Put It On The Shelf

…or, the best way to fix your “baby’s” ugliness.

Ben’s post from last week resonated with me a lot for various reasons. Right now, I’m finishing up a B.A. in English so naturally I’m being exposed to piles and piles of papers written by other students. Sometimes, those papers aren’t bad. Other times, they would best serve as kindling.

This fact was most apparent in the “Writing Fiction” class that I took. I have no illusions as to the quality of my writing, but some of this stuff…


As a writer, there are so many different suggestions for how to go about self-editing, but one of the most effective ones that I’ve used to the suggestion to take your finished manuscript and put it on the shelf for some period of time. The most common suggestion is 6 months, but I’ve found that even 3 months can be enough if you have sufficient work to do elsewhere and you can change your focus.

With the end of the semester approaching, I’ve had so much on my plate that I’ve had no choice but to put The Hydra Offensive on the shelf. But with my time freeing up, ever so slightly, I’m back at the keyboard, editing Hydra.

I’ve found that leaving the manuscript alone and doing other work has given me a different perspective on the prose and has allowed me to make edits that I might not have made otherwise.

Do you use this method with your writing? How does it work for you? Any other suggestions for solid editing methods?

Do They Write What You Read?

I had a question the other day while working out the details of a character in my head: how often do writers develop characters who write and how often to readers get to read what they write?

I have no statistical answer to this question, but it has now been nagging me for a few days. Honestly, I’m not talking about the Mort Raineys or Paul Sheldons or Jack Torrances, who are all author-characters (or is that character authors?). These protagonists were designed to be mirrors of the actual author and likely a catharsis for the real; writing about writers is often therapy.

What I’m really referring to are the characters who dabble in poetry or song, who may be hunters or lawyers or mathematicians or magicians in sum, but have tangential creative bits that really, really, really flesh them out.

When an author drops in a bit of poetry that the character has “written” or they drop in the lyrics of a song (without the obvious and impossible to pen melody), readers are treated to something: an opening of a vein, a glimpse into the tender side of a hard ass, a glimmer of hope.

Sometimes those poems or song lyrics are ties which bind a story like an iron thread running through the pages to keep disparate thoughts together.

Sometimes those poems or song lyrics are just glimpses of whimsy.Writing-Poetry

Whatever the case, how often do readers really get to see that side of a protagonist/antagonist they have either grown to love or grown to hate?

Think of Bilbo Baggins and his whimsical songs.

So in my head, I envisioned doing a little research on this topic as a reader. It may take a while, but I’m going to look for the creative side of characters to see what they have done. Believe it or not, I would–as a reader–pick up the “Collected Poetry of Hobbiton” if such a think existed or maybe the “Whimsical Writings of Susan Pevensie.”

But I’m a geek.

Anyway, one of the characters I have been working on of late has a creative side. He’s asked to write something by a therapist as a way of getting in touch with the boy he had been.

With all that said, here is a part of a piece by Mark Allen Haines, protagonist of a work in progress:

On a street called Intention the spirits sigh;
Horse-drawn carriages bang over cobbled stones
As dirt covered urchins toss a ball
In front of shops and carts.
There is a ragged man,
There is a Bobbie,
There is a newsboy with tidings of joy
On a rag that costs two pence.
A bell chimes as a door opens
On the corner of Intention and Meaning.
A child steps out on the stoop,
Dirty face,
Adjusts his apple cap,
Looks at the beggar in the gutter and whispers a prayer:
“Let one live.”
In the boy’s grimy hands, a note:
“Take care to watch for toolers and nobblers,
As you cross to Intention and Sense.
Two tokes from the baker.
Skip home in haste.”

In the stillness of questioning there are wandering eyes,
Dirty faces, fake smiles,
And piercing gazes that probe
The soul of a boy who may be a man.
The child, afraid,
Hands in pocket,
Jangling coins,
Walks head down, feeling judged by all,
Trapped in a box of his own making.
“That’s a good job, but…”
Words that float like steel razors
Slicing the edge of esteem like teeth in meat.
“That’s good work, but…”
A voice, harsh, unkind,
Yet full of wisdom, age, what to be,
What he’s not.
What he is, the beggar in the street
Holding hands out for a halfpence,
A praise without condition,
Something never given, only wished.

