Eleven things I learned from fairy tales

I decided to go on a fairy tale binge recently, so I picked up the Red Fairy Book. Such a delightful bunch of stories! And some of them have an oddly deep look at human psychology. So, here’s what I learned:

  • Towers. Useful for locking up cursed/doomed/otherwise troublesome princesses. Very rarely do princes get locked in towers.
  • Evil is ugly. An ugly person is nearly always evil. Sometimes good can appear ugly, but never for very long.
  • Good is beautiful. A beautiful person is always good. Sometimes evil can appear beautiful, but never for very long. There’s an interesting dichotomy about clothes here, too. A suffering princess dressed in rags can be given beautiful clothes when her goodness wins the day. But it was always her inner moral goodness that made her beautiful in the first place.
  • Princesses. These girls have all the problems. They get cursed, they make bad choices, they get curious about that one locked door in the castle that Dad told them never to open … yeah. They always land in the moral problems.
  • fairytale-art-fairytale-painting
    Painted by Amanda Clark
  • Princes. These guys have a different set of problems. Their challenges are almost always physical. They have to slay trolls, overcome puzzles, outwit evil enchanters, and find how to sneak into the towers where the princesses are locked up. There was one very interesting story about a very good prince who was a hunchback who was locked in a tower. Over a series of adventures, he is healed and made to look as beautiful as he was on the inside. This was the one exception to the Evil is Ugly example I’ve found so far.
  • Trolls. These guys always have multiple heads. They also carry a flask of some kind that instantly heals you. So if you have to fight a troll and you’re grievously injured, just find his flask and rub some of his oil on you. Corollary: sometimes the flask grants super strength instead, when you need to lift a truly enormous sword in order to fight the troll.
  • Horses. Whenever they appear, they’re almost always magical. Often they talk or have amazing super powers of travel. If a horse says something to you, he’s always right. Do what he says.
  • Other animals. If an animal begs for you to spare its life and it’ll repay you later, DO IT. If they give weird advice, like pick an acorn from yonder tree and whack the trunk three times with a willow twig, DO IT. If they say not to share your food with the prince, DO IT.
  • Fairies. Fairies are basically angels. They come to test mortals and see how good they are. If the mortal passes the test, they’re rewarded with all kinds of gifts, curses lifted, ugliness removed, etc. If they fail, they have toads come out of their mouth for the rest of their life.
  • Witches. They can turn into things. Inanimate objects. Animals. They’re always evil and scheming, kind of the antithesis of a fairy. Bad fairies and witches are about the same.
  • Wicked stepmothers. The main antagonist of fairytales. These are women who marry a dude who had kids from his previous marriage. The stepmother proceeds to abuse her step-children to the point of actively trying to murder them. See: Graciosa and Percinet. (I think, in the metaphorical sense, Graciosa IS murdered at the end.)

So that’s what I learned from my fairy tale binge. I kind of want to write some fairy tale adapts now. 😀

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Sneak peek at Malicious

Ah, the Puzzle Box trilogy. It was supposed to be published, all three books, in one year. And then I got pregnant. Here we are, two years later, with the final book almost ready to launch. I’m aiming for November, since I’m still deep in revisions before I hand it off to my poor editor.

It’s a YA paranormal romance trilogy that I wrote after reading way too many paranormal romances. I was tired of the girl never having any inkling that vampires or werewolves existed until her new, alluring boyfriend flashed a fang. I mean, really? How can a girl exist in this world without ever having seen a vampire on TV?

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So Libby, my heroine, is what they call genre-savvy. She plays videogames and reads fantasy books. She pegs Mal as a vampire straight off, even though he’s a different kind of monster. (White skin – check. Super speed – check. Unusual strength – check. Never seems to eat food – check.) Later on, when she finds out that he’s a lich, she knows what that is because of videogame knowledge. Same for other monsters like revenants, ghouls, zombies, and so on. Mal is always astonished at her knowledge. And all she does is play videogames.

Mal is a lich. That means that he’s only sort of undead. His soul has been removed and stored in a container called a phylactery. He still has his mind and spirit, but the human part, with all positive emotions, are in his soul. Without it, he’s a creature of negative emotions: anger, hate, loathing, all that jazz. It also gives him massive death magic powers. But Mal never wanted to be a lich, and is desperately seeking a way to return his soul. So he keeps specially-bred bees that collect life magic from flowers and store it in their honey. By eating their honey, he can simulate human life, which keeps his death magic in check.

