Monthly Archives: August 2015

Bound A-Z: Q is for Queen

Hmm. This is awkward.

I had the loveliest image I wanted to share for this topic, relating to future events in the trilogy, but I can’t find the original source to credit them. Since I don’t want to be Stealy McThievypants, we’ll have to do something else.

*shuffles through files* Queen, queen, queen…

We haven’t really heard much from them in the Bound trilogy, have we? We know Severn’s mother is the queen of Tyrea, and that Ulric hardly ever spoke to her again after Severn’s little stunt regarding Aren’s mother. We know she has no magic. Aren explained to Rowan in Bound that Sorcerers and Sorceresses can’t have children together, and the king certainly wanted strong potential heirs. The queen of Tyrea has a strong influence over her son (or she did, once), but she hasn’t showed up on the page.

I do have a little something in the works, though. A prequel novella that takes place a few decades (or a little more) before the start of Bound, and this one set in Belleisle and Tyrea. This one won’t be going up for sale when it’s finished, but will go out to newsletter subscribers as a special bonus to say thanks for supporting my work.*

So just because we’re talking about queens today, and because it’s been so long since I got to participate in WIPpet Wednesdays, here’s a thin slice of description from the rough draft of that novella.

 

A broad pile of ornate fabric and curly brown hair swept into view, an astonishingly corseted lump of woman escorted by a white-haired young man. Jewels twinkled in her hair, crowning a face that was somehow round and pinched all at once, as though a generously endowed and once-beautiful lady had caught the middle part of her face in a slamming door. The rich brocade of her many-layered skirts brushed against the floor with every tiny step she took.

 

It’s not much, I know. Can’t spoil things, though, and I think you guys are going to like this one.

Well, if you like romance and danger and forbidden love and origin stories (sort of) and seeing established characters when they were younger and very different from how we’re used to seeing them.

It’s been a bit of a shock, actually.

So there you have her, the current queen of Tyrea.

Next week: R. Hmm. If only I had a character or two whose name started with R…

*sign-ups are free here, and new subscribers get a free download of The Binding, the existing prequel short story.


P is for Potioner

Alas, we find ourselves at another entry that leaves me struggling to not post spoilers. And man, does this topic develop in the next book.

One of the interesting things about writing a series is how things develop in unexpected ways. I don’t remember when I decided that there were two types of magic in the world I was creating, or when I realized how very different they were. It was one of those things that just seemed to exist, a discovery rather than an idea.

I’m afraid I’m as guilty of underestimating Potioners as some of my characters are, though. You see, when things started out, I thought there were strict divisions. A Sorcerer’s magic is internal, whereas a Potioner uses her perceptions and skills to manipulate magic outside of herself. They were healers, typically. Important people in their way, but nothing on the level of a Sorcerer.

Not real magic.

My characters showed me differently as I wrote their stories. It wasn’t until I drafted The Binding that I realized a Potioner was responsible for Rowan’s condition–I’d assumed it was a magical curse of some sort. But Elisha showed up with her ointments and herbs, and I learned that healing isn’t the only thing a Potioner is capable of.

Emalda introduced me to the range of skills a Potioner might have, but it wasn’t until I slipped into Nox’s mind that I truly understood the experience. I learned what it’s like to feel magic pulsing through a plant, to hear them calling silently, to sense the potential of a thing. I understood then that Potioners are far more than the glorified chefs or chemists that Aren (and so many people like him) take them for. Their magic might not flow through them as it does a Sorcerer, but it’s there.

And now we come to SPOILERTOWN, so I won’t say much. I will tell you that I’ve met another character who changed everything. Actually, she showed me something that was in front of me from the beginning, and I had overlooked it.

You see, there are several levels of skill when you’re a Potioner.

There are those with basic skills, mostly learned from books with a little kick of natural talent thrown in. They may be competent craftsmen, but there’s little art to it. Little of themselves thrown in.

There are the gifted ones, those like Nox and Sara who sense the power and potential in everything around them, who work from instinct as much as from lessons. They are the artists, using their gifts to build on learned skills and create something entirely new. They’re the innovators.

