Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Another Steampunk Round-up

It's been a month of many wonderful steampunk events, including the Steampunk World's Fair in New Jersey and the World Steam Expo in Dearborn, MI. Of course, it seems like every comic, fantasy, gaming (etc.) Con out there has some form of steampunk representation. Even romance gatherings have taken a shine to anachronistic costumes and steampunk discussion panels. Here are a few events to look out for in June:

Combat Con is a multi-genre convention; steampunk, horror, scif-fi, fantasy, and pirates all with a unifying theme of the Western Martial Arts.Las Vegas, NV, June 24-26th.

Con Carolinas covers just about everything. And there's a costume contest, so you know the steampunks will put on a show. Charlotte, NC, June 3-5th.

Davenport and Winkleperry is host to many steampunk-flavored events all year round, including the Clockwork Ball , the Davenport Follies and more. If you haven't heard the Clockwork Cabaret radio program on Monday nights, you are missing out on some really great fun.

As far as reading material, the list of steampunk releases just keeps growing. Here are a few of the gems from April, May and June:

Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine - who doesn't love the circus?

Camera Obscura by Lavie Tidhar - I must direct you to a wonderfully mixed and intriguing review by Mike Perschon.

The Falling Machine by Andrew Mayer - the first installment of a new series which takes place in Victorian New York.

How To Draw Steampunk by Ben Dunn - pretty self-explanatory.

Check out last month's Round-up if you need more. I'll be posting my first ever review in next month's RU of Devon Monk's first steampunk title, Dead Iron. Anyone with additional suggestions or tales from recent SP events, I'd love to hear them. Or let us know what steampunk you're looking forward to. Till next time, may your tea always be hot and biscuits plentiful.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Criminal Writer

Today's post was written by the lovely and talented Anastasia Pergakis. Visit her website to learn more about her fantasy series, The Kinir Elite Chronicles, and her blog, Labotomy of a Writer.

Yes, I am guilty. I break the “rules” or “laws” of writing all the time. I freely admit my guilt and will gladly pay for my crimes.

Writers, including myself, write great blog posts and articles about the “rules” of writing. Following the chosen genre, the trend of the market, society’s standards, etc. Today, I’m going to talk about how to not do that! Yes, I’m going to tell you how to be a criminal writer just like me!

Okay okay, first let me say that I do believe that “rules” are important. They serve a purpose and allow writers and readers to categorize books in an orderly fashion so they can find them. I get that. I also know that “rules” allow certain standards to be placed on the publishing world in order to uphold the integrity of the writer, the publisher, and anyone else involved with the book.

Are you ready for what I’m about to say? You may want to sit down.


Yes, I said it. Bear with me here. I promise it’ll all make sense when this post is finished.

So, when you sit down to write your stories, ask yourself this question: What type of story do you want to right? YOU, as in you the writer, you the person, you the creative one. Not you the editor or marketing consultant.

Why ask this? Well it will help you write the story the way you want, the way the characters want. Yes, trends and following the market is important. But, I’m a firm believer that if you force it to fit the market, your story – while good – won’t be great. So, allow yourself to write a great story – and hang the rules!

Once the story is written – with all the passion you can muster because you didn’t constrict yourself with rules – THEN think about where it fits.

The editing stage of writing is where you can apply all those grammar rules and general plot rules that apply to every story (like ending chapters with cliff hangers or beginning the story and chapters with a bang sort of rules).

Once the editing is done and you begin the query and synopsis writing process is where you figure out where it fits in the market. With fantasy as an example would your story be a  High Fantasy or is it more Fantasy Adventure? Or say for many Urban Fantasy writers, is it more Paranormal Romance maybe? Could you market it as more than one to publishers and agents so you have a bigger playing field?

Do you see how writing first then figuring out the market might actually help you in the long run? Just let the story flow and worry about the technical stuff later! Have fun with the story and your characters. Laugh out loud at the crazy stuff that happens and cry when the sad stuff comes on the page. Later, is the time to edit and tone down or amp up and make it really great – not just good, but great!

I leave with a great quote someone once told me – “If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing.” So, go have fun and don’t worry about the “rules”. Let the story flow from you naturally then mold it later.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Courage to Create - What's Stopping You?

Thankfully, you can’t see me. I’m dancing shamelessly to Beyonce’s “Run The World Girls.” I did it. My first draft of “The Land of Lost Dreams” is finished. I guess you could say I’m pleased with myself because the smile I’m wearing rivals Alice’s Cheshire cat.

The road to glory wasn’t easy. It was mined with booby traps and roadblocks. Created mostly by me, a little from life and some from friends. Yes, those little grey cells are a wondrous thing, but can be highly treacherous. They love to play games with the intention of tricking you out of grabbing the gold. Believe me, I know. I didn’t always know that was happening. But, somewhere along the line I tripped over one of those mind traps and realized I had been there before. When you uncover what’s holding you back it’s like coming out from your safe hiding place under the blankets to a brand new world.

So, this month long boot camp was not just about finishing a first draft but a personal challenge. It was like fire walking. Not that I have, but the thought of facing a bed of hot coals scares the breath out of me. Fear can do that. It squeezes the life you were meant to have and leaves you empty. Fear looked me in the face and asked “Are you up for this? Are you good enough?” and on and on it went.

It takes courage to create because you must battle with a force greater than the Dark Lord, yourself. The courage to create is also an affirmation of life. Yours.

A writer in my Fantasy writing group lives in Japan. After the terrible quake her affirmation of life was to build a potted vegetable garden on her balcony. By that simple act, she tapped into her deepest inner strength to state to the universe, “I will survive and prosper.” How awesome is that?

Life is always testing you by putting up brick walls and roadblocks. How you respond to the challenge placed before you defines who you are. This time I came to do battle with my sword in one hand and pen in the other against fear.

Till next time,


Friday, May 27, 2011

Be More Positive than Negative

Sometimes writers forget to think positive when it comes to their work. It is hard to do when you don't have a support system while sitting alone working on a story. We all suffer at one point or another. Until we receive a steady paid from our writing, you cannot avoid the negative thoughts. Can we finish this manuscript? Will any agent pick it up? How many rejection letters is this one? We base our worth on what others think of us. A published writer will garner more praise and awe than an unpublished writer.

