Guest Post: Adding a Historical Time Period to a Paranormal Novel

When I saw that Belinda Vasquez Garcia had written a book about witchcraft and the Great Depression set in the American Southwest, I just HAD to talk to her.  As some of you may know, I just curated an exhibition on the 1930s so I’m a little addicted to the period.  Belinda’s novel, The Witch Narratives: Reincarnation, is full of fascinating concepts.  She’s here today to talk about historical connections but watch this blog to hear more about the book.


Adding a Historical Time Period to a Paranormal Novel

by Belinda Vasquez Garcia

Some Southwestern witches shape-shift using a piedra imán, those lucky enough to find the rare magnetic shape-shifting stone, whose powers go back to Roman times. In crafting my story, I thought that if a woman had such a stone, she would use it to remain young and beautiful. If one could remain forever young, then immortality would follow. So, in my books, a piedra imán acts as a fountain of youth. I therefore, needed to have my series start in an earlier time period so the lucky owner would stay young, while other witches around her age, festering with jealousy. For the first book, one of the time periods I chose was the Great Depression.

Madrid, New Mexico was once a company-owned, coal-mining town and it lost 37.5% of its population due to the Great Depression with 1/3 of the homes being emptied. The miners were forced to work just once or twice a week and struggled with even more debt which they owed to the company store. They ate mainly staples during this time period. One character, Marcelina, is given to quoting dichos [proverbs] and says of the Great Depression, “there is no shame in being poor but there is never a convenient time.”

Like most rich men, my fictional owner of the town and coal mine, Samuel Stuart, is not affected as much by hard times because he, also, owns businesses in Albuquerque, though some have closed due to the depression. However, his bank in Albuquerque, of which he is part owner, does fail and has to close its doors, even though the eight-story First National Bank is the biggest in Albuquerque. Here comes the Calvary! Lo and behold, the government and Roosevelt come to the rescue with the Glass-Steagall Act and loans money to banks all over the country, allowing the rich mine owner to reopen his bank. Hmm, sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Well, the Glass-Steagall Act which saved the banks from entire ruin during the Great Depression bailed them out, so long as the banks agreed not to dabble in investment banking and underwrite securities.

Wait a minute! That’s what banks were doing that caused our current economic problems! I found it unnerving that during my research I discovered that the economic crisis our nation has been having the last few years is simply an echo of the past. It was rather daunting to see how history repeats itself.


About The Witch Narratives: Reincarnation:

Two young women, a witch and a Catholic, clash with the Penitentes, a fanatical, Catholic secret society who enforce their own punishment for sin. Salia, a third-generation witch and half-breed living on the fringes of society with a cruel mother and selfish grandmother, befriends Marcelina, a doubting Catholic haunted by a centuries-old witch, La Llorona, who rises from the muddy Rio Grande. While Marcelina is torn between Catholicism and witchcraft allure, Salia has no desire to join the Sisterhood of the Black Rose, the covens created by La Llorona.

About the Author:

Belinda grew up in Albuquerque. The daughter of a seasonal carpenter and housewife, her family never had much money. Growing up, the only books her family ever owned were the A and B encyclopedias, and Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, which she used as a stool to sit on. Thus, did she absorb an arsenal of words.

She was seven years old when a neighbor loaned her Tom Sawyer. The novel mesmerized her, and she spent her summer days, sitting under a tree, reading the book from cover to cover ten times, before surrendering it. She then badgered her brother to walk her several miles to the library and several miles back, so she could check out other books of spell-binding fiction. She was skinny and often hungry, but nothing could keep her from that library walk, and the pile of books she would carry back home.

Her father deserted the family when Belinda was twelve, and her mother died when she was sixteen. Still, she earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico with emphasis on Applied Mathematics.

As a child, her family often spoke of witches. They particularly told tales of the legendary, centuries-old witch, La Llorona, who fascinated Belinda. Thus, her inspiration is taken from the true tales of witchcraft she heard as a child, from a strong Native American influence in her youth, and through research. Her fictional work reaches beyond regional geography to entice anyone who enjoys the world of mysticism, and the power of sorcery, but with spice. Her vision is to fashion colorful and realistic characters, and create compelling worlds that speak of sorcerers, witches, spiritual journeys, human compassion, individual frailties, love, hate, and the importance of family. One of her goals is to deeply touch the emotions of her readers.

Before embarking on writing full time, she worked as a Software Engineer and Web Developer for Sandia National Laboratory. In her spare time, she honed her craft of writing fiction.

Find Belinda at:

Author Website

Facebook

Twitter

 

Advertisements

Guest Post: Defining the Book that Rejects Definition; A Genre Question – part 1

Some of you may recall that, back in April, A Few Words posted an excerpt from a new YA novel called Sykosa by Justin Ordoñez. I received a lot of feedback on that post, especially on the concept of writing YA for 18+. I went back to Justin and asked him to consider writing more for us on genre. He graciously accepted and so we have two fascinating posts this weekend from an “industry outsider” and his take on why he chose the path that he did. I highly encourage you to come back for the rest of the conversation tomorrow.

