Verne, Dickens, and Some Rambling Thoughts On “Writing What You Know.”

As a budding young fantasy author,* I often scoffed at this familiar writing advice: “Write what you know.” I was a fantasy author, thankyouverymuch.

After all, none of us have ever experienced flight on a griffin (sadly), met an elf (sadly), or consumed a potion that made us sprout wings (sadly). Fantasy is fantasy. It’s dreams, nightmares, and altered reality. That was the point.

*My teenage self was so much more self-assured than my adult self, for some reason

Despite my teenage wisdom, my writing instructors liked to point out that I spent too much time writing about things I wasn’t familiar with, and that I needed to draw from my own life experiences to enrich my stories. And you know what, they were (mostly) right. Because they weren’t talking about griffins, elves, and potions. Not really. It was a lot deeper than that.

When I first started writing, my characters were all larger-than-life. You know what I mean – they were personas, caricatures, almost. They were my idealized (or demonized) selves. If they had strengths, they were glorious. If they had flaws, they were the flaws of Greek Tragedy. In other words, every book I wrote starred superheroes. There were no petty mortals in Rebekah’s fiction. 
I blame too many classic epics before age 16, and Thor comics.
Some years later, I realized something very important and obvious – I’m a petty mortal. I don’t say that in a disparaging way. It’s just this:

A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
king, and cat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

Hamlet – Act IV, Scene III

So my point? No matter how awesome your character is, if you don’t humanize them, then no one can relate to them. It’s true for Thor, and it’s true for your characters too.

You see, when I was writing about griffins and potions and stuff, I wasn’t writing fantasy just because those things aren’t real – I was writing fantasy that wasn’t grounded in reality at all. That only sounds cool. What it really means is that I was writing overblown epics that were no more “me” than contemporary YA was (a genre I still avoid).

Back to the writing instructors. They were trying to point this out, nicely. I was just making stuff up, and there was no depth or scope to my worlds or characters. I might have been creative about it – but the point remains – my books were just pretty pictures, fragments of ideas, and they needed roots.

I’m going to be corny and say that some of this was helped by growing up. But not all of it. Some of it was swallowing my pride and *actually* writing what I understood first. That didn’t mean that I started writing exclusively about grumpy homeschooled girls with too many classes, a fondness for long books, and a crappy computer. It meant that I started grounding my characters and worlds in what I knew of my world. There had to be a foundation before I started spinning spiderwebs.

This was really, really hard for me.

I’ve always been good at telling tall tales. The wilder the story, the easier time I had keeping a straight face. I’m not saying I was a liar, I’m just saying I had a tendency to embellish things. Convincingly.

So how do you write about worlds you’ve never seen, and people you’ve never been? It’s actually not that complicated. But it does take determination and hard work.

Jules Verne (1828-1905) penned some pioneering adventure/scifi stories ever. 20,000 Leagues Under the SeaThe Mysterious IslandAround the World in Eighty Days – and so on. When Jules Verne started writing, he was a stockbroker. If that doesn’t sound boring to you, you might be a stockbroker. His first longer work, Five Weeks in a Balloon, was mainly set in Africa. But Verne had never been to Africa. Five Weeks in a Balloon was a story full of experiences that Verne himself never had. But he rose early every morning to research. He educated himself in science, geography, and world cultures. And though he eventually traveled (mainly by sea), he did not travel around the world in 80 days, or go to the North Pole,* or see the space program (though in 1870, he wrote a sci-fi novel about Americans reaching space, after launching from Florida).

note: *Robert Peary’s North Pole expedition was around 10 years later

So how did Jules Verne do it? Research. Dedication. He created human characters with a thirst for adventure and knowledge that he shared. We are still reading his books today because they are good books, but imagine if Jules Verne had only ever written about selling stocks? I doubt we’d still be reading that.

“The latter, without a word, made a rush for him, grasped him by the throat, and, much to the amusement of a group of Americans, who immediately began to bet on him, administered to the detective a perfect volley of blows, which proved the great superiority of French over English pugilistic skill.”

Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days

On the other side of this divide is Charles Dickens. (1812-1870).

A Tale of Two Cities? Oliver Twist? Great Expectations? David Copperfield? Even if you hate the man’s novels, you have to give him credit. He’s one of the most enduring of the Victorian novelists, and his books are a brilliant mixture of social commentary, story, and humor.

Unlike Jules Verne, Dickens grew up quite poor, and his father was sent to debtor’s prison when Dickens was 12. Dickens had to leave school go to work at a boot-blacking factory. It was a miserable job, by all accounts, and Dickens later drew on his childhood experiences for Oliver Twist.

After getting an office job at 15, Dickens ventured into writing. He started with humorous sketches and journalism, but the former quickly became his specialty. Dickens took the people he met and exaggerated them just a bit, populating his novels with colorful casts of beggars, wealthy benefactors, eccentrics, and hapless young men. Dickens skillfully combined his real-world experiences with sensational melodrama in both David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. In A Tale of Two Cities, he used the real background of the French Revolution and combined it with a classic literary device – two men who look identical, but have diametrically opposed personalities – and wrote a beautiful, moving book.