And then there’s the Necromancer, who is intent on turning Mal into a proper evil monster who can follow in his footsteps.

Book 1 is on sale right now at all retailers. If you’ve already read the first two books, here’s a sneak peek at the beginning of book 3, after the devastation that was the ending of book 2.

Continue reading “Sneak peek at Malicious”

Shouting into the void

Controversial topic ahead. About religion. You have been warned.

Okay, so, I’ve been reading some fantasy from Christian authors. I used to read Christian fantasy all the time as a teen, simply because that’s all I knew how to find. Our library didn’t have a lot in the way of juvenile science fiction and fantasy in the early 90s. (Boy, it sure does now!)

Anyway, once I started reading adult fantasy/sci-fi, I stopped reading the Christian stuff. I especially got into urban fantasy, where gods and monsters ride motorcycles and eat greasy Chinese food on the weekends. In this brand of fantasy, if you need to interact with God, you do it very respectfully, usually through an angel. All the other gods and monsters dislike messing with Heaven, because God is the Big Boss.

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The angel, by The Rafa

So I’ve been reading some Christian fantasy, and I’ve run into something that bothers me. These characters pray all the time, and I do mean all the time. They attribute everything that happens to God’s will. When bad things happen, they spout platitudes about God’s mysterious ways.

But they’re shouting into a void. God never answers. There might be a coincidence now and then that is attributed to God, but God himself is absent.

After spending so much time in other branches of fantasy, where the gods not only intervene in daily affairs, they all bow to the high God, who also intervenes on behalf of his worshipers … this leaves me scratching my head. A lot of these books are written by non-Christians, as far as I know. So why are the Christians the ones the most distant from their own God? God talks to people all the time in the Bible. He’s talked to me quite clearly in my own life.

Even Cthulhu will answer if called to long enough and hard enough.

So why is God silent in Christian fantasy?

 

Making art again

So I’ve been trying to make art more often, now that I have a new tablet. The littlest ones are old enough to sit and watch videos while I draw, which means I actually get to focus on my doodles.

I recently discovered the joys of texture brushes. They make painting a lot of little things, like leaves, a lot more pleasant.

Or chains.
chained-tree

I thought it might be nice to try a matte painting tutorial. The one I found turned out to use a lot of stock photos that you have to buy first, and my attempts to Google comparative images was hit and miss. I gave up, but produced this.

matte-painting-1

However, I learned a few things, I tried my hand at speedpainting a mountain scene. It’s more a study in values and atmospheric perspective than anything–both things I need to study up on.

mountain-painting-practice

Here’s the painting I did today, using these cloud brushes for Photoshop. They’re kind of odd and blocky, but they stack well with themselves. It was also fun to paint a dragonish creature there in the foreground. I’m super rusty, though. I need to get back into the swing of art.

sunset-dragon

So there you have it. My super-productive week. :-p

Love is the motive

I’ve been brainstorming up a new Sonic story. I write about one per year, and it makes my fans so happy.

Anyway, as I was figuring out the character arcs for everybody, it dawned on me that the root motive of every last character is some kind of love. And it’s funny, because it’s has almost no romance.

One character loves his sister with this obsession, because she was in stasis for years and has just recently awakened again. He’s extremely jealous of the other characters for having any contact at all with her.

The other characters are fond of the sister, except for one character, who falls in love with her magic. This is bad for him, because the magic is slowly killing him.

All of them love their home island, which has been stolen from them by the bad guy, and they’re struggling to get it back.

As I was pondering this, I started looking at other books. Who else is motivated by love? Harry Potter? (Love of friends and home.) The Railway Children? (Love of family.) Trumpet of the Swan? (Love of family.)

Apis_mellifera_-_Melilotus_albus_-_Keila

It’s interesting, because I’ve also been plotting out murder mysteries for my dragon cozy series. Murderers are motivated by everything except love: lust, greed, jealousy, pride, anger, and so on. (Is sloth ever a motivation for murder? You’d think a slothful person would be too lazy to kill anyone.)

It’s interesting to see the way things turn out. A bad motive leads to evil actions. A good motive (like love) can lead to good outcomes, except when it doesn’t. (I’m thinking of the necromancer in Malevolent who is obsessed with resurrecting his dead wife.) Or when love of one’s country (patriotism) turns to frenzied conquering of the world.

