21 Things Writing Taught Me


1. Around one-quarter of the way into any new venture, something really bad will happen.
2. Just about one-quarter of the way from the ending, things will come to a climax; sometimes things get quite bloody during this time.
3. The hero sometimes loses.
4. “Good” and “evil” isn’t always black and white. Understanding the grays are what provide insight, and even compromise or reconciliation.
5. My feminine side is a lesbian.
6. If you magically change a person from one race to another, it affects their personality about as much as if you change their name. Often, the only change is to their appearance.
7. If you never listen when people speak, you’ll never be able to speak well enough to make them listen.
8. Laughter is, in fact, the best medicine.
9. Life is more fun when it’s a little scary, and just a bit unpredictable.
10. If you haven’t defined what a happy ending means, you’re not likely to write one.
11. Always write the ending before you write the beginning.
12. Plans are guides, not prisons. It’s okay to deviate from them. But winging-it requires a lot of clean-up work later.
13. Every time you fail, you should demonstrate some way in which that failure made you grow. Otherwise, the whole adventure seems a waste of time.
14. If you shut up sometimes, you’ll be amazed by the voices you can hear.
15. You have more imagination than you thought you did.
16. It is harder to say little and be meaningful, than to say a lot, and be pointless.
17. The most interesting characters you meet have a back story. If you are patient, they will share it with you.
18. Not everyone you meet matters. What’s important is that you can tell which ones do.
19. Even your best work needs a friendly critique. If you leave without knowing what is good about what you’ve done, it’s not friendly, and it wasn’t a critique. Find someone else.
20. Sometimes it’s easier to throw it all out, and start fresh. That’s not quitting, that’s renewal.
21. It will all work out in the end.

NaNoWriMo Vs. The 800-Pound Gorilla

What gives me hope as a writer is the same thing that saddens me. Every so often, especially around Nanowrimo time, I write or blog that the really hard work comes after you’ve finished the book. I also suggest that writers swim against the tide of people who say “just finish” by adding crap to your work. My belief is that will only make the revision process harder, and increase the likelihood that you will become discouraged and quit.

And every time I write that, I get shouted down, by people who have never gotten published. At least a few stop following me on whatever medium I’ve posted it on. Now, like this post, I do so in part to identify those people and weed them out of my life. Writing is not a sprint, it is a marathon. And, like real marathoners, I understand my journey will take a lot of preparation and a great deal of support. Having people whose attention span for writing can be measured in months is, sadly, not support.

It is an excellent idea to have a Nano. In the last two years, I’ve gotten 3 first drafts out of it. But I think we need to think of books as ideas, not products. If we want to be published, those ideas will certainly change. If we want to be read after it is published, it will almost certainly change in at least one dramatic way. If it does not, you will hear it from the readers.

So, I’m shouting into the wind, once again. I am not speaking to writing hobbyists. For you, writing 50,000 words in a month is a significant achievement. It isn’t easy: it takes discipline to average 1,667 words per day for 30 days. It takes creativity, and teaches you to open doors to your personality you probably didn’t know were there.

My 1st Nano changed me, for good. While I had always been “creative” – photography, sketching, cartooning, poetry – I never considered myself imaginative. I couldn’t create ideas, but I could expound on them. After grunting out my 1st 60,000 words in November 2009; however, I had a catharsis. It got easier. I wrote another 60,000 in December and 50,000 in January 2010. The last 50,000 was significantly better and more imaginative than the 1st 60K. I did it again last year, and that writing blew 2009 out of the water in terms of imagination.

But it wasn’t only that. I’m more emotional, more sensitive, more expressive than I was two years ago. Yay for me, right?

Well, except for one thing. I spent two years re-writing what I wrote in 2009 because I had filled it with crap. It wasn’t bad writing, it was good writing that did not fit my book. In November 2010, I decided to forgo worrying about an artificial goal, and just allow myself to write well. I wrote, often in the dark, always with music, sometimes with my eyes closed. I knew the story I wanted to write, so I didn’t worry about word count. I simply closed my eyes, and let the story out.

And I wrote more words than ever before, in a story that was much better crafted. You see, in the interim two years, I also read a lot of books on how to craft a story. You don’t need to write crap to be prolific. You don’t need to just poop out something no one will read in order to “just get it out.” Rather, you only need to learn to relax, trust in yourself and your story, and get the hell out of your own way.

That lesson will benefit you in every endeavor in your life.

So what’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room?

