“Where do you get your ideas?”
Most writers wish they had a nickel for every time someone asks that question, and the truth is, we don’t have a really good answer. “Out of thin air” seems flippant, but it’s true. “From things that happen to me” is also true, but when you write epic fantasy and stories about haunted heirlooms, that kind of answer makes people wonder what your life is really like.
For me, it always starts with “what if?”
What if….magic was a natural force that could be harnessed, but the bond between people and magic was artificial, a magical construct itself?
And what if… something broke that bond. Could it be restored? If so, would it be the same? If it came back, how would it be different? Would people get back power if they had lost it, or get new powers they didn’t have before? Would people gain or lose power? Would the rules be the same?
And what if…there were powerful forces who liked a world without controlled magic, who thrived on the chaos and had plans of their own, taking advantage of the new imbalance of power? We all think that after a devastating event, everyone wants to get back to normal, but what if some powerful people saw new advantages in the rubble?
Those were the questions I grappled with as I created my Ascendant Kingdoms Saga with Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, and coming April 21, War of Shadows.
In the first novel, Ice Forged, a war destroys the ability to harness and use magic, devastating the kingdom of Donderath and its neighboring lands. Blaine McFadden just might be the only man who can put things right, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment in an arctic prison colony before the war began.
It’s probably not a big spoiler to say that Blaine does finally agree to try to restore the magic. But doing so is harder and more dangerous than he imagined. When Blaine returns to find a way to restore magic, he’s not only up against the deadly forces of untamed magic. He also discovers that he’s gained powerful enemies who have a vested interest in making sure he fails–and dies. The longer it goes without controlled magic, the more out of kilter things become, and the more danger Blaine faces.
So when the second book, Reign of Ash opens, the consequences of Donderath’s cataclysmic war are still unfolding. Not only is magic still wild and lethal, but without a king or the nobility, the kingdom has devolved into chaos. Warlords vie for land, resources and dominance. Old hatreds and secrets create new dangers. Not only are the mortals fighting among themselves, but the immortal talishte are riven by internal jealousies and vendettas. And everything Blaine does to try to straighten things out seems to make it worse.
War of Shadows continues the domino effect of consequences that began with the Donderath-Meroven War and the choice to use a devastating magical strike to destroy the enemy. Although the kings of Meroven and Donderath are dead, the repercussions of their choices continue to bring new disasters for the survivors. And while Blaine wins some important victories in Reign of Ash, new challenges arise from the wreckage, including a deadly threat from the magic that has not yet been safely tamed or anchored. Powerful forces battle for control, and the only way Blaine can protect his homeland and the people he loves is by becoming the most fearsome warlord in the kingdom. Magic, betrayal, conspiracies and assassins make for a dangerous path.
Will the alliances Blaine has built hold? And will his special connection to the magic, something in his very blood, be enough to tame it again? And most importantly, will doing so require his death? The answers are in War of Shadows!
Oh, dear pronoun. You are so abused. So…misused and mistreated. Let’s fix that, shall we?
Today’s post will be the first in a three-part series. Part one is pronoun agreement, part two will be pronoun types, and part three will be pronoun case.
First, a pronoun is a word that replaces a noun. A pronoun is a word like he, she, I, we, us, etc. A pronoun must agree with the word that it is replacing (the antecedent) in three ways: gender, number, and person.
Agreement in Gender
We have three genders for pronouns: masculine, feminine, and neutral.
Masculine and feminine are the easy ones. Most of the time, we know the gender of the person we are talking to or about.
Example: Steve worked hard today.
Steve is male, so we would want to use a masculine pronoun if we wanted to use a pronoun instead of the noun.
Example: He worked hard today.
Easy, right? The same would apply for feminine nouns.
The problem comes in that we don’t have a gender neutral singular pronoun in English other than “it.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to be called an “it.” Isn’t that similar to what people say when they don’t know a baby’s gender? “What is it?” they ask. “It’s a llama in a baby carriage, what do you think?”
