Wednesday, December 30, 2015

How to Help a Writer Friend

Chuck Sambuchino has a great post on how to support authors with new books out. See it here. It mentions reading in public, leaving reviews, and talking about the book on social media. I want to go beyond that a bit and ask a little more of my loyal followers.

Not every book is going to be picked up by libraries or bookstores. Some authors, like me, have digital first books and aren't going to be displayed in bookstores or libraries unless someone asks for them. Next time you visit your library, consider filling out one of those little request forms and asking them to get a copy of Grudging. Or many libraries are online now and you can request right from your computer or phone. It only takes a few minutes, doesn't cost a thing, and could be a great help to getting the word out.

Also if you planned to buy a paperback copy of Grudging, order it in a bookstore. Bookstores will often purchase an extra copy to put on their shelves when a customer orders something. I'm afraid that's the only way Grudging will end up in stores as it's buried deep in the HarperCollins catalogs. 

Thanks for your support and I hope you enjoy your holiday season and get lots of reading done! 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book Review: The Mystic

The start of an enchanting new epic fantasy series from the founder of Dragonmount

I called to the Myst, and it sent us you.

For hundreds of years, high-born nobles have competed for the chance to learn of the Myst. 

Powerful, revered, and often reclusive, Mystics have the unique ability to summon and manipulate the Myst: the underlying energy that lives at the heart of the universe. Once in a very great while, they take an apprentice, always from the most privileged sects of society.

Such has always been the tradition—until a new High Mystic takes her seat and chooses Pomella AnDone, a restless, low-born teenager, as a candidate.

Commoners have never been welcomed among the select few given the opportunity to rise beyond even the highest nobility. So when Pomella chooses to accept the summons and journey to Kelt Apar, she knows that she will have more to contend with than the competition for the apprenticeship. 

Breaking both law and tradition, Pomella undergoes three trials against the other candidates to prove her worthiness. As the trials unfold, Pomella navigates a deadly world of intolerance and betrayal, unaware that ruthless conspirators intend to make her suffer for having the audacity to seek to unravel the secrets of the Myst.


Though clearly written for young adult and teens with simplistic characters and a romantic triangle, I did really enjoy the ending of Mystic. There were a few spoilers I guessed and one or two I didn't. That works well for me as I like to be right about some parts and surprised on others. :-)

I thought the world building depended a little two much on some random slang terms and respelling of the familiar terms like mother and father to make them more foreign. I didn't get enough sense of a deep rich history behind the people/world. It's easy to err with too much backstory about the world and characters, but I could have done with a little more here to add some depth.

I'm always glad to find another author of epic fantasy, and I'll look for more from this writer.  I received this copy from Tor in exchange for a review.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Snow Free Pass 2016

I know this is a busy time of year so right to it!

Sun versus Snow is coming! As of right now we have sixteen agents. (Agents announced in January.) You can see the rules here. My last couple of contests averaged three success stories from my picks alone. My free pass winner from Query Kombat in June became the runner up and got an agent!

I know of one person from Sun versus Snow 2015 who not only got an agent but also a nice book deal!

This is an opportunity you don't want to miss. A free pass allows you to skip the slush and become an instant pick. You will get to work with a mentor to improve your query and first page. Your entry will be seen by our agents and any ninja agents. And you'll be the first member of Team Snow!

You must do two things to enter: leave a blog comment on this post and use the rafflecopter to record that you commented. If you aren't in the rafflecopter, it can't pick you as the winner. This insures the winner is random and no bias slips in.

In the blog comment I want a short paragraph on what your main character would do with a snowball. Your main character suddenly has a snowball what does he/she do with it. Be creative but clean. It should be fun and imaginative. There's no need to post something long. Try and stay under 200 words.

Use the rafflecopter for addition entries and to help spread the word. Please tweet about this mini contest and pass it along to your friends! The more the merrier!


Amy and I agreed I can have TWO free passes! But the right conditions must be met.

I picked December 22nd for my free pass to open for a reason. The paperback of Grudging comes out today and I wanted to celebrate!

So in honor of that happy event, here are the conditions for a second free pass (Winner also to be drawn by the rafflecopter.):

1. Grudging hits the top 100 on Amazon in the paid Kindle Store category. 
2.  Or Grudging hits the top 10 in the other Amazon categories of historical fantasy, epic fantasy, or fantasy. 
3.  Or Grudging reaches 20 honest reviews on Goodreads or Amazon.

For one or two, someone must send me a screen shot as proof it happened.

To give everyone plenty of time to write their paragraph, the mini contest will stay open until January 11th. Good luck and I hope to see you on Team Snow!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Goodreads Giveaway

To celebrate the upcoming paperback release of GRUDGING, my publisher is having a Goodreads giveaway of five copies. You can go here to sign up to win!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: What genre is it?

At first glance it seems obvious where Star Wars belongs if you were to categorize it under a book genre. But if George Lucas had been trying to write a query letter, he might have run into some difficulties.