Defining the Book that Rejects Definition; A Genre Question.

Part One
by Justin Ordoñez

Before we ask the question of, “Is Sykosa YA (Young Adult)?” I have a disclosure. I’m an industry outsider and I don’t know the lingo, the demographics, or what’s “hot” in the market, and until a few years ago, I had no idea what YA was, or that it sold well, and had no use for the term. I was first introduced to the term by YA author Mindi Scott. (Author of Freefall, and due in the fall, Live Through This—both fantastic novels). By chance, Mindi and I worked at the same company, and during one of our quarterly company-wide meetings, Mindi was honored for something—probably being awesome—and her manager said, “Mindi Scott is a writer and she was recently signed by Pulse, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.” It was maybe 2008 or 2009, so I was still toiling away on Sykosa, and I was already resigned to wasting my entire 20s on an unpublishable novel that would inspire every literary agent alive to say, “Yeah, I read it overnight. I was totally sucked in. What? No, sorry, I can’t represent Sykosa.”

(That’s an entirely different blog post, so I’ll stay on point…)

Anyhow, I decided to write Mindi an email and introduce myself. Over time, I came to learn she was an ambitious and serious writer, and what interested me most is that she had gone the more traditional route—attending school to help her hone her craft and working the social networking angle. It took her 5 years, but she finally got a book deal. (This is nothing I look down on, btw. In fact, I admire it, and often wonder why I can’t ever manage to do the same). Eventually, I told her about Sykosa, and her first reaction was, “Is it YA?” After confessing that I had no idea what she was talking about, I offered to let her read the novel, and although she was busy with Freefall, she said she’d read a few chapters. Upon finishing, she told me without doubt, “This is literary fiction. You’re not YA.” I asked her if she was sure about that, and then what happened is what happens to everyone who reads Sykosa; all of sudden you get this feeling in your stomach like, “Actually, no, I’m not sure… It’s just… Your novel is so…”

Finish the sentence however you like.

Continue reading

Guest Post: Survival… or Why I Write Fiction

Today brings us a guest post from author RS Emeline whose new book, Purrfect Storm, has just been released on Amazon.  Today, she’s speaking with us about the connections between life and fiction, something many writers–and readers–can understand.

Survival… or Why I Write Fiction

by RS Emeline

As a teenager growing up in the soggy Pacific Northwest, I kept myself sane wallowed in my misery by writing really depressing and dark poetry. When I got older and moved away from the constant gloom of my familial ‘homeland’, I no longer needed to write about death and darkness.

Who am I kidding?

I still write doom and gloom, but now it has a happier ending.

When I married my Marine seven years ago, I didn’t think anything of my former desire to publish novels. In the constant hustle of everyday life I didn’t have time to remember dreams of the naive drunk crazy young girl I’d been.

Until I got pregnant.

Suddenly my desire for blood and vengeance a record of what was happening in my life and how I dealt with the constant urge to kill people hormones of pregnancy had the old dreams gearing up for a comeback tour.

Since murder is  messy against the law and nobody should do it, fiction seemed a better way to go.

Some of my best stories have been written while my Marine has been deployed. Purrfect Storm, my first published work, isn’t like most of what I’ve written. Mostly because during the original phase of the writing proces,s my Marine was home. If he’d been deployed, there would have been more dismemberment blood and gore  angst.

It still would have had a happy ending though.

I chose to write fiction because it allows me to step away from what is legally right, and still believe in fairy tales. It keeps me sane for the months at a time when my Marine is away, and I’m balancing the roles of mother, father, taxi driver, dispute fixer, and student.

Otherwise, I’d probably be writing this from prison.


About Purrfect Storm: Tavin Chauncy thinks he has his work cut out for him when a fellow Marine gets arrested for assault. He soon realizes that it’s nothing compared to the way his life gets flipped upside down when a mysterious woman appears in the middle of his living room during a rare desert storm.

 

About the Author: R.S. Emeline grew up in the sogginess of Washington State where she nurtured her love of writing with dark teenage poetry. Today she spends her time in the perpetual dryness and sun of the California desert. She lives there with her husband, the Marine; her niece, the Artist; her daughter,the Munchkin; and two animals–King Furry and Mistress Meow– who are the true rulers of the roost.

 

 

To Follow RS Emeline, visit her at:

 

Hey, Authors…

Courtesy of sxc.hu

I was asked to pass this along so here it is:

A brand-new website, That Book Place, has opened up.  This site was designed for authors and readers to connect with one another and they’re looking for both readers and writers to be a part of the community.

If you’re an author who’d like to be interviewed, they’d love to talk to you.  Check out their interview submission form here:

http://www.thatbookplace.com/author-interview-submissions/

Please spread the word!  More communities for readers can only be a wonderful thing.

Socialpunk: Excerpt from Monica Leonelle

I’m pleased to share with you an excerpt from the new novel, Socialpunk, by Monica Leonelle.  

