BREEDER, by K.B. Hoyle
It quickly becomes clear when reading Breeder, why K.B. Hoyle is an award-winning author. Specifically, Breeder, Book One of The Breeder Cycle, is a Literary Classics and a Readers’ Favorite award winner. From the opening pages, I knew that I was in for a treat. While I don’t read a lot of science fiction or dystopian stories, I can enjoy a well-thought through, well-constructed story in any genre—and Breeder certainly hit all of the marks for me.
K.B. Hoyle introduces readers to an approved Breeder for the Controlled Repopulation Program, who resides at Sanctuary. One of a group of young women that the Unified World Order (UWO) holds because they are of “perfect” genetic background, the breeders’ job is to be “happy” and to provide Contributions—in the form of newborns. Initially identifying only as resident number “Seventeen,” Hoyle’s young protagonist recalls (at the prompting of another) her former name: Pria. Not long thereafter, she finds herself questioning the system in which she lives and spirals into a deep depression. Later, during a visit to the medical unit, she meets Pax. Pax—who should long ago have met his end in that he exhibits physical characteristics that clearly identify him as one who is not of acceptable genetic lineage--convinces Pria that her life is in danger and that she should escape with him. The two manage to leave Sanctuary, then head into the mountains of the territory formerly known as Colorado. There they meet up with a group of renegades intent on bringing the UWO and its lies to an end. But first they need information to which only Pria can provide them access.
Breeder was a quick and very satisfying read. The characters were real, full, and interesting. The setting met the story. The world Hoyle built satisfied this reader’s expectations. To top it all off, Breeder concluded with a satisfying “end.” But even with all of that, this reader is delighted to know that there is more to come, in Criminal: The Breeder Cycle, Volume Two. I look forward to discovering more about Pria, Pax, and all of their newfound friends (and enemies!). If you enjoy YA or are looking for engaging, well-written, “clean” stories for young readers, look no further than Breeder.
This month we Quills wax eloquent about Goodreads. For my part, due to an extended family situation, I will not be participating. However, my fellow Quills would like to share their thoughts with you, so here goes!
First up this time is P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse.
Goodreads. Pinterest. Facebook. Google+. I'm a relative newcomer to cataloguing my reading socially. I saw the option on Facebook years ago, but felt like it was too much work to go through and name all the books I love and like - and then I felt like Facebook itself was too broad - I could detail my favorite books, my favorite movies, my causes, my hobbies - it was all too much, and too invasive!
Only recently (within the past couple of years), did I discover . . .
Find out more.
My good friend, Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, has some thoughts to share. Here goes . . .
When it comes to talking about social cataloguing for books, I think Goodreads is the *800 pound gorilla in the room. Nearly everyone knows what it is and how to use it. Nearly everyone uses it as their go-to option.
It's easy to keep track of my books, including the correct covers and editions if you're particular about that.
I can put all the candy - er, books, onto shelves I can name however I please, thus creating lists of . . .
Find out more!
For my part, I hope things will have settled down a bit by the time we are ready to post for July. Until then, happy reading!
With May’s debut, we Quills come to you once again, this time with our thoughts on our favorite tools for writing.
First up this time, is Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies. What have you for us today, Robin?
There are so incredibly many tools for a writer to use today. (Not like in the Old Days, when it was pen and paper, a set of encyclopedias if you were lucky, and the library!) What a wonderfully rich age we live in!
Find out more.
Next is P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse. What's on your mind today, Parker?
Today our writing group asked about favorite writing tools. I puzzled over the question while I cleaned out my pockets for the day. Old notes, a to-do list, a pen, a tattered emergency twenty, and there--a tiny thumb drive.
That is probably my favorite tool as a writer.
Find out more on Parker's website.
And now, for my thoughts . . .
As I’m sure my fellow Quills have regaled you with their ready wit and humor, I will, for my part, dig in with the mundane. :)
Unlike some authors, I actually can imagine what it would have been like to write a piece of any length before the day of word processing programs, and the ability to find information through the Internet with a few simple keystrokes. You see, I did something of that nature when I wrote a law review article in my second year of law school . . . a while back . . . As I recall, it ran about 60 pages, to which was added another 25 or so in citations. Following the rules set out in The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, every comma, every semicolon, every space, had to be “just so.” (It takes a second book just to figure out how The Bluebook works.)
I recall typing that law review article on a typewriter that had a limited amount of “memory”—likely a couple of pages at a time. I paid a fortune for that thing, as it was quite advanced for its day. Still, for making most changes, I had to engage in good old-fashioned cut-and-paste efforts. That is, I printed the document, and literally cut and re-pieced (taped) things together. Of course, a work of that length needs more than one edit. I don’t recall how many times I had to re-type that article, but I know I wouldn’t want to do that again. Fortunately, it was not long later that word processing became the way of things. Of course, personal computers were still rather young and so, one was ever concerned that all her work might suddenly “disappear.” (Yes, that really did happen—although fortunately, not for me!) Oh, how far we’ve come . . .