But even if you make a living off of writing, the constant demand to keep up your status of a published writer can bring negative emotions. At times a 'has been' is worse than 'hasn't been.' The notion of 'you can do it' but 'can you keep it up' will wear you down. Plus the discipline needed to keep all your finances in order because you may need to live off of your savings until the next pay check arrives.

While most people suggest be positive, I suggest be more positive than negative. When I am down, I'm very negative towards myself. But once I crack the wall, I gain positive thoughts but still keep the negative ones. They co-exist inside my mind and heart. I would not be the person I am today without them. As long as the good out weight the bad, I will never lose sight of my dream. If you accept the bad, the good will always follows and that is the key to success.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Secret Identity

Pen Names: To use or not to use.

I have been seriously considering the use of a pen name – another pen name. Right now I write under the pen name of Stacie Carver. My real last name is lovely, but difficult to remember, spell and pronounce. So I have a dilemma.

History is littered with authors who wrote under a pen name or nom de plume. But why would someone write using a pen name? I think the reasons are as individual as the names. I can think of several reasons of my own.

First: I write in different genres. While some of these genres are fine to be associated with each other, like romance and mystery; very steam romance should not be combined with YA or middle grade fiction. My genres are mystery, steampunk mystery, and inspirational romance. Although at first glance using the same pen name may not seem like a problem, my mysteries actually get quite steamy.

Second: I want my websites to reflect the genre. An inspirational romance reader will probably leave the site quickly if there anr mechanical monsters, fantasy elements and dirigibles floating across the screen. And a steampunk reader would probably scoff at a sweet, cheery website with scripture quotes.

Third: If and when someone comes up to me when they recognize my name to say they love my books (it could happen), I think I would like to know which books they are referring to.

These are just some of my reasons.

Other authors have used a pen name because their name did not fit the genre. Erotica author Angela Knight is the pen name of Julie Woodcock. She choose to write under a pen name because of the double entendre of her last name. Zane Grey is the pen name of Pearl Gray, who thought his first name did not fit the western genre – I agree.

Best Selling authors sometimes use pen names so they can publish more books in a year without saturating the market. Good examples of this are Stephen King who published books under the name Richard Bachman before he was outed. Nora Roberts is also J.D. Robb. She was already a prolific romance author and changing her name allowed her to branch out into a different genre. She was also outed in 2001, but rather than hurt her following, many of her romance fans started to read the “In Death” series.

Of course female authors through history have used masculine pen names so they could actually get published. George Elliot, George Sand and Ernst Alhgren are all female authors. It works the same for men. Personally I can’t imagine reading a romance novel by Tom E. Huff or Harold Lowry by I would pick up a romance by Jennifer Wilde or Leigh Greenwood – their aliases. Even today many female writers chose initials or a gender neutral name rather than a female first name to if writing in typically male dominated genres. S.E. Hinton, J.K. Rowling, Robin Hobb.

Writing teams often combine names or choose a different name. Cleo Coyle is the pen name of husband and wife team Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini. Nero Blanc is the pen name of the husband-and-wife team of Steve Zettler and Cordelia Frances Biddle. Terry Campbell is the pen name of friends Bobbeye Terry and Linda Campbell.

Many authors want to conceal their identity. Maybe they write in a genre that could get them in trouble at work or with their family. A recent example is the high school English teacher who writes erotic romance under the pen name Judy Mays. Although she attempted to conceal her identity, narrow-minded parents still freaked out.

So I have decided to choose a pen name strictly for Inspirational Romance and hopefully the two shall never meet. I have not decided on a name yet, but I’m narrowing down the choices.

Do you write under a pen name? Why or why not?

Stacie Carver aka ???

Be Yourself

I've just finished rewriting some scenes of my clockwork punk novel having written about half of the novel. I found out that far into it that I really don't like the discipline of following history. It's alright that I am writing about a real location within a real time period. But I'm not writing an historical novel.

When we look at reality, including the realities of history or biology, or any study, we are looking into mirrors. This is different from writing what we know. At least that's how I experience it. I discovered that I wanted to use the history I found in order to explore ideas, to investigate my own thinking.

Once I made the decision to base medical procedures in alchemy I fell in love with my story! The romance had truly begun. It's as though the story took off the mask of the properly educated person and revealed its more wanton side. Suddenly, sensuality was everywhere. The fog became caressing and sheltering. Cold became exciting, puckering body parts into pleasurable positions.

After indulging the writing of a few scenes and finding them satisfying, I began to recognize what I was experiencing. Alchemy, in my experience, is a sensual transaction. It requires making a connection with the essence of the world. Mind you, I'm talking about transformational alchemy and not the chemical kind. I have no experience with that. But alchemy, in my world, is what magic is made of, our capacity for the depth of imagination that brings us so deeply within the experience of another that we risk losing ourselves.

Practiced normally, it is a healing practice. In my world--the world of my novel--there are, of course, going to be practitioners of the more malicious kind. It is yet another way of being myself of course, but in a way that no one gets hurt.

I hope.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Pirate's Life For Me

The new Pirates of the Caribbean movie released last weekend and at the same time new archeological endeavors are taking place on the (probable) Queen Anne's Revenge, located in the waters off Atlantic Beach, NC. Swarthy scalawags are having a good week, and I have to admit that I'm happy about that. My head tells me that pirates were bad, smelly, diseased, murdering criminals that you wouldn't even want to have a drink with. But my heart says that pirates equal adventure, freedom and just the right amount of danger to keep any kid happy. Frankly, my heart has the bigger cojones.

One of the first things that drew me to steampunk was its incorporation of piratical characters as airship captains and subversive instigators. My favorite book as a child was Treasure Island, followed closely by the virtually unknown title by Fran Martin, Pirate Island. I wouldn't call myself a fanatic; I don't even have a costume, just plenty of books, movies and my own Jolly Roger. I love Peter Pan, Errol Flynn, The Goonies, the Dread Pirate Roberts and even Captain Jack Sparrow. There's a perfectly good reason for all of this.

My mother's family is from Beaufort, NC, and my grandparents lived in the area their entire lives. The Inner and Outer Banks of Carteret County is where I spent many childhood holidays and vacations. It's got beaches, boating, fishing, and swimming, and best of all, it's saturated with pirate lore and history. I grew up hearing the stories, reading the books and imagining the deadly escapades of all those detestable rogues, especially Blackbeard. It really is the kind of place where you think you might come across a treasure map or long-buried loot at every turn. Beaufort has its ghost stories, too, but that's for a different post.

