Category Archives: On Writing

Blurbing Book 4 of Waterspell

Waterspell Book 4 cover detail

Waterspell Book 4 cover detail

A good day’s work. Got my errands done in town this morning, then drafted a heartfelt Author’s Note for the back of Waterspell Book 4 and tweaked the blurb into something I’m almost happy with. Thoughts are welcome. Does this give too much away?

In the House of Verek, it’s five years later. The waters are troubled. Memories are darkening. If the story is to end “happily ever after” for Carin and Verek, old demons must be laid to rest.
Readers of the Waterspell fantasy series will welcome this long-awaited fourth book for the answers it provides to questions raised in volumes 1 through 3: Does the wysard Verek regain his powers, and will Carin make her way back to him? Have Carin’s parents survived the plague that devastated their world, and will she ever see them again? Did Lanse survive the attack by Carin’s defender? Is Lord Legary really dead? And not least: Did the necromancer die in the jaws of Carin’s conjured dragon? Remember: there was no blood in the water. These questions and more are answered in Waterspell Book 4, which picks up the story of the lovers, Carin and Verek, half a decade after readers saw the pair separated in the closing chapters of the original trilogy.

By the blood of Abraxas, it’s about time we learned what happened next.

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Character Development: Showing Emotions

Once again, and gratefully, I’m sharing excellent writing advice from author Connie J. Jasperson. It’s very timely. I’m about to settle down, first, as a beta reader for a writer-friend’s work-in-progress, and then to make final (I hope) edits to my own WIP, Waterspell Book 4. Connie’s advice on how to show characters’ emotional states will be fresh in my mind as I undertake to help both my friend and myself Do Our Jobs Better.


 

Most authors who have been in writing groups for any length of time become adept at writing emotions on a surface level. We bandage our wounded egos and work at showing our characters’ inner demons. We spend hours writing and rewriting, forcing words into facial expressions. Happiness, anger, spite – all the emotions get a […]

Character Development: Showing Emotions — Life in the Realm of Fantasy

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Character Development: Motivation drives the story

Here’s excellent writing advice from author Connie J. Jasperson. I’m pleased to reblog her post, as follows, and I invite you to follow Connie at conniejjasperson.com.

You have probably heard of the literary rule known as Chekhov’s Gun, which says nothing should appear in the scene that has no use. If a rifle is important enough to be shown hanging on the wall, someone had better fire it, or it should be removed from the setting. Firing Chekhov’s gun brings us […]

Character Development: Motivation drives the story #amwriting — Life in the Realm of Fantasy

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Travel Inspires Writing

In the Before Time (pre-2020 Pandemic) I enjoyed traveling. Recently I had occasion to look through old vacation photos, and I found three that must have served as direct inspiration for pivotal elements in my Waterspell books. Their influence operated subconsciously. I didn’t have the pictures before me when I wrote their imagery into my story. When I came across the photos, however, long after the fact, I instantly recognized all that they had given me.

The Lake of the Lilies

Lily pond at Honey Creek State Natural AreaI snapped this picture at the Honey Creek State Natural Area in the Texas Hill Country, on a tour organized by the Texas Nature Conservancy. The outing was advertised as a wildflower tour, but when we got there our guide apologized for the almost complete absence of wildflowers—the deer had eaten them between the time the tour was arranged and before we arrived. I remember the beauty and wildness of the place, though. This old snapshot does not do justice to the shimmering of sunlight on the pads of the water lilies. Clearly, the vision stayed with me, and inspired the Lake of the Lilies in the woods near Verek’s manor house.

Carin’s Sanctuary Oak

Major Oak photo by Jerzy KociatkiewiczDuring a trip to England, I got to see the Major Oak in the midst of Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire. We soaked up the whole Robin Hood–Sherwood Forest magic of the place. I came home with a beautiful Lincoln Green scarf woven of English wool and sporting an embroidered Robin with his bow drawn. Looking at this picture of the Major Oak, I have no doubt that the tree was the subconscious inspiration for the Sanctuary Oak that saves Carin from the wasteland dogs. The above photo by Jerzy Kociatkiewicz appears at The Treeographer and shows the tree standing alone in the midst of a clearing, just as Carin’s Sanctuary stands. The branching pattern of the Major Oak’s thick limbs suggests how Carin is able to leap into her sanctuary tree to escape the dogs, and how she can sleep that night, though uncomfortably, by lashing herself to one of its thick horizontal branches.

