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April 2014
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Blog tag!!

So today we’re playing blog tag. Thank you, Veronica Scott, for tagging me!

I was given some questions to answer on my books and my writing process, and then I get to tag next week’ victim!

1) What am I working on?

Currently, I’m waiting to hear back from separate publishers on both a high fantasy male/male fantasy romance and a steampunk Victorian detective novel (with werewolves!) Meanwhile, I’m frantically writing Raven’s Wing, the sequel to my urban fantasy Ravensblood, both of which are set in an alternate-universe version of Portland, Oregon (though Raven’s Wing does take a side trip to the Australian outback.)

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Although the Ravensblood universe is very firmly rooted in the modern-day, it has a bit of a traditional-fantasy feel, probably because I also write medieval fantasy and fantasy romance. I tried to give Raven especially a sort of old-world gentleman feel to contrast with Cass and her very modern vibe. In Ravensblood I also wrote a universe in which the magic side of the world (Art and Craft) is fully integrated with the Mundane world, not hidden as it is in, say Harry Potter or The Dresden Files.

And although I use the terms dark and light magic, I very much like to play with the shades of gray. It’s not always clear where the boundaries are, and on one occasion practicing death magic is the lesser of the evils.

For my award-winning debut novel The Stolen Luck, I blended the elements of high fantasy and fairytale with a very realistic world. I wanted something that was clearly fantasy yet felt real. I had set out to write fantasy first, and when the romantic elements turned up, I was determined to make the development true to the characters and their situation.

At the risk of sounding dreadfully self-important, I’m less interested in writing fun romps that readers will rush through and forget than I am in writing the kind of book that readers will become absorbed with and think about long after they finish the final word. The Stolen Luck explores how far a good man will go to protect the ancestral vineyards he loves and the people who depend on him. Just because there are no easy answers doesn’t mean the writer shouldn’t ask the question. Maybe that’s even a reason to ask the question.

To me, the inner journey is just as important as the outer journey. In Ravensblood we saw Raven’s struggle to escape the world of dark magic he’d committed to as a bitter young man. In Raven’s Wing he has to come to terms with both his past and his ancestry and figure out his new place in the Three Communities and among the people who enter his life. The latter task becomes more difficult, of course, when he finds himself on the run, trying to find the stolen Ravensblood and prove his innocence.

3) Why do I write what I do?

There’s not just one answer to that. Usually it starts with a character that grabs me by the throat and won’t let go until I start writing his or her story. Then it becomes about my passion for the story itself and my desire to share it, to rock the reader’s world in the way mine has been rocked by the stories I’ve read and loved.

Of course, there are things I care about that show up in my novels. Bright and Dark (the working title of the fantasy romance I just sent off) is, among other things, an expression of my rage and sadness at prejudice and the wars it causes or allows. My steampunk has in it themes of class and gender oppression. But I think if you start off trying to write about war or discrimination or what-have-you, it leads to bad fiction. If you start off with story and write from the heart, the things you care about will come out in a way that touches the reader’s emotionally, and that’s far more powerful.

4) How does your writing process work?

My writing process is ever-evolving. I used to be very much a discovery writer. I had a beginning, and some idea of the end, and I just muddled through the middle ‘till I got to the end and then did a ton of rewrite to make it all work.
On one novel, I wrote the key scenes first (inciting incident, first turning point, dark night of the soul, climax, resolution, but not in order) then wrote the bits in between, not necessarily in order. It was an. . .interesting experience, and not one I’ll repeat. I think that novel holds my current record for Most Pages Discarded.

Writing mentor Eric M Witchey was the first one to make me write an outline. (He will insist he didn’t make me. Well, not in the sense of putting a gun to my head, but he gave me the assignment and I knew we would have to talk about it the next class.) Anyway, I realized that the ending I finally came up with was going to require a lot of set-up early on, and if I hadn’t outlined I would have been in a world of rewrite hurt. I’ve since found that by stepping back and looking at the big picture via an outline, I can find all sorts of neat ways to braid plots and sub-plots to make satisfying little echoes and connections that make the overall work more satisfying. Plus, when a reader or an editor asks you what you might have finished when, it’s a lot easier to answer with confidence if you know where the bloody thing is going.