If we don’t know the gender of the singular noun (ex: lawyer, doctor, writer) then we have a couple of options.
- You can guess. This is probably not your best option. It’s sort of like asking a woman when she’s due. You had better be really sure she’s actually pregnant before asking that one!
- You can use that awkward he/she phrasing. Keep in mind that you’re going to have to keep that up and your writing will flow terribly if you choose that option for an extended discussion.
- You can rework the sentence to make the noun plural, if you’re able. This is my favorite option. It makes the gender neutral noun plural, and we have a gender neutral plural pronoun (they) so we’re in the clear!
Example: The lawyer will present ____ argument.
- The lawyer will present his argument. (Assuming the masculine used to be acceptable, but women can be lawyers too, so be careful!)
- The lawyer will present his/her arguments. (Most of the time “his or her” is preferred over “his/her” but always check your style guide.)
- The lawyers will present their arguments. (Isn’t that nice?)
Quiz 1: How would you fix the following sentence?
The doctor washed their hands before going in for surgery.
Agreement in Number
The next problem that we have with pronouns is agreement in number. We touched on that one when we talked about gender, but it is always good to explain some more.
A pronoun needs to agree with its antecedent in number (singular or plural). From my experience in teaching and editing, this error usually occurs as a typo (unless it is as described earlier).
Quiz 2: Fill in the blanks
The cat pushed the papers out of _____ way.
The cats are playing with ______ toys.
Agreement in Person
The final hurdle with pronouns is agreement in person. There are three “persons” in English: first, second, third.
First person is the speaker. First person includes I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours.
Second person is the person spoken to. Second person includes you, your, yours.
Third person is the person spoken about. Third person includes he, she, it, its, them, they, him, her, hers, his, their, theirs.
So, the pronoun must be the same “person” as the noun.
Example: Charleston is a lovely city. It is in South Carolina.
In this example, Charleston is the noun, and it is the pronoun. Charleston is third person, so the pronoun must also be third person.
Quiz 3: Correct the following sentence
Students often come to class late. You should really work on your punctuality.
All right, folks. You have three quizzes to try! Let’s see how you do. Post your answers in the comments.
In two weeks, we will talk about the different types of pronouns! I’m excited about that. Are you?
On Thursday, we lost Sir Terry Pratchett. He’d been diagnosed with a rare, early-onset Alzheimer’s a while back, so it wasn’t a complete surprise. But he was only 66 years old (every year that passes makes that number sound younger and younger to me) and I don’t think anyone was ready for him to go. I’m grateful he never had to deal with losing his identity. I also admired his determination to die on his own terms, instead of letting the disease transform him into an empty shell of what he once was. I don’t know if he died by his own hand or not – they’re keeping the specific reason for his death very quiet – but I do know that the world of fantasy is a little less bright now that he’s moved on.
Within hours after hearing about Sir Terry, I got word that a wonderful man (and a pin-carrying Rogue of the highest order) lost his life in a car accident, leaving behind a loving wife and many friends, all of us heartbroken. As one of my friends said, it was a terrible double-whammy for many of us in the Renaissance faire community. Losing Rowland was not just a tragedy, but also a heavy reminder that we don’t know where our last moment is waiting for us. I ended up feeling extraordinarily old and fragile by the time I reached early afternoon.
But then a beam of light shone into my darkness. A friend was reading a not-yet-released book, one I knew about and was sincerely looking forward to reading eventually. She sent me the file (with the author’s permission, of course) so that I could start reading it myself. That small kindness made so much difference in my feelings. I remembered that new days were coming, and they’d be filled with more than sadness and heartache. I remembered that I had work of my own to complete, so that others would be able to read my words and gain some pleasure from them. I remembered that I still had friends who were walking this earth, who make me smile just by coming into view. And I knew that if the grief was getting to be too much, I had a place to escape for a while, there in the pages of a book.
