Tag Archives: knights

Literary or Genre Fantasy? #amreading

A question was recently asked in a Facebook authors’ group that centers around literary fiction, “What is literary fantasy?”

The answer is complicated, and many people who are hardcore readers of obscure literary fiction will radically disagree with me: Some work qualifies as literary fantasy because of the way in which the story is delivered. Because of the style in which they’re written, these books appeal to a much broader fan base than work pigeonholed into either the “genre fantasy category” or the “literary fiction category.”

Each story has a life of its own. Authors envision how that tale must be set down, and some stories that take place in a fantasy setting are focused on the characters and their internal journey more than on the external experiences. That focus on the internal rather than the external is a literary trope. 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. Allusive prose, steeped in allegory, is also a literary trope. Place those tropes and your characters in a fantasy setting, and you have literary fantasy.

Consider Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Published in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615, volume I, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, and volume II, The Ingenious Knight,  written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, is considered the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age. As a founding work of modern Western literature, and one of the earliest canonical novels, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published.

Yet, it is a fantasy, written about a man who believes he is a superhero.

Don Quixote had a major influence on the literary community, as shown by direct references in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (1844) and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).

Among modern work, in my opinion, Neil Gaiman’s Stardust qualifies as a novel that is a “literary fantasy.” This is because it is a fairy tale about a young man’s internal journey to manhood, steeped in allegory, and told with beautiful, poetic prose in an unhurried fashion.

Within the burgeoning population of authors who are just learning the craft, opinions regarding style and voice run high and loud. Among readers, those who love  and seek out literary fiction are deemed “snooty” while those who love the sheer entertainment offered by genre fiction are deemed “unschooled.” Readers are just people after all–there are haters on both sides of the literary aisle.

Let’s talk about Stardust. 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 commit: he tells the story with leisurely, poetic prose.

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

Those narcissistic gurus armed with tattered copies of Strunk and White, and limited talent of their own 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.

That is why I consider Stardust literary fantasy.

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.

If you saw the movie that is loosely based on the book but haven’t read the novel,  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 bears little resemblance to the book, and, like The Hobbit movie, should be looked at as a different entity entirely.

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 journey is the best part of this fairy tale. He never devolves into florid, overblown purple prose, yet it has a poetic feel.

In my opinion, the arrogant perception of “fantasy” as having no literary merit is complete hogwash when you look at the books that make up the western cannon of great literature. ALL of them are fantasies of one sort or another, beginning with Don Quixote and going forward, and all of them were created for the enjoyment of the masses.

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. Read old books and new–but read. When you come across authors whose work deeply moves you, study how they crafted the sentences that moved you. You may find yourself learning from the masters.


Credits and Attributions:

Don Quijote de La Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863, Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

First UK edition cover of Neil Gaiman‘s novel Stardust, Illustrator: Charles Vess, Publisher Avon Books, Publication date: 1 February 1999, via Wikimedia Commons, Fair Use.

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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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Words as Swords

shakespeare-word-cloudGrammar is such a pain. We all speak naturally in a dialect that is indicative of where we live, and there are certain peculiarities that will emerge in our scribbles.

*doh*

I was raised by a set of parents who adored words.  Long words, short words, rhyming words– my siblings and I learned words at a young age and we know how to use them and in what context.

Of course, many of the words I was taught were unique to my family, apparently, but words were important and they were celebrated.

the_last_good_knight_cover-createspace.jpgPeriodically Dad would “lose his words” and what came out of his mouth at that point we were not to repeat….

I have this wealth of words in my head, and yet when I get to cruising on a tale, I inadvertently use the same words rather frequently, as if my head is stuck in a rut.

Words have power. Words can build nations and words can tear them down. “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

51VAA93NY4LWilliam Shakespeare adored words too, and is credited with inventing over 1700 of the words we use today. He did this by changing nouns into verbs, and connecting words together that had never been used before. Some of these words include ‘bedroom’ and ‘courtship.’

Words can win a persons love, and words can destroy a relationship forever. “Where love is great, the littlest doubts are fear….”

