Tag Archives: urban fantasy

Batteries, Heidelberg, and Amazon

I had issues coming up with what to write about today, I will admit. I’m also sounding like Yoda, which is never a good start for my mental process. Or a good sign.

So rather than try to write something insightful about writing, I thought I would share a snippet of 2011’s NaNoWriMo with you and share a contest that I do believe a good portion of people would be interested in.  First, the novel…

It’s from the novel entitled Battery Pack and takes place in our modern world, in Germany.  Heidelberg, to be exact.  The idea for this tale came about two days before November 1st, but I knew it was one that I wanted to set in Heidelberg.  Having spent 6 months living there, it was a city I felt I could portray well in a book.   Not only were landmarks an important part to get correct, but also small nuances, like how people react to non-Germans, or how shop-keepers respond to customers.  Even tourists play a part in the overarching feeling of a city.

These are all things to get right in a book that takes place in a real world time period and place, or people will get the feeling that something is off, even if they aren’t sure what.  This excerpt shows, I hope, a little insight into what Heidelberg is like.

After a stop off at the apothecary museum within the castle walls itself and a purchase of utterly pointless but amusing “Smile Pills” (Guaranteed to make you smile!), I headed out of Heidelberg Castle.  Taking the roadway this time, I  came across a park that had a slide that went from one level of switchbacks to the other.  With a grin and a shout of glee at the discovery, I took a trip down it, and nearly fell flat to my arse at the end. After climbing a complicated rigging of walkways, ropes and ladders three more times, I grew serious again, trying to figure out what was going on after catching the top of the Heiligenberg at the edges of my vision.

Guiltily, I started back down the mountain, the going easier than I had expected, though it was still hard to keep an even gait at some points. I came to Hauptstrasse at one of the large open areas and I paused for a moment, looking at what had once been a marketplace.  The Church of the Holy Ghost had stalls all around it, though they were selling souvenirs rather than grain, fruits, or fish. The City Hall was still where it had been centuries ago, even if the building wasn’t that old itself.

Heidelberg was a town of living history.

I wondered how people could live in a place full of constant reminders of the past and not only recognize them, but celebrate them as well.  There were so many times that I would want to change something that had happened, my choices regarding Beelzebub being but one. “Maybe” and “what if” was a word that haunted me, and something that I tried to hold off through the day until the last second before I went to sleep when it tried to consume me.

I bought an ice cream for eighty cents to distract me from my macabre thoughts and wandered until I eventually made my way back to the student cafeteria almost directly on the river.  Jim was seated on a picnic table outside, sipping a glass bottle of soda through a straw.  “Find out anything?” I asked him as I took a seat across from him.

Everything that relates to Heidelberg in those paragraphs are true, but none of them are clearly spelled out.  There are no clear cut, spoon-fed instances of what exactly something looks like, but it’s enough to give a feeling of what it might be. The nuances, I think, are what make it though.   A glass soda bottle, something not often found here in the states.  A church’s name and souvenir stalls, but no time taken to describe what they look like.  A quick nod to city hall, missing steps going down a mountain…  they all speak of landscapes and people without coming out and saying it.

I guess my setting in this tale is more that of experiences patched together to create a quilt than pictures cut up out of a magazine to make a collage.

 

For my news, Amazon is putting on their yearly contest: the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  There are two categories in which you can enter your over 50,000 word novel, and a winner comes from each.  The winner gets 15,000 and a publishing contract with Penguin books, a pretty nice deal if I say so.  I tried it last year, but didn’t make it past the first round. But you do get a letter (okay…email) if you don’t make it past, which basically equates to a rejection letter.  And everyone knows that you can be a real author after you start getting rejection letters!

Entries start being accepted on January 23rd, so start editing and polishing them now!  If you want to read rules, regulations, and what makes up an entry, take a click here: https://www.createspace.com/abna?ref=478921&utm_id=5957


Rhiannon of Air

One of my favorite topics to write about is mythology, and how it might affect us if the stories were true.  Especially in terms of Elves.  This is a short story I wrote two years ago on a plot idea from S, and it remains one of my favorites. I’m currently working on editing Lover’s Requiem, so it might be a while until a new serial shows up.

RHIANNON OF AIR

He heard the noise from the basement again.  Thinking that it was one of the cats that had gotten trapped down there again—that had been happening a lot lately—he rose from his bed and made his way to the stairs that lead down.  Others in his family were somewhat afraid of the basement.  It was made when the old farmhouse had been constructed, and was little more than a space under the house that was there to hold up said house with a few wood beams here and there and walls made out of field stone.  There was only one light down there, and it hung from its wire at the end of the wooden stairs that were crooked, deep, and threatening to fall apart every time someone went down them.

