Saturday, December 31, 2016

Author Interview: Christina Feindel

Hi there and welcome to this month's Blog World Tour interview! Today I'm interviewing Christina Feindel, author of The Revenant!


With its advanced weaponry, the ghost ship Revenant was supposed to turn the tide of the war… but went missing instead. Ten years later, the Federation’s hold on the three suns is firmly cemented and corrupt in every way, and any Separatist hopes or dreams seem to have gone the way of Old Earth and its dinosaurs.

Grayson Delamere was still a child when the war ended and she doesn’t much care why it was fought in the first place. In the cold, dark vac of space, most lives are short and brutal with or without the Federation’s interference. She’s worked hard and kept her head down, making her living as a mechanic on any ship that’d have her. If she’s broken a few laws and made a few enemies along the way, well, that’s just the way life is on the fringe of the Trisolar System.

But now, someone has discovered all of her dirty little secrets... and will hold them hostage to ensure Grayson’s help in the most dangerous job of her life: To recover the Revenant and rekindle the fires of rebellion.


Tabitha: Hi Christina! Thanks for joining me! To start things off, what motivated you to self-publish your book?

Christina: When self-publishing first became an option many, many years ago, the benefit of going the traditional route was professional help with editing, design, marketing, and distribution–but these days, it’s getting easier and more affordable to do all of those things yourself. A lot of publishers won’t even consider you if you don’t already have a large social media following; they expect you to do most of your own marketing, anyway. So self-publishing just made the most sense to me. I felt like I’d have more freedom and flexibility, and still wind up doing about the same amount of work. So far, I don’t have any regrets.

T: How long did it take you to write The Revenant?

C: I started toying around with the idea of writing The Revenant in early 2015 and got about fifty thousand words of a rough draft out, but didn’t really start taking the project seriously for another year. I spent all of 2016 writing, rewriting, editing, rewriting again–trying to fit all the pieces together and give them a good polish. So from start to finish, it was almost two years.

T: What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book?

C: I don’t really structure my time in that way. I’d probably be more successful if I did. I get on my website and social media and talk about The Revenant any time I have news to share. I’ll send out review copies and do interviews and host giveaways when the opportunities present themselves. But my main goal, each and every day, is to write. I want to finish the sequel, and then the next project, and then the next. That’s what excites me the most, so that’s what I do the most. I know I’m lucky to be able to do that.

T: Who are your favorite authors?

C: I don’t read as much as I did in school, because I’m writing more. You have to be careful not to let someone else’s story influence the way you write in the middle of a project. Some writer’s tones are infectious. But I love clever, suspenseful, and full of intrigue. I’ve been really looking forward to Scott Lynch’s next book, and I’ve always enjoyed Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, Stieg Larsson, Douglas Adams, and Hugh Howey. I recently got into Justin Cronin and Jeff VanderMeer, and I still reread the Harry Potter books every couple of years, too.

T: Do you prefer e-books or printed books?

C: I made the switch to e-books in college when I didn’t have the storage space for even a modest book collection. I miss having a well-stocked bookshelf, but e-books are just so much more convenient. I’ve always got the book with me, I never lose my place, and reading is now something I can do just before bed without the lights keeping anyone else up. I also really like being able to easily bookmark or search the book to go back to a favorite passage. I could never bring myself to dogear or make notes in a traditional book, it felt somehow sacrilegious!

 Readers! You can find out more about Christina and The Revenant here!

Christina Feindel resides in central Texas with her multi-talented husband, Noah. While traversing academia, civil service, and chronic illness in early adulthood, she founded the whole-foods blog and now works as a cook, photographer, and educator. She pens fiction in her spare time, with a particular passion for character development and genre-blending.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Author Interview: Zeta Lordes

Welcome to another Blog World Tour Author Interview! Today, I'm interviewing author and fellow Scribophiler, Zeta Lordes!

Tabitha: Hi, Zeta! Thanks for joining me! We're gonna jump into some fun questions today. To start off, besides reading and writing, what other hobbies or pastimes are you passionate about?

Zeta: I love gaming! Card games or board games with friends and family—duplicate bridge, backgammon, rummy, just about any word game. RPG (Role Playing Games) Video games—am looking forward to the new release of Mass Effect. Unfortunately games are time sucks, so I don’t play nearly as much as I used to. But still love those rare opportunities.

Since I started writing (with the intent of self-publishing), I’ve also become enthralled with learning about designing book covers. I can, and do, spend hours playing with photos for ideas and inspiration.

T: I also can't wait for the new Mass Effect! Back into the writing world, what are your favorite books and why?

Z: Life is profound enough, I read novels almost strictly for entertainment and escapism.  I’m a series reader. Always have been. When I fall in love with characters, I want to follow their adventures beyond just one book. So hook me with characters and I’m a fan for life!

Hard to choose a favorite series, but could probably say Robert B. Parker’s Spenser crime novels. The humor and moral compass of his protagonist (Spenser) appealed to me from the first and I never wavered in that. Even his FMC, Susan, was a delight and very much aligned with my concept of a strong female character. Additionally his gray character, Hawk, was always mysterious and fascinating. A wonderful and diverse character series.

T: What about your favorite movies and TV shows?