Next time you’re having a truly horrific day, tell someone you care about how you feel, and then give yourself a book. It does wonders for lightening the burdens we all carry.
** For those of you who might be in the area, we’re having a group signing event for The Big Bad II this Saturday at Barnes & Noble at Richland Fashion Mall, 3400 Forest Drive, Columbia, SC 29204! We’ll be there from 2 pm to 4 pm, and we would love to sign books for you! Come see us! **
Verb forms, Part II: The Passive Voice
A month ago I discussed the passive voice. Passive voice shifts the focus of the sentence from the actor to the recipient of the action.
Two weeks ago, I discussed the formation of the various tenses in English and the convenient formula that will give them to you. For active voice, just as a reminder, our formula:
T (M) (have + -en) (be + -ing) MV
Tense, modal auxiliary, have + the past participle, be + the present participle, and the Main Verb. Everything in parenthesis is optional, allowing us to create all the versions—past, present, and future—that English uses.
The passive includes one more addition to the formula.
A brief refresher:
Active: Tommy hit the ball.
Passive: The ball was hit (by Tommy).
We don’t need the “by Tommy” in the passive sentence to make the sentence grammatically correct. A passive sentence focuses on the recipient of the action (here, the ball) rather than actor.
If you look at enough passive examples, one thing you will notice is that they all include a form of the verb “to be” along with, and before, the main verb. So, when we see the formula for passive voice construction, it add this necessary element.
T (M) (have + -en) (be + -ing) be + -en MV
Here, we add a form of the verb to be plus the past participle form of the main verb.
So for our example above: Past be + -en hit: was hit.
Now to run through all the tenses in active and passive voice
||He hits the ball.
||The ball is hit (by him).
||He is hitting the ball.
||The ball is being hit (by him).
||He hit the ball.
||The ball was hit (by him).
||He was hitting the ball.
||The ball was being hit (by him).
||He has hit the ball.
||The ball has been hit (by him).
||He had hit the ball.
||The ball had been hit (by him).
|Present Perfect Progressive
||He has been hitting the ball.
||The ball has been being hit (by him).
|Past Perfect Progressive
||He had been hitting the ball.
||The ball had been being hit (by him).
||He will hit the ball.
||The ball will be hit (by him).
||He will have hit the ball.
||The ball will have been hit (by him).
|Future Perfect Progressive
||He will have been hitting the ball.
||The ball will have been being hit (by him).
As you can no doubt see, the passive voice always has more words than the active voice in the same tense. And by the time we get to the perfect and progressive forms, we’re talking about a lot of extra words.
So, as a quick piece of editing advice: if you need to cut words from a piece, reconsider out all the instances you’ve used passive voice. Can what you are saying being expressed in active voice? Is it better in active voice? As I pointed out in my passive voice discussion, there are some verbs, like rumor, which can’t be used in the active voice. Sometimes the passive is more appropriate, BUT, when you’re trying to cut words, switching passive to active can be a handy way to do it.
A second quick piece of editing advice: I pointed out above that our tenses get very long in terms of words. So, one thing to ask is “does this need to be progressive?” If you say, for example, “he is hitting the ball,” could it work, and would it be stronger to say “he hits the ball”? (Or “he hit” for “he was hitting” if you’re using past tense).
These are two ways of tightening your writing through grammar choices, rather than content ones.
Next time I’ll talk about shifting the sentence focus in other ways: using the “There Transformation” and “Cleft Sentences.”
By Gail Z. Martin
Anything you keep for sentimental reasons has a hint of haunt to it.
Deadly Curiosities, my urban fantasy novel from Solaris Books, is centered around a 350 year-old antique and curio shop that exists to get dangerous magical items off the market and out of the wrong hands. The proprietor, Cassidy Kincaide, is a psychometric, someone who can read objects by touch and sense strong magic and memories.
