Category Archives: storytelling

Are you lucky if you have a warrior monk as a mentor?

I’m so happy to invite C. S. Boyack to my blog today. I’ve visited his blog many times: https://www.facebook.com/ColdhandBoyack and consider him a friend, even though we’ve never met. He’s recently released a new novel, SERANG, and I’m halfway through it right now. I loved SERANG in the novel, VOYAGE OF THE LANGERNFISH, a fantasy/pirate/adventure novel, and I’ve been waiting for this prequel that tells her beginning story.

He hasn’t disappointed. The daughter of a fisherman, when her father dies on his ship, her mother can’t support her and takes her to a temple to be raised by warrior monks. If you haven’t read VOYAGE OF THE LANTERNFISH, no problem. This story can easily stand alone.

  1. Welcome, Craig. And now that I have you here, I’m curious. How did you decide on the life lessons Serang must learn to develop into her full potential? And how did you develop a wise tone and philosophy for your various masters?

First of all, thank you for the invitation, and I consider my online connections to be true friends. We may never meet in person, but I have many online friends.

Serang is a child when the story begins, and she’s about to embark upon training that takes a lifetime to master. This isn’t just a physical skill, but emotional and spiritual as well. She comes pre-packaged with her own problems, and a child would dwell upon those issues. I focused upon her issues as a point for her growth.

Serang’s masters are older, more mature versions of herself. They all have a tragic history, but rose above that to find a quality of life beyond the traditional orphan or beggar. Basically, I took a wise man/woman character, then pointed that character at Serang’s problems.

 

  1. I’m enjoying the character of Yong, who eventually becomes her master. Why does he befriend a rat? Is it perhaps because you, like me, were born in a year of the Chinese rat?

Ha! That could be part of it, and I am really focusing on that in a completely different book. It will come out in the Spring sometime. This is about Serang, so I’ll concentrate on her.

Master Yong is a wandering monk. This means he is a complete package, and an older reflection of what Serang is expected to become. In my mind, monks do not hold anything in particular in reverence or disdain. They seek to understand it, and its place in the world.

As a “wandering” monk, the wilderness can be lonely at times. It made sense for Yong to adopt a pet. The rat is portable, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t choose him from the Chinese Zodiac.

 

  1. What gave you the idea for the giant catfish that can kill a person while he/she tries to reel it in for supper?

The goonch catfish is an actual creature swimming in Asian waters today. He has a reputation for taking the occasional child swimmer.

This is a fantasy, and while reality is a good start, I ramped him up a bit.

It’s rather amazing, but this story uses a lot of actual creatures. There are actual orchid mantises, camel spiders, and saiga antelope. In some instances, I used them as they are, in others I powered them up as needed.

 

  1. This is, essentially, a fantasy coming-of-age story. What made you choose to write about a kick-ass female protagonist? (And I have to say, so far, all of the women in this book are intelligent and strong.)

I’ve been told I write good female characters. (I hope I do justice to my male characters, too.) Serang was pure dumb luck, if I’m to be completely honest.

When I wrote Voyage of the Lanternfish, I wanted an international cast to make up my crew. My vision was a grouping of society’s downtrodden people taking the world into their own hands.

Serang walked down the dock and joined the crew. At this time, she was fully formed and came with her own baggage, even a minor addiction to alcohol. Fleshing those things out in small doses, led me to the idea that she deserved her own story.

 

  1. You write a few different genres. What are some of your other ones?

I refer to myself as a writer of speculative fiction. This is a big field, and includes science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, and all the sub-genres of those.

You could find any of those genres in my back-catalog. What I try to do is include that speculative element in all my stories.

Sometimes that element is fairly strong, like in my stories about Lizzie and The Hat. Other times, it’s present, but in a lesser form. Serang kind of fits that style. This isn’t to say there aren’t fantasy creatures and magical elements in this story, but it’s more about her personal growth.

 

  1. On the blog Story Empire and your own blog, you’ve talked about how you develop your novels. You use a storyboard. Can you give a brief idea how that works?

