use too often.

That wasn’t the only bleak period I’ve gone through since setting out to be a writer. In some ways, the BCoD feels almost inevitable. Writers tend to be very passionate about our work. We invest so much in our stories. This whole process is incredibly personal.

And none of us are born knowing how to write, which means that sometimes we’re going to fail. Writing is a process and a struggle, one that tends to be full of rejection. There are times it all comes crashing down. For example:

  • My first rejection letter. It was a mark of pride, but it also crushed my naïve belief that I was a genius whose work would be instantly successful. Total bummer, dude!
  • Watching other writers who started out at the same time as me break in with short story and novel sales when I was still getting rejected. I was happy for my friends (for most of them, at least), but it was discouraging to see them succeed and be unable to understand why I couldn’t do the same.
  • Watching younger writers break in and start outselling me. This one can send me into the spiral of questioning why I’m not a better, more successful writer. What am I doing wrong?
  • Seeing sales of a series drop off. Sales of my fourth Princess book were significantly worse than the others, and I don’t know why. It’s depressing to see people’s interest fall off, and the only consolation here is that the dropoff didn’t happen earlier and cancel the series before I could finish.
  • And then there’s pretty much every single book I write, right around the 25,000 – 30,000 word mark. That’s where things all fall apart, and I feel like every other book I’ve done has been a fluke, and now the world will see the Real Failure that is me.

We don’t talk much about the despair, at least not publicly. I think there’s this belief that authors should project an air of confidence, because if we ever admit our neuroses we’ll drive away all of our fans and readers and then nobody will buy our books, and suddenly we’re back in the Black Cloud of Despair™, and oh God this blog post is going to be the one that destroys my career, isn’t it? Why oh why didn’t I write about rainbow-farting unicorns? Quick – go look at some cats!

But do you want to know a secret? Get a writer somewhere quiet, and most of us will admit to having had some bad times. Pretty much every long-term I’ve talked to has described at least one time they thought their career was over. Even #1 NYT Bestselling Authors get times of feeling like a fraud or a failure.

The BCoD does not discriminate.

I think that’s the point I want to make. If you’ve fallen into the Black Cloud of Despair™, you’re not alone. I’ve been there. I’ll be there again. So have a lot of other writers.

There’s no quick fix, no switch you can flip to make everything all better. But I have found a few things that seem to help me escape the cloud more quickly, before it becomes quite as suffocating…

  • Recognize you’re not alone.
  • Talk to other writers. You can talk to anyone, of course, but other writers get it. They’ve been there, and they know what you’re going through.
  • Ice cream. (Feel free to substitute the indulgence of your choice.) Writing is hard. You deserve the occasional reward.
  • Recognize that this is part of the process, and that this too will pass. For example, the 25-30K phase of the novel sucks, but I’ve done this enough to know I’ll eventually get to the phase where things start to come together, and that’s one of the best feelings in the world.
  • Remember the high points, whatever they might be. For me, it’s holding a new book in my hands or reading fan mail or thinking about that one perfect scene that made me feel like the badassiest author in the whole damn world. (And yes, badassiest is totally a word!)
  • Just keep writing. Because maybe today life sucks and I’m stuck and I’ll never make the NYT Bestseller list or win a Nebula or get a movie deal and I still have to go to my day job tomorrow and the dog took a dump in the bedroom again, but by God, I got 500 words written today, and that’s a Victory! Take that, universe!

Writing is a rough gig. Take care of yourself, and know you’re not alone.


Jim-C-Hines-photoJim C. Hines’ first novel was Goblin Quest, the humorous tale of a nearsighted goblin runt and his pet fire-spider. Actor and author Wil Wheaton described the book as “too f***ing cool for words,” which is pretty much the Best Blurb Ever. After finishing the goblin trilogy, he went on to write the Princess series of fairy tale retellings, and is currently working on the Magic ex Libris books, a modern-day fantasy series about a magic-wielding librarian, a dryad, a secret society founded by Johannes Gutenberg, a flaming spider, and an enchanted convertible. His short fiction has appeared in more than 40 magazines and anthologies.