Benjamin X. Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes. He is the author of A Difficult Mirror, Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors, and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang.

He also gets up before 4am to milk (words, not cows).

The Trouble With George R.R. Martin

by Bruce Blake


Recently, our good friend Scott Bury lamented in his post, Spies Everywhere, how it seemed that Hollywood and Sony had been ripping off his ideas.  Inspired by his post, I decided to take a closer look at a similar subject.

One George R.R. Martin.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him…he is writing a little series about some place called Westeros.

Like most of the free world–and by free world, I mean anyone who has cable, a DVD player, or loose enough morals to take advantage of sites like thrones, Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire, Westeros, George MartinProject Free TV–I’ve recently finished watching season 4 of A Game of Thrones. Unlike the majority of people watching this excellent series, I have also read the first three books of Mr. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. For those of you who are unaware of the parallels, that means I am in the same place both televisionally and literarily (I think I made at least one of those words up).

Since this is the case, I decided it was time to pick up the fourth volume, A Feast for Crows, and get it read before season 5 arrives so I can stay ahead of the game and bother my wife, who hasn’t read the book, by letting slip the odd important detail before it happens whenever she makes me mad.

I’m not far into the book–only about 150 pages (and still waiting for something of importance to happen. It’s sad that, the more successful an author gets, the less say the editors have…happened to J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, too)–but I’ve come to notice a pattern in the books of Mr. Martin’s that I’ve read.

George RR Martin is stealing my ideas. Here’s how my observation differs from Scott’s, however:

George isn’t just stealing my ideas, but he’s doing it, writing them, and publishing them before I ever have them!

Mr. Martin smiling about another idea he stole that I haven't even had yet!

Mr. Martin smiling about another idea he stole that I haven’t even had yet!

The unmitigated nerve! I imagine that a number of other authors are finding much the same thing when they read his series. What it boils down to is that the man is so creative and imaginative, and the series looks to be stretching on for so long, George may actually use up every good idea there is to be used in fantasy.

How many of you have had the idea of an army created from men bred from the time of their birth to be warriors? Or of people who can ‘warg’ themselves into animals (you may have used a different term)? God trees? Cities built on islands interlinked by bridges (Scott Lynch must be stewing over that one!)?

Similar comments may be true of many other lengthy fantasy series but, to be honest, I haven’t read too many of them. I started Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series years ago, but found it too slow-moving to slog my way through all one hundred and thirteen books, so abandoned it after about 400 pages. The only author we likely can’t accuse of pre-stealing our ideas is JRR Tolkien (as I’ve probably wondered on the very blog in the past…should I change my name to Bruce RR Blake? Would that guarantee me some measure of success?). Since Mr. Tolkien pretty much invented the entire genre, it is he whom the rest of us deign to pilfer from.

The thing that makes Mr. Martin’s reverse larceny most concerning is the massive amount  of exposure his ideas have received. Seven million people thiefwatched the season 4 finale on HBO, and I presume that number doesn’t include the pirates who watched it (Arrr!). If I’d discovered some unknown–or even relatively known–author had plagiarized my cool ideas before I had them, I probably wouldn’t be quite so concerned. But seven million people watched one episode…one episode!!

How will I ever get credit for a reasonable idea if he keeps writing?

I may as well give up this genre and start writing about  a boy who goes to wizard school…wait. What? Someone already did that?

See what I mean.

So, George, I beg of you…lay down your quill, unplug your Selectric typewriter, lose the password to your laptop. For God’s sake, and for the sake and sanity of all the fantasy authors in the world, leave some good ideas for the rest of us!


Bruce Blake is currently writing the third book in his Small Gods series and it was George Martin’s use of the term ‘small gods’ in A Feast for Crows that sent him over the edge.

You should still read his books, anyway.

Building a Story

by Bruce Blake


A pleasant thing happened to me the other day…one of those things that all writers have experienced, but want to have happen more frequently.

A story began to form in my head.

'Prospector' by ToOliver2 courtesy of Creative Commons

‘Prospector’ by ToOliver2 courtesy of Creative Commons

It came out of no where, opening before me like a rolled carpet careening down a hill. It was only a few lines to begin with, but the more I turned them over in my head, inspecting them  with the keen eye of a prospector determining the value of a nugget, the more it stuck, grew, developed.

