The Darkling, Gansey, Elias, and Kaz: What Makes Them Magnetic?

currently playing on my laptop: Til My Heart Stops by Too Far Moon

Fantasy novels take me down roads I’d never travel via contemporary tales. The otherworld aspect gives me distance to objectively examine sacrifice, abuse, desire, selfishness, addiction, lust, love, friendship, betrayal, submission, and drive. Through reading, I meet complicated people and learn about myself in a way that doesn’t involve gallivanting around dark alleys, running from psychotic professors and risking life and limb to dig up dead people, battling sadistic martial arts experts, or confronting less than honey-sweet world leaders.

But why do we even want to meet these wild folks? What draws us to Leigh Bardugo’s Darkling and her Kaz, Maggie Stiefvater’s Gansey, and Sabaa Tahir’s Elias?

Kaz and the Darkling would kill you if it served their goal.

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Gansey wouldn’t notice you unless you spoke Latin flawlessly or had a Welsh king in the family tree.

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Elias would really be better off without you so he can try to stay alive.


Can all agree we don’t greedily gobble up these characters’ stories because we’d love to share a Kit Kat with them? (Okay, maybe Gansey.)

It’s the mystery of their passion. Each of these fellows are driven to accomplish something that means more to them than their own safety, the safety of their friends, or anything us normal people consider top tier in the list of Protect This or nothing matters.

And that is fascinating.


Passion is magnetic. It heats a story until your fingers burn, flipping those pages to find out if the character will get what they want and at what cost.

Some may argue these gentlemen aren’t too hard on the eyes. That their looks and/or prowess is what makes us love them. But looks aren’t enough to heat a story.

It isn’t the Darkling’s eyes that get us. It’s the amalgam of danger and possibility woven into his unflinching desire to rule the world (so to speak) that makes us so very curious. Gansey is a golden boy—a Gatsby type—but it’s his beaten up journal and his shining leadership we seek out. Elias may have the build of a fighter, but our true fascination in him is his impossible situation and how he chooses the difficult path every time. We want to follow him around and ask why, why, why? Kaz might have the smooth moves, but we are drawn to the contrast between respect and ruthlessness in his behavior.

Hats (crowns, helmets, horns) off to the authors that understand this magnetism, this passion that makes stories endlessly enjoyable. We salute you!il_570xN.268078899

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Follow your passion? Or just stay in touch?

currently playing on my laptop: Midway by the Bad Bad Hats

Okay everyone was all Follow your passion to a fruitful life! a while back. Now it’s Hey be careful because following that action may result in starving to death. Well, I don’t care to tell anyone to toss a nine to fiver in favor of writing that armadillo graphic novel you can’t stop dreaming about. But I will say this.

Listen to your passion. Or, if you aren’t sure what you’re passionate about, pay attention the things in life that get you curious. It can point you in the right direction for a hobby/second job/seasonal work that will bring joy to a lackluster career or give you a sense of completion or freedom that your day just cannot bring.


Since I was a child, I’ve been drawn to people from backgrounds that differed from my own. Not because my culture is bad in any way—I loved my childhood and love where I live—but because even more juicy tidbits are even better. Old stories. Holiday traditions. Ideas about what is and is not taboo. Special foods and everyday comfort meals. Ways to deal with crisis. The list goes on.



Now that I recognize that pull, that curiosity, that passion, I intentionally seek out chances to talk with/get to know individuals who grew up or live in other cultures.

This weekend I spoke to a friend of mine who grew up in Iran and she told me about the interesting relationship between traditional religion and mysticism in her hometown. Though the women in her area held to the traditional religion, they also “read” for each other, employing what I would deem psychic power to figure out who would marry whom and when and how many children they would have. This mysticism, while in some places would be taboo, was accepted alongside their religion. Fascinating.

My passion for culture stories like this lead to my desire to write young adult fantasy. Young adult because it allows me to send characters through those first big questions in adult life like Is this right? Who am I? How can I change this or protect that? Fantasy because I can tweak/blend/twist culture how I want to make it fresh and approachable to all. It is not my desire to promote any real culture in the real world, but to encourage readers to pay attention to culture stories for pure enjoyment, and perhaps, develop a warmer understanding that we are all so very different, but so very much the same.


If following your passion doesn’t jive with paying the bills or other responsibilities you hold high, I encourage you to at least stay in touch with what makes you curious. Even if I didn’t write, I would still seek out these stories from others for sparkling conversation, human connection, and simple joy. 

Try it, and please share your own story if you feel so inclined!

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Don’t Hate on Your Crit Partners

currently playing on my laptop: Tibetan Singing Bowl music (yeah, you read me right)

Writers, isn’t it awesome when your critique partners/betas sing your praises?


But when they ask The Question You Didn’t Even Realize Needed Answering, it is less yayish.

Often, it is truly world-cracking.


Don’t hate on them for asking that question. Don’t ignore that question. Take time and write out your answer. Backstory that baby. It may be THE THING your characters needed in terms of gut, motivation, emotion, or desire.

That’s all I have today. And I think it is enough. !

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New Books: What gets us excited?

currently playing on my laptop: Colors by Halsey

Tuesdays are the absolute best.

Each week, we lucky readers are invited into new stories on the traditional launch day and sometimes we can’t stop the fangirling.

But what is it specifically that works us into a frenzy?