A little more about it:

Ima would give anything to escape The Dome and learn what’s beyond its barriers, but the Chicago government has kept all its citizens on lockdown ever since the Scorched Years left most of the world a desert wasteland. When a mysterious group of hooded figures enters the city unexpectedly, Ima uncovers a plot to destroy The Dome and is given the choice between escaping to a new, dangerous city or staying behind and fighting a battle she can never win.


From the Novel:

After playing God for six years with the world he created, he couldn’t control any of his subjects, none at all. Over the years, he had watched them evolve and become the sum of their own choices rather than the sum of his; and for that, he regretted ever giving them life.

A small, blinking red light from just inside his eyelid reminded him of the news they sent him earlier that morning. The company had cancelled his funding and would shut down his project within three months. According to them, the project cost too much and took up too much space, and the inconclusive results couldn’t be published reputably, now or in the future.

Six years of his work, tens of thousands of lives at stake—and he could do nothing to save any of it. He bowed his head, letting his chin rest on the rim of his breakfast smoothie. The smoothie reeked of powder—crushed pills—but he supposed he had better get used to it. He wouldn’t be able to afford the luxury of real food after they canned him.

He closed his eyes and called up the camera view of one of his favorites, number 3281. She fascinated him; he couldn’t deny it. When he had designed her, her pre-teen rebelliousness lit fire in her eyes. A survivor, he’d thought. He’d meant for her to have it all—to grow up, to get married to the love of her life, and to have a beautiful family of her own someday.

But he had only given her sadness so far. Instead of creating a strict father, he had given her an abusive one. Instead of creating a loving boyfriend, he had given her a friend who could never love her. And instead of creating a strong, proud mother, he had given her a meek one, who watched the whole thing unfold and did nothing about it.

He looked at his last and final creation sitting in the chair across from him—his own son, not awakened yet. The law forbade him to have any children of his own, so this boy would substitute.

But he had done the unthinkable with this creation—he had bestowed on it his own thoughts, emotions, and decision-making processes. He’d given the boy his own mind, his own physical characteristics, his own wants and desires.

He had never done so with any of the others because of the dangers of investing too heavily in any one of his subjects. But who could he kid? He had not stayed objective thus far, watching some of his subjects more closely than others, wishing for the happiness of some at the expense of others. He had become an abomination, a monster of his own doing, who had created subjects only to watch them suffer.

He couldn’t forgive himself; not now, not ever. His eyes lingered on the vial that sat next to his breakfast smoothie, that he’d stowed away for the day when they destroyed all his work, his entire world. He would save it, tuck it away for now, for as long as he could protect them. When things spun out of his control, he would drink it and end himself the way he had ended them.

In the ancient stories, gods frequently gave their sons as gifts. Now, he would give his son as a gift to her, number 3281. So she could be happy in her last months on earth, before they destroyed her with the rest of them.


Monica Leonelle is a well-known digital media strategist and the author of three novels. She blogs at Prose on Fire and shares her writing and social media knowledge with other bloggers and authors through her Free Writer Toolkit.

Socialpunk is available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.

Behind the Villain: Ellette of Morning Star

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Desiree Finkbeiner, author of the recently released Morning Star, the first volume in the Ethos series.  Ethos is a great new YA fantasy series that has inspired a lot of conversation between Desiree and I over recent weeks.  Among the things that I find so intriguing about Desiree’s work are the many facets of her characters, particularly the villain Ellette.  Because I had so many questions about the character, I asked Desiree to allow me to “interview” first her villain and then herself to learn more about the concepts behind Morning Star and the world that she has created.

First, I present the interview with Ellette, the fallen warrior of the Ethos series.

Gwen:  Ellette, what is the strongest emotion that drives your actions?

Ellette:  Fairness. Life is cruel and unfair to those who try to do the right thing. I did everything I was told to do; gave up my chance at happiness so that others could be happy, and look where it got me. What’s the point in sacrifice if it carries no reward? The universe is unfair to those who sacrifice, giving the spoils of their labor to schmuck who stands in line behind them with their hands out.

So I’ve taken it upon myself to be the great mediator, the one who makes it fair for everyone. Rather than a select few carrying the weight of the universe on their shoulders, why not force everyone to do their share? No one gets off without contributing to the greater good. Since life will be unfair to everyone, therein lies the fairness. No rich, no poor. Thus, no one will be special and no one will be left behind. I’ve a plan that will be the great equalizer of the people. In my name, all will be fair, unlike the balance of the so-called universe, which is really nothing more than the illusion of fairness.

Gwen:  Creating a fair world, by any definition, is not an easy task and requires making hard decisions.  I imagine that you’ve had to make quite a few in your life.  If there is one thing that you regret, what is it?

Ellette: I regret the time I wasted in the service of others who didn’t appreciate the sacrifice I was giving for them. All the wasted time and life energy I could have used on pursuing my own dreams, wasted on ungrateful souls could who could care less.

Portrait of Ellette by Desiree Finkbeiner.

Gwen:  As you think about all of those that you spent your time on,  was there someone who affected your life profoundly?

