The process of learning hasn’t changed, like ever. You must decide what you want to know and either find someone who knows how to do it, or find a book written by someone who knows how to do it. Today, you might add looking up a video of someone who knows how to do it. The idea remains the same, if you want to learn something, you’re best off finding a teacher in some form or another.
No one starts at Master
Writing is one of those hobbies where some people believe they need no guidance, where the words in all their power and beauty are hiding within them and it’s simply a matter of allowing them to flow forth. Perhaps you’ve met a few of these people, heaven knows I have. There are one of two things that happen with those who carry this belief.
The first outcome is that they simply let the words fly and fall however they may. The first draft is the only draft they make. There is no need to return to correct or improve anything because what is written is as perfect as it can get. Reality tends to blindside these people hard and fast. They try to find agents and publishers and are met with radio silence and polite canned rejections. No one understands their brilliance and in the end they often choose to self publish this unedited pile of thought to the unsuspecting world.
The second outcome is more probable. The writer tries to write their book believing it to be a fairly straightforward process. They’ve read lots of books like it and feel they have a good idea how everything is supposed to look and feel. When they start writing they find they get stuck while trying to make the words do their thing. Maybe they can create settings but not dialogue. Maybe they can do action, but not internal monologue. What’s important here, is that these writers realize that they are struggling and then reach out for help.
Being willing to learn is the mark of a successful apprentice
You can’t start out any skill as a master. Even if you have lots of experience watching and reading about something, there’s something very different in actually doing it for the first time. Back in medieval times, young people would start their apprenticeship around the age of 12 when the opportunity presented itself. They would live in the home of the master and follow in his footsteps learning as they went. This apprenticeship lasted around 10 years until the master deemed the apprentice good enough to go out on their own.
That was when they became a journeyman and were allowed to use what they’d learned wherever they could find work. With time and careful practice, they’d reach a skill level that would make them worthy of being called a master and then the cycle would repeat itself.
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
Hemingway, the master of less than ideal advice for young writers, held the belief that writing was something that no one could master. Everyone had their own set of vices and strengths with which to deal with and throughout the course of their life they’d steadily improve as long as they were willing to put the work in to do so.
In this I wholeheartedly agree. While any writer might produce what is called a masterpiece, that work will still have it’s flaws, at least to some eyes. There is always something to learn more about and to work on.
There’s always room to grow
So, if this message is finding you frustrated at where you are at in your writing career, remember that you must take the attitude of apprentice and allow yourself to learn and grow. There are thousands of writers who have gone before you who had to pass through the same frustrations and can guide you in their writings and classes. Never stop learning or growing.
What have you learned recently?
For me, I had a surprising realization about the importance of making all characters interesting and not just the main cast. Every character should feel unique and have something that sets them apart.
Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list.
Last weekend was the annual League of Utah Writers Spring Conference. While the point of attending the conference is to learn new ideas and techniques to better our writing and understanding of the industry, the real reason many of us attend is to reconnect with all our favorite writer friends. It’s like a huge family reunion.
I was super happy to spend a few minutes with Scott, and even happier when he agreed to be interviewed as this week’s guest.
Onto the interview!
First, let’s take a minute and get to know you know you better. I imagine as a horror writer you have to face your fears on a regular basis. Tell us, what is your biggest fear?
I don’t know if I
would consider myself a horror writer – yes, I write horror, but I also write
suspense, fantasy, poetry, and even some non-fiction. That said, back to your
real question: what is it that I fear? Well, there’s only one word for that,
and that word is Sasquatch. Yes, Bigfoot, the North American Yeti, even Cain if
you want to go in the direction of David W. Patten. I think it started when I
was a small child, back in ’72 or ’73. My friends and I used to go to the local
movie theater, the cinema, whatever it was called. Our haven was a little place
called the Queen Theater located in the sleepy bedroom community of Bountiful,
Utah. Saturdays would always have a double-feature, and usually it would be
Disney. I clearly remember watching the snakes in The Living Desert paired with prairie dogs in The Vanishing Prairie, or The
Scarecrow paired with Swiss Family
Robinson. This particular Saturday, the first feature was a
pseudo-docu-drama, I don’t even remember the title, but Bigfoot was the star. I
think what was the most troubling was actual, physical evidence, Bigfoot captured
in the infamous Patterson-Gimlin film, or PGF. From that moment on, I was
hooked, and terrified. I find it interesting that I’ve never written a story
about Sasquatch. Hmm???