I don’t know how brief I can be, but it’s worth a shot. I like a good challenge.

I use an app, but it’s basically just a cork board. Someone could tape things to the garage wall and do the same thing. I make one index card for the theme, almost like a mission statement. Then I make four columns to divide the three act structure of my story. (Act two gets two columns.) The tops and bottoms are major turning points in a story.

I fill out cards to mark all of those turning points, then give it some time. I add index cards to the board depending on each column, but aiming from the top of the column to the bottom. Think of it like driving from one town to another, but there are several routes to choose from. As long as you get where you’re going it works.

While the turning points keep my acts in order, the entire board keeps my writing in order. I free-write from card to card, and it tends to work for me.

I used to add photos and even checklists with things I want to include. Pinterest has replaced part of this for me, but sticky notes and checklists are part of the equation. As an example, I had a character once who had to go through the stages of grieving. I made a checklist and marked them off as he moved from step to step.

I still prepare a storyboard for each book, but they are getting more minimal with each outing. Maybe that comes from experience. One real advantage is I have half-a-dozen of them going at any given time. It isn’t hard to end one story and dive right into the next one. As ideas pop up, I add a card to that board.

 

Thanks so much for visiting. Before you leave, would you share a short excerpt from your book? And any other information you’d care to share with us?

Hmm, a short excerpt:

“I haven’t seen a single river monster. No crocodiles, gigantic snakes, nothing. I’m supposed to be exercising, so I’m going for a swim. The current is slow and steady here. If it works, you can try it, too.” She stripped off her hat, boots, and leggings, then dove over the side.

By swimming hard, she was able to keep pace with the boat. It had more area for the river to push, so she had to work to keep up. Eventually she fell behind, so she veered toward the rope and kept swimming.

“You’ll have to stop before you run out of rope,” Yong yelled.

“I know… but it feels good… to move lazy muscles,” she puffed between the words.

An extra puff sounded off to her left, and a strong odor of fish drifted over her. Another sounded off to her right. A series of rapid clicks were answered on the opposite side. A large grey fin broke the surface beside her.

Serang redoubled her efforts and gained slightly on the boat. A bulbous grey head broke the surface on her right. It had a long snout with a row of peg-like teeth the size of her little finger. She grabbed the rope and started pulling herself toward the boat. “Help me, Master.”

Yong laughed hysterically. “Hurry, before they eat you.”

How could her master be so cruel? The creature on her left passed underneath to join the other one. The clicking increased. More of the creatures surrounded her until there were a dozen or more. They started jumping, splashing water over her head. It sounded as if they were laughing at her.

Hand over hand, she finally reached the rope. Her muscles burned as she pulled herself above the water then groped for the railing.

Yong caught her wrist, pulled her onto the deck, then dropped her like a wet sack. “Thank you, Master. They could have killed me.”

“No doubt, but they never would.” One of the creatures leaped high above the water and looked at her. “These are river dolphins. They are benevolent creatures. Sometimes they help downing boatmen. They were checking to see if you needed help.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because it was too funny.” He pushed his hat toward her. “Take the tiller. My turn.” He dove over the side.

***

Monastic life is all about duty, service, harmony. For Serang, a young girl abandoned at the temple by her mother after the death of her father, that life becomes all she knows. The monks give her purpose, and become her new family.

 

When political upheaval causes chaos throughout the land, Serang again loses everything and everyone she loves. Alone, she struggles to survive. She convinces a wandering monk to take her under his wing and complete her training. Thus begin her adventures through strange lands and her trials to become a confident, capable, independent adult.

 

This is a coming of age story set in a fantasy world. It’s filled with monsters and martial arts, difficulties and dangers. The serious situations preclude the story from the levity of its predecessor, Voyage of the Lanternfish, but it provides a compelling look at the origin of one of the saga’s most fascinating characters.

