Under the Magnifying Glass: Is it Getting Hot in Here?

Today I’m giving you a peek at my latest newsletter. These go out every couple of weeks, and in them I share deeper insights into my book world and inspirations. You’ll also get bonus stuff, like links to a wide variety of free books by other authors, Rafflecopter giveaways, and the chance to participate in surveys that shape my series. Additionally, when you subscribe, you’ll get a coupon code for a free copy of Ancient Voices: Into the Depths, the second book in my series.


Under the Magnifying Glass: Is it Getting Hot in Here?

Life really pushes us around sometimes, testing our strength, our patience, and sometimes our faith. Writers test their characters just as hard, sometimes harder. We can put them in situations we hope to never face ourselves, then either shove them over the brink, or pull them back at the last second and pick up all the emotional pieces left in disarray.

Now, you might think writers are really just like a mean kid with a bug and a magnifying glass on a hot summer day. But really, we don’t enjoy tormenting our poor characters. We feel their joy, disappointment, and grief just as strongly as if it is our own. In the process of exploring their circumstances and emotional reactions, we learn something about ourselves, and about people in general. Our writing is often an invitation for our readers to do the same–to put themselves in our characters’ shoes just as we have during the writing process.

Einar is tested to the limits of his sanity in Into the Shadow Wood. Likewise, Elowyn faces the greatest test of her young life in Ancient Voices (I won’t go into detail for the sake of those who haven’t read it yet). I dreaded putting her through it, going through a writer’s version of a stubborn, sulking, toddler-like tantrum where I didn’t write for months. I tried to talk myself out of it a hundred different ways, but as I followed all of those different possibilities to their eventual outcomes, none of them took Elowyn where she needed to go. Without that defining moment her life would have been simpler, happier maybe, but not nearly as rich or significant. She could never be the person she was intended to be.

I eventually came to accept that Elowyn’s test was bringing about a necessary pain. So I gave up my tantrum and got down to writing. I got angry. I shed real tears as I wrote, and if anyone had asked me what I was sobbing uncontrollably about, they probably would have thought I was crazy. Maybe writers have to be…just a little, anyway.

In my final acceptance of Elowyn’s fate was a real life lesson for me as well. Parts of my life have not been easy, and I’ve sometimes thought how much better everything would have turned out without them. If I had power over the master delete key, and could go back and remove all those difficult chapters where I was tested, would I? How would that irrevocably change me, since I am a far more complex being than a fictional character? Would my life have been simpler and happier? Would I be a better person without them? I have no way to know, and I am not done being tested, or growing as a result.

Yet I do have faith that what the Bible says in Romans is true, that God really does work for the good of those who love Him. He can take the horrible things we go through and use them to make us spiritually rich and significant in the lives of others–if we let Him. Elowyn can’t see my plans to turn her pain into a blessing. If she was real, she might very well think of me as a mean kid with a magnifying glass. I am equally blind to God’s plans for me.

In dire times it’s natural to wonder why God doesn’t stop the bad things that cause such pain. But if He has a magnifying glass, its purpose is not for torment, but to give clarity and a tool for self-examination. If I can use Elowyn’s trials to write her into her most beautiful future self, how much more so can the Author of all Life write my story into something more glorious than I could ever imagine?


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It was time to say goodbye to the Weekly Fantasy fix

But you can still follow me through my author newsletter, which has deeper insights into my writing, inspirations, and book world.

If you haven’t subscribed yet, now is a great time to do it.

Why now? Because I’m giving away a free autographed book to one lucky subscriber. Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway before the end of April for your chance to win a book of your choice from the Wind Rider Chronicles. I will announce the winner in my May 3rd newsletter.

Want a peek at what you’ve been missing? View my last newsletter, Home is Where the Imagination Is. Or take my just-for-fun fantasy survey, and see how your answers compare those of others.

If you like what you see, subscribe, then enter the giveaway. Good luck!

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It’s Time to Say Goodbye

This last year working with Joshua and Allison on this newsletter has been great, but things are picking up in our writing careers, and unfortunately, we no longer have time to keep up with this newsletter.

It doesn’t have to be goodbye though…

Allison, Joshua and I have our own newsletters where you can keep tabs on us, and we all love hearing from you.