Today, the tools at the disposal of we writers are many and varied. Of course, the most obvious for me, is my desktop MAC with its big screen (oh, and I do love it!). Once that is in place, the next tool is the Internet. When I write, I keep one window open to a search engine so that I can look up, in seconds, what in earlier days I may have had to make note of, and then go to a library to research. The issue could be the name for something, a grammar rule, or otherwise. (The power of the tools young people seem to take for granted these days (as they’ve never lived in a world without them), is incredible!)
The next most obvious tool is, of course, a good word processing program. Sometimes I use Word, and sometimes, Scrivener. There are things I quite like about Scrivener, such as the ability to keep notes in the same document, and my character list and research information at my fingertips. Even so, to get the most out of this tool, I should probably go through all of the training once again . . . Unfortunately, that takes time, and time is always hard to come by.
Next come the fine-tuning tools. One of my favorites is Visual Thesaurus at www.VisualThesaurus.com. Access to this service comes at a price—which, fortunately, is quite low. Of course, you can always look up a word or two without a subscription, but as I always keep a window open on my desktop for this, I pay the $20 a year.
I love how, when I put a word into the look-up box, a separate window opens and things “pop” into view, ultimately ending up with something that looks like this pic. Hit any of those words, and you get another window for it.
Interesting, don't you agree?
So, what do you think? What are your favorite writing tools? What tools are you dying to tell me about that I might put into use?
With April, spring truly approaches in my neck of the woods—and I mean that literally, as I live on an island on the Mississippi. I watch the eagles nesting in a small island just off the one on which I live, see the cranes pose (are they doing yoga?) on the distant banks, and enjoy the seagulls as they dance with joy over the now-open water. So as spring has now sprung, we Quills turn our attention to a new topic, namely, “TV Shows We Enjoy.” Our focus is on the types of shows that grab our attention.
Let's hear what P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse, has to say.
I love movies. TV shows. As mentioned, part of that love relates to the communal, shared-story aspect of film. I watch Person of Interest with my wife and Phineas & Ferb and Dinotrux with the boys. I watched Marvel's Netflix collaboration, Daredevil, which was particularly interesting as it featured a blind protagonist with super senses. How intriguingly fortuitous.
But today, since I'm a young adult/middle-grade writer, I'll talk about . . .
Find out more here.
Next up is Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies. What do you think, Robin?
I remember going through a period of time several years ago when I was bored with television. Oh, sure, there were some decent dramas to watch, and maybe few good action programs, but my speculative fiction soul positively yearned for fantasy and science fiction, and the pickin’s were extremely slim.
Read more here.
Finally, here are my thoughts.
I’d guess that it was over a period of about fifteen years that I watched little or nothing in the way of television series, whether dramas or comedies. As a political news junkie, other things held my attention. Moreover, I had young people in the house, and there were so many things I didn’t want them to see and to hear before their time. However, more recently, I thought it would be interesting to catch up on some of the shows I’d missed over the past years. I found that most of those of interest to me came from cable stations and/or are Netflix originals. Aside from the obvious series with the “political bent” (such as House of Cards), three main types have attracted my attention and they all relate in some way to my writing: historical fiction, crimes and mystery, and fantasy/superhero. While I find television considerably more graphic overall, I’ve enjoyed some series, nonetheless.
The first category is historical fiction tales (taking this title in a very broad sense). These stories hold my attention not because I believe they are “accurate” necessarily, but because of the older worlds in which they are set. I really don’t care about the era or geography. Examples include: The Borgias (set in the 16th century following the Borgia family), Peaky Blinders (set in the early 20th century in Birmingham, England) and Rebellion (about the 1916 uprising in Ireland). Although these are very different stories, with each, I took note of how people accomplished things without the advantage of modern technology, how they dressed, and so forth. From time to time, these portrayals give me ideas for my own tales.
The second category is crime and mystery. These tales appeal to a deeper interest of mine. Examples include: The Fall (super, SUPER creepy); Luther (sometimes quite scary!); Low Winter Sun, Gomorrah, and Prison Break. I originally went to law school intending to one day, practice as a criminal prosecutor. So these stories feed that interest. They also help me to see how the parts of an investigation make up the whole, how the trail is followed to the ultimate solving of a crime, and so on. Again, these principles can be helpful for my writing.
Third and last, are the superhero stories. After all, what are superheroes if not “magical” creatures? I particularly enjoyed Arrow (because, honestly, what is not to love about Stephen Amell), Daredevil (I mean, a blind superhero? Really? Parker Broaddus? Get that!), and Gotham (from which I especially enjoy the creepy Penguin). Tales like this give me ideas about magic and about how to put limitations on it that are believable and that help to keep a story interesting. After all, if characters with magic powers were invincible, there would be no story to tell. They would always "win." As that would never do, there must be obstacles. These stores give me ideas for things of that nature.
Notwithstanding my having watched some series over the past couple of years, my first love continues to be: books.