The North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort will open the Queen Anne's Revenge exhibit next month, and they're even throwing a soiree to celebrate on June 10th. It likely won't be the grandest pirate celebration around, but I must salute their efforts and the local heritage that goes along with it. I have yet to write my own marauder's tale, but there's no doubt that when the right idea hits, I'll be off on the high aetheric seas for fame and fortune. As long as the word 'island' is in the title I should be set.

Here's a few pirate reads you might want to check out:

Polly and the Pirates by Ted Naifeh - Super fun graphic novel by one of my favorite artist/creators.

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers - Whether you're into the Disney movies or not (and the similarities are limited anyway), this one is a barking- good tale.

The Noble Pirates by Rima L. Jean - This title releases on June 13th and I can't wait to check it out.

Here is Maureen O. Betita's post from earlier this month. Her Piratepunk novel, The Kraken's Mirror is not to be missed.

Have a treasured pirate story or favored picaroon? I'd love to hear about them!
And I made it through the entire post without using the word booty. Nuts.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Letter From Your Muse

We are honored to have P. June Diehl in the Salon today.

P. June Diehl is the Editorial and Senior Editor for Virtual Tales, the Senior SF Editor for ePress-Online, and also coaches authors.

She has a Bachelor of Science (Education) degree from Madison College, a Masters of Education from James Madison University, and taught in several public schools systems.

Author of THE MAGIC & THE MUNDANE: A Guide for the Writer’s Journey, she teaches and mentors writing classes online at Savvy Authors, Writer’s Village University and for Pearls of Writing as well as having conducted workshops on various elements of creative writing both online and locally. She is enrolled in UCLA’s Writing Program, focusing on long and short fiction.

Dear Writer,

Yes, it’s me—the Muse. You’ve been complaining for a while that I’ve been absent. How many times have you said something like “I can’t get in the flow” or “My muse has deserted me”?

Maybe you guessed that I went on an extended vacation. Or that I’ve simply disappeared.

Well, I’m here to tell you that I’ve been here all this time. I know you find that difficult to believe, but it’s true. The Muses don’t lie. Never.

We take our work seriously.

You think the work of the Muses is easy? Fun? Magical?

Wrong. Wrong. And wrong.

Flow takes work. Writing takes work. And magic? That’s how you feel when you’re in that powerful creative flow. And yes, getting to that magical element takes work. It’s not something you can order, like pizza.

Think about it. Musicians practice. Athletes practice. Artists practice. A lot. It’s a commitment. So what is it with writers who expect to sit themselves down and just do it after not practicing their craft in a while?

As a Muse I like order and focus. I am available to those who commit themselves to their craft. Your actions and commitment create ENERGY and that energy FEEDS me.

How to begin? Take action. Write. A lot. Act as if, when you sit down to write, that you do this ALL THE TIME. That you have already begun. Write as if you ARE in the flow. As if I’m with you in this magical movement of ideas and thoughts and words that flow out of you as STORY.

The top two things that block me from BEING with you when you write are: your inner critic and YOU.

The inner critic has a place. When you are analyzing what idea to develop into a story, he is helpful. When you are planning the storyline, he is helpful. When you are revising, he is helpful. When you are writing, send him off to do some errand or send him to Arizona. Just sent him away for this part of your writing process.

That’s right. You are your own worse enemy. You create resistance. You come up with all kinds of excuses not to write. You put off your writing as long as you can. Why? Because writing is like stepping out of your comfort zone. Writing is action. You are DOING something. (And it FEELS good!) So ask yourself: What’s stopping you? (HINT: Many times the response has to do with some FEAR.)

Somerset Maugham, when asked if he wrote on a schedule or when inspiration stuck, responded: “I write only when inspiration strikes me. Fortunately it strikes me every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Do you see what he’s saying? He’s committed. He takes ACTION. He’s practicing his craft. He’s connected.

What are you waiting for? (And when the excuses tumble out of you, ask yourself: WHY?)

The more you write, the more you HEAR me, UNDERSTAND me, and FEEL me. The more you write, the more you are CONNECTED to me, your Muse.

Without action, there is no connection, no flow. This is when you can’t find or feel me. This is when you feel deserted. So sit, write. I’m here…waiting. Always.

Writing in the flow is not magical; it CREATES the magic. And this is flow. I’m here, ready, waiting. What about you?

The Muse

P. June Diehl


Available at http://epress-online.com/DIEHL/The-Magic-And-the-Mundane/sales-page.htm

Thank you, June for stopping by.

Are you and your muse communicating?

Till next time,

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Can See The Finish Line

Update of the Savvy Authors bootcamp saga, twenty one days down and ten to go and I am on target. My first draft will be finished. Yay! It’s a feeling that’s better than having the power to resist that extra helping of dessert and pushing beyond the easy gratification, to stay the course and challenge myself.

I couldn’t have done it without the support of my sweet hubby who prepared dinners when I was too tired or couldn’t stop writing, who did the laundry when there were no more clean towels, and overlooked the dust bunnies multiplying in increasing numbers, well, you get the picture.

Also, I had the support of the Scouts from the Salon, the writers in my Fantasy Group and my mentor, June Diehl. You think I was accepting an Oscar. Well, in the scheme of things, it’s small potatoes, but for me personally it’s the appetizer, entrée and dessert. Woohoo!!!

On another subject the Salon received its second award. The first from Rosi at http://rosihollinbeckthewritestuff.blogspot.com/ and the second from Lindsey at http://lyndseyrosedavis.weebly.com/. The rules in accepting this award was to tell you seven things about ourselves. Here are my seven. Bear with me here. You just have to read it I had to write it. LOL.

1. I love animals and my first dog growing up was named Rocky. An unbelievable dog, who rode the backs of the neighbor’s two Collies jumping from one to the other. He also chewed my father’s slippers and morning paper. He was a beast.

2. My maiden name is E.Chang, named after the lady in the moon, who stole the elixir of immortality. Wat, my Chinese middle name means gentleness.

3. I was lucky enough to live and study in Europe for ten years.

4. I am a painter and a writer. I am enchanted and haunted by faces and prefer to paint portraits rather than landscapes. Pretty faces, for me are harder to paint because I can’t find the stories hidden in the lines.

