Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Level Up or Nerf a Character?

You guys! Guess what? This week we're talking about "leveling up" characters, which, being gamerspeak, merges two of my very favorite things in the universe: gaming and storytelling. Basically, this is my happy place. *happysigh*

Sorry, I just had to glee all over you.

Back to the topic.

Should a writer or should a writer not level up a protagonist over the course of a book or series? I think my initial response to that question was kind of, duh, of course. But then I actually thought about it. I mean, yes character development needs to happen. That's kind of what effective story is (don't believe me, read Lisa Cron or Michael Hauge). However, developing or evolving a character does not necessarily mean their power or skills "level up." In fact, I've done it both ways.

Perfect Gravity depicts a character leveling up. The protagonist, Angela, begins at the effect of other characters' power plays, but she takes ownership of more and more of her own power until, by the end, she has fully come into her essence and is one of the most admired and feared people on the planet. The increase in level, or relative power, is a metaphor for how much she has come to control her own destiny. You see this kind of parallel powerification a lot in, say, superhero stories, which I love.

But it's not the only way to tell a story. As I was writing Angela's story, I thought a lot about the potential disconnect between character evolution and superpower leveling up, and when I sat down to write More Than Stardust, I decided to do the exact opposite. In that book, Chloe begins with incredible superpowers -- she literally can begin and end wars and is described by some as a god -- but as she incrementally loses that power, she claims more of her self, her personhood, so by the end she has leveled down in terms of how much she is able to affect humanity or the planet, but as a human person, she is much more evolved. 

In gaming land, we have a term called "nerfing," which is to reduce the impact of a character's power, to render them less effective even if they haven't technically gone down in levels. It's a game balance thing. That's kind of what I did to Chloe, I guess, in order to produce the kind of interior character development I wanted for her. 

Possibly this term could also describe that thing you hear writers talk a lot about: throwing rocks at protagonists. That is, every time a character seems to have leveled up or achieved something, you're supposed to introduce a new or tougher conflict, yet another seemingly insurmountable obstacle, and basically just torture them more. It's supposed to be a good technique for getting characters to dig deep, be scrappy, show grit and determination, and generally inspire readers.

Potential caution, though: Unless the new obstacle is inevitable within the context of the story, I have found nerfing characters to be a little frustrating, both as a reader and as a game player. 

So, leveling up, yes or no? Yeah, leveling up in the superhero way is likely to give you the kind of structure readers are familiar with and will enjoy.

Nerfing though? Much more complicated and difficult to do effectively.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Character Growth: The Point of the Story

 Is it necessary for a protagonist to continually gain power/ability/expertise as a series progresses?

For my book it's imperative the protagonist, at a bare minimum, grows emotionally. They can grow, break, and rebuild over the course of the series. The "break and rebuild" is useful if a series that was intended to be seven books suddenly becomes wildly popular with enough demand to justify continuing the series (hey, I'm allowed to dream, right?). However, if there's no character development internally and/or externally, then the series is Same Shit, Different Monster. That's no fun for me to write. If it's no fun for me to write, then it's no fun for anyone to read. 

Regular visitors to this blog know I'm a planner. I plan the series arc and how many books will be in the series before I begin Book One. By having a predetermined end of the series, I avoid giving my protagonist too much power too quickly, thus robbing her of risks and challenges, which deny her character growth and make the story dull. 

It is absolutely possible to over-develop a protagonist and have them grow too much too fast. Average Joan leveling up to an omnipotent undefeatable world-creator overnight is a trap that happens often in series that aren't pre-planned. The character has no space to grow. They have no believable opposition. They have all the gizmos, all the magics, all the knowledge...and the character fizzles. They're no longer compelling. Readers become bored and abandon the series. 

Yes, there are series with 25+ books holding firmly in the Best Seller lists that have zero character growth. The books are as formulaic as the characters. Obviously, those stories aren't character-driven. Obviously, the audience for those books enjoys the comfort of predictability. Obviously, I'm not dunking on a dedicated fanbase for liking a style that's not mine. It's one of many reasons why there are few hard and fast rules in writing. Most everything is recommendations based on "what works for me. YMMV."

For me, my protags have to evolve over the course of a book and a series. Otherwise, what's the point of the story?

Monday, July 26, 2021

You call it “Leveling Up,” and I call it growth.

Okay, so this week we’re discussing whether or not characters need to “Level Up,” as a tale progresses. I put that in quotes because frankly it needs definition.

Leveling up is changing, becoming, at least in theory, more powerful. Well, kids, I have to say this straight away: Unless you’re writing comic books, (and even then) if your character does not change or evolve, or unless it’s actually a plot point in the tale, you’re doing it wrong.

Sorry, that’s just my opinion and I’m sticking to it. Listen. For me it’s like the idea of being the same person you were in high school at the end of college If you haven’t grown, changed adapted or evolved you’re going about life the wrong way.

Now, I don’t m=necessarily men getting more powerful. We’ll get to that in a minute. I mean adapted to your way of life. And, yes, by “you” I mean the characters in your stories. Trust me, I was a very different person at 13 than I was at 18, and the changes kept coming for a long, long time.

So why wouldn’t the same rule apply to characters? Seriously? Now, about those power levels…

Listen, I mostly write horror and fantasy with a side of science fiction If my characters don’t change, (and there ARE EXCEPTIONS) then I haven’t put them through the grist mill enough. Sometimes the transformation of character is from alive to dead (or vice versa) and sometimes it’s an evolution. Mostly it’s on an emotional level but there are as always exceptions.

