“Words” by Annie Oortman

For readers and authors alike words have a special power to transport, inspire, and inform. Today, I’m thrilled to share an article from my dear friend and amazing editor Annie Oortman that is her ode to the power and beauty of words.

Annie and I met as a result of her generosity and kindness. I needed someone to come teach at my League of Utah Writers chapter meeting and Annie volunteered to share her method that helps authors through the process of self-editing, a skill that many of us struggle with. We’ve been friends ever since.

Enjoy the article!

“Words”

by Annie Oortman

I love words. All of them.

Good ones (wonderful) and bad ones (heck)… small ones (wee) and big ones (considerable). Simple ones (plain) and complex ones (labyrinthine)… charming ones (glamorous) and nasty ones (scatological). Trashy ones (sleazy) and high-brow ones (fastidious)… clever ones (crackerjack) and stupid ones (huh). Moral ones (principled) and… Oops.

Sorry, I got carried away. Why? Because I love words!

Ensure You’re Understood

Words are the means to clear and expressive communication. Whether posting on social media about a movie you saw, talking to your friends about work, or explaining your feelings to your significant other, your choice of words can make the difference between getting your point across and vacuous effective purpose unmitigatedly (missing the mark totally).

Confusion occurs because words have shades or nuances of meanings, just like those addictive paint chip cards that beckon you at the front of your favorite home-improvement store. That’s not just a bunch of reds. Meet Bolero, Rave Red, Red Tomato, Coral Reef, Charisma, Youthful Coral, and Oleander.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what’s on the disappointed chip card: baffled, dumbfounded, puzzled, frustrated, thwarted, and failed. The problem chip card: issue, obstacle, trouble, quandary, dilemma, uncertainty, and difficulty.

One more for kicks and giggles: Pretend: deceive, simulate, masquerade, feign, dupe, bluff, and fool.

Paint Chips? Really?

Still not buying my schtick? No problem. Let’s talk context…

Think sorry.

“Sorry about that.” Sorry is used so often in apologies ranging from spilling cereal on the floor to totaling Dad’s car that its connotation stands neutral. However, shades of sorry can zero in on real feelings behind the apology

“I’m distressed about that.” Tayson can’t be believe he forgot his wife’s birthday and won’t feel better until she forgives him.

“I regret the incident.” Margo doesn’t think blowing off a staff meeting should cost her her quarter bonus, but making nice with her boss might fix the problem.

“I sympathize with you.” Mrs. Hutzell’s delay in emailing West Point a teacher recommendation letter caused Caroline’s application to be denied.

“I apologize for my outburst.” Carter’s blunt assessment of his five-year-old sister’s clay ashtray made Betsy cry.

“I’m so embarrassed by my actions.” Bob’s profanity-laced tirade on the tennis court will be remembered for years and he knows it.

“I’m full of remorse.” Carrie knows her ongoing affairs damage her marriage but can’t seem to stop herself.

“Please forgive me.” Adam didn’t mean to rush out of the meeting, but lunch wasn’t sitting well.

Don’t Start Carrying a Thesaurus

Having fun with the thesaurus on the shelf, on your phone, and/or on your computer is one way to learn to communicate clearly and concisely. Others include:

  • Reading every day. The more you read and the more variety of options your read, the more words you’re exposed to. See how some famous authors suggest you get started.
  • Making friends with your dictionary of choice. If you stumble across a word you don’t know, look it up and then insert it within a conversation or email when appropriate. The easiest one to find? Dictionary.com!
  • Learning a word a day. Buy a word-a-day calendar or have a word-a-day website email you. Challenge yourself to incorporate the daily selection into conversation, email, social media posts, etc. at least three times before bedtime. Get started now!
  • Having fun with etymology. The study of word origins is fascinating. (Seriously, it is.) Did you know i.e. is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase id est, which means that is? Or that the French word for a woman’s bedroom or private sitting room—boudoir—comes from bouder, meaning to pout, sulk? Check out The Etymology Nerd’s daily take on the fun.
  • Playing word games. Challenge yourself and discover new words via crossword puzzles, word jumbles, Scrabble variations, etc. while waiting in line or stuck on hold. My favorites include the classic Scrabble, Daily Crossword, and Word Trip.

Okay, my friend. Time to expand your mind (and your vocabulary). Go forth and prosper… blossom… flourish… catch on… thrive… advance…

Annie Edits: Editing is a Bitch, I’m Not
(IMO – the best slogan ever.)

About Annie Oortman

Faster than a speeding deadline, more powerful than a period, and able to leap a rough first-draft in a single bound… Super Annie fights a never-ending battle for readability, enjoyment, and clear, compelling writing for all!*

Deciphering the written word by age three, performing readings to family and friends from her front porch at eight, and finishing every book in her small hometown library by 12, Annie knew her uncanny ability to not only read, interpret, edit, and improve a writer’s message but teach them to do it themselves must be used for good not evil.

As the mild-mannered Annie Oortman, she travels the world sharing her superpower with fiction and non-fiction authors alike, hoping one day to rid the publishing world of simple subjects, puzzling plots, and wretched writing.

Join her in her fight! Sign up at annieedits.com.

