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?

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Coffee with a Writer: The Gray Character

Discussing The "Gray" Character

No. I'm not talking about everyone's favorite BDSM-loving red-room character. When I say "the gray character" I mean the character who's neither good nor evil, but walking the line between both. 

Hi all! It's cold outside and I'm sitting here watching the snow fall and thinking about my favorite characters in fiction. I've realized that so many of them are what I'd term "the gray character". I think back over the books that I love and continuously re-read and that's one commonality between them all. 

There's a difference between the anti-hero character, who does something noble or good contrary to his nature for his own gain. Those kinds of characters are fun, too, but they're not truly gray. They are mostly dark characters with little redeemability aside from the one good act we may see them do in the story. A truly gray character stands firmly on the line between light and dark, good and bad. Gray characters do equally as many "good deeds" as bad, and could kill and maim as easily as they help and heal. Typically, the gray character believes in the balance of light and dark and does follow at least some moral imperative that keeps him from going fully bad. He may have lines he refuses to cross, or past experiences that have predisposed him to feel empathy for one kind of person over another. Oftentimes, the gray character is the one who kills in battle indiscriminately, but would save a woman/child from being attacked on the street or in their home. 

Why do I love gray characters? In both reading and my own writing I find that the gray character is more like most of us than those who are too good, or too bad. Most of us have done things we aren't proud of, but we strive to do good things, too. Likewise, most villains in the world have some redeeming characteristics like their love of small animals or their respect for their mothers. No one rarely sits squarely in the good or evil realm, but most are more or less one or the other. The gray character is fun to write and read because he is unpredictable. Depending on his view of the situation he could either save the people from the fire or be the one burning down the building. Characters like these keep readers guessing, but also have stories that make readers feel for them. 

Examples, Amy! Okay, readers. Okay. Let's see. One of my favorite gray characters in fiction is Kaleb Krychek from Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh. Kaleb appears as a relatively shadowy character in the other books of the series up until this book, which is his story. While he was mostly assumed to be a villain, it's interesting in this book to learn that Kaleb isn't as dark as he seemed. He controls a vast amount of power, and one particular goal that, when learned by the reader, turns all of his previous acts on their heads. His motives, you see, redeem (in part) his actions prior. He's still not good as we would define it, but neither is he the villain we imagined him to be. There has never been a better flip from villain to hero for a character in romantic fiction, in my opinion. 

Heart of Obsidian: A Psy-Changeling Novel (Psy/Changeling Series Book 12)

Another of my favorite gray characters is Roland of Gilead, main character of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series. Roland is both hero and villain of his story, an opus that spans millenia and worlds in his quest to see The Dark Tower. Somewhat based on the legends of King Arthur, The Dark Tower stories follow Roland as he travels toward the center of existence where the tower stands. The thing about Roland is that he is both a loveable and unlikeable character at the same time. He is selfish, determined to see the tower at any cost, and his single-minded pursuit of the tower costs the lifesblood of his greatest friends. King's ability to weave a tale in which you both worship and despise the last gunslinger in a world that has moved on, is one of the best pieces of character fiction in the industry.

So now you know that I'm slightly obsessed with characters who straddle the line between the light and the dark. When I was writing Resonance Factor, book IV of the Aeon Project series for Takamo Universe, I wanted Sevyn to be just this type of character. He's both broken and strong, angry and terrified, good and determined to win at any cost. He's my favorite Aeon Project hero so far, because he had the most to gain if only he could give love a chance. 

Dark Star: (Takamo Universe) Aeon Project Book 2

Now, I put this question to you, dearest readers. Who is your favorite character in fiction, and WHY?

Happy Reading!
~AR DeClerck

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2019: The Year of Revitalization

New Year's Hopes, Dreams, Goals and Theme

The page has finally turned on 2018, closing out a difficult chapter in this author's life. Like many, I found myself digging out from under a pile of stinky stuff in the past year. I struggled with depression and a deep sense of discontent early in 2018, and it was a long, hard climb out of that. I was horribly unhappy in my professional life and that poured out into every aspect of the rest of my life, as well. We struggled financially, as most families in the US do as they try to keep up with the Joneses, and despite many challenges we stayed strong and did the best we could. 

2018 was the year of, "Doing the Best I Could". That's not bad, it's just not fulfilling or a particularly happy place to be. As with all things, the storms of 2018 passed, leaving me both hopeful and fearful of what 2019 might bring. There were many blessings and happy moments in 2018, and I can't deny that. As the year wore on I learned to search out and appreciate those moments to be able to get through the rest. 

ENOUGH about 2018! Let's talk about the future. The present. The moments that can/will/should matter going forward. The past is about lessons learned, and I learned a few. 2019 is "The Year of Revitalization". 2018 buried me deep under a pile of stinky stuff, but that was just fertilizer. I'm going to use it, and grow into a might, well-rooted tree! 

I love winter. The crisp, cold air. The quiet stillness of a snowy day. The frost on windows and whipping wind outside while you cuddle safely inside. Winter is the time when the things of spring are preparing to grow. 2018 was my winter. 2019 will be my spring. I am looking forward to excelling at everything I do. 

I have some obstacles to overcome. I really suffer from a lack of motivation sometimes, and I have little to hold me accountable in terms of the writing world. I write when I want, publish if/as I please, and that makes for a very lazy Amy. But, in 2019 I'm hoping to overcome that serious, terrible malaise, and get my behind in gear! I want to have both the energy for my day job and the energy for writing. I'd like to push my writing to the next level and get my books in front of new readers, all of which takes effort and time. 

If you're not aware, I've decided to start a new venture that will both help myself and help other writers. Story GodMother is a business that offers assistance with plot/character/world-building development, and offers new-author mentoring. With other authors holding me accountable, I will have more buy-in to my own career as well!

So. 2019 is a year for revitalization. Growth. Energy. Positivity that manifests into results. Hope. 2019 is a year to nourish hope. 

GOALS for 2019:
*Write The Pharoah's Heart (another magical steampunk adventure)
*Grow the Story GodMother business into a successful venture
*Work more with my local writer's group
*Publish Decaying Orbit (Aeon Project Book IV)
*Write Escape Velocity (Aeon Project Book V)
*Write another Franny Calico cozy: Parchment and Poison
*Write Whisper of Syn (Shadowlyte Shifters)
*Market current works more successfully
*Learn one new thing every day
*Do something kind daily, with no reward and no expectation of return of kindness. 

SO! That's a mighty list! Now you know what I've got planned for the year and how I hope to maintain a writer's attitude to accomplish it all. I look forward to attempting everything I've set forth above. Wish me luck! Please, stop down in the comments and tell me about YOUR 2019 theme and goals. 



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