Jim is an active blogger about topics ranging from sexism and harassment to zombie-themed Christmas carols, and won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2012. He has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Masters in English, and lives with his wife and two children in mid-Michigan. You can find him online at

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Carol Berg: Answers, Plain and Tall


CarolBerg-smallerThanks again to the Magical Words crew for welcoming me this month.

There is a set of standard questions that authors hear all the time. When did you start writing? How did you get published? Do you outline? How many hours a day do you write? Do you have writing rituals? Do you use writing tools? Why are you so mean to your characters? We’ve answered them so many times, we don’t even have to think about them.

- I started writing halfway through my software engineering career, as my kids were needing less of my time.
- I read the opening of Transformation for an editor from Roc Books in a Friday afternoon read-and-critique session at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. She ended up buying it and my next seven books.
- I do not outline. Nor do I start out with a blank page and type Chapter 1 and only then start figuring things out. I have to know where I’m going even if it is only to get the slave from the slave auction back to the palace where he’s going to live.
- Eight to twelve hours. Writing is my fulltime job.
- Most mornings I drink a cup of Raspberry Royale tea. I don’t think my writing would fall apart without it, but it’s my favorite tea and it wakes me up.
- I use MS Word because it does what I need. And, oh my goodness, the internet. And see previous answer. That’s about it.
- Because I need my characters to do hard things. Sometimes they have to be persuaded.

But not so long ago, one of my readers posed a question that took me aback. Where do I get my inspiration to write? Inspiration, not ideas. What makes me sit down and tear my brain to shreds to come up with these convoluted stories? What gets me back in the chair only a few weeks after finishing seven years of constant deadlines. As I sit here and close my eyes, the notions that come to mind are kind of odd.

Trees. Dense evergreens or multicolored oaks along a meadow or sparse across a desolate hillside. OrDustandLight_mid colored gold with autumn and sheltering a path.

Green seams in the rocky face of a mountain.

Weather: lowering clouds or driving snow or a thin autumn day after the leaves have blown and the haze says a change is coming. Sun sparkling on frost covered tree limbs.

Moonlit nights so bright that trees and fences cast shadows. This one majorly.

The way the dust rolls up in the desert air.

Unanswered questions.

The Etruscan artifacts in the Penn Archeology Museum, talking about a sophisticated people who were inundated by the Roman Empire.

Phrases like the last lighthouse or you can’t go home again or who is on the other side of the mirror. What does that mean?

The glimpse of Billy Elliot grown up (at the end of the film by the same name) leaping onto the stage…no, really it is the expression on his father’s face as he looks on a wonder we can’t see…

Books, certainly.

Oh yes, I’m getting close. Each speaks of one thing…story. What’s happening, who’s out there just beyond the place I can see? What makes a hard-bitten coal miner’s face express such awe when he’s watching a ballet? So that’s it. There’s a story in there somewhere, and I want to know what happens!


Though a devoted reader, Carol Berg majored in mathematics at Rice University and computer science at the University of Colorado, so she wouldn’t have to write papers. Somewhere in the middle of a software engineering career, she started writing for fun, and the habit ate her life. Carol’s fourteen epic fantasy novels have won national and international awards, including multiple Colorado Book Awards and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. They’ve been read, so readers tell her, on five continents, on a submarine under the Mediterranean, in the war zone of Iraq, and on the slopes of Denali. Her newest, Dust and Light, is the first in a new fantasy/mystery duology about a sorcerer who draws portraits of the dead. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls Dust and Light “captivating and satisfying” and RT Book Reviews names it “outstanding.” Carol camps, hikes, and bikes in Colorado and lives on the internet at


Delilah S Dawson: Sorry, I Blew Up Savannah!


Bad news, y’all: This November, a freak hurricane will tear through Savannah, Georgia, destroying the amusement park and flooding the cemeteries and generally beating down an historical gem that even General Sherman admired too much to damage.