Z: I’m pretty much an action junkie, but don’t watch a lot of movies. Keeping with my series theme, I could probably put Die Hard, The Godfather, Lethal Weapon, Star Wars, and Star Trek movies on that list.

I don’t have a TV connection, but I stream from Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Lots of favorite TV: Most all the comic stuff (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow, Daredevil, Gotham, etc). Older stuff (Farscape, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, etc).
Just fun stuff (The Originals, Blacklist, The Walking Dead, Empire, etc).

T: Okay, you're winning a lot of points with me with the Mass Effect and Star Wars love. What are your favorite motivational writing quotes?

Z: Another tough one… so many and so little space.

“Why are you telling the reader this?” 
- Anon

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

- Ernest Hemingway

"There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or poorly written. That is all." 
- Oscar Wilde

“Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.” 

- Alfred Hitchcock

T: What other favorite quotes tend to reflect your general philosophies?

Z: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

- Eleanor Roosevelt

"Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself."  

- Eleanor Roosevelt

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”

- Eleanor Roosevelt

(Obviously a pattern here. Eleanor Roosevelt was a very wise woman!)

T: Very true.

Z: “My idea of feminism is self-determination, and it's very open-ended: every woman has the right to become herself, and do whatever she needs to do.”

- Ani DiFranco

T: Awesome! Thank you for sharing those with us, and for the interview!

Readers! Interested in learning more about Zeta and her writing? You can check out her blog or follow her on facebook!

Zeta Lordes is an author of Science Fiction and Paranormal Fantasy flavored with plenty of suspense and romance.  When she’s not writing, she’s often playing with photo projects, including book covers for herself and other author friends. She lives alone in a rambling house littered with three generations of passed down books and three cats—who have their own litter.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Author Interview: J.R. Creaden

C:\Users\Jessica\Pictures\Contact Files (1).gif
Welcome to this month's Blog World Tour Interview! Today, I'm interviewing J.R. Creaden, an up and coming science fiction author and creator of the Contact Files series!

Tabitha: Hi, J.R.! Thanks for joining me. To start, let's talk about the end. How do you feel about endings in stories? Is there a type of ending you strive for?

J.R.: I hate endings, and I fight against them. When I’m reading, I want every book to end by leading into the next book. Standalone books disappoint this need of mine. That said, I crave stories that give me that grand “aha” moment that clinches a major mystery, the kind of reveal that means I’ll have a whole different perspective when I reread the book. I aim to accomplish both goals—for my readers to reach the end and feel torn between rereading or rushing to the next book in series.


T: Do you work with an outline or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

J: My first book was written entirely by the seat of my pants. I had vague ideas of what might happen in a scene, but there were many surprises. Looking back, I made all the first time novelist mistakes—too many characters, too complex a plot, an unpopular narrative strategy (omniscient), scenes that had waking up/going to sleep/doing boring life stuff, withholding necessary plot information from the reader... Truly, it was a mess before I began revisions. I’ve done more plotting on that story during revisions than I ever did while writing.

Now I plot and outline each scene. I don’t force myself to plan everything, but I make certain I know the scene’s internal and external goals. Somehow, I’m still in the back seat, so to speak, when I write this way, as the characters fight my planning or offer lines that throw me sideways.

I like to think my outline is telling me what should happen, but the characters have a great deal of power over how each scene turns out. Some spout poetry when I expect straight answers. Others reveal secrets I hadn’t intended them to possess. I love being surprised.

T: Very cool. Regarding your current work, tell us about your main character’s weaknesses. How do these affect the first book of your series?

J: In Re: Morse, the main character, human Hugo Morse is plagued by self-doubt. While we don’t go into major detail about Hugo’s background, certain elements haunt him. Despite the utopian version of Earth he remembers, Hugo’s experiences were not so pleasant. His upbringing within the Syndicate, raised on space ships before being deposited at the Rodanbary Academy, was rather lonely. His fear of failure holds him back and puts everyone in danger.

T: Speaking of upbringings, let's move on to some fun questions! Who was your childhood hero?

J: Amelia Bedelia. Don’t laugh; it’s true. I was a quirky, awkward, and clumsy child. Amelia’s optimism, her inventive ways of solving problems—these were inspiring to me. She was nuts, sure, but so delightful and inherently good. How could anyone not love her? I knew I might never be “right” in the expected ways, but she gave me hope that I could still find my own “right” along the way.

T: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

J: It’s neither; it’s work. It’s fun, exciting, challenging, grueling work.

T: Amen to that, haha! Thank you so much for your time, J.R.!


Readers! You can follow J.R. on twitter, facebook, and at her awesome website!

C:\Users\Jessica\Pictures\JR creaden.jpg 
JR began her writing career as a child disgruntled with song lyrics. After some early success with poetry and essays, she spent decades distracted by songwriting and academia until her story dreams became too interesting to keep to myself. Her current YA space opera series Contact Files will soon be ready for public consumption or vivisection. Her goal is to share stories that inspire readers to embrace cultural diversity, the promise of science, and the value of humor and imagination to build a future that’s more Star Trek and less 1984. When she’s not writing, JR enjoys exchanging “your mama” jokes with her children, floating in lakes, and slaying virtual dragons.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Author Interview: Alasdair Shaw

Hello and welcome to another exciting installment in the Blog World Tour, where I interview awesome writers from Scribophile! Today, I'm interviewing Alasdair Shaw, author of the Two Democracies: Revolution science fiction series.

