5.10.2019

Writers, Stop Killing Pets

I recently finished the second of a six-volume epic fantasy series. I'm not going to tell you the name of the series in case you haven't read it. And no, it's not about games and thrones. One of the protagonists of the series is a young mystic whose companion is a wolf. The two are inseparable. I like the wolf. It's my favorite character. As I read toward the climax of the first volume, I had the sense the writer was setting up the story for the wolf's death. I considered putting the book away if the wolf died. But, surprise, surprise, the wolf survives.

After finishing volume one, I wrote to the author on Goodreads to tell him how much I enjoyed the story. The wolf is my favorite character, I wrote, and I was impressed that he avoided the temptation to kill it. The author thought it was interesting I experienced such a strong connection to the wolf's character. He asked me to write again after finishing volume two. I should have seen what was coming.

In volume two, the wolf dies. Twice! Yes, twice the loyal, faithful wolf with its fighting and sniffing skills is sacrificed. In the first instance, the party is trapped deep in the bowels of a mountain and under attack from a demon. The mystic might be able to defeat it but needs a massive surge of power. The mystic's mentor offers herself as a sacrifice to create the power. The mentor at this point is three-quarters dead already. The idea is the mystic has to kill someone close and dear to her. The mystic decides she cannot kill her mentor, so she kills her wolf instead and transforms the wolf's spirit into a sort of dragon which battles the demon until they figure out how to dispatch it.

It's kind of neat that the wolf has upgraded to a wolf-dragon who is still intensely loyal to the mystic. And yes, I understand the need for the sacrifice. But, the wolf's character lives on in a new form and won't it be neat for the mystic to have a wolf-dragon as a companion? Think of the damage a wolf-dragon could do to a horde of enemies? As they are leaving the bowels of the mountain, the mystic is abducted by a nasty creature. The other members of the party are powerless to save her until the wolf-dragon shows up and puts an end to the creature.

At this point the wolf-dragon has prevented the demon from killing all of them and single-handedly saved the mystic. The mentor is now comatose and nine-tenths dead. None of the humans in the party have died. Due to some restrictions in the spell used to create the wolf-dragon, it cannot leave the mountain. Bummer! But, it could still live on as a friendly force for good inside the mountain. There are still many nasty creatures living down there. The mystic refuses to leave the wolf-dragon. The pair settle on the floor together like she and her wolf used to do.

Meanwhile, the party of humans struggle to negotiate an exit from the city. The ungrateful mayor won't allow them to leave even though the demon has been destroyed. What does the leader of the party do? Yes, you guessed it. She offers to kill the wolf-dragon in exchange for free passage home. Really? This is how you reward loyal service? The poor mystic must again kill her friend to save the party's sorry butts. There appears to be no coming back this time, which is probably a good thing. They would just kill it again.

Seriously, can't writers think of something better to do than killing off pets? We've all seen Old Yeller. We've been there, done that.

Image Attribution: Detail from an image by Stéfan [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

4.23.2019

Speculative Fiction Worth Reading - The Circuit by Rhett C. Bruno #review #scifi

Looking for your next great space adventure?


Earth is a dying planet. To survive, humanity founds the Circuit, a string of colonies across the solar system, dedicated to mining resources vital to preserving what remains of mankind. Here there are no heroes or villains, only those willing to do what's necessary to survive.

The New Earth Tribunal, a powerful religious faction, has risen to rule the Circuit. They believe a Spirit within the Earth will one day appear and welcome humanity back home. Following a string of seemingly random attacks, the Tribunal suspects its mortal enemy, the Ceresians, have again rallied to challenge their absolute rule. But a new, sinister threat has arisen--and it plans to bring down the Tribunal once and for all.

Join an unlikely band of would-be saviors--the Tribunal's best spy, a roguish Ceresian mercenary, a subservient android and a disgraced general--as they are drawn into a conspiracy destined to change the Circuit forever.


Rhett C. Bruno made me a fan with his first novel, Titanborn. He has a way of creating complex, flawed characters who I always end up rooting for. That's a great talent. I enjoy every adventure he takes me on, and The Circuit was no exception. 

Like all good science fiction, this story makes one think about oneself and humanity in general. I always hope I'd rise to the challenge as the characters do to overcome obstacles and make our humanity better. That's what I love about space opera, the discovery inside and out.

