Monthly Archives: April 2011

Freebie Friday – Janny Wurts

Guest blogger, Janny Wurts, shares an excerpt of her latest book:

Readings from her books can be found here:

For folks unfamiliar with her work, To Ride Hell’s Chasm is a standalone fantasy with a plot that wraps up in four and a half days. It is available in print and e format.

An excerpt can be found at:

A readng from the book can be found at:

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Why book fans need media and gaming fans (and vice versa)

by Gail Z. Martin

I run into some groups of fans who have a “separate but equal” view when it comes to conventions. Some book fans get twitchy around fans whose primary experience with the genre comes via gaming, movies and TV. Multi-media fans sometimes don’t “get” what all the excitement is about listening to a bunch of authors talk in a hotel ballroom.

Can’t we all get along?

I’ll be the first to admit that I consume the genre in multiple ways: books, music, movies, TV, anime, costuming, and when time permits, role playing games (video and old school). For me—and for many fans—consuming the genre in more than one way deepens the experience.

Don’t get me wrong—I love books. After all, I write them. But I also enjoy the genre when it’s presented well in a variety of formats. I’ll get something different out of each experience. Experiencing the story in ways that stimulates multiple senses makes it more memorable, more tangible and more pleasurable.

That’s why I think that the books vs. media “controversy” is a tempest in a teapot. Book and multi-media fans have a lot they can learn from each other. Working together with respect for each other’s perspective and experience, they can gain a whole new way of alooking at their favorites. They can serve as cultural translators for each other, and in the process, find treasures in formats they might not have otherwise explored. I really believe book fans need media and gaming fans—and vice versa—because together they provide a more well-rounded and wholistic fandom, with roots in the past but comfortable and fluent in the present.

It’s worth the effort to bridge the divide. Fandom is stronger—and more fun—when we work together.

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What’s in a Name?

by Crymsyn Hart

How do you find the name of your character? Do you scour name them after your best friends or other people that you know? Do you use some random name that pops into your head? Or do you run to the baby book of names or website and see what’s trendy these days? Or do you want a meaning of a certain name first before you choose the most sacred of titles for your main character or the secondary ones who are involved in the novel.

I confess. I’ve done all of them.

My first book was based all around my friends. So each character got the name of the person I was writing about down to coping their personality. Of course the experiences in the book were all made up, but the names were not changed to protect the innocent. LOL

When a character pops into my mind, I get their attributes first most of the time. Then I hit the Internet baby name websites and search the meaning of a name. Once I do that, then I know I’ve found a good moniker. Or I look at the names I already have and try to find the balance of what the letters the other names start with. Other times the names pop into the story even without me conjuring them up.

But names are a big part of who a character is. They give you insight into who they are. If they’re strong names then the reader would hopefully know they will turn out to be. Sometimes the spellings are different than normal or the character ends up with a nickname. Sometimes their name can have an impact in their destiny.

What do you think? Have you read anything where a character’s name just didn’t fit? Or do you look for the deeper meaning in a name?

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by Janny Wurts

In celebration of the delightful thrill of seeing my Cycle of Fire trilogy released in audio format, the moment seems ripe to share some of the helpful particulars of my experience – which, with a bow to my editor at Audible in London, was lovely all along the way.

Calmed down from the giddy dance, just after signing the contract, my overloaded brain realized: wow, for a  fantasy story, no question, the right reader will be essential. If the listener doesn’t follow the magic – they’ll become horribly lost. First thing, I wrote to my audio editor and asked how the narrators were chosen. The correct term, from their side, was ‘casting the narrator’ –  but, would I have any input?

I was invited to submit a suggestion list: which narrators were my favorites? That stumped me. I am writing all day, not listening to books – how could I choose among the constellation of talent, heretofore outside my bailiwick?

First, I asked everyone who liked audio books who they loved to listen to. I lurked audio forums and took down favorite narrators. I asked a prominent internet reviewer at (a review site I respect) who was on the hot list of their favorites. This gave me a list of 20. A subsequent search of audio sites’ ‘sample’ clips from the computer allowed me hear them.

Two stood out, with the qualities I felt suited the story. I reported those names back – and was told one was booked, and the other did not work for Audible. However, I was assured, this bit of homework mattered. And in fact, it did! The talent that Audible cast, David Thorpe, was so close to the mark, I was ecstatic.

Second, I fretted over all the strange names and places I had put in the book. It’s one thing to spell them out in print, but how might a narrator pronounce them in recording? After the first gulp of panic, I grabbed the books, paged them through, and  wrote down every single made up name in the trilogy. The table function in my word-processor let me compile them into a neat, alpabetical list. Then I flipped on the MAC laptop and (thank gosh for podcasters who taught me the works) fired up GarageBand, which let me record a very clear audio file.

As an aside, I’d used this software, before. A simple mixer and mike makes it easy to create reading teasers in MP3 format for free download. The idea that readers can sample a book on their morning commute is a no brainer, to widen exposure.

