Category Archives: Guest Post

Guest Post & Giveaway: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

Language and World-Building
by Emily Croy Barker

What sort of languages do they speak in other worlds? I gave some serious thought to this matter in writing my novel, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic—and was intrigued and inspired to discover, in reading about the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, that the same question had helped spark the creation of Middle-earth itself.

Tolkien was 22 years old and a philology student at Oxford University when he encountered the eighth-century Old English poem Crist by Cynewulf. As Colin Duriez writes in J.R.R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend, the poem included a couple of lines that Tolkien found intensely evocative:

Eala Earendel engla beorhtast
Ofer middangeard monnum sended.

“Hail, Earendel, of angels the brightest,
Sent over middle-earth to mankind.”

Tolkien was struck particularly by the name “Earendel,” which has roots in older, Germanic languages and which he called “euphonic to a peculiar degree.” It inspired him to write his own poem about a hero’s quest.

Instead of just borrowing the name “Earendel,” however, as a good philologist Tolkien worked out an equivalent in Elvish, the private language that he had been developing from Norse and Germanic roots. Earendel becomes “Eärendil” in Tolkien’s poem—and in the sprawling mythology that would eventually underlie The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.

“…The name could not be adopted just like that,” Tolkien later wrote. “It had to be accommodated to the Elvish linguistic situation, at the same time as a place for this person was made in legend.” Elvish, he went on to say, “was beginning, after many tentative starts in boyhood, to take definite shape at the time of the name’s adoption….” In a foreword to The Lord of the Rings, he wrote that the legends and myths of Middle-earth were “primarily linguistic in inspiration and was begun in order to provide the necessary background of ‘history’ for Elvish tongues.” For Tolkien, the creation of a fantasy world, its history, and its language were inextricably intertwined.

Creating my own fantasy world, I kept that lesson in mind. In my novel, Nora, a graduate student in literature, wanders into an entirely different world, where she ultimately begins the study of magic. Before that, however, she has to learn the language.

Luckily, she’s able to pick up the basics of the common tongue, Ors, while under a translation spell. But it still takes her a while to grasp the nuances of the language and to develop real fluency, not to mention to lose the unfortunate accent that she accidently acquired while under the spell. As she masters Ors, she also learns more about the strange, often frustrating new world in which she finds herself. There are 12 different words for sheep. Given names in the ruling class are all patronymics. Women are supposed to speak slightly differently—more hesitantly—than men. Nora learns just what some of her new friends think of her when she overhears them referring to her with a pronoun used for inanimate objects, animals, or servants.

I want to be perfectly clear: In inventing a language, I was nowhere near as rigorous, analytical, or sophisticated as Tolkien was. There’s no Ors dictionary or grammar. But including just a few details of how the language worked added interesting texture to the world that I’d imagined.

It also helped me show how foreign this place initially seems to Nora. More than once, she’s frustrated because there’s no Ors equivalent for the English word she has in mind. For an academic like Nora, being suddenly illiterate is quietly terrifying. The first time that she even begins to feel at home in this alien world is when she picks up a child’s lesson book in Ors and realizes that she can teach herself to read.

Language is what we build stories out of. We can also use it to build worlds.

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Courtesy of Viking, I have a copy of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Crow Barker for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes, please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends August 23. I’ll draw a name on August 24, and notify winners via email.

ENTER DAILY TO INCREASE YOUR CHANCE OF WINNING!

Good luck!

Continue reading Guest Post & Giveaway: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

Undead and Unsure Blog Tour: The 12 Days of Betsy

9780425263433_large_Undead_and_Unsure Undead and Uneasy

The Hidden Excerpts
by MaryJanice Davidson
From UNDEAD AND UNEASY, Book 6
(in which Betsy is planning her wedding, and sampling wedding cake flavors with Marc)

“The search is over.” Marc sprayed me lightly with crumbs as he made his announcement in the middle of the Pat-A-Cake bakery on Lake Street. “This is the cake of cakes. The dream cake. The only cake. We’re done now.”

“And when are you two getting married?” the baker, a lovely woman who did not look like she was surrounded by pastry all day, asked brightly.

“After the world blows up,” I replied before Marc could zing me. “And maybe not even then. This is my maid of honor, kinda. He’s not the groom.”

“She won’t put Fag of Honor on the invites,” he complained to the pastry chef, who had managed to hang onto her smile. “And her best friend keeps threatening not to show. But we’ll fix that when the time comes.”

