Tag Archives: mythology

A Favorite Fantasy Monster: The Shapeshifter #amwriting

Every fantasy tale has a fantasy villain, a monster of some sort, whether it is human or a mythical creature.

First, let’s examine the word monster. What does this word actually mean? The word originated in the late middle ages, after the Norman conquest, and is of old French origin. It evolved from the word ‘monere,’ which meant ‘to warn.’ Originally, it meant any creature that was different and frightening and might have supernatural powers. In our current usage, the word monster has evolved to mean an imaginary creature that is large, ugly, and frightening.

Shapeshifters are an intriguing ‘monster,’ wonderful villains or companions to add to a cast of characters.

Shapeshifting is the ability of a person or creature to completely transform its physical form or shape. This is usually inherent ability. It can also be an ability granted by divine intervention, or it can involve using magic to alter one’s shape. The most common form of shapeshifting myths is that of therianthropy, which is the ability of human beings to metamorphose into other animals.

Other forms of shapeshifting allow the character to perfectly mimic their surroundings or assume the form of an inanimate object. Thus, they go unnoticed until it is too late.

In historical mythology, the ability to alter one’s shape was thought to enable the creature to trick, deceive, hunt, and most importantly, kill humans. In modern fantasy fiction, this ability to completely camouflage themselves makes them the perfect candidate to fill the role of the unseen assassin.

One of my favorite shapeshifters of legend is the Selkie. Selkies are creatures found in Faroese, Icelandic, Irish, and Scottish mythology, and are possessed of the ability to transform themselves from the shape of a seal to human form. Seal shapeshifters like the selkie exist in the folklore of many cultures, even among the Chinook people of North America, who have a similar tale of a boy who changes into a seal.

In legend, Selkies shapeshift by shedding their seal skin. This can be a chancy thing because they must reapply the same skin that they originally shed to return to seal form. The selkie must have a good hiding place for his seal skin, or he will be trapped in human form forever.

As you might imagine, stories surrounding these creatures are usually romantic tragedies. It’s an idea that offers a great deal of opportunity for mayhem, murder, and magic.

What makes a selkie good fodder for fantasy romance, is that they can remain in human form for only a short amount of time before they must find their seal skin and return to the sea. In many stories, humans have unknowingly fallen in love with selkies—a plot twist that creates the tension in a story.

Many famous stories tell of humans finding and hiding the skin of the selkie, thus preventing it from returning to seal form. The unhappy selkie may not regain the sealskin until years later, but when they do, the selkie returns to the sea, abandoning their human family.

Legend says that in their human form male selkies are exceedingly handsome and are possessed of great powers of seduction. They’re said to seek those who are dissatisfied with their lives, lonely women waiting for their fishermen husbands who have been away at sea for too long.

Female selkies are also possessed of seductive beauty, stealing the hearts of men. These stories tell of men finding and stealing the selkie’s seal skin, placing her under his power, forcing her to become his wife. In other tales, selkies have been known to lure humans into the sea by using the ability to create illusions.

Those kinds of stories don’t usually end well for the selkie or the human.

I haven’t written a shapeshifter into any of my work, but now the idea of the selkie is rolling around in the back of my mind. I may include one in a piece I have currently in the planning stage.

How this article came about:

The Challenge

I was challenged to write a post on a fantasy monster, by fantasy author Lindsay Schopfer. The creature could not be from my own books, which rules out minotaurs and dragons. I had to challenge another author to do the same, and I couldn’t pick the same creature as that which my predecessor had written about. Then I was to provide links forward to the other posts:

Lindsay Schopfer’s article on dragons can be found here: A Favorite Fantasy Monster: Jane Yolen’s Dragons

He was challenged by Aaron Volner, whose article on Darkhounds can be found here: A Favorite Fantasy Monster: The Darkhound

I, in turn, am challenging author Stephen Swartz, whose website can be found here: www.http://stephenswartz.blogspot.com

This is the challenge for others who choose to take up this sword and create their own chain:

The Rules:

  • You must write a blog post about the subject of a favorite fantasy creature of yours and why it’s a favorite.
  • The creature may not be from one of your own books.
  • You must challenge one other author to do the same.
  • You may not pick the same creature as the person who challenged you.
  • You must provide a link back to the post of the person who challenged you, and a link forward to the person you challenged once they publish their post, so people can follow the chain if they want.

Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Selkie,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Selkie&oldid=818257141 (accessed January 27, 2018).

By Edward Fuglø, Postverk Føroya (faroestamps.fo) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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#amwriting: Physician to The Vampire

John William Polidori (7 September 1795 – 24 August 1821) was an English writer and physician. He was best known for his involvement in the Romantic movement, an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century. He is considered by many as the originator of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction. His most successful work was the short story The Vampyre (1819), which was the first published, modern vampire story.

Perhaps because John Polidori was a physician, he was able to bring all the disparate elements of 19th-century vampirism mythology into a coherent, compelling short story.  With just that one short story, he spawned an entire literary genre.

How did this come about? The story had its genesis in the summer of 1816, the Year Without a Summer when Europe and parts of North America underwent a severe climate abnormality.

Lord Byron and his young, twenty-year-old physician, John Polidori were staying at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva.

On the run from creditors and Shelley’s ailing, understandably jealous wife, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (who later became Mary Shelley) and Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister, visited them.

The group was kept indoors by the incessant rain of that cold, wet, unpleasant summer during a three-day stretch in June. Bored at being cooped up, the five turned to telling fantastic tales, and which inspired them to write their own.

