The other day I was chatting to my daughter about my Blade Hunt Chronicles series, and the conversation went something like this:
Me: I have this headcanon about one of my characters.
Daughter: You DO realize you’re the author?
Daughter: And anything you decide about a character is actually canon?
It made me laugh at the time. But that little snippet of conversation stayed with me. It suggests that writers are in charge of their characters and keep them on a tight leash at all moments. Which… isn’t really the case at all. How often do we read online posts where authors jokingly complain that their characters won’t do what they’re told? That they downright refuse the plans their creators had for them, sometimes with a big Hell No? WHY ARE ALL THESE CHARACTERS RUNNING AMOK?!!
I can’t speak for other writers, but I’m a plotter. I like my outlines, and knowing where my story is heading. Of course, I leave room for detours and surprises, but my plots tend to mostly behave. When it comes to characters, however, I like to wing it. I start out with a rough idea of what they look like and how they act, but their personalities develop as I write my first draft. That leaves a lot of space for ‘misbehavior’.
Planned romances sometimes go in the opposite direction, while others turn up where I least expect them. ‘Strong’ characters break down in tears that make sense when I write them but were nowhere in my original outline, bullies turn vulnerable, and quiet throwaway characters stand up and demand page space, taking charge. It’s a wonderful crazy voyage of discovery, where I’m surprised over and over again, and often it isn’t until I reach those final pages that I truly know who my characters are.
Going back to that conversation with my daughter, I think I’ll stick to calling my character theories ‘headcanons’. Because once I get to writing them down, who knows what my characters will have to say about them? And that’s just part of the fun.
It’s April! Which should be all about that nice spring weather, but instead actually means it was snowing again just the other day… *sigh* Still, today there’s blue sky and the promise of higher temps just around the corner. So, in the spirit of weather-related optimism, here are some of my favorite reads from the tail-end of winter.
Recent Reads: All things magic…
I’ve been reading Myke Cole’s military fantasy work since his first novel came out. Siege Line is the final installment in the prequel trilogy to his Shadow Ops books. In this series finale, Jim Schweitzer, former Navy SEAL and now undead warrior, takes the fight to the far reaches of Canada in a desperate attempt to stop his enemy once and for all.
This was by far my favorite book in the trilogy, with Cole’s trademark high-octane action scenes, some great plot twists, and a wonderful new character, Sheriff Wilma ‘Mankiller’ Plante. An impressive end to the story that began in Gemini Cell with Jim’s death and resurrection, and now leaves us with all the groundwork for the Shadow Ops series, set a number of years later.
If you only pick up one YA book this year, I really don’t think you can go wrong with The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. This deliciously dark tale sits right on the line between fantasy and magical realism, and Albert has a wonderful writing voice, delivering great lines and crisp description.
The Hazel Wood is the story of seventeen-year-old Alice, granddaughter of the reclusive author of a fairytale book that became a cult classic. After her grandmother dies, the bad luck that has followed Alice and her mother all their lives threatens to swallow her whole once and for all. Unmissable.
Opal is a short story set in the world of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, taking place right after the end of the last book, The Raven King. It comes as a freebie at the end of the paperback of The Raven King, but you can buy it online on its own.
This one is only for those who have read the books; it doesn’t make sense without them. But for those who — like me — were smitten with Stiefvater’s world, this weird and wonderful tale of magic and families of choice told from the point of view of Ronan and Adam’s goat-legged dream daughter Opal is a precious gift.
(The photo above shows the adorably grumpy Opal tarot card I got with my signed copy of The Raven King. Thanks Maggie!)
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor has been on my to-read list for a while, and finally I succumbed to temptation and borrowed it from my local library. It’s hard to know what to say about a book that has garnered so much praise and recognition, except to add that this book deserves every bit of it.
The story follows twelve-year-old Nigerian-American Sunny as she learns to set her latent magic free and to make it work for her, as she and her friends attempt to stop a serial killer who also happens to be a powerful magician. It took me back to my teenage years when I read Macunaíma, a classic of Brazilian Modernism written in 1928 by Mário de Andrade. Akata Witch really is excellent, and I thoroughly recommend it for readers of all ages.
Now Reading: The winds of war.
I’ve just started Stormcaster, the third book in Cinda Williams Chima’s Shattered Realms world, set a generation after her Seven Realms books, one of my all-time favorite fantasy series. Chima is a masterful storyteller, and this brand new release promises to keep me happy.