Joshua and I will be adding you all to our newsletters automatically, and of course if you don’t want to remain on those lists you can always unsubscribe. You’ll have to subscribe to Allison’s newsletter if you’d like to keep following her, however. You can do that here.

I’ll also be keeping the Weekly Fantasy Fix blog going, and you can still follow on Twitter.

Thank you for all your support over the last year!

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Who am i?

For the indie author, this is a frequent and persistent question, especially at first. There isn’t a publisher to tell us, “you fit here and this is where we’re marketing you.” So we have to figure it out on or own, and it isn’t always easy. We end up going through this existential crisis of a sort; what did I just write, and where does it belong? Where do I belong as an author? Sometimes we get too caught up in worrying about where readers think we belong, and we get dragged down all sorts of dead end paths trying to market to every potential reader, in every dark corner of the universe. It can be exhausting, deplete our limited resources, and still get us nowhere.

And it’s no wonder we’re confused—some genres, like fantasy, are so huge it’s easy to get lost. When you search for fantasy books on Amazon, you get 739,684 returns! Who could possibly search through all of that for a new book to read? It’s completely overwhelming. Renee’s March 4th article talked about how the fantasy genre has now been split up into many different sub-genres, presenting both benefits and challenges for everyone. For the writer, it can make that existential question where do I belong even harder to answer, particularly if our work fits equally well into more than a couple of categories. But it can also help us finally settle in someplace—find a cozy corner to call home, where we can quietly build up a loyal fan base and gradually expand from there. It sure beats drifting around the book marketing universe like a hobo, holding out our collection cups to anyone who passes by, hoping for some reader to take pity on the poor indie author.

And that’s pretty much what we do as new, inexperienced authors. We chase after every new marketing gimmick, trying to imitate the top sellers without having any understanding of the huge amount of plodding groundwork it took to get them there. We try to copy the mechanics of their journey in the hopes it will take us along the exact same road, instead of going through that painful existential process of figuring out who we are, and forging our own path. We read all the author self-help books written by people who claim if you just follow steps A-Z you’ll become just as successful as they are. But no two authors are alike, and no two journeys are either. They might offer good advice, but we need to take it with the understanding that it will most likely work differently for us, and that’s OK. Eventually we all grow tired of chasing the wind and come to realize our biggest successes have come about when we’ve just been our truest selves.

It took me a few years, but I think I’m finally settling into my small corner of the indie book world. It’s actually pretty comfortable—not particularly flashy or high profile, but it suits me. Readers are finding me, and my book sales are slowly but steadily growing. When I first published in 2011, I couldn’t imagine the place I’m at right now. Humble as it is, it seemed so far out of reach. Since then I’ve had plenty of dreams to keep me working hard, and those dreams grow every day. I hope that in another 5 years, I’ll be able to look back and say, “I couldn’t imagine this place I’m in right now—and I’m so glad I’m here. What’s next?”

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Dark Clouds are Gathering. Can you Weather the Storm?

Some pretty ugly weather rolled across the U.S. yesterday and overnight. We caught some of it where I live, though other parts of the country fared much worse. Bright flashes of lighting filled our living room, and great cracks and booms shook the house. You couldn’t see the rain in the pitch dark outside, but you could hear it beating against the siding and roof. The weather alerts were sounding from my phone every 5 minutes, sending my anxiety levels up a few notches each time, and my 6-year-old was squeezing the life out of my arm as we sat on the couch together. We live in a modern, sturdy house—something book characters don’t always have, particularly those living in a medieval or other historical-type era where the weather’s benevolence is crucial to survival.

As I sat there in a comfortable well-lit room, with the lull of the T.V. to distract me from the tempest outside, I was reminded how weather can play a significant role in a story, or even become a character in itself.  It can set the mood for a single scene, or shape the entire plot.  Weather can grow crops, or destroy them, it can fill sails or sink ships, level homes, and flood streets.  Its temperature extremes are sometimes deadly.  Long periods of unchanging weather can affect the mental states of those subject to its effects. For those characters out on the road, the weather can give them an easy-going, pleasant journey or an uncomfortable, and even dangerous one. If a fictional society is largely agrarian, bad weather has the power to completely destroy it—no armies needed—by bringing about starvation and sickness.  In a time before radar and weather apps, sudden changes in weather would no doubt have been mysterious and alarming to the average person. By the time they knew bad weather was coming, there wasn’t much time to prepare.

