Posts Tagged With: fantasy

In Need of a Fun Read? Give ‘The Wizard’s Gambit’ a Read

The Wizard's Gambit

The Wizard’s Gambit by Kylie Betzner

I may be a little biased — having had a window-of-sorts to see this novel grow into its finished product and being friends with the writer — but I think I can safely say many readers will find “The Wizard’s Gambit” to be a hilarious, enjoyable read, plus it has Littlehammer in it!

With feuding kingdoms — they’ve been, in some cases literally, carrying axes against each other for 1,001 years — terrorizing the land, Wizard White Beard comes up with a hare-brain idea to bring everyone together: a harmless scavenger hunt. But when war has become first nature, the friendly scavenger hunt quickly morphs into something that resembles The Hunger Games. During it, misfits are brought — sometimes kicking and screaming — under the mantel of Mongrel who genuinely wants heal the wounds between the kingdom and find the wizard’s hidden trinket to win the competition.

The characters that populate this novel, truly make it worth the read. There are many common fantasy races, including ogres, elves, and dwarves; however, there is also a diverse human cast that is not just limited to those of Western Europe origin. They each come to the table with their own goals and quirks.

The main cast will provide a favorite character for any reader. Whether it is simple Mongrel who is eventually forced to remove his rosy sunglasses; feisty and completely adorable Littlehammer; the ogre of few words and lover of birds, Grrargh; Tikaani who must face her fear, which threatens to overwhelm her; and so on, there will be someone to relate to. Personally, I adore Littlehammer: her practicality, accent, and right amount of distrust and cynicism (plus a slight violent streak) wormed its way into my heart. But I have to also give a shout out to Empress Eiko who is one badass senior citizen.

The Wizard’s Gambit pokes fun at several fantasy tropes in a loving manner, resembling in someways Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Featuring clever dialogue, hilarious scenarios, and tight prose, it will keep you entertained.

So if you are a fan of the genre and are in need of a good laugh, this book is the one for you. The Wizard’s Gambit can be purchased on Amazon, in either digital format or print. It is also available at Barnes & Noble. Also be sure to visit Kylie’s blog.

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The logistics of war


American soldiers during WWI.

This post is in honor of Memorial Day. Thank you to all who have served, including
those who paid the ultimate price.

Writing a novel containing a war is perhaps one of the most challenging things to do, particularly if you, due to your characters, are in the thick of the conflict, which is very different than writing about the home front. Most don’t really think about all that goes into moving an army from Point A to Point B … At least, you don’t think about it until you actually have to write about it.

Of all the conflicts that I have worked into a novel, wars have perhaps ran me the most ragged, and despite that, they continually appear in my pieces. I don’t really know why, they just grip me — perhaps it is just the history buff in me who read all-things pertaining to the Civil War and WWI. And each time I delve into the waters, I have characters who are in the thick of the action, forcing me to take the effort to make the conflict believable. And trust me, that is no simple task.

This post is intended to get you to think of the logistics needed to successfully write about a war. And really, this post is just the tip of the iceberg! Continue reading

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World-building Series: Diversity

Diversity is the spice of life and has brought humanity several great things from tasty foods, fun festivals and a variety of sports to different arts and music. However, diversity can serve as a double-edged sword, resulting in conflicts, because — let’s face — it humans often have a fear of “otherness.” Whether that “otherness” is another race, culture, sex or sex orientation, sometimes it brings out the worse in other people, which is sad to see.

No matter what diversity is being used to describe — race, culture, sex or sexual orientation — it has become a buzzword in today’s world. Movies and books might very well find themselves criticized for not having enough diversity. Perhaps fearing this criticism, diversity is introduced just for its sake in a variety of creative projects, including in the adaptations of books — where not much diversity could be found — to the big or small screen. Diversity is something that is almost being pressed on writers nowadays.

Now don’t take me the wrong way, diversity is a good thing; however, writers should not feel forced to tackle this topic or even address it unless their works call for it and they as a writer feel confident to enter those waters. With that said, diversity can add flavor into a book or a completely crafted world in a work of speculative fiction. Particularly in a completely crafted world, diversity should appear in whatever form a writer chooses because it adds realism to a piece, even if that diversity is only briefly featured.

This entry will be largely geared toward those speculative fiction writers; however, writers in other writing disciplines might find some helpful seeds to take away and plant in their own works. Continue reading

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You know what’s fun? Euphemisms

“Where’s Ol’Daisy, Joe Bob?” asked Bobby Ray upon entering the milking parlor.
“She kicked her last bucket.” Joe Bob continued to squirt milk into the milk pan as he sat next to Ol’Trixie.
“You know, she exited the barn for the last time… is eating in a greener pasture on a farm upstate.”

