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Devil in the Details

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Writing about a culture other than your own can provide more than a few complications. I a pure fantasy setting, the author has more control and, so long as he is consistent, can tweak things a bit and make it work. However, when we use a real culture to base our story on, and where a member of that culture may pick up and read your story, we had better get the details right. Unless…

My protagonist is half-Apache, a native american tribe that lives in the southwestern United States and into Mexico. His father was a tribal holy man and taught my protagonist the ways of spiritual medicine. During this instruction a ritual takes place to help my protagonist find a spiritual guide. The spirit guide helps an individual travel along life’s ever changing path. The spirit guide turns out to be “Snake”. This is where things get dicey.

I had written about three-quarters of the story before I found out how Snake is viewed in the Apache culture. The Apache see Snake as a very negative spirit. Often seen as evil, the Apache people will distance themselves from anything related to Snake. Whether it is the real creature, an image, a vision, or a story, Snake is Very bad medicine.

When I first made this discovery, I began to panic. Thinking I would need to rewrite whole sections to either change the spirit guide to something else, or change his tribe to something that looked favorably on the Snake. Instead of jumping off a cliff, I decided to go ahead and finish the first draft without making huge changes. I tried very hard to not let this knowledge guide the story in any way.

After the required cooling off period once the first draft was finished, I did a quick read through and a second read through where I jotted down the more glaring issues and holes. During the second time through, it hit me that the main character was still a little flat.Along with this I was leaning toward changing his tribal lineage.

Then while I was discussing a similar topic with my brother, it dawned on me that the answer to my flat character was right there. The fact that an Apache shaman has Snake as a spirit guide would add several layers of conflict for the character.

So not counting the major conflicts he faces throughout the plot line, he has to deal with being a half-breed, an Apache with Snake as a guide, and his job makes him walk the line between the normal world and those who use magic.

Now I have a character with more than a little color. Yes, I have to add a few sections to exacerbate and the situation, but it will definitely make for a more memorable character.

This turned out to be one of those details that worked out in the end. However, I am more careful about performing research on areas that I am not 100% sure of.

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Write what you know?

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“Write what you know!”

Almost every ‘How To’ book on writing preaches this advice. For most non-fiction writers, this is sound advice usually is taken straight forward. Whether it is memoir, historical, How-to or any number of other topics, you should write about things that you know something about, are interested in or even want to know more about. It gives the reader a feeling of comfort knowing that the author isn’t just pulling information out of a hat.The author’s ‘expertise’ adds weight to the written words.

However, this advice can be very interesting advice when given to a fantasy fiction writer. Few of us routinely wield a sword or cast a magic spell. Fewer still have actually passed through a portal to find themselves in another realm where dragons, elves, wizards, and goblins walk the land. Most of the individuals that I have met who have taken the aforementioned journey are either sitting quietly in a catatonic state because they have left their material bodies behind. Or, they are unable to write about their journey because the medication they are given makes writing anything except their name difficult. So, how does a modern author use this advice and write about what they know?

Fantasy is created in one’s imagination. So, having a vivid imagination is a standard prerequisite. Those of us whose teachers wrote on our report cards that we spent too much time staring out the windows daydreaming were pretty good candidates. However, to draw a reader into your fantasy story, there has to be some measure of reality. Something familiar. Maybe it’s making a campfire, baking a loaf of bread, riding a horse, dressing a wound, or bartering with a merchant at the local farmer’s market. These types of skills obtained in modern society, can be easily converted to a fantasy story and in doing so, bring a sense of realism to the reader, drawing them into your world. If you are lucky enough to have hobbies like, archery, martial arts, herbalist, camping, astronomy, Chemistry, or being some form of entertainer, you have real expertise in areas that can easily be incorporated into a fantasy setting.  Your knowledge will, if used moderately and with skill, add authenticity to your world,

Another excellent source of knowledge for the fantasy writer is to have been immersed in a culture foreign to their own. Dealing with language, customs, food, clothing, and belief differences gives the writer unique insights and tolls to use when describing their world to the reader. Not only the differences themselves, but the feelings of having to deal with a foreign culture is a form of expertise that can be invaluable to the author.

