Some of you might recognize this from a Newsletter many years ago, but that's only 18 of you (I was just getting started!) If you are one of those, I feel like I owe you a book or something! Reach out!
This post comes back to world building basics and covers something that can sneak under the radar at times.
When making up a world, there are hundreds of details to decide upon. Some come quickly. Others... not so much. Time measurement was one such problem for me. I hate randomly finding a world that uses 60 minutes to an hour, 24 hours to a day conventions. It's odd enough how WE came into that!
Turns out, (we think) that the 60 minutes and 60 seconds was from Babylonian times, where they also thought the year had 360 days (and the source of 360 degrees in a circle, by the way). The 24 hour clock seems to have come from Ancient Egypt, where the day and night were 10 measurable hours during the night, then one transtionary hour on either end of the count.
The World of the Tainted has no Egyptians to dictate the hours and days. So how to measure time? I debated going to a metric-style clock but nature doesn't fit nicely into even numbers. And most of my cultures don't think in sets of 10 necessarily either! Lionians used 8s. Esparans prefer counts of 4 (a lucky number). So 60 didn't much work for them!
Like our world, the answer depended on where in the world you asked the question. Lionians have sophisticated water clocks and have a 12-part clock with 4 sections to each hour. Esparans used candles of time, a unit based on how long it took to burn a section of a standardized candle (equalling about 1 hour). Enneads used time to and from sunset and sunrise.
For some reason, I never used a sundial. Maybe some day! I also want to use the "using your hand to measure the height of the sun from the horizon to determine time" trick. (check that out here)
Have you seen any amazing time-measurement ideas in fiction?
I once was given some odd advice. To be an author, if you don’t read, start. If you read, stop.
It’s a balancing act. You need to read to see what others are doing, learn the tropes and rules of your genres, and familiarize yourself with proper story structure. You can break those rules later, but you need to know them to start! So read lots and often.
That said, if you’re reading while writing new stuff, you’re probably taking things from what you are reading, even if it’s at a subliminal level. You might be more upbeat after reading a romantic comedy. Or maybe you pick up a few turns of phrases or general plot points. Or perhaps that character you develop is like the one you read about… So if you want to write truly original material, you need to stop reading.
I used to read a ton. I got saturated. I knew the tropes. I could predict most plotlines. I was bored with it. It was one of my main motivations for getting into writing myself.
So I did as it said, and I stopped reading when I started writing.
Most of what I wrote at first was indeed different. It broke stereotypes and threw in a lot of twists. I loved writing the ‘other side’ of the story, villains that made sense and were, so help me, smart. I wrote main characters that were conflicted and grey, who would be juggling insanity instead of demonstrating heroism. I had grouchy main characters. I loved it!
Then I wrote Dragon’s Voice, which was far more typical than usual, and it remains one of my best sellers! I fell back onto some tropes perhaps.
Years later, I am back to reading because it’s been too long. I’m sneaking in a few pages at the kids’ bedtime when it’s dark and I can’t be working. I’ve read four books this year doing that, a few pages at a time, slowly tiptoeing through books from essays to new releases in fantasy and SciFi.
The trouble is that an author doesn’t read like a reader does. All these months, I have been training myself to spot prose and plot mistakes. But even more than that, I have learned to recognize where things aren’t wrong but could be better. In some ways, I can’t just read now. I am critiquing and editing the book I’m reading. It’s ruined me as a reader!
I hope practicing will help, and one day, I can turn off that part of my brain. I know I learn from reading other authors’ work, but so far, I can’t just enjoy a book.
I guess it’s a case of being careful what you wish for! I got my wish and became an author. I love writing and editing.
It just came at the cost of my ability to read without analyzing it.
Check out some freebies below and join my newsletter for first-dibs on these and other deals! AND all six of the Son of No Man series are now available as AUDIOBOOKS. Link below!