You can get the series here: http://rhettbruno.com/the-complete-circuit-trilogy/  Also find out more about Rhett and his other books.

Have you read anything good lately?


4.09.2019

Franny's Mashup of Victorian and Modern Vernacular

One of the fun things about writing my characters is that they say the darndest things. I almost wrote that I can make them say anything I want, but that’s not strictly true. The story-line must fit their character, or they’d never let me get away with putting words in their mouths. They really do have minds of their own, especially my secondary character Franny!

First, a little about Franny. The sleuthing sidekick of reluctant ghost-whisperer, Indigo Eady, Franny Bishop also happens to be the ghost of a former Victorian madam of some repute. Walking with a foot in both worlds, she’s still “living” the high life in modern day Sabrina Shores. The old English market town is a haven for the dearly departed, and Franny leads quite the active afterlife. Indigo is not far off when she says that Franny exists in the modern world better than she does.

Existing as she does, Franny has become quite the unintentional logophile—a lover of words. And except for a few instances which you’ll see further down, she’s quite the colorful speaker.

And she has reason!

Sleuthing is tough work. Everyone needs an outlet when frustration strikes, right? Here are some of Franny’s favorite Victorian expletives (the corresponding definitions are mine):

Balderdash = B.S.
Blast a Spaniard = Dang it!
Doolally = Crazy
Numbskull = Dumb@ss
Cockamamie = Ridiculous
Pshaw = Surely you jest

And then there’s the telly. How many ghosties do you know who watch television? Franny does. She is addicted to late-night black and white crime shows, featuring tough-guy private dicks such as Mike Hammer, Sam Spade—and even Charlie Chan.

Franny loves to use the slang she picks up...

Clocked = Assaulted

Rozzer = Policeman

Gam = Sexy leg


“Oh dear,” Franny said. “You’ve done it now. Gone and clocked a rozzer.” 

Rob stood—if you counted stooping at the waist as standing, and I did. Franny lifted her skirts and floated around him tsking at his rumpled condition. 

Rob raised his pant leg to assess the damage and Franny stopped and bent to check out his knee. “A bit of a lump, but all in all, a nice gam, don’t you think, Indigo? Placed higher and you’d have made a clean getaway. You’re out of practice, dear.” She shook her head.


Franny doesn’t always get it right. Sometimes she's a bit confused, like in this scene where she tries a bit of matchmaking... 


“Life is too short, don’t waste it on boredom. You need to follow your dreams. And speaking of dreams, that Badger is a real dream ship. Have you spoken to him yet?” 

“You mean dream boat and Badger is ancient history, Franny. We were kids. Besides, we’ve both moved on. He has a girlfriend.” 

“Pshaw,” she snorted, in a most unladylike manner. 


Or in this scene, where she mixes up the term, "coming out"...

“If an event or anniversary woke him from the ether, he might only now be coming out,” Franny said. 

I snorted. Franny’s interpretation of modern slang tickled my funny bone. We’d recently discussed gay people ‘coming out’ after my break-up with Francois. I never expected to hear the term used in connection to a haunting.  

Franny continued, “You may laugh, but he could be a newborn.”

I laughed again. “You mean newbie.” As in newly departed. 


And what self-respecting ghost isn't concerned with how she looks?...

“...Do I look warm?” She patted her ebony hair. Her teal skirts flared from a waist so tiny that Barbie would be green with envy, and her bright white gossamer blouse hugged her ample bosom in flawless perfection.

As if she ever looked anything less than perfect. “You mean hot. And yes, you’ll do.” 


But seriously, can a ghost be faulted for using "cobblestones" instead of "road"?...

“Good thinking, Indigo,” Franny said, as if she were my conscience sitting on my left shoulder giving her approval. “Plenty of time down the cobblestones to spill the beans.”

“You mean down the road…” I corrected Franny automatically. 


I love Franny’s character. She makes me laugh all the time. I hope you enjoyed learning about her as well.

What do you think?

Is Franny a true logophile?

Or one forgetful ghost?

_______________________________________

If you enjoyed reading about Franny, these snippets are from my upcoming cozy paranormal mystery novella, 
A Scandal in Boohemia.




