Category Archives: Fantasy

#amreading: Stephen Swartz, EPIC FANTASY * With Dragons

Today I am talking with a dear friend of mine, author Stephen Swartz. Along with myself and twenty other authors, Stephen is a founding member of Myrddin Publishing. We have been down a great many rough roads together since those early days of taking the plunge and leaving our former publisher. Not a day goes by that I don’t communicate with him in some way, and he always has a way of making me laugh.

His most recent novel is an ambitious project called EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons which was just launched. I had the opportunity to be a beta reader and liked the book in its proto version very much. I am enjoying the book in its final form immensely. The world it is set in is barbaric and exotic. Corlan is a solid character, a great protagonist who is unlike most squeaky clean, modern heroes. In a purely human way, Corlan has faults and blind spots. But he attracts an odd assortment of people, wonderful characters who force him to see the world more realistically. In his travels, Corlan becomes a worthy hero, but never loses his human nature.

CJJ: EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons is an awesome title for the book. Your dragons are most definitely not the friendly sort of dragon Anne McCaffrey wrote about. How long did you toy with the idea of this book before you began writing it, and what made you decide to embark on such an ambitious project?

SW: The fact is the title was the first thing I thought of. Because I was challenged to write an “epic fantasy” I started with that as the title, more of a spoof, I suppose, but also a focus. I imagined poking fun at the tropes of the epic fantasy genre. Of course, that’s not what I ended up with: it was not a spoof but a serious work of daring-do over a harsh landscape.

I had never been a fan of dragons as a story element. Too many dragons were cute, affectionate, like pets to humans, or the opposite: dragons hoarding gold, talking to humans. I couldn’t deal with those. So I went full biologist and reimagined dragons as perfectly wild beasts following the laws of physics and biology. Then I let them be nuisances, then terrors. I imagined a life where dragons constantly flew overhead, snatching children and livestock, setting thatch roofs on fire, depositing their waste everywhere. People would not put up with that for long. Hence, the need for “gamekeepers” to keep them in check.

As is often the case for me, I had an image in my head, the opening scene. It had to be a fantasy world. Some guy doing his thing in that fantasy world. So I thought of dragons flying by and there is our hero, sitting on the side of a cliff shooting them down. And then what happens? I thought for about a month, then continued: he goes home and faces all kinds of trouble, a bad weekend in the city which ends with him being banished by the prince.

Now that I’ve finished Epic Fantasy *With Dragons, I’m finally reading McCaffrey’s books. Long ago, when I was a child, I showed my mother a story I had written and when she said it reminded her of The Hobbit, I swore never to read The Hobbit so nobody could say I got my story idea from Tolkien. Now, however, we do research. Even so, I don’t think my take on a dragon tale is like any others that I’ve read or heard of.

CJJ: The works of yours I am most familiar with, Aiko, After Ilium, and A Girl Called Wolf are contemporary fiction, set in our real world, as is your vampire novel, A Dry Patch of Skin. You’ve also written an epic Sci-Fi series, The Dreamland Trilogy. This book is a real departure from those novels, as the prose is far more formal and literary. Corlan is a compelling character, and the story moves along at a rapid pace, but I would say it is not a quick read. What kind of reader were you writing this for?

SW: I began writing science fiction, which was what I read as a child and teenager. I transitioned into magical realism by the time I entered an MFA program in college. There we were supposed to write literary fiction, introspective stories of real people in a real world. So that became my focus. There are good things and not so good things about each genre, something that satisfies me when writing each but also challenges for each genre. It comes down to the story: Is it better as a real story in a contemporary setting or as a sci-fi story in an invented world? I usually do not have the choice; the story comes to me already set in the genre it wants to be.

The novels you mention had some basis in my own reality. For Aiko I lived in Hawaii and then in Japan. After Ilium began with me studying Classical rhetoric and the epics of Homer; I transported Homer’s ancient tales to a modern setting. A Girl Called Wolf is really the biography of a friend; I felt her story of hardship growing up in Greenland would make a great novel. I encouraged her to write it but she gave up and insisted I write it for her.

One thing I did learn in that MFA program was that all stories are about people – not the setting, or the technology or the aliens or the dragons. That made a big difference in the writing I’ve done since then. So in Epic Fantasy *With Dragons I focused on my protagonist, making him a real person with real problems but also, as per the epic fantasy rules, some dark secrets, some stubbornness, and some talents. The Dream Land Trilogy, although sci-fi, also focuses more on the characters and their relationships than on the interdimensional doorway and the world they discover and come to rule. Perhaps it is all a matter of growing older myself and experiencing relationships. Who knows?

With the epic fantasy genre comes the criteria: a strange landscape, a variety of odd characters, a quest, and a lot of words to get the reader to the destination. When I began, I decided to aim for 200,000-plus words. I was half joking at first, just like with the title. But it really did not take so long or was too much effort to put that many words on paper. As a quest tale, the right number of episodes would naturally add up to the designated word count. I wrote quickly and did not linger to write lavish descriptions of places or a character’s fashion; I kept my focus on action, dialog, and moving to the next scene.

Like everything I write, I try to do two things, with regard to readers: give them a story that is compelling and within the criteria of the genre, and do something different, enough different, to make it not the same old thing they have read before. I think I’ve achieved that with Epic Fantasy *With Dragons. There is a deeper story that gradually boils to the surface by the end. I hope readers will enjoy the familiar elements of an epic fantasy and then appreciate how I’ve toyed with those elements to make some new and different.