For me, the number one squeal inducer is the release of a book that has a setting I’d love to visit. But I’m a setting whore. So. I was pumped for An Ember In The Ashes because the setting was historically inspired. The whole premise oozed mystery and drama and cool, old places to sneak about. Daughter of Smoke and Bone had me jazzed because it begins in Prague, and that place does atmosphere like Benedict Cumberbatch does voices.

Second, I love reading new books from authors I already adore. For example, I can hardly breathe thinking about Deb Harkness’ upcoming novel set in the Tudor period. Her A Discovery of Witches trilogy is one my favorites. The history, the romance, the setting! SIGH.

I’m super impatient to read A Gathering of Shadows (the book after A Darker Shade of Magic), because they released some gorgeous renderings of the characters. Yes, the art has me very, very excited. Another fantasy I can’t wait to get my grubby mitts on is The Shadow Queen—also because of art. The cover is divine.


What gets you flailing about when it comes to books?


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Keeping It Hot: Firepots, Hypocausts, and Flames Underfoot

currently playing on my laptop: The Way It Will Be by Gillian Welch

Our ancestors were not always freezing their important bits off as some of us may imagine. They were actually rather clever.

Nomadic, semi-nomadic, and occasional trip-taking peoples did not move from place to place, starting a fire from scratch every time. They knew how awful it was to get that thing going. All the rubbing and twisting and striking and blowing. No, they kept a low-burning fire in (usually) a clay container called a firepot.


Using this baby fire, they created larger versions for cooking, warmth, and so on. En route, they held the firepot under an outer piece of clothing. Sometimes they set it by their feet when working at the loom or doing other duties that kept them away from the main fire of the household.

Around 1300 B.C., a king in Turkey heated the floors of his castle with an early form of radiant panel heating that the Romans improved upon. The Romans heated their villas and baths using what is called a hypocaust. Tile pillars the floors and allowed heat from fires to flow underfoot.


Ancient peoples in Korea developed yet another hot way to keep things less smoky and much warmer. It is called the ondol or gueduel system. You’ll have to look further into each of these systems as I’m giving you just a taste or a jumping off point here, but basically the house had a cooking fire at one end, a room with a raised masonry floor beside it under which the smoke and heat flowed, and then an outlet for said smoke. Looks a bit like a chimney laid on its side with a room built on top. Pretty great.


Writers, when you pen your next fantasy, consider how your people handle cold weather challenges. Do they use something similar to the above? Do they invent something new? Readers love details like this in stories as long as you don’t get too long-winded with it. Oh. That was almost a horrible pun. Ignore that. Carry on.

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Writing Fantasy: Language as Muse

currently playing on my laptop: Resurgam from the Poldark album

I’m in a reflective mood. There won’t be any of my usual joking. I’m all serious and solemn. Flinty clouds color the windows and the occasional wind takes the first of the fall’s leaves. If you’re up for humor, move on. Come back next week and I promise to be my normal, jovial self.

To inspire my writing today, I’m listening to languages that are either completely foreign to me and/or gone from the modern world.

The sounds speak to me of mountains that don’t look like my mountains.


Sparking consonants churn up images of battles born from slights I have difficulty understanding.


When I don’t understand the words, I’m forced to listen to the noises and the reader’s intonation. It’s a different kind of music, stirring emotion and color and scene. 

Here are a few of my favorite clips. Enjoy!

The opening of the Poetic Edda in what I believe is Old Norse

Al-Mutanabi, an Arabic poem (the art is beautiful in this one)

The Wanderer in Anglo-Saxon



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Worldbuilding: What does your world want?

currently playing on my laptop: I’m Shipping Up to Boston by Dropkick Murphys

I’ve noticed something. The stories that cling to me like dark, wildflower-scented honey are housed in living worlds.

Huh? you say. Alisha, you may need to shove your kid’s craft glue another foot away. It’s affecting your words.

No. Listen.

Many authors know to include sights, smells, and sounds in their stories. After all, drawing in readers’ senses helps them experience the sordid tale of the werefairy and her lizard king, the painful pages dedicated to the defiant misfit and his genius bestie, or whathaveyou.

But not so many authors shape their world into a fully realized character.

A world—be it fantasy or a version of this one we’re stuck in—should want.

Does it want to push its inhabitants? Or protect them? Does the story world punish strangers for interfering or welcome all who traipse onto its cotton candy shores?

Look at these pics. Age-old volcanic rock along a walkway. A door crowded with locks. An imposing temple with a moon like an eye looking down. An immaculate cathedral beside a bridge covered in messy tokens of memory and love. A canal swallowing a window’s attempt at light. Each photo shows an example of how alive the world can be.

(Near Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland. A door somewhere in Britain. The pantheon in Rome. Pont des Arts bridge in Paris. And, ah, Venice. *please tell me someone gets the Indiana Jones reference)

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Victoria Schwab (aka V.E. Schwab)’s A Darker Shade of Magic excels at giving fantasy worlds a want, a drive, a fully developed personality. Three Londons breathe life into this magical story. Red, White, and Gray.

I picked up the following world personality traits from her worldbuilding.

Red—juicy with color and magic, satisfying and yet mysterious, wants to fill you with magic and watch you become more dramatic, full of pomp and circumstance

Gray—dark and scrappy, challenges you with simple yet cutting realities of poverty and sexism, gives moments of choice and possibility

White—a fantastic beast with an ever-hungry maw aimed right at you, punishing, passive-agressive on some days, outright cutthroat on others, hurt and broken and angry, angry, angry

Your own story’s world should be just as alive. What does your world desire from its inhabitants? Or does it ignore them and turn on without a care? What does your world want?


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