Deus Hex Machina: Interview with Timble Ada

As some of you know, I am writing a cyberpunk novel. While it may seem strange to be talking about a science fiction project on a fantasy blog, I remind you that I firmly believe science fiction is merely a subsection of a larger fantasy genre, since it imagines worlds that don’t exists. While fantasy looks to the past, science fiction looks to the future.

Speaking of the future, I have got a special treat for you today. In researching Deus Hex Machina, I stumbled on the work of noted perceptual computing expert Timble Ada. Dr. Ada graciously agreed to talk to me about the future of the Internet, how we as humans should really be interacting with technology, and when a cyberpunk future might become our reality.

I always start off with this question: What are you currently reading?
I do not have as much leisure time as I would like, so I haven’t had the chance to connect with many works of fiction of late. The last thing I read of a published nature was J.M. Mendal’s paper on the perceptual computer, but I must admit that it is something I reference often so one might better ask ‘what am I constantly reading?’
Speaking of your work, what exactly is perceptual computing?
Without getting too technical, perceptual computing is based on Zadeh’s theory of computing with words — that we can create technology that can make judgements on its own with only natural language as its computing structure. With this sort of technology, people will be able to talk with a computer and using the syntax of regular speech create functions and computations that will result in both a language response and a data output.
Imagine a computer that understands your language, that you can interact with by just talking to it, and that relates its information in an understandable way. Imagine interacting with a computer with gestures and touch, and not merely the user interface level, but within the computing itself. Prototyping a new car just by drawing the model in the air. Asking a computer to create a program for you in order to scan the Internet for books by your favorite authors. The applications for such a technology are exciting. It’s a brave new world, Ms. Orneck.

Do you see virtual reality as a step toward this more personal computer interaction?
I definitely see virtual reality as a step in the right direction, but I am less interested in the concept of interactive interfaces as I am in the notion that our computers themselves could interact with us. I do think that in order to fully integrate with a perceptual computer we will have to create new ways to interface with them. I am just not certain that virtual reality is a proper analog for that.

When will these science fiction dreams of ours — the completely immersive Internet, technology that links our brains directly into the computer, flying cars — really happen?
I can’t speak about the concept of flying automobiles as I’m a computer scientist, but I can tell you that we are closer than you might think. Intel has recently released a Per-C SDK, which will allow programmers to develop for a perceptual computing system. Video game developers are building virtual reality interfaces into their game systems. We already carry incredibly small computers around with us in our pockets wherever we go. Is it really too much to assume that in a few short years those phones might just be chips that connect to our brains via a neural uplink?
In my own work, I am striving to create a new way for people to connect to technology. While we are no where near the point where I can talk about my project, I think from what you tell me about your novel that you have the right idea about what our future would look like. Not sure about the Church of Technology though. That sounds a bit bizarre.

Do you agree with Elon Musk when he warns about the dangers of artificial intelligence?
Honestly no and I think he is missing the point. I believe that if you build a computer system that has the ability to learn from people, that any such future artificial life would have an understanding of morality on a level we cannot comprehend. Imagine having all of human history held inside your brain. All the wars, the struggles, the constant battles for dominance. A perceptual computing system would be able to cull through such data and make proper judgements about the futility of war, and then output more humane data. I truly believe that any artificial intelligence that we create will be made from the best of mankind, and much like the Asimov’s laws of robotics, will only have our best interest at heart.
Fundamentally though, Mr. Musk and I come from very different worlds. He is a man of profit, I am a man of science. Any future developments that he makes will have a price tag on them. I envision a world where access to technology is a human right, like air and water and is neither taxed nor gated based on how much wealth you have. I suppose you could say I am the Tesla to his Edison. But obviously I’ve tangented here, so I’ll leave it at that.

Thank you so much Dr. Ada for taking time out of your busy work schedule to talk with me! I’m so honored!

Inkshares Review: Dax Harrison

12241358_998757730183751_677454016536824773_nYesterday a bevvy of fellow Inkshares writers banded together to help promote our books and the service that hosts them. Dubbed by the illustrious Cara Weston, the inaugural Review-a-thon drew more than 170 reviews to currently funding projects on Inkshares.

During the Review-a-thon I got the opportunity to review a book I instantly fell in love with: Dax Harrison. This rolicking space opera is written by the incredibly talented Tony Valdez. Here’s a little bit about the book:

Commander Dax Harrison. Hero of the Alliance. Legendary soldier for the space age. …Schmuck.

A decade ago, Dax made his claim to fame in a decisive battle against the Carteagans, a ruthless alien race which waged war on humanity as we spread out into space. Dax cunningly destroyed the Carteagan’s greatest warship, signaling a turning point in the war and leading to humanity’s eventual victory.

Or so we’ve been told.

Ten years on, we join Dax as the anniversary of the ceasefire approaches. While career-wise he has faded into obscurity, the legend of Commander Harrison has grown immensely in the public eye through pulp stories and media based on exceedingly embellished versions of his exploits. Dax has not-so-humbly allowed himself to enjoy a bit of that fame (and a few royalty checks) while coasting into retirement on cushy assignments. But as he counts the days until he can disappear on a beach somewhere, naturally, fate has other plans.

A dangerous shadow from the past puts a wrench in Dax’s easygoing existence, and he is forced to finally live up to his legend, whether he likes it or not.

Dax is aided in his adventure by an unorthodox but trusty crew. Good thing, because he’ll need all the help he can get! To name a few: a bad-ass female 2nd in command, an enthusiastic fanboy cadet, a mechanical whiz kid, a crotchety old doctor and more!

This book is just as good as it sounds, so what follows is my review of Dax Harrison.  If you are at all a fan of science fiction, you really need to preorder this book.  It’s in its last week of funding, so make sure you jump on this quickly!

To prove how much I like this book, here’s my review of Dax Harrison by Tony Valdez:

Humorous space opera at its finest, Dax Harrison tells the story of a washed up former hero that gets pulled back into saving the universe just months before his much-longed-for retirement.

The four chapters I read gave me a brief glimpse into a vibrant-yet-grounded world that feels incredibly authentic, despite being set in the far future.  There’s something incredibly believable about Dax and his merchandise empire built around his likeness.  He’s treated the way we treat our sports stars, throwing endorsement deals at them and making movies about them.  Only in this case Dax is known for saving the galaxy.

The third chapter is a little incongruous as its just a series of out of context notes which I assume are from the larger story.  I feel that in this case I’m getting spoiled on story beats in the writer’s attempt to share with us some of his best writing — and in a story I care about, like this one, I would rather come across these gems in context and not be spoiled.

Dax Harrison reads like a combination of Firefly, Captain America, and the Stainless Steel Rat.  It’s funny, irreverent, and incredibly fast-paced.  Anyone who loves humor, science-fiction, and relatable characters really should preorder this book because it gives you all of these in spades.