This is how it started in my head:

It was Friday, April 13th the day they locked the door; none of us knew when it would open again. If it ever would.

I liked it. Two quick sentences to set up some questions in the reader’s head–who was being locked in? Where and why? The fact it’s Friday the 13th hints it will be horror and the lines have a certain mystery to them, but it was the next paragraph taking shape in my brain that really drew me in:

Sixty-four souls were shut in when the lock clicked, and none of us fought it. No one ranted and raved, no one kicked and argued. No one knew why we were there, either, until a week later when the Chinese girl’s skin started to peel.

That’s about all I had, but it gave me some of the things I need to continue: mystery, atmosphere, genre. The one thing I didn’t have was a plan.

The idea came to me as I was driving, so I chanted it over and over lest it slip away from (oh, the tragedy when that occurs!), then rushed into the house upon arriving home, grabbed a notebook and a pen, and scribbled down what I had. As I wrote, it changed a little:

Sixty-four souls were trapped behind cement walls and a steel door when the lock clicked shut, and none of us fought. No one ranted and raved, no one kicked or argued. We let ourselves be locked away without complaint or question. And none of us knew why, either; at least, none of us admitted we did until a week later when the Chinese girl’s skin started to peel.

A little more description, and stronger because of it, I thought. As my pen scratched across the paper–a unique and heady feeling one never achieves when tapping the lettered squares on a keyboard–more came to me, and a couple more paragraphs were born that added characterization to the narrator, and an inkling of plot:

She might have been Korean. I wasn’t sure but, either way, she did her best not to cry. You could see it in the taut lines of her face, the way her mouth turned down at the corners. She fought it but, in the end, the pain proved too much and she wept tears of blood. Sobs turned to cries, cries became screams, and screams finally faded to pleas to end her suffering.

We didn’t, though I imagine all of us would have asked for the same level of humanity if we were the ones melting into a pool of blood, tears, and excrement.

None of us dared get close enough to do it, though, not once we saw what was happening. Watching the way her flesh came off, how her hair came out in clumps, told us everything we needed to know. It revealed the reason for our quarantine.

We’d all been exposed. Intimately.

Tense enough? Make you wonder what’s going on? It made me want to know more, so I thought I better introduce another character so we didn’t spend the entire time trapped inside the narrator’s head.

The day after the girl died, knees hugged to her chest as she writhed in a puddle of her own bodily fluids, a man who called himself Juniper approached me. He’d introduced himself the day before the Chinese or Korean girl began scaring the bejesus out of us. That day, his voice held a vague accent and a lilt of underlying joviality that, given our circumstances, I guessed always resided there. The next time we spoke, the accent remained, but the joyous humour was gone.

I stood against the wall, as far from the mess as possible, but everyone else was trying to do the same. People mumbled under their breath, a low, murmuring rumble spreading through the room, each hushed voice carrying the same question.

Would anyone come to clean up her…remains?

I watched Juniper approach, perspiration shining on dark skin that confirmed the heritage his accent suggested–Jamaican, or maybe from somewhere in Africa. He made his way through the crowd, people moving aside like chunks of frozen ocean before the prow of an icebreaker. We nodded to each other as he docked beside me smelling salty like a week’s worth of sweat, not like the sea.

“Hell of a thing,” he said, voice quiet as he peered over the heads of the others in the direction of the melted girl. Most gazes in the room were turned the same way. “Ever seen anything like that before?”

I grunted the most non-committal of grunts. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him face me, waiting for me to elaborate. I didn’t. A minute later, he spoke again.

“I’ve seen it before. Happened to my son.”

There’s a bit more, but for the purpose of this post, we’ll stop there. Even copying the lines into this format, I’m invigorated by the process of creation, the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling of bringing an idea to life. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having a story–or a piece of a story–present itself to you, and the ensuing pleasure of capturing it.

And so, dear Guild of Dreams readers, I’d like to pose three questions to anyone who cares to answer in the comments section:

1. Where would you take this story?

2. Is it a nugget of gold, or a tired, old chunk of pyrite?

3. Does this happen to you? (The muse whispering insistently in your head part, not the melting thing)


Bruce Blake is the author of 8 novels and apparently lets his mind wander while driving. Follow him on his blog to keep up or sign up for his newsletter to receive infrequent news of his daydreams.