It’s just as hard to write 1,667 crappy words per day than it is to write 1,667 good ones. And 10 great words, in a well-structured thought, will do more for your writing career than 10,000 mediocre ones. The 800-pound gorilla is that if you want a writing career, you don’t need to learn how to write, you need to write well. That does take practice. Evidence suggests most expertise takes 10,000 hours (around 5 years, full-time) to attain. So if you are just doing Nano as a writing exercise, screw the novel. Write 5-10 pretty good short stories in a month. It’s your prize, and your career, change the rules. If you have never been able to get out of your own way, then by all means, Write Anything. But do it Every Day. It will come.

If however, you want a career as a novelist, as some do, try to learn to write well. Sacrifice that last 20,000 words to add reading a good book on writing and story structure to your repertoire. Make National Novel Writing Month about learning the write the next great novel. You will be glad you did when it comes time to make that 5th revision down the road.

“Just getting it out” will leave a bloody mess that somebody has to clean up later. Don’t be surprised if you decide it shouldn’t be you.

Interview with Mark David Gerson

Today’s Fiction Friday interview is with author, screenwriter, and lecturer Mark David Gerson. Welcome, Mark David!

This Blog Blank: It’s hard to pigeon-hole you with just one label. You’re author, motivational speaker, screenwriter, mentor, photographer. … How do you see yourself? Is one of these titles more “you” than another?

Mark David Gerson: I’m so glad you’re finding it hard to pigeon-hole me. I hate being slotted into categories and file folders! Seriously, whatever else I have done in my life, it all and always seems to come back to writing. As for the form (author v. screenwriter), I’m not sure that matters so much as the storytelling aspect of the enterprise.

In fact, now that I think about it as I write this (I do some of my best thinking while writing!), perhaps “storyteller” is the common factor in each of those labels. The bottom line is, whether I’m writing, speaking, coaching, mentoring, drawing or photographing, what I’m really doing is telling stories. From that perspective, the death of storytelling that figures so prominently in my novel The MoonQuest takes on an even more significant and personal dimension.

 

TBB: For those who haven’t yet read The MoonQuest, can you tell us a little about the story?

MDG: Imagine a land where storytelling is banned, where storytellers have been put to death, where dreams and visions are outlawed, where imagination has been stripped from the land and its people. This is the Q’ntana of The MoonQuest, a land where, as Toshar, the main character, puts it, “‘once upon a time’ is a forbidden phrase and fact is the only legal tender.”

In this land, legend has it, the moon has been so saddened by the silence and tyranny, that she has cried tears that have extinguished her light. As a result, the moon has not been seen for many generations.

The MoonQuest, then, is the journey undertaken by a reluctant Toshar and his three companions to restore story and vision to the land and to rekindle the light of the moon.

 

TBB: The MoonQuest has won awards and accolades. Now, I see it is a trilogy, which can be both exciting and challenging. How do you balance ensuring you have new stories to tell, with keeping the tone and quality of the original book?

Yes, The MoonQuest has won five awards, including an Independent Publishers Award Gold Medal IPPY and a New Mexico Book Award. And while no one writes for the awards, they are still wonderfully gratifying and validating.

Fortunately, that balance you asked about is not part of my job description. My job is to listen for the stories that already exist in the airwaves through which my Muse broadcasts and then to put them into words to the best of my imperfect ability. Or put another way, my job is to write the book my story wants written — the way it wants it written.

While I knew from the outset that The MoonQuest would launch a trilogy, and even knew the titles of the sequels early on, I had no idea what The StarQuest and The SunQuest would be about or how they would work with The MoonQuest story. Now that I have written several drafts of The StarQuest book and have completed screenplay versions of both — in other words, now that I finally know the story! — I’m amazed and in awe. My mind could never have worked those puzzle pieces together on its own. Which is why, when it comes to writing, my credos are “the story is smarter than I am” and “the story knows best”!

 

TBB: Can you tell us about your venture into screenwriting and filmmaking? How was the transition from book to film?

MDG: I’m finding the whole process of working with the same story in two forms (novel and screenplay) fascinating and illuminating.

I wrote the first draft of The MoonQuest novel in the third person. But all subsequent drafts, as well as The StarQuest novel, are in the first person. Writing screenplay adaptations offers me the rare privilege of telling the same story twice, each from a different point of view: first person in the novel, third person in the screenplay.

As well, each version has fed the others. I wrote the first draft of The MoonQuest screenplay when I thought I already had a completed, publication-ready draft of the novel. But some of the changes I made in the story for the screenplay were so compelling that I went back and retrofitted them into the manuscript. I’ve had similar experiences going back and forth between the The StarQuest novel manuscript and screenplay.