Tabitha: Hiya, Alasdair! Thanks for joining me. How much do you read, and who are your favorite authors?

Alasdair: I read a lot. Not anywhere near as much as I’d like, but it is very hard to find the time at the moment.

To be honest, I mostly read mind candy rather than ‘worthy literature’ these days. A nice thing about the growing indie market and the free samples on Kindle is that there are a lot of scifi stories available, and sifting through for the decent ones isn’t too difficult.

My all-time favourite author was Iain M. Banks. I started reading the Culture when I was at Cambridge. Excession was the first, and it gripped me. Recently, I’ve been enjoying Christopher Nuttall’s Ark Royal series. I also love Simon Scarrow’s Roman series and Julian Stockwin’s Kydd series. I am eagerly awaiting Jasper Fforde’s next book, though none have quite yet matched The Eyre Affair.

Going back to classics, I love Sharpe, Hornblower, Foundation, and many other series.

T: That's quite a list of SciFi greats! So, what would make you count yourself a successful author? What's your definition of success?

A: There are several levels of success. The first was actually selling some of my books. I have been lucky enough to do OK at that one. I read somewhere that most authors don’t sell more than fifty copies of their book. I’ve no idea if that statistic has any basis in truth, but I like to remind myself of it. Liberty sold over two hundred copies in the few weeks it was on pre-release.

Secondly, I feel that getting a decent set of customer reviews is a measure of success. Independence got seventeen, averaging 4.2 stars, and Liberty managed three 5-star reviews from ARCs. I would love for Liberty to be critically acclaimed. The New York Times, The Guardian, or any other national newspaper commenting upon it would be amazing.

I’d love to happen across someone reading one of my books. I have had someone mention seeing one of my walking guides in a youth hostel library. My mother did bump into someone who had a copy of The Best Bits of Physics. One of the downsides of eBooks is that someone could be sitting across from me on the train reading one of my works and I’d never know. At least if they had the paperback I’d spot the cover.

Then, of course, there are bestseller lists. Both stories in the Two Democracies: Revolution series have done reasonably well on Amazon category rankings. Placing on one of the renowned listings is unlikely, but would certainly be counted as success.

Then, of course, there are awards. “Alasdair Shaw’s novel Liberty wins a Hugo Award” or “The Nebula Award goes to Alasdair Shaw” would be an irrefutable mark of success.

Finally, there is the moment that someone answering an interview like this lists me as one of their favourite authors!

T: That's a good range of ways to count yourself successful. And now you've started *my* daydreaming about the Nebula. Ahem. Any tips on what to do and what not to do when writing?

A: I often find that it helps to have music in my head when writing. It helps to get the rhythm right for the scene. However, actually listening to music stops me in my tracks. It is probably because it doesn't stop when I pause to work out the best word to put next.

A big no-no, for me at least, is to try to write when I’m not in the right frame of mind. Not only does it flow very slowly, but whatever I do get down usually needs heavy editing. Instead, I write when I have time and feel I want to. Being a part-time author means I have the luxury of not having to write every day, but on the other hand it can mean that when I am ready to write there are too many other things that need doing.

T: What is your favorite way to avoid writing?

A: Going and doing something outdoors. That could be anything from gardening to caving. I haven’t been able to run much recently, due to a knee injury, but I still walk as much as I can. Whilst I am not actively writing, I do find that ideas work their way to the surface when I am out and about. During a recent five hour trek across mountains in South Wales, I made some connections that will be significant in the next book.

Right now, I am taking part in this interview instead of writing a space combat scene in Equality the sequel to Liberty!

T: Happy to provide some time away from writing for ya! What is your favorite quote?

A: It’s a tie between:

“It pays to keep an open mind but not so open your brains fall out.” – Carl Sagan

“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.” – Douglas Adams

T: Gotta love Sagan and Adams references. +2 cool points. Thank you so much for taking time away from writing for this interview!


Readers! Interested in checking out Alasdair's writing? Head on over to Amazon to pick up a copy of Independence, the short story that launches Two Democracies: Revolution!

Alasdair Shaw grew up in Lancashire, within easy reach mountains and caves. After stints living in Cambridge, North Wales, and the Cotswolds, he has lived in Somerset since 2002.

He has been rock climbing, mountaineering, caving, kayaking and skiing as long as he can remember, and enjoys passing the love on to others. Recently he has been doing more sea kayaking and wild swimming.

Alasdair studied at the University of Cambridge, leaving in 2000 with an MA in Natural Sciences and an MSci in Experimental and Theoretical Physics. He went on to earn a PGCE, specialising in Science and Physics, from the University of Bangor. Despite the heavy slant towards the physical sciences, he is also a moth recorder and bird observer.

He started his writing career with Walking Through the Past, a series of walking guides to historical sites in Britain’s mountains and moorland published by Archaeoroutes. He then got into writing physics textbooks, revision guides, and practice exam papers for ZigZag Education and BBOP: School Physics Resources.

The Two Democracies: Revolution science fiction series starts with Independence, and continues with Liberty. The third story, Equality, will hopefully be released in summer 2017, followed by Fraternity the year after.

You can sign up to Alasdair Shaw’s mailing list here, and you can follow information about The Two Democracies series on facebook and twitter.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Author Interview: Heather Hayden

Welcome to the first interview in Story Geek's Blog World Tour, a series of interviews with authors of the Scribophile writing community! We'll be diving into craft, marketing strategies, publishing paths, and more! This month, I'm featuring Heather Hayden, author of Augment, a near future science fiction novella about genetic augmentation.

Tabitha: Hi, Heather! Thank you for your time! What have you written? Novels? Short stories? Poems? Blogs?

Heather: I have a dozen plus novels sitting around as dusty manuscripts, dating from the past year or so back to when I was about twelve (though I didn’t finish my first novel until I was fourteen; all hail National Novel Writing Month!)

There are many short stories and rather awful poetry gathering dust as well… Though I have won prizes in local contests for both flash fiction and poetry before.

I also have a blog, through which I share short stories and excerpts of my current WIPs during the weekly Saturday Shorts, monthly Magic Monday book reviews, and the occasional update on life, the universe, and everything. Starting this month I’ll be conducting interviews with other fantasy and science fiction writers.

In terms of publications, my first novella, Augment, was released in March 2015, and I’m currently working on its sequel, Upgrade.

T: Nice! What are Augment and Upgrade about?

H: They both take place in the near(ish) future, at a time when genetic augmentation and implant technology are everyday. In Augment, the main character, Viki, finds herself racing time as she struggles to learn the truth behind her implants’ failure before she is paralyzed—forever. She’s aided by her friend Halle, an AI hiding from the Government. Upgrade is a continuation of their adventures, as they face yet another threat—this one, a rogue AI determined to exact revenge on the humans who mistreated it.

T: How do you track your daily writing progress? Do you aim for a set word - or page - count?

H: To be honest, I don’t at the moment. I’ve been working on getting better at that, but I’m still not great at sticking to a goal. I tend to just take a big chunk of time and work during it on whatever project I want, and whatever progress I make I consider good. However, since my current top project is editing Upgrade, I do try to get at least one chapter edited each day with new critique feedback.

T: Augment is self-published, correct? What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of your choice?

H: I wanted more control, so I chose the self-publishing route. My sister and I started our own little publishing company, Rowanwood Publishing, LLC. I would say the biggest advantage is control over everything—book cover, formatting, marketing, release dates, etc. The biggest challenge for me is marketing—I’m no expert and am still learning the ropes, a year after my first publication.

T: If you could meet any famous person (living or dead), who would it be, and why?

H: What a tough question! There are so many people I would love to sit down and chat with. Many of them are other writers… I think I would probably choose CJ Cherryh. Her Chanur Saga remains my favorite science fiction series (well, tied with The Robot Novels).

Readers! Interested in checking out Augment? You can find it on Amazon and Goodreads!

Though a part-time editor by day, Heather Hayden's not-so-secret identity is that of a writer—at night she pours heart and soul into science fiction and fantasy novels. In March 2015 she published her first novella, Augment, a YA science fiction story filled with excitement, danger, and the strength of friendship. She immediately began work on its sequel, Upgrade, which continues the adventures of Viki, a girl who loves to run, and her friend Halle, an AI. You can learn more about Heather and her stories through her blog and her Twitter, both of which consist of equal amounts of writerly things and random stuff she’s interested in.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

On Medium

When I was in tenth grade, my English teacher challenged the class to reach deep and find our passions. This passion of ours, he said, would be a driving force in our life, and could be the center of a fulfilling career if we worked hard to make it so. My passion, above anything else at the time, was video games, specifically - the stories within them.

Years later, after failing to get into the saturated games industry, I would dissect that passion to it's core - telling stories - but as a fifteen-year-old hardcore gamer, nothing sounded better in life than having a story I wrote make it into a video game.

Fifteen-year-old me wasn't especially smart (spoiler alert, fifteen-year-old me, we didn't get better), and the worlds and stories I'd started crafting were more suitable as wiki pages than stories suitable to play through. My storytelling strategy was to create the story first, line it all out, and then maybe put some fights or something in between what would be awesome cinemas. Basically, I was writing Final Fantasy XIII.

As I grew up and began dabbling in a game design major in college ("dabbled" is code for "I failed calculus three times and switched to a lit major"), I started to recognize that my favorite games weren't the ones that could be called "movie-games," or games that are primarily cinematic. 

My favorite games were and are the ones where story and gameplay are in sync. I'm talking about games like Undertale, Bioshock, KOTOR, Mass Effect, Dragon Age (I love you, Bioware), and the Deus Ex series. Games where the story justifies aspects of the gameplay, and vice versa.

The thing about stories in games is that no matter how compelling the story is, I'm there for the gameplay. I'm there to play a video game. There are gazillions of good stories in books and movies and plays, and if I wanted to sit and stare, I'd watch or read one of those. When I pick up a game, I want it to be a primarily playable experience, with an awesome story folded in.

I see so many people interested in video game storytelling who craft these crazy awesome stories, but completely sidestep the fact that they're writing something for a playable entertainment. I don't judge. I did the same thing. But I implore these people - and everyone interested in telling stories - to choose a medium that works with the story they want to tell. It's a strangely quiet, overlooked part of the process.

Any story could be told in any medium, certainly, but each medium is sort of like a toolkit. The fundamentals are the same - crafting character, plot, world - but the ways you can tell the story differ drastically between the mediums.

