Monday, April 29, 2013

TOTW: Plot Generators, What-If Tools, 37 Dramatic Situations, and Getting Past Writers Block

Image by wstera2
Even within speculative fiction, everything that happens in a story has to trickle down from the world and the characters in it. But that doesn't mean there isn't incredible latitude about what those characters can do. The seemingly limitless choices of writing fantasy or including speculative elements in a novel can feel overwhelming at times, and it often leaves me feeling stumped about where to go next in the plot. I used to walk away for a bit and wait for inspiration, but I've learned that it's better for me to power through writer's block even if that means staring at a blank computer screen for a while.

A Better Solution

"Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch."

~ Lili St. Crow
Yeah. What Lili said.

The WHAT-IF Blockbuster.

Image by Valerie Everett
To avoid going unarmed into battle with my muse, I've found a number of tools to add to my arsenal. The What If technique is a sure-fire blockbuster. It involves literally vomiting up ideas. I open a new document, or grab a pen and paper, and take an inventory of what I already know about my story. Then I start writing down what could happen within those confines.

What if . . . ?

I make myself push the boundaries. Let myself be ridiculous. Let myself laugh out loud. Or cry. Or both. What if the dog gets run over? What if one of the characters dies? What if the sister my mc is trying to save is already dead? Nothing is off the table. This is not the moment to wear a editor's hat.

The Rule of Twenty

Once of my favorite writing tips ever is the rule of twenty that came from a workshop taught by the brilliant Bruce Coville. He suggested creating a list of twenty options any time we need to make a choice about the story. Why twenty? Because the first things to come to mind will also come to every reader's mind (and the mind of every agent and editor), which means that if we go with that first instinct, there's no reason for anyone to continue reading. To hold a readers' attention, we need to come up with something fresh. So I keep brainstorming until I come up with something that works for the characters but is also a little outlandish, a little twisted. What if I need to kill the dog? I could have it run over, sure. That's the first idea. John Cleese and Charles Crichton kept brainstorming until they decided to have a piano fall on it. (A FISH CALLED WANDA) What if one of the characters in my mc's party has to die? Sure, I could have them cut down in a battle, but Michael Crichton kept going until he had the t-rex eat the lawyer in an outhouse. (JURASSIC PARK) Leah Cypess needed a plot twist, so she made the character her mc was trying to save from Ghostland into a ghost. (NIGHTSPELL).

The three examples I gave feel totally plausible within the worlds of their stories, but they were created by brilliant writers. For me, at times, coming up with even ten things can feel like an impossible task.

Fortunately, there are online tools to help.

Web-based Idea Generators

  • The 36 Dramatic Story Situations (+1). A great chart for finding where a story fits and where it is most likely to go. 
  • The Plot Twist GeneratorA generator that literally just gives you a one sentence idea for what might happen.
  • The Random Story GeneratorA free online tool gives you "an event that gets the story rolling and a secondary conflict to keep you going." Two conflicts in one, plus characters. How cool is that? And with a few tweaks, you can almost use the first conflict as your opening line.
  • Generatorland Plot GeneratorA rudimentary but fun generator that comes up with very nice pitches.
  • Meets Generator. A generator for the TV lovers. And don't knock it, how do you think Suzanne Collins came up with the idea for THE HUNGER GAMES? Yes. X Meets Y.
When All Else Fails

Sometimes no matter what, I still can't come up with anything. That's the time to look backwards and see if I've done something in my story that wasn't organic to my characters. My subconscious could be telling me I took a wrong turn somewhere. That's when it's time for:
What about You?

Have any brainstorming tips that help you burn up your keyboard? How's your WIP coming along? What's the most outlandish thing you've ever written?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spring Shameless Awakening!

Spring has sprung!  Well, here in sunny Los Angeles at least. I think part of the country is still snowed in.

Sorry about that.

But if your skies are grey and you snow shovel still in use, you can still bask in the glory of our shamelessness!!!!

Jennifer Nielsen is back with a couple of awesomes for this week's shameless post:

  1. THE FALSE PRINCE is an Honor Book for the 2013 E.B. White Read-Aloud Award.
  2. It has also been nominated as a Global Read Aloud Book for 2013, and we'd all appreciate it if you'd hit that link and go vote for THE FALSE PRINCE!!!

Dawn Metcalf is having an exclusive arc giveaway for YA Book Bloggers in her "I ♥ Book Bloggers!" Giveaway featuring a signed INDELIBLE arc & swag! Information on her blog at, official form at

If you're really going winter weather stir crazy, maybe you should book a trip to Los Angeles this summer?  The annual SCBWI LA conference is just around the corner, and our very own Mike Jung (aka Emperor Mike) will be on faculty this year!  Definitely a reason to sign up, in my very humble opinion!

