Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Fantasy Setting

I went to see Avatar last week and it was awesome. The characters came to life but so did the fantasy setting. I don't want to say too much about it for anyone who hasn't seen it it, but if you enjoy fantasy, this is one is worth seeing on the big screen.

What I want to talk about is the importance of setting. When you read, characters function and the story unfolds within the setting. If the surroundings are not clear, strong characters can usually pull off the scene, but if that's the case, we're cheating the reader. A weak setting throughout the book makes the story less interesting because it doesn't create a complete visual within the reader's imagination. If Dorothy is told to follow the yellow brick road but we never see it, feel it, hear our footfalls click upon it...we feel a little lost.

Along with creating a visual, it's important to engage the other senses. You want to deliver the whole package. To do that a fantasy world needs to be experienced on more than one dimension. As you write ask yourself what makes your fantasy world different than the real world? In some cases it might be fantasy characters like dragons, fairies, elves or other lifeforms walking around in a world much like the one in which we live. Whether or not you've created a whole new world or have decided on a world similar to the one in which we live, there is more than landscape and even creatures and characters. To give your readers a complete experience ask these questions:
  • What smells and tastes are experienced?
  • What customs are practiced?
Avatar answers these questions in such a way that you are drawn in and become one with the world. Many times these small details play an integral part in the plot, but are so subtle that it isn't realized until the climax and/or conclusion of the story. Without them, it's like a tapestry with threads missing...marred and less than it can be.

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Check out Donna Sundblad's interview at Authors Unleashed

Buy Donna Sundblad's book: The Inheritance

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's Your Fairy Name?

I'm currently in the throes of writing two books, and amid my research I came across this nifty name generator that offered to dub me with a fairy name. This is it:

Oak Rainbowwand
I'm a fortune bringer
who lives in forests of oak and lime trees.
I'm only seen when the seer holds a four-leafed clover,
and I decorate myself with leaves and berries. I have multi-colored wings like a butterfly, too!

I love the picture this flashes across the screen of imagination. What a perfect tool if you're ever looking for a new character. You can find your name at The Original Fairy Name Generator.

What's your fairy name?

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Check out Donna Sundblad's latest interview at Authors Unleashed

Buy Donna Sundblad's books:
Beyond the Fifth Gate
Pumping Your Muse

Monday, August 24, 2009

Authors Unleashed Interviews Donna Sundblad

Donna Sundblad, author of the young adult fantasies Beyond the Fifth Gate and Windwalker
stopped by Authors Unleashed for an interview. Check it out to learn about the inspiration behind these fantasies, along with plenty of fun facts.

Here's a taste of that interview:

Who is your favorite cartoon character?

I can't say I have a favorite. It's more like I enjoy cartoon characters with relationships. Even if they are love/hate relationships. That's what makes them interesting I grew up watching the Flintstones and Jetsons, and today enjoy The Simpsons. The shenanigans of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote are fun, too. Those writers have had to come up with new ways to blow Wile E. Coyote up, throw him off a cliff, and have something land on him, while keeping it fresh and even making us laugh.

Which cartoon character is most like you?

I guess out of the characters I listed above, I'd say I'm most like Marge Simpson. She's a caring mom, loving wife, and an independent woman.

If you could beam yourself to anywhere in the world (“Beam me up, Scotty!”), during any time in history, where and when would it be—and why?

You can find the answer to this and more at Author's Unleashed.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pitching Your Idea - Part 2

How Would Your Idea Fit

Tell the publisher or editor how your idea fits their needs. If you’ve done your homework you’ll know what they want. If the guidelines say: “Fiction: May include, but is not limited to, realistic stories, fantasy, adventure-set in past, present, or future. Humor is highly desirable,” would you send something written in the romance genre? No.