CJJ: Now we get to the question I really want to know the answer to. At what age did you start reading, and what books influenced you most as a young reader?

SW: Being the child of a pair of teachers, I began reading at an early age. It wasn’t too soon after I began writing my own stories. They were comic strips at first: drawings with dialog. Then I dropped the pictures and added more words. All my teachers liked the stories I wrote, often having me read them for the whole class. In 7th grade I invented a superhero: Micro Man who could shrink himself to get out of tight jams. Everyone awaited the next episode every Friday. As a teenager I read sci-fi and fantasy…as well as some of the unabridged Classics on the shelves of my house. Ben Bova, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Michael Moorcock, Damon Knight are the authors I remember always reading. Plus Homer, the Russian novelists, especially Dostoevsky, and some Italians like Dante. And I tried to write better stories than what I read. Or at least as good: “Write the stories you want to read.” That’s what I do.

CJJ: How did these books influence your early writing?

SW: Aside from some stylistic tricks and some phrasing quirks from the authors I named, I was shown many (more) ways of seeing the universe than I ever could in my simple world of Missouri. And that’s the reason we read, especially sci-fi and fantasy. Technically, I still use the “two-fer phrase” (He dipped the cup into the stream, drank it.) that I learned from reading Zelazny. I got a literary lesson on how, in a conflict, the side that seems morally right at first glance is not always morally right, courtesy of Moorcock (The Eternal Champion). As an only child who spent a lot of time entertaining myself, I loved reading and writing. Now I teach others to enjoy reading and appreciating literature and to write academically and creatively.

CJJ: I like that. In the opening chapters of EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons, Corlan is possessed of that raw self-centeredness that many of Roger Zelazny’s protagonists embodied. Do you ever take a vacation from writing? Do you have a current work in progress?

SW: The only vacation from writing I take are the agonizing weeks between projects. I might slip into a depression, fearing I’ll never write again. Maybe I’ll have no more ideas. Gradually an idea will emerge from the vagaries of daily life and once again I become excited at inventing something that did not exist before. I’m in that slump presently but I will soon be able to get back to work on something.

Work-in-progress? I hesitate to mention it because that in itself might prove to be a spoiler, but I have ideas and a plan for a sequel to Epic Fantasy *With Dragons. I have tentatively titled it Epic Fantasy 2 *Without Dragons. Now that the dragon situation has been resolved, our hero will turn to problems in the north. We will also learn more of the War of the Five Princes…mapped out in 1973, long before George R. R. Martin thought up his Game of Thrones.

CJJ: What would you like to say in closing about EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons?

SW: EF*WD started as a spoof, then became a serious tale of a quest. Then began the painting of patina of philosophy under many of the scenes, letting characters discuss the issues relevant to them and by extension to all of humanity. That is why I remarked at the close that I had said everything I wanted to say. And that, I believe, is something of the requirements of the epic fantasy: to make a statement about the human condition (without being preachy, of course) that gives the reader far more than a simple quest tale with action and romance. Perhaps that’s what I like most about writing fiction: juxtaposing the mundane reality of our present world with the vivid possibilities of the fantastical world and finding somewhere between them, in the cracks, a few universal truths. Then I can sit back and muse: “My work here is done.”

Stephen Swartz, thank you for stopping by and talking about your work and especially about this wonderful new novel.

Stephen can be found blogging regularly at Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire, where he discusses all aspects of his travels and writing life and also illuminates the darker corners of the craft of writing.

>>>|<<<

EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS

CORLAN, MASTER DRAGONSLAYER, the best in the Guild, the best in the Burg!

And yet, returning from his latest expedition, Corlan discovers jealous rivals have conspired

with the Prince to banish him from the city.

Sent into the Valley of Death, Corlan conjures a plan. He and his new sidekick, a runaway boy

from the palace kitchen, will trek the thousand miles to the far end of the valley, where a vast marsh provides nesting grounds for the dragon horde. Once there, Corlan vows to smash dragon eggs and lance younglings, ending dragon terror once and for all time.

And yet, as dangers, distractions, and detours harry him along the way, Corlan learns ancient secrets that threaten to destroy everything in his world. Even with the aid of wizards and warriors, he must use all his guile, his bravado, and the force of his stubborn will just to survive – and perhaps return home – no matter how the gods challenge him with their harshest tests.

Stephen Swartz grew up in Kansas City where he was an avid reader of science-fiction and quickly began emulating his favorite authors. Since then, Stephen studied music in college and, like many writers, worked at a wide range of jobs: from French fry guy to soldier, to IRS clerk to TV station writer, before heading to Japan for several years of teaching English. Now Stephen is a Professor of English at a university in Oklahoma, where he teaches many kinds of writing. He still can be found obsessively writing his latest manuscript, usually late at night. He has only robot cats.

CONTACT Stephen Swartz at:
BLOG

http://stephenswartz.blogspot.com/

TWITTER

@StephenSwartz1

FACEBOOK

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Author-Stephen-Swartz/149555308427639

STEPHEN SWARTZ BOOK LINKS 

Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/Stephen-Swartz/e/B007391TQK

Goodreads Author Page:

EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS (Mar. 2017)
paper https://www.amazon.com/dp/1680630253

kindle https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XF5FQ57

A GIRL CALLED WOLF (Dec. 2015)

A BEAUTIFUL CHILL (Feb. 2014)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296307

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I6M4R9Y

A DRY PATCH OF SKIN (Oct. 2014)

AFTER ILIUM (2012)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296218

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009SDW1KC

AIKO (May 2015)

THE DREAM LAND TRILOGY

BOOK 1: Long Distance Voyager (Sept. 2013)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296226

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AH1V78Q

BOOK 2: Dreams of Future’s Past (Nov. 2013)

BOOK 3: Diaspora (Dec. 2013)

paper http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939296277

kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GVJGP9E

 

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#flashfictionfriday: The Iron Dragon

Because it’s November, and National Novel Writing Month is in full swing, I am reposting a story I posted in April of 2016. This story was actually written during NaNoWriMo 2015. If you’re curious as to my word count, feel free to click on the image to the upper right, the one that says NaNoWriMo Participant. In the meantime, enjoy  The Iron Dragon.

