Marketing Books for Free?

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Image Source: Pixabay, congerdesign.

The Dragonling is now in the hands of my most trusted beta readers, and I am wrapping up front and back matter, updating web pages, cleaning out files, and working on the first revision of Book 6. (Book 6 is actually more like a first draft because it’s comprised of everything from the original draft plus everything that was cut from the previous books, so somehow I have to mash all of that into a comprehensible ending for the series. It’s such a collection of spare parts and scraps right now, I’m tempted to make its working title The Frankenstein-ling.) So for today’s blog, I decided to clean out my old blog, too, and resuscitate an old article with new life.

I came across an article I wrote when The Changeling was first published; I was offering free copies for a few days. I was a new indie author, and it was my first book, so I thought it would help with promotional exposure and “discoverability” (the current buzz word in marketing). Lots of new indie authors take this route. It was a controversial marketing move back then, and it continues to be a point of debate today. Should new authors, artists, and other professional “creatives” offer their works for free?

Some people dislike the idea because if you offer something for nothing, people come to expect it as a regular thing. It lowers the value of the market overall, but it takes the highest toll on the creative professional as an individual. It takes a lot of TIME to create things like novels and professional quality art. The Dragonling has taken two years to craft … so far. It still has to endure the beta read, the final revisions, and the final edit before it’s ready for official publication. That’s about 500 pages of work going through about 7 revisions total in the end. That’s waking up every day at 6:00 a.m. and logging in anywhere from 4 to 19 hours a day of drafting, researching, and editing, even on weekends and holidays. (And that’s not including the time and effort spent on cover illustration or marketing.) Creative work is a labor of love for the creative professional, but it IS labor, and our time and effort are worth something because we have bills to pay, too. No other profession puts that much work into a product only to give it away for nothing. Can you imagine telling a doctor you expect the first visit to be free, because you don’t want to have to pay until you know you’re going to like the service?

There is also the argument regarding whether give-aways actually work as a marketing tool. Most people who snatch up the freebies snatch them because they’re free, not necessarily because they’re truly interested in the product. A lot of one-star reviews come from freebie offers because the consumer didn’t invest anything in narrowing down his or her own preferences for the purchase. And free literature doesn’t necessarily lead to more reviews in return. Something-for-nothing receivers are under no legal obligation to return the favor, even when authors bait them by saying, “I’ll give you a free book if you review it.” Maybe it’s because some readers don’t understand how reviews are the lifeblood of marketing for authors, but usually reviews don’t happen simply due to lack of time or inclination. So, if it isn’t a long-awaited sequel, from a favourite author, or a book that really, surprisingly impressed, most reads will not result in reviews. Many free books aren’t even opened.

On the flip side, those freebies I gave away did result in some really nice, very gracious reviews I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I probably would not have reached my initial audience or found regular readers had I not offered that first book for free to draw attention to the fact that this series exists. And as a reader and consumer myself, OF COURSE I want to save money! So, yes, I will look for free books before I look for cheap books, and save the expensive ones ($15-20 for an e-book? Seriously?) for last.

Right now all of my finished books fall into the “cheap” category because I realize people are hesitant to spend money on an author and series they’ve never heard of. But it’s also important to me that my books be reasonably affordable because my love of reading comes from growing up reading stacks of library books. Had it not been for free library books, I would not have become a good reader or writer … because I couldn’t afford to buy books, otherwise. I side with Neil Gaiman on this matter in saying I don’t care whether you bought my book, borrowed my book, or don’t like my book and choose to read something else. Just read. Reading is fundamental to a free society.

But I, too, must pay bills and eat. 🙂 So, if you enjoyed any books in the series (however you got your hands on them), please leave a review to help other readers know what you thought of it, so they can decide for themselves whether they might enjoy them, too. For those readers who have already left reviews, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. It does take time and effort to write a thoughtful review, but it’s always appreciated by the author, especially if that author does not have a big-selling name that helps books market themselves.

There comes a point when the creator deserves to be paid for the creation, or eventually she will stop creating and have to find another job. So, if a book, song, handcrafted item, or other creative work lifts your spirits or offers a few minutes of fun or a few years of beauty, support your favourite author, musician, and artist by offering a few dollars and reviews.

“Oscar Wilde quite rightly said, ‘All art is useless’. And that may sound as if that means it’s something not worth supporting. But if you actually think about it, the things that matter in life are useless. Love is useless. Wine is useless. Art is the love and wine of life. It is the extra, without which life is not worth living.” (~ Stephen Fry)

Character Interview: Aija, the Rogue

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Image Source: My personal Skyrim game. I usually end up throwing my novel characters into the games I play to give me a better sense of how they might develop in terms of skills. And sometimes their adventures end up shredded and reshaped as part of their background. Putting Aija in Skyrim meant having her do mostly the odd-job side quests … and mostly without magic. After all, she’s supposed to be in hiding, rather than a prominent member of society.

As I close in on the final 10 chapters of the beta script, I thought I’d share another character interview. I’ve already featured Shei (the bard) and Trizryn (the thief) with this little quiz, so this week I decided to throw the same questions at Aija.

It’s always fun to compare and contrast character voices to make sure they are as unique as possible. While Shei and Trizryn are best friend and foils, Aija is the outsider. She’s the only true human in the cast, but in the land of the fae, that makes her stand out in a crowd. As the other main protagonist, it is her story that gets the ball rolling for the Elf Gate series. And it is her voice that most closely matches the reader’s in terms of first impressions about this Other World. Aija’s story is a coming-of-age story primarily. She goes from feeling like she lives a dull life with no purpose and experiences limited mostly to what she had to learn for school, to suddenly having to hide, run, and fight for her life in a land where her very existence could earn her a beheading, no questions asked. Aija is a dynamic character by design. She starts slow and has a lot to learn. But she does learn and even becomes a bit of a leader over the course of the series. I intentionally designed her to grow in the opposite manner of Trizryn. He starts strong and has to learn humility and vulnerability. She starts humble and vulnerable, but has to learn to be strong. I designed her this way because I did not want a damsel in distress who always needed someone to save her, but neither did I want a “strong female character” who suddenly knows everything and can do everything without help. She’s smart and capable. But she’s human. So, she does the best she can with that.

Aija is a rogue character, which is a lot like a bard and a thief, but the emphasis is on versatility of skills. She started with a love of lore about magical creatures, thanks to her grandmother’s old books. And she has a natural talent with drawing. But after landing in Aesethna, she’s had to learn survival skills, self-defense, a new language, and more about magic than she ever thought she’d need to know. Aija’s biggest asset is that she has a beginner’s mind; she’s open to learning new things. But her teachers come from all walks of life, so her growing collection of knowledge and skills make her a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

Here’s how Aija did when put to the same character development interview as her elven cohorts. 🙂

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Aija was my excuse to bring steampunk and modern elements into my game in Skyrim. But in my novel its the elves who straddle that line between old and new. She just does her best to blend in so that no one, other than her friends, notices she’s human.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Saturday mornings, sleeping in. Eating juicy tangerines in the sun. Or chocolates. (shrug) Maybe I’m too simple, but simple pleasures matter a lot to me.
2.What is your greatest fear?
I used to be afraid of getting lost, being alone in the dark, being dependent, heights … The list goes on and on, but I keep having to face these fears again and again. So, I’ve learned now that they’re not going to go away. It’s not that I’ve become braver; I just try to take them as they come, somehow.
3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Honestly? I hate that I can’t do magic. Not on my own. Not like the fae. I feel utterly useless around them sometimes. So, I’m working on that, too. Trizryn’s teaching me sorcery. Féonna and Shei are teaching me wizardry. And Gaellyna’s teaching me alchemy. My options are limited, but even if I can’t do magic, understanding it is better than nothing.
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Cruelty. I’ve been surrounded by “monsters” living among fae, but it’s still normal people that often behave the most monstrous.
5. Which living person do you most admire?
Trizryn. I mean, okay, he’s not … that great of a role model. But he doesn’t pretend to be. I appreciate that he tries to do the right thing these days. He’s trying to better himself. And I think that’s powerful because that’s really all any of us can do. He’s still going to make mistakes. He’s still going to fail. But it’s how he gets back up again that inspires me.
6. What is your greatest extravagance?
Uhhhh … I have no idea how to answer that. (laughs) Chocolates? Cake?
7. What is your current state of mind?
Hmmm … Torn. I want to go home. I miss my family and friends. Aesethna isn’t exactly the safest place in the world for me. But … I can’t bear the thought of leaving, either. I’ve got friends who are like family to me here now. I can’t bear the thought of never seeing them again if I do go home, and that gate closes forever behind me.
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Courage. I think what a lot of people think qualifies as courage is really just reckless apathy. To be fearless isn’t necessarily a good thing. I think real courage means being terrified, but somehow making yourself do it anyway. And I think there’s different kinds of courage. It’s not all about facing down dragons, so to speak. Sometimes it’s about being honest when you look in the mirror.
9. On what occasion do you lie?
Oh God. I hate lying. I hate it. But I’ve done it for Triz multiple times, and for others on occasion. I think there are times when truth does more harm than good, so unless there is a time and place for it, sometimes lies and secrets do a better job protecting people from unnecessary conflict. But I do absolutely hate having to keep secrets.
10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I’m short. (laughs) Do you know what it’s like to be the short one among all those tall fae? Even Féonna’s taller than me. Wee people and little folk, indeed … tsk.

01AijasBeenPracticingHerSwordSkills
Self-defense on a grand scale … something Aija never had to worry about before quite the way she does now.

11. Which living person do you most despise?
Ilisram. He is the epitome of what it means to be selfish and cruel, in my opinion. Mahntarei was selfish and cruel, but he was a touch mad, too. Ilisram knows better, but hurts people anyway.
12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
Humility. (smiles) I like someone who can apologize when he’s wrong … and mean it. Lip service isn’t the same as a change of heart. I’m not into macho bravado at all. A gentle man who’s not afraid to show compassion is someone I feel I could trust.
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Friendliness. Wait, what is this rubbish Triz and Shei have scratched through on their interviews here? Let me guess. They said boobs and legs, right?
14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Oh, em … the word sorry. Definitely sorry. Triz once said I used it like a tic.
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Trizryn. (smiles) He’s solid, you know? He’s always got my back, even when it seems like he doesn’t. He’s taught me a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses. And it’s because of him I’ve learned what I’m really capable of doing when pushed. I just want to see him happy; I think he deserves to be happy after everything he’s been through. If I can be part of that, then that makes me happy, too.
16. When and where were you happiest?
Before going through the Gate of Min? Riding my horse, hiking in the woods, sketching … After going through the Gate of Min? Seeing the world of the fae is really cool … so long as no one’s trying to kill me. That puts a bit of a damper on things.
17. Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d like to be a better artist. And I’d like to be able to do more with magic.
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d like to be more capable. I know that sort of thing takes time, but … like I said, sometimes I feel quite useless among the fae. Maybe that’s what motivates me to take up Gáraketh’s quest for the alliance. If I can do that, he won’t have died in vain.
19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Learning telekinesis. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was lift that stupid little river rock Triz gave me. Now I can throw people off their feet and disarm opponents just like him.
20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Heh. Well, I think all bets are on me coming back as a vampire, considering how tainted I am with Triz’s blood. But let’s hope not, eh? I’m not ready to give up sweets yet.

02GotIt
Rogue characters are generally lumped into bard and thief categories; but they aren’t usually talented performers, and they’re not necessarily treasure hunters. Rogues stand out as having versatile skill sets. So, she might be charismatic like a bard, but light and agile on her feet like a thief. Or more precisely, Aija’s strength is that she is open to learning just about anything from anyone. She might not be able to master the skill, but being versatile has its own benefits.

21. Where would you most like to live?
I’d like to be able to take Triz home with me. I think he’d like Yorkshire. The question is whether Yorkshire would like him. An elf they’d be happy to gander at, but probably not big fans of vampires.
22. What is your most treasured possession?
That stupid little river rock? Yeah. Not the most expensive or magical item I’m carrying. In fact, it’s probably the most ordinary. But … definitely the most precious. Oh! That and my Gran’s gold ring that she gave me. Oh, wait, I’m wearing Trizryn’s signet ring, too, now. He’d kill me if I lost that.
23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Not having hope. Not having a reason to go on. I’ve come close to feeling that way a few times, but … someone always manages to lift me up. Good friends are priceless like that.
24. What is your favorite occupation?
Haven’t a clue. Seriously. Maybe I can sell my elf sketches when I go home. Make them into a manga. I have lots of good models right now. (sneaky grin)
25. What is your most marked characteristic?
You see this mole right here? (points to upper lip) It follows me. Everywhere. I can cover up the scars on my leg and abdomen, but no amount of make-up will make this disappear.
26. What do you most value in your friends?
Inclusiveness. They accept me as I am, even though I’m human. And I know I can count on them to be there for me when I need them. And it’s not just me. They’re all so different from one another. Sometimes they have issues with that, but mostly they try to get along and learn to appreciate those differences. Frostfang had a huge problem with finding out I was human because it was the human invasion that started the War of the Blood Reign, for example. But … I took care of her egg when she went missing, so … she knows she can trust me now. And even though she tried to roast and eat me when we first met, as far as dragons go, she’s not that bad.
27. Who are your favorite writers?
Oh, em, I don’t really … read as much as I used to when I was a kid. But I love mythology and nursery stories. I’m always up for reading those. Maybe Tolkien or Rowling … (taps finger thoughtfully against cheek)
28. Who is your hero of fiction?
Harry Potter. No, wait, the Doctor. No, Bilbo Baggins. Spock! Okay, that’s a bad question. How can you possibly expect me to have only one answer for that?
29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
(Puffs bangs out of eyes and thinks hard … really hard.) Next question?
30. Who are your heroes in real life?
My friends. They are … amazing.

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There’s a few times in my books that Aija mentions she has an Irish wolfhound named Mirk. Imagine my squee of delight when I started playing Skyrim and discovered you could own a pet wolfhound in the game. Aija is an animal lover. Besides Mirk, she loves horses and helps take care of Trizryn’s black mare, Zhenta. She also befriends a special little mouse, which she names Henry. But Henry is much more than a wee beastie. 😉

31. What are your favorite names?
Oh, dear. I kind of like the name Kethrei. Sssh! Don’t tell Triz. I mean that used to be his name, and it suits him well still; but I don’t think he appreciates it so much now, and there’s no telling what might happen if he started answering to his past, rather than his present.
32. What is it that you most dislike?
Spiders and zombies and I do not get on well. But I think I’d have to say heights make me really, really uncomfortable. Spiders and zombies up high would probably be the death of me.
33. What is your greatest regret?
Leaving my own world without knowing whether or not the dragon of Min attacked Winderbury. For all I know, he’s killed Kim, my family, my pets … and everyone else. I have no way of knowing or doing anything about it … unless we can find a gate back.
34. How would you like to die?
No, thank you. I’d rather not. That is the whole point of Triz hiding me from Erys and the Derra Eirlyn, yeah? NOT dying?
35. What is your motto?
I once told Triz that our mistakes make us who we are. Everything we experience makes us who we are, but mistakes in particular force us to choose between suffering repeats, or learning and growing. So, when I make mistakes, I try to ask myself if I grew … if I learned. If I can learn something from it, I don’t feel so bad about having made a mistake.

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Whether it’s facing off against wolves or facing off against her friends, Aija’s vulnerability is kind of what makes her special in a setting where everyone else has so many more advantages than she does. I think that’s what I like most about writing for Aija’s character. She has to put a little more effort into solving her problems the mundane way, just like most of us mere mortals do.

Character Interview: Trizryn, the Thief

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Image Source: My Skyrim game. 🙂 Trizryn and Zhenta are on their way to hunt down a missing person who stole from the Thief Guild. In my novel, Trizryn is a character with illusion magic, so he crafts his appearances according to his environment. He spent most of his life living as a light elf in the fae court, but then went underground into Nisala’s thief guild to intentionally undermine his step-father’s regime.

Last week I shared a character interview and demonstrated how to use such things to find the voice of a character. This week, I thought it might be fun to compare and contrast the voice aspect of character creation. (In other words, no, I have not finished my book of the month for a review, or finished my beta draft, so let me distract you with shop talk.) 🙂

Shei, the bard and best friend of one of my book’s protagonists did last week’s interview. He is a “foil” character. That means he was designed to be the opposite of the main character in order to highlight his personality. Don’t confuse foil characters with antagonists. Antagonists antagonize protagonists by going against them in some way. They don’t have to be bad guys, but they present a challenge the main character must overcome to complete the plot. Foil characters, however, are usually friends with the main character, and they are there for support. They’re just intentionally different because by contrasting the main character’s personality, they help the reader refine the main character’s voice … and their own. (Secondary characters should be treated as primary characters for the sake of character development if not for plot.) So, as an entertainer, Shei’s dialog and actions come with a bit of comic relief and charm. It’s not fake or manipulative, unless he makes it clear that is his intent, so his personality also has to come across as sincere and loyal. But more often than not, his mood is light because he is the kind of person who attempts to support others when they are down or stressed.

This week, I’m going to offer the same interview to Trizryn, one of two main protagonists. With four published books on these characters, I should feel comfortable discussing Trizryn’s nature in articles that mention him, but I guess I still feel protective of spoilers. I will try to find a balance here. Trizryn is enigmatic by design. His “truths” unfold little by little over the entire course of the series. He was designed to be dynamic, which means he starts off rather rough, but then changes as a result of what happens to him over the course of the plots. Trizryn is also an anti-hero with more burdens on his plate than his foil, Shei. He used to have a playful sense of humour, according to his sister, K’tía. But that was stripped away from him when he was reconditioned in the Derra Eirlyn dungeon. Over the course of the story, he “awakens” to reclaim his freedom, his ability to trust, his appreciation of life, and more. Shei is a very important person in his life because he is the one friend he could trust. They are brothers-in-arms and the butt of each others’ jokes. So these characters must have distinctly different voices, yet those voices must support each other in spite of contrast. So, here is Trizryn’s interview to compare to Shei’s. It’s all about finding the character’s voice. 🙂

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Freedom to be yourself. Friends who accept you. Spicy noodles.
2.What is your greatest fear?
Not knowing who to trust because everyone has an agenda. … Necromancers creep me out, too. Especially now that I’m dead.
3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Where to begin? I tend to make bad decisions. I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of. But I’m trying to put things right now where I can. … Let’s see, I’m dead. That tends to not go over well in conversations. And my current death was tainted by my previous death, which complicates things. Oh, and I’m not even real to begin with. At least not this time around. That’s even more fun to try to explain.
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Betrayal. You never really get over it, especially if it’s abusive in nature.
5. Which living person do you most admire?
Aija. She’s stuck in a world she knows nothing about, in dangerous situations that test her courage and strength like nothing else before, and she may have lost … everything … when I pulled her through that gate. But somehow she’s been able to forgive, accept what’s happened, and keep going without becoming tainted. She’s a quick learner, able to adapt. Once she sets her mind on something she’s tenacious about it. She has a strong sense of fairness. And some days her insight makes her seem more like an old soul than I am.

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Trizryn is an expert swordsman who can see in the dark. And, if necessary, he can use his internal sorcery to conjure his own weapons. Because in truth, he is a dark elf. And he’s tired of pretending to be something he’s not just to appease everyone else. So, for Trizryn, the Elf Gate series is about rebellion and awakening to his true self. His voice, therefore, is often introspective. As a thief and agent, his main plot lines involve a lot of political intrigue, a lot of information bartering and some under-the-table type activities where he has to be able to act without a squeaky-clean conscience. His morality is gray, but he does lean toward good. In D&D terms he would be chaotic neutral or chaotic good.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?
I don’t think of myself as an extravagant person. I grew up with wealth; but it was empty, so I never attached to it the way some people do. Which is good because now I’m dirt poor.
7. What is your current state of mind?
Honestly? Nervous. Plans to get Aija home screwed up, as usual. But if this next attempt works, I might end up having to meet her parents.
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Justice. It too easily turns into revenge. When we’re eager to punish people for doing something wrong, that doesn’t usually solve the problem. It’s just an outlet to justify our anger. Justice and problem solving are two different things. I’ve had to learn that the hard way … and I still struggle with it. But in my opinion if you want revenge, just call it revenge. Don’t hide behind justice.
9. On what occasion do you lie?
When I have to protect secrets that could endanger myself or others, or make matters worse than they already are. Most of my life has been one lie after another, so I’m tired of illusions and lies now. Tired of secrets.
10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Well, the fact that I resemble a gargoyle more than an elf now has damaged the pride a bit. But as long as Aija doesn’t seem to mind, I’d rather be faded with fangs than dressed in illusions.

09FocusOnTheBlood
Without illusions, Trizryn’s natural skin used to be raven-black. Now, afflicted with vampirism, it is charcoal gray. As a Gray One, he is even less welcome among surface fae because it is assumed he is diseased and feral. Trizryn, however, is a cursed original. And the deeper he goes down that path to find out why he is this way, the more complicated his story becomes. Much of his plot is heavy, but self-discovery is a theme most readers can relate to. His voice must reflect his frustration at each obstacle.

11. Which living person do you most despise?
In the past, I would have automatically said Erys, my step-father. He’s an abusive tyrant. But now it’s a toss-up between Erys and Ilisram. Because they’re both two-faced, cold-hearted sons-of-bitches that deserve to be tied to posts and flayed for the crows to feast on for everything they’ve done.
12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
Respectability. Or rather, recognizing that respect is earned by deeds, not titles or possessions. A man who wears a crown has a responsibility to be a good leader and look out for the people of his kingdom, or he does not deserve that crown. A tyrant deserves to have his crown taken from him, by force if necessary, in order to spare the people who would otherwise be mistreated by him.
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Nice legs and short skirts. (Punches Shei and pushes him away from the keyboard. The bard quips something about payback being a bitch. Glares at Shei and turns his back to guard the keyboard.) Trustworthiness.
14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
My sister used to complain I cursed too much. Aija agrees. Even my translator amulet has started boycotting me, so I guess they have valid arguments. But I’m trying to be less … colourful … these days.
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Aija. (smiles) Shei once said Aija and me could argue about the colour of an orange until pigs flew, but she’s my compass when I lose myself. She makes me want to be a better me … for my own sake, as well as hers. She’s my anchor … my hope.
16. When and where were you happiest?
Just being able to “be” with Aija … remembering what it was like to have fun with Shei and other friends … without someone trying to kill us, preferably.
17. Which talent would you most like to have?
I’m not a talent seeker. I did used to have free time for learning music, though. I’d like to have more of that.
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Not being dead or needing regular blood intake would be nice. But not if going through a third birth means giving up what I have now.
19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Getting Reznetha’ir’s refugees out of Serensa to Absin’navad before the Derra Eirlyn raided their camp. I just wish I had been there to evacuate them from Absin’navad, as well.
20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
You mean like — I don’t know — a vampire? (snort)

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I chose to make Trizryn a vampire because I have always been intrigued by vampiric characters. They are the eternal outsiders. They represent the struggle between impulse and impulse control. They represent the monsters we all have within ourselves. And they are rather godlike in the supernatural powers they are given, so exploring what makes them weak is a challenge.

21. Where would you most like to live?
Some place peaceful. Wherever I can be with Aija. Doesn’t matter where. No politics, no dragons, no more living on the run.
22. What is your most treasured possession?
Again, I’m not really one to attach to material things. They’re too much of a burden. Although, I do have a favourite sword that’s been enchanted with fortification spells. It can take off anything’s head in one swing … even for someone as lightweight as Aija.
23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
My time in the dungeon for reconditioning was a low point. I was isolated, tested, tortured. My body and my thoughts were invaded on a regular basis. They tried to recondition my behavior with mind control and pain. And even after I was free, they kept me under constant surveillance … until I became a drug addict just trying to put some space between me and my summoner. But then I found out she wasn’t who I thought she was, and that was almost as miserable as the dungeon. Being everyone else’s damned puppet is no different from being their slave.
24. What is your favorite occupation?
There’s occupations beyond the Derra Eirlyn? I never thought about it. I’d probably end up teaching martial arts or becoming a locksmith. I can always break the locks or break down the doors if I can’t pick them. … What? Oh, right. Shei says that might be overkill.
25. What is your most marked characteristic?
My appearance. People have always judged me based on how I look. And considering how I look, that’s probably never going to change.
26. What do you most value in your friends?
Having lived around the fae court and a den of thieves (which aren’t much different), most of the time I can tell when someone hangs around because they want something from me versus wanting to be with me. I prefer people who value relationships without asking what’s in it for them.
27. Who are your favorite writers?
Don’t really have any. I don’t have time for reading these days. Shei’s poetry is good for a laugh, though.
28. Who is your hero of fiction?
I don’t know about fiction, but Reznetha’ir is probably my real life hero. He’s always willing to help someone in need, without judgment. He’ll put his life on the line to stand by his word. He’s honest and a good problem solver. He’s made of good stuff. He’s the kind of person I sometimes wish I could be.
29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
This is a trick question right? Technically, I am a historical figure.
30. Who are your heroes in real life?
Already said Reznetha’ir. His mother, Knight Abehendal … I can admire her sacrifice for standing up for what she believed in. Róbynn because he was more of a mentor or father to me than Erys ever was. I guess I’d add Shei, too. He puts up with a lot from me, but has never let me down. … Well, maybe once. … Okay, twice. … Okay, he gets in trouble a lot, but so do I. Never mind. Let’s just say we’ve got each other’s backs when shit goes down.

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I prefer vampire characters who are more than their identities as vampires, and Trizryn has multiple identities. There is a person beneath those titles and roles. So, the challenge in writing for him is to consider how all of his experiences would affect one another … from dark elf prince to thief to vampire and beyond. But for this type of character, for all the fun I have unraveling him, there should always continue to be a little bit of mystery. 🙂

31. What are your favorite names?
I chose the name Trizryn for my minkuiliké because it’s a traditional name that comes from two archaic High Thályn words meaning tried trust or proven trust. I thought it would make me, as a dark elf, more acceptable at the light elf court, but who was I kidding. Now, it’s the identity that reminds I am not Kethrei.
32. What is it that you most dislike?
This is going to sound odd coming from someone like me, but I hate killing people. There’s far too much blood on my hands, and I’m not even an assassin. If I could retire my sword tomorrow, I would.
33. What is your greatest regret?
Leaving Absin’navad, K’tía, Róbynn, and everyone else in Ilisram’s hands without knowing what kind of monster he was. I should have seen through his lies sooner. My other big regret is Ilansa. I might not have been able to stop Ilisram, but I should have been able to stop myself.
34. How would you like to die?
In my sleep, but I doubt I’ll be so lucky. I’m more likely to die while staked or wrapped in bloodletting chains, followed by decapitation or fire, now that driving an ordinary blade through my heart isn’t enough to execute me. Then again … a blade with anti-magic runes could also make for an interesting end.
35. What is your motto?
No more secrets. No more hiding. I am what I am, and one way or another, I’m taking back my life.

Character Interview: Shei, The Bard

So, here it is February and The Dragonling still has not been placed in the hands of beta readers yet. My apologies to those waiting on it. There were many “life” distractions in December and January that slowed me down, including a bout of bronchitis that morphed into THE VIRUS FROM HELL. I was sick for 8 weeks with a deep chest congestion that simply would not go away! All the while, we had visitors, tons of snow that had to be shoveled (which takes time away from writing when it’s 1-2 hours at a time and multiple times a day), holiday stuff, and then January hit the ground running in some sort of surreal alternate universe that I can’t even begin to understand or explain. Oh, and the brakes gave out on the car. So, that was a week in the shop with its own interruptions and delays.

Meanwhile, I was also trying to read through all four previous books looking for inconsistencies that needed correcting or plot threads that might have been accidentally dropped, and I didn’t finish the last one until just a couple of weeks ago. All I can say is … life happens. Focus is lost. Productivity goes down. In my opinion, even when production lags, quality should come first. So, rather than rushing to finish, I am still checking notes from the other books against this one to be sure they have as much credible consistency as I can muster. I am now looking at March for beta reads, April for final edits, and May for publication.

To make up for the delay, I thought I’d have a bit of fun with posting something character related. Social media question games have always been around, but lately they’ve been used as a diversion from all of the bad news. In looking up character interviews, I found an interesting list here (http://thewritepractice.com/proust-questionnaire/) from Marcel Proust. I was surprised to see these little parlor games have been around since the 1800’s!

So, one of my most “entertaining” characters is Shei, a light elf bard. I know he’s in the middle of a dreadful dilemma right now in The Dragonling, what with being possessed by K’tía’s ghost, receiving terrible news about his father, and being a wanted fugitive that a bunch of dragons want to roast because of his friendship with Trizryn, but let’s show him one of these human inventions called a computer and see how he might answer one of these questionnaires. And if you’re a writer having trouble developing a character with depth, try interviewing them like you would a real person. Test out their voice to see how they might answer.

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Image Source: Melody Daggerhart — my Skyrim game screenshot. I put Shei in my Skyrim game to do the Bard’s College quests. Here he’s decked out to find a flute in a necromancer’s cave. What fun for him, eh? 🙂 … (Not!)

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Not being chased by dead things. Or dragons. Or necromancers who conjure dead things and release trapped dragons.
What is your greatest fear?
Did I mention dead things? Well, except for Triz. But he’s only half-dead and doesn’t try to kill me. Mostly.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Distractability. Is that a word? Why is it showing up red in your spellcheck? Ooh, Spellcheck is showing up red, too. What? Oh. Questions. Right.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Disloyalty. There’s nothing worse than a traitor.
Which living person do you most admire?
Trizryn. Wait, does he qualify as living? Anyway, he’s been through a lot, so it’s hard for him to trust people. But I admire his courage for continuing to try.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Clothes. Did I just admit that? Clothes. I look great in them, don’t I? 😉
What is your current state of mind?
Excited to explore a new world. Sorry. Can’t say more than that. Spoilers.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Abstinence. Of anything.
On what occasion do you lie?
To protect my friends, I’ll do anything.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
You’re joking, right?

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Another Skyrim capture of Shei and his housecarl camping in the snowy woods. Shei is a Thályn elf, or light elf, or forest elf. The forest elves in my novels are white as snow with blue undertones. They are named so because of their affinity to light environments and visible, elemental magic.

Which living person do you most despise?
Ilisram. ‘Nuff said.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
Non-pretentiousness. Ironic, coming from someone like me, yes? Well, there’s a difference between entertaining people or having to pull off disguises and trying to be tough all the time to impress other people.
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Sincerity. I suppose that’s the same as non-pretentiousness, isn’t it? (And you thought I was going to say barrels.) 😉
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
All of them. I’m a story-teller and lore master, so I’m sure I’ve used every word more than once.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Dare I admit this? … K’tía. But that will never happen, now will it.
When and where were you happiest?
Oh, definitely pre-dead things and dragons.
Which talent would you most like to have?
There’s a talent I lack? Clearly you’ve never seen me perform an illusory painting with my lute.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I guess I tend to make light of things at the wrong time sometimes. That might be good to curb before someone slaps me.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Writing songs that made K’tía smile and sing and dance.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Someone that doesn’t die? … No! Nevermind. That’s a wish that’s bound to end up cursed. Hairbrush. Hairbrushes are good.

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Shei is a bard, and I am in love with this Skyrim mod home for him. It’s very similar to what I imagine his flat in Thálynessa having looked like, except it’s not made of wood or in a tree. Still, it’s very small and packed with things he would love. It’s called “The Rookery” by Elianora, if you happen to be a Skyrim fan with a bard who needs a good home.

Where would you most like to live?
I’d like to go home. To my ratty little flat in Thálynessa near the Twin Stags Tavern, mind you — not Brinnan. Though there’s nothing left of either of them now probably.
What is your most treasured possession?
My hair.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Having no friends or family to lean on when you’ve lost yourself.
What is your favorite occupation?
Making music. Telling stories. Reading. Painting. … Anything that can make people smile and forget their worries, however briefly.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Vanity. Charm! (shoves Trizryn away for reaching over the keyboard when he should be minding his own business)
What do you most value in your friends?
Loyalty. Sincerity. Same as before. I know who will never let me down. And I know I’d be crushed if they ever did.
Who are your favorite writers?
You mean among humans? Shakespeare. He wrote about magic and faeries. And he visited the fae court once. Aija doesn’t believe me, but he did. How else do you think he got those ideas for Midsummer Night’s Dream?
Who is your hero of fiction?
I have many heroes, not just one.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I am unique. Trust me.
Who are your heroes in real life?
My friends. They are courageous beyond measure, especially when they’re weak.
What are your favorite names?
I like mine just fine. It means “hill spirit” in Thályntól.
What is it that you most dislike?
Spider goo flooding your face is unpleasant. So are dead things.
What is your greatest regret?
Not being underground in Absin’navad when I was needed most. Not being able to help K’tía.
How would you like to die?
What kind of question is that? What is this obsession with death? How many times do I have to tell you I don’t like dead things!
What is your motto?
Well, I would say “Grab not, get not,” but that’s not really how I operate. It just sounds good and pithy. My motto would be … “Seize the Day … but only if it doesn’t involve dead things.”

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Bards are challenging characters to work with, I think. If they are supposed to be charming, you have to write for them in a manner that actually makes them charming. Their skills are subtle, so the plot needs to make use of them as entertainers, sweet talkers, spies, assassins, and more. And they are handy for providing information to other characters if any kind of lore is involved among their talents … as well as maybe playing to the tavern crowd to earn a free room when your crew is short on change.

Diversity in Speculative Fiction

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“Siren Bath” screenshot taken from my Oblivion game. This lovely dark-skinned siren was inspired by a character from my novel series. But I can say no more until after the book is published, or I’ll spoil it. 😉

This is a revised article that I first posted a few years back on my old blog after reading an article on racial diversity in speculative fiction. The question is being raised a lot these days about why main characters in books, movies, TV, and games all fit the same stereotype. If successful writers choose the same types of characters in their speculative fiction, diverse readers might not be able to relate. Therefore, there won’t be as many diverse readers of speculative fiction. Therefore, there won’t be as many diverse writers. Therefore, there won’t be as many readers—oh, right. I just said that. And thus we have a vicious cycle. So how do we break the cycle? How do writers come out of their own experiences to write about diverse characters in order to reach diverse readers, so that there is more diversity among writers of speculative fiction?

1. Appreciate how beauty itself is diverse.
First of all, question what defines beauty, not just in skin tones, but in body weight, shape, age, ability, and other terms. I think the only way we are truly going to increase diversity among fictional characters is for our real world culture to appreciate how beauty itself is diverse. It’s also helpful to remember that leading characters don’t have to be “beautiful” in order to be part of a beautiful story. The true beauty of a character design, just like with real people, is what’s found in the soul. Still, physical representation is important, so writers should reach for it where possible. Or maybe don’t reach for it at all and let the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks on occasion. Sometimes characters just come to us “as is” because that’s who they are. There’s nothing wrong with that. But as a writer, if your characters look the same, again and again, you should challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone and try to see the world through someone else’s eyes. That is, after all, a writer’s job — to get inside the heads of lots of different people to tell their different stories.

2. Read beyond your comfort zone.
How does a writer step out of her comfort zone? Read beyond your comfort zone. When I studied literature in high school and college, most of the literary works I read were from British or American white authors. But in college I had to take one course on world and ethnic literature, in which we read literature by South American, Native American, Jewish, African, Asian, and Hispanic authors. By not being able to relate to the main character’s local culture, I learned about those cultures, and how their life experiences were very different from mine. At the same time, I saw how much we still had in common as human beings. This is the birthplace of compassion. This is what literature is all about. Be more diverse in your reading materials and authors read — in listening to what you receive — and you will be in a better position to understand and write about character diversity in your output.

3. Create diversity where there is none.
This is where speculative fiction writers can have a lot of fun because we don’t have to stick to humanity’s limitations, even though ultimately it is the human experience we write about. I write about elves, among other magical creatures. In some ways I wanted to stick very close to the original Norse mythology of the Prose Edda, so my elves would feel familiar. But in other ways I wanted to create my own interpretations and explore my imagined world setting. There is a debate among lore scholars about whether dark elves and black elves are the same race, and whether dwarves are actually gray elves or dark elves. The earliest records are unclear. So, I used that to my advantage when I created my own various elven races.

I also changed the meaning of “light” and “dark” where fae are concerned. In historic lore, the reason light elves were called “light” was because ancient people thought they were made of light, like spirits or angels. They are described as white, shining, and bright. Dark elves are depicted as amazing smiths of wondrous magical artifacts or cursed bringers of nightmares, depending on how you interpret the Prose Edda, so I decided to make my dark elves from “darkness” or “shadow”. I make it very clear in my books that my elves are not humans with pointy ears. Though they have humanoid features, they are very much a different, eldritch species. They are light or dark according to how they’ve been made of light or shadow and according to how they’ve adapted to living in light or dark places. They are also light or dark according to whether their magic is external and visible (wizardry crafted from the surrounding world’s Weave), or internal and hidden (sorcery manifested from the fae’s own mana). Maybe I will write more extensively on this in another blog on world building with races later, but for my purpose here, know that I’m talking about things much more important than skin color.

My “fae of light” include forest and plains elves that are snow white; desert jinn who are golden like their sands; dryads that are the colors of trees and live scattered across the land in isolation; seely and unseely faeries of rainbow colors from floating islands and meadows; and dark elves who have adapted to living on the surface wearing light elf illusions because they have been forbidden to live in the surface kingdom, but are not welcome underground in their former homeland. My “fae of dark” include subterranean elves that are blue-black like a raven’s wing; gray dwarves who live both on and under the mountains trying to remain neutral between the surface and subterranean kingdoms; and the blue-skinned merfolk who live in the ocean depths apart from the others. The surface fae can command the elements, and the sub-surface fae can command psychic powers. But, of course it depends on the individual as to what kind of magic he has learned from his environment, or what other conditions he’s working under. Which brings me to my next point.

4. Develop characters as individuals, rather than blanket generalizations.
Never set up an entire fictional race as being “good” or “evil” just because that’s what they are. That might have been excusable back in the ancient days of story-telling because people had a very small scope concerning the world around them. But modern writers need to break the mold of judging a person’s ethics based on appearances or nature and create characters whose actions speak for themselves. This is how real life really works.
I make this argument about heroes and villains all the time. If your hero is so perfect he has absolutely no flaws, not only is he difficult for real people to relate to, he’s pretty predictable and boring in terms of plot twists and personal challenges. Now imagine an entire land filled with duplicates of your hero. Likewise, villains who show a complete lack of compassion or loyalty toward anything become mustache-twirling, rule-the-world, two-dimensional paper dolls that make no sense. Now envision an entire kingdom of cookie-cutter-evil villains. Saying all dark elves, dragons, trolls, etc. are evil because that’s their nature is lazy … and yes, prejudiced.

Instead, think critically about what motivates antagonists to do what they do? Unless they’re true psychopaths, they usually think they’re making good choices for good reasons. And that complicates things. Each individual character needs to be developed in such a way that his decisions fluctuate between good and bad, so the result is more “cause leads to effect” than “good versus evil”.

With that in mind, mix it up, as to who screwed up. My novel goes all over the place with pointing fingers of blame and reaping victims who then perpetuate the cycle of blame, so that it’s impossible to say an entire group is good or bad. Of course the characters might disagree because they have their own prejudices. And in some cases they have “logical” reasons for them. But those prejudices become part of their personal challenges, to try to overcome those feelings to see that the truth really does come down to individual behavior.

5. Confront issues of prejudice without apology.
Problems never talked about are problems never resolved. Nobody enjoys talking about racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, nationalism, etc. But if we can’t confront it and talk about it, people will continue to be torn apart by hate. If you’re on the giving end, your frustration and malcontent will burn you from the inside out. If you’re on the receiving end, your life could be at risk. It’s the ugliest side of humanity. Not being able to accept and appreciate diversity is deadly.

If you are a writer, you can take advantage of the fact that fiction is often able to speak truth by using lies to talk about the tough stuff. I intentionally give my fae and humans prejudices in my books in order to address a theme that has plagued humanity since forever. Prejudice is something that shaped me, personally, as a human being for most of my life. And it’s been said that all of us have prejudices, even when we think we don’t. So, we must learn to talk about it.

Since speculative fiction doesn’t have to be a story about humans hating humans, readers can take a step back from being personally insulted to watch it play out from a safe distance … so to speak. Again, this is the purpose of all fiction: to record the human condition in ways that we can observe from the outside perspective, while relating from within. Fiction allows us to look into the mirror without being afraid that someone else might see our naked souls as glaringly as we do. Sometimes the truth is much easier to swallow when we see someone else experience it first. And then we can be inspired to apply what we’ve learned about their choices, good or bad, to our own circumstances.

The Dragonling Cover Reveal

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Cover for The Dragonling, written and illustrated by Melody Daggerhart, copyright 2016

Cover reveal time! 😀 I finished it early, so I’m sharing early. Why not.

I came down with bronchitis, been about two weeks now, but I’ve still been pushing myself to finish the 4th draft and started the cover art concepts. I finally took a “sick” day off from editing last week, but spent the whole day painting and further developing the cover, instead. So, I still worked some long hours, but it felt fresher because normally I only get an hour of art time in per day, if that much. Most of my days are spent editing. So, this felt like a sick day, even if it wasn’t. As a result, I finished much sooner than I thought I would.

Now I’m working on finishing up that 4th revision’s final touches. That means making sure the chapters are evenly distributed and formatted so that when they are compiled into one script, they are spaced properly. That also means looking over those last minute notes to double check things like spellings, names, duplicate mentions, and other such annoyances.

This book is going to be the biggest yet. I cannot stress enough this is the “epic” in epic fiction. But I will trim as much as possible in the final edit after I hear back from my beta readers.

Now to catch up on my final reading of the year!

 

Landscape Lexicons

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Image Source: “Purple Forest”, copyright Melody Daggerhart. A forest seen through Trizryn’s dark elf night vision, perhaps?

I stated in a previous post that I had been reviewing my older books in the Elf Gate series to refresh my memory for plot consistency. One difference I noticed with my early writing compared to my writing now is a shift in the poetic nature of the landscape. Not that my writing has ever been overly poetic, but I do have bursts of inspiration here and there. And I feel I had more bursts of inspiration in the first book than in the fifth. It was a lamentable discovery because I realized I had more fun describing my world in the first book than I’ve had in subsequent ones.

This is ironic because the editor of my first book had to pull those landscapes out of me. She told me to “spend some time in your world” so that I could get to know it better and therefore transport readers. The fantasy genre is expected to offer different places or times. I know it’s one of the features I enjoy most about that genre — getting to see new, imaginative realms. Allowances for word count even take this into consideration. It’s why fantasy and science fiction novels are often 150-180K (or more!) compared to their smaller cousins from other genres, which are anywhere from 50-100K for current world settings and about 100-150K for historic settings. The more familiar readers already are with the setting, the fewer words are needed to describe the setting. The farther removed the reader is … the higher the word count needed to introduce a completely different world.

So, what changed between my first and the fifth books?

I think plot is to blame. Poetic descriptions beautify writing, but without a plot the novel is worthless. So, word count must be prioritized on plot. My first book was an introduction to the series, so it really had only one plot: get the characters to work together toward a common goal. That’s it. Simple. The following books, however, delve deeper into the subplots that were hinted at in the first book. So, a morning in the first book might be all purple and orange stripes in a sherbet-morning sky, when I see a 200+K word count on the third draft of book five, I’m more likely to whack that poetic description to sunrise.

This morning I read a rather lengthy, but very good and interesting article about landscape words in The Guardian from Robert Macfarlane. (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/27/robert-macfarlane-word-hoard-rewilding-landscape) It’s a great article for linguistic nerds like myself in terms of rediscovering old words, inventing new words, and realizing how little we pay attention to words that describe our environment. It made me reflect on my own landscapes in my world building, and it rekindled the flame of wanting to spend time in my imagined realms. Perhaps a handful of unusual words could add texture without being wordy, such as “sherbet-skein sky” to describe that purple-and-orange-streaked sunrise. One of my favourite such words is mizzling. It perfectly describes a misty drizzle that can’t decide whether it wants to rain or not. And I’m always enchanted with hoar frost, so I had to add that to my winter landscapes in the series, too. But there are so many particular marvels in real environments that could be used to verbally paint our worlds, it really does strike me as sad that we no longer notice and are losing those words from our vocabularies.

Something for me to consider as I continue to revise the fifth book in the series and begin the sixth book in the series … in spite of word count. Time to revisit the forests, caverns, and floating islands of my imagined worlds and pay attention to their landscape lexicons.