Setting the Circumstances

Ancient books, ghostly imageMy “Career-In-Potential”:

“Once we turn pro (and even before we do), our Muse has plans for us. Those plans are our career-in-potential. They exist, whether we choose to believe in them or not. And they’re operating upon us, influencing us like the gravitational pull of an enormous invisible star.

If you’re a writer, your career-in-potential is a shelf of books. Your books. Books you’ve written. They exist now, even if you haven’t started Book #1.” ~Steven Pressfield

The above quote is from a post called Thinking a Career, from SP’s fabulous Writing Wednesdays blog series. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend you not only read this post, but subscribe to the series. I think the piece resonates for me because I felt the “gravitational pull” of my career-in-potential long before I read it. I think I subconsciously felt that pull even as I trudged through the writing of my trilogy, and that was—in part—why I did not stop writing after book one was complete. As I describe in last week’s post, I was self-deluding about the work’s potential, unwilling to allow myself to think too far ahead for fear of freaking myself out (and having my career-in-potential fizzle-in-actuality). But I knew I needed to put my own pieces in place on the board in order to learn the game, let alone the stakes.

Masters of My Domain:

“When the student is ready, the master appears.”  ~Buddhist Proverb

I didn’t start reading Jacqueline Carey until I was nearly done writing the first draft of my trilogy. But after finishing her debut, Kushiel’s Dart, I immediately saw parallels. JC’s epic, character-focused stories and her detailed alternate-historical settings combine to create the kind of submersion for readers I was seeking to craft. And by the time I read Kushiel’s Dart, she already had six fat volumes (two trilogies) on the shelf—a fantasy lover’s treasure-trove. She subsequently added another trilogy set in the same world, as well as two pairs of urban fantasies, with more on the way.

When I started following JC on Facebook in ‘08, she had no author page, but she ‘friended’ her fans, and I was among the first 400 or so. Since then she’s transferred us to an author page, and the page has grown to over 13,000 fans. I admire the catalog she’s built, but I also admire how she has handled her growing fan-base. She interacts with her readers on an almost daily basis, and genuinely shares of herself. In my experience, she responds to every single thing someone puts on her Facebook wall with a ‘like’ or a personal comment. I’ve written her several times, and in each case she has taken the time to respond in a warm and engaged way.

And the reward for her efforts: loyalty! I’ve seen several stories from fans who’ve hand-sold her books to other shoppers in the bookstore. Not only do her fans (including yours truly) recommend her, they buy multiple copies to give and lend to readers they think should be reading her. Heck, there are even scores of fans who tattoo their bodies with images and words from her work (no tattoos here… yet). Talk about a tribute to an author.

Serial Aspirations:  To top it all off, Carey just keeps getting better. After reading her Naamah trilogy, I felt so strongly about her growth that I wrote her to tell her I thought she was at the top of her game. And she never stops trying new things. Fans of her epic historicals (like me) are willing to venture trying her urban fantasy.

I’ve recently discovered Robin Hobb’s Farseer series, and am on my sixth book. I finish one, consider the other books in my TBR list, then download the next Farseer book. So far, I can’t seem to sate my Farseer appetite. Plus I’ve learned a lot about internal versus external plot development, as well as creating micro-tension through constantly rising stakes. She’s another master of the epic historical fantasy domain. I consider writers like Hobb and Carey to be mentors as well as role models. For an epic fantasy writer, they both have careers worthy of aspiration.

Delivering On The First Order: When my wife and I were in the building materials business, we learned a valuable lesson about selling. We knew we weren’t just selling a bunk of lumber. We were selling a service. We sold to lumber retailers, and there were only so many of them in our delivery area. We needed their repeat business—hence, we needed their loyalty. We knew initiating trial was one thing. But once we got that first order, we had to deliver. To get them to commit to us, that first shipment had to be more than satisfactory. It had to be a knockout.

For a writer who aspires to sell a series, the lesson was a powerful one. I think some of my non-writer friends sometimes wonder what the heck is taking me so long (and perhaps even some of my writer friends wonder, as well). Many of them know I have four completed manuscripts, and that I’m on my fifth or sixth major rewrite of book one ( even though it feels like the 15th or 16th). But I know I’ve got to deliver on the first order, or the rest of the series will languish, or worse, never see the light of day.

