BIG NEWS (Plus something for you!)

currently playing on my iPod: Agora by Bear Hands

On St. Patty’s Day, I accepted Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency’s offer of representation!!!

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I could go on and on about how excited I am about how excited she is and how exciting it all is. Believe you me. I want to. She is already amazing and we have so very much in common and I want to have a sleepover and listen to music and watch movies and braid our hair like we’re Vikings extras,

BUT

until I have a beautiful book ready, you need something just for YOU, my fun-loving, history nerdish, travelholic, adventuresome blog buddies.

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So here it is: a list and mini-description of some ideas I use when indulging in my passion for travel planning!

1. Skulk about the tripadvisor forums. You can search all sorts of things like city names and specific events and where to sit. People post tips on local places to eat all over the world, naming even the owners and what nights are gnocchi nights and so on and delicious so forth.
2. Mimic some of the Rick Steves tours. Even if you don’t go exactly where he does, you can find the cool hotels and B&Bs if you look around his site. It is invaluable for spotting a great place to stay that doesn’t cost more than it needs to. You can also get activity ideas. I checked out a walking night tour of Rome for my trip last summer and it was amazing. I knew if all those Rick Steves people were doing the walk, it would most likely be safe and interesting.
3. Find some local day tour companies. My favorite from travels abroad so far is Rabbie’s in Edinburgh. With local companies (if their website looks strong), you usually get guides from the area, smaller groups, and fantastic personal stories. I went to the Scottish Highlands with Rabbie’s and my guide bought us treats that she grew up enjoying and shared tales about eating leftover oatmeal out of a special drawer in the kitchen (you can’t make this stuff up). She was hilarious. And she looked like Ellen. Which is completely awesome. Just saying.
4. Check out all the things on youtube too. Of course, you’ll want to watch things like Top Ten Sites in London or whathaveyou, but also search for Walk Through (insert neighborhood here) and go down the rabbit hole from there. It can lead to cool experiences most tourists miss.
5. Facebook. Ask friends of friends of whotheheckareyou about their journeys and what they liked/hated. They might have a niece who stayed in Italy for a year and knows the best place for pizza in Florence (true story).

YAY!!! for me and my agent and YAY!!! for you on travel planning brainstorming stuff! Together, we have so many adventures coming right at us!

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Three Things to Know When You’re Naming All the Fantasy Things

currently playing on my iPod: Trustful Hands by The Dø

So you’re writing Fantasy. Woo hoo! Now to have a blast making up crazy-sounding rackety mack à la Tolkein—

STOP.

Slow your dragon, darling.

Great Fantasy isn’t merely going willy-nilly into the imagination fray with an IPA in hand and nothing behind you but the idea that you are the quirkiest lil goof on the Interwebs. Tolkein and all the other kings and queens of the fantastical took time when naming the towns in their worlds, the characters, rivers, seas, ALL OF IT. So take a peek at the sparkling beauts below and make sure you’re doing your Fantasy homework before you kick that leviathan into a gallop.

1. Know the roots language(s) for your world. Get familiar with what meant what before it meant what it does now. Here is an example: Dun means hill in Old English. If you name your lovely fortressed city that sits on a desert plain Castledun, you’ve made a boo boo.

2. Be aware of what readers will see in a name. If all but one of your trolls has a name that begins with R, we will wonder why. If there ends up being no why, we will raise an eyebrow at you. And not in the way you want an eyebrow raised at you.

3. Names also paint pictures with just their shape and sound. A name like Bimmie gives us a different visual than say Llorlongtear. Pay attention to that. (Hey, fun game—tell some kids to draw your characters based only on the names you invented. It is enlightening.)

Okay, I’m finished raining on your elven procession. Just remember: keep it fun, but do your best to make it smart.

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Don’t Forget to Live: Worldbuilding is Being

currently playing on my iPod: Blood Sings by Suzanne Vega

I don’t always do writery posts, but today I’m feeling it. So to those who follow for travelish   thoughts, my apologies.

I say I’m feeling it, because I am. I am worldbuilding. Starting a fresh fantasy novel is all about the feels.

To craft a place that sings of WOW THIS FEELS SO REAL, you must do a bit of body-snatching. Imagine you are the character and close your eyes.

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What do you hear? Wind whistling past your ears. A crunch in the snow behind you, like a small creature foraging. The branches of a nearby pine scratching together, the ice on the needles clacking like knitting needles.

What do you smell? The wet scent of snow. The herbed wax your father made to protect your lips when you go hunting. Someone’s hearth fire.

What do you feel? Your exposed fingertips burn in the cold. Numbing snow leaking into your roughly patched right boot. The itchy scarf grandmother made that you wear even though you hate it because she is gone now.

You get the idea.

But isn’t just using your senses. To develop a world that feels real, you must arrange a culture that rings true. What are your character’s priorities? Paying the rent or honor in battle above all? Are children valued? How about status?

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Every character in your new world must have a believable motivation that works with the rest of the population. Like gears clinking together, the priorities of your characters make the world move, function. And though motivations and priorities can certainly change, be careful with this, writers. Readers want to KNOW your character. They want to be able to guess how he/she will act. It must ring true according to their makeup.

Worldbuilding ties all the facets of writing together. You must have characters that make sense in the place you create. They must FEEL like real people and experience life like real people.

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So get on that body-snatching thing, authors. Possess your character and JUST BE for a while. Think like they think. Sense what they sense.

Good luck!

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Don’t Forget to Research When You Craft Fantasy

currently playing on my iPod: Cinema (Skrillex Remix) by Benny Benassi

Fantasy doesn’t only grow out of a writer’s mind. To be rich and believable, it also springs from history, from culture, from the study of mankind.

Presently, I’m a touch obsessed with Netflix’s Marco Polo.

