Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tracy S. Morris talks about writing humor in MEDIEVAL MISFITS

There are all kinds of reasons a writer might shy away from trying to be funny. Humor can easily fall flat. Taste in humor changes over time and by region. Maybe the biggest challenge to a would-be writer of comedy is gathering the self-confidence to deliver the goods. Tracy S. Morris, author of Medieval Misfits: Renaissance Rejects, offers some guidance and perspective. 

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Humor is Tough!
by Tracy S. Morris

Remember in the early 90’s there was a Barbie doll that talked?  Mostly she complained about how math was tough? (You don’t? Then get off my lawn you young whippersnapper!)  Some days I think that Barbie knew nothing.  Math is easy compared to writing comedy.

Case in point: If you were paying attention to the news recently, you probably saw something about the brouhaha surrounding Stephen Colbert and #CancelColbert.  If not, let me explain to you as if you lived your life at the bottom of a well.  Stephen Colbert is an actor with a show in which he pretends to be a conservative news anchor.  His show lampoons, among other things, pop culture, pundits and conservative news anchors.

Things for Colbert were pretty much rainbows and puppies and Peabody awards until someone at Comedy Central tweeted out one of his punch lines without context on twitter.  As a result, hashtag activists protested by tweeting out #cancelcolbert. Even after Colbert explained the context of the joke, some people still didn’t find it funny.

Which just goes to show that humor is highly subjective.  What one person finds funny, another person will be horrified at.

When I was younger, I listened to a radio show called Dr. Demento.  Most of the songs were hilarious.  But there was one song that just made me sad.  It was called Dead Puppies Aren’t Much Fun.  To me, this song wasn’t any fun.  Similar songs always at least rated a chuckle or two.  Like the one about poisoning pigeons in the park.  But not songs about dead puppies.  Why?  Maybe because pigeons are funny, and puppies are cute?  Perhaps life experience, empathy and age all play a factor.

Looney Tunes, particularly the older ones, don’t always hold up well either.  If you put on a collection of older Looney Tunes, you may read a disclaimer that states that the shows are products of their times.  This is boilerplate legalese that basically means: people in the 30’s 40’s and 50’s didn’t get offended at the same things you do.  If you find Speedy Gonzales offensive, don’t watch!

Racial stereotypes aren’t the only area where Looney Tunes don’t always age well.  The old WB cartoons have always been liberally peppered with pop culture references.  This was fine for the time.  But nowadays even some adults who find them on Youtube may not recognize Frank Sinatra. 

So as a humor writer, how do I write something that has a broad appeal to the largest number of readers?  Mostly, I just write what I find funny and hope that my audience shares my sense of humor.  There is room in the world for all types of humor, from people who appreciate Buster Keeton to those who like Bevis and Butthead.  And maybe even a few who think Barbie is funny, too. 

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Heh heh. I remember Dr. Demento...

You can learn more about Tracy S. Morris on her website.

You can purchase Medieval Misfits on Amazon and directly from the publisher, Yard Dog Press.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Regina Jeffers on Balancing Fact and Fiction in Historical Novels

Pehaps the biggest challenge of writing historical fiction is balancing fact and invention. Today's guest, author of the REALM series of historical novels, discusses this issue.

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In addition to correct dialect, dress, and the character’s period names, historical fiction depends heavily upon historical facts. Most authors who write historical fiction are history junkies. Yet, there must be a steadiness
between writing a good story and getting the historical details correct. It is a balancing act to share one character’s foibles and flaws, as well as the qualities about him, which we admire. For me, I like to add another element: to mix in “modern” issues the reader might not expect in an historical novel.

A Touch of Honor is the seventh book in my highly popular “Realm” series. The Realm is a fictional covert group working under the auspices of the Home Office during the Napoleonic War. Each of the members of the Realm has left the service and has returned home to claim titles and land and, hopefully, love. However, a Baloch warlord, who believes one of them has stolen a fist-sized emerald he wants, returned to his land is pursuing them.