The Mirror Pool

Towertop compass design at a Texas Hill Country state parkFour stone benches ring the well of the wysards in the cavern of enchantment deep beneath Verek’s manor house. The benches are arranged like the four cardinal points of a compass. When I came across this old vacation photo, I gasped in recognition. Look closely, and you can see the ornate E, S, and W directional markers of this stone compass that’s laid into the floor of a watchtower (or observation deck). The letter N for North barely appears at the left edge of the picture. I can’t remember exactly where I took this photo in the Texas Hill Country, but I’m inclined to think it’s either Longhorn Cavern or Inks Lake State Park in Burnet County, next to Inks Lake on the Colorado River. Seen through the lens of my writing, I easily picture the mirror pool replacing that stone mosaic in the center of the floor, with the benches set around the pool at the cardinal points, the directional letters giving way to carvings of key, crescent moon, fish, and radiant sun.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” (Attributed, probably incorrectly, to St. Augustine.)

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Time to Work Out the Plan

Waterspell tagline on sunsetFor a year, I’ve been laying the groundwork:

• New covers, first for the ebooks and now for the paperbacks
• Ongoing work on the audiobooks
• New book trailers, created via Biteable
• Reformatted Facebook author page
• Updated Amazon author page
• Updated Goodreads profile
• Lots of social media graphics newly made at Canva.com

My next steps include looking into the usefulness of these things:

• BookBub
• The Fussy Librarian
• Blog tours
• Goodreads Giveaways
• Amazon advertising
• Written Word Media
• Instagram

I know who I’ll ask for new reviews to augment the glowing reviews that Waterspell received upon the books’ initial publication. The circle I move in, these days, is much changed from the social circle that I knew before my husband’s death in 2012. Now, I number among my friends many anti-fascist activists, folks I got to know after November 2016. Most of them didn’t even know I was a many-times published author; it wasn’t what drew us together. Now, gradually, I’m revealing my past life and enlisting the support of those who are willing to help me recover something of it.

Waterspell Book 1 detail

Am I dreaming, thinking I can relaunch a 10-year-old fantasy series? Possibly. But I’m making final edits to Waterspell Book 4, preparing for a 2022 release. And the audiobooks are slowly coming together, after my wonderfully talented narrator endured a major upheaval in his own world. It took him away from the work for six months—disruptive, yes, but not as damaging to a career as was my own dark, nine-year period of grief and neglect. If nothing else goes too badly wrong, the audiobooks should be released in 2022, along with Book 4.

I’m thinking those two events could be and should be enough to spark new interest in the original trilogy. If I will get out there and promote, dammit. It’s no secret that promotion takes money, and I’m prepared to pay, within reason, for advertising. Here’s what I plan for my first sponsored Facebook post:

waterspell-fb“Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and Charlotte Brontë.” From award-winning author Deborah J. Lightfoot, an unforgettable epic fantasy that readers call “extraordinary, enthralling, completely unpredictable.” Think “Jane Eyre meets a sorcerer.” Coming in 2022, Book 4 of Waterspell will complete the series. Print & ebooks available. Audiobooks in progress. http://www.waterspell.net

Amazon advertising and BookBub being completely new to me, I’ll need to discover how they may or may not fit into the budget. But at least I’ve got a little ready cash to spend on a new promotional push. The 2020 Pandemic Year not only gave me time and opportunity to pursue audiobooks and to write Book 4, it saved me money. I went nowhere and cooked meals at home. Everything I didn’t spend on travel and restaurants is now earmarked for book promotion.

I hope to Drisha this plan of mine will get these four books in front of the readers who will most enjoy them. At this point, it’s readership I want—not fortune so much, just a tiny bit of fame to validate the years I’ve spent obsessing over this story of mine.

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Notes from a ConQuesT 52 Foodie

close up photo of sliced bread on oval wooden plate

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com

I spent much of the 2021 Memorial Day weekend attending (virtually) ConQuesT 52, the annual SF and fantasy convention presented by the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. The many interesting panel discussions included Neurodiversity in Star Trek; Trials and Tribulations of Running an Interstellar Space Station; Being Creative in 2020: Building Community, Visibility, and Audience in a Virtual World; and my personal favorite, “Food in Fantasy.”

That one got me thinking about the many ways in which food comes to the fore in Waterspell, starting with Carin’s near-starvation on her long journey as she’s forced to beg or steal what food she can, but survives mostly on the rabbits she kills and the roots and berries she forages. Then the housekeeper Myra enters Carin’s life, feeding her better than she’s eaten in years. In Myra’s kitchen, around the trestle table, we learn much about the resident warlock and his small household.