Publishers look for a “fit” and writers need to do the same. If your manuscript is a futuristic adventure story, it would meet the need of the above publisher. Focus on points of interest. In this case I’d make sure to highlight the adventure and futuristic aspects of the story. If a thread of humor ran through the text, I’d mention it. Fashion your query to sell them what they want and increase the chance for consideration. Custom fit details to address specifics the publisher desires.

Compare your work to an existing novel (or novels) that most closely resembles your story. Explain why your idea is fresh and why you think it will appeal to the same readership.

Your Story’s Purpose/Angle

Even works of fiction have a purpose. In a single sentence state your intention for writing the piece you’re submitting. What are you trying say about life? Incorporate it in your pitch.

For example: My intention is to take the reader on an imaginative journey; a spiritual quest that does not tell them what to think but stimulates one to question why they believe what they hold to be true.

Why Should The Publisher Print It

Something within the guidelines made you think they’d be interested. Zero in on key issues that make it a right fit.

Whether you submit a short story or novel, tell the editor what’s at stake. If your protagonist doesn't attain his goal, why does it matter? What are the consequences? Why would the reader care? Lead the publisher to think. Emotionally engage their interest.

Tie in market trends and current issues. Who is the target audience? What kind of people will purchase and read your novel? Be as specific as possible.

One trick that works for me is to imagine the manager of a bookstore asking, "Why should I place an order for your book?” What would you say? What is it about your novel that causes it to stand out in the sea of fiction?"


Sometimes it’s harder to put together something about ourselves that it is to write a novel. Learn to craft your autobiographical information to suit the publication. If you’re writing for a pet magazine, include information about being a pet owner. Part of who we are will be found in threads of the story we’ve written. Use this “expertise” or personal experience to your benefit.

New or unpublished writers struggle with this aspect of pitching an idea. Don’t draw attention to your lack of qualifications. If you’ve never been published don’t mention it. Highlight experiences or achievements that tie your life as a writer to your story. Even something as simple as love for the genre, when worded properly, works as a qualification.

Do You Have Images To Support Your Story

Don’t forget to mention photographs or illustrations if applicable. In some cases, offering visuals to compliment your writing makes the piece more appealing. Don’t send originals, but rather copies in case the submission gets lost or damaged.

Be Professional

Even when sending an e-mail, keep correspondence professional. It’s a good idea to confirm the current editor’s name (along with correct spelling). Stay focused but creative when presenting your information. Be sure to target areas of interest mentioned in the guidelines and provide the editor with more than one reason to say yes. Give the publisher an idea of the size and completion date for your manuscript, tell them a bit about yourself and finish with an enthusiastic close.

The shorter your query letter, the better the chance it will be read. You have one shot to get the attention of the editor. Don’t use fancy, hard-to-read fonts, or crowd text onto a page with nonexistent margins. Instead, choose your words carefully. Use a 12-point font. Your pitch makes the editor hungry to see more so be sure to include your contact information.

Pitching Your Idea - Part 1

By Donna Sundblad

The other day I had an opportunity to chat with an author I didn’t know. Within a short amount of time, he sent me a link to his website and asked me to read his three self-published novels. I glanced at his site and asked the genre of his books along with a few pertinent questions. Rather than specifics, he offered a vague idea of the concept behind his stories.

I explained that time constraints would not allow me to read his work anytime in the near future and suggested he query reviewers.

“What’s a query?” he asked.

His question shed light on the reason his website offered so little information. He didn’t know how to pitch his books.

A Trail of Breadcrumbs

In the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” the children leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way home. As writers, that’s the mindset we need. We sprinkle specially crafted breadcrumbs for others to find in hopes that each morsel generates interest and ultimately stimulates an appetite for the “whole meal.”

Consider the author I met the other night:

  • He caught my attention by introducing himself (breadcrumb #1).
  • Mentioned his books (breadcrumb #2),
  • Led me to his website (breadcrumb #3).