To Read: Fantastic festivals and space shenanigans…
I’ve been hanging onto an ARC for Legendary, the sequel to Stephanie Garber’s Caraval, so I should probably get going with that before it comes out in May!
Also, loaded up on my Kindle and ready to go, is First Interview by C.T. Grey. Vampires and secret agents in space, and a zombie apocalypse thrown in for good measure? Why not!
I hope you have plenty of good books lined up and nice places to read them. Here’s to warmer weather and a hammock in the shade!
I sit here in my cozy kitchen looking through my manuscript notes as yet another nor’easter blasts my town with snow, and I’m content. Not only content, but downright happy. I don’t even care that it’s snowing AGAIN. I’m happy because the new story I’m working on has finally had its niggles worked out and its outline charted, and I’m ready to blast my way forward.
After getting my head stuck in boggy, swampy plot points for a good couple of weeks, I’m finally moving on. The main reason for my breakthrough is this: I was lucky enough to spend time this past weekend with friends in Vermont on an informal writing retreat.
We gathered for meals and coffee/tea breaks, and for post-lunch writing prompts, as well as evening readings and critique sessions. The rest of the time, I was able to dive into my work. No distractions of family, grocery lists, or laundry piles. No TV shows calling from my overflowing DVR. Nothing but my laptop, my notes, and a dog or two. I ended my weekend with:
70 pages of revision
The makings of a much-needed new start to my work in progress
Sharing table space
Four-legged writing buddy
Nighttime reading session
Now, I know not everyone can take a weekend off — there are many things going on in people’s lives, like small children or elderly parents, pets, or weekend jobs. Not everyone has a place to go, or knows someone with an awesome house in the snow (like me!), or can afford a hotel or a cabin rental. But there are other ways to break out of your routine if you’re stuck. Try spending a Saturday, or a weekday evening, writing someplace where you wouldn’t usually go, like your town’s library, or a welcoming coffee shop. Hide away at a friend’s house for a morning. Sneak away from your colleagues at lunchtime and find yourself a quiet corner. Get away from those everyday distractions, even if it’s for an hour or two.
Now, rather then just stick with your usual writing routine, label this a MINI RETREAT and set yourself some ground rules. Give yourself an internet allowance, and ignore the online world the rest of the time. If you manage to wrangle yourself an entire day or two, set break times, meal times, and times to relax. Start out with a clear idea of what you want to do. In my case, it was revise the work I had already done and adjust the plot points I’d changed so I could move forward. You can make this work for you, even on a 1hr lunch break: say, 15 mins to eat and browse the internet, 40 mins working on a chapter, developing a character arc, or mapping out a fight scene, and then 5 mins of free internet time at the end.
If you allow yourself to carve out this sacred space every now and then, and keep it fiercely for yourself, I hope you’ll find — like me — that it boosts your productivity and sharpens your focus. Retreat, regroup and then, with your ‘writer brain’ back on track, prepare to resume your regular writing schedule, full speed ahead.
For my Blade Hunt fans: no, I haven’t forgotten you, I promise! I have a gazillion notes and a basic outline for Book 3, Star Blade, and will be jumping back into my Blade Hunt Chronicles world in April, as soon as this draft of my new project is ready for my beta readers’ eyes… More updates on Star Blade and King’s Blade (Book 4) coming soon!
*contains mild spoilers for Heart Blade and Night Blade*
There are a LOT of articles and blog posts floating around out there at the moment about how to write great female characters. This is clearly an important discussion: YA fiction has a lot of amazing ladies, but otherwise female representation in science fiction and fantasy is…not always great.
The first two books in my urban fantasy Blade Hunt Chronicles series, Heart Blade and Night Blade, have a lot of strong female characters. I have warriors, and leaders, and healers, and yes, even villains. I have women who rule with their heart, women who use their brains, and women who depend on sheer grit and determination. They have different sexualities, different backgrounds, and a variety of motivations. I was pretty happy with my ladies as I wrote them, and I like the way they turned out at the end of the process.
That left the male characters. I was determined to do a good job on my boys, and try and give them the same nuances I gave my ladies. This meant taking them to dark places sometimes, or throwing them into the emotional deep end.