Grabbing a flashlight from the counter on his way past it, he carefully went down the stairs and into the basement.  He pulled the chain attached to the light bulb when he reached the dirt floor of the basement and waiting for it to flicker to life before venturing further.  It flickered once, twice, and then flared brightly before going completely dark.  With a sigh, he gripped the flashlight and flipped the switch to turn it on.  A yellowish light crept over the basement as he ventured forward, intent on finding the cat and shooing it back upstairs.

He rounded the stairs and immediately had to blink away the tears that had formed in his eyes away.  Something was causing an awful lot of light down here.  What he wasn’t sure of was the source of said light.  Was it a fire?  A light from outside that somehow managed to get past the dirty windows?  Or perhaps a burglar with a flashlight of his own?

His flashlight was heavy enough for a weapon if it was a burglar, he thought as he hefted it in his hands.  He grabbed hold of it with both hands and ran forward into the light, ready to hit anything that he found there.

And he ran straight into a meadow that he was quite sure hadn’t been there earlier in the day.

He wasn’t sure where he was.  On the bright side, he no longer needed his flashlight, as the sun was very nicely lighting up the meadow the sky and the line of trees he could see that were standing there at the horizon.  He flicked the switch with his thumb again and turned off the light that couldn’t be seen in day anyways.  Adjusting his glasses with his left hand, and then running that same hand through his hair, he set off towards the horizon and the trees.

“Who are you?” a voice called out to him as he was walking.  He stopped and turned around in a circle, trying to see where it was coming from.  It sounded female for sure, but there was nothing around him save air.  “Who are you?” he was asked again?  The voice sounded closer this time, though still soft and almost sparkling.  It reminded him of silver bells.

“Um…my family calls me Kev.”

“Kev,” the voice said softly, enunciating every part of it.  It was almost as if she was trying to learn how to say it.  “No,” she continued on.  “That is not who you are.” She sounded very thoughtful.

“Who are you?”  Kev paused.  “Where are you, I think is the better question.”

“I am all around you.  I am called Rhiannon of Air.”

Kev knew that name well from all of his readings.  Rhiannon was one of the Elven ladies of the Seelie, connected most with air, hence her name.  She might as well have been called one of the princesses.  “My lady Rhiannon,” he said, bowing low.”

There was a dainty laugh. “There is no reason to bow here, mortal.  Only those worthy of the Elven blood in their veins are able to even enter the realm of the Fey in this time of disbelief.  You were found worthy and have been welcomed back to the Seelie court, if you would have this position.”

His eyes grew wide. “My lady, I don’t quite know what to say to such a wonderful gift.”

The air around him swirled until it drew up dirt and began to take the form of a woman in a flowing gown.  Her hair was dark brown and her robes were of a light yellow color and moved around her as they would in wind, only there was no more wind once she appeared before him.  Her face was flawless, as all of the Seelie court were.  “Speak from your heart, young one.  What does it desire?”

“To stay here,” he responded immediately.

“Then drop your mortal items and join me in court.”

The flashlight dropped to the ground and he stepped forward with the lady Rhiannon of Air.

“You shall need a better name than Kev for me to introduce you to King Auberon and Queen Titania.”

“Do you have a suggestion, lady?”

“What about…Kell?”

The newest member of the Seelie court, Kell nodded.  “It suits.”