For “modern” issues, the characters have met a variety of concerns. In The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, Lady Eleanor Fowler knows a deviant parent, who has placed her in a tenuous abusive situation. In A Touch of Mercy, we see how far a family will go to marry off their daughter to a man of wealth and consequence. In A Touch of Love, cultural assimilation in Regency London is part of the plot. In A Touch of Honor, the reader encounters the idea of “eating disorders” in a time when women were corseted into their dresses, as well as dependency on laudanum, a tincture of opium administered to babies and adults alike during the Regency and Victorian periods.

Into these story lines, I have mixed the history of the time. The reader will discover something of the glass cones, a 19th century structured used in the glass manufacturing process, in A Touch of Cashémere. The Peterloo Massacre plays a part in both A Touch of Love and His: Two Regency Novellas. Lord Sidmouth’s search for sedition in post Napoleonic London becomes part of several plot lines. The reader has met such real-life characters as John Loudon McAdam, who developed the road system, which changed the face of England, as well as Sir Walter Scott as a close friend of one of the characters. One can also find the Pentrich Rising as the backdrop for A Touch of Love. The list is lengthy and diverse.

Book Blurb:
For two years, BARON JOHN SWENTON has thought of little else other than making Satiné Aldridge his wife; so when he discovers her reputation in tatters, Swenton acts honorably: He puts forward a marriage of convenience that will save her from ruination and provide him the one woman he believes will bring joy to his life. However, the moment he utters his proposal, Swenton’s instincts scream he has made a mistake: Unfortunately, a man of honor makes the best of even the most terrible of situations.

SATINE ALDRIDGE has fallen for a man she can never possess and has accepted a man she finds only mildly tolerable. What will she do to extricate herself from Baron Swenton’s life and claim the elusive Prince Henrí? Obviously, more than anyone would ever expect.

ISOLDE NEVILLE has been hired to serve as Satiné Aldridge’s companion, but her loyalty rests purely with the lady’s husband. With regret, she watches the baron struggle against the impossible situation in which Miss Aldridge has placed him, while her heart desires to claim the man as her own. Yet, Isolde is as honorable as the baron. She means to see him happy, even if that requires her to aid him in his quest to earn Miss Satiné’s affections.

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Learn more about Regina Jeffers on her website and on her blog.  

Purchase A Touch of Honor at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Monday, March 24, 2014

Diane Scott Lewis on the History and Magic of Cornwall in RING OF STONE

Research can be a wondrous labyrinth, leading to unexpected places. That's what happened to today's guest, historical novelist Diane Scott Lewis. 

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The Cornish say there’s magic in a ring of stone. Reading Daphne du Maurier’s non-fiction Vanishing Cornwall for research on an earlier novel, I came across the haunting picture of a stone shaped like a ring perched on a windswept coastline. I decided I had to write a story around such a formation. For my novel, Ring of Stone, this wind and rain-ravaged phenomenon plays a vital part in the lives of the Gwynn sisters, and others in the remote village of Lankyp.

Cornwall is steeped in myths and magic and the more I researched—before the days of the internet—the more legends I wanted to include in my story. I traveled to Cornwall and walked the stormy northern coast, but also pored over numerous books at the Library of Congress.

I tossed in a practical young woman, Rose Gwynn from America, and placed her in the difficult   position of wanting to practice as a doctor in a time when females were forbidden—in 1796. She’s journeyed here with her family, to the land of her ancestors, for her father’s career. Rose discounts anything supernatural and humors his tales of an ancient curse. However, her beliefs will soon be tested and twisted in a strange direction.

Rose’s arrival in the village will distress the local physician, Dr. Nelson, to whom she pleads to for assistance. Unbeknownst to her, stoic, young Nelson hides a ruinous secret and cannot allow anyone close. Rose’s beautiful sister will attract a nearby earl, who may or may not harbor evil inclinations. A tavern wench named Catern knows the ugly truth about the earl but her humiliation has kept her from revealing the painful details, though she seethes with revenge.

These three people, Rose, Dr. Nelson, Catern, will come together in ways none of them expected to help or hinder and change all their lives forever. The stone ring will have an explosive moment—or is it the characters’ imaginations?—to help one woman discover love, and save another lady’s life.