Reportedly, they were fueled by ghost stories such as the Fantasmagoriana, William Beckford’s Vathek, and laudanum, to which Byron was addicted. Mary Shelley, in collaboration with Percy Bysshe Shelley, produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.

Polidori was the outsider, the man who was only included as he was in the employ of Byron. Lord Byron made him the butt of many jokes at dinner parties, taking great pleasure in humiliating him. This cruel treatment of anyone in his power was well documented by his contemporaries.

the-vampyrePolidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron’s, Fragment of a Novel (1816), which is also known as “A Fragment” and “The Burial: A Fragment.” Over the course of several mornings, he wrote “The Vampyre.” The manuscript was overlooked for three years when it was discovered by a disreputable publisher, Henry Colburn. He published it in his New Monthly Magazine under the title “The Vampyre: A Tale by Lord Byron.” It was received with acclaim, much to Polidori’s surprise and chagrin.

Polidori struggled to assert his rights to the work, and Lord Byron did have the grace to declare promptly the work was Polidori’s and not his. Despite that assertion, proper credit for authorship of the story was muddy for many years.

Still, Byron was firm that he was not the author. Apparently, Byron felt that the destruction of a man’s soul was no great thing, but theft of his intellectual property was a crime.

Polidori’s work had an immense impact on his contemporary readers. Numerous editions and translations of the tale were published. The influence of The Vampyre as described by Polidori has continued into the twenty-first century, as until recently, his work was frequently considered the primary source of what is accepted as “canon” when writing about vampirism.

What are the traditional tropes of vampire fantasy? First of all, we must think Lord Byron. He was an arrogant, self-centered, charismatic, sociopath with a gift for writing brilliant poetry. From birth, Byron suffered from a deformity of his right foot and by the time he hired Polidori, he was addicted to laudanum which had been prescribed for the pain. He treated the young Polidori atrociously, engendering deep antipathy for his patient in the young doctor.

John_William_Polidori_by_F.G._GainsfordWithin the pages of Polidori’s diary, I see “The Vampyre” as an allegory of Byron’s abuse of John Polidori himself. It is easy to visualize Byron as a man possessed of the power to drain one of their soul when seen through the eyes of the man he had in his power, and whom he treated abominably as an employer.

Byron was described as the devourer of souls in the book, Glenarvon, by Lady Caroline Lamb, one of Byron’s former lovers.  “Ruthven” is the name Lady Caroline Lamb referred to Byron as in her novel. Polidori had read Glenarvon that summer, and blatantly used Lamb’s protagonist’s name for his vampire, and Byron proudly admitted he was the role model.

The Public Domain Review article, The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire, says this about the rocky relationship between Polidori and Byron:

“It was no great leap for Polidori to believe that Byron was sucking the life from him, just as others had accused Byron of possessing a charismatic power that eclipsed their own identities. Amelia Opie, one of the many women Byron had charmed, described him as having “such a voice as the devil tempted Eve with; you feared its fascination the moment you heard it,” a mesmeric quality that critics also found in his verse, which had, according to the critic Thomas Jones de Powis, “the facility of…bringing the minds of his readers into a state of vassalage or subjection.”

So we know vampires are charismatic and seductive. Their bite would enslave their victims. Folktales from hundreds of years ago tell us they can take the form of bats and fly through the windows of even the tallest buildings. Historically, vampires are powerful, but unable to withstand the light of day, which would burn them, and destroy them forever.

A patch of Dry Skin, Stephen SwartzHowever, that which was once canon regarding vampires is no longer set in stone.

Modern vampires are often able to stay outside during the day, and some even sparkle.  Many are model citizens who get their blood from robbing blood banks.

I love Stephen Swartz’s medical take on vampirism in his book, A Dry Patch of Skin.

But underneath it all, I still have a fondness for the mad, bad, dangerous to know Lord Byron style of vampire.

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#amwriting: King Arthur: where history and fantasy merge

473px-Boys_King_Arthur_-_N._C._Wyeth_-_p214 Public Domain via WikimediaA few years ago I was challenged to write an Arthurian tale with a steampunk twist. I accepted the task, but immediately wished I hadn’t.

The first question I asked myself was: Where do Arthurian and steampunk connect well enough to make a story? The answer was–they don’t. I felt that block we all feel when the story will not reveal itself.

But, sitting on my back porch and letting my mind wander, I found myself wondering what Galahad and Gawain would have really been like. The people those characters were based on were men of the 5th or 6th century, ordinary men, and despite the heroic legends, they were made of flesh and blood.

And what if somehow Galahad got separated from Gawain through a door in time? How would Galahad get back to Gawain?  What if he was marooned in Edwardian England, with Merlin – can you say steampunk?

The title of that tale is Galahad HawkeThe original working title was I, Galahad. For every story, the title is a moot point for me, because any title I give it at the beginning will likely be changed when I rewrite it anyway.

The main character is Galahad Du Lac, son of Lancelot Du Lac, illegitimate, some have said, but is he really? If he is, it implies the fifth century was a lot less concerned about the proprieties than we give them credit for. His line of work–nobleman and hero. Thus, he goes on quests to find strange and magical objects such as Holy Grail.

The story was told from Galahad’s point of view. I opened the story just after the Grail was found.

What is the original story of Galahad that is bandied about most often?

Nowadays Galahad is a minor knight, but he figures prominently in Sir Thomas Malory’s 1485 work, Le Morte d’Arthura reworking of traditional tales that were hundreds of years old in his day.