Once I finish a draft, I’ll do a polish, then send it to my first readers. Once I’ve considered their responses, I’ll do another editing pass, and maybe one more to check for consistency and the overall feel of the thing. I’ve found in general that the more I write and the more I work on craft, the less revision I end up doing on each project. I’m making fewer mistakes that need to be fixed.

As soon as the final polish is done I start sending it out ding it to (or, for an indie project, sending it to my editor) and grab the next outline off the pile and start over.

And now for the fun part! I tag next week’s Monday blogger! Only one tag this week, but it’s a good one. Mary Rosenblum, award winning author of many SF and mystery novels published with New York publishers and overseas, as well as dozens of short stories that have been published in major magazines all over the world (and, not-so-coincidentally, my editor for Ravensblood.)

You can find her at

The TARDIS ROOM– pub review

So, went to the TARDIS Room in Portland, OR last night. It’s a part of a British-style pub known as the Fish and Chips Shop and devoted, as you might guess from the name, to all things Doctor Who.

Imagine if some teenage geek somehow got a liquor license and opened a pub in his parents’ garage, decorating it with his most cherished Whovian memorabilia. But I don’t mean that in a bad way.

This place is *fun*. Posters, cardboard stand-ups of the Doctor and a Dalek, Bad Wolf sprayed in appropriate graffiti-style on a wall. Clearly born out of sincere love. And having done a stint as a failed espresso-shop owner, I can understand not having the cash flow to do all you wish to do.

The staff is low-key, friendly, and genuine. Our waiter was attentive enough without hovering in silent pressure to order more.

Yes, the specialty drinks were on the pricy side, but very good, provided you like things sweet (as I do.) My friend and I sampled the 10th and 11th Doctors’ Sonic Screwdrivers. If I wanted to nit-pick, I could comment that they weren’t in Doctor Who tumblers as promised and only had one maraschino cherry apiece, rather than the promised two. Oh, well. Our worlds didn’t end.

I’m not a fan of beer, but my friend is a connoisseur and approved of what was on tap.

Other on-line reviewers have complained about the food prices, but I thought they were pretty much in line with other pubs, and you get a lot for the money. My friend couldn’t finish her fish-and-chips plate; my burger (done just as requested) left me very full.

Be aware that the Tuesday night trivia now alternates between Doctor Who and other shows. It was Sherlock, season one, episode one last night. Contest was fun and there was much laughter and camaraderie from fellow geeks at all the tables (If you go on trivia night, I recommend you go early-ish to get a good table. ) Host suggested if you didn’t know the answer, to put something down anyway, and granted points for wrong answers that made him laugh. You also get extra points in the contest for every team member wearing appropriate-to-the-show memorabilia.

Parking is on-street and can be tricky, but we found a spot literally just around the corner. If you are like me and organize your life around not having to parallel park, do what I did and get someone else to drive. It’s more fun with a friend, anyway.

If you’re looking for fancy, either in atmosphere or in food, give it a pass. But if you need a good dose of geekery in-between cons, I highly recommend.

Free Valentine’s Flash Fiction for Holmes fans

OK, so I’m a bit late posting. But here’s a free flash (short-short) story: Sherlock Holmes and the Secret of the Heart-Shaped Box. Check it out!

The Last Geek To Comment on The Hobbit 2 Has Her Say (With Thoughts On What Writers Can Learn From PJ’s Mistakes)

(Note: Contains very minor spoilers for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)
OK, I’m not going to bother with a full review, since I’m sure by now everyone who wants to has either seen it or read other reviews. It took me a while to steel myself to go see it. I was pretty disappointed in the first movie, but liked the actors and the few actual Tolkienish bits. I went into the second movie with lowered expectations, and overall enjoyed it.