Martina Boone and Adventures in YA Pub made the Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers. Also, as always, they have a giveaway every Friday and S.T. Underdahl will be guest mentoring the May First Five Pages Workshop which will open for subs on the 4th if writers want to get their mss ready. And finally, and most importantly, they're doing a May Pitch +250 contest starting April 28th. The judges involved are absolutely stellar, a list of amazingness never to be surpassed.  Er, did I mention I'm one of them?  :D

Speaking of me, I've updated my appearances schedule for May and holy moly, I'm going to be a busy girl.  You can catch me at Romantic Times Booklovers' Convention, Book Expo America (signing Thursday, May 31 at 10:30am at Table 12!), and the Ontario Teen Book Festival, just to name a few!  If you're there, please come say HELLO!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Adventures of Lisa Gail Green: Interview and my review of THE BINDING STONE

Tricked into slavery by the man she loved, the Djinni Leela has an eternity to regret her choices.

Awakened in the prison of her adolescent body, she finds a new master in possession of the opal that binds her. But seventeen-year-old Jered is unlike any she’s seen. His kindness makes Leela yearn to trust again, to allow herself a glimmer of hope.

Could Jered be strong enough to free her from the curse of the Binding Stone?

I'm still reading THE BINDING STONE, so my review here will not be complete. I'll post the final review on  Goodreads when I finish--but let me say, at about two-thirds of the way through, I am loving it! 

What I love the most is the voice of Leela, the Djinn's. It's totally unique to anything I have ever read in YA — an enslaved immortal being trapped in the body of a teenaged girl, with all of the hormonal reactions that come with the territory. Don't even ask--just read. This book is fast-paced, cleanly written and pretty much a thrill a minute!

And also-- a disclaimer--yes, I designed the cover and I am mighty proud of giving this wonderful book its "face". I think it fits the book perfectly and I am thrilled to have been a part of THE BINDING STONE. 

And now's the part, where I  let Lisa speak for herself.

Give us a little background on Lisa Gail Green--life highlights, etc. and your path to
becoming a writer.

I was born in the blizzard of '74… KIDDING!!! I have been writing since I was seven, but until about four or five years ago it was always something I was sure I'd do "someday". In the meantime I married my husband the rocket scientist, got a degree with high honors in psychology from the University of Michigan, and had three wonderful children - oh and had plenty of jobs along the way. Everything from teaching at a two year college to acting. Then one day I decided "someday" was now and set about it like a full time job, treating it as much as a business to be learned as a craft. Everything just kind of poured out of me then. I studied and studied (I say only half-jokingly that I've got the equivalent of a masters degree from all the study I've done online and in workshops) and I improved and celebrated each small step until I got here! Tada! 

Have you had any other works published before THE BINDING STONE?
Yes, but this is my first novel. My first publication (and I am still so proud) was a poem, Ode to Mud, in Stories for Children magazine. It boosted my confidence enough to keep at it. Now I've published something like ten short stories and poems (Childrens, YA, MG, and Adult) in magazines and anthologies. Some are out of print now, but if you check me out on my Goodreads author page you'll find what's still around. :D

What was your inspiration for THE BINDING STONE? How much of the book's lore is based on actual mythology and how much originates from your imagination?
Awesome question! I came across Djinn when browsing on one of my favorite websites, monstropedia. I started researching further and loved the lore I found. But it wasn't that much honestly. I went back to the original idea from the Middle East - that these were demons that were captured and bound to an object (not necessarily a lamp) so that the person could control them. Then I thought, gee, from the Djinni's point of view they probably aren't really a demon, just something that couldn't be understood and how sucky is that? To be captured and controlled? Then my mind just went wild and I let it because what came out was the entire story of the origin of the Djinn - which I reveal throughout the book.

The character of Leela is a strong and loyal, yet lacking something very important--her own free will. She's an amazingly difficult character to write, yet you brought her so convincingly to life. Can you tell us about what struggles and obstacles you faced in writing from the point of view of ageless being?
What makes you think I'm not immortal? Mwahahaha! Kidding again. I wish. But I honestly believe it's my acting background that works here. First person works best for me typically (though I've learned to stretch my muscles so to speak). I get into character. It's something I love and I credit imagination really. I want to live as other people for a short time. It's exciting and a form of escape. It's a major reason I read fantasy in the first place. And I'm sure I'm not alone there. I wrote the book as Leela if that makes any sense at all, so I know her and how she thinks. As far as her being something other than human, well, to make a book successful you have to bring out the humanity of whoever you are talking about, whether alien or whatever. It's a lesson I learned from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Is my nerd showing? *checks mirror* 

