Snowed in and Snowed under

Snapshot_20140802_2by Chantal Boudreau

This year, the weather has brought me ample fodder for story concepts. Be it imagined scenarios of the aftermath of a bus crash during an April snowstorm or co-workers sharing ideas of snow monsters taking over the world when winter never goes away (not someone who writes stories herself,) the massive snowfalls we have endured here in late winter/early spring seemed to have inspired some unpleasant icy fantasies.

But that’s the thing about fiction – genre fiction in particular. The stories are found in the unusual, not in the norm. You’ll rarely see a “day in the life of…” kind of tale when exploring the speculative unless it’s presented in such a way to highlight the differences between our mundane existence and the strange alien planet, or the magical fantasy realm or the dystopian future society. Everyday life doesn’t tend to make for an exceptionally interesting story unless there is something exceptionally interesting about the protagonist(s)’s everyday life. Even in literary fiction, characters tend to have their eccentricities and are moving toward some point of self-discovery or self-destruction not just adhering to the status quo.

The entertainment value of a fictional story comes from events that wouldn’t typically happen. They might be used by the author for some sort of social commentary or moral point, something not likely to happen as the result of a protagonist sitting there twiddling his or her thumbs. Whether a character’s involvement is proactive or reactive, the story results from challenges, accidents, ambitions or extremes – something beyond the average.

I’ve been subject to the extraordinary for years, accused of being a weirdness magnet and of knowing everybody everywhere on more than one occasion (because I always seem to bump into acquaintances in the strangest of places.) I think that’s why, unlike some writers, I don’t cringe when people ask “where do your ideas come from?” I’ll gladly tell them. My life has always run so far outside of the norm, even when I’m trying to be just your average old boring accountant/mom, that I can’t escape new story ideas. I see them in my family, my friends, my co-workers, my environment, my goals, my fears and my trials and tribulations. Sometimes they even show up in the floors, doors or walls. With all this plot material building up in my head, if I didn’t write the occasional story, it might just explode.

So despite my unhappy mutterings about the record-breaking snowfall we’ve had this year, it’s really not all that bad. It’s just another one of those unusual experiences I can file away to break out when I need fictional inspiration – as the urge strikes me.

Something to keep me busy the next time I end up snowed in or snowed under.

The natural world inspires the supernatural

Where do fantasy writers get their ideas?

By Scott Bury

shieldCountry2

For me, most of them come from the natural world. I know, it seems counterintuitive, but it’s true.

My popular horror story, Dark Clouds, was inspired by the wind, as well as the challenge: “What’s the scariest opening line for a story you can imagine?” I came up with this:

Matt always knew when his mother arrived in town: the wind would swirl from every direction at once, sending the neighbour’s weather-vane spinning clackety-clack and the yellow and brown leaves whirling along the road like a child’s top.

A year ago, I took a white-water canoeing trip for Last week, I went on a four-day white-water canoeing trip down the storied Mattawa River in Ontario. The Mattawa was a key part of the fur trade from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, and probably long before that, as well. Its source, Trout Lake, east of North Bay, Ontario, is only a couple of kilometres from the shore of Lake Nipissing, which flows westward into Georgian Bay and the Great Lakes, and links to all of western Canada as far as the Rocky Mountains.

If that’s not inspiration enough for several historical novel series, the Mattawa is typical of the Canadian Shield: pure water stained brown by tannins from evergreen trees, a forest broken only by bare Precambrian rock. Beaches are rare in Shield country. Instead of a sandy shore like you’d find along the ocean, the forest here reaches right down to the edge of the water, and often into it, as well.

The forest itself is dense; from outside it, it’s hard to see into it at all. Deciduous trees are covered in needles from forest floor to tip, and stubborn bushes grow between them. While there are some clearings and occasionally a clear area under the canopy, walking through the forest usually requires stepping carefully over bare rocks left by the last glaciers.

The forest has a dark, brooding quality to it, although in reality it’s quite gentle and accommodating—just considering the numbers of campers there every summer.

I find it hard not to think of stories when I travel there.

