Guest Author – Auston Habershaw (again)

#SFWAPRO

Auston, aside from having the most Bond villain name ever, is a fellow Harper Voyager author. If the name sounds familiar, and how can it not? It’s because he’s been here twice before; first to discuss writing a second book, then again to talk guilty pleasures. Quite fittingly, his third visit is for the third installment of his Saga of the Redeemed series, Dead But Once, available today! It’s a really great series, and I can’t recommend it enough.
His post today is about writing in exciting times, which I think is a fair description of the current state of the world.


Writing in Interesting Times

By Auston Habershaw

The truest and most direct answer to the age-old author question “where do you get your ideas” is simply this: from the culture and environment in which I live. We authors are not tuned into some alien frequency; we are not getting divine inspiration in nightly installments. We’re just paying attention in a way other people aren’t. That doesn’t mean we’re brilliant or clever or more perceptive, mind you—it just means we’ve got a cauldron in our heads marked “story ideas” in which we throw a lot of the junk we see and experience on a daily basis. Then, at some point, we make ourselves a stew out of all those random ingredients and, if we’re very lucky and persistent and skilled, a story or a novel or a poem or a play pops out. What pops out is a funhouse mirror reflection of our world around us. It seems crazy and random and strange, but it’s just a bunch of ingredients mixed together that maybe you haven’t tasted in that combination before. Not magic, exactly; more like alchemy.

So, what kind of alchemy happens when the world seems to be crazy all on its own?

I don’t know about you guys, but these last two years have been quite harrowing. Each and every time I turn on the news or look online, new and terrible things seem to be afflicting my country and other countries too. My idea cauldron is chock full of anger and fear and hysteria and riots and death and violence and corruption. So, when the time came to write the third book in my fantasy series (NO GOOD DEED, available in e-book now!), I had a lot of toxicity ready to be thrown in.

I’d always known that the Saga of the Redeemed would wind its way towards popular revolt. My main character, Tyvian, is trying to become a better person (even if he isn’t sure what that means or what that is), and so a discussion of social justice is inevitable. But when I was writing the first books, our problems as a society, while certainly large, at least seemed to be bending in the right direction, however slowly. I genuinely believed the balance of my fellow Americans wanted what I wanted—justice, equality, stability, and happiness for everyone. As I watched Trump shout and scream on stage, cheered on by sign-waving supporters, I began to wonder if I was right. For the first time in my life, I felt uncomfortable being an American. I was uncertain about our future in a way I never had been. I felt like I’d been wrong about us, all this time.

How do you let that color your writing? Do you? I don’t want to write a political screed. I don’t want to preach and I don’t want to come off as angry or bitter. I want the people who read my book to enjoy themselves; I’m after the highs and the lows, the oohs and the aahs. I’m not a political science major trying to push my agenda.

But it also has to get in somehow, right? How can it not?

I’ve always been skeptical of revolutions. I don’t like fanatics, no matter what they stand for. The lessons of the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution are not lost on me—innocent blood spilled right along with the guilty, horror and atrocity, and then a new order that doesn’t quite live up to its promises, anyway. But, also, aren’t these things needed? Don’t we have to have revolutions once in a while, if the tree of Liberty is to grow? But how do you do that? How can you do it responsibly, without needless bloodshed and violence? Is such a thing possible? If it isn’t, can a revolution, no matter how well-intentioned, be seen as a good thing?

I can’t say I have the answers to these questions, but I have my characters wrestle with them. They wrestle with them with the same anguish and fervent hope that I do in my real life. How does one fix the world without breaking it first? That was what was in my cauldron this time around. I mixed myself a potent brew. It took my six drafts to get right and, like all novels, I probably still got it wrong. But I can’t tell—I’m too close. That’s what I need you for.

Care for a taste?


A brilliant schemer never rests, but for Tyvian Reldamar, he might finally be over his head. The Saga of the Redeemed continues with Dead But Once, Auston Habershaw’s latest fantasy following The Oldest Trick and No Good Deed.

Arch-criminal Tyvian Reldamar has gotten complacent.

