April 27, 2013

Lex Chase: Pawn Takes Rook plus Lex's Top Five Inspirational Authors

Hello there! I’m Lex Chase, coming to you live from Chris T. Kat’s blog, so thanks Chris for letting
me take over for a day! I’m the author of the superhero romantic comedy Pawn Takes Rook, the first installment of the Checkmate series. When I was much younger, I didn’t start out planning to be a writer. But somehow, the universe was sending its Gamma rays into my head that this is what I wanted to be. So, I’m here to talk about who inspired me.

5. Anne Rice
Looking back, I can’t believe it pretty much all started with Anne Rice because she and I can’t be
any more different as writers. I devoured Interview with a Vampire, but sadly didn’t care for Vampire Lestat, and the final book in the Vampire Chronicles, Memnoch the Devil, was pretty much a trainwreck in my eyes. But her flowing, flowery prose is what got me. Some say it’s a bit too much these days, but her adjectives make me swoon. Her taking two pages to describe an aquarium (and she really did do it) makes me groan.

4. Christopher Pike
Christopher Pike is a Young Adult horror writer that is still going strong. I devoured his books
growing up, and it was pretty bizarre because I could find something so “grown up” in the kid’s section of a bookstore. Pike had it all, horrific violence, sexual situations, bloody vengeance, and gasp cussing! Cussing! In a book for 15 year olds! Gaaaasp! His way of describing the action had a way of sticking with you. One book, a girl took a shotgun at close range to a villain’s knee and it was described as “exploding into hamburger.” It was that very line that stuck with me all these years.

3. David Lynch
That dude behind the cult classic TV show Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks was my introduction into the diseased mind of David Lynch, and I was in the fifth grade—likely far too young and impressionable to be watching anything with Lynch’s name on it. Through Twin Peaks, I learned about the absurd such as The Log Lady and the Zen mastery of donuts neatly stacked in twos. I learned the twists and turns of a metaphysical mystery of who killed Laura Palmer, but who killed Laura Palmer turned out to be far more complicated than anyone imagined. I learned to love stories where nothing was as simple as black and white and everyone was varying shades of gray. There’s actually a Kickstarter campaign in the works to bring Twin Peaks back to TV. Please universe. Make this happen.

2. Warren Ellis
Warren Ellis is best known for writing comics such as Transmetropolitan, The Authority,
Freakangels, and oodles of titles for Marvel and DC alike. He has confessed on numerous occasions he will write anything he can steal money for. I want to be famous enough someday I can put that on my business cards. As a long time comic reader, there came a period where I wasn’t reading the comics for the awesome art (because there was a time it wasn’t so awesome) but I was reading for the smart writing. And here I found Ellis. Again, I was drawn to flawed characters that scrape off the rough edges, they had something small and redeeming about them. Sometimes the thing that was redeeming about them wasn’t an altogether good thing but it was something that made you keep reading. He gave us characters like Midnighter and Apollo of the Authority, the first openly gay couple in a mainstream comic. Two brawny badass superheroes that kicked ass as well as kissed.

  1. Anderson Cooper
Yes. The CNN journalist and Gloria Vanderbuilt’s son. A few years back he wrote a memoir called
Dispatches from the Edge and it’s one of the go to books I reread every year. I read actually more memoir than anything else because real people drama tends to fascinate me over fictional people drama. Also in reading various memoirs, I pick up how real people talk, describe things, and how they are genuinely affected by catastrophe. Cooper’s way with sentence structure and putting his thoughts together is nothing short than extraordinary. I can only hope to one day be as good of a writer as him. Have a sample from his book. It’s my favorite quote that I just roll all over every time:
As a boy looking at the globe, I grew up believing, as most people do, that the earth is round.  Smoothed like a stone by thousands of years of evolution and revolution.  Whittled by time.  Scraped by space.  I thought that all the nations and oceans, the rivers and valleys, were already mapped out, named, and explored.  But in truth, the world is constantly shifting: shape and size, location in space.  It’s got edges and chasms, too many to count.  They open up, close, reappear somewhere else.  Geologists may have mapped out the planet’s tectonic plates—hidden shelves of rock that grind, one against the other, forming mountains, creating continents—but they can’t plot the fault lines that run through our heads, divide our hearts.”—Dispatches from the Edge pg. 4-5
I know, right?


Pawn Takes Rook: Blurb

The first time Hogarth Dawson sees superhero Memphis Rook, he comes to Hogarth’s rescue by cracking the heads of two thugs like eggs into a skillet. Hogarth is utterly smitten, but he soon discovers the superhero Power Alliance has ejected Rook for failing to protect a civilian.

Hogarth devises a plan that will reinstate Rook and might even earn Hogarth a place in Power Alliance roster. But what he expects to be a simple few missions rescuing kittens and helping little old ladies cross the street turns into a shocking reality of citywide chases, foiling robberies, and facing his ex. Then Hogarth discovers the beating Rook saved him from wasn’t a chance attack. It’s possible Hogarth is just a pawn in Rook’s game….

Where To Buy:


Pawn Takes Rook: Excerpt

I jogged up the steps, then cracked open my squeaky door, only to be greeted with the esteemed sight of Rook, clad in Pac-Man pajama bottoms that were definitely not mine and little else. I watched as he polished off my gallon jug of milk, tossed it aside, and moved on to the OJ, fresh from the fridge. If you could have seen the utter horror on my face at watching my hard-earned groceries disappear with shocking efficiency, you’d agree with me. One thing was for certain, he didn’t eat double-decker buses, but he pretty much ate everything else! I had to step in before he slurped up the remains of the pickle juice straight from the jar.
I snatched the jar out of his hand, and he looked at me like a swatted puppy. I was onto his game, and he wouldn’t sucker me for sympathy.
Hey….” he groaned like a five year old denied ice cream.
I squinted at him and frowned. “Do you want to make yourself sick again? I saw you puke your brains out. I’d like it if you’d refrain from decorating my apartment with an explosion of Baskin-Robbins!”
Rook went silent. His lips pursed, his wild eyes narrowed—I should add he had some crazy long lashes. Like that guy in that show about the crazy mysterious island with the smoke monster. Yeah! Guyliner dude!
Anyway, he was about to say something. I could see the train of thought coming to the station. He took a breath, and then broke into a bright superhero grin, blaze of gleaming white against tawny skin.
You’re sweet, Garth,” he said.
My ears felt hot. I flushed like a freak. At that moment, my feet became really interesting. He stepped past me, rummaged in the pantry for the Golden Grahams, and then poured them straight down his gullet. I spun around and ripped the box from his hand. Tiny squares of tasty goodness showered the floor.
Hey!” he growled.
Don’t ‘hey!’ me, bucko!” I snapped at him. “You don’t get to say sweet things to me, show your junk to me, or other sundry flirty things to get your way. You do not get to use my credit card in return for giving me a peep show. You do not get to raid my fridge just because you pay me a compliment. You do not get to waltz into my life and not explain a Goddamned thing to me! Why did you puke, then pass out? Why did you pass out when you saved me? More to the point, why do you goddamn flat fuck fall over all the time?”
Rook crossed his arms and pressed his lips into a thin line. “Will there be anything else you’d like to file with the Complaint Department?” He grinned. “Press one for ‘sit and spin’, and press two for ‘cry me a fucking river’.”
God, this man was absolutely incorrigible. If you can’t beat em….
I shook the box of Golden Grahams as a temptation. “Answer my questions, and I’ll show you where I hide the pretzel M&M’s.”
Rook gently took the box from me and shoved his hand into the crinkling plastic. He popped a handful of cereal in his mouth and crunched obnoxiously. “I freaking love the pretzel ones,” he mumbled.
I sat on the counter and watched him scarf down my beloved Golden Grahams. “Why did you puke?”
That’s appetizing….” he said and scanned the fridge, choosing a bag of shredded cheese.
I pointed a finger and watched him pour the Colby-Jack from the bag into his mouth. “Are you like a gremlin? Can I not feed you after midnight?”
And you don’t know what DeLoreans are,” he chided, then slurped caramel sauce from the jar.
Hey. One ’80s reference at a time!” I scolded him. “Answer the question.”
Rook smirked as he popped the tab on a Sprite. “You know how every superhero has some ultimate super-secret power?”
Yeah?” I said, leaning in eagerly.
That’s mine,” he said and chugged the soda.
I didn’t get it. “…Puking?”
Rook coughed, and his hand clasped over his nose. Let it go down in the history books the moment I made Memphis Rook snarf on Sprite.
No!” he gurgled, then coughed wetly. He snorted carbonation up his nose. “Raising the dead….” he said softly.
Say what, now?” I blurted out. Not the smoothest of things to say at the moment. “But… you’re a fighter.
His crazy eyes met mine. “You could say I’m a giver too.”
Man, my shoes were seriously interesting at that moment. Wow, never noticed that peculiar dapple of puce paint on the toe. The more I tried to make myself stop blushing like a freak, the worse I made it.

Lex Chase is a journalist by day and a writer by night. Either way you slice it, she makes things up for a living. Her style of storytelling is action, adventure, and a dollop of steamy romance. She loves tales of men who kiss as much as they kick ass. She believes it’s never a party until something explodes in a magnificent fashion, be it a rolling fireball of a car or two guys screaming out their love for one another in the freezing rain.

Lex is a pop culture diva, an urbanite trapped in a country bumpkin’s body, and wouldn’t last five minutes without technology in the event of the apocalypse. She has learned that when all else fails, hug the cat.

She is a Damned Yankee hailing from the frozen backwoods of Maine residing in the ‘burbs of Northwest Florida where it could be 80F and she’d have a sweatshirt on because she’s freezing.

You can find her on those Facebook and Twitter things at:
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/LXChase
Twitter: http://twitter.com/Lex_Chase

And her blog at http://lexchase.com.

April 23, 2013

Book Covers: Drawings or Photos?

As I was writing a guest post for my blog tour for The Caveman and the Devil (schedule at the bottom of this post), I was thinking about book covers. Actually, I was writing a post about book covers and I'd like to hear some opinions.

Do you prefer drawn covers or photo covers? It seems that books with photo covers sell better and I'm wondering why. As you can see from the covers of my books, I'm very fond of drawn covers. Maybe it's because I loved reading mangas (okay, okay, I still do), I don't know.

Sometimes I don't buy books just because I can't stand the cover but I've definitely bought a lot of books because the cover hooked me. Mostly, these covers have been drawings. I'm not saying photo covers aren't appealing or anything, it's just that I always look at the other ones first. How does it work for you? Which books have you bought solely because the cover intrigued you? Have you ever refrained from buying a book because of a cover?


So, I upgraded to a google plus account. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do now. Anyone who wants me to add them to my circle?


Image courtesy of [anankkml] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Caveman and the Devil will release soon (only one more week!). Joyfully Jay will do a giveaway on May 1st. Here's the rest of the blog tour schedule:

May 6
Review at Busy Mom Book Reviews

May 7
Review at Sweet-n-Sassi

May 9
Guest Post and Review at Sinfully Sexy Books

May 10
Guest Post and Review at What's on the Bookshelf

May 11
Review at Growing Up Little

May 14
Guest Post at the Purple Rose Tea House (Charlie Cochet)

June 2
Guest Post at Lex Chase

April 20, 2013

Sarah Madison: The Boys of Summer (Interview & Excerpt)

Today, Sarah Madison is on my blog, answering some questions. She recently released her first self-published story The Boys of Summer, have a look!

Title: The Boys of Summer

Release Date: April 14, 2013

Author: Sarah Madison

Publisher: Self

Buy Links: 

Genre: M/M contemporary romance

Blurb: David McIntyre has been enjoying the heck out of his current assignment: touring the Hawaiian Islands in search of the ideal shooting locations for a series of film company projects. What’s not to like? Stunning scenery, great food, sunny beaches...and a secret crush on his hot, ex-Air Force pilot, Rick Sutton.