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Dickens elaborated on his reality, and Verne added reality to his fantasies.

Both of them lived long before there was an enormous information trade. Both combined what they knew with fantasy, in some sense of the word or another. Both of them worked hard to create vivid characters and/or worlds for them to inhabit.
Verne studied so he could write about things he didn’t understand. Dickens studied people so he could understand what he wrote about.

As a fantasy author, your lot is both harder and easier than theirs was. We have the internet, and a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips. With a few taps, we can study the Inuits, or the Sahara Desert, all without leaving our chairs. But this doesn’t mean we can be sloppy – not at all. In a world that is somewhat without borders, we have to be more careful than ever.

However, people are still people. A teenage girl in 6th Century Britain is quite different from a teenage girl in 21st Century New York – but they are both teenagers. That means they both experienced the same hormonal/mental/physical changes.

Likewise, Melora, the protagonist of my novel Knight of the Blue Surcoat worries about many of the same things that any teenage girl might worry about. Despite the fact that she is the heir to a legendary kingdom, she still has to balance her parents’ desires with her own beliefs. She has doubts, fears, and dreams of her own. She fears that she’s nothing more than a shadow of her famous parents. She struggles with her identity as a person, a daughter, a princess, and a young woman.

While I’m far from royal material, I can (or could at some point) relate to every other thing that Melora thought or felt. And we’re nothing alike!

Despite our differences, Melora was a teenager growing up and having to deal with adult problems and responsibilities.

But what about things you’ve never experienced?

If we restricted ourselves to our own experiences, books would be really boring. Well, 90% of books would be boring. And there’s no guarantee that people with exciting lives can write worth a darn. That isn’t the real point of “Writing what you know,” right?

Another example: I’ve never been in a knife fight (thank goodness) or been remotely “in love.” And yet, these two things have happened (more than once) to characters in my novels.

The knife fight is easy. You can read about them. We’ve all seen movies with them (I think). And the purpose of a knife is pretty obvious. It’s supposed to be sharp and cut things. In a fight, you’re either trying to cut someone else, or protect yourself from being cut.

“Falling in love” is a heckuva lot more complicated. Especially if you have never even fancied (non-fictional) people (and even if I did, I’m not telling.*)

*have I mentioned that my mental age is probably around 9? More importantly, I have an image to maintain!

Obviously, there are people I love and care about, so that’s a good emotional starting point.
But how do you fabricate such a tangled psychological/physical web of emotions and reactions?

RESEARCH. (High five if you knew I was going to say that)

Open your eyes and your ears, and look around you. Have you ever sat by a young couple who just got engaged? (I’ve done it more than once, and it’s not my activity of choice)

Watch how they interact – how they treat each other, even their spacial awareness. Their body language will be drastically different from how they behave when they sit by a stranger, or their best friend. And what about internally? How do they feel? If you don’t have any idea, then:

A. You are a legitimate Vulcan*

B. You’ve never communicated with another human being about their feelings.

C. You’ve never read a book/watched a movie/listened to a song that talked about love. Ever. And that probably means you’ve never been to a grocery store, while we’re at it . . . but I digress.

*Despite my pretensions, I’m not a real Vulcan. I like to laugh WAY too much.

I think most of us have listened to at least one love song. Even if it didn’t have words. And I know that you readers have read at least one book with a romance in it. Because books without ANY sort of romantic relationship between ANYONE have never crossed my radar. Even books without romances usually have couples somewhere in them.* That’s reality.

*(Even Brave New World, which would be on my Top 10 Least Romantic Books of All Time List, if I bothered to make one)

And while I wouldn’t recommend that you come to me for relationship advice, I’m pretty confident that my few fictional forays into the subject came off as legitimate, thanks to research and a decent imagination.

This is where varied and diverse Beta Readers really come in handy, by the way. Say you’ve never been skydiving, but you have a character go skydiving. A friend who has been skydiving will be able to tell you if you were accurate or not. And you know what, if romance and/or skydiving are things you can live without in your novels, don’t feel pressured to add them. I’m perfectly happy writing about angsty food service employees (a subject I know a lot about) or dancing criminals (research) instead.

Find something you love to write about. Know your strengths and weaknesses as a writer and a person, and work on improving yourself. Study hard. Ask questions. Keep an open mind. And in the end, write from your own feelings and experiences, and stay in touch with the world around you. Your writing will be better for it 🙂

Agree with me? Disagree? I want to know.

And how do you feel about writing things you’re not “qualified” to write about? Do you think research can solve everything, or do you think some experience needs to be there?

*No gifs? Is this really my post? Oh, and if you really want to know where I got all this Verne and Dickens stuff, I’ll give you the list.

#WritersLife Tag – In Which I Pilfer a Tag Instead of Being Creative

Just when I was starting to adapt to my new (ish) two jobs schedule – Daylight Saving Time.

Recovering from DST was bad enough before. Now it makes me feel like death (and probably look like it too).

So, in short, I feel like writing, but not writing any book reviews or anything that requires a lot of deep contemplation. So what do you do in a situation like that? Character interviews! While it requires thought and creativity, I have more of those than I do energy ;P

So in short – I haven’t been doing much reading or writing for a few weeks. Work, sleep, eat. And again! But I do have a few books I’m working through, and I’m hoping to get a few finished and get back into reviews. Hoping.