Indigo Eady can’t live on ramen noodles forever…

She jumps on the first job offered. All she has to do is work undercover at Sabrina Shores Theatre, find a ghost thief, and cross him over. Easy peasy, right? Until an actor is murdered and Indigo’s fingerprints are all over the pistol like ink on a Rorschach test.

Forced to dust off her rusty sleuthing skills to clear herself, Indigo enlists the help of her ghost friend Franny and her hunky ex-boyfriend Badger to help solve the crime. Now, how to keep her investigation from the handsome inspector?

***


Indigo Eady is a reluctant ghost whisperer, but she’s grown quite attached to Franny Bishop, a former Victorian ghost madam of some repute. Franny’s afterlife makes Indigo’s life look like she has one foot in the grave. Much to Indigo’s chagrin, Franny is determined to find her a man. After all, there are plenty of handsome men around ripe for the picking, and Franny’s an expert. In the meantime, Indigo and Franny have murders to solve. 


3.19.2019

Speculative Fiction Worth Reading - #Review of Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut


Celebrating the 50th anniversary of this masterpiece!

Blurb: Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

Christine's review: Billy Pilgrim was not made for war. Later in life, as he sits down to write his experiences in a book, the reader follows his life before, during, and after the bombing of Dresden in World War II. Not in that order due to the fluid nature of time!

I read this book many, many years ago. When I picked it up to read again, what I remembered most was that Billy had been abducted by aliens and they displayed him in a zoo. That is just a very small part of this story. This time around, it was the horror and devastation of war that struck me, and left me feeling heavy and depressed. The grisly details and horrible reality of what it was like; the sights, smells, and sounds. The repetitive imagery of the frozen ivory and blue feet. Billy was already broken by the time he was sent overseas to fight, but the war shattered him further. He was truly a tragic character. There is a bit about aliens and living in a zoo, and the fourth dimension of time. It's weird and zany, but the novel carries a great weight which makes it truly one of the greatest novels I've ever read.

The Kurt Vonnegut Library is celebrating by working with the publisher to get a new 50th anniversary cover for the book. Check out the article here.

3.05.2019

A Writer's Inspiration #shortstories #fantasy #alternatehistory

Writers are often asked where do they get their inspiration. The answer a lot of us give is either "I don't know" or "Everywhere." Vague, I know. We don't mean to be, but sometimes it's hard to nail down the moment inspiration strikes and a character steps forward to begin a story.

I recently have been working on a four-story collection to publish this year titled Folds in Life and Death. The stories take place in an alternate history where some people have the ability to bring origami to life (i.e. paper magics). The unique thing about these stories is I know what inspired them, and I have four anthology calls to thank for the creative spark.

Though I always wanted to write something involving paper magics, I didn't necessarily have a story in mind. We Untethered Realms' people were using the original four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) to create anthologies. The first anthology, Twisted Earths, had been released, and I was considering what to write for Mayhem in the Air. All I knew is I wanted it to involve paper magics. I saw a piece of paper floating in the air. Then, Mayor Alfred Merry stepped out from the shadows. The mayor hated paper magics and wanted to ban them, not because Paperists (paper magic practitioners) could be dangerous, but because his wife, a Paperist, had cheated on him with a man Alfred had trusted. His wife had not only abandoned Alfred, but also their little girl who eventually passed away from cancer. Alfred promised his daughter only her mother would release her soul to the sky, which is the key task for Paperists. This story also brought up a deadly sect of Paperists known as the Ritualists. Alfred created the Futurists, those against paper magics. The players in this new world were set in "Paper Lanterns."

In 2015, the Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG) put out a request for alternate history/parallel universe stories, which was titled Parallels: Felix Was Here. I knew I wanted to revisit my paper magics' world, but what story to write? I thought about our history, and I remembered something I read as a child about the Curse of Tippecanoe, which stated every President elected in a "---0" year would die. In our universe, Reagan survived the curse, but in my paper magics' world, he wasn't so lucky. So what would that mean for the President elected in 2000? Allyson Moore, a Paperist and the President's sister, is just about to find out in "Folds in Life and Death."

