Now with added…Fantasy!

Keith Willis is someone, like many in the #writingcommunity, that I’ve met online, usually via Twitter.  The writing community on Twitter is amazingly supportive, but in this respect Keith is a prince amongst men – a veritable elder statesman in his kindness, especially to those finding their feet on Twitter, at the writing game, or at life.  If I were tempted to get a tattoo, I might very well go for “Be more Keith”.  But his kindness, humour, and wisdom aside, Keith is a perfect guest for our ‘Now with added…’ slot.  As you’ll know by now, if you’ve been following along for a while, we invite writers who we’ve found to be particularly associated with a specific genre.  Keith is the author of the Knights of Kilbourne series, and he’s going to tell us a bit about how knights and dragons intersect with his life in upstate New York…


 

Thank you, David and Debs, for extending the invitation for me to participate in “Now with added…” But I have to say, this examination of the intersection of life and fiction has caused me a great deal of rumination, agita, and head pounding. As a writer of fantasy fiction, I don’t really deal in the niggling details of “real” life and thus wasn’t even sure where to begin.

So how does my fantasy world intersect my life? When I was wrestling with this dragon, David prompted me by asking, “Would you visit/live in the world you’ve created?” And when I thought about it, my answer was, “In a heartbeat.”

I love the world I’ve created, and I think it would be a marvelous place to live. Kilbourne is (call me a traditionalist) a fairly idyllic placed, based on an amalgam of Scotland and Wales and set in a rather Renaissance era. Books exist in my world. So do clocks. But no gunpowder-based weapons; my heroes and villains battle with barbed words, edged swords, or fists.

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Friar Keith, declaiming from his books

Kilbourne is a world not so very unlike our own. It’s a world of gallant chivalry and base cupidity. Of loyalty and honor, and duplicity and deception. Of politics and intrigue, of romance and wonder. In my fantasy world, while there are no megalomaniacal overlords out to subjugate the masses, there are certainly despots seeking power through conquest. Set against those, there’s no long awaited Chosen One, but simply people trying (and often failing) to do the right thing.

 

It’s a world of—and here’s the “added” bit—magic and dragons. And this is why I want to live there. Our own mundane world is seriously lacking in both categories and, it might be argued, would benefit from a bit of both (Game of Thrones not-withstanding). I long for a world where magic does indeed work, and where majestic dragons soar the skies.

I think that’s why so many readers gravitate to fantastical fiction. It’s that subtle “What if?” that allows us to view the world as it might be, if things were just a bit different, had that little “added…”

And yet, in a small way, my life does actually intersect my fantasy world, by way of the Renaissance Faires I attend each year. There, for the space of a weekend, I can be immersed in jousters and jesters, royals and rogues, wizards and witches, brigands, bards, and barmaids. I can soak up the magic that fuels my stories. I can also engage with the folks for whom I write them. Because they, like me, are seeking a piece of the magic. And so I get an earful of what they like (and don’t like) about fantasy. And because I have to be in character, I can magically become someone I’m not—the gregarious, garrulous scribe known as Friar Keith. I can tell awful jokes and get away with it (“I used to be a Friar, but I got so plump the Abbot made me a roaster…” bah dum tsss). I can shamelessly flirt with a wanton gypsy gal (if only because she happens to be my wife).

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Renaissance Faires – a family business!

One thing I’ve come to realize over the (relatively short) course of my writing career is that all fiction is, in fact, fantasy of a sort. We writers make it all up as we go along (except for the memoir folks, and I’ve often wondered if even some of their work may be more conveniently contrived than factual). But while all fiction is fantasy (small “f”), not all fiction is Fantasy (capital “F”). Those of us who write Fantasy add that little bit extra—the magic that make our worlds go round.

 

Keith W. Willis is the author of the Knights of Kilbourne series (Champagne Book Group). He can be found at https://www.keithwillisauthor.com/, on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kilbourneknight, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TRAITOR-KNIGHT-191368320972613/.  Keith lives in upstate NY, in that magical land lying between the Hudson Valley and the Adirondack Mountains. His most recent book, Enchanted Knight, was released in April 2020. Keith is hard at work on the next Kilbourne adventure, tentatively titled The Knight Job, along with a children’s picture book project about Wyvrndell the Dragon.

You can find Keith’s books at all ebook retailers, including https://tinyurl.com/yd99hx5r. For those interested in signed paperbacks, visit his websiteKWW3  KWW4

© Keith W. Willis, 2020 (Main text)

© Fiction Can Be Fun, 2020 (Introduction)

#WritersResources: How to select your Book’s title

No matter what stage you are at in the writing/editing process, the subject of what to call your book will be on your mind at some point. If you’re one of those lucky people, safe in the knowledge you’ve already got a fabulous title in mind, the following is likely to be of limited interest. For the rest of you, read on …

Although David and I do have a working title for our WIP, I thought I’d test out the free downloadable workbook which Faye Kirwin has put together – How to Mind Map the perfect title.

