Book Review: Heir of Ashes

Jina Bazzar’s debut fantasy novel Heir of Ashes reads at a pace that left me breathless. The action is non-stop, and if you enjoy a powerful female protagonist, you’ve found her in Roxanne Fosch. The book was just re-released by Creativia Publishing (congrats, Jina!) and I’m delighted to share my review.

But, of course, I had to learn a little more about Jina first. She was gracious enough to answer two questions. The first focused on her writing style and how she went about developing a plotline that’s so rip-roaring fast-paced and full of action! The second question was more personal. Jina is visually challenged, and I was curious about how that hampers her as a writer, as well as how it’s made her a better writer.

Here are her answers:

I’m a fan of anything fantasy. I also enjoy adventure/action-packed books. Add a little fairy magic and you get the perfect mix. So when I decided to give writing a try, it was no surprise I got the fantasy/action/fairy combination. I knew who my protagonist was, I knew she would be fighting for her freedom. I had the introduction, a vague notion of the middle, and the ending in mind. That’s as far as planning went.  

When I type, I let the story flow. Yes, I do lots of revisions but the pantser style feels somewhat gratifying.

As for my blindness, let me first say that being blind isn’t as hard as people believe it to be. Picture this: I see by touch, smell, sound (I don’t lick things, though I’ve been told I eat lunch while cooking). It’s a lot slower than just focusing your eyes at a point and sending that image to your brain. On the plus side, because I depend on my other senses to see, I’ve developed a sharper focus. I don’t have stronger hearing, I just pick up on the smallest nuances.

I can’t say being blind interferes with my writing, though I feel like I have an advantage other writers don’t: when I’m done typing, I turn on the automatic reader, lean back and listen to the flow. Most times, I can tell when the reader needs to take a breath – I add a comma here – or when the words jar, or when I need to add/delete something.

I do have a few peeves I believe I could manage if I could see:

Book formatting. No matter how many word tutorials I go through, I can’t get it right. Last year I thought I had it, but then a beta sent me an e-mail asking about the weird format.

Another peeve is the spell checker. If it doesn’t agree with my word choice, it highlights and suggests a similar sounding word. By and buy, cant and can’t, seize and cease, its and it’s… you get my point. Before I became aware of this evil plot, I’d correct and move on. But on the umpteenth revision, I realized some words sounded different, depending on where they fell in a sentence (remember, I pick up on small nuances).

And so I started checking some words letter by letter before correcting or not. That’s when I learned I had another foe: auto-correct.

And now, on to the review of Heir of Ashes.

If you’ve been looking for an electrifyingly fast-paced, paranormal book with a kick-ass female protagonist, this is it! Hold on to your seat and get ready for the ride. Never a dull moment and no mushy stuff in this book. She’s saving men more than they’re saving her.

Roxanne Fosch had preternatural abilities, but she doesn’t know the extent of her power and has only a sketchy idea of her past. Her adolescence was spent in a government research facility as a test subject, a place she escaped from a year before the book’s opening page.

Roxanne dreams of a normal life, and she wants to understand who and why she is, dreams and questions that will have to wait. The book is basically a chase as the morally corrupt researchers and their paramilitary goons try to recapture Roxanne. But the book is much more complex than that as other factions and interest groups help and hinder her. She has little trust for anyone, and the reader is left to question motives as well.

The story is told in 1st person from Roxanne’s point of view, and therefore the reader gets to experience some of the vulnerability that she rarely shows on the outside. She’s one tough cookie when baring her face to the world. This dichotomy makes her interesting and thoroughly believable. All of the characters are well-rounded and the dialog is natural and effortless.

A world full of preternatural beings is a given in this book with minimal backstory as to how this came to be, though Roxanne’s ancestral origins are eventually revealed. There are parallel worlds, werewolves, vampires, shapeshifters, Celtic fae (called the fee), and other monsters. The range of powerful abilities covers a wide spectrum where some, like Roxanne’s, are yet to be fully defined.