480px-Schmalz_galahadTraditionally, Galahad finds the grail and immediately goes to heaven, raptured as a virgin – but was he? I mean raptured OR a virgin?  If he was not raptured, what could have happened to make medieval chroniclers think he was?

And why was this notion of a virgin knight and being taken to heaven before death so important to the medieval chroniclers that they would write it as though it was true history?

Well, they were writing some 300 to 400 years after the supposed event, during the final decades of the Crusades. Religion and belief in the Christian truths espoused by the Church was in the very air the people of the time breathed. All things of this world were bound up and explained in ways relating to the Christian traditions of the day.

Literature in those days was filled with religious allegories, the most popular of which were the virginity and holiness of the Saints–especially those Saints deemed holy enough to be raptured. These people did not have to experience death, but instead were raised while still alive to heaven where they spent eternity in Gods presence.

Death was to be feared–a constant companion, and if possible, one to be avoided.

The concept of a knight pure enough in God’s sight to be raised to heaven was a popular centerpiece of medieval tales.

According to the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia: “Medieval literature is a broad subject…the literature of this time was composed of religious writings as well as secular works. Just as in modern literature, it is a complex and rich field of study, from the utterly sacred to the exuberantly profane, touching all points in-between.”

SO, lets talk about Geoffrey of Monmouth. He was a Welsh cleric whose work was the foundation for the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur. He is best known for his chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae (“History of the Kings of Britain”), which was wildly popular in its day and was uncritically accepted as true history well into the 16th century. It has been translated into various other languages from its original Latin, but is now considered historically unreliable.

220px-Sir_Galahad_(Watts)The High Middle Ages were a golden period for historical writing in England, but the craft of history was not an academic subject taught in school. It was something enjoyed by well-educated men of learning who were all men of the Church, but  was not subjected to the process of verification and research that we attempt to apply to academic subjects today. The gathering of historical tales was a hobby for educated men who had the time, social position, and the talents to pursue it.

As a result, the histories from this period are highly questionable–but are quite entertaining and are great fantasy reads. I always think that if J.R.R. Tolkien had been writing history in a monastery during the 7th and 8th century, The Lord of the Rings would have the same place in our historical narrative that the Arthurian Cycle has now, and Aragorn would have been the king who united all of Britain.

Galahad_grail_detailKnowing that history and fantasy merges in the Middle Ages, I approached my story by asking these questions:

  1. What does Galahad have to say about his story?
  2. How does he end up separated from Gawain
  3. How does he end up in Merlin’s company
  4. Why are they unable to get back to Gawain? What is the reason the magic no longer works?
  5. What do they do to resolve the situation?
  6. How does the tale end – does Galahad get Gawain back or is he permanently adrift in time? I wrote it two ways and picked the one that moved me the most.

This short-story appears in the novella, Tales From the Dreamtime.  However–for the last few days, the idea of what happened next has been percolating in my mind. I think Galahad may have another tale in his future.

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#Fairytales: Myth and the Power of the Allegory

little red riding hood Illustration published in 1868 Dutch edition of Little Red Riding Hood. Engraving by English printer Kronheim & CoWhen we were children we craved stories. We begged, “Mama, read me a story,” or “Grandma, tell me story.”  Many times those stories were fairy-tales, tales of good and evil, magic, and heroic deeds succeeding against all odds.

And they were sometimes tales of failure—after all, in the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, Grandma was eaten by the wolf, and had to be rescued by the woodsman.

They were allegories—fictional stories that represent spiritual truths.

My generation learned about the world and the evil that lurks in unknown through those dreadful, violent, sexist, amazingly wonderful fairytales.

These tales were, for the most part, written when the world was a far different place, and men and women had clearly defined roles, and abuse was an accepted, fundamental aspect of daily life.

In Europe women were property. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this was the way it should be, and as property, they were to be protected and rescued as may be needed. It was a time of hunger and famine—the Little Ice Age had descended upon the northern hemisphere, crops frequently failed and disease was rampant.

There was a great deal to fear out there, and it was important to protect what was yours.

From Childhood's Favorites and Fairy Stories, by Various

From Childhood’s Favorites and Fairy Stories, Project Gutenberg

Once you understand the historical context of the times these tales were written, you understand why a prince who must prove his worth should be required to perform heroic deeds to gain the hand of a princess who is a valuable prize worth risking his life for.

You are not required to approve of the misogyny and misandry that is represented in the surface story—only to understand that society has vastly evolved over the last thousand years, and these tales are proof of that evolution. That is only the over-story—the structure that carries the real underlying truths about good and evil, truth and lies.

That deeper part of the story is called an allegory—something that only becomes apparent on further observation by the reader.

The tales I grew up on, that were such scary and yet entertaining stories were written originally during at time when:

  1. Tales were always told in such a way that the listener was not so much immersed in them as they were viewing them. They were told in a passive voice. This made them slightly less scary, because you knew it was just a story.
  2. Tales always employed symbolism—using objects to represent ideas such as love and honor, and personification—using talking animals and caricatures of people to represent ideas.
  3. Tales were always about morality, right and wrong, good and evil.
  4. The plot was simple—the hero and villain had only one goal to achieve, and would risk everything for that goal.
  5. Each character represented one major characteristic: love, honor, loyalty, fury, jealousy, or even lust for power.

Discrimination of either sex aside, there is a deep message in these tales. Folk and fairy tales remain the foundations of our storytelling society because while they are simple on the surface, when you examine them in a spiritual sense you can see the deeper meanings—the allegories.