In the meantime, I felt like writing a post, but I was too lazy to think of something – so what do you do in those cases? Pilfer a tag. Preferably a writing one, since writing about writing is the closest thing to writing, right? (Read that sentence five times fast)

The #WritingLife tag was originally from Cait @ Paper Fury (who stole it from someone else), and I snatched it from Victoria Grace @ StoriTori’s Blog. So it’s a thrice-stolen tag

Face it – this is all just an excuse to use too many gifs in a post

*note* – none of these images belong to me – they’re all copyrighted by the respective suits. I’m not making money off of any of this.

Yo ho, yo ho, a #WritersLife for me:

1.) Write Fuel: What do you eat/drink while writing?

This is an important question. But it’s kind of difficult to eat while writing,* you know, so I tend to stick to liquid. Favorites include TEA, coffee (usually an entire pot), and wine, when it’s around. Having something to pick up periodically makes me less distracted, overall.
You were warned
*Footnote – I have tried eating ramen and writing – neither went too well. Chocolate works better.

2.) Write Sounds: What do you listen to while writing?

More music than is probably healthy. It depends on what I’m writing, but I have playlists for each book (sometimes each character), and I play them in a row so I don’t have to mess with it. Hundreds of songs later, I usually just want the sound of silence ( not the song, the actual thing). So I’m an extremes girl. My current writing mood playlist is below, if you’re interested.

3.) Write Vice: What’s your most debilitating distraction?
Err, everything? The door. Cars. Strange sounds the house makes. My cat. Books. I don’t have internet at home, which is a source of endless frustration, but also the reason I actually get things done at home.
Food. Food is always a distraction. I spend a lot of time thinking about eating things I don’t have. *whispers* YouTube
An obvious choice, I — SQUIRREL!
It’s kind of amazing that I have ever written anything . . .
4.) Write Horror: What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you while writing?
When I was sixteen or so, my writing computer crashed, and I lost about half of my writing. I salvaged what I could, but when you combine an epic loss with teenage hormones . . . it was rough for a bit. The good news is that I became a back-up junkie. I have back-ups for EVERYTHING, including my backups, and two different online storage locations.
This is how I feel just THINKING about it . . .
5.) Write Joy: What’s the best thing that’s ever happened while writing or how do you celebrate small victories?

So far – signing a publishing contract for Knight of the Blue Surcoat. I’m still kind of holding my breath until I actually hold it in my hands though. Actually, when my publisher requested a full manuscript from the partial – that excitement might have been even better. Even though I didn’t know where it was going, she seemed so eager to read my manuscript, and that does so much for your writer’s confidence!!

More excited than Buddy over Santa!
6.) Write Crew: Who do you communicate with or not communicate while writing? –

It depends. If I’m in deep, I communicate with no one. I go into a mental writer’s cave and ignore the world as long as possible. If I’m just talking about writing, or *gasp* actually editing, then I frequent Twitter and other blogs! And I have to mention my dear sister Grace who is my patient beta reader, rant listener, and is generally tolerant of my moods/current obsessions.

Grace – this gif is for you
7.) Write Secret: What’s your writing secret to success or hidden flaw? –
I don’t think there are any secrets to success. Work hard, be dedicated, and don’t give up. That last bit is the most important, because it’s the hardest thing.
*Hidden* flaw? It’s no secret that I’m a wordy little blighter . . .

 

8.) Write-Spiration: What always makes you productive? –
I don’t think there are many “always” things in my life . . .
Music helps (mostly). So does Pinterest (mostly)
Ironically, sometimes a really bad day can make me the most productive. Working in customer service, I always have to be on top of things and functioning  110%, so writing is a release. I have done some of my best work (in my humble opinion) when I was at my lowest points.
9.) Write Peeve: What’s one thing writers do (or you do) that’s annoying?  –
Other People: Tell writers how/what they should write, and leave no room for the differences in people’s lives, situations, or temperaments. Now I’m not talking writing professionals, friends, or advice-givers here, I’m talking about telling people what to do because you know so much better.  If you don’t believe in and love your story – why are you writing it?
Me: Too many to list here. My inability to focus on one project at a time drives me crazy.
10.) Write Words: Share one sentence from a project, past or present. –

And here I thought I’d get away without writing anything . . . ;P

So here’s a random phrase (okay, 4 sentences) from my WIP, Red as Blood –

“Take it back –it’s hideous. They got it all wrong. I wanted a girl. She was supposed to be beautiful.”-Red as Blood

I’ll just leave this here

So there you go. Feel free to pilfer it yourself!

And because I stole it, I’m also flouting any rules.

PIRATE

TTT: Top 10 Books I Love but I Just Haven’t Talked About As Much (with quotes!)

toptentuesday
Copyright : The Broke and the Bookish

I know for myself (and probably most of you) that there are tons of books I’ve read that I absolutely loved – I just don’t talk about them as much. So naturally, I had to participate in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday (if you don’t know what that is, click here) hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. So let’s get started.

lets-get-down-to-business-gif
Mulan = one of the best movies ever.

