Super Sneak Peek: Elemental Magic 3

Last week I posted an excerpt from Dry Spell, Elemental Magic 2.  This week, I’m finishing up the Lucky 7 Meme with a super sneak peek of my current work in progress, the third book in my Elemental Magic series.

For a refresher, the basic rules of this meme:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.
4. Tag 7 authors
5. Let them know

I was tagged by  Virginia Ripple, Cassia, and Lena Corazon.  Go check out their excerpts!

Elemental Magic 3

Excerpt

He nodded, rocking back and forward like a kid chanting there’s no monster in the closet.  I stayed still, not wanting to give the wolf side any more reason to feel threatened.  Matt could do this.  I had to believe he could get it under control.

It felt like almost an hour had passed when Matt finally let out a long exhale and leaned back against the cushion.  I hadn’t realized how taut my muscles were until the tension bled out of them, leaving me feeling even more exhausted than before.

“I’m sorry,” Matt said in a low voice.

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Watch for it this fall.  😉  And, for another excerpt, be sure to check out Marcy Kennedy’s blog this Friday when she’ll be interviewing me.

Want to play this game?  I think, instead of tagging specific people, that anyone who wants to should be able to post an excerpt.  Enjoy!

Escaping into the Extraordinary ~ Guest Post by Tameri Etherton

It is my pleasure to welcome Tameri Etherton on my blog today.  We met last summer in Kristen Lamb’s blogging workshop and became fast friends.  We may live hours apart, but I have no doubt that if I were in trouble, she’d jump in her car and break the speed limit to get here.  She is fun, quirky, and one of the sweetest people I have the honor of knowing.  Please give her a warm round of applause!

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I am so excited to be guest blogging here today and would like to give Angela a huge thank you for having me!  She’s guest blogging on my site on Friday, so be sure you hop over there to see what she has to say about writing fantasy. It will capture your heart as it did mine.

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Every writer has a reason why they write ~ some because the voices in their head tell them to, others because they want to be rich and famous. For me, it’s neither the fame nor the psychosis that compels me to put words to paper; it’s a need to tell a story that takes the reader out of the mundane and propels them into the extraordinary.

I can recall the first fantasy book I read where I thought, ‘I want to live in this world, I want to know these people’. It was David Eddings’ Pawn of Prophecy. After reading every book in the series (more than once), it dawned on me that I could write a book like that. A book where the characters become friends and the story is so engrossing readers forget about reality for a little while.

That was twenty something years ago and somewhere along my path I pushed aside my wish to write a book. A husband and children kept me far too busy and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I remembered I once had a dream. By then, the fantasy genre had changed quite a bit. David Eddings’ sweet tale of an orphan boy seemed rather prosaic compared to the epic novels of Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin. Their 800 page doorstopper books were filled with betrayal, murder, and sex. Gasp! We’re talking more than a chaste kiss on the lips, too. Then along comes Brent Weeks and his assassin series and the fantasy genre blew up.

It’s an exciting time to be a writer. Many of the stigmas and formulaic tropes have been cast off. It’s not unusual to find a badass heroine rescuing the dude in distress. Princesses are freeing themselves from the tower and slaying the dragon on their own. Better yet, they are befriending the dragon and living happily ever after with their prince charming on a nice plot of land somewhere.

I recently reread Pawn of Prophecy and was immediately drawn into Garion’s world as if  I’d never left. And really, isn’t that why we all read books? To escape? I know that’s why I write them. Everybody needs time away from reality every so often.

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For some extra fun, check out the interview Tameri and I did on her blog Monday.  It was a blast!

Write Like an Onion

No, I do not mean your writing should smell bad.  Rather, writing a book is like growing an onion–it happens layer by layer.  One doesn’t typically bust out a perfect best-seller in the first draft.  (And if you do, well then kudos, but most of us aren’t gods.)

Writers are told the most important thing in writing is to just get something on paper (or Word, since most of us are computer trained by now).  A messed up paragraph is easier to fix than a blank page.  I, for one, enjoy watching my novel transform from superficial first draft to detailed final product.  There are so many aspects that make up a good book–plot, description, characterization, emotional investment, grammar.  (It’s amazing how much that last one comes up in book reviews.)