For him, he’s reached the pinnacle of all he’s really hoping to achieve: he’s got money, he’s got women (some of which aren’t even trying to kill him), and he’s got his loyal friends and family nearby and safe.

Except…maybe not so safe.

Because this is Eretheria, a city known as much for its genteel aristocracy as for its diabolical scheming. Long without a king, the scions of the ruling families scrabble for control–including levying cruel taxes and drafts on the peasantry in order to wage “polite” wars against each other.

And now, of course, Tyvian is finding himself drawn into it.

With a swashbuckling flare, old fans and new readers alike will be swept up into this world of magic, crime, and political intrigue where life is cheap and justice too expensive.


The entire series is available at any of the links below. Do yourself a favor and check it out!

HarperAmazonB&NGoogleiTunesIndie Bound


(how can you resist this handsome bastard? I know I can’t)

About the Author: Auston Habershaw writes fantasy and science fiction and has had stories published in Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Galaxy’s Edge and other places. His epic fantasy novel series, The Saga of the Redeemed, is published by Harper Voyager and the third installment in the series, Dead But Once, releases on 4/17/18. He lives and works in Boston, MA and spends his days teaching composition and writing to college students. Find him on his website at aahabershaw.com or on Goodreads, Amazon, or on Twitter at @AustonHab.

 

Your Baby is Ugly…Again

#SFWAPRO

Almost four years ago I posted to this blog for the first time. The post, Your Baby is Ugly, is about dealing with rejection. And now we come full circle. Last year I submitted a proposal to Harper for the next several books in the American Faerie Tale series (four to be exact). It also contained the first four chapters of the very next book. After several months, they rejected that proposal. I was—and still am—disappointed but I will say I wasn’t entirely surprised. The sales numbers for my books haven’t been terrible, but each book has sold progressively less than the one before. Publishing is a business and, I hope, this was a business decision. As such, I hold no ill will toward Harper or anyone there. Sure, I would’ve liked to have gotten more support in terms of marketing and/or publicity, but I also knew from the beginning I was a very small fish and there was only so many dollars to go around. It should be noted that Harper has said they would be happy to look at anything new I might have. So what does this mean?

Well if you’ve read that first post, and several others, you know I’m sure as hell not giving up!

In the short term, however the series is done. I could finish the next book and self-publish it, but I’m not ready to go that path yet. It would be the fifth book in a series and I think would be more about my vanity than my readers. Besides, I would rather devote my limited time toward something new.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done. As I write this post I’m about 30k words into the first draft and I think it’s pretty damned good, if I do say so myself. No, I won’t tell you the title or what it’s about. I’d rather wait until it’s at least close to finished, or has a publisher ready to put it out. I will say it continues my habit of genre bending, and I don’t recall seeing anything like it before. That could be good or bad, we’ll see.

I’ve also started writing some more short fiction. It hasn’t been picked up anywhere, I think I’m better at long fiction, but you only get better with time and practice. So I’m going to keep trying. I’m considering posting the things that don’t sell on here. What do you think? Post in the comments if you have a thought one way or the other. I also have one manuscript finished, Luna and the Star, and I’m going to see about shopping it around while I finish my current work in progress. It might be my first self-published work, but I haven’t decided. Stay tuned for more.

Without any new books coming out, obviously I won’t have as many appearances, but that doesn’t meet I won’t have any. I’ll be attending RavenCon (April 28th-30th) so if you’re going to be there, stop by and say hi. I’ll also be attending the Nebula awards, and will even be on some panels this year.

In the long term, my goals are still the same. Rejection is part of life, and especially part of being an author. I’m still working towards living on my writing, and I’m not about to stop. The only way I’m going to fail is if I stop trying, and I’m not going to do that. If you’ve read the books, I offer my sincerest thanks. If you haven’t, well they’re still out there and still worth reading.