While we chatted, I visited his site. He’d piqued my curiosity. His website had a professional appearance and appeal, but it didn’t give me a clue as to the content of his books. I’d lost the trail. His nebulous answers turned the trail cold. Momentum diminished and the opportunity to hook me slipped through his fingers.

Know Your Market

It’s important to know your market and customize your pitch. I gather fresh market information from a variety of newsletters. Books like The Writer’s Market offer thousands of markets and pertinent information as to what individual publishers look for in submissions. Search out publications that seek what you offer.

For novel-length projects the majority of publishing houses will not consider unagented manuscripts. If you don’t have an agent and submit anyway, you’ll sentence your manuscript to the slush pile where it will die of neglect with thousands of unread submissions. Don’t waste your postage.

In some cases, you can get around this requirement by attending a writer’s conference. Many conferences offer opportunities to meet with agents face-to-face. If you pitch your idea successfully, they’ll ask to see more and provide direct contact information.

Another item to watch for in the guidelines is whether or not the publisher accepts unsolicited manuscripts. If the guidelines tell you to query first, put together a professional query letter selling your idea and asking permission to submit.

Have you found more than one possible market? If so, do they accept simultaneous submissions? If you want to send your manuscript to more than one publisher at the same time, this is called a simultaneous submission. Check the guidelines. Many publishers do consider them while others don’t. Know your market.

Pitching Your Idea - Part 2

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Why Behind Setting

Whether you write romance, mystery, fantasy, science fiction or a sub genre, all fiction requires a believable setting. I tend to write character driven fantasy and learning to establish the setting has been an adventure in creativity. In fact, it's the reason behind my creative writing book Pumping Your Muse. In it, I developed a series of exercises that spurred me to consider aspects of a secondary world that may otherwise be overlooked.

Establishing anchors from the real world to your fictional world is key to making your setting believable, whether it is vastly different from reality or just a little different. An anchor is an element readers can relate to that links the real world to your secondary reality. In Beyond the Fifth Gate I established a rural, pre-industrial setting where the people were divided over issues of faith. Amid the setting we learn about family ties, ancient prophecies, divided leadership, a simple life that is ripped apart when a large insectoid race invades and conquers. Young people are taken captive and carried off in a cage on the back of a cart. The anchor—family relationships torn apart; freedoms stripped; it creates a need that transcends from reality to fantasy. This is an emotional anchor. Humans lose their freedom and fight to get it back and the quest is on.

Geographically, the Beyond the Fifth Gate setting challenged me times five. The original setting is the pre-industrial world invaded by a sentient insectoid race. The quest requires the protagonist, Elita, to travel through five mystical gates to free her people. Each gate leads to a different world and Elita has to accomplish her quest during a planetary alignment. She has one week. If she doesn't make it, she'll be trapped in a strange world between gates--for the next 50 years.

In this story, not only did I have to provide anchors from this reality to the fictional reality, but additional anchors were needed to tie one fictional world to the next as the main character traveled through the gates. The setting put parameters in place for the quest. Planets line up in dawn's light and mark the beginning of the quest for freedom. Planets are something we can relate to on this side of reality, and these planets act as an anchor from one world to the next. As they fall out of alignment, they work like the sands in an hourglass to let the reader know time is running out. This aspect of setting is used to add tension, conflict, and keep it clear in the readers' minds that the five worlds are linked.

For readers to accept the stranger aspects of a secondary world you must establish believable physics--the science of matter and energy and their interactions. If something works differently than the real world, you have to make the science or magic clear—not only that it does happen but how it happens. It has to work in the reader's mind. For example, the powers of Kamali are established early on in Beyond the Fifth Gate. When Kamali is present physics change. The star beats brighter and brighter…the floor thrums and…well I better not say too much because I wouldn't want to be a spoiler. Readers know that this deity plays an instrumental part in the opening of the gates and that the gates do lead to other worlds. But they also grow to understand that each portal works differently. Setting continues to play an important role, too, when Elita must bring something along with her from each world if she hopes to defeat the isectoids.