Even worse news: Hurricane Josephine isn’t just a meteorological phenomenon. She’s a demon. A mean one. Who sometimes takes the form of a monster albino alligator and makes people do horrible things.

At least, that’s the premise of Servants of the Storm, my YA Southern Gothic Horror now available online and in bookstores. What started as an obsession with pictures of Six Flags New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina became a paean to friendship, a love song to my husband’s home town, and a great reason to take a horse-drawn carriage tour with my favorite Savannah pirate, should you want to see Dovey’s neighborhood before Josephine makes a big ol’ mess.
DD horse

I’m from Georgia, and I thought I knew Savannah pretty well… until I married a native. It was quite a wake-up call, when I realized that the Savannah most tourists recognize is just a few squares downtown that the locals avoid like the plague. Most visitors never drive Truman Parkway at night, when you’re the only car on a fire-orange road into nowhere. The folks who pay extra to stay in haunted rooms in downtown hotels would be jealous that I could stay in my mother-in-law’s super haunted house—for free. Although I won’t. And that’s what I wanted to bring to the page: the dirty underbelly of Savannah is scarier than anything you’ll see on a ghost tour.

The cemeteries seem downright bright by comparison.

DD grave

Servants of the Storm is a YA book with kissing but no love story. The heroine, Dovey, is hellbent on saving her best friend, Carly, even though Carly is dead. There are girls with fox-ears and ghost pirates and abandoned roller coasters and school plays and lemon chiffon pie and demon Basset hounds and… well… pretty much all the fun I could stuff into a city that tries its best to act dignified. I wanted to write a story that would scare the reader as much as Stephen King scared me when I was 13. I wanted to write a bull-headed, mixed race heroine who doesn’t do what she’s told in a story that couldn’t possibly have a flawless white girl in a prom dress on the cover.

And I wanted alligators. Lots of alligators. See the cupcake toppers?

DD cake

(photo by Kat Zhang)

And that’s Servants of the Storm.

I hope you’ll pick it up and give it a try, if only because the cover still takes my breath away.

C’mon. Lemme scare the pants off y’all.



Delilah S. Dawson’s next release is her YA debut, SERVANTS OF THE STORM, a Southern Gothic Horror about hurricanes and demons in Savannah, GA. She’s also the author of the steampunk fantasy Blud series for Pocket, including Wicked as They Come, Wicked After Midnight, and Wicked as She Wants, which recently won the Steampunk Book of the Year award and the May Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews. Spring 2015 brings her next YA, HIT, a pre-dystopian about teen assassins in a bank-owned America. Delilah loves sassy boots, eating weird animals, painting, having adventures, and cupcakes and lives in the North Georgia mountains with her husband, children, a Tennessee Walking Horse, and a floppy mutt named Merle. If you want her to blush, read her geekrotica e-novellas, The Lumberfox and The Superfox, written under the pseudonym Ava Lovelace.


Pop Author Psych

Lucienne DiverLucienne Diver

You know, it’s crazy. If you try to build psychological profiles of authors in your mind based on their works, you might come to the conclusion they’re some of the blood-thirstiest, most creatively-evil people in the world. Law enforcement agencies the world over assuredly have them on watch lists because of the odd little things they’re drawn to research, like making bombs out of household items, Babylonian plague demons and how much over-the-counter analgesic can kill when combined with alcohol… Ahem…

Well, I can’t speak for all authors or all conductors of such searches, but I can say that the writers I know are pretty awesome people, having gotten their aggressions out on imaginary characters.

Writing is not polite. Or anyway, it shouldn’t be. Whether you’re writing humor or horror, prose needs to reveal something very true and basic at its core, something that the reader can identify with, something unexpected that surprises a laugh or gut-churning or held breath…some kind of reaction out of the reader. Writing should move both reader and writer, and for that you have to strip away surface pretext—the parts people let others see on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, the public faces. Even if the person beneath the persona is only revealed in glimpses and hints, as with an unreliable narrator or someone who plays it all very close to the vest, we need to see that vulnerability, that added dimension in order to believe.