Ellette:  Aziza. Her name meant, cherished, beloved. And love her I did, as if she were my own. I met her in Africa while I was on post to watch over the mushroom. Aziza was the daughter of a very rich man, from the tribe of the small village where I traded for supplies. He had six daughters, and she was the fairest, the youngest. Perhaps about four of your human years in age. Never had I met a soul so filled with life and adventure before Aziza. She had given me so much, and filled my heart with love, something I had never experienced before. Because she had given me the gift of trust and friendship, I responded to her love with a gift of my own.

One night, on a full moon, I came to her as the village slept, so she could see me in my true form. I took her for a night fly, soaring high into the sky so she could feel the wind in her face. It was to be our secret, something we shared between us. Each time the full moon came, we did this until her family grew suspicious. She had spoken of my magic to her sisters and made them promise not to tell, but she had broken my trust by breaking her promise to keep it secret.

It broke my heart, so to teach her a lesson about loyalty, I told her I would not be visiting on next full moon. But she came seeking me, snuck out in the night all alone. I told her never to seek me because the land had been plagued with cobras and jackals. She didn’t listen, and it cost her life. Of course, I was blamed for her death and they rounded up a posse of their best warriors to hunt me, calling me the white winged demon.

I was heart broken and I regret ever loving her… had I not loved her, she’d have grown into a beautiful woman.

Gwen:  A tragic story.  Have you kept anything of her–even something that remains secret?

Ellette: I still have a lock of Aziza’s hair, taken from her corpse, as a reminder why love is dangerous.

After hearing Ellette’s story, I asked Desiree to expound upon what her creation was like from an author’s perspective.

Illustration from the forthcoming print edition of Ethos: Morning Star.

Gwen:  One of the most difficult challenges a writer faces is creating a great villain. What was your greatest struggle as you developed her character?

Desiree: The hardest thing was looking back into my past at who I was when I was younger. I absolutely loathe who I was from about age 17 to 20, I was a terrible person and made some poor decisions (wrote a book about it in high school but deleted the file later on, now I wish I could go back and read it). I really do feel that I was a wicked young woman at that time in my life; manipulative, controlling, prideful, stuck-up, attracted to darkness, seduced by the occult and dark arts. I based my villain off of myself. It was a time in my life where I was estranged from God and sought after worldly aspirations. I was spiritually dead to light, lost in a very dark place. But it’s because I have experienced falling and losing my path, that I’m able to craft a dark character from a realistic perspective.

I know Ellette’s demons all too well, for I had created my own hell and it took a miracle (and a lot of prayers) to free me from the prison I had built for myself. And though those experiences are very personal, let’s just say, I’m grateful for those who didn’t give up on me. Ellette is my flipside… So the hardest part was revisiting my past to allow that character to live once more in my fantasy world.

Gwen: Did you find it easy or difficult to relate to the choices that Ellette made?

Desiree: Obviously, I relate completely. I understand heartbreak and what it’s like to desire power over others. I also understand how easy it is to let hatred and bitterness canker the soul. Luckily, I also know what it’s like to embrace light and let forgiveness heal the wounds of past transgression.

Gwen: How do you, as a writer, reconcile yourself to writing “evil” or “dark” characters?

Desiree: Evil is a part of us all. Some of us embrace it, and some of us seek to cast off works of darkness to embrace light. Unfortunately, sometimes life requires embracing darkness before we can appreciate light. One cannot know love and joy without first having passed through loss and sadness. So those two ancient enemies (good and evil) are necessary for us understand the universal question “Why?”. Without evil, there could be no good, and vice versa… so in order for there to be balance in the universe, the two must constantly oppose one another and stand for their cause.

I like to look at it this way. Wherever there is light shining its rays to illuminate an object, there is also a shadow cast by the object where light cannot pass through. In order for something to be completely filled with light, it must first become transparent. But when something is transparent, it no longer has visible form to be considered beautiful by the naked eye. So the shadows cast by light actually create beauty in the world around us. One simply cannot exist without the other. So in order for there to be a hero, there must a villain of equal power to oppose the goodness and light, otherwise, there’d be no adventure… and no point for anything to exist.


Desiree Finkbeiner, author of Ethos: Morning Star

Desiree Finkbeiner attained a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Missouri Southern State University (2006) with a heavy background in business, marketing, music and fine art– She was heavily involved in campus affairs and served actively in several committees focusing on campus entertainment and events. She performed with musical acts/bands in rock and electronic genres, released seven studio albums, performed in 11 states and has written hundreds of songs. Her band, Carbon Star, was a finalist for VH1’s “Bands on the Run” reality TV show in 2000. Then she performed with Pointy Teeth until finally leaving the music industry for the quiet life.

Continuing education is a constant adventure for Desiree with topics of interest ranging from civil and corporate law, history, political conspiracy, homeopathic medicine and spiritual healing. She prefers to read non-fiction, especially on topics that educate and broaden her perspectives on controversial issues.

With thousands of completed art works in her archives, most of which appear in private collections worldwide, Desiree hopes to focus more on publishing, marketing and licensing her work so she can leave a legacy behind.

To find her work, visit her author page at Hydra Publications.  Ethos: Morning Star is currently available on Amazon.