 

Purchase Link http://mybook.to/Serang

Serang cover

 

Social Media:

C.S. bio & blog

 

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Carnival Row (spoilers)

I don’t watch a lot of TV.  We have BritBox, so I can watch British mysteries, and my husband loves the Great British Baking Show even more than I do, but when I saw the clips for Carnival Row on Prime, it had all of the elements I like in a story.  A Victorian feel.  A gloomy setting.  Supernaturals and Fae.  And a scary monster that guts people to take their livers.  Yes, the show is dark.  And the humans aren’t depicted as much nicer than the monster.  The way they treat the supernaturals, for me, was gut-wrenching.  (Oops, there’s that word again.  Sorry).

And it made me love this series, it was so complex.  And in my opinion, and this is JUST my opinion, the plotting was brilliant.  I love mysteries, especially puzzles where each little clue becomes important at the end of the story.  Carnival Row was like that.  We start out following a detective who’s determined to stop a killer from beating Fae women with a hammer, killing most of his victims.  I thought, Aha!  The story’s big question.  Hardly.  The other cops who work the area aren’t much concerned about the women’s deaths.  What’s one less Fae?  Good riddance!

We get a glimpse of Philo’s private life, living in a boarding house.  The woman who runs it has fallen for him, and when we see them in an intimate scene, we learn that Philo has scars on his back from the war he fought in.  (If nudity and sex bother you, be warned).  Being a soldier has shaped him, and he  doggedly follows each clue that comes up until he confronts the killer.  And then there’s a twist.  The killer tells him that the Fae haven’t only brought their strange religions and customs to Carnival Row, they’ve brought a dark monster, and the evil has only begun.  Then the killer throws himself off the top of the building, killing himself.

We wonder why Philo cares so much about the Fae when no one else does.  And then we learn, through a flashback, that while fighting the war, he was stationed in a Fae bastion, and he fell in love with a woman there.  She ends up in Carnival Row, too.  And we know the two will meet and the plot’s going to have another twist.  We also learn that the scars on Philo’s back are because his mother was Fae.  She had his wings cut off when he was a baby so that he could pretend to be human growing up and have a better life, and she placed him in an orphanage so that he wouldn’t be associated with her.

When we return to present day in the story, Philo’s now tracking the dark monster that’s stalking the area.  I’ve shared enough spoilers, so I won’t say more except that there are subplots that add more layers to the story, and the twists keep coming, and the story gets more and more complicated.  It’s as much a maze as a mystery with each person’s story  weaving in and out of each other.  The over arcing storyline builds more and more tension with each episode, and the characters were well developed, even minor ones.  Predictions seem like one thing and then morph into another.  There was even decent social commentary if you chose to notice it.

I write cozy mysteries.  Even my Muddy River stories with supernaturals don’t push the envelope too far.  But I think I could learn a thing or two by studying the plotting of Carnival Row.  Writers can learn a lot from movies that inspire them.  How were they put together?  What made them better, more compelling than other movies you’ve watched?  I was impressed with the writing of this eight episode series.

October is almost upon us with days that get shorter and shorter, (at least, where I live).  All Hallow’s Eve will soon arrive with its thinning of the veil.  Enjoy the changing of the leaves, the brisk temperatures, and let’s hope that happy writing is in your future!

 

I only think I’m prepared

I like to be organized.  Maybe a little too much.  We go to the grocery store twice a month these days.  Well, actually, HH only goes to pick up the groceries we’ve ordered online.  I always worry I won’t have enough (not that we’ve EVER run out) and that we have all of the ingredients I want for each meal, so I make out menus.  I plan our suppers for every night before we’ll order groceries again.  And when I scribble down each night’s meal, I list the ingredients we’ll need for it.

For example, for our last list, I served chicken piccata, buttered noodles, and green beans on Monday; BBQ ribs, mashed potatoes, and broccoli on Tuesday; salmon with fried rice and brussel sprouts on Wednesday; almond noodle bowls with ramen on Thursday; etc.  When I’m done, I know I’m prepared.  Even though there’s always something we run out of between each trip to the store–milk, juice, bread–those pesky everyday things.