Top 10 Books I Love (I Just Don’t Talk About Them Much)

  1. The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine (first read in 2001)

9780060293154
This is the cover I have

I love Ella Enchanted, but I actually prefer The Two Princesses of Bamarre. I discovered it in a tiny Northern Michigan bookstore when we were on vacation (15 years ago, *cough, cough*). At the age of twelve, I was obsessed with fantasy and still high off of reading through The Lord of the Rings by myself a couple of times (my dad read it to us when we were little). I was also at that stage when you’ve fallen in love with something (in my case, the feeling that LOTR gave me), and you read ravenously, just trying to find that feeling. This is also around when I discovered Robin McKinley and Patricia Wrede, who have remained lifelong favorites as well. Anyhow, this is a story about the bond between two sisters – one who starts out as the classic “hero,” and the other, who becomes a hero. And it was way before Frozen. ;P

“I put my fingers around the unmarked ring of the spyglass and twisted. The scene became clear. 
Oh no! A hairy brown spider clung to a vine! I couldn't go there!
I'd go to the desert to find a dragon. I began to reset the spyglass, but then I stopped myself. A spider was worse than a dragon?
No.
My first monsters would be spiders, then.” 

2. Dragon’s Milk (The Dragon Chronicles) by Susan Fletcher

“The wild creatures of the earth are as milk for the human spirit; to destroy them is to starve our souls.”

I love these covers <3

While Susan Fletcher is better known for Shadow Spinner (another one of my all time favorites), her Dragon Chronicles were some of the books I reread repeatedly growing up. It’s somewhere between MG and YA, as  I recall. The heroine, Kaeldra, is a gawky, awkward girl who gets thrust into a difficult situation – she basically becomes orphaned Draclings (baby dragons) nanny, in a world where dragons are misunderstood and hated. There are two sequels that take place in the same world, and I remember liking them just as much.

3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

“We have our clothes, some more splendid than others,—this is our credit; but when a man dies he has only his skin;”

Over a thousand gripping pages (really!), The Count of Monte Cristo is an epic adventure and revenge drama with complex characters and intricate morality. Edmond Dantes is wrongfully imprisoned, and he swears to get the ultimate revenge on the man who put him there. Will Edmond follow his path to the end, or will his convictions and his fear of Heaven stop him before it’s too late? You’ll have to read it to find out. And if you saw that movie, it left out, well, almost the entire book. Another one of my all-time favorite novels, and a definite influence on my writing. On an interesting side note, the nonfiction book The Black Count (about Dumas’ father-an inspiration for a lot of the Count’s adventures) is also well worth the read.

“There are men who have suffered and who have not only gone on living, but even built a new fortune on the ruins of their former happiness. From the depths into which their enemies have plunged them, they have risen again with such vigor and glory that they have dominated their former conquerors and cast them down in their turn.”

4. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

One of the most beautifully written, lyrical fantasies I have ever read. It’s my favorite one of McKillip’s novels, and the one that made me track down her other novels. Sixteen year-old Sybel is given a baby to raise, even though her only companions up to that point were a fantastical menagerie of creatures. This book is gorgeous, magical, and if you haven’t read it, you should. A strong female lead, enduring themes, and amazing prose – this is one of those “so close to perfect it hurts” novels.

“What do you think love is- a thing to startle from the heart like a bird at every shout or blow? You can fly from me, high as you choose into your darkness, but you will see me always beneath you, no matter how far away, with my face turned to you. My heart is in your heart. I gave it to you with my name that night and you are its guardian, to treasure it, or let it whither and die. I do not understand you. I am angry with you. I am hurt and helpless, but nothing will fill the ache of the hollowness in me where your name would echo if I lost you.”

5. Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

“Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.”

“I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

I might have mentioned this book in passing, but I haven’t sung its praises enough. This was the last work Lewis completed, but it started out as one of his earliest projects. Most people know how C. S. Lewis loved Greek Myths and classic literature. Till We Have Faces is the story of Cupid and Psyche told from Psyche’s sister Orual’s perspective. But it isn’t a simple retelling – it’s a complex, dense, thought-provoking, and deeply philosophical novel that thoroughly explores the nature of love itself. Till We Have Faces is nothing you would expect if you’re only familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia – it’s more akin to The Four Loves, or C.S. Lewis’s essays on the power of myths and legends. If I could just take a handful of books to a deserted island, this would be one of them.

“Oh, I can see it happening, age after age, and growing worse the more you reveal your beauty: the son turning his back on the mother and the bride on her groom, stolen away by this everlasting calling, calling, calling of the gods. Taken where we can't follow. It would be far better for us if you were foul and ravening. We'd rather you drank their blood than stole their hearts. We'd rather they were ours and dead than yours and made immortal.” 

6. Artemis Fowl Series by Eoin Colfer

“Confidence is ignorance. If you’re feeling cocky, it’s because there’s something you don’t know.”