Everyone has secrets. Tell us three things that most
people don’t know about you.
I love Jane
Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, the whole canon –
Northanger Abbey is my favorite. What else is there to tell? I really don’t
have a lot of secrets, but maybe there’s a lot that people just don’t know
about me. I’m a combat veteran, I’m a Mason and a card-carrying member of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which pairs nicely with my
pseudo-Nome-de-plume: The Prince of Darkness. I find that once you sit down
with a person there are lots of things you may not know about him or her, but
they aren’t really secrets. Oh, here’s a big secret: I’m an aspiring writer.
What was your most interesting experience with writing
Lovecraft’s Pillow is just the title piece in a collection of previously
published short stories, I’m not sure if you want experiences putting the
collection together, experiences with each story, or just experiences with the
lead story? The project itself took me down the road of re-learning everything
about publishing? I had previous experience in grad-school with a few college
pals – we produced seven or ten volumes of flash fiction, a novel or two, and
were lucky to break even. I have a Press, per se, Fear Knocks Press, and this
was my first paperback and eBook publication. For the last twelve years, Fear
Knocks Press has been more of a dormant project waiting to sprout, grow and
blossom. It was the home of the eZine, Fear Knocks, but that kind of went the
way of the Dodo, so…
As far as the individual
story, Lovecraft’s Pillow, that takes me back to several experiences. First,
reading Michel Houellebecq’s book, H.P.
Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, which included a Stephen King
challenge to write a story, the story. Then, I think traveling back to
Lovecraft’s hometown, Providence, Rhode Island, stopping by his grave, and
getting a feel for the region really inspired me to go through with it. It
didn’t hurt that my wife and I had just made a trip to Salem, Massachusetts,
during the month of October, and there were all kinds of things floating around
in the grey matter.
You’ve always been a wonderful support for local
authors, including myself. What is the most powerful lesson you can share with
a writer who is just starting the process of creating their stories?
Okay, this is a
great question – a wonderful question – and the answer is one I don’t think
most people are willing to take. Write a lot, write, write, write, and read a
lot, read, read, read, read even more than you write. And not just books on
craft, or books in the genre you plan to write in, books on everything; and get
out and experience life. It’s true that, as writers, we put pieces of ourselves
in the work we do. If you’ve only lived in a small town and only ventured
between your notebook, typewriter, or word processor, and the kitchen and
bathroom, you probably are going to have a very limited and unrealistic point
of view in your work. Add a few books, a few across several genres, a book or
two that you would never be caught dead reading, and you will start to open up
vistas that are ready to lend themselves to your work. Then, if you can,
travel, see the world, even the world around you. Most people would be
surprised at how many secrets wait to be discovered just outside their back
door within 5 or 10 miles of where they live. So, this begs the question, what
books would you suggest a person read? Well, how about I include a list of my
favorites at the end of this blog post?
I ask this question to everyone – What is the most
interesting thing you keep on your desk, or bring to your writing space, and
what is the story behind it.
I have a Día de
Los Muertos skull. It’s more of a planter, one of those little trinkets with a
succulent growing out of the top, the kind of plant that no one can kill. I
don’t know why, but I’ve always been attracted to the darker side of things.
When I was a kid, I loved the Old Testament and Edgar Allan Poe (and comic
books). I had the opportunity to learn a few foreign languages over the years,
one of them Spanish, and it got me hooked on some of the culture and traditions
of Latin America. After traveling to several Latin American destinations, I had
lots of information to ruminate on, to use as fodder for stories. What’s
interesting, at least for me, these kinds of experiences usually do more for my
settings, the feel of the story. For some reason, and I blame Anne Rice, most
of my experiences take me back to the flavor and feel of New Orleans. If you’ve
never been, you need to go. New Orleans is much more than Mardi Gras. There’s
the whole Cajun culture, Marie Laveau and Voodoo, and the feel being at the
mercy of the elements. I think these all merge with things closer to home,
Native American legends, the Four Corners area, and a little Magical Realism
courtesy of Gabriel García Márquez or Isabel Allende. They all manifest
themselves in this little, living skull that watches me write and may even
contain my muse (wow, I never considered that until now).