5. Having grown up in Hawaii opened my eyes to a world of different cultures and faiths.

6. Presently living in the mountains with four dogs and my sweetie, but I dream of moving back to Paris.

7. I am writing a YA fantasy with Chinese mythology, thanks to my grandmother.
Okay, that’s probably more than you wanted to know about me.

The next rule of accepting this award is to nominate another blogger for the versatile Blogger Award. I nominate Laurel Wilczek, http://ravenlaw.wordpress.com/ . Laurel is in my Fantasy Group and pushed me to get blogging. Every day she inspires me to write with her humor and whip. Yup! She cracks a whip to get the group moving.

And http://anncory.blogspot.com/a writer who inspired me daily in our Artist Journal Workshop.

Visit these bloggers and leave your blog address in the comment box, so we can visit you.

Till next time,

PS: June Diehl post tomorrow is “A Letter from your Muse.” It’s funny, enlightening and the info you need to know about your muse.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Character's Past Influences the Present and Creates Future Conflict

Originally posted on my blog but I wanted to share with everyone here.

A character's past influences their decision in the present. Your character may have witnessed his mother killed when he was younger and plans to find the murderer at any cost. This past element will drive all his actions in the present. Every decision he makes is to find this person. Nothing will stand in his way. This character is meeting his past head on.

Last night when I wrote in my novel's journal, I figured out my hero's past element which will take most of the series for him to overcome. My hero is running away from his past because he does not want to make the same mistake. Since I made this discovery, the first few chapter need to be rewritten. The actions my character has taken does not reflect this past element at the beginning.

The conflict will come when the situation for the character puts them against his present course. Let us go back to the first example and add this scene in. The murderer sets a home on fire trapping those inside. The main character must make the decision to keep going after the person who killed his mother or save the people trapped inside. Either choice will weight heavy for the character. And it will influence any future decision he makes.

You should keep these thoughts in mind even with secondary characters, especially if they have any impact on the main plot and/or sub-plots. You do not need to let the reader know their situation, but you need to understand to weave their actions right.

The character's present action must match with their past. Even as the story moves forward, anything that happens during the present in the novel will turn into the past for the character as you continue to write. The past will carry on influencing the present throughout your novel. Future conflicts will be created for your characters based on their present action. And conflict is what drives your story.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Books for my Writing Retreat

As this is the Canadian long weekend and I get Monday off from my day job, I decided to get away from home, husband, dogs and other worldly responsibilities and have a “ME” weekend. I live just north of the Minnesota border with Ontario, so I tend to travel to the States quite often.
Last year I went to a writing retreat in Minnesota. The retreat itself wasn’t quite what I had expected and focussed more on poetry than prose, but I found a wonderful little camp that isn’t really that far away. I booked myself in for Saturday and Sunday night and I get my own cabin on the lake. No internet, no telephone, no running water in the cabin, and apparently no people - I am the only person booked at the camp for the weekend! The office is even offsite. So I will be on my own, totally. I am looking forward to the retreat and I intend to write, read and reflect. Since it is supposed to be rainy on the weekend, I should be able to lock myself away in the cabin and avoid the distraction of nice weather and sunshine.

But, this is a working retreat, so I intend to write like crazy on Saturday, Sunday and part of Monday. I’ve been trying to think of what I need to take on this retreat for reference books, those that are my favourites, that I can’t part with, that I can refer to when I am stuck. I can’t take them all, but I can select a few that I absolutely love. Yes, I will be taking my Kindle, but not all of my books are on there yet. The majority of my books are still in paper format, plus I am not a big fan of reference books on the Kindle, it’s just too hard to flip to the right page. :)

Those books I’m considering taking are:

Writing Steampunk! By Beth Daniels. Everything you need to know about steampunk. I’m also taking her six month steampunk class, so I know it will come in handy.

On Writing by Steven King – for inspiration.

The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass – he really knows what he’s talking about.

Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Connor – great grammar book, in an easy to understand format

Writing and Selling your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron – I love this book. It really breaks down the components of a mystery

What books would you take on a writer’s retreat or which ones can’t you live without?

Writing what you Know

Write what you know. Yes, I know. You’ve heard that more times than you want to count.But how does this relate to speculative fiction. I sincerely hope none of you knows vampires and werewolves. The pleasure of writing speculative fiction is that it gives me the opportunity for mining reality. Invites me to make the strange familiar. Challenges me to push the limits how I experience reality.

The other side of writing what we know is that we can’t not write what we know. We are unable to break out of our mechanisms of perception. Can’t change our brains for those of another species. What we write isn’t imagined so much as it is translated from one part of our perception to another. We might order events, put the blips of inner electrons into some kind of order, give that order a theme, decorate that order with familiar archetypes and tropes, but we can’t make them up. Knowing this makes what I choose to write more meaningful. How is what I am focusing on bringing more understanding into the world?

All the things we write are about discovering what makes us real. Not the visible parts, but the invisible ones as well. All of story making is about wondering what if, practicing reality with different scenarios. Making stories makes us human. It is this ability that has allowed this branch of all our possible branches of human beings to survive when did not. We are mutation practitioners, forcing the evolution of thought past the boundaries of the obvious. But, we do it through experience—common, everyday experience that we look into as deeply as we dare. We structure that experience as conflict then resolve it. What new species have we created through our storytelling? Who would we be without our capacity to write what we know?

How do you think you would be different had you not peopled the stories with your characters? Where do you feel the tension of conflict between plain old fiction and speculative fiction? Can you see the edges of your own perceptions? Are you willing to look? What do you think is on the other side? What would be the consequences of not looking?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Giveaway Winner and Blogger Awards

First thing's first, I'd like to congratulate the winner of our Hounded giveaway:

Claire Gillian

I hope you love the book as much as I did. Please email me at: ella DOT gray AT rocketmail DOT com. Include your mailing address and I'll have it out directly. Big thanks to everyone who entered!

Sometime last month it was brought to our attention that the Salon had been given an award from a very lovely woman and fellow blogger. I'm new at this stuff and wasn't even aware that such things existed. So we thanked Rosi on her site, slapped the award on our sidebar and went about our ramblings.

Now we've received another award, this time with accompanying instructions on the proper protocol. It seems what we should have done included giving links, revealing personal information and handing out more awards. Since there are six scouts here in the Salon, we will attempt to each tell our readers something about ourselves in our posts this week and each will pass along an award to another blog.

So I'll take this opportunity to thank both of our nominators and encourage everyone to go check out their very awesome blogs. We appreciate your support Rosi with The Write Stuff blog and Lyndsey Rose Davis.