“Thinking up pretty, witty and epic sounding titles is the last stage in finding the perfect name for your book baby. Start your search by uncovering the heart of your story, the features that define your novel and give it its soul, and refine what you find from there.

Before you know it, you’ll have a title that has readers plucking it off the shelves, a title that is intrinsically connected to the story it belongs to. Because they’re the titles that readers remember.”

On then to the worksheet. Although Kirwin uses this quote to close the detailed and informative blog post which accompanies and supports her workbook, I felt it was important to start with it.

As with many other “how to” guides, Kirwin starts with a review and gathering process, with hers broken down into three primary sections – Names, Story and Meaningful. The Names section covers characters, settings/location, time period, any key object/event. The Story section includes major themes, character goals/motivation, key conflicts, and key terms which relate to the story’s genre. Finally, Meaningful is for bits of dialogue/narrative, words or phrases describing or fitting characters, and any meaningful words or phrases that don’t fit anywhere else. In each case, the blog post provides examples. Using the mind map templates (or your own), you are encouraged to develop each, adding descriptive detail as you go.

The next pair of worksheets are entitled Splurge and Word Class. The blog post goes into considerable detail on the Type of Words you might consider for your title, again providing examples of which you may choose and why, whereas Splurge is the place for just dumping any and all ideas.

So, cutting to the chase, would I recommend the workbook? Yes I would. I found it useful as it made me consider aspects I’d not before, especially the section on types of words, and how the use of different types of word could convey a particular meaning.

But I did also come across some other excellent works on the subject. For example, Kristen Kieffer made the observation that character-driven stories are often named after the protagonist, or the themes revealed through the protagonist’s story arc. This could save you time in the review and gathering process as there are – potentially – less aspects of your story to review. But it was this question about plot-driven stories which really struck me :

“If you’re struggling, ask yourself what lies at the crux of your story. What element, if removed, would utterly deflate its plot?

Without the Hunger Games, for example, Katniss wouldn’t have had to volunteer as tribute to save her sister. Neither would the Pevensie children have found their way to Narnia if the lion, the witch, or the wardrobe did not exist.”

I also found this post at iUniverse helpful in that it addresses some basic Rules, but their 10 tips also addressed the gathering process slightly differently :

1. Consider the essence of your book. What is your book truly about? Is there an underlying theme that runs throughout your story? How about a universal concept or feeling?

2. Look over your book’s text. Are there any lines that jump out at you? Are there phrases that sum up the theme of your book? Is there a trait in the main character that runs through the storyline?

3. Add perspective. How do your characters see themselves? Do they have a specific flaw or quality? When and where does your story take place? Does your story have a unique perspective?

4. Consider the visual. Is there a special setting in your story? Can you describe the uniqueness of the main setting or destination?

5. Add some mystery. Pique readers’ interests by teasing them a bit with your title.Create a question, mention something of meaning without explaining it or express your book’s main theme as a dilemma.

6. Research best-selling titles in your book’s genre. Notice the titles that stand out to you and consider the elements that drew you to them. How can you replicate that effect in your title?

7. Search for words in the dictionary. Flip to a random page in your dictionary and look over the words. Do any of them stand out? Add them to your list and repeat.

8. Consider song lyrics and lines from poems and other books. Are there lyrics that fit with your book’s genre and theme? Are there poem lines that pop out to you? Just stay mindful of copyright.

9. Free write. Jot down every title, word or combination of words that comes to mind.

10. Change up your words. Try adding an adjective or verb to the main idea of your book. Use your character’s title or role. Exchange a more commonplace word for a more powerful, descriptive, uncommon word.

Time for a Break (1)

Once you’ve got your short-list together, sleep on it before making your decision. Then, if you’re still unsure, do some testing, get some trusted (or random) opinions. Finally, check back to Faye Kirwin’s quote above – is it a reflection of your story’s heart? If not, you probably need to re-think it.

What methodology do you use for deciding on your book’s title?


© Debra Carey, 2020

#SecondThoughts: The rise of Nigerian authors

A couple of years ago, I wrote about Nigerian authors, admitting it was only in recent years I’d started to read output from this country, despite having lived there for six years during my youth. But, following a mixed reception given at my book club to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s masterful work Americanah, I wondered if the work of Nigerian authors may have limited, rather than widespread appeal.