The Comfort of the Familiar: I’ve been told by several readers that they enjoyed book two much more than book one. And a few have said that, from book one to my most recent manuscript, the writing only gets stronger. I think this is pretty natural and easily explained by my growth as a writer. But I suspect there is something else at work here. Starting into book two or three of a series is a completely different thing than trying a new author’s first book. You’ve become acquainted with the world, and hopefully fond of the characters. As a series moves along, it’s like visiting old friends. You share a history. You know the backstory. It gives a writer a tremendous amount of freedom. And once you have that comfort and loyalty, it even offers a bit of space to experiment and stretch, as Carey has done with her urban fantasy work.

I was discussing this with my wife the other night, and she said, “Sort of like the hair stylist thing.” I am absolutely positive I looked bewildered, because my expression made her laugh. She went on to explain that if you have a stylist you have been using for a while, you not only grow familiar with them, you start to get comfortable. And from that comfort, you begin to trust them. At some point, after several times delivering the hairstyle you know and like, you are open to their suggestions for experimentation. And after a few successful experiments or variations, if they screw up one of your cuts (or color sessions, etc.), you are more willing to forgive it. You go back (perhaps earlier than usual) because you know they can deliver on the sort of comfort you’ve come to expect. A pretty darn apt analogy. One that I never would’ve come up with on my own.

But you wouldn’t go back to someone who didn’t deliver on the first appointment. A series needs to earn familiarity in order to deliver comfort, and thereby to deserve loyalty. So back to getting it right on the first book.

Visualizing the Voyage:

“If a man does not know to what port he is steering, no wind is favorable to him.” ~Seneca

I have admitted I am not an optimist by nature. My wife handles that for me, thank you. I am not saying that I anticipate having the legions of fans Carey and Hobb have rightfully earned. I know it’s a competitive business. And the vagaries of the ever-changing publishing business paired with the fickle tastes of readers will make it challenging to navigate to any level of success.On board a Sailing Ship, by Caspar David Friedrich

I know I’m lucky. I’m lucky to have wonderful mentors and readers and writerly friends. Lucky to have found Writer Unboxed, and to have been given some wonderful opportunities to serve there. Lucky to have had the business background, the time, and (even though I often feel the opposite) the patience to strive for the right set of circumstances for a successful voyage toward publication.

I’m sure there will be storms to come, but the experience I’ve gained along the way will help me to steer through. Thus far I’ve had mostly favorable winds. But I know to what port I am steering. I believe in my career-in-potential. I can see those books Pressfield refers to on the shelf.

I’m not sure what to expect from my next destination, but I’m comfortable knowing I’ve done everything I could to make the best of it when I arrive.

Do you see your books on the shelf? Whose esteemed career do you aspire to? 

Image credit: <a href=’’>fyletto / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Life’s Too Short

A Powerful Cliché: As writers we’re supposed to avoid clichés, but the title of this post happens to be a special one for me. There’s a lot of power in those three words. I’m living proof… for the moment. Allow me to explain by starting with a quote:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” ~ William Hutchinson Murray

Unlike the title, that quote’s a bit long, but I still love it. I first read it in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art in late 2003. It really resonated with me then and it’s only grown more meaningful for me since. If you’re wondering what the quote has to do with the title, I hope to show you in the next few paragraphs.

Mag Black and whiteMoment of Commitment: Over the past holiday weekend, I found myself retelling the tale of our life-change. My wife and I had been discussing the possibilities for a year or more before we committed to moving to our cottage in the woods and dedicated ourselves to living a more fulfilling life together. I’ve written about it before, but the retelling got me wondering which of the events was the one that tipped the scales and nudged us past hesitancy. I think there was one particular inciting incident, and it may sound strange to those who’ve never truly loved a pet. It was the death of our beloved Maggie, in September of ’02. Although we didn’t leave our business and move to our cottage for another year, Mag’s passing was the tipping point. More on that in a minute. For now, suffice to say it was the day my wife and I started routinely using that old clichéd phrase: Life’s too short. The more we said it, the more sense it made.

Tragic Impetus: As sad as our dog’s death was for us, it wasn’t the actual beginning of our life-change. There was an evolution of mindset. I think that evolution may have begun on September 11, 2001. Such a strange and tragic day. The earth seemed to tilt off of its axis that morning, and for so many it took a long while for it to return to spinning as it once had. I’m guessing for some, it still hasn’t fully righted itself. I don’t personally know anyone who was wounded or killed that day, but it was a definite mindset shift. I won’t trouble you to explain the details, as we each have our own personal version of it.