And then there are the truly great ones, who can–

No, I’m not telling.

All I’ll say is that though Nox thinks she’s mastered her art, she still has a lot to learn.


Writing Resources: For Love or Money by Susan Kaye Quinn

A quick book review today, and one that will be mostly of interest to writers.

Okay, almost strictly of interest to writers.

You might be familiar with Susan Kaye Quinn from her book The Indie Author Survival Guide. If you haven’t read it, you’ve probably heard me mention it (assuming you’ve been around long enough. Hi, new guys!).  It’s a fantastic resource for any indie writer, whether you’re new to this* or an experienced author looking to brush up on how to approach book production and marketing.

That book is the kind of how-to guide that feels like an older sister (a nice one, not the kind who puts gum in your hair) holding your hand and guiding you through the scary stuff.

For Love or Money is a different beast altogether. It’s not about how to write, or how to publish. It’s about crafting the rest of your career after those first few books, about figuring out what your goals are, why you’re writing and publishing, and how best to reach the top of your chosen mountain.

It’s about writing for love: Telling the stories that move you, the ones you’d write even if no one ever read them.

It’s about writing for money: Figuring out the market and discovering your own voice within a tight genre framework.

And it’s about doing both. Ms Quinn writes “mercenary” fiction (strictly for money) under a pen name, and she talks about finding joy in the work she does there. She talks about taking ideas that you love and shaping them so that they fit the market, thus allowing the books you write for love to become money-makers. And she talks about how it’s just fine to have both kinds of books out there.

I enjoyed this book enough that I read it in a day (during a long reading slump, no less). I’ll share a few of the lessons I took away from it, but it’s definitely worth grabbing a copy and reading it for yourself (though you should definitely read IASG first, as this one refers back to it).

My take-aways:

  • Not every book has to be a bestseller. When one book (say, a first book) has some measure of success, there can be a lot of pressure to repeat that with every new project or series. It’s comforting to know that if I decide to work on a project I love that might resonate with fewer readers, that’s okay. Writing for love is healthy, and sales will vary over the course of a career.
  • Writing for the market, aiming to please a larger number of people by writing books that cater to the genre tropes people love, is not selling out. It’s a unique form of creative challenge, and one that can net huge rewards (even outside of the money). There’s nothing wrong with actually wanting to make money off of our hard work, and predicting what will sell isn’t impossible.
  • I have my whole career ahead of me. If I decide to genre-hop instead of staying with a successful world and premise, that’s okay. It may put the brakes on things, but not burning out is just as important as maintaining sales numbers. Playing in another sandbox might keep me happier, and therefore help me do better and more meaningful work when I do return to the genre and world that kicked things off for me.

That’s not all, but those were the things I most needed to hear.

This book helped be choose the mountain I want to climb: writing stories I want to read, shaped to enthrall a large audience… most of the time. I don’t think I’ll ever be a mercenary writer, churning out dragon porn to make a quick buck (though I could totally kick ass at that, guys). Stories that are purely “for love”, i.e. too non-genre-specific to find much of an audience, will go on the back burner until I’m at a place financially where I can afford for them to flop and not have to stress out about it.

Reading this book helped me step back, look at my career goals, and decide where I want to go.

And that’s huge.

Check out Susan Kaye Quinn’s site here for links.

*New to this as I was the first time I read it, that is. In fact, the IASG, Be the Monkey (Konrath and Eisler), and Let’s Get Digital (Gaughran) were the three books that convinced me that indie publishing was the path I wanted to take, and I’m mind-explodingly grateful to the authors of all of them. If not for these books, Bound could still be making the rounds of slush piles, or badly published and nearly unread. *shudder*


O is for Orim (factoids for megafan show-offs included within)

O

Orim.

Not a familiar word?

It shouldn’t be.