What’s next? Tell us about the next big thing you’re
How about this
blog post – yes, this is actually a big thing. I’ve been going through a period
of very little productivity. We all have these moments, I’m sure. I was getting
ready to pitch an urban fantasy at the upcoming Storymakers conference, Madison Blackwood and the Twelve Hours of
Night, something a little like Harry
Potter meets Angels and Demons, but
with a female protagonist and links to Dracula and Old Testament Egypt. Like so
many projects, by the time I get to the second draft, I hate the whole thing.
So, I started an epic Fantasy novel, got 100 pages in, and then something
changed in my life, an almost spiritual manifestation, and I started something
else. I’m on a journey now, at least through the pages of the LDS canon of
scripture, to meet, greet, and try to understand every female character. I’ve
started with Eve and the wives of Noah, Ham, Shem, Japheth – I don’t think
there’s a whole lot of information there, but there’s lots of hints and
indications that there’s more to each of their stories, something that might
become creative non-fiction. I love re-reading about these characters, women
most people have never heard of, characters like Jael, Rahab, Tamar, and Dinah,
or even those that have no names like the woman at the well, the woman caught
in adultery, the handful of widows, or the queens (Vashti, Esther, Sheba, Lamanites),
or even the Daughters of Onitah – there’s got to be a story there. I’m off to a
great start. I’ve got over a hundred names to work with, so far. All that being
said, how about I give you an exclusive, a cover reveal, the story I mentioned
at the beginning. Well, here it is, Madison Blackwood and the Twelve Hours of
Night, soon to be pitched at a writing conference near you.
Suggested Reading List I promised. I’ve only included one title per author, and
only the ones off the top of my head. I’m sure I’ve missed several of my
favorites, several that are much better written, but what the heck. One of
these books I absolutely hated, not because it was poorly written, but because
the author made me hate every character by the end of the book. That’s got to
say something about the writing, right? I’ve included some non-fiction, short
stories, and poems as well.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Blight Way by Patrick F. McManus
A Fine Dark Line by Joe R. Lansdale
Working for Bigfoot by Jim Butcher
Speaks the Nightbird by Robert R. McCammon
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Lion of Ireland by Morgan Llywelyn
The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Eva Luna by Isabel Allende
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez
The Misenchanted Sword by Lawrence Watt-Evans
The Walking Drum by Louis L’Amour
The Hunger by Alma Katsu
The Green Mile by Stephen King
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
The Dinner by Herman Koch
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban by J.K. Rowling
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
The Book of Job (get a good copy with commentary)
The Tyger by William Blake
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
The Story of An Hour by Kate Chopin
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood
The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
About K. Scott Forman
K. Scott Forman is a writer and editor. He co-edited and contributed to the first three volumes of Fast Forward: A Collection of Flash Fiction along with working on three more volumes, a novel, and a flash novel for Fast Forward Press. With the Utah Chapter of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), he selected and edited the volume It Came from the Great Salt Lake: A Collection of Utah Horror. Scott graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University and was the recipient of the Robert Creeley Scholarship in 2007. He also received a Master of Arts and Education degree from the University of Phoenix, and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Maryland. Scott teaches English Composition at Weber State University and was an adjunct faculty member at the National Cryptologic School. He has taught courses in Developmental English, Composition, Research, Writing for Math and Science, and Haiku. He is a member of the HWA and League of Utah Writers and enjoys long walks in inclement weather, sunsets with blood in them, and Metallica at volumes determined unsafe by the Surgeon General. He has had several short stories and poems published and is currently at work on the Great American Novel. He makes his home in the Rocky Mountains with his family and a collection of guitars. Find out what he’s up to at http://fearknocks.com
Lovecraft’s Pillow and other Weird Tales is K. Scott Forman’s first collection of stories that plumb the depths of imagination when the lights go out. In these 12 tales and 1 poem, we revisit Jack the Ripper (The House that Jack Built), suicide and the consequences (Mumford’s Ghost), sympathy for the devil (Neighbor of the Beast), redemption (The Rescue), PTSD (The Stranger Within), a Frankenstein short (Lost at Sea), a Lovecraftian-story inspired by Stephen King (Lovecraft’s Pillow), and more.
Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list.
Probably one of the most frustrating thing I hear about fantasy authors is the belief that we make everything up. We come up with a world, stick people in it, add a touch of magic, and voila! Fantasy story. The end.