I sent the text file and the little audio file of my recorded pronunciations over to Audible in London and suggested it might be helpful.

The result has me transported – not only does the narrator’s gifted voice suit the story, but every single strange word carried the nuance and inflections I had envisioned.

Once the books were released in audio, it was evident that listeners needed a map, and more, a print glossary helped the reviewers get the names spelled right. So an area on my website now holds these resources to complete the listening experience.

Here are the links to each of the books. Sample clips on the page will demonstrate the result.

My sincere thanks to David Thorpe and the production staff at Audible in London for a superb job!

You can listen to the audio from when Janny was a guest of Blog Host, Gail Z. Martin’s Ghost in the Machine podcast here:

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Metaphysical Entity

By Tina R. McSwain

This category includes beings that are neither human nor demon but something in between. While our modern world may scoff at tales of leprechauns, imps, sprites and fairies, centuries of stories and alleged encounters make them all too real for many cultures. Leprechauns are of course associated with Ireland. The other creatures listed above are most notable in Great Britain and other European countries. To this day in Iceland, roads and construction projects are planned very carefully so as not to disturb Elfin dwellings. Such an imposition is said to infuriate the little people, who promptly retaliate by taking apart or destroying any machinery left on the construction site.

There are countless culture-specific supernatural creatures; the hopping ghosts or hungry ghosts of China, the fanciful mix of objects, animals and humans into the ghosts of Japan, the elementals and dragons of medieval society. While some of these seem ridiculous to mention, they are included for reference. The cultural background of your client will determine how they describe paranormal activity as well as how they react to it. These topics need to be presented in order to give a broader view of paranormal beings.

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Freebie Friday – Michele Lang

Guest blogger, Michele Lang  shares a free story titled “The Walled Garden” — it’s a re-release of a story she wrote for the Mammoth Book of Time Travel Romance:

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Bringing up the kids in the (fandom) faith

by Gail Z. Martin

As a parent, I know that—intentionally or unintentionally—you instill your values by example into the next generation. Your kids see what’s really important to you—by your actions more than your words.

Many parents struggle to instill their cultural heritage, religious outlook, political world view or moral compass into their offspring. But one of the things I’ve seen been consciously transmitted by fan parents to their children is the fandom bug.

Kids learn by example. They notice the kinds of books you read, the video games you play, the movies you take the family to see. Fan parents delight in sharing all of these elements with their kids . Sometimes, it becomes a rite of passage. At what age does a parent decide a child is old enough to read certain authors? Play certain video games? See particular movies? In many families, a life-long memory is created when a parent passes along their well-worn 20-sided dice to a child. “You’re old enough to have these,” the parent says. Even better, they sit down and play through the dungeon together.

I see lots of families who attend conventions together. My family attends DragonCon and Con Carolinas with me. They get to play while I’m working, and play they do. And they’re not the only ones. I see families with little kids, young parents with babies in front carriers, families with toddlers and families with college students. Sometimes, whole families will dress with a theme for masquerade. Often, kids and teens stay decked out in costume for the whole weekend. They may not always attend the same panels, but they are sharing the fandom experience, transmitting it to the next generation by example, and deepening their relationship through shared cultural touchstones.

Cross-generational fandom is a beautiful thing. And you know what? The kids are alright.

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Synoptic Failure (Or a Deadline is a Terrible Thing to Waste)


J. F. Lewis

That’s not a typo.

It isn’t.

In the title, I didn’t mean synaptic failure (to which one may be prone after staying up too long writing… or playing Patapon).  Synoptic failure is a personal writing challenge of mine.  I describe Synoptic Failure as the singular inability to adequately describe one’s novel in an appropriate manner so as to convince an editor to buy the novel before the novel has been written.

There are ways around it (maybe), but none of them make things easy on the modern writer.

1) Write the novel first:  This is what I have tended to do with the Void City series.  The book is more easily converted to a synopsis after it’s done.  (Though mine still stink.)  In addition, if you can turn in the whole manuscript, you might be able to avoid having a bad synopsis torpedo your sale.

2) Cheat:  This is a method I also use.  Instead of actually providing a true synopsis, I write cover text with heavy spoilers.  I give the beginning, middle, and end, but this approach is mainly about selling the feel of the piece and convincing people it is cool.  I don’t know how effective or ineffective it is, but this is all I turned in for Void City, Book 4.  So this method may only be truly helpful if you’ve already writing (and sold) three previous books in a vampire series.

3) Grow:  I’m an organic/pantser/puzzler writer who is trying to incorporate more structure and planning into my writing.  The fact is, it’s almost as easy to write a synopsis from a good outline as it is to write one from a completed manuscript.  This does not change the fact that mine suck, but writing a synopsis is a different skill than novel writing and like any skill, the only way to get better at it is to practice.  Lately, I’ve taken to trying to write synopses of books I’ve just read and enjoyed.

Are there any special tricks you use to turn out a good synopsis?

