Living in Interesting Times

Gail Z. Martin

Martin_WarOfShadows-TPby Gail Z. Martin

“May you live in interesting times,” is a Chinese curse.  Boring times may be well, boring, but they also tend to be stable, safe, and predictable.  All the things that make those times boring also make them less dangerous.

By contrast, “interesting” times are unstable, dangerous, unpredictable and in a constant state of flux.  Those times make for great fiction, but aren’t such fun to live through while everything is being decided.

In my Chronicles of the Necromancer series, Tris Drayke has the misfortune of living in interesting times.  The king’s murder touches off a chain of events that lead to Tris running for his life with a few close friends, trying to outwit bounty hunters and figure out how to unseat the despot who has usurped the throne. In the Ascendant Kingdoms books, the “interesting times” include the loss of control over magic and the destruction of the kingdom, plus a brutal struggle to control the wreckage.

The chaos that makes things interesting for the reader bring hardship and misery to Tris as he fights his way through a dangerous landscape where nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted. Blaine struggles to restore control over magic and to fight for the future of Donderath, as warlords battle to determine who will rule and who will die. When times are “interesting,” rules change, old ways of doing things don’t work anymore, and there’s always a dangerous power grab as the chaos of the moment unseats the previous top dogs.

As society reshuffles itself, there are winners and losers, and the people who were on top under the old order rarely end up keeping their spots (or their heads).  Sometimes, the entire social order is upended, as when a country is overrun by invaders from a foreign country.  A natural disaster, a bad harvest, or a plague can bring down the mighty and raise the powerless, and when the dust settles, nothing is the way it had been.

Creating “interesting times” is one of the fun parts of being an author.  We love to torture our characters, and it’s a challenge to make things bad, then worse, then even worse to see what the character will make of it.  It’s also a great way to learn about your characters, because you won’t really know what they’re made of until they’re in hot water.  Some will turn out to be heroes.  Others will betray their friends, run from the fight, or sacrifice themselves for others.  Even we authors don’t always know for sure what’s going to happen until we put the characters in the situation and see what happens.

“Interesting times” are at the heart of great stories.  All stories focus on something that changes, or else there is no tension, no opportunity for growth.  So here’s to “interesting times”!

And remember–War of Shadows (Book Three in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga) comes out April 21!

Diana Pharaoh Francis: Death, Taxes, and Book Launches


Edge of Dreams - 600x900x300Yesterday was tax day. I actually got mine done before April 15th, which is sort of a miracle and one that I celebrated with . . . well, no. I didn’t celebrate. I should have, though. Oh, wait. I remember why not now. There was that whole business about owing money. Didn’t want to jump up and down for that.

However, yesterday was also the release day for Edge of Dreams, the second book in my Diamond City Magic series. It is a fabulous book, if I do say so myself, and the early reviews have actually corroborated that. That I can get behind celebrating.

You might be wondering what it’s about. Well I’m here to tell you all about it, and generally ply you to go have a look so that maybe you’ll buy it and love it and tell all your friends. We writers love it when you go tell all your friends and anybody who will listen about our books and get them to read and spread the word. You are our beloved epidemic of word of mouth. Bet you never thought of yourself like that before, did you?

Edge of Dreams is a sequel to Trace of Magic. It can be read stand alone, but frankly, the first one is pretty cheap on ebook and it’s fabulous and why not get both? (You should see me in Baskin Robbins or a Frozen Yogurt joint. Or a yarn store. This sort of logic is how I ended up with an entire room packed with yarn and let’s not talk about my bathroom scale. I’m all about enabling on the good stuff.) All right. Moving on.

I’m so excited to have Edge of Dreams out in the world. It takes the characters first introduced in Trace of Magic a lot of further and to places that I didn’t see coming. Seriously. You’d think as an author I’d know what I was going to write, but the started going and things started happening, and all of a sudden, I was racing along trying to keep up.

As I’ve written this blog post, I’ve wondered just what to focus on and what to say. Too much seems spoilerish and I’ve dithered. So I’ve decided to talk a little bit about what I love about the book.