I had never adapted a novel for film when I began The MoonQuest script, let alone tackled any kind of screenplay. And although I read some great books and received some terrific and inspiring instruction at The Screenwriters Conference in Santa Fe (where I was, a few years later, gratifyingly back as an instructor), I approached the adaptation the way I approach all my writing: by trusting that the story itself would guide me. Which it did…well enough that a production company is seeking to produce my screenplay.

 

TBB: You must be pretty busy with all your interests. How do you balance your time?

MDG: I take the same intuitive approach to my life as I do to my writing. While other coaches and instructors recommend applying a regular routine to creative production, that never works for me for very long. Rather, I remain as in-the-moment as I can and follow wherever the inspiration leads me — in my life as well as in my writing. That way of living and writing is both exhilarating and, at times, terrifying. But it does keep things in an organic balance!

TBB: In your book, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, you have a chapter entitled, “Thirteen Rules for Birthing Your Book.” I won’t list them all here, because folks need to buy the book. My favorite is “Your book is older than you think.” Can you expound on that a little here?

MDG: My point with this so-called rule (“so-called” because my Rule #1 for everything is that, truly, there are none!) is a version of what I said here earlier, that our stories exist in the airwaves around us. More often than not, they’ve been hovering there for a long time, patiently waiting for us first to take notice, then to take action…“to allow the ideas of your heart,” as I put it in The Voice of the Muse “to find expression through your mind.” That allowing is important. As I suggested in answer to your previous question, creation (like life) is not about forcing things to happen. Creation is about listening for those timeless stories and then letting them sift through us onto the page. Like the God of Genesis, our job is to let creation happen.

 

 

TBB: I love to ask writers this one. What book(s) do you wish you’d written? Why?

MDG: I could say that I wish I had already written and completed The StarQuest and The SunQuest! Then, like Toshar in The MoonQuest, I would be free to “move on to other realms, set off on other journeys.” Seriously, though, that’s a question I’ve never considered. And while there are many, many authors I admire and many, many books I have loved over the years, I’m not sure that there any I wish I’d written, because that would mean I would have to have been someone other than myself with a voice other than my own to have accomplished it. With that disclaimer out of the way, the one book — or series of books — that leaps to mind are the Narnia books, probably for their engaging blend of adventure and subtle spirituality.

 

TBB: For those of us with very shy muses, how would you suggest we coax ours to cooperate more readily?

MDG: You may not like this answer… Muses are never shy. It’s writers who are deaf or, rather, choose not to listen. Muses are never uncooperative. It’s writers who refuse to cooperate. Muses never hold back. Writers hold back all the time!

In those moments when you believe your Muse is not working with you, it’s important to look within. What are we not willing to hear? Which story are we refusing to write? What are we reluctant to face within ourselves that would emerge in a story we are doing our best to ignore? Which belief or way of life is our Muse challenging? Where are we not surrendering unconditionally to our Muse, and to the story it has for us?

Answer those questions, move forward in your writing from those answers, and I’m fairly certain you’ll never encounter a shy, uncooperative Muse again!

 

TBB: Being a photographer as well as a writer, I take a lot of inspiration from photographs. In effect, the camera is my muse. How did you create the world in The Q’ntana Trilogy?

MDG: I’m not sure I can answer the question, for reasons that may have already become apparent from my previous answers. I didn’t consciously create the Q’ntana worlds. I allowed them to spill through me onto the page. I didn’t plan, plot or prepare. I simply wrote and the worlds created themselves through the words that found their way through me.

In fact, I had no plans to write a MoonQuest, nor did I have a conscious desire to write a fantasy novel, let alone a trilogy. The MoonQuest birthed itself during a writing workshop I was facilitating when, in an unprecedented in-the-moment inspiration, I did the same exercise I had presented to participants. What I wrote that evening became the opening scene of the first draft of a novel I knew nothing about. From there, I just kept writing, discovering the story as I went along, until I was done. The StarQuest and SunQuest stories emerged similarly. (I wrote about that magical MoonQuest experience on my blog — http://markdavidgersonblog.com/2010/11/birth-of-book.html)

 

TBB: What do you like most about your work? What do you want people to take from it?

MDG: In The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, I encourage readers to abandon control, because trying to control the creative process is, at worst, a sure ticket to writer’s block. At best, it produces unimaginative, formulaic results. The same applies in our lives. The more control and rigidity we apply, the fewer miracles we experience.