Continue reading Undead and Unsure Blog Tour: The 12 Days of Betsy

The Thousand Names Blog Tour: Launching The Shadow Campaigns

The Thousand Names Blog Tour: Launching The Shadow Campaigns

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The Butcher’s Bill: Kill Your Darlings by Django Wexler

The phrase “In writing, you must kill your darlings” comes to us from William Faulkner, and like any pithy aphorism it has often been misused and misinterpreted. It doesn’t literally refer to killing your characters. Rather, ‘darlings’ means bits of prose, pieces that you’re particularly happy with or proud of.

It’s often passed on as writing advice, but (to my mind, at least) it’s not so much advice as a warning. Every writer has pieces of the story that they love: a clever exchange of dialogue, an apt simile, a telling detail. We’re not being advised to eliminate these things—why would we?—but reminded that they are ‘good’ only in service to the story as a whole.

When the time comes for editing, sometimes they have to go. There is always the temptation to twist the story to save them, to rewrite another dialogue so you can use that bon mot, or divert the heroine to Australia so she can experience that beautiful sunrise you spent so much time on. Faulkner (and generations of writing teachers since) tells us that sometimes you have to let go, to consign your favorite phrases to the trash in the confidence that, when the time comes, you’ll come up with some more.

The original draft of The Thousand Names we submitted to the publishers was about 15% longer than the final version. My editors (I’m in the unusual and excellent position of having two great editors who work together, one from the US and one from the UK) agreed that the book’s pacing could be improved by slimming it down, and offered some hints on what could go.

One of the things we agreed to take out was a series of dream sequences, in which Winter remembers her life back in the Vordanai orphanage known as the Prison and her meetings with the girl whose face haunts her dreams. I liked these sequences a lot, but with an outsider perspective I could see they didn’t fit—they were completely different, tonally, from the rest of the book, and occupied a lot of pages without moving the plot forward. (Plus, as my editor pointed out, dreams don’t usually work like a movie reel of convenient flashbacks!) Getting rid of them was painful, but it was the right thing to do. Kill your darlings.

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But in this wonderful new age of the internet, sometimes they can come back to life! The following is a scene from the “cutting room floor” of The Thousand Names, taking place when Winter was a young teenager, several years before the events of the book. Enjoy!

—————— Continue reading The Thousand Names Blog Tour: Launching The Shadow Campaigns

Guest Post: T.M. Goeglein “From Concept to Completion”

From Concept to Completion, or, How a Blink becomes a Book
by T.M. Goeglein

Want to start up a fiction writer like an outboard motor, I mean, really get him babbling about inspiration and motivation, memories and ‘a moment that changed my life’?

As him where his ideas come from. And then put on your spit-guard and stand back.

When I was first asked this question, I strove to be as earnest as possible, walking backward through my mind like a little Sherlock Holmes – did it start here, did it start there? – and after I’d been spewing nonsense for, like, twenty minutes, non-stop, I gave up. The words faded in my mouth like a slowly deflating balloon. I had no real clue what I was going on about.

Since then, I’ve participated in numerous author events and when a fellow writer is asked this question, I peek at my watch and begin planning a nap-with-my-eyes-open. It’s not uncommon for a response to begin with something like, “Well, when I was a child back in Akron…” Oy vey. You might as well start handing out the No-Doze now.

Here’s all that I know about myself. It starts and ends in the length of a blink of an eye.

I see something on the streets of Chicago – a well-dressed old woman yelling at a cop, who seems scared – or read a story in the news about some guy who, while renovating a deserted home, finds a locked metal box hidden inside of a wall – and that’s it. Done. The idea will be planted like a tree and the rest of the forest, so to speak – the story or book – will grow up around it.

The rest of the process is really too dull to describe. I sit, I write, I edit. But in the end, if that blink has become a book, I know I’ve done my job.

T.M. Goeglein’s new novel Flicker & Burn releases August 20, 2013 from Putnam Juvenile.

Sara Jane Rispoli is still searching for her missing family, but instead of fighting off a turncoat uncle and crooked cops, this time she finds herself on the run from creepy beings with red, pulsing eyes and pale white skin chasing her through the streets in ice cream trucks; they can only be described as Ice Cream Creatures. They’re terrifying and hell bent on killing her, but they’re also a link to her family, a clue to where they might be and who has them. While she battles these new pursuers, she’s also discovering more about her own cold fury and more about the Chicago Outfit, how the past misdeeds–old murders and vendettas–might just be connected to her present and the disappearance of her family. But connecting the dots is tough and time-consuming and may finally be the undoing of her relationship with the handsome Max–who’s now her boyfriend. But for his own safety, Sara Jane may have to end this relationship before it even really starts. Her pursuers who’ve shown her her mother’s amputated finger and the head of the Chicago Outfit who’s just whistled her in for a sit-down make a romance unthinkable. The only thing that matters is finding her family and keeping everyone she loves alive.