(Cue soundtrack from Buffy the Vampire slayer's musical episode)
So first, yes, LAST BOOK of the Son of no Man series is coming out SEPTEMBER 20th and the link is HERE for pre-orders!
Now, let's start with where we are! Literally, because I'm still there. Dragon Con.
I’ll start by explaining: Dragon Con is a huge (like 5 hotels + big) conference for fans by fans. Meaning it is a geek’s Christmas. It covers art, books, pop culture, filmography, writing, a “Walk of Fame” line up of guests, books signings, talks by celebrities, parties, and cosplay. And the cosplay is everywhere. In my first day I hung out with a wookie (no stilts but still like 7’ tall), saw a dalek, dodged a contingent of Mandalorians and walked in the wake of a dozen Barbies!
So while husband got to see some of his favourite actors/actresses from Serenity and ask questions of David Weber, I tagged along and attended some writing panels and workshops with the likes of Patricia Briggs and Cat Rambo.
I realized that I am a generalist nerd. I can talk about most of these topics, but I’m nowhere near hardcore on any one of them. Except for writing. In writing, I could hold my own fine, and even had more experience than some of the speakers. It’s not a writing conference, so that’s ok, and I still learned some new tricks and tips.
I'll share pictures when I get back, but let's get to the final message from this supportive group of fun-loving geeks.
I think we all need to let go a bit and just get silly. My writing does that; silliness like a fairy dragon that thinks people stink, or a witch casting spells when she sneezes. Like a dragon skull with a dagger in it that will change the course of one poor kid during the French Revolution (it came up…)
I’ve been editing a lot but now I’m back to writing. That’s how I’ll get my silliness out!
To that end, I’m asking a question: Where do we go from here?
Below are two book blurbs. Which would you like to see out in the Summer/fall of 2024? Let me know below! And share this around! The more votes, the better.
Option 1: Lione
The Warrior will bring down Lione, or so the prophesies say.
Aurion Illica is proud to be a Councilman of the Lionian Sovereignty. But as corruption taints the Council, assassinations shake the Sovereign's power, and the rebellions of the slave races, particularly the Nurmi savages of the Corelands, threaten to extinguish the greatness of Lione, Aurion must choose between Lione and his own life.
Lania is the Warrior of the Nurmi, born as a half of the religious incarnation of prophecy. She will destroy Lione and free all people from the monsters of the south, killing as many Lionians as needed to achieve her goal.
But as they cross paths, Aurion begins to see that the Nurmi are not mere savages, and Lania is forced to recognize that not all Lionians are faceless Conquerors. Only by working together can the two mortal enemies save both peoples in this time of great upheaval.
Option 2: To walk into the Sands
Should the Seers ever leave the lands of Nanterac, all the peoples will perish.
Askaran knows he must walk into the sands before his sanity slips and his tainted blood destroys the only waters on the desert world of Nanterac. But his home city is overrun and the only remaining desert seer is a child needing his protection. Insanity must wait.
When Funanya stumbles across a mysterious lone hunter in the desert, she considers it to be a great fortune. But in capturing Askaran, she unwittingly accepted custody the last desert seer as well. Now, Funanya's own people want her dead. Once enemies, Askaran and Funanya must rely on each other to set the seer on her prescribed path and save the waters of the desert world.
All the monsters of Nanterac, human and demonic, will stop at nothing to claim the powers of the seer. Only Askaran’s demonic and Funanya’s spear will stop them, if they can hold off the demon tearing through Askaran’s mind long enough.
And thanks! Here are more of the deals for this month!
Did you know we have Book Club questions?
It's true! All 4 Horsemen Publishing books have ten Book Club questions in the back! It's convenient and fun! I admit, it was hard to come up with questions that didn't sound like a true/false quiz from an English Teacher as I wrote these! Still, I enjoyed the challenge of creating questions that would stimulate discussion. Everything from themes to philosophical points, to character development and consequences!
Here are some of my favorites, plus my answers, from across the six books (no spoilers).