Star Wars is obviously science fiction, right? It takes place in space with plenty of battles there. We skip from one gorgeous planet to another. The technology is like what people only dream about. Hand held devices that let you communicate over distances. There was nothing like that in the 1970's when the first movie came out. Intelligent robots that are your personal servants. Robots called droids to fight your battles in lieu of actual casualties. The ability to conquer the tremendous size of the galaxy by using hyperdrive and go places instantaneously--or as good as if your hyperdrive computer hasn't been deactivated.

The movies are also populated with aliens of every shape and color. Not only have they conquered technology, but they don't seem to have a race problem. Nobody is really putting down the blue people for instance or picking on someone because they have six legs or no legs if you're a Hutt. It's an equal opportunity universe where plenty of prejudices still exist and even a smattering of slavery. I find it rather humanizing that unlike Star Trek the world here isn't perfect. There are still bad parts and nasty people. Bribery and smuggling still exist. Greed and lust for power are motivations. Money passes hands. People are still imperfect. (Compared to say Star Trek where everyone works hard because they want to? or for the good of society? I was never sure, but they don't seem worried about paychecks.)

And can we have a little aside about Princess Leia. A princess who is kickass with a blaster. A no-nonsense girl who favors serious subjects. She's in the heart of every battle, withstanding torture and riding speeders with the best of them. But she can still look like a woman as she swings across a chasm. There's a role model! 

So in Star Wars the inventive and imaginative settings and use of science and technology make it obvious this is science fiction. Until we come down to the heart of the plot and the Force.

The real center of the movies is a duel between two sides of the Force--the Sith and the Jedi.

As Han Solo calls it, the Force is a hokey religion that makes use of ancient weapons. It's a power no one can see that allows certain people to manipulate it and have lightening fast reflexes, jump incredible distances, and sense things before they happen. Not to mention change the minds of the weak. In other words, it's magic.

Oh, the later movies tried to classify it as science, talking about the Midichlorian levels and microscopic beings who live in our cells for our mutual benefit. The Force pervades all life. The Midichlorians continually speak to us of the Force. It's still your dressed-up magic system however you rationalize it.


However you want to explain it, try and write a query letter about the heart of the plot of Star Wars and you have to include the Force. And what is the Force but a key aspect of the fantasy genre.

What does the story really come down to. A spunky princess, a roguish smuggler, a hero-to-be fighting the evil dictator. It has themes of honor and valor like most fantasy. It speaks to redemption. All typical themes of fantasy.

Star Wars is mix of science fiction and fantasy. A common problem that faces many writers when they try to classify their work. It's a blending of the two--a hybrid! And like any good hybrid it takes the best of both worlds and brings them together to make something greater! 

So take heart everyone who has trouble classifying their manuscript. If your story has a little bit of this genre and some of that genre, you just might become the most popular story of all time! 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Win Tons of SFF Books

My publisher Harper Voyager US is celebrating the end of the 2015 by giving away a copy of every book they published this year! That includes Grudging! So cool. 

Thanks for being a fan of Harper Voyager books. We’ve been pretty lucky this year, because someone has said it’s okay for us to work on science fiction, fantasy, and horror books for a living.How ridiculous is that?(If you answered “Very,” then we’re with you. But we’re not going to keep working as long as they don’t realize how crazy that is!)But besides that, we’ve also gotten to partner with some amazing authors and publish some of the very best science fiction, fantasy, and horror. And sure, maybe we’re biased, but one thing you always have to remember: when an imprint publishes a book, we’ve made a conscious decision to do it—because we love it.

All you have to do to win is enter here. You can see the entire list there, too.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Guest Post on Sequels

I'm over at Dan Koboldt's talking about how I managed to get a trilogy and giving advice on how to plan sequels when the first book hasn't sold yet.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Announcing Sun versus Snow in 2016

To help everyone prepare, here is the information you'll need to enter Sun versus Snow. The submission for Sun versus Snow will be February 1st at 4 pm Eastern time. Act fast. We will only be taking the first 200 entries. Please do not enter early or your entry will be deleted. You can resend at the proper time if this happens accidentally.

Confirmation emails will be sent. If you don't receive one, don't resend. We don't want duplicate entries. Please check with us on twitter first to confirm your entry did or did not arrive, then you may resend.

There is only ONE, yes that's right, ONE entry per person allowed. Any attempt to cheat will result in entries being thrown out.

This contest is only for finished and polished stories. The story can't have been in the agent round of any other contest. This is to provide fresh material for the agents and to give others a chance.

Amy and I have decided not to accept picture books for this contests. Though we love picture books, contests just don't seem to be the best place to get them requests. We do accept all MG, YA, NA and Adult genres, excluding erotica.

To enter you must be followers of our blogs. Click the 'join this site' button on my blog. You can find Amy's blog here.

