Monthly Archives: July 2011

Story ideas from real life

by Gail Z. Martin

OK, so here’s the making of a fantasy story…..

Once upon a time there’s a king and he’s come into possession of a magical item that has to be eliminated before it destroyed the entire kingdom.  Everyone agrees that if the magic item isn’t eliminated, it will cause a catastrophe.  Then the king’s advisors and the nobles begin to squabble.  Each side has ideas on the best way to get rid of the dangerous magical item, and there are hidden agendas in abundance.  No one is telling the truth, and everyone is out for his own self interest, regardless of the cost to the kingdom.  A few of the loudest nobles think they can discredit the king by making any plan to get rid of the magical item fail, and they’re willing to risk destroying the kingdom because their soothsayers have told them that the magical item isn’t really as dangerous as the others believe.  Political intrigue and backstabbing abound, while a hapless, helpless kingdom awaits a hero with the courage to take action…..

Hmm….sound familiar?  For those who have been under a rock (lucky you!), the above is a thinly-veiled version of the budget war in Washington.  But strip out the names of modern legislators and political parties and it could be a power struggle in Ancient Rome or in Medieval Europe or in a fictional kingdom, or on another planet.

The point is, people are people, and regardless of the issue or the time period, they can be counted upon to act in certain ways.  Much as the nostalgists would prefer to think otherwise, our ancestors and forefathers weren’t really any more noble, selfless or moral than modern-day folks.

What this means is, your next idea for a novel could be as close as today’s headlines.  Every published author gets asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”  But the truth is, you have only to read history or this week’s newsmagazine to get more ideas than you could write about in a lifetime.

Start by asking “what if.”  “What if” the situation didn’t happen now, but in the past?  What if it wasn’t the president and Congress, but a king and nobles?  Or maybe an emperor and the generals?  What if the catastrophe were more than economic?  What if the magic wasn’t  confidence in the financial system, but real magic?  What if the backstabbing was more than figurative?  If you’re stuck for ideas, start with the real stories in the headlines and replace one element after another to see what happens.  Replace the people, the place, the central object, revise the stakes, change the technology.  Getting some ideas?  Go forth and write!

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It Might Be Hot, but It’s Still Writing

Crymsyn Hart

I attended FandomFest this past weekend in Louisville, KY. It was hot and there was little air conditioning to be had except in the hotel rooms, but even then it was breaking down here and there. However, the panels were awesome and so was the collection of other authors who also attended. It’s always wonderful to get out and meet other people who are of like minds even if they write in a different genre because we are all trying to pedal our wares.

During one of panels I was one, talking about Erotic Writing, the other authors got to talking about how other people see them as authors. There are some who have to write under a pseudonym because of their day job, to protect their families, or for other reasons. The view was that when you tell others that you write erotic romance, then you are not writing at all or that you are writing porn. But it isn’t porn.
Erotic Romance has a plot and is character driven just the way other books are. The sex is there to help spice up the book, of course because who doesn’t like a little hotness to get your libido going, and to keep the plot moving. It doesn’t matter how long the book is even if it is a short, novella, or novel length. It is not a bunch of sex thrown in between the pages with just a little bit of conversation to get you thrown to the next hot scene.

Everyone has their own preference to what they read. Personally, I don’t read a lot of erotic romance, but just like the other writers, I’m still perfecting my craft with each idea that comes along. I just choose to steam up my glasses while I’m doing it.
What do you think?

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Relationships that Matter

By J. F. Lewis

As a series progresses, it’s interesting for me to see which relationships flourish and which ones don’t. For readers of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series (spoilers ahead) the relationship between Ferro and Logen is one that we know from the beginning cannot possibly work. We know it must fall apart, the only question is when and how messy the fallout will be.

In my Void City series, it is (I hope) clear from the beginning that Eric and Tabitha can never actually work out. If I were writing a romance, it would be different. I would have to find a way for them to stay together. Urban Fantasy, however, does not require a happy ending. On the other hand, all stories require a satisfying ending. The important relationships must have closure even if they do not resolve the way the reader (or writer) might hope they will.