You chose to go with a small press for publication. Can you give us a little background on how THE BINDING STONE came to be?
Yes I did! And I am thrilled to be the first novel from Fuzzbom. They are amazing. They are professional, extremely editorial, and on top of the ever changing market. Plus they got me my dream cover artist *points at Lisa A.* And WOW did you bring the book to life! I'll stop embarrassing you now, but seriously, they didn't have to do it, but they listened to me and made it happen. My agent at the time, who is still supportive and wonderful, sent the book (at the time called DJINN and then FREE ME) to several editors. It was well received, but no one took the leap. There were lots of compliments about my writing and all, but paranormal was already becoming a hard sell. 

Unfortunately we mutually agreed on an amicable *break up* for unrelated reasons, but I couldn't then query the book to other agents. It had been sent to enough places that it was in effect, dead. I had an R&R offer from a fairly big editor (conference), but this wasn't my only book in the same situation and in the meantime I'd started doing short stories in Fuzzbom's Journeys of Wonder anthologies and I'd had better luck with those than anything I'd done so far. When Ian (my editor) mentioned that he was interested in the book if I decided to send to small publishers or even self-publish, I jumped at the chance! And I am SOOOOOOO happy I did.

What was the best part of going with a small press for THE BINDING STONE?
It's like I get all the *good* parts of indie - I have my hand in almost all decisions for example - but none of the bad (just in my case). For example, they are very helpful with marketing because they have just as much a stake in this as I do. They do all the layout and programming for the ebook, which is not my forte as well. And I still have the book professionally edited and copy-edited.

And here we have a statement from Ian Kezsbom of Fuzbom Publishing:
Fuzzbom Publishing started with a group of people attempting to put out a quality anthology of short stories for the digital market. We had a significant amount of praise from this endeavor so we decided to take on some novels as well. 

The Binding Stone will be our first novel, and working with Lisa was a joy. Our goal was to give the author as much control as we could so the end result was something she would be proud of. We believe we accomplished this. We've worked closely with Lisa on the cover, the design, the editing, and the overall marketing plan.  

The Binding Stone is the first in a series, and we also have another book of Lisa's that we're working on, so we know we'll continue to work closely with her in the future. We also have some non-fiction books in our pipeline, which present new and exciting challenges. At this time, we're not open to submissions as we're still finding our publishing legs, but we hope to be in the future, starting with submissions for volume 4 of our anthology - Journeys of Wonder.

What was the most challenging? 
Probably just my silly ego. You know the dream that some big house would snap it up and buy me a display at B&N! LOL. I'm good. My goal was to get my book in readers hands and my ego goal was to see my book on a shelf. Now I will be able to do both. Maybe not at B&N but certainly at Indie stores. It sure seems like I picked right with all the ebook success lately. 

Do you have any words of advice for writers trying to decide the best route to getting their own books into readers hands?
Continue to be patient and work your hardest. This has taken years from inception to publication despite the short time between my announcement and having it out. You want your best work out there. There's nothing wrong with self-publishing IMHO, but you have to do what's right for you and the book. It may be different with each one. Research, work hard, and do your best. Then whatever decision you make - go for it!! 

Thanks, Lisa! The BINDING STONE will be released this May.
Add it on Goodreads!
visit Lisa Gail Green at her website

Monday, April 22, 2013

TOTW: Choose Your Weapon!

Fantasy isn’t known as “swords and sorcery” for nothing. Big, shiny blades and sparkly spells are par for the course in most fantasy adventures and our favorite main characters often wield a sword and scabbard or a magic book or wand. So I asked my fellow Inkies to talk about some of our fantasy favorites that don’t follow the industry standard and stand out all the more because of what surprises they’re packing to take down the Big Baddies.

The odds may be ever in your favor if you've got a bow and arrow!

Currently famous front-runner is Katniss’ bow, which District 12’s tribute used to make her mark on the judges’ panel during The Hunger Games and took out more than the competition—she started a revolution! Hermione Granger may have been a witch amongst wizards at Hogwarts, but she was armed with more than a wand from Ollivander’s, she had smarts to rival any in Ravenclaw and that’s what kept her ahead (and her friends alive). And Laini Taylor’s Karou was armed with a most unusual weapon against the angels: the hamsas on her hands. (Perhaps only rivaling Buffy’s “Mr. Pointy” as the most original weapon of choice!)

When the stakes are's Mr. Pointy to the rescue!