A Movie? Really? Shortly after that mindset shift came the next in a series of life-altering moments. Again, it may seem trivial for those who don’t share my lifelong ardor. This next moment came in the form of the release of a movie. Yep, a movie. And a movie based on a fantasy story, at that.

On December 19, 2001, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring debuted in theaters across the U.S. My brother-in-law and I went to the film’s first showing on Saturday the 20th. Beforehand I’d been skeptical. But I held a hope that the film would recapture my first favorite book. I remember sitting in the theater. The opening was a female narrator reading backstory. I still wasn’t convinced (although the footage of elves and men fighting orcs on the plains of Gorgoroth was pretty cool). But when the actual opening scene began, a panoramic view of the Shire, I was instantly spellbound. I whispered to my bro-in-law, “Does it look as good as you hoped?” He leaned over. “No,” he whispered. I turned and raised a brow. “It’s even better,” he added. We were grinning like idiots by the time Gandalf made his appearance.

So how was the release of Fellowship so life-altering? It reminded me of my former self. It reawakened the boy who had wanted so fervently to connect with story that he dared to imagine himself as the storyteller. I went home and immediately dug out my old box-set of LOTR and started reading. It was the first fiction I’d read in many years. I instantly fell back under the spell of well-told story.

Regained Perspective: Rereading LOTR helped me to make sense of a world that didn’t seem to make sense anymore. It reminded me of the real meaning of friendship and loyalty, of Frodo_Aragornthe importance of finding one’s own definition of honor in the face of death. For the sake of employment, I lived in a place I did not love, devoting much of my time and energy to earning a secure financial status. The Lord of the Rings reminded me of the significance of beauty and the exploration of emotions. It reminded me to appreciate a shared love. And of what the true ideal of home meant to me.

Canine Life-lessons: I mentioned the death of our Maggie earlier. When the day came, I was almost a year into the reawakening of my former self through rediscovering fiction. Saying goodbye to our girl was one of the most difficult and moving moments of my life. My wife and I both immediately knew things would never be the same afterward. She left us on a sunny autumn Friday morning. We couldn’t face going to work, so we drove to our cottage in Michigan, still in shock. When we arrived, before we even got out of the car, we were reminiscing about how excited Mag would get on the days we came to Michigan. She had known even before us—this was home. This was where we belonged.

Maggie had been with us through most of our successes in business. The presence of her spirit in our lives had been such a blessing—vital to our wellbeing during difficult years of hard work. But her life was over, and it had seemed so damn fleeting. Looking back on them, those years had been a blur. Because of her, we knew. None of the rest of it mattered. We belonged at home, exploring what really mattered, and finding it together.

Maggie taught us the true meaning of the words: Life’s too short.

Providence Moves: It was a bold step, leaving a lucrative business and moving to a cottage. But every step since we committed ourselves has been providential. In other words: “A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.”

The move home led to much more reading, including Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire. Which led me to his website, which led me to The War of Art, which led me to the above quote as well as this one: “Are you a born writer?… In the end the question can only be answered by action. Do it or don’t do it.” Which led to me scribbling the beginnings of a story in a notebook while I waited at a jobsite for the concrete subcontractor, about a Gothic boy who was a scion and the warrior-girl who was secretly his guardian.

The Providential Road Goes Ever On: From a tentative beginning, and through a mostly secret drafting of my trilogy, I was led to exploration of the craft and business of fiction. Which led to Writer Unboxed. Which led me to finding myself as a writer—and thereby as a person. As well as all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings. Including some of the most wonderful and meaningful friendships of my life.

Mag on PinehurstSo those three words, life’s too short, the real wisdom of which was only learned because we gave our hearts to a dog, has led to all manner of insight and opportunities, the likes of which I could never have dreamed would come my way. So thanks, Mag.

What about you? Have you committed to a bold step? If so, has Providence moved for you, too? 