Twelve. Millionaire. Genius. Criminal. Artemis Fowl is all of those things. And Eoin Colfer sells it with the writing equivalent of a cheeky grin and a magician’s sleight of hand. One of my favorite middle grade series ever, Artemis Fowl is laugh out loud funny. The characters are hilarious, the plots are crazy, and at the center are the epic odd couple of Artemis and his loyal butler, Butler. Yes – Butler. Butler is the other best thing about these books.

“That was horrible. Horrible. That poor little guy."
Pex was unrepentant. "Yeah, well, he asked for it. Calling us ... all those things."
But---buried alive! That's like in that horror movie. Y'know -- the one with all the horror."
I think I saw that one. With all the words going up on the screen at the end?"
Yeah, that was it. Tell you the truth, those words kinda ruined it for me.”

7. The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf (The Squire’s Tales #3) by Gerald Morris

“I said you lie, knave!” shouted Beaumains, drawing his sword. “And for telling such craven falsehoods, you must die!”
The knight looked plaintively at Roger. “What’s wrong with this fellow?”
He was dropped on his head when he was a baby,” answered Roger.”

This book is hysterical – even if you haven’t read the Arthurian original that it reinterprets (The Kitchen Knight). I loved every book in this series, but this one is a definite stand out. It takes Arthurian story constructs and constants, and turns them completely on their heads, all while keeping the basic story intact. With its witty, sharp-tongued heroine, a dash of faeries, crazy characters, and of course, the aforementioned sense of humor, this is another book I’ve read repeatedly.

8Sorcery & Cecelia: or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

“I am determined to have the headache Thursday, if I have to hit myself with a rock to do it.”

Manners, Magic, and Mayhem

The concept behind this book is positively brilliant: two writers decided to write letters to each other, assuming the characters of Regency girls with magical aptitude. Their letters became this delightful light fantasy novel that mixes Jane Austen with Diana Wynne Jones’ style magic and hilarity. The sequel, The Grand Tour is equally funny, and highly recommended.

“She probably enjoys cutting up everyone's happiness. Not to mention cutting up other parts of people; given her penchant for poisoning people and turning them into beech trees, I fail to see how she has reached thirty without leaving a trail of bodies behind her.” 

9. The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

While I’ve mentioned my affection for Pearl’s writing, I doubt I’ve praised this book enough. Dante’s Inferno is a favorite of mine, and this historical novel surrounds the translation of the Inferno made by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Oh, and there’s murder most foul, as well.* But who doesn’t like to watch a group of middle-aged writers solve a murder, all while being terribly literary?

“The force of Dante's poetry resonated most in those who did not confess the Catholic faith, for believers would inevitably have quibbles with Dante's theology. But for those most distant theologically, Dante's faith was so perfect, so unyielding, that a reader found himself compelled by the poetry to take it all to heart.”

10. The Kestrel (Westmark Trilogy #2) by Lloyd Alexander

The dedication in this book: “To those who know they are only human, but strive to be nothing less.”

Lloyd Alexander is another author I’ve touched on at times – with his excellent Prydain Chronicles being one of my favorite MG fantasy series ever. I’ve also named off Westmark in passing. But The Kestrel is one of the first, and best YA novels (that I have read) to deal with the trauma of war and fighting (especially for causes you believe in). Theo, the young printer’s devil from the first book, convincingly transforms into the Kestrel, a fearsome warrior and bogeyman to haunt the enemies dreams. Humanity, hatred, fear, rage- this book covers it all, in a surprisingly slim package. There are touches of Les Miserables and A Tale of Two Cities (two more of my all-time favorite novels), but it’s an easier read. Not convinced? Read this excellent review and see if it changes your mind.

Well, if nothing else, I’ve learned that I need a shelf just for silly fantasy novels (I hadn’t realized what a great favorite they were of mine until I started working on this list!)

Have you read any of these books, or do you intend to?

What are some favorite books that you don’t mention enough?

Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani – COVER REVEAL!!! (+ Release Date, Preorder Info, and More!)

If you’ve followed me (or even just stopped by my blog), you might have noticed how much I loved the fantasy novella Sunbolt, by indie author Intisar Khanani. You can read my review of Sunbolt here. So, naturally, when I heard there was going to be a sequel soon, I was super excited. I have the distinct privilege of participating in a cover reveal today for Memories of Ash, and keep reading for an interview with Intisar Khanani and info on pre-ordering the book!

I’m excited to have Intisar Khanani on the blog today, revealing the cover for her newest novel Memories of Ash. This cover was designed by the amazing Jenny of Seedlings Design Studio. There’s also a Kindle Fire giveaway, so make sure to scroll down to the end of the post to enter.

Describe Memories of Ash in 3 words.

IK: Walk with courage.

What compelled you to write your first book?

IK: I always wanted to write a novel, so my senior year of university I decided I’d better buckle down and try. I chose a fairy tale (The Goose Girl) to give me an over-arching plot and narrative structure, and then went to town with it. I really wrote it as an exercise to test myself, not intending to do anything with it when I finished. But, by the time I finished, I loved my characters so much that I ended up working through over a dozen revisions to take it from “writing exercise” to my debut novel, Thorn.

If you could live in one of your books, which one would you choose?