Trace of Magic made me cackle all the way through. I giggled and typed and the dogs looked at me and wondered if I’d finally gone totally off the edge. This book was a little more difficult. I had so many ideas and so many things to be done, I had to rein myself in and try to figure out just where I was going. Then I ended up jumping on the train and just riding it out with blind abandon. It’s darker. As in, bad things happen, and yet . . . .

I chortled—really, I totally chortled—as I introduced the Best. Bad. Guy. Ever. Seriously. When you meet him you’ll either want to high-five me or track him down and smack him around. Maybe both. I can’t wait for you to meet him. He’s all kinds of evil and yet he made me laugh because he’s also so obnoxiously snarky.

Then there’s all the side characters and fun interactions. I love banter and by-play, so the book is loaded with that. Riley is generous and giving to a fault, but she’s covered with thorns and attitude and the more she’s pushed up against a wall or out of her comfort zone, the more her mouth takes over. I don’t think I’m explaining very well, so let me give you a snippet:

I didn’t realize I’d stopped until Luke turned around and shined the light in my face. I squinted and looked away.

“What’s wrong?”

I didn’t speak. If I opened my mouth, the sounds that would have come out would only humiliate me. So I stood there, my entire body shaking. In the back of my head, I was praying I didn’t pee myself.

“Hey!” Luke snapped his fingers in front of me, and then he put his hands on my shoulders and gave me a little shake. “Snap out of it.”

Oh, good. I was afraid I’d never be cured, and he’d done it. A quick snap out of it and I was over my claustrophobia. If I could have, I would have rolled my eyes. I opened my mouth. Something like “ack” came out.

“Fucking hell. You’ve got claustrophobia.”

Thank you, Doctor Phil. I didn’t know. I’d have said it out loud if my lips weren’t made of frozen rubber.

“Jesus.” He shook me again and then made a frustrated sound before he slapped me.

I suppose it was a gentle slap. Admittedly, it didn’t hurt quite as bad as when [name redacted] had hit me. It also woke up a little fire in my stomach. My hands rose mechanically, and I shoved against his chest. Or maybe my hands just fluttered like butterflies there. I liked to think there was shoving.  In my head I was pounding him to a pulp.
Can you see now why I chortled throughout the book? It’s plain old fun. You ought to be warned though, if you read this book, you’ll learn to chortle yourself. People may mistake you for a criminal mastermind, by the end. Also a possibility, your pets and family may decide you need to be locked in the basement for your own good. Aside from the fun of snark, Edge of Dreams is also loaded with romance, mystery, tons of magic, sibling issues, and Big Surprises. It’s a rollercoaster read.

So I invite you to read. If you like it, I invite you (beg, blackmail, etc., you get the idea) to spread the word. Post reviews, tell your friends and enemies, parents and children, strangers—just shout it to the rooftops. If you don’t like it, I may have to start drinking. Wait . . . nevermind. It’s release week. I’m already drinking. That reminds me, I need to lay in a supply of chocolate. Possibly potato chips for if things really get rough.

Link to buy from Barnes and Noble:

Link to buy from Amazon:

Twitter: @dianapfrancis

Diana Pharaoh Francis writes books of a fantastical, adventurous, and often romantic nature. She’s owned by two corgis, spends much of her time herding children, and likes rocks, geocaching, knotting up yarn, and has a thing for 1800s England, especially the Victorians.

Persnickety Pronouns (Part Three)

Melissa Gilbert

Pronouns come in many different flavors, and I’ve talked about them in the past two posts. (Part 1, Part 2, in case you missed them.)

Today I’m talking about pronoun case.

There are three options: possessive, subjective (nominative), objective. This is where the notion of form vs. function comes in.

Form is the type of word; function is the job the word does in the sentence.

Let’s look at the word she for example. In form, the word is a pronoun. In function, the word is most likely a subject or predicate nominative. How do we know what? Easy! Pronoun case!

Let me give you a nice chart to start us off. Sound good?

Person Subjective/Nominative Objective Possessive
1st person I, we me, us my, mine, our, ours
2nd person you you your, yours
3rd person he, she, it, they them their, theirs
Relative/Interrogative who, whoeverwhich, that, what whom, whoeverwhich, that, what whose

Isn’t that handy?

Let’s start with the subjective case.

The subjective case is used for the subject of a verb and as a predicate nominative.

Example: I kicked the ball to her.