The dragon was wicked-cool. Well-rendered, impressive, and Benedict Cumberbatch did a fantastic job with the voice. Martin Freeman is still the best person they could have gotten to play Bilbo, Ian McKellen continues to be awesome, and Richard Armitage once again rose above the material. The bits with Gandalf battling the Necromancer made my inner-teenage-fantasy-geek very happy. We’re not going to talk about what PJ did to Radagast because I don’t want to ruin anyone’s day, least of all my own.

I enjoyed Tauriel as a character too much to resent her non-cannon intrusion, especially as I’ve long since given up hope of PJ’s movies bearing more than a passing resemblance to the books. (What do you know? PJ can have a strong female character without finding some way to undercut her! Maybe he’s capable of learning and growth!)

Ditto the elf-dwarf romantic tension, which I had heard rumor of, was prepared to dislike intensely, and actually found quite sweet. I thought there was a nice, subtly complex triangle set-up there with Legolas. Tauriel is attracted to Legolas but knows she can’t have him. Being a smart girl, she accepts the things she cannot change and is open to moving on with someone (very) different. Legolas doesn’t like her enough that he’s prepared to defy daddy to be with her, but he likes that she likes him, and doesn’t like it when she shows signs of interest in someone else. (Of course it helps that Kili is as cute as a box full of puppies with a couple of kittens on the side.)

The whole digression into Laketown politics made me feel like I had wandered into another movie, but it wasn’t a *bad* movie.

The CGI-enhanced unrealistic elven acrobatics once again set my teeth on edge. The action sequences were still waay too long (I really wished I knew in advance exactly how many minutes I had, so I could get up and stretch my legs and maybe get a snack.) Which leads me to my take-away for writers.

Most (not all) of the action sequences were kinda cool, especially the ones under the Lonely Mountain with the dragon and all the gold sliding around like desert sands. If there had been half as many of them, and they had been half as long, this would have been a darned good movie, especially if PJ also tightened his narrative structure and put the Laketown politics stuff in another movie where it belonged.

Writers, this is why we need to ‘kill our darlings.’ Yes, that passage is beautifully written, and so is that one and the other, but when you put them all together, it’s too much and the reader starts wondering what’s for lunch. I’m talking to myself as much as anyone here. The next time I want to resist an editor’s suggestion to cut that gorgeously written passage for the greater narrative good, I will remember sitting in a movie theater, checking my watch and thinking about whether I wanted Chinese or a hamburger. (For the record, I usually bowed to the editor’s greater experience anyway, but I now feel bad about all the things I muttered under my breath while cutting the text.)

The Allure of the Dark Hero

My new blog is up at Here Be Magic (group blog for speculative-fiction writers from Carina Press).

A while back, I wrote about attractive villains, now I’m blogging about dark heroes. We’re not going to analyze too closely what this says about me, ‘kay?

Shawna Reppert Interviews Shawna Thomas– An Interview With a Fellow Carina Press Author


Q. Tell us a bit about your protagonist and her world.

A. After her father and her mother died, her grandfather raised Ilythra on a deserted island, teaching her everything he knew about the ancient art of Shi’ia. On her 18th birthday, he gave her a stone and a task: Find the other stonebearers and reunite the stones. But I guess that tells you more about her mission than anything else. That is one of the problems. Ilythra is headstrong and impulsive but also dedicated. As time progresses, she begins to lose the distinction between who she is and what she is to do. She is just coming into her own during Journey of Wisdom, the third book in the Triune Stones series. Anatar as an ancient world in stasis. The once mighty race of Siobani have become a legend and nothing has changed in the century since they disappeared. Nothing for the better. The keeper of one of the stones uses the power for his own benefit and even the land groans under the burden.

Q. Your first novel was a stand-alone, and now you’re on the third book of a series. Did you know you would be writing a series when you wrote the first book in this world?

A. Yes. This series started as one book—the first one I ever wrote—and grew to a very long book. I knew it was going to be either three or four when I pitched the concept to Carina. The first two were roughed drafted, the last two were only ideas. I honestly think this could have gone to five books. So much was cut out!

