Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sunday Snippet

I just finished "Reputation Precedes," the short story whose idea origins I discussed on here a while back.  (Yes, it took me this long to finish writing it.  It's been a hectic few months!)  The story revolves around a bodyguard and a royal secretary who create a fictional individual to explain why their queen can't meet with a foreign ambassador.  Here's a glimpse at their storytelling:

“The queen,” Carac said, “has set out to recruit the assistance of a powerful blood mage.  She knows such a man will benefit Yoruth as well as Sanorre, if he can been convinced to pledge his loyalty.”

“The timing,” Marhan said, “seems questionable.”  The words were mild, but there was a knife’s edge beneath them.

Carac hesitated.  “The timing was unavoidable.”

Tiava recognized the pause as the secretary collecting his thoughts.  “The mage is a wanderer, reclusive and elusive,” she said.  “In the Ghoran Mountains – his homeland, as far as we can tell – he’s spoken of as a local folktale, with all the strange traditions that surround one.”  She was prepared to come up with something, drawing upon the farmer precautions she had grown with, but a side glance at Carac told her he had found his footing.  This was his plan; she was just backing him up.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Though I enjoy writing short stories, both to play with concepts that would be unsustainable in long form and for their own sake, I'm a novelist at heart.  I also love stories (short and long) that aren't confined by their written dimensions.  The characters had lives before the story began, and the resolution to the plot problem is often, "Yes, but ..."  So it's probably not surprising that many of my rejections include the sentiment that "this should be a novel," or "this reads like the first chapter of a novel."  I also get this from readers and critique partners, or the more positive, "I'd love to read what happens next!"

I ... don't know what happens next.  That's it.  That's all she wrote (literally).

And sometimes, it puzzles me.  I wrote the concept as a short story, and to me, that's (usually) as much potential as it has.  The plot dimensions implied after the end of the tale aren't intriguing enough to grab my attention.  The world as constructed doesn't have enough complexity and interest to serve as a framework for a novel.  Sometimes, the characters aren't people I want to spend that much time with.  So I wonder what everyone else is seeing that I'm not.  (Sometimes, as in the case of Scylla and Charybdis, it just takes a few years of incubation.)

Maybe I just expect too much from my novel concepts; maybe it takes too much to grab my attention, when successful storylines have been spun from much less.  In some cases, I think it's because my intimations of past and present aren't done correctly:  they carry too much weight, raise too much curiosity.  In others, I think I've got just the right blend of sleight of hand to suggest an entire world behind a paper diorama.

Or, since I'm an incubator and I do most of my story development on the backburner or in my subconscious, maybe it really does take years, and I'm still waiting for some of those stories to burst forth into madcap sagas.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Featuring: Sarah Ashwood of Aerisian Refrain!

Today, I'm excited to host Sarah Ashwood, talking about her new release, Aerisian Refrain:  check it out here!  And here's Sarah ...

 I’m fantasy author Sarah Ashwood, and I have a confession to make: I’ve only written a couple of blog posts before, so please bear with me as we go through this. When Lindsey kindly offered a spot on her blog for me to chat about my new book, I struggled with what to say. Of course, I could try to tell you the plot without giving away spoilers. (Unless you happen to be like me and actually like spoilers. I admit it, I’m that person—that horrible person who loves spoilers! I always read the end of the book before I reach it to see what happens.) Confessions aside, it was suggested I highlight what’s unique about this book and hopefully makes it stand out in the fantasy genre, so let me go there.

To begin with, Aerisian Refrain is the first book in a brand new series called Beyond the Sunset Lands. It’s a planned four book series, and it’s a companion series to my Sunset Lands Beyond trilogy. It’s set in the same world, but you do not have to have read the first trilogy to read Aerisian Refrain. I tried to include enough information in Aerisian Refrain that readers new to my world wouldn’t be lost. So, these books, the first trilogy and this new series, are epic fantasy and portal fantasy, but they’re also heavily tinged with a fairytale influence, because I grew up on fairytales and still love them. You’ll meet characters and races in my books that you may not see as much in standard epic fantasy, like fairies and giants and unicorns. I enjoy mixing it up: I also have pirates based off 18th century buccaneers, as well as an army patterned after the military of ancient Rome. (Ancient Rome is another obsession of mine.)

