Author Interview: Astrid Tuttle Winegar

Astrid Tuttle Winegar’s Cooking for Halflings & Monsters: 111 Comfy, Cozy Recipes for Fantasy-Loving Souls (2017) is now in its second edition. According to Astrid, Tolkien scholar and foodie, you don’t need to be a “gourmet monster chef” to enjoy these recipes, you just need to love comfort food. “Lovingly illustrated and written with dry humor throughout, this charming cookbook is sure to delight you and your family, friends, and any other lucky halflings (or monsters) who show up in your kitchen.” Go to Astrid’s website at AstridWinegar.com to learn more about her and discover some great recipes (I’m going to try several under Recipes/Sweeties category). You’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. For a signed copy of the cookbook with free U.S. domestic shipping, visit her Etsy Shop at ElegantSufficiencies.


Your love of fantasy (especially Tolkien) and a knack for cooking led to a college project that ultimately became Cooking for Halflings & Monsters. What was the most rewarding aspect of completing the book?
Just actually getting it done. Life interferes constantly with creative work. I approached this experience as a middle-aged person who had never contemplated such a long-term project. I had the gift of time, my children were grown, my college courses were done, and I figured what the heck? I might as well try a different career.

The original published version of the cookbook was titled Astrid’s Modern Hobbit Recipes and included names and places from the Tolkien universe that you later discovered were copyrighted. You then renamed, rewrote, and reworked the book before publishing the current version. What was that process like? Many writers would have been discouraged and let the project go—why didn’t you?
From the beginning I knew there might be copyright issues, but I thought my original publisher and I had grasped fair use laws. A polite letter from the Tolkien Estate disabused us of that notion. When I realized I would have to completely rewrite the book, my original thoughts ran something like, “!@$%^&*((!!!” The original publisher didn’t even respond to my agent after that. I resented that they obviously didn’t review the revised book. By then I had already put in so much time, it seemed such a waste to give it up. The process was aggravating, to put it mildly.

Nevertheless, I persisted! I thought about going with medieval history as a new theme, but that didn’t really appeal to me. Middle-earth is filled with various distinct races of beings, and when I started to think about hobbits, elves, dwarves, and wizards, I suddenly thought I could divide the recipes into similar groupings. This took only about six months to accomplish. In the meantime, my publisher moved on to other things. I finally called my agent and we parted on amicable terms. Then I self-published on Amazon. My entrance to the social media world, specifically Twitter, led to a referral to an independent publisher. They eventually published the book…and then went out of business! Now it’s all me. This is challenging and scary, but also liberating in a way.

As part of the rewrite, you changed the format from following the stories in Tolkien’s universe to a different kind of grouping for the recipes. Tell us about the unique structure of the book.
Yes, the original cookbook strictly followed the text in a linear fashion. My first four chapters dealt with The Hobbit. The first chapter was all about the dwarf invasion of Bag End. The final eight chapters dealt with The Lord of the Rings. The first of these chapters was about Bilbo Baggins’s 111th birthday party. When this structure was no longer available to me, I realized my Prancing Pony chapter was a menu all to its own. That led me to think of other restaurants.

Each chapter ended up being a type of restaurant (such as “Halfling Hideaway” and “Glitnír’s Hall”) that represented each group of typical inhabitants in most any fantasy-themed universe: halflings, men, wizards, dwarves, monsters, and elves. Two other restaurants represent common tropes in fantasy: the council (“Council Catering”) and the quest (“Quest Depot”). The Prancing Pony chapter is pretty much as it was in the original cookbook but is now called “The Inn of the Doughty Hero.” It represents men.

With this new concept, I ended up with a total of eight chapters. This was a fortuitous number, since I happened to have invented eight soups. Thus, the first item on each new menu was a soup. I followed this with a bread or two, then a salad and/or an appetizer, etc. Each menu ends with desserts. Most cookbooks have a soup chapter or a dessert chapter, but mine doesn’t conform to this. Perhaps it might confuse readers/cooks, but I think most people have gotten used to it, and I hope they have found a logical way to pick some new favorite dishes!