*Her only weakness? Bookstores.

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Power Word: Create

When was the last time you visited a museum or attended a concert? Visited a historical site? Ate at a great restaurant? The draw of all these activities is rooted in our desire to experience that which stirs the senses, whether it be sight, taste, sound, smell, or touch. The people behind these experiences, the painters, musicians, architects, or chefs, all have one thing in common – they create.

Photo by Kai Oberhäuser on Unsplash

The word ‘create’ is simple, yet powerful. Everything that surrounds us is a result of an act of creation. From the first moments we discover the use of our hands, we create. As children, we spent a great deal our energy creating crayon art, play dough sculptures, sand castles, digital worlds, Lego worlds, and endless stories.

As adults, we have less and less time to spend in carefree acts of creation. I find this sad, but I’m guilty of it as well. Ever since I shifted my writing from something I did as a hobby to a career, that element of carefree play has been lost. Each time I sit down to write or edit something, it’s to meet a deadline, a goal, or a career milestone.

That said, I still enjoy the act of creating new ideas and putting those ideas into a story. There is a rush of fulfillment and joy every time I get to hold a new book or anthology in my hands for the first time. Finishing a project that has taken weeks, or months, or even years is an emotional thing.

Happy mommy otter

Using ‘create’ as a power word means to remind myself how much I enjoy the process of writing. It’s a reminder to make progress on other creative projects, like the half-finished crochet Totoro that’s been stuffed in a box. It’s gentle encouragement to try something new.

Ultimately, the joy that comes from creating art; whether it be visual, edible, or word driven, can’t come from any other pursuit. It’s the ability to look at something with pride and say, “I made that.”

What are you going to create today?

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This post is part of the Power Words series.

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Interview with Ann Hunter

It’s not every day I get to interview a ninja who just happens to also be a warrior for teen issues and a horse enthusiast to boot. Oh, and did I mention she’s an amazing author? Ann Hunter and I go back years as authors and fellow writing convention snarky commentators (seriously, we can’t sit next to each other!).

When I asked her to come play on the blog last minute, despite being super medicated for a recent ninja related injury, she was more than eager to say yes!

I googled “ninja horse” – totally not disappointed.

Onto the interview with ANN HUNTER: Mom, writer, ninja (no, really!)

Let’s get to know you better! If you could visit any part of your past for a half an hour, what would you do?

I don’t like the idea of living with regrets or trying to go back to fix something (unless it’s a first draft!). Mistakes make us who we are. I like to say “I never lose. I win or I learn.”
But I guess I would ask for a do-over at the 2018 World Taekwondo Federation National Championships. My score was pretty dang low, but I got a gold medal anyway (because I was the only one in my division). Luckily, I’m competing at State Championships in a few weeks with the hopes of qualifying and going back to Nationals and fixing that score!

Tell us about your newest release and the story behind it.

Dark Horse is the 6th book in my contemporary YA series, North Oak. It deals with the aftermath of rape, the ongoing effects of depression, and PTSD. All while being a teen. It has gotten great reviews, several angry emails (cliffhangers, gotta love them) and lots of ugly crying. I’m looking forward to getting book 7 out quickly (again, cliffhangers)
Also there’s pretty ponies that go really fast! #horseracing
Check out Dark Horse on Amazon

What is the randomest thing you’ve done to research something for a writing project?

With North Oak, I’m constantly researching interesting stuff. When you write what you love, researching turns into a geek fest. I have books on the aerodynamics of race riding, how it’s changed over history, and so on. I recently had to research how a jockey actually becomes a jockey (all the laws and fitness testing, etc). You’d be amazed at what they go through.

And although I love my contemporary teen series, I enjoy my fantasy writing as well– because you make your own rules.

Many of your books include horses. What is your craziest real-life horse story?

Perhaps my author bio for North Oak. I used to run around barefoot and half-naked with a herd of Arabian horses my parents bred when I was little. #truestory Those really early years was when I learned all my fundamental horsemanship– by being kicked, bitten, chased and trampled like any other naughty foal.

Second craziest horse story? That one was how I became a published author at age 12. For English we had to write a short story. Naturally, being the horse crazy girl I was, I chose to write about a horse. My teacher ended up flunking me because the story wasn’t written and formatted the way she wanted. My reading teacher noticed how down I was and asked what was wrong. So I told him. He asked to see the story. I gave it to him… and didn’t see it for a few weeks after.

The next thing I know I’m being called to the principal’s office. Why? Because that story had gone from the reading teacher, to the librarian, to the 8th grade English teacher (who was a published romance author) and brought to the head honcho’s attention. It got published in the paper, in full, and went on to win local awards.

I was transferred out of that flunky teacher’s class, and she later apologized to me the following year.

REGARDING NORTH OAK: I do want to say it’s not just a horse series. I set out with a mission to tackle the really hard, scary issues teens are facing today. The last few books have dealt with bullying, sexuality, depression, and suicide. The horses play more of a backdrop to the drama. Sometimes they even help teach important lessons about miracles and finding yourself.