IK: Definitely the world of the Sunbolt Chronicles. Sunbolt follows Hitomi, a street thief with a propensity to play hero when people need saving, and her nemesis, the dark mage who killed her father. Although there is a lot of darkness in Sunbolt, there’s also a lot of light. It’s a real world, in its way, and I love the diversity and vibrancy of the cultures and creatures that populate it. I’d have my choice of living in a tropical island sultanate reminiscent of historic Zanzibar, or among the nomadic desert tribes that eke out an existence alongside the cursed Burnt Lands, to name my two favorite options. Then again, in Memories of Ash, there’s the decaying grandeur of the capitol of a fallen empire that feels a lot like an Istanbul of old, right at the heart of the Eleven Kingdoms. Plus, I wouldn’t mind having shape-shifting friends and charms to keep my bread from burning.

What authors, or books, have influenced you?

IK: As a young duckling, I imprinted on Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley’s earlier works. I read pretty widely, but those are the authors I kept coming back to, especially McKinley’s Damar books. I am also an incorrigible Jane Austen fan, but my books don’t reflect that very much!

What are you reading now?

IK: I just finished “Kingdom of Ruses” by Kate Stradling. In a kingdom where the eternal prince who rules is just a ruse kept up by the prime minister’s family (and most recently, Viola, our heroine), keeping the peace is a delicate thing. Enter a stranger who manages to take the place of the doppelgänger the family uses, and Viola has her hands full.

Your first reaction to the cover in GIF format.

 

And here it is…

MoA_FC_FNL16_BN

“In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.”

Kobo Pre-order | Apple Store Pre-orderAmazon Pre-order | Barnes & Noble Pre-order | Add it to GoodReads

A Special Treat For Those Who Pre-order…

Not only is the pre-order of Memories of Ash on sale for only 99 cents, but anyone who buys the pre-order will receive a free digital art print of Hitomi by artist Grace Fong. Just email your proof of purchase to moapreorder@gmail.com!

Haven’t read Sunbolt (Book 1) yet? It’s been knocked down to just 99 cents to celebrate the release and is available at most major e-retailers. That’s two fantastic books for less than your morning coffee. And don’t forget to check with your local, independent bookstore to see if they can order Sunbolt for you. (I have a physical copy and it’s beautiful!)

MoA_PreOrder Special

About Intisar Khanani

Khanani_Author_PhotoIntisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. She has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s current projects include a companion trilogy to Thorn, featuring the heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife, and The Sunbolt Chronicles.

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TTT: Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR

 

Top 10 Tuesday is a fun weekly meme hosted/created by the ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish. For instructions on how to participate, click here.

I couldn’t pass this one up, as it’s nice and easy. My TBR stretches from here to Jupiter (and fills up half of my rental house), but picking out a few to focus on might help me get to more of them in the end

1. Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani

I'm not posting the cover today (even though it's gorgeous) because I'll be participating in the cover reveal tomorrow! Be sure to check out my blog for the cover, info on preorders, and other fun stuff! More importantly, Memories of Ash is diverse, layered fantasy and the sequel to Sunbolt, and I couldn't be more excited about it. Read my review of Sunbolt (or better yet, read the book), and get all excited with me.

2. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

I actually just started this as a buddy read with blogger-friend Sara Letourneau . It was a little hard to get back into the swing of things (it's been over a year since I read The Name of the Wind), but it's good so far. I've decided that reading my favorite genre (epic fantasy) is like a mini vacation - not because it's easy, per se, but because it's a welcome respite from the business/stress of everyday life. So thank you, Patrick.

3. The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

SO PRETTY
I heard about this one through Cait over at Paper Fury (she's part of the blog tour). Russia, dueling magicians, historical fantasy - this book sounds right up my alley!

4. Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

MORE PRETTY COVERS
Persian-inspired fantasy? YES. Deserts, djinn, gunslingers and rakish foreigners? Please and thank you.

5. A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

I'm actually kind of embarrassed that I haven't read this :) I  mean, it's about magic and multiple Londons. Anyhow, I decided to fix this problem by buying a shiny paperback edition and putting it on my desk. Now I just have to read it.

6. Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale by David Kudler

I wanted to read this one as soon as I saw the title ( a kunoichi is the simplified/modernized term for a female ninja). It's a historical adventure novel set in 16th century Japan - and thanks to the author and NetGalley, I have an eARC of this one that I can start ASAP!

7. The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dei Randel

Now we have the Tang Dynasty of China. Mei, the young woman who became the most infamous empress in Chinese history, is the narrator of this debut novel. Naturally, I'm also fascinated by Chinese history, and this book looks really good. (Thanks for the eARC Sourcebooks!)

8. Masque by W. R. Gingell

And the prettiest cover yet
I literally read about this book ten minutes ago - and now I really want to read it. It's a murder mystery retelling of Beauty and the Beast by an indie author. The reviews compare it to Jane Austen, and say that the romance takes a backseat to the mystery. After reading just a few blurbs, I'm sold.

9. The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Another one that I actually have a copy of. It's about time travel, and there's a ship on the cover. And I heard there was a Persian thief involved. That's really all it takes to make me want to read a book.

