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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mixing Magic and Modern Times by Nancy J. Cohen

How do you mix magic into modern times? If you’ve been writing straight contemporary stories or tales set in another universe, it might take an adjustment to mix these elements together. Here are some tips to show you the way.

Determine your setting. Where will the story take place? What is different about your reality?

Let’s say you’re writing a YA story. Will the background location be a high school? A summer vacation by a lake? Or a small town where eerie things start happening? What’s peculiar about your place? Is there a circle of rocks that dates back to Druidic times? Or perhaps a strange mist that fills the night air at the lake’s edge?

It could be that an object has magical properties in your modern setting, like the crystals in the TV show featuring teenage witches, The Secret Circle. The point is to take an everyday setting and give it a twist.

Warrior Prince, book one in my new Drift Lords Series, involves sinister theme parks, Thus I set the first story in Orlando, Florida. Where else could a band of hunky uniformed men with laser weapons show up and not get a second glance? Nor do visitors to Orlando’s theme parks expect anything other than a happy, peaceful visit. They’re in for a surprise at my fictional tourist attraction called Drift World.

The action starts when mythologist Nira Larsen goes hunting for a summer job at the theme park’s seedy employment office. Her interview turns into a nightmare when the bad guys attack her. Why are they interested in her? See the next step below.
Create your characters. Which of your people will possess magical powers? Are they aware of this ability, or will they discover it in the course of the story? What exactly are the boundaries of this power, the explanation for it, and its weakness? Whatever ability you create, it must remain consistent throughout your series. If you wish to alter an aspect of it, give a plot twist that causes a mutation or an explanation that produces a logical change.

In Warrior Prince, my bad guys are evil trolls called Trolleks. They’ve invaded Earth through a dimensional rift in the Bermuda Triangle. The Drift Lords—warriors from space—rush to the rescue to quell the invasion, but they can’t do it alone. They need the help of a special group of Earth women with legendary powers.

Where did these powers originate? Since my series is based on Norse mythology, the women are descendants of Odin, the All-Father. He had shapeshifting ability. Thus each heroine is capable of manipulating molecules related to the elements. Nira can alter air currents and choke off someone’s breath. Jennifer Dyhr, a fashion designer, manipulates fabric, corresponding to the fabric of time. Erika, owner of a pottery studio, not only can mold clay but she can mobilize the  earth in her defense. And so on.

And these are just the heroines. The series has dragons who can fly, dwarfs who can change metal into gold, elves who can dance a man to death, and other creatures.

And don’t forget the bad guys. The Trolleks secrete a chemical substance that directly alters the human brain. They transmit it through touch. This process is termed confounding and it turns people into mind slaves. However, my heroines are resistant to this effect, which is why the Trolleks try to capture Nira. Their chief scientist wants to experiment on her. Do you see how the plot develops from the characters and the setting?

Choose a model for your magical system.

If your universe will be based on fairy tales, myth, or folklore, study these stories to see what elements you wish to incorporate into your world. Take the parts that will enhance your story and build on them. Put together your own system that works in the modern world. Remember to stay within the bounds of these tales. For example, I don’t have fairies in my stories because they don’t appear in Norse myths. Be consistent in the universe you create.

Establish the rules of your universe.

Determine how your world operates and then maintain consistency. If there’s magic, where did it come from? Who wields it? What can weaken it? Does it only work under certain conditions? Let’s say your story dictates that living persons can become zombies. How does this happen? Can they be turned back to normal? Can they die? What kills them? What do they want and why? What energizes them? Do they need sustenance? Once you set your rules, stick with them.

It’s great fun creating your own magical system and incorporating it into the world we know.

How do you blend magic with reality?


All commenters during Nancy’s blog tour will be entered into a drawing for a Warrior Prince tee shirt and magnet and a pdf copy of Warrior Prince. Go to http://bit.ly/9ytdvu for a complete schedule of her tour stops.


Warrior Prince: Book One in the Drift Lords Series by Nancy J. Cohen

When mythologist and Florida resident Nira Larsen accepts a job as tour guide for a mysterious stranger, she's drawn into a nightmare reality where ancient myths come alive and legendary evils seek to destroy her. To survive, she must awaken her dormant powers, but the only person who can help is the man whose touch inflames her passion.