Those are some of the fun features of my world building. As for Aerisian Refrain itself, what makes this particular book unique is that my MC, Annie Richards, is from Oklahoma and is part Cherokee. I’m a lifelong Okie myself, and grew up in the part of the state where the Cherokees have their capital. I’ve always been intrigued by Cherokee history and culture. I didn’t actually set Annie where I’m from, however. I had her grow up out in the panhandle of Oklahoma, which is sparsely populated. I’ve driven through there a couple of times, and thought it was such a wild, beautiful place. It was very inspiring to the background of this book, and formative to Annie’s character.

Now, Native Americans are not heavily featured in epic fantasy literature or art, the latter of which was a little frustrating when I was writing this book. I like to create Pinterest boards for each of my books and save pins for characters that I find inspirational. It drove me crazy that I had such a difficult time finding any epic-fantasy-type art featuring Native Americans. I wanted so badly to find a picture of a Native American girl with a dragon, and never did. One of my favorite scenes of Aerisian Refrain is where Annie sings a Cherokee lullaby to a dragon. I would’ve loved a pin that resembled this scene in any way. Couldn’t find it, but in my searching I ultimately did discover the art of Traci Rabbit, a Cherokee artist from Oklahoma. That’s a whole ‘nother story, but I mention it because I fell deeply in love with Ms. Rabbit’s work, with its blend of heritage and fantasy, and I think it’s well worth mentioning.

But back to what I was saying. When I realized in the course of plotting that Annie was going to be from Oklahoma and that she was part Cherokee, I knew I had to delve into Cherokee culture and heritage and weave elements of that into my book. Cherokee mythology and folklore are chock full of interesting characters and stories. Honestly, it was very hard to narrow them down, but I finally settled on three prominent figures that absolutely fascinated me. The first was a Kâ'lanû Ahkyeli'skï: a Raven Mocker. This creature is scary. I mean, scary. I read up on stories about Raven Mockers that had me looking over my shoulder at night. (I get spooked easily.) Check out this moment from Aerisian Refrain when Annie first encounters the Kâ'lanû Ahkyeli'skï :

I would’ve run, but where could I go? There were probably still people on the road, people to whom I couldn’t risk leading the Raven Mocker, a creature so powerful that, according to the Cherokee legends I’d heard, other witches flee before their kind. The raven-like cry of a Kâ'lanû Ahkyeli'skï, which is where the Raven Mocker earns it name, means someone is going to die—much like banshees in Irish folklore. Often, they appear when a person is dying to steal and consume the liver or the heart. Sometimes they torture and kill their victim by cutting open the head, then eating the heart. A year is added to their life for every year their victim would have lived, making a Raven Mocker almost immortal, and accounting for their appearance as an old, wizened man or woman when in human form. They can fly through the air in fiery bird shape, trailing sparks while in the sky, which is what confirmed the identity of the woman standing in front of me. They are usually invisible, except to the most powerful of magic workers. Like me. Only a medicine man or woman of much training and strength can stand against them, which meant I was in serious danger.

            The other two characters I chose to feature are a little more benevolent. One group are the Thunderers, who Cherokee believe are storm spirits that live in the sky. Thunderers are usually benevolent to humans, and sometimes even helpful. The same with the last figure from Cherokee folklore, a Stoneclad, or rock giant. I loved the Stoneclad. He almost made me think of a Marvel character. There weren’t tons of descriptions of Stoneclads, but most of my research indicated they are giants that wear a suit of armor fashioned from stone. Like the Thunderers, they aren’t feared by the Cherokee—certainly not like the Raven Mockers. In fact, there are stories of them coming to the aid of the Cherokee. As Annie explains in Aerisian Refrain when she’s discussing her people’s folklore,

I remember Grandma telling me about the Stoneclads: rock giants, and the Aniyvdaqualosgi or Ani-Yuntikwalaski. Those are the Thunderers, or powerful storm spirits. If they took a shape, it was usually human, and they were okay with people. I guess it’s no wonder we’d have legends about great storm spirits, living in Tornado Alley.”

At this point in the book, Annie has no idea she’s going to actually encounter rock giants or storm spirits, and she’s in a for a big surprise when she does!