The Format:

Send submission to Sunversussnow (at) yahoo (dot) com. Only one submission per person is allowed. It doesn't matter if you write under different names or are submitting different manuscripts. You are still one person and get one entry. 

Here's how it should be formatted (yes, include the bolded!) Please use Times New Roman (or equivalent), 12 pt font, and put spaces between paragraphs. No indents or tabs are needed. No worries if your gmail doesn't have Times New Roman. No worries if the email messes up your format. Yes, we will still read it! :-) 

(Here's a trick to keep your paragraph spacing: copy and paste your entry into your email and then put in the line spaces. They seem to get lost when you copy and paste. It may look right but sending scrambles the spacing.)

Subject Line: SVS: TITLE, Age Category + Genre 
(example: SVS: GRUDGING, Adult Epic Fantasy)

In The Email:

Title: MY FANTASTIC BOOK (yes, caps!)
Genre: YA dystopian (Age category and genre. YA/MG is not a genre.)
Word Count: XX,XXX (round to the nearest thousand)

My Main Character would use sun or snow to battle their biggest obstacle: 

Which would your character find more helpful in fighting through their biggest obstacle--hot or cold. And why? Tell us which weather would be the most helpful to your character. 

(Can be in your MC's POV, but doesn't have to be. 100 words or less.)


Query goes here! Include greeting and main paragraphs. Please leave out bio, closing, and word count + genre sentence. You may include comps if you'd like. There is no word count limit on the query but please aim for 250 - 300 words.

First 250 words:

Here are the first 250 words of my manuscript, and I will not end in the middle of a sentence. But I will not go over 257 words. Be reasonable and don't make us count. Don't forget to space between paragraphs!

That's it for now. Get those entries ready for February 1st and leave any questions in the comments or ask on twitter.

Mentors and agents will be posted in January. As of now, we have fifteen fabulous agents!

Also stay tuned for Michelle's Free Pass. It could happen at any time. She hasn't really decided.

Happy holidays and we can't wait to get started!

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Quiet Gender Glass Ceiling in Fantasy

I was reading through some discussion groups on Goodreads last week and saw a thread asking for favorite female fantasy/science fiction writers. There were many names there, but that got me thinking. The number of great female fantasy writers debuting lately keeps going up. We have a history of greats from earlier years like Ursula le Guin, Andre Norton, and Anne McCaffrey. But I still see reports of women writing under their initials in my genre so they can possibly be mistaken for men. Uh, J.K. Rowling anyone?

An author at my publisher told me her books sold better when she changed to her initials. And this was recently. 

Then I looked at a different discussion thread. This one asked for people's top five epic fantasy authors. When asked about their "favorite" fantasy/science fiction writers, the lists are full of male writers. There might be one woman included on maybe half the lists. The names that come up over and over are Martin, Butcher, Sanderson, Rothfuss, Tolkien with a scattering of other males like Sullivan and Brooks. The occasional woman does make an individual's list but usually down at the bottom around number five.

This seems to be particular true in my subgenre of epic fantasy. Most of the recent successful women authors are more inclined to appear in lists of urban fantasy. Or else they write for young adult.

When will that change? 

Are women writers not as good with writing fantasy or science fiction? Are we always seen as writing "fluffy" versions of fantasy or science fiction? Books that are all about feelings and love triangles. I can't believe the first and I don't think the second is true by a long shot.

Is it a matter of timing? This genre has been a man's game for so long that women are still trying to keep up. Maybe twenty years ago that could be true, but this argument doesn't hold water anymore. There have been plenty of women writers for plenty of years. So why can't we crack the top five lists?

It wasn't that long ago that hurtful gender comments came out, of all places, the SFWA. That's the organization for science fiction and fantasy writers of America meant to support writers. Some male writers there made disparaging comments about their female colleagues, making it feel more like the SFMWA (science fiction and fantasy male writers of America). If they still feel this way, does the reading public also?

Maybe the problem lies in publishers providing more support for their male authors. Do they get better marketing? Or are male authors just more able to attend major cons and make panels for fantasy and science fiction? More able to leave their families and travel?

Are men just better at speaking up and clawing their way forward? Maybe they are less afraid and feel more entitled to advertise their writing. I bet they don't feel embarrassed they are making a pest of themselves on social media.

Maybe male readers are afraid to try female written books and find them equally good. Or maybe most readers of SFF are still male. I find that unlikely. All the groups of SFF lovers seems equally split between men and women. 

I don't really know the answer. I just feel the invisible discrimination in these top five lists. I'm not saying the male writers should be held back or the female writers should get special treatment. I'm just saying why isn't there parity? Why do males continue to dominate? When will female writers see equal success and head the top five lists?

I admit that as a fantasy writer I have a vested interest in seeing this glass ceiling go away. But I'd still feel this way if I didn't. Yet, I can't help wondering if I'd sell better if I used Michael instead of Michelle.