Researching the Read – The Theoretical Backdrop to ‘Seven Point Eight: The First Chronicle’

Today’s guest post comes via Marie Harbon, author of Seven Point Eight. The beginning of this five-part epic is available in Kindle format for free today (4.16.12) at Amazon.


Researching the Read – The Theoretical Backdrop to ‘Seven Point Eight: The First Chronicle’

by Marie Harbon

Seven Point Eight is a new sci-fi/paranormal series, uniting quantum physics, mysticism, fringe science, psychic powers, folklore, consciousness, complicated love, conspiracy and nostalgia. With such an array of ingredients, it was vital the underpinning theory remained accurate.

In a series of drafts, I laid the research down in layers. Prior to writing, a number of ideas floated around in my head, as I love to read non-fiction, the geekier the better. In particular, I already had the basic gist of some quantum physics concepts and knew the urban myth of The Philadelphia Experiment, which makes an appearance at the beginning and end of the book. (It returns in The Second Chronicle!)

The main layer included the scientific concepts, such as Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and the basics of Einstein’s work, plus facts about the size of atoms, the ether wind experiment and the nature of the brain operating at beta, alpha, theta and delta waves. I presented these concepts as clearly as possible, without hindering the plot.

There are also a number of alternate history concepts in there, such as the quality of resonance inside the Great Pyramid and its acoustical properties. Mystical concepts unite with quantum physics, with a theosophical and Eastern twist.

Additionally, I unite consciousness research, looking at the nature of reality through mystical eyes and those of psychedelic substances. It draws together hallucinogenic substance use with the history of visionary experiences through the ages, seeing the Gods and Goddesses of folklore through new eyes.

Much of the inspiration for the alternate dimensions came from experiences of the brain on DMT, my own imagination and science fiction. We meet them in the first book, and revisit them throughout the series.

The last layer of research I laid down included the tidbits; historical events that were concurrent with the story, culture and music highlights, daily news, cars of the time and the general feel of the decade the scenes were set in. The First Chronicle begins in the 1940s, moves through the 50s and steams through the 60s, linking to two young characters in the modern day.

All my sources are listed in a bibliography at the end.

Yet, this is not written at the expense of the human story, for it’s very much a tale of community. The drama of love, betrayal, bitterness and above all, courage are closely interwoven throughout the story through the lives of five principal characters.

Seven Point Eight: The First Chronicle is currently available through Amazon in paperback and in the Kindle store.

It’s FREE from Mon 16th April through to Thurs 19th April, so grab it while you can! (Amazon) (Amazon UK)

Seven Point Eight: The Second Chronicle is due for release in August 2012.


And for a special treat, here’s an excerpt from Marie’s novel.

Continue reading

Guest Post: Creating a World by Creating a Language

It’s an exciting weekend for guest posts!  The first guest post for this coming weekend comes to us courtesy of Matthew Arnold Stern, author of Doria.  Matthew’s talking about a subject that I personally find fascinating–creating language in fiction.   (For my take on this in my own writing, visit this entry in fantasy author Kody Boye’s blog.)

Without further ado…

Creating a World by Creating a Language

By Matthew Arnold Stern

Picture the last time you traveled to a different place. It probably had its own local language with idioms particular to that region. You may have been asked if you want a bottle of pop to go with your hero or offered a soda for your sub. Language like this gives a place local color and a sense of its history and culture.

We can do the same for our stories. Creating a language makes our fictional world more realistic and engaging. As readers become accustomed to the lingo, they feel like they’re “insiders” and become more invested in our story. Local language also gives us a tool for characterization. The words our characters use and how they use them tell readers who they are.

These are the reasons why I invented a local language for the fictional country in my novel Doria. It also addressed a couple of other challenges: Telling a story in English that takes place in a Spanish-speaking South American country, and revealing the history and geography of this country without relying on exposition.

I started with the first words people typically pick up in a language, the insults.

The first thing to know about South America is that those countries are not alike, and they often don’t like each other. For example, Chile hasn’t gotten along well with its neighbors. It fought a war with Peru and Bolivia in the 1870s that is still a source of conflict, and it almost came to blows with Argentina in 1978.

My fictional country of Doria is an archipelago off the coast of Chile, giving those poor Chileans yet another neighbor to annoy them. I use insults to show the tension between the two nations. The Dorians use an epithet I found in my research that has been used by Chile’s enemies. They call Chileans “rotos.” It’s the Spanish word for “broken,” referring to the seemingly shabby appearance of the Chilean army. I wanted to give Chileans an insult they can give Dorians in return. I came up with “isleño,” the Spanish word for “islander.” The term not only shows the contempt the Chileans have for the Dorians, it reminds the reader that Doria is an island country.

Spanish words give me a way to show that Doria is a Spanish-speaking country, even though I wrote my novel in English. I was going to include more Spanish dialogue, but my beta reader felt I would need to add a translation so she could understand what was happening. She felt the same way most of us do when listening to people talk in a language we don’t know. We feel left out and wonder if they’re talking about us. By using a few select words, I can still give that cultural flavor without making the reader feel excluded.