[Black and white photo of Maggie by Mike Lanka, of Lanka Photo]

Taking the Longview

Opposites Attract (my attention): I read two blog posts yesterday morning that stayed with me. Do yourself a favor and go read them both. The first was an excellent post about fear, aptly titled What’s the Worst that Could Happen? by my friend and fellow writer Lisa Ahn. In it Lisa relates how her mother used to try to allay her fears by offering her the title’s query. But, as she relates: “It turns out this is not the best coping mechanism for a child with an adroit imagination. My ‘worst’ is always catastrophic.” I’m the same. I’m not claiming my imagination is as adroit as Lisa’s, but I can come up with some pretty bad stuff.

The second post was Thinking A Career, by Steven Pressfield. In his post, Pressfield makes a marvelous case for keeping a positive perspective on our potential. He says that our muse has plans for us, and that the future exists for us as writers in the form of a shelf full of our books. He asks if we’ve heard ‘the call,’ as in the invitation to our own Hero’s Journey. And he asks if we are doing everything in our power to bring our ‘work-in-potential’ into material form. I believe I have a shelf full of books, and I consider it my solemn duty to strive toward bringing them into material form.

The two posts are quite different, nearly opposites—one a witty take on the power of our imagined fear fueling our writing, the other an almost mystical take on the power of staying optimistic about the future of your work—and yet both resonated for me, and led me to this post.

Imagining the Worst—A Specialty: Lisa’s post reminded me of one of my most powerful fears. I’ve always had a fear of heights—at times it’s been near debilitating. Between my time in the business world and devoting most of my energy to writing, I did quite a bit of carpentry. It started with the building of my own house, which I’ve already written about here. As you can imagine, framing a multi-story structure, or doing any job on a rooftop, is damn difficult for a guy with a fear of heights.

I remember when I framed, sheeted, and shingled the backside of our two-story garage (the top half is our guesthouse, or FROG—free-room-over-garage). The drop to the ground is only about twenty or so feet. It wasn’t the highest work I’d done, but just below it, about where a falling object—say a person’s body—would naturally land, is a wooden fence (see picture). When I did as Lisa’s mother advised, and imagined the worst, I pictured falling backward, landing with my back (or worse–we won’t even talk about a straddling landing) hitting the fence top. Then I easily conjured an image of myself laying there with a broken back. Of course in my imagined scenario I’d be paralyzed, so there would be no way to dial a cellphone for help. And so on. Imagine yourself there, and let your own fears run wild if you dare. Might I suggest the addition of a wandering bear or wolf pack?

Good-To-Go With Vertigo: So you might be asking yourself how I did it. The secret will sound pretty simple. Forward focus. It’s more like a philosophy than a way of seeing with your eyes. It involves more than simply not looking down. Whenever I was on high, I focused all of my attention on each and every movement needed to get the job done. I’m not talking about big stuff either, like ‘today lay and nail the plywood sheeting onto the rafters.’ I’m talking, ‘put your left foot there, now your right there; now put your weight on your left hip; now reach to your tool belt, get out a hammer and a nail; now drive the nail into this corner of the plywood, etcetera, etcetera.’ I know it sounds cumbersome, and it was, but it got the job done each time. By truly focusing my all on getting each step done, I didn’t have the time or attention to be diverted to imagined paralysis or wandering wolves (no, we don’t actually have wolves or bears in our woods). And each day I survived added to a small store of accumulated confidence—until the next roof job, where the process starts over again (damn it!).

Fear and Self-Loathing in Rewrite-ville: Turns out I’ve got some pretty powerful fears regarding my writing, too. Fear of rejection is the most obvious. It can be difficult to share something so personal, let alone offer it up for subjective judgment by the world at large. And it only gets worse, I know.

Turns out that the farther you go in the process, the deeper you must ask yourself to go. During the rewrite process, in order to make your work the best it can be, you have to dig deeper, for the darkest stuff inside you. The deeper and darker you go, the more dire the obstacles for your characters, the better the work—the more likely you are to succeed. As sure as you ratchet up the fear and peril for your characters, you are ratcheting up your willingness to lay your own deepest fears and most hidden inner demons on the table… For all to see! Ironic, isn’t it?  

I’ve been navigating the angst-inducing publishing minefield in the same way I approach carpentry on high. Taking it a step at a time. First draft, check. Rewrite without knowing what you’re doing, check. Find a group of beta readers, done; try to respond to their feedback, got it. Write query letter, check; submit work—scary, but okay. Rejections all around *Cue cartoon deflating balloon sound-effect*

Okay, what’s the next step? I know, write another one—a prequel (okay, that step was mostly avoidance, but it turned to be helpful, and at least it kept me writing). What else can I do while writing prequel? Hire a pro—very scary, but did it! See? Step by step, inch by inch.

From Baby Steps to Big Ones: I just shared the last manuscript of the trilogy with my fabulous development editor, Cathy Yardley of Rock Your Writing. Some of my deepest, darkest stuff, the toughest to share, is in book three, and I feared the worst. But you know what?—I survived. She didn’t laugh at me (I don’t think) or tell me it was awful or that it would never work or that I had to change any of the major elements. She told me it needs work (quite a bit). But that should’ve been a given, right? In fact, she singled out some of that very deepest, darkest stuff as being some of my most effective writing. Go figure.

My point is, the farther you go, the bigger the steps, but the more you gain of that accumulated confidence with each one. The next steps for me are big ones—a major overhaul of the opening of book one, an accompanying rewrite (all to dig deeper and go darker), and then resubmission. But I’ve been up on this roof for a while now. I’m still scared, every day, but I’m feeling pretty good about my footing. I can allow myself to glance up and see the peak ahead. This job’s nearing completion. I’ll have to start all over again on the next one, but those are steps I can’t focus on yet.  

Taking the Longview: Some of you might be wondering what all of this has to do with Pressfield’s ‘career-in-potential’ advice. A funny thing happens after you’ve been on the roof for a while, after you’ve accumulated a small reserve of that confidence. You can start to look around, and enjoy the view. It’s still scary as hell to look straight down. It can take you right back to imagining laying down there with a broken back, unable to dial your cell. But as you near the peak, you can take the longview. You see things from a new perspective. From where I am now, thanks to the encouragement of my tribe, the affirming praise of some of my beta readers, and inspiration and instruction from pros like Steven Pressfield and Cathy, I can even see the shelf that will someday hold my books, which I can imagine more clearly than ever before.

I can’t imagine I’ll ever fully defeat my fear of heights. But I know I can keep my fears at bay well enough to enjoy the views from wherever I am on my climb. And the higher I go, the more lovely the view.

And you? What are your fears? Does imagining the worst help you deal with them? Do you have a coping method or mechanism? Have you accumulated enough confidence to take, and enjoy, the longview?

Can I Entice You To Read On?

Openings have been on my mind of late. The topic seems to be haunting me, as such things tend to do once they are ingrained in your thoughts.

Everywhere I turn there are articles and discussions about the openings and opening lines of novels, and their importance. It came up on the Writer Unboxed facebook page yesterday, and I saw this article on the website io9 today. My friend and fellow fantasy writer D.D. Falvo has been featuring some of her favorite first lines as a regular Friday feature on her facebook page.

For those of you who haven’t been keeping score, I’ve recently begun a rewrite of book one of my historical fantasy trilogy. The goal of the rewrite is to capture readers and draw them in faster than any of my previous openings. Since I have three more completed books in the series that hinge on accomplishing this goal, I’ve been feeling just a wee bit of pressure to get it right.

But do I really care? I have written dozens of openings, most of them discarded, and evidently few of them have been worthy of further discussion. I’ve often thought the fuss over openings, and opening lines in particular, has been overblown. You see, I’m not one of those people who uses the opening page or pages as one of my criteria for selecting a book to read. These days, I usually find out about books online or through personal recommendations. On the rare occasions I make it to an actual bookstore anymore (the nearest one is over twenty miles away), I’m more of a back-cover-blurb and random-page-sampling kind of guy.

Well, perhaps just a little: I have to admit, when read the io9 list, and saw the opening to Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart, I perfectly recalled first reading it and being blown away. My wife and I were both reading in bed, and I actually read the opening few pages aloud to her. I was just elated by the baroque power of the first person voice (I’m pretty sure my wife was less thrilled by the interruption, but still…). I’d owned the book for several weeks. I picked it up after reading her Sundering duology, which had been a recommendation of George RR Martin. I wasn’t too enamored by the cover, and there the book sat, on my night stand. Until I ran out of books to read, picked it up and read the opening—and couldn’t put it down again.

So before writing this, I started perusing my shelves and my Kindle this morning. Several of my favorites have great openings and pretty enticing opening lines. A recent favorite, that knocked my socks off, was Robin LaFevers’ Grave Mercy:

“I bear a deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch’s poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb. That I survived, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign I have been sired by the god of death himself.”  

With that, I was not only sockless, I was all in. It’s one I could not put down (and highly recommend).

But I like wearing socks: They’re just so darn comforting and warm. Truth be told, I’m a bit of a sock weirdo, and rarely work without them on, even in summer. But I digress…

My point is, comfort is important to me. I am all for being wowed. But I don’t think it’s necessary. Intriguing is not the same as enticing. I don’t need clever to be drawn into story. I don’t need a hook to love a book (pun intended, if lame). All I really want is to experience the flavor of the voice. And to not be put-off by clunky prose or confused, of course. I want to feel a sense of impending conflict, but I also want to be comforted—for the first few paragraphs to assure me I’m going to enjoy reading what’s ahead.

Steven Pressfield is a master at this. Nothing too flashy, just solid storytelling from the first sentence—setting the tone for what’s to come. For example, the opening to Virtues of War:

“I have always been a soldier. I have known no other life. The calling of arms, I have followed from boyhood. I have never sought another.”

Or this one, from Last of the Amazons:

“When I was a girl, I had a nurse who was a tame Amazon. Of course such an expression is a misnomer, as one of that race may be domesticated no more than an eagle or a she-wolf.”

These are not showy; they are perfectly in line with the character’s voices. But more than that, they begin the story. Things move seamlessly forward from these lines. They also both happen to be first person, as is Kushiel’s Dart. I think third person is a bit trickier, but I still believe the same workmanlike virtue can be achieved.

So I was stuck for a bit. I wanted what Pressfield consistently achieves for my own opening. I thought my previous opening line was clever. In fact, I was going for clever—swinging for the fences. But, after a couple dozen rejections, I’m ready to call it a swing and a miss. Not that I think it was bad. It just didn’t matter. Nor did the rest of the opening. I even had a few rejecting agents say the words, “The writing is strong.” But those same agents followed that line with, “But I just wasn’t drawn into the story.” The opening just didn’t do its job.

So this week I stripped all the clever away and focused on story, lopping off about the first fifty pages of the old version with the idea of getting into conflict faster and much closer to the inciting incident. I thought about what mattered to my primary protagonist for the new opening; how he felt, what was his conflict in the moment. Then I tried to speak in the now well-practiced voice of the series (one could only hope by now, right?). I just put something down. Just to get my ass moving. I’m leaving it for now, but it’s not set in stone. Lord knows it very well may change. And it’s certainly not a showy hook, but it set my mood for the opening scene and the story to follow.

I suppose it all begs the question: I’m usually not much for sharing my work before it’s done. I don’t know that I consider it bad luck or anything. But  sharing out-of-context work never seems to me to do it justice. And it can also come off as a bit desperate, like I’m seeking validation or approval. Having said all that, I’m sure this post has a few of you wondering what I came up with. And, since its only a few lines that will likely change anyway, I’ll bend my rule and share my new opening paragraph with you. Big whoop, right? Anyway, here it is:

“Everyone knew he should be riding to war, just as everyone knew his mother was the reason he wasn’t. After all, he was the Wulthus clan heir, the rightful next bearer of the futhark sword. But she had seen to it that he was not among the departing hosts. Thaedan loved his mother, but at the moment he hated her for it.”

 As I mentioned, the focus is on Thaedan’s conflict in the moment before the oncoming action sequence, written in the third person voice of the series. I’m not sure I love it, but I do feel it achieves ‘workmanlike’ status. Good enough to move forward with the work. In the coming weeks, I’ll have to decide if I feel it’s good enough to entice readers to read on.

What about you? Are you wowed by showy hooks? Is simply starting the story enough for you? How do you feel about socks? Or would anyone else care to share?

Regarding Kickass Warrior Chicks

9780940_mI recently read a blog post on the topic of the proliferation of empowered warrior women by Jane Kindred, and I haven’t been able to get it off my mind since. I’ve come to respect her since reading her debut fantasy, The Fallen Queen, which I reviewed for my gig at ReaderUnboxed. In her post, Jane points out that making females as violent and physically adept as males does not empower them. Indeed, since it’s a fact that women are generally smaller and not as physically strong as males, the literary trend of making them so could be viewed as damaging. She points out that women could be – and should be – shown as equals in ways that don’t involve physical ass-kicking. Using their brains, for example–Duh, right? One of the post’s commenters advised fantasy writers to think long and hard about why they would want to portray women that way.