Along with physics, other specifics readers relate to in regards to setting include things like:


*Legal systems



As you develop these aspects of your world stop and ask yourself "why". Why is this government in place? Why do the people react to it the way they do? When the insectoid race takes over Elita's world, they are the new government. The opening scene establishes not only the world's setting but the "why" behind the reason humans don't honor the government. Lines are drawn, readers take sides and they learn to watch for the light to appear in the eastern foothills. Effective setting works with the characters to move the story forward and answers the question why.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why I Write by Author Kevin Gerard

by Guest Author Kevin Gerard (comment for a chance to win a copy of one of his books in the Conor and the Crossworlds series)

I write because I want to make a contribution.

I always wanted to write but never found the courage. I took one creative writing course in college and wrote the first twenty pages of Conor’s story. The class loved it. The teacher encouraged me to write more of it.

Fifteen years after leaving that class I met a martial arts instructor who had written a conditioning book for Tae Kwon Do. I asked him how he found the discipline to write an entire book. I took home what he told me and failed miserably, but something about what he said sparked another idea. I decided I would write one double-spaced page every day. For the next five years I wrote every day. It started out as one page; eventually it became five pages a day. I’ve never moved beyond that amount, but I’ve written every single day. Two things happen when you do that; you get into a habit and your writing gets better very quickly.

Margaret Weis caused me to become an author more than anyone else. She wrote a trilogy called the Star of the Guardians. Without exception it is the greatest story I’ve ever read. She’s written a number of fantasy stories with Tracy Hickman, and I enjoyed them, but her solo effort just blew me away. I cry like a baby at movies, but this was the first time I ever cried while reading a fantasy story, or any story for that matter. There was a female character in the trilogy, Maigrey Morianna, who I’m sure influenced the creation of the Lady of the Light, a central character in Conor’s story. I’d love to meet that author some day so I can thank her for writing that phenomenal story.

I write with abandon. When I edit, I’m in a structured mode, but I’m strictly organic while writing. I feel this is especially important when writing a fantasy story – you really need to have total spontaneity or the story will suffer. I mentioned the Lady of the Light before; she has a relative that appears at the end of Book Three. I had no idea the relative even existed until that moment. Sometimes you have to let the story tell itself.

I don’t know whether it’s fortunate or unfortunate, but there is no typical writing day for me. If I had my druthers, I’d do all my writing in the morning. I’m up early always, I love that time of day, and I seem to be very productive then. I am a college professor, though, and I also spend huge amounts of time promoting Conor and the Crossworlds. I write whenever I have a spare thirty minutes. I keep a flash disk in my pocket with the latest ten pages of any story I’m working on, and when I see an opening in my schedule, I stick it in the computer and write!

As far as the future, I think there are five more books in the Conor and the Crossworlds series, but I have to make the first five a success before I sit down and write the others. I also fell into a great idea for another story. At a book talk I did in California I gave away a very cool dragon statue I kept on my desk the entire time I wrote the Conor and the Crossworlds story. I have a funny feeling about that dragon, maybe he will inspire that student to write his own books, and that might make a cool story in itself.

I wrote the Conor and the Crossworlds story for a variety of reasons. First and foremost concerns Purugama the magical cougar. This particular creature has lived in my mind for more than forty years. When I was a young boy I used to lie in bed at night and imagine a great beast exactly like Purugama floating down and landing by my bedroom window. After crawling out of bed and dressing, I would step through the window and climb aboard the mighty cougar. I would instantly be transformed into a powerful warrior, and off we’d fly toward our thrilling adventures. Amazingly, I kept that vision in my mind for decades until I finally wrote the first novel.

