More great stuff from James Tate Hill… Here’s the second trailer for his new novel, Academy Gothic. Funny, moody, creepy. Once again, I’m very pleased to have my music associated with this project!
More great stuff from James Tate Hill… Here’s the second trailer for his new novel, Academy Gothic. Funny, moody, creepy. Once again, I’m very pleased to have my music associated with this project!
Big thank you to Marc for letting me take over his blog today to talk about trope twisting, how to take something familiar and make it fresh again.
Trope Twisting: Something Familiar but Different by K.C. Tansley
After years of attending writing conferences, it has been drilled into my head that agents and editors want one thing: something familiar, but different.
Fantasy tropes—isolated castles, magic mirrors, ghosts, witches, curses, and spells—are incredibly familiar to readers, which means they have an understanding of what these things are. Because readers can immediately grasp and connect with these things, they can also border on boring.
Tropes, however, can be very useful. If I say castle, it stirs something inside you. It’s part of your symbolic memory. Ditto for magic mirror. You already have an idea of what that entails. It’s familiar. Your mind is comfortable with the concept and the meaning of it.
When I was building my story, I realized I had a bunch of tropes in it. Then I heard the advice from conferences running through my head: take the familiar and make it different.
So I set to work on trope twisting. It’s about taking a trope and adding your own twist to it. You have to take something familiar and find a way to make it feel fresh to the reader.
I had an isolated castle and the first thing people think is England or Europe. At least, that’s what I think of when I think castle. So I played the What If game. That’s where I ask what if and see where it takes me. So I asked myself, “What if I put the castle in New England?” That’s different. Yes, coastal New England. But which state? How about my home state? Connecticut.
That decision impacted the rest of the plot. Instead of time traveling to Victorian England, my characters went to Victorian New England. Something less common and less expected. Oh, I liked where this was headed.
I’ve always been fascinated by mirrors. I used to wonder what could happen if I stared at one long enough. What if my image wasn’t just a reflection? So, of course, my story included a magic mirror that acts as a portal. People falling or jumping through magic mirror portals is pretty common. How could I make this different? What if instead of falling through it, my heroine is yanked through it? Again, a slightly different take on things.
I kept going with this. Tweaking my world building to make it a little different than what you’d expect. Curses and spells are only cast by the living. But the dead, they can force the living to do their bidding. They can possess the living.
I had my own ideas about what happens when we die. I put my spin on what ghosts and spirits were. For me, death shatters souls. Ghosts are the big chunks that remain here and they seek reckonings. The largest part of the soul remains intact and it reincarnates. Spirits are tiny fragments of the ghost piece. They have no intentions, they simply recreate a moment.
Even my time travel had a twist, a body snatcher aspect to it that my publisher loved. It was something they felt made the book stand out.
So when you’re writing your story, look to the elements that have a universal appeal or meaning. Then find a way to put your own personal twist on them.
About The Book
In The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts, prep school junior Kat Preston accidentally time travels to 1886 Connecticut, where she must share a body with a rebellious Victorian lady, prevent a gruesome wedding night murder, disprove a deadly family curse, and find a way back to her own time.
K.C. Tansley lives with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, on a hill somewhere in Connecticut. She tends to believe in the unbelievables—spells, ghosts, time travel—and writes about them.
Never one to say no to a road trip, she’s climbed the Great Wall twice, hopped on the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, and danced the night away in the dunes of Cape Hatteras. She loves the ocean and hates the sun, which makes for interesting beach days. The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts is the first book in her YA time-travel murder mystery series.
As Kourtney Heintz, she also writes award winning cross-genre fiction for adults.
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/kourtneyheintzwriter
Tell us a little bit about your book. What inspired it? Who’s your ideal reader?
I’m a fan of so many types of literature, but when I started writing The Listless, I wasn’t looking to just write some action adventure that can make a person jump but hardly think. And I didn’t want to just write some romance that plays on a person’s emotions but not on their sense of cultural ethics. I wanted to write a piece that had elements of both these while commenting on the times we live in and the situation it presents for those in the young adult (or should I say youngish adult?) age group who have been most affected by it. Really, The Listless was my attempt to combine the freedom of Kerouac’s On The Road and the introspection of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises… I’m not saying I succeeded, I’m just saying I tried! There’s no doubt that’s a hefty goal for a first novel.
