Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Small Ads

Being selections taken from the small ads section of Villains' Weekly:

Evil Queen seeks mirror for long term relationship. Must see her as fairest of them all. Must love poetry. No step-daughter fanciers.

Sword of infinite sharpness for sale. Also one scabbard (damaged). Not suitable for under fives.

Has anyone seen my monster? Answers to the name of Adam. May plot intricate downfall if called. Information to Dr. F, the castle.

Villainous ideas for sale. 2p per lb. Nothing recycled. Only genuinely evil plots. Some giant robots may be required.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Some Reviews

My story 'Testing the Water' is in Pink Narcissus's upcoming (July, to be precise) collection 'Rapunzel's Daughters' and the collection is already receiving some attention. Independant Publishers Online has picked the collection as one of their 'highlighted picks', while Publishers Weekly has actually reviewed it. 

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Wendy Tyler Ryan

Buy My Book


Today, as part of her broader blogtour for her novel Fire's Daughter, we have Wendy Tyler Ryan here to answer some questions.


Let’s start with you telling people a little bit about your novel.

It’s a fantasy. It’s an adventure. It’s a love story. It’s coming to terms with who you are and learning to go after what you want – no matter what the cost. All elements everyone can relate to. It all just happens to be set in a different time and place.

You had this idea a while ago, before coming back to it. What’s it like revisiting a concept like this? Did you find the story growing in new ways? Do you think that the finished book is something that you could only have produced now that you’ve had time to grow as a writer?

I think there were ideas that were laying in wait, so to speak. I couldn’t wait to get back to writing this story. I somehow felt more comfortable in the fantasy world.

To the second part of your question I would have to say – yes. In some ways I am very glad I “cut my teeth” on the contemporary romance I finished first. Just writing that novel alone, I learned so much more about writing. If I would have finished it back then It would have needed a lot of work to bring it up to the level it is today, maybe not story wise, but certainly as far as execution and mechanics are concerned.

Your novel is broadly medieval fantasy in tone. Did you do any specific research to capture that flavour?

Actually, no and I’ll tell you why. I have been a fan of period books and movies ever since I was a child. If it was a “period piece”, I was there like a dirty shirt. However, I wanted it my way, so the fantasy part was a no brainer. I did do some research with regard to swordplay and this is where I cringe because I know who I’m talking to here. The average person probably wouldn’t question my scenes (small as they are), but if you read them, Stu, you’d probably bury your head in your hands. But hey, I’ll just go back to “it’s fantasy, right?”

On a broader note, why fantasy? Does it allow you, for example, to do anything that you couldn’t have done in another genre?

Yes, it allowed me to have fantastical characters that don’t exist. It allowed me to give my heroine a unique ability, and, it gave me the freedom not to be so darned historically accurate. My world is my world, so there! :D

I had read too many blog posts on “serious” historical reviewer’s sites that scared the bejesus out of me, making fun of people who didn’t do their research correctly. No thanks, I want to write, I don’t want to spend hours with my nose in wiki or elsewhere determining what underwear people should have on. Maybe my characters don’t wear undies!

When writing fantasy, a lot of authors seem to start with the world first. Does that describe the creative process you used here?

No, and that is probably where I differ from most fantasy writers. My world building is subtle and that is precisely what I set out to do. My book is also very character driven with lots of dialogue. I give the reader hints right from the get-go that “we aren’t in Kansas anymore”, but I don’t shove it down their throat. I hope I’m not offending anyone here because I certainly don’t mean to, but when I pick up a book in the store and open the first page and see two pages of character names I can’t pronounce and a complex map of a world, I close the book and put it back on the shelf. So I mean no disrespect because I know there are fantasy lovers that thrive on that type of world-driven story, but that’s not where my interests lie.

To give you a better idea, my book could easily be an historical novel except it has magic elements and some creatures that don’t exist. Maybe that is over-simplified, but I think you get my point. Some fantasy novels have the “world” as the main character with pages of deep description. My book is about the characters with the world as a comfortable backdrop that anyone can slip into easily and that was very much planned.