What about you? What shows are your favorites? Which ones would you suggest that I watch?
I would like to introduce you all to Jason and Marina, the proprietors of Polgarus Studio, an Australia based enterprise that offers a wide array of services, including editing and formatting services.
I met Jason and Marina due to some unusual circumstances. You see, I’d been working with someone on the formatting of my books for some time, when suddenly, she went AWOL on me. I’m not kidding. I couldn’t get responses to my messages—much less get my work done. For a time (the first couple of months), there were reasons—reasons I wholeheartedly understood and with which I truly sympathized. However, when weeks turned into months, and the rare response turned into “no response,” I knew I had to take action—and I had to do so quickly! A deadline was approaching . . .
You might wonder what held me back from changing vendors when the issues first started to surface. Well, quite simply, I thought it would be difficult to get across the particulars that I was looking for, to find the files for the graphics I had used in my works to date, and so forth. But what I thought would be my biggest problem turned into no problem at all. Specifically, I didn’t have the latest Word docs for my books, as my prior vendor had not returned them to me after the last changes that were made, and she wouldn’t respond to my requests for them. And so, my hunt for help began.
Fortunately Marina responded within hours, to my initial email inquiry to Polgarus Studios. I had two books to re-format (I wanted to change the font size so as to reduce the overall page numbers, and thereby the prices on my books), and I had one new book to format from my final Word draft. Could Polgarus help me? How quickly could they get the project done? And would I be able to make it in time to get the print copies I needed in order to meet a deadline?
As a consequence of my fabulous experience with Polgarus Studio, I thought it might be interesting to interview Jason and Marina—to find out what they could tell my author friends, my readers, and me, about the formatting business. (Readers may quickly note a few small language and or word spelling differences in their answers, such as the occasional “s” in a word in which we Americans might use a “z.” That is because they are located, as I mentioned, in Australia!)
Hello, Jason and Marina. I am delighted that you are joining me today!
Thank you for having us! We weren’t sure if we would answer everything separately, or combine our answers in the one voice, but eventually decided on the latter. So you’ll never know who you’re talking to while we do this. :)
I know that you offer a variety of services at Polgarus Studios, but I’d like to take a minute to chat about the process of formatting print and e-books.
My first question for you is about the process itself. Tell us non-techno geeks what we are talking about when we discuss formatting services, generally.
Formatting (also known as page layout or typesetting) is the process of taking a finished manuscript, and then turning it into a file that’s ready to publish. It might just be a file that you can send to a printer to get a printed book, or it can be creating an ebook file that a reader can read on their Kindle, phone, iPad, etc.
We do formatting for both print and ebook (as we did for your books :)), so we can help an author publish their book on whatever platform they want to target. We don’t use software to automatically create the ebook files we provide – we work directly in HTML by hand, to clean the files up and remove the chance of unusual glitches causing your book to display strangely.
As soon as I hear or see “HTML” my eyes start to glaze over. It is quick proof to me that I want to leave some jobs to those who are experts at them!
What are your respective duties, Jason and Marina? Also, how many others work with you at Polgarus Studio, and for what purposes?
On the formatting side of things, Marina handles the initial contact with authors who come to us, answering any questions they may, giving them a quote, offering advice if they aren’t sure about something, etc. She also handles the schedule for books once the author decides to go ahead. Finally, she does a lot of formatting, although she does that behind the scenes.
Aside from formatting, Marina runs the editing side of Polgarus Studio. She handles new edit requests that come in (organising quotes and sample edits as needed), and coordinates with our freelance editors (we have six we work with) to schedule the books for editing. She also ensures that books stay on schedule, etc. She calls herself the “Grumpy Admin” and her icon on the Editing Schedule is Grumpy Cat.
Jason spends most of his time formatting, but also handles communications with the authors once their projects go ahead (answering new questions that come up, making changes to formatted files, etc). He also handles the technical side of the business – maintaining the website, running the newsletter, Facebook ads, etc.
We also have four cats (Caerus, Discord, SirPouncealot and Tycho) who all supervise us and make sure we keep things on track. They are our board of CFO’s (Chief Fuzzy Officers). They demand we work hard to ensure they are kept in the manner to which they have become accustomed.
It is always interesting to me how many people “work” with their pets nearby. For me, it is Flynn Rider, an English Cream Golden Retriever. Isn’t he a beauty?
Back to business . . . What have you discovered are the most common difficulties that indie-authors experience, and what are your solutions to those problems?
Aside from finding someone reliable to do their editing and formatting you mean? :)
Two common questions we get asked are “what price should my book be?” and “what page (trim) size should my print book be?” Both are difficult since there is no “correct” answer, but we can offer a few ideas.
With pricing, generally the cheaper the book the more sales you may get. But that is offset by the problem that many readers see cheap books as being low quality. Probably your best guide for general pricing is to look at the best selling self-published authors in the same genre you are writing for, and see what their pricing is like.