I have one character who has already had his hero’s journey as it were. He doesn’t change much. Someday I might even tell his earlier tales and explain how he got from where he was to where he is but I’m not there yet and I may never be there. Time will tell.

That said, the story you are telling is supposed to be about a character who is meeting new and interesting (read: often extremely dangerous) challenges on physical and emotional levels. And if you want me, the reader, to care about this character, there better be some transformation going on. People either adapt or stagnate. That’s the way of the world.

In some cases, characters get stronger. In other cases, they are broken by the world. Happens in real life, too. The most blatant example of character evolution I can use in my own writing is Brogan McTyre, the main character in my TIDES OF WAR trilogy.

Once upon a time, while watching late night TV, I came across the original King Kong, when the natives have captured Faye Wray and are offering her to Kong as a sacrifice. Great scene. But it got me wondering why it was that in all the old movies when the sacrifice fails, nothing untoward really happens (in Kong’s case he’s not actually a god. I get that.). And so, I decided to examine that concept. The result is the aforementioned trilogy.

I gave Brogan what I can only call the Job Treatment. One day all was well in his world and the next I added venom and chaos to his recipe and stirred vigorously. In the first chapter of the book, I kidnapped his entire family. They were taken by the He-Kisshi, the literal messengers of the gods in the world I built. They were taken to be sacrifices to the gods. In a fit of justifiable outrage Brogan gathers together the other mercenaries he knows and rushes off to save them all before they can be killed.

He fails. The sacrifice is messed up, he gods are angry and before long Brogan has done horrible things in a fit of rage (read: mass murder and selling lot of survivor into slavery as punishment for killing his family).

Folks, there’s nowhere for Brogan to go but up by the time the third chapter of the book is done. It’s a dark, bleak story about vengeance and death and angry gods. The gods decide to end the world. The only option they offer is to replace their chosen sacrifices (Brogan’s whole family) with Brogan and the mercenaries/friends who came to his aid.

So, the world is being destroyed by the gods, and the only cure as far as the gods are concerned is to kill our hero and all of his associates. Brogan goes a different route. He declares war on the gods. And then he tries to figure out how to kill these deities.

He has a lot of help, but believe me, Brogan McTyre levels up a few times in the course of the story. Musty he levels up by finding a way to actually interreact with the gods in the first place. He uses sorcery to aid him in discovering a method wherein a mortal can physically reach and deal with a god. In the process, he gets a few godlike abilities. Weird as this sounds not as many as you might think. Mostly he finds out where he can physically reach the gods and he discovers a weapon that will let him combat them on a relatively level playing field. He does not get godlike abilities (well, he does, but only for a few minutes) but he is forever changed in the process. He is emotionally changed since the start of the first book. He is physically changed by the end of the last book and he is not alone in that process.

A necessary evil. Either Brogan is leveled up, or the entire tory evolves around him ranting at the gods while they ignore him and have him hunted down and killed. The entire story revolved around him being altered until he can successfully defy the gods. That is his “hero’s quest.”

Let me clarify here, that at best Brogan McTyre is an anti-hero. He is not at all altruistic, at least not at the beginning. He is forced to change and adapt if he’s going to survive and win. That is his only choice. The rest of the story revolves around his transformation and his drive to save the world after he screws it up. His level of success varies greatly. He is literally wading through Armageddon as he seeks to find way to fight the gods.

Is he a very different person by the time the story is done? Dear heavens, yes. He is different emotionally. He is different physically He has been changed by the events in his world Does he level up? Well, yes and no. he can still be killed by a well-placed arrow, but he can also go toe to toe with the gods of his world. He can be captured poisoned and killed. He can defy the gods and fight them on their own turf. He is “leveled up” but only in certain ways.

We’re not talking about Mary Sue here. Everything he does costs him. Every action he makes changes him, some for the better, some for the worse. Because that’s the way life is, frankly. We learn We adapt. Sometimes we become better for it. Sometimes we are scarred by our actions and never fully recover.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Jeffe's One Rule of Character Leveling-Up

This coming Friday, July 30, at 6pm Mountain Time, I'll be joining these great friends and powerhouse Fantasy Romance authors for an online panel! Tickets are free for this event sponsored by Love's Sweet Arrow bookstore in Chicago. Join me, Jennifer Estep, L. Penelope, and Lexi Ryan for a chat moderated by Jen Prokop. Ask us anything!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Leveling-Up: Is it necessary for protagonists to continually gain power/ability/expertise as a series progresses?"

I had to mull over the basic premise of this question. Do I do this in my own books? I don't always have the same protagonists in successive books of a series, but when I do, do they continually level up?

I guess... yes. That's the pattern I've followed. 

My usual rule with writing in general and worldbuilding in particular is, when I discover I'm implementing an element or trope without consciously examining it, that indicates some programmed ideas I need to investigate. 

Thus the mulling. 

So, is it necessary for the protagonist to continually gain power/ability/expertise? No, it's not necessary. BUT, character growth is fundamental to my concept of storytelling and the progression of ability to control one's personal power is a key metaphor in books that are about magic. I suppose you could have the magical/paranormal abilities remain constant and have the character grow in other arenas. As human beings, however, our lives are largely about gaining and refining our skill sets. That aspect of humanity makes it an evergreen topic of interest for us. 