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Earl Aeddan ap Rhydderch turned his gaze from the mist to the strange iron road that emerged from it, and then to where the road entered the cave. “Tell me again what happened.”

The peasant who had guided the earl and his men said, “The mist, the iron road, and the cave appeared yesterday, sir. We saw the beast entering its lair, and a fearful thing it is, too. No one dares approach it, but the monster can be heard in there. It’s a most dreadful dragon — we found the carcass of a large wolf that had been torn to shreds, trampled until it was nigh unrecognizable.”

The man’s companion said, “Everyone knows wolves are Satan’s hounds. It must have angered its hellish master. We found it lying cast to one side of the Devil’s Road.”

Aeddan looked back to the iron road, seeing where it emerged from the mist. He walked to the low-hanging fog bank, seeing that the road vanished just after it entered the mist, leaving no marks upon the soil. He turned and strode back to the peasants. “I agree it’s the work of the Devil, but why does the Lord of Hell require an iron road that leads nowhere?”

A faint grumbling sounded beneath Aeddan’s feet. “A light! Look to the mist!” shouted one of his men.

Turning, Aeddan saw a white glow forming in the fog as if a large lamp approached from a great distance. “That’s no ordinary lantern. Mount up!” Moving quickly, he leaped into his saddle and turned his steed to face the demon. He freed his lance from its holster and settled it in the arret attached to his breastplate under his right arm. His fingers fumbled as he struggled to fasten the grapper, but at last it held firm. The peasants, knowing they were no match for whatever approached, had run for shelter up the hill.

The light deep within the fog grew and strengthened, as did the rumbling noise.  It waxed brilliant, and the earth shuddered as if beneath the pounding of a thousand hooves. Smoke filled the night air, reeking of the sulfurous Abyss, combined with a howling as cacophonous as the shrieks of all the damned in Hell.

Dragon-Linda_BlackWin24_JanssonWhat emerged from the mist was impossible — an Iron Dragon of immense height and girth.

“Courage men! For God and King Gruffydd!” His bowels had turned to water, but Aeddan and his men stood firm in the face of the demon, sure that death would be their reward.

The fiery light emanating from the burning maw lit the night, and the ground shook as the beast roared and raced ever closer. As the beast sped toward him, a burning wind blowing straight out of Hell knocked Aeddan and his horse to the side of the Devils Road and using that opportunity, the Iron Dragon thundered past him, heading into its lair.

Stunned, Aeddan scrambled to his feet, staring as the length of the beast passed him by, the body taller than a house and long, like an unimaginably giant, demonic centipede. The length of the beast was incomprehensible, lit by the fire within and glowing with row upon row of openings. The faces of the damned, souls who’d been consumed by the ravening beast peered out as they flashed by. Sparks flew from its many hooves.

Terrified his men would be crushed by the immense creature he shouted for them to back off, his voice drowned by the din.

Abruptly it was gone, vanished inside its lair. In the sudden, deafening silence, Aeddan wondered how such a thing could possibly have fit into the cave. Yet it had done so, and other than the stench of its passing, there was no sign of it.

He remounted and settled his lance in the holster beside his stirrup, then turned to his men. “Rouse the village. We must seal its lair with stone and mortar. We may not be able to kill it, but at least, we can stop it from marauding and decimating the countryside.”

>>><<<

Mist shrouded the small valley just outside of the village of Pencader. Engine Driver Owen Pendergrass looked at his pocket watch and opened the logbook, noting the time and that they had just departed Pencader Station. He said to the fireman, Colin Jones, “We should be approaching the tunnel, though it’s hard to tell in this mist. We’re making good time despite the fog. We’ll be in Carmarthen on schedule.”

“Sir! Look just ahead! What…?” Colin pointed ahead.

A group of mounted men dressed as medieval knights, complete with lances lowered as if prepared to joust, appeared out of the mist, attempting to block their path. “God in heaven — what next!” Blowing the whistle to scare them off the tracks, Owen pulled the brake cord, but there was no way the train could stop soon enough. In no time at all, the train was upon the knights, scattering them and blowing past. Owen looked out the window, to see if they’d survived, but they were gone as if they’d never been.

“Vanished,” said Colin. “Like the ghosts when we passed through here yesterday.”

Hiding his trembling hands, Owen shook his head. “It was a close call, but no harm was done. We’ll not be mentioning this to the authorities, eh? Not after the way our report was received yesterday. It’s a haunted valley, but it’ll do us no good to mention it to anyone important.”

Colin agreed and turned back to fueling his fire, shoveling coal as if he could work the fear out of his mind.

The connecting door opened and Harrison, the chief steward, entered. Pendergrass told him the same thing, and the old man agreed. “We got in enough trouble at the yard yesterday for mentioning the ghosts. I’ll go soothe the passengers.”

“Tell them it was just the mist and the dark playing tricks on their eyes.” Owen shook his head and glanced out the window, seeing they had emerged from the tunnel into a clear, cold evening and would soon be at the next stop, the village of Llanpumpsaint. “Playing tricks indeed.”