If you still are not sure that you ‘know’ anything, here is an exercise to help you. Get a pad of paper and a pen, Give yourself 30 minutes to and hour of uninterrupted time. Write down things that you know about. Leave nothing out whether you think they can be related to your story or not. Start with your education. What did your like or do well at in school? What sports or social activities did you participate in? What did you do after school for fun? How did you fill your time during summer vacation? What did you do on the weekends? What do you do to relax, What do you do for fun? List places you have traveled to. What did you do there? What experiences did you have? What was the food like? Music? Dress? How did you feel being the outsider? What do you do for employment? Be specific and list tasks you perform. What are your hobbies? What are your chores around the house? By now you should be getting a very long list of things where you have some level of knowledge. Maybe even expertise. Keep this list handy and refer to it often to remind yourself that you do know something!

A very short list of my interests and knowledge base, that I use regularly when writing, includes: Cats, Native American Spirituality, Archery, knife-making, emergency medicine, herbal remedies, gardening, contingency planning, woodsmanship and fishing. My actual list filled two pages of a legal pad.

Now that you have determined that you do know something, look at the list and think about how you knowledge can be used to help strengthen your story. Maybe you need to add skills to one or more of your characters. Maybe you should add detail to your descriptions of scene.

NOTE: A word of caution! Adding too much detail about mundane tasks is a sure way to lose your reader. Remember that not everyone cares how many coals are required to bake peach cobbler in a cast iron dutch oven. (I seem to recall it was eleven on the bottom and seven on top. it has been a long time.)

Add just enough detail to add realism. If the details are important to your story then you have a little more leeway. Your beta readers or writing group can help you with how much is the right amount.

So, don’t be shy. Write about what you know. You know a great deal!

Let me know what you know. I’d love to hear it.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in Thoughts on Writing

 

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Inspiring Spaces

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As part of a blog hop run by Cate Russell-Cole, I was tagged by a wonderful lady named Jade Reyner, to share spaces that inspire me to write. Notice I did not say writing spaces. These are two different things for me. I posted about one of my three writing spaces back in June 2012 in a View of the Room. This is actually my home office where I do my day job one day a week and when I’m on call. It is full of inspiration and I love to be in this room even though oddly, it is not where I do most of my writing.

Reference and reading room

Reference and reading room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have another writing room that houses most of my reference library, a comfortable chair for reading, and several paintings created by a friend who was inspired by one of my short stories. However, the spaces that inspire me to write are rarely indoors.

Inspirational View

Inspirational View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those who follow this blog know that I spend a great deal of time at my cabin. And, if you read back through my posts, you will find numerous references to the lake, the weather, and the fauna who allow me to interact with them. I find that nature inspires me more than anything else. When I get stuck, lost, frustrated, etc., going back to nature sets things right. The change of seasons triggers different moods that translate easily to the page.

Treasure trove of inspiration.  en.Wikipedia.com

Treasure trove of inspiration. en.Wikipedia.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another source of inspiration are the numerous antique and junk shop excursions the Domestic CEO drags me invites me to join her on. Seeing the odds and ends of eras long gone, fires my imagination. I see a vase or a chair and I wonder where they have been? Who owned them? What type of house was it? Why did the owners part with the object? You can easily see where this line of thinking takes me.

Anyway, All my teachers used to say that I liked to daydream and look out the window. That’s where my inspiration was all along.

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2014 in Musings and Odd Thoughts

 

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A Renewal Accord

Courtesy of Free-picture.net

Courtesy of Free-picture.net

Two years ago, today, I posted the inaugural Welcome Post on this blog. Within minutes, Teschoeborn was the first to Like and comment. Truthfully, I about fell out of my chair when I saw the comment notification light come on. She was also a newbie and we said we would support each other as neither one of us knew what to expect. Little did I know just how much support I could expect from the world at large.

In the beginning, I thought this blog would be about writing and the journey of becoming a published author. As usual the best laid plans… I have virtually met some fascinating people from around the world, many I consider my friends. That is not trivial for me to say.

The blog has covered topics ranging from writing craft, to real space adventures involving the MAVEN project, to creating longer arrows for a traditional bow, to poetry, to eagles, and even a fish story. Not quite what I had in mind when I started.