But when you have selfless, sacrificial love, you get beautiful stories like Linnets and Valerians, which I just finished reading to the kids. Four children get caught up in a series of curses and black magic that surround this little English town. They have to break the curses with the help of friendly animals and good people, who are pitted against the evil animals and people. Their love has to overcome a bitter root of jealousy that has been there for years.

Autumn_Colors_and_Boat

I think the sacrificial love stories are the ones that stick with us the longest. That’s what makes a story beautiful. The nice thing is, it has nothing to do with romance. Oh, it works in romance, too, but love is so much bigger than that.

Villains can be motivated by love, too. Love of self is the easiest one–“I’m better than everybody else so I deserve better treatment/a better spouse/more money/to rule the world.” But what if a villain is motivated by love for a person? That’s why Mr. Freeze from Batman is one of my favorite villains. Everything he does is to try to save his wife, who is frozen in stasis with incurable cancer. The motivation there is fascinating.

So, next time you write a story, see if your characters are motivated by love in some way. Pay attention to movies and TV shows. Who is motivated by love, even if it’s twisted?

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Watch out, paranormal cozy mysteries: here there be dragons

Last time I talked about five worldbuilding tricks I learned from the show Grimm. I mentioned that the reason we watched the show wasn’t for the monsters or the grisly murders–it was for the cozy character development.

While going through a stressful patch in my life a few years ago, I rediscovered the mystery genre. Particularly the cozy mystery genre. These are the stories where the heroine, usually part of a knitting club or a restaurant or a bookstore, suddenly finds a dead body. This launches her into an amateur investigation, questioning the natives of her quirky hometown, and discovering the murderer before the police do a la Hercule Poirot.

There’s a whole subset of these called paranormal cozies. Here the sleuth will be a witch of some kind, or be able to see ghosts, or be psychic in some way. Often there will be cats that talk and help her solve the mystery. Also, interviewing ghosts of the murdered always has its thrills. There will be magic, usually in small doses. But otherwise it’s the same quirky characters, the same small town, the same heaping doses of good food, books, and humor.

After reading a few piles of these, I went looking for cozies with dragons in them. “Wouldn’t it be cool,” I thought, “if the sleuth could turn into a dragon?” I’ve loved any kind of shapeshifter for years, but the shifter genre is predominantly hardcore porn these days. I’d like something lighter. Like a dragon shifter who solves murder mysteries, interviews quirky residents of her hometown, eats lots of good food, and trades zingers with her friends.

I couldn’t find any. NONE! Oh, I found every kind of witch you can imagine. I found witches + werewolves, even. But no dragons.

So I took the worldbuilding I had learned from Grimm and began building my own world.

Imagine the world of Grimm, where instead of wesen all over the place, there are a couple kinds of people who shift into dragons, or a smaller subspecies called drakes. Drakes have ice breath instead of fire. Dragons hate them, so drakes live on reservations for their own protection. Instead of Grimm, we have slayers, who can identify both kinds of shifters. But slayers don’t actually slay dragons anymore–they just see them. Sometimes they become lawyers who sue dragons, because the worst thing you can do to a dragon is to take away their horde, right?

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Male and female drake (Bruce and Tianna) looking up clues on a smartphone.

So into the middle of this interesting world comes Tianna Tokala, shy, introverted drake who takes a job in an ice cream shop in Carefree, Arizona. Her boss, a dominating dragoness, winds up dead after eating ice cream Tianna had just made. Now Tianna is not only a suspect because of her cooking skills, she’s a drake suspected of killing a dragoness, which brings in a whole extra element of intrigue. Tianna and her friends Katie and Bruce must team up to figure out the real killer before more people wind up dead. Or before Tianna winds up behind bars.

The first book, A Dragon by the Tail, will launch in a few weeks. I’ve almost finished writing the second book, and I’m mulling over the third. They’re super fun to write, and these characters and this world are totally adorable. I hope readers love them as much as I do.

drake-sheet2

Top mystery/fantasy books of 2016 (and how most of them are series)

It’s January of 2017–time for all the lists! Top ten EVERYTHING! Top fifty! Top 100! Stuff we learned last year! WOOHOO!

So, as I’ve been looking at these lists with the casual interest of a reader, I’ve noticed a few things.