I hope you’ll give the series a try. There’s nothing else like it on the market!
Check out the North Oak series on Amazon

Tell us about how you prefer to work and a little about your writing space

I don’t have a desk, per say. I typically write on a laptop in bed, or wherever I might be at the moment. Some of my favorite sessions are over lunch with other authors (I love mentoring them or even just being in their company), at Taekwondo while my kids have class– I also do martial arts and I’m just over a year away from my black belt! Or wherever I can catch a break.

I do have kind of a pimped out laptop though. I’ve stickered it to death. You can see one of my favorite stickers here:

Both colorful AND accurate!

What’s next? Tell us about what you’re working on.

Book 7 in the North Oak series, obviously. It’s going to be a bit lighter toned than the last two that dealt with some really solid issues teens are up against in this day and age. I’ve also got my first middle grade horror planned (“Zoo”, it’s going to be a cross between Jurassic Park and Jumanji), a YA standalone inspired by the song “Summer of 69”, some fairytales, and my first couple of romances for a project I’m doing with a few other authors. I’m also contemplating a book about nutrition for diabetics by a diabetic (me– macros and food are another thing I love to nerd over), and a book about getting more writing done without burnout.

About Ann Hunter

Ann Hunter, my favorite ninja

Multi-award winning author Ann Hunter is awesome. And hilarious. She is often told it must be a blast living in her brain. She argues that the voices in her head never shut up. The only way to get relief is to let them out on to the page.

She credits the voices for:

Crowns of the Twelve – A fractured fairy tale series: Moonlight, Blade of Woe, The Subtle Beauty, Fallen, A Piece of Sky

North Oak – a young adult horse racing series that totally rocks! IF YOU’RE A FAN, DON’T MISS UPDATES: Click here to sign up for North Oak updates!

She likes cherry soda with chocolate ice cream, is a mom first and a writer second, has a secret identity, and thinks the Twilight movies are cheesier than cheez whiz (which is why they are her guilty pleasure! And Oh my goodness, have you seen Vampires Suck? Bwahaha!)

She lives in a cozy Utah home with her two awesome kids and epic husband.

Be sure to sign up for her mailing list for exclusive news about upcoming books!

Ann realizes she speaks in third person, and this profile is entirely unprofessional.
But that is why you’ll love her!

Connect with Ann

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Exploring the Five Orders: Travelers

Back in January, I shared a little about the magic system that exists in Stonebearer’s Betrayal. Today I’d like to dive deeper into the magic system and talk more about Travelers.

Where would you go if you could magically Travel?

Star Trek fans can appreciate the science and technology surrounding the idea of teleportation and how useful it can be. If you can move from one place to another in moments rather than hours, a whole new reality presents itself. With this ability, escaping from danger or running to the rescue can happen in a heartbeat. No prison can hold a Traveler and no location is secure, unless protected by a greater magic.

In the Stonebearer universe, the use of magic is dangerous and therefore those who possess it must use caution. Those who have a talent for Traveling, are able to manipulate objects and themselves through space using a series of magical symbols or glyphs.

The most important rule a Traveler must adhere to is that they can only send themselves the same distance they can travel on foot in the course of a day. Pushing to move themselves farther than this drains their energy beyond what is considered safe and they risk loss of consciousness or even death.

When sending objects, a Traveler must consider the items weight and the distance. The lighter the item, the further it can be sent. This is why Travelers tend to be great spies. Not only can they escape from danger, they can send messages to someone days away. The places they can travel to, or send things to, are limited to where a Traveler has visited personally.

The energy to work all magic, including Traveling glyphs, comes from within and can be replenished with rest and time. In an emergency they can draw this energy from other people, but avoid doing so.

Dame Judi Dench would make an amazing Lady Alystra

In Stonebearer’s Betrayal, the most conspicuous Traveler is the High Lady Alystra. Not only is she the head of the Stonebearer Society, she is head of the Traveling Order. She uses her power to maintain lines of communication among the Society as a whole and has a network of spies that help her stay informed. Her head spy is Bremin, a member of the order of Seekers and her bonded companion.

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If you love a great magic system, you’ll love Stonebearer’s Betrayal. Get your copy from Amazon today!

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Interview with Jana S. Brown

When I heard the news that Jana was releasing a new book next week, I had to grab her for an interview. As friends and fellow authors, Jana and I have bounced around at various Utah writing events together and had plenty of fun. I was super excited to learn more about her journey and inspirations in this interview.

Photo by Arash Asghari on Unsplash

On to the interview!

To kick things off, tell us three things about yourself that most people don’t know.

I always love these questions. There are so many odd things to delve into.

Well…first of all I ran a medievalist fighting group for seven years in my college and post college days. I specialized in archery and sword and shield fighting.

My first job in the publishing world was as an Executive Secretary and jaded reader for a small magazine. I opened all of the envelopes – yes this was in the very early internet days – and read all the submissions for content and rejected anything that didn’t fit the magazine’s standards. Then I organized the rest of the subs and prepared them for reading groups.

I love to travel! I’ve been all over the US and visited Norway, Hong Kong, Singapore, England, Scotland and Wales. I’ve also been trapped at the airport in Amsterdam twice, but I don’t think that counts for much.

As a writer, what would you choose as your spirit animal and why?

