Damsels and Dragons and Wizards, Oh My!


Let’s imagine that this posted on Wednesday this week, shall we? Just to keep up the illusion that we’re doing something on a schedule.

Illusions, magic, swords, and quests, fantasy is a broad range of fiction, but I’m going to limit our discussion today to old-school sword and sorcery style fantasy. Urban fantasy is a different topic to be dealt with on a different day.

There’s been a resurgence in what we used to call sword & sorcery in my day. Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones, fantasy is back with a vengeance. It died for a little bit in the nineties, but it never went away. It mutated into vampire novels and urban settings with elves, and a bit of steampunk veneer for spice, but there were still stories about knights and wizards hiding in the corners.

I was lucky enough that my mother read to me for ages. We started with Lord of the Rings and The Black Cauldron series; then went on to hit the Spellsinger series and The Circle of Light. When we finished those we swam into the comedic fantasies of Myth, INC and A Malady of Magicks.

I have loved fantasy from when I was a kid, and even now I love nothing more than being able to lose myself in the depths of a good fantasy novel. Build me a world with consistent magical laws, throw in a dragon for good measure, and give me a party to follow and I am ready to follow.

However, I am also old school enough to tell you this: writing up your old D&D adventures? That’s not going to sell unless you happen to be the folks on Critical Role. I’m not saying that people should ignore simple quests. If they’re done right, a quest is a traditional tale told well. If they’re done wrong, it’s the Dungeons and Dragons movie with Jeremy Irons chewing on the set. (Bless him for that though. It made the rest of it less painful.)

If you want to stand out in the fantasy genre, tell me the story from a different angle. Heroes are a dime a dozen, give me a female priestess like in Martha Wells The Wheel of the Infinite. Or maybe you could build up a new society from a long-con like in Mistborn by Brian Sanderson. (Okay, so this post wants to digress into a “read these awesome stories” post, so deep breath and let’s press on.)

The elements a fantasy story needs: some form of magic, a McGuffin to pursue, compelling characters to root for, and some fighting and/or diplomacy in the way of the pursuit.

What it does not need: an all-white all-male formulaic cast, slavery, or to be set in a European forest.

Build the setting. Build the rules of the world. Give me characters that have actual motivation. Remember, fantasy is the setting, characters make the story.

And go read some awesome books:

The Wheel of the Infinite – Martha Wells

The Hawk & Fisher Series – Simon R. Green

Mistborn  – Brian Sanderson

And whatever people suggest in the comments below. 🙂

We’ll just leave this here…

Are you looking for a way to pretend you’re being productive and waste a little time on the internet? Have we got the place for you!

I mean, you could buy a book. That’ll give you loads of time to waste and also help feed a poor, deprived artist (hey, Starbucks doesn’t pay for itself).

But you could also do this. (<—- come on, you know you want to.)

Writing Through the Ages

So. Let’s pretend we already had the conversation about how long it’s been since I did a post (on anything, but particularly on here) Input quirky banter about long absences and fond hearts and blah blah blah.

Right. So last week Kate gave us a lovely post about what we’re looking for in YA books, as a publisher. So in connected vein, I’m going to talk about an important part of writing your next YA masterpiece. The art of writing characters who come across as the age you intend them to be.

I’m sure we’ve had the experience of a character, in whatever medium, not acting their age. A ten-year-old who suddenly talks like a college student or a college student with the mental acuity of a ten-year-old. And while absolutely a character can have those things, as a flaw/bonus, things need to be properly grounded.

And now I’m going to miraculously poof out five ways to do that.

  1. Read. No really. Go find a book written for the age group of the character who needs to carry your story. Are you writing mid-grade, about middle school kids? Find books meant for middle school kids and books about middle school kids.
  2. Listen to real people. Find a popular youtube channel, since there are kids of all ages out there making their own videos. Watch a few and see how they talk, what their interests are, all of that. Have a friend with a kid in your age range? Maybe take your friend and their kid to a movie (this means you don’t have to be responsible for the small human, and you can see how that parent/child dynamic works too). Take your college-age niece to lunch. And then recognize that all of that is how they behave with you and not how they’ll behave with their peers, etc.
  3. Be prepared for rewrites. As you are not actually–presumably–a teenager or a ten-year-old, there will be moments when you fail, particularly in dialogue, and have to change it.
  4. Go with your gut. If you read something and it sounds wrong, or makes it hard to read, don’t do that thing. Simple, right?
  5. However much market research you’ve done, do more. Read more. Watch more. Write more. You’ve got a story to tell, so tell it.

Because everything else can wait until after it’s written.

What the heck is the YA market?

When I was a kid — yes, I’m going there — there was nothing called YA. There were kids books and there were adult books.

Yes, books were sort of grouped in the kids section by age range, but there was no separate place for books aimed at what we now call young adults.

YA is now a market and so now we have to figure out how to define that market. From my perspective, YA contains books aimed at people aged 12 to 18. (Which does not in any way mean that you have to be that age to read them.)

The rule of thumb when I was a baby-author and getting the hang of this publishing thing was that a book for kids was grouped by the age of its protagonist. For example, books aimed at tweens would have a protagonist who was approximately fifteen/ in high school. Books aimed at high school students generally featured seniors in high school or kids just entering college.

That’s not exactly how it works anymore.

YA features protagonists who are the same age as the readers, or just above them. Right now, they’re chosen ones fighting in dystopias, or quietly desperate high school struggles, or soul-shattering stories written by John Green. Now, as a reader, you don’t have to decide if something is YA, it’s right there in the section of the bookstore labeled YA.

I don’t have that luxury. I’m over here on the publisher side. I have to decide if it belongs in that section of the bookstore.

How do I do that? I fall back on what I know. If the protagonist is between fifteen and twenty-five, check-box one is achieved. If the story is something that follows a general pattern of what’s in the market right now for YA, check-box two is achieved. If the writing is over-blown and annoyingly pedantic… erm… no.

I have nothing against poetry. I have nothing against using multi-syllabic words or facing difficult concepts in a story. Let’s face it, Harry Potter has racism, fascism, class warfare, prisoners of war, torture, and death. Hunger Games is children literally hunting each other. Difficult storylines, difficult words, none of that is a problem. Sex, violence, cursing, none of those things are deal-breakers anymore.

Talking down to the audience is. Pretending to be hip is. (What is it you whipersnappers say? “on fleek”?) Don’t do that, please.

Still, bottom line, when I’m looking for a YA book (and let’s face it, our line does need some), I’m looking for a book that hits the sweet spot in terms of age, reads quickly, and doesn’t make me question whether or not I’ll need to talk to the FBI about the author.


HERSTORY: Miss Cora M. Strayer’s Private Detective Agency

Okay, so, I’ve been really sucky at writing anything on a regular basis here.

But that’s because the world has been… insane.

Let’s focus on the past for a little while okay? This is from Paul Reda. And I just love the fact that not only is the ad awesome, the history is pretty cool too.

I am really into old ads and Chicago history, and the ad copy filled me with joy. I loved the idea of a female PI working the South Side of Chicago during the Progressive Era. My mind almost immediately started concocting stories and cases for her (historical fanfic? Is that a thing?). Cheating husbands, missing daughters, crooked alderman, maybe even a murder in the Stockyards. I was sure she had an affair with Upton Sinclair and her nemesis must have been H.H. Holmes.

I resolved to find out as much about her as I could. I never would have guessed that I would find so much and that she completely lived up to my expectations. So here is a timeline and documentation of everything I could find out about her (or at least as much as I could while spending no money and “researching” from the comfort of my couch). I HIGHLY recommend you click the links and read the articles. They’re amazing.


Make your own Golden Fleeced Sheep

So, we have a wonderful mascot named Nugget. He’s adorable. But obviously, he didn’t come glittery and golden as he should be for a golden fleeced sheep. We made him glitter.

nugget 6

After five attempts.

You can make your own. With the best method, not the first five, which involved varying types of fabric paint.

Materials:nugget 5

  • 1 Stuffed sheep

  • Spray adhesive

  • Fine gold glitter

  • Painter’s tape









Step 1: Acquire a stuffed sheep. Our Nugget was saved from a thrift shop in Delaware.

Step 2: Use painter’s tape to mask the parts you don’t want to glitter.

nugget 4

Step 3: Open the spray adhesive. Then, throw out the vintage spray adhesive that you’ve had since high school; run to the store and buy a new bottle of adhesive.

nugget 3

Step 4: Spray the sheep in sections and cover with glitter. Be aware that spray adhesive is what Spiderman uses to web criminals. Wear latex/nitrile gloves or be prepared to pick that stuff off your hands for the rest of the night. Oh, and glitter? Yeah, glitter is evil. It will get everywhere. Forever.


Step 5: Allow the glue to dry.

Step 6: Remove the tape.

nugget 6

Step 7: Enjoy the wonderful and glittery shine that makes your sheep pictures look like JJ Abrams filmed your sheep.

nugget 2

Well, better late than never…

It’s been a pretty seriously hectic holiday season around here. Not even counting the normal publishing woes (at the absolute best of times this business is a fickle battlefield littered with random time-sucks and backslides) there have been personal leave issues and weather problems and I could keep going but lets just say January was more or less a wash.

So, back there before or around the 2015 holiday season I was going to post this really great thing I saw, that tied in with our Fandom project, The Fandom Universe: A Galaxy Far, Far Away and then all the aforementioned stuff happened and I didn’t.

But it was too cool not to post anyway. So here you go, in case you’ve ever wondered how you were supposed to differentiate between stormtroopers and clone troopers.


And here’s hoping eventually 2016 starts to shape up…

Sometimes You Have to Say “No”

“Creative people say ‘yes’ until they have enough work that they can say ‘no.’”

Austin Kleon (Austin has several wonderful/amusing form letters about saying ‘no’ on his tumblr.)

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this month, you have to say no to something. That might be not watching TV with the family after dinner. It might be bowing out of a night of drinking and debauchery. (Why not try a write in, instead? A lot more coffee, but random conversations that will make you wonder what’s *in* that coffee. And you get some writing done.)

But even if you aren’t, the holiday seasons are upon us. They’ve pounced with the ferocity of a reporter on a Donald Trump quote. This season, more than any other, is when you need to think about your own sanity. You will have a lot of people who believe you have unlimited time to devote to them. This might be family. This might be friends. This might be a boss who has fourteen new projects that need to be pushed out by the beginning of January.

You need to take care of you. So, you need to be able to say “no” to things. “No, I’m sorry, I can’t make sixteen dozen cupcakes for tomorrow.” Or “Sorry, I won’t be able to make your party on the 16th! Have a wonderful time and eat a slice of pie for me.”

And here’s the nasty little secret people always forget: You are not required to explain why you are saying “no” to an event. “I’m sorry. I won’t be able to make it. Thank you for inviting me.” Feel free to copy and paste that sucker whenever you want.

When it comes to projects? Remember that quality trumps quantity. Can you take on 3 freelance projects and get them done on time and make enough to live on/pay the bill you need to pay? Take on 3 projects. But remember to start truly evaluating when the next possible project comes down the road. Will taking on a 4th project result in all 4 of them going off the rails? Say “I’m afraid I won’t be able to take this project on until [Date]. Will that work for you?”

And right here and now is when I point out that I am a total hypocrite about this. I almost always take on enough to push me to the edge.

But I have learned my lesson. 50 pies I’ve never made before? Sure, I can do them. Just not tomorrow. I’m going to need some notice for that sort of thing.