I also needed to create a language for Doria’s indigenous people. One of the conflicts in my book is between Felipe Sérigo, who rejected his Native Dorian heritage to become a communist rebel, and his father Ramón, who is fighting to preserve the country’s native culture after years of repression. As with the Spanish terms, I used a few words to give people a sense of this different culture without excluding the reader. I also wanted this language to tie with my theme of people setting aside their differences for the good of their country.

The story of the Native Dorian language is revealed in a scene where Ramón asks Felipe to tell a visiting film crew about their ancestors’ history. Felipe explains that ancient Doria was in a state of war between people who migrated there millennia ago, refugees from the Nazca Empire that recently fell, and Polynesians invading from the West. A sailor, who was cast adrift after his ship got lost and destroyed at sea, washed up on this country’s shores and was rescued by a native woman. When he recovered, he became determined to bring peace to his new home. He brought these peoples together and created a new religion and language.

I included a combination of Quechua and Polynesian words with words I created for the indigenous people. I wouldn’t expect the reader to know words in those languages, but observant readers may notice words that sound a lot like Hebrew and Arabic, like “rabe’ya” and “nakaba.” I wanted to create a mystery about the sailor who brought those words to the Americas centuries before Columbus. Who is he? Where did he come from? How did he get all the way across the Pacific? What does this mean for this country’s future? These are questions I can answer in later books of this series.

Even though I created a number of words, I did not add a glossary to my novel. The problem I see with a glossary is that it stops readers. It leaves them asking, “Why do I need to know all these words before I can read this book? Will I remember their definitions when I see them?” Instead, I used the words in context and trust the reader to understand their meaning. This is the way the Harry Potter books present the language of their wizard world.

By creating a local language, I can make my story world more vivid and engaging for my readers. It also helped me address a number of storytelling challenges. If you would like to learn more about the language of Doria, you can view the glossary at http://www.matthewarnoldstern.com/download/doriaglossary.pdf.

To find out how to get your copy of Doria, visit http://www.matthewarnoldstern.com/doria.html.

I wish you the best in your writing efforts.


Matthew Arnold Stern is an award-winning writer and public speaker. He has written professionally since 1983 as a technical writer, journalist, playwright, and novelist. He has published two novels, Offline and Doria. To read more of his writing, visit his Web site at http://www.matthewarnoldstern.com

Q&A: Why Write Amazon Reviews?

Courtesy of Boni Idem.

As anyone who is or knows an author knows, many of us frequently go around wishing and hoping that our book will receive reviews on that book giant, Amazon. (I also wish and hope for Powell’s and Barnes and Noble’s but as more and more authors publish exclusively through the Big A, that’s what this blog post is about.) I thought that I’d explain my own reasons for wanting reviews and how they work. I’m choosing to address this via questions that I’ve received from friends and family.

1) I’m no good at writing an Amazon review. What do I say?

The beautiful thing about Amazon reviews is that you don’t have to be Roger Ebert. You can click a star rating and then write a couple of sentences about the book. Reviews can be as simple as “This book was really good. I wish there was more romance” or really elaborate.

Here are some things you could put in a review:

  • Adjectives that describe the book (it was good, it was awful, etc).
  • Say something you liked about it. Things that you could focus on could include the plot, a particular scene, characters, how things changed during the course of the story, etc.
  • If there was a moment or character that personally impacted you in some way, don’t be afraid to say so. Put yourself in the review. Authors love to know their readers and I know that I’m always touched when I can tell someone made a personal connection with what I wrote.
  • Talk about what you wanted to see more of or what needs improvement. Do you wish another character was in the book more? Say so. Did bad spelling distract you? Tell us that too.

Tips to remember:

  • Don’t be afraid to be honest. Do, however, remember to be helpful. Don’t just say “it sucks” but tell everyone why it sucked.
  • Don’t give away the ending of the book. You can allude to it very vaguely (“the ending surprised me”) but don’t say specific plot details.
  • You’re not being graded. Write a review as long or short as you want. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece of art—think of it more as a conversation or what you might tell people you know about this book.
  • Make sure that you read the book before you review. This seems like it should be obvious but… it’s not.

2) Do Amazon reviews actually affect a book’s sales?

I have to be honest with you and tell you that I don’t yet know for sure as I don’t have the “magic number” yet. This is what I understand to be true from conversations with my publisher and other authors:

  • Around 20-25 reviews, Amazon starts including the book in “also bought” and “you might like” lists. This increases your chances of someone finding your title.
  • Around 50-70 reviews, Amazon looks at your book for spotlight positions and the newsletter. This is HUGE. This is my personal goal although I use Amazon reviews for other reasons (more later on in this post).
  • Number of reviews may affect Amazon sales ranking. (Again, this is anecdotal–I have no actual proof of it.)
  • Some websites will not consider or promote your book unless you have a number of reviews on the page (this is very true of those sites that highlight free promos—I can attest to this).
  • And, of course, readers may read through your reviews and decide to purchase or not purchase the book based on this.

3) Whatever. I don’t care if you sell this wonderful/awful book. Why should I write a review if it doesn’t change how you write the next one?

Oh, but it does.