I never intended for Conor’s story to go beyond one book. A tragic event caused me to continue the story and create the characters for Book Two. The Lord of the Champions, Maya, was a real cat. He belonged to a close friend of my wife’s. An extraordinary cat, Maya befriended me when I married my wife and moved to San Diego. He was extremely proud, he had a right to be; he was a magnificent creature and an amazing individual. One day his mistress called our home with terrible news, Maya had been attacked by a rampaging pack of pit bulls. They ripped him to pieces in his own front yard. I cried openly on the telephone, and then I told our friend that I was going to make him immortal. I knew right then he would become the Lord of the Champions. It fit perfectly anyway, an alley cat in charge of the great wild cats the creators had chosen to be protectors of the Crossworlds.

This is how Therion, Eha, Ajur and Surmitang sprang into existence. If there was to be a force of Champions, they would have to be like no other group of saviors anywhere. Oversized with the gifts of speech and magic, all of the Champions have distinct personalities. From the second book forward their personalities continue to grow and become more interesting. For the longest time I cherished Surmitang over all the others. He is so proud, so in love with himself, and so sure of his abilities, and yet he is such a fragile child. As time went on and the story reached four and then five books, I began to admire Eha more and more. He is such a happy fellow. He loves being a Champion, he loves the Lady of the Light, he loves Conor, and he loves to laugh. One of the great moments in the story occurs during the initial stages of the battle for the Crossworlds in Book Four. Maya directs Eha to lead the horde of slayers and keepers out onto the plains. Using his magnificent speed, Eha keeps ahead of five hundred thousand angry enemies, laughing hilariously the entire time. Even though I favor one or another of the cats from time to time, all of the Champions have intriguing characteristics; they are quite a magnetic group.

The amazing aspect of this series, from an author’s viewpoint, is the trust I gave to the story and to the characters. When I began writing the third and fourth books, I honestly had no idea what would happen, where the story would go, and what would be the final outcome of each novel. I didn’t know until the second she appeared that the Lady of the Light had a twin sister, the Lady of the Shadows. I didn’t know that one of the destroyers would rise from the rubble of his castle to torment Conor again, nor did I understand the importance of the sacrifice at the end of Book Four. Some of the best passages from the Conor and the Crossworlds series occurred when I allowed myself to “go where the characters wanted to go.” I followed and found amazing plot twists around every corner.

Everyone loves the Conor and the Crossworlds story, but I wrote these books for teens because I wanted to give them something I believe they are sorely lacking. I won’t explain exactly what that is, you’ll have to read the books to get the full impact, but I will say that the world is becoming increasingly complicated. Teens have so much thrown at them in just a few short years. I think the important ideas are being pushed into the background, and young folks are dying for direction. I also wanted to give teens a good hero and heroine. Conor and Janine are somewhat complex, but they are also what I think teens would want to emulate.

The last thing I’ll say is that I wanted to write a fun story. I watched a biography about George Lucas once. He created the Star Wars series, and the commentator said, “George Lucas made it fun to go to the movies again.” I hope someday people say, “Kevin Gerard made it fun to read again.”

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More about Kevin Gerard and His Conor and the Crossworlds Books

Visit Kevin's website where you can download a free Conor and the Crossworlds ebook and keep tabs on the upcoming release of Surviving an Altered World which is due out in December. In it Conor and Janine watch in horror as a powerful warrior sent by the Circle of Evil destroys their world and imprisons everyone they know, including the Crossworlds Champions and the creators. The Lady of the Light appears, explaining that she and her kind deposited the five keys of the creators on different worlds just before the chaos began. If Conor and Janine can recover the keys, the Crossworlds will be restored. You can join in the hunt for the keys by clicking on the contest video on his website to learn the exciting details regarding The Hunt for the Five Keys of the Creators. The contest begins in January.

On November 3, whet your appetite with an inside look at Kevin Gerard's life as a writer at Teens Read Too with a bonus of an excerpt from his book.

And don't miss Great New Books Reviewed as they host Kevin on November 5 and read more about what Kevin has to say about being a science fiction/fantasy writer.

For more information about Kevin Gerard and his virtual tour, check the schedule at