Elementalssetting off

The four elements—earth, water, air and fire—are the basis of many mythologies and fantasies. And sometimes, they seem to be trying to communicate with us humans. On the first day of our trip, we encountered driving rain and stiff winds that came directly from the direction we wanted to travel—and coincidentally, directly opposite to the prevailing winds. Think they were trying to tell us something?

mattawa 3Mist can evoke mystery (hah!), something hidden, menace, secrecy and even sleep. These images from the early mornings in August remind me of any number of stories, as well as some new ones in my mind. What do they make you think of?

Stepping stones

steppingstonesThis rock formation is called the Stepping Stones, located at the entrance to the Mattawa from Trout Lake. Actually, they only reach about halfway across the river, and if you wanted to step on them, you’d better get used to having bird shit on your shoes. But it’s hard to resist the idea of a ford abandoned halfway through its construction, or maybe a crossing that was destroyed by forces unknown.

 

 

Other species

On our first night on the trip, we were visited repeatedly by a group (I don’t want to say “flock”) of six female mallard ducks. They came up on shore right at our campsite and didn’t seem at all afraid of six humans.feathered friend

Six ducks, six humans, a random encounter in the wilderness. There’s got to be a story there.

I used human-animal encounters several times in my first novel, The Bones of the Earth. In one occasion, the hero, Javor, was aided by a griffin. I meant that to symbolize the hero’s alliance with solar or celestial forces.

In another section, though, Javor bumped into a bear, which scared him silly. What was the fantastical symbolism? To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes a bear is just a bear.

 

Scott Bury is a writer of fantasy and other genres, based in Ottawa, Canada. His first novel, The Bones of the Earth, is a historical fantasy set in Dark Age Eastern Europe.

 

The font of knowledge: a rarely examined trope

By Scott Bury

Last week, Autumn Birt discussed villains and raised some interesting points about whether villains are truly evil, or just have different goals from the heroes.

It would be fascinating to continue this examination of heroes and villains, good and evil, absolutism and relativism. But today, I want to discuss another common trope in all literature, including fantasy, that doesn’t get much attention from critics but plays an indispensible part of almost every story: the source of arcane knowledge.

Keeping any story moving sometimes requires the protagonist to acquire knowledge of remote events, characters or items.

Statue of Perseus by  Benvenuto Cellini

Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus with Medusa’s head

Perseus, for example, had to search for the Grey Sisters or Witches, three sisters who shared a single eye and tooth. Only they could tell him where he would find the Hesperides, who would give him what he needed to slay Medusa the Gorgon.

How the Grey Sisters knew that information is never revealed, and in fact is not important to the story of Perseus. It’s just important that Perseus learns this so he can behead the Gorgon and from there kill King Polydectes and protect his mother.

Gandalf is the source of arcane knowledge in The Hobbit. He gives Thorin Oakenshield the map that shows the location of the secret entrance to the Lonely Mountain, and also explains the fate of Thorin’s father, Thrain. Gandalf is also the source for uncounted old tales and background facts.

In Bruce Blake’s Icarus Fell series, the archangel Gabriel mysteriously appears just to give the protagonist, Icarus, little scrolls with the names of the souls he has to transport to heaven, as well as the location to bring them for the journey. How she gets this information, and how souls are chosen for salvation, is never really explained—and anyway, who are we to question archangels?

This structure shows up not only in fantasy, but in other genres as well. In the TV series Criminal Minds, for example, Penelope Garcia is

Penelope Garcia

Penelope Garcia of Criminal Minds, played by Kirsten Vangsness

a continual source of critical background information that she unearths from any database in the world. The show hints that she has unmatched computer hacking abilities as well as software and skills that allow her to cross-reference all sorts of things in seconds.

In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the mysterious hacker Wasp provides clues and facts for the protagonists. And at various points, Lisbet becomes both the protagonist and the font of knowledge.

I don’t know how many Hollywood movies feature a character popping up at a crucial point to impart a little factoid that the hero needs. How they get the information is never explained, and when you think about it, you realize how improbable it is that someone would find this information so easily.

But working that out would take a lot of time, and slow down the story. Good storytellers know when to skim over details that would only distract the audience from the important part, anyway.

The point is, the font of knowledge is an important role in any story—as important as a hero and a villain, because without him or her, the story just cannot happen.