So there you go—a little peek into what I feel makes my book baby unique. I hope you’ll check out Aerisian Refrain, and, if you do, I hope you enjoy it! I had so much fun researching the stories of the Cherokee and weaving just a few elements from their rich traditions into this novel. If you’d like to research any of this further, some of my favorite sources were and and and Also, if you’d like to see the art of Traci Rabbit, this is her website: .

Thanks for reading my blog post and giving me a little of your time. Have a great day!

Don’t believe all the hype. Sarah Ashwood isn’t really a gladiator, a Highlander, a fencer, a skilled horsewoman, an archer, a magic wielder, or a martial arts expert. That’s only in her mind. In real life, she’s a genuine Okie from Muskogee who grew up in the wooded hills outside the oldest town in Oklahoma and holds a B.A. in English from American Military University. She now lives (mostly) quietly at home with her husband and three sons, where she tries to sneak in a daily run or workout to save her sanity and keep her mind fresh for her next story.

Sarah’s works include the Sunset Lands Beyond trilogy and the fantasy novella Amana.

To keep up to date with Sarah’s work and new releases, sign up for her newsletter. You can also visit her website, or find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Song Styles

Once again, I'd like to share the oddball product of my driving CDs with y'all:  another word association playlist, where each song title suggests the next.

Fix A Heart - Demi Lovato
You Don't Know My Heart - Rachel Platten
They Don't Know - KirstyMacColl
I Don't Know - Celine Dion
Conscious - Broods
I Know Why - Sheryl Crow
Everybody Knows - Idina Menzel
Rumour Has It - Adele
Couldn't Believe - Broods
I Believe - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Girl They Won't Believe It - Joss Stone
Do You Believe in Magic? - The Lovin' Spoonful
Magic - Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Magical World - Blackmore's Night
Real World - Eisley
In Real Life - Demi Lovato
Imagination - Helen Reddy
Beyond Imagination - Sissel
Blinding - Florence + The Machine
Sally I Can See You - Kimbra
I See Hope - Midge Ure
A Whole Lot of Hope - Carrie Newcomer
I Was Hoping - Alanis Morissette
I Wish You - Gloria Estefan
Wish You Were Here - Blackmore's Night
Wishing I Was There - Natalia Imbruglia
Wishing Heart - Lisa Loeb
Diving For Hearts - Corinne Bailey Rae
If My Heart Had Wings - Faith Hill
If I Could Fly - Oceanlab
Next Flight - Anna Sahlene
This Time - JoJo
1000 Times - Sara Bareilles
Every Time You Lie - Demi Lovato
Perfect Lie - Sheryl Crow
Perfect Girl - Sarah MacLachlan
No Ordinary Girl - Sahlene
Lonely Girl - Oceanlab
A World Alone - Lorde

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Review Roundup

So the reviews for Scylla and Charybdis have started to come in, and they have a lot of lovely things to say:'

Duncan has built a fascinating galaxy ...

Truly wonderful science fiction should also make the reader take a good hard look at the world around them, and draw some conclusions about it that they might not have drawn otherwise. And this book delivered on that front.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I sincerely hope that Ms. Duncan has a sequel planned, because I would love to spend more time with these characters.

I'm still thinking about that one ...

The most gratifying part for me was that the reviewers seemed to love the setting and the characters, two things I'm passionate about when I write ... and for Scylla and Charybdis in particular, writing an exploration of the world was a primary goal.  It's part of why the story is in third person, not first.

A few people did mention they were a bit dubious of the historical actions of the Derithe, the aliens who created Y-Poisoning and then vanished.  Convenient, they've said - and they're right.  I thought about this when I built the setting, and I do have answers for why the Derithe never followed through with the weakness created by their disease, but I realized there was no way my characters would have access to that knowledge.

So ... maybe for a sequel.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Like many people, writers or otherwise, I sometimes escape from mental work by turning on the television.  One of my shows of choice is FaceOff.

FaceOff is a makeup special effects competition on Syfy (just typing that channel name makes me cringe), now in its thirteenth season.  The majority of the challenges are science fiction, fantasy or horror, with the occasional mainstream entry, such as the spy challenge that required the artists to alter the model's gender/age/race.  Many competitions of this type spend a lot of time on interpersonal drama, but FaceOff rarely does, in good part because that kind of headbutting is rare.  There's exceptional camaraderie between the artists, who often pitch in to get molds cleaned out in time and consult each other for opinions.  It makes sense in their industry:  the makeup artist works in a team, answering to director, producer and potentially others.  It doesn't seem like a diva would last long.