Award Consideration or Gently Begging

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It’s closing in on the end of the year which means that it’s award consideration time for the Science Fiction/Fantasy world. All the authors I know post up blog pieces as a gentle reminder to everyone what they wrote and what’s eligible for various awards. This could easily be taken as a kind of self aggrandizing, but it really isn’t. In fact, most of the writers I know need to be prodded to do this. In my experience, authors as a group, especially newer authors, tend to be less than cocky about their work. Anyone who knows me is aware I’m an exception, I know how purely awesome my work is. Yes, that was sarcasm. In truth, here’s my take on it. If you’re eligible, let the world know. You might not think your work is award worthy, but you’re not the one (or at least not the only one) who decides on awards. Maybe the world doesn’t agree with you and wants to give you an award.
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This year I published The Returned, which I sincerely believe is my best writing to date. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Do I think it’s a Nebula or Hugo worthy novel? No, but it’s not up to me. So if you are someone who nominates for the Nebula, the Hugo, or any other award, I humbly ask that you consider The Returned. Thank you.

The Bittersweet

In July, I wrote a guest piece for Katherine Harbour called, “The Awesomeness of The Bittersweet.” Recently, I was invited by Gail Martin to join in the #HoldOntoTheLight campaign. September/October are the months for Depression Awareness, Suicide Prevention, Bullying Prevention, Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness, World Mental Health Day and Domestic Violence Awareness. Several authors are participating, you can check out the Twitter Hashtag, or the Facebook page to see what others are sharing. I hope to post more, but this post seemed like a perfect way to start my participation.


The Awesomeness of The Bittersweet

As someone who has struggled on and off with depression since my adolescent years, it’s probably not a shock–and some would argue less than healthy–that I just love the bittersweet. Not the chocolate, though that isn’t bad. I’m talking about music, movies, books, and art in general. I love scenes, songs, or images that are sad, but filled with hope, and the promise of tomorrow, a new day where anything is possible. The power of the emotion, the magic and the power of it fuels me, both in my life and in my creative endeavors. Music, books, movies, every kind of art, it all serves to connect us. When the artist creates, that creation is imbued with some of their soul, an emotional snapshot of them at that moment in time. I can relate to the bittersweet moments. That’s probably why I love the songs of Sarah McLachlan, The Cowboy Junkies, and Tom Waits. Each of them excels at wrapping sadness around a glimmer of hope that can’t be extinguished.

Of course there are moments in life of pure, unbridled joy: hearing someone say they love you, the smile of your child when they look at you, or achieving a hard won success. Those moments are treasures to be sure, but rarely is bliss ever an immaculate conception. Often it’s born from hard work, pain, turmoil, sadness, or grief. Life tends to be complicated and messy, but there is beauty in that mess. And I think we all see it. I believe we all know that the pain will end, and in the ending there is a happiness all its own. There are all sorts of cliches, but the one that has stayed with me the longest is: if you weep because you miss the sun, you also miss the stars. Like all cliches, there is something profound in the simplicity.

When I was really struggling with my depression, I found a book titled Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. It’s about his time at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. He is taken there, separated from his wife and sees the utter worst humanity has to offer, and I use the word humanity in its loosest possible sense. During his time there, never knowing the fate of his wife, parents, or siblings, he struggles to find meaning, a reason to continue on. After reading this book I knew that if this man could find purpose in a nightmarish place like that, surely I could as well. So I set to find happiness in the cracks and crevices of the everyday, and that became my purpose.

But as I matured I came to see that every emotion had value. They all could be debilitating if not tempered by another. Haven’t we all rolled our eyes at the sickly sweet, lovey-dovey couples of the world? We all know that past a certain age, there is no perpetual state of happiness, and those who seem to achieve it often come across as delusional. Sometimes it’s okay to be sad, to be angry, to grieve, to weep. And isn’t there a special kind of happiness in offering comfort to someone who needs it? The key is not to let those darker emotions overcome you, to slip from merely experiencing them into wallowing in them.

That’s why I love the bittersweet. It’s like an entire life experience all in one dose. I recently watched Inside Out with a friend, and we both got a little misty eyed when Bing-Bong fades away. Sorry, spoilers. It’s a sad moment, one we can all probably relate to. It’s a piece of childhood slipping away, losing a friend you know you’ll never see again for the first time. But there’s more to that scene. There is also the hope in the understanding that it’s also the beginning of another journey. That the sun might be setting, but it will rise again on a new world, and they will both be beautiful, filled with possibility.