The same holds true with my writing.  I’m so far from being a pantser, I’d probably break out in a rash if I just sat down and decided to wing it.  A lot of people can do it.  It’s not in my nature.  So I make a plot point for every chapter of my book.  I include the things that I think are important that I should cover.  And when I finish, in theory, I have enough plot twists, clues, interactions to have a novel.  For Muddy River One, it took 34 plot points to come up with 57,000 words.  This time, for whatever reason, I expected each chapter to be longer, more involved.  I wrote two or three different scenes for quite a few of them.  I had two subplots.  So I only listed 26 of them.  And guess what?  There’s no possible way I can reach my word count unless I come up with more.

So, I sat down tonight, after much fussing–my poor husband–and redid the last ten chapters of Muddy River Two.  It looks great on paper, and I should have enough, or at least, really close to enough to meet my goal, but who knows?  Every book is different.  The mystery’s rogue incubus is a lot more clever than I expected, and he’s a lot more ruthless, too.  Suspects that I thought Raven and Hester could question end up dead before they get there.  Now that blows a few nice scenes.  You can’t interrogate a person who’s been drained dry.  But even though I do my best to whip my characters into shape to obey me, they don’t always listen.  And if they don’t get too crazy, I’m willing to give them some leeway.  Then I need to stop somewhere in my writing and restructure the story.  Which I did.  And hopefully, it works.  It should this time:)

Interruptions and Research..For supernaturals?

I’m over halfway through the free supernatural mystery I’ve been writing for my webpage.  I was flying through pages until this week.  And then everything slowed to a snail’s pace.  Part of it was because of interruptions.  Now, mind you, I usually welcome these.  If left to my own devises, I’m all too happy to plop my fanny in my writing chair and only come up for air to eat lunch (my husband usually puts that together from leftovers or he makes sandwiches–he’s amazingly good at those) or when I glance at the clock and I have to hustle to make supper.  (He expects something solid for that, and he’s a bit picky).  That’s why I make out menus for meals.  BUT, this week, I got stopped a lot more often that.  I don’t know if it was because of the bitter cold weather or because we were going to change months, but I had one phone call after another.  I AM NOT COMPLAINING, because I remind myself All The Time that I love it when my kids or grandkids still think of us and give us a call.

Add to that, I added a chapter to my story where the demon enforcer and his deputized witch drive to a nearby Druid community to search for the plant, wood betony.  Now, when I started this book, I never realized that I’d need to come up with some plausible plants to make magical pouches and protection potions.  Silly me.  But when I thought of that as a fun plot twist, the question became–what in the heck would you dry to grind for a spell like that?  My old, falling apart book, COUNTRY SCRAPBOOK–All About Country Lore and Life, by Jerry Mack Johnson–came to the rescue.  I had no desire to find out if there actually WAS such a spell.  My witches are fantacized, but I wanted the ingredients to sound FEASIBLE, so I spent more than a little time reading that the ancients believed that wood betony protected journeymen by night from all harm, including witchcraft.  People gathered its leaves and flowers to brew tea to help heal ulcers and wounds, too, among other things.  Yellow gentian rendered poisons ineffectual.  A few seeds of fennel placed in keyholes kept ghosts at bay.  You get the idea…

By the time I came up with a recipe to put in a fabric pouch to wear around your neck, I was pretty happy with myself.  And then I wrote that witches wouldn’t grow wood betony in a witch garden, because it might bring them harm, but SOMEONE had used it…on purpose…and Hester and Raven decided that person might have gotten it from the Druids who live close by.   Another fun idea.  Except…I had no idea how I wanted to distinguish a Druid’s magic from a witch’s, and I wanted their settlement to be different, too.  Which meant…more research.