How long did it take to develop the complete set of eleventy-one primary recipes? When did you know you had taken the manuscript as far as it could go—that it was finally ready for publication?
Tolkien’s culinary universe is actually rather limited. I started with a list of every single food or beverage he mentions in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, then I expanded from there. I’d say it took around two years to complete 90% of what is currently in the cookbook. My family ate a whole lot of bacon, potatoes, and mushrooms during that time! A few items changed; for example, the original cookbook did not have a recipe for Turkish Delight, but I made a recipe for that after I lost the connection to Middle-earth. Then another year for testing and adjusting, working with about a dozen recipe testers. By the time the cookbook was ready in 2011, I felt I had a complete narrative, as well as 111 delicious recipes. The quest for an agent/publisher took a few more months.

In an alternate Lord of the Rings universe, imagine a cook-off between one of these sets of characters: Samwise vs. Gollum, Frodo vs. Sauron, or Gandalf vs. Saruman. What would the characters cook, and what prize would the winner receive?
In the Middle-earth Mithril Chef challenge, we have Samwise vs. Gollum. Your ingredient is… fish. Samwise will choose white fish. He’ll prepare a beer batter and get a pan ready for some lovely deep-frying. He’ll cut up taters to finish off his famous “Fish and Chips.” Gollum will scamper off to the nearest river, grab a salmon with his poorly-manicured fingers, and rip it into small strips. He’ll pile it on a nearby leaf, just to be polite, but then he’ll devour it in less than a minute. Since both recipes are completely satisfying to each diner, the judges will declare a tie. Both contestants will win the chance to survive the Quest!

What recipes should those with beginning, intermediate, and advanced cooking skills try first?
I have all three levels scattered within the cookbook. Most of the salad and vegetables dishes would be suitable for cooks who are beginners—try “Bob’s Obsession” or “Mushrooms of Mist.” Many of the baked goods would be a satisfying experience for intermediate cooks—good choices would be “Head-in-the-Clouds Biscuits” or “Cheddar Sage Scones.” And if you are rather advanced, you might try your hand at “Treasured Tidbits” or “One Wizard’s Precious Delight.”

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
A few people have told me they’ve read the book from cover to cover, as if it were a story. I love to hear that.

Looking back to the beginning of your publishing journey, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I bet a lot of people write books and assume (and hope) they will immediately land on bestseller lists. But nowadays, anyone writing a book is joining an exceptionally crowded pool of other writers who all assume (and hope) that they will become the next big thing. I knew my cookbook could be a tough sell, since it is definitely a niche product. This question sounds like I should offer some advice, so here it is: keep your expectations low and stop checking on your Amazon status. And really work on developing patience, especially if you’re using a publisher or agent. I know more now about patience and keeping low expectations. That might sound kind of sad, but it’s realistic.

What’s on your to-read pile?
Well, I’ve always got my bookcase filled with items from my college life that I intend to re-read. This would include works by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Then I have all the Tolkien books that were edited by his son—that would be an enormous time commitment. For current to-read books I have The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and the latest installment in the Millennium Series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was book one). I am currently reading Stephen King’s Under the Dome. It’s shocking to me how many books I have collected and never gotten around to reading but still intend to some day. I also like to re-read various series. Besides The Lord of the Rings, I love the Harry Potter series.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I plan to write four more cookbooks in the Cooking for Halflings & Monsters series. That’s a grand goal, but I might be able to achieve it. The next book will be Cooking for Halflings & Monsters: A Year of Comfy, Cozy Soups, Stews, and Chilis. This will include 52 recipes for soups, stews, and chilis (obviously…) as well as 13 recipes for various carbohydrate accompaniments. I’m hoping for a release date of October 31, 2019. I guess I work slowly, but a lot of testing is involved in recipe development. I also spend time enjoying life, my family, my grandchildren. Writing is not a full-time job for me, and I’m grateful it doesn’t have to be.

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My Mother, a Girl with a Star-Spangled Heart

PVT Audrey Salerno, Camp Lee, Virginia, 1949

At some point in the early 1960s, a boy on the playground yelled at me, “Your mother wears combat boots.” I don’t remember what prompted such a remark. If it was meant as an insult, I didn’t take it as one.* My mother served in the Army before I was born, so I reasoned she could have worn combat boots. I put it out of my mind at the time and returned to more important matters, like showing off my Outer Limits trading cards or admiring someone else’s Rat Fink ring. I ignored that child’s remark for the same reason I ignored those who called me an Army brat: my mother had taught me to pick my battles.