We all listen to sad songs when we’re sad, at least everyone I know does. So often we chide ourselves for it, seeing it as wallowing in self-pity. But that’s not really what we’re doing. We’re grieving for something, or someone, lost; for a future we hoped for that won’t ever come to pass. More than that though, we’re remembering. So often we forget that, which is ironic really. When we listen to that same song, or watch that same movie, over and over, we’re reliving the joys of the past. We think we’re grieving for their loss, but we don’t lose them. What we’re really grieving is that there won’t be more like that. And we’re right, there won’t be, but there will be new joys.

It’s that feeling that I try to capture in my books. Each ends on a hint of sadness, but with the light of hope just visible on the horizon.If you finish one of my books and you’re crying, that’s okay, but I also hope you’re smiling as well. There is no darkness that won’t eventually end at sunrise. There is always hope. That’s what the bittersweet means to me. It is the happiness we find, that we hold on to, and carry with us for our entire lives. Sure, we might find some sadness and carry that for a time as well, but we have to eventually let it go. When we do, there is more room for new happiness. So listen to sad songs, watch sad movies, but always find the bliss behind that sorrow. Experience the latter because it reminds you of the former, and always be looking to the horizon for the rising sun of a new day.

#SFWAPro

Beth Cato Interview, The Sequel, This Time It’s Personal!

You probably remember Beth Cato. I interviewed her in April for the release of Final Flight. Well, she’s back with another new release. Breath of Earth comes out August 23rd, and while you’re picking up a paperback copy of The Returned, (which comes out the same day) you should totally get Beth’s book too. I did convince her to bring something extra to the pub for this interview though. She’s promised to share the recipe for one of her amazing treats which earned her the (well-deserved) title of High-Priestess of Churromancy by Kevin Hearne.


So, another book. Already. Really? Are you just trying to make the rest of us look bad? Or is this a clever attempt to shame Patrick Rothfuss and/or George Martin to get the next book in their series out?

Ha! Well, we’re not talking about books here that are sizable enough to bash intruders over the head–and I’m pretty sure GRMM and Rothfuss books would be excellent for that purpose. In my case, Final Flight was a longer-length short story. Breath of Earth is a full 400-page novel. It’s in trade paperback, so it’s not that effective for head-bashing purposes… unless you buy a full box. Which I totally endorse.

Don’t sell yourself short. Book bashing is all ability technique. I once disarmed a group four ninjas with nothing buy a battered paperback copy of Nine Stories, true story. Moving on, Breath of Earth is a departure from your Clockwork Dagger series, was it hard abandoning turning away from the characters you created and got readers caring about?

This is where the whole space-time continuum of the publishing industry makes things weird. I actually wrote Breath of Earth three years ago, during the limbo time when I had a verbal book deal for Clockwork Dagger but not an actual contract yet. I then had to wait until Clockwork Dagger and its sequel were written and done before my agent could submit Breath of Earth to my publisher for consideration. Are you still following me? It messes with my head, too, because I have been hopping back and forth between these steampunk worlds for several years now.

Ah, the dangers of time travel. Been there, done that, am I right? Tell us a little about this new book. And will it become a new series, full of characters we grow to love who will then be abandoned by their author in favor or something new and shiny?

Breath of Earth does indeed kick off a new series, and I hope to stay with these characters for a few years more (HINT: buy this book so I can finish the series). This world features some heavy duty alt history: America and Japan are allied and in the process of taking over China. Magical creatures exist. Airships and advanced technology are powered by captured energy from earthquakes. My heroine, Ingrid Carmichael, is a clandestine geomancer. Women aren’t supposed to be geomancers. This complicates her life, especially when someone is trying to assassinate geomancers in San Francisco–and the fault lines emit waaaay too much energy for one person to hold in check.

You heard her, buy this book! Do it! Right now! And certainly not because she’s bribed me. So this story is set in 1906 California, what drew you to that era?

I’m a native Californian. I have experienced my fair share of earthquakes. As a historical fiction buff from an early age, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire always fascinated me. When I was trying to figure out a new series to write, I realized no one had used that era and place for steampunk. I decided to take on the challenge.

