Making New Friends as You Write

One of the aspects of writing I enjoy the most is the discovery of new characters, ones I hadn't planned on or ones that decide to play a much larger part in a story than I had anticipated. I write stories "into the dark." (That's not my term. It belongs to Dean Wesley Smith.) I start with a situation and characters and some vague idea where the tale might end. My best ideas come while I'm putting pen to paper. The vague endpoint becomes a moving target. The story meanders in unexpected directions and usually becomes much longer than anticipated.

In The Great Contagion, my most recent novel, I thought it would be fun to have a pooka who took the form of a stoat. I didn't know what I would do with Slynid, but once he appeared he demanded a starring role. He became a critical player in several chapters. Merliss would not have survived without him. The story would have suffered without him. I can't imagine any new Merliss tales without him. I would detail his feats but I don't want to fill this post with spoilers.

Other characters emerge out of necessity to play a bit part but then they won't leave. Liesael came about because I needed some members of a family with a sick patient that Merliss and the cunning men were visiting. Liesael revealed a love interest in Fendrel, the cunning man's apprentice, and slipped a love charm into his satchel. She later came to stay with Fendrel and nurse the cunning man when he became ill. Liesael doesn't play the prominent role that Slynid does--more of burr in Merliss's fur--but she grew from a mere decoration to a significant player.

Late in the novel, Merliss escapes through the woods, traveling from one scene to another. I thought to add some interest with a chance encounter with another cat. Tawk is the name of a very timid feline who barely escaped his own death. Tawk gave me a chance to depict events in other villages. Merliss finds him annoying and an object of pity. I thought Tawk's first scene would be his last but like Liesael, he refuses to leave the story and tags along to the very end.

Slynid, Liesael, and Tawk will certainly appear in future Merliss tales. I don't know where they came from but I'm very glad they appeared. I know I couldn't have planned them or their exploits ahead of time. Writing is a lot about trusting that the characters you need will appear when you need them. And you have to let them do what they will, even if it throws a wrench in your original plans. The fun part is getting to know your new characters.


Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik #fantasy #fairytale

Literary fantasy set in the Russian winter...

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik | Waterstones

I've called Spinning Silver literary fantasy because it tries hard - possibly a little too hard - to be "literature" first and fantasy second. Although I knew it was a fantasy novel, I actually stopped to check after the first few chapters, because the book could have been a slice-of-life period drama set among the peasants and landowners of pre-revolution (I guess 19th century) Russia - although place names are all, so far as I could tell, invented. But, a magical fantasy novel it definitely is. It's also quite heavy on exposition and explanation at times, making it read more like a retold and dramatised folk tale - there are elements of Rumpelstiltskin and Baba Yaga in there - than a more traditional fantasy novel.

That all said, I enjoyed this book very much - it's intriguing and beautifully written, offering a very welcome change to the more standard tropes. The magical and fantastical elements are introduced gradually and gently: they creep up on you, just as they creep up on the characters in the book. Farmers and peasants struggle against poverty and hunger, but they're also battling more magical, elemental forces: faerie-like and demonic entities that intrude into the real world as folk-tale and rumour. The deep woods are to be avoided, because that's where the monsters and the malign beings dwell...

The story is told through the eyes of three women: Miryem, a moneylender, Wanda, a servant who becomes a friend, and Irina, the daughter of a nobleman. They're each well drawn, with their own distinctive voices and characters. All the characters are three-dimensional and believable. If there's a flaw in the book, it's that its conscious literariness makes the reader work to discover which character is speaking at any one time: the point-of-view switches a lot (which I personally enjoy), but doesn't give you any direct clue about who is speaking, meaning that you have to work it out from context, an effort that sometimes takes several paragraphs. Perhaps it's just me. This task become harder because a first-person narrator is used throughout, making it tricky to work out which I, "I" actually is quite a lot of the time. Instead of losing yourself in the beautifully-crafted prose, you're thinking, "Who is this again?" It could have been easily fixed: a few tweaks to the text, or just the name of the relevant character above each chapter or section, and the book would have flowed much more easily.

If you're looking for a completely escapist book in these troubled times - and who would blame you - this may not be the one to choose as the flight from our world is not total. Miryem encounters depressing anti-semitism during her experiences, and it's also very definitely possible to read the story as a parable of climate change.