Creating worlds

By Scott Bury

One of my favourite parts of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Ring was the maps. I’d spend hours poring over the depiction of Middle-Earth and the details of the Shire, Mordor, the land around the Lonely Mountain. I especially loved Pauline Baynes’ illustrated map of Middle-Earth. The complex and believable map was one of the main reasons that I preferred Tolkien to CS Lewis.

Pauline Baynes' map of Middle-Earth

Pauline Baynes’ map of Middle-Earth, courtesy Geo-Hackers http://geohackers.in/2014/03/monthly-maps-jan-feb-2014/

 

I developed a habit of drawing my own fantasy maps, with little triangular mountains, shaded forests, long, twisting rivers, mysterious seas and sheltered harbours. And I found that the more complex I made the map, the more convoluted the coastlines and twisting the rivers, the more realistic the map looked.

Fantasy writers by definition create new worlds. To reach an audience, the challenge is to find the right balance between fantastic — the reason an audience reads fantasy — and realistic, so readers can identify with the characters.

I think that one way that some fantasy writers succeed in this is by making their worlds big and complex.

Look at a real map and note how complex it is

map of Newfoundland

Newfoundland — a complex coastline Wikimedia Commons

Exploring a new world, through maps or text, is a major part of the attraction of reading fantasy.
And creating a new world is much of the fun of writing fantasy.

Some fantasy writers, like Bruce Blake in his Icarus Fell series, create a world very similar to the objective world that authors and audiences share, populated with a angels and demons, or perhaps impossibly beautiful vampires or werewolves. At the other end of the spectrum is the completely invested world with its own geography and societies, like in Autumn Birt’s Rise of the Fifth Order series.

As a writer, I think I prefer to lean closer to setting the story within the objective world we share with our audiences, and populating it with fantastical elements. My own has dragons, wizards, magical weapons, vampires, short people who live underground and more.

The real world is so much richer, more complex and varied than any imaginary planet or middle-earth-like setting. The world we live in is the product of millions of minds, of sets of experiences, sharing and intersecting and changing at a mind-blowing rate. Its possibilities for stories are endless.

The first advantage for the writer is that you don’t have to invent languages or names. So many imaginary worlds have character and place names that just sound fake. Tolkien’s only have any consistency and believability because he spent years inventing languages that the names come from.

For his Song of Ice and Fire series (adapted for TV as Game of Thrones), George RR Martin made a world that’s a close analog of our own. Place names and character names are the same as, or very close to, names from the shared, objective world:

  • Eddard, RIckard, Joffrey, Tyrion, Martell, Reed
  • Westeros, Essos, Harrenhal, Casterly Rock

Others are obviously invented or based on other fantasies

  • Argon, Drogo, Cersei, Viserys
  • Dorne, Qohor, Qarth, Valyria.

If you don’t have faith, you have to make it

Another advantage to setting your fantasy in the objective world is that you don’t have to invent religions. A little research can reveal beliefs, rituals and practices that are more bizarre, shocking, horrifying, unbelievable yet undeniably real than any you could imagine.

  • Cathars who willingly threw their children and themselves into fire lit by their enemies, so firm was their conviction they were going to heaven
  • blood and human sacrifice rituals of the Mesoamericans
  • sexual rites of the mesopotamians
  • cannibalism
  • worship of every animal from bulls to snakes to fish.

History is complex, constantly changing and debatable

If you’ve ever tried to invent a back story or a history for a character, let alone a world, you’ll probably find there is no convenient starting point. There’s no zero. Every action decision and relationship is the result of something that happened before. Even the Big Bang had something before it.

The history of a nation is the result of relationships, intersections and minglings of millions of individual story lines. People have goals and ambitions formed by so many different forces, and we can see by history their drive toward those goals can be helped by emotions, psychological and physical strengths and weaknesses, friends and enemies. Those relationships can change suddenly. A powerful king can die of a simple infection. The Roman Emperor Justinian was killed by a flea bite that gave him the bubonic plague.

I remember reading a poem in grade school about Richard III, King of England, losing the battle of Bosworth Field:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe the horse was lost,
for want of a horse the knight was lost,
for want of a knight the battle was lost,
for want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
So a kingdom was lost—all for want of a nail.

Sometimes, the greatest events with the most convoluted back stories revolve on the simplest things.

A lesson for all us writers to learn.

Scott Pic-ScottBuryBury is a journalist, editor and novelist based in Ottawa, Canada. He has written for magazines in Canada, the US, the UK and Australia.