This goes for bad guys/girls as well as good. Everybody has a reason for what they do, and one way or another, past pain or joy—positive or negative enforcement…Emotion (capital E) plays into it.

In the context of a rip-roaring, apocalyptic tale, these more personal moments are sometimes hard to work in. Trust me, I know. Characters may not have the time for Shakespearean soliloquys about their feelings, but I think that life and death situations have a way of making them crystal clear.

I know that’s the case for my heroine Tori Karacis in her latest adventures with the Latter-Day Olympians. RISE OF THE BLOOD, which came out in digital last year, is out in print on September 2nd. It’s a game changer for her in many ways, and in BATTLE FOR THE BLOOD, which is out in digital on September 16th, she has to deal with the fall-out…and, oh yeah, an on-rushing apocalypse.

I don’t want to give anything away, but in many ways, BATTLE is a culmination for me and for Tori. She has to make some hard choices, and, as author, I had to make them with her. After four novels and one story together (in the KICKING IT anthology), sometimes it’s hard to separate.

I’ll never forget meeting Melanie Rawn years and years ago. I was a huge fan of her Dragon Prince series and had to tell her so and get my books signed. I turned my conference badge around, knowing that I was going to make a fool out of myself fangirling, and approached her with pent breath. As she was signing, I told her apologetically, “I haven’t read X yet, because I’ve heard that Y dies, and I just can’t. As long as I don’t read it, he’s alive for me.” She responded with, “I understand” and a story about receiving a phone call as she was writing the scene and sobbing her eyes out, telling her mother, “I can’t talk now; I’ve just killed the man I love.” I adored her even more in that moment.

Well, it’s like that. I’m not saying that anyone dies in BATTLE. But death isn’t the only ending and life isn’t the only beginning.

And for fans of the series, never fear. Samhain has contracted for the next book in the Olympians series, and I’m not finished with Tori and company yet. Or maybe they’re not finished with me.


First two Latter-Day Olympian adventures:



Diamonds, Magic, and Mystery

Diana Pharaoh FrancisDiana Pharaoh Francis

Whenever I get sick–like the flu or something like it–I watch TV. And not just any TV; when I’m sick, I watch fairly specific kinds of shows. I look for documentaries first. Even though I normally like regular hour-long dramas and comedies and movies and HGTV, I always head for documentaries. If I can’t find anything I like there, I will go to the shopping networks. I know. The two together don’t make any sense, and I don’t go to the shopping networks at any other time. Ever.

The last time I was sick enough to do that was several years ago. In that session, I learned a number of things that have found their way into my writing. (I believe I also bought some blankets and sheets and called my husband at work about a vacuum cleaner, which I did not buy). In particular, I watched a documentary on the formation of first Pangaea and how it broke apart. I watched another one on the volcanoes of the Canary Islands. In particular was one about the devastation that could happen through tidal waves (and has before). Somewhere while watching those (it’s kind of amazing I can remember anything becausTrace of Magic - 600x900x300e I was seriously not that coherent), I learned why the diamond mines in Africa are so amazing. The mines are located on the sites of prehistoric volcanoes that reached much deeper into the earth. The diamonds were pushed up during those eruptions. Here’s a more coherent article on that from The Smithsonian.

That information stuck with me, and when I went to write Trace of Magic, it bubbled up to the top. I knew I wanted diamond mining to be part of the story. Sadly, no such mines exist in the United States. As a writer of fantasy, I can fix that. So now, in the Rocky Mountains near Gunnison, Colorado, there is a massive diamond mine. The caldera rivals the size of the Yellowstone Caldera. On one side it, a city has grown up–Diamond City. It’s a corrupt place, with various mafia-type groups competing to run it. These aren’t ordinary mafias. Magic pools here as well, and many of the citizens are magical. (The reason has to do with the magical flow of energies in the earth and the fact of the volcanic eruption, but that’s not all that important right now).