In the interest of plugging amazing female writers of epic fantasy, I want to mention Kristen Britain and her Green Writer series, Kate Elliott and her many series, including Jaran and Crown of Stars, and Rachel Aaron with her Legend of Eli Monpress series. There are many more, but those are three of my favorites. I want to plug a couple of just starting fantasy writing women in Vicki Weavil and Rena Rocford and Holly Jennings.

Tell me what you think. Do you sense the same problem and who are your favorite female authors? Does that quiet gender discrimination still exist? Do women have a glass ceiling in fantasy or is it my imagination?

And if you're male and reading this, do you read female authors? If not, give one a try, as an experiment if nothing else.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

#SFFChat Day

Dan Koboldt has put together a great #SFFpit for December 10th where you can pitch your science fiction and fantasy manuscript to agents on twitter. He's also put together a chat for the day before where you can ask questions and talk about SFF books with some published authors--I'm one of them.

So come by with questions about writing SFF or publishing or anything else writer related at 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm EST and 9:00 - 10:00 pm EST today. Use the hashtag #SFFchat. We'll do our best to give experienced advice and answer you all. 


The hero of Los Nefilim is Diago Alvarez. He, and his lover, Miquel, are part of a secretive group known as Los Nefilim (Spanish for The Nephilim--say it like "The Mob" and you've got the right idea). This group of angelic Nefilim monitor daimonic activity for the angels.

The only thing is: Diago is not fully angelic. He is part daimon, part angel, and his very unique form of magic is sought by both sides in the conflict between angels and daimons. Diago moves through a world of espionage and partisan warfare with a rogues' gallery filled with angels, daimons, and mortals.

In the first novella of the series, In Midnight's Silence, the reader is introduced to Diago's world. We meet Diago, Miquel, and Diago's son, Rafael. We get a brief glimpse of the shadowy world of Los Nefilim and its king, Guillermo Ramirez.

In Without Light or Guide, Diago's story continues as he tries very hard to fit in with Los Nefilim, but his daimonic heritage follows him, and seeds distrust among the other Nefilim. Guillermo assigns Diago to work with another Nefil by the name of Garcia, who is Guillermo’s plant within the Urban Guard.

In this scene from Chapter 2, Diago has just experienced a tense encounter with his dead father, Alvaro, on the subway. He did not mention seeing his father to Garcia, but Garcia suspects something happened. Hoping to avoid Garcia’s questions, Diago walks ahead, but Garcia isn’t quite ready to let the incident go …

* * *

Diago’s musings were cut short when a hand gripped his arm. Startled, he turned to find Garcia had caught up to him.

Diago tried to pull free without drawing attention to them but Garcia’s grip tightened. “What—?”

“Just shut up and move.” He steered Diago into the mouth of an alley.

Diago jerked free and put his back against the wall. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Garcia jabbed Diago’s shoulder with one sharp finger. “I asked you a question on the train and you lied to me. I’m going to pretend it was because of the mortals. You’ve got one more chance to get right with me. What happened?”

Be careful. You need him. You need him to vouch for you. Diago evaded the question and kept his tone even. “I don’t report to you.”

Garcia coughed a humorless laugh. “You’re confused, my friend.”

“We’re not friends.”

Garcia’s tone turned sly. “Then you’d better make some, Alvarez. You might have fooled Guillermo, but the rest of us see you for what you are. You’re daimon and you’ll wind up just like your father. You did in your firstborn life and you will here, too.” Garcia punctuated his last statement with a hard jab to Diago’s shoulder.

You’ll wind up just like your father. The accusation sealed any doubts Diago had about telling Garcia what happened at the bridge. “Don’t touch me again.”

Garcia ignored the warning. “You report to whomever asks you a question. Do you understand me?” He stabbed his finger in Diago’s direction.

Diago’s temper overrode his reason. He caught Garcia’s fist and squeezed until Garcia’s knuckles popped.

Why did Garcia push him? Does he want me to lash out? Of course, he did. This was probably how he provoked Miquel into punching him. The whole discussion was nothing more than an attempt to rouse Diago’s temper. And it’s working. Except Diago wasn’t quite as hotheaded as Miquel. This altercation didn’t need to progress any further than it already had.

Striking Garcia wasn’t necessary. Let him feel my power, acknowledge it with his face. Holding tight to the other Nefil’s fist, Diago waited until Garcia’s lips thinned to a single white line. Only then did he speak. “Until I know who I can trust, I report to Guillermo. No one else.” He opened his fingers.

For one tense moment, Diago was sure Garcia intended to escalate the confrontation. Something in Diago’s eyes stopped him.

Garcia looked away and fumbled for his cigarettes. When he struck the match, flakes of sulfur cascaded to the sidewalk. “I’m going with you to see Ferrer.”

No. Not now. Not even if you begged. Diago wasn’t going to be monitored by the likes of Garcia. “No.”

“You’re going to botch this without help.”