Everything changes when a tropical storm and engine failure force a crash landing on a deserted atoll with a WWII listening post. Rick’s injuries, and a lack of food and water, make rescue imperative, but it takes an intensely vivid dream about the war to make David see that Rick is more than just a pilot to him. Will David gather his courage to confess his feelings to Rick—before it’s too late?

1-Welcome Sarah Madison! Please tell us a bit about yourself and your release.

Thank you for having me here today, Chris! I’m a full-time veterinarian and a part-time writer, which means I’m usually on the run all the time! If I overwhelm you with exclamation points here today, it’s because I have a lot to be excited about right now!

I’ve just released my first self-published novel, The Boys of Summer. I have five or six stories on my backlist already, and I love my publishers, but I wanted to try my hand at the indie publishing thing and see what the pros and cons of it are. What I discovered is that I really loved having complete creative control—over the story, the cover art, pricing, distribution... Have you seen my lovely cover by Reese Dante? I simply adore it!

What I haven’t enjoyed is all the formatting hassle (man, I owe my techie friends BIG TIME) as well as the fact that the entire burden of editing, proofing, and promotion has fallen on me. These aren’t my best skills, so I’ve had to farm them out. In the end, I’d probably do it again, but believe me, self-publishing is not for the faint of heart! I do have a fierce sense of accomplishment over getting this story out, however.

2-In what locale is your book set? Why did you choose this setting?

The Boys of Summer takes place in two main settings: the Hawaiian Islands of the South Pacific and in England during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. See, the middle third of the story is a dream sequence that takes place during WW2. Because of that, the modern setting had to either take place in the same setting, or in another wartime theater. Because I needed to isolate my main characters in a plane crash, cutting them off from all communications, I felt that the South Pacific offered me greater opportunities for the ‘deserted tropical island’ that was crucial to the set-up. Either that, or I’d been watching too much Hawaii 5-0 over the winter here.

3-How long have you been writing?

I wrote as a child and well into high school, but somewhere along the way, I got it in my head that I needed to set it aside and become a grown-up, concentrating on my ‘real’ career and putting away childish things. Rediscovering my love of writing was like finding the lost key to my secret garden. It was much overgrown, and needed some ruthless pruning, but the joy and beauty were still there. I began writing again about six years ago, when I discovered online fanfiction archives, and submitted my first story to a publisher in 2010.

4-What compelled you to write this particular story?

Would you believe, a single image? I had this mental picture of one of the main characters dressed in an RAF uniform, leaning up against the side of a Spitfire. Of course, this was a contemporary, not a historical story, so in order to use this image, I had to make it part of a dream. I began researching WW2 and the Battle of Britain in particular simply to get the background details right. What happened instead was that I was appalled by how little I knew of this time period, or the great sacrifices and small acts of daily heroism that occurred throughout the war. I spent over a month researching, and in the meantime, my ‘dream’ grew into a third of the novel, incorporating elements from both characters’ lives and spinning them into the dream world. It was just so important to me to try and capture the essence of that time—the lives lived, loved, and lost—those boys of summer. I hope I do them a fraction of the justice they deserve.

5-What gave you the courage to submit your story to a publisher?

I’d been writing fanfiction for several years, and had won a few awards. Several friends encouraged me to write professionally, but that seemed like an unobtainable dream. I finally sent a story in to a submission call on a whim, and to my utter shock, it was accepted. I’ve never looked back since.

6-When creating your characters, do you have models in mind or are they totally fictional?

That’s a good question, and I’m not sure I know the answer. I usually start with a ‘what if?’ question in my head. What if gargoyles came to life at night? What if a vampire wanted to live a normal life? What if one of my characters accidentally became telepathic? The ‘what if’ predicates the character, who then starts to make himself known to me. Somewhere along the line, I realize that he looks like a certain actor, or reminds me of a certain person, and those elements start to become incorporated as well. Someone once complained that one of my characters was too chipper all the time, and I was completely sympathetic because that’s not me at all! But Tate is his own man, and I had to write him the way he demanded to be written.

7-Why did you start writing m/m? Is there something special that draws you to this genre?

I began writing M/M fiction probably because I cut my teeth on slash fanfiction. But the reason I still write it is because I am drawn to the dynamics of a male-male relationship. The protagonists are more likely to meet on equal footing. The characters are just as likely to rescue each other as to be rescued themselves. When I read my first M/M story, I felt as though I’d discovered adult romantic fiction for the first time. It was an eye-opening experience.

8-What are you reading right now? Do you have a favorite author or genre?

I just finished John Scalzi’s Redshirts, which was a riot. I just started Aundrea Singer’s Black Hawk Tattoo, which I am loving so far! I read mostly sci-fi (particularly David Weber’s Honor Harrington series and Elizabeth Moon’s Heris Serrano stories). I am a huge fan of the Golden Age of Mystery, so you’ll find me re-reading Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, and Agatha Christie. I tend not to read a lot of straight romances, which is probably why my stories tend to contain other elements besides ‘just’ a romance. I prefer my romance with detective interruptions, so to speak.

9-What are you working on now?

I’ve got two collaborative projects going on with my good friend, Claire Russett. We’re working on stories for her Argo universe and my Fearless universe, and we’re having so much fun with them! I’m also working on a contemporary story set in the world of competitive sport horses, and playing around with expanding a sci-fi story that started as a prompt for a short story anthology and overshot its word count by a huge margin already.

I’m seriously considering making at least one of these projects a traditional male/female romance. Mostly to see if I can create a relationship that contains the same elements that appeal to me in M/M romances. And a heroine that I don’t want to slap in the first thirty pages of the book.

10-When you're not writing, how do you like to spend your time?

I try to take my dog hiking several times a week. I ride my horse several days a week, though I made the decision to stop competing a few years back. From May 23-26th, I’m off to Galacticon3 in Houston, which is the 35th anniversary of Battlestar Galactica. It’s being held together with ComicPalooza, and the guest list is just amazing! I’m going to be one of the guest panelists in a discussion of fanfic, along with my friend and fellow author, Anna Butler, and we’re also co-hosting a fanfic writer’s workshop. If you’re coming to the convention, you should look us up!