I wrote "Folds in Life and Death" for the IWSG anthology, but if it hadn't been selected, I was going to use it for UR's Spirits in the Water. So I still had a new story idea to discover for our fourth Elements of Untethered Realms' anthologies. I wanted to revisit the paper magics' world. In "Paper Lanterns," I wrote from the point of view of a Futurist. From "Folds in Life and Death," Allyson is a Paperist. Now, I wanted to write from the point of view from a budding Ritualist. What would inspire a person to join what most of the world thinks of as a terrorist organization? Aimee Washington helped me understand in "The Folding Point."

Last year, IWSG had a call for YA Romance with a masquerade theme. I wanted to write from the point of view of an autistic, like me. Willow bloomed before me, but I unfortunately didn't complete her story in time for the anthology. I wasn't willing to give up on her, so I inserted her into my paper magics' world. She is a regular ol' human who hasn't yet taken sides when it comes to Futurists, Paperists, and Ritualists. She's just a girl in love with her best male friend. A girl who obsesses over theater and history and admires the paper magics' her love interest can create. Willow's story is "Paper Faces," and it rounds out the collection Folds in Life and Death.

I'd hoped to have published Folds in Life and Death by now, but I'm still writing "Paper Faces." The collection will be published soon, though. March or April. *crosses fingers*

If you're a writer, where has inspiration led you? Readers, I hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse behind the scenes.

2.19.2019

#Review #PolarNight #mystery #supernatural #suspense #ebook


Julie Flanders is superb, a definite flare for writing suspenseful mystery. She pulls her readers to the edge of their seats, and thoroughly involves you with Danny Fitzpatrick, a police detective you automatically fall for. After the tragic, homicidal death of his wife, Danny fleas to the snow-ridden terrain of Alaska to drown his sorrows. 

The novel, Polar Night is set in Alaska and Julie's research on the Alaskan territory is phenomenal. You can almost feel the frigidness surrounding the story. As the reader, your throat clogs along with the main character as he breathes in ice fog. That's when Alaskan temps reach a mere 40 below and it's full of icy particles. Years prior it was called appropriately, 'white death.' 


Polar Night has a supernatural premise which I wasn't expecting. In fact-- there are spoilers ahead... but they won't deter you from reading...
What makes Julie such an excellent writer is her believable plot-line. Danny Fitzpatrick's investigation into the premise of scavenging Vampires located in Russia back in the 1800's and beyond is astute, I still have shivers. Do I believe in vampires? Now I do! And has me jangling in my boots, and I tend to sleep with the covers rucked under my chin, just in case.

I recommend Polar Night as an excellent read. For murder mystery, supernatural, detective, suspense and thriller fans alike. 

2.05.2019

Hi, have you met my friend burnout?

It's been a while since I posted on Untethered Realms last. In fact, I think it might have been well over a year. Eek. Sorry guys. 

I would have liked to say my absence was due to my sold-out international book tour, or that signing the books during that tour sprained my typing hand... But no. 

Unfortunately, the reasons for my absence is an old, familiar friend to writers everywhere... burnout. 

It's probably funny to see burnout referred to as a friend, but I did conclude that, while burnout is a thorny fellow, he actually is kinda good to have around. Why? He has a way of making us step back and reassess. 

On my side, I'm pretty much consistently go go go, even in the worst of circumstances (of which last year was basically one crap situation extended over about 200 days), but being this way comes at a high cost to my physical and mental health. 

By the end of those 200 or so days, my buddy burnout came over, seemingly to stay. I pushed on regardless because I had to, straight through Christmas. And by the third week of January, I was physically ill. 

At which point burnout grabbed me by the neck, made me look it square in the eyes, and told me, "You can't go on like this, Misha. Seriously come on." 

So to a large extent, being sickly plus burned out was the impetus I needed to take a harsh look at myself and... well... get a grip on some really bad habits I have. 

At the same time, I'm also having to look at every aspect of my life and how I'm spending my time, because I simply can't keep going on the way I did and expect for my exhaustion to go away. So at least for now, I've cut way back on everything I possibly can, in the hopes that I can open up my days and start fitting things in, somehow in a way that makes better sense. 

And none of these things would have happened if I hadn't burned out, even if it was seriously damaging to my health. 

So yeah. Not necessarily a bad guy, burnout. 

Do you burn out sometimes? Have you burned out recently? Did burning out make you reconsider your habits and lifestyle? 


1.22.2019

Speculative Fiction Worth Reading - Review for Faebourne


Blurb: Duncan Oliver was in every respect an unremarkable gentleman. 