A Cornish wise-woman or “Charmer” also plays a prominent role in the story, teaching Rose to see her past as her and her sister’s future. The elderly charmer warns that someone who has barged into an ancient land should never disregard the old ways.

I tried to fit the supernatural aspect, as much as I could, into a scenario that might have happened as I’ve written it—perhaps. I enjoyed writing this story and I hope readers will enjoy the journey into mythical Cornwall.

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Learn more about Diane Scott Lewis on her website.

Ring of Stone will be featured at a cheaper price on Amazon Countdown. March 24th for Amazon US. March 25th for Amazon UK.

Purchase Ring of Stone on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

AJ Sikes on Noir in GODS OF CHICAGO

"Noir" is one of those terms that most of us understand vaguely, as a feeling we get when we read or see a darkly shadowed work showcasing the urban underbelly. But what is noir to an author who writes it? Please welcome AJ Sikes, who explains how he approached this genre in his new novel, Gods of Chicago
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Thank you, Anne, for hosting me today.

Gods of Chicago is a noir urban fantasy set in an alternate history 1929. Like all genres, noir has a set of tropes and characters who need to appear on the page for a particular story to fit readers’ expectations. In their introduction to The Best American Noir of the Century, James Ellroy and Otto Penzler famously (perhaps infamously) describe the genre in such a way that reading noir becomes tantamount to donning an executioner’s hood. There are no winners in noir fiction, they say. The late Roger Ebert had as much to say about filmic interpretations. My tough luck that I wanted to write a story that wouldn’t match any of these admittedly well-informed opinions.
It’s important to me that stories lead somewhere. Not necessarily to the fabled land of sequels and movie deals, but at least to a place that doesn’t leave ashes on the tongue. Noir storytelling involves scenes and events that are intentionally disturbing, but such instances don’t have to be the point of a story in order for it to be considered noir. A tale can be disturbing and still succeed at entertaining, possibly even evoking a sense of hope.
I wrote Gods of Chicago to tell a story that aims to entertain and disturb in equal measure. Bad things happen to good people. Innocence is treated with derision if it’s acknowledged at all. In that sense, the book does fit with Ebert’s description of film noir as “A [story] which at no time misleads you into thinking there is going to be a happy ending.” The storyscape is what you’d expect as well. Dark alleys, dim skies, back doors and hidden entrances, grimy city streets, and the lowest people on the social ladder kept well away from the upper crust. The people you meet have all seen enough to know there isn’t much reason to hope things will get better. But they still try. Whereas Ellroy, Penzler, and Ebert are convinced nobody but nobody thinks they’ll really win in noir, the characters in Gods of Chicago aren’t beaten yet, and they’re going to keep proving that to you long after the gun smoke clears.
Yes, everyone in the book is making a play and has a stake in the game, but that’s true of any character in any genre - perhaps no more so than in real life, where we all face obstacles to success and achievement on a daily basis. Fiction magnifies our little struggles for us, and that’s part of the joy of reading (and writing) for me. It’s enlivening to see characters faced with peril and doom only to overcome and triumph, to some extent, at the end. With Gods of Chicago, I aimed to capture the fatalism and futility that Ellroy and Penzler point up as hallmarks of the genre, but I also set out to dispel the myth that ‘all is lost’ in noir fiction. The skies and streets may be black with portent, but somewhere out there is a hint of light flickering, maybe even showing the way out.
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Gods of Chicago is available now as a Kindle ebook and Paperback.
Learn more about AJ Sikes on his website. Follow him on Twitter: @SikesAaron

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Janet Lane Walters on how a string of short stories can build whole worlds

I've written novels, novellas, novelettes, chapter books, short stories, flash fiction, and drabbles. Still, I've never done what today's guest, Janet Lane Walters, has accomplished: she's written a unified series of short stories about related worlds. I'll have to try that! But first, welcome to The Amber Chronicles.