After a dimensional rift in the Bermuda Triangle cracks open and an ancient enemy invades Earth, Zohar—leader of the galactic warriors known as the Drift Lords—summons his troops. He doesn't count on a redheaded spitfire getting in his way and capturing his heart. Nira has the power to defeat the enemy and to enslave Zohar's soul. Can he trust her enough to accomplish his mission, or will she lure him to his doom?

Author Biography
Nancy J. Cohen is a multi-published author who writes romance and mysteries. Her popular Bad Hair Day mystery series features hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Several of these titles have made the IMBA bestseller list, while Nancy’s imaginative sci-fi/paranormal romances have garnered rave reviews and a HOLT Medallion Award. Active in the writing community and a featured speaker at libraries and conferences, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets.
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Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nancy-J-Cohen/112101588804907

Friday, September 21, 2012

Communing with your Muse by Billi Wagner

            I consider myself a work at home Mom. Some people might say the lack of an outside job should give an author more time to write, not less, but they don’t live in the same chaotic environment as I do. I’m sure other writer mamas out there can relate. Job or no job, when you have kids your work day never ends. It isn’t easy juggling parenthood and trying to jumpstart a writing career at the same time.

            The online writing community is vast and I take advantage of many of the wonderfully supportive groups and opportunities available to me, but they deal mostly with the business side of things. This blog is about the creative process itself. I have so many stories begging to be written, but things don’t fall into place if my muse isn’t willing.

When I say my muse I mean the source of my inspiration, but I often think in terms of a real person, the way a child would with an imaginary friend. She’s as high maintenance as any of my children, demanding her share of my time just like they do and when she gets ticked off I get a wicked case of writer’s block.

When I’m blocked I do all the usual things to jumpstart my brain. I switch projects so I can go back later with a fresh perspective. I listen to music, watch movies or read books in the genre I’m trying to write. Anything to get that spark back. We’ve all been there. The writing is so much better when it flows on its own, when the words aren’t forced.

I’m most inspired most by thunderstorms. The sound of thunder and pouring rain accompanied by those flashes of lightning make me feel exhilarated like Dr. Frankenstein about to give life to his creation. I sit down at my computer and I don’t stop writing until I’m totally spent. Unfortunately, I can’t whip up a storm every time I get stuck on a plot point.

So what other option is out there for our weary creative souls? I have so many friends who get writer’s block and stop writing altogether. They say they’ll write again and some of them do, but some don’t. I’ve been there myself and had to think outside the box to remedy the problem.  

I left the kids with their dad for the weekend, bought a pizza for the road and rented a hotel room. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it had everything I needed, specifically a wireless internet connection for my laptop. A little undivided attention for my muse and I accomplished more in one night than I had in the entire month before.

I’ve been back a couple times since then when I really needed to reconnect and I’m looking forward to going again soon. Sometimes the best cure is simply a little me time. Find someone to babysit. Take a vacation day from work. Blow off the cooking and the chores. Do what readers do every time they pick up a book and take a small escape from your life. Commune with your muse. I promise you won’t regret it.
BIO:  Billi Wagner, formerly Billi Pethtel, wanted to grow up and be a published author since she penned her first short story in second grade. A husband and six kids later, that dream hasn’t changed. Her first romantic mystery/comedy novel ‘Painted Jezebel’ is published under the pen name Jolie Pethtel to keep the genre separate from the paranormal projects she is currently writing under her legal name.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Writing Historical Paranormal – Double Your Worlds, Double Your Fun! By Lisa Kessler

Hi everyone –

One of my favorite parts of writing paranormal romance is world building. Setting up rules, societies, etc. and then forcing my characters to live within those parameters.

But my new novella, Night Thief, had the added challenge of being set in 1840 in Paris. It’s a prequel featuring two of my prominent side characters from Night Demon. I knew they had fallen in love in Paris in 1840, but I didn’t realize until I started writing the book that by setting it in a historical period I was actually doubling up my world building!
Like FF&P authors, historical authors also have a “world” with rules already in place based on historical records and research. By placing my paranormal world into the confines of the historical time period, the worlds collide and the result was interesting.