Sometimes there isn’t just one weapon in our arsenal, often a good fighter has a range of favorites at his or her fingertips. The Ranger’s Apprentice, Will, has a bow, a Saxe knife, and a throwing knife. Robin LaFevers’ Ismae uses a fascinating collection of weaponry that includes the misericordeour, a variety of subtle poisons, a tiny crossbow, and a lethal powder called Arduinna’s Snare. Our own Bridget Zinn’s Kyra uses potions and darts, and my own upcoming Indelible features characters defending themselves with sigils, a straight-razor and a scalpel.

Have you thought about what your favorite fantasy character packs in a fight? How about your own characters? Does it make them stand out from the crowd or reflect something interesting about their character? I challenge you to think outside the box and come armed with some great ideas. 

Ready? Grab a pen, take careful aim & choose your weapon!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Interview with Mo O'Hara, author of MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH

Behold!  The cover!
I am thrilled to introduce to the Inkpot Mo O'Hara, who is the author of MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH, which is a hilarious comedy fantasy for readers aged 7+ and has been described as a cross between SHAUN OF THE DEAD and FINDING NEMO but for kids.  MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH was released in the United Kingdom on 28th February 2013 and will get its US release on 9th July.  A sequel cunningly entitled MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH - THE SEA-QUEL is released in the United Kingdom in July 2013.

MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH tells the story of Tom, a young boy who discovers that his evil older brother Mark has brought home a goldfish to conduct horrible experiments on.  When he dunks the goldfish (called Frankie) into a toxic brew of his own making, Frankie dies.  Mark uses a battery to zap Frankie back into life but now Frankie has magical hypnotic powers and he wants to get his revenge on Mark ...

In this interview, my questions are in bold and Mo's answers are in italics.

Hi, Mo, and welcome to the Inkpot!

You pretty much had me with the title of your book.  Where did the idea for a zombie goldfish come from?  Are you a fan of zombies generally and what do you hope that Frankie the zombie goldfish brings to zombie mythology?

It's weird.  When I was first writing the book the working title was 'FRANKENFISH'.  Then after the first few chapters I fell for the title MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH and I think it really suits the book.  You know what you're getting with a book titled MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH.  It's not heavy, it's not erudite but hopefully it's flipping funny (sorry - fish puns just roll out unexpectedly).

I am a fan of all things fantasy and sci fi really.  I'm not necessarily a horror fan so the really gruesome zombie films aren't my thing.  I do love 'B' movies though and old horror films, so old zombie flicks were definitely more ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES than NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

I love the fact that Frankie has hypnotic powers and can take control of people and you have a lot of fun with this in the book.  Did you have definite rules in place for what Frankie's powers were and how far they went and are you going to explore this more in the coming books?

Yeah, so in my mind there are two types of zombie: 

  1. the body-parts-falling off, brain-eating, virus-passing zombie; and 
  2. the hypno powers, rise from the dead, trance-like zombie. 
I'm more into the second kind (although the brain-eating kind (although the brain-eating kind have their great moments too).  I always thought the Haitian voodoo kind were much more interesting.  In the book I did have definite rules as to how Frankie could zombify people and what he could make them do.  Obviously when you have a 4-inch goldfish it's kinda important to have some way of getting other people to do your evil (or not-so-evil) bidding.  I like the idea that he hypnotises a toddler to take him around and fight for him too.  Sami (Ed - the aforementioned hypnotised toddler) and Frankie as a dynamic duo just cracked me up from the start.  In the second book we discover that maybe other animals can have this hypno power too.

Mwhaa haa haa haa!


Central to the book is the friendship that Tom has with Pradeep and how this extends to include Frankie.  Where do you start when you're constructing those friendships and how much of it starts off on the page and how much is achieved in editing?

I think friendship and sibling relationships are completely central to this book.  At aged 7, 8 and 9, kids are forming really important friendships and those friendships are tested constantly.  From the beginning I wanted Tom and Pradeep's friendship to be strong.  They both had really clear voices in my head and all the quirky plans and secret codes that they have seemed like a good way to show how close they are.  

I think the editing made the relationships stronger.  It made the whole book stronger really.  Sam Swinnerton and Emma Young, who edited book one, both have wicked senses of humour. So that meant that we were all going for the funny all the time, but they never let me slide over the edge into cartoon.  Tom and Pradeep always had to be real kids in my head and on the page.  And I think they are still.  I'm not working with Rachel Kellehar on book two and she is fantastic at bringing the friendship to the forefront of the story.  And it's even more important in book two as Tom and Pradeep's friendship is really, really tested to the limit.