While Cassidy’s talent goes far beyond the nostalgia most of us experience, there’s more truth to her magic than you might feel comfortable acknowledging.
The word “memento”, one we often use to mean sentimental knick-knack, actually means “remember death,” and described the Victorian penchant of making jewelry to memorialize their dead. While we no longer make death jewelry, the items that we keep for sentimental reasons are more similar than not to those old Victorian lockets–a memorial to memories and emotions that we don’t want to forget.
Think about the treasures you’ve got stashed away in a box in your closet or under your bed—or maybe in a storage unit. You keep things that have little or no monetary value because they bring back a strong vision of the past. Pictures, jewelry or personal possessions of those who have passed away serve to extend the influence of the dead over the living, even if it’s just the power of memory.
The items we hang onto—as individuals and collectively (museums)—not only remind us of the past, they shape our understand of that past by what we choose to keep, and what we throw away. Because what we keep is selective, our heirlooms tend to reinforce the memories we value and erase the things we don’t want to remember. Many families have been sundered by vicious squabbles over heirlooms with no monetary value for this very reason. As a society, the items we enshrine in museums reinforce a code of conduct, a view of national identity, a worldview. Old objects have power.
Even the dialog over historic items and national treasures taken in antiquity posits that what we are is influenced by the objects we own and that those objects are linked to our very essence. When I’ve been in the Smithsonian, the Vatican Museums, the Louvre, the British Museum, I see items taken from one empire by another because of what those items signified, the psychological and sociological power invested in them. The recent movie “Monuments Men” shows the lengths to which nations will go to acquire or rescue their treasures. The extensive efforts by First Nations peoples to regain their artefacts suggests just how much importance we attach to heirlooms.
Go to any religious shrine, and you’ll see more objects with a hint of haunt. Relics and religious artefacts are invested by our belief with power. We look to them for clarity, luck, protection. Wars have been fought over such objects because on a deep instinctive level we sense imbued power. Think of the feeling of awe that you get in a historic site/shrine/museum, a sense that because of the objects housed in that place, the past isn’t gone, it’s just thinly veiled.
Which brings me back to Deadly Curiosities–A place that exists to find the powerful old items linked to bad mojo and black magic, run by a secret coalition of immortals and mortals who are trying to protect the world, one cursed heirloom at a time.
Hey, y’all! Welcome back. Today I’m talking about modifiers. Modifiers are related to the little critters that sew your clothes together at night so that they’re a little tighter in the morning.
Define It: A modifier is a word or group of words that changes or adds meaning to another word or group of words.
Modifiers are great things…when used correctly.
Three errors can occur when carelessly using modifiers: misplaced modifiers, dangling modifiers, and redundant modifiers.
The first of these errors, and likely the most common, is the misplaced modifier. The misplaced modifier is a lot like walking into the wrong room while at a hotel that is hosting two conventions: one for science fiction fans and one for exterminators. It’s a room, just not the one you expected.
Define It: A misplaced modifier occurs when the modifier is not close enough in the sentence to whatever is being modified.
Misplaced modifiers often occur when there is extended description or multiple items being described.
She is going to wear her new shoes and dress with the strap around the ankle.
In this example, the woman is planning to wear new shoes and a new dress. The problem is that the modifier “with the strap around the ankle” should be closer to shoes than to dress; otherwise, it seems like the dress has a strap around the ankle. That would be a very…interesting…dress, don’t you think?
She is going to wear her new dress and shoes with the strap around the ankle.
Sometimes moving a modifier can also change the meaning of the sentence. In this case, the sentence still makes sense (unlike the previous example), but the meaning changes, so the reader doesn’t get the message you’re trying to send. This typically occurs with one-word modifiers like only and almost.
I ate almost all the ice cream.
I almost ate all the ice cream.
Can you see the subtle difference? In the first example, the person did eat some ice cream, quite a bit, actually. But, in the second example, the person did not eat ice cream. The person almost ate it. Moving the one word in the sentence changes the meaning of the sentence, even if it is subtle.