As I look back, it occurs to me that the blog has done exactly what it was supposed to. It shows the journey. The only constant in life is change.One of my favorite sayings supports this constant. “This too shall pass.”

My approach to reading other blogs has changed as well. At first it was mostly new writers and a few legitimate profession writers. These days I spend time on poetry blogs, photography, editors, Olympic athletes, and blogs by classical musicians. I recently read my first romance novel. notice how I buried this information deep in the post. 😉 I’ve written reviews and critiques of published works. All in all a very interesting journey.

In the midst of one of the coldest winters in recent Minnesota history, I reflect on the purposes of winter, rest and renewal. I have learned to cherish time off. I guard it like Ft. Knox. I no longer take rest or afternoon naps (when I can take them) for granted. You will too as age sneaks up on you.

And so, I am renewing my blog for another year. WordPress offered me two years for the price of one but I’m not sure I can commit to two years. Seriously, I am looking forward to sending out my posts and reading yours. As Mr. Miaggi would say, “You and I will make sacred pact. I promise to write blogs that are at least somewhat interesting. That’s my part. Your promise to read them and comment. That’s your part.” Good. We have an accord.

Now it’s nap time. See you in two hours!

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2014 in Musings and Odd Thoughts

 

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And then the trouble starts! A and W Part VII

This is a scene from a story that started as a writing exercise, My Scene. It is a series of flash pieces that are the beginnings of my current WIP.. This scene happens later in the story than the previous posts though it didn’t start that way. It just made sense as I wrote it that it would be more of a turning point.  This will probably be the last installment I post of this story for a variety of reasons. Mostly, I don’t want you to see too much more of it before it starts going into revision.

A quick background: I am Derek Nantan, a North American Marshal in the service of the Pentacle. My territory ranges from the continental divide in the west to roughly Chicago in the east. I was tasked with helping Amy Hatcher, an Oscar-winning actress, by ridding her of a stalker that a local shaman suspects to be a warlock.

The door rolled open a foot on well oiled tracks. Even so, it made more noise than I would have liked. I slipped through the opening and into the darkness beyond. The faint scent of burning chocolate over the smell of horses and manure, told me someone or something was using magic. There was a pale green glow coming from the stables. It provided just enough light so I could pick my way through the vehicles and equipment stored at this end of the barn.  

I passed by the tack room and as I approached the stables, I saw a horse rear up in its stall. However, I didn’t hear any sound at all coming from the stables. I stayed close to the wall on my left side. My stalking walk was all but silent under the worst of conditions so, I was not worried about being heard. The horse continued to buck and crash into the sides of the stall until one of the stable gates opened and a man stepped out into the glow. His shoulders stood above the top of the gate and from that distance he seemed tragically thin. Long dark hair partially covered an angular face as he walked toward me. The grey sweatshirt hung from his shoulders and barely reached the top of his torn jeans. His long strides brought him within a few feet before he stopped and considered me.

“Howdy,” he said with a voice that resembled Lurch from the Adams Family. “Can I help you?”

The air now smelled like I had fallen into a vat of burnt chocolate. The hair on the back of my hands and neck was at full attention. Whoever this was, he was bad news in spades. I smiled and tried to show him I was relaxed when inside, every muscle and tendon was vibrating like a guitar string. I drew power up through the orb in my right hand and prepared a proper welcome if it came to that.

“Hi, I’m looking for Ramone,” I said, not wanting to give him any real names.

“That’s me,” he said as he smiled and took a step toward me.

He began to stretch out his hand towards me when two things struck me. First, his hands were much too large for his frame. And two, his teeth looked like they had been sharpened with a file.

“I don’t think so,” I said as I took a step back. 

His hand flashed up toward my throat. Somehow he had gotten much closer to me than I remember him being. My orb pulsed and my left hand caught his wrist a few inches short of his target. The speed and strength the orb provided was barely enough to keep him away. His eyes flashed red as he glanced down at our interlocked hands. His fingers straightened and instantly grew into foot long talons that tore through my shirt and plunged deep into my shoulder. The orb fell from my hand as all feeling drained from my right hand. I pushed with my left hand which still held his wrist and twisted away. The talons shredded the front of my shirt and tore lines across the flesh or my chest.