Now that I think about it, it might be fun to have a wizard at the top of their game get tired of it and try a new career, learning an entirely foreign skill set. 

The rule I do cling to is, if a fundamental of the world is set as a limitation of powers, then that can't be discarded in order to level up later. This is akin to making a disability magically vanish, or an incompatible species couple suddenly have a magic baby. Some limitations should be real and permanent, not exploded for plot sparkles. So sayeth I.

Friday, July 23, 2021

MICE Preference

Greetings from the Hemingway House garden in Key West, FL. No mice here. Too many polydactyl cats on the property. They have the run of the place. They are pampered and well cared for and they own the place. 

Like everyone else this week, the MICE tool is new to me. The concepts aren't, but I had never heard of them brought together this way. Still, who doesn't like a good acronym?  

I love a good milieu. See photo at left. So. Milieu, Idea/Inquiry, Character, and Event. Those are my options.

Okay. Pre-existing conditions: we know Marcella is a character-driven writer versus being a plot-driven writer. This means that no matter what other MICE element I might use to frame a story, character is always, always a part of the picture in that frame. 

My first book opens with Ari being someplace she doesn't to be in a context she doesn't want and an EVENT kicks off her story. 

For book two, EVENT again. Someone Damen Sindrivik cares about becomes a target. Cue mayhem.

Book three mirrors the first book. Edie is someplace she doesn't much want to be in circumstances she doesn't want. Then someone drops a burning spaceship on her head and things get worse. So again. EVENT. 

Book four - - someone help. I seem to be stuck in a rut. The heroine is a prisoner sentenced to die in a war on a miserable planet in the middle of nowhere. And EVENT. Huh.

The Urban Fantasies start with character and a bit of milieu ,but then, that's the genre, isn't it? This makes me wonder if your MICE choices might be partially dictated by genre expectations. Idea/inquiry is going to show up reliably in mystery and thriller. UF really wants to linger in setting. Space opera requires a steep on ramp to an inciting incident - the event. Women's fiction usually lasers in on character. I feel like I rarely see a single element used from the MICE toolkit. It's usually a combination of two. I'm trying to think if I've ever seen a story that used more than that, though. I'm coming up empty. Can you think of someone who's used more than two tools at a time? Bonus points if they do it really well. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Writing with the MICE quotient

a triangle piece of red watermelon with black seeds sitting on a light colored wood cutting board

This picture of a triangle piece of watermelon is the closest thing I have to fitting this least it's a triangle? Maybe that's an idication to my contribution to this week which is:






Jeffe did her homework and explained the MICE quotient, check it out and her links to The Writing Excuses Podcast! 

For me, I don’t consider myself a technical writer and couldn’t have told you the four elements that start a story before Sunday. I just write. I see a story in my head and I put the words down.

And if you’re curious, after reading the four options I can say I start my stories with Event—nested in character. When I write fantasy or science fiction the stories start out with something big that changes the status quo and the endings are a resolution to the new normal. 

There really can’t be a return to the old normal. Characters progress and change and when that happens normal is altered. 

I wish I had more to offer on the topic, but I'll bow out and leave a giant arrow back to Jeffe and KAK's posts. 

What element do you use in your writing? 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

MICE Brackets & Story Starters

With which MICE element do I normally start my stories? 

MICE = Milieu, Idea/Inquiry, Character, Event

Check out Jeffe's wonderful explanation and examples of MICE in Sunday's post (lawd knows I consulted it many times whilst writing this post!). I absolutely love the analogy of MICE structure being similar to HTML nesting brackets as described by Mary Robinette Kowal to mean "where does the story open and where does it close."

For my Urban Fantasy series, I start with Inquiry, since the first chapter lays out The Mission and the final chapter details its completion. Whether the mission is figuring out whodunnit or howdoit, it's always mission-centric. Thus, my UF opening/closing "brackets" are Inquiry. 

For my High Fantasy Larcout, Event started and ended it. For the High Fantasy I'm currently writing, the bracket is Character. 

The argument could be made that Milieu/Setting is the appropriate starting point for any HF since world-building is so critical. However, I interpret Milieu to mean "launching from home" and the story closing with "returning home." To me, that's not the same as establishing the setting or raising the curtain. As a matter of style, I structure chapters to open with a "you are here" visual (if the setting has changed from the previous chapter), but there is no implied promise that the story will close the journey back "home."  Similarly, I might introduce the protagonist in the opening paragraph, but there's no promise that the character is going to go through a metamorphosis of fulfillment. The theme relayed in the opening chapter should echo throughout the story. Indeed, it should often be repeated to remind the reader of "this is the goal."

As the good folks over at Fantasy Faction note in their explanation of MICE: 

All stories will contain all elements, but there is usually one that dominates the others and determines the story structure. It is the element that the author cares for the most and spends the most effort on, shaping the whole narrative.

For me, using MICE structure to know how to start a story is less about the opening sentence/paragraph and more about determining the function (and limitations) of the opening chapter.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Um. Yeah.

Interesting read on ghe MICE Tool. Sadly, no time. I have deadlines. Sorry, folks.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Using the MICE Tool to Find Where the Story Begins

This week at the SFF Seven, we're asking each other which MICE quotient we usually start with in a story. I can see that the calendar queen, KAK, is anticipating my bitching about not knowing what these things are, because she helpfully provided a definition and some useful links. 