When I read my Amazon reviews, they tell me things that my editor might not. Let’s face it, an editor is only one person and even with beta readers, you’re working in a group of people who are familiar with the craft of writing. What an author also needs is the opinion of the average reader, that person who just picked up their book and doesn’t have an English degree.

While you have to have a tough skin about reviews, as an author, they’re very helpful. They can reaffirm something that you were already working on. For instance, I’d already decided to make one of my minor characters in my first book a point-of-view character for the second—my reviews have told me that people wouldn’t be uninterested in him. They can also point out things that you need to work on. In my case, exposition!

Likewise, positive reviews tell you what you’re doing right. If people rave about your characters, then that’s likely a good place to keep going. If reviews talk about the fighting scenes in a positive light, then you know you’re making a difference.

So, in short, yes, what you write in that review is fairly likely to change something about the book I’m working on now. Writing is a process.

4) But I really hated the book! Should I still review it?

Here is where I probably differ from some other authors so I’m going to speak only for myself here.

Yes. Absolutely. How will I know where to improve unless I get reviews that tell me so? Yes, it can be painful to read some reviews but am I ever going to say that there isn’t truth in them? No.
After the initial sting, I’ll read it again and take something home from that. I’ll be a better writer for it. To be honest, not everyone likes every book. There are people out there who hate Harry Potter. It would be a little presumptuous to think that all of my reviews would be golden for any book (they’re not now and I don’t expect that to change. Especially not if anyone reads this post. ).

The only thing that I ask is to please make sure you have something to say about why it is bad. The only review that I’ve ever been really irritable about was a one-star on an old short horror story I posted for fun where the reader said they were underage and hadn’t read it.

Having said all of that, it is really tough to be a small press or self-published author (I am the former). Bad reviews can kill a novel if they’re the first ones a book receives or if they’re all that the book has. Please hold this in mind if you decide to go forth. This post by Anne R. Allen does a good job of explaining the impact in more detail than I’ll get into here.

Now that you’ve read all of that, if you have any questions, feel free to comment and I’ll try to answer them. I am speaking from an author’s standpoint but perhaps others will chime in with their own thoughts on the process.

(Feel free to share this post or copy it for your own blog. All I ask is that if you do, please keep my author note here at the bottom.)


Gwen Perkins is a fantasy novelist who is always on the hunt for Amazon reviews for her first novel, The Universal Mirror (Hydra Publications, 2012). She can be contacted through email at gwen@ironangel.net.

Before & After: Rachel Hunter

Rachel Hunter

Rachel Hunter is the focus of today’s Before and After, a new feature on this blog. In Before and After, we will hear from new authors before the publication of their novel and then follow up after the book’s publication to find out how the experience went.

Rachel’s first book is A Llathalan Annal: Empyreal Fate, coming out this spring from Hydra Publications. Rachel has also just released the short story, “Perfect Nothing,” about her battles with anorexia nervosa. Proceeds from this story will be donated to Give Kids the World. It is available now on Amazon.com.

Gwen: Welcome to the blog, Rachel! I always like to start out by having the author tell a little bit about their book. Can you share with us what the book is about?

Rachel: Greetings, Gwen!

Thanks for featuring me on your blog. I would be delighted to share a bit about my book: Empyreal Fate – Part One of my Llathalan Annal fantasy series.

Filled to the brim with forbidden love, an ancient evil, and a nation in disrepair, Empyreal Fate is a tale of riveting bravery and mortal corruption.

The land of Llathala lingers on the brink of war between men and elves, a dark history surrounding each race. Stirred by tensions of the land, a shadow of the past reemerges, taking precedence in reality and consuming the very soul of mans’ mortal weakness. Darrion, the son of a poor laborer, is ensnared in a hostile world, forced to choose between loyalty to his king or the counsel of the elves. Yet Fate has other plans in store, tying his course to Amarya, an elven royalblood of mysterious quality and unsurpassable beauty. But this forbidden connection incites betrayal from members of their own kin, marking them as traitors to the crown. In a land torn asunder, only Fate’s decree can allow such love to coexist with an ancient enmity.

Behold: A Llathalan Annal: Empyreal Fate – Part One.

I won’t give away much of the details here, but Empyreal Fate basically sets the stage for a great war between the races of man and elf. Part One focuses on developing a crucial piece of the story (which the reader will unravel as he ventures forth), and it establishes the basis through which the characters will learn and grow. I find a story comes to life when its characters mature and express marked wisdom. Indeed, as my Llathalan Annal series progresses, I hope the reader is able to make those connections and also tie himself in Llathala’s realm as well.

Oh – and just a word of caution… Keep an eye on the young one. She’s not always as she seems.

Gwen: What inspired you to choose fantasy as your genre?

Rachel: Fantasy – a beautiful word against my lips! What could be more magical than transporting oneself into realms of the impossible – the enchanting? Since I could but only grasp onto the covers of a book, I have been reading to my heart’s content. Although I enjoy works spanning all genres, I have found that fantasy beckons my attention far above all. There’s something in the nature of the fantastical that draws me in; there’s something about the feel of alternate worlds and mystical planes that ensnares me. And this is why I’ve chosen fantasy as my own genre. I want to make others feel the way I do about words: to breathe in awe at their elusive connectedness – to marvel the fluid way in which they bind. It’s this internal delight that delivers life upon a sheet of parchment. And it is this feeling I wish to instill.