In this sentence, is the subject of the verb, so we want to use the subjective case.  That’s the easy one.

Example: a telephone conversation


“May I speak to Melissa?”

“This is she.”

In this example, she is what is called a predicate nominative. Basically, that means it is a word that renames the subject but comes in the predicate of the sentence.

Who also falls in this category.

Let’s move on to the objective case.

The objective case is used when the pronoun takes the object position in a sentence.

Our choices for objects are: direct object, indirect object, and object of a preposition.

A direct object receives the action of the verb directly.

Example: Sally kicked me.

In this example, me is the direct object because it is receiving the action of the verb, what is being kicked.

An indirect object is the person/thing that something is given to or done to. It comes between the verb and the direct object.

Example: Sally kicked me the ball.

In this example, me is the indirect object because the ball (the direct object) is what is being kicked. However, me is the one to whom the ball is kicked.

The object of a preposition generally comes after the preposition, but not always. We will talk about prepositional phrases in more detail in a later post.

Example: Sally kicked the ball around me.

In this sentence, around me is the prepositional phrase, and me is the object of the preposition. (It’s what is being gone around.)

Whom also falls into this category.

Example: To whom should I address the letter?

Now, it sounds pretty easy, but people have trouble with these things! A lot of the time, people will say things like, “Tom is going to the concert with Jack and I.” That sounds an awful lot like someone trying to use proper grammar, but the problem is that it isn’t proper at all! Since with is a preposition, the other words in the phrase fall into the object category. Thus, it should be with Jack and me. A neat trick is to isolate the pronoun and see which case makes sense. In the previous example, would you say, “Tom is going to the concert with I”? Certainly not!

Let’s try a quick quiz!

Choose the correct answer from the pair. Explain your choice.

  1. It is up to (I, me) to make the decision.
  2. The only people on the panel were (she and I, her and me).
  3. I sent (she, her) the letter.
  4. The teacher made (Mary and I, Mary and me) clean the chalkboard.
  5. Let’s keep this between (you and I, you and me).

Post your answers in the comments, but don’t look ahead! That’s cheating. Don’t make me get my ruler.

Getting It Right The First Time

Misty MasseyMisty Massey

TWWW finalI spent the last few days reading submissions for our upcoming anthology, The Weird Wild West.  I’m nowhere near finished, of course – we had a marvelous response to our call, so there are a lot of stories to work through.  This is a new experience for me, editing.  I’ve edited my own work, of course, but choosing stories for an anthology that will have my name on it – this is an entirely different activity.  I’ve asked Emily (who has more experience at this sort of thing) a ton of questions.  We don’t want anything but the best in this book, and we expect the submissions to be the absolute best the writers could possibly achieve.

I want to repeat something you regular readers of Magical Words have heard all of us say at least a thousand times.  Editors are looking for a reason to say “No, thank you.”  It’s not that we’re horrible people sitting behind our monitors rubbing our hands together and cackling as we crush writers’ dreams (how’s that for a visual?)  No, the trouble is that we have 6 available spots for the book, and 130 submissions vying for those spots.  When a story gives any of us a good reason to turn it down, we will.

Sometimes those reasons are story-related.  The story doesn’t start until page 8, for example. Readers aren’t committing to the same amount of story-telling in a short story that they are in a novel, and taking too long to get the action cranked up and rolling means that you risk the reader turning to the next story in line.

Maybe you feel that it’s important to set a stage, to create an atmosphere prior to the action.  So you spend three pages describing the haunting howl of the wind whipping through the deserted streets of the little town.  Or you think it’s vital that the reader know your character has unearthly lavender eyes that captured the attention of every man in the saloon.  In short fiction, there’s only a brief window of time to get your story moving.  Don’t waste it.

Then there are the authors who are so impressed with all the research they did for the story that they make absolutely sure to mention every word of what they learned.  Again, there just isn’t time for all that.  When a writer dumps a metric-ton of mildly interesting but ultimately unnecessary information in the confines of a short story, I guarantee most readers will skim the page to see where the action picks up again.