You’re also an independent author. What was it like taking control of the entire production process? Are there any parts to the process you particularly loved/hated?

On some level I loved every part of it. The only thing that made me swear and want to pitch something across the room was the fact that there wasn’t one singular definitive source of information which I could have relied on to get the job done. The research took longer than the actual endeavour. I quite frequently say that writing the definitive guide to self- publishing should be my next project.

Finally, since you’re so involved in things online, did your blogging help to shape the story in any concrete ways? Has it helped you as a writer?

I would have to say that it has helped me tremendously. I’ve been blogging for just over a year now and I can say with complete certainty that I have grown as, not only a writer, but as a person as well. I’ve learned about myself, from myself. I’ve learned about myself through other’s eyes. I’d even go so far as to say I might not have made the decision to self-publish if not for my blogging experience.

Thank you so much, Stu, for giving me this opportunity to chat with you. I really enjoyed your questions.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

An apology

A quick apology to some of the people doing the blogfest, as for some reason, blogger has made it very difficult for me to leave comments on some pieces.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Power of Tension Blogfest

This is for the power of tension blogfest run by Rachel Morgan and Cally Jackson. It's a tiny fragment of something I started just before my novel Court of Dreams was accepted for publication, and which I probably need to get back to. Enjoy.

Martin Adams looked them both up and down. “And if I give it to you, then you let me live?”

“Do we?” Madeleine asked. “Is he right, Lucien? I could have sworn we didn’t. I could have sworn that She said-”

Lucien raised a hand for silence. “No. You are going to die. Let us not play games on that point. Particularly since my sister seems to have the subterfuge of a foghorn today. Tell us where the item is, please, so that we can get this whole regrettable passage over with.”

Martin Adams folded his arms. “You’ll never find it.”

“Really? I think you’ll find that She is quite good at finding things.”

“Even so.” The man certainly looked pleased with himself. “It’s gone.”

Lucien rolled his eyes. “Oh, please don’t tell me that you’ve put it at the
bottom of the Mariana Trench, or surrounded it with cunning traps, or something. It always gets so tiresome when people do that sort of thing. Plus it never works, of course.”

Martin Adams shook his head.

“Given it to a dragon to horde?” Madeleine suggested dreamily. “Slid it into another dimension with just a teeny, tiny little bit sticking out to get it back?”

Lucien glanced over at his sister. “Madeleine, where would he get a dragon, when the last specimen died in a Tokyo bank vault twenty years ago? Talk sense.” Lucien thought for a moment, and looked back at the clockmaker. “You didn’t, did you?”

Another shake of the head.

“And you aren’t going to tell us what you did do?”

“No.”

“Oh well.” Lucien flicked his wrist, and a knife appeared in his hand. “I’m sure we’ll find it eventually. Madeleine?”

His sister looked up from prying the leg off a table, and hefted it thoughtfully.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Questions, anyone?

With my occasional posts on swordplay, martial arts and combatives generally, I thought I'd ask everyone reading this if there's anything they'd particularly like covered. It could be anything, from obscure questions about swords to unusal options for writing the perfect bar brawl. What comes up when you're writing fight scenes? What would you like to know more about?

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Dear Aunty

Letters to the agony aunt (taking time off from the dungeon at the moment, dearies, but still causing agony elsewhere) in villains’ weekly:

Dear Aunty

Stupid people wearing their underwear outside their trousers insist on stopping my armies of robot soldiers. Is a little world domination really too much to ask?

Dr E. Castle Evil, Norwich.

Dr E- What you have to remember is that there are unfortunately some people out there who will try to put down even the most sensible of dreams. Keep going though, dearie. You’ll get there. Though you might want to consider relocation.

Dear Aunty

My all seeing eye has become quite inflamed of late. Should I see a doctor?

S, Middle Earth

S- You could, but just think of the extra fear factor when your horde sees it. It might cause some sight issues, but really, it’s not like some very small people are going to be sneaking up on you with an important piece of your property, is it?

Dear Aunty

My orcs and I are going on vacation shortly (a little light conquering in the elven kingdoms) and I’m worried about security for the castle while I’m gone. We’ve had quite a lot of trouble recently with barbarian thieves, hoodies and so forth. Any suggestions?

