Billy Ninefingers #amreading #books

My newest novel in the Billy’s Revenge series, Billy Ninefingers is now on sale at Amazon and all other fine eBook sellers. A literary fantasy, it is set in the same world as Huw the Bard and features some of the same characters.

Billy’s story was begun in 2010. My original view of my protagonist, Billy MacNess, was more callous, more of a pirate than he is today.

For a variety of reasons, I set Billy’s novel aside and moved on to writing Huw the Bard, which was a more intriguing story to me at the time. (I’m still in love with Huw.) Billy appears toward the end of Huw’s book, much as he is today. But, instead of going back to Billy’s story, I wrote three more novels in the Tower of Bones series, and many short stories, both contemporary and fantasy.

In the back of my mind, I always intended to get back to Billy’s story, but never really did until 2016. Over the course of six years, he had appeared in several other works set in his world, which set him and his circumstances more clearly in my mind.

I went back and pulled the original manuscript out of storage and rediscovered a character I had always loved but didn’t know well. With a new goal in mind, I began rewriting it.

Billy’s story is more lighthearted than Huw’s, but it does have its dark moments. His loyal dog, Bisket, keeps him grounded when everything is about to fly apart.

Excerpt: About an hour before supper, a knock sounded on his door. “Captain Billy! It’s me, Willie.”

“I know it’s you. What do you need?”

“It’s Bisket. He almost fell down that old, dry well again. This time he was chasing a skunk.”

Billy opened the door, gazing down at his beloved yellow hound of uncertain parentage. All he needed was for the pooch to fall into a well. Reaching down with his good hand, he scratched Bisket’s ears, receiving an apologetic lick in return. “What am I going to do about you?”

“I only just barely caught him by the tail before he went down.” Willie shivered. “I don’t think Slippery Jack would have let you lower him down it again, just to save a dog that’s stupid enough to keep falling down the same well.”

Billy laughed. “You’re probably right. Lay some boards over it. I’ll do something about it next week, once I’ve healed up a bit. There’s a lot of things I’ve let go around here, and filling in that abandoned well is one of them.” Considering all the projects he and his dad had never gotten around to, he thought that at least he wouldn’t be too bored.

Billy’s story had always intrigued me. I admired how he took the hard knocks life had handed him and made them into something he could live with. The people he attracted were wonderful, and in so many ways their story was his story too.

And so, dear readers, Billy Ninefingers is now available at all fine eBook retailers, including Amazon, Kobo, Nook, Apple, and many, many more. He is also available in paper from Amazon.


But first, THE BLURB:

Billy Ninefingers knows three things.

First, the feud that cost him the use of his sword hand is not over.

Second, if he doesn’t pull himself together and become the leader the Rowdies need, he’ll lose everything his father left him.

Third, despite Bastard John’s best efforts, there’s no way he’ll ever take up farming.

All he needs is a plan, a mountain of luck, and the love of a good woman.

Well, she doesn’t have to be good, but a few scruples would make a nice change. A plan would be nice too, since luck is never on Billy’s side.

Billy Ninefingers knows one thing.

He’s doomed.


Billy Ninefingers is available at Amazon for $2.99 Kindle and $12.99 paperback

Not a fan of Amazon? Click here to purchase Billy Ninefingers from these fine Ebook Sellers for $2.99

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Short stories, submissions, and vanity publications #amwriting

Despite being primarily a novelist, I submit a lot of short stories to various publications over the course of a year. Many times, they are rejected for various reasons, but I polish them up and submit them elsewhere.

Therefore, I keep a list of what short story was submitted to what magazine or anthology. If it is rejected with comments, I make a note of the remarks. I then consider them, and if they are valid, I make changes and immediately submit it elsewhere. The fact is, rejection can be a positive thing.

Only submit your work to reputable publications and contests.

I strongly recommend you do not submit your work to vanity publications. Don’t even consider submitting to the slick-looking publishing house that contacts you by your WordPress blog email saying they want your work for “regional anthologies.” They want your work all right—and want to sell you publishing services you can do for yourself. You won’t benefit from any of their “services” but they will benefit from your desperation to be published. They will publish your work, and your payment is the glory of having it published, as they offer you no payment or royalties. They will expect you to market their product and they will offer you all manner of for-payment services that are dubious at best.

I prefer cash to glory, thank you.