 

The Shadow of the Owl virtual book tour has begun!

This week Shadow of the Owl hosted by Worldwind Book Tours has begun!!  Follow the tour throughout the week:

Nov 30th
Reeses Reviews _– Spotlight
Karen Banes Blog – Interview

Dec 1st
Cheshire Cat Looking Glass – Excerpt
RoloPolo Book Blog – Excerpt
The Serious Reader – Review

Dec 2nd
Archeolibrarianologist_ – Spotlight
Author Reader Book Corner – Spotlight
Dark Phantom Reviews – Review

Dec 3rd
Literary Musing – Spotlight

Dec 4th
Lindsey & Jane Views & Reviews_ – Excerpt

Dec 5th
Brooke Blogs_ – Excerpt

Dec 6th
JE Thomas – Interview

Dec 7th
My Crazy Bookish Life – Spotlight

Dec 8th
Nadaness in Motion – Excerpt
Louise Wise – Excerpt

Twenty Questions for Twenty Authors: M. Bryn Schut

This series is my excuse to satisfy my curiosity about what makes writers tick. The hope is that by exploring how writers got to their craft, how they interact with books and their process, I might learn a little more about my own.

This week on TQfTA, I got the chance to interview M. Bryn Schut, and inspiring writer I met through the Inkshares Nerdist contest.  She is the author of Visioner, an epic sci-fi/fantasy blend YA tale that puts romance in the back seat and adventure up front and center.  I’m a huge fan of Miss Bryn, and can’t wait to share her particular world view (and writing) with you all.

First up, as always, let’s learn a little bit about the author.

About M. Bryn Schut

Obsessive pop culture geek by day, pedantic nerd by night, Bryn has been writing for almost as long as she’s been reading. Her interests lie primarily in science fiction and fantasy and she spends an inordinate amount of time analyzing her favorite books, movies, and video games. Her true passion lies in stories that twist the expected narrative and attempt to surprise even the most jaded of readers. Bryn’s writing credits include both first place and third place in the short story category, second place in the personal narrative category, and second place in the poetry category for Victor Valley College’s annual writing contest (2009). She graduated from Sonoma State University with a B.A. in English: Creative Writing (2012) and continued her education at the same university to obtain an M.A. in English: Creative Writing (2015), where Visioner served as her thesis project. She currently lives in northern California with her “god-with-the-level-of-commitment-we-have-he-needs-a-better-title-than-boyfriend” and their two cats.

On Reading

1. What are you currently reading?

I just picked up The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy (edited by Joe Hill and John Joseph Adams) and Uprooted by Naomi Novik. I’m early into both, but I’m enjoying them immensely. I’m also reading Super You by Emily Gordon, which is a self-help book with a nerdy spin.

2. Ereader or Traditional?

Traditional, for sure. For me reading falls under a full-sensory experience and it doesn’t feel “real” unless I have a physical book in my hand. The weight of it, the smell, the texture… I love technology in all other aspects of my life, but I balk at ereaders.

3. What is your favorite book?

This is always the worst question! I’ll try to narrow it down to two: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I love L’Engle for her sense of adventure and the idea that stories shouldn’t be dumbed down just because the story is aimed at younger readers. And Gaiman just has a way with words that I find hypnotizing.

4. Why do you think reading is important?

I think it’s important to have space in your own head. We can get so bogged down with phones and Netflix and easy consumption that I feel it’s necessary to engage with a medium that encourages you to do the mental work yourself. Reading forces you to visualize things for yourself and to meet another mind (in this case, the author’s) in way that doesn’t allow you to be passive.

5. What is the one book (other than your own) that you would recommend to others?

There’s a great book I wish more people knew about that I ended up using as a textbook when I taught a fantasy writing class. Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. It’s a how-to writing guide for people who hate how-to writing guides. There are bright colors and margin notes and stories from authors and generally good writing advice. It was really useful for both the beginning writers and the experienced writers in my class.

On Writing

1. What made you want to become a writer?

I’m not sure it was so much a want as being violently bludgeoned over the head with an obsessive need to tell stories. I’ve always loved the way that a good book could make me feel something, and I think my writing grew out of a desire to share that with others. Reading a book felt like a gift from an author, and I wanted to offer someone else that gift in return.

2. Why do you write?

Because I absolutely cannot fathom my life without it. Of course there’s an element of pleasure in it—I don’t think any author tortures themselves without getting some joy out of the act of creation—but I think obsession plays a big part in my personal drive. I need to get the story out somehow, or I’ll lose my mind.

3. What was the first thing you wrote?

The first thing I can remember writing was in kindergarten or first grade. It was a small picture book about horses with a unicorn randomly thrown in. No plot to speak of, just statements about things horses did. The first thing I remember writing with a real plot was clearly ripped off “The Last Unicorn” because it had a unicorn searching for her friends that interacted with a moth.

Of course, in mine the moth lied about the absence of the other unicorns so the last unicorn would be his friend, but the unicorn eventually forgave him and everyone had a happy ending.

4. Which writers inspire you?

Neil Gaiman. Madeline L’Engle. J.K. Rowling. There are dozens, but these are probably my big three. They believe in their writing so much that you just can’t help but be pulled in, and that’s the kind of writer I want to be.

5. Are you a planner or a seat of the pants writer?

Definitely seat of the pants. Every time I try to outline and plan a story it absolutely loses its magic. I always start writing with a general idea of the story I want to tell and discover the magic of it as I go along. So I tend to write whatever comes to mind and then fix it in revisions.

6. What are you currently writing?

Right now I’m trying to work on the sequel to Visioner, my YA sci-fantasy novel. I’m also experimenting with some short stories. Then there’s a novel I’d been working on and set aside that’s calling to me again, so I might be picking that up to work on when I get blocked with other work.

7. Why this particular genre?

Science fiction and fantasy have always been my two great loves. Both stretch the bounds of possibility, looking forward to a strange new world and looking back to a mythical one. I’m particularly interested in what happens when those worlds are put into conflict and how they play off one another. And most of what I write tends to be Young Adult Fiction, because I like exploring that feeling of being caught between childhood and adulthood, wishing for both and fitting in neither.

8. From where do you glean ideas for your writing?

Oftentimes I have really interesting dreams that I try to turn into something more coherent and structured. Or I read a story and get inspired by some element within it. Or I watch a movie and decide that a certain character would be worth exploring. Basically, my mind is like a weird sinkhole for creativity; things get caught in the muck there and don’t get unearthed for ages.