Another type of modifier error is the dangling modifier. A dangling modifier is like showing up at the wrong hotel for the convention. You’re there, but you have nothing to do.
Define It: The dangling modifier occurs when the modifier is in the sentence, but the thing that is supposed to be modified isn’t in the sentence at all!
Sometimes, as writers, we know what we are talking about, but that doesn’t always translate for the reader. (This is why you should have someone else read your work!)
Having set the alarm, the light was turned out.
In this sentence, we don’t really know who turned out the light. In fact, it sort of sounds like the light set the alarm. (Where can I get one of those?) Also, the example sentence is in passive voice, which Emily talked about here.
Having set the alarm, Marsha turned out the light.
In the revision, we know who did both actions: Marsha.
The last error with modifiers is redundant modifiers. Sometimes we try to add a little more detail to our writing, but we end up just repeating ourselves. (Thanks, Mr. Thesaurus.) The redundant modifier is like walking into a room at a convention and then walking back out only to walk back in again.
Define It: A redundant modifier occurs when you have more than one modifier with the same or similar meaning modifying the same word or group of words.
Here are a few examples:
The ice was cold and frigid. (Well yeah…it’s ice.)
The date was set for 6 p.m. in the evening. (That’s generally what p.m. means.)
The night was dark, the sky revealing no light. (Night? Dark? No light? Pretty much the same thing.)
In each of those examples, the modifiers could be cleaned up a bit to make the writing tighter and more impactful.
Sound off in the comments! How are you going to modify your modifiers?
Until next time…
Last Friday morning, my son came into the room with a terrible look on his face. “Mom,” he said, in that gentle way that people use when they have heartbreaking news to share, “Leonard Nimoy has passed away.”
“You know, for a long time I have been of the opinion that artists don’t necessarily know what they’re doing. You don’t necessarily know what kind of universal concept you’re tapping into.” — Leonard Nimoy
I was a child when Star Trek first ran, and didn’t really discover it until it began running in syndication a few years after its cancellation. While it was obvious that Shatner was intended to be the star, I was always more fond of Leonard Nimoy as the cerebral Mr Spock. He was almost always calm, even in the most harrying situations. He never needed to tear off his shirt to win the day, because he could out-think anyone. As I’ve mentioned before, smart is sexy. And Mr Spock was the smartest guy I’d ever seen on TV in my life. Where most other guys had to depend on their chin dimples or athletic ability, Mr Spock needed only his brain.
“I’m touched by the idea that when we do things that are useful and helpful, collecting these shards of spirituality, that we may be helping to bring about a healing.” – Leonard Nimoy
I always loved Leonard Nimoy’s smile. You didn’t see it often on Star Trek, which made it even more beautiful due to its rarity. It’s a wide, genuine smile, that projects his joy in life.
“The camera can capture thought in a way that’s quite surprising and shocking. You can become very simple and minimal in your work and communicate a lot with just a finger or an eyebrow, or a look, or a glance.” – Leonard Nimoy
In 1971, Nimoy took a break from acting to go back to school and earn a degree in photography. He won my heart a few years ago when he released his book, The Full Body Project, a collection of his photographs of full-bodied women in their altogether. Some of the photographs are homages to famous works by Matisse and Duchamp. The point of the book was to bring awareness to the problem of size in our culture, and the way that industry drives what we suppose to be beautiful, just so that money can be made.
“When you let me take I’m grateful. When you let me give I’m blessed.” – Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy spent his later years making appearances in shows like Fringe and The Big Bang Theory, and dropping by cons to visit his fans. He lived his life in a creative and joyful way, right up until the end when disease took him from us. I mourn his passing as I rejoice in the life he was kind enough to share with all of us.
“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP” – Leonard Nimoy
The world is a little less bright because he’s left us, but it’s also a richer place because he was here.