When I first began this journey, I didn’t understand how specifically you have to tailor your submissions when it comes to literary magazines, contests, and anthologies.

First, you must research your intended market. This means you must buy magazines, read them, and write to those standards.

Go to the publisher’s website and find out what their submission guidelines are and FOLLOW THEM. (Yes, they apply to EVERYONE, no matter how famous, even you.) If you skip this step, you can wait up to a year to hear that your manuscript has been rejected, and they most likely won’t tell you why.

Formatting your manuscript to your intended publisher’s standards is crucial. If you are unsure how that works, see my blogpost of July 24, 2015,  How to Format Your Manuscript for Submission.

Only submit your best, most professional work. It’s not worth a publisher’s time to teach you how to be a writer—you have to learn that on your own.

A sci-fi magazine like Analog Science Fiction and Fact will not be interested in fantasy from an unknown author. If you read Analog, you can see they mostly publish hard, technology driven sci-fi. If they publish a fantasy piece at all, it will be by one of their regular contributors, and will likely have been solicited by them for a particular feature.

Analog’s Submission page clearly says: “Basically, we publish science fiction stories. That is, stories in which some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the plot that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse. Try to picture Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein without the science and you’ll see what I mean. No story!

The science can be physical, sociological, psychological. The technology can be anything from electronic engineering to biogenetic engineering. But the stories must be strong and realistic, with believable people (who needn’t be human) doing believable things–no matter how fantastic the background might be.”

You have been warned. Analog wants science, not magic.

Therefore, I never submit to this magazine as I don’t write hard science fiction. I don’t enjoy the kind of work they publish, and that is an important clue: If you don’t read what they publish, you likely can’t write it to their standards.

An excellent article that addresses that well is  “What Editors Want; A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines.”

Because I have so many short pieces floating around in the ether, I now keep a document listing all my submissions by the

  • Title
  • Date of submission
  • Where the story was submitted to (including internet address of submission details page)
  • Whether it was accepted or not and date of rejection/acceptance
  • Any comments received

Remember, only submit your best work. If you have a well-written piece that reads smoothly when read aloud and is rejected for whatever reason, find a different magazine, contest, or anthology to submit it to. Chances are it simply didn’t resonate with the editor at that place, and who knows–it may be exactly what the next place is looking for.

However, finding these contests and publications has been challenging, as often by the time I hear about them, the closing date is approaching which means I may not have time to get a rough piece into the right shape for submission.

But even that is becoming less of a problem for me. I use an app for a submissions warehouse that makes it easy to find publications with open deadlines and contests which have several months lead before their closing date.

The Submittable App.

Many contests and publications use the Submittable platform to accept and review the large volume of manuscripts they received from writers. When a publisher uses this platform, it’s great for us as authors because we can use the app to keep track of what we have submitted, and where it currently is in the process.

On your personal page, Submittable lists four stages in the process:

  1. Received
  2. In process
  3. Declined
  4. Accepted

I can connect though both my PC and my phone so no matter where I am, I can check the progress of a particular story. It is the responsibility of the contest manager or publication to notify Submittable as to the status of their entries and submissions, and while most do, some contests managers aren’t as diligent about that. I assume that if it has been in process for more than a year, they didn’t want that piece.

But, even better than being able to track your submissions, all the contests that are currently open via Submittable are listed on the Submittable Website in one place on the “Discover” tab, so the question of where to submit your work is easily answered. Every open call for submissions is listed, and any entry fees are clearly shown.

At the top are the contests and calls that are closing that day. But if you scroll down to the bottom, you will find calls closing thirty days from now and beyond.

If you are new to this, a good place to start is the Lascaux Review. This is a literary magazine, but they have great contests for flash fiction, drabbles, and poetry–and offer cash prizes. Their rules are fairly relaxed.

The Lascaux Prize in Flash Fiction 

http://lascauxreview.com/contests

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Desires and Objectives #amwriting

Several conversations in an online writer’s group has inspired me to drag out a  post on the importance of identifying desires and objectives, which was first published in June of 2016. This post contrasts the works of two authors with unique and distinct literary styles: James Joyce and J.R.R. Tolkien.  Although they were contemporaries, born ten years apart, the two authors couldn’t be more dissimilar. And yet their works have one thing in common: the protagonists want something and are willing to to some lengths to gain it.

This is the core of any great novel.