“Orim” was the name of the country of Darmid when I sent Bound off for edits. When my editor got the twelve-year-old giggles over the fact that “Orish” sounded like “whorish,” I figured I should change it. It wasn’t easy. By the time I settled on something that wasn’t too hard to remember or pronounce and that I didn’t hate too much, I barely had time to do a find-and-replace before I sent the thing off for formatting.

There have been a lot of things like that during the writing process. See, I’m bad at naming stuff. We’ve talked a little about this before, so I won’t go too much into it. But the fact is, a book you hold in your hands on release day (bless you) is likely not the one the author first imagined months or years before, when it was just a bright bit of inspired magic with huge potential. Much as we like to think of stories as things we discover or living beings that grow organically*, there’s as much construction involved as there is discovery.

Disclaimer: Look away if ye wish not to see behind the veil.

Character names change. In the first draft of Bound, Rowan’s name was Abra (yoinked from my favourite book, East of Eden). That one got canned as soon as I realized that HEY, MAGIC. ABRA CADABRA.

*headdesk*

Aren went through at least four names before I found one that suited him perfectly–one I found by picking nice syllables and smashing them together rather than just changing the spelling of a common name, because I have to do everything the hard way.

Aren and Rowan were different people in early drafts, until Rowan grew a backbone and Aren embraced the fact that he’s kind of a dick. Romantic things happened earlier in the first drafts, because MAN can characters be hard to handle when they both know what they want.

And here comes the trivia for anyone who’s read this far:

The entire backstory of Darmid (or Orim… and other things before that) was different. Until edits, the reason the people of that land feared magic was because their ancestors came from our world. Their horses were average because they came from here, too. People feared magic because it was a danger to them when they first arrived, and because they carried prejudices about witchcraft from our world to that one. They set out to destroy it in their land, and within a few generations they almost succeeded. In previous drafts Kel talked about how the merfolk could come to “Oldworld,” while the people were trapped on land (though if you asked around in Ardare, you might find that there were occasionally recent arrivals via the mountains).

It was cool. It was interesting. And it totally threw off the story when I had to weave it into the narrative. That’s not the kind of thing you want to just infodump, and it became confusing when spread out. In the end, the story wasn’t about that. So I dropped it.

This origin of humans in Serath has not been completely abandoned. There’s a reason for little idiosyncrasies and apparent anachronisms, and they all have roots in our world. There’s a reason so many species that originated in that world may have occasionally been spotted here, once upon a time. There’s a reason the merfolk have fashions that might seem more at home in our world, why their library holds so many treasures unknown in Tyrea…

…but the humans no longer know about it. Instead of Tyreans arriving a few thousand years ago (hence the developed magic in their bloodlines) and the Darmish just a few hundred (hence their weaker magic and how rare Rowan’s gift was), it’s all been pushed so far back into the past that no human remembers it. The stories are generally dismissed as myth, especially in Tyrea. Only the merfolk still know, and they don’t tell.

What does this mean? Nothing on a practical level, at least for now. If Niari’s fascination with human culture has ever led her to our shores, she won’t be telling Aren or Rowan. If there’s sheet music for the Beatles in the Grotto’s library, Aren won’t know what it is if he ever gets a chance to bang it out on a piano (and he’d probably think it was weird, anyway).

Unless I write more about the merfolk, this little fact will probably never come up. Even then, it might never make it onto the page.

But now you know.

Feel free to be all hipstery about it if it ever does make an appearance. 🙂

Tell me: What one thing are you such a mega-geek about that you absorb obscure bits of trivia like you’re a sponge in a puddle?

*Okay, maybe it’s like this for some writers, and their first drafts are unplanned, inspired, just-as-they-imagined gifts from the muses. Most of us have to work harder, especially if we want our work to appeal to anyone outside our own heads.


New Website (with free stuff!)

Guys? I’ve been busy.

Like… Veggie Tales busy.

I’ve had edits ready to go for over a month, and thank goodness for that. We moved to a new town, which meant no time for anything else for quite a while. We’ve been in the new house for about three weeks now, and are almost settled in. I’ve got an office, and I’ve been putting it to good use.

Don't worry, it's far messier than this now.

Don’t worry, it’s far messier than this now. I’ll get a better picture soon. This is just sad.

Doing what, you ask?

Planning new stories–a short story that will be a newsletter exclusive when it’s done, and a new novel that I’m so excited about that it might disrupt plans to get my Urban Fantasy series done. The short story topic is Bound-related, and was suggested by members of my street team.* They’re working me hard. It’s fantastic.

Reading books about writing, about business, about… well, fiction as well, actually. We’ll talk about that later.

I’ve also finally got around to getting a proper website set up. I was intimidated for a long time, having no idea how to buy a domain name other than through WordPress.com, unsure of whether I could handle using anything else. Thanks to a fantastic tutorial series, I’ve finally got something cooked up.

It’s got book information.

It’s got excerpts.

It’s got the latest information on upcoming releases.

It’s got a chance to sign up for my newsletter, which now comes with a free download of The Binding, the short story prequel to the Bound trilogy (no longer available anywhere else).

Click here to take a look at the new katesparkes.com, then let me know whether there’s anything you’d like to see added in the future!

And I’ll see you back here tomorrow for a most interesting addition to the Bound A-Z series.

*not a member yet? Love the Bound trilogy and want to chat with other readers, ask me questions, get your hands on advance review copies, and have a grand old time? Make sure you’ve got a review posted somewhere, then ask to join on Facebook. We don’t bite. Usually.


An Interview with Ravven — Steampunk and Fantasy Digital Artist

Check this out! Celine Jeanjean did a fantastic interview with our mutual cover artist Ravven, talking about her creative process. Really interesting stuff, and of course there’s plenty of art to peruse through the links. 🙂

Celine Jeanjean's Blog: Down the Rabbit Hole

I’m really excited about today’s interview. Most of you will remember my book cover (it’s in the sidebar for anyone new to the blog), which was designed by the wonderful Ravven. Well today I’m interviewing her about her creative process.

As someone who has is utterly unable to do anything visual, be it digitally or otherwise, I found it really interesting to dig a little into what goes on behind the scenes when creating digital art. Before we get stuck into the interview, I wanted to showcase one photo in particular that really struck a chord with me. It’s called Medusa in the Boudoir:

Medusa in the Boudoir Medusa in the Boudoir

Isn’t it wonderful? I saw it and went *wow* — and immediately contacted Ravven to see if she’d be free to do my book cover (lucky for me she was.) This is by far my favourite piece. It’s not just that it’s beautiful…

View original post 1,064 more words


Bound A-Z: N is for Nox

Backstory is a tough thing for a writer to deal with. Ideally, we know everything about a character’s background. We know his secret obsessions, the details of her first heartbreak, his grade-school enemy, her favourite book. All of this affects the character in tiny ways, and our knowledge helps make him or her more real on the page.

The thing is, not all of this stuff should actually be on the page. Maybe that time she fell up the stairs in junior high was embarrassing and made her a little more shy than she was before, but it’s not relevant to the werewolves she’s killing at age twenty-five. Telling readers about it would slow the story down, and that’s generally the last thing we want to do if we can avoid it.

The question we often have to ask when editing these things out is: Is this relevant, or merely somewhat interesting? Does knowing this affect the reader’s enjoyment of and immersion in the story? And is that for better, or for worse?

Nox is a character whose backstory has suffered more than its share of cuts. It’s interesting stuff. Some of it was (I think) nicely written. But the fact is that sometimes taking a break to share that backstory puts the brakes on things when we really don’t want to. Going from an action sequence and a big revelation to musings on one’s childhood can be…

*Zzzzzzzzz…*

Sorry. And in two cases, I’ve cut information about Nox’s past that wasn’t vital to understanding the story or her character. It’s been hard to do. I love Nox, and I know some of you want to know more about her.

So here you go. A little information on her early years, dedicated to the person who recently called Nox “my book girlfriend,” and also to the person who named her kitten “Nox.”