“The Iron Dragon” © 2016 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

(first published Apr. 1, 2016 on Life in the Realm of Fantasy)

Art: Dragon By Linda BlackWin24 Jansson [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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#ClasicalPoetry & #FineArtFriday: Night, by William Blake

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Songs of Innocence and of Experience Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul title page

Night

The sun descending in the west;

The evening star does shine;

The birds are silent in their nest,

And I must seek for mine.

The moon, like a flower

In heaven’s high bower,

With silent delight

Sits and smiles on the night.

 

Farewell, green fields and happy groves,

Where flocks have took delight,

Where lambs have nibbled, silent moves

The feet of angels bright;

Unseen, they pour blessing,

And joy without ceasing,

On each bud and blossom,

And each sleeping bosom.

 

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Death on a Pale Horse, painting by William Blake (medium pencil, pen, and water color)

They look in every thoughtless nest

Where birds are covered warm;

They visit caves of every beast,

To keep them all from harm:

If they see any weeping

That should have been sleeping,

They pour sleep on their head,

And sit down by their bed.

 

When wolves and tigers howl for prey,

They pitying stand and weep;

Seeking to drive their thirst away,

And keep them from the sheep.

But, if they rush dreadful,

The angels, most heedful,

Receive each mild spirit,

New worlds to inherit.

 

And there the lion’s ruddy eyes

Shall flow with tears of gold:

And pitying the tender cries,

And walking round the fold:

Saying: ‘Wrath by His meekness,

And, by His health, sickness,

Is driven away

From our immortal day.

 

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Blake’s title plate (No.29) for Songs of Experience

‘And now beside thee, bleating lamb,

I can lie down and sleep,

Or think on Him who bore thy name,

Graze after thee, and weep.

For, washed in life’s river,

My bright mane for ever

Shall shine like the gold,

As I guard o’er the fold.’


Night, by William Blake PD|100

[First published 1789 in Songs of Innocence and Experience, collected poems written and illustrated by William Blake.]

Title Page Illustrations by William Blake

Painting: Death on a Pale Horse, Commissioned from Blake and acquired by Thomas Butts c. 1800 (via Wikimedia Commons)

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#amwriting: circumstance, objective, and the story arc

Book- onstruction-sign copyIf you intend to write a novel, especially a fantasy novel, a little pre-planning and at least a smidge of an outline is really beneficial.

Consider the beginning: At the outset of any good story, we find our protagonist, and see him/her in their normal surroundings. An event occurs (the inciting incident) and the hero is thrown out of his comfort zone and into the Situation, which is the core idea of your plot.

This is the circumstance in which your protagonist finds himself at the beginning of the story. Some things for you consider before you you begin writing:

  • How will the story start?
  • What is the hero’s personal condition (strength, health) at the beginning?
  • How will that condition be changed, for better or worse, by the hero himself or by the antagonistic force?
  • What could possibly entice him out of his comfort zone?

Now we come to the core of your story: Objective. Without this, there is no story.

In every class I’ve taken on plot development, the instructors have emphasized that a protagonist has no reason to exist unless he/she has a compelling objective. If your main character doesn’t want something badly enough to do just about anything to achieve it over the next couple hundred pages, then he doesn’t deserve to have a story told about him.

That harsh edict is true because everything you will write from the moment of the inciting incident to the last page will detail that quest. Your protagonist must desire nothing more than to achieve that objective. Every scene and conversation will push the protagonist closer to either achieving that goal or failing, so if you make it a deeply personal quest, the reader will become as invested in it as you are.

In the book, Tower of Bones, Edwin wants to free Marya from captivity in Mal Evol. It’s a mission that begins as a somewhat noble desire to help his friends free a healer he has never met, but along the way he realizes she is the girl he has been dreaming about for several years. Once he realizes that, it becomes personal, and he becomes driven. That is when it becomes a real story.

When writing fantasy, you need a broad outline of your intended story arc, and you really need to know how it will end. If you try to “pants” it, you might end up with a mushy plot that wanders all over the place and a story that may not be commercially viable.

  • What will be your inciting incident?
  • What is the goal/objective?
  • At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want to cause him to risk everything to acquire it?
  • How badly does he want it and why?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • What moral (or immoral) choice is the protagonist going to have to make in his attempt to gain that objective?
  • What happens at the first pinch point?
  • In what condition do we find the group at the midpoint?
  • Why does the antagonist have the upper hand? What happens at the turning point to change everything for the worse?
  • At the ¾ point, your protagonist should have gathered his resources and companions and should be ready to face the antagonist. How will you choreograph that meeting?

These are just a few things to think about when you are planning to write a fantasy novel, because so much goes into world building and creating magic systems that it is easy to get involved in large info dumps and bunny trails to nowhere.

Some people are able to visualize a story in its entirety and can write a coherent first draft without even a minimal outline.

I am not one of those people, nor are the majority of writers. An outline will tell you what you need to have happen next to arrive at the end of the book in a reasonable number of words: 100,000 to 125,000 for a first epic fantasy novel. You don’t have to go into detail, but if you give yourself a rough outline, you will know how many words you have to accomplish each task within the story line.

The Story Arc

You want to have a smoothly functioning story arc, so you don’t become desperate and resort to killing off characters just to stir things up.  That doesn’t really help, because you run out of characters, and people don’t like it when you kill off someone they liked.

Besides, you might need that character later.