When we sit down to write a story of any length, a novel or flash fiction, we often begin with an idea, and great characters, and little more. To make those things into a story, we must first ask what the protagonist wants, and we must know what she/he is willing to risk in their efforts to achieve it.

Objectives + Risk = Story

In The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, Frodo is just an ordinary young hobbit, with no particular ambitions. On the same day as his older cousin Bilbo’s “eleventy-eleventh” (111th) birthday, Frodo (Bilbo’s heir) celebrates his thirty-third birthday.

At the lavish double-birthday party, Bilbo departs from the Shire for what he calls “a permanent holiday.” He does so by using the magic ring (that he had found on the journey detailed in The Hobbit) to disappear. He is aided in that by Gandalf with a flash and puff of smoke, leading many in the Shire to believe Bilbo has gone mad.

He leaves Frodo his remaining belongings, including his home, Bag End, and after some heavy-handed persuasion by the wizard Gandalf, he also leaves the Ring. Gandalf departs on his own business, warning Frodo to keep the Ring secret. Seventeen years or so pass, and then Gandalf returns to inform Frodo of the truth about Bilbo’s ring. It is the One Ring of Sauron the Dark Lord, and is evil. It forges a connection between the wearer and Sauron, and whoever bears it will be slowly corrupted, eventually becoming a Ringwraith.

From the moment of learning the truth about the Ring, Frodo’s goal is clear to the reader: he must get rid of the ring. In Rivendell, he learns the only way to do so is to carry it into the depths of Mordor and cast the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom.

Frodo wants to achieve this goal badly enough to walk into an active volcano and certain death to accomplish this.

At no point in the narrative is the objective unclear. The path is blocked many times, and each of the characters is tested by the evil ring, some beyond their ability to resist it.

The objective creates the tension, which drives the plot forward.

But what about a book where the goal is not so clear? Let’s talk about Ulysses, by James Joyce.

Ulysses chronicles the wandering appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin, taking place over the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses is the Latinized name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s Odyssey. Joyce established a series of parallels between the epic poem and his novel. This book has one of the best opening lines of all time:

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

Structurally, there are strong correlations between the characters and experiences of Leopold Bloom with Odysseus, Molly Bloom with Odysseus’ long-suffering wife, Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus with Odysseus’s son, Telemachus. It is set in early twentieth century Dublin with the events and political tempests of the time. Themes of antisemitism and the impact of Ireland’s rocky relationship with Britain as it was felt in those days are the underlying pins of this novel. It is highly allusive and filled with allegories.

There is no obvious quest, although many minor quests are completed in the course of living through the day. The book opens with Stephen Dedalus, the first protagonist, having breakfast with Buck Mulligan, who is perhaps a friend, or maybe a rival. Stephen is not Leopold’s biological son as Telemachus is Odysseus’, but he fulfills that role. Unconsciously Stephen wants a father.

But what do they want? It’s James Joyce, so it’s complicated.

Stephen shares his opinions about religion with Buck Mulligan, speaking of how they relate to the recent death of his mother, and Buck manages to offend him. They make plans to go drinking later that evening.

What does Leopold desire? He wants a son. In Episode 4, the narrative shifts abruptly. The time is again 8 am, but the action has moved across the city and to the second protagonist of the book, Leopold Bloom, a part-Jewish advertising canvasser. He and his wife have a daughter, Milly Bloom, who, at the age of 15, has left home to study photography.  As the day unfolds, Bloom’s thoughts turn to the affair between his wife, Molly, and her manager.

He also thinks about the death of their infant son, Rudy Bloom, who died at the age of 11 days. The absence of a son is what leads him to form an attachment to Stephen, for whom he goes out of his way in the book’s latter episodes. He rescues him from a brothel, walks him back to his own home, and even offers him a place there to study and work.

Finally, we come to Molly. Within the city of Dublin, Molly is an opera singer of some renown. She is the mother of Milly Bloom, who, at the age of 15, has left home to study photography. She is also the mother of Rudy, the son who died at the age of eleven days. A significant difference between Molly and Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, is that while Penelope is eternally faithful, Molly is not. She is having an affair with Hugh ‘Blazes’ Boylan after ten years of her celibacy within her marriage.