10. Ivory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh

Prehistoric Pride and Prejudice? I'll read that in a heartbeat. Warring clans and survival stuff are just bonuses. Honestly, this premise is fabulous.

So, are any of these on your TBR? (Are they now?) Which one looks the best to you? What book are you looking forward to reading this spring?

Beautiful People #16 – March Edition (Red as Blood)

In which all my good intentions for sticking to the same project derail, and I introduce my newest novel project – vintage-y sci fi/cyberpunk-with lots of food

So, I had fully intended to use The Butler Did It  . . . (my alternate history/steampunk project), but here’s the thing: sometimes characters have such a strong voice that they shove themselves into whatever you’re doing, screaming WRITE ME!

Naturally, as an author, this is a good thing – but it can be pretty inconvenient (if you’re driving on a rainy freeway, or showering, or at work with nothing to write on . . .).
At any rate - that voice belongs to Sull (a.k.a.Sully, Sullen, The Boy, etc ), a mysterious boy who is:
1. Obviously going by a fake name
2. Has a lot to hide
3. Has been starving and scavenging on his own for a year. 
4. Is so lovely that it gets him into scads of trouble and has caused all sorts of psychological trauma

What else you need to know: 
1. This project takes place in the world of The Last Coffee Shop (just later on the timeline), where alternate "Earth" is an apocalyptic wasteland, diverse species and races of aliens rule the skies, and the sci-fi environment is heavily influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs, world mythology and music, and Lost in Space. 

2. It's currently titled Red as Blood, and it's best described as HippolytusSnow WhiteHallyu Wave culture + Haute couture. 

3. My strange fixation on food service locations continues, with a greasy diner in a mining colony in the middle of nowhere (space) serving as the major setting this time. Henpecked Bar & Grill is famous for it's salvaged, antique chicken signs, and the seven short (dubious and fierce) women who run it with iron fists and toothy grins. It's no place for a pretty boy . . .

Intrigued? Then read on.
(Just in case you were wondering, Beautiful People is an awesome monthly writing meme hosted by Cait at Paper Fury and Sky at Further Up and Further In)

1. What first inspired this character? Is there a person/actor you based them off?

Most of my recent projects have involved mainly adult (or considered an adult for their time) characters, so maybe I felt the need to write in the first person perspective of a teenage boy??  

Sull (a misspelled variation of his name that he goes by for most of the book) is a complicated fellow, and he had a lot of inspiration - my teenage self, my brothers, characters I love, etc. Also, I had the sudden desire to write about a teenage model who runs away and gets a job in food service . . . ahem. Anyhow, here are some pictures/things that influenced Sull's character.
(image credits - L to R, T to B - artmeg101, LuhanMemories, amy-core, Pinterestgermanmissileskqotd

2. Describe their daily routine.

Before he ran away - Sull was on an extremely rigid schedule, supervised by his agent, manager, and nanny. Now he bums around, steals things, and looks for food. He also gets into fights - which he never wins.

3. If they joined your local high school, what clique would they fit into?

That's an interesting thought - Sull has been privately tutored all his life, and his interactions with his peers are a disaster. Personality wise, he'd be in the loners/outcasts. But (pre-story) considering his wealth, his father's name, and his background, he could be one of those rich, popular kids (though I doubt he'd last long there).

4. Write a list of things they merely tolerate. Ex: certain people, foods, circumstances in their lives…

1. Fame
2. His father
3, His agent
4. Humanity
5. Life

Note - this is not to be confused with the list of things he actively hates.

5. How does he react in awkward silences?

He stays silent. He likes quiet and solitude, and would prefer a world where no one spoke. And his poker face is A++

6. Can they swim? If so, how did they learn?

No. He's never been swimming, or even had the opportunity. It probably wouldn't occur to him as a fun activity.

7. What is one major event that helped shape who they are?

MAJOR SPOILERS. You'll have to read the book someday to find out. 
For a secondary event, when Sull gets a job in the kitchen at the Henpecked Bar & Grill, it changes his life in ways he'd never imagined.

8. What things do they value most in life?

His personal integrity. He has his own code and he never breaks it.

9. Do they believe in giving other people second chances? Do they have any trust issues?

While Sull has no problem with "second chances" as a concept, he doesn't really believe in them. Trust issues = his middle name. Based on his past/where he came from, there are a lot of reasons why he never trusts anyone.

10. Your character is having a rough day…what things do they do to make them happy again? Is there anyone they talk/interact with to get in a better mood?

Before Sull ran away, he was carefully monitored for behavioral or mood imbalances. Any sign of rebellion brought a new prescription. Now that Sull's been on his own for a year, he's used to feeling everything, and because he's all alone, he acts out however he feels like acting. He's usually pretty destructive.

Later in the novel, after Sull makes a few friends, he gets a couple confidants who can talk him out of his notoriously bad moods.

While he may not be the most personable chap, Sull is pretty fun to write about, and his adventures with the “Seven Sisters” are all kinds of interesting things to plot out. And I haven’t even mentioned half of the plot or characters here!

What do you think about Sull and his strange world? Would you like to work in the kitchens of a space diner? Did you see the movie John Carter of Mars? I am one of the 10 people who not only saw that movie – they loved it. I read the book first, and I still liked it.