My fuzzy killer cat is my spirit animal. She’s a little older, like me. She’s a little cranky, like me. She’s occasionally a murder hobo…erm…no comment. But when she chooses someone as her person she’s kind, fuzzy, loyal, and phenomenally loving.

You have a new shiny book coming out! Tell us what it’s about and also the journey leading to its creation.

Said in Stone is my new book baby! It comes out April 9th and I’m so excited. This book kicks off a sister series to my Sentinels of Essence series which begins with Fallen Stone. When I introduced the world of Fallen Stone there were some great secondary characters who I really wanted to tell stories about. However, the Sentinels of Essence series is in tight third person and there just wasn’t a way to expand without breaking that. So I created the Chronicles of Alexandria for short stories that happen in the same world, but involve the other characters.

Said in Stone contains six stories about our heroes dealing with: zombies, a Borg-like collective, gremlins, hellhounds, a specter, and the unseelie court. I love these close character stories where I can focus on moments in these character’s lives, and toss in some surprises for people who read both series at once. You can read the Chronicles separate from the Sentinels of Essence, but together they make a much richer story world.

Every author has a favorite character they’ve created. Who is yours, and what inspired you to make them the way they are?

I have to choose one?!?! That’s like asking me to choose my favorite kid. I love them all, but if I had to select a favorite it would be Dianna McDunna. Dianna’s story hasn’t been published yet, though it will have its day soon. Dianna began as a character in an online RPG where I played for years. I love her because she’s got that kick-ass confidence we love in a UF heroine, but she’s a little older with all the baggage that means. She leads a group of supernatural hunters and takes their welfare very personally.

What is the most interesting thing you keep on your desk and what is the story behind it?

Hah. Near my desk are skeins of yarn and half finished crochet projects. When I’m stressed, or my subconscious needs some time to ponder something I’ll pick up a yarn project and start working. I find crochet tremendously soothing and when my hands are busy my muse gets a chance to work without the pressure of the screen in front of me. I give away some of my projects, sell some, and others are donated to cancer centers, hospitals, and children’s organizations. I figure my frustrations can help others!

Tell us about what you are working on next!

On the schedule for this year are two more novels. The next book in the Sentinels of Essence which is titled Fallen Leaves and a paranormal romance which is going to have a title one of these first days. 🙂 I am playing around with the idea of a pen name for that one, but we’ll see how things go!

I have presentations coming up for several conferences so I’m also sketching out PowerPoints and handouts, definitely all part of the writing dream!

Thanks for having me!

Jana, the Magical Princess of Writing Conference Craft Services
(Seriously, she’s amazing.)

About Jana S. Brown

Jana S. Brown has been involved in publishing as an Author, Editor, Presenter, Slush Reader, and grundle of other positions (Yes, grundle is the technical term) for over 20 years. She writes the weird and the wonderful with smoochies and prides herself at being a jack-of-all-trades and master of enough.

Connect with Jana:

New Release! Said in Stone by Jana S. Brown

About Jana’s Newest Book, Said in Stone

When the cat’s away the mice will… Play? Fight? Fall in love?

Featuring six short stories from the supernatural world of Denver, Colorado and the mystical Library of Alexandria, the answers are Said in Stone:

Zombies Don’t Play Baseball: What happens when a book on necromancy falls into the wrong hands after the Cubs win the World Series?

Welcome to the Collective: A glimpse into the Heart of the Library where dwells something more than books.

Convention Shock: All Peter Haas wanted was a day off at the DenCon fan convention. What he got…gremlins, lots of gremlins.

How to Train Your Hellhound: Angel the Hellhound goes to obedience school and finds a life of crime.

Merry Christmas to You: One haunted opera house and one visionary storyteller. Can they create sweet music?

The Door to the EverGold: When books are in trouble and knowledge about to be lost, there’s only one place to turn. Librarians to the rescue.

Special Sneak Peek from Convention Shock

Haas closed his eyes, forcing himself to process her words. He allowed her to pull his arm away from his chest and heard the sound of ripping fabric as she tore his sleeve away. It occurred to him that now he really looked like Kirk after an away mission with torn clothes and mussed hair. Though for Kirk the blood was colored corn syrup.

Soft fingers patted his cheek. “Come on. Stay with me.”

Haas blinked a few times. “Bridge to Engineering, please stand by.”

“What?”

New Release Special Offer!!!

Jana’s book, Fallen Stone, the first book in the
Sentinels of Essence series, is ON SALE for $0.99 from April 5-12.

Pick up your copy here!

Fallen Stone, book one in the Sentinels of Essence series

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Book Review: Mort, by Terry Pratchett

While I try my best to branch out and read new authors as often as I can, sometimes it’s important to pick up a bit of indulgence reading. Terry Pratchett is one of my very favorites. His books are the equivalent of Cheetos and Jelly Bellies, intensely flavorful and full of surprises.

Mort is no different. This book was originally published in 1987 and is the fourth in the Diskworld universe series where the world is indeed flat and supported in its journey through the universe balanced on the back of four elephants which in turn stand on an immense giant turtle. If that doesn’t give you a good feel for Pratchett’s gigantic sense of humor and intellect, I don’t know what will.