Batman by Jim Lee (2002) via Wikipedia

Batman–Pencils by Jim Lee and inks by Scott Williams (2002) via Wikipedia

The most memorable fairytales are simple stories that everyone knows is only a fable, but is one everyone has read or heard. We remember them because of the hard kernel of truth that lies encapsulated within the entertainment of seeing the ugly duckling become the beautiful swan, or beast become a good man through the power of love.

Everyone loves a happy ending. When times are hard and it seems like the wolf is at the door, we need to know that better times lie ahead, to think that perhaps this time Grandma will eat the wolf.

We learn the power of hope and perseverance through fairytales and fables—we learn that if a person just keeps trying, the underdog can win the day.

It is that yearning for the power of good to defeat the minions of evil that powers our most iconic of modern myths—the modern superhero.


This article by Connie J. Jasperson was first published July 15, 2015  on Edgewise Words Inn, Alternate Realities and Food for Thoughta meeting place for  readers and authors.

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#amwriting: creating religion within the context of the tale

Assunta, by Titian, 1516-1518, via Wikimedia Commons

Assunta, by Titian, 1516-1518, via Wikimedia Commons

One thing we fantasy authors must occasionally deal with is developing religions within the context of the tale.

Most of what we will discuss here won’t actually make it into the written pages of your tale, but if you don’t have a good understanding of what you are writing about, you will inadvertently introduce discrepancies into your tale.

First, ask yourself “why does this religion matter?”  If it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t belong in your tale.

However, when you have a heavenly power-struggle, you have some intriguing opportunities for mayhem.

Are there many gods and goddesses? What is their relationship with each other and how does it play into your story?

If you choose to create a religion as a key plot point, here are some questions to ask:

  1. How central to the life of the protagonist or antagonist is religion? Is the protagonist a member of the priestly class, perhaps a priestess or priest of a particular god or goddess?
  2. What does the protagonist gain from following this deity?
  3. How jealous is this deity?
  4. What is the protagonist/antagonist willing to do for their faith? Will they die for their deity or is it a more abstract religion?
  5. The priesthood—who can join?
  6. Can only the nobility rise in the priesthood, or can anyone with the ability to learn gain power within the organization?
  7. How do the nobility and the priestly class get along? Do they have a good accord or are they jostling for power?
  8. And within that religious organization, who has the most power?
  9. What does that person do with their power?

How important is your religion politically? In Rome, the church was central to their government, in some cases having more power than the ruling nobility. During the Middle Ages, Rome slowly fell under the political control of the Papacy, which had settled in the city since the 1st century AD. In the 8th century, Rome became the capital of the Papal States, which lasted until 1870.

You don’t have to re-invent the wheel here–history is full of great ideas to draw upon.

A_Glass_of_Wine_with_Caesar_Borgia_-_John_Collier

Painting by John Collier, “A glass of wine with Caesar Borgia” via Wikimedia Commons

Consider the Borgias–Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge says this about them: Especially during the reign of Alexander VI, they were suspected of many crimes, including adultery, incest, simony, theft, bribery, and murder (especially murder by arsenic poisoning). Because of their grasping for power, they made enemies of the Medici, the Sforza, and the Dominican friar Savonarola, among others. They were also patrons of the arts who contributed to the Renaissance.

See? Even George R.R. Martin knows that the renaissance offers great opportunity for good plot twists in your fantasy project.

Now let’s examine the political environments of the medieval city-states of Venice, Milan, Florence, Genoa, Pisa, Siena, Lucca, and CremonaRodney Stark, an American sociologist of religion, proposes that the city-state was a ‘marriage of responsive government, Christianity, and the birth of capitalism’ as we know it. He argues that these states were mostly republics, unlike the great European monarchies of France and Spain, where absolute power was vested in rulers who could and did stifle commerce.

It has been suggested (in Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge) that by keeping both direct Church control and imperial power at arm’s length, the independent city republics of medieval Italy prospered because their commerce was based on early capitalist principles. The church was still involved in their daily lives, but this slight, deliberate separation of church and state ultimately created the societal conditions that brought about the artistic and intellectual flowering of the renaissance.

And for you, the author, understanding the commerce and economics of your fantasy society is extremely important, so that inconsistencies don’t get introduced. The reader won’t care, and doesn’t want the background info, but you need to know it.

If your protagonists are poor, why are they poor? Is poverty widespread, or is it only the one family? Where is all the money–is it in the hands of the church or is it in the hands of the middle-class? If it’s in the hands of the church–you’ve a good plot-point to work with.

Thus if religion of some sort is an integral part of your work, you as the author must have a good knowledge of what the influence of that institution is, the structure of the priesthood, the power they wield in society at large, how (or if) they control the economy, and how this organization is viewed by the ordinary citizen.

St. George and the Dragon, Raphael via Wikimedia Commons

St. George and the Dragon, Raphael via Wikimedia Commons

Many authors avoid this altogether, by having only a vague mention of religion, simply mentioning a connection with a particular deity as the reason for the ability to use and control magic.

Others make religion and opposing religions the foundation of their works. How you handle religion in your manuscript is up to you, but if you make it a central part of your tale, I suggest you create a document in which you establish the basics of your religion(s) clearly. Update it as the rules evolve, which they certainly will do over the first two drafts of your novel. During your writing process, refer back to this document regularly.

The reader doesn’t care about those details, and will put the book down if they are included. But if you don’t know what you are writing about, can’t remember what you wrote three chapter ago, and contradict yourself too often, your reader will lose the ability to suspend his disbelief.