As the series progresses, it has become quite clear to me (and hopefully to the readers) that the familial relationship (the strictly platonic love story, if you will) between Eric and Greta (his utterly insane, yet charming and deadly adopted daughter) is the most interesting facet. One reader put it this way, “Here’s a guy who is basically good at heart, but a murderer who loves unconditionally a… monster who has become everything the guy fears that he himself has become. And the cool thing is, she loves him unconditionally, too.”

It’s no coincidence that in BURNED (Void City, Book 4) the main.secondary POV will be Greta. It’s a tough call to make because I know that Tabitha (the previous secondary main) is some people’s favorite character, but writing must serve story. If I get in the way of that, then I’m not doing my job and I’m cheating the reader out the genuineness of character I try to portray in Void City.

What about you? Ever had to make a hard call when writing? Ever hit one in an author’s work and wish things had gone the other way?

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A Challenge in Writing Fantasy Short Stories

by Terry W Ervin II

One thing on every writer’s mind as they are planning and writing a short story is word count. In almost every instance the shorter the work, the easier it is to find a market for it. It’s a balance of words, quality, and the story to be told.

In any case, there are more markets that accept 5000 word short stories than 7500 word stories, and some prefer word counts under 4000. Even those that indicate they will consider a 7500 word piece state it has to be really exceptional to be published. Consider in context what is being said, since I believe all publishers sift their submission pile for what they believe are exceptional stories. The longer the story, the higher the hurdle for it to reach publication.

Now consider writing a fantasy story. The writer has to introduce the reader to the created world, demonstrating or explaining ‘how it works differently’ as compared to the reader’s mundane, everyday world. The world building has to be packed within the context of the story while keeping the plot moving forward. Give the readers just enough to make sense, enabling them to understand. Allow the readers to fill in some of the blanks where ever possible.

An example to illustrate: A writer doesn’t need to explain to readers how an insecticide bug spray works (and its limitations) on a cockroach menace. The average reader can see the property owner in his mind’s eye removing the cap, pointing the can and pressing down on the nozzle, while avoiding inhalation of toxin. But a writer of fantasy may have to explain how a net stung with iron beads might be used by the royal gardener to snare the flitting fairies that have been stealing the blooming royal snapdragons.

In both examples the character is trying to get rid of pests, but the former dealing with the cockroach infestation would require fewer words than the latter dealing with the fairy menace. Maybe it would only require thirty words spread over a few sentences, but that adds up quickly when considering a word count limit of 5000. Why include the episode about the iron affecting magical creatures? Maybe it’s a way of establishing the rules or laws of that world for when a larger, more dangerous magical foe comes into conflict with the protagonist—so that the full explanation isn’t necessary, possibly right in the middle of intense action.

Maybe that’s part of what interests readers of fantasy—the discovery of new worlds and creatures, and how they interact. But there’s more than just how the fantasy world differs from the reader’s everyday experience. The story also has to include characters the readers want to follow through their interactions and adventures. Creating characters and relaying the story’s action takes words too—if at all possible everything tucked nicely into the 5000 word (or less) box.

So that’s the challenge. Write a short story with all the necessary elements, while including content related to the fantasy setting that is both necessary and intriguing. And keep the word count under the limit.


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Paranormally Speaking

By Tina R. McSwain

The Perils of Summer Ghost Hunting

With last week’s high temperatures being well above 90, and throw in the heat index of 104-110, it is quite an undertaking to investigate in the summer time.  Especially if your investigation, or the bulk of it, is to be outdoors.  Or worse, your location is inside, but does not have air conditioning.

The obvious is to drink and have plenty of water on hand.  Don’t forget the bug spray to ward off all our little winged friends.  (Unscented is the way to go so as not to spoil any smells that may be attributed to a paranormal cause.) Beware the dive bombing bats, and then, there are the snakes!

Last but certainly not least, you have the physical strain on the body; profuse sweating, easier exhaustion, and the possibility of cramps, nausea or other heat related issues. 

With no end in sight and another week of 90+ temperatures, be mindful of this, and try to hold those investigations in a modern, well insulated and air conditioned home….lol

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Cons Are In The Air

by Crymsyn Hart

You place your fingers on the keys, focus on the screen, and then let the world fall away. You get lost inside of your own mind and are transported to another reality that you are in control of. Or at least you think you’re in control of. That is what the characters inside of your head want you to believe. They want you to think that you are the one controlling their lives when in trust they are the ones who are controlling your hand and hacking into your thoughts to dictate which way they want their lives to go. It’s all their plan to make you forget that you are the instrument. Sometimes it makes me wonder who is really writing the books. Then again it almost feels like playing a video game going around killing people off and hooking them up.