Something about me: My husband and I met on Halloween night at an art gallery/bar in our old neighborhood. I was dressed up as Pizzazz from the Misfits and my best friend was Jem - we had made our own costumes and looked like a pair of crazy neon rocker clowns. I guess he saw beyond the green glitter wig and we got married on Halloween day exactly four years later.

Finally, I'd like to give this award to a wonderful writer, blogger, and poet:  
She's super sweet and a lot of fun, so go check out her site.  

There are so many swell bloggers out there, they should really all have awards, LOL. If anyone out there wants to give a shout-out to a favorite blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Messing with History

The Speculative Salon welcomes Philippa Ballantine as our guest blogger today.

Every child is subjected to the horror of dry boring history lessons at some stage. They are usually a cavalcade of dates and names that pass through the brain, are used at test time, and then discarded with some relief.

For me, history has been more than that. I had an excellent history teacher who made things come alive, and I could see the people she was talking about as more than historical figures. I became fascinated with the everyday lives of people that came before us. I use to listen to the tales my grandparents told me, when the world was a far different place. All these things served me well as I set off on my journey to become a published writer.

Soon I realised that the older people around me were a part of that history. Though at times it was hard to believe that my grandparents had ever been young, vibrant people with the whole future before them. I puzzled over what it must have been like to see the arrival of cars, and jet planes.

I suddenly realised that you can draw on history to embroider your story. If you need the name of a song popular in that time, you can do a bit of research. Or if you need ideas on what the streets looked like, you can find out through a wealth of online images. The past is still accessible to use, with a bit of study and imagination.

Given all these things, it was no surprise that my second novel, Chasing the Bard was a fantastical novel set in Shakespearian England. The heady combination of magic and history quickly had me hooked. Now, the first time I tried messing with history, I chose an easy subject. Shakespeare is a bit of a mystery. While his plays are loved and produced everywhere in the world, historians actually have only a few concrete facts about him. We know he when and where he was married, but we don’t know how he become involved in theatre. We can be sure when his children were born, but have only educated guesses on what parts he took on in his own plays.

It’s in among those sort of gaps that an author can have a fine old time. I chose a fantastical path for Mr. Shakespeare, but I tried to keep true to the remaining evidence of his life.

For my next novel, Weather Child, I decided to be a bit more daring. What if New Zealanders were magicians? What if something in the environment made them that way? I had a lot of family history that I was yearning to turn into a novel, and so I wanted to set it between the two world wars. However, unlike Chasing the Bard, these changes were going to be huge, and not limited to one person’s life. By making my countrymen magical, I changed the whole dynamic of what it meant to be a New Zealander. I had to consider what would happen in battle? How would the people be perceived, and how would they be tempted to use that power?

That is the trick with working with history, even in a fantastical setting; how far do you bend it before it breaks. You want to keep the flavour of the period, because that is the whole point of writing anything historical. A genre that makes the most of that flavour is steampunk.

The rise of the steampunk shows that people are craving a little of that nostalgia in their lives. Though things were tough in the Victorian age, there was also a sense of optimism and boundless possibilities that this modern age sometimes is lacking. In the sequel to Phoenix Rising, my co-author Tee Morris and I, have shamelessly used the history of the suffrage movement as a backdrop for our tale of derry-doing and nefarious plots. A certain famous New Zealand suffragette is included, though her appearance in our book includes a steam and clock-powered face, after a rather unfortunate accident. Having these touchstones to work with gives depth to the characters, and while they may not be the real people, I think they celebrate and enliven their legacy.

Part of me really does hope, that books I have written when messing with history, have inspired or informed—just a little—in a fun way.

History can be a truly wonderful resource to a writer. It can add real depth to a story and give you tremendous ideas for plots and character development. So dive right in—there is a huge amount of world history just waiting to be explored, characters to inspire and dark deeds to use in your work.
Philippa (Pip) Ballantine is the co-author with Tee Morris of Phoenix Rising: a Ministry of Peculiar Occurrence novel coming out soon from Harper Voyager. It contains airships, archives and large amounts of derry-doing. Find out more at ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com

Saturday, May 14, 2011

J.K. Rowling And Failure

We’re into the second week of Savvy’s Author boot camp. Every step along the way has been challenging. I haven’t thought of quitting, but I have wondered if I’ll make my goal of a first draft by the end of the month. Whether, I finish the first draft or not, I am learning about myself, writing and about the journey, which to me is as valuable in the end. I’ve also learned never to give up the dream that burns inside you even when things look their blackest.

I thought I’d share this video of one of my favorite authors, J.K. Rowling. It’s a commencement address she gave a couple years ago at Harvard. I found her funny, candid, vulnerable and above all inspirational.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Here is a fragment of her speech about failure:
“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.”

Hope this has inspired you to keep going. It has for me. How do you motivate or inspire yourself to keep going?

Till next time,

PS: I will be interviewing author Mary Buckham about her book "Break Into Fiction" next month in June. Do you have a question you'd like to ask about her book? Tell me and that will be one of the question I will ask her.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Writer Funk

The second week of boot camp is almost done and I did the biggest no no in the history of any massive writing month. I started my story over. It pains me to think about it, yet I'm thrilled about the changes made. The story is tighter and the conflict is given earlier in the chapter. A rewrite for the better and never mind this is third or fourth one.

Before I decided to rewrite my novel, I entered the writer funk. Nothing I wrote met the level I set for my novel. The language used didn't make it stand out from other fantasy novels. The conflict didn't make my character's life miserable and I spent too much time at the beginning. When the weather started to match my mood, I knew something wasn't right.

When the funk invades, it is difficult to know how to break it. I retreated into a shell of where I only appeared to eat and checked my email. I caught up on shows taped on my DVR. Actually started to watch live TV and I hardly do because I dislike commercials. I don't remember the rest which is a true sign of the funk. No matter how much I willed myself to get out it, it just wasn't happening.

When reviewing my calendar, the book I checked out from the library was due next week. Since the book couldn't be renewed, I started it and slowly an idea formed in my head. I wrote it down on a sticky note. I continued to read and remembered everything I forgot about writing a fantasy novel. From there, my mind kept wandering back to my WIP and the funk no longer held me down.