Keeping the reader immersed in the tale, forgetting that it is only a fiction is the primary goal every author wants to achieve.

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Worldbuilding part 3—Magic

Mårten_Eskil_Winge_-_Tor's_Fight_with_the_Giants_-_Google_Art_ProjectEvery now and then I read a book where it’s clear the author has no concept of his own magic system.  You, as the reader,  are sailing; the story is flowing; and then suddenly you realize that Bart the Mage seems to have unlimited magic ability.  Well, that’s no good, because now there is no tension; no great ordeal for Bart to overcome. Bart can do anything–game over–end of story. The book goes into the recycling bin, unfinished and you never buy that author’s work again.

Every author has their own way of doing this, but I approach it from an engineering and scientific viewpoint–I spend time designing the system:

Let’s talk about Bart. He’s a lowly journeyman mage. For a multitude of reasons he has decided that he must rid the world of Evil Badguy; a very powerful, very naughty wizard.  Evil Badguy is very strong, and has great magic, and he seems unstoppable! But fortunately for our story, there are rules, so he is not omnipotent. He has a weakness and your protagonists now have the opportunity to grow and develop to their fullest potential in process of finding and exploiting that weakness.

Now let’s say that Bart is a mage with offensive magic – maybe he can cast lightning at an enemy, or perhaps he can set fires with his magic.  Can he also use magic to heal people?  Can he heal himself?  What are the rules governing these abilities and how do these rules affect the progress of the story?  When it comes to magic, limitations open up many possibilities for plot development.

Let’s say that Bart can only reliably use one sort of magic. This is good, because now you have need for other several characters with other abilities. They each have a story which will come out and which will contribute to the advancement of the plot. Each character will have limits to their abilities and because of that they will need to interact and work with each other and with Bart whether they like each other or not if they want to win the final battle against Evil Badguy.  This gives you ample opportunity to introduce tension into the story. Each time you make parameters and frameworks for your magic you make opportunities for conflict within your fantasy world, and conflict is what drives the plot.

VAYNE final-fantasy-xii_305674What challenge does Bart have to overcome in order to win the day?

  • Is he unable to fully use his own abilities?
  • If that is so, why is he hampered in that way?
  • How does that inability affect his companions and how do they feel about it?
  • Are they hampered in any way themselves?
  • What has to happen before Bart can fully realize his abilities?

Without rules, there would be no conflict, no reason for Bart to struggle and no story to tell.

So now, you realize that you must create the ‘rules of magic.’  Take the time to write it out, and don’t break the laws, without having a damned good explanation for why that particular breaking of the rules is possible.

Each world should be unique, and so we need to tailor the magic to fit each unique situation.

  • Who can use magic?
  • What kind of magic can they use?
  • How are they trained?
  • What happens to those who abuse their gifts?
  • How common is magic?
  • How does the ability to wield magic fit into the political system?

I have two worlds that I am currently writing in, and their magic systems are radically different.

The following was my first list from 2009 for creating the world when we were originally designing a game that eventually became The World of Neveyah series.

Elemental Battle Magic of Neveyah

 Water:   non battle-use can fill water jugs and basins

  • Water spout (novice)
  • Gully Washer (intermediate)
  • High Seas (Advanced)
  • Raging River (Advanced)

Earth:   non-battle use, putting out campfires, digging holes, gardening

  • Square Dance (novice)
  • Landslide (intermediate)
  • Mudslide (advanced)
  • Mountain Drop (Advanced)

Fire:  non battle use – can light candles, and ignite fire in fireplace

  • Hot Shot (novice)
  • Fire Ball (Intermediate)
  • Inferno (advanced)
  • Hell Fire (Advanced)

Lightning:  non-battle use for lightning: creating finish on armor, glazing pottery

  • Cat-Zapper (novice)   Zippety-Doo-Dah (novice-spell)
  • Thunder Fist (intermediate)
  • Curtain Call (Advanced)
  • Thunder Walking (Advanced)

This basic grocery list has since evolved into a complete curriculum for domestic uses, and the names for most of those spells has changed, but it remains relevant because it shows how I divided it. A game player would have had to gain in strength in order to use those spells, and that is how my characters do in the Neveyah books.

Saint_georges_dragon_grasset_beguleIt’s very different in the Billy’s Revenge series which set in Waldeyn, an alternate-medieval earth which is the setting for Huw the Bard. There, the actual environment is magic and Huw’s journey involves his overcoming its inherent dangers. The plants and animals of Waldeyn are shaped by the overwhelming abundance of magic in that world, like radioactivity affects and mutates life here.  Many of the most dangerous creatures are born of twisted magic, or as they call it, majik.

Mind-majik, healing, and the ability to imbue their healing majik into a potion or salve is the feminine side of majik, governed by the Sisters of Anan.

The ability to bind the elements into weapons and wield them is the male side, and they are governed by the Brotherhood of St. Aelfrid.

Part of their political/religious power comes from the fact that it has been determined the majik is a God-given gift, and all who’ve been granted that ability must be bound to the church.

There are strict rules, and if a gifted person doesn’t choose to serve the people through being bound to the church, the ability to sense majik is taken from them by the Mother Church.

I don’t have any main characters in Waldeyn who are majik wielders, although one side character in the forthcoming novel, Billy Ninefingers, is a member of the Brotherhood of St. Aelfrid: the Fat Friar, Robert DeBolt. However, many times these characters are in need of healing. (Heh heh.)

Because of my characters’ frequent tendency to bleed, gaining and acquiring good healing potions and salves is important.