Tom and Pradeep both have evil older brothers.  Very evil.  Did real life influence this at all and why do you think that sibling rivalry plays such a big part in fiction for children?
Mo O'Hara

Again, I would like to say for the record that my big brother is not now, nor has ever been evil.  Now my brother and I can sit and talk about Dr Who for hours on end and we did the same as kids but we also fought.  I think that's pretty normal for siblings.  My kids can be the same.  I remember my daughter described how she felt about her brother when she was about 6-years-old as "loving him I guess but in a not-liking-him kind of way".  Again they can play for hours and then fight like banshees.

A friend of mine asked me if I was dealing with some major sibling rivalry issues myself in writing this book.  All I can say is that anyone who has a big brother or sister knows that evil is in the eye of the beholder.  I think that sibling relationships are big in fiction in general, not just kids fiction.  It goes right back to Cain and Abel.  They are some of the most influential relationships that we'll ever form and the roles we play in our families affect who we form relationships with as adults and how we function in those relationships.  It's a big area to explore.  For kids too it's an area that they don't have control over as well.  You can't just not see your siblings.  You are with them all the time so it makes for interesting conflict and drama.

What was it that drew you towards writing for younger children (i.e. those aged 7+)?

The voice in my head for Tom was a 9/10 year old boy so that meant the book was going to be for the 7 - 10 age group.  I don't know whether I'll stay writing for this group or expand into writing younger or older fiction.  I have some ideas for middle grade books and for picture books too.  I do know that I really like talking to kids in that age group.  Doing school visits for them is a blast.  I love it!  They are independent and articulate about what they think and what they want but they aren't jaded or cynical yet.  You get all the creativity bursting out without all the self-censorship that follows so quickly when they group up just a bit.  Don't get me wrong - I've met some fab cynical snarky 12-year-olds and some super sweet crazy 5-year-olds but maybe mentally, I'm stuck at age 9 myself.

Ah, yet another question for my therapist ...

Illustration by Marek Jagucki
The illustrations by Marek Jagucki are absolutely awesome.  Did you have any input into them and do you have a favourite?

I love Marek's illustrations as well.  And the kids REALLY love them!  When I go to schools they all show me their favourite ones.  My personal favourites are the zombie dinner ladies in story two of MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH and the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE-style bathroom escape plan in story one of MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH.  It's the pigeon on the ledge that sets me off.  He's a genius.  In fact, I'm going to write a spin-off for that pigeon sometime.  

As far as how much input I had it varies.  Some of the illustrations that are jokes are based on illustration notes that I had in the text (about one or two per chapter I guess).  But then Marek also illustrated other bits of the story.  The editor gave him notes on which bits of the story she wanted to have illustrated and then he just put his own extremely funny sense of humour into overdrive and came up with some hysterical stuff.

I happen to know that you're a comedy performer and actress in real life.  Does that make it easier for you to write humour for kids and do you have any tips for writing humour that you'd be willing to share?

I don't know if my performing makes it easier to write but it probably means I'm a harsher critic of my own work.  I always read my stuff aloud (even at the first draft stages) to see if it sounds funny and sounds authentic.  I think the biggest tip about writing comedy is that it has to really, really, really crack you up if it stands a chance of making anyone else laugh.  Most of the comedy in MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH comes from Tom's take on things and his voice.  You also have to pick and choose when to be funny.  Sometimes, you have to sacrifice a small joke because it ruins the run-up to a bigger payoff.  I always have to stop myself throwing a joke in the middle of an action scene too.  (Well, sometimes I let myself do it if it's a really good one).

I think writing humour for grown-ups and for kids is only different in the following ways:

  1. Kids want really funny not moderately witty or whimsically amusing.  They want to laugh.
  2. You can use curse words when you write for grown-ups but you can make up words when you write for kids, which is usually way more fun.
  3. For better or for worse a kid's response is more honest and immediate than a grown-up's.  They aren't laughing because they feel they ought to.  If they don't like it, they'll let you know.  If they like it, the sound of a kid cracking up controllably is probably the best sound in the universe.

MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH: THE SEA-QUEL is due out in July.  Can you give us a taster of what to expect?

Well it's a Sea-wuel because Frankie gets his first taste of the big blue sea when the families take a trip to a lighthouse.  If the series is FINDING NEMO meets SHAUN OF THE DEAD, then this story definitely has a dash of SCOOBY DOO thrown in too.  In the second story, Frankie steals the show in the school play.  This except is taken from Chapter One of story one:

"Pradeep, Sami and I all craned our necks to look.  The lighthouse was tall and white like a swirly whipped vanilla ice cream cone sticking up out of the sea.  That is, if swirly whipped ice cream cones had giant lights at the top of them.  It jutted out into the bay so the water lapped against it on three sides.
Mark sat slumped in the back of the car behind us, flicking through Evil Scientist magazine.  This month's cover feature was called, 'How to Take Over the World in Ten Easy Steps'.  He had his earphones in and didn't even look up when Dad spoke.
 'It's awesome, Mark.  An actual lighthouse,' I said to him.
Mark shot me an evil glare.  'There is nothing awesome about this moron-fest holiday.' He pulled his hood up over his head.  'You losers have made this the lamest trip ever.' 
The cool box that was under Sami's feet started shaking.  I lifted the lid to investigate.  The eyes of Frankie, my zombie goldfish, glowed green as he batted cans of coke against the side of the cool box with his fins.  He must have heard Mark's voice and gone all zombie mega-thrash fish." 