Above all, the action is non-stop, and there were plenty of times when I had no idea how Bazzar was going to get her protagonist out of the mess she put her in. Not all of my questions were answered about Roxanne’s journey, the other characters, and the factions at play, but this is the first book in the series, and I could see the preparation for book two.

I highly recommend this book to readers of speculative fiction, and anyone who loves high-action, fast-paced stories, and powerful female protagonists.

**

Happy Reading!

Naked shapeshifters? A writing problem.

pixabay image compilation

I’m about 21,000 words into my latest WIP after a week of NaNo. Can I keep up the pace? Not a chance! But it feels good that the words are spewing – yeah… spewing. 🙂

But I have a problem… naked shapeshifters. They’re distracting, and I refuse to bog down the story to deal with all the nudity or the logistics of finding clothing. I’m curious as to how you might handle it.

The challenges of keeping your clothes on while shapeshifting

My human characters are shapeshifters. The story is an adventure that takes place over four large territories. Shapeshifting is a convenient way of traveling, spying, stealing, protecting oneself, and escaping some sticky situations. There are extreme drawbacks to shifting, so it’s a choice that has to be carefully weighed.

Anyway, when a human shifts into a bird or leopard or beetle, for example, their clothes don’t fit anymore and, logically, are left behind. (Yes, exceptions abound, but I’m not going there .)

So the animal travels or escapes, and then shifts back into human form somewhere in the mountains or jungle. It would follow that their tidbits are fully exposed to the elements, to the terrain, and to each other. Naked shapeshifters dangling and bouncing, wrapping themselves in handy fern fronds, or keeping a thousand stashes of plastic-wrapped outfits all over the vast territories doesn’t work for me. What to do?

Of course, I googled this problem, and I’m not the only one to face it.

Here are some ideas based on my research:

1. Clothing is a part of the shifter’s physical organism and when he changes, his clothing goes along for the ride. It’s part of his being. Damaged clothing could regenerate just like physical injuries.

2. Shapeshifters transform by rearranging the space that their physical organism and clothing occupy. The matter that makes up clothing transforms with them.

3. Similar to fey glamor, a shifter doesn’t physically reconfigure matter or change form, only appears to. Thus clothing is optional, and only the shifter knows the truth.

4. A shifter’s pattern, or archetype, is not limited to the physical body and appearance, but includes, personality traits, quirks, instincts, and training, as well as a distinctive choice of clothing. Just as the pattern of a wolf or bear includes a specific coloring of skin and fur. When a shifter changes into another archetype, the clothing disappears with his humanness. When he retakes his human form, the human imprint reappears. The shapeshifter simply transforms from one archetype to another, and back.

5. Another take on patterning – Magic is a form of energy. It interacts strongly with matter and can be controlled consciously. A shifter transforms by mentally reforming his self-image into an animal. The mental image provides a pattern for the magic, and they shift to match. Same thing in reverse, with clothing.

6. Shifters perform a ritual using the carcass of the animal they wish to turn into. They wear the skin or furs of that animal, and when they shift, the ritual pulls through the “bonded” matter around the shifting body. When transforming back, the spell returns the shifter’s body and other matter to its former arrangement.

7. Shifter clothing is crafted from animal skins and furs so it can morph with the shapeshifter. Inorganic items cannot shift and are left behind.

8. Clothing is made for a child-shifter using hides, hair, feathers, and other animal materials. During a ritual, the clothing is patterned to the child, who eventually learns to shift with them. Until they learn this skill, they are shifting in the naked human form.

9. A shifter imbibes a substance that permeates the body and gives the shifter control over his physical organism, integrating consciousness with anatomy. The substance reacts based on the conscious commands of the shifter.

10. The clothing is made of psychoactive fibers that meld into a shifter’s body when he transforms, completely hidden from view.

11. Shifters wear some kind of charm that allows them to change or create appropriate clothing.

12. Magic requires no explanation – it just works.

13. Clothing doesn’t exist in this world.

14. Deal with the nakedness.

15. Have everyone wear ponchos.

Is there one or two of the above that appeal to you? Any other ideas?