11-What are your writing goals for 2013?

I had overly ambitious writing goals for 2012. I wanted to have a story ready for submission every quarter, and with my schedule that simply wasn’t realistic. It put undue strain on my creativity as well. This year, I just want to write stories that I am proud of and that make me happy. If someone else likes them as well, that’s just icing on the cake.

12-Do you have personal goals for 2013?

Work less. Or perhaps I should say, work smarter. Enjoy the things I have while I have them: my health, my pets, my loved ones. No one is ever going to sit in their rocking chair at 80 years of age and say, “Darn, I wish I’d worked more.” No, I already regret how much time of my life is spent surviving—and how little is actually lived. It’s a common theme in my stories too.

Would you like to share an excerpt from “boys of Summer”?

Would I? *grins* (Excerpt is rated R for language)

I don’t think we’ve got much choice.” Sutton’s voice was grim. “We’re lucky to have that much. Hold on, these trees are coming up faster than I’d like.”

Still fighting to keep the nose of the plane up, Sutton guided the recalcitrant aircraft toward the so-called clearing, the ground rising up to meet them far faster than was comfortable. David found himself leaning back in his seat, bracing his hands on the console as the tops of trees scraped the underside of the plane. Branches swiped at the windshield, and David had the sudden impression of being in a car wash scene as written by Stephen King.

“Duck your head!” Sutton barked. “Wrap your arms around your legs!”

“And kiss my ass goodbye?” David shouted, raising his voice over the increasing noise as he obeyed Sutton’s orders.

Incredibly, Sutton laughed. It was an oddly comforting sound. Like everything was somehow going to be all right because Sutton was at the controls.

The moment of humor was gone in a flash. The plane screamed with the sound of tearing metal and the sharp, explosive crack of tree limbs and breaking glass. David kept his head down and his eyes closed, praying to a God he was pretty sure had more important things to do than to keep up with the well-being of one David McIntyre. Despite being strapped in his seat, his head and shoulder thumped painfully against the passenger side door as the plane thrashed wildly. There was a moment of eerie, blessed silence, and for an instant, the assault on the plane seemed as though it had lifted. Eye of the storm, David thought, just before the plane hit the ground.

Someone had left the window open and it was raining on him. How incredibly annoying. He shifted, intent on reaching for the offending window, when a jolt of pain ran through his shoulder and he gasped. When he opened his eyes, nothing made any sense at first. Then he remembered the crash, and realized that his side of the plane was pointing up at the sky. The rain was coming down in a steady stream through the broken windshield. The sound of the rain on the metal hull of the plane was nearly deafening.

He winced at the pain in his neck when he turned to look over at the pilot’s seat. Sutton was slumped to one side in his chair, unmoving. His sunglasses were hanging off one ear.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” David murmured, hastily undoing his seatbelt so he could reach across to Sutton. His skin was cold and damp where David touched it, and adrenaline pounded through David’s veins as though he could jumpstart Sutton’s heart by sending his own pulse beating through his fingertips. “Sutton! Rick!”

David fought to free himself of his seat, twisting for greater access to the other side of the cockpit. When the seatbelt came open, he fell half across Sutton. Sprawled practically in his lap, David could now see the nasty cut on the left side of Sutton’s temple. The pilot’s side of the plane had taken a lot of damage, and David yelped as he encountered a sliver of glass. Bits of the windshield and console were scattered like confetti over Sutton’s jacket. “Sutton!” The lack of response was unnerving. He tossed aside the sunglasses and worked a hand down into Sutton’s collar, feeling frantically for a pulse.

He could have kissed the man when Sutton suddenly groaned.

“Rick, are you all right? Can you understand me?” David began feeling around for additional injuries.

“I could never understand you, McIntyre,” Sutton said in a fair approximation of his slow drawl. Even the half-smile was a good imitation of his usual expression. “Who tours the toughest jungles in the South Pacific dressed to play golf?”

“Hah-hah, very funny, keep your day job. Oh, no, wait. Forget that. You’re not so good at the day job either.” Relief made him almost giddy. They were going to be okay. Everything was going to be okay.

Until Sutton tried to move and caught his breath painfully.

“What, what is it?” David tried to reach down around the other side of him, to see what the problem was. He felt something wet, warmer than the rain coming in the windshield, and he pulled back his hand to stare at it in shock.

His hand was covered in blood. The metallic odor of it caught him unaware and almost made him gag.

“Shit,” Sutton said mildly. “I seem to be stuck on something.”

Stuck?” David knew he was practically shrieking, but what the fuck was he supposed to do, miles from nowhere, with an injured man impaled on God knows what, who might die and leave him here all alone.


Sarah Madison is a veterinarian with a busy practice, a large dog, an even larger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. When she’s not busy wrestling shots into a cat or deworming a snake, she’s at the keyboard writing another story. In fact, when writing she’s usually so oblivious to her surroundings that she relies on the smoke detector to tell her when dinner is ready.

April 18, 2013

Augusta Li: Ice and Embers

Please help me welcome fellow DSP author Augusta Li on my blog. She's talking about the elements that define High Fantasy. A very interesting post, which I enjoyed very much. I hope you will enjoy it too!

In 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien irrevocably changed the High Fantasy genre with his publication of The Hobbit. I will argue (and I’m sure I could find someone to argue with) that every writer of fantasy to follow him has been influenced by his work. Tolkien himself was, of course, influenced by several sources, including Norse mythology and the Old English epic poem Beowulf. Taking elements from them, and to a lesser extent fairy tales and infusing them with his own experiences and creativity, he built the framework all modern fantasy is based upon, in one way or another. Today I’d like to take a look into the common threads running through western fantasy since the time of Tolkien’s work, and how the modern writer can use them without being derivative, how the modern writer can include the prerequisite elements while still making something new and unique.