Awesome!  Thank you so much for sharing and thank you also for stopping by the Inkpot!

MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH is available in the United States from AmazonBarnes & Noble and all good independent bookstores.

MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH is available in the United Kingdom from Amazon UKWaterstones and all good independent bookstores.

MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH - THE SEA-QUEL is available for pre-order fromAmazon UK and Waterstones.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Celtic Folklore in Children's Fantasy: Some New Possibilities?

I will be the first to admit that I am not a folklorist.  Not a real one anyway.  I love to read folklore from all around the world and I am especially drawn to Celtic lore. However, when I write, I like to take bits of tales and twist them into new ones.  That’s what a storyteller, or seanachai (Gaelic), does—flavor the telling of a tale with a bit of their own soul.

Many creatures from Celtic folklore are quite popular—everyone’s heard of leprechauns (the famed shoe-makers for the faeries), pookas (faerie spirits who can take the form of one animal and shape-shift into another) and of course, the faeries themselves.  But there are many more paranormal creatures in Celtic lore—sufficient to give a middle-grade fantasy writer enough ideas to last a lifetime! The great thing is that even today, writers in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland are still collecting folklore from around their countries, just like WB Yeats did a hundred or so years ago.  Recently, I was doing a little research and found out about a few creatures I’d not heard of before.  Some of the uncovered legends are ancient, some recent.  Either way, they could be the kernels of some fantastical stories to come:

The Bean Nighe-I’d heard of banshees of course, ghostly women who brush their hair and wail when death is near, but a bean nighe is a bit different.  According to legend, the bean nighe is an old woman who washes clothes at the ford.  If you see her washing your clothes, it’s curtains for you UNLESS you manage to get between her and the stream.  In that case, she must grant you a wish. 
The Ginger Beast-The sightings of this beast are relatively recent.  He sounds much like Bigfoot with a ginger coat.  I have to say, I love his name.

The Ghostly Harper-This poor harper drowned in a lake, now called “The Harper’s Pool.”  They say certain people who visit the lake can hear his music.  (I would be fascinated, yet totally creeped out if I heard a tune!)

Hairy Bob-Sightings of Hairy Bob are also fairly recent, within the last two hundred years anyway.  He is reportedly a hermit who lives in a mountain cave.  I don’t believe he has any magical powers, except for maybe his name.  Hairy Bob is a most excellent name.

Kelpies-A type of waterhorse that lives in a lake or river.  Beautiful but deadly—don’t get on!  They’ll take you to the depths and you’ll drown.  In some legends, they are pookas, turning into human form at will.  In Maggie Stiefvater’s THE SCORPIO RACES, they are elegant and tragic.  (Okay, so I had heard of these before, but I’d forgotten they were also called kelpies.  What an awesome name—kind of like a mysterious breakfast cereal.)

The Fairy Boy of Leith-A young boy of 8-10 who is seen outside of Leith from time to time, disappearing into the fairy world for small or large chunks of time, always coming back with news from the future, for all reports say he has “the sight.”  Many have tried to follow him, none have succeeded. There are reports of him within the last century!

And that is just a few.  Now tell me, what creature most inspires you?  Might any of them find a place in your fantasy story?

Shelley Moore Thomas is the author of the Good Knight Series of easy readers in addition to a middle-grade fantasy novel, THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET, which received three starred reviews and much acclaim, including the coveted Caldebery Medal.  Actually, she just made that last part up to see if you were still reading.  You can find her at

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Interview with Lena Goldfinch and Review of Aire

AIRE book cover
Available now on KINDLE
Paperback April 22, 2013

"Danger, magic, romance, and royal intrigue, AIRE is a must read!"
—NYT Bestselling Author JESSICA ANDERSEN

A tale of Legends reborn, royal intrigue, and an unforgettable, heart-melting romance that will sweep you away.

Annalisia is a seer, a princess with a courageous spirit—and a soft spot for Legends.

Jovanni is a Legend, a commoner with no patience for pampered royals.