I had fun writing it, though, and I enjoyed putting together somewhat realistic dialog you might hear from the indie music lovers, which are probably the ideal readers of the book. I hope, though, I added elements that nearly all can relate to.
It’s a YA novel, yet your protagonist, Conor Batey, is a college grad. Do YA heroes tend to be so old? (Granted, “old” is a relative term!)
Ha, that’s a good question and one that I somewhat wrestled over as I was thinking about where this book really did fit in. To me, the YA (young adult) fiction definition is getting wider than just the age range it was originally designed for. I mean, isn’t Edward Cullen from Twilight over 100 years old? Haha, a little different case… But I look at the YA fiction designation as talking more about the topic than the age of characters or readers (though they both play a big part). The topic of this book is about indie rock and regressing from a business life back into (at least a summer of) road trips and concerts. I think that topic is more in the field of YA than anything else.
Along similar lines, have you observed that YA readers are getting older? How “Y” is “Y” these days?
It certainly seems like the readership of YA fiction has been the biggest change in its overall designation. It went from adolescents right out of juvenile fiction in the 90’s to adolescents, young adults, older adults… the whole gamut today. Creative minds like J. K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and many others have really opened this genre up to a larger spectrum in the past fifteen years.
What do you see as the difference between YA fiction and more traditional “adult” fiction?
Well, in full disclaimer, my definitions for these phrases are probably very different from the standard ones. When I see something that is cataloged as fiction without being further explained as romance, mystery, sci fi, fantasy, urban fiction, classic literature, or one of the many other sometimes helpful sometimes not helpful at all descriptions, I assume it’s going to be either a Nicholas Sparks book about some guy/girl who lost his/her memory or some Amish town where a recent visitor causes worlds to collide… Not so much a rock group of childish young adults. To take that even one step further, I don’t really like seeing books like Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk called “Contemporary Fiction.” Until there is a good genre title that describes books that vie for a younger sentiment, YA seems to best fill the void.
Part of your novel is set in Detroit. Why that setting?
It starts off in Detroit for a few reasons. This Rustbelt metropolis was and is the source of a lot of great art in America. From Motown and other classic pop music genres to urban farming and decorative city block art projects, this town continues to endow the world with that outsider’s perspective. Between these artistic surroundings and the roughness of the inner city, Detroit is the perfect setting for a band on the run from everyday life.
You mention that your protagonist is in a rock group called Listless. What do they sound like, and who are some of your own favorite bands?
I guess I can answer both of these questions together because I imagine their style being a blend of some of my favorite pop bands from the past. I imagine them with the sounds of soulful minor chord breakdowns like the Beatles, awesome choral harmonies like the Beach Boys, a punkish disregard for the norm like the Pixies, and a dorky grunge look like Weezer in the 90’s.
Do you play music yourself? Are you in a band?
I do play a few instruments; though, not necessarily well. I’m mainly a fan of stringed instruments that can be used to play silly love songs. My favorite instruments to serenade my wife are the guitar and ukulele.
What’s next for you?
I’ve always been a pretty eclectic reader. And I definitely have no desire to be pinned down to writing in one genre, either, so I’ve started a couple of projects that are pretty distant from The Listless. Growing up, one of my favorite authors was Isaac Asimov. I loved his series sci fi. I’m certainly no Isaac Asimov but I thought why not give it a shot? I’ve started writing my own series of sci fi short stories that I might at some point put together into one novel. I’ve also started a new novel that I’m writing in a very very slow fashion set in the Asheville, North Carolina region that includes a journalist, a death, a town in turmoil, and an unexpected twist. If that sounds to you like just about every other contemporary title written in the past twenty years, I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest!
Longtime readers of this blog may recall my review of Nick Marsh’s Past Tense as “the one with the robot.” Well, the rights to that novel and the first in the series, Soul Purpose, have recently reverted back to Nick from the press that originally published them, and he’s giving away free e-copies of Soul Purpose over the next three days (April 10 through April 12).
Nick Marsh is a veterinary surgeon working in Devon, UK. In addition, he is the author of the Conduit sequence of novels about Alan Reece, a young man who discovers he is Earth’s ‘Conduit’ – a link between the material world, and the shadowy world beyond. In this interview, he joins us to talk about his latest project – a fantasy novel, The Ancients, now available as an Amazon Kindle e-book.
Hi Marc, thanks for giving me the chance to talk to you!
My pleasure. Let’s start with some information about your latest novel, The Ancients.
The Ancients is a fantasy novel, set in a country torn apart by civil war. It follows the fortunes of Dazlar, a knight returning to his homeland, and a young woman with no past. Together, they attempt to piece together her missing memories, not realising the danger they are putting themselves in by trying.
I’ve wanted to write a fantasy novel for a while; of course, me being me, I couldn’t resist throwing in some science fiction too. Maybe it’s a reflex for me – the Conduit novels started off as a straight novel about life as a vet, and before I knew it a transparent cow had crept onto the page. There’s probably a medical term for it. Don’t misunderstand me, The Ancients is in almost all respects, a fantasy novel. I’ll leave it up to the readers to discover where and when the science fiction enters the frame!
What drew you to this story?
I wanted to explore some ideas that I’m very interested in – themes like the nature of reality and the meaning of life, how different people and personalities react to serious cracks in their belief system. All of that is in The Ancients, to some degree. It’s a nice way for me to examine the ideas without being put in a rubber room (well, not yet, anyway).
On a less pretentious level – I’m a nerd, and I’ve rolled a fair number of funny-shaped dice in my time. I just wanted to try my hand at a fantasy, and I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed doing so. Call me an old softie (actually, I’d prefer it if you called me a young softie) but I wanted to write something of a character story too. In all my favourite novels – the ones I keep returning to – it’s not the setting or the story that move me and make me read them again, it’s the characters, ones that feel like real people. I hope I’ve achieved something close to that with Dazlar and the others.
Who are some of your literary influences?
Well, that varies depending on which book I’m writing. For The Ancients, Lord of the Rings, the Dragonlance Chronicles, and many geeky evenings playing Dungeons and Dragons all played their part, but casting the net a little further, Philip K Dick, William Golding and even Charles Darwin have all warped my fragile little mind. For the Conduit novels, Douglas Adams and H.P. Lovecraft are both strong influences, if rather strange bedfellows.
The Ancients is available as an e-book. Do you have any thoughts on that medium that you’d like to share?
Well, as I reply to this, it’s a few days after Christmas, and I’m still umbilically attached to my shiny new Kindle. A few minutes after unwrapping it, I did the same thing everyone else does when they got a kindle – downloaded an enormous number of free classics which I’d love to read but am well aware I will never get round to looking at. My own kindle now contains the complete works of Shakespeare, Wodehouse, Dickens, and many others, which have about of much chance of being read as a Christmas sprout on my plate has of being eaten. But they’ll make me feel clever if anyone has a look over my reading list.
Seriously, though, you don’t have to be Stephen King to realise that the world of publishing is undergoing a seismic shift at the moment. For myself. a child of the seventies, I think I still prefer the feel, the look, and even (please don’t think I’m too weird) the smell of an actual book, but I can see many advantages to eBooks. The portability, the ability to search and quickly find quotes. It’s nice to be able to read PDFs and other electronic documents on my kindle too. I suspect that the eBook may eventually replace the paperback as the easy, cheap and disposable read, whilst the hardback will still be around for presents and bookshelves. But who can say for sure about the future? I’m still waiting for my hoverboard from Back to the Future part 2.
In addition to writing, you’re a full-time veterinary surgeon. Where and/or how do you find the time to fit writing into your schedule?
Ah, now, I came prepared for this one! I wrote a short article for the New Writers UK Newsletter about that very topic. http://www.newwritersuk.co.uk/newsletter_july2011.pdf
For everyone who doesn’t follow the link – quick summary, black magic.
I understand that you’re currently working on a new novel. Can you talk about that one? What’s it all about?
Absolutely! The Express Diaries is a globe-trotting (well, Europe-trotting) story of intrigue, secret cults and dark magic set on and around the Orient Express in 1925. It’s inspired by my good friends at http://www.yog-sothoth.com, a site dedicated to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, although I’ve taken it in my own direction.
I’m currently working my way through the second draft of the novel, and hopefully it will be coming out at some point next year. I might be able to get an extract to you soon!
Is there any chance we’ll get to see a third installment of the Conduit series at any point in the future? Or are you working on anything else?
I hope so, yes, I’ve got lots more ideas of horrible things to put Alan & the gang through. I’m giving him a bit of a rest at the moment, poor chap, as I’ve put him through the wringer recently. As soon as he’s recovered enough, I’ll send him on his way again! I’ll keep you informed.
As far as other writing projects go – I’m mainly working on my blog, Maybe it –should- happen to a vet (http://lordof1.blogspot.com) , an intimate and (hopefully) humorous examination of what it’s like working as a vet at the dawn of the 21st century. It’s a great stress reliever for me, and a bit of an insight into my life outside of writing. Comments and opinions on my blog would be enormously welcome!
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!
No problem at all, Marc, thanks for inviting me.
In addition to checking out Nick’s blog, you can visit him online at http://www.nick-marsh.co.uk. And be sure to take a look at The Ancients, as well! Click here for US purchse. Click here for UK purchase.
GF Smith, the author of the Subjected trilogy, recently dropped in on SPR (in the virtual sense, anyway) to chat about his “sci-phi” series, writing, and e-publishing. Here’s what he had to say…
Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions for Small Press Reviews. Let’s start with your books. What is the Subjected series all about, and what inspired it?
The cover copy for the first book, SUBJECTED: Eye of God, pretty much gives the overview of the entire series:
*Daniel Jeremy Sayer has gone through more than his share of pain, loss, and frustration. Which leads him to ask some “Big Universe” questions: Why have we been subjected to this life? What on Earth is happening? Why the big mystery? Is anyone out there even listening?
When the answers start coming, in the form of a mysterious, seemingly benign, yet oddly inane individual from another dimension—Alien, or Angel, he’s not sure which—Daniel suddenly begins to question whether he really wants to know the answers after all.
Through tragedy, loss, coincidence and consequence, through frustration, anger, courage and faith, along with a touch of humility and humor, Daniel Jeremy Sayer unexpectedly finds himself being shown the metaphysical edge of human existence, whether he wants to see it or not.
The three book series delves sensitively, objectively, and sometimes humorously into the historically controversial and dichotomous relationship between Religion and Science, though it’s not a proselytizing or dogmatic work by any means. In quick terms, it’s about a guy who genuinely wants to know what life is all about…yet is really ticked-off at God for the way everything is—in his life, as well as in the rest of the world.
The inspiration for the series came from my own, life-long, internal struggle to—as Einstein stated best—to, “understand the mind of God.” On a side note: anyone who has ever been honestly mad at God will love this series, I think.
The term Sci-phi—which I like to use—denotes (as well as connotes) the relationships between Science and Philosophy. Simply put, the science part is like the lines of this text here…the physical part: the words describe, define, and delineate a particular subject or knowledge. Philosophy is like the spaces between the lines: there’s always the supposition that there may be more going on than what we know…more to a meaning. Philosophy asks the questions about the nature of being and knowing—origins, purpose, destiny.
Traditional Sci-Fi (Science Fiction), which is actually a huge genre, covers mostly technological advances—the real, or the imagined real—the future, space ships, space travel, astrophysics, etc. Everything from space operas, to time travel, to dissimilar life-forms on other planets, to whatever we can imagine those advances—realities—might be, given time and creativity. Again, that’s like the words in this text—matter and substance.
Again, the Philosophy part is the between-the-lines part: are the advances good, bad, infinite or finite? Are they purposeful? Do they enhance, or advance the Spirit, the Soul? Do they change us for the better…or the worse? Does the end justify the means? How did it all start in the first place, and where’s it going to end up?
Given this distinction, do you still see yourself as writing with the sci-fi tradition? Or do you see your work as separate from that genre?
Good question. I love both… always have. To me, the physical and the between-the-lines spiritual/essence side are not dichotomous at all—I personally can’t divide them into two mutually exclusive areas. So, I will be writing about both as long as I can. However, since a large portion of society still seems to suffer from the memetic programming of the past, and hence seem to prefer adherence to either one or the other, exclusively, I think I will continue to write about both as being two sides of the same awesome coin.
Along these lines, who are some of your favorite writers, and what books have influenced your work?
Oh, let’s see… Heinlein, Hubbard, Weber, Koontz, Roddenberry, Serling, Bach, Brown, Redfield, Cussler, Ludlum, Crichton, Carr, King, Baldacci, Von Däniken, to name only a few. I even like Sparks, Patterson, and Albom. Different books have influenced me for different reasons, as I suppose is the same with most people. Although they didn’t exactly write books, the most influential writers relative to my writing would be Gene Roddenberry (along with his show writers), Rod Serling, Dean Koontz, David Weber, and probably… I don’t know, all of them have had a huge influence on me.
I’d say I’ve read more of Dean Koontz than anyone else, though I don’t think I pattern my writing after his. I’m not into horror, but I love his other-than-natural, paranormal stuff: Watchers, Odd Thomas series, the Taking, Sole Survivor, One Door away from Heaven; there are a lot of them. And Robert Heinlein’s, Stranger in a Strange Land gave me a lot to think about. And of course, Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone and Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek series’ helped give me that between-the-lines curiosity and insatiable drive to question, which is dominant in my writing.
Where else do you find inspiration?
My own studies of Cosmology, Astronomy, Physics, and the Earth & Space Sciences have given me a lot of inspiration. I’m a big fan of Einstein, Hawking, Kaku, and of course Galileo, Copernicus, Hubble, Kepler, Newton, etc. all those guys from history. I also cherish the stories of the Bible, the life and passion of Christ, of Paul and the Apostles, and several of the Old Testament characters: Ezekiel, Moses, Enoch, David, etc. All of these—especially Christ—have driven me to question life, and purpose, and what the future holds for us…in life and after life.
But, I find inspiration from a lot of alternative things as well: Eastern and Islamic faiths, some new age stuff, mystical stuff, though it all makes me wonder about the nature of reality and being. I have to be humble and hold in reservation that my perspectives and interpretations may in fact be in error; just because I believe it may be so, doesn’t necessarily make it so!
How do you approach writing? In other words, how did you learn the craft, and where does it fit into your life?
I approach writing fairly methodically; this comes from the analytical/business side of me. When writing fiction or nonfiction I like to know where I’m going…for the most part. I like to have an overall understanding of what I want to accomplish and where I want to end up. But, within this method I still enjoy and employ the spontaneous eruptions of creativity that happen. And sometimes, these will even change the overall outline I’ve initially set. I try to be humble in my writing, and with the creative process. I think a balance of both brings about the best results. And it’s what makes writing such an enjoyable experience.
Writing, nowadays, is a huge part of my life. My children are grown and I feel a compulsion to get some of these things out of my soul and share them with others—especially my children and my grand kids. And, I somewhat feel a sense of obligation to do so as well. If it weren’t for all the aforementioned writers…I wouldn’t be who I am today. I just want to give back to life…not just be a taker, if you know what I mean.
Ebooks are the future. No different than Digital over VHS. It offers so much customization: font size, color, background, and style adjustment; they provide bookmark solutions, word meaning lookup, go-to page options, etc. It’s really a reader’s dream, and also the fact that I spent years querying agents and not getting one single request for even a chapter for them to review. Though I understand, it’s a tough business—publishing. They can only accept the best of the best to work with under their current business models.
I was adamant in my stand to NOT be self-published. But, after seeing the trends of publishing (Amazon just announced that they are now selling more ebooks than printed books) I changed my mind. Art is art, and all art is appreciated at varying levels of development. Ebooks are art, and although they should be as professionally created and rendered, as printed books historically are, I hold the belief that all art should have its forum. The art lovers have spoken! Plus, it’s a green technology, and that means a lot to me as well. One day my works will be available in print, but not until the demand requires it, and probably only in limited printings.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m working on marketing right now, for the SUBJECTED series. However, I am also outlining my next novel. No comment on the particulars, yet.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just a question (and possibly an encouragement) for your Readers:
Which is more precious: a thousand answers, derived from one questions, or, one answer…from a thousand questions? (*Hint, read between the lines…)
Thanks for reading, everyone!
JM Tohline, author of The Great Lenore (a review for which will be appearing in Small Press Reviews within the next few weeks) needs your help. He’s hard at work on his next book, Blue the Person, but one of his characters has yet to be named. Described by Tohline as “a beautiful, grimy character” who grew up on the Louisiana bayou, this character does not play a large part in the novel, but if you win Tohline’s Name the Character Contest, the author will send you two free books — one copy of The Great Lenore and a book of your choosing (though I highly recommend The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl!).