The final chapter of Ulysses, often called “Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy,” is a long and unpunctuated stream-of-consciousness passage. During the monologue, Molly accepts Leopold into her bed, frets about his health, and then reminisces about their first meeting and about when she knew she was in love with him. It is comprised of some 20,0000 words of her thoughts as she lies in bed next to Bloom. What does Molly want? She wants to be loved.

In The Lord of the Rings, we have a clear and obvious quest, straightforward and seemingly impossible: Destroy the One Ring and save the world.

In Ulysses, we have a group of people who all want something, but just as in real life, what that may exactly be is not as clear as we would like it. But there is an objective: they just want to get through the day and in the process they find they are a family, thus achieving their individual goals.

Once we know what our protagonist wants and what he/she is willing to risk to achieve it, we have our plot.

How we dress it up is up to us—I admit James Joyce’s rambling is too daunting for me to read for pleasure. I had to read it in the environment of a college class to make it all the way through the novel with some understanding of it.

I am a huge fan of Joyce’s magnificent one-liners, though.

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

Ulysses, Episode 2


Credits and Attributions:

Desires and Objectives © 2016 – 2018 by Connie J. Jasperson was first published on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on June 13, 2016.

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#FineArtFriday: The Caves, by Robert S. Duncanson

 

The Caves, by Robert S. Duncanson, 1869 is thought to depict Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio. Three caves are shown with people climbing to the caves on the right. In the center background on the shore are tiny human figures. A self-taught artist, Duncanson was inspired by the Hudson River School, a mid-19th century American art movement embodied by a group of landscape painters  whose artistic vision was heavily influenced by romanticism.

From Wikipedia:

Robert Seldon Duncanson was one of few African American landscape painters of the nineteenth century, and he achieved levels of success unknown to his contemporaries. Richard Powell of American Visions says that Duncanson’s success is a “victory over society’s presumptions of what African-American artist should create.” Duncanson became nationally and internationally known for his landscape paintings modeled after the Hudson River School tradition, and is credited with developing the regional Ohio River Valley art form.  Art historian Joseph D. Ketner claims that Duncanson’s greatest contribution to art was “his distinctively picturesque-pastoral vision of landscape painting with allusions to popular romantic literature.” 


Sources and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Robert S. Duncanson,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,  https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Robert_S._Duncanson&oldid=827763141  (accessed April 13, 2018).

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First-person Point of View #amwriting

A month ago, I mentioned the problems I was having with a short story I had been working on. I couldn’t seem to get into my main character’s head. So, I rewrote it in the first-person present tense narrative mode, but because I was unused to that mode, it felt like I had written a walk-through for an RPG (geek-talk for role-playing game).

Apparently, it read that way too.

But after a lot of help from my writer friends, and a lot of rewriting, I got into the swing of things. Finally, the story drew me into my character’s mind, which was what I had wanted all along.

In traditional first-person POV, the protagonist is the narrator. One thing I had to keep in mind is that no one ever has complete knowledge of anything so the narrator cannot be omnipotent. At first, this was difficult for me. When I chose to have the reader experience the story as the protagonist does, I had made a fundamental change in my style of writing, and my finished product has required several rewrites.

After all, in real life, we aren’t all-seeing and all-knowing. Any lawyer will tell you, even eye-witnesses are notoriously unreliable.

We each see and interpret things from our own perspective. The human mind is hardwired to fill in the blanks—this is why eye-witness accounts of a single event will often vary so widely.

That lack of information is why I now love writing in this point of view for short stories.

What I had to figure out:

Who is the best person to tell the story? I could easily have told it in third omniscient POV, but I had a compelling main character with a real, gut-wrenching story. It didn’t feel as close, as intimate as I wanted it to be when written in my usual narrative mode of Third Person. She had to tell her own story.

What was the inciting incident? That was also difficult – deciding where the story actually began was the first step to getting it on track. Because this story is intended for submission to an anthology, I have a specific word count to fit the story into, and the anthology’s theme must be strongly present throughout. After reading the first draft, a writer friend pointed out that the narrative had to begin at the point of no return, as there is no room for backstory.

They were right. Thus, I had to scratch the first half of the story and begin at what I had thought was the middle. That was when things began to fall together.

What does she actually know? She isn’t omniscient, so she can only know what she has witnessed. That was also a problem for me, as I know everything. Just ask me. But I had to figure out what she really could have witnessed, and then work only with that information.

What does my protagonist want? At first glance, it seemed obvious, but the truth is that her quest is to find herself as a human being, as much as it is to honor a promise made and quickly regretted.