Follow Beck’s board Writing Inspiration: Red as Blood on Pinterest.

Monthly Rewind: February (and Some Questions for You Bloggers)

NOTE: This post first appeared on my former blog, Wordsmithing and Worldbuilding

I almost don’t know where to start on my Monthly Rewind – February was . . . Intense.

At any rate, it’s March (the month of appropriately mad weather for Michigan), which means it’s time for the monthly link-up with Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction. Instructions on how to join are here.

 

You may or may not have noticed that I was pretty absent for most of February. There are a few reasons –
First, I picked up a second part-time job a couple weeks into the month, and both my time and internet access have become even more limited than normal. That being said, I’m still here!
Working two jobs has also upped my caffeine intake, and made me seek out coffee from less savory places (like the gas station). I’m normally pretty spoiled because the coffee at the bookstore is amazing. Not so amazing at the gas station. But hey, it’s coffee. I think.
Secondly, I’ve been having an endless amount of annoying problems with Blogger and Google+. They are currently refusing to let me comment on anyone’s comments, or even read them when I’m logged into my blog.

I didn’t realize what a goldmine TOP* gifs were . . . until now ^^

Ugh.

Anyhow, after much deliberation, I’m considering moving my blog to a different platform, or possibly my own domain.

Which leads me to these important questions:
1. Is it worth buying an actual domain name?
2. What blogging platform do you use, and why? Do you like it? Is one better than the others?

Any advice/feedback would be really appreciated! (Oh, and since I can’t read your comments – note the contact form on the top right-hand side of the blog- thanks!)
And now that I have that out of the way – February in Review!
On the Blog and Reading fronts, my hectic schedule made hash of things – and I only managed 5 posts 🙁

-Current mood-

 

My reading count for this month was even worse – I started about 15 books, and finished only two of them!
The first was Stars Above, and the second was The Guest by
Hwang Sok-yong. I’m not sure if I’ll review it or not. It’s about the 52 day massacre in the Hwanghae Province of North Korea during the Korean War. It was moving, disturbing, horrifying, and profoundly important if you’re looking to understand a little more of the North/South Korean relations, the relationship of Korea with the West (especially the U.S.), and the two huge “foreign guests” of Christianity and Communism. It wasn’t light reading, but I was glad I read it. I’m just not sure how to explain it in a review! (A funny place for a writer to be in, let me tell you).
I am also reading through a manuscript for a friend, so that’s taken plenty of time and attention.
And if you’re interested, here are some of the books I’m currently reading:
 
 
Without You, There is No Us by Suki Kim
Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
The Star-Touched Queen (ARC) by Roshani Chokshi
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
Small Data by Martin Lindstrom
Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

Also in reading, Intisar Khanani’s (novel-length!) follow up to Sunbolt, Memories of Ash, has a release date!! This is easily one of my most anticipated books of 2016. It’s out May 30th – so just 3 months to wait!! In the meantime, there will be a cover reveal on March 16th, and it will be up for preorder on that day as well.

Off the Blog:

  • I started the second job (at a new local brewery)
  • I started yet another novel (I have very bad habits.) More about this in a minute.
  • I turned 27
  • I made lots of kimchi and discovered kimchi stew (soooo good. And kimchi fried rice is almost better!!)
  • I basically did a lot of cooking, now that I think about it . . .
  • One of my best friends got engaged and I get to be a bridesmaid (my second time)!
  • The only movie I watched was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Because Matt Smith – Eleventh Doctor as MR. COLLINS)***, I watched none of the Oscars, and watched an unhealthy amount of YouTube videos when I should have been sleeping after 12-16 hour work days.
  • And to be honest, if anything else happened in February – I don’t remember it. I was probably sleeping. My ability to fall asleep anywhere on anything at anytime just turned into a superpower.

Looking Ahead:

Hopefully I’ll finish a few of those books this time around, and have some time for reviews! I’m also thinking of doing a series of editing posts on The Last Coffee Shop – to help me actually edit it, and because it would be fun. Thoughts? My major goal for March is to do at least one edit through.
Oh, and that book idea I mentioned above) – it won’t go away. So I started writing it. It’s basically a vintage sci-fi + western + Hallyu wave + high fashion novel in the world of TLCS (though not a sequel). The MC’s voice is stuck in my head – he’s an angry teenage model (yes, that’s he) on the run from a truly freaky family situation. He takes refuge at a greasy spoon space diner, which is run by a posse of (former) warrior women who specialize in fried chicken. Because I just can’t write anything normal. If you’d like to see a glimpse into it, here’s the link to my Pinterest board.
Also, I plan on plugging away at The Butler Did It, and reading everyone else’s wonderful posts (I did a lot of reading posts in Feb, but rarely had the energy to comment, lol)

So that’s it for me folks. How was your February? Do you have any big plans for March? What are you reading? And please tell me your thoughts on the blog move idea/domain name 🙂 I’ll give you all the virtual cake if you do!

Footnotes:
*From BIGBANG. SO MANY GIFSSSS
**Yes, I know he’s fake. No, I will not get over it.
***Not as bad as I thought it would be, and Matt Smith was hilarious.