9. What advice would you give a fledgling writer just starting on the path to building their own novel?

Think about every story you’ve ever enjoyed and think about why you enjoyed it. Was it a character? A specific storyline? Something within that story called to you. Take that tiny seed and bury it in your own work. With enough dedication and love, it’ll bloom. It’s my personal belief that stories should offer something to the reader, and I want all writers to consider that before they ever start putting words down.

10. A new writer is suffering with writer’s block. What advice would you give them to break through?

I have no idea if what works for me works for anyone else, but what I tend to do is walk away from the story for an afternoon. I go see a movie, or reread my favorite book, or immerse myself in a video game. When I get fired up about someone else’s work, I tend to come back to mine with new enthusiasm.

On your Book

1. Tell the readers about what makes your book unique.

A lot of fiction for teen girls is focused on the romance aspect, which I really have very little interest in. Visioner is an adventure story for girls, which is something I don’t think we get to see often. My protagonist, Mira, is snarky and violent and impulsive—which are not always endearing traits in a fifteen-year-old—and her journey is about learning the difference between being assertive and being abrasive. This isn’t about someone else finding her loveable, but about her discovering her own identity. Plus, there are aliens and mages and seers and missing moms and magic portals to other worlds, which force Mira to confront a lot of her previous notions of the nature of things.

2. What do you love about your protagonist? What do you hate about them?

I love Mira’s willingness to fight for the things she believes in and the people she cares for. I absolutely hate how insensitive she can be, though, and how she often doesn’t think about the consequences of her actions before she does them. She’s the equivalent of your friend who’ll get in a guy’s face for looking at you wrong, but then end up in the hospital because she tried to fight someone three times her size. I write so many of her scenes while wincing.

3. Who would you want to play your protagonist in the movie adaptation of your book?

Someone unknown, I think. Who did the casting for the Harry Potter movies? As far as movies-based-on-books go, they did pretty well for that series.

4. Are you planning on continuing the story with a sequel and/or series?

Yep! It’s a five-book series. I know the titles and very general storylines for each one. Visioner is book one, with Ravager the working title for book two. All of the books follow Mira’s journey, so we really get to see how much she grows emotionally across the series.

5. Is there anything else you want readers to know?

I am highly invested in fiction for teenage girls, particularly fiction which does not dwell on a single, defining romance as the pinnacle of the girl’s existence. I want to produce books where the girls go on quests, encounter challenges to their worldview, face their deepest fears, and come to terms with their identities as people, where they take their destinies into their own hands and don’t allow others to dictate their place in the world. I want to write the sort of adventure stories for girls that stories for boys take for granted. There are hundreds of books for teen girls that focus on romance; I want to write books for the readers who want something else.

 

Visioner cover

Excerpt from Visioner:
The scent of burning skin overfilled Mira’s nostrils and stuck in the back of her throat. She coughed and spat, trying to expel the smoke from her airways. At least the coughing kept her from spending too much time looking at the bodies beside her. As it was, her eyes seemed magnetically drawn to the burnt corpses that littered the field. It was a struggle not to indulge in her curiosity and outright stare; she resorted to quick looks every few seconds just to take the edge off.
Mira’s hands were shaking, so she curled her fingers into her palms and took a deep breath. She was disturbed to discover that she was getting used to the burning smell in the air, but decided that at least she wasn’t vomiting or passing out. She took a few more deep breaths and steeled herself for the search for Ry; standing here fighting a panic attack wouldn’t do anything to find him.
Her gaze lifted from the bodies on the ground to the horizon. There was a line of trees in the distance. No one else was standing upright, which made Mira feel as exposed as a metal pole in a lightning storm. Where was everyone else? Or, for that matter, why were there only human bodies on the field if the Draykure weren’t human? The skin on the back of her neck prickled as she wondered if the Draykure had already removed their dead. And if they were still around to notice her.
That settled it: she needed to find Ry and get out of there. If her best friend was anywhere on the field, he was keeping a low profile. And as much as Mira wished she could do the same, she knew that it was already impossible; she’d spent too much time in the open to worry about stealth now.
“Ry!” Mira’s voice didn’t carry as far as she would have wanted, so she tried again. “Ry!” The end of her scream came out panicked and warbling, like the scream of a child.
There was no answer. Had Syneth even really sent Ry through? If Mira had to walk a path to get here, it seemed unlikely that Syneth could have just thrown Ry into Avrym. She was starting to feel like she’d been tricked into leaving Earth, and a new wave of rage swelled in her stomach. She should have stopped and asked more questions before letting Syneth scare her into this route.
She tried shouting a third time, then a fourth, but if Ry was anywhere nearby he wasn’t answering. “Okay,” she said aloud, trying to calm herself down. “You can do this, Mira. Ry’s not here, so you have to move to those trees. Just take a step.”
Talking to herself made it easier to step over the first corpse in her way. “Okay, good,” Mira said, injecting all the false cheeriness she could into her voice. “Keep going.”
With each step she took, Mira complimented and cajoled herself. Now that she was walking, it was impossible not to look at the bodies beneath her feet. Some were missing facial features, eyes burned out of their sockets and noses and lips all but melted away. Hair was half-crisped if it was visible at all. Leather and fabric was all but indistinguishable from the skin it had fused to. Flies, reddish-orange in the afternoon sunlight, swarmed over every available surface. It was all so overwhelming that Mira just wanted to sit down and cry.
She wished that the grassy field beneath her feet was empty. That the almost-purple sky above her wasn’t filled with the sound of wings and the crow-like call of some scavenging bird. That she could take a breath without breathing in dead people. It was hard to be excited about visiting an alien world when she was staring at dead things. As it was, all she wanted to do was find Ry and go home.
Every so often, Mira’s foot would kick into one of the corpses as she stepped, sending up a flurry of the red flies. They knocked into the backs of her hands, prompting Mira to jerk around to shoo them away. She didn’t want anything to do with bugs that had touched dead bodies. As she walked and waved away the flies, her speeches to herself became more hurried and less cheerful. She berated herself for her slow pace, or for disturbing a body, and tried to talk her legs into moving faster. The trees were a lifetime away, locked beyond a sidewalk of the dead.
She was about halfway to the trees—was that the forest Syneth had mentioned, or just a bunch of trees?—when her foot kicked against another corpse. To her horror, it moaned and shifted. “Oh, shit!” she screamed, jerking backwards away from the now-moving and crying figure.
Her first thought was that the body had reanimated and was now a zombie. When she saw its chest rise and fall, though, it seemed more likely that it was a living person. Still, she wanted to run and escape the pained cries of the thing at her feet. She’d never been good with pain—hers or anyone else’s—and she sure wasn’t equipped to help a burn victim. Its hand, however, had fastened weakly on her ankle, and shaking it loose and running seemed like exactly the wrong thing to do.
The burned person was repeating something over and over in a language Mira didn’t recognize. It was impossible to mistake the tone, though, and it was clearly a plea for help. If Ry were here, he’d help without a second thought. She’d never be able to look him in the eye again if she walked away now.
Gritting her teeth and ashamed at her own desire to keep moving, Mira forced herself to kneel down. The burn victim was young—perhaps eighteen or nineteen—and wasn’t as badly burned as the other bodies Mira had seen. She could tell it was a young man, with dark eyes and black hair cropped close to his head. The skin that wasn’t burned was a dark olive tone. He was wearing a number of thick clothes and a set of leather armor, but it had been burned down to the skin in some places and looked more like Swiss cheese than adequate covering. He continued to whimper and moan, fingers clutched around the hem of Mira’s pant leg as if to keep her from escaping.
The largest of the young man’s burns ran from the left side of his chest down and across to his right hip. Here the leather of his armor had been completely burned away, as had most of the shirt beneath, leaving the raw wound open to the air. It was about the width of Mira’s hand, wetly red and slightly blistered. A few more scattered burns dotted his legs and arms, but none of these had the same intense appearance as the big burn. Though each looked fresh and painful, none seemed to be immediately threatening his life.
He said something to Mira in a foreign tongue. The words had an Italian sound to them, like Syneth’s accent, but Mira didn’t speak Italian. She shook her head and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
His hand twitched on her pant leg, then dropped. “Anglish?” he asked Mira. “You speak Anglish?”
She couldn’t believe she was hearing a familiar language on an alien planet. “I…uh…yeah!” she stammered. “Yes, I speak English!”
“Good. Good. I know a little.” He twitched his fingers towards his body. “Isaac.”
“I’m Mira.”
“Mira. Need help. Please. Help.”
Mira rocked back on her heels a bit. Isaac must have taken this as a sign she was preparing to leave, because his fingers wrapped around her left wrist and held on tight. His dark eyes stared into hers pleadingly as his head shook from side to side. She suddenly felt like she was a life preserver and Isaac was trying to keep from drowning.
“Hey, hey, I’m not going anywhere,” she said, patting his hand. “My legs are cramping, that’s all.”
Isaac nodded, but his grip didn’t release. “Help,” he repeated. “Please.”