I did have moments of wanting to beat my head into my keyboard when I couldn’t make something work with the actual historical timeline. And I’ve never had to research a book so heavily and this was just a novella! LOL  Instead of making up the shoes they were wearing, I found myself researching show construction in the 1840’s. Simple things like stuffing a dress in a horse’s feed sack became a research mission to discover what the bags would be called. (Hint – I couldn’t use burlap! LOL)

There was also the challenge of weaving in true historical events. Night Thief opens during the huge state funeral for Napoleon after King Philippe negotiated with England for the return of the fallen leader’s body.  I also used other historical events including an Opera opening, one of the art universities in Paris, and an artist from the time period as well.

Although the research added work, in the end, I fell in love with the multi-layered, worlds colliding, historical paranormal. If you’re writing immortals into your paranormal, the historical aspects blend well to give your characters the ageless feel too.
Anne Rice gave me my first love of immortals. (Lestat! *swoon*) She was a master at layering the time period with her paranormal elements. You can find great examples in Interview with a Vampire and also in her lesser known vampire chronicle, Pandora.

As a writer, I really enjoyed the added challenge to keep the paranormal aspects true to the time period. No phones, no cars, phosphorous matches, etc. It’s like getting two worlds for the price of one!
If you’re curious about historical paranormal romance series check out Leanna Renee Heiber, Colleen Gleason, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro just to name a few.

You won’t be sorry!
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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Keeping it Fresh by Alexis Morgan

All books, regardless of genre, require a certain amount of world building to give them depth and richness. The setting in your story should be more than just a backdrop for the action that takes place. Treat your world as another member of the cast of characters. Granted, it doesn’t walk or talk, but it does have a definitely personality.  If that wasn’t true, then it wouldn’t matter if you set your story in Memphis, Mars, or on the moon. 

Even in a straight contemporary or historical, with no other  worldly elements,  it is the author’s responsibility to create a sense of atmosphere that is true to the chosen time period or city. The Regency era is not the same as the Victorian; Seattle is not New York; and a space port definitely isn’t the same as a fantasy world filled with knights and castles.

People from different economic groups talk and act differently. Members of the military think differently than civilians. A new colony in space will face different challenges than one that is well established. A family in a small farming town will react differently to a crisis than someone who lives in a “vertical village,” as someone once described the large apartment building where she lived.

To complicate things even more, world building in a series presents its own set of problems. For any given book in the series, you have three kinds of readers: those who have never read any of the previous books, those who have read all of them, and those who reread all of them before the new one comes out. The tricky part is providing enough detail about the world to satisfy all three types of readers.

I tend to be on the “seat of the pants” end of the spectrum when it comes to writing. Often, it isn’t until someone asks me how I handle something like keeping my world building fresh that I actually step back and analyze how I do handle a particular element in my writing. A few years ago, I was part of a panel discussing the more general topic of how to create/write a series, when someone asked me how I world build in successive books in a series without boring my established readers to death.

After some thought, I realized there are several ways to address the issue of world building, whether for a stand alone book or one that is part of an ongoing series:

1. Look at the world you are creating through the point of view of someone who lives in the heart of it and has the most to lose.

For example, in my Paladin series, what made the heroes different was their ability to come back from death, but only so many times. I opened the book in the point of view of the oldest Paladin struggling back to life, learning to breathe again and hoping he’ll make it all the way back again. Watching over him is the heroine who loves him. She is also the doctor who will have to end his life if he doesn’t make it. Note that they are both insiders in the world in which they live. This drew the reader right to the center of the action from the opening paragraphs.

2. Another option is to have someone who is familiar with the world explaining it to an outsider, one who knows little or nothing about how their secret world functions.