The truth is, we actually do a fair amount of research. Precise details can bring a sense of realism to our fantastical worlds and often we take vital cues from already existing cultures and beliefs.
Today, Amy Beatty wants to discuss just that – the importance of research in all writing, including fantasy.
All fiction is a shared daydream. Whether a story’s setting
is modern day Chicago, Paris during the Second World War, Edo period Japan, or
a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the writer invites readers to enter
a world that is different in some ways from their own—a mentally constructed
And the number one rule for the fiction writer is:
Don’t break the daydream.
Imagine signing up for a much-needed vacation to an exotic retreat, where you’re sure to meet fascinating new people and participate in thrilling adventures. You buy the ticket, board the plane, and make friends with the person in the seat next to you. With a roar of engines and a stomach-clenching lurch, the plane takes off, climbing into the sky. A flight attendant wheels her cart of goodies down the aisle in your direction. Delicious smells fill the cabin—it’s not just peanuts this time! Your mouth waters in anticipation.
Abruptly, everything erupts in a flash of static and disappears.
“Sorry,” says some broom-wielding dude in the corner. “I tripped over the cord. Also, your mother-in-law is coming over, and your kid is wearing your underwear on his head again.”
Boom. There you are, dumped straight back into your own reality without so much as a by-your-leave.
That’s what it’s like when the author breaks the daydream
for a reader.
And that’s why good research is so important for writers—the
daydream is only fun when it’s convincing and immersive. Details make all the
difference. But a writer can only write
about what the writer knows about.
So, a mystery writer might study police procedure, a romance
writer might study relationship psychology, a writer of realistic historical
fiction might scour old almanacs for historic farming practices, and a fantasy
writer . . .
Wait. Fantasy writers don’t have to do research, do they?
They can just make everything up. It’s fantasy, after all; anything could happen.
But when something happens in a fantasy story that breaks
the established rules of its fantasy reality, it jolts the reader in the same
way as when a realistic story breaks the established rules of the real world.
As a result, researching for fantasy is, in some ways,
actually more complicated than researching for realistic fiction.
For realistic fiction, an author only needs to do enough
research to determine whether a specific technology (for example) really does
(or did historically) indeed exist in the time and place in which the story is
set. For fantasy, however, the writer must determine whether it’s plausible that the technology in
question could exist in the time and place of the story, given the context of everything else that has already been established about
the world of the story.
For example, some technologies can only be developed after the
technologies used to make their component parts have been invented. Are all the
necessary component technologies present in the world? Also, if a technology is
being utilized in one aspect of a society, it will almost certainly show up in
others. A civilization that uses steam-powered tanks to achieve world
domination will be more convincing if it also employs steam powered water pumps
and agricultural equipment.
One fantasy book I read used specific ethnic groups and
place-names to indicate that the setting was an alternate version of early
medieval Europe. Then, in the middle of the story, the characters casually sat
down to a dinner that included turkey and potatoes. For me, this broke the
daydream because both of these items originate in the New World, which would
not yet have been discovered at the time in which the story was set.
This could have been fixed in one of two ways. First, the
author could have mentioned in passing at some point before the meal that a new
land had been discovered across the sea (placing it earlier in the fictional
history than it occurred in real history). Alternately, and probably more
appropriately for this story, the author could have simply substituted similar
foods that would have been available in the time and place the author had
chosen, such as goose and turnips. But as it was, the discrepancy between the
established milieu and the items that didn’t fit that milieu was jarring, and
it took me a while to get back into the story.
By contrast, in another book, set in an alternate version of
modern-day London, a wizard and his apprentice toss a hand grenade into the
basement of a suburban home in order to eliminate vampires who have taken up
residence. The author’s careful description of the label on the grenade is a
potent detail that not only raises the tension and augments the sense of
immersion, but also helps convince the reader that if the author got the details
right on the hand grenades, he’s probably also right about the vampires.
An author who is striving for a realistic setting for a
story needs to make sure that what happens in the story conforms to the reality
with which the reader is familiar.
Likewise, an author who works toward a plausible fantasy
setting needs first to convey to the reader the parameters of the story’s
virtual reality, and then the author is under the same obligation to make the
story conform with that established reality.
In either case, a lot of research can be necessary. Because
the number one rule for the fiction writer is:
Don’t break the daydream.