The Story:

The main character, Mort, short for Mortimer but also meaning “death” in French, starts out as an awkward knobbly kneed youth and proceeds to, ironically enough, become Death’s apprentice. Death has become tired of his job and sees this as a wonderful opportunity to finally learn what life is all about. Mort, being the awkward youth that he is is tasked to collect the souls of those who have died and in the process accidentally breaks the nature of reality and time.

In order to heal the rift he has created, Mort must find a way to align reality to accept his big mistake – a process that involves finding a wizard specially suited for the job. Naturally this can’t be easy. Nothing in a Pratchett book is. Every twist and turn reveals different aspects of wonderfully complex characters and an equally complex world.

My Review:

I adore Prachett’s writing style. He creates the most unexpected and delightful descriptions and then blends them into a story that flows with such ease that I can’t help but sit back in awe. He does for fantasy what Douglas Adams did for science fiction – take a normally very serious genre and fill it with wonder and humor.

The story of Mort itself is just enough unpredictable that even this seasoned story expert was kept on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what would happen next. For me, this is a real perk. With most books, even the best written ones, the story is usually straight forward enough that I can guess what’s going to happen and that’s gets boring. With Mort, that expectation gets thrown out the window in the first chapter and a world of wonderful possibilities present themselves, each equally plausible.

Many books like to explore the ideals, especially when it comes to characters. There is usually a hero, a villain, and a variety of mentors, sidekicks, and romantic interests who cross the stage of the story. Prachett has never been slave to this convention. His strength lies in making all characters as flawed and strange as possible – the more unique the better. My favorite? Death. I love that he wants to explore the world and is so helplessly naive and charming as he learns what it means to live. The whole idea just tickles me the right way.

Recommendations:

I recommend this book to those who normally don’t enjoy fantasy, but want an introduction. The Diskworld books don’t need to be read in any particular order, but for those who need a plan of attack, I’d recommend the Diskworld Wiki to help explain the different families of books. I’d also recommend it to fans of Douglas Adams, those who like clever prose, and anyone with a pulse and a sense of excitement and adventure.

I would not recommend this book to the following – people who can’t smile, appreciate a good joke, or don’t get puns and sarcasm.

I rate this 5/5 stars for making me giggle and share random passages at my family. They still don’t know what hit them.

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Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read Stonebearer’s Betrayal, head on over to Amazon, Goodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!

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Interview with Ben Ireland, plus a Sneak Peek inside Bleakwood Lore

Today I’m thrilled to have friend and fellow author Ben Ireland with me to share his thoughts about writing and his books. Better still, I was able to read the first Billy Blacksmith book last week. If you have a kid in your life (or young-at-heart adult) who likes adventures, danger, and an unlikely hero – this is a great series.

Onto the interview!

Tell us about your journey – What led you to writing Billy Blacksmith’s story?

Billy Blacksmith is actually my second published series. The first, Kingdom City, was published by Xchyler. It’s a fun tale about government sanctioned torture, human experimentation, and the desperate struggle to survive in a dystopian city torn apart by war.

Kingdom City is dark, and sometimes brutal. Which I thought was cool when I was younger. The protagonist of Kingdom City is Autumn, a woman who is powerful, brilliant, and internally shattered by her past choices. But by the time Kingdom City: Revolt had come out in 2016, the real world felt like a darker place to me. I wanted to add some light.

One day I walked into my kitchen, the sun was shining through the window, and it’s almost like I heard a voice in my head, saying: “I’m Billy Blacksmith. I like video games, cupcakes, and baseball. My best friend is a demon, and for some reason, I, have to save the world.”

Then, question after question (Why does Billy have to save the world? Why is his best friend a demon?) The Blacksmith Legacy universe was conceived. And it’s been so much stinking fun.

But seasoned with a little darkness, because I can’t help myself.

I’ve found most authors keep special items close by when they work. What’s the most interesting thing you keep on your desk and why?

I usually have my adopted cat, Bam Bam on my lap. Does that count?

Is there a hidden lesson in the Billy Blacksmith books? If so, what is it?

No. I try really hard not to sneak a lesson into my writing. I like to leave room for the reader to make up their own mind about what is happening in the story. There are characters that say things dear to my heart, while other characters express opinions that I find abhorrent.

But then there are times where my characters say “Friendship has tangible, magical value.” So sometimes I’m not all that subtle.

If there is anything I’m trying to say, is that Billy is about the conflict about good and evil. What I want to do is make you question what good and evil really means.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself while writing your books?

I CAN live off 4 hours of sleep most nights. For a limited time.

What’s next? Tell us about the projects you are working on.

Currently I’m working on Bleakwood Lore. The Blacksmith Legacy: Addendum.
The Billy Blacksmith books are all part of The Blacksmith Legacy universe. Bleakwood Lore is the first non-Billy Blacksmith book I’m writing in the series. It has eleven short stories from the perspective of different characters. Some you know, some you’ve only just met briefly. It was that, or have eleven opening chapters to Book Four.
I’m really excited about this one. It was incredibly fun to write, and it has a lot of reveals for those who have been paying attention to the series.