I love that my work is about inspiring people to open to that kind of freedom, the freedom to live and create from the deepest heart of our being, the freedom to be in the moment — in our lives as much as in our creativity. For isn’t life the ultimate creative act?

If you take one thing from my work, I would hope it would be to see the possibility of that freedom and to discover some first steps toward achieving it.

 

TBB: You are granted one wish, and are allowed to choose any writer, living or dead, as your mentor? Whom do you choose?

MDG: I’d probably choose Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time. I didn’t discover A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels until I was an adult, when I also discovered, through her nonfiction writings, L’Engle’s deep spirituality, one that informed her creativity and her life. While L’Engle’s spirituality found its expression through the Episcopal Church and mine is largely unstructured, she was a profound influence on my writing and my life. In a sense, she already was a mentor without knowing it. Now, if she were still alive, I’d just like to thank her for that.

 

TBB: How can they find your work?

MDG: Both The MoonQuest: A True Fantasy  and The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write are available on my website (www.markdavidgerson.com/onlinebookstore.html), as is my CD recording, The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers. You’ll also find excerpts from all three on my site (www.markdavidgerson.com). By the way, a bonus of ordering from my website is that I can sign the books, which I’m happy to do, for those who are interested.

Hard copy versions of both books are also available on http://www.amazon.com/  and http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ .

You’ll find ebook versions of The MoonQuest and The Voice of the Muse for Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks, and a downloadable version of The Voice of the Muse Companion either on CD Baby (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/markdavidgerson) or through the music store on The Voice of the Muse’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/calltowrite). 

Finally, you can find/contact me through my website (www.markdavidgerson.com) and blog (www.markdavidgersonblog.com) and through Facebook (www.facebook.com/markdavidgerson) and Google+ (www.gplus.to/markdavidgerson).

#WriterWednesday Interview with Maggie Secara

AUTHOR INTERVIEW – Maggie Secara

Today’s #WriterWednesday interview is with author Maggie Secara. Welcome, Maggie.

This Blog Blank: So, we may as well get the good stuff out first. Can you tell us about your latest work?

Maggie Secara: Oh gosh, well, Molly September (Popinjay Press, June 2011) is the first novel I ever finished. And finished again. And started over from the top and did it again. At least one — possibly two — more times. Yes, it’s actually the book I started in college. So while it’s technically my latest work, it’s also my first.  It’s set in 1674, and it’s tons of fun. A nice fat paperback (or e-book) you can’t just skim through in a day, Molly is romantic, intense, and even funny; an adventure, a pirate movie, a love story and a buddy film, all wrapped up in a mystery. What really happened to Molly’s father? Dick Prentiss knows, and he’ll do almost anything to keep her from finding out.

TBB: When I fall in love with a book, invariably it’s when I can get lost in the descriptions – when it becomes real – sound, image, etc. Other people I know skip the descriptions and go straight to the dialogue. As writers, we are fortunate in being able to get lost in worlds we create. What causes you to get lost when you are writing a book?

I started out as a poet, and have spent a lot of time with musicians and actors. In other words, it’s the words themselves. There’s music in a balanced sentence, in the way the words bounce off each other, when I know I’ve chosen the right ones, whether it’s the sensory details of description, or the back-and-forth zip of a conversation; the hero’s awareness of the weight of the sword in his hand or the giddy realization that he’s in love. When I’m reading, those are the things that turn me on. Those are the lines I stop and read out to my deeply patient husband, or even to myself just for the feel of the words in my mouth.

Of course, then I have to get over it and remember there’s a story going on here.  The words may sing and dance, but are they doing what they’re supposed to? If I have to cut them away and put them in a box, I will. The reader may never know, but I will.

 

TBB: As a reader, I am very much character-driven. What do you do in order to make your characters interesting to readers?

Plot is why we pick up a book, but characters are why we read it. They need to be 3-dimensional, of course. They absolutely must have a back story, even if it’s never completely revealed. But I think what makes a character interesting is the little, often secret things that even their friends would be surprised to know: a man with a desperately disordered life keeps a book of John Donne’s most complex poetry by his bedside; a perfectly sensible woman struggling to manage on her own keeps a sketch book in her purse and a hidden talent for details in her head. Those are the things I often don’t see myself until the character comes up and says hey! Look at this! In some cases, those details may be critical to the story, in others, they’re more or less incidental. Either way, those are things that set one blue-eyed hero apart from another, and helps to make him real. If I don’t believe in the people, I probably won’t buy any of the rest.

TBB: What led you toward writing historical fiction?