Amy Beatty grew up in the wilds of Yellowstone National Park
as part of an experiment in crossing the genes of a respected research
biologist with those of a grammar aficionado. She spent her summers making
forts under the sagebrush with her friends and catching garter snakes by the
creek to populate elaborate sandbox villages—or holed up in her bunk bed
exploring the exotic worlds hidden between the covers of books.
She currently lives in Utah with her husband and their two
delightfully unconventional children. For fun, she likes to cut big pieces of
cloth into small pieces of cloth and then sew them together again. Several of
her quilt projects have been exhibited in juried shows at a local art museum.
Edrik, son of the murdered Drake regent, never gained his
dragon magic and cannot shapeshift into his dragon form. Unfit to marry his
love, the Princess Lissara, Edrik embarks on a dangerous mission to prove
himself worthy. He seeks Lissara’s missing father, the dragon king, before an
enemy usurps the throne.
Unfortunately, the search for the king brings Edrik to a
dungeon located in human territory. Inside the prison, Edrik discovers the
missing king, whose captors are unaware of his true identity. Edrik must rely
on a grubby young dungeon keeper to help them escape without disclosing that
his companion is the dragon king. But the dungeon keeper has a secret identity
as well, one that will change Edrik’s destiny forever.
Be sure to check out the Fantasy and Sci-fi Reader’s Lounge Feb 6-9th where dozens of YA authors will be sharing about their work and giving away books and prizes. Yours truly will be featured on Feb 7th from 11-12am EST (9-10am MST)
Thanks for joining us today! If you’d like to be notified of future posts, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links.
Fear of the unknown haunts our steps at the start of any adventure . A skydiver’s parachute might not open. A rock climber might fall. The horse might bite and kick.
Writing is no different.
Today, Elesha Teskey is here to share her personal experience about what it means to have courage as a writer. It’s the perfect message for all of you endeavoring to start new projects here in the new year.
Courage to Write
Writing is hard. If you’re a writer, you know that. It’s hard enough to come up with a story, string it together into something entertaining, then sit down and craft those ideas into something that other people will enjoy, but add the fear we all feel into the equation and it’s enough to make you quit some days.
When I first started writing, I just wrote. I knew enough
about telling stories that it wasn’t terrible, it also wasn’t great, but we all
have to start somewhere. As I progressed on the journey, I learned more (as one
hopefully does). One would think that more knowledge would lead to it being
easier to craft a story. It hasn’t. I found myself worrying about everything.
What if my character is too unlikable? What if there’s no market for this
story? What if I put a comma in the wrong spot? What if my word count is too
high or too low? Sometimes the self-doubt is paralyzing.
This issue has been on my mind a lot lately. I miss the days
when I put words on the page and wrote in blissful ignorance. What I’ve learned
on my journey has helped me grow, I can’t unlearn it. What I want to do this
year, is use what I know and write without fear. There are certain things that
are important to keep in mind, like pacing and word count, but it’s okay to let
some of the other stuff fall away while I write. I was listening to the
audiobook for View From The Cheap Seatsby Neil Gaiman. He mentions that
he writes stories for himself, stories he wants to hear, and people happen to
like them. Now, writing that way won’t lead us all to Neil Gaiman status (if
only), but it will make us a lot happier.
If you have a story burning inside you, write it. Don’t hold back. Allow your imagination to go where it will. I’m not saying you’ll end up with a masterpiece, but your end product will be more authentic, which makes your story unique.
Elesha lives her life surrounded by books. She managed to land a job as a librarian a few years ago, which allows her to discuss books all day. In the evening, she writes dark stories that often involve magic and monsters. She also helps put other people’s books into the world in her role as publicist for Pen & Kink Publishing (www.penandkinkpub.com). When not doing bookish things, she tries to find time to read Tarot cards and watch Supernatural between her parental duties.
Pen & Kink Publishing (www.penandkinkpub.com) is a micro publisher run by editor-in-chief Cori Vidae. I was lucky enough to have been brought on board as publicist when Cori launched the press. I’m so lucky to get to help people launch their books. We have released some great titles over the last three years, everything from hot and steamy romance to sweet stories, from creepy to cowboys. Check out our books, I’m sure you’ll see something interesting.
