Authors and Characters: A Symbiotic Relationship

My Delilah Bard character cosplay from A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. I love dressing up as literary characters.

While I was in the spirit of the holidays, I sat down recently and decided to watch The Man Who Invented Christmas with my mother while she was visiting with me. Dan Stevens is irresistibly amazing in it, as you might expect if you follow him at all, but what you might find surprising, or at least I did, was the introspective glance it had in the mind of a writer.

In the movie, Charles Dickens struggles with finding his characters. As I watched the vision of Scrooge appear and start talking, Dickens asked his character questions to help define him more. And my mouth dropped to the floor and I nudged my mother, “This is so true.” The constant interruptions while in a mid-stream of creativity; the name collecting; the environmental influences… all made sense to me.

Creating characters is a strange business, honestly. And writing is solitary, but it’s not. It makes sense to us that we spend time with other people, even if they are the ones in our heads that are informing us about themselves and the adventure they want to take.

It Starts With A Name

In this movie, Dickens states it all starts with a name; once the character has a name, the character comes to him.

I recently was in a class on developing characters, and throughout the class a theme developed for me about emotional connection. There needs to be a reason to care. I think a lot of that starts with a name too. The right name can say so much about your book. Sometimes a character comes with a name and then demonstrates why they have that name.

In this class, I focused on a character named Browneyes. This is a character I created in my series, but felt she had more to say. She came with her name. It was a nickname that I gave my little girl. I loved her brown eyes. I thought it was cool and unusual. I was at the time also in Imagination Training my good friend and fellow writer Michael Jensen was developing (more to come). In this training, he asked me to invite a character to the safe space in my mind and ask questions. This was an amazing experience for my imagination to just play with. One of the questions I asked her was how she got her name. I was not prepared for this answer. I had always assumed it was a nickname, but not until that experience did I understand it. And when I understood why, her story started to come into place. It was Browneyes’ name, or the name she was hiding behind, that told me her story.

I adore names and always have. I collect them much like Dickens did, or JK Rowling for that fact. The right name can set things in motion.

My character in the book Vampire-ish is named Oliver Brixby. What does that say to a reader? Bookishly nerdy? Unpopular? Insecure? A bit lost and hopeless? Springy? (I know, why is that?) I needed him to have the right name in order for the own story to come together. Both names were ones I had collected. Oliver was a name I had always liked but never used (since it didn’t fit any of my girls).

Atticus Finch. Sirius Black. Bilbo Baggins. Sherlock Holmes. A name is a badge that says a lot about a character.

When I first was signed on with my first publisher, they asked me to change the name of a few of my characters. This was hard for me. The character Taren was originally called Ry. I changed it because it was too close to Reynolds. I understand the change but was not familiar with Taren as a character until the later books, because I hadn’t written Taren before, I had written Ry. My perspective of his ideals changed as well. Ry to me was much more selfish and dark. Taren felt more accepting to change. If I would have kept him as Ry, would he have had the same story arch? I’ll never know.

AND ONE MORE THING . . . In authoring, I am Candace – a princessy name that means “Glowing Queen.” It’s my birth name and I think it’s pretty cool. I always have liked it. It’s not crazy popular and it’s sweet sounding. I like the way it’s spelled, and when I meet another Candace, we are immediately in the exclusive Candace Club. I was never called Candace growing up. I went by Candy. Okay. Right? Candy gives you a very different idea of a person. Candy is a name no one takes seriously. This is a sweet, bubbly sounding name, someone that likes to have fun (maybe too much fun), a people person, a drag queen, a hairdresser with expressive eyes and stunning lashes and gorgeous nails. And I won’t lie, the name Candy suits me in specific ways, but not in authoring. To my family and friends, PLEASE call me Candy, but as a professional, I can’t use this name because of how it’s represented.

I’ve always felt that naming someone is one of the most important things you do as an author. Sometimes it comes easy. I know when a great name crosses my path, a story almost immediately comes to my mind just in the name alone. Spend some time on the name you pick for your character and understand why they have that name, why they identify with it. Just like your name means something to you, give your characters the same chance to tell what it means to them.

Slam Books

There are so many guides, character sheets, books, websites, card games. . . on getting to know your character. But I don’t think you really know your character until you put them in a situation where they need to act.

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”

– William Faulkner.

In middle school we had these things called Slam Books. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? A Slam Book was a regular ruled notebook where the person who owns it writes a question on the top of the page and then numbers it all the way down. Then they give it to a friend, the friend selects a number to be, and then answer the question on each page. I would most likely try and write the funniest answers, because at the time my job was to be the funniest person in the room – not the class clown, oh no, just the wittiest, funniest person in the room. (I kinda still try to do that. It was my way of getting over my insecurities.) I look at my GETTING TO KNOW YOU stage as what would they write in a Slam Book. (Post on Slam Books here.)

The characters in my novels feel like people I knew in high school, so it’s only logical to me that they would write in my Slam Book (even though that’s more of a junior high thing). I know them well enough, I never forget their names, we shared experiences. As I start to move through the story with them, I find that they become their own people and that I’m no longer seeking to create them, but more they are telling more about them. It’s a nature friendship like any friendship.

I asked a few different author friends about how a character comes to them. A similar response came from them that they don’t get a huge character talking and dictating how to write the story, like Scrooge did in the movie, but more getting to know them as they go.

Alyson Grauer, author of On the Isle of Sound and Wonder stated, “They aren’t super vocal, but they have opinions. The form kind of is like feelings first or textures or colors… I always put myself in their shoes? I guess it comes from acting. But they start as like a feeling or a combination of feelings, and then once I figure out what they look like and how they move and how they talk and all that, then they can talk to me. But mostly, it’s just they have opinions on things. They don’t like have full conversations with me.”

Ben Ireland, author of the Billy Blacksmith books stated this about characters, “It’s more like sculpting. I know what i’m going to do, but the details reveal themselves as I work.”

Jodi L. Milner, author of Stonebearer’s Betrayal, said when I asked about character sheets, “I find more often than not, if I have to fill out a character worksheet, half the stuff I put on there doesn’t feel right later. What helps me more than anything is to find two existing characters I love and mash them together to create something I can use. It really helps with the voice and mannerisms.”

So many of us have our own way of getting to know our characters, but the best way I feel, is to be with them, spend time with them and see what they will do when put under pressure, when they have to make a decision, and why they would choose it.

Characters Have a Mind of Their Own

I remember having a conversation with a new mother. This was several years ago before I had kids of my own. She was complaining about how hard of a time she was having with her toddler and his behavior. I’ll never forget her saying, “It’s like he has a mind of his own.” Really? Like they exist outside of your body? And have their own pulse and lungs and opinions? I still laugh at this statement.

Characters also exist without the writer. It has to. A writer’s job is to send it out in the world to be shared. These characters need to become real in the mind of the reader. When creating characters they often become so real that I miss them when they aren’t around.

When I was writing my first book Vivatera, the idea was only a stand-alone idea. But during the creative process, I found that I really liked my characters and wanted them to succeed. I became carried away with sending them on adventures, so much so that I turned it into a series, with continuing stories beyond the series, just because of how much I want to explore who they become. My second book, Conjectrix, had an overarching concept, but three separate stories. And all I did in this book was put them in a situation and see how they would react: let’s put them in a den of dragons; or let’s meet Katia’s father; or look I put a bunch of mountain trolls right here . . . whatcha gonna do now? Every chapter was me exploring my characters and how they think and react and communicate with others. And I have to say, it’s my favorite book I’ve written because I had the best time getting to know them.

I liked how Dickens was depicted as having conversations with his characters as real people. I remember reading Harry Potter and knowing these characters so well. I also remember having the briefest sadness that there wasn’t an actual Hogwarts and I couldn’t go see my friends there. I think this is a shared problem and why we now have two theme parks dedicated to him.

Characters should exist beyond the words we write. Just imagine all the shenanigans your characters do when they are not appearing in your book. As part of my writing exercises, I like to do journal entries as part of my research. I like thinking of stories that happen with my characters. And not that this research will show on the page, but it strengthens my voice in telling about them. It makes them more real understanding what they would do or what they have been through. I have had one thing come up in the third book in my series that I wrote in a journal entry for the first. I’m very glad I did that, because it became important later on when I needed that information.

Quirks and Cuteness

My daughter is an artist and is always drawing characters she wants to develop into stories; each one has a little bit of a background and a quirk, like hair sticking up or covering one eye. In drawing them, these characters become real people to her. She is definitely my daughter finding the adorable quirk in everything, but I feel very powerless when drawing characters I imagine.

Cute and quirky Greyson

I highlight her art because of the quirk and cuteness of it. The best characters are ones that have a bit of flavor to them. Characters that look like oatmeal, will taste like oatmeal. Without some flavor, the audience will all have a bit of bland in their mouths.

Some of my favorites characters are those that are not perfect and that have a relatable quality to them. Within the first few pages of Percy Jackson, we already know that he’s not a normal kid. He has ADHD, doesn’t pay attention, isn’t good in school – so relatable to Percy’s audience. not just personality-wise, but physically and mentally too. Those details are important.

I have a friend named “Big Al.” He’s a voracious reader and a rather big guy, like the larger than life type, super jolly and wears his heart on his sleeve. He read my series and liked it, and asked for recommendations. At this time I had just finished editing the second in the Billy Blacksmith series. Billy is a big kid, uncomfortable in his own skin, bullied, but always trying to do the right thing. I told Big Al about it and he gave the first book a try. He LOVED it. He identified with the character of Billy, the trials, the struggles of being young and awkward, the WHOLE thing. He quickly grabbed the next one and hounded me before the third came out. Suddenly, this character wasn’t just a character, but a friend, someone that he identified with. These kind of characters can be life-defining. I think a lot of readers search for these type of characters that through their quirks and imperfections, make them perfect for us to love.

I highlight Delilah Bard from A Darker Shade of Magic. V. E. Schwab really makes her characters likable, relatable, yet complicated. Delilah is not perfect. She is a thief and will always be a thief. She’s dark and mysterious and only looks out for herself. I can’t trust her, but that makes me like her more. She doesn’t turn into someone unexpected; she doesn’t suddenly grow a heart of gold like Darth Vader and throw the Emperor down a shaft in the Death Star. She is the love interest, but not lovable. She will not be the character that takes the bullet – that’s Kell’s job. Delilah stays true to herself the entire series.

And that is not easy. After building a friendship with these characters, one wants them to be in a Happily Ever After. But you know truth of your characters. Not all of them would choose that. Each should have likes and dislikes, but most of all, they should have personality. Make them quirky, imperfect, relatable. Those make up our favorite characters.

Letting Them Go

My job as an author is created believable characters and set them off on an adventure. My characters really do steer the boat. They live so deeply in my head that I know what they need to do when it’s time to act. But once the adventure is over, the characters need to go out on a new, different adventure, one that isn’t hooked to me and my mind, but one that is hooked to yours . They now need to tell their story to readers. Their journey is far from over, even after I type THE END.

If you find those characters that speak to you, much like my friend Big Al did, those character will stay with you forever. They are friends that you are always friends with. It feels like they go away, but you can always revisit them and share them with others. I love it when I share books with others. It’s an introduction to a friend, and hopefully those whom I share it with become their friends too. This journey can be slow, but every encounter with a new fan is someone knew my characters just met. It’s magical and transcending to get a review or message from a fan. My characters are doing their job, inviting these other people to a world and adventure I created for them. It’s wonderful and surreal.

Book Review – Bleakwood Lore, the Little Book That Happened

I happily wear the editor badge for the Billy Blacksmith series by Ben Ireland. Creatively, Billy is the most fun I’ve had on a project, and a lot of that fun factor has to do with it not being my idea. The idea of Billy and his lovingly called “Billyverse” is too much for my brain to process sometimes. In this dynamically designed story, each character wears their own suit of armor, each has their own piece to the over-arching puzzle. So, in the editing process, there were several times when Ben would add a detail to the story that didn’t make sense, and I would highlight it as a problem, but he would insist it being there, because it would become important – very important, like a locket no one can open hidden in plain sight. I trust his work and believe in the story, so I will move on like a good editor.

I asked Ben exactly how he came up with the idea of Billy. He said, “After writing Kingdom City: Revolt, I was in the mood for something a little lighter. A little more fun. But I had no idea what. Then one day I walked into my kitchen in Houston, and it’s like a voice just popped into my head: “My name is Billy Blacksmith.  I like cupcakes, videogames, and baseball, but not necessarily in that order.  My best friend is a demon. And for some reason, I’m supposed to save the world.”

A flood of creativity can happen with any overwhelming idea, and sometimes it takes over every logical thought. When I started forming my series, the ideas just came so fast, and before I knew it, I had drawn a map of the world, character bios, a list of Latin rooted words from which I began crafting the magic. I have a binder I dedicated to this creation process. I don’t know what his notes first looked like, but I get the image of a mad scientist scribbling equations and laughing with no one. I mean, the world is MASSIVE.

After Ironsoul, the emotionally driven third in the series had finished and was published, I needed a break and maybe some time to heal from the unexpected middle school scars it opened. I was so heavily invested in the story and the characters, that after I closed the book I had felt like I had trained for a marathon. But then again, I missed the hard work. I longed for more Billy stories, and I knew that the fourth book was not even close to finished.

…and then Bleakwood Lore came along…

During the last few years I devoted to these books, sometimes Ben would mention a side story here and there. I think a lot of us writers like to think of our characters doing other things than just appearing in their story. I usually call mine WRITING EXERCISES in order for me to get used to how the character thinks and acts. In Ben’s case, it helps thicken the depth of the world and the plot. These side stories are not writing exercises, but essential, in some part, to the developing story. Even IN the Blacksmith books you see a folklore chapter here and there, or an excerpt from the Space Vikings. These are all progressing in a direction of a plot with so many moving parts, my brain is blown.

Ben began writing and collecting these side stories, I think in part for his own personal amusement, but others because there is value in the information given to the Billy fan. It’s easy to get hooked on Billy. Demonslayer is the foundation book, Hellforged is a freaking adrenaline rush, and Ironsoul is a complex, psychological thriller. Each took crafting and long hours. And I won’t say that Bleakwood Lore didn’t take a while to craft, but the scope is completely different. And the book just happened. Four months after Ironsoul was released, all Ben did was ask me to beta read. And here were are with a brand-new release.

So, what is Bleakwood Lore?

Simply put Bleakwood Lore is a collection of eleven short stories set in the Blacksmith Universe, plus some bonus material in the back.

Complexly put, Bleakwood is the critical tethering of the current Act One (first three) in the Blacksmith Legacy to the up-and-coming Act Two. But better than that, it’s a chance to get to know the characters, deepen your knowledge of the threads that have already been woven into the tapestry, and just have a really great time reading.

Unlike the other books, there is no centralized plot or villain or problem that needs to be solved, and because of it, there is a lot of joy in this book. One of the key elements that makes this journey in reading so enjoyable is you can feel how much fun the writer had writing it. There are stories that are funny, tender, absolutely adorable, heart-wrenching at the expensive of my own tears, and completely adrenaline fueled. I truly adored this book, so let me get on with the review…

Review:

“Ben Ireland is an author who appreciates that people are complex and that every person (or demon) has a reason for the way they act and react. This book reminded me that people are very much affected by their life experiences, for good or ill.”

– Amazon Reviewer

I wanted to go over a bit of each story, WITHOUT SPOILERS, so everyone could get a flavor for the book.

  1. (1 and 11) If Bleakwood Lore had a central heart to its plot, it would be the first and last stories in the book. These chapters involve Chris Blacksmith, Billy’s older brother, who I have always wanted more story about. He and his Minor League team, the Sugar House Wasps, get into a bunch of trouble searching for the giant spiders trapped n the world when the Threshold was burned (from book 1). I enjoyed the fast action and the characters a lot. It reminded me of Scooby Doo and his gang searching out the creepy, abandoned warehouse.
  2. I think any story with Ash-Lea is golden and THE RHINOCEROS AND THE FOX is her spotlight. She has the personality I adore and is totally ready to kick ass all the time. In this one, Ash-Lea finds herself alone when a fight comes along. I really enjoyed the setting, the new characters, and the crafting of words and language used.
  3. In THE WALL BETWEEN we get a taste of Billy’s demonic demon squad in a different light. Lilly is always so put together and straight forward, but when a situation pushes her to drink (or not drink) she can become quite the character.
  4. FAILING PRINCESS is one of my favorites. This has Krios taking care of a sick Princess Patricia in the Human Realm, and it’s insanely visual and the interaction with the character Melissa, is a pure delight.
  5. A BIG HELP is the adorable one I mentioned, focused on our dragon friend Osamu trying to take care of those rambunctious demonhound puppies. My heart warmed so much reading about what these little guys were doing and the havoc they were creating. I laughed out loud. LOVED THIS ONE SO MUCH!
  6. SUPER SUCKY POWERS is the one that brought me to tears. In the books, you never like Billy’s foster parents. I was sure they would gang up on Billy the moment he left the house. But, here again, I was corrected by the tender storytelling of Billy’s foster parents back story. It also told me a lot more about Billy’s character and his compassion for others. (HEART)
  7. We’ve been following the Space Vikings, wondering when they will get their moment in Billy’s story. In THE SPACE VIKING’S PLIGHT, we get a chance to really see the real danger they are in traveling in the darkness of space. Queen Natalie shows why she’s in charge in this one and what makes her a true leader of her people.
  8. No Billy book could be complete without a slice of folklore. THE DEMON WHO SOUGHT LOVE is so deep, so beautiful, and so revealing to the plot IT’S INCREDIBLE, and I can’t say anything else, besides I LOVE THE FOLKLORE and IT ROCKS!
  9. THE SIDES WE CHOOSE goes into Belle’s back story. Belle appears in the first chapter of Book 1, Billy Blacksmith: The Demonslayer, but she also appears again in the third. (Remember when I said when editing I needed to leave some things alone? Yeah, Belle was one of those. I tried to cut her character. That would have been a big mistake. See? I trusted him.) She is a complex, layered character, that I didn’t think much of, but now a huge sub-plot of villainy is brewing, and Belle is finally the star player.
  10. OH MY FREAKING HECK! I think THE BALLAD OF GREYSON ASH is one of the most funny and delightfully awkward pieces of fiction I have ever read. Boys can be so stupid when it comes to impressing girls. This one is ALL THE THINGS! I happened to be there when my mother was reading it for the first time, and what a joy to hear her laugh out loud and then read us the parts that were so funny. To see the fiction played out like that is the best way to reflectively experience it.

See my shiny Billy Editor badge? I am proud of this one, as I am of all of them. But Bleakwood just happened. I hardly had to do anything. The writing is getting better, as is our working partnership. I can identify his writing like a fingerprint.

I didn’t pick up Billy because I really wanted to edit it. I’m a writer. Why become an editor? It was because the storytelling was too good to pass up, and BECAUSE I am a writer, I recognized an amazing opportunity to be a part of something great. I feel incredibly lucky. If you stick with Billy, I promise YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. It’s perfect for the teens, but is growing a strong adult audience as well, adults who get the adventure of it, get the humor, and need that missing connection to those books they missed as kids. Here it is.

I always suggest buying paper books, because it gives a textile memory when you read it, but the ebook versions are inexpensive if you want to give it a go first. BLEAKWOOD LORE has some extra material like art, notes, and puzzles, plus it’s only ten bucks right now. I highly recommend this read.

Find the Blacksmith Legacy here on Ben Ireland’s Amazon page and website: benirelandbooks.com

Let’s Be Authors – 6 Reasons Authors Struggle With Blogging

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I feel ya kitty. #sundaynap #archerthecat

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So….. I haven’t blogged in a while

…and I’m pretty sure the world is still turning. The sun still creeps in my room every morning, reminding me of all the things that I have to do that are not “Blogging.” But before I get into my list of excuses, let me deeply say that I’m sorry if you have been anxiously awaiting my return. I have missed you too. I labeled this generally with “why authors struggle,” but it’s personal reasons, more “why I haven’t blogged.”

1. Little Things Become Big Things:

What is an author’s job? That’s right, writing. So, one would think that the first thing that keeps them from blogging would be writing, but it’s not. It’s all the other things that take over their time. When you are in, what I call, “WRITER MODE,” words are what you should be concentrating on. But Writer Mode is a small part of the big job of being an author. There are several “Modes” a writer can get into, much like wearing hats:

  • Editor
  • Publisher
  • Typographer
  • Publicist
  • Marketing Director
  • Plummer
  • Electrician
  • Cruise Director

I haven’t had a chance to actually BE in Writer Mode, because of all these other hats I have had to wear. It’s the little decisions that I have had to make involving being my own publisher. From design to logo to price to distribution to everything else – every decision is important. With my series slowly trickling out, I have been in Publicist and Marketing Director mode. The re-release of Vivatera happened on February. 22, with Conjectrix following on March 19th. Everstar will be released April 19th at Salt Lake’s FanX Conference. And preparing for all of that has also been challenging.

But saying all that, I don’t regret the releases, it’s been a focus, and I’m very proud with what is happening and the direction the books are heading. This experience has opened my eyes and is preparing me for the adventure ahead of me.

2. Learning Is Hard

I always wanted to be a writer, but when I was in college, it was a pipe dream, not a real career. And I tried a few different things, but the addiction to writing was not going away. It IS not going away. So, sometimes the dreams that you had when you were young do come true. And I feel very blessed with this very cool avenue of life that has opened up.

So, I decided to go back to school. I’ve been wanting to for a while, but the circumstances have never been right. The day job field is not writing based, but science based, and as much as I love the work I do… I don’t. It’s not the dream. I’m not a traditional student with my busy home and work life, so even though I work AT a university, the environment is not right for what I want to specialize in and how I need to learn more about the craft of writing.

So, I looked into online options and found one that I was very impressed with and it’s at UC San Diego. I’m working toward a Creative Writing and Copy Editing Certification. And so far, I think it’s fantastic. This will not only help my confidence as a writer, understanding my craft and helping teach more to others, It will help my editing business as well.

3. An Accidental Project

As many of you know, but not everyone, I took an editing job a few years ago called “Billy Blacksmith” written by my friend Ben Ireland. This is a series I absolutely love and have had a great time working on it. I figured my time was over with Billy, since book three came out in September and that closes Act 1. But Ben asked me to just beta-read a collection of Billy-based short stories called “Bleakwood Lore.” I jumped up and down at this invitation.

Beta-reading is no pressure, and I became super excited about this. If you don’t know much about Billy, the series has a deep mythological lore, with complicated characters that each bring a new level to the storytelling. What Bleakwood is about is eleven side stories about characters to help lay a platform for Act 2.

I had a great time doing this. As I suggested things or saw things in the stories, my tiny encouragements made a big impact, to the end that Ben is looking at a quick release date of May 2nd, 2019. The book just came together in the funnest way possible. There are also secrets, reveals, and really fun illustrations to elevate your experience. I can’t claim this as an edit, but I did have a great time helping.

4. Life-ing and Loss-ing

The year didn’t start well. I had a dear cousin pass from this world at the end of 2018 and I started this year wearing black. Since that chilly January burial, I have had three more people pass from my life. With each death, I have become more acutely aware of how fast things can happen. And though this selection doesn’t have much elaboration to it, because I think we have all felt the same emptiness to our own extent, it has affected my life, my drive and motivation, and mostly my creativity. It’s hard to be creative when you’re depressed. Everyone could agree with that.

5. Goodies

I am not one to claim housewifery. In fact, I may be the LAST person to claim any domestic inclination. But, when it got closer to my book release, I decided I really wanted to do something special for those that came to my book signing.

I don’t like spotlight. I don’t do well with reading. And though I have always liked parties, when it comes to the private nature of something I’ve created, like a book, I don’t exactly know how to party. This being a re-release was a special occasion. A lot of these people have supported me over and over. It’s like I am pulling a George Lucas and repackaging something that they already own and believe in. So, I really wanted to make sure they understood how much I appreciated them and their support over the years.

How else, but cookies. I don’t know why, but I thought maybe I would try to make sugar cookies that looked like stars. I have never made a good sugar cookie. I always burn them or make them too thin. And I needed an easy cookie to do, as well. It had to be super simple because I don’t want to cut a hundred or so cookies.

I stumbled upon a recipe from my own collection and tried it. And I’ve never been so in love with a recipe. It did need some tweaking, because I have never seen an extra large egg, so I add an egg and a half. 🙂 I used a sandwich cutter with a cute fox, bear, kitty, and heart, so I cut it way faster than regular cookies and sugar dusted it before jt bakes. And oh my freak! They are amazing. I’m so impressed with my non-domestic self. I have craved these nearly every day since. So, yes, this has kept me from blogging. 🙂

6. Finishing What You Start

And through all of this, there is still light in writing. I came up with an idea about five years ago about two people who meet in dreams. Dreams have always meant a lot to me. They are a fascination I will never get over. My sub-conscious is vivid and wild, and sometimes uses the dream time to connect the dots of my creative thinking. Several writing ideas came from dreams, and to have a book that has dreaming as its central point, has intrigued me.

I started to dabble in the characters last summer and they really came to life. In my quiet hours, I have let them tell me how to tell their story. This is a little different from my other books, it is written differently, using different voicing with the characters and the dream sequences. I find the telling clever and unique, and I am very, very intrigued with how this will be received.

I am minutes away from finishing it. The only thing stopping me is blogging to you all now. The book has yet to have a title, and I have yet to know exactly what to do with it. It would make an excellent screenplay, and I may look at adapting it. But as for now, I think I will just plan on finishing it and then editing as my usual habits. I haven’t finished a novel in two and a half years, so I am so proud of my efforts.

I wish I had better excuses for not blogging more but I hope this will give you a little depth in to how my real life and creative life are constantly butting heads. There’s still a life that goes on beyond words. And though you may not see it, it’s still here, heart beating, living and breathing. It may be some comfort that I carry my crafts with me always. I’m always ready to write at a moment’s notice. I hope with the spring I will get a chance to blog more, that is as long as I have something interesting to say. I hope you’ll be there with me.

Let’s Be Authors! – Making It at FanX 2018

My panel: The Rise and Fall of Sega. Had a good crowd and a great discussion.

I had a discussion years ago, actually on a road trip to Portland with my author gal pals, about when someone “Makes It” in this business of writing. What is the threshold? I mean, I’m sure that once you need a personal assistant or a publicist to do things for you, you have definitely “Made It” in some way or another. Just having enough to pay your car payment each month is a huge accomplishment. It’s a hard classification, because my internal view of being an author is not what is reflected in the external view to the reader.

So the idea of “Making It” is difficult. And as I really thought about it, it’s only important to one person. . . That’s me.

In all these years of being an author, I’ve never really felt that I “Made It.” I’ve taught classes and been on panels at different writing conferences, with really, really cool people too, by the way. But I didn’t feel successful, I kinda felt like I was a cool kid, but not a success. My audience is not my peers, so writing conferences are not the best place to sell books or engage with your audience. Online sales are difficult to judge, because I have no engagement what so ever. It’s all just numbers, not people. My books are very buried in the doldrums of Amazon, and only with promotion do my books get any attention.

Booth set up, Christine and Conor being cool.

But when I really feel like an author and really feel an impact of what I’m doing, is when I physically get to place a book in someone’s hands. I’m handing them an adventure, my adventure that I’ve created for them. And when I get to personalize it? It’s the best! Because I am offering a part of me in this book, a special message just for them. It’s a special feeling.

The Green Room offers the best view of dinosaurs.

FanX 2018 offers a great way to find your fan base and connect with readers one on one. It was a different experience this year than our other times at the Con Formally Known As Salt Lake Comic Con. In previous years, I had filled the booth with other authors – last year, we had NINE authors. My ideas were to give other people a chance to shine, and make back the cost of the booth, without thinking that I would profit anything. This made for a very crowded and stressful environment.

Me, with my boothmates, Ben and Christine.

This year, I decided to do things differently. I didn’t want to be stressed. I wanted to enjoy being at this con. It should be fun. So, I scaled it way down to working with only my closest and best friends in my writing circle: authors Christine Haggerty and Ben Ireland. Each of us write for a different audience, so no competition in sales, and also, we genuinely really want each other to succeed, so selling each other’s books was easy. It’s all about the reader. That is so important, the MOST important thing we did in the booth.

“Waiting for all my rabid fans to arrive.” – Christine

We got lucky booth 1203, a corner very close to the opening doors and main staircase. We set Christine and I on opposite sides of the corner and gave Ben the front corner spot (picture above), so every book had its own place to shine. We all had something new for our booth: Christine’s Middle Grade – Lucas and the House of Lies, Ben’s third in the Blacksmith Legacy – Billy Blacksmith: The Ironsoul, and my new poetry book – Wandering Beautiful.

“Uhura, from an alternate timeline, signing a Wandering Beautiful.” – Candace

Historically, we never sold very well on the first day. Most people were waiting to buy everything on the third day. I don’t know if it was the phase of the moon or something, but once those doors opened, people found us immediately and we started selling.

“FanX was an absolutely wonderful experience. Sharing with fans who really get a show generates an energy you can’t find anywhere else. And meeting Anna Graves was an incredible bonus. She struck me as a genuine fan, and she was wonderfully gracious.” – Ben (Photo by CB Lee)

Hands down, this was the BEST year at FanX. The crowd was amazing, we had exceptional stars (I witnessed Jason Momoa, he is real, we breathe the same air, and rotate around the same sun. . . ), but the panels were amazing. Both Ben and I got to participate on panels. My retrogaming panel went amazingly, but not as fabulously as Ben’s Voltron panel. And Christine cosplayed as her pocket pin-ups and drew quite the crowd, plus a free red top hat.

“Cute little Paige was the 60th Harley Quinn I counted at FanX and she got a free copy of Lucas and the House of Lies.” – Christine

We had fun. We were everywhere. But the best part was talking with fans, fellow creators, fellow readers, who were interested in getting to know us and know what our books were about. We were an impressive force. Many people asked about who we were, how we became a group in a booth, and other authors were anxious for a spot with us next year. I sold out of two titles as well, Ben sold out of his first title. We were not expecting to sell so much. I under-prepared for the crowd, because it’s hard to haul unsold books back. It’s discouraging. I have one, small box of books now sitting in my empty garage instead of several. I’m just still stunned and impressed.

Goofing off with Julie, who helped us Friday and Saturday.

I’ve had a few days to let things settle, but my glow has not faded. As I was driving in on Day 3 of FanX, it was a little cloudy, but the sun was peeking through little breaks, making gorgeous little spots of sun. I thought those lucky people may not even know they are in this spotlight right now.

Check out this guy, he bought Ben’s series and I totally stole a picture of it.

“Making it as an author is much like being in that spot of sun, not until it has passed can you see and recognize how truly beautiful it is.”

I felt the admiration from each person who purchased my books, and those buying my friends’ books. We all felt the energy, which brought us closer as a group. We were making a difference in their lives, even for a fraction of a moment, but it is imprinted on me forever.

“Me and the new Doctor. It was a great year.” – Candace

I feel invincible and ready for any challenge. I’m feeling creative and set to finish my book. To all my new friends that I met at this conference, thank you from ALL OF US! FanX has made me the author I had always felt I could be and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to be in that spot of sun.

An Editor’s Note: My Thoughts on Ironsoul

Act I of the Blacksmith Legacy

Ironsoul IS coming! In fact, it’s almost here. Billy Blacksmith: The Ironsoul will be release Sept. 1st and I’m super excited. Pre-order here!

A few years ago, I had a gentle conversation with a fellow author about a boy with demonblood. This character’s name is Billy Blacksmith and his author is Ben Ireland. Many people know this. I have previously blogged about this incredible experience here. It’s a unique and creative story of an unlikely hero battling enormous, demonic spiders with a baseball bat, not to mention it is so fun to read, with Ben’s witty writing and intense action.

EDITOR’S QUICK RECAP

In BILLY BLACKSMITH: THE DEMONSLAYER, the reader is introduced to Billy – this funny, overweight orphan, who finds he’s incredibly skilled at wielding a baseball bat, which comes in handy when gigantic demonic spiders want to drink his blood. As the editor, I struggled when to interfere, coming from an author background. This was my first novel as an editor. I had to let his voice become the star and I had to completely disappear.  It was a learning curve for both of us working together, and even then, sometimes I had to just trust Ben as the author, that things he hadn’t explained would resolve. Everything was leading to a much bigger story.

BILLY BLACKSMITH: THE HELLFORGED, the second in the series, was much more fun for me to edit. No more need for introduction, Ben speeds Billy on a quest to find a magical weapon. I liked the adventure of this one. I was used to Ben’s writing style and I completely trusted him, which made things easier for me. I could tell he enjoyed writing it, because of how joyful it read. And the reader gets a chance to see more of the Demonic Realm, including a Thunderdome-like fight scene, with giant, demonic pugs and hummers with machine guns attached to the top. How visually entertaining! Not to mention, the connections between his friends deepen – he’s forming a team! Pure adventure, and I just loved it.

Billy started out really fun, took me on a true adventure, I got to imagine giant pugs and demonhound puppies… The creativity of it was mind-blowing. I couldn’t guess or even imagine what Ben had in store next.

“As humans, we carry scars, everyone has them, everyone needs them.”

WHAT I HOPED FOR AND NEVER EXPECTED

I can’t believe this manuscript landed in my hands. It came to me on Christmas day, way after presents were opened. It was the winding down of the evening when I turned on my computer and saw the heading “The Ironsoul” blinking at me with a tag saying “Merry Christmas.” It was magical. I knew he was close to finishing, but I wasn’t expecting it. I read just a little bit, like when you skim the pages of new books, finding out that it was right after Christmas when this novel takes place. It was a winterscape, which I love, with Billy downtown seeing the lights of Salt Lake City, my city. It was lovely and I soaked it in.

QUICK “HOW-I-EDIT”

When I do a first pass, I read the manuscript like a reader would. However, I like to annotate. I annotate any book I really love, because there are details and feelings I want to remember and highlight. I really focus on what I like, what’s good, what works, and what I want to remember, my feeling at the time. If it’s something that needs work, I might make a quick note, but nothing serious. That’s not what I’m focusing on during this pass. Mostly, it’s likes.

Second pass is the nitty-gritty, where I really dig into “Does this make sense?” “Is this working?” “I think it needs more” etc… and the continuity of the story, now that I know it from start to finish. With Ben, because our writing is so different, I ask a lot of questions and stay out of his writing as much as possible. He was a very fun, unique style that’s as identifiable as a fingerprint, so commenting let’s me focus on what needs to be addressed without interfering and lets him fill in a lot of the details. It needs to be authentic. This is my cinematographer angle, with a slow pan through the scene to see the right way to tell it. Ben will tell you that I ask for more action A LOT. It’s not a bad thing, but he writes in conversations, so painting more of the picture through words is a great way to keep your audience involved.  I’ll say, he always surprises me with his originality, and honestly, that’s why I ask, because I know it gets him pushing himself to be creative. So many times it surprises me what he comes up with.

Third pass is smoothing, and third pass is loose in translation, since it could be multiple passes over sections. The grammar, the punctuation, and the fixes. Nothing too excited here. We are getting this manuscript “reader ready” and it’s not the fun part, polishing never is.

MY FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF IRONSOUL

So, Ironsoul immediately entertained me with charming dialogue and witty situations. Chapter 3 – the first chapter with Billy, kicks the novel into high gear with a pretty intense fight scene. And then Chapter 4 made me blush all sorts of colors. But by Chapter 5, the novel takes another turn, a big one. Chapter 6, I found myself engrossed in words and situations and feelings I hadn’t felt in a long time. Feelings?! Ugh! Where did those come from? Feelings of being young and awkward, not pretty, not popular, being picked on and teased, trying so hard to fit in, walking around in a skin that didn’t fit me right. Those feelings!

“Freewill unchecked is chaos. Mr. Fingers will prove that to you before the week has ended.” Seth, Billy Blacksmith: The Ironsoul

 

Unlike the adventure of Hellforged, Ironsoul is a mystery. I kept trying to guess things. I’m not really a guesser, I don’t like spoilers, so my guesses were more hunches. The clever demon, Mr. Fingers, feeds on emotions and manipulates others to feel soul-collapsing depression and failure. All are susceptible, except those who possess an Ironsoul, or someone so strong in their convictions that they can’t be persuaded. When I got to the title chapter, which I think a lot of us look forward to, I was blown away, once again, by the depth the story was taking.

Actual Editor Annotations Throughout My First Pass:

“WHAT? What an incredible idea!”

“I like this. The whole thing. I think your concept of the Ironsoul is a beautiful aspiring trait that will be good for teens, or heck, anyone.”

“Why am I feeling this book so much?”

“AH! I love this. This is so relate-able. I mean, hasn’t everyone done this?”

“I love that you put this in. This elevates the bond for the reader. And it’s so tender. The book presses on the tender emotions we have. The crowd will really like this.”

I couldn’t believe I was handed this incredible book. Overall, I found the story inspiring, thought-provoking, and downright wonderful. It did not have the action-packed hummer-giant pug chase from Hellforged, or the creepifying gym full of spiders from Demonslayer, but instead of action, it is filled with suspense, curiosity, and a range of emotional checks and balances. Ben’s background in horror writing really shows up here, filling in the cracks with spookifying intensity. It was thrilling.

And every Billy book has folklore, and this doesn’t disappoint. The depth of the backstory, that basically frames the entire series, is magnifying and I gush every time I get to the folklore, because you are getting not only one story here, but THREE – all the folklore that’s laced in with Billy’s story, plus you get to see what the princess Patricia and the ex-General of the Spider Horde Krios are up to.

What I found most surprising is the nature of this novel, tackling very deep subjects, like bullying and depression. I’ve never read anything like it in a fantasy novel. I’m still dumbstruck. It’s so powerful.

MY FINAL IMPRESSIONS

Follow Ben on Amazon here

I’m more proud than I can say. This novel was not easy for Ben to write. As authors, sometimes dive deep within ourselves to capture emotion that is true and raw in order to tell the right story. I couldn’t say Ben did this personally, not knowing much of his backstory, but the overarching theme carries a heavy understanding to the reader, a personal touch that tells them, “I know what you’re feeling. I get it. And you’re gonna be okay.” As humans, we carry scars, everyone has them, everyone needs them.

This was a difficult edit, but worth all the sweat and tears. I paced myself differently, because there needed to be a nice balance of fun without losing the integral story. I’ve found that Ben is very good about balancing intensity with witty banter. His writing is fresh, clever, and cinematic.

“Ironsoul is more than an entertaining YA novel. It’s about bad influences and bullying, spite and retaliation, loneliness and isolation, unconditional loyalty and friendship, and most of all – choosing to do the right thing, even when you think it’s impossible!” Sue, Amazon Reviewer

 

Ironsoul falls third in line in the Blacksmith Legacy, and with being a continuous story, it may see hard times before it gets to the readers it was intended for. That breaks me up a little, since I love this book so much. I wish you could just dive into it, but there is so much story, one just can’t do that. However, it didn’t take me long to know Billy was something special and something I wanted to be a part of, and it won’t take readers long either. You get hooked on Billy and it’s WORTH it! Every word.

Here is a FREE sneak peek of Chapter 5: Clatterball (demon sports are very amusing) on Ben’s website: Benirelandbooks.com

Also, if you are an artist or love fan art, check out the FAN ART COMPETITION happening now of FANDOM’s Billy page here.

This series has been part of me for the last two years. I will miss editing, but I’m ready to get writing again. This is only Billy’s ACT I (first three) of his epic saga. There are so many stories to tell and I want to read them all. #teamgreyson

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