What's in it for a speculative fiction author?  Most obviously, the opportunity to see a brief description of character / creature come to beautiful and visual life.  Then there's the creative process of the makeup artists:  how they go from a general concept ("haunted hotel maid") to a specific backstory and attributes, to the realization of that concept, from the overall structure and profile to the tiniest details.  Frequently, the artists that fail are those who fall down in the conception stages; the idea is muddy, contradictory, too ambitious, or not specific enough to guide the makeup.  The ones that are the most successful often have a strong storyline to back it up.

Also a treat for me is the problem solving.  I love listening to how the artists use the tools of their trade to create particular effects.  Many of these are stock in trade, but sometimes, the effect at hand requires a bit more thought.  The off-beat, out of the box solutions the artists come up with are great fun to watch.  It may be a different kind of creativity, but I find it both enjoyable and instructive.

But of course, FaceOff is for everyone.  Recommended.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Song Styles

Thinking today of a haunting, beautiful tune ... I believe I've shared it here before, but it deserves another feature.  "Eli Eli" is a poem written by Hannah Szenes / Senesh ... and this tells the story better than I could:

Eli Eli

This is a piece that drifts in and out of my repertoire, because my version is vocal - I don't have an instrumental-only rendition - and I don't get to sing at most of my gigs.  I truly adore it, however, and each time coming back to it is another rush of beauty.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Scylla and Charybdis reviewed!

Abyss and Apex, which has published several of my stories (the editor - hi, Wendy Delmater! - is apparently crazy), just put out a lovely review of Scylla and Charybdis:

Scylla and Charybdis Review

Please do check out the rest of the magazine while you're there, too.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Happy 4th of July, y'all!  (Even if you're not American, it's still the 4th, after all.  You're not just skipping the day and getting the global calendar in a twist ... are you?)

For those of us in the States, it's Independence Day, not to be confused with the movie featuring Will Smith - though if you want to celebrate by blowing up spaceships, I suppose I won't judge just this once.

I've always been fascinated with this part of history, the last few decades of the colonial era leading up to the Revolution and the immediate aftershocks.  I've even written a short story set in a secondary world that much resembles America around the beginning of the 1800s, featuring a werewolf bounty hunter, a wisewoman and a very small dragon.  Menagerie was published in The Sword Review (now defunct) an eon ago, and I've never returned to that storyline, though it was rife for a sequel.

There's a lot about that time period (the real one) that doesn't make it past the headlines.  Mercy Otis Warren's political writings and letters had a lot of influence on both the public level - plays protesting royal authority; a pamphlet advocating the need for a Bill of Rights in the Constitution; one of the earliest histories of the American Revolution, a massive three volume compendium - and on the private:  she corresponded with John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, Martha Washington ...  (One of my never-returned-to story ideas was to write about a Mercy Otis Warren-like figure in the alternate-America I discuss above.)

Sybil Ludington, whose ride to warn of the advancing British - at the tender age of sixteen - is arguably more impressive than Paul Revere's.  When I was a wee thing, I was fascinated with the poetry of Phyllis Wheatley, the first published female African-American poet.

Of course, there's some hilarity in the fact that Benjamin Franklin really was all that and a bag of chips.  Reading a colonial history gets exasperating:  "What, him again?"

No fireworks for me, though.  I'll be having some khachapuri (Georgian cheese bread) and a ripasso-style IGT Veneto wine.  Cheers!

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Song Styles

So in case you missed my squealing, I just sold "Soul Medley" to Andromeda Spaceways Magazine.  This story was written for a challenge to write about music.  Besides the plotline and the inclusion of a harper/bard character, though, most of the names are in-jokes for Irish music, derived from titles of songs written by Turlough O'Carolan, the famous blind harper of traditional music.

I might - might! - give away those references once the story is published, but for now, here's a recording of an O'Carolan tune *not* featured in "Soul Medley" -

George Brabazon

And yep, that's me playing.  Arrangement by my lovely teacher Nancy Bick Clark.

Shameless plug:  you can also find O'Carolan tune "Sheebeg and Sheemore" (which *is* referenced in "Soul Medley") on my CD, Rolling of the Stone.