Guest Post: Alex Scarrow on TIMERIDERS: THE ETERNAL WAR

By Alex Scarrow:
With the 4th book in the TimeRiders series – THE ETERNAL WAR – soon to be released in the United States I thought I’d let readers into a little insight; I like to do concept art for my books before I write them. Usually I do images depicting some of the key scenes that will go into the book. This then helps me to visualize the scene before I write it. So, I figured, with the release date looming (July 1st) I thought I’d reveal a few of the pieces of concept work and talk a little about each piece and what you’re seeing.

If you’re the type that HATES SPOILERS….probably best to stop right here! (That, or just look at the pictures and don’t read the text.)

In this 4th book, our team discover that a young President Lincoln has been run over by a runaway cart in New Orleans and they’ll have to go back to prevent this happening otherwise the North will not have their wartime president many years later, resulting in the civil war taking a very different course!

But as always, things go wrong and having been saved, a curious 27 year old Lincoln follows our team back to the 21st century, only to escape the TimeRider’s Brooklyn archway and go on the run through modern day New York!

As a result of Lincoln being absent from the past, things inevitably go very differently. No President Lincoln means the civil war becomes a stale mate and America ends up becoming two nations living side by side in a permanent state of war. With the backing of Great Britain, the Southern Confederacy becomes a client state. We wind the clock forward a hundred and fifty years to the present…and the British have brought their industrial might to bear helping the south.

More than that…the British bring their military muscle to bear…

Continue reading Guest Post: Alex Scarrow on TIMERIDERS: THE ETERNAL WAR

Blog Tour: Jack Campbell Guest Post and Giveaway

Author Jack Campbell joins SciFiChick.com on his Blog Tour to promote his latest release The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Guardian.

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Jack Campbell on his vision of the future and how it affects his stories:

The setting of a story drives a lot of the plot, and heavily influences the characters. SF and Fantasy writers have the luxury of creating the setting, but (being human and heavily influenced by our own settings) the futures and worlds we create reflect our own hopes and fears.

The future in my stories is what I call a competence-based culture. That means when someone wants to do a job, the only question will be whether or not they can do it. Nothing else will matter, not appearance or race or religion or sex or anything else. Someday, I hope that’s the only question in a job interview. I don’t know if that future will happen. Humans have a bad way of seizing on “differences” that don’t really matter and making them the most important issue, or establishing job requirements that rule out the “wrong people” before they even have a chance to compete. The result has been an incalculable waste of human potential. But I can hope, and I can present such a future the way it might look. It’s not a perfect future, because humans are far from perfect, but it’s better.

Another aspect of my futures is what I call “transparent” technology. That means technology which can be used without having to think about how to use it (or describe it in detail! Who actually does that when they use something?). Instead of having to enter bizarre, complicated commands while stepping through multiple menus and trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do next, transparent tech involves things like increasing the size of a picture by spreading your fingers. My hope is that will become the rule rather than the exception. (Though in one scene in the Lost Fleet books my characters recognize that they should have realized a certain tech was designed by aliens because the control interface was so simple and intuitive. “No human software designer would have done that.”)

A lot of my stories are set in space, in other star systems. I think we’re going to go to the stars someday. It’s not going to be as fast and as easy as writers imagined in the 1940s and 1950s, but it may not be as slow and hard as a lot of people now assume. Getting to the stars is a very hard problem, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be solved. Anything is impossible if you don’t know how to do it, and anything is hard if you don’t know how to do it right. If the answers are there, I think we’ll find them.

One thing I work hard to avoid is the Flintstones/Jetsons Theory of Anthropology. Those two cartoon series assumed that everywhere in the far past and the far future had societies which were a stereotyped version of 1960 suburbs in the United States. That assumption wasn’t unusual. One of the things that seriously dates most SF from the mid-to-late Twentieth Century is that the futures shown, no matter how distant, are in that Mad Men mold. Men do all the thinking, acting and decision-making, and if women appear at all they are usually either housewives or somebody who needs to be rescued. It is incredibly jarring to read those stories now and see futures in which women sometimes don’t even seem to exist. It is also a given in many of those stories that everyone in the future has Anglo-Saxon names. Even Star Wars fell into this sort of trap, originally presenting a future in the first film (A New Hope) in which there were lots of aliens but no humans of African descent. Star Trek TOS did, too, claiming that only men could be captains of starships because women couldn’t handle the job. As a result, I try to avoid assuming that Tomorrow will be dealing with exactly the same role models and cultural assumptions as Today, and I try to avoid presenting a future which includes a narrow vision of who will be represented. Very often, I don’t provide physical descriptions of my characters, letting the reader assign them whatever shape, color, or type feels right to the reader. (In my novelette Lady Be Good, the sex of the point of view character is never identified. It wasn’t necessary to the story, so I didn’t confine the story by setting that characteristic in stone.)