What was she willing to do to achieve it? I didn’t know. She didn’t know either, and until I wrote the last line in this tale, I didn’t know what she was capable of or if she had the backbone to accomplish it.

I am once again approaching the finish line on rewriting this tale. The submission deadline is still several months out, so I’m not rushing. I still have to rework and condense a few things at the front end of it, but now I know what changes I want to make. Writing this story has been an awesome adventure for me, and once this is ready for an editor’s eyes, I might attempt writing another in the first-person point of view.

Sometimes writing a story with a finite word-count limit and a specific theme to adhere to is as time consuming as writing a novel. But finding ways to work within these constraints is making me a stronger writer, so even if this isn’t picked up by the publication I hope it will be, I will have a good marketable story.

I’m grateful to have the company of talented authors to help me brainstorm sticky problems.

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When your Sequel Makes a 90 Degree Turn, by @StephenSwartz1

My good friend, author Stephen Swartz, had a brilliant post this weekend on plot and the three-act structure. I couldn’t explain it better, so here is his post. Please, do click on the link at the bottom of the excerpt and go out to his post and read it to the end!


A week ago, SUNRISE, the sequel to my 2014 vampire novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN launched and let me tell you it has been anything but a roller-coaster ride. In fact, when my personal copies arrives I was so excited I did not open the box for a day. Then I picked one up and routinely flipped through it to be sure there were no ink splotches on any page. You see, I’ve read it already – about 15 times!

But I cannot let it be. There is a third book to write if this is going to be a trilogy. I kinda expected to give it the trilogy treatment when I started Book II. Of course, it’s been three years since Book I came out. I thought that would be it, the end, one and done in the genre of literary horror. I am not even a horror author. I just needed to prove something to my teenage daughter: the truth about vampires! But I digress…

It was easy to set up Stefan Szekely’s departure from his family castle, leaving his vampire parents behind. I simply replicated my own history with my parents. I extrapolated a vampire version and recited similar scripts. How does the adult child relate to the elderly parents?


Stephen goes on to show us how he employs the three-act structure for plotting the story arc, with excellent graphics to illustrate it. You can find the rest of Stephen’s article here at his website, Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire.  Please click on the link to find the best parts of this informative post.

When your Sequel Makes a 90 Degree Turn

 

Stephen Swartz is the author of literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, romance, and contemporary horror novels. While growing up in Kansas City, he dreamed of traveling the world. His novels feature exotic locations, foreign characters, and smatterings of other languages–strangers in strange lands. You get the idea: life imitating art.

After studying music and even composing a symphony, Stephen planned to be a music teacher before turning to fiction writing. Today Stephen teaches writing at a university in Oklahoma. Stephen Swartz has published poetry, stories, essays, and articles for scholarly journals in the U.S. and Japan.

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#FineArtFriday: A Back Road, by Childe Hassam

If you want to know what a road looked like to travelers before the advent of blacktop and concrete made the modern freeways and highways possible, turn to art. The above painting by Frederick Childe Hassam, shows what a good road looked like.  It goes across the land, cut into the earth by the travelers who use it. Along the better roads, such as this one, ditches were dug to enable drainage.

No bridge crosses the small creek–travelers must cross the water on foot or in the wagon. In winter it becomes a mushy, muddy track, and in summer it’s sun baked and hard. In spring, the grass grows green, making it a pleasant place.

A Back Road (1884) was painted in his early years, while Hassam was still influenced by the works of William Morris Hunt, who like the great French landscape painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, emphasized the Barbizon tradition of working directly from nature.

From Wikipedia: In 1885, a noted critic, in part responding to Hassam’s early oil painting A Back Road (1884), stated that “the Boston taste for landscape painting, founded on this sound French school, is the one vital, positive, productive, and distinctive tendency among our artists today…the truth is poetry enough for these radicals of the new school. It is a healthy, manly muscular kind of art.”

I like the composition of this piece, the way the land is larger than the sky. The grass feels damp and the clouds herald more spring rain–this painting has life.

In his later years, Hassam moved away from realism and became known as one of the best of the American impressionists.


Credits and Attributions:

A Back Road, Childe Hassam 1884 [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors, “Childe Hassam,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Childe_Hassam&oldid=831999910 (accessed April 6, 2018).

