Thursday, January 5, 2017

20 Questions to ask your Main Characters

Dreaming up characters...

I've read ways to make your characters more unique, but I thought I'd share this list of what I ask as I'm creating their profiles. I don't even use most of it in the actual books, but it helps to make the characters more vivid to me. Some are ordinary questions, some are odd, and some seem to be about the end of the world...







1) What childhood toy do you remember the most?

2) What is your spirituality?

3) What physical activity do you enjoy the most?

4) What animal species would you save at the end of the world?

5) What childhood book made an impression on you?

6) How are you feeling at this point?

7) What is your perfect day or evening?

8) What do you like to do when you're idle?

9) What would your last meal be?

10) What's your favorite movie?

11) Science or the supernatural?

12) Who's your favorite relative?

13) What country would you most like to visit?

14) Would you rather be a king/queen, general, ambassador, or revolutionary?

15) What is your favorite sound?

16) If you could make up a holiday, what would it be?

17) Which famous deceased person would you most like to meet?

18) Which 3 possessions would you grab if you had to leave in a hurry?

19) What's your current grievance?

20) Why should anyone be interested in/follow you as a main character?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Sinister Folklore of Trees


Recently, a majestic oak on one of my routes was taken down. To be fair, it seemed to be diseased, but I couldn't help feeling sad, wondering how long it had stood there, with a neighborhood growing up around it. It reminded me of a Tanith Lee story, 'The Tree: A Winter's Tale', about a tree that was due to be taken down, but the family of the house kept reliving the same day over and over, and not in a funny, Groundhog Day kind of way either, so that the tree would stand forever. Recently, Peter Wohlleben's book, The Hidden Life of Trees, explained the nature of trees and how they communicate.

So here is some folklore on trees you should be wary of.

BIRCH: Witches' brooms were made from its branches. It is called the Lady of the Woods in Celtic folklore and walks at night. The birch spirit is feared and adored and causes death to those she touches. Check out The Birch, a great short film on YouTube.

ALDER: Walpurgis tree. Associated with elves, water spirits, the Erl King and his daughter. Alder wood turns red when cut and resists decay. The wood was used for divining instruments. The tree often grows near Saints' wells. As for witches, red-haired ones loved it, and red dyes made from alder sap were used by Italian witches.

ELDER: Threshold trees. Guard the home from evil. An elder wood walking stick will protect a traveler. Associated in Native American and Celtic folklore with the Elder Mother. Also with the Scandinavian Mother Hulda. It's friendly to humans. Fingernail parings, hair, and teeth were buried beneath it to keep from them from being used in bad magic. And don't forget elderberry wine!

ELM: Another witch tree, but also a tree of the Goddess. The Romany made magic wands from its wood. Coffins were also once built from the timber. It dislikes people and is an entry into the land of the dead. In some folklore, it is said the first woman was created from an elm. It's also linked with Dionysus because it was planted in vineyards.



FIG: Inhabited in Greece by the fauni ficarii, the dusois, dangerous spirits that take the forms of nymphs and satyrs. In Sicilian folklore, fall asleep beneath a fig, wake up confronted by the figure of a nun with a knife. It's also a fertility tree. In Muslim myth, the tree is associated with knowledge. It's the tree under which Buddha received his enlightenment. In Africa, the fig houses dead ancestors.

HAWTHORN: The May tree. A fairy thorn. The blackthorn is guarded by Lunantishee fairies. In Ireland, a road was re-routed in 1999 to avoid taking down a whitethorn said to be sacred to the Sidhe, the dangerous Irish fairies. Never bring a hawthorn blossom indoors because it causes bad luck. In Welsh folklore, it is associated with the malevolent chief of the giants. Also the tree of enforced chastity, hence the May tree.


OAK: Turn your cloaks
           For Fairy Folks
           Are in old oaks
Tree of Zeus. It attracts lightning. It's the guardian of otherworldly doors--an opening between two oaks leads to Faerie. The sacred oak king became a sacrifice in some cultures. It is the Druids' tree and the dryads' tree. It's a protector. Acorns were worn by witches for protection against bad spirits. It's friendly to humans...well, except maybe the old oaks. In their case, watch your back.

WILLOW: A fertility tree. A water tree. It wards off snakes. It's the Goddess's tree, associated with Persephone and Artemis. The Greek enchantress Circe had a grove of willow trees. It's a dangerous tree, said to walk during moonlit nights. Willow wands channel energy. It's bark contains salicylic acid, which is a natural painkiller and used in aspirin.

YEW: A healing tree. It contains an element currently being used for curing breast cancer. It is Hecate's tree, a witch tree, and hostile to people (though perhaps not to women, considering). Some trees grow to be hundreds of years old and it is often found in churchyards. Its wood was once used for archery bows, shields, and spears.