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#amwriting: trust your readers

Stardust, Neil GaimanSome hard-core fantasy qualifies as literary fiction because of the way in which the story is delivered. Because of the style in which they’re written, these books appeal to a broader fan base than work pigeonholed into either the “genre fantasy category” or the “literary fiction category.”

Neil Gaiman’s Stardust qualifies as a novel that is a “literary fantasy.” This is because it is a fairy tale told with beautiful prose in an unhurried fashion.

Among the burgeoning population of authors who are just learning the craft, opinions regarding style and voice run high and loud.

According to those critique groups armed with a little dangerous knowledge, in the very first sentence of chapter one, Gaiman commits the most heinous crime an author can: he tells the story with leisurely, poetic prose.

Quote: There once was a young man who wished to gain his heart’s desire. 

OMG!  He did he really write “There once was” in a genre fantasy novel?  Passive Voice! Passive Voice!

Well, guess what? Neil Gaiman knows what he is doing when he sits down to tell a story, and his rabid fans and best-selling novels are a testament to that.

Those megalomaniacal gurus armed with tattered copies of Strunk and White, limited talent of their own, and who believe themselves the fount of writerly knowledge really lose their minds over what he does after that first sentence:

  1. He sets the scene: In a style reminiscent of traditional fairy-tales, he explains how our hero, Tristam, lives in the village of Wall. It’s a tiny town about a night’s drive from London. A giant wall stands next to the town, giving the place its name.
  2. He goes on to explain that there’s only one spot to pass through this huge grey rock wall, and it’s always guarded by two villagers at a time, and they are vigilant at their task.
  3. Gaiman comments that this guarding of the gap is peculiar because all one can see through the break in the wall is meadows and trees. It looks as if nothing frightening or strange could be happening there, and yet no one is allowed to go through the break in the wall.
  4. Only then does he bring us to the point: Once every nine years, always on May Day, a unique, traveling fair comes to the meadow. That is the only day the guards ever take a break from their posts on the gap in the wall.

I can hear the group’s de facto emperor pontificating now. What was Gaiman thinking, starting a fantasy novel with a TELLING, PASSIVE sentence followed by an info dump? Why, everyone knows real authors only use active prose and never, ever, offer information up front.

To that breathless expert, I say “not true, my less-than-widely-read friend.” Lean prose can be leisurely and poetic, and still pack a punch. That is what true writing is all about, conveying a story in a style that is crafted and has a voice that is uniquely that of the author.

In Stardust, each character is given a certain amount of importance, and even minor players are clearly drawn. The circumstances and events gradually pick up speed, and in the end, the reader is left pondering what might have happened after the final words on the last page.

stardust_promo_posterIf you saw the movie that is loosely based on the book, you might be surprised at how different the book is from the movie. There are no cross-dressing sky pirates in the book, although Robert De Niro was awesome in that role in the movie. The movie is excellent but bears little resemblance to the book, and, like The Hobbit movie, should be looked at as a different entity entirely.

Neil Gaiman trusts his readers. That is something we all need to do. Sometimes a story needs to emerge slowly and be told with beautiful, immersive prose, and we need to trust that our readers will enjoy it if we craft it well.

There is room in the bookstore for books with a less urgent story to tell as well as those that ambush the reader and beat them bloody with non-stop action.

When we write, we are writing because we have a story to tell. (Yes, I said tell.) To that end, every word must count, every idea must be conveyed with meaningful words, and sometimes you can just have a little fun with it.

In the opening lines of Gaiman’s Stardust, nothing unimportant is mentioned although the prose meanders in a literary way. Yes, he takes the long way, but the attitudes, mores, and personalities of Tristam’s village are conveyed with humor, and the journey is the best part of this fairy tale. He never devolves into florid, overblown purple prose, yet it has a poetic feel.

True authors are driven to learn the craft of writing, and it is a quest that can take a lifetime. It is a journey that involves more than just reading “How to Write This or That Aspect of a Novel” manuals. Those are important, but they only offer up a part of the picture.

You must read widely, and outside your favorite genre. When you come across authors whose work shocks, rocks, and shakes you, study how they crafted the sentences that moved you.

Let their works show you how to use words to form the moods and emotions that drive the plot.

Learn from the masters how to show the true character of a protagonist, or the smell of an alley by the wharves, painting pictures with words.

Read widely, and then apply what you’ve learned to your own work.

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#amwriting: Interview with Terry Persun, poet and author

Today we are continuing a series of interviews with published authors who are also instructors. They write in a variety of fields, and each approaches the craft from a slightly different point of view. Because they come from such varied backgrounds, I have gained a great deal of knowledge of writing craft from attending their seminars.

As it’s Friday and I often post poetry and flash fiction on Fridays, we are talking with Terry Persun, a poet and novelist who resides in the Northwest.

51eyfcn4pzl-_sx331_bo1204203200_CJJ: You write in three areas, poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. Your fiction work ranges through three sub-genres, Sci-fi/fantasy, mystery/thriller, and mainstream/historical. As are many poets, you’re well-known for questioning the political, spiritual, and cultural status quo.

How does your poetic bent shape your non-fiction and genre novel work?

