Thursday, July 25, 2013

Barbara Burgess talks YA, Fantasy, and Medieval Lit

Please welcome my guest, Barbara Burgess. She shares with me an educational background in the Middle Ages, although she went the more fantastical route for her new YA novel, The Magic Manuscript: The Nine Companions (second in the Magic Manuscript series), which places contemporary teens into the legendary period of King Arthur. Barbara discusses the inspiration for her series. 

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Thanks so much, Anne, for having me as a guest on your blog. 

Today, I’d like to talk about the roles that the key female protagonists play in my latest YA fantasy novel. I thought to open with this quote from sixteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai’s inspiring words at the United Nations the other day.  Her words about helping young women around the world realize their own strength and potential deeply resonated with me. “We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave – to embrace the strength within themselves and realise their full potential.”

I specialized in medieval English literature at McGill University. My thesis advisor had been tutored by C. S. Lewis at Oxford University and introduced me to “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and other Arthurian legends. Years later, I decided to write my own version of the timeless Arthurian legend. My YA fantasy novel, The Magic Manuscript: Book One – Voyage to Eve Ilion, was first published by Piraeus Books in 2011. Two teens, Jennifer and Arthur, are thrown back in time after Jen finds a medieval magic manuscript in a cave in England. They meet the wizard Merlin in England around the year 500 AD. In my latest novel, however, The Magic Manuscript: The Nine Companions, I decided that Merlin should reappear in the twenty-first century as a beautiful Welsh woman in her mid-twenties—Bronwen—who has a key position at the UN. She becomes a mentor and guide to Jennifer Gael, the main heroine in the story. I wanted to present to teenage girls—and all readers—the ideal of a strong and influential female leader. When Jennifer, Lance and Arthur first meet her, Bronwen tells them:

“I’m the daughter of a prominent politician. My mother was a minister in the government. I grew up meeting cabinet ministers at the dinner table—a kind of modern-day court. At university, people became interested in my poetry and ideas, and I found myself in the public arena, championing idealistic causes. The UN has commissioned me to write a manifesto of peace … I need you three to stand as warriors against darkness. Jennifer, this is the age where women can be powerful leaders. That’s that why I returned as a woman, this time around.”

The theme of free-spirited young women reclaiming their right to independence certainly runs through this second book (which can be read without having read the first book). Jennifer and her boyfriend Arthur time travel again; this time, they land in the desert of ancient Sumeria in the year 3200 BC. The two youths are kidnapped by Faizi, a tyrannical leader. He tries to push Jennifer into an arranged marriage. They must escape Faizi, and as they flee through the desert, they are aided by other young companions who also want a life of freedom from oppression and tyranny. Throughout their journey, we sense the hidden, mysterious and beneficent power of Lady Eve. She is the goddess whom Jennifer met in her earlier time travels (described in book one) and who helped Jennifer develop her intuition, ability to understand all languages, and unfold hidden potentials and superpowers, such as the abilities to fly and prophesy.

The cover of The Magic Manuscript: The Nine Companions was done by artist David Russell, who has worked as a storyboard artist on movies such as “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi,” “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” to name but a few. I was honoured and delighted that he created such a splendid cover for The Nine Companions, in which he depicted Lady Eve, goddess of the island of Eve Ilion. Russell portrayed her just as I envisioned—a powerful young woman with great strength, determination, beauty, and grace.

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You can read more about Barbara Burgess and the making of The Magic Manuscript: The Nine Companions at her website

The Magic Manuscript: The Nine Companions can be purchased directly from the publisher, and on Amazon.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Medieval romance A KISS AT VESPERS online launch party! @MusePublishing

Hello and welcome! It's launch day again! My medieval romance novelette, A Kiss at Vespers, is now available for sale.

[PLEASE NOTE: Because of spammers, I have to moderate comments before they post. But I see every comment, so there's no need to enter it twice. Thanks!]

You can get it for Kindle on Amazon, on Kobo, or in any e-book format from the publisher, MuseItUp.

To get you in the mood for this eleventh-century tale, here are the ruins of an ancient Irish monastery:

Of course, with a title like A Kiss at Vespers, you can expect some monks. One of them was kind enough to drop by. (Don't worry, Brother Martinus in the story is much more classically handsome!)

And here's a blurb to tempt you:

A Kiss at Vespers

In 1008 AD, Dublin is just a small town, newly opened to trade now that Viking violence there has died down. A young woman named Asta runs away from her boring life in Britain on one of her father’s trading vessels bound for Dublin, hoping that she and the sailor she loves can find a new life together. But when shipwreck takes him from her, her whole world changes. She is helped up the rocky shores of eastern Ireland by handsome and enigmatic Brother Martinus, who takes her to the Monastery of St. Luran’s to recover. Despite his vows of silence and chastity, Brother Martinus is entranced by the beautiful maiden who seems delivered to him by Providence. Their unexpected relationship causes both of them to rethink their concepts of faith and love.