It turns out that the MICE quotient is a tool originated by Orson Scott Card (brilliant storyteller, awful human being) for categorizing story elements. MICE stands for Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. The Writing Excuses Podcast explores the MICE technique frequently, so I was able to listen to a couple of episodes to learn about it. Here's a list of the episodes where they mention it. This episode is particularly useful, from back in 2011, as Mary Robinette Kowal explains how MICE works. The podcasters also amusingly mull that "milieu" is really setting, but that SICE isn't nearly as good of an acronym. This episode is also useful for the discussion of the MICE approach to conflict.

To summarize this approach to writing - part of my job as the one who kicks off the topic for the week - I'm borrowing heavily from the Writing Excuses episodes I cited. 

Basically these four elements can be emphasized or de-emphasized in telling a story. Short stories tend to focus on one of these elements, while longer works use several. Novels typically have all four, often in a nested approach. The tool essentially dictates how a story begins and ends. 

So, for Milieu, a story begins with the protagonists exiting or entering a space, and ends with them returning to the space. For example, The Hobbit begins with leaving The Shire and ends with returning to it. 

For Idea, or Inquiry, the story begins with a question, like in a murder murder mystery, where the question is posed of why a person is dead and who killed them. It ends with the answer.

With Character, the story begins with a protagonist who is unhappy or unfulfilled, and ends with them fulfilled--or resigned to being unfulfilled. Romance and Lit Fiction are two genres that use this tool a lot.

Finally, a story that uses Event begins with something happening that changes the status quo, and ends with either re-establishing the old normal or establishing a new normal. These kinds of stories focus on action and often disaster.

As I mentioned earlier, a novel will also use these tools in a nested fashion, which I find very interesting. Mary Robinette used the example of html code (also applicable to algebraic formulas), where you essentially close brackets in the same order that you open them.

Html coding looks like this: 

<p><b><i> “Dark Wizard is one of my top reads ever.” </i> ~ NY Times Bestselling Author Darynda Jones</b> </p>

The p opens the paragraph and /p ends it. Same with b for bolding, and i for italics, giving you this formatted result:

“Dark Wizard is one of my top reads ever.” ~ NY Times Bestselling Author Darynda Jones

So, in a novel, where you use all four elements, you'd back out the same way you entered. It might look like this:


To finally answer the question of what I start with? I'm an intuitive writer, so I don't plan these things, but it's interesting to note that I pretty much always start with character, followed closely by Milieu. The above pattern is how my book DARK WIZARD goes. The pattern also repeats within smaller sections and scenes throughout the book, but this is true of the overall pattern. Basically Character frames the overall arc, as does Milieu - then there's a lot of moving from Inquiries and Events - sometimes with smaller Milieu changes.

So, the story opens as such:

Gabriel Phel crested the last ridge of the notorious Knifeblade Mountains that guarded Elal lands on nearly three sides, and faced the final barrier. The path through the mountains had been narrow, crooked, with blind endings and unexpected pitfalls.

Not unlike his life, Gabriel thought with grimly sardonic humor. 

My wizard opens the story, moving into a new Milieu - physically and metaphorically. It's also worth noting here that Milieu also refers to the larger setting of being in an alternate fantasy world, which was something I wanted to be sure to telegraph from the beginning. Gabriel has a plan to change his life, but he soon encounters many questions when he meets the heroine, Nic. It's amusing to me how I introduce her in Chapter 2.

Skirts swirling about her ankles, Lady Veronica Elal paced restlessly to the heavy velvet curtains that covered the barred windows of her round tower room, and slipped behind them. Shivering in the chill trapped there, she hooked her fingers into the slats of the shutters anyway, ignoring the cold bite of the metal. It was a ridiculous habit she’d developed over the last months of seclusion, as if she could make the spaces between the rigid slats wider, so she could glimpse just a bit more of the outside world.

Character, then Milieu. Funny, huh?

I enjoyed learning about this tool and will give it thought for future books. I can see how it would be useful for deciding where to begin a story - and for structuring a satisfying ending. 

Friday, July 16, 2021

Stupid Human Trick Glory Days

 My stupid human trick is a thing of the past. It was the product of a 20-something body and excessive physical conditioning. It was also performed for an audience during a cabaret night at Cornish College of the Arts. I hadn't volunteered, I assure you. I still don't know who put my name in the box, but two of my classmates, Scottie and Brendan, were MCing. Yeah. I absolutely suspect one of them. 

At any rate, throughout the evening, between different acts, Scottie and Brendan would pull a name from the box. The stupid human trick was also listed. So each of us called upon performed. There was no demurring. We were students in an acting conservatory. Pretending we weren't egocentric showoffs just wasn't going to fly.

My stupid human trick was crossing and interlocking my legs, fitting my forearms through that interlocked cross, and walking on my hands. Up stairs and back down. I think it's on video somewhere. A video I hope never surfaces. 

I was doing 12.5 hours of hard physical conditioning per week between stage combat classes and dance classes. I was 15lbs lighter, and, as mentioned, I was much younger. At this point in my life, I won't be 15 lbs lighter until six months after I die. So the ship of that stupid human trick has sailed.

I'll just have to come up with another one that won't land me in a local emergency department. . . 

Edit: I'm back. I'm back because when the DH asked what this week's topic was, he reminded me that I have a few other stupid human tricks up my sleeve. I take them for granted because they weren't learned tricks like the one above was. So here they are:

1. I can stand on point without toe shoes and without blowing out my feet or my ankles. 

2. From standing, I can squat all the way to the floor without ever lifting my heels from the ground. 

These, I suspect are genetic relics bequeathed to me from a long line of stolid Scottish farmer stock. Who else would need cast iron ankles?