The current titles in the Billy Blacksmith Universe:

About Ben Ireland

Born and raised in Australia, Ben Ireland is uniquely qualified to write about horrifying spiders and how much they would like to kill you. An award-winning writer of both Young Adult Urban Fantasy and Cyber-Horror, Ben received the Gold Quill 2017 for Billy Blacksmith: The Demonslayer from the League of Utah Writers. His other award-winning books include Billy Blacksmith: The Hellforged, The Ironsoul; the cyber-horror series – Kingdom City, and several short stories.
Learn more at BenIrelandBooks.com

Want to grab a copy of one of Ben’s books? Find all of them over at his Amazon author page.

Sneak Peek Excerpt from Ben’s next book, Bleakwood Lore

This is a scene from the 4th story of Bleakwood Lore. Krios—a twenty foot tall demonic spider (and ex-general of the Spider Horde)—has been trapped in the Human Realm with his princess, who happens to be a human. She’s sick, and Krios isn’t sure what to do, so he enlists the aid of a Smith’s worker to purchase some “human medicine.”

A curious, burning smell wafted through the air. Krios crept across the roof and peered over the rearmost wall of the store. The back lot of the store was not brightly lit, a large square of asphalt with several cars parked in the shadows. Around the asphalt unkempt shrubs grew, entangling themselves about a sagging metal fence. To Krios’ left, a ramp descended towards a huge door in the rear of Smith’s store.

Directly beneath him, a single human stood in the dim light. She did not seem large by human standards, with a slim figure and thin arms. Her outfit of black pants and a red collared shirt held the air a uniform. She tucked her short brown hair behind her ear and lifted a small stick to her lips. When she lowered the stick, a cloud which wreaked of burning lifted into the air, much like a demon smoking a pipe, though far less fragrant.

“Human,” Krios grunted in human language.

The woman started in surprise, looking around her for the source of the voice.

“I require drugs,” Krios said. “Are you able to help me?”

The human laughed nervously. “How do I know you’re not a cop?”

“I can assure you, I am not.” Whatever that is. “Can you help me locate drugs?”

“Yeah. I might,” she said. “What are you looking for?”

Krios dropped from the roof and landed in front of the human. “Excellent. I require your assistance immediately.”

The woman screamed and jumped backwards, tumbling over the rail behind her and down the ramp. The burning stick flew into the air, drawing an arc of bitter smoke as it fell.

Krios dashed forward after her, following her down the incline. She scuttled backwards on her hands, her eyes bulging as she took in Krios’ mighty form, until she slammed into the far wall. Her mouth was wide, her body shaking. The only thing she seemed to remember to do was breathe.

“Will you assist me?” Krios asked.

Her eyes passed over Krios, and landed on his sapphyril mandible. “Why can you . . . talk?” she said. “Please don’t eat me.”

“I will not eat you,” Krios said as reassuringly as possible.

She continued her attempts to scuttle backwards, despite the wall hindering any further movement. “What . . . what . . . what do you want?”

Krios rolled his eyes. Humans become quite stupid when you frighten them. “I told you, I require drugs.”

She laughed, though without humor. “I ain’t got a bowl big enough for you.”

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Amazing Woman: Winifred, Countess of Nithsdale

In honor of St. Patrick’s day and the whimsical month of March, this month’s ‘Amazing Woman’ hails from Scotland.

Lady Winifred, Countess of Nithsdale

Winifred Maxwell, the Countess of Nithsdale (c. 1680-1749) met her husband, William Maxwell the 5th Earl of Nithsdale and a Catholic Nobelman at the French court.

At the time, Lady Winifred’s father, the 1st Marquess of Powis, was in exile and Winifred’s mother became the governess for James Francis Edward Stuart, the son of the late King James II of England (James VII of Scotland).

Lady Winifred met William Nithsdale while he was visiting France to pay his respects to the former King James II and were married soon after. They lived in Terregles, Dumfriesshire, Scotland.

Sixteen years into their marriage, William Nithsdale joined the famous Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. He was captured at the Battle of Preston and tried for treason and sentenced to death, which effectively landed him in the famous Tower Prison of London.

Winifred, now a mother of five, traveled to London and made a personal appeal to King George I to ask for clemency, but received none. On the night before William’s execution, she visited the prison with her maid and two friends and gave the guards a generous amount of drinking money. Inside the prison, she shaved off William’s beard and dressed him in woman’s clothing. She then proceeded to smuggle him out of the prison.

Smuggling William Nithsdale out of the Tower Prison

The cloak she used that night is still held by the family.

The couple hid in London until William could escape to France disguised as a servant of the Venetian Ambassador. Winifred then traveled to Scotland to manage her family’s estate. She eventually reunited with her husband at the exiled court of James Francis Edward Stuart – yes, that James, the son of King James II, the same man that Winifred’s mother had cared for as a child. This James Francis Edward Stuart came to be known as the Old Pretender and sought the British throne during the Jacobite Rebellion – yes, the same rebellion that sent William to his death for treason.

It sounds like the plot of a brilliant movie.

For being brave enough to risk her neck to save her husband and smuggle him out of prison dressed as a woman, Lady Winifred Maxwell is my Amazing Woman for the month of March.

Resources:

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Updates

While this isn’t my first conference, I still love when I get shiny pictures to share. If you are in Northern Utah on April 27th this is a terrific conference for a great price. Head over to the League of Utah Writers webpage for more information.

I’ll be teaching “Helping Characters through Tough Transitions using the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle” at 5 PM.

Special Sneak Peek: Preface of Sakura

While most local Utah authors have heard parts of this emotional story, there are many of us out there that haven’t heard all of it. I’ve asked Paul Genesse to come to the blog today to share about his experience bringing Zachary Hill’s vision to life.

Paul has generously allowed me to share the preface to Sakura: Intellectual Property with you.

Cover of Sakura: Intellectual Property

From Paul –

Completing the Sakura novel for my deceased friend, Zachary Hill was a once in a lifetime project. Patrick Tracy and I took on this monumental task out of love for our friend. Below is the six-page preface I wrote. It’s the hardest five hours of writing in my life.

Preface to the Sakura: Intellectual Property Novel

by Paul Genesse

Zachary Hill will live forever in our hearts. He will also live on the pages of the many books he wrote and illustrated, and on the canvases he painted. Knowing him was an incredible blessing, and his sudden passing January 15, 2016, left his friends and family devastated and heartbroken.

Zach had so much to live for. He had finally met and married the love of his life, Mackenzie. Only a few days before their one-year wedding anniversary, he collapsed soon after arriving at work. CPR was performed, but he did not survive. A large blood clot had formed in his leg and traveled to his lungs. The pulmonary embolism took his life.

None of us wanted his story to end. There was so much more that was supposed to happen. He was only thirty-eight years old, and the best years were ahead of him. He was called back to his celestial home far too early.

At his wake, with tears in my eyes, I stood beside his open casket and made a vow to friends and family that his last book would be published. Six days before he left us, Zach told me he had finished the first draft. I agreed to be the editor, and together, we were going to develop Sakura into the best novel he’d ever written. He was so excited about this book, and his idea was brilliant. Set in a dystopian future Japan, Sakura, a heavy metal–singing android is hacked and turned into an assassin. She fights her programming, trying to stop a secret cabal who is taking over the world.

Creating Sakura’s unique character was arguably Zach’s greatest literary accomplishment, and her story needed to be told. Eight months after Zach’s death, Joshua Hill, Zach’s twin brother, completed a light edit on the manuscript and sent along the file, which was 378 pages (92,000 words) and had the working title Intellectual Property.

I couldn’t muster the courage to read it for some time. The pain was too raw. Every time I opened the document, I got choked up and was only able to read a few pages, which was Josh’s experience as well.

Also, I was in the middle of finishing book four and five in my Iron Dragon series and used that project to distract myself from the grief. Zach was a fan, and to keep myself going, I would think, “Zach would want me to finish.” I eventually completed book four and was 45,000 words into book five when I realized I needed to stop my project and work on Zach’s novel. If I didn’t, it would be more than three years before Zach’s last book came out.

I finally read the first draft and began the rewrite on March 5, 2017, finishing my first draft on December 31, 2017. I incorporated Zach’s prose and wrote a lot of my own, expanding the summary chapters he wrote into full-fledged scenes. The final novel grew from 93K to 156K. I had recruited my best friend, one of Zach’s great friends, Patrick M. Tracy to help. Pat is an expert on heavy metal, a guitar player, and an amazing writer who writes incredible emotional punches.

Pat and I were in a gaming group and writers’ group with Zach, and we bonded over many hours at Larry Correia’s house, playing samurai in our Legend of the Five Rings role-playing game campaign. Larry has written the foreword and I’m so grateful for his help getting the word out about this book.

I could not do this project alone. Patrick and I forged ahead with the full support of Josh and Zach’s extended family. We read that original draft and brainstormed about our approach to an early version of the manuscript, which explored the meaning of life, artificial intelligence, philosophy, theoretical computing, value higher than self, rebellion, and the true meaning of heavy metal.

The character and story were awesome, but it needed to be fleshed out, expanded, and structured. Zach’s process would have seen him rewrite it multiple times, and we had to imagine the directions he would have taken. Over the course of twenty-one months, Pat and I spent hundreds of hours brainstorming and working on the novel as we sent it back and forth to each other.

We’ve never worked harder or longer on a book. This was a big deal for us, and we felt our self-imposed pressure to capture Zach’s vision. Some of Zach’s original prose is still in this novel, and the overall story is his, as are the characters, but we had to redream the dream, figure out what Zach would have done, and stay true to his vision as we took first-draft scenes and polished them. We had moments of self-doubt, but we persevered in the end.

We took on this project because we love Zach and wanted to honor him. It was also a way for us to grieve and come together and bring hope to his family and friends. We did it for them, and we did it for free.

All the profit from this project goes to Mackenzie, Zach’s widow. Zach’s father, George Hill Sr., Patrick Tracy, and I funded this. Many others donated their time and energy to help complete the book, as it takes a team. We were able to hire an amazing artist, Sarah Steigers, who did the cover and interior illustrations, and who spent so much extra time getting things just right. She made Sakura and the characters come to life, and her work is stunning.