Euphemisms are a lot fun and tackle a wide variety of topics from hangovers and sex to death and even visiting the toilet — topics that are not always socially acceptable or are sensitive in nature. Euphemism usually take three forms (though there are hybrids): phonetic modification, e.g., “frak” from the original Battlestar Galactica, which was used to escape the late-70s censors, “oh my gosh,” “h.e. double hockey sticks,” etc.; figures of speech, e.g., “passed away,” “riding the crimson pony,” etc.; and finally, slang, e.g., “couch potato” instead of calling someone lazy or “waste (them)” meaning to kill them.

I have a character who is quite fond of euphemisms or old sayings, many of which are cliche, but I keep them because it is just his character: He is purposely grabbing the cliches, mainly because those are the tidbits of euphemisms he has heard. Why? Because time after time real people turn to the cliche in everyday conversation. Other characters, however, are a bit more creative with their euphemisms and slang. And it is good to have that variety of old vs. new.

Let’s face it euphemisms offer an endless variety that can add flavor to a manuscript or character, especially when you consider that each culture, from countries to different military branches, each have their own sayings and slang. In some cases, particularly the military example, it can bring added realism. Euphemisms can can be humorous, they can be endearing: The possibilities are endless really. Just like they are not limited to certain writing situations or genres.

Historical fiction has some perks as there are a lot of colorful slang and euphemism roaming through the curtains of history; you merely have to pick a time period and start digging. Did you know basket-making has a very different meaning in 19th century England vocabulary? Or that in China “the bitten peach” or “the passion of the cut sleeve” were both terms referring to homosexuality?

SciFi and fantasy writers can have bonus fun with euphemisms and slang because they can make their own to reflect the cultures and societies that live in their worlds; however, they have to be careful because the euphemisms still has to be translatable to their readers … of course, this can often be managed by providing context.

And of course with all things, use slang and euphemisms in moderation and with purpose!

Want to explore more euphemisms? Visit these links:

And of course there is this fun skit from Robot Chicken, which uses several euphemisms (WARNING: Some swearing and violence, albeit cartoon violence):

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Partial Review: Attempting to use Evernote


So what do you have to offer me Evernote?

I had downloaded Evernote several months ago, but had never really messed around with it until this week. So far, I’m seeing a lot of potential for this program and its nifty Firefox add-on — I have yet to use the Android app — as a writer. I’ve set up separate notebooks for each of my current novel projects, and for my SciFi project, I’ve created notes that keep track of my cast of characters and their bios. I have also created a note with each setting/place that my characters stop at, which is a huge help due to some of the locations having strange names. Additionally, there are a lot of locations, some just mentioned by the characters, and they all need to be tracked.

I can see endless time savings with the Evernote Web Clipper internet Web browser add-on for writers of all genres, but perhaps more particularly for those who focus on historical fictional. While researching on the internet, all you have to do is click the little elephant icon — get it, elephants never forget, cha! — and it instantly saves the page to your notes, while giving you the option of which notebook to put it in and which tags you would like to use.

Evernote also uses tags, meaning you can attach tags to each note. Tags I have used so far include characters, settings, places. I assume as my number of notes begin to grow these tags will prove to be life and time savers.

Once I play more with Evernote, I will post more of my thoughts and opinion on this software, plus eventually the Android app.

Do you use Evernote? What are your favorite features or tips for a person, particularly a writer, just starting out with the program.

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World-building Series: Courting (Valentine Bonus)


How is love expressed in your world?

As we celebrate the overly commercialized Valentine’s Day, I decided to do a themed piece for the day and settled on a world-building related topic, because to be honest, I’m not the most romantic person in the world so a how-to-write romance is a little out of my league.

However, courtship is an important topic for those who are working in speculative fiction, especially since odds are there will be some variety of romance in your writing. What are the expectations in the cultures that exist in your book when it comes to courtship? This will have to be explored before you start writing your romances, whether they are the main dish or the side dish of a side dish. The audience needs to be clued into what is acceptable or what is at stake if the characters are going against the grain.

Explore different cultures, periods of history, etc., for the answer to this question, and don’t be afraid to make your own unique traditions. Did you know back in the day, Finnish girls who came of age would wear an empty sheath around their girdles, which would be filled by the knife of an interested man — if a girl returned his interest, she would keep the knife. If anyone has seen “The Patriot,” they will know about bundling bags, which allowed for a slumber party of sorts for couples who were courting without endangering a woman’s virtue.