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Do Your Characters Have Talent?

Wood grain table top with a lattice topped strawberry pie and a handful of fresh strawberries strewn about.

 Jeffe already claimed the cherry stem trick, my only party trick. And KAK is already the master napper, I’m working my way up to that level. But what’s my stupid human trick? 


Back in the day I could plate out a stool sample in under two minutes. The stink, I’m telling you! Any smart laboratorian figures out how to efficiently streak those samples onto the agar, so I guess that can’t be my trick. 

I’ve spent a crazy amount of time perfecting the perfect strawberry jam! It’s taken a few years of tweaking, but I finally have a low sugar recipe that has a punch of berry flavor. Perfection. I don’t think that’d get me on America’s Got Talent though. 

I may not have a sleeve full of stupid human tricks, but I do love writing them into my characters. Why? Because it’s those idiocentric ways that make them unique, those specific actions that they’re driven to perfect—sometimes for zero reason. 

Want some examples? Find me on the socials and hit me up. My brain’s hit maximum capacity for today and I’ve gotta get up and do it all over again tomorrow. 

I'd love to know if you write charters with unusual or perfected talents. Do they play into your plot? 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Behold a writer with zero stupid human skills

Call me old if you wish, but I grew up watching David Letterman's Stupid Pet Tricks, which later became Stupid Human Tricks (example). As Letterman was careful to note, neither the pets nor the humans involved were particularly stupid, but they had spent significant time developing skills that were...unusual. I thought maybe the young'uns had evolved beyond finding these sorts of things amusing, but nope, apparently not: people watching America's Got Talent in the illuminated year of 2021 were treated to the guy who could crush a lot of walnuts with his butt. So, you know, I guess this stuff is still going on.

And all of it is so very, very impressive, but I'm humbled to say that I have never perfected a single applicable skill. No, I will never be invited to juggle jell-o before a live audience or ribbon dance with slinkies.

Which, as a writer, is a really hard thing to admit. I mean, we are supposed to write what we know, right? And I can neither light matches with a yo-yo nor make a bologna sandwich with my feet

Of course, I also have limited or no personal experience with space travel, murder, being a robot, fae possession, magical prognostication, international thievery, or causing an apocalypse. So, you know, maybe that write what you know business isn't the end-all of writing advice.

Good thing, too, because, though I can no longer do it, surely no one would want to read a story about that one weird kid on the bus who could burp the entire alphabet.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Stupid Human Trick: Level = Master

 Guys, guys, guys, you wanna know my most awesomest stupid human trick? 

leans in

I've become a 9th level master of:

If you thought "sloth," you're half right. If you thought "naps," you got the other half right too!

Monday, July 12, 2021

My stupid Human Trick

Apparenty my newest trick is editing an anthology on the fky. Later this year I'm attending a convention that is exacty one day long. There are over 70 authors in attendance, and many of them will have new books available at the convention, andsomehow I thought about this and lost my ever loving mind. One of the things I always run across at conventions is people signing program books, or having them signed because, franky, theonoy way to get all of the autoraphs you want is in the program book, It's the only olace where everybody is in attendance, barring last minute drop outs. And I thught about how neat it ouod be if someone came out with a collection where every single author in the book was actually there. Lo and behold, I decided to be stupid. So in the last ten days I have A) gotten a lsit of over a dozen authors who are willig to work on a themed anthologu=y ad give me original stories for aid anthology, WITH NO MONEY UPFRONT and B) give me said stories within 30 or so days. I have also procured original cover art and interior art for said anthology. The artist has even been kind enugh to layut the front and back cover for me. The convention takes place on October 9th. That's less than two months to 1) write a novella for the collection. 2) edit the collection. 3) layout the collection. 4) get the collection printed exclusivey for the convention. I hav commitents for two short stories and a novel in the meantime. I alsohave a day job. That, kids, is a damned stupid human trick if ever I saw one. I sense ulcers in my ear future. Here's a hint for what the theme is for the anthology....

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Jeffe's Stupid Human Trick

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Stupid people tricks – what’s something you know how to do?"

I feel I should qualify that that "stupid" in this topic is intended to modify the tricks, not the people. That said, want to know what mine is?

Well, besides being able to interlace my toes and tie (someone else's) shoelaces with my toes. Those are in my repertoire, but generally less suited to parties, which is pretty much the sole venue (besides this) for showing off our stupid human tricks.

My favorite trick - well suited to bars! - is that I can tie a cherry stem with my tongue. 

No, really.

You know how that was a Thing for a while? It was a salacious Thing, like that it implied sensual expertise. I don't know about that, but I did teach myself to do it in college. If you buy me a drink with a cherry - preferably a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry, though naturally it has to have a stem - I'll perform my trick.

Meanwhile, in the Happy Human Tricks Department, I've been loving the reception for BRIGHT FAMILIAR, which released on Friday. This was the best Amazon ranking I saw, but the book has been sitting pretty in the Top 100 of all its subcategories all weekend. Hooray!

I'm way prouder of this than the cherry stem Thing.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

All Hail the Rebels


Sometimes, the rule of the land is meant to keep the powerless powerless. All hail the rebels who mean to change that.