With Mother’s Day approaching, I’ve been thinking more and more about my mom. Audrey Agnes Salerno was born in 1927 in Peoria, Illinois to an Italian-immigrant father and an Irish-American mother. She was taught to love babies and food and how to hunt four-leaf clovers—all of which she passed on to me. She was the wisest person I’ve ever known, and I thought I’d take advantage of internet immortality to share a little of what I learned from her.

Audrey Salerno, goat and wagon courtesy of a traveling photographer, 1932

Find a Reason to Laugh
My mom laughed a lot and taught my siblings and me to do the same. She often said, “I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you,” and so we learned to laugh at ourselves as well. When a traveling photographer came to my grandma’s door one summer day, he snapped a photo of my 4-year-old mother wearing a somewhat sly expression. She was probably planning her next practical joke—a talent she carried into her adult years.

Audrey Salerno, 3rd grade, Peoria, Illinois, circa 1936

Read and Imagine
As a child, Mom often jumped off her porch roof to strengthen her arms for flying. This was the kind of active imagination she encouraged in her own children (but the pursuit of flight was, oddly, discouraged). With her guidance, I could read by the time I was four years old. She filled our home, our birthday presents, and our Christmas stockings with books. And a gift of a secondhand manual typewriter bridged the gap between my imagination and the stories waiting to flow from my fingertips.

 

Audrey Salerno, 12 years old

Be Grateful
The Great Depression was a great equalizer. Every country in the world was affected by it. The Salerno’s had it better than some in the 1930s, living in a mortgage-free house (built by my great-grandfather) and with a yard big enough to grow fist-sized tomatoes and multi-colored bell peppers. Still, times were tough; even though she was hungry, my mom couldn’t eat dinner the night her pet rabbit was served in a stew. When she had her own children, she made sure we had warm coats in the winter and shoes that fit (and always—always—had food on the table). Because of her I learned to be resourceful and to never waste a crumb of anything.

Audrey Salerno, circa 1943

 

Hold Your Tongue and Your Temper
Mom taught us the importance of our words and how they affect others. She didn’t gossip, wouldn’t allow a hint of it in the house, and she lived by the rule, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Regarding cussing, she believed we have so many better, and more ladylike, words to choose from in the English language. You would think with all that crazy Irish-Italian blood running through her veins she would have been hot-headed, but she held her temper like no one else could. She was also an expert at holding a secret. I was a teenager before she let slip she never received a high school diploma.

Audrey Salerno, Peoria Journal/Star, circa 1947

Believe in Yourself
She was 16 years old in 1944 when the world was at war. She grew tired of spending her days in classrooms and watching life pass her by. Quitting school seemed the right thing to do. Shy and introverted, she still believed she could do anything she put her mind to. Though she had no skills, she landed a job as a clerk with the Peoria Journal/Star.

Audrey Salerno by Mort Greene

It wasn’t long before the newspaper’s cartoonist Mort Greene became enamored of her, evidenced by gifts of hand-drawn cards, poetry, candy, and flowers. Other women her age might have jumped at the chance of romance, but my mom had set her mind on a wiser path.

Learn From Your Mistakes
She enrolled in school again, and by the end of 1948 she had received a General Education Development (GED) certificate from Manual Training High School. The war was over by then, but patriotism still ran high. In downtown Peoria, Women’s Army Corps (WAC) posters asked, “Are you a girl with a Star-Spangled heart?” She enlisted in 1949, at the age of 21, and went to stenographer’s school.

PVT Audrey Salerno, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 1950

Follow Your Heart
My mom had many suitors in the Army, but it was my dad’s sense of humor that won her over. Within a year of enlisting she had fallen in love with that young Sergeant in the Signal Corps. At the time, women couldn’t stay in the military after getting married, so PFC Audrey A. Salerno received an honorable discharge three days after the ceremony. Some would bristle at that now, but my mom knew her heart and it was the right choice for her.

The Highest Calling
A few days before my mother’s death at the age of 58, I thanked her for being a wonderful mom and asked if she ever regretted giving up her future to raise us. She told me she considered it an honor to be a mother, and there was nothing else she would rather have spent her life doing. Of all the things she taught me by example, learning the importance of responsibility and sacrifice has served me the best (and the most often) over the years.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who give so much and make the world a shinier, more loving place.