Fire, mass devastation, crushed hopes (and people), what isn’t fascinating about that? No, I’m not moving away for any special reason. This is a historical fantasy novel, so how much did you keep to historical reality and how much did you make your own?

Even when I consciously twisted history, I tried to make it as accurate as possible. Same with my use of mythological creatures–I wanted to keep it as authentic as possible, relying on native sources wherever I could. This has been downright daunting. I have included a bibliography in the back of the book and also have it on my website because I really want to encourage people to delve deeper into the real history, especially when it comes to the Chinese immigrant experience in America. The amount of erasure on that subject is shameful.

A book with homework, interesting marketing idea. Is the rumor I made up about you and John Hodgeman being caught in a closet playing seven minutes in heaven at the Nebula awards true?

I’d never play any game in a closet during that particular block of time. That dinner was expensive, man. I wasn’t going to miss out on a single crumb!

Sorry, I just got the timing of the closet rendezvous wrong. Sorry, my bad. In your last interview you mentioned this book had geomancy and mythology. Care to expound? I know that interview was ssssoooooo long ago it might be hard to remember way back then.

Sure! Geomancy is earth magic. In Breath of Earth, such energy is released through earthquakes. The rare folks who are born as geomancers act as mediators with the earth. They take in energy and can stop earthquakes–but that power also quickly overwhelms the human body with a fever. They can overheat and die in minutes. The only way to release that contained power is to be in contact with a crystal called kermanite; it siphons the power and holds it for later use as a battery.
I bring in mythological creatures from around the world, too. Even fairies. (Yes, THAT spelling.) Garden pixies are common, and things like unicorns or pookas might be seen in use by rich men about the city. There are also major creatures called Hidden Ones–demi-god level beings that are either well hidden or extinct.

Since we’re friends, I’ll ignore that grievous spelling error. Name four of your favorite fictional characters, and you don’t get to pick Laura Ingalls, your Little House on the Prairie love is well documented.

I couldn’t choose Laura anyway–she was real! Let’s see. Raistlin Majere from Dragonlance, Hermione Granger, Flavia de Luce from Alan Bradley’s delightful mystery series (11-year-old girl who loves poison and investigating murders!), and Paks from Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion series.

An excellent list! Just what I’d expect from a fellow awesome author. Speaking of which, I personally don’t really struggle with remaining humble while being so awesome, what about you?

I feed cookies to people and desperately hope said people will like me, so I think it’s safe to say I have difficulty accepting any kind of self-awesomeness.

Cookies are always a sure fire way to make friends, and a trait I would assuredly assign to the awesome. I’ll give you some pointers in awesome acceptance. Moving on, I’d ask what you’re reading but you’re probably too busy baking, working on your next three novels, six novellas, two screenplays, and cookbook to have time to read. Okay, fine, what are you reading right now?

A nonfiction tome about the Hawaiian Revolution and an old holiday baking issue of Cook’s Illustrated. And for the record, I have never written a screenplay. Publishing industry rejections are bad enough, I don’t even want to mess with Hollywood!

You heard her, Hollywood, she has no interest at all in you buying the movie and/or TV rights to her stories. Tell us about the main characters of your new book.

Ingrid Carmichael is a young woman of color and a geomancer. She keeps her magical prowess secret with the help of her adoptive father and mentor, Warden Sakaguchi, and works as a secretary for the Earth Wardens. She’s not happy being constrained in such a role.
Then there’s Cy. He’s a southern gentlemen and a mechanical genius with a few secrets of his own. His business partner is Fenris, an acerbic and likewise brilliant mechanic. Fenris is going to gain a large fan club following, and Lexie Dunne has already been declared president of this club. Send her your membership dues, folks.

I don’t know how loudly I’d proclaim Lexie’s interest in your book. Her sister is really the gifted judge of literary excellence. You went viral not just once, but twice (I’m not counting that unfortunate event while researching a 12 monkeys fan fiction story). Tell us about it? Was it as satisfying as we’re all told?

It is pretty cool when a tweet goes crazy like that, though it’s also maddening if you have alerts and sound effects set. My “most viral” experience was one of my #TwitterFiction stories last year, which you can see here: https://twitter.com/BethCato/status/598567939533471745
Maybe you can wield your inherent awesomeness and make it go viral again!