Finally, my futures are ultimately hopeful ones. Terrible things happen, great challenges arise, people are confronted by awful choices, but nonetheless my futures are places where human effort matters, where hope is ever-present, where answers to the toughest problems exist even if not easily found. My characters strive, and suffer, and in the end succeed, because I think that’s the sort of future humans can aspire to.

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Courtesy of Ace, I have a copy of The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Guardian for five (5) lucky winners!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes, please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends May 24. I’ll draw a name on May 25, and notify winner via email.

Good luck!

Continue reading Blog Tour: Jack Campbell Guest Post and Giveaway

Guest Post and Giveaway: Kevin Emerson

Author Kevin Emerson joins SciFiChick.com today to talk about our fascination with aliens and alien abductions… and to promote his new book THE FELLOWSHIP FOR ALIEN DETECTION! (reviewed here)

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I had never run into a person who seemed to sincerely believe that aliens had visited Earth until I visited Roswell in 2004. Sure, I had many fun theoretical conversations about it, mostly related to the better episodes and theories on The X-Files. And I certainly believe, given the size and age of the universe, that there are definitely other complex life forms out there. But as to whether those aliens have been here: maybe? But it doesn’t seem likely. For every compelling oddity in ancient history or strange account in modern times, there tends to be a fairly compelling alternate, non-alien possibility.

But the people in the International UFO Museum and Research Station http://www.roswellufomuseum.com/ seemed to genuinely believe that they had been visited. Walking up to the museum, I was expecting something with a similar kitschy vibe as the surrounding alien-themed gift shops. The museum, inside an old movie theater, definitely has kitsch, but it’s also free admission and staffed by retirees (or it was the day I visited anyway), which makes it feel a lot less like a hustle. Inside, it seemed sincerely devoted to exploring the question of what happened on that stormy night in Roswell in 1947. I found myself torn between feeling like I was part of an elaborate joke, and feeling like I’d stumbled into an alternate reality. Did these people really believe this stuff? And afterward, did I? Not necessarily, but I wanted to more than ever before.

The aliens in my novel THE FELLOWSHIP FOR ALIEN DETECTION are entirely fabricated, and many of their aspects were crafted in service of the story I was writing about Haley and Dodger, the main characters. (Though they do stop in Roswell for some other-worldly action midway through the story.) It was exciting to write about aliens and UFO’s, and I have a few thoughts on maybe why these stories are so enduring, why we “want to believe” as Mulder’s poster said, or in many cases, really do believe. This list is just meant as food for thought.

1. UFO Stories blossomed in a new and scary world. The fact that Roswell happened in 1947 may be no coincidence. It was a new age of science, and the global landscape had been drastically changed by World War II. In a very brief span, we’d dropped two nuclear bombs that forever changed the scope and scale of destruction possible in warfare, and the Soviet Union had risen to become our chief adversary on the global stage: a massive, aggressive country, similarly armed, and subscribing to a very different philosophy (communism) than us. UFO’s represent the unknown, not just in terms of foreign beings but foreign technology, both of which could crush our frail species. Post-war atomic America was ripe with these fears.

2. Our lives are still a mystery. For all of our scientific advancements, so much in our lives is still unexplained. We are a physically vulnerable and psychologically unstable species, living in a world that can kill us with virus, bacteria, cancers, madness. Most of us can’t afford the kind of all-access to health care that we know modern science is capable of. That leaves us not only feeling left out, but powerless, even suspicious. You might do your best to live a responsible life, only to find out that the water you were drinking for ten years was actually contaminated with some chemical. Or that there was a test for the condition you had, but you never had a chance to get it. So maybe sometimes we look for other explanations for our lack of control. We imagine government conspiracies, alien abductions and cover-up’s. I think sometimes, in a sense, we give away power to others in order to feel better about our lack of control, about the s###-happens nature of our lives.