Q. Your covers show us a swashbuckling female protagonist. An interesting choice— and one I approve of! Can you tell me why you decided on this protagonist?

A. It’s more accurate to say she decided on me. Many years ago I had a dream about a woman named Ilythra. I thought it an odd name but continued my day-to-day life, but she wouldn’t leave me alone. I finally decided to write down her story. It turned into a 100-page short story. I wasn’t satisfied so I decided to fill in the blanks…. LOL. There are still some blanks I’d like to fill in.

Q. In your bio, you said that you were inspired to write because you didn’t like the ending of Gone With the Wind and decided to write your own. I have to ask— how did your version end?

A. With Rhett and Scarlett together of course. I just couldn’t believe that love wouldn’t conquer all. You can’t tell as much in the movie, but the book… *big sigh* They were two very damaged people who loved each other very much. I am a hopeless romantic. Love wins. Period.

Q. I’d have thought Gone With the Wind would have led you to historical romance. How did you end up writing paranormal and fantasy romance?

A, I cut my reading teeth on epic fantasy. It’s in my blood I guess. I honestly didn’t start out to write in any genre, I just started writing and this is what came out. I also tried my hand at romance under a pen name. I’m kind of a “tell the story” writer… then you can tell me what genre it is.

Q. You had three books out in a year. Do you really write that fast, or did you have a couple books done before the first book came out?

A. NO! LOL. In that year, I gave birth to a baby who doesn’t sleep. No really, even as a newborn she’d sleep ten minutes of every sixty. Around the clock. My husband went back to school and I had just signed a four-book contract. I honestly wrote every single word sleep-deprived. LOL I’m writing these words sleep deprived. Gotta stay consistent. But the first two were just in need of a really good edit. It’s the last two that gave me stress… and that I’m most proud of.

Q. Your bio says you have seven kids! How do you manage to balance writing time with the rest of your life?

A. Honestly? I don’t. I used to write during naptime and after the kids were in bed. I’ve trained the baby to sleep for 30 minutes to an hour, but it’s not quite long enough and by the end of the day, if I have any time, I try to spend it with my husband as he’s busy with work and school/homework almost all day. I hired a babysitter to finish the last two books. So right now I’m on hiatus. I write the occasional short story just because I need to.

Q. What is one assumption people make about you that is wrong?

A. I’m a very quiet person so people think I’m standoffish or unfriendly. That’s not the case, and it’s very frustrating. Thank God for people who know me well enough to see beyond that. So if you see me at a conference or something, I’d love to talk to you. Really. Also, I’m nearsighted and if I’m not wearing my glasses, you’re blurry. I’m not ignoring you.

Q. What is your favorite fairytale/myth/legend and why?

A. I love fairies. I’m not sure that’s my favorite. My favorite is probably the one I’m reading at any given time. When I was a little girl, we lived in Washington State surrounded by forests. I used to pretend there were fairies in the woods that would disappear when you looked at them. I tell my kids that the fairies collect dewdrops, which turn to diamonds in a fairy’s hand. I love watching my kids observing every dewdrop carefully and with wonder. And I think ultimately, maybe that’s why I write fantasy. If I could inspire even one person to wonder, to look around creation and see the delicate beauty and complexity, to see beyond his or her day-to-day life and be lost in possibilities and awe? That’s worth all the sleep-deprived nights.

Comfort and Joy

So, been under a lot of stress these days. Been turning a lot to some of my favorite Comfort Stories, and that lead me to start thinking about just what does make a good Comfort Story.