Finding, cooking, and eating food provide endless opportunities for character development and story progression. Seeing the warlock throw down a glass of something alcoholic during tense moments, or when he needs time to think, gives us a glimpse of the inner man. Watching the characters gather for a meal, listening to their dinner-table talk, we catch the nuances in their phrasing and read meaning in their pauses. I’m hard-pressed to imagine how the story could have developed without meal breaks providing opportunities for the characters to reveal their hidden sides and crack open one other’s emotional shells from time to time.

Foods and beverages also lend themselves to writing that touches all the senses. Not only “How does it taste?” (tart, sweet, salty, bitter … ) or “How does it smell?” (spicy, burnt, savory, fruity, gamy … ) but “How does it feel in the mouth?” Is it crunchy or creamy, chewy or tender, slimy, sparkling, wet, dry, or maybe still moving? What does it sound like as it cooks over an open fire? Is the pot bubbling, the meat sizzling? What does it look like? Colorful fruits and vegetables, pastries, breads and sauces? Brown gravies and browner meats? Or does the food look as gray as a dungeon’s walls, or as green as a cup of poison? When writing about food, a writer can pull out all the descriptive stops, for it’s a sure bet that food has significance for every reader.

The ConQuesT panelists discussed the close ties between food and culture: how rice may call to mind one cultural tradition, for instance, while potatoes evoke another, and haggis another. The work of Brian Hayden was mentioned, particularly his book The Power of Feasts, which explores the practice of feasting from prehistoric to modern times, revealing patterns and links to other aspects of culture such as food, personal identity, power, and politics.

Speaking of personal identity, the panelists commented on the ways in which foods and beverages can become character hooks: Star Trek’s Captain Picard likes “Tea. Earl Gray. Hot.” Counselor Deanna Troi craves chocolate. My own Waterspell warlock drinks dhera, occasionally to excess.

I enjoyed this year’s virtual ConQuesT and appreciated the chance to attend the panel discussions without needing to travel to KC. To learn more about ConQuesT—Kansas City’s original Science Fiction Convention held annually on Memorial Day Weekend—and the convention’s sponsor, Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, please visit their website. Scroll to the bottom of the page to sign up for their email list. I signed up and look forward to getting more involved. Maybe next year, I’ll be in KC on Memorial Day.

 

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Favorite Quotes #1

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”—Martin Buber

“Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom.” —Phyllis Theroux


“Take the course opposite to custom and you will almost always do well.” —Jean-Jacques Rousseau


“Drift beautifully on the surface and you will die unbeautifully in the depths.” —Richard Ellmann


“The respect of those you respect is worth more than the applause of the multitude.” —Arnold Glasow


“Patience is a minor form of despair disguised as a virtue.” —Ambrose Bierce


“The soul that has no fixed goal loses itself; for as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere.” —Michel de Montaigne


“Anything you’re good at contributes to happiness.” —Bertrand Russell


“Shun idleness. It is a rust that attaches itself to the most brilliant metals.” —Voltaire


“The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out.” —Voltaire


“Stupidity lies in wanting to draw conclusions.” —Gustave Flaubert

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Writing Systems and World Building

The title of The Hobbit, translated. Screenshot from Professor Marc Zender’s “Writing and Civilization: From Ancient Worlds to Modernity.”

Continuing through my collection of Great Courses—sets of DVDs that I rediscovered in my bookshelves after forgetting I owned them—I turn today to Professor Marc Zender’s “Writing and Civilization: From Ancient Worlds to Modernity.”

The course’s overview of writing systems from Sumerian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphs to Mayan and Aztec glyphs is fascinating, as is the discussion of the origins of the Roman alphabet. (Flip a capital A upside down and you’ll see an animal’s head with horns. The name of the letter alpha derives from the Hebrew aleph, meaning “ox.” The shape of the letter derives from an earlier symbol resembling the head of an ox. B started as a picture sign for a house in Egyptian hieroglyphs. In Semitic languages the sign was called beth, meaning “house,” but the Greeks changed the name from beth to beta. And so on through the letter Z, adopted from the Etruscans, who got it from the Phoenicians.)

While it’s all been interesting, the lecture nearest to my heart, as a writer and reader of fantasy, deals with so-called featural scripts, including the invented, fictional alphabets designed for works of fantasy and science fiction. The inventions of J.R.R. Tolkien are standouts in this category.