3. We want there to be more. We want to live longer, go farther, see more, to understand the great mysteries of life and death. We seek to understand our greater purpose, to know the reasons behind life’s twists and turns. Humans have looked to the stars throughout the ages for these answers, believing larger truths lie beyond our vision. And yet, all of alive right now on this planet are unlikely to leave it in a space ship, at least not beyond low earth orbit where Space X or a similar venture might go. Maybe my kids, ages 2 and 7, have an outside chance at the moon, maybe their kids at Mars, but that’s it. We are never going to get to the aliens, unless they come to us. We need them to come here before we die. And if they came, maybe it would answer some of these mysteries: why we’re here, where we came from, where we’re headed. Or, they could at least open our minds to a vastly larger scope of existence, which would, if nothing else, put us in our place. Actually, what would probably fire us up to get to space faster would be to discover something like gold on another planet.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that when I look to the stars, the reason I hope that one of those static dots will swoop down, unroll a metal tongue and spit little green beings onto my lawn, is for some larger knowledge. They’d make the lonely dark a little less unknown. And if they had an elixir for extra long life, a warp-capable ship to show me the Horsehead Nebula, and knew how to get to Mos Eisley, even better.

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Kevin Emerson is the author of THE FELLOWSHIP FOR ALIEN DETECTION, published by Walden Pond Press, as well as THE ATLANTEANS series, the OLIVER NOCTURNE series, and Carlos Is Gonna Get It. His band, The Board of Education, wrote the Star-Wars-themed kids’ song “Why Is Dad So Mad?” He lives with his family in Seattle.

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Courtesy of Walden Pond Press, I have a copy of THE FELLOWSHIP FOR ALIEN DETECTION for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes, please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends May 24. I’ll draw a name on May 25, and notify winner via email.

Good luck!

Continue reading Guest Post and Giveaway: Kevin Emerson

Jill Wolfson Blog Tour: Guest Post and Giveaway

Furious

Author Jill Wolfson joins SciFiChick.com today with her latest stop on her Blog Tour to talk about her latest release Furious and bringing the Greek mythology of the Furies into modern day.
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The Furies Go to High School
Jill Wolfson

I got the idea to write Furious when my daughter and her two best friends came home from school one day in late October, all excited about their idea for Halloween costumes. They were going to be The Furies, a.k.a. the sisters of darkness, with wild hair, skimpy clothing, wings and hateful expressions.

I was intrigued that these three very modern high-school girls were so drawn to goddesses of revenge that date back to ancient Greece. But that’s the power of myth. A story that arose in one culture and one time resonates across space and time because it speaks to some very important and very human part of us.

We have all felt that life is unfair. We have all been hurt. And we have all wanted to pay back the person who hurt us or hurt someone we love.

So how to update such an old story? I started by reading The Orestia, which is a bloody, revenge-themed trilogy of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus, which concerns the end of the curse on the House of Atreus. The storyline has all sorts of twists and turns with members of the royal family murdering each other in gory ways, while assorted gods, including the Furies, take sides.

The final play is actually called The Furies and in it, the goddesses of revenge haunt Prince Orestes for killing his mother. But at the end, they are called off and tamed. Given gifts and flattery, their anger subsides and the Furies turn into a trio of goddess called The Kindly Ones.

Curtain down.

But, what if?

What if someone from that ancient time is still so mad that she nurses a grudge for centuries, waiting for the right time to call the Furies back out of retirement.

What if that time is now and the place is a Northern California beach town?

We definitely live in a time of fury. I see it everywhere – on TV and the Internet, on the streets and roads. People are furious about personal problems and larger social issues –the economy, wars, pollution, bullying, racial and gender discrimination, mistreatment of children and animals. There’s so much pent-up anger, and lots of people feel helpless to do anything about it.

Young people feel injustice the hardest. As Stephanie (The Fury Tisiphone) in Furious complains:

What can someone our age do about it? About anything? Write letters? Hold a fund-raiser bake sale? Make speeches in class that nobody reads? I can’t even vote. I have no power.

Well, let’s do something about it!

So that’s how I gave them ancient powers and brought Greek mythology into high school.

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Thanks so much to SciFiChick for hosting this stop on my blog tour. If you want to see pictures of the Furies depicted in art, check out http://jillwolfson.com/furious.html.

I hope you enjoy Furious, and find the fury in yourself.

Courtesy of Macmillan, I have a copy of Furious for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes, please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends May 10. I’ll draw a name on May 11, and notify winner via email.

Good luck!

Continue reading Jill Wolfson Blog Tour: Guest Post and Giveaway