If you only have one book (or several unrelated books), sticking close to the pricing of similar books is probably the best option. But once you have multiple books in a series (or even several books in the same genre), you can start experimenting with discounting (or even making free) one book to try and get as many readers as possible. Hopefully many of those readers will then buy your other books.
With page size, the important thing to remember is that your minimum price is based on the page count of your book. So you want to keep the page count of the print book low, while still giving the reader a solid-feeling book so they feel they are getting value for money.
Our general suggestion is to use 5x8 for books less than 50k words, 5.5x8.5 for books between 50k and ~80k, and 6x9 for anything higher. But obviously you should go with whatever size you prefer the feel of.
Great advice! Thank you!
How difficult is it to keep up with “industry standards” and how do you go about doing that? And what if an author wants to defy the norm and fly solo, doing something out of the ordinary—something outside the mainstream? Do you try to talk them out of it? Or do you follow their lead?
Thankfully, the industry as a whole moves fairly slowly, so keeping track of what’s changing is fairly easy. And even when something new does emerge, not many ereaders support it for a long time. So it’s very much a case of watching the changes, but waiting until the new features can actually be relied upon.
If an author wants to do something unusual, we will tell them that what they want to do isn’t usual practice, and/or may not be supported on all ereaders (and offer suggestions for alternatives that are more commonly used). But ultimately it’s our job to give the author the book they want – if they want to do something unusual, we will do it.
Yes, and I’ll bet you have some real horror stories of projects that have been brought to you. Can you share any details of how they came about, and of how you resolved the issues?
Probably the most common horror stories all revolve around books that someone else has formatted to some extent, but they either didn’t get everything correct (so the author is hoping we can fix the problem), or their formatter just stopped working on the book altogether.
The problems we get asked to look at range from simple things (the table of contents doesn’t work, bullet lists have two bullets in them, etc), to very strange (text not displaying properly, strange image behavoir, etc).
Usually we’re able to fix the problems on the existing files, but sometimes the easiest (and quickest and cheapest) solution is to just start again, and do it properly :)
One memorable project was a book we did a few years ago for an author who was later picked up by a major publisher. Her print book was very unique, in that it used almost 100 fonts to represent lots of different people writing in a guestbook (it was an amazing way to write a story, and it’s not surprising she was picked up by the publisher). Obviously we couldn’t use all those fonts in an ebook, but after some experimenting and back-and-forth we managed to come up with a great looking ebook with the few options available, that made it obvious when different people were writing.
It turned into a horror story when the publisher presented her with the ebook version – it just had everything in plain text. It looked horrible, and was a confusing mess. She refused to approve it, and demanded that they use the version we had done. Which was great, except her book had been re-edited, and they no longer had a manuscript we could use to reformat the ebook. So we had to manually make ~1800 changes to the ebook. It took a while :)
Ooh, and I thought the number of changes I had to make was a lot! I’m feeling better now. . .
As you are in Australia, I thought you could tell my American readers (in particular) how you get the information you need to start a project so as to be certain it will meet your client’s needs once done?
We don’t have a strict process we go through to determine everything. We have a (mental) list of things we expect to see in manuscripts to be formatted (eg: common front matter and back matter like a dedication, about the author, etc) that we will ask about if they are missing. (For authors who aren’t sure that they’ve put everything in their book that they should, we have a checklist here that you can refer to.
And obviously it is always easiest for us if the author has an idea ahead of time what they are looking for in layout, so they can tells us what they are after (either by explanation, pictures, or by pointing us to books on Amazon where we can check out the “Look Inside”).
The manuscript is also a good starting point for layout expectations – has the author done anything with how they set things up in the manuscript?
But the single easiest method for determining what the author is after is by asking :) If we’re not sure, we’ll just ask. And it’s always easy to tweak things at any time, so even if the first layout isn’t exactly what they want, we can tweak things until they are happy with it.
Its also important to mention that the formatting with us is a collaborative project. We don’t do what some formatters do and run it through an autoconverter and say “That’s what you get!” The first copy we send you is always going to be a proof for you to review. If you like how that looks, then fantastic! But if you find the proof doesn’t look exactly how you want it then it isn’t the end of the world. We will work with you to make it look how you want it to. This is a lot easier when the author is calm, polite, and will tell us clearly what is wrong and what might make it better. It always works best that way.
What can you tell me that I, with my limited understanding of the process in general, wouldn’t even thing to ask you about?
An assumption we’ve seen in a few authors new to self-publishing is that making a change to their book once they’ve published it means that we have to reformat the entire book again from scratch. Thankfully when you’re self-publishing, that’s not the case at all :) We can easily tweak your files to make the required changes, and you can then upload the new files immediately without any fuss.
Another assumption is that ebooks will look exactly like a print book, and/or what they can do in Word. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Ebooks have a lot more limitations than print, and then you have the problem of not all ereaders supporting things that you might want to do. So it is usually a good idea to keep things simplier in the ebook, to make sure your book looks great for all readers.