Except that, pretty much ever since I’ve had that thought, the world has been proving me wrong – or at least those who hand out literary awards …

2019 Booker Award

Girl, Woman, Other, Bernadine Evaristo – co-winner
An Orchestra of Minorities, Chigozie Obioma – shortlisted for the second time
My Sister, The Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite – longlisted with her first published work

2019 Women’s prize for Fiction

My Sister, The Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite – shortlisted
Ordinary People, Diana Evans – shortlisted
Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi – longlisted

There are (many) other examples, but I don’t want to turn this into one long list …

This recent breakthrough onto the world stage follows a discernible pattern evident in African awards. 2019’s Caine Prize for African Writing (an award celebrating the diversity of the African short-story writing tradition) listed two Nigerian authors in it’s shortlist of five. Now in its 19th year, Nigeria has provided a quarter of its previous winners. Similarly, the 25-name shortlist for 2019’s Brittle Paper Awards (for African writing), contained a staggering 10 authors from Nigeria.

Of course Nigerian authors have been receiving awards for quite a while, most notably Wole Soyinka’s Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, Ben Okri’s Booker in 1991 for The Famished Road, and Chinua Achebe’s International Booker in 2007, but much of the early international success was achieved before the country’s independence from Britain in 1960. Years of military dictatorship followed, and when international publishing ambitions were stunted, many authors joined the rush of intellectuals deciding to leave the country, to build new lives and new families overseas. For those authors who stayed, the situation could be perilous – Wole Soyinka received a death sentence ‘in absentia’, while Ken Saro-Wiwa hung in 1995.

Nevertheless, the success achieved on the international stage by early pioneering Nigerian authors encouraged the literary ambitions of the new generation of Nigerian authors we see now. In 2015, the British Council reported the “incredibly vibrant literary scene in Nigeria itself”. Indeed, the last 15 years has seen a significant rise in the number of publishing houses in Nigeria, meaning authors don’t have to go overseas to seek publication – which had been the norm previously. Nigerian authors themselves are growing in confidence, no longer feeling they need to translate their use of Nigerian English – as one author said recently “there’s no need to italicise or explain, they can Google it!” I also cannot deny how tremendously pleased I am to see increasing numbers of women in this group.

Last but not least, the first Ake Arts & Book Festival had it’s inauguration in 2013, and has since gone from strength to strength in celebrating Nigeria’s cultural & literary identity.

Some among this new generation of authors chose to remain in Nigeria, some have made their homes elsewhere, there’s also a number who count both Nigeria and another country as their home. But there’s no doubting they’re now regular faces on international prize lists, receiving both admiration and acclaim.  I’m hoping this rise in the success of Nigerian authors on the world stage will see increasing numbers of readers being introduced to this rich literary vein.


© Debra Carey, 2020

#FlashFiction: On the stroke of Midnight

The mouse’s nose twitched as it lurked in the very entrance of it’s lair in the wainscoting.  The scent of cheese was a tantalising strand in a web of such odours that richly filled the small, cramped workshop, and it drew the mouse out into the candlelit night.  A clock on a shelf struck the first note of midnight.

The cheese and it’s accompanying bread belonged to the figure hunched over the workbench, and had been long forgotten.  Bahrd, Edgesmith, in exile from his people and his guild, picked up another delicate piece of mechanism and fitted it into it’s assigned place in the clock he was building.  It’s twin sat to one side of the bench, already complete.  There were two curious features about clocks, one of which the clockmakers of this benighted land knew, and one which they did not.  They knew, though not why, that even two such identical clocks could not keep perfectly in time, one with the other.  What they did not know was that, to some extent, this deficit could be overcome by attaching both clocks to a single spar.  Bahrd could have explained the physics that kept the pendulums in sympathy with each other, but this was a Guild secret, and, too, it was doubtful that anyone here would understand.  Still, Lionel the Venturer was paying well for these clocks and he must finish them before daybreak.

Bahrd reached for another tiny cogwheel that needed to be placed just so, picked it up delicately with a pair of tweezers and just as he was putting it in its appointed two place, two other things happened at the same time.  His ear caught the clock starting to strike midnight but the mouse twitching its nose again went unremarked.

If it had been capable of making such distinctions, the mouse might have felt that the note struck was rather sonorous for such a small clock.  But the mouse was incapable for two important reasons.  Firstly, it was a mouse; secondly, it had been frozen in time.

It was only when the piece was in place and he was thinking about the next that Bahrd realised that he had only heard the bon- and no accompanying -ong.  He looked around and saw the mouse.

(-ooonnnn-)

The mouse did not move in ten heartbearts, and neither did the clock on the shelf.  Bahrd sighed and pinched the bridge of his sharp, pointed nose.

(-ooonnnn-)

He lined up his delicate watch making tools.  Thus soothed, somewhat, he glanced around the room.  The fire in the grate had long since burned down to the merest sullen embers; the candle had burned down too, but the flame was still bravely dancing above the last half-inch of wax.  Or it had been until it too had been frozen in place, bent mid-flciker.  Bahrd sighed again.

(-ooonnnn-)

Barhd thought for a moment and then took a delicate glass goblet down from the shelf and filled it with water from a carafe.  A pattern of ripples formed immediately.  Bahrd dipped a stubby finger into the water and then made the goblet sing by delicately wetting the rim and running his finger around it.