So walk carefully among these trees, and be careful of the ones that might strike out.

Sources:
The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft by Judika Illes
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols by Adele Nozedar
The Ultimate Fairies Handbook by Susannah Marriott




Friday, December 16, 2016

The Awesomeness of The Female Surrealists



I love art as much as I love writing and music, but my ultimate favorite artists, aside from the Symbolists, are the female surrealists. You might have heard of Dali, Max Ernst, and Magritte, but a few of their associates, including the famous Frida Kahlo, were amazing artists in their own right. Mysticism, the Goddess, animals, nature, and feminist themes are predominant in their works, which are all deeply personal representations of their imaginations.


LEONOR FINI

Born in Buenos Aires and disguised in childhood as a boy by her mother (to avoid being found by her father), Leonor moved to Paris in the late 1930s. She knew Max Ernst and Jean Genet. Sphinx-like and mysterious, she had an affinity for felines. She lived with two men at one time, both her lovers. Her paintings are ritualistic, fascinating, erotic, inspired by the Symbolists and the Pre-Raphaelites. They are fairy tales. There's even a song written about her by Katell Keineg.


LEONORA CARRINGTON

I love her self-portrait with a delicate black hyena and a white rocking horse. She had a fondness for Celtic and Mayan mythology and even lived in Mexico, married to Max Ernst. Most of her paintings are fantasy scenes of delicate, human-looking creatures, heavy with symbology. She also wrote Surrealist fiction.


DOROTHEA TANNING 

Her paintings are disturbing renderings of womanhood and adolescence. Born in Illinois, she read Alice in Wonderland and the Gothic authors to escape what she considered a boring, Midwestern life. She moved to New York, where she eventually met Max Ernst (He got around) and became his lifetime companion.


REMEDIOS VARO

 Alchemy, owls, and forlorn, attenuated people, were Remedios's totems. Her paintings are delicate and child-like. She was born in Madrid and eventually settled in Mexico. The spirit world lurks just beneath the surface of her paintings.

Sources:
Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement by Whitney Chadwick
Surrealism and Women by Mary Ann Caws, Rudolf Kuenzli, Gwen Raaberg






Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Halloween Contest Winning Entries


Each of these gorgeous entries is copyrighted by the authors. Read the stories and enjoy! 

GRAND PRIZE: SHVETA THAKRAR

When the poison sank into his bones, he gasped at the mirror. She had drawn on him, scrawled secrets, all graceful loops and fine lines. Hers was a venom no less deadly than truth; she'd shaded and cross-hatched until half his skin dissolved, revealing another's rich brown flesh.

Another time, another life. Him. He remembered now--her virtuous nature, his restless heart. Hands knotting, he collapsed onto the cold checkered floor.

Across the hall, the Scarlet Scourge smiled. "You wanted to know who you are. Once you loved me. Then you left me. Now? Now you, too, break in half."
                                                                 

FIRST PRIZE: KENNEDY CANNON

My darling one,
He saw you beneath the moonlight
With lips like poison berries--
Crimson,deceitful, alluring--
And hair like knotted twigs,
So you drew him close,
Planted seeds beneath his skin,
Allowed your thorns
To make their home there.
He wrote you poetry
Scrawled in blood and brought you roses
Red as sin,
And you watched them decay,
My purest one,
Turn to nothing,
While he worshiped you
Until his knees cracked
Beneath the weight of his love
And he could no longer stand.
And then what did you do,
My virtuous one?
You broke his heart in two.
                                 

SECOND PRIZE: DONAVAN MCRAE

I can taste the poison . . . He told us not to eat from this tree, he warned us. He warned us, Eve! We were supposed to Live a Virtuous life, true to HIM. That is what HE scrawled across our hearts. LOOK AT US NOW! The poison has transformed me. My beautiful skin has begun to lighten and the very thought of it leaves a knot in my throat. But that is not my biggest fear. My fear is that HE will find me and see what I have done, see you covered in red and know that it was me.
                                      
THIRD PRIZE: PAMELA WYATT

I couldn't help looking at her milky white skin. My God she was beautiful. But I know if I go to her and kiss her full red lips, I would taste the poison that would seep into my virtuous soul and devour it; destroying what goodness was left inside me.

As the knot in my stomach grew with anticipation, all hesitation and doubt left me. I looked in the mirror before me one last time to scrawl the words, "remember me." I slowly walk to her and glide my hands down her naked back and remove the rest of her red velvet dress.

She looked at me with those beautiful chestnut eyes and smiled. I took a hesitant breath and leaned in to kiss her. I could feel the venom slide down my throat and burn the inside of my body. I slowly pull back and whisper breathlessly, "I love you." Then everything went black as I slid to the ground as my soul burned away to leave me as one of the damned.

FOURTH PRIZES:

SHANNON HAWKINS

"This is what you were.
In the hours that my fingers pulled the knot out of your skin and slid kisses out of your hair, you wore a dripping red dress to wreck me. To poison me and hurt me as I watched you walk along that marble floor to go out the window.

I'll remember the scrawl of a life we didn't get enough of poking out along your back, the fire that we kept down when our bed would have been the place to hold the flames.

Just remember you were a virtuous woman who deserved the world."
                                             
PANCHALI DEVI WALFORD

The skin on his back was winter white and the scrawl on his shoulder rotted red. He couldn't see it in the mirror, not then anyway, but the rot clung to him. She had said it was a mark of The Virtuous. That it would show others that the poison had left him. His lips quirked into an ugly shape and he resisted the urge to spit. Pulling a lock of hair from his temple, he wound it into a knot and placed it in his mouth and under his tongue. Her back still faced him and he swallowed.

BETH ADKINS
                                               
He watched her walk away with a knot in his stomach. She knew what she was doing to him. She had scrawled invisible words on his skin while she whispered love and poison in his ear. He had been known as a virtuous man before he got involved with her. He couldn't break free from her now. He was tied to her with an invisible cord. Maybe by the words she wrote. Either way, he was hers.
                                                


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Halloween Contest Selections


This was more difficult than I thought it would be. I printed out the entries, blacked out names, and chose the ones that made the most impact on me emotionally.

I'll be contacting the entrants today about their prizes and I've made up a fifth prize for 3 others who sent in amazing writing.

This contest wasn't really about the prizes (although it is fun giving stuff to people who've read my books!) It's about inspiring people to write, to have fun. And I hope all of you had fun with this:)

I'll be posting the winning entries who give me permission.

And thank you to everyone who entered! I hope you love your gifts!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Fantastic Fantasy Finds: Crystal and Steel by Lyndan Darby


Crystal and Steel (1988)
Bloodseed (1989)
Phoenix Fire (1990)

These books were published in the UK. The trilogy begins as a quest fantasy, with a prince trying to take back his throne. There are dark lords and mystical objects aplenty, but it's the characters I loved. Eider, the prince, is naive and idealistic. His friend, the young wizard Nairb, is vulnerable, but powerful. Regor the elf is a trickster. Lehon is a young man hoping for adventure. There's only one memorable female character, and she turns out to be something completely different.



The fantasy has a Tolkienish plot, but the mood is decidedly Mervyn Peakeish. There's a warm friendship between the questing companions. The villain Zarrat the usurper is a typical tyrant, but the other villains are wonderfully drawn; the repulsive gnome monarch, the slithering Black Queen, the Baobhanshee, and Ruthra, the seducer masked in beauty.


Eider attains his throne, and, in the sequels, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Eider's friends must try to save Eider's soul in stories of surrealistic grandeur.







This series is for anyone nostalgic for Moorcock or Lord Dunsany's picturesque fantasies, weird and lavish, with a company of friends at its core.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Guest Interview: Liana Brooks, author of Decoherence

Welcome, Liana Brooks, author of the science fiction thrillers The Day Before, Convergence Point, (available now) and Decoherence (available in November 2016 from HarperVoyager) to It's All About Story.

You can find Liana at her blog: http://www.lianabrooks.com/
And her books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Liana-Brooks/e/B007S9DB2A



1) Describe Decoherence in one paragraph.

Decoherence is the final chapter in the Time & Shadows trilogy. It's where all the loose threads get tied up, and we finally see what happened to Jane Doe who was found in chapter one of book one (The Day Before.)

2) What inspired Decoherence?

Decoherence was never alone in the universe, I guess. It's the natural conclusion to the rest of the series and so I'm not sure it was inspired by anything outside that universe. It was influenced by things on the outside. I think little pieces of other stories snuck in. There might be a nod to Agent Carter in there.

3) Were The Day Before, Convergence Point, and Decoherence your first works of fiction?

Oh, no. The Day Before was my first published novel, but it was nowhere near the first one I wrote. That one is moldering under my bed somewhere. You do not want to see my first novel. I don't want you to see my first novel. It's embarrassing.

The Time & Shadows trilogy is the first series I've written and published completely. The reading order is: The Day Before, Convergence Point, Decoherence.


4) What song or music piece would you put on a soundtrack for Decoherence?