Would you like some cake? The book starts with a shipwreck, so here's a lovely shipwreck cake:

Don't forget to really help me celebrate by using those purchase links! You can get A KISS AT VESPERS for Kindle on Amazon, on Kobo, or in any e-book format from the publisher, MuseItUp. (Barnes & Noble coming soon...)

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Morgen Rich turns leisure into lit

I know you'll enjoy today's post, by a fellow member of Broad Universe, Morgen Rich. She has some very positive advice about finding inspiration for writing by doing what you enjoy. 

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Let the die be cast!

Thanks for having me as a guest, Anne! I’m Morgen Rich, and I’d like to tell you a story—a story about how the “how to write” light bulb went on for me.

In the acknowledgments of Part One of Incorrigible: Secrets Past & Present, I thanked the roleplaying community for helping me unleash my imagination. I meant that sincerely. Roleplaying has taught me as much about what I needed to know as a writer as reading and practicing writing.

With the help of others, I “built” the first setting for Incorrigible in a virtual world. In that medieval fantasy landscape, I plopped down my avatar on a rock near a river or in a hidden cave while I wrote a lengthy tale about a girl whose life didn’t turn out quite the way she’d planned. When I wasn’t writing, I was serving as Lead Game Mistress for the roleplay. Although I’d roleplayed for a long time, being a Game Mistress for a large group of talented roleplayers was a challenge. I learned a lot about plausibility, details, planning, and pacing.

The environment in the simulators (we had grown to 6 in less than 2 years) was constantly shifting. Disasters, natural and manmade, were my excuses for tweaking this village or that mountain trail. All the while, I continued writing the tale about the girl but never felt like I’d nailed the story.

After about two and a half years, I hankered to build a setting that was completely different and develop a roleplay challenge that would throw not just the unexpected, but the truly unknown, at the players. I came up with an idea for an environment the size of an entire simulator. The problem was that the “ground” on the simulator was already filled an established environment, and I didn’t want to disrupt roleplay or forewarn. So, I looked to the sky, where I secretly built a sim-sized setting for a quest called What Dreams May Come. What was significant about the Dreams setting was that it wasn’t a magic zone. It was a whole different world!

While I built that world, I made up backstories for the objects in it and the non-player characters who would populate it during the quest. The Dreams environment didn’t just look different; it had different rules!

As I worked to write a challenging roleplay quest and environment, a single thought gnawed at me about the tale I’d been writing. It dawned on me that it, like quests on the simulator’s ground level, was too restricted by setting. Nobody would care if the girl’s life didn’t turn out as planned. NOBODY’S life does! So, three years into the medieval fantasy project, I burned and buried the ashes of five manuscripts. I reformatted my hard drives.

All the experience I’d gained in roleplaying, in being a Game Mistress, and in being a virtual world builder suddenly came to bear on my writing in a dramatic way. The girl needed different challenges! The environment needed to be crisp and vast! The worlds needed rules! Conflict needed to be significant! Themes needed to matter! Characters needed to come to life . . . and death!

And then I wrote the story that wanted to be told. I set it in a universe that was constantly shifting (like the simulator landscapes had over time) with out-of-sight worlds that worked according to their own peculiarities. The first draft of Incorrigible weighed in at about 135,000 words, and I wrote it in 30 inspired days.

Incorrigible is a story and setting I’m continuing to build on as I write Books Two and Three of The Staves of Warrant. I’m enjoying every minute of skipping around the Shifting Worlds universe . . . and I owe it all to roleplaying!

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You can learn more about Morgen Rich and her Shifting Worlds universe at her website and blog. Parts One (Entrapments) and Two (Seeking) of Incorrigible are available as ebooks at Amazon and Smashwords.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Jennifer Allis Provost on the genesis of COPPER GIRL

As an author, finding out what you're actually writing can be quite an adventure and surprise. Jennifer Allis Provost shares with us the journey of discovery she took with her new novel, Copper Girl.

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Story First, Genre Later

Thank you, Anne, for letting me stop by! I’m Jennifer Allis Provost, and I’m going to talk about the convoluted path I took writing my latest release, Copper Girl.

I began Copper Girl with the scrap of an idea gleaned from my boring job as a cubicle monkey. While this seed was germinating, a few other ideas fluttered forth, and before I knew it, I had the makings of a story: I was going to write a YA dystopia.

Or so I thought.

In this initial version, the main character, Sara Corbeau, lived in a world that used to be full of magic, but no one believed in it anymore. Then Sara started seeing a man in her dreams, who turned out to be an elf lord from the Otherworld. Sara even had a snarky best friend, who disbelieved in everything magical, and worried that Sara was losing her mind.

Well, that didn’t work.

You see, an integral part of Sara’s journey revolves around her boring desk job. (I know, art imitating life at its finest) Most teens don’t have full-time office jobs, so that, along with the romance level in the book, pretty much knocked Copper Girl right out of the YA ballpark. Taking a cue from said romance level, I set out to rewrite it as a paranormal romance.