I think the first element is largely accidental. Most of the stories that I find myself turning to in times of trouble are the ones I fell in love with as a child or teenager. (And by ‘stories’, per my usual, I am lumping together all forms of story— books, movies, TV.) Not that I subscribe to the myth of idyllic childhood or high school as the ‘best years of our lives’— like most geeks, I never really found my footing until childhood. Yet for most of us (not all, I know) the pre-adult years are the ones most free of serious responsibility. No matter how much high school sucked, at least it was not my problem to pay bills, keep food on the table and the roof over my head. And anything seemed possible in the nebulous future. A Tom Baker/Peter Davison era Doctor Who marathon can take me back to that safer, simpler time, at least for a while, as can re-reading Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword.

It goes back to more than timing, though. I am not, after all, seeking out episodes of MacGyver online. (If I start, you have my permission to have me locked away for my own good.) And though I read Sherlock Holmes stories as a child (I always read far above my grade level) I didn’t discover the Granada TV/Jeremy Brett versions until well into adulthood. Why then, did watching an antisocial man tracking down murderers soothe me through a bout of insomnia a few years back?

I think it was because that antisocial man was nonetheless a tireless champion of justice, fiercely protective of the innocent, and chivalrous, even kind, when the moment demanded it. With Holmes out there, the world is a safer place, even if it’s just a fictional Holmes and a fictional world. In that, he parallels the Doctor, who is also kind when the occasion calls for it, although he can be flippant and even rude by turns, resourceful, unflinchingly brave and unable to walk past a wrong without righting it. Robin Hood, another of my comfort-read favorites in its various versions, follows the same pattern. Middle Earth offers Aragorn, Faramir and Gandalf. The Dark Is Rising series has Meriman Lyon.

Another element to the Comfort Story— the danger the characters face has to be worse than anything my own life is throwing at me. Murder and blackmail is good. A threat of destruction to the entire world, better. The end of all of time and space, better still. If the characters are able to stand up to that, well, how can I shrink back from my own lesser problems?

I think the Comfort Stories that helped me throughout my own life became part of the drive I have now to write— I want to give to others what I found myself.

I’m aware that what makes a story a Comfort Story varies greatly with the audience. I’m sure there are many disparate lists and sets of criteria. I’d be interested in hearing what some of you out there have found as your Comfort Stories, and why.

Seasons (A Solstice Gift of Story)

Author’s note: This is quite unlike most of my writing, written in a distant POV, almost a prose poem. It actually came almost whole-cloth out of an exercise in flow writing a while back, and since it didn’t seem to fit into any genre or market, languished on my hard drive. I thought it was too lovely to stay hidden. I hope you like it. (apologies for the indenting being wonky. WordPress and I are not getting along.

His muse was in the mountains, in the mists on the mountain meadows, in the mournful cry of the dove. She knew this; it was the reason she always came to him, her wild mountain bard with his flute and his flights of fancy. She never asked him to come to her. All through the spring of their courtship, all through the summer of its fulfillment, not once did he come to her tame little farm in the vale with its neat ordered lines. But it was autumn now, with winter hard upon them. She would not make this journey in the bitter snows, nor could she forsake forever the stolid stone warmth of hearth and home.
And so they parted, he watching her go without a word, she leaving with tears but without regret.
Both of them knew, without saying, that she would not make the journey again in spring. She was not made for the mountains, though she loved them, was not made for a love brief and insubstantial as the mountain mists.
Through the fall she labored, harvesting, gathering storing. The air of her vale was cider-sweet with apples. The fields turned to gold and then to brown against the storm-gray skies. Always before her heart had been so full of her love for the land and its colors that she had no room for loneliness. But this year she found her eyes drawn up to the mountains in the horizon, all bright aspen and dark spruce. In the mornings the colors were softened by the mists. On sunny afternoons their brilliance broke her heart.
Sometimes she thought she heard a wisp of song on the winds that blew down from the mountains. Sometimes she whispered his name, just to hear it.
The leaves faded, fell, blew away. Her pony’s coat grew thick and soft as plush. The days grew shorter, the nights longer and dark.