~ Raina Bloodgood, The Witch Collector

Politics. Not my favorite topic. I do enjoy reading about politics in world history, as well as the causes of ancient and even more contemporary wars, but I am not one to sit and watch the news. It depresses me, every time. That being said, politics still plays into my fiction. I'm not the best at the governmental aspects of worldbuilding, I admit, probably because of my aversion to stupid people being in positions of power.

But! In The Witch Collector for instance, political tensions are a huge part of the backdrop and drive the external conflict. Since this is book one in a triology, however, and thus act one in the story arc, I narrow my lens and focus mostly on the relationship of the hero and heroine, my rebels.

Book one follows Raina Bloodgood and Alexus Thibault as they navigate the initial story problems that will later propel them from their normal worlds into a world they've either avoided (Alexus) or never seen (Raina). They live on what's called the Northland Break, a small piece of the broken empire of Tiressia, a supercontinent that experienced a tectonic shift millions of years before, and was once under the rule of a succession of human kings, each of whom answered to the gods.

But then the gods came down and took their own rule, one in the Northlands, one in the Eastland Territories, one in the Summerlands, and another in what's known as the Western Drifts. Much of the conflict that developed is of a godly nature, meaning greed, insatiable appetites for all sorts of pleasure, and complete adoration was paramount in their focus. They wanted what they wanted when they wanted it, regardless of the humans, halflings, witches, magi, and sorcerers they had to step on or destroy to sate their desires. 

As tensions rose, bad things happened and two of the gods, Asha and Neri, were condemed and buried in the Summerlands. The City of Ruin is where their bones rest, at a place called the Grove of the Gods on Mount Ulra. Another god, Urdin of the Western Drifts, the best of the deities, died battling the Eastland god, Thamaos. Both were also buried at the grove.

Part of the conflict that led to all four gods' destruction was two simple human lovers. The fallout of that romance was not only a catalyst to the gods' demise, but left the Tiressian world with two immortal rulers, a Frost King and a Fire Queen, cast north and south of one another, who would never again be able to survive the other's presence. 

In this story, greed and revenge reign, and even gods can rise again, unless a witch and a Witch Collector can become allies and prevent worldwide calamity.

So. Yes, I use politics in my fiction. It won't show as much in book one as the next two books, because the MC has to learn the hidden history of the world she's occupied for twenty-four years and correct the thinking that three centuries of false lore have impressed upon the Northland people. This is a story of a young woman who lives a very sheltered existence and doesn't even realize it. She thinks she understands her world, and that it's the immortal king of the North who's ruining her life. Little does she know at the onset how protected she's been, and that sometimes, the world we don't see is absoutely stunning and beautiful and can open our minds to different cultures, but it can also be a rude awakening. Sometimes, the lives we think are so terrible are nothing in comparison to the trials many people live through day in and day out. My goal is to show that through Raina, to show her understanding of the complexities of Tiressia, and how those complexities affect her as an individual, deepening with every page.

If The Witch Collector sounds like a book you might like to read, I would love it if you added it to your Goodreads. If you'd like to pre-order the e-book, it's available on several platforms now. Print will be available in September!!


Friday, July 9, 2021

Terrible Politics

Sit back and let me tell you a terrible story. 

I have a friend who is a military veteran. This isn't hard. I grew up in a military family and on military bases. This friend is terminally ill. Doesn't matter how or with what. Just know they are. They are aware they are. This friend is also very, very poor and because of that is currently homeless and living out of a car. 

When this friend was first diagnosed, they did some mental math and decided that they'd rather die by their own hand than endure disability and increasing doses of pain medications that probably wouldn't actually dull the pain but which WOULD dull my friend. Two weeks ago Sunday, my friend emailed me their suicide note saying goodbye.

You very likely just had a visceral reaction to that. Look at it. Examine it. That reaction is political. Even if you believe it's moral or compassionate, your reaction is political because it's shaped by the culture that shaped you - a culture shaped by and that shapes the politics with which we all live. What was it? Horror over suicide? Horror over someone forced into a position where suicide seems like the best option? Or was it sadness over the recognition that this person is actively dying anyway, and deciding to take that death into their own hands seems like the final piece of control they can wrest from this world? Whatever it your reaction was, with a little thought, you can trace it to either religious conditioning, or to secular conditioning around right and wrong as defined by Western cultural and political thought.

Still, we're fortunate. Most of us can point to other cultures in the world that don't have the same suicide taboo that our Christianized culture does. We're at least aware there are other viewpoints on death in the world. My point in telling this tale is to point out how deeply entwined politics (and religion) is in our lives and our attitudes and in how we see the world. So you bet politics plays into my stories. I submit that it plays into every story and all world-building, whether we want it to or not. If you're writing romance, the notion of one person falling in love with another (and only one other) person is political. Ask anyone who's polyamorous. 

As for the story about my friend - I didn't make it up. The friend was found by the police and taken to the ER. They survived the suicide attempt, only to be denied hospice care by the VA and turned out onto the streets again today. Still terminally ill. Still homeless. Still living out of a car while I scramble for solutions for getting them housed so that Medicare can provide in-home hospice to them for however long remains.

THAT situation is also deeply political. Not to mention deeply damning of our political system.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Politics in Fiction


Politics in Fiction type over image of The Mars Strain audiobook on cell phone screen resting beside red Beats headphones on NASA Space Center walkway.

Politics. It’s all about who has what, who doesn’t have what, and who wants what. And that’s why I’d argue that politics play an important role in nearly every book, because politics are all about the conflict over power. 