This post isn't about her, but COME ON.

This post isn’t about her, but COME ON.

[The following information was cut from Sworn in the interests of relevance and pacing]

Nox (named Avalon by her parents) was born, coincidentally enough, on the same day as her twin brother Aren.

*cough*

Her birth was never officially recorded, and as far as most people know, only one child was born that day. There were a few reasons for this, but one was superstitions regarding twins. It’s widely believed that twins with magic will have the power of one person divided between them, and will be perceived as weak because of it. Most thinking people don’t truly believe this, but it’s a superstition that’s been around long enough that it does affect people’s biases.

In any case, it was decided that only one birth would be recorded. Since Aren was more likely to find a significant place in the royal family, his birth was acknowledged. As a male he was more likely to possess magic, and even at birth he showed potential. Avalon showed none. In fact, for as long as they both lived in the palace it seemed that if their power was divided, Aren had claimed all of it.

Now, this doesn’t mean there was great fanfare and a country-wide celebration. Life in the royal family is very much a “survival of the fittest” situation, and making things too public does make a mess of things if a king wants to cover up disasters. Still, people who lived and worked in the palace knew about Aren, and his mother’s servants guarded him from danger when she no longer could.

Little Avalon was less fortunate.

For her own safety, only a few people ever knew who she was. There was her mother, of course, who loved both of her children equally regardless of magic. She had no magic herself, remember, and if anything she felt more protective of her daughter, who would never be able to defend herself in this cutthroat family. Ulric knew, but he had so little to do with his children at that age as to make his involvement irrelevant.

And then there was the wet nurse.

Well… she wasn’t, really. She was a trustworthy and well-paid young woman who was brought in from another province. Someone with no connections in Luid, and few back at home. No one thought twice about the fact that the king’s last wife chose to have another woman feed the new prince, and if it seemed unusual that the nurse and her new daughter lived so closely with Magdalena and her baby boy, well, people from Belleisle are strange anyway.

Of course, the wet nurse had no baby, though everyone thought that Avalon was hers. In fact, that wet nurse spent her days assisting with the babies and keeping their mother company, but their mother fed them both. No one outside of those rooms had reason to question the situation. Even when the wet nurse stayed on as nanny, it seemed only somewhat unusual. Avalon lived with her, but saw plenty of her mother, and was sometimes allowed to play with her brother (though they never got along well).

And then, of course, came disaster.

[Torn spoilers ahead]

Ulric was forced to send Magdalena away, to let everyone believe she was dead. She took Avalon with her, knowing that there was no place for a girl with no magic in Luid. She changed her daughter’s name to Nox, a hard and cold name that she hoped would help her daughter become what she needed to be to survive in an equally cold and hard land. They never spoke of the city or the palace again–not until Nox was old enough to understand that she should never try to claim her place as a princess of Tyrea.

BONUS:

Here are the paragraphs that I cut from Torn, again in the interest of preserving story momentum. I still like these words, and I hope you enjoy them.

(These were Nox’s first words after meeting Aren, Kel, and Cassia)

I’ve never liked surprises.

I don’t remember much about my first home or my first family. I remember leaving, though, being scooped out of my bed, wakened from sleep and taken from my warm bedroom out into the cold night with a blanket wrapped around me. My mother held me in her lap as we rode in the back of a wagon. I remember the smell of hay, and horses, and the driver’s pipe. My mother cried every day of our journey, and I thought she’d never stop.

That was the first surprise I remember, and I haven’t had many pleasant ones since.

My rescuers were a surprise I wasn’t sure about. I’d resigned myself to going to Luid, accepting that fate was leading me there to kill my oldest half-brother. I knew little about that family aside from rumor and reputation, but I felt confident that I would find a way to do it. The hatred that had grown in me since I had learned my true identity and the reason for my mother’s banishment would finally bear fruit.

But then this group of strangers had appeared, and now I found myself leading them down the road, away from my old life. Moving forward.

How will Nox move her life forward after everything that’s changed?

We’ll find out soon enough.


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