What lessons did you learn from your mom? If any of you had a mother in the military, I’d love to hear her story.


*As it turns out, that child was trying to insult me, but I like to think he was just passing on what he heard someone else say and had no idea what it meant. Urbandictionary.com says this about that playground taunt: During WWII, prostitutes who followed the troops around, sometimes wore army boots or combat boots.

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Hanging on to Story

Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story tells us what to hang on to. ~ Lisa Cron

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First Draft Writing Rules from Copyblogger

In Demian Farnworth’s post, “10 Rules for Writing First Drafts [Poster],” he mentions this quote by Kurt Vonnegut:

When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.

If an author like Vonnegut felt that way, I feel better about my own scribbling process.

Below are Mr. Farnworth’s first draft writing rules. For a pdf version go to the post and scroll down to find the link.

10 Rules for Writing First Drafts
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

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Author Interview: M. Pax

Speculative fiction author M. Pax is a self-professed workaholic with a dozen published novels and numerous short story collections. Her seven-book space opera series, The Backworlds, takes readers to a universe where bio-engineered humans survive on different planets and the humble become heroes. The Tracer (2018) is the newest release in The Rifters world, an urban fantasy series that follows a band of protectors who fight monsters released through rifts in a rural Oregon town. Visit Mary’s informative website at MPaxAuthor.com for a free starter library. You’ll also find her on her Amazon author page and on Facebook, Twitter (@mpax1), and Pinterest.


The Tracer (2018) is the fourth book in The Rifters series. What are the challenges of writing a series? What do you focus on to keep readers coming back for more?
The biggest challenge to writing a series is keeping the details consistent from book to book. The big concepts are easy to remember, it’s keeping track of the tiny details that can be a struggle. The other challenge is to end each book with a proper ending, yet leave questions unanswered that will springboard the next book in the series.
I focus on unfolding the plot so the conflict and story grow larger in each book. The characters grow, the plot grows, and I unravel threads from earlier books. The story has to remain familiar while introducing something new.

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for The Rifters books?
I spent a lot of time researching Black Bart trying to get into his head. Creating the town of Settler took some work, too. I found the perfect town as a model, but it was in the wrong place. So I moved the town to where I wanted it and renamed it. Bart, the research, and creating the world and the characters were pure fun for me and labors of love. Oregon inspired a lot of what went into The Rifters.

You’re now working on book 8 (Endpoint) in The Backworlds books. What is it about this series that keeps inspiring you to continue? How far ahead have you plotted the storyline?
My fans inspire me, and the setting inspires me. The Backworlds is rich in history, planets, and people. There’s a lot to explore. I enjoy standing on Elstwhere (in my mind) and looking out at the slice of the galaxy I created. The Backworlds is in the same arm of the Milky Way as Earth. Humans haven’t traveled too far from home yet, and I bioengineered them to survive on the different planets instead of terraforming the planets. Then I asked myself: What else is out there? I love the cast I created and planned the series to where it is now. I know how it will end. The major plot points have been set since the initial planning. How I get there is what happens when I’m writing and is a thrill. This story arc ends with book 8.

The main character in Backworlds is Craze, a likeable guy who never seems to catch a break for long. How did you create and develop his character?
I like stories about regular people who are dealt a bad hand in life and fight to find ways to cope and be happy. It’s a theme I return to again and again. Craze was created to be a reflection of the regular person. He doesn’t always make the right choices and is shoved into being the hero. His dreams and desires change over the course of the series as he encounters different worlds, people, aliens, and war. He’s definitely fun to write.

Will those who know you recognize you in any of your characters? What is it about your protagonists that make readers connect with them?
I’ve never been a bartender on another planet, but I wouldn’t mind the job if it came up. My idea of happiness and success have changed over time like Craze’s. I’m tenacious like a lot of my characters, and I keep searching for ways to enjoy life as it comes. My characters are always regular people with regular challenges. Then some extraordinary challenges come up, which help them with the smaller problems. They overcome and find ways to cope. I think we’re all searching for how to carry on when facing the stresses of life.

If the stars aligned, what past or present television or movie series would you love to be involved with?
Sharknado. I’d love to be eaten by a shark, and I have a secret dream of writing a B science fiction movie for the Syfy channel. Maybe a rabid herd of dishwashers or something.