Which character did you most relate to? Why?
So hard to pick one! Every book has its favorite! But overall, it's Sori. Perhaps I'm not as tough as her, but I get her feelings of alienation and cheered for her as she realized she didn't belong but refused to change. She still carries her half-dozen knives when her people expect one on a woman's hip. She couldn't lead, so she moved into the background and got the needed results.
There is no magical healing in this world. Does that make the world more or less enjoyable to read about?
I loved doing this. I didn't want it to be easy. Having the ability to heal wounds lowers the stakes in the books. In Espar, you can't wave a wand and just be cured. When my characters get injured, they either heal slowly naturally or they die. Many carry deep scars. They limp, lose an eye, get disfigured... Consequences are real in these books!
What do you consider the biggest theme in this book? What scenes or characters best demonstrated that theme?
Whoooo boy. I'll answer for the series. The biggest theme for me is loyalty. Tohmas and Carsh's relationship is my best representation of it, especially a scene in the last book, "Traitor." But there are many more! Lance's character arc. Darknim's. Sori's. Arnika's...
How did your opinion of Tohmas change over the story?
This is fun! While I wrote the series, Tohmas started as a neat character with an unknown past. For those who haven't read other posts, I am a pantster (I write by the seat of my pants... meaning I don't plan it all out!). I didn't know who he was or where it was going when we started. I knew he wasn't who he said he was. He was a mystery, but he was well-spoken and collected; he knew what to say to get something done. At first, I respected him.
But then I saw more of him and how he would manipulate things, very much an 'ends justifies the means' kind of man. That was spooky. Honestly, by book 3, that man terrified me.
Did the Goddess Inac truly gift SoulBurner, or are you skeptical like Kitable? What evidence do you have for true divine power in the series?
The answer to this is in Book 6 but no spoilers, so I'll just say I was skeptical. I wasn't a believer. Kitable was my voice coming through, trying to make it untrue. Is Inac real? Does she come to earth? But we have some evidence of true divine power in the books, from Celebrant Calanor's powers to Loni's amazing influence and madness.
Should all fights be fair fights? Do you feel either side cheated?
Yes, they cheated. Honestly, both sides cheated. They were underhanded and cruel. But fights don't have to be fair. The shorter the fight, the better... so long as one's on the winning side. That's how I've always seen things. We don't want a fair fight. We want the good side to win, don't we?
Who is the noblest character in the book? Why?
I thought this one was easy, but then I followed Lance's arc too far. So which character upholds true character and nobility through it all? You could argue that it's Lance, Darknim, or maybe Barnon, but for me, it's Prince Sol. He didn't stoop when others did.
There you have it! Examples of the Book Club questions stolen across the six books and answered for the whole series. Every book has them! And even if you're not using them for a Book Club, answer them yourself for a bit of fun!
Lastly, check out the freebies below, on for one more week. I loaded up on free, so find a new book, get to know a new author, and check it out below!
Before you can write, you have to live.
I found this point in the strangest place; a children’s book. I didn’t expect it there. Why were they teaching the kid about being a writer? I think the message was being yourself instead of trying to be someone else or imagining what you could be, yet they used the example of becoming a writer to send their message! And the mentor’s advice to the child who was seeking their superhero (and was convinced the teacher was the superhero in disguise) was that he didn’t need to be the sidekick, he could be the superhero, but if he wanted to be an author, he had to go out and live first.
So the kid does, and you see him snowboarding down a mountain, jumping from helicopters, and more!
While I didn’t need anyone to convince me to be myself (my last blog was about that!), the advice still hit home. You have to live a life to be able to write about one, and it’s far more than just getting older.
You’ve got to be observant too! If you go somewhere and just take pictures of it, or you walk through the venue with your eyes on the floor, you’ll not get the advantage I’m talking about. You have to have your eyes up, and your head turned on. Look and see!