In older eras, writers should note the level of control parents often had over their children, including deciding when and who they married; after all, marriage was more about family advancement than love for the longest time. Among nobility in Europe, it was not so odd for betrothals to occur when the intended spouses were infants or children. The betrothed then often did not meet until just before their wedding. In some cultures, parents will even employ matchmakers to ensure their children wed well.

However, writers are not bound to courting traditions of the past, when creating their culture’s courting behaviors. No, writers have the freedom to toy with gender roles, expectations and traditions, so have fun with your cultures’ courting. If given thought, courting behaviors and traditions will not go unnoticed by readers and they will only add depth to the story as long as writers resist the urge to info-dump.

For additional reading, visit this blog post on ‘The Dreamer’ webcomic blog that talks a little about courting and marriage in Colonial American (the webcomic itself is also very good and worth the read).

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World-building Series: Intro

What does your world hold?

What does your world hold?

World-building is an intricate part of crafting a story — if done properly, it provides believability and envelopes the reader, holding their interest while also making them want to delve deeper into the world you have crafted.

While world-building is often considered the realm of fantasy and scifi writers that is not the case. Writers from all disciplines need to know the “world” their characters inhabit. Cities and towns have different flavors, just like countries do, requiring research to achieve believability to know what is possible and what isn’t. While most fantasy and scifi writers get to start with a clean sheet, they, however, must have set rules for their world, which requires understanding of their world’s history, culture, social issues, etc., and why they exist as such.

This world-building series, which will be posted each Sunday, will highlight different aspects, and since I am a speculative fiction writer, it will be aimed toward that discipline but with any luck writers in other disciplines will also be able to take away helpful grains from my posts. Posts will be in no order of importance with the first one most likely tackling culture. Be sure to tune in.


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Female characters: living in a male-dominated world


Do not be fooled: Women do not have to be Xena to be powerful in eras where men were in control. (“Duet” by Mieris Frans)

Female characters can be challenging to write, particularly when they are placed in male-dominated worlds/eras, and often come in two extremes: damsels-in-distress/story wallpaper/the romantic interest or a man with boobs. Writers, in many cases, seem to think that to have a strong female character, they have to have great physical strength. While it is true that modern audiences expect “strong” female characters, they also want them to be real, not just Rambo with boobs.

My fantasy novels are based on a continent that is patriarchal — albeit the different countries have different views of women’s place in society and their rights — yet I am a woman, so why would I choose such a set up? The answers is quite simple: I like to challenge my characters — female or male, it does not matter. A patriarchal world also allows me to explore social issues, some that are still present today — while not necessarily to the same extreme — thus challenging my own writing skills. Personally, it also makes me smile at my female characters’ abilities to overcome in their own unique ways; just like women today, each of my female characters have their own identities and thoughts on what it means to be a woman, thus they handle themselves differently.

When I approach my characters, who live in an era similar to the late 1600s-early 1700s, I often take inspiration from historical women. Not all were powerless and subservient to the men in their life, albeit there were victims to the system and those who had no thought of ever going against the flow.

Noblewomen and queens — like Elizabeth I, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Catherine the Great, Catherine de’ Medici and many more — wielded eminence power from influence of their husbands and their sons to reigning solo or as regents. Patronage was another sphere of influence these women had. Isabella of Castile had to struggle for her birthright, but once in power, she reformed her country while also pulling it out of debt. Isabella’s daughter, Catherine of Aragon, was also very impressive in her own right, serving as the first female ambassador in European history and as regent of England while her husband, Henry VIII, was away in France; unfortunately, Catherine also met great misfortune due to her husband’s ambitions and the patriarchal system.


Christine de Pizan

Noblewomen were not the only movers in shakers in history with women finding ways of expressing themselves spiritually and through writing. Christine de Pizan was a medieval writer who wrote in the vernacular (in her case Middle French) and challenged misogyny. Julian of Norwich is another woman writer, and her “Revelations of Love” is believed to be the earliest work in English that was written by a woman.

Another woman of interest is Hildegard von Bingen, who was a jack-of-trades of sorts. Hildegard was a writer, composer (there is a lovely CD with some of her songs), philosopher, mystic, abbess, visionary and polymath; she even dabbled in botany and medicine. Hildegard transcended the bans that forbid women from teaching scripture and even corresponded with popes, statesmen and emperors.

Emilia Plater

Emilia Plater

Of course, there were some women kicking butt, such as Joan of Arc, and much later, Emilia Plater, a Polish-Lithuanian noblewoman and revolutionary. However, such women, like Joan and Emilia, are rare and far between, so depending on your world or the era you are working in, there probably will not be many women in such positions, but that does not mean that a point can’t present itself where you female character can pick up arms: The only requirement is that it is done in a manner that is believable for the setting.