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Chaos and Order #amwriting

Theme is the core of the plot, an idea-thread that runs through your story from the opening pages to the end. It binds the elements of character, conversation, action, and reaction, making the story cohesive. Theme is independent of the setting or genre.

A common theme in literature is the juxtaposition of chaos and stability. Good versus evil is a common trope of genre fantasy. Evil is usually portrayed by taking one or the other of these concepts to an extreme.

Author L.E. Modesitt Jr. has taken the theme of chaos and order and built his Magic of Recluce series around the contrasts and conflicts of the two fundamental forms of magic arising in the world of Recluce. Each side is explored from the protagonists’ POV in different books as the series progresses.

Modesitt digs deep and discovers the way each side’s magic works and the fundamental changes the mage goes through from the use of magic. He lays bare the moral and ethical values that each side holds dear. Politics and the slim justifications we hold dearly to for the sometimes-inhumane way in which we treat others is central to his work, showing that neither side is without sin.

When it comes to good and evil, each considers themselves morally superior, and believe they are the side of good. Both sides are wary of those who walk that gray path in the middle. This allows Modesitt real opportunities to put his protagonists through the wringer.

The late Roger Zelazney’s brilliant Chronicles of Amber series also details the distinctions between Chaos and Order, and moral and ethical challenges of those who travel from reality to reality through the shadows by walking the pattern, with each shadow growing more radical depending on the distance from Castle Amber (which represents Order). In several of his works, elements of each are combined freely and interchangeably.

Zelazney’s Jack of Shadows and Changeling, for example, revolve around the tensions between the two worlds of magic and technology, which manifest as order and chaos.

But what is chaos, and what is order?

Google defines Chaos as

Google also defines Order as:

Either side of the coin, when taken to an extreme, can be truly evil.

Consider chaos, or Anarchy. When a culture descends into anarchy, you have an absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual. While this frequently begins as an attempt to allow for individual freedoms without state interference, history shows that what follows is the emergence of a violent culture that is beyond the reach of the law.

There is no law as we see it, and no one capable of enforcing it. The strongest, most violent thugs rise to the top and frequently war with each other, while the common person is caught in the middle. Followers of each warlord are rewarded with the spoils of conquest, which are often goods taken from the common citizen who must somehow survive under that tyranny.

Now let’s look at order: totalitarianism, or total order can also be a form of tyranny. Everything is static, and nothing changes. There is centralized control by an autocratic authority, combined with the political concept that the citizen should be totally subject to absolute state authority. No divergence from the norm can be tolerated, and good, obedient citizens are rewarded, while deviants who are seen to be free-thinkers: intellectuals and artists are persecuted and imprisoned, or killed.

Anarchy=instability and a breakdown of society. Totalitarianism=lack of growth and stagnation of society.

For most people’s comfort, a good society allows for both law and creativity.

In extreme types of societies, power is everything, and drawing negative attention to yourself is dangerous. Thus chaos-based societies are usually represented in literature as having an underlying order that holds them together, and order-based societies are often represented as requiring the ability to grow and change, but within certain parameters.

The theme of order and chaos can really power a story-line, and the way you perceive them will not be the way another author sees them. L.E. Modesitt, Jr. and Roger Zelazney couldn’t be more different in the way they portrayed these concepts.

If you haven’t read either of these two authors’ works, I highly recommend them.


Credits and Attributions:

This post first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy in the post Theme: chaos or stability by Connie J. Jasperson © Oct. 12, 2015.

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Creating Romance #amwriting

Normally people don’t look too romantic. On weekends they hang around the house in comfy clothes and only get cleaned up to go somewhere. Come Monday, they dress a certain way to go to work–dressing in whatever is suitable for their business.

However, no matter how they dress for work, people always dress in their fanciest clothes if they’re going out nightclubbing, or to dinner in a fancy restaurant, or going to a party. People want to look their best, especially if they are single and hoping to find love.

The point is, no one looks good all the time in real life. In many novels, the events and action leaves them dirty and disheveled for a large portion of the story, which in real life isn’t that pretty. But what if you want to give these unkempt, stinking heroes a romance? When it comes to injecting romance into an action adventure story, the author’s task is to make the protagonists ignore the dirt and seem attractive no matter what the circumstances. There is a bit of escapism in all readers. A grand adventure with a good romance is the sort of story I will gravitate to in a heartbeat.

I love an author who manages to take her heroes and heroines through rough adventures and still make the romance between them special. Sure, let them get dirty and sweaty, and make their lives hard. That makes them feel like real people.

Just please, make any romance between them a part of the story that advances the plot.

Writing romance into a scene and not going off the rails requires skill.  Do we keep it restrained or get graphic? Would my characters really get graphic? And how much graphic is too much graphic? When do we cross the line of writing fantasy and venture into erotica?

I don’t really see myself going into that area of writing, although I understand there is a large market for it.

As for what is too much, it depends on what story I am trying to tell. In my current work in progress, innuendo and allusion are the means to convey the deeper story. In my novel, Huw the Bard, a certain amount of graphic detail was required to advance the plot, although not as much as in many other authors’ books. Because these scenes were such a small part of the story but were defining moments in his life, the romance scenes of Huw’s book required many revisions to get right. They had to be important, but couldn’t overshadow the larger story.

For me as a reader, there is a fine line between enjoying an erotic scene and feeling like a voyeur. It’s easy to write graphic details, but are they romantic? Quite often they read like the assembly instructions for a set of bookshelves from IKEA—insert tab A into slot B.

Certain words repel me, especially if they are applied with no finesse, emerging from the prose with force of a jackhammer.

The lead up to romance is critical. Are you going to have them together forever? If so, make the road to happiness difficult. We must show longing, wondering, hoping, and there must be roadblocks to instant happiness. A trail of hints and innuendo creates a sense of growing connection between two characters. Each tiny connection between two characters raises the emotional stakes, and emotions are the key to a real romance. The chase is the story—‘happily ever after’ is the epilogue.

If the romance is a brief moment of respite in a sea of chaos, a long chase is not needed. With that said, the romance between two characters who are not destined for each other must be central to advancing the plot. Whether you choose the ‘fade to black’ method (which I usually do) or get graphic (which I have done on occasion) is up to you. You must consider your intended reader and what they will expect.

When I contemplate how to portray a love scene, I want the reader to feel like it was worth the time they took to read it. I want them to care about what happens next in that couple’s relationship—if anything does. Just as in real life, sometimes true love is not meant to be.

I want to be able to stretch myself as a writer and learn more skills at telling a good tale. I try to do that by finding the works of other writers that moved me and discovering what it was about a scene (regardless of whether it involved romance or not) that made me glad I had read it.

When I write, I’m like every other author—words fall out of my head, some good and some not so elegant. And if I have written something awkward, my beta readers will graciously (or bluntly) tell me so.

Being an author isn’t always roses and wine. Sometimes it’s weeds and pickle-juice.

Writing something worth reading is hard work. It’s striving to meet the expectations of people you’ve never met, which is not easy. By working closely with a circle of trusted author friends, I have gained a better ability to step back and see my work with a less prejudiced eye.

If they don’t see the charm that I do in a certain passage, I ask myself why. Sometimes, the answer lies in the fact they don’t enjoy the sort of work I do, but very often the answer is that what I wrote was not ready for someone else to read it.

That ‘proud child’ urge to display your work in its raw stage is one we all combat. Nevertheless, for me, having the opportunity to do this full time is living the dream.


Credits and Attributions:

Galadriel and Celeborn, by Araniart [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons|Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Araniart – Galadriel and Celeborn.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Araniart_-_Galadriel_and_Celeborn.jpg&oldid=262862472 (accessed April 1, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Two Paintings by H. A. Brendekilde

There is a story in this painting. I particularly like the details—the patched trousers of the gardener, the mud on his clogs, the other man’s wooden leg—juxtaposed against the lush spring garden and prosperous village life of Denmark in 1912. Their hands and clothes indicate they have stopped work to read the newspaper. Both men seem stunned. Are they perhaps reading of the death of King Frederick VIII, who died on 14 May 1912? Whatever they are reading, the cat remains undisturbed by the news.

H. A. Brendekilde was a forerunner of the social realist style, embraced by Diego Rivera. His early work often depicted the daily lives of the rural working class. One of his most famous paintings, “Worn Out” (1889) shows an elderly man lying fallen on his back in the plowed field. Has he worked himself to death? Will he recover? His entire world is this rocky barren field.  A story is in this stark painting.


Credits and Attributions:

While reading the newspaper news by H. A. Brendekilde 1912 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Worn Out by H. A. Brendekilde [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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