You’ve published almost two dozen short stories (available separately, in anthologies, and in your own collections). What is it about the short story form that draws you to it?
I wrote two series (never published) and had proven to myself I could finish a novel. The short story allows me to hone skills at a faster rate. Submitting the short stories and gaining feedback from editors was crucial in my growth as a writer. Between novels, I usually read books on the craft of writing and work at applying new skills to my craft. The short story allows me to practice more quickly. The more I practice, the quicker the new skill becomes a habit.

When did you know you were a writer?
I’ve always been a writer. I spent my childhood lost in my imagination and in the stories I read. My favorite past time was daydreaming about living in a favorite story: Winnie-the-Pooh, Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Pippi Longstocking. I wrote my first story in grade school. When my dad asked what I was interested in doing with my life (I think I was 10 years old), I said a writer or a horse trainer. Horses aren’t part of my life anymore, but I’m still a sap for a story about a horse. The writing never stopped. No matter what I was doing, I was also trying to figure out how I could write. I could barely afford to eat when I lived in New York City, but I found the money to buy a typewriter. Writing is part of how I’m wired. I have to do it. I love walking around in my imaginary worlds and poking at the corners to see what else I can find.

What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
Three things put me on the road to writing and publishing. 1) I was very lost and unsure what to do with myself at a certain point. My mother said, “You were always good at writing, write me something.” So, I started writing every day. That’s when I wrote those two series I never published (not ready for prime time). 2) When I was writing and submitting short stories, I received a great rejection from a top science fiction magazine; a full page of what was great about what I had written and what needed fixing. That short story was “Stopover at the Backworlds Edge,” which became the opening scene in the second Backworlds book. 3) About that same time, I met author Lindsay Buroker online who encouraged me to start publishing as an indie. I’m really glad she talked me into sharing my writing with the world. I love being an author.

What writing projects are you working on now?
Besides outlining Endpoint (Backworlds #8), I’m editing Spaceberg (the first in my Squad 51 series) to release later this spring. I’m also working on the sequel to Spaceberg, called Space Trash. When that’s done, I’ll start on the third in that series. Last, but not least, I’m working on a collaborative project with a group of authors. My goal for the future is to finish The Backworlds, The Rifters, and The Hetty Locklear series.

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Five Poisons That Paralyze Your Writing (and Their Antidotes)

Bill O’Hanlon has authored or co-authored 30+ books including Write is a Verb: Sit Down, Start Writing, No Excuses. Not only is he a prolific nonfiction writer, he’s an entertaining speaker who motivates his audience to follow their dreams. In the case of a presentation I attended a few years ago, he discussed five poisons writers often succumb to and the antidotes to neutralize them.

1. Perfection Poison (Everything-Must-Be-Just-So Poison)
Writers who fall prey to this deadly poison get lost in a desire to make everything perfect before starting to write. This might include acquiring various writing software (and the computer to go with them), designing/creating or decorating a writing space, waiting for the perfect time to write, acquiring writing skills, and amassing research.

Antidotes
• Give yourself permission not to be good (to write the worst book ever).
• Be willing to be radically edited, torn apart and made better.
• Start writing.

2. I-Don’t-Have-Anything-New-To-Say Poison
All the stories have already been told—this lie can stop a writer from penning the first word. But no one can write the story like you can. You have a unique style, voice, and slant.

Antidotes
• Everyone is profoundly weird—embrace your weirdness.
• Consider: Every musician is limited to the same 12 notes, yet the uniqueness of their compositions is amazing.

3. I-Don’t-Have-Time Poison
This might be the most popular excuse not to write. With so many demands on our time, it’s easy to let this poison keep us from our writing dreams.

Antidotes
• Do something writing-related everyday, even if it’s only sharpening pencils.
• Make a commitment, set your priorities. If you want to write, you’ll make the time—just 5 minutes a day can make a difference and prove to yourself it can be done.
• Consider: Maya Angelou wrote at her kitchen table (with children on her lap) before going to work.
• Consider: Bill O’Hanlon wrote 10 books in 10 years and had three kids to support and nurture.