Video Games

In the video game storytelling toolkit, you have visuals, audio, acting, dialogue, but the kit is distinctly different from a movie because the final product must be one that is playable. When one is crafting a game story, they must ask themselves how the story will function with gameplay, how it can accent the playable experience, and how it can immerse the player further in the interactive world.


Much like video games, stories told through movies or television can utilize sound, visuals, acting, dialogue, but it can also benefit from the magic of scene composition. The way actors are positioned in a frame, the angle of shots, the lighting, the things that are happening in the background, etc. One of my favorite Youtube channels, Every Frame a Painting, has excellent videos on storytelling in film. If you're interested, check out EFP's video on Edgar Wright. It's good, and it'll show you what I mean about using this toolkit effectively.


In this toolkit, there are simply words (talking grand scale here, I realize some books come with maps and pretty pictures, but the quintessential novel is a giant block of text and we love it just the way it is). With this, you have the ability to create an in-depth narrative, a close look at character(s), and plenty of space to tell the tale. But - you also have to hold someone's attention for hours longer than most films, all without the interactivity of a video game. There's no music, no visuals - just the magic of words.

There are several other storytelling toolkits, such as plays, oral storytelling, comic books, etc., but those are all similar to the mediums already mentioned, and so I won't bore you with further details. The point is, mediums are all very different. It's like choosing between different types of drawing mediums. There are paints, pens, pencils, and multitudes of variations between those. For one to maximize the awesomeness of their tale, they have to take their medium into serious account, else, they run the risk of not using their toolkit effectively, or misusing it.

So, what do you think? What are your favorite mediums to experience stories in, and for the crafters among you, what are your favorite mediums to tell stories through?
Vanille Screenshot Credit:

Thursday, July 28, 2016

How to Write Strong Female Characters: Make Them Make Choices

Women's representation in popular fiction has made strides in the last eight months. A woman played the lead role in Star Wars, the world was gifted an all-star, all-female Ghostbusters cast, and the last season of Game of Thrones featured a plethora of lady badassery. But while this representation has improved, the idea of not only female characters, but strong female characters is still a hot ticket item.

The concept of strong female characters has always seemed to confuse people, with many taking the definition of "strong" to be literally, physically fit, and many critics pointing out that the resulting characters of this misunderstanding are just "men in women's clothing." Peruse any writing forum or any discussion of the subject on reddit, and you'll see a lot of debate about what makes up this elusive concept.

But this idea of a strong female character was never the question. It was the answer. It was the answer to a lack of female representation, and it was the answer to one too many ladies who could be replaced by sexy lamps in popular fiction. But what does a strong female character actually mean?

It's actually quite simple.

One of the most important things to remember when choosing characters for fiction is that people are diverse. And all of these different types of people have the potential to be great characters. It doesn't matter what race they are, what abilities they have, what their sexuality is, what size jeans they wear, if they're rich or poor, how they dress, and especially not what their sex is.

A strong female character is a strong character, who also happens to be female. And what do strong characters do?

They make meaningful choices that affect the plot.

That's it. Yes, really, it's that simple. Stop looking at me like that. 

Look, the characters we root for - the characters we feel like we know - are the ones who have goals. Whether it's Harry Potter attempting to thwart Voldemort, or Daenerys Targaryen trying to take back Westeros, we root for characters with goals. We root for them because they have stakes in their tale - they have something to lose - and because through these goals and stakes, we learn the depth of their character.

But imagine if Harry did nothing. 

Imagine if Daenerys made no choices.

Would they still be strong? Would we still root for them as much if they sat on their ass, looking to others to solve their problems for them? I don't think so. We'd grow tired of them very quickly. Look at all your favorite fiction. Think of all your favorite characters. I'd bet every single one of them makes choices - meaningful choices, choices that affect the plot.

Choices that affect the plot are choices that if removed entirely, would render the plot incomplete and/or nonsensical. Stated simply: if you can remove a choice made by a character, and it doesn't change the plot or the outcome at all, it wasn't a meaningful choice.

To illustrate an example, I turn your attention to one of my all-time favorite movies, the swashbuckling Pirates of the Caribbean and its lady lead, Elizabeth Swann.

Elizabeth is a GREAT example of a strong female character, primarily because she refutes one of the most common complaints about them - that they're men in women's clothing. There are no issues with masculine women in fiction (we exist, after all), and they make great characters just the same, but Elizabeth is a good fit because she shows you can write a strong female character without making them literally strong, or so sassy as to abandon all social constructs around women.

Pirates of the Caribbean takes place in the mid 18th century, and considering it's a Disney movie, it makes decent attempts to convey the inherent sexism of the time. There are no female leaders, there are scarce few female pirates, most women are showcased as prostitutes on Tortuga or maids in wealthy homes, and the movie opens with one of the main characters, Gibbs, talking about how it's bad luck to have a woman on-board.

Elizabeth herself is very much a lady. She leads a pampered life as the governor's daughter, is gifted with dresses, toted around in carriages, and doted on by her suitor. Several instances in the film make a point of her feminine lack of physical strength, and yet highlight her lady-like (as in class) diplomacy as a counter-point. Her strength is not displayed in sword-fighting or bravado or tactical expertise, but simply through her choices.

Here are just four pivotal choices Elizabeth makes in the film, that if removed, would demolish the plot:

  • Her first choice in the movie's prologue - deciding to take young Will Turner's medallion and hide it - launches the entire story. It's hiding that treasure that intertwines her, Will's, the Black Pearl's, and even Jack Sparrow's fate. 
  • When trapped on the desert island with Jack in the latter half of the film, she takes the risk to blow up all the rum --

  • -- which attracts the Royal Navy. Without taking this risk, it's likely she and Jack would have never been found, and it's this choice that reunites her with Norrington. Her choice actively advances the plot in a logically sound way, but puts her in the hands of a man who just want to go home and leave Elizabeth's romantic interest, Will, for dead. (A great example of choices begetting consequences!)
  • Knowing that Norrington owes no allegiance to Will, and that Will will die without aid, Elizabeth chooses to sacrifice her ultimate happiness (being with Will) by betrothing herself to Norrington, in exchange for his assistance. Again, without Elizabeth's intervention, Norrington would have gone home to Port Royal, leaving Will to a nasty fate at the hands of Barbosa. Thus, she advances the plot in a meaningful way through a choice.
  • Finally, in the battle between Norrington and Barbosa's forces on the Isla de Muerta, Elizabeth sneaks off the HMS Dauntless and single-handedly frees Sparrow's crew imprisoned on the Black Pearl. While she didn't receive the aid of those she rescued, this action directly allowed for Jack's happy ending after escaping the noose in Port Royal at the end of the film. 
While these choices are pivotal, they're only a fraction of the decisions Elizabeth made throughout the film. For having co-led with two other characters, she made a great deal of meaningful decisions and asserted herself as a strong female character through the entirety of the movie. If you haven't seen it, well, holy cow, dude, go watch it. It's good.

Now, that being said, does the movie pass the Bechdel Test? No. Does it pass the Mako Mori test? Not really. Does it pass the Bechdel Test for People of Color? Nooo no no no no no. And these are problems. These are issues. They show us that we still have a long way to go before tests like these are being passed all the time, and the subject of the strong female character is no longer debated and confused. But if fiction writers can understand that strength is built in choices, and that we need diverse representation among characters who make those choices, then hopefully, there will be progress.

So what do you think? Who are some of your favorite strong female characters, and how can fiction writers keep these issues at the forefront while crafting their stories?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Author Interview: H.L. Burke

Do you like dragons? Epic, fantastical tales of love and loss played out by daring, witty characters? If so, you may already be a fan of H.L. Burke, author of several works of fiction spanning worlds of magic, kittens, and yes of course, dragons.

Tabitha: Thank you for doing this, H.L.! Tell us about yourself! What drew you to writing?

H.L.: I like to talk. While I wrote my first few stories when I was really young, I didn't start really getting into it until I was around nine. My friends and I had very elaborate imaginative play scenarios, so I took it upon myself to write down the best ones, then expand on them. They got put into a three ring binder and then passed around the group, and from then on I was hooked. I was lucky to have one friend, Ashley, who would read pretty much everything I wrote growing up. In fact, sometimes we'd share a table, her reading on one side, while I wrote as fast as I could on the other.

Later I started using the computer, and I had a mailing list (back in the days when hotmail and MSN messenger were the craze) of other kids I'd send short, funny stories to. Writing has always been a bit of a social thing for me. 

T: Nice! Let's dig into your writing a bit. In your Dragon and the Scholar (DatS) series, there is oodles of romantic tension between Shannon and two love interests: the dragon, Ewan, and the Prince Ryan. With the “love triangle” being a common trope, what strategies did you use to keep the romance fresh and engaging?

H.L: It's all about the characters. In order for a love triangle to be sustainable for me, the “second man” has to be a good enough guy that the woman could fall for him without you shouting at her that she's an idiot…but that causes a problem: if he's a good guy, as good a guy as the other guy, why would she abandon him, hurt him, for the sake of the other guy? I didn't want Shannon to be calloused, just playing with Ryan's heart so she could abandon him at Ewan's return. I didn't want Shannon to be stupid, drawn in by a man who wasn't worthy of her, so I decided to make it clear that as much as Shannon was “settling” for Ryan, Ryan was “settling” for Shannon.

Ryan is an injured character, trying to put himself together. He's logical and a bit repressed because the one time he let his guard down, he got knocked to the ground. I didn't want him to be attracted to Shannon because of passion or because she was some sort of irresistible “man magnet,” but because she was kind, and he was desperate for something—someone—to wrap around himself like a bandage. For me, with Ryan, that emotion worked better than romantic interest. I felt for him as a character not because he loved Shannon but because he needed love in general.

On the other hand, you have Ewan. Ewan only has one real issue by this point in the story. He's come to terms with his dragon nature. He's learned to make it work except for one aspect, and that one aspect is Shannon. His separation from Shannon is a gaping wound in his soul that really only she can heal.
Shannon is in a similar state to Ewan, desperate for him, feeling as if he's ripped her heart out because he abandons her “for her own good.” She recognizes Ryan's pain, understands it, and longs to heal it, but it's also more about comfort from her end than love. Of course, Ryan can offer her things that Ewan, as a dragon, cannot, mainly marriage and a family of her own someday.

Ideally the reader will end up rooting for both Ryan and Ewan, only in different ways, without getting angry at Shannon when she makes her choice.