At the moment, I have three books going on right now, each characters warring in their own landscapes. Each of them are squared away in their own boxes. But the walls between them are growing thin and each want a chance to take over my hands and start playing. But of course, I shouldn’t be writing but getting ready to go to the convention I’m heading to this week. Maybe it’s really the characters telling me to go and I’m just the puppet. Or there is someone else pulling my strings.

Cons seem to be the thing to do in the summertime. When all I want to do is write, other things are pulling me away from that. But that is a good thing because us authors have to get out from behind the computer and meet with people. I’m not exactly the social type, but anything that can get me out of the house is a good thing. This is the first con, I’m heading to by myself and the furthest so far. Heading to Fandom Fest in Louisville, KY. Then in August I’m heading to Philadelphia to another convention.
Hope to see you all there. Should be exciting.

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The Time Traveling Vampire Goes To SDCC

“Get thee to a convention”
-Gail Z. Martin

“Holy crap! Somebody hide me!”
-J. F. Lewis

By J. F. Lewis

I’ve never gotten the hang of writing a blog in advance. Maybe if writing was my day job, I’d be better at it, but I always find myself thinking either late Monday night or sometime Tuesday wondering what the heck I should write about. And, seeing as how that’s where I’m headed tomorrow, this week, it’s SDCC.

I don’t think I can fully express the San Diego Comic Con experience to you. You really just have to go. Picture a con where TV, Movies, Gaming, Video Games, and Publishing all show up in force. Set it in a civic center (a huge one) and then fill the darn thing up.

My first year, I literally spent most of the con trying to see all of the dealer’s room… And failed.

Year two, I actually wound up on a panel (and it was awesome).

This year, I’m on a Thursday panel moderated by the mighty Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy:

3:00-4:00 Magic & Monsters— Adult and young adult science fiction and fantasy authors discuss the costs and consequences of “magic” in their novels and the scary, hairy, and dangerous creatures that lurk in the worlds they have created. Visit the worlds of Kim Harrison (The Hollows series), Andrea Cremer (The Nightshade series), Anton Strout (The Simon Canderous series), Lev Grossman (The Magicians), Ben Loory (Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day), J. F. Lewis (The Void City novels), and Diana Rowland (The White Trash Zombie series), guided by moderator Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy. Room 25ABC

It’s always mind-blowing. Alway awesome and, to be honest, I’m still a little surprised I get to go.

Are you going? Have you ever been? What would you do and who would you want to see most? Enquiring minds want to know! 😉

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Paranormally Speaking

By Tina R. McSwain


In North Carolina, high school seniors are required to submit a paper and product as part of their Project Graduation requirements.  Many of them have chosen paranormal investigating as their subject.  I have been mentoring these students since 2008 when I was first approached and asked to help.  As of this writing, over two dozen students have enlisted our expertise and guidance.

Since that time, this endeavor has become a most rewarding adventure for both myself and my CAPS team of paranormal researchers and investigators.  Our students have taught us as much as we have taught them.  It has been a thrill for us to work with such young inquisitive and bright minds.  It has also been a comfort to us to be able to pass along our knowledge and ensure that there are paranormal investigators in the future.  Hopefully, those who follow in well trod footsteps, will carry on our legacy.

And, our students have received only the topmost grades on their final presentations.  If you are a student reading this, contact us, we must be doing something right…

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The Greatest Teacher You Never Had

By Alethea Kontis

I haven’t had a lot of odd jobs in my life. Most of my jobs–like my relationships–have been long-haul kind of things. My first job was concessionist at a movie theatre when I was sixteen–by the time I turned twenty, I was running the place. That same year I graduated college and got a second job at a bookstore, and I haven’t left the publishing industry since. But there was a very brief time, in those first few months after I moved to Tennessee, before I landed the library job and another movie theatre gig, that I put my resume in at a temp agency so that I could get on the roster as a substitute teacher.