I make no promises. I must wield my inherent awesomeness judiciously. But if it happens, I reserve the right to take full credit. Alright, time to cough up a recipe! Hand it over and no one gets hurt!

Let’s do a recipe that YOU have actually eaten, Bishop! Chewy Honey Maple Cookies! These things are like crack. The smell alone drives people crazy.

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Originally posted on Bready or Not: http://www.bethcato.com/bready-or-not-chewy-honey-maple-cookies/

Honey and maple team up to create sweet and chewy cookies that last for days… unless you eat them all right away.

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons maple flavor
  • 1 cup bread flour (or all-purpose flour, but cookies will be less chewy)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • maple sugar or turbinado sugar for the tops, optional

In a large bowl, beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and honey and beat until creamy and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then mix in the egg, vanilla extract, and maple flavor.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients: bread flour, all-purpose flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Sift together.

Slowly stir together the wet and dry ingredients until just combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and stash in the fridge for several hours or days.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Use greased stoneware, parchment paper, or silpat mats. If you want to add some sparkle to the cookies, place some maple sugar or turbinado sugar in a saucer and dip in the tops of the dough balls. The cookie dough, even straight from the fridge, has a soft Play Doh-like consistency, so it will spread some when it bakes; keep this in mind when you space the cookie dough balls.

Teaspoon-sized cookies need to bake 9 to 12 minutes; Tablespoon-sized take 11 to 13 minutes. Let set on cookie sheets for 10 to 15 minutes before moving to a rack to cool completely.

Cookies will keep in a sealed container for at least a week. They are excellent for travel or shipping.

OM NOM NOM!


I can indeed vouch for the cracky-deliciousness of these cookies. Make them, make lots of them and I promise all who partake will forever follow you blindly*. Thanks, Beth. As always, a delight to have you, especially when you bring cookies. Breath of Earth is available right now, everywhere.

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*Not an actual promise.

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Guest Post: Nancy K. Wallace

Nancy Wallace was my first writer friend. When I first got word from Harper Voyager that I’d been selected from their open call and offered a contract, I posted a comment on a thread on the HV website. I was told not to do that again, politely, and I did. Not everyone had been notified you see and they wanted to make a big, official announcement. As you might imagine, this single comment created a lot of buzz. More than 4500 people had been waiting for 18 months to hear, though the number was surely much smaller by then. Status updates didn’t come as often as any of us would’ve liked and my comment was something new. After that, I had to keep my head down. I answered questions as best I could without revealing anything more. Then I got a message from Nancy. She was also accepted and was told not to say anything yet. That was more than two years ago, and I’m proud to call Nancy a friend. Her first book, Among Wolves, is spectacular and I highly recommend checking it out. The sequel, Grim Tidings, is now available and I’m sure it will be just as good. To mark the release of the book, Nancy is here to talk villains, why we need them, and how hard they can be to write sometimes.


Why Must There Be Villains?

Anyone who knows me well knows that I avoid confrontation, violence, and just unpleasantness in general. Maybe it’s simply my nature or maybe it comes from having worked with children for almost 30 years but that fact is that sword wielding heroes pretty much turn me off. I am more hobbit-like in nature. I like a good cup of tea, a cozy fire, and a good story sans the gruesome details. I believe the Greeks had it right in confining violence off stage where it was hidden safe from sight.

And then, I found myself writing Grim Tidings, Book#2 in the Wolves of Llisé series. I’d left my readers with a cliff hanger at the end of Among Wolves; one that couldn’t be conveniently explained by divine intervention. I knew in my heart that my villain, René Forneaux, had to be really horrible if Book #2 was going to work. The first line of Book #2 gives a good idea that this book will be very different: “At dawn we discovered the first body.”

I found myself squeamishly dabbling at a difficult subject for me – the inherent evil of some people. I have always preferred to believe that everyone is essentially good, if somewhat misguided, and that most people can be swayed by finding common ground. But the farther I went into my story, the darker it became. It was very difficult for me to watch this happen, considering that I wasn’t able to read anything other than the first book of the Hunger Games because I was so traumatized by the violence!!