Magic happens all over the world, but here it’s tied to corruption and political domination. There are five major kinds of magic talents: tracers, dreamers, travelers, makers, and binders. Each has particular kinds of skills. There are many more minor talents that are branches of the main talents–tinkers, haunters, rag pickers, quilters, and so on. Those talents are far more limited, but can be equally dangerous. After all, the tiniest pressure at just the right point can knock down a mountain.

Riley Hollis is a tracer. She’s powerful but pretends to be a hack to avoid the attention of the mob groups who might use her. She’s got a habit of anonymously finding kidnapped kids, bringing her to the notice of Detective Clay Price. He splits his time between cop work and mob work. He hires her (against her will) to do an off the books job. In the middle of it, her sister’s ex-fiance is attacked and Riley has to find him.

I loved writing this book. I cackled half the time as I wrote it. It was one of those gift books–the ones that come quickly and flow like water. I pantsed most of it, once I knew the basics. My mind just wanted to race along on the roller coaster. I love Diamond City. It’s a unique place–a mix of lots of money and the really poor. There’s the diamond dole–an allowance for everybody in town for being a resident. Once you qualify, you get a couple thousand dollars a month. That’s not a lot, given the high cost of living, but it keeps people from dying too frequently. Plus there are always jobs, especially if you have any magical talent at all. On the other hand, it’s easy to die in Diamond City. It’s easy to get sideways of the mob, or a corrupt cop, or just fall down a mineshaft and disappear. The entire place is riddled with tunnels, many of them abandoned by the miners, many of them used by the mob or druggies or gangs or the homeless to hide out.

Riley has no super strength or superpowers, beyond her ability to trace. She’s really good at that, but imagine someone who’s a really good mechanic getting dropped into the middle of a mob war. Sometimes special skills only get you into worse trouble. She finds herself relying on Price, even though she knows he’s in bed with the mob. It’s like working with a live grenade: sooner or later she knows it will go off in her face. She’s just hoping she’ll find her ex-almost-brother-in-law before it happens. She also wouldn’t mind surviving the blast.

I am so pleased to set this book free in the world. I think it’s one of my best books. It will be available on August 29th. Right now you can only preorder Trace of Magic on Kindle, but you can get the paper version, as well as other e-versions starting on the 29th, or shortly thereafter. If you happen to be at DragonCon, there will be copies there. Take pictures for me!  So if you would, preorder, or mark your calendars to get it when it’s out.

While I’m here, I’d like to ask you to spread the word for me. In this age of publishing, it’s harder than ever to get books into the hands of readers. So tell your friends, put reviews up wherever you can, post about the book on Twitter or FB or Tumblir or wherever you might have a presence, and think of me when someone asks about a good book to read. You will have my undying appreciation.

If you have any questions about Trace of Magic or anything else, please ask! I’d love to chat about it. Oh! And here’s an exerpt.


Diana Pharaoh FrancisThe Biography of Me: I didn’t start out to be a writer. I was a storyteller from as far back as I can remember, and a daydreamer of epic stories, but it never occurred to me to write anything down. I read voraciously, but I wasn’t one of those people who said–hey! I could do this! Or even, this is so awful I could do better. I marveled at writers and thought of writing as something other people did. I did try my hand at some really horrible poetry in my senior year of high school. It was dramatic and bleak and world-tiltingly awful. When I got to college, I did poorly in my freshman comp class. I wrote in purple prose and use twenty words for what I could say in two. I loved language, but I didn’t really have much control over it. Then I took a creative writing class. It was awful. Total slaughter. I had caught the bug, though, and from there on out, I wrote. Eventually I wrote a really bad romance and finished it. I finished it! I could do that! And then I went to graduate school and another graduate school, got married, had dogs, had kids, went to work professing, and kept writing. Finally I had my first book accepted and I’ve been writing ever since.

As far as the prosaic stuff goes, I like to crochet, bake bread, spoil corgis, eat chocolate, sing to the radio, pretend to play tennis, geocache, crochet, and garden. Though I really hate weeding. I also like to make my hair purple with some frequency. You can find me on twitter as @dianapfrancis and my website at or on facebook.