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Writing Short Pieces - Amber Chronicles
by Janet Lane Walters 

I began writing short stories until the day an editor told me what I'd written sounded like a synopsis for a novel. Back to the drawing board and I was off on writing novels. Then I joined a group of writers called Jewels of the Quill as Dame Amber and was asked to participate in their anthologies. Thus the world called Amber was born. The stories weren't written in chronological order and ranged in length from 2500 words to 15,000 words. Four of the stories in Amber Chronicles were published in the anthologies and numbers 5 and 6 were written after I received the rights back to the books and decided to write a beginning to the story and tie all the stories together.
The main character is a witch called Emme who must learn what it means to give and receive love. She wants to marry a crown prince and when she constantly fights with her sisters is send to another world where she must learn her lessons. Emme starts out as more of a villain than a heroine but I knew she had to be redeemed. Writing the first story was difficult since she needed to be mean yet be able to learn what she must. Though the shortest story in the collection, this took the longest to write. But as a writer I loved Emme and wanted others to love her as well. Her story became The Amber Orb and she sets a curse on the first of the princes to turn her down. He is taken into the amber orb.
Stephen enters the orb and is transported to a land where a dragon is terrifying the inhabitants. The Amber Dragon tells the story of an enchanted princess transformed into a five foot, fat amber dragon. She has lessons to learn and she needs a prince to rescue her.  This was a fun story to write and was a bit of my take on The Princess and the Frog fairy tale we all know and remember. The story was a fun one to write and made me chuckle a time or two. Hopefully the readers will react in similar ways.
Having failed once, Emme tries again. This time the prince is Rafel who refuses to accept her offer and give her his love. He is transported to a world with an aging king who has a niece he raised from birth and another who suddenly appeared and who is everything the first niece isn't. Here Rapunzel came to mind and The Amber Tower was born. This time Rafel is the prisoner in the tower and he is faced with a choice to wed either of the princesses. Marriage is not a state he wishes. There were times while writing this story that I struggled but as well as Rapunzel, I had one of those Aha moments and added a bit of The Lady or the Tiger to the story.
Emme doesn't give up. She tries for Ivor and he refuses. He enters the orb and arrives in a world where a princess is in The Amber Cage. Ivor loves music and in the world he not inhabits, people sing rather than speak. He faces tests and has two rivals for the hand of the princess. The ending came to me from a record my father used to play a warp sound but I won't give what happened away.
In despair Emme decides to grow up with the next prince, Hugh. She now begins to learn the lesson she was sent to learn and the story ends with a reverse of the other stories. Odd thing was this was the first of the stories I wrote and I think I was a bit influenced by Anna Karenina, a story I read at a very young age and thought the ending was dumb. What always interests me in writing is how something from childhood enters a story in different ways. This story was titled Woman Cast In Amber.
The final story features Kristen the prince who fell in love with the woman cast in amber and how he wants to rescue her. Since this was the last story in the group, there had to be an ending and Emme had to prove she had learned the lesson. Started this story several times. I believe there were at least three versions before I found the right mix.
All in all, these stories were fun to write. Starting near the end of a series of related stories and going to the beginning of the events may not be how this should be done. I enjoyed writing each of the stories and bits of myself entered the three worlds of the Amber Chronicles.

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Learn more about Janet Lane Walters on her website and her blog.

You can buy The Amber Chronicles on Amazon.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

S.A. Bolich brings romance to a Civil War ghost story, IN HEAVEN'S SHADOW

I do love a good genre-bender. Historical fiction meets paranormal romance in S.A. Bolich's latest book. She stopped by to tell us about In Heaven's Shadow and the research behind it.

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When should love end? The question behind In Heaven’s Shadow
by S.A. Bolich

How can you build a life with a ghost? I mean, really, why would you want to? On the other hand, who says you can’t? In the case of poor Lilith Stark, the heroine of In Heaven’s Shadow, just about everybody!

Who wouldn’t love a man who foreswears Heaven to be with you? Poor Joab found the love of his life a bit late, and only got two years with her before the war came along. He’s not ready to move on, and Lilith sees no particular reason why he should. But how would you react if your neighbor suddenly announced that her dead husband had come home from Gettysburg a ghost and had taken up residence? Suppose she was a little “odd” anyway, with a certifiably strange father? And suppose you thought you saw rainbows following her around on occasion, or caught her talking to people who weren’t there? How hard would she have to talk to convince you it was all true?

Yup. Even today, society would likely still commit her first and ask questions later. Just imagine how upset 19th century sensibilities would be.