Namely, a bunch of these books are way far into a series. Like, book 3. Book 6. Book 9. Book 12.I’m mostly looking at the Goodreads top 2016 lists, because they’re so beautifully easy to navigate. The Kobo ones are pretty similar.

Let me show you. I’ve taken the liberty of marking each book’s place in a series with a big fat number.

top2016-booksthriller

You can tell which ones are the thrillers. They tend to not be in a series, because most characters in thrillers don’t survive anyway.

Next up: Fantasy!

top2016-booksfantasy

Very few stand-alones here. Every book 1 is also the beginning of a series, with the exception of one book, which is a short story anthology (that tiger one).

Next up: Young Adult Fantasy:

top2016-booksya

Series are a big deal in this genre. The only book 1s are all series starters from authors who have established themselves with other series/trilogies.

It’s interesting to look at the spread here. If you want to hit a bestseller list, you’ve got to write series. Kevin Hearn’s Iron Druid is up to book 8 now. I spy a book 10 of another series. One of those mystery series is at book 42! These authors have been at this for a LONG time. The young adult authors seem to crank out trilogies, but sometimes they run longer than that. Even Stephen King is up there with a book 3!

As authors, I guess we can expect to plug away at this for book after book–so pick a genre that you like an awful lot. Unless you’re a thriller writer, then you can write boatloads of book 1s.

If you’d like to look at the other Top Goodreads genres, it’s here. And hey, maybe you’ll even find something new to read. 😀

Open letter to my aspie friends

When I was a kid, I went to a big science event for local homeschoolers. We mixed chemicals, opened eggs, and played with liquid nitrogen. It was grand.

During one of the breaks, I wandered out into one of the patios. A group of kids was out there talking. One of them was a boy who carefully enunciated all his words. He was arguing some advanced mathematical concept with the other kids.

I listened for a while, then departed, feeling shy and slightly envious. He was so much smarter than me. I knew that he was different, and I would never be that smart because I wasn’t wired that way.

The term Asperger’s hadn’t yet come into vogue. Without a label, I was free to observe and draw my own conclusions. My conclusion was admiration.

Years went by. As a teen, I sought out creative, intelligent people and surrounded myself with them. Many of them spoke in that clear, enunciated, staccato way. They were always super-smart, taking ideas to a level of genius I’d never conceived. I learned to seek them out when I needed to develop ideas. By comparison, other people seemed like Muggles.

Then the term Aspergers* came along. Suddenly my super-smart friends were apologizing. “I have a sensory-processing disorder,” they would say. “I’m going on medication for it.”

I watched as my once-brilliant friends were dulled to the level of a Muggle by medication. They meekly accepted the ruling of The Establishment that there was something wrong with them.

So this is my open letter to you. This is me shouting NO. Aspergers is not a disability. It is genius. The definition of genius is being able to focus on one thing at a time. You do that with the intensity of a laser, drilling deep into a concept, far deeper than I can, with my scattershot mind. While I can achieve that level of focus, it’s more difficult for me to achieve. And your brain does it effortlessly.

 

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Mana Tide by AquaSixio

 

Our culture has ceased to value genius. It only values stupidity and conformity. Look at our pop culture as the foolish, the disgusting, the mentally ill, are praised and glorified.

Don’t let them tell you that you are broken. Don’t take their drugs that will alter your brain chemistry. If you have health problems, take high-quality supplements (this one is my favorite!) and good probiotics to support your natural health. Eat veggies. Drink water. Exercise. You have a brilliant mind. Care for it. Guard it.

Drugs will take it away. Labels will make you feel bad about yourself. Before geniuses had Aspergers, I recognized them for what they were.

Geniuses.

Please don’t ever change.


 

  • The term Aspergers has been rolled into the broader “autism spectrum”, which encompasses everyone from the slightly shy to the non-vocal. Pretty much everyone I know fits into this definition.
  • Lots of famous people have been on the spectrum. Check out this list. Among them are Albert Einstein, Adam Young of Owl City, Satoshi Tajiri (creator of Pokemon). To say nothing of famous people who probably were spectrum, like Mozart.

Sketches of dinosaurs, dragons, and drakes

In my teens, I took art classes from a terrific teacher named Ron Moore. He taught everything–painting, pastel, wood carving, clay sculpture, you name it, he’d teach it. Anyway, while learning to sculpt animals, we studied anatomy. I learned proportion tricks, what joints did, how shoulders behaved, and on and on. I sculpted animals, cartoon characters, dinosaurs, anything that struck my fancy.