Or you’ll make sure the interview goes badly for me. Garcia would love nothing more than to report Diago’s incompetence to Guillermo. Work around him. “How can I earn your trust if you are always looking over my shoulder? I go in alone or not at all. Then you can explain the situation to Guillermo.”

The tip of Garcia’s cigarette glowed like the fire in his eyes. He exhaled a cloud of smoke as caustic as his words. “Go alone. But I’m watching you.”

Diago didn’t flinch from the inspector’s stare. “Fair enough.” So much for Guillermo’s hope our working together would cement trust between us.

* * *

Throughout Barcelona, the mortals Diago has known are dying gruesome deaths. A daimon is loose in the city, and Diago's only clue to her identity is a mysterious phrase written in smoke: She Hunts.

The year is 1931.

The city is Barcelona.

The fate of mankind has nothing to do with mankind.

The hunt begins.

Barnes and Noble

T. Frohock has turned a love of dark fantasy and horror into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. She lives in North Carolina where she has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying.

She is the author of Miserere: An Autumn Tale and numerous short stories. Her newest series, Los Nefilim, is from Harper Voyager Impulse.

You can find out more about T. at her website, or follow her on Twitter, or Facebook.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Release Day for THREE PROMISES

Welcome to Bishop O'Connell. He's the member of the Harper Voyager Impulse author's group that keeps all the rest of us entertained. I want to wish him a very happy release day!

Three Promises: An American Faerie Tale Collection is my third book. It’s a compilation of short stories—technically three short stories and a novella—and while I’ve always struggled with short fiction, that wasn’t the case here. These stories seemed to write themselves, and the characters truly shine. In my previous books, The Stolen & The Forgotten (available anywhere books are sold) the stories drove the characters. In Three Promises, the opposite is true. There’s no child to rescue, no shadowy enemy snatching kids off the street, and you get to see the characters for who they are. I was worried they wouldn’t stand on their own, but I think they didn’t just stand, they soared I really liked my characters before; now, I love them. I hope you will, too.

Here’s a sample from one of the short stories, “The Legacy of Past Promises”:

     Elaine stared at the painting. While her body didn’t move, her heart and mind danced in the halls of heaven. The depth and intensity of mortal passion was astounding to her, and her ability to experience it through art was like a drug. The heavy silence that filled her vast loft was broken by the high-pitched whistle of the teakettle. Elaine extricated herself from the old battered chair, which was so comfortable it should be considered a holy relic. She crossed her warehouse flat to the kitchen area, purposely stepping heavily so the old hardwood floor creaked. She smiled at the sound. It was like a whisper that contained all the memories the building had seen. Unlike the fae, the mortal world was constantly aging. But for those who knew how to listen, it sang of a life well lived in every tired sound. The flat took up the entire top floor of a warehouse that had been abandoned in the early 1900s. She owned it now and was its only permanent tenant. The lower floors of the five-story building were offered as a place to stay to the fifties—half-mortal, half-fae street kids, unwelcome in either world—she knew and trusted. But with all the unrest in Seattle, she was currently its only occupant.

     She turned off the burner and the kettle went quiet. Three teaspoons of her personal tea blend went into the pot. The water, still bubbling, went next. The familiar and comforting aroma filled the air, black tea with whispers of orange blossom. Light poured in from the south-facing wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. But she ignored the view of the Seattle skyline. The twenty-foot ceiling was constructed of heavy wooden beams and slats, broken only by the silver of air ducts, a relatively recent addition. The floor was oak, original to the building but well maintained over the years, as were the exposed bricks of the walls and pillars. The flat was large, 5,000 square feet of open space, sparsely furnished with secondhand pieces. They had been purchased so long ago, they were technically antiques now. But she looked past all that to the paintings that covered the walls, collected over centuries and not always through strictly legal means. Nearly every school was represented by at least one piece. Her eyes followed the heavy strokes of a Van Gogh, thought lost by the general public. The emotions and impressions left behind by the artist washed over her. The melancholy and near madness, the longing and love, all mixed together like the colors of the painting itself.

     The smell of her tea, now perfectly brewed, broke her reverie. As she poured tea into a large clay mug, her gaze settled on a Rossetti. Elaine smiled as she remembered seeing the painting come to life. Gabriel Rossetti—Elaine could never bring herself to think of him as Dante, it was such an absurd name—had captured Jane’s beauty spectacularly. Jane Morris had been a truly beautiful mortal; it was no wonder Gabriel so often chose her as a model.

     Elaine carried the mug back to her chair, sank into the plush cushions, and hit play on the remote. Vivaldi’s Cello Concerto no. 4 in A Minor filled the space. She closed her eyes, letting the music fill her soul. The mournful cello danced with the playful harpsichord. She sipped her tea, opened her eyes, and her gaze fell upon another painting, the one she’d almost lost. Unwanted memories rose to the surface—and just like that, she was back in France, deep in the occupied zone.