Why?

Well, it’s not just the cute Italian and the amazing costumes and the seriously fun kung fu fighting.

The colorful history and cultural aspects hooked me.

The show’s creators combined both myth and historical records to craft a Mongolian and a Chinese culture we westerners never see.

Kublai Khan’s golden silks speak to his dedication to luxury, his feeling that he deserves such splendor. The deference that Jia Shidao, Chinese minister and general asshat, shows to the very, very young Chinese emperor displays the softer side of the enemy. The Mongol court’s overarching passion for the warrior way of life contrasts beautifully with the Chinese court’s eclectic style and attention to demeanor.

The story has every shadow and color a viewer could want because of the research involved in its evolution. It pulls you in with details that feel true and real and poignant. 

Does your fantasy reflect such painstaking and unique detail? Why not? If you have a bland spot, or God forbid, a plot hole, try looking into history and/or cultures for an answer that will surprise and delight your readers. 

And in case you want a peek into this world of Marco Polo, here is an interview with a few of the fantastic actors.

 

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Backstory Brings the Boom

currently playing on my iPod: Coward by Hayden Calnin

Today brings yet another shameless attempt for me to relieve my week in Italy. I DO have a point to make though. Promise. Scouts honor.

When you visit a place, it may be pretty. Creepy. Inspiring. But if you know the place’s history, the locale blooms into a richer experience. You feel the backstory.

Example Number One.

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Here’s moi, enjoying a rainy night in Rome. Sure, it’s atmospheric, but it becomes something else entirely when you know the place’s backstory.

Just behind me on the outside balcony, Mussolini addressed the Romans. Now, how do you feel about the spot? Super creepers, right? The place gave me chills, because in my humble opinion, Mussolini was not a nice fella.

Example Number Two.

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At first glance, this is a pretty weird statue, yes? A she-wolf suckling two infants. Yikes. But if you know the backstory, it becomes no less weird, but more interesting.

The twins suckling are Romulus and Remus, main characters in the foundation myth for Rome. Incidentally, Mussolini favored the Capitoline Wolf, as the image is called, and sent several copies of the statue to US cities during his rise.

Example Number Three.

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Cool. A view of the Vatican, you might think. But what if I told you the backstory? What if you knew this was the same view one of the most powerful families in Europe, the Medici, had of the Vatican from their hilltop villa? Even cooler. Imagine what those people, those shady possible poisoners and schemers were thinking as they looked across Rome at the seat of the Catholic church.

Backstory is key for me when I travel. I enjoy visiting spots so much more when I know who lived there or visited, what happened, and the meaning behind the sightseeing spots. It’s true in stories too. When I know why the villain hates the main character, why he/she lashes out, what hurts they hide, the story is richer, more alive. When authors share a slice of backstory about a sidekick, I fall for that less pivotal character and enjoy the plot that much more.

So in life, as in stories, don’t forget the backstory!

 

 

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Great First Lines

now playing on my iPod: Twin Rivers by Big Scary

Let me start by saying that I enjoy all sorts of first lines in books. Ironic, atmospheric, simple, poignant, funny. Writers, don’t think you stink because your first line is more basic than those listed below. Nope. You may still stink, but the first line isn’t a distinct litmus test, in my humble opinion. I’ve enjoyed MANY books whose (yes, they are like people to me) first lines are just simple, functional things. No biggie. One of my favorite books, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, begins with a functional first line that isn’t really up for any pizazz awards. And she’s doing just fine, if you haven’t noticed.

BUT.

If you can craft a first line that gives us shivers, jolts a laugh out of readers, or has everyone nodding, you begin on a strong first foot.

Here are some of my faves:

I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other. —Water for Elephants

It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die. —The Scorpio Races

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. —The Graveyard Book

Two Spanish soldiers swaggered up Tower Street towards William Shakespeare. —Ruled Britannia

When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her. —Bel Canto

I am a coward. I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. —Code Name Verity

I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods. —Til We Have Faces

It did not surprise Fire that the man in the forest shot her. What surprised her was that he shot her by accident. —Fire

I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon. —Skellig

Blue Sergeant had forgotten how many times she’d been told she would kill her true love. (prologue) It was freezing in the churchyard even before the dead arrived. (1st ch) —The Raven Boys

Nicole Gunther-Perrin rolled over to turn off the alarm clock and found herself nose to nose with two Roman gods. —Household Gods

The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable. —A Discovery of Witches

Oh now I just have to go read these again!!! 

What are you faves?

 

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Leigh Bardugo and Parnassus Shenanigans

now playing on my iPod: King and Lionheart by Of Monsters and Men

On Sunday, Leigh Bardugo visited Parnassus to read an excerpt from her upcoming books Six of Crows. All I can say about that excerpt is—

HECK YES.

Heist mayhem. Deep characters. Colorful, and delightfully complex setting based on Amsterdam and Las Vegas. Romance. Magic.

Do you need to hear more? I thought not.

Here are the Six of Crows dice. Awesomeness.

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Ms. Bardugo was a delight. Not only did she appropriately squee at my Sturmhond quote homemade t-shirt, she shared her techniques for developing the Ravkan language in The Grisha Trilogy. Adding Russian cognates to Latin roots, she crafted words and phrases that evoked the Russian motherland in our minds, but held to the idea that Ravka was a world all its own that also pulls culturally from places like Hungary and Slovakia.

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She mentioned that this next book Six of Crows will not rely as heavily on the culture/language of one or two existing countries. Ms. Bardugo has become rather brave with expanding on the idea of fantasy inspired by reality and will, I’m certain, expertly weave an entirely fresh, exciting culture touching on multiple Western and Eastern ideas and customs from today and long ago.

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And to quote The Special, “I’m so pumped up!”

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