Happy Writing!

My bossy muse returns

The muse’s latest look (all images from pixabay)

My muse and I have a love/hate relationship. She’s a shapeshifter, and she isn’t known for her sweetness or patience, so I’m not sure what to expect when I open my writing room door.

I know she’s there because of the howler monkey roaring at me from the banister of the outside staircase (and I don’t live near a jungle). “Shoo, shoo,” I order, flapping a hand. I slip past and shut the door before the beast tries to bite or groom me.

A glaive

The muse is sitting on my futon, flipping a knife, a pistol-thing in a holster at her hip. Against the wall rests a double-bladed glaive that looks like it could take my head off, maybe twice. My instincts tell me to take my chances with the monkey.

“How’s the book coming?” She arches an eyebrow. Sarcasm leaches from her pores.

I lean on the door, arms crossed. “I had a hectic summer.”

She puts her boots up on my coffee table. The knife spins above her head, and she grabs it out of the air before it stabs her. “I’ll give you a pass… this time. But I want some progress. You’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo this year – 50,000 words by the end of November.”

I wrinkle my nose into my “stinky-smell” face while panic flutters in my chest like a caged sparrow. “You realize that November is tomorrow. I haven’t prepped. I haven’t even signed up. I barely have an outline. And need I remind you, NaNo is a ton of work!”

“So, get over it.” She practically rolls her eyes. “You’re a writer. Writing is a ton of work.”

“I know, but I’m having trouble even envisioning this story. Your suggestion of goblins and shapeshifters isn’t clicking. It’s not my thing.”

“Trust me.” She gives me a sly grin full of evil, musey intent.

“Can I fire you?” I ask, only half-joking.

She ignores me and sheaths her knife. “I want you to add elves to the mix.”

“Elves?” Now she’s struck a nerve. I pretend to gag. “That’s your solution? Ugh. I don’t even like elves. Their too Tolkien, too… elfish. I love Tolkien, but… ugh. I’d feel like I’m writing a spin-off. Ugh, yuck.”

My muse sighs at my immaturity. “You don’t write spin-offs.”

I still can’t get the elf-taste off my tongue, but since that sounded like a compliment of sorts, I cease gagging and plop down beside her. “Thank you, but elves?”

“What do you have against elves?” She tucks a lock of hair behind her pointed ear, and I groan. “It’s not like I’m insisting on dwarves.”

“Dwarves? As in Thorin and Balin, or gnomes with red hats? Even worse! Thank you for not ruining my life. Elves are bad enough. Yeesh.” I’m starting to feel incredibly cranky under all this pressure. “And what’s with the gun thing? I don’t write guns either.”

“It’s a pulser.” She pulls it from her holster and rests it on the table. “I’ll leave it to you to figure out how it works as well as its limitations. I want you to stretch, Peach. Write something different, something challenging.”

I slouch and put on my grumpy face. “Shapeshifters, goblins, and elves, oh my.”

She smirks and gives my shoulder a hearty shake before rising to her feet and grabbing her glaive. “Once you get started, I’ll help. It’s my job.” She opens the door, and the howler jumps into her arms.

While she clomps down the stairs, I stand at the banister outside my door. Through the dense trees, dawn’s thin light is green and liquid. The monkey barks at me from my muse’s arms, and another annoying thought pops into my head. I have to ask. “And I suppose one of the settings is a jungle? You know I’ve never lived in a jungle.”

“That’s called research,” she yells and glances at me over her shoulder, wicked half-smile curling her lips. “Have fun.”

She fades into the forest. I shut the door, open my laptop, and google NaNoWriMo. Ready or not, time to sign up.

***

My blogging time will be a bit sparse this month. But I’ve got some ideas up my sleeve too. Elves? Really? Happy Writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Atonement in Bloom

I’ve been aboard Teagan’s tour bus for a few days and just hopped off for some biscuits and gravy in Atonement, Tennessee. While I’m at it, I’ll attempt a little magic for Teagan and share my review of Atonement in Bloom.