And boy, I’m glad I took the time.  Because Druids weren’t even close to the brown robed priests TV often show them as.  Did you know it took twenty years for someone to train to be a Druid?  That most knew three languages–Latin, Greek, and Etruscan.  And that they were so respected for their wisdom and honesty, other countries hired them to be judges and lawyers in important cases?  Or that women could be judges and lawyers, too?  I sure didn’t.  I’m still no expert on Druids, but I found the right flavor for my Druid community and hopefully, it gives the right impression.

Anyway, between fun phone calls and looking for answers for ideas to make my story more believable–even though it’s fantasy–I spent a lot of time at my writing desk NOT writing.  But it’s all part of getting words on paper, isn’t it?  I’m back to pounding away on keys now, and I’m making progress again.

For your week, I wish you Happy Writing!  Or whatever makes your story better.

He didn’t!

I went to writers’ group last Wednesday and listened to three of our members, all topnotch authors who volunteered to read.  Les Bock is writing a crime thriller, and some of the scenes he comes up with blow my mind.  I don’t see the twist coming, and it’s usually something I’d never expect from him.  Kathy Palm is working on a middle grade horror book, and she’s read enough, I know that she can go to creepy places that make me squirm.  Ruth Baker, a playwrite, usually visits serious subjects but she read something fun and whimsical.  My point is, if you talked to any of those three people, you’d never guess what they are capable of imagining.  It reminded me of a time a visitor came to Scribes and I read an unusual piece, and she looked at me and said, “But you seem like such a nice person.”

I AM a nice person, but I don’t always WRITE about nice people.  If everyone in a novel was nice, there wouldn’t be a story, no tension, no conflict.  Now an antagonist doesn’t always have to be a bad person.  Two good people can be coming at the same thing from different points of view, for different reasons, and clash.  But a strong antagonist sure makes an already good story even better, whether he’s on the page or behind the scenes.  And a bad antagonist can make readers chew their fingernails.

In Julia Donner’s Western historical AVENUE TO HEAVEN, Annie Corday’s ex-husband made me cringe with fear every time his shadow fell across a page.  When he finally decides to return to Chicago, he has a wooden coffin delivered to her front door to let her know his intentions.  And honestly, after reading about some of the things he’d done, a quick death would probably be better than most of his other options.  He was so obscenely bipolar, smiling and proclaiming his love while he beat her senseless, that he made me queasy.  Villains like that make a reader turn the pages.  They stay with you. (https://www.amazon.com/Avenue-Heaven-Westward-Bound-Book-ebook/dp/B076HVGS98/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1539399302&sr=8-11&keywords=julia+donner+kindle)

If you’ve read any of the posts in the Q & A blogs that I posted from Ilona Andrews, one of the questions reminded me of myself when I was young and first starting to write.  The person asked how she could make her characters distinct, because hers all ended up being a lot the same.  Ilona Andrews’s answer made me smile.  She replied,

I suspect that your ethics keep getting in the way.  You have a strong sense of right and wrong, and when confronting a problem, you, and your characters, are thinking about the best way to resolve it according to your set of values.  Try to look at it from their point of view. 

And that’s the trick, isn’t it?  Each person in a story has his own code of morals and ethics, his own rules that he might bend, his own way to rationalize why he did what he did, whether good or bad.  The trick is for the author to get inside his character’s head when that character walks into a room, to see the world through his eyes, shaped by his experiences, needs, and wants.  And that character might do things we’d never condone, things that horrify or shame us, but our job is to make him and his actions believable.

Julia Donner was an actress and singer at one time.   She performed in many plays and tells me that when she writes, her characters come to her wholly formed, because she studied characters and their motivations for so long on the stage.  It took me a long time to write unlikeable characters, because I could always imagine what my mother would say if she read my story.  And a sex scene?  Heaven forbid!  Then a wonderful, wise woman who edited many of my early stories told me, “Blindfold your mother and gag your old Sunday School teachers. Listen to your characters and write them the way they are and say what they’d say.”  And she was right.  I stopped thinking about my audience and started thinking about my characters, living in their skins.  And then they did all kinds of things that I’d never expected, because I’d freed them to be themselves.

So whatever you’re working on at the moment, I hope your characters are distinct and real.  That doesn’t mean they get to decide where the story will go, because it’s YOUR story.  But it means that when they walk into a scene, they make it come to life, because they’re very much alive in your imagination.  Happy Writing!

 

Business…and…Mysteries with Romance

I finally got my official contract from Kensington.  It takes what feels like a long time between receiving a 3-book deal to getting the official 20+ page tome of subject heading after subject heading that I mostly have no clue about.  That’s when I’m grateful I have my agent, Lauren Abramo, from Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret.  I think most of what Kensington offers is set in stone–like the Ten Commandments–but what I concentrate on are my writing deadlines. And when do my books come out?  I know my deadlines–and I’ve given myself more time between books now that I’m writing mysteries, but I still don’t know when my books will come out.  Kensington won’t decide that until 2018.

My 6th and last romance, SPECIAL DELIVERY, is due out Nov. 7th, and I wanted to give it a fair shot, so I paid for a blog tour.  In truth, I thought Kensington would promote my romances, but not so much.  MOST writers have to promote themselves these days.  That was a learning experience for me, so I’m promoting this one a little myself.  Of course, BookBub is the BEST, but I can’t afford it, and it’s harder to get accepted by BookBub than to pass through the eye of the needle these days.  The price for my tour isn’t terrible–$60.  But it takes a day or two to decide which tour you want and to get everything ready for it if you want each blog stop to be unique with a different excerpt or blog at each spot.   And, yes, this is time well-spent.  You want to start a good two months before your book comes out.  I’m using Goddess Fish Promotions again, and they’re great to work with.

Now, with the business stuff behind me, I can concentrate on my favorite thing–writing. The first mystery is done and sent.  And this time, probably because I just finished writing them–I’ve added a romance subplot to the clues and red herrings.  This is where it got a little bit tricky.  I’ve been reading (okay, I’m a little obsessed with) Jenna Bennett’s Savannah Martin series.  She mixes mystery and romance into almost a fusion.  There’s lots of TALK about sex (nothing graphic, though), lots of steam, and gritty murders.  It makes for an intoxicating cocktail.

This is the thing, though.  I’m finishing book #10, and Rafe and Savannah still aren’t married.  It almost feels like the TV show Castle.  The chemistry is intoxicating, and they keep growing closer, but how long can you flirt with HEA and not deliver?  I’m thinking they get married in the next book.  Thank God.  But this prolonged tease let me know that even though in romances, the HEA comes at the end of the book, that’s not the way it works in other genres.

I make no secret that I’m an Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs fan–from the days I wrote urban fantasy.  And werewolves and werelions don’t just walk in and sweep the heroines off their feet either.  It took a few books before the hot guys won the hotter women.  So, I didn’t let my characters–Jazzi and Ansel–walk down the aisle in book one and have their HEA.  I don’t think I can come up with one diversion after another for 10 books, but I know that stalling is a good thing.  And dead bodies are great distractions to keep heroines and heroes too busy to plan ahead.  But what happens after the “death do us part” clicks in?  Do things get (yawn) boring?  I’m thinking of Castle and other TV shows.   Can you keep them interesting after marriage?  What do you think?  I was a sucker for Tommy and Tuppence, Nick and Nora, and marriage didn’t hurt them.  Any opinions?

Happy Writing!

 

My webpage (posted every Thursday):  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Twitter:  @judypost

 

 

 

 

Babet & Prosper

My daughter has been (sort of nicely, but only a little) bugging me to write a new Babet and Prosper.  I’ve been busy.  I’ve been making my fingers thin trying to pound out my new mystery.  Yes, my fingers should be in great shape.  My fanny?  Don’t ask.  But Holly didn’t care, so I thought of a new story to put on my webpage.  It probably has mistakes and might be rough.  I’ll try to polish it this weekend, but I sort of promised to put something new up this Thursday, and well…  here goes.  Hope you like it.

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/