(Of course, you can go to town in the print version :) ).
Finally, here’s your chance, Jason and Marina, to tell us a bit more about Polgarus Studio in general. Please be sure to let us know about your website, newsletters, mailing lists and so on.
There’s not really much more to tell :) You can find us at:
(You get a free report – “How To Write A Killer Amazon Author Page,” as a thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.)
We’re always happy to answer any questions you may have, and hope to work with you on future books :)
I have a final note for U.S. based authors. Lest you think that working with an entity in Australia could pose issues, let me put your minds at ease. As to the communications: easy peasy! They are all done by email, and in doing so, you can be certain that you are clear in your instructions. For financial issues: no problem! (Thank you, PayPal, for making this so simple.) Finally, I found that the timing issues actually worked in my favor. When Jason and Marina said that something was scheduled for "Monday," that was pretty much "Sunday" for me. That meant that by my early, EARLY Monday morning, I had materials from them. I reviewed right them away, and sent back my comments. By mid-evening of Monday for me, they were getting their Tuesday started. So, if we needed to communicate in "real time" to resolve some issue, we were able to do so. The best part of all was that I always felt like I was getting things a day earlier than promised! :)
With that I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to Polgarus Studios—not only for saving me from a stressful situation and delivering to me, three books that look fabulous (!), but also for their generosity in sharing this information with us today. Thank you, Jason and Marina! (You really are my super-heroes!)
This month we Quills are sharing about some of our favorite reads. I wonder what Robin and Parker came up with. Read on to find out!
Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, has something for us. Here goes . . .
I so enjoy doing our regular “Books We Love” posts! Do I pull one of the (usually older) books off my library shelves? Or do I choose something (usually newer) from my e-reader? I love revisiting my favorite books—and I love exploring new ones! Decisions, decisions . . .
You’ll be happy to know I made one.
What did Robin choose? Find out here.
P.S. Broaddus is the author of A Hero's Curse.
Today our group is writing about books we love. I had to wrestle with what to recommend. I just finished Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt and the ever phenomenal Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. But today I'm especially excited to get to recommend Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner.
Read on to find out more here.
In truth, posts about “books we love” are a bit difficult for me. This is due to two oddly co-existing—yet seemingly entirely contrary—truths: (1) there are so many I love; and (2) it is so difficult to find one that I love. How is this possible?
There are numerous changes going on in the publication world, which means that one cannot always have a sense of certainty in advance as to whether a book will be worth the time and expense. Still, there is so much out there to read! So, I’m going to step back in time.
In truth, the books that most often stick with me, are those deemed to be classics. I’ve always believed that most of the classics are identified as such for a reason. For me, that reason is that there is something lasting about each of the tales—something that sticks with me. The message that I take away may not be the message the author initially intended, but there you have it! For example:
with Les Miserables, it is the beauty of self-sacrifice;
for Tess of D’ubervilles, it is the bitter result that may come as the consequence of sheer happenstance, when a note intended to be delivered in time, instead slips under a rug, only to be discovered a long time later (and “too late”);
with The Count of Monte Cristo, it is the almost fairytale-like feel of a prison escape and the discovery of a fortune;
with Great Expectations, it is the hatred Miss Havisham holds for men and how she passes that on to an innocent child who suffers as a result;
with Crime and Punishment, it is the darkness of a society and the workings of a man’s conscience;
and with Pride and Prejudice (and for that matter, all Jane Austen tales), it is the inner-workings of interpersonal relationships in closely knit communities of a particular age. Each of these tales left a permanent mark on my memory.
Thus, I’ve decided to go with one of them this time around.
I think I’ve read pretty much all of Edith Wharton’s works. I find her renditions of the peculiarities of high society in the early 20th century, intriguing. One I found particularly compelling was The House of Mirth.
Following “poor-rich” Lily Bart, who had only been taught one thing—how to be beautiful—mesmerized me. When Lily loses both parents and is an orphan without a fortune, she finds herself at the mercies of friends and relatives. Men want something from her, women hate her for her availability and beauty, and she deems it impossible to find a future with her soul mate because they would be without economic resources. Lily experiences advances she feels are violations, and her friends’ rejections. Eventually, she must find work—but with few skills, she does not do well. In the end, the reader may be left wondering: was her death accidental, or a suicide?
Here is an interesting article on the subject: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/21/books/21wharton.html.
Knowing Lily’s story helps me appreciate the changes in our society. I’ve seen many of them—my daughters will benefit significantly from them. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
So, what are your favorite tales?
This time around, we Quills take on the questions: Do we plan our characters in advance? Or in the moment? And how do we keep track of them all, anyway?
First up, is P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse. Here’s what Parker has to say . . .
Characters are great fun. Don't we all have our favorites? Maybe we love their wit, or clueless misadventures--I'm looking at you Bertie Wooster. Sometimes it's a character we relate to: I'm fond of Monk, the tightly wound, obsessive-compulsive detective.