I suspect it was movies! I grew up watching old movies on TV with my mom, and her bright-eyed heroes and heroines became mine: Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., William Powell, Maureen O’Hara, Janet Leigh. With my dad, I learned more than I ever meant to about both world wars watching The Twentieth Century with Walter Cronkite

In college, I majored in English because there was no way to specialize in British history, and literature always comes with a context, so my passion for English history was fed continuously. Shortly after that, I got deeply involved with the Living History Center, the founding organization of the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire. The organizers pushed for a kind of authenticity you don’t often see in the Ren Fest world, which pushed me into a life-long study of Elizabethan times. Writing historical fiction gives me a place to put all that knowledge, and make it about people who are like us, but not entirely like us at all.

But mostly there’s the simple fact that I never feel like I actually know my own world as well as I do big chunks of the past. A simple contemporary novel? Wouldn’t know where to start.

TBB: A lot of writers speak of their muse. What inspires your writing?

I usually speak of my so-called muse as a bleached blond tramp who’s clearly sucking up drinks with little umbrellas in them on the beach in Aruba. I even wrote a poem about her, once, that says as much.  Really, though, I don’t entirely know what inspires the writing. Sometimes it’s a question, like: What if my friend Jack, who’s a college professor, had to solve a mystery? Or a line from a poem: There are fairies at the bottom of my garden. Once the writing starts, it comes very fast, and I don’t think about where it comes from.

What inspires me while I’m writing is quite different. During the last the very last I swear to god I’m not doing this again last draft of Molly September, it was music. If it weren’t for James Newton Howard, Howard Shore, and The Musicians of Swann Alley, I don’t know where I’d be.

TBB: Name something you wish you’d written. Why?

Almost anything by Lindsey Davis. Not only is Marcus Didius Falco a terrific, believable character, but when he takes you through the streets of 1st Century Rome—when you tear around the corner into the Forum and up the steps into the temple of Saturn, you feel like she’s been there. Like she really knows. That’s a skill I admire and strive for. I get the same kind of feeling from her characters.  Even when the story isn’t one of my favorites, Falco and Helena make me glad I spent the time with them.

TBB: What do you like most about your writing? What do you want people to take from it?

I think I give great dialog. I think my male characters sound like actual men, not like a TV punch line, and have their own individual voices as well as the women do.  I’m very pleased that the historical detail including clothes, attitudes, and what they had for dinner, are well researched but not a distraction. Over all, I hope people will get the same feeling from a novel of mine as I do from Lindsey Davis: that these people and places are real, and the story is over too soon.

TBB: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Early on.  I loved to read. I think I used the school library more than anyone else in my whole school. And I wrote well. I’m the one people automatically expected to write up an event or the script for a 5th grade film project. And then in junior high, I tried to write a “novel” for the first time. Oh lord, it was so horrid, and I was so pleased with it! (I’ll spare you any further description.) But I knew for sure, that this was what I was meant to do.  When they asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, “I’m a writer, you know,” I’d say. Now I just say, “Well you know, I’ve always been a writer.”

TBB: I imagine, that like a lot of writers, you’ve been reading most of your life. What changes have you seen in fiction that move you, or anger you?

It seems like when I was a kid, most of the historicals I read just sounded different.  I hope I’m not just inventing Great Age of Historical Novels or something, but the overall quality of the prose was just more— consistent. Writers like Taylor Caldwell, Anya Seton, Thomas B. Costain, Rosemary Sutcliff , and Dorothy Dunnett did something I just don’t see so much any more, and have a hard time explaining. They set a tone at the very beginning, consistent with the time and place of the story, then they stuck to it. They adopted a narrative diction appropriate to their vision of ancient Greece, medieval England, or Roman Britain that made me feel like it was all real. And they didn’t compromise that tone, or make it cute, or forget.

The heroic captain doesn’t say “Verily my brothers, yonder lies the castle of the king my father” only to have his second in command ask, “Okay, so that’s the plan?” That’s a total disconnect for me. (The use of “okay” in anything before the 19th century is the kiss of death, unless the whole book takes that light-hearted, jokey, sort of Xena Warrior Princess tone.)  Most don’t.

Sometimes it isn’t the slang that bothers me so much as the use of modern jargon, relying on pop psychology vocabulary to stand as shortcuts for concepts no one in the period would even think of, or at least not in the same breezy way.

TBB: Is there anything that  you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Plotting. I start out with a concept, a setting, maybe a small handful of characters and, eventually, a spiral notebook full of ideas and what-if questions.  Then I say “Fine, so what actually happens?” And then it’s time to sit down and find the straight path through all the ideas that is the central story. If I don’t create a story plan (hard to call it an outline at that stage), I know for sure the whole thing will peter out somewhere in the middle of chapter 5. That‘s not negative thinking, it’s a simple fact based on experience. It’s always chapter 5. I don’t need to know the ending exactly, but I do need to know where I’m going. This year, I’m trying a mystery for the first time—Victorian paranormal mystery. To me that means knowing who dunnit if not if not exactly how, right up front. It’s going to be interesting!

TBB: What do you want potential readers to know about your writing?

There will be music, there may be magic, there will certainly be some smart-ass dialog. Someone will get chased by wolves of one sort or another, whether sea wolves, demons, or Walsingham’s minions. The historical setting will be reliable. And it will all come out all right in the end.

TBB: How can they find your work? 

You could do worse than start here. http://litunderground.com/MaggieSecara.html

Molly September is published in association with Literary Underground, a hotbed of independent authorship with high standards for copy editing and cover art, as well as excellent prose.

 

 

 

 

 

And while we’re at it, on the non-fiction shelf. A Compendium of Common Knowledge 1558-1603 (Popinjay Press 2008) is the paperback version of my website, the flagship site of Renaissance: the Elizabethan World at http://elizabethan.org Not a dry text book, but an easy-access notebook meant to open a door to the little details that make up the world of Shakespeare and Good Queen Bess.

Author Interviews – Update

Just a quick post to update everyone on my upcoming Blog interviews. The schedule for publishing is below.

¡Muchas gracias!

October 26, 2011 – Maggie Secara

October 28, 2011 – Mark David Gerson

November 2, 2011 – Jen Estes

To be scheduled – Heidi C. Vlach, Kaylie Austen, Jason Beineke

Working on putting together a backlog, so if others are interested, in being interviewed, let me know.

The Truth About Dragons

I have generally found it a bit silly that there are established rules as to what a mythical creature is, and is not. Therefore, when I decided to write a series of books in which appear dragons (and other such creatures) I gave myself permission to inject my own logic on their “evolution.”

As such, here are dragons, as I see them.

Anatomy

Dragons are large creatures, by and large. Their size varies greatly by species, with the largest dragons achieving wing spans of 90 feet.

Much of the dragon’s external anatomy evolved due to climate and competition for food and mates. Contrary to popular belief, dragons are not reptiles. The massive of amounts of heat energy required to produce fire pretty much mandate they be endothermic.

Dragons, in fact, are warm-blooded, though more closely aligned with birds than mammals or reptiles. Fire is produced by internal organs that excrete flammable digestive fluids. These fluids are forcefully expelled, along with the contents of their lungs, igniting upon contact with oxygen. The carbon dioxide from the dragon’s lungs serves as thrust, while the oxygen in the surrounding air serves as catalyst. Instant fire.

Initially, fire was used only for mating and territorial displays. As such, the dragon itself has not evolved protection against flame. However, with reductions in its natural habitat and increasing competition, fire soon became its primary weapon.

In the Stream, dragons do not only breathe fire. There is a separate organ which excretes its primary tool for hunting. This weapon … but that would be telling.

Dragons have sensitive skin that is readily damaged. As such, it evolved fur over the upper portion of its body, as protection against the cold. Their appearance is similar to the rendering of the extinct white dragon, except surviving males of the species have manes, similar to a lions. Again, this is a mating feature. Dragons are quite romantic.


Dragon faces have traditionally been rendered as in the dragons above, with narrow, reptilian muzzles and sharp teeth. Actual dragons, however, have square jaws, again similar to a lion’s. They are carnivores and top predators, but must eat their prey quickly or risk having it stolen by other predators and scavengers. As such, their powerful jaws allow them to rip, crush, and rend their prey quickly.

The effect is a fearsome creature with powerful jaws and enormous teeth. Since the amount of endothermic energy, or energy in general, is too much for a cold-blooded creature. the dragons in my novels vary from almost mammalian forms to avian forms. The photo below is closer to how I’d envision a dragon, except with fur and mane, and without the forked tongue. They have functional noses, and as skilled hunters who use cold to disable their prey they evolved an acute sense of smell.

Predation

Dragons are a curious blend of awesome power and vulnerability. Despite their enormous size, their sensitive skin and delicate wing structure make them targets when in flight. They have acute vision, easily spotting a creature as small as a medium-sized dog from a mile in the air.

Without the element of surprise, however, the dragon can succumb to aerial attack from other dragons, or evasion by the prey. To combat both, it has evolved a complex system of camouflage.