4. This-Will-Never-Get-Published Poison
Understanding why you write is key to overcoming this poison. O’Hanlon believes a “Writer’s Energy” can motivate or fuel our writing. These four energies are being:
• blissed – you love to write
• blessed – you’re encouraged to write
• pissed – you’re angry enough to write (righteous indignation)
• dissed – (prove someone wrong and) turn that sensitivity into fuel for your writing

Antidotes
• Figure out how to write without a guarantee of publication.
• Try again, fail again, fail better.
• My suggestion: write to please yourself and for the sake of the story.

5. I’m-Not-In-The-Mood-To-Write Poison
You’re not inspired to write. Your muse is just not showing up. What if the muse never pays a visit?

Antidotes
• Show up and the muse will, too. Start writing, it will take care of those moods.
— F. H. Bradley: The mood in which my book was conceived and executed, was in fact to some extent a passing one.
— Madeleine L’Engle: Inspiration comes to you while you’re writing rather than before.
• Treat writing as a profession—do the job and you’ll find your groove.
• Remember: the more you write, the better you get.

Wherever you are is always the right place. There is never a need to fix anything, to hitch up the bootstraps of the soul and start at some higher place. Start right where you are. ~ Julia Cameron

Have you ever been paralyzed by these poisons? What antidote did you use to keep writing?

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Indistinguishable Magic

Any story that is told with proper artistry and depth should be indistinguishable from magic. ~ David Farland

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Compelling Book Covers: Awesome Artwork, a Crackling Font, and a Constellation

Book covers fascinate me. The good ones incorporate the right balance of color, fonts, and imagery to spark interest and convey a book’s genre. It’s an art form I admire, and which I doubt I’ll ever get a handle on (but I hope to have the need to communicate with a cover artist at some point in the future).

In my research to understand book cover design, I’ve started out by collecting sample covers that catch my eye. I’m also becoming more aware of my own book-choosing habits. What is it that makes me push the buy button? An intriguing cover? A well-penned blurb?

Here are three books on my to-read mountain that I’ve already felt compelled to buy and why I committed to the purchase.

Nameless_DwarfThe Nameless Dwarf by D.P. Prior
Cover: Appealing colors (I like blue!), awesome artwork, and an interesting disparity between the title and what appears to be a warrior giant. Overall a great cover, well-balanced.

Summary: The last hope of the dwarves comes from the unlikeliest of sources: a mythical city beneath the waves, an axe from the age of heroes, and the Nameless Dwarf, in whose veins flows the blood of legends…an epic tale of remorse and redemption that pits a whiskerless thief, a guilt-driven assassin, a consumptive wizard, and an amnesiac dwarf against the worst imaginings of a craven mind.

My Take: The cover itself, with its hint at action and a cast of fantasy characters, was enough to compel me to buy the book.

Skynoise: A Time Travel Thriller by Ernie Lindsey
Cover: A “simply” rendered sky as a backdrop and a title that crackles with energy (and suggests science fiction).

Summary: In the present day, undulating wails are heard in the sky across the world with no apparent earthly origin. When respected academic Helen Weils meets conspiracy theorist Chip Sledd, she dismisses his theories of a connection between the disappearance of Roanoke Island colonists in 1587 and the strange noises in the sky. Then black-suited agents pursue her and Chip, and she realizes the past is more flexible than she thought possible—and seeking the truth might mean accepting the strangest theory of all.

My Take: The cover and the title drew me to the blurb: part time travel science fiction and part technothriller…with a blend of mystery, suspense, psychological drama, comedy, and fast-paced action adventure. The combination of a good cover and a blurb describing a different kind of time travel story sold me on the book.

DogStarsThe Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Cover: An example of a simple and uncluttered layout that works. Complimentary colors and an unusual font that’s different but not distracting. It all comes together to pull the eye to the title and the dog constellation.

Summary: A powerful novel about a pilot who survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. When a random transmission beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope that something like his old life might still exist. Narrated by a man who is part warrior and part dreamer, a hunter with a great shot and a heart that refuses to harden…a breathtaking story about what it means to be human.

My Take: I probably would have passed on this one because of the cover’s simplicity, but the title and the constellation made me curious enough to check out Amazon’s Look Inside feature. The first three paragraphs from chapter one:

I keep the Beast running, I keep the 100 low lead on tap, I foresee attacks. I am young enough, I am old enough. I used to love to fish for trout more than almost anything.