On solstice eve her Yule fire burned bright, and the sweetness and spice of cider filled the farm home that she had been born in, that her parents had been born in. In the rocking chair by the fire, under the quilt she’d made with her own hands, she dozed and dreamed. The knock on the door that woke her seemed like part of the dream, and the face that met her when she opened the door to black night and swirling snow came from dreams of spring and summer and mountain meadows.
“You cannot,” she said, lying in bed that night with him warm beside her, the passion of their reunion spent. “You cannot leave your mountain.”
“And you cannot leave your vale. Not forever, not for long. But for a time. For a brief time, my muse will forgive a visit.”
“As my fields forgave mine, once.”
“Once, and maybe again?”
“Maybe,” she agreed.

Not for a love as insubstantial as mountain mists. But for a love as strong as mountain stone, a love that grew and changed and grew again with the mountain’s seasons. She, a farmer, knew much of seasons, and of patience.

A Spoilery and Highly Opinionated Review of The Day of the Doctor

Before I get to the critical analysis of the ending, which I consider problematic, (although others disagree) let me just take a moment to say ‘Wow!’ Overall I loved it. Actors David Tennant and Matt Smith were in top form, and their characters played off one another well, sometimes arguing, sometimes working in perfect synchronicity. The episode offered a ton of little in-jokes and payoffs for diehard Whovians–we finally find out what happened between the tenth Doctor and Elizabeth I. There was a lovely, convoluted, timey-wimey plot with a healthy dose of Doctor angst revolving around his role in the end of the Time Wars.

Which leads me to the big problem I had with the movie. (and before anyone starts screaming, I’m not negating the achievement of the episode, or the joy and wonder and genuine awesomeness that is Doctor Who.) But a lot of what I loved about the new Who, and what sets in apart from classic Who (which I love for a different set of reasons) is the underlying edginess that comes from a Doctor haunted by his past. He’s still dancing through the universe merrily saving planets and civilizations with a minimum of bloodshed. But now there’s a sense of what he’s capable of if pushed. And there’s a shadow of grief and guilt and loneliness under the happy-go-lucky. Marshmallow fluff with a core of black iron.

Writer me was in awe. Good writing teachers tell you to find the thing that’s worse than death for your protagonist and make him or her face it. To give your protagonist an impossible choice where anything he does, including doing nothing, has unbearable consequences. Setting up opposed-to-violence, every-species-has-a-right-to-live Doctor with a scenario where he has to utterly obliterate the Daleks and his own people, or else let them destroy the universe with the war between them, to make him violate everything essential to his core personality or let billions and billions suffer and die through his inaction– wow. Just, wow. I bow before my masters.

At least, I bowed before my masters before they took a sledgehammer to their own work. Giving the Doctor an easy out, letting him go back and rewrite his own history so he doesn’t have to destroy his own people, feels to me as lame as the ‘it was all just a dream’ device clumsy beginning writers use.

And that’s quite apart from the issue of crossing one’s own timeline. Which has been winked at before, I know. But this isn’t asking the viewer to wink. It’s asking the viewer to put out both eyes with a hot poker. Which I could still forgive in favor of a greater narrative good, but this is not a greater good.

Yes, OK, they tried to salvage it by saying that the ninth and tenth Doctors will still remember having destroyed Gallifrey, even if it now no longer actually happened, but to me it feels hollow. It feels too much like what writing teacher (and NY-Times bestselling author) David Farland cautions against. Victory with little or no real cost. The Doctor no longer had to choose between two horrible outcomes. Now he just gets to pull a happy ending out of a hat like he does in in so many other episodes.

So, still loved the movie/episode. Still glad I went to see it in 3-D. But I felt they missed an opportunity to take it from good to beyond amazing. Imagine the emotional impact if the Doctor, after struggling to change things, after thinking he’d found a way– is again faced with the same dilemma, having to make the choice anew to destroy two species, his own included, in order to save the universe. Chills run down my spine.

Ravens, Evermore: Ravens in Fact, Folklore and Fiction

Um, Samhain-kitty just reminded me I should probably let you know I wrote an honest-to-goodness blog. (Shut up, Samhain, it isn’t *that* rare.) It’s over at Here Be Magic: