Cover Reveal for a Fellow Author – Born of Treasure!

Today I’m hosting a cover reveal for Jordan Elizabeth, one of my author friends. Just to clarify, I didn’t create this cover (Amalia Chitulescu did, you can see more of her work here: http://www.redbubble.com/people/amyamalia ). I think it looks stunning. :-) And now for the reveal…

BORN OF TREASURE

Born of Treasure - Cover
Clark used to be a miner, until he drank from a vial he swore was absinthe but was actually an invention to give him the ability to raise the dead. Now Clark seeks to fulfill his father’s wishes to keep inventions away from Senator Horan and his beloved Amethyst is along for the ride. Deceit, drama, romance, the insidious underbellies of gangs…How can she not be involved?

Clark can’t hide behind the Treasure name forever and the army still wants him for his secret abilities. If Captain Greenwood can’t snare Clark, then he’ll use the Treasures as collateral. Saving his father’s inventions will just have to wait, especially now that the Treasures have been kicked off their ranch and driven into exile. Clark knows how to survive on the run, but that’s not the fate the Treasures deserve. He can surrender to the army or fight for his freedom, but Amethyst has other plans for fixing their troubles.

She’s come across another one of the vials that gave Clark his abilities, and it looks mighty tasty.

Born of Treasure Banner

BORN OF TREASURE, Book 2 of the Treasure Chronicles

This young adult fantasy turns the Wild West into a steampunk adventure. It will be released September 12, 2015, but in the meantime, enjoy the stunning cover, a contest, and an excerpt!

Enjoy the following excerpt…

Clark eased the door open enough to peer into the closet. Scratch that, make it a ballroom. Faded curtains with moth-chewed holes were fastened to the walls to display a stage. Forgotten props leaned against the back, a mixture of painted shrubbery and constructed balconies, as though the musty room couldn’t decide what it wanted to be.

This would be fun. He’d never come across a rundown, exotic hideout in the desert. Clark tucked his lock-picking kit into his jacket pocket and nudged the door shut behind him. His breath sounded too loud in the still room, but no ghosts appeared to haunt the memories. Dust motes floated in the sunbeams coming through the windows near the ceiling. One window, of stained glass, sent a distorted image of the late king onto the hardwood floor. He pictured the theater where he’d grown up back in Tangled Wire, a space in the corner of the saloon where alcohol hadn’t puckered the floorboards too much. Sometimes, the saloon owner had made his mother dance with the younger Tarnished Silvers.

“Mum would’ve shone on this stage,” Clark whispered. She could’ve worn her favorite green dress, to go along with the emerald shade of the curtains.

Tables covered what remained of the room, littered with piles of gears and cogs. Broken clocks glared at him through their cracked faces.

“Check near the stage.” The spirit of Clark’s father appeared beside him. Perfect, the ballroom needed a ghost. Black holes peered out instead of eyes, matching the space in his chest where a bullet had stolen his life. At last, a ghost to match the dismal space.

“Your inventions show up in the weirdest places.” Clark stepped over a heap of clock keys, but one crunched beneath the heel of his riding boot.

“Senator Horan never got this one, and he’s looked. Trust me, he’s looked. See, it was stolen right from my jacket! Never trust a girl wearing too much lip paint. She’ll slip her hand in your pocket and you’ll never see your watch or billfold again.”

This had to be the point where a son grew tired of his father’s rambling and zoned out. He’d seen it enough on ranches, especially when the father wanted the son to follow in reluctant footsteps. “Senator Horan wanted to buy the pocket watch right after I finished it.” Eric waved his hands. “Nope, I told him. You’re too late. A pretty Tarnished Silver made off with it. He didn’t believe me, swore I was lying. He tried to pay me another small fortune in land.”

Clark grinned. He could listen to his father, Eric, all day and never grow weary of his words. His mother must’ve felt like that, getting lost in Eric’s passion.

Clark lifted the corner of a striped sheet thrown over a table, revealing glass plates for clock faces. “Don’t worry, your time travel device is safe.”

Eric floated closer. “I told you, son. It’s not time travel.”

“Right,” Clark teased, drawing out the word. At least if the pocket watch had to have been stolen, it hadn’t been tossed down a privy with other garbage. A clock collector—obsessed fellow, more likely—turned out to be a great alternative. “If I was going to collect something, I would definitely keep it in an old railroad station.” Not that he’d ever had the luxury of collecting anything. If he managed to own a second pair of shoes, he felt like a king.

“It’s a magnificent workspace,” his father said. “Pity I didn’t think of using an old ballroom. Perfect light from every angle, lots of room to spread-out.”

Clark studied the table closest to the stage. Pocket watches of various sizes ranged from thumbnail small to fist-size large, most dented. A polishing cloth had been thrown over a triangular-shaped one.

“This was the first train station in Hedlund,” Eric rambled. “All they had here was a mission and a few shacks. The mountains were just starting to be mined and the king was encouraging farmers to come out here to the land. They wanted this station to be the hubbub of life. A great encouragement to the weaklings back east.”

“Like you?” Clark lifted an oval pocket watch with diamonds on the front. The spaces of missing stones reminded him of a face scarred by the pox.

“As the rest of Hedlund built up and the main cities extended to the ocean, this little town became quite little. It’s still a stop on the main railroad, but people don’t want to stay for dancing or a show. Did I tell you I wanted to be a professor?”

The other gang members might not laugh if they knew Clark’s father was loaded—lots of the wealthy slept around with Tarnished Silvers—but they’d have a good roar over Brass Glass Clark having a professor for an old man. Univeristy brats hid behind books in shadowed libraries. They didn’t run around the desert with steamcycles and pistols.

They didn’t get shot by mercenaries hired by a senator, either.

Clark spotted a pocket watch with the Grisham family crest on the front: a swan with a key hanging from its beak. “Got it.” A tiny diamond winked from the swan’s eye.

Author - Jordan ElizabethJordan Elizabeth, formally Jordan Elizabeth Mierek, is the author of ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW and a contributor to GEARS OF BRASS, both available from Curiosity Quills Press. GEARS OF BRASS includes a short story featuring Amethyst Treasure, one of the main characters in the Treasure Chronicles. Check out Jordan’s website for contests and book signings. Jordan is represented by Belcastro Agency and President of the Utica Writers Club.

Don’t miss any of the Treasure Chronicles. Book 1, TREASURE DARKLY, is on sale for 99 cents this week only!

Mark BORN OF TREASURE to read on GoodReads and check out the Facebook Release Party.

Don’t miss your chance to win a heart-and-key necklace with matching earrings worthy of Amethyst Treasure. Click here to enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway.

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Thoughts on Writing – The Omniscient POV

For most of the stories I’ve written, I prefer a deep point of view. I like being right next to the character, getting their thoughts and feelings as they see it. Most of the time I choose either first person (Distant Horizon and Glitch), or close third (Magic’s Stealing and The Little One). While I might swap point of view characters between scenes, those scenes stay distinctly in one person’s head.

And then I started working on The Multiverse Chronicles.

The Multiverse Chronicles is pseudo-steampunk fantasy that consists of a series of short episodes (each around 1,000 to 2,000 words long) that will posted weekly on a blog dedicated to the series. My husband, Isaac, writes the rough draft, which I edit.

At first, editing an omniscient point of view drove me nuts. I wanted one person to follow, and I wanted to stay with that person. (This despite toying with the omniscient POV in The Little One, where one of the characters is a fourthwalling telepath). All of those rules about not head-hopping? They kept poking me while I tried to edit. But once I finished editing the first episode, I tentatively took it to the writing group we attend. To my surprise, they didn’t have a problem with the point of view.

Okay, cool. So I just need to keep up whatever we did with the first episode, right?

I started work on the next episode. I initially wrote with the expectation that I was writing from the bodyguard’s point of view, but then I realized she wouldn’t see the scene in the way we’d written it. In this particular episode, the bodyguard is grudgingly attending a ball in which the man she loves is about to be formally engaged to a snobby princess who looks down at her.

But what I’d embellished focused on the splendor of the ball… not the dark side of the festivities.

Let’s take a look at the current (rough) intro for this episode:

The grand hall of Britannia’s castle was adorned with ornate, stained-glass lanterns. Their yellow arc lights depicted the glorious reign of the Dragon Dynasty across the cream-colored wallpaper. Flickering images of gold and crimson dragons danced among pink-tinted clouds at sunrise. Further down the grand hall, these lanterns revealed the proud history of Britannia. The first Dragon Queen sent her dragons to battle an unkempt hoard of miscreants, and later, she stood with her proud chin high as she morphed into the form of a glistening dragon, uniting her subjects into an unshakable empire for the past two-and-a-half centuries.

 

Beneath the lanterns, diplomats from across the continent mingled, tipping crystal goblets at each other with brilliant smiles as they eagerly awaited the announcement from the current Dragon Queen, Queen Catherine V.

Not exactly the reaction I’d expect from a scorned bodyguard.

However, it did match the mood of the queen, who is pleased with the arrangement of her daughter to the prince.

Suddenly, it made sense. I needed to write part of this scene from the perspective of the queen. Because we’re writing this in omniscient, I could bring in her point of view, even in the same scene, allowing us to see the contrast between the two characters and sense the rising tension.

For example, compare the queen’s thoughts about the bodyguard with the bodyguard’s thoughts about the royalty:

The queen had to admit that the prince was bit relaxed, slacking on the formalities she’d worked so hard to instill into her daughter. But he would come around, just as her Ramón had.

 

Her telepaths had assured her that the prince was faithful, even if his doting bodyguard was something of a slob. She rapped her fingers on the armrest’s dragon head, exhaled in time with the methodical orchestra, and returned her attention to the guests.

Now, for the bodyguard:

“Indeed, this has been a marvelous party, fit for the First Queen, and now, for my daughter.” The queen cast a loving gaze to Princess Cassandra, who beamed with pride.

 

As if she was ever anything but prideful.

 

Alia kept her face blank, but her cheeks burned at the thought of that snooty, high-horsed princess being anywhere near Alfons.

 

Not that there was anything she could do about it.

 

“Over these past months,” the queen continued, “I have been thrilled with the courtliness of Prince Alfons, crown prince of the house of Egilhard, who has treated my daughter with the utmost respect that can be expected from a man of his station.”

 

Because anyone who isn’t raised like some prude isn’t expected to be respectful, right? Alia clenched and unclenched her fists, but Alfons was too busy fawning over his princess to notice the queen’s slight.

Neither queen nor bodyguard like each other. Since we’re in an omniscient point of view, we get to see inside the heads of both characters.

The question I pondered, then, was how to make sure the transition was smooth. The danger of omniscience is head-hopping, a disorienting feeling of being thrown from one person’s point of view to another.

In order to avoid that problem, I decided to make sure that whenever a transition occurs, that transition must be clear. Our focus subtly shifts to the new character with a few cues, such as naming the character and quickly getting into their thoughts with a thought that is clearly not the thought of the former character.

As I considered the topic, I realized we could model this concept after movies and TV shows. Different camera shots let us see what different characters are up to, even in the same scene. (Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of Agents of SHIELD and Once Upon A Time). Without leaving the scene, the camera subtly pans to a character with an ulterior motive. We see their reaction, whether it be a malicious smile or a sad lowering of the eyes. We don’t hop heads, but we do switch point of view.

Let’s take a look at the current draft of The Multiverse Chronicles, in which the point of view switches from the queen to the bodyguard.

The queen’s telepaths had assured her that the prince was faithful, even if his doting bodyguard was something of a slob. She rapped her fingers on the armrest’s dragon head, exhaled in time with the methodical orchestra, and returned her attention to the guests.

 

Amongst the rigid guards and the pristine diplomats, amongst the proper dukes and the swirling, bejeweled duchesses who danced at their side, stood a lone, blue-uniformed soldier.

 

Alia Behringer, the prince’s favorite bodyguard. She was tall, especially among this crowd, with wheat blond hair and a lean, muscled body.

 

Alia cast a furtive glance toward the Dragon Queen, caught her glower, and looked away. She remained stoic as the redcoats, but unlike her counterparts, her blue-eyed gaze returned to the prince.

 

He was her charge, and she would defend him with her life.

 

She avoided the queen’s heavy gaze and gave her attention to the prince. Months ago he would have been joking at her side, not perched on miss high-and-mighty’s ‘graceful, endearing, and oh-so-lovely’ arm.

This scene could still use some tightening in terms of point of view, but we can see the switch from the queen to the bodyguard. The queen focuses on the bodyguard, we get a bit of information about her, and then we start seeing her thoughts, things she would know but the queen wouldn’t. Calling the guards redcoats, for example, or noting that she would defend the prince with her life, or how she calls the princess ‘high-and-mighty.’

The queen would not think in these terms.

The Multiverse Chronicles is still very much a work in progress. But the beginnings of the omniscient point of view is there, slowly unraveling itself and making itself useful.

I’ve tried taking cues from other books that feature an omniscient point of view (Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, for example) but I’ll admit, I haven’t read many stories with an omniscient POV that I remember, though I know I’ve read them.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Have you had much experience in reading or writing omniscient points of view? :-)

Further reading I found on the subject:

http://io9.com/5924661/how-to-write-an-omniscient-narrator-if-youre-not-actually-omniscient-yourself (A really nice explanation of omniscient narration, and how to make it work)

http://www.scribophile.com/academy/using-third-person-omniscient-pov (Explains the difference between subjective and objective narrators, and potential pitfalls with an omniscient point of view)

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Thoughts on Gaming – The Importance of Clear Instructions

Isaac and I recently went to St. Louis to visit friends, and while there, we had them test out our new Battle Decks: Multiverse 1953 game (Thanks, guys!). The goal was to see how easy the rules were to follow without our intervention, as well as to make sure the game played as we intended based on those rules. Think of it kind of like beta-reading… you want to make sure your readers are getting the information and the meaning you intend. Where there is confusion, there is trouble.

It quickly became apparent that our rules could use some tweaking for clarity, namely in the form of pictures and diagrams explaining how to read the cards. The back of the box has a diagram showing the set-up of the game, but that was it. When we offered the diagram found in the trial version of the game, which allows players to play the game with a couple print-outs and two decks of poker cards, we found that the rules were a bit easier to follow. Especially if the player has played similar games, such as Magic: the Gathering or Pokemon. I haven’t played the latter to be able to say how close those rules play, but that was the comparison one of our friends made.

Battle Decks Basic Card Game Setup

The first version of the picture instructions for the trial version of Battle Decks.

As you can see in the picture, it tells what each card is, but not how to read them. Also, from using this picture, we found that it was confusing to have notes on both the opponent’s playing field and your playing field. We’re considering limiting the text to the player’s side of the field, that way players don’t have to feel like they’re reading the cards upside down (especially problematic if the player hasn’t had much sleep).

Isaac and I are also considering creating a diagram of the basic card types to explain how to read each card. For example, we’ll point out the HP, DEF, ATK, and DMG information and what those numbers pertain to, along with where the point cost of a hero card is and where abilities can be found. We’ll add pictures of counter tokens and explain how to use them (something we neglected entirely in the text-based rules).

Beta-testers are important!

We learned from our testing experience that being able to verbally explain the rules made the learning process go much smoother. Players understood the game much faster when we showed them how to play through a round. And once they figured out the rules, we got to see them effectively using abilities (the bodyguard ability in this case) in a way that we rarely used in our own game play. We also found where a certain young dragon character card had a potentially game-breaking trait, which we intend to remove before publishing the final version of Battle Decks.

Though we had entertained the idea before, we now know that a video explaining the rules and showing a round of the game is crucial. With a video, potential players can see how the game is played without having to wade through a lot of text rules… and we can include supplemental videos which explain the different cards’ abilities. Our goal is to make the game easy to understand and play. Otherwise, someone who chooses to give it a try might decide the game is too difficult and set it aside.

For example, when I first tried picking up the Star Wars: Miniatures game with my dad, it took a while to figure out since we didn’t know anyone else who played. We started out with simpler cards and ignored rules that didn’t make sense to us, and eventually, we figured it out. Later, I began playing the game with Isaac and we moved on to more difficult characters with bigger abilities.

We kept this in mind when creating Battle Decks. We included characters who only have a few abilities, along with characters who have several. That way players can ease their way into the game. We’re also considering creating “campaigns” with set characters for each player, or a limited S&R deck to vary game play.

Overall, I’d say this first round of beta-testing was successful, and we have quite a few ideas of how to improve the rules and improve a player’s experience.

I hope you enjoyed this post. :-) Have you ever found a game to have really difficult rules to understand? What did you do about it?

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Thoughts on Writing – Character Motivation

Today I’m talking about  how a character’s backstory influences their actions.

In the first draft of Magic’s Stealing, I never really explained why the main character, Toranih, didn’t like magic. She simply didn’t. But stories generally read better if the author knows why a character behaves a certain way, even if they never explain this directly to the reader. So, in order to add credibility to Toranih’s character, I began to explore her motives.

From Dictionary.com (a really useful resource when double-checking that a word means what you think it means), motives are “something that causes a person to act in a certain way, do a certain thing, etc.”

To see why Toranih acts so paranoid/distrustful of magic, while being so interested in learning how to effectively wield a sword, let’s take a look at her world. Toranih is the youngest daughter of the Lord of the Armory, so she has plenty of access to swords and the people who can teach her. In regards to magic, the kingdom has a high number of ribbon mages, so magic is common. However, the ability to see magic is not. Neither Toranih, nor her older sister, Siklana, can see ribbon magic, though her best friend can.

In the original draft of Magic’s Stealing, Toranih did not like magic because she felt like it was all tricks and illusions. (A side note: the trouble with using the term ‘illusion’ with magic is that if you actually have magic doing something, the illusion of something happening is no longer an illusion. I’ve been slowly weeding this word from the story). So my first idea for why Toranih didn’t like magic was that maybe a bad event scared her in the past. She gets her first glimpse of magic at a parade when she was little, and it overwhelms her. Thus, she’s been wary ever since.

However, my husband pointed out that a parade with a lot of colorful, fluttering ribbons is likely to be awe-inspiring to a four-year-old, not terrifying. While I still feel that everyone has different reactions, so what some kids like, others are terrified of (for example… clowns), I started looking elsewhere for answers. Toranih doesn’t like magic, and to the extent that she is paranoid in earlier drafts, there seems like there might be a bit more to her paranoia. So I cut the bit about the parade (keeping the event, but not having it terrify her), and considered Toranih’s distrust of their mythology. There are already several references in the current draft which lends itself to this theory.

For example, after an event involving Toranih being magically called to do a task she wouldn’t otherwise do:

Old fables flitted to the edge of her mind, haunting melodies of immortals and creatures whose very power was that of magic’s lure, the power to call and demand, to whisper in a person’s ear and convince them, without fail, to do their bidding.

In something of a flashback, Toranih’s sister tells her about life and death magic:

Once, long ago, when Siklana showed Toranih how to use her crystal, she’d convinced a couple of the servants to come stand in front of them. One had magic, the other did not. And she’d pointed to the one with magic and all the ribbons, and explained what ribbon magic was and how it worked.

 

Then Siklana pointed to the other servant, and said that even though he wasn’t a mage, he still had magic. Everyone had magic, but it was difficult to see because it was closer related to string magic, but couldn’t Toranih see it? There were two thin strings running through his body, each entwined and almost impossible to spot.

 

Siklana had adjusted the crystal to make them more visible. “That’s the only string magic visible to a ribbon mages,” she’d said. “One strand is life, and the other is death. Everyone has them. If you don’t, then you’re dead. That’s how the gods made us,” Siklana had continued, much to Toranih’s dismay. “But only the really powerful gods can manipulate those strings, so there’s nothing to be scared of.”

 

That memory had stuck with Toranih ever since.

In a conversation with Aifa, the Matchmaker goddess:

Aifa rolled her eyes. “Such a harsh tongue, tut-tut. Dear, I’m the goddess of relationships, not all-powerful. But if you don’t mind your manners, you’ll find yourself mute.”

 

Toranih swallowed hard. She had heard tales of citizens who’d crossed the gods in older times. Citizens who found their love lives broken or their ability to communicate… impossible.

Toranih has plenty of reason to be uneasy about magic and the gods’ use of magic. However, we can take this a step further. We know that Toranih is very interested in swordsmanship, and wants to be a guardsman except that her father doesn’t think that position befits her station. This is especially problematic when her sister, Siklana, reveals intentions to marry into a different estate, thus leaving Toranih as the sole heir.

Her father handed one of the servants his empty plate and rested back in his chair. “Understanding self-defense is important, but you’re taking these studies a bit far. There are more important subjects for a young lady to—”

 

“Siklana is much more adept at those studies,” Toranih interrupted. Her scone crumbled and she swept the crumbs into a napkin before he could get onto her about that, too. “Let’s be honest. When inheritance time comes around, she’ll inherit the estate. She’ll master magic at the academy, and she’ll be the one to win the hearts of the city and lead them in her wise, older age.”

 

Siklana ducked her head behind her bangs. Her dark brown eyes shown through. She was smaller in stature than her younger sister, especially since she lacked the muscle that came from Toranih’s years of swordplay. “What if I marry into a different house?”

 

Toranih turned sharply. Her sister… marry? Of course she would, she had always been interested in the attention of suitors, but Toranih hadn’t thought she would try to climb the social ladder through marriage.

 

If she married into a higher class, she would leave behind the Covonilayno estate. “I’d be the heir,” Toranih whispered, stunned.

 

Her father nodded. “The rights would fall to you. As is custom.”

 

Toranih glared at her sister. “How long have you been planning this?”

 

“I’ve been thinking about it for a year,” she admitted coyly. “I’ve already passed the academy’s first year exams, and I’m well into my second year. Our inheritance is decent, but there are a few worthy suitors who could help me further my education once I finish in Cirena City. With a decent suitor’s allowance, I could travel to the Islands. I’ll make sure that’s part of the contract. I might even learn word magic.”

 

Toranih swallowed hard. While having at least some degree of ribbon magic was common, word magic was practiced by very few. Anyone could learn it, so long as they knew how to pronounce the spell.

 

But say just one syllable wrong, and any number of horrors awaited the practitioner. Setting ones’ self on fire, opening a portal in the middle of a crowded city and killing anyone in its path, trying to heal someone and killing them instead… and a particularly powerful spell could bind a target to do the mage’s will.

 

Toranih shivered. Unlike ribbon magic, word magic was invisible. No crystal could reveal words the way it could reveal ribbons.

My husband pointed out that maybe Toranih doesn’t like magic because, unlike her sister (and most every other mage in the kingdom), she never really became adept with magic.

As a young child, Toranih saw her sister and Daernan surpass her with flying colors while she struggled to control ribbons for even basic tasks. At the same time, young noblewomen were taught basic self-defense, which is where she excelled. She threw herself into the study of swords and knives, hoping to become a weapons master. In the meantime, she became more and more resentful of magic. She eventually understood the basics (which we see her using in Magic’s Stealing), but she never quite comes to terms with the fact that she’s been left behind by the mages.

The result?

She can’t easily control magic, so she doesn’t trust it, and (as the current blurb says) she would rather have a sword in her hand than use her powers to heal and throw fireballs.

And now we have the reason that Toranih doesn’t like magic. We can see why she might, at times, lash out or vehemently deny anything to do with being a mage.

But she lives in a world so saturated with magic that she can’t ignore it, and so she still uses the magical light crystal her sister gave her. She still changes into an owl when Daernan convinces her to go to the parade. She still tries to save people who are dying when their magic is stolen. But she has a flaw, and because of that flaw she doesn’t always use her powers when she should, and her unwillingness to try could cost her the people she loves.

Now I’ve just got to make sure that is apparent within the story, even if I never come outright and say this is why she acts the way she does.

I hope you enjoyed this post. :-)

Have you found any books where character motivations were well-done, or where they were lacking?

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Thoughts on Writing – Developing a Magic System

I’m in the process of polishing Magic’s Stealing, and a beta reader pointed out a plot hole regarding one of my magic systems. Since my mind is now stuck on working through that problem, today I’m going to go into the process of developing magic systems.

In Magic’s Stealing there are three types of magic: ribbon magic, string magic, and word magic. The problem system is ribbon magic, which is the most common. It’s the magic that gets stolen, leaving the two main characters as the only mages.

As it stands in the current version of the story, ribbon mages either have all-magic—which allows a user to do most any common type of ribbon magic that they train for—and there is specific magic—in which the user is only good with one specific power.

Depending on their specialty, the colors of their ribbons vary. For example, a fire mage has yellow ribbons, while a light mage has turquoise ribbons. The problem is that once we get into all-magic, where there is no official specialty, the color system breaks down.

For example:

Toranih: Green ribbons. All-magic. She’s not particularly good with magic, though her specialty is telekinesis. She is also seen shape-changing and using her powers to heal wounds.

Daernan: Blue ribbons. All-magic. Specialty of shape-changing. Also seen casting fireballs and healing wounds.

Siklana: Turquoise ribbons. Specific magic. Specialty of light manipulation. Enchants light crystals for others to be able to see magic.

Shevanlagiy: Green ribbons. All-magic. She is seen creating portals, using telekinesis, and there is a mention of her enchanting a light crystal.

Cafrash: Yellow ribbons. Specific magic. Specialty of fire manipulation. (He’s a blacksmith).

We don’t see many different ribbon colors in the first book because the main character, Toranih, can’t see magic without a light crystal, and magic is stolen shortly thereafter. However, a beta reader pointed out that from the way I describe the ribbons in the book, the color of the ribbons seem to be based on the magic user, rather than on the type of magic. (Note that Toranih and Daernan can do the same things, but Daernan’s magic is blue, while Toranih’s magic is green.)

So I took a second look at how I explained ribbon magic. The only truly consistent piece of information was in regards to the strength of magic, and even that is not directly stated. (Ribbons are influenced by how often magic is used. Thin ribbons reveal magic that has been neglected. Thick ribbons show well-practiced magic. Like a muscle, the more practice a mage has, the stronger their ribbons will be). The other consistent deal with ribbon magic is the use of a certain color pertaining to a certain mage.

Since I want consistency in the system, especially as the series continues to evolve, I brainstormed a few ideas that might make the system stronger.

It didn’t immediately come together. The brainstorming process is messy, and you can see that from the ideas I have here:

Importance in the shade of magic: Inherent at birth. The more vibrant the color of magic, the more likely a mage has all-magic, or can do more with his ribbons. The paler the magic, the more specific their magic is, limiting them to what can be done.

Importance in the color of magic: Inherent at birth. Technically, similar colors should be similar powers. We also run into the problem that if the shade of magic says that the paler the magic, the more limited the mage, then we shouldn’t be able to tell what kind of magic a limited mage has. Their magic would be white.

So…

I wondered if I could flop these around.

The deeper the shade of magic, the more specific the power. This would be consistent with immortal magic, a type of ribbon magic which is described in the book as being “silver with black edges.” Their magic tends to be a little more all-encompassing (even though they each have their specialties). When Toranih and Daernan are granted a tiny bit of an immortal’s power, their ribbons take on an iridescent sheen. Which would make sense if the more all-encompassing their power, the more silvery-white it became.

Granted, that still doesn’t help me look at magic in terms of a visible light spectrum based on their current ribbon colors. But, if you take all the colors of the rainbow and put them together in the form of light, the light is white… which fits the idea of all-magic being paler in color (though brighter in luminescence).

That in mind, mortal mages would probably still have a visible color of magic because they don’t have nearly the kind of power that an immortal has.

Let’s look at the specialties in terms of a rainbow spectrum… with the addition of turquoise.

Red – (Not mentioned in this story)

Orange – (Not mentioned in this story)

Yellow – Fire

Green – Telekinesis

Turquoise – Light manipulation

Blue – Shapeshifting

Indigo – (Not mentioned in this story)

Violet – Portals?

Now, if specialties that are related are close together on the spectrum, then light manipulation should be more of a lime green or yellow-green than turquoise, and thus be closer to fire. If I go with the idea that each type of ribbon magic has a different color, unrelated, then those could remain the same.

But I still wasn’t really happy with this. I liked the idea of light manipulation being turquoise and fire being yellow, sticking straight to a rainbow spectrum is limiting, and besides that, this system still doesn’t help me with all-magic users.

I talked about this conundrum with my husband, Isaac, and the resulting discussion gave me the idea that maybe mages shouldn’t have one single color of magic. Instead, their ribbons could vary with multiple colors, depending on what kind of magic they have the potential to use. In this case, Daernan’s primary ribbon color would be blue, because he’s a gifted shapeshifter, but he would also have several thick yellow ribbons for fire, along with a few green ribbons for telekinesis and whatever other color I assign to the magic he practices. As he’s not particularly skilled with something like portals, but he’s capable, he might have a couple thin violet ribbons that no one really notices because they get lost among his blue ribbons.

Let’s take a quick look at a before-and-after of scene involving magic. This is how the section reads before I make changes:

The owl shrugged and puffed out its plumage like a feather duster. Not my fault you’re so jumpy.

Toranih crossed her arms. Though faint in the moonlight, the crystal’s twilight revealed blue ribbons swirling thick through Daernan’s owlish body.

Coming? The blue ribbons carried Daernan’s thoughts to Toranih’s mind, and she fought the urge to swipe them away.

However, if I make the changes I’m considering, the scene might read something like this:

The owl shrugged and puffed out its plumage like a feather duster. Not my fault you’re so jumpy.

Toranih crossed her arms. Though faint in the moonlight, the crystal’s twilight revealed various blue and yellow and pink ribbons swirling thick through Daernan’s owlish body.

Coming? The pink ribbons carried Daernan’s thoughts to Toranih’s mind, and she fought the urge to swipe them away.

Granted, I haven’t decided that pink is telepathy, but it’s an idea. This early in the story, readers should be able to immediately understand that different ribbons do different things. Before this segment we see Siklana’s turquoise ribbons of light magic, and after this segment we see Toranih using her own scrawny blue ribbons to transform into an owl.

If I go this route, I’ll need to make a chart of which colors represent which specialty, and I’ll have to be careful in editing to make sure the use of ribbon magic remains clear and consistent. But this last change might enhance the world, as well as fix a plot hole.

The system is still in development, but I hope this post gives you a bit of insight into how such a system can be developed. :-)

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Thoughts on Publishing – The Unboxing of Battle Decks: Multiverse 1953

Guess what my husband and I got in the mail today… the full version of our Battle Decks: Multiverse 1953 card game! Woot! :-D

We unboxed the game almost immediately, and now you can get another sneak peek into Battle Decks (including the cover). We printed the game at The Game Crafter, a site which is little pricey but not bad for print-on-demand games. I was a bit nervous as to how well it would print, but I’m happy with the results, and I’m looking forward to playing our first game with the actual cards.

Battle Decks: Multiverse 1953 - The Unboxing

A heads up, if the game looks interesting to you, we will be releasing a free, PDF trial edition which shows you how to play a basic game. A try-before-you-buy sort of thing.

Battle Decks: Multiverse 1953 is a card game Isaac and I will be publishing under our new business, Infinitas Publishing. Isaac created the rules of the game and figured out how the points worked and what the stats should be. I did about half of the card art, minus sketching anything mechanical. Isaac did those sketches. We’re also working on an upcoming blog series called The Multiverse Chronicles, which mentions several of the characters included in the game.

I hope you enjoyed this post. :-)

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Thoughts on Writing – The Magic of Writing

When I was in high school, my language class read a short story about a man who spent his life on the river. When he first started sailing as a boy, the river was magical. The eddies and sand banks… he didn’t understand them, but they called his attention and made him want to know more. As he grew older, he learned to understand the river. To know what caused the eddies and where the dangerous currents hid, and as he learned, the river lost its magic.

I can’t remember if the story ended with him seeing the magic of the river again in his old age or not, but the story stuck with me (even if the name of that story and the author did not). (Edit from comments: The story is “Two Ways of Seeing A River” by Mark Twain).

Writing (like any profession), has the same problem.

When I was younger, reading was magical. It still is, but when I was younger I could pick up most any book on a topic I liked and there was a good chance I would enjoy it, going through book upon book without a problem. However, as I became more fascinated with the art of actually writing these stories, I began to dissect them. I wanted to know how they worked. Why they worked.

Piece by piece, I figured them out. I read books on writing, blogs on writing. I joined internet forums dedicated to writing. Slowly, I puzzled out what worked and what didn’t, and why.

At first, those pieces were difficult to see. I knew a certain story worked for me, but others didn’t. It was difficult to see why. The first time I remember truly understanding an aspect of why a story worked was when I read Darth Bane: Path of Destruction by Drew Karpyshyn, and then Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. I suddenly understood how to get in close to a character in third person and write from their point of view. I even wrote an alternate ending Star Wars fanfic based on this principle, and I’m still a teensy bit proud of it for that… even if it’s not my best work.

Later, when I read The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, a single line about the halo of mist around a streetlamp stood out to me, and when I read Rebekkah Ford’s Beyond the Eyes series and could actually smell the wet, autumn leaves in the forest, I began to see how zooming in on specific details could bring a story to life. I sought out more stories like these, stories which really brought out some aspect of writing to help me finally understand.

While working on Glitch (a Distant Horizon story with elements of horror), if I read a scene in a book that made me shiver, I reread that scene until I understood why. The example here is The Devouring by Simon Holt, in which one of the Devours has a deliciously creepy one-on-one conversation with the main character. Christine, by Steven King, helped me see the use of repetition of key, creepy phrases or scenes (the dream sequences). Pure by Julianna Baggott revealed the use of discordant imagery, beautifully described but terrifying in their own right.

Then there were books that taught me the value of relationships in stories. The Host, by Stephenie Meyer had me crying during a certain scene with the grandfather figure. It’s a rambunctiously wordy novel, but it’s good. The Girl with the Iron Touch has one of my favorite romances in a book, and I’m not really a romance reader. It revealed how to draw tension between the characters, and did a wonderful job distinguishing between sexual and romantic attraction, and utilizing both.

There are so many books that have been an influence on my writing, and they have all helped me to understand how a story works.

But recently, I’ve had a much harder time picking up a book and simply enjoying it. I used to spend hours in a book store poring over books and trying to decide which one to buy with my limited gift cards. Now? I go into a book store, hoping to find something, and often come out empty-handed and disappointed.

There’s a few possible reasons. One: I don’t have nearly as much free time for reading. I don’t feel as inclined to spend time reading a book unless it has something to do with what I’m currently writing. Two: (Something my husband pointed out) The topics I’m interested in might not be what the publishers are putting out right now.

For example, there was a period of time before The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins came out where I couldn’t find anything I wanted to read. This was the first time that happened and it was really, really discouraging. Then I found The Hunger Games in hardcover, and the concept intrigued me. I wanted to read it, but since I was limited on Barnes and Noble gift cards, and paperbacks were more sensible in terms of getting the most for my money, I didn’t pick it up.

Around a year later, I bought the paperback and loved it. I happily picked up the next two from the library. Later, I found a copy of Delirium by Lauren Oliver at Barnes and Noble, and while it didn’t seem like my thing (heavy romance), the premise intrigued me and the writing intrigued me, and I was hooked. I took a chance on the hardback and was glad I did.

Those kinds of finds are my favorites. The ones where you pick up a book at a bookstore and don’t want to put it down. But ever since I’ve put an emphasis on learning the writing craft, it’s been harder to find those books. I glance at a back cover blurb, and in what feels like just a couple seconds, without fully knowing what it’s about, I’ll put it back on the shelf. Books don’t catch my attention like they used to. Or maybe the book gets my attention and I slow down. I try reading the inside, but the writing style jars me and I just can’t convince myself that I’ll have enough patience to read through the whole book. The feeling is disappointing, especially given that the premise for that particular book sounded interesting and the characters were having a good conversation. The writing style just didn’t work for me. And the problem seemed to have been specifically within that book, because when I went and looked at Dust Lands: Raging Star by Moira Young, that book caught my attention. And the Dust Lands trilogy has a really interesting writing style. But the style of that series is so different that it didn’t push me away.

Problem Three: When I’m at a book store, I’m looking for something that I wouldn’t normally find. Something I don’t think the library currently has or could easily get. Which means that books that are popular and that I would love to read tend to get set aside. Now, if I really like them and I got a copy from the library, I might purchase my own copy later.

I admire the voracious readers who go through book after book and love them. Sometimes I feel like the man from the story who loved the river so much that he did everything he could to understand it, only to lose the magic because he understands it.

But at the same time, I don’t. Because some books still hook me from the start, drag me in unsuspecting, and take me for the whole wild ride.

I’m hoping the books I recently bought will do that… especially since I kept going back and forth in the YA section debating, “Do I risk buying that in hardback?”

“You know what? Yes, I think I do.”

I hope you enjoyed this post. :-) Do you ever have a hard time finding a book you want to read?

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