Professor Zender devotes a satisfying amount of time to Tolkien’s writing systems, pointing out that Tolkien was a professional linguist and a specialist in the history of Germanic languages and scripts, both alphabetic and runic. Quoting from the course guidebook:

“In The Hobbit, first published in 1937, Tolkien used Anglo-Saxon runes as a kind of code for Modern English. Tolkien also invented several writing systems of his own, including the cursive script known as Tengwar or Tîw (meaning ‘letters’) and the angular characters designed for cutting into wood, stone, or metal known as Certar or Cirth (meaning ‘runes’). … He even gave his fictional scripts a fictional inventor, Rúmil. … Tolkien provides charts and full descriptions of his writing systems in appendix E of The Lord of the Rings.”

I confess that, until now, I had barely glanced at Appendix E. After completing this series of lectures, however, I got out my much-loved, much-read 1975 Ballantine Books boxed set of LOTR and took a closer look. The knowledge I gained from Professor Zender about the development of “real” writing systems deepened my appreciation for Tolkien’s achievement in creating his fictional scripts and giving them such deeply thought-out histories.

I’ve not gone so far as to invent an alphabet, but I have imagined several specific words in my fictional language of Ladrehdin. My audiobook narrator is having a field day with them.

Now … Anyone up for learning Quenya? Or Sindarin?

From the slipcase of The Lord of the Rings, 1975 Ballantine Books boxed set.

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Two Kinds of Literature: Quest and Coming of Age

It pays to prowl through one’s bookshelves occasionally. Tucked away on mine, I found four Great Courses (lectures from The Teaching Company) that I’d forgotten I owned. They were still in their shrink-wrap.

Of the four, I gravitated immediately to “The Terror of History: Mystics, Heretics, and Witches in the Western Tradition,” taught by Teofilo F. Ruiz, Ph.D., history professor at UCLA.

Two-thirds of the course (lectures 1 through 13) dealt with Christian mystics and Christian notions of heresy, which mostly left me shaking my head at the horrific damage that organized, institutionalized religion (in all its forms) has inflicted upon human society and hapless individuals, from ancient times to the present day.

By far, the most interesting thing in those opening lectures was a passing reference to “quest literature” and the professor’s comment that there are really only two kinds of literature:

● The Quest — the searching for something
● The Coming of Age — growing up

You might have heard it argued (elsewhere) that there are six core types of stories:

1. Rags to riches – a steady rise from bad to good fortune
2. Riches to rags – a fall from good fortune to bad, a tragedy
3. Icarus – a rise, then a fall in fortune
4. Oedipus – a fall, a rise, then a fall again
5. Cinderella – rise, fall, rise
6. Man in a hole – fall, rise

Smh again. That list seems overly complex and obviously repetitive. I prefer Professor Ruiz’s neatly succinct take on the matter, for it appears to me that the six “types” of stories can all be folded into his two kinds of literature.

All of that business about good and bad fortune falls under the heading of a Quest. Characters go seeking greener pastures or pursuing happiness. They may or may not find what they seek. They may rise, they may fall, they may succeed or fail in their quest.

Just as clearly, Cinderella and Icarus are Coming of Age stories. Cinderella is an archetypal model (now outdated) of female coming-of-age: she found her Prince Charming. On the male side, Icarus is a story of youthful hubris, of a son’s folly in ignoring his wise old father’s instructions, and thus failing to reach manhood.

Perhaps I’m especially drawn to Professor Ruiz’s “two kinds of literature” because my Waterspell series fits perfectly into his view of the matter. Waterspell tells of a quest (the characters travel far, do great deeds, and eventually make their way home). It’s also the story of a young woman’s coming of age, of discovering her inner strength and making a place for herself in a world where she didn’t think she belonged.

So count me on your side of the argument, Professor Teo. There are only two kinds of literature.

 

 

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Touching the Senses: Smell

“Researchers plan library of scents from plague repellents to early tobacco”

In the works: an online encyclopedia of European odors between the 16th and early 20th centuries. What a fabulous resource this will be for writers needing to describe the smell of (for instance) a sorcerer’s library filled with musty old books, or a chatterbag housekeeper’s richly scented kitchen.

“Once you start looking at printed texts published in Europe since 1500 you will find loads of references to smell, from religious scents – like the smell of incense – through to things like tobacco,” said Dr. William Tullett of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, a member of the Odeuropa team and the author of Smell in Eighteenth-Century England.

The first step in the three-year project, which is due to begin in January, will be to develop artificial intelligence to screen historical texts in seven languages for descriptions of odours – and their context – as well as to spot aromatic items within images, such as paintings.

That information will be used to develop an online encyclopaedia of European smells  …

See the full article in The Guardian at https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/nov/17/scents-of-history-study-hopes-to-recreate-smells-of-old-europe

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