But, overall, I loved it and it's highly recommended. The descriptions of snow and ice and cold are wonderfully done, and I really found myself identifying with and rooting for certain of the characters - including some who start off as "bad". That depth is surely the sign of a good book, and I'll certainly look out for more by the author.

Find more about the book at Goodreads.


Shifters, Revenge & the Shadow Self

I’m writing a paranormal romance in a shared world shifter series, The Royal Alpha Wolves Club. My book is called Alpha’s Revenge, starring Wayland Leblanc. He craves revenge after his whole royal line is slaughtered by the Tundra, a rival royal pack. The worst thing? They killed Wayland’s fated mate, Sabine and their unborn heir.

It’s ironic that I’m tackling a shifter hero, after I steadfastly avoided reading Stephanie Mayer’s Twilight series (or watching the films), which fueled the newest mania for shifters (Though, let's face it, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were shifters). I thought Twilight was for teens and so I couldn’t quite square it with my reality, though I've realized, I was making assumptions. In fact, I have written about shifters… I’ve created water sprites, ghosts, witches and Dorianna, who forged a deal with the Prince of Darkness, and shifted into a beastly version of herself that became almost unrecognizable.

Another irony is that in the last year, I’ve pinned up lots of wolf, fox and coyote images on my bedroom wall. Why? I identify with their feral drive, their loyalty to family and love for their forest homes. Also, their sharp instincts. Here’s one of the images I love most. It’s a mama coyote and her pups (Photo credit: Jim Zuckerman for the Sierra Club).

In fact, in Alpha’s Revenge when Wayland returns solo to his native Canada to eke out his form of payback, he befriends and enlists a pack of scruffy, wily coyote shifters. I wrote those scenes before I took this card down from my wall and saw that these guys were not wolves but coyotes! Excellent coincidence.

Anyway, I’m reminded of Carl Gustav Jung’s writings on the Shadow Self:

"Everyone carries a shadow," Jung wrote, "and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is." It may be (in part) one's link to more primitive animal instincts, which are superseded during early childhood by the conscious mind.”

This quote is good too…

“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.” … “In each of us there is another whom we do not know.” – Jung

Finally, here’s the cover of Alpha’s Revenge. It launches on September 3rd and I’m really enjoying writing it!

What do you think is essential in a (wolf) shifter character? What would you like to see in one that you don’t usually see? What’s your favorite shifter type?


Fractions of Existence - Speculative Fiction Worth Reading #bookreview

Blurb: Once they were humanity's exalted protectors— now they are being hunted.

Xavier will weigh all human life against Gwendolyn's ignorant happiness. The good news is that her choice can blow his away.

Omnipotent beings find each other while playing an online game. Xavier has been searching for Gwendolyn, his true mate and the missing member of the Existence. Only if reunited can the group regain the rest of their memories and access all of their powers. Hidden in plain sight, disguised as humans, they help who they can, as best they can, when they can.

The Eyes in the Shadows, a religious sect, has been trying to free humans from the “prison” of life on Earth for millenniums. The Existence has always been able to thwart them… until now. They've discovered a way to end the world that no one will see coming.

Gwendolyn has her future all laid out. There is a plan. She knows what her parents want for her and how to get it. Then Xavier, a friend from a virtual game, makes her question everything. He's full of secrets, one being an understanding of her fear of the wind.

She tries to suppress her intense attraction to the mysterious and frustrating Xavier. She's engaged, after all, and the thoughts she's having aren't proper. Gwendolyn is swept into a whirlwind of secrets, danger, and a forbidden attraction. She'll drive across the country in her beat-up old car, not knowing if he is genuinely interested or just being polite. (He refuses to kiss her!) Gwendolyn's journey is full of self-doubt, sacrifice, and dark visions that invade her sleep. Will she uncover the truth about herself?

Christine's review: The Existence wants only to protect humanity, but with their numbers split, they do not have the power to stop those who wish them dead. Xavier has been searching for their missing member and his love, but when he finally finds Wend (short for Gwendolyn), she doesn't know who she truly is and is about to be married her a man she doesn't know. The two of them grow close online, and Wend tries to be happy with her life, to do right by her father, but her emotions are in turmoil. Will she find her true self before it's too late?