Devon Dorrity’s cover design is also incredible, and we are so fortunate for his support, guidance, and expertise. Bradley Beaulieu’s development editing took this to the next level, and Jennie Stevens’s copyediting was awesome. The layout by Caryn Larrinaga in the high-quality, limited edition, signed, and numbered hardcover will make the entire book a work of art.

The support we’ve received has been wonderful, and this is the best and most important project of my life. We believe that Zach would love all of this, and we’ve felt him encouraging us along the way. He’s probably looking down on us, wearing his trademark “Elvis glasses,” which he wore in Iraq and for years upon returning home. He led a fascinating life, and his experiences led him to this story. His gentle soul and big heart are embodied by the title character of his novel, Sakura. As you read, you may see some similarities.

George Hill IV, Zach’s eldest brother wrote this passage: “He was an artist, a historian, a teacher, a two-tour combat veteran, and a prolific writer. He was a true warrior poet who always sought peace. He loved to play games and spend time with his family and friends. Zach was also a traveler. He adventured in other countries. He served his two-year mission for his church in Mexico, and he taught English in Japan and spent time in Italy. He served his country in the darkest places in Iraq and was a legitimate war hero. Now he’s gone to the Undiscovered Country. While he’s away from us for the time being, we know we will see him again.”

Until then, we celebrate his life and his final creative work. Sakura: Intellectual Property is a project born of love. This novel brings together fiction and music in a unique way. This is a love letter to heavy metal, and Sakura is always thinking about music. The playlists at the beginning of each of the chapters contain songs by bands that Zach loved. We also added tracks that resonated with the story and helped us see the way forward.

Fans of heavy metal who are immersed in the culture may understand this at a deeper level, but casual fans will also read the song titles and album names and understand the relational meaning in the text. There are so many little nuggets hidden in this book that relate to Zach’s life, including the numeric designation of the army units he served in, along with music and movies he loved.

Follow the link to the Sakura channel on YouTube (link here) to listen to each of the playlists for the chapters. As you read, you can listen to the corresponding playlist. Many of the songs are mentioned in the chapter and go along with the text in tone and meaning. For copyright reasons, we were unable to use any of the real lyrics in the book, but we wrote parody lyrics of some songs if they are mentioned at all. We also wrote songs, and Callie Stoker recorded one of them in the studio of the legendary Craig Nybo. Please listen to it when it occurs in the book.

So many people have given their time and energy to this project, and we are determined to make it an artistic and commercial success—for Zach, for Mackenzie, and all his friends and family. We would love to sell the rights for this to be made into a manga, an anime, or a live-action movie. Any profit would go to Mackenzie. Please get in touch if you can help us or have contacts who could.

Thank you for your support and for reading this book. We need your reviews and especially need you to tell your friends about this. We want to get the word out to everyone who might be interested, anyone who wants to rock and go on a heavy metal thrill ride.

Through his writing, Zachary Hill will always be remembered. We invite you to take this journey to future Japan to find out, once and for all, if rock ’n’ roll can save the world. We believe it can.

—Paul Genesse

December 2, 2018

Link to the Sakura Novel Page

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Power Word: Discover

Have you ever watched a toddler walk through a park? The first thing you’ll notice is they don’t walk. They stop every few steps to bend and look at something. Every moment is engaged in the adventure of discovery. Each rock, bug, and flower is a source of wonder and amazement.

“Look!” They call. “Look, look, look!” Their excitement is infectious.

As grown ups, as we are wandering the world on our own, how often do we truly look anymore? We’ve seen dandelions and ladybugs hundreds of times. What is left to see?

This is why I’ve chosen the word ‘discover’ as one of my power words this year.

Dewdrops on a ladybug

The word ‘discover’ is full of the excitement of curiosity and the possibility of seeing something new. Our world is filled with undiscovered and unappreciated wonders. Each flower holds its own unique beauty. Each sunrise is its own play of light and color. Sometimes we need to slow down and simply take the time to look.

For some, this act of slowing down and taking time to look is difficult but needed. We often get caught up in the business of getting things done. There are always lists of chores and errands that follow us wherever we go. Taking that extra second to allow our curiosity to take charge is time where we get to breathe and live in the moment.

For me, to discover means to allow myself to try new things. Sometimes it’s a book or movie I’ve been curious about but not something I’d normally chose. Sometimes its taking my kids to a new park we’ve found while driving somewhere else. Sometimes its experimenting with a new recipe in the kitchen. Each of these acts brings the potential of experiencing something new; a new idea, a new view, or a new taste. Each exposure to something new helps us redefine ourselves and what we enjoy.

This act of being very conscious about the act of discovery also means giving myself permission and time to follow random thoughts and bursts of creativity and see where they lead. The more I’ve allowed the act of discovery to guide my work, the more creative impulses come my way. This not only has influenced several of my writing projects, it’s created opportunities and opened doors.

It is my belief that we are all creatures of curiosity. By allowing ourselves time and permission to be childlike in our pursuit of discovery we can find a deeper appreciation for the world we live in, and in turn find happiness.

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