 

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

night-circusTitle: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Anchor Books

Publication Date: July 1, 2012

Amazon Page

Rating: 5/5 stars

Recommended to: Lovers of fantasy, fans of magical realism, readers who wish to fall in love with vibrant characters.

I had heard about this book in reading circles for a while, but it wasn’t until it was selected as the November book in my book club that I really got a chance to sit down and read it.

I have to say I was completely enchanted by the world of this book, but it was the bravery of point of view that first piqued my interest.  This book slides from second person to third person throughout the novel, and as a writer I know how difficult it is to write in second person so I was immediately impressed.

Morgenstern creates a mysterious world you want to know more about, and much like the night circus itself, the book unfolds it’s mysteries one act at a time.  At the heart of the book is a simple premise:  Two magicians challenge each other to a game where they pit their apprentices against one another until one is deemed the victor.  The story is much richer than the sum of its parts though, and by the end of the tale you are as invested in the characters within the story as you are in the magical circus itself.

Thematically I would summarize this book as “the Prestige meets Romeo and Juliet,” but on the spectrum of Shakespearean plays, this would fall much closer to the comedy end of the continuum than the tragedy.

Presenting the new cover for Shadow of the Owl!

New-Soto-Cover-KDPThis past week I made the tough decision to seek help in designing the cover for Shadow of the Owl. I had what I considered a solid first cover, something I built using Photoshop, and it was certainly fine for a self-published ebook. But as I move toward paperback release, I figured it would be worth my money to get someone to build me a proper cover design.

I am extremely happy with how it turned out, and wanted to show it off a little.  It goes to show, it really is important that you pull in professionals on each stage of your book production.

What do you readers think of the new cover?

Twenty Questions for Twenty Authors: John Robin

This series is my excuse to satisfy my curiosity about what makes writers tick. The hope is that by exploring how writers got to their craft, how they interact with books and their process, I might learn a little more about my own.

Today’s a very special day around here.  I have the privilege to pick the brain of one of the most inspirational people I know: John Robin.  John is the author of Blood Dawn, one of the few books to successfully gain enough ground on Inkshares to reach publishing status.  More than that John is a rallying point for every writer that knows him.  There are some lightning rods that just make you want to be around them, and for me John is at the top of the list.

Here’s a little about John:

About John Robin

From the time he first looked at Tolkien’s map of Wilderland as a ten year old boy, John Robin knew he was destined to make his own world and tell stories about it. So, as he grew up and read the great fantasy epics, he began to create his own world with its own stories, history, and myths.

Over twenty years, he learned the craft of storytelling, writing three novels just for practice (unpublished), and all the while his fantasy world and unique vision as a writer ripened. The evolution of the Internet and the exciting possibilities of what technology just might do for human beings further inspired John to model his magic system and epic tale to also communicate a message about how mastery over one’s environment might change the human condition.

After working for many years in academia and adult education, John left his job to pursue a career as a full-time editor, starting his own company, Story Perfect Editing Services. He has edited more than forty stories to date.

John’s work has appeared in the Tantalizing Tidbits anthology (“One Who Waits”, a prequel short story to Blood Dawn). His novel, Blood Dawn, which he has chosen to be his debut, is the first of many stories John plans to write in a series of stand-alone novels that will follow the evolution of a world undergoing magical revolution.

On Reading

  1. What are you currently reading?

A book called “The Anatomy of Story” by John Truby. In progress, but on the backburner because of the amount of editing projects I am working on, “The Way of Kings” by Brandon Sanderson

2. Ereader or Traditional?

Both. I love my ereader for writing craft books. I love hard books for epic fantasy, where I can flip to the maps frequently.

3. What is your favorite book?

That’s a tough one. I tend to have new favorites as time goes on. Of course, I’m a big fan of the Song of Ice and Fire series and the work of George R.R. Martin, I also love the Wheel of Time, up to the eleventh book when Mr. Jordan’s passing broke my heart.

4. Why do you think reading is important?

Reading is the number one way I appreciate different ways people tell stories. Most of the things I do in my writing have come from immersing myself in other authors and getting a sense of ways they’re got their groove on with different riffs of story. I’m not an academic about it – I tend to absorb concepts more intuitively. Friends have called me a sponge. When I read, I am soaked, and I find rich story ideas come out.

(I might add as a caveat that watching TV shows or movies is as enriching an experience as reading for me, because it helps me appreciate story from a structural level. I owe a great deal of my current writing vein to watching episodes of Star Trek. But I find I’m incapable of watching any TV show or movie without thinking like a storyteller and taking home a wealth of ideas.)