He is author of  The Bones of the Earth, a fantasy set in the real time and place of eastern Europe of the sixth century; One Shade of Red, a humourous erotic romance; a children’s short story, Sam, the Strawb Part (proceeds of which are donated to an autism charity), and other stories.

He is now working onthe true story of a Canadian drafted into the Red Army during the Second World War, his escape from a German POW camp and his journey home. It’s tentatively titled Out of the USSR.

Scott Bury lives in Ottawa with his lovely, supportive and long-suffering wife, two mighty sons and two pesky cats.

He can be found online at www.writtenword.ca, on his blog, Written Words, on Twitter @ScottTheWriter, and on Facebook.

Old Dogs…New Tricks

by Chantal Boudreau

A friend of mine recently posed the question whether or not characters should be predictable, and followed with the argument that if a character does do the unpredictable, it can jar a reader out of a story. You’ve already established that a character behaves a certain way, so having them act differently would just be wrong, right?

Not so fast.

Demanding that a character adhere to pre-established norms makes the assumption that character development ends once that character has been thoroughly introduced to the reader. We all should understand that that’s just not true. Aside from the fact that some people enjoy being unpredictable, even sticks-in-the-mud will do something out of the ordinary from time to time. You may know somebody quite well, yet see them transform gradually as they grow and mature. And how likely is it that a traumatic event or a life-altering experience will change the way a real person thinks or acts? The same thing ought to apply to fictional characters as well.

Not that I’m suggesting a character should suddenly behave completely out of character with no explanation or no transition. That would be jarring and frustrating to a reader, as my friend suggested, and create the kind of disconnect that may put someone off of a story. But a character can be motivated by emotion or circumstance to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do. They also might be changed permanently as a result.

Not only can these changes occur, but considering the types of conflicts used as a foundation in fantasy fiction, you would expect circumstances to have some kind of lasting effect on characters. The battle-hardened veteran may be able to shrug things off, but what if your character is more of a reluctant type of hero, a younger person still green in the ways of the world or an older person who has spent most of their life sheltered behind a desk? With new demands and/or new opportunities comes the potential for change.

I can offer a couple of examples from my own tales where a particular character ventures into new aspects of persona in response to unusual or shocking circumstances. Burrell, a stout, middle-aged wizard introduced in “Magic University,” shows himself to be a bit of a yes-man with a mild case of the lazies, a somewhat cowardly nature, and a distaste for conflict. He isn’t exactly a man of action or the type of material heroes are typically made of, so when he is approached at the beginning of “Casualties of War” to venture into dangerous terrain for the sake of saving lives, it’s no surprise that he balks at the request.

But his part in the story doesn’t end there. While it isn’t in his nature to involve himself in that kind of precarious situation, he does feel concerned for his friends who are participating in the trek and guilty for not helping them. These feelings motivate him to do more than he typically would under ordinary circumstances. While he still can’t bring himself to follow the others into peril, he does what he can from home, setting aside his laziness and even his aversion to conflict to support what his friends are doing. He even shows a streak of leadership, inspiring others to join him. Several of the things he does are not actions that would be deemed predictable for that character, but they are fitting when all things are considered. By the end of the book, he is definitely a changed man.

A second example I have involves Crag-Climber, a character in my Snowy Barrens Trilogy. He begins the story as a bully with a follower mentality, second-in-command to Far-Runner who leads the band of rabble-rousers. He is brash, egotistical, and at times quite cruel, although more intelligent than Far-Runner’s other toadies. He is also insecure and doesn’t trust his own judgement enough to speak up when he disagrees with Far-Runner. This does not change even after they have segregated themselves as the splinter Tribe of the Wolf and Far-Runner’s mental stability begins to degrade. In fact, it takes an extreme and shocking event where Far-Runner kills a member of Crag-Climber’s family and Crag-Climber responds with violence of his own, before he finally stands up to the man he once considered his best friend.

Injured, Crag-Climber exiles himself from the Wolves, and almost dies from his wounds. It is only after he is rescued by others and is being nursed back to health that he finally gets a chance to reflect on his life, his choices and their consequences. He realizes he has made some terrible mistakes – that he should have taken a stance long before he did and that the reason he hadn’t was a matter of cowardice. He emerges from the experience a changed man, with a new patience, generosity of spirit and dedication to those he cares about. In a word, he has been humbled. He longs to redeem himself.