One of my main characters, Ash, suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. No wonder, poor lad: his mother was killed in front of him when he was a young teen, and that led him to question the path his father set out for him. By Book 2, he’s having recurring nightmares, and carrying a lot of anger to go with that self-doubt. With Ash, I wanted to show readers that our book heroes are also allowed to be insecure about their place in the world, to crumble and break down at times, and just be a little fragile despite broad shoulders and a sword in their hands.
His father, Deacon, is dealing with the distance he allowed to grow between him and his son, and the feeling that he’s let his child down by not being there for him. He’s doing his best to bridge the gap, but this means that Deacon has been forced to rethink his own path in life and make friends in unlikely places. Deacon (and Ash) are descendants of angels, brought up as warriors and protectors. So Deacon’s unlikely friendship with half-demon Camille is emblematic of the sort of changes Deacon goes through.
Alex is probably one of my least complex male characters so far, even though he’s an almost-1000-year-old vampire. Alex is a leader with a cause, a former knight of the Crusades who took a vow never to drink human blood and is currently a Catholic monk, although he certainly wasn’t always celibate. I have plans for Alex for Book 3, though, and hope to dive into some of his backstory and his own internal struggles. No one lives 1000 years without a heck of a lot of baggage!
Ben is my new guy, who only joined my cast of characters in Book 2. Ben is one of my favorites; he’s a witch and an outcast, with a forbidden romance to top that off. He’s been banned from seeing his love — a witch from a powerful coven — in part because his boyfriend Gabriel is expected, as heir to his line, to carry on his family’s blood legacy by marrying a woman and having children. But also because Ben was punished for his parents’ crimes and is persona non grata in witch society, even though he was innocent and barely thirteen at the time. Ben is a mess of insecurity and low self-esteem, despite his amazing magical powers, but his heart is in the right place: he’ll always do the right thing no matter how hard it is.
I have a favorite bad guy, too. Half-demon Jude Raven is a bit of a bastard, really, but I love writing him. His bottom line is ‘how will this benefit me’, and he’s a sneaky, devious, cold-hearted genius. But what I like about him is exactly his utter selfishness. He can do good things, but only if they’re more useful than the bad things. He’ll analyze a situation and find the best way out of it — for himself. He’s got big choices to make in Book 3 and Book 4, and I can’t wait to see how I’m going to make him handle them while still remaining Jude.
There are plenty of good male characters around in fiction; my favorites are the well-layered ones who give us something to think about. If you’d like to read my thoughts on some of my favorite YA boys, check out my original Writing Boys post. And here’s the counterpart, Writing Girls.
I’m really excited to have been invited to Boskone 55 as a program participant. This will be my fourth year at “New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention”, and my second taking part in panels. Boskone runs from February 16th to 18th in Boston, MA, so if you’re in the area, stop by. Not only is this a really friendly con, but it has great guests, panel themes, author readings and kaffeeklatsch opportunities. This year, there’s even a Regency Dance! Check out the Boskone 55 website for the full event schedule.
Here’s my own schedule:
Stories Before the Apocalypse
16 Feb 2018, Friday 14:00 – 15:00, Marina 4
We’re familiar with post-apocalyptic futures, from Max’s desert hellscape to Katniss’s dystopic districts. But what about right before the cataclysm — as doom and destruction loom large? How do people live? How do relationships change as we shift into survival mode? Let’s share our few existing “must-read” favorites, and discuss stories we’d like to see.
James Patrick Kelly (M), Juliana Spink Mills, Julie C. Day, Alan Gordon, John Chu
Curse Your Inevitable Romantic Subplot!
16 Feb 2018, Friday 16:00 – 17:00, Burroughs
Just when things are getting good, somebody has to go and fall in love. Are romantic subplots required? And what makes them work or fail in the larger storyline?
Heather Albano (M), Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, J. Kathleen Cheney, Kevin McLaughlin, Juliana Spink Mills
It’s Not Always About Sex
17 Feb 2018, Saturday 12:00 – 13:00, Harbor III
Speculative fiction is filled with friendships that turn into romantic entanglements. Is that all there is? Can’t our characters just have friends, of whatever gender, without hookups and/or heartbreaks? How about we rescue the world from the odd apocalypse or alien invasion, and forget about the sex for a change?
NIGHT BLADE has been out a month already! It’s amazing (to me) that I’m closing out 2017 with two published novels. HEART BLADE, Blade Hunt Chronicles #1, kicked off the year in February, and has garnered some great reviews.