5. What is the one book (other than your own) that you would recommend to others?

Game of Thrones. It’s probably the book that blew me away the most of all fantasy books. Although Game of Thrones is rooted in much more historical and realism elements than my preference for fantasy, the complexity and use of tension in character and plausible background world is just amazing.

 

On Writing

  1. What made you want to become a writer?

When I was about 8 my teacher told us all to write in our journal about something we did the previous night. I wrote about my experience working on my patient in my secret operating room and was sad that they didn’t make it. I even included an illustration. I didn’t understand why I was put in the hall and scolded; the teacher wanted me to write about my life – a simple assignment – but I wanted to write a story.

I started writing stories after that, and never stopped. I was always the boy in the back of the room drawing picture or writing stories. If you ask my uncle, who remembers earlier in my life than I do, I was telling stories before I could write them.

2. Why do you write?

I write to transform. Life feels like a limiting set of experiences. Writing, however, is an arena where I can take this all deeper. When I write, I feel like I’m tapping into some sort of higher mind that branches out from my own and connects me to all the collective experiences of others. I sit down and my cursor is blinking, and I’m sitting like a shaman in between this world and the next, calling forth something else. There’s nothing more exciting and thrilling that when that something else is happening, and, no matter where on earth I might happen to be, I’m in this beautiful limbo stuck between two worlds. That’s writing, and that’s why I do it: to translate and bring something much greater than life into a world that is otherwise so mundane.

3. What was the first thing you wrote?

Journal entry (above) aside, my first story was about two brothers who discover a shack haunted by an interdimensional monster. I was 10, and the story was meant to be for a competition. I came in second place, but the principal liked the story so much she typed it up and read it to the class in the library – all to my surprise.

4. Which writers inspire you?

Tolkien, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin; men who’ve managed to give their all to create an epic, to live for it. To me, these men are the gods of epic fantasy.

5. Are you a planner or a seat of the pants writer?

I’m a hybrid of both. I spend a great deal of planning before, during, and after. But when I write I am always open to go in any direction. I like to think of my method of writing much like chess. You must always plan and plan every step, but you must always reassess your plan as you proceed, to account for unexpected twists that make your game better. Stories are full of surprises, and it’s been my experience that often the best touches in a story are discovered later, during writing, when I’m stuck in the thick of everything and I know my characters desperately need something. Sometimes even it comes to me during a dream or a traffic jam, and I’ll think about my story again from the new angle, and AH! yes, suddenly I see exactly what I need to do. It involves perhaps some revision and rewriting, but if it’s the thing to do, then so be it. I am a writer because I write, not because I have written.

6. What are you currently writing?

I am writing an epic fantasy novel called Blood Dawn, about a young woman who discovers she’s the long-lost daughter of a god-king, and that her inborn magical gift is the key to revolution in a darkened empire.

7. Why this particular genre?

Ever since I discovered Tolkien’s map of Wilderland, I’ve been in love with imaginary worlds. I started creating my own when I was 13, and kept at it all my life. I’ve tried writing other things, but I’m always drawn back to fantasy, back to my world that’s been developing a bit like a recycling yard. I try to leave it, but that’s a bit like diving underwater and saying I don’t need to breath anymore. I always come back.

8. From where do you glean ideas for your writing?

Everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. My mind is on my story all the time. I like to think of it like turning the dial to a certain radio station. All I have to do is get my mind there, and there are infinitely many things waiting to come out. Ideas come from experiences, but sometimes the traces are too amorphous to glean. For example, my idea for dragons in my story as a mystical rather than a physical entity is rooted in the influence of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, but I also have added in a touch of AI and Star Trek in how I define my dragons, giving me a unique approach that mixes many elements and makes them all distinct. At the end of the day, though, everything I do in my story seems to come out of this strange place where everything mixes, and I’m only aware of some ways the ideas have morphed into their current form, but the roots are so old I almost feel they vanish in the darkness of my subconscious.

9. What advice would you give a fledgling writer just starting on the path to building their own novel?

Write. Write. Write. Don’t stop, don’t worry about failure, because it’s going to happen. Just write. Love what you do. You will get better. You will always get better, as long as you keep writing. Don’t worry about writing the same thing. You won’t, because your mind is always going to be changing, and what you write is an outward reflection of what is going on inside of you.

The one caveat: kill the ego. Don’t write to be famous or don’t tote yourself as a bestselling author on Amazon, even if you get a shiny cover and the “buy now” button. This, to me, is the death of the writer. Writing is not about ego, or about proving yourself. Writing is about transformation, about giving to others a gift that just might be divine. Although we all need to eat and it’s good if we can succeed from our book sales, let that all be a milestone of success. Walk with kings and keep the common touch – if I may channel Kipling. Write, just write, and love it, more than money or anything else, because there’s going to be a lot of hardship if you want to live for writing fully and without limits.

10. A new writer is suffering with writer’s block. What advice would you give them to break through?

Sometimes I have tough writing days. I’ve been at this now for 8 years, and I can write about 6,000 words in one day, and have pulled off a big output every week for the last year. But still, there’s days where all I want to do is play computer games.

What I do to get over it is this: change your goal. Don’t think about needing to write pages or write so many words in such and such a time. Just make your goal to have your manuscript open and to sit with it. And don’t just stare at the blinking cursor (though sometime that is helpful). Move around the story. Maybe go back and read an earlier chapter. If you use Scrivener (which I would recommend to any writer!), you can move around to other files for characters or settings. In my case, I have 5 Scrivener files open which I link using a program called Window Tabs, so I can click between my file for Blood Dawn, Character, Generators (Story Arc notes), World, and Series. I have all these organized into directories and find that when I’m writing if I’m not sure what to write next, wandering around these with my story in mind quickly connects me to something. Scrivener is also great for me because it allows me to dive into earlier chapters and read over it, all while I have my present chapter open in the split pane view.

(Seriously, if you have writer’s block, switch to Scrivener. You’re on your way to killing writer’s block if you can get used to using it.)

On your Book

  1. Tell the readers about what makes your book unique.

My book is like a lighter Game of Thrones set in a pseudo-Victorian world, with a complex magic system blending in aspects of the paranormal and good old comic book mutants. Blood Dawn really just started as the story of a weaver who I knew was going to be thrust into a position where she had to become queen, and, though I borrowed from the same fantasy world I’d been writing in all my life, I found the act of writing this story brought out something else – the story as it is now.

2. What do you love about your protagonist? What do you hate about them?

I love that Rena is a mixture of timid and strong. Rena isn’t your typical Kill Bill hero. Her strength is within, and when we meet her, her conflict is that she doesn’t’ want to believe in that strength. She doubts herself, and the course of the story helps her discover how to overcome that doubt, and become great.