Not sure how to do that? Let’s check out some examples.

I write science fiction and fantasy, two genres rife with politics, and so I give you: 

Game of Thrones—gobs of conflict over the iron throne 

The Last Astronaut—a horrific fight between us and aliens

The Twelve Kingdoms series—serious struggle over over which kingdom controls the power that forms the world

The Lady Astronaut Universe series—a struggle between those with the brains and those in control

Shadow and Bone series—a war between two powerful Grisha (power wielders) and the country stuck in the middle of it

Hopefully you’re familiar with some of these. And if you’re not, I highly suggest picking them up because these are all fantastic reads! But it really doesn’t matter if you’re unfamiliar with the plots because they’re all the same: the players without the power do three things. 

1: they strategize

2: they recruit

3: they act

But what if your inciting incident doesn’t involve a takeover/overthrow/uprising? Then I say you’re missing out on leveling up by adding in some politics. Let’s go a little deeper. My audiobook, The Mars Strain, follows this politics breakdown more than one way.

The main plot line is a Martian organism that arrives and threatens life on Earth. My heroine and her team study and figure out how they are going to counter it, they pull in assistance from the Mars Colony and the CDC, and when they’re ready they put everything they’ve got into making their plan happen. 

Excellent, right? That’s enough to carry a novel. But come on, we want a great story instead of a good one. So I added another layer.

The other thread is another entity—no I can’t say who because spoiler—who has watched the Mars Space Program from inception, utilized intrigue to recruit spies, and is now forcing the coalition to remove the program out of the US. This is big because the world is looking at the Mars Colony as the only escape pod!

What do you think? Are the politics in your story transforming the landscape of your book? 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Yeah I Said That

Very quickly, do I write politics into my books? Well, Perfect Gravity features a woman senator who overthrows a corrupt, jingoistic jerk president and his cronies. 

That book was released in November 2017. 


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Politics and the Protagonist

 How does politics (of the fictional world) flavor the outcome of our stories?

I'm like Jeffe in that politics is a BFD in my fictional worlds. Be it UF or HF, the underlying theme across all my stories is about changing society and social structures. After all, what is politics but the manipulation of social contracts by individuals and/or organizations? Part of the fun of worldbuilding is defining the current political landscape, then spending the next three hundred-ish pages trying to uphold or rebel against it. The protagonist's relationship to society, and, by extension, authority, is a foundational character definition. The plot unfolds from that relationship. 

I do tend to write protagonists who are in a position to affect large-scale change. Macro movers who are plagued by consequences on a micro level. The contrast keeps the character relatable while reinforcing how decisions made by the top of the food chain come to bear on individuals. That's not to say every protag has to be part of the 0.0001% of the world's elite in order to influence politics. To the contrary. The most classic hero archetype is the nobody who becomes the king/god. 

My schtick is that I like to show the repercussions of forced change. The ugly consequences of shattering social contracts. The unrest stemming from ambiguity. The insecurity of crumbling of boundaries. The conflicts of redefining social expectations. That's the reason I write series instead of standalones. I'm fascinated by what happens after the hero achieves the initial win. Not just how the hero changes, but how society changes for better and worse. How are the new rules decided, and who cements them? How does the political landscape shift and can it ever be stabilized?

In-world politics, even when subtly displayed, is the spinal disk amid the backbone of my stories. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Worldbuilding and Political Landscapes


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is politics and - no, wait! Come back!!

Politics in FICTION, okay???

We're asking how politics and the political landscape of the world flavor the outcome of stories.

This is my particular catnip as the political landscape of my books is always as important - if not more so - than other facets of the worlds I build. I even teach a workshop called "Worldbuilding: Political Systems in Conflict." Why politics? Because they are about the conflicts that affect an entire society - and societies beyond them, too. As we've all learned from the political turmoil of recent years, politics affects the bedrock of our lives, our very rights as sentient beings. 

So, I argue that the political landscape is always going to flavor a story, perhaps more profoundly than the actual landscape. Sure, some stories try to present themselves as absent of politics, but basics aspects of the characters' lives - access to food, housing, education, etc. - are always going to be influenced by the political landscape.

Right now I'm looking at the release of Book #2 in my Bonds of Magic series - BRIGHT FAMILIAR releases on July 9! - and so I'm getting impassioned messages from early readers. Often when I wake up in the morning, because they're staying awake all night reading it. (Best compliment there is!) Many of them are commenting about the power dynamics and how much resonance they have - on a personal and sexual basis, but also on a societal level. When I set out to write Book #1, DARK WIZARD, I wanted to portray an entire society based on a fundamental, incontrovertible power imbalance. In the Convocation, all political power derives from the ability to wield magic. Wizards can. Familiars have magic, but can't use it - so they become the ones who are used. 

As with all of us, the politics of who has the power affects what rights we have - and which we don't. In life, love, and the pursuit of all that is worthwhile. 

He wanted her with consuming passion... and so did the monster within.

Lady Veronica Elal has been freed from her tower—and entered a life of servitude. It doesn’t matter that her wizard master has odd ideas about circumventing Convocation tradition and making their relationship equal. Nic prides herself on her practicality and that means not pretending her marriage is full of hearts and flowers. Besides she understands that, despite her new husband’s idealism, they face obstacles so great the pair of them could be crushed to nothing, even without dashing themselves brainless trying to fight the Convocation.