I put together a 30-song playlist for Decoherence. It is mostly from Two Steps From Hell's Battlecry album. If I had to pick a single song, it would be Canon in D Minor from that album. I love the energy and the mood. It really works with where Sam (the heroine) is at throughout the book. She is fighting so hard to hold on to reality and rescue Mac, she's fighting herself at every turn, but she won't quit fighting.



5) Which character in Decoherence was easy to write? Which was the most difficult?

The easiest scenes are always when Sam and Mac are together. I've been writing them as a pair since 2009, throughout many (far too many) drafts of The Day Before and Convergence Point. They're my sweet spot. They play off each other well and they're just fun to write.

The hardest part to write was anything where I had to juggle multiple Sams. Because there is time travel and the multiverse theory, I wound up with three (four?) Sams in Decoherence. Writing them each as a unique person with her own personality and style was a wonderful challenge.

6) What is your writing space like? Or can you write anywhere?

I can write anywhere (because I have a handy-dandy folding Bluetooth keyboard), but I prefer to write from my office. My family moved to Alaska in the middle of winter and I couldn't fly up to see the house we were renting, we just picked one that had enough bedrooms. And when we got there I found this odd little corner room that's too small for a bedroom, but works perfectly as an office. I have a view of the pine trees out my window (and snow during the winter), and it's a cozy nook for writing.

But, I wrote about half of Decoherence on the folding keyboard while my kids were at sports practice. I'd put in headphones, write a chapter in an email to myself, and edit the next day. You have to be flexible.

7) Any odd writing habits? Rituals?

You know, I think writing habits and rituals are a luxury you earn after you've written a few dozen books and have no small children at home. Maybe someone else has it figured out, but for me all I need is some headspace away from stress and a keyboard. If I waited for the perfect conditions to get a book done, it would never get done.

8) George R.R. Martin describes 2 kinds of outliners, the Gardener (let it grow) or the Architect (plan it.) Which are you?

I'm a Gardener by habit and an Architect because of training. There is no way to finish a series without a little bit of planning. You can write one while being as wild and free as the flowers, but pulling all the plot strings together and wrapping up the story in a satisfying way requires planning. Not a ton, but you do need to think a few steps ahead of where you're writing if you want to get to The End.

9) What are some of your favorite world myths or fairy/folk tales? Why?

Oh, that is a good one. I don't think I actually had a favorite fairy tale. I grew up on Tolkien, not the Brothers Grimm, so I'm at a bit of a disadvantage here. I suppose....1001 Arabian Nights, because a woman was able to save herself through the power of her storytelling. And anything with dragons or mermaids.

10) What is your favorite fictional world, one you'd want to visit?

I'd like to hang out with the crew of the Warhammer from The Price of the Stars/Mageworlds series. It was my favorite series in high school and their good advice got me though some rough days.

11) Who is your favorite fictional character?

Oh, that's a tough one. This is like asking me to pick a favorite child. Let's go with Harry Dresden. I like a person who fights losing battles just to save friends.

12) What is the best writing advice you've ever received?

Either quit whining and write, or quit writing.

That was the swift kick in the pants I needed to get The Day Before finished, polished, and published. It's always easier to complain about writing, while not writing. But, if you want to be a published author, eventually you have to shut your mouth and get writing. It's going to be hard, so suck it up and write anyways, or go find something that you love so you don't whine.

13) In Decoherence, are there any hidden acknowledgements to friends, places you've lived, favorite writers, etc;

Here's the short list...

Cannonvale, Australia--because my best friend and spiritual twin, Amy Laurens, lives in Australia.


New Smyrna Beach, Florida--because I lived not far south of there for four years and wanted to introduce the mangal swamps to everyone in Convergence Point.

Alabama--because that's where I lived when I started writing the series.

Donovan (the villain in Convergence Point)--is actually named after one of my beta readers

....and there's one more in the very last chapter that I think you'll be able to figure out all on your own.

14) Can you tell us anything else about your writing experiences?

When I started writing seriously back in 2007 or so, I had no big plans I was going to write my weird, little books and see what happened. By reading widely and writing regularly, I finally reached a point where I could not only tell a good story, but I had an inkling of an idea of what readers wanted. The sweet spot for a published author is where our interests and our fans' interests collide.

15) What do we have to look forward to after Decoherence?

I have five projects on my desk right now waiting for attention, including the long-awaited Even Villains 4. There's another novella series that I've been teasing on Twitter for a few months now, and that kicks off with Bodies in Motion next spring. And then, hopefully, one of these novels I'm pitching will find a home in the next few months and I'll be able to announce that series.

In the meantime, I publish monthly short stories on The Darkness and Good blog (http://www.lianabrooks.com/tag/darkness-and-good/ ) with Thea van Diepen and Amy Laurens, so you can always catch me there or on Twitter at @LianaBrooks.

Thank you, Liana!