The Modern Writer: Research

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m writing a series of posts highlighting different aspects of the modern writer. Today, I’m going to talk about research and how it has evolved in the internet era.

For me, in my recent endeavors, it’s become important to research how flintlock and percussion cap firearms work, how far an army could march in a day, or how much food would be needed for an extended campaign. Each writer is going to research something different, dependent on the needs of their story and the world in which it lives.

When I started writing I didn’t really do much of any research. All of my works were either highly derivative, or created completely without basis or factual evidence.

As I’ve developed as a writer, however, it’s become more and more obvious to me that in order to write a solid story, some level of research is essential.

“Back in the day” research involved reading other books in the genre of your choosing, or going to the library and finding source material on the subject you wished to research.

Taking classes on a subject at a local college might be one way to study a particular field, including the copious amount of notes that would go along with that.

But those things took time and money. And for some situations, you might not even have a chance to read extensively on your

The Internet has changed the way that writers study. A quick scan of the Amazon categories, a Wikipedia article, or even just a quick Google search will typically render enough reading material to fulfill most research needs. topic. Gunpowder Fantasy wasn’t even a thing when I started reading. If I had tried to read other books in the genre, I would have been out of luck.

Not only does this allow a writer a much wider variety of content to peruse and research (some of my reading for Gunpowder Fantasy comes from authors in the UK and Australia) but it saves tons of times. No longer does a writer need to take a chunk out of their day to drive to the library to look up books and read through them.


There is, as always, a downside to using the internet as a research tool: the random dredges of society and the sometimes scattershot

approach that Google takes when combing through its massive databases for information.

n-helpful or downright harmful to the honest study of a topic. And if you search for two words, any website with those words anywhere near each other will come back on the results, sometimes creating false positives.Because anyone can have a blog, the search engines will often come up with results from people who are either less-tha

How has the internet changed how you research your work? How has it changed how you find new things to read

Thirty Minutes on the Plot Machine

“Where do you get your ideas?”

Over the years, I have read many interviews in which authors claim this is the most asked question they get, so much so that many of them make up witty and humorous answers. So far in my writing career I’ve done a number of interviews and no one has asked me this question. Rather than feel left out anymore, I decided to take the proverbial bull by the horns and deal with it here and now. But to do so, I need to digress for a moment, so bear with me.

My birthday is coming up soon (Jan. 20 for those of you who want to mark it on your calendars) and, since I was born in the same year as the Big Mac, Penthouse magazine and, less notably, the very year man first landed on the moon, that means I will be turning forty-four. The age doesn’t bother me in the slightest because, as you will often hear me say, life begins at forty (okay, you caught me. I probably wasn’t the first person to say that). However, there are things that have begun to change with age, one of which is the speed of my metabolism. While I have been good at cutting out those also-turning-forty-four Big Macs, I am the possessor of a great love of both chocolate and ice cream. In fact, if you told me I had to either give up those two items or my two children, I would have a moral dilemma on my hands (having said that, my son is 18 and has skills as a landscaper, so he’d be worth a fair penny on the black market. Hmm.).

So, in order to keep my kids around, I head off to the gym.

I find weights take a certain amount of concentration, or provide a certain amount of distraction, depending on your point of view. But on my cardio days, when I work on the elliptical trainer, things are different. Cardio

A plethora of stories waiting to happen

A plethora of stories waiting to happen

is boring. I don’t take an ipod with me, the TVs are always tuned to something uninteresting (and the volume is turned off, even if it is anything good) and it’s too hard to text or talk on the phone while bouncing up and down like that. It leaves me nothing to do but think. And what does a writer think about given time on his hands? Well, if you’re a dedicated, serious writer, you think about your writing.

From this moment heretoforth, elliptical trainers all over the world shall be known as plot machines.

My NaNoWriMo project, the third Icarus Fell novel titled Secrets of the Hanged Man (expect it this spring), was plotted and planned, outlined and imagined almost completely during a string of thirty minute sessions on the plot machine.

It began as I thought about three different stories I’d started years ago; none of them had grown further than a page or two, and all were very much focused on the character, and that was the one thing they had in common: they were about a male in his late teens. One was growing a tail, one was suicidal but couldn’t die, and the last was such a bad luck charm that everyone he cared about ended up dead. As arms and legs pistoned back and forth one day with a sweaty man in his 50s to one side of me, a woman more interested in texting than getting in shape on the other, and Days of Our Lives playing silently on the TV, I started imagining one character that brought all three of these stalled ones together.