T: Are there any "writer rules" you love to break? Ones you swear by?

H.L: I question everything. It is weird to me the sort of things that can become “rules” in some people's minds. It isn't like there is a big "how to" book somewhere.

I jumped into a fray in a group of writers once where a person asked about italicized inner thoughts and someone told them to use them “sparingly - never more than five or six times in an entire book.” Then when I said I didn't agree, they tried to claim it was a “rule” as if that gave it some sort of clout. I was like, “Whose rule? Where is it written? Why should I trust whoever wrote it?” They didn't give me a link to some sort of writer in the sky who had proclaimed that the number should be “no more than six…seven is right out,” so I feel I won that one. (I'm a little competitive).

Though I think to me “show not tell,” while it can definitely be taken too far, is probably the most important. When you show something, you allow the reader to use their imagination and draw conclusions which makes writing more interesting. I don't want to be told what to think of the scene. I just want you to show me the scene and let me use my brain.

But even that can be taken too far. A lot of my early work needed clarification. The reader would ask me, “But how does he feel about this?” and I'd think, “He shrugged. What more do you need?”

T: It's rare to see female villains, and I LOVE that you use them in several of your works. Do you find there's much a difference between how you write a female vs. male villain?

H.L: Men underestimate women. Even women underestimate women. I think that makes them sneakier in some ways. Also, since a lot of my heroes are no-nonsense, type A, men of action sorts, it's kind of fun to throw a woman in an elegant dress and perfect hair at them and just watch them squirm because “I can't punch my way out of this, can I?”

A woman, rarely, is able to get what she wants by force. She needs to use other weapons. I will also admit, I do nuanced villains better as females. I have an easier time wrapping my mind around their frustrations and possibly even liking them a bit. I've been getting better at bad men (not evil men, I guess I've known enough that I can handle writing them), but I think when trying to think of “evil but relatable” my mind goes to my own dark corners and sees what hides there first.

T: Speaking of sex and gender, your DatS series is unafraid to show the sexism and gender roles of the medieval time that seems to have inspired the books. How did you work with such a sensitive topic, especially with a female protagonist?  

H.L: It was a bit of a balance because I wanted to make the setting feel realistic to the perceived time frame, but still give my female main character the freedom to move in that world. It wouldn't be much of a story if she were burned at the stake for wearing pants at the beginning of book two…well, it would've been a much shorter story, anyway. 

This is a really lighthearted tale, a fairy tale even, so I didn't want too much darkness. Mainly I wrote Shannon as the sort of character who is more concerned with what she sees as right than perception…in fact sometimes she's blissfully unaware of how others perceive her. She's a little trusting and naive, and part of her arc is learning to assert herself when her nature is very much to avoid conflict, so she does become a more powerful character by book four.  

Ewan is protective of her, not so much because she's a woman but because he's a protective sort. He's the same way with his brother and best friend in places, and part of Ewan's arc is learning to trust those he loves, including Shannon, rather than to always try to be the protective big brother who holds things together.

So I was always more focused on the individual characters and their place in the story, then I was necessarily about gender roles…and a lot of my bad guys are sexist mainly because that's an easy way to get the reader to root against them. I'll admit, it's a writer's trick, but it works.

T: You have eleven books, a box set, and a handful of short stories out in the world (wow), all self-published. Why did you choose the self-publishing path, and what has been your experience so far?  

H.L: What really attracts me to self-publishing is the speed and flexibility. There's no waiting on other people. I write what I want, release it when I feel it is ready, and then move on. If I need a change of pace, I switch sub-genres. If I don't feel like marketing, I don't. I might not make as much money that month, but I won't burn out. I like to be able to get my books into the hands of my readers in a few months rather than a few years. I don't need to get rich doing this, though I admit, my long term goal is to make enough that my husband can retire for real when his years in the military are up, rather than one or both of us having to start another career.

T: Any advice for all the fellow writers out there? 

H.L: Don't ask for permission. Too many beginning writers start out with, “I have this idea for this book. Can you tell me if it is a good idea?” Then they get discouraged if people don't get excited about it, or someone points out it has been done before in some incarnation.  

Just write the book and see if it is a good idea. If it isn't you can always write something else, and now you at least know you can write something. The next one will be better…and probably easier. I promise!

T: Up for a fun question or two?

H.L.: YES YES YES! I'm all about fun questions. Are there any dragons?

T: Why yes, there are! Who is one of your favorite dragons?

H.L.: My favorite dragon is Chrysophylax, the sneaky dragon from Tolkien's lesser known "Farmer Giles of Ham," because he is sneaky, but still rather clever. 

T: If you could live in any fictional world, which world would you pick and what would you do there?  

H.L: Hmm … this is hard. I kind of want to be vain and pick Gelia from Beggar Magic because they have audible magic floating everywhere that you can talk to and get to do the dishes for you. Can you imagine, humming, invisible spirits doing your housework? I'd have them do everything.

But I also would like to spend a little bit of time in Middle Earth. I know that's everyone's answer (or most everyone), but it's so wild and wondrous … and it has handsome Rangers. I love tall, dark, and rugged rangers. The dragons there aren't very nice though … I'm sure I could talk one down, though. 