Hi, Jodi here. I’m so glad you stopped by. The message Elesha shared is so important, not only for writers, but for everyone who needs a little boost of encouragement. I’d love to hear about your projects and what helps you be brave down in the comments – I will always comment back.
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Today, friend and fellow ginger Daniel Swenson comes on the blog to talk about his most influencial podcast guest in the ten years he has run the Dungeon Crawler Radio podcast. Daniel and I met through our connections in the Utah writing community and have plenty in common, including a passion for fantasy fiction, a love of meeting inspiring people, and a shared publisher, Immortal Works Press.
My question to Daniel – Which podcast guest has influenced you the most over the years, and why?
The question of who has been the most influential person in my podcasting and writing career was one that was a bit difficult for me to narrow down as I have met many amazing people over the last ten years that I have been doing my podcast Dungeon Crawler Radio. When I first started, I had these grand dreams that I would meet all the authors that I had come to love in my formative years. And amazingly enough I was able to fulfill most of those dreams. So, to narrow it down to one individual was quite a challenge, but in the end when I finally decided on who that individual was, it was quite obvious and apparent.
As I’ve said, I have met many amazing and talented people over the years and this is in no way to discount them because many of them have helped shape my life in one way or another. However, the one person who really stands out in my mind that made the most impact in my life as a person, a podcaster, an interviewer and a writer has to be author R.A. Salvatore. It was during those Awkward High School years that I discovered Bob’s first Drizzt novel, The Crystal Shard. The book was set in the Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms setting and at the time was published by TSR. The cover was fascinating, on it was a burly dwarf with a massive battleaxe, a huge human barbarian easily hefting a warhammer in both hands, and a dark elf was crouched on the ground examining a blood trail. I knew right then and there I wanted to know what happened within the pages of this book.
I devoured every book R.A. Salvatore put out and they always found a way to effect me emotionally on some level with the events going on in my life at the time. It was amazing. Fast forward fourteen years later and I was two years into running my podcast and we’d had some success with interviewing author like Larry Corriea, Dan Wells, and Brandon Sanderson before their careers took off. It was around this time I gained the courage to email Bob and see if he would be willing to come on the show to talk about his latest book. To my amazement, he said yes and we planned when he’d come on. The show was beyond amazing, there I was talking to the author equivalent of my hero and it was like we had been friends for years, he joked with us, he spoke to us about writing, he gave us and the listeners some really great advice. He was also very interested in what we had to say regarding our insight with his novels, the characters and our questions about writing and he was very gracious and responded in kind.
Bob continued to come back on the show year after year sometimes as much as twice a year depending on book release and each time he continued to leave great advice on writing and being a decent human being.
With each visit I wrote down the amazing advice given and tried to incorporate those things into my daily life, my writing for my gaming campaign and the podcast. The advice given was so impactful that I am sure it is part of the reason the podcast has been so successful and authors like R.A. Salvatore and so many others have wanted to return over and over again. But more importantly, it was the advice given about writing and the need to write that really changed my life as it had given me the foundation I needed when I began to write my first novel. All those lessons over the years had been the greatest writing class anyone could ever hope for.
I am grateful for the friendships I have made over the years with individuals in the writing and gaming communities due to my podcast and writing. I still continue to meet amazing individuals everyday and I hope that through my podcast, my writing and when I speak at events that maybe I too can spark the joy of being creative in someone else like Bob helped ignite in me.
About Daniel Swenson
Daniel Swenson is a fantasy writer that enjoys writing about dragons, guns, swords, magic and more. Daniel’s debut novel The Shadow Above the Flames came out in 2017 and was an Amazon Best Seller. The sequel, A Dragon’s fate will be release in June of 2019. Daniel is also the creator and host of the Hugo-nominated podcast Dungeon Crawlers Radio.
How do you save the world from two monstrous entities? A power-hungry corporation and a newly awakened dragon…
In a world left reeling at the loss of fossil fuels, and after giving years of service to the military, Henry Morgan just wants a normal life. But between nagging feelings from his past and a strained relationship with his brother Rick, “normality” always feels just out of reach.