“Hmm,” I thought, somewhat breathless as my thirty minutes of exercise drew to a close. “This could be interesting.”

Unfortunately, my version comes with a bald man.

Unfortunately, my version comes with a bald man.

That was the first time I became conscious of the effects of the plot machine. From that moment onward, every time my somewhat stinky workout runners hit the machine, my mind starts working. I have come to think it operates on the same principle Dr. Xavier and Magneto used when they built Cerebro, the super computer that enhances the good doctor’s psychic ability so he can detect other potential X-Men from afar. My plot machine doesn’t work at long distance (yet), nor does it help me find hot blue chicks who can shape shift, but it sure seems to enhance whatever the hell is going on inside that weird little device in my head that creates stories.

So there you have it, my answer to the age-old question. I didn’t make it up and I can’t completely explain it but, as I keep my belly in check, my imagination works overtime.

Now excuse me, but I have some fat to burn and a story to write.

Bruce Blake is the best-selling author of the Icarus Fell dark urban fantasy novels and the Khirro’s Journey epic fantasy triology. His latest book, Spirit of the King (Khirro’s Journey Book 2) is now available on Kindle, Kobo and Smashwords.


Twisting Tropes

Wikipedia defines a trope as: something recurring across a genre or type of creative work.

Essentially tropes are elements or themes that are used (or overused) throughout a particular genre. Using these elements isn’t, in and of itself, a bad thing. Especially if you find ways to twist those tropes to your bidding.

My Griffins & Gunpowder Universe is not immune from dipping into some of the more common Fantasy-genre tropes or conventions, but I’ve made an effort to make them not so conventional.

One of the most common conventions of Epic Fantasy tends to be the medieval or pseudo-medieval setting. While this is increasingly being challenged, it has very nearly become one of the things that identifies Epic Fantasy. From JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis to George RR Martin, the medieval/pseudo-medieval setting has been explored extensively.

When I was originally building the Griffins & Gunpowder universe, I had envisioned a world that was very medival. But then I started developing my idea of what the world of Zaria would be. I settled on a semi-medival world, where castles and feudal lords were slowly being replaced by sprawling towns and railroads.

Keeping the semi-medieval setting allowed me to maintain a connection with the familiar settings of Epic Fantasy, while adding my own take on it.

The use of “other races” is another Epic Fantasy convention that I decided to bring into my world and make some adjustments to. In the world of Zaria, I’ve already introduced elves and orcs are on the docket for later.

My elves aren’t all your typical tree-dwelling, archery and nature loving hippies. Some of the elves are the elder-advisor type, but there is an entire segment of elves that are swash-buckling sailors, devoted to building and commanding the fastest ships.

The orcs of Zaria are vastly different than the brutish, mindless orcs that are typical of the Epic Fantasy genre. I decided to split my orcs into two different factions. The first faction is based off of the Native American tribes. They live in the plains, hunting and gathering as nomadic tribes. The second faction is a group that has assimilated the lifestyle of the elves and humans around them: they’ve built cities and roads and live more in line with the other races of my world.

My elves emerged organically; they just sprouted from the nations that I had designed. The orcs, however, were created specifically to counter the orcish stereotype.

So what tropes do you hate to see? How would you like to see those tropes twisted?

Not Fantasy, but Sci-Fi

Well, it’s happened again, but this time it is entirely my own fault. For the Guild Of Dreams blog, I do most of my communicating with the other writers through a Facebook page. Problem is, one member of the Guild is not on Facebook with the rest of us. And this time around, I forgot to tell him when it was his turn to post.

Oops. Bad, Bruce. Bad.

But I don’t want to leave our readers hanging. There is supposed to be a post go up on Fridays, and by God, there will be a post.

Even if it is recycled.

This post originally appeared on my personal blog a while back and, given the shortness of time I had to get something ready to go, I thought some of you might find it a tad interesting. It’s not about fantasy, but it’s still speculative fiction. So here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

I am a fan of science fiction.