Being funk free is wonderful but being in a funk is not so bad. It helped me to understand my novel even more than before. Plus this time it only lasted for days and not months. Now it is time to write until the end of this month.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writing what you Don't Know

I just finished an online community college course on the weather. Why? Because it's there. And I was curious. I tanked the final, had a hard time understanding all the components of the systems and how they all fit together, and especially how to prioritize what was most important to know first.

So, what does this have to do with writing speculative fiction? I happened upon a book called Ill Wind by Rachel Caine and I bought it because it was about a weather warden and her djinn, or lack of one. Ooooo. I was right to get it. Each chapter started with a weather report. Lots and lots of weather manipulation. Mind you, couldn't verify the accuracy of any of it. Still don't know how to relate updrafts to cloud formation.


I do have a great idea for a story. In fact, it's one of my better ones and something I've done before. I decided that one of my characters will be studying weather as a magical practice. I will sit her down with the text book and take her through the same material I went through. I will have her struggle with prioritizing the text and making sense of what happens when in a weather system.

Already, I can see how I could have studied better. I am imagining a kind of Dungeons and Dragons play space but room sized so that it can fit the scale of a source area. How many inches to one mile? How close to the ceiling is a storm cloud? She's got station charts for symbol sources and the only difference between her and a weather forecaster is that she is casting the weather not forecasting it. Practicing the art of weather on a small scale. Lots of trouble to get into their.

I said this is not the first time I thought of using a character to help me understand something complex. The first time (an uncompleted project but still possible) I proposed a topic for my online English 1A semester: teaching calculus to goblins.

What subject are you interested in but think it's too complex to tackle on your own? Any idea how you might use a character to work through a problem? Go on adventures that are too dangerous or scary to tackle for real?

What research have you done for a story that filled you with excitement at learning something new? Or, better yet, that taught it to you much more easily than teachers tried to?

Will keep you posted on the calculus thing. Turned out to be more about how we talk about math, and about linguistics and language than about calculus.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Magic Is As Magic Does

I am not a witch. Nor am I a sorcerer, occultist, or enchanter of any kind. But I am totally obsessed with magic. I have a collection of magical texts that most wizards would be pretty proud of, yet I've never attempted a single spell. Its all used as reference material for stories and inspiration for memorable characters. Some of history's most interesting and influential people have been practitioners, and groups from the Golden Dawn to present-day Wiccan covens have shown us new ways of looking at the world around us.

Magicians fascinate me and I've read up on most of them: Apollonius of Tyana, Ramon Llull, Agrippa, Giordano Bruno, Cellini, John Dee, Eliphas Levi, Arthur Edward Waite, and many more. Their practices varied, but they were all innovative thinkers who pushed the boundaries of conventional beliefs. They were also diligent scholars and extremely dedicated to improving their craft, just like their contemporary counterparts.

Magic is hard work. Sure, we love reading stories about special characters with unique abilities and talents, but even the most inherently gifted wizard has to put in their seven years at Hogwarts and then some. There are no short cuts when it comes to performing powerful works. You must practice, practice, practice and eventually you're able to gradually coax the extraordinary into being.

It got me thinking about a phrase I've heard often since I began writing and learning that particular craft. In various forms, it basically states that determination is more important than talent when it comes to being a successful author. Of course, we all want to be good. No one starts a novel hoping it will turn out to be mediocre. We want to write something that people will love, read over and over with joy and exalt to anyone who will listen. Just as we cherish our favorite stories, study them, emulate the author's voice so that we may find our own, knowing that if we could just figure out how they acquired the divine spark of genius that created such greatness, then we would have the secret to making our own masterpiece.

But it's not that easy. As we figuratively sweat and bleed our way to the boot camp finish line at the end of the month, I hope everyone participating will recognize the importance of the journey itself. While bits of magic will surely emerge here and there along the way, it all comes down to the true grit of being a writer and all the toil and persistence required to be a really good one.

Monday, May 9, 2011

An Astonishing Discovery

I am one of the scouts that is taking part in Savvy Author’s Bootcamp.  Bootcamp is a gruelling month-long write-a-thon that has a writer pump out as many words as possible - preferably with the goal of 2,000 words a day for 60K for the month.  Now they don’t have to be perfect, actually they are far from perfect.  Think quantity over quality. 

My rules include no editing.  No proofreading and definitely no going back and changing sections.  Once I finish with a scene or a chapter, I move on and don’t allow myself to look back.  I learned that lesson in last year’s Bootcamp where my perfectionist nearly crippled my production.  That summer I learned that the point is to put words on the paper.  After all, you can always go back and edit. 

This is my second Savvy Bootcamp, and I’ve been successful at NaNo for two straight years, so as I prepared my outline for the month, I thought that I was ready and set to get it going again.  I had my deadline set and circled in red maker on my calendar.  I sat down in front of my computer, with my outline in front and readied myself for some serious big word counts.  That’s when it happened. 

Not even a week into Bootcamp, I had been following my outline, which also includes cue cards of well-drawn out, organized and preplanned scenes including point of view, setting, key points to hit, etc. when I suddenly became stuck.  The words wouldn’t come out and each word that did manage to make it to the page was laboured and forced. 

As I stared at my outline completely frozen, I realized that I set my character on a path that he would never follow.  I grabbed my character interview sheets and reviewed them.  Yep, I was right.  My hero would never do what I was trying to make him do.  My stomach lurched as I realized that I needed to start a completely new outline, a brand new set of plot points that it had taken me more than a month to construct.  I panicked as me, my life and my slight OCD had led me to believe that I was 100% pure plotter.  Bootcamp was doomed with that mentality.

That’s when I read Marilyn’s blog “Trusting My Instincts” and just on a whim, I opted to try just to freely write what popped into my head - without an outline.  At first it was hard, like an acrobat working without a net, but then it became easier and the words just flew off my finger tips - no outline needed.

Now I can’t say that I have no outline because I do cheat just a little.  At the end of each of my writing sessions, I write two to three sentences on where I’ve left off and my vision for the next scene or chapter.  I think of it as a spotter just to make sure that if I do stumble, I won’t hit the ground so hard, but the ability for freedom and endless possibilities as I sit down to write the next scene is very freeing. 

Bootcamp has taught me yet another lesson, I am a mix of plotter and pantser - I guess that makes me a "plantser".  Whatever I am, I am just happy that I am able to write again.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Oh, Sweet Mystery of Life!

The Speculative Salon welcomes Maureen O. Betita who writes PiratePunk! Her latest books can be found at Decadent Publishing.