TP: What an amazing question. I often think about how my poetry helps to shape my novels, but seldom my nonfiction. So let’s start with novels: much of the best poetry is about image, and the same goes for the novel. An image (showing not telling) can create an emotion that will stick with the reader. Poetry allows me to practice that. Even when you’re discussing cultural elements, an image is more important than abstract words like horrific or painful. A poet must know how to show those abstractions. Think about the last time you saw an image of a child in a war zone, it’s much more impactful than being told that there were several women and children killed in the attack. Even which image is important—movie directors know which angle to take. As for nonfiction: I think pacing and word choice stand out the most. In a poem, I can create a line break or a stanza break, similarly with nonfiction I might create a new paragraph or move the article from prose to bulleted copy. Again, an image might be best in nonfiction as well. For example, instead of saying, “Make sure your enclosure is leak proof.” I said, “Using the proper sealing approach will eliminate the concern of having grease oozing out of your enclosure.” Seeing the grease oozing out of something is much more impactual than telling someone to provide better sealing. There are probably many more things that poetry brings to my writing that I may not be completely aware of.

CJJ: You have published five poetry collections. I own one of them, And Now This. These poems resonated with me, as my father was also a WWII vet. These poems deal with the effects of your father’s wartime experiences on your family during the 1960s. Battle related PTSD is also a theme in my forthcoming novel. Reading your poetry made me feel less alone in that experience, and helped me develop my protagonist in the initial stages.

You seem to have an instinctive gift for meter in your free verse. One of my favorite opening passages of all time is from one of the poems in this collection, from the opening poem,

First Memory

I’m standing in the corner,

Crying.

My hands are not my own,

They’re trembling.

This passage drops the reader straight into your young reality, unapologetically showing the life you had then.  Because they are free verse, the lines don’t rhyme, yet they are poetic and speak to me on a level that the prose in a novel rarely does. I also love the opening passage from another poem in this collection, In the Story of My Father.

What advice would give budding poets in regard to meter and phrasing their free verse?

TP: Language has its own music. Even prose has music to it. It’s my assertion that the best prose can often be broken into poems. In classes I sometimes will take a Hemingway paragraph and create a poem from it. Having said that, the number of beats, the number of syllables, where you place commas or choose to create a complex sentence, all have an effect on the final work. What I advise new poets is to first of all read a lot of poetry—especially the kind you’re trying to write. Notice how much of a breath you need to take, where natural and unnatural breaks might occur (use both), and where can you end a line that leads a reader in a false direction. Poetry infused prose can only make it better.

Doublesight--Terry PersunCJJ: One of my favorite fantasy novels is Doublesight, in which you created a world populated by shapeshifters. Zimp is a wonderful character, and I like how you portrayed her growing into her responsibilities.

You have opened your Doublesight world to fans to create fanfiction in, via Kindle Worlds.

How has the work offered by others in your world affected your view of Zimp’s world, and has it changed your direction in anyway?

TP: That’s a tough question to answer, because anything written in that world changes the way I see it. Once it’s opened to other interpretations, each character becomes deeper and more mysterious. I start to see the character differently and wonder more about him or her. It also lets me see how others view the story, the time period, the characters. I become more interested in the world as others work in it. My hope is that it’s fun and expansive for the authors as well, offering them another viewpoint to explore, another idea to examine. Plus, every Doublesight story uploaded into Kindle Worlds helps to market all the other books in the world. This cross-marketing will eventually help each author gain a new audience for their own books.

CJJ: Your video course is quite extensive, and I’d like you tell the readers what the course entails, and how they can take it.

TP: I believe you’re talking about the “Make Money Writing” course. You can access it through my website or through Youtube. I have taught that class quite a bit and is often standing room only. I’ve been freelancing for 20 years and working with freelancers on the magazine side for another 20 prior to that. I know how magazine editors think, what they need, and how to reach them. I also know how to help a writer find their way into freelancing. In the course, I run through how to decide what to write, the parts of the magazine, the editorial calendar, how to touch base with editors, and the main types of articles they need for their publications. I’ve consulted with several major magazine groups about their editorial packages, as well as how to move copy through their company so that they don’t waist time and end up with the best possible pieces to publish.

CJJ: I’ve attended several of your seminars at the annual PNWA conference and enjoyed them immensely. You’re based in the Pacific Northwest and have taught many classes all over the region. Will you be offering any seminars over the next year?

TP: I will be at the PNWA Cottage in September teaching a course on working with Amazon’s 12+ platforms for writers (go to PNWA.org for the list of classes), then at Rivers of Ink in October where I’ll be one of their Keynote speakers and also teach a class called Use Your Writing as Marketing. In November, I’ll be in Kauai for their annual Writers’ Conference where I’m teaching Self and Independent Publishing, and will be working one-on-one with attendees interested in a variety of methods of publication. I was involved in three other groups/conferences earlier this year. I am always willing to come up with a program if there is enough interest. Just let me know.


Terry, thank you so much for your insights and advice, both here and at the annual PNWA conference.

I highly recommend Terry’s works. His poetry is deep and thought provoking, and his novels are fun and fantastic.  His books can be found on Amazon at:

tpersun_the_mug_shot_pic_b-w_400x400Terry Persun on Amazon Author Central

For any of you who are interested in attending his seminars, or looking into his video course, you can find him at any of these places.

Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/TerryPersun

Website:

http://www.terrypersun.com

Twitter: @TPersun

Pinterest:

https://www.pinterest.com/terrypersun/ 

Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1219743.Terry_Persun

LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=AAIAAAAwxc8B6UnSc6LNvK9rhZHPutf5VEgswes&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile_pic


On  Monday, Scott Driscoll has agreed to join us here.