     The war—or more correctly, the Nazis—had mostly turned the once beautiful countryside and small villages to rubble. The jackbooted thugs had marched with impunity, leaving only death and destruction in their wake

     Even now she could almost hear the voices of her long-dead friends.

      “Êtes-vous attentive?”

     Elaine blinked. “Pardon?

     François narrowed his eyes. “I asked if you were paying attention,” he said, his French heavy with a Parisian accent. “But you answer my question anyway, yes?”

     There were snickers from the collection of men, scarcely more than boys, gathered around the table and map.

      “Sorry,” Elaine said, her own carefully applied accent fitting someone from the southern countryside. “You were saying a convoy of three German trucks will be coming down this road.” She traced the route on the map with her finger. “And this being one of the few remaining bridges, they’ll attempt to cross here. Did I miss something?”

     François turned a little pink, then a deeper red when the chuckles turned on him. When Paul offered him the bottle of wine, François’s smile returned, and he laughed as well.

      “Our little sparrow misses nothing, no?” he asked, then took a swallow of wine before offering her the bottle.

     Elaine smiled and accepted.

     Six hours later, just before dawn, the explosives had been set and the group was in position. She sat high in a tree, her rifle held close. Despite having cast a charm to turn the iron into innocuous fae iron (a taxing process that had taken her the better part of three weeks), she still wore gloves. On more than one occasion she’d had to use another weapon, one that hadn’t been magically treated.

     As the first rays of dawn touched her cheeks, she had only a moment to savor the sublime joy of the morning light. Her keen eyes picked up the telltale clouds of black diesel smoke before she ever saw the vehicles. She made a sparrow call, alerting her fellow resistance fighters.

     A thrush sounded back.

     They were ready.

     Elaine hefted her rifle and sighted down the barrel, her fingertip caressing the trigger. She watched the rise, waiting for the first truck to come into view.

     Her eyes went wide and her stomach twisted when she saw the two Hanomags, armored halftrack personnel carriers, leading the three big trucks. That was two units, more than twenty soldiers. She made another birdcall, a nightingale, the signal to abort.

     The thrush call came in reply, repeated twice. Proceed.

      “Fools,” she swore. “You’re going to get us all killed.”

     She sighted down the rifle again and slowed her breathing. They were outnumbered almost three to one and up against armor with nothing but rifles and a few grenades.

      “Just an afternoon walk along the Seine,” she said. Of course Germany now controlled Paris and the Seine, so maybe it was an accurate comparison.

     The caravan crawled down the muddy road, inching closer to the bridge. Looking through the scope, she watched the gunner on the lead Hanomag. His head was on a swivel, constantly looking one way then another. Not that she could blame him. This was a textbook place for an ambush.

     The first Hanomag stopped just shy of the explosive charges.

     Her heart began to race. Had they spotted it? No, it was buried and the mud didn’t leave any sign that even she could see. No way could these mortal goose-steppers have—

     An officer in the black uniform of the SS stepped out of the second Hanomag, flanked by half a dozen regular army soldiers. Elaine sighted him with her scope, noted her heartbeat, and placed her finger on the trigger.

     The tingle of magic danced across her skin as the officer drew a talisman from under his coat. “Offenbaren sich!” he shouted.

     There was a gust of wind, and the leaves on the trees near her rustled. She whispered a charm and felt it come up just as the magic reached her. The spell slid over her harmlessly. Her friends weren’t so lucky. A red glow pulsed from the spot where the explosives had been set, and faint pinkish light shone from six spots around the convoy.

      “Aus dem Hinterhalt überfallen!” the officer shouted and pointed to the lights.

     The gunners on the Hanomags turned and the soldiers protecting the officer took aim.

      “Merde,” Elaine cursed, then sighted and fired.

     There was a crack, and the officer’s face was a red mist.

     Then everything went to hell.

     Soldiers poured from the trucks and the Hanomags, the gunners turned their MG-42s toward the now-fading lights marking François and the others. The soldiers took cover behind the armored vehicles and divided their fire between her and her compatriots. She was well concealed, so most of the shots did nothing more than send shredded leaves and bark through the air. Only a few smacked close enough to cause her unease.

     Elaine ignored them and sighted one of the MG-42 gunners.

      “Vive la France!” someone shouted.

     Elaine looked up just in time to see Paul leap from cover and charge at the soldiers, drawing their attention and fire. She watched in horror as the Nazi guns tore him to shreds. Somehow, before falling, he lobbed two grenades into one of the armored vehicles. There came a shout of panic from inside the Hanomag and seconds later came two concussive booms. Debris flew up from the open top of the halftrack and the shouts stopped.

     François and the others took advantage of Paul’s sacrifice, moved to different cover, and started firing. A few Nazi soldiers dropped, but the remaining MG-42 began spraying the area with a hail of bullets.

     Elaine gritted her teeth and fired two shots; both hit the gunner, and he fell. This again drew fire in her direction.