Many of my stories are character driven--which means I'm constantly surrounded by . . . you guessed it . . . characters.
So the question comes up regarding how these personalities come to life. Do I plan them in advance? Do they spring into being in the moment? How do I keep track of them?
Take Essie Brightsday, a young blind girl and the protagonist of A Hero's Curse. How did she get here?
Read more here.
Find Parker's site here.
Thank you, Parker! (I, too, am a BIG Monk fan!)
Now, lets see what Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, has for us this time around . . .
The answers are… Yes. And it depends! (Oops, my questionable sense of humor is showing!)
I tend to flesh out a few key characters briefly, but they grow from that organically. Every now and then random characters stroll into the story uninvited. I am not a fan of those “Get to Know Your Character” worksheets with a bazillion trivial questions, but I occasionally find them helpful when a necessary character refuses to take shape.
I do not have a shortage of inspiration. There are just so many interesting real people and characters from stories and movies from which I can pick little details! For example…
Read more here.
Finally, here are my thoughts . . .
Oh, the fun of writing! When it comes to character creation: there are no rules! Sometimes, a character comes to mind, nearly fully formed. This might happen in particular, for those key parties who engage in the most important activities in a story. But even then, they can surprise me. The character may turn out to be an unexpected whiner, or to have an unusual sense of humor, or to manage success in the face of unexpected odds. Those things tend to happen quite by chance! For example, I have one minor character in my first story who I realized near the end, almost never said anything, although he was present for a goodly portion of the tale. Rather than go back and put words in his mouth, I made that characteristic something about him that others recognized. By the time the third book of the series came around, one of the main protagonists refers to him as “Samuel the Silent,” sharing her “secret childhood moniker” for him. It wasn’t something I planned—it just . . . happened.
Occasionally, I create a character around someone from real life. In truth, that usually happens when I have something to say that might not be so nice to say . . . Oh, the fun of getting to speak my mind through the pages of my fantasy adventures!
With all that, most characters are not quite so central to a story. Often the real fun here is in introducing someone whose presence the story requires, and then waiting to see what he or she does. From time to time, a party will so surprise me, that I have to give him or her a much more important role than I’d originally intended.
All this is to say that for the most part, for me, characters develop as the story progresses. But even then, there are no hard and fast rules . . .
As to keeping track of characters, that’s another matter altogether. Whether I’m writing in a “word” program, or with Scrivener, I keep a constant record of any new character when I introduce the person. If I share physical characteristics, I make note of those. If I name them for a specific purpose, or because the name has a meaning of importance to me, I include that. As things move on, I add notes about the type of weapon the person uses, where the person is from, the names of his/her parents or siblings, or even of the horse the person rode in on (should any of those things come to be shared).
I use my characters lists regularly, to keep the details of my characters true throughout. I also include notes of things I think they will do, or purposes I expect they will serve in the future. And it’s a good thing that I do, too, because sometimes those issues are of extreme importance later—and had I not noted them, I might otherwise have forgotten them!
For example, when I started book three of The Oathtaker Series, (now—finally—with a title, namely, Ephemeral and Fleeting), I was stuck at the very beginning. There was a key issue that I had to resolve before I could even get through the first scene. In fact, I’d known details of that scene for some time. I knew it was unquestionably the way the story had to open—even though I was saddened by what was going to happen. But I had to resolve a central problem in order to complete that scene. I struggled for the answer. Then, when looking back at an old character list, there it was, in bold black and white. I discovered that, years prior, I’d made notes of the answer to the central issue/problem, not only of that opening scene, but of the entire tale. From the second I discovered my old note, it took me all of five months to write the almost 140,000 word tale—the crux of which depended on that note. So, most certainly, I do keep such a list! I cannot imagine writing without one!
How about you? Do you write? What tools do you use for character development?
Happy New Year, everyone! This month, each of us at A Drift of Quills, is interviewing one of our characters. Stick around for all the fun!
First up is P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse.
It’s been a year since A Hero’s Curse made its debut and twelve-year-old Essie Brightsday stepped out from between the pages. To mark the anniversary, I sat down with her to talk about what she thought of being brought to life, what it was like having a talking cat, and where she saw herself in five years.
She laughs at the last question and smoothes the red cloudsilk bandana that’s over her eyes.
E: Well, having a talking cat sounds great, but that’s just because you haven’t been lectured by one.
P.S.: That’s not true. I think cats lecture, whether they speak Lingua Comma or not. It’s just what they do. A lot of readers want to know more about your blindness, about how you interact with it on a daily basis.
E: It’s not really something I think about, you know? I mean...
Find out more here.
Next up, is Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies and her newest release, Blood and Shadow. What have you for us today, Robin?
Let me introduce you to our guest, Bairith Mindar, a principle character in my book Blood and Shadow. He is a nobleman by fate, by birth, and by strength of character. His slight build, angular features, and graceful manner suggest elvish descent. One does not ask such things in polite society. Not straight out…
Bairith confesses that he is a mage, though when asked what spheres he can manipulate he deflects the question with a smile and an elegant gesture…
Find out more from Robin and her guest here.