My name is Hig, one name. Big Hig if you need another.

If I ever woke up crying in the middle of a dream, and I’m not saying I did, it’s because the trout are gone every one. Brookies, rainbows, browns, cutthroats, cutbows, every one.

The story’s post-apocalyptic aspect and the character’s voice promised an interesting read and compelled me to push the buy button.

What do you think? Would these covers compel you to buy the books?

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Author Interview: D Wallace Peach

Author D. Wallace Peach infuses her speculative fiction with vivid prose and intriguing plots. Her twelve published books are divided between two four-book series and four standalone novels. Kari’s Reckoning (2017) is the fourth and final novel in her Rose Shield series, a storyline that explores flawed and compelling characters, a sentient landscape, and a magic system that allows for manipulating emotions. Learn more about Diana and her writing on her website/blog MythsOfTheMirror.com and her Amazon author page, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter (@dwallacepeach), and Goodreads.


What was the initial spark for the Rose Shield seriesa character, the setting, a what-if question?
For any of my books, my initial spark is usually something related to a magic system. I’m a fan of fantasy author Brandon Sanderson and enjoy the structure he brings to the magic in his books, including how he integrates his concepts into the characters, themes, and plot. From the magical inspiration, the rest gradually falls into place.

The magic system of the Rose Shield started with my experience as a counselor. I believe that our emotions drive us more than our thoughts and reason. When we interact with others, we’re influencing them emotionally—trying to make them smile, comply, love, take our side, leave us alone. For the Rose Shield, I took that concept a step further and asked: what if a group of people could influence others’ feelings through a special talent? And what would they do if there was someone who could stop them?

Among your cast of characters are influencers (magic wielders), warriors, assassins, rebels—and Catling, who has the ability to disrupt the power of the guild that rules her world through manipulating emotions. Were the characters fully formed when you began writing, or did they reveal themselves to you as the story unfolded?
I do tons of pre-writing preparation, including biographies on all my characters, even the secondary ones. I describe their childhoods, fears, dreams, challenges, goals, and secrets. Characters take further shape as the outline comes together. And, of course, when I start writing, more of their personalities emerge. On occasion, I have to edit their biographies because, despite all the planning, I still allow them to be themselves. That’s part of the fun.

Tell us about the main setting. Do you consider it to be a character in the books?
The Rose Shield takes place on a terraformed world, so it has Earthlike and alien elements. In this series, the planet is sentient, so it’s not only a character, but it causes all kinds of havoc. The world’s luminous rivers are its veins, and when humans start messing with the planet’s “blood”—the source of their unusual power—the planet straightens them out. Kari’s Reckoning, the last book in the series, is partly about the “setting” getting her way and putting humans in their place.

What was the most difficult aspect of world-building for this series?
Definitely keeping the magic system (the power to influence others’ emotions) logical and consistent. It’s a powerful skill, and I had to keep asking the question: why wouldn’t they just use their influence? There needed to be reasons and consequences in every instance for using it or deciding not to.

You released the four-novel Rose Shield collection within two months of publishing the first book. How did the series come together?
It took me two years to write the series. I wrote the entire outline for all four books, plotting them as one long story, before I started writing. That way the whole thing felt cohesive to me—all the forecasting was in place, characters had complete arcs, themes flowed from the beginning to the end, and I plugged up the plot holes. I structured each book with escalating challenges and ensured all the books worked together as one intensifying story that led to the final climax. The editing passes were bears, the grizzly kind. I wanted to release all four very close to each other so that readers who enjoyed the first one could pick up the next immediately. It made sense from a marketing standpoint, and it’s how I like to read. Basically, to release them together, I held up the first books while waiting for the last.

What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write, and how do you get over this hurdle?
I have two types of scenes that I find challenging. One is battle scenes because I hold my breath and have to type really fast! Ha ha. They’re so intense, people are fighting for their lives, so I can’t take a breather. I’m in this intense “zone” and have to see it through. I’ll occasionally find myself gasping because I’m not breathing!

The other scenes that are tough are sad scenes. I get emotional, all teary and snotty. My husband is used to it now, but when I started writing he’d stare at me with a worried look on his face. For me, writing is an emotional commitment. I take a deep breath and dive in because I want the reader to feel it. If I maintain a protective distance, I think the reader can sense it and won’t be as invested in the story.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m working on a two-book series right now: Soul Swallowers and Legacy of Souls. I’ll publish those together in May. The idea/magic for these books started with lots of musing about the nature and mystery of the soul. What if we could access the souls of the dead as a way to keep those we love near us? What if we were able to merge? We might acquire skills and knowledge, a more robust constitution, a happier temperament, greater wisdom. All positive, right? But time and again, human beings demonstrate a tendency to take things to the extreme without considering consequences. These books will have plenty of conflict, but I’m hoping that there will be some wisdom and heart in them as well.

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3 Fiction Writing Terms: Foreshadow, MacGuffin, Red Herring

The writing business is one of the deepest oceans to navigate. Besides mastering book distribution, marketing, and promotion, writers must also learn a unique set of terms and techniques before deciding what to apply to their own work. When I began treading the writing waters twenty years ago, I didn’t even know what MFA stands for or that a Master of Fine Arts degree can be earned in creative writing (not just visual arts, performing arts, etc.).

This post is part of a series of short lists with definitions and links for further reading that I could have used when I started on my own writing journey.

Foreshadow

Foreshadowing hints at something important that will happen later in the story. According to KM Weiland such hints “can be blatant or subtle. Subtle is almost always better, since you don’t want to giveaway your plot twists. But, at the same time, your hints have to be obvious enough that readers will remember them later on. Usually, the earlier you can foreshadow an event, the stronger and more cohesive an effect you will create. The bigger the event, the more important it is to foreshadow it early.” Foreshadowing can be found in many elements of a story to include dialogue, setting, and character types.

For more:
Kyle Malone, Mythic Scribes: “In the Land of Mordor where the Foreshadows lie”
NowNovel.com: “8 foreshadowing laws: How to foreshadow right”
Robert Wood, Standout Books: “How To Use Foreshadowing With Confidence” Part 1 and Part 2
K.M. Weiland: “How to Use Foreshadowing” and “Setup and Payoff: The Two Equally Important Halves of Story Foreshadowing”

MacGuffin

“A MacGuffin [also McGuffin or Maguffin] is a plot device that is an object, goal, or something that motivates the protagonist and drives the plot, but serves no other purpose whatsoever. The significance or importance of the MacGuffin is never explained, and sometimes it might never actually be shown. All the reader knows is that everyone in the story is trying to get their hands on it.” ~ Joe Bunting, The Write Practice

The statuette in The Maltese Falcon and the suitcase in Pulp Fiction are two examples of physical MacGuffins. In “What is a McGuffin?”, Michael Kurland discusses other types of MacGuffins (some found in Shakespeare), such as the tale told by the ghost of Hamlet’s father in Hamlet and King Henry’s desire for the whole country of France in Henry V.

For more:
Joe Bunting, The Write Practice: “How to Avoid the MacGuffin Trap and Create a Unique Plot”
Michael Kurland, Gotham Writers: “What Is A McGuffin?”
Robert Wood, Standout Books: “Is There Such A Thing As A Good MacGuffin?”

Red Herring

Used most often in thriller/mystery/suspense writing, red herrings are false clues meant to throw a character, and the reader, off track.

“The term has its origins in the training for hunting dogs. Usually when a dog was tracking a scent, it wasn’t the only scent competing for the dog’s attention. Since fish have a distinct and powerful odor, they were sometimes used to train the dogs to stick to the scent they were tracking…When the dog followed the fish scent, the dog had followed a red herring.” ~ Liz Bureman, The Write Practice

For more:
Liz Bureman, The Write Practice: “Why Writers Love Red Herrings: A Brief Guide”
Kathryn Lilley, Kill Zone: “Hooking Your Readers with Red Herrings”
Robert Wood, Standout Books, discusses foreshadowing as a red herring in “How To Use Foreshadowing With Confidence – Part 2”

Though you might never use red herrings or a MacGuffin in your particular genre, foreshadowing is a useful technique found in every kind of fiction writing (even just a character’s casual remark or a darkening sky that hints of a future event). Have you used any of these techniques in your writing?


For more in the 3 Fiction Writing Terms series, check out:
Active Verbs, Author Intrusion, Backstory
Arcs, Beats, Blurbs

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All who wander are not lost.~ JRR Tolkien

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