He chuckled as I looked down at my ruined shoulder. My orb lay on the floor between us. The talons were gone and he motioned for me to come to him. I took the opportunity and drew my knife. Made from meteor metal and enchanted by the kachinas, it was the other gift my father gave me the day before mother murdered him. With my right arm all but useless, I held the knife in my left hand with the blade forward to give me a little more reach. 

“Come mageling,” he said, looking at the orb. “Was it you who called me?”

“Who are you and why are you here?” I asked, trying to by some time.

He smiled and circled to my right. “I told you. I’m Ramone and someone called to me.”

He moved so fast, I barely had time to bring the knife around. His left hand with talons extended, tore into my right thigh. My knife caught his arm as he went past me and sliced a gash from his wrist to his elbow. Unfortunately, the knife blade caught on a bone and was ripped from my hand. His unnatural roar shook the beams of the barn. He spun and back-handed me across the forehead. The force of his blow snapped my head to the side and stars exploded before my eyes. I felt myself hit the ground. Pain flashed down my arm as I rolled over several times trying to get some distance from my attacker. I looked up through foggy eyes to see walking toward me. He seemed bigger from this angle and talons had replaced both of his hands. He flexed his left arm and dark liquid flowed from the wicked gash my knife had made.

“Time to die, mageling,” He said, as he raised his right hand to strike. 

I squirmed to get my left arm out from underneath me and bring it up in a feeble attempt to block the oncoming blow. My hand came free from beneath me and bumped into my orb. I grabbed it and looked up again expecting the talons to rip my head from my neck. 

When you are in a struggle for your life, time slows down. Maybe it’s adrenaline. Maybe it’s heighten senses. Either way, It is amazing to experience.

The muzzle blast from a large-bore rifle fired in an enclosed space is painful. The sound of the blast hit my ears as the chest of the man standing over me exploded over my head. Before he could react, a second explosion tore away a portion of his right shoulder. The force of the second round spun the man away from me. I looked at the direction of the barn door and saw Ben levering another round into a Winchester lever-action rifle. The taloned man looked down at his wounds and screamed with rage as a third bullet hit his thigh. He turned as if nothing was wrong and charged toward me. Ben’s Winchester roared again but the bullet missed its mark. That was okay because he had given me the time I needed.

My orb pulsed in my hand. The sound from the rifle’s muzzle blast was created by waves of energy moving outward from the gun. I redirected that energy through the orb, condensed it, shaped it into the form of a bighorn ram’s head and sent it into Mr. Talon’s chest just as he was about to eviscerate me. At that range, I could hardly miss. The full force of the spell hit him. All of the air and most of the blood in his lungs exploded out of his mouth and sprayed me with ichor. The force of the spell propelled him up and slammed his back into the steel I-beam that supported the barn’s roof twenty feet above the floor. The ominous crack of vertebrae shattering gave me a moment’s hope as the crumple body dropped back to the floor. 

I rolled to my knees in time to see Ben fire another shot that missed. Looking back at where the body had landed, I was dumbfounded as the man slowly stood up. I heard more cracking, as if bones were grating across each other. I began to gather energy in preparation for another spell. He made it into a crouch and glared at me. He hissed and ran toward Ben and the door out. I sent a burst of energy to create and barrier across the barn to trap him but I misjudged his speed and wall went up behind him as he raced toward Ben. 

I watched in helpless horror as the man barely slowed down as he went past Ben, talon raking across Ben’s neck. Ben was scrambling to reload the Winchester and didn’t see blow that separated his head from his neck. He probably didn’t feel it. His head fell forward and his body slowly toppled to the side. I slumped to my side. My shoulder and leg burned. My head throbbed. I closed my eyes.

If you are interested in reading the previous scenes, check them out at, Actress and the Warlock Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V, Part VI. .