Within every genre, there are certain elements that define it—necessary thematic elements or events that make a murder mystery a murder mystery or a romance novel a romance novel. Fantasy is no different. The core and most simplistic definition of fantasy, as I see it, is a fantastical element—something that can’t or doesn’t exist in the world we know. High Fantasy has come to mean such stories set in a world similar to medieval Europe, though it has recently extended to other parts of the world such as Asia and the Middle East. There are other features that seem to run through High Fantasy, and most of them can be traced back to Tolkien and the sagas he drew on to build the world of Middle Earth.

  1. The “Quest” plotline. This will be familiar to anyone who has ever read a fantasy novel, watched a fantasy movie, or even played a video game. It is as evident in The Hobbit as it is in Star Wars: the underdog heroes versus a corrupt and powerful enemy. The quest plotline is versatile, though, leaving lots of room for an author to bend it to his or her unique vision. The protagonists can be on a mission to rescue someone, find a potent artifact, restore a rightful ruler to power, or strike an important blow to their adversaries. Usually, there are numerous steps involved before the hero completes his or her quest, and often unexpected things crop up along the way. Heroes can undertake the mission willingly, or sort of be thrown into it, as Bilbo was. In my books, it’s a little of both. Duncan, my knight, accepts his duty, while Yarrow only grudgingly accompanies him.

  2. The “Party” dynamic. Goals in High Fantasy are often so astronomical as to be impossible for a single character to accomplish. Different characters with a range of different skills are often required, and the party is formed. Anyone who has ever played an RPG knows the configuration well: you’ve got your tank to draw enemy attention and soak up damage while your archer and maybe a mage attack from a distance. Meanwhile, your healer stays safely out of the battle to mend their wounds so they can keep fighting. You need a character with a less reputable past to pick locks and open any treasure chests you might find. But beyond the practical aspects, party dynamics can be great fun to write, as there are inevitable misunderstandings between people from vastly different situations. Characters can underestimate each other and write one another off, and watching them change their opinions and letting the relationships evolve can be a real joy for a writer. At least it was for me. When Duncan met Yarrow, my mage and a noble, he jumped to the conclusion that Yarrow would be weak, soft, and spoiled. He treated him like the sheltered child he thought Yarrow would be—until he saw Yarrow fight. Likewise, he thought very little of Sasha, the assassin, a man he assumed had no honor. I adored writing the banter between these characters as they went from insulting, to teasing, to respecting each other, and finally to valuing each other and more. It was hard-won, and every character had to prove himself to every other, but letting them interact provided wonderful insights into their personalities.

  3. Fantasy Races. Tolkien’s dwarves and elves, while drawing heavily from mythology and fairy tales, established guidelines modern fantasists still adhere to. Dwarves are still most often depicted stout-hearted warriors who enjoy food and drink, while elves are the wise, graceful, and beautiful protectors of nature. I believe these archetypes have endured because they represent different aspects of human nature, and even though these races don’t exist, people can relate to them. Dwarves are practical and hard-working, capturing the logical and concrete parts of the human psyche, while the aloof elves represent imagination and possibility. In this way, they’re disparate, and part of the fun of writing different races is in seeing how they relate to one another. Both Tolkien’s elves and dwarves are human enough that they usually find a common ground and friendships are forged. I veered a little from this model in my series; I didn’t want to write elves and dwarves, and neither appear in my stories. Instead, I created a new race: the Emiri. A race of seafarers with no homeland and living in diaspora on their ships, they are very misunderstood by the “humans”—or “dry-feet” as the Emiri call them. The Emiri value freedom over material possessions, and they like their leisure. The idea of doing the same work every day is incomprehensible to them. Still, they are human enough that even my stoic Duncan befriends some of them after travelling with them and getting to know them. To me, the Emiri represent the child in all of us, because they do as they like and aren’t weighed upon by responsibility. They’re the part of the human mind that calls off work to just lie on the beach all day as doesn’t feel guilty about it, the part that still finds treasure in everyday life.

  4. The Usual Suspects. Knight. Archer. Healer. Thief. These characters have persisted because they are useful together. Tolkien used them, and many fantasists have followed suit. Nothing wrong with that. The challenge to the author is to make each of them a well-rounded character: not just a thief but a complete person with unique motives and values, a backstory that influences his current actions, doubts, regrets, and hopes for the future. I like to make my characters have some unexpected, or atypical traits. One cliché I avoided was the physically weak mage in his fancy robes. Yarrow can take care of himself, and he dismisses anything frivolous or unnecessary. My stoic knight is also a romantic who says silly, sentimental things to his lovers. Sasha is the most embedded in his singular role as assassin, but watching him grow out of that role and discover the rest of his personality has been greatly enlightening to me.

  5. Magic. Magic is expected in fantasy, but it can be bittersweet for the writer. Magic can come in handy, but the writer must temper it with some limitations to avoid a Superman-like character who never encounters a challenge. Godlike mages are simply no fun, for the author or the reader, because their awesome power removes any conflict. My mage Yarrow pays a steep price anytime he uses his most powerful spells, and I crafted the universe to make sure some things were out of his reach. He’s powerful, but broken. Magic should never, in my opinion, be a means of filling plot holes or resolving impossible conflicts.

I have rambled longer than I’d intended. Now I leave it to you, the readers. What fantasy tropes do you enjoy? Which ones do you hate and would like to see disappear forever? Has High Fantasy been done to death?

My latest, Ice and Embers, the sequel to Ash and Echoes, is available at Dreamspinner Press:
Sequel to Ash and Echoes Blessed Epoch: Book Two

Despite their disparate natures, Yarrow, Duncan, and Sasha united against overwhelming odds to save Prince Garith’s life. Now Garith is king and the three friends may be facing their undoing.

Distraught over Yarrow’s departure to find the cure to his magical affliction, Duncan struggles with his new role as Bairn of Windwake, a realm left bankrupt by his predecessor. Many of Duncan’s vassals conspire against him, and Sasha’s unorthodox solutions to Duncan’s problem have earned them the contempt of Garith’s nobles.