The Union Forest Corporation puts profits ahead of safety and with a dragon on the loose threatening to kill innocent people, something incredible happens…
Henry learns that Rick is among the force of elite commandos sent by Union Forest to battle against the dragon at the drilling site, he’s forced back into the roles of soldier and protective older sibling. He’ll do anything he can to save his brother . . . including risking his own life at the hands of a ruthless corporation. Henry may be the only person who can keep the world safe from total annihilation…
If you like fast-paced thrillers, brutal dragons, witty heroes, and evil villains, then you’ll love Daniel Swenson’s first novel – The Shadow Above The Flames. It’s a high octane thrill ride!
It’s the end of October. For many writers it’s the time to sharpen our brains and finish up prep for this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge. I’ve done the challenge for several years in different ways ranging from full manuscripts and partial manuscripts, down to editing and revision goals. While I’d love to be in a good place to dig into the third and final book of my Stonebearer series this year, I only barely finished the very rough draft of the completed second novel last week.
My real reason for not doing NaNoWriMo this year is simple – experience. I know my working habits and how much I can do before developing a serious case of writer burnout. It’s taken a few decades to learn I’m a hugely competitive person with myself. If I set a goal I kill myself to go get it.
For my first NaNoWriMo in 2010, I crossed the finish line an exhausted wreck. At that point in my life I had one fewer child and more free time and energy than I have now. Immediately after finishing, I continued to blog and did an editing pass of my first manuscript that I had finished a few weeks before NaNoWriMo started. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it.
I learned I am not invincible when baby #3 came around in the Fall of 2011. All my time disappeared and with it, most of my energy. I stopped writing for over a year. When NaNoWriMo rolled around I watched wistfully as other writer friends whipped themselves into an excited frenzy to work on a new project. I would still set a goal, goals are good, usually to finish the revisions on my first book baby and for years not much happened.
It wasn’t until 2015 when I felt ready to attempt writing the sequel. I had both older kids in elementary school and the youngest in preschool. It was literally the first year since 2010 where I had a handful of hours free during the week.
It wasn’t enough time. I stressed myself out. Four free hours a week isn’t enough to do NaNoWriMo. My writing crept into family time and evenings and occupied every moment it could like an overfed goldfish in a bowl. But, apparently I’m very competitive. I had to finish the 50,000 words. And I did. And then I shelved the uncompleted project for nearly a year.
This year, I’m okay with working at my current pace. I have projects underway that I like and am moving at a pace that I can keep up with while maintaining a good work/life balance. If by next year I haven’t started the third book of the trilogy, which I doubt, then perhaps I’ll make it my 2018 project.
And that’s totally okay.
Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? I’d love to talk about it in the comments!
It’s been a wild spring with unpredictable weather and plenty of changes to adapt into my life. As a family with young kids, the only thing I can depend on from day to day is unpredictability. My youngest has developed a fascination with Minecraft and loves to play on the worlds he is creating with someone else. I’ll admit, I think it’s really fun to play with him as well, but every hour spent playing video games is an hour not spent doing anything that will help me reach my goals.
That said, perhaps the biggest news is that I’m starting to query out my epic fantasy novel. I didn’t image there would be this much stress associated with waiting for publishers and agents to give me their approval, or rejection, or no response at all. I’ve been at it since December but have only started sending out multiple queries at a time this last month.
The plan for the next few months is to always have five queries out at a time and to participate in whatever Twitter pitch contests drift my way. While this isn’t super aggressive, it doesn’t take over my life either.
[For those scratching their heads – a query is simply a formal letter sent to publishers and literary agents that tells about the book and about the author. A pitch is a short sentence that sums up the book. Both are mind-numbingly hard to create.]
On the short story front, I have two pieces that have been accepted and are awaiting scheduling with the publisher. I will most definitely be posting as soon as I have more info. One is a retelling of classic Vietnamese folklore, the Starfruit Tree and is slated for an anthology. The other, The Skull Collector, is best described as a cross between Moana and the Hunger Games and will be in a magazine.
Other news, I was asked to judge a short story contest for the University of Utah Valley’s Warp and Weave speculative fiction literary magazine. While I’ve judged stories before, it’s never been for anything more than my writing group. All the stories were amazing so it was a true challenge to pick those that rose above the rest.
There’s always a ton of fun/agonizing work to do. While waiting for query responses from agents and editors I have a bundle of great ideas I’d like to work up into publishable short stories and a draft of the sequel novel to create. I also have a handful of presentations to prepare for upcoming conferences, for more info click here.
Here’s to a great Spring!