The Civil War was an era when “community” meant people helped each other and knew everything about one another and got in each other’s business without question or qualm. The backdrop of the war just made it more essential for people on the home front to get along. With so many men off fighting, the burden on the women at home was truly remarkable as they fought to keep houses and families and farms together and food on the table while raiders from both sides stole everything in sight. I grew up on a farm (Lilith’s hatred of hoeing comes straight from my childhood of maintaining the kitchen garden), but before I wrote this book I really didn’t have a bedrock appreciation for the amount of sheer manual labor our ancestors put in every day. Lilith and her neighbors need to pull together—but she has tossed a rock into the pool of settled truths that are all they have left to depend upon. With the war already looming over this prim and proper corner of Virginia like the scythe of the Grim Reaper choosing another victim, they’re just not up to her overturning all the notions of life and death and faith that keep them going from day to day.

Yet how can she turn her back on the man she loves just because he’s dead? What a delicious dilemma.
I have always been fascinated by the Civil War, and I love fantasy. As a history major in college (yes, I’m one of those geeks!) I set out to write historical fiction, but there was always that fantasy element that kept drawing me away. At last, with In Heaven’s Shadow, I got a great chance to combine paranormal with “straight” history and magic and come up with a Civil War ghost story that is also a very different sort of love story.

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Learn More about S.A. Bolich on her website.

Purchase In Heaven’s Shadow as an ebook on AmazonSmashwordsB&N, or directly from Taliesin Publishing

Thursday, February 20, 2014

M. Garnet switches genre gears for latest story, EYES OF DANGER

Please welcome M. Garnet. When I learned that her most recent publication was a switch from her usual fare, I asked her to talk about why she decided to write a contemporary romantic mystery this time around.

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Anne, I want to thank you very much for inviting me as a guest on your blog.  There is a lot to say about my story EYES OF DANGER due to the fact that it is a little different than most of my published books, so the opportunity to talk about it with your readers is something I appreciate.

When I put up an introduction for my release of this story I said “I locked up my vampires in the closet and turned off my telescope”.  My fans who have read my stories will understand what I meant by that strange little sentence.  I have written several stories about love that included space travel with strange events and strange individuals.  There is something that I love to write about sexy aliens.

I also have had a reasonable amount of success writing about Vampires including a series called BLOOD SISTERS of which the third in the series, MISERY was awarded a four star award from Romance Review saying it was ‘an outstanding read’.  Some would say I should stay with what is selling.  I want to say here that I do love my vampires and I have the fourth in the series with the publisher at this moment.

But, there is always something that draws me back to the contemporary mystery genre so I just can’t resist plowing through my old notes and emailing all my great research contacts to get back into a modern thriller with love pulled apart in the middle of evil government types with too much power.

With this story, I wanted to bring my reader along with the heroine into a web that she got lost trying to understand as she fell in love with a pair of dark eyes.  I needed to surround her with some real locations, actual threats and true ways of getting away and safe.

For some authors research can be tedious and boring.  For me it is exciting and a great way to learn.  On top of that, because of my long and interesting life, I have had the surprise to find that I have a plethora of people that I know personally who have first hand knowledge on things that most of the citizens around us never even saw on the evening news.  My list of people I can dip into involves retired Navy Seals, Experts on Police and Federal armament and every military type you can think about.  My email reaches out to those in almost every US state but also those who personally experienced time deep inside the working process of both the government and the largest businesses that run this world.

The cover may not have a half naked vampire or very sexy alien on it, but still my favorite artist Carmen Waters did an outstanding job doing artwork that was stunning.  Pardon the pun but it is ‘eye catching’.  I also have to give credit to my editor Tex Burd who keeps me out of any trouble that might make me look like I slept through all the courses on Lit 101.

This is the third in the genre of contemporary mystery love story I have written but, I will have to warn my fans, it won’t be my last.  I just hope that there are some fans and perhaps some new ones that will find this story with a strange turn at the end interesting enough to recommend it to others.

Again Anne, thanks for this opportunity. 

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Learn more about M. Garnet on her website.   

You can purchase Eyes of Danger at Extasy Books.