When word reaches Duncan and Sasha that Yarrow is in danger, they want nothing more than to rush to his aid. But Duncan’s absence could tip Windwake into the hands of his enemies. In addition, a near-mythic order of assassins wants Sasha dead. Without Yarrow, Duncan and Sasha can’t take the fight to the assassins. They are stuck, entangled in a political world they don’t understand. But finding Yarrow may cause more problems, and with his court divided, King Garith must strike a balance between supporting his friends and assuaging the nobles who want Duncan punished—and Sasha executed.

My other books are available here:
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April 12, 2013

Pinkie Rae Parker: "Joie de Vivre" in Closet Capers

Please help me welcome fellow DSP author Pinkie Rae Parker. Her short story "Joie de Vivre" is featured in DSP's Closet Capers anthology, which will be released on April 22th. She's talking about the unlikeable protagonists (and to my delight refers to the show House MD--yes, I wrote fan fiction for that show and it made me happy to read about her view on the characters of House and Wilson).

Buy it here: e-book / paperback


Aspiring restaurateur Jules hopes to honor his aunt’s memory by placing one of her recipes on his menu. However, while visiting the farmhouse he inherited from her, he discovers her treasured recipe box has disappeared and encounters a host of needed repairs that make staying in the house impossible. When a childhood antagonist, Henri, reappears, can Jules take him up on his offer of help… and maybe more?

Writing the Unlikeable Protagonist

For most writers, the protagonist is the character for the audience to identify with, to rally behind, and to cheer on throughout the progression of the narrative. However, what happens when it is not clear if one should be supporting the actions of the main character? What if the author of the story intended for his or her audience to hold some amount of disdain for the protagonist? As a reader, my reaction to those types of characters has varied from story to story. As an author, willingly creating a character to be unlikeable poses its own set of problems. In the following, I will attempt to address these issues with character development and deconstruct several archetypes of unlikeable protagonists as well as briefly discussing the usage of these rapscallions in a romantic context.

To begin, I must define what I mean by “unlikeable.” For me, an unlikeable protagonist is one whose motivations and goals are instinctively off-putting. This does not, however, mean that the character does not have moments of humor or charm. Much like moments when we laugh when we probably should not, the U.P. (I’ll abbreviate the “unlikeable protagonist” for brevity’s sake) is not without his or her strong points. One can even relate to the U.P. as comfortable as it might be to admit, but the uneasiness of the relationship between the U.P. and the reader can be tenuous at best. How can the writer then meet this hurdle and create an engaging if unpleasant character?

The Secret Word is “Readability.”
At one time or another, most people imagine themselves as the protagonist in his/her own story. No one wants to be the villain, but we all have our own antagonists in our lives that cause us grief to varying degrees. The disgruntled coworker, the nosy neighbor, and the myriad of side characters in our own little fables that make our days just a bit less cheery. Imagine, for a moment, these mildly annoying or downright disagreeable folk as the leads in a story. For my purposes, let us take Thomas, a bitter university professor, as our U.P. Thomas is arrogant and easily angered. More than one young scholar has felt the sting of his acidic barbs. He belittles his colleagues, refuses to engage in university politics, and cannot appreciate criticism of his own work. Left in this state, having the narrative begin with such a character might not have too many readers going beyond the first few pages.

The key to progressing a narrative with an U.P. is readability. The audience does not need to relate to Thomas completely. In fact, the audience may relate to some of the poor souls upon whom Thomas takes out his frustrations, but there needs to be something there to give the reader incentive for continuing the story. The first is to always remember that Thomas is human. No matter how nasty he is to those around him, Thomas has wants and desires the same as anybody else. His feelings can be hurt, and there were likely events in his past that have made him the individual he is. Someone filled with jealousy and hate did not get that way by chance (even in the case of Sith lords); a triggering event or a lifetime of fateful decisions that did not work out for the character could explain Thomas’s aggressive behavior and all-around unlikeability. If the author chooses this route for Thomas’s character development, then he would be falling into one of several U.P. archetypes. Let us explore a few of them now:

Archetypes of Unlikeability

The first of these archetypes is the Stalwart Soldier. This does not necessarily apply to a literal soldier character. These characters do their jobs at all costs, and they do not do it by earning friends. They are truth-tellers who must complete their goals at all costs, even if it means hurting the feelings of others. Familiar examples of this type might be any of the incarnations of Sherlock Holmes. The television series House features a titular character that bordered on the unwatchable in certain instances. Dr. Gregory House, the show’s Sherlockian analogue, is presented as a brilliant doctor with a knack for diagnostics. He is a snarky, mean-spirited manipulator with an addiction to pain medication that potentially impairs his judgement. House also saves lives of those who have run out of options for medical treatment. This dichotomy of personality and deed fuels the show’s storylines, and the friction that arises as House’s bristling nature and his ability to cure his patients is engaging. The audience may relate better Dr. Wilson, the John Watson analogue, but they keep coming back for Dr. House.

If our prospective U.P., Thomas, fell into this category, the spitefulness he unleashes upon his students might come from a desire to see them succeed, to push them to the limit, and to strive for the best. His naturally abrasive personality, however, makes this ambition outwardly present itself as overly aggressive and belittling to those beneath him.

The second archetype is the Holder of the Tragic Backstory. This is a tremendously broad category that encapsulates any character whose flaws and unlikeableness can be traced to an event in his/her past that makes the audience have some sympathy for the protagonist, whether or not they agree with his/her actions. One example that comes to mind is that of Cersei Lannister from George R. R. Martin’s popular A Song of Ice and Fire series. Though Cersei is a schemer and uses her authority as queen for selfish ends (often leading to the dire misfortune of others), the audience can sympathize and relate to her. She tragically lost her mother at a young age and was raised in a world that did not value her talents because she was not born male. It does not negate the suffering she inflicts upon others, but it adds a dimension to her character that keeps her from being a mustache-twirling stereotype.