We often see this in paranormal romances. The hero is part of a group that lives under the radar of the human population. He can be a vampire, a shifter, a demon, or an angel. The heroine somehow stumbles across his truth; he saves her from an attack or maybe she saves him. Either way, he is reluctantly forced to reveal the truth of his world to her. I especially like to use this method when something about that world needs to change, but everyone who is already part of it can’t see there are options other than how they’ve always ways done things. Sometimes it takes a newcomer to put important changes into motion. 

3. Another method that works well is to have someone who has a completely different take on the world explain things. 

His view isn’t wrong, simply different.  For example if you’ve created an alien world that the humans are starting to colonize, let the readers see the impact that is having on the planet through the eyes of a member of the native species. Are humans with their technology welcome or does their arrival herald the destruction of the established culture? Do the natives fight back or accept the loss of their heritage?  

4. And finally, you can also explain the world to your readers through the eyes of the villain or antagonist.

 He/she is certainly going to see things differently than the hero and heroine. He could be a part of their same world. Perhaps he’s a vampire who doesn’t want to accept the new strictures about killing humans. He could be a werewolf who is secretly plotting to overthrow the current alpha, because the pack needs to adapt to a changing situation. Or back to that new human colony: maybe the humans have worked out an agreement to peacefully coexist with the native population, but that means leaving a large part of the planet undeveloped and unexplored. The antagonist sees that as unfair restriction on his ability to mine the rich deposits of a mineral that is badly needed on his home planet. He’s not exactly a villain, but he definitely has a different outlook on how his world should function.

I hope this gives you a new set of tools to use when you’re creating the setting for your book and/or series. My advice: pick the person with the most at stake and let him reveal his world to your readers.    
Alexis Morgan Bio:
lexis has always loved reading and now spends her days imagining worlds filled with strong alpha heroes and gutsy heroines. She is the author of over thirty books, novellas, and short stories. Her books include contemporary romances, American West Historicals, Paranormal Romances, and most recently, fantasy romance. Alexis has been nominated for numerous industry awards, including the RITA© from the Romance Writers of America, the top award in the romance genre.
Social Media Links:
Twitter: @Alexis_Morgan

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Top Six Tips I Learned from Studying Harry Potter by S.P. Sipal

I confess.  Over the last ten years, I've had an unhealthy obsession with The Boy Who Lived. I've written editorials, presented workshop at conferences, started my own blog, and even published a Kindle book -- all with the goal of unearthing JK Rowling's secrets.

But what has been a bit on the obsessive compulsive side for me is a good thing for you! You don’t have to pore through all seven books to ferret out Rowling's tricks.

So, here for your amusement or edification, not sure which, are the top six tips I've learned from studying JK Rowling's phenomenally selling series:

6) Quirky Gamekeepers can be Captivating:

Who couldn't love Hagrid?  I mean, what's there not to love about a half-giant who hatches dragons in his fireplace and calls a three-headed monster Fluffy? 

Rowling is universally acknowledged for creating characters readers latch onto.  Fans just can't get enough of them! Which is why they create their own fanfiction and demand more and more details from the author.

So, how does Rowling do this? Her techniques for character development are too numerous to detail here, but one tip is that she created each character with exquisite detail and then gave each one their own quirky flair.

Pomona Sprout always has dirt beneath her fingers.  Sour and sneaky old Filch has an equally sneaky old cat he adores. The twins create candies that make students vomit. Mr. Weasley, who's a Muggle-lover, collects electrical cords.

These rich, interesting details are what make Rowling’s people come so alive to the fans.  Make sure you've fully envisioned your characters, right down to your batty old cat-lady squib neighbor!

5) You've Got to Have a Snape:

And speaking of well-loved characters, there is no character in Potterverse more discussed and dissected than Snape.  Not even Harry.  Harry, the reader knows and understands. Harry, for the most part, was always on the side of right.  But Snape....

Snape was a mystery, an enigma.  And beyond his mystery, he most definitely was a man of ambiguity.  Because the readers could never pin this gray Potions master down for sure, he captivated their attention.

Have you written a character who flits between your dark and light sides, whose backstory will not be fully revealed until the end, who is in every way an ambiguous anti-hero?