The rest of their conversation grew dim as they walked into the forest.

~~~

There was grief in the home of Kev the next morning.  It seemed he had gone downstairs during the night to do something.  The flashlight had been turned off somehow, the family decided, and he tripped over something on the ground—likely the cat he had been trying to find—and fell to hit his head on the field stone wall.

Only his younger sister was not completely struck with grief.  She had grabbed the leaf made out of gold and emerald that had lain next to his body before anyone else could see it.  She envied her brother, being taken in by the Seelie court.   Oh, how she hoped that Kev might come for her one day as well.


Gearing Up: Week Two

By this point, you should have your characters, or at least have thought about them enough that you think you know what kind of people they are going to be.  Chances are, this has also led you into thoughts on how they are going to fit into your story, and what type of world they are going to be living in.

Is there magic?

Are there dragons?

Does anyone ever leave the coffee shop that the two characters have met in?

These are just a few of the questions you’ll find yourself asking as you being to create your setting. I have gone over a bit about setting before during Dexter Week (Read it here), but this will be focused more on how you create one than how to decide where it’s going to be.

The first step is to decide if this is going to take place in a fantastical world of make-believe or in our real world, or some combination of the two. Each  of them has their own pros and cons.  A fantastical world frees you of limitations that our world has, such as gravity, or gaining faster-than-light space travel to go to other planets.  The problem comes when it starts getting too out there, and your reader will have a hard time getting into the book because they will constantly be reminded of just how far away they are from home they are unless you give them concrete things to hold onto.

A great example of these fantastical worlds are found in Lord of the Rings and Chasm CityIn these worlds, humans are the standards, an object of familiarity that we can hold onto. In Lord of the Rings, we are also slowly introduced to the more fantastical aspects, which makes them easier to swallow and gain understanding of before moving to the next.

Having a setting take place in our world means that you don’t need to worry about the audience connecting with it. They know our world, the rules therein, and how they would expect people to react within certain situations. The cons are appearing for that same reason: the world is known and you can not stray from it lest people stop to believe, or get angry about details that you forgot or are untrue.  It’s reasons like this that people who write historical fiction with years of research behind it are truly some of the best authors in my mind. They can keep track of so many different aspects at once.

The final choice, having a fantastical normal world, is one that more and more authors are going down.  Just look at the amount of books that are appearing in the “urban fiction” settings at the local bookstore.  The pros and cons here are mixed.  Yes, you can have a pre-made setting that you find out of the books on a city, but you also make it yours by twisting a few things around in it.  Care still needs to be cautioned though so that you don’t make it too fantastical and risk alienating your audience by taking it too far away from reality.

So, make your choice. What is your setting?

Once this has been decided, you can start to create your world: make cities, villages.  In gaming terms, create some NPCs to populate your world that your characters can interact with on their quest for something.  Maybe there’s some strange quirk about this world (man eating Fog is one quirk I’ve been kicking around for a while) that is a fact of life for everyone.  Perhaps the people of one city live their lives backwards, or can only speak in rhyme.

Whatever your setting is, flesh it out!  Build a world as if you were the god of it, create, create, create!  You can always edit things out later, but why limit yourself at the beginning!?  You never know what you might come up with that will fuel another story.

 

ETA: Featured on Writers Weekly on October 13th, 2011.  http://paper.li/paultlowe/1307471907


For your enjoyment

Talking with Liz of Green Eye Editing tonight, we discussed some of our earliest writings and how we have improved since then.  My first story was that of a vampire named Drake Coldheart.  And while writing it, I fell into every single writing pitfall and cliche that there is. The vampire was GOOD because…because…he was.  And EPICLY POWERED EVIL bad guys that want to RULE THE WORLD MWAHAHAHAHAH even though they have no reason to aside from the fact they can.  And character names that make NO SENSE, but sound epic, like Millennium, Rane, Xzior and Shayde.  Drake and Evan seemed normal compared to those. And Rane had a pet panther.

Yeah, I don’t know about that one either….

My writing was…atrocious and the dialogue wasn’t much better.

I still have it all.

So here, have an excerpt of the first (because all good fantasy books come in threes, thought 14/15 year old me, and mine is going to be AMAZING!) of Drake’s novels.  By the time I got around to writing the third, it was painful for me to go back and read this. So I like to think I got a lot better.  Tomorrow, I plan to go through this excerpt line by line and discuss what makes it work–and, more likely, what doesn’t.

Please, enjoy my humiliation. :)

Xzior awoke a few hours before dawn from a knock at the front door.
“Come in.” She said, her head still groggy.
Drake walk in a moment later and  closed the door quietly behind him.  Xzior looked over and saw him in the coat with a shirt draped over his arm.
“Nice coat.  Who’d you rob?”
            “Surprisingly enough, no one.”  Drake responded.”  Person named Evan gave it to me after he and I faced down a mage that tried to kill me.”
Any clue why he tried to?”
“Not one, except he said his ‘master’ had told him to.”
“Did you try to get more information about this master of his?”
            “It’s kind of hard to talk to a dead person you know.  He killed himself after he said that.”
 “I would’ve liked to learn more.”
           
“Funny, that’s the exact same thing I said.”  he looked around the room, and seeing no one around he asked hesitantly, “Mind if I crash here again tonight?  Or rather, today?”
           