Not a rabid fan, a fanatic, an aficionado or any other writerly words (I’m still looking for a time to use verisimilitude, the ultimate writer’s word), but I do appreciate a good sci-fi yarn and I’ve read a fair amount.

Some of my faves: Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead), Ursual K. LeGuin (The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed), Alfred Bester (The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination and especially his short story, Fondly Fahrenheit), Niven‘s Ringworld and The Mote in God’s Eye (with Jerry Pournelle), Heinlein‘s Starship TroopersFrederik Pohl‘s GatewayAsimovBradbury, and the list goes on.

I tell you that about myself so you know that, while I am not a sci-fi reader of the utmost authority, I do have a pretty good idea of the lay of the land. And it is from this platform I ask:

Is Philip K. Dick the greatest sci-fi writer ever?

You should know this about me, too, though it may seriously reduce my credibility: I have never read a word written by Philip K. So why, you might ask, would I deign to ask such a question?

A couple of nights ago, I saw the movie The Adjustment Bureau.

Going in, I didn’t know it was from a Philip K. Dick story (the K. stands for Kindred, by the way). I watched the movie and was totally intrigued by the premise (although left only mildly liking the movie) and was not surprised when the end credits rolled and I found out the original story was penned by Mr. Dick. It left me wanting to read the original to find out if the sci-fi master would really have God come in and solve all the problems (sorry for spoiling the ending but you would have figured it out — it’s Hollywood, after all).

Now, I realize there are some of you reading this blog who may be thinking to themselves: Philip who?, so here’s an overview of the man that will probably make you realize you know more of him than you may think.

Philip K. Dick published 44 novels and over 120 stories from the time of his first in 1951 to his death in 1982 (at a far-too-young 53 years old). So far, 10 of his works have been made into movies:

The aforementioned Adjustment Bureau (from the story ‘Adjustment Team’), Paycheck (a sad attempt starring Ben Affleck), Impostor starring Gary Sinise (worth finding at the video store), A Scanner Darkly (animated drug/cop tale with Keanu Reeves), Next starring Nicholas Cage (I haven’t seen it personally — I developed a dislike for Mr. Cage’s work), and his three most famous: Minority Report starring Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall (from the story ‘We Can Remember it for You Wholesale), and Blade Runner from the story ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (if not the best sci-fi flick ever made, certainly in the top 5).

Any of those ring a bell?

A few more of his pieces are said to be in development, including The Man in the High Castle, for which he won a Hugo award, King of the ElvesFlow My Tears, the Policeman Said and Ubik, named by Time magazine as one of the top 100 novels published since 1923.

So why the sudden fascination with this writer, Bruce? You haven’t even read any.

The reason I write this blog is this: if you’ve seen any of these movies (some good, some bad, some ugly), you’ll know that they all do one thing… they make you think. Mr. Dick had an amazing imagination and way of looking at the world, so much so it’s impossible to see one of these features, no matter the quality of the film making, and not come away feeling affected and thinking about things in a different way. I so much like what he came up with that, even without reading his work , I’m convinced his writing must leave him near the pinnacle of the sci-fi world, waving from the balcony with the like of Bradbury and Asimov.

It makes me want to go out and read some of his books.

If you do some research, you’ll find Mr. Dick had some issues (including the belief that part of a reborn Gnostic lived inside him), but I won’t get into that now. He died in 1982, before Blade Runner was released, and had financial difficulty all through his life.

The movies made from his work since his death have grossed over a $1 billion.

Life can be a bitch, can’t it?

Seriously, What Were You Thinking?

It began with a song.

The first time I really remember my imagination unlocking to a deeper level, carrying me away to a new world inside of me, was sitting as a little girl in the back seat of my parent’s car. We are were one of our very long drives. I couldn’t read, as I got car sick the second I tried looking at printed type. “Playing with the Queen of Hearts” was on the radio.

I try to put myself into that long ago mindset of a young child. What was it about that song that set my mind free? I can promise you I did not understand half the lyrics! What did I know about love in reference to a deck of cards? I did know it was about love. Take the image of a Queen, who you need to be wary off, and a joker, who would “do anything for you,” unhealthy love, and a very long car ride and my mind was running in realms far beyond Barbie and My Little Pony to say the least!

For awhile, I had to hear THAT song to get my mind going, but eventually I could journey beyond the mundane without it – a great trick to learn when my bus ride to school topped 45 minutes! Daydreaming was my best hobby as a child, as I mentioned in my first post here. It took many years for that to overflow into writing.