I don’t know about most of you, but I’m guessing that like me, you can’t keep all those aspects at the forefront of your brain at the same time.  Maybe you’ve got one down really well, but it takes a few rounds to nail another.  That’s okay because it’s all part of the process of writing/growing a novel.

Everyone’s process is different too.  My first drafts are all about plot and pacing.  That comes easiest to me.  Then I have to go back and work on adding subtle characterization to make my characters really pop.  Grammar is not an issue, but there are some technical aspects that I need to focus on one at a time, like passive voice (“was”) clusters.  In the revision process, I go over each chapter again and again, each time with a different focus, adding another layer.

When it’s over, I’m exhausted.  But seeing how my novel changed and grew makes all that work worthwhile.

What’s your growing process like?  Do you know which layers you tend to apply first?  Last?  Do you struggle with this concept, pushing yourself to write down the first words perfectly? 

Take a look at this video of flowers.  Notice how the first petals push out, and then later how more petals emerge and fill in the center.  Like a fully bloomed flower, a great novel is full of rich complexities–and they didn’t come together all at once!

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Phoenix Feather is on SALE now on Amazon for $.99!  A sweet romance with a slight supernatural flair.

A Round of Words in 80 Days

Today kicks off Round 3 of A Round of Words in 80 Days, which I will be participating in for the first time.  It’s a writing challenge where we set our own goals, check in twice a week, and encourage each other to keep at it.  You can keep up with my goals and progress here, or click on the page above.  (You could also join.  😉 )

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been going through a writing funk.  Here I have summer stretched out before me with loads of free time, and I can’t bring myself to start my next manuscript.  I tried, and what I got was word poop, to quote Kristen Lamb’s recent post on Struggling with Burnout.

Over the past month I have embraced the funk and have occupied my time with other things: reading, drawing, cleaning, and blogging.  My creativity hasn’t shut down completely; I’ve just given it a chance at a different outlet.  The test comes this week, however, as I plunge into actual work.  Something will come of my efforts.  Good, bad, or poopy, I will write!  Thankfully, an idea struck the other day.  I’m not sure I like it, but since it’s a plausible subplot, I’m willing to mull it over and see what comes of it.

The idea came to me in the theater as I was watching a special showing of The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King extended edition.  Now, one might say that’s perfectly natural.  After all, LoTR has great storytelling, great characters, and a great plot.  What’s not to be inspired by?

Except I don’t think Gimli should engender thoughts about vampires.  Nuh-uh, not seeing the connection.  Talk about multitasking on the brain, trying to enjoy a mesmerizing tale of epic proportions and working out the motivations of a rogue vampire killer.  Seriously Muse, show some respect?  Sometimes you have the attention span of a two-year-old.

Anyway, wish me luck on this endeavor!  And in honor of this challenge, in this Monday’s short story it’s “Teagan’s Turn to Write.”

What is your character’s love language?

Hey guys, today I’m going to talk about character building.  There are a lot of methods and exercises for developing a character.  One of my friends, when trying to get to know her character, will write her in the midst of various emotions: what is she like when she’s happy, when she’s mad, sad, goofy, humiliated, etc.

Another layer to understanding your character is to know what his or her love language is.  Some of you are thinking this only applies to romance writers, but a person’s love language isn’t only about romantic love; it’s about what makes them feel valued and cared for in their relationships.  This might also help you with insight into causes for conflict, especially if your characters have different love languages.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First, here are the Five Love Languages as defined by Gary Chapman (here’s the website if you want to read more about it; there’s even a published book).

Words of Affirmation–Compliments, praise, and the words “I love you” are very important to this person.  In turn, any insult or verbal degradation could be devastating.  “Sticks and Stones, but words may never hurt me” does not apply to them.

Quality Time–full, undivided attention.  No “let’s have a conversation while I watch TV,” or in a fantasy story (told you it applies across genres), “can you please stop sharpening your sword so we can talk?”  Being cancelled on, or having dates postponed, or the date showing up late are very hurtful.