Principessa Annalisia is stunned and conscience-stricken when an unknown enemy mistakenly abducts her maidservant. Determined to find the girl, Annalisia disguises herself as plain Anna and slips away from the palace. She tracks down Jovanni, her maidservant's daring older brother, and they soon begin to search together. As they uncover clues, Anna also discovers a kindred spirit in Jovanni. But would he be so free with her if he knew who she really was? Doubtful. Even so, she reveals her secret gift of visions to him, and in so doing disobeys the orders of her beloved grandmother, the queen.

With Jovanni, Anna can almost imagine she’s like any other seventeen year old girl, free to pursue the longings of her heart. When she learns that he also has a secret—he's a sentinel, an ancient shapeshifter who can take the form of a falcon—it seems as if they were destined to be together, as in the legends of il Sentiro. Though Anna is tempted to wish otherwise, she can’t forget that she’s a princess and it's her duty to marry another. Meanwhile, their hunt leads Anna ever closer to danger, for she herself is being hunted.

A princess and a commoner.

They never should have fallen in love...but they did.


A brief Review of Aire:
I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy of AIRE, so here is my review.
Lena has woven a beautiful and heartfelt tale of suspense and romance in the sun-drenched land of Isalla. Her lyrical language evokes Annalisa's deeply sensuous longing for her love, Jovanni, while still retaining her regal restraint and self-control. The world Lena has created is so vivid you can almost breathe in the sea breeze rolling off the sea. It's no wonder I wanted to help Lena with her cover. After reading a few chapters, the land she created popped into my head fully formed. I'm happy to have played my part in this, and I totally enjoyed and gobbled up this book!

Now, let's visit a little with Lena and peek behind the curtain at her world. And also a disclaimer--Lena sneaked in her little ditty about me and the cover design! Oh dear---so imagine me blushing. She begged me to keep it in and just "look away". I enjoy brainstorming with Lena about her covers. She works like a she-demon and will try just about anything. And it's not like it's a one way street. I learn from Lena, too!

I am extremely proud of Lena and this book. So, without further adieu, here's Lena!

LISA: What inspired you to write Aire?

LENA: The initial idea was a sliver of a scene, a shadowy snapshot of a young woman who has
a gift of visions and wants to use it to find a missing person. But she has this gift in a time and place when it's not accepted and she's conflicted. She wants to use her gift for good, but she has to prevail against some obstacles to do so. I felt all this conflict and earnestness coming from her and it really drew me to her as a writer--that sense of what is my purpose?

And I could also see this young man who was personally invested in the search. He was driven too, but he had a suspicious bent--he'd been burned before perhaps?--and didn't initially trust her. I was confident she'd win him over with her sincerity. And they'd fall in love. (I'm a terrible romantic, I'm afraid. ;))

The story morphed and changed over many false starts and revisions, but everything fell into place when I decided to make it an out-and-out fantasy (and not a historical with some supernatural elements). It was like I was set free. I could do whatever I wanted. The guy could have a special, supernatural ability of his own! And so Jovanni became a sentinel, a being who could take the form of a falcon, which I thought was so cool.

As far as the era, my research zeroed in on ancient Italy and Turkey. I can't say precisely why except that I followed my fascinations and that's where I arrived. I loved the warm Mediterranean climate and the sea as a character, but also the sister cities that rose up as part of my world-building, the city-states of Isalla, Boroth, and Jeraan, the remote Mont Vineao, and the common enemy, Cardia, the birthplace of the heroine's  mother. I was also fascinated by the era of silence between the Old & New Testaments of the Bible. That sparked an idea: what would it be like to have a gift in a time when there were no more gifts (or special revelations)? This could be the obstacle my heroine was facing. Her gift has become a legend, something she could possibly be banished for if she claimed it before her people. So her grandmother, the queen, has forbidden her to reveal her gift, and she loves her grandmother very much and wants to please her, but then a girl is mistakenly abducted in Annalisia's place (her maidservant). This is when I felt Anna's conflicting emotions begin to boil.

LISA: How many other books have you written?

LENA: I published a fantasy novella with a small press a few years ago called The Language of Souls. When my contract came up, I got my rights back, rewrote the story as a straight-up YA, and self-published it. That experience gave me the confidence to tackle a full-length novel (AIRE), and I've been having a blast. There's also a lot of stress, I admit, but I kind of thrive off it.

I've written about ten novels over the years, many that will never see publication! I think about that...and all the time I spent writing them and revising them, but I don't consider any of those stories a waste of time. I feel each one taught me something. I was an apprentice of the writing craft and those were my practice works. Some have promise and I may go back to them at some point, but I also have works-in-
progress calling my name rather urgently. I only have so much time. ;-)

LISA: What are some authors who have inspired you?