I was a substitute teacher for one day.

I sat in at the Daniel McKee Alternative School in Mufreesboro. That’s right, I got an entire day with juvenile delinquents. Right now you probably think you know exactly how this story ends, but you would be wrong.

I had a wonderful time with the kids. We chatted and laughed. We played Hangman with movie titles. One of the boys made me a rose out of a napkin. The only time I ever felt out of place was when I overheard one girl saying that her dad could drink another girl’s dad under the table any day. We didn’t do anything on the syllabus (they claimed they’d already done it), but they didn’t burn the school down, so I call it a win.

The second time I got the call, I was asked to sit in for a band teacher at Smyrna High School. Band? Ha! I couldn’t play an instrument if my life depended on it, but I was still excited. I put on the exact same outfit I wore to Daniel McKee, drove forty-five minutes to get to the school, and walked right into the office…where the secretary promptly ignored me. I took the initiative and asked, “Where is the substitute teacher sign-in sheet?” She pointed me to a closet-sized room behind her desk, and then promptly got up from her chair and walked away.

As I was signing in and greeting the other subs, I was stopped by a woman in the doorway with a horrible hairdo, pearls, and way too much make-up. The secretary peered anxiously over her shoulder. She introduced herself as the Vice Principal, and then proceeded to inform me that I was not adhering to the dress code.

I was taken aback, not just by her ridiculous accusations (since my oversized sweater and black leggings had obviously been fine for the other school) but also by the fact that the placement of her confrontation (the doorway) forced every one of the other subs to witness my scolding. She told me that my options were to go home and change, or to let them call in someone else in to sub. I was not about to drive an extra 90 minutes to kowtow to this woman’s demands, so I told her to call someone else.

As I stomped out, a student asked incredulously, “You’re substituting for Mr. Miller?” “Not anymore,” I answered.

To this day, I’m not sure how I would have handled that encounter differently. I could have put on my prom dress and gone back. I could have accused the woman of blatant age discrimination, which in hindsight was painfully obvious. (I looked like a high school student until I was 30. Now I look like a college student.)

I do know one thing, though–I wouldn’t have let the event affect me as deeply as it did. I let this woman crush my soul and spiral me into a horrible depression. In five minutes, this complete stranger brought back all my teenage insecurities and slapped me in the face with them. Because of her I turned down every other future sub request from the temp agency. Only later did I find out that a few of those calls were from a dear friend who taught an English class and had specifically requested me. I regret not taking those calls, and I am not a person who lives to regret.

As a writer, however, I highly valued this encounter. I needed to experience what it was like to face adversity, to be caught off guard. I needed to know that one’s past never stops haunting. I needed to know that even my strongest main character is subject to emotional downward spirals.  I needed to accept the fact that some internal struggles will never be resolved. In the adventure of life there is no “right” answer. The only “wrong” answer is not moving forward.

I was a substitute teacher for one day.

I think the person who learned the most was me.

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Twitter Novels

Crymsyn Hart

This past weekend a friend and I were sipping coffee at our local Books A Million café. She pulled out her cell phone which is the same kind I have and asked me how I liked it. I glanced at the new EVO I’ve had and sighed. It’s a win loose battle for me. I love my Blackberry because I can write on it. The new phone being touch screen and me texting rather fast it’s a disaster. But I need the phone for other reasons for my day job. Of course my Blackberry is still nicely tucked away and I use it when I’m out and about. After the phone debacle, she suggested that I should try writing twitternovels. I’ve heard about them. A whole story in an update of 140 characters, I don’t possibly see how anyone could write a novel on twitter, but with further investigation I see there are lots.

While it’s an intriguing idea, and my friend is working at it, I’m not sure about it. Short it hard for me. I would think that 140 characters is near impossible to set the mood, conversation, tone, and have people follow it. But then again Stephen King has done it. Many others have done it. I’m sure it’s the new form of writing. It’s great to think that you can be anywhere and be writing. Walking down the street or hanging on the subway. Not tied to the desk.

What do you think? Is this a new trend that going to stick around? Anyone follow the them? What do you think that makes them good?

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Filed under Books, Crymsyn Hart, Gail Z. Martin, J.F. Lewis, Tina R. McSwain