I had the most difficulty subjecting my original cast of characters to untold horrors, so I created some new ones. Oddly enough, I found the poor traumatized characters rising from the ashes like the Phoenix. I even added a character that I don’t believe I was capable of creating two years ago.

When my manuscript was returned to me with structural edits, there was, thank heavens, not much to change except that my editor felt my villains weren’t quite as villainous as they need to be – even after all my work!! So I tweaked. I made some things more graphic, or as graphic as I could bear to make them and I made René Forneaux a man who people wanted to kill. It made a difference and I learned an important lesson, too: without darkness, light is not so startling in its beauty.

Writing is a study of contrasts, of struggle, failure, and blessed resurrections. It pulls us out of our comfort zone and forces us to see the world as it really is, with all its sorrow, evil, and hurt. But as writers we can also offer beauty to mollify pain, and extend hope to assuage sorrow. That is the benefit of fantasy: in a place that doesn’t even exist, we can imagine ourselves as we might be at our very best!


Grim Tidings - Hi Res

Book two in the sumptuous Wolves of Llisé trilogy.
As the son of Llis’s ruler, Devin Roch knows its laws only too well. It’s a land where keeping historical records is forbidden. To do so would mean imprisonment or death.
Only bards may share the histories of their provinces, but Devin’s quest to learn from them ended in tragedy. His best friend Gaspard has been kidnapped, Master Bards are being murdered and whole communities are disappearing. Clearly someone doesn’t want Devin to know the true history of Llis.
With his guard Marcus and a wolf pack for protection, Devin sets out to discover the truth. But as terrible secrets come to light, Devin realizes that some knowledge can be deadly.

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Nancy K. Wallace loves chocolate, Christmas, and puppets! She collects fairytales and folklore and houses them in dozens of bookcases (alphabetically according to country). Her pets include four lovely cats, and an Arab mare named Ariel.  She lives with her husband in a 140 year old farmhouse named Chevonwyck. Fortunately, she has a family who is tolerant of her obsessions and excellent at proofreading! Nancy is the author of 19 children’s books plus The Wolves of Llisé series for new adults. She has reviewed YA literature for VOYA magazine for 20 years.
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Growing as a Writer, and a Person

In just a couple of weeks, July 12th to be exact, The Returned, will be released to the world. Surely you’re all aware of the date and are counting down with bated breath. This will mark my fourth published book in just under two years. I’m going to say that again because it’s still a little hard for me to believe. Fourth book. Published by a major publisher. Fourth book in two freaking years!

Ahhhhhh!!!
hobbes

Okay, sorry, where was I?

Despite the relatively short period of time, it feels like I’ve come quite a long way. The Returned is the first book whose outline survived until the very end. I admit, as a lifelong Panster—writes by the seat of my pants—I was worried the book would be too formulaic. It wasn’t. Wraith grows a lot as a person and a character, as do Caitlin and Edward, both in their relationship and as individuals. As release day approaches, I think about something I’ve heard other authors say; that it took them three or four books to feel as if they’d found their voice. It’s heartening to know I’m on a similar track.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my other books, but I think The Returned is my best work to date, as it should be. That growth and improvement is something I strive for as a writer: to always be improving in my craft. I’ve recently started rewriting a book—the first novel I finished—and it’s remarkable to see how far I’ve come as a writer since finishing that book. It’s also more than a little embarrassing to think I sent that manuscript to agents, but we’re not going to talk about that.

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Yes, I’ve improved as a writer, but for me, being a better writer is inextricably tied to being a better person. Unfortunately, growth and improvement is never a singular, instantaneous event. It happens over a long period of time, sometimes so slow that, like the proverbial frog in the pot of slowly warming water, it goes entirely unnoticed until you have some context. When it happens, it can be embarrassing (see above, and we’re still not talking about it) but mostly it’s wonderful to see, clearly and starkly, just how much progress has been made. In this post I talked about how much I learned about the tropes and stereotypes I’d blindly fallen into and how I work to rise above them. I say work not achieved, because I still have a long way to go. This fact was brought into harsh relief as I was editing The Returned.