LENA: I think everything I've ever read has inspired me to write. I was a voracious reader as a child and young adult, and that continued into my adulthood. After a while you get the story bug, you know? It's a part of who you are, and for some people, they just have to write.

I took a detour first though and majored in Math and Computer Science and was a Software Engineer and web designer before I decided one New Year's that "Hey, I think I'll write a book!" (Ah, the innocence of those days! ;)) It's been work and it's been a tortuous journey at times where my perseverance was tested, but I haven't regretted it.

LISA: You design your own book covers. On this book, you and I kind of collaborated. Can you
tell the readers what this process was like? (don't go gushy on me now. ;))

LENA: Oh, my. LOL I don't know where to start.

(Look away for a sec, Lisa, or your head is in danger of swelling to twice its natural size. ;))

Lisa is the most amazingly generous person and a born teacher. Seriously, I think she HAS to teach. If you don't know her, she's not only a talented writer, but teaches graphic design on the college level. And designs book covers professionally. We met here on the Inkpot and, when she discovered my love for designing mock covers for my books, she took me under her wing. This was a while ago and she helped me through the design process on several covers.

Flash-forward to this current book, AIRE, and getting it ready for publication. I had a cover I was really happy with. I mean, there was an issue with a dress that was a smidge too sexy for my character (i.e. it  showed A LOT of  leg), but I felt there was something about the model in the photo that captured the essence of AIRE. was a little too modern, and, well, yeah. THAT. It had some of the right things going for it, a lot of airy sky for instance, but it just didn't quite match up with the book or with Annalisia, my heroine.

A couple of my beta readers & my copy-editor chimed in and offered similar concerns. Lisa had also read the book by this time and she agreed.

Something had to be done about the cover.

Governments wouldn't collapse or anything like that. There were no fiscal cliffs to worry about--except perhaps my own--and life would go on. But...the cover.

By now, my planned publication date was looming. Picture me FREAKING OUT. If you don't know me, I'm pretty driven about certain things (not housework, alas) and I may be a teensy bit of a perfectionist. I had spent months of man-hours designing that cover. I'd spent good money on the stock images. And, well, panic is just not the best conductor of creativity, you know?

Lisa's origial comp sketch
Then, in the midst of this, Lisa shares a design concept with me, sort of a rough "comp" sketch. And I fell in love. (Oh, the relief! Angels sang. I swear.) I loved that design. It was perfect for AIRE. It had the same romantic Valentine's Day-esque frame I'd used in the original design, and the same hawk, and lots of airy sky, but it was just *better*. But there was also Isalla, as I envisioned it (actually, confession, the image is of Dubrovnik, Croatia, where I MUST go some day) right there incorporated into the design. Before this, I'd shipped her all of these research photos I'd collected while world building and she actually, without prompting from me, had chosen my favorite: the city on the sea image, with those red rooftops, that to me was Isalla.

From there it was a mad back and forth of design to get to the final version. We set up a Dropbox and I'd work on the file, laying in the high-res images, editing, trimming, color tweaking this and that. And then it would be Lisa's turn. She hand painted the hair, for instance, which I think is gorgeous and perfect. And after all this back-and-forthing, it was like, um, who exactly designed this? LOL It was such a satisfying collaborative effort. (And I learned soooo much. It was like attending a crash Master Class in Design, all with the help of the internet. But mostly it was Lisa. Like I said, she's amazingly generous with her time and her talent, and she SAVED me. Just like a knight-in-shining-armor, except I call her Sensei Lisa and she calls me Grasshopper. :)

(Okay, Lisa, you can look again.)

So, yeah, we worked on the cover design together and it was an amazing experience. I really like how it turned out. Look as those gorgeous colors! I always trust Lisa's input on color combinations.

LISA: Tell us a little about Lena and what makes you tick. What do you like to do when you are 
not writing and designing?

LENA: I'm here with my family, making dinner (I'm a terrible cook, really--sad but true--but I can make a mean Spaghetti sauce) and doing exotic things like folding laundry. Or I'm hanging with friends at Panera. I'm going to church or participating in a dog therapy program at a local rehab center with my teenage daughter and our very spoiled Black Lab. I go for walks with the family--and the dog, of course!--by the lake near where we live, because I love the lake and the birds, but also because when you write (or design) you sit a lot. And bad things happen to your rear-end if you don't move. ;)

I like to travel and have been to Italy once. It's super hard to leave! I like to listen to my music (I have pretty eclectic taste) and some nights I'm so tired I just want to veg out on the sectional & watch movies or my favorite TV shows. And I still love to read.

Random fact: my maiden name is truly Goldfinch. No, I didn't make that up. ;)