Despite the Mountie singing this song (and my mother) I haven’t found all the mysteries of life. But I don’t really mind that, mysteries add spice to life. Not just the who-dun-it mysteries, though I enjoy those also, but the greater mysteries that spark speculation in the imagination and the brain. I love those sorts of mysteries and they drive my writing worlds.

I’m a believer in mysteries. And though I don’t necessarily believe everything I’m told, I don’t necessarily disbelieve it. Life is interesting and the world is huge and I certainly don’t know or have seen everything! For all I know, there are dragons wandering the deepest jungles of South America or Asia, cities buried beneath the snow of the South Pole, aliens watching us from the moon…who knows?

I certainly don’t!

Nor do I know where my kraken went. But I do love to speculate. After all that is what fuels the fire of speculative fiction. Me? I write piratepunk. A new genre I’ve invented which carries the neo-retro parts of steampunk but substitute the pirates for the steam.

The pirates I currently write of sail a Caribbean sea that is looked over by a benevolent, intelligent and magic beast known as the Great Albino Kraken. He’s (or she’s, since I didn’t really say one way or the other) is a bit of a romantic and very much a protector of his ocean and the populace of his ocean. Even the people. (He’s also a bit of a romantic and occasional matchmaker.)

My cover artist for The Kraken’s Mirror put a wonderful white tentacle on my cover. Oh, it was wonderful! You can see…it curled nicely around my name… I loved it. (This was the cover of my e-edition.) Ah, nice and fuzzy, warm feelings! And the excitement of my book being put in print was next!

Oh, how wonderful it was…until I noticed…the tentacle was gone.


Yes, there are logical reasons this happened. It wasn’t deliberate, it just…well…happened. But what fun is that?

I decided that it was much more fun to speculate where the kraken went…and turn it into a contest.

I’m giving away some nice stuff. A Sony Pocket Reader is the first prize. A kraken parasol is the second prize and the third is a Betsy Johnson ‘kraken’ ring. The contest started May 1st and runs until May 31st. (You can see pictures of the prize on my Facebook Author page. Go friend me, look at ‘em! I can wait…)

And this is how you enter!

Here are the options: Where did the Kraken go?
1) He’s in Scotland, wooing Nessie
2) He’s outside the Mines of Moria at Gandalf’s request, fighting off the menace in the waters
3) Sharing rum with the monster in the lake at Hogwarts
4) ? Your idea?

How to enter the contest?

1) Comment on my blog at www.maureenobetita.com/blogslink and pick an option, or create your own.
2) Friend my author page on Facebook, Maureen O. Betita Author and leave a comment, telling me which option you’ve picked, or where you think the Kraken went.
3) Find me on any blog I guest at during the month of May and tell me your option. (Be sure to leave an e-mail address in the comment section.)

I’ll award the three biggies on the 31st…during the month I’ll give away smaller prizes…free books, pirate perch hats and kraken jewelry.

And yes, this is a guest blog! So you can enter here!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Somewhere Out There And Naked

Yes, the scouts of the spec salon are in Savvy Author’s boot camp. Thirty days to write a first draft. For me it feels like free falling without a parachute or bungee jumping without a cord. It’s like a dream where you’re naked in front of crowd of people wondering how the hell you got there. It’s strange, exhilarating, and frightening at the same moment.

Why in the world would I do this? Because having a deadline and a goal pushes me. It pushes me out of my comfort zone. Yikes! Normally I would take the time to mull over scenes in a story and let it blossom on it’s own time. Or wait till my muse is willing to show up. This time, I’m flying fast.

What I’m trying to do in this first draft is to get the story out of my head and heart and on to the paper. In those times when my heart sings out with the story it feels good and I know I’m on track. Discoveries are plentiful like finding out some scenes need more worldbuilding. But, the most exciting breakthroughs pushing me onward are moments when the characters show me how to bring it all the way home.

As writers, we have different ways of getting the story down and ready for someone to read. The mode of transportation to our destination point is only valid if it works. That’s all we can do. Find out what works, hop on, and ride it all the way home.

Even though I’m feeling ‘somewhere out there’ it’s a ride I’m happy to be on. Excuse me while I grab a towel.

Let me leave with you a quote from John Campell:
A bit of advice given to a young Natve American at the time of his initiation:

"As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm,


It is not as wide as you think."

I'd like to know how your ride is going?

Till next time,

Friday, May 6, 2011

Trusting My Instinct

This month is Boot Camp for every scout on the Speculative Salon. While most of them have outline to follow, I am winging it with the tips of my fingers. If I haven't mentioned it before, I cannot follow an outline. It is best for me to save the time for research or writing. After five days of writing towards to my ambitious goal of 100k for Boot Camp, I realized trusting my instinct is the path for me.

While writing with no clear goal in sight, I decided to add some old woman in the street. Turns out the woman comes back to hurt my character later on. Was I aware at the time I wrote her in? No. Yet, somehow I felt the need to include the woman anyway. She came back inside my head when it was time for her to reappear. It feels random, but is it really?

It has happened to me before. Random thoughts added to my WIP turns important later on. Now it doesn't always happen, but for about 85% of the time it is true. I started to look back to the times when I wrote an outline. Was it possible my instinct made me write away from my outline because it knew something I didn't yet? I believe it did, otherwise why do these moments of aha keep coming into my WIP.

My conclusion is my instinct is directing me to write the novel I want to write. The only to access my instinct is to free write my novel until the very end. Then my instinct will step aside for the rest of the process. Well, I hope it does.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Spec. Books for Kids

I want to talk about stories written for kids that I absolutely love. I’m talking about those books and movies that just make you smile, that have you rooting for the hero.

When I was a special education teacher a few years ago, I worked with a boy who I read books to regularly. I decided to move up to something a little bit bigger to see if he was able to follow. I picked up the book The Troll King by John Vornholt. It is the story of a teenage troll who leads his enslaved race against an evil sorcerer. I hadn’t read much fantasy since I was a kid and obsessed with the Xanth books. This book re-invigorated my love of that fantastic element. There is a trilogy for the Troll king books as well, which I prefer over the long ongoing series. I would love for someone to make a movie of this book, as I think it has a lot of great imagery that would lend itself well to the big screen.