 
 

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The Next Big Thing X 2

It’s the little things that we pass along to others that can mean the most. Back in October, I was tagged for the Next Big Thing. It was a pat on the back from another blogger who thinks my work is of note and wanted to hear more about. The person tagged then asked to offer up details about their current WIP. In October, I answered the questions based on my WIP novel. Amazingly, Corey M.P. tagged me again a week or so ago. As I am also working on a shorter unrelated story, I will provide some additional information on that.

Rules of The Next Big Thing:

*Use this format for your post
*Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
*Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Here goes.

What is the working title of your book?
Actress and the Warlock

Where did the idea come from for the book?
It’s genesis was a flash writing exercise during a writer’s group meeting. The character seemed interesting and I thought that combining fantasy and western genre’s was different. Since it started as a flash, I decided to try to write the rest of it the same way. So, I set the timer and write the next section as fast as I can without editing. After the time is up I go back and clean it up a bit, though I don’t do a full edit. That will come when it is done.

What genre does your book fall under?
Contemporary Fantasy

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’m not up on the younger actors names so I don think I can answer this one.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Derek Nantan, a North American Marshall for the Wizard King, tries to rid a famous actress of a stalker and finds himself in the fight of his life against an old Warlock who wants to add the actress to his Oscar-winning collection.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Haven’t given this much thought as yet. I will probably pursue an agent.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? May we see an intro?
Currently unfinished. The target date for first draft completion is March 2013. The draft sections are available In the Short Story section of my blog.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
“Tricked” by Kevin Hearne

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My brother-in law gave me a few westerns to read and always liked the western United States. For some unknown reason, when I started the original Flash, I knew it would be in New Mexico. I write fantasy and enjoyed the mechanics of the western genre. So I thought, why not try to combine the two.

 What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I try to mix Native American spirituality with other magic systems. It should make for some interesting story lines.

Here are some of the next big things I tagged previously:

Scott Weber because I really like your writing and I appreciate your constructive critique.

4amwriter because I thought Treasures was terrific and I want to read more of your work.

Shannon M Howell because a short first draft piece she posted and said would not make her final MS was better than my third revision. 🙂

Robin Coyle Because if you have not found her yet, you should!

 
6 Comments

Posted by on January 21, 2013 in Other Strangeness

 

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Room to Write

Twelve years ago, my wife and I purchased our current home with the idea that it was a blank canvas that we could make into our own. All the walls were white. Okay off-white, the previous owners were all chain smokers. Fixtures were mostly gold finish and worn out. The carpet reeked for dogs and cigarette smoke. The yard was a mess with sparse grass and one lonely peony in the back yard. So a few months ago we finally began work on the last room, my study/writing room.

I asked the CEO of my domicile what she wanted to do with this room. Her reply stunned me, “Whatever you want to do. It is your room and I want you to be happy with it.” God bless this woman who let’s me live with her!

Immediately, I started to fantasize about all sorts of interesting, and expensive, things we could do to give me the room of my dreams. However, she doesn’t call me “The Dream Squasher” for nothing. I am the CFO of the domicile so I am well aware of what I can and cannot spend. So, many of my dreams vanished into a puff of smoke. 😦

That’s okay, I am a list maker so I started to make a list of necessities: Desk with ample room to spread out notes and journals, comfortable chair, laptop computer with external oversized monitor and external keyboard, shelves for books that I cannot part with, oak 4-drawer file cabinet (new purchase), stereo system and wide variety of music (that’s a whole different post), soft overhead lighting, views of our backyard waterfall garden and side yard japanese garden, and a bulletin board for story-boarding.

Then comes the accessories (no new purchases): Bison skull, prints by Bev Doolittle, swords and knives I have made and collected, longbows, quivers and arrows, collection of Native American pottery, portrait of the CFO in his renaissance costume, medicine bag, antique cuirass, English war hammer, various (fantasy, Celtic, Native American) sculptures, and most important a photograph of the CEO.

It took about two months to finish it but it is now my very favorite room in the house. Unfortunately, I have been unable to use it much due to other life altering events keeping me away. The good news is the sea has calmed somewhat and I am spending more time in my new sanctuary. The words are beginning to flow more freely.

I still write during my lunch hour but I find myself daydreaming about sitting behind the three feet of oak and listening to my favorite russian composer. Ah…pure bliss.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2012 in Other Strangeness

 

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