In the World of Neveyah, which is where the Tower of Bones series is set, the situation was different—The Tower of Bones grew out of what was originally the walk-through for a computer-based RPG that was never built. Thus the constraints of magic are quite strict, but as you saw in the list above, they are game-based.

final-fantasy-guys-xii-basch_255851In the forthcoming prequel to Tower of Bones, Mountains of the Moon, a mage is either a healer or a battle-mage. Healing is building and preserving, battle-magic is death and destruction. It is thought that one can’t be both, because on the rare occasions that a dually-gifted mage is born, they go mad. There is a strict system in place for controlling magic and those who are able to use it, and this creates the conflict.

Once again, there is a governing body for mages–in Neveyah it is the Temple of Aeos. Children with the gifts are taken to the Temple and trained in the use of their gifts until they are adults. They are sworn to serve and protect the Goddess Aeos and her people, or die doing so.

But forty years after Wynn Farmer’s tale, during the time in which the Tower of Bones takes place, the clergy has been decimated by a great war that took place twenty years before. The goddess Aeos is in danger of losing the battle with Tauron the Bull God. She slightly changes the way her magic works. Wynn’s grandson, Edwin Farmer, is the first to be born with the ability to wield both sides of the magic who also has the force of character to survive the learning process. His biggest problem is there is no one who can teach him how to use his dual gifts—his teachers only know how one side or the other works.

That learning process forms a huge part of his story. Yes, Edwin has access to power, but so does the antagonist, Stefyn D’Mal, and he is completely mad. Even so, he has rigid constraints. These constraints create the conflict.

Remember, unlimited power in a mage equals unlimited boredom to the reader. Magic without rules is tiresome and unbelievable, and no one wants to read that story.

Thor-Everything-Loki

 

 

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Comfort books, second course: Dragonriders of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey

Michael-Whelan-Dragons-dragons-4284189-1204-827Today I am serving up the second course of our three course meal of books that are comfort food for my soul. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series directly motivated me to become a writerNo other series of books has had a more profound effect on me as both a reader, and as an author.

The artwork gracing many of her later covers was done by the same brilliant artist, Michael Whelan, whose work graces many of Tad Williams’ books.

I have read the entire series every year since I snuck my father’s Science Fiction Book Club copy of Dragonflight in the summer of 1969. Since that time I have worn out 6 hardbound copies of The Dragonriders of Pern, a collection comprised of the first three books based on the fantastic Weyrs of Pern, and the people and their dragons who live within them.   I can’t tell you how many fellow Pern fanatics tell me the same thing, “When I think of dragons, I think of Pern.”

AnneMcCaffrey_DragonflightAnne McCaffrey’s 1968 novel, Dragonflight was the first book in the original trilogy, and is the book that launched an empire that now encompasses at least 23 novels and several anthologies of short stories that are just as compelling as the novels.  In 2003 McCaffrey began writing with her son, Todd McCaffrey and in 2005 Todd took over the series, and has acquitted himself well. I am still buying and enjoying the new entries in the series!

Dragonflight began life as a short story for Analog, Weyr Search which appeared in the October 1967 issue, followed by the two-part Dragonrider, with the first part appearing in the December 1967 issue. In 1969 the two award winning short stories were combined into the book Dragon Flight, and was published by Ballantine books.

Anne McCaffrey was the grand mistress of worldbuilding. Aspiring scifi and fantasy authors should read her work for the small clues and hints that are sprinkled within her work , the little brushstrokes that create the larger picture. She gave us a real planet, in Pern–and our minds built around her framework, believing the world of Pern to be as real as our own earth.

moretaPern is a planet inhabited by humans. In the forward of the book, we find that he original colonists were reduced to a low level of technology by periodic onslaughts of deadly Thread raining down from the sky. By taming and bonding to the indigenous flying, fire-breathing dragonettes called Fire-Lizards and then making genetic alterations to make them larger and telepathic, the colonists gained the upper hand. The dragons and their riders destroyed the Thread in the skies over Pern before it was able to burrow into the land and breed. The Threads would fall for fifty or so years, and then there would be an interval of 200 to 250 years.  However, an unusually long interval between attacks, 4 centuries in duration, has caused the general population to gradually dismiss the threat and withdraw support from the Weyrs where dragons are bred and trained. At the time of this novel, only one weyr, Benden Weyr, remains (the other five having mysteriously disappeared at the same time in the last quiet interval).  The weyr is now living a precarious hand-to-mouth existence, due to a series of ever weaker leaders over the previous fifty or so turns (years).

dragon flight 2The story begins with Lessa, the true daughter of the dead Lord Holder and rightful heir of Ruatha Hold.  She was ten years old the day her family’s hold was overrun by Fax, Lord of the Seven Holds.  Out of everyone in her family, she is the only full-blooded Ruathan left alive, and that was because she hid in the watch-wher’s kennel during the massacre.  Now she is a drudge, working in the kitchens or her family’s rightful home.  However, Lessa is gifted with the ability to use her mind to make others do her will; grass grows where it should not, and nothing grows where it should.  Every day of her life since the day Fax massacred her family she has used that power in secret to undermine him.  Now the mighty Fax only visits Ruatha when he is forced to, and has left the running of the hold to a series of ever more incompetent warders. Things have become quite grim there under Lessa’s vengeful care.

whitedragonThe action is vivid, the people and the dragons are clear and distinct as characters.  The social and political climate on Pern is clearly defined.  Each of the characters is fully formed, and the reader is completely immersed into their world. The way the dragons teleport, and their telepathic conversations with their riders makes for an ingenious twist in this seductive tale. And speaking of seductive, what I love the most about the entire series is the frank sensuality that never disappoints me.  Anne McCaffrey never drops into long graphic descriptions of the sex that is frequently part of her stories, and yet she manages to convey the deeply empathic and intensely sensual connection that the riders and their dragons share.