Lord N.

Lord N- what you need is a house sitter. Possibly one with extensive experience of working in the agony column industry. Failing that, just set up a couple of humungous boulder traps. They always work for me.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Which Novel?

Incidentally, for anyone who has read the last post, but can't remember the novel I'm on about, simply read my Blogfest of Death entry from the middle of last year.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Good News

Two pieces of good news on the novel front. First, one of the novels I have ghostwritten has won an award. Since this one is covered by an NDA I can't say which, or for whom, but it's nice nonetheless.

Secondly, and rather more importantly, my novel Court of Dreams has just been picked up by a small publisher. I'm quite excited by this one, since it's a chance for people to finally read my brand of funny/strange fantasy in novel form, rather than just the urban fantasy novels that are currently out (see the sidebar, if you're wondering)

I'm sure at some point in the not too distant future, this means I'll be pestering you all, trying to promote it as much as possible, but for now, it's just nice to say that I have the acceptance.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Spell components

Where exactly do fantasy wizards get their magical supplies? It’s a question that has interested me for a while, and one that can have some fun repercussions if you answer it in your own fantasy. After all, what self respecting wizard spends all his time wandering around poking newts’ eyes out when he could be back in the tower chanting something incomprehensible in front of an open brazier?

Apprentices are one answer to this issue. Just send the poor lad or lass out to collect Instant Death Weed by moonlight, the way you had to as a boy. It certainly allows for some fun stories with slightly put upon protagonists.

Another option is the specialist magic shop, full of handy stuff and with an uncanny similarity to whatever real world shop you want (one of Pratchett’s wandering shops reminds me faintly of Aunty Wainwright’s place out of Last of the Summer Wine). I must admit to really loving these places.

Finally, your wizard could just get it all out of a catalogue. It probably explains what all those big, thick books are, come to think of it.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Hero Test

It’s something of a fantasy cliché that the hero has to undergo some sort of test before finally reaching the object of his or her quest. Obviously, when done well, this has some subtlety. But who wants to be subtle? So let’s have a proper heroing test instead, passable before they’re allowed to go around adventuring. Some things that could go on it then. Those who’ve passed the UK driving test might find them vaguely familiar:

1. Three point beheading. First, take a three headed hydra, then grab your battle axe… Don’t worry. They’ll grow back.
2. Emergency stop. When the instructor slaps his hand on your shield, you are to imagine that a pit trap has just opened up in front of you. Oh, and any solution that doesn't involve a ten foot pole is a minor fault.
3. Left hand path reverse. One for the wizard of the party.
4. Half an hour of high speed dungeoneering. Real heroes don’t muck about checking every door for traps. So anyone slowing down below a brisk jog will pick up a minor error. Of course, anyone getting their head cut off fails automatically.
5. Parallel backpacking. Stuffing as much treasure as possible into a backpack ever so slightly too small. Remember to look over your shoulder for approaching guards while you do it.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Englishness?

Is there such a thing as a particular national tone for writing? Clearly there is in the sense of language, but what about when a particular language, like English, is spoken across a great many countries? Is there a distinctively English tone that goes beyond just things like occasionally using amongst instead of among?

Certainly, people seem to think that there is. Wodehouse, for example, often gets called a very English sort of writer. Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams sometimes seem to have a similar sort of feel to them. The famous English sense of humour, perhaps? Yet do they really do anything that is impossible for someone from Melbourne or New York to do?

I ask this because I suspect my own writing has that quality of Englishness, whether I want it or not, yet I’m not sure whether it’s anything real. How can it be? Neil Gaiman sometimes seems to have it, for example, but these days, he spends at least as much time in the US as back in the UK, so it can’t be something purely produced by exposure to a particular cultural environment. Is it just something we attach to a particular turn of phrase as a kind of lazy shorthand?