What breaks my heart, though, are the writers who make mistakes that would have been simple to avoid.  I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve run across so far that aren’t in proper manuscript format.  I’m not particularly demanding about that, but I do insist that indentation and paragraphs exist.  I’m also pretty fond of punctuation – commas, quotation marks, all of those adorable little symbols that make reading simpler.  If you’ve chosen to write in some experimental form, decrying the use of punctuation and line spaces, well, good luck to you, but don’t act shocked if I stop reading your giant block of unbroken words in a desperate attempt to rescue myself from the eyestrain headache that’s threatening to blow my head wide open and make an unpleasant mess all over my floor.

When we say we want the finished manuscript, we’re not kidding.  Sending us your story with all the changes still marked in different colors?  Instant nope.  I’m nice, but not nice enough to write you back and ask you to send us a clean copy.  You should have done that the first time.

According to our guidelines, we wanted “stories of the Wild West in all its glory but with that delicious left turn into weirdness. The stories must be related to, inspired by, or set in a Western setting, whether on Earth, in a fantasy world, or on another planet.”  Pretty clear, wouldn’t you say?  And yet, we’ve received more than one story that had no weirdness whatsoever, and one poem (which might have been considered, I suppose, if it had been anywhere near the minimum word count.)  Read the guidelines, folks.  They matter.

I know most of you have heard these same grim warnings loving suggestions many times before.  They’re worth hearing again.  And again.  Until the day comes when every story is gold and saying “No” becomes a near-impossibility…how cool will that be?


Literate Liquors – Hugos, Puppies, Kittens and Kerfuffle

John G. Hartness

Hey y’all, watch this! I’m back with another episode of Literate Liquors and I share some of my opinions on the recent Hugo Awards mess that has left a lot of hurt feelings all across the SF/F community. Beware, this episode is more NSFW than most of them and includes a lot of me calling people a$$#*!#s and making disparaging comments about their lineage. I hope you enjoy it, and hope that in my own little profane way that I can shed light on multiple sides of a complicated issue.

The whole episode is available here.

Character Development – Show Me – Jane and Beast — PART TWO

Faith HunterFaith Hunter

DARK HEIR  Yep, it’s Thursday! I’m baaaaaack!

And yes — Dark Heir is out and doing well. :)

If our main characters are to blossom, then they have to have a function and the weapons to accomplish the goal you, the writer, sets for them. Function: Jane is necessary to stem the vamp war with the European Vampires, a war she knows nothing of when the series starts. Weapons: She has the desire, developing skill sets and the family she is building to fight evil. When she realizes that her friends and godchildren are potentially threatened, she also has the desire to fight.

So if look at characterization from the standpoint of strengths and weaknesses, we can easily take a character—any character—and show them developing by simply letting the plot points challenge the character’s weaknesses.

Last week we looked at Jane Yellowrock’s traits, so this week let’s look at them again, with the thought of how I might challenger her to grow.

  1. Human or Natural Traits: Are always here selfish, based on fear and unmet need. As a child of five, Jane witnessed the murder of her father and the rape of her mother. As most children do, who go through something like this, Jane internalized the blame. This makes her feel guilt at a very deep level. DEVELOPMENT POSIBILITY: Jane is placed in positions of making mistakes that challenge her memory of her father’s death, and the things she did afterward. Worse (SPOILER) when she helped her grandmother to track, capture, and kill the bad guys, she added violence on her own part to the issue, and violence almost always begets violence. In a child, being a witness, or even a forced participant in violence, can result traumatic memories, a PTSD that can last a lifetime. Jane has this, and that puts a stress on her weaknesses—on her human, natural traits.
  2. Typical Traits: These are representative of a group. Jane is a Cherokee skinwalker. Following a shift into an animal form, she needs huge amounts of food, because her magics depend on energy from food calories. She has the golden skin of the Cherokee, the height of her father, the long black hair of her childhood. She looks tribal American. DEVELOPMENT POSIBILITY: Jane not being able to get the energy that allows her shift, forcing her to find a way to get that energy from another source. I didn’t use this in the series, but it was a possibility when I was developing Jane in my head. Second DEVELOPMENT POSIBILITY: Racial problems from being a Cherokee chick. Also have not used, but this one exists for when the European Vamps come to visit.
  3. Individual Traits: These traits are peculiar to one character, the non-stereotypical and personal traits fall under this heading. Jane is different from most skinwalkers because she has Beast. With Beast, she can draw on the increased speed, balance, leaping ability, and night vision of the puma concolor. Even in human form. When she fights, she has increased speed, strength, and healing. All these are a-typical traits of her species. DEVELOPMENT POSIBILITY: The atypical traits lead her into difficulties that force a change in her relationship with Beast. This has been huge part of the series. Also, Beast is a fully developed character of her own and she has ideas of magic she wants to try, men she wants to “date” and things she wants to do. Things Jane is not interested in at all. The internal stressors contribute to forcing Jane to grow strengths. Like personal relationships, forcing her to commit to those relationships. I have to say, Jane has grown a lot.
  4. Moral or Social: Read here unselfish. These are the traits that keep the human tribe together, like loyalty, or courage, or self-sacrifice. Jane loves her godchildren and her friends and is fiercely loyal to them. This love and loyalty are both her greatest strength and her greatest weakness. She is brave in battle, has little fear, is loyal even to those who hurt her, gives her word and means it, stands behind it. And she is generous despite her violent past. DEVELOPMENT POSIBILITY: Jane’s loved ones are placed in danger, forcing her to improve on her magic and forcing her to let Beast show her new things. DEVELOPMENT POSIBILITY: When Jane’s loved ones are in danger, she might not think clearly and the result of her errors can force her to grow and develop.