Receiving Gifts–This person appreciates well-thought-out gifts, gifts that the giver took time to tailor to this specific person.  To the person with this love language, they feel valued when people show they care for and know them when they give them special gifts.  It’s not about materialism, but the thought behind it.  Which means that thoughtless or last-minute gifts are hurtful.  Forgetting occasions where gifts are usually given, like birthdays and anniversaries, is also devastating.

Acts of Service–Helping out and easing one’s burden can show this type of person they’re loved and valued.  The old family sitcom stereotype, “why won’t my husband help clean the house?” probably stems from this love language.  Not helping or making one’s work harder does not speak love to this person.

Physical Touch–Don’t all rush to sex here.  Holding hands, pats on the back, soft touches, and hugs are what make this person feel loved.  Withholding these from someone who needs them will feel like neglect.

So if you have two people, Sherri whose love language is Quality Time, and Marcus who likes gifts, there’s bound to be some conflict.  Marcus the pirate brings back booty to give to his sweetheart because that’s how he feels and communicates love.  Sherri the wench with wanderlust feels like she’s being bought off when all she really wants is for Marcus to sail away with her so they can have adventures and raid merchant ships together.  It’s not their love for each other that’s in question, but how they express it.

Your book might never go into love languages, and your characters never sit down and say, “you know, I’m feeling really unloved because my love language is ___.”  That’s probably a good thing.  We don’t want to get expository on our readers.  Even if you never use these types of conflict, you will still know one more thing about your characters, and it’s up to authors to know everything, even the stuff we don’t show our readers.

So what do you guys think?  Have you ever thought about your character’s love language?  Maybe you have, just under another label?  Do you know what your love language is?

The Phoenix

The phoenix is one of my favorite mythological creatures.  The power of fire as both destructive and regenerative is mesmerizing.  The myth is essentially the same across cultures–the phoenix is a firebird who bursts into flame at death every 100 to 1,000 years and is reborn from the ashes.  But there are some interesting varieties.

Egyptian Phoenix

The Egyptian phoenix was called the Bennu, and was thought to be the soul of Ra, the Sun-God.  It was not depicted in the traditional colors associated with the phoenix, but instead was a grey, purple, blue, or white heron.  At the end of its life cycle, it would make a nest of cinnamon twigs and ignite, thereby burning completely to ashes.  Once the new phoenix emerged, it would embalm the ashes of the old phoenix into an egg and deposit it in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis.  The Greeks adapted the same myth to their own liking, making the colors more bright and fiery, and associating the bird with their Sun-God, Apollo.

Persian Phoenix

The Huma bursts into flame every few hundred years.  It is said that the Huma spends its life flying above the earth, never to land.  To be touched by its shadow alone is said to bring good fortune, and should the bird alight on your shoulder, it foretells kingship.  Catching the Huma is impossible, but just the sight of it will bring happiness to a person for the rest of their days.  The Huma bird contains both male and female attributes, one on each wing/leg.  It is also said to be large enough to carry off a whale!

Chinese Phoenix

Originally, the feng were the male birds and the huang female, but tradition later blended the two into a single entity, the Fenghuang, and made it female.  The phoenix then became the symbol for the Empress and could be paired with the male Chinese dragon, who symbolized the Emperor.  Unlike Western traditions, the Chinese phoenix is more like a chimera, and is said to be made up of various different types of birds.  Phoenix are pure, and are said to only dwell where there is peace and prosperity, loyalty and honesty.

Russian Phoenix

This is the mythology I chose to base my novel, Phoenix Feather, on.  The firebird’s majestic plumage glows brightly like flames; even after a feather falls, it continues to glow.  The firebird is a symbol of blessing and doom.  It signals a difficult quest, usually inspired by the finding of one of those illuminated feathers.  The finder, mesmerized by the bird, then embarks on a journey to catch it, but the journey usually ends in woe.  The phoenix is also said to cry tears of pearls.

There are more legends and variations, not to mention popular modern day interpretations of these fascinating creatures (Fawkes in Harry Potter), but I didn’t want to get too encyclopedic on you.

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While the feather by itself seems innocuous, there is a deep power associated with it.  Like fire, it is neither good nor evil, but has the power to either destroy or refine.  It’s entrancing by its beauty, and the potential to blaze with glory, yet it is also dangerous because of those very qualities.  This feather and what/who it represents is both a catalyst for darkness and destruction, and the vessel of love and hope.  In a world full of joy and sorrow, love and misery, this agent is a light seeking a balance between two inevitable realities in a sinful world, and is ultimately the final hope for something better.

Hello writing funk, how nice to see you

There are several names for this: writer’s block, writing burnout, writing apathy, la la la.  It may even try to disguise itself as something else: depression, laziness, run-down on the verge of a cold somethin’, blegh…

It doesn’t matter what label you slap on it; the truth is that for whatever reason, the writing is not happening.  Here is where I find myself, despite my best efforts to wrench myself out of this funk over the past week.  Having completed my latest novel a week ago, I am now ready to begin the sequel.  Except I’m not.  The muse is either on strike, sleeping after all that work, or has been kidnapped by smurfs.  I have not received a ransom.

I tried forcing it.  Sunday I sat down and spent the entire day intermittently typing and staring at the wall.  The result was a first chapter, but a short and superficial one at that.  But hey, getting over the first hump is the hardest, right?  So what’s my problem?

Maybe I need to take a break from writing.  I know, I cringe at the thought.  Waste all this valuable time?  Are you crazy?  I’m crazy if I think I can compose anything in my zombie-like state.  I need to recharge, as Trish Elliott’s post Dealing with Writer Burnout suggests.  I’ve relied on writing for so long as my way to stay charged and refreshed, that I forgot the cycle goes both ways.  Writing may be how I “fill my cup,” as Elena Aitken talks about, but how do I fill my writing?

Good question.  I thought maybe I’d take some time for drawing (and try really hard not to feel guilty about it).  Maybe I should dig out a TV series with great writing and just sit back and enjoy, like The West Wing or Castle (and again, try really hard not to feel like I’m wasting precious time).  Maybe I’ll see if some friends want to go ballroom dancing.

Whatever I do, I hope I feel recharged soon.  While I strongly dislike this phase, one can’t ride the high forever, and even the muse needs a respite.

What RPGs taught me about writing

As I network through Twitter and blogs, it has come to my attention that quite a few writers out there got their start, or at least a substantial boost, through online role-playing games.  I used to be a bit embarrassed by it, but you know what, that part of my life played a significant role in my growth process.  Let’s celebrate what we learn from: the good, the bad, and the mildly embarrassing.

My first RPG was based on The Lord of the Rings.  I was what you might call an obsessed fan at the time (16 and the movies were just coming out), so it’s no surprise that my first epic fantasy novel was a borderline plagiarism of Tolkien’s epic work.  Anyway, the RPG was set several years after The Return of the King, and followed an unlikely assortment of heroes on their quest to rescue Prince Eldarion from some unnamed evil.  For a young writer with an imagination itching to express itself, this was a lot of fun for me.  But I also learned from it.

RPGs taught me diligence and sustainability.  You had to post periodically throughout the week, sometimes even once a day, if you didn’t want to be left behind in the story.  (Although, the moderators eventually had to implement daily posting limits because some of us [cough] were getting a bit carried away.)  Taking time to read and write every day was my first exercise in multitasking and balancing other responsibilities (like homework and chores).  It also taught sustainability, how to keep those creative gears turning when you think you’ve run out of ideas.  (Of course, back then the solution to writer’s block was to throw in a surprise attack and battle.  I have since learned to make events relevant to the plot, and not just clash swords for the heck of it.)

Oh, and this was where I got my reputation as being a gruesome sadist when it came to my characters.  Honestly, I’ll never live it down.  Blood, guts, knife wounds, poison…(sigh).