Or so I thought.

In this version, Sara and the dreamy elf lord, Micah, meet in their physical forms fairly early on, and establish a relationship. I also moved a good portion of the action to the Otherworld, and added some political drama. Since I had also added the Element-based magic system during this go-round, this is when Sara actually became a copper girl.

That version didn’t work either.


Before I started the third rewrite, I took some time to really think about the plot. So Sara worked at a lame office job, then an elf showed up in her dreams, and chaos ensued. That’s all well and good, but what was the chaos ensuing to? Then it hit me, the integral part that I was missing:

What the heck was the point of this story?

And that, dear reader, is exactly what Copper Girl had been missing. The characters were there, but the stakes weren’t high enough. I didn’t really understand what Sara wanted badly enough to defy her totalitarian government and begin using magic again. Then it hit me.

That totalitarian government had taken her brother away ten years ago, and she hadn’t seen him since.

Shortly after this revelation, Copper Girl went through its third and final major rewrite, and became a dystopian-flavored urban fantasy. Snarky best friend stayed, missing brother entered, and the rest of the story fell into place. The best part about this version was that it flowed. The words almost arranged themselves on the computer screen, and the plot never felt slow or stilted.

This was the story, just as it was meant to be. Finally, I’d thought right.

It took almost a year of rewrites, crumpled sticky notes, and anguished calls and emails to editors and critique partners before Copper Girl finally came together. But, you know what? In the end, it was all worth it.

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Learn more about Jennifer Allis Provost on her website.
Purchase Copper Girl on Amazon.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Alan Calder: Architecture, Aristocracy, and THE GLORIOUS TWELFTH

Please welcome today's guest, Alan Calder, who writes contemporary novels with a historical background. He shares with us some fascinating backstory behind his most recent novel, The Glorious Twelfth.

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All my novels are contemporary, in the mystery/suspense genre with their roots planted very firmly in the history of kings, aristocrats and saints. 

My most recent novel, The Glorious Twelfth, was inspired by a building and an aristocratic family. The Sinclair mausoleum stands near an abandoned farmstead thirty miles south of John o’Groats, the northern sibling of Land’s End in Cornwall. The mausoleum housed the remains of the aristocratic Sinclairs for several hundred years before a larger facility was constructed. With an unusual ogive shaped roof, it is built over the remains of an ancient chapel to St Martin and surrounded by a graveyard which once contained a class II Pictish stone, conferring great antiquity and mystery on the site.   
The Sinclairs have been the preeminent family in Caithness for over seven hundred years, still holding the earldom.  They were the builders of Rosslyn Chapel in the first half of the fifteenth century, a unique church steeped in masonic and Templar mythology, so much so that in The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown speculates that the Holy Grail lies buried in the filled in crypt of the building. My take on history is that the then remote and inaccessible Caithness would have provided a much better hiding place for the Grail than Rosslyn.                                                                                                  The Glorious Twelfth opens on an archaeological dig led by archaeologist, Ben Harris, on the land of aristocrat, Sir Ranald Sinclair. Ben is soon distracted both by the laird’s beautiful daughter, Fran and artefacts that point to a medieval shipwreck near a cave that he discovers is connected by a tunnel to Sir Ranald’s mausoleum. 

My first novel The Stuart Agenda, gradually materialised from reading the history of the defunct royal Stuart dynasty, replaced by the Hanoverians who still occupy the British throne today. The final trigger for the novel was a report on a young man who turned up in Edinburgh claiming to be a direct legitimate descendant of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the romantic Scottish hero but loser at the battle of Culloden. He challenged the authorised version of history, ie that the Prince died without legitimate issue, providing an impressive family tree to back his claim. He was feted for a while until a suspicious genealogist found the falsehoods in the family tree and debunked him. It turned out that he was a fantasist Belgian waiter called Michel Lafosse. Despite the falsehood of his claim it did raise the ‘what if’ question in my mind. My fictional Stuart family is French and the novel opens with Robert, the eventual claimant, at Gordonston School, beginning to build his Scottish profile. It’s a political conspiracy hatched by his family who spot the opportunity that Scotland might be going independent and want its own monarch. The plot takes on more meaning since writing as the nationalists make strong ground, now forming the Scottish government and preparing a referendum on independence. It has something for everyone- conspiracy, politics, intrigue, espionage, royal romance and the locations in Scotland, England, France and Poland.

My third novel, A Pilgrimage Too Far, to be released soon, is based in France and draws on my own research into the life of a minor medieval French saint that I stumbled on while visiting a church in Normandy. Aspects of his life have a profound meaning in our own time and the book challenges some deeply held Catholic dogma.  

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You can learn more about Alan Calder on his blog.

You can purchase The Glorious Twelfth directly from MuseItUp Publishing or on Amazon and Amazon UK.