To the right here is the colorful book cover as was published in 1970 by Corgi.  I never liked this cover nearly so much as the Michael Whelan covers, though I did have several copies of this particular book.

This book changed my life as a reader of fantasy and science fiction.  I found myself incessantly combing the book stores for new stories by Anne McCaffrey, and eagerly read anything that even remotely promised to be as good as this book.  I read many great books in the process; some were just as groundbreaking, and some were not so good, but even after all these years, this series of books stands as the benchmark beside which I measure a truly great fantasy.

white dragon 2The Dragonriders of Pern series has captivated generations of fans. It was the first adult series of books my youngest daughter ever read once she left the Beverly Cleary books behind, having simply snuck them off my shelf (I wonder where she got that notion). Even though I have read the entire series every year since 1983, I find myself fully involved in the story.  Every year new books are to add to the series, and now if I were to sit down and begin reading the series it would take me two full weeks of nothing but reading to get through it, even as fast as I read.

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The Queen of Bags

father-christmas-saint-02I love the sights and scents of the holiday season. Cookies baking, houses on our street with lighted displays–you don’t have to go wild to make a huge impression. My dear hubby always puts a few decorations out, little trees made of white lights and lighted candy-canes.

All up and down our neighborhood, homes are decorated for the season. Anyone driving through our little valley will see some ambitious displays. Our home is really quite simple in its holiday decorating–a tree, candles, a cute centerpiece for the table. We keep it simple because we have to tear it down and put it all away over New Year’s day, and that rapidly becomes a bore.  It’s work, and I don’t like anything that falls into the category of labor. But I love looking at other people’s efforts!

christmas-gift-bagsWrapping the presents is also a bore, but I am now the queen of bags! I love that all I have to do is remove the price-tag, fold a little tissue around it and stuff it in a bag. Jam a little tissue in the top and voila! Christmas is served! No more tape sticking to the wrong place, and no more hunting for the scissors I just set down.

Just lazy me, blowing through wrapping the pile of presents like a sleigh through snow!

We have a lot of grand-kids. We’ll make sure their gifts arrive at their houses before the big day. It’s sad when their presents are out from under our tree and under the trees in their homes because our tree looks a bit lonely. But not for long–we’ll soon have a few bags under there, just a little something for the two old people to enjoy on their quiet Christmas morning.

Field Roast holiday roastIt doesn’t take a lot to make the place feel festive. A little here and there, and the house feels warmer, cozier. An atmosphere of peace and well-being. I will roast a turkey breast for my hubby because he is a carnivore, but I will make a vegan entrée for me, a Hazelnut-Cranberry Roast made by the Seattle-based Field Roast Company. Everything I cook will be vegan except Greg’s turkey, and it will be delicious.

I make all the traditional dishes, substituting Earth Balance vegan margarine and almond or rice milk for the dairy. I use vegetable broth to make the cranberry-walnut stuffing. Anyone can eat well, if they choose to, and it’s not anymore expensive than eating junk-food, cheaper if you want to know the truth.

This is my recipe for:

onion and mushroom gravyONION AND MUSHROOM GRAVY

Ingredients:

  •  3/4 cup white or button mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 small yellow or white onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup vegan margarine
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp poultry seasoning (or 1/2 tsp each of sage, thyme and marjoram)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation: 

In a large skillet, melt the vegan margarine and add onion and mushrooms. Sauté for just a minute or two over high heat.

Reduce heat to medium and add vegetable broth and soy sauce. Slowly add flour, stirring well to combine and prevent lumps from forming. Bring to a simmer or a low boil, then reduce heat.

santa in snow stormI love this time of year. Great food, all the Christmas lights and decorations–I kind of go nuts. When we take the presents round to our children’s homes I feel a sense of having succeeded–they have new traditions for their children, combined some from our past. I feel a sense of continuity–We’re the grandparents now, the old-fashioned ones, the ones who always have time for a cuddle and never deny a grandchild a cookie when he wants one.

We’re always there, slightly in the way of Mom getting things done, but trying not to be. We’re happy to be mauled, sat on, have our hair brushed, even our toe-nails painted if that’s what makes a child happy. We’ll play Legos with them until the cows come home, so their parents can get the real work of the holidays done.

When their parents were small, our parents were there for them, being the old, wise people who loved our children as unconditionally as we love our grandchildren. 

In this holiday dance, the circle is complete.

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NaNoWriMo: The Final Push

edgar allen poe quoteI’ve been talking a lot about NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month. My friends are curious and ask if it’s a contest.

The answer is yes, in a way, but no.

It is a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have them validated through the national website you ‘win.’ But it is not a contest in the sense that it is a month that is solely dedicated to the act of writing a novel.

Now lets face it–a novel that is only 50,000 words long is not a very long novel. That falls more into the line of a long novella and is only half a novel, in my opinion. But a dedicated author can get the basic structure and story-line of a novel down in those thirty days simply by sitting down for an hour or two each day and writing a minimum of 1667 words per day.

That is not a lot. Most authors, when they are in the zone, double or triple that.

And again, we must face an ugly fact: Just because you can sit in front of a computer and spew words does not mean you can write anything that others want to read. Over the next few months there will be many books emerging that will testify to this fundamental truth.