If Professor Thomas fell into this category, the author might choose to craft something equally tragic. Young Thomas was a promising scholar with early admission to a prestigious university. However, when his father died, he was forced to remain close to home at a local community college because the family finances were in ruins. Thomas also was appointed caregiver to a younger sibling, who resented his authority. Though Thomas only wanted what was best for his sibling, the pair have grown apart due to Thomas’s overzealousness, and Thomas feels that his own potential was wasted even as he pursued his post-graduate degrees. These factors do not excuse Thomas’s behavior, but they might add some depth that will lead the reader to become invested in the story and to hope that Thomas might be able to attain some of his goals (if only he would stop acting like such a jerk).

The final archetype I will explore is the Redemptionista. The Redemptionista is simply a character with the potential for redemption. The character him/herself may not be actively pursuing redemption for whatever misdeeds he/she has committed, but there needs to be belief by the audience that a redemption arc is possible. Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol is a bit too extreme of an example for the intent of this mini-essay as he does seemingly change all of his curmudgeonly ways overnight. One of the reasons that the Vicomte de Valmont is slightly better received than the Marquise de Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses is because there is the barest hint of humanity and character growth beneath his calculating and perverse schemes.

For our dear Professor Thomas, there are several angles that could be pursued with a redemption arc. One, if a particularly brave student confronts Thomas about his attitude, he might react poorly. Over the course of the narrative, however, Thomas then reflects upon his actions and realizes that he may need a new approach if he really does want his students to succeed. He addresses his own insecurities privately and tries to improve his rapport with his students, even though his attitude may only be slightly improved. Another possibility is that a new faculty member, unaware of Thomas’s personality issues, enters the university and is blindsided by Thomas’s abrasiveness. This new faculty member, David, is a pleasant and empathetic person. He wants to befriend Thomas and sets about trying to help Thomas achieve his goal of becoming tenured or finding a new teaching method for his students. This development leads to a very important point about unlikeable protagonists--

Unlikeable ≠ Unlovable

Whether or not Thomas intends to, he begins to fall in love with David, who goes from minor annoyance to prospective boyfriend as David continues his pursuit of Thomas’s friendship despite how hateful the nutty professor can be. For the U.P., love is oftentimes a contributing factor to a tragic backstory, but it can also be the beginning of a redemption arc. People in the U.P.’s life do love him/her, either romantically or platonically, and the U.P. is not devoid of feeling or emotion towards others.

Going back to the example of House, there are plenty of characters available to either love or loathe Dr. House. The acres of fanfiction scattered across the Internet featuring the potential for romantic involvement between House and his long-suffering friend and colleague, Dr. Wilson is a testament to what the power of love can do for an U.P. On occasion, when House realizes that his behavior has damaged his friendship with Wilson, House does attempt to correct it in some way because, as bitter as he is, he values what he has with Wilson as a friend. It is one more layer to the onion that is one’s protagonist, and one that could be of particular interest to one’s audience.

It is important to note that love, like remorse, does not negate the previous actions of the U.P., and it is highly unlikely that a person’s entire personality would change overnight just because he or she is involved in a romantic relationship. Also, for the sake of avoiding cliches, note that the love interest of the U.P. might be unlikeable as well. Rather than acting as a gentling influence, the love interest could antagonize the U.P. further into increasingly worse behavior. Of course, that would leave one with a story that more closely resembled a train wreck than a romance.

With all these things in mind, I encourage writers to explore the possibilities of unlikeable characters as protagonists. They offer a wealth of opportunities to delve deeper into the motivations of one’s main characters and how those character may develop over time through their own revelations, within their surroundings, and while engaging with others.

- Pinkie Rae Parker

Author Bio:
Pinkie Rae Parker is happy to use the moniker passed down from her great-grandmother. Born and raised in the southern United States, Pinkie Rae is currently a cultural historian and graphic designer. She enjoys researching fashion and design in Europe during the eighteenth century and studying French. However, writing fiction is a passion that she has had since she was a teenager, and she now hopes to pursue writing for publication (outside of academia) as a full-time career.
Author Links: 

April 06, 2013

Julie Lynn Hayes: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Please welcome author (and friend) Julie Lynn Hayes back on my blog. Today she's talking about her new release Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

 Buy it here

On a dark and rainy night, a group of travelers takes refuge at the Black Raven inn, seeking shelter from the storm: Two knights who are brothers, and who believe in diametrically opposed doctrines. A brother who questions the path his sister has chosen to take. A mysterious doctor whose presence gives the innkeeper’s daughter chills. A handsome dwarf, half owner of a traveling troupe of actors. Will they find more than they bargained for?
What is the mystery of the locked door?

Horror Comes in Many Flavors

I unabashedly admit to being a horror story aficionado, whether in print or on the small or large screen. I love to be scared, although I have to say I seldom am. Maybe because I don’t find it so realistic that I fear someday I’ll be up against a chainsaw-wielding maniac or a random slasher or a madman intent on creating hybrid creatures for strange intent. I found Blair Witch more realistic than most, because I can totally see myself getting lost in the woods like the hapless victims of that film.

Alfred Hitchcock was the king of horror films, and he did it in a way that was graphic for its time, but would not be considered so now. And yet, who doesn’t remember the shower scene from Psycho? After seeing that, it was years before I’d take a shower while alone in the house. And there are parts of the film that make me jump, not from fear but from being startled, which is not the same thing. Hitchcock could elicit horror from supposedly everyday normal things. Remember North by Northwest? Cary Grant standing on the highway in the literal middle of nowhere, waiting for a bus, when a crop plane innocently appears and quickly changes into a menacing presence that causes him to flee for his life!