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#flashfictionfriday: Ode (to Writer’s Block)

Quill_pen smallOnce again, I am embarking on a new project, and struggling with getting the idea down on paper. Therefore, it’s time for me to face the demon that haunts all writers–that moment when you have the brilliant idea, and know what you have to say, but can’t find the words. I will defeat this demon by embracing it into submission, as I do all who oppose me. (Did I just say that? Oh, well. It’s out there now.) I will write, no matter how hokey and lame my prose is, because revisions are my friends, and I am not afraid to write garbage. I just need to get these ideas down and on paper before I forget them.

Several years ago, while suffering in similar circumstances over Valley of Sorrows, I wrote this woefully over-the-top, somewhat lame, free-verse ode to that sad condition, and I published it here on this blog then.

Ode  

What beauty is this, that lies sleeping near my heart?

‘Tis word—and word should tumble from my pen,

Not lie locked within the chamber dark and inky.

Where hides the key to free thee from thy prison?

Oh, lovely word, spring forth from the trap that is my mind,

Set thee down upon this paper, word.

Let me hold thee, and from thee let me form the dreams,

The hopes and fantasies that fill my eyes and blind me to all but thee,

Oh word! Fill my paper with thy bounteous delight,

As you fill my head with longing, and my wastebasket with scrap.


Ode © Connie J. Jasperson 2016

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#flashFictionFriday: Science Officer’s Log

Today’s flash fiction was inspired by the recent announcement of the  European Southern Observatory‘s discovery of a roughly Earth-sized planet orbiting our nearest neighboring star, Proxima Centauri.  Planet Proxima b is larger than Earth, but could have liquid water on its surface. Proxima Centauri is around four light years from us. It’s a small red dwarf with a radius of around 60,000 miles (97,000 km), which is around 14% the size of our sun. It  is estimated to have a mass of around 12% of that of the sun, and is 1.4 times the diameter of Jupiter.


Science Officer’s Log

  • Week: 15
  • Month: 4
  • Day: 15
  • Year: 47 (Post Earth Era)
  • Logged by: Jamal Baines, Acting Science Officer

Last week our ship arrived at a three-star system, and stopped at the edge.  I’m not sure why we’ve stopped because, before they disappeared, no one thought to warn me it was going to happen. It’s been two weeks since the adults who used to run things disappeared. Not sure what happened, but I don’t think they planned to leave.

I’m fourteen now, so I should be an adult about things, but I miss my mom.

The internal system is functioning as it should. Maybe we were supposed to stop here. The telescopes are observing the dwarf star of the trio, and I’m logging the information as it comes in. I just don’t know how to interpret it yet.

From outside, our ship seems like an immense moon or a small planet, but it’s an asteroid ship. We’re self-supporting so things are pretty complicated. When I first joined the science pod, Dr. Abrams told me that because we live underground, we’re safe from radiation and most stray comets.

I don’t know if anyone will ever go outside again, because I don’t know if anyone apprenticed in the maintenance pod was trained to pilot the O.A. Shuttles.

We finally got all the kids together for a meeting, and we have an idea of how to go forward.  I’m not sure what I’m supposed to write here because we didn’t do anything other than deciding who was going to do what. The younger kids are afraid, and everyone agreed we needed the older kids to take charge.

Shelena’s oldest, seventeen, and she is captain. Darius is fifteen, and he’s first officer. They were apprenticed in the bridge pod, so she is most familiar with how Captain Gonzales ran things, and Darius is good at keeping things organized. Shelena knows where all the information is, so at least we’ll have that, and we can continue our education. I got to be science because that’s where I was apprenticing. Sanjay is 17, and is in charge of sickbay, for the same reason. The androids are functioning perfectly, handling the work humans don’t usually have to do, like running the mess hall and the sewage treatment plants.

There are only fifty-six of us old enough to have been apprenticed into the ship’s management systems for any length of time. The others are working in the areas where they were, still trying to learn from those of us more advanced. The pre-teen kids not old enough to have been apprenticed are minding the babies and little ones.

Darius thinks the adults got sucked into a dimensional rift. I guess that’s possible, but I can’t see how. But regardless, we have to support the farms, because they’re what keeps this ship’s environmental systems running. So, just like before the adults disappeared, we’re all taking our turns working in the agrarian pod. Things are pretty easy to work, if you know the controls. So far, we’re all getting along, no quarrels to speak of.

That’s all I can think of for right now. I’ll write more tomorrow because Doctor Abrams always kept a daily log, so I should too.

J.B.

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of Proxima itself. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface.

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of Proxima itself. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. Artist’s rendering by This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the solar system. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. Credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser


Science Officer’s Log © Connie J. Jasperson 2016

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#FlashFictionFriday: Edna’s Garden, Part 2

I’m packing up to move. Selling the house was more work than I thought it would be. My agent assured me the large sum of money I spent replacing the old carpets with laminate, and getting new, natural-stone counter-tops would more than pay for itself when I found the right family to sell the place to. Frank Lanier, my real estate agent, has known me for years. He accepts that I believe more is at stake than mere money and was willing to write some unusual clauses into the contract.

My daughter doesn’t know this, but I told Frank that if the right people wanted the house, I would accept any offer they made, even if it was a little low.

The problem is, I’ve buried two husbands, and now I’ve outlived my handyman, Jasper. He seemed so healthy too. But he dropped dead of a heart attack at the young age of only eighty-two. Jasper did everything I couldn’t for the last thirty years, mowing the grass, cleaning the gutters, fixing the wonky electric system, or repairing the roof. I don’t want to have to train some young know-it-all in how things should be done, such as not running the lawnmower over the sprinkler heads. I’ve accepted that I can’t care for the place anymore.

But I do have a responsibility to see to it the right family moves in here. They must be able to see past the expected, must have an imagination, and absolutely must be committed to preserving…nature.