Finally, here I am, Patricia Reding, coming to you with A Drift of Quills, and on behalf of Scripta Manent Publishing, where “Written Words Remain.” Today I bring you my long anticipated interview with the renowned Lucy Haven of The Oathtaker Series. Lucy, as many of you know, is the oldest living person known in Oosa, having survived the deaths of her two former charges. Of course, she has enjoyed the gift of “continued youth” since she first swore to protect a seventh-born of the Select, and will continue to do so for the remainder of her days.
I caught up with Lucy on her way out of sanctuary, following a Council hearing that the twins, Reigna and Eden, arranged after their return from The Tearless. (That is, following the end of Select: The Oathtaker Series, Volume Two). We’re standing outside the residence hall on sanctuary grounds in the City of Light. I must say, the Oathtakers here in the city are all aflutter with news that the twins have been tested and have found Ehyeh’s favor! So, without further ado, here is Lucy Haven.
PR: Miss Haven, welcome. It is a pleasure to see you.
Lucy: Thank you. It’s always a pleasure to be here. And please, call me "Lucy."
PR: Certainly. Thank you. Well, Lucy, what exciting news about the twins! Yes?
Lucy: Oh, Patricia, you have no idea. I’ve been working for this for . . . many long decades. There were times I thought I’d never see it, but indeed those twins prophesied about, have truly come into their own.
(*Lucy brushes aside her short, curly brown hair. She is truly lovely, with an appearance almost cherubic, you might say.*)
Their birth signs have returned, as have their scents—which are simply glorious! Reigna’s is a lovely combination of orange, violet, iris and jasmine, accompanied by cedar, sandal and oakmoss. Not to be outdone, Eden’s fragrance is reminiscent of jasmine, bergamot and orange, with hints of warm musk. Just standing in the same room with one of them . . . Well, words cannot describe.
PR: It’s all so exciting to hear. But, Lucy, it is your plans that our followers most want to know about at this time. So, do tell, will you be staying in the city?
Lucy: Actually, no. The twins want to head to the palace of the Select in Shimeron. Fortunately, Basha and Therese stopped by there recently. I understand the place was in a shambles. Anyway, they cleaned and re-arranged some things, in anticipation of Reigna and Eden’s return to their ancestral home. So now, the girls, Mara, Dixon, and a host of additional Oathtakers and Select will set off with a caravan. I will, of course, accompany them. I expect we’ll be on our way within days. (*Lucy sighs, heavily.*) In truth, I’m not looking forward to the traveling, but some things can’t be helped.
PR: How long has it been since you’ve been to Shimeron?
Lucy: Oh, goodness, it’s been . . . (*Lucy pauses, thinking.*) Well, I haven’t stopped there since some years before Rowena left there, pregnant with the twins. So, for sure it has been more than two decades, anyway.
PR: Rumor has it that there were some disagreements during the Council meeting that you just left.
Lucy: Well, yes, that’s true. But you know, the more I think on what Reigna and Eden had to say, the more certain I am that they were right. (*Lucy’s blue eyes flicker.*) You see, I had thought it necessary to hold someone accountable for the fact that they were left for a time without protection. Of course, Mara could hardly be faulted for her situation . . . (*Lucy shakes her head.*) But Dixon . . . Well, in truth—and in retrospect—I guess I can appreciate why he acted as he did. In the end, the twins, as they pointed out, had to go through the trials they experienced. Without them, they might never have found Ehyeh’s favor. (*She flashes a wan smile.*)
PR: Understood. So, Lucy, with this threat from Chiran facing Oosa at the moment, I expect you’ll be caught up in preparing a response.
Lucy: (*Lucy looks away—almost as though she’s unable to meet my gaze.*) Ahhh, yes, that’s right.
PR: Well, I have confidence in the twins and the Oathtakers. I’m sure you all will beat back the Chiranian threat.
Lucy: If we do not, I hesitate to think of the dark days to come. (*Lucy shudders.*)
PR: So, on a brighter note, our followers really want to know—where do you see yourself in five years?
(*Lucy’s eyes flash my way. Her jaw sets. Then, she shakes her head, bites her lip. Finally, she looks down. I wonder, is she hiding something?*)
Lucy: Now, that’s a difficult question to answer, Patricia. You see, Ehyeh has informed me of things to come and . . . (*She swallows hard.*) Suffice it to say, I am destined to experience significant changes in the near future.
PR: Anything you’d care to share? I’m sure our audience would love to know the details.
Lucy: Well, of course, I must discuss this all with the twins and Mara first. So, no, I’m sorry to say, I’m not at liberty to discuss the details at this time.
PR: No hint, even?
Lucy: (*Following a long, silent pause.*) Let’s just say that my current goal is to help prepare the twins and the Oathtaker troops for the battle to come. I want them able to act in the event I’m . . . (*She swallows hard.*) In the event I’m . . . unable. So, I’m sorry, but really, I can't say more and I must be running now.