I traveled a lot in my youth, and I see how it impacts my writing all the time. When I wrote about a rocky mountainscape in the book “Esparan,” I was picturing the Craggs outside of Edinburgh in Scotland, that black rock with a sheer drop, vertical lines of stones jutting up from the grass. Writing Lance’s start in WaterBranch was inspired by a trip to Tofino for the weather, but the houses with their colored doors and the boats out front were my trip to Newfoundland. The village of Vait in “Dragon’s Voice” was inspired by where I had a homestay in Romania. All of my ‘mean fairies’ novels (title to be determined) came from hiking the Pentlands in Scotland.
That is why you have to live! I can see these places in my mind because I’ve been there. I know the details of the site because I had my head up.
And you have to try! Eat new foods, learn new cultures, and meet new people! I have characters based on people from the bus stop to high school friends. I chose the breed of a dog in a short story I wrote because I met that dog in real life (that and it immediately clicked that a poodle made sense for a job in space!).
I won’t say research is useless because it truly isn’t! Take it from me; my great-grandfather is famous in our family for writing a tour guidebook about Japan without ever visiting the country! And it’s still in print! But research answers the questions you ask. Experience answers questions you didn’t know you even had.
So after sore feet, a few mosquito bites, and a misadventure around a forest fire, I’ve got more fodder for my stories because of a hike into Strathcona Park and up to Della Falls. The next time I write about traveling in the alpine area or trying to navigate trails when there’s snow, I have experience to draw on. I know the smell of the freshly-sprouting ground in the cold air that burns off in the sun, the look of the tangled mass of branches and crushed leaves exposed by the departure of the snow, and how the trees suffer and fall under the pressure of their burden. I also know the awe of looking down on a frozen lake from above. It’s all worth it!
To write, you have to live first.
June's deals! Check out the links for one-stop-shop of summer readings.
Surprise! I got "Traitor" as ARCs! If you're not already an ARC reader for me, sign up HERE! You'll get my next book FREE in exchange for doing honest reviews!
As we come to the end of Son of No Man, it's nice to look back at where it started. My first Newsletter!
The topic was "Being Authentic." I was struggling with what to do with my writing, without how to balance what I wanted to write and what I thought people would expect or want as I moved into sharing the stories. I made a decision early; the be authentic.
Here's a portion of that first newsletter:
It’s something we do, a lot, in the age of technology. Posts on social media are groomed and selected. Ones we do not like, we purge. Our ‘online presence’ is a manicured performance and, like the theater, we don’t let people see behind the curtain. By the time we’re on that stage, we are costumed and masked.
I have heard it described as the ‘Adaptive self’ versus the ‘Authentic self’. Adaptive self is designed to fit in. It’s who we ‘are’ when we first arrive at a party and meet new people or when we give that big boardroom talk, or when we don the uniform of our profession. And it’s often who we are online. It’s the self we project when we are not feeling safe and just need to fit in, for now, and meet expectations.
But it’s a façade. The Authentic self is lingering behind the curtain, waiting for their turn...
I genuinely like helping people. I love making people happy. That is who I am, and who I am glad to be. It does not always come easily, but it’s what I wish for everyone. Love yourself. Be confident that who you are is enough. You are important.
Most crucially: Be yourself.
May we all enjoy the adventure.
I still believe it! I want to be what and who I am. I made choices, like names, and spellings, and world building, all of it. I encourage everyone to do the same!
Deals below, but I'm late on posting this so please, avail yourself ASAP of the deals below because they expire soon!
I admit it; I hated poetry in school. I didn’t “get” it. I couldn’t see how a horse bite equaled a commentary about love, or how a firetruck meant passion or whatever. I was probably just too literal. I hated pulling apart something I thought was lovely like dissecting a dead animal until it was only parts strewn about the table, bearing no resemblance to the astonishing thing it had been before.
But I guess it worked in the end.