To have the chance to wallow in words all day long, and get paid for it is more than amazing, it is what I always dreamed of. I live for words, to write them, to read them — to play with them. I get to quote Shakespeare! “Cry ‘havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war….”

Long words, short words, life is built around words.

“Without the which we are pictures, or mere beasts…..”

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Name that Kid

fist_names_generatorA Facebook friend of mine whose given name is ‘Tad’ remarked that he had never liked his name, that he had always felt more like a Christopher. I can totally relate!  I was stuck with a not-too-goofy first name, Connie, which I never really liked,  but my middle name…. To this day I can’t spell it with out concentrating really hard: Lieuettice.

In a way I understand my mother’s dilemma. Good names are hard to think up! My friend, Irene, is always hammering at me to give my characters names that don’t all start with the same letters…which I wish I had thought about earlier on in the Tower of Bones series (doh).

_72982736_vikings courtesy of BBCSo lately I’ve had to resort to my handy  list of Saxon Names. Or my list of Popular Viking Baby Names.   “Come here, BRÖKK, my fine, strapping hero…put on this armor and at least look like you want to go out and wrestle a dragon….you and DAGFINNR can pillage the village when you’re done.”

Runes001So, my dilemma in my current work in progress is that two of the female characters have names that begin with the same letter. When I began writing the series, I didn’t realize the second character would become so important in the story–and now, three books into the series, I CAN’T CHANGE HER NAME!  (bangs head on desk.)

But, instead of sitting here, wailing “Why, why why?” I suppose I should just get on with writing the story.

Note to self:  Always name your character names that begin with different letters–there are twenty-six letters in the English alphabet, for the love of Tolstoy…and if we get into the Elder Futhark we can use all those lovely runes….

names

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Knights Running Bare

200px-Saint_George_-_Carlo_CrivelliOne thing we don’t really think about when we first sit down to tell a tale is the attire our characters will be sporting. (Or not sporting, as the case may be.) But it does eventually come up, and how we get that across to our readers without boring them to tears is important.

Much of the time, my characters wear armor, the men and the women both. I’m an equal opportunity author–I think women deserve to be encased in gleaming tin as often as men, so there you go.

When I am reading a historically based novel, I want to be able to picture the characters in the right style of clothing, but unless I am reading the curtain scene in Gone With The Wind, I don’t want exact details. In most cases, a sentence or two giving us a general description is all that is really necessary.

Some of you may say, “But clothes are an essential aspect of the culture I am trying to describe!” I agree – every culture is rich in the way their clothing is decorated, and in what is considered appropriate for each gender. But again, a sentence or two here and there will do the trick. If you give the reader  the general idea they will fill in the blanks with their imagination. Too much detail may cause the reader to lose the momentum of the tale.

As a reader,  unless we are talking armor, I want to know what they are wearing, but don’t waste my time giving me more than a few sentences.

However, if we are talking armor, while I, as the reader, don’t need too many details, you as the AUTHOR, do need to keep some details in mind when you are writing the story. Your knights are not running bare–they are fully clothed in steel. That affects HOW they move.

First of all, it’s important to note that ‘fully armored’ means the characters are wearing:

  1. Helmet:  a form of protective gear worn to protect the head from injuries
  2. Gorget:  a single piece of plate armor hanging from the neck and covering the throat and chest.
  3. Pauldrons (or spaulders):  a single large dome-shaped piece to cover the shoulder
  4. Besagews:  circular defenses designed to protect the armpits
  5. Couters: the defense for the elbow in a piece of plate armor. Initially just a curved piece of metal, as plate armor progressed the couter became an articulated joint.
  6. Vambraces: forearm guards, defenses for covering the forearm
  7. Gauntlets: several different styles of glove, particularly those with an extended cuff covering part of the forearm
  8. Cuirass: back and breastplate
  9. Fauld: bands of metal surrounding both legs, potentially surrounding the entire hips in a form similar to a skirt.
  10. Tassets:a piece of plate armor designed to protect the upper legs
  11. Culet:   a piece of plate armor consisting of small, horizontal ribs that protect the small of the back or the buttocks
  12. Cuisses: to protect the thigh.The word is the plural of the French word cuisse meaning ‘thigh’. While the tassets of a cuirass could protect the upper legs from above, a thrust from below could avoid these defenses. Thus, cuisses were worn on the thighs to protect from such blows.
  13. Poleyns: armor that protected the knee
  14. Greaves: shin armor
  15. Sabatons: covering for the foot. Fourteenth and fifteenth century sabatons typically end in a tapered point well past the actual toes of the wearer’s foot, following fashionable shoe shapes of the fourteenth century. Sabatons of the first half of sixteenth century end at the tip of the toe and may be wider than the actual foot. They were the first piece of armor to be put on.