I wish to add a side note here, as I have also a penchant for poetry. ‘I dance with words,’ as some may say. As a poet, I have incorporated my fascination of speech within Empyreal Fate, thereby bringing to light the lofty language and mystical tongue of an epic world. Every sentence I wrote flowed through my head along with a beat, and I recounted my tale accordingly. Thus, I wish to share with all the beauty of words and the unique way in which they breathe.

Gwen: I know that I myself was reading fantasy from a young age—the first book series that really captured my imagination was the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Reading so much fantasy–particularly those novels with their use of metaphor and subtle discussion of religious themes–definitely influenced me as a writer. Have you had a similar experience with any books that you’ve read? Is there any theme or aspect of a novel you read early on that just sticks with you?

Rachel: Vivid words and breathing characters. Regardless the genre and regardless the message, if these crucial elements are for lack, the tale will hardly hold together. Fantasy-speaking, I do well enjoy political references and spiritual subtleties. In fact, when I wrote Empyreal Fate, I sewed in some ties of my own spiritual quandaries. I would definitely say that having read other works throughout my life has inspired me to intertwine such concepts. The most important part I gleaned was how – despite the message or whether I truly believed it– the influence or ‘readability’ of the characters was key. In fact, I believe The Shannara Series – by Terry Brooks – was the first truly epic fantasy collection I read, and I was immediately intrigued by the character dynamics. Without that connection, the inner workings of the novels would not have been as profound.

Gwen: When we write, there is often an idea behind it that we want our readers to discover (and we’ll talk more about that in our “After” interview). As a first-time novelist, however, what ideas did you uncover in your own work? Did you learn any lessons from your own characters?

Rachel: Indeed – as I wrote, I delved further into the histories of my races: how they came to be and why, etc… At first, I had only a rough outline in my head, but as I progressed, the details blossomed anew. Needless to say, I could hardly keep up! I had so many ideas rampaging at once. I suppose that’s where the subsequent parts to series will come into play…

As for my characters – they instilled in me the importance of virtue, of love, and of truth. (I would say more, but for fear of spoiling anything, I shall refrain.) I will, however, suggest that one takes note of the Cauychin. Now there’s a witty beast with heart to tell.

Gwen: Let’s shift gears a little and talk about one of the hardest things that any author has to do—finding a home for the work when they’re finished. What was the most difficult part of this process for you?

Rachel: Oh – goodness! Where to begin? I would definitely say that querying agents and publishers (in general) was the most difficult part. It seems everyone has different procedures that must be followed; and to break a single ‘rule’ in the process is a one-way ticket for rejection. Patience is key. It was difficult to fathom the fact that publishers generally look for reasons to decline a book – especially if they are swamped with submissions. So… yes… I would have to say that finding a publisher who met my needs – as well as found interest in my novel – was the hardest part. (Especially finding a publisher with whom to trust. A completed manuscript is like a babe – you cannot simply sell it to just anyone on the street.)

Gwen: How did you come to choose Hydra Publications for your book?

Rachel: Actually, I was offered two contracts for Empyreal Fate within roughly the same week. It became readily apparent, however, that the first company was not the right ‘fit.’ Therefore, Hydra graciously accepted me into their family, and I could not be more pleased – nigh, honored!

Gwen: Do you have any expectations about what will happen once the book comes out? Any special plans for other projects?

Rachel: Well, with college and various academic endeavors, it is difficult to find the time to specifically plan things. I do, however, hope to attend more writing conventions, assert myself further via social media, and perhaps participate in blogs/interviews such as this! Of course, I also plan to polish the rest of my series, but as for a schedule – it’s up in the air! We’ll see where Fate takes me. So far, the journey looks promising.

Gwen: What has been the most rewarding part of your experience thus far?

Rachel: Meeting new people – immersing myself in the collective wisdom of my peers. Simply experiencing the joy of fellow authors and readers claims my heart. It rewards me most of all when I can share my opinions with others – whether about novels, poetry, or life in general – and, in turn, gain insight of my own. I’ve learned a lot from others throughout this process thus far. And I, too, wish to inspire. I wish to awaken the muse in those who seek its majesty. You never know what one may discover within.

Gwen: If readers want to follow your work or find out more about you as an author, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Rachel: As of now, one can find me on my blog, websites, Facebook, and Twitter. Also, be sure to visit Hydra Publications’ Website, where I can be found – as well as a plethora of other amazing and talented authors: http://www.hydrapublications.com.

Some of my links can be found below:

http://www.rachel-m-hunter.blogspot.com/

http://www.rachel-m-hunter.yolasite.com

http://www.wix.com/rachel_hunter/author

http://www.facebook.com/people/Rachel-Hunter/713230996

Again, thank you for having me! ‘Twas a pleasure indeed.