The hardest part about change, of any kind, is accepting and acknowledging things about yourself that need to be improved or, shudder, “fixed.” It’s a fact: sometimes we meet an asshole, and sometimes, we are the asshole. Very few people enjoy being the asshole, particularly when it’s not intentional. I certainly don’t, especially when it adds to the already massive pile of shit that marginalized groups have to deal with. I’ve worked hard to, for lack of a better term, check my privilege.

I’m a straight white male who grew up in the 80’s. Like a lot of kids, in elementary school I had a fairly diverse group of friends, but as I grew up and social structure became more central to life—junior high and high school—my group of friends became more homogenized. In short, the vast majority of my friends looked like me and had similar experiences in the world. I imagine it was the same for a lot of people. For me, my distorted view of the world was compounded by a father who, to put it mildly, was a less than a stellar role model in terms of minorities and women. But that excuse only works for the young. Those who are, for lack of a better term, trapped in their environment and unable to change their circumstances. As an adult, I’m responsible for my behavior. Yes, we’re all, everyone one of us, shaped by our pasts, and we carry those biases, preconceived notions, and judgements forward into adulthood. BUT—and this is a “but” of mythic proportions—while I might have a reason for why I have those blind spots, it’s not an excuse to do nothing about them. Some people may see wanting to improve yourself as apologizing for who you are. I don’t, and I’m not.

The problem, however, is that blind spots are by their definition not visible. As the old saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Often, we only find learn about them when someone else points them out. It’s easy to see that as a personal attack. In some ways, it is, and justifiably so. After all, I’m being the asshole. I know it’s not the responsibility of the person calling me out to do so gently or kindly. Is anyone regularly patient and understanding with assholes? I’m not. So, it’s my responsibility to recognize that I’m at fault, and address said blind spot like a grown up. I’m not saying I always agree, though I do always try to see things from their point of view. I’m not even saying it’s enjoyable, it can be shameful and embarrassing. No, it’s not always easy, but then I’ve never felt the fear of creepy men following me while catcalling, of being been pulled over because of the color of my skin, of being  threatened because of who I love, or the anger of being seen as less because stairs aren’t a pathway but a barrier.

It’s good to keep some perspective.

After The Forgotten, I thought I’d come a long way in terms of checking my privilege and making sure my characters all had agency (influence on the story). Turns out, I still have a long way to go, and a hell of a lot of blind spots. My editor for The Returned was a woman and several years my junior. Much to her credit, she never failed to call me out when I needed it and I have the utmost respect for her because of that. I won’t lie, I was shamed by how many small things she pointed out. Not because of anything she did, but because I felt I should know better. I’m both amazed at how subtle changes can make a huge difference in terms of granting, or taking away agency, and humbled that I didn’t see before, something that is so obvious now. Want an example? I originally wrote a line of dialogue where one male character asks another male character where he is taking his wife on their honeymoon. My editor (whom I’m not naming only because I didn’t ask her permission first) said I should change it so the first character is asking the second where he and his wife are going on their honeymoon. That small change moved the wife from being someone who was being taken somewhere (no agency) to someone who was going somewhere (agency).

Yes, that change is small, and incredibly subtle, but it makes a massive difference. The small things are, by their nature, the hardest to see. As someone who hasn’t had people try to take my agency away from me, I don’t always recognize when I’m doing it to someone else.

Imagine what it would be like meeting someone who mispronounces your name, and continues to do so every single time they see you. It would get annoying but you’d probably write that person off as a jerk. Now, imagine that it’s the majority of people you meet who do that. And more than that, when you correct them, they roll their eyes and tell you to get over it, or worse, threaten violence. That is just the barest taste, of the faintest whisper, of what some have to deal with every single day.

I’m sure there are some who will say I’m being ridiculous and that this is political correctness run wild. While I will agree there are some cases where PC has gotten out of hand, I think for the most part it comes down to respect, and treating people how you want to be treated. You know, like we all learned in kindergarten: be nice and polite to others, and when you’ve done something wrong, including hurting someone’s feelings, say you’re sorry. Some lessons never stop being valid. Though sometimes it can take forty years, and writing four books to really appreciate them.

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