Charles_Ernest_Butler_-_King_Arthur - via Wikimedia CommonsThat’s a hell of a lot of steel and it took some time to put on. The very fullest sets,  could be configured for a range of different uses, for fighting on foot or on horse. They were complicated and took a while to get on correctly, and a man needed help with some of the more involved things, like lacing them on.

The reader doesn’t need to know this, and they don’t care. But what the AUTHOR needs to know is how this sort of attire affects what your character can actually do!

Realistically, most medieval soldiers did not wear full sets of armor as their daily attire. In general they wore the minimum amount of metal they could get away with unless they were going into a situation that could result in a battle. When your characters are out riding around, if you have them only partially armored, they will be more able to move around in a logical manner, than if you have encased them in a gleaming sardine can.

arthur-knights-table-1Some readers (like me) are quite savvy–they will know you haven’t thought it out well if your fully armored knight is suddenly indulging in a moment of passion with fully dressed Lady Gwen.

Think about the many layers of what your characters are actually wearing–it can’t be done! For that you must undress them, and it is a bit involved, so they must plan ahead for their romantic trysts and leave the armor at home.

When writing historical fiction it is important to remember that people are not really that much different nowadays than they ever were. They get cold, so they wear clothes, in many layers. The warmer the weather, the fewer the layers. Inside a warm building, they may be lightly clad. Keep that  in mind as you are writing, and convey the idea of their attire with a minimum of words, and your reader will get more enjoyment from the tale.

736px-Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_The_Tune_of_Seven_Towers

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The Dilemma

GRAELENT AND THE FAIRY-WOMAN - Illustration from Legends & Romances of Brittany by Lewis Spence, illustrated by W. Otway Cannell.Romantic love and passion are two things that make up the bulk of many a book I’ve begun to read and then set aside over the past few years. Truthfully, romance novels don’t interest me the way adventure novels do–if they are seasoned well with a bit of romance. Graphic romance with no plot is porn, and I think we should just call it that and be done with it. Adventure with no romance is a travelogue detailing a rough trip, but nothing to write home about.

Dilemma.

In a novel, one without the other just does not work. Words splashed on a page for their shock value have been done and over-done, so for me it’s important to keep myself writing for the quality of the tale. If I do it right, I will intrigue the reader and challenge them, making them want to read more.

Adventure must have some sort of romance to drive the plot forward, some unattainable goal whether it is love or an object. I like to look back at history and see what it was about some tales that have kept the interest of readers, not just for years, but for centuries. What do these tales embody that new works should also have, to make them timeless?

Let’s examine the Arthurian Legend. From the website, www.arthurian-legend.com.

I quote:

Illustration by H.J. Ford for Andrew Lang's Tales of Romance, 1919. Arthur meets the Lady of the Lake and gets the Sword Excalibur“The legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table is the most powerful and enduring in the western world. King Arthur, Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot did not really exist, but their names conjure up a romantic image of gallant knights in shining armour, elegant ladies in medieval castles, heroic quests for the Holy Grail in a world of honour and romance, and the court of Camelot at the centre of a royal and mystical Britain.”

There we have the essence of what constitutes a timeless tale: Powerful people doing heroic deeds, and finding a bit of romance along the way. Set them in intriguing surroundings and dress them in metal or velvet (or both) and voila! Now all you must do is cue the magic–bring on the wise old sorcerer.

Hey, it worked for J.K. Rowling!