Friday, 6 May 2011

Flash Fiction Blogfest

This is for the flash fiction contest over at Surrounded by Books and is a slight departure for me, in that I don't really make any jokes. I hope you enjoy it anyway:

The first time Jessica discovered the hole in the wall of her parents’ basement, she was ten. She stared into it, ignoring the cobwebs and the mouldering plaster, because it never occurred to her that a crack like that might not be the doorway to another world. She wasn’t surprised to see fields beyond it, and creatures wheeling in the sky that she didn’t know the name for.

By the time she was twelve, Jessica had watched travellers pass, and seasons change. She had claimed that small patch of basement as her own, and her parents couldn’t understand why she cried when they put their new washing machine in front of their home’s most unsightly patch of wall.

By the time she was sixteen, Jessica had decided that things she thought she saw as a kid didn’t count, and that boys were more interesting in any case. She knew, with the certainty of someone who wasn’t sure that she could live with the alternative, that cracks in walls didn’t lead anywhere. She once went down to the basement, just to prove it to herself, but she couldn’t move the washing machine on her own.

Jessica was twenty when her parents died, away at college when her dad was just a little too drunk to keep from pulling out in front of a truck. She let herself cry for a day, then drove down with her roommate Amy, who was there partly because she’d heard that was what you did for friends, and partly because she couldn’t think of anything to write for her final term paper anyway.

On the first day, they looked around, and Jessica tried not to cry too much as they cleared away things that wouldn’t be needed again. On the second, Jessica found herself making decisions, fielding sympathy, and talking to people she didn’t really know, but who seemed as determined as she was to grieve.

On the third day, she went back to the basement, ostensibly to wash the few clothes she’d brought. But washing clothes didn’t involve moving the machine. It didn’t involve crouching down and tracing a familiar line in the wall. It certainly didn’t involve hesitating, just momentarily, before putting her eye to it.

Afterwards, they said that she ran off, dropped out, and probably ended up as dead as her poor parents. Amy’s story, that she’d gone to get towels, and that Jessica was gone by the time she came back, told them that much. Of course, it wasn’t the truth, but what could Amy do? Tell people that she’d seen Jessica half in and half out of some split in the wall too narrow to fit a finger through? Tell them that she’d slipped through completely?

She went back to college instead, where they said not to worry about the term paper. Not after her friend had disappeared. Amy did it anyway, remembering the most important point about that moment.

For the first time in days, Jessica had been smiling.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Push and Shove

Some ideas for writing slightly less sword based fights today. Specifically, one very important idea taken from tai chi. Don’t underestimate the power of just shoving someone.

All right, so this isn’t a specifically tai chi thing (technically, the shoves are just a safe way of using power, and practitioners aim to turn those into hits when not training) but shoves play a big role in all sorts of fights, and including them in your fight scenes can really liven them up.

A lot of fights begin with them, for example, with people pushing one another before one plucks up the courage to throw a punch. They are an important provocation if you want your hero good and angry. They also offer an opportunity for your hero to make someone look foolish by stepping aside at the right moment.

In the fight proper, they offer you lots of scope as a writer, because you can suddenly send people crashing into things, falling off the edges of things, and generally flying through the air rather than just trading punches.

They can even be lethal if you have your character shove someone right as a moving train comes along, or on the edge of a roof. Don’t believe me? Just think back to that old copy of Worms you have tucked away, and that infinitely annoying moment when someone killed one of your little blighters not with some high powered piece of weaponry, but with a simple nudge.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Medium

Have you ever stopped to think about the medium you work in? You write, obviously, but there is a world of difference between writing a short story and a novel, a novel and a play, a play and an epic poem in faultless Spencerian rhyme schemes. Or just a haiku.

Why do you write what you do? Some people like short stories, and others like novels, but why have you made the choices that you have? Is it because you want something finished quickly, or something you can commit to for a while? Is it even (ha!) because you think a particular form has the most money in it?

Or do you choose your form based on the story? You may have read graphic novel adaptations of novels, or indeed vice versa, and if so, you’ll know that the medium you choose contributes a lot to the way the story gets told in the end. So that choice is important.

So important, in fact, that it might be best not to do what most people (myself included) often do. That is to decide at the start “I’m going to write a novel/short story/play” and only then brainstorm for ideas. What about you? Do you have anything lying around that might benefit from a change of medium?