What I found interesting about being a ‘pantster’ (see HERE for the old blog to help explain this!) is that I do it subconsciously in many cases. For short fiction, I can remember later to do it, but not for novels. For long pieces, it’s a lot to try and go back and slip it in later, and it becomes contrived if you do. So it either happens naturally, or it doesn’t happen.
I remember having a beta reader compliment me on the symbolism of Lance dropping the enormous fur coat off the cliff in HillTop. He had escaped. He could let go. So he threw away the symbol of his imprisonment…
Go me. I had no idea!
But this time, I’m rather proud of the stool.
I finished writing “Traitor”, the last book in the series. And I noticed something; Arnika had a stool. You first meet her as she sits at the CampCircle for her father, uncomfortable and awkward on the stool. But after she marries, she seeks the stool as her place among the Galanth. Over time, she owns it, and it becomes a position of authority. And, in finality, it becomes her power to act! Go girl!
I love the stool now. That which had been so difficult to tolerate became her place, her purpose, and then her power.
Just happens, I guess, but discovering I needed to hit Gannon with something and Arnika was right there on her stool…
Now I get what the essays were about. It just took me twenty years longer.
I wasn't sure how to best describe this one...
When I was brainstorming things to post to the blog, "inspiration" came up twice. Once was finding inspiration around you, like the suncatcher mentioned in the last post. You can find inspiration everywhere once you start thinking about it as a writer. I was writing a poem in my head about a family holiday yesterday. There are people I have used as characters, places that inspired descriptions (Rosalin Chapel = King's Temple in Weapons of Espar!), or environment that inspires themes. Lance's wet visit to WaterBranch in Rydan was inspired by a trip to Tofino where it rained allllll weekend. So I captured that dampness and chill and made Lance's problem so much worse.
But then there's inspiration from within. That's what this is about.
Here's my theory:
No one is a ONE person. Every day, we modify ourselves and our behaviours based on our circumstances. We behave like one 'character' when in the company of our crush, or when we're on the job. We might be confident when doing a presentation, yet demure when talking with friends. Our interactions with people change us dramatically. The classic one for me is that I'm highly outgoing at work. I have to be. I'm a service industry when you think about it, and I'm the boss. So I'm decisive and confident. But when I get home, I'd rather not make decisions and be in charge. I'm a leader when I have to be, but happy to follow if I don't have to.
This variety within ourselves is another source of endless inspiration. A starship captain might take on the characteristics I have at work, while the shy stowaway embodies my reclusive home self. Sometimes we feel flirty (hello Shimmer!) but other times childish (Gensiana!) Taking those characteristics and amplifying them makes a new character, one you know all too well.
Of course, you want your characters to be more than one trait/emotion/stereotype, but this is inspiration for you to leap off from!
I believe this is why so many authors (especially those getting started) have trouble sharing their works. Whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, we put ourselves into our writing. And when writing aggressive, cruel, or downright mean characters, it's scary to wonder what those characters reveal about me. I know they aren't me, but if I can write them, do I not have the ability to become them?
Inspiration is a strange beast.
When people ask why I write fantasy, I usually say it was because I was tired of reading stereotypical tales of chosen-one heroes and world-ending villains. That is why I write, but that is not why I wrote the World of the Tainted.
The World of the Tainted was inspired by a suncatcher.
My sister gave me the suncatcher when I was in high school, and she was working in the Pacific Rim National Park. On the thin plastic, a sunset shone over the silhouette of a castle. In the foreground was a house-sized dragon with a tiny long-haired rider perched on its back. This was no D&D dragon but a huge creature with a serpentine neck and enormous wings that dwarfed the woman rider.
Inspired by the sun catcher, Kasha, the first woman DragonKeeper, was born. Although her story remains unfinished, her ancestor Sair told me the tale found in Dragon's Voice, and her grandson Cairon worked hard in Dragon's Talon and SoulBurner to undo the damage Kasha failed to prevent. The Kingdom of Espar expanded into the World of the Tainted, other races making themselves known. I learned of the fall of the Lionian Sovereignty. I discovered the founding of Espar and the brigand King who lied his way into power (hint; his books are now a six-book series). I followed the last wizard from his end to his return.