When mild-mannered Duncan Oliver is abducted by the Milne brothers and taken to their legendary home of Faebourne, his unexciting life becomes much more interesting. Adelia Milne has been cursed, and Duncan is her chosen champion to break the spell. Duncan may not be a hero, but he is a gentleman, and he refuses to leave a lady in distress. He becomes determined to take on the quest on Miss Milne's behalf. 

Meanwhile, an unlikely rescue team forms in the pairing of Duncan's best friend George and valet Davies. As they set out for Faebourne--and also perchance to learn more about Davies' obscured family history--what begins as an unequal partnership quickly blooms into friendship... and possibly something more.

My review: Duncan Oliver's sedate life is turned on its head when he's kidnapped by two odd men he's just met at the local club. They bring them to their mysterious manor Faebourne to help remove a curse from their sister, Adelia Milne. A task which Duncan is unsure he's up to. Yet his trusted valet, Davies is quick on the case to find his employer. Duncan's best friend George accompanies him on the journey, hoping for some excitement. The two men find so much more.

This is not what I expected from a Regency Romance, but in the most wonderful of ways. The writing is light and crisp, true to its genre, but coming to the beautiful Faebourne we have a whole different type of story. It is like a fairy tale of old with its curses and quests. Grass slippers and a song who is many songs. Plus Adelia's fox familiar Aloysius who is quirky and clever and makes me want my own! The Milnes are odd themselves and often had me smiling. While I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of the book, it is the cast of characters that shine. Duncan is the polite and boring everyday man who must stretch himself to try to become a hero. Davies wrestles with his newfound lineage and his attraction to George. While George himself is surprised by what he finds in himself traveling with Davies and what he wants in life.

I'd love to read much more from the author and this of this type of Regency Romance. Well done!

1.08.2019

Evolution of a series cover

In the book world, both indie and traditional, common knowledge is that one should occasionally recover and repackage a long-running novel or series. I run into this all of the time when I teach. Even though I assign the same booklist, the covers keep changing from year to year!

Recently, I attended an "author mastermind" conference that involved branding and taking one's authorship more seriously. Upping one's game. It seriously kicked my you-know-what! It also inspired me to take a hard look at my covers, my promo style and release schedule. In this post I'll focus on my Fireseed series covers.

Here is the evolution of the first two of the Fireseed novels, Fireseed One and Ruby's Fire over time.
See the whole series here.

Oldest, on bottom:
When I launched the series in 2011 I wanted to break out of the YA trope of girls in gowns, and even from the photo retouched cover. Coming from the art world, I also wanted to include my own interior illustrations. I hired digital cover artist Jay Montgomery, who taught at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I designed the roughs. These worked for a while as they attracted attention from their unique look. But I decided to scrap my interior illustrations as some thought they made the book seemed aimed for the 9-12 year-old set. They are meant for older teens and adults. And though the covers were an homage to the classic 50s sci-fi covers, they also began to seem dated.

The big portraits, next oldest:
Najla Qamber designed these next incarnations, with close-up heads and a more trendy type font. These sold quite well and I was happy with them.

The edgy setting covers, second to top:
Then, I hired publicists, who convinced me YA sci-fi covers no longer featured up-close faces, but had object covers such as the Hunger Games crests or otherworldly settings. We looked at the top 100 YA sci-fi on Amazon, and I took the bait. Again, Najla delivered spectacular covers with a futuristic title font. The look was sophisticated, gritty - everything I love. But the covers did not sell as many books. Ultimately, I realized that in YA, and even in adult fantasy, people are drawn to, well PEOPLE!

The brand new 2019 covers, on top:
In a meeting with a mentor from the author mastermind conference, we looked again at the Amazon top 100 in YA sci-fi. Yes, we still saw object covers, but we also saw a resurgence of faces and human figures, which filled me with relief. The lead characters in this newest set by Najla are in mid-picture, walking or standing in front of spooky cool settings, the hallmark of the series. It's a burning sky, it's harsh desert, it's strange jutting rock formations and thorny Fireseed blossoms literally on fire. It's topped off with a big, brash title font that reads clearly from a thumbnail.

Who knows if and when I'll design another set. There's something I love about each rendition. Which one do you like best and why? Have you recovered and repackaged your novels? If so, what prompted it?