So I have been thinking. So much so that I needed to write about it, just to clear my head.

Got Warrior Chicks? For anyone reading this who hasn’t read my fiction: warrior chicks, I haz ’em. You might say they feature prominently, in all four of my finished manuscripts. Oh yeah, and they’re kickass, if I do say so myself.

I call my work historical fantasy, but it is probably closer to alternate history than fantasy. There is no system of magic. Some readers might glean that my Gottari are based on the Germanic tribe of the Goths, and their Tiberian foes will be quite recognizable as the ancient Romans. So the most fantastic thing about the books is my creation of the Skolani, and their insertion into this otherwise recognizable alt-historical world. The Skolani are an all female Teutonic warrior sect pledged to an alliance with the Gottari. More simply put, they are a tribe of kickass warrior chicks.

Where did the Skolani come from? I read a lot about the Amazons after reading (and loving) Steven Pressfield’s The Last of the Amazons. Much later, while researching the Goths for the books, I read a fifth century treatise by a Goth named Jordanes called The Origin and Deeds of the Goths. Jordanes lays the claim that the Amazons of Greek myth were actually the abandoned wives of the Goths, who had left their women on the northern coast of the Black Sea to conquer Persia and Egypt–a premise I found amusing as well as interesting. From there, I loosely based the tribe on an amalgam of several Amazon myths, the American Indians (particularly the Great Lakes tribes), and the Sarmatians (an ancient matriarchal nomadic warrior society of the Black Sea region, from which I took the name Skolani, which means ‘We fight to be free’). They live in a Kabitka, which is a cross between a nomadic horse-culture tent-camp and a woodlands American Indian village.

Skolani girls receive martial training from the time they can stand and hold a weapon, and ride from the day they can stay in a saddle unaided. The biggest and most athletic are chosen to receive blades, and aspire to be risen to the ranks of the Blade-Wielders, the most vaunted warriors in my world of Dania.

Just your everyday garden-variety asskickers. I didn’t want the Skolani to be super-humans, or invincible, or lesbians, or asexual, or man-haters, or secretly wanting/needing men. I wanted to them to be a collection of individuals. They are both good and bad, wise and foolish, strong and fallible. In other words, I endeavored to create interesting, multidimensional characters that readers–both male and female–would enjoy getting to know.

But why? So back to my point: why did I create the Skolani? Since reading Jane’s post I’ve pondered, looking at it from every angle–again. As I said, I thought long and hard about them from the inception. I can honestly say I did it because I wanted female characters who were on the same footing as the male characters. So, to Jane’s point, did they have to be kickass warriors to be on the same footing?

The answer I’ve arrived at is, yes. My alternate history world is a violent one. When I say on the same footing, I don’t mean simply being as smart or as strong. I wanted to totally eliminate the need to justify having my male characters perceive my female characters as total equals. Never once, in any of my work, does a Gottari male utter a misogynistic or chauvinistic phrase about or to a Skolani female. Never does anyone utter anything resembling, “Oh, that is such a typical female thing to say/do.”Boudica

Strong Females: With the addition of the Skolani, I hoped to create a genuine historically-correct atmosphere in which my male and female characters could approach one another with the same respectful consideration as two males would–to have the opportunity for males and females to appraise one another both inside and outside the realm of sexual attraction. I wanted my male and female characters to be friends, comrades, occasionally lovers, or even esteemed foes, all within the context of a believably historical setting. I still believe that maintaining this intersexual dynamic in my setting would’ve been difficult without my creation.

I believe my kickass warrior chicks make my story more plausible, not less.

My Inspiration: Anyone who knows me well and has read my work can see that there is a lot of my wife in there. And, although she is not a Blade-Wielder, she is the most capable person I’ve ever met. Our relationship sprang from a friendship, and is founded on mutual respect. She has saved me from myself more times than I care to enumerate here. I often refer to her as the other half of my brain. I would honestly be lost without her. Although none of the Skolani are specifically based on her, in a way they are all modeled after her.

So, in a way, it is her fault I write about kickass warrior chicks. In a very real way, the trilogy is a tribute to her. So thank you, my Anam Cara.

Image credit: <a href=’’>demian1975 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>