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One of the toughest parts of the writing process is getting started on a new project. While the easiest way to overcome white page paralysis is to embrace the “crappy first draft” idea there are other options. Today’s writing exercise comes from WritingExercises.co.uk where you can find hundreds of prompt generators, randomizers, and all other sorts of golden nuggets.
Take three nouns and freewrite
The beauty of this exercise is that it allows the brain to make abstract connections between three unrelated objects which often generates fresh characters, places, and stories.
Freewriting is best with a timer and an atmosphere free of distractions. I prefer 15 minute chunks. It’s long enough to form a few concrete ideas and begin running with them. Often it feels like nothing but drivel comes from the exercise until I go back and read what’s there and find a few gems that I can use.
The story behind this surreal image is that in 1914 a boy left his bike chained to a tree, then went to war and then never returned. As it is writer Wednesday, let’s use this as a writing prompt and create something even more awesome.
Write a micro fiction (100 words or less) about what really happened to the bike.
Best entry wins a mini-featurette to be posted next week!
Entry must be posted in the comments no later than Friday, July 10, 2015.
Entry must be 100 words or less, not including the title.
Winner will be notified on Monday, July 14th (when I get around to it…)
There is no inherent cash value to this prize and therefore it may not be exchanged for cash. (However, publicity is worth it’s weight in gold so… go for it!)
We’ve come around back to writer Wednesday once more and today we are talking about using rites and rituals in fiction. When I say rites and rituals, I’m referring to any choreographed set of actions performed by several people that is meant to add importance to an event. For the sake of this post we will use the term “ceremony” to include all rites and rituals and related events. These events include formal religious rites and public occasions such as awards, weddings, anniversaries, coronations, and funerals.
Some ceremonies are simple. For example the Japanese Tea Ceremony is performed by one host and is meant to show respect for the honored guests through a demonstration of grace and good etiquette. This isn’t to say that is is easy, the ceremony takes years to learn and a lifetime to master.
Large ceremonies can require hundreds of well-trained individuals to do their part. The success of the ceremony depends on how well each person can perform their part. A coronation, especially when it is also meant to be a display of power, is a perfect example of ceremony on a massive scale. There is a military presence in dress uniform, a religious order also in ceremonial dress, the members of government, and the people of the country. They all have specific roles to play, symbolic gestures or actions to perform, and often a prescribed set of words to say.
Including ceremony in your fiction, when and if the story calls for it, will do several awesome things for the story itself. First, it deepens and broadens the world where the story takes place. If there is a ceremony, then it must mean that the world has a deep rich history. It makes everything that much more real.
Second, a ceremony transforms a scene into a formal event and brings with it deeper and more poignant emotional notes. It forces the reader to read closely and think about symbolism and ideas in a more abstract way, which draws them deeply into the story.
Lastly, a great ceremony will bring a sense of awe and wonder. Everything from the costuming to the venue itself is eye candy. The characters will have plenty to react to and their reactions become the readers experience. There should be beauty and mystery paired with decorum and a sense of importance.
The Southern Oracles of Neverending Story
A fictional ceremony should contain some, if not all of these elements:
Central focus – this might be a person, object, or goal. All participants in the ceremony are either physically or mentally centered on this item. Everything that happens returns to this item.
Ceremonial dress – clothing, or lack there of, is hugely important to most ceremonies. Be sure to describe it! Think graduations and weddings, there are the robes, the white dress, the robes of the clergy, the stoles and caps of the doctorates.
Unique venue – Special events call for special places and this place will reflect the needs of the ceremony. Weddings take place in churches or specially prepared outdoor locations. Award ceremonies use special halls and public meeting areas.
Prescribed Actions – Perhaps one the key elements of a ceremony is the repetition of the same actions each time. These actions depend of the needs of the ceremony and may include dance, song, chants, specific routes to walk, repeated words and phrases.
Sound – Much of this is part of the prescribed actions, but it bears repeating. Will your ceremony use music, drums, clapping, or stomping? Take time to consider the ambiance. If it is a solemn ceremony it will be quieter, if it is a celebration it will be louder. Sometimes the most noted feature of a ceremony is the silence that is maintained.
How will you use ceremonial rites and rituals in your writing? What are your favorite fictional ceremonies? Share in the comments!
For more inspiration, check out some of these unique ceremonies: