Monday, March 4, 2019

Coffee with a Writer: We Are Made of Stars

Coffee with a Writer: We Are Made of Stars

Once upon a time there was nothing. No light. No sound. No warmth. Only the thick black void of pre-existence. There was something to be said for whatever could exist in all of that nothingness, but it was not, and never would be, alive. In one moment there was simply nothing and in the next there was light. Warmth. Spreading, expanding, mixing and churning until there were stars, and suns and moons within the blanket of all that nothingness. And from the dust of all those cosmic interactions we came. 

I'm not a religious person, I'd call myself spiritual at best. But I do believe that what we are, what we have been, and what we will be is not coincidence. Nor is it fate or destiny, mind you, but a precise movement of a massive symphony that simply is. There's something about the idea of the cosmos that exists beyond the limits of our small blue planet that has always intrigued me. And terrified me, to be honest. It's so vast. So largely empty. So... different. Out there in space there is nothing the same as what we know here on our little blue rock. This deep, esoteric, primitive fear of what lies beyond the light is what keeps me with my feet firmly planted on the ground. Were we offered a ship's ride off the planet I would have to think twice before I stepped on board. Instead, I choose to write about what's out there; dream, imagine, and hope.

Science fiction romance is the perfect vehicle to explore the ideas of a cosmos that both terrifies and fascinates me. What better way to delve into all those infinite possibilities than to write about falling in love? It is, if one is to be honest, the one thing that will bind life forms across the endless blanket of the cosmos. Love. There are no species that wouldn't know it, no matter the word or sound or thought they use to describe it. Perhaps they hate it. Perhaps they would fear it. But all would know it. I adore the idea of humanity expanding beyond our limits, going farther, changing and growing and becoming. What would we find? How would that change us? 

One of my favorite projects so far has been writing about the Takamo Universe and the people who inhabit it. The Universe began as an email game, and has grown now into a MMORPG to be released soon. We write stories of the people who inhabit the game in order to give the player a more immersive gaming experience. My personal goal is to tell the stories of love, survival and family that bind the people of the universe together through the darkest times they will ever face. In Aphelion, a Takamo SF anthology duet, I introduce Kellen and Rayelle, two children stolen from their homes and experimented on by a shadowy organization called The Authority. The Authority is attempting to create the perfect soldier, but Kellen and Rayelle will never submit to their will. In the following story, Dead Man's Drift, we meet Kellen again, now the guardian of Rayelle's two grown daughters. Together, they travel the galaxy doing what Klevessans do best-- lying, cheating and stealing. But when they discover a plot to kill a high-ranking government official they know they have no choice but to do what's right no matter the consequences. 

There's something so special about these stories, because even though they take place far into our future, thousands of light years away, these characters are relatable. They're struggling with their pasts, the inevitability of their futures, and the weight of responsibility that might mean their deaths. They band together, testing the bonds of family and friendship, in the name of doing what's right. They're not perfect, or even necessarily good, but they have a duty to the one thing that holds them all together-- their humanity. ((In this context humanity does not necessarily connotate the human species, but more the idea of what it means to be a sentient, loving creature.))

In the end, Kellen and the others realize that no matter their species, their backgrounds or their beliefs, we all came from the same place, to that place we will return someday. We are all made of stars.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Key Holders: My First Fallen Angels

Key Holders: My First Fallen Angels

Back in 2012 I wasn't thinking about writing books for publication very seriously. I liked writing, and had always dabbled in poetry, short stories and such, but hadn't really given much thought to writing something more substantial for publication. I was gently pursuing the idea and decided that I was going to start a little drabble on my Facebook page, just to gauge reader interest. 
(Drabble is a 100-word short story.)

I was thinking about what topic I'd like to write about, and with no real end-point in mind I began to wonder what might happen to the world after the angels fell. The story began, "Twelve years ago the angels fell in heaps of blood and broken bone." It seemed a fitting place to start a story about the world after such a happening. People are forced to admit the existence of heavenly beings, and forced to understand that they are now dead. Gone, before we ever began to understand or investigate them. What would this do to society? How would this change us fundamentally as the human race? I decided that... it wouldn't. Not really. Folks would be interested and the phenomenon would get a lot of attention for a while, and then slowly but surely like everything else it would fade away. The world became a darker, colder place but humanity didn't really seem to notice. 

When the drabble was posted readers seemed to to enjoy the premise. I was happy that the idea was well-received and went about my business writing a (still-unpublished) science fiction romance trilogy (that was terrible, by the way LOL). Time passed, but my mother still continued to ask me what happened in the angel story. 

One day, I asked her why she was so interested in the angel story. It was just 100 words, but something about it captured her imagination. She explained that most people were always looking for faith, but the idea that humanity stopped looking was intriguing to her. So, I set about completing the story she continued to ask me for. 

Between was born. The story centers on a woman named Cassie Larke, who was twelve when the angels fell. She was like so many others who let that memory slide to the periphery of her life as she continued to pursue an education and grieve the death of her mother. Drawn to the sea, Cassie finds a mysterious man adrift on some wreckage. When she returns him to shore, she's shocked to learn that no one else but her can see him. He has no memory of who, or what he is, and he begs for her help. Intrigued despite a sense of imminent danger, Cassie agrees to help the man discover the strange circumstances of his existence. Is he a ghost? Why is she the only one who can see him? As time passes, it becomes clear that the man she decides to call Noah is not a ghost at all, but a fallen angel. 

This part of the story becomes quite complicated. Other angels are watching, hiding among humans and keeping to themselves as they search for other survivors. Something terrible is coming and they all know that they must return to Heaven before their Heavenly powers are gone for good. 

The stories of the Key Holders books focus on the three brothers who fell together. Noah-the youngest, and Key Holder. Gabriel, the eldest, and Uriel, their middle brother. Together with Cassie and a few remaining angels they seek to uncover the growing mystery that threatens all of existence. Heaven, Hell and Earth are all in danger.

These books aren't designed to be overtly religious. There are, of course, overtones of standard Christian lore, but there is more spirituality than religion in them. The stories are about strength of character, the weight of lies, and the dangers of misconception. 

Between is currently released, and Uriel's own story, Wayward, is also available. Uriel's mate fell and she's quickly running out of time as her Heavenly essence is nearly depleted. If he can't find her and help her remember their love, he may lose her for eternity. 

I hope readers really enjoy Between. My Alpha Reader (most trusted pre-publishing reader) still says this series is her favorite. There are plans to complete the series with Gabriel's story, and even a novella for Michael along the way. This was my first real foray into publication, and one of my lesser known works, but it's still one I love. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Coffee with a Writer: Love in Adversity

Love in Adversity

Writing Romance in the Hard Times

Welcome back, adventurers! I've had my caffeine infusion for the day, and so I'm ready to talk about today's topic: writing love in adversity. There are many ways for romance writers to write about the act of falling in love. The process, if you will. ALL of them typically involve the characters coming upon some obstacle that threatens to split them up or end the budding relationship all together. This adversity typically brings to light secrets, misunderstandings and issues between the characters that hamper their blossoming love. 

As an adventure romance writer I have a unique opportunity to not only emotionally, but also physically, threaten the relationship between my characters. There's usually more at stake in my stories than the romance itself. Sometimes it's as simple as a friendship or a business, but other times the fate of the world, galaxy, or entire universe is at stake! Imagine trying to reconcile your feelings for someone while also worrying about whether or not a few planets are going to blow up! Not an easy thing to handle, I assure you. 

"My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel- it is, before all, to make you see. That-- an no more,and it is everything."
                                             ---- Joseph Conrad

Let's examine a particular instance in my stories where adversity directly affects the relationship of the characters and the story as a whole. In The Alchemist's Kiss, our hero Icarus Kane has denied his growing feelings of affection for Cora Mae for years. She has done her best to put up with his increasingly standoffish ways, but by the time the story starts the two are constantly at odds. Icarus cares for Cora more deeply than he feels he could ever admit, and Cora is a headstrong, independent woman who doesn't mind a bit of excitement now and then. It falls to Archimedes Merriweather to be the go-between for the two whenever their arguments get out of hand. Icarus' own feelings of emotional inadequacy are at odds with his love for Cora, and he truly believes that he is not a man who is destined for happiness. This emotional adversity between the two sets the stage for the reader and shows them the growth that must occur in each character in order for the relationship to fully bloom.

Outside the internal conflict that these characters are facing there is much external adversity facing them as well. Riots are breaking out across London, making it dangerous for wizards who are caught alone and unawares by groups of outraged non-magicals. At the same time a dark mage has appeared in the city, causing more trouble for the pair. While trying to protect the city and its people, Icarus and Cora are also struggling with their growing need to protect each other. By weaving this internal and external conflict together we are able to make the story more three dimensional for the reader. This love is being tested from all sides. Can it endure?

There's something special about reading books that put the reader through hell along with the characters, making the finally Happily Ever After so much sweeter. Readers familiar with Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series will note that this is a standard device used by the author to make the reader CARE about the characters. "C'mon, they've been through so much, just let them be together already!"  ((I may or may not have screamed this at her books a few times myself!))

In the end, the point of our little coffee break is to understand that it is both the internal and external adversity our couples face that create a strong, believable romance. Very rarely do couples meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after without encountering some pitfalls along the way. As romance writers we take a few liberties, amping up the pitfalls and creating chasms our characters must hurdle in order to get their just desserts. 

AUTHORS, sip your coffee and think on this for your next story. READERS, recognize and respect the level of dedication your next author has to really putting your couple through the paces. Nothing worth having ever comes easy!! 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Examining the Magical System of "The Alchemist" Magical Steampunk Series

Examining the Magical System of Darkest London 1870

Perhaps you've not read The Alchemist's Kiss or Enchanter's Embrace, books 1 and 2 in the The Alchemist Magical Steampunk series by yours truly. In that case, you're getting an upfront look at how magic works in the series. Where it came from, who can use it, and how. 

As a short preface to the series, let's set the scene. London, 1870s. Icarus Kane is a wizard, recently returned from the American Civil War to take up a spot as the Warden of London. The Warden's job is to protect the city from various nefarious magical insurgents. Icarus has a protege, a Virginian nurse named Cora Mae Jenkins, and his best friend Archimedes Merriweather. Together, the three live in the converted top floor of a London hotel and work together to protect the city. Archimedes and Icarus met many years ago, when Icarus found Archie dying of severe wounds in a gutter and nursed him back to health. Icarus saved Archie's life, most notably by replacing his damaged right hand, arm and shoulder with a clockwork replacement. 

The world is governed by a council of the most powerful magic users, led by the Grand Master, Lucan Orrin. The Warden of London is under direct supervision of the Grand Master and his familiar, Machiavelli. Wizards use magic to accomplish almost any task, and are divided into house of magic pertaining to their talent. Some wizards help light the city, some wizards help maintain the city transit, and some assist in the mines. People who do not have access to magic have to pay the houses for their services. In many groups, those who cannot use magic are called The Lacking. As you could imagine, regular people are angry about paying for magic, and losing their jobs to magic users. 

But where did magic come from? First we must explore what magic is. In this world, magic is the power produced when wizards are able to contact, and bend to their will, particles called aether. It's rare to see aether when not accessing magic, but during spells it appears as a golden twinkling light. Wizards utilize runes, incantations and potions to make contact with aether and access the abilities of the aether to complete certain tasks. The most powerful wizards are those most able to utilize the aether to achieve specific outcomes. Though unknown to most in this time, aether has actually existed since the universe began. It is the light produced when cosmic darkness was splintered and the universe was made. Aether exists in a world that is parallel to our own, touching but not a part of, the earthly realm. 

What is aether? Aether is a sentient nano-particle, living, reproducing, and existing alongside humanity since the beginning of time. Aether once interacted freely with humans, as we learn in The Pharaoh's Heart (book 3-currently in production). Aether crossed the barrier between their world and our own to aid humanity, often appearing as gods in order to guide civilizations. Icarus learns that aether is sentient in The Alchemist's Kiss, and those wizards who gain this knowledge, understand that aether is alive, are all the more powerful. 

What happened to aether? At some point in history, though the exact timing isn't known, humanity learned how to enslave aether. The gods became the slaves, and the ancient civilizations grew too powerful, eventually dooming themselves and any aether trapped on the earthly side of the barrier between worlds. (Though never confirmed, this was likely the civilization of Atlantis). In order to protect itself from this kind of misuse again, the aether strengthened the barrier between worlds, limiting the amount of aether that could exist on the earthly side at one time. This means that magic is a limited commodity. Some blood mages have succeeded in corrupting aether, and turning it to evil means, limiting the restrictions on the amount of aether and invoking very powerful spells. Typically this requires extreme sacrifice and most blood mages fail, forfeiting their own lives in the process.

The understanding: Rarely, a wizard is able to communicate with the aether. The aether is a lifeform unlike humans, but they've limited their power by enacting three rules that restrict their ability to perform a wizard's request.

Rule #1: Though they can see past, present and future at once, they are not allowed to show the future, thereby limiting their interference with the time stream.

Rule #2: Aether cannot kill. If controlled by a blood mage, and instructed to do so, tainted aether is terminated in order to forestall any further contamination. 

Rule #3: The aether cannot give knowledge beyond the current ability of human comprehension. Understanding of the universe, physics, and science could not be gleaned from the aether, so that the true course of human civilization moved without their interference.

By understanding the rules, Icarus and his friends are able to craft spells that do what they need, without breaking them. 

What about familiars? Familiars are singularly intriguing characters in this world. They funnel the aether through their own bodies for their masters, giving their masters access to more aether than a wizard without a familiar. Machiavelli, as the familiar to the most powerful wizard in the world, can enact spells on his own, including turning himself into a human when he wishes.

Where do science and alchemy fit in? The aether are living particles in another dimension, making them ultimately scientific beings. Magic itself, can be explained away with science, though it rarely is. Icarus believes in using every tool at one's disposal to achieve a goal, and in this pursuit he studies "hard" sciences, alchemy and magic alike. In the effort to protect his city, and ultimately the world, from dark magic, he will often employ magic in concert with deductive reasoning and alchemy.  

This world is in upheaval as The Lacking band together, determined to take back the world from the wizards. Black mages scheme at every turn to find the ultimate font of power that is an understanding of the aether and how to control it. It's up to Icarus, Cora, Archie, Lucan and the others to protect their world and their magic any way, any how, they can. 

Stay tuned for Book 3 coming in 2019, The Pharaoh's Heart! Lucia and Archie travel to Egypt to explore the pyramids, hoping for some well-deserved rest, but nothing is ever that simple in a land of magic and upheaval. Beset by pirates, and swept into a mystery that spans more than 3000 years, it will take all of their will to find, and protect, The Pharaoh's Heart.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

On Writing Disappointment: How Not Getting Everything They Want Builds Characters

On Writing Disappointment

The world is built on mounds of disappointment. Nearly every successful man or woman today will tell you that they've weathered their fair share of sad and unlucky times; that finding their way through the darkness eventually made them stronger and better able to appreciate their success.  We've all faced bitter disappointment, and we've allowed it to shape us. In the same way that life has handed you lemons, it's the author's responsibility to hand lemons over to their characters. 

Now, I'm not talking about run of the mill, stepped in gum, lost my car keys, my dog ran away, bad luck. Not the normal kind of I didn't get the job, I failed the test, the guy I like doesn't like me, disappointment. When we set out to create characters, we must take every awful moment and every terrible disappointment and make it WORSE. Why? We're building character (s). Human beings are meat, electrical impulses and thought. Without thought we'd be nothing more than wandering zombies. And the way we think about things, the way we see them, is called perspective. Every character's perspective on the world will be different based on his experiences. It's the author's job to show the reader what the worst experiences can do to a person. 

When a main character experiences loss, for example, that will shape his vision of the world around him. It's up to the author to use this experience to make this character seem more real to the audience. Is he angry at the world because of the loss? Does he blame himself? Is he depressed? Again, the way the character reacts in this situation is built upon a million other smaller, less impactful, losses. We can't tell the reader about them all because we don't have that kind of time, typically. But it's easy to clue the reader in on what kind of person your character is by giving him BIG LOSS to deal with. It's not a far stretch to imagine that a character who deals with loss by punching it out at the gym might get into fights with people who annoy him, just so he can keep on using that coping mechanism. 

One of my favorite things to do as an author is to flip the reader's expectations of my character's behavior. Perhaps, up until now, my character has been a quiet, unassuming man in the suburbs. But now I can give him a challenge, a disappointment or a hurt, and show the reader that everything they knew about this character on the surface was simply that-- on the surface! It's a fun and typically painless way to build those characters by playing against reader expectation.

Typically, there isn't much to say about a character who is always happy, always gets what he wants, and always wins. Those kinds of characters don't hold the readers' attention because IT'S NEVER THAT EASY! There's no challenge to overcome, no obstacles standing in his path to help us test his mettle. Readers are looking for the rawest, purest moments of emotion from our characters. The best way to provide that is to HURT them a lot. 

One of my favorite authors, Sherrilyn Kenyon, makes her characters suffer tremendously, but always with the idea that with sacrifice and pain comes the possibility of redemption and reward. Those moments are what bring readers back over and over again.

The League: Nemesis Rising, Books 1-3: Born of Night, Born of Fire, Born of Ice by [Kenyon, Sherrilyn]

So, the moral of the story is that authors have the terrible but satisfying job of disappointing characters over and over again, because it is in their darkest moments that we see the true nature of our characters come to light. I'm never above a heartbreak in the pursuit of true character building, but where there is heartbreak their should eventually be love. There are many books where characters are tested again and again, never to find or achieve their reward, but readers come back to them no matter the ending. They've fallen for the characters, the people that the author has created, and will come back for their stories even if their endings are unhappy. 

So--- disappoint your characters, break them. Because from their pain, great characters will emerge!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Writing Historical Cozies: The Franny Calico Mysteries

Franny Calico and the Fun of Historical Cozy Mysteries

Hi all! So happy to be able to chat with everyone again. Today I was thinking about my historical cozy mystery series The Franny Calico Mysteries. As with everything I write, Franny could be placed firmly in the adventure romance category, even though she's an amateur sleuth with one real beau throughout the whole series. Franny certainly finds herself in enough exciting situations to classify her as an adventure. 

I set about writing Franny back in 2016 as a lark, writing her first story Death and Decopauge as a serial for my newsletter subscribers. They got a bi-weekly bit of the story that always kept them coming back for more. When the run was completed with the newsletter I wondered what I was going to do with Ms. Calico. At the time I didn't have any plans to write more about her, but as with any great character, she had more stories to tell. Newsletter subscribers were anxious to know what happened to Franny in France, briefly mentioned in D&D. I decided I'd better write a bit about Franny's time in Europe before we continued on with her adventures back home in Illinois. 

I think one of the best things about writing loosely-based historical fiction (and believe me, I'd definitely shelve this under alternative history) is that the world is already mostly defined, and we get to build our characters and their adventures within it. Franny, for example, left Illinois to study fashion in France post WWI. As the stage is being set for WWII to start, Franny recognizes the dangers and warns everyone that something worse than they could ever imagine is coming. After the harrowing events in France  which we follow in the prequel to D&D, Murder and Mistletoe, Franny returns home to Illinois and opens up a dress-makers shop and begins teaching decoupage lessons. 