Nowadays, the sky is the limit on what you might find in a horror film. I’ve seen all seven Saw films, and I would hate to find myself caught up in any of John Kramer’s horrific scenarios, but hopefully I’ve never done anything bad enough to qualify as one of his victims. Prepare to see the grossest of the gross, ditto with the Hostel series, of which I’ve seen all three. For something slightly different, there’s the Human Centipede. I haven’t seen the second one yet, but I hear it’s better than the first. In the first film, a doctor performs a strange experiment on three unwilling subjects, surgically connecting them to form his “human centipede”, mouth to ass, and connecting their digestive systems as well. What a macabre experiment, but the film was not badly made at all, surprisingly, subject matter aside. 

The latest trend in horror films seems to be zombies. They’re popping up everywhere, and even beginning to show up in young romance films, like Warm Bodies. Whodathunkit? 

When it comes to horror stories, the undisputed master is Stephen King, who’s been entertaining us with his gruesomely delicious tales for years. I have a number of his hardbacks on my shelves, although I’ve fallen behind in recent years, not having the time to read, or money to purchase. One of my favorites is It, which has a very creepy feel to it. Someone who can make you feel horror from the printed word is a master indeed.

What about the horror villain? Or should I say the hero? For often times in a horror story, the villain is actually the hero. Well, the main protagonist, anyway. And often times, the most interesting character. Can you blame Clarice Starling for being fascinated by Dr. Lecter? And Dexter Morgan—who doesn’t love Dexter? Sweeney Todd, too. Gretchen Lowell. If you haven’t guessed, I have a thing for serial killers. Michael Myers. Leatherface. Jason Voorhees. Fascinating character studies, even if their manners leave a little to be desired. 

While I’ve primarily written books and stories in the m/m romance field, I don’t consider myself limited to that genre by any means. And so I decided to branch out when I learned that one of my publishers, MuseitUp, was going to run a locked door series of horror stories. I thought I’d try my hand, although I wasn’t sure how good I’d be at it, or if I could even do it. I surprised myself by not only finishing a story and subbing it, but having it accepted. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night releases April 5th, and is my first foray into horror, but hopefully not my last. While it is not necessarily horror in the splatterpunk, gory tradition of some modern writers and filmmakers, I think you might say that it is more psychological.
It follows the not uncommon trope of strangers drawn together by the hands of Fate. In this case, travelers who have taken refuge at an inn because of inclement weather. And what happens to them there as their stories converge. 

I believe that it would be really hard to write for a genre that you do not enjoy, although some people might argue with that. Sure, you can get things technically correct, but there is a certain feel that I believe only someone who reads it can impart. I’ll let the readers be the judge of whether I have succeeded or not, for I am a true horror fan. In fact, I love serial killers so much that I’m developing one of my own, and look forward to presenting him in time.

Thanks for having me today, Chris!


Lightning sliced across the night sky like a jagged scar. It briefly illuminated the countryside, throwing twisted-limbed trees into momentary sharp relief. The thick ripe foliage of summer was long gone, and the land was left naked in the barrenness of winter. Several heartbeats later followed the thunder, a dull drumming in the background of the heavens that steadily increased in volume with each repetition.

The horse was skittish and pulled against the reins at the sound, but its rider pressed a reassuring hand against its heaving flank and it grew still once more; the clop of its hoofs echoed eerily in the momentary peace between the waves of sound. A second steed stood beside the first; it, too, pawed the ground in disquiet, its ears flattened against its head, expressive of its disapproval.

The storm approaches,” the second rider observed. His flat voice revealed nothing. “Perhaps we should seek shelter for the night?”

Perhaps,” the first rider agreed. “But it changes nothing. Simply delays that which is inevitable, Jintaro.”
A wry smile curled the younger man’s lip. “Nothing is written, Kaorin, until it is written. Much can yet happen. It is not for us to know until it does.”

You are right, nothing is written in stone. You can still change what will be. Tell them what they wish to know. Give them the names of the others with whom you conspire, and you will feel their mercy.”

Do you think so little of me that I would betray my comrades as well as my ideals?”

You were always the foolish dreamer, wasting your time with ridiculous schemes. And what have those dreams gotten you? You have betrayed the queen, and for that you shall die.”

At least I dared to dream, elder brother. At least I have had hopes. What have you? A life given to a faded ideal whose time is long gone. That is no life at all.”

Kaorin stiffened and turned away as another flash of lightning illuminated the landscape, the accompanying thunder growing louder. “I too have had my dreams,” he murmured, but the wind held his words as it swirled between them, and the horses stamped nervously, anxious to move on, away from the elements that threatened to engulf them at any moment.

What was that? Kaorin turned his head and in the light of the next flash, he saw what appeared to be a woman’s pale face, framed by long blonde locks, floating in the air before him. He blinked and the illusion was instantly dispelled. He wasn’t entirely convinced it hadn’t been there, though.

I know of a place we can stop for the night. Let us go.” He would not concede it was not his idea, nor give his brother the satisfaction of being right. He kicked his horse’s flank; the other horse followed automatically, having no choice, as they were tethered together. Jintaro said nothing, but Kaorin was sure he heard a soft snort of laughter, which he chose to ignore.

Julie's links:

Julie Lynn Hayes was reading at the age of two and writing by the age of nine and always wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Two marriages, five children, and more than forty years later, that is still her dream. She blames her younger daughters for introducing her to yaoi and the world of M/M love, a world which has captured her imagination and her heart and fueled her writing in ways she'd never dreamed of before. She especially loves stories of two men finding true love and happiness in one another's arms and is a great believer in the happily ever after. She lives in St. Louis with her daughter Sarah and two cats, loves books and movies, and hopes to be a world traveler some day. She enjoys crafts, such as crocheting and cross stitch, knitting and needlepoint and loves to cook. While working a temporary day job, she continues to write her books and stories and reviews, which she posts in various places on the internet. Her family thinks she is a bit off, but she doesn't mind. Marching to the beat of one's own drummer is a good thing, after all. Her other published works can be found at Dreamspinner Press, MuseitUp Publishing and No Boundaries Press, and coming soon with both Extasy Books and Torquere Press. She has also begun to self-publish and is an editor at MuseitUp.

You can find her on her blog at http://julielynnhayes.blogspot.com, and you can contact her at tothemax.wolf@gmail.com.