His actions after the incident differ greatly from those before. They are not what a reader would consider predictable, given his track-record. However, there is good cause for these differences, and even though the transition is more abrupt than with Burrell, it is appropriate in light of the circumstances.

I think it’s clear that I don’t feel it is necessary for a character’s behaviour to be predictable. In fact, sometimes I think the story calls for exactly the opposite. I believe that it is possible to teach an old dog…or an old wizard…or an old Wolf… new tricks, it’s just not all that simple. A writer is going to need a substantial carrot or stick to get that character to change his or her ways, and once they change there may be no going back.

What do you think?

10 Things Every Writer Needs

Everybody needs a toolbox, and while the sort of writer you are will determine exactly what you need in yours this list can hopefully give you some ideas that can help you be a successful author.  

(Warning: Presented in no particular order)

paper

1) Paper: Feel free to say “duh”, but in this digital age of cloud drives, data discs, word processors, tablets capable of opening your garage door from orbit and Google Glass, it’s easy for writers to sometimes forget the lure and power of a good old fashioned pad of paper. Whether it’s for jotting down notes, drawing out covers or character concepts (even if you do it poorly, like I do) or actually writing out pages of prose, every writer can benefit from having some white stuff and one of those pointy ink thingies.

2) Discipline: I know I blog and harp on this one a lot, but it’s true: without the discipline (which may or may not involve a strict routine) to write and do writing-related work, nothing else really matters. This includes the discipline to edit, to commit to a task, and to fight your way through a story even when you may not be “feeling it”.  

3) Music: Some may choose to categorize this under “inspiration”, and that’s fine, but for me music provides two other important things that help me pound out the words: a shield against the world (it’s hard to get distracted if you can’t hear the distractions) and, if you use writing playlists like I do, a convenient timer for you to work by.  I know I can write roughly 2000 words in a 45-50 minutes period, so I set up the playlist, plug in the headphones, find a place to hide, and voila!

bad reviews

4) Thick Skin: Once you publish your work, the harsh reality is you’re going to get bad reviews. You may not deserve them, you may not agree with them, but it’s going to happen. You’re also going to meet people who think it’s “cute” that you write, you’ll get feedback from your peers that isn’t always as flattering as you’d like, and you’ll probably sell fewer books than you’d expect to. I’m not always an advocate of the “suck it up” approach to dealing with adversity, but the fact of the matter is sometimes that’s what you have to do. Take what you can from the criticism, learn what you will from periods of slumming sales, do what you need to so you can improve your work based on whatever constructive comments you get, and move on.

5) Books: I’m not talking about books for inspiration (that’s next). I’m talking about the need to read because you’re a frickin’ writer. Reading teaches you about the craft, how to develop stories, how to foreshadow, how to construct characters and build tension and how to develop plot.  Books show you how authors you respect do it, how authors you hate do it, and sometimes how not to do it.  Nothing exists in a vacuum, and neither should your writing – know thy craft.

6) Inspiration: Anything that fires those creative juice. Often for me this includes Music and Books, but inspiration can come from anywhere, depending on how your mind works, what sort of books you write and what drives you: TV, movies, being outdoors, listening to the news, painting, running, cooking, working out, sitting and staring at the wall, doing yoga, categorizing your underwear…whatever stokes the fires of your creativity, DO MORE OF THAT!

coffee

7) Fuel: It’s hard to write if you don’t have the energy to do it.  Find your fuel – coffee, power bars, Gatorade, vodka, Cheerios, applesauce, prune cakes, whatever – and keep that brain going, especially right before you sit down for a writing session. If you’re like me you need different fuel for writing than you do for editing.  “Write drunk, edit sober” isn’t just a quote by Earnest Hemingway – it’s a way of life. =D

8) Support: Writers are basically insane. We get trapped inside of our own little worlds for hours at a time, mumble to ourselves, get depressed over our work, freak out over trying to sell books, have an incessant need to bounce ideas off of other people and hope they understand what we’re talking about, etc. We also need cover art, proofreading buddies, and emotional support when we start to flip our lids. Whether your support comes from a super-capable and awesome spouse or a great online community, take whatever help you can, offer your own help in kind, and do your part to battle the dark side of being a writer.