T: With your penchant for the fire-breathing beasties, I'm sure you could too! Thank you again for taking the time to do this interview! I'm looking forward to many more of your works to come.

Readers! Interested in checking out the Dragon and the Scholar saga? Good news! The first in the series, Dragon's Curse, is free right now over on Amazon! If you'd rather get the whole series in one go, check out the box set!

Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.

An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.

Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.

She is the author of a four part fantasy/romance series entitled "The Scholar and the Dragon," YA/Fantasy "Beggar Magic," and MG/Fantasy "Thaddeus Whiskers and the Dragon," among others . Her current projects are a young adult Steampunk fantasy and an epic fantasy trilogy.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Thank You, Readers!

Holy heck, it has been a whirlwind these last few months.

Among a flurry of life changes, all 1 of my loyal readers (hi, mom!) might have caught onto the fact that I released a BOOK at the end of March. That book is, of course, Overshadowed, and I have been absolutely delighted (and, admittedly, a little shocked) by its reception.

Since its release in late March, it has sold just shy of 200 copies in addition to the tens of thousands of pages read through kindleunlimited. It's gotten 14 ratings - all positive - across Amazon and Goodreads. Given that, as an often doubtful, debut self-published author, I was expecting to maybe sell ten copies and earn a handful of 1-star reviews to cry over, it's safe to say I'm flying pretty high over these results.

Now that I'm back from my great-I-released-a-book-but-now-I-have-to-adult-for-a-while break, I can say things are only looking up from here. Case in point: I am happy to announce that as of yesterday afternoon, print copies of Overshadowed are available at Bookshop Santa Cruz! *cue squee*

photo courtesy of

To be placed among the shelves of my favorite bookstore - the place where I'd spend countless afternoons during college - is a dream come true. I'm so excited to be working with the awesome staff over there. And that's just the tip of the iceberg for my Overshadowed plans. 

Obviously, I owe all of this modest success to my readers. So if you have read, are reading, or are even considering reading Overshadowed, I thank you sincerely - from the bottom, middle, and top of my heart (that's a lot of love, guys). Seriously. Without readers, my dream of being an author just wouldn't be possible. So, thank you!

For those of you who like reading fiction and non-fiction, craft-based discussions, you might be interested to hear I'll be starting a new series of posts this month titled Composing Story. These posts will delve into the details of major storytelling pillars such as plot, character, narrative thrust, and medium. I'll also be launching a new series of author interviews, with the first one coming out this month! With who? Well, that's a surprise, and you'll have to come back to find out! (She's totally worth coming back for. Trust me.)

So thank you, dear readers and possible burgeoning fanbase, for stopping by to give this update a look. I hope you come back to witness all the new series posts soon! :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Overshadowed Cover Reveal!

Hi all! I am super splendiforously stoked to share Overshadowed's cover with everyone! Without further ado, here it is!

Isn't it awesome?! Huge thanks to my cover designer, Alisha for taking my shrug in answer to: "what do you want on the cover?" and turning it into that. 

When is the book dropping, you ask? Excellent question! It will be available in print and electronic copies through Amazon on March 24th, 2016! If you like space pirates, morally gray villains, sci-fi swords, and devastatingly overpowered alien invaders, you might consider checking it out! In fact, you can head on over to the "Overshadowed" tab at the top of this page and get access to the entire first chapter absolutely free.

Want to read all of it for free?

Comment on this post with your favorite science-fiction or "real-life" sci-fi weapon, and a participant will be randomly selected to receive a free signed print copy of Overshadowed on release date! Don't forget to include your email address so I can contact you if you're selected!

A winner will be chosen on February 22! Good luck!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Cheesy Poem About Love and Halo (Happy Valentine's Day!)

"Happy Valentines Day!" he wakes to say,
"I have an idea of what to play:
that one on the xbox where you have lots of fun,
you're seven feet tall and sprint with a gun."

"Halo?" I ask, still half asleep.
(The last time he played, it was weak)
(Don't get me wrong; he's an awesome gamer)
(just can't bring his keyboard and mouse to slayer*)

"Okay, that sounds like fun," I say.
After all, it's Valentine's Day.

Multi-Team Headhunter on Powerhouse.
Partner learns to fear his spouse --
raining down on bottom mid with rockets,
plucking skulls from Spartan pockets.

"Run to mid!" I jump and say,
not seeing teammate #3 in my way.
BETRAYAL the director roars,
and to the sky, our ally soars.

"Did he just quit?" my partner asks.
"Yes," I answer, "so we better run fast.
There's a bunch of skulls left by Cliff Gate
Let's go get 'em; I can hardly wait."

This next part, I'm loathe to admit
a terrible tactic that makes the best of us quit.
I camped by shotgun where a new return point would appear
so I could get all the skulls and be in the clear.

But my partner spawns and cries,
"Look at all these skulls left by people who died!"
He runs through the field I was to pillage
accumulating enough skulls to fill a whole village.

His navpoint flashes an imminent Skullamanjaro
He barely has time to yell "Whoah!"
as the radar blots with endless red
and a swarm of enemies come to make us dead.

And though unsurprisingly, we don't manage a win
Halo's always worth it when I'm playing it with him. 

*PC Gamers can reclaim their mouse-worshipping awesomeness when playing Halo Online!

Happy Valentine's Day, Geeks! Here's hoping everyone's at full hearts today!