Boys_King_Arthur_-_N._C._Wyeth_-_p82I do a lot of reading, and if I am not reading, I am writing. My hope is that at some point in every tale I write, my readers will find themselves completely involved in the tale to the exclusion of the world around them. If that happens, then I have had an impact on my reader, the same way as Anne McCaffrey, Tad Williams, and Mercedes Lackey have each impacted me.

Someday I will have written that tale.

But if I do that,  I’ll have to sustain the momentum…keep writing good stuff only and forget writing crap….but crap is so much easier to write.

Unfortunately we’re only as good as our next book.

*Doh*

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Crafting the tale

Power of Words

Back-story happens as an author writes the tale. In my early works I left the back-story in, not realizing how it interfered with the flow of the story.  Now I am rewriting my first published novel, removing the info dumps and using the skills I have developed in writing my last four novels to tell the story through scenes and dialogue.

Sometimes writing is like pulling a rabbit out of my hat–Voila!!!  And there it is, the best scene I’ve ever written.  I see it fully formed in my head and it falls out of my fingers as if I were seeing it before me.

The spring thaw was heralded by the hissing of rain on the frozen fir trees.  Five men swathed in heavy cloaks rode miserable horses north, braving the eternal damp of a chill April morning, riding through snow heavy with slush, splashing through myriad puddles as the snowy landscape of the northern winter slowly melted under the assault of the spring rains.

Other times, it takes days and hundreds of failed attempts to figure out what it was I really wanted to say, what that one crucial paragraph needs to tell the reader in as few words as is possible.

The older merchant’s face darkened at the mention of the prince’s name and quickly looking over his shoulder at the other guests in the common room, he hushed his sons. “We’ll have no more mention of them at this table. If the wrong person overhears such talk we’ll all end our days in our own beds with our throats slit!”

MobyDickTonyMillionaireCoverPosterGetting the back-story into the tale without spewing pages of detail is critical.  In order for the reader to understand the action, they must understand the back-story. However, long info-dumps are no longer the fashion–the days of Herman Melville and J.R.R. Tolkien are gone: the modern reader has a leaner taste in literature.

Thus the author must find ways to insert the back-story in such a way the reader is intrigued.

I’ve lately attempted to read several tales where the authors have been humiliated in their writing groups by the snarky guru (you know the one I am talking about) to the point they now put no back-story at all into their tale. The jealous, rudely sarcastic diva has accomplished his mission–once again he’s made a more talented author afraid to write.

Back-story is critical, because action must happen for a reason. When things happen for no reason at all, the story is nothing but random, senseless actions. Without back-story we don’t care about the protagonist, no matter how handsome and witty he is.

An author once told me he put no back-story in because he wanted the reader to find out what was happening at the same time the protagonist discovered it.  I found his work to be random, and senseless, which was too bad, because just a little insight into WHY the action was happening would have made it so much more interesting.

When I read a book, I become involved with the characters if there is a sense of history, if I want to know this person. Having some knowledge of what makes this person tick intrigues me. Why did Maldred order Geoffrey murdered? A snippet here and there, artfully inserted into to the scenery and the dialogue will inform the reader in such a way they don’t realize they are being informed.

Thus the author must craft the tale.

According to Jon Sprunk at Tor.Com: “Most aspects of back-story can be inferred by the reader. For example, if your main character is a cop, most readers will understand that she knows police procedure, the laws of her jurisdiction, and how to handle a firearm. You don’t need to walk us through every day of her academy training to tell us this.” 

MR-writers-block-guy-Google ImagesA good way to dole out the back-story and still leave the reader’s imagination intact is to write in such a way the information is slipped  into the story in small chucks to spread it out.

Having characters discuss important events of the past is another effective way to get the information to the reader. However, you must use this tool wisely so as to not to fall into the trap of using dialogue to tell the story.

It’s a balancing act. This is where the craft of writing comes into play. We learn through writing and from getting proper feedback on our work.Writing is like cooking–experience will give you some idea of how much seasoning is too much.