If you look at the traits carefully, and if you’ve had a philosophy, or psychology, or spiritual realization course at any time in your life, you will spot some methods of characterization and character development right off! Numbers 1 and 4 give us the greatest room for conflict. The internal conflict(s) of character development should to contend with the external plot conflict(s). The natural Jane’s desire for self-gratification butts up against the social Jane’s need to assist the group (her family and friends). These traits come between the two conflicting parts of being human (or skinwalker). All 4 traits (in differing quantities) are needed for a well-rounded positive character or hero, and for an exciting, suspenseful antihero or bad-guy character.

To further break them down, by reading 1 & 4, it I think it is pretty obvious that Jane will be (has been) pulled in different directions and be forced to develop when:

  1. Jane remembers the childhood violence and is about to understand the guilt she places upon herself. Guilt she needs to be free from.
  2. Jane goes on a slow but effective spirit journey that forcers her to remember a past that has haunted her subconscious and affected her decision-making process.
  3. Forces Jane to form a spiritual bond with Beast, one that turns out give them both more strength and new (but possibly deadly) strength.
  4. Jane is forced to learn new fighting methods, to depend on other people (the Younger brothers) and is forced to learn trust, love, and is also forced to learn how to commit to ohers.

I hope you got something about characters and development, using Jane and Beast. If you are in the mood to play, take a look at one of your characters and see how they fit in with the character traits here. Feel free to post them in the comments and I’ll check in and comment back!

Faith Hunter

The Needs Clock from Hell

Tamsin Silver

“You never know what’s around the corner. It could be everything or it cold be nothing.

You keep putting one foot in front of the other and then one day

you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain.” – Tom Hiddleston

Yes, for those who remember, I quoted Tom last post too. What can I say? I happen to like who he is, what he stands for, and I think he’s an extremely talented actor. Plus, he says some great stuff! This in particular hit me as I was contemplating my topic for this week’s blog post. Why? Well…because I hit a wall this past month and maybe others have too. Probably not in the same way, but it still blocks our creative juices…thus making us frustrated.

For me, the one I hit triggered my “Needs Clock” (time restraints on what I feel is needed to be done by a certain point) and put me into a tailspin. So I thought I’d share that today in case my story could help another writer. So off we go!


The Needs Clock from Hell

(A Form of Writers Block)

Some (or is it many?) writers feel the pressure of time. If you are not one of those people, I envy you! I hate that clock! Problem is…I created it, so what does that say?

I don’t get writers block often, when I do, it’s painful and I push through and write and if it’s bad, its bad, and I scrap it later. But I write. All writers have their form of writers block, and it can sincerely paralyze them creatively, making them question if they even know what they are doing and if they really are a writer (maybe that book I sold was a fluke?) in the first place.

Other than the form of writer’s block that makes finding words as hard to pull as getting sap from a tree in February, there’s the kind that stops you cold. For me, that’s my Needs Clock. When it turns on, panic set in, and any forward momentum in my life freezes (which then creates more panic, causing the clock to tick louder…aaand you get the picture). That pain-in-my-ass clock if built out of two things: time and emotions.