9) A Life: We all need to unplug. I get on writing crusades where I feel like I can’t stop, or at the very least fear that if I do I won’t be able to find my rhythm again. That being said, we all need to step away, even from the things we love, and having a life outside of your passions is actually good for your passions. Get outdoors, hang out with your friends, do something with your kids. That “experience” is actually good for your writing. (Or so I’ve been told… ;D)

10) Patience: Writers can be a demanding lot. We want the book to work. We want it to sell. We want it to look perfect. But none of that comes quick. I know my books have a life cycle of about 6-8 months (over half of which is editing and proofreading). I can also tell you that, from a monetary standpoint, I’m only about halfway to where I want to be with monthly sales before I’d even consider the notion of going the route of the full-time writer (and even then I’d be hesitant), and I’ve been doing this for over 2 ½ years.  I’m a horribly impatient person…and yet I’ve learned to moderate that.  I’ve come to understand that things take time, art takes time, writing takes time, and this is a time to be enjoyed.

Now go fill up your toolbox, and get writing.

****

Steven Montano writes dark fantasy and military sci-fi.  He’s also completely lost his mind.  If you find it, please drop it off at his website.  Thanks.

It Doesn’t Take a Miracle to Find a Story

I was speaking to my wife the other day about the differences in our middle school lives, and for some reason decided to look up the house I lived in during that time. The house is still there, the middle school appears to have a newer parking lot, but it really didn’t spark all that much in the way of nostalgia.

Probably because I was picked on and I’m “repressing” my memories.

A few hours later, I thought I’d look up the house I lived in when I was much younger, from age 5 to age 9. Not only did I find the house quickly (and I even remembered the address), an amazing thing happened: I found out just how many trivial things I can remember.

Take a look at this screenshot from Google Maps. I grew up in the house I’ve circled.

JStreet

See the pool in the lower left? I learned to swim there and received my “FISH” badge by picking up a penny dropped in the shallow end. The exact spot is marked with an “X”.

I was 5.

Now look in the upper right, where another “X” is. It was there that I found a condom under a tree still in a wrapper and decided it would make a neat balloon. The building just to the north of that spot is a motel of sorts where I remember seeing a maid look out at three boys blowing up a prophylactic. She was, of course, laughing in that jiggly sort of way some people do.

Just to the left of that “X” is where two older boys beat me up when I fell off my bicycle, cut my knee and cried. I was beat up because–and I quote–“Eight-year-olds don’t cry! Don’t ever do that again or we’ll beat you harder.”

I haven’t cried in front of people since.

I’m almost 42 now.

Across the street from the house I lived in, there was a stand of bamboo. The neighbor kids and I would run through “tunnels” we carved and there was a pile of old Playboy magazines that had been smuggled in by some sneaky kid. That pile was located just the south of where the “r” in “Juniper” is.

From just this small picture, which is probably no more that a few hundred feet wide, I feel almost like Ray Bradbury must have as he looked back on Green Town, or how any of us might feel when we’re walking down the train tracks looking for trouble on a hot summer day. It’s amazing what memories we possess and what possesses us to remember them.

We don’t need to invent a fantasy world to dive into the fantasy of our past. In fact, I have every intention of writing about “Juniper Street” and all the dragons and demons we fought there. (I didn’t mention the massive fort we built out of cardboard moving boxes. I think it was at least the size of an aircraft carrier. Of course, at 7, things appear larger than they really are.)

In a weird way, I think I found myself a novel waiting to be told.

And it’s been waiting for over three decades.

(By the way, I stuck my hand in a fire ant hill on the southeast corner of my yard when I was 6. I was playing with Weeble Wobbles and needed dirt for the airport. Painful, to say the least. Those were a few hundred demons I fought but didn’t beat.)

In Memory of Divot

Writers sometimes end up researching pretty strange things and finding inspiration in the most unusual places as a result. Divot was one of those inspirations and just like many of the things that influence my writing, his presence was fleeting.