A writing group, whether online or in your community is an excellent place to begin sharing your work and getting feedback. Don’t be afraid of criticism, because even the snarky guru has a point–he just has a bad way of displaying it. Also, don’t expect to ever write to THEIR satisfaction, because it won’t happen.  However, you can learn a great deal there if you choose to.

on writingA great book for new writers is Stephen King’s On Writing-A Memoir of the Craft. He tells us of his own life up to his well-known near-death experience, which is gripping in itself. But more importantly he tells us about the craft of writing, and how to develop the tools you will need, and the skills to use those tools.

Back-story is like perfume.  A hint is awesome, and makes you curious.

Too much overwhelms the senses and drives away the reader.

Write for yourself, but write as well as you can. And never stop growing as a writer.

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Cover reveal,Tales from the Dreamtime

Tales from the Dreamstime jpg 2013Great covers sell books! I love great covers, but haven’t always been that good at creating them.

This is the cover of my soon-to-be-released book, Tales from the Dreamtime, a collection of two short stories and one novella.

The image is The Lily Fairy by Falero Luis Ricardo. The image itself is in the public domain, because the original author or artist passed away over 100 years ago. Thus, instead of crediting the artist with a © symbol, we use a different  method:

 

Luis Ricardo Falero Lily Fairy 1888.

{{PD-Art|PD-old-100}}

The credit line is extremely important, as you must always clearly represent on the copyright page of your book each person with an interest in the work.  You must have on file a license clearly granting you permission to use the image in way you intend to use it.

In the case of public domain artwork, a good source of free artwork with clearly written  creative-commons licenses is Wikimedia Commons.  There is a limited number of works that are suitable for my purposes, and some of the best ones have restrictions clearly stated on them. This picture, however, has the following provenance clearly stated on the bottom half of the page beneath the picture:

Author
[show]Luis Ricardo Falero (1851–1896) Link back to Creator infobox template wikidata:Q2744493
Description
Lily Fairy
Date 1888
Medium oil on canvas
Source/Photographer [1]
Permission
(Reusing this file)
Author died more than 70 years ago – public domain
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I have found many old masters that I use on this blog on Wikimedia Commons.

“Public domain” means nobody claims any rights to the property, either because they gave them up or because time or some other factor ended copyright. Anyone can use it for any purpose. For instance, anyone can publish and sell a copy of “A Christmas Carol” because it is no longer copyright due to age.

“Royalty free” means “I own it, but I am allowing you to use it under specific conditions without paying me royalties for it” A Royalty free license does have qualifications. For instance it might allow you to use the work but not to sell copies. Many times you pay the artist a onetime fee and then you have the rights to use the work within the limits of your contract.

Bedermann dreamstime_14266940Affordable Royalty Free art can be found on Dreamstime.com, and the price ranges from $1.00 to $75.00. There are thousands of images on that website. iStock.com is another great royalty free website.  Their contracts are clear and printable and the credit lines are also clear. You always have a record of your purchases through them, on the website so your provenance is never in doubt.

Being an indie is a lot of work, and you really have to be your own art department. It is a lot of fun, I find. I have even tried making my own cover art, with mixed results, but I really learn a lot from these sorts of experiences.

Being an indie is a s much about the learning the ropes of the publishing business as it is anything else.  I have learned that just owning the rights to use the art is only the first step to a good cover. You must either be able to use Photoshop (mondo expensive) or Gimp (free), both of which are startlingly difficult to learn the ropes of.  Not only that, you must understand how a book cover is laid out. There are YouTube and Amazon walkthroughs, which is a free education but also which is complicated.

My advice? Hire a graphic designer with experience in designing book covers. It is well worth it. My own choice of artwork is dictated by my both my pocketbook and the image’s relevance to the story, but I find that good graphics can really make a great cover.

I have a graphic designer, Ceri Clark, who does the graphics on my book covers, because I don’t have the eye for them. My advice? Hire a graphic designer with experience in designing book covers. I know I already said that, but that is my advice, lol!