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Word Alchemy — Writing Historical Fantasy

by Michele Lang

Writers of historical fantasy face so many pitfalls.  We have to get our historical facts right, and capture the truth of a place we can never visit – the past.  We have to build a believable world that incorporates both the historical setting and the fantastical elements we interweave.  We must create convincing characters that embody both the historical milieu and their own peculiar magic — and most difficult of all, we must make this multilevel process look effortless or we lose our readers.

By trial and error, I’ve developed some moves designed to balance the historical and fantastical in my work:

*Escape the Research Bog:  I am a history freak who would gladly stay stuck in the research phase forever, but I have to stop research at some point to write.  Some people recommend you do all of your research up front; others say that you should search for information only after you’ve dug your characters into a deep hole.  Why not do both?  Get oriented, and when you think you know enough, follow your characters.  And when you come up short, dip back into research to get clues that will help you advance.

*Secondary Sources:  History is written or other documentary evidence of past events.  Secondary sources of evidence – scholarly historical works, essays, biographies – will give you the best overview of a particular historical period.  To get up to speed quickly, I suggest starting with middle grade or YA histories – they tend to present the facts in a straightforward way.

*Dig Deeper with Primary Sources:  Once you have a feel for the major events and geopolitical forces at play, you need to hunt out primary sources.  Diaries, newspaper articles, and letters will give you the voices of people who lived through the period.  Their biases and unspoken assumptions will tell you a lot more than a scholarly history, but remember that these individual voices are not objective.  It’s good to read a number of them, and see where they disagree.

Where to find good primary sources?  A well-researched history will list primary sources in its Bibliography; costume books and cook books can also give you some insights into the clothes and culinary delights of a place.

*Metabolize the Past:  To get a flavor of a place and time, go deeper still and listen to the music, wear the costumes, eat the food, smell the spices, drink the libations.  The Internet is a great place to find organizations devoted to exploring and recreating historical periods.  Obvious places to start are groups like the Society for Creative Anachronism.

*Some Dangers and Opportunities:  Beware travel guides!  They are a good introduction, but guides are themselves a product of a particular place and time.  No location is static, and some places transform more completely and abruptly than others.

For example, I write about 1930s Budapest in my LADY LAZARUS series.  Budapest entered its Golden Age before World War I; by the end of World War II the gilded city was blasted into ruins.  When I first visited Budapest in the 1980s, the city was a muted gray, and the people never stopped moving.  During Budapest’s heyday, the city had a thriving café culture, where lawyers, photographers, moviemakers, and poets plied their trade, debated the politics of the day, and made loitering an art form.

And yet, details bring the soul of a setting to life.  At a bakery in the old city of Buda, I bought a hard, heart-shaped cookie with a mirror stuck into it, the stiff black icing spelling out “From My Heart” underneath the mirror in Hungarian.  I still remember the quail eggs floating like eyeballs in my soup, can almost taste the hot coffee served alongside pitchers of hot milk.

Travel can’t give you a city as it was decades or centuries ago; still, nothing is better for capturing ephemeral sensory details, the telling details that will sometimes give you the essence of a place.

*Magic in History:  My favorite part of writing historical fantasy is discovering the point of departure from the bare historical record — where the fantastical elements begin to grow organically from the place and time of your story.

Here’s another example from LADY LAZARUS.  In my preliminary research I learned that the Werewolves were partisan units trained by the SS to keep fighting after the war was lost in 1945.  In the world of LADY LAZARUS, these partisans are actual werewolves, and the Wolf’s Lair , where Hitler commanded the Eastern Front, becomes the headquarters of the werewolves and their pack leader supreme.

A great historical fantasy illuminates the past by embellishing it with magic.  To achieve this balancing act and tell a compelling, believable story is a kind of magic in itself.

Here are some links for your own writer’s grimoire:

Article by Elizabeth Bear – “Achieving Freshness in Fantasy.”  How to put original spin on material that may have been mined by other writers before you.

“Historical Research for Fiction Writers” by Catherine Lundoff.  A nice overview of historical research, with a list of internet resources at the end.

For inspiration, check out the website of the PBS series “History Detectives” – the show itself is fun to watch, and you might get story ideas from watching the investigators hunt down clues about the past.

You can listen to the audio from when Michele was a guest of Blog Host, Gail Z. Martin’s Ghost in the Machine podcast here:

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What is Smudging?

By Tina R. McSwain

We recently spoke about “Spirit Rescue”. One of the techniques used in spirit rescue is the practice of smudging. Smudging is a process whereby you light white sage and let it burn. This practice dates back to the earth’s native peoples. While this sage is burning and emitting smoke, you walk around the entire home or business and let the smoke into every room. This is usually done in a clockwise pattern and The Lord’s Prayer is said while walking about.

This ceremony is intended to clear the area of negative thoughts, energy or spirits, and keep them at bay in the future. Other herbs that may be used are cedar and sweetgrass much in the same fashion.

The performer of the ceremony must be of pure heart and knowledgeable in the practice that they are conducting.

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