     The fight became a blur after that. She took aim and fired, took aim and fired, over and over again, pausing only long enough to reload. It wasn’t until she couldn’t find another target that Elaine realized it was done, and all the Nazis were dead or dying.

     She lay on the branch for a long moment, until the ringing in her ears began to fade. When she moved, a sharp pain in her shoulder brought her up short. More gingerly, she shifted and saw tendrils of white light filled with motes of green drifting from her shoulder. At the center was a growing blossom of gold blood. She rolled and dropped from the tree, landing only slightly less gracefully than normal. Still, the jolt made the pain jump a few numbers on the intensity scale.

     She clenched her jaw, hefted her rifle, and carefully inspected the scene. The Germans were all dead, but the driver of one of the Hanomags was still alive. He took a couple shots at her with his Luger, but he’d apparently caught some ricochets or shrapnel because he didn’t even come close. Elaine put him down with a shot through the viewing port.

      “Please, help me,” someone said in bad French.

     Elaine spun to see a German soldier lying on the ground. He was little more than a kid, maybe sixteen; it didn’t even look like he’d started shaving. She just stared at his tear-filled eyes, blood running down his cheek from the corner of his mouth. He had at least half a dozen holes in his chest. He was already dead, he just didn’t know it.

      “Ja,” she said.


     His thanks were swallowed by the loud report of the rifle as she put a bullet between his eyes. There was nothing she, or anyone else, could’ve done for him. She wiped tears away and muttered a curse at Hitler and his megalomaniacal plans.

     After double-checking that all the soldiers were dead, Elaine made her sparrow call. Her mouth was so dry, the call was hardly recognizable.

     Only silence answered her.

     Swallowing, she hardened her heart and went to where François and the others had been taking cover. She couldn’t bring herself to look down at the bloodied mess that had been Paul. She just kept walking. Her rifle fell to the ground, then she went to her knees, sobbing, covering her mouth with her good hand.

     They were dead, which wasn’t a surprise, but it didn’t make finding them any less heartbreaking. Rémy was almost unrecognizable. If it wasn’t for his blond hair, now matted with blood—Elaine’s stomach twisted and she retched to one side. Michel, Julien, Daniel, Christophe, and Christian were in slightly better shape, for the most part. Julien’s left arm had been chewed up by the machine gun, and Christophe’s torso had been ripped open, allowing his insides to spill out. Elaine sobbed and turned to François. His rifle had been discarded and his pistol was still clutched in his left hand, two fingers having been shot off his right.

     Sadness mixed with anger, and she screamed curses at him.

      “You arrogant fool!” she said between sobs. “Why didn’t you just call off the operation? You got them all killed!”

     It wasn’t long before Elaine grew numb inside. She used her fae healer’s kit to remove the bullet from her shoulder, and a liberal smearing of healing      ointment numbed the pain enough to give her almost full use of her arm again. Lastly, she set the pinkish, putty-like dóú craiceann over the wound, sealing it like a second skin. She’d never been much of a healer herself, but she got the job done. With effort, and still careful of her wounded shoulder, she dragged Paul into the cover to join his brothers-in-arms. Elaine whispered a charm and the earth drew itself up and over her friends. A moment later, lush green grass covered the seven mounds.

      “Adieu, mes amis,” she said softly.

The ebook is only $0.99 (and how can you not buy a $0.99 book?), but if you preorder the paperback (releases 1/8/16 and is only $3.99) from The Fountain Bookstore, not only will it be signed, but you’ll get an exclusive gift. As a nice bonus, you can also order signed copies of The Stolen and The Forgotten while you’re there, and don’t worry, they ship worldwide.

Bishop O'Connell is the author of the American Faerie Tale series, a consultant, writer, blogger, and lover of kilts and beer, as well as a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Born in Naples Italy while his father was stationed in Sardinia, Bishop grew up in San Diego, CA where he fell in love with the ocean and fish tacos. While wandering the country for work and school (absolutely not because he was in hiding from mind controlling bunnies), he experienced autumn in New England. Soon after, he settled in Manchester, NH, where he writes, collects swords, revels in his immortality as a critically acclaimed "visionary" of the urban fantasy genre, and is regularly chastised for making up things for his bio. He can also be found online at A Quiet Pint (, where he muses philosophical on life, the universe, and everything, as well as various aspects of writing and the road to getting published.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Five Tips for Writing a Strong Fantasy

There are overall rules for writing no matter what genre is your focus. Your main character has to be active and not passive for instance. But fantasy does differ in some ways from other genres and has its own set of unspoken expectations. Once you know about them, it’s kind of cool to watch for them in a book and see if you can catch what tricks a writer is using—or fails to use. If a book feels flat, many times it’s because the author left one of these out.

Crowds of characters: Unlike many other genres, fantasy is known for having an obscene number of characters. Fantasy and the other speculative fiction genres, like science fiction, are pretty much the only books to come with their own glossary of names in the back. The Wheel of Time series from Tor just released their own eight-hundred page glossary of characters, places, and terms. That’s some serious crowd. No one could keep all those characters straight.