So here is the blurb for my new book, Tales from the Dreamtime

Three grownup Tales from the Dreamtime in one novella…

A conversation with Galahad
A prince on a quest and a goddess in mourning
A stolen kingdom and the Fractal Mirror 
Three tales of wonder and great deeds 
Three tales of heroes and villains 

Open the door and enter the Dreamtime, the world of fairytales, the flower of all that is delightful and mysterious, frightening and amazing.

It will be offered for sale as an ebook by Monday August 12,2013 if all goes as planned.It contains three tales:

TABLE    OF    CONTENTS

1     Galahad Hawke (a short story)

2    The Tale of Prince Darién (a short story)

3    Arrabelle and the Prince of Thieves (a novella)

Each tale is written with my own particular brand of let-the-chips-fall -where-they-may take on traditional fairytales.

I may yield to pressure and pick up the story at the end of  Galahad, turning him into a novel during NaNoWriMo this year–he is an Arthurian tale with a Steampunk twist. Nothing is certain yet!

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Filed under Adventure, Books, Dragons, Fairies, Fantasy, Literature, Steampunk, Uncategorized, writer, writing

Pub Crawling at Billy’s Revenge

800px-Southampton_Medieval_Merchants_House_kitchenOne of the things I find most entertaining about writing is putting myself mentally into the environment of the tale.   Currently in the works are 3 tales that take place, for the most part, in a wayside inn called Billy’s Revenge.

I love this place!  Billy Ninefingers, tall, genial and a bit dangerous runs a well-oiled machine. (Who doesn’t love a gorgeous man with an air hinting of danger about him?) Billy keeps the place running like a top and keeps his mercenaries, the Rowdies, working. Without Billy Ninefingers, there would be no town of Limpwater.

Billy needs to find some way to remain captain of the Rowdies and he hits on the notion of building his inn out in the middle of nowhere, a full day’s ride from the nearest town. His old family farm just happens to sit at the perfect place on the main trade road, smack in the middle of the most dangerous stretch. Lackland tells Billy right after the incident that maims his right hand and costs him his finger that if he builds his inn, a town will grow around it, and of course, Lackland is right.

The_Victorian_Kitchen_at_DalgarvenWhen Billy Ninefingers’s tale begins, we find him cooking in an old traditional farmhouse kitchen exactly like the one in the above picture. Billy is already cooking for a large group of mercenaries and realizes that even with hired help it will be difficult to provide all the services he wants to in a traditional kitchen, so he and Gertie the Smith (who is pregnant with Billy’s late father’s child) design an efficient kitchen with all the most modern of conveniences, more like the one in this picture, only much larger.  Achieving that in rural Waldeyn, using the materials and skills available to them is costly and frequently hilarious.

When I get stuck for inspiration I go to Wikimedia Commons and look up images that might relate to my tale–architecture, clothing, how they picnicked pre-modern times, anything that might give some idea an emerging culture might use when they stand at the beginning of an industrial revolution, as renaissance Europe did in the sixteenth century.  It’s a lot of fun, and I’ve learned that the really wealthy Elizabethans had access to some things we consider modern, such as indoor plumbing and stoves that not only heated their food, but also heated a cistern so they could have hot water.  These technologies were in turn based on Roman technologies.

On the surface, Billy appears to be an ordinary, if extremely large, man, but still waters run deep, as we often say. Most people passing through Limpwater and stopping for the night at Billy’s Revenge think brewing ale and serving cider is all there is about Billy, but they couldn’t be more wrong.  Billy is like any other mercenary, full of secrets and things he wishes he’d never seen. One wonders what is behind the name he chose for his inn–there’s a tale there, and when I’ve finished with the rewrite of The Last Good Knight, Billy will have his own stand alone tale.  The basic tale is drawn out already, and I’ve written perhaps 40,000 words, outlining the whole story-arc.

472px-Judith_Leyster_Merry_TrioSprinkled throughout the common room at Billy’s Revenge are many well-dressed men and women, none better dressed than those who wear the armband of the Rowdies. After all, what does a mercenary have to spend gold on, if not clothes and jewelry? Bert the Tailor, a former Rowdy who lost his leg to a highwayman’s sword keeps the men of Limpwater in shirts and breeches, and fine surcoats. With his wife, he employs several men and women to  dress the town of Limpwater in style. He would never have had such an opportunity if not for Billy Ninefingers building his inn out in the middle of the forest.