There are several other women throughout history and beyond Europe who are bound to inspire writers; I only had so much space and so very little time to barely scrape the tip of the iceberg.

It is, however, important to note, while crafting female characters in patriarchal settings, writers need to consider that their characters will still be the product of the era/culture that they grew up in. While your female character might voice radical ideas for their time, it is highly unlikely their ideas would go quite as far as modern day viewpoints. Similarly, not all women will be of the same opinion, so it is good to have a variance of characters with different viewpoints to ground each other. Writers should also realize that social changes will not occur instantaneously with sudden change being unbelievable. One simple has to look at our world with racial integration and equal rights.

Similarly, not only the oppressed will have radical views. There have been men throughout history who have stood next to women, voicing women’s right to education and so on.

I highly recommend hitting the books, as it were, and researching different eras, particularly books that focus on women. There are a lot more out there as historians explore women’s place in history, a subject that for the longest time went ignored. In particular, I recommend “The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing,” which delves into medieval women’s lives and experiences through various kinds of text — please note, it is not easy reading. Of course, there are several other women studies books, in addition to individual biographies, to choose from.

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Personal style guides and why you need them

Whether on the computer or on paper, writers need to consider creating personal style guides.

Whether on the computer or on paper, writers need to consider creating personal style guides.

I’m not talking about “The Chicago Manual of Style,” “AP,” “MLA,” or any of the rest — no, I’m talking about writers creating their own personal style guide tailored to their novel or series — particularly fantasy and sci-fi writers. Why? Speculative fiction writers in general are prone to using names even words that are not English; the same could also be applied to writers in other genres, too. After all, especially if you have a cast of several, spellings can become muddled over the course of a long manuscript, even if they are only morphed by a letter or two.

These inconsistencies can add up during revisions, taking time to correct and, in some cases, determine the originally intended spelling. A personal style guide cuts down on this time by being a compilation of all the correct spellings in one handy place. Beyond helping with revisions, style guides will also help while writing.

I started my own personal style guide after one of my readers suggested it, and it has more than proved its worth. I have been able to use it to help straighten out a few spellings that were a few letters off from previous entries, in addition to looking at it for spellings rather than having to pour through previous chapters hunting for words. Since words are placed in alphabetical order, I can easily find entries to settle any questions I might have.

Beyond setting different spellings in stone, I have also included dictionary-like definitions or little notes for myself and eventually hope to include pronunciation guidelines. Thanks to Microsoft Word I have been able to use bookmarks and in-document hyperlinks to make for easy navigation to each letter section and back to the top, thus making my job as a writer much easier.

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The closing of one chapter, the beginning of another

2013-01-14 19.17.58

Hard to believe it is almost time to start the querying stage!

I’ve finally completed the last major revisions to “Passage,” my fantasy novel, and have just made a print-out, in order to do a final read-through to catch any errors that made it through several rounds of revisions — because truth be told nothing can beat having a print out. Errors stick out more on a print-out than when staring at a computer screen. You also have the ability to scribble notes in the margins, which for whatever reason seem to flow more effortlessly from one’s mind to one’s hand and onto the page when compared to comment bubbles in word processors.

There is just a closeness with a print-out that is missing when sitting in front of a computer. Writers also risk skimming over errors while editing in a word processor or even worse unintentionally introducing new errors to their manuscript (I know I have experienced this, a missed key here or an accidental hit of another key, etc.). When polishing a manuscript, it is important to eliminate as many mistakes as possible; after all, a manuscript laden with errors is not bound to make it very far.

I am looking forward to my final read-through, especially since it will be my first time just reading through without a chapter by chapter approach, in addition to not making any major revisions. This time I’m looking at the entirety of the novel, looking for grammatical errors, awkward wording, continuity errors, etc.  To help me along, I’m using highlighters, numbered lines, a notebook, and of course, my trusty red pen.

The numbered lines will allow me to make detailed notes about sections that are still not quite what they should be in my notebook while colored highlighters will point out instances of continuity errors, sections where a character is not quite the way they should be, or areas that are still not up to snuff. And of course, the red pen is for about everything else. Hopefully, when all is said and done, my manuscript won’t be too colorful.

Once the read-through is complete and changes incorporated into the manuscript, I will begin the agent querying process with the hopes of being published by a traditional publisher. I decided to go this route since a majority of fantasy publishers no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts, and at the publishing firms that do accept them, manuscripts automatically go into the slush pile, where it will have to go against great odds to catch notice.

Self-publishing is another option that has become more viable nowadays and in some cases has even proved successful, especially with the advent of e-books and social media. However, I want to try the traditional route first, and give myself more time research self-publishing in depth. In the meanwhile, I will share my experiences as I start navigating the publishing industry.

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