Let’s discuss time first. Here are a few of the questions writers ask in their head that start the tick-tock of the writer’s clock:

  • Will I get this done in time to pitch while this story is still hot enough to sell?
  • Will I get to that agent/editor before they are no longer taking new clients/submissions?
  • Will someone beat me onto the market with this same idea?
  • Will I get this book finished in time to have it ready for the next convention season?

…Or the big one…

  • Will I get published and recognized for my work before it’s too late?

The last two words of the last bulleted item, “too late”, do not necessarily mean, “before you die”…it can, but it’s more likely they equate to the concept of reaching certain goals by a specific age or point in life. Here are two examples that come to mind:

#1: A man or woman sees themselves earning a particular amount of money or reaching a certain status in their profession/company by a specific age.

#2: A man or woman has set an age goal (consciously or unconsciously) for when they should be married in order for their life to move forward as they want it to (this may or may not revolve around the desire to have children).

The limits we set for ourselves generate a sense of time urgency, and thus create stress, panic, and can strangle the creative process. Writers block will do this too if it persists for too long.

As I said previously, I’d been feeling this as of late because, without consciously deciding this, I set a goal based on age (yay…go me). That age is, as of July, only five short years away. In 2010, when I decided to pursue my true passion (telling stories), it seems I decided that I would be at a certain point by 2020 (we’ll call it my “2020 Goal”).

Well, I’m not there yet…and though I know outwardly I’ve done a lot in those five years, I’m not where I want to be, so in my head I’m a failure. Oh, I know that’s technically not true, but my brain says, “You’ve not accomplished ‘the thing’…without ‘the thing’ you’ve not hit your goal, so you have failed.” It sounds crazy…because it is. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Technically, in its own twisted way, it’s valid, since that’s how I think. So now what?

Let’s attack the other aspect of the clock: emotions or feelings. And these are in juxtaposition to your thoughts on time. The fight between them I refer to as the battle between head and heart, and it is not a simple conflict. The artist in you screams, “Follow your heart!” to yourself and everyone else who ask what they should listen to. However, the side of you who is driven and needs that goal met on time, says, “Follow your head unless you want to be a failure.” It’s a dramatic way of phrasing, but that’s because it’s trying to win.

This is the wall I hit this past month. To open the door and pass through I had to make a large decision about where I wanted my career to go. I hate making decisions (just go out to eat with me sometime, you’ll see), so I spent a week or more swimming in the cesspool of my own thoughts, fully engaged in the fight, often when I was supposed to be sleeping. I began to lean in one direction but I wasn’t sure I was right. The screaming of my head became louder (making quite a ruckus with vulgar language) because my heart was winning the argument. That’s when I got an email that showed me I was heading in the right direction.

Finally my heart laughed, my head to shut up, and my creative juices hit overdrive. I’m probably the happiest I’ve been in a long time as a creative person and on fire for the two new things I’m working on. One of them is something I took a chance on, pushing myself into new ground, and nothing has felt this right in years. My Needs Clock has gone quiet, my panic has left the building, and the joy for my craft is back. Now, is your heart always the right answer? No…everyone is different with complicated circumstances. But for me, today, it was, and while the Needs Clock from Hell isn’t exactly the same thing as writers block, it feels similar to me and contains identical attributes.

So if you are at a crossroads OR you are struggling to get 500 words on the page a day OR your Needs Clock is ticking so loudly that it drowns everything else out, it’s okay. Forgive yourself and keep putting one foot in front of the other. One day you will look back and find that you’ve climbed a mountain…be it finishing a story, making a decision, or whatever is causing your writing mojo to fall flat.

Maybe you feel like you took a wrong turn and your inner GPS is screaming, “Recalculating” over and over, causing you to panic because you don’t know what to do or where to go next. That’s okay. Just stop, breathe, take that step, and remember that your GPS, even if it’s an older model, will eventually show you the way home.


That’s it for me this time around…stay safe out there and remember…write hard , bathe in imagination, and have patience with yourself! -Tamsin :-)

Writers Block pic


“If you can do what you do best and be happy,

you’re further along in life than most people.”

– Leonardo DiCaprio