I don’t have anything about Rena [I hate]. She’s refreshing to write, and, like the other point of view characters, I learn so much each time I’m in her head.

3. Who would you want to play your protagonist in the movie adaptation of your book?

Probably Kate Winslet, if it’s possible to make her look twenty. Rena’s character strongly draws on the story of Queen Elizabeth I, and Galadriel in Lord of the Rings, so why not the same actress who played both?

4. Are you planning on continuing the story with a sequel and/or series?

Several, and I have them quite planned out. However, just like I said with planning, above, the plan is malleable. I only keep the series notes so that everything I set in motion will have a resolution. However, I plan to write each book as a standalone, so that if something unfortunate should happen to me, I won’t leave readers hanging. I always want to leave each book with a feeling that there is so much potential to do more, but that the story itself isn’t left hanging. Blood Dawn, for example, will end with links to a sequel – screaming links – but as a book and for all that I’ve set up with the character arcs, when it’s over, it’s over. If I never write a book again, the intrigue, and the “what lies beyond the walls?” effect will make it more intriguing – kind of like how one feels when reading Lord of the Rings.

5. Is there anything else you want readers to know?

Blood Dawn is actually my fourth novel. I’ve written three, and like to think of them like the first pancakes. You know: the frying pan is still getting heated up, and those first few pancakes don’t quite turn out. They’re yummy to the cook, but you wouldn’t serve them. With Blood Dawn, I’ve debut. I might be wrong, but I can certainly say that those first three novels, which are hidden away in my computer, helped me get to where I am now. I just learned so much!

 

Blood Dawn has just gone into production, but if you want to get your hands on a copy you can preorder it on Inkshares.  Here’s an excerpt:

john-inkshares-john robin-blood dawn

RENA

As soon as the green-eyed noble arrived at her audition, Rena focused on the threads before her. Would he recognize her, after all these years? Rena convinced herself he wouldn’t — no one here would. The secrets of her past would remain hidden. She ignored the bead of sweat on her temple and the painful ache of her shoulder lump, thinking only about the imaginary colors she saw, colors that told her which treadle to step on next. Red, green, black, white, red, green, green, white …. Pride in her work, in the endless call of the patterns, created the perfect escape for her. The blur of shifting warp threads soon hypnotized her as she deftly passed the shuttle back and forth between them, forgetting the room once more.

She blurred her eyes, the imaginary guiding colors glowing like little fires, fires of seven different hues. This Valian loom she wove on was an intricate device, regarded by most as useless because it was hopelessly complex. It was made by a technology now forgotten, a relic in collectors’ homes, and this machine had belonged to Rena’s mother. Yet when Rena came before it, she knew what to do. She merely set the warp threads into the harness spools, then opened her mind to the colors. The colors were always there, begging to be expressed. There was no planning involved. It always worked.

Her gift had been secret until she’d allowed herself to get drunk with Uncle. The fire of liquor burning in her veins, her usual restraint she felt around him vanished and she thought it about time to show him she was more than just a quiet, timid girl. Foolish — to think that greedy, conspiring Uncle Kurt would keep her secret when he saw a possibility of gain for House Arwelle. Now, it was too late; unlike a weft thread, there was no reversing the mistake that had brought her here, now, in this crowded room where she crouched before her loom, reluctantly showing off her skill before the Keldarian officials.

They’d hauled her Valian device here, into the Rector’s Hall, a few buildings from Rena’s shop. The officials had driven the Orn Monks out; ever since the occupation began, the Monks’ safe houses had become their most popular meeting places, mockery of the former god-king’s empire. Uncle had promised Rena this was only an audition to show off her skill — to reveal a useful opportunity to develop Gholheim’s textile industry — but now, in this bare room with its sparse lighting and black-and-gray tapestries that stunk of oil, with more than forty royal spectators crowded close together, scrutinizing Rena in silence, it felt like a trial. The worst part was that half of them wore obsidian robes, marking them as the tyrannical troupe of King’s men known as the elite guard.

That was the true source of Rena’s underlying fear, and the reason she did everything she could now to focus only on her work, to pretend that she was elsewhere. In Gholheim, it was illegal to be an artist. King Fyrian’s ruthless reforms, which only got worse with each moonspan, saw artists hauled away every day. The elite guard came to do inspections of shops at random, and many of them ended up with boarded-up doors and windows. Never once did they come to Rena, but even if they did, she had gone to great lengths to keep her secret.

Was she truly a criminal? Late at night, while she wove cloth secretly in her shop, it was easy to forget the danger when her passion came to life, as patterns transformed from mind to cloth. For more than a year she basked in this secret pleasure, every day coming home well after first moon. There was fear—a sliver, easy to ignore—but she was never caught. No, she hid her tracks well, and she truly believed that the one thing she loved above all—that thing considered to be wrong—was not wrong. This did not hurt people, not like the drawings had.

Rena glanced briefly to where Uncle stood next to his three noble friends. Francas was the hawk-nosed southerner, Mikas, the head of House Dulvar, was stone-faced, squinting around his monocle. And the third noble… He had joined last, his emerald eyes like glass, his face unreadable—exactly how Rena remembered him from her years of imprisonment years ago. He still had the same anchor tattoo on his left cheek and half a missing ear. Rena did not stare long enough, but even in her quick glance she saw that he was looking at her with uncanny fascination. Does he recognize me? I was still a child, and I look nothing now like I did then. Maybe he won’t remember me.

 

Looking for more information about John Robin or Blood Dawn, you can learn more at the following sources:

Website: http://www.epicfantasywriter.com
Twitter: @johnrobinrt
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/john.robin.904
Facebook lpage for Blood Dawn: http://www.facebook.com/blooddawnproject

 

 

Why do we read Fantasy?

It’s the question that’s at the heart of what we do as fantasy writers. After all, they say that you have to know your audience in order to create a compelling product for them.  So what is it exactly that gets people interested in a fantasy story?  What is it about a story with mythical creatures set in faraway lands that captures our imagination?  Is it really all just escapism — and if it is, is that escapism necessarily a negative thing?

Before I really dive into the subject, I think it’s a good idea to define what I think fantasy actually is.  There’s a lot of subgenres thrown around these days, as if it’s not enough to just write a fantasy book anymore.

My own book Shadow of the Owl was labeled as “Sword and Sorcery” fantasy when I uploaded it to the Amazon Kindle store, despite there being zero sorcery in it.  I think this tendency toward over classification is a response to the general consensus that fantasy stories aren’t strong enough as they are.  You must have something else to drive the reader to your book — it must be “epic” or “urban” or “dark”. As a writer who writes in none of these categories, I am a big believer in the alternative — that there can be a fantasy novel/story/movie that stands without a subgenre.  That we can take fantasy at face value, and find value in the magical worlds, in the human triumphs over evil, in all the new races and cultures and creatures.  That fantasy is enough all by itself.