Explore the full breadth of your most important themes with a character who inhabits the outer reaches.  After all, a Snape can go where both hero and antagonist fear to tread!

 4) The Dark Lord's in the Detail:

The level of detail with which Rowling creates her world is amazing, and that’s truly one of the great secrets of writing.  Solid details breathe life into your characters and world.

I liken it to pregnancy when women are told to make sure every bite counts because every morsel that goes into your mouth contributes to the health of your growing baby.  In writing, every word you create should provide as powerful an impact on your developing story as possible. Don't just toss words around.

JK Rowling created a character whose leather boots are the size of small dolphins (Hagrid), a family home where a petrified gnome decorated the Christmas tree (courtesy of Fred and George), a plot that hinged on the loyalties of wands (the Elder Wand).  Your own details can be just as fascinating.

If you do your job right, you'll have more details than you can realistically work onto the paper.  The details you choose to insert should be carefully chosen to carry the greatest amount of impact with the least amount of words.  Because, like Voldemort, lack of interesting detail is truly a killer!

3) Be like Dumbledore -- Withhold your backstory until the very end:

J.K. Rowling has said that if you were to put all the multiple drafts of the first chapter of Philosopher's Stone together, you'd have the whole story from the very beginning.  The fact that she got wise and so judiciously cut out all that backstory from the start is a huge reason as to why her novels became the phenomenal success they did.

Donald Maass, the great literary agent, says "Backstory is called backstory because it belongs in the back of the story."  J.K. Rowling intuitively aced this lesson.

What would Harry Potter fandom have been without the search for what actually happened in Godric's Hollow? Who was Snape truly loyal to? And how would Harry defeat the greatest dark wizard who had ever lived?

All these questions were dragged out until the end of the series because they all involved backstory which had been withheld until the reader was dying to know.

Don't dump it all on your first page, your first chapter. Weave in enough backstory to keep your reader from getting confused, but then withhold it until they are begging for the knowledge only you can give.

2) Engage the Reader...like J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling so thoroughly engaged her reader that they brag about how many times they've read each book.  Not only that, her works have birthed several smaller spinoffs: fanfiction, fanart, wizard wrock, theme parks (if you can call that small), and of course, we can't forget the movies.

Why all this action outside her text?  Because in almost every aspect of storytelling JKR gave the reader MORE than they were expecting.  More fascinating characters, more complex plots, more mysteries that threaded throughout the series, more fascinating worlds to explore, more intriguing subtext.  And each one of these categories invited the reader in to explore and interact with the story.  By giving them more, and challenging their abilities, she engaged their interest.

Do whatever you can to make your story interactive and engage your reader's interest, and this starts by giving them more than they are expecting.

1) Above all...Have fun like you're Ron (or the Twins)!

It is evident on every page of each story that JK Rowling was enjoying herself immensely crafting Harry Potter.  She played with her reader from The Boy Who Lived (1st chapter of Philosopher's Stone) until The Flaw in the Plan (final chapter of Deathly Hallows), and they eagerly joined into her game.

I'm sure there were many down times (especially during the lawsuits) for Jo, but the stories stayed exciting and passionate.  Something like that can only come from an author thoroughly immersed in her world and characters.

Why are you writing if you're not having fun?  Enjoy yourself!  Take the time to refill your own well so that you will have the water of life to give back into your stories.  Chose your worlds and your people from an imagination full of stories only you can tell and desire passionately to do so.

Then do it with every skill and trick you possess!

Check out the FF&P Workshop being given by S.P. Sipal this October:  A Writer's Guide to Harry Potter
BIO:   Susan Sipal
Published in fiction and non-fiction through essays, short stories and a novel, Susan has presented multiple workshops, both at home and abroad, to help writers develop their craft as they analyze the mysteries of Harry Potter. She is now thrilled to be an editor with Musa Publishing. As an author, her most recent release is “Running Raw” in Sweeter Than Tea from BelleBooks and has an upcoming story, "Lighting the Sacred Way" appearing in Journeys of Wonder, vol 2, from Fuzzbom Publishing in the fall. She Tweets at @HP4Writers and blogs at Myth, Magic, and Mystery (