Marjorie, my daughter, is only in her seventies and, unfortunately for her husband, she’s as healthy as a racehorse. The way she carries on about every minor ailment, you’d think she was at death’s door. Arthur, Marjorie’s husband, is the least spirited man I’ve ever met. I suppose forty-eight years of being tied to her has long since beaten anything resembling a backbone out of him. Marjorie has the notion her life will be much easier if they sell everything and move to Florida.

I know what my extraordinarily lazy daughter is up to.  By purchasing a condominium in a resort for well-heeled seniors, Marjorie will have housekeepers to order around and will never have to cook again. They could eat every meal in the community dining room. I’m sure Arthur sees that as a point in her favor since Marjorie can’t even boil water without burning it.

It sounds like a cruise ship but without the Norovirus. However, she needs me to foot the bill, because she always spent her and her husband’s salaries faster than they could earn it, and then she insisted on retiring early. So, they’re out of money now, but she has a new retirement plan–me. She’s been pretending I’m senile and petitioned the court to be given custodial power over me and my assets “for my best interests.”

That will never happen. She now hates my lawyer, because he made it clear that I am in complete possession of my wits, and the judge rather bluntly asked her what she was hoping to gain. She became quite offended, saying it was her duty to care for me in my declining years.

Of course, she came apologizing afterward, trying to convince me to move in with them, but I told her I had plans that involved having a life. Marjorie got that pouty look, the one she wears anytime she’s balked. After we had left the court, I did tell Violet that booking myself into the lowest-rated nursing home in a Bombay slum would be preferable to putting myself and my money in Marjorie’s power. Violet knows Marjorie, and had to agree.

With Jasper’s untimely death, I had to do something about the house, but I have a responsibility to the “guests” in my garden. I didn’t tell Frank why I wanted only a certain kind of family, but the truth is, whoever purchased this place had to be people with an open mind. They had to be able to see my fairies and understand they are an endangered species and that they have a sacred duty to protect them. That’s why I had Frank put the clause in the contract that the new owners must never cut the hedge.

Frank finally found the right people. Kaitlyn and Martha fell in love with it. When they looked at the garden, Kaitlyn spotted the fairies and got all excited, pointing and whispering to Martha that this was the place for them to build their life together, and she had to have it, no matter what.

Martha agreed.

So now, that perfectly sweet couple will live here, and my fairies will be safe.

As the judge advised me to, I’m spending Marjorie’s inheritance. Frank found me the perfect little condo downtown near the senior center, and I can bring my cat, Rufus. It’s only a few blocks from the farmer’s market, and it’s on the bus line so I can sell my car, which will make my insurance agent happy.

Once I get settled there, Violet and I will take a two-week trip to Italy. We have a lot of plans, and making a pilgrimage to Fabio’s birthplace is just the beginning.

512px-August_Malmström_-_Dancing_Fairies_-_Google_Art_Project

 


Edna’s Garden, Part 2 © 2016 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

Click here to read part one of Edna’s Garden 

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#flashfictionfriday: The Sea Doves

sanddollar

For more information on the life cycle of the common sand dollar, go to http://www.gma.org/tidings/sand-dollar

An older lady walking with a cane, and a young boy of about four strolled along the beach, following the line of shells and debris left by the retreating tide.

“Grandma, what’s this?” The boy picked up a round, flat shell, with a design that looked like a flower etched on the rounded top.

“It’s a sand dollar,” replied the grandmother. “When the little creature inside dies, it leaves its teeth behind. Their teeth are shaped like doves. If you shake it you can hear the doves inside, rattling around.”

“Real doves? Like the ones by our house?” He peered intently at it, turning it over in his chubby hands and then, holding it up to his ear, he shook it.  He  danced with excitement, his eyes bright. “I can hear them!”

They walked a while further and the boy bent down again, picking up another sand dollar. “This one is is broken. What happened to the doves? Did they fly to my yard back home?”

The grandmother chuckled. “Perhaps they did. Shall we open one and see if they’re the kind of doves that fly?”

“Okay. I’ll find one.”  After a few moments of searching, the boy shouted, “I found it.” Quickly bending down, he picked up his find and held it out to his grandmother. “Can you open it now?”

“We’ll need a rock,” said Grandma. “Get me a good rock for pounding on things, about the size of your fist.”

Soon the two were bent over a driftwood log, with the sand dollar lying ready to be opened. “What should I do?”

“Give it a good whack. Not too hard, but just enough to crack it open.”

The boy shook his head. “I’m too strong. What if I smash it? I’m much stronger than you, so maybe you should whack it.”

Laughing again, Grandma complied. Soon the shell was opened and the little dove-shaped teeth were exposed.

The boy waited for a moment, then asked, “How come they aren’t flying away?”

Grandma thought for a moment. “Perhaps they only fly when we aren’t looking at them. Maybe we have to close our eyes and wish as hard as we can.”

The boy did so and after a moment Grandma said, “Look!”

His eyes flew open and he saw in the distance five white birds, flying away. “They did it! We let them loose! But they turned into seagulls.”

Grandma fingered the tiny bones in her pocket. “You’re right. Those were seagulls. Maybe they only turn into sea doves if we let them break out naturally.”

“Okay. We won’t hatch any more. I think there are enough seagulls on this beach right now. What we need are sea doves.”

Grandma agreed. The two walked on, stopping occasionally and examining the amazing finds left behind by the tide.


The Sea Doves, © Connie J. Jasperson 2016, All Rights Reserved

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