From the ground, it is protected by thick, scaly hide, with iridescent scales. These scales have evolved to be the color of the sky in the dragons’ territory in the Stream – generally a greenish-yellow, and occasionally, blue. Likewise, their fur has evolved spotting in areas with dense deciduous forest, or shades of green in evergreen forest, and even the rare tan dragons that habituate desert areas. In effect, from either the air, or the ground, the dragon will likely see you long before you see it.

If it does, I do so hope you have said your prayers every night.

(For more on dragons, check out my Fantasy Adventure series, The Stream: , now available on Amazon!)

Interview with Matthew Plourde

Today’s #FictionFriday interview is with Matthew C. Plourde, author of The Antaran Legacy and Eden. Welcome, Matthew!

This Blog Blank: So, we may as well get the good stuff out first. Can you tell us about your latest work?

Matthew Plourde: Dessert first – you & I, sir, will get along quite nicely! My latest novel is a science fiction story called The Antaran Legacy. It has a subtitle (For Duty), but I’m thinking of re-releasing the book with a less cumbersome title.

The Antaran Legacy follows the heiress to the planet of Antares as she struggles to ensure her civilization’s survival in the face of a galactic war. As with my other fiction, this one is certainly character-centric. After discovering how dangerous and exhilarating her emotions can be, she must ultimately decide between her duty and her own heart.

 TBB: What led you to writing Science Fiction?

MP: Well, I’ve always been a fan. Some of the earliest stories I read were science fiction – Farmer, Herbert, Asimov.

But, I didn’t begin The Antaran Legacy with the goal to spin a Science Fiction novel. Instead, the basic idea for a story came to me and it happened to be based in a futuristic setting. If you take away the spaceships, The Antaran Legacy can still stand on its own as a story about a royal daughter and all the tragic decisions surrounding her people’s fall.

TBB: When you find an author you really like, what typically stands out about their writing to you?

MP: The story. Story, story, story. Read my blog for 5 minutes and you’ll see me preaching around every corner about “story.” I believe the art of storytelling has always been an integral part of the human experience. Some authors today can tell a story, some cannot. If I get pulled into the story, I’m usually hooked and those novels stay with me through the years.

TBB: I hear writers all the time say that they “write for themselves.” Whom do you write for? Why??

MP: I guess, in a way, I write for myself. However, that’s only because there is no “who.” I write because I must, there is no consideration for the final audience. Sure, some outside forces may influence the work along the way, but the raw act of creation isn’t designed for any particular “who.”

TBB: A lot of writers speak of their muse. What inspires your writing?

MP: I receive inspiration from the world around me. Since that answer is about as generic as possible, lemme explain.

The world is full of “what if’s” for all of us. The storyteller inside of me muses at these unfulfilled possibilities. What if we emerge from this fog in a different land without technology? What if zombies took over the country? What if I never met him/her?

It was one of these little “what if’s” that spurned my first novel, Eden. I wondered what the Apocalypse would be like if I took some Bible passages literally. Spiraling into that “what if” fueled the entire novel, but it didn’t go anywhere until a song on the radio brought it all together.

Combine “what if’s” with past experiences, music, stories and everyday life and you will find my cauldron of thought. You will find my muse.

(TBB: Can you say, “Awesome?” I knew that you could.)

TBB: Name something you wish you’d written. Why?

MP: Hah! I get this one often and my answer remains the same: Harry Potter. Why? Because I’d have enough money to write full-time (and buy an island to do it from). Next question!

(TBB: For the record, that is the only correct answer to this question. However female writers are allowed to site Twilight.) ;)

TBB: What do you like most about your writing? What do you want people to take from it?

MP: I’m most proud of my adherence to my core stories, and I blog about this style of writing often. My stories flow from my mind & heart without the intervention of outlines or plot devices. The action unfolds from the characters very naturally, and I’m often surprised by what they do. I hope my readers are entertained by my worlds & characters, nothing more.

TBB: Who is your favorite character, and why?

MP: Probably Leto II from Frank Herbert’s God Emperor of Dune. He was a philosophical and likeable hero/villain. Herbert’s musings on government and human nature flow from Leto with every passage of dialogue. What made him special to me was the legacy & tragedy wrapped around his story. He wasn’t just a well-developed character – his desire to save humanity by becoming its ultimate villain was interlaced with everything he did/said. His sorrow and loneliness were palpable on the pages, as was his plan to save his race.

Dynamic character. Great Story. Win!

TBB: What part of writing do you like the most? The least?

MP: I enjoy writing dialogue the most. Not only does it come easy to me, but I think it rings true on the pages. At least, I hope it does!