Do you have a favorite book in which weather plays a significant role? If you’re a writer, how do you handle weather in your own stories? Is it something that just lurks in the background, rarely seen, or are your characters keenly aware of its impact on daily life? Have you ever written a story in which the weather actually took on the role of a character?

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HOw I feel when I’m creating the villain

Good authors like to get into their character’s heads when they’re writing, much like an actor does when portraying a character on the stage or screen. It’s the best way to make your characters seem real and behave spontaneously rather than assuming what they’d do next. But what happens when an author gets into the head of their villains?

I’ve always had a bit of a warped imagination. You’d have to, to write about torture and other such horrors. When I started writing Shadow Stalker, I wanted a villain that wasn’t just evil. I wanted him to be completely psychotic, but not just for the sake of being psychotic. There had to be a purpose to it (which hasn’t come out in the story yet, so I won’t mention it here).

I’m not a psychotic person, though. I’m sure I’d have been locked away by now if I was. So getting into his head and trying to think like he would has been rather difficult. Since the story is written from the main character’s POV, I didn’t have to write for him much, but he is the emperor of a society he built from the ground up. His mentality had to show in the “world” he created around him. So in that sense, I still had to get into his head.

His psychosis is a mix of what he was born with and his experiences growing up or at least how he viewed his experiences as a deranged man. So I had to first do a bit of research to find out how a psychotic person might view the world. Then I had to put myself in his shoes.

For a while, I could see the world as someone like that would see it, and it was a bit startling. It gave me nightmares. I have to say I was a bit tame when I started writing the story. The things that went through my head were much too horrific to share with my readers. At least to start with. I didn’t want to scare people away.

Drevin is definitely an interesting character though, and one of these days, when I’m brave enough, I might write a short story or novella from his point of view. I think some of my readers would probably enjoy something like that… maybe…


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Beating that Scary Blank Page–A Writer’s Nightmare

If you’re a writer, at some point you’ve probably encountered it. The scary blank page. What makes it scary is that you have absolutely no idea how to fill it…and all the other blank pages that come after. Bits and pieces of ideas are swirling around in your head, and you’ve got disjointed notes scattered across different files on your computer. Your desk is full of barely legible scraps of paper you scribbled on in haste (gotta get that flash of an idea on paper before it dissipates), and notebooks you dragged with you on trips, or maybe to the park. Somehow it all has to come together into a cohesive story. But where to begin?

I’ve been staring at that blank page for a few months now. Mostly because my overly-busy life hasn’t afforded me the time to center myself and organize my thoughts. I thought maybe if I just tried not to stress out about it, the ideas would start coming together on their own. You know, like when you forget someone’s name and the only way to remember it is to think of something else for a while?

But you probably don’t have to be a writer to realize that plan was destined to fail. After all, I’m not trying to remember something forgotten, I’m trying to create something totally new. Its threads must tie neatly into everything that came before, as well as everything that is yet to come after. The further I get into my series, the more complex that job becomes. Sometimes it gets pretty intimidating and I wonder if I’m up to the challenge I’ve set before myself.

So the blank page continues to stare at me, and the longer it looms, the scarier it seems. And that has been bothering me. A lot! So now I’m pushing myself to get past the anxiety and really focus on the task at hand. I’ve done it before, and I know I can do it again. But first I must stop thinking like a writer, and get into the minds of my readers. What are they expecting to happen next? Which of those expectations must be fulfilled, and which do I hold back until further on in the series? What surprising twists and turns will make the story fresh and exciting, rather than predictable? What will move and intrigue my readers to keep coming back for the next book, and the next after that?

It is in answering those questions that I can more easily get back to the job of being a writer; balancing expectation with inspiration, and weaving together what seems to be nothing but a random tangle of loose threads into a vibrant, tightly woven fabric. I’m already starting to see the patterns and colors as they come together in the back of my mind. Scenes are taking shape, characters are whispering their thoughts to me as I sleep, and the mood of the book is building in my chest.

That blank page doesn’t have any words on it yet, but all the signs are telling me the time is just about right to begin. Once again, I’ll do my best to fill it, and hundreds more, with words that will take my readers on new adventures, full of heart, wonder, and suspense. In the end, if I do my job well, my readers will inspire me to face another new set of blank pages. But that’s for another year—one challenge at a time.


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