There was a modulation in the note that rang out, but it was very faint, and Bahrd could not discern meaning, although he was sure that it was there.  He quickly improvised a hearing trumpet, such as an elderly person might use to stop younger people from shouting at them.

Bahrd help me!

“If you can reach out this far and stop time, what need you of me?  I cannot match that power.”

In this I am powerless.  I need an agent, one who knows our ways.  My daughter is trapped.

“And there is no other?”

No other.  Please come.

Bahrd grumbled under his breath, but more for the sake of form than from any real belligerence.  He pulled on boots, a many pocketed waistcoat with various tools tucked away, just in case.  An Edgesmith may not always have the perfect tool for any situation, but where there is a will, there is a way…  Hard grey eyes interrogated the room.  Was there anything else that he needed?  On slightly more than a whim he grabbed the carafe and without waiting further touched his fingers lightly to the water.  A moment later, only the still frozen mouse kept vigil in the workshop.

*****

At this point in the long hot summer, the mighty river Socatoa was a whisper of its winter-self.  Still, there was enough power here for the river-god to have transported Bahrd over a thousand miles from his workshop.  The light of dawn washed across the river, causing points of brilliance to dance redly even on this green-brown silty surface.  A bubble formed within the torpid water and rose to the surface, disgorging the Edgesmith onto the bank.  Bahrd drew himself up to his full five feet and looked around.  He was on the shore formed where a tributary joined the river.  The stream had dwindled under the heat of the sun until the barest trickle meandered between the rocks on the bed to join its parent.  As if to underline the obvious, a finger of water pointed up the tributary, attempting to make jabbing gestures as it rolled with the flowing water.

Bahrd carefully put the carafe on the bank and hoisted himself up beside it.  In some ways, the easiest path might be to follow the course of the river, but who knew what might be found further up.  Picking up the receptacle, he noted landmarks and set off.

He did not find the spot where he needed to be until early in the afternoon.  By now he was in amongst some low hills and the passing of ages had cut the normally fast flowing stream deep into the earth.  He’d come out a little higher up the valley then he needed to be and so started to find a way to scramble down.  The gorge was surprisingly green; the sides were thick with trees of many different types and ages.  Several had fallen, perhaps loosened from precarious perches as the ground dried out around their roots.

Despite his careful steps, there was a nasty moment when he slipped and the carafe leapt from his hands, seemingly determined to dash itself to pieces.  He reached a hand to it just in time, kept it from the ground and juggled it back under control again.  His reckless downhill progress brought him to the bank of where the stream should have been, and he saw what had happened.  The water, much restricted, moved only through certain channels at the bottom of the river.  The Naiad had become stuck in a pool left orphaned by the low water.  Whether by design or misfortune, the pool was rimmed with rocks of magnetite, and even Socatoa could not reach through this barrier.

“Hail!  Your father has sent me to aid you.”

A limp hand appeared, from the surface of the water.  Bahrd approached and saw that the stones were polished and rounded.  They did not appear to have been simply tumbled into place, but had been positioned with purpose.  He suspected that the naiad had wanted a place where she could be private and not in constant commune with all her kind.  Things had nearly gone very wrong.  He placed the carafe in the pool and quickly rearranged some of the stones.  They should still provide the privacy required in the future, but now there would be a way to escape too.  A face flitted across the pool and appeared to nod in approval.

Bahrd picked up the carafe and worked his way back to the bank and then followed the water course further upstream.  He didn’t have too far to go until he found a waterfall and a deep pool of water beneath it.

“Here?”

A bell-like note rang from the glass carafe; he knelt and gently emptied it into the roiling water.  A shape he couldn’t quite make out leapt and dived and leapt again from the water, joyfully exuberant.  Suddenly a hand reached from the water, much more animated than the first time he had seen it, and ran gently up his arm, coming to rest on his shoulder.  He didn’t even have time to curse as, unexpectedly, the hand took a tight grip and pulled him into the water.

*****

-ooonnng.

He stood once more in his workshop, bone dry, the stroke of midnight complete.  Barhd broke off a piece of the cheese and placed it in front of the mouse.  Sitting back down on his stool, he picked up the tweezers, and with them the next piece of mechanism.  There was still a clock to complete, after all.

© David Jesson, 2020

 

#FlashFiction Prompt – On the Stroke of Midnight

On the Stroke of Midnight – it could be something that’s already happened, something that’s expected to happen, something you fear could happen – your choice!

Be it fairy tale, thriller, steampunk or romance, pick your genre and write (with the usual NSFW proviso)!

Up to 750 words – on your marks, get set go!
Deadline: 8 am on Sunday, 9th August 2020

 


A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line – you retain the copyright.

One caveat, if you want to go down this route: this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.