But also, over the next few months many people will realize they enjoy writing; that for them this month of madness was not about getting a certain number of words written by a certain date. This was about writing and completing a novel they had wanted to write for years, something that had been in the back of their minds for the longest time. These people will join writing groups and begin the long journey of learning the craft of writing.

neil gaiman quote 2They are the real winners.

These authors will take the time and make the effort to learn writing conventions, they will attend seminars, they will develop the skills needed to take a story and make it a novel with a proper beginning, a great middle and an incredible end.

They will properly polish and edit their work and run it past critique groups before they publish it.

These are books I will want to read.

It’s not easy. Sometimes what we hear back from our readers and editors is not what we wanted to hear. The smart authors haul themselves to a corner, lick their wounds, and rewrite the damned thing so it’s more readable. They will be successful, for a variety of reasons, all of them revolving around dedication and perseverance.

But when we write something that a reader loves–that is a feeling that can’t be described.

Success as an author these days can’t be measured in cash. It can only be measured in what satisfaction you as an author get out of your work. Traditionally published authors see less of their royalties than indies, but they sell more books. It is a conundrum, and one many new authors will be considering in the new year.

But if you don’t write that book, you aren’t an author, and you won’t have to worry about it. NaNoWriMo will jump-start many discussions about this very issue. At this writing there are 3 days counting today left for many writers to get their 50,000 words and earn that certificate. Some of us have completed our first draft, and some of us still have a ways to go.

Winner-2014-Twitter-ProfileMy book has a beginning, a middle and an end, but will not become a novel for two or more years..  It is, instead, a rough draft sitting in the pile of other rough drafts, waiting to be rewritten when that flash of inspiration takes me over and I am driven to make it real. Huw the Bard began life in NaNoWriMo 2011, under the working title, The Bard’s Tale. He was published in 2014, and his story makes a darned good novel, if I do say so myself. (Shameless, I know.)

But although he was written in 30 days, he was then rewritten over the course of the following year, and edited over the course of the year after that. The life of a book from concept to publishing is a process. Some are quicker at negotiating this process than others, but having once rushed to publish with unhappy results,  I now take a more leisurely path.

 

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Hunted Heart, by Alison Deluca

Most avid readers of the fantasy genre are fans of the old fairytales as told by the Brothers Grimm and I am no exception. In fact it was my love of fairytales that inspired me to write in the first place. I am always interested in reading other authors’ takes on these fairy tales. It is amazing how differently two authors will tell what began as the same story.

Today my good friend, Alison DeLuca, author of  the steampunk Crown Phoenix Series, has consented to answer a few questions for us, and allow me to share the wonderful cover of her new book, Hunted Heart. It is a standalone book, and is a true fairytale, the premise of which had really intrigued me.

CJJ: Alison, tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

AD: I always loved reading. My early favorites were Alice in Wonderland, the Odyssey, Arabian Nights, and fairytales of all kinds.

CJJ: Tell us about your most recent book.

AD: Hunted Heart is an adult version of Snow White. Prince Kas is the one threatened by the wicked queen, and the huntress, Tali, is given the job of taking him to the forest to cut out his heart. They end up falling for each other, but not without a great deal of adventure along the way. Yes, there is a wicked queen and my version of a poisoned apple. And we mustn’t forget True Love’s Kiss…

CJJ: How did you come to write this novel?

AD: Someone I met online prompted me and begged me to write the story – she is the J.R. in my dedication. I loved her idea of making the hunter a strong female and ran with it.

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

AD: This book was an exercise in winging! The Snow White structure supported my story, and I was able to take off from there. Writing a fairytale redux is completely addictive – I might have to do a few others.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

AD: It is genderbent, and I’ve set the story in a mythical Norse country. I couldn’t resist including Freja, Iduna, and a few others from Norse tales. It’s also quite adult, with violence and some sexy scenes, and a charity project: Tali, my main character, suffers from some terrible abuse as a child, and so 100% of the royalties go to HelptheChildren.org.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?

AD: Honestly, because I can’t help it. When I get an idea it needles me until I pin it down on paper. It’s like giving birth, to be honest.

CJJ: I so know that feeling! I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

AD: I love the freedom indie publishing gives me. I’m able to write what I like and donate the proceedings when I do a charity project like this.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

AD: Both have their merits and challenges. Being an indie does give you freedom but also relies on individual marketing. Traditional publishing gives more support but gives the author little choice on things like covers and presentation. Both are good in their way – each author must decide for herself how she would like to proceed!

 CJJ: Alison–I love the answers you gave my stock questions!  Thank you for giving me this opportunity to get the word out about your charity, HelptheChildren.org.

AD: Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Connie. This was a lot of fun!

And without further discussion, here is that amazing, most intriguing book cover:

HuntedHeart cover final

 

I confess I am blown away by this one, and I have become quite a fan of Alison’s graphic designer.

Alison DeLuca HeadshotAlison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.

Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

You can find Alison here:

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/alison.deluca.author

OR http://on.fb.me/TNWEfb

Twitter – http://twitter.com/ – !/AlisonDeLuca

Google + http://bit.ly/ADGoogle

Author Central: http://amzn.to/ADeLucaAuthorCentral

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/alisondeluca/

I have long been a fan of all of Alison’s work and have been fortunate enough to have some of my own work  included included along side of hers in a charitable anthology, Christmas O’Clock,  a book of wonderful short stories for children that is available in both paperback and for the kindle. (All proceeds for Christmas O’Clock go to Water Is Life to help children and families in an international effort.)

 

 

 

 

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