**Side note here.. you'll notice that Decopauge is spelled incorrectly in the title, and that's on purpose because when the sign for her shop is created it's spelled that way.**

I had such a great time putting together a mystery with enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested. Franny has a push and pull relationship with the new town Sheriff, a man she grew up with. Their relationship keeps the internal tensions high, while the mystery continues to boil. 

Franny's sister Geneva, Sheriff Jump, and Old Tom are side characters that provide some humor and help Franny along the way as she works to solve the murder in Prudence. With the ladies of the town coming to her for the latest fashions, Franny hears all the gossip and puts the clues together in typical cozy fashion. 

One of my favorite parts of writing Murder & Mistletoe and Death & Decopauge is writing about the classic cars! You'll find several cars of the era mentioned. It was extra fun to drop those little bits of history into the story. Franny's own 1936 coupe is one of the first things you learn about her in Death & Decopauge... she drives, and typically drives well, which was quite the feat for a woman of conservative 1936 Illinois. Prudence doesn't really exist on any maps, but it's a mirror of many towns in the state during The Great Depression. Though the town is recouping by the time we meet up with Franny there, the people are still reeling from the difficult times they faced. 

So now you know a little about my historical cozy mystery series and the inspiration behind it. There are more Franny stories coming, and readers will get to have more adventures with Franny, Geneva, Old Tom and Sheriff Jump! 

Are you typically a readers of cozy mysteries? What makes you love a good cozy? What's the best cozy you've read, and why? Thrill me, readers!! 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Writing Steampunk: Archie and Lucia Go To Egypt

Writing Steampunk: Archie and Lucia Go To Egypt

We've come full circle, readers! We're back to the magical world of Icarus Kane, Warden of London. My first steampunk series is set in an alternate version of 1870s London, where magic, not electricity, has become the commodity of the century. Wizards are humans who are able to make contact with particles called aether. They utilize the amazing abilities of the aether in conjunction with runes and special words to work magic on the world around them. Not everyone has the ability to make contact with aether, and so a great inequality has divided the people of the world. Wizards against those who cannot use magic, sometimes called The Lacking. 

In book one we met Icarus Kane, a powerful wizard traveling in the United States during the Civil War. He finds and takes under his wing a young Virginia nurse whom he meets on the battlefield at Gettysburg. With Cora Mae as his protege, Icarus returns to London, along with his best friend Archimedes Merriweather. Once they settle in London, Icarus becomes the Warden of London, dedicated protector of the city. We meet Icarus' other friends, Lucan Orrin the Grand Master, most powerful wizard in the world, Lucia Conti and Bastien, healers, and Captain Corrigan Levisque, derichible captain in Her Majesty's Royal Air Corps. 

In book two of the series we follow Archimedes and Lucia to Kensington, where a black mage is menacing a vineyard run by a young widow. With Bastien and Corrigan in tow they must discover the identity of the mage and keep each other alive. One of the best things about writing this book was that I got to utilize all kinds of fun detective gadgets and gizmos that worked alongside the magic to help them discover the truth!

Now we've come to book 3! Archie and Lucia have decided on a holiday, and they've chosen Egypt as their destination. There are so many things to love about writing steampunk stories set in Egypt. The culture is rich with myths and lore to utilize and the ability to bring the past to life in a steampunk setting opens up so many possibilities! In The Pharaoh's Heart you'll meet a cursed Egyptian Pharaoh who has a new mystery and a rousing adventure for Archie and Lucia. I can't wait for everyone to read this story! The Pharaoh sacrificed his immortal soul to keep the primordial darkness, the Kek, at bay, but the seals on their prison are breaking and only Archie and Lucia can help him protect his homeland from the oncoming storm. 


I can't wait for everyone to read The Pharaoh's Heart! After that, you'll get Gypsy's Revenge (Corrigan's book), and Grand Master's Curse (Lucan's story). Machiavelli, the raven familiar, gets his own story in Black Raven Night. Stay tuned for more of Icarus, Archie, Cora Mae and Lucia!

What are your favorite steampunk books and what do you love about them? 

Which book are you most looking forward to?


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