PR: Certainly, Lucy. Thank you so much for your time.
PR: Well, there you have it, followers—Lucy Haven on the latest news. She’s been a mighty force in Oosa for the longest time. Still, I can’t help but get the impression that she’s concerned for her immediate future. What did you think? Hopefully, we’ll get some answers in Volume Three of The Oathtaker Series, which I understand is scheduled for release sometime in the first quarter of 2017.
Until next time, then, may Ehyeh bless you all. Thank you for stopping by today!
We are delighted to bring you this opportunity to be a winner this holiday season! See my home page for details.
What fun! With November upon us, as the landscape turns a bit . . . bleak, and as it seems to give off somewhat “maudlin” vibes, we Quills have taken up the subject “PICTURE THIS!” Each of us will share a picture or two of something that represents a person, place, or thing, from one or more of our stories.
First up, is Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies. What have you got for us today, Robin?
Making up worlds is one of the best things about writing in the fantasy genre. It’s also hard work! There’s a lot of space for the fantasy author to let their imagination run wild, but we also need to tether our settings to a reality the average reader can relate to.
My short story, The High Roads, opens in the woods as night approaches . . .
Read more here.
P.S. Broads, author of A Hero's Curse, has some things to share with us. What say you, Parker?
Long have images stirred my imagination. I recall flipping through dusty old classics looking for illustrations. I would sit and stare at the The Chronicles of Narnia, or histories on Greek myth, entranced by the sketches within.
But images do more than keep me flipping through my tattered copy of Treasure Island--are what start the whole story for me. C.S. Lewis talked about the same. When discussing how he came to write the books of Narnia, he wrote that they “all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.” My own storytelling is similar. I write from images in my head. For me it was the picture of a young blind girl standing in the desert, listening to a long awaited storm rolling in . . .
For more, click here.
Now, for my thoughts . . .
The Oathtaker Series is set in a medieval sort of time. Of course, as it is a fantasy, it does not correlate to any actual historical age in our world. Thus, as the author, I had the pleasure of making it exactly what I wanted to be. With a fantasy, the author chooses all of the details of that world in which the tale is set. So, that world is what the author says it is—nothing more, and nothing less. There are no rights or wrongs when it comes to what technology might be available, how people dress, what they eat—or even, the language they use, or the way they speak. (Few of us could read the languages actually spoken in our world during the medieval period anyway, so why pretend to write in a manner exactly representative of those days?) Consequently, “medieval” is not an altogether apt description of Oosa, the land of the Oathtakers and Select.
I’ve decided to share pictures of a couple of buildings from my tales. While I, of course, cannot find an exact picture of any of them, here is a description of the wayfarers’ hut in which the twins, Reigna and Eden, are born, from the opening chapter of Oathtaker: The Oathtaker Series, Volume One:
"The wayfarers’ hut stood at a distance of about twenty long strides. Branches of the great oak in which she sat reached out and over the hut, which was old and nearly hidden among the surrounding brush and trees.
Something over ten-foot square and about as high, the building sported a dilapidated exterior. Its lower walls were made of mottled red-brown river rock packed together with clay from the nearby riverbed. Moss covered, it had begun to decay from a combination of age, weather, and neglect. Ivy surrounded the structure, holding to it tenaciously, as though it intentionally, maliciously, pursued the building’s demise.
The hut had no windows, only a small opening near the roof that served to allow smoke and heat an escape, and a single low door, rounded at the top, likely barred from the inside. Though wayfarers traditionally used such huts in days past, few of the cabins remained standing. This one had withstood the test of time—if only barely."
This picture is of something close to the hut. It is not of red-brown river rock, and is missing the rounded door, but it has the right “flavor.”
By contrast, the sanctuaries in Oathtaker, are grand buildings. Here, readers learn, the Select and their Oathtakers study, train, worship, and fellowship with one another. Here is the bit of a description from when Mara and Dixon are traveling to Polesk, when she gets her first glimpse of the city from a distance:
"Mara looked out at the largest city she’d ever seen. People on horseback and traveling in carriages moved through, giving life to the surroundings like blood through arteries. Houses at the fringes sported small vegetable gardens where scratching chickens milled about. Farther in were larger buildings. Each seemed to rise higher than the one before, as though in a silent contest to determine which was the tallest. In the city’s center stood the largest and highest of them all.
'Sanctuary,' he said, following her gaze and answering her unasked question.
'It’s huge!' Even from this distance, she could make out its grounds, like a park in the midst of which, sanctuary stood like a beacon to all who sought refuge from worldly cares. Made of white brick, it sported a towering spire that rose up, and up, and up into the air."
Of course, the picture shows a cross at the top of the steeple, which would not be there, but the picture also shows something of a round globe which would be correct. In any case, again, you get the idea!
It would be fun to see what you pictured when you read these portions. Please, do share with me!
Stay tuned for our next Quills post!