I’m assuming it was a him. It could have just as likely been a her, but I’m not exactly an expert of how to tell male and female crows apart from a distance, so I went with my first inclination. Long before I made any sort of connection with Divot, I came up with the idea of exploring a post-apocalyptic tale from the perspective of a crow. The likeliest survivors would be the scavengers, I hypothesized – the clever ones, the most resilient and the most adaptable – right? Better yet, the likeliest survivors would be the misfits who had already manage to thrive despite their inadequacies, so I made my crow smaller and strange-looking but smarter than his brethren.

Then I started my written research, and I found out many incredible facts about crows. Aside from facts about socialization and breeding practices, I discovered just how intelligent they actually are. They use tools, they store food cross seasons and they have episodic memories. They problem-solve and they can vocalize outside of the range of human hearing (like elephants) so who knows what they might be saying to each other. It provided a lot of opportunity for my story.

But everything I found out about crows made me all the more interested in them. Knowing what I now know, I started feeding some of the local ones and they started identifying me as a “good” human. They have facial recognition when it comes to humans and will label the ones they like or dislike – even attacking the ones they learn to dislike.

And that’s how I met Divot. He was a misfit like my narrator, Ash, only with Divot his peculiarity was a gaping gap in his wing. It meant that he was different and easy for me to identify, and he would make a point of showing up when I was outside waiting for the bus or walking the dog – hoping for food. I thought of him whenever I wrote about Ash. Divot was something in my life that made Ash seem more real.

Well, I’m now on the final chapter of the first draft of “Sifting the Ashes.” Ash’s story has almost come to an end for me. Unfortunately, it has also come to an end for poor Divot. My daughter found his body while on an outing and there was no mistaking the old injury that had scarred his wing, leaving that opening in his feathers. He’s going to be buried in our backyard – gone but not forgotten.

I’ve never dedicated a book to an animal before, but I think he deserves his place among the other people I feel deserve acknowledgement for their contribution to my writing. I hope the book gets published someday so he can claim that recognition.

The world is a sad and mysterious place – and I’m going to miss my little friend.

How Life Affects Art

The worlds that are created by authors are, naturally, extensions of the author that creates them. From the worldbuilding to the way that characters interact with each other, all of it will be shaded by the life and experiences of the author in some way.

Authors use their experiences as sources of inspiration, we draw on situations that we have been through to build scenes, navigate our characters through the minefields we’ve laid out for them, and to bring an emotional bond to our readers.

My father passed away a little more than 2 weeks ago. Burying him was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But even in this I’ve found inspiration and things that I can draw on in the future when I’m writing scenes for my characters.

So even in the bad, find the good. What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. And better writers.

Lighthouses

By Chantal Boudreau

Have you ever noticed how when something inspires you, you start spotting examples of that thing everywhere around you?  What really inspires me at the moment are lighthouses, so all things associated with those ocean beacons seem to be cropping up everywhere – photographs, paintings, historical societies.  It’s especially likely to happen here Sambro, where we have a particularly interesting lighthouse. It happens to be the oldest operational lighthouse in North America, and it has real history here in Nova Scotia – funding for the lighthouse was the first act passed in our House of Assembly and battles in the American Revolution and the War of 1812 happened within close proximity of the historic property.  Now a new battle wages there – the battle to preserve it, in the face of a government who would see fit to leaving it fall to neglect.  It’s sad, in a way, but it’s also encouraging when you meet the people who are dedicated to having it restored.

So why my sudden interest in lighthouses?  Well for one I’ve been in a metaphorical fog of late.  My year, until recently, has been disheartening…de-motivating… and I had lost my mojo for awhile.  But at a conference I attended this month, I encountered a couple of keynote speakers, Amanda Lang and Bill Strickland, who managed to restore some of my missing “oomph”, and I’m living with enthusiasm again.  As Bill said, “Hope is the cure to spiritual cancer,” and he showed me hope.  A human lighthouse, I guess you could say – guiding me out of my fog.

But I also have the release of Prisoners of Fate looming, the third book in my Masters and Renegades series.  There’s a lighthouse in that story that serves as one of the focal points of the tale, a home to the wizard heroes and a symbol of history for Magic University.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t fare as well as the Sambro lighthouse has, but it does serve some of the same purposes – with epic battles waged there and something worth remembering when all is said and done.

So keep an eye out for those lighthouses.  They are more than just a tall building atop a hunk of rock – they are there to guide your way and you never know when you might need one.