That training still resides in my head. So when a friend suggested that I draw an amargasaurus, this training kicked in.

First off, this is an amargasaurus.

Amargasaurus
Amargasaurus from Wikipedia

Pretty gnarly-looking sauropod.

Mr. Moore always taught me that if I did artwork from another artist’s work, I would copy all their mistakes and make them worse. (Boy, have I seen new artists do that.) So I went hunting for the bones of this sucker.

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Amargasaurus skeleton from Wikipedia

Okay, so, all the spikes are attached to the vertebrae. Notice the way they lay. If he kept his neck straight, they’d more or less lie down. But if he bent his neck, they’d fan out and display whatever skin stretched between them.

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Like this.

So now we have this idea of a dinosaur bending his neck around to show off his frill. He’d have to bow his head a lot. Now we get ideas of what a courtship display might look like.

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They might have danced like this. Ever seen an iguana display his dewlap to attract a mate? It’s pretty funny. Or like that red-capped manakin bird.

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It’s really fun to extrapolate from dinosaur bones. It’s not like anybody can go look at one and disprove my idea, right?

Anyway, the same process applies to building dragons. Here’s a reference sheet in progress for a story I’m writing with little drakes and big dragons.

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Drakes and dragons

As you can see, my drakes are very lizard-like (with pterodactyl wings), while the dragons are the traditional European dragons. Lots of comparative anatomy studies while drawing these, trying to make them work. Well, as well as any six-limbed creature would work. There’s a lot of biological hand-waving when it comes to dragons.

While dragons would be majestic predators, drakes would fly on highly-maneuverable albatross wings, able to pull off midair gyrations like those of a flycatcher.

I suppose I ought to put some kind of a tail fin on them, so they can steer. But then, not all pterosaurs had them, either. What do you guys think?

How bits and pieces add up to a story

I think most writers have bits of old stories collecting dust somewhere. We write snippits and scenes, and hide them away in our notebooks and hard drives, stumbling upon them years later with cries of delight.

“What does this mean?” we exclaim. “What was I thinking? What was the rest of this idea?” And if enough time has gone by, we’ve forgotten what it meant. And it’s up for grabs for incorporating into our current work.

The Spacetime series has been under construction for so many years that it has lots of extra plots lying around. One plot that got cut was the story of Echo. She was Carda’s girlfriend who mysteriously died–come to find out that she was this weird timeline copy of a girl named Alatha. Alatha had had some kind of magical accident that split her into echoes, and each echo had developed its own life.

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Old art of Carda, Xironi, and Ben the time elemental lizard thing.

All that was crammed into book one, The Strider of Chronos. If we had left in all the plots, the poor book would have been a thousand pages long. So I set it aside for a different book. Lo and behold, along comes Magic Weaver. It’s finally time to tell Alatha’s story.

Except my husband and I couldn’t figure out how to tell the story in a way that made sense. If a person is split into copies, are the copies alternate realities? Are they good/evil clones? Are they personality aspects?

We tossed around all kinds of ideas. A lot of them were too silly, like, everybody has seen the evil double plot in cartoons.

I decided to try writing Alatha as split into two people, Alatha and Echo. One would be good and one would be evil. Except upon trying to write it, I discovered that good and evil are enmeshed too tightly in the human psyche. The bad one would sometimes do good things and the good would would occasionally do bad things. And what are good and evil in this context, anyway? If the good one knocks out an attacker, was that a bad action?

Also, we wound up having Echo and Esca. This was really confusing and hard to read.

I scrapped that draft and started over. This time, Alatha’s timeline had been cut up. The other bits of her were actually possible futures that had been removed, and were wandering around as ghosts. Finally, I had a plot that worked.

There was another plot that had been cut–Xironi’s robot cat, Esca. Esca was originally supposed to be in the series from the beginning, but I wanted to show where she came from. This meant that Esca had to wait until Xironi got her own book, and they could properly meet.

So Magic Weaver is made up of lots of bits of stories that had to be cut away and saved. If you’ve had stories that you’ve had to set aside, or plots that you couldn’t make work, just put them away for a while. Eventually you’ll find a place for them, if you want to use them badly enough. Sometimes ideas just need a truckload of refining. Alatha/Echo took a lot of brainpower to make work right.

Magic Weaver is available on all retailers here!