It’s been a terrific year, which included some fun blog and web interviews, positive feedback from readers all over the world, and my first ever Con as a panelist (Boskone 54) — I’ll be back in Boston as a panelist in February for Boskone 55!
Upcoming for the beginning of 2018 is a short story in The Last City anthology by DUST Publishing, my first time playing in a shared world sandbox. I’m also busy outlining the third book in the Blade Hunt Chronicles series, STAR BLADE, which I’ll be diving into as soon as I finish the first draft of my current work in progress, a young adult SF crime story.
Some of the recent blog interviews and guest posts for NIGHT BLADE include:
I’m looking forward to a busy 2018, with Blade Hunt Chronicles #3 and #4 to write, as well as a number of short story projects to find time for. And my to-read list keeps growing, so hopefully I’ll clock in some good reading hours, too! I hope all of you have lots of great reading and writing projects lined up for the upcoming year.
Last of all, I wanted to share a few Instagram edits my daughter made for some of the Blade Hunt characters (Raze, Ben, Del and Ash). Aren’t they adorable?
It’s release day for NIGHT BLADE! Happy book birthday to my second Blade Hunt Chronicles novel.
NIGHT BLADE brings familiar characters you’ve met in HEART BLADE, as well as some new faces. Rose is up and center in this book, as she attempts to infiltrate a heist and steal a certain object of interest from the very thieves she’s partnered up with. Del is learning to handle all the attention she’s getting from preternatural society, while at the same time trying to figure out her past. Ash is still dealing with all the fallout from the events in the first book, while hanging onto Del like a lifeline. And newcomer Ben just wants to keep his head down, do his job, and fade back into his self-imposed obscurity, hopefully without losing his boyfriend along the way.
I’m really excited to share this new installment of the Blade Hunt Chronicles with you all. If you haven’t read Book 1 yet, HEART BLADE will be free for Kindle from November 8-12th, so don’t miss out! NIGHT BLADE is only $2.99 right now…
Are you a book blogger/reviewer? Are you interested in an ebook review copy of NIGHT BLADE (and/or HEART BLADE)? Contact me, and I’ll be happy to pass on your request to my publisher…
FREE BOOK 1 PROMO!
For those of you who are new to the Blade Hunt world, my publisher Woodbridge Press will be running a promo on Book 1 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles. From November 8th to November 12th, you can pick up the HEART BLADE ebook for free on Amazon. If you don’t have a Kindle, the app costs nothing to install, and you can get it for your computer, tablet or phone.
And finally, the art giveaway results! Three lucky winners were chosen randomly from my mailing list to receive a set of Blade Hunt character art postcards. I’ll be contacting Jessica S., Jess H., and Gabi G. by email for a mailing address. If you didn’t win, don’t worry! I have plenty of postcards, and there will be other chances to get hold of the beautiful character art by Corinna Marie. If you head over to my Instagram, I’ll be giving out more copies next week, to celebrate NIGHT BLADE release day.
Over the past week, I’ve introduced some of my characters from NIGHT BLADE, Book 2 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles. Here’s the last one! I hope you’ve enjoyed the lovely artwork by Corinna Marie. (Used with permission.) Also, check out the ones Corinna made for Book 1, HEART BLADE, here.
Finn Elmson is a pixie and a member of the Guild of Saint Peter. Always ready with a wink and a joke, Finn is also incredibly resourceful, and has wriggled out of many a sticky situation thanks to his sharp mind and even sharper teeth. He’s a valuable ally, and the Guild was lucky to recruit him.
Would you like to win a full set of Night Blade character postcards? I’ll be randomly drawing three lucky names from my mailing list to receive Corinna Marie’s adorable artwork. All you have to do to participate is sign up for my newsletter.
It’s character intro week! I’ll be introducing some of my characters from NIGHT BLADE, Book 2 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles. The lovely artwork is by Corinna Marie and used with permission.
Angelica Reis has been leading her small band of thieves since her early teens. The black sheep of the Reis witch clan has a knack for crime, and an iron grip on her crewmates. Don’t even think of stabbing Lix in the back: she has a talent for potions and can be absolutely ruthless when it comes to getting her way.
Would you like to win a full set of Night Blade character postcards? Once character intro week is over, three lucky names from my mailing list will be drawn randomly to receive Corinna Marie’s adorable artwork. All you have to do to participate is sign up for my newsletter.