379px-Gustave_Jean_Jacquet_Girl_in_a_riding_habitDesigning the clothes and armor for the Lady Rowdies was a great deal of fun.  I had Gertie Smith team up with Bert’s wife, Lovely Ethel, the local dressmaker and also a retired mercenary to make my ladies their clothes and their armor.  We women of Limpwater are the most stylish women in any alternate reality!

Full, divided ankle-length skirts over high-heeled riding boots show nothing a lady doesn’t want to show, and emphasizes everything she wishes to flaunt. Ethel makes their bodices specifically to be worn under mail or armor, and yet stylish and very flattering in every way when the lady was not armored. Her surcoats are to die for, completely hiding the fact the lady is armored, and each of the ladies owns at least two of the embroidered creations. The dressmakers at King Henri’s court blatantly copy Ethel’s designs, but her flair is evident despite their best efforts.

BrewCh1When you set a tale in a common room, such as at Billy’s Revenge, kitchens and clothing are a huge part of the story, even if they are only mentioned in passing.  Knowing the environment we are writing in is crucial, even if we are melding (as I am) the Renaissance, Victorian, and Medieval eras into one collage of a world, and throwing in a bit of Waldeynier majik and a few impossible creatures of monstrous proportions.

Along the way I’ve learned how to brew hard cider the way our forefathers and mothers brewed it, and I learned to appreciate just how amazing and clever people really are.

Reading is an adventure when the research doesn’t get in the way of the tale, when it is there as an indefinable part of the background. I hope that when  Lackland’s tale is finished, the flavors and scents of the first version of Billy’s Revenge will still be there, welcoming us and leading us to a warm corner for a mug of ale or cider, and a bowl of stew.

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Filed under Adventure, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Uncategorized, writing

The Knight Returns

220px-Sir_Galahad_(Watts)

As always, I have five or six projects going at  once.  I’m in  the editing process on Mountains of the Moon, a Tower of Bones prequel. I’m getting a sci-fi short-story ready for submission to Analog. If they reject it, I will publish it as a novella.

And now I am doing revisions on Huw The Bard, and writing Billy Ninefingers, I find myself writing a new opening vignette for The Last Good Knight. The revised edition will have several new chapters, one of which was completed only a few days ago. It will not have the prologue, nor will it have the chapter that is a long info-dump.  They tell a lot, but they are mistakes made by a new author, and they do the book no good.

I know I’ve said it before, but I’m in love with my characters. And of all my characters, Julian Lackland holds a special place.  He was my first real hero, my first slightly-flawed-but-nonetheless-still-perfect hero.

This is the issue:  we as authors want readers to see our literary vision with the same clarity as we see it.  The problem with that is our readers will NEVER see our vision as we do. They will see it through their own eyes.  This means our task is to enable them to visualize the story and the characters in the way that is most pleasing to the reader.

Folks don’t want info–they want action.

So I’m going to give it to them. Heh-heh.  Good Luck, Lackland!

Fortunately, I am an indie and I have the ability to unpublish a book that isn’t working as it currently stands, and do it as it should have been done in the first place had I not been so new at this business.

Today I hit the road north again, this time to Seattle. I will be working in a Starbucks in the South Lake Union part of town, in a building that houses Amazon. Afterward I will meet my son there and we’ll go to a vegan restaurant, where he’ll pretend to enjoy the food (because he loves his mother) and we’ll have a good time. All the while, all three tales, Huw the Bard, Billy Ninefingers, and Julian Lackland will be rolling around in my head, and I will attempt to carry a conversation on as if I weren’t a raving lunatic, obsessed with my imaginary friends.

He’s used to it.

Tomorrow, while my son is having oral surgery, I will be in the waiting room, devising new tortures for old friends. If it goes long enough, I might finish another vignette!

Sorry son, Mama’s a writer. Reality isn’t her best thing.

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Filed under Adventure, Epilepsy, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Romance, Swashbuckling, Vegan, writing