I’m sure most people have heard of the City of Ember and either read the book or watched the movie. What a great concept! The creation of an underground city to escape the apocalypse. The people in the book have been living pleasantly, unaware of the surface world, then supplies start to run out. The author, Jeanne DuPrau, writes in a deceptively simplistic style and I read this book in one sitting. I also thought the movie really matched the story well.

Both of these books were meant for a younger audience, yet I really enjoyed them. I can see why some kids are just eating up books. I think what appealed to me most about these books is the what if? factor.

What if there was a city of trolls who were tired of being slaves? What if they had been without a troll king for many years? What if the most unlikely of trolls decided to change things?

What if our dying society decided that they need to preserve life? What would happen if they decided to start a new society underground with just some babies and a few caregivers? What happens when those caregivers die?

Are their any kids books or YA books that have just taken your breath away or that you read over and over?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Romance

My romance with speculative fiction started with science fiction. This was the one place where people seemed to ask the kinds of questions that permeates my own thinking. When I say “permeate” I think I really mean "makes my thinking soggy", "distracts me for hours on end".

When I was in second grade, I remember asking the teacher why is two and two four. I’m sure she had not been asked that particular question before because she proceeded to explain how to count or add. That wasn’t what I was asking. I wanted to know how we came to figure out adding in the first place, who named it “two” and “four”, things like that. It turns out that it wasn’t a bad question. A couple of guys asked the question about 20 years ago, now and had were, admittedly, challenged to answer it. They wrote a book called Where Mathematics Comes From.

Did you know that there are people in the world who don’t count past three or four? They just have words like our “some”, “several”, “many” and “lots.” Have you considered the word “ginormous?” Or, the favorite topic of our now-defunct cafe tribe--a butt load? These are concepts we don’t consider, usually. One of the writers that has inspired me is Ursula Le Guin. She has been my educator in thinks like magic (The Earthsea Trilogy), shamanism (The Lathe of Heaven), gender (The Left Hand of Darkness). However, she wrote a short story that I remembered as being about the person who discovered the number “0” (zero). Did you know there was a time when we did not use zero as a place holder? Or negative numbers for that matter. But the idea of someone trying to persuade a world that there is a state of nothingness, that was an intriguing idea.

I haven’t provided a title because I’m not even sure the story is real. I could just be an idea that she inspired. But that is exactly the appeal of science fiction, in particular and speculative fictions in general. It’s an environment in which we can grow the things that the physics of the world we experience everyday does not allow. We can explore ideas about society, about ourselves and about the way the world works. For me, this is greater than the simplicity of just asking “what if”. Why? How? Who said? Why not? There are also the explorations of speculative fiction.

What kinds of questions does speculative fiction inspire you to ask? What kinds of questions do you ask that you find explored in its genres? Do you have authors you go back to, like favorite teachers?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Old Meets New & a Hounded Giveaway

One of the things I really love that is done so well in speculative fiction is the blending of the ancient with the modern. Centuries old myths come roaring back to life and eldritch gods show up to mingle with punk rockers and soccer moms. Most every UF title, vampire novel and steampunk tale has a bit of that old-time appeal.

I remember reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes for the first time in high school and feeling like I could actually connect to a deeper thread of our history, bring it back with me and somehow integrate it into my life. Some of my favorite authors are masters at creating that same sense of ancient wisdom and magic in our everyday lives. I also study a lot of ancient history and religions, so seeing it re-invented for a modern audience is always exciting.

In honor of the mash-up of old and new, I'm giving away a copy of Kevin Hearne's debut novel, Hounded, to one very lucky reader. There are plenty of great releases this month, but this is definitely one I've been waiting eagerly for. Hounded hits stores today and everyone should go buy it, but if you'd like an extra copy to give to a friend, then we've got what you need.

This contest will run through end of day on May 16th and you have 3 ways to enter: +1 for leaving a comment and letting us know what spec-fic title is at the top of your must-have list for May, +1 for following our blog, and +1 for tweeting a link to the contest (feel free to do so more than once, but it still only counts for one entry). The winner will be chosen via random.org. and I'll announce the name in my post on May 17th.

Happy Mother's Day this Sunday to all the great moms out there (especially mine)!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cast Call for Characters with Beth Daniels

We are very pleased to welcome Beth Daniels, aka Beth Henderson, J.B. Dane who wrote today's post and who continues to mentor and inspire many of the Salon's scouts on a daily basis. Her newest ebook Writing Steampunk could be the only instructional book available dedicated specifically to steampunk fiction. And we thank her for it.

 One of the easiest AND toughest things to do is deciding what sort of people will wander around in your story.

Will they be normal...well, relatively normal...humans, paranormal, enhanced creatures, aliens (from other places on Earth, from outer space, from another dimension or parallel universe), will they be lower class, scientists, adventurers, male, female, or something else entirely, aristocrats, politicians, pickpockets, murderers, visionaries...

The list can go on and on. And none of this has anything to do with what they look like, how they move, what quirks of personality are apparent or what sort of background they will need to accomplish -- or survive -- what you intend to throw at them.

It doesn't matter what sort of tale you are about to tell, but it is important to know that the best stories come from who the cast is made up of...what sort of things they are dealing with in the external world and their own internal one as well. Stories that come from character are richer than those that don't.

Take heroes for instance, whether they are male or female or one of those "others" that you might create. They can't be all good but when push comes to shove they do the honorable thing for their fellow beings. Villains will have a lot of the same qualities but they tend to do things for their own benefit. When Heroes and Villains share a number of the same elements it makes for a lovely tug and pull...take Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort for instance. Because they do share some qualities, it has Harry worried for a long time.

The major characters need backup...both good and bad sides. The companions, the sidekicks, the family, friends, co-workers...the minions. These sort of characters.

And finally there are all the "little people", the characters that pass through the story with but one chore...to deliver clues, to get killed, to bring dinner to the table...all things that need to be done for some reason within your story and that can't be handled by the upper rung of characters.

Yes, there is a social structure to your cast: the majors carry the story and the burden of the action, POV, danger, etc.; the secondary rung backs them up, helps out, gets in trouble, helps them out of trouble, whatever is demanded in the plot; then the thirdenary rung fills in all the odd jobs that remain.

Oddly enough, there are far more characters in the thirdenary group than in the other two rungs added together. The trick is to not get carried away and spending too much time describing or stretching scenes with the "little people". Sometimes we simply make then too darn fascinating.

Beth Daniels
Now Available on KINDLE and NOOK
In Trade Paperback late in June 2011
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