“No, your room is still open.  It can be yours to keep if you want it.”
           
Thanks.”  he said, going down the hallway.  A moment later, Xzior heard the door close.
            
 “No problem.”  she muttered to herself.
            Xzior laid back down on the couch and tried to get back too sleep.  She couldn’t do it though.  Finally, she got up and started pacing about the living room, trying to make sense of here feelings and problems.  When that didn’t work, she went into the kitchen to make herself some hot tea.
           
She put water in an old, battered, copper kettle and turned on the stove.  Then she went over to the table and sat down, placing her head in her hands.
             
She awoke later to the sound of the kettle whistling.  She sighed and got up to turn off the stove.  Then se got out a coffee cup and waited for the tea to steep.  Then, with out bothering to add sugar, she drank it all down in three large gulps.
           
It seemed to calm here stomach enough so that she could get some sleep.  She went back to her couch to lay down again.  Little by little, she finally drifted into a dreamless sleep.
             
When she awoke the next morning, the sun was shinning directly into here eyes through the large, boy window behind her.  She got up and rubbed here eyes to try and wake up.
           
Eventually, she was able to get together a semblance of awareness and stumbled down the hall into here room.  There, she went to her closet to pick out here clothes for the day.  She finally decided on a black shirt with blue jeans and proceeded to change here clothes.
           
When she came out of her room, she went over to the bathroom to get here hairbrush, but the door was closed Xzior knocked on the door loudly.
           
What?”, sounded a voice form inside. Xzior recognized it as Millennium’s.
            
 “Millennium, it’s Xzior. Can I have my hairbrush and a ponytail?”
             
“Sure.”  Millennium responded. There was an opening of draws and a shuffling noise before the door opened a crack and Millennium hand appeared holding a hairbrush with a pony tail wrapped around it.
           
Xzior took it, and Millennium closed the door as soon as both of their hands were out of the way.
           
“Thanks girl.”  She said through the door.  Wandering down he hall, Xzior brushed here hair until all of the knots were out of it.  Then, as she entered the kitchen, she put up here hair to prepare to face the day.  “Millennium, she yelled over here shoulder,”  what do you want to eat for breakfast?”
           
How about a bagel?”  Millennium responded, walking into the kitchen, drying her hair.
           
“Want cream cheese on it?”
            
 “No thanks.  I’ll just have it plain and toasted.”
           
“How about just plain and not toasted.  The toaster’s busted.”
           
“Fine.  Your toaster burnt everything anyway.”
             
Xzior rolled here eyes and got out the bag of bagels from the fridge.  “catch.”  she said, throwing a bagel to Millennium.
           
She made a dive, but missed.  She quickly picked it up and dusted it off. “five second rule.”  she explained, biting into it.
           
“Ah.”  Xzior said, nodding. Then she got one out of the bag and bit into it. “Not bad.  I like them better toasted though.”
             
“Different strokes for different folks, I guess.”
           
Xzior nodded. “True.”
            
 A little later, when they were done with their breakfast, there was a knock on the door.
“I’ll get it.”  said Millennium, getting up.  She opened up the front door and Evan was standing there.
           
“Excuse my bluntness, but who the hell are you?”
          
  “I’m Evan McCloud!  I wandered into that alley back there and next thing I knew I was here.”
           
“Like hell you did.  How long did you practice that speech?”
           
“Not once.”
           
“It shows.” Millennium turned towards Xzior. “Can I kill him?  Please?!”
           
“What did you say his name was again?” said Xzior, getting up off the couch.
             
“I’m Evan McCloud.  I said that before.”
            
 “Would you by chance know a Drake?”
             
“Yeah, met him last night, why?”
           
Xzior turned to Millennium,  “Sorry, no killing him today.  Can’t win or rather…kill them all.”
           
Xzior laughed then turned back to Evan.  “What are doing here?”
           
“Would you believe I just stumbled in?”
           
“No.”
           
“Didn’t think so.”
          
  “Then why’d you try?”
          
  “It was worth a shot.”
           
“I’ll give you brownie points for that.  Now tell me, why are you really here?”
             
“Alright. Last night, Drake told me that he was hopefully going to be staying with you.  I ended up following him and saw him disappear into the alleyway.  I hung out there until this morning when I went through and came here. I had a hell of a time trying to find your house.  You should put up maps that have a little star on them saying ‘You are here’ or something”
            
 “That makes things to easy for unwanted visitors.  At least I know they have to work in order to find their way to my house.”  Xzior said,  wandering back into the living room.  Millennium followed her a moment later with Evan directly behind her.
          
  “So, can I stay here?”  He asked hopefully.
           
“What do you think Millennium?  Do we keep ‘em or turn him away?”
           
“I think we give him a trial run.  You know, see if he knows how to clean up after him self and not burn the macaroni and cheese.”
           
“You did that?” asked Xzior.
            
 “Off topic, but yes I did a long time ago.  I’ve become a much better cook since then.”
           
“I’m not anxious to test that theory if you don’t mind me saying so.”
           
“I don’t care.”
           
“Alright then Evan,”  started Xzior, “you can stay.  There’s a room up the stairs behind you there that you can stay in.”
           
Evan turned around and didn’t see any stairs.  “What stairs?”
           
Millennium waved here right hand about and abruptly, a set of stairs with rooms at the end of it appeared.  “Those stairs.  Now Get!”  she said, pushing Evan towards the stairs.
             
“I’m going.  Relax.” he said, shaking here off.
           
Xzior and Millennium plopped down on the couch together and sighed.  Xzior turned to Millennium and said.  “I need a bigger house.”
           
“Yea, “ she replied, “ that you do.”