Lord Gabriel Phel has come this far against impossible odds. He was born with powerful wizard magic, the first in his family in generations. He’s managed to begin the process of reinstating his fallen house. And—having staked his family’s meager fortune to win a familiar to amplify his magic, a highborn daughter to be mother to his children, his lady, and lover—he rescued Nic in a distant land, successfully bringing her home to House Phel. Though she’s cynical about their chances of success, he’s certain they can defy their enemies and flourish. Together.

But, the more Gabriel discovers about working with the fiery Nic, attempting to learn the finer points of wizardry and marriage, the more illicit fantasies plague him. His need for Nic—and the dark cravings she stirs in his black wizard’s heart—grow daily. Though Nic has reconciled herself to being possessed by Gabriel—and indeed yearns for even more from her brooding and reluctant master—creating a new life for herself isn’t easy. Especially when Gabriel seems determined to subvert the foundation of her world. Starting with her father.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

What the Froth?

When I saw the topic for this week, I laughed. I'd just finished writing a really tough chapter with lots of dark elements. I'm guessing frothy means light, and I'm kinda the opposite. So instead of talking about what my writing isn't, I thought I'd share what it IS. There's always lots of magick, romance, usually some myth that's part of the worldbuilding, and heroes that maybe shouldn't be heroes in their book but aren't toxic jerks that force you into marriage or bed or any of that annoying stuff I see too often in novels. I also write lots of female characters with varying abilities and stories, and I aim to create worlds that are diverse with none of the societal prejudices we have in the real world. That's the goal.

I have a novel coming out in November titled The Witch Collector and the cover reveal is next Wednesday, 7/7.  I thought I'd share the blurb today and the link to Goodreads if you want to add it to your lists!

𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙒𝙞𝙩𝙘𝙝 𝘾𝙤𝙡𝙡𝙚𝙘𝙩𝙤𝙧 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙚𝙨 𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙮 𝙃𝙖𝙧𝙫𝙚𝙨𝙩 𝙈𝙤𝙤𝙣. 𝙃𝙚’𝙨 𝙣𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙧 𝙡𝙖𝙩𝙚. 𝙐𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙡 𝙣𝙤𝙬.


𝙍𝙖𝙞𝙣𝙖 𝘽𝙡𝙤𝙤𝙙𝙜𝙤𝙤𝙙…

Eight years ago, the Witch Collector stole her sister. Ever since, Raina has wanted one thing: her family, together and free. Now she longs for something more: the Frost King and his Witch Collector. Dead. And today, she’ll make her wish come true.


𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙒𝙞𝙩𝙘𝙝 𝘾𝙤𝙡𝙡𝙚𝙘𝙩𝙤𝙧…

Every autumn, Alexus Thibault travels from Winterhold to select a witch from each village for the Frost King’s service. This time he rides to collect Raina Bloodgood, a young woman whose face he cannot forget, and whose secrets could save them all.

𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝘽𝙖𝙩𝙩𝙡𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙏𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙩𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣…

Thrust into an age-old story of ice, fire, and buried gods, Raina must abandon vengeance and join Alexus in a quest to save the Frost King, or let their world be destroyed. But when the lines between good and evil blur, how can she fulfill her vow—to kill the Witch Collector—when he’s no longer the man who stole her sister, but the hero who’s stealing her heart?


𝘼 𝙩𝙝𝙧𝙞𝙡𝙡𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙛𝙖𝙣𝙩𝙖𝙨𝙮 𝙙𝙚𝙗𝙪𝙩 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙨𝙩 𝙗𝙤𝙤𝙠 𝙞𝙣 𝙖 𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙡𝙤𝙜𝙮 𝙤𝙛 𝙢𝙮𝙩𝙝, 𝙢𝙖𝙜𝙞𝙘𝙠, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙧𝙤𝙢𝙖𝙣𝙘𝙚, 𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙛𝙚𝙘𝙩 𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙉𝙖𝙤𝙢𝙞 𝙉𝙤𝙫𝙞𝙠, 𝘼𝙢𝙮 𝙃𝙖𝙧𝙢𝙤𝙣, 𝙎𝙖𝙧𝙖𝙝 𝙅. 𝙈𝙖𝙖𝙨, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙅𝙚𝙣𝙣𝙞𝙛𝙚𝙧 𝙇. 𝘼𝙧𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙧𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙛𝙖𝙣𝙨.




Friday, July 2, 2021

Frothy is for rootbeer

When I measured my age in single digits, one of my favorite things in the world was root beer. There were ads touting a frosty mug of frothy, ice cold root beer on TV in those days (and this WAS before color TV.) Dad had introduced me to root beer early in life and by the time I was 5, I was addicted. He would finish work before Mom did, so he'd pick my sister and me up from the babysitter and take us to the A&W Drive-in. We'd get great big chunky glass mugs of root beer brought to the car. The ice would have already formed on the outside of the mugs - even in the heat of the Las Vegas desert. The three of us would sit there freezing our hands and chugging enough root beer to float small nations.

A&W closed it's restaurants. They bottle their root beer now. It's not the same. The flavor is flatter. It's no where near as rich and spicy. 

So while I doubt there's a single person alive or dead who'd describe me or what I write as frothy, if we extend the root beer story out to metaphor, I might could get by with dark, rich, and spicy with a sweet creamy finish.

But frothy as in bubbly and effervescent?

I don't think my train stops at that station. The tracks do take long winding paths through sarcasm and smart-assery, though. Does that count?

Who knows where there's still an A&W brick and mortar hold out? I need a frosty mug.