So in fantasy expect lots of people from door guards to generals, scullery maids to kings. The tip for writers comes in remembering that each of these characters, even the ones who have no lines, should have their own motivation. The handmaiden to the princess needs to have a reason for her life and actions just as important to her as it is for the princess to escape her tower. In other words, don’t forget to give motivation to all your characters, even if it be as simple of a guard’s feet hurting and he can’t wait to get off his shift. It doesn’t have to be stated, but the character’s actions can make it apparent.

POV Party: Why have one main character to follow through the whole book when you can have three—or five! Sure, there are plenty of fantasy stories that stay in first person with just one character, but there are just as many that tests the boundaries and uses multiple points of view from several main characters or even secondary characters—used simply because they are expendable. (You know, the guys in the red shirts sent out there to die and show the situation is serious.)

In Grudging, I have four main character points of view, each with their own character arc. The important thing is to make them different enough from each other so that the reader doesn’t feel they’ve seen this before. They need to have different goals, different character journeys, and even different personalities. We don’t want to spend time with five characters who are just alike. I created an experience politician, an inexperience boy finding his way to manhood, a girl who wants to find her magic, and a priest testing his faith. All very different.

Each POV character should move the action of the plot and yet also have their own story to tell.

Wacky Worldbuilding: Where else but fantasy do you get to build a world from scratch? Not even painters or Lego builders get to create their own government, religion, architecture and economy. Everything that makes up a culture. Basically the writer of fantasy can go crazy and come up with anything the human mind will accept as possible--and sometimes things that aren't. So that’s why the writer also has to be careful and make sure these things link together sensibly. If your city is in a desert like in Grudging, then your economy isn’t likely to be based on farming. They’d have to get their food from elsewhere and trade for it somehow.

And don’t fall into the trap of piling up paragraphs of worldbuilding. That slows down the pace and will bore the reader. Try and include details in small bites, and only when the story demands it. The best worldbuilding serves two purposes: It makes for a full and rich world and shows something about your character’s personality and actions. Worldbuilding becomes an extension of your character and who they are.

For example the beards in Grudging. Beards are a symbol of reaching the threshold of manhood culturally, but the size and shape of them also expresses each character's personality. A great way to show what your character is like without coming out and telling it.

Magic Munitions: Once again the writer of fantasy has so much freedom when creating a system of magic. The sky’s the limit—or is it, because many fantasy characters can fly. Unlike science fiction where problems are solved with gadgets and brainpower, in fantasy we pull the rabbit out of the hat—no explanation needed. Magic is just there, often you don’t have to give a reason behind it, and that’s fine. Nobody ever really said why Harry is a wizard, but there are other rules to remember about magical systems.

Use of magic should have a consequence. Maybe it makes your character exhausted or they get a bad rash. Perhaps the consequences are harder to see like in Grudging, such as they become dependent on magic or they begin to fear what it can do. But your characters and your story will be richer if magic has a darker side and isn’t too easy.

Speaking of too easy. A character that can handle anything with magic and never makes a mistake is a boring character. If they are new to magic and everything comes naturally that’s a total turnoff. The best magic systems have a learning curve, and no character should be perfect with it. That’s the way to get a believable and deep story.

Vats of Villains: Regular books may be satisfied with just one antagonist, but not in fantasy. In fantasy the henchmen have henchmen. We are talking layers of villains for your main characters to kick their way through. And the ultimate, bad-guy villain may stay out of the picture until books later in the series. Heck, in Lord of the Rings, you pretty much never see the guy. Instead you’ve got Ring Wraiths and Orcs to focus on. That can work just as well, if not better if you have something on screen for the characters to fight and something more scary waiting in the wings.

Just be careful to make sure your antagonist actually does some evil doing. If you character is going to rid the world of evil, the reader needs to see what sort of oppression that means. A villain that is always talked about and never felt doesn’t raise any emotion in a reader. The reader doesn’t have reason to care. So have a villain and let him/her or others do bad things in her/his name. (I’m a firm believer in equal gender, racial, and sexuality rights for villains as well as for heroes. It’s about diversity.)

And don’t forget the motivation here also. Thugs and brutes need a reason for their actions just as much as knights in shining armor. In GrudgingOrdoño hands over members of the city as sacrifices and they aren't above torture, but there is a cultural and political reason for it that comes out later in the book. The bigger the villain the deeper and more complex the motivation should be. Life isn’t black and white, give your antagonist some grays and you’ll do your story a favor.

So there you have it; five tips for making your fantasy all sparkly like a vampire. See if you can spot some in the next fantasy you read.


A world of chivalry and witchcraft…and the invaders who would destroy everything.

The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.

On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.

The Women of the Song.

But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power. And time is running out.

A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.

November 17, 2015
Harper Voyager