Least? Let’s see… sometimes it can feel daunting when you know you’re not as far as you hoped to be. Kind of like that scene in Spaceballs: “One more dune.” “You said that three dunes ago!”

One more dune … one more page. At times, it can seem insurmountable.

TBB: Is there anything that  you find particularly challenging in your writing?

MP: Time. Carving the time to write has to be the most challenging aspect of this whole endeavor. Excuses come easy, but they are always hollow. Passionate writers find the time, but it’s always a struggle.

TBB: What do you want potential readers to know about your writing?

MP: Just that it’s not influenced by any forces outside of my own heart. Sure, my editor will correct my mistakes and my inner-circle will steer me in better directions – but the core story is one from storyteller to reader, nothing in-between.

In today’s market of rehash movies/games and cookie-cutter novels from major publishing houses, I’m excited that the tools are available to allow writers to distribute their work. It’s an exciting time to be a writer!

TBB: How can they find your work?

MP: My blog is the best starting point (links to all my books, other fiction, trailers, reviews, interviews & more)!

My Amazon author page is another excellent place to start.

My Youtube channel has Trailers for both books:

http://www.youtube.com/user/MatthewCPlourde

In the meantime, enjoy some excellent art by my talented artist (Axel Torvenius):

Matthew C. Plourde is a cancer survivor and native New Englander. He is a husband and father of two children. His family called Vietnam “home” for a month while they adopted their son.

Though writing is his passion, he currently works as a compliance consultant for large enterprise corporations.

His shorter fiction has appeared on many different e-zines and he continues to write novels.


Upcoming Author Interviews

Just a quick post to update everyone on my upcoming Blog interviews. The schedule for publishing is below.

Cheers

October 21, 2011 – Matthew Plourde

October 26, 2011 – Maggie Secara

October 28, 2011 – Mark David Gerson

That’s all I have scheduled so far. (I expect November to be quite busy for other reasons.) However, if anyone is a published author, or knows of one, who is interested in being interviewed, please comment below.

Writers on Writing

I don’t know if I like writing. I suppose I do, in the same way that I like exhaling. It is less than I enjoy writing than I fear the inevitable result if I should stop. I take solace in knowing I am not the only one.

When it is easy, it is never me, but God who holds the pen. In those other moments, I sit, tearing at my flesh in hopes He will take pity on me, and write the damned book. And at the end, someone reads it, and I hold my breath, fearing it was imperfect me, after all, who held the pen.

There is only one way to write well. Unfortunately, it changes, without warning, each time we attempt to write. Here’s stuff to try, for when you run out of veins to cut, or flesh to rend. Or beer.

Beer works too.

1. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. – Ray Bradbury
2. And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. – Sylvia Plath
3. I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all. – Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977
4. I try to leave out the parts that people skip. – Elmore Leonard
5. If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. – Toni Morrison
6. What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers. – Logan Pearsall Smith, “All Trivia,” Afterthoughts, 1931
7. Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say. – Sharon O’Brien
8. Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain
9. I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter. – James Michener
10. Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. – Anton Chekhov
11. Rules:
a. Do not put statements in the negative form.
b. And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
c. If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
d. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
e. Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
f. De-accession euphemisms.
g. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
h. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
i. Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.
– William Safire, “Great Rules of Writing”
12. Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. – Gene Fowler
13. It seems to me that those songs that have been any good, I have nothing much to do with the writing of them. The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page. – Joan Baez
14. Every writer I know has trouble writing. – Joseph Heller
15. Most editors are failed writers – but so are most writers. – T.S. Eliot
16. The road to hell is paved with adverbs. – Stephen King
17. No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published. – Russell Lynes
18. A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. – Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades, 1947
19. Sit down, and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it. – Colette, Casual Chance, 1964
20. i never think at all when i write / nobody can do two things at the same time / and do them both well – Don Marquis, Archy’s Life of Mehitabel, 1933
21. It is perfectly okay to write garbage–as long as you edit brilliantly. – C J Cherryh
22. It’s a kind of zen question: if you write a book and no one reads it, is it really a book? – Lee Child
23. You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair – the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page. – Stephen King
24. To me the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the music the words make. – Truman Capote
25. Wanting to know an author because you like his work is like wanting to know a duck because you like paté. – Margaret Atwood
26. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. – Samuel Beckett
27. A writer’s ambition should be to trade a hundred contemporary readers for ten readers in ten years’ time and for one reader in a hundred years’ time. – Arthur Koestler
28. Every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished. – William Wordsworth