I prefer hikes measured in days, motorcycle rides measured in weeks,  vacations bordering on epic. I love writing novels as opposed to short stories. I hit my stride far beyond where a short story would wrap up. This impacts the ideas I develop. If a spark doesn’t grow, I tend to let it simmer down into an ember.

That is what had happened with the opening to Born of Water. A short story idea, which had fizzled – it involved a corporate woman, who just so happened was a dryad, stumbled across a young woman with similar potential at a conference – was still floating about half alive. You see why it fizzled, I’m sure! It needed something more, a motivation to carry it beyond the tiny frame I could see. It needed the painting located in the bathroom of the office where I work.

An early inspiration for Mirocyne

I’m serious about the painting part. It is a good four feet by two feet, massive painting of a Mediterranean village. It isn’t great. Well, it leaves a lot up to the imagination! Which is why it snagged my mind every time I hid out in the bathroom (it is the ONE room in my office where no one will track you down. I consider it a cubicle of stress relief.). Stress, a corporate woman who became a plant if she wanted to hide from coworkers, a painting about somewhere far away that begged a story – they came together and became Born of Water.

But that is just the beginning, it is only Mirocyne. There is the rest of the world: the Archipelago, the Kith, the Southern Shore, Rah’Hahsessah, The Temple of Dust, the Ashanti and so much more. Really, where do all the pieces come from that forms a novel?

I can say that the first imagined version of Born of Water was sadly unimaginative. Seriously! As I mentioned in my last post, my first run through when I am “patsying” the whole thing is a rough framework sketched of shallow characters visiting known territory. Like dropping in on a wild west town, you just know there will be a saloon, a jail, a stable, and some trouble. The story needed work. Even once I wrote it, it needed work.

This is me in college! It may be black and white, but you get the picture. Just imagine a sylvan forest instead of a counter top!

For Lus na Sithchaine, my first vision was of a northern woods town a la Maine. Can you imagine Darag as a lumber jack!? Then I thought ‘Forests’, which usually equals elves. I cringed. Don’t get me wrong, I love most stories about elves. You should have seen me in my teenage years: 5′ 7″, LONG golden hair, gold-green eyes, thin . . . . Yeah, I love elves. But man, when I thought about writing about them and the rules/myths already in use . . . . I didn’t want to follow the status quo. I didn’t want to be yelled at for not following the status quo. I tossed the whole thing, brainstormed, and came up with the Kith.

Once I realized they resembled the trees that they are bound to, the Kith came to me as a complete society. Even the Ashanti formed whole, once I thought out their unique history. (Curious to know what that is? Stay tuned, the Born of Water Novel Companion is in its final stages. It should be available for free by August!) Sometimes, it is as easy as that – sitting back and letting your mind really fly. Most of the time it is a lot of work. The whole thing with the Spheres of the Elements and . . . oh wait, we haven’t gotten to that part yet! Well you haven’t. I know what is coming in Rule of Fire!

Other novels inspire me as well, especially ones I don’t like. Lev Grossman’s The Magicians was not my favorite read. But I did like how nothing went smoothly for his characters: every turn was wrong, every decision a mistake. Like Chantell, I didn’t want a story with a perfect hero, succeeding at every turn. If they are that good, how did they end up in a mess in the first place? Characters have flaws, problems don’t always have easy (or any) solutions. Sometimes life is painful and mistakes are made, even in fantasy. I think this turbulence gives Born of Water depth (no pun intended!).

Images still play a part too, helping to create mood to inspire more ideas. When I was writing about the Kith, I changed my desktop image to a misty forest. And music still inspires me, of course!. The song “This is Where” by The Wailin Jennys speaks to me of the Kith and Lavinia as well. “Measure me by branches, count the rings and take my ashes. Mark the ground where I fell and carry on.” I may be foreshadowing again, but I’m not going to tell you!

For the Southern Shore, I listen to Vieux Farka Toure’s “Fafa.” Maybe it is because the cover has him pictured standing on a sandy dune, but the music wraps around you like warm air twisting up from baked ground as the evening cools around you. That is Rah’Hahsessah.

And this should give you an idea of where and – how many – ideas come from for just one novel!