Dozens of stories and hundreds of characters came into existance all because of a suncatcher.
Anything can inspire. It follows that everything is inspiring. With the right perspective, we can take the smallest things and make them into great ideas. It's not a passive process, though. It's not about being inspired. It's about seeking inspiration.
It's everywhere. You just need to look.
Because it came up in the last blog, I decided it was high time I did a little PSA about these terms. All professions have their lingo. This happens to be one for authors!
Pantser vs. Plotter.
Before we get too far in, know that I'll mention two variants on this at the end. But to get us started, these are the main two styles of writing. In my experience, few people are exclusively one or the other, although it's evident that some people lean heavily toward one. I am an admitted pantser. So what does that mean? Does it matter? And is it a good thing or not?
Pantsers "fly by the seat of their pants," which is where the term comes from. With pantsers, there is no large plan. They start somewhere and go forward, discovering the story as it is written.
Pro: You have full creative flexibility. With nothing set in stone, you can go anywhere with the writing, and there is a definite "high" to writing like this, as if you are reading a book that no one else has ever read. My favourite is having a moment when multiple factors I didn't know click together perfectly. I'm not sure if it's the subconscious at work in the background or just creative manipulations, but I LOVE finding those unplanned but perfect moments.
Cons: Revisions. If you don't know where you are going, plot points or world-building often need adjusting after finishing, requiring extensive edits. Also, getting stuck in the soggy middle happens more with pantsers because they don't have a map out of it; it's harder to finish if you don't know the ending.
I'm pretty sure the vast majority of new writers start with pantsing, whether they know what it is called or not. It's how we read stories, so it makes sense that it's how we default to writing them. But I've seen many academic writers going to fiction that outline from the start. They probably have an advantage in some ways.
Plotters plot and plan their story. The most obvious way of doing that is an outline, where each chapter is laid out at least in part, but it can mean in one's head or on flashcards or whatever. The detail of the outline or planning varies. Some people have each scene listed with their date, point of view, and main plot points, all written out long before they write the first sentence. Some people have just the scenes listed or the main plot points and how they connect.
Pro: You can hit the ground running. As soon as you're ready, you have a map to follow through the story and won't get caught up in large plot holes (as you've already sorted those out). You'll be through the book without as much risk of writer's block. Also, there are fewer revisions required!
Con: It's time-consuming, and some people will get so bogged down in outlining that they don't get to the writing. Or maybe once you start writing, it doesn't go as planned, and you must redo the outline. Sticking to a flawed outline or forcing a story to follow one can make for bad writing and bad books!
This is where most professional authors, especially those on deadlines, end up. It's more efficient at getting your book into the editor's hands instead of needing significant rewrites!
You might come across two other "styles": Quilter and Plantser.
Quilters write multiple parts of the story, like the start, the end, a few bits in the middle, or all the side plot scenes and one finale. Then they weave or stitch all the scenes together and produce the final product. It's not a popular style as it requires a special kind of brain or a special kind of story. If you have several separate stories that had to then coincide, it might work well, but continuity would be tricky with this style for most stories.
This is what happens when people don't want to settle in the box; they want to be both plotter and pantser. So they call themselves plantser, and while I know some people genuinely are in the middle between the two, mostly I see this used when people just don't know yet where they fall. Plotters will pants parts of their story (that's the "creative" part of creative writing). And a lot of pantsers will plot their way out of a bind if needed (because if they don't, they can't move on!) So I don't know if we need a term for this, but it's out there.
There. Now that's a thing you know.
Which style suits you better? Can you tell what type an author is based on their book?
D. Lambert, author
Fantasy novels that entice, inspire, and entertain.