I’ll always remember my first character.  She also became the protagonist in my first novel (a book that even after six major revisions will never see the light of day).  Her name was Feanna, and as is common with the antihero background, she was an orphan, abandoned in the forest as a child, and raised by wolves–whom she coincidentally could talk to.  😀  Her best friend?  A white wolf.

I stayed involved in that RPG community for five or six years.  It helped me develop my own personal style of writing and story crafting.  I quickly climbed the ranks to moderator and then admin, becoming an RPG leader myself.  As everyone grew (this community was completely created and run by high school homeschoolers), we eventually branched out, creating non-LoTR story lines and worlds.

I’ve come a long way since then.  My character types have changed, my genre has slightly changed, and even my style has changed.  But that’s the great thing about progress, knowing where you’ve come from, knowing where you are, and having high hopes for where you’re going.

Did you get started writing in RPGs?  What were the stories?  Check out Becka Enzor’s blog post about her start in My Little Pony RPGs!

Someone call CPS–Character Protective Services

When I was in high school and working on my official first epic fantasy novel, I would go over to my friend’s house, another writer, and we would talk shop all day long.  Her mom used to give us weird looks whenever she walked by, saying if only we could hear ourselves the way others (non-writers) do.  It was probably due to our genre, but we beat up and injured our characters mercilessly.

“I had him take an arrow in the shoulder.  The left one, mind you.  He still needs the use of his sword arm.”

“Yeah, that’s important.  Should probably avoid leg injuries if we want them to get up and continue fighting.  A knife to the gut works.”

Why do we abuse our characters so?  Is it a cathartic experience?  Are we taking some of our own emotional or psychological pain and giving it a physical outlet?  Is it just another expression of overcoming immense odds?  Do we kill characters we love so that we may experience grief in a safe environment?  Does it help us root for the protagonist?  What are your thoughts?

(Hm, but if pieces of ourselves get put in our characters, does that make us sadists or masochists?)

And, if you want to share, what’s the worst you’ve done to a character?  Physically: kidnapped and tortured almost to the point of death might be the winner for me.  Psychologically: I sent a protag with severe arachnophobia to hunt down a nest of giant spiders.  (Yeah, that was definitely masochistic on my part.  Call it attempted therapy.)

Writers, Our Families, and Support Systems

Kristen Lamb wrote a blog post yesterday about how being a career writer is serious work, and it takes a lot of training, organization, and multitasking.  To read the full pep talk, click here: “Training to Be a Career Author.”

Her post got me thinking, not about writers, but about those in our lives who depend on us, whether it’s friends, family, or those we provide for.  I’m blessed to have a very supportive mom.  She truly believes I can get published and supports me in my pursuit of my dream.

That said, she also depends on me.  I will need to take over the bulk of the responsibility for supporting us–something I am completely willing to do!  But as I’ve come to realize in the past few weeks, being a career writer involves so much more than writing.  Kristen’s post goes into more detail about what is required of us: research, marketing, social media, learning the business side, not to mention continuing to write those novel-length works!  And that’s just a few things that will make up the schedule of a career writer.  For those of us still working towards that, we probably also have day jobs to balance, in addition to family and friends.

I hope that every one of you writers has friends and family that support you in your pursuit.  But people can be supportive and still reach their limits.  I imagine it might be hard for some of them to understand why we have to do all this work.  Maybe they support our writing, but wonder why we “have to” blog or Tweet.  Maybe they have the same idea about publishing we did before we learned the truth, that writing a book is all you need.

I don’t have any wisdom to offer in this regard, as it hasn’t been a major source of conflict in my relationships yet.  Ideally, we should be able to say that if we multitask properly, no one will feel neglected.  Well, feelings and reality hardly ever align.  I’m still working out my own balance in this new world, and feeling a little guilty about it, even though I know it will help my career in the long run.

So let me ask you, does your family, spouse, partner ever feel neglected or frustrated by the time you spend on these “other” writer activities?  How do you deal with it?  Do you try for an equalized schedule to multitask, or do you allow that schedule to be fluid according to who needs you more at any given time?  Do your loved ones want to support you, but sometimes just don’t understand all you’re trying to accomplish?