But, oh, not so fast. First I had to delve into Teagan’s amazing technicolor pantser brain and find out how she does it! Here is my question:

I know that you’re a pantser, Teagan, and I assure you that this is foreign territory for us dedicated outliners. Your stories are full of magic – people, objects, places, lore – and they all converge on the small town of Atonement in a zany adventure with eight plot threads whirling around at once. How do you keep this literary cyclone straight and make sure that it arrives at “the end” in one piece? I’d love to learn about the method to your madness. How you keep your stories straight?

Here’s her answer:

Teagan’s Tips for Pantsers

Diana, thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting me visit Myths of the Mirror. I love your blog name. I can’t help being reminded of the wickedly mischievous mirror in my Atonement stories.

Horsefeathers! Did I really have eight plot threads? I suppose that statement alone is a good way to illustrate the differences between pantsers and plotters. (A pantser is someone who “flies by the seat of their pants,” writing in a completely unplanned way.)

If I had my druthers, I would have a rather loose plan and a vague outline — I’d be a combination pantser and plotter. However, my job keeps me in a stress overload. When I’m stressed, I can’t cope with the planning of writing. The serials on my blog are full-on pantser, 100% spontaneous and unplanned.

atonement notebook

While Atonement, Tennessee actually was planned (those were better days!), the sequel, Atonement in Bloom… not so much. Plus, because of work, I had to start and stop repeatedly over several years. That would make it even harder for me to plan.

How to keep it straight? I create a character matrix before I start writing. Even though I’m not planning, the storytelling can’t start until I have a character. So I note some details about that character. Then as other characters, artifacts, and places come into the story, I add them to the matrix. Sometimes I give the reader a clue — yet I don’t know where it’s going. Things like that get a note in the matrix too.

I do have a couple of tricks

The matrix is in Excel. I have a lot of columns and I try to fill in the same details for every character – whether or not I actually use the detail in the story.

Electronic notes

MS Word – Styles. As I write the story, I make notes in the manuscript regarding where in the story certain things happen. I use the Styles feature in word combined with enabling the “navigation pane.” When I apply a heading style to the note, it lets me see it, at a glance, on the left side of the screen. So it’s very easy for me to keep track of where or when something happened.

Atonement 2 nav pane

Diana, I’m absolutely thrilled that you enjoyed Atonement in Bloom. Thank you again for letting me visit. Hugs!

Diana’s note here: As an outliner, I also keep a number of Excel grids, but I’ve never considered using Word’s Styles to make notes! Great tip for all writers. Thanks, Teagan!

And now my review:

Atonement in Bloom begins at the point where Atonement, Tennessee (book one) ended. Although the events that took place in book 1 were erased from the memories of most of Atonement’s citizens, Ralda and her Goth friend, Bethany, remember very clearly.

Not only has little returned to normal, but the presence of magic in the small town is much deeper and broader than first imagined. As it turns out, more people know about the local magic than just Ralda and Bethany, and magical characters are constantly popping in to sway events. There is a wide variety of objects with a range of supernatural powers, most which came from Sunhold, Ralda’s old house by the cemetery.

Geneviene is at it again with a whimsical, magic-filled story that is full of surprises. The gal pals take a back seat this time, except for Bethany, as the plot thickens and runs off the rails – in a good way! The action starts immediately, and the pace speeds along with multiple events and mysteries piling one atop another. One of my favorite scenes was when a love spell goes haywire and the characters are all attracted to the wrong people.

Besides the author’s wild imagination, I was once again enamored with a host of delightful characters including glowing pigs that talk, a woman who’s a living Meadow and leaves flowers growing in her wake, and a slithering dragon that is mistaken for a bear. Robin, the Shakespeare-quoting sheriff has a bigger role. And, of course, Ralda’s cat, Lilith, makes a reappearance as the only other POV character besides her owner.

In keeping with the tone of the first book, this is a light and fanciful read with plenty to keep a reader entertained. Appropriate for all ages and perfect for anyone who loves playful magic.

Ready for a magical read?

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An unexpected beta-read result, and a review

Nick Rowe, aka Babbitman (a talented writer who lives in England), beta-read Catling’s Bane for me while it was in the works. It’s the first book in a fantasy/sci-fi series that takes place on another planet. One of my characters, Tiler, is a heart-of-gold bad guy who has a flair for creative swearing.  I made up “fictional” swear words not only as a way to define his character, but also to distinguish this fantasy planet from Earth.

Tiler’s made-up curse words were inspired by the Foul O’Matic. If you aren’t easily offended, give it a try. It’s a hoot.

Well, I thought I had created swear words and phrases that were on the mild side. Then Nick read the manuscript for me, and he nearly spat out his coffee/tea/pint (I forget which). Apparently, some of Tiler’s improvised curses were rather over-the-top in the UK. For a week or so, we emailed back and forth, discussing creative foul language and making up alternatives. He even made a chart! It was pretty hysterical and a totally unexpected result of a beta-read.

Nick was kind enough to read the whole Rose Shield Series and recently reviewed all 4 books on his site (see below). While over there, take a peek at his serial about a couple of shipwrecked sailors who accidentally dine on the Greek gods, starting with Zeus when he appears as a swan. It’s pretty funny. 🙂

Nick’s review of the Rose Shield Series: 

I’ve been meaning to write a comprehensive review of the Rose Shield tetralogy (one more than a trilogy, in case you were wondering) for ages but things kept getting in the way, not least the amount of time it took to read them in the first place; this is a substantial story (over 1200 pages in total) but I promise you that there’s no padding.

I was tempted to frame it in the context of one young girl’s rise from poverty and disfigurement to power and Influence, but it’s much more than that. It’s set in a world on a knife-edge that’s about to undergo a series of changes both internally and externally with questions of succession, invasion, occupation, injustice, and revolution. And it’s into this maelstrom of competing interests that Catling is thrown…

(Continue Reading: Book Review: The Rose Shield Series)

Soul Swallowers Release Day!

After a year of writing, rewriting, rewriting again, and editing until my eyeballs shriveled, Soul Swallowers is out and about on Kindle and in print. I’m doing a Happy Dance.

 

Soul Swallowers

When swallowed, some souls gift insights, wisdom, a path to understanding. Others unleash power, proficiency with a sword, and indifference to death. One soul assimilates with ease. But swallow a host of the dead and risk a descent into madness.

Estranged from his family over the murder of his wife, young Raze Anvrell wields his fists to vent his rage. Then a chance at a new life beckons, and he retreats to the foothills of the Ravenwood, the haunt of unbound ghosts. He and his mentor build a freehold, a life of physical labor and the satisfaction of realizing a dream. They raise horses and whittle by the fire until the old man dies, and Raze swallows his first soul.

When his brother reaches out, open wounds begin to scar. But the tenuous peace won’t last. While those who rule the Vales yield to the lure of their ambitions, slavers of Ezar roam the countryside, hunting for human chattel. While one man manipulates the law, another heeds the souls of violence howling in his head.

Raze too listens to his soul’s whispers, and as danger intrudes on his quiet life, he has no choice but to return to his father’s world and join the fight.

***

In this completed series, epic fantasy blends with the wisdom of old souls to create a unique coming of age story of courage and honor in the midst of evil. Slavery is pitted against freedom, anger against forgiveness, and a desire to live peacefully against the necessity to take up the sword.

It’s a story of bitter estrangement and broken hearts, of deception and unfettered ambition. For Raze Anvrell it’s a journey of violence, redemption, and his soul’s growth as he transforms from a reckless youth into a man with a rich legacy of souls.

Global Amazon Link

Thank you, my bloggy friends!

The seeds of this story started a decade ago, and with the first ten chapters written, the tale languished. In 2017, a writing prompt (from Sue Vincent) reawakened Raze, and he walked back into my life. My state of “unknowing” about the nature of the soul, and my belief in its immense beauty and potential, fed the fantastical magic of soul swallowing, and the tale began to unfold.

Many thanks for my wonderful bloggy friends who endure my discussions of the art and craft of writing and encourage my creativity. Special thanks to my beta readers Cathleen Townsend and Erik Tyler whose careful reads of the story added all the spit and polish to my prose. The book shines because of you.

I’m grateful to every reader who picks up a book and is carried away by my stories. I hope you enjoy. ❤

 

Gif credit: Reaction Gifs – Seinfeld Happy Dance

My Bossy Muse

My muse. Image purchased from shutterstock

I’m polishing up the last bits of Soul Swallower and Legacy of Souls when I hear the clomp of my muse’s heavy boots on my writing-room stairs. I haven’t seen her since September 2016 when she gave me an ultimatum about finishing up The Rose Shield series. It was that or she was going to quit.

Well, I finished it in the spring of 2017 and took the summer off to rest. Instead of popping the cork on a bottle of champagne, she hired a mercenary muse, and abruptly my break was over. The guy was a hulking brute with a bad attitude and worse breath. And not only did he expect me to get writing, but he forced me to exercise.

Amazing artwork by Peter Pham

I can’t imagine what this visit is going to bring, and I brace myself. The door opens and the muse walks in as if she owns the place. She’s decked out in her clunky boots, and she’s carrying that magical staff that I still don’t know how to use since she never shares.

“You haven’t written sci-fi in years,” she remarks, having read my mind. I hate it when muses do that.

“I’ll bet you stopped by to congratulate me on the new books,” I say with a smug smile and flash the yummy covers. “They’re just about ready to go.”

“I’m not here to pamper you, Peach. That’s your husband’s job.” She settles onto a metal quasi-throne with rusted pipes that suddenly materializes against the wall.

I grimace at the contraption. “You know, I hope that’s not permanent. I just cleaned the place up after the bats!”

She ignores me and leans forward, elbows on her knees. “I’m here to talk about the next books.”

“What next books?” Oh, oops. Yeeesh. I wince. “Oh, yeah. Um…”

“Exactly.” Her eyes are blue today and they shoot icicles into my skin. “You’re a few weeks away from finishing the latest series, and you haven’t even thought about the next one.”

“I’ve been really busy!” I cross my arms and huff. “And it’s not like there are any real deadlines.”

“Except mine.” She raises an eyebrow. “You know I have other authors to manage. And there are plenty more in line looking for some guidance.”

“Looking for a taskmaster more like it,” I mutter under my breath and give her a fake smile. I know she heard it or heard me think it. “I can’t believe you have other authors. I thought you were all mine.”

She rolls her eyes. I scratch my head and blow out a breath. “Sorry. You’re right. I haven’t even thought about the next one, and I’ve got nothin’, zippo, squat. I don’t even have a starting place. I need your help.”

“That’s more like it.” Her shoulders relax now that I’ve been thoroughly cowed. “I want you to start thinking about shapeshifters. They’ve been on your mind.”

It’s true. “I can think about them.”

She narrows her eyes at me, but gives the wise-guy comment a pass. “And goblins.”

“Shapeshifters and goblins?” I twist my face. “That’s ridiculous. They don’t go together. I need a new muse.” I laugh but she doesn’t. “You can’t be serious. Are you serious?”

“You can make it work. I want betrayals, lies, manipulation. I want you to make things miserable for your characters and then make them worse. I want twists, flaws, nobility, and redemption.”

I don’t know what to say. My muse has totally lost it. What comes out of my mouth is, “Okay.”

“Good. Three books, two years. It’s a gift.”

I calculate the time frame in my head. It’s not bad. But shapeshifters and goblins?

She gets to her feet, tall and powerful. “Congrats on the latest books, by the way.” The metal throne thing disappears, and suddenly she’s changing, her form taking a new shape. A shapeshifter? She winks a feline eye and pads out the door.

The wheels in my head start turning…

pixabay image compilation