So fantasy as a genre can contain any creative work where the rules of the world are bent in such a way that it is no longer reality.  This can mean that the fantasy is based in history, or based in science, or based in folktales — where we get most of our Disney fairy tales. Notice I said “science”.  Terry Pratchett said something surprising in his 1994 article “When Children Read Fantasy.” “As far as I am concerned,” he said, “escapist literature let me escape to the real world.” It’s fascinating to note that Pratchett viewed Science Fiction as a subset of Fantasy literature, one merely looking forward rather than backward in time.  I heartily agree with Mr. Pratchett here.  From my definition of fantasy, we see that science fiction is a derivation on the standard world, merely building upon what we know by advancing our current understanding of science.

Once you bend the rules of reality, you allow the reader to take a journey with you through what might be, or in the case of historical fantasy, what might have been.  I think of Phillip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle whenever someone brings up alternate histories.  How fascinating was it to take a stroll through a modified San Francisco (although one could argue the modifications were highly colored by Dick’s own political and racial biases) in a world where America had lost the Second World War?  I can tell you that putting that book down and looking at the world around me with its perfectly aligned historical accuracy made me truly appreciate how sometimes the course of events is just as it ought to have been. No one would enjoy living in a world where Hitler lived.

Okay then, if historical fantasy can allow us to better appreciate the world we live in, what about other types of fantasy? Melissa McPhail writes in her 2012 article “Why everyone should read Fantasy,” “Fantasy invites us to explore the best qualities of mankind, and in so doing, we cannot help but begin to look at ourselves and each other in a more healthful light.”  Fantasy stories often use the character of alternate peoples, alien races, or monsters to comment on how our society interacts with one another.

It is through reading The Hobbit that was can really understand the depth and complexity of what true courage is, because we interact with a main character from a race of notorious cowards.  But it is Bilbo Baggins, a self-proclaimed non-joiner, who faces the monster, learning about his true bravery in the process.  And from him, we learn a little more about what we might be capable of.

George R R Martin said in his essay “On Fantasy” “We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang.”  Life is filled with so much darkness these days that it’s hard to see the light until someone outside our reality shows us what is truly beautiful. Fantasy stories are perfect for this, because within them we can interact with magical creatures we never would be able to meet in real life.

I’ve talked to many people over the years specifically about what they read.  When asked if people read fantasy, some are incredibly quick to let you know that they would never read that.  As if fantasy books are somehow less than other genres because we deal in the impossible. I do believe there is a bias against fantasy books and media in our culture, and it might have to do with the negative stereotype connected with the idea of “escapism”.  Interestingly enough though, Jo Walton said “Escaping doesn’t mean avoiding reality, escaping means finding an escape route to a better place.” Looking at it in this light, escapism stops looking like a divergence from mainstream society, and more becomes a strategy with which we can navigate through the complex byways of everyday life.

Ultimately though, fantasy is the adventure of the possible.  It’s the genre that delves most eagerly into the imagination.   A.E. Marling says that “Reading fantasy gives us license to imagine things that never were and never could have been, and we revel in their impossibility.”  I think that as readers we need to explore our imaginations.  We need to connect with that childhood version of ourselves who made up languages to talk to thunderstorms and who could drive off an enemy invasion with plastic dinosaurs.

We read fantasy to escape who we are, to learn from where we’ve been, and to become who we want to be.

 

Twenty Questions for Twenty Authors: Amy Boukair

This series is my excuse to satisfy my curiosity about what makes writers tick. The hope is that by exploring how writers got to their craft, how they interact with books and their process, I might learn a little more about my own.

For the third installment, I got the chance to interview urban fantasy writer Amy Boukhair.  I met Amy during the Inkshares Nerdist contest, but it’s obvious from her writing that she’s an old hat at this whole sharing stories with others thing. First off, let’s learn a little about her.

About Amy Boukair

Amy L. Boukair is a short story author, published novelist, and an occasional poet. Her first self-published novel – the time travel romance INDIGO, was well received by readers and reviewers alike from around the world. When she’s not working on her new urban fantasy novel SHADE, she can be found working on a home improvement project, hanging out with her special needs son, or reading a novel with her golden retriever Abbey curled up next to her. You can visit her at www.amyboukair.com

On Reading

1. What are you currently reading?
I hate to admit it, but I’m always juggling several books at once!
Just finished: Veiled, by Benedict Jacka (I highly recommend the Alex Verus series if you like urban fantasy)
Current audiobook (fiction): Magic Shifts: Kate Daniels, Book 8, by Ilona Andrews (Another great series)
Current audiobook (nonfiction): The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You, by Eli Pariser
Current Kindle book: All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel, by Anthony Doerr
2. Ereader or Traditional?
Both, but especially audiobooks. There’s something about a good story being read to you by a great narrator that can’t be beat.
3. What is your favorite book?
I have to pick just one??? I have so many! If I love an author, I tend to love anything and everything they write. I like to say that my favorite book is the one I haven’t read yet. There are even some books that I wish I could unread so that I could experience the first read through again – Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman would be one; or all of the Harry Potter books.
4. Why do you think reading is important?
There are so many reasons to read – vocabulary expansion, imagination-sparking, escapism, general learning. Most importantly as a writer, reading inspires my own creativity and writing process. I can’t imagine not having books or stories in my life in some major way.
5. What is the one book (other than your own) that you would recommend to others?
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. It’s one of the most lyrical books I’ve ever read. Neil has such talent of stringing all the right words together, in the right order. It’s enviable.