This is the first book in the NA fantasy series, Existence. It has a unique mythology about The Existence where the members are like superheros or demi-gods. Even those that serve them have the desire to protect and better humanity. I have never read something like this before and it truly fascinated me. I'd love to see more about The Existence and its history. The villains are despicable and only want to destroy the good guys to "free" humans from their Earthly prison. Yet most of this book is concentrated on Xavier and Wend and how they're struggling with their budding relationship. Wend especially has a lot of issues to deal with for she feels a duty to her family and her religion, which makes her very passive, and has no one to support her until Xavier comes along. The relationships of Xavier and the others in The Existence are powerful, and I loved seeing the interaction between them. I also loved the fact Xavier and Wend met in an online fantasy game.

Highly recommended to those who want something new and fresh in the genre.


The Winter People #BookReview Speculative Fiction Worth Reading

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Set in the rural Vermont town of West Hall, this is a story certain to give you thrills and chills. 

As it was my bedtime reading, it was creepy for that time of day. However, I was soon completely absorbed in this story and had to find out what was going on.

My sister lives near one of the real towns mentioned in the story, so I had to warn her to be careful in her woods.

Spooky, haunting, and addictive, The Winter People was worth staying up late for and I savored every page.

Synopsis: West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter.

Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that has weighty consequences when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished.

In her search for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea's diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother's bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked into the historical mystery, she discovers that she’s not the only person looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself. Available in paperback, hard cover, ebook, and audio.


#pandemic #stayhealthy @UnRealms #staystrong #books #movies

That phrase, ‘We’re All In This Together,’ I don't believe is entirely correct. Yes, the whole world is sick and suffering, that's a fact. But ~ My son is an ER doctor in Reading Hospital, PA, he is on the front lines. He is my Hero! Nurses, doctors, EMT’s, First Responders ~ they are on the front lines. All Hero’s! Cashiers at the grocery stores, Target, Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot, truckers…etc…essential employees are on the front lines. They may be reluctant Hero's! They deserve all of our respect and gratitude!

How are you coping during this pandemic? I’m not an essential employee. I’m home, and go to the market once a week. I am totally into social distancing. There are a lot of protests to reopen in many states. I believe America is divided on that topic. If you have ever researched the Spanish Flu that hit the world in 1918, I just hope that history does not repeat itself with a second wave. That was tragic!

People need to get back to work, to be paid. The economy needs to flourish, again. We do have to get back in the game…but…slowly. I could be wrong, what are your opinions?

I have caught up on all my shows that I’d DVR’d. And we’ve been searching for new series and shows on Netflix, Amazon Prime, You Tube. Please comment below with some awesome suggestions!

Have you been reading during this time? I’ve read Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare. I’m rereading a fave, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. And I’m also reading Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney. Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. What are you reading?

My prayers are with all of you and your families during this pandemic.

Stay Safe. Stay Healthy.


#BookReview #paranormal #fantasy @JamiGrayAuthor

Everyone fears what hunts in the shadows…especially the monsters.

It takes a monster to hunt one, and for Raine McCord, forged in the maelstrom of magic and science, she’s the one for the job. In a world where the supernatural live in a shadowy existence with the mundane, a series of disappearances and deaths threatens the secrecy of her kind and indicates someone knows the monsters are alive and kicking. Partnering up with the sexy and tantalizing Gavin Durand proves to be a challenge as dangerous as the prey she hunts.

When the trail points back to the foundation which warped Raine’s magic as a child, her torturous past raises its ugly head. Gavin and Raine sift through a maze of lies, murder and betrayal to discover not only each other, but the emerging threat to them and the entire magical community.

Buy Here: AMAZON

Cathrina's Review: I take pleasure in reading all genres, though, Urban Fantasy is high on my list of faves. And Ms. Jami Gray certainly writes a compelling fantasy.

It took a few pages to get acquainted with Raine McCord, a wraith with unique powers, and the Taliesin Security that she works for to delve deeply into this action packed novel. I was introduced to a plethora of creatures such as Vamps, Feys, Shape Shifters, Witches, Warlocks, and more that added spice to the tale. The Shadow's Edge is a mystery as Raine and the hot Gavin Durand are assigned to find who's killing person's connected to a biogenetic company. While at the same time Raine is struggling with her own personal demons that threaten to surface, taking over her body. And Raine is a lethal weapon, a woman who can definitely handle herself in deadly situations. The sexual tension between Raine and Gain is on the rise, and my only disappointment was wanting more. If you love Urban Fantasy the The Shadow's Edge is for you. Looking forward to her next book in The Kryn Kronicles, Shadow's Soul.