On Writing

1. What made you want to become a writer?
I don’t think there wasn’t anything specific that inspired me to write. I’ve just always written. It’s part of who I am. I do know that my father read to me quite a bit when I was a child, and that triggered a deep love of stories, and the craft of creating them.
2. Why do you write?
Mostly for my own entertainment, to be honest. It’s almost a challenge to myself to see if I can finish out a thought, or craft a complicated story in a cohesive way. A lot of times it’s just to get the stories out of my head. If an idea sticks, it can be a bugger to get rid of until you write the story.
3. What was the first thing you wrote?
Ha! The first thing I wrote was a script for the TV show Fantasy Island. Of course, I never sent it in to be produced since I was only 10 or so at the time, but it’s a hoot to look back on now. Then there was a play about horses. Little girls have a thing for horses…
4. Which writers inspire you?
Again, so many! If I had to list a few in no particular order: Stephen King, Benedict Jacka, JK Rowling, Diana Gabaldon, Neil Gaiman, Dean Koontz, Ilona Andrews, Cassandra Clare, JRR Tolkien, George RR Martin, Robert Jordan… as I said, it’s a long list, and it grows daily. Pretty much anyone who has taken the time to write a story inspires me in some way.
5. Are you a planner or a seat of the pants writer?
A little bit of both, really. For my first novel, Indigo, it was mostly a seat of my pants deal. With Shade, I’m trying to be a bit more organized with an outline, but don’t let it impede the creativity. Everything is fluid.
6. What are you currently writing?
I’m still polishing Shade. I’d probably edit/revise ad infinitum if I could.
7. Why this particular genre?
I’ve always been an avid reader of urban fantasy, and I love the idea of creating my own magical world with its own rules. One of the wondrous aspects of being a writer is being able to create your own world for your characters to live in.
8. From where do you glean ideas for your writing?
Anywhere and everywhere. I remember coming up with one of the types of magic in Shade by seeing something on TV about empathy. I took that idea, turned it on its ear, and created a new form of mind manipulation magic that I’ve not seen before.
9. What advice would you give a fledgling writer just starting on the path to building their own novel?
Write for yourself, not for others. Don’t compromise your story or your ideas just to please an unknown and vague audience. Write what you would want to read. Otherwise, you’re pandering and not being true to yourself or the story. Critics will come and go, but if you don’t love what you’re writing – don’t expect anyone else to.
10. A new writer is suffering with writer’s block. What advice would you give them to break through?
Writer’s block sucks. Plain and simple. There are a few tricks to try to snap out of it – 1) Do a complete reread of the work so far. Sometimes going back over previous material sparks new ideas for a story. 2) Write something else. You may need to switch your mind to a completely new direction for a few before coming back to it. 3) Read something. Often the best inspiration can come from someone else’s words.

On your Book
1. Tell the readers about what makes your book unique.
Modern day mages can be pretty predictable nowadays. There is a standard of accepted magic, and its rules that, to be honest, is becoming boring. With Shade, I try to put a new spin on the magical world, while at the same time keeping in mind that mages are people too, with human relationships and emotions. Magic is just a bonus.
2. What do you love about your protagonist? What do you hate about them?
I love that despite her past mistakes, Shade is willing to take chances when she has to. I hate that she does tend to dwell on her mistakes, and it can shape her view of the world to her detriment.
3. Who would you want to play your protagonist in the movie adaptation of your book?
I’ll shoot for the stars and say the first choice would be Jennifer Lawrence – simply because I think she’s amazing and could really play anything. The second choice would be Chloe Bennet (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), as I think she can pull off Shade’s reluctant hero sensibility.
4. Are you planning on continuing the story with a sequel and/or series?
I would love to expand the world, and send Shade and Flynn on more adventures! I’m often asked to revisit Indigo, my first novel, and continue that series as well, so it’s nice to have options.
5. Is there anything else you want readers to know?
Just that I hope they take the time to check out some of my work. One thing about us indie authors is that we don’t have the support and backing of a huge publishing house – everything we do is grassroots, and all on our own. Any little bit of encouragement, whether it’s merely a retweet, a pre-order or purchase, or as grand as a glowing review, truly helps make it all worthwhile for us. It is a lot of unseen blood, sweat, and tears!

shade-cover

Summary: Shade Blackmore and her brother Flynn are Regulators for the Mage Guild, one of three magical guilds hidden in plain sight of our normal human world. A routine job goes awry and injures Flynn, leaving Shade a mystery to solve.

Excerpt from Chapter 4:

I give Jet a sympathetic look as I walk around the room. There is a walk-in closet on the wall opposite the French doors, and I can see a light is on inside from under the door. There could be someone hiding inside. I stop and silently motion to it, and Jet nods at me, allowing me to open the door. I tentatively pull at the shadows and can feel a slight breeze behind me as Jet also prepares an attack stance. My hand trembles slightly as I turn the doorknob and yank the door open.

Nothing. There’s nobody hiding inside. Clothes and shoes are scattered about the floor, but our attention is immediately drawn to a safe in the far wall, its door left wide open. I glance at Jet as we both silently approach the safe, neither of us has dropped our magic; unsure of the situation. For all we know, the safe could be booby trapped somehow. At this point, anything is possible.

The safe is empty except for a very old, thin wooden box. Runes are carved into the sides, but they’re not any that I recognize, and the top is open. The box itself is empty too.

“Oh boy…” Jet lets out a deep breath as she finally drops her magic. I hesitate but then do the same.

“What? What is it? What was in the box?” I don’t like the look of unease coming over her. This evening has been enough of a nightmare. I don’t need anything to add to it.

“If I’m reading it right, the box held the Stake of Banna.”

“Steak and banana, what?” I laugh nervously, unsure where the sudden urge to joke comes from. The events of the night are finally taking their toll on me, and I’m going insane. Jet stares hard at me, and there’s something in her features that scare me – she looks terrified. The hair on the back of my neck immediately stands on end.

“It’s Norse mythology, Shade,” she says, her voice steady even though I can see she’s almost trembling. “The Stake of Banna is rumored to be a sliver of the World Tree, Yggdrasil, used by the Valkyrie Kara on the battlefield to choose who lived and who died. Wielding it gives the holder access to a very powerful curse.”

“Okay, that’s definitely not cool.”

“And that’s not all,” her eyes shift back to the bedroom, “allegedly it can also be used to reincarnate the dead.”

I follow her gaze and peer out of the closet. I can still see Gary’s legs on the floor by the bed, and let out the breath I’m holding. I don’t know what I thought I’d see, but am glad he’s still there.

I don’t know about you, but I’m intrigued!  If you liked what you read here as much as I did, preorder Shade today on Inkshares.

When you begin to realize just what is going to happen to your protagonist

Today I sat down and hashed out my plot holes (read Swiss cheese), with my favorite brainstorming partner, and was able to at long last come up with a direction for Shadow of the Panther.  Keep in mind this is a book that already has two drafts in my digital trunk, and as I started the third I knew that my stakes were missing.  When asking the question “what would happen if my protagonist just left?” I wasn’t able to answer the question properly because the answer was “nothing.”  Now after today’s chat, I am able to say with confidence “everything would go to Hades in a hand basket”, and as weird as that sounds, that’s a good thing. I now know that it matters that Mylena is in this strange wonderland, it matters to her personally and to the people of the land at large.

But, as I planned out this new plot, something triggered in me and I began to weep.  This poor girl has been through so much already.  She’s lost every single thing that mattered to her.  And what do I do?  Dangle the only desire she truly has — that of a safe home — in front of her like an emotional carrot, and then rip it from her.

I’m so sorry Mylena.  I know exactly how this feels, and what you will go through, but I promise that by the end of this you will be a stronger person with a clear future ahead of her.  But right now, I feel like a really bad person.